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Levinas and Metaphysical Desire
One of the most persistent and poignant human experiences is the sensation of longing—a restlessness perhaps best described as the unspoken conviction that something is missing from our lives. In this study, Drew M. Dalton attempts to illuminate this experience by examining the philosophical thought of Emmanuel Levinas on longing, or what Levinas terms “metaphysical desire.”
Metaphysical desire, according to Levinas, does not stem from any determinate lack within us, nor does it aim at a particular object beyond us, much less promise any eventual satisfaction. Rather, it functions in the realm of the infinite where such distinctions as inside and outside or one and the other are indistinguishable, perhaps even eliminated. As Levinas conceives such longing, it becomes a mediator in our relation to the other—both the human other and the divine Other.
Dalton follows the meandering trail of Levinas’s thought along a series of dialogues with some of the philosophers within the history of the Western tradition who have most influenced his corpus. By tracing the genealogy of Levinas’s notion of metaphysical desire—namely in the works of Plato, Heidegger, Fichte, Schelling, and Otto—the nature of this Levinasian theme is elucidated to reveal that it is not simply an idealism, a “hagiography of desire” detached from actual experience and resulting in a disconnect between his phenomenological account and our own lives. Rather, Levinas’s account of metaphysical desire points to a phenomenology of human longing that is both an ethical and religious phenomenon. In the end, human longing is revealed to be one of the most profound ways in which a subject becomes a subject, arising to its “true self,” and hearing the call to responsibility placed upon it by the Other.
Throughout, Dalton explicates the nuance of a number of key Levinasian terms, many of which have been taken from the Western philosophical tradition and reinscribed with a new meaning. Eros, the “Good beyond being,” shame, responsibility, creation, the trace, the il y a, and the holy are discovered to be deeply tied to Levinas’s account of metaphysical desire, resulting in a conclusion regarding longing’s role in the relationship between the finite and the Infinite.
The year 2011 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Emmanuel Levinas’s Totality and Infinity, which now stands as one of the classic texts of the second half of the twentieth century. At this anniversary, this collection of essays suggests that a revitalized understanding of the text is needed. While readers can easily fall into routine readings and discussions of this originally provocative—even intoxicating—text, Totality and Infinity at 50 invites students of Levinas to explore new avenues into the work by charting a map of Levinas scholarship for the next 50 years. From the problem of the other, the emphasis of ethics as first philosophy, the text’s theological implications, and the focus on the role of the feminine, Totality and Infinity has been the subject of a wide range of interpretations and scholarly interests since its publication. While these various emphases have contributed to a greater understanding of Levinas’s philosophy, they can also have the cumulative effect of leading us to believe that all of the different options have been explored. In contrast, this volume argues that there is still more to be said about this seminal book, inspiring readers to look beyond routine readings and worn themes of Totality and Infinity. As a result, these Levinas scholars provide essays that offer a fresh account of the argument and purpose of Totality and Infinity; draw parallels between Levinas and other thinkers including Marx, Stanley Cavell, and Édouard Glissant; consider Levinas’s relationship to other disciplines such as nursing, psychotherapy, and law; and bring this seminal text to bear on specific, concrete issues of present-day concern. With this focus, Totality and Infinity at 50 envisions a renewed and newly invigorated relationship with Totality and Infinity, so that Levinas’s philosophy might remain a vital companion to us in the next half-century.
The prevalent worldview of early modern England, clearly shaped by Protestantism, dismissed magical belief as an ideological delusion inherent in Catholicism. That same Protestantism encouraged a strong sense of individualism, with its emphasis on self-transformation, through which a new masculinity found expression. Why, then, did magical self-empowerment retain such a hold on the artistic and cultural imagination of early modern English society?
Ian McAdam’s innovative study suggests that the answer to this question may lie partly in an increasingly ironic presentation of magic. While the magical beliefs of the period asserted, on the one hand, individual empowerment through a quasi-religious self-justification and a presumed mastery of the objective world, those beliefs also gave rise to various anxieties concerning power and control — anxieties that created difficulty with conceptions of masculine and feminine gender roles as well as cultural attitudes toward Nature and the natural. Thus, McAdam contends, the increased interest in magic was connected to a crisis in masculine identity, which was exacerbated by the Protestant Reformation and its concern with individual empowerment as well as class, sexual, and religious identifications. Moreover, as artistic presentations — especially in the theater — were concerned with magic as a form of psychological, ideological, and cultural control, the study finds the psychoanalytic concept of narcissism useful in explaining the notion of selfhood as it developed in early modern England.
In chapters that explore various literary texts, McAdam considers depictions of magic by tracing a chronological path that follows a dialectical struggle involving a precarious attempt to balance “supra-rational” and “sub-rational” impulses. Beginning with Greene’s Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, which depicts some ambivalent attitudes toward magical self-empowerment and the cultural concern of a feminine sexual threat to masculine (magical) control, the book moves to the Calvinist constructions of manhood in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and eventually to considerations of male self-definition and its reliance on women, class considerations in more oblique magical contexts, and surrender to magical (and ideological) powers in the works of Shakespeare, Marston, Middleton, Chapman, and Jonson.
In addition to appealing to those who study early modern literature and drama, this book will interest scholars of gender and those concerned with the theological basis of human subjectivity in the Renaissance.
"Written to Aftertimes"
This is the first full-length study of the relation between Milton and Homer, arguably Milton’s most important precursor. It is also the first study of a major interpoetic relationship that is responsive to the historicist critical enterprise, which has been dominant within literary study for the past 30 years, and engages the work of theorists of canon formation such as Barbara Herrnstein Smith and John Guillory. Most studies of the relation between one poet and another are wholly diachronic, examining the way in which brief, verbal recollections of the earlier poet—allusions—enhance or qualify the significance of passages in the later, alluding poet’s work. But this study goes beyond that, considering its focal poets within a synchronic framework that allows us to respond to the Homer of mid-seventeenth century England specifically rather than to some transhistorically unvarying Homer, thus revealing that Homer is important not only to the significance but also to the canonical status of Paradise Lost. Machacek not only examines the ways in which Homer enriches our understanding of Paradise Lost, but also argues that Milton was guided by the ways that Homeric epics were being reproduced in his time to “leave something so written to aftertimes as they should not willingly let it die.” The Homeric poems influenced Milton in his own ambition of composing an enduring work of literature, as Machacek details in chapters on the war in heaven as moral exemplum; on Milton’s negotiation of the contradictions inherent in the genre of Christian epic; on the relation of Paradise Lost to the emerging critical categories of originality and the sublime; and on the institution of the school, to which Milton entrusted the perpetuation of his epic. Milton’s approach to (and success at) securing canonical status for Paradise Lost provides important insights not only into his own artistry, but into the dynamics of literary canon formation in general. Milton and Homer will appeal to Miltonists, classicists, scholars of early modern literature, and those interested in the debate over the formation of the literary canon.
Although monotheism is at least as old as the Hebrew Bible, in the seventeenth century it received particular attention among philosophers and rational theologians. Within the writings of such figures as John Selden, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, and Henry More, and amid emerging Socinian and deist thought, official religion in England was increasingly defined according to the notion of a single God. In this compelling study—illuminating reading for literary scholars and religious scholars alike—Abraham Stoll examines Milton’s poetry in the context of these debates swirling around polytheism and monotheism.
While writing Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes with a keen awareness of monotheism, Milton is faced with serious issues for his narratives. From the classical, polytheistic conventions of the Greek epic tradition, Milton inherits divine councils, invocations, and a cosmic scope; but he is also attempting to represent a God who is omniscient and omnipotent, who resists images and personality, and who thus cannot fit the minimal requirements of plot. Negotiating these problems, Milton’s monotheistic narratives must question the Trinity, depict polytheistic gods, and ultimately challenge the notion of revelation itself. Yet monotheism also describes how Milton pulls back from the extremes of rational religion to maintain the revealed God of the Bible, forging a unique version of Christianity.
As Stoll points out, poetry and theology are too often understood separately, which is especially damaging for the study of Milton, whose poems are retellings of biblical stories. Milton and Monotheism demonstrates the profound differences between doctrinal discourse and narrative poetry and how neither is, individually, able to fully represent Milton’s monotheism—or, as Stoll says, “a God of flickering subjectivity.”
“Milton and Monotheism is an extraordinary achievement, one that offers a fascinating and brilliantly illuminating account of how theology demands narrative and how narrative stands in tension with theology. Beautifully written, compellingly argued, Stoll’s work offers new insights into crucial matters of theodicy, doctrine, and representation in Milton’s poetry.” — Jeffrey Shoulson, University of Miami
Both in his writings and in his life, Milton became the very embodiment of contention. He was an embattled figure whose ideas provoked endless controversy from his own time to the present. The ten new essays in this volume examine major issues that have become the grounds of contention in the study of interpretation and Milton and his works. These issues include the significance of women writers and readers, the nature of Milton’s influence and the reception of his works, the gendered bias that informs the portrayal of Eve, the vexed subject of choice and election that underlies the character of Samson, and the taint of the heresy that Milton’s theological beliefs are said to betray. In their engagement with these issues, the scholars represented here concern themselves with such figures as Edmund Burke, Lucy Hutchinson, and Elizabeth Singer Rowe. Their essays explore the concept of feme covert, the authorship of De Doctrina Christiana, the significance of Milton’s failure to pursue the Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus, and the place of the Socinian controversy in Milton and his heirs. The authors of the essays, all well-known and well-published Miltonists, aim at setting up the “grounds” for undergoing the “trial by contrary” so extolled in Areopagitica as crucial to the understanding of the truth. It is by means of this trial that scholars can be equipped to engage in the contentions that have come to dominate the world of Milton studies.
In our contemporary Western culture, “freedom” is a powerful term with elastic meanings and contradictory uses; it has both driven rebellion and justified empire. John Milton’s world, like our own, struggled to understand freedom within what was already considered a heritage of political and personal liberty, compounded in the seventeenth century by theological questions of freedom. In this important new study, Susanne Woods reveals Milton’s central place in the evolution both of ideas of freedom in English-speaking culture and in creating a poetics that invites readers to enact the freedom Milton defines. For Milton, we find, freedom is fundamentally about human choice; God gave humankind genuine free will, with reason and the light of conscience to enable choice. True freedom comes from who one is, formed and asserted by the choices one makes. This is true for the reader as well as for the author, Milton believed, and the result is what Woods terms an “invitational poetics.” By locating freedom in thoughtful choice, in other words, Milton must offer his reader opportunities to consider alternatives, even to his own well-argued positions. In six chapters, Woods examines these invitational poetics on several levels: as they develop in Milton’s prose and early poetry, in theory as well as practice; as they are expressed within prose sentences and lines of poetry through choices of diction and syntax; and as they inform character, plot, and genre. Chapter 1 connects Milton’s most famous statement about his ongoing interest in liberty with debates that preceded him. Chapter 2 shows Milton’s Elizabethan predecessors grappling with the possibilities and limits of poetic indirection; Philip Sidney, in particular, provides an underappreciated rhetorical and theoretical foundation on which Milton’s invitational poetics could build. These background chapters allow us to see Milton’s evolution toward a poetics of choice, followed by their confident manifestation in the great poems. Later chapters consider Paradise Lost as Milton’s grand disquisition on knowledge, choice, and freedom; and Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes in relation to the ambiguities of choice and vocation. Finally, Milton is situated in relation to the most influential seventeenth century political thinkers, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, and Woods examines the influence of Areopagitica on political culture since Milton’s time, placing Milton’s ideas in a tradition that leads to modern contestations of freedom.
Milton's radically aggressive English prose emerged from a dynamic rhetorical milieu. A rhetoric of radical excess developed among the Puritan wing of English Protestantism throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, scriptural injunctions to will the sword of the spirit against the enemies of the Lord. The most potent of these texts was the pronouncement from Revelation 3:16: “Because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” The tradition culminated in a politically virulent and highly effective “rhetoric of zeal,” which was deployed against the Church of England, and ultimately against the monarchy, during the 1630s and the 1640s. The first part of Kranidas’s study demonstrates the widespread acceptance of the attack on “lukewarmness” and the celebration of a passionate and immoderate commitment to action against the Laudian campaign for “Holy Decency,” the reform of ritual and discipline generally in the Church of England. The book then turns to an analysis of Milton’s antiprelatical tracts, with particular, but not exclusive, reference to the tradition of zeal. Kranidas demonstrates the broad range of Milton’s styles and the increasing confidence in his assumption of kerygmatic authority in the argument against prelaty, the arguments for freedom of conscience, and the evolving arguments for republicanism. The book ends with a brief coda that argues the similarities of radical Puritan rhetoric and the rhetoric of the radical American movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
Vol. 53 (2012) through current issue
Published annually by Duquesne University Press as an important forum for Milton scholarship and criticism, Milton Studies focuses on various aspects of John Milton’s life and writing, including biography; literary history; Milton’s work in its literary, intellectual, political, or cultural contexts; Milton’s influence on or relationship to other writers; and the history of critical response to his work.
This book-length study of Milton as a dramatist fills a longstanding gap in Milton scholarship. Combining author-contextual criticism, historicized reader-response theory, and new historicism, Timothy Burbery begins by answering common objections to the claim that the poet is a dramatist, including the putatively static natures of Comus and Samson Agonistes, Milton’s egoism, and his Puritanism. Further, Burbery asserts, recent biographical evidence of Milton’s consumption of drama, such as his father’s trusteeship of the Blackfriars Theater, suggests that the future poet viewed commercial plays and thus probably alludes to these experiences in his early poetry. Exposure to the public theater may also have influenced major episodes of his own dramas, including the debate between the Lady and Comus, and Dalila’s stunning entrance in Samson.
The study then examines Milton as a practitioner of drama by analyzing Arcades and the Ludlow masque. Having mastered the conventions of masque in the former work, Milton stretched himself in Comus by composing a work that was far more playlike than any court masque. It is possible that his success with these dramas encouraged Milton to regard himself as a budding dramatist in the 1630s, for late in that decade he began sketching out ideas for tragedies on biblical subjects including the Fall, Sodom, and Abraham and Isaac. This material, found in the Trinity Manuscript, shows him working through practical problems of staging and presentation, and sets the foundation for Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes. While Samson was “never intended for the stage,” it nonetheless embeds numerous “stage” directions in its dialogue, including information about the characters’ appearances, gestures, and blocking. Awareness of these cues sheds light on some of the current critical debates, including the terrorist reading of the tragedy and Dalila’s role. Burbery surveys the surprisingly extensive stage history of Samson, a history that tends to confirm its theatrical viability. Milton the Dramatist emphasizes Milton’s dramatic achievements and thus restores a more equitable balance to our appreciation of his total literary achievement.