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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.
"Reason Is But Choosing"
Recent critical conversation has described John Milton’s major works as sites of uncertainty, irreconcilability, or even confusion—as texts that actually reflect radical incoherence and openness. These newer critical voices posit, moreover, that traditional critics must strain to find coherence and authorial control in Milton’s poetry. Richard J. DuRocher and Margaret Olofson Thickstun, together with an esteemed group of Milton scholars from a wide range of critical and theoretical backgrounds, respond to this challenge. While accepting the presence of uncertainty and welcoming the multiple perspectives that Milton builds into his works, this volume offers a variety of nuanced approaches to Milton’s texts. As these 11 essays demonstrate, Milton’s own acts of interpretation compel readers to reflect not only on the rival hermeneutics they find within his works but also on their own hermeneutic principles and choices—an interpretive complexity that is integral to his poetry’s enduring appeal. Thus, each of the contributors takes up the problem of this interpretive dilemma in some way: several explore Milton’s own engagement with the texts of Scripture and the classics; some examine the ways in which Milton represents the process of interpretation in his narrative poems; and still others are intrigued by the challenges that Milton’s works present for the reader’s own interpretive skills. Milton's Rival Hermeneutics, in responding directly to the “incertitude critics” of Milton, will be of interest to those on all sides of this debate and will certainly redirect the ongoing conversation.
From Hegel to Heidegger
In An Ontological Study of Death: From Hegel to Heidegger, Sean Ireton examines conceptions of death as manifested in German literature and philosophy from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century, expanding on thanatological theories that distinguish between a metaphysical and an ontological view of human finitude. Whereas metaphysics separates life from death and posits a transcendent reality beyond the physical world, the ontological perspective integrates death into the very core of being where it functions as a fundamental phenomenon of life. Arguing that the dialectical thinking of Hegel and Hölderlin erases the metaphysical paradigm of death and sets the stage for the existential interpretations advanced by Nietzsche, Rilke, and Heidegger, Ireton maintains that each of these authors ultimately seeks to incorporate the traditional realm of nonbeing into the heart of existence. Framed by the opposing philosophies of Hegel, who deems that death has little personal meaning but is vital for the life of Spirit, and Heidegger, who converts death into the determining factor of selfhood, Ireton’s study finds common ground in the way death is viewed—as the promise of possibility, freedom and wholeness. Though primarily focused on the Germanic tradition, Ireton’s study also addresses the modern French philosophical treatment of death by Blanchot, Kojève, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty and Foucault in the wake of their German predecessors. Ireton concludes by placing the dialectical and existential views discussed in his study within the context of modern thanatology, specifically demonstrating how themes of human finitude and freedom have a direct bearing on the current debate surrounding the dignity of death and the right to die.
Plurality, Event, and Contingency in Contemporary Philosophy
After the vehement critique of metaphysics in the twentieth century, ontology has again found its place at the center of continental philosophy. Yet this does not mean that the way in which metaphysics and ontology are understood has not been affected by these criticisms, the so-called “linguistic turn” of hermeneutics and deconstruction. In fact, as Gert-Jan van der Heiden demonstrates, the themes and concepts of contemporary continental metaphysics are highly influenced by the different versions of the account of classical metaphysics as ontotheology. Thus, contemporary thought seeks to recover a sense of the absolute, but without recourse to specifically theological underpinnings. Working largely with present-day thinkers who take seriously Heidegger’s critique of ontotheology—authors such as Alain Badiou, Jean-Luc Nancy, Claude Romano, Quentin Meillassoux, and Giorgio Agamben—van der Heiden returns with them to the question of ontology rather than rejecting the question altogether. As the book’s title suggests, he maps this contemporary debate in terms of three axes: plurality; the event and contingency; and, finally, an ethics proper to a thinking receptive to contingency. Rather than affirming either the speculative or the hermeneutic-phenomenological school of thought, van der Heiden shows how these schools, each in their own way, are concerned with similar themes and sources of inspiration. In particular, he assesses and critiques the ways in which philosophers today deal with these concepts to offer an alternative to ontotheology. The question of contingency, he argues, is the most challenging issue for present-day ontology, and ontology today can only be an ontology of contingency.
Levinas and Plato on Loving Beyond Being
What is the philosophical sense of transcendence? What meaning can transcendence have in philosophy? What direction, organization, and order might it give to philosophy? And how does transcendence transform or inspire philosophical thinking?
Sarah Allen confronts these questions as she explores Emmanuel Levinas’s approach to transcendence, which is set within a phenomenological context. Levinas seeks an approach that does not subordinate transcendence to the self-referential activities of human consciousness, and which does not simply fall into ontotheological, metaphysical language about God. Allen's novel approach explores Levinas's use of the language of the beyond and otherwise than being to speak of this ethically and religiously invested transcendence. She traces the beyond being back to its precursors in Plato and Plotinus, noting in particular the relation between Platonic eros and Levinasian desire as affective inspiration of the movement of transcendence and way toward the Good beyond being. This close and nuanced reading of Levinas and Plato on topics of transcendence and affectivity, her consideration of other central influences on Levinas's conception of transcendence, and her depiction of Levinas's "return" to Platonism, all go beyond what has previously been published in the field of Levinas studies.
Looking for the philosophical sense of transcendence, Allen asserts, requires not only a questioning into transcendence, but a questioning of philosophy itself. Any reflection on human affectivity brings us up to the limits of philosophical thought and suggests that there are senses to transcendence that will always escape formulation in philosophical language.
“A significant contribution in the field of modern contemporary philosophy and more specifically to Levinasian studies.” — Jean Marc-Narbonne
For most philosophers, the work of Edith Stein continues to be eclipsed and relegated to obscurity. This work presents an excellent cross-section of Stein’s writings and demonstrates the timeliness and relevance of her ideas for contemporary philosophical scholarship. Antonio Calcagno covers most of Edith Stein’s philosophical life, from her early work with Husserl to her later encounters with medieval Christian thought, as well as a critical and analytical reading of major Steinian texts. Stein was an original thinker who challenged not only the direction in which Husserlian phenomenology was progressing but also sought to bring to philosophical light the relevance of certain key questions, including the meaning of what it is to be human, the relevance of metaphysics to science, and fundamental questions about the nature of God. Working to correct the perception that Stein is either an “unfaithful and distorting” phenomenologist or a pious Catholic mystic, Calcagno presents important work that has been neglected by both secular and religious scholars. The essays are not merely expository, but discuss the philosophical questions raised by Stein’s work from a contemporary perspective, using Stein’s original German texts. In its attention to the breadth and depth of Stein’s philosophy from its initial development to its more mature form, The Philosophy of Edith Stein offers a new understanding of an individual who left behind an incredible philosophical and literary legacy worthy of scholarly attention. The book will be of interest not only to Stein scholars, but to feminists, phenomenologists, and Heideggerians.
Essential Elizabethan Sources, 1558-1603
Although we are currently bombarded with numerous health scares—AIDS, West Nile virus, avian flu, and the recent swine flu, just to name a few that now fill our media reports and instill dread in the population—we can scarcely imagine the outlook that dominated the mindset of those who endured the bubonic plague in England during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Between the time of the Black Death and the Great Plague, this horrifying bubonic plague struck the country at such regular intervals that it shaped the general consciousness and even produced a popular genre of plague writing. In The Plague in Print, Rebecca Totaro takes the reader into the world of plague-riddled Elizabethan England, documenting the development of distinct subgenres related to the plague and providing unprecedented access to important original sources of early modern plague writing. Totaro elucidates the interdisciplinary nature of plague writing, which raises religious, medical, civic, social, and individual concerns in early modern England.
Each of the primary texts in the collection offers a glimpse into a particular subgenre of plague writing, beginning with Thomas Moulton’s plague remedy and prayers published by the Church of England and devoted to the issue of the plague. William Bullein’s A Dialogue both pleasant and pietyful, a work that both addresses concerns related to the plague and offers humorous literary entertainment, exemplifies the multilayered nature of plague literature. The plague orders of Queen Elizabeth I highlight the community-wide attempts to combat the plague and deal with its manifold dilemmas. And after a plague bill from the Corporation of London, the collection ends with Thomas Dekker’s The Wonderful Year, which illustrates plague literature as it was fully formed, combining attitudes toward the plague from both the Eizabethan and Stuart periods.
These writings offer a vivid picture of important themes particular to plague literature in England, providing valuable insight into the beliefs and fears of those who suffered through bubonic plague but also illuminating the cultural significance of references to the plague in the more familiar early modern literature by Spenser, Donne, Milton, Shakespeare, and others. As a result, The Plague in Print will be of interest to students and scholars in a number of fields, including sixteenth and seventeenth century English literature, cultural studies, medical humanities, and the history of medicine.