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  • The Erotics of Materialism: Lucretius and Early Modern Poetics by Jessie Hock
  • Natania Meeker
Jessie Hock. The Erotics of Materialism: Lucretius and Early Modern Poetics. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021. Pp. 234. Price $59.95.

This thoughtful, engagingly written book is a welcome addition to the ever-growing body of work that takes the postmedieval reception of Lucretius as its focus. Building on studies by Gerard Passannante and Ada Palmer of the circulation of Lucretius’s De rerum natura (DRN) during the Renaissance, Hock’s book is of special significance for two reasons. First, Hock emphasizes the complicated effect of the DRN on traditions of Renaissance lyric poetry that span cultural and linguistic boundaries. The Erotics of Materialism thus considers Lucretius from a distinctly literary point of view, one that stresses the importance of DRN as a touchstone for transnational and transcultural debate. Second, Hock not only acknowledges the key role played by gendered imagery and ideas in Lucretian reception history but gives women writers a central place in her examination of the lyric possibilities opened up by the Lucretian theorization of the simulacra as a form of materiality at once erotic and poetic.

Hock convincingly establishes the significance of Lucretius’s DRN as what she calls a “textbook of poetics” for the Renaissance; her readings of Pierre de Ronsard, Rémy Belleau, John Donne, Lucy Hutchinson, and Margaret Cavendish reveal the extent to which Lucretian themes, images, and ideas are deeply embedded in Western European lyric. More specifically, Hock is interested in the way in which Lucretius’s framing of his poetic materialism in the language of desire provides a crucial point of reference for poets thinking through the purchase of poetry on the real—what Hock gorgeously describes, in a pitch-perfect borrowing from critic Lisa Robertson, as the “supple snare” of reading. (One of the great joys of Hock’s book lies in its systematic yet wide-ranging bibliography, which gives readers multiple entry points into the history of DRN’s reception across modernity and into the present day.) Hock places a particular emphasis on Lucretius’s linkage, in book four of his poem, between the materialist simulacrum—the atomic “skin” or “film,” emitted by all bodies, that makes our perception of them possible—and the hold that erotic desire can have over us. For Hock, this is the moment when Lucretius navigates the problem of the image’s embodied power—a power that is profoundly felt in lyric.

The “erotics” of the book’s title are thus less explicitly sexual than they are, as Hock herself puts it, “poetic questions” (27). In making this distinction, Hock perhaps departs somewhat from a Lucretian problematic in which it is precisely the enmeshment of flesh in poetry (and poetry in flesh) that enables the materialist conversion to take place. Hock’s conclusion, which turns toward the obscene verse of the Earl of Rochester, can read as disconnected from what has come before. But, while it may not be entirely Lucretian, Hock’s parsing of “the delicate balance between fantasy and bodies” (27) seems true to the investments of the Renaissance lyric poets whom she studies with such finesse and conviction. Like DRN itself, her book makes a strong and convincing case for reading poetry as a source not only of delight but transformative possibility. [End Page 145]

Natania Meeker
University of Southern California


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