Abstract

Abstract:

The third and final installment of this book-length contribution to the Common Knowledge symposium "Contextualism—the Next Generation" treats two further writers in seventeenth-century England whose work is not representative of any stance or discourse that contextualist historians have recognized as available in that era. In Aemelia Lanyer's poetry, we find a resistance to established perspectives that is related to her sense that divine signification is always incomplete and that, therefore, the diffidence of female cognition is superior, when approaching religious texts, to the assertive mentality that she associates with men. Despite his sex, however, and his reputation for theological and political radicalism, Milton too explicitly contends that the interpretation of scripture should always be "non-committal" because its signification is always incomplete. The "very magnitude" of the "great mystery" of the Incarnation, Milton argues in De Doctrina Christiana, should encourage the reader's mind to stand on "guard from the outset" against the tendency to make "rash or hasty assertions." The urge to tamper with, pry into, add to, or hasten to understand the signifiers of divine meaning is shown, in Paradise Lost, to be the original sin of the first human couple. As much as for Lanyer, then, sex is for Milton bound up with hermeneutics—and, for both poets, the individual's relationship with God is a consuming passion, about which one may report a phenomenology of affects but can offer no contentions or arguments.

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