The Seeds of Things: Theorizing Sexuality and Materiality in Renaissance Representations

The Seeds of Things: Theorizing Sexuality and Materiality in Renaissance Representations

Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Fordham University
Pages: 256
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    The Seeds of Things: Theorizing Sexuality and Materiality in Renaissance Representations
    Book Description:

    The title of this book translates one of the many ways in which Lucretius names the basic matter from which the world is made in De rerum natura. In Lucretius, and in the strain of thought followed in this study, matter is always in motion, always differing from itself and yet always also made of the same stuff. From the pious Lucy Hutchinson's all but complete translation of the Roman epic poem to Margaret Cavendish's repudiation of atomism (but not of its fundamental problematic of sameness and difference), a central concern of this book ishow a thoroughgoing materialism can be read alongside other strains in the thought of the early modern period, particularly Christianity.A chapter moves from Milton's monism to his angels and their insistent corporeality. Milton's angels have sex, and, throughout, this study emphasizes the consequences for thinking about sexuality offered by Lucretian materialism. Sameness of matter is not simply a question of same-sex sex, and the relations of atoms in Cavendish and Hutchinson are replicated in the terms in which they imagine marriages of partners who are also their doubles. Likewise, Spenser's knights in the 1590 Faerie Queene pursue the virtues of Holiness, Temperance, and Chastity in quests that take the reader on a path of askesis of the kind that Lucretiusrecommends and that Foucault studied in the final volumes of his history of sexuality.Although English literature is the book's main concern, it first contemplates relations between Lucretian matter and Pauline flesh by way of Tintoretto's painting The Conversion of St. Paul. Theoretical issues raised in the work of Agamben and Badiou, among others, lead to a chapter that takes up the role that Lucretius has played in theory, from Bergson and Marx to Foucault and Deleuze.This study should be of concern to students of religion, philosophy, gender, and sexuality, especially as they impinge on questions of representation.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4693-9
    Subjects: Religion
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ILLUSTRATIONS (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction (pp. 1-6)

    “Many seeds of many things … mixed up in many ways”: this line fromDe rerum naturapoints to some of the central concerns in the book that follows.¹ In the passage from which I cite, Lucretius is explaining the multiple effects that certain plants may have on certain people, but the point he makes is the one reiterated throughout his poem, that everything that exists is the result of aleatory conjunctions. This is a beginning principle as much as it is a principle of analysis of everything at any moment; indeed, it is an analysis that extends indefinitely and...

  6. ONE Conversions: Around Tintoretto (pp. 7-30)

    This chapter opens with work of Leo Bersani and Ulysse Dutoit that follows upon Bersani’s turn from a psychoanalytic version of the subject whose desire testifies to a primordial lack to a version of the subject whose attempts at relationality stem from an original relatedness. “Each subject reoccurs differently everywhere” is one succinct version of a thesis that Bersani offers in the service of a claim that “all love is, in a sense, homoerotic,” where the sense invoked by Bersani is the notion of an original sameness that is rediscovered in erotic relations.¹ Those claims seem to me to relate...

  7. Plates (pp. None)
  8. TWO Turning Toward the World: Lucretius, in Theory (pp. 31-62)

    “Perhaps one day, this century will be known as Deleuzian”: Michel Foucault’s extravagant gesture in the opening paragraph of his 1970 essay “Theatrum Philosophicum” (ostensibly a review of two books by Deleuze,Difference and RepetitionandThe Logic of Sense), is perhaps the best-remembered utterance in that piece.¹ In the pages below, I will be following the prompt of this outrageous declaration to ponder what Foucault might mean by “Deleuzian”; since it is not a quality only to be attached to Deleuze, I presume, it raises the question of the kind of philosophical theater into which Foucault would usher us...

  9. THREE Spenserian Askesis: The 1590 Faerie Queene (pp. 63-121)

    “The generall end therefore of all the booke is to fashion a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline” (15).¹ Thanks to Stephen Greenblatt’s “To Fashion a Gentleman: Spenser and the Destruction of the Bower of Bliss,” chapter 4 inRenaissance Self-Fashioning, this sentence from the letter addressed to Sir Walter Ralegh in 1590, expounding the author’s “whole intention” inThe Faerie Queene(the parts delivered then as well as the future books that would complete its projected twelve- or twenty-four-book design), will be readily recognized as a key announcement. Insofar as Guyon’s violent destruction of the Bower...

  10. FOUR Margaret Cavendish and Lucy Hutchinson: Writing Matter (pp. 122-178)

    Margaret Cavendish and Lucy Hutchinson have been linked before, as David Norbrook indicates in an essay joining and commending them as “both in different sense rebels who pushed at the limits of the conventional thought of their day”; for him, one crucial site for this conjunction lies in the fact that “both wrote verse based on Epicurean atomism.”¹ The pages that follow certainly mean to support these contentions, and the hinge connecting them will be the relationship of these two authors to atomism. Norbrook’s essay, predictably, is more tied to political history than to Epicurean atomism, and the real point...

  11. FIVE Milton’s Angels (pp. 179-210)

    Milton’s materialism has been a well-studied phenomenon for the past seventy years or more. Its consequences for a series of heretical beliefs is perhaps what has been discussed most widely: Milton’s disbelief in the Trinity, his denial of the immortality of the soul, his refusal of the ontological difference between spirit and matter. In the most recent work on this topic, the relationship between Milton’s ideas and those of contemporary philosophers, Descartes and Hobbes, as well as figures like Alexander More, Pierre Gassendi, and Anne Conway, has been the subject of a book-length study by Stephen Fallon, while Milton’s links...

  12. NOTES (pp. 211-246)
  13. WORKS CITED (pp. 247-262)
  14. INDEX (pp. 263-268)


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