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Milton, the Poetics of Matter, and the Sciences of Reading

Milton, the Poetics of Matter, and the Sciences of Reading
73 Queens Pk Cr E, Northrop Frye Hall room 205
Time: Jan 20th, 4:15 pm End: Jan 20th, 5:30 pm
Interest Categories: Science/Technology, Religion, Study of (FAS), Philosophy (UTSC), Philosophy (UTM), Philosophy (FAS), History & Philosophy of Science & Technology (FAS), English and Drama (UTM), English (UTSC), English (FAS), Critical Theory, Comparative Literature (FAS), 1500-1800
Lecture by Elizabeth Spiller, Florida State University

The Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies is pleased to present:

Elizabeth Spiller, Florida State University
Milton, the Poetics of Matter, and the Sciences of Reading

Monday 20 January 2014
4:15 pm - 5:30 pm
Northrop Frye, Room 205
Victoria University in the University of Toronto
Early modern debate about physical matter was vexed and intense; the outcome of these debates was as profound as anything imagined by Copernicus’ astronomy or Vesalius’ anatomy.  Challenges to Aristotelian hylomorphism, the excitement about the Renaissance rediscovery of Lucretius, the pressure that conflict between Galenic and Paracelsian medicine put on the conflicting theories of matter that those models implied—these debates were central to early modern science. They were also central to other aspects of early modern life. Distilling ale, eating food, turning lead into gold, writing poems, reading books, creating the universe out of matter “unformed and void”: from the mundane to the transcendent, such activities all involved the transformation of matter. How you answered the question “what is matter?” also determined how you answered such questions as “what is a poem made out of?” and “what does it do to you? Set within this longer poetics of matter, this talk examines how thinking, writing, and reading were for John Milton defined by his attitudes toward physical matter. Milton’s belief that God’s creations are of “one first matter all” is in ways that have not been recognized at the heart of his arguments about what it means to be a reader. Emerging out of the debate over substance that was central to the alchemy and Paracelsian medicine of the 1640s, Milton’s complex attitudes towards matter lead him to contrast a fallen, humoral model of reading with a redemptive vitalistic one. My goal throughout will be to offer a larger sense of how every physics (Aristotelism, Galenism, atomism, vitalism) implies a poetics and each science of the body also leads to a form of reading.
Elizabeth Spiller, Associate Dean and Professor of English at Florida State University, is the author of Science, Reading, and Renaissance Literature (Cambridge, 2004) and Reading and the History of Race in the Renaissance (Cambridge, 2011), among other works. She is the recipient of two NEH fellowships and was awarded the SCMLA Kirby Prize for her article, “Situating Prospero’s Art: Shakespeare and the Making of Early Modern Knowledge” (South Central Review, 2009). She is a past editor of The Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies and a current editor of the award-winning Palgrave Press book series in the History of Text Technologies. She is currently completing a book, The Sense of Matter, on matter theory, poetic practice, and human creativity in the Renaissance.

This event is free and open to the public. For further information, please contact the CRRS at (416) 585-4484.

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