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Title: Monism and hybridity in Milton's literary forms
Author: Earle, Philippa Helen
ISNI:       0000 0004 7427 2973
Awarding Body: University of Exeter
Current Institution: University of Exeter
Date of Award: 2018
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A prevailing scholarly view holds that John Milton’s monism (his belief that matter and spirit are inseparable) is a reaction to seventeenth-century determinism. My thesis, however, posits that Milton’s monism in fact emerges from his exploration of literary form. Chapter one traces the classical roots of the philosophy and its compatibility with Genesis. It posits the comprehensiveness of monist philosophy and highlights the vitalist (or animate) implications of ancient monist theories for literary form. Spoken or written words, Democritus suggests, correspond to the material building blocks or “elements” of the universe: the construction of literary form is analogous to the creation of the cosmos. Indeed, Lucretius’ letter-atom analogy suggests that the process of creating literary form is essentially identical to the atomic method underlying the composition of other material forms in the universe. Greek atomist thought, the chapter proposes, finds a striking parallel in Jewish mystical beliefs about creation. It is with the letters of the divine name that the Lord was said to have created the universe. I argue that, for Milton, Aristotle is most influential in expressing a vitalist conception of literary form, for in his philosophy, soul generates voice, which manifests itself in writing. Milton acknowledges the association between words and atoms, between letters and primordial substance, and between voice, or breath, and spirit in his monist materialism; after all, in Genesis, God creates by utterance. Examining the relation of vitalism to Aristotelian poetics, I suggest the relevance of the concept to Milton’s hybrid literary forms. Then, analysing the material nature of voice in Milton’s works, I posit in chapter two that Milton’s polemical pamphlets underscore the sense of spirit in writing that we find in the poetry. That literary forms can be perceived to embody soul because they evoke voice is evident also from Milton’s Art of Logic (1672). I suggest in chapter three that Logic is saturated with materialism because the Aristotelian sources on which Milton’s Ramist logic is based express material monism. Milton’s Logic and Areopagitica (1644) provide further evidence of his thinking about the vital potential of literary form through the logical construction of texts, a continued interest, I argue, which ultimately engenders his mature monism. Milton use of dream narratives in Paradise Lost, I propose, suggests that reality varies materially by degrees. The parts that reality comprises become more distinct after the Fall, when Milton’s dream narratives, and his cosmology, changes. Before the Fall, the poet imagines that Earth orbits the sun, and that the sun orbits heaven at the centre of the cosmos, a formation, I explain, that has striking resemblance to modern knowledge of the solar system. With careful attention to the dreams of Paradise Lost, I have determined that monism, for Milton, encompasses the workings of intellect, and in the final chapter, I argue that this principle is central to understanding Paradise Regained. The Son’s method of survival in the wilderness becomes the means by which paradise (the spiritual reality) is regained. Understanding his own nature permits the Son of God physiologically to sustain himself through dreaming; the intellectual achievement alters the material nature of his body so that he is sustained by spiritual food. Monism is at the very heart of Paradise Regained. It is a monist methodology of literary form which enables the poet across his oeuvre truly to represent the nature of reality.
Supervisor: Edwards, Karen Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Milton ; monism ; materialism ; genre ; literary form