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Futile PleasuresEarly Modern Literature and the Limits of Utility$
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Corey McEleney

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780823272655

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823272655.001.0001

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Beyond Sublimation

Beyond Sublimation

(p.127) Chapter 5 Beyond Sublimation
Futile Pleasures

Corey McEleney

Fordham University Press

The final chapter begins by reconsidering the grand ends that Milton sets for his poetry: to “justify the ways of God to men.” Criticism has routinely portrayed a Milton who, because of his sublime intentions, must either reform or reject the disreputable pleasures and instabilities of the humanist and romance traditions that he inherits from writers like Sidney and Spenser. The chapter argue that with this increase in the grandeur of Milton’s poetic aspirations comes an increase in the risk of falling and thus failing. This risk of error and vanity, the chapter demonstrates, accounts for many of the structural instabilities, textual cruxes, and unresolved questions in Milton’s corpus, questions that it explores by attending to the forms and figures of un-sublimity, waste, and heterogeneity in his epic masterpiece Paradise Lost. Drawing on philosophers and theorists such as Hegel, Bataille, Lacan, Derrida, de Man, and Edelman, the chapter counters a tradition of scholarship that strives to resolve dialectically the ever-present friction between Milton’s poetry and his intentions. Against these sublimating tendencies and gestures in Milton scholarship, the chapter attempts to bring out the persistent, unsublatable negativity that pervades Paradise Lost.

Keywords:   chaos, dialectics, John Milton, Paradise Lost, redemption, sublimation, teleology

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