Absence and alterity: Poiesis in seventeenth-century British literature and science
Clody, Michael C.
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"Absence and Alterity: Poiesis in Seventeenth-Century British Literature and Science" explores the ways in which Early Modern literary and scientific texts strive to bring forth that which exceeds the limits of knowledge and representation. I argue that in the revival of an ancient debate between philosophy and poetry over the space of the reflective subject, Early Modern poetics--broadly construed to also include the writing of the new science--re-establishes the possibility of a creative mimesis that does not rely solely on the presence of the subject or the empirical field. This alternative mode of poiesis , which finds its precursor in the inspired rhapsode depicted by Plato, is a symptom of neither the poet's ignorance nor a divine influence; instead, it finds its source in language's immanent force of alterity. While the "imaginative paradigm," named for the faculty of phantasia introduced by Aristotle, guarantees that the subject-matter of thought and therefore language is necessarily derived from the empirical world, the possibility of the "inspired" poet who responds to a heterogeneous voice beyond the reflective subject haunts not only literary critical history and its contemporaneous verse but also the proto-scientific texts that help ground empiricism's epistemology. The common function ascribed to this alterity thus elucidates the rich relationship between Poetics and the History of Science by accounting for the similar ways in which both strive to experience that which is not accessible through re-presentation. Furthermore, I argue that historicizing poiesis within the context of Early Modern England also provides a critical countermeasure to the limitations of lyric subjectivity and social constructivism.