AbstractsLanguage, Literature & Linguistics

John Milton and the Poetics of Solitude

by Christopher William Koester

Institution: Indiana University
Year: 2015
Keywords: difference; John Milton; solitude; trial
Record ID: 2058687
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/2022/19790


At a time when religion, community, and family formed the basis of society, John Milton openly advocated separation and difference, whether through divorce, through division of church and state, church disestablishment, or through his own assertions of poetic superiority and the singular ability to "justify the ways of God to men" (PL, 1.26). My five-chapter dissertation examines each of these ruptures via a concept intrinsic to all of them, the concept of solitude. Even as solitude was beginning to emerge as a positive notion and practice of individuation within early modern society, Milton was complicating it. Instead of a practice, he theorized solitude as a mode of being essential to human creatures, modeled on his God, who is "alone / From all eternity" (PL, 8.405). Different from us, God invites us to be different from each other, an invitation we answer through our individual solitudes. This emphasis on solitude opens my dissertation to readings both historical and theoretical. Historically, I situate Milton as a radical dissident, whose notion of solitude overturns an Aristotelian system based in human sociability. For Aristotle, sociability defines the human, insofar as "he who is unable to live in society [...] must be either a beast or a god" (Politics, 1130). In this way, Milton departs from the solitude-opposing philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, while also finding a kindred spirit in the writing of Lucy Hutchinson. Theoretically, I identify Milton with a line of thinkers that includes figures such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Giorgio Agamben, and Jacques Derrida.