Ground-plots of Invention: Poetics of the Material and Difficult Thinking in The Faerie Queene

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This essay is concerned with allegory and thinking in The Faerie Queene. An enduring critical tradition interprets Spenser’s poem along oppositional lines—allegory/narrative, ideal/material—casting allegory as a violent form of classification and reification, intent on suppressing the contradictions on which it depends. With and against this tradition, I approach Spenser’s ‘continued allegory’ as a mode of narrative figuration that is characterized instead by the mutual conditioning and reciprocal interplay of its poles; a poetics of the material that is a poetics of mediation. I offer new readings of three well-known gardens—the Bower of Bliss, the Temple of Venus, and the Garden of Adonis—showing how they provide especially rich expressions of the entanglement of and movement between concept and experience. The first two facilitate sustained critiques of the unyielding abstractions so capably supplied by their martial visitors, who damagingly abjure the difficulties of thinking and experience. The third, the Garden of Adonis, exhibits and invites a different kind of thinking—both critical and speculative—in the form of arboreal “inclination.” Neither entirely abstract nor intuitive, “inclination” affords an uncertain, expectant, moving concept, which refuses the suppression of its constitutive contradictions (the violence with which we are so familiar), and evokes, instead, the hope for a possible solidarity between them.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)218-249
Number of pages32
JournalEnglish Literary Renaissance
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2023

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