English Language and Literature ETDs


Bruce Carroll

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The Early-Modernization of the Classical Muse juxtaposes ancient and Renaissance uses of the Muse to retrieve her from the status of mere literary convention. I draw on Hans Blumenbergs 'reoccupation' (Umbesetzung) thesis, which locates in philosophy concerns originally raised in myth, to argue that the poet's relationship with his Muse, as the perceived source of his art form, was always somehow ontological (ontology: the theory of human being). In the pre-literate, pre-philosophical invocations of archaic figures like Homer and Hesiod, I locate the 'ontological stirrings' in which the poet identifies his self through his at times troublesome and combative dependence on the Muse. By early modernity, a philosophical era, the classical Muse's appearances figure radical and imminently modern shifts in a still-persistent essentialist ontology. Here poets assert a re-orientation to the human person, a new ontology centered not on humanity's quondam dependence on nature, the deified genetrix overseeing all sublunary production (including poetry), but on an independent human production, so that techne, or art, becomes not only the prime factor in the recognition of human being but also the vehicle for its re-orientation. A chief contribution of this dissertation is its identification of an ontological poetics. Impossible outside of poetic language, this poetics employs inversions of conceit and discontinuous rhetorical structures to raze the vertical scales that placed causes (like nature or the Muse) over their effects (the poet and poetry). Ontological poetics forwards instead a horizontal ontology based on lateral connections among the poet-speaker, his beloved poetic subject, and the poem itself. A critical novelty of this project is that unlike in any of Blumenberg's examples of reoccupation, these analyses must consider the return of a myth within the era of philosophy. Because the appearances of the Muse in early modern poetry embody the basic ontological issues that the era of philosophy originally inherited from her, her early modern situation acts as an acid test for Blumenberg's thesis.'

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Greenberg, Marissa

Second Committee Member

Graham, Timothy




Early modern, Renaissance, Philosophy, Literature

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