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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Worldmaking in early modern Europe: Global imaginations from Montaigne to Milton
by Ramachandran, Ayesha, Ph.D., Yale University, 2008, 436; 3317274
Abstract (Summary)

This study tells two related stories about the place of fiction-making and global expansion in the late Renaissance: the disintegration and refashioning of the world as a coherent concept from about 1580 to 1670, and the developing epistemological importance of imaginary-world fictions to that process. The post-Columbian world of the sixteenth century was no longer the familiar, divinely ordered, humanly mapped terrain well-known to classical antiquity and the Middle Ages. By the 1580s, the culmination of several related movements—such as the pursuit of colonial and commercial exploration, the growing intellectual trends of skeptical thought, theological questioning, and astronomical speculation—exposed the inability of traditional explanatory systems to comprehend the world as a discrete unit. The world now demanded a new intellectual framework that would organize an amorphous global consciousness into a coherent form or system.

My project examines four representative philosophical and poetic texts of the period—Montaigne's Essais, Spenser's Faerie Queene, Descartes' Le monde and Milton's Paradise Lost—as responses to this crisis of worldmaking. Each one takes the world as its key subject, and despite diversity, all are united by their approach to reconceive the global whole: all imagine alternate worlds of a fictional or hypothetical nature that provide possible paradigms for reformulating an idea of “the world.”

However, this struggle to re-conceptualize the world also contained a paradox. Even though many dreamed of discovering an absolute, perhaps divine, system of world-order, the widespread cultural activity of imagining worlds ultimately disclosed the impossibility of that aspiration. While such worlds provided the foundation for a new science and a new global politics, they also exposed these systems as necessary fictions used to build ideological strength and to offer consolation in the face of an uncertain, fragmented world-view. “Worldmaking in Early Modern Europe” explores the development of a distinctly modern concept of “the world” as it emerged through the interstices between literary fiction-making and early modern philosophy, politics, science and religion. In the process, it argues for an intellectual kinship between imaginative making and the discourses of post-Cartesian rationalism.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Patterson, Annabel, Quint, David
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 69/06, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Comparative literature, Romance literature, British and Irish literature
Keywords: Descartes, Rene, France, Global imaginations, Globalization history, Milton, John, Montaigne, Michel de, Spenser, Edmund, World history
Publication Number: 3317274
ISBN: 978-0-549-65319-6
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