Composed after the collapse of his political hopes, Milton's great poems Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes are an effort to understand what it means to be a poet on the threshold of a post-theological world. The argument of Delirious Milton, inspired in part by the architectural theorist Rem Koolhaas's Delirious New York, is that Milton's creative power is drawn from a rift at the center of his consciousness over the question of creation itself. This rift forces the poet to oscillate deliriously between two incompatible perspectives, at once affirming and denying the presence of spirit in what he creates. From one perspective the act of creation is centered in God and the purpose of art is to imitate and praise the Creator. From the other perspective the act of creation is centered in the human, in the built environment of the modern world. The oscillation itself, continually affirming and negating the presence of spirit, of a force beyond the human, is what Gordon Teskey means by delirium. He concludes that the modern artist, far from being characterized by what Benjamin (after Baudelaire) called "loss of the aura," is invested, as never before, with a shamanistic spiritual power that is mediated through art.
This is a brilliant book…that repays attentive reading… An important and elegant book, for which all sensible Miltonists and lovers of poetry should be grateful.
[Teskey’s] book is an interesting reaffirmation in today’s often contrary academic climate of a poetic approach to Milton, swiping at those who would specialize Milton studies into obscurity. He is refreshingly suspicious of narrowly historicist or theological readings and even calls Milton’s poetry ‘shamanistic,’ which will have certain Miltonists choking on their historicist porridge. Perhaps we need to be told this kind of thing, and Teskey’s deep seriousness and stylistic verve is attractive.
Gordon Teskey begins his meditation by observing that, in contrast to Spenser, Milton is a poet of the ‘origin’; that is, he ‘strives to understand things by going back to their beginnings.’ What Milton finds when he goes back is the act of divine creation, the consciousness of which enters into a complex and even vertiginous relationship with the creation the poet himself is now attempting. Out of ‘the rapid alternation between those two,’ between ‘obedience to the existence of the other and resolution to produce,’ Milton, says Teskey, produces a poetry of delirium. It is the achievement of Teskey’s book to match that delirium—that sense of the unconfinable and our struggles to confine it—with his own.
This is the most important study of Milton to be written in many years. Teskey has a rare gift for combining rigorous argument with an unusually broad sense of literary history. He thinks afresh about Milton—no mean achievement—and at the same time provides us with a new way of understanding the conditions under which Milton could be a poet of such cosmic range.
A brooding, brilliant, fantastically ambitious book in which Gordon Teskey undertakes to write a history of modernity through an analysis of creation in Milton. For Teskey, Milton was not only the greatest epic poet since Homer but also the philosophical revolutionary who marked the decisive break between divine will and human will. Before Milton, poets derived their authority from the cosmos that God had created; after Milton, they claimed the power of creation for themselves. At once risk-taking and deeply learned, Delirious Milton is a crucial text for anyone who wishes to understand the central claims of modern art.
- 224 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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