Milton and the Culture of Violence
Michael Lieb, Research Professor of Humanities Emeritus and Professor of English Emeritus Michael Lieb
Cornell University Press, 1994 - 273 pages
In this powerful work of criticism, Michael Lieb explores the culture of violence - shaped by myth as well as historical circumstance - that colors Milton's outlook and permeates his art. In Lieb's view, a central image in Milton's writings is the specter of sparagmos, or bodily mutilation and dismemberment. Tracing this image across Milton's entire career, Lieb offers authoritative new readings of Areopagitica, A Mask, Lycidas, Samson Agonistes, and Paradise Lost, as well as of lesser-known works.
Milton, says Lieb, perceived himself as besieged by brutal forces constantly threatening his body and mind with dissolution. Lieb shows how Milton strove, in his poetry and polemical prose writings, to overcome these forces. Accompanying the preoccupation with wholeness that underlay Milton's sense of self, Lieb asserts, was a profound concern with sexuality.
At the root of the culture of violence that Milton experienced, ambivalence over the bisexuality of his identity proved crucial to his conduct as an individual and as a writer. Lieb regards Milton's complex response to his gendered self as a key to interpreting the themes of bodily mutilation and dismemberment which inform his work.
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