Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
"Matter of Glorious Trial"

"Matter of Glorious Trial": Spiritual and Material Substance in "Paradise Lost"

N. K. SUGIMURA
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 352
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vm487
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    "Matter of Glorious Trial"
    Book Description:

    This groundbreaking book, the first to examine Milton's thinking about matter and substance throughout his entire poetic career, seeks to alter the prevailing critical view that Milton was a monist-materialist-one who believes that all things are composed of material and all phenomena (including consciousness) are the result of material interactions.

    Based on her close study of the philosophical movements of Milton's mind, Sugimura discovers the "fluid intermediaries" in his poetry that are neither strictly material nor immaterial. In doing so, Sugimura usesParadise Lostas a fascinating window into the intersection of literature and philosophy, and of literary studies and intellectual history. Sugimura finds that Milton displays a tense and ambiguous relationship with the idealistic dualism of Plato and the materialism of Aristotle and she argues for a more nuanced interpretation of Milton's metaphysics.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15634-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. xiii-xxiv)

    “THEN FEED ON THOUGHTS, that voluntarie move / Harmonious numbers”—in the writing of this book, I have had two major preoccupations: the first is with the idea that Milton conceives of the act of creating poetry as a mode of thinking; the second, which has emerged as my major theme, is with Milton’s conception of substance.

    My book therefore seeks to examine not only the way Milton himself “feed[s] on thoughts” but also how he pleasurably explores multiple intellectual positions through the making of his poetry. In particular, this book investigates the ways in which Milton’s thought informs his...

  5. NOTES AND ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xxv-xxx)
  6. CHAPTER ONE The University Years: MILTON AND SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY ARISTOTELIANISM AT CAMBRIDGE
    (pp. 1-39)

    MILTON’S THINKING ABOUT SUBSTANCE—about the complex relationship between form and matter, Plato and Aristotle—started early and continued late. My present purpose is to examine how the intellectual legacy Milton inherited during his university career (c. 1625–32) testifies to his preoccupation with and examination of matter and substance. In seeking to establish that Milton engages seriously with Aristotle as well as with scholastic philosophy, this chapter traces his encounters with and treatments of Aristotelian philosophy at the early stages of his university career. Drawing on Milton’s early academic exercises and letters to his former teachers, we are able...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Milton’s Metaphysic and Linguistic Practice in Paradise Lost
    (pp. 40-80)

    FROM THE “SALTY” WIT OF MILTON’S Prolusions and letters to the imagery ofParadise Lostitself, Milton appears to cultivate a style that constantly subverts the jargon of a sclerotic Aristotelianism while continuing to respect Aristotle himself. In this way, he may be seen to participate in the larger seventeenth-century project of dismantling the totalizing system of an Aristotelian worldview. Yet the interpretative categories with which Milton analyzes the world and which structure his poetry’s existential relationship to external reality remain fundamentally Aristotelian. The tension this produces emerges most clearly in Raphael’s famous “one first matter all” speech, where Milton’s...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Milton’s Early Poems: THE AGON BETWEEN PLATO AND ARISTOTLE
    (pp. 81-112)

    MILTON’S POETRY MAY BE READ as placing alternative philosophic structures, such as Platonism, in opposition to Aristotelian thought, thereby exposing important fault lines in their respective ontologies. It may be helpful, therefore, to entertain the idea that Milton does not uncomplicatedly prefer Plato over Aristotle, as critics often assume. If we understand Milton’s thought as moving deftly between a Platonic and an Aristotelian ontology, substance in Milton appears capable of being construed as both Form (Plato) and also as enmattered form, or the material compound (Aristotle).¹ The supposition that Milton, after dallying with Platonism in his youth, later repented of...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Milton on the Soul
    (pp. 113-157)

    MILTON’S EARLY YEARS cannot be categorized as Neoplatonic, if by “Neoplatonism” one means simply Platonic in opposition to Aristotle. Even though the Milton of the 1620s and after reveals an impatience with vacuous scholastic distinctions (and here he will sound materialistic), he still appears to display a keen interest in strands of immaterialism woven into Aristotle’s conception of the soul. These strands were subsequently elaborated upon by Aristotelian commentators like Simplicius and Philoponus. Given that these commentators were read in the Renaissance as authorizing interpretations of Aristotle that were considered faithful to the original Greek texts, this intellectual climate—in...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Milton’s Angelology: INTELLIGENTIAL SUBSTANCE IN PARADISE LOST
    (pp. 158-195)

    IT IS GENERALLY HELD THAT MILTON, who declared the soul to be material, similarly conceived of his angels as material.¹ But, as we saw in the last chapter, the status of the soul in Milton resists physical redaction in terms of his metaphysics as well as his poetic practice. A study of Milton’s account of the angels inParadise Lostmay likewise prove to be more complex than one might have thought. Recent scholarship provides ample testimony that this is indeed the case: writing on Milton’s angels, Joad Raymond claims that they “are substantial, physical beings; they are spirits, but...

  11. CHAPTER SIX From Angels to the Almighty: ACCOMMODATION AND THE PROBLEM OF NARRATIVE INTELLIGIBILITY
    (pp. 196-230)

    I SUGGESTED ABOVE THAT IN AVAILING himself of the (neo-Scholastic) Latin commentary tradition of Aristotle’sDe anima, Milton effectively employed his angels to meditate on the exalted mode of knowing characterized by the possible intellect and that, in so doing, he explored the difficulties the idea of a Grand Possible Intellect posed for his theodicy. But it may also be the case that Milton’s thinking about angels is further complicated by problems inherent in literary expression. Since Milton’s method of representation directly influences what he can and cannot say about the relationship between matter and spirit, this chapter is a...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Prime Matter, Subject of Chaos
    (pp. 231-279)

    IF THE GOD OFPARADISE LOSTexceeds material representation, it appears that Chaos does not. Milton’s depiction of prime matter is fraught with tension. While this may be owing to the philosophic problems Milton creates through his philosophic accounts of prime matter, it also owes something to the problems in representation that Milton necessarily encountered when he attempted to place the unapprehensible into poetry. Much may be gained, therefore, in analyzing the way Milton’s allegorical figuration of Chaos attains to something approaching a philosophical and theological understanding of prime matter (first discussed in chapter 2).

    Milton’s poetry appears to present...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 280-284)

    MY PURPOSE IN THIS BOOK has been to consider Milton’s evolving conception of substance in the context of his poetic method. It was largely prompted by the belief that Milton conceives of poetry as a mode of thinking—so richly suggested by the quotation fromParadise Lostwith which I opened this study: “Then feed on thoughts, that voluntarie move / Harmonious numbers” (III.37–38). Upon first reading, thoughts “move” themselves in a “voluntarie,” or spontaneous, fashion. But as we continue to read past the line-break, the verb “move” suddenly—and perhaps rather unexpectedly—becomes transitive: we are now invited...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 285-346)
  15. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 347-392)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 393-402)