Renaissance Poetics and the Problem of Power

Renaissance Poetics and the Problem of Power

Renaissance Poetics and the Problem of Power

Renaissance Poetics and the Problem of Power

Excerpt

What surmounts the reach
Of human sense, I shall delineate so,
By lik'ning spiritual to corporal forms,
As may express them best . . .

[Yet] who, though with the tongue
Of Angels, can relate, or to what things
Liken on Earth conspicuous, that may lift
Human imagination to such highth
Of Godlike Power?

Paradise Lost.

Creating avatars for good and evil and sensualizing -- that is, materializing for the imagination -- the consequences of beatitude or malediction are not properly the office of the theologian or the philosopher. Both, to be sure, have occasionally invoked strange muses to dramatize their systems, but few would impugn their effectiveness in their peculiar callings simply because they failed as image makers. One does not, after all, insist on finely coalescing sensibilities in the realm of exposition and argument. On the other hand, sometimes, one misses them. Especially one misses them in the exertions of such bridge builders and ferrymen as would secure our passage to the Happy Isles and Beyond. Creators of the most severe ethical disciplines generally find no difficulty in detailing (at times with excruciating minuteness) the immolation, the self-denial, and the pain necessary in attainment to bliss. But having climbed the steep and thorny path they look about them on a vague and abstract world, which, though it may be a justification for, is pretty generally an anticlimax to that heroic dedication exerted along the pathway. Such expositors may impose intellectual co-ordinates on an indescribable beatitude; they may calculate eternal providence with analogy, syllogism, dialectic, and -- if they are mystics -- with the baffling symbolism of revelation. Seldom, however, will they feelingly persuade the uninitiate of the blessedness of the elect.

One might argue that such bloodless abstractions constitute no rhetorical weakness at all; that they are necessary instruments in a kind of intellectual trial flight over realms of the . . .

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