The Erotics of Materialism: Lucretius and Early Modern Poetics

December 4, 2020
The Erotics of Materialism: Lucretius and Early Modern Poetics

In The Erotics of Materialism, Jessie Hock maps theintersection of poetry and natural philosophy in the early modernreception of Lucretius and his De rerum natura. Subtlyrevising an ancient atomist tradition that condemned poetry asfrivolous, Lucretius asserted a central role for verse in thepractice of natural philosophy and gave the figurative realm apowerful claim on the real by maintaining that mental and poeticimages have material substance and a presence beyond the mind orpage. Attending to Lucretius's own emphasis on poetry, Hock showsthat early modern readers and writers were alert to the fact thatLucretian materialism entails a theory of the imagination and,ultimately, a poetics, which they were quick to absorb and adapt totheir own uses.Focusing on the work of Pierre de Ronsard, Remy Belleau, JohnDonne, Lucy Hutchinson, and Margaret Cavendish, The Erotics ofMaterialism demonstrates how these poets drew on Lucretius toexplore poetry's power to act in the world. Hock argues that evenas classical atomist ideas contributed to the rise of empiricalscientific methodologies that downgraded the capacity of the humanimagination to explain material phenomena, Lucretian poetics cameto stand for a poetry that gives the imagination a purchase on thereal, from the practice of natural philosophy to that ofpolitics.In her reading of Lucretian influence, Hock reveals how earlymodern poets were invested in what Lucretius posits as themateriality of fantasy and his expression of it in a language ofdesire, sex, and love. For early modern poets, Lucretian eroticismwas poetic method, and De rerum natura a treatise on thepoetic imagination, initiating an atomist genealogy at the heart ofthe lyric tradition.