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Title: The Discomposed Mind
Authors: Harlow, Lucy
Advisors: Smith, Vance
Leo, Russell
Contributors: English Department
Keywords: Andrew Marvell
Hypnerotomachia Poliphili
Margaret Cavendish
Old English
Seventeenth century
Subjects: English literature
Issue Date: 2019
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: The Discomposed Mind explores literary texts which explicitly seek to unsettle the mind of the reader. I begin by exploring the riddles of the Exeter Book, which, despite their frequently profane subject matter, often map onto theological problems and permit profound meditation upon them. The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, a fifteenth-century romance, is considered in the second chapter with reference to its image-generating strategies as a penitential practice. The conflicting geometries of Andrew Marvell’s ‘The Definition of Love’ form a riddle strongly reminiscent of the Old English texts examined in the first chapter; the mathematical impossibility of the love object is imagined with counterintuitive detachment. The final chapter examines the unruly genres of the seventeenth century which imitate thought, focusing on Margaret Cavendish’s consideration of experimental science as a brain-altering jest wrought by Nature against the minds of men. What these disparate texts share is a tendency to deploy arational literary strategies in order to effect strenuous alteration in their readers, and to isolate this alteration in order to apply it to different questions. In the monastic codices of the Exeter Book and the Hypnerotomachia, the problems addressed are at least in part theological. In the seventeenth-century texts, the engagement is with contemporary scientific thought and the imaginative models it generates. By isolating details and requiring the reader to rebuild the context from a place of alienation, these texts generate in the imagination not a reconstruction, but a new vision of surpassing wholeness.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:English

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