Denise Albanese ~ George Mason University
Milton's Motes

Of the scholarly attention that has recently been devoted to the representation of Chaos in Paradise Lost, John Leonard's argument for the influence of Lucretius' poem De rerum natura on Milton is particularly suggestive. Lucretius' text was the object of great interest in England from the middle of the seventeenth century onwards, having been translated in whole or in part by figures as disparate as Lucy Hutchinson and John Dryden. Like vitalism, it too held some purchase on revolutionary consciousness, as Reid Barbour has argued. But of course Lucretius also came into prominence in England as a result of the emergence of natural philosophy, which despite the growing influence of the Royal Society had not yet consolidated the priority of experimental over textualized ways of knowing (Bono; Shapin and Shaffer). Hence the importance of taking atoms as signs as well as physical entities. In keeping with recent work both on Milton and corpuscular theory (e.g., John Rogers) and on readings of Chaos in Book 2 of Paradise Lost, I argue for the relationship of Milton's poem to a textualized scientific practice. More particularly, I want to consider how Milton's depiction of the reserve matter of the universe constitutes what Lorraine Daston has deemed the "biography" of a scientific object lost to history.