"Where much of the scholarship on Lucretius and the early moderns examines his contributions to philosophy and science, Jessie Hock's brilliant book suggests powerful and far-reaching ways of engaging the specifically poetic aspects of Lucretian philosophy."—Elizabeth D. Harvey, University of TorontoIn The Erotics of Materialism, Jessie Hock maps the intersection of poetry and natural philosophy in the early modern reception of Lucretius and his De rerum natura. Subtly revising an ancient atomist tradition that condemned poetry as frivolous, Lucretius asserted a central role for verse in the practice of natural philosophy and gave the figurative realm a powerful claim on the real by maintaining that mental and poetic images have material substance and a presence beyond the mind or page. Attending to Lucretius's own emphasis on poetry, Hock shows that early modern readers and writers were alert to the fact that Lucretian materialism entails a theory of the imagination and, ultimately, a poetics, which they were quick to absorb and adapt to their own uses.
Focusing on the work of Pierre de Ronsard, Remy Belleau, John Donne, Lucy Hutchinson, and Margaret Cavendish, The Erotics of Materialism demonstrates how these poets drew on Lucretius to explore poetry's power to act in the world. Hock argues that even as classical atomist ideas contributed to the rise of empirical scientific methodologies that downgraded the capacity of the human imagination to explain material phenomena, Lucretian poetics came to stand for a poetry that gives the imagination a purchase on the real, from the practice of natural philosophy to that of politics.
In her reading of Lucretian influence, Hock reveals how early modern poets were invested in what Lucretius posits as the materiality of fantasy and his expression of it in a language of desire, sex, and love. For early modern poets, Lucretian eroticism was poetic method, and De rerum natura a treatise on the poetic imagination, initiating an atomist genealogy at the heart of the lyric tradition.
Jessie Hock is Assistant Professor of English at Vanderbilt University.