Inhabiting this Hour: John Milton, His Bequest, 1608-2010

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Department of English, University of Delhi, India

DSA International Seminar
Department of English, University of Delhi

February 17-19, 2010

Inhabiting this Hour: John Milton, His Bequest, 1608-2010

Milton scholarship has taken important turns of late. While lasting concerns ranging from his rewordings and transformation of classicical texts, his handling of Christian motifs and issues to his engagement with the literary traditions of his time, not all of which conformed to Protestant values, remain central to a full appreciation of his oeuvre, fresh grounds have been broken. His classical republican moorings, for instance, are now coming into sharp focus. Critics like David Norbrook and Martin Dzelzainis read his anti-tyrannical, monarchomach rhetoric in the backdrop of Polybius and Cicero. Meanwhile, a case for a more radical and dissenting Milton is forwarded by the likes of Sharon Achinstein, David Loewenstein and John Rumrich—who underscore an evolving animist materialist universe and quiet heterodoxy in his gestures and writings. A cognate concern is Milton's environmental ethics, which is now being enthusiastically reevaluated, especially in the light of the intellectual tide against which he strove: Baconian and Cartesian interpretation of the dominion over nature, a view that ends up making nature a storehouse of commodities and knowledge base.

From the other end of the spectrum, Milton's position and role as a government official during the Protectorate materializes as a crucial key to unlock colonial overtures of his time, especially keeping in mind the Celtic question and how the English nation sought to tackle that aspect of governance. Reading Milton as an emerging and astute liberal rather than as a dissenting humanist has also been a staple, starting right from George Sensabaugh's eloquent designation of the poet as "that Grand Whig.' Is he then a pragmatist par excellence, flummoxing his interlocutors to arrive at any stable conclusion about his various inclinations and positions, ranging across his career? Is he the most beautiful of capitalism's first fruits?

The seminar, within this setting, would concentrate on Milton's legacy for our times in relation to his own. Issues of nationhood, ecology, ethics, theology, gender, aesthetics and polemics are deeply relevant today, across the globe, as they were during early modern times. One may enframe the convergence broadly into three dialectical moments. One, a tussle between a relentless individual vision and an enduring cosmological/communitarian scheme of things. The other axis crafts a relationship between Milton's aesthetics and his rhetorical/hermeneutical maneuvers. The third and overarching orbit would be to mark a diachronic tension: by contextualizing the reigning concerns of Milton's time with our own. To unlock this axis will be one of our primary focuses.

The third axis also takes us into the domain of Milton reception and his after life. Recent scholarship has tracked the after-life of John Bunyan's much traveled texts in 19th and 20th century Africa. Others have looked at how the epic genre itself, so carefully crafted by Milton, gets reworked in the light of the revolutionary currents of late eighteenth century and the emergence of the new republic of letters. Did radical liberals of the nineteenth century draw upon the work of Milton in the way William Hone drew upon John Lilburne? How would we evaluate Milton's writings on divorce today in the history of gender relations or his reflections about the freedom of press in the light of periodic clampdowns on blogs and websites? Does the fiery cocktail of humanist rhetoric and imaginative techniques in Milton and his deep-seated sectarian leanings make us envision an all together different kind of public life, where matter jostles with spirit, labor with prayer? Perhaps one could reminisce seriously about the prophet of Bread Street as one flips through the pages of Jacques Ranciere's Nights of Labor or Jean Luc Nancy's The Inoperative Community.

Our foremost aim is to have a conversation with John Milton, a candid dialogic exchange that seeks to inform, enliven and enlarge the very idea of public sphere.

Possible Heads (but not limited to)

Ethics & Theology

Religious Embodiments
Ethical Imperatives
Heterodoxy, Heresy, Chiliasm
Reformation and Liberty
Critical Humanism

Textual, Aesthetic Issues

New Textual Scholarship
Milton, Garden, the Environment
Freethinking and Aesthetics of Freedom
The Dynamic Genre

Politics, Gender, Ecology

Labor and Practice
Provincializing Milton
Milton as a Polemicist
Milton and London

Space, Time, Reception

Geographical Perceptions
Milton and Science
Enframing Time
Potential Milton
Milton: critical reception (including engraving, films, musical scores and so forth)

A limited amount of air and rail fare for the participating scholars will be available and the selected participants would be informed by the first week of January. All other participants may have to find their own sources of funding for travel. However, local hospitality will be made available to all participating members and once selected, participants are requested to contact the seminar committee members as early as possible in order to ensure and facilitate their boarding/lodging requirements.

Submission Guidelines

Submission should be between 1000-3000 words.
Send email queries and submissions (as Word documents), with your name and affiliation to:

Prasanta Chakravarty (
Sumanyu Satpathy (
Shirshendu Chakrabarti (
Christel Rashmi Devadawson (

Deadline: December 21, 2009.