Stories of Chaos: Reason and its Displacement in Early Modern English Narrative, 1st Edition (e-Book) book cover

Stories of Chaos

Reason and its Displacement in Early Modern English Narrative, 1st Edition

By Nick Davis


195 pages

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First published in 1999, this volume re-examines narrative design in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Faerie Queene, King Lear and Paradise Lost. Written in a period newly set on finding practical application for available systems of reasoning, these texts confront in their different ways reason’s absolute limitation in the face of a Real which it cannot adequately represent to itself or recruit to its own purposes. An influential model for the staging of such a confrontation was the mythic, cosmological narrative of Plato’s Timaeus. In their rewriting of Plato’s narrative the English texts deploy but also destabilize the ancient conceptual polarization of the ‘rational’ and the ‘irrational’ or ‘chaotic’, rethought in the terms offered by their period’s innovatory practices of reasoning. The study establishes the critical importance of telling a story of chaos by comparing the narrative method of its chosen texts with that adopted by Freud and Lacan as a means of reflection on the psychoanalytic encounter with an ultimately chaotic Real.

This book has unusual interdisciplinary scope, and offers historically grounded, theoretically informed new readings of four major early modern English literary texts.


’Davis argues his readings by deploying an impressive grasp of classical, medieval, and Renaissance mathematical and cosmological thought, and by scrupulous attention to the detail of the texts he studies.’ Modern Language review, Vol. 95, No. 4 ’…an interesting and challenging book.’ Helen Cooper, Medium Aevum Vol. LXIX ’Davis’s thesis is exciting; it illuminates the literary articulations of an important dimension of early modern thinking.’ Shakespeare Survey '… a thought -provoking study of the tensions between rationality and disorder in the years prior to the consolidation of Enlightenment models of uniform process and practice.' Parergon 'There is much to recommend this (…), not least the exploration of how gender issues are employed within the narrative as a means of approaching other conceptual problems.' Year's Work in English Studies

Table of Contents

1. Introductory: Reason and Symbolic Bliss. 2. A Mathematical Plot: Plato’s Likely Story … Er, Stories. 3. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: an Unfolded Narrative. 4. ‘A Foolish Mad World’: The Faerie Queene as Critique of Reason. 5. ‘These Late Eclipses’: Reason’s Primal Scene. 6. Milton Swallows Chaos. 7. Retrospect: but, Narrative is Not Cosmology.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LITERARY CRITICISM / Comparative Literature