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Untold FuturesTime and Literary Culture in Renaissance England$
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J. K. Barret

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781501702365

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501702365.001.0001

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Circles of the Future

Circles of the Future

Memory or Monument in Paradise Lost

(p.209) Afterword Circles of the Future
Untold Futures

J. K. Barret

Cornell University Press

This chapter argues that John Milton’s Paradise Lost proves literature capable of unsettling the inevitability of the future. As Adam lingers in paradise in the precious moments between fall and expulsion, he imagines memories he would have shared with his sons. Yet, these are not projected, proleptic memories. Rather, postlapsarian Eden is thwarted by a revised, insufficient version of anticipatory nostalgia: Adam fills the imagined future with the same past-oriented mourning that already haunts his present. Instead of providing an anticipation that motivates present action, Adam’s rhetorical visions prove destructive; they threaten to turn the Edenic landscape into a memorial site filled with ruins. Whereas the poem denies this anticipatory nostalgia because it is too dependent on the past, the present it offers beyond the garden becomes a boundless space of imagination. Milton’s conception of the future, both within and without his poetry, registers a fellowship that renders the earlier Renaissance poets treated in this book a potent presence. Along with them, or perhaps in spite of them, he privileges the importance and potential of literature to shape, advocate, and establish England’s national and poetic fortitude.

Keywords:   John Milton, Paradise Lost, future, anticipatory nostalgia

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