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The Beginnings of Writing in the Beginnings of the World: Creation and Authorship

Subproject 5

Prof. Dr. Verena Lobsien
Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Neuere englische Literatur, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

The project examines the relationship between creation and authorship in premodern literature. Its initial intuition is linked to the ambiguity of ‘creation’ as the creation of a world as well as the production of a text, and it intends to explore this doubleness of word and world by focussing on the construction of authorship in narratives of creation. It will explore and describe the specific modes in which both senses of creation are connected in early modern and medieval texts. With Hildegard of Bingen, Spenser and Milton as central and paradigmatic examples, the context is widened to include lesser-known hexameral and cosmogonic literature in order to gain insight into the functions of premodern etiological narration.

In this, two hypotheses will be put to the test: (1) The narratives of creation to be explored show how creation and authorial creativity are connected in a poetically formative manner. (2) Read as etiologies, these narratives of the world’s origin, production and coming into being bear the potential to delegitimize historical order by making evident that, while its deep-time beginnings are beyond human grasp, the becoming of the world is anthropogenically determined, hence contingent and open to change. Thus, they appear as ecocritical avant la lettre. Close readings of these texts – most of them authorial as well as, in a wider sense, scriptural –, together with an analysis of the ways they organize their own etiological temporality will help to unfold the poetics they imply, thereby contributing, in a modest way, to showing how, as “ecopoesis” (Kate Rigby), poetry may “save the earth” (Jonathan Bate).