Book In Progress: Lyric Thinking: Poetry, Selfhood, Modernity


My current book project, "Lyric Thinking: Poetry, Selfhood, Modernity," argues for the central importance of lyric form and language in shaping new intellectual possibilities for the self in the early modern period and beyond. Drawing together scholarship on theories of mind, cognition and meditation with a complex literary history of lyric's foundational encounters with other genres, particularly the epic, the book connects the cultural fortunes of poetry to the lyric's ability to interrogate, analyze, meditate, and engage in non-propositional mental processes. These include complex tasks of abstract reasoning through symbolic figuration, anti-teleological reflections on temporality and historicity, intimations of embodied cognition, and an embrace of contingency, which, I suggest, anticipate the epistemological shifts associated with modernity. The book thus makes an intervention into the ancient quarrel between poetry and philosophy by suggesting how the seemingly unphilosophical modes of thinking celebrated in the lyric paradoxically enable philosophical reorientations—facilitating, for instance, the rise of the New Science and conceptions of individual agency. At the same time, it sharply revises a well-worn narrative about the Renaissance discovery of the individual to reconsider how lyric thinking—manifested in the immense popularity of the lyric as a genre after Petrarch—may have been instrumental in crafting the modern vision of a radically relational self, caught between solitude and sociality.