Navigating Time: Cartographic Narratives in Early Modern English Literature

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Navigating Time: Cartographic Narratives in Early Modern English Literature

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Title: Navigating Time: Cartographic Narratives in Early Modern English Literature
Author: Barrett, Christine
Citation: Barrett, Christine. 2012. Navigating Time: Cartographic Narratives in Early Modern English Literature. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: In the sixteenth century, the cartographic revolution was rapidly changing the experience of everyday life in England. Modes of thinking and inhabiting space (such as astronomy, trigonometry, surveying, and cartography) were advanced and refined, and in England, the map went from rarity to ubiquity in less than seventy years. Navigating Time explores how literary strategies changed in response to this rapid shift in the technology of spatial representation. I consider four epics, the epic being the early modern genre most overtly invested in matters of empire (and thus, in matters of space and history). Building on the insights of the spatial turn in the humanities, I argue that the epic offers a radical critique of the technological innovations of the cartographic revolution and the menace those innovations posed. Alongside this critique, the early modern epic outlined a new poetics centered on navigation. Epics by Holinshed, Spenser, Drayton, and Milton sought to encompass the representational possibilities of the map, but also to highlight and exceed the map's narrative insufficiency. Holinshed's Chronicles reforms the topography of the city, converting its streets and alleys into historical texts and presenting historiography and mapping as competing interpretive frameworks for urban space. The Faerie Queene redefines genre as the conduct of bodies in space, making it thus impossible to fix Faeryland as a mappable terrain, and asserting the continuous interpretation required by allegory against the compression imposed by the map. Drayton's Poly-Olbion seems at first to be a verbal map of Britain, but the poem quietly insists on the power of literature not to mimic but rather to supplant the world it describes, becoming the terrain a map can only represent. Finally, Milton's Paradise Lost creates a form of navigating without a destination, by transforming history into a geographic expanse that cannot be mapped, only wandered.
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