Transformative Allegory: Imagination from Alan of Lille to Spenser

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Transformative Allegory: Imagination from Alan of Lille to Spenser

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Title: Transformative Allegory: Imagination from Alan of Lille to Spenser
Author: Gorman, Sara Elizabeth
Citation: Gorman, Sara Elizabeth. 2013. Transformative Allegory: Imagination from Alan of Lille to Spenser. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This dissertation traces the progress of the personified imagination from the twelfth-century De planctu Naturae to the sixteenth-century Faerie Queene, arguing that the transformability of the personified imagination becomes a locus for questioning personification allegory across the entire period. The dissertation demonstrates how, even while the imagination seems to progress from a position of subordination to a position of dominance, certain features of the imagination's unstable nature reappear repeatedly at every stage in this period's development of the figure. Deep suspicion of the faculty remains a regular part of the imagination's allegorical representation throughout these five centuries. Within the period, we witness the imagination trying to assert its allegorical position in the context of other, more established allegorical figures such as Reason and Nature. In this way, the history of the personification of the imagination is surprisingly continuous from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries. This "continuity" is not absolute but functions as a consistent recombination of a standard set of features of and attitudes toward imagination that rematerializes regularly. In order to understand this phenomenon at any point in these five centuries, it is essential to examine imagination across the entire period. In particular, the dissertation discovers an alternative, more nuanced view of the personified imagination than has thus far been posited. The imagination is a thoroughly ambivalent character, always on the cusp of transformation, and nearly always locked in a power struggle with other allegorical figures. At the same time, as the allegorical imagination repeatedly attempts to establish itself, it becomes a locus for intense questioning of the meaning and process of personification. The imagination remains transformative, uncertain, and at times terrifying throughout this entire period.
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