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Coming ToConsciousness and Natality in Early Modern England$
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Timothy M. Harrison

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226725093

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226725260.001.0001

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(p.1) Introduction
Coming To

Timothy M. Harrison

University of Chicago Press

The Introduction situates the protagonists of Coming To (René Descartes, John Milton, Thomas Traherne, and John Locke) in relation to a shared but distinct commitment to the experience of absolute novelty. Providing a new history of the concept of consciousness as it emerged in the latter half of the seventeenth century, the Introduction shows how early modern poetry was uniquely equipped to unravel some of its mysteries. Consciousness is a concept that is fully grounded in particulars: it indexes the appearance of all of the somethings that might show up for someone. This means that it is perfectly suited for mimesis, the discursive practice of representation situated on the horizon of the particular. Drawing the history of consciousness together with a theorization of how fiction relates to poetry, the Introduction argues that Milton and Traherne weld concept to mimesis by representing the scene of originary experience, the experience of the earliest glimmerings of consciousness. The Introduction also outlines the methodological commitments of Coming To, discussing a scholarly practice that involves the union of close critical analysis, historical phenomenology, a theory of concepts, and intellectual history.

Keywords:   consciousness, natality, mimesis, fiction, poetry, conceptual history, John Milton, Thomas Traherne, John Locke, René Descartes

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