Why Milton is Not an Iconoclast
For thirty years the scholarly consensus has been that John Milton was an iconoclast, an idol breaker. I argue that instead of destroying idols, Milton’s poems capture and preserve them under judgment. By investing captured idols with poetic care even as he hollows them out from the inside, Milton refashions them as the instruments of their own disenchantment. This alternative response resembles what the theorist Bruno Latour calls “iconoclash.” Even Eikonoklastes, which Milton wrote in refutation of Charles I’s Eikon Basilike, is not an iconoclastic tract. I suggest that his late poems gain much of their aesthetic power from the idols they preserve, through a kind of Lucretian experience that I call the “idolatrous sublime.”
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