SPENSER AND “THE HUMAN”
Special Issue of Spenser Studies
Melissa E. Sanchez & Ayesha Ramachandran
This call for papers welcomes submissions for a special issue of Spenser Studies on the topic of Spenser and “The Human.” Over the past few decades, posthumanist studies have questioned the validity and ethics of understanding “the human” as a distinct ontological category, stressing the porousness of boundaries between human and other forms of life. While such studies have focused especially on the effects of modern science, technology, ecology, and animal rights discourse on definitions of humanity, their line of inquiry is hardly new: classical, medieval, and early modern philosophers and theologians had long pondered the question of what distinguishes human beings from the natural and supernatural worlds that surround them. Recognizing the centrality of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries to this problem, scholars of the early modern period have shown that an uncertainty about how to define the category of the human was in fact fundamental to the period’s literary and cultural debates. Animals, machines, corpses, ghosts, angels, subjects of conquest and colonization, and corporations (particularly in the form of the joint-stock company) could be both distinguished from and assimilated into the category of the human for polemical, economic, or experimental purposes, rendering the category productively ambiguous and malleable.
This volume aims to explore one important, neglected site for such engagement with early modern debates on the human and humanity: the writing of Edmund Spenser, whose life and work crosses a range of cultural and disciplinary boundaries. Spenser’s absence from the posthumanist archive is especially surprising given the wide variety of life forms that populate Spenser’s poetic and polemical worlds. We hope to bring together essays and conversations about Spenser’s oeuvre that will allow us to appreciate the complexity of early modern definitions of the human in the context of poetic representation, religious and political debate, humanist philosophy, colonial expansion, and emergent anatomical systems and scientific methods.
At the end of his Essais, Montaigne calls for new vision and appreciation of our humanity: “’Tis an absolute and, as it were, a divine perfection, for a man to know how loyally to enjoy his being. We seek other conditions, by reason we do not understand the use of our own; and go out of ourselves, because we know not how there to reside.” Few writers took up this call more fully, provocatively, and bravely than Spenser, whose writing is filled with investigations of the nature of our “being” and the complexities of enjoying it rightly. This volume issues a call to think through these connections and boundaries, and to explore how such thinking might reinvigorate our own critical and theoretical practice.
Please submit proposed title, along with an abstract of no more than 500 words, to Ayesha Ramachandran (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Melissa Sanchez (email@example.com) by April 15, 2014. Authors will be notified of selection by April 30, 2014. If selected, final essays will be due February 1, 2015.