I have said that my choice of The Faerie Queene, as the first text with which to begin a book focusing on the determination and exposition of transgression, was dictated by my reading of it as a founding text in the history of modern subjectivity. The modernity of the subject is defined for me in part by the subject’s entry into an awareness, however rudimentary or embryonic, of its own historicity and materiality, most simply expressed throughout the poem as the unending and ineluctable struggle between ‘gentle deeds’ and ‘fierce warres’. Spenser gives occasion to the potential for awareness through staging series of events that come into being because epic and allegorical certainties or absolutes have begun to break down (Martin 1998, 4). Whilst allegory, epic and heroic modes of mythopoesis rely on ‘a secure assurance that the complexity of the world can be subsumed within the intelligibility of a figural and/or diagrammatic relation of parts’ (4), the imperative of self-fashioning offers a countersignature that undermines such assurance through an insistence on material contingency, and so transgresses the limits assumed in the subordination of the subject to the totality and unity of form.
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