English Studies 95:6 (2014), 95:6 (2014), 597-619
This essay explores the allegorical poetics of PPl in light of the larger question of the poem’s modernity. L persistently brings his allegorical agents to the point of narrative failure by threatening to dissolve them into the linguistic matter from which they come. His exposure of his agents as errant bits of language is so radically and skeptically critical that many scholars have read his poem as an experiment in theological nominalism and, by extension, in an emergent modernity. This essay too proposes that it is useful to read PPl as a phase in an early modern cultural history. Crawford looks for signs of L’s disenchanting project not just in the dissolution of his allegorical agents but also in their robust bodily and narrative presence. These agents burst again and again from the order of language into the order of history, and L renders them as manifestations of the Christ – and of the Antichrist – who plays, as he says, ‘in alle places.’ His book of words made flesh is all at once a book of incarnation and a book of demonology, and his disenchanting poetry registers both the absence of God from the institutions of history and the unstable residues of God in the activities and discourses of those institutions.