This article looks at how English critics, biographers, and poets once sported with the image, idea, and biomaterial of John Milton’s hair. Their play is contextualized within the materialist and instrumental values that were instituted in eighteenth-century literary criticism and biography and that remain central to the humanities today. It was the philologists, antiquarians, bibliophiles, biographers, and anecdotalists of the long eighteenth century who linked the value of cultural objects to their work in the cultural world. The objects sheltered from that world—aesthetic ones in the modern sense—were meanwhile endowed with qualities purloined from an otherwise debunked supernatural register. These contradictory values, all object-centered, cultivated skepticism in observers and thus scripted still-privileged affective postures of mourning and melancholia with respect to objects of inquiry. Dynamic entanglement with Milton’s hair in eighteenth-century critical writing tells a different story. It teaches us to approach that writing as
writing and to value “Milton’s hair” as auratic in the communicative sense later displaced by diffident, object-centered models of the aura. Can we define and engage our “material” along the lines of eighteenth-century “entanglement” with Milton’s hair?
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