Mark Derdzinski. His intention, clearly, is "to look less at the presumed center of the literary domain than at its borders, to try to track what can only be glimpsed, as it were, at the margins of the text" 4. In his first chapter, Greenblatt defines this reciprocal process of historical influence and textual creation as the reflection of influences he identifies as "social energy" 4. He then applies this approach to seemingly unrelated texts, usually a chronicle and a play of the same period, to exemplify the trace of a particular form of social energy. It is very simple.

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Save Story Save this story for later. The English were only a small, ragged band of men—Raleigh had sent no women at this exploratory stage—in a vast, uncharted land inhabited by well-organized, prosperous, and proud peoples. Harriot saw that they could not be effortlessly subjugated. And the new arrivals, though small in number, had an additional advantage. The disease also so strange, that they neither knew what it was, nor how to cure it, the like by report of the oldest men in the country never happened before, time out of mind.

They speculated that the handful of colonists was only the beginning. That Harriot took the trouble to record this metaphor is a mark of his unusual gifts as an ethnographer, but it may also reflect his own speculative interests.

But Harriot was suspected throughout his career of being an atheist, and more specifically of being a disciple of the ancient Epicurean philosopher Lucretius. And Lucretius, as it happens, devoted particular attention to epidemics. Humans should not cower in fear of divine punishment, he wrote, or perform slavish sacrificial offerings in the hope of divine rewards.

The universe is not the mysterious plaything of gods or demons; it consists of atoms and emptiness and nothing else. There is, in all of this movement, no fixed pattern, no overarching intention, no trace of intelligent design. Instead, over a boundless expanse of time and space, there are ceaseless, random mutations.

Old forms are constantly dying; new forms are constantly surging up. For Lucretius, this vision was profoundly consoling: instead of fretting about the gods or worrying about the afterlife, you should focus your attention on this world, the only one you will ever experience, and calmly go about enhancing pleasure for yourself and for everyone around you.

But he knew that the news he brought was not unequivocally reassuring. If diseases were not inflicted upon you by angry gods, they nonetheless had to come from somewhere, namely from the same ceaselessly swirling atoms that produced everything else.

By the same token, it is obvious That all around us noxious particles Are flying, motes of sickness and of death. The sky above our heads seems at once like itself and alien, and the things that enable existence come to seem deeply threatening. The plague, Lucretius writes, Falls on the water or the grain fields, falls On other nourishment of beasts and men, Or hangs suspended in the very air From which our breath inhales it, draws it down All through our bodies.

That the poem abruptly closes on such a dark note has led many scholars to conclude that Lucretius must have left it unfinished. There was even a legend that he died suddenly from the effects of a love potion, given to him by his wife. Perhaps this is so. A plague, after all, tests us in unique ways. It ruthlessly takes the measure of our values, calls into question our familiar assumptions, shines a pitiless light on our social and political and religious order.

This is precisely the existential challenge, Lucretius thought, that any society worth inhabiting and any philosophy worth embracing must address. When everything is going well, it is easy enough to contemplate our place in the material world. But what if everything is not going well—if mutations in the seeds of things bring disease and death? Only if you can face the invisible bullets all around us, and still keep calm, remain rational, and somehow find it possible to take pleasure in life, have you learned the lesson that the poem set out to teach.

To judge from the news, most of us seem very far from this Epicurean achievement. They remind us that, alongside science, the other realm in which human resilience and inventiveness are at their height is art.

In Lucretius, the two are joined: his philosophical disquisition on atoms, pleasure, and the plague takes the form of a poem, a song to be sung. A Guide to the Coronavirus How people cope and create new customs amid a pandemic.

What it means to contain and mitigate the coronavirus outbreak.


Invisible Bullets: What Lucretius Taught Us About Pandemics

Montrose, The Purpose of Playing. Subversion and containment Regarding the New Historicist concept, the aim is not to leave the past behind but, on the contrary, to criticize the past and reconsider the social assessments. Essays in Cultural Materialism. Fiction and history are storylike narratives as Hayden White purports: This website uses bulets to invvisible you get the best experience on our website. By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.


Stephen Greenblatt - Invisible Bullets

As civilisation was purportedly impossible without Christianity , this was to be imposed upon the Native Americans. Firstly, that the natives had a degree of religion to their culture of which Harriot drew parallels to Christianity. Secondly, he noticed that everyday non- divine objects caused the natives to believe in the divinity of the invaders, noting "Most things they saw with us, as mathematical instruments, sea compasses, the virtue of the lodestone in drawing iron, a perspective glass whereby was shown many strange sights, burning glasses, wildfire works, gun, book, writing and reading, spring clocks that seemed to go off by themselves, and many other things that we had, were so strange unto them and so far exceeded their capabilities to comprehend the reason and means how they should be made and done that they thought they were rather the works of gods than of men, or at the leastwise they had been given and taught us of the gods" [3] It would seem that Harriot used this to impose Christianity upon the natives. At one point, as the native crop was scarce one year, Harriot suggested that the Christian God would provide better for their land. This theory immediately implies maliciousness and Machiavellian callousness; this is not always the case.


Mark Derdzinski – “Invisible Bullets”: Unseen Potential in Stephen Greenblatt’s New Historicism



Subversion and containment


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