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The Species-Life of Worldlings

Author(s): Leo, Russell J

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Abstract: Marx famously derided Edmund Spenser as “Elizabeths Arschkissende Poet,” identifying Spenser as a steward of property at an integral stage in the genealogy of capital. Taking Marx’s comments on labor and species-being as points of departure, this essay examines Spenser’s poetic investigations of work as well as the distinctions among kinds of labor in a world before classes as we know (or knew) them, the class structures proper to capitalist modernity. In Book II of The Faerie Queene, for instance, Spenser imagined the Cave of Mammon as a mine, and the fiends as laborers. Drawing upon early modern mining and metallurgical writing—particularly Georgius Agricola’s monumental De Re Metallica (1556)—with an eye to later Marxist determinations of human labor—this essay demonstrates that Spenser’s depictions of Mammon’s hoard, together with the sites and processes proper to gold mining, are also detailed treatments of labor. Humanistic studies of mining and metallurgy like Agrippa’s confirm that these laborers are less demonic than they are proletarian, or whatever passes for “proletarian” in an early modern lexicon. Guyon employs the term “worldlings” for the laborers and those who are subject to their labor, an appellation that suggests that they all lack reflexive capacities and that reinscribes their productivity into a moral economy with which Guyon is familiar. It is with this that Guyon establishes anew the relevance of temperance, and Spenser tests terms for life and labor at the “fountaine of the worldes good.” Lastly, the piece assesses the continued relevance of this term “worldling” and demonstrates how Spenser uses it to question the limits and ends of the human in a scene of economic accumulation, production, and emergent horrors of the new economy at the end of the sixteenth century.
Publication Date: 2015
Citation: Leo, Russell J. "The Species-Life of Worldlings." Spenser Studies 30 (2015): 201-227. doi:10.7756/spst.030.013.201-27.
DOI: doi:10.7756/spst.030.013.201-27
ISSN: 0195-9468
EISSN: 2167-8529
Pages: 201 - 227
Type of Material: Journal Article
Journal/Proceeding Title: Spenser Studies
Version: Final published version. Article is made available in OAR by the publisher's permission or policy.

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