Date of Award

Winter 12-2-2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Calvin Thomas

Second Advisor

Dr. Paul Voss

Third Advisor

Dr. Paul Schmidt


Critical theory has historically situated the beginning of the “modern” era of subjectivity near the end of the seventeenth century. Michel Foucault himself once said in an interview that modernity began with the writings of the late seventeenth-century philosopher Benedict Spinoza. But an examination of early modern English utopian literature demonstrates that a modern notion of subjectivity can be found in texts that pre-date Spinoza. In this dissertation, I examine four utopian texts—Thomas More’s Utopia, Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, Margaret Cavendish’s Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World, and Henry Neville’s Isle of Pines—through the paradigm of Jacques Lacan’s tripartite model of subjectivity—the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real. To mediate between Lacan’s psychoanalytic model and the historical aspects of these texts, such as their relationship with print culture and their engagement with political developments in seventeenth-century England, I employ the theories of the Marxist-Lacanian philosopher, Slavoj Žižek, to show that “early modern” subjectivity is in in fact no different from critical theory’s “modern” subject, despite pre-dating the supposed inception of such subjectivity. In addition, I engage with other prominent theorists, including Fredric Jameson, Jacques Derrida, and Donna Haraway, to come to an understanding about the ways in which critical theory can be useful to understand not only early modern literature, but also the contemporary, “real” world and the subjectivity we all seek to attain.