Of dust motes, trees, and golden flowers: Tolkien and Duns Scotus’ haeccitas”

— Victoria Holtz Wodzak, Chair|Associate Professor, English and World Languages, Viterbo University

Paper given 4 July 2022 at IMC 2022 Session 141

In Tolkien’s letter 89, to Christopher, he writes of an individual ray’ of light illuminating a single small dust mote, and says that that ray of light was God’s very attention itself, personalised’. In his short story, Leaf by Niggle’, Tolkien shows a similar attention to the individual and personal, although in Niggle’s case, as perhaps in Tolkien’s, this recognition of the individual seems to impede the completion of his work. Even after Niggle dies, he is shown transfixed by an individual golden flower, or the turn of a leaf. What Tolkien notes in these instances is what Duns Scotus terms their haeccitas’, a God-given individuality that differentiates one individual from another. It is common to read Tolkien’s work through a fairly conventional religious or Platonic interpretive lens — and that view is clearly there in Tolkien’s work. What is less common, and what I propose to do, is to examine to what extent Scotus’ haeccitas’ provides a useful interpretive lens for particular aspects of Tolkien’s work. Doing so places his work in conversation with both the medieval nominalist/​realist debate and with the work of Tolkien’s near-contemporary, poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.

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date recorded 📅2022-01-24
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