Recursive Desire:

Rereading Epic Tradition

by Jeremy M. Downes

Recursive Desire rereads epic so as to challenge traditional notions of the genre, and to explore new areas for students of epic, of poetry, and of narrative.  With a more powerful and comprehensive psychological model of poetic relations, the book provides a new understanding of the vital, shifting, polyvocal array (and disarray) of textual forces at the core of epic poetry.

Preface:  Through Smoking Pyres 

Fierce Warres and Faithfull Loves: 
Recursive Desire in Epic Tradition 

Worda ond Worca: 
Oral Epics and Preoedipal Concerns 

Twice Faithless Troy: 
The Happy Substitute

Fierce Loves and Faithless Wars: 
Milton, Macpherson, and 
the Inverted Epic 

With Half Unravel'd Web: 
The Fragmented Epic 

Sleeping with the Enemy: 
Women and Epic 

In This Late Century:  Radical 
Pluralism and the Future of Epos 

Selected Bibliography 




Jeremy M. Downes:  Home Page

The University of Alabama Press



Brief Descriptions

"It was an epic where every line was erased
yet freshly written . . ."  —Derek Walcott, Omeros

"Building on a number of recent psychoanalytic investigations of epic, the author has fashioned a key concept for any future discussions of epic—i.e., recursive desire as the most compelling explanation for why the genre of epic is as alive and evolving as the novel." —Elizabeth J. Bellamy, author of Translations of Power (Cornell University Press)

"The geste says this and the man who was on the field . . . and who wrote the book . . . the man who does not know this has not understood anything."  —David Jones, In Parenthesis

"There is nothing new under the sun, but you can't step into the same river twice.  Jeremy M. Downes opens Recursive Desire by asking us to think through these two propositions at once.  His aim is to provide nothing less than a new account of the dynamics of the epic genre."  The Times Literary Supplement(19 June, 1998)

"It gets hardcore . . ."  —Sharon Doubiago, Hard Country

"A theory-laden, wide-ranging, transhistorical survey ("from the Epic of Gilgamesh to Derek Walcott's Omeros").  --S.C. Dillon, Bates College, Choice (November, 1997)

The cover image for Recursive Desire is adapted from the author's photograph of Arnaldo Pomodoro's brilliant Sfera con Sfera (bronze, 1982/83), which can (and should) be seen at Trinity College, Dublin (in front of the library that houses the Book of Kells).  I chose the image because my book, like Pomodoro's work, attempts "to find out what is inside a form that seems so perfect and absolute, superficially . . . to investigate the energy inside of a form."  This image is protected under copyright law.

If you have comments or suggestions, email me at

This page last updated August 31st, 2010