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Male Masochism In The Religious Lyrics Of Donne And Crashaw

3138 words - 13 pages

Male Masochism in the Religious Lyrics of Donne and Crashaw

The impetus of my psychoanalytic exploration of male masochism in
Donne and Crashaw occurs in Richard Rambuss's "Pleasure and Devotion:
The Body of Jesus and Seventeenth-Century Religious Lyric," in which
he opens up possibilities for reading eroticism (especially
homoeroticism) in early modern representations of Christ's body. In
this analysis, Rambuss opposes Caroline Walker Bynum who, in response
to Leo Steinberg's The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art, claims
that depictions of Christ's genitalia (the focus of Steinberg's work)
can only be regarded as erotic from a modern standpoint, for such
representations in historical context, before the advent of modern
sexuality, could not have rendered "sexual" meanings for their
audiences but only those signifying reproduction. As Rambuss points
out, Bynum's analysis denies the possibility of reading the
erotic--especially the homoerotic--in medieval/Renaissance
representation (268), for it works on the underlying assumption that
such meanings are structured according to the false binary of
"sexual/generative." Conversely, In Rambuss's view, "the body [is] at
least potentially sexualized, as a truly polysemous surface where
various significances and expressions--including a variety of erotic
ones--compete and collude with each other in making the body
meaningful" (268).

This is where my exploration begins. Rather than "delimit the erotic,"
I wish to investigate what is potentially sexual in
seventeenth-century religious poetry (here that of Donne and Crashaw),
tracing not only "same-sex" desire "spun out from and around Christ's
body," as Rambuss has done but also examining libidinal economies that
traverse object choice and extend the potentialities of desire into
the terrains of identification and subjectivity. The main objection to
such an analysis arises from assumptions underlying the rigid
dichotomy of spiritual/erotic--the insistence that that which is
spiritual cannot be erotic, especially when joined to physical or
mental pain. Bynum's rationale for denying the possibilities of erotic
meanings in medieval and Renaissance texts lies not only in the
distinction of the sexual/generative, but also in this binary of
spiritual/erotic. As Rambuss notes, Bynum refuses to acknowledge the
erotic in medieval and Renaissance religious texts because it appears
to be deeply implicated in morbid accounts of tortured "flesh," a
characteristic she finds "extremely unerotic" (178), thus implying
that spirituality cannot be "sexual" (267).

On the contrary, I would argue that the representation of spirituality
in terms of physical and mental anguish does not preclude the erotic;
indeed, it indicates its involvement in the erotic. Physical and
mental torments lie at the heart of the erotic fantasies underlying
Christian mysticism and, in varying degrees, the discourses of
medieval and early modern...

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