Wednesday, September 4, 2019
Male Masochism in the Religious Lyrics of Donne and Crashaw Essay
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 economie... ...ery of a different strain of masochism than that which Freud labeled "moral"--"Christian masochism" (197).  In "The Economic Problem of Masochism," Freud identifies three types of masochism: 1) Primary or erotogenic--the bodily association of pain and sexual excitement; 2) feminine--the desire to be beaten; and 3) moral--the self-inflicted torture of one's ego by the superego (161). My term, erotic masochism, would include the "erotogenic" and "feminine" in a Freudian framework.  Jean Laplanche, in Life and Death in Psychoanalysis, has shown the role of such transition in the human subject's "sexualization," or movement from non-sexual to "sexualized" drives. In erotic forms of sadism and masochism, the subject transforms [via a "prop"] non-sexual aggression into a desire for sexual aggression, directed at others or against the self (85-102).