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States of Exception and Pauline Love in John Donne’s Sermons and Poetry

  • Paul Cefalu
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Abstract

In this opening chapter, I assess John Donne’s views on Protestant iconoclasm as represented in the sermons and the poems “The Cross” and “Good Friday.” The first section reviews Donne’s positions on divine right theory and political theology, particularly the nature of analogical relations that obtain between God and the secular magistrate. Against recent criticism that argues for the absolutist political theology of the sermons, I suggest, drawing on the work of Agamben and Santner, that Donne’s political theology levels hierarchical distinctions between sovereign and subject: Every subject is exhorted to establish an interiorized “sovereign within” as a first step toward imitating Christ’s virtue and elevating God. The establishment of such a metaphorized internal commonwealth opens up the possibility of self-worship, which in turn issues in a metaphoric “state of emergency,” and the intervention of God’s “sovereign” exceptionalism. Since such Godly intervention is ultimately contingent on the subject’s degree of backsliding—backsliding which is always tied to an exercise of creaturely free will—the outcome of this dialectical process is paradoxically to limit, or at least make predictable, God’s otherwise arbitrary power to declare a state of exception in order to punish refractory sin.

Keywords

Political Theology Mirror Stage Iconic Sign Holy Ghost Devout Individual 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Debora Kuller Shuger, Habits of Thought in the English Renaissance: Religion, Politics, and the Dominant Culture (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997), 164.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ibid., 167.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Ibid., 177. 4. Ibid., 178.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Ibid., 184.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Ibid., 191.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
  7. 8.
    Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, trans. Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005). See also Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998).Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    Evelyn Potter and George Simpson, eds., The Sermons of John Donne (Berkeley: University of California Press), vol. 4, 97–98. All subsequent citations will be taken from this edition.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    Ibid., vol. 5, 117.Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    Ibid., 126.Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    Ibid., 185.Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    Eric L. Santner, The Psychotheology of Everyday Life: Reflections on Freud and Rosenzweig (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 47.Google Scholar
  13. 15.
    Ibid., 37.Google Scholar
  14. 16.
    Ibid., 82.Google Scholar
  15. 17.
    Ibid., 81.Google Scholar
  16. 24.
    Margaret Aston, England’s Iconoclasts (Oxford: Clarendon, 1988), 446.Google Scholar
  17. 25.
    Ibid., 459.Google Scholar
  18. 26.
    Joseph Leo Koerner, The Reformation of the Image (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 206.Google Scholar
  19. 27.
    Ibid., 209.Google Scholar
  20. 29.
    Ibid., 15.Google Scholar
  21. 30.
    See Kaja Silverman, The Subject of Semiotics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), 19.Google Scholar
  22. 31.
    John Martial, Treatise of the Cross (London, 1546), 20.Google Scholar
  23. 32.
    Ibid., 36.Google Scholar
  24. 33.
    Ibid., 28.Google Scholar
  25. 34.
    All cited poems taken from A. J. Smith, ed., John Donne: The Complete English Poems (London: Penguin Books). Lines cited from Donne’s Holy Sonnets are taken from the 1635 edition of the Holy Sonnets.Google Scholar
  26. 35.
    Cited in Bruce Fink, A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), 187.Google Scholar
  27. 40.
    Jean-Luc Marion, God without Being, trans. Thomas A. Carlson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 47.Google Scholar
  28. 41.
  29. 42.
    Jurgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God (San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishers, 1991), 30–31.Google Scholar
  30. 43.
    Ibid., 31.Google Scholar
  31. 44.
    Ibid., 33.Google Scholar
  32. 45.
    Ibid., 58.Google Scholar
  33. 46.
    Slavoj Zižek, The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity (Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2003), 24. 47. Slavoj Ž ižek, The Fragile Absolute, or Why is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For? (London: Verso, 2000), 127.Google Scholar
  34. 48.
    Kenneth Reinhard, “Toward a Political Theology of the Neighbor,” in The Neighbor: Three Inquiries in Political Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 51–52.Google Scholar
  35. 49.
    Ibid., 58.Google Scholar
  36. 55.
    See Soren Kierkegaard, Works of Love, eds. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995), esp. 17–43.Google Scholar
  37. 59.
    In an extended, compelling reading of the poem, Gary Kuchar also notes that the speaker is confronted with “its own constitutive nothingness,” and attendant anxiety at the prospect of encountering “the proximity of the Other’s desire.” My interpretation departs from Kuchar’s in that Kuchar goes on to argue that Donne’s speaker remains half-hearted about his desire for a complete union with God. See Gary Kuchar, Divine Subjection: The Rhetoric of Sacramental Devotion in Early Modern England (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2005), 230.Google Scholar
  38. 60.
    Ibid., 61.Google Scholar
  39. 61.
  40. 62.
    Suzanne Barnard, “Tongues of Angels: Feminine Structure and Other Jouissance,” in Reading Seminar XX: Lacan’s Major Work, Love, Knowledge, and Feminine Sexuality, eds. Suzanne Barnard and Bruce Fink (New York: State University of New York Press, 2002), 178; cited in Ž ižek, Puppet and the Dwarf, 69.Google Scholar
  41. 64.
    For a Lacanian interpretation of the poem that emphasizes Donne’s reluctance to submit to the jouissance of God, see Ronald Corthell, Ideology and Desire in Renaissance Poetry: The Subject of Donne (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1997), where Corthell remarks, “The unbounded, shattering nature of jouissance represents a loss of identity (in psychoanalytic terms, a return to the pre-oedipal infantile position of object of the desire of the mother) as well as a recovery of being…. Such a resistance to being overwhelmed is perhaps behind Donne’s inconsistent representation of the self in the middle section of the sonnet” (158).Google Scholar
  42. 65.
    For some foundational interpretations of the role of the Trinity in “Batter my heart,” see George Herman, “Donne’s Holy Sonnets, XIV,” Explicator 12 (December 1953), Item 18; and George Knox, “Donne’s Holy Sonnets, XIV,” Explicator 15 (October 1956), Item 2. For Clements’s revisionist account, see Arthur L. Clements, “Donne’s Holy Sonnet XIV,” Modern Language Notes 76, no. 6 (June 1961), 484–89.Google Scholar

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© Paul Cefalu 2007

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