Male Masochism in the Religious Lyrics of Donne and Crashaw Essay

Male Masochism in the Religious Lyrics of Donne and Crashaw Essay

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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...


... middle of paper ...


...ery of a different strain of
masochism than that which Freud labeled "moral"--"Christian masochism"
(197).

[3] 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.

[4] 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).

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