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
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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 Christianity, a belief system that revolves around the central sacrifice of Christ. As Julia Kristeva has commented, "a whole ascetic, martyrizing, and sacrificial Christian tradition has magnified the victimized aspect of that offering
[Christ's death] by eroticizing both pain and suffering, physical as well as mental, as much as possible" (131).
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