Jaron Lanier, “The End of Human Specialness,”Chronicle Review: A Weekly Magazine of Ideas, in The Chronicle of Higher Education, 29 August 2010, sec. B, 7. For the epigraph to my essay, see James Galvin, “Fragments Written While Traveling through a Midwestern Heat Wave,” in Resurrection Update: Collected Poems, 1975–1997 (Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 1997), 82.
Article first published online: 3 FEB 2012
© 2012 Washington State University
Volume 44, Issue 1, pages 57–68, October 2011
How to Cite
DE PROSPO, R. C. (2011), Whose/Who's Ligeia?. Poe Studies, 44: 57–68. doi: 10.1111/j.1754-6095.2011.00036.x
- Issue published online: 3 FEB 2012
- Article first published online: 3 FEB 2012
I’ll tell you what the soul is made of:
Behind each harrow
In each field
A plume takes to the wind.
Are freeing themselves
By setting free the soil.
James Galvin, “Fragments Written While
Traveling through a Midwestern Heat Wave” (1997)
Dead women's bodies litter Poe's writing.
Theorizing gender frees female and male from somatic determination for semiotic freeplay. Of course this is real work, of course a lot more work is still to be done. But I want here to leap over the theorizing of gender to the theorizing of the theorizing of gender—to make a problem not of gender within human being but of human being within which gender is differentiated. This puts into question not that most traditional of binary oppositions within human being, at least not directly, but human being, itself, the grand hypostatizing that grounds all the sciences of man. And this requires positing an Other whose semiotic companionship with human being would be analogous to that of female and male within human being. Now, when “posthuman” is increasingly being thrown around in articles in PMLA, and Microsoft's Jaron Lanier, the first contributor to the Chronicle of Higher Education's recent forum on “the defining idea of the next decade,” replies “The End of Human Specialness,”1 can a different reading of Poe's “Ligeia” help to conceive an other-than-human being, an entity within which the differentiation between two genders might be made to seem—in service, mind, to advancing the theorizing of gender—trivial?
Readers of Poe, from the uninitiated who titter and gawk at the dead women to the hyperinitiated who were solemn about the dead women even long before such gynophobe massacres as the latest one in Pittsburgh in 2009, and the many notorious older ones such as those in Kildeen, Texas, and in Montreal, all assume Poe's métier to be the familiar romantic one. Suppose it's not. Suppose Ligeia's alienation signifies a difference that is vaster, and more debilitating, than what makes the world go ‘round.
Ligeia is dead to the narrator from the outset, before she actually dies. This is well known, long known, for example, by D. H. Lawrence. What isn't well known at all is that her “strangeness,” the quality that is by definition undefinable, and that the narrator makes redundantly, and in a variety of contexts, even stranger by quoting it from a little-known passage on the unknowable from Bacon, might best be understood not as interpersonal but as metaphysical, onto-theological. And I’m supposing here the possibility, maybe even the necessity, of a strangeness that is other than just the unstable, unhappy, self-deluded, -mystified, -repressive moment in the realization of the self.
Erinnerung is powerful enough ultimately to sublate [aufheben] all manner of negation—forgetfulness, un-knowing, aporia—and so the narrator of “Ligeia” can easily be conceived, is in fact perennially conceived, as somehow positively, erotically, displacing the usual, or at least the usually desired, consequences of intimacy. Or rather I should say (recall the couple's extravagant devotions, preternatural suitabilities), super-intimacy, super-connubial twinship, hyper-propinquity, the very hyperbole of desire itself, which the story frustrates with a relentlessness that is equal and opposite to the intensity of the narrator's attentions; he can't recall the quotidia of their acquaintance (“I cannot, for my soul, remember how, when, or even precisely where”), can't recall her last name (“I have never known the paternal name of her”), can't capture her “expression” (“Ah, word of no meaning! behind whose vast latitude of mere sound we entrench our ignorance of so much of the spiritual”) (Works, 2:310, 311, 313). Can’t, can’t, can’t.
Can any of us, can modern humanist readers, resist the urge to repair the narrator's forgetfulness with various dazzling counteracts of a-letheia—the unforgetting of the repressed? Let me try, first by restoring two brief passages from the opening of the story that are under-read, I might almost say are forgotten, in every interpretation with which I am familiar, certainly in all of the major ones.
Perhaps, I cannot now bring [her] to mind, because, in truth, the character of my beloved, her rare learning, her singular yet placid cast of beauty, and the thrilling and enthralling eloquence of her low musical language, made their way into my heart by paces so steadily and stealthily progressive that they have been unnoticed and unknown. (Works, 2:310)
I mean to say that, subsequently to the period when Ligeia's beauty passed into my spirit, there dwelling as in a shrine, I derived, from many existences in the material world, a sentiment such as I felt always aroused within me by her large and luminous orbs. (Works, 2:314)
The first of these two sentences is the third of the story and comes after the narrator's much-discussed confession that he remembers none of the details of first meeting Ligeia; the second comes before the much-discussed list of things—moth, butterfly, chrysalis, running water, ocean, falling meteor, “glances of unusually aged people,”“star of the sixth magnitude, double and changeable,”“sounds from stringed instruments,” spurious quotation from Glanvill (Works, 2:314)—of which the narrator is reminded while trying to remember Ligeia. Together the two sentences seem to constitute a dialectical, to the more advanced even a semiotic, interplay between forgetfulness and memory, blindness and insight, recovering the former from superstitious dismissal as a mere lack, exciting the army of deconstructionist seekers after a proto-deconstructionist forefather in Poe.
Look again. Haunting all of these complaints, murmured in their midst, these ghostly assertions: “[she] made [her] way into my heart”; “[she] passed into my spirit, there dwelling as in a shrine.” So what's his problem? These assertions, as I resurrect them from their syntactically moribund state, sound like calm and secure affirmations of an intimacy that is not only ecstatic but eternal. So what's his problem?
The problem as I am now formulating it differs from the familiar one. More precisely, it requires a conception of the self that differs from the familiar one. The “heart” and “spirit” of the narrator, his quintessence, his pneuma, would seem to be wholly disparate from even the most skillful, practiced, keenly focused of his conscious powers, his psyche. Recall that the ancient Greeks can make this distinction, as can early, and even much later, Christians, although interestingly pneuma disappears in modern psychology, or, rather, comes to be subsumed within a holistic psyche. Suppose psyche mere. Suppose pneuma supreme, in the sub-hierarchy of the makeup of the creature, that is, and suppose pneuma vouchsafed by a Creator absolutely superior to the creature, and thus suppose pneuma possessed by and accessible to, not the creature, not even the psyche that cohabits with the pneuma in the very same creature, but the Creator. Suppose the barrier between pneuma and psyche absolutely impermeable, an aporia not in the enabling sense of postmodern theorizing but in the absolutely confining and limiting sense of the ancient Greek original, seized and transformed by postmodern theorizing for its deeply humanist and humanizing purposes.2 Suppose the self a monstrosity typical of the Incarnation understood according to the teratological hermeneutics of the Bible, the early Church fathers, Reformation Protestants, Counterreformation Catholics, American Puritans. The self as haunted. More: the self as a, as the prototypical, haunting: the self as bodied soul.
The problem is now this: On the one hand, there is in Poe's story no romance of the quintessential self, the pneuma (1) having no temporality whatsoever—“I cannot now bring her to mind”; the pneuma (2) being wholly independent of process—there is no story of Ligeia's making her way into the narrator's heart “by paces … unnoticed and unknown”; and the pneuma (3) being wholly independent indeed of experience in general, the quiddity of the world of which the narrator is reminded by trying to remember Ligeia—moth, butterfly, water, and so on—and even the quiddity of Ligeia, herself, the epitome of which are the eyes, whose memory inspires the narrator's list, yielding only and exclusively memento mori, the list being constituted exclusively of ephemera. The eyes, which the narrator inadvertently turns into soma or even sarx—the dissected, three-dimensional organs signified by “orbs”—provide the window not to the soul but, ultimately, to the charnel house: “I saw that she must die” (Works, 2:316). And now the narrator can be seen himself, at the outset, in a never-discussed phrase of the much-discussed opening complaint of the story, unwittingly to disclose that his mnemo-technique is doomed: “I cannot, for my soul, remember how, when, or even precisely where …” (Works, 2:310), adding emphasis where emphasis is never laid. Elevate the narrator's phrase from the casual profanity he intends to the almost undetectably subtle damnation of himself contrived by his Maker, and the moral/epistemological lesson becomes clear: memory is never for the soul, not once, not ever. (And realize that the equivalent modern idiom—“I cannot for the life of me…”—quietly supplants the anachronistic cynosure with the modern one. Sometimes, as Heidegger once aphoristically pointed out, die Sprache spricht.)
On the other hand, there is in Poe's story no end to the romancing attempted by the couple, who are inveterate in their efforts to possess the quintessential self even while these efforts are exposed as not only doomed but counterproductive, every increasingly desperate and ingenious effort to know pneuma being countered with ever-more-hideous revelations of soma or even sarx: First, the narrator's loving scrutiny of the “person” of the live Ligeia yields the dissected parts of a dead body—the “pale forehead,”“the skin,”“the temples,” the “tresses,”“nose,”“nostrils,”“mouth,”“upper lip,”“teeth,”“chin,” and so on (Works, 2:312). (Precisely the same implicitly retributive dissolution appears before the eyes of the narrator of “The Fall of the House of Usher” while he solicitously probes the physical features of his childhood friend for the sign of the root cause of Usher's malady [Works, 2:401-2].) Second, Ligeia's aesthetics, the poem that stages the project to “seize” the “Phantom chased forevermore,” and her (pseudo)mnemotechnique, recalling a more-than-just-obscure, that is, a spurious, quotation from a forgotten Renaissance philosopher at the very moment of her death, yield, respectively, the “Conqueror Worm”—“It writhes!—It writhes!”—and a grotesque, potentially ludicrous spectacle of will-lessness, her succumbing to death, and willfulness, her pseudo-authoritative recall of an authority on the supposed potential indomitability of the will, superimposed, monstrously vying, on top of one another.3 And third, climactically, the narrator's and Ligeia's mutual efforts to will her eternal incarnation yield (1) an act of almost inexplicable inconstancy on the part of the narrator, that is, remarriage (forget how viciously he tortures himself and Rowena for his inconstancy afterward—why in the world does he remarry in the first place?); and (2) not just a host-body—Poe could easily have had the spirit of Ligeia metempsychose itself, “Metzengerstein”-fashion, into Rowena's flesh, rather than re-embody Ligeia cell-by-cell at the end—but carrion, the dead meat of Rowena metabolized by Ligeia's spirit as the condition of Ligeia's return. So the two of them live on after the end? Happily ever after? Like the Flying Dutchman or the Wandering Jew or the vampire, maybe, an immortality of mortality, an eternity of mutability, incorruptible corruption, the fate of the original, not the Shelleyan but the Aeschylean and pre-Aeschylean, Prometheus. The story doesn't end in or at play, in the modernist manner of Gide, the postmodernist manner of Derrida. It ends with moralistic, absolutist, irreversible irony, and the ironic moral is Pascal’s: “qui fait l’ange fait la bête.”4
The quintessential narrator may even have merged with the quintessential Ligeia, but he can't know her because he remains psychologically as alienated from his own pneuma as he does from hers. So: Whose/who's Ligeia? Not the narrator’s, not Ligeia’s, not yet, not ever. Whose/who's (the) narrator? Not Ligeia’s, not the narrator’s, not yet, not ever. Even the consciously willing, lower, agency of each can be seen to be ultimately and irrevocably the possession of an Other, because it is driven irrationally and self-destructively to maximize pain. God hardens the hearts of whomever He will, whose helpless reprobacy contributes as much ironically and indirectly to God's glory as does directly the equally helpless fidelity of the faithful.
In this other-than-modern humanist context, infra-human distinctions, for example gender, become insignificant, because man qua man is insignificant, because so much, because all, really, is—and I mean this to signify contra Derrida an unconditioned condition of absolutely prior, absolutely determined, albeit to man indeterminable, eternally restful externality—because all in reality is en dehors. There can be seen in Poe's writing deference to a transcendental signified that need not be put sous rature or bracketed with quotation marks, a deference that reduces man—his sciences, his politics, including his sexual politics—to virtual nonentity.
What are the generic implications of supposing the possibility of writing stories about men and women that are not driven by gender, of writing nonlove stories, or love nonstories? Clearly some neolo-genre must be supposed in order to accommodate such difference. I’m inclined to nominate “profane letters,” to acknowledge the demotion of romancing of the type that is staged, in monitory ways, within “Ligeia” from the site of truth to the site of error. Or perhaps some literary equivalent of nature morte, with the emphasis on the morte that is lost in English translation, although this would require also some defamiliarizing of the genre as it is conventionally understood in art history. Pre-romantic nature morte as practiced by early French and Flemish painters manages both to dwell on quotidia and to acknowledge not only the ephemerality of quotidia—seventeenth-century Dutch paintings often tuck little medieval death’s-heads away in corners—but also the potential guilt, and risk, of dwelling on ephemeral quotidia. Early nature morte implicitly warns, for example by placing in almost impossibly precarious situations the very things in which the observer is invited to become absorbed, against the sinister hoaxing or idolatrous potential of its own art, which is originally and remains for some time complicit in trompe l’oeil. Great, fastidious, attention can thus be supposed to be paid to life—or to life's proximate cause, love—by visual, as well as literary, artists, and great efforts expended to represent life in the most fetching manner, which artistry can nonetheless be supposed to be, which artistry can all the more be supposed to be, accompanied by a sad, a resigned, a knowing recognition that life is at bottom still, and that desire to discover ultimate value in life, such as represented by the inadvertently ghoulish efforts of Ligeia and the narrator, will according to the ineluctable tragicomic economy of natura lead to the ever more rapid and mortifying stilling of life. If there is some such phenomenon as the epistemés discovered by Febvre and Foucault and others, one in which life is so little valorized in contrast to the valorization of life in modern humanism that life can be said not to exist in these epistemés at all, then must there not be a corresponding form that is generically meiotic toward life, and thereby also toward gender and love?5
And do we have the luxury, are we highly enough evolved, to risk positing the absence of gender in an other discursive pattern and its genres as a means of meditating on the artificiality, arbitrariness, figurality, of gender in our own, modern humanist discourse, and thereby ready to theorize decisively what is for most of us, even for some feminists, still the most stubborn essentialism of all? Is there something more than a room of their own—conventional, even reactionary design, smaller dimensions—of the sort added on to Matthiessen's American Renaissance by Jane Tompkins, where Susan Warner and Harriet Beecher Stowe and Maria Cummins are allowed to dwell because “the taking of tea is no different from hoeing a bean patch on the shores of Walden Pond, or squeezing case aboard a whaling ship”?6 Is there, rather, a historiographie féminine of the sort recommended by Elaine Showalter, whose introduction to The New Feminist Criticism recommends challenging “the fundamental theoretical assumptions of traditional literary history and criticism, from periodic divisions (such as [precisely]‘the American Renaissance’[that Tompkins leaves standing—more, that Tompkins embellishes]) that were exclusively based on male literary landmarks to the underlying ideas about genre, the literary career, and the role of the critic”?7 And is Poe, old sexist/racist Poe, somehow key to rethinking American ethnocentrism, to giving “America the possibility of understanding itself better,” as Jane Gallop suggests?8 Old sexist/racist Poe key even to rethinking the atavisms of literary history in general, as Shoshana Felman suspects: “It is overwhelmingly obvious, in a case like Poe’s, that the discourse of literary history itself points to some unconscious determinations which structure it but of which it is not aware. What is the unconscious of literary history?”9 Isn't the most subtly and pervasively phallogocentric assumption of all, in Western thought in general, in historiography in particular, but in American literary history above all, that of linearity, continuity, progress, e- or even devolution, the assumption that recoils in horror at the prospect of unfixing Poe, of permitting him, or any other thing, to be inserted where it doesn't belong, to end up in who knows what place other than those little niches authorized for use by chronology and cultural determination—displaced and thus contributing to a polymorphism so perverse that we may not be able to regain the missionary position, never to be able to get back on top of history again?
A good example of this theoretist misprision can be found in a female, albeit not precisely a feminist, reader of Poe. Barbara Johnson opens The Critical Difference, in which of course her very influential “The Frame of Reference: Poe, Lacan, Derrida” is collected (along with several other essays that discuss Poe in passing in the context of French and American romanticism), by uncovering différance to be perhaps itself semiotic companion to an other, absolute, sort of blockage: “Difference is a form of work to the extent that it plays beyond the control of any subject: it is, in fact, that without which no subject could ever be constituted.” And then, a page later, to show how subsequently every “thing” that seems elusive, or even unknowable, to the subject is subject to/constituted by, play: “The ‘unknown’ is not what lies beyond the limits of knowledge, some unreachable, sacred, ineffable point toward which we vainly yearn. It lies, rather, in the oversights and slip-ups that structure our lives in the same way that an X makes it possible to articulate an algebraic equation” (Barbara Johnson, The Critical Difference[Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1980], xi, xii). My point is not that an other, more painfully absolutist sort of aporetics is historically or chronologically prior to deconstructionist hedonics, but that deconstructionist hedonics must semiotically and synchronically presuppose such an other more painfully absolutist aporetics—“some unreachable, sacred, ineffable point toward which we vainly yearn”— as the condition of achieving plaisir, that there is the meta-deconstructionist play of différance that enables the deconstructionist play of différance. The latter is troubled by, but for the most part blind to, the former.
Works, 2:318–19. Ligeia's citation mistakes, or falsifies, more than just the letter of Glanvill. Glanvill's best-known work, in Poe's time as well as now, is Scepsis Scientifica (1665), and in it Glanvill is from beginning to end expansive on the inaccessibility of the soul to its possessor. In the introductory “Address to the Royal Society,”“the things that touch us are as distant from us, as the Pole; and we are as much strangers to ourselves, as to the inhabitants of America.” The treatise proper begins by insisting that the soul is encumbered by the body as “by an unactive mass” and continues at length to enumerate the epistemological restrictions that follow from this ontological one: “The dogmatist knows not how he stirs his little finger”; “but if that whereby we know other things, know not itself; if our Souls are strangers to things within them,” then the possibly controvertible vanity of dogmatizing on lesser subjects follows from the absolutely incontrovertible vanity of dogmatizing on the subject of the soul; all the heathen sages err “by seeking to grasp the Soul in their Imaginations; to which gross faculty, that purer essence is unpalpable: and we might as well expect to taste the Sunbeams”; “that we are a Compound of beings distant in extreams [sic], is as clear as noon. But how the purer spirit is united to this clod, is a knot too hard for our degraded intellects to unty [sic]”; the “Imperium of our will” directs the “vital spirits” so “that they should exactly perform their regular destinations without losing their way in such a wilderness: neither can the wit of man tell how they are directed,” but must, rather, remain in humble ignorance of “some secret Art of the Soul, which to us is utterly occult, and without the ken of our Intellects,” and so on. See Joseph Glanvill, Scepsis Scientifica (1665; repr., New York: Garland, 1978), c3, 3, 9, 13, 14, 15–16, 18–20. Ligeia's representation of Glanvill is not just faulty, not even just tendentious or self-deceiving; it's hallucinatory. Glanvill's treatise, far from promising mankind some omnipotent mastery of the will potentially sufficient to enable mankind to will its own immortality, is at pains to deny man absolutely the epistemological and ontological foundations that would be necessary to support such a pneumatechnology. Learn enough about the soul for man ultimately to be able to raise himself to everlasting life? Glanvill denies man the chance to learn enough about the soul reliably to master the lifting of a pinky. Ligeia a Glanvillian? Ligeia is the reductio ad absurdum of the dogmatist whom Glanvill is most famous for reviling. Neither would skepticism of the type that Glanvill recommends ever assume that a story wears its heart on its sleeve—that an epigraph, say, is necessarily to be taken to quintessentialize what follows. And this no more in the case of Poe's story than in that of my essay, whose epigraph exemplifies precisely the modern humanist definition of the soul—holistic, populist, debased—from which my essay is intent to differentiate Poe's theist definition. (And Poe may be less perversely obfuscatory in this regard than I; I am educated by an anonymous Poe Studies reader of the unpublished version of this essay to the possibility that Poe may have included a super-subtle tip-off that Ligeia's Glanvill is being falsified by misspelling Glanvill's name—“Glanville”— in the epigraph to the original publication of “Ligeia.”)
Pascal, quoted in René Girard, “Myth and Ritual in Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night ‘s Dream,” in Textual Strategies: Perspectives in Post-structuralist Criticism, ed. Josué Harrari (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1978), 198. Were I the single reader to suspect Poe to be consistently other-than-modern then I would be as likely hallucinating Poe as Ligeia is hallucinating Glanvill. But in fact the murmuring of Poe's anachronism is quite widespread and of very long duration. Back in 1988 I published a lengthy review essay of Joan Dayan's Fables of Mind in Early American Literature that evidently, predictably, went largely unread, falling I guess between the two stools of early Americanists puzzled by so outré a suggestion as my modest proposal that Poe might actually be reclassified as a major figure of early American literature and Poe specialists who would be equally incredulous toward, if not offended by, the same. I invite any of you readers of Poe Studies inclined to wade through an exhaustive, and exhausting, rehearsal of all the secondary literature on Poe from J. Barbey d’Aurevilly in 1858 through Joan Dayan in 1987 that associates him with a host of pre-modern literary, religious, and philosophical writers extending from antiquity through the eighteenth century to consult R. C. De Prospo, “Early American Poe,”Early American Literature 23 (1988): 328–44. That none of these associations, including Dayan’s, concludes by differentiating Poe fundamentally from his modern contemporaries and predecessors, or from his postmodern successors, which is the aim in my present remarks about “Ligeia,” is argued extensively in the article. The only interpretation of the story I know of that precisely supports my own is an obscure one by Jay L. Halio, who has since been known primarily for his work on Shakespeare, that appeared long ago in a one-page note in Poe Newsletter, the predecessor of Poe Studies:“By her intense, or ‘gigantic,’ volition Ligeia has sought to rival God, claiming a kinship with him that, like the learning to which she has introduced her husband, is in such intensity forbidden. … Far from making Ligeia God-like, her reincarnation—like Morella’s—makes her demonic. … The super- or suprahuman ‘intentness’ of Ligeia demonstrates a great will, surely; but the results are impious, impious in the extreme. Hence the horror of the conclusion, and its moral: the emotional effect, the horror, is moral.” See “The Moral Mr. Poe,”Poe Newsletter 1 (October 1968): 23–24. Halio's note is cited only a few times, very briefly, and as far as I know only in subsequent issues of Poe Newsletter: see the favorable mentions by Lundquist, Levine, and Yonce, and the unfavorable one by Garrett: James Lundquist, “The Moral of Averted Descent: The Failure of Sanity in ‘The Pit and the Pendulum,’”Poe Newsletter 2 (April 1969): 25–26; Richard A. Levine, “The Downward Journey of Purgation: Notes on an Imagistic Leitmotif in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym,”Poe Newsletter 2 (April 1969): 29–31; Margaret J. Yonce, “The Spiritual Descent into the Maelström: A Debt to ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,’”Poe Newsletter 2 (April 1969): 26–29; Walter Garrett, “The ‘Moral’ of ‘Ligeia’ Reconsidered,”Poe Newsletter 4 (June 1971): 19–20.
Is this a historicist position? Not in comparison to some of the newest and most famous new historicism. Stephen Greenblatt's return to a culture much more distant chronologically than Poe's antebellum U.S. “circulates” between subliterature, for example a story of hermaphroditism from Jacques Duval's Hermaphrodites, Childbirth, and the Medical Treatment of Mothers and Children (1603), and Shakespeare, and his model of Renaissance culture is analogously circulatory, the binary components of its various oppositions, including male and female, changing places rapidly and fluidly enough to seem for a moment to Greenblatt to become proto-poststructuralistically indeterminable and problematized: “sexual difference, the foundation of all individuation, turns out to be unstable and artificial at its origin.” See Shakepearean Negotiations (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1988), 75–76. But Greenblatt's erudition and scrupulousness is such that he has to restrain, maybe even to retract, his own bricolage with the reminder that the apparent proto-deconstruction of gender in the Renaissance always takes place in behalf of eternal and authoritarian norms. A page after indulging the supposition that the Renaissance is playful with sexual difference, Greenblatt distinguishes sharply between modern polymorphous perversity and Renaissance teratology: “Where the modern structuralist understanding of the world tends to sharpen its sense of individuation by meditating upon the normative, the Renaissance tended to sharpen its sense of the normative by meditating on the prodigious.” And this distinction is sharpened still more in a note to the passage: “Hence even as they celebrate the inexhaustible fecundity of nature in producing prodigies, Renaissance scholars hasten to discover the principles of order that may be perceived behind even the most uncanny oddity” (77, 179n). Monstrosity in pre-romantic epistemés, for example miracle in theist hermeneutics, the Incarnation in theist theology, human being in theist ontology, functions too often against nature or life and in support of the supernatural ens that creates nature or life to be easily made to conform to modern or postmodern structuralism. Greenblatt has it both ways: he treats Renaissance gender as a genuine cynosure of the sciences of man—his own scholarship, for prime example—but he concludes that Renaissance gender, even when calling attention to itself in hermaphroditic prodigies, is unworthy of attention for its own sake. I’m having it one way: I treat gender as univocally minimized in a discursive pattern that does not center on life, and I conclude that this discursive pattern is sturdy enough to persist, along with its minimizing of gender, long past the so-called Renaissance, even into the antebellum U.S.
Jane P. Tompkins, “The Other American Renaissance,” in The American Renaissance, ed. Walter Benn Michaels and Donald E. Pease (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1985), 46.
Elaine Showalter, ed., introduction to The New Feminist Criticism (New York: Pantheon Books, 1985), 8.
Jane Gallop, “The American Other,” in The Purloined Poe: Lacan, Derrida & Psychoanalytic Reading, ed. John P. Muller and William J. Richardson (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1988), 269.
Shoshana Felman, “On Reading Poetry: Reflections on the Limits and Possibilities of Psychoanalytic Approaches,” in The Literary Freud: Mechanisms of Defense and the Poetic Will; Psychiatry and the Humanities, ed. Joseph H. Smith (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1980), 4:147.