Narcissus in the other: John Donne, woman and the dynamics of recognition
Larocco, Steven Martin
Snow, Edward A.
Doctor of Philosophy
John Donne's amorous poetry, from his most rapt paeans to mutual love to his crassest, most misogynous elegies, displays a pervasive desire for recognition. Much recent criticism of Donne's work has interpreted this desire as a masculine will-to-power which seeks to fashion or preserve an identity by staging verbal mastery over women and by soliciting the homosocial adulation of men. The love poetry, in this view, derives from a narcissistic drive for omnipotence and prestige which has been foiled and redirected by the stratified structure and historicity of Donne's social world. Shaping this analysis is an implicit assumption that the desire for recognition is the same as a will-to-power which finds its gratification only through the incessant imposition of hierarchical relations between the self and the other. As in the first stage of Hegel's Master-Slave dialectic, the self achieves recognition solely through domination. Donne's desire for recognition, however, is not founded on such a need for domination. Rather, it is the source of what I call a dream of symmetry. This dream, rooted in the intersubjective dynamics of early childhood, stems from the desire to engage with a powerful other who is attuned to and mirrors the desires of the self. In Donne's work, the dream of symmetry surfaces explicitly in Donne's great poems of mutual love where the twinning of eyes and tropes of mirroring suggest metonymically a more fundamental twinning of desires. This dream also drives Donne's rhetoric of seduction where the poet-seducer's primary wish is to induce a recalcitrant other to mimic his (or her) desires. Only when this dream of symmetry is troubled by the very subjectivity of the other which the dream itself requires or when the pleasures of mirroring yield to sexual anxieties does the desire for recognition begin to produce a misogynous rhetoric of power. It is in such moments, and only in such moments, that Donne descends into a poetics of domination and death in which the dream of symmetry slides beneath assertions of power and the desire for recognition loses its intersubjective savor.