Abstract: This article traces John Donne’s intellectual struggle to reconcile a paradox of two conflicting souls: the classical organic soul composed of three mortal faculties rooted in the body’s function and the immortal Christian soul that serves as the basis of salvation. In Donne’s writings, the tension between the organic and Christian souls leads him to a new model of Christian subjectivity figuring the soul as a textual medium subject to tracing, writing, and ultimately printing. In his poetry and later prose, he clears a space for a new mode of Christian agency by rewriting how the two souls define the subject in the malleable rhetoric of literary language and by asserting that the contents of the soul were not fixed but could be rewritten by the devotional subject. Ultimately, by the end of his life, Donne articulates a rhetoric of the two souls in terms of a printerly textuality that transforms the psychological dilemma into the basis of a novel vision of spiritual plasticity, which gives to the Christian subject the power to edit the soul’s substance precisely as a text’s type can be reset or as its language can be rewritten. Donne’s adoption of the printing press as a useful figure to make sense of the two-souls dilemma is unexpected, given the common assumption that he distrusted the print medium and preferred to circulate his works in manuscript. By contrast, I demonstrate that Donne expresses the view that Christian salvation is a mode of printerly textuality—a second printing of our souls.
Studies in Philology – University of North Carolina Press
Published: Nov 11, 2016
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