Subject and Object in Renaissance Culture.
This distinguished collection of essays was originally presented at the conference on Renaissance Subject/Early Modern Object at the University of Pennsylvania in 1992. The essays collectively attempt to redress what seemed by the early 1990s to be an unbalanced--and embattled--emphasis upon what had become known as the Early Modern subject, to the neglect of the world of objects to which that subject inevitably found itself related. It was not the case that the subject was any longer treated as transcendent in the Burckhardtian sense--far from it; nor was the nonsubject under-represented. Rather we beheld, in the words of Louis Montrose, "on the one hand, the implacable code, and on the other, the slippery signifier--the contemporary equivalents of Predestination and Fortune"--contending for dominance.(1) Both persons and objects were often abstracted and commodified in a criticism grown increasingly aware of the disunities of the self and of the reproductive capacity of something we might call power, or ideology, or the symbolic.
These essays, though deeply informed by contemporary theory, are largely concerned with concrete persons and things. Their aim, as the editors explain in a brief introduction, is to revise the familiar Renaissance narrative of subjectivity by asking the question, "in the period that has from its inception been identified with the emergence of the subject, where is the object?" (2). One way of resisting the narrative is seen in the title: to describe the culture not as Early Modern but as Renaissance is to bracket its versions of selfhood from the Cartesian trajectory on which they were placed by nineteenth-century historians, and to discourage us from seeing in them only earlier instances of modernity. More broadly, the essays "urge an exploration of the intricacies of subject/object relations, so as to undo the narrative we have been telling ourselves over and over again: the rise of subjectivity, the complexity of subjectivity, the instability of subjectivity. What we have to gain from interrelating the object and the subject in the Renaissance is a sense of how objects have a hold on subjects as well as subjects on objects" (11).
The project gets off to a strong start in part 1, "Priorities," with essays by Margreta de Grazia, Patricia Parker, and Louis A. Montrose. As the rubric indicates, these essays focus in different ways on the need to reverse the instrumentalist concept of the subject working upon the world and to regard subject formation as (literally) dependent upon object relations. In "The Ideology of Superfluous Things: King Lear as Period Piece," de Grazia directly addresses the habit of mind that since Burckhardt and Marx has tended to sever subjects from objects and objects from subjects, thereby enabling that account of the Renaissance that stresses mobility of persons and goods--the one a category of freestanding subject, the other of freely circulating commodity--thus providing a model made in our image and likeness. Her object is not to challenge the fact of increasing mobility in the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries but rather to question the Cartesian/capitalist analytic that links it so smoothly to the modern. In its place, she offers a reading of Lear, so often regarded as a touchstone of the transition from feudal to capitalist sensibility, that stresses the role of things in the formation and maintenance of personal identity: "the play dramatizes the relation of being and having," she observes, "removing what a person has simultaneously takes away what a person is" (21). And she argues that in the end these things return to their places in the traditional hierarchy. Both in its emphasis on the informing power of things--not commodities--and its insistence that they be returned to their rightful owners, King Lear is a conservative, not a forward-looking, play. It is not just that Lear loses his social identity when he divests himself of his kingdom--clothing figuring both property and self--or that Edgar feels "I nothing am" when disinherited and proclaimed a traitor, and that both become better clothed, retrieve their property, and resume (Lear only briefly) the shapes they were. More critically at stake is the meaning of Lear's outcry, "O, reason not the need! our basest beggars / Are in the poorest thing superfluous" (2.4.264-65).(2) The cry offers a distinction between human subsistence and the overplus that makes someone feel who he or she is. But that distinction, de Grazia points out, while appropriate enough in an aristocrat, is hardly axiomatic, for the superfluous was a perquisite only of the well-to-do. When Lear counsels pomp to "take physic" and "shake the superflux" to poor, naked wretches, he comes closer to seventeenth-century reality. It is, in fact, his own perverse self-deprivation of superflux that appears to provoke other, more dangerous superfluities that threaten to obscure established social and gender hierarchies: his overflowing tears, the storm that might spill nature's germens, Edmund's vow to top the legitimate, Kent's conflict with Oswald, that "unnecessary letter." It is in this sense that the play reproduces a conservative ideology of superfluous things. To historicize superfluity in this way is, I think, a healthful corrective to our instinctive acceptance of Lear's heart-wrenching lament as universally applicable. Yet, "Allow not nature more than nature needs, / Man's life is cheap as beast's" (2.3.266-67) also bespeaks an awareness of the way in which even pins, wooden pricks, and nails are superfluities that tell the Poor Toms of Lear's world who they are. What is necessary and what is superfluous, de Grazia finally demonstrates, become very hard to separate.
Patricia Parker's "Rude Mechanicals" takes its title from Puck's description of the Athenian workmen and would-be players in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Parker is concerned here to reveal the material basis of the aesthetic and spiritual sublimations represented in the play. Both "rude" and "mechanical" are terms of class distinction that also have low ontological claims--"rude" associated with the unformed, "mechanical" with processes of shaping "disordered matter." Players, too, were often classified among mechanical artisans, and when they succeeded to the gentry, theirs was an artificial or constructed genealogy compared to the natural genealogies of gentlemen born, and a potential reminder of the cobbled origin of many a natural genealogy--a matter that Shakespeare savors in the fifth act of The Winter's Tale. But as "rude mechanicals" are involved in the "shaping fantasies" of Dream--Bottom in his own and Titania's, all of them in assembling a play to be presented at Theseus's wedding that phantasmagorically represents the experience of the courtly lovers--it becomes a matter of more than routine interest to see how material "joining" and "joinery" function within the spiritual and intellectual spheres of Elizabethan culture. Shakespeareans will remember how Jacques tells Touchstone that Sir Oliver Martext will marry him to Audry "as they join wainscot; then one of you will prove a shrunk panel, and like green timber warp, warp" (AYLI 3.3.86-89); and how Claudius informs his court, in a painstakingly articulated period, how Gertrude has become "th'imperial jointress to this warlike state" Ham 1.2.9). It is not surprising, then, that the language of joinery is also found in textbooks on rhetoric, such as Richard Sherry's Treatise of Schemes and Tropes, where readers are counseled that "the myghte and power of eloquucion consisteth in words considered by them selves, and when they are joyned together," and learn that the natural order is that which places "men" before "women" (50). Rhetoric is one of the means by which gender takes its place in the social formation. The domains of logic and marriage are joined by Thomas Wilson in The Rule of Reason when he provides guidelines concerning "what wordes maie be truely joined together," echoing the language of the Ceremony of Matrimony in the Book of Common Prayer. Indeed, this carpenter's language is ubiquitous. "We cannot be joynted to Christ our Head, except we be glued with concord and charitie to one another," states a homily of 1547. Notes Parker: "In all of the senses of `joinery' in this contemporary semantic network, the figure of the artisan joiner brings together the joining of pieces of wood into an object, the union of marriage and body politic, and the `right writing' of order in discourse" (51).
So what? In the play, Parker argues, the rude mechanicals foreground the activity of making and ordering, thus continuously denaturalizing what would otherwise appear to be given. It is Bottom, after all, an unlikely St. Paul, who is granted "a most rare vision" that exceeds Theseus's reach, and whose dramaturgic solutions produce a materialist parody of the lovers' flight that physically desublimates the erotic longings of the previous night. But the language of making is contagious: Theseus uses it patriarchically when he likens Hermia to wax that must be shaped by the stamp of her father, and Helena uses it homoerotically when she asks Hermia if she will "rent our ancient love asunder / To join with men in scorning your poor friend?" (3.2.215-16). Behind, within Dream, Parker implies, is a joiner's imagination that understands human culture as an activity of making, as she draws upon Theodore Leinwand's observation that actor-playwrights were coming to be counted among the "middling sort"--neither aristocratic nor basely artisanal--to suggest that this social liminality may have provided Shakespeare with precisely the perspective on craftsmanship that we find both comically exaggerated and ironically denied in his comedy.
Although Louis A. Montrose's essay, "Spenser's Domestic Domain: Poetry, Property, and the Early Modern Subject," reintroduces the contested terminology, he describes a subjectivity that is distinctly Elizabethan. He does so by both utilizing and rejecting Foucault's concept of author-function. He rejects as inappropriate for Early Modern England Foucault's view of the author as an ideological construct produced to restrict the proliferation of meaning and, following Robert Weimann, argues that because of the limited censorship apparatus available to the Tudors and the increasingly varied opportunities for textual production, "the author-function may have helped to disseminate discursive authority more than it worked to contain it" (93). Indeed, Spenser seems to have exploited the author-function with skill and self-awareness, expanding his share of discursive possibilities by positioning himself per occasionem as poetic heir, humanist scholar, humble client, and lord of a poetic realm in which he himself was figured and whose discourse he controlled.
Adapting the concept of "demesne," or domain, from Paul Alpers's work on the lyric, Montrose shows how Spenser, in the years between the 1590 and 1596 publications of The Faerie Queene, fashioned a poetic domain of increasing public authority, directing the encomiastic energies he had expended on the epic to the smaller lyric and narrative forms of Colin Clouts Come Home Again, Amoretti, and Epithalamion. Emblematic of this gain in authority is the change in the dedication of the 1596 Faerie Queene, where Spenser's name, formerly reduced in size and relegated to the bottom right-hand corner of the page, is now printed as prominently as the queen's. Yet this access of power has accrued to him through subjection to the queen. The phenomenon is glossed by Spenser himself in Colin Clouts Come Home Again: "By wondering at thy Cynthiaes praise, / Colin, thy selfe thou mak'st us more to wonder, / And her upraising, doest thy selfe upraise" (CCCHA, 353-55, cit. 90). By subjecting himself he has enhanced himself--and not only in reputation. Beginning in 1590, his 50 [pounds sterling] royal pension and his position as colonial administrator permitted him to acquire real estate in Ireland that contributed to the fashioning of his poetic self-representation. In much of the poetry written during these years, Montrose argues,"a rhetoric that affirms the poet's literary authority coincides with a thematics of property, marriage, and lineage that enhances his social authority. In short, the construction of a poetic domain here coincides with the foundation of a domestic domain" (95). And he demonstrates how the material basis of Spenser's establishment in Ireland grounds the exploration of cosmic issues in The Mutabilitie Cantos, enables not only the anti-courtly sentiments of Colin Clouts Come Home Again but also its erotic mythopoeia, informs the eschatological aspirations of Epithalamion, and underlies the subtle displacement of the queen by Elizabeth Boyle in canto 10 of book 6 of The Faerie Queene and in the Amoretti. What the poems reveal, Montrose suggests, is the construction of an "authorial persona as both a public and a domestic subject by means of profession, property, and marriage" (118). This persona occupies an ambiguous psychological space because, as an instrument of the monarch and her policies, he has been able to create a place for himself that is not merely instrumental, within which he speaks from several subject positions not necessarily consonant with one another. Montrose's Spenser emerges not as the queen's man fashioning his subjectivity by violently defending Englishness against erotic and outlandish otherness, as Stephen Greenblatt has argued, but as something of an other himself, fashioned by queen, land, and the books he wrote.
Books and pictures are the objects examined in part 2, "Materializations," by Stephen Orgel, Nancy J. Vickers, and Ann Rosalind Jones. In "Gendering the Crown," Orgel studies several emblems and portraits that have immediate and distant relations to Elizabeth I, and shows how an analytic and syncretic habit of mind enabled public construction of the ambiguously gendered self deliberately promulgated by the queen. He begins by pointing out the polysemy of such popular emblems as the pelican feeding her young with her blood. As a common emblem of the caritas of Christ, the sacrificing pelican crosses gender lines with ease, female imaging male. But the pelican and its brood can also figure Lear's "pelican daughters," matricides feeding upon their father, and those chicks become avangers when Laertes promises, "like the kind life-rend'ring pelican," to repast his supporters with his blood if they help him kill the murderer of his father. A similar lability of signification informs the myth of Daphne's transformation into a laurel: it is a caveat against passion for Bernini, the reward of chastity for George Sandys.
Orgel remarks wryly that Renaissance iconographies and mythographies, which often assign the task of determining meaning to the interpretive capacity of the reader, are "the most postmodern of texts." It is an important observation and deserves emphasis, for iconographic polysemy is a function of that topical habit of mind that considers qualities in relation to their adjacents, contraries, causes, effects, passives, actives, antecedents, consequents, and the like, in such a way that apparent positivities display themselves in a network of cognates that both distinguish themselves from and suggest one another. His theme, however, is not just that images are convertible, but that there is a subtle visual slippage that an acute reader of images must interpret. As evidence of the formal modification of a visual topos, he shows a group of pictures of Francis I, Henry II, and Henry III, in which the king changes from celebrated transvestite who combines the desirable qualities of male (in war) and female (in peace) to scandalous hermaphrodite, a woman who passes herself off as a man. But his fascinating case in point is a drawing by Giuliano Romano that appears to show Apollo making love to Hyacinthus or Cyparissus. A female witness to this male lovemaking holds her finger to her lips, a gesture traditionally thought to originate with Harpocrates, god of silence. Orgel notes its similarity to an emblem of Meditation or Revenge, where the finger is not simply touching the lips but is being bitten, and finds an identical gesture in a Romano sketch of Venus and Mars expelling a fury from a garden of putti. This turns out to be the gesture of the woman observing the adult god dallying with the young boy, whom Orgel now identifies as Orpheus, believed to have introduced pederasty into Greece after the loss of Euridice and killed by an enraged bacchante for the insult to womanhood. Not secrecy but vengeance is on the mind of the female voyeur. This is a brilliant demonstration of close reading, and Orgel uses it to make a pitch for recognizing the representational capaciousness of images: "beyond the silent woman lies the vengeful fury, beyond Caritas lies inhumanity, behind all of these lies the unspoken. The image, unlike the word ... also represents what does not signify, the unexplained, the unspeakable--all those meanings we reject because we believe nobody in the Renaissance could have conceived them" (149). He is surely right, but I would press further. He has revealed a visual system of gestures in which one image slips beyond itself into another in a manner not unlike the phonemic variation with which we are familiar from structural linguistics, which suggests that built into the activity of interpretation was a differential recognition that invited just the kind of revisional reading activity he accomplishes in the essay: it is not only the capaciousness of Renaissance images that we must acknowledge but that of the acculturated imagination that fashioned and viewed them. This proves to be crucial in his discussion of a group of images relating to the queen, which adapt Catholic and specifically Spanish iconography to Elizabethan imperialist ends, and infuse them with an erotic content that was ostensibly lesbian, subliminally heterosexual, and chaste. Without an understanding of the multisignifying potential of sixteenth-century imagery and its reliance upon a corresponding interpretive power these images would make no sense.
The object of Nancy J. Vickers's inquiry is "the unauthored 1539 volume in which is printed the Hecatomphile, The Flowers of French Poetry, and Other Soothing Things," published in Paris by Pierre Sergent. This is a "tract" volume--a book of writings bound together, of independent origin but related thematically and culturally--consisting of a French prose narrative, translated without acknowledgment from the Italian of Leon Battista Alberti; a florilegium of French verses that bear traces of Italian forebears; and a collection of anatomical blazons. Vickers asks what the book tells about the way subjectivities can be formed by a savvy community of publishers attuned to the tastes of their customers. The poetry has the marks of coterie verse and stages itself as such, through ascriptions like "The Disciple begins to describe love," "Another author defines love," "A Lady answers," and so forth, conveying the sense that one is privy to courtly pastime--an impression also promoted by the promise of "autres choses solatieuses" in the third part. The poems have been variously ascribed to Frances I, Marguerite of Navarre, Claude Chappuys, and others, and probably are pieces exchanged in the French court.
Vickers is less interested in their authorship, however, than in their marketing. There were ten editions of the Hecatomphile between 1534 and 1540 published in Paris and Lyons by various booksellers, and they reflect a common understanding of what the volume was to be like, for they share both format and illustrations. The 1534 octavo edition of Galliot du Pre (a bipartite text without blazons) was downmarketed to a sixteenmo, handy to carry about, display, and present as a gift. Du Pre and Sergent (publisher of the tripartite 1539 text) had shops on the lie de la Cite, where they produced a line of books--humanist works, law texts, classics, romances--for the edification of a class of nonscholarly professionals. Of the two men, Sergent was more the popularizer; his editions were cheaper and cruder. Vickers shows the ubiquity of woodcuts used in these books; one, presenting the painter Zeuxis collating the best parts of the world's most beautiful females on canvas to portray Helen of Troy, moved from Du Pre's 1531 edition of The Romance of the Rose to Sergent's Hecatomphile and then to his 1541 edition of Controverses des sexes masculins et feminins, but not before it appeared in the new Les blasons domestiques published in 1539 by Gilles Corrozet--who used the woodcut to blast its earlier users in a moral castigation titled "Against the blazoners of body parts." This, in a book that now contained praises of home furnishings! Vickers's witty point is that commodification is proceeding apace, as courtliness trickles down for the consumption of a rising class of commoners through a medium whose form and substance clearly reveal the way books can become fetishes: the volume itself opens the court to the urban gaze, the inventory of female body parts (a courtly, not an urban invention) caters to the desires of city males, and for readers who wish to distinguish themselves from emptors of amorous objects, desire can be aestheticized and moralized as it is displaced onto objects of domesticity. "Postulating greater solace in the pleasures of houses than in the pleasures of women, The Domestic Blazons stands as a revealing complement to the Hecatomphile," Vickers observes. "As objects assembled in the image of their consumers' varied desires, they materially shape those desires in the process" (183). The blason du cabinet says it succinctly: "Cabinet remply de richesses / Soit pour roynes ou pour duchesses." ("A chest stuffed full of expensive things / Be it for queens or duchesses.")
Spider women and their webs are foregrounded in "Dematerializations: Textile and Textual Properties in Ovid, Sandys, and Spenser," where Ann Rosalind Jones studies some Renaissance transformations of Ovid's tale of the contest between Athena and Arachne. Jones shows how the labor and skill of Arachne and Athena, emphasized in Ovid, undergoes sublimation and masculine appropriation in these later renderings. Her essay takes off from and concludes with a discussion of Velasquez's painting Las hilanderas--the spinners--a title that refers to the contemporary female figures in the foreground who are variously spinning, carding, and combing wool. The painting also goes by the name of La fabula de Aragne, which identifies the scene in the background, where elegantly dressed women stand before a tapestry--one wearing a classical helmet--with the myth. This scene was framed squarely as on a stage in the original version but enlarged vertically by the addition of an arch some time between the painting's completion around 1654 and the year 1711, when it was willed to the royal collections. Jones sees the titles and the criticism that has gathered around the painting as symptomatic of "the process through which a physical substance--wool yarn produced by women's labor--and the object made from it--a tapestry--can be dematerialized into transcendent symbols" (189).
The issue centers on what Velasquez was up to in so dividing his painting between the close-up view of poor women making wool thread and the more distant display of the finished product to an appreciative audience of aristocratic ladies. Critics have argued that he was staking his claim as humanist by including the myth in what otherwise might have been a genre painting, that he was celebrating the superiority of art to mere manual labor, that in appropriating figures from Titian in the tapestry he was asserting his own artistic merit. Jones is not satisfied with these explanations. She points out that one of the painting's anomalies is the very presence of women in the tapestry workroom, since labor in the Spanish cloth industry was rigidly divided between women who spun wool into thread at home in private and workmen who wove their thread into tapestries in the public workplace. For her, Velasquez is interested in portraying women at work and (by implication) women as consumers, which is why he includes no men in the painting. Her excursion into the fortuna of Arachne and Athena in Ovid, Sandys, and Spenser, therefore, is a means of grounding the critical reception of the painting. The account she provides reveals the change in emphasis the myth undergoes from its treatment by Ovid, who expresses interest in the skill with which both Arachne and Athena weave images--the former of the gods seducing and raping mortal women, the latter of her contest with Neptune for the patronage of Athens--to Sandys, who in the second instance, masculinizes and disembodies Athena by seeing in her a pagan counterpart to the son of God, Jove's "pure mind," and sees in Arachne an envious female upstart. Whereas in the Ovidian myth, Athena tears up Arachne's tapestry and transforms Arachne herself into a spider for protesting at losing the contest, Sandys's Minerva justly destroys the work of a traitor who reveals the secrets of the gods. Spenser sinuously co-opts weaving in Muopotmos (where the contest is between Arachne's son, the sly Aragnoll, and the male butterfly Clarion), is alive to the details of craft, but subordinates the material feminine to the fictional masculine fantasy of the mock epic, and in Amoretti 71, epideictically fashions himself as a real-life Aragnoll, lovingly entrapping Elizabeth Boyle.
Jones offers shrewd analyses of these authors, revealing once again the penchant of Renaissance interpreters for cross-gendering and manipulating significant images--in this case for the purpose of containing the female by eliding or devaluing fabrication. (Her work should be read in conjunction with Parker's and Orgel's.) Less satisfying is her return to Velasquez, whom she credits with a concern for labor per se and for women's labor in particular. Earlier she remarked that "the painting is itself an object: oil on canvas, a material also made by women in its first stages. Women grew, soaked, combed, and spun the flax from which painters' canvases were made" (193). She returns to this observation at the end: "Women's work on flax made linen thread, which was woven into canvas; women's work on wool produced the yarn that was woven into a tapestry--before a painter's work in oil produced an image of weavers" (206). An intriguing concatenation, but how significant? To find out, she calls for study of the material circumstances of Velasquez's enterprise, though from the evidence presented, one wonders if this would reveal a Velasquez who identified with his materials or sought to dematerialize himself and transcend mere craftsmanship in homosocial competition with other masters. We will have to see.
In part 3, "Appropriations," Maureen Quilligan, Margaret W. Ferguson, and Gary Tomlinson turn to the role played by New World objects in European subjectification. Quilligan's essay; "Freedom, Service, and the Trade in Slaves: The Problem of Labor in Paradise Lost," draws attention to the connection between epic and slavery, whereby the conquered and enslaved enemy is traditionally the reified Other against which the heroic ethos is fashioned. Adapting Frederic Jameson's thesis that literary genres are fashioned to manage social contradictions and carry that ideological potential into new cultural situations, she questions the revival and appreciation of epic in a period that fostered the notion of the individual, and explores specifically its social resonance in an author known for his insistence on human freedom.
Slavery was an important element in European economies by the seventeenth century, and a fact invoked by Milton on several occasions. In The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, he wrote that "to say, as is usual, the king hath as good right to his crown and dignity as any man to his inheritance, is to make the subject no better than the king's slave." His assertion was based on the assumption that king and subject are relative entities that mutually constitute one another: "if the subject, who is one relative, take away the relation, of force he takes away also the other relative ... that is to say, the king's authority, and their subjection to it" (216). But he also assumed that the subject enjoys free authority over his own family and property that would be destroyed were he considered a part of the king's inheritance and not a contractual partner. Quilligan points out that this freedom was articulated within a contemporary discourse that differentiated the English both from black slaves and those who trafficked in slavery. In 1659, Parliament debated a petition from Cavalier captives who had been given a choice of death or slavery in Barbados, chosen the latter, and now complained bitterly of their abject condition. The argument in favor of the petitioners was that liberty must be secured to all Englishmen lest their lives be "as cheap as those negroes" already employed on the plantations (219). That is to say, men enslaved by conquest would become indistinguishable from those sold in trade, and Englishness would thereby lose its association with the heroic. Milton participated in this discourse not only in its political but also its racial register. In Of Reformation, he threatened the unregenerate with a hell where the damned would "exercise a Raving and Bestial Tyranny over them as their Slaves and Negroes" (220). Race and trade, then, distinguished contemporary from classical slavery by conquest.
With the slave population of Barbados growing exponentially in the seventeenth century because of the changeover from tobacco to sugar, the need for and dissociation from slavery was a fact of economic and psychological life. It was one of the elements, Quilligan argues, that shaped Milton's Satan, who comes to conquer "this new world" and enslave Adam and Eve, who as lords over their dominion enjoy the "sole propriety" of Paradise in mutual self-possession, as he envisions populating hell with their "numerous offspring." Given Satan's project of building an empire on Adam and Eve's seduction and enslavement, he cannot serve as Milton's epic hero. This reading richly complements Milton's explicit rejection of Satan as outmoded military hero (though one wonders if the specter of slave rebellion is not also informing Milton's portrait of Satan's enterprise), the better fortitude of patience and heroic martyrdom to sing. It also complicates our understanding of Milton's treatment of work in the Garden, for if manual agricultural labor is becoming associated with black slaves, it becomes necessary to dignify the labor that Adam and Eve have to perform. It is dignified, as we know, by refashioning it as horticulture but, Quilligan argues, it is also divided by gender and mode of production--Adam's associated with theological "good works" or intellectual labor and a "feudal" mode of service, Eve's with physical or reproductive labor and a "proto-capitalist mode" that includes an injunction that women "study household good." Thus Paradise Lost participates in a redefinition of work, influenced by New World experience, that is gendered and also racialized--explicitly in book 12, where the black descendants of Ham are identified as "servants of servants." Quilligan's account of the poem's part in this reconception and the way socio-economic modes, gender, and race are imbricated in one another, is illuminating and generally persuasive.
In "Feathers and Flies: Aphra Behn and the Seventeenth-Century Trade in Exotica," Margaret Ferguson is also concerned with the bad faith engendered by the English colonial experience in the second half of the seventeenth century and how one author dealt with it. Behn visited Guiana in the early 1660s and later drew upon her life in the novella Oroonoko and the play The Widow Ranter. What Ferguson is after is to see how the colonial model of male penetration into virgin lands described by Montrose in his study of Ralegh's Discovery of Guiana fares in a subject who is a woman, English, and professional. To gain purchase on Behn's subject position in regard to the New World she compares three accounts of native nakedness, in Columbus's letter to Gabriel Sanchez, Milton's initial description of Adam and Eve, and Behn's account of the natives in Oroonoko. All three present the natives as naked and not quite naked. Columbus first writes, "all go naked, men and women," then adds that "some women are covered in a single place by a leaf or net of cotton" (238), and contemporary print versions of the letter illustrate one state or the other. Similarly, Milton's Adam and Eve are "clad" only in "naked majesty," but shortly afterward Eve is described veiled to the waist by wanton ringlets, directing the male gaze (participating in Satan's) to her partially covered breasts, before asserting once more the mutual unconcealment of "those mysterious parts." Ferguson's point is that Milton, like Columbus, "revises a statement about a general human nakedness into the `exception' of a specifically gendered veiling" that draws upon the noble savage trope "to create a split subject position--between desire and guilt--for the male narrator and implied male reader," thus disrupting an easy binary division of "naked them/clothed us," so as to complicate distinguishing between ontological states (242). In Behn, the natives are first described as wearing beaded aprons before them, "as Adam and Eve did the Fig-leaves," but shortly after as naked, without the trace of an indecent action (243). Ferguson offers a brilliant reading of all three uses of the Edenic metaphor associated with the New World: "If the natives are naked, then they are not only like Adam and Eve before the fall, but we, the colonists, are either superfluous to their blissful state or, worse, like Satan, filled with greed and desire to destroy it. If, however, the natives, and especially the native women, are cinctured around the genitals, then they are like Adam and Eve after the fall, and we can legitimate our profit-taking desires under the guise of bringing Christian salvation to the heathen" (245).
But there is a third position open to Behn, as a woman, writer, collector, gift giver, and theater person: that is to aestheticize potentially moral categories by participating in the traffic in New World luxuries. Behn indulges in a lengthy digression about the ornaments used by the Indians and connects these autobiographically to the dress of an Indian queen she had given to the King's Theater, which turns out to be the headdress worn by the actress Anne Bracegirdle in Behn's own play, The Widow Ranter. To contextualize these negotiations, Ferguson points to the seventeenth-century transvaluation of luxury, which had an ancient history of association with sin, and especially with female excess--as spices, cloths, gems, feathers, and other items (including native Americans and Africans) entered and circulated in the European market. Their negative moral associations now had to compete with even stronger mercantilist ambitions, and as a result the category of necessary luxury was invented and objects were unabashedly collected for display in curiosity cabinets, pageants, and theaters. The implications for subjectivity are especially intriguing. Not only were identities more strongly cathected onto things, but when those things were exotic persons and exotic persons became fashionable objects for display, the interflow between imitating or collecting subject and imitated and collectable object excited an oscillation that destabilized identity. Ferguson shows a contemporary illustration of Anne Bracegirdle in the role of Indian princess, adorned with feathers and attended by two black children, also feathered, playing her Indian attendants: whiteness and blackness meet in fictional tertium quid--"redness"?--just as Behn herself, on a visit to a village in Guiana, meets natives adorned with feathers not unlike the feathered headdress she is wearing. In Oroonoka, Ferguson concludes, "we have a partial representation, partial in both senses of the word, of a cultural system in which actors, white women, Native Americans and Africans of both sexes shared versions of a subject position we might define simply as that of `being on display in and for the market'" (255). What she suggests is that the subject itself is now a necessary luxury, the reciprocal effect of aestheticizing the Other.
Gary Tomlinson's "Unlearning the Aztec Cantares (Preliminaries to a Postcolonial History)" explicitly articulates the issues involved in the attempt to perceive, understand, and represent an older, non-European subjectivity. His essay is a model of methodological awareness and cultural analysis. The aim of the postcolonial historian, he observes, is "not to create a docile past `the way it really was' but to build a past that resists our intellectual attempts to occupy it even while it takes it shape from us" (261). In doing so, the historian will be aware that he must construct two dialogues--one between the present and the past, the other between subjectivities in the past. This second task is especially sensitive in the case where the voice of one communicant is transmitted by the other--an issue raised by Ferguson regarding the unrecorded subjectivities of Indians and Africans brought to Europe for display. Tomlinson further specifies the problem by observing that the dialectic of the familiar and the uncanny that informs historical assessment is particularly acute in the space between speech and song, for while Western analysis distinguishes a wide range of utterance between plain speaking and full-fledged singing, we are accustomed to a hierarchical binary of "words" and "music" that may distort our apprehension of ancient songs.
Tomlinson's exemplary instance is a sixteenth-century manuscript entitled Cantares mexicanos, or Mexica Songs, which preserves the texts of ninety-one Aztec songs in alphabetized Nahuatl. The very form in which the material has been transmitted--a book of poetry written in a phonetic alphabet--invites a familiar kind of reading, and much of the scholarship on the songs has assimilated the poems to Western concepts, seeing in them the expression of a stoic philosophy critical of warfare, human sacrifice, and cannibalism that is conveyed through an extensive use of metaphor. Their characteristic technique, according to this interpretation, is diphrasis, a joining of two metaphors to express a single thought, and the diphrasis in xochitl in cuicatl, which means roughly "flower and song," has been taken to refer to poetry and, more generally, to the poetic-philosophic worldview that is being articulated. While not denying the possibility of such a worldview, Tomlinson questions the attitude toward language and the habit of reading that has led to its stipulation. He focuses on the nature of spoken Nahuatl and the nearly invisible "songishness" of the recorded texts. Drawing upon the work of Serge Gruzinski, Inga Clendinnen, and other Mezoamericanists, he points out how Nahuatl differs from Western languages in its concreteness--its basic words are "sentence words" irreducible to grammatical abstraction--and suggests that before European contact "such irreducibility must have assured that every Nahuatl utterance reached outward to an external context" (268). The distance between word and thing or action was, he argues, simply not there, as it is in Western representational languages, and thus Nahuatl had a materiality that was contiguous to that of the world. Therefore the transcription of the native language into the abstract alphabet of a linguistic system thought to parallel--not to integrate--perceived reality effected a fundamental rupture that has influenced all subsequent interpretation. In particular, the notion of metaphor, a joining of separate phenomena, seems far less appropriate as a description of how the language works than metonymy, which emphasizes proximity, interflow, continuity. Extant glyphs resemble spoken Nahuatl insofar as they suggest the conflation of images and things, functioning as presentations rather than representations.
The "songishness" of the poems, which is virtually absent in the alphabetized texts, must be retrieved from the word/music dichotomy; Tomlinson argues, by expanding our notion of how sounds might have conveyed meaning in the Mexica culture--sounds including not only words but "introductory finger-whistling; the deep intonation of the huehuetl; the resonant wooden thong of the teponaztli; perhaps the rhythmic clatter of rattles, the scratchy whisper of rasps, the wail of conch trumpets" (273). Evidence in extant Aztec codices indicate that music was thought to have the same material powers as speech: volutes of varying size and ornamentation are shown flowing from singer's mouths and their instruments, some becoming flowers, which brings new meaning to the phrase in xochitl in cuicatl: song actually flowers, meaning is incarnational. The metonymic physical world, he points out, has critical bearing on the human subject who was part of it, less boundaried, more permeable, easily transmutable--the subject, one might say, from whom the Western subject had been detaching itself since Aeschylus, and whose strangeness was so foreign to sixteenth-century Europeans that they objectivized and thus familiarized it. This essay, one-third shrewd scholarly caveat, two-thirds lucid analysis, is required reading not only for historians of colonialism but also for those of us concerned with the lingering? renascent? presence of magic in European linguistic thought during the age of exploration.
In part 4 of Subjects and Objects the editors have gathered essays by Peter Stallybrass, Jonathan Goldberg, and Stephen Greenblatt under the heading "Fetishisms," perhaps glancing at the European need to reanimate the world even as it was being objectified. Stallybrass's "Worn Worlds: Clothes and Identity on the Renaissance Stage," offers a convincing case that the London clothing trade was the locus of a complicated identity crisis in the later-sixteenth century, in which the theater played a central role. Contemporary anxieties about dressing across gender and class are now familiar topics of cultural criticism, but Stallybrass contextualizes these commonplaces so as to give us a sense of their material basis. The most salient fact he presents is that business in fabrics was booming. Citing Steven Rappaport's astonishing statistic that nearly twice as many young men were apprenticed to the four major cloth and clothing guilds between 1530 and 1609 than to eleven other London guilds, he shows that the theater was not simply engaged in "dressing up" and thus shaking up sexual and social identities but that it was up to its neck, so to speak, in clothing exchange. Many playwrights--including Webster, Middleton, Munday, and Heywood--were affiliated with the cloth guilds. Companies paid more for costumes than for scripts or props; they used these valuable costumes as collateral when they needed to raise cash and borrowed them, virtually as cash, when strapped for funds to commission their own. Philip Henslowe was in the thick of this trade; his account books reveal that he was in the clothes-pawning business himself, paying cash for the garments of private citizens and often loaning costumes on account to the players he financed. Not without reason was the pawning of clothes an activity frequently dramatized on the London stage.
Outside the theater and business, clothes were also an important medium of exchange. Liveries were part of a household servant's pay--usually the greater part--and gifts of clothing at court to ladies and gentlemen in waiting were common, and were recorded in detail. As important as clothing exchange itself was the signifying function of garments. Stallybrass makes the important point that in the sixteenth century it was not the commodity that was fetishized, as Marx describes the inspiriting of material goods at a later stage in the history of production, but the distinctive object. That is to say, even as clothing circulated in society as an apparently fungible commodity, it might also retain or become imbued with the aura of persons who owned and wore it or of the household or noble in whose name it was worn. The theater, though it had a way of displacing the memories and values inhering in garments by staging them in new situations, also took seriously the identities clinging to them. Stallybrass cites the outraged Sir Henry Herbert, who penalized a pawnbroker for selling a church robe with the name Jesus on it to the Salisbury Court Players for use in a flamen's role, an extreme case of putting the meaning of a vestment in crisis. And lesser violations were feasible onstage, as in Volpone's proposition that he and Celia act out the erotic possibilities enabled by changing costume. "In the process," Stallybrass observes, "the aristocracy becomes no more than one possible kind of style: a style which one can adopt or drop according to the extent of one's wardrobe" (308). Yet some of the most poignant and strange moments on the stage occur when a garment or accessory circulates and retains its personal identity: Othello's handkerchief, Troilus's sleeve, Posthumus's clothes. It is this dual potentiality of clothing to attach old identities to new persons (Macbeth's "borrowed robes") and to insist on the inherence of their original wearers that renders them so problematic as a source of self in this culture. "Clothes have a life of their own," Stalleybrass reminds us; "they both are material presences and they encode other material and immaterial presences"(313).
It may be difficult to conceive of a single poem as fetish, but that is what Goldberg shows Mary Sidney made of Petrarch's Trionfo della Morte in her translation, The Triumph of Death. "The Countess of Pembroke's literal translation" takes its title from a tradition of criticism that praises this work on the basis of its fidelity to the Petrarchan original and Sidney's capacity to "reproduce" the very terza rima of the father of humanism. At the outset, then, the poem raises not only the question of relationship between translator and maker but the even more intricate issue of cross-gendering that arises when a female writer turns a man's poem into a palimpsest. This issue of cross-gendered voicing is not absent from Petrarch's work. One of the features of his poem is the postmortem appearance of Laura, who informs the speaker that their relationship, which had been the occasion for him to exhibit his mastery, had, in fact, "been mastered by Laura, whose withdrawals and refusals, whose very silences, had produced their effects in him" (322). This has given some recent critics occasion to discover female agency in the poem and also female acquiescence, especially in view of the fact that even here, Laura's voice is Petrarch's.
The issue becomes even more complicated when one tries to locate Mary Sidney's "I" in her appropriation of Petrarch's double voicings. Is she, who also occasioned male effusions from the poets she patronized, finding her own voice in Laura's? If so, what is to be made of the identity of her "Petrarchan" speaker? Goldberg's sinuous analysis leads to the conclusion that Mary is both Petrarch and Laura in this poem, and he shows that the two figures are, literally, not clearly distinguishable. The initial speaker, whose gender identity in Petrarch remains stable, is female and male in Sidney's, insofar as "she" begins as a figure longing for death, apparently soon to be dead, and whose death is announced in the second part of the poem--announced to a figure who is still "me" but is now grieving the heroic death of a beautiful, courteous other self. In translating Il Trionfo della Morte into The Triumph of Death, Mary Sidney was thus animating Petrarch's poem with the spirits of her dead brother and herself in a transgendering fantasy that reflects the incestuous metaphorics through which Philip Sidney dedicated the Arcadia to her, substantiates the language of "Two, by their bloods, and by thy Spirit one," which Donne uses to praise brother and sister's translations of the Psalms, and gives a certain credence to Aubrey's salacious gossip that they were known to lie with one another. Goldberg weaves into his reading recent work by Ann Rosalind Jones, Judith Butler, Jonathan Crewe, and others to build a strong case for locating female agency at the site of disempowerment (women's last wills, for example) and of transgressive sexuality, which is reflected not only in the presence of women as screens for sister and brother but as homoerotic "chosen mates." As with much of the work of Jonathan Goldberg, the essay is nothing if not provocative, and sometimes exasperating in the teasing ways epithets used by other critics--for example, "preposterous"--are converted into charged terms in his argument. But it is also unremittingly intelligent and one feels microcosmically enlightened after attending it.
Leave it to Stephen Greenblatt to notice that people worried about what happens to crumbs from the sacramental wafer that are not consumed by the communicant. But as he demonstrates in "Remnants of the Sacred in Early Modern England," this material concern--and others like it--was shared by serious people in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and was symptomatic of a growing anxiety about the borders of the self after the Reformation. Here--centrally, because of its eschatalogical implications--the anxiety focused on what Christ meant when he instituted the Eucharist by saying, "Hoc est corpus meum." Catholic doctrine interpreted the statement literally, insisting that the body and blood of Christ were really present in the bread and wine of the Mass, while Protestants denied this and proposed various representational readings. Zwingli and Calvin, Greenblatt records, emphasized the word est rather than the word hoc, which they interpreted as equivalent to significant by a trope in which "the sign borrows the name of the truth that it figures" (340). Reformer John Frith argued that "an alepole is not the ale self which it doth signifie or represent," and a person who seeks salvation in outward signs might just as well "goe and sucke an alepole, trusting to get drinke out of it" (341).
The linguistic issue, however, had ontological--and potentially scatological--implications. Whether Christ's assertion identified the sacrament with his body and blood or merely linked it metaphorically led to questions about its material progress in the body of communicant. According to Greenblatt, Catholics defended the position that one ate Christ's flesh even if one could not see or taste it, for God covered the corporal with bread, as John Rastell argued, "lest some horror & lothsomenes might trouble us, if it were geaven in visible forme of flesh ... unto us" (341). Thomas Cranmer, on the other hand, insisted that we do not "eat Christ with our teeth grossly and carnally," for Christ is in heaven with God; the bread and wine are "tokens, significations, and representations" (343). Dispute on this matter descended to such questions as how deeply into the digestive system the body and blood of Christ reached before he departed, and whether a priest who became drunk after consuming too much sacramental wine was reacting to its "accidents" or "substance." If the former, why confuse faith by instituting the sacramental in a material way in the first place? Cranmer's pregnant answer was that human beings were ineluctably carnal creatures, and that seeing, touching, smelling was believing: "the eating and drinking of this sacramental bread and wine is, as it were, a showing of Christ before our eyes, a smelling of him with our noses, a feeling and groping of him with our hands, and an eating, chewing, digesting, and feeding upon him to our spiritual strength and perfection" (344). As Greenblatt observes, Cranmer's "as it were" marks the uneasy intersection of gross physicality and pure spirituality; but it also installs the worshiper in quite a different subject position than that held in the Catholic dispensation. If, as he suggests, the Eucharist was the Renaissance's "sublime object of ideology"--which, in Zizek's Lacanian formulation, is the Real that precedes and grounds the subject, and is unknowlable and unrepresentable by the subject--then culturally the Reformation moves the individual more deeply (superficially?) into the symbolic register that in granting meaning denies being, and literally sets the stage for that substitution of incarnation by theater that he and others have described so well.
The last section of the book is called "Objections" because, as the editors explain, the essays are more concerned with loss than with objects and implicitly deny the priority of objects in subject formation. Marjorie Garber's "The Insincerity of Women" borrows its title from Freud's note to Wilhelm Fliess concerning the symptomology of one of his patients, Frau P. J., who was suffering from anxiety, a sense of oppression, and abdominal ills: "The insincerity of women starts from their omitting the characteristic sexual symptoms in describing their states. So it really had been an orgasm" (356). For Garber this triumphant observation punctuates a long history of male exploration and attempted colonization of female pleasure, an effort dramatized and rationalized in the virginity test of Middleton and Rowley's The Changeling. Rationalized insofar as the drama itself mystifies its heroine's sexuality--an overdetermined secret compounded of excitement, aversion, fear, cunning, desire, and passion--while the virginity test purports to make that secret empirically evident by the use of pharmaceuticals. Critics have been puzzled at Middleton's allusion to Antonious Mizaldus's De arcanis naturae while apparently inventing the test himself with symptoms not found in Mizaldus--gaping, sneezing, and laughing if one is a virgin, apathy if one is not. Why these particular symptoms? she asks, and recurs to Freud, with the assistance of William Harvey, Robert Burton, Auguste Debay, and more recent theorizers of female psychology (both academic and pop) to come up with a fascinating account of the symptomology of the orgasm in which the gape, sneeze, and laugh play leading roles.
The implications for The Changeling and for male-female relations more generally are twofold. First, Middleton seems to be staging Alsemero's attempt to observe rationally what would be rationally unobservable were he engaged in sexual intercourse himself--the induced orgasm of a virgin. So the test objectifies his own sexual agency and satisfies his need to see his own power. In the play, however, it is evident that these symptoms can be performed--Diaphanta responds au nature to the contents of glass M, but the already deflowered Beatrice-Johanna, watching her maid "prove" that she is an acceptable bedtrick candidate, deliberately reproduces her symptoms before the audience of Alsemero and Jasperino. This act obviously compromises, indeed frustrates, the male quest, and demonstrates the power women possess to keep their secret and to manipulate men, but it also thematizes the theatrical nature of that power. As performed by male actors impersonating women who respond to men both authentically and insincerely, sexual pleasure is only faked--and it is only the fake that is in the control of males. Though Garber does not quite come out and say so, this in itself would seem to reinforce the misogyny that both founds and destabilizes male identity, and a male theater is a major donor to this cause. The essay widens the masculine problematic of knowing by adducing the materials of late-twentieth-century self-help books in which women are counseled to rehearse their pleasure in private--"for use can almost change the stamp of nature"--both to satisfy themselves and their male partners, but never to reveal whether the orgasm is real or counterfeit, since "the existence of the possibility of fakeness protects the privacy and control of pleasure" (366). Brilliant on its own, Garber's essay provides a useful complement to Stanley Cavell's reading of Antony and Cleopatra,(3) where Renaissance skepticism is read in the register of marital sexual relations.
In "Desire is Death," Jonathan Dollimore is concerned "with the perverse dynamic in western culture which binds together desire, death and loss (mutability), and especially the belief that desire is in a sense impossible, which is to say that it is driven by a lack inherently incapable of satisfaction; it is at heart, contradictory: the very nature of desire is precisely what prevents its fulfillment" (369). Though this has a palpably Lacanian ring, Dollimore is expressing an enduring sentiment that has taken different historical forms. If Aristophanes' myth of a race of doubly sexed mortals, cloven in two by a jealous Zeus and thenceforth doomed to strive in vain to repair their loss, explains desire as the consequence of splitting and division, Lucretius sings cryptically of the bitterness experienced even in the fruition of lovemaking. More explicit is Gregory of Nyssa's renunciation of physical pleasures in the belief that such joys produce grief because they make one vulnerable to the little deaths that are effected by mutability and thus "permit death to thrive inside life" (371). Drawing upon Peter Brown's work on Christian asceticism, Dollimore notes that "such writers sought not the repression of the sexual drive as such, but rather to be released from the devastating effects of death, mutability, and time on desire, and as desire," for "these things at once engender desire and render it impossible" (371). Time, that is to say, as the agent of death, and mutability, as the medium or activity of death, enable death to inhabit life from its inception, installing the desire for a consummation that ever ebbs before the reach of desire. This insight, Dollimore shows, lies behind the intimations that in vita mors est in such familiar material as Herbert's "Virtue" and "Church Monuments," Drummond of Hawthornden's "A Cypresse Grove," Castiglione's Il cortegiano, Shakespeare's sonnets, Ralegh's History of the World, and Wyatt's Penitential Psalms. In all these works the life process is vitiated by yet indistinguishable from dying, and there is a correlative attempt to bind the self-infected unstable subject to absolute coherences--to a homosocial order perceived to transcend mutable passion, to death seen as a sovereign, to the good or God. His argument, if not wholly new, gives new force to the poignancy that we hear in Renaissance writers' allusions to mutability--no longer merely voicing the dreaded passage of youth or the ephemeral joys of earthly goods, but the apprehended gap between desire and fulfillment that is the condition of the possibility of life. This leads him to a provocative and original reading of Romeo and Juliet as not a representation of an adolescent passion in which death and love are romantically linked but rather as a projected adult fantasy of the proximity of passion and death, in which there is both an idealization of a lost hope of consummation in vita and a recuperative vision of death as the unrealized consummation. "Adults behold adolescent desire ambivalently," he remarks; "theirs is a gaze socially sanctioned in the name of hope, yet haunted by loss. At its most intense, Romeo and Juliet takes this form: a barely unconscious wish that death--that which mutability serves--be summoned in order to end mutability: to banish one kind of loss (mutability), another kind (death) is embraced. Absolute loss cancels loss across time" (380). This is a moving insight into the tragic, and one can extend it easily to Shakespeare's later adult fantasy of adults attempting to secure themselves against mutability by imitating mutability itself in the polymorphic perversity of youthful passion until, unable to keep ahead of the real thing, they choose the consummation that "shackles accidents and bolts up change."
Subject and Object in Renaissance Culture is a splendid book. As I hope I have conveyed, its concerns are wide-ranging, and its authors liberally provide information as well as argument. There is relatively little in the way of rote formulation; critical positions are articulated and turn out to be remarkably large-minded. It is impossible even in a lengthy review to indicate the quality of detail that informs these essays. Perhaps the highest commendation I can offer is to observe that one would not ordinarily read an anthology like this one all the way through (unless one were reviewing it), but the essays complement and supplement one another so well that such a reading is incrementally more satisfying.
(1.) Louis A. Montrose, "Professing the Renaissance: The Poetics and Politics of Culture," in The New Historicism, ed. Abraham Veeser (New York: Routledge, 1989), 21.
(2.) All Shakespeare citations refer to The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans et al. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974).
(3.) Stanley Cavell, Disowning Knowledge in Six Plays of Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).
JOEL B. ALTMAN is Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley. He is currently completing a book on Shakespeare and rhetorical anthropology in the Renaissance.
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|Author:||Altman, Joel B.|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1998|
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