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Open Access Dissertation
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Year Degree Awarded
Month Degree Awarded
Joseph L. Black
Jane Hwang Degenhardt
Literature in English, British Isles
My dissertation proposes a new context for reading early modern devotional writing’s rich engagement with the language of the body in its focus on the relationship between gendered representations of devotional desire and spiritual ability in the religious poetry of seventeenth-century England. By tracing how somatic speech and bodily conditions are portrayed in the devotional poetry of John Milton, Richard Crashaw, Thomas Traherne, and An Collins, this project examines how these writers fashion spiritual states through the language of a sometime sorrowful and sometime ecstatic, but always desiring body. My project reveals how early modern authors manipulate or respond to gendered and bodily hierarchies to craft liturgically rich devotional scenes that exceed and overwhelm sensations of spiritual lack written on and within the bodies of the devotional figures presented therein. Through my focus on the body of the text and also the ways in which bodies are represented within devotional texts, I posit a new way of looking at early modern devotional writing: as prosthetics. The term prosthesis is most often associated with a medical appendage supplementing a bodily lack, but my project takes seriously the animating capacity of language as I demonstrate the ways in which early modern devotional writing exhibits a “prosthetic impulse” that blurs mind-body divides via the amplified register of highly affective somatic speech. Far from mere metaphor, this dissertation shows how the prosthetized devotional text materializes and makes known the spiritual abilities of authors who actively frame divine desire around bodies in opposition to the normative cisgendered and ableist body so widely celebrated in religious discourses of the period. Reading devotional texts as prosthetics that supplement the spiritual lack experienced by early modern believers struggling to articulate their relationship with the divine reveals the problematic interplay between self and society in its blurring of the boundaries between immaterial soul, the material body, and the literal pages before us. My project thus demonstrates how the prosthetized text actively reframes dualist constructions of the body and soul, men and women, and also spiritual health and ability.
Roden, Katey E., "Prosthetizing the Soul: Reading, Seeing, and Feeling in Seventeenth-Century Devotion" (2016). Doctoral Dissertations. 684.