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Open Access Thesis
Master of Arts (M.A.)
Year Degree Awarded
Month Degree Awarded
Not much ink has been spilled over John Donne’s relationship to negative, or apophatic, theology. A few scholars have written about apophatic discourse in Donne’s poetry and sermons, but, in general, the subject continues to be overlooked. This thesis seeks to (re)start the conversation by shedding light on Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, a text which has yet to be linked to the negative tradition despite its clear engagement in apophatic discourse. Indeed, throughout Devotions, Donne wields several apophatic strategies when speaking of God including via negativa, predicates of action, linguistic regress, paradox, and a consistent reliance upon metaphorical language. Each of these strategies uphold the two guiding principles of negative theology: the epistemic thesis which asserts that God is incomprehensible, and the semantic thesis which asserts that God is unspeakable therefore can only stand as the subject term in negative propositions. Significantly, my objective is not merely to qualify Devotions as an example of apophatic discourse; I also intend to contemplate the implications of qualifying it as such, namely how Devotions challenges the long-held assumption that apophasis requires the user to relinquish the body. Across the text, Donne’s apophasis does not lead him to un-body; on the contrary, the body gains new importance as Donne imagines the risen body, the interpersonal body, the body that cannot be lost because it is an inextricable facet of selfhood. Again, my hope is that this thesis will (re)start or (re)energize the conversation around Donne’s relationship to negative theology, a relationship that is much richer and more extensive than current scholarship suggests.
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Farris, Jessica M., "A New Language: Apophatic Discourse in John Donne's "Devotions"" (2023). Masters Theses. 1313.