By N. Distiller
This new research explores the poetic culture of the affection sonnet series in English as written via girls from 1621-1931. It connects this practice to methods of talking hope in public in operation at the present time, and to the advance of theories of subjectivity in Western tradition.
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Additional resources for Desire and Gender in the Sonnet Tradition
For in man the highest law and government are at the disposal of will. To the will, reason and judgement are assigned as counsellors, and the emotions are its torches. Further, the emotions of the mind are enﬂamed by the sparks of speech. So, too, the reason is impelled and moved by speech. Hence it comes to pass that, in the whole kingdom of the activities of man, speech holds in its possession a mighty strength, which it continually manifests (qtd. Jones 1986: 75). Women do not need eloquence because it is not their place to play a role in ‘the whole kingdom of the activities of man’.
It follows that the performance embodied in the Petrarchan act of subject-formation is always already gendered and is always already embedded in the social, through which it achieves its not only its meaning, but the conditions of its being. The subject of Petrarchism in its most popular incarnation in early modern England, then, is the subject of a masculine self, performing his desire in public, in part using his beloved as a reason. This kind of poetry of love, a kind which arguably set the terms for the positions of desiring speaker in a Western tradition which exerted enormous cultural inﬂuence from the seventeenth century onwards, has tended to rely on a self-other model, where the speaking subject requires an object of his affections to speak about and sometimes to.
15 The poet’s idolatrous love serves to create a circular, self-authorising realm where the poet can refer, ultimately, to himself. Rather than the meanings he generates being referred outwards, they are mirrored back. The self speaking in this system is not speaking to another self; he is speaking to himself. By the Augustinian and Lacanian schemas and the Petrarchan schema that follows on the former and is reﬂected in the latter as an attempt to deal with the subjectivity the former describes, the subject of language is always already gendered male.