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Fowler Presents at ASU Symposium

April 19, 2013

Senior English major, Amanda Fowler, presented her research project, “Anxieties of Body and Soul in the ‘Abstract Spiritual Love’ of Donne’s Valedictions,” along with twenty-three other students at ASU’s second annual undergraduate research symposium, Friday, April 19, 2013.

In her abstract, Fowler claims: “Donne’s Valedictions encompass a broad spectrum of spiritual and corporeal movement in his attempt to unpack the often tenuous relationship between the soul and body. Despite a critical tendency to read the Valedictions as an optimistic display of the union of body and soul, Donne problematizes every hopeful and idealized image of united lovers he presents. Throughout, Donne complicates the tropes of neoplatonic consummation seen in prominent works of the era like Button’s Anatomy of Melancholy and Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier. While neoplatonic love conventionally hinges on the lovers’ initial physical connection followed by the idealization of their love through the removal of bodily presence, Donne’s Valedictions express the hazard of such detachment. The process is fraught with danger. With their physical union, the souls of the lovers combine to create a new soul. This soul is withdrawn from their bodies, increasingly vulnerable as it loses the protection offered by the corporeal lovers. Donne harnesses the anxiety of an exposed soul in terms of tears, semen, breath, vapor, and air—unprotected substances susceptible to contamination or injury by elements surrounding the body. Although the lovers ideally will create a bond no longer dependent on the body, Donne’s intensely corporeal language suggests the generative powers of these images to create or release the spirit of the lovers, blurring the distinction between the physical and spiritual aspects of love. Donne’s Valedictions maintain his doubt in the detachment of the spiritual love of Neoplatonism from its original physicality.”

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