Intimate Exegesis: Reading and Feeling in Early Modern Devotional Literature
“Intimate Exegesis” proposes that early modern devotional literature offers feeling, and particularly bad feeling, as a productive matrix for interpretation. In this body of work, feeling – haptic, sensory, affective – generates an intimacy between reader and text in a reading practice that is also a means of coping with the tremendous gap between life in the fallen world and divine perfection. In an unlikely union that I argue involves a powerful shared approach to affect, embodiment, and interpretation, I bring patristic theology together with feminist and queer theory to address how Robert Southwell, Anne Lock, Aemilia Lanyer, and Katherine Philips develop sophisticated interpretive practices out of mourning, recalcitrance, despair, nostalgia, and failure, all grounded in the peculiar passions of embodied femininity. In their work, difficult or even destructive feeling is not an obstacle to reading and devotion, but rather enables the reader’s identification with and even desire for the text she reads. While recent debates in early modern studies have pitted historicism against queer temporality, devotional practice suggests that to read historically is – has always been – to read anachronically. The negative affects that Southwell, Lock, Lanyer, and Philips introduce to their scenes of leverage the properties of form and rhetoric to approach distant pasts, imagine radical futures, and above all to slow down the time of reading and the time of worldly politics, to stand still, to refuse to move on.