Reading Like a Sodomite:
Deleuze, Donne, Eliot, Presentism, and the Modern Renaissance

Will Stockton

[1] I want to revisit a topic that is particularly hoary for early modernists and modernists alike: T.S. Eliot's rehabilitation of the metaphysical school of poetry and its schoolmaster John Donne. Renowned in his own lifetime for his literary acumen, Donne came under fire in the eighteenth century from both John Dryden and Samuel Johnson, the latter of whom coined the term "metaphysical" to describe poets whose "wit" mounts a savage attack on all things existing. Johnson complained, "The most barbaric ideas are yoked by violence together; nature and art are ransacked for illustrations, comparisons, and illusions." [1] The official date usually given to the renewed admiration for metaphysical poetry is 1921, the year of the publication of Sir Herbert Grierson's anthology Metaphysical Lyrics and Poets of the Seventeenth Century. Grierson praised the metaphysicals (among whom he included Donne, Abraham Cowley, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, and Richard Crashaw) for capturing the complexity of the Renaissance world around them in the subtlety of their imagery. It was Grierson's anthology that helped bring Eliot to Donne, and Grierson's praise that Eliot amplified. Yet it was Eliot who distinctly claimed that the metaphysicals, and Donne foremost among them, possessed something called a "unified sensibility." For Donne, Eliot wrote in "The Metaphysical Poets" (1921), a "thought [...] was an experience. [...] [H]e possessed a mechanism of sensibility which would devour any kind of experience." [2] In a later essay, "Donne in Our Time" (1931), Eliot distinguished Donne for his interest in "ideas themselves as objects." [3] Donne "feels an idea," Eliot wrote, "almost as if it were something he can touch and stroke." [4] Such an aesthetic sense, even sensuousness, made Donne one of Eliot's privileged examples of a modern poet, a poet of both tradition and individual talent.

[2] Of the vast body of scholarship on Eliot's investment in metaphysical poetics, we might do no better than to begin our own analysis of this investment with Michael North's observation concerning "The Metaphysical Poets" and "Tradition and the Individual Talent" (1919). North argues that what Eliot locates in the metaphysicals' ability to unify the disassociated material of their world is a way for "modernity to reverse itself, to go through the division left by the lapse of tradition to achieve a new wholeness." [5] Beginning with Milton and Dryden, Eliot characterizes the poets of the later seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries by their "disassociation of sensibility," or their inability to similarly unify the fragments of their modern world. If this now seems something of a strange and simplistic idea—properly to be read, as North does, in the context of Eliot's political conservatism—one consequence of Eliot's yoking of modern to metaphysical poetics has been the correlative yoking of the Renaissance to modernity in narratives of literary history that situate Donne and the metaphysicals among the first modern poets. Eliot's narrative is now only one among many that founds modernity in the work of Renaissance writers, though in my opinion these narratives are often rightly criticized for underwriting dubious claims of Renaissance exceptionalism and relegating the Middle Ages to a "dark" time before modernity began. [6] Through an analysis of Eliot's relationship to Donne and the metaphysical poets, this essay attempts to insert a Deleuzian wedge into this fraught historical construction of the Renaissance with modernity. This Deleuzian wedge severs the origins of modernity from the Renaissance while also equating modernity with another kind of historical renaissance—that of the simulacrum.

[3] Marking Eliot's praise of Donne's ability to almost "touch and stroke" an idea, this essay also attempts a rapprochement between what I will describe as Deleuzian "presentism" and queer historiographies that trope the historian's relationship to the past as sensual. I want to approach the latter through the former, noting first the congruence between Deleuze's theory of immanence as the simultaneous presence of Being in both the past and the present, and current attempts to reclaim the word "presentism" in Renaissance—and especially Shakespearean—studies. In a methodological piece entitled "Shakespeare and the Prospect of Presentism," Ewan Fernie defines presentism as "a strategy of interpreting texts in relation to current affairs which challenges the dominant fashion of reading Shakespeare historically." [7]

[4] Against the current critical tendency to emphasize a text's situation in its unique historical moment, presentism confronts a text's "immediacy and power" in the "now." [8] So described, presentism is not a naïve project of projection and identification that makes past texts the reflection of contemporary ideas and values. Rather, presentism develops "a new concept of presence" over and against the deconstructive premise that "identity is determined by difference rather than presence." [9]

[5] Fernie grounds this development in Jean-Luc Nancy's implicitly Deleuzian "retrofit of presence" as (in Fernie's words) "the powerful imminence of sense—ineffably beyond thought, which it nonetheless irresistibly solicits," as well as Nancy's corresponding vision of "historical time as 'coming-into-presence': a process by which something happens in and as history, something irreducible to historical causality." [10] I suggest in turn that presentism can more directly ally itself with Deleuzian philosophy in extending its engagements beyond Shakespeare's work. Through this alliance, presentists can more fully theorize the co-existence of non-Shakespearean texts in both the past and the present, more widely reckoning with the fact that the meaning of every text is not waiting to be discovered, but forever coming to be.

[6] Perversely enough, I think that Eliot can here be of some help in developing this Deleuzian practice of presentism within Renaissance/early modern studies. More specifically, I think that perverting Eliot—or, what will amount to the same thing, extracting from him his own "internal" perversity—helps illustrate how Deleuzian presentism rejects the familiar position of the Renaissance as the foundation for a burgeoning modernity. In making this particular claim, I am guided by Deleuze's famous description of himself "taking an author from behind and giving him a child that would be his own offspring, yet monstrous." [11] The context for this description is Deleuze's attempt to distinguish his philosophical practice—which is itself a historical practice, a revisionist reading of past philosophers—from that of a generation that was "bludgeoned to death with the history of philosophy." [12] By representing his philosophical practice as procreative sodomy, Deleuze raises a number of questions about the erotics of hermeneutics and historiography. I cannot explicitly address all these questions here, but they include those of positionality as determined by what might phenomenologically be called "prepositional orientation"—a relational positioning of bodies "in" and/or "from" the "front" and/or "behind"—as well as by a correlation of the past with the bottom and the present with the top. [13] When Deleuze describes himself sodomizing an undead philosopher, he disorients the straightforward linear relation between space and time that associates the behind with the completed past. To approach from behind is here correlative with the approach from Deleuze's present; but this present is also itself never simply present, as we will see, given Deleuze's claim that his own theoretical seed was implanted in past philosophers long ago. The reproductive consequences of sodomy are similarly preposterous: the production of uncanny offspring, children of an obscene immaculate conception. To borrow Carla Freccero's description of queer analysis, Deleuze willfully perverts both "temporal propriety and the reproductive order of things." [14] But what hermeneutic moves does this perversion actually entail? And what do its children look like?

[7] While there are many ways of approaching these questions, we can make some sense of Deleuze's method by situating it within queer representations of the historian's relationship with his or her subject as an erotic connection of bodies across time. Deleuzian sodomy can be construed, for instance, as a variation on what Carolyn Dinshaw calls the queer "touch," which "knocks signifiers loose, ungrounding bodies, making them strange, [and] working in this way to provoke perceptual shifts and subsequent corporeal response in those touched." [15] Assuming that the sex Deleuze describes is not exactly consensual, but is still based on sincere affection, Deleuze also anticipates and answers Heather Love's recent call in Feeling Backward for "more capacious and de-idealized accounts of love and friendship [that] would serve to account for the ambivalence and violence of the relation to the past." [16] Dinshaw's and Love's affective formulations of queer historical connectivity can go some way towards unpacking a metaphor that Deleuze simply allows to speak for itself. Nonetheless, we can also derive more immediately Deleuzian answers to the above questions by referring to another of Deleuze's representations of his philosophical practice. In a 1988 interview he describes himself as a portrait artist:

Producing mental, conceptual portraits. As in painting, you have to create a likeness, but in a different material: the likeness is something you have to produce, rather than a way of reproducing anything (which comes down to just repeating what a philosopher says). [17]

This comparison is less violent if still tactile, and it casts into relief the sodomy metaphor's opposition of "straight" reproduction to the production of strange verisimilitude. Deleuze's philosophy pivots around this opposition between the reproduction of sameness ("straight" sex) and the production of a different sameness (sodomy). Like the portrait to the model, the bottom's child is a copy of its parent, but a copy with an obscene difference; and producing these different likenesses is Deleuze's perverse way of "doing" the history of philosophy. In Organs without Bodies, his own Hegelian buggery of Deleuze, Slavoj Žižek surmises that Deleuze buggers his philosophical predecessors by "find[ing] a way to read them 'against the grain,' to discover in their very theoretical practice procedures (of conceptual invention, of 'staging' concepts) that offer a way to undermine their 'official' position." [18] Yet Žižek hastens to add that Deleuze is not a Derridean:

[W]hile Derrida proceeds in the mode of critical deconstruction, of undermining the interpreted text or author, Deleuze, in his buggery, imputes to the interpreted philosopher his own innermost position and endeavors to extract it from him. So, while Derrida engages in a 'hermeneutics of suspicion,' Deleuze practices an excessive benevolence towards the interpreted philosopher. [...] And, of course, it is easy to demonstrate that Deleuze's 'benevolence' is much more violent and subversive than the Derridean reading: his buggery produces true monsters. [19]

If sodomy is good to think with for Deleuze, it is so not merely because it analogizes the violation of another's 'official' position, but because its violation is "benevolent"—because, that is, it analogizes a sort of excessive attachment to a body of theory that ultimately "impregnates" that body with an uncanny version of itself.

[8] Deleuze is most well known for buggering Plato. From Plato's own theory of difference and division, predicated on the transcendence of self-identical forms, Deleuze delivers a Plato who "pointed out the direction for the reversal of Platonism" when he glimpsed the true ontological status of the simulacrum. [20] Key to this delivery is Plato's Sophist, one of three texts (along with Phaedrus and Statesman) dealing with the distinction between pretence and authenticity, but which in contrast to the other two does not ground this distinction in a myth. As Plato tracks down the simulacrum of the Sophistic "false pretender," the impostor-philosopher, without circular appeal to a myth that establishes the criteria of the distinction, Deleuze finds Plato "leaning over the abyss" and "discover[ing], in the flash of an instant, that the simulacrum is not simply a false copy, but that it places in question the very notations of copy and model." [21] The way in which Deleuze imputes and extracts this discovery guides his buggery of other philosophers as well. In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze claims that "[t]he task of modern philosophy has been defined: to overturn Platonism." [22] Platonism denotes any philosophy that "subordinates difference to the powers of the One, the Analogous, the Similar, and even the Negative," that conceives of identity as a transcendent and foundational metaphysical principle. To bugger Platonism—to turn it over and take it from behind—is thus to reverse its relation of identity to difference, and to do so in the name of modernity. So long as "straight" Platonism simply reproduces itself, be it as Kant's transcendental subject or Hegel's dialectical synthesis, then philosophy remains trapped in the premodern past, caught in the spell of transcendental identities that only the power of the simulacrum can break.

[9] This essay wagers, in sum, that Deleuze's predication of modernity on the overturning of Platonism unsettles the Renaissance's foundational relationship to modernity. Importantly, in making this wager, I bracket any consideration of the relationship between modernity and modernisms other than Eliot's and Deleuze's. I am precisely interested in how Deleuze's production of simulacra by reading like a sodomite frustrates any attempt to situate the beginning of modernity's epochal "when" in the Renaissance. Living in "the period between the decay of scholastic philosophy and the rise of modern science," Eliot's Donne is precariously positioned at the moment of modernity's advent. [23] For the Eliot of "The Metaphysical Poets," Donne stands at both the beginning and end of modernity as an epoch of disassociated sensibilities: he resists the onset of disassociation in his own time and models the poetics of modernity's redemption from disassociation in Eliot's present. For the later Eliot, as we will see, Donne's poetics are no less modern, but they are less attractive as an imitable model. To bugger Eliot in the context of this long and complex engagement with Donne means to deliver him of simulacra that undo the various transcendental notions governing his shifting relationship to Donne and modernity alike. And if, in the end, I deliver both an Eliot and a Donne with which we are now overly familiar—poets torn between parts and wholes, fragmentation and totality—I hope to have shown how by returning to what we already know about both poets we can come to terms with the ruination of the modernity's Renaissance foundation.

The Metaphysical Conceit

[10] For the early Eliot, the metaphysical conceit is key to the redemption of modernity: through it, the poets whose method Eliot seeks to recover join together the disconnected material of their world. In relating Eliot's and Deleuze's often highly disparate philosophical projects, we might accordingly note how Deleuze and Guattari's formulation of Being as machinic assemblage similarly problematizes a familiar way of defining conceits that originates with Samuel Johnson: as a literary device that yokes together irreducibly heterogeneous objects and ideas. When Deleuze and Guattari speak of machinic assemblage, and claim that "[e]verything is a machine," they speak not simply of conjoining machines that remain distinct ("disjunctive synthesis"), but also of homogeneous production ("connective synthesis")—machines becoming one through the jointure of desire. [24] ("Desire constantly couples continuous flows and partial objects that are by nature fragmentary and fragmented." [25]) Likewise, in "The Metaphysical Poetics," Eliot defends against Johnson's critique with appeal to the conceit's homogenizing operation:

The force of this impeachment lies in the failure of the conjunction, the fact that the ideas are yoked but not united; and if we are to judge styles of poetry by their abuse, enough examples may be found in Cleveland to justify Johnson's condemnation. But a degree of heterogeneity of material compelled into unity by the operation of the poet's mind is omnipresent in poetry. [26]

Eliot contends that when the metaphysical conceit succeeds, it does not merely yoke together material that remains heterogeneous, but unifies this material into one through "the operation of the poet's mind." Consequently, the conceit becomes something more than what Eliot later describes as "the far-fetched association of the dissimilar." [27] It completely collapses tenor with vehicle through "force"—indeed, machinic force, that "mechanism of sensibility." Of course, Eliot's simultaneous acknowledgement of the conceit's frequent "abuse" begs the question of how one tells the difference. In "The Metaphysical Poets" he offers no standard for adjudication. We might nonetheless find an example in a conceit Eliot elsewhere deems "highly successful, intelligible, and striking": Donne's textbook equation of parted lovers' souls with a compass in "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning." [28] The "two souls [...] which are one" are also "two so / As stiff twin compasses are two" (21, 25-6). Eliot implies that this conceit works because it compels the unity between the souls and the compass, just as love compels the unity of the souls. If it did not work, we would sense only a "failure of conjunction."

[11] If seconding such a sensory claim is difficult for contemporary critics, this difficulty has nothing at all to do with this particular conceit. Deconstruction has taught us that difference remains, and remains within any and every conceit, insofar as the implication of unity places the conceit's mediating function under erasure. Conceits jointly inscribe difference and identity, such that the simile in "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" both marks and bridges the distance between the souls and the compass. The same principle applies to Deleuze's own conceits of sodomy and portraiture: neither is simply identical with his critical practice. Yet Eliot is far from a deconstructionist. In the best metaphysical conceits, he argues, difference no longer exists, at least not in the register of sense. To insist against Eliot on the impossibility of identity without difference is merely to claim that he is wrong, and thus to reject Eliot without buggering him. When Deleuze buggers Plato and invalidates the distinction between essence and appearance, he does so by focusing on Plato's "motivation" in Sophist—Plato's desire to make distinctions. [29] To bugger Eliot, we might likewise focus on his desire in "The Metaphysical Poets" to define the task of modern poetry.

[12] As Eliot writes in one of the more famous passages from that essay, "Our civilization comprehends great variety and complexity, and this variety and complexity, playing upon a refined sensibility, must produce various and complex results. The poet must become more comprehensive, more allusive, in order to force, to dislocate if necessary, language into his meaning." [30] That is, the modern poet must develop "a method curiously similar to that of the metaphysical poets," and produce through the dislocation of language into meaning "something which looks very much like the conceit." [31] If this is the task of modern poetry, Eliot's recourse to simile—"like a conceit"—to describe the means of carrying out this task points to his own sense of difference in the conceit's self-identity. Eliot locates in the conceit the instrument for making the broken world whole again—an instrument for "put[ting] the material together again in a new unity." [32] The conceit is nothing that Eliot can define, however. It is, in itself, a simulacrum, as Eliot also glimpses in the Clark Lectures a few years later. There, Eliot ends the fourth lecture on "The Conceit in Donne" by defining the conceit as "the extreme limit of the simile and the metaphor which is used for its own sake, and not to make clearer an idea or more definite an emotion." [33] He then opens the fifth lecture with the following remark:

By the dangerous method of comparing isolated figures of speech with figure, we can find certainly fullblown conceits in Donne, innumerable; and what look very much like conceits in the works of earlier and much more truly Elizabethan men. The perfect example of the conceit is not to be found. [...] It is only by grasping the movement of the whole period, from Elizabeth to Cromwell, as an integrity, that one can form any conception of the conceit or of this type of metaphysical poetry. [34]

A dangerous method indeed. For what Eliot glimpses by comparing "isolated figures of speech with figure"—or, in Platonic terms, copies to model—is precisely the absence of the original in the non-existence of the "perfect" example. Perhaps he also glimpses here the impossibility of adjudicating between conceits that work and those that don't work if each conceit is different, only ever like others, and without an original. A bounded concept of the conceit can only be determined through a survey of its different occurrences—a survey that motivates Eliot throughout the Clark Lectures while demonstrating how two or more of the same can only ever be "curiously similar."


[13] Eliot's conversion to Christianity in 1928 was hardly coterminous with a transcendental turn in his own aesthetic theory. His transcendentalism has much deeper, neoclassical roots. A Deleuzian buggery of Eliot thus needs not only to be predicated on Eliot's machinic sensibilities, but also on the philosophy orienting both Deleuze and Eliot towards modernity: Stoicism. Both Eliot and Deleuze look to Stoicism for a way of addressing the basic metaphysical problem of the One, or the relationship of the part and the whole. Unlike Deleuze's Stoicism, however, Eliot's is mediated by Renaissance translation, or Neoplatonic revision. The mediating presence of Renaissance Neostoicism is evident in the example of a unified sensibility that Eliot offers in "The Metaphysical Poets"—the "great necessity" speech by Clermont, the hero of George Chapman's play The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois (1613):

In this one thing all the discipline
Of manners and of manhood is contained:
A man to join himself with th' Universe
In his main sway, and make (in all things fit)
One with that All ... (4.1.137-41) [35]

No commentary on how precisely Chapman manages the "recreation of thought into feeling" follows Eliot's quotation. [36] It nonetheless seems crucial to the apprehension of Eliot's aestheticism that this recreation happens within Clermont's testament to the Stoic philosophy of logos, or universal reason. This philosophy, which becomes Christian theology through Neoplatonic identification of logos with God, authorizes Eliot's account of the unified sensibility—an authority Eliot then effaces by offering Chapman's lines as an example of the same. In other words, whatever union of thought with feeling these lines effect depends upon Eliot's use of them to assert and illustrate a metaphysical order of essential unity, a system wherein any one thing is also always everything.

[14] Deleuze's investment in Stoicism is quite different, and precisely to the extent that it is less Platonic. For Deleuze, the distinction between Platonism and Stoicism hinges on the distinction between transcendental and immanent metaphysics. Whereas Renaissance Neostoicism elevates a deific identity over difference, Deleuze's "pure" Stoicism rejects entirely such a transcendental turn and asserts instead the univocity of Being. Deleuze derives this theory of Being from the Stoic concept of the "event" as an incorporeal entity, or a pure potentiality, that registers itself in multiple and divergent ways on the surface of bodies. In The Logic of Sense, Deleuze offers the example of the wound that the Stoic feels he was born to embody. The wound is always in excess of the wounded subject: the wound is itself never fully present on the body, but only "within his body in its eternal truth as a pure event." [37] Motivated by the Stoic's will to actualize the event, the body is itself forever caught in the movement of becoming wounded. Deleuze also derives his theory of Being from the Stoic division of time into Chronos and Aion: in the former, "only the present fills time," and "past and future are two dimensions relative to the present "; in the latter, "future and past divide the present at every instant and subdivide it ad infinitum into past and future, in both directions at once" [38] This is not to say that there is no present in Aion. Rather, the present of Aion is "the present without thickness, the present of the actor, dancer, or mime—the pure 'perverse' moment" caught in an instant in the movement of becoming what it has been and will be. [39] Actualized through this becoming, the Stoic event accordingly distinguishes itself from the Platonic form by assuming "all the characteristics of substance and cause," whereas Plato assigns substance and cause respectively to the real and the ideal. Implying that the Stoics are properly the first moderns, Deleuze claims that they "are the first to reverse Platonism and to bring about a radical inversion," for the event occasions ever-unfolding realizations of itself, an endless becoming without transcendental limitations. [40]

[15] Plato's own glimpse at the absence of limits on becoming-Sophist allows Deleuze to deliver Plato of his own monstrous child. In turn, this delivery has profound consequences for the unfolding of both history and time and the corresponding definition of modernity. As Deleuze and Guattari argue in Anti-Oedipus, with Platonic transcendentalism goes the Biblical narrative of the fall and the secular but nonetheless teleological narrative of evolution:

We live today in the age of partial objects, bricks that have been shattered to bits, and leftovers. We no longer believe in the myth of the existence of fragments that, like pieces of an antique statue, are merely waiting for the last one to be turned up, so that they may all be glued back together to create a unity that is precisely the same as the original unity. We no longer believe in a primordial totality that once existed, or in a final totality that awaits us at some future date. We no longer believe in the dull gray outlines of a dreary, colorless dialectic of evolution, aimed at forming a harmonious whole out of heterogeneous bits by rounding off their rough edges. We believe only in totalities that are peripheral. And if we discover such a totality alongside various separate parts, it is a whole of these particular parts but does not totalize them; it is a unity of all these particular parts but does not unify them; rather, it is added to them as a new part fabricated separately. [41]

Non-whole totalities and un-unified unities. The "age of partial objects" is not merely one of perpetual, even constitutive incompleteness—or what Deleuze and Guattari deride as the metaphysics of lack—but a world in which connections are immanently made absent, a pre-determined orientation within space and time. The repetition of "we no longer believe" resigns these transcendental narratives of fall and redemption, beginning and end, progress and regression, to the dustbins of philosophy. And if these lines recall quite readily in this context one of the closing lines of The Waste Land—"These fragments I have shored against my ruin"—I would suggest that they also invite us back into Eliot's formulation of poetic tradition:

The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is conformity between the old and the new. [42]

On the one hand, Eliot's tradition is nothing less than transcendent: it is a self-same wholeness that determines the difference and belonging of each work of art. On the other hand, Eliot's assertion that tradition changes with every new addition suggests that it might also be situated in the Stoic tradition as an event. Encompassing both substance and cause, disembodied yet ever-unfolding into the past and future, what Eliot calls "the living whole of all poetry that has ever been written" is fundamentally a metamorphic being, a becoming. [43]

We Have Been Modern

[16] Narratives of the fall have a way of reproducing themselves in critical discourse. Scott Maisano observes a common formulation of this narrative in the current critical romance with "premodern" epistemology. Before the fall into Cartesian dualism, "the mind was continuous with the body and the body itself was continuous with the natural environment which it inhabited." Now, we moderns possess an "analytic epistemology in which mind, body, and world are discrete entities." [44] What continuities persist do so only after being translated into dead metaphor across the vast divide between the premodern and modern world. (Hence, we still speak of "cold feet" and "hot-blooded" temperaments, never meaning to imply that parts of the body actually change temperature). Or, we are more recently told, they persist insofar as Bruno Latour claims that "we have never been modern"—that nature and culture, human and non-human, have never been the distinct conceptual categories that the modern episteme has made them. [45] For Latour, modernity denotes an ideological regime of transcendent binaries that co-exists with the ceaseless production of categorical "hybrids."

[17] A certain cast of characters has also become overly familiar within narratives of modernization as a fall from epistemic grace—principally Descartes, but more generally the range of people associated and engaged with Renaissance philosophy and science, including John Donne. For the author of "The Metaphysical Poets," Donne offers an imitable model for modern poets because of his ability to synthesize language and meaning in a way that makes "new wholes" out of the fragmented material of his world. [46] This claim exercises a kind of presentism that we can align with the Stoic concept of Chronos; past and the future are relative to only a present, such that there are only "relative presents" for Eliot: Donne's and his. [47] And Eliot's orientation towards Donne is no less presentist when he disidentifies with Donne in the late 1920s because of what he arguably comes to perceive as Donne's lack of true Christian faith. [48] In the Clark Lectures, given two years before his official conversion, Eliot characterizes Donne's poetry by its "absence of order," and Donne himself, under the intellectual influence of the Jesuits, as "a poet of chaos." [49] Later, in "Donne in Our Time," he contrasts Donne's complacent, dispassionate devotion with Dante's "faith in the ultimate rationalisation and harmonisation of experience." [50] As Eliot develops what might (to borrow from A.D. Moody) be called a counter-Renaissance sensibility—one that seeks redemption from the "falling away of the intellectual structure to be found in Dante"—Eliot recalibrates Donne's relation to modernity. [51] He conjectures in "Donne in Our Time," "Perhaps one reason Donne has appealed so powerfully to the recent time is that there is in his poetry hardly any attempt at organization; rather, a puzzled and humorous shuffling of the pieces." [52] In the Clark Lectures, Eliot further remarks that Donne's "fraction of thought into thoughts means that the only thing that holds his poems, or any one poem, together, is what we unsatisfactorily call the personality of Donne. In this he is a modern poet." [53] Donne continues to exert a presence in Eliot's time, a presence of personality that Eliot cannot satisfactorily realize. But whereas Donne's ability to undo disjunction previously held the key to modernity's redemption, now Donne is modern precisely because disjunction persists in his poetry—because his poetry offers nothing like Dante's increasingly more attractive assumption of "an ideal unity of experience" or Dante's "faith in the ultimate rationalization and harmonization of experience." [54]

[18] Even as Eliot has become the whipping boy of much contemporary scholarship on Donne, his narrative of the fall into modernity as a fall into disassociation continues to repeat itself in a variety of forms, while new Donnes, new poetic personalities, are continuously being delivered from modernity's presumptive epistemic rupture with the medieval. Thomas Docherty's Donne is profoundly affected by the modern "'fall' into secular history," for instance; thanks to Copernicus, "the human now lives in and through time and change, through difference, rather than in a hypostatized realm of 'eternal verities' or transcendence, totalizing identity." [55] While Donne tries to "circumvent historical change [...] his poems reveal themselves to be caught up in historical change as part of their very existence and status." [56] Docherty's argument has been considerably influential for the way it reframes Donne's poems as sites of fluctuating rather than stable meanings. [57] It also underwrites Ben Saunders' more recent claim that Donne's poems are privileged sites for reflecting on the always-extant relationship between desire and interpretation—on critics' "desire to be Donne for each other," which always leads in the interminable course of critical contestation to the realization that "one can never be Donne." [58] The pun on Donne's name reflects on the poet's own critical reception, on critics becoming Donne and Donne himself becoming Donne. And the impossibility of finally accomplishing either, of arresting the critical contestation and realizing a satisfactory representation of Donne's personality, proves Eliot right in precisely this way: there is no end to Donne's becoming.

[19] To be clear, I have no interest in disputing any specific argument that the metaphysical claims of the New Science profoundly affected Donne's worldview, or that Donne should be privileged among the poets who reflect on the historicity of the Renaissance world. I am interested, however, in the way the continually recalibrated construction of Donne as a poet of early modernity focalizes Deleuze's connection between modernity and the historical presence of the simulacrum in such a way as to radically undermine any narrative of history that fixes modernity's origins in the Renaissance. As Saunders attests, Donne's continued presence in the critical field is itself a product of critics' desire to attach to—and by attaching to, become—Donne in his time. Yet no two Donnes are self-identical, and there is no original against which imposter Donnes are distinguished, so "Donne" is only ever a simulacrum that connects these relevant presents. According to Deleuze,

Modernity is defined by the power of the simulacrum. It behooves philosophy not to be modern at any cost, no more than to be nontemporal, but to extract from modernity something that Nietzsche designates as the untimely, which pertains to modernity, but which must also be turned against it—"in favor, I hope, of a time to come." [59]

The simulacrum is the untimely element of modernity in Deleuze's Nietzschean formulation. It marks a point of intersection between Chronos and Aion, between relativity of the present and the operation of becoming. It derives its power to define modernity through its temporal ubiquity, its multiple presents. Though the Stoics are the first to harness its power to reverse Platonism, the simulacrum itself has no origin, not in the Renaissance, antiquity, or anywhere. With respect to Donne, then, only when modernity is itself correlative with the power of the simulacrum as that which has no original might we stop worrying whether and to what extent Donne was a modern poet, and claim instead that Donne—as an untimely poet, as a poet who is always becoming himself—has always been modern.

[20] It is in precisely this sense, too, that we can claim that we have been modern—that the simulacrum has been amongst us, a provisional unity of subjects that never stops realizing itself. The tense of this perverse statement is as integral to its significance as the syntax of Latour's official version, for the present perfect is the tense of action in an unspecified time before and including now. And if this statement amounts to a buggery of Latour's maxim, this is not because it brings to bear metaphysical premises outside Latour's own text. Latour's own rejection of "modern" transcendentalism—its alternating but absolute allegiance to objectivity and social constructivism—has far more in common with Deleuze's rejection of the same than it does with any restatement of Platonic orthodoxy. To bugger Latour's maxim is only to seize upon the untimely elements of modernity that underwrite its transcendental binaries. It is to recognize that modernity, as a collection of historical fragments, brings together, couples, hybridizes, and "presents" work by such distinct figures as Eliot, Donne, Deleuze, Plato, Johnson, Chapman, and, as we will see in a moment, Aesop. It is to define as a modern the very person that Latour defines as a nonmodern—"anyone who takes simultaneously into account the modern Constitution and the population of hybrids that the Constitution rejects and allows to proliferate"—and to turn this accounting towards the "time to come," otherwise known as the postmodern. [60]

[21] To speak of Deleuzian postmodernism is to speak of the simulacrum's ultimate overturning of Platonism, an overturning that I have argued amounts to reading like a sodomite. As a distinctly queer victory, this turn towards the future thus provides one alternative to Lee Edelman's powerfully argued claim that queers have "no future." [61] Edelman predicates his total rejection of futurity on the grounds that the future's promissory note can never be called in: held out as the time for the realization of the Good, the future is always deferred; there is always tomorrow. To reject futurity on these grounds is to reject only a progressivist temporality, however. For Deleuze, futurity denotes a "belief in the eternal return" rather than a belief in the final arrival of the Good. [62] The eternal return is the basis of identity that never realizes itself without difference. I quote again from Difference and Repetition:

Returning is being, but only the being of becoming. The eternal return does not bring back 'the same,' but returning constitutes the only Same of that which becomes. Returning is the becoming-identical of becoming itself. Returning is thus the only identity, but identity as a secondary power; the identity of difference, the identical which belongs to the different, or turns around the different. Such an identity, produced by difference, is determined as 'repetition.'

Here orientation towards the future does not equal an orientation towards finality, but rather towards becoming. Michel Foucault develops the logic of this statement when he famously states that "we have to work at becoming homosexuals"—homosexual identity being realized only through its different repetitions. [63] Likewise, when it comes to the assessment of Renaissance self-experience, the Deleuzian predication of identity on the eternal return, the repetition of difference, would not deny that this experience was one of continuity, or even harmony, with the "outside" world. Instead, it implies that and experience of continuity—of interminable becoming—that chafes against the various transcendental doctrines (theological, philosophical, and scientific) that would limit that becoming makes one modern. [64] In turn, our own critical romance with supposedly premodern epistemology—our affective connections to it and our critical self-constructions through it—can here be recast as a persevere romance with modernity's untimely element. By dissenting from both Platonic transcendentalism and the linear narratives of history that serve as its prop, we can deliver modernity of its own monstrous progeny: the hybrids whose repeated perverse production undermines identity's own claim to metaphysical primacy.

Aesop's Dog

[22] For Deleuze, the Renaissance does not so much sow the seeds for epistemic fall as it gives birth once again to the possibilities of overturning Platonism. In Difference and Repetition, he describes a Copernican revolution that "opens up the possibility of difference having its own concept, rather than being maintained under the domination of a concept in general already understood as identical." [65] Yet what's clear even in the context of this statement is that Deleuze does not privilege the period between the decline of scholastic philosophy and the rise of modern science in his project of thinking difference. Rather, Deleuze predicates modernity on the possibility for thinking difference that appears at various moments of the simulacrum's renaissance in the history of philosophy: in Plato, the Stoics, Dun Scotus, the New Science, Spinoza, Nietzsche, etc. A Deleuzian historiography thereby releases the Renaissance from its familiar position as the privileged ground for thinking the evolution of the modern present. If the term renaissance is to be privileged at all, it is only in the sense that it denotes the eternal return or rebirth of difference across time.

[23] Apropos of Eliot's conjunction of the Renaissance to modernity, I began this essay by noting Eliot's praise of Donne's sensuous relation to ideas. In doing so, I meant to imply that Eliot's relationship to Donne was itself erotic, and that Eliot effectively rendered this erotic relation in displaced form in his description of Donne's poetics. Though I did not argue that Eliot reads Donne like a sodomite, I think it only appropriate to end this essay by demonstrating how one might do just that. I thus turn at long last, albeit briefly, to Donne's five satires. These poems share with Eliot's two most well known poems, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and The Waste Land, a preoccupation with the relationship between the individual and society, itself a relationship between part and whole. But Donne's speaker, unlike Eliot's, gradually overcomes his isolation from the rest of the humanity through Neoplatonic conversion:

If all things be in all,
As I think, since all, which were, are, and shall
Be, be made of the same elements:
Each thing, each thing implies or represents.
Then Man is a world... . ("Satire V," 9-13)

To understand how Donne's speaker reaches this conclusion, a quick synopsis of his "drama of self-discovery" is necessary. [66] A self-elevating moralist in the Juvenalian tradition, Donne's speaker begins the sequence by succumbing to the temptation to leave his secluded study and venture into the corrupt world of gossips and flatterers. Once there, his assumed superiority to the secular world begins to crumble, and he struggles not to become one of the crowd, a willing participant in the perversities of court politics and the literary marketplace. By Satire IV, he has lost this struggle: he finds himself, in an evocative line, "becoming traitor" (31), no longer able to distinguish himself from those he attacks. And in the fifth poem his assumption of a satiric position is no longer tenable ("Thou shalt not laugh in this leaf, Muse [1]) because he realizes that "all things be in all" and that he falsely exempted himself from a fallen humanity.

[24] The Neoplatonic moral of this story is ostensibly encapsulated with the poem's concluding reference to Aesop's fable of the greedy dog, which the speaker intends as an indictment of his former satiric self:

O wretch that thy fortunes should moralize
Aesop's fables, and make tales, prophecies.
Thou'rt the swimming dog whom shadows cozened,
And div'st, near drowning, for what vanished. (88-91)

In this fable, one might remember, a dog with a piece of meat in its mouth catches sight of its own image in the water, and thinking it sees a different dog in possession of an even larger piece of meat, it leaps into the water and loses the meat it already had. The fable officially illustrates the dangers of misrecognizing the same as different. But at the same time, it also illustrates—and does so while evoking for us Deleuze's description of Plato leaning over the abyss—how identity is also established through the repetition of difference. What the dog glimpses in the reflected image is nothing less than the difference between itself and itself that underwrites its own "becoming dog"—another kind of metaphysical parallax, or what Žižek terms the "minimal difference" between the One and itself. [67] Even in Aesop's version, this fable about identity cannot fully submerge identity's own status as a simulacrum, or the role of the eternal return in the establishment of identity. Taking the speaker of Donne's satires from behind—and thus recognizing in his moral more than what is straightforward—allows the simulacrum to come to the surface, delivering the speaker of a distinctly modern version of himself that he seeks to escape through his own recourse to Neoplatonic metaphysics. He glimpses the abyss in Satire IV when he sees himself "becoming traitor." His own immanence in this crowd of traitors undergoes a transcendental turn that synthesizes all humanity through the ultimate theological act of self-differentiation from the perfect "I am": original sin. Only when this "I am," this perfect presence—which becomes in Satire V the Law, the "Recorder to Destiny" (71) who "[s]peaks Fate's words" (72)—is rendered transcendent does the speaker "discover" himself. But only then can the speaker place limits on his own renaissance, even as his self-referential moralizing simultaneously allows him to "become animal." Perhaps, in the end, Donne's speaker is not so different from Eliots' after all. None of them, as Michael North says of Prufrock, can bear to believe in "a certain 'one' not assimilable to the categories of others"—"a true difference." [68] At the same time, none flees so deep into Plato's cave that simulacra become imperceptible.


Thanks to Jim Bromley and the reader for Rhizomes for their helpful comments on this essay.

[1] Samuel Jonson's oft-quoted critique can be found in the critical excerpt from Lives of the Poets reprinted in John Donne, John Donne's Poetry, 2nd ed., Ed. Arthur L. Clements (New York: Norton, 1992) 143. All quotes from Donne's poems are also drawn from this volume.

[2] T. S. Eliot, "The Metaphysical Poets," in Selected Essays (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1960), 241-250, esp. 247.

[3] T.S. Eliot, "Donne in Our Time," in A Garland for Donne: 1631-1931, ed. Theodore Spencer (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1958), 3-19, esp. 11 (original emphasis).

[4] Eliot, "Donne in Our Time," 12 (original emphasis).

[5] Michael North, The Political Aesthetic of Yeats, Eliot, and Pound (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991), 92.

[6] For two cogent meditations on the value of being modern, see Margreta de Grazia "The Modern Divide: From Either Side," Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 37.3 (2007): 453-67; and Linda Charnes, "The Fetish of 'the Modern,'" in Hamlet's Heirs: Shakespeare and the Politics of a New Millennium (New York: Routledge, 2006), 13-25.

[7] Ewan Fernie, "Shakespeare and the Prospect of Presentism," Shakespeare Survey 58 (2005): 169-84, esp. 169. See also Terence Hawkes, Shakespeare in the Present (New York: Routledge, 2002) and Hugh Grady's work beginning with The Modernist Shakespeare: Critical Texts in a Modern World (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994). Jacques Derrida's meditation on the "out of joint" temporality of Hamlet has also been considerably influential in theorizing presentism; see Specters of Marx: The State of Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International, Trans. Peggy Kamuf (New York: Routledge, 1994).

[8] Fernie, 169.

[9] Fernie, 169.

[10] Fernie, 176 (original emphasis), 183. See also Jean-Luc Nancy, The Birth to Presence, Trans. Brian Holmes et al (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1994).

[11] Gilles Deleuze, "Letter to a Harsh Critic," in Negotiations: 1972-1990, Trans. Martin Joughin (New York: Columbia UP, 1997), 3-12, esp. 6.

[12] Fernie, 5.

[13] For a brilliant attempt to think issues of sexual orientation through phenomenology, see Sara Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others (Duke: Duke UP, 2006).

[14] Carla Freccero, Queer/Early/ Modern (Durham: Duke UP, 2006), 2.

[15] Carolyn Dinshaw, Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern (Durham: Duke UP, 1999), 151.

[16] Heather Love, Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2007), 32.

[17] Gilles Deleuze, "On Philosophy," in Negotiations, 135-55, esp. 136-7.

[18] Slavoj Žižek, Organs Without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences (New York: Routledge, 2004), 46.

[19] Žižek, Organs Without Bodies, 47. By following Žižek, I do not mean to discount Derrida's importance to queer theory or, as Carla Frecerro has demonstrated, the particular relevance of his theory of spectrality to queer methods of reading. (See Freccero, "Queer Spectrality," in Queer/Early/Modern, 69-104.) Considering that I myself have characterized Deleuze's sodomized philosopher as undead, it seems to me that one could think quite productively about the spectral dimensions of reading like a sodomite.

[20] Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, Ed. Constantin V. Boundas, Trans. Mark Lester and Charles Stivale (New York: Columbia UP, 1990), 256.

[21] Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, 256.

[22] Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, Trans. Paul Patton (New York: Columbia UP, 1994), 59.

[23] T.S. Eliot, "John Bramhall," in Selected Essays, 311-19, esp. 312.

[24] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1983), 3, 41.

[25] Deleuze and Guattari, 5.

[26] Eliot, "The Metaphysical Poets," 243.

[27] Eliot, "Donne in Our Time," 16.

[28] T.S. Eliot, The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry, Ed. Ronald Schuchard (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1993), 133.

[29] Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, 253.

[30] Eliot, "The Metaphysical Poets," 248.

[31] Eliot, "The Metaphysical Poets," 249, 248.

[32] Eliot, "The Metaphysical Poets," 245.

[33] Eliot, The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry, 138.

[34] Eliot, "The Metaphysical Poets," 139-40 (original emphasis).

[35] I cite line references from George Chapman, Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois, in Four Revenge Tragedies, Ed. Katharine Eisaman Maus (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995), 175-248.

[36] Eliot, "The Metaphysical Poets," 246. In "T.S. Eliot's Chapman: 'Metaphysical' Poetry and Beyond," Journal of Modern Literature 29.4 (2006): 22-43, Steve Matthews offers a more detailed account of how Chapman's Neostoicism lays the groundwork for Eliot's conversion to Christianity.

[37] Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, 148.

[38] Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, 162, 164.

[39] Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, 168.

[40] Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, 7.

[41] Deleuze and Guattari,, 42.

[42] Eliot, "Tradition and the Individual Talent," 5.

[43] Eliot, "Tradition and the Individual Talent," 7.

[44] Scott Maisano, "Milton avec Decartes: Towards a Prelapsarian Thinking Machine." My thanks to Scott for sharing with me this unpublished paper, which he delivered at the 207 meeting of the Group for Early Modern Cultural Studies.

[45] Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, Trans. Catherine Porter (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1993).

[46] Eliot, "The Metaphysical Poets," 247. For similar sentiments, see also T.S. Eliot, "John Donne," The Nation and the Athenaeum XXXIII.10 (30 June 1923): 331-32.

[47] Deleuze, Logic of Sense, 162.

[48] See Ronald Bush, T.S. Eliot: A Study in Character and Style (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1983), 11-12; and Lyndall Gordon, T.S. Eliot: An Imperfect Life (New York: Norton, 1998), 212.

[49] Eliot, The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry 155.

[50] Eliot, "Donne in Our Time," 8.

[51] A.D. Moody, Thomas Stearns Eliot, Poet (Cambridge: Cambridge UP 1979), 218.

[52] Eliot, "Donne in Our Time," 8. In "Shakespeare and the Stoicism of Seneca," in Selected Essays, 107-20, Eliot likewise presents Donne as a poetic scavenger: "It seemed as if, at that time, the world was filled with broken fragments of systems, and that a man like Donne merely picked up, like a magpie, various shining fragments of ideas as they struck his eye, and stuck them about here and there in his verse" (118).

[53] Eliot, The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry, 155.

[54] Eliot, "Donne in Our Time," 8.

[55] Thomas Docherty, John Donne, Undone (New York: Methuen, 1986), 8.

[56] Docherty, 9.

[57] By contrast, Stephen Toulmin's Donne—a less influential Donne than Docherty's, but nonetheless worth citing for the way he echoes Eliot's—more decisively mourns the corrosive effects of the New Science on the premodern harmony between the cosmos and the polis, the "Order of Nature and that of Society." Toulmin's Donne possesses something like a unified sensibility, as poems like "An Anatomy of the World" suggest: "From Donne's standpoint, current experience with the weather, the discoveries of astronomers, new ideas about the structure of matter, a lost sense of political loyalty and family duty, and even the widespread fragmentation of the self, are not so many separate and distinct things. In underlining the interconnectedness of the psychological and political issues with those that are cosmological and physical, he represents them to us as aspects of a single whole." See Stephen Toulmin, Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity (New York: The Free Press, 1990), 67 (original emphasis).

[58] Ben Saunders, Desiring Donne: Poetry, Sexuality, Interpretation (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2006), 4 (original emphasis).

[59] Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, 265.

[60] Latour, 47.

[61] Lee Edelman, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (Durham: Duke UP, 2004).

[62] Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, 256.

[63] Michel Foucault, "Friendship as a Way of Life," in Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth, Ed. Paul Rainbow (New York: The New Press, 1997), 135-40, esp. 136.

[64] Gail Kern Paster takes an important step in this direction in Humoring the Body: Emotions and the Shakespearean Stage (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2004), when she appropriates Deleuze and Guattari's concept of the body without organs to describe the experience of passions within the humoral body. For Paster, the "immanence of the passions," their origin within "humors coursing through the bloodstream and saturating the flesh," itself gives rise to the humanist "quest for self-sameness—the manly constancy," wherein the rational soul rules over the passionate body (22).

[65] Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, 40-1.

[66] Though dated, John R. Lauristen, "Donne's Satyres: The Drama of Self-Discovery," Studies in English Literature 16 (1976): 117-30, remains to my mind one of the best readings of all five poems together.

[67] Slavoj Žižek, The Parallax View (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006).

[68] North, 79.