Godly Graffiti, or, the Enigma of the Conscience

Ceri Sullivan

in The Rhetoric of the Conscience in Donne, Herbert, and Vaughan

Published in print September 2008 | ISBN: 9780199547845
Published online September 2008 | e-ISBN: 9780191720901 | DOI:
Godly Graffiti, or, the Enigma of the Conscience

More Like This

Show all results sharing this subject:

  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)


Show Summary Details


God's law is written on the heart, in the natural ability to recognize right and wrong which even pagans have. Most commentators take for granted that what is chipped onto the heart is what is understood by its bearers. Having settled that these are God's words, critics mostly move off to find less obvious points. They show faint interest in God's diction or syntax, few queries about his tone of voice, little worry that he has not been in contact recently. Labelling God's idiolect and points as ‘scriptural’ and finding the relevant chapter and verse seems to settle a blanket of scholarly boredom over what God says. Yet heart murmurs can only form a safety cordon in so far as the poets are actually struck by his words. This chapter points out that the alterity guaranteed by the enigmatic qualities of godly graffiti ensures that it is barely understood by its functionally illiterate bearers. Godly carving on the tables of the heart in the style of Moses is made lastingly impressive by being incorporated, but not comprehended. Given this, the mottos of the hearts cannot act to enforce the law, either as penal brands to evidence past error or as legal injunctions to regulate future conduct. The chapter investigates such pointless scratchings in terms of the period's technologies of inscription, mural decoration, and body art — or self-mutilation — in tattoos. In these poems, the enigma is insolently maintained to prevent the need for obedient action.

Keywords: illiterate; Moses; tables; inscription; tattoos; body art

Chapter.  14113 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.