On Not Defending Poetry: Spenser, Suffering, and the Energy of Affect

Joseph Campana

in The Pain of Reformation

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780823239108
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780823239146 | DOI:
On Not Defending Poetry: Spenser, Suffering, and the Energy of Affect

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This chapter examines the consequences of the impulses to restrain corporeal and affective experience for early modern moral and poetic discourses. I explore Spenser's alternative to dominant poetic discourses of his age. Early modern defenses of poetry, such as Sidney's influential Defence of Poesy, respond to longstanding anxieties about the validity of poetry by asserting its moral function. Sidney's heroic rhetoric locates poetry's “power” in its capacity to create iconic portraits (“speaking pictures”) of unchanging moral truths. Spenser departs markedly from Sidney's vision of poetry as invested in the heroic assertion of the clarity of truth. Whereas Sidney privileges enargeia, or vividness, The Faerie Queene works consistently to disarm the heroic masculinity that violently produces enargeia as a form of iconic, moral clarity. Spenser‟s Legend of Temperance finds energeia, or vitality, in suffering and sympathy. Spenser‟s task in the Legend of Temperance is to mine experience for the painful intensity that lends poetry its energy, efficacy, and appeal, drawing subjects into dense networks of affect and obligation.

Keywords: Spenser; poetry; affect; suffering; rhetoric; Sidney; heroic poetry; vision; sensation; Legend of Temperance

Chapter.  8501 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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