Boy Toys and Liquid Joys: Pleasure and Power in the Bower of Bliss

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:
Boy Toys and Liquid Joys: Pleasure and Power in the Bower of Bliss

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In this chapter I argue that once we understand the energizing effect of painful affect in “The Legend of Temperance,” we can also understand the valuable role of a perverse liquidity associated with sexual and poetic pleasure. Indeed, the attempt to neutralize vulnerability extends from the extreme affects and sensations of the body in pain to those of the body in pleasure. As the persistent, rhyming evocation of feminine joys, wanton toys, and lascivious boys indicates, the second book of The Faerie Queene emphasizes, rather than merely condemns, this liquidity. Far from condemning the Bower or secretly reveling in forbidden pleasures, Spenser conducts an experiment in redefining the relationship between pleasure and the generation of the physical energies of the body. Uxorious men, autoerotic women, and homoerotic pairings reveal flagrant displays of liquidity indicative an interest in how morally problematic flows of pleasure allow us to reimagine the contours of the bodies and narratives on which agency depends. The Bower of Bliss represents a realm in which gender can be analyzed not as an assemblage of parts or roles but as the distribution of energy. The alienated labor of heroic masculinity is thus ameliorated by radical experiences of pleasure.

Keywords: Spenser; poetry; pleasure; sexuality; masculinity; affect; energy; corporeality; Legend of Temperance

Chapter.  11980 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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