Erotic Subjects: The Sexuality of Politics in Early Modern English Literature

By Melissa E. Sanchez | Go to book overview

Conclusion
“Lives There Who Loves His Pain?”

Throughout this book, my analysis has been driven by a deceptively simple question. What happens to our understanding of early modern political thought if we take seriously two of the period’s commonplaces: first, that true love hurts and second, that love—not fear or self-interest—is the source of sovereign authority? I began with the hypothesis that early modern writers’ consciousness of love’s sacrificial dimension significantly shaped their conceptions of power. Their emphasis on the masochistic, violent, and narcissistic structure of love suggests that desire is rarely rational or “normal.” The very ideals of sacrifice and submission that were meant to regulate desire could also generate transgressive fantasies of eroticized torment and abjection. And if such desires—whose resistant, anti-normative potential I have been calling “queer”—motivates political investments, then politics has a queer side too. Because associations between love and pain, on the one hand, and love and loyalty, on the other, are so conventional, scholars have paid little attention to the political implications of early modern literature that stresses the queerness of the sexual instincts. As Richard Rambuss has noted, there is a critical tendency to assume that once a trope becomes recognizable, it ceases to convey complex meanings, “as if the status of being conventional would make a discursive construct or a sentiment any less thick with significance.”1 In the chapters above, I have sought to show just how “thick with significance” erotic conventions really were in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. I have argued that the intersection

1. Closet Devotions, 2.

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