chapter  3
52 Pages

LIBIDINAL ECONOMIES

To show how sexuality has often been thought to exist in a life-anddeath struggle, let me begin this chapter with a familiar literary example. Anyone acquainted with Songs and Sonnets by the English Renaissance poet John Donne (1572-1631) is more than likely to recall his provocative play on the word ‘die’. Collected posthumously in 1633, his erotically charged poem ‘The Canonization’ is arguably his most memorable work that exploits this verb to show how death haunts sexual desire. In the third and fourth stanzas, the male speaker boldly challenges his implicitly hostile listeners to recognize the depth of his passion. Once he finishes reproving them by making it plain that his love shall cause injury to no one, he promptly conjures a striking image that vivifies this intense emotion. ‘Call her one, me another flye’, he proclaims, ‘We’are Tapers too, and at our owne cost die’ (Donne 1985: 58). In this deft conceit, the lovers figure as both the lit taper and the hapless fly that rushes madly into its flame. Such is the burning power of the libido that both lovers must ‘die’ – in several senses of the word.