Forgetting Knowledge in Donne’s Anniversaries

  • Anita Gilman Sherman


Mfight wit be a response to skepticism? Does the witty expression of mourning in an elegy like Donne’s Anniversaries suggest that poetic artifice rushes in to assuage doubt and uncertainty? Were we to link wit and skepticism, would we be claiming that a poet resorts to aestheticization to meet a sense of loss? As we shall see, in Donne’s Anniversaries or in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, the self-conscious display of art may well speak to the lost intimacy resulting from the traumatic fall into skepticism. Cavell gestures in this direction when he speaks of voice—coming into the possession of voice as a struggle between the desire for “absolute expressiveness” and the fear of inexpressiveness.1 Invoking Ludwig Wittgenstein, Sigmund Freud, and Walter Benjamin, Cavell associates the melancholy mood of skepticism with “a terror of, and desire for, inexpressiveness” and with “our endless efforts to say what we cannot really mean.”2 By contrast, Cavell invokes the Romantics, especially Emerson, when discussing resistance to conformity. Skepticism may induce despair over the limitations of ready-made phrases, even as it challenges the poet-philosopher to devise a language that bears the stamp of his identity without being so idiosyncratic that it risks becoming private and unintelligible.


Pastoral Mode Courtly Love Word Frame Epistemological Agnosticism Christian Pastoral 
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© Anita Gilman Sherman 2007

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