Sunday, June 13, 2010

Jack Donne vs. Dr. Donne

John Donne's poetry shows that he was clearly a master of paradox.  We know that he exemplified the metaphysical conceit, in which tenuous comparisons are made to create stylistic and conceptual metaphors.  So it is especially interesting that he not only wrote about paradoxes, but also lived them.  In fact, his life and work can be divided into two very contradictory periods.  As a youth, he was Jack Donne, a womanizer and writer of bawdy poetry, but in his later years, he adopted the persona of Dr. Donne, a reputable and surprisingly serious metaphysical poet who wrote about his fidelity to his wife and his spiritual conviction.  This paradox is effectively summed up in an essay I found that says, "he retrospectively divided his life into two roles: a youthful Jack Donne whose "Mistresse" was poetry and now a mature Dr. Donne whose "wyfe" is divinity."

So, since we're dealing with the man who best "expressed the human tendency to make creative comparisons", I'd like to extend the paradox he lived in his life to the paradox presented by new media.

Jack Donne
Jack Donne used his talent at creating brilliant metaphors to write poetry that was often a little bit sexually explicit and definitely irreverent.  He wrote entertaining and bawdy poems that, while explicit, were so thoroughly couched in metaphor that he never got in serious trouble.  There is an undeniably large amount of content on the internet which is, at best, "bawdy" and which also veils its true explicitness.  Take, for example, chatroulette, a website notorious for inappropriate content that downplays it by emphasizing how fascinating it is to be able to make random connections with people all across the world.

This weird, exhibitionist phenomenon has effected the nature of online communication in an interesting yet undeniably perverse way, as documented in this article.  There are definitely parallels between the darker, sexual aspects of new media and Jack Donne's explicit poetry, and there are critics for both that would argue that the sexual explicitness isn't as harmful as it may seem.  But the truth remains that sites like chatroulette only serve to delegitimize the capacity technology has to uplfit us.  The same is true of Donne's poetry.  Some of it is inappropriate and maybe just plain icky, but a far more notable amount is beautiful and inspiring.  It is a good thing Donne recognized this later in his life.

Dr. Donne
Later in life, John Donne rejected his playboy ways, embraced religion,  and adopted the pseudonym of Dr. Donne.  He used his talent at creating unexpected metaphors to characterize love and spirituality in ways that people had never done before.  For instance, in "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning", the text I'm studying for this class, he compares two people in love to the feet on a draftsman's compass, saying that they'll "lean and hearken" after each other.  I think it is perfectly valid to say that he revolutionized the way people look at relationships, at least from a rhetorical point of view.

Now, on my last post I shared the commercial for the new Apple iPhone feature called FaceTime.  The jury's still out on whether or not it has really revolutionized communication like it is hyped up to do, but it is undeniable that the technology will profound affect the way we discuss relationships and social media in the future. There are a great deal of parallels between the ways in which Dr. Donne's poetry affected the way relationships are percieved in literature and the ways in which advances like FaceTime affect how relationships are discussed scientifically.

Ultimately, the take away from studying this paradox is this.  Technology undeniably plays a role in how we communicate with the people we love.  If we only take advantage of the superficial, inappropriate parts of it, our relationships will be damaged.  But if we utilize the best that new media tools have to offer, and separate ourselves from the "sublunary" stuff, technology has the capacity to enrich and entirely revolutionize how we show our love to each other.  

1 comment:

Heather said...

I did not know that Donne lived this shady lifestyle before he wrote his metaphysical poetry! Good ideas in comparing that to social networking and the agency we have with how we use it.

You were talking in class today about finding articles/sources that are also looking at the metaphysical poetry as a way to learn about social networking. I really have no idea if this is any help, but for my topic, I was looking at an article about the internet and Postmodernism. The last paragraph references metaphysics... I don't know, it's not a very long read and it might help you out. Here's the link: Hope it's relevant!