Damaging Intimacy: Reimagining Communities in Early Modern Drama
Damaging Intimacy reimagines the history of selfhood in early modernity. Whereas scholars traditionally regard the bounded self and the individuated body as the basic unit of interpersonal relations, I trace the risks and breaches of bodily integrity as an alternative means of community formation in Shakespearean and Marlovian drama. Challenging the longstanding critical tendency to read Renaissance texts as early experiments in the republicanism, liberalism, and humanism that would come to characterize the Enlightenment, my project instead lingers on spectacular moments that resist those ideologies. The texts I analyze reveal a submerged tradition of dramatic performances in which communities are constructed, not through the reinforcement of possessive individualism, but rather through the often violent dissolution of the boundaries that delineate self from other. By exploring alternate models of community undergirded by annihilative desires (as against a humanist view of community built on rational self-preservation), I argue that Coriolanus, Tamburlaine the Great, The Merchant of Venice, and Edward II mobilize forms of radical interrelation that potentially destabilize the social orthodoxy of how interpersonal bonds work. These plays experiment with communities of intersubjective existence and unconditional vulnerability that exposes itself without limit to the coming of the other to imagine an affirmative politics that embraces death as it does life. In addition to plays, I analyze early modern tracts on social contract and friendship, treatises on the Galenic body, and English statutes concerning political sovereignty, personal property, and subjects’ natural rights to uncover modes of (de)subjectification that privilege reckless exposure and porous being. Driven by a queer methodology, my project yokes together early modern understandings of community with more contemporary thought, engaging such present-day community thinkers as Judith Butler, Jean-Luc Nancy, Roberto Esposito, and Georges Bataille. By presenting textual moments of excessive and boundless bodies that compel interrelation (even without invitation) and where interpenetrative violence emerges as a kind of ethical imperative, Damaging Intimacy inhabits the future conditional temporality of “what could be” in the pursuit of alternative visions, politics, and communities that celebrate the surplus of every sociality over every solitude.