John Donne and the "Anthropomorphic Map" Tradition

Noam Flinker1

University of Haifa

Almost twenty years ago, Claude Gandelman asked me for some assistance in determining just what had been written about John Donne and the anthropomorphic map tradition. Not surprisingly, we found that little had been done and he proceeded to write (1984) "The Poem as Map: John Donne and the 'Anthropomorphic Landscape' Tradition." Today, when I reread that piece (and the related chapter "Bodies, Maps Texts" in Reading Pictures, Viewing Texts) I am reminded of Robert Burton's Democritus Junior whose introduction to the Anatomy of Melancholy cites the humanist commonplace that "A dwarf standing on the shoulders of a Giant may see farther than a Giant himself" (20). In this case, Gandelman serves as the giant and those of us who stand on his intellectual shoulders are thereby enabled to see a bit beyond the limits he lit up for us.

In "The Poem as Map" Gandelman shows the relevance of a peculiar kind of map of Europe to Donne's "metaphysical" love poetry. He cites poems such as "The good-morrow" and "Elegie: Going to Bed" in order to document places in which seventeenth-century English verse set up connections between the work of the late medieval map maker Opicinus de Canistris or Sebastian Münster's sixteenth-century "phantasmagoric cartography" (1991: 86). The point of all this is to provide "one more argument in favour of the classifying of this poet within Mannerism" ("Poem as Map," 249). Finally, Gandelman points to the ludic function of the anthropomorphic landscape in Donne. It is "the seeing in succession of contrary and sometimes antithetical aspects contained in one and the same figure. Donne's anthropomorphized maps or landscapes are very much like the famous "duck-rabbit" used by Wittgenstein in which a "duck" or a "rabbit" can be seen alternately following the spontaneous reversals of the figure. Similarly, Donne's mistress "spontaneously reverses" — in the imagination of the reader — from map or landscape to feminine human body and vice versa. The poem alternately "anthropomorphizes" the landscape and "disanthropomorphizes it" as our imagination focuses in succession on the landscape or on the human body" (1991: 250).


1. Dr. Noam Flinker is Chair of the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Haifa. He also worked with the late Claude Gandelman at the University Ben Gurion, Beersheba. [RETURN]


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AS/SA Nº 8, Article 7 : Page 1 / 7

© 1999, Applied Semiotics / Sémiotique appliquée

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