Noam Flinker: "John Donne and the Anthropomorphic Map"


It is unfortunate that Donne scholarship has been somehow deprived of ready access to Gandelman's work on the anthropomorphic map tradition. The MLA Bibliography provides no reference to his essay "Poem as Map." Jeanne Shami's discussion of Donne's use of geography as metaphor cites various important contributions to the study of Donne and maps. She argues "that Donne's geography was part of his consuming passion for assimilating the new science into the old (and for finding the modern significance of the old knowledge)" (1984, 162). Nonetheless, her very competent summary of the field shows no awareness of the anthropomorphic map tradition and Donne's evident knowledge of it. Earlier works on Donne's cosmography provide the intellectual contexts for integrating Gandelman's insights into what has become the standard view of Donne scholarship. Toshihiko Kawasaki has discussed ways in which Donne made use of the concepts "microcosm" and "macrocosm" in his verse and sermons. He claims that Donne's "microcosm and macrocosm not only correspond to each other as two entities and symbolically reflect each other, but also that they represent a definite system of relative values: the smaller world is more valuable than the larger" (26-27). Leonard Barkan devotes an entire chapter to "Natural Philosophy: The Human Body and the Cosmos." He traces the idea of the parallel between the microcosm and the macrocosm from the ancient Greeks through the Renaissance and actually cites Opicinus de Canistris as "an especially good example" of the proliferation of "the hierarchies and systems which correspond to man's body" (39). Barkan provides the historical and literary facts and materials necessary to understand Gandelman. Don Parry Norford deals with these same terms in the context of the entire seventeenth century (and their earlier philosophical roots) but has nothing to say about anthropomorphic maps. This aspect of Renaissance mapping is significant for Donne studies and Gandelman's essay deserves to be known.

The Donne texts that Gandelman cites shift back and forth from the macrocosm to the microcosm. Most famous (thanks to Hemingway's novel For Whom the Bell Tolls) is "Meditation 17" from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions:

No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends, or of thine owne were; Any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee. (Donne, 1967: 243).

Gandelman first claims that this "is, of course, a cartographic image which shows us man as an 'island' (an anthropomorphic island) in his loneliness, as a part of an anthropomorphic continent, insofar as he participates in the fate of humanity" (1984, 246). Here a dwarf could complain that Donne's point is precisely that man is not an island: "no man is an Iland." This passage is concerned with community and not loneliness. And the dwarf would be right, except for the conclusion about the duck-rabbit. That is, "no man is an Iland," yet as we try to see this claim, we must simultaneously recognize that we have here one of those "spontaneous reversals" in which man both is and is not an island. Gandelman cites Arcimboldi's "anthropomorphic man/island" which appears both as a man's head and as an island, but never at the same instant in our perceptual imagination. He seems to have implied that Donne's claims about involvement "in mankinde" must be juxtaposed against his loneliness as an artist. Man is part of a community which is to be associated with a continent rather than an island. Nevertheless, that continent is constantly being reduced, even if only a clod at a time. Donne urges us to stand together in the recognition that each of us will soon enough depart so that the funeral bell for one tolls for us all.

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AS/SA Nº 8, Article 7 : Page 2 / 7

© 1999, Applied Semiotics / Sémiotique appliquée

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