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Some Mannerist Ingenuities in Mystic Poetry

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One of the central assumptions of the present study is that mystic or religious poetry not just formulates mystic or religious ideas: it somehow converts theological ideas into religious experience, by verbal means. It somehow seems to reach the less rational layers of the mind by some drastic interference with the smooth functioning of the cognitive system, or by a quite smooth regression from ‘ordinary consciousness’ to some ‘altered state of consciousness’. In this way, the experience is affected not only by its contents, but also by the perceived quality of the structure of the underlying mental process. This brings us to recognize that mystic or religious poetry is sometimes of vastly different styles. In my book (Tsur 2003) I distinguish between two prototypes of such styles, those that are based on drastic and on smooth interference, respectively. The present article will examine poems based on a very special kind of drastic disruption, of which George Herbert was the grand master. This prototype uses typographic schemes for disruptions in orientation, activating mechanisms of prelinguistic babbling, delaying connection of signifiers with the signified, and transcending distinctions to go to unity. Also looked at will be psychological and social defenses against these disruptions as well as ways to overcome those defenses.

In this article I will consider the relationship between mystic poetry and what Willie van Peer calls ‘typographic foregrounding’. In this relationship, I will suggest, both mystic and aesthetic principles are involved.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: The Katz Research Institute for Hebrew Literature, The Rosenberg School for Jewish Studies, Tel Aviv University, 69987, Israel ., Email:

Publication date: 2004-01-01

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