The Macksey Journal


A corpus can mean both a human body and a body of writing, depending on how the reader encounters the word. The act of interpreting both kinds of corpora is, for many ancient and early modern thinkers, an active process that reveals, restricts, and reforms the reading and written self. In response to the question of the self’s legibility, this paper explores the metaphoricity of the self as a text, an idea rooted in the ancient hermeneutics of Augustine of Hippo, and prevalent in the early modern religious poetry of John Donne and John Milton. Surveying the multivalent interpretability of language and bodies throughout Donne’s Holy Sonnets and Milton’s Paradise Lost, juxtaposed with Augustine’s hermeneutics of the Biblical-textual self in the Confessions, this paper seeks to understand the limits of human intelligibility through the concept of the textual self which is both written and reading in relation to the divine. Symbolic and figurative reading practices, in tandem with theologies of original sin and fallenness, cultivate various interpretive models of legibility for these thinkers, figuring corpora as both texts and bodies that must be interpreted in order to access the innate nature of the human condition, circumscribed by unintelligible divinity.