Introduction: The puritan origins of American Sex

Tracy Fessenden, Nicholas F. Radel, Magdalena J. Zaborowska

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingForeword/postscript


In Cotton Mather's early diary, and in Edgar Allan Poe's tale 'The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar', the 'shadowy' presence of Jewishness reembodies itself. More specifically, a particularly troublesome bodily particular, the circumcised Jewish penis, reasserts and rearticulates itself as a highly animated tongue, issuing hyperactive outbursts. Mather, in a manner echoing what Daniel Boyarin has shown in early Christian negotiations of Jewish scripture and circumcision, refused to embrace a bodily practice of marking the penis. In other words, within Mather's emergent notion of American Puritanism, circumcision was to be available for figural purposes, as a word but not as a corporeal practice. Edgar Allan Poe found much of this noxious. A conglomeration of aesthetic, biographical, and temperamental differences made Poe a self-willed alien to New England literary culture. The sense of Valdemar's shifty nationality is fortified by the allusions to his command of multiple national languages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Puritan Origins of American Sex
Subtitle of host publicationReligion, Sexuality, and National Identity in American Literature
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781136692291
ISBN (Print)9780415926393
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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