Julia Kristeva's Powers of Horror (1980) offers a compelling framework for reading the seventeenth-century baroque poet, Richard Crashaw. Kristeva understands abjection as the horror resulting from the collapse of the psychic borders between what is clean and unclean, inside and outside the control of the body. Both writers draw inspiration from the devotional practices of late medieval women mystics. But whereas Kristeva focuses on the semiotic communication between the preoedipal mother and child, Crashaw's engagement with the language of feminine piety had its source in the library of his Protestant father, William Crashaw, who collected the Catholic literature he would denounce from the pulpit. Abjection was the psychic mechanism that allowed Richard Crashaw to break down his father's distinction between the "clean" Protestant self and the loathed Catholic other still attached, like the Christ child, to the maternal breast of Mary. In the divine epigram, "Blessed be the paps which Thou hast sucked," Crashaw conflates religion and sex, the sacred and the somatic, through abject images of milk, saliva, blood, semen and their bodily sources—mouth, breast, genitals, and anus—to say yes to the unthinkable.


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pp. 423-443
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