Drew DanielJul 6, 2022
Joy of the Worm
Suicide and Pleasure in Early Modern English Literature
University of Chicago Press 2022
Advisory: this episode discusses the literary representation of self-harm and suicide, in particular, how writers such as Shakespeare and Milton often treated the subject in unserious or trivializing ways.
In 1643, the writer Thomas Browne introduced the word “suicide” into the English language. Eventually, “suicide” would become a monolith in how we think about self-harm and self-killing. “Suicide” has come to represent an individualizing, pathologizing way of looking at people who contemplate ending their lives. But, when Thomas Browne’s new word was first used, it was entering a discursive space that was wider and more open to campy humor, slapstick, and misogynistic trolling. This is the argument of an exciting and nuanced book from today’s guest, Drew Daniel. The title of the book is Joy of the Worm: Suicide and Pleasure in Early Modern English Literature published by the University of Chicago Press in 2022.
Daniel is a Professor of English at Johns Hopkins University, and teaches early modern literature, critical theory, and aesthetics. Joy of the Worm is a fresh, elegantly written exploration of scenes of self-murder (or the contemplation of self-murder) in Antony and Cleopatra, Paradise Lost, and Joseph Addison’s Cato, a Tragedy. He is the author of the previous monograph, The Melancholy Assemblage (from Fordham UP), and the 33 1/3 book on Throbbing Gristle’s Twenty Jazz Funk Greats. He is also one-half of the electronic band Matmos.
John Yargo holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His specializations are early modern literature, the environmental humanities, and critical race studies. His dissertation explores early modern representations of environmental catastrophe, including The Tempest, Oroonoko, and the poetry of Milton. He has published in Studies in Philology, The Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, and Shakespeare Studies.