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Knowledge is not made for understanding; it is made for cutting.1

Burton scholarship has always recognized that The Anatomy of

Melancholy exceeds the bounds of a medical treatise, straying from its
nominal aim to study a disease. The Anatomy encompasses such a vast
wealth of Renaissance learning that less than a quarter of it actually
deals with medicine, physiology, psychology, and psychiatry.2 Its strong
polymathic impulse explains why Paul Jordan-Smith referred to it as an
“omnium gatherum,” and why Northrop Frye regarded it as a prose-
fiction genre characterized by an encyclopedic range of subject matter.3
Although critics rightly question the centrality of melancholy in Burton’s
text, they have not yet questioned the process by which Burton
approaches knowledge, simply accepting the title’s announcement of an
anatomical operation. Ever since Frye chose to replace the cumbersome
term “Menippean satire” with a more “convenient name,” critics have
been inclined to consider The Anatomy as a prototype for an anatomical
genre—an intellectual or an encyclopedic dissection.4 And more re-
cently, escalating interest in early modern medicine and cultural materi-
alism has given new life to the old commonplace of The Anatomy as an
If the mere visibility of the sign “anatomy” is all the proof a reader
needs, then nothing could be more preposterous than to argue that
Burton approaches knowledge with a different cut. Besides the title
page’s apparent announcement, Burton’s preface lists a selection of
“Presidents,” whose titles earmark them as anatomies.6 But if the reader
makes the effort to examine how anatomical discourse rhetorically
opens up knowledge, then matters are not so semantically clear-cut. My
epigraph “knowledge is not made for understanding; it is made for
cutting” implies that there is more than one way to skin a cat. In
Burton’s polymathic text, his particular cut actually disfigures the body

ELHGrant Williams
68 (2001) 593–613 © 2001 by The Johns Hopkins University Press 593
of knowledge. Whereas anatomical discourse enables a subject to
project onto textuality a corporeal order and thereby to gain an
imaginary mastery over knowledge, disfiguration brings out the mon-
strous condition of textuality, which does not permit the subject any
imaginary identification. By comparatively tracing the anatomical cut
with Burton’s, I will explain how disfiguration produces the epistemo-
logical aberration known as The Anatomy.7
A body of knowledge participates in a systemic misrecognition, what
Vico, the famous eighteenth-century rhetorician, aptly calls an axiomatic
ignorance through which man establishes an “imaginative metaphys-
ics.”8 When discussing the ancients’ predisposition for using corporeal
tropes, Vico contends that man, in seeing himself as “the rule of the
universe,” becomes all things by not understanding them.9 Marvelously
anticipating Lacanian psychoanalysis in its sensitivity to the link be-
tween the imaginary and symbolic orders, Vico’s observation applies just
as much to anatomical as to microcosmic discourse. No matter how
progressive for the history of science, Renaissance anatomical discourse
is founded upon an axiomatic misrecognition—the notion that the body,
an a priori structure, can make known the self and the world.10 One
compelling example is Helkiah Crooke’s Microcosmographia, a medical
compilation that celebrates the anatomical procedure by vaunting its
transdiscursive application. Because “man is the rule and square of all
bodies,” an adage reiterated by Crooke, “whosoever dooth know himselfe,
knoweth all things.”11 And thus because anatomizing is the “most sure
guide to the knowledge of ourselves,” it is logically the most sure guide
to knowledge in general, including, for Crooke, cosmology, politics,
theology, and natural and moral philosophy.12 Because the human body,
“the rule and square of all bodies,” measures every disciplinary object as
a unified corporeality, the anatomical cut, by revealing design, can
comprehend any body of knowledge.13
Since for Lacan, as for Vico, corporeal unity constitutes an epistemo-
logical misrecognition, the anatomist is susceptible to the lure of the
imaginary order—the subjective realm responsible for narcissistic func-
tions.14 Praised as the founding father of modern anatomy, Andreas
Vesalius models an imaginary paradigm for subsequent anatomists
inasmuch as he does not envision his project in figures of disjecta
membra.15 In the Epitome, the educational supplement to De Fabrica,
he laments the fact that, in a world friendly to study, the “harmony of
the human body should lie constantly concealed,” “the structure of
instruments so divinely created by the Great Artificer of all things
should remain unexamined.”16 In practice, Vesalius’s hope to recover the

594 Disfiguring the Body of Knowledge

divine design may best be seen by his counsel to choose a corpse on the
basis of a bodily norm like the canon of Policletus, a statue “famous
precisely for its formal perfection.”17 Following such a norm, numerous
Vesalian and post-Vesalian anatomical drawings are simulacra of antique
statuary, whose fragmented remnants had been discovered in the
sixteenth century; for example, in a Belgian edition of the Epitome, an
incarnate version of an Apollo Belvedere lies dissected.18 Through the
importation of a beautiful form, Vesalius tries to contain anxieties over
the gory excesses of the viscera.19
Projecting a classical unity onto the corpse, Vesalius performs that
foundational imaginary act which Lacan calls the mirror stage. The
infant floundering in motor incapacity first forms its ego by identifying
with the unity of a reflected bodily imago. Arising from an external
specular image, not a prior inner being, the sense of a unified self is
purchased at the price of a misrecognition: “I am that unified image.”
But for Lacan the mirror stage does not begin and end with infancy. The
subject, repeating its primary illusion of ego identification, projects onto
things unified identities so much so that all human knowledge is
inherently paranoiac.20 Just as the infant draws the mirror image into an
imaginary relation of self and other and thereby makes possible the
illusion of self-mastery, the subject (mis)recognizes in the object an
incorporated counterpart over which it can exercise control and ulti-
mately express self-control. In the same way, the anatomist projects onto
the anatomized object a corporeal unity, creating the illusory prospect of
epistemological mastery.
What sets the anatomical activity apart from simpler imaginary
projections is its dependence on a sophisticated textual intervention. An
anatomist creates a body of knowledge by a rigorous cut into the
symbolic order. We catch a glimpse of this cut in the notes that attended
Vesalius’s first public anatomy at Bologna in 1540. While Vesalius
dissected the corpse, Curtius, the lecturer, told his auditors that
dissection means more than physically cutting up a body:

I reply that dissection can be performed in two different ways: in one

way really or actually, in another way through description, e.g., in
writing or lecturing. For also this is to dissect a body. Thus in those
books by Galen dissection means description by lecturing, not dissection
actually performed. Consequently, Galen has not expressed himself
wrongly. Galen however does not here call them books on anatomy, but
on dissection, procedures of anatomy. For anatomy embraces the art of
dissection, both performed actually and by description.21

R. Grant Williams 595

Even Galen, the father of classical anatomy, could not avoid depending
upon the rhetorical cut, that much-maligned supplement to early
modern empirical dissection.22
In medicine, the rhetorical cut performed by anatomical discourse
goes back at least as far as Galen, if not Hippocrates, but in classical
rhetoric its genealogy may start with Plato’s Phaedrus. This dialogue
demonstrates how the anatomical cut exists in a dialectical relationship
with a unified textual body. In the dialogue, Socrates—another anato-
mist fixated on the mirror stage with his reiterated injunction, “know
thyself”—marshals a campaign against sophistry whose irrational desires
threaten to overwhelm philosophy.23 To regain control over textuality,
Socrates claims that the “procedure of rhetoric is like that of medicine.”
Since “every discourse ought to be a living creature, having a body of its
own and a head and feet,” corresponding to a middle, beginning, and
end, an orator’s approach to composition should obey two principles:
first, “the survey of scattered particulars, leading to their comprehen-
sion in one idea” (incorporation), and second, “division into species
according to the natural formation, where the joint is, not breaking any
part as a bad carver might” (anatomization).24 Dissecting the body
should not result in dismembered confusion when the anatomist follows
the clear-cut, “natural” joint. It seems that the whole cannot prove itself
whole, unless, of course, it logically joins with the part to form a
dialectical partnership: the greater the knowledge of the parts the
greater the knowledge of the whole. The anatomical cut thus operates
according to synecdochic logic—so called after the figure of synecdo-
che, in which a part represents a whole or vice versa. Synecdochic logic
perpetuates a metaphysics of the part insofar as the anatomist regards
each part as possessing membership in a greater totality.25
While explicating the importance of dispositio or arrangment,
Quintilian’s Institutes also promotes the anatomical cut by configuring
the desired text in a manner akin to that of Socrates: the “structure” of
the speech is “as regular as that of the human body, of which, for
example, the hand is a part, while the fingers are parts of the hand, and
the joints of the fingers.”26 Just as the body may be cut into members,
which, in turn, may be cut into smaller members, the text may have cut
from it a part, such as the exordium, which, in turn, may be divided into
subsections and then into topics with their own special places. As the
anatomical cut divides textuality, the writer qua anatomist initiates a
dialectical movement between knowing the parts and knowing the
whole. Synecdochic logic, therefore, holds out the promise of absolute
textual mastery, occurring when the dialectic reaches a synthesis: a

596 Disfiguring the Body of Knowledge

complete knowledge of parts means a complete knowledge of the whole
and vice versa.
By associating The Anatomy with other anatomies, Burton critics
wittingly or unwittingly identify it as a body of knowledge. Rosalie Colie,
one of Burton’s most sensitive readers, assumes as much: “Burton was
bound by his material and his method to a more complicated effort, to
articulate, as anatomy does, the disparate parts into a fitting whole.”27
Though accurately depicting the anatomical cut, she nevertheless fails
to describe Burton’s cut. Under the misnomer of anatomy, Burton’s
cutting does not yield a body of knowledge, the merger of parts into a
whole, but conducts a delirious disfiguring. In the preface “Democritus
Junior to the Reader,” Burton provides an allegory for his self-arrogated
pseudonym and for his disfiguring cut (1:5–6), when first summarizing
Hippocrates’s visit to the laughing philosopher.28 Hippocrates finds
Democritus writing a book on melancholy while dissecting the carcasses
of beasts. Just as Democritus, cloistered in his garden, labors to discover
the seat of melancholy through anatomization, so Democritus Jr.,
enclosed in his library, approaches books as though they were carcasses
concealing the topos (or sedes) of melancholy. Nonetheless, Burton’s
allegory of self-fashioning signifies that Democritus is doubly haunted
by the fragment: the book on melancholy, now lost, remains at the time
“unperfect,” incomplete; and he fruitlessly encircles himself with not a
single specimen, but “the carcasses of many severall beasts, newly by
him cut up and anatomized” (1:6). Despite realizing that it would “aske
an expert Vesalius to anatomize ever member” of a mad world (1:106),
Burton chooses to identify with a failed anatomist and polymath, who,
Burton notes, actually performed self-mutilation: Democritus gouged
out his own eyes (1:2). In a sense, Democritus is a subject who could not
maintain ego identification with his body image. Democritian dissec-
tion—a fitting parallel for Burton’s cutting—fails to subordinate the part
to a whole.
In practice, Burton’s disfiguring cut severs synecdochic logic by
extensively deploying the rhetorical figure of the list, otherwise known
as synathroesmus, frequentatio, or congeries.29 The first extended use of
the synathroesmus in the preface situates the reader within Burton’s
intellectual predicament, where he hears

new newes every day. . . . A vast confusion of Vowes, Wishes, Actions,

Edicts, Peticions, Law-suits, Pleas, Lawes. . . . New bookes every day,
Pamphlets, Currantoes, Stories, whole Catalogues of Volumes of all
sorts, new Paradoxes, Opinions, Schismes, Heresies, Controversies in
Philosophy, Religion, &c. (1:4–5).

R. Grant Williams 597

Breaking down any hierarchical or grammatical relationships a reader
might normally detect between unlisted parts, this synathroesmus does
not permit him or her to make sense of the “new” knowledge—an ever-
lengthening proliferation of printed matter. The unsubordinated parts
of a synathroesmus do not comprise a comprehensible order; moreover,
rather than lucidly explicating a list, Burton, as in this passage, fre-
quently supports it with another list, confusing matters further. And
rarely does any list in The Anatomy reach the grammatical closure of an
item preceded by a coordinate conjunction. More often than not, “&c.”
occupies the last place within the series, suggesting that the list is
unrealized or incomplete. Confounding the relationship between the
part and the whole, the rhetorical figure of the list undermines attempts
to incorporate the text.
Burton’s disfiguring cut may also be found in his extensive deploy-
ment of figures of deviation, such as interjectio, egressio, interpositio,
and parenthesis.30 While justifying the reason why he as a divine has
written on medicine, not theology, Burton suddenly raises the following

If these reasons doe not satisfie thee good Reader, as Alexander

Munificus that bountefull Prelat, sometimes Bishop of Lincolne, when
he had built six Castles, ad invidiam operis eluendam, saith Mr.
Camden, to take away the envy of his worke (which very words
Nubrigensis hath of Roger the rich Bishop of Salisbury, who in King
Stephen’s time, built Shirburne Castle, and that of Devises) to divert the
scandall or imputation, which might be thence inferred, built so many
Religious Houses. (1:23)

This sentence unfolds deviously: it is framed by the question of whether

Burton has deviated from his proper academic field; it quickly deviates
into the analogical anecdote of Munificus; it deviates into a Latin
interpolation “to take away the envy of his work”; and then it deviates
further with an additional building illustration in parenthetical marks.
And even as the sentence diverts and sidetracks the reader from the
subject at hand, it actually talks about a bishop known for his diversion-
ary tactics. This actively deviating sentence rather clearly interferes with
synecdochic logic. After processing the first subordinate clause, the
reader expects the deviant part—the interpositio about the bishop—to
assimilate itself into the sentence. However, a period is reached without
the deviant part becoming subordinated to a principal clause. If
interpositio means a “placing between,” an apposition that is not
essential to the sentence, Burton’s interpositio appears severely mis-

598 Disfiguring the Body of Knowledge

placed. Through the interpositio, the passage elevates the part to the
status of the whole and brings the whole, a full sentence, down to the
status of a fragment. Neither transcendent nor authoritative, the whole
dwindles to just one part among many.31 And conversely the part, no
longer a means to a greater whole, constitutes its own estranged whole.
By deconstructing synecdochic logic, Burton’s disfiguring cut dispels
imaginary projections. It disables the dialectic of anatomization and
incorporation, thwarting readers from projecting a coherent body onto
knowledge. As one close reader of Burton’s text aptly observes, “Like
dislocated limbs Burton’s paragraphs often seem oddly crippled, his
sentences warped, and his trains of thought full of surprising leaps.”32
But where does this disfiguration of the part and the whole leave the
reader? If the anatomical cut, which operates according to synecdochic
logic, promises to yield a body of knowledge, what does Burton’s
disfiguring cut yield? Because disfiguration does not work with incorpo-
ration, but through a kind of malformation, how can one characterize
the disruption of the imaginary occurring in Burton’s text? Again, the
synecdochic logic found in classical rhetoric underscores Burton’s
epistemological difference. When, at the end of the Phaedrus, Socrates
summarizes his contempt for sophists, because the sophistical speech
fails to arrange its parts in a logical order, he echoes a denunciation
made at the dialogue’s beginning. While first walking toward their
destination, Phaedrus asks Socrates whether he believes in a myth about
the local tradition of Boreas and Orithyia. Socrates replies that he does
not waste time inquiring after the allegorical interpretations of mon-
sters—centaurs, chimeras, gorgons, and Pegasus—but instead first
ventures to know himself, as the Delphian inscription instructs. Presum-
ably, the philosopher must master the knowledge of the self, the
foundation of all knowledge, before embarking on any secondary quests.
In the same way that Socrates’s earlier words reject monstrous knowl-
edge for self-knowledge, his final words condemn those piecemeal
compositions which are patched together by poets, legislators, and
orators, while accepting those philosophical compositions which ob-
serve the medical art. Like the chimera with its lion’s head, goat’s body,
and snake’s tail, the sophistical text consists of parts that do not add up
to a whole.
The exorcism of the monstrous composition continues throughout
classical rhetoric each time synecdochic logic is endorsed. This compo-
sition is represented as inconceivable and ridiculous, and yet its very
possibility must be vigilantly suppressed from participating in textual
production. Horace begins his famous epistle, The Art of Poetry, with a

R. Grant Williams 599

warning: a work cannot assume the structure of chimeras, for “like a sick
man’s dreams,” the images shall be impossible when no two parts
correspond to any one whole.33 Though pursuing the same idea in his
discussion of dispositio, Quintilian suggests that there is more at stake
than aesthetic disgust for the grotesque. Like Horace, he describes the
disfiguration of synecdochic logic as the conjoining of hybrid parts taken
from both human and bestial bodies:

if you were to interchange some one portion of our bodies or of those of

other animals with another, although the body would be in possession of
all the same members as before, you would none the less have produced
a monster.34

But he then proceeds to describe the rhetorical effect the monstrous

text will have on the reader. If the text does not conform to synecdochic
logic, it will fail to signify, exposing the reader to disorientation
comparable to that of a traveller who has lost his direction in a foreign
country: the reader loses his sense of self.35
Clearly, The Anatomy is not a body of knowledge but that which both
Plato and Quintilian exorcise from rhetoric: a monster of knowledge.
Burton does not honor the canon of Policletus, since The Anatomy’s
seemingly careful arrangement into a preface and three partitions, along
with sections, members, and subsections, belies a riotous disregard for
corporeal unity. The part of Burton’s text most favored by Burton critics
is the preface or exordium.36 Considering that an exordium is, as
translated by Thomas Wilson, an entrance that offers a threshold or oral
opening into the textual body, Burton’s preface is severely malformed.37
Ruth Fox’s scrupulous analysis of The Anatomy’s structure succinctly
summarizes the malformation: “The Preface stands outside the work, a
major substantive portion of the book which is not in any way structur-
ally like the discourse it precedes.”38 If a preface is a prepositional
discourse that enables the reader to position herself with respect to
what occurs afterwards, and if a foreword, like a herald who announces
the arrival of the king, comes before the text proper to celebrate in
pomp and glory its appearance, Burton’s beginning postpones and
disperses its subject to such a degree that it seems to introduce an
entirely different work. While the title purports to dissect melancholy,
the preface launches a persuasive argument against dissecting the
disease, functioning more like a final judgement on the impossibility of
ever accomplishing such a task:

600 Disfiguring the Body of Knowledge

I doubt not but in the end you wil say with me, that to anatomize this
humour aright, through all the Members of this our Microcosmus, is as
great a taske, as to reconcile those Chronologicall errors in the Assyrian
monarchie, finde out the Quadrature of a Circle, the Creekes and
Sounds of the North-East, or North-West passages, & all out as good a
discoverie, as that hungry Spaniards of Terra Australis Incognita, as
great trouble as to perfect the Motion of Mars and Mercury, which so
crucifies our Astronomers, or to rectifie the Gregorian Kalender. (1:23)

In comparing the anatomical procedure with a list of epistemological

conundrums, Burton does not simply stress an ambitious undertaking,
but rather questions the procedure with a rhetorical figure he often uses
to interrogate other subjects. Congeries, an accumulation of words and
sentences with the same meaning, detects a possible discrepancy
between the verb “anatomize” and the object “this humour.” Can we
ever “reconcile” the chronological errors in the Assyrian monarchy? Can
we ever “perfect” the motion of Mars? Can we ever “rectify” the
Gregorian calender? Are these sites of knowledge compatible with their
predicates? Are these verbs properly transitive when such objects are
considered? The anatomical procedure cannot be adequately figured by
a single conundrum either. In fact, the passage fails to explicate the
precise difficulty, opting to move from one conundrum to the next, as
though only the entire list of conundrums in its awkward juxtaposition of
history, geometry, geography, astronomy, and calendary can come close
to representing the misguided, encyclopedic task now facing Burton.
But this declaration of the sheer impossibility of anatomizing melan-
choly is neither idle fatalism nor flippant irony; it is actually borne out by
the preface’s survey of the world. Apart from digressions, what Burton
calls a “brief survey” encompasses approximately three quarters of his
massive preface and, in a fashion strongly reminiscent of Erasmus,
shows that wise men, rich men, Christians, plants, animals, nations, and
economies all suffer from the melancholic condition, “For indeed who is
not a Foole, Melancholy, Mad. . . . Folly, Melancholy, Madnesse are but
one disease, Delirium is a common name to all” (1:25).39 Instead of
distinguishing melancholy from its genus, species, and differences,
instead of carefully cutting it into its respective parts, Burton conflates it
with other major diseases of the mind. In a relativized Erasmian world
where every individual and every thing cannot escape melancholy, why
should anyone even attempt to understand and control this disease,
which, like God or folly, is immanent? How can anyone even pretend to
embark on anatomizing a disease whose material manifestations are
infinitely pluralized? Thus the survey of the melancholic world leads

R. Grant Williams 601

only to the conclusion that melancholy cannot be anatomized, because it
has no visible boundaries. It possesses no spatialized body. Burton
invites the reader not to anatomize, but rather to disfigure the disease in
any way he or she desires. It makes no difference:

take Melancholy in what sense you will, properly or improperly, in

disposition or habit, for pleasure or for paine, dotage, discontent,
feare, sorrow, madnesse, for part, or all, truly, or metaphorically, ’tis all
one. (1:25)

Because melancholy, embracing everything, ranges from being a part to

being a whole, the reader may define it in any way he wishes; and yet
because melancholy may also be taken as a trope, it possesses no
definition of its own. Everything and nothing: however you may define
it, “’tis all one”; that is, it does not really matter. Or “’tis all one”:
melancholy is an undifferentiated, indivisible state. A sceptical sounding
paradox, this articulation of melancholy as an all-pervasive phenomenon
hardly facilitates the anatomical process in that division depends upon a
strictly bounded space. You cannot anatomize something you cannot
properly define.40 The preface studiously undermines the method
Burton purports to use in the text proper, as if it were introducing some
other text: arguing that melancholy ubiquitously plagues the cosmos, it
discourages the patient/reader from seeking a remedy and thus from
reading on. It is significant to note that the preface, unlike the text
proper, has neither a corresponding synoptic chart, nor any subdivisions.
If any part of the book needs signposts, it is certainly the long and
unwieldy preface. Whatever the case, the preface sticks out as a
malformed part.
Another major part of The Anatomy that resists integration into the
text is the epilogue. “The Conclusion of the Author to the Reader,” in
which Burton cuts “the strings of Democritus visor” (3:469) and defends
his defective style, does not appear in any seventeenth-century edition
after the first in 1621. Despite using much of the same material in later
prefaces, Burton still throws into question the status of the corporeal
structure by truncating the epilogue from later editions. Why should he
first include an epilogue and then choose to abrogate this important
rhetorical part? Does Burton suddenly have nothing to say after
compiling an encyclopedia? No, the cut is decisive.41 The absence of an
epilogue obviously signifies an unwillingness to complete and close off
The bulk of The Anatomy, however, represents what Burton calls
partitions. Partitio is not just a subdivision within the prescribed

602 Disfiguring the Body of Knowledge

oratorical disposition, occurring after definitio and before confirmatio,
but, more significantly, it is another instantiation of synecdochic logic.
According to Brian Vickers, the partitio was “used as an organizing basis
by many Renaissance writers—Hooker, Hobbes, Burton, especially
Bacon”; however, Vickers’s appreciation of this rhetorical method in The
Advancement of Learning and in the rest of the Baconian corpus only
corroborates Burton’s radical departure from incorporating knowl-
edge.42 With the cool precision of an anatomist, Bacon puts into practice
the partitio, beginning with the dichotomy between divine and human
learning and proceeding through clear Ramist subdivisions: “The parts
of human learning have reference to the three parts of Man’s Under-
standing, which is the seat of learning: History to his Memory, Poesy to
his Imagination, and Philosophy to his Reason.”43 Vickers admires in the
structure of Bacon’s work a strong sense of Coleridgean “organic unity”
in which parts, from generalizations to particulars, contribute to the
overall whole.44 A complete body of knowledge is made possible through
partitions that fit seamlessly together. Bacon also explains that the
partitions do not mechanically fragment the body of knowledge into
self-contained units, but divide it into mutually sustaining parts.45
Instead of using the partition to break down the corporeal structure
into its constituent parts, Burton uses the partition to throw into
question the integrity of the corporeal structure. The first partition
claims to deal with the causes and symptoms of melancholy, the second
with its cures, and the third with love melancholy. Notwithstanding her
disappointing conclusion, which recuperates textual disorder on behalf
of a modernist-sounding aesthetic, Ruth Fox’s analysis of The Anatomy’s
structure again proves informative by revealing the two incompatible
organizational systems at work in the text: the logic of thesis and
antithesis characterizes the relationship between the first and second
partition, while the logic of the division of species characterizes the
relationship between parts in the third partition. Thus the second
partition, being an examination of cures, inverts the causes of the first
partition, whereas the third partition, “a kind of distorted mirror image
of Partitions I and II,” reconfigures the disposition according to another
logic based on three kinds of love melancholy, the indefinite diseases:
heroical, jealousy, and religious. Fox explains, “by his own perverse
mathematics, Burton adds two bipartite analytical systems and comes
up with neither two divisions nor four, but three.”46 Far from fitting
together smoothly, the partitions belong to different logical orders. The
first partition already divides melancholy into three kinds—brain, body,
and hypochondriac—and then proceeds through the causes and symp-

R. Grant Williams 603

toms. In the second partition, the cures of these three kinds are
pursued. However, like a prodigy or Hydra, whose body has malformed
into multiple parts/bodies, the third partition ignores the progress of the
previous order and begins all over again four different times: by
submitting heroical melancholy to an analysis of its causes, symptoms,
and cures; by subjecting jealousy to the same threefold analysis; by
subjecting religious melancholy to the same analysis; and then finally by
subjecting despair to the same analysis. In Burton’s text, melancholy
develops in a mutated, recursive fashion.
In addition to disfiguring the synecdochic logic between partitions,
Burton disfigures the synecdochic logic within a partition. Digressions
interfere with the construction of a corporeal structure on all textual
levels. And surely, The Anatomy has really been nothing but a mass of
dislocations: large subsections such as the “Digression of Anatomy,” the
“Digression of Air,” and the digression of the misery of scholars are
caught painfully between the status of the part and the status of the
whole. A number of Burton scholars, no doubt squeamish about
admitting nonorganic form, express a desire to suture firmly into the
text The Anatomy’s digressions, feeling inclined to justify them as being
consonant with decorum; for instance, both Patricia Vicari and James
Roy King regard the digressions as pleasant diversions and implicitly
corroborate Bamborough’s later claim that “Renaissance critical theory
accepted them [digressions] as a proper part of long works.”47 These
scholars understate the role of The Anatomy’s digressions, as if they
were referring to something as long as an anecdote, not a full-length
treatise. Critics who are informed by structuralism have shown more
sensitivity to the way in which the digression operates in The Anatomy’s
disposition. For Bridget Gellert Lyons, Fox, and Hodges, the digression
is not an entertaining dalliance, but a representative of the text’s overall
structure.48 Stanley Fish summarizes this position well: “in a world
ordered (or disordered) by digressiveness, every digression is in order.”49
However, both viewpoints fail to see the disruptive difference inherent
in the part: in the first case, the digression, a common convention in
writing, is a sanctioned deformation in the disposition; and in the second
case, it becomes so central to the disposition that it does not constitute
the structural exception, but the structural rule. Yet Burton’s digression
does not work according to synecdochic logic. As common as digressions
might be to a literary text, their frequency in The Anatomy deforms the
body of knowledge, rendering the anatomical cut useless. How utterly
aberrant it would have been had Bacon, likewise, inserted digressions
into The Advancement of Learning. His body of knowledge would not

604 Disfiguring the Body of Knowledge

have appeared coordinated at all. These in-between disciplines would
have raised the possibility of unannounced digressions—deviant or
malformed parts—in other textual regions, throwing into doubt the
possibility that knowledge could ever be comprehended. Such specula-
tion on the absurdity of digressions in The Advancement of Learning
accentuates the degree to which The Anatomy disfigures knowledge.
Burton even includes within the synoptic charts and the numerical
headings of his text a place for each swollen digression, as though each
somehow did belong.50 The digression is not hidden in his text, but on
the same footing with the other malformed members. Burton is so far
removed from the corporeal structure that his disfiguring digression is
much like the one mentioned by Crooke: “Monsters Aristotle calleth
Excursions and Digressions of nature.”51
The Anatomy unequivocally fails to perform anything resembling an
anatomical cut. Whereas anatomization and incorporation look toward
comprehending a body of knowledge, disfiguration and malformation
constitute a negative dialectic, which does not allow textual parts to
relate to a textual whole. Disfiguration and malformation can only augur
a monster of knowledge, never arriving at a synthesis: the monstrous is
the always becoming disfigured or the always becoming malformed.
Whereas a body of knowledge exposes itself to the gaze of the anatomist
who knows, a monster of knowledge thwarts visual mastery. It does not
allow a subject to identify with it. And so Burton’s monster of knowledge
resists the imaginary order—to bring us back to Lacanian terms—for
Lacan basically describes a monster when describing the condition of
the subject prior to the mirror stage. Reminiscent of Kleinian psycho-
analysis, which perceives the infant as a fragmented body harboring
murderous fantasies, Lacan’s pre-imaginary subject haunts the indi-
vidual throughout his life:

This fragmented body—which term I have also introduced into our

system of theoretical references—usually manifests itself in dreams
when the movement of the analysis encounters a certain level of
aggressive disintegration in the individual. It then appears in the form of
disjointed limbs, or of those organs represented in exoscopy, growing
wings and taking up arms for intestinal persecutions—the very same
that the visionary Hieronymus Bosch has fixed, for all time, in painting,
in their ascent from the fifteenth century to the imaginary zenith of
modern man.52

In Lacanian psychoanalysis, the monster does not signify a mythical,

transcendent creature existing outside the mundane, but signifies that

R. Grant Williams 605

which subjectivity in its attempts to master identity perpetually strives
to repress. Constituting the return of the real, the monster is the
ineffable residue of the symbolic and imaginary orders, that is, the
subjective realms of language and projection.53 It is only the imaginary
gestalt of the body that psychically protects the subject from slipping
into an awareness of his or her fundamental monstrosity.
A body of knowledge thus enacts a kind of mirror stage for the reader
qua anatomist insofar as the textual parts promise a whole over which
the reader can attain control. The comprehension of the body reaffirms
the reader’s sense of mastery, which, in turn, produces self-mastery. To
know something is to know one’s self and vice versa, hence the enduring
popularity of the Socratic formula “know thyself.” However, a monster
of knowledge shatters the mirror stage of recognition for the reader who
desires to know. By disrupting synecdochic logic, The Anatomy prohib-
its the reader from mastering the text and, consequently, from entering
into an imaginary identification with knowledge. By bringing out the
monstrous in knowledge, Burton forces the reader into an extra-
imaginary condition, not only a reminder of the delusions subjectivity
projects onto textuality, but also an indication of the subject’s inescap-
able powerlessness when exposed to the real—that unknowable dimen-
sion to knowledge.
To (mis)recognize The Anatomy as a monster is to approach the
experience of the gentlewoman of Basil whose story Burton recounts.
When this gentlewoman watches a fat hog being butchered, the
“noysome savour” emitted from the entrails along with a physician’s
remark that “so was shee, full of filthy excrements” induces her to vomit
violently, distempering her mind and body to such a degree that “with
all his art and perswasions, for some months after, he could not restore
her to her selfe again” (1:335). Critics informed by synecdochic logic
would no doubt expect the physician to use the occasion of the
slaughtered pig to present an anatomy lesson; but instead, his remarks
disfigure the carcass into a monstrosity. Indeed, the remark that beneath
her skin the gentlewoman resembles such putrid amorphousness shat-
ters her imago. Burton’s reader occupies a subject position similar to
that of the Basil gentlewoman. Whereas a body of knowledge affords the
reader the opportunity to maintain an imaginary condition of mastery
over learning, The Anatomy overwhelms the reader with the undifferen-
tiated difference of textuality, thereby teaching the lesson of the real:
there is a nether side to knowledge that can never be mastered. And this
estrangement leads the reader to the (mis)recognition of a deeper
helplessness in the face of undifferentiated difference—the

606 Disfiguring the Body of Knowledge

(mis)recognition that any imagined body of knowledge has been thor-
oughly inadequate in rescuing us from our own monstrous selves.
Nipissing University
An oral version of this essay was presented at the session “Rhetorics of Dissection in
Early Modern England” at the MLA Convention in Washington (December 1996). I am
grateful to Elizabeth D. Harvey for her encouragement and advice at various stages of
this essay.
Michel Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” trans. Donald F. Bouchard and
Sherry Simon, in The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow (New York: Pantheon, 1984),
88. My epigraph is deployed not as a representative of the quotation’s rich theoretical
context but for its aphoristic relevance to my argument.
Lawrence Babb, Sanity in Bedlam: A Study of Robert Burton’s Anatomy of
Melancholy (East Lansing: Michigan State Univ. Press, 1959), 9.
Paul Jordan-Smith, Bibliographia Burtoniana: A Study of Robert Burton’s “The
Anatomy of Melancholy” (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1931), 3; Northrop Frye,
Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1971), 322. For an extensive
discussion of The Anatomy’s encyclopedic breadth see E. Patricia Vicari, The View from
Minerva’s Tower: Learning and Imagination in “The Anatomy of Melancholy” (Toronto:
Univ. of Toronto Press, 1989).
Frye, 311–12. Philip Stevick identifies the genre of anatomy as a precursor to the
novel in “Novel and Anatomy: Notes Toward an Amplification of Frye,” Criticism 10
(1968): 153–65. This generic attribution has been so prevalent with readers that Bud
Korkowski, “Genre and Satiric Strategy in Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy,” Genre 8
(1975): 74–87, rejects it wholesale, arguing that the text is instead a Menippean satire.
Devon L. Hodges, Renaissance Fictions of Anatomy (Amherst: Univ. of Massachu-
setts Press, 1985), 107, and Jonathan Sawday, The Body Emblazoned: Dissection and the
Human Body in Renaissance Culture (London: Routledge, 1995), 2–3, both allege that
The Anatomy belongs to anatomical discourse.
Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy, ed. Thomas C. Faulkner, Nicolas K.
Kiessling, and Rhonda L. Blair, 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989–1994), 1:6.
Hereafter cited parenthetically by volume and page number.
Douglas Bush has memorialized this aberration in his glib yet trenchant comment
that lodged between Bacon and Hobbes, the “two spires of the cathedral of English
scientific thought,” Burton stands out among Renaissance literature as a gargoyle
(English Literature in the Earlier Seventeenth Century, 1600–1660 [Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1962], 296).
The New Science of Giambattista Vico, trans. Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max
Harold Fisch (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1991), 130. Vico, a professor of eloquence
who spent much of his career attacking the Cartesian stranglehold on education, first
employed rhetoric as a means of recovering ancient institutions. Whereas Thomas
Sprat, History of the Royal Society (ed. Jackson I. Cope and Harold Whitmore Jones [St.
Louis: Washington Univ. Press, 1958], 113), voiced the popular view that “these
specious Tropes and Figures” came after a purely literal language, “when men delivered
so many things almost in an equal number of words,” Vico reversed the historical
sequence and in effect reversed the ontological priority given to the figurative and the

R. Grant Williams 607

literal. Because there are more things in the world than there are words, in all languages
the greater part of expressions for inanimate things are articulated by metaphors derived
from the human body and its parts. The ancient poets, for example, attributed human
senses and passions to nature: the wind whistles, the sea smiles, the waves murmur.
Hence, proper language was originally not literal at all but figurative—in other words, it
projects onto the world corporeal images. Vico opens up a kind of negative side to
knowledge, what he identifies as an “imaginative metaphysics” in contradistinction to
the “rational metaphysics” of the day.
The New Science of Giambattista Vico, 129–30.
The emergence of anatomical discourse in the Renaissance has been customarily
seen as contributing to a shift from an authoritarian paradigm to an empirical one.
Charles Joseph Singer claims that between Vesalius and Copernicus the theory of
microcosm and macrocosm was forever destroyed, The Evolution of Anatomy (New
York: Knopf Press, 1925), 122. Singer’s claim epitomizes the demystifying force often
attributed to the Renaissance scalpel.
Crooke, Microcosmographia: A Description of the Body of Man (London: W.
Jaggard, 1615), 12.
For Crooke, dissecting the body opens up the universe, revealing resemblances to
stars and angels down through the entire chain of being to plants and stones (12).
Dissecting the body opens up the body politic, teaching the mutual offices between the
principal and ignoble parts, so that princes will learn how to rule and peasants will know
how to obey (13). Dissecting the body opens up theology, allowing us to read the frame
of man’s body, “The Booke of God,” where we see the admirable power of the creator
(14). Dissecting the body opens up natural and moral philosophy, teaching the student
the singular workmanship of nature in every part and disclosing every part’s mutual
duties and offices invaluable for understanding how to rule and govern a common-
wealth, a city, a private house, or family. And lastly, dissecting the body opens up physic
and surgery, imparting the history and structure of parts, whose knowledge permits the
diagnosis, prognosis, and cure of disease.
A more famous English anatomist who is equally aware of dissection’s transdiscursive
application is William Harvey, Movement of the Heart and Blood in Animals: An
Anatomical Essay, trans. Kenneth James Franklin (Oxford: Blackwell, 1957). Harvey
begins with a celebratory hymn to the body politic in the person of Charles I. Harvey
knows that in anatomizing the heart, he is also anatomizing the body politic, because
these two disciplines share the body as a conceptual template. Since, according to
Aristotle, the heart was the most fundamental part of the body, the source of heat and
life, the king will thus receive double edification, that is, meaning from two texts in
Harvey’s naturally overcoded treatise: “You will at least be able to contemplate
simultaneously both the central organ of man’s body and the likeness of your royal
power” (3). Moreover, the modifier “at least” does not restrict the king to these concepts
alone. Many microcosmic structures could be adduced from Harvey’s treatise on the
Cultural materialist work on early modern anatomical discourse seems to point in
the direction of the imaginary order, contesting the once popular positivistic account,
which, like Singer’s, uncritically championed the Vesalian scalpel as a truth-teller.
Francis Barker, The Tremulous Private Body: Essays on Subjection (London: Methuen,
1984), makes Rembrandt’s painting The Anatomy Lesson an interpretive locus in an
overall discussion of how the state turned bodies into texts in order to discipline and
censor the emerging bourgeois subject. Glenn Harcourt, “Andreas Vesalius and the

608 Disfiguring the Body of Knowledge

Anatomy of Antique Sculpture,” Representations 17 (1987): 28–61, explores in De
Fabrica’s illustrations the relationship between art and anatomy and discovers the
representational strategies by which Vesalius elevates “anatomical science above the
world of objectified individual violation and moral ambiguity” (52). Luke Wilson,
“William Harvey’s Prelectiones: The Performance of the Body in the Renaissance
Theatre of Anatomy,” Representations 17 (1987): 62–95, argues that Harvey’s dissec-
tions possessed the dynamic of a performance, during which the anatomist reversed the
messy effects of dissecting by ritualistically reconstituting the corpse and retroactively
pardoned himself from the guilt of further punishing it. Jonathan Sawday, “The Fate of
Marsyas: Dissecting the Renaissance Body,” in Renaissance Bodies: The Human Figure
in English Culture, ed. Lucy Gent and Nigel Llewellyn (London: Reaktion Books,
1990), 111–35, delineates the network of cultural practices impinging on the portrayal
of the body’s internal structures and thereby uncovers the strategies used to transform
the anatomist’s role from that of public executioner into that of enlightened scientist
serving mankind.
From a gender perspective, Howard Marchitello, “Vesalius’ Fabrica and Shakespeare’s
Othello: Anatomy, Gender and the Narrative Production of Meaning,” Criticism 35
(1993): 529–58, argues that the female body in Vesalian discourse is not an object to
which the anatomist has unmediated access but is a textual screen onto which he
projects his fantasies of control. Marchitello reveals that Vesalius, instead of describing
the hymen as a “structure qua phenomenological object” (550), develops around the
membrane a speculative narrative on the dissected woman’s private sexuality. And,
finally, Valerie Traub, “Gendering Mortality in Early Modern Anatomies,” in Feminist
Readings of Early Modern Culture: Emerging Subjects, ed. Traub, M. Lindsay Kaplan,
and Dympna Callaghan (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996), 44–92, examines
the engraved illustrations of early modern anatomy texts in order to articulate the
process of materialization whereby the new science embodies and stabilizes gendered
differentiations. Traub draws attention to the gendered representations that are
produced as a defense, “a psychic safety net,” against the body’s abjection—its mortality
and horror (85). Each of these scholars demonstrates the principle that the anatomist’s
appeal to the empirical serves ideological or imaginary rather than strictly scientific ends
and that early modern anatomy supports agendas committed to controlling subjectivity.
For the notion of Vesalius being the father of modern anatomy, see Lind’s prefatory
remarks to The Epitome of Andreas Vesalius, trans. L. R. Lind (Cambridge: MIT Press,
1969), xvii; and Jerome Tarshis, Andreas Vesalius; Father of Modern Anatomy (New
York: Dial Press, 1969), 8.
Hodges regards Vesalius as proliferating disjecta membra. She reads the illustrations
of the De Fabrica as enacting “the breaking up of the idealized body” in order to argue
that Renaissance fictions of anatomy signal a crisis in the depiction of reality (4). Her
aesthetic reading misconstrues the epistemological telos of anatomical discourse—that
is, to master the body.
The Epitome of Andreas Vesalius, xxxiv. Vesalius follows his classical predecessor
Galen. For furnishing early theologians with a detailed apologetics, Galen’s works
became the anatomical authority accepted by the church during the middle ages; yet
Galen is by no means the first to affiliate the anatomy with the theistic argument from
design. In Plato’s Timaeus, in The Dialogues of Plato, trans. B. Jowett, vol. 3, 4th ed.
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1953), 705–80, Socrates describes the reason behind each of
the body’s many parts, while discussing how the creator made the world from the
elements of chaos. And in Cicero’s The Nature of the Gods, trans. Horace C. P.

R. Grant Williams 609

McGregor (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972), Balbus has recourse to the same argu-
mentative strategy in order to prove that a marvelously ordered creation has been
undertaken for the sake of man: “The care of the immortal gods for Man is more easily
understood if we consider the whole making of a man, the whole shaping and perfection
of a human being” (178). Balbus systematically deals with the mouth, gullet, windpipe,
stomach, etc. and concludes that “such a shape and arrangement of our limbs and such
a power of intelligence cannot have been the work of chance alone” (185).
Harcourt, 42.
Thomas Laqueur, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud
(Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1990), 77. Laqueur devotes much energy to describ-
ing the rhetoric of scientific authority in the representational practices of Renaissance
See Traub, “Gendering Mortality,” 52.
Jacques Lacan, “Aggressivity in Psychoanalysis,” in Écrits: A Selection, trans. Alan
Sheridan (New York: Norton, 1977), 17; and Lacan, “The Freudian Thing,” in Écrits,
Andreas Vesalius’ First Public Anatomy at Bologna 1540. An Eyewitness Report by
Baldasar Heseler Together with His Notes on Matthaeus Curtius’ Lectures on Anatomia
Mundini, ed. and trans. Rubin Eriksson (Uppsala: Almqvist and Wiksells, 1959), 47.
The anatomists were among the first scientific groups in the Renaissance to espouse
the priority of observable truth over the textual. Near the end of the fifteenth century,
as the Hellenist movement granted direct access to Galen’s Greek works, the assump-
tion that these recovered works, like a scriptural canon, held the answers to all medical
problems gained currency. Against this assumption, Berengario set up his Anatomy
sensiblis, the anatomy of the perceptible based upon the testimony of the senses, and
Niccolo Masa argued for an Anatomia sensata grounded in ocular demonstration. See
Roger French, “The Anatomical Tradition,” in vol. 1 of Companion Encyclopedia of the
History of Medicine, ed. W. F. Bynum and R. Porter (London: Routledge, 1993), 81–
101. But “Vesalius has always been regarded as the first modern anatomist to place his
study on a firm foundation of observation” (Singer, The Evolution of Anatomy, 119). For
Vesalius, who claimed in De Fabrica to have broken with tradition in making over 200
corrections to Galen, compendia inflict great injury on learning because their readers
“dig little or not at all beneath the surface” (The Epitome of Andreas Vesalius, xxxiv).
The unreliable, even destructive, text seems antithetically opposed to the truth-telling
procedure of dissection.
Galen also wields the anatomical procedure against sophistry: “So that ignorance on
the part of their critics may not provide the sophists with an easy line of attack, I have
laboured at the purely theoretical as well as the practically useful part of anatomy” (On
Anatomical Procedures, trans. and ed. Charles Joseph Singer [London: Oxford Univ.
Press, 1956], 285).
Plato, Phaedrus, in The Dialogues of Plato, 270 b, 264 c, 265 d, e. Plato formulates
here a version of arrangement (taxis or dispositio), the second canon of composition
whereby the orator arranges his topics in an order appropriate to his argument.
Galen, to whom Vesalius owes his reverence for the metaphysics of the part,
thoroughly illustrates anatomical discourse’s commitment to disclosing a bodily design.
When listing the four applications anatomical study might have for different individuals,
Galen mentions second the value dissection possesses for a person who wants “to
demonstrate that Nature does nought in vain,” “to show how the artifice of Nature is
worked out in every part” (On Anatomical Procedures, 286, 287).

610 Disfiguring the Body of Knowledge

“Book VII” of The Institutio Oratoria of Quintilian, vol. 3, trans. H. E. Butler
(London: Heinemann, 1920–1922), 167. Quintilian continues a little later on:
And it is not enough merely to arrange the various parts: each several part
has its own internal economy, according to which one thought will come
first, another second, another third, while we must struggle not merely to
place these thoughts in their proper order, but to link them together and
give them such cohesion that there will be no trace of any suture: they must
form a body, not a congeries of limbs. (171)
Whether used by writer or reader, anatomization is a technique for incorporating a
textual system. The greater the anatomization—knowing how the internal economy of
each part works—the greater the incorporation. And in turn the greater the incorpora-
tion, the greater the anatomization. Disposition, the textual system or structure, is thus
constructed by these two mutually enabling practices or economies.
Rosalie Littell Colie, Paradoxia Epidemica: The Renaissance Tradition of the
Paradox (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1966), 436. Another major Burton scholar,
Ruth A. Fox, assumes corporeal logic too through associating the text with synecdochic
logic: “Anatomizing in Burton’s book is the continual process of defining and dividing”
(The Tangled Chain: The Structure of Disorder in the “Anatomy of Melancholy”
[Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1976], 43).
Burton takes the legendary encounter between Hippocrates and Democritus from
“The Letter to Damagetus,” one of Hippocrates’s Pseudepigraphic Writings, ed. and
trans. Wesley D. Smith (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1990), 17. The encounter holds great
significance for Burton who recounts it twice, once briefly (1:5–6) and later at length
James Roy King provides a dated yet informative discussion of the list in The
Anatomy: the list suggests that “man viewed en masse can never be more than a
wretched impossibility, that the world is too diverse” (Studies in Six Seventeenth
Century Writers [Athens: Ohio Univ. Press, 1966], 69). For further discussions of
Burton’s lists see Joan Webber, The Eloquent “I”: Style and Self in Seventeenth-Century
Prose (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1968), 101–3; and Roger Pooley, English
Prose of the Seventeenth Century, 1590–1700 (London: Longman, 1992), 200.
Richard L. Nochimson sees Burton’s frequent use of parentheses as deriving from
his keen awareness of the reader (“Burton’s Anatomy: The Author’s Purposes and the
Reader’s Response,” Forum for Modern Language Studies 13 [1977]: 265–84).
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia
(Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1992), 43–44, provide readers with an
instructive footnote to The Anatomy when they interrogate the myth of the existence of
fragments that once belonged to an originary unity: “The whole not only coexists with all
the parts; it is contiguous to them, it exists as a product that is produced apart from them
and yet at the same time is related to them.”
Martin Heusser, The Gilded Pill: A Study of the Reader-Writer Relationship in
Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy (Tübingen: Stauffenberg, 1987), 34.
Horace, The Art of Poetry, in Satires, Epistles and Ars Poetica, trans. H. Rushton
Fairclough (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1926), 451.
“Book VII” of The Institutio Oratoria of Quintilian, 3–5. In English Renaissance
rhetoric and poetics, the monstrous disposition also surfaces only to be denounced:
Thomas Wilson, The Art of Rhetoric (1560), ed. Peter E. Medine (University Park:
Pennsylvania State Univ. Press, 1994), 183, refers negatively to the monster when
discussing the apt ordering of the oration; and Ben Jonson, Discoveries, 1641; Conver-

R. Grant Williams 611

sations with William Drummond of Hawthornden, 1619, ed. G. B. Harrison (New York:
Barnes and Noble, 1966), 102, refers negatively to it when discussing the properly
proportioned drama.
With his revolutionary paper “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the
Human Sciences,” Derrida marks a terminal branch in the genealogy of classical
rhetoric insofar as he bears witness to a prodigious birth in the offing, after having
deconstructed the epistemic authority of “structure,” a close relation to dispositio.
Unlike Plato and Quintilian, he heralds the advent of another corporeality “under the
species of the nonspecies, in the formless, mute, infant, and terrifying form of
monstrosity” and could just as well be writing a preface to The Anatomy, which on the
level of practice, rather than theory, also marks a terminal branch in this genealogy.
Jacques Derrida, “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,”
trans. Alan Bass, in Critical Theory Since 1965, ed. Hazard Adams and Leroy Searle
(Tallahassee: Florida State Univ. Press, 1986), 94.
Fish’s groundbreaking chapter in Self-Consuming Artifacts: The Experience of
Seventeenth-Century Literature (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1972), 303–52,
focuses solely on the preface; and most literary critics would approve of Martin
Heusser’s claim that the preface is “an indispensable guide” through The Anatomy (46).
Wilson, The Art of Rhetoric (1560), 50.
Fox, 203.
For connections between Burton and Erasmus, see Rosalie L. Colie, “Some Notes
on Burton’s Erasmus,” Renaissance Quarterly 20 (1967): 335–41.
Valerie Traub rightly asserts, “By dismembering the individual corpse, anatomy
spatializes, externalizes, and conceptually rebuilds a generic body, a ‘corpus of mental
categories,’ a ‘body-as-knowledge’” (“Gendering Mortality,” 49).
The editors of the Clarendon edition rationalize this truncation by arguing that
Burton adds substantial homiletic revisions to the “Cure of Despaire” in 1624 and thus
renders the epilogue “inappropriate” (3:466). But the “Cure of Despaire,” belonging to
the third partition, does not constitute its own separate section. Logically, Burton could
have either written a new epilogue or identified this new homiletic material on despair
as an epilogue.
Brian Vickers, Classical Rhetoric in English Poetry (Carbondale: Southern Illinois
Univ. Press, 1989), 67. When examining The Anatomy, Sukanta Chaudhuri corroborates
the widespread use of this rhetorical technique: “the partitio was a common tool of
Renaissance methodology” (Infirm Glory: Shakespeare and the Renaissance Image of
Man [Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1981], 76).
For Quintilian, partitio should simplify and clarify our speech, for those who “split up
their argument into a thousand tiny compartments . . . fall into that very obscurity which
the partition was designed to eliminate” (“Book IV” of The Institutio Oratoria of
Quintilian, vol. 2, trans. H. E. Butler [London: Heinemann, 1920–1922], 149).
Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning, in Francis Bacon, ed. Brian Vickers
(Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1996), 175. The Ramist method is equally corporeal-
centric in its aim to arrange many arguments into the optimal order. It betrays its
anatomical cut through an attention to synecdochic logic: Walter Ong says, “The
method of teaching, therefore, is the arrangement of various things brought down from
universal and general principles to the underlying singular parts, by which arrangement
the whole matter can be more easily taught and comprehended” (Ramus, Method, and
the Decay of Dialogue [Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1958], 245). The Ramist
method perpetuates the legacy of anatomization and incorporation and, as such,

612 Disfiguring the Body of Knowledge

functions as an economizing practice for collecting, organizing, and promulgating
coherent bodies of knowledge.
Brian Vickers, Francis Bacon and Renaissance Prose (London: Cambridge Univ.
Press, 1968), 30.
Bacon says, “that all partitions of knowledges be accepted rather for lines and veins,
than for sections and separations; and that the continuance and entireness of knowledge
be preserved” (205).
Fox, 126, 127–28.
J. B. Bamborough, introduction to The Anatomy of Melancholy, 1:xxvii. For Roy
King, Quintilian’s and Sterne’s view of the digression as rhetorically pleasant and
delightful represents The Anatomy well (82). And Patricia Vicari also says that Burton
complies with the Renaissance custom of the digression being a refreshing diversion
Bridget Gellert Lyons moves from digression to digression, finding particular use
values for each, because the “same play of wit” is involved in the digressions as in the
“very rigid formal plan” (Voices of Melancholy: Studies in Literary Treatments of
Melancholy in Renaissance England [New York: Barnes and Noble, 1971], 126).
According to Fox, the digressions “are part of Burton’s very formal construct,” and she
thus hopes “to show that they are also essential thematic constituents of the Anatomy”
(51). Hodges too links the digression to an overall structural strategy (122). And Michael
O’Connell regards the main digressions as performing for the reader’s benefit a therapy
of knowledge (Robert Burton [Boston: Twayne, 1986], 63–67).
Fish, 331.
But, as David Renaker observes, the tables start out with controlled dichotomies
only to end up sprawled across the page in overstated baroque abstruseness. Far from
dividing melancholy into manageable members for pedagogical force, the tables—the
reader’s ostensible map—compound the difficulties of an already disfigured text
(“Robert Burton and Ramist Method,” Renaissance Quarterly 24 [1971]: 210–20).
Crooke, 299.
Melanie Klein, “Some Theoretical Conclusions Regarding the Emotional Life of
the Infant,” in Envy and Gratitude and Other Works 1946–63 (London: Hogarth Press,
1980), 61–93. Jacques Lacan, “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I
as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience,” in Écrits, 4–5. See also Lacan’s “Aggressivity
in Psychoanalysis,” 11–12.
Slavoj Žižek provides alternative commentary on the Lacanian monster: “The
subject is the non-substance, he ex-sists only as nonsubstantial self-relating which
maintains its distance from inner-worldly objects; yet in monsters, this subject encoun-
ters the Thing which is his impossible equivalent—the monster is the subject himself,
conceived as Thing” (Enjoy Your Symptom!: Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and Out [New
York: Routledge, 1992], 137).

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