The Telling of the Act: Sexuality as Narrative in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century France

The Telling of the Act: Sexuality as Narrative in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century France

The Telling of the Act: Sexuality as Narrative in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century France

The Telling of the Act: Sexuality as Narrative in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century France

Synopsis

"This study describes the emergence of a new thematic regime that comes together during the second half of the eighteenth century, and takes on a recognizably modern shape in the course of the nineteenth. The change decribed here is quite profound, although it does not take the form of a seismic event. It is, rather, the net effect of a long process of thematic drift and realignment." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

This book undertakes two apparently discrete tasks in parallel, and attempts to show that one cannot properly be carried out without the other. The primary task, or at least the more readily located by discipline, is to contribute to the history of sexuality, focusing on representations of desire, pleasure, and gender in French erotic literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The second task is a form of critique: I seek to identify the components of a discourse that organizes sexuality in strictly narrative terms, and to relativize its claims to universality. The point of this introduction is to spell out what I understand by each of these tasks, and to demonstrate their relatedness.

The history of sexuality most often takes as its starting point the work of Michel Foucault, and functions as a quasi-disciplinary space founded on his insights. Its uses of Foucault’s work are often rather loose, however, and this can result in a failure to enter properly into the opportunities opened up by Histoire de la sexualité. Foucault’s work is misread, I suggest, when it is taken as an invitation to go looking for sexuality in all its manifestations, historical or anthropological, as if there were recognizable forms of the same libidinal reality simply waiting to be found in various cultures. There is some such misreading even in Gaétan Brulotte’s wonderfully elaborate thematic study, Œuvres de chair, which refers frequently to Foucault, but which holds fast to the certainty that, at some level, “the flesh” named in the title is everywhere the same. Foucault’s argument is that the discourse in which and by which we know sexuality is itself a particular historical formation, coming together in its fullness only in the late nineteenth century with the emergence of sexual pathology and psychoanalysis. That is why, as he added some . . .

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