Academic journal article Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies

Introduction

Academic journal article Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies

Introduction

Article excerpt

This issue of the Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies opens with an archaeology of the terrifying clown, a phenomenon not as oxymoronic as it may first appear and one that is familiar to anyone who has set foot in a movie theater or watched late-night television in the past twenty years. Two other essays in this issue deal with the disciplining of bodies in early modern culture, one through the figure of the posture-master, and the other through an examination of bodies and statistics in abolition debates. Discipline comes to the forefront in the remaining essay, which considers the theory and practice of educating women in the eighteenth century.

Andrew McConnell Stott investigates the apparently contradictory but, he argues, not uncommon tension between clowns as both comic and terrifying figures. In his essay, "Clowns on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown: Dickens, Coulrophobia, and the Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi," Stott argues that twentieth-century frightening and violent clowns find their ancestors in the British clown Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837). Grimaldi, who suffered from debilitating depression, incarnated the contrast between the laughing figure on stage and the melancholic loner; situated on the edge between illness and hysteria, he also suffered from an incapacitating muscular disease that lefthim unable to walk. The tension between Grimaldi's theatricality and the breakdown of his mental health and his body, Stott argues, created a clown who witnesses the process of his own obsolescence.

Tonya Howe's essay, "'All deformed Shapes': Figuring the Posture-Master as Popular Performer in Early Eighteenth-Century England," offers a fascinating glimpse into the performative and textual lives of this early eighteenthcentury phenomenon. By the nineteenth century, the term posture-master had evolved into its better-known linguistic descendant, the contortionist. Through an excavation of the posture-master's early textual history-using advertisements and periodical accounts-Howe deftly demonstrates how this figure embodies modern anxieties. As she argues, these anxieties are about entertainment, whether through the power of curiosity to deform or the meanings of the human body. As Howe argues, "These performers provide a new lens on the variety of area studies marked by an investment in embodiment. In freak studies and the history of aesthetics, in body theory and disability studies, in the history of science and the discourses of ostensibly deviant behavior, the posture-master's hidden voice can and should be heard. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.