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Special Issue: Passion, Perception, Performance

Abstracts 93.1

Special Issue: Passion, Perception, Performance

Edited by Tili Boon Cuillé and Julie Singer

“Dark Transparencies: Crystal Poetics in Medieval Texts and Beyond” by Marissa Galvez

A comparative reading of secular medieval literature of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries nuances our modern preoccupation with things as challenging a human-centered view of the world.  Courtly texts exhibit a hermeneutic tension between an object such as stone that could hold meaning for the human interpreter, and a formless, transforming thing with various physical effects in particular moments or through time—what I shall call a “substantive” materiality. In examples that range from descriptions of palaces in the Latin east to vernacular courtly romance and lyric (Le Roman de la Rose, Gottfried’s Tristan, troubadour lyric), crystal acts as a medium for illusory effects and multiple sensory experiences that often celebrate carnal love and erotic desire.  Moments when crystal should symbolize a transparency associated with universal knowledge are the same moments that are the least transparent.  Rather than standing as a symbol of crystalline wisdom, crystal disrupts contemporary frameworks of thinking about stones established in lapidary and iconographic traditions by allowing for the perceived sensual pleasure of a formless, material substance.

“Tragedy and Outrage: Hardy’s Scédase” by John D. Lyons

This article argues that the representation of violent crime in early modern tragedy fits neither neo-Aristotelian conceptions of hamartia nor the subsequently widespread views of the nineteenth-century idealism, with its emphasis on “tragic sublimity” and transcendence of suffering.  The example of Alexandre Hardy’s French tragedy Scédase, ou l’Hospitalité violée [Scédase, or Hospitality Violated], composed ca. 1605-15 and published in 1624, instead suggests an anti-cathartic aesthetic in which the audience would be stirred to anger at an unjust cosmic and social order.  The eponymous protagonist’s “mistake” is to trust in human and divine law, and his experience, following the rape and murder of his daughters, leads him to profess  atheistic and socially critical views at a time when freethinkers with similar views were being severely repressed.

“Subject of Passions: Charles Le Brun and the Emotions of Absolutism” by Chloé Hogg 

Putting Charles Le Brun’s painting Les Reines de Perse aux pieds d’Alexandre in dialogue with the artist’s influential treatise on the visual representation of emotions, Conférence sur l’expression générale et particulière, this article rethinks the affective economy of absolutism through a wider palette of emotions than is traditionally acknowledged. Le Brun’s painting cultivates the subject of absolutism as a feeling subject through aesthetic and affective choice. Les Reines de Perse thus depicts an impossible mistake: the misrecognition of a king that founds the absolute monarch’s power on a feeling of choice. If the painting and its different intertexts define the feeling subject of absolutism, however, they also reveal the possibility of a counter-affect in the passion of wonder.

 “Going Cataleptic: Ecstatic Extremes and ‘Deep’ Thinking in and around Diderot” by Anne Vila

 Catalepsy is not a term often used in historical narratives of the French Enlightenment.  It was, however, during this period that catalepsy emerged as a medical problem and infiltrated the vocabulary of French literature, aesthetics, and moral philosophy--trends tied both to the period's glorification of genius and ecstasy, and to its concern over the pathological effects of intense passions. Eighteenth-century discussions of catalepsy crystallized around three sorts of figures: the "deep" thinker utterly absorbed in thought; the religious enthusiast; and the individual deemed vulnerable to debilitating nervous excitation tied to chagrin.   This essay surveys how those figures were depicted by physicians and moral philosophers, with particular emphasis on Dr. Samuel-Auguste Tissot.  It also examine selected literary stagings of catalepsy, ecstasy, and mental absorption in the works of Denis Diderot. Finally, it considers the divergent paths (aesthetic vs. medical) which these concepts took in early nineteenth-century French culture.

“The Stage Art of Brotherhood: Sentimental Dramaturgy and Mid-Century Franc-Maçonnerie” by Pannill Camp

Masonic rituals drew upon subject matter and narratives similar to those found in neoclassical tragedy, and managed bodies and spaces in discernibly theatrical ways. But it is the fusion of pathetic, tearful sentiment to bonds that modeled archetypal masculine relationships that most palpably links Masonic ritual to the theater culture of eighteenth-century France. Freemasonry also likely informed French dramaturgy. The valorization of artificial paternal, filial, and fraternal bonds central to Freemasonry became a prevalent theme in French drama in the third quarter of the century. French versions of The London Merchant, which had an outsized impact on the development of French drame, suggest that, regardless of playwrights’ affiliations with Freemasonry, the passionate male bonds promoted by the brotherhood informed late-Enlightenment French dramatic literature.