Voluptuous Philosophy: Literary Materialism in the French by Natania Meeker

By Natania Meeker

Eighteenth-century France witnessed the increase of topic itself-in types starting from atoms to anatomies-as a privileged item of analysis. Voluptuous Philosophy redefines what's at stake within the emergence of an enlightened secular materialism via displaying how questions of figure-how should still a physique be represented? What should still the consequences of this illustration be on readers?-are tellingly and continually situated on the very center of 18th-century debates concerning the nature of fabric substance. French materialisms of the Enlightenment are crucially invested not just within the improvement of a worldly theoretical equipment round the suggestion of topic yet within the creation of particular relationships among readers and the matterof the texts that they devour. How, the ebook asks, did the period's fascination with a markedly immaterial and ephemeral event-the examining of works of fiction-come to coincide with what seems to be a gentle materialization of human topics: women and men who more and more be able to envision themselves transfigured, because the century wears on, into machines, animals, or even, within the paintings of the Marquis de Sade, tables and chairs? In what manner did the unfold of latest philosophies of topic rely on the power of readers to understand sure figures of speech as actually and instantly true-to think themselves as absolutely fabric our bodies whilst they discovered themselves so much deeply pressured by means of disembodied literary varieties? extra generally, in what feel does the act of analyzing literature modify and transfigure our perceptions of what's, and will be, actual? Voluptuous Philosophy articulates the sluggish getting into being of literature as a special area of textual creation with the increase of an enlightened reader who is still abstracted from the physically signs that any given piece of writing could set off in him. The very definition of the literaryas an self reliant box, this booklet indicates, may perhaps, mockingly, be based upon the simultaneous development of a cloth international that continues to be absolutely resistant to its results.

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75 In the opening passages of the ‘‘Discours,’’ Bougainville depicts Lucretius and Polignac as each engaging in a specific production of materiality by means of their writings. In what is in fact a rather Lucretian gesture on the part of Bougainville, knowledge is initially rendered in an effort to concretize itself in and through matter. Bougainville structures the competing philosophies of the two great poets—Lucretius and Polignac—as contrasting substances, where Lucretius’s dissolving clouds of atoms are played against the ‘‘heft’’ of Polignac’s Cartesian method.

6 Does the earthly voluptas of Lucretius indeed come into its own in the pleasure-seeking eighteenth century,7 and should we see in this focus on the mechanisms of corporeal enjoyment a confirmation of the importance of materialism in general for an enlightened understanding of human subjectivity? From one perspective, the private interest of the materialist philosophers of the second half of the Enlightenment in a poem often decried as a locus classicus of antitheological eudaemonism appears quite characteristic of what has been portrayed as the radicalization of French materialism that takes place toward the end of the century.

Instead, truth and error—both sensually inviting—seek to win readers’ hearts (instead of their minds), to engage our physiological responses to beauty, rather than our intellectual grasp of method. If the gorgeous song of error can never be drowned out, then truth must be made to sing harmoniously as well. While no ‘‘true’’ doctrine can lead to the final silencing of the Lucretian siren—whose appeal, it seems from this passage, is remarkably enduring—Polignac may at least intervene to rescue those readers who would otherwise follow their passions to their own demise (as did Lucretius himself in swallowing the poison that drove him mad).

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