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Enlightened Pleasures

Enlightened Pleasures: Eighteenth-Century France and the New Epicureanism

Thomas M. Kavanagh
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Enlightened Pleasures
    Book Description:

    Novelists, artists, and philosophers of the eighteenth century understood pleasure as a virtue-a gift to be shared with one's companion, with a reader, or with the public. In this daring new book, Thomas Kavanagh overturns the prevailing scholarly tradition that views eighteenth-century France primarily as the incubator of the Revolution. Instead, Kavanagh demonstrates how the art and literature of the era put the experience of pleasure at the center of the cultural agenda, leading to advances in both ethics and aesthetics.

    Kavanagh shows that pleasure is not necessarily hedonistic or opposed to Enlightenment ideals in general; rather, he argues that the pleasure of individuals is necessary for the welfare of their community.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16285-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction: A New Epicureanism
    (pp. 1-9)

    Pleasure lies always to the dark side. Most often reduced to a dubious luxuriance within sensation, it is condemned by the Christian as an appetite of fallen nature, by the Marxist as a perquisite of expropriated value, and by the Freudian as a surrender to raw id. Whatever one’s ideological position, pleasure smacks of egotism or shameful privilege. When Roland Barthes chose to use the word in the title ofThe Pleasure of the Text,he felt obliged to make explicit his understanding that, at the very mention of that word, two censors always stand ready to pounce: “the political...

  4. 1. The Pleasures of Failure: Jourdan’s Le Guerrier philosophe
    (pp. 10-30)

    Pleasure may well, as Hegel said of history, exist only in writing, only in the stories that portray it. As an experience, pleasure is one with, and limited to, the senses. As a reality endowed with meaning, however, pleasure becomes perceptible for others only through representation. Only written or pictured pleasure extends beyond its present and offers itself to others who might experience it vicariously. To represent pleasure is to strain toward a form that must be as tangible and immediate as possible. Yet, try as it might, the enterprise of writing pleasure always comes up short, always turns pleasure...

  5. 2. Mirroring Pleasure: La Morlière’s Angola
    (pp. 31-51)

    In spite of its publication date of 1744, Jourdan’sLe Guerrier philosopheremains close in spirit to the culture and preoccupations of the much earlier novel it invokes as its explicit model: Lafayette’sLa Princesse de Clèves,of 1678. Rooted in an esthetic of exemplarity,Le Guerrier philosopheassumes that pleasure’s depiction will, no matter how complicated its course, ultimately serve the goal of moral instruction. Jourdan’s novel includes, seriatim and often as intercalated tales, stories of characters who intersect with and determine one another’s fates. The stories they actually tell, however, concern each of them separately as individuals trying...

  6. 3. Life-Writing as Epicurean Allegory: Thérèse philosophe
    (pp. 52-70)

    During the eighteenth century, pleasure—its genesis, impediments, rewards, and ruses—became a master plot, the most telling story anyone had to tell. Full-fledged autobiography, putting the self into writing, may officially begin with Rousseau’sConfessions.Well before him, as we saw with Jourdan’sGuerrier philosophe,the first-person narrative of the memoir novel—a looser, less fervid, and less tortured form of prose fiction—offered countless versions of pleasure’s story as a catalyst of identity, the most revealing dimension of exemplary individuality. It is within those narratives that we begin to find evidence of an “Enlightenment self” clearly different from...

  7. 4. The Esthetics of Pleasure: Du Bos and Boucher
    (pp. 71-102)

    Paintings have a curious way of moving to center stage in each of the novels we have examined. For Sophie in Jourdan’sGuerrier philosophe,her aunt’s gallery of departure scenes from antiquity speaks of men’s faithlessness with a force that Lafayette’sLa Princesse de Clèvessimply cannot achieve. Yet those same images speak to the Chevalier of the true hero’s higher duty to his destiny. For Angola, it is the enchantment born of his fascination with the minipainting of Luzéide’s portrait that leads him onto the dangerous path of preferring charms that exist only in the imagination over those of...

  8. 5. Rousseau’s Eudemony of Liberty
    (pp. 103-127)

    Boucher’s celebration ofles grâcesin their most alluringly bodily form eloquently illustrates how the eighteenth century’s esthetics of pleasure challenged Christianity’s contempt for the senses. His art, working in a different register, can be seen as another version ofThérèse philosophe’s insurgency against the Church’s demonizing of the flesh. The Enlightenment certainly included Kant’s daring to know; but it also extended to a daring to feel, to experience, and to relish the pleasures that feeling brought. In the same way that the Enlightenment based its epistemology on the senses and their ability to know the world, it recast its...

  9. 6. Laclos’ Anthropology of Pleasure
    (pp. 128-148)

    Conceptualizing pleasure was never an uncomplicated enterprise in eighteenth-century France. As Rousseau illustrates, there emerged in the second half of the century a new set of reasons why pleasure, when compared to its other-directed cousin of happiness, came to be associated with appetites and situations seen as dubious if not immoral. Even for those who rejected Christian idealism, pleasure evoked a dimension of human experience too redolent of the sensual and the selfish. If pleasure had to blush in the polite company of happiness, things became even more complicated when one raised the question of what might be a woman’s...

  10. 7. Recasting the Epicurean Novel: Mirabeau’s La Morale des sens
    (pp. 149-170)

    What was the fate of the new Epicureanism so closely associated with the giddy effervescence of France at midcentury in the very different context of the decade leading up to the Bastille and Revolution? How did the novel portray enlightened pleasures for a readership that, for almost two decades, had been fascinated with the ethos of sentiment introduced by Rousseau’sJulieand its epic of virtuous self-denial? What relevance could stories of serial seductions by privileged males have within a society that more and more explicitly challenged the prerogatives of birth?Les Liaisons dangereusesof 1783 offers some answers to...

  11. 8. Theaters of Pleasure
    (pp. 171-206)

    Eighteenth-century France was smitten with theater. With our focus on the period’s well-known novelists and philosophers, it is easy to overlook the fact that, as Henri d’Alméras put it, “the French have always loved theater, but never as much as during the eighteenth century.”¹ For that claim to make sense, we must think of theater, not in terms of such august institutions as the Comédie-Française, but as an astoundingly widespread cultural practice, a form of conviviality and socializing that found its place at all levels of society. From rowdy pantomimes inspired by the publicfoiresto private performances in the...

  12. Conclusion: From Pleasure to Happiness
    (pp. 207-218)

    My argument in the preceding chapters has been that it was as pleasure emerged over the course of the eighteenth century as a value to be sought after, luxuriated in, scrutinized, shared, and regretted that a new philosophy of Epicurean materialism reconfigured literature, the arts, and theater. That contention inevitably suggests a question: how and for what reasons did this fascination with the lessons of pleasure come to an end? We have seen flashes of an answer in Rousseau’s political writings, in Mirabeau’s rejection ofJulie’s new ethos of sentiment, and in erotic theater’s sometimes trenchant satire. While it is...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 219-242)
  14. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 243-244)
  15. Index
    (pp. 245-254)