restricted access Eroticizing the Fronde: Sexual Deviance and Political Disorder in the Mazarinades
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Eroticizing the Fronde: Sexual Deviance and Political Disorder in the Mazarinades Lewis C. Seifert M ANY RECENT STUDIES have explored the links between sex­ uality and power in periods of political upheaval. Work by Neil Hertz and Lynn Hunt, among others, has detailed how in specific moments of revolt or revolution the questioning of social or political hierarchies is expressed in terms of sexual disorder.1In pamphlets and engravings, but also in works of “high” art, the threat of social or polit­ ical instability is sometimes given a decidedly sexual turn—political satire becomes political pornography. One explanation of this phenomenon can be found in the specter of death that defines eroticism, but also in social and political upheaval. If eroticism, in a broad sense, is defined as the transgression of prohibitions regulating the uses of violence, which is itself inseparable from death, then moments of revolt or revolution are inherently erotic(ized).2 More precisely, in periods of revolt or revolu­ tion, in which the balance between transgression and prohibitions is dis­ rupted, the immanence of death through violence (re)appears. When this happens, the erotic is at least potentially evoked as a means of displaying and combatting death and violence—in short, political disorder. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that there is a substantial erotic (or pornographic) pamphlet literature for many periods of political unrest, especially in the early modern period. Consider France alone for a moment (but the phenomenon is not specific to that country). Besides the Revolution, whose numerous pornographic pamphlets have been (and continue to be) widely studied, the Wars of Religion in the sixteenth cen­ tury, the Fronde in the seventeenth century, and several moments of political unrest in the nineteenth century each have a corresponding corpus of polemic erotic texts.3To be sure, not all revolts or revolutions follow this model (e.g., peasant uprisings) and, contrariwise, non­ violent political opposition also adopts erotic modes of expression (e.g., pre-Revolutionary eighteenth-century pamphlets). Yet, the sudden appearance and virulence of erotic satire during revolts and revolutions 22 Su m m er 1995 Seife r t are noteworthy. If sexual and political power are indeed inseparable, and if the erotic is at least potentially a recurrent discourse in moments of revolt or revolution, then this discourse becomes a valuable source of information for both the history of sexuality and the history of political contention. It is valuable not only because it metaphorizes civil unrest, but also because it demonstrates how sexuality and gender are con­ structed and the extent to which these can be disrupted or contested at a given moment. The political pamphlets known as mazarinades4that flooded France during the Fronde (1648-1652)5included a number of sexually allusive or explicit texts. Although the mazarinades that might be classified as por­ nographic are a distinct minority in this corpus of over 5200 titles, a wide range of pamphlets include more veiled sexual allusions.6 In whatever form, these descriptions most often cast Cardinal Mazarin as a sexual deviant. That these descriptions evoked the violence of social and polit­ ical turmoil is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that the most sexually explicit mazarinades were published during one of three moments when Mazarin was the particular target of attacks: in 1649 during the blockade of Paris (one of the most prolific periods in the production of mazari­ nades) or immediately following the Peace of Rueil (the conclusion of the Fronde parlementaire)', in 1651, after Mazarin’s flight from France; or in 1652, just prior to the bloody confrontation between Condé’s troops and the Parisian supporters of the Parlement-Court alliance (another period of intense pamphlet production).7In these particular moments, the spec­ tacle of deviance is meant to reestablish the balance between the prohibi­ tions surrounding sexuality and their transgression. Indeed, contrary to most early modern pornography, the sexual satire of Mazarin is pre­ sented as a means of regaining the pre-ordained political and moral order.8But the (re)affirmation of political and sexual order via deviance is often ambiguous—both productive and counter-productive. This essay will argue that the Fronde had momentous and ambiguous effects on the cultural...