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Cruel Delight

Enlightenment Culture and the Inhuman

James A Steintrager

Publication Year: 2004

"An important contribution to studies of eighteenth-century culture and to literary history and theory and for those with an interest in horror, sentimentality, the invention of the modern individual, and ethics of 'the human.'"
-Daniel Cottom, David A. Burr Chair of Letters, University of Oklahoma

Cruel Delight: Enlightenment Culture and the Inhuman investigates the fascination with joyful malice in eighteenth-century Europe and how this obsession helped inform the very meaning of humanity. Steintrager reveals how the understanding of cruelty moved from an inexplicable, apparently paradoxical "inhuman" pleasure in the misfortune of others to an eminently human trait stemming from will and freedom. His study ranges from ethical philosophy and its elaboration of moral monstrosity as the negation of sentimental benevolence, to depictions of cruelty-of children mistreating animals, scientists engaged in vivisection, and the painful procedures of early surgery-in works such as William Hogarth's "The Four Stages of Cruelty," to the conflict between humane sympathy and radical liberty illustrated by the writings of the Marquis de Sade. In each instance, the wish to deny a place for cruelty in an enlightened world reveals a darker side: a deep investment in depravity, a need to reenact brutality in the name of combating it, and, ultimately, an erotic attachment to suffering.

Published by: Indiana University Press

TItle Page, Copyright

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pp. v


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

Of the many people who helped guide this project on its way to fruition, I owe thanks foremost to Dorothea von M

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pp. xi-xviii

Although we might find it odd today, many eighteenth-century thinkers located the origins of moral monstrosity in the powers of imagination. David Hume in The Natural History of Religion (1757) thus writes concerning our propensity for belief, “The primary religion of mankind arises chiefly from anxious fear ...

PART I The Inhuman

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pp. 1

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1 The Model of Moral Monstrosity

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pp. 3-17

What did it mean to call someone “inhuman” in the eighteenth century? How was moral monstrosity understood? Furthermore, why was it understood in a certain way? These are the questions that I will attempt to answer in this part of my argument, focusing on philosophical texts, primarily from the domain of ethics. ...

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2 The Paradox of Inhumanity

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pp. 18-34

In the previous chapter, some of the basic logical problems with the model of monstrosity were broached. The definition of “inhumanity” in the Encyclopedia encapsulates these problems: “vice that places us outside of our species, that makes us cease to be men; hardness of heart concerning which nature seems to have made us incapable.”1 ...

PART II Curiosity Killed the Cat

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pp. 35

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3 Animals and the Mark of the Human

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pp. 37-59

Let me open this next part of my case by risking a generalization: over the years and in different locations cats have had to endure various significations foisted on them by humans. More to the point, cats in the eighteenth century often had a specific totemic function: they were the animal analogue of the moral monster. ...

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4 The Monstrous Face of Curiosity

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pp. 60-84

The historian Reinhart Koselleck has argued that the formation of groups depends on the use of what he calls asymmetric counterconcepts. Pairings such as Greek/barbarian, Christian/heathen, and human/non-human or inhuman provide the semantic underpinnings of various, differently structured, inclusions and exclusions. ...

PART III The Bedside Manner of the Marquis de Sade

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pp. 85

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5 Science and Insensibility

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pp. 87-114

On April 3, 1768, Easter Sunday, the young count de Sade abused a Strasbourgeoise by the name of Rose Keller, some thirty-six years of age. Sade had found her begging on the Place des Victoires in Paris. She had apparently just left mass, but the area was known as a haunt for prostitutes. Sade brought Keller to his house ...

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6 The Ethics and Aesthetics of Human Vivisection

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pp. 115-145

The Sadean gaze looks at sensibility from the point of view of objectivity without abandoning sensibility, and it thus introduces a fundamental change into what Foucault described as the classical episteme. On the one hand, the sensible spectator no longer lies in the blind spot of scientific observation. ...

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pp. 146-150

An important aspect of my argument has been that apparently disparate realms such as ethical philosophy, aesthetics, journalism, the visual arts, and libertine fiction have much in common when it comes to the question of inhumanity. The construction of moral monstrosity in the works of Shaftesbury and Hutcheson, ...


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pp. 151-192

Select Bibliography

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pp. 193-202


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pp. 203-208

E-ISBN-13: 9780253110695
E-ISBN-10: 0253110696
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253343673

Page Count: 232
Illustrations: 28 b&w photos, 1 bibliog., 1 index
Publication Year: 2004