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Mesmerism, Spiritism, and Occultism in Modern France
At a fascinating moment in French intellectual history, an interest in matters occult was not equivalent to a rejection of scientific thought; participants in séances and magic rituals were seekers after experimental data as well as spiritual truth. A young astronomy student wrote of his quest: "I am not in the presence or under the influence of any evil spirit: I study Spiritism as I study mathematics." He did not see himself as an ecstatic visionary but rather as a sober observer. For him, the darkened room of occult practice was as much laboratory as church.
In an evocative history of alternative religious practices in France in the second half of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, John Warne Monroe tells the interconnected stories of three movements-Mesmerism, Spiritism, and Occultism. Adherents of these groups, Monroe reveals, attempted to "modernize" faith by providing empirical support for metaphysical concepts. Instead of trusting theological speculation about the nature of the soul, these believers attempted to gather tangible evidence through Mesmeric experiments, séances, and ceremonial magic. While few French people were active Mesmerists, Spiritists, or Occultists, large segments of the educated general public were familiar with these movements and often regarded them as fascinating expressions of the "modern condition," a notable contrast to the Catholicism and secular materialism that prevailed in their culture.
Featuring eerie spirit photographs, amusing Daumier lithographs, and a posthumous autograph from Voltaire, as well as extensive documentary evidence, Laboratories of Faith gives readers a sense of what being in a séance or a secret-society ritual might actually have felt like and why these feelings attracted participants. While they never achieved the transformation of human consciousness for which they strove, these thinkers and believers nevertheless pioneered a way of "being religious" that has become an enduring part of the Western cultural vocabulary.
Maurice Blanchot's Exilic Writing
Writing, Maurice Blanchot taught us, is not something that is in one's power. It is, rather, a search for a non-power that refuses mastery, order, and all established authority. For Blanchot, this search was guided by an enigmatic exigency, an arresting rupture, and a promise of justice that required endless contestation of every usurping authority, an endless going out toward the other."The step/not beyond" ("le pas au-delà") names this exilic passage as it took form in his influential later work, but not as a theme or concept, since its "step" requires a transgression of discursive limits and any grasp afforded by the labor of the negative. Thus, to follow "the step/not beyond" is to follow a kind of event in writing, to enter a movement that is never quite captured in any defining or narrating account.Last Steps attempts a practice of reading that honors the exilic exigency even as it risks drawing Blanchot's reflective writings and fragmentary narratives into the articulation of a reading. It brings to the fore Blanchot's exceptional contributions to contemporary thought on the ethico-political relation, language, and the experience of human finitude. It offers the most sustained interpretation of The Step Not Beyond available, with attentive readings of a number of major texts, as well as chapters on Levinas and Blanchot's relation to Judaism. Its trajectory of reading limns the meaning of a question from The Infinite Conversation that implies an opening and a singular affirmation rather than a closure: "How had he come to will the interruption of the discourse?"
Vol. 226 (2009) through current issue
Le Mouvement Social addresses recent developments in social history. The journal's initial focus on the history of collective movements and professional organizations has since been broadened to include other subfields within social history and beyond: the history of labor and the economy; the social history of politics, public policies and the state; cultural history and the history of representations; the history of gender relations, immigration and social mobility. The journal covers the contemporary period broadly defined, from the first years of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twenty-first. The journal's objective is to promote a pluralist social history, located at the intersection with sociology, economics, ethnography, anthropology, demography, political science and legal studies. Fostering interdisciplinary dialogue is one of its core missions. We welcome article submissions dealing with all geographical and cultural fields. Keeping with recent historiographical developments, Le Mouvement Social encourages comparative studies as well as studies varying the scale of observation between the local and the global. Finally, through its "Controversies" section Le Mouvement Social remains a space for contest and debate on a large range of social-scientific approaches and historiographical renewals.
Published between 1762 and 1765, these writings are the last works Rousseau wrote for publication during his lifetime. Responding in each to the censorship and burning of Emile and Social Contract, Rousseau airs his views on censorship, religion, and the relation between theory and practice in politics.
The Letter to Beaumont is a response to a Pastoral Letter by Christophe de Beaumont, Archbishop of Paris (also included in this volume), which attacks the religious teaching in Emile. Rousseau's response concerns the general theme of the relation between reason and revelation and contains his most explicit and boldest discussions of the Christian doctrines of creation, miracles, and original sin.
In Letters Written from the Mountain, a response to the political crisis in Rousseau's homeland of Geneva caused by a dispute over the burning of his works, Rousseau extends his discussion of Christianity and shows how the political principles of the Social Contract can be applied to a concrete constitutional crisis. One of his most important statements on the relation between political philosophy and political practice, it is accompanied by a fragmentary "History of the Government of Geneva."
Finally, "Vision of Peter of the Mountain, Called the Seer" is a humorous response to a resident of Motiers who had been inciting attacks on Rousseau during his exile there. Taking the form of a scriptural account of a vision, it is one of the rare examples of satire from Rousseau's pen and the only work he published anonymously after his decision in the early 1750s to put his name on all his published works. Within its satirical form, the "Vision" contains Rousseau's last public reflections on religious issues.
Neither the Letter to Beaumont nor the Letters Written from the Mountain has been translated into English since defective translations that appeared shortly after their appearance in French. These are the first translations of both the "History" and the "Vision."
The fascinating history of Isabeau of Bavaria is a tale of two queens. During her lifetime, Isabeau, the long-suffering wife of mad King Charles VI of France, was respected and revered. After her death, she was reviled as an incompetent regent, depraved adulteress, and betrayer of the throne. Asserting that there is no historical support for this posthumous reputation, Tracy Adams returns Isabeau to her rightful place in history. Adulteress and traitor—two charges long leveled against the queen—are the first subjects of Adam’s reinterpretation of medieval French history. Scholars have concluded that the myths of Isabeau’s scandalous past are just that: rumors that evolved after her death in the context of a political power struggle. Unfortunately, this has not prevented the lies from finding their way into respected studies on the period. Adams’s own work serves as a corrective, rehabilitating the reputation of the good queen and exploring the larger topic of memory and the creation of myth. Adams next challenges the general perception that the queen lacked political acumen. With her husband incapacitated by insanity, Isabeau was forced to rule a country ripped apart by feuding, power-hungry factions. Adams argues that Isabeau handled her role astutely in such a contentious environment, preserving the monarchy from the incursions of the king’s powerful male relatives. Taking issue with history’s harsh treatment of a woman who ruled under difficult circumstances, Adams convincingly recasts Isabeau as a respected and competent queen.
Authorship and Modernity in the Old Regime
A central theme in the history of Old Regime authorship highlights the opportunities offered by a growing book trade to writers seeking to free themselves from patrons and live "by the pen." Accounts of this passage from patronage to market have explored in far greater detail the opportunities themselves—the rising sums paid by publishers and the progression of laws protecting literary property—than how and why writers would have seized on them, no doubt because the choice to do so has seemed an obvious or natural one for writers assumed to prefer economic self-sufficiency over elite protection.
In The Literary Market, Geoffrey Turnovsky claims that there was nothing obvious or natural about the choice. Writers had been involved in commercial book publication since the earliest days of the printing press, yet had not necessarily linked these activities with their freedom to think and write. The association of autonomy and professionalism was forged, not given. Analyzing the literary market as a key articulation of the association, Turnovsky explores how in eighteenth-century polemics a rhetoric of commercial authorship came to signify independence for intellectuals. He finds the roots of the connection not in the claims of entrepreneurial writers to rights and income but in a world to which that of the modern author has been contrasted: the aristocratic culture of the seventeenth century. Aristocratic culture, he argues, generated a disparaging view of the professional author as one defined by activities tainting him or her as greedy and arrogant and therefore unworthy of protection and socially isolated. The Literary Market examines the story of the "birth of the author" in terms of the revalorization of this negative trope in Enlightenment-era debates about the radically changing role of writers in society.
The Emergence of French Social History, 1815–1970
Today’s interest in social history and private life is often seen as a twentieth-century innovation. Most often Lucien Febvre and the Annales school in France are credited with making social history a widely accepted way for historians to approach the past. In Lost Worlds historian Jonathan Dewald shows that we need to look back further in time, into the nineteenth century, when numerous French intellectuals developed many of the key concepts that historians employ today.According to Dewald, we need to view Febvre and other Annales historians as participants in an ongoing cultural debate over the shape and meanings of French history, rather than as inventors of new topics of study. He closely examines the work of Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, Hippolyte Taine, the antiquarian Alfred Franklin, Febvre himself, the twentieth-century historian Philippe Ariès, and several others. A final chapter compares specifically French approaches to social history with those of German historians between 1930 and 1970. Through such close readings Dewald looks beyond programmatic statements of historians’ intentions to reveal how history was actually practiced during these years.A bold work of intellectual history, Lost Worlds sheds much-needed light on how contemporary ideas about the historian’s task came into being. Understanding this larger context enables us to appreciate the ideological functions performed by historical writing through the twentieth century.
Healing and Love Magic in Old French Romance
What is love? Popular culture bombards us with notions of the intoxicating capacities of love or of beguiling women who can bewitch or heal—to the point that it is easy to believe that such images are timeless and universal. Not so, argues Laine Doggett in Love Cures. Aspects of love that are expressed in popular music—such as “love is a drug,” “sexual healing,” and “love potion number nine”—trace deep roots to Old French romance of the high Middle Ages. A young woman heals a poisoned knight. A mother prepares a love potion for a daughter who will marry a stranger in a faraway land. How can readers interpret such events? In contrast to scholars who have dismissed these women as fantasy figures or labeled them “witches,” Doggett looks at them in the light of medical and magical practices of the high Middle Ages. Love Cures argues that these practitioners, as represented in romance, have shaped modern notions of love. Love Cures seeks to engage scholars of love, marriage, and magic in disciplines as diverse as literature, history, anthropology, and philosophy.