- La Muse lascive. Anthologie de la poésie érotique et pornographique française (1560–1660)
Michel Jeanneret offers a comprehensive overview and sampling of erotic and pornographic poetry at the end of the Renaissance and in the first half of the grand siècle. Readers may ask why the author has bridged the two periods. He explains that it is important to trace the transition from a time when poems, in the Renaissance, expressed a joyous sensuality to the beginning of the reign of Louis XIV, when dissident voices and divergent styles began to be stifled. For Jeanneret, poets rebelled against orthodoxy in all its manifestations: belief, language, genres. With the onset of the seventeenth century, what had been a joyful expression of eroticism took on a subversive meaning. During the Renaissance, erotic poetry evokes pleasure, the harmony between the lovers and the world itself. The stress on the impetuous spirit of desire, Jeanneret notes, gives a fullness of expression unprecedented in love poetry in French literary history. When eroticism passes into pornography, the communion of the pair with nature turns to focus on transgressive acts and organs described not as a graceful whole but member by member in a disjointed and grotesque manner.
For Jeanneret, there is an aspect of unbridled sexuality in Renaissance eroticism which stops short of pornography. Ronsard and his contemporaries were sometimes unkind and brutal in their descriptions of old prostitutes or young prudes who sought relief from sexual tension through auto-erotic measures, but there is a pervading spirit of freedom and fun in the intellectual game of composing erotic poetry. By 1620, pornography overturns the lyrical eroticism of the Pléiade. Jeanneret offers the example of Mathurin Regnier: “Rose, de qui le Con a de roses les bords,/où je voudrois fourrer les couïlles et le corps . . .” (Jeanneret 140). Using standard sonnet form for pornographic images creates a shock value that underscores the subversive, transgressive aspect of this poetry, written, as Jeanneret suggests, in protest against the religious and literary atmosphere of restriction and orthodoxy at the French court. Jeanneret defines pornography as : “la représentation du corps humain qui focalise le regard sur les organes sexuels” (Jeanneret 13).
The author takes us back to the Greek root of the word: pornè or prostitute. Eroticism evokes the emotions of both individuals, pornography reduces all to [End Page 947] the specialized erogenous zones. There is an emphasis on deviant practices—masturbation, autoerotic practices, and sodomy, practices that do not lead to procreation. Sigogne represents the extreme misogyny of this pornographic trend. His manner of evoking the misery of the old prostitutes is particularly cruel. He targets the sodomites in the court of France: ”Prenez la robbe d’une femme, / Puisque vous en avez le coeur” (Jeanneret 281).
Readers may wonder why the anthology stops at 1660. Jeanneret offers a logical explanation for the increase in censure of pornographic poetry. With the prosecution of Théophile de Viau for reason of impiety, blasphemy, and debauchery, the proliferation of scandalous poetry begins to slow down just after abundant printings of cheap collections of pornographic verse. With the arrival of Richelieu, the censure of such verse is reinforced But it is the execution of Claude Le Petit for his publication of Le Bordel des Muses ou les neuf Pucelles putains that rings the death knell for the outpouring of obscene poetry. Claude Le Petit with Sigogne are the masters of the genre.
Jeanneret’s anthology is organized in thematic groupings. The first is an invitation “au bordel de ces Muses lubriques”—to read, to be aroused. It is a kind of verbal seduction of the readers. The second section speaks of “Sensualité, volupté.” Here the focus is on the physical and communal pleasure of love making. The third section, “Étreintes champêtres, nature en rut,” evokes the harmony of nature and young love, where pastoral setting and youth take center stage. It is in the fourth section, “Conquérant et...