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Writing about Sex and . . A CCORDING TO THE ANTHROPOLOGIST Mary Douglas, “The body is a model which can stand for any bounded system.” If we are to understand rituals enacted on the human body, Douglas argues, we must be “prepared to see in the body a symbol of society, and to see the powers and dangers credited to social structure reproduced in small on the human body.” 1By extension, we might say that the sexual body can also stand for other systems, bounded or other­ wise. If we are to understand writings about this body, writing about sex, we must be prepared to see symbols of society, with all the powers, dangers, and fears credited to social phenomena reproduced within the images and rhetorical strategies of such discourses. It is thus that the title of this issue should not have been “ Writing about Sex.” Rather, it should have been “Writing about Sex . . . and Gender . . . and Science, Politics, Literature, Power, Religion, the Law, Aesthetics, etc., etc.” While awkward, such a title would have more aptly described the mate­ rial analyzed in this issue. For, like the symbolic body described by Mary Douglas, writings that utilize the trope of sexuality provide a meeting place and testing ground (if not a field of contestation) for larger cultural activities and anxieties. They map out a symbolic space in which larger cultural boundaries and issues are tested. In so doing, the following essays do not just elucidate the history and discourses of sexuality in seventeenth-century France, but also examine other histories, other stories, other discourses of that era. In focussing on seventeenth-century France, this issue explores a cen­ tury widely accepted as one of the turning points in the history of erotic writings. Indeed the period between the 1650’s and 1680’s produced an important innovation, the so-called manual of sexual education. Widely translated and republished across Europe, these texts had an enormous influence into the eighteenth century, when another shift occurred with the emergence of the pornographic novel.2But while scholars agree that after the innovation of Aretino’s writings in Renaissance Italy, seven­ teenth-century France emerged as the center for producing erotic writ­ ings, no extended study of the discourses of sexuality in this period has yet been produced. Instead studies have focussed on specific areas such as libertine poetry and prose, or have been limited to essays published in journals or in anthologies devoted to eroticism more generally, and more VOL. XXXV, NO. 2 3 L ’E spr it C r éa teu r often than not focussing on the eighteenth century.3Seventeenth-century France thus remains the ever present, but always elided, pivot point between the classicism of Aretino and the modernity of Sade. The purpose of this issue is thus two-fold. On the one hand it eluci­ dates how the discourses of sexuality are always, inevitably discourses intertwined with larger socio-cultural anxieties. On the other, it proposes a wider selection of approaches to and perspectives on writing about sex in seventeenth-century France than has previously been available. It does so by beginning at the outset of the century with an examination of the import of metaphors of sexuality for the “ science” of alchemy.4 In Kathleen Perry Long’s essay on the sexual politics of alchemy in early modern France, we find that the sexual body becomes a model via which to explore the ambiguities of gender difference when theorists of alchemy utilize images as disparate as maternal generation and the hermaphro­ ditic merging of the unlike. In their insistence on the role of chaos and confusion in the alchemical system, these models unsettle the reigning Aristotelian notion of generation and threaten the core of Christie theol­ ogy. Long argues, finally, that such intellectual experimentation “ which places rational discourses alongside the imaginative and irrational” ulti­ mately creates a politically subversive discursive space, one that “ con­ tinues to flourish throughout the seventeenth century, even though exiled from an absolutist court interested in at least maintaining the illusion of hierarchy and order.” As will become apparent in reading this issue, the relation between political order and disordering sexuality is not just a characteristic of...


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