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Orgy Salon Aristocracy and PornographicTheatre in Pre-RevolutionaryParis Karl Toepfer CONVENTIONAL OR MYTHIC PERCEPTIONS of orgy tend to associate this phenomenon with 1) a theatrical attitude toward the "performance " of bodies which 2) always contains the potential for escalating into pornographic communication between bodies. A non-metaphorical notion of orgy seems to entail a conjunction of theatrical and pornographic action or to make pornographic action a category of theatrical action, a mode of "acting." But embedded in this assumption is often the more curious perception that orgy is somehow an extreme freedom from intricate, complex, "oppressive" systems or codes of communication. Thus, orgy is pervasively understood as a convulsive freedom from language, especially speech, and from the necessity of producing any significant meaning for the performance of "unrestrained" pleasure. It is a moment when bodies in a community desire each other without having anything to "say" to each other. From this perspective, the construction and signification of orgy depend entirely on the production of visual stimuli: orgy is always an "excessive" image of extravagant, wasteful ("decadent") luxury, panoramic expanses of flesh, ultimate materialism and sensuality. But these mythic notions about orgies are probably due to the fact that, because the cost of orgy appearsso 110 great, very few people have ever actually experienced it. Ideology compels a non-metaphorical perception of orgy to exist above all as a fantasy, an image in the mind which remains unspoken or "unspeakable." However, any serious analysis of orgiastic performance, of intersections between theatrical and pornographic action, undermines the authority of these mythic perceptions . Indeed, such analyses indicate that, far from being a condition of supreme freedom from system, orgy is an "excessive" manifestation of system, and spoken language of considerable, literary complexity is responsible for constructing the performance of orgy. We can expose this concealedidentity for orgy as a highly complex system of codes by examining the motives and social attitudes which produced the so-called "clandestine" theatre subculture of eighteenth-century Paris. In 1905, Gustav Capon and Robert Yve-Plessis privately published 530 copies of their book Les Thedtres clandestins. Though these authors were not the first to publish data about this theatrical phenomenon, their use of the term "clandestine" has been effective, enduring, and provocative in characterizing the evidence they presented. In 1963, when Arthur Maria Rabenalt published his luxurious and very expensive Voluptus ludens, which relies heavily upon Capon and Yve-Plessis, he referred to the "secret" theatre culture in France ("Geheimbuhne"). But "clandestine" is a more appropriate term, because, as will soon become apparent, this theatre culture was by no means secret in the sense that it was known only to those who participated in it. This theatre did not "hide" from the world; it observed conventions which preserved its exclusivity and inaccessibility, but not its secrecy. Yet Rabenalt's use of the term "secret" is accurate in a metaphorical sense, which refers to a form of theatre which theatrehistory, not the participants of this theatre, has kept secret, confined to discuss in very rare books and excluded from the "dominant" discourses on theatre that have prevailed since the French Revolution and which focus almost entirely on the theatre as a great, accessible, public institution. The clandestine theatre was an invention of the Parisian aristocracy ; its audience was very largely aristocratic, and even many of the performers were aristocrats. Sponsors of the theatre regarded it as a type of manor-house entertainment closely related to the giving of lavish suppers, balls, and masquerades. The amateur element of production was necessary in blurring the distinction between spectating and performing, but it did not preclude professional actors of considerable stature, such as Le Kain and Mile. Raucourt, from appearing in numerous entertainments, though their more than occasional willingness to perform without fees somewhat complicated their professional status. The scale of production varied according to the sponsor's particular social ambition of the moment. Plays were writ111 ten with particular sponsors, audiences, and performers in mind, and so the repertoire included full-scale comedies and operas as well as farces, parades, revues, dance pieces, vaudevilles, burlesques, historical travesties, and mythological parodies. However, plays in a tragic mode appeared only rarely. Apparently Alexis...


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