Choderlos de Laclos' novel, Les liaisons dangereuses, entices readers to transgress a boundary by offering confidential letters exchanged between libertines and their victims to a reading public. Even within the universe of the novel, confidential letters are intercepted and read in order to exert power and manipulate others. Recognizing the late eighteenth century and the cyber age as periods of historical transition, I read Les liaisons dangereuses as a cautionary tale about the uses of electronic communication in the context of an institutional setting such as a research university. Within the setting of the research university, confidential correspondence also circulates in ways that reinforce power, hierarchy and privilege. Questions about what is public and what is private, what is privileged and what is not, haunt Laclos' novel, as they haunt us today. Reading Les liaisons dangereuses in light of social media, hacking and legal concepts of privileged communication yields fruitful lessons about the politics of our self-delusions concerning our private lives. Most importantly, thinking about the way in which the eighteenth-century novel stages relations of knowledge, power and critical insight in the context of breaches of confidentiality sheds light on the trade-offs between control and freedom, privilege and open-access that color our understanding of electronic communications and vulnerability today.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 407-428
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.