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  • The Labor of the Mind: Intellect and Gender in Enlightenment Cultures by Anthony J. Lavopa
  • Kate E. Tunstall
The Labor of the Mind: Intellect and Gender in Enlightenment Cultures. By Anthony J. Lavopa. (Intellectual History of the Modern Age.) Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017. viii + 350 pp.

In Paris in late 1749, a satirical poem was circulating about the scientist Émilie Du Châtelet, who had recently died in childbirth: 'Ci-gît qui perdit la vie j Dans le double accouchement j D'un traité de philosophie j Et d'un malheureux enfant. j Lequel des deux nous l'a ravie?' It is hard to imagine a more concise summary of the issues one might expect to find treated in a book entitled The Labor of the Mind: Intellect and Gender in Enlightenment Cultures. That the poem itself does not feature is merely cause for minor regret. What is surprising, given the author's stated interest (p. 18) in figurative language, is the fact that he uses the term 'labour' with no attention to the ways in which its literal and metaphorical connotations might play out in relation to women philosophers, especially since he has a chapter entitled 'The Labors of David Hume', which opens with line about the Treatise having fallen 'dead-born from the press' (p. 162). That Du Châtelet features nowhere in this study is cause for consternation. While it could, doubtless, be argued that one cannot expect him to have included everyone in his wide-ranging study, this is an omission that glares. Or, rather, it indicates one of the peculiar aspects of the framework [End Page 607] that Anthony LaVopa has devised to explore the intersections between early modern gendered identities and intellectual labour, namely that it makes Du Châtelet's work, which was not that of a salonnière, insufficiently feminine for inclusion in his study. Soit. The pay-off is not, however, a demonstration that the salonnières considered themselves or were considered by their contemporaries to be performing intellectual labour in hosting their salons. (Was it Saint-Simon who said being a duke was a métier?) In any case, such a demonstration, were it to be possible, would require recognizing the historicity of the conception of intellectual activity in terms of labour, and attending, as a result, to the question of when, under what conditions, and as performed by whom, the acts of thinking, reading, writing, and discussing began to be thought of in terms of labour. Such a recognition is absent from this study. (Frustrated readers will find sustenance in Dinah Ribard's 'Le Travail intellectuel: travail et philosophie, XVIIe-XIXe siècle', Annales. Histoire, sciences sociales, 65 (2010), 715-42.) What then is this book? Despite the Introduction, which mentions constructionism, neuroscience, material instantiation, and rhetorical performance, the book is a pretty traditional history of ideas — the attractive claim that texts will be read 'as performances of rhetorical personae' (p. 15) is swiftly abandoned in favour of references to 'Mme de Lambert's disgust with' x and 'Diderot's anxious efforts' to do y (p. 17). What the book does, then, is provide an account of some early modern French and British ideas of manliness, femininity, and effeminacy, of the nature and scope of men and women's intellectual capacities, and of the hopes and fears of the effects on men of the company of women, ranging from Guez de Balzac to Louise d'Épinay, via Madeleine de Scudéry, Poullain de La Barre, Fontenelle, Malebranche, Mme de Lambert, Shaftesbury, Hume, Antoine-Léonard Thomas, Diderot, and Suzanne Necker. It is a shame that no room was made for discussion of the Abbé de Choisy or the Chevalier d'Éon, despite the stated interest in gender fluidity (p. 15). Disappointed readers will have to make do with the typographical transgendering of Pascal as 'Pascale' (p. 318, note 3). There is no bibliography, but there are endnotes where readers can find references to scholars whose names are absent from the main body of the text and most even from the index (unlike those of, say, Samuel Moyn, Antoine Lilti, and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1468-2931
Print ISSN
0016-1128
Pages
pp. 607-608
Launched on MUSE
2018-10-13
Open Access
No
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