The Erotic Imagination: French Histories of Perversity

The Erotic Imagination: French Histories of Perversity

by Vernon A. Rosario, Vernon A. Rosario
     
 

"Degenerates are not always criminals, prostitutes, anarchists, or outright lunatics," the physician and journalist Max Nordau cautioned in 1893, "they are often writers and artists." Indeed, without writers and artists, medical experts in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries would not have had much of the material on which they based their

Overview

"Degenerates are not always criminals, prostitutes, anarchists, or outright lunatics," the physician and journalist Max Nordau cautioned in 1893, "they are often writers and artists." Indeed, without writers and artists, medical experts in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries would not have had much of the material on which they based their theories of sexual perversions. Thus it was that Rene Descartes could be diagnosed as a fetishist, because of his inordinate attraction to cross-eyed women, Gustave Flaubert as a hysteric, because of his hypersensitive imagination, and Emile Zola ("the novelist of the quivering nostrils") as an epileptoid degenerate, olfactory fetishist, and sexual psychopath, because of the suspicious richness of odors emanating from the pages of his books.
Drawing upon the writings of literary figures such as Diderot, Rousseau, Zola, Flaubert, and Huysmans, and physicians and psychologists such as Tardieu, Binet, and Charcot, Vernon Rosario argues that the modern idea of the perverse first emerged in late 18th-century France and was shaped largely by the strange confluence of medical writings, patient confessions, and literary narratives. Beginning with the shocking revelations of masturbation and masochism in Rousseau's Confessions, and the widespread public alarm over the "fatal convenience" of the "solitary vice," The Erotic Imagination illuminates precisely how various forms of eroticism came to be classified as perversions. Rosario takes the reader through a dizzying proliferation of "pathologies"—including the bizarre theories which enabled doctors to identify homosexuals, or "inverts," according to bodily stigmata, to the "uterine fury" of nymphomania, to an astonishing range of hysterias, fetishes, and erotomanias until finally only marital, reproductive sex survived as normal. Such "perversification" of sexual desire attempted to close off and regulate those erotic expressions seen as threatening to the social order, national population, military power, and the supremacy of will and reason. In each case, Rosario argues, the original culprit of deviant behavior was identified as the imagination—a perilous site beyond surveillance, highly susceptible to the salacious effects of literature, where irrational associations might take root and usurp the "reality" of conventional sexuality. What emerges most compellingly from Rosario's study is the anxiety produced by the erotic imagination and the elaborate, often desperate theoretical fabrications designed to contain it.
Filled with extraordinary case studies and written in prose that is as lively and entertaining as it is insightful, this book offers both a history of the erotic imagination and its narrative expressions, as well as a fascinating mirror in which our contemporary ambivalence about sexuality—from the acrimonious rhetoric of family values to censorship of pornography and hostility towards gays—takes on surprising new significance.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Rosario's historical study of the erotic imagination in France illuminates brilliantly the crucial role that sexual confessions have played in first identifying eroticism and then linking it decisively to perverse sexuality. In their respective ways, as he wittily demonstrates, both medical experts and their patients have channeled into eroticism the anxieties and obsessions of modern society."—Robert A. Nye

Dr. Rosario's fascinating study of the developments of society's concepts of perversity is especially enriched by his unusual background. His thorough knowledge of the history of science, and expertise in medicine are combined with an ability to analyze both literary and medical texts in an extremely subtle manner. his impressive command of the French literary tradition as well as recent theoretical frameworks gives him work authority and complexity. The writing throughout is illuminating, elegant, and richly satisfying."—Henry F. Majewski, Professor of French Studies, Emeritus, Brown University

Journal of the American Medical Association
In a modern society still obsessed with sex, it is surprising and a bit shocking to learn how medicine has been in large part responsible for inciting hysteria about the danger to society of unbridled sexuality. In this manner, Dr Rosario teaches us how "objective" science both is driven by and contributes to the moral debates of its time—how physicians create disease in misguided attempts to heal society. The Erotic Imagination is thus recommended to readers with an interest in social history and the social construction of disease.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780195104837
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
10/09/1997
Series:
Ideologies of Desire Series
Pages:
256
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 0.90(d)
Lexile:
1450L (what's this?)

Meet the Author

Vernon A. Rosario II is Andrew W. Mellon Fellow, Department of the History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania. He is the coeditor of Solitary Pleasures: The Historical, Literary and Artistic Discourses of Auto-Eroticism and editor of Science and Homosexualites

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