Enlightenment legacies: a new online resource

After a great Facebook response, I wanted to share this interesting initiative more widely – Greg Brown.

On January 7, 2015, two armed men claiming to belong to the extremist Islamic group Al-Qaeda entered the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical newspaper, shooting and fatally wounding several individuals. In the wake of this tragedy, French citizens were looking for answers on how to deal with this traumatic event. Voltaire’s 1763 Treatise on tolerance (Traité sur la tolérance) seemed to offer one potential answer, and copies of it were flying off the shelves of libraries and bookstores.

La Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen

La Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen.

This example highlights how, in times of crisis, people continue to turn to the Enlightenment as one way of understanding the current social and political climate. The repeated act of returning to Enlightenment philosophy to answer the most pressing current debates inspired us to seek just how much policies, philosophies, practices, and ideologies of the Enlightenment continue to shape our day to day existence.

Our project ‘Legacies of the Enlightenment: humanity, nature, and science in a changing climate’, explores how the Enlightenment informs – and haunts – our current worldviews. We created the website enlightenmentlegacies.org that contains a database of teaching and research materials, which we hope will be a useful tool for students, teachers, and researchers interested examining how and why we continue to practice and embody the legacies of the Enlightenment. The topics of our website include (but are not limited to):

  • evolutions of social and political relations;
  • theories of climate and climate change;
  • the nature of matter and objects;
  • structures of authority and institutions;
  • how notions of race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and citizenship are questioned due to political upheavals and natural catastrophes;
  • how dualistic notions of embodiment are crucial for understanding the origins and the continued presence of racism and sexism;
  • how taxonomic practices influences our relation to each other, as well as to other (non-human) animals.
The first group meeting at Penn State University in April 2017.

The first group meeting at Penn State University in April 2017.

This site is the first step in a larger project – made possible thanks to a generous grant from the Humanities Without Walls consortium – which aims to scrutinize these questions in virtual and in-person environments. An important element of the project is a dedication to the mentoring of graduate students.

To that end, the second step of the project will involve a 3-day symposium at which graduate students will work with more senior scholars in various fields to refine an essay, article, or work of art for publication. Our hope is that we will find the funding to continue this important work of mentoring emerging scholars.

To find out more about the project, please visit our website. If you would like to get involved, please click the ‘Contact us’ tab and send us a message!

– Tracy L. Rutler

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Pierre Bayle chez lui in Le Carla

Le Carla, a medieval fortified village near Foix in the Ariège, was the birthplace of Pierre Bayle, and the fitting location of a two-day meeting – open to all – on the subject of Huguenot travels and correspondence (November 9th-10th).

Bayle kept fond memories of his home town throughout his life and regretted not having taken more interest in the local agricultural and apicultural preoccupations. Out of nostalgia, he even devotes a few articles in his Dictionnaire historique et critique to local towns or local phenomena. Despite his long period of exile in Rotterdam (1681-1706), he never really settled down in the city: he never learnt to speak Dutch and never got used to the bitterly cold winters, nor to the custom of beer-drinking. After all, he was used to the warm climate of the French south and to drinking wine with his meals. The thick tobacco smoke that engulfed Dutch taverns also made everyday life difficult for him, bringing on migraines so debilitating that they forced him to abandon his journalistic activities in 1687. His reluctance to accept integration into Dutch society was also fuelled by his hope that political negotiations might make it possible for the exiled Huguenots to return to France, in all freedom of conscience. For an unparallelled insight into Bayle’s time in Rotterdam (and much more), delve into the Correspondance de Pierre Bayle (15 vols) – the first complete edition of his letters.

Antony McKenna at the Maison Pierre Bayle.

Antony McKenna presents the critical edition of the Correspondance de Pierre Bayle in November 2017 at the Maison Pierre Bayle.

A great number of local people from many different professional backgrounds attended the meeting, located very appropriately at the Maison Pierre Bayle – appropriate as the Maison was established on the site of the original Bayle family home. Surrounded by Bayle’s own works and a large library of critical works dedicated to his life and writings (and even a life-size puppet representing the philosopher with quill in hand), the sessions were both intense and stimulating: a rare opportunity to take Bayle outside the circle of university specialists.

Following the initiative of the mayor, Jean-Luc Couret, back in the 1990s, the village of Le Carla (now officially renamed Le Carla-Bayle) has been beautifully restored and is now considered to be one of the most important cultural centres of the region. It hosts many lectures open to the general public and a myriad of activities surrounding these lectures. A number of painters, sculptors and potters have also established their studios in the village and a vibrant arts festival takes place each spring. The original Protestant church (or temple in French) is still in place and in use, just as it was when Bayle’s father and elder brother served as its ministers.

Here are are some of the highlights of the November meeting :

Thursday 9 November

  • a discussion of the critical edition of Elie Richard’s Relations des voyages faits en France, en Flandres, en Hollande et en Allemagne, 1708 (Paris, Honoré Champion, 2017), chaired by Kees Meerhoff.
  • a ‘Café littéraire’ organised par l’Estive on La passion des Anabaptistes, by Ambre and David Vandermeulen.

Friday 10 November

  • a discussion by Yves Moreau of the critical edition of the correspondence of Jacob Spon (1647–1685), which was the subject of his thesis at the University of Lyon 2, 2013.
  • Antony McKenna presented the critical edition of the Correspondance de Pierre Bayle (Oxford, Voltaire Foundation, 1999-2017, 15 vols), which was completed in June of this year.
  • a traditional vin d’honneur was offered by the mayor in the Maison Pierre Bayle.

– Antony McKenna

 

D’Éon vs Rousseau: Gender, slavery and the unique self

Chevalier d'Eon

Portrait of Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont by Thomas Stewart (1792), at the National Portrait Gallery.

Virtually everything about the Chevalier d’Éon’s life was extraordinary. D’Éon had a decorated career as a dragoon, diplomat, spy for the French king and rumoured double agent, not to mention being a prolific author, proto-feminist, freemason, international celebrity and exceptional fencer.[1] However, far more remarkable than all of this is the fact that, aged forty-nine, the Chevalier began a new life as a woman. After rumours began to circulate in 1770, d’Éon, who was living in England at the time, was subsequently taken to court, declared a woman and required to adopt female dress for the last thirty-two years of their life. Upon death, the body was examined and described as ‘unambiguously male’.[2] The reasons for d’Éon’s acceptance of a female identity instead of proving otherwise have been guessed at but never fully explained. Suggestions have ranged from the purely practical, such as the avoidance of assassination, to the deeply personal, such as the hypothesis that d’Éon was an example of a transgender individual avant la lettre.[3]

In around 1785, d’Éon wrote The Maiden of Tonnerre as an attempt to justify their decisions and lifestyle.[4] The intention was for this work to be translated into English and published, but the translation was not completed and the work remained unpublished until 2001. No French edition is currently available. The Maiden of Tonnerre contains a collection of semi-truths, letters, historical fiction and outright fibs claiming to be autobiographical, all tailored to maintain d’Éon’s self-image as a woman who lived as a man for the first forty-nine years of her life. Given this authorial intent, the literary persona of the Chevalière d’Éon, as portrayed in The Maiden of Tonnerre, will accordingly be referred to as ‘she/her’, while the real-life Chevalier d’Éon will continue to be referred to using the gender-neutral pronouns ‘they/their’.

Due to its hybrid nature, The Maiden of Tonnerre is something of a trans-genre text, existing at the crossroads of several literary genres just as its author existed at the crossroads of traditional sex and gender identities. In this work, the Chevalière outlines a conception of gender that is radically different from the stringent gender roles that are so often cited as typical of the late eighteenth century, attesting to a deep-seated psychological component to her embodied situation:

‘I had two personalities. My mind tended toward tranquillity, solitude, and study. Prudence told me that this was the wisest and simplest way to shield myself, but my heart loved the clash of weapons and the display of all the military drills. Unable to consult either man or woman, I consulted God and the Devil and, so as not to fall into the water, I jumped into the fire.’ (p.7)

D’Éon locates stereotypical eighteenth-century masculine and feminine gender roles as central to her anguish. Her hybrid psychological gender identity made up of ‘two personalities’ cannot bring itself to conform to the rigid gender roles society expects of a woman. The real-life d’Éon is likely to have encountered these gender roles as expressed in the famed writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, of whom they were an avid follower. However, as will become clear, the two authors vehemently disagreed on key issues surrounding gender.

Engravings of the Chevalier and Chevalière d’Éon

Engravings of the Chevalier and Chevalière d’Éon by Jean-Baptiste Bradel (c. 1780) which demonstrate a very different interpretation of gender ambiguity, namely that d’Éon is presented as two different people.

To exemplify this, we might recall Rousseau’s declarations in Émile that the ideal woman is ‘modeste en apparence’ and that ‘la femme est faite pour plaire et pour être subjuguée’.[5] Every time the Chevalière is reprimanded by others, it is for violating this strict Rousseauian conception of femininity, whether it be by wearing her dragoon uniform in public or initially refusing to wear dresses when ordered to by the king (p.28-32). It is telling that d’Éon associates her modest, traditionally feminine side with her ‘mind’, while her traditionally masculine military side is associated with her ‘heart’. Not only does d’Éon mingle gender roles, she completely inverts them, reversing the accepted eighteenth-century dichotomy of ‘à l’homme le rationnel, à la femme la sensibilité’.[6]

Indeed, ‘man’ and ‘woman’, ‘god’ and ‘devil’, ‘water’ and ‘fire’ all refer to binary logic founded on the principle of ‘either/or’, which, as d’Éon makes clear, offers no consolation to her unique gendered condition. This claim to singularity resembles Rousseau’s very own conception of the unique self as put forward in his autobiography, the Confessions.[7] It is d’Éon’s singularly non-conforming ‘style of life’ and ‘personality’ that causes her to resent the assimilation imposed upon her when the ladies of the court ‘have [her] play all the roles necessary to teach [her] how to behave at all times like an important noblewoman’ (p.17). This coerced assimilation is comparable to how transgender people are often compelled to ‘pass’ (either fully masculinise or fully feminise their appearance) to minimise their visibility by conforming to modern social custom. Likewise, d’Éon describes these predetermined roles as ‘chains’ and ‘shackles’ and likens the conformity they demand to ‘slavery’, desperately pleading, ‘Just leave me as I am’ (p.74, 62). In using this lexis, d’Éon draws upon yet another Rousseauian concept: the opposition between free will and slavery laid out in Du Contrat social. Thus, d’Éon appropriates two key notions found in Rousseau’s autobiographical and political writings to argue against Jean-Jacques (and much of eighteenth-century French society) on the topic of predetermined, fixed gender roles.

The translated edition of d’Éon’s ‘autobiography’

The translated edition of d’Éon’s ‘autobiography’, The Maiden of Tonnerre: The Vicissitudes of the Chevalier and the Chevalière d’Éon, by Roland A. Champagne, Nina Ekstein and Gary Kates (London, 2001).

The Chevalière instead affirms that, as a unique individual, she should be left to interpret gender in her own unique way. D’Éon consequently lives as a woman but performs some aspects of masculinity rather than aligning herself neatly with one or the other. So, if the one concrete conclusion we arrive at is the apparent lack of any concrete conclusion, then it is worth emphasising how d’Éon’s primary concern is pointing out the flaws in neat binary logic that operates with categories like man or woman, real or fake, body or mind and sex or gender. D’Éon’s text reminds us that the Enlightenment should be viewed as an ongoing project rather than an arrogant quest for definitive answers, and, in the absence of sufficient understanding of a phenomenon, it is vital to avoid pre-emptively passing judgement.

This sentiment of not rushing to conclusions when faced with something we do not fully understand is as relevant today as it was in the late eighteenth century. Transgender academics such as Stephen Whittle, Susan Stryker and Eli Clare continue to argue against the compulsion to pathologise trans bodies as undesirably defective. Furthermore, trans individuals are increasingly questioning whether the deeply held self-understandings they have can be entirely due to nurture and environment, denouncing the ‘diarrhoea of theories’ used to conveniently explain away their identity.[8] As The Maiden of Tonnerre makes abundantly clear, these ideas about gender identity are not some passing fad that sprung up in the 1990s. They have, in fact, been around for centuries, and remarkably similar arguments are made, and ignored, in each instance. Now, as before, without stable facts to work with, we must refrain from hastily jumping to conclusions: we begin to question what we think we know, recalling a humbler side to the Enlightenment that is often forgotten.

– Sam Bailey

[1] For a biography of d’Éon, see Gary Kates, Monsieur d’Éon is a Woman: a tale of political intrigue and sexual masquerade (London, 2001).

[2] Roland A. Champagne, Nina Ekstein and Gary Kates trans. and eds., The Maiden of Tonnerre: The Vicissitudes of the Chevalier and the Chevalière d’Éon (London, 2001), p. xvi. All page numbers in our blog post refer to this edition.

[3] These and many other theories are explored in The Chevalier d’Éon and his Worlds: Gender, Espionage and Politics in the Eighteenth Century, eds. Simon Burrows, Jonathan Conlin, Russell Goulbourne, Valerie Mainz (London, 2010).

[4] Tonnerre is d’Éon’s place of birth. The title is an adaptation of la pucelle d’Orléans, Joan of Arc’s French nickname.

[5] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Œuvres complètes de J.-J. Rousseau, vol. 2 (Paris, 1852), p. 659, p. 632.

[6] Raymond Trousson, ‘Préface’, in Romans de femmes du XVIIe siècle, ed. Trousson (Paris, 1996), pp. I-XXXIII (p. XV).

[7] For more on this, see Anna Clarke, ‘The Chevalier d’Éon, Rousseau, and New Ideas of Gender, Sex and the Self in the Late Eighteenth Century’, in The Chevalier d’Éon, eds. Burrows et al, pp. 187-200.

[8] Stephen Whittle, ‘Foreword’, in The Transgender Studies Reader, ed. Whittle and Stryker (London, 2006), pp. i-xvi (p. xiii).

Natalia Elaguina décorée

Madame Natalia Elaguina a été décorée de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres au grade de chevalier le 18 novembre dernier au Consulat général de France à Saint-Pétersbourg. L’équipe de la Voltaire Foundation lui adresse toutes ses félicitations.

De gauche à droite: Hughes de Chavagnac, Consul général de France à Saint-Pétersbourg; Natalia Elaguina; Pascal Liévaux, du ministère de la Culture et de la Communication

Natalia Elaguina est conservatrice en chef du département des manuscrits occidentaux à la Bibliothèque nationale de Russie à Saint-Pétersbourg. Elle est directrice de publication du Corpus des notes marginales de Voltaire, vaste projet éditorial entamé en 1979 et poursuivi en collaboration avec la Voltaire Foundation depuis une dizaine d’années, et pour lequel elle a joué un rôle déterminant. Il recense les notes et les traces non-verbales laissées par Voltaire en marge des ouvrages de sa bibliothèque personnelle, conservée à Saint-Pétersbourg depuis la mort de l’écrivain. Les neuf volumes du Corpus recensent les traces de lecture sur 1687 ouvrages, dont certains sont copieusement annotés. En plus de la reproduction en quasi-facsimilé de tous ces marginalia et ces traces, chaque volume contient des centaines de notes des éditeurs qui expliquent les liens entre les lectures et les annotations de Voltaire, d’une part, et son œuvre, de l’autre. Les cinq premiers volumes ont fait l’objet d’une première publication à Berlin-Est avant que toute la collection soit intégrée aux Œuvres complètes de Voltaire d’Oxford en 2006. Mme Elaguina a raconté l’histoire fascinante de ce projet dans un article publié dans la Revue Voltaire. Nous avons collaboré ensemble aux volumes 6 (2006), 7 (2008), 8 (2012), et le neuvième et ultime volume, actuellement en cours de préparation, paraîtra au printemps prochain.

Un grand merci, et encore bravo Natalia!

– Nicholas Cronk, Janet Godden, Georges Pilard, Gillian Pink