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The Monster in the Mirror: Delisle de Sales and the human body in "De la Philosophie de la Nature"

Grieshaber, Verene; (1999) The Monster in the Mirror: Delisle de Sales and the human body in "De la Philosophie de la Nature". Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This thesis is a comparative study of cross-century and interdisciplinary materials, highlighting the continued significance of Enlightenment thought, as represented by de Sales, for some present-day social and ethical questions. Scientific knowledge acts as a frame through which to view de Sales's discourse on the monstrous. The argument seeks both to bring out the implication, in de Sales's text, of some of the scientific and moral aberrations of our time, and to give this writer credit for having managed, better than many have managed today, to uphold humane principles above certain excesses of the will to classify the human. To achieve this aim, extensive use is made of what may seem to be unrelated texts from different periods, situating definitions of difference within a broad intertext. This should help specify the origins of the 'enlightened' twentieth century, and perhaps its destination. The thesis concentrates on how notions of physical difference operate at once on a social and personal level. Physical difference cannot be reduced to a subjective negative evaluation, as all evaluations of differences can be said to lead to objectification of the differentiated subject, an objectively negative evaluation even of beauty. The thesis first looks at how de Sales's definitions of beauty and monstrosity compare with those of his contemporaries, and how such definitions are bound to concepts of naturalness, respect of the body and pudicity. It then concentrates on the moralisation of beauty and the externalisation, through physicality, of internal and invisible factors, which have led to the hierarchisation of physical attributes. This is of great concern because such externalisation highlights the perceived link between the physical and the spiritual, and leads to moral precepts and contra-indications being applied to the body. This thesis is particularly concerned with the notion that 'l'apparence est trompeuse', changing the perspective through which the surrounding physical world is viewed. This expansion of possibilities ad infinitum allowed de Sales to dream up the most far-fetched scenarios, leading us to de Sales's powerful representation of hermaphrodites through a perversion of the myth of Tiresias into a 'conte philosophique'. The myth of Tiresias, reworked by de Sales to be that of a perfect hermaphrodite, is used to illustrate his theories about difference. Socio-legal theories are artificially applied by de Sales to Tiresias so as to illustrate the futility of society's prejudices. It also highlights de Sales's views about 'artificial' monstrosities, such as castrated males, views which are again illustrated in a 'conte philosophique' about the eunuch Narses. Our critique of de Sales's Tiresias figure is only possible because of the equivocations within this writer's reflection on the fallacies of our classification of human difference. His contribution to the Enlightenment lies in a 'prise de conscience' of the imaginary input into the symbolic laws which mark out the space of society. In de Sales, as well as the fruitless dream of the perfect hermaphrodite, we see this 'prise de conscience' leading to a generous impulse to abolish the imaginary factor of binary thinking, and the cruel forms of ostracism which express that thinking in social reality.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: The Monster in the Mirror: Delisle de Sales and the human body in "De la Philosophie de la Nature"
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest.
Keywords: Language, literature and linguistics; Philosophy, religion and theology; Sales, Delisle de
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10111001
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