Enlightenment Utopias, Fall 2014

literary thought experiments of the 17th and 18th centuries
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Article Analysis

by Brad Young

Wootton, David. “Friendship Portrayed: A New Account of Utopia.” History Workshop Journal 45 (Spring 1998). 29-47.

  1. I was immediately drawn to Wootton’s article in large part due to the title. It suggested to me that Wootton would argue that Utopia might be read as an attempt to think through what a large scale society of friends might look like.
  2. Wootton begins with a brief history of the publication of Utopia. He contextualizes it and outlines some of its themes in order to suggest how unique, oftentimes baffling, and incredibly forward-thinking the book was. He sets all this up over the course of three long paragraphs to get to his point, which is to claim that the “real puzzle of Utopia lies… in More’s decision to conceal its original subject, which is friendship” (30). 2 pages are given to the introduction, and just over a page for the conclusion
  3. Wootton looks in three places to support his claim, which he arrives at through a discussion of Erasmus’ Adages, arguing that Utopia is deeply inflected particularly by the adages about friendship.  First, he looks at whether contemporary readers of Utopia would have understood the connection between the Adages and Utopia. Second, that the Adages offer the kind of reading that would lead to Utopia. And third, he tries to prove that More knew this book was about friendship even while not making that explicit. Wootton digs deep and looks at markings made by readers of a 1515 edition of Utopia. Using underlinings and annotations as evidence is interesting, but I find it to be less convincing than using the text in relation other texts as well as the Renaissance humanists’ conceptions of friendship.
  4. The article is very well written. It moves purposefully from point to point and usually justifies all its claims thoroughly. And all the evidence is clearly connected to the main claim. A few times a claim is stated as evident and yet it’s not made clear why this must be the case. E.g. “Of necessity, one of his concerns was to explore the question of what it meant to lead a Christian way of life without being a Christian” (38). Although it speaks to an interesting question, (why aren’t the Utopians explicitly Christian when they seem to embody certain fundamental Christian practices (e.g. communal life, disinterest in money)?), it’s not clear to me why More necessarily had to present their purported ‘Christianity’ in this oblique way.
  5. The methodology blends a historical approach with an in-depth literary analysis.
  6. The article is quite interdisciplinary. History and English are its main fields; however, friendship is certainly also an important concept in philosophy and political theory. The article even touches upon religious studies.
  7. It draws on a comparative literary analysis of the Adages and Utopia. Wootton does a close reading of the passages of the text that connect with Erasmus’ adages about friendship and also shows how More deals with the aspects of social/national life that would contradict them (e.g. the issues of war and punishment). It also draws on history via an extensive understanding of the practice of friendship among Renaissance humanists as well as knowledge of the biographies of More, Erasmus, and Giles.
  8. The article positions itself in the so-called Hexter camp, who argue that Utopia is meant to be rooted in ideal Christian and Pythagorean principles. Thus, it is place to learn from and to consider possibly adopting of some of its practices. This is in contrast to those who argue that More’s intention was primarily ironic, and Hythloday should not be trusted.
  9. I would add that, although this work is greatly appreciated, Wootton writes an article, which I’m glad I didn’t have to. I wouldn’t want to be the one digging through letters, paintings, etc. in order to prove the point. His textual analysis is more along the lines of work I would want to do. What I find most useful about the article is how it clear the way and points out new directions for work to be done on Utopia. Wootton makes possible a different interpretation, and I hope to show why this interpretation is important, useful, and is one reason why the book is highly relevant today.

Analysis of Sample Article

by Stephen Spencer

Iyengar, Sujata. “Royalist, Romancist, Racialist: Rank, Gender, and Race in the Science and Fiction of Margaret Cavendish.” English Literary History 69.3 (Fall 2002): 649-672.

1) Consider the title of the article. Does it work well? Did it motivate you to read the article in the first place?

The title has obvious parallelism (Royalist <-> Rank, Romancist <-> Gender; Racialist <-> Race). It allowed me to immediately see how Iyengar was collecting her many ideas into categories (for example, Cavendish’s engagement with the romance genre is considered alongside her scientific theories of gender). It definitely motivated me to read because it made me feel as if I was going to learn a lot through things I already knew a little bit about (race and romance, for example).

2) How does the article begin and end? How does it introduce its fundamental argument? How much of the article is given over to the introduction? Conclusion?

The introduction is short-ish: two-and-a-half pages. It begins with an historical anecdote of the publication and revision of her Observations on Experimental Philosophy. I see Iyengar introducing her fundamental argument gradually, over the course of two paragraphs, through two or three strong claims. I’m not sure this article has a “conclusion” per se; it has a last section (the fourth), called simply “Blazing World” (Iyengar’s analysis of New Blazing World). But I would say the article begins to “conclude” at the third-to-last paragraph; so, about a page and a half are given over to the conclusion.

3) How does the article marshal evidentiary support and proof? Do you see any flaws in the argument? What aspects of the article render it convincing to you?

Iyegnar has organized the body of her essay into four sections: “Polygenesis and Scientific Racism,” “Observations of Color,” “Assaulted and Pursued Chastity,” and “Blazing World.” So, the evidence of the first two sections is largely cultural and intellectual-historical in nature. In section one, Iyengar investigates 17th century opinions concerning the origins of humanity and how this relates to skin color, as well as how this begins to lead to a paradigm that can explain the development of scientific racism. In the second section, Iyengar moves specifically to the observational scientific culture of the time, how they began to make inquiries into skin color, and how Cavendish responded to these practices. In the last two sections, her evidence becomes literary; she looks at the “romances” of Cavendish, including a play and her utopian narrative. One flaw in Iyengar’s article that I see is her insufficient tackling of the notion of species difference. She says that “species difference and heredity are out of place in a romance that accepts only the rules of Cartesian logic and timeless, endless, boundless ‘nature.'” What I would say, especially as it concerns New Blazing World, is that there is species difference, and it seems really important to Cavendish’s thinking. I get that Iyengar (at least in this section) is more concerned with Cavendish’s satirization of Descartes and his followers, but to bring it up and brush it off seems like a missed opportunity to me. An aspect of the article that convinces me greatly is her conceptualization of the three classes in New Blazing World. Iyengar says that its based on occupation and service, which opens up a lot of possibilities to put the text into dialogue with the development of capitalism, the emerging intellectualized bourgeoisie, etc.

4) Evaluate the style of the article. What makes it well written? What would you change if you could?

I would have like more sign-posting with regards to the various sections of  her article. Sometimes, I wasn’t sure how her four sections fit together, or, how they built off of each other (or if they necessarily did). My best guess is that sections 1-2 are socio-cultural-historical “context,” whereas 3-4 are “literary analyses.” I wanted her to explicitly state why she was discussing what she was discussing, and why she was changing topics of discussion. I think Iyengar does this better when she switches to literary analysis. Before discussing Assaulted and Pursued Chastity and Blazing World, she introduces how the context she speaks of informs her readings. This is particularly useful to me because I do want to fashion myself as a scholar/writer who is ultimately interested in literary representation (i.e. the literature, as literature, is the object of her study).

5) How would you describe the methodology of the article?

I would say Iyengar’s methodology is historical and literary. I would hone in on “historical” by saying she is mostly interested in history of ideas/intellectual history, as it manifests itself through philosophical writings and scientific texts. As it concerns the literary, Iyengar’s reading is critical within the historical context she provides. She reads the two works by Cavendish to show precisely how her literary writings exist to counterbalance her philosophical/scientific writings, as well as other writings of this kind in her era.

6) Is the article interdisciplinary in nature and/ or rooted within the specific discipline of English?

I would say it’s interdisciplinary to the extent that all English scholarship these days is, more or less, expected to be interdisciplinary. The “other” disciplines she looks at are history and philosophy, all within the purview of the humanities. Though one could argue that it’s interdisciplinary in its grappling with science, I would say it’s more about the history of science. So I guess I would classify this as a pretty standard species (ha) of English scholarship.

7) How does the article use/ draw on literary theory or philosophy? History?

I think I pretty much covered history and philosophy. As far as literary theory is concerned, I’m not sure I see any. Iyengar is building off of a large tradition of scholarship looking at race in the early modern period, which I would generally categorize as Foucauldian in its genealogical approach to race (what isn’t Foucauldian these days, though?).

8) How does the article use secondary sources/ work of other critics generally? How does it stake out new territory?  Are you convinced of its originality?

Iyengar tends to group her critics in her notes. She does bounce off of specific critics here and there (Rosemary Kegl and CARRIE HINTZ come to mind), but mostly, critical sources are presented as a tradition that, sometimes, get extensively noted (the note on early modern race studies is particularly staggering, as well as her recapitulation of Cavendish studies). I’m convinced of its originality to the extent that “original” connotes “new” (isn’t it more about “newness” than “originality,” as per the Belcher?). I think Iyengar is onto something new in situating Cavendish’s work alongside messier, scarier “modern” subjects like race and gender, but I’m not sure she pushes far enough. She still seems to really want to, I don’t know, excuse Cavendish’s literary work? So I would say it’s new to the extent of her synthesis of Cavendish with EM race studies, but maybe not so new in what she has to say about this synthesis of materials.

9) Anything else you’d like to say about the article?

I liked this article because I found it to be pretty well written (but not mind-blowingly so) and informative. It reminded me a bit of how I write: somewhat plainly, but with some flashes here and there, especially at the ends of paragraphs when I know the reader is looking for/expecting some kind of payoff. I also appreciate when articles have demarcated sections, even if I’m not sure how/why they fit together. It makes it easier to use (and skim).

Discussion: Millennium Hall

by Patrick Smyth

  1. “Hares and all sorts of game likewise abound here; so that with the help of a good dairy, perhaps no situation ever more amply afforded all the necessaries of life.” Consider Millennium Hall from the perspective of an eighteenth-century improver such as Repton. How are the grounds emblematic of “improvement” in this period? How do they attempt to improve on improvement?
  2. “… so that instead of feeling the pain one might naturally receive from seeing the human form so disgraced, we were filled with admiration of the human mind, when so nobly exalted by virtue, as it is in the patronesses of these poor creatures …” Consider depictions of disability in Millennium Hall. How are the disabled servants and “dwarfs” instrumentalized? Are there parallels between depictions of the disabled and depictions of women?
  3. What genres does Millennium Hall draw on outside of the Utopian tradition? Consider the novel in light of the gothic and the pastoral. What genre conventions are visible in Millennium Hall, and which are only present in vestigial form?
  4. Consider Millennium Hall from the perspective of later movements driven by women, such as suffrage, temperance, and feminism. How does the novel prefigure these movements?
  5. “Humble piety rendered her indifferent to circumstances which she looked upon rather as snares than blessings, and like a person on the brink of a precipice could not enjoy the beauty of the prospect, overawed by the dangers of her situation.” Beauty in the novel is, more often than not, a danger rather than a blessing. What function does beauty serve? How does it influence the heterosexual and female platonic relationships in Millennium Hall?
  6. “As the ladies’ conduct in this particular was uncommon, I could not forbear telling them, that I was surprised to find so great encouragement given to matrimony by persons whose choice shewed them little inclined in its favour.” What is the role of matrimony (and heterosexual relationships in general) in Millennium Hall? If the novel is a condemnation of marriage, why does Scott defend the institution in certain passages? (”We consider matrimony as absolutely necessary to the good of society …”)
  7. “If we had been inclined before to fancy ourselves on enchanted ground, when after being led through a large hall, we were introduced to the ladies … [O]ne was drawing figures, another a landscape, a third a perspective view, a fourth engraving, a fifth carving, a sixth turning in wood, a seventh writing, an eighth cutting out linen, another making a gown, and by them an empty chair and a tent, with embroidery, finely fancied, before it, which we afterwards found had been left by a young girl who was gone to practise on the harpsichord.” How do eighteenth-century conventions of female accomplishment legitimate the proceedings at Millennium Hall? What images—classical, Christian, mythological—serve to introduce the ladies? What is the atmosphere at the Hall, and what influences sustain it?

Discussion Questions for Sarah Scott’s Millennium Hall

by Amber Chiac

1) The women of Millennium Hall are obsessed with cleanliness, purity and virtue. The women’s clothes are described as having “the same neatness and the same “cleanliness.” The girls’ clothes are described as “extremely white and clean” (13). Even the architecture is depicted as “perfectly clean.” For instance, the narrator describes the chairs as made of “wood as white as possible” and states that “perhaps there was never a garden so neat” (141). One of the peasant women tells the narrator, “there never passes a day that one or other of the ladies does not come and look all over the house… [it is] all for our own good, for we cannot be healthy if we are not clean and neat” (19). Is there a connection between cleanliness, orderliness, rationality and control? How might this be related to traditional views of the female body (and the disabled body) as dirty, leaky, chaotic, contaminated and existing within the realm of nature? How does Scott alter the god/man/woman hierarchy by presenting woman as logical, clean, contained and passionless? How is this related to the fact that Millennium Hall is a “reversal” of the traditional conduct book and a “concrete” rather than an “abstract” utopia?

2) Building off the last question, why does Miss Maynard know everything about the women of the house? Is there privacy at Millennium Hall? The biographies of the women are riddled with deception and betrayal but such vices do not seem to exist at Millennium Hall. Do the women renounce privacy in order to live a peaceful existence? Or are women so pure in the company of other women that privacy is unnecessary?

3) According to Wilson’s introduction, some critics have noted an “undercurrent of lesbianism” in A Description of Millennium Hall.  In her article, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” Adrienne Rich conceptualizes lesbianism as involving much more than only sexual relations. Rich suggests we use the tools of “re-vision” and the “lesbian continuum” to detect homoeroticism in places where it did not or could not find articulation. Keeping this in mind, let’s examine the following:

The women of Millennium Hall sincerely care about men but they never really “fall in love” with them. The female characters never feel the passion or the lust that the male characters feel. In the novel, men have more to gain from heterosexual relationships than women do. Heterosexual relationships render female characters poor, stupid and sad while female friendships bring them peace, enlightenment and happiness. One could argue that the closest thing to a genuine love story in the text is the friendship between Miss Morgan & Miss Mancel. Miss Maynard describes their friendship as one that brings the women “infinite joy” (105) and suggests that they were reunited by providence. Their friendship is sometimes described in erotic terms. Referring to Miss Morgan and Miss Mancel, Miss Maynard says, “who from their childhood have been so connected, that I could not, if I would, disunite them in my relation; and it would be almost a sin to endeavor to separate them even in idea. (76) Scott clearly naturalizes same-sex intimacy between women and may be suggesting that it is godlier than heterosexual intimacy.

There is no normative concept of family at Millennium Hall. As Johns states, “form follows function” at Millennium Hall: “there is no master plan” and women “tackle each problem and project according to the needs and circumstances of the moment” (14). Scott subverts the traditional family structure and the institution of heterosexual marriage on the ground of irrationality. For instance, Miss Mancel and Miss Morgan act as mothers to the inhabitants of Millennium Hall and this turns out to be a particularly rational and effective mode of domestic/economic organization.

4) Millennium Hall is populated entirely by women except Mr. D’vora (when he was alive) and some “disabled” men. Miss Maynard describes Mr. D’vora as “a man of great understanding” and a man with an “incomparable heart.” Speaking of Mr. D’vora, she says, “misfortunes had softened common humanity into a most tender disposition” (44). One of the disabled men that live in the hall is described as having led a “wretched life…in the hands of one of those monster-mongers” and as having an “extreme weakness of body” (73). Why did Scott choose to include these men in the story? Is she saying that victimized men are akin to women? What does this suggest about Scott’s representation of women as exceptionally (essentially?) empathic and benevolent?

5) What aspects of this novel are prescient of contemporary feminist practices and ideas? What aspects are regressive?

In this novel, Scott critiques systematic oppression through richly detailed biographical information about each of the women who founded Millennium Hall. This supports the feminist epistemological approach of privileging partial perspective and demonstrates that the personal is political. Scott illuminates the ways in which “the social contract obscures the sexual contract on which it depends” (Johns, 92). Female emancipation is associated with the empowerment of other marginalized people, such as the poor, the sick, the disabled and people of color (the latter in The History of Sir George Ellison). However, Millennium Hall is not an equalitarian community: there is a firm class hierarchy and the disabled inhabitants are kept in an enclosure and referred to as “monsters” and as “wretched.”

Scott depicts men and women in very essentialist terms. Miss Maynard declares, “Every thing to me loses its charm when it is put out of the station wherein nature, or to speak more properly, the all-wise Creator has placed it.” Women in this novel have no sexual agency and their worth is based primarily on their “virtue.” Their happiness and wellbeing is important but only because it renders them good Christians. Women are still subservient but instead of being subservient to men, they are equal with men in their subservience to god.

6) Who is the intended audience of this novel? To answer this question we should examine why the women decided to create Millennium Hall. What was the major motivating factor? To passively escape the influence of evil men or to actively set up an experimental community with other women?

The obvious answer is that this novel was written for men. The novel ends with Lamont (described by the narrator as a “coxcomb”) reading the New Testament. He tells Miss Maynard that he is “convinced by the conduct of the ladies of this house that their religion must be the true one” and his thoughts are “engaged in a scheme to imitate them on a smaller scale” (191). In Sir George Ellison, the narrator goes on to implement the principals of Millennium Hall in his slave plantation.

Another possible answer is that the text is written for women. When Lady Emilia explains to Lord Robert that Miss Selvyn does not wish to marry him, she says Miss Selvyn is “so entirely happy in her present situation, nothing in the world should induce her to change it.” When Lord Robert inquires as to whether Miss Selvyn has “any particular objection to him,” she “shrewd the uselessness of this question, since the reason of her refusing the honor he intended her, would have made her reject the addresses of every man in the world” (ebook, 207). Scott chose a woman (Lady Barbra Montague) as her life partner and she wanted her readers to know this was a viable and pious option for them as well. Scott advocates consciousness-raising among women and valorizes the virtuousness of female friendship.

Millennium Hall Questions

by Elissa Myers

  1. The author of the introduction to the Broadview edition of Millennium Hall suggests that the narrative represents a feminization of gentry capitalism. However, this characterization ignores the extent to which the ladies’ religion influences the way they run their “business,” whose expanding operations are always ones of charity. On the other hand, the ladies engage in some shady labor practices, i.e. using child labor and the labor of the aged and disabled frequently, who don’t own their own labor and sometimes even labor for free. The ladies justify this by spreading money around in the way they see fit. How do the ladies’ Christian principles structure the acts of charity they perform? How are these principles used to justify their maternalistic (?) attitudes toward those whom they aid and in the process, rationalize class divisions and labor exploitation in a way that is problematic?
  2. The structure of Millennium Hall is puzzling to me. How do the frequent interruptions function in the narrative structure? Why are we presented with so many stories, and how do the descriptions of the women’s community (as well as the other communities, homes of villagers, and industries that are the fruits of their organizational labor) fit with the narratives of the women’s individual stories? What purpose do the two frame stories (the narrator and Lamont’s visit and the narrator’s letter home) serve?
  3. Friendship between women seems to be the heart of both the ladies’ utopian community and their personal stories. Common strands that appear in many of the narratives are the importance of friendship with women of the same age, of good mothering or mentorship by older women (and vice versa, the disastrous effects of bad mothering).These friendships are founded on the ladies’ common Christianity, and sometimes even initiated because of a desire to evangelize. The women help each other resist temptation, teach each other to love virtue instead of vice, and revel in their common love of God. In what ways do you see the Christian nature of the ladies’ friendship having a liberating effect on them? How does it help them to negotiate difficult social situations and moral dilemmas? In what ways does it tinge the ladies’ friendships (and self-concepts) with hints of queerness or auto-eroticism.
  4. Men are a disruptive, and often an outright evil force in Sarah Scott’s narrative. The young women’s narratives are rife with attempted seduction, and emotional (and implied sexual) abuse. The only harmless relationships between men and women are abortive ones, which nevertheless cause intense emotional pain. However, the novel seems markedly progressive in its ability to even acknowledge men’s culpability in the rape culture that is the eighteenth-century seduction narrative. How is Sarah Scott using these narratives of sexual violence and pain in love to reinforce her rhetorical point about the preferability of female friendship as a relation that soothes one’s emotional pain by facilitating and even mediating one’s connection to God? Does she ever seem to create a male character who does not exist for a primarily rhetorical purpose, but as a fully-rounded character?
  5. Expanding the common idea of female education seems to be an incredibly important aim of Scott’s narrative. Scott gives much attention to the ladies’ formative years, and to describing the modes by which they were taught intellectually, as well as the moral lessons they learned through experience. How do the ladies’ educations differ from what many women would have received in the eighteenth century? How do we see Scott militating against the adverse effects of the “accomplishment”-based education many women received? How does female friendship reinforce the moral and practical education Scott seems to advocate for women?
  6. Sarah Scott’s novel is full of overt deus-ex-machinas, and seemingly unlikely plot twists (the reappearance of long-lost mothers, the convenient death of Mr. Hintman, the child molester, etc.) Though devices such as this were common in eighteenth-century romances, Scott asserts that they are not caused by chance, but by the intervention of God. How are these devices used to reinforce Scott’s idea about the superior morality of female friendship? How does she use such devices to dramatize the incredibly difficult moral choices women were often forced to make in the eighteenth century?

Eliot Article Analysis

by Elissa Myers

Thierauf, Doreen. “The Hidden Abortion Plot in George Eliot’s Middlemarch.Victorian Studies 56.3 (Spring 2014): 479-489. Academic Search Complete. Web. 13 Nov. 2014.

1. Consider the title of the article. Does it work well? Did it motivate you to read the article in the first place? Web.

 

Yes. “The Hidden Abortion Plot in George Eliot’s Middlemarch.” It is simple and descriptive but also has the value of shock factor.

2. How does the article begin and end? How does it introduce its fundamental argument? How much of the article is given over to the introduction? Conclusion?

The article begins by stating the fact that our knowledge of abortion in the nineteenth century is still shadowy. Then the author asserts the importance of studying such a topic in light of the emphasis placed on family planning by modern feminists. Then the author clarifies how she will apply the concept to Middlemarch, and what the stakes would be for our understanding of Rosamond’s character and the novel (we could read abortion as an extension of Rosamond’s carelessness and of her autonomy, but also of Eliot’s critique of female education).

The article ends by articulating how this reading has changed our assumptions about Rosamond (she is not merely careless, but is deliberately prioritizing her own happiness over that of her husband, unborn child, and family in general), and our assumption that middle-class women must not have been in control of their reproduction. It also provides an illustration of one coded way in which authors might have talked about abortion. Finally, the author articulates the impossibility of speculating on George Eliot’s intentions, but does actually speculate a little bit about the meaning of an entry of a peculiar abortifacient plant in her diary, using this instance to state that there were subterranean means of knowledge about abortion women might have had.

Intro lasts a little over two pages out of a total of ten pages. The conclusion is a little over a page.

3. How does the article marshal evidentiary support and proof? Do you see any flaws in the argument? What aspects of the article render it convincing to you?

The article “maps the question of abortion onto Middlemarch and then analyzes the discursive ramifications of that reading practice” (480). This also means that she is in some sense justifying her approach indirectly by fitting her approach into what we already know about Middlemarch (i.e. that Rosamond is willful, skilled at maintaining physical and mental autonomy, that she doesn’t regret losing the baby, and that she goes horseback riding to achieve her own ambitions). She also uses advice books to illustrate that Rosamond’s techniques of domestic control can be understood as generally encouraged, and uses 19th century medical knowledge as it was disseminated in newspapers to show that Rosamond would have known the consequences of riding. I mostly buy her argument, but I think it could have benefited from some narratological theory examining the way Lydgate believes the miscarriage to be Rosamond’s fault, and readers are encouraged to think the same.

4.  Evaluate the style of the article. What makes it well written? What would you change if you could?

I would make it more direct and structured. I think she buries the lead in some cases, and I am a little confused by the structure of her thesis paragraph and statement. She states a lot of important points in the paragraph before her thesis paragrah and then leads up to a more specific point. It seems like a lot of the time she is trying to prove these points simultaneously in the same paragraphs, structuring her article more by which sources she is using than rhetorically, using each paragraph to prove a single point.

5.  Is the article interdisciplinary in nature and/ or rooted within the specific discipline of English?

I would say it relies mostly on previous literary criticism and theory regarding Middlemarch and nineteenth-century literature, but incorporates some history as well.

6. How does the article use secondary sources/ work of other critics generally? How does it stake out new territory? Are you convinced of its originality?

The article is certainly original, but I often think she cites in ways that seem defensive or juvenile (using scholars’ names in parentheses, but not attributing ideas to them in the sentences themselves. She is often not citing someone’s unique theoretical concept or phrasing, but merely historical fact, often “showing too much iceberg,” in the words of Eric Hayot (116), or citing concepts that are already common knowledge to Victorianists.

 

Discussion Questions on Voltaire, Adorno and Horkheimer

by Kate Eickmeyer

1. Candide’s famous source of salvation is “to work without theorizing,” and our heroes ultimately find refuge in relatively physical forms of labor: farming, cooking, embroidery, and carpentry. But what if one’s work, like ours, is theorizing? Voltaire, after all, is a writer and not a farmer. It seems to me that the real salvation Candide offers us isn’t just labor, but the redemptive powers of art and humor; the book itself delivers us from the despair of unnarrated suffering. Why doesn’t Voltaire allow the characters that same salvation through art or humor? And why does he turn to the solution of work so abruptly, without anticipating this idea anywhere earlier in the text?

 

2. “Not only is domination paid for with the estrangement of human beings from the dominated objects, but the relationships of human beings, including the relationship of individuals to themselves, have themselves been bewitched by the objectification of mind. Individuals shrink to the nodal points of conventional reactions and the modes of operation objectively expected of them.” (Adorno and Horkheimer 21)

In the context of World War II, the human tendency to be bewitched by the objectification of mind amounts to a willingness to blindly follow tyrants and be complicit in violence, horror and genocide. We can probably take it for granted that maintaining a just, peaceful society requires the political participation of an awake and educated population. But, on the other hand, maybe consumer culture, and the somatic, objectifying effects of radio, television, video games, and other forms of relatively passive entertainment actually promote peace; if we accept Voltaire’s view that a lot of people are savage, brutal hypocrites who will torture, murder and rape for fun, isn’t it better that many of our species are parked in front of the television instead of out wreaking havoc? Does the bread-and-circuses argument that entertainment (or soma, or materialism, or religion) lulls the people into accepting oppressive conditions hold up in the context of Candide, or can we argue that a lot of people would only use a keener awareness of their own subjectivities to inflict horrors on one another, instead of engaging in more thoughtful political engagement?

 

3. “The principle of immanence, the explanation of every event as repetition, which enlightenment upholds against mythical imagination, is that of myth itself. The arid wisdom which acknowledges nothing new under the sun, because all the pieces in the meaningless game have been played out, all the great thoughts have been thought, all possible discoveries can be construed in advance, and human beings are defined by self-preservation through adaptation—this barren wisdom merely reproduces the fantastic doctrine it rejects: the sanction of fate which, through retribution, incessantly reinstates what always was. Whatever might be different is made the same. That is the verdict which critically sets the boundaries to experience.” (Adorno and Horkheimer 8)

Is Candide an enlightenment or a counter-enlightenment text? Humor is generally the product of identifying the connections and sameness among phenomena, and Voltaire does this with great aplomb. The repetition of events in the book, the anticipation of one form of corruption and horror after the next, and the nearly universal failure of human nature is in itself a kind of fatalism with the flavor that there is nothing new under the sun. Is humor an enlightenment concept? Does Voltaire, so critical of the enlightenment’s hypocrisy, participate in its “principle of immanence?” Does he allow his characters subjectivity and uniqueness?

 

4. Eldorado seems to be the first true utopia we’ve seen, and Candide and Cacambo’s decision to leave is Voltaire’s statement that a real paradise might be possible, but if we found it, we’d be stupid enough to leave it. Yet the description of Eldorado is primarily visual and Voltaire offers us little in terms of its mechanics. Should we consider Eldorado as a device more than an actual utopia? What do we make of the (whimsical) red sheep? Are there other elements of Eldorado worth exploring in the context of our conversation about utopias?

 

5. Does one have to labor and produce in order to cultivate one’s garden, or does playing a thousand hours of Mario Kart or looking at pictures of breaded cats also count as cultivating one’s garden? Our culture continues to subscribe to Enlightenment ideas about work and leisure, success and failure, and those who have grown up entrenched in middle class mentalities about this find it very difficult to reorient. But does the CEO who earns $15 million a year actually contribute more to society than the $8 an hour barista? Does our fetishization of status and material culture simply give us something to do and a garden to cultivate? If labor is salvation to keep us clear of “boredom, vice and poverty,” can leisure perform the same service without the need for achievement?
6. How is it that so many grown adults are still walking around saying Panglossian things like “everything happens for a reason” and “you can do anything if you believe in yourself?” Is this the product of magical thinking, enlightenment thinking, cognitive failure, compartmentalization, or something else? Does it even matter that there are a lot of Panglosses walking around, since its better to be surrounded by Panglosses than murderers?

Candide Discussion Questions

by Rachel Eckhardt

Pangloss

Consider Pangloss’s absolute commitment to his belief that this is the best of all possible worlds. He asserts this belief even at the very end of the novel, after all he has suffered: “… in the end, I remain a philosopher. It wouldn’t be right for me to disown myself; Leibniz cannot have been wrong; and our world’s pre-existent harmony, furthermore, is the loveliest thing there is…” (122).

I had been operating under the premise that Pangloss represents a commitment to Reason and the intellectual, but after rereading this quote I started to consider how irrational he is. Is Pangloss’s faith actually a spiritual and not intellectual belief? Is Pangloss attached to the contemplation of the beauty of perfection because otherwise the nature of God and the world would be too devastating? Or out of sheer loyalty to Leibniz? Is philosophy, in Voltaire’s view, just another, less violent, violent religious practice of asserting faith?

Utopia/Eldorado

Even as Candide comes up against example after example of reasons to question the notion that this is the best of all possible worlds, he also experiences Eldorado, a tiny isolated utopia where the gems and minerals are commonplace and everyone seems very content. Despite its peace and ease, Candide choses not to stay in Eldorado. Can we conclude from his decision to leave that even the seemingly perfect garden paradise is lacking something important, kind of like the way the initial paradise in Rasselas was unsatisfying? Or is he just anxious to spend all those coins?

The Old Woman

Can we consider the Old Woman the first voice of (actual) reason or is she just negative and pessimistic when she suggests that everyone will have their own miserable story? Both she and Pangloss (and everyone in the novel) experience physical suffering but her philosophical perspective is informed and shaped by the suffering of her body. Is there significance to her being a woman, tied into traditional concepts of femininity being more connected to the body?

Violence & Physical Trauma

There is so much violence that it is comical, excessive, and over the top. How does violence function to both lighten and darken the mood? What purpose do rape and loss of limbs serve when posed as light-hearted comedy?

Utopia/Garden/Retreat

At the conclusion, do self improvement and physical work, and refraining from theoretical thinking, represent a real utopia? Maybe we should be ignoring questions or just not answering them when they arise. It seems like a cute ending but can we consider it as an actual philosophical proposal based in the body and material reality over thinking too much?

 

Secondary Source for The Concept of Enlightenment

by Aramis Miranda-Reyes

Bronner, Stephen Eric. “Interpreting The Enlightenment: Metaphysics, Tradition and Politics.” Reclaiming The Enlightenment: Toward a Politics of Radical Engagement. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004. ix-16.

“…historical epochs can generate an ethos, an existential stance toward reality, or what might even be termed a “project” uniting the diverse participants in a broader intellectual trend or movement.” – Peter Gay, The Party of Humanity: Essays in the French Enlightenment (1954).

From the very first page of Reclaiming the Enlightenment, Stephen Bronner states his purpose clearly and unambiguously – “What follows is an attempt to reclaim the Enlightenment” – he says. But, we might ask, reclaim it from what? Does the Enlightenment need reclaiming? And what in fact does this reclaiming entail? These are the essential questions Bronner attempts to answer in his text. His quest begins first and foremost by yanking the Enlightenment movement and its participants out of the clutches of what he calls “the late brand of critical theory associated with Dialectic of Enlightenment by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno” (x). In fact he goes as far as stating that to view Enlightenment intellectuals as “utopians or totalitarians is philosophically untenable and historically absurd” (x). And though he recognizes the remarkable power of the work and the enduring effect it has had over the past half-century, the truth is it is “neither a work of history, anthropology, sociology, nor politics” (2). Instead it is an interdisciplinary experiment that resulted from “a period marked by previously unimaginable slaughter of two world wars, the emergence of mass culture, bureaucratic states and…the concentration camp universe” (2). In essence, Horkheimer and Adorno’s seminal work was a product of a particular point in history through which its authors expressed their existential crisis.

As such, Bronner argues, if we are to reconnect with the Enlightenment in a context that is apropos of the 21st century, we first have to set aside the pronouncements of those like Horkheimer and Adorno that characterize it as some sort of a disembodied ideology or “a historical epoch grounded in an anthropological understanding of civilization that, from the first, projected the opposite of progress… [in service of] the totally administered society” (3).   Subsequently, we need to understand and acknowledge the invaluable contributions the Enlightenment made to modern political discourse. After all, some of the most important political products and paramount values in the modern world are rooted in the Enlightenment, such as – liberalism, socialism, political liberty, social justice, and cosmopolitanism.   Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we are to frame the Enlightenment for what it actually was, a socio-political and intellectual movement set on protesting the status quo and declaring a re- conception of physical and social realities based on new discoveries of the time. As Bronner states “…the philosophes were clear about the basic values underlying their enterprise. They shared a fundamental concern with constricting the exercise of arbitrary institutional power and expanding the realm of individual autonomy” (8). In other words, they were attempting to reform and redress the dogmas of the old feudal order, its prejudices and traditionalism in favor of a more egalitarian approach to government and life.

For that purpose Bronner, much like Enlightenment philosophes did before him, further removes the concept of enlightenment from the language of “pseudo-universalism” he attributes to Horkheimer and Adorno and places it within the vernacular so as to properly allow “the subject under discussion (politics) to define the language in which it is discussed” (5). In other words, he engages the subject of enlightenment in the proper political and linguistic terms so as to situate, identify and clarify the subject (political history) being discussed rather than confusing the issue by “substituting the affirmation of subjectivity, through aesthetic-philosophic criticism” (6). This lack of linguistic engagement with the subject at hand and the inherent separation of politics and philosophy in their critical analysis of the Enlightenment led Horkheimer and Adorno (and other post-modernists of the same ilk) to their two gravest mistakes. First, is their lack of acknowledgement of the simple fact that “different practices and ideals are appropriate to different spheres of activity” and second, they ignored “the institutional preconditions for the free exercise of individual capacities” (6). In simple terms, by refusing to directly engage with the subject of politics by using political terms and political language, Horkheimer and Adorno failed to grasp the essence of the subject and thereby take into account the obstacles existing (conservative and dogmatic) state institutions would form on the way to reforming or “enlightening” western societies at the time. This conception is key to the application of political theory and philosophy at any given time.

Ultimately, Bronner’s reclamation project is as much a reconstitution of the Enlightenment movement, in and away from the generic philosophical musings of Horkheimer and Adorno as well as a concrete recontextualization of its importance to modern political thought. Its ideals, its achievements and its failures on the whole still provide the template from which modern Western democratic thought still functions. In a nutshell, reclaiming the Enlightenment must be accomplished based on the political and social realities of the time, the movement’s ideals and what it essentially tried to achieve. Two of the best examples of Enlightenment’s goals are: “Attack upon received traditions, popular prejudices, and religious superstitions” (2) and decensoring of “…intellectuals who debated first principles in public, who introduced freelance writing, who employed satire and wit to demolish puffery and dogma, and who were preoccupied with reaching a general audience of educated readers…(5)” There is no question that such aspirations are still very much relevant today.

Secondary Source: “Candide Shoots the Monkey Lovers: Representing Black Men in Eighteenth-Century Visual Culture”

by Sophia Natasha Sunseri

Bellhouse, Mary. “Candide Shoots the Monkey Lovers: Representing Black Men in Eighteenth-Century French Visual Culture.” Political Theory 34.6 (2006). 741-784.

 

 

In this reading, Bellhouse explores the visual construction of black male identity in France during the long eighteenth century. She conveys how European perceptions of black men changed drastically after the Haitian Revolution of 1791, in which slaves rebelled against their owners. Prior to the Revolution, artists often depicted black men as inferior and child-like whereas after, they depicted them as violent and virile. Bellhouse delves deeper into this distinction by comparing two sets of illustrations of Voltaire’s Candide, which were both drawn by Jean-Michael Moreau. The first set was composed before the revolution, in 1787, and the second was composed after, in 1803. The differences that emerge between the two ultimately reflect a growing cultural anxiety about interracial relations between Europeans and blacks during this time.

From the late seventeenth century until 1789, black men were portrayed as emasculated in French visual culture. When they appeared in paintings and illustrations, they often embodied one of two roles: exotic servants in metropolitan France or plantation slaves in the colonies. It was not uncommon for them to be depicted as infantilized, servile, or maimed. Atoine Coypel’s painting, Young Black Holding a Basket of Fruit and a Young Woman Stroking a Dog (1682) is a prime example. In this work, a sumptuously attired dark skinned boy dons a white turban adorned with feathers, emphasizing his otherness. The black man-as-child was thus presented as relatively harmless: he was not yet regarded as sexually threatening “and the emergent taboo of the black man and white woman [was] avoided” (744).

After the 1790s, however, portrayals of black men as inferior and dependent were replaced by images of black men as violent and sexually threatening. Such images included: “oversized genitalia” as well as depictions of black men as “…armed attacker[s] …and bestial rapist[s] who chase after white women” (742). This shift in visual representation can be attributed to cultural anxiety that came about as a byproduct of the Haitian Revolution. The uprising resulted in many horrific atrocities, news of which eventually made its way to Europe. Anxiety increased in France as reports of black men raping white women circulated.

The change in the way in which black men were visually represented is exemplified in Moreau’s illustrations of Candide.

Moreau’s 1787 illustrations depict black men as non-threatening. One scene that Moreau chose to portray is the episode in Chapter 19 when Candide and Cacambo visit Surinam and encounter a maimed slave. Moreau’s illustration endows Candide with several phallic artifacts suggesting masculine prowess: a walking stick, a rifle, upright legs. The slave, by contrast, is lying down horizontally in the shadows, his peg leg and crutch visible. As Bellhouse surmises: “In Moreau’s illustrations, light skin colour is linked to multiple signifiers of ‘phallic’ power, while dark skin is linked to dismemberment” (758).

 Moreau’s 1803 illustrations are markedly more violent than his 1787 illustrations. In one of them, Candide is shown navigating his way through a field of white bodies that have been scorched, raped, and disemboweled.

Of particular interest to Bellhouse, however, is the scene in which Candide shoots the Monkey Lovers. Here, Moreau revises aspects of Voltaire’s narrative. In Voltaire’s text from 1759, Candide risks being cannibalized but in Moreau’s illustration from 1803, he is portrayed as saving the young women from immanent danger. Moreau’s depiction of skin colour and European facial features were also decisions of his own making. Rather than depict the “naked girls” as indigenous, as Voltaire does, Moreau depicts them as European-looking. He also makes the monkeys appear especially menacing—an interpretation that sharply juxtaposes earlier illustrations by artists such as Charles Monnet whose 1776 illustrations portray the monkeys’ faces as “benign” (774). Monnet’s monkeys are “pictured with prominent tails, [that] look like toys. One monkey is almost smiling” (776). Interestingly, Moreau’s monkeys from the 1803 illustrations are given darker fur than the monkeys in his 1787 set and are drawn to look more muscular. By the time in which Moreau selected the monkey scene for illustration, debates about cross-species breeding had been complicated by intensifying anxiety about interracial sexuality and by years of war in what is now Haiti. The mixing of races in Haiti produced many contentious and heated debates, which are made apparent in comparing Moreau’s two sets of illustrations.

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