Expressions of Absolutism

FRIT-F523 — Spring 2020

Hall Bjørnstad
ED 1002
Days and Times
5:45pm-7:45pm Wednesdays
Course Description

 Although everyone recognizes the reign of Louis XIV as the peak of French absolutism, it is important to remember that the term "absolutism" itself was never used in the period. As an analytic tool, the term is useful less on account of its indexical value – pointing to a stable definition or sparking discussion on what that definition should be – than because it brings into focus the practices of self-representation that found and sustain the power of the king. Indeed, the only place where absolutism incontestably exists is in its manifestations, in the image of itself that royal power projects outwards but also inwards. This course will study this dynamic by looking closely at various artistic expressions of absolutism (theater, poetry, architecture, portraiture, etc.) that respond to and help construct the image of Louis XIV. In doing so, we hope to take up the challenge formulated by prominent French historians Fanny Cosandey and Robert Descimon when they concluded a 2002 book-length survey of the immensely rich and varied research on French absolutism with the following surprising statement: "We end up, then [after 200 pages of reviewing recent scholarship], with the contradiction of an absolutism that we know incomparably well in its details but without a good grasp of its totality or coherence." The collective and interdisciplinary endeavor of the course, where each participant will specialize in a specific expression, is organized in the firm conviction that if not the totality, then certainly the coherence of French absolutism under Louis XIV best can be grasped through a careful examination of the various aspects of its expressions. Readings will include primary texts by Molière, Racine, Boileau, La Fontaine, Félibien, and Louis XIV himself, as well as critical essays by Louis Marin, Peter Burke, Roger Chartier, Norbert Elias, and Patrick Boucheron, among others.

Weekly response papers and scaffolded final research project. All readings in French (English translations available). Seminar conducted in English.

Class # 30530


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