French Absolutism, at Home and Abroad
This course will introduce students to the paradigmatic example of the early modern court society, Louis XIV’s “absolutist” court. Moving out from the foundational studies of Foucault, Elias, and Marin, we will explore a number of more recent efforts—coming from the disciplines of both literary studies and history—to parse the historical and historiographical category of absolutism and some of the received ideas associated with it (the “Classical Age,” “subjectivity,” possibly “modernity” itself). Over the course of the semester, we will examine a series of sites where the culture of absolutism took shape, from the gardens of Versailles and its festivals, to the salons of Paris, and outward to the east (India) and west (North America). Central to our concerns will be the specific place and work of literature in the making of absolutist culture; as such, we will be reading a careful selection of canonical literary texts from the period (e.g., La Fontaine, Molière, Racine, Lafayette), alongside a range of other texts and artifacts. All texts available in English, and students of other periods and national traditions will be encouraged to develop projects on their own specific interests. For books in French, we’ll organize a purchase at the beginning of the semester.