The Autonomy of Pleasure: Libertines, License, and Sexual Revolution

Hardcover | February 16, 2016

byJames A. Steintrager

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What would happen if pleasure were made the organizing principle for social relations and sexual pleasure ruled over all? Radical French libertines experimented clandestinely with this idea during the Enlightenment. In explicit novels, dialogues, poems, and engravings, they wrenched pleasure free from religion and morality, from politics, aesthetics, anatomy, and finally reason itself, and imagined how such a world would be desirable, legitimate, rapturous-and potentially horrific.

Laying out the logic and willful illogic of radical libertinage, this book ties the Enlightenment engagement with sexual license to the expansion of print, empiricism, the revival of skepticism, the fashionable arts and lifestyles of the Ancien Régime, and the rise and decline of absolutism. It examines the consequences of imagining sexual pleasure as sovereign power and a law unto itself across a range of topics, including sodomy, the science of sexual difference, political philosophy, aesthetics, and race. It also analyzes the roots of radical claims for pleasure in earlier licentious satire and their echoes in appeals for sexual liberation in the 1960s and beyond.

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What would happen if pleasure were made the organizing principle for social relations and sexual pleasure ruled over all? Radical French libertines experimented clandestinely with this idea during the Enlightenment. In explicit novels, dialogues, poems, and engravings, they wrenched pleasure free from religion and morality, from polit...

James A. Steintrager is professor of English, comparative literature, and European languages and studies at the University of California, Irvine.

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:408 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.98 inPublished:February 16, 2016Publisher:Columbia University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0231151586

ISBN - 13:9780231151580

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Table of Contents

AcknowledgmentsIntroduction: Whose Sexual Revolution?1. A Thousand Modes of Venery: Coital Positions as Actions and Communications2. Voluptuary Architecture: Organizing3. Sodomy and Reason: Making Sense of the Libertine Preference4. "the obscene organ of brute pleasure": Social Functions of the Clitoris5. The Fury of Her Kindness: What Should a Libertine Know About Orgasm?6. Color and Caprice: The Politics and Aesthetics of Interracial Relations7. Canonizing Sade: Eros, Democracy, and DifferentiationNotesIndex

Editorial Reviews

Finally, a book that commands the intelligence and the erudition to tackle the thorny topic of libertinage. Steintrager gives its due to the French Enlightenment in the radicalization of pleasure under all its guises. But his book takes us from classical antiquity all the way to the sexual revolution of the sixties. We travel from Ovid to the infamous Marquis de Sade, who makes recurring appearances, to Foucault. A resounding critical exploit on a still intriguing topic and a bold assessment of the pitfalls of the discourse of sexuality.