Thursday, October 04, 2007

The salon is a thinking-machine

In 1971, Robert Darnton published an article in Past and Present that transformed the cultural history of the Enlightenment. Voltaire, d'Alembert, and their ilk, he argued, were not the whole story; the Enlightenment was not simply about brilliant men and their embrace of reason. It was also about the plodding philosophasters, the sordid scribblers, who attempted to make their living in eighteenth-century Paris. They were never vindicated, neither in their own time nor in history; the philosophes shunned them, and they were forced to subsist by writing libel and pornography. It was the anger and frustration of these men which provided much of the fury behind the Revolution. Darnton's shorthand term for this class was "Grub Street," after the eighteenth-century London street which housed a similar counterculture...
The other approach is more difficult. It would attempt to study the psychogeographical aspects of eighteenth-century Parisian cultural life. Through reconstructions of the built environment, the streets and carriages, we can study the impact of space on intellectual society. Was one salon more cramped than another? What was the significance of the eighteenth-century shift in salon structure from the immediate bedside of the woman to a more dedicated room or arrangement? Did the spaces around the salon tend to encourage conversation or isolation?
Either way, Deleuzian theory can provide some tools for looking at the problem. We may characterize the Enlightenment as a rhizome, a webwork of flows and blockages of knowledge. The salon is a thinking-machine, intertwined with an authority-machine and a legitimation-machine; it attempts to occupy some privileged site for an interruption of the flow... Posted by Greg Afinogenov at 10:13 AM 0 comments Links to this post Labels: , , , , Wednesday, May 30, 2007

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