The Centre for the History of European Discourses was incorporated in the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities in August 2015.

The information in this website is therefore out of date but retained for archival and staff purposes.

During the period 1880-1905, many middle-brow novels published in France bore the genericappellation roman de mœurs. Their authors typically sought to represent sexuality while heading off any charge of frivolity or depravity. Their claim to legitimacy was, in loose terms at least, scientific and sexological, since they purported to tell the truth of sexuality by working it out in narratives of pathology. Typically, they presented a chosen "illness" - hysteria, neurasthenia, folie érotique, sapphism, etc. - as the narrative destiny of a central character. In so doing, they undoubtedly helped to shape medical knowledge even as they vulgarised it. And they did so in part by developing an aesthetics of pathology. Epilepsy often seemed to have become the malady par excellence, and perhaps the point of reference for all pathological description. At the heart of epilepsy - and perhaps at the heart of sexuality as (predisposition to) illness - lay the "spasm". In the spasm, pain, pleasure, the expression of inner forces, and an intimate foreknowledge of death were held together in one utterly compelling symptom. There was no longer room here for a classical ars erotica based on studied bodily attitudes. The spasm provided the arresting material confirmation of sexuality as bodily truth, and the novels that represented it were committed to the beauty of epilepsy.

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