Blessings in Disguise

Blessings in Disguise

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The literature and aesthetic theory of modern times has revived the claim that the conventions and artifices of civilization are the source of many ills. Far from establishing harmonious relationships between individuals, they have sometimes legitimized forms of violence and oppression. But while conventions and artifices may be a source of evil, they are also a means by which evils can be reduced or overcome. Starobinski pursues this line of reflection by taking us back to the thought of the 18th century. Civilization, he argues, has always been entangled with barbarism. As a form of politeness, a refinement of manners, civilization was said to legitimize deceit. But aren't the conventions of civilized living, however objectionable, a blessing in disguise? It is the task of art, he contends, to make the most of these conventions, to use the very disguises of civilization to counter the barbarism they mask. Tracing this idea through 17th- and 18th-century French literature, Starobinski charts the historical and intellectual limits of criticism itself.
These reflections are accompanied by a series of studies: the use of the word "civilization" in the Age of Enlightenment"; the classical doctrine of civility and the art of flattery; fable and mythology in the 17th and 18th centuries; the relations between exile, satire and tyranny in Montesquieu; philosphy and style in the writings of Voltaire; and the search for the remedy in the disease in the thought of Rousseau. Jean Starobinski is the winner of the Balzan Prize and of the Premio Tevere of the City of Rome for this book.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 248 pages
  • 152 x 229mm | 597g
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • notes, index
  • 0745608515
  • 9780745608518

Table of contents

The word "civilization"; on flattery; exile, satire, tyranny - Montesquieu's "Persian Letters"; Voltaire's double-barreled musket; the antidote in the poison - the thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau; fable and mythology in the 17th and 18th centuries; epilogue - "As I detest Hades' gates".
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