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13.06.19, Stahuljak, Pornographic Archaeology

13.06.19, Stahuljak, Pornographic Archaeology

Attending the lectures of Jean-Martin Charcot (1884–1885) at Salpêtrière, Sigmund Freud paused in front of a picture that hung in the lecture hall. This late nineteenth-century canvas depicted the birth of modern psychiatry "showing 'citizen' Pinel (1745–1826) having the chains taken off the poor madmen at the Salpêtrière. The Salpêtrière which had witnessed so many horrors during the Revolution had also been the scene of the most humane of all revolutions." [1] Zrinka Stahuljak's new book disentangles the medical medievalisms at stake in Freud's primal scene of the civilizing mission of medicine in Paris. She argues that the medical triangulation of French metropolis, colony, and an imaginary temporal space--the Middle Ages--produced in the later nineteenth-century an academic French philology that needs to be understood as a modality of colonial madness. [2] Hers is a crucial contribution to the understanding of the biopolitics of medievalism; that is, how medieval studies constituted sovereign power "to make live" (as defined by Michel Foucault) in nineteenth-century France. The story of her study, how philology purified itself of sex, has profound implications for the medievalisms of psychoanalysis, historiography of the Crusades, and the history of sexuality. Pornographic Archaeology proudly takes it place on the shelf with another powerful study of colonial madness by Michelle Warren. [3]

Her analysis is a plotted along three axes: sex and blood; sex and race; sex and love. Pornographic Archaeology draws upon richly-documented medical-historical debates roughly bracketed by the French invasion of Algiers (1830) and the beatification of Joan of Arc in 1909. In Part One (Sex and Blood), the author focuses on how medical and historical debates over disease (leprosy and syphilis), vices (sodomy) and sexual practices effected the medicalization of medieval history over the nineteenth-century. Blood was the hinge of this medical medievalism. Concepts of blood underwent discursive transformation from a juridical substance threaded through an affective psychology of genealogical relations into a medical fluid that marked the biology of heredity always vulnerable to threats of physiological and moral degeneration. In other words, what had been a medieval generative metaphor--blood--was translated to biopolitics by the medical medievalisms of a French discourse of nation in the nineteenth century. Her evidentiary focus is the debates that raged over the relations of consanguinity to heredity and the health of the nation. Doctors used historical evidence to probe the viable limits of endogamy and exogamy. Their questions fomented a cottage industry of genealogical-medical analysis of the vitality of medieval aristocratic lineages. But, contra Georges Duby and other medievalists who have uncritically assumed a "bio-filiative core" at the heart of medieval genealogies, Stahuljak persuasively shows how such entrenched textbook models of medieval kinship are themselves the effect of the biopolitics of medicalizing medieval history in the nineteenth century and also the cause of some serious misunderstandings of the Foucauldian project of genealogy among medievalists.

Part Two (Sex and Race) addresses how French doctors and historians, in the wake of French colonization in the Maghreb, interwove their fears about Islamization, sodomy, and syphilis with their fantasies of medieval French crusading in the East. Historians and medical experts returned to the fourteenth-century trial of the leaders of the Templars, a powerful military order, carried out under the auspices of King Philip the Fair. The Templar revival saw a spate of historical revisionism of trial documents as well as dramatic stagings of their demise, the popular play from 1805,Les Templiers, by François Raynouard, a writer and well-known Romance philologist, being an example. In an effort to reclaim the Templars for the French nation, intellectuals sought to counter accusations of their purported Islamization and to locate the sources of their alleged sodomy and syphilis in the contagion of the Orient. Stahuljak further traces how arguments about the discursive invention of sodomy in the Orient grew entangled with anxieties about degeneracy at home such that "inversion" came to be experienced as an attack on the French nation. Only metropolitan moral campaigns, schooled by their medical investigations of French medieval crusading, could defend the nation from the degeneracy posed by French colonization in former Ottoman territories. Doctors honed their skills at detecting metropolitan degeneracy through their historical study of the trials of Joan of Arc and of her comrade-in-arms, Gilles de Rais, Marshal of France, and alleged serial-killer. These experts viewed this odd couple as paradoxically bound together at the poles of degeneracy--the former a degenerate genius, the latter a degenerate criminal. Medical discourse on the criminality of Gilles de Rais provided the conditions of possibility for the beatification of Joan of Arc in 1909: "Joan of Arc's symbol of regeneration was the medical version of a prophetic promise for the Third French Republic proclaimed in 1870" (127).

Pornographic archaeology comes to the fore in the third section on sex and love. Stahuljak takes her title from the term used by Paul Lacroix in his six-volume history of prostitution published in 1852. A prolific writer and an advocate of histoire des moeurs which capaciously included sex, fashion, arts, custom, religious and military life, Lacroix has not to this day made it into the canon of medievalists of the early- and mid-nineteenth century. She excavates the complicated layers of his exclusion by examining the relationship of archaeology to the methods of histoire des moeurs. Bawdy medieval fabliaux became the crux of the battle between the school of Lacroix and the emergent academic philologists with Gaston Paris as chief spokesman. [4] The bitter national debate (1876–1884) over the legalization of divorce fissured their methodological differences. Lacroix considered the crude language of the fabliaux as a minor language, one that could not be contained by national boundaries. [5] This notion of fabliaux as an important minor language (Lacroix in genealogical relation with the thinking of Deleuze and Guattari) ran athwart of the civilizing mission of a nationalist philology. As a discursive counter-measure academic philologists fabricated the literature of courtly love as a major--read, national--literature, one purified of sex and directed at desire. Contemporary medical experts further translated courtly love into the concept of courtly marriage and wrote marriage manuals as an antidote to the legalization of divorce. Psychoanalysis, especially Lacanian psychoanalysis, with its embrace of courtly love, thus spectrally performs the afterlife of the academic philology of the late-nineteenth century. [6]

Pornographic Archaeology matters to a profound impasse manifest in contemporary psychoanalysis over the foreclosure of Muslims as psychoanalytic subjects. Consider, for example, the complaint of Lacanian pundit, Slavoj Žižek, about the psychoanalytical impossibility of the former Ottoman territories of the Balkans--the "Balkans is structured like the unconscious of Europe"--at the same time, Lacanian-trained Maghrebi psychoanalysts (notably, Fethi Benslama) are asking what would psychoanalysis look like if it worked through its colonial foreclosure of Muslims as psychoanalytic subjects. [7] Stahuljak's study of medical medievalism provides the critical starting point for working through the colonial madness of philology and psychoanalysis.

Let a philologist, Roland Barthes (1915–1980), have the last word on courtly love and fabliaux, desire and sex, as they (and he) criss-cross metropolitan and colonial space. His Moroccan diaries epitomize the paradox of pornographic archaeology--its parentheses. Barthes incited his readers to rethink their relations to language, desire, fantasy and norms; Stahuljak shows how medievalism itself has fabricated what is thinkable and unthinkable about sex and disciplinarity. Here, in an undated fragment (c. 1969) from his Moroccan diaries, Barthes comments on cruising and reading parenthetically the Lacan of courtly love:

Happiness at Mehiula: the huge kitchen, at night, the storm outside, the simmering harrira, the big butane lamp, the whole ballet of little visits, the warmth of the djellaba and reading Lacan (Lacan defeated by this trivial comfort).



[1] Sigmund Freud, in James Strachey, ed. Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 3 (London: Hogarth Press, 1953–1974), 17–18.

[2] Readers will find a companion piece to Pornographic Archaeology in Richard C. Keller, Colonial Madness: Psychiatry in French North Africa (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).

[3] Michelle Warren, Creole Medievalism: Colonial France and Joseph Bédier's Middle Age (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2011).

[4] Gaston Paris was an energetic Dreyfusard. I am wondering how the French Jewish Question inflects Stahuljak's analysis of medical medievalisms? See Joshua Schreier, Arabs of the Jewish Faith: The Civilizing Mission in Colonial Algeria (Rutgers NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2010); Laura Morowitz, "Anti-Semitism, Medievalism, and the Art of the Fin-de-Siècle," Oxford Art Journal 20/1 (1997): 35–49.

[5] See Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans. Dana Polan (Minneapolis MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1986).

[6] Stahuljak productively complicates the work of Bruce Holsinger on Lacan, whom she cites The Premodern Condition: Medievalism and the Making of Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005). Crucial also is Erin Felicia Labbie,Lacan's Medievalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006).

[7] For Žižek on the Balkans as the unconscious of Europe see, Euronews 9: http://www/ accessed 17 April, 2013. For a critical overview: Dušan I. Bjelić, Normalizing the Balkans: Geopolitics of Psychoanalysis and Psychiatry (Burlington VT: Ashgate, 2011); Fethi Benslama, Psychoanalysis and the Challenge of Islam, trans. by Robert Bononno (Minneapolis MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2009).