Transgressing Boundaries: Worldly Conversation, Politeness and Sociability in Ancien Régime France, 1660-1789

 

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Transgressing Boundaries
Tuomas Tikanoja, author
ISBN 978-952-93-2685-3
Soft cover, 277 pgs
Scholarly monograph

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$43/£27/34€

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Republic of Letters and the Enlightenment salons formed a social network for intellectual exchange between the salonnières and philosophes and for political discourse, which is now considered to be the basis of modern democratic society. The ethos of sociability and the egalitarian spirit of conversation adopted in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century salons were transformed into rules for the proper way of speaking and decent manner of expressing an enlightened view or formulating an argument. The discursive and conversational practices in Ancien Régime salons and high society in general created institutional frames for subsequent critical debate and public opinion in the late eighteenth-century French society. All the affiliations and acquaintances that the salonnières had within the contemporary cultural elite brought with them also political influence. That is how ‘politesse’ was intermingled with ‘polit-ical’ in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century public sphere. That is why communication was - as it still is - power. Exploring these networks and modes of communication gives us new information about the cultural and social history of the Enlightenment.

‘Transgressing Boundaries: Worldly Conversation, Politeness and Sociability in Ancien Régime France, 1660-1789’ offers a new approach to Enlightenment sociability. The main argument in my book is that the social identity of Ancien Régime high society both manifested itself and was largely defined by interaction and diverse communicative strategies. Of central concern are the ways in which politeness and free interaction bypassed and transgressed social distinctions within the cultural elite of the time.

While recent scholarship on eighteenth-century sociability has regarded the Enlightenment as a historical turning point and has pointed to the unique role of Enlightenment salons as forums of public opinion and free exchange, I suggest that conversation in Enlightenment salons was largely influenced by their seventeenth-century predecessors as well as by Christian and Renaissance ethics and aesthetics. Whereas some historians – still inspired by the theory of Norbert Elias – have recently suggested that these gatherings were ‘aristocratic bastions’ marked by social distinction, the book shows that instead their basic characteristics were transparency and an egalitarian spirit.

 

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