Staging the improper body : Suzanne Curchod Necker (1737--1794) and the stigmatization of the self

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Date created: 
2008
Abstract: 

This dissertation explores the life and writings of the eighteenth-century
Parisian salonniere, Suzanne Curchod Necker (1737-1794), from the perspective of
corporeal autobiography. In it, I posit the body as a stage upon which identity can be
displayed and argue for an understanding of the body as an agentive entity which
has the capacity to take an active role in the construction and presentation of the
autobiographical self. My work, which analyzes Madame Necker's published and
unpublished writings, is mainly concerned with identifying corporeal contradictions;
that is, in understanding manifestations of corporeal impropriety as loci for the
performance and presentation of self. Looking at the performance of illness in
particular, this work suggests that physical suffering functions as a barometer for an
individual's psychic perceptions and can be consciously deployed as a strategy for
managing social, religious, and cultural exile.
My work identifies four interlocking themes in Madame Necker's life:
sociability, religion, illness, and the reproductive body, and seeks to assess the
relationships, intersections, and tensions between them, particularly as they
emerged in the form of embodied practices. I suggest that the contradictions between the sociable body (as represented by the irreligious mondanite of the French
elite) and the Calvinist body (understood through Madame Necker's moral stance)
played themselves out in the maternal body, which functioned not only as the site for
the realization of true virtue and happiness, but also as the locus of human
weakness. The tensions and contradictions between sociable, Calvinist, and
maternal bodies converged in the sick body, an entity marked by psychic and somatic
suffering which was finally memorialized-in the form of the embalmed cadaver-as
the divine body. Ultimately, I argue that the externally-visible corporeal sufferings of
Madame Necker's sick body might be conceived as a highly theatrical instance of
narcissistic display, evidence of a ritualistic understanding of the symbolic power of
the corporeal as a prime site for the performance of abjection and the longing for
absolution.

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Language: 
English
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