Stradivarius, Guarneri del Gesù

Posted: October 19, 2018 in Uncategorized


I spoke about this film in class on Wednesday when suggesting much of Rousseau’s writings can be read as motivated by a fear of the excesses of Italian culture. I wish I could it, but my copied has been corrupted and the library does not own it. If you like, have a look on YouTube and decide for yourself.

It is not only in the visual mirror, but also in the “acoustic mirror”, the one through which we (mis)recognize ourselves when we (hear ourselves) speak, that we first learn to love ourselves in moments of narcissistic auto-affection, to feel a sense of self-regard. The voice is one of the privileged locations around which we develop a sense of personal identity. In sharp contrast to this however, Diderot’s “Rameau’s Nephew,” along with the scenes we watched from Farinelli, and perhaps some of the audio files below, allow us perhaps to entertain the possibility of encountering a voice which is neither our own nor simply that of a neighbor, but rather a voice which is radically alien – a voice so strange it chills us, and yet which oddly strikes us at the same time as one we somehow recognize.

We call such a phenomenon an instance of the “uncanny”, that which is eerily all too familiar. The uncanny voice seems either to come from within us though it is not our own, or, conversely, it appears to come from outside ourselves though we oddly recognize it to be ours.

Four (Per)versions of The Voice from Inner Space:


Alessandro Moreschi, The “Last Castrato”
(the real deal)
Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria”


David Daniels
(a contemporary falsetto counter-tenor)
George-Friedrich Handel’s “Xerxes”


Clara Rockmore
(electronic musician, master of the Theremin)
Tschaikovsky’s “Valse Sentimentale”


(computerized synthesis of male falsetto and female true soprano)
Georg-Friedrich Handel – “Cara Sposa”

Rousseau and Disability

Posted: October 18, 2018 in Uncategorized

While it’s easy, though certainly justified, to criticize Diderot’s stance toward the blind, I think we should nevertheless be somewhat patient with him. Yes, he does patronize a number of groups of person, including those whom we would today call ‘disabled’. But it’s important to remember that that word did not even exist until very recently. Early eras were only beginning to come to terms with how to look at bodies that were different from the norm. In fact, we still are. While Diderot may appear glib in his (mostly likely facetious) pronouncement that the blind have it better than those with sight, we nevertheless can see in his state a belief that disable persons are simply to be pitied (a very Rousseauist sentiment). Not only are disabled persons capable of learning along with the supposedly normal; additionally, they have very valuable things to teach the majority, things that can only be learned from their perspective. While Diderot’s ideas are not up to current standards of correctness, he’s certainly far more advanced in his thinking than his near contemporary Rousseau.

Body, Self, and Other in the Enlightenment
Bucknell Studies in Eighteenth Century Literature and Culture

Monst Dream

Monstrous Dreams of Reason explores one of the most enduring and intriguing paradoxes of the British Enlightenment: how reason gives rise to both the beneficial and the monstrous.


Anatomical Model
Museum “Taruffi,” Bologna, Italy
18th Century


This agreement [or contract] made beforehand [between teacher and student] assumes a normal birth, a well-formed, vigorous and healthy child. A father has no choice, and should have no preference within the limits of the family God has given him; all his children are equally his children and he owes them all the same care and affection. Crippled or not, languid or robust, each of them is a trust for which he is responsible to the hand from which it has been given, and marriage is a contract made with nature as well as between spouses.

But anyone who undertakes a duty not imposed upon him by nature must secure beforehand the means for its fulfillment; otherwise he makes himself accountable even for what he could not do. If you take the care of a sickly, unhealthy child, you become a sick nurse, not a tutor. To preserve a useless life you are wasting the time which should be spent in increasing its value; you risk the sight of a despairing mother reproaching you for the death of a child who ought to have died long ago.

I would not undertake the care of a feeble, sickly child, even if he should live for eighty years. I do not want a pupil who is useless alike to himself and others, one whose sole business is to keep himself alive, one whose body is always a hindrance to the training of his mind. If I vainly lavish my care upon him, what can I do but double the loss to society by robbing it of two men instead of one? Let another tend this weakling for me; I am quite willing, I approve his charity, but I myself have no gift for such a task. I could never teach the art of living to one who needs all his strength to keep himself alive.

The body must be strong enough to obey the mind; a good servant must be strong. I know that intemperance stimulates the passions; it also destroys the body in the long run. Fasting and penance often produce the same results in an opposite way. The weaker the body, the more imperious its demands; the stronger it is, the better it obeys. All sensual passions find their home in effeminate bodies. The less satisfied they are the more irritated they feel.

A frail body weakens the soul. Hence the influence of medecine, an art which does more harm to man than all the evils it professes to cure. I do not know what the doctors cure us of, but I know this: they infect us with very deadly diseases –cowardice, timidity, credulity, the fear of death. What if they can make corpses walk? It is men that we need, and we will never see them leaving the hands of a doctor.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile (1762)

Screen Shot 2013-03-02 at 12.03.04 PM

Lennard J. Davis is Professor of English, Disability Studies, and Medical Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the author of numerous books and articles including most recently Obsession: A History (University of Chicago Press), which was chosen by Chicago Tribune as one of the top five books of 2008 written by a Chicagoan, and Go Ask Your Father: One Man’s Obsession to Find his Origins Through DNA Testing (Random House). Davis, a Guggenheim Fellow and frequent commentator on NPR, regularly writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education, and has written for the New York Times, The Nation, The Chicago Tribune, and other major newspapers and journals and has appeared on Fresh Air, All Things Considered, and This American Life.

They know what they’re doing. Probably we’re better off kept in the dark.

Image  —  Posted: October 18, 2018 in Uncategorized

Image  —  Posted: October 18, 2018 in Uncategorized


Magnifico, that is, great, grand, generous. Which means the exact opposite, since the Commedia dell’Arte Magnifico is decidedly avaricious. But besides this extremely human defect, the Magnifico represents the highest authority in the family. He is the one who runs not only the economy, the finances, but also the destiny of the household and all who live there. He decides whether or not to pay the servants (he generally inclines against it, not without good reason); he decides where his son or daughter (the Lovers) will marry, when, and with whom, and he thus sets in play the great drama of the lovers, whose solution becomes the material for the three traditional acts of the comedy. Magnifico is thus the technical term that indicates the character.


The first reading, by contemporary scholar Timon Screech, is a bit lengthy; but it is fairly straightforward, and much of its length is comprised of illustrations. In some ways this material will look very different from anything we’ve discussed so far this semester. But just a little reflection on it should reveal to you how well this relates to our earlier readings. I hope you find these essays on the Japanese reception of the Western optical apparatus as fascinating as I do. The second piece, by the legendary Japanese poet Basho, is quite easy.

Lens Heart

Timon Screech
School of Oriental and African Studies
University of London

“The Meaning of Perspective in Edo Popular Culture” (1994)
“Machinery for Pictures” (1996)

(part one)
(part two)


Mitsuo Basho
松尾 芭蕉
(1644 – 1694)

“Narrow Road to the Deep North”