Homoeroticism in neoclassical poetics : French translations of the ideal male nude in late-eighteenth-century word and image
The thesis consists of four chapters, an Introduction and a Conclusion. The Introduction considers the theoretical frameworks within which recent readings of the late-eighteenth-century French homoerotic ideal male nude have been developed; and how these readings have in turn emerged from a wider extra-art-historical discourse on the sexual politics of representation and the representation of sexual politics. A clear picture of the ideal male nude as a contested field emerges; and a justification of the materials which will be used in the thesis clarifies their critical engagement with these polemical debates surrounding the object of study. Chapter 1 is in two parts. Part one deals with the possibilities of a textual representation of homosexuality in French neoclassical poetics by focusing on the notion of 'anacréontisme' as a synonym for 'veiled' homoeroticism. Contrary to the present understanding of the notion, it is argued here, by recourse to successive French translations of the Greek source text, that homosexuality was explicitly problematized in the development of anacréontisme as a critical term, rather than consensually hidden. Part two reviews a social history of homosexuality in eighteenth-century France, in order to contextualize the preceding anacreontic debate. A Kantian reading of the beau ideal, in Chapter 3, attempts to contradict the now dominant understanding of this figure as being simply a high-cultural sign of patriarchal dominance. The chapter traces the philosophical coordinates of the beau ideal from the late seventeenth century until the moment when this figure coincides with the Kantian transcendental aesthetic, and thereby propels it into an anti-ideological space. Chapters 4 and 5 focus on a prime exemplar in current art-historical literature of the homoerotic male nude, David's painting Leonidas at Thermopylae. Chapter 4 argues for a newly politicized reading of the picture, by focusing on its sociohistorical moment. Chapter 5 reads David's painting through selected texts, and commentary on, Sade, in order to account for its 'perversity' in more ways than the simply sexual. Leonidas is finally understood here as a repositary of the various histories which have been precedingly traced. the Conclusion reflects on how those methodological procedures may open out the study of the homoerotic male nude and the construction of masculinity to further examination.