Experiences of bodily disorder in French books 1573-1592
Mary Douglas, in Purity and Danger and Elizabeth Grosz, in Volatile Bodies concur that the human body whose boundaries are traversed or transgressed is troubling, threatening and risky. The threats to which Douglas and Grosz separately refer are largely ideological and cultural threats, but their identification of the problematic nature of ruptured or unusual bodily boundaries is nevertheless relevant to the analysis of the actual bodily disorder with which this thesis is concerned. Disease, cannibalism and monstrosity are forms of bodily behaviour or conditions in which boundaries are inherently, or are rendered, unclear, and in the sixteenth-century books of Ambroise Paré, Jean de Léry and Michel de Montaigne, the question of the disorderly nature of these three physical phenomena is addressed. A fundamental feature of the books produced by these three writers is the emphasis on the experience of the form of bodily disorder in question on which the written account is based. Paré, a surgeon, treated plague patients and dissected monstrous specimens before writing about his experiences in his Œuvres completes', Léry observed the practice of cannibalism in Brazil before returning to Europe and witnessing the consumption of human flesh during the siege of Sancerre; and Montaigne, whose final essay is significantly entitled 'De ľexperience', develops a method of writing, or essaying, which involves the writer attempting to evaluate critically all received experiences and information before arriving at his own conclusion. The depiction of cannibalism, monstrosity and disease in the books of these three writers will be examined using a methodology developed around the principles of Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of dialogism. The particular relevance of this literary theory to the theme of the disordered body in French sixteenth-century books is the emphasis that Bakhtm also places on the writer's experience of his subject matter. In addition, Bakhtm argues that writers experience an impulse to consummate, in other words to define, explain and contextualise, and present as complete the world they observe. This thesis argues that the question of bodily boundaries raised by Douglas and Grosz can be addressed by Bakhtinian theory, and seeks to illustrate the ways in which Paré, Léry and Montaigne exhibit an awareness of the problem of the disordered body, and develop narrative strategies to overcome it which correspond to the functions of a Bakhtinian Author.