The Autonomy of Pleasure: Libertines, License, and Sexual Revolution (Columbia Themes in Philosophy, Social Criticism, and the Arts)

November 1, 2020
The Autonomy of Pleasure: Libertines, License, and Sexual Revolution (Columbia Themes in Philosophy, Social Criticism, and the Arts)

What would happen if pleasure were made the organizing principlefor social relations and sexual pleasure ruled over all? RadicalFrench libertines experimented clandestinely with this idea duringthe Enlightenment. In explicit novels, dialogues, poems, andengravings, they wrenched pleasure free from religion and morality,from politics, aesthetics, anatomy, and finally reason itself, andimagined how such a world would be desirable, legitimate,rapturous—and potentially horrific. Laying out the logic andwillful illogic of radical libertinage, this book ties theEnlightenment engagement with sexual license to the expansion ofprint, empiricism, the revival of skepticism, the fashionable artsand lifestyles of the Ancien Régime, and the rise and decline ofabsolutism. It examines the consequences of imagining sexualpleasure as sovereign power and a law-unto-itself across a range oftopics, including sodomy, the science of sexual difference,political philosophy, aesthetics, and race. It also examines theroots of radical claims for pleasure in earlier licentious satireand their echoes in appeals for sexual liberation in the 1960s andbeyond.