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Enlightenment Assemblages: Mapping Material Relationships in 18th-Century France

Wallace, Paul (2020) Enlightenment Assemblages: Mapping Material Relationships in 18th-Century France. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation explores manifestations of assemblic connectivity in literary, philosophical, and epistolary texts of 18th-century France. In scientific treatises, encyclopedias, novels and personal correspondence, early modern writers imagined increasingly complex interconnections between phenomena, both material and otherwise. Drawing on Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of assemblage, I demonstrate the illustrative and exploratory power of “assemblic imagination” as a conceptual framework for envisioning proto-network connectivity across a range of cultural and intellectual contexts. I study how four different types of assemblage--corporeal, epistemological, epistolary, and sexual--work to organize, imagine and connect material phenomena within their respective texts. My analysis of corporeal assemblages focuses on Julien-Offray de La Mettrie’s 1747 medical/philosophical treatise L’homme machine, which problematizes the Cartesian idea of mind-body separation by drawing connections between multiple human and nonhuman factors that influence human subjectivity. My investigation of Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie (1751-1772) reveals the epistemological assemblage, a web of intertextual references and novel organizational schemes connecting articles on a wide range of subject matter. The epistolary assemblage is contained within a series of letters between the Chevalier de Boufflers and his longtime lover, the Countess of Sabran. It encompasses written letters, material objects, enslaved humans and other elements, creating links across great distances. My fourth and final assemblage, the sexual assemblage, manifests in the anonymously published 1748 libertine/pornographic novel Thérèse philosophe. The sexual assemblage considers the impact of external and internal factors upon human sexual desire, mapping pathways of stimulation between individuals, objects, and ideas. These assemblages illustrate the evolving nature of 18th-century materialist thought towards an ever-increasing awareness of the interconnected nature of humans, objects, ideas, and other phenomena and prefigure the curated and controlled networks of the 21st century.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Wallace, PaulPaul41200@gmail.compdw110000-0003-1412-6782
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairHogg,
Committee MemberReeser,
Committee MemberMecchia,
Committee MemberRøge,
Date: 8 June 2020
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 28 February 2020
Approval Date: 8 June 2020
Submission Date: 10 April 2020
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 281
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > French
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: 18th Century Assemblage Materialism
Date Deposited: 08 Jun 2020 17:08
Last Modified: 08 Jun 2020 17:08


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