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Steintrager, James A.

The Autonomy of Pleasure

Libertines, License, and Sexual Revolution

Series:Columbia Themes in Philosophy, Social Criticism, and the Arts


    84,95 € / $97.49 / £72.00*

    eBook (PDF)
    Publication Date:
    February 2016
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    Aims and Scope

    Tying the Enlightenment engagement with sexual license to the expansion of print, empiricism, the revival of skepticism, the fashionable arts and lifestyles of the Ancien Régime, and the rise and decline of absolutism, this book examines the consequences of imagining sexual pleasure as sovereign power and a law-unto-itself. Steintrager studies the roots of radical claims for pleasure in earlier licentious satire and their echoes in appeals for sexual liberation in the 1960s and beyond.


    408 pages
    40 illustrations
    Professional and scholarly;

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    James A. Steintrager is professor of English, comparative literature, and European languages and studies at the University of California, Irvine.


    Pierre Saint-Amand, Brown University:

    Finally, a book that commands the intelligence and the erudition to tackle the thorny topic of libertinage. Steintrager gives its due to the French Enlightenment in the radicalization of pleasure under all its guises. But his book takes us from classical antiquity all the way to the sexual revolution of the sixties. We travel from Ovid to the infamous Marquis de Sade, who makes recurring appearances, to Foucault. A resounding critical exploit on a still intriguing topic and a bold assessment of the pitfalls of the discourse of sexuality.

    Kate Tunstall, University of Oxford:

    Steintrager's original and persuasive study of the Marquis de Sade and the uses of Sade will be as stimulating to historians of sexuality, sex, and sexology as it will be to scholars and students of eighteenth-century French literature. The Autonomy of Pleasure will also appeal to historians of visual culture with its excellent reproductions of eighteenth-century engravings, surrealist photographs, and movie stills.

    Lynn Festa, Rutgers University:

    Steintrager's provocative and insightful book is an original, wide-ranging, well-argued, and substantive contribution to the field that successfully conjoins theoretical debates with current historical and literary scholarship. It is, moreover, engagingly and intelligently written—a pleasure to read.

    Daniel Brewer, University of Minnesota:

    The Autonomy of Pleasure is an important work that adds richly to our understanding of libertine literature in eighteenth-century France and, more generally, of the culture of pleasure that emerged in aristocratic and leisurely social circles. James A. Steintrager's interpretation of libertinage is innovatively different from existing scholarship, weaving suggestively and cogently between the eighteenth-century context and the present.

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