Political Theory Workshop with Megan Gallagher
DateOctober 17, 2014
Title: “In Excess: Emotional Regimes in Montesquieu’s Lettres Persanes”Presenter: Megan Gallagher Respondent: Anna-Elisabeth ScheidtAbstract: In this paper, I read Montesquieu’s Lettres persanes as an attempt to theorize a virtuous, republican alternative to despotic rule. As Montesquieu argues in the Esprit des lois, fear – specifically fear of the ruler’s emotional and material excesses – dominates the life of the despotic subject. Yet though the despotic state’s parallel in the Lettres, the seraglio, is the site of overflowing and barely governed passions, Montesquieu’s solution to its excesses is not the eradication of emotion. Rather, he theorizes a transmutation of an excessive and self-regarding emotion – fear – into temperate and other-regarding affective practices that open the possibility of republican government. We see this most clearly in the account of Roxane, the rebellious wife whose actions precipitate the collapse of the seraglio. I argue that Roxane’s attack at the hands of her husband Usbek and her eventual suicide evoke the republican model established by the Roman matriarch Lucretia. Though not republican actors themselves, both Lucretia and Roxane anticipate the possibility of a republican future through their inauguration of new emotional regimes and their refusal of fear-based, despotic politics.Paper: Click here to download.
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