Selfish passions : reading fabric obsessions and the haptic in the Clérambault archive

Publication Type:
Thesis
Issue Date:
2005
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NO FULL TEXT AVAILABLE. This thesis contains 3rd party copyright material. ----- This study explores the phenomenon of strange and selfish passions for fabric and the extent to which the reality of these fascinations can be uncovered in the archive. It begins with an analysis of the clinical and visual works of the French psychiatrist Gaetan Gatian de Clerambault (1872-1934) and the history of their interpretation. His 1908 and 1910 studies of silk erotomania — of women who displayed an erotic attachment to pieces of stolen silk — have been used by later twentieth century critics to suggest that his photographs of North African drapery, taken in 1915 and then between 1917 and 1920, are fetishist documents. This thesis adopts the ecological reading method articulated by Ian Hacking in his 1998 study of transient mental illnesses to enlarge an understanding of Clerambault’s work and complicate the theory that he exhibited a strange passion for fabric. Clerambault’s medical-legal studies are fascinating because they suggest that the silk erotomaniacs did not consider fabric in the way in which it is commonly conceptualised in Western literature; as intimately connected to human emotions, desires and memories. Although an isolated French medico-legal phenomenon, the central themes of the pathology are reworked at the end of the twentieth century by the American poet and Queer theorist, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (1950-). In her 1999 memoir of analysis, the patient’s passion for textures escapes her doctor’s and her own comprehensive explanation, is connected to autoeroticism and entices the reader to consider the selfishness of her desires. Sedgwick reverses the patient-doctor hierarchy of Clerambault’s studies and achieves what some critics have suggested is the need for patients to become archivists of their own passion. Yet the truth about her textural fascination can no more be unveiled through archival research than can the lives of Clerambault and his silk erotomaniacs be revived. The speculation about these figures and the debate about the doctor’s own fabric obsessions reveals the archive to be enticing and necessary, yet built on the researcher’s often untenable dreams.
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