Fin-de-siecle Sexuality and Excretion

University of Delaware Press
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Sexuality at the Fin de Siècle: The Makings of a "Central Problem", 2008, 1, pp. 125 - 139
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WHAT HAS THE HISTORY OF EXCRETION GOT TO DO WITH THE history of sexuality? On one level the relationship is obvious to any scholar ofnineteenth-century texts, and is implicit in the work ofAlain Corbin, who is renowned for his work on both the history ofprostitution, of sexuality and the history of cleanliness, pollution, and disease in nineteenth-century France;' it is implicit too in the work of Georges Vigarello, who has looked at shifting attitudes both to rape and to dirt across the early to late modern eras.? Historians alive at the turn of the twenty-first century may also find it obvious because they can easily imagine excretion as something obscene and shameful in a manner comparable to sex, or indeed because the notion of excretion as something even more private and embarrassing than sex is so recognizable within many current-day industrialized cultures.' Both are about the lower part of the body: is there perhaps something universally, symbolically obvious about the connection? In fact what I want to suggest is that the relationship of excretion to sex in the nineteenth century operated in a way that is profoundly unfamiliar to the present. How did late nineteenth-century preoccupations with these two fields of meaning intersect? Furthermore, if we recognize this relationship, what are the implications for the way in which we interpret discourses of sexuality in the nineteenth century and at the fin de siecle in particular?
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