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Spring 2019

ZONE BOOKS

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New in H-Net France
A Forum Discussion of 1668: The Year of the Animal in France

In the January 2019 issue of H-France, scholars Sarah R. Cohen, Oded Rabinovitch, Pierre Serna, and Matthew Senior discuss Peter Sahlins’s 1668: The Year of the Animal in France. Click here to learn more about the book. Click here to read all four commentaries, as well as an author response from Peter Sahlins. An excerpt from the first essay appears below:

“Animal studies, a critical field now well-established in literary inquiry and assessments of contemporary culture, has still considerable work to do in historical research and interpretation, especially in the pre-modern and early modern eras. Peter Sahlins’s tightly argued book, 1668: The Year of the Animal in France, seeks to redress this lack in a series of integrated case studies that overwhelmingly demonstrate how important animals were to the period in French history in which the young Louis XIV was consolidating his power. Technically, ‘Circa 1668’ would be a more accurate heading to characterize the topics Sahlins addresses, the dates of which extend from the establishment of the king’s Menagerie in 1664 to Mademoiselle de Scudéry’s publication of the ‘History of Two Chameleons’ in a collection of her writings in 1688. But the year 1668 gains particular significance in Sahlins’s history not just because it epitomized the many and varied ways in which animals figured in and around the court both as representations and as living actors, but also because he construes it as a tipping point when the ideology of the animal shifted. In the early years of the Menagerie, animals were presented as models of a civilizing process for the admiration and even self-identification of the king and his courtiers, building upon a longstanding ‘theriophilic’ model of human and animal continuity, which Sahlins labels ‘humananimalism.’ By contrast, in and after 1668, the animal fell increasingly under various kinds of control— scientific, medical, artistic, philosophical—and was correspondingly ‘devalorized.’ The human, for its part, gained a new, paradoxical status: while Cartesian philosophy definitively separated the human’s spiritual soul from its animal body, art produced for the royal court came to promote, in Sahlins’s view, a negative model of human animality that only a powerful monarch could regulate.”