In the May issue of The New York Review of Books, Lynn Hunt discusses Peter Sahlins’ 1668 : The Year of the Animal in France. Click here to learn more about the book. Click here to read the introduction to the article. To read the full review, click on the button to the left. An excerpt appears below.
“The choice of 1668 is not arbitrary and has its advantages. Choosing a single year effectively draws attention to the connections between absolutist politics, mechanical metaphysics, and artistic theory and practice. In that sense, Sahlins’ account is a model of what can be accomplished by cultural history, in particular by retrieving meanings lost in the specialization of university disciplines. The royal menagerie is an obvious starting point, since its viewing pavilion was the very first building constructed at Versailles, the ultimate symbol of Louis XIV’s absolutist style of rule. Although the pavilion took shape in 1664, four years were required to fill the courtyards with a largely avian crowd. Many birds were immobilized by clipping wings, a perfect metaphor for Louis’ endeavor to domesticate his previously headstrong nobles. An occasional deer, camel, or even bear could no more compete with the “royal bird,” the crown-crested crane, than nobles could match Louis, who made himself the star attraction at court festivals. The bigger animals placidly carried actors on their backs in allegorical pageants.”