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Andrea M. Frisch
University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA 90089-0012)

Fellowships for University Teachers
Research Programs

[Grant products]

$40,000 (approved)
$40,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
1/1/2004 – 12/31/2004

Classical Amnesia: Forgetting Differences in Early Modern France

This book proposes that French classical culture is characterized by a self-conscious drive to forget. The book's main thesis is that the political and legislative process of forgetting explicitly undertaken after the civil wars of the sixteenth century leads to a suppression of both historical and cultural alterity within the aesthetics of literary classicism in France, and that this suppression is a necessary prelude to the elaboration of the modern notion of progress that emerges in the seventeenth century. What this study ultimately aims to show is that the paradoxical modernity of French Classicism--its capacity to plot everything from art to knowledge to politics on a timeless, placeless grid--is ultimately founded on a rejection of the melancholic estrangement of memory characteristic of Renaissance Humanism and an embrace of the purifying power of oblivion in the wake of civil war. The book's arguments are meant to intervene in ongoing scholarly debates about the general nature of both Renaissance Humanism and Classicism, in addition to offering a detailed account of these cultural movements in early modern France. More broadly, my aim in this book is to argue for an approach to cultural history that includes the paradox of conscious forgetting as a category of analysis. The field is dominated by approaches that privilege memory, or that treat forgetting in primarily psychoanalytic terms, as an unconscious, uncontrollable act. This book, by contrast, treats forgetting as a self-conscious ideology, and thus brings new perspective to bear on the role of forgetting in the constitution of modern European culture.