‘Convulsion and Enlightenment’, KCL

The 2017 Society for French Studies Annual Lecture: ‘Convulsion and Enlightenment’, Edmond J. Safra Lecture Theatre, Strand Building, King’s College London, 25th May 2017, 17:00.

Professor Anne Vila (University of Wisconsin – Madison), 2017 Visiting Fellow of the Society of French Studies.

The French Enlightenment is classically seen as an age of cool-headed, masterful reason.  So why were convulsions such a common theme not just in this period’s medical discourse, but also in its literature, aesthetic theories, and popular culture? How was convulsion, conceived as a natural propensity of the human body (P. Hequet, Le naturalisme des convulsions, 1733), connected to this period’s ideas about human nature, progress and perfectibility?  And who convulsed, and why? To answer those questions, this talk will survey the complex conceptual landscape that surrounded convulsions in eighteenth-century France, from the vibratory models popular in many fields (aesthetics, physiology, philosophy of mind, medical therapeutics), to the use of convulsions in sentimental literature and art theory, to curious phenomena like religious convulsionism, the vapors, and mesmerism.

Professor Anne Vila received her Ph.D. in French Literature from The Johns Hopkins University in 1990 and joined the faculty of the Department of French and Italian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that same year. She has also taught at Emory University and Stanford University. Her academic honours include a Phi Beta Kappa Dissertation Fellowship, an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, a University of Wisconsin Halverson-Bascom Professorship, and a UW Madison Pickard-Bascom Professorship. During her 27-year career at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she has served as Department Chair (Head of Department), Associate Chair for French, and Director of Graduate Studies for French MA/Ph.D. programmes. She has directed, co-directed, or served as second reader on 31 Ph.D. theses to date, for doctoral students in a wide range of fields (French, Italian, English, Slavic Languages and Literature, History, and History of Science).

Professor Vila’s publications include Enlightenment and Pathology: Sensibility in the Literature and Medicine of Eighteenth-Century France (1998), the co-edited volume Rethinking Cultural Studies 1: A State of the Question. EMF: Studies in Early Modern France, (2000), A Cultural History of the Senses in the Age of Enlightenment, 1650-1800, ed. (2014), three book translations, 32 articles or book chapters, 13 encyclopedia entries, and 13 book reviews. She has recently completed a book manuscript Suffering Scholars: Pathologies of the Intellectual in Enlightenment France (forthcoming in Spring 2018 at University of Pennsylvania Press) and, with Ronan Chalmin, a critical reedition of Tissot’s De la santé des gens de lettres (for Editions Garnier). She is also co-editing, with Florence Vatan, two essay volumes: ‘l’Esprit (dé)réglé: Literature, Science, and the Life of the Mind in France, 1700-1900’, a bilingual special issue of L’Esprit créateur (Winter 2016) and ‘Entre le corps et l’esprit: langages et savoirs concurrents,’ a special issue of Arts et savoirs ((http://aes.revues.org; forthcoming, Winter 2018). Her new book project is entitled ‘The Culture of Convulsions in France, 1730 to 1850.’

Free and open to the public, but attendance is required. To register click here.