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Beausoleil, Marie-Ève, «Les enjeux normatifs de la reconnaissance publique dans la France des Lumières : gloire, célébrité, mérite», Montréal et Nancy, Université de Montréal et Université de Lorraine, Université de Montréal et Université de Lorraine, août 2017, vi/291/vi p. Dir. : Susan Dalton (Université de Montréal) et Catriona Seth (Université de Lorraine). URL : <http://hdl.handle.net/1866/21136>.
This dissertation examines how and why normative issues about public recognition developed in Enlightenment France. It shows that this question gained significance during the transitional period towards modernity as two important phenomena intersected. On the one hand, Enlightenment thinkers – who questioned the arbitrary foundations of authority – made glory into a process of recognition based on merit, which, in turn, could engender a harmonious and just society. On the other hand, the century saw the advent of a celebrity culture, which enabled the multiplication of famed individuals, especially emanating from the capital’s arts and literary circles. Instead of distinguishing individuals whose merit and useful accomplishments gave rise to unanimous admiration, as the economy of glory would demand, celebrity built upon things such as controversies, revelations about private lives, and the consumption of entertainment. From its inception, celebrity was perceived as a contributing factor to moral degeneracy and as a sign of cultural decay. This dissertation examines moral, aesthetic, and biographical texts that contributed to the creation, promotion, and critique of the economies of public recognition. An analysis of these texts published over a 150-year period – from the Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes to the first third of the nineteenth century – sheds light on their arguments with regards to the type of order (literary, social, or political) that they hoped to consolidate or engender. These texts offer a unique view into the particularities of this defining moment shaped by the elimination of traditional hierarchies and the advent of individuals as autonomous moral subjects. This dissertation historicises modern celebrity culture through an examination of its representations and of the conflicts it generated. Although celebrity has been theorized as a media phenomenon that creates a relationship of intimacy between famed individuals and the public, this study shows that, during the period in question, it was largely conceived as a deregulation of glory’s economy of feelings. This economy was based on a theory of moral sentiments that enabled the natural recognition of true merit, and that would, in due course, solve the tension between the subjectivity of opinions and the objectivity of values. To the contrary, celebrity fuelled passions – such as envy, ambition, and greed – which prompted the creation of immediate and undeserved renown. Celebrity was inscribed in a coherent set of aesthetic and sociocultural manifestations – including, fashion, rococo, bel esprit, satire, persiflage, light reading, cabals, and spectacles – while its systematic definition took shape through a critique of elite mores.
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