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Please join us on Friday, November 10, 4-6pm, in the West Conference Room of the National Humanities Center for a discussion with Professor James Johnson of the History Department at Boston University. We will be discussing a draft of “Willed Delusion,” the first chapter of Professor Johnson’s new book in progress, Disguised Intentions: Concealment in the City of Light.

The book is a companion volume to his 2011 Venice Incognito: Masks in the Serene Republic.  Both aim to understand how people in modern and early-modern Europe conceived of identity by seeing how they attempted to conceal it.  It treats instances of lying, insincerity, festive and theatrical masking, imposture, criminal disguise, and the wide range of figurative uses of the mask, in art, drama, fiction, poetry, and the early years of psychology and psychoanalysis. Disguised Intentions stretches from the court of Louis XIV under Modernism, with figures La Rochefoucauld, the duc de Saint-Simon, Marivaux, J. J. Rousseau, Balzac, Baudelaire, and Verlaine.  Important moments or themes are court society, 18th-century carnival in the streets of Paris, the French Revolution and its thwarted aim to banish masks, the riotous commercial masked balls of the 19th century, and the fin-de-siècle decadents’ recovery of the mask as a figure of existential dread. In the broadest terms, the book will describe how, from the seventeenth-century to the fin de siècle, masks went from marking and reinforcing a hierarchy in which alternate identities were scarcely imaginable, to enabling wearers to see themselves in other social roles, to standing as an unsettling image for freely forged but existentially uncertain identities.


The paper is currently available in the password-protected Papers section of this website. Please contact one of the co-conveners for this month’s password.

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