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The Spectacular Body

The Spectacular Body explores the ways in which the human body--especially the female body--was visualized by artists in late nineteenth-century Paris. Focusing on the work of Degas, it deals with issues of sexuality, gender, and visual representation to illuminate the underlying meanings of the famed Impressionist's depictions of women in his series of bathers, dancers, and prostitutes. Engaging in feminist polemic, Anthea Callen investigates why at this particular time the female figure became such a highly charged icon for masculine projections of fascination with and revulsion over the body. She explains how the gender politics of Degas' culture made it inevitable that he represent masculine desire--and anxieties about masculine identity evoked by such desire--through an apparently detached masculine scrutiny of the female body. Callen shows how Degas' pictorial stance was structurally unresolved, caught between a controlling, distanced, quasi-scientific observation on the one hand, and a disruptive and more unmediated, more psychically loaded engagement with the body on the other. Locating Degas' art within his own historical era, she discusses how socio-scientific ideas of health and disease, hygiene and dirt, prostitution, criminality, sexuality, class, race, and other issues were played out in his work. Using visual analysis as a deconstructive tool, she discusses Degas' choice of medium, composition, spatial organization, pose, color, and light and shade, showing that his technical unorthodoxy combined with scientific discourse in his art to make his work a paradigm of artistic and urban modernity.
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Table of Contents

Part 1 Physiognomy and difference: the legible head; anatomy and race; anatomy and class; anatomy and gender; Degas's "Little Dancer of 14 Years"; animal, vegetable or mineral?; physiognomy, gender and class. Part 2 Reviewing prostitution: prostitution and marginality; profit margins, prostitution and public hygiene; clandestinity, prostitution and class rebirth of the "born" prostitute; lesbianism, heterosexuality and femininity; hysterical disorder, bourgeois marriage and sexuality; palaces of pleasure; "maisons de tolerance du commerce". Part 3 The invisible man: the monotypes and bather pastels; prostitution and the narratives of sexual conquest; the naked and the nude; sight and surveillance; the sequestered perversion; the discourse of discretion; voyeurism and sexual guilt; the keyhole viewpoint. Part 4 Lines of thought: technique and difference; drawing, colour and spectacle light; colour and chiaroscuro; light and sight pastel; means and meaning; pastel, line and touch. Part 5 Gaze and touch/hygiene and dirt: woman as transgressor; the politics of hygiene; Degas's "Bathers" - gaze and touch; bathers, gender and personal hygiene; pastel, touche and gaze; the "Bathers" and the critics; bathing - the forbidden sight and the gendered spectator. Part 6 Privileged sights/sites of privilege: public place, male space; public sites, public inconveniences; spectators and spectacles; portrait of the artist as a young woman; "At the Louvre" Dissected; method and meaning - the function of sight; the model and the masquerade.

About the Author

Anthea Callen is lecturer in art history at the University of Warwick in Coventry, England.

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