Sylvaine Guyot is Professor of Romance Languages & Literatures and Interim Chair for Theater, Dance & Media at Harvard University. A former student at the École normale supérieure, she holds an agrégation in Classics and a PhD in French literature and performing arts from Paris 3-Sorbonne Nouvelle. Her research interests focus on early modern performance practices, with particular emphasis on the history of visual emotions, the connections between theater and painting, and the relations of aesthetics and politics. She is, among other titles, the author of Racine et le corps tragique (2014) and the co-editor of a new edition of Racine’s plays (Garnier). Stationing herself at the cross-flow of scholarly research, digital humanities, and artistic creation, she is a co-leader of the “Comédie-Française Registers Project” and the director of theatre company La Troupe at Harvard.
17th-century French literature and visual culture; history of the body and emotions; tragedy and the tragic; history/theory/politics of theatricality; the intersections of critical inquiry and creative practice; the staging of repertoire; arts and the digital humanities
Scenographies of Bedazzlement. Adherence and Theatricalities in Early Modern France
My project aims to outline a historical anthropology of visual emotions, by examining how different regimes of theatricality overlapped and contradicted one another in early modern France.
It is generally accepted that the capacity to “bedazzle” — to unify the audience in unanimous amazement — characterizes the purpose of the arts during the French neoclassical age.
However, no seventeenth-century dictionary takes note of this positively connoted meaning of the verb “éblouir”. The bedazzlement that interests me is that for which the seventeenth-century dictionaries gave no definition, but which was nonetheless a central issue in many discourses and representations of the period. I analyze a constellation of objects in which the tension between éblouissement and seduction is reflected — i.e., at once activated, represented, and questioned: the firework displays of Ancien Regime celebrations; the machine tragedies of the mid-seventeenth century; the representation of light in painting from Le Lorrain to the Colorists; and the ekphraseis found within the correspondence of the Princess Palatine, which carry the trace of a singular “style” of seeing.
Investigating the conflicting models for generating adherence in early modern culture, Les Scénographies de l’éblouissement sheds light on the paradox of absolutism: at the moment when the ideology of power endorsed the consensual power of the spectacle, theatricality revealed itself to be an “interstitial” practice, open onto resistance toward the official regime of representation.