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Title: The Point of All Return: Nostalgia and the Dream of Disenlightenment
Authors: Rice-Davis, Charles B.
Advisors: Huet, Marie-Helene
Contributors: French and Italian Department
Keywords: Balzac
Subjects: Literature
History of science
European studies
Issue Date: 2014
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: The Point of All Return: Nostalgia and the Dream of Dis-Enlightenment traces a state of being that fascinated with equal force medical and literary writers over the long nineteenth century. First named in 1688 to diagnose a fatal form of homesickness and later seen as causing deadly epidemics among provincial conscripts during the Napoleonic wars, nostalgia also came to describe the experience of feeling out of place in one's own time. Writers like Rousseau, Chateaubriand, Balzac and Baudelaire made this second understanding possible, positing the condition as an inevitable form of dissatisfaction with contemporary life as shaped by enlightenment, urbanization and revolution. This dissertation proposes both a historical analysis of the emergence of nostalgia and an examination of its re-appropriation as a clinical symptom of modernity. In The Point of All Return, I first chart the spread of nostalgia as a condition alongside a common mythological language that centers on the allure and illusions of rustic life. I argue that these speculations served as an occasion for writers including Kant and Rousseau to further their broader claims about human nature. I then turn to the urgent practical concerns about nostalgia in the wake of the French Revolution and the use of fiction, especially Chateaubriand, to inform this discourse. Balzac, I argue, reconsiders the conclusions of military medicine in his novels of Brittany, deploying the archetypical figure of the nostalgic Breton in the service of a counter-historical narrative that dreams of reconnection with pre-Enlightened, pre-Revolutionary modes of living. Baudelaire and Gautier offer their own re-staging of the medical mythology of nostalgia, one that both poets see resonating profoundly with Baudelaire's prose poetry. Finally, I consider Rolland's long-standing interest in Baudelairean "strange nostalgia" and its role in shaping his understanding of the oceanic feeling he discusses with Freud. Throughout my dissertation, I sustain a line of inquiry that Freud articulates in his debate with Rolland, in which I explore the futile hope for recuperating a primal experience of life that is interconnected, un-historical and impersonal.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:French and Italian

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