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Candide Shoots the Monkey Lovers:Representing Black Men in Eighteenth-Century French Visual Culture

Candide Shoots the Monkey Lovers:Representing Black Men in Eighteenth-Century French Visual Culture

Abstract

This essay analyzes a shift in racialized regimes of visual signification in French metropolitan culture during the long eighteenth century. The author explores two symbolically central figures—the dismembered black slave and the black rapist/lover who is “duly punished”—by undertaking an intertextual reading of two sets of illustrations of Voltaire's Candide (1759) designed by Moreau le Jeune. Separated by the French and Haitian Revolutions, Moreau's two sets of Candide illustrations (1787 and 1803) register an important shift in the French cultural imaginary. The figure of the maimed black male slave was put directly in circulation in French visual culture during the eighteenth century. In contrast, interracial sexuality remained “unrepresentable” in French visual culture throughout the century. By the time Haiti declared its independence (1804), this taboo was contravened by Moreau's metaphorical substitution of the figure of the monkey in 1803 to picture the black male as a bestial rapist.
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