Concise, critical reviews of books, exhibitions, and projects in all areas and periods of art history and visual studies
November 9, 2000
Chloe Chard Pleasure and Guilt on the Grand Tour: Travel Writing and Imaginative Geography 1600-1830 Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999. 278 pp. Cloth $69.95 (0719048044)

Chloe Chard’s Pleasure and Guilt on the Grand Tour has obvious topical import for art and architectural historians of the early modern to modern periods. Instigated in part by a postcolonial turn in criticism, the varied artifacts of European expansion have captured the attention of scholars across disciplines. But before this rather recent interdisciplinary interest, art and architectural historians have been, as Chard mentions, some of the few scholars to pay special notice to the accounts of seventeenth- to nineteenth-century travelers who made the tour of Italy to collect and, in many cases, produce works out of encounters with the “foreign” within Europe. The study’s publication coincides roughly with a resurgence of interest in the Grand Tour marked, for example, by the 1996 Tate Gallery exhibition and catalogue Grand Tour: The Lure of Italy in the Eighteenth Century by Andrew Wilton and Ilaria Bignamini. And Chard’s study inevitably covers familiar ground in, for example, considering the influence of the “sublime” and the “beautiful” and analyzing the responses of travelers to antiquities as well as to specific works of art made in reaction to notions of a classical past.

Chard’s careful demonstration of the place of “writing” on the Grand Tour, however, explicates as it makes strange our sense of the emplotting of encounters with southern Europe and a classical past within received histories of early modern to modern European art and architecture. Chard’s study reconceptualizes the so-called “north’s” contacts with the “south” or “Other” within Europe not merely as a set of social and imaginative practices but also, at the same time, as complex and ambivalent rhetorical practices. The book’s discourse analysis takes travel writing to include a range of genres from travel narratives to art criticism and aesthetic treatises, all of which worked to appropriate and translate a designated “otherness” within European for the purpose of generating effects of pleasure out of this terrain mapped as at once European and yet southern and different. Across a sequence of deft readings, this study explicates how the rhetorical strategies of texts in the limited sense are inseparable from social practices and the devices of visual imaging. The nuanced exercise of this theoretical claim encourages art and architectural historians to reconsider the productive and far from transparent effects of rhetoric even in the more conventional use of texts to trace histories of patronage and collecting and the invention of aesthetics and notions of taste as well as the influence of travels to Italy on reinventions of classicism.

However, the study’s implicit theoretical claim for the effects of rhetorics of travel extends further to position travel writing over the period between 1600 and 1830 as an important site for the construction of a European subject assaulted by threats of dissolving and effeminating pleasures that it could, nonetheless, overcome or at least manage. Despite the title’s invocation of the psychoanalytically resonant terms “pleasure” and “guilt,” the study explicitly distances itself from psychoanalysis and a “psychological” approach that it characterizes as an effort to account for a subjectivity behind the text. But in its insistence that there is no interiority accessible on the other side of the text, Chard’s work is not so very far from post-Lacanian trends in discourse analysis and psychoanalytic theorizing based on the tenet that subjects are constituted in and through language.

In the ongoing antagonism between historical work imagined as necessarily attentive to differences and psychoanalysis imagined as universalizing, Chard’s study locates itself as a contribution to a certain kind of historical analysis of the effects of rhetoric characterized by the citation of a Stephen Greenblatt essay “Psychoanalysis and Renaissance Culture” first published in 1986 [see Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture (New York: Routledge, 1990)]. In the passage cited by Chard, Greenblatt makes an easy target of an assumed inadequacy in Freud’s readings of Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Shakespeare. Psychoanalysis, as an imagined whole, is charged with a blind spot toward its own “belatedness.” It is taken to be blind to the extent to which its analytical categories, particularly the concept of the “ego,” are the results rather than causes of the particular fantasies and changes in material and social formations for which it attempts to account.

Chard mentions only this piece of Greenblatt’s argument. But, following this passage, “Psychoanalysis and Renaissance Culture” doubles back on itself and acknowledges not only that one would hardly wish to forego “psychologically deep” readings of culture but also that the very historicizing of pyschoanalysis’s own procedures for which Greenblatt calls has not been so foreign to the history of the Freudian school itself. Amid the more general post-World War I re-formulation of the ego as a decentered subject that is founded on a constituting absence or lack discussed by historian Carolyn Dean in The Self and its Pleasures (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992), Lacan revised Freud’s account of the “ego” as the product of a historical shift which he located in the mid seventeenth century. In History after Lacan (New York: Routlege, 1993), political theorist Teresa Brennan develops this notion of the “ego’s era” as a collective social psychosis of the bounded ego that emerged in the early modern period in response to material pressures on the exercise of the persistent and repetitive process of the projection of threats to this ego and their apparent surmounting which took the form of a need to dominate historical time and to territorialize space.

While Pleasure and Guilt on the Grand Tour studiously avoids drawing out the implications of its historical study of travel rhetoric for historical understanding of the European subject’s formation, Chard’s analysis of the way travel rhetoric formed or styled this resilient subject as one that could be constituted as such only by the acting out in language of its being tested by motion or travel and externalized threats, nonetheless, contributes importantly to current theorizing and attempts at putting into practice the imbrication of psychoanalysis and history. To mark the distance between her discourse analysis and the case study, Chard calls the narrator traveler the “subject of commentary.” This “subject of commentary” constitutes itself at once as a “subject of knowledge” (one who orders, judges, conveys practical advice) and a “subject of desire” (relationally vis-à-vis the terrain and often the reader to whom the subject’s commentary is seductively addressed). This double burden of imbuing the mapped terrain with new and specific insights as well as an alluring otherness might seem a matter of expediency. And yet this study acknowledges in its very subtitling pressures of desire and anxiety beyond the strictly practical. Chard borrows the central conceptual term “imaginative geography” from Christian Jacob’s study of maps L’Empire des cartes (1992). Jacob theorizes mapping as the charting of a space at once regulated by the demands of knowledge production and Chard quotes, “a space of privileged projection for desires, aspirations, affective memory, the cultural memory of the subject.”

The energetic charges of desire and of affective and cultural memory or, in other words, the impulsions and cathexes at once personal and collective that are invoked here may play on the restricted sense of “projection” within the technical terminology of cartographics (i.e., “map projection”). But mapping in this definition encompasses more than a geographer’s technics. “Imaginative geography” redefines the map as a kind of double projection, an externalized site invested with the subject’s emotional or psychic material. Just as disavowed fantasies may make their way back in under the guise of a mapping’s claims to impersonal and disinterested objectivity, the psychoanalytic returns unavoidably in Chard’s study as a necessary component in the historically informed reading of how representations of spaces at once real and imagined functioned to form European subjects.

The rhetorics of travel writing of the Grand Tour, particularly the development in the eighteenth century of the travel narrative as a personal adventure story, emerge as historically significant in Chard’s study because they create the “preconditions” for the production of a version of the European subject. This subject finds itself by the scripted letting go of taking a journey southward across the Alps, precisely by the rhetorical performance of managing the dangers of dissolution and destabilization represented by, or one might say displaced onto, the alluring pleasures of a foreignness, that is not so very alien after all. In her revision of Lacan, Brennan sets down the challenge that any possible departure from the “ego’s era” demands the rewriting of the ego’s history. How do we rewrite the Grand Tour’s special place in that history without catering to residual nostalgia for a potential return to the fantasized pleasures and dangers conceived as the enviable purview of a European Imperial subject (classed, sexed, and raced)? Continuing to circumscribe the Grand Tour as a separate and distinct rhetorical practice may, however unwittingly, reinforce this subject’s very props.

Jill H. Casid
Assistant Professor of Visual Culture Studies, Department of Art History, University of Wisconsin-Madison