Machines in love: Bodies, souls, and sexes in the age of la mettrie

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The writings of renegade philosophe Julien Offray de La Mettrie were denounced in his lifetime not only by political authorities but by his fellow philosophes, Denis Diderot and Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d'Holbach. Yet his work broke with orthodox views of the body, eros, and human nature with such force as to provoke those thinkers, and such authors as John Cleland and Sade, to interrogate the limits of the human and the disruptive effects of desire. Focusing on his incendiary philosophical satire L'Homme machine and the erotic reverie La Volupté, this article examines La Mettrie's theory of the imagination as a material function of the body-as-machine, which can unsettle distinctions between human and animal, female and male, self and other. For La Mettrie, as for Diderot, Cleland, and Sade, metamorphosis gives narrative articulation to the principle of the underlying unity of material substance, even as it embodies the lability and impermanence of all identities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-81
Number of pages26
JournalEighteenth-Century Fiction
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


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