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Bellies, bowels and entrails in the eighteenth century$
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Rebecca Anne Barr, Sylvie Kleiman-Lafton, and Sophie Vasset

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781526127051

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9781526127051.001.0001

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The legibility of the bowels: Lichtenberg’s excretory vision of Hogarth’s A Harlot’s Progress

The legibility of the bowels: Lichtenberg’s excretory vision of Hogarth’s A Harlot’s Progress

Chapter:
(p.159) 8 The legibility of the bowels: Lichtenberg’s excretory vision of Hogarth’s A Harlot’s Progress
Source:
Bellies, bowels and entrails in the eighteenth century
Author(s):

Anthony Mahler

Publisher:
Manchester University Press
DOI:10.7228/manchester/9781526127051.003.0009

This essay lays bare the rampant but thinly veiled scatology in Georg Christoph Lichtenberg’s renowned commentaries of William Hogarth’s A Harlot’s Progress. It shows that Lichtenberg finds all kinds of scatological objects – chamber pots, enemas, anal swabs – in Hogarth’s prints by applying what he calls the hermeneutics of hypochondria. Such a hermeneutics follows digressions, metaphorical associations, and metonymical connections to identify scatological objects in the images even where there are none. The resulting excremental vision of A Harlot’s Progress evidences, in Lichtenberg’s view, his own hypochondria and threatens the validity of his interpretations. But he also turns the scatological motif against the interpretive excess that produced it: excrement confronts the hypochondriacal interpreter with his own corporeal mortality and thus with the limits of his interpretive capacities as a human. Scatological satire therefore serves, in Lichtenberg’s conception, as something like a cynic self-therapy for interpretive hubris.

Keywords:   Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, William Hogarth, The grotesque, The carnivalesque, satire, hermeneutics, ekphrasis, hypochondria, text and image

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