Castrati: Otherness Experiences in Enlightenment Europe – CastrAlter
The castrati. Discourses and experiences of otherness in the Europe of the Enlightenment
The ANR JCJC programme Castrati: Experiences of Otherness in the Europe of the Enlightenment (CastrAlter) is led by a young researcher specialising in the history of gender, the body and sexuality. Over a period of 36 months, it brings together a post-doctoral researcher and researchers in the humanities and social sciences (history, gender studies and musicology) from French and international universities.
The factory of otherness: Italian castrati as a repulsive figure of the Enlightenment
The programme aims to analyse the place of Italian castrati in the fabrication of otherness in the Europe of the Enlightenment. Many normative discourses postulate that their castration produces a «gender disorder«, as it would cause both physical and moral effeminacy, which could also influence their sexual orientation. The programme therefore focuses on the emergence and variety of normative discourses on castrati, be they philosophical, legal, artistic, scientific or religious, in a comparative perspective (France, Italy, England). The programme thus intends to identify the progressive institution of singers as a repellent figure of the Enlightenment outside the Italian peninsula (in England and France in particular, then from the 1760s onwards within the Illuminismo movement itself).
This socio-cultural history research programme is also developing an interdisciplinary methodology of history and scenic arts, which the coordinator has developed through previous collaborations with theatre professionals. By integrating an artistic team, notably composed of specialists in Baroque opera (staging, choreography, singing and music), the aim is to consider scenic methodologies as possible levers for the elaboration of historical hypotheses (relating to the work of the body, the notion of performance...) on the experiences of the castrati.
In terms of impact and spin-offs, the programme aims to shed light on the processes of alteration linked to gender (but closely correlated to other relations of domination) in the Europe of the Enlightenment in order to fill the gap in the historicisation of social groups challenging gender binarity in the modern period. It intends to highlight both the circulation of gender models and norms, but also the confrontations and negotiations between the different normative discourses that carry them, and the socio-cultural spaces considered.
The CastrAlter programme is conceived in articulation with a broader research project (which will be the subject of an application by the coordinator to an IUF delegation) questioning the reception by castrati of these normative discourses and their own manufacture of masculinities.
These works aims to pave the way for an ERC «Consolidator Grant« project directed at the SH6 (The Study of the Human Past) panels notably in its formulae SH6_5 (Early modern history) et SH6_13 (Gender history, cultural history, history of collective identities and memories, history of religions).
Gender Fluidity in Early Modern Europe :
Discourse, figures and practices at the boundaries between masculine and feminine (FluiGenrEM)
The valorization of the programme will result in various publications (a collective work on the history of castration, articles and a journal dossier on the history of Italian castrati and their process of alteration, a journal dossier on the methodology of history and the performing arts, notes in the Hypotheses booklet of the programme) and the creation of research tools (database, multilingual bibliographies, playlist...).
The ANR JCJC project The Castrati: Experiences of Otherness in Enlightenment Europe (CastrAlter) is led by a young researcher specializing in the history of gender, the body and sexuality. Over a period of 36 months, it brings together a post-doctoral fellow and researchers in human and social sciences (history, gender studies and musicology) from French and international universities.
The project aims to historicize the notion of gender fluidity and to question the effects of unequal rhetoric and gender-related practices in early modern Europe by focusing on Italian castrati (16th-18th centuries). He thus questions the reception by the singers of artistic, legal, philosophical and scientific discourses which make them a repelling figure of the Enlightenment (in England and France more particularly, then from the 1760s within the current of the Illuminismo). Their castration does indeed produce a disturbance in gender norms, as it would cause both physical and moral effeminacy, in turn influencing their sexual orientation.
Research on these singers, who are still scarce in history, has focused on normative sources that marginally evoke the views and experiences of castrati in the face of the processes of otherness which constrain them. By focusing on sources produced by castrati, confronted with other archival documents on their living and working environment, the CastrAlter project intends to study the variety of perceptions and social trajectories of singers. He postulates the existence of self-redefinition processes ranging from phenomena of over-virilization by castrati wanting to enter into social conformity to the development of models valuing markers of subordinate masculinity.
Three lines of research have been defined from the documentation inventoried through preparatory programs. The time of socialization of the castrati in the Neapolitan conservatories will allow us to grasp the progressive shaping of the divo (celebrity of baroque music) as it emerges from childhood (axis 1). The time of stage practices, and in particular of international mobility in France and England, will be an opportunity to analyze strategies for adapting to criticism from audiences outside the peninsula (axis 2). Finally, the writing practices of the castrati will make it possible to question their own narratives concerning their gender identity, their relationship to the body, to sexuality or to filiation (axis 3).
This socio-cultural history project also develops an interdisciplinary history / performing arts methodology, matured by the young researcher during previous collaborations with theater professionals. By integrating an artistic team, in particular made up of specialists in baroque opera (staging, choreography, singing and music), it is a question of considering scenic methodologies as possible levers for the development of historical hypotheses (relating to the bodywork, the notion of performance ...) on the experiences of castrati.
In terms of impacts and spinoffs, the project aims to fill the lack of historicization of social groups challenging gender binarity in the early modern era and to shed light on the processes of contemporary historical filiation in the activist, artistic and scientific field around castrati. The valuation of the project will give rise to numerous publications (book, articles, journal files, Hypotheses notebook), to research instruments (database), a virtual exhibition, teachings within the master's degree in Gender Studies as well as a theatrical restitution (theatrical conference or documentary theater) which the artistic team of the project will take care of.
Madame Nahema HANAFI (Temps, Mondes, Sociétés)
The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.
TEMOS Temps, Mondes, Sociétés
Help of the ANR 192,640 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2021 - 36 Months