Propertius (ca. 54 b.c.--ca. 2 b.c.) was a Roman poet who composed four compelling books of elegies in the chaotic years surrounding Rome's transition from republic to empire. The first three of these books revolve mostly around a tormented love affair with a woman called Cynthia. The fourth book of poetry rests on more diverse subject matter and is notoriously the most opaque and elusive. In The Politics of Desire, Micaela Janan radically reassesses Propertius' last elegies, using contemporary psychoanalytic theory to illuminate these challenging texts.
Janan finds that the upheaval of Rome's transformation to empire corresponds to the intellectually unsettled conditions of our own time, so that contemporary methodologies offer an uncannily suitable approach for understanding Propertius. In particular, she uses the work of Jacques Lacan, since it provides the best conceptual tools for examining the relation between political crisis and the struggles of the self, a theme that resonates in these difficult elegies.
This book expands our understanding of an important Roman poet, and its innovative and sophisticated methodological approach makes a substantial contribution to feminist and psychoanalytic criticism. In addition, Janan addresses elegy's relationship to larger cultural questions, and broadens our understanding of the social crisis affecting Rome during the early empire.
Micaela Janan is Associate Professor of Classics at Duke University. She is the author of When the Lamp Is Shattered: Desire and Narrative in Catullus (1994).
"Micaela Janan in The Politics of Desire has confirmed her status as one of the preeminent interpreters of Latin poetry in our era. This book is a must for anyone interested in Augustan poetry, literary theory, or contemporary psychoanalytic studies. The readings are rigorous, the scholarship meticulous, and the theoretical approach profoundly sophisticated. This book will fundamentally change the way we look at both Propertius Book 4 and the use of psychoanalytic theory to interpret ancient literature. We will be drawing inspiration from, and arguing with it, for a very long time." —Paul Allen Miller, author of Lyric Texts and Lyric Consciousness : The Birth of a Genre from Archaic Greece to Augustan Rome
" Micaela Janan's superb application of Lacan to Propertius deepens our appreciation for both. Her deft readings remind us that Lacan's brilliance, like Freud's, was grounded in classical learning. Janan's astute use of the 'New Lacanian' approach is a model of how to refresh our encounters with literary works -- and with antiquity -- without the deformations so often unwittingly imposed by historicist and eclectic cultural studies frames. Classical authors are indeed revivified when they are read by someone with so lively and contemporary a literary and political sensibility as Janan's." —Juliet Flower MacCannell, author of Figuring Lacan, The Regime of the Brother, and The Hysteric's Guide to the Future Female Subject
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