Indiana University Bloomington
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Bastin Presents at monkey-themed conference

French Literature PhD Candidate Participates in International Journée d’Études

Posted: Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Kate Bastin in front of Chateau Chantilly

Kathryn Bastin, a PhD candidate in French Literature in the Department of French & Italian, participated in the international conference “Singes et Singeries à la Renaissance” organized by the 16th-Century Workshop of the Université de Paris-Sorbonne on March 15, 2014. Bastin, who is currently finishing her year as a College of Arts and Sciences dissertation fellow, was among a select few scholars, mainly from Europe, to participate in this “Journée d’Études,” which took place at the Château de Chantilly north of Paris, known for its two monkey-themed rooms, the grande singerie (1737) and petite singerie (1735). In French, singe means both monkey and ape, and singerie can mean both monkey business and monkey room. Bastin’s PhD dissertation title is “Humanity in Play: Man Meets Monkey in Ancien Régime France,” so the conference was right up her alley.

At the conference, Bastin delivered a paper entitled “Les pièges de l’imitation: Ésope à Versailles,” that focused on the Labyrinth at Versailles, which was in existence approximately 1675 to 1775 and included 39 fountains with animals from Aesop’s fables, among them six monkeys. She explains that in French cultural history “we see a treatment of the monkey and ape as a figure that holds a mirror for the human in the Renaissance and the early modern period: the monkey allows man to behold himself.”

Bastin was particularly excited to visit the Château de Chantilly’s famous singeries, painted by Christophe Huet, as she will analyze them as part of her dissertation. Although the focus of the conference was on an earlier time period than her own research, Bastin noted the importance of “considering precursors to what I am studying, and how these anterior notions of the monkey and ape shaped the Old Régime treatment of the simian.” In today’s world of scientific understanding regarding our evolutionary precursors, the Renaissance attitude toward simians is indeed a fascinating topic. We wish Bastin luck as she completes her dissertation under the co-direction of Professor Guillaume Ansart and Professor Hall Bjornstad in the Department of French & Italian.

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