In 1769, a few years before the French Revolution, Nicolas Edme Restif de la Bretonne published his epistolary essay Le Pornographe. Its subtitle, as rendered in English: A Gentleman’s Ideas on a Project for the Regulation of Prostitutes, Suited to the Prevention of the Misfortunes Caused by the Public Circulation of Women. The pamphlet consists of a series of fictional Gentleman’s letters between two “pornographers,” a neologism Restif coined from the Greek pornê, “prostitute,” and graphein, “writing,” talking about love and the preservation of virtue. Monsieur d’Alzan, finally about to marry Ursule, the sister of Monsieur des Tianges’s wife, sends his friend a project for the regulation of prostitution in order to guarantee “the virtuous exercise of love” within the city of Paris.
Restif de la Bretonne argued in Le Pornographe for the seclusion and the regulation of the “street women” of Paris in a network of state-administered whorehouses, thereby developing the first architectural proposition to reform prostitution practices in European cities. This small (and today extravagant) essay had an immense influence during the eighteenth century. A few years after Restif, the eminent architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux developed two projects for building “museums of vice” and “institutions of public love.” In the first volume of his treatise L’Architecture considérée sous le rapport de l’art, des mœurs et de la legislation (Architecture considered in relation to art, morals, and legislation), Ledoux presented, in “Fragments of a Greek Monument,” the project for Oïkema at the Saline of Chaux. Similarly, in 1803, Sade, who elaborated parodic, critical, and hyperbolic responses to Restif’s utopian administrations, developed his own proposal for an urban plan of whorehouses (which has today been unfortunately lost).
But exactly what kind of public administration was this state brothel? In the early 1980s, French writer and literary critic Annie Le Brun classed these and other eighteenth-century projects as akin to Foucault’s heterotopic spaces, as “subversive architectures.” In contrast, a few years later, Anthony Vidler suggested reading these sexual utopian projects as “asylums of libertinage,” confinement architectures built in continuity with a disciplinary social program, conceived not for producing pleasure but rather to protect society from the chaotic desires of the people by regulating “urges of the flesh.” These conflicting readings of utopian architectural sexual projects and writings pushed Foucault’s analyses of the European development of biopolitics against its own critical aporia: Vidler’s argument stressed not only the formal and the political connection between the architecture of the prison, the hospital, and the brothel, but also the continuity between otherwise dissimilar projects imagined by Sade or Charles Fourier; Le Brun argued for considering the possible disruptions created by the houses of pleasure within the very fabric of disciplinary intuitions. Should the modern brothel be understood as a case of “architecture of subversion,” or should it rather be thought of as part of the biopolitical project wherein architecture works as a disciplinary technology to produce “docile subjects”? Instead of choosing between Le Brun’s and Vidler’s readings, between heterotopia and discipline, I would like to argue for a critical rejection of this opposition and therefore for a displacement of the Foucauldian aporia within biopolitics.
Ultimately, the state brothel could become a better model than the panopticon or the prison to conceive the functioning of new technologies of government invented within modern democratic European societies. On one hand, it unveils the fabrication of the modern colonial subject as desiring and sexual revealing hierarchies and segmentations within the political management of organs (penis, vagina, uterus) and fluids (semen, blood, milk, water). On the other, it shows how democratic subjugation links freedom and subjection, pleasure and terror: apparently antagonistic affects and modes of consciousness. Other questions surface when exploring the modern relationship between submission and freedom, control and liberation, violence and love, power and pleasure, sovereignty and debt within the utopian projects of state brothels. And, to take a possibly risky heuristic leap, one may sketch a comparison between the state-brothel governmental techniques and the current politics of democratic “subjection and enslavement” by debt imposed by the European community.
The Bootman, the Pornographer, and the Owl
Undermined and forgotten by the canonical history of literature for his “unfit style,” considered more a graphomaniac than as a writer, Restif was a prolific author and social reformer—contemporaneous with Sade, his public enemy—who was hugely known in Europe in the eighteenth century for his numerous autobiographic and libertine novels. As if continuing their rivalry in the afterlife, the growing popularity of Sade during the twentieth century has increasingly overshadowed Restif. But the literary and political landscape of libertinage would be incomplete without recalling the deeds of the latter, who is almost totally neglected today. And it could be argued that without reading Restif, Sade remains incomplete. In fact, some of the most well known Sadien works are satirical responses to Restif’s pamphlets. Sade and Restif dialogue with each other, they need each other. Not only do they fight, they also flirt via writing. Together they compose a new European narrative that establishes the modern relationships between power and pleasure, norm and sex, violence and sexuality.
Why have we forgotten Restif and remember Sade? European modernity fluctuates between Sadean and Restifian periods. Maybe we have forgotten Restif because we are too Restifist to remember him without panic or embarrassment. Whereas Sade represents the political imaginary of the archaic aristocratic society and prefigures extreme (necropolitical, although almost always parodical) modes of reaffirming male white sovereignty beyond religion; Restif, much more flexible, Christian, and politically chameleonic than Sade (Restif worked as an informer both for the prerevolutionary and the revolutionary police in France) represents the complex unfolding of modern biopolitical technologies of government and the transference and modulation of sovereignty that characterizes the forms of democratic subjugation in Europe that were to come.
Born at Sacy, France, in 1734, Restif was the son of a rich landowner, educated by the Jansenites at Bicêtre, and trained as a typographer and printer in Dijon. This training allowed him to use writing in an unprecedented way: he wrote directly at the printing press, using the movable metal type to write and swiftly print his books page by page. He mechanized the process of handwriting, using the metallic frame as an abstract page connected to a printing device. He wrote-published more than two hundred pamphlets, including illustrated erotic novels, plays, essays, reforming projects, and utopian tales, which collectively can be read as an underground chronicle of the prerevolutionary and revolutionary years in France. His first success came in 1755 with the publication of Le Paysan perverti (The Perverted Peasant), which ensured his reputation as libertine author in France but also in England and Germany, where the novel was immediately translated. Between 1788 and 1794 he published the largest sexo-political chronicle of the advent of the French Revolution, Les Nuits de Paris, ou Le Spectateur nocturne (My revolution: Promenades in Paris), a sort of restless diary of more than three thousand pages in which readers across Europe (from Kant to Goethe) could follow events in the Parisian city with cutting-edge speed.
Restif was the eighteenth-century ancestor of the contemporary blogger, working in a medium of direct publication without editors in which the act of writing itself becomes public. His writing practice is an example of strategic reappropriation of the printing press as a technique of production and distribution of knowledge that anticipates the mutation of the modern citizen into a fast user and producer of information. As with the blogger and the Facebooker, Restif’s production was determined by three new terms: now, nonstop, self. And as with the blogger and the Facebooker, for Restif, to write meant to publish. After Les Nuits de Paris, between 1794 and 1797, he published an immense autobiography, Monsieur Nicolas, ou Le Cœur humain dévoilé (Monsieur Nicolas or, The Human Heart Laid Bare). His tales of the city and his literary selfies circulated around Europe almost as fast as tweets.
Even if many influential Europeans, including Goethe, considered Restif a major writer of his time, half a century was enough to disremember him. During the twentieth century, Restif was to be rediscovered and reinvented twice, by two oppositional discourses on sexuality: modern sexology and Surrealism. Always almost, never yet. On the one hand, Havelock Ellis, probably following earlier psychological studies by Paulin Charpentier and Alfred Binet, described Restif in 1930 as “the first case of shoe and foot fetishism,” basing his diagnosis on Restif’s Le Pied de Fanchette (Fanchette’s foot, also known as The Shoe), published in 1769; and he annunciated “retifism” as a “sexual deviation”:
Every prostitute of any experience has known men who merely desire to gaze at her shoes, or possibly to lick them, and who are quite willing to pay for his privilege. In London such a person is known as a “bootman,” in Germany as a “Stiefelfrier.” … Probably the first case of shoe-fetishism ever recorded in any detail is that of Restif de la Bretonne (1734–1806), publicist and novelist, one of the most remarkable literary figures of the later eighteenth century in France. Restif was a neurotic subject, though not to an extreme degree, and his shoe-fetishism, though distinctly pronounced, was not pathological; that is to say, that the shoe was not itself an adequate gratification of the sexual impulse, but simply a highly important aid to tumescence, a prelude to the natural climax of detumescence; only occasionally, and faute de mieux, in the absence of the beloved person, was the shoe used as an adjunct to masturbation. In Restif’s stories and elsewhere the attraction of the shoe is frequently discussed or used as a motive. . . . It will also be seen that no element of masochism is involved in Restif’s fetishism, though the mistake has been frequently made of supposing that these two manifestations are usually or even necessarily allied. Restif wishes to subject the girl who attracts him, he has no wish to be subjected by her. He was especially dazzled by a young girl from another town, whose shoes were of a fashionable cut, with buckles, “and who was a charming person besides.”
Restifism was for Havelock Ellis a sort of modern urban sexual condition characterized by the taste for boots, whores, and muddy streets. Analyzing his literary and autobiographical descriptions of incest and prostitution, the domination of women by men and “the adoration of feet,” Ellis described Restif de la Bretonne as a case of “neurotic non-masochistic fetishism,” introducing him into a genealogy of literary sexual pathology that Krafft-Ebing had already contributed to create through the analyses of the work of Sade as a paradigmatic case of a psychological perversion that he named “sadism.” What to make of the fact that some of the most influential concepts of modern sexual pathology have been constructed by transforming literary figures into medical and technical notions that would allow to diagnose and treat sexual deviancy? What are we going to make out of all the Oedipuses, Electras, Sades, Sacher-Masochs, and Restifs, that inhabit modern scientific psychology? We are myth-sick. We will get better by inflecting or destroying the narrative. And yet, out of all these myths, Restif’s was again forgotten.
The second almost-coming-back of Restif into history happened with Surrealism. Breton and Aragon saw in the writings of the “Rousseau of the gutter” and the “Voltaire of the chambermaids” the model for inventing new dissident uses of the modern city. The Surrealist claimed the narrator of Les Nuits de Paris as the new inhabitant of urban space. Restif is the bootman not only for his adoration of feet but also for his embodying the condition of the urban nightwalker. On the frontispice of Les Nuits de Paris, he is represented as a man walking at night with an owl on his head. The agencement of the human and the owl produces also a new aesthetic agent: the city-night spectator. Being modern means becoming owl: experimenting the city at night, seeing within darkness. For Restif there are two cities that coexist in the same geography: a visible city exists during the day giving way to an invisible city that glows only during nighttime. The night city is a ville negative, dwelling within the interstices of the urban legal and moral territory. Restif’s narrator is a writing owl, able to shed light on the nocturnal city, in a literal sense to “enlighten” the negative city, its places and inhabitants.
Restif’s spectator can be considered the first aesthetic and self-reflective figure of the male consumer of sexual services within the urban capitalist city. Before the flâneur comes the owl of the night and the foot fetishists. Whereas the bourgeois flâneur experiences the joys and resentments of the new urban space as merchandise, the human-owl feels the city as sexual prey under his feet. The pornographer is the sexual cartographer of the underworld, drawing a map of the modern city with sweat and sperm.
Nicolas Edme Restif de la Bretonne, Les Nuits de Paris, ou le Spectateur nocturne, volume 1 (1788–89), frontispiece by Moreau le Jeune
The Architecture of Syphilis
In Le Pornographe, and in the course of forty-five articles, Restif de la Bretonne develops a “pornognomonie,” “une Règle des Lieux de Débauche,” and “a rule for the spaces of vice”: a series of regulations for a brothel run by the state and dedicated to lust and virtue, which he called Parthénia (referring to ancient Greece’s Mount Parthenon, or “Mount of the Virgin”). The first astonishment we experience reading Restif’s Le Pornographe comes from the fact that this establishment is defined as a hospital-prison for prostitutes intended to work as a hygienic device to stop the spread of the most feared sickness of the seventeenth century, the “vérole,” the “mal vénérien”: syphilis.
In Restif’s essay, pornograph refers not to a writer or consumer of representations of sexual, antireligious, or antimonarchic pamphlets but rather to an expert in legal and medical techniques of public hygiene within the modern city. For Restif, pornography is the branch of urban planning and hygiene dealing with the management of prostitution within the modern city and the preservation and maximization of the nation’s health. The pornographer was for Restif not only a spectator but also a new agent of technical urban management dedicated to map places of prostitution and to make political propositions to improve urban health and pleasure. Pornography in the eighteenth-century political discourse named a new realm of biopolitical intervention that for the first time joined architecture, medicine, and urban hygiene.
A new technology of political management is always announced by the invention of a new figure of successful social agency. Active respectively in the cities of Paris and London, Alexandre Parent-Duchâtelet and William Acton become prosperous “pornographers,” in Restif’s sense, during the nineteenth century: they were simultaneously urban engineers, inspectors of whorehouses, experts in prostitution, planners of underground sewers, and counselors for gynecologists. Within the public and private domains, for the body and the soul, the pornographers and the psychologists are to nineteenth century sexo-politics what the broker and the corporate globe-trotter are to the neoliberal management of the beginning of the twenty-first century. Every hegemonic figure projects its own shadow, constructs its constitutive outside: the pornographer and the prostitute, the psychologists and the foot fetishist, the good republican and the syphilitic, the broker and the homeless, the corporate globe-trotter and the migrant trying to cross frontiers, the healthy and the HIV-positive pharmacological consumer.
In a context dominated by “pre-Pasteurian mythologies,” Restif de la Bretonne starts his argument in favor of the construction of a state brothel in his pamphlet echoing what was called at the time the “Columbian thesis,” according to which the “vérole” was brought to Europe in 1493 with the arrival at Barcelona of the returning sailors from Haiti with Christopher Columbus’s voyage to America: “You know, my dear,” argues the protagonist of Le Pornographe, “there is a cruel malady, brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus from the island of Haiti, and perpetuated by the unfortunate women who are in constant contact with strangers in the way that is necessary in large cities.”
Restif’s argument was part of a larger medical and popular discourse that had produced a colonial and topopolitical narrative in order to explain the origin of the disease. As the historian of medicine Sander L. Gilman has stressed, syphilis was constructed within a political topography of sickness that opposed the outside, contaminated and contaminating, to the inside, which was proper and healthy, a representation that coincided with the territorial invention of colonial and national-state borders within modern Europe. Haiti occupies a crucial position within this colonial narrative. It is the place where the first anticolonial revolt of slaves will take place in 1791: like syphilis, zombies, Santeria, voodoo, Lukumi, the rule of Ocha and the Yoruba gods … the revolution will come to undo the law of the master. Two centuries later, AIDS will also be said to come from Haiti. The four Hs that were said to characterize the AIDS carrier represent the reorganization of the sexopolitical disciplinary grid developed with the treatment of syphilis into new neoliberal techniques of political management: the Haitian, the hemophilic, the homosexual, the hooker. The fabrication of European colonial sovereignty promoted the free circulation of male, Christian, heterosexual sperm and blood and restricted all other fluids and uses of the body.
In the eighteenth century, a period that has been characterized by social historians as “syphilophobic,” France was the site of conflicting and emphatic discourses on syphilis. The syphilitic was the figure of the political outsider; at the same time, a new romantic image of the syphilitic as aesthetic agent was progressively being constructed. In this context, the position of Restif was conspicuous: Restif was (like Sade) not only a pornographer (in the eighteenth-century sense), a writer on prostitution, and a client of street prostitutes but also a syphilitic himself. With Le Pornographe, Restif avoided the autobiographical style of his main work Monsieur Nicolas and presented the book not as the project of a “sick man” but rather as a rational and political dialogue between two healthy white male citizens who never identify themselves as syphilitic. Yet modern European literature is nothing other than the writing of syphilis: Sade, Restif, Baudelaire, Guy de Maupassant, Stendhal, Paul Verlaine, Oscar Wilde, the Goncourt brothers, Nietzsche …
Michel Foucault (known, like Restif during his time, for the invention of numerous neologisms) coined the term noso-politics in his 1976 essay “The Politics of Health in the Eighteenth Century” to refer to modern devices (including scientific discourses and practices, institutions, and architecture) by which the sick body of the population becomes the object of political management. Before the invention of the term hospital (from the Latin root hospes, meaning “the guest who is received by a host”), the Greek term nosos designated the realm of sickness and everything related to it (nosokomos, the one who cures; nosokomia, the treatment; nosokomein, the act of taking care of a sickness). Foucault used the root noso- to stress the horizontal multiplication of new social technologies to manage health and sickness that exceeded the medical domain and the architecture of the hospital, including the policing of families, the treatment of the poor or orphans, and the monitoring of new variables such as topography and climate. Following Foucault, the state brothel could be defined as a noso-architectural project.
In order to understand the consequences of a possible interpretation of Restif’s state brothel as an “architecture of syphilis,” it is necessary to invoke Foucault’s definition of pandemics as “biopolitical entities” rather than as natural facts. Prior to the scientific description of the difference between virus and bacteria, the modern construction of syphilis coincides with what Roberto Esposito has called, in an extension of Foucault’s genealogy of modern power techniques, the “paradigm of immunization” at the intersection of biology and politics.
To each power regime corresponds a model of sick body, a specific management of life and death in space, a utopia of national and political immunity. Foucault described “sovereign power,” which prevailed within European societies until the eighteenth century, as a power that decided and ritualized death. Sovereign power is displayed in the form of what Foucault defines as a set of “necropolitical techniques,” or a series of techniques of giving death, going from violence and torture techniques to the death penalty. As Derrida puts it reading Hobbes, “Sovereignty scares, and fear constitutes the sovereign as sovereign.” The punishing style of public execution, of torture as public spectacle, analyzed by Foucault in the opening chapter of Discipline and Punish characterized not only the economy of sovereign punishment of prerevolutionary European societies, but also the very relationship between premodern body, sovereign power, knowledge, and architecture. Foucault analyzed how sovereign power, defined as transcendental and divine, was embodied within the figure of the king. With a more feminist perspective, he might have noted a more pervasive form of incarnation of sovereign power: the male (sexual) body of the father. Inscribed within a theological episteme, sovereignty is given by God and transmitted, through a patriarchal lineage, through bonds of blood—being sperm white male reproductive blood. The political consequences of the historical link between sovereign power, masculinity and paternity are enormous: the pater familias is a necropolitical father whose power is defined not by his capacity to give life but by his right to give death—to, among others, his wife and children. Western patriarchy is thus founded on a necropolitical definition of male sovereignty. In other words, within this power regime, masculinity and paternity are functions of the use and monopoly of techniques of violence. The history of feminism and queer movements could be understood as a collective effort to restrict violent patriarchal techniques and to inflect this necropolitical definition of sexuality and kinship.
Whereas sovereign power was exercised in its relationship to the spectacle of violence and death techniques, modern disciplinary power is, according to Foucault, defined by the rise of new techniques for “protecting and maximizing the life of the populations.” Biopower is no longer concerned with “giving death,” Foucault argues, but rather with the regulation of life: biopolitics takes as its object bodily habits, health, reproductive practices, purity of blood, well-being, the treatment of air and water, making architecture, domesticity, and urban planning governmental priorities. It is within this new regulation of life, Foucault argues, where the body, sexuality, and space become areas of political management.
The objects of sovereign techniques of “exclusion” and “ritual exile,” the leper and the madman, occupied for Foucault a “liminal position,” becoming “prisoners of their own departure.” Inversely, “inclusion” and “confinement” are described by Foucault as eighteenth-century disciplinary techniques of spatialization of modern sickness in the form of the bubonic plague. The biopolitical management of the plague, although still framed within the theological rhetorics of “God’s wrath and Satan’s vengeance,” combined sovereign techniques of body marking (such as the emblematic “plague beak-like mask” worn by the community plague doctors and filled with aromatic herbs, designed to protect them from “putrid air” considered to be the cause of the infection) and new spatial techniques implying disciplinary practices of spatial segregation, distribution, individualization, and surveillance. “First,” Foucault writes, “a strict spatial partitioning: the closing of the town and its outlying districts, a prohibition to leave the town on pain of death, the killing of all stray animals; the division of the town into distinct quarters, each governed by an intendant. Each street is placed under the authority of a syndic, who keeps it under surveillance; if he leaves the street, he will be condemned to death.” These new governmental techniques produce “a segmented, immobile, frozen space. Each individual is fixed in his place. And, if he moves, he does so at the risk of his life, contagion or punishment.” Extending Foucault’s hypothesis, historian Bruce Thomas Boehrer has argued that syphilis, even more than plague, is the first modern sickness, the first to break with the medieval theological representation of the healthy and unhealthy body within space. With the advent of syphilis, the biopolitical techniques of spatialization of sickness inside the city became more specific, and for the first time were articulated to regulate sexual and racial difference in terms of spatial distribution.
The relationship between space, sexual intercourse, and syphilis crystallized in 1527 when Béthencourt named the disease as a mal vénérien and described it as “originating in sexual relations and contagion.” For the first time, syphilis was represented as a “sexual disease” threatening the integrity of social boundaries that can be treated through “personal cleanliness,” understood not only as spiritual purity (as it was the case in the medieval treatises) but also as practice of the body within space and in sexual relation to other bodies. As Foucault puts it, through its responses to syphilis, medical practices began to relocate sexuality “within the social body, and within the social space, rather than above it.” The biopolitical management of syphilis and the intensity of the disciplinary reforms led to a transformation of sexuality and space into technical domains of medical and punitive intervention during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
With syphilis, a new body was fabricated. The body constructed by sovereign necropolitical power was a skin, and leprosy its political sickness. Developed before the invention of anatomic dissection techniques of displaying interiority that would emerge during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the sovereign body was a flat exteriority, a political surface where power inscribed its law with the aid of several necropolitical techniques. As opposed to the sovereign body, the modern disciplinary body constructed by the new biopolitical techniques that appeared with plague, syphilis, and tuberculosis is no longer a skin but rather a dense and deep body, a complex and stratified system, an interiority made of a multiplicity of new organs and fluids.
If the necropolitical father was the figure that embodied sovereign power, disciplinary biopolitics invents a new body and new organs fully dedicated to the reproduction of the national race and health: the biopolitical mother as uterus. New disciplinary techniques for governing the sexual body in space were implemented with the pathologization of masturbation, the prohibition of interracial reproduction (via the Code noir decrees of 1685 and 1724), the hystericization and domestication of female sexuality, and the confinement and privatization of female fluids (especially menstrual blood and milk) within the domestic space. These techniques specialized even more after 1868, with the pathologization of homosexuality and the bourgeois standardization of white heterosexual domesticity and its “sick” counterpart, the maison close, a materialization of the modern state brothel that had been imagined before the French Revolution.
Right at the junction of the sovereign and the disciplinary regimes, the modern sexualized and racialized syphilitic body was constructed within the tension between a sovereign skin in crisis and a complex interiority that had to be constantly disciplined. The discourses on syphilis worked with a spatial representation of the political body where the national and Christian masculine body’s borders were threatened by contact not only with other religions but also with sexualized female and nonwhite bodies, with other blood and other sperm. Within this sexo-geopolitical iconography, the outsider (the stray woman, the stranger, the foreign, the slave, the indigenous body) was “poisoned” and acted as a mobile source of contamination.
The topopolitical construction of the colonial and Christian borders materialized within the individual body on the skin as a surface where the signs of the sickness as “stigmata” could be read. The skin of the prostitute and of nonwhite bodies became a political map on which cultural marks of sovereignty and dispossession were inscribed. As Sander L. Gilman has noted, the prostitute’s skin and the nonwhite skin were perceived as active “media,” interfaces for contamination. The skin was a biomap of the Empire and its colonial expansion but also of its sexual and political fragility. The colonial fight for redefining sovereignty sexualized the borders of the Empire and the skin of the body, defining its limits as sexual frontiers. At the same time, colonial antagonisms racialized the skin as a public visual index where the truth of blood and racial purity could be read.
In terms of biopolitics of architecture, the history of prostitution in modernity could be read as a history of techniques of privatization of sexuality and of segmentation of urban public space in order to produce immunity, as a way to spatialize fear and desire, power and pleasure, and to prevent moral or physical contamination. The word bordel itself is a trace of these topopolitical practices. The first places for the exercise of commercialized sexual practices in the European medieval cities were public baths, which became progressively more suspicious to the Christian authorities for their relationship both to “oriental” practices and religions and to bodily contamination, fears that will later be reenacted within colonial narratives of the harem. Wet places considered to be spaces of contagion, the baths were understood not only as immoral but also as unhealthy. As geographer David Sibley has put it, the “imaginary geographies” of exclusion located prostitution and baths in social and spatial peripheries, literally moving them toward the “the edge of the world or the edge of the city.” The modern Christianization of Europe and its colonial development was also a displacement from wet sex into dry sex. In France, around 1256, the baths were closed and prostitutes relocated outside city limits. Street prostitutes were forced to occupy temporary locations that took the form of bords, wooden platforms where the women were exposed to public view. These precarious platforms were mobile architectures where exclusion and spectacle, surveillance and pleasure converged. Prostitutes were thus called filles bordelières, referring to those who literally “stay on the bords.” In 1367 a governmental text written by Hugues Aubriot determined the location of the bords, concentrating the practice of public sexuality within a few streets of Paris—“Brisemiche,” “Trace-Putain” (actually rue Beaubourg), and “Gratte-cul” (rue Dusboubs). These “urban bords,” located for the first time within the city itself and controlled by the government, were called bordeaux, the word from which derive the modern terms bordel, bordello, burdel, and brothel.
The regulation of prostitution within the city was intensified and “modernized” with the advent of syphilis. After the seventeenth century, two strategies of spatialization of sickness coexist to manage prostitution: the premodern, sovereign strategy of exclusion and ostracism and the emerging disciplinary techniques of inclusion and imprisonment. During the first half of the seventeenth century, several thousand street prostitutes were deported to the Antilles. In 1658, already shifting toward biopolitical techniques, Louis XIV limited the exercise of prostitution to a few streets and ordered the imprisonment of the filles publiques at the Salpêtrière Hospital, which was transformed into a penitentiary where prostitutes were “moralized by work.” Between 1714 and 1747, several administrative projects were submitted to the government of Louis XV to medically control prostitutes in order to prevent the proliferation of syphilis, and Lieutenants Voyer d’Argenson and Berryer established a compulsory sanitary revision of all women working on the streets. According to Louis-Sébastien Mercier, in spite of constant evictions, there were around thirty thousand filles publiques in Paris in 1750. As a result of the will to regulate, a general register of Paris’s filles des mauvais mœurs was established in 1763.
Referring to a tension later articulated by Foucault to explain the shift from a sovereign power regime to a modern disciplinary biopolitical regime, Restif opposed, in a programmatic paragraph about the management of urban prostitution, the old techniques of management of the leper to the new spatial techniques for dealing with the spread of syphilis within the modern city:
Since the damage has already been done, there is no point in looking any further for a remedy. Of the two possible solutions, that of separating from society those who had been afflicted by contagion, as was the case before, with the lepers, was only practicable until they arrived in Europe from Haiti; the second, which consists in concealing all filles publiques, is less difficult to do: even more important, it is more effective, since that would mean striking the evil at its root.
In order to eradicate venereal contamination, Restif programs the Parthénion as an asile inviolable, an island of discipline and vice, a totally hermetic institution: “all public women must be inside the houses,” he argues. “Otherwise they will be physically punished.”
Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, view of the Oïkema, projected for the unrealized ideal city of Chaux, France (undated), engraving by Coquet
Unless otherwise noted, all translations by the author. His name is written both Restif de la Bretonne and Rétif de la Bretonne depending on sources.
Nicolas E. Restif de la Bretonne, Le Pornographe, ou Les Idées d’un honnête homme sur un projet de règlement pour les prostituées propre à prévenir le malheur qu’occasionne le publicisme des femmes avec des notes justificatives (Paris, 1769). New edition of the first part of the text: Le Pornographe, ou La Prostitution réformée (Paris: Mille et Une Nuit, 2003).
Jean-Claude Courbin has argued that Ledoux, who issued his treatise with the advent of Napoleon in 1804, must have known Restif’s project for the Parthénion when designing the plans for Oïkema and the Maison de Plaisir, since Le Pornographe was highly commented on in Paris; probably it was Ledoux’s strongest influence, together with Le Camus de Mézières’s Le Génie de l’architecture, ou L’Analogie de cet art avec nos sensations, published in 1780 (Paris: Benoît Morin). See Courbin, “Le Pornographe devant la critique: De la narration à la législation,” Études Rétiviennes 4 (1986), p. 78. See also Ionel Schein and Yvan Christ, L’œuvre et les rêves de Ledoux (Paris: Chêne, 1971), p. 18.
Anthony Vidler mentions Restif de la Bretonne as precursor of Ledoux’s Oïkema, but he does not present a reading of Restif’s work in relation to architecture. See Vidler, Claude-Nicolas Ledoux: Architecture and Utopia in the Era of the French Revolution (Basel: Birkhäuser, 2005), pp. 84, 135.
Annie Le Brun, Les Châteaux de la subversion: Suivi de Soudain un bloc d’abîme, Sade (1984; repr. Paris: Gallimard, 2010).
Anthony Vidler, “Asylums of Libertinage: De Sade, Fourier, Lequeu,” in The Writing of the Walls: Architectural Theory in the Late Enlightenment (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1987), pp. 103–24.
See Maurizio Lazzarato, Governing by Debt (New York: Semiotext(e), 2015).
Nicolas Edme Rétif de la Bretonne, Monsieur Nicolas, vol. 1 and 2 (Paris: La Pleiade, 1989).
Paulin Charpentier, Restif de la Bretonne: Sa perversion fétichiste (Bordeaux and Paris: Impr. Moderne, 1912); Alfred Binet, Le Fétichisme dans l’amour (1887; repr. Paris: Payot, 2001).
Havelock Ellis, Studies in the Psychology of Sex (New York: Random House, 1942), vol. 2, p. 18 et seq. Ellis also wrote the introduction to the English translation of Restif de la Bretonne’s book Monsieur Nicolas, The Human Heart Unveiled: The Intimate Memoirs of Restif de la Bretonne, 6 vols., trans. R. Crowdy Mathers (London: Glasgow University Press, 1930), vol. 5, pp. 12–13.
Ellis, introduction to Monsieur Nicolas, vol. 5, p. 12.
Richard von Krafft-Ebing, “Sadism,” in Psychopathia Sexualis, With Especial Reference to the Antipathic Sexual Instinct: A Medico-Forensic Study, trans. Franklin S. Klaf (New York: Arcade Publishing, 1965), pp. 53–55.
Jean-François de La Harpe called Restif “Rousseau of the gutter” and “Voltaire of the chambermaids.” See G. Peignot, Recherches historiques, bibliographiques et littéraires sur La Harpe (Paris, 1820), p. 41. Louis Aragon’s reflections are found in Paris Peasant, trans. Watson Taylor (London, 1971). Restif’s reports from the revolutionary period were edited and republished in 1908–24 by historian Frantz Funck-Brentano. See, for instance, Restif de la Bretonne, Portraits et documents inédits (Paris: A. Michel, 1928).
“Dans le cours de vingts années, c’est à dire despuis 1767, que l’auteur est spectateur nocturne, il a observé pendant mille et une nuits ce qui se passe dans les rues de la capitale,” Nicolas E. Restif de la Bretonne, Les Nuits de Paris (Paris: Gallimard, 1986), p. 30.
Paul Teyssier, Maisons closes parisiennes: Architectures immorales des années 1930 (Paris: Parigramme, 2010), p. 7.
Restif de la Bretonne, Le Pornographe, p. 13.
See Steven Marcus, The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England (London: Basic Books, 1966).
Alain Corbin, “Commercial Sexuality in Nineteenth-Century France: A System of Images and Regulations,” in The Making of the Modern Body: Sexuality and Society in the Nineteenth Century, Representations series (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), p. 210.
The name syphilis itself comes from the 1530 epic poem by Girolamo Fracastoro, “Syphilis sive morbus gallicus,” where the protagonist called Syphilus contracted the disease as a punishment from Apollo for his defiance. See J. D. Oriel, The Scars of Venus: A History of Venereology (Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1994).
For a general history of syphilis see Claude Quétel, History of Syphilis, trans. Judith Braddock and Brian Pike (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 1990); and Brenda J. Baker and George J. Armelagos, “The Origin and Antiquity of Syphilis,” Current Anthropology 29 (1988), pp. 703–20.
Restif de la Bretonne, Le Pornographe, pp. 13–14.
See Cindy Patton, Inventing AIDS (New York: Routledge, 1990); Steven Epstein, Impure Science: AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996); and Paula A. Treichler, How to Have Theory in an Epidemic: Cultural Chronicles of Aids (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999).
Alain Corbin, Les filles de noce: Misère sexuelle et prostitution au XIXe siècle (Paris: Flammarion, 1982), p. 17.
About the cultural construction of syphilis in the nineteenth-century Europe, see Elaine Showalter, “Syphilis, Sexuality, and Fiction of the Fin de Siècle,” in Sex, Politics, and Science in the Nineteenth-Century Novel, ed. Ruth Bernard Yeazell (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986); and Linda Hutcheon and Michael Hutcheon, “Syphilis, Sin and the Social Order: Richard Wagner’s Parsifal,” Cambridge Opera Journal 7, no. 3, pp. 261–75.
Michel Foucault, “The Politics of Health in the Eighteenth Century,” in Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972–1977, ed. Colin Gordon (New York: Pantheon, 1980), pp. 166–82.
Jacques Derrida and Anne Dufourmantelle, Of Hospitality, trans. Rachel Bowlby (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), p. 135.
Roberto Esposito, Bios: Biopolitics and Philosophy, trans. Timothy Campbell (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2008).
Jacques Derrida, The Beast and the Sovereign, vol. 1, trans. Geoffrey Bennington (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009), p. 68.
Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (London: Penguin, 1977), pp. 1–69.
Françoise Héritier-Augé, “Semen and Blood: Some Ancient Theories Concerning Their Genesis and Relationships,” in Fragments for a History of the Human Body, ed. Michel Feher (New York: Zone Books, 1989).
See Michel Foucault, “Security, Territory, Population,” in Lectures at the Collège de France 1977–1978 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007); and Foucault, History of Sexuality, vol. 1 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978).
Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 11.
About the history of plague, see Robert S. Gottfried, The Black Death: Natural and Human Disaster in Medieval Europe (New York: Free Press, 1985). For a Foucauldian reading of the plague and its biopolitical management, see “Early and Modern Biospheres, Politics and The Rhetorics of Plague,” special issue, The Journal of Early Modern Cultural Studies 10, no. 2 (2010).
Foucault, Discipline and Punish, p. 195.
Bruce Thomas Boehrer, “Early Modern Syphilis,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 1, no. 2 (1990), pp. 197–214.
Quétel, History of Syphilis, p. 54.
Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972–1977, ed. Colin Gordon (New York: Vintage, 1980), p. 39.
See Jonathan Sawday, The Body Emblazoned: Dissection and the Human Body in Renaissance Culture (New York: Routledge, 1995), p. 54.
Sander L. Gilman, “AIDS and Syphilis: The Iconography of Disease,” in “AIDS: Cultural Analysis/Cultural Activism,” ed. Douglas Crimp, special issue, October 43 (Winter 1987), pp. 87–107.
For a cultural history of syphilis after 1880, see Allan Brandt, No Magic Bullet: A Social History of Venereal Disease in the United States Since 1880 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985).
On the relationships between skin and blood in colonialism, see Hortense Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” Diacritics 17, no. 2 (Summer 1987), pp. 64–81; and Lisa Lowe, “The Intimacy of Four Continents,” in Haunted by Empire: Geographies of Intimacy in North American History, ed. Ann Laura Stoler (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006).
David Sibley, Geographies of Exclusion: Society and Difference in the West (London: Routledge, 1995), p. 49.
William W. Sanger, The History of Prostitution (New York: Eugenics Publishing Company, 1937). On prostitution in the colonial British empire, see Philippa Levine, Prostitution, Race, and Politics: Policing Venereal Disease in the British Empire (New York: Routledge, 2003).
Louis-Sébastien Mercier, Tableau de Paris (Paris, 1781–89). This book is one of the first critical texts against the French institution of the “Hôtel-Dieu.” Mercier develops a futurist vision of the hospital as a “scientific place of health” in the utopian novel L’An 2440, ou Rêve s’il en fut jamais (Paris, 1771), in which he describes a totally rational society without sickness, beggars, or prostitutes.
Teyssier, Maisons closes parisiennes: Architectures immorales des années 1930, p. 16.
See the opposition between spatial techniques of treating leprosy and plague in Foucault, Discipline and Punish, pp. 195–200.
Restif de la Bretonne, Le Pornographe, p. 14.
Ibid., p. 45.
Ibid., p. 43.
Angus McLaren, A History of Contraception: From Antiquity to the Present Day (Oxford: Basic Blackwell, 1990), p. 141.
Joshua Gamson, “Rubber Wars: Struggles over the Condom in the United States,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 1 (1990), pp. 262–82.
See Daniel Turner, Practical Dissertation on the Venereal Disease (London, 1717), p. 197; and McLaren, A History of Contraception, p. 82. For the use of condoms in prostitution and war, see Casimir Freschot, Histoire amoureuse et badine du congrès et de la ville d’Utrecht (Liège: Chez Jacob le Doux, 1714).
J. Doe, “Jean Astruc (1694–1766): A Biography and Bibliography,” Journal of the History of Medicine 15 (1960), pp. 184–97.
Gamson, “Rubber Wars,” p. 262.
In 1839, the same year hygienist Michael Ryan wrote Prostitution in London, with a Comparative View of That of Paris and New York, Charles Goodyear discovered the vulcanisation of rubber, the process that makes rubber—which is naturally hard when cold and soft when warm—elastic. This process enabled condoms for the first time to be made from latex, transforming the domain of venereal prevention and hygenics and extending the use of condoms as “French Preventatives” to America. Nevertheless, the Comstock Law (named after Anthony Comstock) that regulated “pornography” in the United States made illegal the advertisement of birth control, relegating once more the use of condoms to the private space. With the introduction of latex in the 1930s came a second revolution that translated into the mass production and distribution of condoms, which lasted until 1960, when the birth-control pill was first commercialized. See Randolph Trumbach, “The Condom in Modern and Postmodern Culture,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 2 (1991), pp. 95–98.
See Norman E. Himes, Medical History of Contraception (New York: Rajsons, 2002); Robert Jütte, Contraception. A History (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2008), p. 102. See also Vern L. Bullough, Science in the Bedroom (New York: Basic Books, 1994).
Béatrice Fontanel and Daniel Wolfromm, Petite histoire du préservatif (Paris: Stock, 2009,) p. 44.
Jeremy Bentham, Situtation and Relief of the Poor (1797; repr. Edinburgh: William Tait, 1843).
On the history of the bidet, see Julia Csergo and Roger-Henri Guerrand, Le Bidet du XVIIIe au XIXe siècle: Histoire d’une intimité (Paris: La Découverte, 1997 and 2009).
Alain Corbin, Le Miasme et la jonquille (Paris: Aubier, 1982).
About the flow of organic detritus in the eighteenth-century city, see Pierre Saddy, “Le cycle des immondices,” Dix-huitième siècle, no. 9 (1997), pp. 203–14; Pierre Denis Boudriot, “Essai sur l’ordure en mileu urbain à l’époque pré-industrielle: boues, immondices et gadoue à Paris au XVIII siècle,” Histoire, économie & société 5 (1986), pp. 515–28; Jacques Bourgeois-Gavardin, Les Boues de Paris sous l’ancien régime: Contribution à l’histoire du nettoiement urbain aux XVII et XVIII siècles (Paris: EHESS, 1985); Sabine Barles, L’Invention des déchets urbains: France, 1790–1970 (Paris: Champ Vallon/PUF, 2005); and Dominique Laporte, L’histoire de la merde (Paris: Christian Bourgois, 2003).
Paulette Singley, “The Anamorphic Phallus within Ledoux’s Dismembered Plan of Chaux,” Journal of Architectural Education 46, no. 3 (February 1993), pp. 176–88; and Hanno-Walter Kruft, in A History of Architecture Theory from Vitruvius to the Present (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1994).
Ibid., p, 55.
Corbin, “Commercial Sexuality in Nineteenth-Century France: A System of Images and Regulations,” p. 119.
It seems crucial to add this sexual dimension to Maurizio Lazzarato’s argument on debt. See Lazzarato, The Making of the Indebted Man (New York: Semiotext(e), 2012).
Carolyn Strange and Alison Bashford, eds., Isolation: Places and Practices of Exclusion (New York: Routledge, 2003), p. 3.
Lowe, “The Intimacy of Four Continents,” p. 192.
Foucault, Discipline and Punish, p. 138.