- This event has passed.
Casanova: Libertine Legend
—a conference organized by Malina Stefanovska, University of California, Los Angeles, and Thomas Harrison, University of California, Los Angeles
Friday January 22 & Saturday January 23, 2016
co-sponsored by the UCLA Departments of French and Francophone Studies and Italian
Giacomo Casanova is a fascinating eighteenth-century adventurer, libertine, traveler, and author of many texts in French and Italian, including a utopian novel, writings on medicine, economy, language, politics, mathematics, and, most important, one of the major autobiographies of his times, Histoire de ma vie, written in French and published posthumously in an expurgated version. The autobiography of this self-named “chevalier de Seingalt” brings together many strands and interests crucial for the Enlightenment and the eighteenth century at large, including numerous networks such as free masonry, literary salons, and academies; the gambling and theater circuits of Europe; financial expedients, such as lottery, used to finance the State; travel through numerous countries including Spain, England, Germany, Poland, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire; ethnographic observations on customs, languages, and communication, as well as notes on the rulers and courts of Europe; utopian ideas, magic, and free-thinking; libertine perspectives and—last but not least—the novel enterprise of writing one’s life, ushered by Rousseau’s Confessions. These issues, equally crucial for Casanova as was his status as an exile roaming throughout Europe, anchored him in a unique historical perspective from which he imagined, conducted, and wrote his Life. They also gave him (in spite of the vastly expurgated version of his manuscript, the only one available to the readers until mid-twentieth century) a legendary stature and appeal, creating posthumously a “Casanova myth,” which follows and possibly dwarfs that of the libertine Don Juan (it is noteworthy that Casanova participated in writing Da Ponte’s libretto of Mozart’s eponymous opera). Numerous art, film, and literary representations of Casanova exist in many national traditions in Europe, and he remains to this day a model for libertines and authors.
Casanova scholarship is experiencing a renewal, due to the fact that the original manuscript, in possession of the Brockhaus publishing house and inaccessible to scholars, has recently been acquired by France’s Bibliothèque nationale, thanks to an anonymous donor. It has given grounds to an important exhibition on Casanova and his times at the Bibliothèque and to a renewal of literary and historical studies on the author and his involvement in his society. Two major new editions are currently underway in France, including a first edition in the famous Pléiade collection, the first volume of which came out in 2013. This international and interdisciplinary conference brings together historians and literary scholars from the United States, France, and Italy to probe Casanova’s relationship to life-writing, narrative, Enlightenment thinking and practices, and literary representation.