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The seat of the soul, the centre of legends, the middle of cults and cultural taboos: the heart has a history as long and complex, and often as sordid, as that of the secret life it once signified. And this is the history that Milad Doueihi tells in a book that follows the adventures of the human heart through custom, legend, religion, and literature from antiquity to early modern times. Most prominent, and macabre, in this history is the account of the eaten heart, beginning with the myth of Dionysos, who was kidnapped and devoured by the Titans. Doueihi shows the reader, from the Middle Ages through to the 17th century, strange tales combining a cuisine of the macabre with the devotion of the lover, in which a jealous husband serves his unwitting wife the heart of her murdered lover. Beyond the tensions of courtly love, manifest in the Laid Ignaure, the Roman du Chatelain du Coucy, and works by Dante and Boccaccio, Doueihi evokes the image of the devoured heart invoked in Francis Bacon's "Essay on Friendship". Not to be outdone by literature and legend, religion, particularly in the theology of the Sacred Heart, takes its place in this story, exerting its influence on the legend of the eaten heart, with stories of perverse consumption coming to be explained in terms of the mystery of the Eucharist, the magical and mystical consumption of the body of Christ. Finally, with the discovery of physiology and the emerging science of blood circulation, the heart loses its symbolic place, though Doueihi leaves the reader with the possible marriage of mysticism and science that Pascal's descriptions of intuitive intelligence open up for the heart.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780674663251
ISBN-10: 067466325X
Format: Hardback
(210mm x 140mm x 20mm)
Pages: 240
Imprint: Harvard University Press
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Publish Date: 5-Mar-1998
Country of Publication: United States

Other Editions

Reviews

US Kirkus Review » Just in time for Valentine's Day (unfortunately), a jargon-blinkered, sclerotic look at a few esoteric insignificances of the human heart. This history is perverse only in how much it leaves out. Doueihi, the former Directeur d'Etudes Associe at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, seems to believe that his analysis of a few obscure, mainly French texts is enough to decant a few minor profundities. But at the center of his swirling gallic vortex of prose there is little beyond sententious meditations and gawky epigrams on "the intersection of cannibalism and the heart." Even here, obscurity and omission are preferred. Everyone you'd expect to find, from the Aztecs to Poe, is missing. At its heart, Doueihi's thesis is not particularly remarkable. The heart, he notes, was once considered the dwelling place of the self. This made its consumption highly significant symbolically: "The heart is the kernel of an apparatus of exchange and substitutions centered around the possibilities of the representation of the body . . . and the presentation of that representation in discourse." But anatomical studies and the progress of science eventually elevated the brain to the center of selfhood, making the heart a much less compelling totemic delicacy. Instead, it retreats to become a metaphorical/metaphysical "form of knowledge that is at the limits of all knowledge, since its undeniable existence serves to humiliate the arrogance of reason in order to reestablish the hierarchy informed by the centrality of belief." Throw in some disparate musings on religious devotions and the Sacred Heart, tangents on the Eucharist, even mystical bees, and you've got a perfect example of academic autism - a keen, observing mind hopelessly locked away from intelligible communication. (Kirkus Reviews)


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Author Biography - Milad Doueihi

Milad Doueihi holds the Chair of Research on Digital Cultures, Laval University.

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