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The Tenor of "Sarrasine"

Katherine Kolb
PMLA
Vol. 120, No. 5 (Oct., 2005), pp. 1560-1575
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25486268
Page Count: 16
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The Tenor of "Sarrasine"
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Abstract

In dialogue with Roland Barthes, whose S/Z unfolds a multiplicity of "voices" in Balzac's "Sarrasine," this essay focuses on literal voices in the story: those of the castrato and his historical successor, the tenor. It exposes the anachronism whereby a nineteenth-century tenor occupies the place of the baroque castrato hero in the central performance that seduces the title hero, and it analyzes the assumptions that made this anachronism essential to the functioning of the story-and invisible to Balzac, Barthes, and others. By emphasizing the thematics of rivalry and rage in the story and in the political and literary history surrounding it, the essay brings out the oedipal tensions in "Sarrasine" (and, briefly, its companion "L'élixir de longue vie"), tensions that both precipitated the castrato's demise and ensured his survival as a haunting presence in 1830, 1970, and beyond.

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