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Figures of Feeling in Honoré de Balzac's La Peau de chagrin


In this article, I read Balzac's La Peau de chagrin as a novel of feeling, in which Raphaël's act of telling his life story entails a sensory encounter with the narrative self. Beginning with the novel's emblematic epigraph, then following through a series of significant encounters within it, I show that Raphaël, by putting his life into narrative, is forced to come upon himself as narrative object. Examining these encounters first through the vector of physiognomy, then through twentieth-century theories of play, and always paying particular attention to the visual aspects of touch and feeling, I read them as moments of "corporeal mimesis" which cast Raphaël in a thing- or object-like state. This spectacle of mimesis, in which subject is cast as object, is aptly figured by the magical piece of skin at the novel's centre, the organ of touch, shrinking at the expression of desire and thus functioning as a visual measure for the compromised narrative life.

Polly Dickson
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