Libertine Epistemology: The Autonomy of Fantasy

James Steintrager

How did libertines think? The scholarly consensus is that libertine writers in the late seventeenth-century through the eighteenth century, if they thought philosophically at all, reflected a broadly materialist trend. Humans were natural machines: reducible to nervous activity and sensibility. But licentious libertine texts neither simply reflected contemporary philosophies nor did they uphold a reductive materialism. Rather they took up from philosophical discourse the concept of fantasy and transformed it into a tool of critique aimed at materialism, empiricism, and their ideologies of nature, gender, and normativity.

James Steintrager is Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and European Languages and Studies at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author, most recently, of The Autonomy of Pleasure: Libertines, License, and Sexual Revolution (Columbia UP, 2016).


This event is co-sponsored by the Columbia Maison Française, The Department of Germanic Languages, and Institute for Comparative Literature and Society.