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Julliot, Caroline. Le Grand Inquisiteur, naissance d'une figure mythique au XIXe siecle.

Julliot, Caroline. Le Grand Inquisiteur, naissance d'une figure mythique au XIXe siecle. Paris: Honore Champion, 2010. Pp. 377. ISBN: 978-2-7453-2076-0

"Ah! insense, qui crois que je ne suis pas toi!" If we were to borrow Hugo's famous line and attribute it to the figure of the Grand Inquisitor, we would have Caroline Julliot's book in radically distilled form. It is an investigation into the place of the Grand Inquisitor in our collective imagination. It begins with a pop-rock riff warning us that the Inquisitor is among us, then proceeds as a Foucauldian genealogy from the Enlightenment to the present. It examines how different representations of the figure have reflected, challenged, and helped construct our understanding of human nature, history, power, democracy, ethics, and the state. It is an ambitious sweep that builds methodically in brick and mortar fashion, but it calls on us to do more than contemplate the intricate edifice of history. Engaged criticism, it prods readers to look at themselves and question how the Grand Inquisitor is still at work today.

Julliot divides her genealogy into three major moments: the Enlightenment, the nineteenth-century, and the twentieth-century. Drawing on the Enlightenment mainly to set the stage, she argues that Romanticism both overturns Enlightenment representations of the inquisitor and establishes his enduring fascination. For the Enlightenment, he is a comic figure, a self-serving hypocrite, lacking depth and complexity. For Romanticism, he is a protean, volatile and mythic figure who sincerely and zealously pursues his ideals with an almost superhuman force. From this "naissance mythique" through the twentieth century, he continues as a highly charged, often contradictory site of self-reflection.

In one of the major theses, Julliot attributes this overturning to the experience of the Terror. She supports the thesis amply, drawing from a great variety of literary and non-literary sources (most substantially Hugo, Michelet, Vigny, Tocqueville, and Sand). She convincingly argues that the figure functions as a mirror in which authors struggle to understand the Terror and the vexed questions it continued to raise. Julliot reads individual texts as reflections of larger cultural and ideological ambiguities; but she also astutely demonstrates how the metaphor of the mirror works within and across these texts in a dialectical movement of self-reflection and self-transformation. Robespierre may mirror Torquemada, but both potentially only reflect transhistorical "lois psychologiques" that prefigure Freud's uncanny and the return of the repressed. Julliot is less interested in resolving these tensions than in excavating their multiple layers and in exploring the challenges they pose to binary oppositions. In one elegant example, nineteenth-century Republicans, while trying to distinguish themselves from their enemies, are faced with a "trouble notionnel" that leads them to recognize that: "Le mal est aussi chez eux."

Julliot's most insightful line of inquiry in this dialectic is what it has to tell us about sovereignty, democracy, and the State. She thus puts the Grand Inquisitor in dialogue with political theorists such as Carl Schmitt, Hannah Arendt, and Claude Lefort. In so doing, she maps out the rise of the surveillance state and reveals totalitarian tendencies latent in democracy. The Grand Inquisitor morphs into an "oppression douce," a soft power that seeks to dominate individuals and entire populations by policing them through a kind of "torture morale." She traces this evolution to its "ultime etape," in which the Grand Inquisitor incarnates a disciplinary regime of norms motivated by a will to power. The ideals and superior cause that Romanticism invested in this figure, the Grand Inquisitor's horrifying zeal in striving to establish a new order and to save humanity have all given way to a twentieth century panopticon that we, extending Julliot's use of Foucault, might call biopower.

This final phase does however truncate the narrative, drawing it to a conclusion before it fully attains its expressed goals. The conclusion poses the question: "Le Grand Inquisiteur, aujourd'hui, un 'lieu vide?'"; but, the description of "aujourd'hui" makes no mention of the twenty-first century and says nothing of global terrorism, the "War on Terror," or contemporary torture. This is curious because not only are these issues pertinent to Julliot's study but they also contribute substantially to understanding our historical situation today. We can speculate that the reason for this is in the framing of the question, particularly the reference to Lefort's "lieu vide." His definition of democracy as constituted around an empty place of power informs much of Julliot's analysis, to such an extent that it may lead her to frame questions about democracy today in a way more suited to Lefort's time than our own. His influential Essais politiques grew out of work on democracy and totalitarianism; and although still relevant, a lot has changed in the twenty-five years since its publication, both politically--with the rise of terrorism and counterterrorism--and theoretically--with substantial challenges to Lefort and new lines of inquiry. Julliot's lack of attention to these issues may leave some readers looking for another chapter, but it does not detract from the overall strength of the study.

It is the richness of detail, the breadth of material, and the dexterous weaving of intricate layers into a lively narrative that make Julliot's genealogy both a strong contribution to nineteenth and twentieth century French studies as well as an engaging read. It may stick too close to the canon for some; certainly not all will recognize themselves in what is held up as our collective imagination; and still others may find the genealogy truncated. Still, within the limits of theme and periods, Julliot masterfully handles a great multiplicity of authors and discourses, incorporating seamlessly several national traditions over multiple centuries. It breathes new life into the figure of the Grand Inquisitor and challenges us to see that he is indeed still among us.

Cory Browning, Cornell University
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Author:Browning, Cory
Publication:Nineteenth-Century French Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2012
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