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In the Grip of Minos

Confessional Discourse in Dante, Corneille, and Racine

Matthew Senior

“An interesting and intellectually adventurous book on an important subject . . . a vigorous piece of work that at its best creates genuine intellectual excitement.” —Peter Brooks, Yale University

“The work is well written, original, scholarly. It offers the academic community both a cogent, compelling reading of a sociohistoric phenomenon and the interweaving of the phenomenon with some of the major canonic texts of the Western tradition.” —Mitchell Greenberg, Miami University

Tracing the history of confession from the Desert Fathers through the Lateran decree (1215) and the Council of Trent (1543–63),Matthew Senior examines the significance of these events and the role of confessional discourse in works by Dante, Corneille, and Racine.

Using a multidisciplinary approach, Senior focuses his study on Minos, the legendary king of Crete and judge of both Homer’s and Virgil’s underworlds. Dante transforms Minos into a demon who forces the souls of the damned to confess as they enter the underworld; likewise, the ritual of confession opens the gates of Purgatory. Dante’s afterlife, according to Senior, is an extrapolation of the Lateran decree, a total vision of humanity governed and punished by its own verity.

Following Trent, a new mode of confession makes its appearance, a baroque discourse in which “the heart speaks to the heart.” Senior argues that Corneille similarly creates a new kind of hero who distinguishes himself as much by the confessional trial of self-statement as by his military exploits. In the work of Racine, Senior notes, Minos appears again, tormenting the conscience of Ph�dre.

Throughout Senior’s challenging inquiry, major canonical texts are illuminated by the contemporary debate about the modern equivalent of confession—psychoanalysis. Senior engages the work of Freud, Lacan, Foucault, and the Lacanian feminists in an attempt to establish the religious and literary genealogy of psychoanalysis and to explore its potential as a critical tool and, more important, its ability to bind and loose men and women.

Matthew Senior is assistant professor of French at the University of New Orleans.

1998  243 pp. This title is no longer available in a traditional print edition. Click here for free access to the book's full text.