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Threat

Essays in French Literature, Thought and Visual Culture

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Edited By Georgina Evans and Adam Kay

This collection of essays arises from the 2005 Cambridge French Graduate Conference on the theme of threat. From the baleful and ubiquitous eyes of surveillance cameras to the ever-present possibility of total nuclear annihilation, threat is everywhere around us. Yet the phenomenon itself, if indeed it is a single phenomenon, has received little attention. This volume seeks to remedy this oversight with a collection of concise, hard-hitting essays on a variety of topics in French culture. Organized around central approaches to the problem of threat – (inter)cultural, philosophical, and approaches through the visual arts – the book examines anxiety, privacy, loss, invasion, and other issues related to the theme. Though emphasis is placed on the contemporary period, writers of the French Renaissance also receive due attention.

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GEORGINA EVANS AND ADAM KAY Introduction 1

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Georgina Evans and Adam Kay Introduction The notion of threat is an elusive one. Superficially, it might be considered roughly synonymous with danger, yet in examining the distinctions between the two terms, we find threat opening into something more intriguing. While a threat may be very real, the idea equally encompasses the mere subjective perception of danger. Whatever the actual probability of the threatened event, it is the belief that something bad is likely to happen, rather than the event itself, which consumes the threatened subject and colours his vision and actions. Threat itself is visible only in the ripples formed around it, as the subject braces himself for an imagined future. At the moment the threat is realised, and the intimated becomes incident, threat instantly dis- solves, transformed by its fulfilment into something more substantial and more readily quantifiable. Whether or not this moment ever comes, the formless shadow which portended it has a power uniquely its own. In this volume, we focus on the nebulous figure of threat and the way it operates on us irrespective of the outcome of the situation in which it is felt. This work had its genesis in 2004, when governments and commenta- tors were preoccupied with gauging the level of threat under which various groups and nations were deemed to be living. In these attempts to rationalise our defensive instincts, it is evident that threat is a powerful influence on the individual or collective psyche, but also that it sometimes needs to...

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