“Where can I read about Casanova’s controversies?” my friend Matthew asked me last week as we prepared to attend a class at Stanford University called “Shady Characters.” Matthew had told me about it and invited me to attend, with the professor’s permission. The course is designed around historical characters who display the “shadow” side of our personalities, as per Carl Jung’s theory. In case you haven’t heard of Jung’s idea, here’s a definition I used with my own students to help them understand this concept:
The shadow is an archetype that consists of the sex and life instincts. The shadow exists as part of the unconscious mind and is composed of repressed ideas, weaknesses, desires, instincts, and shortcomings.
This archetype is often described as the darker side of the psyche, representing wildness, chaos, and the unknown. These latent dispositions are present in all of us, Jung believed, although people sometimes deny this element of their own psyche and instead project it onto others.
Jung suggested that the shadow can appear in dreams or visions and may take a variety of forms. It might appear as a snake, a monster, a demon, a dragon, or some other dark, wild, or exotic figure. (Definition courtesy of http://psychology.about.com/od/personalitydevelopment/tp/archetypes.htm)
Over dinner before class, Matthew and I talked about Casanova. I had to admit that I didn’t know where he could read about controversial topics surrounding Casanova. How could I have spent three years reading and writing about this man and not know all the gritty bits where academics question all his moves? I had spent a couple days pondering the idea, recalling how J. Rives Childs’ biography questioned the veracity of C’s memoirs (and Childs found the accurate dates and places wherever possible to match or “correct” Casanova’s account). There was some controversy about Casanova’s involvement with a woman and six of his friends during Carnevale; in fact, I have written a previous blog questioning the labeling of this event as a harmless prank or as a gang rape. Then a little internet sleuthing turned up an article titled “Queer Casanova”by Ted Emory, which I’ll read soon. But considering that Casanova can be labeled a “shady character” and might represent the darker side of the psyche, where were all the articles where academics analyze these aspects of the man?
I hoped that the Stanford class would give me the opportunity to hear more!
Professor Elliott showed up to class in costume–first in a bautta with the full volto mask, tricorn hat, and cloak. He skulked around and let us take his picture:
He skulked out and returned sans bautta, but with a glass of wine in hand and stood on a chair so we could admire his shoes:
The Professor then regaled us for two hours with the story of Casanova’s life, supplemented with artwork that depicted some of the bawdier scenes as well as portraits of some of C’s lovers. I thought my head would explode. I so rarely get to geek out about Casanova with anyone who will talk about him for more than five minutes. I kept nodding my head, “Yeah, right, I remember that part, Ooh, yeah, this is a good story” running through my head. I’m surprised I didn’t bite through my tongue in my effort to keep silent and not add details to every anecdote Dr. Elliott retold. (I didn’t want to be a boorish guest.) I did slip up at one point, when I couldn’t resist sharing details about Casanova’s casino, his pleasure den in Venice, and the remarkable decorations it had. After I described the octagonal walls, the mirrors, the pornographic Chines tiles, the professor broke in, “That’s enough for now. This is a G rated class.”
But what of the shadows?
My Casanova fire is reignited. I want to search for what others have written about the shadow side of Casanova. Or I want to explore this in writing myself. For example, how did Casanova’s life express the shadow side of his psyche? If the shadow also includes a positive aspect, what is C’s? What did he contribute to humanity? (The main obvious answer I know is his memoirs, which is the longest and most detailed book documenting eighteenth century European travel and culture.) But what else? Maybe his quasi sci-fi book the Icosameron? Has anyone analyzed his sexual predilections in context of his times, in relation to pedophilia or other so-called sexual deviance? What am I missing? I feel like either I’ve missed out on a whole body of Casanova literature, or else everyone is missing out on it because no one has written it.
Please help me out! If you know of some good articles I should read, send them my way. (I’ve already read the entire memoirs and about eight biographies, and I subscribed to l’Intermediaire des Casanovistes while it lasted, so please don’t bother telling me about those resources). Or maybe you want to enter into conversation on these topics and wish to write something yourself, or help me fashion a thesis? I’m interested!