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Publishing the Private in Dutch Comic Culture

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Abstract

This essay takes up one of Michael McKeon’s key analytical concepts – explicitation – and assesses how this historical process operated in Dutch cultural history. The paper traces alterations to the form and functions of a stock theme from carnival and festive life: the battle between a hen-pecked husband and his domineering wife about who will wear the pants in their household. Over the course of several centuries, the battle for the pants underwent significant changes as it migrated from the carnival to the civic theatre and then became a bestselling printed picture story. These shifts in medium make public, or explicit, complex debates about the interconnected redefinition of sexuality, domesticity and public life. Especially important to an understanding of how this popular comic trope functioned within larger historical processes is McKeon’s insight that social order increasingly was determined by the moral behaviour of private individuals, rather than by a higher, a priori cosmic order. While McKeon takes English culture as a representative sample to analyse the disembedding of the private from the public sphere, my tracking of the furious struggle for the pants over the longue durée explores the explicitation of domesticity as a battle fought out in the combat zone of Dutch comic culture.

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