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Le lexique metalitteraire francais (XVIe-XVIIe siecles).

Michel Jourde and Jean-Charles Monferran, eds. Le lexique metalitteraire francais (XVIe-XVIIe siecles).

Cahiers d'Humanisme et Renaissance 77. Geneva: Librairie Droz S. A., 2006. 278 pp. index. tbls. bibl. CHF 35. ISBN: 2-600-01062-9.

What was the meaning of composition as a metapoetic term in sixteenth-century France? How did authors of early modern French travel narratives conceive of style nu and how did they practice it? Which conceptual changes did eloquence undergo during the seventeenth-century debate on rhetoric? These are some of the questions regarding the meaning of metaliterary terminology and its use in early modern France that are each carefully examined in the twelve essays that compose this volume. Written by literary scholars whose focus is less on a systematic lexicographical description of a particular critical term than on an in-depth analysis of its polysemy and function in context, each article provides an insight into the workings of early modern literary criticism and its vocabulary from a particular viewpoint. A synchronic perspective prevails in Michel Jourde's exploration of the multiple meanings of composition in metaliterary discourse around 1550, in Emmanuel Buron's analysis of the notions style comique and propriete in Guillaume des Autels's preface to L'Amoureux repos (1553), and in Nicolas Lombart's study on the semantic transformation of the word hymne as it comes to name a new poetic genre. Benedicte Louvat-Molozay applies a diachronic perspective to retrace the semantics of personnage and acteur in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, as does Audrey Duru, who investigates the evolution of essai as a metapoetic term, and Nadia Cernogora, who examines the competing uses of translation and metaphore in rhetorical and poetic treatises during that period. Michele Rosellini equally focuses on the alternative use of synonyms and its significance for seventeenth-century narratology in her study on prosopopee and oraison directe. Other essays investigate the seventeenth-century debate about eloquence (Mathilde Bombart), vie as a subgenre of historiography (Emmanuel Mortgat-Longuet), the appropriation by early modern travel writers of style nu as an ideal register (Gregoire Holtz), the development of a nomenclature for French verses (Olivier Halevy), and Thomas Sebillet's idiosyncratic use of diastole to signify what will ultimately be called dierese because the former term is confined to the realm of physiological terminology (Jean-Charles Monferran).

While the essays focus on twelve particular terminological issues, readers with a more general interest in early modern metaliterary discourse will find the indices of proper names and critical notions at the end of the volume useful for exploring broader themes and reconstitute the dominant role of certain poeticiens for this period. For example, the poetics of Sebillet, Du Bellay, Ronsard, and Peletier du Mans are treated throughout the volume, and roughly 250 critical terms are discussed in the context of the twelve case studies. A selective bibliography and a list of online resources complement the collection, making it a practical manual for those who wish to study early modern French literary criticism.

In their introduction, the editors outline the challenges that the history of this discourse poses because it does not emanate from a well-defined discipline like medicine or mathematics. Instead, it overlaps with other fields (such as classical rhetoric) and borrows from several disciplines and their specialized terminologies, themselves undergoing substantial changes (such as agriculture, astronomy, and anatomy). The development of a critical vocabulary describing literature is not linear nor methodological, but, as the editors point out, it reveals the historical consciousness of the authors who contribute to its formation and betrays their pedagogical and ideological predilections. More importantly, the case studies show that the historiographical preconception of a linguistically proliferating sixteenth century and a domesticating and regulating seventeenth century does not hold true for the case of metaliterary discourse. This revision is one of the reasons M. Jourde and J.-C. Monferran mention for their deliberate choice to assemble essays covering and often bridging the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The debate on literary terminology during this period is further unified by the complex interplay of Latin and French nomenclatures and punctuated by quarrels over ancient and modern designations.

This volume constitutes an important contribution to the study of metaliterary discourse in early modern France while affording precious insights into the animated debate about the delineation of literature as an object of critical inquiry. It also makes a convincing case for the further softening of our disciplinary boundary between sixteenth- and seventeenth-century French literary studies.


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Author:Keller, Marcus
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2007
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