Les terrains vagues des 'Essais': itineraires et intertextes.
In the copious harvest of French books (thirty-three stout tomes stand before this reader), the two themes that beckon, as American Express would have it, are "home" and "away." By "home" is meant those studies, mostly critical editions or one-author monographs, that deal with the concentrated patriotism of individual talents. Their works and lives, argue the editors and authors, lead to similar ends. Writers fashion their own signature by virtue of sheer brilliance, energy, polyglot training, and requisite self-centeredness. By "away" is meant works and projects that delve into the world, whether they be through Montaigne's essay-machine that will peregrinate "as long as there will be ink and paper in the world," or through documents of oceanic exploration. In this category we witness the persistent and vigorous afterlife of studies commemorating 1492, that for the last five years have broadened our sense of what the extensive "world" had been felt to be five centuries ago, when it was lived from day to day. A third, semi-category, that might be baptized "home and away," will be used to classify the year's work in the Montaigne industry.
In each category we see propitious signs about new and exciting directions and objects of investigation. First, home: scholars attending to the critical edition have exhumed and animated some decisive writers, many previously known only to bibliophiles, who change our views about individuality and bring forth a new variety of material. As of 1995 we can now affirm that the French novel does not begin with Sorel or Madame de Lafayette, and that its heritage need not be charted along the binary lines that Henri Coulet, in his history of the French novel before the Revolution (1969), borrowed from Gustave Reynier when he wrote of the "realist" and "sentimental" strands of fiction before L'Astree. Three critical editions show us that a writer's "vision of the world" has at once an individualistic, alchemical, nationalist, and a gendered impetus. The long-awaited publication of Marie-Madeleine Fontaine's superb edition of Barthelemy Aneau's Alector ou le coq: Histoire fabuleuse  reveals a novel of novels. Aneau's circular story takes up the magical birth of "Alector," the coq gallois, a national emblem that reaches back to the iconographical programs developed in the early years of the reign of Francis I. The polymath author invents an alchemical fiction that draws on every conceivable shape of knowledge to create a new genre from history and the chivalric tale. A quest for and a compendium of knowledge, it absorbs recent data from the new world (including a description of tomatoes) in its dizzying excurses on science and mirabilia. A proto-Freudian rebus-text that analyzes its own enigmatic form, Alector stands as a founding fiction of national myths that is placed between Lemaire and Rabelais on one side and, on the other, Beroalde de Verville and Sorel. Marie-Madeleine Fontaine has carefully glossed the rare extant copies and enriched the text with over 1,000 pages of commentary drawn from original sources in Aneau's Lyons, and in sources that pertain to alchemy, herbaria, anatomies, political tracts, and cosmographies.
Jean-Claude Arnould and Richard A. Carr have completed the last panel of their "tragic trilogy" (that includes Pierre Boaistuau and Verite Habanc) with a critical edition of Benigne Poissenot's Nouvelles histoires tragiques (1586). Flourishing from 1559 to the 1630s, the histoire tragique made manifest a literary "theater" of cruelty and horror. A rhetoric of terror sought to restore order in a world felt to be in degeneration and senescence. In their desire to endow French consciousness with Pauline evangelism, Poissenot and his immediate predecessors focused upon a project that Marguerite de Navarre had begun with a far more prismatic vision. Carr implicitly shows how Poissenot was light-years away from the genre from its beginnings in 1559: the prologue maps out the ideology and aesthetics of a new style of history and fiction that would bring order to the state, representing "it to us as if in a mirror. It puts the heart in the belly of those burning with fire in their head" (58). The histoire tragique has an oracular relation with the past because it uses fiction to test and to govern truth on the high and perilous seas of human diversity. Poissenot's words plot out a century of ideology that would turn fiction into a speculum and an agent that would seek to establish collective perception.
Following a line of inquiry braiding together gender and the politics of civility, Jerry C. Nash presents with force and conviction a new edition of Helisenne de Crenne's Epistres familieres et invectives (1539). An avatar of the epistolary novel, Helisenne's letters adjoin her Angoysses douloureuses qui procedent damours (1538), the first identifiable feminist novel of early modern France. The Angoysses, recently and elegantly translated into English by Lisa Neal and Stephen Randall as The Torments of Love,(1) has been swarming with critical analysis. Now Nash shows that the letter brings out a tactical genre by exploiting parataxis and weakened deixis. It attempts to write what inherited discourses and genres do not allow to be uttered. The woman is forced to write in the language of the other in such a way that otherwise indicible expression can be heard and seen in the margins of interlocution. Helisenne exhorts and soliloquizes, confirming what Gabriele Schwab calls a "nonsymbolic self-state," a literary condition crafted by composite images of early, affective states of consciousness that seem to precede language and object-relations.(2) The letters are cliches, reminiscent of syndicated dialogues found in Dear Abby columns, but they also constitute, in their very superficiality, expression of a vital alterity. They also foreground the genre that will carry the signature of Rousseau and Laclos two centuries later.
Thanks to the labors of the critical edition, we know that the great project of a national lyrical style under the aegis of the Pleiade appealed to the construction of verbal images. In order to convey ideology (such as the confusion of love of the other with love of a vernacular space ruled by a Catholic king), poets after 1550 incrusted verse with pictures so as to yield on the part of their reader-spectators a sense of marvel and perplexity. The art of the double-bind, of capturing the sound of speech and the sight of figures in printed writing, as well as the memory of pictorial images and the drive of ekphrasis, was cultivated, Terence Cave and Margaret MacGowan have reminded us, with Ronsard and his school. Three new critical editions refine that observation. A team of scholars coached by Guy Demerson has published the first volume of Remy Belleau's Oeuvres poetiques (1554-1561). In the Petites inventions, the Odes d'Anacreon and Oeuvres diverses we discover how much Belleau practices description as an imaged translation of paintings and things. It is as if, anticipating Ponge's Parti pris des choses, the poet were both invoking and evacuating the pictorial referent in order to polish the sheen of his own lyric. The Petites inventions are "chosen discoveries" of everyday forms subsumed and transmogrified in descriptive verse. They grow from the blason, the paradoxical encominum, and (as Jeffrey Persels has recently shown) the contre-blason. Yet for Belleau they are serpentine, mobile, and protean at the same time that they incise a national consciousness into a verbal lapidary.
Jean-Raymond Fanlo's critical edition of Agrippa D'Aubigne's Les Tragiques (1616) fills a lacuna left open between the Garnier/Plattard edition of 1933 and Etienne Bailbe's incomplete Oeuvres in the Gallimard/Pleiade collection (1969). Readers of D'Aubigne know well how caricature, a cartoon-like mode of narrative storyboarding, marks the Tragiques. Fanlo shows us that the poet transposes fragments of popular images - including Alciati, Corrozet, Tortorel and Perrison - in a concatenation of "celestial pictures" of a selfless but monomaniacal creation that swings between epic and self-invested salvation.
The most stunning proof of this ekphrastic process comes with Francoise Graziani's critical edition of Blaise de Vigenere's translation and hefty commentary of Philostrato's Les images ou tableaux de platte-peinture (1578). The great but overlooked author of the Traite des chiffres and other measured prose designed an "antique gallery" of 65 textual-pictorial enigmas enclosing all the world's arcana. He founded a dialogue, a secret mode of plastic speech, that sought to "transmit to future centuries techniques and knowledge that are falling into oblivion, of which he may be one of the last keepers" (lix). An encased, baroque creation of flickering forms results in a verbal, pictorial, and architectural work comparable to Beroalde de Verville's Oeuvre steganographique.(3)
In this context it would be wrong not to show how Vigenre poeticizes, indeed mystifies, the formerly ideological dimensions of the composite genre, at least insofar as picture, superscription, and oracular verse are also studied in other recent books. Such is the case in Irena Backus's critical edition of Guillaume Postel and Jean Boulaese, De summopere (1566) and re miracle de Laon (1566), in which the exorcism of a possessed woman was used to regain power lost by the Catholic authorities in Laon during the Wars of Religion. Similarly, Pierre Brind'amour's exhaustive and welcome critical edition of Nostradamus's Les Premieres Centuries ou Propheties (Mace Bonhomme edition, 1555) offers a rich commentary on the relation of poetry and oracular frenzy in the soothsayer's quatrains. Historians and adepts of popular culture will enjoy Nicole Cazauran's critical edition of the Discours merveilleux de la vie, actions & deportemens de Catherine de Medicis Royne mere (1575), a work subtitled "in which are told the ways she used to usurp the kingdom of France and to ruin its state" and written after the Saint Bartholomew's Massacre to circulate the image of a "fatally malefic" (22) queen through the pamphlet and early mazarinade.
Now, as to the theme of "away": numerous scholars have taken to the high seas to find in cosmographic works and personal accounts a wealth of disquieting singularities. Intrepid and possessed, Frank Lestringant has again led the way in his sixth book in four years, L'experience huguenote au nouveau monde, in which he revamps and synthesizes twenty-one articles published between 1978 and 1994. He argues that by 1578 the world was felt to be in a state of disenchantment, with the apocalypse ceasing to be the long-expected horizon that resulted from civil strife. Hence the Amerindian became a "knot of ideological contradiction" (19), a convenient allegory, and a porte-parole of both atheism and natural religion - thus lending a strong hand to triumphant reason in European battles against intolerance and superstition. Lestringant's emphasis on the ambivalent character of the other indicates how subjectivity was produced at home from the shards of images brought back from far away.
His remarks also crystallize what the authors of a Festschrift in honor of Kazimierz Kupisz, Les representations de l'Autre du Moyen Age au XVIIe siecle, seek to discover, except that Barbara Bowen (on exotic cuisine), Witold Pietrzak (on the histoire tragique), Claude-Gilbert Dubois (on Artus Thomas's L'Ile des hermaphrodites) and Colette Winn (on new worlds, the female, and alterity in Pernette du Guillet) offer reflections that complicate our familiar ideas about alterity. Monique Mund-Dopchie, in La fortune du Periple d'Hannon, studies the way the mythic narrative of a trip around the western coast from Carthage extended the idea of the borders of the Mediterranean throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Two volumes round out the geographical work published in the last year. Luce Giard's collection of essays, Les jesuites a la Renaissance: Systeme educatif et production du savoir, lays stress on how members of the Society of Jesus extended into the world and its languages by way of travel. Articles on the cosmos (by W.G.I. Randles), on analogy (E. Jenny Ashworth), and geography (Daniel Nordman) figure at the center of this carefully organized study that renews the labors that Pere Francois de Dainville had begun earlier in our century. Isabelle Pantin, in La poesie du ciel en France pendant la seconde moitie du XVIe siecle, reads treatises on the terrestrial sphere from Sacrobosco and Ptolemy, through Peletier and Ronsard on the one hand, and Du Monin, Du Bartas, and baroque lyric on the other. Poets wanted to describe the cosmos as a living, heroic, and sublimely poetic picture. Problematic at once "in subject and in its literary status" (500), verse about the sky traced a widening faultline between science and language. Science acquired authority when it took distance from the poetry that had formerly been its mystical threshold.
A third category, which might be called "Home and Away," can apply to the gargantuan body of Montaigne studies. A traveler and a regionalist, he incarnates the double postulation about the uniqueness and the plurality of the individual that marks so much French writing of the sixteenth century. Five books, all published by Editions Champion, attest to the paradox. Montaigne: Espace, voyage, ecriture, edited by Zoe Samaras (1995), addresses the gaps opened between language and space. The latter, permeated with language, becomes an active political force (a point in fact that Edward Soja long ago advanced in Postmodern Geographies). The Essais are written in the design of a mobile architecture. There results a complex stratigraphy of their temporality, and umbilical areas that tie the book to a space felt as a temporal permanence. These points are especially developed (in the essays by Mathieu-Castellani, Dubois, Cave, Lafond, and Garavini) that redefine Montaigne's relation to space and mobility.
Clearly one of the most exciting works on Montaigne and space in recent years is Mary B. McKinley's Les terrains vagues des 'Essais': itineraires et intertextes (1996), which regroups eight important articles under a synthetic introduction entitled "Paysages de l'esprit." Showing how the world comprises a vague, moving ground that undulates between cosmographic space and local landscapes, she discerns in the text a disquieting self-awareness and mobility that emanate from the pictural surroundings of words literally cast into space. Montaigne's landscapes, which demand comparison with Bruegel's transalpine drawings (Champion should be admonished for not including them in the text), incorporated the unknown with things familiar, always bending into elements that could not be reduced to language. New worlds were encountered in the unknown that inhabits the space containing recognizable objects.
Three books fill out the year's work on Montaigne. Without venturing in the direction of clinical research in subjectivity and psychogenesis (e.g., by Joyce McDougall, Piera Aulagnier, Guy Rosolato), La problematique du sujet chez Montaigne: Actes du Colloque de Toronto, 1992, ed. Eva Kushner (1995), is a work which sticks closely to the critical canon. Montaigne et la rhetorique: Actes du Colloque de Saint-Andrews, 1992 (1995) is a comprehensive inventory on tactics and strategies of public and private action, on travel and writing, and on economy, especially in Andre Tournon's "Energie du langage coupe et la censure ditoriale," Timothy Hampton's "Tendre negotiateur: la rhetorique diplomatique dans les Essais," and Marie-Luce Demonet's remarks on polysemy and performance. Finally, Louis Desgraves brings Montaigne home to rest in his Inventaire des fonds Montaigne conserve's a Bordeaux (1995), a book valuable for Montaignistes working in the Bordeaux archives.
The annual inventory of French works usually ends with a category that can be likened to Plato's receptacle in the Timaeus. Noteworthy edges and cuttings that do not fit into the design of the review occupy this area. There are two critical editions, one exhuming Jean Molinet's Mystere de Judith et Holofernes, one of the parts of the Mistere du Viel Testament (about 50,000 lines) printed in 1500. The other, taking the baton from Mark Whitney's work on Olivier de Magny, edits the poet's Trois premiers livres des Odes (1559). Four monographs command attention. In Ronsard and Du Bellay versus Beze, Malcolm Smith marks areas where poetry and ideology battle as of the 1550s. Marie-Helene Prat, in Les mots du corps: l'imaginaire lexical dans 'Les Tragiques' d'Agrippa d'Aubigne, forcefully studies the symbolic imaginary and the dynamic space of the body as it is represented - or rather, anatomized - in the poem. Guy Poirier's L'homosexualite dans l'imaginaire de la Renaissance is a welcome and closely argued book that picks up critical ground lost by French scholarship in view of informed and copious work done by American and English scholars of the British and continental Renaissance. Gilbert Gadoffre's edited collection, Renaissances europeennes et Renaissance francaise assembles an impressive collection of essays by internationally recognized scholars about music and humanism, Rabelais and Montaigne, and transformations of Italian culture in France, all of which extend the issue of the individual and the plight of diversity that Burckhardt saw at the basis of the Renaissance.
As a final note, the work done in 1995 is everywhere symptomatic of ways that the Renaissance is approached in France. In what I have called a "Smorgasbord of Champions" in order to draw attention to a publisher that has become new disseminator of sixteenth-century studies, the reader will witness a widening gap between the style and form of research developed in and outside of France. French scholars continue to churn out critical editions and post-dissertation monographs reflective of positivistic designs established in the early years of the century. The delicate but searing questions about the "historiographical operation" and its ideology of form (posed by Michel de Certeau, Pierre Nora, Natalie Z. Davis, and others) for the most part have not been addressed. Encouraging, nonetheless, in the work published by Champion - despite the price and the lackluster aspect - is ecumenism. Scholars of different origins figure in their acta, their monographs, and in an occasional critical edition. French work is welcoming the intercession of the methods and styles of immigrant scholarship. Hats off to its champions.
1 Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996.
2 The Mirror and the Killer-Queen: Otherness in Literary Language (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1996), 180.
3 See Schiffman, 1995, 120.
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1997|
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