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Reviews Exemplum: TheRhetoric ofExample in EarlyModern France and Italy, by John D. Lyons; xiii & 317 pp. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990, $41.50. Pointing out that literary criticism in the second half ofthe twentieth century has devoted considerable attention to the figurality of language and to tropes such as metaphor and antithesis, John D. Lyons begins his rich and wideranging study by observing that one rhetorical figure, namely example, has been largely ignored (repressed, he suggests) despite its clear and manifest presence in texts from antiquity to die present. Lyons sets about to recuperate example from the critical penumbra in which it has languished and to demonstrate its centrality in key French and Italian texts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He ends up writing a book of such originality and importance that it will inevitably reshape our perception of texts produced in the early modern period. Lyons observes that in medieval Latin exemplum meant "a clearing in the woods." Inscribed in this meaning is the sense of two spaces, each of which is distinct from, but dependent on, die other. For, as Lyons says: "Only the clearing gives form or boundary to the woods. Only the woods permit the existence of a clearing" (p. 3). This example (so to speak) illustrates a fundamental feature of the exemplum: it posits two spaces—past and present; public and private; etc.—that are dialectically related. First, Lyons studies die function of example in classical rhetoric, beginning widi Aristotle and moving through the Latin rhetoricians who most direcdy influenced Renaissance writers. He points out that an example is a dependent statement that qualifies a general statement. Furthermore, an example usually darifies the general statement and demonstrates its truth. From this initial definition of die example, Lyons draws a set ofdescriptive concepts (iterativity, exteriority, discontinuity, rarity, artificiality, undecidability, excess) that constitute the theoretical grid through which he dien reads, in successive chapters, texts by Machiavelli, Marguerite de Navarre, Montaigne, Descartes, Pascal, and Marie de Lafayette. Philosophy and Literature, © 1990, 14: 395-445 396Philosophy and Literature By focusing on die strategy ofexample in the audiors he has chosen to study, Lyons succeeds in giving us new and insightful readings oftexts that are among the most revered in the Western tradition. Each of the chapters in his book can stand as a discrete unit; thus a reader who is especially interested in one or die other of die audiors under examination can turn to diat chapter and read it with profit and pleasure. At the same time, however, Lyons is engaged in a broader enterprise, for his study of die evolution of example (and tiius of representation) in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is also a study ofan ideological shift similar to, but not identical widi, die shift Foucault discussed in his analysis of die difference between the Renaissance and the classical episteme. Lyons maps the history of example onto die history of modern (what Foucaultians usually call Cartesian) subjectivity. Example serves, Lyons notes, "as an instrument for relating the individual to sources of authoritative knowledge" (p. 237). In the early humanist period, authoritative knowledge was assumed to be located in die past. With the increased stress on direct observation of die phenomenological world, the present became a source from which exemplary material could be drawn. Examples from the present, however, tended to be inscribed in an idiosyncratic and subjective discourse that undermined example's ability to support a general statement, to persuade, or to appeal to shared knowledge. Example became a problematic figure diat seemed increasingly external to the main business of discourse. Learned and elegantly written, this book is indispensable for anyone interested in die literature of early modern France and Italy. Ohio State UniversityRobert D. Cottrell Ruin tL· Sacred Truths, by Harold Bloom; 204 pp. Cambridge : Harvard University Press, 1989, $20.00. Among the book's many dun, gnomic statements, this one could serve as thesis: "Poetry and belief wander about, togedier and apart, in a cosmologica! emptiness marked by the limits of trutii and meaning" (p. 4). Professor Bloom sees poetry and belief as antithetical modes of knowledge; consequently, the great literary artists are ruiners ofsacred truth. This relates to Bloom's obsession...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 395-396
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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