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Reviews237 A Feast of Words: Banquets and Table Talk in the Renaissance , by Michel Jeanneret; translated by Jeremy Whiteley and Emma Hughes; vi & 306 pp. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991, $49.95 cloth, $17.95 paper. In this immensely learned and eminendy readable study that combines linguistic analysis and cultural history—originally published as Des mets et des mots. Banquets et propos de table à la Renaissance (Paris: José Corti, 1987)—Jeanneret reads Renaissance culture as a single text through the lens of the banquet as it is represented in mainly French literature. A model through which society symbolically fixes its priorities, contradictions, and speech habits, the banquet consists of a double feast of food and words eaten in a convivial symposiac atmosphere where thought and senses enhance one another and the tongue that both eats and speaks reconciles mind and body and establishes their interdependence . Part One, "Pleasure and the Norm" (pp. 1 1-88), deals with the representation of meals and table manners in literary works and learned treatises and defines a code—propriety, moderation, the general disciplining of manners and establishment of precepts of healthy diet—and its literary transgression—celebration of abundance, overindulgence, exuberance of conviviality and consumption . Here literary authors, particularly Rabelais, are examined to stress the symbolic value of banquets, criticism of the Church's rules for fasting and, in Pantagruel, the rewriting of the Book of Genesis where, now, knowledge may be eaten. Practical didactic and documentary works are also studied—Erasmus's De civilitate morum puerilium (1530), Delia Casa's Gahteo (1588), Guazzo's La civil Conversazione (1574)—to chart the development of restraint, sobriety, urbanity, civility, good manners, and refined dinner conversation. With Guazzo, thejoy of the festival has been so disciplined by the mind that the meal is only a setting for the display of manners. In fact, in the proper circles at the end of the 16th century, the diners are so refined that they no longer touch their food with their hands. Although the Renaissance/Mannerist (as opposed to late Baroque) preferred the profane banquet to the religious one, the word "banquet" in French always carries with it both philosophical and religious overtones—Le Banquet is the translation of Plato's Symposium and "Ie banquet eucharistique" is the equivalent of "the Eucharistie Feast." The second part (pp. 91-255) consists of six chapters that treat the diner's speech and the language offood. "Table Talk" defines the rules for conversation at table—civility, etiquette, order, urbanity, polyphony, philosophy by anecdote —and their transgression in fiction, as in Rabelais, where carnivalistic discourse tends toward drunken word-play, poetic invention, and verbal concoctions that often challenge established morality. "Eating the Text" connects edere and audire in Antiquity, medieval monasteries, and Renaissance tables, and 238Philosophy and Literature elucidates the invitation to eat the textin Rabelaisand Montaigne wherelearning and reading are explained metaphorically in terms of digestion, assimilation, absorption, and incorporation. "Classical Banquets" treats the dialogue of the Humanists with Antiquity and the centrality of Plato's Symposium during the Renaissance, while "Something for Every Taste," an analysis of Erasmus's Colloquies , Bouchet's Les Sérées, and Bruno's La Cena de le Cenen, demonstrates that the symposiac setting has an open forum, liberating an eccentric discourse that does not try to unify the multiplicity of its elements. "Dog Latin and Macaronic Poetry" examines how writers such as Folengo exploit language "gone off the rails" for all its comic potential, and "The Center of All Books" fails, I'm afraid, to rehabilitate Verville's Le Moyen de Parvenir as "a neglected masterpiece" (p. 228). This work exhibits amazing verbal invention but its author is a compiler who focusesonlyon thebodybelow thebelt. Philologyis submerged in scatology, things have sunk "to the level of the latrine" (p. 242)—chacun à son dégoût— and no convincing totalizing vision of the human person (that we find, for example, in Rabelais) emerges. In a lucid and illuminating theoretical conclusion, Jeanneret argues that imitatio (intertextuality) and mimesis (representation of reality) are concomitandy present and interdependent in Renaissance literature. According to Jeanneret, with the exception of the novel, the Humanists viewed medieval literature as too bookish, too endogenous...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 237-238
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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