- Enquêtes sur les Promenades dans Rome ed. by Xavier Bourdenet and François Vanoosthuyse
This collection of thirteen essays—inspired by a "Séminaire Stendhal" held at the École Normale Supérieure and the Sorbonne Nouvelle between 2005 and 2007—confronts a perplexing, meandering and lengthy work. Promenades dans Rome combines itineraries for the tourist, anecdote, history, art history, ekphrasis, personal reflection and meditation on what it means to travel. Following in the footsteps of Stendhal's many detours, Enquêtes brings together a set of heterogeneous essays that approach different facets of Promenades. Some repetition notwithstanding, the array of topics treated across the ensemble is a tribute to the richness of Stendhal's thought. The contributors complement each other's ideas, engage recent criticism, situate Promenades within the cultural and political climate of the Bourbon Restoration and trace multiple links between Promenades and Stendhal's other travel literature, fiction and autobiography.
In their introduction, Xavier Bourdenet and François Vanoosthuyse give an excellent overview of the essays and their thematic connections. They insist on the originality of the collection, mentioning that only one other recent book (by Wendelin Ann Guentner) has been fully dedicated to Promenades. Enquêtes is divided into three sections. The first, "Dispositifs," addresses questions of genre, the relationship between author and reader, and the disconcerting and problematic organization of Promenades. The second section, "L'œil stendhalien," deals primarily with questions of esthetics and the challenge of looking, seeing and observing. The final section, "Mœurs romaines," examines Stendhal's criticism of contemporary politics and religion, both in Italy and France. Across the three sections, the essayists show how Stendhal's preoccupation with Roman "energy" inspired his writing, his taste in art and his disparagement of Restoration society. [End Page 305]
While a short review cannot do justice to thirteen complex essays, I will briefly attempt to outline the broad arguments of each author. François Vanoosthuyse begins the first section with an analysis of how Promenades exists as both a fictional journal and a guidebook, openly flouting conventions pertaining to genre. Explaining that Stendhal seeks to transform and "initiate" the reader, Vanoosthuyse opens up the question of the text's reception. Laure Lassagne further problematizes this concept in the following essay on practices of "enunciation," showing the reader to be the focus of contradictory forms of address, the object of polite concern as well as derision. Stendhal, she theorizes, was torn between his desire to address a select readership of the "happy few" and the reality of mass-marketing that transformed the publishing industry in early nineteenth-century France. Marie Parmentier's thoughtful essay on the unreadable nature of Promenades argues that the text's unintelligibility recalls Rome itself, which cannot be assimilated into a coherent model. François Pichot goes on to explain how such disorder relates to the Deleuzian idea of the rhizome and compares Stendhal's concept of energy to Deleuze's notion of desire and the "machine de guerre." Cécile Meynard's insightful essay closes the first section with a study of Stendhal's handwritten annotations of printed versions of Promenades. Her essay offers a fascinating look at Stendhal's obsessive preoccupation with his already published texts and the challenge of using such manuscripts to reconstruct an author's thought process.
Élodie Saliceto begins the second section with an essay on Stendhal's obligations to Winckelmann (whom Stendhal claimed, however, in Histoire de la peinture en Italie, not to have read) (119). She implies that Stendhal owed, in spite of himself, a debt to neoclassical esthetic thought, and seeks to blur the boundaries between Neoclassicism and Romanticism. Continuing the juxtaposition of literature and art history, Christopher W. Thompson's article situates Promenades in relation to contemporary debates on art and the idea that affect or sentiment could be transposed from one form of art to another. François Kerlouégan delineates the contradictory modes of sight described in Promenades, wherein the reader as hypothetical viewer is at times invited to abandon...