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  • Le Voyageur aux mille tours: les ruses de l’écriture du monde à la Renaissancepar Frédéric Tinguely
  • James Helgeson
Le Voyageur aux mille tours: les ruses de l’écriture du monde à la Renaissance. Par F rédéricT inguely. ( Atelier des voyages, 10.) Paris: Honoré Champion, 2014. 244 pp.

This is an elegant book, in four parts and fourteen chapters, on sixteenth-century European travel literature. The structuring Odyssean theme is a capacious one, and it is [End Page 240]primarily the concept of metis— ruse — that Frédéric Tinguely retains, although this theme is not central to all the essays. (Other Odyssean themes, such as personal identity, hospitality, nekyia, and nostos, are mostly set aside.) The first part, ‘Infléchir les modèles’, offers several careful analyses of how travel writing reworks previously existing material: especially absorbing is the discussion in Chapter 4 of Calvinist rewriting in Jean Cheneau’s Voyage. The second part, ‘Tours oculaires’, addresses eye-witnessing (‘autopsy’). It heterogeneously combines appealing discussions of elephants, tapirs, the Aegean islands, and Montaigne’s reactions to the Roman church. Tinguely’s diagnosis of Montaigne’s subtle reservations about Catholic pomp — usefully juxtaposed with his remarks about the Cannibals (though briefly, in a note) — is thought-provoking. The third part is devoted entirely to Jean de Léry: Tinguely’s analysis in Chapter 10 of an encounter with a large Brazilian lizard, by way of Montaigne’s cat, is particularly entertaining. A cognitivist might see this as useful material for a history of ‘mind reading’. The final part, ‘Devenir autre’, is arguably the most unified. The discussion in Chapter 12 of Montaigne’s ‘anthropological circle’ (that is, of the ways Montaigne’s critical faculties are transformed by his changing attitudes towards the cultures, especially German-speaking, that he encounters in his travels), carefully balances another discussion of Jesuit accommodatioin Japan and Canada (Chapter 14). These chapters frame a valuable addition to the discussion of protean identity shifts — notably sexual — in Montaigne. In the best tradition of Genevan criticism, the book is admirably non-parochial. Tinguely moves between classical, and Spanish-, French-, Italian-, German-, and English-language sources; his analysis navigates craftily between Reformist and Catholic theologies. I have one hesitation, since the word ‘cognitif’ comes up frequently, and since Tinguely does not hesitate to adduce, discreetly and effectively, modern analogies, generally in footnotes: a more rigorous discussion of what might fall under the term ‘cognitif’ might help, and recent cognitive work might open up these already excellent analyses to new perspectives. For example, the discussion of how we describe unfamiliar animals, contextualized carefully in the ancient historiographical tradition (in a broad Herodotean sense), might also be recast in terms of the repertory of strategies — perhaps transhistorical — that humans use to describe and cope with unfamiliar phenomena. It is hardly surprising that we might describe new creatures as composites of known ones, or improperly by familiar names whose sense is extended. (Voltaire’s much later ‘moutons’, llamas encountered by Candide and Cacambo in Eldorado, come to mind.) These qualifications are not criticisms, but rather they indicate the book’s capacity to engage; it is full of subtle observations and elegant close readings. I can only applaud Tinguely’s closing defence of a careful, historically contextualized, patient, ‘slow reading’, of clear political relevance today. Indeed, his book is an erudite and sophisticated example of such reading.

James Helgeson
University of Nottingham


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pp. 240-241
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