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  • L’Ombre dans l’œuvre: la critique dans l’œuvre littéraire par Marianne Bouchardon et Myriam Dufour-Maître
  • Patrick M. Bray
L’Ombre dans l’œuvre: la critique dans l’œuvre littéraire. Sous la direction de Marianne Bouchardon et Myriam Dufour-Maître. (Rencontres, 122.) Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2015. 314 pp.

These actes de colloque explore the idea of criticism within the literary work, taking inspiration from Michel Zink’s edited volume L’Œuvre et son ombre: que peut la littérature secondaire? (Paris: Fallois, 2002). Here, criticism is no longer secondary to literature, but understood as an inseparable part of the literary work itself. As its ‘shadow’, criticism haunts the literary text in the sense that criticism is always a virtual image of literature: one that remains in the margins, but that reveals the hidden forces of the work, the creative potential of literary language. While the concept of literature as we know it today is the product of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, this collection of essays shows that criticism has always been present in literary works from antiquity until the modern period. Indeed, one of the most impressive essays, by Patrick Dandrey, deals with Molière’s virtuoso ‘auto-analysis’ in L’Impromptu de Versailles, where the playwright laid out all possible critiques against his L’École des femmes in order to parry any future attacks from his detractors. Other essays, such as Stéphanie Genand’s on Staël or Thomas Vercruysse’s on Artaud and Valéry (by way of Derrida and Deleuze), demonstrate how the act of writing is always a philosophical, conceptual, and aesthetic process. The volume is bookended by Jean-Louis Jeanelle’s Introduction and Bruno Clément’s concluding essay, which set the theoretical parameters of ‘l’ombre dans l’œuvre’ and give a bit of structure to the collection. As Jeanelle writes, the collection is a testament to the healthy state of literary studies today, since the contributors build on the work of Genette (Seuils), and use French theory (Derrida, Foucault, and company) productively, while also taking in historical, cultural, and sociological methods (Bourdieu’s Règles de l’art). Working on ‘l’ombre dans l’œuvre’, on criticism in the literary text, requires an analysis at the intersection between formal concerns, close reading, the history of the book, and sociopolitical contexts. Clément’s essay brings up the problematic boundaries between literature and criticism in such limit cases as Proust, Beckett, and Diderot, although, as he readily admits, in all literature and in all criticism the boundaries are arbitrary. Hinted at, but never explored outright, is the role of literary tropes in academic criticism: To what extent does scholarship participate in the literary field? Do literary scholars intentionally exaggerate the distance between the object of study and their own subjective approaches? How do the authors of this collection see their own work? It is telling that the editors apply Zink’s term ‘shadow’, because, within the context of literature’s ‘self-criticism’, the shadow would be the ghost of authorial intentionality. The literary scholar hopes his or her own writing appears as clear as possible, while relegating the literary author to the shadows. In an age when criticism on the internet is democratized, when the borders between writer, reader, and critic have been blurred, perhaps it is time to bring criticism out from under the shadow of the work.

Patrick M. Bray
Ohio State University


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