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Textual Engagement with the Other in Cyrano de Bergerac’s L’Autre Monde


This article argues that Cyrano de Bergerac’s two novels, known collectively as L’Autre Monde, offer both a critique of efforts to categorize the Other in late seventeenth-century travel narratives, and a model for privileging an ethical, rather than definitional, approach to it. The first section, through an analysis of the scene where the narrator is mistakenly thought to be the female of an animal in the queen’s zoo, shows how Cyrano lambasts this gesture of categorizing the Other in one’s own terms. The second section analyses two scenes where Cyrano presents a different version of the biblical tree of life in order to show how he privileges multiplicity and openness of meaning. Cyrano’s project employs both form and content to shift from an authoritative and narrative mode to a mode of what we call ‘reading the Other’. We define this term with regard to Cyrano to mean that one encounters the world as an attentive reader of fiction would: attuned to multiplicity, seeking an accretion of meaning via stories rather than via a one-to-one correspondence between word and thing, a willingness to be passive rather than authoritative when encountering something new, and valuing ethical relationships between beings.

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