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  • 20 Scholarship in Languages Other Than English:i French Contributions
  • Françoise Clary

As studies on North American literature published over the past two years show, 19th- and 20th-century writers attract most critical attention. However, French scholarship also offers a reflection of the way the early national period is understood. Surveying critics, I have found a selection of contributions that reveal shifts and trends. There is a continuing and apparently inexhaustible interest in 19th-century literature—with major essays on Ralph Waldo Emerson and Stephen Crane—and growing critical attention paid to 20th-century fiction and poetry. French criticism on 20th-century literature is characterized not only by books and essays covering Flannery O'Connor and ethnic literature but also by a modernist note found in articles devoted to Cormac McCarthy and the Language poets, among whom we find Armand Schwerner, Rosmarie Waldrop, David Antin, Ron Silliman, Lyn Hejinian, Louis Zukofsky, and John Cage. New trends can also be observed. Nature writing has undoubtedly become a popular concern, with papers investigating how ecological texts draw attention to their own language. I was also struck by the steady interest of French scholars in literary history, by their ambitious study of the art of writing construed as a material process grounded in action, and by their concern with cultural studies. The flux of ideas, the movement of political, social, economic, and cultural notions continue to be very popular. I have widened the purview of this section to include articles, collections of essays, and books that both examine the idea of citizenship and investigate various forms of popular culture.

a. Crèvecoeur and the Early National Period

The major offering for this category is Bernard Chevignard's Michel Saint-John de Crèvecoeur: Au miroir de la mémoire (Belin, 2004), a 126-page study divided into four chapters that presents a reassessment of Crèvecoeur's glowing vision of nature and his description of a simple rural life based on a domestic economy reflecting frontier conditions in America. After exploring how Crèvecoeur's vision of agricultural life has been sustained in literary form and expatiating on agrarian self-sufficiency as the grounding of the American Dream, Chevignard portrays a figure who was an amalgam of identities and one of the founding fathers of American literature. This study, though short, demonstrates Chevignard's knowledge of American thought.

b. 19th-Century Literature and Aesthetics

Emerson is one of the most intensely studied American authors in France. Among the critical works worth mentioning is a gathering of 11 essays: Ralph Waldo Emerson dans ses textes: Rhétorique et philosophie, ed. Philippe Jaworski and François Brunet (CCV 37 [2004]). The issue opens with two essays focusing on Emerson's rhetorical art. In "Les deux visages de l'automne émersonien" (pp. 13–24) Maurice Gonnaud examines and translates a passage of Emerson's Journals and a fragment of his essay on Montaigne. Gonnaud contends that in the Journal passage the prosopopoeia of a mushroom serves to give free rein to an exuberance of discourse, whereas in the imagined soliloquy of Montaigne autumn speaks in gray, sober tones to remind the reader of the preeminence of experience over imagination. François Brunet's "Méthode(s) dans 'The Method of Nature'" (pp. 25–41) interrogates Emerson's method in his essay by focusing on its incipit. Interestingly, Brunet contends that Emerson's method appears quite paradoxical because it relies on withdrawal, surprise, and ignorance. According to Brunet, what emerges is less an epistemology than a poetics of speech that delivers, within the realm of the essay, rhetorical effects of diversion and redirection analogous to those natural effects the author chooses to highlight. In a study of Emerson's art as a writer, François Specq's "L'éthique littéraire d'Emerson" (pp. 45–64) analyzes most convincingly the ways in which Emerson the writer "stages" his essays through the interplay of three modes of enunciation (disjunction, injunction, conjunction) that are, Specq argues, the mainspring of a participatory rhetoric involving the reader in the process of discourse and a tool for achieving ethical and [End Page 458] political refoundation. Agnes Derail-Imbert's "'Circles,' ou...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2125
Print ISSN
0065-9142
Pages
pp. 457-471
Launched on MUSE
2007-09-19
Open Access
No
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