- Fictions du diable: Littérature et démonologie de saint Augustin à Léo Taxil
This essay collection is a solid contribution to the study of demonology in the Renaissance and beyond. The common theme shared by these essays is the relationship of treatises on demonology and sorcery to fiction and literature. Most of [End Page 932] them originated with a conference held at the Université Paris 7–Denis Diderot in November of 2003. The remaining essays were generated by an interdisciplinary working group organized under the auspices of France's Ministère de la Recherche et de l'Enseignement Supérieur, the purpose of which was to study the literary use of scientific texts in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This happy marriage of sources for the essays in this volume resulted in a unified and cohesive collection.
In a short introduction, Françoise Lavocat divides the essays into three groups. In the first group appear authors who study the writing strategies of demonologists, in particular the tensions between their persuasive rhetoric and stylistic resources. For example, Anne-Isabelle Bouton-Touboulic traces the history of the formation of demonological doctrine back to Saint Augustine's De la divination des démons. In a particularly fascinating analysis, Nicole Jacques-Lefèvre looks at the development of the narrative "I" in demonological treatises, arguably one of the closer points of contact between these texts and literature per se. Following the pattern of looking for narrative voices in demonological texts, Patrick Demougin shows great sensitivity to more dialogic elements of demonology treatises, specifically the "other voices" of ghosts. This dialogism seems naturally to belong in the realm of fictional poetics. Finally, in an essay focused on a much later time period (the nineteenth century), Marianne Closson shows how Léo Taxil engages the literary strategies of popular fiction to mystify the Freemasons as a diabolical sect.
In a second, more traditional group appear essays on the cross-fertilization of demonological treatises and literary texts, narrowly defined. In this group appears an essay by Timothy Chesters on the motif of attempts to wound or kill ghosts with swords in the demonologist Psellos, the dramatist Shakespeare, and the poet Ronsard. This strategy of selecting a leitmotif and tracing its fortune is continued by François Lecercle, who examines the biblical episode of Saul and the Witch of Endor in both demonology treatises and the theater. The weakest essay of this section is Pierre Kapitaniak's survey of the comical exploitation of demonological tropes in theatrical plays. This commonplace of criticism has already been repeated ad nauseum by the New Historicists. A more cultural-studies type orientation is evidenced by Martial Martin, who looks at the politicization (eventually resulting in the neutralization) of demonological discourse in pamphlet literature. Finally, Jean Céard examines the lingering hold that the demonology of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries exerted upon the imaginations of the later Romantics, as exemplified by authors such as Jacques Collin de Plancy, who "rediscovered" earlier demonologists.
The third group of essays is, to my mind, preferable to the other two, in terms of being both the least prosaic and the most profound. This group deals with the contributions of demonology to the history of ideas, specifically to notions about the nature of fiction itself. This section plays to the strengths of French critics who have imbibed literary theory with their mothers' milk. Here fiction is outlined in general terms, not necessarily as the production of texts, but more broadly as an activity of the psyche. For a lifelong cervantista, this outlook proves particularly appealing. Françoise Lavocat's essay dividing the demonologists into "realist" and [End Page 933] "illusionist" camps is too simplistic and ultimately reductive; but it does throw a welcome light onto demonology's contribution to the emergence of modern notions of fiction. Similarly, Amélie Blanckaert and Frédérique A...