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  • Dispositio: Problematic Ordering in French Renaissance Literature
  • David Laguardia
Paul J. Smith . Dispositio: Problematic Ordering in French Renaissance Literature. Brill's Studies in Intellectual History 157. Leiden: Brill, 2007. xii + 246 pp. index. illus. bibl. $129. ISBN: 978-90-04-16305-8.

As its title indicates, Paul J. Smith's study is devoted to a fundamental question in French Renaissance literature. Its introduction evokes the wealth of metaphors that both classical and Renaissance writers used to speak of dispositio, drawn from the culinary arts, architecture, sculpture, medicine, military art, and traveling. Smith wisely limits his subject matter to Rabelais on one end and Montaigne's Essais on the other, situating poetic dispositio in Du Bellay and Belleau in the middle, along with emblematic fable books. The first chapter opens with a useful comparison of Pantagruel and Gargantua to classical biography and epideictic rhetoric. It explains biography in terms of topoi (genus, genesis, natura, education, virtutes) and rhetorical structures that would have been known by Rabelais's humanist readers. Chapter 2 focuses on description as the Quart Livre's organizing principle, and discusses its usage of medical discourses to describe Quaresmeprenant's body. Smith also analyzes the difference between effictio (literal portrayal) and notatio (character portrayal) discussed in the Rhetorica ad Herennium, a model for Rabelais's descriptions in the fourth book. The chapter concludes that Rabelais's work produced a kind of anti-description, to such an extent that Quaresmeprenant literally cannot be imagined by the reader. The richly-documented third chapter on "Rabelais and the Art of Memory" provides an important survey of mnemonic techniques in writers as diverse as Agricola, Erasmus, Melanchthon, and Vives, and sheds new light on the episode of the "paroles gelées," which Smith reads in terms of the distinction between writing and extemporaneous speech, the "freezing" of words on paper versus their "storage" in one's memory.

Smith's fourth chapter is an elegant reading of Du Bellay's Antiquitez de Rome from the perspective of Renaissance representations of the city's topography, such as a circular map of the city drawn by Fabio Calvo in 1527. Smith hence reads the dispositio of the work as being circular, topographical, and graphic, concluding that it is in fact a poetic representation of the Pantheon. Chapter 5 considers two strategies for coming to terms with Rémy Belleau's Pierres pré cieuses: a linear [End Page 1275] reading that focuses on numerology and lapidary symbolism associated with the poems' dedicatees, all noblewomen, and a "concentric" analysis. Smith demonstrates admirable erudition in his exegesis of the biblical, classical, and personal connotations of the number 12 put into play by the poet in his collection. Chapter 6 is devoted to Dutch translators and adaptors of Petrarch, discussing briefly their role in the dissemination of the sonnet form across the European continent. Chapter 7 explores a genre on which the author has worked extensively, the emblematic fable book. It meticulously examines the thematic content and arrangement of numerous collections written and adapted in French, Dutch, German, English, and Latin in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Chapter 8 on Montaigne addresses the notion of ordo neglectus in "Des Coches." It discusses the influence on the essayist of Plutarch, who was "a model of anti-rhetorical writing" as well as "a great example of ideal historiographic writing" (175). Chapter 9 concentrates on dispositio and gender in the essay "On three good wives," analyzing numerous binary oppositions that structure Montaigne's thinking throughout the Essais. Smith remarks that Montaigne often favors one side of an opposition —masculine versus feminine virtues, for example —only to reverse his position in the end. The chapter concludes with a comparison between text and texture, textile, and needlework, in which the essayist allows his own rhetorical practices to drift toward a previously undercut realm of the "feminine." The final chapter on "De la vanité" examines this essay as a series of intertextual references and exchanges that addresses the important literary topos of travel, providing a useful summary of the literature in Latin on this subject. The conclusion argues that the book's three main objects of study represent three different attitudes toward rhetorical dispositio...


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