In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

116 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION 9:1 pleasure and security in dieir well-being" (p. 133). As Yossarian puts it, in chapter 18 of Joseph Heller's Catch-22, "You don't believe in the God you want to, and I won't believe in the God I want to. Is that a deal?" The refusal to find or believe in a definitive interpretation, the quest for more meanings, not the single ossified meaning, is a virtue all readers should be striving for, and that is the primary point of contact between Steme and Nietzsche, or at least the primary point of contact that New argues for in his coupling of Sterne and Nietzsche. That final distinction is equally important. Helen Ostovich McMaster University Georges May. La Perruque de Dom Juan: ou du bon usage des énigmes dans la littérature de l'âge classique. Paris: Klincksieck, 1995. 136pp. FFr140. ISBN 2-252-03011-9. This work about enigmas as a literary genre and a rhetorical strategy in late seventeenth and eighteenth-century French literature has more than a hint of the enigma about it. What is Dom Juan's wig doing there in the title? Georges May will make us wait until the end of his study before he finishes this little joke of his. Behind a seemingly frivolous amusement that was popular, especially in die salons précieux, the author is investigating "la transformation dans les valeurs sur lesquelles reposaient la société et la culture qui leur ont donné naissance" (p. 7). Stability, community , and solidarity were the highest values in the homogeneous and hierarchical society of the ancien régime where individuals were almost interchangeable. Since today we prefer an individualism that encourages pluralism and diversity, we are often ill equipped to appreciate a society, a way of life, and a literature so different from our own. A desire to bridge that gap is the not so enigmatic reason behind this study of enigmas. Georges May has divided his study into two parts. The first offers close readings ofclassic texts taken from Molière, La Bruyère, Le Sage, Montesquieu, Voltaire, d'Argens, and Mme de Graffigny. Not only does May give us generous citations so we can appreciate fully the passages he is considering, but he even offers us a number of inferior examples (one chapter on Cotin, another on Epigones) so we can feel the difference between the good and the less good. Slowly and deliberately—perhaps too slowly and deliberately (but that I think too is part of the game May is both playing and analysing)—he explains how the enigma's rhetorical strategy infiltrated other kinds of writing. May's concept of "enigma" is of course quite large: he is not really interested in devinettes and riddles themselves, but radier in the indirect and, in that sense, enigmatic way certain texts do and simultaneously do not reveal their real purpose. At bottom he is examining how the énigme Louis xm evolved from a mere parlour game into an "arme de combat" (p. 29). As a rhetorical technique, the enigma replaces a simple noun with an extended definition or description (p. 27). In a famous passage not usually considered enigmatic (that is, puzzling or unclear), La Bruyère describes as animals peasants living in misery in the countryside. His description reaches a climax when it finally names the noun it has just defined at length: "ce sont des hommes." His punch line is unexpected, shocking, and filled with powerful moral outrage. The enigma made another giant step forward with Montesquieu, who also knew how to substitute description for the word itself and to place his punch line effectively. The REVIEWS 117 example analysed is the literary equivalent of a shooting gallery, if I may so conflate the terms "jeu de massacre" and "galerie de portraits" (p. 43) that May uses to describe this passage. In a series of pen portraits, Montesquieu lines up a number of fatuous individuals under the astonished gaze of Usbek and his local informant. After Usbek describes them and their unacceptable behaviour, his guide provides the punch line, the word ("cet homme ... est un fermier" or "C'est un pr...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 116-117
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.