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A Silence Seen Tom Conley O R A SILENT SCENE? Renaissance writing sings and clatters; it brings voice and din to life. Marx noted that grobian writing of the sixteenth-century Germany is “ flat, thrasonical, putting on a great show of rude vigor in attack, yet hysterically sensitive to the same quality in others; brandishing a sword with enormous waste of energy, lifting it high in the air only to let it fall down flat; constantly preaching morality and constantly offending against it, [with] sentiment and turpi­ tude most absurdly conjoined; concerned only with the point at issue, yet always missing the point. . . In France similar paradoxes hold true. Rabelais’s bien yvres laugh and dance “ au son des joyeux flageolletz et doulces cornemuses tant baudement que c’estoit passe-temps celeste les veoir ainsi soy rigouller.” Gargantua is born when his father, “ le bon homme Grandgousier, beuvant et se rigoullant avecques les autres, entendit le cry horrible que son filz avoit faict entrant en lumière de ce monde, quand il brasmoit, demandant: ‘A boyre! à boyre! à boyre!’ ” Ronsard sends his hymns bouncing off the great acoustic mirror of the universe, la voulte celeste, to broadcast intimations of his own immor­ tality. Montaigne decries those who must “ maintenir, muet, cette externe et præsomptive suffisance” to protect themselves from the insufficiency of their speech. He explains, “ J ’aimeroy mieux que mon fils apprint aux tavernes à parler, qu’aux escholes de la parlerie.” 2 The sixteenth century celebrates aural worlds, yet its clamor comes to us in utter silence. Captured in libraries, its books show how its enter­ prises were fissured from within. No sooner than writers consigned voice to print was logos changed. Or perhaps before the classical age writing was simply other than voice, seen as a neutral medium that only with the advent of grammars and with the reforms of Estienne and Meigret became increasingly invested with counterfeit speech. Writing no doubt figured in an associational and dynamic network of signs and forces in which voice could never entirely dominate. Then, as today, mute writing could inspire fear in “ la sauvagerie des mots affrontés, quand le mouve­ ment du sens est arrêté et qu’eux demeurent immobiles.” 3 Because they engender worlds of silence, the graphics of sixteenth-century literature can be read as both a symptom and a cause of upheaval in the dynamics of knowledge and cognition. Vol. XXVIII, No. 2 5 L ’E s p r it C r é a t e u r This number of L ’Esprit créateur aims at locating where such litera­ ture, divided in its origins between voice and writing, contends with its silence. With the growth of print culture, voice is not merely synchro­ nized with writing. Schematic and conceptual orders of knowledge, which take hold with Ramus and memory-books, do not depend on tran­ scription; visual perspective acquires force well before Ramism, when literary experiment plays with typography, engraving, emblems, and symbols. Bizarre combinations of pictures, rebuses, visual poetry, let­ ters, escutcheons, and calligraphy pass from the Rhétoriqueurs to the works of Tory, Alciati and Rabelais. A literature of ciphers at odds with voice, symptomatic of what François Rigolot calls “ a spatializing boulemia” and a compulsion visualisante, expands with the development of printed books in the era of Humanism.4 Because the literature prior to 1560 did not merely copy what it saw or heard, it elaborated coextensive spheres of figures, objects, marks, and both visible and invisible forms. Foreign to pragmatic models of cognition of our time, certain elements merit review and may be of use in introducing issues inspiring the articles gathered below. Psychogeneses—In the allegory of its historical growth from medie­ val to contemporary times, early modern France is frequently personified as a teen-ager. Irascible, tender, suave, gawky but of elegant promise, the age thresholds, historians of positivism have implied, a classical “ maturity” that comes with the age of Louis XIV. Somehow the pueril­ ity of renaissance seems to betray the aural beauty of this age. We read with no less pleasure the chapters of Gargantua devoted to time wasted in past institutions (xi-xv, xxi-xxii...


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