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L ’E s pr it C r éa te u r Barbara R. Woshinsky. S igns o f C e r ta in t y : T he L in g u istic I m pe r a t iv e in F ren ch C la ssica l L it e r a t u r e . Stanford French and Italian Studies, 71, 1991. Pp. 152. Finesse of analysis, lucidity of exposition, insightful grasp of literary language, ground­ ing in philosophical and theological issues, such are the qualities of this book which should interest all scholars of seventeenth-century French literature, whether they be beginners or seasoned researchers. In the Introduction Woshinsky explains very clearly the period’s par­ ticular emphasis on language as representation of truth, defending the importance of atten­ tive reading of literary texts over theory. O f course, Woshinsky is also firmly grounded in contemporary theory, but her aim is to read four literary writers closely, linking them with the common focus on language, as well as distinguishing their specific characteristics. “ Rhetorical Vision in Corneille” leads off, refreshingly, with a discussion of L ’Illusion Comique, before analyzing Le Cid, Horace, and Polyeucte and the varieties of Cornelian rhetoric’s power in the world. The discussion of the reductive figure of metonymy as a structuring principle, not only of speech, but of society and state, illustrates Woshinsky’s ability to link literary language with much larger abstract concepts. “ Racine: Words in Search for T ruth” focuses on several visual images in Andromaque (the ruins of Troy), Britannicus (Nero’s visions of Junie), to examine Racine’s search for knowledge. After situating Iphigénie as a half-way point between the earlier tragedies and the religious plays, Woshinsky shows how truth in Esther has become sacred, revealed and celebrated rather than represented—perhaps the seventeenth century was not completely unified under the banner of representation, as she stated in the Introduction. The shorter chapter on “ Pascal and the Discourse of the Inexpressible” treats the two types of discourses present in Pascal, the human—contradictory, displaced, self-limiting— and the divine—cancelling all differences and limitations. The comparisons of Pascal’s view o f divine Scripture with Augustine’s theology seemed to be the best peut of the chapter. I would have wished for a fuller discussion of Pascal, and of some key concepts, e.g. “ nature” and its crucial importance in undermining essentialist philosophy and the consequent difficulty of Pascal to explain his belief in an absolute God. The chapter on “ La Bruyère’s Perishable W ords” illuminates most persuasively the link between the vision in La Bruyère’s Caractères and its form. Disabused with his society’s exchanges of empty, formulaic phrases, but still believing in a moral order and longing for authenticity, La Bruyère builds his work to reflect this ambivalence: somewhat ordered, but broken up, his book is akin to a dictionary with juxtaposed entries, a certain lack of struc­ tural wholeness suggesting the near lack of wholeness in society. Woshinsky cleverly links together the seventeenth-century’s original presentation of his Remarques without numbers with the significance of the author’s social vision. The Conclusion brings the book to an elegant closure, with pithy and quotable sum­ maries of the four authors’ linguistic experiences, their fundamental values, and the hierar­ chical link between the social, rhetorical, moral and theological discourses. Woshinsky has succeeded in being both “ innovative and preservative” (147) in her examination of the rela­ tion between language, concepts of knowledge, and the specific qualities of these literary texts. S ylvie R o m anow ski Northwestern University Virginia A . La Charité. T w e n tiet h -C entury F ren ch A vant-G a rd e P o etry, 1907-1990. Lexington: French Forum, 1992. P p . 185. At a time when modern poetry seems to be allotted little space in French programs in 118 F a l l 1993 L’ESPRIT CRÉATEUR this country, and when French poets themselves bemoan the neglect of poetry by the educa­ tional establishment and the media, it is refreshing to be told, as we are in Virginia La...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 118-119
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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