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  • Le ‘Pari-de-Pascal’: étude littéraire d’une série d’énonciations by Alain Cantillon
  • Richard Parish
Le ‘Pari-de-Pascal’: étude littéraire d’une série d’énonciations. Par Alain Cantillon. (Contextes.) Paris: Vrin/EHESS, 2014. 374 pp.

The clue is in the hyphens. Alain Cantillon’s erudite, meticulous, and wide-ranging study is devoted to what he prefers to call the Feuilles ‘Infini rien’, and consists of three stages. In the first, he explores the problematic nature of what posterity has misleadingly called the wager argument. The startling diversity of transcriptions, all of which claim faithfully to [End Page 387] convey the same urtext, leaves the reader increasingly insecure as to his/her angle of approach to the printed page; and the vexed questions of fragmentation, order, paragraphing, marginality, repetition, deletion, punctuation, and quite simply legibility justifiably occupy a good deal of this section, devoted as it is to the two folded sheets of paper that delimit this enquiry. Cantillon turns next to those editions that appeared in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, beginning with the notoriously unreliable Éditions de Port-Royal, tracing the progressive attribution to the discrete parts of the dismembered manuscripts of the status of relics (in the Christian sense of that term), and noting the authority that publication accords to them. (And the juxtaposition here of four different versions of the text — the two Copies alongside Port-Royal and Sellier — is revelatory.) Here, as well, the addition of the Vie contributed by Pascal’s sister enhances the tendency to relate the fragments to the persona of Pascal, and so to accord him an exemplary or perhaps even saintly status. The third part takes the enquiry into the first half of the nineteenth century (in particular the years 1830–50), and affords the widest angle of approach, exploring what Cantillon calls ‘l’invention de l’authenticité pascalienne’ (p. 246), and situating its instigators and inventors, above all Victor Cousin and Armand-Prosper Faugère, in a range of politically or confessionally motivated quarrels between and within state, church, and academy. A fascinating parallel is also drawn between the architectural restoration of historic monuments, undertaken most famously by Viollet-le-Duc, and the attempt to reconstruct an apology from the extant manuscripts, highlighting as it does the contrast between the consolidation of a standing edifice and the hypothetical completion of a never pre-existing whole. The writing is trenchant and energetic throughout, at times ironic, and mostly persuasive. Perhaps only the rigorous exclusion of any broader reference to the ‘remainder’ (my term) of the Pensées-de-Pascal (his term), while in a sense intrinsic to Cantillon’s approach, seems on occasion to deprive the progressively more cautious reader of a potential insight or mode of access to this supremely controversial document. The major risk that ensues, however much it is one worth taking, is that, in the inevitable absence of Pascal and his conjectural apologia, it can appear intellectually dishonest to say anything about what we have left, in other words about ‘Pascal’ and his ‘Pensées’. On a practical note, it would have been helpful to the reader if the manuscript, reproduced and transcribed in an Appendix, and glossed by the author’s own segment numbers (to which reference is frequently made), could have taken the form of a fold-out.

Richard Parish
St Catherine’s College, Oxford


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