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  • The Written World: Space, Literature, and the Chorological Imagination in Early Modern Franceby Jeffrey N. Peters
  • Tom Conley
The Written World: Space, Literature, and the Chorological Imagination in Early Modern France. By J effreyN. P eters. ( Rethinking the Early Modern.) Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2018. xii + 281 pp., ill.

From The Beginning Of The Bourbon Dynasty To Its Splendour under Louis XIV, France witnesses a geographical revolution. Surveyors chart its coastlines; architects define and fortify its inner borders; engineers design roads and canals that striate its landscape and countryside. A reader of any of Nicolas Sanson's meticulous maps of the 1640s and 1650s wonders how the geographer's creations could ever have emerged from the motley 'cos-mographies' and Ortelian 'theatres' of the later sixteenth century. From this angle Jeffrey N. Peters demonstrates that philosophy and literature of the classical age take part in the same revolution. Meshing seventeenth-century readings of the choraor 'third space' in Plato's Timaeuswith the opening of the universe following the Copernican discoveries, he notes how the canon—d'Urfé, Corneille, Molière, La Fontaine, Boileau, Racine, Scudéry, La Fayette—is of a chorological disposition: their works fashion intermediate worlds, born of indiscernible origins, that move and mediate with milieus of their own making. Unlike Aristotelian space, in which volume is contained and discretely measured, open-ended, of unlikely origin and without limit, its chorological counterpart is given to becoming. The works under study become what Gilles Deleuze calls 'events' when their immediate environs fold into the force of creative process. Having us think 'in and about the world', they are born of given places but also of an engendering chora. The chapters unfold along a spatial axis. In Chapter 1, Boileau's Art poétiquecelebrates the unlocatable 'place' of poetry where it becomes sublime. Born of moderation (or mediocritas) and of a middle space, poetry becomes 'an event in the world whose singularity commingles with all other possible singularities' (p. 55). Juxtaposing Molière with La Fontaine, Chapter 2 [End Page 294]discerns tensions of immanence and transcendence in the L'École des femmes, its Critique, and the Fables. An Epicurean world of joined parts and Lucretius' universe of 'solid patches and empty spaces' (p. 59) inform paradoxes of proximity and distance, and order and chance. Chapter 3 studies the geography of Corneille's Illusion comique, a 'strange monster' that turns the Parisian theatre in which it is performed into the hub of a greater universe under royal control. In Chapter 4, Racine's Andromaqueand Bérénicestage the perils of an 'expectant absence' through effects of 'opening, separation, joining, and becoming' (pp. 118 and 143). Where geography is off, a sense of located isolation prevails. In Chapter 5, Honoré d'Urfé's L'Astréesituates the Forez and the river Lignon in the historical landscape of Gaul, what long ago in his book of the same name Jacques Ehrmann called a 'desperate utopia', in which descriptive topography contends with narrative development. Chapter 6—comparing Scudéry's La Promenade de Versailleswith La Fayette's La Princesse de Clèves—draws attention to visual perception that replaces the world otherwise seen and registered. Argued with force and conviction, Peters's book renews and re-invigorates our appreciation of the classical canon. Building on his ample erudition, Peters opens avenues of enquiry vital to seventeenth-century studies and, broadly, to an ever-growing field of literature and geography.

Tom Conley
Harvard University


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pp. 294-295
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