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Variations on the Dialogue in the French Enlightenment ROLAND MORTIER Until recently, the dialogue, a victim of the classification system of literary theory, has aroused neither interest nor curiosity among crit­ ics. This is all the more surprising since it is in this neglected genre that many of the most important debates of Western thought have taken place. The critical works are almost all quite old: Rudolf Hirzel's Der Dialog dates from 1895; it is more historical than theoretical and is primarily concerned with Greek and Latin dialogues, merely giving a rather incomplete list for the rest of literature. On English literature, Elizabeth Merril's The Dialogue in English Literature was published in 1911, and, in a comparative vein, John S. Egilrud's Le Dialogue des Morts dans la litterature frangaise, allemande et anglaise (1644-1789) dates from 1934. No real literary theory of the dialogue is available; we sketched an outline of such a theory in an article entitled "Pour une poetique du dialogue: essai de theorie d'un genre" published in the Melanges Wellek (Berne: Lange, 1984). Just recently, several works have appeared that have helped in under­ standing the problem, either by introducing nuances, or by adding to the theory, or by questioning the very validity of it. I would like to mention here the excellent work of Marie-Louise Blessing and M. K. Benouis on the philosophical dialogue in France, the searching reflec­ tions of Eva Kushner on the sixteenth-century French dialogue, the remarkable book by Bernard Beugnot, L'Entretien au XVIIe siecle (Mon­ treal, 1971), and the brilliant synthesis of Maurice Roelens in his chap­ 225 226 / MORTIER ter entitled "Le dialogue d'idees au XVIIIe siecle" in L'Histoire litteraire de la France ([Paris: Ed. Sociales, 1976], 6:259-89). Following Eva Kushner, let me insist on the remarkable efflores­ cence of the genre in the sixteenth-century: Pontus du Tyard, Le Soli­ taire premier; Loys Le Caron, Claire ou la Beaute; Etienne Pasquier, Le Monophile; Bonaventure des Periers, Cymbalum Mundi; Jean Bodin, Heptaplomeres, to cite only the best known. The dialogue form in the Renaissance is concerned with a debate about nature, love, reason, in which the interlocutors are frequently well-known people, particularly writers such as Sceve, Ronsard, or Baif. It pretends to be the formal transcription of real conversations, and its goal, in the majority of cases, remains the exposition of a the­ sis, which implies a didactic rather than a problematic intention, a situation that is common to other genres of the same period. The most frequent models, apart from the Italian dialogue, are Cicero or Plato, less frequently Lucian. The end of the sixteenth century marks the decline of the genre: the last major Renaissance dialogue is Bodin's Heptaplomeres written in 1588, but not published until 1857. Between 1588 and 1630, not a single important work was written in this neglected form. The seventeenthcentury writers who would bring it back to life seem to have been ig­ norant of their precursors, and they show a certain uneasiness which is expressed in the justifications they think they have to give their readers. This crisis of consciousness is also the moment of a new realization. We have a precious witness to this in the "Lettre de 1'Autheur" which serves as an introduction to Les Dialogues faits a Limitation des Anciens of Lamothe le Vayer, using the pseudonym Oratius Tubero. Lamothe appeals to the classical model to develop his sceptical and relativistic philosophy, and he explains openly: "Aussi ne me suis-je propose autre but que ma propre satisfaction, lors que j'ay fait eslection de ce genre d'escrire par Dialogues si mesprise, voire des-laisseaujourd'hui." He says he is writing for another century, not knowing whether it will ever arrive, for he has nothing but disdain for the vulgar, the group in which he places "le cavalier, l'homme de robe, et le paysan egalement." He wants his dialogues to remain "dans l'obscurite d'un cabinet ami." What good would it do to distribute them? They are only "marchandises de contrebande, et qui ne doivent etre exposees au public." If we take him at...


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