No Cover Image

Distant Voices Still Heard: Contemporary Readings of French Renaissance Literature

John O’Brien
Malcolm Quainton
Copyright Date: 2000
Edition: 1
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vj9c3
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Distant Voices Still Heard
    Book Description:

    This book seeks to satisfy a pedagogical need. It is designed for the new graduate student in England and elsewhere, although it may profitably be used by the enterprising final year undergraduate. Its aim is to introduce the modern student to readings of French Renaissance literature, drawing on the perspectives of contemporary literary theories. The volume is organised by paired readings of five major sixteenth-century French writers, with interpretations covering, among others, structuralism, semiotics, feminism and psychoanalysis. Linking these interpretations is a constant interest in problems such as the role of the reader, the nature of the text and the question of gender. The Introduction contextualises the encounter between literary theory and Renaissance texts by using the contributions as pivotal points in the development of critical thinking about this period in early modern literature. All foreign language quotations are translated into English, and the book is intended to be of practical interest to a wide range of readers, from modern linguists to those studying critical theory, comparative literature or cultural history.

    eISBN: 978-1-84631-297-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Editors’ Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    John O’Brien and Malcolm Quainton

    This book arose from a perceived pedagogical need. It seemed to us that a book was needed which would be of assistance to students as they intensified their study of French Renaissance literature – a book that would attempt to bridge the transitional moment between the specific study of a very limited number of Renaissance texts and the larger demands that are made by more advanced study in Great Britain and abroad. This period of transition will often be the final year of the undergraduate degree and the first year of graduate study. It is moreover at these periods that students...

  4. Introduction: The Time of Theory
    (pp. 1-52)
    John O’Brien

    Have we anything still to learn from literary theory? The question could be phrased in another way and in another tense: was there anything ever to be learned from literary theory? The switch in tense and its modifying adverb contains a history as well as an outlook. For supporters of the second question, the moment of literary theory has a specific history, and one that is now past; it is linked to a constellation of names – Barthes, Lacan, Foucault, Derrida, to name only the most obvious – and to a period of time in the third to last quarter of the...

  5. CHAPTER 1 The Highs and Lows of Structuralist Reading: Rabelais, Pantagruel, chapters 10–13
    (pp. 53-67)
    François Rigolot

    Rabelais’ work seems one of the privileged testing grounds for the theoretical problems which have been exercising the ‘cerveaulx à bourlet’ (Rabelais p. 403) (‘curled-up brains’) of literary critics for the last thirty years. Here is not the place to rehearse the current divisions of Rabelaisian criticism following the well-known exchange of articles nearly ten years ago in the columns of theRevue d’histoire littéraire de la France.² The arguments for and against the presence of a clear, univocal meaning, intended by the author and written into his work, have continued to accumulate. They have recently been taken up again...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Rabelais’ Strength and the Pitfalls of Methodology: (Tiers Livre, chapters 7–18)
    (pp. 68-84)
    Michel Jeanneret

    The works of Rabelais specialists are like a two-edged sword. They elucidate zones which are obscure and draw out the text’s hidden logic; in teaching as in research, their objective is to understand, to order, to rationalise; scholarly commentary implies, by definition, a will to mastery. I do not doubt the necessity of this activity: the more we know about the possible meanings of Rabelais’ work, the better; moreover, scholarly research is the normal response to a text that, by its enigmas, solicits this type of investigation. But the danger is in thinking that scholarly metadiscourse can overcome all resistance...

  7. CHAPTER 3 ‘Blond chef, grande conqueste’: Feminist Theories of the Gaze, the blason anatomique, and Louise Labé’s Sonnet 6
    (pp. 85-106)
    Ann Rosalind Jones

    Theblason, the love poem written in praise of a woman’s body, has been centralised in recent Renaissance studies through the work of Nancy Vickers, the first among feminist critics to theorise the psychosocial dynamics of this Renaissance genre.¹ Feminist film theory of the 1970s and 80s, focused on the cinematic forms structured to gratify the male gaze, has also been enlisted to define the impulses driving the poet’s ‘look’ at an iconic female body. The motives and processes of the masculine gaze posited by this psychoanalytically inflected line of thought are generalised across time by Luce Irigaray in her...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Louise Labé’s Feminist Poetics
    (pp. 107-122)
    Carla Freccero

    Louise Labé is perhaps the most famous female poet of the French Renaissance, although there is relatively little of her work extant: a collection, published in 1555, of 24 sonnets preceded by a dedicatory epistle to Clémence de Bourges, a prose dialogue calledLe Débat de Folie et d’Amour(The Debate between Folly and Love), and three elegies. In addition, there exist numerous poems dedicated to her or written about her, in both praise and blame. She belongs to the great wave of poetic innovation in sixteenth-century France, represented most illustriously by the group of poets known as La Pléiade,...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Reading and Writing in the Tenth Story of the Heptaméron
    (pp. 123-137)
    Floyd Gray

    In privileging the concepts ofécritureandlecture, contemporary theorists have diverted attention from the author as source and the work as object, focusing it instead on writing as a version of the speech act and reading as a subjective activity. When the meaning of a work is seen as the reader’s distinctive experience of it, the authority of the author and work is subverted and assumed by the reader. Reading and writing are viewed in this perspective as correlative phenomena, the one participating in the fulfilment and determinacy of the other.

    A similar complicity between reader and work seems...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Fetishism and Storytelling in Nouvelle 57 of Marguerite de Navarre’s Heptaméron
    (pp. 138-154)
    Nancy M. Frelick

    According to Jacques Lacan, fetishism is a fundamental example of the dynamics of desire.¹ It illustrates both the illusory nature of the object of desire – which, in the case of the fetishist, has been displaced from the original object of desire (the other) as a result of his frustration – and the way in which the subject attempts to (re)constitute himself through his relation with the fetishised object. As we shall see, the fiftyseventhNouvelleof Marguerite de Navarre’sHeptaméronis a particularly striking literary illustration of the dynamic described by Lacan.

    Some may argue that a Lacanian approach to a...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Creative Choreography: Intertextual Dancing in Ronsard’s Sonnets pour Hélène: II, 30
    (pp. 155-170)
    Malcolm Quainton

    One of the initial difficulties facing the twentieth-century reader of French Renaissance poetic texts in general (and amatory utterances in particular) is that s/he must divest her/himself of anachronistic (post-Romantic?) hermeneutic models which mechanistically equate sincerity and lived experience with originality, inspiration and creative excellence. It is often a challenging and painful process (for both teacher and student alike!) not only to have such comforting assumptions subverted, but also to have to contend, firstly, with such notions as (creative) imitation, rhetorical writing strategies, conventions and receivedtopoi, and, secondly, to learn to trace the distinctive nature and the value of...

  12. CHAPTER 8 An Overshadowed Valediction: Ronsard’s Dedicatory Epistle to Villeroy
    (pp. 171-184)
    Thomas Greene

    The epistle placed by Ronsard at the head of hisAmours Diversesin the 1584 edition of hisOeuvresopens as a valedictory farewell to poetry, to love, and more broadly to the active life at court the poet had spasmodically pursued throughout most of his mature career. But thetoneof this valediction, as it emerges in the opening thirty lines, is not easy to categorise, mingling as it does regret, self-satisfaction, foreboding, resignation, fatalism, and pride. The note of personal apprehension, specifically the fear of advancing age, illness, and death, is sounded in the very first line, which...

  13. CHAPTER 9 ‘De l’amitié’ (Essais 1.28): ‘Luy’ and ‘Moy’
    (pp. 185-201)
    Ann Moss

    Contemporary Readingsis an ambivalent subtitle for a book of essays, and this reading of an essay by Montaigne is suitably ambivalent. It is a ‘contemporary reading’ in the sense that it will try to indicate reading routes that would have been familiar to Montaigne’s contemporaries. But no modern reader is Montaigne’s contemporary in that sense. If only because of the strangeness of Montaigne’s language, a ‘contemporary reading’, in the sense of ‘modern reading’, starts necessarily from an awareness of the historical distance which separates us from his contemporary readers. The original readers of theEssaiswere invited to pick...

  14. CHAPTER 10 Montaigne’s Death Sentences: Narrative and Subjectivity in ‘De la diversion’ (Essais 3.4)
    (pp. 202-216)
    Lawrence D. Kritzman

    Montaigne’s ‘De la diversion’ (3.4) dramatises and exemplifies the manner in which the human subject turns itself away from the anxiety produced by the fear of death. The essential question underlying this essay is how to talk about death or rather how to avoid it. If diversion is an issue in this text, it is ultimately the result of the essayist’s inability to become consubstantial with the object of the writing act itself: death. ‘Nous pensons toujours ailleurs’ (p. 834) (‘Our thoughts are always elsewhere’, p. 939), proclaims the essayist.¹ According to Montaigne’s own formulation, the human subject is always...

  15. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 217-221)
  16. Index
    (pp. 222-232)