Polemical Stupidity in the Writing of the French Enlightenment
Year of Publication: 2002
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt/M., New York, Wien, 2002. 331 pp.
ISBN 978-3-906768-36-6 pb. (Softcover)
Weight: 0.480 kg, 1.058 lbs
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Polemical stupidity - a critical concept drawn from Bakhtin - denotes the strategic refusal to understand. It appears most familiarly in the character of the Fool (like Candide), who genuinely does not understand the world, thus unmasking its incoherence. But in literature it can cover too the stance of the narrator or author (who pretends to misunderstand). It also functions at the levels of genre and style, embracing parody and rewriting in general. It is a dialogic or open form of critical engagement. Though it can be found throughout Western literature, polemical stupidity is most richly characteristic of the writing of the French Enlightenment. This book suggests why, and traces its rise and fall as a discursive practice in the century from Pascal to Rousseau. Early chapters consider the concept itself, its emergence in Pascal's Lettres provinciales, worldliness and unworldliness, and the new writing of 1660-1700 (critical history to fairy tales). The main part of the book, on the age of Enlightenment itself, contains successive chapters on Regency theatre, Montesquieu's Lettres persanes, Marivaux, Voltaire, Diderot, and finally Rousseau who will not play.
Contents: Polemical stupidity - The French Enlightenment - Playfulness - The Fool - Simplicity and questioning - Natures as critique and philosophy - Rewriting and hybrid genres - Worldliness - Surprise and pleasure - The rococo - Comic theatre, letters, the novel - Pascal - The 'Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes' - The Lettres persanes - Marivaux - Voltaire - Diderot - Rousseau.
About the author(s)/editor(s)
The Author: Robin Howells received his first degree at the University of Queensland, and his Ph.D. from the University of London, where he is Reader in French at Birkbeck College. He specialises in the literature of the Classical and Enlightenment periods. His publications include monographs on the fiction of Charles Sorel and the contes of Voltaire, and numerous articles.
«Robin Howells is a well-qualified guide to playfulness in the Enlightenment, as his own substantial contribution to the bibliography of the volume illustrates. Since each chapter of this book can be read independently, students will find it useful in a variety of contexts.» (Forum for Modern Language Studies)
French Studies of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. Vol. 12
General Editors: Malcolm Cook and James Kearns