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Subjectivity and the Signs of Love

Discourse, Desire, and the Emergence of Modernity in Honoré d'Urfé's «L'Astrée»


James M. Hembree

Centering his analysis on the consequences for self-representation of the epistemic shift to modernity, Dr. Hembree reassesses the cultural importance of one of the early seventeenth-century's neglected masterpieces of prose fiction, Honoré d'Urfé's L'Astrée. He argues that the narrative, published in five volumes from 1607 to 1627, provides an intellectual bridge between the rejection of ontological guarantees of identity and meaning in Montaigne's Essais, and the formulation of subjective consciousness as a new foundation for self-knowledge in the writings of Descartes. Suspended between medieval and modern paradigms of self-representation, L'Astrée contributed to the reconceptualization of the self and the social symbolic order that occurred in the early modern period. Therein lies its relevance for twentieth-century readers who, like d'Urfé's contemporaries, are caught in a semiotic crisis engendered by yet another cultural divide.