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The Differential Calculus as the Model of Desire in French Fiction of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

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Kenneth Hockman

Blaise Pascal's construction of his mathematical triangle provided the device to extend the application of a differential calculus. By tracing the affinities between the scientific and literary writing of Pascal, this work isolates the figure of man's fear of divine abandonment as the key formal relation between the differential calculus and literary fiction. Through its ability to describe the concept of force, the calculus permits a reading of abandonment as the trace of the force of desire. Thus the calculus offers a dynamic to the spatial disposition of psychological tension in the fiction of Lafayette, Crebillon, Rousseau, Laclos, and Sade.