The Classical Model: Literature and Knowledge in Seventeenth-Century France


Literature has its own strategies for ordering information. In this elegant and insightful book about the formation of knowledge in seventeenth-century France, Harriet Stone asks what those strategies conveyed about the limits of science and about the cultural environment of the period. A propensity for reason and control pervaded literature as well as science, allowing classical literature to serve as a unique laboratory for exploring the model of representation developed by science. Literary texts have influenced the establishment and transformation of the paradigms grounding knowledge by drawing attention to meanings that the paradigms fail to name. Stone identifies not only the momentous achievement of the discovery of the scientific method but also the more subtle process of experimentation in literature through which ideas were continually tested and redefined. She offers close readings of works by Rotrou, Corneille, Racine, Moliere, La Rochefoucauld, and Lafayette, as well as by Descartes,Furetiere,,and Pascal. Her first and last chapters frame the literary texts within a discussion of Foucault's analysis of classical science. Classical writers began to encode their own world. Once they did, not only science but literature became an authority for mapping knowledge. Notwithstanding the classical period's efforts to affirm the unity of knowledge, Stone concludes that knowledge was never complete or certain. Literature's capacity to rework the model through which it assigns meanings proves essential to unfolding both the art and the science of representation.

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