Time and Ways of Knowing under Louis XIV: Molière, Sévigné, Lafayette

Time and Ways of Knowing under Louis XIV: Molière, Sévigné, Lafayette

Time and Ways of Knowing under Louis XIV: Molière, Sévigné, Lafayette

Time and Ways of Knowing under Louis XIV: Molière, Sévigné, Lafayette


"Time and Ways of Knowing is an original, interdisciplinary study that will appeal to scholars of seventeenth-century French literature and culture, and of the philosophy of science, as well as to those interested in narrative, temporality, and questions of disciplinarity." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


For what is time? Who could find any quick or easy answer to that? Who could even grasp it in his thought clearly enough to put the matter into words? Yet is there anything to which we refer in conversation with more familiarity, any matter of more common experience, than time? and we know perfectly well what we mean when we speak of it, and understand just as well when we hear someone else refer to it. What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I want to explain it to someone who asks me, I do not know.

—Saint Augustine, The Confessions

Time is at once one of the most familiar and ineffable ELEments of human experience, an idea and an intuition with which we live closely but which somehow escapes our conceptual grasp. Well-worn though it may be, the path to Saint Augustine is still worth taking: we know what time is, but when we are asked to tell exactly what we think it is, we inevitably find ourselves at a loss. This cognitive deficit, this ignorance, entails a desire to know more, to pursue the slippery question of time yet a step further. It is perhaps such a feeling of loss and of desire that lies at the origin of this book.

The task of telling time and telling about time has been undertaken for centuries and constitutes a significant component especially of literary endeavors. It is one of the central tenets of the present study that works of literature provide the most suggestive and nuanced representations of a given culture’s and a given epoch’s characteristic ways of thinking and living time. Ways of knowing about time have changed throughout history, with every culture and with every thinker and writer who has attempted to give an account, however implicit, of the temporalities of human experience.

In the pages that follow, I take as objects of focus the multiple temporalities constitutive of the literature and culture of Europe, and particularly of France, in the second half of the seventeenth century. Early modern France was marked by significant changes in the use, measurement, and the ideation of time, changes whose results are still with us today. I shall examine some of the fundamental presuppositions of the . . .

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