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Panat Times

Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


Volume 1


Orest's Pages

Patricia's Musings



Musical Rhetoric

Transcribed Sources


Christian Jouhaud's Les pouvoirs de la littérature

No journal editor has asked me to write a review of Christian Jouhaud's Les pouvoirs de la littérature (Paris: Gallimard, 2000), not even my colleagues in French who edit MLN. I could have asked them, but such a request seemed incongruous at the time. Christian Jouhaud had the kindness to send me a copy of the book, so why not review it for Panat Times?

CJ and I will not agree on terms, but no matter: he is after something paradoxical, and this fact permits a certain play in the meanings of words. His paradox has a venerable history that predates Gramsci's writings, but the latter have almost canonical authority on the paradoxical fact that, as the literary identity of writers grew stronger in the seventeenth century, writers became increasingly dependent on the state (p. 10). This is the paradox — one not unlike Paul Cohen's, who has shown that several of France's leading contestatory intellectuals in the 19th and 20th centuries wrote and lectured from prestigious chairs in the University and the Collège de France (Michelet, Foucault, for example).

CJ is on the mark when he questions the historicity of the "Golden Age" atmosphere that Pellisson ascribes to relations in the French Academy, and between it and its founder-protector. The tendency to depict relations in conflict-free, consensual terms was not only nourished by the pedagogical exemplarity pervading Humanist culture; it satisfied psychological needs for serenity in a world where totalities (the Church, the State, the Parliament, the guild) only partially answered the fears of disorder and violence. Peter Miller's reading of Peiresc's letters reminds this reviewer of Pellisson's on the relations in the Academy. Evidence of expressed differences is occasionally submerged, as polemic raged in some quarters — notably around Balzac's Letters.

Boisrobert came into Richelieu's service in about 1627, also the time when he started to frequent the Hôtel de Rambouillet, a social space with a new politeness in which literature served as the catalyst and unguent to calm the pains of criticism regarding the quality of writing and thought. The Rambouillet sociability, like the meetings of writers around Conrart, was supportive and encouraging about writing, as the Academy would also be.

Boisrobert went to Rome in about 1630, and there he may have observed the sociabilities in the little groups around the pope, again ones that were generally supportive of creative efforts, and hostile to polemic. When the pope's protégé, Mascardi, published his big Art of History in 1636, something of that Roman creation sustaining sociability may have moved from oral to written form, but it is worthwhile noting that he says founding academies of writers is a good measure to prevent governments from descending into tyranny (Miller, p. 64). Mascardi puts the writer in an ambiguous state — political, certainly, but also some2thing else. Men of power can draw on them for many services (the councilor model), but they are afraid of them too; and thus writers, by their collective presence, impede tyranny. Had Mascardi's thought become known to Richelieu and Boisrobert, as part of the political culture around the papal throne? Is Mascardi's view a commonplace from some ancient writer? The single councilor (Sejanus) may become tyrannical in his own right; the complete body cannot — either the Conseil d'État or the Academy. Richelieu goes on and on about the council in his Political Testament. Decades ago I showed how he came to control it absolutely. He would also control the Academy, and by fundamentally the same means: clientage.
In the paradox, CJ also searches for the social, a something different from political identity. His exploration of the writings and careers of Guez de Balzac and Jean Chapelain is neatly framed, as it were, by the contrary roles each played, and yet they knew each other and shared secrets. Balzac was, to put it mildly, a loose cannon, a troublion who in his early years had had a loose cannon as a protector, the Duc d'Épernon. At Véronique Larcade's defense, Bernard Barbiche characterized Épernon as poorly educated, especially when compared to Sully. But there were many grands who were poorly educated, yet maintained their own dignity, power, and wealth with some consistency. Épernon was not one of these – an extravagant and an important, avant la lettre, his vagaries and change of side left his clients in lurch after lurch.

And even if some separation developed between the Nogaret clan and Balzac, would not such a client-infested society as the Ancien Régime almost collectively remember that he and his family "belonged" to the Nogaret? CJ has not examined possible links between what was happened to Balzac's critical reputation and the particular political disaster befalling the Nogarets at the same moment, presumably because Adam long ago stressed this line of research.

And there is the issue of letters as a genre. Launched, of course, by their publisher, Balzac's Letters came on the market at a time when the letter genre was perhaps becoming less political, less learned, less diplomatic — in short, was once again becoming more rhetorical and polite. I could list letters (e.g. Duperron's) in all these subjects that fascinated readers during the early 1620s, even Chapelain's early work of 1623 (was it?) has a letter and a discours in it. So the point is that Balzac came onto a scene where the political, the learned, and the polite were frequently mixed, and with his mix certainly more polite than learned and political. The genre certainly had a venerable origin — after all, the first book ever printed in Paris (Barzizza) was about rhetoric as elucidated in Letters! A Humanist genre par excellence, Balzac's Letters also mixed political and literary concerns, a purely minted Humanist activity. (H.J. Martin, La naissance, p. 117).

What infuriates Garasse (among other things!) is that Balzac has no training in theology or any other discipline, yet he writes and publishes. Garasse's notion of the public is that one must have some professional authority before addressing it. He does not consider knowledge and skill at politeness and rhetoric to be sufficient. Balzac is a "nobody," yet his Letters attract attention. CJ does not explore, à la Gramsci, the role the market plays in all this; he presumably sees Balzac as seeking a reputation that will eventually attract a new protector for him, e.g., Richelieu. The loose cannon Balzac pressed into political intimacy — "connaissance des affaires," that is, wanting to let the public know that he knew, etc. Richelieu would have none of it.

As a result of H. Merlin's book, CJ has moved away from his view that there really was no public. Is the discursive space between Balzac and his critics "literary" or political? The question seems mal posée — for the answer is "both." Protection and clientage are political and social too. Le Boindre notes that so and so in the Grand'chambre gave a brilliant discours, full of learning, etc, but with no political impact on the Parlement's decisions! Balzac might write a dialogue that intentionally transcended current political topics, one that would not even affect debate except, for example, debates about the ancients versus the moderns.

Put simply, CJ has a frame — paradox and the origins of literature's power — that does not fit his picture of Balzac and Balzac's writings. In the political sphere there was certainly plenty of literary baggage; in literature there was certainly often veiled political engagement or at least comment. The new features in Balzac are his own voice, learning, authority, eloquence, and politeness. The characteristics squared with a general cultural evolution — away from atticist learning for the Robe, hostility to what was considered pedantic — in a frantic pursuit of a patriotic, consensual rhetoric that stressed control over the passions to the point of general hostility toward polemic.

In the next chapter, CJ traces the rise of Chapelain as literary advisor and writer to Richelieu, and the latter's successors. He is struck by the relative financial ease into which he was born, but does not bring this fact to bear on the analysis of Chapelain's career. The antithesis of the "loose cannon," the insider, but not a toady, Chapelain understood what Al Soman has so brilliantly elucidated and what Rob Schneider is also studying, namely the sense of duty to maintain consensus and near silence on matters of religion and politics. The silence and self- censorship observed by authors after the Wars of Religion was the pendant with Henry IV's, du Vair's, and later Richelieu's efforts to subdue polemic, debate, and even literary controversy. Chapelain understood his preparation of the "Sentiments..." as a matter of state. Renaudot's Conférences were reserved for certain subjects; Saint-Cyran was sent off to Vincennes because his views on grace and those of his friends (Jansen) on French foreign policy laid foundations for a parti, which is what Richelieu feared.

Chapelain may have grasped the fact that the Cardinal saw "literature" as a potential propaganda weapon, and also as a mental and social activity that would not threaten the stability of the state. Put another way, instead of following CJ on whether or not there was a public, I would argue that there was one indeed, and that a genuine fear about how it could be poisoned and lead to bloodshed remained strong down into the 1640s. Put simply, " y a grand péril à divertir le Peuple par des plaisirs qui peuvent produire un jour des douleurs publiques" (p. 125). Literature as a surrogate for the political — eloquence sustaining the state religion — would not endanger public order. Chapelain's service to the state must be seen in this context, and in his letters to Balzac he does what he can to give the latter a sense of vicarious participation in "affaires," but does not really share with him anything politically sensitive. He keeps Balzac on a string, or he tries to. And Richelieu changes from being quite consultative and at least interested in reform, to being a war prosecutor: after the failure of the Assembly of Notables, the early emphasis on war (Lublinskaya) and absolute government came together in the name of getting things done in Northern Italy.
A public sanitized (almost) of the political left panegyric and literature to flourish as young robe and country gents pursued court favor and army posts. (Yes, robe sons sometimes wanted to be army officers!)

For CJ's argument, literature will have to be like venality, a support for the crown in the beginning, and a force for opposition to the crown later on. The public would scarcely be allowed to "grow naturally." It would always be seen as something to construct by censoring or diverting some things, and fostering others. The rhetoric about literature in France would be constructed by writers who assume a moral authority not unlike priests (Bénichou) — transcendent and imperial. Indeed, as CJ observes, this rhetoric can become so overpowering that it can completely obscure harsh political facts, e.g. in Marc Fumaroli's comparison of the "brilliance" of the Academy late in the reign of Louis XV, with that of the 1930s (p. 379); while for me it is Fumaroli's libertarianism that often impedes his understanding of Richelieu and la Fontaine. In the former the powers of literature submerge the political; in the latter the political distorts the historical.

The increased autonomy gained by having a state-centered protector — in Chapelain's case, Richelieu — enhances the identity of the homme de lettres; but as CJ points out, engagement to the Cardinal, the king, and the Academy is another servitude, that paradox again. I think it would take a person of a very different makeup, say a religious radical millenarian, to perceive state service as servitude. Not Chapelain, so the point is anachronistic, the CJ frame not fitting Chapelain's career. His link to Longueville remained so strong that he asked whether he should leave Paris at the moment of the arrest of the princes, involved as Longueville was in their party. On his walls there hung not only a Corps de garde by Le Nain, but there were also portraits of Longueville, some other grands (and grandes!), Christine of Sweden, Urban VIII, Alexander VII, Richelieu, and Bentivoglio (Colas, p. 41). Always discrete and bien avec tout le monde (ou presque), Chapelain was more of a minister of literature than a writer. All his letters are merely letters, not literature; his verses — well.... Chapelain is "more free" than Balzac from servitude in political engagement, because he has several protectors?

CJ uses the concept of identity, but his understanding of its semantic field remains social, not ontological. In a very revealing quotation in which Chapelain narrates an encounter with the Cardinal and confesses that his own ability to be eloquent had evaporated. (This is a topos that goes back to who, I cannot say, but it is wonderfully exemplified in Petrarch's Secretum, where the poet describes meeting Saint Augustine and was virtually bouche bé.) But then Chapelain goes on to note: "... Je me sens élevé à un plus haut degré depuis que j'ay été inspiré de près par luy, et me tiens capable d'escrire héroïquement depuis qu'il a fortifié ma main en me la pressant de la sienne" (P. 116). What does Chapelain mean by "plus haut degré"? His very being is elevated as in a mystical experience of union with the divine — the still sacred dimensions of literature, and of what we call creativity, are evident here: being able to write heroically requires the presence of the muses, or of a great (and learned) orator in the handshake of a prince of the Church. Like the laying-on of hands in the various greetings and ceremonies of the Church, the handshake of Richelieu, sustained by a sweet, melodic voice, moves Chapelain's being, or at least so he believed. But what of the fact that Chapelain addressed these sentences to Boisrobert?

Abbie Zanger could never think Racine was sincere when he wrote praise about Louis XIV. In Chapelain the great consistency, the discretion about persons in authority, and probably a love for them (remember the portraits) suggests that he could sincerely pay court to Richelieu through Boisrobert. And his fidelity regarding Gesvres is cut from the same cloth. Juxtapositions? Balzac, de Viau, and a certain abandonment by a loose cannon; and the Chapelain-Gesvres fidelity? Not at all. De Viau's fate was so much more grave and aberrant. Balzac may be excused.

Chapter III is a stunning general exploration of the writing of contemporary history, and monarchical powers of direction and censorship. Well-known themes such as the fate of the royal historiographers who worked to historicize Louis XIV are combined with interesting new readings, particularly of Dupleix. I shall not go into what it meant to be a historiographe, nor review what is said about Sorel's historical projects, except to say that his civic intentions (p. 169) confirm that frame political rather than the frame social. And one must also recall that others — not just kings, but princes, bishops, and cities — had their historiographers. This "office" was not quite a dignity, despite efforts to define it as such; but to think of it as social is so general as to be meaningless.
Did Dupleix consider Richelieu to be a favori? He seems to have been answering someone who accuses Richelieu of being too powerful, but it's not clear that the basis for that power was considered favoritism. There is a long tradition of understanding the differences between favorites such as Olivares and Buckingham, and the not-favorite, Richelieu. (Ranke is superb on this!)
By not keeping his distance, and by quoting the Cardinal, or almost, Dupleix might well have met the same fate as many others who claimed special knowledge. The Cardinal's death opened possibilities here — but Dupleix never assumes the rank of a civic observer distant enough from the Cardinal to sustain his perspective or lay claim to being truthful. He is a kind of courtly historiographe favori!

Perhaps the most brilliant of CJ's close readings is his apposition of Sorel on the particularities in Richelieu's grammar (lots of subjunctives in not always typical places!) And Dupleix's virtual quoting of the Cardinal, with this grammar of doubt or extreme doubt regarding Bérulle's doings in 1630. But what are we to make of Sorel's assertion that Richelieu's power rested on language and regional, special grammatical usages? The word Sorel uses is crédit (see Kettering's article) about what Dupleix reports. I must really try sometime to gather all the 17th-century interpretations of the Cardinal's powers, including the one about his enlarged optic nerves (in John Locke's papers). CJ's use of the words "le pouvoir" can be translated almost better by "crédit" than by "power."

Little new ground is broken on the question of just how Richelieu envisaged writing his own history. Some allusion to the Testament politique, in particular the letter to the king, might have helped pages 220-223. I would have to check my old notes, but I think I may have missed Chapelain's succinct statement about the sober, restrictive language that he deemed necessary for history (p. 227). This view is not far from Pasquier's, and it raises possibilities for exploring again (!) the limits of rhetoric in history, the possibilities of a new dialogue with Françoise Waquet (her review of Artisans of Glory) being evident.

The return to Balzac's letters, this time with the comments of Girard (Épernon's faithful historian), further elucidates the sense of public at work. The Duke of Épernon was no less a Duke as a result of the public fact that Balzac had written some of his most important letters — not unlike speech- and letter-writing by heads of state today. But perhaps Balzac was too indiscrete not only for Richelieu but for Épernon as well!

The summary of the old research on Richelieu's writing of history contains some interesting quotations, notably about how correspondence could be transformed into history. The example on p. 218 is grist for my mill, as it provides, in two forms, clear evidence for the existence of public opinion — the term is even used, and there is intense concern about the effects of libels on it. Reader, do read these quotations!

CJ reaches toward what is, for him, a supposition about why Richelieu and others worked so hard at writing history. He almost senses their belief in the powers of language. I don't think morceaux of "documents" and maxims were the same for the Cardinal, a good reader of Tacitus. Nor was the history to be of his ministry, but of the reign (p. 221), a major difference in perspective. The Testament politique cannot be ignored here (p. 221).

But I shall stop these quibbles after noting just one more. CJ seems unable to imagine readers being interested in politics, or secret affairs being decided in cabinets (p.229). Reading letters and memoirs and histories is a form of civic action — vicariously working through what politically happened. These readers were part of the public, or thought they were.

Balzac's continual revision and release of the same texts, and his play with authorial voice, probably changed over such a long life. To infer that histoire can become part of histoires (P. 247) may help to clarify genres, but the important issue here is to displace an act of near lèse-majesté (Épernon at Blois) from history, to fiction. Balzac goes on apologizing for Épernon and himself by lightening the genre of his action. Richelieu recognizes that he was on the same (Marie's) side and therefore implicitly guilty (Mémoires). Later in life, Balzac is not unlike Retz and Bussy — full of bittersweet memories and constructions. Being an author and writing histoires scarcely renders literature less explicitly engaged. Balzac had to remain faithful to a memory of protection, or he could have been accused of infidelity, vide Morgues on Richelieu!

"Créateur autonome," (p. 250): Well, it was not for lack of trying to belong!! And he did not fail because of principles strongly held. No, he simply lacked prudence and discretion in an age that feared civil and religious strife. The broader, more general theme in his life work is to change registers from the historical to the fictional, all through his work — and in doing this, he often explicitly acts as an apologist for one or another Nogaret bévue.

Regarding the Epilogue: Has CJ read Y. Castan's chapter in Vol. III of the Histoire de la Vie privée? It was the state that created society — freeing individuals from families, communities, corporations, and castes. Were writers on the same trajectory? We can understand their "soumission acceptée" (CJ's words) more easily. So many of Louis XIII's subjects were eager to render service — including writers, nobles, judges — in return for recognition, reward, compensation.

Writing as civic action, or reputation (gloire), or remuneration through market sales, or reward in the form of protection and compensation. No option can be elucidated as an isolated option; the "alienated individual" was only a religious radical or prophet. CJ's frame does not fit the seventeenth century: he asserts that state service left writers "plus libres" in the society of their time (p. 367). Libres in what sense? At moments, Balzac seems imprisoned by his compulsive desire to act literarily and politically — Montaigne warned against the dangers of overly intense political engagement. Balzac and Machiavelli are cut from the same activist politics.

One may disagree with CJ here and there, but one always benefits from his learning and his example of analytical-civic-historical engagement.