The Hatred of Literature - William Marx 2015



1. At least if one is to believe Plato.

2. William Marx, L’Adieu à la littérature: histoire d’une dévalorisation (XVIIIe—XXe siècles) (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 2005). See also Reinhard Baumgart, Addio: Abschied von der Literatur: Variationen über ein altes Thema (Munich: Hanser, 1995); Laurent Nunez, Les Écrivains contre l’écriture (1900—2000) (Paris: Corti, 2006), and Si je m’écorchais vif (Paris: Grasset, 2015). Often, the use of the term anti-literature has been restricted to discourse originating in literature itself (see, for example, Adrian Marino, “Tendances esthétiques,” in Jean Weisgerber, ed., Les Avant-gardes littéraires au XXe siècles, 2 vols. [Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1984], 2:678—685). This will not be the case in this volume, which deals nearly exclusively with nonliterary anti-literature.

3. Admittedly, one can find acoustic anti-music (musique concrète, for instance) or visual anti-painting (Marcel Duchamp), but these fall within the realm of art, or are at the very least eventually reintegrated into art. The medium of language raises the modern question of art with much sharper contrast.

4. The first to attempt a systematic survey of these anti-literary discourses is Adrian Marino in his Biography of “The Idea of Literature” from Antiquity to the Baroque, trans. Virgil Stanciu and Charles M. Carlton (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996), to which this volume owes a great deal; each historical part ends with a section entitled “Denying Literature.” I must also not forget to mention the great precursor, Abbé Simon-Augustin Irail, and his Querelles littéraires ou mémoires pour servir à l’histoire des révolutions de la république des lettres, depuis Homère jusqu’à nos jours (Paris: Durand, 1761), published in four methodically organized volumes.

5. On the dispute against theater, see Laurent Thirouin, L’Aveuglement salutaire: le réquisitoire contre le théâtre dans la France classique (Paris: Champion, 1997). A symposium organized by François Lecercle and Clotilde Touret on “the hatred of theater” from Antiquity to the nineteenth century was recently held at the Université Paris-Sorbonne (October 23—25, 2014); the proceedings are forthcoming from Garnier. On the polemic over fiction, see Teresa Chevrolet, L’Idée de fable: théories de la fiction poétique à la Renaissance (Geneva: Droz, 2007); Anne Duprat and Teresa Chevrolet, “La Bataille des fables: conditions de l’émergence d’une théorie de la fiction en Europe (XIVe—XVIIe siècles),” in Françoise Lavocat and Anne Duprat, eds., Fictions et Cultures (Paris: Société française de littérature générale et comparée, 2010), 291—308.

Words from Elsewhere

1. The Iliad of Homer, trans. Richmond Lattimore (1951; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), 8.293—299. This is the translation used for quotations from The Iliad throughout this chapter. Lattimore’s spellings of proper names are retained in quotations. Unless otherwise noted, all other translations were translated into French by the author and subsequently into English by the translator.

2. A scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s 3D film Dial M for Murder (1954). On the role of deictics and enunciative effects in Greek poetry, see Egbert J. Bakker, “Homeric Hoûtos and the Poetics of Deixis,” Classical Philology 94, no. 1 (January 1999): 1—19, and Pointing to the Past: From Formula to Performance in Homeric Poetics (Cambridge, MA: Center for Hellenic Studies, 2005), 71—91, 154—176; see also Claude Calame, “Deictic Ambiguity and Auto-Referentiality: Some Examples from Greek Poetics,” Aruthesa 37, no. 3 (2004): 415—443, and Masques d’autorité: fiction et pragmatique dans la poétique grecque antique (Paris: Belles Lettres, 2005), esp. 13—40.

3. Iliad 8.300—301.

4. See William Marx, “Valéry, Flaubert, et les oiseaux qui marchent: généalogie d’une image,” Revue d’histoire littéraire de la France 103, no. 4 (2003): 919—931. Translation by Cecil Day-Lewis in Le Cimetière marin / The Graveyard by the Sea (London: Secker & Warburg, 1946).

5. Iliad 3.166—170, 178—179.

6. Odyssey 8.489—492. Translation by Richmond Lattimore, from The Odyssey of Homer (New York: Harper & Row, 1965). Subsequent English translations are also from this edition.

7. Odyssey 8.487—488, 496—500.

8. Translator’s note: Rimbaud’s original phrase was “Je est un autre.”

9. The reader will have recognized a variation on the myth of the invention of literature as so engagingly told by Nabokov: the Neanderthal child crying wolf without having a wolf on his trail. See Lectures on Literature (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980).

10. Stéphane Mallarmé, “Avant-Dire” au Traité du verbe par René Ghil (1886). Translator’s note: English translation from “Stéphane Mallarmé,” Poetry Foundation website,

11. Mallarmé, “The Tomb of Edgar Poe,” trans. Mary Ann Caws, in Selected Poetry and Prose, ed. Mary Ann Caws (New York: New Directions, 1982).

12. Iliad 1.1; Odyssey 1.1.

13. Iliad 2.485—492.

14. Hesiod, Theogony 27, 32.

15. Homeric hymns to Hermes, Aphrodite, Artemis, to the mother of the gods, and to Pan.

16. Iliad 1.1—7.

17. For a detailed analysis of the various situations of utterance, see C. Calame, Le Récit en Grèce ancienne: énonciations et représentations de poètes (Paris: Méridiens Klincksieck, 1986), 37—43.

18. See Penelope Murray, “Poetic Inspiration in Early Greece,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 101 (1981): 87—100.

19. See Ann Banfield, Unspeakable Sentences (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982).

20. The Shadow over Innsmouth (1936).

21. See Pausanias, Description of Greece 9.29.2—3, and more generally, on the Muses as bearers of truth, Marcel Detienne, Les Maîtres de vérité dans la Grèce archaïque (1967; Paris: Livre de Poche, 2006), 59—84; Roberto Calasso, La Folie qui vient des nymphes, trans. Jean-Paul Manganaro (Paris: Flammarion, 2012).

22. Plutarch, The Oracles at Delphi No Longer Given in Verse 24.406c. Translation by Frank Cole Babbitt, in Moralia, Volume V, Loeb Classical Library 306 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1936).

23. Paul Valéry, The Pythoness, in Charms (1922). Translation by David Paul in Collected Works of Paul Valéry, vol. 1 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971), 177.

24. Odyssey 22.347—348. Adapted by the author from the translation by Richmond Lattimore.

First Trial: Authority

1. Homeric Hymn to Selene, line 20.

2. See the Prologue. Plato, The Republic 3.398a.

3. Epistle to the Romans 7:7.

4. Let us recall here what was said in the Introduction, namely that for the sake of linguistic convenience, in this volume the word literature refers to what was historically referred to as such as of the late eighteenth century, a term that was also applied retroactively.

5. Xenophanes of Colophon frag. 1, in Fragments, ed. J. H. Lesher (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001).

6. Frag. 10 and 11. See also frag. 12.

7. See Glenn Most, “What Ancient Quarrel between Philosophy and Poetry?” in Pierre Destrée and Fritz-Gregor Herrmann, eds., Plato and the Poets (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 4—5.

8. Heraclitus of Ephesus DK 40. Updated from the translation by John Burnet in Early Greek Philosophy (London: A. and C. Black, 1920). All quotations from Heraclitus in this chapter are from this translation.

9. Heraclitus DK 57.

10. Heraclitus DK 88, 67, and 60.

11. Heraclitus DK 42.

12. See the inscription of Paros, in Archilochus, Fragments, ed. François Lasserre (Paris: Belles Lettres, Collection des Universités de France, 1968), p. cv; Douglas E. Gerber, ed. and trans., Greek Iambic Poetry: From the Seventh to the Fifth Centuries BC, Loeb Classical Library 259 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 18—21.

13. See Plutarch’s account in Archilochus, Fragments, pp. cvii—cviii; Gerber, ed. and trans., Greek Iambic Poetry, 40—41.

14. Heraclitus DK 56.

15. See Heraclitus DK 1 and 50.

16. See Alfred and Maurice Croiset, Histoire de la littérature grecque, 2 vols. (Paris: Thorin, 1887—1899), 2:469—471.

17. Heraclitus DK 92.

18. See Heraclitus DK 73 and 89.

19. The bibliography on Plato’s condemnation of poetry is considerable. In particular, see Thomas Gould, The Ancient Quarrel Between Poetry and Philosophy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990); Penelope Murray, ed., Plato on Poetry (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996); Susan B. Levin, The Ancient Quarrel between Philosophy and Poetry Revisited: Plato and the Greek Literary Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 127—167; Ramona A. Naddaff, Exiling the Poets: The Production of Censorship in Plato’s “Republic” (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002); P. Destrée and F.-G. Herrmann, eds., Plato and the Poets.

20. Plato, The Republic 3.398a. Translation by Allan Bloom in The Republic of Plato (1968; New York: Basic Books, 2016). All quotations from The Republic below are from this translation.

21. Plato, The Republic 3.398a—b.

22. Ibid. 3.389b.

23. Plato, Ion 534b. Translation updated from W. R. M. Lamb in Plato, Statesman, Philebus, Ion, trans. H. N. Fowler and W. R. M. Lamb, Loeb Classical Library 164 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1925).

24. In Meno (99c—d), Socrates defines as “divine” those “who, having no intelligence, yet succeed in many a great deed and word.” These include the prophets, soothsayers, poets, and statesmen.

25. See Laurent Nunez’s beautiful remark about Plato’s “rejection of authorship” in Si je m’écorchais vif (Paris: Grasset, 2015), 68.

26. See Marcel Detienne, Les Maîtres de vérité dans la Grèce archaïque (1967; Paris: Livre de Poche, 2006), 8.

27. Plato, The Republic 10.614b, 10.620c—d.

28. See ibid. 10.620b; and Odyssey 11.542—564. The numerical coincidence (despite the fact that the accuracy of the count in The Odyssey is debatable) is noted by Bloom, Republic of Plato, 436.

29. Leo Strauss, The City and the Man (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1964).

30. Diogenes Laertius, Life of Plato, 5, in Lives of Eminent Philosophers, vol. 1, trans. R. D. Hicks, Loeb Classical Library 184 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1925).

31. This thesis partially echoes Arthur C. Danto’s argument in The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986).

32. Isocrates, Evagoras 11, adapted from the translation by La Rue Van Hook, in Isocrates, vol. 3, Loeb Classical Library 373 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1945). This is a characteristic example of “anticipatory plagiarism,” to which Pierre Bayard has devoted a book: Le Plagiat par anticipation (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 2009).

33. Isocrates, Antidosis 166.

34. On the absence of a unifying mythology in Greece, see C. Calame’s brilliant reflections in Qu’est ce que la mythologie grecque? (Paris: Gallimard, Folio, 2015), esp. 23—76.

35. Plato, Laws, 7.817 b—d. Translation by Tom Griffith, in Malcolm Schofield, ed. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

36. This is precisely the paradox of the “gap” between Antiquity and us, as theorized by Florence Dupont: both inside and outside. See F. Dupont, L’Antiquité, territoire des écarts (Paris: Albin Michel, 2015), 291.

37. Matthew 11:25 (King James version).

38. 1 Corinthians 1:17; 19—20. Paul quotes Isaiah 29:14. The biblical quote has been revised by the author to be closer to the Greek.

39. On the complicated historical relationship between Christianity and literary culture, see Helmut Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: Harper, 1951).

40. Jerome, letter 70, to Magnus; quoted by Michel Zink, “La vérité à la lettre: foi, poésie, vérité,” in Olivier Guerrier, ed., La Vérité (Saint-Étienne: Publications de l’Université de Saint-Étienne, 2014), 19. Jerome still seems to be trying to exorcise the famous dream in which God had accused him of being “Ciceronian, rather than Christian” (letter 22.30).

41. Augustine of Hippo, On Christian Doctrine 2.40.60; quoted by Zink, “La vérité à la lettre.”

42. Isidore of Seville, Sentences 3.13.2—4. The reference is to the Second Epistle to the Corinthians 4:7.

43. Isidore, Sentences 3.13.8.

44. Ibid. 3.13.7.

45. Psalm 70:15—16, quoted by Isidore, Sentences 3.13.9.

46. See La Bible de Jérusalem: édition de référence (Paris: Fleurus / Cerf, 2001), 1236 note hp.

47. Augustine, Expositions of the Psalms 70.19.

48. Isidore, Sentences 3.13.11.

49. See the Third Trial.

50. Gregory I the Great, letter to Leander of Seville 5.516b, in Morals on the Book of Job, trans. John R. C. Martyn, in The Letters of Gregory the Great (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2004).

51. Ibid. 5.516c.

52. Gregory I the Great, Morals on the Book of Job 18.46.74. Quoted and translated into French by Claude Dagens in “Grégoire le Grand et la culture: de la ’sapientia huius mundi’ à la ’docta ignorantia,Revue des études augustiniennes 14, no. 1—2 (1968): 17—26. English translation from the French.

53. Guibert of Nogent, On the Relics of Saints 1. Translated by Joseph McAlhany and Jay Rubenstein in Monodies and On the Relics of Saints (New York: Penguin Books, 2011), 217.

54. Pierre Damien, Letters, in Patrologia latina 144 col. 76 (Reindel no. 21, 2): “mea igitur grammatica Christus est.”

55. Ecclesiastes 12:11. This is from the Vulgate.

56. I have borrowed these significant examples of the use of the word “poet” in the Middle Ages from Zink, “La vérité à la lettre,” 20—22.

57. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1a.1.9 arg. 1. Quoted by Umberto Eco in The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas, trans. Hugh Bredin (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988). The translation used here and below is by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province (New York: Benzinger, 1947—1948).

58. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1a.1.9 co.

59. Ibid. 1a.1.9 ad 2. The reference is to Matthew 7:6.

60. Ibid. 1a.1.9 ad 3.

61. Ibid. 1a—2ae.101.2 ad 2. Quoted by Eco, Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas.

62. See the Third Trial.

63. These reflections on Ancient Rome owe a great deal, including in their form, to my exchanges with Florence Dupont, whom I warmly thank for her luminous remarks. I am, however, solely responsible for the opinions expressed.

Second Trial: Truth

1. Charles Percy Snow, The Two Cultures (1959; Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 13—15.

2. The French translation of C. P. Snow’s lecture, by Claude Noël, was not published until 1968, by Jean-Jacques Pauvert, under the title Les Deux Cultures (The two cultures), in the “Libertés nouvelles” collection edited by Jean-François Revel, which notably included works by Tristan Tzara, Henry David Thoreau, and Jean Paulhan. This time-lag in the lecture’s reception may have something to do with the fact that this debate was nothing new in France, where the technocratic culture of which Snow was a perfect example had long ago triumphed. From the beginning of the twentieth century, the traditional humanities had been classified in the category of social sciences (see the beautiful text by Jean Starobinski, “Scientific Language and Poetic Language,” in Walter Rüegg, ed., Meeting the Challenges of the Future: A Discussion between “The Two Cultures,” Balzan Symposium 2002 [Florence: Olschki, 2003], 21—32, 63—64); in schools, the division between literature and sciences had been a reality for decades (perhaps even since the introduction in 1852 of the “bifurcation,” a reform that gave science a new prominence in the secondary school curriculum: see Paul Aron and Alain Viala, L’Enseignement littéraire [Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 2005], 52—54); and the polemic against literature had been carried out by writers themselves for nearly a century (see William Marx, L’Adieu à la littérature: histoire d’une dévalorisation (XVIIIe—XXe siècles) [Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 2005]). Additionally, the conceptual and stylistic vacuity of Snow’s argument did not offer much to attract French intellectuals: you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

3. See Guy Ortolano, The Two Cultures Controversy: Science, Literature, and Cultural Politics in Postwar Britain (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 60; Philip Snow, Stranger and Brother: A Portrait of C. P. Snow (London: Macmillan, 1982), 117.

4. See Stefan Collini, “Introduction,” in Snow, The Two Cultures, vii—lxxiii.

5. Snow, The Two Cultures, 11—14, 23.

6. C. P. Snow, “The Two Cultures,” New Statesman and Nation, October 6, 1956, 413. My italics. Harwell was the center for British nuclear research, Hampstead a bourgeois, intellectual area of London. Los Alamos and New York’s Greenwich Village are the U.S. equivalents.

7. Ibid., 414. In the 1959 version, the comparison of Harwell and Hampstead is no longer present as such: with a change in perspective, it is replaced by the correspondence between Greenwich Village and Chelsea; the emphasis is now on the similarities between literary circles on either side of the Atlantic (Two Cultures, 2).

8. This argument has a long history: see the Third Trial.

9. Snow, The Two Cultures, 7.

10. Ibid., 7—8.

11. Snow, “The Two Cultures,” 414.

12. Julien Benda, La Trahison des clercs (Paris: Grasset, 1927).

13. Julien Benda, La France byzantine, ou le Triomphe de la littérature pure: Mallarmé, Gide, Valéry, Alain, Giraudoux, Suarès, les Surréalistes. Essai d’une psychologie originelle du littérateur (Paris: Gallimard, 1945). C. P. Snow’s critique of “Alexandrianism” is in “Challenge to the Intellect,” Times Literary Supplement, August 15, 1958, iii.

14. Snow, “The Two Cultures,” 414.

15. Theodor W. Adorno, Prisms, trans. Samuel and Shierry Weber (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1981), 34. See Marx, L’Adieu à la littérature, 123—124.

16. T. W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, trans. E. B. Ashton (New York: Continuum Publishing Company, 1973), 367.

17. Snow, The Two Cultures, 22.

18. Snow, “Challenge to the Intellect.”

19. See Ortolano, The Two Cultures Controversy, 95.

20. Edith Sitwell, [untitled], Spectator, no. 6977, March 16, 1962, 331.

21. “The Two Cultures,” Spectator, no. 6979, March 30, 1962, 387—388.

22. Frank Raymond Leavis, “The Two Cultures? The Significance of C. P. Snow,” Spectator, no. 6976, March 9, 1962, 297. (Reprinted in Leavis, Nor Shall My Sword: Discourses on Pluralism, Compassion, and Social Hope [London: Chatto & Windus, 1972], 41.)

23. Ibid. (Nor Shall My Sword, 42).

24. Ibid., 297—298 (Nor Shall My Sword, 44—45).

25. Ibid., 299 (Nor Shall My Sword, 47).

26. See Collini, “Introduction,” xx; Snow, Stranger and Brother, 35.

27. Snow, The Two Cultures, 44. Leavis, “The Two Cultures?” 300 (Nor Shall My Sword, 53).

28. Leavis, “The Two Cultures?” 303 (Nor Shall My Sword, 61—62).

29. Snow, “The Two Cultures: A Second Look,” in The Two Cultures, 71. See also Wolf Lepenies, Les Trois Cultures: entre science et littérature, l’avènement de la sociologie, trans. Henri Plard (Paris: Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 1990), 151—191.

30. Snow, The Two Cultures, 9.

31. This debate had been raging in the British academy since the nineteenth century, as described by Lepenies, Les Trois Cultures.

32. See the Fourth Trial.

33. Matthew Arnold, “Joubert” (1865), in Selected Prose, ed. P. J. Keating (1970; London: Penguin Books, 1987), 172; “The Study of Poetry,” in ibid., 341. See, for example, F. R. Leavis, “Luddites? Or There Is Only One Culture” (1966), in Nor Shall My Sword, 97: “the judgments the literary critic is concerned with are judgments about life.”

34. See Marx, L’Adieu à la littérature, 68—73.

35. Lionel Trilling, “Science, Literature, and Culture: A Comment on the Leavis—Snow Controversy,” Commentary, June 1962, 461—477. See Collini, “Introduction,” xxxviii—xl; Ortolano, Two Cultures Controversy, 198—200.

36. George Steiner, “F. R. Leavis,” Encounter no. 104, May 1962, 37—45, collected in Language and Silence: Essays on Language, Literature, and the Inhuman (1967; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 221—238. The passage quoted is on page 42 (Language and Silence, 233, with additional commentary by Steiner). French editions of Language and Silence, including the latest (Langage et Silence [Paris: Belles Lettres, 2010]), do not include this article, probably because both Leavis and the controversy about the “two cultures” are totally unknown in France—a state of ignorance which this omission does nothing to correct. On Steiner’s relationship with Snow, see Ortolano, Two Cultures Controversy, 125—126.

37. See Ortolano, Two Cultures Controversy, 99.

38. Leavis, “The Two Cultures?” 297 (Nor Shall My Sword, 42).

39. Thomas Henry Huxley, “Science and Culture” (lecture delivered on October 1, 1880), in Science and Culture, and Other Essays (New York: Appleton, 1882), 7—30.

40. M. Arnold, “Literature and Science” (lecture delivered on June 14, 1882), in Philistinism in England and America, ed. R. H. Super (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1974), 53—73 (with an abundant critical apparatus, 462—470, 546—554).

41. Trilling, “Science, Literature, and Culture,” 461—462.

42. May the spirits of Karl Marx and George Santayana forgive me for grafting these quotes!

43. On these shifts in literature, see Marx, L’Adieu à la littérature.

44. On this, see Gilles Philippe, Le Rêve du style parfait (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2013), 42—54.

45. Charles Maurras, lecture on Anatole France delivered at the Théâtre de l’Avenue on April 16, 1932, partially reprinted in “Renan (Ernest)” in Dictionnaire politique et critique, Pierre Chardon, ed. (Paris: À la cité des livres, 1932), 4:390.

46. Jules Huret, Enquête sur l’évolution littéraire (Paris: Charpentier, 1891), 420—421.

47. Ibid., 421—422.

48. Ibid., 422.

49. Arnold, “Literature and Science,” 57. The allusion is to Ernest Renan, “Le petit séminaire Saint-Nicolas du Chardonnet” (1880), in Souvenirs d’enfance et de jeunesse (1883), reprinted in Oeuvres complètes, ed. Henriette Psichari (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1947—1961), 2:818. On Renan’s criticism of what he calls the “superficial humanism” prevalent at the school, see Jean Seznec, “Renan et la philologie classique,” in Classical Influences on Western Thought, A.D. 1650—1870. Proceedings of an International Conference Held at King’s College, Cambridge, March 1977, ed. R. R. Bolgar (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 349—362.

50. Ernest Renan, L’Avenir de la science: pensées de 1848 (1890), reprinted in Oeuvres complètes, 3:804—805. Quoted by Marius-Ary Leblond (pseudonym of Marius and Ari Leblond), “Le Roman et la Science,” Revue universelle (1902), 2:425.

51. Ernest Renan, “Probabilités” (1871), in Dialogues et fragments philosophiques (1876), reprinted in Oeuvres complètes, 1:599—600.

52. Ibid., 1:600.

53. Ibid.

54. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Lectures on Aesthetics (1835). Cited from the French edition, Esthétique (Paris: Librairie générale française, 1997), 2:401 (part 3, sect. 3, chap. 3, intro., 1). See Marx, L’Adieu à la littérature, 52—53.

55. Ernest Renan, “Prière sur l’Acropole” (1876), in Souvenirs, 759. See Marx, L’Adieu à la littérature, 57—59.

56. Jean Le Rond d’Alembert, “Réflexions sur la poésie, écrites à l’occasion des pièces que l’Académie française a reçues en 1760 pour le concours” (speech delivered on August 25, 1760), in Oeuvres complètes (Paris: Belin, 1822), 4:292.

57. D’Alembert personally notified Voltaire of the praise he had given him in his speech (letter dated September 2, 1760, D9184, in Voltaire, Correspondence, ed. Théodore Besterman, vol. 22, in Complete Works [Banbury: Voltaire Foundation, 1972], 106:88): “On the feast of Saint Louis, I read a piece against bad poets and in your honor at the Académie Française. I only found you to have two unforgivable failings, that of being French and alive. That is what I concluded with, and the audience applauded, much less for me than for you.”

58. D’Alembert, “Réflexions,” 297.

59. Ibid., 292.

60. Ibid., 294—295.

61. D’Alembert, “Discours lu à l’Académie française, le 25 Août 1771, avant la distribution des prix d’éloquence et de poésie,” in Oeuvres complètes, 4:317—320.

62. D’Alembert, “Réflexions,” 294.

63. Ibid., 295—296.

64. In 1675, Father René Le Bossu asked the question in an entirely theoretical manner (Traité du poème épique [1675], [Paris: Musier, 1708], 38—29): “If one wrote an epic in prose, would it be an epic poem? I do not think so, because a poem is a speech in verse. Nonetheless, that would not prevent it from being an epic; just as a tragedy in prose is not a tragic poem, and remains a tragedy.” In 1731, Jean Soubeiran de Scopon pleaded at length for tragedies to be written in prose in his “Réflexions à l’occasion du Brutus de M. Voltaire, et de son discours sur la tragédie,” Mercure de France, April 1731, 632—655. In the eighteenth century, criticism of versification had become such a commonplace in literary debates that it was sometimes—however paradoxically—expressed in verse, as was the case with Antoine Houdar de La Motte. See Jean Ranscelot, “Les manifestations du déclin poétique au début du XVIIIe siècle,” Revue d’histoire littéraire de la France 33 (1927): 497—520; Sylvain Menant, La Chute d’Icare: la crise de la poésie française (1700—1750) (Geneva: Droz, 1981), 47—110; Guillaume Peureux, La Fabrique du vers (Paris: Seuil, 2009), 367—439.

65. D’Alembert, “Suite des réflexions sur la poésie, et sur l’ode en particulier,” in Oeuvres complètes, 4:301.

66. On Isocrates, see the First Trial in this book. Charles Perrault, Parallèle des anciens et des modernes en ce qui regarde la poésie (Paris: Coignard, 1692), 3:123—124. See Ranscelot, “Les manifestations du déclin poétique,” 504—505.

67. Walter Benjamin, The Concept of Criticism in German Romanticism, trans. David Lachterman, Howard Eiland, and Ian Balfour, in Selected Writings: 1913—1926 (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1996), 173.

68. Carl Gustav Jochmann, Die Rückschritte der Poesie (1828; Hamburg: Meiner, 1982). See Walter Benjamin, “ ’The Regression of Poetry’ by Carl Gustav Jochmann,” in Selected Writings: 1938—1940, ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003), 356—381; Marx, L’Adieu à la littérature, 168—169.

69. “Lettre à M. Fréron sur la sortie que M. d’Alembert a fait le jour de la Saint-Louis à l’Académie Française contre la poésie et les poètes,” L’Année littéraire (1760), 176.

70. Michel Paul Guy de Chabanon, Sur le sort de la poésie en ce siècle philosophe (Paris: Jorry, 1764), 7.

71. D’Alembert, “Réflexions,” 292.

72. D’Alembert, “Discours,” 315—316.

73. D’Alembert, “Dialogue entre la poésie et la philosophie, pour servir de préliminaire et de base a un traité de paix et d’amitiés perpétuelle entre l’une et l’autre,” in Oeuvres complètes, 4:374—375.

74. Ibid., 4:380.

75. Plato, The Republic 2.378e—383c.

76. Ibid. 2.378a—e.

77. Ibid. 10.595a—607b.

78. Ibid. 10.607e—608b.

79. According to Glenn Most (“What Ancient Quarrel Between Poetry and Philosophy?” in Pierre Destrée and Fritz-Gregor Herrmann, eds., Plato and the Poets [Leiden: Brill, 2011], 1—20), the quarrel is not as old as Socrates claims: Plato only sought to give the antagonism between the two discourses an archetypal dimension.

80. Republic 10.607b—c.

81. Ibid. 7.521c.

82. Ibid. 7.522c—535a.

83. On this myth, see the First Trial.

84. D’Alembert, “Dialogues,” 381.

85. Leonard da Vinci, Codex Atlanticus, fol. 327v; quoted by Giuseppina Fumagalli, Leonardo, omo sanza lettere (Florence: Sanzoni, 1952), 38. See Adrian Marino, “Tendances esthétiques,” in Jean Weisgerber, ed., Les Avant-gardes littéraires au XXe siècles, 2 vols. (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1984), 2:147.

86. Leonardo, Codex Atlanticus, fol. 207r. Translated by Jean Paul Richter in Leonardo da Vinci: Notebooks, ed. Irma Richter (1952; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 264. Adapted where necessary.

87. René Descartes, Discourse on Method, trans. Donald A. Cress (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1998), 4—6.

88. Lodovico Castelvetro, Poetica d’Aristotele vulgarazitta e sposta, ed. Werther Romani (Rome: Laterza, 1978), 1:45—46.

89. On the opposition between poetry and literature understood as knowledge, see the highly enlightening reflections of Adrian Marino in “Tendances esthétiques,” 147—149, 197—200. See also the Fourth Trial.

90. Malherbe as quoted by Tallement des Réaux, Historiettes, ed. Antoine Adam, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade (Paris: Gallimard, 1960), 1:115.

91. Gregory Currie, “Let’s Pretend: Literature and the Psychology Lab,” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5657, September 2, 2011, 14—15.

92. This is Daniel Wegner’s thesis, as described by Currie, “Let’s Pretend,” 15.

93. Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way, trans. Lydia Davis (New York: Viking Penguin, 2003), 396.

94. Paul Valéry, The Young Fate, in Collected Works of Paul Valéry, trans. David Paul (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971), 1:69.

95. Currie, “Let’s Pretend,” 15.

96. Gregory Currie, “Does Great Literature Make Us Better?” New York Times, June 1, 2013, available at A version of this article was published in the print edition of the New York Times with the headline “Does Fiction Civilize Us?” February 6, 2013, SR12.

97. Carol Tavris, “Porch Companions” (review of David Brooks, The Social Animal: A Story of How Success Happens), Times Literary Supplement no. 5657, September 2, 2011, 13.

Third Trial: Morality

1. Bernard Lamy, Nouvelles Réflexions sur l’art poétique (Paris: Pralard, 1668), 108.

2. Tanneguy Le Fèvre, “Préface,” in Le Premier Alcibiade de Platon traduit en Français par M. Le Fèvre (1666; Amsterdam: Rey, 1776), xi.

3. Ibid., xi—xii.

4. Romans 7:15. See Euripides, Medea lines 1074—1080.

5. Le Fèvre, “Préface,” xiii—xiv.

6. Tanneguy Le Fèvre, Méthode pour commencer les humanités grecques et latines (1672; Paris: Brocas et Simon, 1731), 6—8.

7. Ibid., 66. The poems are on pages 66 and 71.

8. Ibid., 67.

9. Ibid.

10. François Graverol, Mémoires pour servir à la vie de Tanneguy Le Fèvre (1686), in Albert-Henri Sallengre, Mémoires de littérature (The Hague: Du Sauzet, 1717), vol. 2, part 2:16.

11. This debate is further discussed later in the chapter. See also Giovanni Saverio Santangelo, Madame Dacier, una filologa nella crisi (1672—1720) (Rome: Bulzoni, 1984).

12. See Santangelo, Madame Dacier, 41—42n26; Jean Ranscelot, “Les manifestations du déclin poétique au début du XVIIIe siècle,” Revue d’histoire littéraire de la France 33 (1927): 502—504.

13. Tanneguy Le Fèvre fils, De futilitate poetices (Amsterdam: Desbordes, 1697), table of contents (Index capitum, non-paginated). These quotations and the following are translated from the Latin.

14. Ibid., 2—3.

15. Ibid., 3.

16. Ibid. The passage from Juvenal is from Satires 1.1—4. Translated by Susanna Morton Braun, in Juvenal and Persius (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 131.

17. Le Fèvre fils, De futilitate poetices, 30—31.

18. See the Second Trial.

19. Le Fèvre fils, De futilitate poetices, 47. Condemnation of immoral poetry is a very old theme. In the Renaissance, the Carmelite Battista Spagnoli (or Baptist of Mantua) provides an interesting example in his poem Against Poets Shameless of Speech (Contra poetas impudice loquentes, 1489): expressed in verse, the accusation is leveled only at certain poets, not at poetry in general, for the blessed Baptist champions the existence of a Christian poetry. See the edition by Mariano Madrid Castro, in Humanistica Lovaniensia, vol. 45 (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1996), 93—133.

20. Le Fèvre fils, De futilitate poetices, 62.

21. Ibid., 62—63.

22. Cicero, Orator 20.67. Quoted by Le Fèvre fils, De futilitate poetices, 63.

23. Le Fèvre fils, De futilitate poetices, 63—64.

24. See Pausanias, Description of Greece 9.27.6.

25. Le Fèvre fils, De futilitate poetices, 67—68. The phrase “weakens the spirits and crushes all the nerves of masculine virtue” is inspired by Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 2.27.

26. See Gregory S. Johnston, A Heinrich Schütz Reader: Letters and Documents in Translation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 260—261.

27. Friedrich Wilhelm Schütz, Disputatio prior eaque historica de combustione librorum haereticorum (Leipzig, 1696); F. W. Schütz and Johann Christoph Schwedler, Disputatio posterior eaque moralis de combustione librorum haereticorum (Leipzig, 1697).

28. Schütz and Schwedler, Disputatio posterior, sec. 3. Quote from Seneca, De tranquillitate animi 11.8.

29. Giglio Gregorio Giraldi, De historia poetarum tam Graecorum quam Latinorum ialogi decem (1545), in Opera (Leiden, 1696), vol. 2, col. 31f. Quoted as the epigraph of F. W. Schütz, Exercitatio adversus Tanaquilli Fabri librum de futilitate poetics (Leipzig, 1698), unpaginated.

30. Schütz, Exercitatio, introduction. I have kept the author’s italics, which generally identify quotes, including those from Le Fèvre fils, De futilitate poetices, preface.

31. Schütz, Exercitatio, introduction.

32. Ibid., corollaries (last page).

33. Ibid., chap. 13.

34. Ibid., chap. 15. The image of the poet touching the stars with his forehead is taken from Horace, Odes

35. Paul Valéry, “Propos sur la poésie” (1927), in Oeuvres, ed. Jean Hytier, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade (Paris: Gallimard, 1957), 1:1373—1374; “Poésie et pensée abstraite” (1939), ibid., 1331—1333.

36. The recommendation is explicit in the marginal commentary by Marie de Gournay in her edition of the Essais, which was the one used by F. W. Schütz: “Fables of Ovid’s Metamorphosis, highly recommended in childhood” (Michel de Montaigne, Essais [Paris, 1652], 113). Schütz refers to it, without an explicit citation, in a marginal bibliographic note in chap. 15 of his Exercitatio. See Michel de Montaigne, Essais, ed. Jean Balsamo, Michel Magnien, and Catherine Magnien-Simonin, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade (Paris: Gallimard, 2008), 182 (book 1, chap. 25 [“De l’institution des enfants”]).

37. See Schütz, Disputatio prior, dedication to his father (Christoph Georg Schütz); Exercitatio, dedication to the town councilors of Leipzig (his father having died in the meantime, in 1696).

38. In 1761, the Abbé Simon-Augustin Irail somewhat underestimated the fame of De futilitate poetices, but thoroughly recognized its dangerousness (Querelles littéraires ou mémoires pour servir à l’histoire des révolutions de la république des lettres, depuis Homère jusqu’à nos jours [Paris: Durand, 1761], 2:234—235): “Among the greatest enemies of poetry, one must include a brother of Madame Dacier, a scholar like her, though less famous, with a mind stubbornly dedicated to reform. He wanted to extend it to literature, as well as religion. After having abjured the Calvinism to which his father had remained devoted out of philosophical indifference and excessive religious tolerance, he displayed rigorous and singular ideas. He found poetry scandalous, applied himself to decrying it, and produced a book in which he deemed it not only useless, but very dangerous. The book is in Latin; it at least had the advantage of being little known.”

39. Louis Racine, Réflexions sur la poésie (1747), in Oeuvres, vol. 2 (Paris: Le Normant, 1808), 141, 144.

40. Ibid., 140—141. The quote, which is not completely accurate, is taken from Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, Traité de la concupiscence (posthumous), chap. 18, in Oeuvres, ed. Jules Simon (Paris: Charpentier, 1843), 327.

41. Plato, Ion 534b.

42. Racine, Réflexions sur la poésie, 138.

43. See Pamela Hunt Steinle, In Cold Fear: “The Catcher in the Rye,” Censorship Controversies, and Postwar American Character (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2000).

44. See Gregg Camfield, The Oxford Companion to Mark Twain (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 76.

45. See, for example, John H. Wallace, “Huckleberry Finn Is Offensive,” Washington Post, April 11, 1982; David L. Smith, “Huck, Jim, and American Racial Discourse,” Mark Twain Journal 22 (fall 1984): 4—12. Both articles have been collected in Stuart Hutchinson, ed., Mark Twain: Critical Assessments, 4 vols. (Mountfield, UK: Helm Information, 1993), 3:399—416.

46. Mark Twain, Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, ed. Alan Gribben (Montgomery, AL: NewSouth Books, 2011).

47. See Michael E. Miller, “Columbia Students Claim Greek Mythology Needs a Trigger Warning,” Washington Post, May 14, 2015.

48. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar” (1837).

49. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Émile ou de l’éducation (1762), in Oeuvres complètes, vol. 4, ed. Bernard Gagnebin and Marcel Raymond, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade (Paris: Gallimard, 1969), 353. English translation by Allan Bloom, Emile: Or, On Education (New York, Basic Books, 1979), 113. This is the translation used throughout the chapter, with occasional revisions.

50. Rousseau, Émile, trans. Bloom, 114.

51. Ibid.

52. Ibid.

53. Ibid., 115.

54. Ibid., 115—116.

55. Ibid., 184.

56. Ibid., 168.

57. Denis Diderot, Réfutation suivie de l’ouvrage d’Helvétius intitulé “L’Homme,” in Oeuvres complètes, vol. 2, ed. J. Assézat and M. Tourneux (Paris: Garnier, 1875—1877), 285; quoted by François Bouchardy in Rousseau, Oeuvres complètes, 4:xxix.

58. See above in this chapter. From the beginning of the eighteenth century, numerous criticisms were made in Europe regarding the harmful effects of progress: see Alexander Wenger, La Fibre littéraire, le discours médical sur la lecture au XVIIIe siècle (Geneva: Droz, 2007), 207.

59. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discours sur les sciences et les arts (1750), in Oeuvres complètes, 4:10. English translation by G. D. H. Cole, A Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, in The Social Contract & Discourses (London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1920), 134. This is the translation used throughout the chapter, with occasional revisions.

60. Rousseau, A Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, trans. G. D. H. Cole, 135.

61. Ibid., 147.

62. Ibid., 152.

63. Rousseau, Dernière réponse (1752), in Oeuvres complètes, 4:95. English translation by Victor Gourevitch, Last Reply, in The Discourses and Other Early Political Writings (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 84. This is the translation used throughout the chapter, with occasional revisions.

64. Rousseau, Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, 145.

65. Ibid., 151.

66. Rousseau, Last Reply.

67. See William Marx, L’Adieu à la littérature: histoire d’une dévalorisation (XVIIIe—XXe siècles) (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 2005), 60—80.

68. See Jean-Jacques Rousseau, letter to Voltaire, September 10, 1755.

69. Pacifico Burlamacchi (Pseudo-Burlamacchi), La vita del Beato Ieronimo Savonarola, ed. Piero Ginori Conti (Florence: Olschki, 1937), 131; quoted by Franco Cordero, Savonarola, vol. 3: Demiurgo senza politica (1496—1497) (Rome: Laterza, 1987), 506. On the events of February 7, 1497, see Cordero, 504—507.

70. See also the First Trial.

71. Ermolao Barbaro the Elder, Orationes contra poetas, ed. Giorgio Ronconi, (Florence: Sansoni, 1972), 1, sec. 103, 104.

72. Ibid., 1, sec. 23, 87. According to Ovid’s Metamorphoses (10.78—85), Orpheus converted to the love of boys after the death of Eurydice, either out of bitterness or in order not to betray her with another woman. This myth was much commented upon in the Middle Ages. In 1494, Dürer published an engraving after Mantegna representing the death of Orpheus under the blows of the maenads, with the inscription: “Orpheus, the first pederast” (Orpheuß der Erst Puseran).

73. See the First Trial.

74. To this already long though incomplete list, one could add the Spanish humanist Juan Luis Vives (1492—1540), whose influential pedagogical treatise De disciplinis (1531), which uses Plato as a constant reference, critiques the immorality of poetry and the poets and suggests reducing their importance in education. See Juan Luis Vives, De disciplinis / Savoir et enseigner, ed. Tristan Vigliano (Paris: Belles Lettres, 2013). English edition: Juan Luis Vives, On Education, trans. Foster Watson (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

75. Plato, The Republic 2.377e—378e.

76. Ibid. 2.378d—e.

77. Ibid. 3.387b—389a, 389e—392a.

78. Ibid. 3.386a—387c.

79. Ibid. 3.401b.

80. Ibid. 3.387b.

81. Ibid. 10.604e.

82. Ibid. 10.605b—c.

83. Ibid. 10.606d.

84. Ibid. 10.607a.

85. See Andrew Ford, The Origins of Criticism: Literary Culture and Poetic Theory in Classical Greece (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002), 225—226.

86. Plato, The Republic 3.392b.

87. See Aristotle, Poetics 13.1452b27—1453a22. On this question, see William Marx, Le Tombeau d’Oedipe. Pour une tragédie sans tragique (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 2012), 99.

88. As discussed earlier in this chapter.

89. Aristotle, Poetics 6.1449b.24—28.

90. For more information on tragic catharsis according to Aristotle, see chap. 3 of Marx, Le Tombeau d’Oedipe, 87—122, which is entirely devoted to it.

91. Aristotle, Rhetoric 3.4.1406b.24, 32—35.

92. Plato, The Republic 10.601b. The reader will recognize Isocrates’s argument (see the First Trial).

93. The phrase, which has become proverbial, was inspired by the Nicomachean Ethics 1.4.1096a.13.

94. See Wenger, La Fibre littéraire.

95. Immanuel Kant, Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht (1798), sec. 31. Translation by Robert B. Louden in Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 78.

96. Ibid., sec. 44 (p. 102 in English edition).

97. See William Marx, Vie du lettré (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 2009), 96—98.

98. Ibid., 23—26.

99. Celsus, On Medicine preamble 6. This quotation and those below are taken from an inspiring article by Heinrich von Staden: “The Dangers of Literature and the Need for Literacy: A. Cornelius Celsus on Reading and Writing,” in Alfrieda and Jackie Pigeaud, eds., Les Textes médicaux latins comme littérature (Nantes: Université de Nantes, 2000), 355—368.

100. Celsus, On Medicine 1.2.1.

101. Ibid. preamble 1—5.

102. Ibid. preamble 5.

103. Ibid. 1.7, 1.8.1, 3.18.11, 4.10.1, and esp. 4.13.3. See von Staden, “The Dangers of Literature,” 359—361.

Fourth Trial: Society

1. Alexis de Tocqueville, De la démocratie en Amérique (1835—1840), book 2, part 1, chap. 9 (“Comment l’exemple des Américains ne prouve point qu’un peuple démocratique ne saurait avoir de l’aptitude et du goût pour les sciences, la littérature, et les arts”), in Oeuvres, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade (Paris: Gallimard, 1992), 2:545—550. Translated as “How the Example of the Americans Does Not Prove That a Democratic People Can Have No Aptitude and Taste for the Sciences, Literature, and the Arts,” in Democracy in America, trans. and ed. Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).

2. Nicolas Sarkozy, statement to members of the UMP party, Lyon, February 23, 2006, available online at On the controversy sparked by this statement and those that followed, see Clarisse Fabre, “Et Nicolas Sarkozy fit la fortune du roman de Mme de La Fayette,” Le Monde, March 29, 2011; François-Ronan Dubois, “Lire et interpréter La Princesse de Clèves dans la France des cités,” October 30, 2013,; and the website of the Société internationale pour l’étude des femmes de l’Ancien Régime,

3. Nicolas Sarkozy, statement to the new members of the UMP, Paris, June 10, 2006,

4. Nicolas Sarkozy, statement on the modernization of public policy and reform of the state, Paris, April 4, 2008,

5. Nicolas Sarkozy, statement on youth and popular education, Batz-sur-Mer, July 24, 2008,

6. André Santini, interview with Christophe Barbier on LCI, November 20, 2007,

7. André Santini, interview with C. Barbier on LCI, February 19, 2008,

8. André Santini, interview on Radio Classique, June 5, 2008,

9. André Santini, interview on LCI, June 10, 2008,

10. Corinne Desforges and Jean-Guy de Chalvron, Rapport de la mission préparatoire au réexamen général du contenu des concours d’accès à la function publique de l’État, Ministère du budget, des comptes publics et de la fonction publique; Secrétariat d’État à la fonction publique; Inspection générale de l’administration, February 2008, 2. In this report, relatively cursory both in content and in form, the question of the pertinence of tests of literary knowledge was only mentioned once, without further comment, on page 17: “Must the administration validate knowledge in history or literature to recruit a reliable civil servant?” Since it does not entirely anticipate the answer, the interrogative form seems to indicate that the authors did not wholeheartedly agree with the opinions forcefully voiced by the president of the republic and the secretary of state in charge of their report. This did not matter much to the secretary of state in question, who constantly cited the report to back up his statements about The Princesse de Clèves.

11. I was honored to have participated in one of the media discussions with Charles Dantzig, on France Inter, at the invitation of Guillaume Erner, on June 29, 2009. A public reading was held for an entire day on February 16, 2009, on the Place du Panthéon, in Paris. Among published books, the most memorable was probably the volume by Yves Citton, Lire, interpréter, actualiser: pourquoi les études littéraires? preface by François Cusset (Paris: Éditions Amsterdam, 2007), and the most recent is Bruno Clément and Laurence Plazenet, eds., La Princesse de Clèves: anatomie d’une fascination (Paris: Gallimard, 2015). For the film adaptation, see La Belle personne (2008), by Christophe Honoré. For an edition of the complete works, see Oeuvres complètes, ed. Camille Esmein-Sarrazin, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade (Paris: Gallimard, 2014).

12. Ernst Robert Curtius, The Civilization of France, trans. Olive Wyon (1932; New York: Vintage Books, 1962), 91. French translation cited by Michel Winock on his blog, December 21, 2009,érature-encore.html. See also Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson, Literary France: The Making of a Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987); Pascale Casanova, La République mondiale des lettres, Points (1999; Paris: Seuil, 2008), xv; Alain Finkielkraut, “La France doit demeurer une nation littéraire,” Libération, January 28, 2011.

13. Jean-Marie Rouart, “La Face cachée de Nicolas Sarkozy,” Paris Match no. 3399, July 10, 2014.

14. Geneviève Fioraso, quoted by Véronique Soulé, “Réforme du supérieur: le projet fade déjà,” Libération, March 20, 2013.

15. Antoine Compagnon, “Un amour de Madame Fioraso,” Libération, April 3, 2013.

16. See Casanova, La République mondiale des lettres.

17. J. M. G. Le Clézio in 2008 and Patrick Modiano in 2014.

18. Along the same general lines, one could mention the blunder made by the minister of culture (Fleur Pellerin), who, on October 26, 2014, proved unable to name a single title by the recent French Nobel Prize—winner Patrick Modiano and disingenuously confessed that for the previous two years she had no longer had time to read. Let’s not be naïve: many political leaders do not read, for lack of time or interest; one has to give the minister credit for her honesty. Nevertheless, when one is responsible for the Ministry of Culture, such an admission, expressed plainly and without false shame, functions as a denial of literature’s role in France—or else as an ultimate sign of caution, for the simulation of literary knowledge can turn into a fiasco: one is reminded of the politician (Frédéric Lefebvre) who on April 2, 2011, sought to present Zadig as his favorite book, but confused Voltaire’s novel with the well-known ready-to-wear brand Zadig & Voltaire.

19. See William Marx, L’Adieu à la littérature: histoire d’une dévalorisation (XVIIIe—XXe siècles) (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 2005).

20. Émile Zola, “Mes souvenirs sur Gustave Flaubert,” Le Figaro. Supplément littéraire du dimanche, December 11, 1880, 199.

21. Émile Zola, Le Roman expérimental (Paris: Charpentier, 1881), 358—359. Translated by Belle M. Sherman, The Experimental Novel and Other Essays (New York: Cassell Publishing Co., 1893), 359—360.

22. Joachim Du Bellay, Les Regrets (1558), 11. Translated by David R. Slavitt, The Regrets (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2004), 37—38. See also sonnets 149 (“Vous dites, courtisans …”), 153 (“On donne les degrés …”), and 154 (“Si tu m’en crois, Baïf …”).

23. Simon-Augustin Irail, Querelles littéraires ou mémoires pour servir à l’histoire des révolutions de la république des lettres, depuis Homère jusqu’à nos jours (Paris: Durand, 1761), 2:236. The anecdote that follows is taken, nearly verbatim but in a somewhat condensed form, from the same passage. It concerns the philosopher and philologist Johann Georg Wachter (1673—1757), whom, significantly, Irail presents as a poet; Wachter wrote Latin mottos for the king. The source of the anecdote, which Irail repeats nearly word for word, is the conversations of Frederick II with his secretary Henri de Catt (posthumous ed., Unterhaltungen mit Friedrich dem Großen [Leipzig, 1884], quoted by Winfried Schröder, Spinoza in der deutschen Frühaufklärung [Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 1987], 67). On Wachter’s mottos, including the famous Sapere aude (“Dare to know!”), borrowed from Horace (Epistles 1.2.40), which had such a large influence on the German Enlightenment, see the remarkable book by Martin Mulsow, Prekäres Wissen: eine andere Ideengeschichte der Frühen Neuzeit (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2012), 224—229. All my thanks to Denis Thouard and Martin Mulsow for their help in this research.

24. Louis-Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne, Mémoires sur Napoléon, le Directoire, le Consulat, l’Empire et la Restauration (Paris: Ladvocat, 1829), 5:93—94.

25. See note 18, above.

26. De Bourrienne, Mémoires sur Napoléon, 97.

27. Juste Lipse, Epistolarum selectarum chilias (Avignon, 1609), 4:letter 81 (to Janus Lernutius), 920.

28. Joseph-Juste Scaliger, Scaligeriana, sive excerpta ex ore Josephi Scaligeri (The Hague: Vlacq, 1666), 313.

29. François de La Mothe Le Vayer, Doute sceptique si l’étude des belles-lettres est préférable à toute autre occupation (1667), in Oeuvres (Dresden: Groell, 1757), vol. 5, part 2: 352—353.

30. Ibid., 354. The Greeks credited the hero Palamedes with the invention of eleven additional letters of the alphabet; La Mothe Le Mayer is playing on the meaning of the word letters. The Latin comic Terence was known for using very pure language.

31. Ibid., 354—355.

32. Michel de Montaigne, Essais, ed. Jean Balsamo, Michel Magnien, and Catherine Magnien-Simonin, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade (Paris: Gallimard, 2008), 182 (book 1, chap. 25). My italics. English translation by Donald M. Frame, in The Complete Works of Montaigne (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1958), 131.

33. Montaigne, Essais, book 1, chaps. 25, 26, 31, and 55; book 2, chaps. 10 and 17; book 3, chaps. 2, 5, 8, and 9 (“scribbling”).

34. See Jean-Marc Chatelain, La Bibliothèque de l’honnête homme: livres, lecture, et collections en France à l’âge classique (Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale de France, 2003).

35. Salomon de La Broue, Le Cavalerice français, 4th ed. (Paris: Du Mesnil, 1646), preface, 2.

36. Charles Sorel, Le Berger extravagant, où parmi des fantaisies amoureuses on voit les impertinences des romans et de [la] poésie (Paris: Du Bray, 1627), 491—492. L’Anti-roman, ou l’histoire du Berger Lysis was published in 1633.

37. Francesco Berni, Dialogo contra i poeti (Rome: 1526), 21, 12.

38. Ibid., 20. Piovano Arlotto, also known as Arlotto Mainardi, was a famous comedic preacher in the fifteenth century.

39. Ibid.

40. See Vito Avarello, “L’invective dans les Rime ’bernesche’: poétique du dileggio et rhétorique du défi chez Francesco Berni,” in Agnès Morini, ed., L’Invective: histoire, formes, stratégie (Saint-Étienne: Publications de l’université de Saint-Étienne, 2006), 91—112.

41. See the Third Trial.

42. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the paradoxical criticism of literature became practically a commonplace of rhetoric. One of the most successful examples can be found in the second letter of the Philological correspondence (Cartas filológicas, 1634) by Francisco Cascales, entitled: “Against letters and all the arts and sciences. Jeu d’esprit” (Juan García Soriano, ed. [Madrid: Ediciones de “La Lectura,” 1930], 1:81—96).

43. Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy: Aspects of Working-Class Life, with Special Reference to Publications and Entertainments (London: Chatto and Windus, 1957).

44. Raymond Williams, Culture and Society (1780—1950) (London: Chatto and Windus, 1958).

45. See, most notably, Harold Bloom, The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages (London: Macmillan, 1995), 519, as well as Marx, L’Adieu à la littérature, 169—171.

46. Many of their works dealt with literature and teaching literature: see, for example, Richard Hoggart, Teaching Literature (London: National Institute of Adult Education, 1963) and Raymond Williams, Reading and Criticism (London: Frederick Muller, 1950).

47. Williams, Culture and Society, 321.

48. See the Second Trial.

49. See Marx, L’Adieu à la littérature.

50. Jean-Claude Passeron, “Présentation,” in Richard Hoggart, La Culture du pauvre: étude sur le style de vie des classes populaires en Angleterre, trans. Françoise and Jean-Claude Garcias and Jean-Claude Passeron (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1970), 7.

51. Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron, La Reproduction: éléments pour une théorie du système d’enseignement (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1970), 143. Translation by Richard Nice, Reproduction in Education, Society, and Culture (London: Sage Publications, 1990), 115. This is the translation used throughout the chapter.

52. Bourdieu and Passeron, Reproduction in Education, Society, and Culture, 127—128.

53. Ibid., 123, 124.

54. See Pierre Bourdieu, La Distinction: critique sociale du jugement (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1979). English edition: Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, trans. Richard Nice (London: Routledge, 1984).

55. Pierre Bourdieu, Ce que parler veut dire: l’économie des échanges linguistiques (Paris: Fayard, 1982), 47. English translation by Gino Raymond and Matthew Adamson, “The Production and Reproduction of Legitimate Language,” in Language and Symbolic Power, ed. John B. Thompson (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), 58.

56. See William Marx, Le Tombeau d’Oedipe. Pour une tragédie sans tragique (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 2012), 115—122.

57. Pierre Bourdieu, Méditations pascaliennes (Paris: Seuil, 1997), 92, 126—127. English edition: Pascalian Meditations, trans. Richard Nice (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000).

58. One only has to see how, in his long book on Flaubert, Bourdieu deals with the question of style in a single page, as if it were a mere obligation, and despite the fact that to the novelist it was absolutely central (Les règles de l’art: genèse et structure du champ littéraire [Paris: Seuil, 1992], 58—59).

59. See Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron, Les Héritiers: les étudiants et la culture (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1964), 114. English edition: The Inheritors: French Students and their Relation to Culture, trans. Richard Nice (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980).

60. Plato, The Republic 3.392c—398b.

61. Ibid. 10.600c—e.


1. See Georges Didi-Huberman, L’image survivante: histoire de l’art et temps des fantômes selon Aby Warburg (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 2002). It is important not to give up on periodizations, however partial and fragmentary. By allowing one to avoid the constraints of strict chronological succession, these at least have a heuristic value. Michel Chion discussed this in his lecture, “ ’En dépit des angles morts’: pour une chronologie périodisée du cinéma de fiction comme forme audio-logo-visuelle,” Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, March 17, 2015.

2. See Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, “Beginn von ’Literature’ / Abschied vom Körper?” in Gisela Smolka-Koerdt, Peter M. Spangenberg, and Dagmar Rillmann-Bartylla, eds., Der Ursprung von Literatur: Medien, Rollen, Kommunikationssituationen zwischen 1450 und 1650 (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 1988), 15—50; Rainer Rosenberg, “Eine verworrene Geschichte: Vorüberlegungen zu einer Biographie der Literaturbegriffs,” Zeitschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Linguistik, no. 77 (1990): 36—65.

3. See Antoine Compagnon, La littérature pour quoi faire? (Paris: Collège de France / Fayard, 2007), 76—77.

4. Aristotle, Poetics 1447b.8—19, 1451b.1—3.

5. See William Marx, Naissance de la critique moderne: la littérature selon Eliot et Valéry (1889—1945) (Arras: Artois Presses Université, 2002); Marx, “Brève histoire de la forme en littérature,” Les Temps modernes no. 676 (November—December 2013): 35—47.

6. See Christian Jouhaud, Les Pouvoirs de la littérature: histoire d’un paradoxe (Paris: Gallimard, 2000), 367—373.