Rife with knowledge projects, encyclopedia-writing, botanical books, travel accounts, and other writing that we today would call ‘scientific,’ the eighteenth century is marked by an explosion of empiricism and rational materialism, re-shaping epistemological frameworks for understanding the natural world — recording and distributing this through a variety of texts that sit uneasily astride our modern disciplinary and genre boundaries.Through studies of several eighteenth-century French texts and their engraved illustrations, this dissertation examines the rhetorical strategies to critique, disrupt, and re-shape thought about the natural world in the French Siècle des Lumières. Through close reading of text and image, we explore how many texts of the French Enlightenment function through opposing rhetorical strategies whose resolution relied on figural thinking.
Informed by the work on figural and literal discourse of Jean-François Lyotard and Norman Bryson, this dissertation examines rhetorical oppositionality in texts that make an explicit claim to knowledge work and their trajectories into novels and other texts that make no such explicit claim. I argue that these texts mobilize incompatible rhetorical strategies to critique, disrupt, and reform epistemological frameworks through figural thinking. Building on the work of other cultural historians, this dissertation seeks to interrogate the manner in which the texts studied reflect and respond to the epistemological anxieties of the eighteenth century.
Analyzing the images and texts in works including Buffon and Daubenton’s Histoire naturelle, Jacques Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s Paul et Virginie and Études de la nature, Raynal and Diderot’s Histoire des deux Indes, and Rousseau’s novel La Nouvelle Héloïse through the lens of disenchantment and re-enchantment (as formulated by Max Weber and elaborated by Joshua Landy and Michael Saler), Rhetorical Tension in the Siècle des Lumières examines the ways that French writers of the eighteenth century sought to shear away supernatural or traditional authority for knowledge to instead ground understanding of the natural world in empirical observation through rhetorical tension that elicits resolution beyond the realm of literal language, in the between and beyond of figural thinking.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. December 2020. Major: French. Advisor: Daniel Brewer. 1 computer file (PDF); v, 276 pages.
Disenchantment and Re-enchantment: Rhetorical Tension in the Siècle des Lumières.
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