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Paradoxes of Autonomy and Exceptionalism in Molière and Madame de Lafayette

Larry W. Riggs
p. 441-452

Abstract

The seventeenth century, in Europe, saw the rise of modern individualism: of the myth that humanity is composed of autonomous, competitive self-seekers who belong to society only in order to moderate the effects of their “natural” rapacity. Simultaneously, the modern epistemology that posits a detached, rational subject, acquiring definitive knowledge in order to manipulate a passive world of objects, arose and developed. This is the individual whom Stephen Greenblatt famously called «self-fashioning». There are repressed paradoxes at the heart of this synthesis of the autonomous individual and the transcendent subject: the competitive individualist is motivated by self-interested desire, but the dominant modern conception of rationality requires a subject capable of transcending desire and the body, and competitive self-interest can be pursued only in the social context. The attempted radical separation of subjectivity from the body is, according to David Le Breton, an artifact of early modern Europe. Recent research in linguistics, cognitive science, and evolutionary psychology undermines these myths of autonomy and objectivity, emphasizing the entanglement of the mind with emotions, the body, and the social group. The article finds these “new” insights anticipated by Molière and Madame de Lafayette, whose works dramatize both the ambitions of the emerging individualists and the paradoxes inherent in those ambitions. Molière mocks a gallery of would-be autonomous subjects trying to escape reciprocity, emotion, and the body. In La Princesse de Clèves, Madame de Lafayette delves equally deeply into the tensions that arise when ambition inspires delusions of exceptionality.

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Estratto del testo

Questo documento sarà pubblicato online con testo integrale in décembre 2018.

Piano

The Myths of the Autonomous Individual and the Transcendent Subject
Recent Research Undermines the Myths
Molière and Madame de Lafayette Had Already Undermined the Myths
Paradoxes of Autonomy and Transcendence in Molière
Paradoxes of Virtue and Exceptionality in “La Princesse de Clèves”
Conclusion

Anteprima del testo

The Myths of the Autonomous Individual and the Transcendent Subject

The seventeenth century, in France and elsewhere in Europe, saw the rise of modern individualism: of the myth that humanity is composed of autonomous, competitive self-seekers who belong to society only in order to moderate the effects of their “natural” rapacity. There are many commentators who locate the advent of this myth of the autonomous, self-maximizing individual squarely in the early modern period. Simultaneously, and complementarily, the modern epistemology that posits a detached, rational subject, acquiring definitive knowledge in order to manipulate a passive world of objects, arose and developed. This is the individual whom Stephen Greenblatt famously called «self-fashioning».

The early modern atrophy of corporate entities that, for centuries, had provided individuals with both identity and constraint, was a factor here, as was the destabilization of a dominant worldview by discoveries that were incompat...

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Notizia bibliografica

Larry W. Riggs, « Paradoxes of Autonomy and Exceptionalism in Molière and Madame de Lafayette », Studi Francesi, 183 (LXI | III) | 2017, 441-452.

Notizia bibliografica digitale

Larry W. Riggs, « Paradoxes of Autonomy and Exceptionalism in Molière and Madame de Lafayette », Studi Francesi [Online], 183 (LXI | III) | 2017, online dal 01 décembre 2018, consultato il 20 septembre 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/studifrancesi/10112 ; DOI : 10.4000/studifrancesi.10112

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Autore

Larry W. Riggs

Butler University

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