At the intersection of literature and the history of science, this talk examines the role and authority of vision in literary texts from the early seventeenth century in France, and to some extent in Italy.
The first decades of the seventeenth century marked a pivotal moment in the development of both optical theories and technologies that fundamentally altered the role of vision in the acquisition of knowledge. Two visual modes emerged, one privileging the natural eye and the other the visual aid. Literary texts of the period adopted and adapted these ideas or expressed them in terms that closely parallelled the debates in the scientific community. Agrippa d’Aubigné’s Protestant poem, Les Tragiques (1616), illustrates the way in which the emerging theories corresponded to a particular aesthetic of refraction, and the literary polemic around Pierre Corneille’s Le Cid (1637) demonstrates that optical instruments gained an aesthetic function as they were used to evaluate a work's merits.
SANAM NADER-ESFAHANI is completing her PhD in Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard University in May 2016. Her research focuses on French and Italian literature of the early modern period, as well as on the relationship between science and literature.
French Department Lecture