The Unfinished Enlightenment: Description in the Age of the Encyclopedia (Hardback)Joanna Stalnaker (author)
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In The Unfinished Enlightenment, Joanna Stalnaker offers a fresh look at the French Enlightenment by focusing on the era's vast, collective attempt to compile an ongoing and provisional description of the world. Through a series of readings of natural histories, encyclopedias, scientific poetry, and urban topographies, the book uncovers the deep epistemological and literary tensions that made description a central preoccupation for authors such as Buffon, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, Diderot, Delille, and Mercier.
Stalnaker argues that Enlightenment description was the site of competing truth claims that would eventually resolve themselves in the modern polarity between literature and science. By the mid-nineteenth century, the now habitual association between description and the novel was already firmly anchored in French culture, but just a century earlier, in the diverse network of articles on description in Diderot and d'Alembert's Encyclopedie and in the works derived from it, there was not a single mention of the novel. Instead, we find articles on description in natural history, geometry, belles-lettres, and poetry. Stalnaker builds on the premise that the tendency to view description as the inevitable (and subservient) partner of narration-rather than as a universal tool for making sense of knowledge in all fields-has obscured the central place of description in Enlightenment discourse. As a result, we have neglected some of the most original and experimental works of the eighteenth century.
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Number of pages: 256
Weight: 28 g
Dimensions: 229 x 152 x 25 mm
"In this beautifully organized and fascinating book, Joanna Stalnaker takes on the pronouncement by Emile Zola that detailed, objectively framed, 'scientific' description in the novel was a distinctly 'modern' phenomenon employed only since the mid-nineteenth-century work of Flaubert and Balzac. The Unfinished Enlightenment is a pleasure to read-clearly written, with an impressive combination of persuasive larger arguments fortified by compelling close readings-and will be valuable to all literary and cultural critics and historians of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries." -- Cynthia Wall, University of Virginia
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