In terms of method, we understand cases, quarrels, controversies and disputes according to two principles:

  • The first principle is to use endogenous data so that we can construct categories of thought as they were. This is not under the illusion that we can ever fully reconstruct them, but rather with the intention of composing an ‘archaeology of culture’. In practical terms, this means that the inventory will focus on a corpus and events which were defined as quarrels, battles of the pen or the wits, cases, disputes and controversies at the time.
  • The second method relates to this approach: instead of imposing a definition a priori, we need to construct parameters based on the corpus and findings. With this in mind, we will then progress according to three concentric circles: the first, constituted by what were defined as ‘cases’, consists of analysing in particular cases which gave rise to disputes and quarrels; the second, to compose an analytical inventory of quarrels; and the third aims to place the study of disputes, controversies and their institutional and cultural foundations in context. These, therefore, are the webs and movements we propose to trace.

The work of the team is based on a tried and tested methodological principle: we do not approach concepts according to fixed definitions. Instead, by confronting uncertainty we explore the limits, margins, borders and, by examining legal cases in particular, we can thus begin to grasp these processes of creation.

A dispute might have a single focus, develop from one object of study or one case—understood here it its legal capacity—and so highlight a particular aspect of literary creation.  But it can also include multiple cases, questions of practice and genre, definitions and reworkings. Privileging the legal dimension of ‘case’ demands we do the same for ‘querelle’. For the origins of this term are no less legal—the querelle des femmes in the Renaissance was triggered by proposals for a new marriage contract.  Debates at this time were usually conceived as querelles or disputes, and form the fabric of cultural life in France, and perhaps also in England. Their increase in number in this period reveals wider stakes and tensions, which go beyond polemics relating to practice or a theoretical object, but which are born of controversies. Although this term, ‘controversy’, most often refers to religious questions, scientific controversies also play an integral part in debates of the period. And the link between cases, querelles and controversies can be seen in the rhetoric and methods of an agon. Disputatio is a rhetorical practice with strict rules which occupies a central place in medieval scholasticism; controversia, an extended form of declamatio, is also a rhetorical exercise. Like suasoria, a controversia is a hypothetical judicial debate in which a student has to argue in favour of, or against, a law in a situation in which it has been broken. ‘Controversia’ thus relies on using cases. The interest of our project lies in the transitions and connections between these different domains. And this entails, of course, an endogenous approach to these notions.

The length of the period studied, from the end of the Renaissance to the end of the eighteenth century, allows us to trace changes and developments over two centuries. We can both pinpoint critical moments and follow gradual evolutions across a period during which the distinction between disciplines was only just beginning to emerge. This considerable time-span also brings to light transformations in discourse and intellectual and cultural practice. Disputes have to be placed in their rhetorical context in order to fully understand these developments, because their rhetorical origin means that they are inscribed in an established discursive practice. Considering disputes within this historical framework demonstrates that some of these established practices were transferred to the principles of intervention used in debates surrounding creation. In this respect, being able to locate the pragmatic structures of disputes also sheds light on methods and modes of intellectual practice, shaped—in this period, but also more widely—by debate and quarrels.

The dual comparative perspective—between languages and art forms on the one hand and between different countries on the other—allows us to examine both the specific and the general nature of cultural and epistemological factors. And this is all the more significant in a period when the circulation of ideas (through correspondence amongst individuals) and of people acquired a crucial importance. For example, our understanding of the querelle des Anciens et des Modernes is re-shaped by analysis of the role music played within this, and by considering how this was then transposed and interpreted in England. Similarly, the philosophical quarrel regarding materialism acquires new depth if placed in context of its treatment in the European novel. Modes of philosophical argumentation are thus entwined with ‘literary’ discussion and debate, just as much as they depend on correspondence networks of the Republic of Letters. This project is therefore necessarily comparative, multidisciplinary and international.