The place of creation

This study intends to broaden understanding of the processes of creation at work in the domain of ‘belles lettres’—the main sector of the cultural field—in the early modern period. We will do so by exploring changes in this sector in order to identify fundamental criteria of literary, artistic, philosophical and intellectual practice dominant in early modern Europe. We thus aim to trace the lineage of creation.

Critical thinking about discipline and genre in the early modern period is motivated by changes in the definition and understanding of intellectual processes. Literary creation does not tackle epistemological questions head on; instead its particularity is to test, circumvent, and unsettle such questions. During a period dominated by the notion of ‘placere et docere’, reconfigurations in different domains of knowledge can be seen in changes in scientific and scholarly writing. This project proposes that the interactions between creation, knowledge and academic practice act as the driving force behind creative activities. Our hypothesis is that the developments of new genres and rhetorical forms originate in renewed confrontation and exchange between discourses of knowledge and its representation, in a period when disciplinary domains were by no means clearly defined. By studying different forms of disputes and their connection with these processes, we propose to explore the world of intellectual, institutional, political and artistic relationships that underpin the phenomenon of creation.  Placing disputes at the heart of creative activity requires a rhetorical analysis of that activity, an understanding of the power dynamics, and of the individual relationships operating in these spaces, treating agents of creation and the public as one and the same.

It is clear that disputes, polemics and quarrels constitute a structural dynamic in the period in question: the querelle des femmes, the querelle des Anciens et des Modernes, ‘the Battle of the Books’, the querelle des Bouffons, theatre quarrels in France and in England etc. By way of these quarrels key values are defined. It is also clear that these quarrels are particularly heated when they revolve around a ‘case’. For example, the survey launched by Le Mercure Galant in 1678, in response to the controversy surrounding La Princesse de Clèves, was phrased in such a way that treated the novel as case-study of marriage. And the responses demonstrate not only that this was indeed how the question was understood, but also that literary creation could be accused of meddling in problems that concern the competence of religious authorities and ethics. The Mercure’s enquiry thus transferred judgment from the established authority to a new force: the opinion of its readership, and this during a time in which religious authority itself was subject to controversy. It becomes apparent, therefore, that the literary domain could pose questions that related to social mores, religion and to the state of knowledge and beliefs.