FRENCH 116: New Media, Old News? The Problem of Novelty in Early Modern France

Instructor: Raphaëlle Burns

What is it to say something new? What is it to say that something is new? According to what criteria do we judge things to be unprecedented or innovative? In this course we will study how these questions were asked, debated, and answered by poets, philosophers, and scientists in early modern France. The course will be structured around four main axes: the novelty of events, of ideas, of methods, and of forms. We will explore the nuances between notions of novelty, renewal, innovation, and originality in a variety of literary genres, including the novellas of Bonaventure des Périers and Marguerite de Navarre, the essays of Montaigne, the fragments of Pascal, and the discourses of Descartes. In doing so we will also reflect on the role that debates around novelty played in the articulation of what it meant to be “modern” in France’s “early modernity”. Taught in English with reading knowledge of French recommended.