Spring 2018

True or False: The Search for Reality in Early Modern France

Listed in: French, as FREN-329


Sanam Nader-Esfahani (Section 01)


The Age of Information Technology has broadened our access to material from all around the world and has connected us to people and regions that would otherwise remain in the shadows. Furthermore, the Internet has given voice to another body, that of ordinary people, that now exists alongside more conventional authorities and outlets. Social media enables every individual to publicize him or herself and become a public figure; Wikipedia now co-exists alongside scholarly journals and academic e-books; WikiLeaks and hacking bring private matters of leaders and everyday people into the public eye; and Twitter has become a formidable rival to traditional news outlets in its release of breaking news. Conversely, this same democratization of information, in both its production and its representation, has problematized the relationship between the private and the public, and it has raised questions about the truth behind these multiple and often conflicting realities. Overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of information and by myriad perspectives, how can we ever be certain of what we know? How do we distinguish the true from the false, essence from appearance?
A period marked by a flourishing print culture and the production and circulation of knowledge, by religious and political conflicts, by new discoveries, inventions and methods of scientific inquiry, and by multiple arenas for “talk” and criticism--from town squares to court, from personal correspondence to the essay, from the poem to the pamphlet--early modern France offers a compelling point of comparison as we reflect upon these questions. What constitutes a lie? How is opinion constructed, and how might it differ from truth? What, or who, is a truth-teller? What role do rumor and gossip play in creating or challenging beliefs and reputations? What happens when something private is made public? Is the public face of an individual to be trusted, or is it simply a mask? What is evidence? Why is the notion of “illusion” a central preoccupation of writers, especially at the turn of the century? In this course, we will investigate the dynamic among the false, the real, and the true, and we will examine how rumor, gossip, belief, opinion, appearance, doubt,evidence, and judgement work to create, interrogate, and even undo truths and falsehoods. Readings will draw on works of fiction and non-fiction from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and may include major figures such as Ronsard, Marguerite de Navarre, Montaigne, Descartes, Corneille, Madame de Sévigné, Madame de Lafayette, and Racine. Conducted in French.

Requisite: One of the following—FREN 207, 208, 311 or equivalent.  Spring semester.  Professor Nader-Esfahani.


Attention to Writing, Languages Other Than English


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018