Spring 2024

Refractions: Optics & Literature in Early Modern France

Listed in: French, as FREN-327


Sanam Nader-Esfahani (Section 01)


From the inverted retinal image to the invention of the telescope and microscope, the seventeenth century marks a pivotal moment in the history of vision and optical instruments. What are the repercussions of discovering a retinal image that is but an effect of light and color, and realizing that the world as the eye sees it is literally upside down? What does one make of telescopic and microscopic observations that show objects other than they appear and which unveil worlds beyond what the eye can see? Is the eye, once deemed the most noble of the senses, no longer a reliable form of knowledge? What does this mean for the viewing and knowing subject and their knowledge of the world and of themselves in the world?

This course is an investigation of these transformations and their consequences, not only in scientific circles, but among writers who engage with, adopt, and adapt these objects and observations in their thought. More generally, by examining scientific debates and French writings from a period that precedes the disciplinary divide, this course aims to interrogate and understand the very categories of “literature” and “science.” We will analyze literature’s integration of scientific thought and findings, the language and rhetoric of scientific writings, texts that defy categorization or blur disciplinary lines, as well as broader considerations on the relationship between curiosity, marvel, imagination, invention, and discovery. Readings may include Descartes, Kepler, Galileo, Cyrano de Bergerac, Corneille, Baroque poetry, and more. Conducted in French.

Requisite: One of the following—FREN 207, 208 or the equivalent. Spring 2023-24. Professor Nader-Esfahani.

How to handle overenrollment: null

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: Emphasis on written work, readings, textual analysis, independent research and oral presentations. There may be opportunities for creative work. Students with documented disabilities who will require accommodations in this course should be in consultation with Accessibility Services and reach out to the faculty member as soon as possible to ensure that accommodations can be made in a timely manner.

FREN 327 - LEC

Section 01
Tu 2:30 PM - 3:50 PM CHAP 204
Th 2:30 PM - 3:50 PM CHAP 204

ISBN Title Publisher Author(s) Comment Book Store Price
Discours de la méthode suivi de la Dioptrique Gallimard, Collection Folio Essais, 1991 Descartes: ed. Frédéric de Buzon Amherst Books TBD
États et Empires de la Lune/ Les États et Empires du Soleil Gallimard, 2004 Cyrano de Bergerac; éd. Jacques Prévot Amherst Books TBD
Le Messager des étoiles Points, 2009 Galileo Galilei; trans. Fernand Hallyn Amherst Books TBD
Illusion comique Larousse, 2012 Pierre Corneille Amherst Books TBD

These books are available locally at Amherst Books.


Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Fall 2016