, Volume 66, Issue 4, pp 508–524 | Cite as

Subjectivity and imitation in theDiscours de la méthode

  • John D. Lyons


Comparative Literature Historical Linguistic 
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  1. 1.
    For other descriptions of particular aspects of this indirection, see Jean-Luc Nancy, “ Larvatus pro deo,”Glyph 2 (1977), 14–36; Sylvie Romanowski,L'Illusion chez Descartes (Paris: Klincksieck, 1974); Dalia Judovitz, “Descartes: An Exemplary Autobiography (unpublished).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Cf. Philippe Lejeune,Le Pacte Autobiographique. Paris: Le Seuil, 1975.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Discours de la méthode pour bien conduire sa raison, ed. André Bridoux (Paris: Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1953), p. 126.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Both Etienne Gilson in the notes (p. 83) to his edition (Paris: Vrin, 1930) and David Simpson in his “Putting One's House in Order. The career of the self in Descartes' method,”New Literary History IX, 1 (Autumn, 1977), 83–101, have indicated the problems of interpretation of this sentence. Gilson sees it as containing a trace of irony, while Simpson sees it as a “shaming” based on the rapid passage between ironic and serious modes that is forced on the reader.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    It is instead based on a conflation of the first person plural and the third person plural.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Italicized terms emphasized by Descartes.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    It is clear that I am not making the opposition discourse/history as found in Emile Benveniste. “ History” here is rather what comes to the subject from a time-dominated external realm.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    See Nancy's comments on the problem of Descartes' own belief in frankness: “How could he have confidence in frankness who singly has just invented frankness as method...” (p. 34).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Though J.-L. Nancy attends to Descartes' use of such generic categories asfable, epic, andautobiography, he seems to neglect the specific qualities of theroman in Descartes' text and context. Nancyop. cit. and “ Mundus est fabula,”MLN 93, 4 (May, 1978) 635–653.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    This suspicion of texts is in keeping with the cartesian preoccupation withvraisemblance (e.g., “je ne choisissais que les plus modérées [des opinions], tant à cause que ce sont toujours les plus commodes pour la pratique, etvraisemblablement les meilleures, tous excès ayant coutume d'être mauvais...” (141) and “s'ils ne vont justement où ils désirent, ils arriveront au moins à la fin quelque part oùvraisemblablement ils seront mieux que dans le milieu d'une forê t” (142) Emphasis mine.), for thevraisemblable is a conventional element of rhetoric, of which Descartes, as rhetorician, makes abundant use. At the same time his protagonist's experience as reader makes him point out the danger of the adherence to the verisimilar (as opposed to the true) which theDiscours itself calls upon. The use of the categoriesvraisemblable andvrai in the same text links Descartes' work to the problematic novels of Lafayette later in the century.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Nathan Edelman has referred to the “portrait of assurance overlying uncertainty” in the characterization of the philosopher of theDiscours. “The Mixed Metaphor in Descartes,”Romanic Review no. 41 (1950), 177–178.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Again the mask (Nancy) but of a specific type, one that borrows from the reader's image as established by the text.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    “Effect” is entirely distinct from authorial “intention,” and neither effect nor intention can be understood solely on the grounds of the history of composition.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    For the solitude of the Cogito, see G. Poulet, “La ‘nausée’ de Sartre et le ‘Cogito’ cartésien,”Studi Francesi 15 (1961), 452–462.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    It seems significant that Descartes' reflections in Part IV on “des pensées que j'avais de plusieurs autres choses hors de moi” do not include the possibility of anotherequal being but instead pass from things “comme du ciel, de la terre, de la lumière” etc. to the idea of a being more perfect than the “I” (pp. 148–149). Descartes arrives at the thought of imperfect intelligences only later, as things dependent on God (p. 150). Thus the solitude of the metaphysical subject is characterized by an absence of anysimilar subject.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    The heated room is first mentioned in Part II (p. 132) and then next in the second paragraph from the end of Part III (p. 144).Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Michel Foucault.Les Mots et les choses (Paris: Gallimard, “Bibliothèque des sciences humaines,” 1966), p. 30.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Wolters-Noordhoff 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • John D. Lyons
    • 1
  1. 1.Dept. of Romance Languages and LiteraturesDartmouth CollegeHanoverUSA

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