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An Errant Eye

Poetry and Topography in Early Modern France

2010
Author:

Tom Conley

An Errant Eye

Deciphering maps as poetry, and poems as maps

An Errant Eye studies how topography developed literary and visual form in early modern France. Arguing for a ‘new poetics of space’ ranging throughout French Renaissance poetry, prose, and cartography, Tom Conley performs dazzling readings of maps, woodcuts, and poems to plot a topographical shift in the late Renaissance in which space, subjectivity, and politics fall into crisis.

In An Errant Eye, Tom Conley slows down our encounter with the Renaissance to a snail’s pace. At this tactical speed he leads us across a series of local topographies—topographies of print created by Rabelais, Montaigne, the cosmographer Peter Apian, and other writers and poets of the sixteenth century who felt their way through a radically unstable world. Conley has once again given us a brilliant exploration of the spatial imagination of the French Renaissance, one whose impact will be felt across the disciplines.

Michael Gaudio, University of Minnesota

An Errant Eye studies how topography, the art of describing local space and place, developed literary and visual form in early modern France. Arguing for a ‘new poetics of space’ ranging throughout French Renaissance poetry, prose, and cartography, Tom Conley performs dazzling readings of maps, woodcuts, and poems to plot a topographical shift in the late Renaissance in which space, subjectivity, and politics fall into crisis. He charts the paradox of a period whose demarcation of national space through cartography is rendered unstable by an ambient world of printed writing.

This tension, Conley demonstrates, cuts through literature and graphic matter of various shapes and forms—hybrid genres that include the comic novel, the emblem-book, the eclogue, sonnets, and the personal essay. An Errant Eye differs from historical treatments of spatial invention through Conley’s argument that the topographic sensibility is one in which the ocular faculty, vital to the description of locale, is endowed with tact and touch.

Detailed close readings of Apian, Rabelais, Montaigne, and others empower the reader with a lively sense of the topographical impulse, deriving from Conley’s own ‘errant eye,’ which is singularly discerning in attentiveness to the ambiguities of charted territory, the contours of woodcut images, and the complex combinations of word and figure in French Renaissance poetry, emblem, and politics.

An Errant Eye

Tom Conley is Abbott Lawrence Lowell Professor in the Departments of Romance Languages and Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard University. He is the author of Film Hieroglyphs: Ruptures in Classical Cinema (Minnesota, 1991 and 2006), The Graphic Unconscious in Early Modern French Writing, The Self-Made Map: Cartographic Writing in Early Modern France (Minnesota, 1996 and 2010), and Cartographic Cinema (Minnesota, 2007).

An Errant Eye

In An Errant Eye, Tom Conley slows down our encounter with the Renaissance to a snail’s pace. At this tactical speed he leads us across a series of local topographies—topographies of print created by Rabelais, Montaigne, the cosmographer Peter Apian, and other writers and poets of the sixteenth century who felt their way through a radically unstable world. Conley has once again given us a brilliant exploration of the spatial imagination of the French Renaissance, one whose impact will be felt across the disciplines.

Michael Gaudio, University of Minnesota

Practicing a highly skillful and imaginative form of criticism, Tom Conley sets for himself the task of unveiling the birth of modern subjectivity in early modern representational artifacts such as maps and literary texts. His readings of textual and visual media are thoroughly gratifying and even exhilarating in their illuminating inventiveness, uncovering meanings unattainable by safer, traditional hermeneutic means.

Jean-Claude Carron, UCLA

Conley’s gift for careful and creative analysis is on full display when he lavishes loving attention to passages and images, their meanings, their tropes, their forms, their implications for the understanding of the text in which they are located and of the culture surrounding them. Through the prism of space and location, he significantly expands our understanding of familiar texts by delineating their topographies of sensation and experience.

Renaissance Quarterly

This truly interdisciplinary study will enable humanities scholars from multiple disciplines to saunter through the expansive, portentous, and playful territory of sixteenth-century French poetry with ‘a tactile eye.’

Oxford Journals French Studies

If apprehending the multifaceted vistas of space and place of this remarkable work requires the acceptance of the reader to “become snail,” the enormous benefits for so doing can perhaps be best evoked in a brief return to a passage from Montaigne’s “De l’exercitation” glossed in the introductory chapter of the book (pp. 5-6) where the essayist declares, following a personal brush with death, that “to train ourselves for death....We need only put ourselves in its proximity. Thus, as Pliny says, each is to oneself a very keen discipline.”

H-France Review

With its sweeping and delicately insightful coverage, An Errant Eye is a masterwork of criticism—a contribution to early modern French studies and also to how this field is intimately connected with so many others, pointing to a future that must be transdisciplinary in order to survive the burgeoning cartography of globalization.

French Review

An Errant Eye

Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments

Introduction: A Snail’s Eye
An Event — Tact and Sight — A Topographer’s Lens — Itineraries

1. Rabelais: Worlds Introjected
An Encounter — A Meeting: An Event — Other Chapters, Other Realms —
An Open End

2. The Apian Way
A Book and its Fortunes — Topography and the Body — A Spider’s Thread —
A Map of the World and its Winds

3. A Landscape of Emblems: Corrozet and Holbein
L’Hécatomgraphie — Hope in the Sphere — Emblems Compassed —
Simulachres de la mort — On Top of the World — The Plowman

4. A Poet in Relief: Maurice Scève
Délie — Epigrams and Emblems — A Spider’s Eye — From Délie to Saulsaye
The Country and the City

5. Ronsard in Conflict: A Writer out of Place
A Graven Style — Ciel, air, & vents, plains & montz descouvers — A Parting Shot — Ronsard Saved from Drowning — Mixed Fortune — Antarctic France

6. Montaigne and his Swallows
A Form of Content — Belon’s Birds — Region and Religion

Conclusion: A Tactile Eye
Notes
Works Cited
Index