La Poésie philosophique de Voltaire; Voltaire and the Temple of bad taste: a study of 'La Pucelle d’Orléans'

BookLa Poésie philosophique de Voltaire; Voltaire and the Temple of bad taste: a study of 'La Pucelle d’Orléans'

La Poésie philosophique de Voltaire; Voltaire and the Temple of bad taste: a study of 'La Pucelle d’Orléans'

. A Study of 'La Pucelle D'Orleans' (TSIEN)

Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, 2003:05


May 1st, 2003



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I. Gwénaëlle Boucher, La Poésie philosophique de Voltaire
La poésie de Voltaire, désormais aussi décriée que sa philosophie, constitue un réel enjeu philosophique: le vers possède des vertus heuristiques relayant la raison lorsque celle-ci achoppe sur une difficulté et la pensée se nourrit de la forme même du poème. Certes, Voltaire fait ses premières armes poétiques dans la polémique, propageant en vers sa philosophie portative fondée sur l’allégorie militante ou le vers gnomique, au risque de voir ses vers-maximes inlassablement ressassés devenir clichés rhétoriques et lieux communs de la pensée. Mais avant d’être actif, le vers philosophique voltairien est d’abord réactif, empreint des émotions du poète devant les astres ou les désastres terrestres. Ainsi, si la philosophie est la condition de la ‘vraie’ poésie, ce sont peut-être surtout les impuissances et les démissions philosophiques qui permettent l’expression poétique. Accédant à la poésie lorsque ses idées échouent à trouver des certitudes devant les incohérences du monde, Voltaire serait-il un poète de l’irrationnel?

II. Jennifer Tsien, Voltaire and the Temple of bad taste: a study of La Pucelle d’Orléans
Voltaire’s mock-epic poem La Pucelle d’Orléans has delighted, offended, and baffled readers throughout the centuries. In addition to its calculated chaos of genre and style, the poem also contains an improbable number of episodic characters and subplots whose fantastic nature is worthy of Orlando furioso.
This study makes sense of La Pucelle d’Orléans by demonstrating the way in which it represents Voltaire’s definition of bad writing, in view of his criticism and the literary debates of the period. In contrast to the classical ideal that Voltaire championed, his mock epic is filled with precisely those elements that he condemned in the works of other writers, including mixed genres, préciosité, vulgar language, magic, and grotesque metamorphoses. 
La Pucelle d’Orléans shows us the underside of Voltaire’s professed neoclassical aesthetics while allowing his readers to indulge in the pleasures of bad taste.

'Through careful close readings, Boucher goes beyond the traditional image of Voltairean detached irony, persuasively arguing that many of his best poetic works, such as the Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne, successfully fused a lyrical sensitivity with his humanistic principles. [...] In only four well-documented chapters […] Tsien examines the various ways in which Voltaire’s “claims to elegant restraint in his comic works” are contradicted by “his own use of vulgar language”. [...] Since the legendary figure of Joan of Arc has to this day remained a prominent and controversial point of reference in French literature and politics, Tsien’s detailed study of what was once among the most famous (or infamous) of Voltaire’s works is both valuable and long overdue.'
French Review

'This is a splendid book, and even a courageous one, since Voltaire’s verse is so unappreciated in the twenty-first century. Boucher wastes no time in getting to the point in her introduction. [...] Boucher’s arguments are based on careful close readings of an enormous number of documents related to Voltaire’s immense outpouring of poetry and philosophical writings. [...] Tsien writes in an engagins style, letting her erudition show without ostentation. Her analysis proceeds in a double wave. On the one hand, she examines in the four chapters of her book, in between an introduction and a conclusionm, four aspects of Voltaire’s epic, while on the other hand, and simultaneously, she leads the reader by a process of accrual to a synthesis of her critical appraisals. This accomplishment attests to the unity of vision she has in her study and to the acuity of that vision.'
Eighteenth-Century Fiction

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