Death and Tenses: Posthumous Presence in Early Modern France

ISBN : 9780198831150

Neil Kenny
304 ページ
153 x 234 mm

In what tense should we refer to the dead? The question has long been asked, from Cicero to Julian Barnes. Answering it is partly a matter of grammar and stylistic convention. But the hesitation, annoyance, and even distress that can be caused by the "wrong" tense suggests that more may be at stake-our very relation to the dead. This book, the first to test that hypothesis, investigates how tenses were used in sixteenth and early seventeenth-century France (especially in French but also in Latin) to refer to dead friends, lovers, family members, enemies, colleagues, writers, officials, kings and queens of recent times, and also to those who had died long before, whether Christ, the saints, or the ancient Greeks and Romans who posthumously filled the minds of Renaissance humanists. Did tenses refer to the dead in ways that contributed to granting them differing degrees of presence (and absence)? Did tenses communicate dimensions of posthumous presence (and absence) that partly eluded more concept-based affirmations? The investigation ranges from funerary and devotional writing to Eucharistic theology, from poetry to humanist paratexts, from Rabelais's prose fiction to Montaigne's Essais. Primarily a work of literary and cultural history, it also draws on early modern grammatical thought and on modern linguistics (with its concept of aspect and its questioning of "tense"), while arguing that neither can fully explain the phenomena studied. The book briefly compares early modern usage with tendencies in modern French and English in the West, asking whether changes in belief about posthumous survival have been accompanied by changes in tense-use.


Introduction: Inescapable Tense
Part I. Tense, Death, Survival
1 Modern Tenses for the Dead: Towards a Sketch
2 The Historiographical Regime of Disentanglement
3 Surviving Death in the Early Modern Period
4 Early Modern Tenses for the Dead
Part II. Dying, Burying, Mourning: Tense and Ritual
5 Tense and Ritual
6 Christ, the Saints, Meditation
7 The Eucharist
8 From Funeral Sermon to Coronation
9 Epitaphs
10 Consolation Literature
Part III. Discursive Remains
11 Actions
12 Spoken Words
13 Written Words
Part IV. Authors
14 Rabelais
15 Montaigne
Conclusion: Breaking Through?


Neil Kenny FBA is Professor of French at the University of Oxford and Senior Research Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford. Previously he taught French at the University of Cambridge and at Queen Mary University of London, having been a Frances A. Yates Fellow at the Warburg Institute. He has written extensively on early modern literature, thought, and culture, especially in France. His previous books include The Uses of Curiosity in Early Modern France and Germany (OUP, 2004) and An Introduction to Sixteenth-Century French Literature and Thought: Other Times, Other Places (London: Duckworth, now Bloomsbury, 2008).