Cartesian Poetics: The Art of Thinking 9780226722979, 9780226723020, 9780226723167, 2020004032

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Table of contents :
Introduction. Resultless Enterprises
One. Common-Sense Envy
Two. Lyric Disposition
Three. Bitter Satisfactions
Four. After Thoughts
Epilogue. “A Painful Feeling of Strangeness”
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Cartesian Poetics: The Art of Thinking
 9780226722979, 9780226723020, 9780226723167, 2020004032

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Carte sian P oet iC s

t hi n k i ng L i t e r at u r e A series edited by Nan Z. Da and Anahid Nersessian

Cartesian Poetics the a rt of thinking

Andrea Gadberry

The University of Chicago Press Chicago and London

The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637 The University of Chicago Press, Ltd., London © 2020 by The University of Chicago All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations in critical articles and reviews. For more information, contact the University of Chicago Press, 1427 East 60th Street, Chicago, IL 60637. Published 2020 Printed in the United States of America 29 28 27 26 25 24 23 22 21 20

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isBn-13: 978-0-226-72297-9 (cloth) isBn-13: 978-0-226-72302-0 (paper) isBn-13: 978-0-226-72316-7 (e-book) Doi: The University of Chicago Press gratefully acknowledges the generous support of the Center for the Humanities at New York University toward the publication of this book. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Gadberry, Andrea, author. Title: Cartesian poetics : the art of thinking / Andrea Gadberry. Other titles: Thinking literature. Description: Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 2020. | Series: Thinking literature | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCn 2020004032 | isBn 9780226722979 (cloth) | isBn 9780226723020 (paperback) | isBn 9780226723167 (ebook) Subjects: LCsh: Descartes, René, 1596-1650. | Poetics—History— 17th century. Classification: LCC B1875 .g2334 2020 | DDC 194—dc23 LC record available at ♾ This paper meets the requirements of ansi/niso Z39.48-1992 (Permanence of Paper).

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in troDuCtion  •  Resultless Enterprises 1 one  •  Common-Sense Envy 25 t wo  •  Lyric Disposition 55 three  •  Bitter Satisfactions 85 four  •  After Thoughts 112 ePiLogue  •  “A Painful Feeling of Strangeness” 145 aC knowL e Dgm e n t s 153 no t e 157 i n De x 191

Resultless Enterprises

[ introDuCtion ]

How can anything relevant for the world we live in arise out of so resultless an enterprise? hannah are nDt 1

René Descartes was not a poet. Of course he read poems, wrote many in school, quoted them in correspondence, possibly dreamt about them,2 maybe even wrote verses for a ballet, and knew friends of the censored poet Théophile de Viau.3 But proximity does not a poet make. That was fine; he had plenty of other things to do: finding a reliable method toward truth, taking down Aristotelians, developing a theory of optics, explaining rainbows.4 Yet poetry matters to Descartes and how we read his work nonetheless, and it matters because it makes some of his thinking happen. Cartesian Poetics investigates the relationship between thinking and poetry in Descartes. It asks what thinking is good for, what it feels like, and what it defers, conceals, and exploits thanks to the abundant resources of poetic form. Locating in Descartes’s philosophy the incidental effects of his poetic education, centering the importance of literary-critical interpretation with both its hazards and possibilities, this book understands thought to be vulnerable rather than impenetrable. In my readings of Descartes’s Meditations, the Discourse on Method, the Rules for the Direction of the Mind, and The Passions of the Soul, the task of arriving at thought— and asking what thinking even is— rewrites the biography of the Cartesian subject into a bildungsroman of vulnerabilities and formal ingenuities. The resultant subject is still the one we have come to shorthand as the Cartesian subject or to mark as “the cogito,” but I will argue that understanding its heroism or its offense is even more urgent alongside the ambiguous forms it needs to summon in order to think or to speak or to be. That Descartes’s own formation, that an education in and around poetry, could matter to him and his thought is not a scandalous proposition. It is a simple fact that the rich environment of Renaissance literature meant that his philosophy could draw freely from the wealth of rhetorical and poetic resources available to early modern writers as a consequence

2 Introduction

of their education. Less simple, however, is the detection of poetic form and the interpretation of its meaning. Adopting a method more akin to lyric reading than the historicism still central to early modern studies, I examine less overt allusions and structures (riddle, love lyric, elegy, and anagram), forms more seldom discussed or never noticed at all because they are not named outright with the fanfare of Descartes’s more famous invitation to consider his Discourse as a fable, a painting, or a history.5 Deploying the “resources of kind” of early modern poetry and rhetoric, to borrow Rosalie Colie’s still essential formulation,6 Descartes’s philosophy struggles with risks to the pursuit of the truth from within and without, risks that might legitimately motivate a retreat into the most rigid reason. But far from dead- ending in the cliché of the cold cogito, the kind of thinking I discuss here is often an ambivalent institution: thinking is deeply felt and responsive to feeling, to passions and virtues like envy, repulsion, bitterness, and hope— and even boldness. It is not altogether surprising that such interpretive possibilities have often been overlooked, a distinguished tradition of feminist and literarycritical works “reading Descartes otherwise” notwithstanding.7 For the outsized impact of Descartes’s prose has worked to estrange Descartes from his own language; his claims to certitude have repressed his entanglements in contingency. At times, they have also stymied his readers; as John Lyons has remarked, there remains a striking “tendency to read the works of Descartes as if they were a content without a form, a purely transparent and innocent language without a voice.”8 Cartesian Poetics recenters the speculative promise of reading, at once sensitive to historically specific, recognizable early modern forms and committed to literary criticism’s powers of interpretation. In finding as the basis for my inquiry terms as abstract and debated as, on the one hand, “poetry” and “poetics,” and, on the other, “thinking,” I show how we have underestimated the role of poetry and poetics in philosophy and, in so doing, lost sight of a way of thinking sensitive to the contingencies of form and formation.9 Reading Descartes from this position of renewed curiosity makes such familiar characters as the cogito and the evil genius all the more revelatory as sites where self-transparency fails to render the self transparent; instead, locating thinking’s fragility and limitations shows how thought’s frailty is coterminous with its power, intertwined even with feelings we more typically imagine thinking as having exiled or conquered. In this light, Descartes abandons the role of archvillain responsible for all of modernity’s worst impulses. He is instead an ally in making the case for why thinking still matters not in spite of but because of our feelings, flaws, and even occasional pettinesses. As the famous point of antagonism for Derrida and Foucault when it

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came to madness, as the object of fascination for psychoanalytic thinkers from Freud to Lacan to Bion, the generative potential of Descartes’s philosophy has surfaced in wildly different quarters and schools of thought in the twentieth century, which this book engages in its inquiry into thinking and poetry alike. Borrowing freely from the insights of these thinkers means rejecting that which Lacan named the approach of “dentists”— “as dentists are very confident about the order of the universe because they think that Mr. Descartes made manifest the laws and the procedures of limpid reason.”10 Agnostic as to the real-life imaginative capacity of dentists, this book adopts a commitment nonetheless to throwing off “dentist’s glasses in reading Descartes” that would limit “becom[ing] aware of certain puzzles he shows us.”11 While in some cases, removing dentist’s glasses has required detaching Descartes from historical context or moving away from textual detail in pursuit of larger concepts, my approach here looks to historically informed close readings to reach speculative conclusions no less exciting for their genesis in early modern contexts. To be clear, there have been many thinkers and many poets, and this is hardly intended as the last word on either subject.12 But Descartes remains an exceptionally rich figure, even in the good company of thinkers and poets assembled across the intervening centuries. For one, he has succeeded in being as much at home in the seventeenth century as in the twenty-first. Each epoch, it seems, measures itself against a Descartes at once a product of his times and an index of later ones.13 As a transhistorical figure and the namesake of modernity’s most vexing subjection, that is, the Cartesian one, Descartes is thus a temporal marker of a transition to modernity, and he is likewise the author of the antagonism, central to disciplines that might seem to have little in common, shorthanded as the mind-body split. In spite of the rifts he is said to have created— between mind and body and between a before and an after he holds apart— Descartes is responsible for multiplication as much as for fracture: the case of his continued relevance rests on his historical influence but also on the way in which he is reinvented.14 Given his extraordinary influence, it would be worthwhile enough simply to return to the writings of the author of the cogito and the apparent parent of Enlightenment reason to ask again “what is called thinking.”15 Asking what poetry has to do with thought in Descartes brings together two notoriously “resultless . . . enterprise[s].” If thinking fails to produce “results,” to borrow Hannah Arendt’s formulation, poetry, so the oft-repeated Auden goes, “makes nothing happen.”16 This book assumes the skepticism of its subject when it asks what thinking is and what it has to do with poetry. To be clear, like the Rorschach of so many brain scans, it does not resolve the dilemma of thinking’s definition (or poetry’s!). As I indi-

4 Introduction

cate below, thinking for Descartes sometimes looks like a “logic without definition” while poetry is one of several “gifts” of the mind. So much for clear and distinct definitions. This book likewise does not pretend that there is a historically pure, single Descartes, as if the reduplications and reinventions of Descartes never occurred. But it nonetheless shows how the concept of thinking in Descartes is made possible by poetic interventions made possible, in turn, by the specific poetic and rhetorical forms surrounding the historical Descartes. Reading anew for form and voice recovers what was already known to many ancients and early moderns: poetry speaks to and in philosophy. Without hassling Aristotle to repeat his old insight that, perhaps, “poetry is more philosophical and more serious than history” in showing all things that are “possible,”17 it is easy to locate early modern poets who knew about fractured subjectivities, alienated bodies, and the fine line between truth and fiction. They had already shattered the search for truth in making poetry a friend to doubt, as Sir Philip Sidney demonstrated in writing that “the poet, he nothing affirms, and therefore never lieth.”18 And poets could also make the fractured subject talk and ask for sympathy, as Sidney showed long ago: “I am not I; pity the tale of me.”19 This book assumes that philosophers could, and did, learn from the wisdom and technique of poets, whether they intended to or not. Following Sidney’s cue in taking thinking and its story in Descartes as objects of empathy rather than contempt, it becomes possible to read his philosophy not to verify its truths but to acknowledge its poetic license. Poetry’s Throat The history of the concept of destiny in classical metaphysics still remains to be studied. As does that of the role of poetry in the metaphysics of Descartes. Je an- LuC m ar ion20

In the long and infamous quarrel between poetry and philosophy, Descartes is hardly the most important or even a major player.21 Though he counts poetry among those past pastimes that led to his miseducation, he has no interest in banning poets or their poetry from the polis. Nor does he insinuate himself into the literary- critical moment of his day as Galileo had when he delivered his criticism of Tasso’s Gerusalemme Deliverata.22 So when, a little more than half a century after Descartes’s death, the famed critic and poet Nicolas Boileau was rumored to have declared Descartes responsible for poetry’s violent end, there were certainly better,

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more motivated suspects for poetry’s apparent demise. Nonetheless, JeanBaptiste Rousseau reported that I have often heard [Boileau] say that the philosophy of Descartes had cut poetry’s throat; and it is certain that what poetry has borrowed from mathematics has desiccated its spirit and accustomed it to a concrete or material precision (une justesse materielle) that has nothing to do with what might be called the properly metaphysical precision (la justesse métaphysique) of poets and orators. Geometry and poetry have their separate and distinct rules, and those who wish to judge Homer by Euclid are no less impertinent than those who wish to judge Euclid by Homer.23

Here Rousseau reboots the ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry and lays the blame for the apparent success of the “geometers” at Descartes’s feet. As Rousseau portrays it, Boileau’s characterization of Descartes’s philosophy as verse’s butcher casts the crime scene as weirdly wet and dry: poetry’s blood may have been spilt, but the real crime is its “dessicat[ion].” In this indictment, however, philosophy seems to harm poetry with little risk to itself. Rousseau proves how unsettling it is to “judge Homer by Euclid” by intimating the absurdity of its opposite in “those who wish to judge Euclid by Homer,” where the “impertinence” of such a maneuver is assumed to be self- evident. What Rousseau inadvertently gets right with his accusation, however, is the possibility of poetry influencing people who are not poets. That is, rather than dismissing poetry as a thing indifferent for everyone other than the poets themselves, who evidently risk being dried out by geometry anyway, Rousseau’s appeal to the absurdity of judging Euclid by Homer becomes useful when treated in earnest. If Homer had something to say to Euclid, perhaps there were poetic techniques or even poets whose work might matter to Descartes. If Descartes slashed poetry’s throat, perhaps he had unlikely accomplices. For the task of dismantling his philosophical forebears, Descartes could borrow— or merely become “accustomed” to— poetry’s strategies. After all, though he might be accused of killing poetry, he would conveniently never be held to poetry’s rules. While poets might be preoccupied with their poetic forebears, for Descartes, poetry could be an influence without anxiety,24 a method to be applied not so much methodically as incidentally— the form through which a given thought might take shape. Descartes had no need to be especially nervous about an influence that was rarely itself the object of his inquiries. In contrast to Rousseau, who seems to fear the encounter between Euclid and Homer, Descartes embraces the intermingling of “kinds.” Var-

6 Introduction

ious forms contain and structure his work, sometimes explicitly so, without the zealous exclusion of others. When it seemed useful to lay claim to a given structure, as in the “meditations” or the invitation to read the Discourse as “fable” or “history,” form comes to the fore. But otherwise it could be attended to only occasionally, with form giving thought its shape without any special declaration. This is a felicitous twist: clarity and distinction are central tenets of Descartes’s philosophical program, but they are, it turns out, not the exclusive method at play when it comes to the liberties of prose form. Literary influences permit Descartes to take advantage of a wealth of early modern genres, among them those examined here, from the dizzying paradoxes embedded into emblem, riddle, and anagram to forms associated with love and loss, as in the blazon of love lyric and the lamentations of elegy. In this way, Descartes might be thought of as transforming some of the logical conclusions to which early modern poetry could naturally lead. As Colie argued, literary form anticipated philosophical inventions as they repurposed older literary forms to new use, even arriving before philosophy. Literary forms could impart grounds of inquiry for philosophical innovations through form, including for philosophical revolutions of the most profound variety: “In a way, the concept of ‘self ’ was a novum repertum, as was its Gargantuan child, the epistemological revolution in seventeenthcentury philosophy; in literary forms, we can find the bases for exploration before the theory was provided by Descartes,” among others.25 If poetic forms could structure or take on philosophical propositions “before the theory,” this need not be especially anguishing for philosophy, especially with Platonic worries at a remove. The genre-policing in Rousseau’s complaint was not portrayed as philosophy’s problem because the fear that geometric Descartes could “desiccate” poetry casts the relationship between poetry and philosophy as one-sided. Not asking what poetry could do to or for philosophy (or mathematics) emboldened philosophy to take literary liberties that could be conceptually useful. Without fear of form, at least of the poetic variety, Descartes could enjoy poetic strategy either purposefully or carelessly, without worry about generic disobedience of the literary sort.26 He could benefit from the “continual state of transformation”27 of poetic “kinds,” that is, while lending to form a less anxious attention. In light of Descartes’s apparent freedom from one variety of genre troubles, Boileau’s allegation looks somewhat less sinister. Rousseau’s gloss of Boileau seems a sign of its times,28 a gatekeeper against generic admixture more than an engagement with poetry’s death or its spirit. Boileau might be seen, then, as a force standing in the way of recognizing what Roland Greene has called the “lyric moment in prose”29 emerging in early modern prose forms that borrow freely from a poetic storehouse.

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With attunement to forms that would have been familiar to early modern ears, a negative poetics stops looking like a cross-generic menace or contamination and becomes a more ordinary, if no less forceful, capacity, available to writers of many stripes. In this unthreatening guise, prose forms can borrow from the techniques of poetry, and literary- critical reading can illuminate instances of poetic force in philosophy, enriching interpretive possibilities by attending to a context often taken for granted.30 Rousseau’s criticism of Descartes for sullying the purity of geometry and poetry, then, doubles down on a fear of “desiccation” in enforcing classicism’s attachment to clarity, an orientation, intriguingly, that Bakhtin deemed outright “the Cartesian poetics of neoclassicism.”31 In Bakhtin’s sidelong glance at Cartesian fallout, the problem is that Cartesian clarity stands in the way of an exuberant heteroglossia, which he frames, intriguingly, as the life’s blood of the novel. That is, Descartes is suddenly guilty of another offense to literature. Descartes’s ill effects on poetry and novel alike seem more familiar when understood through a post-Romantic lens, the kind that would read the split of mind and body, for instance, as an attack on “lyric feeling” or as an assault on “exuberance” for the sake of cold reason.32 Boileau’s accusation, then, works as well for a stickler for classicism as it does for a post-Romantic reader committed to sensuous lyricism and wary of the alienation of mind from body. What changes in this story, however, is not Descartes’s apparent villainy but what constitutes poetry in the first place. What Is Poetry for (Descartes)?

Descartes’s definition of “poetry” stresses its power more than its purpose. It effaces the labor of poetry while marking poetry’s distance from mere instrumentality. In the Discourse, Descartes defines it with an evasive generosity. Like rhetoric, poetry is “a gift of the mind,” un don de l’esprit. Neither the outcome of work nor the object of diligent attention— those things Descartes calls “fruits of study”— poetry relies on a still more arbitrary source for its production: the “gift.” Erased from this formula, to be sure, are the rules poets learn and attend to with intensity and effort, among them such strictures as meter and genre that make it possible to identify the various poetic kinds. Before he arrives at his working definition of poetry, Descartes reveals that poetry is drenched in affect: “poetry has quite ravishing delicacy and sweetness.”33 Before he dismisses it as mere “gift,” he confesses that he once “loved poetry”: j’étais amoureux de la poésie.34 Following Descartes’s own definition requires that we recognize how poetry can exercise a power, cognitive and emotional, over its reader or writer. It exposes the pleasures with which one might receive

8 Introduction

the mind’s gifts, the sensual reception of sometimes-saccharine delicatesses and douceurs. It means that we can fall in love with the products of a mind— including those of our own. In showing poetry at once as accident and as object of desire, Descartes sets up a false idol to reject as an obstacle to truth and method, all the while making use of its generic and figural resources. In the Discourse, this don de l’esprit is no sacrament; it is, rather, an accident that befalls the mind. From the Discourse on Method to the Meditations, with their debt to Loyolan method, however, Descartes shows an interest in the literary forms his philosophy could assume. That is perhaps why, in his letter to his longtime interlocutor Marin Mersenne, he defends his choice of form for the Meditations. He could have written the work as a geometric proof, but the lessons of philosophy were better served in a decidedly more literary form. “It would be worthwhile,” Mersenne’s objections read, “if you set out the entire argument in geometrical fashion starting from a number of definitions, postulates and axioms. You are highly experienced in employing this method, and it would enable you to fill the mind of each reader so that he could see everything as it were at a single glance, and be permeated with awareness of the divine power.”35 Mersenne makes it possible to imagine a view of the universe that sees everything at one time, a view that collapses the temporal sequence of the Meditations and its plodding movement from one idea to the next. But Descartes scorns Mersenne’s ambition and, for a moment, the medium becomes the message: each meditation must be read in sequence “so that if the reader is willing to follow . . . and give sufficient attention to all points, he will make the thing his own and understand it just as perfectly as if he had discovered it for himself.”36 Yet Descartes dresses up his gift to his reader in the form of a hardearned discovery. In doing so, he creates a condition of reading that will, in fact, become that of the poem in the centuries after Descartes was said to have killed it; as Virginia Jackson puts it: “the poetry that comes to be understood as lyric after the eighteenth century is thought to require as its context only the occasion of its reading.”37 While Descartes disavows the gift of poetry, he has already received it: it provides him the ability to shape thought into form— or, as the case may be, to receive thought in the shape of, or in the shadow of, a poem. In the chapters that follow, I will appeal to poetry’s varied definitions, both contemporary to Descartes and further afield, to try to understand what is at stake when Descartes’s prose reveals poetic inflections. By appealing to early modern genres, to historically contingent forms, I aim to show how Descartes’s texts borrow from a poetic repertoire familiar to early modern ears and illuminative of his philosophical ends. In this light, what poets are for— or at least one thing they’re good for— is the production of a method that Descartes says we ought not

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to follow, one that readily solicits and traffics in desire and that, à la Aristotle, conjures the “possible” rather than the true. That poetry’s definition will shift over time marks crucial historical difference, but it also indexes one of the challenges of talking about poetry or poetics, namely, the vast disagreement, within and across epochs, in constituting what those terms even mean. Whether or not it is in fact true that we use “the word ‘poetry’ to cover all forms of innovative thought,”38 or that “poetics” might be “a label for any formal or informal survey of the structures, devices, and norms that enable a discourse, genre, or cultural system to produce particular effects,”39 or, in harsher terms, that “it has been applied to almost every human activity, so that often it seems to mean little more than ‘theory,’”40 the definitional fluidity of the concept of “poetry” poses a critical challenge in diagnosing its appearance or its death. For one, poetry seems to have survived its apparent assault, though its death would be announced and reannounced in subsequent epochs.41 Whatever the controversies of the “geometric” poetry that marked the decades following Descartes,42 poetry adapted and survived changes to the rules and so many ages of prose.43 The debates in the early modern period about the character of “poetry” were no less contentious, even as “poetry” included more forms than it does now in colloquial formulations that tend to distinguish only “lyric” and, in doing so, overlook dramatic poetry, epic, and even short verse forms that are not lyric forms.44 Descartes, I think, would not have been too surprised had he been told that someone might one day wager that his thought shows a debt to poetic form. More startling to him, perhaps, would have been the idea that he “forbade all possibility of a serious consideration of poetry and art.”45 Attuned to the power of the imagination, Descartes openly admired its capacity and had already developed an account of how the most imaginative artist owed his apparent novelty to a skillful manipulation of form: “For even when painters try to create sirens and satyrs with the most extraordinary bodies, they cannot give them natures which are new in all respects; they simply jumble up the limbs of different animals.”46 As Descartes seems both to place a hard limit on what art can do and to render it less desirable (“simply jumble[d] up”), he himself produces a disciplinary “jumble” in his own sentence, bringing “painters” into conversation with his philosophy. Fittingly, he brings poets along, too: reducing the famous chimera from Horace’s Ars Poetica to an appendicular menagerie, Descartes seems to make “sirens and satyrs” less “extraordinary” in indicating their component parts. But he does not entirely disenchant them. As the Meditations gets under way, Descartes shows how more casual shape-shifting is happening all the time. Attending to a banal piece of wax as it changes from liquid to solid, he muses on the mutability of substance. Imagination will

10 Introduction

have no part here as “the nature of this piece of wax is in no way revealed by my imagination, but is perceived by the mind alone.”47 Descartes will rediscover “the mind alone” more than once in the Meditations as he reshapes the self into a “thinking thing.” In the Third Meditation, for instance, he’ll get to the mind by cutting off all his senses: “I will now shut my eyes, stop my ears, and withdraw all my senses.”48 In gestures like these, which hold the mind apart, Descartes seems to embark on a novel skeptical path that proves his critics right— the imagination takes a back seat, and disembodied reason prevails. But Descartes, like the painters he assesses, cannot give the Meditations’ meditator a nature “which [is] new in all respects.” Instead, his meditator seems to have (or have had) a body as “extraordinary,” in the instant of its discarding, as those of satyrs or sirens. The meditator likewise makes himself receptive to the sirens’ song in another sense. He has perhaps learned from Odysseus or simply replicated his journey without realizing it, for the meditator mimics the king of Ithaca’s insight that the only way to hear the siren’s song and to live to talk about it is from a position of restraint. While Odysseus’s sailors put wax in their ears and tied their captain to the mast, Descartes travels alone and has only poetic example: he must take the wax and hold it in front of himself. He will hear the sirens, and their song, as he leaves his body behind, as “jumbled” as the most mythic example. The meditator’s casual expulsion of the sirens may make us want to join the ranks of those blaming Descartes for killing poetry, but the wandering journey this book puts forth will suggest that a siren song helped shape this philosopher’s intellectual navigations, in spite of what first reads as indifference. It is no longer new “to associate the ‘Homeric simile and the beginning of philosophy,’”49 but, centuries past such “beginnings,” it might be easier to overlook the way in which poetry subtends “associations,” “borrowings,” and “accustomizations” that characterize middle chapters of the history of thought. In this way, for Descartes, there is a more mild-mannered triumph, distant from epic glories. It leads neither to poetasting nor to drowning; what summons thinking, perhaps, is the poetry or song in the air that makes it possible to cite sirens without seeing them. What Was Called Thinking? The history of philosophy is probably only a growing awareness of the difficulty of thinking. e m m anu e L L ev i na s 50

In the Third Meditation, Descartes characterizes the source of his thinking on thinking: “My understanding of . . . what thought is, seems to de-

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rive simply from my own nature.”51 To disentangle what one might “derive simply” from that which was more complicated, Descartes set out what could and could not be considered “self-evident.” The trouble was, as he wrote in his Principia, that “matters which are very simple and selfevident, are obscured by logical definitions (definitionibus logicis) and should not be counted (non esse numeranda) among the cognitions acquired by study (cognitiones studio acquisitas) {but as born with us}.”52 When it comes to “my own nature,” it seems that words get in the way. As the French edition emends the text to extend simple cognition to birth in the form of innate ideas53— “as born with us”— Descartes makes our most basic thoughts at once beyond logical explication and resistant to being cataloged with other kinds of thinking. What Descartes exposes by appealing to the innate is the problem that “cognitions acquired by study” seem designed to conceal: that we still do not know, as Heidegger put it, “what is called thinking,” that the process we sometimes use in pursuit of knowledge is resistant to being known itself. As Descartes indicates that these most basic notions are rendered foggier by “logical definitions,” he makes self- evidence a distant threshold that logical definition cannot easily breach. When it comes to the thoughts I derive from “my own nature,” when the horizon extends back still further than what I’ve learned “by study,” two paths present themselves to approach such thoughts: the first would be to posit concepts beyond testing, to lean on “illogical definition” (consider here so many well-worn critiques of metaphysics!), but the second would be to inquire into a logic without definition that could shed light on cognitions that otherwise ought “not be counted.”54 It is in this latter form— a logic without definition— that this book locates poetry’s place in Descartes’s thinking: in that it still operates through words, logoi, it is a logic, but to the extent that thinking often seems to have no “definite” definition, is without fines, and, lacking bound or end, it lacks definition. This undefined logic, too, seems precisely to describe a poetics in prose.55 Shedding generic purity, poetic language can twist away from poetry’s rules for verse and nonetheless exert a poetic power outside of a poem. From such a negative poetics emerges, however imperfectly, the conditions for illuminating some of those thoughts, born with us— as well as those acquired through experience rather than “by study.” Inquiring into this logic without definition opens a case for the thoughts that “are not to be counted” or of which we are not necessarily immediately (or ever) aware. For Descartes, as for many of his contemporaries, “thinking” was neither simple nor so self- evident as to dispense with definition, logical or otherwise. It was a vast and complex operation, including but hardly limited to mere calculation. This is not altogether shocking, however, given

12 Introduction

the lively conversations in the early modern period about the status of many modes of mental activity. This was the object of writing on states of attention in prayer,56 of a shifting lexical field navigating the stuff of “consciousness” and “conscience,”57 and of literary investigations, too, where the complicated relationship between “ideas . . . judgment and reasonings” and their competition from the passions had long been playing out.58 Early modern poets grasped this vastness, too. They did not have to wait for Heidegger to inquire into thinking and its relationship to language and poetry, and they could easily deploy widely recognizable philosophical tropes. After all, as Colie writes, “[i]ntellectual traditions tend to have their topoi, just as rhetorical traditions do. . . . A given [poet] . . . may use such commonplaces systematically, arbitrarily, or accidentally.”59 They also did not wait for Descartes. As the poets who appear in the chapters to come, from Virgil, Ovid, and Lucretius to Petrarch, Scève, and Ronsard, make clear, they, too, had thought about the propositions that turn subject to object, that structure consciousness, that ask what it is to be (or not to be). In the decades after Descartes, Andrew Marvell, sometimes called a Cartesian poet,60 also deemed thought the worthy object of verse and made the perception of “kind” and “resemblance” the precondition of destructive “creation”: Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less, Withdraws into its happiness; The mind, that ocean where each kind Does straight its own resemblance find, Yet it creates, transcending these, Far other worlds, and other seas; Annihilating all that’s made To a green thought in a green shade.61

In Marvell’s rendering, the mind does not simply seek out resemblance but rather makes it appear: “the mind” does not divide so much as redouble. If green on green makes it more difficult to distinguish a “thought” from the “shade” in which it appears (or which it produces), to parse creations from resemblances and kinds, this is a difficulty Descartes also understood as he attempted to name just what thinking could be. Pressed to define cogitatio in the Principia, Descartes recognizes the fullness and variety of thinking that characterize early modern approaches to the topic. Thought, cogitatio, Descartes explains, includes “everything which we are aware of as happening within us (consciis in nobis fiunt), in so far as we have awareness of it. Hence, thinking (cogitare) is to be identified here not merely with understanding (intelligere), willing (velle), and imag-

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ining (imaginare), but also with sensory awareness (sentire).”62 In Descartes’s explanation, there is at once a confidence in consciousness— a belief that those things which “happen in us” are things of which we can be fully (let alone immediately) aware— and a sense of thought’s expansiveness. In this stunningly capacious characterization of what “thought” can do, categories that would later tend to be separated from thinking— willing (velle), for instance— and forms that Descartes himself would rank as less essential to “my own nature” (consider imagination’s dispensability in the Fifth Meditation) are gathered here under a single name. It is even surprisingly difficult to isolate the most famous formula of thinking, that is, Descartes’s cogito, from the flock of thoughts that appear in the Principia. That all these mental operations “are here the same thing as to think,” points to a conceptual richness, and it also enacts the problem Descartes identifies in describing the obscuring effects of definition: here, such definitions demonstrate thought’s vastness and variety and unleash a peculiar proliferation of words. That is, “all that which happens in us” poses quite a challenge to language’s capacities. To be sure, efforts to stabilize the flux of definitions characterized attempts to make an “order of reason” prevail. Just over a decade after Descartes’s death, the famous Logic, or the Art of Thinking (1662)— from which this book takes its subtitle, and soon after to be dubbed the Port-Royal Logic— set out rules for reasoning with careful attention to language and rhetoric. Attaching thinking to the clarity of logical reasoning, Antoine Arnauld and Pierre Nicole defended their choice of title on the grounds that more than reason was involved when it came to the mind: There have been found some people who are shocked by the title, The Art of Thinking, instead of which they would like us to put The Art of Reasoning Well. But we beseech them to consider that the end of logic is to give rules for all the actions of the mind and also for simple ideas, and for judgments and for reasonings, too, there was hardly another word which contained all these different actions, and certainly that of thought (pensée) comprehends all of these things.63

For these followers of Descartes, pensée is the term that cordons off “all these different actions”; pensée, then, looks like a firm boundary, containing “all the operations of the mind.” The “art of thinking,” while including simple ideas and judgment in addition to “reasonings,” soon reveals itself as the definition of “logic.” It turns out that what unites logic and this “art” is that they both “give rules.” Logic and the art of thinking ask not “how to do things with words” but how to obey the rules of their deployment.64 Arnauld and Nicole were alone neither in their concerns over what was hap-

14 Introduction

pening inside the mind nor in their efforts to ensure that the mind wasn’t overrun by worldly distractions or the tumult of the passions. Such reasoned rigidity is a critique commonly extended to Descartes— and fairly enough as it is the explicit purpose heralded in the titles of the Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences and the Regulae, or, Rules for the Direction of Mind. Determined to improve a process of reasoning that might well stumble on either miseducation or the stray passion, Descartes, like Arnauld and Nicole, sensed that language was essential to mental regulation. One version of an “art of thinking” would address the hazards of error and poor judgment through a logic with definition, a “Cartesian linguistics”65 that would tie truths to propositional forms worthy to hold them. At first glance, then, the kind of thinking that expresses a logic without definition might seem like trouble. In a letter that echoed sentiments he would express in the Discourse, Descartes had observed that “speech (loquela) is the only certain sign of thought hidden in a body.”66 Looking for thinking in a language without the regulations of “logical definition” would only exacerbate what is already apparent in Descartes’s formulation: thinking and its symptoms are disappointingly impure. Whatever the opacity of other minds,67 proof of thought must emerge through a notoriously unreliable medium. No “sign of thought” can be so “certain” that its formulation will be beyond doubt.68 To make it harder still, even as language itself “is the only certain sign of thought,” it has long been noted that Descartes “makes only scant reference to language in his writings.”69 It makes sense, then, that one way to resolve the difficulty of thinking would be to improve the chances of catching sight of it and to teach shrewder strategies of reading (the topic of chapter 1). Still, it is difficult to overcome the embarrassment of having been born without language and the certainty of eventually being without it again when neither body nor word attend even an immortal soul (the topic of chapter 4). If the thinking thing “never appears at all unless its cogitationes are made manifest in sounding-out or written- down speech,”70 at least some of the words around it might voice some of the difficult feelings around testing the conditions of thought’s formation (chapter 2) and its most frustrating limitations (chapter 3). For such half-thoughts and odd propositions, a language that “cannot lie,” à la Sidney, and that can, to borrow another Cartesian motto, “conceal well,”71 is especially useful. Some thoughts that are especially inconvenient or difficult to think will be housed in poetic form. In the twentieth century, as continental and analytic philosophy assumed position on either side of an intellectual rift, some varieties of philosophy would be cast off for bearing too much resemblance to a genre so

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dangerous, unruly, and ill-defined as poetry. It would be unfathomable, on one side, to say that Descartes could reveal something about what something like “thinking” might be. To Rudolf Carnap, the source of a call for the “elimination of metaphysics,” talking about “substance,” speculating about being, nothingness, infinity, the stuff of thinking, what thinking feels like, and so on sounded like bad poetry. Such a misjudgment might be forgivable historically, with unfortunate ancestors from Plato to Nietzsche whose contributions could now be supplanted. To recover from the abasements of the past, a defined logic, complete with symbol, was far better to bury metaphysics for good and to arrive at knowledge. In contrast, the only thing those old philosophies had to show for all their poetic bluster was a “general attitude . . . towards life.”72 In the twentieth century, “a general attitude towards life,” Lebensgefühl, was a watchword that spelled contempt. In it lay criticism of metaphysics and of a mode of philosophy that paid too little attention to a rigorous logic with definition. There was the new (logical!) philosophy, and then there was the stuff that would come to be exiled to the Continent known as theory, replete with pseudoproblems galore. It is precisely this “general attitude  . . . towards life,” however, that names one of the most thrilling undercurrents in Descartes’s philosophy, uniquely illuminated by attention to the resources of kind. For all his venom, Carnap ends up making a case for poets: “The (pseudo)-statements of metaphysics,” he wrote, with Heidegger in mind, “do not serve for description of states of affairs, neither existing ones (in that case they would be true statements) nor non-existing ones (in that case they would be at least false statements). They serve for the expression of a general attitude of a person towards life (‘Lebenseinstellung, Lebensgefühl’).”73 All that is required to appreciate this poetic philosophy is the conviction that “the expression of a general attitude . . . toward life” matters.74 The apparent offense of the metaphysician lies in the “select[ion of ] language as the medium of expression and declarative sentences as the form of expression; for lyrical poets do the same without succumbing to self- delusion. But the metaphysician supports his statements by arguments. . . . Lyrical poets, on the other hand, do not try to refute in their poem the statements in a poem by some other lyric poet; for they know they are in the domain of art and not in the domain of theory.”75 For Carnap, the power of the poet is one of transparency and restraint: the poet will avoid self-delusion and obediently stay in his or her own lane. The (bad) philosopher, in contrast, sloppily declares the truth of how things are in the world, at once guilty of personal failings (self-delusion) and poor disciplinary choices, resorting to “language as . . . medium” and the loser’s choice of “declarative sentences” unpruned of

16 Introduction

unnecessary concoctions. In this form, the thing called “philosophy” is simply “the quasi-poetic expression of man’s emotional relationship to his environment.”76 What a fascinating philosophy such an “expression” would be. Readers of this introduction may have the sense that they have heard Carnap’s complaint before. They have. Three hundred years (and several pages) ago, Rousseau seconded Boileau’s charge that Descartes killed poetry by appealing to a similar anxiety about generic transgression. Neoclassical gatekeeping, meet analytic philosophy. Unlikely allies in the battle for generic purity, Boileau urges that geometry be kept with geometers and poetry with poets while Carnap lays down a slightly different law: lyrical forms belong with lyrical statements; declarative sentences dare not declare anything having to do with a “systematic, arbitrary, or accidental” encounter with poetic forms.77 Disobeying the law of genre— that “[g]enres are not to be mixed”78— has the happy effect of showing how philosophical questions reflect their most banal environments and the philosopher’s attachments to them, conscious or not. The sweet poetry Descartes used to love, the general attitudes toward life that philosophy might contain: if this story can be revealed in “bad” philosophy’s poetic subtext, then a method to locate just where these “declarative sentences” go awry is necessary— not to get closer to an analytic symbolic logic leading to proof or “result” but to understand the environments responsible for the casual mythologies79 embedded in the story of reason. As Descartes’s ideas about thinking appear in the language of the works I read here, they show how poetry is necessary to communicate the feeling toward life that a life of thinking, of trying to think well, produces and is produced by. The general attitude toward life— the selfdelusion produced in “language as . . . medium”— is revelatory of precisely those attitudes, passions, and virtues. When those frail “signs of thought” appear in poetic form, they point toward a Lebensgefühl or general attitude toward life that shows not only “a growing awareness of the difficulty of thinking” but also what thinking can sometimes feel like. As Heidegger says that what poets are for is, in reference to Rilke, a fundamental vulnerability, an “unshieldedness” (Schutzlos),80 he inadvertently helps make the point that Carnap takes for proof of the shortcomings of a certain kind of philosophizing. With a shield (or helmet) the blows dealt by the environment around us, by the hard facts of life, may not appear to make a dent.81 If detangling certain philosophical ideas from their form in “declarative sentences” could dispense with the apparent degradation of writing in an environment and a history liable to leave their marks, then the examination of that debunked philosophy would require a different tool to name such embarrassments and missteps. Such an approach would

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need to observe the dents and blows received from ordinary attitudes, indignities, and accidents— that is, from life. Literary critics have a name for precisely this method; they call this technique of perception and explanation “reading.” A Brief Discourse on Method [A] method is, in a quite contrary way, the act of doubt by which one asks oneself about chance or nature. roL anD Barth e s 82

In a footnote to an essay arguing that Descartes’s “definition of divinity” betrays an “essential incoherence,” Jean-Luc Marion refers to Descartes’s famous motto, “I go forth masked,” Larvatus prodeo. The phrase— the object and title of the now-famous essay by Jean Luc-Nancy— lends itself, Nancy’s essay shows, to a bold simultaneous reading, one that exposes an unsettling theological subversion masked in Descartes’s masked motto: Larvatus prodeo is not only “I go forth masked” but also “Masked before God,” Larvatus pro Deo. Marion treats Nancy’s interpretation in a peculiar way, however, as his footnote reveals: “Of course Descartes wrote Larvatus prodeo . . . and not Larvatus pro Deo. . . . This pure invention is permissible, first, because it is thought provoking. [sic] and then because others have hazarded the notion before us.”83 In Marion’s footnote, the “pure invention” of Nancy’s essay is now both pure and impure: it is “pure invention” because it is (in Marion’s view) totally made up, if, admittedly, “thought provoking.” Then again, it cannot be quite so pure since it lacks the purity of singularity; it is sullied by history because others happen to have stumbled upon the same idea before. Even as he maintains that Nancy has created a “pure” fiction, Marion relents: to read Descartes’s sentence in this way is ultimately acceptable, provided there be a disclaimer demonstrating it meets the two prerequisites for “permission.” Within Marion’s tolerance of ambivalence lies more than a friendly scuffle between two Jean-Lucs. Though tethered merely to a pun’s recognition, the footnote defers the critical contest, at which it is ultimately aimed, to determine what is available to interpretation and what is not. When Marion grudgingly accepts that Nancy’s wager might be “thought provoking,” even if it assumes a liberty that Marion himself might seldom find “permissible,” his minor hesitation dramatizes, in miniature, tensions central to literary criticism, its history, and the methods by which it produces meaning and the justifications of its existence. In some quarters, the consolations of empirical, analytic-philosophical, or (on occasion) strictly historical or biographical protocols seem to evade the accusations

18 Introduction

of “pure invention” that Nancy’s close reading incurs and to greet a lesser skepticism. Close reading, though, names the method of perception and practice of explanation that can locate in prodeo a pro Deo that centers the provocation of thought in and from the text, anchored persuasively in linguistic and historical context.84 Marion’s ambivalence felicitously transforms Descartes into Schrödinger’s author, at one angle vivified (resurrected perpetually in what he “wrote”) and, at another, wholly dead (in the text-based reading Nancy has dabbled in, despite its apparently “pure invention”). The exclusive preoccupation with what “Descartes wrote,” alongside his grudging respect for Nancy’s “thought provoking” reading, sounds like a return, in miniature, to debates about the death of the author. I do not wish, however, to imply that Marion was simply unaware of the death of the author (the long-ago departed, historical René) or of the Author (in Barthes’s or Foucault’s sense), nor am I trying to scold Marion for not being attuned to literary-critical debates. It is Marion, after all, who accurately identifies the rebellion and sometimes-anxiety central to close reading anyway: to interpret, of course, is always to “hazard.” To think about the relationship between poetry and thinking, Cartesian Poetics relies on close reading as method. This, too, is a method that produces knowledge of the possible, of chance and nature, through “act[s] of doubt” also known as “hazards.” Equipped to perceive forms sometimes deemed better- off uncounted or left as casualties of their environments, to explain their implications, and to permit the ambiguities of their hazards, the close reader recognizes that what Marion calls “pure invention” is not “pure” at all but another name for an interested and always impure practice of reading whose aim is interpretation and the provocation of thought.85 But rather than summon a quasi- empirical reading as the next-best choice to the Ouija board to confirm what “Descartes wrote” once and for all (with the naive implication that he alone graduated beyond the opacities of subject formation and became entirely transparent to himself!), I foreground the impurity of invention in Descartes. Doing so means inquiring into a context as unstable as the text itself: such instability is especially dramatic when it comes to genre, that which Drew Daniel has called “what nobody really believes in but everyone relies upon.”86 In its attention to genre in particular, to “resources of kind,” this book foregrounds the contingency of poetic perception by appealing to forms that would have been widely available and recognizable since “[g]enre is . . . the most obvious mediation between the individual work and literature.”87 The “obviousness” of genre crumbles when its appearance is softly allusive (even elusive) rather than outright or total. Neither obvious nor pure, its apprehension “requires us to think both historically and theoretically,” to use Virginia Jackson’s formulation.88 Where twentieth-

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century readers will know a history of rhetorical reading that identifies figure with confidence in the “rhetoric of general persuasion” it enables, poetic genre places doubt at the center of method and inquiry.89 Where noticing the contextualizing forces of history or economy never raises an eyebrow, though, appealing to the forces of poetry outside of poetry proper still meets suspicion. So be it. Literary- critical perception is a necessary counterpoint to the evil genius’s game; it is a protocol to provoke thought as well as to identify and disarm illusion. Giving this much credit to traces of genre, to resemblance, to literary-critical explanation, is to acknowledge and value the relationship between thinking and poetry— and between thinking and literature more broadly. The radical skeptical questions always at the heart of literary- critical persuasion and the experience of reading itself are Cartesian problems of the highest order, however. This is also to say that they are useful to understanding and reinterpreting Descartes. When it comes to whether or not Descartes can be “read,” let alone read as an object deeply engaged with— and structured by— the contingent forces of poetic genre, I assume that close reading, with all of its provocative hazards, is worthy of the hazards provoked by and in Descartes.90 In proceeding this way, I aim to show further the poetic contexts that disallow the “purity” of Descartes’s inventions and expose the literary life of concepts. Yet the skeptic’s questions accompany each step of reading: How do I know that what I perceive (as in the meaningful coincidence of prodeo and pro Deo) is really there at all? How do I know that my perception is not the work of an evil genius— or merely the hallucination of a deranged reader? Such issues have also been central to the reinvigorated “lyric theory,” where what precedes interpretation is a problem of the most basic recognition: how do I know a poem, or even just a poetic moment, when I see one?91 To be sure, the problem of poetic perception is not easily resolved. We might all agree that there are poems and instances of poetic intensity, but we still don’t agree— at least not in every instance— on what poetry is. This is a problem that poetry, and lyric in particular, has long known. It may be fair to say that “[a] lyric is that which resists definition,”92 but doing so seems to imply the relevance of a far bigger question: “What is literature?”93 Descartes’s answers— a gift, a sweetness, a distracting allure— obscure the fact that the “mask” he went forward in was devised with literary means. Of course, to nearly anyone practiced in close reading, the justification of the literary-critical “hazard” of close reading may seem too obvious to require acknowledgment. Yet the “of course” Marion deploys to dismiss the “pure invention” of Nancy’s close reading consists of the same two words as my own, and the body of work I treat here is that of the world’s most famous skeptic. Though it is easy to appeal to a century-plus tradition

20 Introduction

of psychoanalytically inflected or textually based close readings, the question of how or whether to “read” Descartes makes visible contests of interpretation beyond some of those I have already begun to refer to above. In plumbing the association of poetry with thinking, rather than declaring, say, the discovery of a logic of cause, this book values immanent analysis in conversation with a context that is poetic, historical, and philosophical. It may well be “easier to evaluate knowledge than . . . interpretations,”94 but to forgo interpretation would mean to accord purity and priority to context and to shrug before the provocation and production of thought inherent in text. These questions chime with literary-critical and theoretical conversations that force epistemology and literary criticism into conversation, well-trodden turf with which many readers will be familiar.95 And they also merit further reply: hazarding an interpretation is neither a loosey-goosey generation of nonsense words and free associations, nor is it a claim to a knowledge beyond doubt.96 The provocation to thought that Marion admires in Nancy’s wager is precisely “an act of doubt,” as Barthes puts it, or a “hazard,” as Marion would have it.97 It is only admirable, I think, because it recognizes the importance of thinking and does not fear thinking’s non-identity with knowing. It recognizes, that is, that thinking matters even when it is an enterprise that produces possibilities rather than “results.” The implicit risk of interpretation, the apparent threat of misperception, is exactly the one Descartes himself intentionally neuters in the Second Meditation when he imagines that everything around him is illusion: when everything is leveled because it is assumed to be equally fictitious, a “poem,” a mirage, or an evil genius is not a special threat. “Seeming” itself— or misperceiving what “seems” to exist— is not a danger but the basis for inquiry when contingency is the point, and a “rhetoric of general persuasion,” to borrow Ellen Rooney’s formulation, is neither desired nor attainable. It is, rather, that which makes the texture of thought and its vulnerability perceivable. Descartes’s approach to the illusions of the world is the world’s destruction: he winnows away the universe to get to a kernel of truth. Those of us who dwell in the world instead, who read and interpret in the face of incertitude and “resultlessness,” do not have the luxury of destroying the universe in order to wish the evil genius of semblance away. (Besides, in its literary guises, we often welcome such trickery, especially when it names itself “fiction.”) And we will likely never find historical or biographical contexts so satisfying that they explain entirely either the force of literature or, more modestly, our general feelings toward life.98 As far as I can tell, the aim of literary and theoretical interpretation has never been to stop anyone from offering a new interpretation ever again. In ground-

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ing my close readings by appeal to generically recognizable forms— those that would have been available to early modern ears— I acknowledge that contingency is as much historical as it is perceptual. This seems to be the case, however, as Toril Moi has shown, of all reading: I notice something and then try to explain it. Taking this approach, I aim to dispel one fantasy: that of living in a world beyond hazard where interpretation and imagination are pointless. To ignore these factors is to ignore the general attitudes toward life that shape life, that elicit thought. And it is also to trample over a distinction that even Aristotle knew, millennia ago: Figuring out the possible is at least as serious as figuring out what happened. For Arendt, whose words open this introduction, thinking itself was the “quintessence of being alive; and since life is a process, its quintessence can only lie in the actual thinking process and not in any solid results or specific thoughts.”99 Though the epilogue returns to the twentieth century, my object by way of introduction has been to suggest that, however crucial the logical definitions and rules Descartes provides, Descartes’s work reveals the presence of poetic form in ways that— freed from the anxiety of influence, attuned to the skeptical challenges to and in its perception— nonetheless inflect his philosophical project. Without declaring a special allegiance to poetry, without even necessarily being aware of poetic forms that might conveniently shelter a hope or frustration, Descartes is a still-relevant companion when we ask what it is to think and when we assert the importance of thought in the face of its apparent resultlessness. If Descartes’s moment was one in which it was possible to invent so wild a creature as the cogito, then to think now about what thinking feels like, to read Descartes’s thinking without taking its results or apparent truths as finished, is to embrace the resultless enterprise described here in the intersection of thinking and poetry. Happily, the many terms that Descartes relies upon to describe thought show thinking to have a peculiarly generous etymological potential.100 The cogito, from com, together, and agitare, to move or to drive, restores to thought a revolutionary verve, and perhaps names the good reasons behind the conditions of its criticism. But among the several synonyms Descartes names in the Meditations, from the pendulous pensée to the etymologically striking putabo from putare, to strike or to cut, perhaps the most startling of all is the form that to many of our ears now sounds the most ordinary: to consider. At one moment in the Meditations, Descartes uses the form in its future tense: considerabo, meaning, “I will consider.” While there is nothing especially extraordinary about a luminary of science claiming to consider or observe something, in the word “consideration,” thinking luminously mediates between the loftiest thoughts and

22 Introduction

earthly reality. From con, with, and sidera, the constellations, Descartes’s considerations make thinking reach the cosmos. And if he was more interested in what the cosmos had to do with the physics of vortices, then perhaps he had already heard that the Pléiade named both stars and poets.101 Considerations

Within each of its chapters, this book brings together two distinct strands: first, an under- examined, and often entirely unexamined, set of implicit, incidental influences, which permits a reinterpretation of classic moments of philosophical argumentation, and, second, a series of speculative interpretations considering the “resultless” enterprises of thinking and poetry within Descartes’s work, with broader implications for understanding a wider relationship between thinking and poetry. Scholars of early modernity will find in this book a story about the formative power of early modern “resources of kind,” with literary- critical readings attentive to the rich context of early modern literary cultures and the humanist curriculum. Beyond concerns particular to the early modern period, students of comparative literature and continental philosophy as well will find the Cartesian subject rewritten in a new biographical arc, from infancy to afterlife, as a story of thoughts (and the feelings those thoughts accompany or attempt to contain) whose appearance can be apprehended more vividly in their indebtedness to poetic form. The first chapter, “Common- Sense Envy,” begins at the beginning of the Discourse on Method, where Descartes explains that common sense (le bon sens) is so equal in its distribution as to avoid ever being the object of complaint. Returning to method and the matter of reading, I show how Descartes’s “fable” exposes a complicated relationship between envy and language, concealed in the solved riddle of common sense. Describing how Descartes’s early education at the Jesuit school La Flèche exposed him to the form of the enigma, the emblem, and the riddle, forms which also preoccupy him explicitly in the Regulae, I show how Descartes teaches his reader to solve even Oedipus’s riddle without the threat of consequence. Yet as envy and language intersect in the frustrations of the riddles of common sense and the struggles to become a subject of language, the hidden leveler to Descartes’s apparently egalitarian distribution of common sense is the “natural perversion” of envy, the effects of which he seeks to tame through an intellectual program that imagines a universal literacy whose first principle is universal close reading. The second chapter, “Lyric Disposition,” revisits the famous encounter with the evil genius in the Meditations and shows how poetic structure

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provides both thought’s preconditions and its means of relief. I argue that Descartes appropriates the technique of the blazon and counterblazon from the tradition of Petrarchan and post-Petrarchan poetry in order to ward off the seductive and solicitous approach of the evil genius, itself a threat to his ability to decipher the truth. In disposing of the body in response to his speculation about the evil genius, Descartes’s self-blazoning reveals how poetry and thinking are yoked closely together— so much so, in fact, that it might be said that poetry makes thinking happen. Central to this chapter is inquiring once more what thinking is for Descartes and, in particular, what it has to do with seduction. Examining Descartes’s notion of “disposition,” the chapter unsettles thinking’s bid for purity and returns Descartes to some particularly poetic matters by way of the rhetorical structure of dispositio. This, in turn, exposes an overlooked element in more recent accounts of the dispositif. In showing how “disposition” and seduction go together, I argue that poetic arrangement clears Descartes of Boileau’s charge: if poetry was murdered, then perhaps poetry framed itself. The third chapter, “Bitter Satisfactions,” shows how Descartes depicts the feeling of thought and knowledge reaching their limits in epistemological bitterness. Descartes’s Fourth Meditation, which confronts the existence of error and which some classify as Descartes’s theodicy, struggles with the elegy as the form its narrator seems to desire but cannot openly avow. Instead, the meditation acknowledges thought’s limits by way of praeteritio: the complaint it wishes to make cannot be named, pursued, or cast as a loss worthy of grief except when framed as a thing that cannot be considered. Invoking the form of the elegy in these repeated negations, Descartes rejects mourning and embraces the casual, and surprisingly sweet, bitterness made possible by the will. Central to this chapter’s claim is examining the ends of thought— and what it feels like not to be able to master knowledge with the only tool available to it. The fourth chapter, “After Thoughts,” examines what, for Descartes, was a notoriously difficult problem to reconcile, namely, the measure of duration and time, that which impels us to consider our own ends. Following the rejection of elegy in the previous chapter, I ask how the remnants of time and the problem of duration manifest in the logic of the anagram. Examining the early modern form of the anagram, alongside the specter of anagram in twentieth-century poetics, as in the early Saussure, I argue that the anagram gives form to the problem of time and memory in the face of finitude. The anagram, then, becomes the form that corresponds to “hope” and that claims a “place for [the] things” of thought in a surprising materialist turn that leads the book to confront the skeptical challenge

24 Introduction

of distinguishing between anagram-as-figure and anagram-as-genre. The chapter concludes by reading Descartes’s poetic resurrection in Beckett’s poem on time, Descartes, and the stars: “Whoroscope.” Finally, the epilogue, “A Painful Feeling of Strangeness,” revisits the quarrel between philosophy and poetry. By looking to twentieth- century conversations about “thinking,” I conclude by asking what it means to be helpless to stop thinking.

Common-Sense Envy

[ ChaP ter one ]

Descartes’s critics have long noticed and debated the “brutally direct”1 claims of the Discourse on Method’s opening sentence: “Good sense” (le bon sens)— or, as it is often glossed, “common sense”— “is the best distributed thing in the world, for everyone thinks himself so well endowed with it that even those who are the hardest to please in everything else do not usually desire more of it than they possess.”2 The now-familiar beginning of the Discourse on Method is preparative for the primer on doubt and reason that follows it. The obvious prerequisite to the conclusion that the lessons of school and culture distanced the narrator from the truth, it is a first glance at a mechanical elevation of the raw materials of deduction: the expected Cartesian protocol. Descartes’s plainspoken “common sense” conforms to the wisdom Erasmus had gathered in his Adagia when he cited the proverbial Rudius ac planius, “more roughly and more plainly”— an injunction just to say it straight. Writing in French rather than Latin, laying a foundation of a universal common sense, Descartes serves up simplicity because anyone is capable of learning how to reason better. Commenting on the proverb, however, Erasmus indulged in some speculation: “I surmise that this proverb originated from the fact that in old days those great sages, σοφοί as they are called, used to take great care to wrap up the mysteries of wisdom in certain coverings of enigma, seemingly to prevent the common herd, not yet initiated into the rites of philosophy, from following their drift.”3 Reserving wisdom for a select few, the sages of yesteryear intentionally withheld an egalitarian foundation. In contrast, Descartes’s opening gambit foregrounds a solution to such inequity; here, there is no one excluded from the “common herd,” and no one seems to mind. In a Europe in which the distribution of wealth was wildly skewed,4 at least the “possess[ion] of common sense” was distributed evenly. In the world Descartes portrays,

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its occupants enjoy, however briefly, a near perfect satisfaction: even les plus difficiles (the most difficult) among them are surprisingly unchoosy when it comes to their stockpiles of common sense. There is no need for “certain coverings of enigma,” as Erasmus would have it. Simple language is all that is required because the riddle of common sense has been solved. Shortly after he explains that common sense is the best shared faculty in the Discourse, Descartes proposes (famously) that his own text be considered variously as history or story, or as fable, comme une histoire, ou, si vous l’aimez mieux, comme une fable.5 But in offering his reader the choice between histoire or fable, he shows the irony of his plainspoken introduction. Inviting the reader to treat the text “as” one kind of genre then another, the narrator makes the task of reading his own text increasingly enigmatic. The plainspoken, solved riddle that opens the Discourse is succeeded, that is, by “certain coverings.” To complicate further this enticement to analogy, painting is soon added to the list as well. In this generic accumulation, Descartes seems to out-Horace Horace— not just suggesting ut pictura poesis, “as in painting, so in poetry,” but something even further: as in history, as in fable, as in painting, so in the Discourse. This composite classification has the strange effect of making the “brutally direct”— even “rough and plain”— opening of the Discourse look like its apparent abandonment of the enigmatic overlay in favor of simple, universal “common sense” is nearly a trick. So what kind of a fable is this? The Discourse offers no apparent moral except to extend a principle of cheer to match its beginning: we can recover from the dissatisfactions of our miseducation by guiding our reason with a clearer head. The equal allotment of common sense does, after all, encounter some obstacles after its initial distribution: [T]he power of judging well and of distinguishing the true from the false— which is what we properly call “good sense” or “reason”— is naturally equal in all men, and consequently that the diversity of our opinions does not arise because some of us are more reasonable than others but solely because we direct our thoughts along different paths.6

As the narrator extends an invitation to the Cartesian regimen to all humans, those hallmark buzzwords of Descartes’s legacy— the “clear and distinct”— emerge partially in the claim to the “naturally equal” capacities of “all men” to “distinguish . . . the true from the false.” In this unlikely stuff of Cartesian democracy, Descartes’s “everyone” rests on the principle of a fundamental equality: no one has any more of this common sense than any other— by nature. The story inevitably becomes more com-

Common-Sense Envy


plicated after that— maybe some of us are better at guiding our thoughts than others, and maybe that explains why consensus is so elusive— but the initial invitation remains and establishes a common reason that makes Descartes’s program one that can be reasonably followed. When it comes to Descartes’s initial definition of common sense, there’s no ingeniously hidden enigma, stowed away for a secret cabal of philosophers. What is it that everyone has in equal amounts that no one would want more of (including the most picky person)? Common sense. Riddle solved, enigma uncovered. Open and shut, worthy of Erasmus’s proverb, Descartes’s solved riddle means that no one envies anyone else’s stash of common sense. Yet Descartes’s appeal to common sense actually conceals a bigger, if not less commonsensical, problem that makes his opening less direct and more brutal: one is not born a subject of common sense but rather becomes one. Still worse, the same is true when it comes to language. In the vulnerability of infancy, there is not enough common sense and not enough language.7 There is someone, that is, who could be imagined as envying just how much common sense other people have. Looking in the Discourse and then across Descartes’s writing on language, I show how the trace of the riddle that appears in inverted form in the Discourse is one part of a longerterm preoccupation with riddles for Descartes, with roots in Renaissance, and specifically Renaissance Jesuit, education. Riddles, then, were a part both of Descartes’s formation and also Cartesian formation. If the present volume can itself be understood as a kind of bildungsroman about poetry and thinking, then this first chapter concerns itself primarily with infancy and childhood. When Descartes explains that “speech (loquela) is the only certain sign of thought hidden in a body,”8 it is far from view that each adult subject once had a body that could not yet produce speech. If Erasmus described the ancients “tak[ing] great care to wrap up the mysteries of wisdom in certain coverings of enigma,” a no less enigmatic body swaddles the mysterious and enigmatic subject who requires “initiation” into language and common sense alike. For Descartes, the ordinary humiliations and vulnerabilities of infancy and the problem of solving riddles are intertwined, and while they begin to outline a relationship between thinking and poetry, they also provide some preliminary materials toward a theory of Cartesian envy— a preoccupation to which I will return as well in chapter 3’s discussion of bitterness. In this chapter, I argue that this solved riddle of “common sense” (and solving riddles more generally) allows Descartes to deliver a counterintuitive achievement: he removes envy from the scene of philosophy and displaces it temporally onto infancy. The stress on common sense

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paradoxically reveals an original deficit— an intense greed for common sense that Descartes seems to mark as the condition, too, of the most difficult person, that creature known as the infant. As Descartes shatters the riddle— that “blood relative of the lyric”9— to repress this primary envy for common sense, he reveals the common deficiencies of humanity’s origins and shows their lingering effects: growing up is not enough to solve the riddle of how we become who we are— or how we feel about it. In Cartesian envy and its dissolution, we see that the coldest philosopher, the one alleged to have killed poetry, is also keenly sensitive to the twin threats of envy and of magical language residing at the heart of common sense. Descartes is the philosopher of our “natural perversion[s],” in his words, and the poetic forms they take. How to Solve a Riddle, Part 1: Enigmatic Education

When I say that Descartes begins the Discourse with what is effectively a solved riddle, I mean not only to stress the way in which his proposal to read the text “as” so many other genres encourages interrogation of his simple opening but also to invoke the education that would have taught him how and why to deploy such a strategy— namely, the education behind the apparent miseducation the Discourse hastens to malign. In part 1 of the Discourse, Descartes distances himself from the many varieties of received ideas of his youth. Among the courses Descartes had followed with too little skepticism is the Renaissance humanities curriculum writ large. At first, he “held eloquence in esteem and was smitten with poetry” (amoureux de la poésie).10 This foolish misperception the narrator corrects with a sharp rebuke of his former pastime: “but,” he explains, “I thought both were gifts of the mind rather than fruits of study” (des dons de l’esprit, plutôt que des fruits de l’étude).11 Descartes’s thinking here repairs illdirected desires: his esteem for eloquence and his love of poetry correspond to an unearned gift. His passion for these fields of study withers with the realization that his attachments to them have been unearned. To these unhappy gifts of poetry and rhetoric, Descartes adds the rest of his schooling. What is left after Descartes’s second graduation is only reason, only that which he can locate exclusively within himself: que celle qui se pourrait trouver en moi-même.12 At the Jesuit school La Flèche, Descartes learned the staples of the Renaissance humanistic curriculum he excoriates above. Alongside the study of classical languages and literature central to humanistic study, Descartes would have been steeped in the Jesuit theological curriculum. The Ratio Studiorum, the Jesuit educational manual adhered to at La Flèche

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and other Jesuit institutions of the time, gives a sense of just what that might consist of and, in particular, what a poetic education might look like: From the poets, in the first semester [of the higher division classes], some selected and expurgated elegies and epistles of Ovid should be taken, and in the second semester expurgated selections from Catullus, Tibullus, Propertius, the eclogues of Vergil, or also some of the easier books of Virgil, such as the fourth book of the Georgics and the fifth and seventh books of the Aeneid. In Greek, St. John Chrysostom, Aesop, Agapetus, and such authors are to be taken.13

But “reading” these texts in the context of a Renaissance education consisted of much more than the casual skim. Learning the classical curriculum was an education in memorization and repetition, rooted in Renaissance practices of imitation. On the one hand, as Terence Cave describes, through the Renaissance practice of imitation, “the activities of reading and writing became virtually identified.”14 On the other, though, the drills standard to the classroom codified a very particular kind of close reading, demanding of students the ability to break down clauses and phrases through a combination of memorization of morphologies, repetition, translation, and parsing.15 This heightened attention to form was part of the process of becoming fluent in classical languages. Along with translation and analysis was the difficult work of prose and verse composition. The ordinary curriculum forced students to think about grammar in this complex context, too, in order, as Paul de Man put it in his description of another variety of close reading, to “respond to structures of language” which might seem “hidden” without such analysis.16 At La Flèche, students wrote and competed through poetry, flexing their muscle at classical composition in verse as well as in prose and winning praise from their teachers— and the occasional posting of their literary efforts on the walls of the school.17 If poetry and rhetoric were gifts of the mind rather than fruits of study, it certainly took quite a lot of time to fully master the tools to understand and to imitate them, and they were gifts that were fought over in the classroom. The slow-growing fruits Descartes describes in the Discourse, however, overlook one of the more unusual elements of the Jesuit-inflected humanistic curriculum: the rigorous training in emblems, riddles, and enigmas. That is, while Renaissance education more widely stressed what we might now perceive as an intensive formalism with classical texts as its primary objects, and while Scholasticism necessarily taught the kind of theological abstraction that has led many thinkers to see in Descartes’s work a direct,

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if at times reactive, heir to scholastic philosophy, Jesuit education added the unusual twist of also instructing its students in the art of enigma.18 In addition to competitive quizzing, the Ratio Studiorum added that students could compete when it came to discovering and devising figures of speech, giving a repetition or illustrating the use of rules of rhetoric, of letter writing, of verse making, and of writing history, explaining some more troublesome passages of an author or of clearing up the difficulties, reporting research on the customs of the ancients and other scholarly information, interpreting hieroglyphics and Pythagorean symbols, maxims, proverbs, emblems, riddles, delivering declamations, and other similar exercises.19

Decoding emblems, symbols, and riddles— the full spectrum of textual and imagistic paradoxes— was at the center of education and a certain kind of academic sociality. In even the routine matters of dictations and prose or verse composition, “rival” students would correct each other’s work: “The class contest or exercise should include such things as correcting the mistakes which one rival may have detected in the other’s composition, questioning one another on the exercise written in the first hour.”20 Mastering riddles and mastering rivals were a part of the education the narrator of the Discourse tried to crush in favor of the solitary rigor of his stove-heated room. Though perhaps surprising to modern readers, an education in enigma was not especially enigmatic for readers in the Renaissance. What Heather Dubrow calls “a blood relative of the lyric,” the riddle and its kindred forms were tremendously popular early modern forms. As Laurence Grove has shown, Descartes’s style itself bears witness, through its replication of shared images and its use of paradox, to the widespread enigmatic style inculcated in Jesuit education.21 The riddle was contagious. In the seventeenth century in particular, the emblem became an overtly “instructional, pedagogical tool, whereas in the 16th century the emblem was considered didactic and edifying, but was apparently understood to function primarily as a pedagogical device.”22 Sixteenth- century emblem books were likewise back in fashion, so much so that by the midseventeenth century an education in emblems could be considered mainstream.23 This part of Descartes’s education was not without its controversy, whatever its mounting popularity in seventeenth-century education. While the Jesuits praised the tradition, opponents emerged— within the very texts they might assign in other parts of the curriculum. In his Institutio Oratoria, Quintilian framed enigma as allegory gone wrong: Sed

Common-Sense Envy


allegoria, quae est obscurior, aenigma dicitur,24 that is, “But allegory which is more obscure is called ‘enigma.’” In the contortions of language the riddle required, Quintilian saw an obscuritas that stood in the way of the truth. The revival of the form in the Renaissance, however, turned obscuritas into an occasion for pedagogy. The mind needed to be trained precisely to decode such dark passages. A no less distinguished defender of enigma could be found than in one Erasmus of Rotterdam. For, as Katelijne Schlitz explains, “Erasmus combines Aristotle’s argument on obscurity as a didactic method and Augustine’s conviction that obscurity is a way to train the mind. Via obscurity, readers— both knowledgeable and less erudite ones— learn to cope with difficulty.”25 As Erasmus puts it, “one should not write so that everyone can understand everything, but so that people should be compelled to investigate and learn some things themselves.”26 The Descartes of the Discourse seems to follow Quintilian’s lead without quite saying so: the struggle with the riddle that Erasmus portrays as the necessary agon of education is one Descartes is happy to abandon. On top of the solved riddle, Descartes declares himself an enemy of obscuritas, enshrining the language of the “clear and distinct” over and against the obscurity of language itself. But in his Regulae ad directionem ingenii (1628) or Rules for the Direction of the Mind, Descartes makes an intriguing compromise that gives to the riddle a real function. The riddle reemerges as a site of Cartesian pedagogy, but one whose effects are neutered and whose solution is described initially as cause for caution. As he explains in his thirteenth rule: “We must take care not to assume more than the data [required to solve the problem], and not to take the data in too narrow a sense. This is especially true in the case of riddles and other enigmas ingeniously contrived to tax our wits.”27 Riddles, in turn, necessarily resurrect the problems of obscurity: “We say that we are seeking to derive things from words whenever the difficulty lies in the obscurity of language employed. Riddles all belong to this class of problem.”28 Like Erasmus before him, Descartes frames the riddle as an exercise of reason, but the problem of obscurity, which Quintilian and his heirs underlined, also emerges in Descartes’s assessment of the problem of language and its unnatural “derivations,” this time as potential pitfall rather than as opportunity for learning. What Descartes then illustrates with specific examples is a kind of thinking that is expansive and associative— but not overly so, the just-right balance of not assuming too much and not thinking too narrowly. It is another moment where, like the distribution of common sense, too little or too much is intriguingly problematic. Obscure language requires its user to be wary enough to unfold its meaning but not so exuberant he abuses it. What is at stake, I will suggest in the next section, is a control over figurative language that acknowledges

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its power and importance without according to figure the power of transformative magic— a magic it is not always difficult to imagine it having. As he discusses riddles and, as I will show later, how to solve them, Descartes anticipates the analysts of riddles who succeed him. The distinguished scholar of the riddle Archer Taylor defines the riddle like this: “A true riddle,” he writes, “consists of two descriptions of an object, one figurative and one literal, and confuses the hearer who endeavors to identify an object described in conflicting ways.”29 Daniel Heller-Roazen, meanwhile, has argued that the riddle presents a special kind of linguistic community: “Riddles . . . test a kind of linguistic learning close, in nature, to that possessed by the scholars who write dictionaries and thesauruses. . . . Those who solve riddles possess a different cunning [than lexicographers]. It bears on a language shared by many but employed, in technical ways, by few. The corpus of riddles . . . composes less a language in any ordinary sense of the term than a special language.”30 In this way, riddles evade “common-sense” language as they create specialized communities in their wake. They also seem to remove language from those things held in common— clearly a hazard for the stuff of common sense. As Daniel Tiffany has shown, too, the riddle’s purchase on special language seems to point to its special relationship to lyric poetry in particular: The genealogy of lyric poetry in English . . . begins late in the life of an archaic form, the riddle, and this tension between archaism and decadence appears to stabilize the form and to remain integral to its endurance and mutability as poetic model. Indeed, as W. P. Ker suggests, the genealogy of the riddle can be drawn to encompass the seventeenth-century Metaphysical lyric, with its bold conceits, its obscurity, and its curious amalgam of analysis and sensibility.31

Beyond the English example, Archer Taylor agreed, suspecting— in what sounds like something of a riddle of his own— that “the essence of riddles is closely allied to the essence of poetry.”32 The Discourse’s opening definition of common sense, in this light, announces itself as a negative riddle, kin to Descartes’s negative poetics, and happily solved from the beginning. In Descartes’s “fable” lies a lesson about poetic language. Understanding the Discourse’s opening as solved riddle exposes the exclusion Descartes installs. While the true riddle is “an arrangement of various words” that excludes all but the least dull-witted, the solved riddle gets rid of the conflict, perhaps even ushers in a kind of democracy. Indeed, Devin Zane Shaw identifies this sentence in Descartes as explicitly democratic, in spite of its potential ironies.33 Incidentally, this language of the “solved riddle” I have borrowed from Marx, who calls democracy “a solved

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riddle.” (He later modifies this claim to demote democracy and nominate communism as the solved riddle in its stead.)34 Marx’s concerns, however, were with the “riddle of constitutions”35 and not with the riddles of Cartesian metaphysics. But Marx seems to be right about riddles: the openly solved riddle is democratic or even communistic because it becomes what everyone knows. The solved riddle, then, is the instance that gets rid of the conflict, that really does usher in a kind of democracy; when the riddle is solved, it is possible for “everyone” to think or for “everyone” to know what the object in question is. As Descartes teaches his readers how to solve a riddle, he translates common sense into common knowledge. This ancestral form of poetry keeps the secret of poetry’s relationship to thinking hidden in plain sight, and the riddle’s happy solution promises to provide the universal prerequisite to the more uncommon modes of thinking Descartes will subsequently recommend. Common-Sense Solutions

In his Principles of Philosophy, Descartes explains how the fault for human confusion lies with the bad use of language: “[B]ecause of the use of language, we tie all our concepts to the words used to express them. . . . The thoughts of almost all people are more concerned with words than with things; and as a result people very often give their assent to words they do not understand, thinking they once understood them, or that they got them from others who did understand them correctly.”36 Unfortunately, we know that our initiation into language exposed us to a faulty education, but in the “common sense”— that is, that bon sens distributed to everyone— Descartes gives us a second chance, an opportunity to banish the error of language or at the very least to minimize it. But even framed as a solved riddle, the opening of the Discourse might raise some reasonable questions: Why is no one envious when it comes to common sense? Or, who is the pickiest person who would still bridle at equality itself or stop to measure and calculate the most evenly distributed thing in the world? What is the significance of a faculty that is resistant or even impervious to greed? I want first to suggest that common sense for Descartes is designed to destroy language, but not in the sense we might first suspect. In its colloquial evocation, common sense appears to avoid plumbing the depths of language, of what language can do, but Descartes’s common sense both registers a wariness of linguistic duplicity and demonstrates an openness to the powers of reading. In this light, the designation of the eighteenth century as the Age of Prose (which would seem to confirm suspicions that Descartes had killed poetry the century before) is out of place;

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that designation has in part to do with the “common sense” of eighteenthcentury prose, which would encounter a rude awakening in its poetic (lyrical) counterpart in Romanticism. But in Descartes’s system, close reading is precisely the common-sense solution— remarkably teachable and equally unextraordinary. Reading closely is honest about how equivocally and complexly language works. It is also the most efficacious solution to the kind of problems that would give special powers over language to only a select few. The variety of language Descartes destroys, then, is what might better be considered the common magic of ordinary language. At stake in insisting on the superiority of common sense when it comes to navigating language are the problems I describe above (where language signifies more than things alone), but for Descartes, the problem of language goes one step further than he outlines there: language can deform things— or at least our perception of them. What common-sense language and common-sense close reading do, then, is expunge the possibility of magic words. In Descartes’s common sense, we get what at first glance looks like a significantly revised version of its Aristotelian ancestor. In Aristotle, common sense “conveniently sums up a whole mass of doctrine, provided it be interpreted not as being another sense over and above the five, but as the common nature inherent in them all. We must think of sense as a single faculty which discharges certain functions in virtue of its generic nature but is also specified into the five senses.”37 At the moment Descartes evoked it, common sense was often held to locate a familiar place in the brain, established long ago in Aristotle’s De Anima, alongside and distinct from the faculties of memory and imagination in the brain. This description of common sense was itself common, and we hear precisely such a geographic description in Descartes’s contemporary Robert Burton, who explains that “Inner Senses are three in number, so called because they are within the braine-panne, as Common Sense, Phantasie, Memory.”38 The objects in Burton’s “brain-panne” (that is, the skull) differ slightly from what Descartes defines as bon sens, but Descartes adopts a similar system as he declares in his Description of the Human Body that “[Animal spirits] dilate the brain and make it ready to receive impressions both from external objects and from the soul; and in receiving these impressions the brain acts as the organ or seat of the ‘common’ sense, the imagination and the memory.”39 In this portrayal, common sense appears to be a physical faculty like the one that appears in Aristotle or Burton, but already the brain itself is beginning to “act as the organ or seat of ” the divided labor of common sense, imagination, and memory. Descartes’s hesitation here— the organ or seat— points toward the ways in which common sense itself will shift in the centuries to come and in Descartes’s own work,

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from a physical feature in the “brain-panne” to the more nebulous quality all humans are said to have in approximately equal distribution. Descartes has even been said to lead the charge toward this more abstract understanding of common sense. After all he is hardly a naive follower of Aristotelian norms. Indeed, he has been “credited with making obsolete the notion that there was an actual faculty within the human brain that functioned as the sensus communis.”40 By the time he writes Les passions de l’âme, Descartes changes his tune on common sense, but this only stresses the curiosity of the category: it is at once universal (everyone has it), but what it is and how it works are openly contested. When Descartes says that no one wants more of it, then, there is some mystery around this category that seems so ordinary that it evades the scrutiny of its cohabitants, memory, imagination, or even shrewd reason. Indeed, common sense generally inspires no great acts of imagination and seems, as Sophia Rosenfeld puts it, “(still) [to] conjure up something universal, permanent, unassailable, nonideological, and rooted in the ordinary experience of everyone.”41 But what is remarkable in this frequently dismissed moment of the Discourse is an invocation of common sense that will later be turned against Descartes himself. As Christoph Henke has argued, common sense succeeded in banishing the threat of radicalism: “The corrective function of common sense discourse [in the eighteenth century] was to absorb the all too radical thrust of such rationalist views . . . to stifle all- encompassing Cartesian doubt.”42 In this sly moment, though, Descartes makes common sense not an obstacle to the more profound skepticism that will follow but its precondition: without this “natural” capacity to distinguish true from false, the house of cards of Cartesian philosophy collapses. If the method Descartes proposes after this is unusual or uncommon, it is not without a primary, democratic impulse. This very impulse that Descartes’s own critics dismiss is often seen to be the agent that kills poetry. That is, the dedication to “common sense” is with frequency cast as the death knell for poetry: common sense, so the story goes, hates nothing more than the flights of fancy entailed by metaphor, rhyme, or imagination. However, for Descartes, common sense is already itself preoccupied with the equivocations of figuration— and the need to teach and to guide common sense has to do precisely with its proximity to figure. I argue, then, that in its invocation here, common sense is not the tedious commitment to “reality” that exiles imaginative writing or verse but, rather, a solution to a more perplexing riddle: that of our utter vulnerability and uncommonly inadequate common sense at birth. It is logical, then, that the appearance of common sense in the Meditations takes the form of an experience so ordinary that only common sense is required to decode it— a moment that seems much less vexed than a

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riddle because it occurs in things rather than in words. In an oft- cited moment in the Meditations, Descartes asks the reader to imagine a chunk of beeswax recently extracted from a hive. His description is particularly vivid, and the reader learns that the taste of honey and the fragrance of flowers linger in what is a cold, hard, solid mass of wax. Examining all the properties of the wax systematically, the meditator explains that one can take comfort in the certainty that beeswax really is beeswax. Then the scene changes: “But notice,” the meditator enjoins the reader, “that while I speak and approach the fire what remained of the taste is exhaled, the smell evaporates, the colour alters, the figure is destroyed ( figura tollitur), the size increases, it becomes liquid, it heats, scarcely one can handle it, and when one strikes it (pulses), no sound is emitted.”43 In this molten moment, the wax transforms from a fragrant and hard mass into a piping hot ooze, painful to the touch, noticeably changing its sensible qualities (sight, taste, smell, sound, touch) the longer it is exposed to the flame. There is a flicker, too, of a skeptical quandary: How do we know that the new liquid substance is the same object we just saw? Our senses reveal a different set of qualities than those that characterized the mass at room temperature. This moment is not one of crisis for the meditator. His mind does not melt as the wax changes state from solid to liquid. Reason rescues him from meltdown as he notes the wax’s liquefaction. Even as his senses bear witness to something marvelous, his reason tells him that wax is wax, whether solid or liquid. What is more extraordinary in the famous passage of the Meditations than the triumph of reason, however, is the meditator’s description. Recall the meditator’s striking locution, “while I speak and approach the fire what remained of the taste is exhaled, the smell evaporates” and so on. The conjunctive “while” (Latin dum) shows that speaking is simultaneous with the wax’s metamorphosis. The first two verbs that follow his speech likewise come straight from the mouth: the leftover “taste” is purged, and the smell evaporates— odor expirat, where the Latin expiro signifies exhalation. If we are to try to understand the wax’s transformation with our senses alone, that is, without reason, we might justly conclude that it is not the source of heat that transforms the wax but very special words: that is, the meditator’s “while I speak” is conjunctive, and now, as his mouth slips around the description that follows, it is also possibly causal. The possibility that magic words— words the content of which we never entirely learn— can somehow cause the wax to melt is not an explicit concern for our meditator, but only a few lines later, we learn that words have a dangerous power, the kind that can defeat reason: “For although I am thinking about these matters within myself, silently and without speaking, nonetheless the actual words bring me up short, and I am almost tricked by ordinary ways

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of talking.”44 When the meditator was speaking and approaching the fire, the wax took on a new shape, but if the wax itself is not particularly haunting, it turns out speech still is. Although the meditator is now silent, he is “almost tricked by ordinary ways of talking.” “Actual words,” even if they are not voiced, threaten to trick him. If words are deceptive and the waxen metamorphosis is as well, we might do well to look at the wax, solid then soft then liquid, again: “the color is changed, the figure is destroyed, it increases in magnitude.” While the changing form of the wax and its tricks don’t ensnare rational man, words might, and curiously words can do much of the same work to which the wax lays claim, which is why it is especially striking that while the meditator is speaking (before the sequence in which he goes “silent” in his thoughts), figure is destroyed. That is, a function of language— with figure, from figura, which means shape but also, from its classical usage onward, figure as in figuration— is destroyed in a moment where it seems as if words could actually cause transfiguration. If words deceive, perhaps their shape-shifting is one crucial reason why figure must be destroyed. For Descartes, it seems, figure is a source of hesitation, an index for a Cartesian dilemma involving the accidental or the surprising. Unlike the wax, figure can shift shapes and it can shatter confidence in unitary identity. Yet “figure is destroyed” in a wider sense when solid wax and liquid wax are both wax. Figure is also destroyed when words are enchanted (while I am speaking, the wax melts)— and nearly so when words almost trick us. The rule preceding Descartes’s explanation about solving the riddle in the Rules thinks about how to maneuver with the tools we have (intellect, imagination, sense perception, and memory) to understand simple propositions, and it finds itself once again in wax. Beginning with sense perception, Descartes tells us that using our senses is “strictly speaking, merely passive,” but “sense-perception occurs in the same way in which wax takes on an impression from a seal.”45 Lest any reader think that wax is mere metaphor, Descartes issues a cautionary explication: “It should not be thought I have a mere analogy in mind here: we must think of the external shape of the sentient body as really being changed by the object in exactly the same way as the shape of the surface of the wax is altered by the seal.”46 We might also begin to think about the way wax is altered by the seal, the way in which the wax contains a signature, as Jacques Lezra has argued.47 But then we get the moment when common sense, the solved riddle, puts itself into wax: “[The] ‘common’ sense functions like a seal, fashioning in the phantasy or imagination, as if in wax, the same figures or ideas which come, pure and without body, from the external senses.”48 There are two kinds of waxen moments here: the wax of sense perception and the seal of common sense. The common sense behaves in imagination as if in wax

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while the sentient body is “really changed . . . in exactly the same way as the wax.” This is consistent with what Descartes describes as the shifting power of the cognitive function: “In all these functions the cognitive power is sometimes passive, sometimes active; sometimes resembling the seal, sometimes resembling the wax.”49 The seal is a strange object here: it both already contains an impression, and it makes one. It reproduces— but only in the negative. The wax can melt and recongeal, and the seal, the negative image, changes at random, fashioning (and destroying) figures. Though the near trick of the most “ordinary ways of talking” sets up Descartes to create a Cartesian rhetoric, Descartes’s strategy is to let figure be destroyed not through an attack on rhetoric but through the adoption of a negative poetics as a principle to overcome the traps of trope. In the casual figura tollitur that every molten piece of wax endures, Descartes appears to sap transformation of its mystery, but in doing so, he sets up a keener way of reading that requires the reader understand the riddle and its solution simultaneously. He also brings together common sense’s partnership with language sharply into view. While the Discourse abandons its democratic common sense rather quickly as it develops its metaphor of superior city planning at the hands of a single architect,50 this early moment of inclusion does not mark the end of the extraordinary ordinary in Descartes’s thought. That is, we might fruitfully examine other moments in which Descartes refers to “everyone.” For common sense is not just a unifying force politically as Descartes argues for natural equality; rather, it joins other qualities available to “everyone,” and perhaps most important among them, language. As with common sense, everyone has language. Indeed, Descartes singles out language as a faculty particular to humans: For it is quite remarkable that there are no men so dull-witted or stupid— and this includes even madmen— that they are incapable of arranging various words together and forming an utterance from them in order to make their thoughts understood; whereas there is no other animal, however perfect and well- endowed it may be, that can do the like. This does not happen because they lack the necessary organs, for we see that magpies and parrots can utter words as we do, and yet they cannot speak as we do: that is, they cannot show that they are thinking what they are saying. On the other hand, men born deaf and dumb, and thus deprived of speech- organs as much as the beasts or even more so, normally invent their own signs to make themselves understood by those who, being regularly in their company, have the time to learn their language. This shows not merely that the beasts have less reason than men, but that they have no reason at all. For it patently requires very little reason to be able to speak.51

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Descartes widens the democratic circle, extending it formally to anyone who is not a literal infant (from the Latin in, not, and fans, speaking), even to include the mute, elevating gesture itself to language. Strikingly, too, Descartes extends the ability to use language to madmen— especially fascinating as Descartes makes “madness” strangely communicable as all madmen are able “to convey their thoughts.” In speech, it seems, thought (even disordered thought) becomes visible: birds can mimic sound but cannot “show they think what they are saying.” In their famous debate about the status of madness in Descartes, Foucault and Derrida came to conceptual blows, but both erred in limiting their discussion of madness to Descartes’s treatment of the famous evil genius of the Meditations. While Foucault argued that Descartes exiled the mad to irretrievable otherness, when it comes to language at least, the madman is not left to cavort with parrots and magpies but is warmly included in the society of men. The constitutive exclusion of Cartesian subjectivity does not lie with the madman then. Nor is the borderline state to notice here the space between insanity and reason. The real split that subtends the problem of common sense and of language is a humiliating history we hold in common: we are all born lacking language. And it is this primitive incapacity, then, that makes plain how that which elicits primal envy in the Cartesian system is the common sense of language. How to Solve a Riddle, Part 2: Oedipus Redux

The thing that no one can desire more of, then, is precisely what the narrator seems to crave most. That is, equivocation around the sense said to be “most common” defines the key Cartesian frustration, narrated explicitly enough in the Discourse: infantile impotence. No adult wants more common sense. No adult lacks language. But every infant does. (These are “most difficult” people, indeed!) The universality Descartes locates in everyone’s common sense at the start of the Discourse on Method appears again in this very text in the form of a primary humiliation shared by all people and based on an original lack. In this light, the beginning of the Discourse with its common sense and its “everyone” feels less glib— the democratic gesture is one that comes with a mission to rescue us from the fallout of this original shortcoming. It also masks in it a wish that runs counter to the riddle— a wish, in fact, for more common sense. Our judgments would be more pure, more solid, after all, if “we had only ever been guided by it.” At this moment, Descartes conveys a wish that might secure a smug, psychoanalytic told-you-so as he thirsts for the deaths of both desire and the parents and teachers who led him astray. This Cartesian infant is the gap in Cartesian democracy at the start of the Discourse, the exclusion that

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reveals the limit and danger of Cartesian humanism.52 Greedy for common sense, even if only retroactively, the infant’s exclusion from the common points, at a minimum, to the ways in which common sense’s bid to shut down the possibility of magic language also depends on eclipsing the apparent magic of language’s acquisition. The solution of the riddle of our origins felicitously runs parallel to Descartes’s triumphant dissolution of the mythical material that will eventually give way to the psychic burdens that post-Cartesian subjects carry in the wake of the Oedipus complex: Descartes’s common sense, then, is designed to undo a calamitous common destiny in locating and managing a primary envy. While the beginning of the Discourse presents the man of good sense, of common sense, in a position of radical equality, we just as quickly learn about the universal disgrace of his origins: So, too, I reflected that we were all children before being men and had to be governed for some time by our appetites and our teachers, which were often opposed to each other and neither of which, perhaps, always gave us the best advice; hence I thought it virtually impossible that our judgments should be as [pure and as solid] as they would have been if we had had the full use of our reason from the moment of our birth (si purs ni si solides qu’ils auraient été si nous avions eu l’usage entier de notre raison dès le point de notre naissance), and if we had always been guided by it alone.53

In this moment, we see that the story of “our reason” is one that begins with its utter incapacity. We don’t have “full use,” l’usage entier, of it from the point of birth, and for that reason it is “almost impossible,” presque impossible, that the judgments we make would be as “pure” or “solid” as they would have been “if we had had full use of our reason from the moment of our birth.” Besieged from within and without (by appetites and by instructors), our judgment looks like wax held too close to the fire: not so “solid” as it would have been had it been left to cool reason alone. A starker way of phrasing Descartes’s claim: the fact of having been born dooms us from the start to poor decisions. If we had had full usage of our reason from the moment of our birth, we would never have been children, or at least not really. The preoccupation with infancy in the Discourse is exceeded by that of the Principia, where the infantile mind is a bad sensory swamp. In the Principia, Descartes reminds his reader that error begins with birth: “The chief cause of error arises from the preconceived opinions of childhood.” “Right from infancy,” Descartes explains, “our mind was swamped.”54 Descartes describes the body of the infant as a writhing prison of the mind, and the experience of infancy consists of a subservience to the body brought about

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by an awful necessity: “the mind judged everything in terms of its utility to the body in which it was immersed.”55 Unable to control the body and literally unable to speak, the infant in Descartes’s world incurs terrific losses which are then dragged into adulthood. Far more frightening than madness is the primordial swamp we all suffer wordlessly. Elsewhere, Descartes struggles with what this odd larval creature can know. He speculates that the infant thinks in the womb but lacks the memory to recall it. Writing to his pseudonymous interlocutor “Hyperaspistes,”56 Descartes insists, “I had reason to assert that the human soul, wherever it be, even in the mother’s womb, is always thinking.”57 As he speculates about the infant’s thinking mind, Descartes finds himself grappling with the problem of the infant’s apparent imperfection: he does not want to suggest that the infant human is “less perfect.” But this creature markedly is at best utterly consumed by the senses. Indeed, the condition of infancy is one of unfreedom: “we know there is not the same liberty [for thinking] in those who are sick or asleep or very young; and the younger they are, the less liberty they have.”58 In Descartes’s vision of infancy, the thinking of the infant fails in two key ways: the infant does not have language, and the infant does not have common sense. The signs and gestures that Descartes considers marks of language in the mute, the language even a madman has: these are not available to the writhing infant. And as Descartes describes the infant, overpowered by its senses, we see how the infant differs from all other people (even picky ones); when we see the infant with all of its deficiencies, that is, we get the question that the solved riddle forecloses. The common-sense opening of the Discourse, which I have framed as a solved riddle, obscures this far more unsettling enigma: What does every person have that no one wants more of, but that everyone once wanted desperately? Common sense. When David Simpson insists that Descartes’s invocation of common sense at the beginning of the Discourse be understood as “flatly literal,” he is in a sense correct. In giving us a solved riddle rather than the riddle itself, Descartes inverts the problem the riddle necessarily imposes: the experience of grappling with competing forms of description before an unknown object. That is, Descartes gracefully circumvents both the problems Archer Taylor outlines above (the simultaneous literal and figurative description) and the problem Descartes himself describes in the Principia (that is, of being more concerned “with words than with things”). In the opening sentence of the Discourse, Simpson locates a special relationship between reader and author that is ultimately knocked down, the reader made to let go of “his wholly private contract with the imagined author”59 as he is rendered part of the mass of “everyone” party to common sense. In this experience, Simpson suggests, “[T]he reader is ‘shamed.’ . . . What has been

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put to shame is our assumption of a coherent and consistent self which is not open to the manipulations of mutability.”60 Perhaps the opening of the Discourse knocks the reader off a high horse, but in this opening gambit, what is more interesting than what might be “put to shame” is what is laid to rest. The original shame, or rather, the retroactive shame, of miseducation, of having been born, is alleviated in making the foundation on which reason’s good conduct can be based a common good. The solved riddle displaces the crisis of riddling and routs envy and, along with it, the necessity of inspiration. Solving the riddle in advance is, plainly, one way out of the problem of the trap of language. In the Rules for the Direction of Mind, Descartes singles out riddles explicitly for the ways in which they entangle their listener in language: “We say that we are seeking to derive things from words whenever the difficulty lies in the obscurity of language employed. Riddles all belong to this class of problem: for example the riddle of the Sphinx about the animal which is four-footed to begin with, then two-footed, and later on becomes three-footed.”61 In a sense, riddles are one site where words give birth to more words— where we “derive things” from words alone. Here, Descartes evokes a riddle that “everyone knows”: the famous riddle of the Sphinx, solved by the no-less-famous Oedipus. As Descartes instructs the reader in the riddle’s solution, he shows how the operation of solving the riddle requires a special attention to the multiple meanings a word might elicit: We must take care not to assume more than the data [required to solve the problem], and not to take the data in too narrow a sense. This is especially true in the case of riddles and other enigmas ingeniously contrived to tax our wits. . . . In the riddle of the Sphinx, for example, there is no reason to think that the word “footed” refers exclusively to real feet— to animals’ feet. Rather, we should try and see whether it can be applied figuratively to other things as well, as it sometimes is to a baby’s hands or an old man’s walking stick, since these are both used, like feet, for getting around.62

In Descartes’s explanation, the riddle that stumped so many travelers on their way to Thebes becomes remarkably simple. Breaking down the many ways in which “other things” can be “used, like feet, for getting around,” Descartes models an expansive thinking that resists the snares of ordinary language. But as Descartes usurps Oedipus’s triumph, the agony of the riddle vanishes, too. Descartes’s simple explanation, in other words, masks the body of the Sphinx at the same time as it conceals the triumph of Oedipus. Where hundreds have died before, Descartes shrugs; what won

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Oedipus Thebes is now anyone’s for the taking. Should the circumstance arise, that is, anyone can kill a sphinx without really trying. But why make the riddle so easy to solve? What’s to be gained in giving the keys to Thebes to just about anyone who applies a certain amount of attention? And what does this have to do with the matter of common sense? For one, the smooth conquest of sphinxes brings us back to the surprise of Cartesian democracy: everyone has common sense enough and thinks he does, too; everyone knows wax is wax without much surprise— but everyone, or at least this philosopher in particular, once had too little common sense, once saw how one might believe that words alone might enchant a candle into melting. The solved riddle in both cases extends the now- disenchanted power of magic words to everyone. In addition to the dangers the Sphinx poses to the life of the person who approaches her, she threatens to confirm that there really are magic words. She therefore must be killed twice. Solving a riddle reveals, as Walter Benjamin put it in quite a different context in the twentieth century, how “the nature of the riddle, the key to the riddle [Rätselwort]— is not only its solution, as the thing that thwarts it, but also its intention, its precondition, its foundation, and the ‘resolution’ of the intent to puzzle that is concealed in it.”63 We might describe this more mystically as the magic word that incites magic itself to occur (the sphinx’s suicide, the melted wax) and reveals the magic of the word (the power of uttering “man,” say, or the undisclosed incantation of the wax-melting of the Meditations). We might also put it still more simply: the key to the riddle reveals that what we had all along was also merely a “plain” definition. Common sense, then, is the thing no one would want any more of than what he or she already has— unless especially envious— or just a baby lacking it by definition. In tying this common-sense solution to Oedipus’s riddle, Descartes’s description displaces our envy of each other and overshadows the primal envy that leaves the baby swamped in the sea of its unspeakable primitive passions and inexpressible thinking. With envy tamed and at least some of the problems of language rendered less menacing, Descartes’s solutions here extend an irenic alternative to the real world and the real war that lay just outside Descartes’s famous stove-heated room and, indeed, that went on violently for more than half of Descartes’s life and that stretched across all of his major writings.64 In stripping Oedipus of his heroic conquest of the Sphinx and taking it for himself or, indeed anyone, Descartes also has written implicitly an intriguing adaptation to the Theban tragedy. In this version, Oedipus still kills his father on the road, but as he passes by the spot where the Sphinx once stood, there’s no one there. The riddle is already answered— or, at

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least, it could be, given that anyone can now solve the riddle and need not be anointed by fate to do so. A foundational myth is rewritten in the shadow of Cartesian rules.65 One can, at last, imagine a far happier outcome: Oedipus arrives, perhaps, but the Sphinx is already dead. There is no mandate or reward awaiting Oedipus that would give to him Thebes and its queen for a reward. Instead, we might imagine a quiet life for Oedipus, a less catastrophic suitor, say, for Jocasta, and, curiously, a parricide without consequence. Put another way, in this retelling of the story, Oedipus still slays his father, but he doesn’t envy anything belonging to him; envy is expelled when everyone has common sense enough to answer the riddle that would win all the spoils. Indeed, the only cause for envy seems to be chance or fortune itself, but in writing Oedipus out of this minor, and elliptical, adaptation of the riddle, Descartes seems to eliminate the specificity of personality in favor of a general substitutability. What he could not do for himself in the story of his education in the Discourse on Method, Descartes gives to everyone: a way to imagine using reason to get out of the catastrophes of our youth, mythic or real. The Descartes in anguish over infancy has a striking investment in diminishing the costs of parricide— and the heroism it seems to require. Rendering the riddle of Oedipus commonly solvable, Descartes brings together the contents of the brain pan (revising memory, using imagination, and doing so with the tools of common sense alone), and he divorces solving the riddle from heroism. In visiting this mythic material, he recalls implicitly the bad education such stories gave him in school. In the Discourse, he writes I compared the moral writings of the ancient pagans to very proud and magnificent palaces built only on sand and mud. They extol the virtues, and make them appear more estimable than anything else in the world; but they do not adequately explain how to recognize a virtue (mais ils n’enseignent pas assez à les connaître), and often what they call by this fine name is nothing but a case of callousness, or vanity, or desperation, or parricide (et souvent ce qu’ils appellent d’un si beau nom n’est qu’une insensibilité, ou un orgueil, ou un désespoir, ou un parricide).66

The problem with education in this passage is one of misrecognition (mais ils n’enseignent pas assez à les connaître); there are too few tools to recognize wax as such, to decode riddles, or to observe not just the palaces but also the unstable foundations upon which they are built. Add to that the moral offenses that ensue: if the morality of the ancients was particularly heroic, it is alarming that what counts for virtue amounts to the most vicious feelings. Yet there’s something awry with the sequence of virtues here: insen-

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sibilité, orgueil, désespoir, parricide— insensitivity, pride, despair, parricide. One of these items is not like the other. It is the parricide that positions murder in a sequence of feelings. It is a deed hiding among the words. It is no less striking that the problem with ancient letters is itself somehow riddle-like, too, a problem of misplaced naming for that thing called “virtue,” un si beau nom that really signified only a false sensibility or a parricide (recall the Sphinx’s lesson, the foot that is not one). The feeling of killing one’s father might well be one born of envy, if we follow Freud and his heirs. But, though not recommending such a maneuver to the reader, it also might be just common sense. If envy is the feeling injustice elicits, if virtue is the name behind which parricide lurks, if being a baby is the irremediable— and utterly ordinary— injustice of which we are all victim, there is a logical course of action in the classical solution of killing one’s parents. Moreover, if the method of dispelling envy is generalized, then anyone can solve the riddle of the Sphinx. Oedipus has killed his father, and his crime goes unpunished: the accident of paternity and the accident of parricide cancel each other out. This has a felicitous effect when we tease out once more the consequences for a retelling of the famed story of Oedipus: anyone can kill the Sphinx, anyone can marry Jocasta, but no one need go blind in the process. Envy, from Latin invidia (in, upon, and videre, to see), spares this shadowy Oedipus the loss of his sight; that is, this naturally perverse way of seeing in fact maintains a way of seeing— and itself becomes invisible under the shield of “common sense.” In his solved riddle, Descartes restores to the solver of riddles the eyesight that this original riddle-solver lost. The envy he dispels in extending common sense to all he will also recuperate. Natural Perversion

While common sense is unenviable (among adults), and while a kind of close reading begins to constitute a form of common sense in and with language, it is not the case that the envy it expels is entirely rotten. In an intriguingly delicate description in Les passions de l’âme, Descartes explains that envy, in fact, is “a passion that is not always vicious”: What we usually call “envy” is a vice consisting in a natural perversity (une perversité de nature) which causes certain people to be annoyed at the good they see coming to others. But I am using this word here to signify a passion which is not always vicious (une passion qui n’est pas toujours vicieuse). Envy, then, in so far as it is a passion, is a kind of sadness mingled with hatred, which results from our seeing good coming to those we think unworthy of it. Such a thought can be justified only in the case of goods due

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to fortune. For as regards the advantages we possess from birth— those of the soul or even of the body— the fact that we received them from God before we were capable of doing any evil suffices to make us worthy enough of them (c’est assez en être digne).67

Envy has a special status, then, as the vice that is not one— or at least not always (qui n’est pas toujours vicieuse). For Descartes, envy is, on the one hand, a political emotion, registering a keen sensitivity to injustice. But it also is a feeling whose utility he asserts in a powerful defense of his original envy. It is this natural perversion he has in fact mobilized to imagine a better human nature and to indict nature itself and its myths. In this sadness mixed with contempt, this passion mélangée, Descartes leaves room, then, for a perversion that is wholly natural. Attached as it is to the moment of birth, Descartes’s genitive (une perversité de nature) raises the question as to whether what is at stake here is nature’s own perversion or the warping of nature within the envious pervert. If it is the former, nature’s perversion is God’s gag gift— our cue to be grateful even if privileges are doled out with astonishing partiality. But if it is the latter, our natural birth distorts beneficent nature itself. The indignity of being born as we are born is, for Descartes, the source of a lifelong sadness— a feeling to which I return in chapter 3. Here, the sadness elicited by creation and the fact of having been created is displaced by a grateful “enough” (assez) gratitude to God. In the problem of natural perversion, Descartes reproduces in form the theological quandary of Luther’s crisis of faith triggered by the problems of identifying the subjective or objective genitive when they look identical in textual form. Where Luther’s struggle with the justitia dei of Paul’s Letter to the Romans “has been called the key passage to the entire Reformation,”68 Descartes’s achievements here are much more modest. He leaves the “perversion of nature” suspended in this stew of sadness and remote happiness, with relief for those feelings only to be found in the ineffable and inexplicable ways of God. Yet in this suspended state where neither nature nor the pervert seem fully at fault, Descartes brackets this passion as “not always vicious,” that is, not always a vice. This vice that is not one is often unavoidable, especially when it comes to the workings of fortune. The envious baby might even be right to be mad at the misfortunes he never demanded. Linking envy to nature, and in particular to the facts of birth, is not especially innovative for Descartes. It is part, instead, of a distinguished lineage from Augustine to Klein, with many invidious fictions creeping up along the way.69 For Augustine, envy is famously cast as the feeling that subtends (and threatens) fraternity. In the famous scene from the Confessions, Augustine describes witnessing proof of the inherent corruption

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of human nature in the vicious envy of one baby seeing another happily suckling: “The weakness then of infant limbs, not its will, is its innocence. [I] have seen and known even a baby [to be] envious; it could not speak, yet it turned pale and looked bitterly on its foster-brother. Who knows not this?”70 Augustine anticipates a Cartesian maneuver. There’s nothing more commonsensical than the envious child, rotten from day one, thanks to original sin: who knows not this? In Augustine’s reading, infantile impotence is a reprieve. What horrors babies might do with their wicked wills had they not such unreliable limbs. What luck, then, that they cannot speak. Less preoccupied with original sin and reorienting the object of envy from fraternity to maternity, Klein’s likewise famous treatment of envy also casts envy as an emotion that is decidedly vicious at every instance. From her study of infants, she observes that “Envy is always a base passion.”71 We might pity the baby whose relationship to the breast is no less fraught than those of Augustine’s children above, but in Klein, envy is the feeling of destruction. Not only does “envy spoi[l] the capacity for enjoyment,” it also interferes with the prospect of feeling “gratitude for pleasures of the past.”72 More intriguingly, for my purposes, is Klein’s insistence that if and when envy can act, it is necessarily in the mode of destruction: “[T]he envious impulse,” she explains, is “to take [the threat] away or to spoil it.”73 What the envious hate most, Klein suggests, is creativity: not here the fraternal envy à la Augustine but the creative power of the mother. Left with annihilation or destruction to remove the rankling offense from view, envy attacks creativity by any means necessary— by devaluation of objects, others, or even the self, if need be.74 An unlikely move, perhaps, Descartes’s apparent destruction of envy’s place as the marker of original sin seems to be done as a service for everyone. This universal destruction, I suggest, takes the form of the solved riddle I have described above. Like Augustine, Descartes does not distribute this knowledge selectively: everyone has enough of this thing that is enough for all of us to begin the work of knowing. This also protects all of us from the cruel joke of thinking that words are magical: we all know, more or less, that our words cannot possibly make wax melt, not even on an especially eloquent day. And Descartes also does us the service of explaining how the riddle works: you, too, can solve the riddle of the Sphinx. In this way, Descartes gives a basis for the principles of his philosophy in common sense. He needs to posit something to begin with instead of beginning ex nihilo. But it strikes me as curious that part of what he does in each of these steps is also to destroy the riddle’s pleasures. Explaining the joke, it is almost universally agreed upon, kills its satisfactions. Ordinary wisdom tells us that “explaining a joke rarely makes anyone happy”

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and rarely makes someone laugh.75 (We might imagine, in this light, the education in riddles at La Flèche to have been very unfunny, indeed.) If Descartes’s solved riddle is a form of envious destruction, as I would like to suggest, it also seems to banish with it any kind of surprise, in spite of its novelty. Yet its main object of destruction is linked to the passion that helps him to destroy. And in that sense, destroying the riddle’s ability to work, joke-like, to startle with its revelation, seems for Descartes to be personal: the joke is on him in every excruciating way when he thinks about not being able to navigate language or the fact of being human at all, when he cannot so easily throw away a past whose pleasures he must disavow entirely. If this destruction of language’s capacity seems to indicate the ways in which we might read the Descartes of the Discourse and the Regulae as destroying cause for envy out of envy, it also repairs the creation of community. In Freud’s reading of “group feeling,” original envy gives way to common sentiment. The creation of the common, in Freud’s view, requires the transformation of envy and the enviable into the common and common feeling (we might well call this common sense). While at first envious of each other, this story goes, members of such groups come to convert the feeling of envy into one of shared identification. But Descartes’s Discourse on Method displaces the transition from envy to solidarity by asserting a shared common sense from the start of the text. And in this light, the efforts at destruction that follow (that is, the systematic dismissal of his entire past and education) seem to point out what Klein can’t quite bring herself to say in talking about the envious person’s desire to spoil: envy, it seems, also wants to destroy itself. In this light, envy is also for those who lack interest in or who yearn to realize equality. Envy, like its Nietzschean kin ressentiment, is a political emotion.76 In the early modern period, envy was considered no less insidious. For Francis Bacon, for instance, public envy was the insidious contagion that could take down states: “It is a disease in a state like to infection. For as infection spreadeth upon that which is sound, and tainteth it, so when envy is gotten once into a state, it traduceth even the best actions thereof, and turneth them into an all odour.”77 In the reeking sulfur of the sick state, Francis Bacon shows how dangerous envy can be to public order. Still worse, in spite of the stench, envy can go hidden, masked first under its more casual name of “discontentment”78 or distributed surreptitiously when “the envy be general . . . upon all the ministers”— and thus inevitably “upon the state itself.”79 For Descartes, envy is such a political emotion, and it is also the source of profound ambivalence. When dealt with successfully, envy is displaced by democracy, on the one hand, and a kind of bittersweet resignation, on the other. The pleasure envy affords is a pleasure born of comparison, to be sure,

Common-Sense Envy


but it also seems to be the faculty that best describes the position of the infant in relationship to its caretakers. Poetry and eloquence are not bought by desert; they are fruits and gifts— the results of random distribution, of the accidents of upbringing and sheer luck. “From my childhood (dès mon enfance) I have been nourished on letters,” writes Descartes.80 Not having chosen the food that fed him, Descartes envies the capacities of adults. If later definitions of perversion have to do with taking pleasure in unlikely objects, Descartes succeeds in anticipating its transformation, in turning milk to word, in framing a relationship between the letters that nourished him and the misleading stories shoved down his throat. He might also have learned this natural perversion from poets, though. From Catullus’s imagination of the envious gaze81 to Martial’s epigrams with their sextet of rumpitur invidia, “he is bursting with envy,”82 Descartes’s education would have exposed him to poetry grappling with the problem of envy. The most famous poetry of the previous century could likewise have revealed to him the very opposition he describes in the contrast above between nourishment and frustration. Imagining visitors to his tomb in his “De l’election de son sepulchre,” for instance, Ronsard makes these mourners describe the poet as one Qui oncques en sa vie / Ne fut brûlé d’envie83: one “Who never in his life / Was scorched with envy.” In the rhyme of vie, life, and envie, envy, the full collapse of envy into life (envie into en vie) is only slowed down by a personal intervention, here in the possessive adjective sa, his. This is a problem Descartes likewise recognizes in the rhyme he has dispelled with the Discourse’s Cartesian democracy. He has already shown, that is, how life and envy rhyme in the literary nourishment he receives, to his chagrin, “from the beginning.” Central to Descartes’s description of envy is the dissolution of the “everyone” of the Discourse. Envy, in contrast, reminds us of people who are not us. In envy, the pleasure of differentiation collapses, and the fuming miser inside of us appears: you don’t deserve what you have, you (or I) don’t deserve to be as you are (or as I am). The problem with envy is one of possession perplexed: I can’t square the story of what you are with what you have. The riddle in particular classically brings together these questions of being with questions of having: What has four feet, then two feet, then three? The being called man. What is radical about the riddle is that it unsettles the fact of possession as the possessions in question are not literal feet but figurative ones (hands, a cane). It is symbolic ownership that is at stake. Yet it is not the story of gap between signifier and signified that is unsettling about the riddle so much as its involvement with a distribution of meaning reframed as a matter of possession. Words have meaning, of course, but they are not what they have. The reason why the parrot’s words are insignificant is because they don’t mean anything: they

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are still words, but they do not have meaning. The baby does not envy the parrot, in turn, because the parrot has nothing (plumage notwithstanding) to render it enviable. The Renaissance distinction between imitation and emulation seems to echo in the problem the riddle exposes between being and having: whereas imitation would produce near copies, emulation strives to surpass, to outdo, what a rival would possess. Perhaps its possessiveness should not be surprising given its envious etymology in aemulor: I rival, emulate, copy— or I am envious or jealous of. The horror that words have meaning is built into the very ordinary story of being a human, and it precedes the claims to what “everyone” has. This is a story, then, about the condition of the have-nots: every ordinary, pathetic baby who begins by not having anything (the mother has the infant, not the other way around— and the same can be said for the infant’s body). Descartes’s story allows this original indignity to be eclipsed.84 The only person to have had better luck was Adam. This shift from being to having also moves Descartes from envy (in the subject) to jealousy (in objects). Descartes defines jealousy as “a kind of anxiety which is related to our desire to preserve for ourselves the possession of some good. It does not result so much from the strength of reasons which make us believe we may lose the good, as from the high esteem in which we hold it. This causes us to examine the slightest ground for doubt, and to regard them as very considerable reasons.”85 This is a paranoid story Descartes tells here, and it is one that shows the logic of the jealous mind: everything becomes the object of suspicion, the slightest suggestion becomes a bona fide reason for obsession. But this is a story we’ve heard Descartes tell before. The jealous person’s paranoid strategy, “to examine the slightest ground for doubt, and to regard them as very considerable reasons”: this is something we might recall in a friendlier light as the method of the Meditations. It is a jealous machine that leads Descartes to level anything that leaves “the slightest ground for doubt.” Put another way, if we want to proceed inductively, then we are forced to conclude that at the heart of skepticism is, if not jealousy or envy, then their kin.86 The fine line between the skeptic and the paranoiac is that of conviction: the meditator is almost tricked by ordinary ways of talking; the paranoiac just is. Jealous reading “preserves”— and threatens to transform every word and every scenario into a riddle. In this way, the education in multiple meanings, in words that can be dismantled and accrue various definitions in riddles, is an education that makes our common natural perversion bearable. In this light, another riddle Descartes evokes in his instructions about solving the riddle in the Rules is especially poignant. In passing, he mentions the problem of the optical illusion of the fountain of Tantalus. With

Common-Sense Envy


his image of Tantalus, he reminds us not to be distracted by irrelevant information: the real thing to focus on is just the bowl of the fountain, not the other features. Descartes makes Tantalus irrelevant to Tantalus’s case, just as he has made Oedipus unnecessary to the conquest of the Sphinx. But it is remarkable to note that in his description of the fountain, the classical image of Tantalus— indeed, Tantalus’s own quagmire— is removed from the story: while Tantalus never gets to the water he needs, part of his problem is that he also can’t reach the fruit that hangs above him. That is, in this very passage, Descartes returns the reader to the errors of infancy— “we must not assume, as the ancients did, that the earth is motionless and fixed at the centre of the universe, just because from our infancy that is how it appeared to us to be.”87 Tantalus’s problem ends up sounding weirdly like that of Ptolemy’s heirs upon Copernicus’s arrival. In describing the perceptions of antiquity, Descartes reminds us of why his new Oedipus need not go blind: he needs his unenvying vision in order to overcome infantile errors in his ways of seeing, in order to reject the model of Tantalus who, like the meditator, is distracted by “fruits,” if not “fruits” of the mind like poetry. Tantalus is tantalizing for another reason, however. Descartes returns wryly to infancy a breath after mentioning Tantalus, arguably one of the worst fathers of antiquity. Recall how Tantalus, having stolen ambrosia from the gods and having been caught in the act, makes a botched atonement by serving his son in the stew he ladles out to the diners on Mount Olympus. His punishment, described above, is only part of the story because, as the myth goes, with thanks to the gods, his son Pelops is restored to flesh (minus the prosthetic shoulder he needs after Demeter notices the stew’s special ingredient only too late). As he pairs Tantalus and Oedipus, Descartes couples infanticide with parricide. The punishments of myth are imagined through an alternative history, as if the imperative to preserve meaning through jealous attention to detail works to undo, albeit anagrammatically,88 the perverse. Dispelling envy seems to mean dispelling our natural perversion to preserve illusions that lead us astray. Terrestrial Paradise

The way the jealous mind reasons is not so far afield from how we were taught to unpack the riddle. The problem of managing how the envious person must be dealt with— by establishing radical equality of some kind before the reality of accidents of birth— returns us to the problem of language acquisition. The riddle is a way of thinking, and the trace of envy, our carefully managed natural perversion, helps us to find those thoughts. The bigger argument of this book is that poetic form is related to, and even

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determines, forms of thought. My contention that poetry makes thinking happen, which I will develop further in the subsequent chapters, in this sense agrees with what the Descartes of the Discourse says outright: words help dig us out of the primal, wordless swamp, which we often rightly resent— and which we might imagine inducing a belated and retrospective envy. It would have been so much better, this line of thinking goes, had we not been born infants, had we been endowed with language, and had we not wasted so much time in schools that led us astray. I will suggest in the next chapter that Descartes’s famous encounter with the evil genius in the Meditations exposes an unusual preoccupation with the problem of removing desire from thinking, but in the Discourse, containing or quenching desire is already central to the problem of being a creature who thinks and who thinks in language. Indeed, in the Discourse’s opening, we already see a casual opportunity to absent desire from thought: when it comes to common sense, desire is dismissed. But the ambition of the solved riddle that Descartes gives us is perhaps the move from distribution to commutation, or, to put it another way, the move from common sense to common knowledge. The problem with this sensation of envy— and all of envy— is that it seems to be incurable. The shock of Descartes’s first sentence might then be its claim to an effortless remedy to so intractable a problem. His contemporaries, at least, are less optimistic about envy’s cure. Robert Burton, like the humanist Pierre Boiastuau before him, quotes Marcus Aurelius to make this plain: the remedy for envy could only be “to renounce all happiness, and to be a wretch and miserable forever.”89 Francis Bacon had more modest, if more occult hopes, “[A]s we said in the beginning that the act of envy had somewhat in it of witchcraft, so there is no other cure of envy but the cure of witchcraft; and that is to remove the lot . . . and to lay it upon another.”90 Bacon’s transfer of the “lot” here is nothing other than a spell. But we might also see in it just what Descartes describes in his characterization of envy as the random distribution of qualities. Where Bacon asks that we find another witch to shift the spell, Descartes aims higher and reimagines the rules of creation. In the late 1620s and early 1630s, Descartes corresponded with Marin Mersenne, one of his most important interlocutors and later the author of some of the Objections which were published simultaneously with and alongside Descartes’s Meditations. In their exchange, Mersenne and Descartes come up with one such spell. There, they debate the possibility of a universal language, one in which “one could devise something . . . for making up primitive words and their symbols in this language, so that it could be learned very quickly . . . [and to] establish . . . an order among all the thoughts that can come into the human mind.”91 Learning all the words might be difficult, but Descartes

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claims that “if this secret were discovered, I am certain that the language would soon spread throughout the world; for there are many people who would be willing to spend five or six days in learning how to make themselves understood by everyone.”92 The five or six days Descartes imagines the student of a universal language studying shortens the time to degree for the Cartesian infant desperate to become an initiate in the world of letters. Understanding a language “to make themselves understood by everyone,” these new users of language approach the radical equality of common sense in relationship to equal others. If it is difficult to imagine creating such a language or discovering it, Descartes is strikingly optimistic: “I maintain that such a language is possible,” he says. It would make “peasants . . . be better judges of the truth of things than philosophers are now.”93 If it weren’t enough to suggest that all language users are equal with respect to common sense, Descartes imagines a more dramatic equality still, one that would crush the distance between peasant and philosopher and maybe even graduate the baby to speech much more quickly, as if compensating for the fact that simply growing up seems not to be enough to get over the past. While insisting that such a language and such an equality of insight are possible, Descartes also warns Mersenne not to rush so hasty a conclusion: “But I do not hope ever to see such a language in use. For that, the order of nature would have to change so that the world turned into a terrestrial paradise.”94 Five or six days of studying the universal language, and the world would have to become a terrestrial paradise. Descartes imagines, albeit obliquely, that the possible universal language would be better than God at creating paradise, or at least faster: five or six days to creation— a possible twenty-four-hour lead over the Almighty. We might also recall that in many stories of paradise, there is at first no envy— and there are also, strikingly, no infants.95 The Sphinx’s riddle, depicting infant, adult, and old man, asks its successful answerer to recognize that the same person can have these three natures over time. Applied to this context, the old advice Horace gives following the famous ut pictura poesis is surprisingly useful: “Some works,” he explains, “will captivate you when you stand very close to them and others if you are at a greater distance. This one prefers a darker vantage point, that one wants to be seen in the light since it feels no terror before the penetrating judgment of the critic. This pleases only once, that will give pleasure even if we go back to it ten times over.”96 This account describes the peculiarity of aesthetic judgments, dependent on position of subject and object, on the acumen of the critic, and releasing different modes of pleasure. In Horace’s description of what I am calling, albeit anachronistically, aesthetic judgment, we get something that looks quite like the opposite of common sense and something much more akin to solving a riddle— taking

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the “data” in neither too wide nor too narrow a sense as the Descartes of the Regulae instructs. Descartes seems to position his own work as a riddle that has yet to be solved— a painting, a story, a fable that requires the careful work of decoding in order to understand it. Descartes’s history or fable or painting thus invites the interpretation it at first resists because the joke is explained from the start. It is not so much on us as in us. Whatever the ironic maneuverings of the Discourse, the community that Descartes assembles from common sense is one without humor or surprise. Common sense, then, is the skill that lets us foil the miraculous and bite our thumbs at our natural insufficiencies. But it is this counterposition to our inadequacies, this natural perversion, that is the spookiest faculty of all, for the mysterious error of nature or the bad direction of our will that allows us to think uncommonly is the twin of the form that helps us think in the first place: poetry. In the next chapter, I will argue that the origin story in Descartes’s Meditations suggests that poetry, and love lyric in particular, helps make thinking happen. But here I have tried to suggest that the solved riddle spares us the possibility both of magic words and of irredeemable vice. If poetry’s kin has been thoroughly disenchanted by the democracy of Cartesian reading and the rejection that conceals it in the Discourse, it may be because it is enlisted, in impotence, as thinking’s precondition.

Lyric Disposition

[ ChaP ter two ]

Though common sense might stir some controversy, it pales next to the fallout of the cogito with its apparent insinuation of a divided mind and body. While the cogito did not quite seem to exist for a good century after Descartes wrote the word cogito, the supposition that mind and body had suffered a real split had emerged well before the term’s acquisition of its definite article.1 Appearing first in the Discourse on Method, the cogito emerged incognito in the French maxim Descartes posited as the “first principle of the Philosophy I was looking for,” that is, je pense, donc je suis.2 Variations on this formula, this time in Latin, reappeared in the Meditations (1641) and the Principia (1644). The aftermath of this familiar Cartesian slogan amplifies both the easy caricature of Descartes’s philosophy as well as the avalanche of alienation we commonly attach to a trajectory leading to Enlightenment reason and continuing on to its ghoulish application in the twentieth century. In the wake of this version of Descartes, thinking trumps feeling; the self yearns for its lost body; other minds, impenetrable, offer no solidarity; and, soon enough, God is dead. From this later vantage point, it is difficult to imagine a moment in which this cogito could be something that anyone could ever desire. It is still harder to fathom that desire itself might be the cogito’s prerequisite, but such a relationship between wanting and thinking, between thinking and poetry, is this chapter’s object. If “desire” and “Descartes” are seldom uttered in much proximity, Descartes himself had investigated desire’s nature thoroughly enough to note its peculiarities and to count it among the six “primitive passions.”3 Always directed toward the future and distinct from the will, desire in Descartes routinely urges the person who possesses it (or who is possessed by it) toward activity: “I note this special feature of desire,” Descartes writes, “that it agitates the heart more violently than any other passion . . . ren-

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der[ing] all the senses more acute, and all the parts of the body more mobile.”4 In addition to this invigoration, desire is also remarkable because it “is a passion which has no opposite” (qui n’a point de contraire).5 For Descartes, the single passion of desire has no contrary, but it nonetheless brings about two distinct tactics, namely, pursuit and avoidance as, for example, in the single desire to be healthy and not to be sick. Still, Descartes observes how a special subset of desire attends both agrément, that is, attraction, pleasure, or even charm, and horreur, horror or repulsion, which cannot be accounted for as easily under the rubric of pursuit and avoidance. In this case, Descartes explains, “the desire which arises from attraction (agrément) is very different from that which arises from repulsion (horreur).”6 The problem with horreur is that the person who experiences it catches a glimpse of death: Repulsion (horreur) is ordained by nature to represent to the soul a sudden and unexpected death. Thus, although it is sometimes merely the touch of an earth worm (vermisseau), the sound of a rustling leaf ( feuille tremblante), or our shadow (son ombre) that gives rise to repulsion (horreur), we feel at once as much emotion as if we had experienced a threat of certain death. This produces a sudden agitation which leads the soul to do its utmost to avoid so manifest an evil.7

Descartes’s odd examples here make a persuasive case for skepticism; if a worm or a rustling leaf can prompt the same response as a real “threat of certain death,” there is good reason to approach the world with circumspection, lest one’s shadow become a perpetual source of fright. In this exceptional case of attraction and repulsion, however, desire proves itself to be especially literary and not simply because of the hint of tragedy promised by “a threat of certain death.” As he considers horror’s apparent opposite in attraction or agrément, Descartes reveals the genres that come to be attraction’s trademark. This subspecies of desire, it turns out, “provides writers of romances and poets with their principal subjectmatter.”8 It is not love that fuels literary production but, rather, a particular form of desire whose fervent activities can also lead to writing.9 While attraction provides material for poetry and romance, it seems, in spite of itself, to share its peculiarly literary nature with repulsion. Although Descartes’s examples of especially horrifying objects “represent[ed] to the soul” seem to hearken back to Plato’s cave with its menacing shadow (ombre), they, too, fall into the genres supposedly elicited exclusively by attraction.10 In the case of horror, romance and poetry appear in reverse: the rustling leaf, the feuille tremblante, also summons the trembling page in the hands of the absorbed reader, and the unfortunate worm, the vermis-

Lyric Disposition


seau, calls to mind the famous congruence between the invertebrate and poetic form, with the tropic activity of worms in the earth collapsing in a vers that names both verse and worm.11 Fittingly, then, it is in one of the most overtly literary episodes of the Meditations that attraction and repulsion converge and compel the meditator to adopt poetic strategy, namely, the encounter with the Meditations’ “evil genius.” With the invention of the Meditations’ great villain, the malin génie, Descartes transforms the formula I have described above, where attraction provides literary inspiration. Where the Passions’ account of attraction enables literary activity, the meditator’s response to the desires of the evil genius converts someone else’s attraction, here, the solicitous attention of the evil genius, into a repelling poetics. Poetry, that is, becomes not the vocation of the one desiring but of the one recovering from a horror found in the shadow of someone else’s desire. In this chapter, I argue that the cogito can be understood more fully the more it is defamiliarized and the more carefully its story of origin is attended to, for in its emergence in the Meditations, the cogito situates itself as much in a romance as in the story of skepticism. Reading the encounter of the meditator with the evil genius in the Meditations, I show how a crucial precedent to the cogito comes not only from Plato and a long skeptical tradition, as we would suspect, but from Petrarch and the cultures of Petrarchism that thrived in the early modern period: it is Renaissance love lyric, and the blazon in particular, that gives the meditator the poetic tools to become the thinking thing. While this claim furthers this book’s argument about the influence without anxiety manifest in the possibilities emerging from Descartes’s incidental poetic education, it also recontextualizes just what the cogito is, namely, part of a sophisticated response to the threat of illusions born of another’s excessive desire. In this unlikely romantic plot, Descartes’s lyric cogito yokes poetry to thinking, and it suggests that the question of how thinking happens is not only a story of reason’s application but rather an extension of the feelings a thinker might be trying to avoid. This chapter begins with the literary genre the evil genius seems at first glance most likely to solicit, namely, Baroque tragedy, before arguing that the Petrarchan tradition offers an alternative and lyric view of the meditator’s encounter with this malin génie. Showing thinking to be the product of the meditator’s lyric rejection of the evil genius’s wicked desires, I argue that the meditator’s efforts to enshrine thought’s autonomy instead expose the strangeness of thought’s apparent dependencies: thinking’s liberation from illusion is stuck in relation to a seduction that turns out to be the meditator’s insurmountable disposition. If Descartes’s use of common sense in the Discourse tells what is in part a story of envy and riddles rooted in early modern pedagogy, then the

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cogito’s elaboration in the Meditations unfolds how thinking emerges in an encounter with seductions expressed in love lyric. It also moves this story about the development of thinking from a correction of infantile injustice, as in the previous chapter, to what might be thought of as adolescent stirrings, here framed as a first encounter with another person’s infatuation or, put otherwise, as a study of seduction in which one realizes one may have already been seduced. Bad Mimesis

Apart from Descartes’s explicit references to specific genres, as in his appeal to fable or, of course, meditation, the evil genius seems to be the nextbest candidate to index a literary Descartes; as many critics have pointed out, the invention of the evil genius easily calls to mind the trickery and illusion of the Baroque.12 Even so, when it comes to Descartes’s evil genius, two obvious problems too seldom receive adequate attention. First, the evil genius never quite appears. For all his infamy, the evil genius or malin génie shows up to the Meditations only as specter, framed always as a supposition, first at the very end of the First Meditation and then in the Second Meditation where he is sporadically reconjured. Imagined by the meditator as a variety of deceiver god, the evil genius is halfheartedly summoned as the meditator invokes him as a dangerous hypothetical: “I will suppose” (supponam), he says, that “some malicious demon of the utmost power”13 has fabricated the world around him, but just as quickly, the meditator gives up: “this is an arduous undertaking, and a kind of laziness brings me back to normal life.”14 Second, even in this shadowy presentation, the evil genius’s artifice is remarkably dull. While the meditator’s contingency plan against the evil genius culminates in the meditator’s show-stopping radical doubt, the stuff associated with the evil genius himself is nothing if not plain: the meditator’s catalog simply names the creations of the evil genius as the meditator calls into doubt the external world (“the sky, the air, the earth, colours, shapes, sounds and all external things”15) and his own body (“hands or eyes, or flesh, or blood, or senses”16). In contrast to this Cartesian laundry list, thought itself emerges as the real center of the self and the only reliable locus of truth, of course. Yet the evil genius’s invocation points to an intriguing generic quandary, for in spite of the evil genius’s nod toward the artifice of Baroque theater and so many trompes l’oeil, the meditator’s own representation of the evil genius reveals a superseding poetic ambition within the meditator himself. When it comes to thinking, another literary form will furnish more persuasive technique. To some of Descartes’s contemporaries, the inclusion of the evil genius was not especially interesting, simply a rerun of philosophical battles

Lyric Disposition


whose outcomes had already been decided. In his Fifth Set of Objections, Pierre Gassendi puzzled over the inclusion of the figure at all: “Why . . . did you consider everything as false, which seems more like adopting a new prejudice than relinquishing an old one? . . . [N]o one will believe that you have really convinced yourself that not one thing you formerly knew is true, or that your senses, or God, or an evil demon, have managed to deceive you all the time.”17 Thomas Hobbes ignored the figure entirely in the Third Objections, taking the spirit of Gassendi’s criticism further and deeming the hubbub about illusion and perception in the First Meditation a waste of time. Everyone had heard it all before: “But since Plato and other ancient philosophers discussed this uncertainty . . . and since the difficulty of distinguishing the waking state from dreams is commonly pointed out, I am sorry that the author [that is, Descartes himself ], who is so outstanding in the field of original speculations, should be publishing this ancient material.”18 In the “ancient material” that Descartes evoked, Hobbes saw the “same uncertainty” a reader might find in the cave of book 7 of the Republic. Hobbes’s objection to Cartesian doubt rightly invokes Plato but gets the page number wrong, however, for the threat of the evil genius is most akin to the bad mimesis for which Plato blames poets. This is to say, then, at first glance it seems that if the evil genius were a poet, it might well be Plato who would hate him most. As the meditator lists those objects he would cast into doubt were an evil genius to conspire against him, the reader receives a fantasy revealing the evil genius’s imitative acumen and enviable productivity. Meticulously conforming to the rules of vraisemblance, the world the evil genius threatens to create is a facsimile of Descartes’s own. Though Descartes’s description of what the evil genius would do dispenses with diegesis and leaves only the barest motive (a will to deceive), its catalog of the real-world items the evil genius might fake shows how the evil genius’s imitative skill would pose a grave threat. In this role, the evil genius looks like the tragic poet Plato maligns, showing masterful technical skill that makes illusion look just like the real thing.19 Thin on plot, the imitations authored by the evil genius nonetheless resemble the trickery native to the Baroque, as Dalia Judovitz has shown,20 with its trompes l’oeil, and especially as evinced in the theater.21 The plot of the evil genius would be realized in the form of Baroque tragedy: Pedro Calderón de la Barca— like Descartes, a product of Jesuit education— wrote about such fabrications in his La vida es sueño in 1635, two years before the appearance of the Meditations. A few decades earlier, Shakespeare had already conjured some evil ingenuity in Edgar’s description to the blind Gloucester on a “cliff ” conjured only by Edgar’s words, and Corneille, too, was working at the same time as Descartes on explicit questions of illusion, albeit comic ones.22 In his own way, Des-

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cartes nurses a kind of “antitheatrical prejudice” in never allowing the evil genius to stage his rebellion within his prose. For this reason, the evil genius himself is strangely dull in spite of his sexy moniker: what Descartes says he doubts (the sky, his own hand, and so on) gives the reader neither an arresting description demonstrating writerly virtuosity nor an elaboration of the virtuoso verisimilitude the evil genius promises. As a matter of method, the evil genius lacks inventive cunning: in contrast to the God of creative fiats, the evil genius is terrifically derivative, simply conforming to the rules of vraisemblance as the world he creates is so perfect a copy of Descartes’s own that it warrants no description. Thus, however fertile the desire of the evil genius, the principle of reproduction to which it adheres produces only the tedium of reality. When it comes to the evil genius’s making, the threat of novelty has already been crushed. Descartes’s reader, in turn, cannot get lost in the skill of the imagined evil genius because it is never displayed— it is only always possible and never actual. The world Descartes razes, therefore, is neither especially appealing nor very vivid, nor does the meditator himself deliver the heights of emotion of the deceived— he instead makes his plans for doubt or simply lapses into “laziness.” Presenting the evil genius’s fabrications in such bland generalities as “sky” and “sound” or just “eyes” is a departure not only from the artistic traditions of the Baroque but also from the Jesuit tradition of meditation. Not merely repeating a Platonic move gone wrong, Descartes’s evil genius also seems to appeal to the visual techniques of Jesuit meditation with its attendant theatricality, only to have such visualization deferred indefinitely. Given that the form of the Meditations summons with its title the very method Loyola made famous in his Spiritual Exercises, it is striking that the visual itself— central to Jesuit meditation— should be so thoroughly routed. Descartes does not provide “Ignatian . . . techniques . . . instruct[ing] practitioners to visualize concrete images (the Passion, the life of the Virgin, the Holy Infancy, the Rosary and the Secret Heart),” as Moshe Sluhovsky characterizes it.23 In this light, it seems like the Jesuit imaginative process involves doing the work of the evil genius, not tearing it down. Take, briefly, Jesuit theologian Luis de la Puente’s insistence that the torments of hell be visualized: “I will imagine some place like an obscure, straight, and horrible dungeon full of fier [sic].”24 This meditative technique relies on operating in the very mode of the evil genius, using imagination to mimic elements of reality as precisely as possible to elicit the meditator’s total absorption. Descartes’s meditator would prefer to imagine himself without eyes rather than to imagine this. His evil genius may well be evil, but he delivers no dungeons “full of fier.” Were the evil genius to operate more stealthily within the Meditations, it

Lyric Disposition


would seem that the genre against which Plato railed so thoroughly would not be his best bet— but that the nascent genre of the novel would do the work of trickery very nicely. The Meditations itself, then, does not assume the form the evil genius might use to best effect. While Negri, for one, would look at the Discourse and see in it “a bourgeois novel,”25 precisely such a work is the one the evil genius is prevented from writing, for the descriptive power of the novel never appears in the more abstract Meditations. And why should it? Perhaps the evil genius is reincarnated novelistically à la Negri in so many solitary Crusoes to come, but in the Meditations, the appearance of the evil genius, a scenario cast as a supposition, emphasizes less the prowess of the evil genius than that of the meditator, less the trickery of the evil genius than the relationship of resistance the meditator vows to install: a rejection most of all of seduction. And it is not the ornery Platonic mode, itself a kind of theater, that Descartes adopts to mark his victory over the idea of the evil genius. Rather, it is lyric. This more elliptical representation of the evil genius in the Meditations shows that thinking under siege requires not dramatic poetry but love lyric, which will exorcize the evil genius and announce thought’s triumph in an alliance with lyric form. I without a Face

One of the more startling qualities of the evil genius is his determined monogamy in the face of unreciprocated desire. More than just quietly delighting in total deception, the evil genius works his evil in a profoundly undemocratic way: the only person he cares about swaying is the meditator. When Descartes introduces the malin génie for the first time, the figure we meet is one whose most distinctive feature is this exceptional dedication: I will suppose therefore that not God, who is supremely good and the source of truth, but rather some malicious demon ( genium aliquem malignum) of the utmost power and cunning has employed all his energies in order to deceive me. I shall think ( putabo) that the sky, the air, the earth, colours, shapes, sounds and all external things are merely the delusions of dreams which he has devised to ensnare my judgment. I shall consider myself (considerabo meipsum) as not having hands or eyes, or flesh, or blood, or senses, but as falsely believing that I have all these things.26

The meditator puts an impressive spectrum of objects into doubt here in response to this “demon of  . . . utmost power and cunning.” The efforts of the evil genius revolve exclusively around deceiving the meditator; he manufactures a false world not for all of its inhabitants but for one. The evil

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genius, then, is an intensely personal agent of deceit, toiling expressly to ensnare the “credulity” of the meditator alone. The duplicity of the evil genius at first glance seems unnecessarily complex, for the evil genius does not simply erect a false universe and scamper away. In contrast to the vray Dieu (optimum Deum) who is markedly distanced from the human27 (he is a force of truth rather than a personification of it; in the Latin, he is, no less impersonally, the font or “source of truth” [ fontem veritatis]), the evil genius is obviously hard at work, breaking a sweat for the meditator and the meditator alone: [il] a employé toute son industrie à me tromper (omnem suam industriam in eo posuisse, ut me falleret).28 What might at moments feel like a prelude to deism in fact summons a suffocating demiurge whose generic evil power (he is powerful and cunning, recall) fleetingly promises a kind of god who is a deity for one. The mystery of the evil genius’s motives puts the mystery of desire at the center of Cartesian skepticism: what do evil geniuses (really) want? The philosophical endgame of the episode with the evil genius aims to locate thought as the site of truth, but the personification of the evil genius, maneuvering at a distance, amid the solitude of the meditations, makes this spectral character’s desires an object requiring explanation. In his dedication to the meditator, the evil genius seems to refuse to disclose what he knows, but his dedication shows he in fact knows precisely what every lover does— that desire offers no explanation, that love is marked by the “great enigma” of its object.29 Escaping this singular passion will be that which drives the meditator both to poetry and to thought. In this light, what the meditator resists is not just falsehood but seduction. Destroying the world and his body proves that the meditator does not trust the world outside but also that he does not need it. In the thought experiment of the evil genius lies the meditator’s haunted vision of dependency, where someone else desires, provides, and shapes the world, where someone else dedicates himself entirely to the meditator. The threat of the evil genius, then, inheres in his effort to forge a relationship to the meditator of necessity, proximity, and particularity while the distant God and his absolute truth are absent— mercifully, for the meditator— from the story of a personal dependency and surrender. When the meditator responds with his system of doubt, he demolishes the outside world and its menace. When this iconoclasm30 is lent to the self, though, it is cause for more alarm, for what the meditator dismisses as he finally gets rid of his own body, too, is the very disorder of desire itself, of wanting, of need. The meditator proves that he needs neither world nor body.31 As he considers his own possibly illusory body, the meditator announces he will extend his skepticism even to his own person: “I will consider myself as having not hands, not eyes, not flesh, not blood, nor any sense, but I will believe

Lyric Disposition


that I hold all of these things falsely.” (Considerabo meipsum tanquam manus non habentem, non oculos, non carnem, non sanguinem, non aliquem sensum, sed haec omnia me habere falso opinantem.)32 The meditator’s strategy of imagining away his bodily features, sense, and “all these things” is an extreme measure, but it evokes a still more extreme image of the meditator.33 The meditator does not enumerate his considerations in this way just for hyperbole’s sake. The unrelenting march of negations (not hands, not eyes, not flesh, not blood!): this bodily undoing, on the contrary, is a retreat that destroys the self as an object of desire. The evil genius seeks a particular guise of seduction in his bid for persuasion: he wants his ruse to be believed. He might not be asking for faithfulness, but he is looking for faith. The meditator’s only response to such an attempted seduction is to destroy the entire world and himself. In this way, seduction very nearly works; to use Vincent Descombes’s formulation, “[w]hat seduces is not some feminine wile, but the fact that it is directed at you. It is seductive to be seduced, and consequently, it is being seduced that is seductive. In other words, the being seduced finds himself in the person seducing. What the person seduced sees in the one who seduces him, the unique object of his fascination, is his own seductive, charming self, his loveable self-image.”34 To resist seduction, Descartes must destroy “his own seductive, charming self ” from head to toe. If the evil genius shows, as Descartes of the Passions would, how desire can be creative, can fabricate a world, the meditator takes pains to prove that he will not, cannot, be an object of desire at all. In doing so, he summons a powerful counterpoiesis, for the meditator’s bodily decomposition in reaction to the evil genius amounts to a twisted appropriation of the strategy of love lyric. Treating the evil genius as a seducer, then, is no anachronism: Descartes responds with the strategy most familiar to poets working in the genre of love lyric with its games of seduction and unreciprocated love. Where lyric poets would have praised parts for the whole and summoned, sometimes with yearning, the objects of their desire, the meditator’s listing of parts amounts to a rigorous negation of desire: who would want a body like this one, he seems to dare the evil genius to respond to his technique. Doubting his senses, then, the meditator undoes the usual metonymy of the blazon and of the body in favor of a metonymy through subtraction, disposing of parts for the sake of a remnant part that denies its partiality, that not only stands for the “whole” but becomes its essence: the “ego.” Indeed, that self left behind when the body has been stripped away becomes— rather, is— the real stuff of the meditator (and something the evil genius can neither touch nor endow with a world). In order to defeat the evil genius, the meditator imagines himself without hands, eyes, flesh, and blood, a fragmentation that dismem-

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bers not in order to linger on the beloved by preserving (or controlling) individual parts but to refuse those parts either sensing or being sensed. When he dismantled the world, the meditator got rid of sound and color, but when it comes to getting rid of the body, it’s not abstractions and elements that are lopped but the hands, eyes, flesh, and blood. The castaway matter of this outrageous Cartesian striptease forms a curious pile of meat, and the body that remains is strange to imagine indeed: an amputated, eyeless skeleton, sucked dry of its blood— at last, impervious to the evil genius’s advances. He will be neither seen nor touched. He will not be the subject of any love song. Thus, the technique of the blazon, instead of eliciting or describing erotic desire, defeats eros as such. One crucial poetic counterpoint, and one with which Descartes would have been familiar, is Petrarch’s treatment of Laura. “Never glimpsed entire, evoked only through the description of her body parts, Laura is everywhere and nowhere,” Timothy Hampton explains, “That fragmentation in turn celebrates the poet’s own power to sing of the love that he creates in song.”35 As Nancy Vickers first made clear, “[G]iven an entire volume devoted to a single lady [Laura], the absence of a coherent, comprehensive portrait is significant. Laura is always presented as a part or parts of a woman.”36 Descartes changes the formula here, for while it is certainly the case that “[t]he effort to excise the body fails because the body returns, spectrally, as a figural dimension of the text,”37 the fragmentation of that body indexes a refusal to encounter alterity or even to imagine that encounter. What Petrarch does to Laura, Descartes does to himself.38 In early modern France as well as Europe more generally, Petrarchan poetry and Petrarchism writ large were, not to put too fine a point on it, difficult to avoid. Petrarchan poetry had exploded in popularity among the giants of French poetry of the sixteenth century.39 While Petrarch’s humanism shaped the humanist curriculum at the heart of Descartes’s Jesuit education, Petrarch was also familiar enough that Descartes’s sometime interlocutor Christiaan Huygens could scribble lines of Petrarch in the margins of his contributions to their correspondence. Brian Cumming argues that Petrarchism was especially well suited for Jesuit thought in particular: “As a master of the conceited style, and of a complex language of the self, Petrarch showed how the Jesuit ideal of emotional inwardness could be realized in poetic form.”40 But while Petrarchan precedents were not difficult to locate, subversive reappropriations of the genre and its tropes were already common practices in lyric by Descartes’s time— well after the peak of French blasoneurs. Du Bellay’s “Contre les petrarquistes” (1558), for instance, already lampoons the clichés of Petrarchism: J’ai oublié l’art de pétrarquiser, / Je veux d’amour franchement deviser. “I forgot the art of petrarchizing,” the poet admits, and “I want to talk about love

Lyric Disposition


honestly.”41 Du Bellay lets the beloved know he could “make two stars of your two eyes” and “change your blond hair into gold”42— but only if he had to. Part of the problem of the obsessive voice of the poet is the way in which his voice decides what kind of an object it is he beholds. Subverting and reinventing this tradition could also mean taking the knife out of the would-be lover’s cutting gaze. While “Laura” never wrote her own sonnets, we have, at least, a Louise Labé who could write blazoning lines that skewered the tradition of selective anatomization: “What good is it now, that you so perfectly / Once praised the golden tresses of my hair, / Or that beauty of my eyes . . . ?” (Las! que me sert, que si parfaitement / Louas jadis & ma tresse doree, / Et de mes yeus la beauté . . .)43 The Descartes of the Passions had already explained the blazon’s capacity for this kind of commotion: desire, recall, makes “all the parts of the body more mobile.”44 As far as we know, Descartes never indulged in so sultry a version of Petrarchism in verse and retired from poetry upon leaving La Flèche— at least until he possibly composed verses for a ballet for Queen Christina.45 But the techniques of the blazon were also being put to compelling use in prose, and traces of blazoning were not unique to Descartes’s work in the period. In Roland Greene’s study of lyric in the context of early modern colonialism, the blazon was diversely useful: “While the critical literature on Petrarchism is vast, we scarcely ever acknowledge how this convention, in its crucial ideological deployment, goes to establish cultural orders outside poetry proper.”46 Steeped in this poetic tradition, Descartes’s prose, too, carries within it the inflections— and ambitions— of what Greene calls the “lyric moment in prose.”47 Descartes’s self-blazoning deflects the sham reality of the evil genius’s bad mimesis: lyric measures prevent both lyric seduction and tragic drama alike. I have argued that it is the threat of desire and of extreme solicitude that impels the meditator to announce plans for such extreme measures. Put this way, rejecting mimetic productions in the extreme way the meditator does amounts to a rejection of a kind of care. Falsehood is rejected, to be sure, but so, too, is dedication and a certain kind of world-making creation. If the evil genius’s goals were not exclusively to bamboozle the meditator, his rejection might even seem pitiable. But the meditator places himself in a much longer and even mythic tradition of escaping seduction. Where Io transforms into a cow and Daphne into a tree, the meditator becomes a thinking thing. As intriguing as his transformation is, what is more striking is his method: thinking. Castaways of Thought

The meditator’s turn to poetry takes place in the context of a fanatical reaction nearly as frightening as the evil genius’s threat to truth. For it is in

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this power struggle that desire and thinking clash, and the meditator reveals how far he will go for the sake of truth: namely, to destruction. As he pits love lyric against the evil genius, he dismantles the threat of the evil genius’s myopic desires and dangerous creations. But the poetic techniques I describe above also announce themselves as ways of thinking, analogues and counterpoints, in a sense, to the cogito. For all the attention to the cogito, the meditator’s other forms of thinking (that is, the considerabo, putabo, and cogitabo) receive little comment. This is actually quite odd given their proximity to the development of the thinking thing and the efficacy thought often enjoys in Descartes’s world. After all, it is thinking that allows the meditator to assure himself that he exists, and it is thinking that lets Descartes more generally arrive at his conclusions and enshrine the handmaidens of thought: reason, common sense, and so on. In the encounter with the evil genius, thought has an intimate relationship to a destruction wrought by poetry. It is, then, not the case that thinking and poetry are at odds or that the cogito somehow antagonizes the poetic but rather that the conspiracy between them runs much deeper. In the face of a desire that has no opposite by definition, the meditator invents an unconventional approach where thinking is not desire’s opposite but its logical outcome. Defeating the evil genius, then, means confronting the desire of the evil genius with an alternate plan for the future. As the meditator itemizes the evil genius’s impressive productivity, he levels the creations of the evil genius with the scythe of negation: this is a catalog of catastrophe. The external world the meditator vows to dismiss as “the play of dreams,” ludificationes somniorum; the senses and the body will be disregarded as a false belief. The evil genius’s ingenuity rapidly succumbs to the meditator’s refutation, delivered with a fatal nonchalance. While first it is the evil genius who acts (he presides as the grammatical subject over a triplet of nasty predications: he toils, deceives, and ensnares on the meditator’s behalf ), the meditator ensures the evil genius is ultimately only a secondary actor. Though the reader learns that the evil genius is a deceiver with formidable strength, the meditator introduces this character only to announce his own virile program of resistance, eclipsing what the evil genius might do behind what the meditator will do. Indeed, the evil genius retreats, evidently cowed as the meditator deploys a future tense that renders the evil genius’s efforts irrelevant: “I will think,” “I will consider” the objects of the world to be illusory, the meditator explains. In the story of the evil genius, we encounter verbs of thinking that precede, even subtend, the cogito: the considerabo, the cogitabo, and the putabo. While the cogito says “I think,” the considerabo places a stranglehold on the future (“I will consider”), as does the putabo (“I will ponder,” or, maybe, “I will suppose”), and then

Lyric Disposition


there’s the ominous cogitabo (“I will think”). Criticism against Descartes gasps with horror at the sense that thinking determines being (“I think, therefore I am”), but it doesn’t seem to bother anyone when this contract is extended indefinitely and promises are made for the future. It seems to me that the tense sign -bo is a promise that those suspicious of the cogito ought to approach with particular concern. It is these verbs that loosen the evil genius’s grip and join to the meditator’s lyrical undoing a still better, more sweeping, poetic strategy: the cogito. Richard Kennington remarks in passing the curiosity of the evil genius’s proximity to the cogito. The evil genius, he explains, “reappears almost immediately after the cogito, an event often neglected.”48 This is surely no coincidence. In the meditator’s first encounter with the evil genius, these verbs (I will think, I will consider) begin to secure the integrity of his thought. Before the celebrated cogito of the Second Meditation can emerge, then, there are the putabo and the considerabo that fell the Meditations’ wicked world-maker. Putabo governs a system of equivalences that holds the stuff of the world to be the ludificationes somniorum or the illusions of dreams,49 and considerabo governs all the physical features and substances that the meditator will deem his body “falsely” has. The defeat of the evil genius works a kind of conceptual vampirism as it drains the meditator of living material, and it urges the meditator into deep retreat— into the soul and toward the remnant and fragmented body (a body in which there must be “no feeling,” non habentem . . . non aliquem sensum, comme n’ayant aucun sens). In the First Meditation, the putabo and considerabo turn the landscape around the meditator into metaphor.50 He deems the stuff of the world to be dreams, the putabo presiding over this transfer (it is a metaphor in the literal sense of meta-phorein, carrying over). The considerabo, meanwhile, undoes the basic functioning of the necessary metonymy that allows parts to cohere into wholes, that associates the parts of the body with the body entire. The philosophical victories that arrive with the Second Meditation, the appearance of the cogito and the security of the thinking thing, are the trophies of a meditator who controls the future of (and with) his thoughts. The cogito is marked as a “cogitation” with history, one with powerful cognitive forebears. Yet no one seems to linger long enough to ask what the difference is between cogitating and considering, between the thought and the putative. Yet two equally opaque verbs of cognition and reflection, putabo and considerabo, help diminish the problem of the evil genius with their definitions unquestioned. Read in sequence, putabo and considerabo anticipate the imminent birth of the cogito. While, in practical terms, the enervated evil genius succumbs to a future marked by the steady pulse of the meditator’s will, the words that vanquish the evil genius deserve more consid-

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eration, for they happen to destroy not just the evil genius himself but the entire world: the meditator’s tactics conceal in the apparent neutrality of their actions (“I will think,” “I will consider”) a violence that shatters creation to keep the evil genius out.51 The putabo commands the destruction of the world, the considerabo that of the person. Nowhere in the secondary literature, that I’m aware of, do Descartes’s critics take into account the specific mercenary work of the putabo and the considerabo. Critics have likewise seemed to ignore the ferocity of the formulae of the Meditations that run parallel to the more famous ergo of the Discourse: putabo therefore I have no world; considerabo therefore I have no body. These verbs of thought dramatize the constitutive nihilism on which the cogito rests. And they attach verbs of thinking to the objects they annihilate— something that the “cogito,” used intransitively, seems to refuse. If Descartes knew “immediately” what thinking was, enough so to assume he could yoke thinking to being, his contemporaries did not— or, at a minimum, they gave quite a lot of room for hesitation. The definition of “thinking” in Jean Nicot’s Thresor de la langue francoyse tant ancienne que moderne (1606) defines the French penser, to think, with a brief list of Latin infinitives (and examples of their use), among them, arbitrari, cogitare, censere, opinari, versare (and its variants: in animo versare and in corde versare).52 What follows this initial definition is a vast list of French idioms using penser with their Latin equivalents. This entry for thinking, for penser, is among the longest in the dictionary, and the number of phrases includes more than seventy examples, ranging widely in signification: Chose à laquelle on a pensé, Res pensitata or “thing about which one thinks, thought-about thing” to Penser ailleurs, Aliud agere or “to think otherwise.” This spectrum of examples shows not only how the language of thinking stretched the task of French lexicography at a moment of the project’s national importance but also how the French penser sat at one of the more awkward positions between Latin and French. Penser seems at moments untranslatable,53 each idiom requiring Latin verbs that are more varied and signify opining, thinking, or even driving or moving, making or doing. If there was one main designation for thinking in early modern French, there were many more in Latin, itself not just a language for translation for Descartes but also a language of composition. This is to say that even in the most basic of dictionary entries, the work of “thinking” entailed significant conceptual range. To put this in context, there are twice as many entries for thinking as there are for (the no less complicated matter of!) being (estre). If length of entry determined difficulty or priority of concept, then cogitology would have long ago eclipsed ontology. We act like we know what thinking is, but it was a surprisingly mercurial concept as it became

Lyric Disposition


an object of language. It still is. As Heidegger put it, “We translate cogitare with ‘thinking’ and thus persuade ourselves that it is now clear what Descartes means by cogitare. As if we immediately knew what ‘thinking’ means (was Denken heisst).”54 We don’t even try to “persuade ourselves” about anything, meanwhile, when it comes to Descartes’s other verbs of thought. Just before the cogito appears in the Second Meditation, it is heralded, possibly conjured, by its future-tense form, a cogitabo. Given the special work of the putabo and considerabo, the cogitabo’s proximity to the evil genius’s second attempt is an unsurprising maneuver. Thinking and desire (and the defense against desire) are essential to the lyric subjectivity the meditator creates.55 The cogitabo’s appearance in the Second Meditation coincides with the fleeting reappearance of the evil genius in something of a different guise, however. Announcing his final defeat of the evil genius, the meditator implies that even the evil genius’s impish deceptions are irrelevant when it comes to the problem of being sure of his own existence: “In that case I too undoubtedly exist, if he is deceiving me; and let him deceive me as much as he can, he will never bring it about that I am nothing so long as I think that I am something (ut nihil sum quamdiu me aliquid esse cogitabo).”56 In the First Meditation, the meditator was in a sense everything, was the reason why things were; there wasn’t any doubt that he existed because the evil genius had made the entire world for him. What the meditator locates in this moment of the Second Meditation is not so much the work of the evil genius reappearing but his own: his powers of destruction (to banish the world and the body) cannot banish everything “as long as I think myself to be something.” The cogitabo thus makes a funny tautology when coupled with the Meditations’ famous cogito: as long as I think myself to be something, I (can) think, therefore I am. The cogitabo marks the limit of the meditator’s creative destruction— and it gives us an aliquid or “something” where the more famous sum of the cogito ergo sum does not. The sense of duration lingering in the meditator’s quamdiu (“as long as”) points to the repetition that inheres in the form of the meditation itself. As he says that the evil genius “will never bring it about that I am nothing,” there almost emerges a wish that the attempted affair never end. For the cogito to become the “something” it has become for us, it must have at its center the repeated threat of the evil genius, of his allencompassing desire to engulf and persuade. As the meditator ties verbs of thinking ( puto, considero, cogito) to his destructive, autoblazoning poetics, the effect of this is both to alienate the body and to produce the cogito, that object “aliquid” that requires reconstitution. What thought and its objects seem to have in common, meanwhile,

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are their marvelous variety. In the Third Meditation, Descartes discusses the work of classifying thoughts. Thought takes a conspicuous number of forms: Considerations of order appear to dictate (ordo videtur exigere) that I now classify my thoughts into definite kinds (meas cogitationes in certa genera distribuam), and ask which of them can properly be said to be the bearers of truth and falsity. Some of my thoughts are as it were images of things, and it is only in these cases that the term “idea” is strictly appropriate— for example, when I think (cogito) of a man, or a chimera, or the sky, or an angel, or God. Other thoughts have various additional forms: thus when I will, or am afraid, or affirm, or deny, there is always a particular thing which I take as the object of my thought (meae cogitationis apprehendo), but my thought includes something more than the likeness of that thing. Some thoughts in this category are called volitions or emotions, while others are called judgments.57

The rich and multiple definitions of thinking (penser) from Nicot’s dictionary encounter a useful analogue in Descartes’s own musings on what thinking looks and feels like. What thinking is is multiple. Moreover, it takes place in different genres ( genera) with various relationships to the truth. The opening of the Third Meditation qualifies what a thinking thing is in a slightly different mode, but one no less clear about the many varieties of thought: “I am a thing that thinks (ego sum res cogitans): that is, a thing that doubts, affirms, denies, understands a few things, is ignorant of many things, is willing, is unwilling, and also which imagines and has sensory perceptions.”58 (Cogitating doesn’t look so bad in this light.) The French translation of the Meditations adds two items to the list, making this “thinking thing” also engage in loving and hating.59 It would be harder to knock the cogito for ruining modernity, to be sure, if we expanded its definition to include all of the possibilities that being a thinking thing might entail. If loving falls under the rubric of cogitation, the cold cogito may yet shed its grim reputation. Lost in the haste to condemn the cogito is also the special proximity— or intimacy, even— which thinking makes possible. As Descartes explains in the passage above, in many forms of thought, “there is always a particular thing which I take as the object of my thought, but my thought includes something more than the likeness of that thing.” Thinking “always” takes an object— a particular thing. Its relationship to the object is a confusing more-than-likeness— something better than the carbon copy of the evil genius and somehow escaping the baggage of mimesis, with its special “more than.” Understanding himself as a “thinking thing,” the meditator

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takes himself as the object of his thought. If the meditator is determined to make himself untouchable— to the evil genius as well as to himself— another reason why this makes sense would be because thinking is especially intimate, summoning a relationship of more-than-likeness with each thought. In the famous formulation of the cogito, the ergo expresses a logical inference, which Descartes unfolds further in the Meditations. But the language of logic has a strange way of making being the effect of thinking rather than a state inferred from the sentence. In other words, it seems like the cogito thinks its way into the achievement of being. The real shock of the cogito is that thinking is presented as intransitive: for a moment there is no stated “particular thing . . . take[n] as the object of . . . thought.” And one of the curiosities about the invention of the cogito is that critics have transformed this recalcitrant intransitive— that wants in some ways neither to touch nor be touched— into the ultimate object, trumpeting its objectification with its definite article in the intransitive “I-think.” We say— or lament— “the cogito” because it seems to signal a particular kind of disembodied Being, but I have argued here that a promised or wished form of thinking (the putabo, considerabo, the cogitabo) thinks thinking into being. It can do so because the future of thinking brings together thinking and desire. In the encounter with the evil genius, the form this encounter takes is marked by lyric. This relationship between thinking and desire takes place in a future in which the meditator removes world and body to keep desire at bay. In The Passions of the Soul, Descartes explains that the passion of desire itself has a special investment in futurity. “The passion of desire,” he explains, “is an agitation . . . which disposes the soul to wish, in the future, for the things it represents to itself as agreeable.”60 In the Meditations, the wish for such an “agreeable” future appears more urgently in verbs of thinking rendered in the future tense in response to the hypothetical problem of the evil genius than in the projected solicitude of the evil genius himself. This pure present of the cogito— its marked distance from the threat of seduction or the menace of history or memory— requires the prophetic future the meditator vows to install if the evil genius unfurls his evil plan. But we should understand thinking as a counterpoetic maneuver that is both the means for resisting desire and the product of an encounter with it. In the Meditations, the cogito is not born by immaculate conception. The cogito cannot be thought into being without the presence of desire, even if its source is fabricated. Seduction and Disposition

I have suggested that Descartes’s reaction to the evil genius has a precedent as much Petrarchan as Platonic, that a poetic maneuvering clears

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the space for the most philosophical of thinking that we see in the cogito. I am arguing, then, that Descartes’s presentation of thinking is in part a poetic one, its precondition lurking in the riddle and its practice locked into the lyric tactics described above. The larger implication of this, however, is that, for Descartes, thinking— some thinking, at any rate— needs poetry. Or, to put it another way, the poetic strategies I locate here reflect how something quite other than a geometric method underlies the path to thinking in Descartes. Thinking depends on poetry, that is, and the love lyric’s game of seduction and flight allows Descartes to insist on the necessity of the thinking thing, positioned in contrast with the failed romance that precedes it. It would be easy to isolate the encounter with the evil genius as an exceptional case, but the structure of seduction and retreat is essential to Descartes’s Meditations. As love lyric provides a form for thinking in acting out the Petrarchan attention to part in order to reject need and disavow intimacy, Descartes intimates not only what might be called thinking but also how thinking might happen and feel. The relationship between seduction and disposition ultimately reveals, in turn, how the episode of the evil genius illuminates a problem that precedes his invention, one the meditator cannot outgrow. In the previous chapter, I discussed how common sense illuminates an original envy: a greed for language from the abject position of the swamped babe who, retroactively, dreams of a right to language, common sense, and the great equality of universalized close reading. Toward the end of the Third Meditation, where thinking is defined and God’s existence declared, the problem of an original vulnerability (one in which parents play a special role) returns, this time, yet again, as a thought that cannot be countenanced: Lastly, as regards my parents, even if everything I have ever believed about them is true, it is certainly not they who preserve me; and in so far as I am a thinking thing, they did not even make me; they merely placed certain dispositions ( posuerunt . . . dispositiones) in the matter which I have always regarded as containing me, or rather my mind, for that is all I now take myself to be. So there can be no difficulty regarding my parents in this context. Altogether then, it must be concluded that the mere fact that I exist and have within me an idea of a most perfect being, that is, God, provides a very clear proof that God indeed exists.61

One might well wonder what lurks in this “everything” the meditator “ever believed” about his parents. From this passage, though, the only conclusion one can reasonably draw is that a primary duty of parents is to “place . . . dispositions.” Dispositions, here dispositiones, from Latin dis-

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positio, signifies an arrangement, an ordering, or perhaps even a kind of management. Like its common usage today, it also marks something like mood or temperament. For Descartes, it likewise amounts to another refused seduction. Here, that is, Descartes’s mind sounds much like his dispensable, blazoned body, a thing “containing me.” It only belatedly comes to be “all I now take myself to be.” The dismissal of his parents comes to have something of the shape of the encounter with the evil genius; he owes them neither his previous belief nor gratitude for “preserv[ation]” and reduces their contributions to his mind to the slightest of containers. Instead, he can make his deductions about reality free from the influence of bias, whether from miseducation, a stray evil genius, or an ordinary upbringing. The meditator moves quickly over these disturbing original dispositions, and in doing so, characterizes himself again as unseduceable, though this time there is little he can do about the parental dispositions lurking in the “matter . . . containing [him].” As with the solicitous evil genius, the meditator does not need these disposition-placing parents and must minimize the importance of their contributions. The temporality of the meditator’s description of the subject liberated from parental influence is strange: an “I” precedes the “dispositions in the matter” his parents “merely placed,” but then the sentence turns into a Möbius strip. “Now” he knows it is “all . . . I . . . take myself to be.” That is, the subject arrives too soon, as if bending time to witness its own creation, and it also corrects the past (“now”!), as if the mastery he just claimed might vanish without affirmation. In this model, God seems to do the same thing as parents: putting ideas inside “the matter” containing the meditator. But where parents place these things, God exists from the beginning. The parents shape a container, but God penetrates the inner sanctum of “me.” Equally striking is how the parents’ work assumes a nearly polyptotonic form: his parents position dispositions (dispositiones  . . . posuerunt). The discordance and even violation involved in parental creation appear in the discordant language Descartes uses here. Both words share the root of pono, ponere, to place or put, but the prefix dis- signals separation, meaning apart, asunder, or away. With this etymological echo, the parents introduce into the container that the meditator is an internal distance, a placing away or setting apart. It almost seems that the decision that the meditator is his mind is an abandonment of the mind as container, a rejection that works like the abandonment of that other container, namely, the world and body an evil genius might be thought of as having created. Of course Descartes was also aware of the problem of containment and withdrawal as movements of reading. In the Meditations’ savvy dedication to the dean and doctors of the Sacred Faculty of Theology at the Sor-

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bonne, Descartes sets out some guidelines for the Meditations, unfolding what kind of work it is and how it ought to be read. Though the Meditations would end up on the Papal Index some twenty years later, this opening gambit seems to have bought Descartes some time; denouncing the arguments of atheists and asserting that God “may be more easily and certainly known than the things of the world,” Descartes claims for his work a requisite piety, and he also extends a canny invitation to his potential readers from the Sorbonne: Although the proofs I employ here are in my view as certain and evident as the proofs of geometry, if not more so, it will, I fear, be impossible for many people to achieve an adequate perception of them, both because they are rather long and some depend on others, and also, because they require a mind which is completely free from preconceived opinions and which can easily detach itself from involvement with the senses.62

In both the original Latin and its contemporary French translation, detachment is a preoccupation that inheres in the verbs of this early disclaimer: Descartes’s wish for detachment appears in the desire to “détacher du commerce des sens,” and in the Latin original as well, where it reads “a sensuum confortio facile subducat”: it withdraws (subducat) easily from the comfort of the senses. This moment might be read as a throwing-down of the dualist gauntlet, demanding of the reader that his own method of reading entail an affirmation of the separation of body and mind, but it is also about the practice of detachment as such— for that is the special thing the reader’s mind must do. Separation and detachment thus not only are predicated on Descartes’s dualism but are also the motions of reading. The counterpoint to seduction seems to be subduction, in its antiquated sense, signaling expulsion.63 The ambiguous motion between intimacy and expulsion continues as Descartes makes his work increasingly difficult to read: I would not urge anyone to read this work except those who are able and willing to meditate seriously with me (serio mecum meditari), and to withdraw (abducere) their minds from the senses and from all preconceived opinions. Such readers, as I well know, are few and far between.64

Knowing how to read the Meditations requires knowing how to detach (abducere— to lead away, detach, or remove the mind from the senses), but as Descartes extends this wary invitation, he also seems to retract it: only those who know how to detach can join the community of readers of the Meditations. Or, to put it another way, only those who know how to detach

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can be awarded a readerly intimacy, a meditating-with. Moments later, the positive quality of detachment (and this is, after all, the skill most intimately associated with the skeptical posture) becomes a textual threat: Those who do not bother to grasp the proper order of my arguments and the connection between them (rationum mearum seriem et nexum comprehendere non curantes), but merely try to carp at individual sentences (singulas clausulas), as is the fashion, will not get much benefit from reading this book.65

What Descartes wishes his reader to do to himself (that is, detach) is the opposite of what he wishes the reader to do to the text: detachment or withdrawal is to be feared here. The principle of detaching clauses (those singulas clausulas that threaten a holistic meaning) puts detachment as such in a more foreboding light. The integrity of the material person, dismantled by a dualism that would separate him into body and spirit or mind, is recuperated in a unity here that insists on the integrity of the text, on reading not shaped by removing phrases from a precise scaffolding of logic but for “the connection of reasonings” (rationum . . . nexum— where nexum summons its own sense of attachment, coming from necto, to bind). What is forbidden is “detach[ing] clauses,” even as withdrawing and detaching are the vital movements of reading. What the human cannot achieve amid the conflict between the mind and the senses and their dangerous commerce, it appears the text can. But the caution against individual clauses, against breaking into pieces, marks Descartes’s own self-blazoning as a questionable strategy, one recuperated only by its total indifference to the qualities of the heap of flesh it casts aside. But the reason why these instructions on reading are so compelling in the context of thinking is because these are the moments where Descartes outlines that which we might call his disposition. While the imposition of “dispositions” in the container of Descartes’s mind speaks to the vexed preconditions of thinking and intimacy, it also signals a crucial keyword in the annals of Renaissance rhetoric. For students of Renaissance humanism, dispositio was a central element, where the material of invention (inventio) came into order.66 In Quintilian’s words, dispositio works not unlike the structuring principle of disposition Descartes cites in claiming he realized that he was the container his parents made: “As in erecting a building . . . so also in speaking . . . it will be nothing but a random accumulation unless Disposition organizes it, links it all up, and binds it together. . . . That all the limbs have been cast does not make a statue: unless they are put together; and if you were to take some part of our bodies or those of other animals and exchange it with another, the result would be a monster, though

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the body would have all the same parts as before.”67 In the light of Quintilian’s definition, Descartes’s rejection of parental disposition seems wonderfully ambivalent. On the one hand, he is at pains to order his own work and to control the reader’s approach to this order. On the other, parental disposition seems to put the Descartes who attends so carefully to form in the position of disavowing the form his parents created. It is a happy coincidence— and, perhaps, evidence of how common Quintilian’s words had become— that Quintilian’s description of the hazards of poorly executed dispositio find an echo in Descartes’s own words of caution in the First Meditation: “For even when painters try to create sirens and satyrs with the most extraordinary bodies, they cannot give them natures which are new in all respects; they simply jumble up the limbs of different animals.”68 The mixed-up menageries described here are a far cry from the clear and distinct order organized by Cartesian truth-seeking. They are also, in a way, the logical conclusion of a world in which limbs are lopped so freely in imagination and crucial “containers” so readily discarded. The jumbled limbs Descartes describes appear again in the monster he creates in dismissing the monster he fears (the evil genius)— that pile of hands, eyes, flesh, blood, senses. Seeing in these scenes an appeal to dispositio, we might also note that the precondition of Cartesian clarity is the possibility of precisely such a wild disarray. Descartes’s mangled dispositions resonate curiously with one definition of just what poetry is: “the potential for enjambment.”69 Enjambment (from enjamber, to stride over, in turn from en, in, and jambe, leg), while etymologically limb-locked or even legged in, brings with it not just strides that are conjured with the sequence of lines but also precisely such a mingling of different limbs. As in painting, so in poetry, then, it seems for the Descartes who sees the imagination’s greatest work as the “jumble[d] up . . . limbs of different animals.” The castaway matter of the evil genius might then be the enjambment that makes the cogito possible— and in the form of the blazon, in a person with an inherently dangerous dispositio, there is an intriguing confluence of disposition with seduction. It is perhaps a meaningful coincidence, then, that seduction and disposition are so close in etymological meaning. The prefixes se- and dis- both function as distancing privatives, while their roots, respectively from duco, ducere, to lead, and pono, ponere, to place, differ primarily in their commitments to fixity and motion— as if to suggest that the difference between “leading” and “placing” is that which distinguishes giving from the given. If Descartes’s own argument is that the mind— the matter which is both container and which he himself is— has certain “mere” dispositions because of his parents (we might even call them predispositions), it is perhaps because thinking requires an intimacy with its objects, one revelatory

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of the close relationship between thinking and seduction and the natural enlistment of poetry for the cause. In her fascinating study of the protective role of hatred in Descartes’s Les passions de l’âme, Hasana Sharp argues that hatred safeguards against bad forms: “Descartes’ warnings about the dangers of love indicate a fear on his part that relationships are constitutive and insuperable elements of selfhood. He urges that, in the presence of potentially noxious elements, it is better to hate than to love. In Descartes’ words, ‘there is more danger in being joined to something that is bad, and in being as it were transformed into this thing, than there is in being separated willingly from a thing which is good.’”70 It is not hard to see in Sharp’s description of Descartes’s fears an echo of the urgency in his earlier dismissal of the evil genius. It is also easy to see in them the reality of the dangers of being defined— transformatively— by the dispositions of matter that Descartes unconvincingly labels “mere.” But it is furthermore the case that Descartes’s fears of transformation are coupled with his own remarkable ability to mobilize such transformations in instances where such metamorphoses help his cause. Descartes’s “disposition” likewise makes thinking and poetry the original home wreckers, against a tradition that might think of them as innocuous ancillaries to domestic arrangements. This is as true for the imagined world an evil genius would create as it is for disposition’s etymological entanglements. Cicero had famously translated the Greek oikonomia (from oikos, house or home, and nomos, law) as dispositio. Descartes already furnished an unusual oikos in the stove-heated room of the Discourse, but the Meditations reads as a rejection both of economy in this old, etymological sense and of disposition— that is, two homes with one stove. While Harry Frankfurt has said that “Descartes . . . decline[s] to place his inquiry within a social context. He does his thinking in private, and no one appears in his Meditations but himself,” the dispositions that contain him leave a trace he succeeds only partially in expelling. It is interesting, too, that dispositio hearkens not only back to economy by way of Cicero’s translation but also forward to the ubiquitous dispositif of French theory— that thing that English-language translators sometimes call an “apparatus.” While Gilles Deleuze called the dispositif a “tangle” of intertwined modes of power, Giorgio Agamben appealed to the post-Ciceronian, Christian appropriation of oikonomia as signifying a kind of divine management. In his reading of the dispositif, the legacy of dispositio is a rhetoric that shapes the soul: The Latin term dispositio, from which the French term dispositif derives, comes therefore to take on a complex semantic sphere of the theological oikonomia. The “dispositifs” about which Foucault speaks are somehow linked to this theological legacy. They can be in some way traced

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back to the fracture that divides and, at the same time, articulates in God being and praxis, the nature or essence, on the one hand, and the operation through which He administers and governs the created world, on the other. The term dispositif designates that which, and through which, one realizes a pure activity of governance devoid of any foundation in being. This is why dispositifs must always imply a process of subjectification, that is to say, they must produce their subject.71

Parental authority seems even more tyrannous in this light, which is what makes especially fascinating Descartes’s attempts to downplay these dispositiones. That he does so in the mode of the seduction— and refused seduction— of his narrator and his reader speaks to a wish to disrupt disposition with the movement of seduction. The container that is the meditator can be led astray or can shed some of his own physical container in this resistance: if disposition is destiny, Descartes argues it is mutable. It is in this sense that Jean-Luc Marion’s twofold mandate— that the concept of destiny in metaphysics and the role of poetry in Descartes have yet to be studied— seems to emerge simultaneously: it is in dispositio as destiny (that container I am fated to be) and dispositio as arrangement (as riddle, as love lyric, and, even, in the next chapter, as elegy, another form linked to destiny) that poetry and fate converge. Yet central to the meditator’s ability not to be utterly determined by the dispositions of the parents who posit the shape of his mind is the capacity to extend the blazoning knife he wields against the evil genius one final step further— to imagine thoughts without their thinker. Thoughts without a Thinker

Reflecting on philosophical dialogue and Plato’s reflection in the Theaetetus that “thinking [is] a conversation conducted by the soul with itself,” Frankfurt contends that “[i]f thinking is indeed internal discourse . . . [a] much more appropriate vehicle is the meditation, in which an author represents the autonomous give and take of his own systematic reflections.”72 Frankfurt portrays the meditation as a form of isolation: the thinker alone with his thoughts. Frankfurt’s claim has widespread critical support, with a majority of critics affirming the solitude of the Cartesian self in the Meditations and elsewhere,73 but Descartes is never so alone as he seems to believe. The peripheral characters of his fantasy and his history (the evil genius, parents) crowd the space of his meditations. In this light, the Meditations reveals not an easy “autonomous give and take”74 but, rather, a struggle with isolation that summons spectral characters to populate its solitude and articulate an ambivalent stance about attachment. Des-

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cartes’s most daring move toward isolation is not of the lonely cogito but of thoughts apart from their thinker— a move that brings Descartes back to poetry. In the 1970s, the psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion made an accusation distinct from those typically cast against Descartes, one that faulted the philosopher not for separating mind from body but for not going far enough: “Descartes himself in his concept of philosophical doubt failed to doubt the necessity of a thinker.”75 Bion was not concerned in any way with Descartes’s relationship to poetry, and he, like many who would follow him, removed Descartes out of historical context for other ends, but he was on to something already present in the creation of the cogito, namely an emphasis displaced onto the Cartesian subject, away from the question or process of thinking itself. Bion’s claim also led him to the intriguing conclusion that the specific form of thought or speech that required a thinker was what we call the lie— a curious charge in the case of Descartes for whom the solitude of the thinker seems to be the best strategy to ensure truth. Bion, himself the psychoanalyst of (Descartes enthusiast) Samuel Beckett, had made a charge that at its core, and apparently unbeknownst to himself, already had a powerful early modern advocate: none other than the monster of Malmsbury, Thomas Hobbes. In his Objections, Hobbes effectively ridiculed the logic of Descartes’s thinking thing: It is quite certain that the knowledge of the proposition “I exist” depends on the proposition “I am thinking” as the author himself has explained to us. But how do we know the proposition “I am thinking”? It can only be from our inability to conceive an act without a subject. We cannot conceive of jumping without a jumper, of knowing without a knower, or of thinking without a thinker. It seems to follow from this that a thinking thing is somehow corporeal.76

Hobbes pointed to the weakness Bion had also located: in both accounts, a crucial limit of the thinkable appears at the moment of trying to imagine predication without a subject. Both propositions were slightly wrong (though Descartes could only dispute that of his contemporary, to be sure), for Descartes had thought intensely about what could be thought without something else as he attempted to prove the necessity of God. In his reply to Hobbes, for instance, Descartes’s tactic was to concede matter its due part. While Descartes’s answer to Hobbes’s reply takes issue with his terminology (accusing him of “lump[ing] together a large number of different terms”), he ultimately agrees with Hobbes that “[w]e cannot conceive of thought without a thinking thing, since that which thinks is not nothing.”77 In the litotes

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“not nothing,” Descartes achieves what his suggestion— that, in spite of Hobbes, there is no reason why we shouldn’t think that “some substances are spiritual”— cannot: the “not nothing” gives Descartes cover to evade the hard line of Hobbesian materialism but renders whatever a “thing” a thinking thing is a shadowy creature, a thing, for sure, but not quite “just” matter.78 Another tack Descartes might have taken with Hobbes, and one that seems to reply indirectly to Bion, would be to stress the beginning of his answer: the necessity of thinking “with.” Thought cannot be “conceive[d] of  . . . without a thinking thing.” To put it another way, thought cannot be thought of— without something else. Descartes’s answer to Hobbes’s question, “How do we know the proposition ‘I am thinking,’” takes us back to the scene with the evil genius— a moment that Hobbes himself labeled unnecessary. It also hearkens back to the Fifth Meditation where Descartes thinks directly about this question of what can be understood in isolation and what cannot in order to prove that God exists: But when I concentrate more carefully, it is quite evident that existence can no more be separated [non magis posse . . . separari] from the essence of God than the fact that its three angles equal two right angles can be separated from the essence of a triangle, or than the idea of a mountain can be separated from the idea of a valley. Hence it is just as much of a contradiction to think of God (that is, a supremely perfect being) lacking existence (that is, lacking a perfection) as it is to think of a mountain without a valley.79

The mountain cannot be thought of without the valley, but Descartes hardly struggles to think of and make a case for the separation of mind and body. God is of course the limit case for Descartes, but what is more interesting about this defense is the positive characterization of the play with separation and attachment that inheres in the workings of thought. “This idea [of God] is not something fictitious which is dependent upon my thought” (quid fictitium a cogitatione mea dependens).80 The “fictitious” thing that is “dependent upon my thought” we now know instead as the self itself. The question of thought and proximity, however, also subtends the anxiety about the relationship between thinking and poetry. The charge that Descartes killed poetry, which I discussed in the introduction, in part dramatizes such a fear of closeness, in this case over the mutual contamination of geometry and poetry. In 1715, Jean-Baptiste Rousseau writes to Claude Brossette, condemning the effects of Cartesian philosophy, in a language recalling the urgency of the question of form and disposition in the sense earlier described:

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I have often heard M. Despréaux [Boileau] say that the philosophy of Descartes had cut poetry’s throat; and it is certain that what poetry has borrowed from mathematics has desiccated its spirit and accustomed it to a concrete or material precision (une justesse materielle) that has nothing to do with what might be called the properly metaphysical precision (la justesse métaphysique) of poets and orators. Geometry and poetry have their separate and distinct rules, and those who wish to judge Homer by Euclid are no less impertinent than those who wish to judge Euclid by Homer.81

The gossip Rousseau spreads about Boileau restores Descartes to his meditative position as limb-lopper, but in this case, it is poetry’s body that is mutilated. Boileau’s metaphor moves awkwardly into Rousseau’s assessment as the charge shifts from an attack on the body of poetry to one on “its spirit.” Curious in Rousseau’s condemnation is not only the rift he exposes between geometry and poetry but also the rift he heals: here, the “ancient quarrel” between poetry and philosophy enjoys a temporary détente, as poetry becomes the site of “metaphysical precision” instead of the mischievous distortion of the truth and the good. Rousseau’s call for “separate and distinct rules” of course resonates with the famous Cartesian prescription for the clair et distinct. But Rousseau’s account has the still more curious effect of shifting the responsible party: if Descartes injures an embodied Poetry, it is poetry itself which borrows from mathematics and, in doing so, “desiccates its spirit.” For Boileau, poetry seems to be the opposite of “geometric method.” In Rousseau’s description of pure geometry and pure poetry lies a modernizing push toward rigid disciplinary boundaries, as I have indicated in the introduction. The message this sends is that intellectual proximity is dangerous. This couldn’t be further from the “neighbor” model of poetry and philosophy that Heidegger outlines across his many works that bring poetry and thinking together, where the very definition of thinking requires a thinking with or a thinking “near.” There, the distance between Euclid and Homer is much harder to see, for they are neighbors and “near” in the most intimate of ways. In “The Nature of Language,” for instance, Heidegger writes, “We cannot here decide flatly whether poetry is really a kind of thinking, or thinking really a kind of poetry.”82 Better yet, we could see Euclid and Homer as always mutually owned: “the two [thinking and poetry] belong to each other even before they ever could set out to come face to face one to the other.”83 In Heidegger’s personified description of the relationship between poetry and thinking, it is hard not to hear a hint of seduction, his statement about mutual “belonging” not exclusive of a certain sentimentality. But it is precisely this belonging to another that is the explicit concern of Descartes as he defines thinking in the Third Meditation,

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and it is belonging to another’s world that is the explicit preoccupation of the meditator’s sharp poetic maneuvers in the Second Meditation. I enlist Heidegger here not only because he asks what thinking is called, was Denken heisst, but also because his writing about poetry and thinking updates the late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century anxiety we see Rousseau enacting about geometric thinking— with such conflict widespread during the querelle des anciens et modernes.84 The emphasis for Heidegger is different, but the horror of desiccating geometry finds its twentieth- century analogue in calculation and instrumentalization: “But since modern thinking is ever more resolutely and exclusively turning into calculation, it concentrates all available energy and ‘interests’ in calculating how man may soon establish himself in wordless cosmic space. This type of thinking is about to abandon the earth as earth. As calculation, it drifts more and more rapidly and obsessively toward the conquest of cosmic space. This type of thinking is itself already the explosion of a power that could blast everything to nothingness.”85 This is a strange way of describing calculation, to be sure. (Who knew that rigid calculation could “drift”?) It is also an odd rejoinder to W. H. Auden: it is calculation that makes nothing happen here in the form of annihilation. And it is poetry that makes thinking happen— and that is, to return to Descartes, “not nothing.” In “The Way to Language,” Heidegger remarks that “All reflective thinking is poetic, and all poetry in turn is a kind of thinking.”86 For Heidegger, the distinction between poetry and thinking is real, but it is a distinction of mode— we might say, of disposition: “Poetry and thinking are modes of saying. The nearness that brings poetry and thinking together into neighborhood we call Saying. Here, we assume, is the essential nature of language.”87 In his reflection on “nearness,” Heidegger explains that this proximity itself has a kind of power and tries to morph into a mode of saying: “Nearness itself must act in the manner of Saying. Then nearness and Saying would be the same.”88 The play between thinking and “poetic word” is no less phantasmatic: “When thinking tries to pursue the poetic word, it turns out that the word, that saying has no being.”89 In his theory of poetry, Heidegger has what is largely a post-Romantic tradition in mind, one centered, too, on readings of Hölderlin, but his reflections about poetry sound not dissimilar to those that Louis Martz makes in describing the affinity between meditation and metaphysical poetry. And they also work through some of the problems of nearness, of mode, and of being that shape the complicated relationship between the meditator and the evil genius and the meditator’s disposition toward those dispositions forced upon him. Saying’s lack of being seems to explain why the evil genius has to exist only in the conditional (“if an evil genius tried to deceive me”), excluded from the verisimilar, image-driven tradition of Jesuit med-

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itation. It also puts the work of mode outside of the problem of asserting being. All of this kerfuffle about the evil genius and his seductions, about seduction more generally, are about a kind of nearness, but they are phantasmatic approaches toward being that never arrive even if they are said. These twin questions— those of thinking with (and without) and of nearness— bring together the question of seduction and that of enjambment to which I alluded in the last section. The enjambed line works against what I classify in the introduction as Mersenne’s wish that everything be seen and understood with a single glance. It, like the meditations, resists selective readings that isolate it or force it into fixity without regarding the process that built it. It, too, is not nothing. But while Descartes avoids the Platonic problem of falsified realities, he nonetheless earns Boileau’s. I suggested that Descartes’s work might be entangled with at least one definition of poetry, namely, the one that yokes poetry to enjambment in particular. However abstract, attention to poetry and (or as) enjambment is not an anachronistic concern in this instance. Indeed, it is curious to note that enjambment was a trope impugned by that same Boileau rumored to have accused Descartes of murdering poetry. When, in his famous Art poétique, Boileau famously wrote, “Enfin Malherbe vint” to describe the miraculous appearance of a poet who ended the dry spell of French poetry, he might also have added that he at last had found an ally against poetry’s signature feature. Malherbe’s arrival marked a historical turn away from enjambment. With Malherbe maligning enjambment, Boileau could say at last, Les stances avec grâce apprirent à tomber, / Et les vers sur les vers n’osa plus enjamber, “Stanzas learned to fall with grace / And lines upon lines no longer dared to enjamb.”90 Malherbe, “this faithful guide,” bequeathed to poets “purity” and “clarity”— values that sound more in tune with Descartes than not. If the editors of the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics are right and “no comprehensive taxonomy of types or effects of enjambment exists,”91 then we might locate in Descartes’s path toward the cogito a struggle with one type of an enjambed way of thinking. The ability to turn from subject to object, disoriented and reoriented, to walk through the experiment of imagining a valley and realizing that it is impossible to do so without conjuring a mountain and then to rewitness the imagination again, the chimeric work that is at once feared and desired, and the fallout of the meditator’s triumph over the evil genius, the container which is my mind which is me: these movements of thought all resemble enjambment in Agamben’s capacious sense of the term, modes of thought in which new soil is overturned. That is, the original shudder a worm might induce can be transformed, felicitously, into the verse that indexes a clearer thinking. What Bion and Hobbes noted centuries apart in Descartes’s conception

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of the thinker is a mode of trickery enjambment lets him have— at least somewhat. For if Descartes is not a poet, his negative poetics let him have some sort of thought without a thinker in the “not nothing” that his poetic strategy leaves behind. In this, Descartes seems to graduate from the original swamp in which he found himself longing for common sense toward a way of thinking marked by its negotiations with form and feeling. Where such negotiating is impossible, where longed-for thoughts announce themselves as unthinkable, Descartes will abandon the exuberance of romance and love lyric, finding a better form for bitterness, instead, in elegy.

Bitter Satisfactions

[ ChaP ter three ]

Well before he goes to combat with the evil genius in the Meditations, Descartes endures “three consecutive dreams in one night,”1 the famous, oneiric antecedents to his skeptical intellectual labors. After an initial anxiety dream about, among other things, being given a “melon . . . from some foreign country”2 and a subsequent dream about a thunderclap, Descartes wakes up only to notice “many sparks of fire spread around the room.”3 Struggling to fall back asleep, Descartes consoles himself by blinking repeatedly, convincing himself of the normal functioning of his senses and his reason, whatever the spectacle of light and darkness he had seen.4 Now asleep again, his third dream, as his first biographer, Adrien Baillet, presents it, conjures a more radical vision, this time of near bibliomancy: In this last [dream], he found a book on the table, without knowing who had put it there. He opened it, and seeing that it was a dictionary, he was delighted by the hope that there could be something useful for him there. At the same moment, he came across another book under his hand, which was no less novel to him, not knowing where it had come from to him. He found that it was a collection of poems by various authors, entitled Corpus Poetarum, &c. At the same moment, he noticed a man whom he did not know but who gave him a piece of verse, beginning with Est & Non, and extolled it as an excellent piece. Monsieur Descartes told him that he knew what it was and that this fragment was from the Idylls of Ausonius which could be found in the large collection of poets which was on his table. Descartes wanted to show it himself to the man, and he started to leaf through the book whose order and arrangement (l’ordre et l’économie) he boasted he knew perfectly. . . . He arrived at the poetry of Ausonius in the collection of poets he was leafing through, and being unable to find the piece which started with “Est et non,” he told the man that he knew another even bet-

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ter poem than that one by the same poet, and that it starts with “Quod vitae sectabor iter?”5

Beyond the rustling pages, the blinking that reassures Descartes after his second dream moves into the inside of his third, first as the dictionary disappears and reappears and then once more as both the books and the stranger vanish. The flickering dream lets Descartes realize while still asleep “that it is a dream.”6 Sleep, however, cannot delay interpretation. The dictionary, the sleeping Descartes concludes, represents “all the sciences gathered together” while the poetry anthology reveals “in a manner most distinct, Philosophy and Wisdom joined together.”7 The waking Descartes picks up where his slumbering exegesis leaves off. The dream is about figuring out one’s path in life, he says, and Ausonius’s est et non signifies “truth and falsity in human knowledge and in the secular sciences.”8 Where Descartes sees in his dream a message from on high, Baillet finds a more practical explanation. He speculates that Descartes might have drunk his way into such inspired reveries, falling as they did on the eve of Saint Martin’s feast day. No less distinguished a dream interpreter than Sigmund Freud explains that Descartes’s dreams are hardly distinguishable from daydreams, meanwhile. These dreams amount to what Freud calls “dreams from above,” which he identifies as conscious wishes we might well fantasize about in waking life.9 The questions Descartes addresses, Freud suggests, are less interesting than the dream’s stray details: consider the melon. Move over, René, and enter Sigmund: less interesting than the cogitations you name, more formative to your being, are those thoughts you cannot know. The things we do not know about ourselves are some of the key frustrations within the Fourth Meditation. While the mysterious elements of the dream can be interpreted or dismissed, the Fourth Meditation takes on the arguably bigger problems incurred in the recognition of our mistakes and outright ignorance. Descartes’s preoccupations with limitation and frustration, of course, subtend the Discourse and the Meditations more widely. His decision to go along with custom, the limits put on his ability to trust the sensory world: these moments of restriction impel him toward the relative security of the thinking thing with its special claims to truth and clarity and distinction. In the Fourth Meditation, Descartes alights upon one of the more uncomfortable realizations of his system: it still leaves room for mistakes. This problem of error runs parallel to the problem of the inexplicable variations between and among humans, as perplexing, if not quite as important for Descartes, as the existence of our imperfections. Just as some people tend to err with less frequency, so, too, do our preferences reveal differences: “certain people [are] unable to bear the smell of

Bitter Satisfactions


roses, the presence of a cat, or the like.”10 So Descartes explains in Les passions de l’âme as he tries to account for the mystery of our differences. That is, from a universal distribution of common sense follow so many fractures: the distinctions in ability to conduct one’s will and to cultivate one’s reason or just the banal reality that some of us might be dog lovers while others might be wildly allergic to certain pollens, mammals, or accumulations of dust. The Meditations might similarly be read as an experiment with the many varieties of the unbearable: the paranoid thought that reality has been constructed by an evil genius, say, or the insinuation that God might not exist. This wish to get it right elevates thought as the way to get there, but the Meditations are surprisingly humble about thought’s limits. Even if we surmount the obstacles of being born human, without language or reason, even if we devote ourselves to skepticism, our knowledge can be only partial at best. In this chapter I argue these limits to thinking’s power produce in the thinker a kind of sweet bitterness. As he confronts the many limits to his knowledge and equally plentiful forms of potential error, the meditator oscillates between possible solutions: fullness and emptiness, perfection and nothingness. I want to suggest that this particular meditation’s equivocations before thinking’s failure to produce a more perfect and bountiful knowledge lead to a striking impasse: “the thought of not to think it,” to transform Keats’s Romantic formulation of “the feel of not to feel it” into Cartesian form. In the Fourth Meditation, the meditator encounters the unbearable form of his own limitations in the form of what I show is a negative elegy, substituting the action of the will for the direct complaint. The feeling of thinking about not thinking or not being able to think (or think better), in turn, recalls Descartes’s writing on bitterness and responsibility in Les passions de l’âme. In the Fourth Meditation’s project to reconcile the meditator to error, to think about the unthinkable, and to lament the unknowable, Descartes installs a final mixed feeling, for which elegy— and its failure to be written— is a guiding form. What elegy is good for is not exclusively the work of mourning but also organizing a way of feeling that attends to explanation and keenly feels its limits. Impossible elegy, then, is the form that copes with the failures of knowledge and power alike, that turns the absence of God’s attention into a bitterness that also has its pleasures. No Complaints

Compared to the first two meditations, Descartes’s Fourth Meditation, entitled “On the True and the False,” receives markedly less critical attention. In his Cartesian Meditations, Husserl went so far as to deem the

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last four meditations unnecessary and insisted the first two did all of Descartes’s important philosophical work.11 Even as the Fourth Meditation takes on the problem of accounting for the existence of error and doubles as Descartes’s theodicy, its “elusiveness is extreme even by the standards of [Descartes’s] writing.”12 By the Fourth Meditation, the meditator has already established himself as a “thinking thing” and asserted that God would never deceive him because that would convey some sort of imperfection on God’s part— a possibility the meditator necessarily rejects. But the meditator still is left with the reality of error. If God is not a deceiver, and if the meditator is not in the hands of some evil genius, then why should it be possible to make mistakes and to struggle to distinguish the true from the false— especially after scrupulously cultivating reason? The Fourth Meditation shows the limits of Cartesian comprehension: sometimes the tactics of God are simply incomprehensible. At the same time, the meditation cautions that skeptical perception, too, has its limits. Things that appear imperfect in their parts might not actually be so as a whole. This is the shape of the meditation, then: from worrying about error indicting not just God but the world he has created— a world in which error is possible, maybe inevitable— the meditator finds a compromise; if he follows the method of clear and distinct thinking carefully enough, and recognizes his own imperfection, God and creation are off the hook, and he will have no reason to complain. As the meditator considers the problem of error, he adds to his program of skepticism a humility before that which he cannot understand. The meditator’s task, then, consists in part of habituation to bafflement before God and creation: “It occurs to me first of all that it is no cause for surprise (occurrit primo non mihi esse mirandum) if I do not understand the reasons for some of God’s actions; and there is no call to doubt his existence if I happen to find that there are other instances where I do not grasp why or how certain things were made by him. . . . I also know without more ado that he is capable of countless things whose causes are beyond my knowledge.”13 Blunting the force of astonishment (non . . . esse mirandum), Descartes instead portrays human imperfection as felicitous circumstance, a vantage from which to contemplate the perfection of God. The failure to approach anything like omniscience is not a human shortcoming; it is proof of the awesome and mysterious ways of a God whose perfection exceeds even that which might be summoned by the mind. But as Descartes is effectively surprised by the thing that is not a surprise— it simply “occurs” to him that he should not be shocked— he introduces some hard truths about the truths he cannot uncover. In addition to its stated task of understanding error, the meditation must bear the secondary burden of managing its reaction to this apparent design flaw.

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If the meditator is calm as he faces the limits of what he can know or think about, he is not reassured enough to stop talking about it. What occurs to him “first” ( primo) is soon followed by several other concerns. The Fourth Meditation crescendos into a repetitive protest and a transformation of the singular problem of insufficient wisdom into multiple flaws. I will not complain, the meditator insists and repeats five times, which I number below: 1. Besides, I cannot complain (Nec vero etiam queri possum) that the will or freedom of choice which I received from God is not sufficiently extensive or perfect, since I know by experience it is not restricted in any way.14 2. And I have no cause for complaint (Neque enim habeo causam ullam conquerendi) on the grounds that the power of understanding or the natural light which God gave me is no greater than it is; for it is in the nature of a finite intellect to lack understanding of many things, and it is in the nature of a created intellect to be finite.15 3. Nor do I have any cause for complaint (Non habeo etiam causam conquerendi) on the grounds that God gave me a will which extends more widely than my intellect.16 4. Finally, I must not complain (Nec denique etiam queri debeo) that the forming of those acts of will or judgments in which I go wrong happens with God’s concurrence.17 5. And I have no right to complain (Et nullum habeo ius conquerendi ) that the role God wished me to undertake in the world is not the principal one or the most perfect of all.18 The meditator, who claims that his limits are no ground for surprise, seems to have no shortage of complaints to “not complain” about. Read in succession, the complaint is voluminous and unrelenting. To take just the first charge, “And I have no cause for complaint on the grounds that the power of understanding or the natural light which God gave me is no greater than it is,” the meditator evacuates the complaint of its substance: there is nothing to complain about, he concludes, but the meditator has actually leveled quite a charge. Indeed, the meditator laments his insufficient “power of understanding” and “natural light”— both serious claims even if the meditator sets aside his right to complain about them. At the limit of this explanation are the incomprehensible ways of God: God made the meditator this way for reasons beyond the meditator’s understanding, and that is something the meditator must accept. This chorus replaces the suggestion of a teeming and sometimes bewildering world outside— just on the edges of the meditator’s experience— with the volume of the meditator’s own voice.

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The meditator threatens to level a complaint that he cannot make, but what he describes in these five non-complaints is tethered inextricably to createdness— why things are the way they are (that is, why they are made to be so imperfect). What the meditator comes close to maligning here is creation itself, the problem that there is no alternative to the world we have. The absence of perfect “natural light” shows the stakes of the deferred complaint: blasphemy against creation, grievances for irredeemable lack. The meditation concludes with the meditator’s declaration that he really has no reason to complain about his many faults: not being smarter, not having a perfectly controllable will, not getting to have his occasional mistakes corrected by God, and not securing a place in the world that would be “the most perfect.” It also intimates a broader critique of the divine schema. It is a commonplace that the structure of the meditations follows the structure of biblical creation: God creates for six days; the meditator has six meditations. On the first day, God makes light (his lux fiat), but on the fourth day, God makes those lesser lights, the ones he plants in the sky or firmament that do the humbler work of separating or distinguishing day from night. This lesser lighting (luminare minus in the Vulgate) is here rerouted as part of the problem that cannot be a problem here: the meditator’s less than perfect light (non maius lumen19) cannot be the subject of the complaint of the Fourth Meditation. Like the lesser lighting of the fourth day, the light of the Fourth Meditation’s meditator, too, was created by God and must not be the object of the meditator’s attack.20 Yet, the meditator will not be outdone; his complaints exceed the number of days he has so far meditated. Any reader can see plainly that Descartes protests too much. His negations do not efface the tropic residue of resentments, from the litotes he offered to Hobbes (in the previous chapter’s “not nothing”) to the fivefold praeteritio or paralepsis here (“I cannot complain” and its variants followed by the object of non-complaint). The reader can easily count the things the meditator will not complain about as he appeals to the “countless things” that God might do beyond his watchful gaze. As if rehearsing his training in copia,21 the meditator gives us five ways of rejecting a single resentment: that the intellect extends no wider than this, or, more briefly, that this is all I am. Confronted with the world around him as the only apparent justification of God’s permission of error, Descartes has to devise a strategy to deal with the quandary the world and his populist solution have given him: he either has to absolve the world outside of himself in full or he has to come up with some other strategy. Within the refrain above, he does precisely that, for what follows the idea of a tenuous attachment to the full world outside of himself is a chorus out of the meditator’s own voice that pushes others (or the suggestion of others) out— and that obviates the

Bitter Satisfactions


need for the rest of the world. The substance of each of these complaints sidesteps leveling an actual charge, but the repetition very nearly drowns that fact out: I will not complain, I will not complain, I will not complain, I will not complain, he repeats. In this sequence of refusals (“I have no subject for complaint,” in the French, and in the Latin, “I have no cause”— climaxing in a language of right: droit or ius conquerendi ), the meditator protests too much. His is a sidelong complaint, and his praeteritio or paralepsis is an unconvincing disguise. Each turn absolves Descartes’s God, and in contrast to the sometimes feeble will that overrides Descartes’s imperfect intelligence, here that will rejects what it might justifiably want to do: namely, to hurl an accusation at a frustrating God. In the vocabulary of the Meditations, this is an unusual moment: these are the only occasions when we see the meditator, even as he wades through a familiar set of terms and motifs, use the vocabulary of the complaint. Nowhere else in the Meditations do we see this sequence of verbs from conqueror and queror in the Latin, and in the French translation said to be authorized by Descartes, from plaindre, all variations of verbs signifying “to complain.”22 In Nicot’s Thresor de la langue francoyse tant ancienne que moderne (1606), a plainte is an expostulation, a demand, a plainte envers aucun du mal qu’il a fait, “a complaint toward someone for the wrong he has done.”23 It is also, in the Latin conqueror and queror, a signal that “I lament” or that “I am indignant”— that I deplore. The complaint sidles up to indignation, to a visceral lament. The Latin variation is also the nonverbal cry of animals for Horace, Ovid, and Vergil alike. This is not what I will do, the meditator says. I cannot do it; I have no cause for it; I have no right to do it. The French plaindre, from plangere, to strike or beat the breast, evokes the early modern plainte or complainte,24 the complaint or lament in the repeated blows of the meditator’s frustration. The verb hearkens simultaneously to a pained embodiment and to the howls of grief. But this lament, were it to happen, would happen together: in the Latin conqueror, the prefix con, together with, makes this lament less of a solitary affair. In the strange, solitary chorus Descartes provides in saying he will not complain inheres another kind of complaint, one in which it might be said other creatures would participate, a chorus in which what made the complaint would be other voices and not merely the meditator’s echoes filling a meditation in which the conceit is that of being “as if it were only me in the world.” In queror lurks the root of “quarrel,” yet there is something of a pacifist strategy, perhaps, within a protestation that will not even indulge in an outright complaint. Our meditator will not wage war against the God who has made the conditions that might provide cause for complaint. The meditator’s refusals to complain, harnessed to a reassertion of the will, reject the solution he appeared to have found in arguing for a plenitude that

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justified God’s ways or that validated his existence by appealing to a principle of relatedness outside of the space of solitary meditation. The meditator must turn his gaze away now from how all things fit together and solve his objections one by one. In his queror, conqueror, his plainte and complainte, the meditator has chosen an odd strategy, for he has named all the aspirations he will not grieve in a language attached to the poetry of grieving. That is, the meditator’s insistence that he has no reason to “complain” also poses a poetic problem, for in both the Latin and the French translation, the meditator summons not just the loosened claim to singularity that the prefix of his verbs registered. He also names poetic genres: what the meditator will not do, maybe cannot do, is write the genres he names over and over again: the complaint, the plainte or complainte in the French, the querela in the Latin. This is the genre known as elegy. The meditator’s four complaints resound somewhat differently when considered as elegies that fail to rise to the occasion, as assertions of choice where destiny has predetermined, quite clearly, that some thoughts cannot be had. I have no subject for complaint, the meditator says; I have no causam or cause for my querela. The curiosity of these formulations lies as much in the fact that the meditator will not complain as in his claim to have no subject or cause to do so, to have too few reasons to write. What the meditator says are inadequate causae or sujets for his complaint all have to do with his own creation and createdness.25 These clauses refer again and again to the fact that the way God made the meditator is insufficient subject or cause for complaint. God cannot be charged because his works cannot be questioned, but the creator-in- chief has also installed a kind of poetic stoppage as he fails to supply sufficient grounds for elegy. In the description of the meditator’s reluctant acceptance of God’s creation, we find the materials of a writer’s block that forbids the meditator’s own creation. On the one hand, this makes of Descartes’s Fourth Meditation a sterile poetics, one that has no subject or cause for creation. And it turns in on itself: this is not a poem, it says; there are no tools for poetry to be found here. But on the other hand, there is a remarkable fecundity as the meditator elaborates just what his non-objections are, as if even without cause or subject, something of the engine of making— of poiesis— endures, the exile of the elegiac notwithstanding. In his stunted, warped elegy for insufficient reason to elegize, Descartes stumbles upon a painful delight born of frustration: it turns out nothing can make poetry happen, too. Causae Elegendi, or Where There’s a Will

As Descartes names a genre he openly disavows— I will not write a plainte, an elegie, a querela, he says— he complains or laments about his incapacities

Bitter Satisfactions


while summoning a genre especially well equipped to mark loss. Against the backdrop of a genre that, in the early modern period, was notoriously muddled, Descartes’s elegiac denial of elegy, I suggest, foregrounds the failure of elegy when it comes to mourning the loss of something we never had or perceived as our own in the first place. In other words, reading this sequence in the Fourth Meditation as an elegy that fails to elegize announces the ultimate absence of consolation and signals a bigger difficulty, too: to choose not to elegize by invoking the form of the elegy is to dramatize the bigger (and sometimes sadder) reality of having no choice at all. To think about the limit of thinking through this language of elegy, to conjure an unknown, out-of-reach object, is to signal that thought’s secret ambition is not only to attain omniscience or something closer to it (an obvious aim for Descartes: if only I knew more, I could skip over this meditation entirely, our meditator might say!) but to reaffirm choice over and against regret— this by means of a cruel coupling of choice and the counterfactual (I choose not to lament that things are not otherwise). Choosing not to complain is the only place where choice is operative in a world whose limits are inalterable. Complaining by not complaining is about creating choice where there is none and then choosing nonetheless to have it both ways (to choose and to not choose), which yokes Descartes’s notion of the will with his Fourth Meditation’s elegiac traces. Here, then, poetry and destiny are linked: they are those things our meditator did not will, choose, or author. While listing the topics he will not complain about, Descartes thrice invokes the will and its complicated relationship to the understanding. The meditator cannot complain about the will he has been given, but the meditator accounts for error as he shows that the relationship between the will and the understanding is on fundamentally unequal terms. When the will, infinite as it is, goes beyond understanding, this leads to poor judgments and error. In a meditation so often about what is beyond the meditator’s control, the will is an important counterpoint. For Descartes, the will is the facultas eligendi or “faculty of choosing,” the freedom to decide. While this freedom to choose might lead most readers to expect that the will is then fundamentally about deliberation (should I or shouldn’t I choose to complain, say), Descartes explains that extended deliberation is, instead, usually a mark of trouble: it only arises in cases that lack clarity and distinction. When the will and the understanding coincide, deliberation itself vanishes completely, and these moments of untroubled decision-making express instead our greatest freedom: The will simply consists in our ability to do or not do something (that is, to affirm or deny, to pursue or avoid); or rather, it consists simply in the

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fact that when something is put forward for our consideration by the intellect, we are moved to affirm or deny it, or pursue or avoid it, in such a way that we feel we are not determined by any external force. For in order to be free, there is no need for me to be capable of moving both ways; on the contrary, the more I incline in one direction— either because I clearly understand that reasons of truth and goodness point that way, or because of a divinely produced disposition of my inmost thoughts— the freer is my choice. . . . But the indifference I feel when there is no reason pushing me in one direction rather than another is the lowest grade of freedom; it is evidence not of any perfection of freedom, but rather of a defect in knowledge or a kind of negation.26

Descartes’s description of the strong “inclin[ation] in one direction” that accompanies the freest choice smooths out a process of deliberation associated with choosing as well as with the mechanisms of inner life, not to mention many plots— that is, so many ruminations, pro-con charts, all the hedging of Hamlet are, in this model of the will, the marks of lesser freedom and dimmer insight. In contrast, for instance, to Aristotle, who would stress the need to “wait for reason” or to undertake a “search or enquiry” before choosing,27 Descartes indicates that “a divinely produced disposition” can also do the trick. That is, the condition of greatest freedom coincides with what looks like that of greatest predetermination. To be sure, Descartes is also, quite pragmatically, covering his bases: there is still a place in his schema for divine insight. At the same time, the very precondition of the impulsive decision-making he describes is the meticulous cultivation of the understanding he has discussed in the preceding meditations as well as the Discourse. In spite of that, it is nonetheless striking that the will or freedom of choice is best accompanied by what feels like fate— the sense that there was no other choice, whether because of the understanding, so honed that it seems like impulse, or divine intervention. It is this conjuncture of fatedness and choice that Descartes centers in his list of non- complaints. As his language evokes the elegiac in its disavowals of elegy (i.e., I cannot complain, etc.), the fate he describes sounds especially tragic for one so determined to know the truth: “the will or freedom of choice which I received from God is not sufficiently extensive or perfect,” for instance, or, consider, “the forming of those acts of will or judgments in which I go wrong happens with God’s concurrence.” Taken alone, the statements in Descartes’s dependent clauses look like tragedy. Indeed, the possibility of complaining about these fates names high stakes for the meditator’s world. If the limitations of intellection are God’s fault, God seems pretty bad by implication. If inescapable error is the destiny even the most scrupulous person must endure, then all humans, imperfect

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as we are, are relegated to tragedy. Error, then, slips into a familiar role, the one recognizable even in its Greek translation: hamartia. Descartes only subverts such a tragic fate as it becomes the rejected object of the meditator’s controlled prose. He slips away from tragic destiny, then, into what looks like a robust choice: I will not complain about this fate. The subordination of tragic destiny happens here in a moment of choosing that calls to mind Descartes’s explanation of the will earlier in this same meditation. Here, we see the exercise of freedom in choosing not to complain about these otherwise tragic limitations. In its very repetition, though, it seems as if Descartes shows us the real pains of “the lowest grade of freedom,” those kinds of choices that require some deliberation. The decision not to complain does not arrive without a struggle. In the turf wars between choice and the way things are in the Fourth Meditation’s oddest repetitions, Descartes restages an older battle between elegy (not to mention other lesser forms) and tragedy. It is, coincidentally, a battle made literal in book 3 of Ovid’s Amores. While too risqué to have made its way into the Jesuit curriculum without editing— the Ratio Studiorum recommends teaching “some selected and expurgated elegies and epistles of Ovid”28— the Amores opens its third book with personified Elegy and Tragedy fighting for the poet’s attentions. Stooping to use elegiac meter in her address, the loftier Tragedy calls upon the poet to take on less frivolous subjects and reach toward tragic dignity instead, but Elegy wins out, even in spite of her visible flaws: “Whilst I was strolling . . . came Elegy with coil of odorous locks, and I think, one foot longer than its mate. She had a comely form . . . and the fault in her carriage added to her grace. There came, too, raging Tragedy, with mighty stride.”29 Ovid’s Elegy declares her lightness and her stealth— she can sneak by closed doorways and seduce with softer cues in contrast to tragedy’s “violence.”30 Her stumped foot plays on elegiac meter’s uneven form (that is, the elegiac couplet consisting of a line of dactylic hexameter followed by one of dactylic pentameter). Elegy is better suited to the lighter topic of love and to the flexibility that love and its consequences require. In Ovid’s account, Elegy calls out Tragedy for coopting elegy’s form to attack her: “Yet you have deigned to suit yourself to unequal numbers; in assailing me ’twas my verse you used” (inparibus tamen es numeris dignata moveri; / in me pugnasti versibus usa meis).31 Tragedy bets that the best way to attack Elegy is to twist its form against itself. Elegy, we might say, has humbled even Tragedy: even Tragedy can be moved (moveri ) by Elegy’s form. Tragedy’s elegiac shape-shifting seems to make elegy’s case for how it works in Descartes: it can be the incognito armor of elegy’s enemies. In the Fourth Meditation, elegy is inescapable even in the declaration that there is none to be written. That is, Descartes can recast human destiny

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as not particularly tragic, unworthy of either extended representation or complaint. But he cannot escape the lingering bitterness, the residual complaint, in his announcement that he will not elegize. When Romantic critics considered the definition of elegy, they stressed its relationship to sad genius. Friedrich von Schiller claimed that elegy revealed “nature and the ideal [as] objects of sadness, when one is represented as lost to man and the other as unattained.”32 Coleridge, meanwhile, stressed elegy’s organic relationship to interiority. Elegy was “the form of poetry natural to the reflective mind. It may treat of any subject, but it must treat of no subject for itself; but always and exclusively with reference to the poet himself.”33 In contrast to the Romantics, Renaissance schoolboys who had gone through the drills of reading Ovid and Propertius, readers sharing with Descartes a humanist education, would recognize that an elegy could be much more; a querela named not merely a quarrel but also a diverse genre that could merge with forms like the plaint or lament and that had, in sixteenth-century France, been reclaimed and redefined.34 Readers familiar with the poetry of the Pléiade would know well that plainte named a living genre, that Marot, Ronsard, and others had written élégies.35 The elegies Descartes would have encountered appeared in a moment when the genre enjoyed more fluidity, where its definition was less certain, even as its Cartesian deployment seemed to anticipate “the reflective mind” and its forms. In the poetic culture in the century before Descartes, elegy’s development was fittingly complex, with many writers affirming that elegies need only share a common commitment to sadness. The tangle of preoccupations beside lament and loss that could emerge (for instance, romance and jealousy) yielded poems that make the early modern elegy look less familiar to post-Romantic eyes. These sad poems could go by the name plainte or complainte36 or elegy, and sometimes they even took the form of the verse epistle, following the model of Ovid’s Heroides. The flexibility of the early modern genre suits the ambivalence that the genre most associated with loss needs to navigate here. In Descartes’s case, the elegy’s flexibility makes sense of his laundry list of disavowed or unknown lost objects and objections. Like Ovid’s clever Tragedy, the meditator makes a bid to knock down elegy in elegy’s mode only to watch elegy prevail just the same. We know already that the meditator has found a witty way to complain by claiming not to do so. Yet Descartes hid behind elegy elsewhere. The famed motto he selected, bene qui latuit bene vixit (he who conceals well lives well), comes out of Ovid’s elegiac Tristia and bears the same attention to concealment that has made Descartes’s Larvatus prodeo an object over which so much ink has been spilt.37 In its context, Ovid’s lines are words of caution to friends. Don’t make the mistakes of Icarus, classic blunders that

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they are; rather, live humble lives in order to live well— Ovidian shorthand advising against exile. Descartes skips the rest of Ovid’s sentence, though, where the poet adds that et intra / fortunam debet quisque manere suam (“each man ought to remain in his proper position”). In Ovid’s enjambment (et intra / fortunam . . . suam) lies fortune’s trick: there’s no escaping from remaining or enduring (manere) it; we are always intra or within it. That Descartes chose this line for his own motto, one that Nietzsche would call “an epitaph with a vengeance,” is itself a felicitous sleight-of-hand. Descartes conceals what rests et intra his own story: himself as fortune’s prey, subject to a choicelessness guaranteed by mortality. As Descartes’s epitaph links elegy and loss, elegy and fortune, it more importantly restores the relationship between elegy and choice, between complaint and the will, that the Fourth Meditation unfolds. Refusing elegy outright, and over and over again, reads as an assertion of the will where the will’s disproportionate power is precisely the problem. The will is too powerful, and the understanding acts like Elegy’s stumped foot, making the meditator trip along a path riddled with obstacles to reason, far from the heroic metrical certitude of epic or all- out tragic indulgence. The meditator’s composure keeps him at a distance from elegy’s more stark expressions of inarticulate sadness even as its frustrations bring it closer to some of its hallmark howls. The folk etymology of “elegy” turns this sadness into a literal cry of pain, locating the word’s Greek origin in e e legein,38 where e is a cry of agony and legein is the infinitive of the verb “to say or speak.” Though the meditator will admit to making mistakes, frustrated cries are unwelcome in the Meditations. But that is not to say that its echoes are entirely gone: cognate with legein is Latin eligo, elegere, to choose or to select. Latin elegy, then, sounds like it brings an ancestry that has to do with choosing. The Descartes who used queror and complainte sidesteps that verbal baggage, to be sure. But the sound of elegy sneaks back in in the very echoes of his will, the facultas eligendae. If love lyric dismembers, elegy and its kindred lamentations remember. For Descartes, the problem is that his non- elegies have nothing to summon but a terminal incapacity. The elegy instead becomes something like a pure exercise of the will. It makes perfect sense, in this light, that the will can err so easily— a freedom to choose under circumstances of no freedom at all. We see it spinning around over that which it does not and never will have. The muscular power of elegy is in some ways to call and to dismiss, to bring back the dead to life and then come to terms with burying it. This willful duality seems to carry in it the est et non— “it is and it is not,” or “yes and no”— that so characterizes the Cartesian will in the Fourth Meditation. In the episode I cited at the beginning of the chapter, Descartes dreams of encountering the opening line of an eclogue by Ausonius: Quod

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vitae sectabor iter? This question, “which path of life will I follow?,” is the very question that animates the Discourse on Method, where “method” itself hearkens back, reiterates, iter’s path, with méthode’s etymology from meta- and hodos (a path, a way). But method, this path, also names the place where error, both literal wandering and mere mistakes, can happen simultaneously. The question Descartes’s dream confronts him with, then, is a wish to surpass the lowest kind of freedom, that of deliberation and choosing. It is fitting that Descartes’s dream follows him looking for one poem by Ausonius only to arrive accidentally at another, one beginning with est et non. Descartes finds a poem that declares the function of the will, in his words, “to affirm or deny, to pursue or avoid,” nested in a dream vision he later declares unwilled, a gift from on high. The thought of not to think it, it seems, means being left alone with sheer will. One wonders if Descartes recognized the irony of his dream summoning Ausonius’s Quid vitae sectabor iter?, a line that appears in a poem entitled “Ex Graeco Pythagoricum Ambiguitate Eligendae Vitae.” One might follow Negri, perhaps, and see a hint of Cartesian Rosicrucianism in the appeal to Pythagoras, or one might see in Descartes’s appeal to est et non the will’s victory as the very path of life Descartes is forced to choose. The ambiguitate eligendae vitae— “the ambiguity of choosing one’s life”— is an especially cruel trick hiding in Descartes’s dream. The gerundive eligendae modifies “life,” which here works synecdochally to mean something like one’s “path” in life while literally signifying a life “to be chosen.” It returns Descartes to the crisis of choosing while also insisting upon ambiguity (ambiguitate)— that which will never be clear and distinct. This life, like the dream, was never chosen, and the best way to accommodate those things that cannot be chosen, that, dreamlike, cannot be known, seems to be to choose the form that stages a victory over choice itself, even if that form must be hobbled to say est et non simultaneously. The Will and the World

In the previous chapters, I have suggested that common sense and the riddle go hand in hand, that love lyric provides cover for threats to thinking in its wide variety. Here, meanwhile, it is the elegy that absorbs the will, itself a faculty often thought of apart from thinking. In the Fourth Meditation, however, the will is the faculty that receives and navigates the world. It is that which causes us to make mistakes even as it bears witness to the limits of our thoughts. It also lets us choose to accept the limitations of thinking itself. The will’s acceptance and refusal, its alliance with choice, helps make sense of the fantasy Descartes indulges in the middle of the Fourth Meditation: the wish that there be no other people. Far away from

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the solicitous evil genius’s duplicitous world-making is the meditator who suggests a more perfect world would exist were it stripped of its other inhabitants. Descartes’s wish relocates his muffled complaints about his imperfections and expels them outward. In doing so, he attempts to imagine a world in which elegy would no longer be required because loss would be total. This is fair enough given that the will’s disproportion with the understanding is the source of both error and outright sin.39 “So what then is the source of my mistakes?” Descartes wonders. “It must be simply this: the scope of the will is wider than that of the intellect; but instead of restricting it within the same limits, I extend its use to matters which I do not understand. Since the will is indifferent in such cases, it easily turns aside from what is true and good, and this is the source of my error and sin.”40 Descartes recalls here how, counterintuitively, the greatest freedom is not that which appears in extensive deliberation; it is, instead, the nearly spontaneous decision-making, arising only when the will and the understanding coincide, that presents itself as most free, least error-prone, and furthest from sin.41 From here, Descartes offers only practical measures: one can always soberly postpone judgment. And when one inevitably messes up again, one can take comfort in the fact that the will’s misstep “lies in the operation of the will in so far as it proceeds from me, but not in the faculty of will which I received from God, nor even in its operation.”42 Such errors would indict the meditator but no one else. Taking responsibility for error seems to have little to do with anything other than the exercise of restraint and careful observation of the will’s excess in light of the understanding’s deficit. But Descartes demonstrates the “least freedom” at work when he affirms and then denies, imagining the full universe and then emptying it of all but one of its inhabitants. “It occurs to me,” Descartes reasons, “that whenever we are inquiring whether the works of God are perfect, we ought to look at the whole universe, not just at one created thing on its own.” (Occurrit etiam non unam aliquam creaturam separatim, sed omnem rerum universitatem esse spectandam, quoties an opera Dei perfecta sint inquirimus.)43 To help the frail will, Descartes exhausts the eye, demanding that everything be examined (spectandam). But in addition to this world in which all things must be looked at and considered, the meditator proposes an alternative to such optical impossibility. Error has something to add to vision: “But I cannot therefore deny that there may in some way be more perfection in the universe as a whole (in tota rerum universitate) because some of its parts are not immune (ab erroribus immune) from error, while others are immune, than there would be if all the parts were exactly alike (si omnes plane similes essent).”44 These are soothing visions of the universe that let God off the hook for making the

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meditator imperfect. But to accept a “universe as a whole” that cannot be seen or to evaluate the whole universe are impossible orders, and so Descartes lets out a simple wish that he himself were better, with an improved understanding or merely a memory more inclined to hold him back from error: “Had God made me this way, then I can easily understand that, considered as a totality, I would have been more perfect than I am now.” (Et facile intelligo me, quatenus rationem habeo totius cuiusdam, perfectiorem futurum fuisse quam nunc sum, si talis a Deo factus essem.)45 Here it is not will and understanding that perfectly coincide but wish and understanding. Against a holistic vision examining all things, Descartes brings us back to the world’s pieces: it might be the case that some pieces are flawed, but perfection, it cannot be denied, is not secured by similitude. Unwilling to give up completely, the meditator hints that a better world might be won by reducing its population. Recognizing that not all parts are alike, the French edition of the Meditations presents a striking emendation: “And I note well that when I consider myself entirely alone, as if there were only me in the world, I would have been much more perfect, more perfect than I am, if God had created me such that I never erred.” (Et je remarque bien qu’en tant que je me considère tout seul, comme s’il n’y avait que moi au monde, j’aurais été beaucoup plus parfait que je ne suis, si Dieu m’avait créé tel que je ne faillisse jamais.)46 In contrast to the world- destroying encounter with the evil genius, the Fourth Meditation assumes a different rhetorical strategy— one that could evidently not be voiced until it rendered either the Latin or the French text itself a mistake. That is, the wish to exist “as if there were only me in the world” either corrects an error or itself is one. The French text, asserting that the meditator would have been more perfect had he been made “as if there were only me in the world” (comme s’il n’y avait que moi au monde) keeps the world intact as well as, presumably, the meditator’s body. What is cast out, however, is every other person— all of these dissimilar parts that the meditator had hastened to qualify as elements of a broader perfection. In contrast to the hewing of world and body in the First Meditation, here the meditator’s satisfaction depends on a self understood to have integrity in an entirety (totius), and in the emended French translation,47 on a remarkable purging of all other people. The problem of error seems somehow inextricable from having others present. If there were not other people, perfection (or, at any rate, greater perfection) would somehow be better secured by the ensuing isolation. In the plenitude of created things and the purge of earth’s inhabitants, Descartes models the functioning of the will: est et non. But he also, it turns out, imitates God— and not surprisingly, for the will is where he and God resemble each other most: “For although God’s will is incomparably greater than mine . . . nevertheless it does not seem (videtur) any greater

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than mine when considered as will in the essential and strict sense. This is because the will simply consists in our ability to do or not do something.”48 Although it is greater, it does not seem so. Here, Descartes narrowly avoids the charge of hubris as he compares the “incomparabl[e]” and suggests that the fiat of God resembles his own better decisions. And so, unlike the counterpoetics Descartes marshals against the evil genius, here both elegy and its rejection don’t resemble divine creation at all. To not complain and, in doing so, to name the complaint looks like the lesser freedom of equivocation. To complain freely, though, means accepting a world full of sadness and loss, one that can neither be beheld in full nor emptied of its residents. In a world in which the understanding invariably lags behind the will, error must be dealt with, and Descartes will offer a small consolation: the sweet bitterness of a lesser freedom. Sweet Bitterness

One can easily imagine a certain satisfaction arriving from laying claim to a subject, cause, or, even better, a right to complain about the way things are. Elegies in particular make such a feeling possible. There is even a pleasure in the sadness elegies and tragedies bring us, Descartes wrote in his early writing on music, his Compendium musicae.49 For the Descartes of the Meditations, who claims not to have the authority to begin such a complaint, this deficit corresponds to the conditions of creation, those things God gave or to which he offered assent. If, in chapter 1, the unequal distribution of gifts gave rise to the problem of envy, and an envy for common sense no less, here that envy returns before an inadequacy the mature mind itself cannot overcome. To be sure, the sense that those things must be examined (spectandam) restores sight to that invidious feeling. If these non-complaints, the desire to be alone in the world, to live in a more perfect world, return to the problem of the common in chapter 1, they also push it further. The greed for common sense meets here a desire for something beyond that which is known already or knowable at all, something beyond rivalrous envy entirely. But it is not so much a greed for language here (the meditator might not have reason to complain, but he has all the words he would need to do so) as it is a thirst for thoughts beyond reach. It will be bitterness, then, rather than envy, that will accompany the wish for impossible thoughts.50 Confronted with the stubborn problem of unremitting mistakes, the meditator turns to one of elegy’s preferred pastimes: the work of memory. By transforming memory into habit, the meditator avoids familiar traps even if memory is a second-rate consolation compared to being able to think the thoughts he cannot think. Thus, when Descartes ends the Fourth

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Meditation, his solution calls for a sharper development of skills he already has: I can avoid error in [another] way, which depends merely on my remembering (recorder) to withhold judgement on any occasion when the truth of the matter is not clear. Admittedly I am aware of a certain weakness in me (eam in me infirmitatem esse experiar), in that I am unable to keep my attention fixed (cognitioni defixus inhaerere) on one and the same item of knowledge at all times; but by attentive and repeated meditation (attenta et saepius iterata meditatione efficere) I am nevertheless able to make myself remember (recorder) it as often as the need arises, and thus get into the habit of avoiding error.51

Forced remembrance (“I am nevertheless able to make myself remember”) brings the meditator to a deflating consolation: habit. Returning the reader to the problem of privation, the meditator draws attention to an original weakness (infirmitatem) that prevents him from paying attention, cognitioni defixus, that is, literally, “having fastened to thought.” Repeated meditation, then, bypasses some of the problem that cogitation incurs: a frailty that moves its focus from object to object. In the Fourth Meditation, thoughts seem to move instead from objection to objection. In his description of non- complaints, the meditator defers the problem of choosing raised by the question Quod iter sectabor vitae? and replaces iter, path, with iteration, repetition— a substitution that sounds like very little is substituted when in fact iter has little to do with iteration. Effecting (efficere) remembrance by repetition allows for successful effecting to stand in for satisfaction. Remembrance and habit step in as proxy measures for remembering the frailty of that which refuses to be fastened to thought: those things we cannot think. That memory should be so crucial a technique— one performed in Descartes’s insistence on reminding himself not to complain— seems particularly ironic given that one of Descartes’s primary aims here seems to be forgetting about his evident hostility. Drawing attention to weakness seems to be a frailty particular to memory itself. As Dennis Sepper writes, “the fact is that Descartes wrote very little about memory, and that little is more enigmatic than clarifying. Descartes thus leaves us in more than one sense on the threshold of memory. That threshold is the place where we are most fallible and most human, where we can least think of ourselves as autonomous, self-perceiving, self- certifying beings because we are bound by a past history.”52 Yet Descartes’s relationship to error also looks backward to an impossible history where, inverting Émile Benveniste’s formula that “it is what can be said that delimits and organizes what can be

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thought,”53 it is what cannot be said, what cannot be thought, that forces thought’s reorganization. Everything must gather around the limit, including techniques of withholding judgment, of remembering, of not marking that which can never be experienced as a loss because it was never possible— even as it quite clearly indexes the loss of an ideal, or the loss of a wish. Descartes’s repetitions bring this infirmity to mind over and over again. The habit of withholding judgment extracts a partial pleasure from exercising the will to remember that which it cannot will. This compromise sets the will’s affirmative power of choosing as the will’s triumph in the face of its own frustration. Where there’s a will, there’s not exactly a way (iter), but there are the comforts of iteration. This repetition, this effecting (from efficere), restores a partial satisfaction that otherwise eludes the meditator. The only thing inhering (inhaerere) in him is weakness. Using the will is an exercise in reaching, however imperfectly, toward satisfaction. As Descartes reminds his reader in the Principia, “so long as we do not make any assertion or denial . . . we clearly avoid error” (manifestum est nos non falli ).54 This suspended state holds the will in hiatus, and in the case of the complaint here, it defers the supreme satisfactions imagined as a property of omniscience in favor of some suspended murmurings. Indeed, toward the beginning of the Fourth Meditation, the engine of the meditation’s reprieve for God’s goodness is the will’s push forward. The meditator does not enter into this neutral state after declaring “the faculty of judgement which I have from God [as] not infinite”55 but rather notes that “this is still not entirely satisfactory” (verumtamen hoc nondum omnino satisfacit).56 To be sure, the meditator goes on, as outlined above, to find a reluctant satisfaction in this broader consideration. Instead of finding an explanation that satisfies entirely (omnino satisfacit), the meditator looks monistically, with will suspended, at all created things, omnem rerum universitatem.57 The veiled complaint and the dazed solution to an errant will can never deliver full satisfaction. In Les passions de l’âme, we learn that satisfaction is only possible from the comfortable ownership of causation. Describing “Self-Satisfaction and Repentance” (La satisfaction de soi-même et le repentir), Descartes writes: We may also consider the cause of a good or evil, present as well as past. A good done by ourselves gives us an internal satisfaction, which is the sweetest of all the passions, whereas an evil produces repentance, which is the most bitter. (Nous pouvons aussi considérer la cause du bien ou du mal, tant présent que passé. Et le bien qui a été fait par nous-mêmes nous donne une satisfaction intérieure, qui est la plus douce de toutes les passions, au lieu que le mal excite le repentir, qui est la plus amère.)58

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This looks like a foray into moral philosophy: by design, humans are meant to do good in the world, and proof positive of this is that when we do so, we feel good, and when we don’t, we experience regret. Fair enough. But this article also returns the Descartes of the Passions to the preoccupations of the truth-seeking narrators of the Discourse and the Meditations alike. What it means to consider causes is to consider one’s place in the bigger problem of causation. The word “satisfaction” comes to signify that gift we give to ourselves (nous donne): the interiority we cause. The sweetest of all passions is a good kind of authorship. Returning to the specific concerns of the Fourth Meditation, the problem of infirmity, of inevitable defect, thrusts the meditator into a realm in which satisfaction simply is not possible. Responding to the hazy stuff that makes him make a mistake, he can effect good habits, but he cannot possibly do the kind of good that would require being otherwise, that would provide an ultimate satisfaction. In the Fourth Meditation, then, Descartes visits likely causes of bitterness when he avoids, by a kind of casuistry, saying what he would have to repent were he to complain outright. Descartes’s bitterness here is attached to the problem of causa querendi, then, also in the sense of having cause or causation. If repentance is “directly contrary to the satisfaction of oneself ” (directement contraire à la satisfaction de soi-même),59 it brings about bitterness much like a mistake would for a meditator who was careless before the instructions he had learned to cultivate. The reason why this form of regret is so bitter, we learn, is because it is caused entirely by us: “It is very bitter because its cause lies in ourselves alone” (elle est tres-amère, parce que sa cause ne vient que de nous).60 The types of errors to which the meditator might be prone in the Fourth Meditation are hardly as severe as those imagined in the moral philosophizing of the Passions where repentance is attached to evil deeds. But the Descartes of the Passions still considers the kind of person who has not intentionally made mistakes: “But it often happens that weak-spirited people (les esprits faibles) repent of deeds they have done without knowing for certain that they are evil; they are convinced of this simply because they fear it is so, and if they had done the opposite, they would repent in the same way. This is an imperfection deserving of pity (une imperfection digne de pitié ), and the remedies against this are the same as those which serve to dispel irresolution (à ôter l’irrésolution).”61 In the context of ill-placed repentance, there are some who have something in them worthy of pity (digne de pitié ), esprits faibles that they are, but these characters are not so different from the erring meditator who struggles to manage his reaction to making mistakes in spite of himself. Like them, he, too, has en [lui] une imperfection. And like them, he has strategies for avoiding l’irrésolution. For things he cannot cause, the meditator can respond with a practiced will that knows when to choose

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not to choose. Ill-placed repentance, like complaining, stands in the way of satisfaction. For Descartes, being fully at fault, being entirely the cause of some kind of trespass, changes one’s relationship to that mistake. In the Meditations and the Discourse, regretfulness seems to be largely deferred and even countered with an optimistic program. In the Discourse, the missteps of youth are replaced with a regimen rooted in reason while in the Meditations, a systematic program lets the meditator call into doubt things once thought familiar. Even if these texts seem somewhat wistfully to entertain the sense that life could be otherwise, they do not dwell on or in the less cheerful emotions accompanying outright impossibilities. Indeed, as we see in the non-complaints above, there is a robust effort to defend against even the most cloying (and rightly so) feelings of discomfort. In The Passions of the Soul, then, the possibility of sustained regret becomes much louder, thanks in part and most obviously to the stated purpose of the text to explain the passions. In the landscape of emotions Descartes describes, a more pessimistic vision comes through: Regret is also a kind of sadness. It has a particular bitterness (une particulière amertume) in that it is always joined to some despair (toujours jointe à quelque désespoir) and to the memory of a pleasure that gave us joy. For we regret only the good things which we once enjoyed and which are so completely lost that we have no hope of recovering them at the time and in the form in which we regret them.62

While repentance is a moral emotion, the bitterness of regret seems to arrive from the unfortunate union of pleasure with despair. Regret is always joined, toujours jointe, to despair. It is joined to this despair, too, even as it is not despair outright. That is, regret attends a transformation that seems to be unavailable to it. “We regret,” Descartes says, that which is “so completely lost that we have no hope of recover[y],” but this regret is never without its concomitant despair. What prevents those things that I am not, those things I cannot think or cannot know, from resolving into bitterness is the pleasure of irresponsibility. In the first chapter, I suggested that Descartes’s relationship to common sense and language exposed a particular kind of envy that sought to address both inequality and original flaws. In the Fourth Meditation, that original and infantile envy loses its object: there is no one to be envious of when it comes to the unattainable, to something that has never been and will never be. This is where repentance’s apparent bitterness, tant présent que passé, as much present as past, skips the temporality of Descartes’s meditation on error, summoning not the future but the conditional or

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counterfactual. Because this powerful counterfactual is joined to a wish, it follows the basic formula of regret, but memory of a pleasure cedes its place to a desire for a pleasure. Without achieving these wishes, “internal satisfaction” is impossible, but the medley of bitterness with a kind of sweetness can bring together the self-destructive impulse of imagining the world without its inhabitants alongside wondering at the universe in its fullness. It is the fact that he did not cause, does not know, and cannot even think the unthinkable that also gives its implacable unknowability its touch of pleasure: not so much bitter but, as Sappho would call it, sweetbitter.63 It is little coincidence, then, that The Passions of the Soul ends with a return to both bitterness and pleasure. In its final article, Descartes describes the soul’s pleasures and pains and considers the power of mastering one’s passions: For the rest, the soul can have pleasures of its own. But the pleasures common to it and the body depend entirely on the passions, so that persons whom the passions can move most deeply are capable of enjoying the sweetest pleasures of this life. It is true that they may also experience the most bitterness when they do not know how to put these passions to good use and when fortune works against them. (Il est vrai qu’ils y peuvent aussi trouver le plus d’amertume lorsqu’ils ne les savent pas bien employer et que la fortune leur est contraire.) But the chief use of wisdom lies in its teaching us to be masters of our passions and to control them with such skill that the evils which they cause are quite bearable and even become a source of joy.64

Descartes addresses the problem of two kinds of error here: those that one’s wily passions cause and those caused by fortune. To be sure, this is something like the consolations for the invidious writer of the Discourse with its nervous distribution of common sense. But it is also something of a manual for one of the problems of being human. Whatever the joy we extract from the triumphs of our reason, we also feel its failures; bitterness accompanies our sense of our deepest ignorance, of fortune’s most grievous lapses. We might have to feign satisfaction, to take pleasure in the well-trained will and lower our expectations. If, as Descartes’s dream suggested in Ausonius’s poem, we can imagine things going both ways (est et non), we might also add that, in this instance, it is both the most bitter and the most satisfying. The work of seeking out truth at every step cannot compensate for the gap between reason and creation. Descartes closes his final work with the consolation of rendering life bearable— not a move from, say, neurotic misery to ordinary unhappiness, but something a step

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further, where we might even extract some small portion of joy from the merely “bearable.” What I have been trying to suggest, then, is that Descartes’s rejected elegy is an elegy that is not one; it does not acknowledge a death or a loss, but in doing so it animates something else: the sly pleasure of the complaint that claims not to voice one. Slaying the evil genius, lamenting one’s own frailty or the loss of omnipotence or the fantasy of it leads Descartes to something else: a complaint that is durable and repeatable. Perhaps this is the pleasure of scientific experiment, too: where it is impossible to have omniscience, the bitter pleasure of replicability means that small amounts of knowledge can be brought back into presence again and again. In the elegy, the dead do not truly come back to life, but the complaint is fully alive and something, at least, is re-membered. On its surface, the Meditations glories in the rigor of the well-trained will, harnessed to memory, but underneath it resides the satisfaction of another kind of pleasure: the bittersweet recognition of our weaknesses in requiring sleep, in the partial satisfactions of experiencing our insufficiencies. (Zero) Sum

If there were no cause for complaining, it would have to be invented. This seems to be the bittersweet realization, then, of the Fourth Meditation: staging a partial elegy, one that winks at the tradition but claims that there is nothing here to see, the meditator proves again how adept he is at imagining himself otherwise. Because the meditator cannot lay claim to having his own causa sui he settles for fantasizing about suae causae querendi. The est et non [est] of the dream’s poem, the swapping of iter (method) for iteration (arguably the move between the Discourse and the exercises of the Meditations), portrays an ambivalence in search of resolution. In some ways, this might seem like a reiteration of the problems of the body. When it is summoned into existence, error is more likely. Passions get in the way; minds are disposed in such a way that we’re dogged by our embodiment at every turn. The original Fort-Da, est et non [est] might be reconfigured as the game the meditator plays with error, in its personified form as evil genius (est— it is, and it is deceptive) or in the distribution of common sense in the Discourse: it is and (it is) not. Est et non also names the iter or path that we all follow: we are and then we are not, the common destiny assigned to us as mere mortals. I want to conclude by suggesting that what Descartes calls bitterness in the Passions (l’amertume or l’amer) describes a frustration already recognizable in the limits of the Meditations and the Discourse. Bitterness merely

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names the feeling of sensing what no one is, what no one will ever be. The thing about bitterness in Descartes, too, is that it is seldom offered as having a real remedy; it certainly can be avoided, but the slings of fortune will be slung regardless. But the limit of what can be known or thought gives way to a remarkable reversal. Philosophy will yield to poetry when it comes to thinking not about what I am but about what I am not. What I am asking, then, is what happens to the Cartesian formula of the cogito (cogito ergo sum) when its endgame is what I cannot think and what I am not— when its power is reoriented toward the problem of being able to conceive of the fact that there are thoughts I cannot think. This thwarted thought and thwarted being unite in the complaint. That is, when it comes to what I am not and what I cannot conceive, form is of foremost importance. The complaint marks out a bitter limit, and its rejection tries to imagine the eradication of wishing for the world to be otherwise. If we are, as the meditator reminds us in the Fourth Meditation, suspended between perfection and nothingness, participating in nothingness, we suffer the indignity of having privation and infirmity embedded into who we are. We are not perfect in the way that God is, of course, and we also have mortal bodies that ensure our lapses into error, not to mention that the burden of extension comes along with mortality in our case. The body is, and then, so mortality decrees, it decidedly is not. The last sentence of the Meditations concludes by reminding its reader of this ultimate weakness: “the pressure of things to be done (rerum agendarum necessitas) does not always allow us to stop and make such a meticulous check, it must be admitted ( fatendum est) that in this human life we are often liable (obnoxiam) to make mistakes about particular things, and we must acknowledge the weakness (infirmitas) of our nature (naturae nostrae infirmitas est agnoscenda).”65 Descartes’s closing words, that “weakness must be acknowledged” (infirmitas est agnoscenda), make recognition of this infirmity the final message of the Meditations, a recognition and resignation as central as doubt itself. The meditator insists that weakness be agnoscenda, or acknowledged, from ad- gnoscere, as if preemptively contesting the future of the cogito’s bravado, which will come less to seem like it has nothing to do with acknowledging weakness and more to do with doubting our weakness— nearly channeling “agnosticism,” the nineteenth-century coinage and false-friend of “agnoscenda.” Standardizing meticulous checking and reducing the pressures of daily life cannot solve the bigger problem which is the one of our nature, naturae nostrae. The Fourth Meditation has already demonstrated that some things cannot be known or considered or even fully complained about: those things the meditator would long to change about himself and his world.

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The Fourth Meditation’s defense of error poses another question that the scope of the cogito, of Cartesian reflexivity, can neither answer nor countenance. It asks— indeed it considers with no small amount of frustration— what we are not. That is, Descartes wanders the spectrum of our intermediate position between nothingness and perfection as he imagines himself being otherwise— being better and wiser to varying degrees. In considering some of the things we are not, some of the things that might make us better or better off, the meditator stages a mode of refusal different from the one we are more accustomed to encountering from the Cartesian subject in the guise of doubt. The radical “no” of that skeptical subject shatters the world around the meditator, rejecting, refusing the ordinary perceptions upon which experience is based. But this rejection is not one the meditator imposes but one imposed upon him. He does not author this limit, and it is instead a reminder of what he did not author in himself and in the world. Where meditation and method allow the meditator to reject the world and to reassemble it, albeit wistfully and with the stringent conditions that no perception be understood comfortably without clarity and distinction, there is no real recovery from this other form of limit. If the non-complaints feel somewhat like wishes, they are also guaranteed to go ungranted. The apparent maturity of the Fourth Meditation’s rejection of complaining masks an infantile wish to have it his way or, at least, to be able to ask— and to ask again and again— why it cannot be so. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the Fourth Meditation has to stave off the specter of regret as it confronts errors past and as it acknowledges peripherally the errors embedded in the meditator’s own composition. However radical the changes to his mental regimen, the meditator cannot successfully escape the history of his errors, nor can he fully secure a future without mistakes. In this light, the return to earlier concerns about perception in his last meditation seems as much like resignation as it does summary. Accordingly, the Sixth Meditation, which establishes the existence of “material things and the real distinction between mind and body,” returns at its end to the relief provided by the clear and distinct: When I distinctly see where things come from and where and when they come to me, and when I can connect my perceptions of them with the whole of the rest of my life (cum tota reliqua vita) without a break, then I am quite certain that when I encounter these things I am not asleep but awake (plane certus sum, non in somnis, sed vigilanti occurrere). And I ought not to have even the slightest doubt of their reality if, after calling upon all of the senses as well as my memory and my intellect in order to check them, I receive no conflicting reports from any of these sources.66

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Here, the deadline for figuring out certainty has a strange temporality, with tota reliqua vita, the entire remainder of life, deemed the testing period the meditator requires. Similarly difficult is that certainty requires a state of mind that is not simply not being asleep but being watchful, vigilanti. I stress this vigilance and this “rest of my life” because the final image it produces is one where this watchful process arrives in rapid succession. Just before his affirmation of the principle of certitude, the meditator writes, “If, while I am awake (vigilo), anyone were suddenly to appear to me and then disappear immediately, as happens in sleep, so that I could not see where he had come from or where he had gone to, it would not be unreasonable for me to judge that he was a ghost, or a vision created in my brain, rather than a real man.”67 Like Ausonius’s est et non, the phantasmatic character appears and disappears (is and is not, yes and no). Someone appears— someone is— and then someone is gone. This is the hallucination of dreams— and it certainly looks a lot like the poem-giving person in his dream vision— or it is just the life cycle sped up: we don’t really know where we’ve come from, and we don’t really know where we’re going. The vigilant meditator, too, might also simply have blinked. Or, perhaps, we see the plain statement of a wish: that there could be a man who once existed— “a ghost”— or that would exist who was “a vision created in my brain.” The meditator will not complain that he lacks the ability to attain such creative heights, but it is little wonder that he would return to another originary indignity he cannot reason his way out of, namely, the need to sleep. Even Descartes nods. Between acknowledgment and complaint lies increasing bitterness. In refusing to acknowledge his complaint, Descartes names the causa querendi that must not be agnoscenda. Instead, it turns into a whispered wish, not the object of vigilance or even hope, but the marker of a gap between saying and thinking. I have no reason to complain about this thing; I must not think of complaining. Weighing a complaint and complaining, complaining and thinking, are separate things. There may be no way to think oneself into the acquisition of a better nature, but there is a way to double down on complaining without making such complaints explicit. Bitterness accompanies the feeling of hopelessness at acquiring things that were lost, the Descartes of the Passions tells us, and, in this case, too, it marks a hopelessness before things that will never be found. This hard limit, this refusal of the universe to conform to our best wishes for it— or even our humble suggestions for improvement— forces the meditator to defer to God’s better judgment, to shrug his shoulders in recognition of his inferior understanding. But it also seems to be a “no” of bitterness, one that trails into the rueful weakness to be acknowledged that closes the Meditations.

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The limit accompanied by bitterness we might think of as the third part of the bildungsroman of Cartesian forms and feelings I have described. The original envy and greed for language, the fear of seduction and the intrusion of disposition, the bitterness at the real limits placed on who we are and what we can be: these are Cartesian negotiations in which thought’s autonomy comes under siege. And if this dependency, this reprieve from being entirely at fault, is part of what makes this bitterness sweet, it is also a firm “no” marked with bitterness. There is no way out of language, no way out of the world, no way to conceal wishes that things be otherwise. That poetic form inflects and sustains Descartes’s engagement with these difficulties is not so surprising.68 If complaint cannot fully be voiced, Descartes can still dream of a different language that can, one that might hoard common sense and transform it into uncommon insight, that might translate bitter loss and impossibility into song. Perhaps Descartes’s difficult negotiations here show the way in which the firm limit of bitterness is a relic we carry with us for the rest of our lives (a real reliqua vita). The creative structures of poetic form open a path to what thinking can do (and what it cannot). If recognizing our weaknesses reminds us, too, of language’s power and its impotence, it lets poetry have the last laugh as it goes into the impossible, masquerading as the wishes of dreams, where the daylight cogito dare not venture. That same force will outlast even the most pleasurable bitterness; as I show in the next chapter, it will also survive us.

After Thoughts

[ ChaP ter four ]

Writing in response to the Meditations, Descartes’s contemporary, the philosopher and priest Pierre Gassendi, rejected the idea that the parts of a life could be considered in isolation: “But you say that the parts of your lifetime are ‘independent of each other.’ Here I am tempted to ask if we can think of anything whose parts are more inseparable from one another than your duration. Can we think of anything whose parts are more inviolably linked and connected?”1 Unposed in Gassendi’s question about the “inviolabl[e] link[s] and connect[ions]” of a lifetime are further questions, with arguably higher stakes, asking what a life is at all: how do we know when life begins and ends, how does mortality work, and what even is a “part” of a life? On top of Gassendi’s query here, many of Descartes’s other interlocutors wanted answers to related questions, urging Descartes to explain what he made of a more familiar version of a lifetime and its parts, the one long enshrined in the contention that the soul or mind was eternal and survived the death of the body. Pushed to respond, Descartes conforms to the orthodox position that the soul rises above the petty problems of part and whole, of mortality and ending: Our natural knowledge (naturalis cognitio) tells us that the mind is distinct from the body, and that it is a substance. But in the case of the human body, the difference between it and other bodies consists merely in the arrangement of limbs and other accidents of this sort (ex sola membrorum configuratione aliisque eiusmodi accidentibus constare); and the final death of the body depends solely on a division or change of shape (ac denique mortem corporis a sola aliqua divisione aut figurae mutatione pendere). Now we have no convincing evidence or precedence to suggest that the death or annihilation of a substance like the mind must result from such a trivial cause as a change in shape (sequi debere ex tam levi causa, qualis est fig-

After Thoughts


urae mutatio), for this is simply a mode, and what is more not a mode of the mind, but a mode of the body which is really distinct from the mind. . . . And this entitles us to conclude that the mind, in so far as it can be known by natural philosophy, is immortal.2

In this jumble of bodies, where the difference between oneself and a bear or a porpoise, not to mention another human person, can be chalked up to “the arrangement of limbs and other accidents,” the mind forgoes the indignity of vulnerability to “such a trivial cause as a change in shape,” a gentler way of sparing the mind a process otherwise called “death or annihilation.” While these “merely . . . trivial” matters along the way are declared “distinct from the mind,” Descartes’s response nonetheless suggests that understanding death— if only the “final death of the body”— depends on a mastery of incidental, and even trivial, shape-shifting. This chapter turns, by way of conclusion, to the question of such endings. If mortality consists simply of trivial changes in the “arrangement of limbs and other accidents of this sort,” then perhaps such scenes of rearrangement and accident offer intimations of thought’s survival beyond the duration of a body’s lifetime— a phenomenon necessarily opaque, “in so far as it can be known by natural philosophy.” Given Descartes’s definition of language as “the only sure sign of thought latent in the body,” this chapter asks, then, how a “change in shape” ( figurae mutatio) in language might index thought’s ends and transformations alongside the passage of time. Descartes is concerned with thinking in time in obvious ways across his work, beyond its accompaniment of the body’s unfortunate “annihilation.” The story of erring youth that shapes the Discourse on Method, the six days of the Meditations, the preoccupation with childhood prejudice in the Principia: these accounts reflect how thinking occurs in time, one thought succeeding another— a felicitous succession, too, as it makes possible amendment and revision. Even so, Descartes’s work withholds clear answers as to how time itself works, with the distinction between time and duration the object of much debate.3 Rather than seeking to settle such scores, this chapter finds in Descartes’s discussion of enumeration a poetic form that engages the problems of time by demonstrating how to cheat it. Put another way, this chapter asks how thinking takes time and survives its ravages. The poetic form that endures its own mutation, that requires trivial changes in shape by definition, is, naturally, the anagram. Treated in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries as an object best left for posthumous speculation, in the works of Ferdinand Saussure and Tristan Tzara, or, more frequently, as a pastime of inconsequence, the anagram appears in Descartes’s Regulae ad directionem ingenii (1628) as a frivolous challenge

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that threatens to inflict disorder and to waste time only to be subdued by the efficacy of the well- ordered mind and the method of enumeration. In the Regulae, the anagram brings together the problems of arrangement, described above, alongside the temporal questions implied by mortality and less fatal forms of duration. Commenting on the Regulae, Heidegger made its study essential to understanding modernity, declaring that “Only one who has really thought through this relentlessly sober volume long enough, down to its remotest and coldest corner, fulfills the prerequisite for getting an inkling of what is going on in modern science.”4 This chapter, however, looks to the Regulae with an eye toward “what is going on” when it comes to thinking through and against the clock. In Descartes’s reflections on anagram in the Regulae, in conversation with his discussions of hope and boldness in the Passions, this final chapter looks to Descartes’s earliest and latest writing to locate a Cartesian optimism that completes the bildungsroman this book has been tracing, albeit with something of a final twist. If the riddle, love lyric, and elegy accompanied a process of maturation of thought that dealt with the imposition of dispositions and incapacities and the passions they inspire (envy, repulsion, bitterness), the anagram, looking toward the form of Protean verse, opens the question of thought’s ending. As Descartes’s reflections on mortality convey, this is an impossibility, or at the very least a mostly unknowable problem. But in the anagram, thinking’s immortality appears in a form that aspires to a hopeful resolution in offering an ongoing labor in which poetry itself possesses a kind of body that is, at least sometimes, immortal. At a minimum, the anagram is capable of surviving— and even encouraging— changes in shape. This chapter, then, argues that Descartes’s casual theory of anagram, delivered in passing as mere example before becoming structural principle, gives form to the challenges of thinking in time, and, in doing so, provides a counterpoint to Cartesian doubt in a hopefulness and boldness that allows the reader to experience a material thinking that outlasts the “trivial” ending of the thinker’s body. In the anagram, too, resides the master trope of this book’s larger project: reading in Descartes the “resources of kind” or genre, I have tried to show precisely how such “trivialities” as those found within commonly known early modern genres could inflect and enable philosophical thinking— and make available new ways of reading. I have argued that noticing this poetics provides a new understanding of how Descartes understood and communicated “thinking.” Anagram sits at the intersection of intention (the planned embedding of a “secret” reading) and mere coincidence (whether meaningful or trivial). Like the poetic forms of previous chapters, the anagram exposes dimensions of thinking without claiming to be the key to all decipherment. After all, its very diagnosis in the text is

After Thoughts


no more certain than its own status as either mere trope or full-fledged poetic genre. In this, interpretation itself lives in the same neighborhood as the anagram because of its inherent uncertainty and its very procedure. As Andrea Bachner argues, “[T]he work of interpretation is highly anagrammatical. It is a work of bricolage, of disassembling and recombination.”5 In Descartes, I will show, such work requires a combination of hope and even boldness. For here, poetic form gives thought a body that lets that thought index the trivial changes to which it is subject and which it survives. In this way, the anagram and its interpretation lead the reader to find in it new life for old thoughts— including thoughts as old as Descartes’s. Descartes himself seems to have signed off on such an eternity for thought somewhat reluctantly, in the instance above, or simply taciturnly, in telling his interlocutor Frans Burman simply that he “agreed” in response to Burman’s claim “that the mind must always be thinking.”6 Communicating thought’s eternity alongside the “trivial,” if also violent, “changes of shape” ending our lives posits a temporal challenge that Descartes takes on beyond mere agreement through the figure of the anagram. In linking time and the ends of thought to the anagram, I appeal first to anagram’s history, alternately banal and controversial, in early modernity and in the twentieth century. I then turn to Descartes’s invocation of the anagram as example, showing how the anagram allows a temporal transformation that manages the threat of wasted time. In this context, the anagram’s metamorphosis, from mere example into structuring principle, supplants doubt with hope when it comes to the end of thought (or of thought’s thinker) by securing a kind of thinking elicited after death. I follow this path, by way of conclusion, to Descartes’s account of boldness and the bolder-still reconfiguration of time (and Descartes) in Beckett’s “Whoroscope.” In this way, this book concludes with the death of its title figure; meant not to coincide with the death of either poetry or thinking, this ending signals the mutual terms of their shared victory and survival. As poetry’s perhaps most frivolous resource, the anagram lets us read thinking after and against time. It promotes a kind of consideration that outlasts the most tenacious thinker but that casts thinking as a hopeful enterprise anyway, to be greeted with boldness and to be rearranged again and again, in spite of our reasonable doubt. The Endurance of Trivial Form

Presented as childish word game, graphic strategy of poetry, or simply misdiagnosed accident, the anagram courts controversy, greeting critical derision, on the one hand, and claims to revelation, on the other. It emerges explicitly as a poetic form— as in anagrammatic play within the confines

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of hexameter in the genre known as Protean verse— and as simple trope. It has famously been the object of twentieth-century critics (Tzara, Saussure) so uncertain or even embarrassed by their object of study that they avoided publishing their writings about it in their lifetimes. Although Descartes himself names the form outright, just as he does with fable, history, and meditation, he, too, identifies it in disparaging terms: it is a “lightweight artifice.”7 In the history of this lightweight artifice, however, lies both a piece of the specific cultural atmosphere of the seventeenth century in which Descartes was working and a testimony to the power of poetry. Before turning, in subsequent sections, to Descartes’s engagement with the more “heavyweight” side of anagram, I want to show the endurance of this trivial form, from popular Baroque pastime into the sometimes-agony of twentieth- century critics. In the most recent edition of the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, the entry on “anagram” concludes by remarking that “[f ]uture research will involve exploring such questions as . . . the genres in which anagrams are most likely to arise.”8 This formulation downplays the uncanny pluck of the anagram: it can be anywhere at any time. In this way, the anagram distills the problem of negative poetics with which this book has been so preoccupied, for the anagram is the most obvious instance of a form that may never be noticed, whose workings may be more incidental than overt. The anagram, too, marks, sometimes in extreme form, the necessary “hazard,” as I identify it in the introduction, of literary- critical interpretation. In this, however, the anagram has a special poetic force, that which Aristotle identified as the reason for poetry’s greater claim to philosophical seriousness: its ability to think the “possible.”9 However easy it is to move past such lightweight forms as the anagram, as in the case of the comparably lightweight riddle, the anagram had widespread cultural appeal; in addition to its popularity, moreover, it could index special poetic powers. In Descartes’s moment, anagram was a widely popular form and quickly introduced as well into the Jesuit curriculum in which Descartes was trained.10 It also become a familiar form more widely in Baroque culture and went on to become a central element in early combinatorics.11 Placing Descartes’s anagram in historical context means noticing how anagram was already on the books not only in science but also in literary history, appearing in prose and verse both in France and elsewhere in early modern Europe. Long recognizable in pseudonyms as in François Rabelais’s anagrammatic alter ego “Alcofribas Nasier” and likewise familiar in much earlier medieval verse, the anagram enjoyed literary popularity even amid changing literary norms. Though more familiar to many of us today as a kind of word game or in a lineage of combinatorics— including, on its earlier side, the work of Llull and Leibniz— anagram was

After Thoughts


popular enough as a poetic form in the early modern period to receive Du Bellay’s approbation in the Defense and Illustration of the French Language (1549) as he “excepted the ingenious acrostic and anagram from his sweeping dismissal of medieval French verse forms.”12 While Du Bellay acknowledged anagram as poetic method, poets put anagram into practice in imitation of classical example across poetic genres decades before, as well as during, Descartes’s lifetime. There is no shortage of examples. In the poems of Maurice Scève’s Délie, anagram made the title signify simultaneously the name of the object of the poems’ tortured romance and a greater abstraction: l’idée or idea. In Corneille’s Nicomède, Hélène Merlin-Kajman and Christopher Braider have located in the hero’s name an anagram for comédie and comédien, respectively. Jean Dorat, the humanist and teacher of Ronsard and Du Bellay among others, meanwhile, revived anagrams from Greek antiquity, invigorating the “vogue of the anagram” with classical bona fides.13 In these and so many other instances, anagram showed its usefulness for concealment (or revelation), for laying claim to a classical ancestry by appealing to anagram’s status in antiquity, and for offering new lenses of interpretation. In examining one instance of Jesuit verse, for example, Descartes’s contemporary, the Belgian humanist Erycius Puteanus, would marvel at the anagrammatic depth of Latin epigrams, one of which “can be transformed one thousand and twenty-two times . . . : Tot tibi sunt dotes, Virgo, quot sidera caelo.”14 This Latin verse, meaning “You have as many virtues, Virgin, as there are stars in the sky,” so awed Puteanus that he saw in the promise of its 1,022 arrangements proof of poetry’s superiority. As Fernand Hallyn puts it, “this verse . . . is like a single stone that is a conglomeration of stones . . . a star that encompasses the sky. Here poetry surpasses the other arts.”15 In the anagrammatic contortions of the verse, the apparent triviality of the form shifts into virtuosity. Here, it is not the case that poetry makes nothing happen because it, in fact, makes 1,022 things happen. In this astonishing display of poetic muscle, a single verse can contain literal multitudes. Yet such sinewy poetic force could be redirected toward another end: concealment. For one of the most common uses of anagram was to disguise a signature or a secret. Descartes himself is on record for using an anagram to such an effect, with his own signature written into the Discourse. As Jacques Lezra, Tom Conley, and Georges Van Den Abbeele, among others, have noted, Descartes places his own signature anagrammatically into the Discourse as he situates his solitude “dans les déserts les plus écartés,” that is, dropping his name literally into “the most remote deserts.”16 Given that he explains how to solve an anagram in the Regulae, it is perhaps no surprise that Descartes himself would dabble in the

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form of the anagram with this hypogram here.17 The form’s popularity extended crucially to science, too, where it was a mode of particular utility when it came to revealing (and concealing) scientific discovery in particular. Galileo, for instance, wrote of his findings related to Saturn and Venus in anagrams that thwarted none other than Kepler, who located in the genre— and his own eight failed attempts to unlock its mysteries— a peculiarly literary frustration which he framed with polite anguish: “I come away impatient from your various literary secrets. Do you see the misery in which you cast me . . . ?”18 If early modern scientists counted the anagram among the strategies they could deploy to herald or simply protect scientific discovery, early modern readers readily observed that the anagram was a worthy object of interpretation, too. More than mere user of the anagram, however, Descartes has also been the object of anagrammatic analysis. On more than one occasion, that is, the meaning of Descartes’s philosophy has been examined as a question of deciphering an anagrammatic object. Reading Descartes sometimes entails a literal rereading (and rearrangement) of the name “Descartes.” Deciphered in Chauvin’s Lexicon philosophicum (1691), Descartes’s Latinized name, “Renatus Cartesius,” turned out to nest an anagram for Tu scis res naturae or “You know the things of nature.”19 The presence of the anagram here renders the philosopher Descartes the source of a more-thannatural way of knowing: there was something waiting to be unlocked, a knowledge already embedded in Descartes’s name, as if revealing his destiny. Felicitously, it was precisely a knowledge of knowledge, knowing the things of nature, res naturae, that formed the basic insight Descartes referred to when he sought to address the question of the soul’s immortality. While Descartes explained that “[o]ur natural knowledge” (naturalis cognitio) reveals to us the distinction of mind and body, to understand “arrangement . . . and accident” would require an ability to see form and genre at play, to recognize distinctions only made possible by blurring elements that had not been held apart before. To recognize that “René Descartes” or “Renatus Cartesius” spelled out that “You know the things of nature” requires a double vision where Descartes exists alongside a prophetic identity, where the oracular rearrangement is in fact distinct from the arrangement of letters that spelled out the philosopher’s name but still essential to it— only visible when the ink holding “Renatus Cartesius” intact is invisible. This double vision is at the heart of practices of reading the anagram, and it marks the way in which the anagram unsettles practices of interpretation. As Du Bellay cleared a place for anagram in French poetics, he showed the way in which the anagram could open up secrets.20 In an entry on the status of rhyme, Du Bellay presents his preferences (rimes riches)

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and defines rhyme before turning to a consideration of forms that seem to have little to do with rhyme at all. Indeed Du Bellay begins a discussion of a habit shared across time in the use of “this inversion of letters” of proper names to reveal something “fitting to that person.”21 But Du Bellay describes more than a vanity project lurking across centuries of secret signatures. Rather, he follows his examples of anagram with an account of the anagram’s special interpretive powers. Not only do anagrams shed light on clever insights lurking within proper names and forge a tie with antiquity, that is; they also promise to decode secrets otherwise unavailable to our knowledge in waking life. None other than Artemidorus, he explains, “left in his book on dreams a chapter on anagrammatism where he shows how by the inversion of letters one can interpret (exposer) dreams.”22 In Artemidorus’s second- century text, the anagram becomes a useful method of dream interpretation, too. Although “dreams . . . are mutilated and . . . do not, as it were, give anything to hold on to,” he explains that some dreams might be apprehended by emending the “mutilated” account with anagrammatic technique, “sometimes by transposing, sometimes by changing, sometimes by adding letters and syllables . . . sometimes by inventing others that are of equal numerical value, so as to make the meaning clearer.”23 As Hassan Melehy has shown, Artemidorus and Du Bellay— and even Freud— are in agreement about a broader linguistic system at work, recognizing “dream images [as] signs in a system of signification that an understanding of a certain set of allegorical relations will make available to interpretation.”24 For Du Bellay in particular, Melehy shows, there is “an acknowledgment of this system of signification as linguistic,” in this context marking the dream “of particular interest to poetry.”25 But while Descartes, as the previous chapter has made clear, dreamt dreams subject to interpretation— and had dreams in which poems appeared no less— Du Bellay’s presentation of the tightly knit relationship between anagram, poetry, and the dreams of dreamers past anticipates and reverses Descartes’s dream, this time moving the poem out of the dream into an anagrammatic practice in the present to be applied to poems and dreams, from antiquity or just last night. The coincidence of rhyme and anagram in Du Bellay’s entry points, however, to the odd status of anagram, at once widely a part of poetic tradition and mere game.26 An object inclined to be ignored “since there is no scholarly tradition which requires us to acknowledge them,”27 anagrams seem to be particularly unsettling when wrested away from so many signatures or untethered from a spiritual role in deciphering dreams. Like rhyme, anagram shares the ability to signal the accidental or the arbitrary within poetic form. Consider Christopher Ricks’s explanation of the anagram:

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People often speak as though there were something inherently trivialising about the anagram, as against the rhyme. This, as though there were sound effects and then those other things, unsound effects. Anagrams, it must be granted, may be trivial, flippant, or empty, but then so may be rhymes, or apt alliteration’s artful aid. That “room” rhymes with “doom” is in itself no more arbitrary than that “room” anagrammatises into, or may form a palindrome with, “moor,” or that “doom” may form a palindrome with “mood.” An anagram is no more and no less arbitrary than a rhyme.28

What Du Bellay identifies as the anagram’s revelatory power has a lineage stretching back to the Cratylus, where “the ‘appropriateness’ of a name may often be discovered by examining and rearranging the letters within it.”29 In the arbitrariness of rhyme and anagram, however, Ricks observes what looks like a desacralized variant of a pastime once useful for incantation (rhyme) or dream interpretation (anagram). There is now no use of anagram other than pure pleasure: “doom mood,” indeed. While both Plato and Du Bellay transcend the pleasure principle in insisting the anagrammatic pair (a name and its scrambled version) should reveal something, in Du Bellay’s language, “fitting to that person,” anagram’s import is hard to argue for when it lacks rhyme’s sonic thrills. At once a spectacular signature in invisible ink and the utterly unextraordinary, even inevitable, effect of language, the anagram poses a problem for interpretation and for reading. It is possible, that is, that rhyme and anagram are as silly as any coincidence even as they deliver sonic or sequential effect. Coincidence or not, the anagram seems to be the object of a special vision, “hidden from untrained eyes.”30 But anagram would be not only concealed; it would also largely be “unmentioned,” bereft of a modern “scholarly tradition” à la Frederick Ahl, and also neglected as a poetic object even in its more popular moments. As Alastair Fowler has shown, the anagram “always belonged in part to the unspoken element of the poet’s craft: it was never assimilated to Renaissance rhetoric. . . . The convention was to forbid explicit mention of them.”31 The unmentioned, implicit element “of the poet’s craft,” the anagram can thus signal not just poetic might (as in the 1,022 variations of a single verse above) but also a silent arbitrariness accompanying poetry’s grip on the “possible.” In the twentieth century, this forbidden quality of the anagram remained in view, with anagram’s most famous exponents withholding the publication of their writings on the topic from appearing during their lifetimes. Both Tzara and Saussure’s studies on the anagram only appeared posthumously. And both authors thought, too, that something about the unassimilable quality of anagram contained a truth for poetry. While Tzara located in the poems of François Villon a remarkable system of ana-

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grammatic formulations, Saussure argued that the poem that engaged with anagram revealed anagram’s extraordinary dominance: In a system in which, normally, not a single word can be altered or moved without disturbing several combinations necessary to the anagram— in such a system, one can’t speak of anagrams as of a game which is accessory to the versification. They become the foundation of that versification, whether the poet wishes it or not, whether the critic on the one hand, and the versifier on the other wish it or not. To write lines incorporating an anagram is necessarily to write lines based on that anagram, and dominated by it.32

While Saussure’s story about anagram’s dominance— its strange way of going against the “wishes” of both poet and critic— relies in part about a choice to “incorporate . . . an anagram” in the first place, it also makes the anagram’s apparent triviality a graver matter. One may wish to deploy it lightly, dropping it in gently, but its effect is total: “dominat[ion.]” The power that the poet or the critic might wish to sustain shatters in the face of such force. Writing in a similar vein about Tzara’s discoveries of anagrams in Villon, Charles Dobzynski saw that Tzara’s anagrams amounted to a continuation of the “destructive ray” of Tzara’s Dadaism, this time revealing “under the heavy ash of centuries, the hidden sense, the fire that burned under the cold appearance of enigmatic allusions and cryptograms, encrusted in a text that has been studied a thousand times, interpreted, debated, in all its symbols.”33 In Dobzynski’s gloss of Tzara, the anagram’s discovery does not go against the poet’s wishes; it is, rather, their fulfillment. Indeed, the anagram comes to sound much like the phoenix, promising to live again after it emerges from the ash. In both of these formulations, anagram has the uncanny ability to secure for itself the last laugh, thwarting poet and critic by lying in wait, outlasting centuries of dusty interpretation until, once noticed, it releases its extraordinary fire. It is this quality of endurance, I think, that points to anagram’s most important feature and the topic of this chapter’s subsequent sections: namely, its grip on time. Precisely this quality, moreover, makes this “trivial” form one that transfers triviality from itself to its observer, itself acting instead as tireless timekeeper, as the inverted mirror to the real trivial stuff, to borrow Descartes’s formulation, of human changes of shape: anagram, that is, will outlast us all. As Du Bellay groups anagram together with rhyme, another timekeeper of sorts, he calls to mind what Susan Stewart framed as poetry’s special relationship to time: “When Renaissance poets write of their ‘numbers’ and ‘measures,’ they remind us of the connection between poetry and music . . . but they also recall the ways

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in which poems are constructed models of time.”34 If anagram’s music is slow to emerge from silence— or, as Helen Vendler has shown, if it exclusively “belongs to the world of print, a world in which anagrams were recognized and enjoyed”35— it seems nonetheless to have another temporal model at stake. Implicated in the question of order and number, to be sure, anagram shows a “model of time” that requires time’s rearrangement. It also models a slower kind of time, one obviously unhinged to the temporality of such matters as poetic or critical wishes, human life, or, even, centuries’ worth of effort. Reading, dismembering, rereading: such a model of temporality is one that encompasses time in all its tenses, or as Hallyn writes in his reading of Jean Dorat, “Like all manifestative signs, the anagram can bear on the future, the present, or the past.”36 In such a light, the fact that the most famous exponents of anagrammatic reading (that is, Saussure and Tzara) would have their writings on anagrams published posthumously seems to be the perfect anagrammatic move: such a reading necessitates a kind of meta-anagrammatic reception, requiring either reassembly (as in the case of Jean Starobinski’s presentation of Saussure’s notebooks) or involving an anagrammatic principle of reading at the heart of interpretation itself: locating in a text, from its scraps and cinders, either the author’s signature or something else “fitting” to what is said outright. This double feature of the anagram, its local status and its sweeping, interpretive power, will subtend how Descartes characterizes the problem of thinking, when thinking takes, and even spoils, time. “Posy Transposed”: How Taking Time Takes Place

In a world in which a “trivial . . . change in shape” can spell death, thinkers, if not their thoughts, face a terminal constraint. To think, while having a body, means obeying a fixed clock. And though perhaps we are “always . . . thinking” and such thinking might even exceed the body’s demise, Descartes reminds the reader of the Regulae that thinking itself can threaten to waste time: [I]f every single thing relevant to [a] question in hand were to be separately scrutinized (separatim perlustranda), the lifetime of no man would be enough (nullius hominis vita sufficeret) for the task, for either there would be too many such things or the same things would keep cropping up.37

As Descartes points out that no life, however long, would be enough to conduct such exhaustive scrutiny, he makes a case for methods that speed up slower approaches to problems. This, of course, is the convenience of enumeration, which, for Descartes, means both a simple numbering or

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ordering and a supervisory process that can be streamlined into induction, that which Dalia Judovitz describes as “ideally cancel[ing] itself out, through the rapid succession of deductive arguments subsumed under the guise of intuition . . . foster[ing] the immediacy . . . of intuition.”38 Such a technique would be essential, too, to solving the anagram. Without a systematic approach to uncover or create an anagram, a reader would fall into the trap that awaited George Puttenham, who wrote of his own efforts to search for anagrams, that which he called “posy transposed,” in his Arte of English Poesie (1589); upon finding one anagrammatic variation in a poem, Puttenham complained that “after the first search whereupon this transpose was fashioned, the same letters being by me tossed and tranlaced five hundred times, I could never make any other.”39 What Descartes describes as a lifetime- exceeding problem, what Puttenham portrays as a muscular effort to “toss” and “tranlace” letters “five hundred times,” comes to be exposed as the dual technology within the anagram and its solution: the capacity of the form to both waste and cheat time. As Descartes shows that the cost of slow thinking is a wasted life, as he introduces a method to usher in immediacy, or its “guise,” he cites the anagram as an example where the alternative to painstaking scrutiny is a timesaving technique— conveniently, too, one that culminates in a poetic result. For Descartes, then, the anagrammatic stupor induced by endless “toss[ing] and tranlac[ing]” is replaced with a program unraveling and locating anagrams with less ado: Thus if you wish to construct a perfect anagram by transposing the letters of a name (sic si optimum anagramma conficere velis ex litterarum alicuius nominis transpositione), there is no need to pass from the easy to the difficult, nor to distinguish what is absolute from what is relative, for these operations have no place here (neque enim hic habent locum). It suffices to decide on an order for examining transpositions of letters (sed sufficiet, talem tibi proponere ordinem ad transpositiones litterarum examinandas), so that you never go over the same transpositions twice. . . . [They] should be arranged into definite classes, so that it becomes immediately obvious which ones present the best hope of finding what is sought (ut statim appareat in quibusnam maior sit spes inveniendi quod quaeritur). In this fashion the work will often not be too long, but only child’s play (ita enim saepe non longus erit, sed tantum puerilis labor).40

What Descartes describes here is a streamlined process toward a “perfect anagram,” the kind in which each letter is repeated exactly once. With his technique, Descartes spares the followers of his Regulae the hardship that befell Puttenham, providing a methodical approach with measured

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distribution and orderly technique that will lead to the discovery of anagrams without quite as much suffering. The success of the method is assessed, however, not only in the efficiency of the approach but also in the transformation of the task’s texture: the anagram induces not a long labor (non longus . . . labor) but a childish ( puerilis) one. In Descartes’s description, anagram appears as an example of enumeration and is also a special technique unto itself, one that saves time through enumeration’s efficiency but that also collapses it. That is, the anagram stops being a mere example of enumeration, with its timesaving capacity, and becomes itself a more robust manipulator of time altogether. In Descartes’s anagram, the “childish” poetic object declares itself a trivial shape-shifter but, without requiring so much as a bite of a madeleine, recovers the lost time of childhood in the adult’s present. While certainly some matters deserve timeconsuming scrutiny, time is seldom generous enough to allow any person quite enough.41 Here, no “lifetime” will be sacrificed to the form that could easily waste it; instead, a new temporal landscape emerges, mastered by proper ordering only to cede, in its solution, to an indifference to order as the logic of words and syntax is scrambled from one order into another. In framing the anagram as time- collapsing, even trivial, child’s play, Descartes restores to language, which he elsewhere considers “sure signs of thought,” the wildness of its potential disorder. In this way, the anagram’s threat to waste time— or, when approached properly, to cheat it— points toward a bigger scandal: the words that keep “cropping up” to begin with can be spooled out of other words, too. Writing toward the end of his life, Descartes explained that there is no relationship to be found between and among the letters in a single word: When . . . on hearing that the word “K-I-N-G” signifies supreme power (audiens vocem R-E-X significare supremam potestatem), I commit this to my memory and then subsequently recall the meaning by means of my memory, it must be the intellectual memory that makes this possible. For there is certainly no relationship between the four letters (K-I-N-G) and their meaning (illud certe fit per memoriam intellectualem, cum nulla sit affinitas inter tres illas literas et earum significationem), which would enable me to derive their meaning.42

Descartes arrives here at a now-familiar insight about the arbitrariness of signification: “R-E-X” has little to do with what it spells out, namely, the king or his power, and the three letters that spell the word have “no affinity” (nulla . . . affinitas) joining them together. One language’s “rex” is another’s “basileus,” and still another’s “king.” Through repetition and memory, however, Descartes stops himself from being flummoxed every

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time he sees the letters on the page. If there is an insight about the arbitrariness of “R-E-X” that is forgotten as the power of “intellectual memory” is heightened, as meaning is naturalized, there is also an enduring preoccupation, even as “rex” sheds pretensions to anagrammatic reinvention. For in his description of the repetitions of memory, Descartes shows another timesaving technique: whether or not “rex” rightly always signifies “supreme power,” repetition has meant that he can simply note (denotare) these letters without paralysis— without wasting a lifetime wondering about the legitimacy of “rex.” In this way, he gets around the storied question of whether “rex” rightly (recte) signifies power. Instead, Descartes sidesteps such concerns with a timesaving technique that ties the word’s certainty to its repetition (felicitously supplying the form of the thought’s certainty already lurking in recte’s anagrammatic rearrangement as certe).43 Here, Descartes seems to return to a mode available to anagrammatic verse in separating the letters of “R-E-X” to expose how no affinity binds them to each other or to their meaning. In loosening these letters, Descartes hints toward a “posy transposed” where the letters already contain the possibility of their rearrangement, an insinuation of anagrammatic disarray held together only by the smooth transfer of “pos” from “posy” to “transposition” and, here, in the promised repetition of “R-E-X.” In his practical reading of the arbitrariness of signification, the oddity of written language, and the relationship inter literas, Descartes removes language from either playing a role in causation or from being examined further to foretell twentieth-century debates about the chasm between signifier and signified. Instead, he invites a poetic time in which the “trivial deaths” we might see in a change in shape or arrangement are suspended, with old shapes living alongside the new ones. The letters R-E-X no more produce a king than any other word. While this seems to suggest a universe without speech acts or where they might be intriguingly unreliable, on the one hand, Descartes’s thoughts on “rex” obscure the strangeness of the principle of cause and effect within his description of anagram, on the other. Following Jean Wahl, we find in the “theory of causality in Descartes [that] all that which is in the effect must be in the cause. We arrive then at conceiving of a causality that is no longer temporal; the cause is not anterior to the effect.”44 As Wahl describes the question of sequence when it comes to cause and effect, the question of time in language also appears in the anagram even if Descartes’s explicit writing on the writing of “R-E-X” eschews such a challenge. We wouldn’t say that the “original” arrangement of the text causes the anagrammatic arrangement, but it exists simultaneously, even if it takes a lifetime (or more than one) to locate it— and even if such discovery never occurs. In this way, Wahl’s reading

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that Descartes is not so much an idealist as an “actualist,” locating in the pure present the solution to temporal questions related to being, also becomes a poetic one. Language, the “only sure sign of thought latent in the body,” can defer the rollout of the thought’s signs and can make a single “sure sign” do double— or triple— duty within the anagram itself. Still, the anagram might never be observed— or, à la Kepler, it might be known to exist and never be unraveled. Even so, the anagram stages a making (and unmaking), a poeisis, that might exceed the poet’s efforts, that might show how thought keeps going after or in spite of the lifetime or attention of the thinker, not merely in the guise of interpretation but among the very letters, the very shape, of the text itself. Even as the only “affinity” that the words of Descartes’s “R-E-X” share is the literal and etymological borders ( fines) between letters, the loosened letters tell an intriguing story about the mechanism of anagram and its grip on a thinker’s relationship to time. Anagram, it turns out, operates by staging intellectual memory’s failure followed by its transformative restoration. To create or to solve the anagram, we must suspend the kind of memory that Descartes tells us is operative every time we see “R-E-X” as the sequence signifying “king” and nothing else. In this light, the operation of anagram comes to look like child’s play in another sense. In looking at “K-I-N-G” and not seeing “king,” in exhausting all other possibilities, the anagrammatic reader moves between what intellectual memory is supposed to house through repetition and the stupor of not yet knowing how to think well— and of not yet being a full citizen of language. On the one hand, this is the benefit of the strategy of enumeration. As Judovitz writes, “[t]he idea is to overcome metonymic or serial character of the arguments by moving through them in such a rapid way as to reduce the intervention of memory. The transitional steps of the concatenated arguments mediated by memory are replaced by the immediacy of intuition.”45 Or as John Schuster puts it, “Enumeration . . . will minimize the role of memory . . . and perhaps eliminate it entirely.”46 Enumeration, simply put, saves time and delinks language from the past of its user. In this context, the anagram arrives to take language, that “sure sign of thought,” and show its wealth of possibilities, demonstrated both in the anagram’s threat to waste time and (if approached properly) to cheat its rhythms. It gives a model for how thinking can survive a trivial change in shape, and it rewards the disorientation of child’s play by collapsing childish unknowing with a system meant to save a life’s labor. Only when intellectual memory is allowed to fail, when we remember how not to forget, can an anagram begin to be located or created. That is, while solving the anagram efficiently achieves the temporal collapse that a cultivated intuition fosters, reading the anagram makes it pos-

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sible to imagine “R-E-X” out of order, resequenced with its surroundings to reveal something else entirely— perhaps a king thoroughly unkinged. Such is the principle at play centuries later in Saussure, as Daniel HellerRoazen describes: [T]he temporal shift within Saussure’s anagrammatic thought evinced by the anagram notebooks run counter to another linguistic principle that is fundamental to the teachings of the Course [in General Linguistics]. It is the principle of the “linearity” of speech. In his general linguistics, Saussure accords great importance to this point: “The signifier, being by nature auditory, unfolds in time alone, and it has the characters that it borrows from time: a) it represents an extension, and b) this extension is measurable in one dimension alone: it is a line.” “In discourse,” we read later . . . , “words, by virtue of their sequence, maintain relations founded on the linear character of language, which excludes the possibility of pronouncing two elements at once. . . .” Saussure’s anaphones openly flout both consequences of this principle. Several of their parts, in the unfolding of a poem, may well appear “at once.”47

In Heller-Roazen’s reading of the anagrammatic Saussure lies an analogue to the Cartesian collapse of cause and effect that Wahl locates. The appearance of “two elements at once” brings both the linguistic question of simultaneity and the philosophical question of causation into a shared condensation: the anagram names a form that can wrest signification out of linear time. The “virtue of . . . sequence” gives way to something else in the anagram: time out of joint, a sequence that goes out of sequence or interrupts a sequence that might not have been previously thought of as subject to interruption. In breaking “linearity,” the anagram announces itself as the ur-trope of poetry, at least by Agamben’s definition where “poetry” is defined by enjambment. The anagram, that is, breaks lines— even in the most ordinary, unpoetic objects. In a temporal order capable of systematic disorder or an- order, Descartes’s description of anagram shows an interest in a kind of thinking that disobeys the usual rules— that can think out of time, out of joint, in a scramble, or all at once. In solving the anagram, contra the usual steps, Descartes explains, “there is no need to pass from the very easy to the more difficult, nor to distinguish what is absolute from what is relative, for these operations have no place here” (neque enim hic habent locum).48 Imagining a “here” (hic) where the fundamental rules are suspended and where there is “no place” (neque . . . locum) for the most comfortable and familiar approach, fittingly leaves the many inflections of locus— a place, an occasion, or even a literary passage— suspended.49 Perhaps they cannot

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have a place simply because they occupy multiple places, times, and passages, or because place has been in a strange way obliterated with the deictic “here” lacking “place,” a hic sans locus. But the anagram is not simply an object lesson through which Descartes can show the costs of thinking in time and a strategy of condensation that saves or cheats time. Nor is it merely the threat of wasted time lurking in every word should its letters (or sounds) be pulled apart. It will also come to be the metaprinciple of part of Descartes’s Regulae, or, more simply, a piece of its method. Critical Hopes

In this book’s introduction, I showed how Descartes’s capacious definition of thinking— encompassing loving, hating, and willing, among many other mental faculties— suggested a definition for a type of thinking bound to poetry’s resources that I called a “logic without definition.” In his dismissal above of the affinity between the letters of any given word, Descartes adds another fatal twist to the implosion of definition as in fines or boundaries: even the orderly borders between letters have no special force holding them together or forging a relationship between letters and word, between word and meaning. For twenty-first- century critics, this is old news. For the seventeenth- century philosopher who named speech “the only sure sign of thought hidden within a body,”50 however, the uncertainty of “sure sign[s]” signals something else: a horizon of meaninglessness menacing thinking in time (the threat of thought’s waste) and a challenge to the use of thinking as such (what, after all, is the point of the “resultless . . . enterprise,” as Arendt put it, called “thinking”?). Descartes’s answer to this problem emerges as the anagram transforms from mere example into an internal principle at the center of the Regulae. In this anagrammatic principle, this “lightweight artifice” exposes a way of thinking simultaneously about what thought is after and what comes after thought. Even with no meaningful result or particular depth guaranteed, Descartes’s instruction in anagram will come to look like a sometime-producer of posthumous effects, indexing changes of mind for minds no longer subject to time’s menace, and showing how the real uncertainty within “sure signs of thought” may lead not merely to doubt but to a different critical faculty altogether: hope. When Descartes mentions the anagram, it is to make a case for the efficacy of enumeration and order against time-wasting and sloppy technique, but the anagram soon becomes a broader principle than its relatively brief appearance first implies. In contrast to Descartes’s principles of orderly thought is the threat of the “very disorderly manner” trademarked by astrologers and their ilk whose shoddy observations and con-

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clusions amount to “behaving as if they were trying to get from the bottom to the top of a building at one bound, spurning or failing to notice the stairs designed for that purpose.”51 For astrologers and even bad philosophers, Descartes demonstrates, the “disorderly” approach works as if one “think[s] that truth will spring from their brains like Minerva from the head of Jupiter.”52 Against this “bound[ing]” and “spring[ing],” Descartes offers a system, outlined in particularly sharp relief in this rule and the two that follow, poised to prevent the embarrassment of such jumping. The reader can follow the program Descartes unfolds step by step, as if it were “the thread of Theseus if he were to enter the Labyrinth.”53 With Descartes now cast as Ariadne, the sequence of three rules cites the anagram as a pastime, among others, benefiting from proper method. A strange kind of minotaur, however, awaits the reader just after the invocation of the anagram, at the end of rule 7, and breaks the thread: “It was immaterial,” it turns out, “which of [the rules] (neque multum intererat, utra prior doceretur) we expounded first.”54 In a text citing the anagram as an example without giving an example of anagram, Descartes shows instead how the rules of the anagram are the rules of the Rules. If Descartes’s “method” hearkens to a path for thinking that follows a road (from meta- and odos-, road or path), there are suddenly many paths available. It matters little, too, when one starts traveling. The shock of the anagram here is that it is mentioned as example but turns the rule (and the rules preceding it) into an example of its own transpositional power. Like the Latin cue retrorsum, which could signal to the readers of a poem to look back in the text to locate the anagram they might assemble, Descartes’s instructions in anagram rearrange his own text almost as soon as the term is mentioned.55 The domination of the anagram is so total its choreography becomes contagious: the numerical rules’ reordering shows ordinal numbers made cardinal while the transposition of letters becomes a transposition of principles. Descartes’s surprise maneuver installs the anagram as a methodological principle erupting from within a sequence designed precisely to thwart superstitious or overeager conclusions. The very explication of the rules of the mind’s direction, however, coincides with the production of a new critical affect that one might well associate with so many would-be Jupiters waiting for Minerva’s eruption or with astrologers hawking celestial visions. This is that which Descartes names “the hope of finding what is sought” (spes inveniendi quod quaeritur). This hope, Descartes leads his reader to infer, arrives whenever systematic thinking is called upon to solve a difficult problem. But hope only appears in Descartes’s text once the anagram has been invoked, and it brings with it an appearance no less sudden than Minerva or sidereal insight, with Descartes’s approach mak-

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ing it such that “it suddenly appears in which things there is the best hope of finding what is sought” (ut statim appareat in quibusnam maior sit spes inveniendi quod quaeritur). As if summoning an efficacious affinity between proximate literary passages (recall the question of place or locus), the program to solve the anagram turns the preceding text into an object of anagrammatic form. In installing such an anagrammatic principle, Descartes in no way reduces the importance of systematicity or mental training but instead shows the aspiration of its endgame: a way of thinking so powerful it can collapse time (the promise of enumeration, shown above)56 and so transformative it might license an optimism even in the face of the limits of knowledge.57 In the “sudden” appearance of the “best hope of finding what is sought,” we get the second-best thing to the parthenogenetic appearance of Minerva herself. Now, steps may be rearranged, or the practiced eye may leap over the staircase. The rules can go out of order. In Descartes’s description of the anagram’s solution, hope arrives alongside the twinned phenomena of obviousness and expectation. Following Descartes’s prescribed steps, that is, makes the better solutions more visible, with such solutions better poised to lead to “what is sought.” Hope seems to accompany a training program, then, that would make something not at all obvious (to the first-time student of anagram— or even to such worthy readers as Puttenham and Kepler) suddenly clear, and it harnesses a hope that trivial changes of shape might reassemble themselves into a new meaning. It implies both the honing vision enabled by training and something else. As Ahl writes of the anagram, some anagrams “are left . . . for the reader to deduce. You have to train your eye to detect anagrams, as you must train your ear to catch the sophisticated pun or spoonerism— the latter a limited kind of anagram itself. Something must lead you to suspect that there is more than first meets the eye in the words before you.”58 In Ahl’s description of the reader of anagram, the “hope of finding what is sought” takes the form of a first principle that assumes a nebulous name, that “something” which “must lead you to suspect that there is more.” In this model, the anagram seems like a case study in suspicious hermeneutics (and Ahl’s formula courts such suspicion in making its “something” so mysterious). But as Jonathan Culler writes, commenting on Julia Kristeva’s writing on anagram, “anagrams can be used to produce meaning only if one relies on current interpretive techniques for dealing with whatever this mode of reading discovers. On finding an anagram of rire in Mallarmé’s title Brise marine one can make something of it because one knows what one might do if the word itself appeared in the poem. There must be particular ways of relating anagram to text if any meaning is to result from the operation.”59 What Ahl calls the eye’s “training,” what Culler deems “particular ways of relating” or “interpre-

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tive techniques” merge with a Cartesian “hope of finding what is sought.” To find the thing being sought, the consensus seems to be, one must know what one is seeking. (So much for radical doubt.) Nonetheless, Descartes tries to prevent paranoia from displacing hope in a training that protects the reader by making the anagram easy, that makes hope justifiable rather than the special province of the anxious reader, because training has made it possible to find the thing one is looking for easily and to justify the hope of succeeding in the future. In Descartes’s spes inveniendi quod quaeritur or “hope of finding what is sought,” some old rules are rewritten to allow for a posthumous quest that installs in language the most optimistic case for thought’s ongoingness in spite of the body’s fragility. That is, the anagram’s conquest of time points to another, more concerning, temporal problem: our mortality. If the body’s death represents a “trivial change in shape,” the anagram points toward a method of discovery attuned to thought’s survival. This requires a shift, however, that makes space for disorder— or at a minimum the disorder entailed by anagrammatic shape-shifting. In his Conversation with Burman, Descartes distinguishes between a “way and order of discovering” and “a way of teaching”: Alia est via et ordo inveniendi, alia docendi.60 In the anagram, the education in an ordo inveniendi or “way of discovering” replaces ordo with spes, hope. Thinking in an orderly way, of course, calls to mind Descartes’s most famous slogan: “[T]he proposition I am thinking, therefore I exist is the first and most certain of all which occurs to anyone who philosophizes in an orderly way.”61 Descartes’s instructions for solving the anagram provide a system, to be sure, but he openly defies a certain kind of order when he scrambles the rules and relocates a philosophical and numerical order to a literary one. Ordo inveniendi will be replaced with a new strategy that splits order from discovery. On the one hand, spes inveniendi, hope of discovery, steps in where there might be nothing at all to find. On the other, Descartes proposes a good-enough solution that will spare the reader the loss of a lifetime wasted decoding an anagram that might not even exist. It’s enough, he says, “to set forth a way to examine the transpositions of letters” (proponere ordinem ad transpositiones litterarum examinandas). More an ordo transponendi than an ordo (or ars) inveniendi, this new strategy amounts to a humbler pastime: the mere arrangement of letters. With language the exclusive “sure sign of thought” that the body affords, the anagram at once renders that sign less sure and models thought’s mutations, ongoingness, and its indefinite boundaries. The anagrammatic formulation itself makes of “sure signs of thought” something as uncertain as our speculation about thinking after the death of the body, situated as we are with no capacity to ask follow-up questions or to verify what

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signs reveal. This at once reaffirms the arbitrary nature of language and exposes, too, how Descartes’s claims for language’s “sure signs” fumble when they encounter the problem of writing, that which Melehy describes as revealing “precisely the certainty of thinking that finds itself assaulted by writing, because of the time that the latter requires as well as the instability that it visits on the thought that strives to be autonomous.”62 But in locating an instance of a “sure sign of thought” that can be rearranged to reveal an alternate or even simultaneous thought, Descartes gives a model of the retroactive alteration of a way, or method, of thinking— ordo or via— whose expression may be altered retroactively. That is, Descartes’s anagram and the scrambled rule-making it conveys model thought’s ongoingness and enshrine trivial changes of shape as a companion to timesaving systematicity. If we accept that there is something to be learned about “posy” from its transposition, if the anagram is central to some forms of poetic power, then perhaps another critical opportunity or conclusion lies on the horizon when it comes to our favorite straw man, Descartes, with orderly transposing amounting to a practice hopeful that there might be something to be found, including proof of thought’s endurance. Descartes’s anagrammatic choreography— making his three rules produce meaning no matter how they are arranged— precedes a rule that announces a severe limitation, namely, that of the mind’s capacity to know. The point of this next rule is to make plain, as the Discourse does, that with proper method, anyone can come to know all that anyone is capable of knowing. With practice, that is, anyone can get better at learning the scope of the knowable, how to discern “when order is absolutely necessary, and when it is merely useful.”63 With this rule in place, the following one can illuminate, accordingly, a multiplicity of paths, with Ariadne’s threads returning but now as mere game: [T]he message of this Rule is that we must not take up the more difficult and arduous issues immediately, but must first tackle the simplest and least exalted arts, and especially those in which order prevails— such as weaving and carpet-making, or the more feminine arts of embroidery, in which threads are interwoven in an infinitely varied pattern. Numbergames and any games involving arithmetic, and the like, belong here. . . . [S]ince nothing in these activities remains hidden . . . they present in the most distinct way with innumerable instances of order, each one different from the other, yet all regular.64

As with the opening of the Discourse, with which this book began, Descartes makes complexity accessible, here showing how an “infinitely varied pattern” becomes “simplest.” And as in the previous chapter, Descartes de-

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fers complaint (this time without stealthily complaining in private). Here, instead, his consolation is simpler; it is, indeed, child’s play: “Numbergames and any games  . . . belong here.” Similarly, the textile arts that seemed to have been thrown out along with Ariadne’s care and attention are restored to importance; those ordinary textiles that rest on the floor or on our laps become the “first” task to be addressed. “Infinite . . . variation” belongs to what the eye is trained to take in from the start. An early version of the clear and distinct seems to appear here, too, in the (literal) fabric of the Rules. Attached to a training in simplicity, where everyone goes through Ariadne or Penelope’s schooling on the road to more sophisticated analysis, Descartes is not so naive as to think that “thought” can be captured in either a rug or in writing, but the traces of thinking— of “a continuous and wholly uninterrupted sweep of thought” (continuo et nullibi interrupto cogitationis motu perlustrare)65 appear in the “disorder” that the infinity of woven patterns provides. Against the tedium of a search for anagram without method, where “every single thing relevant to [a] question in hand were to be separately scrutinized” (separatim perlustranda), Descartes has at last a strategy that shows thought’s ongoingness. It is a triumph so complete that “nothing . . . remains hidden,” and in this revelatory anagrammatic principle lies a reason to hope. Thought’s Boldness

As Descartes associates the solution of the anagram together with the “hope of finding what is sought,” he gives an alternative critical affect to doubt. As the anagram, in turn, provides a model for saving time and then effects the transposition of the Regulae, it reorders the clock. In this way, the anagram becomes an ideal model for a form that withstands— that endures— a “trivial . . . change of shape.” However, the anagram points not merely toward the “hope” with which it is entangled in the Regulae but also to that which Descartes thinks of as hope’s extremity: boldness. In “boldness,” the temporal work of collapsing and reordering time confronts its obvious purpose: managing time’s shortage, if only for the body. As Descartes explains how boldness works, his explanation indicates a model for thinking in and against time that culminates in sacrifice. Through this lens, the form of the anagram can in turn be reimagined as securing a representation of thought’s immortality by giving it an immortal body. In Descartes’s description of hope and boldness in the Passions, the hopeful interpretation of the anagram takes one bold step forward and makes the search for anagram a bid for immortality. When Descartes talks about how his approach to solving complex problems like the anagram offers the “best hope,” it chimes with his account

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of hope and boldness in the Passions. There, as if reaching back to Aquinas and Aristotle, hope mixes “joy . . . with desire” in “a disposition of the soul to be convinced (se persuader) that what it desires will come about (aviendra).”66 Persuading oneself to hopefulness is no easy task, though, for fear (la crainte)— which, conversely, makes “the fulfillment of . . . desire . . . seem difficult”67— can coexist with such hope. When hope prevails over fear, it expels the fear and can even change into “‘confidence’ (securité ) or ‘assurance’ (assurance),” vanquishing the uncertain “agitation” of desire and effectively producing a kind of hope that loses its original definition of “a particular movement of the spirits, consisting of the movement of joy mixed with that of desire.”68 As Descartes shows how hope’s “nature changes” (elle change de nature),69 he describes a process in which the effort to persuade oneself (se persuader) sheds any sign of difficulty and instead appears as confidence or assurance. Notably, Descartes gives two possibilities— either securité or assurance— for hope’s possible transformed form. While what he provides in these terms are synonyms, they are also simply transformations of the same root: securus from se, without, and curus, care. In invoking this duo, Descartes shows both how there are multiple forms that a bolder hope might take and how these forms are also trivial arrangements of an original carelessness, of a securus that changed through time and, in the case of assurance, acquired a prefix along the way. In the etymological path that changes the shape of securus into its later forms, there is a carelessness suitable to the “trivial changes of shape” common to both anagram and to all forms of extension, subject as they are to change and, in our own case in particular, to mortality. But the transition to security, to an enhanced hope without any accompanying fear, is the precondition of hope’s braver cousin: the kind of boldness that allows transformation without hesitation. It is this boldness that Descartes situates as a hopefulness in the face of hopelessness. While security comes about from confidence, life’s circumstances, unsurprisingly, can create mixed moods to match mixed situations. Considering boldness, then, Descartes writes: It must be observed that the object of boldness (la hardiesse) is some difficulty which usually results in anxiety or even despair. . . . It is essential, however, that we should hope for success in attaining the goal, or even that we should be assured of it, in order to tackle vigorously the difficulties we encounter. But the goal is different from the object; for we could not be assured of something and also be desperate about it at the same time. Thus, when the Decii threw themselves (les Decies se jettoient) against the enemy and ran to certain death, the object of their boldness was the difficulty of preserving their lives during this action, and about this difficulty they felt

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only despair, since they were certain to die. But their goal (leur fin) was to inspire (animer) soldiers by their example and to cause them to win the victory (leur faire gagner la victoire), and they had some hope of achieving that; or else they had a further goal of gaining glory after their death (ou bien aussi leur fin était d’avoir de la gloire après leur mort), and of this they were assured.70

In the mixed feeling of boldness described here emerges one certain outcome (that is, death) with two possible ends ( fins). What the Decii hope for in Descartes’s imagination is either to become so inspiring as to impel their followers to possible victory or to have posthumous glory. Descartes’s presentation here lets us imagine the Decii as either hopeful or confident. In the former model, hope accompanies an exemplary potential victory. In the other, confidence heads toward glory. As Descartes considers just what it might feel like to number among the Decii, encountering the despair of certain death, he comes up with an interesting formula to describe the passion required by bold action that cuts through despair. It is in Descartes’s “or also” (ou bien aussi) that the end of life starts to wobble, for Descartes has shown in the one end (“the goal . . . to inspire” [leur fin . . . d’animer] ) and the other (“their goal . . . to have glory” [leur fin . . . d’avoir de la gloire] ) that these ends are not mutually exclusive. Here bien aussi has an additive force, an also sometimes translated as “or else further,” softening the sequence that positions “or” next to “too”; that is, there is another possibility for the ends under discussion. But this discussion of motives— the one end or also the other end— reveals more than a narrator for the Passions who is open to speculating about the motives of some especially courageous dead Romans. In describing two ends that seem positioned in relationship to each other as alternative (the Decii wanted this or they wanted that) and as concurrent (perhaps both of these ends were desired simultaneously), Descartes ends up creating an “end” that goes beyond mere ending. That is, his “or also” opens up the possibility of a fin that succeeds the fin of life. The hope of the Decii has the felicitous effect of reaching beyond one fin to find another one entirely— one that breaks out of lived sequence into immortal honor. In such a high-stakes political scene, Descartes finds two equally good endings; if hope is “joy” mixed with desire, the objects of hope are surprisingly flexible. In this, I think, lies an analogue to Descartes’s classification of anagrammatic procedure as attached to the “hope of finding what is sought.” What is sought, that is, is another end. When Descartes pointed to “R-E-X” as an example of the arbitrariness of words, he stated that the letters lacked affinitas to join them together. Here, in a hopefulness that characterizes an approach both to narrative and to ana-

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gram, Descartes’s most Montaignian moment diverges from Montaigne’s path. While Montaigne’s first effort in his famed Essais would show how “by diverse means we arrive at the same end” (pareille fin), Descartes shows how a single method leads to multiple fins. The affinity he rejects in the letters that form “king” are restructured to imagine a single hope whose outcomes may be satisfied variously. With both ends equally satisfying (here, bien aussi flips to aussi bien, meaning equally or just as well), Descartes seems to show how hope can morph into confidence. It is not that both ends are identical or that distinctions don’t matter but that confidence, that step past hope into security, is free from worries enough to allow for (at least) two possible outcomes to exist side by side, both revealing something about what would otherwise be opaque: what the Decii thought when they rolled the dice and ran to their fate. While Descartes chooses an example of sacrifice and heroism, he also offers up boldness as an interpretive model whose strategy resembles that which is required for the anagram’s solution; boldness, that is, accommodates multiple meanings both simultaneously and alternatively. That the instructions for solving the anagram expressly involve hope, the particular hope of “finding what is sought,” assumes an additional optimism— a security that there is something to be sought and not mere impossibility. This celebration of the possible, of an emotional security yoked at once to procedure and to a belief in its outcome, makes the protocol of looking for anagram described above no longer seem like another tawdry chapter in the hermeneutics of suspicion. Instead, such boldness reflects a faith in the ongoingness of thinking, conveyed as well in the passive formula “what is sought,” where the thinker need not be specified for the operation to matter. In the case of the Decii, what survives their death is our thinking about their thinking. In revisiting their old story, we see in their boldness an example for our own, more cautious, presumptions: we dare to speculate about the objects of the Decii’s desire, to conclude from the elements that comprise their action the answer to the unknowable question about why they did it. Descartes’s fleeting peek into “other minds” comes up with uncertainty but also something else: speculation. We arrive not so much at that Kantian motto “Sapere aude!”— “Dare to know!”— but a humbler one: dare to consider. In making his case for the multiple reasons undergirding boldness, in making the softer model of hope necessary to unscramble the existing order of letters in the words we already know, Descartes finds a language to describe what language promised him all along: a sure sign of thought. In this case, it just happens to hint toward thought’s immortality. Separate from fear of deception or a systematic skepticism is a hope that stands against doubt and that bends time: if language was “a sure sign of thought

After Thoughts


latent in the body,” in other words, Descartes offers a way of reading that withstands the body’s destruction, leaving a monument to the departed body and to the thinker whose thoughts remain the object of scrutiny and debate thanks to bold (and hopeful) speculations. At the intersection of hope and boldness, in the sacrifice of the Decii and in the posthumous interpretations of their motives, there is language that exceeds the trivial changes of shape to which all mortals are subject and that makes the matter of understanding those old signs look much like the tactics of the anagram’s hopeful decipherer. In this way of reading, signs of thinking are dressed up in many trivial shapes of bodies, conjured into thought, as if one example, understood a new way, can “animate”— or lend thought or soul— to another. Such continuous animation is already written into the body-preserving practice Descartes credits to God, not to mention the article of faith entailed by the immortal soul itself. In Descartes’s Third Meditation, divine occasionalism prevents the meditator from vanishing off the face of the earth a moment after having existed: A lifespan can be divided into countless parts, each completely independent of the others, so that it does not follow from the fact that I existed a little while ago that I must exist now, unless there is some cause which as it were creates me afresh at this moment (nisi aliqua causa me quasi rursus creet ad hoc momentum)— that is, which preserves me. For it is quite clear to anyone who attentively considers the nature of time that the same power and action are needed to preserve anything at each individual moment of its duration as would be required to create that thing anew if it were not yet in existence. . . . I must therefore now ask myself whether I possess some power enabling me to bring it about that I who now exist will still exist a little while from now. . . . I am nothing but a thinking thing. . . . I experience no such power.71

Descartes’s view of time here makes the body’s existence look like a miracle for making it from one minute to the next. Combined with Descartes’s account on boldness, however, this passage seems to offer the closest model for the poetics of the anagram, which here looks like the poetics of God’s creation, too. In Descartes’s stress on the need to be “create[d] afresh” (rursus creet) lies the clearest statement of what it means either to write or to read an anagram. While the word rursus itself sometimes cues the reader to locate an anagram by reversing the preceding text, here its poetic function is summoned simply by its etymology. From reversus, meaning returned or reversed, Descartes’s rursus creation contains as clear a theory of poetic renewal as a single word can: to re-verse

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is also to turn again to verse. In its imperative to create afresh, the anagram “dominates,” to borrow Saussure’s formulation, in part because it makes its discoverer or its author assume the creative power of God.72 In this power, to create afresh, to renew poetic body, the reader or writer of anagram comes to look like the Decii, too, in one respect. For if it takes a lifetime to make sure a problem has been properly “scrutinized” ( perlustranda), and if “a continuous and wholly uninterrupted sweep of thought” (continuo et nullibi interrupto cogitationis motu perlustrare)73 is required to solve problems as vexing as the anagram, then to think in this way— this perlustrare— means to summon the Decii’s tactics: from perlustro, to sweep or patrol, to illuminate, and, in the end, to sacrifice. Understanding the succession of our thoughts as one sacrifice after another, a continuous sacrifice, in fact, makes the anagram the perfect mediator between sacrificial thought and creative poetry.74 The bold sacrifice of thought renews the anagrammatic poetic body. To ask about poetry’s body is not new. Jahan Ramazani has shown how poetry defines itself in relation, with poetry’s engagement with theory working to “mak[e] poetry . . . loo[k] concrete,” with poetry counting among its qualities the ability to make “the material features of language into ends in themselves.”75 In this way, “poetry’s jostling with and against other genres”76 is in some sense not only a question of genre but of a distinction of type between mind, soul, and spirit, on the one hand, and body and materiality, on the other. In his Critique of Judgment, Kant would point out that “in all the free arts there is yet a need for something in the order of a constraint, or, as it is called a mechanism. (In poetry, for example, it is correctness and richness of language, as well as prosody and meter.) Without this, the spirit, which in art must be free and alone animates the work, would have no body at all and would evaporate completely.”77 Kant’s description of the spirit’s “evaporation” returns us to the problem with which this chapter began: knowing what happens to thinking when there is no body housing the thinker, when the thinker can no longer deploy “sure signs of thought latent in the body” because of the body’s mortality. In deeming language’s “richness . . . as well as prosody and meter” poetry’s “body,” Kant mobilizes a metaphor as he describes art’s requisite discipline. But Kant’s particular concern with leaving the “body”-enabling conditions of poetry takes down the principle of “a free art” without “constraint” because of the transformation to which art would be subject were rules to vanish: not only would there be no body; a “free art” would also entail “convert[ing] it from labour into mere play.”78 Enter the anagram, that puerilis labor, childish labor, that gets to have it both ways: a body that can be dismembered and remembered at will, a playfulness that also entails the dignity of labor.

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Descartes, however, managed well enough nearly a hundred years before Kant’s arrival. He could easily have thought about language in relationship to body through the study of Quintilian, who explained “the general rhythm” of the periodic sentence as precisely a matter of body. If we isolate a single phrase from a sentence, it, too, lacks body as well as a full meaning: “For example,” Quintilian wrote, “O callidos homines is complete in itself, but is useless if removed from the rest of the sentence, as the hand, foot or head if separated from the body.”79 Quintilian’s scrappy phrase points toward a principle about rhetoric and urges the reader toward the expression of “clear and intelligible” thoughts, but the anagram makes that body trivial— separating hand and foot and turning them into quite something else— and likewise imparts a principle that prevents total “evaporation,” to look ahead to Kant. The danger of rule-breaking across these centuries of rhetoric and prosody alike is a loss of intelligibility. Still, Descartes could just as easily have stumbled upon the idea— and seen its particular anagrammatic potential— in Lucretius’s De Rerum natura. It was a text Descartes knew well enough to quote.80 Though mechanism trumped atomism when it came to Cartesian physics, he may well have been reacting to a Lucretian notion, especially since “the most likely contender for the notion of space that Descartes has in mind is the Epicurean one.”81 But the letters that made up any word were atomic enough for Lucretius and Descartes alike to note that letters, those small and indivisible units making up a word, might be rearranged meaningfully. When Lucretius likens atoms to letters, he underscores the threat of disorder, the multiplicity of readings, of any text at all; as Gerard Passannante puts it, when “the poem reflects upon its own material status as an object in time and space . . . suddenly the text in one’s hands begins to unsettle. If letters are like atoms . . . , then the text itself is vulnerable to the very physics the poet describes.”82 When Descartes cites Lucretius directly, he plucks a couple of particularly florid lines from the poem: iuvat integros accedere fontis / atque haurire, iuvatque novos decerpere flores, or “It is a pleasure to approach and drink from fresh springs; it is a pleasure to pluck new flowers.”83 Had Descartes quoted just four lines earlier in the poem, though, he would have located an instance rivaling his own account of the Decii in the production of a double motive. [P]ercussit thyrso laudis spes magna meum cor, / et simul incussit suavem mi in pectus amorem / Musarum, Lucretius writes, “[T]he high hope of fame has struck my mind with its thyrsus and at the same time has struck into my heart sweet love of the Muses.”84 Hope (spes) of glory, praise, or fame (laudis) and love of the muses (amorem Musarum) strike simultaneously— potentially treacherous for an Epicurean who might have a firmer grip on ataraxian orthodoxy were he to abandon desire for poetic renown and passion for muses altogether. While

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“hope of fame” strikes the heart desirous of poetic immortality, Descartes is no poet.85 But he grasps nonetheless that, in their material composition and recomposition, anagrams hold the possibility of securing a body for immortal thought. The sure signs of thought now survive the thinker’s departure. In the simultaneity of the anagram, Descartes achieves a fix for the temporal problem of “trivial changes” that threaten to leave thought without a body, in Kant’s sense. For if organized language, as in prosody or rhetoric, gives “body,” or composes one as in the collaboration of so many atomic-like letters, anagram in particular opens up a special possibility for celebrating trivial change— in poetic form and in the changing mind. Considering the relationship between anagram and allegory, Linda Munk writes that “anagrams, unlike allegory, have no temporality.”86 Unlike allegory, that is, anagrams do not have “allegory’s unbreachable temporal gap between the literal meaning of the text, and the prior text that it signifies and looks back to. Anagrams . . . are not allegorical, nor do they signify a prior text.”87 In Munk’s argument that anagram’s have “no temporality” and “do [not] signify a prior text,” there seems to be a solution to the riddle Descartes sets out when he explains that thinking is neither present nor absent, just eternal; as he writes to Arnauld in 1648, “it seems necessary that the mind should always be actually engaged in thinking; because thought constitutes its essence, just as extension constitutes the essence of a body. Thought is not conceived as an attribute that can be present or absent like the division of parts, or motion in a body.”88 Descartes distinguishes here between essence and mere attribute. In doing so, he reminds his reader that the mind’s essential quality, thinking, cannot, by definition, “be present or absent.” In light of the anagram’s “dominating” power and the threat that it may evade detection, this “sure sign of thought” becomes an unsure sign of the mind’s essence, of a thing that is neither signaled nor not signaled because it is merely what it is. And here, in the figure of the anagram, what thinking is begins to look like the second-order goal of the Decii: multiple, hopeful, simultaneous or alternate, reaching across time, surviving the body’s burial through alternate embodiment. Scrambled Egos

That the anagram can appear anywhere, can “dominate” verse or bring back the dead to life, might run the risk of turning everything to anagram, all sentences suddenly threatening to disclose hidden poetic morsels. Though debates about the status of poetry would oscillate between proclaiming poetry’s death and its ubiquity,89 Descartes had no need to

After Thoughts


worry about enjoying poetry’s influence, having freed himself from its seductions in pursuit of truth, as he narrates in his Discourse. This meant, though, that he could use poetry’s methods when it suited his own or he could simply stumble into them: he did not need to guard too carefully against it, providing as it did a kind of background music to his cultural formation. To notice an anagram, Descartes taught, one needed to train the eye and the mind to rearrange letters. To notice a poetics in prose, to see how poetry had not been killed at all but mobilized, he might have added, one would need to train the ear as well. That poetry would be one way of noticing or thinking or considering would mean seeing something familiar and finding it in something new. It would mean “consideration” in its celestial and etymological sense. Or as Ahl puts it in his writing on anagram, Up in the sky, hidden from untrained eyes, are the mythical shapes of the constellations. One, the Dolphin, Ovid describes in Fasti 2.79 as “etched in stars (caelatum) upon the sky.” God (or Nature) has made the sky something other than a confused and hidden covering for things. It is a masterwork that Prometheus creates man to contemplate. Man is created in the divine image so he can contemplate the divine, in the Metamorphoses as in the Old Testament. At the same time, the constellations etched upon the sky are concealed from the eyes of the uninformed. “That’s not a dolphin, it’s just a clump of stars,” our apostle of the explicit will observe. “You are reading into something that is not there.”90

In Descartes’s anagrammatic lessons, we learn that the threat of “reading into something” recedes somewhat as the virtue of boldness allows for something to be there or not be there, without amounting to a threat simply because it can’t be known. In such a hopeful reading, the mere “clump” can be read as something more. We can see in it an occasion for consideration and generosity and read in its stars the genres that help teach us to think. The author may long have been dead, but here we see the life of the signs of thought that once emerged from his body; we consider them, and we approach them generously. As a conclusion of sorts to a book that has tried to unfold what thinking has to do with poetry in Descartes, the anagram stands as a figure both for the negotiations of thinking against the finitude of time, and it also stands for the strange task of interpretation. As Bachner explains, “Anagrammatic work points to language not as a transparent medium of communication, but rather as a protean material reservoir that depends on the flexibility and malleability of its elements. If language is duplicitous— not other to itself, but other to our linguistic routines and expectations— then difference lies at the very heart of language and

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questions the possibility of linguistic ownership.”91 With “the possibility of linguistic ownership” up for grabs, the anagram also points toward a kind of influence that moves, malleably, between genres and generations. In this way, it is no surprise to see Descartes reworking poetry or poets reworking Descartes. While poetry and poetics provided an accidental environment for Descartes’s philosophy and a way of reading that exposes the compromises in feeling and form that thought needs to take, Descartes’s philosophy did not so much “slash poetry’s throat,” to borrow Boileau’s alleged accusation, but find itself emerging from the throats of poets who found in it a way of thinking fit for verse. As Durs Grünbein writes: “Look more closely, and the transformations of the poetic ‘I’ will appear strikingly similar to those of the Cogito-‘I’ in the history of phenomenology.”92 Among the most obvious heirs to Descartes— or at least the most intriguing ones— were not only the long line of philosophers who came after him but the poets who took from his work a source of inspiration. If Descartes did not murder poetry, killing whatever spirit poetry had by introducing geometric method where it did not belong, his philosophy was doubtless an event for poetry— and not so much atmospheric as meteoric. I want neither to ask how Descartes becomes an influence or atmosphere nor how he may have conspired in another murder, however. Rather, I want to ask how the Descartes whose anagrammatic sensibility I have outlined above lets us consider, alongside the poets, how some thinking takes time. How, that is, does Descartes himself appear anagrammatically after the death of his body and the transmission of his thoughts? One answer to this question appears in the wildly exuberant personification of Descartes in Samuel Beckett’s poem on time, “Whoroscope” (1930). There, Descartes is the poem’s speaker. In Beckettian fashion, his undertaking is rank: he smells and times an egg and finishes with a “ripe turd.” Here, time is wasted, and time is waste. Thought is so ruined by time, comes with so much embodiment (so much for the sanitizing effects of the mind-body split . . .) that excretion is included. As if showing the mutual relationship between poetry and philosophy, “Whoroscope” arrives with footnotes (themselves a kind of detritus at the end of the poem), several of them showing their indebtedness to the biographies of Descartes which Beckett is thought to have been reading at the time.93 In Beckett’s “Whoroscope” also linger intimations of historical fact (and rumor): Descartes, for instance, “kept his own birthday to himself so that no astrologer could cast his nativity.”94 Beckett whirls through a poem that invokes scientific luminaries Galileo and Harvey alongside bodily excess and merges high and low, all while its egg timer is ticking because “René Descartes . . . liked his omelette made of eggs hatched from eight to ten days; shorter or longer under the hen and the result  . . . is disgusting. . . . The Shuttle

After Thoughts


of a ripening egg combs the warp of his days.”95 In Beckett’s first footnote, the Descartes of poetry is back at the games of the Regulae: lived experience— a full life and just the ordinary instants involved in waiting for an omelet— takes the form of weaving, the warp and weft of the games that prepare a speaker to manage the time of thought here managing the time of the poem. But Beckett’s poem puts into Descartes’s throat Augustine’s old twist: Fallor ergo sum! or “I err therefore I am.” In collapsing the hour, from Latin hora, into the tawdry “whore,” in replacing systematic thinking with error, Beckett delivers not so much a wayward thesis about destiny but a blinding finish that stops the reader or astrologer from astrologizing. In the sky is no ripe material for celestial forecasting, just the speaker’s deathbed plea: Oh Weulles spare the blood of a Frank Who has climbed the bitter steps, (René du Perron . . . !) and grant me my second starless inscrutable hour. (94– 98)96

From a “second” that works as both ordinal adjective and temporal noun, Beckett delivers an “hour” that rings with the speaker’s attempt to give himself more than his “second” chance but his third and fourth, too; that is, as the homophone “our” chimes with his plea for another “hour,” the speaker’s self-referential epithet, his exclamatory proper name, and the proliferation of singular pronouns “me my” produce an “our” through their willful abundance. In Beckett’s Descartes, the request for a “second / starless inscrutable hour” makes the sky a blank. Here, there are no constellations to be found, and, as if a starless sky still ran the risk of imparting destiny or meaning, the hour is also “inscrutable,” unable to be searched or prodded or interpreted to produce meaning. Then again, it might just be “inscrutable” in that that which resists scrutiny or examination is at its root scruta or trash. Picking through the stuff of a life, Beckett finds Descartes’s scraps, his desperation, and the joke he does not make either of the “homme-lette”97 or of the implicit request for more time, which is that the answer to “What’s that?” is never (with apologies) un oeuf (enough). In his work on the question of writing in relationship to the Cartesian subject, Melehy points out how “[w]riting . . . gives way to thinking.”98 Noting how the Discourse’s “anonymity . . . contributes to the ostensible solidification of the philosophical subject . . . the name of Descartes, the man, is effaced and decomposed, only to turn up in another form. This dismemberment and decomposition of the signifier of the subject constitute in their turn— and in their fiction— a signifier of the authoritative philosophi-

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cal subject, which now subsists in a realm that would transcend particularity. Descartes’s effaced but discernible signature on the self-portrait of the Discourse marks the institution of the philosophical subject.”99 Melehy’s observations about the character of the modern subject seem here to extend to the anagrammatic possibility of a poetic one. We could say just as easily, that is, that Descartes’s “discernible signature” and “self-portrait” are in fact not the philosophical subject but, in Beckett’s case, the poetic one. Scattered and re-created through the smattering of colloquialisms and allusions that make Descartes feel like a companion to both the who’s who of the seventeenth century that Beckett names and to Beckett’s fellow modernists, Descartes’s “effaced but discernible signature” appears here in a new configuration where his “ego” is decidedly scrambled, mouthed as the clock continues, even as his own time has run out. But this model is not the old one of influence where “strong poets read only themselves”100 but a different sort entirely where emulation or egoic competition is not at stake. With “posy transposed,” a bolder kind of model is available that brings poetry out of the atmosphere in animating thought’s poetic body.

A Painful Feeling of Strangeness”

[ ePiLogue ]

To talk about thinking seems to me so presumptuous that I feel I owe you a justification. hannah are nDt, “Thinking and Moral Considerations”1

In 1909, Irving Elgar Miller, formerly a student of John Dewey, wrote a book called The Psycholog y of Thinking. At its outset, he observed that “[w]e all know in a general way what we mean by thinking.”2 If thinking in general was the object of a kind of common knowledge, Miller explained, it nonetheless bore repeating that it was an important part of consciousness, intricately connected to attention and to a choreography of control wherein the thinker’s work consisted of the arrangement of ideas and judgments. Yet, only a few sentences into his book, Miller shrugs before a task at once so obvious and so difficult: “We shall not at this time attempt to define thinking.”3 A few years later, Miller’s teacher was happy to take up the charge and define the term once and for all: “Thinking,” Dewey wrote in his 1910 How We Think, “is defined accordingly as that operation in which present facts suggest other facts (or truths) in such a way as to induce belief in the latter upon the ground or warrant of the former. We do not put beliefs that rest simply on inference on the surest level of assurance.”4 Dewey describes an irresistible ripple effect, one apparent fact inducing another and then another into view, hinted at— perhaps in spite of himself— in the contagion of sureness spreading from “surest” to “assurance.” Thinking was so seductive, indeed, that Dewey defined it as a universal pastime even in spite of the somersaults it required. “The exercise of thought,” Dewey wrote, “is in the literal sense of that word, inference; by it one thing carries us over to the idea of, and belief in, another thing. It involves a jump, a leap, a going beyond what is surely known to something else accepted on its warrant. Unless one is an idiot, one simply cannot help having all things and events suggest other things not actually present, nor can one help a tendency to believe in the latter on the basis of the former.”5 Not only do we, as Miller

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puts it, “all know in a general way” what thinking is, all of us, minus the occasional idiot, are doing it most, if not all, of the time. We cannot help it. Dewey and his idiot are helpful allies in talking about thinking, for what Dewey describes as that process everyone exempt from idiocy “simply cannot help having” itself points directly to something confounding about thinking. Even as we define it, observe it, experiment with (or on) it, or even photograph it happening, thinking renders us helpless to halt its incursions. As Dewey writes, thinking carries us over; notably, too, we do not carry it. “It involves a jump, a leap, a going beyond.” In this account, we ourselves are not identified as the jumpers and leapers. And it is only the idiot whose stupefaction affords him the unusual agency of forgoing an otherwise universal sentence: submission to torrents of thoughts, to tendencies to infer, and, most embarrassing of all, to the perpetual hallucination of “other things not actually present.” The pragmatic assurance about thinking’s process situates experience over idealism and makes an attempt to hush the history and embarrassment of metaphysical pastimes, but it does not shake thinking’s spookiness. What are those things “not actually present” that thinking conjures? Dewey’s choice of words for the activity of thinking— “The exercise of thought is, in the literal sense of that word, inference . . . it carries us over”— summons a strange shorthand, though. Perhaps in spite of himself, it acknowledges not only the etymology of “infer” as it appeals to “the literal sense of that word,” but it also summons another, more exact cognate for “carrying over”: metaphor. Indeed, metaphor more precisely carries “over” or goes “beyond” than the word “inference,” whose etymology so pleases Dewey, for the jumping, leaping thought hiding under a sedated cognate more fittingly reminds us how the figurative turns the dead letter alive again or brings the absent back into presence.6 In “the literal sense of that word, inference” lurks both its shared roots and its hidden figuration. The very thinking we cannot help but be carried by might have something to do with poetry, or at least with one of its most beloved tropes. Dewey’s jumping and leaping brings to mind the question with which this book began— that is, Arendt’s question— which could apply to thinking and poetry equally: “How can anything relevant for the world we live in arise out of so resultless an enterprise?”7 In Arendt’s classification of thinking as “resultless” lies an implicit rejection of Dewey’s exuberant leaps and bounds— and, by extension, of Heidegger’s well-known Sprung, which would locate a “leap” from thinking to being. For if jumping and leaping lead from thought to thought, dragging the thinker from one thing to the next, a “resultless enterprise” dispenses entirely with such commotion. At its root, to be “resultless” means not to jump back at all, to lack a “result”— stemming from re-, back, and from saltus, the past participle

“A Painful Feeling of Strangeness”


of salio, to jump or to leap— claiming a buoyant victory. To thinking, Arendt does not award such elasticity. To claim no “results” seems to halt the unrelenting train of thought everyone hastens to recognize as “thinking” even as few bother to define it. In its resultless guise, thinking seems an especially frail enterprise, too, lacking not only results but also its cognate resilience. Issuing resultlessness, instituting helplessness, the alternative to Dewey’s compulsive thinking hardly seems to have to do with anything we would call “relevance.” And surely, if it doesn’t spring back and issue “results,” how could something appear to be relevant, literally lifted up (from levo), to assuage our concerns or simply conform to our expectations of what is pertinent? In Arendt’s hands, the commotion of thinking slows down all other activity. When Arendt asks what thinking is good for, then, this usually amounts to not especially much— “For thinking as such does society little good.”8 Arendt’s thinking, moreover, stops and collects itself, to borrow her formulation, because its “chief characteristic is that it interrupts all doing.”9 “The moment we start thinking on no matter what issue,” she writes, “we stop everything else, and this everything else, again whatever it may happen to be, interrupts the thinking process; it is as though we moved into a different world.”10 Far from Dewey’s leporine movements, Arendt’s thinking makes the hiatus the thinker’s hallmark. It may be haunting in the way it makes the absent present, but its power lies in the success of its still transition “into a different world.” The problem for Arendt, though, is that neither an abiding love of thinking nor good thinking seem in any way guaranteed by its protocols. In its capacity to stop the world, “thinking inevitably has a destructive, undermining effect on all established criteria, values, measurements for good and evil, in short on those customs and rules of conduct we treat in morals and ethics.”11 Thinking itself can shatter the old moral rules, and nihilism looms as an “ever-present danger of thinking . . . out of the desire to find results which would make further thinking unnecessary.”12 Only in “those rare moments in history when ‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world’” does “thinking cease to be a marginal affair in political matters.”13 For it is then that the universal capacity, “the ever-present possibility” to refuse to think singles out “those who think . . . because their refusal to join is conspicuous and thereby becomes a kind of action.”14 From there, the possibility exists for thinking to activate conscience, to liberate judgment, to be visible, if briefly in a “manifestation of . . . the ability to tell right from wrong.”15 Those moments when thinking is not “marginal,” however, seem communicable only in poetic form, when “Things fall apart. . . .” Thinking, that is, sheds its place at the margins when poetry shapes how we see history. As Arendt describes a moment of crisis in

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history, the only words that suffice are no ordinary words. Only verse can think history’s cataclysms and bear witness to thinking’s entrée into “political matters.” The hiatus in thinking about thinking’s hiatus, that is, is the poem. I have tried to suggest in this book that we ask more broadly how poetry structures thinking (as well as thinking about thinking), how it intimates what thinking can feel like, and how it creates a literary atmosphere that makes the “different world” of thinking possible. In this way, the project of this book has been to suggest that if, as Irving Miller put it, we all know in “a general way” what thinking is, we know it, in part, because of the genres that underwrite that “general way” and make representations of such thinking communicable. This matters for how we understand Descartes and his legacy, of course, and for how we think about the relationship between literature and philosophy. In following Arendt through the rest of her essay below, I intend to offer a justification for this book’s presumptuousness by facing the apparent resultlessness of its pursuits. To return to the riddles of this book’s first chapter, I want to conclude by asking what we might make of that thing we all always do, to which we are utterly helpless, which matters most when “the centre cannot hold.” I want to suggest that we can find in the intersection of philosophy and poetry a story of our helplessness before our thoughts, a history of thinking that still rewards the hiatus taken to think about it. More concerned with Plato and Kant than with Descartes, Arendt chooses Socrates as the avatar for manifest thinking and as a model for a kind of thinking that shows at least somewhat the elusive experience of what thinking really is like and how thinking might clear the way to moral judgment. Out of Socrates’s explanation that he would rather be free of selfcontradiction, “in harmony with myself,”16 than in agreement with the common masses, Arendt locates an important clue to thought: the subject of thinking has an “original split,” without which Socrates’s “statement about harmony with myself, would not be possible.”17 “For Socrates,” Arendt explains, the split necessarily requires two parts to be in harmony together; “this two-in- one meant simply that if you want to think you must see to it that the two who carry on the thinking dialogue be in good shape, that the partners be friends.”18 As the search for “harmony with [one] self ” becomes a question of conscience, Socrates is followed by Shakespeare, whose Richard III loses and regains not his consciousness but his conscience as he moves from a dialogue with himself to the distracting company of his friends. Only by himself can Richard locate what Arendt calls “the presence of a witness who awaits him only if and when he goes home.”19 As Richard examines his internal division (“What do I fear?

“A Painful Feeling of Strangeness”


Myself? There’s none else by. / Richard loves Richard: that is, I am I.”) and Socrates asserts his need for harmony, both “have not only intercourse with others, they have intercourse with themselves.”20 This split, this intercourse with the self, is Arendt’s prerequisite to moral life: “He who does not know the intercourse between me and myself (in which we examine what we say and what we do) will not mind contradicting himself, and this means he will never be either able or willing to give account of what he says or does; nor will he mind committing any crime, since he can be sure that it will be forgotten the next moment.”21 When we are busy, jumping from inference to inference, when we think of thinking not as “carrying over” but as dissolving, thinking becomes good for very little indeed. No one keeps track then; an account, perhaps, is no longer one when it is not remembered. As Arendt makes the negotiations between “me and myself ” central to the pivot from thinking to judgment in the moral and political world, she reaches the climax of what seems to have been, in part, an attempt to find an irenic outcome to an old war. The philosopher and the poet, suspended in animus from antiquity onward in the classical quarrel between poetry and philosophy, enjoy some hard-earned harmony in this essay where they are in cahoots in keeping account. There is, of course, the offense to language Arendt locates in the form of Adolf Eichmann’s “quite authentic inability to think,” a traffic in “clichés, stock phrases,” “as though it were nothing but another language rule.” The philosopher and the poet conspire outright, however, in the shared price they pay for insight. Blindness distributes itself evenly to philosophers and poets.22 In the essay’s longest footnote, too, Arendt the philosopher comes to the defense of poetry, citing “[Rudolf ] Carnap’s statement that metaphysics is no more ‘meaningful’ than poetry,” and calling out Carnap for “an underestimation of poetry.”23 And her essay concludes, no less, with a shocking couple: her Socrates enlists the help of Shakespeare’s Richard III to show a thinking in action that allows conscience to appear. In a strange way, then, the split within the self of Socrates is not enough. He needs his Richard, it seems, and in the world of the essay, Socrates cannot help Plato evict the poet from the polis, and Richard III makes his case in verse: “I am myself ” is no longer only an aside in the play. It’s a gloss on Socrates’s bid for inner harmony, an echo that suggests that the split in two needs to doubled. In Arendt’s hands, Carnap is already wrong, for poetry is so powerful that it does not allow even the ur-philosopher, Socrates himself, to stand alone. Outside of the confines of Arendt’s footnote, an earlier twentiethcentury fight about the fate of philosophy in general and metaphysics in particular had already been brewing, making Arendt’s talk on thinking more difficult to voice. Carnap, it turned out, was hellbent not on

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removing poets from the polis but on expelling bad philosophers. Recall, from this book’s introduction, the terms of that old fight: “The (pseudo)statements of metaphysics do not serve for description of states of affairs, neither existing ones (in that case they would be true statements) nor nonexisting ones (in that case they would be at least false statements). They serve for the expression of a general attitude of a person towards life (‘Lebenseinstellung, Lebensgefühl’).”24 In her lengthy footnote, Arendt counters Carnap by appealing to the special relationship of philosophy and poetry, with Carnap’s attack on metaphysics seeming to work synecdochally for philosophy writ large. She recalls how Heidegger marshaled poetry and philosophy in response to Carnap, too, “by stating that thinking and poetry . . . were closely related.”25 And then she invokes Wittgenstein’s call for silence in the face of those things “we cannot speak of.” Arendt’s reply shows the inadequacy of language to represent even the somewhat-less- controversial stuff of sensation; if we follow Carnap and Wittgenstein, everything is silence. But the rest of Carnap’s attack on metaphysics is useful here in getting the poet right. What Richard III knows, what Sir Philip Sidney might say of poetry, is what Carnap attacks metaphysics for; what Carnap calls pseudostatements that neither describe existing or non- existing things brings to mind what Sidney had known long before: the poet “nothing affirmeth, and therefore never lieth.”26 But it is this mixing of philosophy and poetry, this registration of petty resentments when we bump into a table, of “emotional relationship to his environment” that seems best equipped to fill in that thing we “cannot speak about” except by referring to it as common knowledge, say, or by reinventing it as a scarce- concealed metaphor. In other words, we might well and wisely abandon metaphysical propositions as indices of empirical truths about the world, but for thinking about the process of thinking— even if we never arrive at a final definition of just what thinking is— we might only arrive by means of pseudostatements equipped to touch the world of feeling. They are of value not because they successfully perform positivistic logic but because through them we can ask what thinking feels like and attempt to locate thought’s forms. Taking the idiot’s reading of Carnap, we can ask how the traces of poetic feeling expose thinking’s selfdelusion; we can appeal to the unrelenting flow of thoughts outside of idiocy to see how thinking is not a control center with the thinker in charge but something that happens to the thinker, with petty resentments and minor myths lodged in memory or merely diffused into thought. Socrates, with Richard III’s help, is Arendt’s figure for thinking’s relationship to conscience, but she might have chosen Descartes as a more obvious, and perhaps even more intriguing, candidate for thinking about thinking and its relationship to split subjectivity. The wager of this book

“A Painful Feeling of Strangeness”


has been that poetry helps make thinking happen— or at least that it did so in the case of Descartes whose exemplary splitting has so often made him seem far colder than even Carnap, and whose thinking about thinking has left an indelible impression on the subsequent thoughts of so many others. He is less willing than Socrates, by far, to stick his neck out in public; in his Discourse on Method, he famously adheres to custom as he undertakes pathbreaking thinking, seeming to put a limit on what Arendt casts as thinking’s inclination to destructive nihilism as well as its inspiring public demonstration. In his refusal of politics, he seems to suggest that thinking is better saved for the quiet of a stove-heated room. But in his projects to figure out the truth of things, he makes inferences which bear, in spite of themselves, the “expression of a general attitude of a person towards life.” For Descartes, one place where these attitudes are lodged is in the forms of thought that owe their shape to poetry. That is, while Descartes responds to a rich philosophical and scholastic tradition that preceded him, he also responds to form and feeling, influences received without anxiety that accompany and shape the thoughts he marshals in his pursuit of truth. For Carnap, the revelation that so many millennia of thinkers bother pointlessly with metaphysics, with “mere words, nonsensically juxtaposed,” was bound to “leave even those who agree intellectually with our results with a painful feeling of strangeness.”27 It is the “nonsensical juxtaposition[s]” of thinking and the “painful feeling of strangeness” that arises when thinking looks less like what “[w]e all know in a general way” and more like a sometimes involuntary process that happens to us that has been the object of this reading of Descartes. To make a case, as I have tried to, that it still matters to think about how we think about thinking has required precisely such a painfully strange approach. To consider “mere words, nonsensically juxtaposed,” surely the only possible approach could be a poetic one. And in this way a “general attitude . . . towards life” might tell us more about what it is— or at least what it feels like— to think than those “declarative sentences” that try to filter out the poetic atmosphere. Toward the end of the many decades of his engagement with Descartes, Paul Valéry also located in Descartes a deadly streak, this time in the opposite direction of Boileau who was rumored to have accused Descartes of slashing “poetry’s throat.” “The Cogito,” Valéry wrote, “meant ‘no more philosophy.’”28 Separated by only eight years, Carnap and Valéry announce, in their radically different ways, death for (at least some varieties of ) philosophy. I think they also, however, point to a method for understanding the imperative to think. Rather than demanding of Descartes the truth of description, such a way of reading, the one I have attempted here, would look instead for the moments when “the center cannot hold,” to borrow Arendt’s Yeats. When the poem and the poetic erupt in the

152 Epilogue

history of thinking, we are perhaps left with a painful strangeness and “mere words,” but we also have a new opportunity: to think about thinking not as dusty matter in the history of ideas but as a history— poetic and philosophical— of “attitude[s] . . . toward life.” In such a light, the “painful feeling of strangeness” we might feel— a feeling perhaps kindred to those still felt as a result of the blow dealt by the “Cartesian subject”— can point instead toward new histories of feeling and thinking, toward a more sensitive measure of an environment in which the poetic suspends the need for “refutation” and infiltrates— even suspends— our thoughts. Sensitivity to this way of reading might require finding a way to express one’s “emotional relationship to his environment.”29 That environment might turn out to include the sounds of poetry. When Mallarmé noted that Nous n’avons pas compris Descartes or “We haven’t understood Descartes,”30 he noticed something that remains true: we are still beginning to comprehend and to locate not only Descartes’s environment— the one he unsuccessfully tries to strip away in search of a foundation for reason— but also our own, let alone his and our emotional relationships to them. Sometimes, doing so is painfully strange. In this, Mallarmé’s most famous and enigmatic poem offers an illuminating blueprint toward one path to “underst[anding] Descartes,” expressed here in the capitalized message strewn through the poem: “rien n’aura eu Lieu que Le Lieu exCeP té Peut- être une ConsteLLation” (nothing wiLL have taken PLaCe But the PLaCe exCeP t PerhaPs a ConsteLLation).31 In Mallarmé’s formulation, environment looks like it is everything: if only the place will have taken place, the object of reading, of criticism, is to find a method to reveal this strange future anterior, one whose measure might be able to account for hazard, for the accident of a poetic education, for the involuntary movement of thoughts exposed merely in words, unrecognized by its thinker or brought to light by chance. Such a method would need also to be able to look out for “constellation,” though one wonders if Mallarmé might have been satisfied with constellation’s other astral formulation, the one Descartes named in parallel to his cogito: “consideration.” This way of thinking with the stars (sidera) widens the environment alongside which we think and feel.32 It allows us to imagine Descartes in the future anterior: he will have seen Galileo observing the sky; he will have made thinking the author of being; he will have, with the help of verse, written a history of thinking, of what it feels like to think: un coup de Descartes.


While Descartes has relatively little to say about ethics, he holds generosity in particular esteem. So do I. I am so grateful to the people who supplied so much generosity to me. Thanks are due foremost to my teachers. For their prudence, passion, and exemplarity, I am particularly grateful to Victoria Kahn, Timothy Hampton, Judith Butler, Oliver Arnold, and Susan Maslan. I owe a great debt to many teachers from longer ago, too, especially Bob Lamberton and George Pepe. Lily Gurton-Wachter must be sick of Descartes! She has read more of this book (and more versions of it) than anyone else; I am lucky to have so brilliant a friend and writing partner. Jerry Passannante and Valerie Forman each read a late draft of this book in full and made suggestions crucial to its improvement; I am grateful for their sharp reading and, most of all, their friendship. Kyoo Lee shared characteristic, philopoetic wisdom and helped me to the finish line. David Carroll Simon’s editorial knife was right on the nose just when I needed it. I also benefited from feedback at the earliest stages of this book’s conception from Cecily Swanson and Toby Warner, as well as from audiences at Berkeley, New York University, and Yale. Tristram Wolff provided characteristically nimble advice and playlists. It was a stroke of wild good luck to be thinking about poetry and thinking just as Nan Z. Da and Anahid Nersessian were founding the Thinking Literature series, in which I am proud to have this book appear. I remain grateful for their vision, discernment, and support. Readers for the University of Chicago Press provided feedback central to this book’s revision and improvement; to those “other minds,” I am especially thankful. And there could be no happier surprise than having Jacques Lezra as one such

154 Acknowledgments

reader of this book; his suggestions were particularly vital to my thinking about method. At the press, Alan Thomas has been a lucid and generous guide; his clarity and kindness have meant so much to me. I am also grateful to Randy Petilos, Tamara Ghattas, Jill Shimabukuro, Joan Davies, and Meredith Nini, as well as Susan Olin, who copyedited the manuscript (with all five of its languages and healthy servings of wordplay) on behalf of the press. I wrote most of this book at NYU, across Gallatin and the Department of Comparative Literature. I am grateful to Dean Susanne Wofford and Associate Dean Millery Polyné at Gallatin and, in Comparative Literature, to my department chair Emily Apter, as well as to my wonderful colleagues across both halves of my appointment, for their engagement, support, and humor over the past few years. I owe special thanks, too, to my students. For funding my research, I am thankful to the NYU Humanities Center, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Mellon Foundation. An earlier version of part of chapter 2, meanwhile, appeared as “The Cupid and the Cogito: Cartesian Poetics,” Critical Inquiry 43.3 (Spring 2017): 738– 51. I take all the credit for this book’s flaws. Many friends made the earliest, West Coast conjurings of this project especially happy; thanks are due to Jennifer Lillie, Julia Otis, Alex Dubilet, Fabiana Silva, Kathryn Crim, Yueni Zhong, Noa Bar-Gabai, Corey Byrnes, Juan Caballero, Sanders Creasy, Dean DeMatteis, Emily Drumsta, Jason Escalante, Amanda Jo Goldstein, Monica Huerta, Javier Jimenez, Erin Klenow, Ross Lerner, Tom McEnaney, Nina Pick, Lealah Pollock, Jocelyn Saidenberg, Namwali Serpell, Aleksey Tomate, Michelle Ty, Maria Vendetti, and Travis Wilds. More recently, key New Yorkers (current, former, and honorary) have made the time not spent writing especially pleasurable: thank you, Karla Nielsen, Valeria Mogilevich, Silpa Somepalli, Katrina Dodson, Mikey Appuhn, Caralyn Bialo, Cécile Bishop, Paula Chakravartty, Marie Cruz Soto, Ernest Gonzales, Rebecca Falkoff, Emily Henderson, A. B. Huber, Wendy Lee, Ritty Lukose, Aaron Mertz, Hannah Freed-Thall, Vasuki Nesiah, and Steve Stainbrook. Conrad Chrzanowski’s insight and support were indispensable to me from this project’s start to its finish. I am likewise thankful for encouragement to Danny and Sara Ortega. Yehua Yang returned to New York just as I arrived; I am so lucky to have gotten to write much of this book— and to take much-needed breaks from it— in her excellent company. To Sarah Anderson, I owe a debt far too large to repay: her friendship has sustained me for nearly thirty years. For teaching me how to read in the first place and not once suggesting my path was too wild or impractical, I am grateful to my mother, Mari Beth Gadberry.



Rem Koolpaws knew with astonishing precision when my drafts deserved shredding. My deepest gratitude goes to Alfredo Gadberry-Castillo. With green thoughts, feline sensibility, and a kaleidoscopic imagination, Alf has been the architect of an entire Lebensgefühl for me. This book is for him.


Throughout, “AT” refers to the standard edition of Descartes’s work, in its original Latin or French: Charles Adam and Paul Tannery, eds., Œuvres de Descartes, 12 vols. (Paris: Vrin, 1964– 76). “CSM” and “CSMK” refer, respectively, to the standard English translations: John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff, and Dugald Murdoch, eds., The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), and John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff, Dugald Murdoch, and Anthony Kenny, eds., The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, vol. 3: The Correspondence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991). I have modified translations as needed. Introduction 1. Hannah Arendt, “Thinking and Moral Considerations,” Social Research 38.3 (1971): 417– 46, 426. 2. Descartes’s first biographer, Adrien Baillet, recounts Descartes’s dream vision in detail. Adrien Baillet, La Vie de Monsieur Des-cartes, 2 vols. (Paris: Daniel Horthemels, 1691). On Descartes’s dream of poetry, see chap. 3. For more recent biography more generally, see Stephen Gaukroger, Descartes: An Intellectual Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995); Geneviève Rodis-Lewis, Descartes: His Life and Thought, trans. Jane Marie Todd (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998); and Richard Watson, Cogito, Ergo, Sum: The Life of René Descartes (Boston: David R. Godine, 2002). 3. According to Richard Watson, Descartes likely did not write the ballet but probably did read the dramas of Corneille. See his Descartes’s Ballet: His Doctrine of the Will and His Political Philosophy (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2007). Descartes may have known Viau himself. Stephen Gaukroger, Descartes: An Intellectual Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 136. 4. “Descartes believed, mistakenly, that he was the first one to study the rainbow through experiments with a large spherical globe of water which served as a magnified raindrop.” Carl Boyer, “Descartes and the Radius of the Rainbow,” Isis 43 (1952): 95– 98, 95. For an account of the ways in which Descartes didn’t seem especially revolutionary at first, see Daniel Garber, “Descartes, the Aristotelians, and the Revolution That Did Not Happen in 1637,” Monist 71.4 (1988): 471– 86.

158 Notes to Pages 2–3 5. Among the considerations of Descartes’s fables are Jean-Pierre Cavaillé, Descartes: La fable du monde (Paris: Vrin, 1991) and, more recently, James Griffith, Fable, Method, and Imagination in Descartes (London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2018). Jean-Luc Nancy argues that the cogito itself is “subjected to . . . fabulatory law” (65) in his JeanLuc Nancy, “Mundus est Fabula,” in Ego Sum: Corpus, Anima, Fabula, trans. Marie-Eve Morin (New York: Fordham University Press, 2016). 6. Rosalie Colie, The Resources of Kind: Genre-Theory in the Renaissance, ed. Barbara K. Lewalski (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1973). 7. Here, I adopt Kyoo Lee’s formulation and the title of her recent work: Kyoo Lee, Reading Descartes Otherwise: Blind, Mad, Dreamy, and Bad (New York: Fordham, 2013). To be clear, literary critical readings of Descartes have opened up exciting possibilities when it comes to interpretation. Such a rich tradition of scholarship, from feminist readings of Descartes to literary investigations, has made investigations like mine possible, and it has also enabled fruitful readings of Descartes across generic boundaries. Readings of form in particular— from Dalia Judovitz’s inquiry into style, representation, and rhetoric in Baroque literary context and Hassan Melehy’s examination of writing in relationship to Cartesian subjectivity, from Claudia Brodsky’s examination of the architectural metaphor in Descartes’s work and, recently, R. Darren Gobert’s presentation of the afterlives of Descartes’s passions in the “Cartesian theater”— have widened our understanding of the context of Descartes’s work as well as its repercussions. They have likewise situated the history of subjectivity alongside other ways of imagining the subject. Claudia Brodsky, Lines of Thought: Discourse, Architectonics, and the Origin of Modern Philosophy (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996); Dalia Judovitz, Subjectivity and Representation in Descartes: The Origins of Modernity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988); R. Darren Gobert, The Mind-Body Stage: Passion and Interaction in the Cartesian Theater (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013); and Hassan Melehy, Writing Cogito: Montaigne, Descartes, and the Institution of the Modern Subject (Buffalo, NY: SUNY Press, 1997). 8. John Lyons, “The Cartesian Reader and the Methodic Subject,” Esprit Créateur 21 (1981): 37– 47, 37. 9. Avital Ronell rightly describes this loss as one of theoretical “misery” in her work on Heidegger and Hölderlin, locating “the depletion of poetic funds in our treasury of academic values” (16). For Ronell, “the aberrant dissociation of poetry from theory reflects an increasing technization, not to say impoverishment, of critical language” (17). See her “On the Misery of Theory without Poetry: Heidegger’s Reading of Hölderlin’s ‘Andenken,’” PMLA 120.1 (2005): 16– 32. 10. Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book 2: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Sylvana Tomaselli (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 6. 11. Lacan, Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book 2, 9. 12. On the contrary, recent scholarship on lyric and unfinished (and renewed) conversations on “thinking” show there is much more to be said on both fronts as well as at their intersection. With respect to a reinvigorated conversation on lyric, see in particular Virginia Jackson and Yopie Prins’s Lyric Theory Reader (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014) and Jonathan Culler’s Theory of the Lyric (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017). Also crucial is Mutlu Konuk Blasing, Lyric Poetry: The Pain and Pleasure of Words (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009). With respect to

Notes to Pages 3–4


thinking, I have in mind an interdisciplinary conversation on the status of thinking from Eduardo Kohn’s How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropolog y Beyond the Human (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2013) and Michael Marder’s Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013) to recent work on thinking and politics, as in Roger Berkowitz, Jeffrey Katz, and Thomas Keenan’s edited volume, Thinking in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt on Ethics and Politics (New York: Fordham University Press, 2009). Finally, on the mythic in the relationship between literature and thinking, see Stathis Gourgouris, Does Literature Think?: Literature as Theory for an Antimythical Era (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003). 13. As Paul Valéry put it, “I dare not say there is an infinite number of possible Descartes; but you know better than I that there are a good many, all vouched for, text in hand, and curiously different from one another. The plurality of plausible Descartes is a fact.” Paul Valéry, Collected Works of Paul Valéry, vol. 9, trans. Martin Turnell (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1968), 15. 14. Hervé Baudry revisits the tradition of linking Montaigne and Descartes and concludes that Descartes likely did not read Montaigne in his Le dos de ses livres: Descartes a-t-il lu Montaigne? (Paris: Honoré Champion, 2015). 15. “We translate cogitare with ‘thinking’ and thus persuade ourselves that it is now clear what Descartes means by cogitare. As if we immediately knew what ‘thinking’ means [was denken heisst].” Martin Heidegger, “The Dominance of the Subject in the Modern Age,” in Nietzsche, vol. 4: Nihilism (New York: Harper Collins, 1991), 104. 16. Wystan Hugh Auden, “In Memory of W. B. Yeats,” in W. H. Auden: Collected Poems, ed. Edward Mendelson (New York: Vintage, 1991), 248. Thinking and poetry alike are portrayed with some frequency as especially difficult or (worse) irrelevant. On the matter of poetry and its particular difficulty, much has been said, particularly in relationship to more experimental forms of poetry. See William Christie, “A Recent History of Poetic Difficulty,” ELH 67.2 (2000): 539– 64, and Howard Nemerov, “The Difficulty of Difficult Poetry,” in his Reflexions on Poetry and Poetics (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1972): 19– 32. On very recent “difficult” poets, see Charles Altieri and Nicholas D. Nace, eds., The Fate of Difficulty in the Poetry of Our Time (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2017). Finally, for a defense of “passing through difficulty as part of what is necessary for critical thinking” (209), see Judith Butler, “Values of Difficulty,” in Just Being Difficult?: Academic Writing in the Public Arena, ed. Jonathan D. Culler and Kevin Lamb (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003): 199– 216. 17. Aristotle, Poetics, trans. Stephen Halliwell, in Aristotle: Poetics. Longinus: On the Sublime. Demetrius: On Style, trans. by Stephen Halliwell et al., rev. Donald A. Russell, Loeb Classical Library 199 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995): 1– 142, 58– 59. I translate spoudaioteron above as “more serious” rather than simply “more elevated.” 18. Sir Philip Sidney, A Defence of Poesy, in Sir Philip Sidney: The Major Works, ed. Katherine Duncan-Jones (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989): 212– 51, 235. On Sidney and poetry’s defense, see Catherine Bates’s recent On Not Defending Poetry: Defence and Indefensibility in Sidney’s Defence of Poesy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017). On Sidney’s distress before the idea of mixed genres and on the politics of genre more broadly, see Drew Daniel, “Redistributing the Sensible: Genre Theory after Rancière,” Exemplaria 31.2 (2019): 129– 40.

160 Notes to Pages 4–6 19. Sir Philip Sidney, Astrophil and Stella in Sir Philip Sidney: The Major Works, ed. Katherine Duncan-Jones (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989): 153– 211, 170. 20. Jean-Luc Marion, On the Ego and on God: Further Cartesian Questions, trans. Christina M. Gschwandtner (New York: Fordham University Press, 2007), 115. 21. See Ramona A. Naddaff, Exiling the Poets: The Production of Censorship in Plato’s Republic (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), and Thomas Gould, The Ancient Quarrel Between Poetry and Philosophy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990). 22. Galileo, however, preferred Ariosto. For an account that shows how “Galileo methodically and consistently incorporated the literary elements from [Orlando furioso] and similar works into the philosophical arguments he championed,” see Crystal Hall, Galileo’s Reading (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 1. For Galileo’s relationship to other arts as well, see also Erwin Panofsky, “Galileo as a Critic of the Arts: Aesthetic Attitude and Scientific Thought,” Isis 47.1 (1956): 3– 15. 23. Jean-Baptiste Rousseau, “À M. Brossette. Plan d’une Iliade comique. . . ,” in Œuvres de J. B. Rousseau, Tome 5., ed. Jean-Augustin Amar du Rivier (Paris: Crapelet, 1820), 128– 33. For an account of this episode in the context of the quarrel between the ancients and the moderns, see Larry F. Norman, The Shock of the Ancient: Literature and History in Early Modern France (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), esp. 153– 59. 24. Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973). For an account of the decline of “investigations of literary influence” (758), see Marjorie Garber, “Over the Influence,” Critical Inquiry 42.4 (2016): 731– 59. 25. Colie, Resources, 91. Beyond Colie’s insights about locating in literary form the “bases for exploration” of subsequent philosophy, Marshall Brown has characterized a special relationship between skepticism and lyric negation, which he identifies even in pre-Romantic forms. Marshall Brown, “Negative Poetics: On Skepticism and Lyric Voice,” Representations 86.1 (2004): 120– 40. 26. Descartes was sensitive to censorship and the politics of publication, to be sure, but he would not be added to the Index for the genres in which he did not write. Meanwhile, on “carelessness” in scientific observation and affect in the early modern period, see David Carroll Simon, Light without Heat: The Observational Mood from Bacon to Milton (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2018). 27. Alastair Fowler, Kinds of Literature: An Introduction to the Theory of Genres and Modes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), 24. 28. Counter to this is the more recent receptivity to the mutual relation of philosophy with both poetry and mathematics. See, for instance, Alain Badiou, Manifesto for Philosophy, trans. and ed. Norman Madarasz (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1999). Especially helpful, too, is Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe’s discussion of Heidegger’s relationship to poetry along with his analysis of Badiou’s assessment that we have reached “the end of . . . ‘the age of the poets,’ an age, from Hölderlin to Celan, in which the Poem offers itself or lends itself exclusively, as it were to philosophical discourse.” Philippe LacoueLabarthe, Heidegger and the Politics of Poetry, trans. Jeff Fort (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2007), 17. 29. Roland Greene discusses this effect in the context of the colonial Americas in his Unrequited Conquests: Love and Empire in the Colonial Americas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 130.

Notes to Pages 7–9


30. On “force” in relationship to poetry and modern aesthetics, see Kevin McLaughlin, Poetic Force: Poetry after Kant (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2014). 31. Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M. M. Bakhtin, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1981), 271. 32. When D’Alembert dubbed Descartes “the leader of a conspiracy,” on behalf of reason in the opening pages of the Encyclopédie, he was issuing praise, but it is easy to see in this an example of Descartes’s complex legacy to come. On Descartes in the Enlightenment more generally, see Peter A. Schouls, Descartes and the Enlightenment (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1989), 11. 33. AT VI:6, CSM I:113. 34. AT VI:7. 35. AT VII:128, CSM II:92. In this we might find evidence of a kind of Cartesian rhetoric, that which Thomas Carr frames as “a loose problematic of persuasion implicit in Descartes’s thought.” Thomas M. Carr Jr., Descartes and the Resilience of Rhetoric: Varieties of Cartesian Rhetorical Theory (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990), 2. 36. AT VII:155, CSM II:110. For a thorough discussion of Descartes’s Meditations in relationship to Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, see Zeno Vendler, “Descartes’ Exercises,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 19.2 (1989): 193– 224. 37. Virginia Jackson, Dickinson’s Misery: A Theory of Lyric Reading (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), 7. For Arendt, this will be the maneuver of art as such: “All sense experiences are normally accompanied by the additional, if usually mute, sensation of reality, and this despite the fact that none of our senses, taken in isolation, and no sense- object, taken out of context, can produce it. (Art therefore, which transforms sense- objects into thought-things, tears them first out of all context in order to de-realize and thus prepare them for their new and different function).” Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind (New York: Harcourt, 1971), 49. 38. Michael Bérubé, introduction to Richard Rorty, Philosophy as Poetry (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2016), xxix. 39. “Poetics, western,” in Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, 4th ed., ed. Roland Greene et al. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012), 1059. 40. Earl Miner, “Poetics,” The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, ed. Alex Preminger and T. V. F. Brogan (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993), 929. 41. For some twentieth-century examples, see Joseph Epstein, “Who Killed Poetry?,” Commentary 86.2 (1988): 13– 20, and the postmortem in Vernon Shetley’s After the Death of Poetry: Poet and Audience in Contemporary America (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993). Shetley also notes that “the term difficulty appears frequently in the critical writing of the twentieth century [but] has received surprisingly little theoretical attention” (4). 42. Cf. Norman, Shock of the Ancient. 43. For one such account, organized around poetry in the Age of Prose (and the Age of Reason), see Fabienne Moore’s Prose Poems of the French Enlightenment: Delimiting Genre (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2009). 44. On the absorption of poetic forms into “lyric,” see Marjorie Perloff, “Postmodernism and the Impasse of Lyric,” in The Dance of the Intellect: Studies in the Poetry of the Pound Tradition (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1996), 172– 200. Perloff

162 Notes to Pages 9–12 shows how “[f ]rom a welter of shorter poetic genres, lyric gradually emerged as the most common catchall category, and only in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was it mythologized as the purest and oldest of poetic genres and thus transformed into a nostalgic ideological marker” (197). 45. Benedetto Croce, Aesthetic as Science of Expression and General Linguistic, trans. Douglas Ainslie (New York: Noonday, 1953), 204. 46. AT VII:19– 20, CSM II:13. Dennis L. Sepper shows how “Descartes . . . began his philosophizing with the conviction that imagination was active and powerful, and that it stood at the center of cognitional activity by virtue of the analogical relationships among all things.” See his Descartes’ Imagination: Proportion, Images, and the Activity of Thinking (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 380. 47. AT VII:31, CSM II:21. 48. AT VII:34, CSM II:24. 49. Arendt, Life, 108. 50. Emmanuel Levinas, “Wholly Otherwise,” trans. Simon Critchley, in Re-reading Levinas, ed. Robert Bernasconi and Simon Critchley (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), 3– 10, 3. 51. AT VII:38, CSM II:26. 52. AT VIIIA:8, CSM I:195. CSM translation modified. The 1647 French translation, “approved” by Descartes, adds that these notions “are born with us” naissent avec nous. Cf. René Descartes, Les Principes de la philosophie, trans. Claude Picot, ed. Henri Joly (Paris: Delalain Frères, 1885), 21. For another instance of a curious French emendation, see chap. 3. 53. Rebecca Wilkin examines Descartes’s treatment of fetal minds in her “Descartes, Individualism, and the Fetal Subject,” differences 19.1 (2008): 96– 127. 54. To consider “uncounted” forms both as a matter of method and an object of analysis, see Anne-Lise François, Open Secrets: The Literature of Uncounted Experience (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007). 55. Such fluid boundaries are precisely that which M. K. Blasing locates in Marx’s abandonment of poetry: “Marx, for instance, started out with poetic ambitions but abandoned poetry for philosophy. Poetry was unsettling: ‘Everything real grew vague . . . and all that is vague lacks boundaries’” (Lyric Poetry, 4). 56. See David Marno’s account of Malebranche’s presentation of the ties between prayer and philosophy (and, by extension, thinking) in his Death Be Not Proud: The Art of Holy Attention (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016). On Malebranche in relationship to Descartes and attention, see also Carr, Descartes and the Resilience of Rhetoric, 88– 124. Finally, for a fascinating examination of Romantic poetry and the nature of attention, see Lily Gurton-Wachter, Watchwords: Romanticism and the Poetics of Attention (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2016). 57. Regarding the status of “conscience” and “consciousness” in Descartes, Boris Hennig locates a definitional quandary analogous to the one I identify with respect to thinking, though his strategy is to distance himself from the text itself: “The fact is that when restricting ourselves to Cartesian texts, we are not able to establish the meaning of ‘conscientia.’ We are left with a concept that refers neither to a kind of thought, nor to a disposition or a state of awareness.” Boris Hennig, “Cartesian Conscientia,” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 15.3 (2007): 455– 84, 466. For a broader approach to the topic of consciousness and conscience in the early modern period, see

Notes to Pages 12–14


Udo Thiel, The Early Modern Subject: Self- Consciousness and Personal Identity from Descartes to Hume (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). 58. Renewed attention to Descartes’s Les passions de l’âme has changed the scholarly landscape and prompted new readings of the role of the passions for Descartes. In this lineage, see Deborah J. Brown, Descartes and the Passionate Mind (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006) and Jean-Luc Marion’s correction to Malebranchist legacy of Cartesian dualism in his On Descartes’ Passive Thought: The Myth of Cartesian Dualism, trans. Christina M. Gschwandtner (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018). With respect to more recent affect theory, see Rei Terada, “Cogito and the History of the Passions,” in Feeling in Theory: Emotion after the “Death of the Subject” (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001): 16– 47. Meanwhile, see Victoria Kahn and Neil Saccamano, eds., Politics and the Passions, 1500– 1850 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006) for a wider view of the hazards and power of the passions, particularly in the context of early modern politics. Finally, with respect to the passions in the context of early modern science, see David Carroll Simon’s account of “nonchalance” as “observational mood” throughout his Light without Heat. 59. Rosalie Colie, My Echoing Song: Andrew Marvell’s Poetry of Criticism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1970), 143n7. 60. Daniel Stempel, “The Garden: Marvell’s Cartesian Ecstasy,” Journal of the History of Ideas 28.1 (1967): 99– 114. Stempel argues that “[t]here is . . . reason . . . to believe that Marvell knew and used Cartesian concepts” (99). 61. Andrew Marvell, “The Garden,” in The Poems of Andrew Marvell, ed. Nigel Smith (London: Routledge, 2006), 157– 58. 62. AT VIIIA:7, CSM I:195. See also Descartes’s similar definition of thinking in his Second Set of Replies, AT VII:160, CSM II:113. 63. Antoine Arnauld and Pierre Nicole, La Logique ou l’art de penser (Paris: Gallimard, 1992), 21. 64. J. L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words, 2nd ed., ed. J. O. Urmson and Marina Sbisà (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975). 65. See Noam Chomsky, Cartesian Linguistics (New York: Harper and Row, 1966). 66. AT V:278, CSMK 366. 67. On other minds in Descartes and implications for the human-animal divide and language, see Anita Avramides, “Descartes and Other Minds,” Teorema 16.1 (1996): 27– 46. 68. In the twentieth century, this sometimes-agonizing relationship to language features in philosophical debates about the privacy of thinking and the linguistic nature of thought, but it also subtends conversations about the role of language in Descartes. On representation, see Dalia Judovitz, Subjectivity and Representation. Hassan Melehy links the “the subject of enunciation” to time “and hence a writing . . . necessary to link one moment to the next” in his Writing Cogito, 131. Meanwhile, Kyoo Lee puts pressure on the speaker of Cartesian narrative itself, asking, “who is speaking here? Descartes the poet or Descartes the philosopher?” Lee, Reading Descartes Otherwise, 123. On language in Descartes, see John Cottingham, “‘The only sure sign . . .’: Thought and Language in Descartes,” in Thought and Language, ed. John Preston (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998): 29– 50. 69. Chomsky, Cartesian Linguistics, 3. 70. Arendt, Life, 20.

164 Notes to Pages 14–18 71. Descartes takes this motto from Ovid’s Tristia. See chap. 3. 72. Rudolf Carnap, “The Elimination of Metaphysics through Logical Analysis of Language,” in Critical Theory Since Plato, ed. Hazard Adams and Leroy Searle (Boston: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2005): 980– 89, 988. 73. Carnap, “Elimination of Metaphysics,” 988. 74. Carl Sachs shows how Carnap’s intervention here can be understood as a modernist impulse responsible for the split between analytic and continental philosophy, between “a new temporal orientation, a futurity [of ] purely scientific philosophy,” on the one hand, and “everything poetic and speculative” on the other. Sachs will argue that “the problems of . . . ‘Continental philosophy’ . . . are indispensable for an adequate understanding of the history of ‘analytic’ philosophy” (318). See Carl Sachs, “What Is To Be Overcome? Nietzsche, Carnap, and Modernism as the Overcoming of Metaphysics,” History of Philosophy Quarterly 28.3 (2011): 303– 18. For a gripping account of the rift between analytic and continental philosophy, see Peter E. Gordon, Continental Divide: Heidegger, Cassirer, Davos (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012). On Carnap in particular, see esp. 327– 28. Carnap’s angst resembles what Blasing identifies as the “threat of poetry”: “[A]t the discursive level, the threat of poetry is not a threat of anarchy, for the autonomous, stringent orders of the linguistic and formal codes are evident. Rather, it is the threat of a different system underwriting— and, therefore, in effect overruling— the order of reason.” Blasing, Lyric Poetry, 1. 75. Carnap, “Elimination of Metaphysics,” 988. 76. Carnap, “Elimination of Metaphysics,” 988. 77. See note 63 above. Colie, My Echoing Song, 143n7. 78. Jacques Derrida, “The Law of Genre,” trans. Avital Ronell, Critical Inquiry 7.1 (1980): 55– 81, 55. 79. Carnap argues that “metaphysics originated from mytholog y. The child is angry at the ‘wicked table’ which hurt him.” What Carnap casts as just-so stories— a child’s experience of ordinary pain that spawns metaphysics— has the weird effect of deflating “mythology,” its material reduced into just another sharp edge. Carnap, “Elimination of Metaphysics,” 988. 80. Martin Heidegger, “What Are Poets For?,” Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper Perennial, 2001), 89– 139. 81. No wonder Carnap calls for the “elimination” of metaphysics, with its bad poetic protocols: with etymological aplomb, he makes a limen or threshold that is invulnerable, an adamantine shield at last. To the vocabulary of “unshieldedness” Heidegger adds “‘the Open’ . . . another basic word in his poetry. In Rilke’s language, ‘open’ means something that does not block off. It does not block off because it does not set bounds. It does not set bounds because it is in itself without all bounds.” Heidegger, “What Are Poets For?,” 103– 4. 82. Roland Barthes, Criticism and Truth, trans. and ed. Katrine Pilcher Keuneman (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987). 83. Jean-Luc Marion, “The Essential Incoherence of Descartes’ Definition of Divinity,” in Essays on Descartes’ Meditations, ed. Amélie Oksenberg Rorty (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1986): 297– 338, 338n83. 84. Given that Marion argues that Descartes’s notion of divinity is characterized by an “essential incoherence,” it is interesting that Marion’s objection dramatizes a fundamental lack of “coherence” in language itself, too. As prodeo reveals pro Deo, the very

Notes to Pages 18–20


word proves itself not to be coherent enough in its etymological sense: it is not sticky enough (from the root haerere, to stick together) to hold the letters together. 85. Ellen Rooney makes plain that the “boundaries that distinguish particular pluralisms from particular anti-pluralisms are always being redrawn” in her Seductive Reasoning: Pluralism as the Problematic of Contemporary Literary Theory (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989), 6. 86. Daniel follows Rancière to show how the genre “enacts a politics of perception, opening and closing down avenues of recognition, feeling and allegiance, encouraging identification in some directions while discouraging it in others.” Daniel, “Redistributing the Sensible,” 133. 87. Antoine Compagnon, Literature, Theory, and Common Sense, trans. Carol Cosman (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), 14. Compagnon points out how, intriguingly, “genre was not a cause célèbre of the literary theory of the sixties” (14). 88. Jackson, Dickinson’s Misery, 116. 89. Reading De Man, Ellen Rooney shows how “a pluralist model of rhetorical reading . . . exclude[s] need, interest, and desire” (Seductive Reasoning, 179). In contrast to De Man’s take on figure, I have not tried to make “an irrefutable reading” so much as a “thought-provoking” one. Rooney demonstrates how De Man “argues that ‘technically correct rhetorical readings may be boring, monotonous, predictable and unpleasant, but they are irrefutable’ . . . and he overlooks the fact that such an irrefutable reading is possible only if one assumes that every reader can agree on the ‘technical’ question of what (or even if ) the figure is” (Seductive Reasoning, 197). The difficulty of such agreement, the necessity of skepticism, is central to my interest in the contingency of the history and the perception of genre. (For the difficulty of diagnosing figure— and distinguishing between figure and genre— see chap. 4.) 90. I am grateful to an anonymous reader for the University of Chicago Press for making clear to me that this crucial equation goes both ways. 91. This is the very question that Virginia Jackson has posed as central to “lyric reading.” See Jackson, Dickinson’s Misery. 92. Daniel Albright, Lyricality in English Literature (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985), viii. Albright continues: “it seems as if the lyric genre consists of what is left over when all other genres are subtracted” (ix). 93. Jean-Paul Sartre, “What Is Literature?” and Other Essays (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988). Fascinating in its own right is Sartre’s strangely Cartesian poet, with a mind-body and a word-world problem entirely his own: “For the poet, language is a structure of the external world. The speaker is in a situation of language; he is invested by words. They are prolongations of his senses, his pincers, his antennae, his spectacles. He manœuvres them from within; he feels them as if they were his body; he is surrounded by a verbal body which he is hardly conscious of. . . . The poet is outside language. He sees the reverse side of words, as if he did not share the human condition and as if he were first meeting the word as a barrier as he comes toward men” (30). 94. As Picard attacked Barthes’s inventive readings of Racine, an interpretive divide emerged between positivistic modes of reading and the “new criticism” Picard attacked as the “nouvelle imposture.” Picard, the great and learned scholar of Racine, showed himself “hostile to immanent analysis because it associates knowledge with causal explanation.” So Jonathan Culler glosses Barthes in his Barthes: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 51. For this critique of Barthes, see

166 Notes to Pages 20–21 Raymond Picard, Nouvelle Critique ou nouvelle imposture (Paris: Pauvert, 1965). Meanwhile, Toril Moi recognizes the difficulty of “method” when it comes to literary criticism: “[L]iterary criticism . . . doesn’t have anything we can plausibly call competing methods, at least not in the sense widely used in the sciences and social sciences: a set of explicit strategies for how to generate new knowledge. This is why literary critics often have trouble explaining their ‘method’ to colleagues in other disciplines. Insofar as grant application forms take the procedures of the natural sciences as their norm, they force literary critics to discuss their ‘method’ whether or not they really have anything to say about it. (‘Reading’ alone somehow never seems sufficiently ‘scientific’ in such contexts.)” Toril Moi, “‘Nothing Is Hidden’: From Confusion to Clarity; or, Wittgenstein on Critique,” in Critique and Postcritique, ed. Elizabeth S. Anker and Rita Felski (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017), 31– 49. 95. See, for instance, Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels, “Against Theory,” in Against Theory: Literary Studies and the New Pragmatism, ed. W. J. T. Mitchell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 11– 30. For a discussion of Knapp and Michaels with respect to genre, see Jackson, Dickinson’s Misery, 109– 17. In a different direction, Stanley Fish shows how the perception of a poem requires poetic attention: “[A]cts of recognition, rather than being triggered by formal characteristics, are their source. It is not that the presence of poetic qualities compels a certain kind of attention but that the paying of a certain kind of attention results in the emergence of poetic qualities” (326). Stanley Fish, “How to Recognize a Poem When You See One,” in Is There a Text in This Class? (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980), 322– 37. Put another way, those who never take poetry seriously might never acknowledge or notice an encounter with anything poetic unless they’re asked to do so. (They might, however, be influenced by or even make use of the poetic in spite of themselves, I’d wager.) 96. A pleasantly weird moment of “Pseudoproblems in Philosophy” appears in Carnap’s attempt to create “obviously meaningless (pseudo) statements” such as: “2. ‘This rock is sad’; 3. ‘This triangle is virtuous’; 4. ‘Berlin horse blue’; 5. ‘And or of which’; 6. ‘bu ba bi’ . . .” (326). It might be the case that “(fictional expression: these constituents could disappear from our experience) and our knowledge would not be diminished” (311), but excising such expression would have “diminished” the experience of his essay. Rudolf Carnap, The Logical Structure of the World and Pseudoproblems in Philosophy, trans. Rolf A. George (Chicago: Open Court, 2002). 97. Toril Moi describes critical risk as inherent to reading: “Different questions lead to different kinds of investigations. I don’t think there is any way of deciding in advance of the reading what the best option would be, as if the path was already there, waiting for us. We just have to risk it. There are no guarantees” (“‘Nothing Is Hidden,’” 38). A predetermined “path” could be called, etymologically speaking, “method.” 98. To be sure, “[c]ontext is not optional,” but one reason why it might “stink” is because neither context nor interpretation can ever extinguish skepticism entirely. (And why should it?) Rita Felski, “Context Stinks!,” New Literary History 42.4 (2011): 573– 91, 573. On the celebration of such not-knowing, see Anahid Nersessian, “Literary Agnotology,” ELH 84.2 (2017): 339– 60. 99. Arendt, Life, 191. 100. In this vein, Descartes’s thought is not so distant from thinking’s old etymological kinship with “thanking.” While Descartes seldom dealt outright with ethics, he nonetheless deemed generosity central to ethical life. Generosity, he said, is the feeling

Notes to Pages 22–28


that allows one’s freedoms to be well used. Descartes meant the translation of volition into action. But he might as well have been naming a feature of thinking. While such “generosity” summons Heidegger’s sensitivity to thinking and its etymological kinship with thanking, it also shows plainly the danger of Heidegger’s path: generosity, etymologically from genus, can also name family, race, or stock. Reoriented toward lawbreaking genre, genus can also look toward the forms of poetry whose rules might be observed or broken in pursuit of another condition for thought. In thinking about thinking and thanking in Nietzsche, Avital Ronell locates “[g]ratitude . . . linked to revenge” as well as remembrance. See her The Test Drive (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2005), 281. In Stupidity (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002), meanwhile, Ronell shows how stupidity is not so much thinking’s opposite but instead “does not allow itself to be opposed to knowledge in any simple way, nor is it the other of thought” (5). 101. I refer here to the appellation adopted by Ronsard for the famous group of French Renaissance poets that included himself and Du Bellay among others. Chapter One 1. “This sentence is so brutally direct that it has long puzzled commentators,” John Lyons explains. Limiting the grounds of befuddlement, David Simpson suggests that “as we read on into the next sentence . . . it becomes apparent that it is the flatly literal reading of the sentence which Descartes wants to develop.” John D. Lyons, Exemplum: The Rhetoric of Example in Early Modern France and Italy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), 157. David Simpson, “Putting One’s House in Order: The Career of the Self in Descartes’ Method,” New Literary History 9.1 (1977): 83– 101, 85. Noting the irony of Descartes’s introduction and Etienne Gilson’s “très juste” remarks thereon, Henri Gouhier insists on its uselessness: “La première formule proprement cartésienne n’est donc pas: ‘Le bons sens est la chose du monde la mieux partagée.’ Elle se trouve une quinzaine de lignes plus loin. . . . Le premier alinéa du Discours est précisément écrit contre ceux qui naïvement croient que le bon sens suffit à tout” (16). See Henri Gouhier’s still indispensable La pensée métaphysique de Descartes (Paris: J. Vrin, 1962). 2. AT VI:2, CSM I:111. 3. Desiderius Erasmus, The Collected Works of Erasmus, vol. 31, Adages Ii1 to Iv100, trans. Margaret Mann Phillips (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), 87– 88. 4. Philip T. Hoffman et al., “Real Inequality in Europe since 1500,” Journal of Economic History 62.2 (2002): 322– 55. 5. Indeed, it is this passage that has led most frequently to sustained readings of literary form in Descartes. See Jean-Pierre Cavaillé, Descartes: La fable du monde (Paris: Vrin, 1991), and James Griffith, Fable, Method, and Imagination in Descartes (London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2018), esp. chaps. 1 and 2 on fable. 6. AT VI:2, CSM I:111. 7. See Rebecca Wilkin, “Descartes, Individualism, and the Fetal Subject,” differences 19.1 (2008): 96– 127, for an account of Descartes’s attempts to manage this problem by insisting upon (necessarily forgotten) fetal thought. 8. AT V:278, CSMK 366. 9. Heather Dubrow, “Lyric Forms,” in The Lyric Theory Reader: An Antholog y, ed. Virginia Jackson and Yopie Prins (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014), 114– 27, 115.

168 Notes to Pages 28–32 10. AT VI:7, translation mine. 11. AT VI:7. 12. AT VI:9, CSM I:115. 13. Allan P. Farrell, trans. and ed., The Jesuit Ratio Studiorum of 1599 (Washington, DC: Conference of Major Superiors of Jesuits, 1970), 84– 85. Spellings of “Vergil” and “Virgil” both per source. 14. Terence Cave, The Cornucopian Text (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 35. 15. See especially Jeff Dolven, Scenes of Instruction in Renaissance Romance (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007). Lisa Jardine and Anthony Grafton, “‘Studied for Action’: How Gabriel Harvey Read His Livy,” Past & Present 129 (1990): 30– 78. 16. Paul de Man, “The Return to Philology,” in The Resistance to Theory (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), 21– 26, 24. I want also to suggest that it may be more hidden for us. For Descartes and his classmates, the rigorous translation exercises, the rote memorization, the imitation: these techniques might well have made some of what we see as “hidden” seem (even tediously) present. 17. For more on Descartes’s supposed poems, among them, “Concerning the Death of King Henry the Great and the Discovery of Some New Planets or Wandering Stars Around Jupiter Noted by Galileo, Famous Mathematician of the Grand-Duc of Florence,” written for a commemorative event for Henri IV at La Flèche, see Stephen Toulmin, Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 45– 60. There, Toulmin also reflects on the relationship between Descartes’s philosophy and the Thirty Years’ War. 18. Especially useful in this regard is Roger Ariew’s Descartes Among the Scholastics (Leiden: Brill, 2011). 19. Farrell, Ratio, 77. 20. Farrell, Ratio, 77. 21. Laurence Grove, Emblematics and Seventeenth-Century French Literature: Descartes, Tristan, La Fontaine, and Perrault (Charlottesville, VA: Rookwood Press, 2000), 11. 22. Daniel S. Russell, The Emblem and Device in France (Lexington, KY: French Forum, 1985), 94– 95. 23. Grove, Emblematics, 11. 24. Quintilian, Institutio Oratio III.52. Translation mine. 25. Katelijne Schiltz, Music and Riddle Culture in the Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 62. In this context, consider also Lorenzo Valla’s bleak pronouncement on the riddle: “a riddle is darker than allegory, which requires guessing more than interpreting” (quoted in Schiltz, Music and Riddle, 51). 26. Quoted in Schiltz, Music and Riddle, 62. 27. AT X:435, CSM I:54. 28. AT X:433, CSM I:53. 29. Archer Taylor, “The Riddle,” California Folklore Quarterly 2.2 (1943): 129– 47, 139. 30. Daniel Heller-Roazen, Dark Tongues: The Art of Rogues and Riddlers (New York: Zone Books, 2013), 69. 31. Daniel Tiffany, Infidel Poetics: Riddles, Nightlife, Substance (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 41. It is also an intriguing coincidence worth noting that Tiffany focuses at length on Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose Jesuit background is so well known. See Tiffany, Infidel Poetics, 56– 57.

Notes to Pages 32–37


32. Quoted in Eleanor Cook’s fascinating Enigmas and Riddles in Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 27. 33. Devin Zane Shaw, Egalitarian Moments: From Descartes to Rancière (New York: Bloomsbury, 2016). Shaw’s analysis of Descartes’s problem with “separation” leads him to a fascinating account of later readers of Descartes and their appropriation of Cartesian thought toward more radical forms of equality, including gender equality. 34. Marx, too, will point out what he understands to be an unbridgeable gap between Cartesian physics and metaphysics and notes that Cartesian physics has shaped language in Marx’s own moment: “Cartesian materialism still exists today in France. It has achieved great successes in mechanical natural science which, ‘speaking exactly and in the prosaic sense,’ will be least of all reproached with romanticism.” Marx quotes his own language from earlier in The Holy Family as he refers to “speaking exactly and in the prosaic sense,” but in his breakdown of what he understands to be the split legacy of Cartesian physics and metaphysics, Marx, like Boileau before him, senses something anathema to poetry in Descartes. This, too, reproduces the formula Matthew Arnold (Marx’s exact contemporary) applies to the eighteenth century as he names it the “Age of Prose” and anticipates how, in contrast, Romanticism comes to stand for a period of lyricism. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Holy Family, or Critique of Critical Criticism, trans. Richard Dixon, in Marx and Engels: Collected Works, vol. 4 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975), 126. See also Tilottama Rajan, “Romanticism and the Death of Lyric Consciousness,” in Lyric Poetry: Beyond New Criticism, ed. Chaviva Hošek and Patricia Parker (Ithaca: NY, Cornell University Press, 1985), 194– 207. 35. Karl Marx, “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law,” in Marx/ Engels Collected Works 1975, vol. 3, trans. Richard Dixon et al. (New York: Lawrence and Wishart, 2000), 3– 129, 29. 36. AT VIIIA:37, CSM I:220. 37. David Ross, quoted in Pavel Gregoric, Aristotle on the Common Sense (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 13. 38. Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy (New York: New York Review of Books, 2001), 159. 39. AT XI: 227, CSM I:316. 40. Sophia A. Rosenfeld, Common Sense: A Political History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011), 264n10. Kyoo Lee, meanwhile, asks, intriguingly, about “what . . . happens when a set of impressions . . . passes toward or around the common sense.” Kyoo Lee, Reading Descartes Otherwise: Blind, Mad, Dreamy, and Bad (New York: Fordham, 2013), 57. 41. Rosenfeld, Common Sense, 14. 42. Christoph Henke, Common Sense in Early 18th-Century British Literature and Culture: Ethics, Aesthetics, and Politics, 1680– 1750 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2014), 6. 43. AT VII:30, CSM II:20. 44. AT VII:31– 32, CSM II:21. The Latin text reads “nam quamvis haec apud me tacitus et sine voce considerem, haereo tamen in verbis ipsis, et fere decipior ab ipso usu loquendi.” 45. AT X:412, CSM I:40. 46. AT X:412, CSM I:40. 47. See in particular Jacques Lezra’s reading of Descartes’s waxen “signature” in his

170 Notes to Pages 37–46 Unspeakable Subjects: The Genealogy of the Event in Early Modern Europe (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997). 48. AT X:414, CSM I:41. 49. AT X:415, CSM I:42. 50. For a consideration of architectural metaphor in Descartes, and on thinking and architectural form, see Claudia Brodsky, Lines of Thought: Discourse, Architectonics, and the Origin of Modern Philosophy (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996). 51. AT VI:57– 58, CSM I:140. 52. Balibar calls the Descartes of the Meditations “an extremely radical ‘humanist,’ a philosopher of the autonomy of human freedom . . . and of essential goodness of human nature” who nonetheless resists a variety of humanism “whose mission . . . consists in projecting the attributes of God into man” (73). Étienne Balibar, Citizen Subject: Foundations for Philosophical Anthropolog y, trans. Steven Miller (New York: Fordham University Press, 2017). 53. AT VI:13, CSM I:117. I have modified the CSM translation. 54. AT VIIIA:35, CSM I:218. 55. AT VIIIA:35, CSM I:219. 56. The real identity of Hyperaspistes is unknown, though, as Cottingham explains, he was “evidently a supporter of Gassendi.” “To Hyperaspistes, August 1641,” CSMK 188n1. 57. AT III:423, CSMK 189. 58. AT III:424, CSMK 190. 59. Simpson, “Putting One’s House in Order,” 86. 60. Simpson, “Putting One’s House in Order,” 87. 61. AT X:433, CSM I:53. 62. AT X:435, CSM I:54– 55. 63. Walter Benjamin, “Riddle and Mystery,” in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, vol. 1: 1913– 1926, ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 267– 68. See Tiffany’s discussion of this passage, Infidel Poetics, 64. 64. For an account of Descartes’s thought as “the product and rationalization of a particular political conjuncture” (109), see Timothy J. Reiss, “Descartes, the Palatinate, and the Thirty Years War: Political Theory and Political Practice,” Yale French Studies 80 (1991): 108– 45. 65. A compelling recent treatment of the Oedipus myth is Jean-Joseph Goux’s Oedipus, Philosopher (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1993). 66. AT VI:7– 8, CSM I:114. 67. AT XI:466– 67, CSM I:394. 68. Marius Timmann Mjaaland, The Hidden God: Luther, Philosophy, and Political Theology (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2016), 57. 69. Klein’s example of a figure of envy par excellence is Milton’s Satan. See Melanie Klein, “Envy and Gratitude,” in Envy and Gratitude and Other Works, 1946– 1963 (New York: Free Press, 1975): 176– 235, 202. For more recent work on envy, see Sianne Ngai’s Ugly Feelings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007). Relatedly, Sara Ahmed offers an intriguing and brief meditation on the transformation of “fortune  . . . from chance to wealth” in her Promise of Happiness (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), 281– 82n18.

Notes to Pages 47–52


70. Augustine, The Confessions of St. Augustine, trans. Edward B. Pusey (Oxford: J. H. Parker, 1840), 7. 71. Klein, “Envy and Gratitude,” 181. 72. Klein, “Envy and Gratitude,” 203. 73. Klein, “Envy and Gratitude,” 181. 74. Klein, “Envy and Gratitude,” 217– 18. 75. Adam Phillips, “Jokes Apart,” in Promises, Promises: Essays on Psychoanalysis and Literature (New York: Basic Books, 2001), 347– 57. 76. While Descartes himself can think of envy as a passion that is “not always vicious,” the same cannot be said for many twentieth-century commentators. Rawls, for instance, distinguishes between envy and ressentiment in marking envy as entirely wicked. See John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, rev. ed. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999). In his description of envy, the element of sadness is markedly absent, and “[a] rational individual is not subject to envy” (464). Descartes would disagree. On the question of equality and “mimetic rivalry,” see Balibar, Citizen Subject, 34– 36. 77. Francis Bacon, “Of Envy,” in The Essays (New York: Penguin Classics, 1985): 83– 87, 86. 78. “This envy, being in the Latin word invidia, goeth in the modern languages by the name of discontentment, of which we shall speak in handling sedition.” Bacon, “Of Envy,” 86. 79. Bacon, “Of Envy,” 87. 80. AT VI:4, CSM I:112. 81. Catullus wards off envy over his enumeration of kisses in one of his more chaste poems so that “nequis malus invidere possit,” or so that no “evil person blight them with evil eye.” Catullus, “Vivamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus,” in Catullus and Tibullus, 2nd ed. and trans. F. W. Cornish, Loeb Classical Library 6 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1913), 6– 9, line 12. 82. Martial, “Rumpitur invidia quidam, carissime Iuli,” in Epigrams, vol. 2: Books 6– 10, ed. and trans. D. R. Shackleton Bailey, Loeb Classical Library 95 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), 310– 11. 83. Pierre de Ronsard, “De l’election de son sepulchre,” in Œuvres complètes, vol. 2 (Paris: P. Jannet, 1857), 249– 51, lines 41– 42. Ezra Pound will borrow this poem’s title, untranslated, for the first poem in his Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (pt. 1) (1920). 84. In this, he is much like his contemporaries who insist on a patriarchal model of being and belonging that has men sprout from the earth “like mushrooms . . . without any obligation to each other,” as his interlocutor Hobbes put it in his De Cive, a move that also dispels the apparent embarrassment of being had by women. Thomas Hobbes, On the Citizen, ed. and trans. Richard Tuck and Michael Silverthorne (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 102. 85. AT XI:459, CSM I:389. 86. For Cavell, jealousy and skepticism go together as Descartes’s relationship to the world parallels Othello’s to Desdemona. See Stanley Cavell, Disowning Knowledge in Seven Plays of Shakespeare, updated edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 125– 42. 87. AT X:436, CSM I:55. 88. See chap. 4 for more on anagram. 89. Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy (New York: New York Review of

172 Notes to Pages 52–58 Books, 2001), 265. On envy and emulation in the work of Ben Jonson, see Lynn S. Meskill, Ben Jonson and Envy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009). 90. Bacon, “Of Envy,” 86. 91. AT I:80– 81, CSMK 12. 92. AT I:81– 82, CSMK 13. 93. AT I:81– 82, CSMK 13. 94. AT I:82, CSMK 13. 95. On the imitation Adami, see Joanna Picciotto’s Labors of Innocence in Early Modern England (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010). 96. Horace, Satires, Epistles, The Art of Poetry (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1926), 480, lines 361– 65. I use Leon Golden’s translation from his “Reception of Horace’s Ars Poetica,” in A Companion to Horace, ed. Gregson Davis (London: WileyBlackwell, 2010), 400. Chapter Two 1. Jean-Luc Marion’s most recent work on Descartes shows how Descartes’s efforts to integrate mind and body were routinely overlooked by even his acolytes, leaving what Marion calls Descartes’s “passive thought” unaccounted for as a result. Marion, On Descartes’ Passive Thought: The Myth of Cartesian Dualism, trans. Christina M. Gschwandtner (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018). Meanwhile, on the invention of the cogito, see Alberto Toscano, “Everybody Thinks: Deleuze, Descartes and Rationalism,” Radical Philosophy 162 (2010): 8– 17. “[T]he passage from the Cartesian Cogito to the Kantian subject might belong to the discontinuous history of the concept . . . as Étienne Balibar has recently explored, pointing out that the Cartesian subject, rather than the Cogito, is a retroactive post-Kantian invention” (12). See Étienne Balibar, Citizen Subject: Foundations for Philosophical Anthropolog y, trans. Steven Miller (New York: Fordham University Press, 2017), in chap. 1, 170n52 and 171n76. 2. AT VI:32, CSM I:127. 3. AT XI:380, CSM I:353. See Deborah Brown, Descartes and the Passionate Mind (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). 4. AT XI:403, CSM I:363. 5. AT XI:393, CSM I:359. 6. AT XI:394, CSM I:359. Italics mine. 7. AT XI:394– 95, CSM I:359– 60. 8. AT XI:396, CSM I:360. 9. On writing and subject formation in Montaigne and Descartes, see Hassan Melehy, Writing Cogito: Montaigne, Descartes, and the Institution of the Modern Subject (Buffalo, NY: SUNY Press, 1997). 10. For another shadow, this time in the guise of “impressions which come into the brain . . . produced by the spirits . . . a shadow or picture (l’ombre et la peinture) of the [impressions produced by the nerves],” see AT XI:348, CSM I:338. On this passage, see Marion, On Descartes’ Passive Thought, 217. 11. For one such discussion of versions of “vers,” see Randolph Runyan’s consideration of Maurice Scève’s Délie in his “Deliverance: Souffrir Non Souffrir,” MLN 88.4 (1973): 718– 41. 12. In addition to trickery and illusion, the Baroque period also supplied material

Notes to Pages 58–62


for the problem of seduction. Consider Maravall’s classic study of the Baroque where “Baroque culture thus sets itself the task of moving its addressee . . . which succeeded in making the spectators almost its accomplices.” José Antonio Maravall, Culture of the Baroque: Analysis of a Historical Structure, trans. Terry Cochran (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), 75. For a recent consideration of the literary baroque— and for an account of a kind of Cartesian mendacity— see Christopher D. Johnson, Hyperboles: The Rhetoric of Excess in Early Modern Literature and Thought (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010). Likewise essential is Timothy Hampton, ed., Baroque Topographies: Literature/History/Philosophy, Yale French Studies 80 (1991). 13. AT VII:22, CSM II:15. 14. AT VII:23, CSM II:15. 15. AT VII:22, CSM II:15. 16. AT VII:23, CSM II:15. 17. AT VII:257– 58, CSM II:180. On Descartes’s unhappiness with Gassendi’s response as well as the intellectual afterlife of Gassendian ideas against Cartesian ones, see Thomas Lennon’s The Battle of Gods and Giants: The Legacies of Descartes and Gassendi, 1655– 1715 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993). 18. AT VII:171, CSM II:121. 19. As S. Sara Monoson explains, “Plato allows that the great tragedians are superior practitioners of the techne of mimetic poetry. . . . But mimetic poets, he stresses, have no understanding or knowledge of a thing, only the techne of how to represent the semblance of such understanding or knowledge.” S. Sara Monoson, Plato’s Democratic Entanglements: Athenian Politics and the Practice of Philosophy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), 209. 20. Judovitz likewise points out how “Descartes’s denunciation of illusion (fiction)” nonetheless entails a “reliance on fiction in order to produce the true discourse of the new science.” Dalia Judovitz, Subjectivity and Representation in Descartes: The Origins of Modernity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 88. See Judovitz’s work also in relationship to the literary genres of fable, autobiography, and meditation. 21. On tragedy’s role in Descartes’s Les passions de l’âme, see Victoria Kahn, “Happy Tears: Baroque Politics in Descartes’s Passions de l’âme,” in Politics and the Passions, 1500– 1850, ed. Victoria Kahn, Neil Saccamano, and Daniela Coli (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006), 93– 110. 22. I refer to Corneille’s L’Illusion comique (1636). Amy Henshaw attributes any topical resemblance between Corneille and Descartes to their Jesuit educations in her “Descartes and Corneille: A Re- examination,” Neophilologus 86.1 (2002): 45– 56. Richard Watson, meanwhile, concludes Descartes likely read Corneille in his Descartes’s Ballet: His Doctrine of the Will and His Political Philosophy (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2007). 23. Moshe Sluhovsky, Believe Not Every Spirit: Possession, Mysticism, and Discernment in Early Modern Catholicism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 265. 24. Quoted in Louis Martz, The Poetry of Meditation: A Study in English Religious Literature of the Seventeenth Century (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1954), 28. 25. Antonio Negri, The Political Descartes: Reason, Ideolog y, and the Bourgeois Project, trans. Matteo Mandarini and Alberto Toscano (New York: Verso, 2007). 26. AT VII:22– 23, CSM II:15. 27. The theological challenge of making a deceiver-god in the guise of a bad Petrar-

174 Notes to Pages 62–64 chan lover only heightens the theological questions the evil genius raises. The evil genius could not escape being mistaken for a blasphemous version of God, and during the Leiden Affair (1647), Descartes was accused of creating precisely such. See Zbigniew Janowski, “Can God Deceive Us?” in Cartesian Theodicy: Descartes’ Quest for Certitude (Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000), 49– 78. 28. AT VII:22 and AT IX:17. 29. Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010), 20. 30. Descartes’s distrust of the image inheres in his doubt about the reliability of the visual faculty, too, though here it seems to use that gaze to break apart the body. For more on Descartes and his distrust of vision, see Dalia Judovitz, “Vision, Representation, and Technology in Descartes,” in Modernity and the Hegemony, ed. David Michael Levin (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1993), 63– 86. 31. The meditator achieves with thought what the necessary material compromises of the Discourse cannot permit; there, for instance, the narrator points out the necessity of adhering to custom in order to live in the world. 32. AT VII:22– 23. Translation mine. 33. Descartes was not the first non-poet to cut the body into parts; another context, though not the interpretive avenue this book pursues, might examine the context of the anatomist’s theater. On this background, see Cynthia Klestinec, Theaters of Anatomy: Students, Teachers, and Traditions of Dissection in Renaissance Venice (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011). On interpretive decision-making, see my introductory section on method. 34. Vincent Descombes, “L’inconscient malgré lui,” quoted in Jean Baudrillard, Seduction, trans. Brian Singer (Montreal: New World Perspectives, 1990), 68. 35. Timothy Hampton, “Tangled Generation: Dylan, Kerouac, Petrarch, and the Poetics of Escape,” Critical Inquiry 39.4 (2013): 703– 31, 714. 36. Nancy Vickers, “Diana Described: Scattered Woman and Scattered Rhyme,” Critical Inquiry 8.2 (1981): 265– 79, 266. 37. Judith Butler, “‘How Can I Deny That These Hands and This Body Are Mine?’” Qui Parle 11.1 (1997): 1– 20, 14. 38. Baudrillard’s reading of seduction seems to illuminate how lyric reversal itself plays out the reversibility inherent in any seduction: “The cycle of seduction cannot be stopped. One can seduce someone in order to seduce someone else, but also seduce someone to please oneself. The illusion that leads from the one to the other is subtle. Is it to seduce, or to be seduced, that is seductive? But to be seduced is the best way to seduce. It is an endless refrain. There is no active or passive mode in seduction, no subject or object, no interior or exterior: seduction plays on both sides, and there is no frontier separating them. One cannot seduce others, if one has not oneself been seduced” (81). Becoming-Laura perhaps bears more heavily on the encounter with the evil genius, too; reading this episode, Kyoo Lee argues, “[i]t is as if the Cartesian subject had to become gender- confused in the face of God, naturally as both the subject who conceives like God and the object conceive by God.” Kyoo Lee, Reading Descartes Otherwise: Blind, Mad, Dreamy, and Bad (New York: Fordham, 2013), 160. 39. As Gordon Braden puts it, “Petrarch’s influence has long seemed almost indistinguishable from the Renaissance itself.” With widespread publication, this meant that Petrarch’s “popularity . . . is most consequential for what it does to other literature:

Notes to Pages 64–68


an international phenomenon of imitation, reaction, and general influence that in its most common form is obvious to the point of parody and can turn up almost anywhere that Italian Renaissance culture or even the rumor of it might reach.” Gordon Braden, Petrarchan Love and the Continental Renaissance (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999), 61– 63. 40. Brian Cumming, The Literary Culture of Reformation: Grammar and Grace (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 336. 41. Joachim Du Bellay, “Contre les petrarquistes,” in Œuvres poétiques, vol. 5, ed. Henri Chamard (Paris: Hachette, 1908– 31), 69– 77, lines 1– 2. On “Petrarchan sonneteering” as “a poetry of dramatic, expansive, even tyrannical subjectivity,” see Gordon Braden, “Unspeakable Love: Petrarch to Herbert,” in Soliciting Interpretation: Literary Theory and Seventeenth- Century English Poetry, ed. Elizabeth D. Harvey and Katharine Eisaman Maus (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 253– 72. Timothy Hampton shows how Du Bellay’s lyric engagement with “[t]he relationship between language and community” contributes to a national “lyric subject” in his Literature and Nation in the Sixteenth Century: Inventing Renaissance France (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001), 150– 94. 42. “De vos beautés, sa’ vous que j’en dirais? / De vos yeux deux astres je ferais, / Vos blond cheveux en or je changerais, / Et vos main en ivoire . . .” (Du Bellay, lines 41– 44). 43. Louise Labé, Love Sonnets and Elegies, ed. and trans. Richard Sieburth (New York: New York Review of Books, 2014), 56– 57. The genre of the blason was flexible enough for many more such inversions; Marot wrote of a laid tétin in addition to his famous “Blason du beau tétin,” and, of course, Shakespeare famously cautioned that “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.” 44. AT XI:403, CSM I:363. 45. See André Gombay’s recent translation in Common Knowledge 20.2 (Spring 2014): 371– 86, and Richard A. Watson, “René Descartes n’est pas l’auteur de ‘La Naissance de la Paix,’” Archives de Philosophie 53 (1990): 389– 401. 46. Roland Greene, Unrequited Conquests: Love and Empire in the Colonial Americas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 20. 47. Greene, Unrequited Conquests, 130. 48. Richard Kennington, “The Finitude of Descartes’s Evil Genius,” in On Modern Origins: Essays in Early Modern Philosophy, ed. Pamela Kraus and Frank Hunt (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2004), 149. Italics mine. 49. Michael Williams suggests dreams “are precisely the experiences of a bodiless, worldless self ” (133). See his “Descartes and the Metaphysics of Doubt,” in Essays on Descartes’ Meditations, ed. Amélie Rorty (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), 117– 40. 50. While keeping the “truth” separate from the metaphorical (and sensual) apparatus of body and world, Descartes nonetheless gives figuration a vital role, and, in that respect, seems not to overlook the relationship between rhetoric and philosophy. See Jacques Derrida, “White Mythology: Metaphor in the Text of Philosophy,” in Margins of Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 207– 72. 51. In her discussion of the status of the body and its relationship to language, Judith Butler provides the mot juste to describe this moment: “dismemberment” (17). 52. Jean Nicot, “Penser,” Thresor de la langue francoyse tant ancienne que moderne,

176 Notes to Pages 68–76 vol. 2 (Paris: David Douceur, 1606), 472– 73; online, University of Chicago ARTFL Project, dautrefois. 53. See especially the entries on “Abstraction” and “Intellect” in Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon, ed. Barbara Cassin, trans. and ed., Emily Apter, Jacques Lezra, and Michael Wood (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014). 54. Martin Heidegger, “The Dominance of the Subject in the Modern Age,” in Nietzsche, vol. 4: Nihilism (New York: Harper Collins, 1991),” 104. 55. In Baudrillard’s terms, “Discourses that are too sure of themselves— as with strategies of love— must be understood differently. Though completely ‘rational,’ they are still only the instruments of a larger fate, of which they are as much victims as the directors. Doesn’t the seducer end up losing himself in his strategy, as in an emotional labyrinth? Doesn’t he invent that strategy in order to lose himself in it? And he who believes himself the game’s master, isn’t he the first victim of the game’s tragic myth?” Baudrillard, Seduction, 98. 56. AT VII:25, CSM II:17. 57. AT VII:36– 37, CSM II:25– 26. 58. AT VII:34, CSM II:24. 59. The French version reads as follows: “Je suis une chose qui pense, c’est-à- dire qui doute, qui affirme, qui nie, qui connaît peu de choses, qui en ignore beaucoup, qui aime, qui haït, qui veut, qui ne veut pas, qui imagine aussi, et qui sent.” AT IX:33. 60. AT XI:392, CSM I:358. 61. AT VII:50– 51, CSM II:35. 62. AT VII:4, CSM II:5. 63. “subduction, n,” OED Online, June 2016, Oxford University Press, http://ezproxy (accessed August 3, 2016). 64. AT VII:9, CSM II:8. 65. AT VII:9– 10, CSM II:8. 66. Paul J. Smith argues that poets in particular enjoy a kind of license in “ordering” their works. Discussing Ronsard, Smith explains: “[T]he poetical treatises, curiously, give no prescriptions for it [dispositio]: for every poet, for every collection, disposition is always something to be invented anew. This means that dispositio presents one of the domains par excellence where the poet, within the limits of emulative imitation (aemulatio), can prove his originality in relation to his predecessors” (12– 13). See Paul J. Smith, Dispositio: Problematic Ordering in French Renaissance Literature (Boston: Brill, 2007). 67. Quintilian, The Orator’s Education III, books 6– 8, ed. and trans. Donald A. Russell (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), 151. Quintilian’s description of disposition also relies on architectural metaphors— a crucial resonance with Descartes’s own reliance upon this same metaphor in the Discourse. On the architectural metaphor, see, of course, Claudia Brodsky, Lines of Thought: Discourse, Architectonics, and the Origin of Modern Philosophy (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996). 68. AT VII:19– 20, CSM II:13. On Quintilian in the tradition of Renaissance Jesuit education, see Cinthia Gannett and John Breeton, eds., Traditions of Eloquence: The Jesuits and Modern Rhetorical Studies (Fordham, NY: Fordham University Press, 2016). 69. Giorgio Agamben, The End of the Poem: Studies in Poetics, trans. Daniel HellerRoazen (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999). “[T]he possibility of enjamb-

Notes to Pages 77–82


ment constitutes the only criterion for distinguishing poetry from prose,” Agamben argues (109). 70. Hasana Sharp, “Hate’s Body: Danger and the Flesh in Descartes’ Passions of the Soul,” History of Philosophy Quarterly 28.4 (2011): 355– 72, 364. 71. Giorgio Agamben, What Is an Apparatus? and Other Essays, trans. David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009), 5. 72. Harry G. Frankfurt, Demons, Dreamers, and Madmen: The Defense of Reason in Descartes’s “Meditations” (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1970), 3. 73. Take, for instance, Paolo Fabiani who puts it thus: “The experience of solitude . . . is an effect of the Cartesian subjectivism” in his The Philosophy of the Imagination in Vico and Malebranche, trans. Giorgio Pinton (Firenze: Firenze University Press, 2009), 87. Ernest Gellner, meanwhile, goes so far as to say that, for Western philosophy, the “path to loneliness . . . began with . . . Descartes.” Ernest Gellner, Language and Solitude: Wittgenstein, Malinowski, and the Habsburg Dilemma (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 43. For a reading of Descartes’s solitude as a variety of urban pastoral (in the Discourse in particular), see Kevin Dunn, “‘A Great City is a Great Solitude’: Descartes’s Urban Pastoral,” Yale French Studies 80 (1991): 93– 107. Dunn’s article prudently cautions the reader of Descartes that “his dedication to a life of solitude was more figurative than real” (94), as, of course, does Descartes’s own praise of friendship and intimacy in his letters to Elizabeth of Bohemia. 74. That Descartes cannot exclude others entirely seems to inhere in the language Frankfurt evokes; the “autonomous give and take” seems an odd expression to describe isolation, for a “give and take” seems to evoke some kind of absent other. 75. Wilfred R. Bion, Two Papers: The Grid and Caesura (Rio de Janeiro: Imago, 1977), 12. 76. AT VII:173, CSM II:122. 77. AT VII:175, CSM II:124. 78. Especially helpful to my thinking about this formulation was Brian McGrath’s discussion of litotes and understatement in his “Understating Commodities,” presentation, Romanticism and Its Discontents: North American Society for the Study of Romanticism Conference, University of California, Berkeley, August 2016. 79. AT VII:66, CSM II:46. 80. AT VII:68, CSM II:47. 81. Larry F. Norman, The Shock of the Ancient: Literature and History in Early Modern France (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), 157. 82. Martin Heidegger, “The Nature of Language,” in On the Way to Language, trans. Peter D. Hertz (New York: Harper and Row, 1982), 57– 110, 83. 83. Heidegger, “Nature of Language,” 84. 84. On the “geometers,” see Norman, Shock of the Ancient. For a reading of the quarrel as culture war, see Joan DeJean, Ancients against Moderns: Culture Wars and the Making of a Fin de Siècle (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997). 85. Heidegger, “Nature of Language,” 84. 86. Heidegger, “Nature of Language,” 136. 87. Heidegger, “Nature of Language,” 93. 88. Heidegger, “Nature of Language,” 95. 89. Heidegger, “Nature of Language,” 87.

178 Notes to Pages 83–89 90. Nicolas Boileau, L’Art poétique, Œuvres complètes (Paris: Hachette, 1857), 177. 91. Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, 4th ed., ed. Roland Greene et al. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012), 100. Chapter Three 1. Descartes recorded his dreams himself, but his account did not survive. Adrien Baillet’s La vie de M. Descartes (1691) is the closest sustained account of the dreams. For more on Descartes’s night of dreaming, see Alice O. Browne, “Descartes’s Dreams,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 40 (1977): 256– 73. 2. Adrien Baillet, La vie de Monsieur Descartes, vol. 1 (Paris: Daniel Horthemels, 1691), 81. 3. Baillet, La vie, 82. 4. Alice Browne explains that “the sparks, and the quality of the visual images he sees when he opens and closes his eyes, remain mysterious” (261). On Descartes’s sparks of poetic imagination in the context of the dreams, especially helpful is Richard Kennington’s “Descartes’ Olympica” in his On Modern Origins: Essays in Early Modern Philosophy, ed. Pamela Kraus and Frank Hunt (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2004), 79– 104. Of such sparks, Descartes writes, “We have within us the sparks of knowledge, as in a flint: philosophers extract them through reason, but poets force them out through the sharp blows of the imagination, so that they shine more brightly.” AT X:217, CSM I:4. 5. Baillet, La vie, 82– 83. 6. Baillet, La vie, 82– 83. Italics mine. 7. Baillet, La vie, 84. 8. Baillet, La vie, 84. 9. Adrianna M. Paliyenko, “Gender Trouble in the Meditations,” in Feminist Interpretations of René Descartes, ed. Susan Bordo (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State Press, 1999), 141– 64. As Paliyenko writes, “The more interesting material of the dream that belongs to the unconscious is what Descartes cannot elucidate” (146). 10. AT XI:429, CSM I:376. 11. Arthur Smith describes Husserl’s dismissal of the subsequent meditations bluntly: “Husserl was consistently interested only in the first two of Descartes’s meditations. This is not simply because he thought that most of the arguments in Descartes’s other meditations were invalid and based on unquestioned, mostly Scholastic prejudices (though he did think this), but because he thought the whole attempt to go beyond what Descartes had attained in the first two meditations was misguided in principle. In particular, Husserl thought that the very idea of trying to prove the existence of an ‘external’ world on the basis of the contents of ‘inner’ experience was, as he liked to put it, using the French term, a nonsens” (19). See Arthur David Smith, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Husserl and the Cartesian Meditations (London: Routledge, 2003). 12. Hiram Caton, “Will and Reason in Descartes’s Theory of Error,” Journal of Philosophy 72.4 (1975): 87– 104, 87. On theodicy and Descartes, see Zbigniew Janowski’s Cartesian Theodicy: Descartes’ Quest for Certitude (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2002) as well as C. P. Ragland, “Descartes’s Theodicy,” Religious Studies 43.2 (2007): 125– 44. 13. AT VII:55, CSM II:38– 39. 14. AT VII:56– 57, CSM II:39.

Notes to Pages 89–92


15. AT VII:60, CSM II:42. 16. AT VII:60, CSM II:42. 17. AT VII:60, CSM II:42. 18. AT VII:61, CSM II:43. 19. For an account that traces Descartes’s ideas about “natural light” back to Aquinas, see John Morris, “Descartes’ Natural Light,” Journal of the History of Philosophy 11.2 (1973): 169– 87. 20. Readers of the Principia might also remember the infant’s difficulty orienting himself with respect to light; there, Descartes’s baby cannot distinguish between the light and the stars. Lodged in this insufficient light is a broader resentment over infantile vulnerability. The problems of “light” also implicate poetry, however, because “[f ]or the Descartes of the Regulae, Discourse, and Meditations, the truth of the poetic imagination has remained just that: transitory brilliance which reason cannot place in a coherent system to serve as a guide for life. His admiration for the poet’s imagination is that of the thinker who has not yet developed rules to discipline the imagination into a source for reason to draw on in seeking and finding scientific truth. . . . It is the mature Descartes’s conviction that only the steady flame of scientific, not the evanescent spark of poetic, truth allows for the possibility of human progress.” See Peter A. Schouls, Descartes and the Possibility of Science (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000), 94. 21. See Terence Cave, The Cornucopian Text (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979). 22. See the helpful concordance compiled by Katsuzo Murakami et al., Concordance to Descartes’ “Meditationes de Prima Philosophia” (Hildesheim, Germany: OlmsWeidmann, 1995). 23. Jean Nicot, “Plainte,” Thresor de la langue francoyse tant ancienne que moderne, vol. 2 (Paris: Douceur, 1606), Dictionnaires d’autrefois, The ARTFL Project, http:// /publicdicos/query?report=bibliography& head =plainte (May 1, 2017). 24. The complaint genre was popular beginning in the Middle Ages, and William Race notes that features of the complaint made their way into elegy and that there was already a blurred sense of genre to begin with: “In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, three sometimes overlapping strains of complaint are evident: satiric poems that expose the evil ways of the world (contemptus mundi, e.g., Alain de Lille, De planctu naturae . . .), didactic, that relate the fall of great persons . . . and amatory, including both short poems written in the plaintive Petrarchan mode . . . and more ambitious monologues” (229). William H. Race, “Complaint,” Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, ed. Alex Preminger, T. V. F. Brogan, et al. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993), 229– 30. I am grateful to David Quint for directing me toward this earlier tradition. 25. On “creation” in the Cartesian context, see Kim Sang Ong-Van-Cung’s Descartes et l’ambivalence de la création (Paris: Vrin, 2000.) Ong-Van-Cung grapples with the problem of “la nécessité pour la création d’être ex nihilo” (13) and its intersection with theories of causation, arguing that Descartes successfully yokes creation ex nihilo with the creativity associated with human invention (18). While she argues that Descartes moves away from “[l]a conception historique et théologique de la création . . . [où] la finitude est marquée parce qu’être créé, c’est être soumis à la dépendance radicale” (13), moments of Descartes’s text like this one seem to display at the very least a different kind of ambivalence, one that points toward a deep unease with dependency.

180 Notes to Pages 94–96 26. AT VII:57– 58, CSM II:40. 27. Heda Segvic, “Deliberation and Choice in Aristotle,” in Moral Psycholog y and Human Action in Aristotle, ed. Michael Pakaluk and Giles Pearson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 159– 86. 28. Allan P. Farrell, trans. and ed., The Jesuit Ratio Studiorum of 1599 (Washington, DC: Conference of Major Superiors of Jesuits, 1970), 84. Of course, these texts could be encountered in their entirety outside of school, too. Spinoza takes on Ovid’s Amores outright in his discussion of ambition in his Ethics. See Baruch Spinoza, Ethics, trans. Samuel Shirley (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1992), 122– 23. For more on Ovid in seventeenthcentury context, see Helena Taylor, The Lives of Ovid in Seventeenth-Century French Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017). 29. Ovid, Heroides and Amores, ed. Grant Showerman (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1914), 3.5– 11. 30. Ovid is already seduced in a way. He falls to the charm of the elegizing birds: “et latere ex omni dulce queruntur aves” (Ovid, Heroides and Amores, 3.4). They themselves are “sweetly complaining” (dulce queruntur). 31. Ovid, Heroides and Amores, 3.37– 38. 32. Friedrich von Schiller, “Letter IV,” Aesthetical and Philosophical Essays, vol. 1, ed. Nathan Haskell Dole (New York: C. T. Brainard Publishing Co, 1902), 11. 33. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Table Talk, ed. Carl Woodring (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990), 444– 45. 34. Gregory Nagy lucidly describes the many functions of Greek elegy and outlines the formal features of elegiac verse in “Ancient Greek Elegy,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Eleg y, ed. Karen Weisman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 13– 45; while maintaining a relationship to “lament,” elegy served a range of functions beyond mourning, from instituting civic order to reveling in pleasure and passion. For a thorough consideration of Roman elegy, meanwhile, and its afterlives (including in Latin elegy of the Renaissance), see Barbara K. Gold, ed., A Companion to Roman Elegy (London: Blackwell, 2012). I am especially grateful to Jocelyn Saidenberg for her insight into Roman elegy and the querela. 35. Michael von Albrecht explains that “it was France that became a focus for the influence of the [Roman] elegists” (762). Michael von Albrecht, A History of Roman Literature: From Livius Andronicus to Boethius, vol. 1 (Leiden: Brill, 1996). Both élégie and the complainte appear in poetry of the period. Roman elegy was an important genre for imitation in the sixteenth century as the elegiac form passed from France to Italy, though, obviously, it left space for much by way of invention, too, for poets of the era. François Rigolot’s study of Du Bellay and la poésie du refus shows one such deviation (as he aptly notes, like la Fontaine, that “l’imitation n’est pas un esclavage”). Set against Descartes and his many “refusals,” especially those related to poetry, Rigolot’s observations about the “refusals” that recur in Du Bellay’s poetry seem especially striking, and all the more so given the importance of withdrawal and solitude to many of Du Bellay’s poems (for instance, “La complainte du désespéré” [1552]). See François Rigolot, “Du Bellay et la poésie du refus,” Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance 36.3 (1974): 489– 502. 36. Consider, for instance, Sir Sidney Lee’s early twentieth- century characterization: “‘Complainte’ is another French poetic term, which was often used in the sense of elegy.” Sidney Lee, The French Renaissance in England: An Account of the Literary Relations of England and France in the Sixteenth Century (New York: Scribner, 1910), 237.

Notes to Pages 96–101


37. See especially Jean-Luc Nancy, “Larvatus pro Deo,” in Ego Sum: Corpus, Anima, Fabula, trans. Marie-Eve Morin (New York: Fordham University Press, 2016), 39– 64. Of Descartes’s motto, Nietzsche wrote: “That is an epitaph with a vengeance.” Friedrich Nietzsche, Selected Letters of Friedrich Nietzsche, ed. Oscar Levy, trans. Anthony M. Ludovici (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page, and Company, 1921), 319. 38. Jeri Blair Debrohun, Roman Propertius and the Reinvention of Eleg y (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2003), 242. 39. For the relationship between error and sin and Descartes’s relationship to theology, see especially Étienne Gilson, La Liberté chez Descartes et la théologie (Paris: Alcan, 1913). 40. AT VII:58, CSM II:40– 41. 41. Against a tradition that would see Descartes’s account of error in relationship to Scholasticism, Caton shows how Descartes “follows the Stoics.” Hiram Caton, “Will and Reason in Descartes’s Theory of Error,” Journal of Philosophy 72.4 (1975): 102– 3. 42. AT VII:60, CSM II:41. 43. AT VII:55, CSM II:39. 44. AT VII:61, CSM II:42– 43. 45. AT VII:61, CSM II:42. 46. AT IX:49. 47. This moment invites speculation about the stakes of the meditator’s solitude for Descartes and for his translators: is it the case that Descartes, who oversaw the French translation of his text, put this in for clarity’s sake, or did Descartes’s translators want a purer version of Cartesian solitude? The addition of the clause goes oddly unquestioned even by many distinguished critics, a problem that owes as much to the entrenched vision of the solitary thinker (see Frankfurt’s easy story of isolation above!) as it does to the highly authoritative contemporary translation. Jean-Luc Marion is untroubled by the addition, explaining it simply as an edition to the text, which “la traduction française glose intelligemment” (207). But following the principle of the lectio difficilior of textual criticism, that is, the “more difficult” reading of an earlier manuscript that would be corrected by the subsequent scribe, or in this case, translator, this easy dismissal seems to arrive too soon: the desire to be alone in the world is consistent with the solitude of the earlier meditations, but it is not the more difficult reading, and it does not solve the problem of theodicy at hand. Jean-Luc Marion, Questions cartésiennes: méthode et métaphysique (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1991). On the relationship between complaining and sociality and “how the complaint, companion to grievance, implies melancholia, and unleashes the energy of protest,” Avital Ronell’s Complaint: Grievance Among Friends (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2018) is instructive (54). Ronell identifies “[t]he non- complainers” as “staying within the boundaries of coded gracefulness” (55). 48. AT VII:57, CSM II:40. John Lyons links the will to the power of the imagination: “Significantly, I think, Descartes praises the will as being the most god-like attribute of the human being in the same passage in which he claims that God has an unlimited imagination.” See John D. Lyons, “Descartes and the Modern Imagination,” Philosophy and Literature 23.2 (1999): 302– 12. 49. AT X:95. 50. Intriguingly, in the famous episode of Augustine’s Confessions, cited in chap. 1, the “envious” baby has an amaro aspectu, a “bitter look.”

182 Notes to Pages 103–113 51. AT VII:61– 62, CSM II:43. 52. Dennis L. Sepper, Descartes’ Imagination: Proportion, Images, and the Activity of Thinking (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 295. 53. Émile Benveniste, “Remarks on the Function of Language in Freudian Theory,” Problems in General Linguistics, trans. Elizabeth Meck (Coral Gables, FL: University of Miami Press, 1971), 66. See also the discussion of this passage in Jean Laplanche, Essays on Otherness, ed. John Fletcher, trans. Luke Thurston et al. (London: Routledge, 1999), 196. Jean Laplanche, La révolution copernicienne inachevée: Travaux 1962– 1992 (Paris: Aubier, 1992). 54. AT VIIIA:17, CSM I:204. 55. AT VII:54, CSM II:38. 56. AT VII:55, CSM II:38. 57. In contrast, Jean-Luc Marion says that there is no textual basis for deeming others to be of any importance at all to Descartes’s argument: “Pourtant, voudrat- on objecter . . . si la Meditatio I élimine autrui, ne s’agit-il pas d’une négation provisoire, préparant une restauration ultérieure d’autrui . . . ? Telle serait l’hypothèse la plus élégante et la plus satisfaisante ; son seul défaut tient pourtant à l’absence de tout texte qui la confirme. La Meditatio IV, bien qu’elle établisse une doctrine de l’erreur en invoquant la finitude de mon entendement, n’entreprend pas, même en esquisse, une définition intersubjective de la vérité : la mention de l’omnis universitas rerum . . . n’anticipe en rien sur une constitution intersubjective du monde.” Marion, 195– 96. 58. AT XI:377, CSM 1:351– 52. 59. AT XI:472, CSM I: 396. 60. AT XI:472, CSM I:396. 61. AT XI:472 73, CSM I: 396– 97. 62. AT XI:485, CSM 3:402. 63. “Once again limb-loosening Love makes me tremble, / the bitter-sweet ( glukupikron), irresistible creature” (146– 47). Sappho and Alcaeus, Greek Lyric I, ed. and trans. David A. Campbell (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982). 64. AT XI:488, CSM I:404. 65. AT VII:90, CSM II:62. 66. AT VII:90, CSM II:62. 67. AT VII:89– 90, CSM II:61– 62. 68. Kyoo Lee, for instance, argues that “something like the a ‘touch of (divine) imagination’ . . . rhythmically structures the Cartesian philopoetics of somnambulism” (141). Chapter Four 1. AT VII:301, CSM II:209. 2. AT VII:153– 54, CSM II:109. 3. One of the most fascinating accounts of Descartes’s relationship to time remains Jean Wahl’s Le Rôle de l’idée de l’instant dans la philosophie de Descartes (Paris: Alcan, 1920). Also especially interesting in this context is Dalia Judovitz’s treatment of enumeration in her Subjectivity and Representation in Descartes: The Origins of Modernity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988). Among quite recent accounts, see Geoffrey Gorham, “Descartes on Time and Causation,” Early Science and Medicine 12.1 (2007): 28– 54, and Rebecca Lloyd, Descartes’ Temporal Dualism (Lanham: Lexington

Notes to Pages 114–117


Books, 2014). Curiously, neither Gorham nor Lloyd mention Wahl’s work. Also especially useful is Daniel Garber’s account of debates on the distinction between the “instant” and the “moment.” See his Descartes’ Metaphysical Physics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), esp. 266– 94. 4. Martin Heidegger, What Is a Thing?, trans. W. B. Barton Jr. and Vera Deutsch (South Bend, IN: Regnery, 1976), 101. 5. Andrea Bachner, “Anagrams in Psychoanalysis: Retroping Concepts by Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, and Jean-François Lyotard,” Comparative Literature Studies 40.1 (2003): 23. 6. AT V:149, CSMK 336. 7. In the eighteenth century, Joseph Addison would call the anagram and acrostic the invention of some “Blockhead.” See H. Baran and D. J. Rothman, “Anagram,” in Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, 4th ed., ed. Roland Greene et al. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012), 48– 49. 8. Baran and Rothman, “Anagram,” 49. 9. Aristotle, Poetics, trans. Stephen Halliwell in Aristotle, Longinus, and Demetrius, Aristotle: Poetics. Longinus: On the Sublime. Demetrius: On Style, trans. by Stephen Halliwell et al., rev. Donald A. Russell, Loeb Classical Library 199 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995): 1– 142, 58– 59. I translate spoudaioteron above as “more serious” rather than simply “more elevated.” 10. Anagram often appeared in the context of emblems. See chap. 1 for more on the emblematic tradition, particularly in relation to the riddle. One of the more startling anagrams in this context appears in a 1624 biography of Robert Bellamine: “In the words Robertus Cardinalis Bellarminus e Societate Jesu, [the biographer] has discovered anagrammatically the awful prophecy— Lutheri errores ac astutias Calvini omnes delebis— you will demolish all the errors of Luther and wiles of Calvin.” Andrew Steinmetz, History of the Jesuits: From the Foundation of Their Society to Its Suppression by Pope Clement IV (London: Richard Bentley, 1848), 302n3. 11. Fernand Hallyn, “Puteanus sur l’anagramme,” Humanistica Lovaniensa 49 (2000): 255– 66, 255. 12. T. V. F. Brogan and D. A. Colón, “Acrostic,” in Princeton Encyclopedia, 4th ed., ed. Greene et al., 6. 13. Fernand Hallyn, “Jean Dorat et l’anagramme: Ressource poétique et problème herméneutique,” in Jean Dorat, poète humaniste de la Renaissance: actes du colloque, ed. Christine de Buzon and Jean-Eudes Girot (Geneva: Droz, 2007), 257. On Maurice Scève’s Délie, see Jacqueline Risset, L’anagramme du désir: sur la Délie de Maurice Scève (Paris: Fourbis, 1995). See Christopher Braider’s comments on Corneille’s irony and on the anagram of comédie in his The Matter of Mind: Reason and Experience in the Age of Descartes (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012), 277n23. 14. Quoted in Fernand Hallyn, “A Light-Weight Artifice: Experimental Poetry in the 17th Century,” trans. Roxanne Lapidus, SubStance 71/72 (1993): 289– 305, 290. On the mathematical issues at stake, see Robin Wilson and John J. Watkins, eds., Combinatorics: Ancient and Modern (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 21– 24. 15. Hallyn, “A Light-Weight Artifice,” 292. 16. Tom Conley sees in Descartes’s signature “his own proper name . . . folded into the very figure of an abstract countryside.” Tom Conley, The Self-Made Map: Cartographic Writing in Early Modern France (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,

184 Notes to Pages 118–119 1996), 297. See also Hassan Melehy’s discussion of this in Writing Cogito: Montaigne, Descartes, and the Institution of the Modern Subject (Buffalo, NY: SUNY Press, 1997), 116. Melehy notes that “Tom Conley and Georges Van Den Abbeele each discovered this anagrammatical signature independently of each other” (Writing Cogito, 188n81), though the earliest discovery of this hypogram appears in Jacques Lezra, Icarus Reading: Trope, Trauma, and Event in Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Descartes (PhD dissertation, Yale University, 1990), 234– 42. Lezra locates in this hypogram a signature requiring both vision and blindness, stretching from the Discourse to the Second Meditation to Descartes’s writings on optics in his Dioptrique and in doing so implicating acts of reading in another genre, namely the novel. See Lezra, Unspeakable Subjects: The Genealog y of the Event in Early Modern Europe (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997). On the hypogram, cf. Harris Feinsod, “Hypogram,” in Princeton Encyclopedia, 4th ed., ed. Greene et al., 649. 17. On Saussure’s attempts to find alternative names for anagram and their subtypes— “ultimately failed attempts,” in Andrea Bachner’s words— see Bachner’s “Anagrams in Psychoanalysis,” which reveals an “anagrammar” of the unconscious fundamental to psychoanalysis. On the importance of Saussure’s work on anagrams for theoretical reflection, especially in the work of Michael Riffaterre, see Paul de Man, “Hypogram and Inscription,” Diacritics 11.4 (Winter 1981): 17– 35. 18. Quoted in Aviva Rothman, The Pursuit of Harmony: Kepler on Cosmos, Confession, and Community (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 172. For more on Kepler and Galileo, see esp. 145– 81. 19. Geneviève Rodis-Lewis, Descartes: His Life and Thought, trans. Jane Marie Todd (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998), 223. Rodis-Lewis also remarks how “faced with the stubborn resistance of a certain Cartesian ‘scholasticism,’ [Leibniz] diffused that other anagram: CARTESIUS = SECTARIUS” (223). Leibniz wrote on anagram and combination in his Dissertatio de Arte Combinatoria (1666). See also Stuart Warner’s “Devising Nature: An Essay on Descartes’s Discourse on Method,” in Mastery of Nature: Promises and Prospects, ed. Svetozar Y. Minkov and Bernhardt L. Trout (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), 54– 72. Warner points out that “Descartes was fond of anagrams” (68). 20. Du Bellay would also show how the practice of anagram, which he labeled fort vulgairs, in fact demonstrated an “antiquity” that lay within the French language. 21. Joachim du Bellay, La Deffense et Illustration de la langue francoyse, ed. Henri Chamard (Paris: Albert Fontemoing, 1904), 276. 22. Du Bellay, La Deffense, 277. 23. Quoted in Hassan Melehy, The Poetics of Literary Transfer in Early Modern France and England (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010), 54n13. 24. Melehy, Poetics of Literary Transfer, 54. 25. Melehy, Poetics of Literary Transfer, 54. 26. This has been the case for some time. The entry related to “anagram” in the 1906 New International Encyclopedia says as much: “Anagrams have now gone out of fashion, or rather have been relegated to the puzzle column of the magazine for the household. And yet even in this century, writers have formed their pen names by recombining the letters for their real names” (493). “Anagram,” The New International Encyclopaedia, vol. 1, ed. Daniel Coit Gilman, Harry Thurston Peck, and Frank Moore Colby (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1906).

Notes to Pages 119–125


27. Frederick Ahl, “Ars est Caelare Artem (Art in Puns and Anagrams Engraved),” in On Puns: The Foundation of Letters, ed. Jonathan Culler (Oxford: Blackwell, 1988), 17– 43, 29. 28. Christopher Ricks, “Shakespeare and the Anagram,” Proceedings of the British Academy 121 (2003): 111– 46, 113. 29. Ahl, “Ars est Caelare Artem,” 28. 30. Ahl, “Ars est Caelare Artem,” 40. 31. Alastair Fowler, Literary Names: Personal Names in English Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 79. Fowler names exceptions to the rule from Du Bellay to Puttenham. 32. Quoted in Jean Starobinski, Words upon Words: The Anagrams of Ferdinand de Saussure, trans. Olivia Emmet (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979), 17. 33. Quoted in Daniel Heller-Roazen, “Secrets of Tristan Tzara,” October 144 (2013): 25– 48, 26. 34. Susan Stewart, Poetry and the Fate of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 227. 35. Helen Vendler, The Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 11. 36. Hallyn, “Jean Dorat et l’anagramme,” 268. 37. AT X:390– 91, CSM I:27. Translation modified. 38. Judovitz, Subjectivity and Representation, 71. For a lucid account of Descartes’s various uses of enumeration, see John Schuster, Descartes-Agonistes: Physicomathematics, Method, Corpuscular-Mechanism, 1618– 33 (Dordecht: Springer, 2013), 255– 56. Christopher D. Johnson observes that “enumeration” held a particular fascination for the field of comparative literature: “Under various guises the Renaissance poetics of enumeratio became something of a touchstone in the heyday of ‘high’ comparative literature. . . . Leo Spitzer, E. R. Curtius, and Dámaso Alonso are fascinated by it” (1105). Christopher D. Johnson, “N+2, or a Late Renaissance Poetics of Enumeration” MLN 127.5 (2012): 1096– 1143. 39. George Puttenham, The Art of English Poesy: A Critical Edition, ed. Frank Whigham and Wayne A. Rebhorn (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007), 198. 40. AT X:391, CSM I:27. 41. Similarly, Thomas Carr examines the temporal constraints on attention: “Time is attention’s adversary. Because of the mind’s limited capacity, the will can concentrate only on a single point at any given moment. ‘One cannot be very attentive to several things at the same time.’ Thus, in order to focus on a single point while disregarding all that is extraneous, considerable effort must be marshalled.” Thomas M. Carr Jr., Descartes and the Resilience of Rhetoric: Varieties of Cartesian Rhetorical Theory (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990), 40. 42. AT V:150, CSMK 336– 37. 43. Descartes may have known the famous line from Horace’s epistles that toyed with “rex” in the mode of children’s song and made kingly claims to legitimation both pre-determined and perhaps conditional in “rex eris . . . / si recte facies . . .” (59– 60) or “You’ll be king if you do the right thing.” Horace, Satires, Epistles, Art of Poetry, trans. H. Rushton Fairclough (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1926), 254– 55. On this passage, see Walter Ralph Johnson, Horace and the Dialectic of Freedom: Readings in Epistles 1 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993), 42.

186 Notes to Pages 125–138 44. Jean Wahl, Le Rôle de l’idée de l’instant dans la philosophie de Descartes (Paris: Alcan, 1920), 22. 45. Judovitz, Subjectivity and Representation, 69. 46. Schuster, Descartes-Agonistes, 256. 47. Daniel Heller-Roazen, Dark Tongues: The Art of Rogues and Riddlers (New York: Zone Books, 2013), 124. 48. AT X:391, CSM I:27. 49. Descartes had already willingly suspended the definition of “locus” anyway: “The terms ‘place’ and ‘space’ (Quippe nomina loci aut spatii ), then, do not signify anything different from the body which is said to be in a place” (AT VIIIA:47, CSM I:228). This is consistent with a Cartesian physics where “Descartes rejects notions of ‘place’ and ‘space’ equally,” as Gaukroger glosses it. Stephen Gaukroger, Descartes’ System of Natural Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 102. 50. AT V:278, CSMK 366. 51. AT X:380, CSM I:20. 52. AT X:380, CSM I:21. 53. AT X:380, CSM I:20. 54. AT X:392, CSM I:27. 55. For more on the “retrorsum” or rursus anagram, see Charles Thomas, “The Llanddewi-brefi ‘Idnert’ Stone,” Peritia 10 (1996): 136– 83. 56. Such a deviation from method likewise offers a respite from what Adorno identifies as the exacting rigidity of the “Cartesian rule, respected by all philosophy which presents itself as science, not to skip intermediate steps.” Theodor Adorno, Against Epistemology: A Metacritique (Cambridge: Polity, 2013), 10. 57. See chap. 3. 58. Ahl, “Ars est Caelare Artem,” 30. 59. Jonathan D. Culler, Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics, and the Study of Literature (London: Routledge, 1975), 291. 60. AT V:153, CSMK 338. Only published in 1896, the reliability of the Conversation with Burman has been controversial, but his interest in similar topics also appears in the Principia and in the matter of the Discourse. 61. AT VIIIA:8, CSM I:196. 62. Melehy, Writing Cogito, 92. 63. AT X:392, CSM I:28. 64. AT X:404, CSM I:35. 65. AT X:387, CSM I:25. 66. AT XI:456, CSM I:389. 67. AT XI:458, CSM I:389. 68. AT XI:456, CSM I:389. 69. AT XI:457, CSM I:389. 70. AT XI:461– 62, CSM I:391. 71. AT VII:49, CSM II:33– 34. 72. To Descartes’s principle of creation here, Bergson objected. “[I]t is René Descartes with his doctrine of continued creation that is a permanent target of Bergson’s criticism. Throughout his œuvre Bergson makes use of Descartes to show the absurd consequences of representing time as a juxtaposition of moments rather than duration”

Notes to Pages 138–140


(3). See Khafiz Kerimov, “Descartes, Bergson, and Continuous Creation,” Methodos 18 (2018): 73. AT X:387, CSM I:25. 74. In this light, what Christina Ljungberg calls “anagrammatic poetry as a mode of extermination rather than a manifestation of the name” (264n7) for Baudrillard makes sense: it summons both sacrifice and life-giving manifestation. Christina Ljunberg, “‘Damn Mad’: Palindromic Figurations in Literary Narratives,” in Insistent Images, ed. Elzbieta Tabakowska, Christina Ljungberg, and Olga Fischer (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2005), 247– 68. 75. Jahan Ramazani, Poetry and Its Others: News, Prayer, Song, and the Dialogue of Genres (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), 32, 7. 76. Ramazani, Poetry and Its Others, 60. 77. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. Werner S. Pluhar (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987), 171. 78. Kant, Critique of Judgment, 171. 79. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, vol. 3, trans. H. E. Butler (London: William Heinemann, 1922), 577. 80. Only discovered in 1981 was the broadsheet advertising Descartes’s defense of his law thesis. In a dedication thanking his uncle, Descartes quotes Lucretius in his epigraph. See Stephen Gaukroger, Descartes: An Intellectual Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 65– 66. On the importance of Lucretius to early modern French thought, see Simone Fraisse, L’Influence de Lucrèce en France au seizième siècle (Paris: Nizet, 1962), and Philippe Chométy and Michèle Rosellini, eds., Traduire Lucrèce: Pour une histoire de la réception française du De Rerum natura (XVIe– XVIIIe siècle) (Paris: Honoré Champion, 2017). 81. Gaukroger, Descartes’ System of Natural Philosophy. 82. Gerard Passannante, The Lucretian Renaissance: Philolog y and the Afterlife of Tradition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), 86. 83. Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, trans. W. H. D. Rouse, Loeb Classical Library 181 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1924), 76– 77, lines 927– 28. Translation modified. 84. Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, lines 923– 25. 85. Of course this would not have been a problem for Epicurus, at least as far as Diogenes Laertius was concerned: “Only the wise man will be able to converse correctly about music and poetry, without however actually writing poems himself ” (10.120). Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers 10: Epicurus, in Lives of Eminent Philosophers, vol. 2, trans. R. D. Hicks, Loeb Classical Library 185 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1925), 528– 678. 86. Linda Munk, The Trivial Sublime: Theology and American Poetics (London: MacMillan, 1992), 82. 87. Munk, Trivial Sublime, 82. 88. AT V:193, CSMK 355. 89. Consider, for instance, D’Alembert’s call for “prose and verses without rhyme” in the context of “this philosophic century,” that is, the eighteenth. See William Marx, The Hatred of Literature, trans. Nicholas Elliott (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018), 88– 89.

188 Notes to Pages 141–149 90. Ahl, “Ars est Caelare Artem,” 40. 91. Andrea Bachner, “The Secrets of Language: Chen Li’s Sinographic Anagrams,” in The Oxford Handbook of Modern Chinese Literatures, ed. Carlos Rojas and Andrea Bachner (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 112– 30, 125. 92. Durs Grünbein, Descartes’ Devil: Three Meditations (New York: Upper West Side Philosophers, 2015), 89. 93. On Beckett’s use of these biographies (i.e., Baillet [1691] and Mahaffy [1880]), see Chris Ackerley, Demented Particulars: The Annotated Murphy (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004), 7. Francis Doherty argues for the priority of Mahaffy’s biography in “Mahaffy’s ‘Whoroscope,’” Journal of Beckett Studies 2.1 (1992): 27– 46. 94. Samuel Beckett, “Whoroscope,” Collected Poems in English and French (New York: Grove Press, 1977), 1– 6, 5. 95. Beckett, “Whoroscope,” 5. 96. Beckett, “Whoroscope,” 4. 97. On the “hommelette,” that “shapeless mass of egg,” see Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, trans. Alan Sheridan (London: Hogarth, 1977), 197. 98. Melehy, Writing Cogito, 120. 99. Melehy, Writing Cogito, 116. 100. Harold Bloom, “Clinamen or Poetic Misprision,” New Literary History 3.2 (1972): 373– 91, 391. Epilogue 1. Hannah Arendt, “Thinking and Moral Considerations,” Social Research 38.3 (1971): 417– 46, 417. 2. Irving Elgar Miller, The Psycholog y of Thinking (New York: MacMillan, 1909), 1. 3. Miller, Psycholog y of Thinking, 1. 4. John Dewey, How We Think (Boston: D. C. Heath, 1910), 8– 9. 5. Dewey, How We Think, 26. 6. Strikingly similar to Dewey’s description is Paul de Man’s account of prosopopeia. See Paul de Man, “Autobiography as De-facement,” MLN 94.5 (1979): 919– 30. 7. Arendt, “Thinking and Moral Considerations,” 426. 8. Arendt, “Thinking and Moral Considerations,” 445. 9. Arendt, “Thinking and Moral Considerations,” 423. 10. Arendt, “Thinking and Moral Considerations,” 423. 11. Arendt, “Thinking and Moral Considerations,” 435. 12. Arendt, “Thinking and Moral Considerations,” 435. 13. Arendt, “Thinking and Moral Considerations,” 445. 14. Arendt, “Thinking and Moral Considerations,” 445– 46. 15. Arendt, “Thinking and Moral Considerations,” 445. 16. Arendt, “Thinking and Moral Considerations,” 439. 17. Arendt, “Thinking and Moral Considerations,” 442. 18. Arendt, “Thinking and Moral Considerations,” 442. 19. Arendt, “Thinking and Moral Considerations,” 444. 20. Arendt, “Thinking and Moral Considerations,” 443. 21. Arendt, “Thinking and Moral Considerations,” 444– 45.

Notes to Pages 149–152


22. Arendt, “Thinking and Moral Considerations,” 425– 26. 23. Arendt, “Thinking and Moral Considerations,” 419n3. 24. Rudolf Carnap, “The Elimination of Metaphysics through Logical Analysis of Language,” in Critical Theory Since Plato, ed. Hazard Adams and Leroy Searle (Boston: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2005): 980– 89, 988. 25. Arendt, “Thinking and Moral Considerations,” 419n3. 26. Sir Philip Sidney, A Defence of Poesy, in Sir Philip Sidney: The Major Works, ed. Katherine Duncan-Jones (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989): 212– 51, 235. 27. Carnap, “Elimination of Metaphysics,” 988. 28. Paul Valéry, Collected Works of Paul Valéry, vol. 9, trans. Martin Turnell (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1968), 314. 29. Carnap, “Elimination of Metaphysics,” 988. 30. Quoted in Heather Williams, Mallarmé’s Ideas in Language (Bern: Peter Lang, 2004), 49n76. 31. Stéphane Mallarmé, Un coup de dés, Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, ed. Bertrand Marchal (Paris: Gallimard, 1998), 363– 407. 32. Mallarmé himself would achieve this widening in the body of the poem, that is, in the material surrounding the capitalized section here.


Ackerley, Chris, 188n93 Addison, Joseph, 183n7 Adorno, Theodor, 186n56 Aesop, 29 affinity, 82, 124– 26, 128, 130, 135– 36 Agamben, Giorgio, 77, 127, 176– 77n69 Agapetus, 29 Ahl, Frederick, 120, 130, 141 Ahmed, Sara, 170n69 Albright, Daniel, 165n92 allegory, 30– 31, 140, 168n25 Altieri, Charles, 159n16 anagram, 23– 24, 113– 44, 183n7, 183n10, 183n13, 183– 84n16, 184n17, 184n19, 184n20, 184n26, 184n55, 184n74 Antoine Arnauld, 13, 140 Aquinas, 134, 179n19 Arendt, Hannah, 1, 3, 21, 128, 145– 51, 159n12, 161n37 Ariadne, 129, 132– 33 Ariew, Roger, 168n18 Ariosto, 160n22 Aristotle, 1, 4, 9, 21, 34, 116, 134, 159n17, 183n9 Arnold, Matthew, 169n34 Artemidorus, 119 astrology, 128– 29, 142– 43 atoms, 139– 40 attitude toward life. See Lebensgefühl Auden, W. H., 3, 82, 117 Augustine, 46– 47, 181n50

Aurelius, Marcus, 52 Ausonius, 85– 86, 97– 98, 106, 110 Austin, J. L., 163n64 Avramides, Anita, 163n67 awakening, 109– 10 Bachner, Andrea, 115, 141– 42 Bacon, Francis, 52 Badiou, Alain, 160n28 Baillet, Adrien, 85 Bakhtin, Mikhail, 7 Balibar, Étienne, 170n52, 171n76 Baroque, 57– 60, 116, 158n7, 172– 73n12 Barthes, Roland, 17– 18 Bates, Catherine, 159n18 Baudrillard, Jean, 174n38, 176n55, 187n74 Baudry, Hervé, 159n14 Beckett, Samuel, 24, 79, 115, 142– 44 Bellamine, Robert, 183n10 Benveniste, Emile, 102– 3 Bergson, Henri, 186n72 Berkowitz, Roger, 159n12 Bérubé, Michael, 161n38 bibliomancy, 85 Bion, Wilfred R., 3, 79– 80, 83 bitterness, 23, 47, 84, 87, 96, 101, 103– 8, 110– 11, 114, 143, 181n50 bittersweetness, 23, 48, 87, 101, 101– 3, 107, 111, 182n63 Blasing, Mutlu Konuk, 158n12, 162n55, 164n74

192 Index blazon, 23, 57, 63– 65, 69, 73, 75– 76, 78, 175n43 blinking, 85– 86, 110 Bloom, Harold, 160n24 Boiastuau, Pierre, 52 Boileau, Nicolas, 4– 6, 16, 81– 83 boldness, 2, 114– 15, 133– 37, 141 Boyer, Carl, 157n4 Braden, Gordon, 174– 75n39, 175n41 Braider, Christopher, 117, 183n13 Brodsky, Claudia, 158n7, 170n50, 176n67 Brossette, Claude, 5, 80 Brown, Deborah J., 163n58 Brown, Marshall, 160n25 Browne, Alice O., 178n1, 178n4 Burman, Frans, 115, 131 Burton, Robert, 34, 52 Butler, Judith, 159n16, 175n51 Calderón de la Barca, Pedro, 59 Calvin, Jean, 183n10 carelessness, 134, 160n26 Carnap, Rudolf, 15– 16, 149– 52, 164n72, 164n79, 164n81, 166n96 Carr, Thomas M., Jr., 161n35, 162n56, 185n41 Caton, Hiram, 178n12, 181n41 Catullus, 29, 171n81 Cavaillé, Jean-Pierre, 158n5 Cave, Terence, 29, 168n14 Cavell, Stanley, 171n86 Celan, Paul, 160n28 Chauvin, Étienne, 118 choice, 8, 13, 15, 26, 89, 92– 95, 97– 98 Chomsky, Noam, 163n64 Christie, William, 159n16 Christina, Queen of Sweden, 1, 65 Chrysostom, St. John, 29 Cicero, 77 close reading, 18– 19, 22, 29, 34, 45, 72 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, 96 Colie, Rosalie, 2, 6, 12, 15, 18, 22, 114, 160n25 common sense, 22, 25– 28, 31– 35, 37– 41, 43– 48, 52, 54– 55, 57, 66, 72, 84, 87, 98, 101, 106– 7, 111, 169n40 Compagnon, Antoine, 165n87

complaint, 22– 23, 87, 89– 97, 99– 105, 107– 11, 133, 179n24, 180n30, 181n47 Conley, Tom, 117, 183– 84n16 Cook, Eleanor, 169n32 Corneille, Pierre, 117, 173n22, 183n13 Cottingham, John, 163n68 Croce, Benedetto, 9, 161n45 Culler, Jonathan, 130– 31, 158n12, 159n16, 165n94 Cumming, Brian, 64, 175n40 D’Alembert, Jean le Rond, 161n32, 187n89 Daniel, Drew, 18 Daphne, 65 De Man, Paul, 29, 165n89, 168n16, 188n6 death, 4– 5, 13, 23, 44– 45, 49, 55– 56, 81, 83, 97, 107, 112– 13, 115, 122, 125, 131, 134– 36, 140, 142– 43, 146, 151; of the author, 18, 141; of philosophy, 151; of poetry, 4– 6, 7, 9, 35, 80– 81, 115, 140, 142, 161n41 Debrohun, Jeri Blair, 181n38 Decii, 134– 40 DeJean, Joan, 177n84 Deleuze, Gilles, 77 deliberation, 93– 95, 98– 99. See also choice Demeter, 51 democracy, 26, 32– 33, 35, 38– 39, 43, 48– 49, 54, 61 dentists, 3 Derrida, 2, 164n78 Descartes, René: Compendium musicae, 101; Description of the Human Body, 34; Discourse on Method, 1– 2, 5– 8, 14, 22, 25– 33, 35, 38– 42, 44– 45, 48– 49, 52, 54– 55, 57, 61, 68, 77, 86, 94, 98, 104– 7, 113, 117, 132, 141, 143– 44, 151, 174n31, 177n73, 179n20, 184n16, 186n60; Meditations (with Objections and Replies), 1, 6, 8– 11, 13, 20– 23, 35– 39, 43, 50– 52, 54– 55, 57– 83, 85– 90, 93– 105, 107– 10, 112– 13, 137, 161n35, 161n36, 163n62, 170n52, 174n31, 176n59, 178n11, 179n20, 181n47, 182n57, 184n16; Passions of the Soul, 1, 25, 35, 45– 46, 50,


55– 57, 63, 65, 71, 77, 86– 87, 103– 8, 110, 114, 133– 40, 158n7, 163n58, 172n10, 173n21; Principia, 11– 13, 33, 40– 41, 55, 103, 113, 127, 131, 162n52, 179n20, 186n49; Rules for the Direction of Mind, 1, 14, 22, 31, 37– 38, 42, 44, 48, 50– 51, 54, 113– 14, 117, 122– 24, 127– 29, 132– 33, 138, 143, 178n3, 179n20 Descombes, Vincent, 63 desire, 8– 9, 20, 23, 25, 27– 28, 35, 39, 41, 48, 50, 52, 55– 57, 60– 66, 69, 71, 74, 83, 101, 106, 134– 36, 139, 147, 165n89 destiny, 4, 40, 78, 92– 95, 107, 136, 143 Dewey, John, 145– 47, difficulty, 10, 12, 14, 16, 31, 42, 59, 68, 72, 159n16, 161n41 Diogenes Laertius, 187n85 dispositif, 23, 77– 78 disposition, 22– 23, 71– 78, 80, 82, 94, 111, 114, 134, 162n57, 176n66 Dobzynski, Charles, 121 Doherty, Francis, 188n93 Dolven, Jeff, 168n15 Dorat, Jean, 117, 122 dramatic poetry, 9, 61, 157n3 dreams, 1, 59, 61, 66– 67, 85– 86, 97– 98, 106– 7, 110– 11, 119– 20, 175n49, 178n1 Du Bellay, Joachim, 64– 65, 117– 21, 167n101, 175n42, 180n35, 184n20 Dubrow, Heather, 30 Dunn, Kevin, 177n73 duration, 23, 69, 112– 14, 137, 182– 83n3, 186n72 economy, 77 education, 1– 2, 4, 22, 26– 31, 39– 40, 44, 48, 50, 57, 59, 64, 73, 96, 131, 152, 173n22, 176n68 egg, 142; hommelette, 188n97 elegy, 2, 6, 23, 78, 84, 87, 92– 99, 101, 107, 114, 179n24, 180n24 Elizabeth of Bohemia, 177n73 emblem. See riddle Encyclopédie (D’Alembert), 161n32 enigma. See riddle enjambment, 76, 83– 84, 97, 127, 176– 77n69


enumeration, 113– 14, 122– 24, 126– 28, 130, 182n3, 185n38 envy, 2, 22, 27– 28, 33, 38, 40, 42– 53, 57, 72, 101, 105, 111, 114, 170n69, 171n76, 171n78, 171n81, 172n89, 181n50 Epicurus, 187n85 Epstein, Joseph, 161n41 Erasmus, 25– 27, 31 error, 14, 23, 30, 33, 40, 51, 53– 54, 86– 90, 93– 96, 98– 109, 143, 181n39, 183n10 Euclid, 5, 81 evil genius (malin génie), 2, 19– 23, 39, 52, 57– 73, 76– 78, 80, 82– 83, 85, 87– 88, 99– 101, 107, 173– 74n27 Fabiani, Paolo, 177n73 fable, 2, 6, 22, 26, 32, 54, 58, 116, 158n5, 167n5, 173n20 fame, 135, 138– 40 Felski, Rita, 166n98 figure ( figura), 19, 24, 30– 32, 35– 38, 41, 42, 49, 64, 112– 13, 115, 140– 41, 146, 165n89 Fish, Stanley, 166n95 Fort-Da, 107 fortune, 44– 46, 97, 106, 108, 113, 170n69 Foucault, Michel, 2, 18 Fowler, Alastair, 120, 185n31 François, Anne-Lise, 162n54 Frankfurt, Harry, 77– 78, 177n74, 181n47 Freud, Sigmund, 3, 86, 107 Galilei, Galileo, 118, 142, 152, 160n22 Garber, Daniel, 157n4, 183n3 Garber, Marjorie, 160n24 Gassendi, Pierre, 59, 112 Gaukroger, Stephen, 157n2, 186n49 Gellner, Ernest, 177n73 generosity, 7, 21, 141, 166– 67n100, 167 genre, 6– 9, 14, 16, 18– 19, 24, 26, 28, 56– 58, 61, 63– 64, 70, 92– 93, 96, 114– 18, 138, 141, 142, 159n18, 160n26, 161– 62n44, 165n86, 165n87, 165n89, 166– 67n100, 173n20, 175n43, 179n24, 180n35 Gilson, Étienne, 167n1, 180n39 glory. See fame Gobert, R. Darren, 158n7

194 Index Gordon, Peter E., 164n74 Gorham, Geoffrey, 182n3 Gouhier, Henri, 167n1 Gould, Thomas, 160n21 Gourgouris, Stathis, 159n12 Grafton, Anthony, 168n15 greed, 28, 33, 40, 101, 111 Greene, Roland, 6, 65, 160n29 Griffith, James, 158n5 Grove, Laurence, 30,168n21 Grünbein, Durs, 142 Gurton-Wachter, Lily, 162n56 Hall, Crystal, 160n22 Hampton, Timothy, 64, 173n12, 175n41 Harvey, William, 142 hatred, 35, 47, 59, 77 hazard, 17– 21, 116, 152 Heidegger, Martin, 12, 15, 69, 81– 82, 114, 146, 150, 158n9, 159n15, 164n81, 167n100 Heller-Roazen, Daniel, 127 Henke, Christoph, 169n42 Hennig, Boris, 162n57 Henshaw, Amy, 173n22 Hobbes, Thomas, 59, 79– 80, 83, 90, 171n84 Hoffman, Philip T., 167n4 Hölderlin, Friedrich, 82, 158n9, 160n28 Homer, 5, 81 hope, 2, 21, 23, 53, 105, 110, 114– 15, 123, 128– 41 Hopkins, Gerard Manley, 168n31 Horace, 9, 91, 185n43 humanism, 22, 28– 29, 40, 52, 64, 96, 117, 170n52 Husserl, Edmund, 87– 88, 178n11 Huygens, Christiaan, 64 Hyperaspistes, 41, 170n56 image, 30, 38, 51, 60, 62, 70, 82, 119, 141, 174n30, 178n4 imagination, 3, 9– 10, 13, 34– 37, 70, 162n46, 176n59, 178n4, 179n20, 181n48 infancy, 27– 28, 39– 41, 44, 47, 50– 53, 58, 60, 105, 109, 179n20

inference, 71, 145– 46, 149– 51 influence, 3, 5– 7, 11, 22, 57, 141– 42, 144, 151, 160n24, 174– 75n39, 180n35 instant. See moment interpretation, 2, 17– 18, 20– 22, 54, 115– 22, 126, 133, 137, 141, 158n7, 166n98, 174n33 Io, 65 Jackson, Virginia, 8, 18, 158n12, 165n91 Janowski, Zbigniew, 174n27 Jardine, Lisa, 168n15 jealousy, 50– 51, 96, 171n86 Jesuits, 22, 27– 30, 59– 60, 64, 82, 95, 116– 17, 173n22, 176n68 Jocasta, 44– 45 Johnson, Christopher D., 173n12, 185n38 Jonson, Ben, 172n89 Judovitz, Dalia, 59, 123, 158n7, 173n20, 174n30 jumping, 79, 129, 145– 47, 149 Kahn, Victoria, 163n58, 173n21 Kant, Immanuel, 138– 40, 148 Katz, Jeffrey, 159n12 Keats, John, 87 Keenan, Thomas, 159n12 Kennington, Richard, 67, 178n4 Kepler, Johannes, 118, 126, 130 Kerimov, Khafiz, 186– 87n72 Klein, Melanie, 46– 47, 170n69 Klestinec, Cynthia, 174n33 Knapp, Steven, 166n95 Kohn, Eduardo, 159n12 Kristeva, Julia, 130 La Flèche, 22, 28– 29, 48, 65, 168n17. See also Jesuits Labé, Louise, 65 labor, 7, 34, 62, 123– 24, 126, 138 Lacan, Jacques, 3, 188n97 Lacoue-Labarthe, Philippe, 160n28 Laplanche, Jean, 182n53 larvatus prodeo, 17, 96, 181n37 Lebensgefühl, 15– 17, 21, 150– 51 Lee, Kyoo, 2, 158n7, 163n68, 169n40, 174n38, 182n68


Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm, 116, 184n19 Lennon, Thomas, 173n17 Levinas, Emmanuel, 10 Lezra, Jacques, 117, 169– 70n47, 184n16 lifetime, 112– 13, 122– 24, 125– 26, 131, 138 light, 90, 179n20; natural, 179n19; sparks, 178n4 Lille, Alain de, 179n24 litotes, 79– 80, 90, 177n78 Ljungberg, Christina, 187n74 Lloyd, Rebecca, 182n3 Llull, Ramon, 116 logic, 4, 11, 13– 16, 20– 21, 128, 150, love, 2, 6– 8, 16, 28, 56– 58, 61– 66, 70, 72, 77– 78, 95, 128, 139, 147, 149, 173– 74n27, 176n55, 182n63 Loyola, Ignatius, 8, 60 Lucretius, 12, 139– 40 Luther, Martin, 46, 183n10 Lyons, John, 2, 167n1, 181n48 lyric, 2, 6– 9, 15– 16, 28, 30, 32, 57– 58, 61, 63- 67, 69, 71– 73, 75– 76, 78, 84, 97– 98, 114, 160n25, 161n37, 161– 62n44, 165n91, 174n38, 175n41 madness, 3, 38– 39, 41 Malebranche, Nicolas, 162n56 Malherbe, François de, 83 Mallarmé, Stéphane, 130, 152, 189n32 Maravall, José Antonio, 173n12 Marder, Michael, 159n12 Marin Mersenne, 8, 52, 83 Marion, Jean-Luc, 4, 17– 20, 78, 163n58, 164– 65n84, 181n47, 182n57 Marno, David, 162n56 Marot, Clément, 96, 175n43 Martz, Louis, 82 Marvell, Andrew, 12 Marx, Karl, 32– 33, 162n55, 169n34 Marx, William, 187n89 McGrath, Brian, 177n78 McLaughlin, Kevin, 161n30 Melehy, Hassan, 119, 143– 44, 158n7, 163n68, 184n16 memory, 23, 29, 34– 35, 37, 41, 44, 71, 100– 102, 105– 7, 109, 124– 26, 150, 168n16


Merlin-Kajman, Hélène, 117 Meskill, Lynn S., 172n89 metaphor, 35, 38, 67, 81, 138, 146, 150, 158, 170n50, 175n50, 176n67 meter, 7, 95, 97, 116, 138 method, 1– 2, 5– 6, 8, 16– 22, 31, 45, 50, 60, 65, 72, 74, 81, 88, 98, 107, 109, 114, 117, 119, 122– 24, 128– 29, 131– 33, 136, 141– 42, 152, 162n54, 165– 66n94, 186n56 Michaels, Walter Benn, 166n95 Miller, Irving Elgar, 145– 46, 148 mimesis, 58– 59, 65, 70, 171n76, 173n19 Miner, Earl, 161n40 minotaur, 129 modernity, 2– 3, 70, 81– 82, 114, 120, 114 Moi, Toril, 21, 166n94, 166n97 moment, 147, 149, 163n68, 182– 83n3 Monoson, S. Sara, 173n19 Montaigne, Michel de, 136, 159n14 Moore, Fabienne, 161n43 Munk, Linda, 140 Nace, Nicholas D., 159n16 Naddaff, Ramona A., 160n21 Nagy, Gregory, 180n34 Nancy, Jean-Luc, 17– 20, 158n5 Nasier, Alcofribas, 116 Negri, Antonio, 61 Nersessian, Anahid, 166n98 Nicole, Pierre, 13– 14 Nicot, Jean, 68, 70, 91 Nietzsche, Friedrich, 181n37 nonsense, 20, 128 Norman, Larry F., 160n23 novel, 7, 61, 183– 84n16 Odysseus, 10 Oedipus, 22, 39– 40, 42– 45, 51, 170n65 Ong-Van-Cung, Kim Sang, 179n25 Ouija board, 18 Ovid, 12, 29, 91, 95– 97, 141, 164n71, 180n28, 180n30 Paliyenko, Adrianna M., 178n9 Panofsky, Erwin, 160n22 paralepsis, 90 parricide, 44– 45, 51. See also death

196 Index Passannante, Gerard, 139 peasants, 53 Pelops, 51 Penelope, 133 perfection, 8, 26, 60, 65, 72, 80, 85, 87– 90, 94, 99– 101, 108– 9, 122– 23. See also error Perloff, Marjorie, 161n44– 45 perversion, 22, 28, 45– 46, 49, 51, 54 Petrarch, 12, 57, 64– 65, 72, 174n38 Phillips, Adam, 171n75 Picard, Raymond, 165– 66n94 Picciotto, Joanna, 172n95 Plato, 56– 57, 59, 78, 120, 148, 173n19 Pléiade, 22, 167n101 poetry and poetics: death of, 4– 6, 7, 9, 35, 80– 81, 115, 140, 142, 161n41; definitions of, 2– 4, 7– 10, 76, 81– 83, 117, 121– 22, 127, 138, 162n55, 176– 77n69; in prose, 6– 7, 11, 19, 32, 38, 65, 84, 141, 182n68 Pound, Ezra, 171n83 praeteritio, 23, 90– 91 Prins, Yopie, 158n12 Propertius, 29, 96 Puente, Luis de la, 60 Puteanus, Erycius, 117 Puttenham, George, 123, 130 Pythagoras, 98 quarrel, 91, 96; between poetry and philosophy, 4– 5, 24, 81, 149; querela, 92, 96, 180; querelle des anciens et modernes, 81– 82, 160n23 Quintilian, 30– 31, 75– 76, 139, 176n67 Rabelais, François, 116 Race, William H., 179n24 Ragland, C. P., 178n12 Rajan, Tilottama, 169n34 Ramazani, Jahan, 138 Rawls, John, 171n76 reflection, 40, 67, 82, 96, 139 regret, 93, 104– 6, 109 Reiss, Timothy J., 170n64 remembrance, 97, 102– 3, 126, 138, 167n100. See also memory

repetition, 23, 29– 30, 69, 89, 91, 95, 102– 3, 107, 123– 26 repulsion, 56– 57, 114 resentment, 52, 78, 90, 150, 179n20. See also bitterness; envy rhyme, 35, 49, 118– 21, 187n89 Ricks, Christopher, 119 riddle, 2, 6, 22, 25– 45, 47– 54, 57, 116, 140, 168n25, 170n63, 183n10 Rigolot, François, 180n35 Rilke, Rainer Maria, 16, 164n81 Robinson Crusoe (Defoe), 61 Rodis-Lewis, Geneviève, 157n2 Ronell, Avital, 158n9, 167n100, 181n47 Ronsard, Pierre, 12, 49, 96, 117, 167n101, 176n66 Rooney, Ellen, 19– 20, 165n85, 165n89 Rorty, Richard, 161n38 Ross, David, 169n37 Rousseau, Jean-Baptiste, 5– 7, 16, 80– 81 Runyan, Randolph, 172n11 Russell, Daniel S., 168n22 Saccamano, Neil, 163n58 Sachs, Carl, 164n74 sacrifice, 124, 133, 136– 38, 187n74 sadness, 45– 46, 96– 97, 101, 105, 166n96, 171n76 Sappho, 106, 182n63 Sartre, Jean-Paul, 165n93 Satan, 170n69 satisfaction, 20, 23, 26, 47, 100– 107, 136, 182n57 Saussure, Ferdinand de, 23, 113, 116, 120– 22, 127, 138, 184n17 Scève, Maurice, 12, 117, 172n10 Schiller, Friedrich, 96 Schlitz, Katelijne, 31 Schouls, Peter A., 161n32 Schuster, John, 126 secrecy, 27, 33, 53, 60, 114, 117– 19, 162n54 seduction, 23, 57– 58, 61, 63, 65, 71– 78, 83, 111, 172– 73n12, 174n38, 176n55 Sepper, Dennis L., 102, 162n46 Shakespeare, William, 59, 148– 50, 175n43



Sharp, Hasana, 77 Shaw, Devin Zane, 32, 169n33 Shetley, Vernon, 161n41 Sidney, Sir Philip, 4, 14, 150, 159n18 Simon, David Carroll, 160n26, 163n58 Simpson, David, 41– 42, 167n1 sleep, 41, 109. See also dreams Sluhovsky, Moshe, 60 Smith, Arthur, 178n11 Smith, Paul J., 176n66 Socrates, 148, 150 solicitude, 62, 65, 71 soul, 14, 34, 41, 46, 56, 67, 77, 78, 106, 112, 118, 134, 137– 38 sphinx, 42– 45, 47, 51, 53 Spinoza, Baruch, 180n28 Starobinski, Jean, 122 Stempel, Daniel, 163n58 stew, 51 Stewart, Susan, 121– 22 sweetness, 7, 16, 19, 23, 103, 104, 106, 139, 180n30

Toulmin, Stephen, 168n17 tragedy, 43, 56– 57, 59, 94– 96, 173n21 transposition, 119, 122– 25, 129, 131– 33, 144 triviality, 113– 16, 120– 22, 124, 126, 130– 34, 137, 139, 140 trompe l’oeil, 58– 59 Tzara, Tristan, 113, 116, 120– 22

Tantalus, 50– 51 Tasso, Torquato, 4 Taylor, Archer, 32 Terada, Rei, 163n58 textiles, 129, 132– 33, 143 theater, 58– 61, 158n7 Theseus, 129 theodicy, 23, 88, 173– 74n27, 178n12, 181n47 Thiel, Udo, 163n57 Thirty Years’ War, 43, 168n17, 170n64 thought: definition of, 1, 10– 16, 66– 71, 78– 80, 140, 145– 52 Tibullus, 29 Tiffany, Daniel, 32, 165n86, 168n31

Wahl, Jean, 125, 127 Watson, Richard, 157n2, 157n3, 173n22 wax, 9– 10, 36– 38, 40, 43– 44, 47, 169– 70n47 Wilkin, Rebecca, 162n53, 167n7 will, 12– 13, 23, 47, 55, 70, 74, 77, 87, 89– 91, 93– 94, 97– 101, 103– 4, 106, 107, 128, 185n41 Williams, Michael, 175n49 wishes/wishing, 39,69, 71, 74– 76, 86, 89, 98– 101, 103, 106, 108– 11 Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 150 worms, 56– 57

Valéry, Paul, 151, 159n13 Valla, Lorenzo, 168n25 vampirism, 67 Van Den Abbeele, Georges, 117, 184n16 Vendler, Helen, 122 Vendler, Zeno, 161n36 Viau, Théophile de, 1 Vickers, Nancy, 64 Villon, François, 120– 21 Virgil, 12, 29, 91 vision, 10, 36, 45, 47, 51, 85, 98– 101, 110, 118, 120, 129– 30, 149, 157n2, 174n30, 184n16

Yeats, William Butler, 147, 151