High Fidelity : Jean Starobinski’s Critical Hermeneutics
This one day conference, to be held at NYU’s Maison Française on February 17, is devoted to the work of Jean Starobinski, arguably one of the foremost literary critics of the twentieth century. The bulk of his work addresses the Enlightenment. He wrote extensively on Rousseau, starting with his landmark Jean-Jacques Rousseau: la transparence et l’obstacle, published in 1957; but also on Diderot, Montesquieu, and Voltaire. As a historian of ideas, he wrote the diptych of L’Invention de la liberté: 1700-1789 (1964) followed by 1789: Les Emblèmes de la raison (1973). But his interests span across centuries (as shown by his book on Montaigne and the many essays he devoted to Baudelaire, Yves Bonnefoy, Claude Simon, Maurice Blanchot).
These readings have been accompanied by an uninterrupted self-reflexive meditation on what Starobinski calls the «critical relation». It culminates in L’Œil vivant and La Relation critique where he develops a literary hermeneutics attentive to stylistic bends close to H.-G. Gadamer’s and P. Szondi’s. Having first studied (medicine and literature) and then taught (history of medicine and literature) at the Université de Genève, he became one of the major figures of what came to be known as the Geneva School.
The recent publication of La Beauté du monde (Gallimard, 2016), a collection of his essays edited by Martin Rueff with the collaboration of Laurent Jenny and Julien Zanetta, reflects the richness and the variety of his work. Starobinski’s “high fidelity” calls to mind both his respect for the texts and the steadiness of his commitments: exemplary and inspiring in the clarity and coherence of his analysis of the works, writers, and themes that are dear to him and to us.