Melancholies of Knowledge

Literature in the Age of Science

Edited by Margery Arent Safir

Subjects: French Studies
Series: SUNY series, The Margins of Literature
Paperback : 9780791439746, 205 pages, January 1999
Hardcover : 9780791439739, 205 pages, January 1999

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Table of contents




Margery Arent Safir

Editor's Note

1. Out of Time in the Dreaming Jungles

Stephen Jay Gould

2. "It is not safe to know"

Margery Arent Safir

3. A Disenchanted Enchanter

Michel Pastoureau

4. Cosmoses and Metaphor

James Ritter

5. Topographies

James Swenson

6. The Temptation of the Last Man

Jean-Michel Rabaté

7. The Aztec tlacuilo and the Other

Joaquín Galarza

8. The Mind's I

Christian Metz




Scholars in the exact and social sciences join literary critics to consider the work of French author Michel Rio and to reflect on literature's place in intellectual discourse in an age dominated by science.


"We need the integration of our disciplines, the end to false dichotomizations, the recognition that we cannot grasp human uniqueness until we both practice art and understand science. We must celebrate a novelist who can teach scientists so much about evolution with a literary ploy rooted in anachronism—and we must tolerate a scientist who chooses to pay his respects by writing for a book of literary criticism. " –-from the essay by Stephen Jay Gould

Offering interdisciplinary criticism and methodology, Melancholies of Knowledge includes essays by scientists, social scientists, and literary critics on the work of the French novelist Michel Rio. It provides a non-specialist's description of the most important scientific changes in the century—easily understandable and related to issues of concern in the humanities—as well as an opportunity to see how these scientific changes are being incorporated into literary discourse, into the human element outside of theory or the laboratory. In presenting a new methodology that proposes true interdisciplinarity, Melancholies of Knowledge identifies a new class of contemporary fiction and, as a test case, provides the first serious criticism of a major contemporary French author.

Margery Arent Safir is Professor of Comparative Literature, The American University of Paris. Her previous publications include Earth Tones: The Poetry of Pablo Neruda (with Manuel Duran); A Woman of Letters; and Archipelago (a translation of the novel by Michel Rio).


"It is high time that Michel Rio's opus—which began in 1982 with Melancholy North and was crowned in 1992 with a Medicis Prize for Tlacuilo—became the object of a serious piece of work. Margery Arent Safir has surrounded herself with seven top researchers from diverse disciplines and nationalities, each of whom, from the point of his or her particular specialty, analyzes Rio's work….

"This multidisciplinary project is the logical extension of Rio's own work, which grapples with finding the meeting point—and by way of fiction examining its relevance—of literature and knowledge. By looking at Rio's novels, the essays collected in this volume explore the ways in which theory and knowledge are transformed into novelistic material…. The book, therefore, is complex, but fascinating from beginning to end. " –-Josyanne Savigneau, Le Monde