Painting by Jean Béraud of people gathered on the street outside the Lycée Condorcet
Lecture: Zakir Paul "Disarming Intelligence: Proust, Valéry, Bergson"
5 pm - 6:30 pm
French Dept Library, 4229 Dwinelle Hall

Disarming Intelligence tracks a trajectory linking two moments in European thought through modern fiction and literary criticism. In Third Republic France, "intelligence" was a contested object for the sciences, one that differentiated the normal from the pathological. Around World War I, it emerged as a politically charged watchword in tense cultural polemics. Focusing on texts by Henri Bergson, Marcel Proust, Paul Valéry, and the critics of the Nouvelle revue française, this talk shows how these writers transformed the literary field by questioning the values and meanings it attached to intelligence. My book reconstructs distinct steps in the struggle to control the meaning of intelligence from the emergence of the term after Taine and its fictive abdication in Proust, to its crisis in Valéry, and its criticism in the pages of Jacques Rivière's NRF. Moving from Proust’s novel arguments for abdicating intelligence in favor of an experimental combination of intuition and intellect, the book examines the stories, essays, and notebooks of Paul Valéry who tested literature’s pretentions to intelligence. The literature of this period attempts to negotiate and displace the meanings of intelligence it inherits from Third Republic thought. As a topic for narrative and an object for reflection, intelligence spurred the casting of new narrative forms that did not simply abdicate analysis in favor of the irrational. Rather, these forms altered the place of literature within a wider range of discursive practices. By concluding with comparative reference to debates in critical theory writ large, it argues that modern French literature constitutes a privileged moment for critiquing the polysemic and embattled notion of intelligence.