image of Madame de Lafayette
Distinguished Lecture: Ann Delehanty, Literature as Skeptical Inquiry: the Case of the Early Modern Novel
5 pm - 6:30 pm
French Department Library (4229 Dwinelle)

In this lecture, I will use the early modern novel – specifically the example of Madame de Lafayette's Zayde – as a test case for a model of reading literature as skeptical inquiry. I argue that the contradictions in the text invite us to read the work as what Joshua Landy calls "axiologically complex," meaning that it is a work that places values into conflict. By isolating those contradictions as well as the characters' shocked reactions to them, we can see how the novel tests the values of early modernity and invites its readers to recognize their conflicting nature. I claim that this model of reading for contradiction constitutes a kind of skeptical inquiry that seeks to root out contradictory beliefs that readers might conflate with truth and offers a useful model for the function of literature in our own era of conflicting values.