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Corinne Noirot: Entre Deux Airs

    Entre Deux Aires

Rhétorique et poétique entretiennent à la Renaissance un dialogue fructueux et tendu, qu’éclaire dans cet essai l’examen comparatif et rarement pratiqué de deux poètes traditionnellement opposés. Clément Marot et Joachim Du Bellay font ici l’objet d’un parallèle qui ne raisonne pas en termes d’influence du premier sur le second, les deux projets poétiques restant très contrastés. De part et d’autre du prétendu fossé de 1550, Marot et Du Bellay choisirent chacun à leur manière de ressusciter et de reconvertir le style simple (ou bas) de la tradition rhétorique, le genus humile ou subtile. Comment, pourquoi oser ainsi revendiquer le moins lyrique et le plus prosaïque des genres de discours ? Si humanisme, évangélisme et gallicanisme sous-tendent en partie cette appropriation historicisée d’un style, un discours moral non moralisateur (paix, amitié, prudence, modération) s’y allie plus profondément à un fort degré de projection personnelle. Cette dimension éthique omniprésente se confronte aux contradictions intrinsèques à la notion même de style simple, renforcées au contact de la haute idée de la poésie qui caractérise la Renaissance française. L’idée de “poéthique” s’étoffera au fil de l’essai, pour substituer aux labels strictement rhétoriques la notion de style éthique ou style de l’ethos. L’ethos au sens large, comme principe poétique, repose chez Marot sur la Grâce, et chez Du Bellay sur la Vertu. Partiellement idiosyncrasique mais de portée bien plus vaste qu’une simple esthétique individuelle, le style de l’ethos se réalise chez le subtil Marot à travers la charité enjouée de l’”humilité gracieuse”, et chez le fin Du Bellay à travers l’héroïsme discret de 1’”humiliation vertueuse”. L’Angevin et le Quercinois raffinent le simple et rehaussent le bas, ainsi activement (re)convertis dans une pensée poéthique.

In the Classical tradition, “plain style” refers to one of three rhetorical genres arranged in an accepted hierarchy. The lowest and least ornate of all discursive modes in oratory, plain style is supposed to sound direct and subtle, deceptively simple and intelligible, in opposition to the lofty “high style” expected in tragedy, forensic eloquence or epic poetry. Revived in Renaissance times, thanks to Erasmus among other Christian humanists, plain style unexpectedly entered French poetry with Clément Marot, whose poetry combines high-spirited jest with spiritual notes. Contemporaries of Marot, the ‘Prince of Poets,’ acknowledged him as an expert in plain style (in Latin: genus humile). Joachim Du Bellay also appropriated this rhetorical mode, albeit in a more occasional and conflicted manner. A parallel examination reveals that these two poets separated by important generational differences both reinvent and legitimate an unusual poetical plain style. They each do so based on a generative principle, namely, Grace, for Marot, and Virtue, for Du Bellay: gracious humility, virtuous humbling is what their œuvres respectively strive for.

How and why was plain style thus revived near the end of the Valois dynasty, at a time when lyricism eschewed prosaic discourse, and when poetry aimed for more grandiose achievements (i.e. primarily, epic poetry) while under pressure to exalt rulers? A partial answer to this question concerns the singular pleasure and power—the efficacy, as our Marot and Du Bellay would put it—the easy seduction of plain style as the style of the ethos (meaning both character/projected moral posture and a penchant for moderate rhetoric). Such discreet efficacy of the ethos implies a cultural context and movements that favored plain style’s literary revival (Evangelicism and Gallicanism, in particular). ‘Poethical’ style also defines itself as a form of resistance against the effects of high pathos and loud rhetoric in poetry—in contrasted and yet not so dissimilar ways, in Marot versus Du Bellay. All in all, this paradoxical rhetorical positioning has a lot to teach us regarding the peculiar power of an ethical type of charm, in matters of poetic voice and address, and beyond. 


Corinne Noirot

    Corinne Noirot
Corinne Noirot, former fellow of the École Normale Supérieure, is a just-tenured Associate Professor of French at Virginia Tech. Author of “Entre deux airs”: style simple et ethos poétique chez Clément Marot et Joachim Du Bellay [2011] (Paris: Hermann éditeurs, 2013), she also co-edited the scholarly collection “Revelations of Character.” Ethos and Moral Philosophy in Montaigne (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007). Other publications include articles on verse by Marot, Peletier, Du Bellay, Ronsard, La Taille, Vian, and Goudezki; and prose works by Rabelais, Montaigne, and Bégaudeau. She is currently analyzing the complete works Jean de la Taille, a French soldier-poet of the late sixteenth-century, from the perspective of drama as an active principle in his puzzling yet coherent œuvre.

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