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The Je-Ne-Sais-Quoi in Early Modern EuropeEncounters with a Certain Something$
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Richard Scholar

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780199274406

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199274406.001.0001

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The Stroke of Passion: Pascal and the Poets

The Stroke of Passion: Pascal and the Poets

(p.125) 3 The Stroke of Passion: Pascal and the Poets
The Je-Ne-Sais-Quoi in Early Modern Europe

Richard Scholar (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

It is commonly said that elusive forces draw individual human beings into passionate relations with one another. This chapter identifies three tendencies towards the je-ne-sais-quoi in the realm of the passions, and argues that these three tendencies correspond loosely to the term's history. The first part deals with Descartes and other philosophers who attempt to draw the je-ne-sais-quoi into, or to exclude it from, a systematic theory. The second part of the chapter is devoted to those early modern writers (Corneille, Pascal, La Rochefoucauld, Molière, Racine, and others) who describe a strange sympathy that springs not from any rational choice but from an inexplicable mutual passion. This falls upon the subject at one stroke and, or so the poets say at the term's moment of lexical currency, as a certain je-ne-sais-quoi. The third part of the chapter looks at those writers (Regnard among others) who come to exploit the term as a fashionable instrument of persuasion.

Keywords:   passions, emotions, sympathy, stroke of passion, Descartes, Corneille, Pascal, La Rochefoucauld, Molière, Racine

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