Marc Fumaroli: a Profile – 09.11.2001


Marc Fumaroli

2001 Balzan Prize for Literary History and Criticism (post 1500)

For his research on rhetoric from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, which has thoroughly renewed our understanding of European culture in the fields of literature, painting, and the art of living.

Born in Marseille in 1932, Marc Fumaroli is one of the most important historians of seventeenth and eighteenth century literature and culture, especially that of France, and a leading scholar on seventeenth century rhetoric. He has been a fellow at the Collège de France since 1986 and a member of the Académie française since 1985, where he assumed the place formerly occupied by Eugène Ionesco. He regularly writes articles for Le Monde and Le Figaro and contributes to a number of leading newspapers in Italy. 

Professor Fumaroli played a major role in initiating the rediscovery of rhetoric for contemporary culture and thought, a discipline that had fallen into oblivion and received little appreciation for centuries. It is no coincidence that he holds a professorship at the Collège de France where the term rhetoric has returned to the fore for the first time since the sixteenth century. Professor Fumaroli has demonstrated how this art of using words to please, instruct and affect has extended its influence over the fields of Literature and Fine Arts. The research work by Marc Fumaroli and in particular his book L’Ecole du silence (1994) have established a close relationship with the various European expressions of an “Italianising and Roman” culture, which in the seventeenth century not only consisted of a large repertoire of images but also shaped an entire way of life.

Marc Fumaroli has published important foundational works such as L’Age de l’éloquence (1980), which offers a masterful analysis of the art of words in the Renaissance; Héros et orateurs (1990), which deals with the theatre work of Pierre Corneille; La diplomatie de l’esprit (1994), which encompasses collections of studies from Montaigne to Charles Perrault; Le poète et le roi. Jean de La Fontaine en son siècle (1997), which expertly depicts a freethinker’s conflict with the principles of the new absolutist monarchy. The most recent works by Marc Fumaroli not only address the crisis that shook the cultural landscape at the beginning of the 18th century (the so-called “Querelle des anciens et des modernes”) but also focus on the political crisis that led to the fall of the Ancien Régime. This decisive moment forms the background for a book on Chateaubriand, which is soon to be released.

In addition, Fumaroli is founder and editor of the recent monumental Histoire de la rhétorique dans l’Europe moderne, 1450-1950, which was published last year. It is a work of more than 1500 pages compiling the knowledge of 24 scholars from all over Europe.

Yet Marc Fumaroli has been regarded as a lively and provocative polemicist ever since, in L’Etat culturel (1991), he criticised the state as the “guiding star of culture” and culture itself as “the religion of modernity”. In addition, he has recently warned against Europe’s adoption of instructional models from America and expressed criticism of the celebrations surrounding Sartre. He is a thinker who always goes against the current.

Past winners of Balzan Prizes for Literary Criticism

“The non-awarding of the Nobel Prize is proof of the wisdom of the Scandinavians, whereas the Balzan Prize is proof of Italian generosity”, remarked Jorge Luis Borges with his usual wit at the 1980 awarding of the first Balzan Prize for Literary Criticism. In the years since, the foundation has sporadically bestowed prizes upon the field of literary reflection and, in making its selection, has always attached importance to the plurality of approaches. The award was given to Jean Starobinski in 1984 for his rigorous stylistic analyses, to René Etiemble in 1988 for his comparative studies of texts from various linguistic and cultural areas and to Giovanni Macchia in 1992 for the examination of literary topics and their development.

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