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Absolutist Absurdities

February 25, 2019 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

Black and white image of an engraving depicting the child-prince Sans Parangon seated at a table near a crown and princess Belle Gloire appearing in a magical cloud.
Image: Anonymous engraving of Sans Parangon and Belle Gloire from the opening page of “Sans Parangon,” Le Cabinet des fées: Contenant tous leurs Ouvrages, 8 vols. (Amsterdam: Estienne Roger, 1717), 2:151. Image courtesy of Cotsen Children’s Library, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

Monday Seminar:

Hall Bjørnstad

Honorary Fellow (2018-2019)

Associate Professor of French; Director of the Interdisciplinary Renaissance Studies Program, Indiana University-Bloomington


The logic at work in texts written in praise of absolutist king Louis XIV may often seem so hyperbolic to a modern reader as to border on parody if not outright subversion. In this talk, I will look more closely at two prominent instances of this type of texts: first, royal historiographer Charles-Claude de Vertron’s 1685 Parallel between Louis the Great and the other princes who have been named great; second, Jean de Préchac’s 1698 fairytale “Sans Parangon” (“Without Equal”). A close examination will show that they operate very self-consciously according to the same logic which is at work at the heart of absolutism. As such, they become an important part of the wider reassessment of absolutism I undertake in my current book project. They express a strain or fracture inscribed within the logic of absolutism itself, rather than its critique. In all their exuberance and outlandishness, they enact the same thrust towards a maximal or crowning example as what we see at work in the king’s own Mémoires and in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.


Hall Bjørnstad is the author of Créature sans créateur: Pour une anthropologie baroque dans les “Pensées” de Pascal (Presses de l’Université Laval, 2010; Hermann Éditeurs, 2013) and translator of Pascal’s Pensées to Norwegian (2007). He is also the co-editor, with Katherine Ibbett, of an issue of Yale French Studies titled “Walter Benjamin’s Hypothetical French Trauerspiel” (vol. 124, 2014) and with Helge Jordheim and Anne Régent-Susini of Universal History and the Making of the Global (Routledge, 2018); and the editor of Borrowed Feathers: Plagiarism and the Limits of Imitation in Early Modern Europe (Oslo, 2008). This talk is part of a book project with the title “The Crowning Example: Louis XIV and the Crisis of Royal Exemplarity,” for which he just received an NEH fellowship for the fall 2019.


February 25, 2019
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
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University Club, Room 212
432 East Campus Mall
Madison, Wisconsin 53703 United States