Richard Goodkin

Position title: Senior Fellow (2009-2014)

French and Italian, UW-Madison

Portrait image of Richard Goodkin with brown hair and mustache wearing a white shirt and dark sweater

Connecting the Dots: The Calculus of Personality in French Fiction and Film

This project examines the influence of the development of calculus on conceptions of personality in literature and film in the modern period in France. From its inception, calculus, a branch of mathematics invented by Newton and Leibniz in the seventeenth century, has been closely connected to a number of philosophical currents, and it will be argued that starting in the nineteenth century it also began to affect representations of character and personality in literature. The book focusses on both the development of calculus itself and its ramifications for representations of personality. The areas studied are mathematics, philosophy, literature, and film, and also social psychology, a field that has been profoundly affected by calculus, which as one of the bases of statistical science provides fundamental tools for the quantification of personality. The major literary figures and currents studied are realism (Balzac, Maupassant), the roman-fleuve (Proust), and the nouveau roman (Duras, Butor, Robbe-Grillet). The works of the filmmaker Alain Resnais are included as examples of an atomized or mosaic view of human personality.

Richard E. Goodkin is Professor of French at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is a specialist of seventeenth-century French literature, but has also worked on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and on ancient Greek tragedy. His research interests include intertextuality, the study of genre, literature and philosophy, literature and mathematics, and French film. His books include The Tragic Middle: Racine, Aristotle, Euripides (Wisconsin, 1991), Around Proust (Princeton, 1991), and Birth Marks: The Tragedy of Primogeniture in Pierre Corneille, Thomas Corneille, and Jean Racine (Pennsylvania, 2000). He is also the editor of Autour de Racine: Studies in Intertextuality (Yale French Studies, 1989) and In Memory of Elaine Marks: Life Writing, Writing Death (Wisconsin, 2007). He is presently completing a manuscript entitled How Do I Know Thee, Let Me Count the Ways? The Representation of Personality in Early Modern French Comedy and Narrative, a project for which he received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2005-2006.