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From scientific doubt to revisionist doubt

Reasons for scientific doubt regarding untrustworthy biographies

What we call “the history of literature” is a discipline that originated very progressively in the 19th century by borrowing a part of its methods from other scientific disciplines (essentially from history and philology). Up to that point, knowledge about writers, their works, the literary genres, the actors of the literary (and dramatic) milieu resulted in the accumulation and the reduplication of discourse transmitted over the centuries by men of letters. Thus, in the case of Moliere, the publication at the beginning of the 18th century of a Life of Moliere by a man of letters named Grimarest served as a basis for all knowledge on the subject until the middle of the 19th century. Grimarest, repeatedly copied during almost two centuries, enriched by dozens of anecdotes that appeared as time went on and that other men of letters were quick to compile, was cited as a reliable source up until the appearance of the first “historians of literature”: some of which put together the philological resources available in order to create the first “scientific” edition of Moliere's texts (the Grands écrivains de la France edition carried out by Eugène Despois and Paul Mesnard); the others searching for all the authentic documents pertaining to Moliere and creating a journal called Le Moliériste to gather together their many discoveries. The conjunction of their works has called into question most of Grimarests's claims (including all of what he claimed to have learned from Baron, a star actor employed at the age of seventeen by Moliere who defected to the rival troupe immediately after Moliere's death less than three years later), yet many of the first historians of literature never dared frankly and openly challenge his authority, or the authority he lent to Baron.

One can understand, then, that at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, there were reasons to doubt the current state of knowledge concerning Moliere. At a time when accusations against the most famous of all western actor-playwrights (Shakespeare) were being murmured all across Europe, all manner of doubt was permitted. Especially when these doubts began to take root in the mind of Pierre Louÿs, an excellent writer who, after a period of glory, fell into the most utter literary, intellectual, psychological, affective, physical and material decay and who his whole career had followed the star of the literary pseudonym and hoax.

From scientific doubt to revisionist doubt

Close to a century later, we are no longer in the same situation and our biographical, bibliographical, dramaturgical knowledge, and knowledge of the writer's creative process (what in French is called génétique), have progressed to such an extent that to adopt the argumentation of Louÿs today amounts to miring one's self in an anti-scientific process and in revisionism in the proper sense of the term. By applying obsolete criticism to an obsolete state of knowledge, the disciples of Louÿs diverge even farther than their master (excusable a century ago) from the advances of research in order to put forth personal and unfounded montages.

In sum, under the pretext that one could not have faith in the state of scientific knowledge at a time when the history of literature was not yet entrenched as one of the disciplines of the human sciences, the followers of Louÿs continue to contest the state of knowledge (which has since become scientific) and forge purely fabricated stories. Under the specious pretext of free research and free speech, they have been led to use any means necessary to keep afloat the novelistic scenario imagined by Louÿs a century ago. In so doing, they have sunk into a process aiming to purely and simply invent false knowledge, to deny proven knowledge, to offer biased readings of texts; in sum, a process that in other sectors of study are rightly referred to as revisionism.


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