The French Genre of Reverie

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Introduction It is irony rather than paradox that the French genre of rêverie should have been born of the rationalist 18th century, the siècle des lumières, which saw the emergence of scientific rationalism as the supreme authority in philosophy. Yet that was the period during which was also born what with hindsight we have decided to call "pre-Romanticism," a movement connected with the cultivation of tenderness, the expression of feeling, and concern with the nonlogical, irrational forms of human experience, including rêves or dreams. The connection between the French Romantic movement and pre-Romanticism is actually tenuous, but continuity is apparent in the increasing interest in mental states, of which the rêverie represents one type, existing outside the sphere of strict logic and relaxing the enforcement of strict rational control. As a mental event, the rêverie, to which the English "daydream" is merely an approximation, represents only a moderated relaxation of rational control, such as used to be cultivated chiefly by imaginative artists and their followers in developing their sensitivity to nature and beauty, in search of aesthetic stimulus or satisfaction. Our inadequate vocabulary for dealing with such phenomena nonetheless allows us to distinguish the realm of imagination, in which the rêverie explores with some degree of realism the meaning of emotional experience, together with any possible alternative forms which it might take, from the realm of mere
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