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Divining NatureAesthetics of Enchantment in Enlightenment France$
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Tili Boon Cuillé

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781503613362

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9781503613362.001.0001

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The Marvels of Nature in Buffon and Rameau

The Marvels of Nature in Buffon and Rameau

(p.27) Chapter One The Marvels of Nature in Buffon and Rameau
Divining Nature

Tili Boon Cuillé

Stanford University Press

Taking Fontenelle’s famed comparison of nature to the opera somewhat literally, Chapter 1 considers the representation of natural phenomena in the Comte de Buffon’s Histoire naturelle and Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opera Zoroastre, which coincided in 1749. Lorraine Daston and Katherine Park have argued that wonder gave way to a more scientific curiosity in the Enlightenment. This chapter demonstrates that Buffon and Rameau to the contrary sought to sustain the wonder of the reader/spectator when confronted with natural marvels on the page and the stage. Wonder constituted the affective counterpart to encounters with the marvelous, which Rameau’s librettist Louis de Cahusac considered a defining feature of French tragic opera. The chapter likens plans for the improvement of special effects, the renovation of the opera, and the establishment of the National Museum of Natural History in the course of the century, designed to reconcile enlightenment and enchantment.

Keywords:   Buffon, Rameau, Cahusac, natural history, opera, Zoroastre, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, wonder, marvelous, Pygmalion

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