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Durham University

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Publication details for Prof John O'Brien

O'Brien, John (2008). To the Ends of the Earth: Renaissance Journeys and Imagination's Sight. Seventeenth-Century French Studies 30(1): 17-31.

Author(s) from Durham


This article looks at the word échappée, using the structure of complex thought that is borne by this compound term as a lens to examine the theme of imagination's role in Renaissance journeys. Echappée can mean 'escape', 'glimpse' or 'the outstripping of a rival'. Each of these meanings is examined in turn through a cluster of sixteenth-century texts that illustrate how travel literature can be viewed as a means of exhibiting the powers of imaginative speculation and exploration in adventures of flight and sight or insight. From the fantastic, mythological journeys described by Ronsard and Aneau via the domestic settings of Marguerite de Navarre to the encounters of Léry and Montaigne with New World natives, the article analyses the transformation of the space of exploration into the space of imaginative speculation, of risky engagement with the Other. Using the work of Quentin Skinner and Michel de Certeau, it proposes that we see échappée as providing an incremental narrative of a multi-layered phenomenon, a Skinnerian paradiastole opening out a series of re-descriptions of its own analytical endeavours.