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Erick Kelemen

Oooh! Beth! May I offer a dagger-like footnote to your blogpost on a footnote? E. Gilson was Etienne Gilson, a frenchman. By all accounts he was quite adequate with the French language. I suspect our conflict lies elsewhere. You have made me wish to investigate!

Erick Kelemen

I just ran from my office, here in the library at Fordham, up into the stacks and found a copy of the Gilson edition of Descartes in question. It turns out that Gilson's note attempts to explain a peculiarity of Descartes expression. Descartes writes, "je demeurais tout le jour enfermé seul dans un poêle," which, if you stick it in Google's translate engine as I did for the most literal of translations, will come out "I sat all day shut up alone in a stove." From this we learn that it was Descartes who was bad at French.

I think Gilson's note is actually an exercise in explaining a bit of metonymy, perhaps colored by differences in German and French culture. Roughly translated, it says that "un poêle" is a "Room heated by a tiled stove in the German fashion, which convenience the French, accustomed to smoking fireplaces, greatly appreciated." My French stinks, but I think that's pretty close. I think in the next sentence Gilson dismisses the detail as insignificant to what Descartes has to say afterward. There may be some other silliness after that about the stove's being an unlikely metaphor—something about, if the French praised the stove's "universal heat, without light and smoke," they also complained of its confined air—but my French stinks enough that I can't quite make it out.


Erick, thank you so much for diving into the realm merely suggested by the note. I'm fortunate that your response is only like a dagger!

Erick Kelemen

Your post is inspiring, Beth, and reading it was some of the most fun I've had reading in weeks. I'm not kidding. It has taught me my new favorite word: obelus! (It displaces my previous favorite word: manicula.) It has given me a new Descartes joke to tell (and who doesn't love skunk-philosopher jokes?), raising my total to three. And it has given me ideas for my next post, ideas which two weeks ago were completely absent. I love it!

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