Ingenious Architecture: Usage and knowledge in Furetière’s Lexicography
For 17th century lexicographer and writer Antoine Furetière, the terms pertaining to all arts and sciences are the mortar that holds together the edifice of language. In that sense, Furetière’s language is founded in large part upon the words used to describe architecture, as well as all technical and artistic trades. He saw these words as testimonies of our ability to shape our environment and to produce knowledge and science. The acts of building and inhabiting spaces are in that sense tied to the formation of language and the production of meaning. Furetière posits usage—of places and words—as crucial to the experience and transmission of architecture. The effectiveness of this transmission, addressed also in Furetière’s literary production, remains grounded in the concept of ingenuity. Ingenuity involves, as Ramelli’s 1588 “book-wheel” already illustrates, not only craft and artistry, but more importantly cunning and wit. In the late Renaissance context, the formalization of language proposed by Furetière’s lexicon can be seen as a hinge: still grounded in the Humanist tradition, his view of language also announces the Enlightenment’s encyclopedic strive. On the one hand, Furetière defends rhetorical tropes as a crucial means of unveiling truth. On the other, he contributes to giving a more prominent place to the bourgeoisie, thus anticipating 18th century values. Within a historiographical and critical perspective, the study of changing language theories at work in our architectural tradition allows for a better understanding of the epistemological foundations proper to the disciplinary field. In turn, this interdisciplinary angle of research opens up new ways to think about the relationship of users to the built environment that acknowledge the polysemy of language and the semantically creative power of usage.