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Jean Starobinski

STAROBINSKI, JEAN (1920– ), Swiss literary critic and author. The son of a physician, Starobinski was born and educated in Geneva, where he obtained doctorates in both literature and medicine. He lectured on French literature at Johns Hopkins University from 1953 to 1956 and then returned to Geneva University, where he became professor of French literature in 1964. He published articles and books on a vast range of subjects – medicine (Histoire de la Médecine, 1963; A History of Medicine, 1964); psychoanalysis, psychiatry (L'Invention de la Mélancolie, 1960); architecture and art (L'Invention de la Liberté, 1964; The Invention of Liberty, 1964); sociology, linguistics, and above all literature, especially that of the 18th century. Two works in this last field were Montesquieu par lui-même (1953) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau: la Transparence et l'Obstacle (1957). In L'Invention de la Liberté Starobinski traced the birth of the concept of freedom in the plastic arts, and in L'Oeil Vivant (1961) dealt with phenomena such as literary creation and a comprehensive vision of the world. Starobinski was also a leading exponent of the "structuralist" school of criticism, which considered a work of art in terms of a "significant structure" (i.e., the psyche of the creator, or the creative psyche of a social class), and the written word as a sign embodying the precarious balance between the signifié and the signifiant (i.e., content and expression). Raised in a staunchly Jewish and Zionist home, Starobinski was greatly interested in the Jewish aspects of modern literature, particularly the works of *Kafka, to whom he devoted several analytical studies, the first in 1943. His continued preoccupation with Jewish and Israel cultural affairs found expression in his preface to Claude *Vigée's French translaton of David *Rokeaḥ's verse collection, Les Yeux dans le rocher, 1968. He is married to Prof. Esther Starobinski, née Safran, the daughter of the chief rabbi of Geneva. She taught Jewish philosophy at its university.


L. Le Sage, The French New Criticism (1967), 141–8; G. Poulet, in: Critique, 19 (1963), 387–410.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.