Figures of Chance I (Routledge 2024) Table of Contents


Figures of Chance I: Chance in Literature and the Arts (16th–21st Centuries) proposes a multidisciplinary analysis that will serve as a reference work on cultural phenomena related to the evolution of representations of chance and contingency. This text measures what the projective and predictive capacity of societies owes, from the beginnings of the modern age, to their representation and/or cultural modeling of reality, insofar as this reality is understood to be contingent. This volume examines the evolution of artistic and literary representations of chance, from the early modern period to the present times. Written by recognized specialists of each of the periods studied, it identifies and historicizes the main fictional and factual modes of representing chance, as they appear in artistic representations of contingency in the West.




Figures of Chance I – Chance in Literature and the Arts (16th–21st Centuries)

Edited by Anne Duprat, Fiona McIntosh-Varjabédian and Anne-Gaëlle Weber

English traduction by Martyn Back

Published March 14, 2024 by Routledge


Prologue: Between Us and Chaos: Three Figures of Chance

By Anne Duprat

The introduction to Figures of Chance I and II presents the overall project and its principal hypotheses. Part I, “Chance in Literature and the Arts. (16th–21st centuries)”, is a collective survey of artistic and literary approaches to chance from the Renaissance to the present day and is devoted to how representations of chance have evolved in European and US literature. The second part, “Chance in Theory and Practice”, looks at how philosophical and theoretical approaches to chance have been shaped by its treatment in art, literature, cinema and games.



By Fiona McIntosh-Varjabédian

The introduction highlights the extent to which literary studies can contribute to an understanding of how chance is represented. Literature and the arts not only testify to debates and collective mindsets, their forms and plots also play with representations of chance, luck and (mis)fortune and with various aspects of unpredictability. Fortuna as the personified power that determines fate and the course of events persists even when belief in such a power has all but disappeared. The enduring theological question of fate and free will at the heart of so many literary forms finds a new significance at times when chaotic catastrophes loom large. The introduction adjusts the findings of Hacking, Meiner and Molesworth to a broader and more contemporary cultural perspective and outlines the method, timeframe and linguistic boundaries that have been used in this volume.


Chapter 1. 1340–1610. Figures of Fortune in the European Renaissance: Chance and Providence

Edited by Olivier Guerrier

With Florence Buttay, Nicolas Correard, Louise Dehondt, Marie-Luce Demonet, Alexandre Tarrête, Alicia Viaud and Enrica Zanin

Central to this chapter is the emblematic notion of “rencontre” (encounter, meeting), which ushered in contingency as a subject of discourse and representation in Renaissance literature. The emergence of a lexical field of chance between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries is examined, with particular focus on the word “fortune” and its ambivalent derivatives and on the new notions that burgeoned along with them. This chapter moves on to study instances of antagonism or reconciliation between chance, fortune and Providence that can be found in philosophical texts, histories and lives of artists. Last but not least, referring to the anecdote of Apelles, we show how literary texts (romances, novellas and plays) attempted either to resist chance or to turn it to their advantage, inviting the reader to embark upon multifarious journeys.


Chapter 2. 1570–1700. Challenges to Fortune and the Emergence of Chance

Edited by Guiomar Hautcoeur-Pérez-Espejo, Zoé Schweitzer and Anne Teulade

With Carole Boidin, Line Cottegnies, Camille Esmein-Sarrazin, Élisabeth Lacombe, Éric Marquer, Émilie Picherot, David Sedley, Laurent Susini and Laurent Thirouin

The seventeenth century has been seen as a transitional period for chance: the notion had been elaborated upon in the previous century but had yet to be enriched by the scientific theories that emerged during the next, despite major breakthroughs in probability theory. Chance was what escaped divine or human intentionality, and attempts were made to explain it, if not to eliminate it, using old intellectual paradigms (providentialism) or new ones (rationalism). Fictionalised and addressed in literature, chance seems to have been seen not only as a factor of coherence but also as a vector of tension.
The chapter shows that fictional treatments of chance are not only the reflection or the sounding board for the ideas of their time, and that they occupy more than an ancillary position, offering perspectives that are both critical and complex. Studying narrative motifs and singular cases arising from various literary genres highlights the efficacy and originality of fictional treatments of chance in the seventeenth century.


Chapter 3. 1670–1814. Playing with Chance

Edited by Caroline Jacot Grapa

With Sylviane Albertan-Coppola, Michel Henry, Florence Magnot-Ogilvy, Bernard Sève and Charles Wolfe

“There is no such thing as chance”, only “the visible effect of an invisible cause”, wrote Voltaire, echoing the words of the preacher Bossuet, who had declared in the previous century: “Let us speak no more of chance or fortune, or let us refer to them as mere names with which we conceal our ignorance”. In the eighteenth century, while the notion of chance remained the bête noire of the Christian apologists, who believed in the invisible hand of Providence, it was simultaneously taken up by probability theory and contested by deterministic thought, which emerged along with fatalism and was developed by writers from Diderot to d’Holbach and Laplace, for whom every effect has its cause. Not only did probabilistic calculus make it necessary to rethink the complexity of causes, it also opened up new perspectives on notions such as control over reality, predictability, the allure of risk, and the miracle of freedom. The notion of “fortune” disappeared in the wake of the “analysis of chance” carried out in domains ranging from gambling to the moral and political sciences. Novelists, philosophers, naturalists and musicians continued to explore the themes of chance and coincidence. Born in a story, “serendipity” emerged against the background of empiricism, with its insistence upon thinking anew.


Chapter 4. 1798–1895. The Demise of Chance? Determinism and Its Discontents

Edited by Fiona McIntosh-Varjabédian and Anne-Gaëlle Weber

With Danielle Follett and Martine Lavaud

In an age when teleological and providential interpretations were waning, the role of chance was increasingly recognised as an inevitable factor in biology and physics as well as in social and cultural transformations. Although new regimes of rationality promoted by positivist and utilitarian thinking and supported by new forms of modelling such as statistics seem to have evacuated unpredictability during much of the nineteenth century, theories that were not strictly deterministic, postulating new forms of indeterminism and randomness, emerged in its closing years. This chapter explores how providential interpretations in literature and the arts resisted these new theories, examines how determinism came to be expressed in creative works, and observes the emergence of randomness as an artistic and literary principle.


Chapter 5 1895–1980. Modern Figures of Chance: Accidents and Procedures

Edited by Alison James and Sébastien Wit

With Julia Jordan, Isabelle Krzywkowski, Benoît Monginot, Jason Puskar, Christelle Reggiani, Sarah Troche and Christina Vogel

Chance in the twentieth century is associated with a plethora of new scientific theories and technological developments, from Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle to information theory and the computer rendering of stochastic models. At the same time, chance is linked to a crisis of rationality and to a heightened awareness of accident and catastrophe that occupy a central place in modernist and postmodernist narratives. The literary and artistic avant-gardes of the century are alert to chance as a site of aesthetic potential, seeking not simply to represent it but also to exploit or harness it in the form of specific procedures, from coin tossing to complex combinatorial mechanisms; they develop systems and strategies which, like the processes discovered by contemporary science, may be both deterministic and unpredictable. These practices both decentre the authority of the artist and reflect a profound sense of the contingency of the work of art, within a universe made up of complex interconnections and irreversible change.


Chapter 6. 1980 to the Present. Chance in the Age of Data

Edited by Alexandre Gefen

With Laurent Demanze, Magali Nachtergael, Alexandra Saemmer and Gaëlle Théval

In the early twenty-first century, chance underpins the confrontation between, on the one hand, geo-economic globalisation and the ecological crisis, which together complicate notions of determinism and resist interpretation, and, on the other hand, mathematical tools whose power is unprecedented. In this context, chance remains above all a powerful narrative mechanism in contemporary literature. A driver of encounters and deviations, the intervention of chance in the narrative gives rise to events that put an end to regularity and amplify individual potentialities. Conceived as a form, chance distorts the logic of narrative processes. Performed by contemporary narration, it adds extra layers to natural complexity and to the meanders of human decision-making, appearing not only as the necessary condition of modern humanity but also as an illustration of this complexity and of the barely predictable “chaotic processes” it engenders. From Jean-Pierre Balpe’s text generators to Sophie Calle’s creative wanderings, contemporary chance shows itself to be the result of deliberate creative processes and speaks to entangled forms of determinism that are too complex to grasp.

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Réseau ALEA (2024, 9 janvier). Figures of Chance I (Routledge 2024) Table of Contents. ALEA. Consulté le 21 avril 2024, à l’adresse

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