Hall  Bjørnstad

Hall Bjørnstad

Chair and Professor, French and Italian


  • Ph.D., French Literature, University of Oslo, Norway, 2006

Research areas

Early modern literature and culture, with emphasis on the relationship between literature, politics, and philosophy in the seventeenth century

About Hall Bjørnstad

As a scholar of French seventeenth-century literature and culture, I explore the meaning of the syntagm “early modern”: a presumed conceptual and experiential proximity, which can only be constructively explored by acknowledging a simultaneous remoteness and otherness. I am particularly drawn toward material where the threshold character of the early modern is legible in the unresolved tensions between tradition and innovation, hierarchy and autonomy, authority and experience, feeling and reason, sacred and profane. Over the last few years, a substantial part of my research has been situated within two larger projects. First, my research into the culture of absolutism, as presented in my monograph The Dream of Absolutism: Louis XIV and the Logic of Modernity (U of Chicago Press, October 2021), where I argue that the exuberance of Louis XIV’s reign was not top-down propaganda in any modern sense, but rather a dream dreamt collectively, by king, court, image-makers, and nation alike. I explore this dream through a sustained close analysis of a corpus of absolutist artifacts, ranging from Charles Le Brun’s famous paintings in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles via the king’s secret Mémoires to two little-known particularly extravagant verbal and textual celebrations of the king. The dream of absolutism, I conclude, lives at the intersection of politics and aesthetics. It is the carrier of a force that emerges as a glorious image; a participatory emotional reality that requires reality to conform to it. It is a dream, finally, that still shapes our collective political imaginary today.

Second, as an extension of my earlier work on Blaise Pascal (cf. my monograph, Créature sans créateur: Pour une anthropologie baroque dans les “Pensées” de Pascal, PU Laval, 2010; reissued Éditions Hermann, 2013), I continue to explore questions of originality, failure, agency, affect, mastery, vulnerability and materiality in the Pascalian œuvre. Current projects include a return to the thorny question about Pascal’s relation to Descartes and also a broader exploration of the category of “wounded thought” and thinking as wound in relation to the Pensées.

My scholarship is informed by a strong belief in the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration and scholarly exchange. Hence the strong focus on interdisciplinary encounters in the programming during my tenure as Director of IU’s Renaissance Studies Program (2015-2023) and also in my own research activity. I am co-organizing and have co-organized interdisciplinary projects on issues such as “Rethinking Early Modern Conversion,” “Thinking About Agency in Seventeenth-Century France,” “From Exemplarity to Probability: Early Modernity in a New Light,” “Early Modern Royal Glory,” “The Humanistic Study of Innovation,” and “Things to Do with Descartes.” In 2013, with Katherine Ibbett (now at Oxford University), I edited a special issue of Yale French Studies about Walter Benjamin’s Hypothetical French Trauerspiel, in which we invited the contributors to rethink, with Benjamin, the place of early modern France in contemporary theoretical debates about the vexed origins of the modern world. In 2018, I coedited with Helge Jordheim (U of Oslo) and Anne Régent-Susini (Sorbonne Nouvelle) a collective volume titled “Universal History and the Making of the Global,” where we explore the origin of present-day global history in an early modern writing practice. A similar view of interdisciplinarity and of the urgency of sustained critical exchange informs my activity as book essay editor in Exemplaria: Medieval / Early Modern / Theory (see here for a recent editorial statement and here for the last published issue of the journal).

I take great pleasure in animated discussions that the issues and questions mentioned above spark in my graduate seminars and in the undergraduate classroom.

Selected publications


  • The Dream of Absolutism: Louis XIV and the Logic of Modernity. Academic monograph. University of Chicago Press, October 2021.
  • Universal History and the Making of the Global. Co-editor and co-author of critical introduction (11 p.) with Helge Jordheim and Anne Régent-Susini. New York: Routledge, 2018.
  • Walter Benjamin’s Hypothetical French Trauerspiel, Special issue of Yale French Studies (vol. 124, 2013). Co-editor and co-author of critical preface (9 p.) with Katherine Ibbett.
  • Créature sans créateur: Pour une anthropologie baroque dans les "Pensées" de Pascal. Scholarly monograph. In the series “Les Collections de la République des Lettres,” Saint-Nicolas, Québec: Presses de l’Université Laval, 2010; reissued Paris: Hermann Éditeurs, 2013.
  • Borrowed Feathers: Plagiarism and the Limits of Imitation in Early Modern Europe. Editor and author of the critical introduction (13 p.). Oslo: Unipub, 2008.
  • Blaise Pascal: Tanker [Pensées]. Translation, annotation (45 p.) and introductory essay (33 p.). Oslo: Pax, 2007; reissued Oslo: De norske bokklubbene (Bokklubbens kulturbibliotek), 2007.

Selected Articles

  • “Coups de coude dans le noir.” Fictional letter to Blaise Pascal. In Alain Cantillon (ed.), Lettres à Blaise Pascal, in the series “Lettres à ....” Paris: Éditions Thierry Marchaisse, 2023, 17–21.
  • Response Essay. H-France Forum 17-4 (2022). Response to four review essays on The Dream of Absolutism. 5 pages.
  • “Entre désolation et consolation: Lire les Pensées de Pascal aujourd’hui.” In Les Pensées-de-Pascal : une réouverture, special issue of Les Dossiers du Grihl, no. 2, 2022.
  • “‘Jaloux de sa gloire’: cinq observations à propos d’une émotion absolutiste.” XVII siècle 74:2 (2022), 255–267.
  • “Of Angels and Beasts: The Exemplarity of Failure in Montaigne and Pascal.” Forthcoming in Kelly Fender McConnell and Michael Meere (eds), Coups de Maître. Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Literature and Culture, in Honour of John D. Lyons (Oxford: Peter Lang, April 2021), 223-239.
  • Amanda Vredenburgh and Hall Bjørnstad, “Un discours ‘de majesté’: Le sublime royal dans les expressions de l’absolutisme sous Louis XIV.” Romanic Review 111-2 (2020), 227–248.
  • “Let This Be an Example: Three Remarks on a Thematic Cluster about Climate Change Exemplarity.” Response article in Culture Unbound, vol 11, issue 3–4 (2019), 415–420.
  • “Asbjørn Aarnes.” Norsk oversetterleksikon. [Article about leading Norwegian philologist in online encyclopaedia on Norwegian translators, published December 2019, 14 pages.]
  • “‘Notre irrépressible désir du seuil’: Theory at the Threshold, Now.” Exemplaria: Medieval / Early Modern / Theory 31-2 (2019), 81–92.
  • “Pascal et ‘la perte du fils unique.’” In the proceedings from the conference “Littérature et trauma,” in the Web journal of Transitions, May 2019.
  • Ludic definitions of the terms “Mouche,” “Pouvoir,” “Tragédie” and “Unité” for the Web journal Transitions, published 2015-2019.
  • “Between Providence and Foresight: Bossuet’s Discourse on Universal History.” Universal History and the Making of the Global. Hall Bjørnstad, Helge Jordheim and Anne Régent-Susini, eds. New York: Routledge, 2018, 155-172.
  • “Le hasard et ses fantômes.” Critique 846 (November 2017), 932-944.
  • “Consolation, plainte, gémissement : Pascal, figure intransigeante au seuil de la modernité.” L’Esprit créateur 57:2 (2017), 109-121.
  • “‘Avec confusion j’ai vu cent fois tes feintes’: Imperial Spectatorship in Le Véritable Saint Genest.” Yale French Studies 130 (2016), 65-80.
  • Roiseau Pensant: Marie NDiaye and Blaise Pascal.” Co-authored with Oana Panaïté. Reading Communities: A Dialogical Approach to French and Francophone Literature. Oana Panaïté, ed. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2016, 154-167.
  • “Twice Written, Never Read: Pascal’s Mémorial Between Superstition and Superbia.” Representations 124, Fall 2013, 69-95.
  • “‘Giving voice to the feeling of his age’: Benjamin, Pascal and the Trauerspiel of the King Without Diversion.” Yale French Studies 124 (2013), 23-35.

Courses taught

  • Graduate seminars on topics such as “Expressions of Absolutism”; “The Early Modern Crisis of Exemplarity”; “Action, Passions, Agency”; “Pascal: Before Theory, In Theory, After Theory”; “Things to Do with Descartes”
  • Upper-level courses on early modern French literature and culture on topics such as “Female Voices in Seventeenth-Century French Literature”; “Losing It: Chaos and Control in Early Modern France”; “La scène tragique au XVIIe siècle”
  • Lower-level courses on French literature and culture such as “Le poids de l’existence” (F305); “Renaissance and Revolution” (F362); “Imagining Self and Other” (F300)
  • Outside the department: “Tragedy: When Life Imitates Art” (HON-H233, for the Honors College) and “A Question of Love” (COLL-C103, GenEd)

Selected honors, fellowships, awards

  • National Endowment for the Humanities, Research Fellowship, Fall 2019
  • Indiana University Institute for Advanced Study, Residential Fellow, Fall 2019
  • University of Wisconsin–Madison, Honorary Fellow, Institute for Research in the Humanities, 2018-19
  • Indiana University College Arts & Humanities Institute Research Fellowship, Spring 2017
  • Indiana University Trustees Teaching Award, 2017
  • Postdoctoral Fellow, the Research Council of Norway, 2007-2010