Popular Front Paris and the Poetics of Culture

Overview

The story of Paris in the 1930s seems straightforward enough, with the Popular Front movement leading toward the inspiring 1936 election of a leftist coalition government. The socialist victory, which resulted in fundamental improvements in the lives of workers, was then derailed in a precipitous descent that culminated in France's capitulation before the Nazis in June 1940. Yet no matter how minutely recounted, this "straight story" clarifies only the political activity behind which turbulent cultural currents ...

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Overview

The story of Paris in the 1930s seems straightforward enough, with the Popular Front movement leading toward the inspiring 1936 election of a leftist coalition government. The socialist victory, which resulted in fundamental improvements in the lives of workers, was then derailed in a precipitous descent that culminated in France's capitulation before the Nazis in June 1940. Yet no matter how minutely recounted, this "straight story" clarifies only the political activity behind which turbulent cultural currents brought about far-reaching changes in everyday life and the way it is represented.

In this book, Dudley Andrew and Steven Ungar apply an evocative "poetics of culture" to capture the complex atmospherics of Paris in the 1930s. They highlight the new symbolic forces put in play by technologies of the illustrated press and the sound film—technologies that converged with efforts among writers (Gide, Malraux, Céline), artists (Renoir, Dalí), and other intellectuals (Mounier, de Rougemont, Leiris) to respond to the decade's crises.

Their analysis takes them to expositions and music halls, to upscale architecture and fashion sites, to traditional neighborhoods, and to overseas territories, the latter portrayed in metropolitan exhibits and colonial cinema. Rather than a straight story of the Popular Front, they have produced something closer to the format of an illustrated newspaper whose multiple columns represent the breadth of urban life during this critical decade at the end of the Third French Republic.

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What People Are Saying


The history of the 20th century is so intertwined with the history of film it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between them. This magnificent evocation of the French 1930s - so exciting politically and culturally - is memory stained with images, film as the very body of historical time: the popular front, surrealism, the colonies, the press, the chanson, the scandals, the quarrels of great writers from Gide to Celine. From all this, concentrated in stills from Bunuel or Renoir, our leave taking, with Levi-Strauss on the boat to the New World after the fall of Paris, is a sad one: the authors having demonstrated how energizing this seething decade can still be for us today. They help in the vital task of rescuing the Thirties everywhere.
Fredric Jameson
The history of the 20th century is so intertwined with the history of film it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between them. This magnificent evocation of the French 1930s - so exciting politically and culturally - is memory stained with images, film as the very body of historical time: the popular front, surrealism, the colonies, the press, the chanson, the scandals, the quarrels of great writers from Gide to Celine. From all this, concentrated in stills from Bunuel or Renoir, our leave taking, with Levi-Strauss on the boat to the New World after the fall of Paris, is a sad one: the authors having demonstrated how energizing this seething decade can still be for us today. They help in the vital task of rescuing the Thirties everywhere. --(Fredric Jameson, author of A Singular Modernity)
Ginette Vincendeau
Dudley Andrew and Steven Ungar's Popular Front Paris is an interdisciplinary study of culture in 1930s France, especially at the time of the Popular Front. Through the study of film, literature, and other media (such as journals, both learned and popular, photography and radio), the authors define and study a 'poetics of culture', a culture which they see primarily characterized by the move from culture to politics under the pressure of national and international developments. The project of the book is ambitious and original. --(Ginette Vincendeau, author of Jean-Pierre Melville: An American in Paris)
Herman Lebovics
Andrew and Ungar have written a bold and wonderful book on the moment in France in the mid-1930s when the dream of freedom became flesh as new culture and new politics. With the Popular Front at the center of interest, it is at the same time a work on cultural politics and political culture of the years between World War I and II in France. It is the best such study that I know. --(Herman Lebovics, author of Bringing the Empire Back Home and of True France)
Keith Reader
This is a substantial piece of work on a key period in modern French, and indeed European, history – key not only in political terms, with the vicissitudes of the Left and the rise of Fascism, but culturally, with the rise of new media of mass communication such as the illustrated press and the sound cinema. --(Keith Reader, author of Robert Bresson)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674017030
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 5/31/2005
  • Pages: 464
  • Product dimensions: 6.76 (w) x 9.56 (h) x 1.14 (d)

Meet the Author

Dudley Andrew is Professor of Film Studies and of Comparative Literature at Yale University.

Steven Ungar is Professor of French and Chair of Comparative Literature at the University of Iowa and the author of Roland Barthes: the Professor of Desire.

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Table of Contents

Prologue : the poetics of culture and the harmonics of history 1
Introduction : a page in history : Resnais' Stavisky ... and the 1930s 15
1 February 6, 1934, and the press of direct action 55
2 Celine and Malraux : the literature of discontent 90
3 Esprit in the arena of extremist politics 109
4 Jean Renoir's La Marseillaise : the arc of revolution 142
5 Daily life in the city 177
6 Popular entertainment and the decay of intimacy 188
7 The look of Paris in the age of art deco 228
8 The lower depths : picturing the Quartier Populaire 277
9 Imagining the colonies 299
10 Turbulence in the atmosphere 340
Conclusion as forecast 379
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