Michel Leter

Lecture 2

Literary Cultures and Political Aesthetics as National Fictions : the French Case


In an era of the aesthetization of politics and politization of aesthetics little have been written about the political impact of cultural policy.

According to Schelling art is what makes ideas tangible. One can legitimately judge that France has been made tangible by its history -- and beyond strict morphogenesis of its territory -- by its cultural productions.

Our course will be based on the postulate that it is useless to study French history while resorting to only methodologies of historiography and of political science because France is more an idea than a geopolitical entity (or if it is a geopolitical entity it is as the geometrical idea of an «hexagone», symbol of a national will).

Thus, for example, the study of the literary epiphanies of the "chose française", to quote Saint-John Perse, by evoking French language, forces us to take into consideration the facts as much as the heuristic fictions, which confer an aesthetic and cognitive range to them.

We are thus urged heuristically to built the dividing lines between the disciplines invented during the hermeneutic constitution of the social sciences. Therefore our work will be situated at the intersection of esthetics, poetics, history of ideas, cultural semiotics and political sciences.


Subject to an exhaustive and more coherent inventory, here is a chronological list of some points which we would like to cover with our students :

I) Methodological prolegomena
1) Heuristic definitions of culture and aesthetics
2) Who invented France ?
3) On scientific obsolescence and aesthetic relevance of the words nation and nationalism
4) Heuristic fictions and social theory (from Kant, Vaihinger and Kelsen) : the examples of Rabelais, Fénelon, Rousseau and Fourier
5) Heuristic functions of the geopolitical fictions in Descartes, Leibniz, Fontenelle, Voltaire and Rousseau.
6) The rhetorical sources of imaginary French: allegory and prosopopoeia in political speeches.
7) Beyond Bachelard: a) Poetic of French territory, the didactic poetry of the natural borders in XVI, XVII, XVIIIcenturies; b). Poetic of the French daydream and patriotic poetry).


II) Literary and aesthetics cultures and the genesis of the idea of France

1) XVI century
a) The poetics in the quarrels of orthography in XVI century France
b) Two original myths of French language : «l'hercule gallique» and the myth of the greek origin of French language ; the myth of the hebraic origin of French language.
2) XVII and XVIII centuries
a) The battle of the dictionaries in XVII century France
b) Against Glucksman : why Descartes couldn't be considered as archetype of Frenchmen
c) The art of gardens in XVII and XVIII :can one speak about «jardins à la française» ?
d) The linguistic centralization of a foreigner : Vaugelas, grammarian, as Savoyard
f) Translation, history, poetry : Mrs Dacier in the quarrel of ancients and moderns
g) Against Morier : Salomon Certon and the origins of the French sextine
h) About the Métamorphoses d'Ovide en rondeaux of Isaac de Benserade: economic networks of bibliophilism under Louis-le-Grand
i) Vanity of aesthetic periodization : Louis Racine, son of Jean Racine and father of French romanticism...
j) The republican scholar myth of the critic of leibnizian optimism in Voltaire Candide and Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne
k) Against Italians Ut pictura poesis : didactic poets of painting in XVIII century
(Baillet de Saint-Julien, Bréant, Dufresnoy, Lemierre,
Lescallier, Marsy, Roger de Piles, Renou, Watelet)
l) Esthetic and historicity in Diderot, Winckelmann, Baumgarten, Herder and Cicognara
m) the French idea of progress in XVIII century : The Condorcet's Esquisse d'un tableau historique des progrès de l'esprit humain
n) Universality of the French language beyond the natural borders in XVIII : French as scientific language; weakness of French within its natural borders.

3) XIX century
a) Original meaning of the word ideology: Destutt de Tracy ; teacher training schools and " the French era " (1800)
b) New american borders of the French idea: Destutt de Tracy, Paine, Jefferson, Lakanal and Dupont de Nemours
c) Is national education French? an aesthetic reading of work of the commission of state education of the Convention
d) National Education and freedom, a cosmopolitic point of view: Condorcet, Lakanal, Guillaume de Humboldt and Jefferson.
e) The epigram under the revolution: Ponce-Denis
Ecouchard Lebrun
f) Napoleon's plans to propagate French
beyond natural borders
g) Napoleon's war against neologisms
h) the French idea and the awakening of linguistic nationalisms in Europe after the battle of Jena from the Discours sur l'universalité de la langue française (1783) of Rivarol, distinguished before the Revolution by the Berlin academia, to the Reden an die deutsche Nation of Fichte (1808) and the foundation of the university of Berlin
i) French poetics of Germany, German poetic of France: Heine, the Humboldt brothers, August- Wilhelm Schlegel, Germaine de Staël, Charles Villers, Barchou de Penhoën and Victor Cousin.
j) August Wilhelm von Schlegel as french poet: Les logogriphes and the Résumé épigrammatique de l'histoire de nos jours
k) Balzac and the idea of France
l) Political aspects of the neo-gothic movement of
m) State intervention in painting, the great painting of history and the idea of France, from David to Delacroix
n) The founding accounts of France in history textbooks of history at the end of XIX century.

4) Decolonization
c) «Free France» and French empire two archetypes : the «gaullism» of Malraux and the anti-gaullism of Saint-Exupéry
d) Senghor, Césaire : paradox of poetry of the "négritude" as French poetry
e) Camus : the idea of french Algeria as «matrie»
f) The literary group «les hussards» and the critic of decolonization

5) XX century
a) French policy as poetics: the France of Maurras; the France of Blum; the France of de Gaulle.
b) National-communism and the question of French poetic forms in the poetry of the Résistance
c) Landscape and politic in French painting
d) The group "cercle et carré": an
abstraction of the idea of France-?
e) The Ecole de Nice in the sixties and the seventies and the idea of France (Nouveau Réalisme, Groupe 70, Support-Surface)
f) French borders against Paris : Michel Butor , a writer «aux antipodes», «à la frontière», «à l'écart» (name of the last three residences of Butor)
g) Butor and pictorial space as sixth continent.
h) The geopoetic of Henri Meschonnic
i) French official art under Mitterrand, the so-called progressist cultural policy from Jack Lang to Disneyland Paris
j) Cultural policy and "installations" in contemporary esthetics
k) A festival of the "être suprême" in 1989: analysis of the official commemoration of the battle of Valmy
l) The Fifth Republic constitution as hermeneutic fiction