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Poetics of the New History by Philippe Carrard

Review by: Frank Paul Bowman


The French Review, Vol. 68, No. 6 (May, 1995), pp. 1080-1081
Published by: American Association of Teachers of French
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THE FRENCH
REVIEW, Vol.
68,
No.
6,
May
1995 Printed in U.S.A.
REVIEWS
Literary History
and Criticism
edited
by James
P. McNab
CARRARD, PHILIPPE.
Poetics
of
the New
History.
Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins,
1993. ISBN
0-8018-4254-9.
Pp.
xxi + 256.
$32.95.
This
study
is not a
general presentation
of the new French
historiography,
which
might
be
regretted
for it covers a
considerably
wider
range
of authors and
material than does Burke's The French Historical Revolution and
particularly pays
attention to some of the lesser known
figures
who have done valuable
work,
including
feminist historians such as Knibielher.
Rather,
Carrard who
clearly
knows this rich literature
very
well does the kind of rhetorical
analysis
of their
historical
writing
which scholars such as White and Orr have done on earlier
texts,
studying
how
they
seek to
persuade
and
particularly
how
they
combine in a rather
new
way
the scientific and the
literary, appeal
to both
logic
and
rhetoric,
use both
mathematics and
figurative language.
The
study
is done with
charity
and
apprecia-
tion,
for Carrard shares Gossman's conviction that rhetoric in
history
need not
lead to facile and
irresponsible
relativism. Carrard
occasionally
shows
slight impa-
tience with Le
Roy
Ladurie's use of
slang,
with the
sleight-of-hand
use of statistics
where French cliometrics leave much to be
desired;
he is more
telling
in his criti-
cism of a certain lack of self-consciousness in
many
of the texts
studied,
where
indeed a bit of
irony might
well make modish
pretensions
more
palatable.
Carrard has a
thorough knowledge
of the
products
of the New French
History,
and his command of the critical tools needed for his
analysis
is
excellent;
the book
is also readable and
informative,
even when one does not know the texts
being
discussed. He does an excellent
job
at
showing
how these historians reflect the
innovative
thoughts
of a Barthes or a Foucauld.
There,
one
might regret
the
absence of a fuller
analysis
of the
founding fathers,
Febvre and
Bloch,
but that
would be
another,
more
historically-oriented
book. On the other
hand,
he
tellingly
demonstrates how these historians have set themselves
against
but remained
indebted to the
positivist paradigm
as
exemplified by Langlois
and
Seignobos.
His
study
of how these historians have shied
away
from and
yet
had recourse to
narration is
very convincing, including
what could be caustic remarks about how
"historical
biography"
has been redefined. The
chapter
on
perspectivee
and focali-
zation is most
convincing,
but
perhaps
the dead horse of our
necessary subjectiv-
ity,
in this
instance,
might
be more
fully implemented
in terms of the often hidden
(or
at least not
overtly acknowledged) political agenda
which characterizes
many
of
these authors
(Carrard
is excellent in this
regard
on Furet and on Le
Roy
Ladurie,
but a
Agulhon
or a Ozouf are
equally
marked
by
their
political
stance).
The fourth
chapter,
on the various
ploys
used
by
the writers to make their works both
readable and
convincing,
is most
telling,
its subtitles
(e.g.,
"Rites of
quantification")
or sections
(the
discussion of
pretentious titles)
occasionally revealing
an
irony
which Carrard
always
controls with
appreciation.
This book is an excellent demonstration of how the tools of
literary analysis
can
be used to elucidate texts which are not literature as
strictly
defined. It also shows
that, we have
gone
a
long way
since White's
pioneering effort, primarily
I
think
by
1080
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REVIEWS 1081
moving
from a concern with
typology
and structure to a concern with the arts of
communication and
persuasion.
Carrard
convincingly
reiterates that no
discipline
is
totally homogeneous,
which is the
major
thrust of the "Parallax" series in which
his book
appears.
This is a most useful text for those who take
pleasure
in
reading
these new
historians,
and
hopefully
for those historians themselves.
University
of
Pennsylvania
Frank Paul Bowman
HALEN,
PIERRE. Le Petit
Belge
avait
vu
grand:
une litterature coloniale. Bruxelles:
Labor,
1993. ISBN 2-8040-0875-4.
Pp.
398. 895
FB.
Halen
propose
une
investigation
de
l'imaginaire
dans la
litterature
coloniale
belge
&crite
en
frangais.
La
d6marche
de l'auteur consiste a discerner des liens entre
une dizaine de textes et les circonstances de leur
production. Chaque
theme
abord6
fait
d'un
aspect
de
l'existence
intime
l'indice d'une
situation
politique
et
ideologique
marquee par
la
d&ception.
Ce constat
n6gatif
apparait
surtout dans
l'analyse
des
histoires d'amour
qui
vouent invariablement le
couple
mixte
a
la
separation.
L'&chec
des
projets
de vie commune entre un
Europben
et une Africaine
(la
combi-
naison
inverse,
un Africain et une
Europbenne
est rarement
envisag&e)
renvoie,
selon
Halen,
A
l'&chec
de la colonisation comme
processus
de fondation sociale. De
maniere
analogue, r&cits d'aventures,
enquetes
criminelles,
evocation de maladies
mettent en valeur un sentiment
d'incomprehension r&ciproque, soulignant
l'im-
possibilite
de
l'Europeen
de
s'integrer
a la
soci6te
africaine ou de lui
imposer
des
valeurs occidentales.
L'6tude
de Halen fait
red&couvrir
des
ouvrages
oublies ou
mal
connus tels
que
La
Termiti&re
de
Gillks,
L'Homme
qui
demanda du
feu
de Reisdorff et inclut la
paralit-
terature. La section consacrbe aux aventures contient des
consid6rations
tres nu-
ancees
sur la fonction de la camera dans Tintin au
Congo pour
repr6senter
un
colonisateur
pacifiste
et
d6sinteresse
dans une
Afrique
en attente de civilisation. Si
l'approche thematique oblige parfois
l'auteur
a
se
rep6ter,
elle met en relief certains
el1ments
fondamentaux tels
que
les lieux
privilkgies
des activites coloniales. Le
jardin
d'agr6ment
emblkmatise
ainsi la
puissance acquise
et la
r6ussite
sociale;
sa
description signale
le
triomphe
de
l'ordre
et de la civilisation
europeenne
sur le
paysage
africain. Mais l'oisivete
qui regne
dans ce lieu artificiel est
egalement
like
au mode de vie de
l'6pouse
europbenne,
neurasth6nique,
incapable
de
s'adapter
au
nouveau
continent;
les
cl6tures
qui
entourent le
jardin indiquent
le
d6sir
de se
proteger
de
l'espace
environnant.
Comme le montre cet
exemple, l'approche
de Halen se fonde sur la volonte de
comprendre plut6t que
de
juger.
Dans ce
sens,
ce livre s'inscrit dans le
sillage
du
collectif
Papier
blanc,
encre noire: cent ans de culture
francophone
en
Afrique
centrale
(Zaire,
Rwanda et Burundi)
publie
sous la direction de Marc
Quaghebeur
aux
editions Labor
(1992)
et
consacre
divers
aspects
de la
question
coloniale. Dans
l'essai
de
Halen,
on aurait
cependant
souhaite une reflexion
theorique
sur les
problkmes
de
l'identite
et de l'exotisme dans
l'6criture
coloniale. En
outre,
le lecteur
ne
peut s'emp
cher de
s'interroger
sur le
r61e
de
moddles anglais
ou
frangais
dans
la construction
d'un
imaginaire
colonial
belge.
Ces
questions
feront
l'objet
d'un
prochain ouvrage
de Halen
qui
constituera le
compl6ment
du Petit
Belge
avait vu
grand.
On
espere que
de tels
projets
se
poursuivront
et s'attacheront entre autres a
l'image
de
l'Afrique
dans les lettres
belges
non coloniales et
post-coloniales,
ou
encore
a
l'examen
de contes oraux et de romans africains de la
meme
6poque
pour
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