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  • L’Année 1945: actes du colloque de Paris IV-Sorbonne (janvier 2002)
  • Douglas Smith
L’Année 1945: actes du colloque de Paris IV-Sorbonne (janvier 2002). Réunis par Étienne-Alain Hubert et Michel Murat . Paris, Champion, 2004. 327 pp. Hb €55.00.

L'Année 1945, the proceedings of an interdisciplinary conference held at the Sorbonne in 2002, presents itself as an attempt to articulate culture and history through a synchronic focus on a single year. It covers a wide range of cultural activities, mixing anecdotal first-hand accounts (Roger Grenier and Pierre Daix) with analysis and criticism by high-profile academics, mostly drawn from the home institution. Recognized from the outset by the editors as problematic, the articulation of cultural activity with historical context proves most persuasive when dealing with objects that share the ambition of bridging the gap between art and literature and contemporary events. Three subjects thus dominate the collection: the poetry of the Liberation, with a focus on the committed Resistance-based 'poésie de circonstance' (the subject of no fewer than five contributions); the journals and reviews that emerged from clandestine publication under the Occupation to play the role of influential arbiters of cultural opinion following Liberation (covered in three pieces on Combat, Les Temps modernes and Action respectively); and the effect of the post-Liberation purges on intellectual and cultural life (dealt with in four articles, on Drieu, Aragon, Mauriac and the sociology of intellectuals). While the plastic arts receive some attention, with essays on the new post-war painting, Malraux's aesthetics and the conception and reception of Fautrier's Otages, the theatre and the novel are merely glimpsed in one article each. The collection is, then, as the introduction modestly concedes, less comprehensive than its title suggests, but the sweep of the concluding chronology and commentary usefully complement the narrower focus of the articles. As an exercise in synchronic history, this collection belongs to a by now familiar sub-genre in both academic and mass-market non-fiction publishing. The main strength of this approach is its supposed ability to restore some of the immediacy and unpredictability of past events by liberating them from a linear narrative teleology spanning a much longer period of time. But the price of this renewed texture and particularity is atomization and the potentially arbitrary isolation of an event or work from a wider context that might usefully illuminate it further. Jean-Yves Tadié makes just this point in his comments on the novel of 1945. Overall, then, this is a selective rather than a comprehensive survey, whose in-depth coverage of certain themes is punctuated by intriguing snapshots of concurrent endeavours in other domains. As such, it offers not simply many insights into the cultural life of post-war France, but also foregrounds usefully some of the methodological problems faced by cultural history.

Douglas Smith
University College Dublin


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