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  • Ismes: du réalisme au postmodernisme par Anna Boschetti
  • Michael Tilby
Ismes: du réalisme au postmodernisme. Par Anna Boschetti. Paris: CNRS Éditions, 2014. 352 pp.

In addition to its advertised starting and finishing points, this lucid and amply documented volume incorporates three further case studies, devoted to futurism, existentialism, and structuralism. Drawing on her previous work on Apollinaire and Sartre, Anna Boschetti challenges the positivist model of successive ‘movements’, eschewing the false analytical categories implied by their labels and dismissing recourse to an ill-defined zeitgeist. With due reference to Bourdieu’s ‘field of cultural production’, she demonstrates that -isms ignore the complex interplay of sociopolitical factors that constitutes the context in which writers respond to the need to redefine their relationship with an intrinsically unstable society. Literary specialists of certain persuasions will need to be tolerant of an enquiry that is focused more on authors than on texts and that recycles basic biographical and literary-historical facts and anecdotes in the service of a ‘field’ that only when viewed in its totality fractures received perspectives. The reader’s patience is duly rewarded with an enhanced understanding of the controversial status of realism in post-1848 France (owing to an account that invites the attention of Courbet scholars in particular) and with a convincing interpretation of futurism as ‘la première véritable “avant-garde historique”’ (p. 112), one that, variously, focuses on the reaction of Apollinaire (the ‘homme-époque’ of Boschetti’s previous book, LaPoésie partout: Apollinaire, homme-époque (1898–1918) (Paris: Seuil, 2001)), emphasizes Marinetti’s Franco-Italian identity, sees Dada and surrealism as reruns of futurism as far as the field of cultural production is concerned, and, in conclusion, engages with the aporetic nature of the very concept of the avant-garde. The authoritative deconstruction of existentialism (‘mot [. . .] idiot’, according to Sartre himself in his ‘Autoportrait à soixante-dix ans’ in Situations X) goes beyond seeing it (and later structuralism) as a creation of the media to reveal a champ du pouvoir that explains its conception, evolution, and authority. A revisiting of the tensions between Sartre and Camus would nonetheless have been germane. It is also difficult not to conclude that Sartre’s stature as a thinker is ultimately belittled by the nature of Boschetti’s enterprise, which does not require philosophical exegesis as such. The studies of structuralism and postmodernism (especially, as far as the latter is concerned, in the form of ‘French theory’ in the United States) exert an unfamiliar appeal through their subordination to the author’s overall strategy; but even with, for example, the aid of the unifying focus on structuralism as a set of practices within the social sciences, they fail always to resolve the competing demands of breadth and depth. Simple acceptance of the claims made by Foucault and Derrida to be writing against Sartre begs the question of their fundamental debt to this most influential of precursors. At times, the biographical information comes close to constituting a potted CV, while the claim that the example of Barthes, Greimas, and Todorov provided Stanley Fish with a model for the transformation of literature teachers into ‘des stars médiatiques’ (p. 295; no authority cited) is regrettable. The lack of an index may be explained by the multiple instances of name-dropping. Yet, overall, Boschetti’s various accounts have the undoubted potential to stimulate similarly vigorous and thoughtful responses. [End Page 278]

Michael Tilby
Selwyn College, Cambridge


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