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Colonizer or Colonized

The Hidden Stories of Early Modern French Culture

Sara E. Melzer

Publication Year: 2012

Colonizer or Colonized introduces two colonial stories into the heart of France's literary and cultural history. The first describes elite France's conflicted relationship to the Ancient World. As much as French intellectuals aligned themselves with the Greco-Romans as an "us," they also resented the Ancients as an imperial "them," haunted by the memory that both the Greeks and Romans had colonized their ancestors, the Gauls. This memory put the elite on the defensive--defending against the legacy of this colonized past and the fear that they were the barbarian other. The second story mirrored the first. Just as the Romans had colonized the Gauls, France would colonize the New World, becoming the "New Rome" by creating a "New France." Borrowing the Roman strategy, the French Church and State developed an assimilationist stance towards the Amerindian "barbarian." This policy provided a foundation for what would become the nation's most basic stance towards the other. However, this version of assimilation, unlike its subsequent ones, encouraged the colonized and the colonizer to engage in close forms of contact, such as mixed marriages and communities. This book weaves these two different stories together in a triangulated dynamic. It asks the Ancients to step aside to include the New World other into a larger narrative in which elite France carved out their nation's emerging cultural identity in relation to both the New World and the Ancient World. Sara E. Melzer is Professor of French and Francophone Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is the author of Discourses of the Fall: A Study of Pascal's Pensées and coeditor of From the Royal to the Republican Body: Incorporating the Political in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century France.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. 1-27

Once upon a time, long before the birth of France, barbarians inhabited its land. These nomadic tribes, dwelling in forests and caves, were known as the Gauls. They dined on human flesh, or so Diodorus, the Greek historian of the first century B.C., recounted.1 Then they washed down their feasts with...

Part I. France's Colonial Relation to the Ancient World

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Chapter 1. The Quarrel Between the Ancients and the Moderns as a Colonial Battle: The Memory Wars over "Our Ancestors the Gauls"

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pp. 31-53

What was the Quarrel between the Ancients and Moderns? When did it take place? Numerous scholars see it as a late seventeenth-century phenomenon that began in 1687 when all hell broke loose on the French Academy floor.1 It was set off by a seemingly minor event at what was to be a standard Academy...

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Chapter 2. The Return of the Submerged Story About France's Colonized Past in the Quarrel over Imitation

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pp. 54-72

Were the Greco-Romans an "us" or a "them"? This question was central to the memory war about how French history would be constructed, as we saw in Chapter 1. The ancients won this foundational conflict of the Quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns, and thus French history was considered to have begun with the Romans as an "us" who helped civilize the Gauls. The effects...

Part II. France's Colonial Relation to the New World

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Chapter 3. Relating the New World Back to France: The Development of a New Genre, the Relations de Voyage

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pp. 75-90

Because colonization has been excluded from the paradigm of France's cultural self-understanding, one might reasonably conclude that the seventeenth-century French reading public was kept in the dark about its own policy of assimilation. Logically speaking, the nation's colonial contact with sauvages...

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Chapter 4. France's Colonial History: From Sauvages into Civilized, French Catholics

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pp. 91-121

In 1613, barbarians arrived at the gates of France. But they were not there to break them down. They did not have to. They were invited guests. Louis XIII and the regent queen, Marie de Médecis, as well as the Capuchin Order, were their hosts.1 These barbarians were Native American boys from the...

Part II. Weaving the Two Colonial Stories Together: Escaping Barbarism

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Chapter 5. Interweaving the Nation's Colonial and Cultural Discourses

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pp. 125-135

Boileau explicitly introduced the New World sauvages into the Quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns. In his notorious showdown with Perrault on the French Academy floor in 1687 (recounted in Chapter 1), Boileau engaged in a shouting match so violent that he lost his voice. His silence,...

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Chapter 6. Imitation as a Civilizing Process or as a Voluntary Subjection?

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pp. 136-172

To civilize what he termed "barbarians" in France, Cardinal Mazarin left money and instructions after his death in 1661 to establish the Collège des Quatre Nations. The barbarians he had in mind were the inhabitants of the nation's newly acquired regions. Louis XIV had conquered four new territories on the kingdom's furthermost boundaries...

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Chapter 7. Imitation and the "Classical" Path

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pp. 173-198

This chapter examines a second escape route, which ultimately led to the ideal that scholars have labeled "classical." This term, however, is misleading for three reasons.1 First, it implies that this cultural ideal emerged only in relation to the Ancient World. Second, it assumes only one side of that relationship...

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Chapter 8. Using the Sauvage as a Lever to Decolonize France from the Ancients

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pp. 199-219

In a Disneyland special avant la lettre, the inhabitants of Rouen in 1550 imported "fifty natural sauvages"1 from Brazil to replicate an actual Brazilian village.2 In a gesture that would have made Walt Disney proud, 250 French sailors were painted red to resemble the Tupinambas. But in a very un-Disneyesque touch, they were all completely naked, "without at all covering the part...

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Conclusion. The Legacy of the Quarrel: The Colonial Fracture

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pp. 221-229

The Quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns has never been fully resolved. Its most fundamental tension continues to be replayed in some of the most recent debates over the writing of French history. In this concluding chapter, I briefly examine these debates in the light of the new paradigm I have...


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pp. 231-282


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pp. 283-305


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pp. 307-318


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pp. 319-320

E-ISBN-13: 9780812205183
E-ISBN-10: 0812205189
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812243635
Print-ISBN-10: 0812243633

Publication Year: 2012