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French Forum 27.1 (2002) 158-160
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French Cultural Studies:
Criticism at the Crossroads
French Cultural Studies: Criticism at the Crossroads. Marie-Pierre Le Hir, Dana Strand, Editors. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000. 325 pp.
This collection of essays is an important contribution to the field of French cultural studies. Like the seminal volumes French Cultural Studies (Jill Forbes and Michael Kelly) and Contemporary French Cultural Studies (William Kidd and Siân Reynolds), it will become a valuable resource for students and scholars in the field. Divided into two parts, it begins with the problematic task of "rethinking the discipline" of French studies. The second part focuses on "the negotiation of postcolonial identities."
This volume demonstrates that cultural studies is not merely interdisciplinary, it is "counter-disciplinary" because it challenges institutional boundaries. Accordingly, part I moves beyond traditional divisions of centuries and genres and the universalist nation-state ideology that conventional disciplinary boundaries sustain. While challenging conventional disciplinarity, Jean E. Pedersen sheds new light on Zola's critique of French nationalism and the nation-state in Nana. In a particularly astute chapter, Lawrence D. Kritzman analyzes the terms of the French identity crisis in the context of the French curriculum, raising key issues related to the status of Frenchness. He addresses the present situation of French language(s) and culture(s) on the international scene and the decline of French studies in the United States. Kritzman debunks the myth of a unified French nation and the "Gaullist" dream of France as a superpower. He also denounces the weight of French positivism, the resistance of belle-lettrisme, the "aristocratic imaginary" and a series of clichés (wine and cheese, the guide Michelin) that have been exploited to shape and market French Studies in the United States.
Other articles demonstrate how French cultural studies can challenge Anglo-American cultural studies. Cultural diversity is not the sole prerogative of Anglo-American societies, although the weight of French assimiliationism has long worked to obscure differences. In order to end the monolithic ideology (one nation, one language, one culture) that has long dominated French culture and French studies, Ross Chambers proposes to refocus French Studies within a "language-culture [End Page 158] nexus." He opens the way to transcultural pedagogies that, while not solely applicable to French studies, could help place French studies at the forefront of cultural studies. Mireille Rosello also envisions an alternative approach to our understanding of knowledge and history in the French context. She argues that the inclusion of French rap music in a nineteenth-century poetry class, far from being "intellectually bankrupt" as some traditionalists would have it, can help reorient French studies to the "ethics of the ephemeral."
Another important dimension of this volume is the demystification of the death of French intellectuals. Marie-Pierre Le Hir rightly reminds us of the pertinence of Bourdieu's work for the future of (French) cultural studies, because he points out the importance of "self-reflexiveness" in cultural criticism. The essays of part II, dedicated to postcolonial diversity, also provide thought-provoking reading. They all have the merit of complementing the first part of the volume by reminding us that diversity is inherent to any culture and by underlining the importance of literature and cinema as sites of resistance against hegemonic ideologies. Françoise Lionnet demonstrates that Baudelaire was silent upon his return from Mauritius and Réunion because the geopolitics of these islands was challenging French orientalism. Cilias Kemidjio demonstrates how Chamoiseau's work defies hegemonic colonial and postcolonial geopolitical practices. Timothy Scheie reevaluates the limits of négritude and performance as resistance strategies in Aimé Césaire's work. Leslie Rabine offers an interesting alternative to Western knowledge by denouncing the violence at the core of its sexual politics. Réda Bensmaïa's essay points to the risks of reducing Maghrebian identities to the national linguistic and cultural hegemonies that both French colonial and Algerian post-independence regimes have constructed. Bensmaïa's reevaluation of Khatibi's work and his notion of the writer as...