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The Residual Rural: The Town's Nostalgia for the Countryside and the Peasant's Gaze Claudine Raynaud "Imbécile de la ville," children's rhyme, Rouanet, Nous les filles, p. 242. "La Ville est le val [...]," Aragon, "Pour demain," Feu de joie, 1.10. ALITERARY TOPOS WHICH CAN BE TRACED BACK to the Latin writers (Virgil's eclogues in Bucolia), the encounter between the country and the city has often taken the shape of a surprise, an amazement, a stare. The stereotypical peasant is depicted as unable to comprehend the newness of the city, to take in the essential otherness of the urban. The clash of these two worlds doubles and symbolizes that of the most opposed social classes: the rural world envies, yearns for and rejects the urban, the urbane, just as the citified gentleman erases from his behavior anything that might recall his rural origins. As with any binary opposition, a trace of the one always remains in the acceptation of the other. The city always retains what it was created in opposition to, or at the expense of, the countryside . Even at its most alien to the country, even when the city has eliminated it, it retains in its conception a "nostalgia" for the countryside, in its most repressed recesses, in the depths of its unconscious. Gardens are, among others, a witness to the remains of the country within the city, an effort not to give it up entirely, an attempt to salvage some of it within the urban imaginary . And I propose that this opposition takes on particular strength within French cultural history.' In order to explore the imaginary dimension of the country-city dyad, I have chosen two antithetical and problematic texts: an autobiographical narrative little known outside of France, Nous les filles (1990), written by Occitan writer Marie Rouanet, and Aragon's controversial Le Paysan de Paris (1926).2 Both works are liminal to the question and can thus shed a different light on it in their exploration of borders: thematic boundaries in Rouanet's narrative and primarily formal—or rather stylistic—frontiers in Aragon's essay. Looking backwards with Rouanet, one celebrates an irretrievable time when grass grew in the cement cracks and donkeys and horses brought the city-dwellers their weekly share of consumer's goods, along with the manure they so generously bestowed upon them. Looking forward with Aragon, the peasant lends the ravishment of his gaze to modernist aesthetics. The surrealVol . XLI, No. 3 37 L'Esprit Créateur ist poet's virtual peasant helps bring to the fore the modern light of the incongruous , a radically new and provocative way of seeing the city, in the wake of and in opposition to Baudelaire, Apollinaire and Nerval.3 Whereas the City of Aragon's Paysan is Paris, the city par excellence, the capital, Rouanet's setting is the small provincial town of Béziers in Languedoc. Hence another irreducible opposition, that of the provinces and Paris, that of the agricultural South still steeped in the Occitan language, and the epitome of the polis, the City of Light and its mysteries. Beyond the contrast in the modalities of the two discourses—Rouanet's is a childhood autobiographical narrative and Aragon's a collection of prose poems—both texts bring to light a resistance to the rural which is inherent in the writing process. They celebrate the falsehood of a presumed innocence, the lure of the naïveté of a point of view that distances the city and creates newness in what is de facto synonymous with modernity. They both toy with the ambivalence of the Uncanny, das Unheimliche, the familiar and the marvelous , the quotidian and the unknown, the banal and the unwonted or unusual. In addition, both texts are autobiographical in an oblique way. In Rouanet's childhood chronicle, the singular "I" gives way to the collective "we" of the little girls whose universe is described with a plethora of details and the precision of an ethnographic and sociological study. Aragon's ample and sinuous prose uncovers in Part One of Le Paysan the adventures of the male dreamer, the stroller, the "passant" of the Passage de l'Opéra...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 37-51
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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