- 'Engagement' in Twenty-First Century French and Francophone Culture: Countering Crises ed. by Helena Chadderton and Angela Kimyongur
It is bizarre sometimes how events overtake analysis. This edited volume on contemporary engagement, drawing on a conference held in 2013 and then published in 2017, is 'split' by the horrific spate of terrorist attacks in 2015 and 2016, during which nearly 240 people lost their lives in mainland France. How do academic analysis and cultural commentary account for, and keep up with, this sudden eruption of violence and the ensuing state crackdown? The obvious answer is that they cannot; but what they can do — and this volume manages to do so — is set out the general conditions in which calamity and subsequent reaction can be explained retrospectively. In eleven well-presented chapters, this collection of twenty-first-century, mainly Hexagonal but resolutely postcolonial cultural case-studies manages to set out how France has acted in its attempt at (as the book's subtitle startlingly claims) 'countering crises'. Following an excellent Introduction, the volume divides into two broad areas: firstly, the activities of specific artists and cultural actants, and secondly, the various 'issues' besetting contemporary French-speaking cultures. In the first section, there are chapters on the workplace in the fictional writings of Thierry Beinstingel and François Bon; on the singer Renaud; on 'radical' independent publishers (such as Raisons d'agir, Syllepse, Amsterdam, La Fabrique); on television coverage of Les Restos du cœur and Les Enfoirés; on Plantu's Le Monde cartoons during the 2012 elections; and finally, on the politics of Dominique Manotti's crime-writing. The second half of the volume then shifts gear, looking at the themes and events that have given rise to new forms of cultural engagement. So, multiculturalism in the responses in France to the 9/11 attacks in the USA is traced through Dominique Sylvain's crime fiction; the crisis of masculinity through Michel Houellebecq's fiction; 'migrance' in the photo-textual work of Mathieu Pernot; philosophy in the 'université populaire' set up by Michel Onfray; and, finally, memory and identity in Senegal in relation to migration to France in Fatou Diome's fiction. As is clear from the varied forms and activities covered here, the approach to engagement is using a very wide definition. I would have thought a one-sentence disclaimer could have mentioned the 'post-Charlie' turn in France since 2015 — especially as there is a chapter on Plantu's cartoons — but this is a minor criticism of a well-constructed volume. The Introduction makes a strong claim for the development of new forms of cultural and political commitment in French-speaking culture (mainly France) in the new millennium. Although the Introduction does not address the debate emerging over the committed approach — in contradistinction to 'concernment' (one is merely 'ponctuel', the other ideologically situated) — it does take up Dominique Viart's [End Page 640] helpful notion of 'fiction critique'. How this then fits with 'non-fiction', a new category emerging in academic discourse in France, would require a whole new study.