3.00 FYI France: Ejournal and archive

by Jack Kessler, kessler@well.sf.ca.us

April 15, 2005 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on April 15, 2005.

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Versions of the following have appeared online regularly, since 1992, as a feature of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which is distributed for free via email every month except August. Ejournal subscriptions may be obtained via email request to: kessler@well.sf.ca.us

Here this file is one of a number made available -- hopefully attractively, all in one place, and relevant to libraries and online digital information work in France and Europe -- as part of FYI France (sm)(tm), an online service to which anyone can subscribe for 12 months by postal mailing a check for US $45, payable to Jack Kessler, to PO Box 460668, San Francisco, California, USA 94146 (site licenses also are available): please write your email address on the front of your check. Please email suggestions for improvements to me at kessler@well.sf.ca.us


Stanford, on France -- the advantages of distance


A handsome Stanford Library exhibit tells the story:


Stanford University, 5600 miles from Paris, studies France: famously, in Stanford's case -- but there also are so many other places on the globe, many even more distant from Paris, which share the fascination for things French.

So how is France viewed, nowadays, from its own antipodes? What do people study, when they "study France", at a distance away from their subject four times the length of Europe? How do they study it when they do not speak the language? And even if they do know French, how do they view the Hexagone from an alien milieu -- one surrounded by concepts and cuisines which at times make it hard to "think French"?

In a world coming unstuck, somewhat, from accepted geopolitical and linguistic points of view -- "freedom fries", as an example of both -- our conceptions of one another need re-evaluation.

No less than Bernard-Henri Lévy is undertaking such an effort, right now: his series, just begun in The Atlantic,

on crisscrossing the US in search of Tocqueville's vision...

Google, too, is making a contribution, or at least is spurring others to make theirs: in response to Google Digital Library announcements, the Président of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France has declared his fear that soon the outsider's view of his country's cherished Revolution will be that of, merely, "The Scarlet Pimpernel"...

And this is the Era in which, supposedly, digital information has brought us "The Death of Distance". In some ways it has, but in others we seem further apart from one another than ever.


So here is how Stanford does it, how they view the French from afar. It is a fascinating picture: "these documents are puzzle pieces," Stanford says, "facets showing different perspectives on single events".

The exhibit offers a series of "sections", in part to show collection strengths of the great library which it represents:

Most foreigners nowadays think first of the country's famous Revolution: "Scarlet Pimpernel" versions, yes -- but, to be fair to us foreigners, also the rest --

* Stanford's exhibit shows, among other interesting items, "assignats": the Continental Currency of the French Revolution -- similarly worthless, ultimately, and similarly symbolic of the great hopes and dashed expectations which social needs and revolutions can bring. Then,


How sad though that, outside, France should be known so much for its wars: its 18th c. Revolution, and its 19th c. revolutions --

* The exhibit presents "Le peuple (1848)", "L'ami du peuple (1871)", and other items.


And its 20th c. wars --

* A "poster ordering mobilization" dated "2 August 1914". And "ration tickets" from April 1919, every bit as evocative as Revolutionary "assignats". And French humor: the sardonic approach so familiar to devotees of Le Canard Enchainé -- here among other treasures a newspaper, "L'Echo de Tranchéesville", its edition of jeudi 2 Sep. 1915, declaring, "nullement politique et très peu littéraire".


Although at least Stanford appears to be resisting the constant pressure to conflate, and confuse and over-simplify, those various 20th century conflagrations --

* The terrible events of the second great conflict, which set it off so well from the terrible things of the first: "Testimony about massacre at Oradour sur Glane, 10-25 June 1944" -- "Testimony about experiences in German concentration camps" -- "Habitants de la région parisienne, Alerte!" -- from the unparalleled collections of Stanford's Hoover Institution.


And Stanford also gets to the "fun" which, in addition to its wars, symbolizes France for so many --

* For instance the wonderful posters of "L'Exposition de Paris" of 1889, showing "Comparative heights of the Eiffel Tower (300 meters) and the [other] Principal Monument of the World: The Great Pyramid (145 meters)... St. Peter's in Rome (152 meters)..." -- and other "expos" of 1867 & 1878 & 1931.


The Dismal Science, too, receives top billing in the exhibit -- perhaps because of Stanford Library's great collection strengths in the subject, but perhaps too for the great contributions which French thinkers have made in the area, contributions which so affected the nations from which foreign travellers come to France -- Globalization affects us all, and it is nothing new --

* And there always have been controversies: Stanford shows a letter from Turgot to Condorcet, and 1665 recommendations to the king on "The Art of Reigning", and "La noblesse militaire et la noblesse commerçante: dispute littéraire" of 1756-9 -- and wonderful marginalia, in a text by Fourier, declaring "faux" and punctuated with a Gallicly-indignant exclamation point.


Technique, then, there being more to France than just its wars --

* The art of governing depending so much upon statistics, Stanford shows the dawning of modern studies of same, in France; and the exhibit declares, very interestingly,

Would that modern "econometric" studies, and Federal Reserve "irrational exuberance" announcements, might be so interesting.


Another area important to foreigners, about France and the French, being travel and the attempt to understand from afar --

* Stanford shows 18th century travel memoires, a 19th c. "Woman's travel journal", J-J Servan-Schreiber's 1957 "Lieutenant in Algeria"...


The exhibit also demonstrates the great utility of comparative approaches. On religion, for example: at a time when that topic has become so apparently-central and critical to social and political debate somewhere -- as in the US, now -- it is useful to remember that few "church/state" topics have not been debated before elsewhere, particularly in places as interestingly contrasted to the US as France --

* Stanford shows an "Edict du roy" of 1599 on religion, and materials on Unigenitus from 1803, and on "L'Affaire du foulard -- Profs, ne capitulons pas!" from Le Nouvel Observateur of 1989.


Another current topic amenable to a comparative approach...

* The exhibit's various items here include a remarkably-entitled, "Le triomphe des femmes ou il est montré par plusieurs et puissantes raisons gue le sexe feminin est plus noble et plus parfait que le masculin" (Anvers, 1707) -- loose translation [by me, JK, not by Stanford], "The Triumph of Women, in which it is Demonstrated, through Various and Very Strong Reasons, that the Feminine Sex is More Noble and More Perfect than the Masculine"(!)


And another category demonstrating the vast interest of foreigners, at Stanford as elsewhere, in the adventurous side of the French... not just their revolutions, or their science, but their sheer wanderlust...

* Stanford presents "la mission civilisatrice": although there always are many motives -- as the exhibit puts it, politely --

-- showing materials from exploration in Asia, America, Africa. So the US is not the first, to have had many motives: some examination of earlier overseas adventurism by others, such as the French, might be useful.


And then there are the great difficulties, which any society runs up against. In these few months following the curious, "LOI n° 2005-158 du 23 février 2005 portant reconnaissance de la Nation et contribution nationale en faveur des Français rapatriés" -- and the furor which is resulting now in Paris over that -- the Chinese are actually rioting now, over similar issues regarding a new school textbook just introduced in Japan --

-- Stanford very interestingly displays, "El Moudjahid, organe central du Front de libération nationale" and "L'Echo d'Alger: Journal républicain du matin", both of 1958.


Rationalism, too, is generally under attack these days -- as the Age of Enlightenment, largely invented in France, seems to many to cast less light and more shadow, now, and that a lengthening and even attenuating one. So it is useful to be reminded of the reasons why Europe, and the US, chose rationality --

* Stanford's great collection displays, "Dictionnaire Etymologique de la langue française" of 1694, "Instruction sur la manière d'inventorier et de conserver, dans toute l'étendue de la république, tous les objets qui peuvent servir aux arts, aux sciences et à l'enseignement", of "l'an second de la république" [1793 or 1794], and -- one is tempted to say "of course", but not all foreign libraries can offer this -- "Encyclopédie, ou, Dictionnaire raisonné" (1751-1765).


And as political-types everywhere, in the US these days as much as any, ponder once again Ben Franklin's observation, "there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well-administered" -- Europe is voting, right now, on their EU Constitution -- just so Stanford reminds us of the ferment which always accompanies political reform --

* The exhibit shows Mercure de France, and Necker's eulogy of Colbert -- and even a satire, by one "Louis Guillaume de La Follie", entitled, "Le philosophe sans prétention, ou L'Homme rare. Ouvrage physique, chymique, politique et moral, dédié aux savans" (1775) -- complete with a title page image of little children playing with fire, beneath the banner "Docent Ludendo"...


* Exhibit: "Académie royale des sciences. Machines et inventions" (1735-1777); Buffon, "Histoire naturelle" (1749-1804); others.


History being a collection of many small things... Stanford's exhibit shows that there is far more to "France", even in the eyes of the foreigner, than just her truly terrible wars.


Félicitations, then, to curator Sarah Sussman and her team, and to Stanford Library and the Hoover, for an effort well worth seeing, for anyone in or who can make it to California before June 12. The exhibit shows how Stanford sees it:

-- and that should be of great interest, both to foreigners and to anyone French themselves -- "puzzle pieces", just as Stanford says, "facets showing different perspectives on single events".




A travel note:

In these days of the "euro fort" there are at least as many French people wandering around the US as there are "Americans in Paris". In California the visitation becomes an inundation: "the accent" can be heard now in elevators, on street corners, down at Fisherman's Wharf, up in the Napa Valley. Visitors asking how to find the "Val de silicone"...

Prompting the thought that the US view of France might be just as interesting as is the French view of the US...

Not that French tourists come all the way to America to find out about themselves -- any more than US tourists visit the Hexagone to study baseball and hamburgers and Midwest Populism -- although the accent américain can be heard at EuroDisney, it is said, and definitely in the Champs Elysées McDo.

But internationalism -- trans-nationalism, increasingly -- does operate in two or more directions, never just in one. So French specialists interested in how France is perceived might do well to study more than just the latest "freedom fries" headlines: visit Stanford, this Spring -- see a thoughtful American view.






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Last update: July 16, 2008