3.00 FYI France: Enewsletter and archive

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

Jan 15, 1996 issue. This file presents an archival copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on January 15, 1996.
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Versions of the following have appeared online regularly, since 1992, as a feature of the FYI France enewsletter, ISSN 1071-5916, which is distributed for free via email every month except August. Enewsletter subscriptions may be obtained via email request to: kessler@well.sf.ca.us .

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***

From kessler January 15 1996

FYIFrance: Treasures of the Bibliothe`que Nationale at the Library of
Congress, and now on W3 / the WorldWideWeb!

Anyone unlucky enough to have been in Washington D.C. this past
December -- sleet, snow, and political idiocy which "closed" the US
government for the first time in its history -- still might have been
lucky enough to have seen a magnificent exhibit at the Library of
Congress, "Creating French Culture". And now grand parts of the
experience also may be had on W3 / the WorldWideWeb, in French and in
English, at  http://www.bnf.fr/loc/bnf0001.htm : this exhibit offers
one - stop - shopping for an outstanding introduction to French
history, book and library history, culture, and general civilization.

The exhibit at LC consisted of no less than the leading treasures of
the Bibliothe`que Nationale de France: there is more in there, I know,
but these were plenty. There were the manuscripts of Zola's "J'accuse"
(acquired by the BN itself from Zola's family only in 1991, and thus a
generous inclusion), Montesquieu's "De l'Esprit des lois", Proust's
"Sodome et Gomorrhe" (he corrected a _lot_), Hugos's "Les Mise'rables"
(he didn't), Beaumarchais' "La Folle journe'e, ou Le Mariage de Figaro"
("the copy... heavily corrected ... used during the private readings
that he gave in salons during the three years that censorship
prohibited official performances... "), Debussy's "Pelle'as et
Me'lisande", Bizet's "Carmen", and Baudelaire's "L'Avertisseur".

The French tendency to controversy was well - represented. Mme. de
Stae:l's original "De l'Allemagne" was on display, as were Marat's
"L'Ami du peuple", the first edition of "Re'sistance" ("Bulletin
Officiel du Comite National de Salut Public, 15 de'cembre 1940"), and
Marie - Antoinette's copy of Ben Franklin's "Constitution des Treize
E'tats - Unis de l'Ame'rique" of 1783 (this exhibit was being held at
LC, after all). Many fascinating coins and maps and prints were shown,
including Hevelius' first lunar atlas, and one of Sanson's wonderful
maps of France (1652 - 3).

The "Yuzhi Guwen yuanjian" ("Anthology of classical Chinese prose")
given by the Emperor Kangxi to Louis XIV in 1700, was on display, as
was a truly beautiful bit of personal calligraphy addressed by
Su:leiman the Magnificent to Francis I (1536). One could see first or
early editions of Rabelais, La Fontaine, Montaigne, and Villon (1489),
and the first book printed by the Sorbonne printers. There even was one
of the very rare "placards" which, posted on Francis I's own door,
angered the king and helped to begin the Wars of Religion, accompanied
by the fascinating story of its 1943 discovery and reconstruction from
pieces in the binding of a later book.

The greatest surprise was to find -- so far from their Paris home (they
are hard enough to get to see there) -- some of the BN's most famous
illuminated manuscripts. From "Petites Heures d'Anne de Bretagne"
(c.1503), to "La Mer des hystoires" (1488 - 9), to the Rene' D'Anjou
copy of "Le Livre du Coeur d'amour e'pris" (1480 - 5), and the "Book of
Hours of Marguerite d'Orle'ans" (1430), these are some of the monuments
of French art, calligraphy, and history.

The manuscripts included some of the most meticulously and exhaustively
- studied treasures of French culture: Christine de Pisan's "Le livre
de la Cite' des Dames" (1405) in a copy which she presented herself to
the Duc de Berri, Charles V's "Les Croniques de France selon ce
qu'elles sont compose'es en l'e'glise Saint - Denis en France" (1370),
a beautiful copy of Guillaume de Machaut's "Oeuvres" (1350 - 5), the
"Image du Monde" of Gossouin de Metz (1315-20), the "Breviary of Philip
the Fair" (13th c.), and the "Roman de la poire" (1250-60). The "Bible
d'Acre" (13th c.) was shown, as were Peter the Venerable's "Liturgical
and Historical Miscellany Concerning Cluny" ("De cluniacensi cenobio")
(12th c.), the "Psalter - Hymnal of Saint Germain des Pre's" (11th c.),
and the "Historia" of Adhe'mar de Chabannes (11th c.).

The BN even entrusted LC with several of its oldest and holiest
relics.  The "Sacramentary -- Use of Saint - Denis" (9th c.), the
"Gospels of the School of Reims" (9th c.), and the "Bible of Count
Rorico" (835) all were included. The "Opera" of "Pseudo - Dionysius The
Areopagite", marked "abbey of Saint Denis -- before 827", was shown;
along with the story of how Peter Abelard -- in old age and retirement
at the abbey, long after his adventure and debacle with He'loise --
debunked the long - standing myth that equated the abbey's founder with
the biblical Dionysius, and, "probably examined this very manuscript".

Most impressive of all to me personally, though, was the "Gospels of
Lothar" (849 - 851), a "gift" for Charles the Bald, commissioned by his
brother Lothaire: a supposed celebration of the end of their
territorial feuding, but one illustrated with impressive pictures of a
very - regal Lothaire, and significantly produced at St. Martin in
Tours, inside what formally was Charles' own territory -- and thus
perhaps one of the great back - handed compliments of history.  As the
exhibit catalogue points out, in this manuscript, "Nothing was spared
to show off... the eminence of the individual who had ordered its
production...": the grandsons of Charlemagne, representing what were to
become France and Germany, and warring even then.

Both the Bibliothe`que Nationale de France and the Library of Congress
did themselves proud with this exhibit. The event apparently was the
brainchild of Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, conceived during his recent
tenure as BN administrateur: entirely likely, as only such a
personality could have engineered both the BN librarians' parting with
such treasures -- their own national President gave one away the last
time he was in Korea, and the memory still rankles at the BN -- and the
Library of Congress' smooth cooperation with their French counterparts
for such a complex occasion. 

LC's James Billington also gives generous praise to Marie - He'le`ne
Tesnie`re, Jean Favier and Philippe Be'laval, who ably continued LRL's
project at a time when they had so much else on their minds for their
new BNF. There appears to have been some controversy -- see below --
but the exhibit nevertheless took place and was impressive, perhaps due
to Le Roy Ladurie's general stewardship, and certainly as an
outstanding example of cultural cooperation on an international level.

One of the greatest treasures of this exhibit is its catalog. This is
not usually the case. Exhibit catalogs usually are throw - away
items: tourist souvenirs purchased in the enthusiasm of the moment,
which on later examination prove to be hurried and ill - conceived
amalgams that lie neglected on upper bookshelves for years.
Occasionally they are well - decorated.

But the "Creating French Culture" catalog is an exception in all these
respects. It contains thoughtful writing by several of the finest
contemporary scholars and technical experts in the fields concerned:
prefatory materials by James Billington, Jean Favier, and Emmanuel Le
Roy Ladurie, an excellent timeline, and thoughtful chapters by John
Contreni, Marie - He'le`ne Tesnie`re, Elizabeth Brown, Antoine Coron,
Orest Ranum, Le Roy Ladurie, Peter Gay, and Florence Callu.

For each of four consecutive historical periods, from Carolingian times
on, one author covers the general history while a second discusses the
role of libraries during the age. Any one of the essays can stand on
its own, but all also are woven into a coherent whole by the catalog's
well - disciplined presentation.  The overall conception of the exhibit
-- that political forces "created", or at least have tried to create,
French culture -- is reflected firmly in the catalog: this catalog is
no haphazard assortment of photos and captions and miscellaneous notes,
as such exhibit catalogs usually are.

And the "decoration" of this particular exhibit catalog is
extraordinary: large color plates of fine quality are included for
every item, including 15 full - page blow - ups. It usually is the
case, at a rare - books exhibit, that dim lighting obscures text and
illustration detail. This often is intentional, out of concern for
damaging the items shown. But dim lighting, combined with window
reflection and unconscionable focal - length distances, too often makes
the items shown nearly invisible to the exhibit's visitors.

None of these problems were present here, thanks to LC's excellent
display. LC contributed fine display cases, lighting which appeared
actually both to illuminate the works and to protect them from light
damage, a well - structured and very interesting audio tour, fine
labels and graphics, and a wonderfully - renovated Jefferson Building.
But rare book exhibit catalogs often are the only real means of seeing
such an exhibit, and as such they usually fall short. 

The "Creating French Culture" catalog is an exception, like the exhibit
itself: the catalog added greatly to an already - exciting event.
[Tesnie`re, Marie - He'le`ne and Prosser Gifford, eds., _Creating
French Culture: Treasures from the Bibliothe`que nationale de France_
(New Haven : Yale University Press, c1995) ISBN 0 - 300 - 06283 - 4.
The online version, sadly, does not include the articles, or the
excellent and detailed descriptions and bibliographies provided in the
catalogue for each item.  The Internet must figure out the economics of
this. Until it does -- and perhaps even after -- this printed catalog
will be a valuable addition to the bookshelf of any student or scholar
seriously interested in French general history, book and library
history, culture, or civilization. $25 in paper at the exhibit store:
Books in Print shows it at $65 hardcover.]

France would not be France without its controversies. In the US,
government policy differences at most involve shutting down Washington
DC for a couple of weeks; in Paris they riot and burn cars.  And
intellectual controversies -- matters of high principle -- are a
particular French specialty. The Historians -- a special elite in
France -- succeeded, where others had failed, at lopping off a couple
of stories of the new Bibliothe`que de France building. They likewise
became a bit engage' with this exhibit.

The exhibit's message, as stated in the distributed brochure, and on
the wall in the exhibit itself was (I am told -- this is by no means
certain -- that this was written by an American):

"From its inception, the French monarchy sought to expand state control
over culture... The death of the Sun King in 1715 marked a turning
point in the relationship between power and culture in France. Since
the Enlightenment, the "producers" of culture -- artists, artisans,
scientists and intellectuals -- have gained an unprecedented degree of
creative freedom. No longer servants of the state, they have become
increasingly emancipated from those who wield political power. The
democratization of culture... "

To this, the BNF's President, Jean Favier, himself one of the leading
French Historians, retorts, in his introduction to the catalog (p.xi):

"To say that a national library derives from national power is self -
evident to the French. An ancient tradition which makes the state
responsible for all sectors of national activity leads to this
contemporary political reality: that the state is responsible for the
support of culture, if not for culture itself. Whoever denies this
premise by asserting the independence of cultural creativity would soon
revert to it by insisting that the state was neglecting its duties by
not providing support. Other arrangements are conceivable, but they
would upset the historical relationship between French society and the
state. A millennium of custom and thought is not readily changed."

So, the "Creating French Culture" catalog makes interesting reading,
not just for its description of a magnificent exhibit, and not even
just standing on its own as an historical document, but perhaps as an
historian's controversy itself. I remember fondly the "Pirenne thesis"
fights of my own student history years, and the "Dark Ages / Middle
Ages" and "Eisenstein / media transitions" historians' controversies,
which preceded and followed it: I wonder what historians will make over
what may have been this controversy over "Creating French Culture"?

For two nations which misunderstand each other as often as do France
and the US, the "Creating French Culture" exhibit might illustrate,
dramatically, both some of the common ground which the two nations
share and the differences. Stanley Hoffman nearly despaired, in a
recent article (New York Review of Books, July 13, 1995), at:

"... fundamental structures of French society that have become
obstacles to progress... corruption... the system of French education,
with its growing segregation by class and national origin... [a system
in which] power becomes confused among central, regional and local
governments... [and] the system that trains French elites and
guarantees to the bright students who have graduated from the grandes
e'coles dominant positions in the bureaucracy, in politics, and in the
major enterprises...". "The lack of any connection between much of the
electorate and the political class is one result of this system,"
concludes this one of the most influential foreign commentators on the
modern French scene.

But the French, at the same time -- perhaps M. Favier among them, from
the sound of his comments here -- are amazed at a US system, so close
to and in some senses derived from their own, which can tolerate the
bankruptcy and the resulting closure of a "public" hospital or a
"public" school or a city or an entire national government, for purely
"financial" reasons. To a society as dedicated as is that of the French
to preserving liaisons between national power and just the arts, such
ruptures in the political "contrat social" as the US recently has been
experiencing literally are unimagineable. For the two -- the US and
France -- to cooperate on such a major exhibit, all the moreso an
exhibit ostensibly devoted to an exploration of power relations in
society, perhaps is an indication of the problems in this respect
currently being faced by both.

The exhibit was filled with gestures to European grandeur and royalty
which are foreign to many of the children of European immigrants who
inhabit the US, and must seem totally alien to the great Asian
populations which are coming to dominate large parts of the US West
Coast. And yet the French expression of the relation between the
governed artist and the governors -- the exhibit's central theme --
seemed universal. Certainly a Chinese or a Japanese or an Indian
visitor might have seen familiar cultural parallels in the overbearing
historical influence of the rulers in the objects of early date, and in
the "revolt of the artists and intellectuals" represented by the
documents of Baudelaire and Gide and Zola.

It would be facile to reduce French cultural history to any simple
formula, and simplistic in the extreme to generalize from this to other
cultures. The fineness of expression in the objects themselves in this
exhibit -- from Lothaire's toying with his brother's fears, to
Guillaume de Machaut's and Molie`re's efforts to ingratiate themselves
at court, to Malraux's assertions of artistic independence and
"engagement" -- bears witness to this subtlety, more eloquently than
any overall "lesson" supposedly derived from the exhibit might.

Le Roy Ladurie told a story to a Berkeley gathering, several years ago,
to illustrate his method of "administering" a large human institution
like the BN. He remembered fondly, he said, the village cafe's of his
youth, on the terraces of which, every day, were played out the full
panoply of human emotions, foibles, weaknesses, and strengths --
warmth, coldness, ambition, anger, hatred, pride, jealousy, and warm,
contented, happiness -- a day at the BN was a little like a day on the
terrasse of a French village cafe', he told us.

Le Roy Ladurie's little story perhaps presents a good analogy for the
process of the BNF's mounting a "Creating French Culture" exhibit at
the Library of Congress, and perhaps a good analogy for the process of
French - American relations and understandings / misunderstandings
generally. How could such a complex process be viewed simply? Perhaps
it is its very complications which give it its final beauty, coupled of
course with the achievement of the exhibit's actually having taken
place despite those complications. French - American relations so
often consist merely of complications, without achievements: the
"Creating French Culture" exhibit perhaps is a salutary exception.


One footnote to the US / Library of Congress side of the occasion: The
LC Jefferson Building has been _wonderfully_ - renovated, and provided
an ideal venue for the exhibit's display of French splendor. My own
earliest memories of LC are a twelve - year - old's recollection of
dust and dirt and grimy floors and dark ceilings.  Now the building's
murals glow, the floors and ceilings shine. The great convoluted spaces
of the entrance hall and corridors of this massive 19th century pile
now do justice to its contents and to Washington DC. They certainly --
as cleaned, as though by a Malraux -- house French splendor as
impressively as could any structure in Paris. LC should be very proud.

I made several visits to LC to see the "Creating French Culture"
exhibit. A couple of days later I was with my family in the US National
Archives, a bit down Pierre l'Enfant's Mall from Capitol Hill and the
Library of Congress, trying in vain to read the sadly - yellowed
documents of the Declaration of Independence (Rousseau?) and the
Constitution (Montesquieu?), and I noticed a piece of paper in an
adjoining case which bore the signature -- I spelled it out before
recognizing it -- "B - o - n - a - p - a - r - t - e": the Louisiana
purchase -- a receipt, en effet, for the western half of the United
States. The French have been very much in evidence in US history, and
occasionally in grandiose albeit frequently misunderstood ways.

XXX

Images online at the Bibliothe`que Nationale de France:
http://www.bnf.fr

A new installation on the Bibliothe`que Nationale de France W3/ Web
server appears to promise the long - awaited resolution of a much -
discussed BNF controversy: those digitized texts. As those who have
followed the BNF will remember, at first 300,000 digitized texts were
talked about, then numbers soared to 450,000, then technical and
financial reality set in and a figure of 100,000 was released: _Le
Monde_'s Emmanuel de Roux cried "foul", loudly, at that point.

But today one can see the beginnings at last. There is a very good
display online now: a section of the above - mentioned Webpage, headed
"1000 enluminures", which already contains images from 11 of France's
more famous and beautiful cultural treasures -- easily reached and
downloaded by W3 viewers located anywhere in the world. 

Museums of the imagination, Malraux's "museums without walls", have
existed only in the imagination until now. The dreams and the
nightmares of universal culture, of culture which knows no physical or
social or political boundaries, in the past have been only the straw
men of philosophers' arguments: optimists have theorized about the
"universal brotherhood" to be obtained from "universal bibliography",
the benefits of Esperanto, the advantages of equal education and equal
suffrage and equal rights of various kinds -- pessimists have worried
about the lack of boundaries, the lack of definition, the lack of lists
of "great" and "approved" things, the good walls which make good
neighbors both within and around a culture.

"Culture" has had its aesthetic polyannas, preaching that all that it
might do would be right; it has had its abusers, pushing it to express
various agendas, sometimes literally "out of the barrel of a gun";
others have urged that it be restricted, warning, as Robert Bolt's Sir
Thomas More did, "This country's planted thick with laws... and if you
cut them down... d'you really think you could stand upright in the
winds that would blow then?"

Well, we may be about to see who was right. It is by no means clear
that access to all of what is on the Internet and the World Wide Web is
going to be universal: substantial barriers of wealth and education
still exist, often thinly disguised as technological expertise. It is
no more clear that the content of what is appearing on the Internet and
the Web is "cultural": there must be room for junk, somewhere, and it
seems that the nets have such space in abundance, however broad one's
definitions are.

But if universal culture ever had its chance, now is the time. Millions
-- tens of millions -- now can see these Bibliothe`que Nationale de
France manuscript images, from all over the globe, simply by pushing a
few buttons on increasingly - inexpensive systems. From any French
village -- for the price of a local telephone call, promises their
government (_FYIFrance_, 11/15/95) -- to software development houses in
Bangalore, India (unimaginable a decade ago), to rice paddies in
Kampuchea now equipped with radio - modems, and government offices in
Hanoi now on the Internet, and Shanghai garment factories: all these
now can provide all the very different people who inhabit them with
immediate and personal access to the glories of French culture.

One does wonder whether they all will view an illuminated manuscript of
an ancient French king in precisely the same way.

XXX


FYIFrance (sm)(tm) e - newsletter        ISSN 1071 - 5916 
    
      *
      |           FYIFrance (sm)(tm) is a monthly electronic newsletter,
      |           published since 1992 as a small - scale, personal,
      |           experiment, in the creation of large - scale
      |           "information overload", by Jack Kessler. Any material
     / \          written by me which appears in FYIFrance may be
    -----         copied and used by anyone for any good purpose, so
   //   \\        long as, a) they give me credit and show my e - mail
  ---------       address and, b) it isn't going to make them money: if
 //       \\      if it is going to make them money, they must get my
                  permission in advance, and share some of the money
which they get with me. Use of material written by others requires their
permission. FYI France archives are at  http://infolib.berkeley.edu
(search for FYIFrance), or via gopher to  infolib.berkeley.edu 72
(path: 3. Electronic Journals (Library-Oriented)/ 6. FYIFrance/ , or
http://www.univ-rennes1.fr/LISTES/biblio-fr@univ-rennes1.fr/ (BIBLIO-FR
econference archive), or via telnet to  a.cni.org , login  brsuser
(PACS / PACS-L econference archive), or at  http://www.fyifrance.com .
Suggestions, reactions, criticisms, praise, and poison - pen
letters all will be gratefully received at  kessler@well.sf.ca.us .

        Copyright 1992- by Jack Kessler, all rights reserved.

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Last update: January 12, 1997.