Lieux de mémoire: Revisiting the Past in Contemporary French Culture (Panel)

French and Francophone / Cultural Studies and Media Studies

Kelsey Madsen (University of Oklahoma)

Since the 1980s, France has displayed a preoccupation with issues of memory and national identity, as demonstrated by the publication of the volumes of Pierre Nora’s Lieux de mémoire between 1983-1992 and Henry Rousso's Le Syndrome de Vichy in 1987, as well as by an increased interest in history and memory as literary subjects. In La Littérature française au présent (2008), Dominique Viart and Bruno Vercier describe the contemporary era of literature as beginning in the 1980s with a shift away from the “jeux formelles” of the 1960s and 70s (such as those seen in the Nouveau Roman) and marked particularly by a move toward “des livres qui s’intéressent aux existences individuelles, aux histories de familles. . . . Le passé aussi est revistié, l’Histoire reconquise” (7-8). Within this atmosphere, a number of contemporary French writers such as Zahia Rahmani, Patrick Modiano, Alexandre Jardin, Leïla Sebbar, and Lydie Salvayre create texts that explore the remembrance of historical events, particularly in a familial context, and they seek to undermine or complicate popular cultural narratives about history. A similar turn exists in the architectural sphere, with the move toward "counter-monuments" (James E. Young) which evade a grandiose and absolute message, tending instead toward an intimate scale inviting personal reaction, interaction, and reflection. This panel will examine how the past has been explored and codified in contemporary cultural productions, as well as the extent to which these productions appear to impact and shape memory and discourse about the past.

Considering the preoccupation with questions of memory and national identity since the 1980s, as demonstrated by the publication of Pierre Nora's Lieux de mémoire and Henry Rousso's Le Syndrome de Vichy, how have contemporary literary works, films, or other cultural productions (art, monuments, etc.) from the 1980s to the present recreated the past, particularly the traumatic past? How have they memorialized people or events? Alternatively, panelists might consider the cultural impact of works depicting the past.