Finch-Race on Pedrazzini and Verna, eds. (2018)
Pedrazzini, Mariacristina, and Marisa Verna, editors. Paris, un lieu commun. EU di Lettere Economia Diritto, 2018, pp. 110, ISBN 978-88-7916-866-3
This volume in French and Italian offers insights into the cultural and physical nature of Paris during the long nineteenth century from the perspective of guidebooks, poetry, and urban development. In understandable fashion, a primary reference is Louis-Sébastien Mercier’s Tableau de Paris, with the likes of Roger Caillois, Éric Hazan, and Karlheinz Stierle as recurrent theoretical foils. Two pages of introductory remarks by Mariacristina Pedrazzini and Marisa Verna set out a typological ambition regarding the instructive materials that shaped, and were shaped by, the realities and myths of Paris. The material under scrutiny is multifaceted: “la capitale est tour à tour espace géo-social, lieu commun culturel, topos littéraire, stéréotype et cliché nourrissant la littérature de masse comme la grande poésie dans un rapport dialectique complexe” (7). The editors establish interdisciplinarity as fundamental to the six chapters that blend the sociological, geographical, and philological.
A Babylonian paradigm is the crux of Marisa Verna’s “Des Tableaux, des Diables et des mythes: Petite digression sur la ‘métropole de l’univers,’” which delves into the lieu commun as a geographical and social space versus a linguistic and cultural cliché. The chapter gives consideration to guidebooks that stretch from the Mercier-imitating Tableaux of the early 1800s to the Nouveaux Tableaux of the second half of the century, with Les Français peints par eux-mêmes as a significant juncture: “le matériau brut que constitue ce ‘tableau collectif illustré’ de Guides, Diables, Tableaux, Hermites, Esquisses, Voyages, pour ne pas oublier les Physiologies, a […] contribué à façonner un mythe que la poésie a pu reprendre à son compte, en en déjouant les masques ou en en montrant les vertiges” (18–19). Waves of manuals embody a classificatory ambition that was not overly bothered about repetition or banality. Indeed, there was no shortage of publications attesting to Paris’s transition from “New Athens” to “New Babylon,” replete with pleasure and perversion, at the time of the boulevard’s emergence as the economic and cultural heart of the modern city.
Federica Locatelli’s “Paris-Babel: lieu(x) commun(s), lieux sacrés” engages with Ferdinand Brunetière’s reflection on the lieu commun in the Revue des Deux Mondes on 15 July 1881 to unpack the sense of late-century Paris being defined by tropes of primordial chaos and the creation of the new. The critic’s reprisal of the topic in 1893 as part of his lectures at the Sorbonne about nineteenth-century French lyric poetry constitutes a bridge to perceiving Charles Baudelaire’s celebration of the lieu commun as fundamental to modernity, rooted in spirituality and an aspiration toward the infinite. A differentiation of “endroit” as opposed to “place” as opposed to “lieu” comes to the fore as a concern in Les Français peints par eux-mêmes as much as Les Fleurs du Mal, deemed emblematic of “l’activité poétique de réutilisation et de réajustement des matériaux préexistants” (36).
“Les ‘Tableaux parisiens’ de Baudelaire: Une entreprise de charité?” by Jean-Paul Avice further scrutinizes Les Fleurs du Mal through a concise analysis that deals almost exclusively with poems and letters epitomizing an authorial outlook judged to be “si attentif à la perfection de la forme” (45). Pivotal here is the issue of the “Tableaux parisiens” working beyond the anguished confines of “Spleen et Idéal” to confront social inequities. Baudelaire is seen to focus on the depths of poverty, rather than propriety and conventional notions of beauty.
Davide Vago ruminates on Hachette Livre’s mobile app “Émile” as a starting point for “Balzac et Baudelaire: De l’archéologue à l’arpenteur de Paris.” Through recordings of literary texts aimed at pedestrians in Paris, the Zola-inspired software provides a conduit to troves of cultural knowledge. The materiality of the street is quintessentially entwined with visceral and affective geographies: “chez Balzac, la boue appartient à ces matériaux divers dont sa Comédie est imprégnée grâce à la perméabilité des rapports existant […] entre le réel et l’œuvre” (61). Along these lines, the archeological qualities of literature can be mobilized to great effect in teaching French as a foreign language, particularly with anthropological and socioeconomic concerns in mind. Balzac’s novels and Baudelaire’s poems are duly appreciable in elemental and cartographic terms as much as emotive ones.
Architectural and statistical details are fundamental to Flora Pagetti’s “Le trasformazioni urbanistiche di Parigi nella seconda metà dell’Ottocento,” which features a high-level map of streets created during Haussmannization. Sewage disposal transpires as a major concern: “la rete fognaria realizzata da Haussmann […] raggiunge i 560 km […] [e] prevede due sistemi di smaltimento dei rifiuti […]. Il sistema maggiore è formato da grandi collettori e confluisce nel collettore principale di Asnière[s], che sbocca nella Senna a valle di Parigi” (80). In a similar mode, suburban economic and demographic development is correlated to the pace of industrial expansion, with an area like La Villette coming to outstrip more rural zones.
In “Sur les traces des ruines de Paris: Trois guides touristiques post-obsidionaux,” Mariacristina Pedrazzini delivers a stylistic account of dark tourism linked to the bleakest days of 1871. The Itinéraire des ruines de Paris, the Guide à travers les ruines, and the Guide-recueil de Paris-brûlé exhibit a grim genre of profiteering. Parisian abjection ended up being a growth industry for the unscrupulous: “les agences touristiques […] promet[tent] aux curieux de les emmener sur les traces des ruines encore fumantes de la Commune, et ceci à l’aide de trains, de voitures, de cicérones et même de guides touristiques conçus exprès” (87). This approach raises questions that linger well beyond the foray into ghoulish territory.
Ultimately, the contributions succeed in pointing up the common-place as a lens for reassessing supposedly familiar ground like Paris. The volume would have benefited from an index and more engagement with studies in English by scholars in a range of disciplines, e.g. Graham Robb or Alexandra Tranca, but it is effective even so.