Creole Medievalism

Creole Medievalism: Colonial France and Joseph Bédier’s Middle Ages

Michelle R. Warren
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 416
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttt528
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  • Book Info
    Creole Medievalism
    Book Description:

    Probing the work of the once famous but little understood cultural figure Joseph Bédier, Creole Medievalism illustrates how postcolonial France and Réunion continue to grapple with histories too varied to meet expectations of national unity. Michelle R. Warren demonstrates that Bédier’s relationship to this multicultural and economically peripheral colony motivates his nationalism in complex ways.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-7541-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Joseph Bédier and the Imperial Nation
    (pp. xi-xxxii)

    “C’est comme si j’arrivais du Moyen Age et c’est pareil pour tous les autres Réunionnais, on est sauvages, on ne sait pas vivre.” [It’s like I came from the Middle Ages, and it’s the same for all the otherRéunionnais, we are savages, we don’t know how to live.] This statement describes the experience of a young migrant factory worker, arriving in France in the mid-1960s from the Indian Ocean island of Réunion. Instinctively, he likens his sense of cultural alienation to temporal distance—“it’s like I came from the Middle Ages.”¹ Judging himself and his compatriots as uncivilized “savages”...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Roncevaux and Réunion
    (pp. 1-25)

    Assertions of ancient origins have long served to legitimize kingdoms, nations, and other collectivities. Such assertions support desires for seamless historical continuity and homogeneous culture. In Europe, prior to the nineteenth century, ancient Rome served as the most frequent reference point for claims of cultural prestige. In the course of the nineteenth century, however, European countries increasingly mapped their national identities onto medieval history. The Middle Ages offered the ideological advantage of ethnic groupings that could be easily con-flated with contemporary nations, and thus sustain claims of relative superiority.¹ As the Middle Ages became a concentrated locus of nationalist thinking,...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Medieval and Colonial Attractions
    (pp. 26-75)

    The educational policies that madeRolandcentral to republican pedagogy soon popularized epic nationalism, for they reached every child who attended school. These same children also learned of France’s obligations to advance civilization overseas. Outside of formal instruction, French citizens encountered medievalism and colonialism in numerous everyday venues—from newspapers to advertising tocaféconcertsto church.

    Some of the most spectacular manifestations took place during theexpositions universelles,or World Fairs. All of the expositions that took place in Paris during Bédier’s residence (1889, 1900, 1931, 1937) featured reconstructions of medieval and colonial settings. Each exposition materialized for millions of...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Between Paris and Saint-Denis
    (pp. 76-116)

    Throughout the Third Republic, colonialism and medievalism together shaped images of France as an ancient imperial nation. Bédier’s popular scholarship, especially in the 1920s and 1930s, actively elaborated on this image, which was repeatedly appropriated by political interests from the far left to the far right. Bédier himself entertained connections across the political spectrum, appearing simultaneously “revolutionary” and “conservative.”¹ These contradictions have led most commentators to resist characterizing Bédier asnationalist.² The difficulty, however, lies neither in condemning nor exonerating Bédier but rather in developing a definition of nationalism adapted to his circumstances. I argue here that creole republicanism, as...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Island Philology
    (pp. 117-163)

    Bédier’s creole biography suggests that he turned to the Middle Ages partly in response to the disruptive effects of migration. His scholarship, in turn, refers explicitly to creole memories. As he brings the colonial and the medieval into dialogue, using each to explain the other, he weds exile to philology: both derive from experiences of rupture (in time, space, or both); both function between memory and forgetting. While the poignancy of exile lies in the persistence of the memory of a lost place, philology promises to restore lost forms to contemporary consciousness. For French medieval studies during the Third Republic,...

  9. CHAPTER 5 A Creole Epic
    (pp. 164-193)

    The OxfordRolandhad monumental importance for French literary politics during the Third Republic. For decades and in numerous editions, it provided genial images of national heroism and imperial ambition. For Bédier, these images were also creole: in Saint-Denis,Rolandportrayed the chivalric ideals and racial differences that structured colonial culture. In this sense,Rolandis a “creole epic” as the Leblonds defined the term: it supports imperial visions of French superiority. Yet even the Leblonds’ most ideologically charged novels bear witness to more complicated scenarios.¹ Likewise,Rolandportrays not only the intransigent supremacy of Charlemagne’s Christian empire, but also...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Postcolonial Itineraries
    (pp. 194-221)

    Réunion clearly played important roles in Bédier’s thinking about the Middle Ages, just as an idealized vision of the Middle Ages shaped his youthful experiences on Réunion. Today, Réunionnais culture and French medieval studies both seem far removed from the terms of Bédier’s creole medievalism. And yet the products of his medievalism still circulate in ways both obvious and subtle. Likewise, Réunionnais of vastly different political persuasions have turned to both the Middle Ages and Bédier in efforts to define their identity within the French nation. On the one hand, those championing greater integration with France claim Bédier and his...

  11. AFTERWORD: Medieval Debris
    (pp. 222-234)

    My narrative of Bédier’s creole Middle Ages has emerged from the traditional methods of philology, turned against the security of origins. Placing colonial history in relation to medieval studies during the Third Republic, I have sought to establish an archive of “local knowledge” that encompasses multiple places and times simultaneously. Françoise Lionnet has shown how the lack of such knowledge about Réunion has often led critics astray in their interpretations of French literature and culture.¹ Given the generally “minor” status of Réunion from metropolitan and francophone perspectives alike, it is no wonder that Bédier’s creole identifications have been relatively unknown....

  12. Notes
    (pp. 235-306)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 307-360)
  14. Index
    (pp. 361-380)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 381-381)