Future Tense

Future Tense: The Culture of Anticipation in France between the Wars

Roxanne Panchasi
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Future Tense
    Book Description:

    In the years between the world wars, French intellectuals, politicians, and military leaders came to see certain encounters-between human and machine, organic and artificial, national and international culture-as premonitions of a future that was alternately unsettling and utopian. Skyscrapers, airplanes, and gas masks were seen as traces in the present of a future world, its technologies, and its possible transformations. In Future Tense, Roxanne Panchasi illuminates both the anxieties and the hopes of a period when many French people-traumatized by what their country had already suffered-seemed determined to anticipate and shape the future.

    Future Tense, which features many compelling illustrations, depicts experts proposing the prosthetic enhancement of the nation's bodies and homes; architects discussing whether skyscrapers should be banned from Paris; military strategists creating a massive fortification network, the Maginot Line; and French delegates to the League of Nations declaring their opposition to the artificial international language Esperanto.

    Drawing on a wide range of sources, Panchasi explores representations of the body, the city, and territorial security, as well as changing understandings of a French civilization many believed to be threatened by Americanization. Panchasi makes clear that memories of the past-and even nostalgia for what might be lost in the future-were crucial features of the culture of anticipation that emerged in the interwar period.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6025-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Roxanne Panchasi
  5. INTRODUCTION: ʺThe Futureʺ: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis
    (pp. 1-9)

    This book is an experiment in the history of “the future.” Drawing on French sources from the years between the world wars, its chapters explore representations of the body, the city, and military security, as well as definitions of culture and civilization across domestic and international spaces. In the pages that follow, labor, design, and home efficiency experts propose “modern,” elegant appliances as supplements to wounded and tired bodies; architects and urban planners discuss whether skyscrapers should be banned from the city of Paris; military strategists and representatives in the French Chamber of Deputies consider the defense of the nation’s...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Machines for Being
    (pp. 10-42)

    In December 1933, Le Miroir du monde, a popular illustrated weekly in France, called on its writers to report on the world in the year 2933. In their opening remarks, the editors announced: “The Christmas issues of most magazines are filled with an abundance of memories drawn from a picturesque past. This year, Le Miroir du monde breaks with tradition: to amuse our readers, we invite them to turn their thoughts to a distant future.”¹ The magazine’s experiment was not the only one of its kind to appear in France during the interwar years. Other popular publications engaged in similar...

  7. CHAPTER 2 The City of the Future
    (pp. 43-76)

    Just before the end of the First World War, military strategists in France undertook the construction of an entire city, a city of lights. They decided to call it “Paris.” Responding to the threat of aerial attack, the army developed an elaborate plan to build this second Paris, a trompe l’oeil that could pass for the city from above, just northwest of the real Paris, near the suburb of Maisons-Lafitte (figure 2.1). Situated at a place on the Seine where the river bends in much the same way as it curves through the capital, Faux Paris was part of a...

  8. CHAPTER 3 The Next War
    (pp. 77-110)

    In 1928, Lucien Febvre, one of the founders of the Annales School of history, published a brief essay entitled “Frontière, le mot et la notion” in the Revue de synthèse historique.¹ Febvre pointed out that the term frontière had had different meanings in French since the Middle Ages, referring to the architectural “façade of a building,” as well as to “the front line of an army.”² He traced shifts in the definition of the physical frontière of France, from a “bordering territory in movement” to the idea of a fixed limit. Febvre noted that the meanings of the words limites...

  9. CHAPTER 4 The Future Is a Foreign Country
    (pp. 111-134)

    In January 1920, a new play by Eugène Brieux began its run at the Théâtre de l’Odéon in Paris.¹ A Parisian playwright born in 1858, Brieux was a member of the Académie française and the author of a number of dramatic works including Blanchette (1892), L’Engrenage (1894), La Robe Rouge (1900), and La Femme Seule (1912). When the full text of his latest play, Les Américains chez nous (The Americans In Our Midst), appeared in a February 1920 issue of La Petite Illustration, the following note appeared on the front page: “This play is dedicated to the women of the...

  10. CHAPTER 5 The International Language of the Future
    (pp. 135-159)

    In A Short History of the International Language Movement, published in 1922, Professor Albert Léon Guérard, a French expatriate living in the United States, traced the development and use of a variety of national and so-called artificial languages, languages invented to facilitate human communication and to encourage peaceful cooperation between different nations and cultures.¹ Guérard’s history proceeded from an analysis of linguistic traditions and movements in the past to the projection of a world to come. Entitled, “Anticipations,” the final chapter of A Short History began: “Let us imagine, then, that the . . . League of Nations, acting upon...

  11. AFTERTHOUGHTS: The Futureʹs Remains
    (pp. 160-162)

    “The future” is an elusive subject for a history.¹ At any given moment it has simultaneously too much content and none at all. Consisting of a multiplicity of imaginative visions, predictions, and projections, it never “happens,” has never happened. It is therefore difficult to know how best to close a study of the “culture of anticipation” in the interwar years. Many histories end with outcomes, reflections on the years that came after the period under study. In my case, this approach would lead me to a discussion of the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the French defeat...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 163-196)
  13. Index
    (pp. 197-204)