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War, Memory, and the Politics of Humor

War, Memory, and the Politics of Humor: The Canard Enchaîné and World War I

Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 345
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  • Book Info
    War, Memory, and the Politics of Humor
    Book Description:

    War, Memory, and the Politics of Humorfeatures carnage and cannibalism, gender and cross-dressing, drunks and heroes, militarism and memory, all set against the background of World War I France. Allen Douglas shows how a new satiric weekly, theCanard Enchaîné,exploited these topics and others to become one of France's most influential voices of reaction to the Great War. TheCanard,still published today, is France's leading satiric newspaper and the most successful periodical of the twentieth century, and Douglas colorfully illuminates the mechanisms of its unique style. Following theCanardfrom its birth in 1915 to the eve of the Great Depression, the narrative reveals a heady mix of word play, word games, and cartoons. Over the years the journal--generally leftist, specifically antimilitarist and anti-imperialist--aimed its shots in all directions, using some stereotypes the twenty-first century might find unacceptable. But Douglas calls its humor an affirmation of life, and as such the most effective antidote to war.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92694-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction: War, Lies, and Newsprint
    (pp. 1-20)

    In 1924, the third of September was a Wednesday. We can easily imagine that it was sunny and mild, the kind of day when Parisians sipped their drinks and read their newspapers outside in the sidewalk cafés. Why not, then, imagine this too? A man in his early thirties has just ordered a Vouvray. He wears a Croix de Guerre in his lapel; his left leg is extended stiffly: probably a war wound. After all, the Great War has been over for less than six years. He opens his newspaper and begins to read. The article is entitled “Long Live...

  6. 1 Satire and Censorship
    (pp. 21-36)

    Paris, September 1915: One might think this hardly the time and place for humor. France has been at war for over a year. The national territory has been invaded; several of the country’s richest departments remain occupied. A year after the “miracle” of the Marne, neither the French nor their allies are having any luck in breaking, or even pushing back, the German lines. And the tragic slaughter continues as the manhood of France mixes its blood with the mud of the trenches. So where does one find humor at such a moment? And how can such humor be patriotic?...

  7. 2 Verbal and Visual, Humor and Politics: Organization as Discourse
    (pp. 37-50)

    Format is a species of content. This was especially so for theCanard.And format for theCanardmeant the mixing of words and pictures, first among them pictures of ducks. The semiotic mélange ofcanard-as-duck-as-falsehood-as-newsrag-as-political-and-humorous-weekly inextricably intertwined the verbal puns with the visual one of the web-footed bird as periodical. The cutesy, partly humanized bird created by Gassier has marked the paper’s pages from its first issue in 1915 and its masthead from its “resurrection” in 1916. The message of this bird? In this paper, visual and verbal define each other.

    Yet the first flights of this mascot were...

  8. 3 Unstuffing Skulls: The Canard versus the Mass Press
    (pp. 51-70)

    Seriousness and humor were never far apart for theCanard Enchaîné.But one of the things it was most serious about was what the other journalists of wartime France were doing: the patriotic combination of official optimism, vulgar chauvinism, and pretentious bellicosity that went under the namebourrage de crâne(skull stuffing). TheCanardwas so successful in unstuffing skulls that for many observers, and for historians like R. Manévy, this was the weekly’s most important contribution.¹ But theCanardwent further than just countering war propaganda; it extended its scrutiny to a critique and exposé of the French mass...

  9. 4 The Tears of L’Intran: Semiotic Hijacking and Wartime Anxieties
    (pp. 71-82)

    Tears there were aplenty in World War I France: tears of widows, tears of fiancées who would never marry, tears of now-childless mothers, tears of civilians confronted with trainloads of wounded, tears of soldiers about to go under chloroform and fearing for their limbs. And despite the better-known stories of the patriotic reaction to the mobilization, even mobilization was greeted in many towns and villages with tears of anticipation for the losses of war.¹

    The relative absence of lacrimation in theCanard Enchaînéis striking. In part, this lack was due to the weekly’s humoristic vocation. But theCanard’s dearth...

  10. 5 Soldiers versus Profiteers: Class War as Patriotism
    (pp. 83-97)

    In the mid-1920s, the rightist politician Georges Valois explained that, for the French Communist, the bourgeois was really theembusqué,the draft dodger or shirker who had gotten himself a safe job in the rear.¹ TheCanard Enchaînéwas never really Communist (though it often echoed Communist positions), but it certainly tended to amalgamate the categories ofembusquésand bourgeois, of wartime virtue and social class.

    TheCanardhad an essentially binary view of wartime French society—heroes who did their duty and slackers who did not—except that this division was doubled by another—those who lived by work...

  11. 6 In Vino Veritas: De la Fouchardière, Bicard, and the Politics of Inebriation
    (pp. 98-115)

    “Le jour de boire n’est pas arrivé” (the day of drinking has not yet arrived), theCanardwarned its readers in mid-October 1918. In other words, the end of the war, clearly within sight, had not yet come.¹ With this pun on the opening verse of the “Marseillaise,” “Le jour de gloire est arrivé” (the day of glory has arrived), theCanardlinked an alcoholic festiveness to the expected moment of patriotic celebration. But the French had not waited for the armistice to drink. From the wine andeau de vierations of the soldiers to government-mandated restrictions on stronger...

  12. 7 Peace or Postwar: The Next Last War
    (pp. 116-131)

    At the end of Jean Renoir’s 1937 film,Grande Illusion,two escaped French officers exchange a few last words before they cross into Switzerland. One says they “must get this goddamned war over with, in the hope that it will be the last.” “You are kidding yourself [Tu te fais des illusions],” his comrade replies.¹

    One can understand why, by 1937, the officer’s hope might seem an illusion. But thecanarddealt with this problem years before, with the suggestion that the recent war might not be the last one. The weekly, of course, treated this essentially tragic idea in...

  13. 8 Web of Memory
    (pp. 132-153)

    The fact that the Great War was over was no reason for theCanardto stop talking about it. Between the last war and the next last one stretched the ways French society digested the war, the way it understood it, the way it recounted it to itself—that is, its memory of the war.

    In his introductory material forLes lieux de mémoire,Pierre Nora showed how memory could act as a locus of contest, but most especially so in its transition to history, in the processes through which the unconscious becomes conscious and the informal becomes the official.¹...

  14. 9 Between Cannibalism and Resurrection: The Body of the Unknown Soldier
    (pp. 154-167)

    InTristes Tropiques,Claude Lévi-Strauss describes two different types of attitudes toward the dead. “Some societies let their dead rest,” and, in return, “the departed refrain from troubling the living.” Other societies “allow them [the dead] no rest, but press them into service.[ . . . ] These societies, more than others, are worried by the dead, whom they exploit. They believe that the dead pay them back in kind, and are all the more demanding and importunate towards the living, since the latter are making use of them.”¹

    Was the distinguished anthropologist thinking of France when he wrote this...

  15. 10 Anti-Imperialism and Its Stereotypes: War in the Colonies
    (pp. 168-183)

    Even more daring for the time than theCanard’s antimilitarism was its principled condemnation of imperialism; in this regard, France’s wars of colonial repression in Morocco and Syria in the mid-1920s earned the weekly’s ridicule and opposition. An anti-imperialism of the left went with antiracism—at least in theory. We have already seen how the weekly exploited prejudices and stereotypes—from greedy Auvergnats to drunken revelers. In no area was the tension between stereotype and politics greater, however, than in those colonial wars. Here the weekly’s combination of antimilitarism, anti-imperialism, and antiracism came up against its regular exploitation of racial...

  16. 11 Politics as Usual: An Antiparliamentarism of the Left?
    (pp. 184-209)

    The ideological flexibility of so much of theCanard’s discourse allowed it to vacillate among its roles as leftist, satirical, and veterans’ periodical. The result was often a kind of leftist antiparliamentarism or even a veterans’ antiparliamentarism. TheCanard’s antiparliamentarism was not the antidemocratic one of the radical right or even that of prewar anarchists and syndicalists or followers of the Jacobin tradition, who wished to replace representative institutions with other forms of popular expression. The antiparliamentarism of theCanardwas a critique of the parliament as a working body; and it was, thus, the centerpiece of an analysis of...

  17. 12 Canard Economics, or the Costs of the War
    (pp. 210-230)

    Like the French state and people, theCanardhad to come to terms with the economic, budgetary, and monetary problems that beset the country in the first postwar decade. But the weekly brought to this challenge a characteristic ideological flexibility. The most obvious of France’s economic problems was the dramatic rise in prices known asla vie chère,or the high cost of living. Associated with rising prices were the crises of the French franc, which came to a head in the spring of 1924 and the summer of 1926. Most citizens of the Gallic republic also understood the relationship...

  18. 13 The Wealth of Nations
    (pp. 231-246)

    Virtually all of France’s postwar economic difficulties had international connections. But in two cases these relationships were particularly visible: the decline in the franc, which provoked a sharp increase in the number of tourists, and the problem of debts owed to Britain and the United States. This highly visible foreign involvement meant that the familiarCanardtension between stereotyped (or scapegoated) treatment and structural, ultimately antimilitarist, explanation came out as foreigner bashing versus a more balanced critique of France’s role in the international capitalist system. The foreigners open for bashing were the Anglo-Saxons. Though both countries were targeted in both...

  19. 14 Conclusion: Politics of Humor, Politics of Memory
    (pp. 247-266)

    Through the years of war and peace, theCanardserved up its weekly combinations of humor and politics. Its most common humoristic techniques are by now familiar: antiphrastic irony, pastiche, repetition, and the exploitation of stereotypes. These techniques did more than generate humor; they gave theCanardits distinctive coloration. They were a rhetoric that created a politics—in turn linked to a world-view and a discourse of memory.

    It would clearly be dangerous to argue that certain literary or humoristic techniques are compatible only with particular political positions, since the possibilities of language and the creative mind cannot be...

  20. Notes
    (pp. 267-322)
  21. Index
    (pp. 323-331)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 332-332)