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Popular Front Paris and the Poetics of Culture

Popular Front Paris and the Poetics of Culture

Dudley Andrew, Steven Ungar

ISBN 9780674027169

Publication date: 03/31/2008

The story of Paris in the 1930s seems straightforward enough, with the Popular Front movement leading toward the inspiring 1936 election of a leftist coalition government. The socialist victory, which resulted in fundamental improvements in the lives of workers, was then derailed in a precipitous descent that culminated in France's capitulation before the Nazis in June 1940. Yet no matter how minutely recounted, this "straight story" clarifies only the political activity behind which turbulent cultural currents brought about far-reaching changes in everyday life and the way it is represented.

In this book, Dudley Andrew and Steven Ungar apply an evocative "poetics of culture" to capture the complex atmospherics of Paris in the 1930s. They highlight the new symbolic forces put in play by technologies of the illustrated press and the sound film—technologies that converged with efforts among writers (Gide, Malraux, Céline), artists (Renoir, Dalí), and other intellectuals (Mounier, de Rougemont, Leiris) to respond to the decade's crises.

Their analysis takes them to expositions and music halls, to upscale architecture and fashion sites, to traditional neighborhoods, and to overseas territories, the latter portrayed in metropolitan exhibits and colonial cinema. Rather than a straight story of the Popular Front, they have produced something closer to the format of an illustrated newspaper whose multiple columns represent the breadth of urban life during this critical decade at the end of the Third French Republic.


  • Dudley Andrew and Steven Ungar's Popular Front Paris is an interdisciplinary study of culture in 1930s France, especially at the time of the Popular Front. Through the study of film, literature, and other media (such as journals, both learned and popular, photography and radio), the authors define and study a 'poetics of culture', a culture which they see primarily characterized by the move from culture to politics under the pressure of national and international developments. The project of the book is ambitious and original.

    —Ginette Vincendeau, author of Jean-Pierre Melville: An American in Paris


  • Dudley Andrew is Professor of Film Studies and of Comparative Literature at Yale University.
  • Steven Ungar is Professor of French and Chair of Comparative Literature at the University of Iowa and the author of Roland Barthes: The Professor of Desire.

Book Details

  • 464 pages
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • Belknap Press