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Popular Front Paris and the Poetics of Culture

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$33.50 • £26.95 • €30.00

ISBN 9780674027169

Publication Date: 03/31/2008


464 pages

6 x 9 inches

105 halftones

Belknap Press


Dudley Andrew and Steven Ungar have written a diverse, disparate, protean book that is well worth heeding… A judicious and often elegant original work of broad scope and great ambition.—Eugen Weber, Modernism/modernity

A magnificently interdisciplinary study of France in the 1930s, which reaches to embrace popular expression and urban life along with the work of intellectuals and artists… Andrew’s and Ungar’s combined erudition and their compellingly orchestrated presentation blend a series of almost autonomous essays into a dense and coherent portrait of an era… The book’s evocative, intellectually nimble, and often playful style is in keeping with the authors’ expressed desire to highlight interweaving, paradox, and coincidence. The result is a model of contemporary Cultural Studies, an indispensable reference…and a pleasure to read.—Lynn A. Higgins, French Forum

To claim that the most original aspect of Popular Front Paris resides in its approach is not at all to diminish the genuine contributions to traditional scholarship it contains. Andrew and Ungar have been working on this book for almost twenty years, and the time spent, patient research undertaken, and insight gained are everywhere apparent… The combination of information, juxtaposition, and analyses provided makes the volume essential reading for scholars of the era or for anyone teaching courses with a major focus on the 1930s in France… Popular Front Paris is an exciting book, both in its excellent evocation of the past, and in the implications its approach contains for the future.—William Cloonan, French Review

Andrew and Ungar’s book…is rich, complex, and frequently rewarding… This is a valuable and fascinating book, particularly in its insightful readings of a broad array of films of the 1930s.—Thomas Kselman, American Historical Review

Andrew and Ungar offer a study of the cultural life of mid-1930s Paris in extraordinary breadth and substantive detail. Spanning topics from literature to film, stage revues, automobiles, photo journalism, literary awards, weekly magazines, and colonial and decorative-arts expositions, and layered with cross-references and thematic links, this weighty book is of essential value for scholars of interwar France… Regardless of where one stands on the possibilities and limits of the cultural contextualization of film, Popular Front Paris is likely to prove provocative.—Charles O’Brien, Canadian Journal of Film Studies

The subject of this book is the frenzied cross-pollination of politics and culture in France during the tumultuous 1930s. This magnificent study has as its point of departure cinematographic culture and techniques. Andrew and Ungar deliver brilliant close readings of numerous films—both classics and cheap commercial enterprises—to illuminate the spheres of political imagination… The authors’ many years of labor on this book were well spent. No one committed to cultural history can ignore this book and its powerful and persuasive methodology. This is interdisciplinary work at its very best.—N. R. Fitch, Choice

Andrew and Ungar present a complex and highly specialized book that should fascinate both French and cultural historians. The focus is on the Popular Front years, which were marked by an optimistic vision of social solidarity and political change. Yet, in sharp contrast to more traditional histories of the period, like Eugen Weber’s The Hollow Years, this text is more concerned with the process of historical writing. The authors apply a concept known as ‘poetics of culture’ to capture the complexities and range of Parisian life in the 1930s, using three metaphors to illustrate Parisian life at this time: a newspaper, a musical score, and an ‘atmosphere.’ Their aim is to present life as contemporaries experienced it, not in a linear fashion, but as a wide range of perceptions and expressions. The authors discuss contemporary preoccupations as seen by writers and intellectuals and as depicted in popular entertainment and, most especially, film.—Marie Marmo Mullaney, Library Journal

The history of the 20th century is so intertwined with the history of film it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between them. This magnificent evocation of the French 1930s—so exciting politically and culturally—is memory stained with images, film as the very body of historical time: the popular front, surrealism, the colonies, the press, the chanson, the scandals, the quarrels of great writers from Gide to Celine. From all this, concentrated in stills from Bunuel or Renoir, our leave taking, with Levi-Strauss on the boat to the New World after the fall of Paris, is a sad one: the authors having demonstrated how energizing this seething decade can still be for us today. They help in the vital task of rescuing the Thirties everywhere.—Fredric Jameson, author of A Singular Modernity

Andrew and Ungar have written a bold and wonderful book on the moment in France in the mid-1930s when the dream of freedom became flesh as new culture and new politics. With the Popular Front at the center of interest, it is at the same time a work on cultural politics and political culture of the years between World War I and II in France. It is the best such study that I know.—Herman Lebovics, author of Bringing the Empire Back Home and True France

This is a substantial piece of work on a key period in modern French, and indeed European, history—key not only in political terms, with the vicissitudes of the Left and the rise of Fascism, but culturally, with the rise of new media of mass communication such as the illustrated press and the sound cinema.—Keith Reader, author of Robert Bresson

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

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