27 Chapters
Medium 9780253010452

Introduction: The Creation of a Colonial Culture in France, from the Colonial Era to the “Memory Wars”

NoContributor Indiana University Press ePub

The Creation of a Colonial Culture in France, from the Colonial Era to the “Memory Wars”

Pascal Blanchard, Sandrine Lemaire,
Nicolas Bancel, and Dominic Thomas

The present collection is the fruit of an inquiry that began in the early 1990s and that sought to better elucidate certain aspects of France’s contemporary history. The weight of colonial imaginary, discernible in the production of a colonial iconicity, in colonial cinema, and in the intertextual articulations of images/ discourse, called for improved contextualization, as did those mechanisms associated with the construction of different paradigms with respect to the Other in the context of a burgeoning imperialism.1 Initial research was conducted on the subject of “human zoos,” and then shortly thereafter we began evaluating the importance of colonial expositions and world fairs that were held in France and abroad.2 We also sought to better understand the relationship between immigration to the metropole from the “global South” and the colonial phenomenon itself over a longer historical period that included both the colonial and postcolonial periods. In turn, we found ourselves compelled to investigate even more complex, yet related, processes, such as French Republican identity.

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Part 3. The Apogee of Imperialism

NoContributor Indiana University Press ePub

PART 3

THE APOGEE OF IMPERIALISM

Images of an Empire’s Demise

Benjamin Stora

In the field of history, the practice of analyzing (and utilizing) images began in the 1990s, with classifications and typologies. The sensorial shock of an image can both influence the course of one’s life and change one’s perception of history. With respect to the end of the Algerian War, Jean-François Sirinelli rightly asks, “Do not the shocking photos in Paris-Match, with a French readership of 8 million, weigh more than the words of intellectuals? And, knowing that some of the reports featured in Cinq Colonnes à la Une (dating back to January 1959) have remained anchored in the collective memory far longer than any given intellectual petition, what kind of impact did these reports have?”1

To look at the hundreds of images depicting the sub-Saharan and North African colonial universe between 1945 and 1962 is to experience a sort of vertigo in which memory confronts its lacunae, in which the longer history of decolonization somehow oscillates between the exotic and the tragic, the apparent emptiness of forgetting and the irrefutable proof that this chain of events nevertheless did take place. I propose to explore images in a general manner and shall divide my analysis between the visual image (photographs, publicity images, postcards) and the drawn image (illustrations, drawings, sketches). I shall deliberately focus on the fixed image, leaving aside cinema’s—and later, television’s2—animated and mobile image, and consider photographs published in major magazines, drawings from children’s textbooks and military periodicals, sketches and illustrations on the covers of books, propaganda pamphlets, and albums.

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8 The Larousse

Otto Schrag Indiana University Press ePub

In school in the year after our return from Boulogne they gave all the students large translucent capsules filled with an amber liquid that were said to be vitamins. We got one every day. I was afraid to swallow mine and surreptitiously threw them away. On some days that was difficult without being detected; I never could swallow any large pill without water. Worse, I felt I didn’t have a right to my pill and that some morning, when our teacher, M. Boulanger, handed them out I would be challenged as a foreigner, a Boche impostor. It was, of course, not the capsule I would have minded losing; indeed what I minded most about the capsules, other than the daily need to find an undetected means of disposing of mine, was that through them I would be exposed as the Belgian I was not. Getting the pill and then palming it or hiding it in my desk or in a pocket doubled the guilt. Everyone must have known. In those days, of course, I was always Pierre, not Peter, however pronounced, but after one year in Brussels no one could have been taken in by my pretense that I was one of them; yet no one ever said anything to me. I knew what I was not. What I was, that wasn’t so clear.

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5 Another Cattle Train

Otto Schrag Indiana University Press ePub

The next day, when trucks holding both bread and cans of liver paste came into the yard, the men knew they were being shipped off again. Everybody was packing.

“What would you think,” asked Veilchenfeld, who was clean and groomed, as always, “if we all wrote our names on the walls? Who knows, maybe they’ll bring our wives here?” And so they all wrote their names and addresses and the names of their wives. Licht used a broad-pointed fountain pen, so that all future inhabitants of Barracks 14 could read, in French: “Judith Licht, sought by her husband, former address Avenue des Scarabées, Brussels.”1

That afternoon, after having packed their food and standing for hours in the yard, they were marched back to the railway station, now looking grayer and uglier than in the bright sunshine at their arrival. The air was like nothing they’d breathed before. Today a depressing sense of not knowing hung on them. Even before they were marched off they’d talked about whether they’d again be loaded into cattle cars. Brust thought that was out of the question—or if they were, at least they’d leave the vents open. After all, the Belgians were gone.

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4 Le Vigeant

Otto Schrag Indiana University Press ePub

Many were still asleep when the train stopped again. The doors were opened and a soldier shouted, “Descendez!

There was mass confusion as people scurried to get their belongings. Each wanted to get out quickly. But Licht took his time, slowly putting on his jacket, getting his rucksack on his back, and picking up his satchel. Then he climbed out of the car.

The train stood in an open field where a row of gorgeous acacia trees lined the tracks, their leaves shimmering with raindrops. The most wonderful thing was the air. Never in his life had Licht breathed anything like it. This was not ordinary air; it was an altogether unfamiliar thing, creating for him a heavenly sensation halfway between morning dew and a cool evening breeze. A great artist had lightly perfumed this intoxicating mix to further its enchantment.

Although Belgians still had the watch, French officers were about to take over. They looked puzzled as they saw their new charges, who had been described to them as dangerous prisoners.

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