7) Paris, Repository of Culture


Making Identity Through Books

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) said there was an opportunity for movement within the social classes and an ability to fraternise with members of other social classes. This created movement and aspiration. He also believed Paris was the centre of debauchery, for licentious pleasure, and there was always a compulsion to return. He also linked literature and social space.

Jules Verne (1828-1905) blended the modern with the history in his books.

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Paris in Time

Victor Hugo saw Paris in the future, but still associated it with the commune. He mixed optimism with the harsh reality of events unfolding around him. Others, like Arthur Rimbaud saw Paris with its electricity and modernisms as demonic.

Jules Verne saw that the city would be re-made and elevated so that it would now sit on a bed of air and clouds. But, the 'universal satisfaction' with how the city serviced with people was anything but the truth.

The experience of the city to the citizen/consumer was dizzying and the modern city often seemed to create a crisis of mental health. For example, Picasso painted dark and blue things after moving to Paris.

Pierre Nora's 'Les lieux de mémoire' (1984-1992) describes what it is to be French. He is an historian of France generally, but is still useful when studying just Paris.

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Grand Projects

The Bibliothèque de France was built by the architect to ensure his memory remained after his death. So, in some ways, it is a site of memory. Just like Mitterrand's potential folly with the Louvre and Pompidou's by putting all the pipes on the outside of the building to create more space inside were.

Le Corbusier was one of the early architects in the 20th century who described homes as machines to live in. Paris was his playground, but his plans never came to fruition.

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Paris as a Capital of Culture and Tourism

Paris attracts visitor and immigrant communities. Things like the Panthéon, the Musée Carnavalet and the Eiffel Tower all bring people to Paris.

The collective identity of Parisians creates an imagined community as they all have something in common. This began in the 19th century when certain buildings around the city began taking on additional importance to encourage visitors, like the catacombs.

The iconography of the city is very important, like the city of love or the city of tourism, as it gives the Parisians their common identity. There's also different interpretations of sites, like the Louvre which can be seen as an old, royal site gaining prominence in the French Revolution or as a national memorial space. The Monalisa and Venus de Milo are inextricably associated with Paris and the Louvre, but they are not French.

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Sites of Memory and Contention

The sites of memory are also sites of contention. For example, the Communards put a mustache on the Monalisa (Marcel Duchamp) in 1919 and named it L.H.O.O.Q. which creates the French sentence 'she has a hot a rse'.

Another site of memory is that of the Musée d'Ethnographie du Trocadéro (1878-1935) which was the first anthropological museum in Paris and displayed artefacts from all over the world. Picasso also started to include elements of Africa in his paintings and the Musée du Quai Branly features the indigenous art and cultures of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet's 'Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain' (2001) brings many of these themes together. For example, when the likes and dislikes of the characters are listed, sites of memory are used. It also shows Paris as the city of love and colour. Crème brûlées, her café, skimming stones etc are all myths of the city. These things all speak to what it means to be Parisian.

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