Documentary Imagination in Twentieth-Century French Literature: Writing with Facts

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Documentary Imagination in Twentieth-Century French Literature: Writing with Facts
The Documentary Imagination in Twentieth-Century French Literature identifies a documentary impulse in French literature that emerges at the end of the nineteenth century and culminates in a proliferation of factual writings in the twenty-first. Focusing on the period bookended by these two moments, it highlights the enduring concern with factual reference in texts that engage either with current events or the historical archive. Specifically, it considers a set of ideas and practices centered on the conceptualization and use of documents. In doing so, it contests the widespread narrative that twentieth-century French literature abandons the realist enterprise, and argues that writers instead renegotiate the realist legacy outside, or at the margins of, the fictional space of the novel.

Analyzing works by authors including Gide, Breton, Aragon, Yourcenar, Duras, and Modiano, the book defines a specific documentary mode of literary representation that records, assembles, and investigates material traces of reality. The document is a textual, visual, or material piece of evidence repurposed through its visual insertion, textual transcription, or description within a literary work. It is a fact, but it also becomes a figure, standing for literature's confrontation with the real. The documentary imagination involves a fantasy of direct access to a reality that speaks for itself. At the same time, it gives rise to concrete textual practices that open up new directions for literature, by interrogating the construction and interpretation of facts.

Publication Date: 
November 3, 2020

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