Burgundian Regionalism and French Republican Commercial Culture at the 1937 Paris International Exposition

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article discusses how early twentieth-century France developed rustic modernization projects anchored in traditional regional practices. This entailed overcoming political and cultural fears associated with regional allegiances as well as developing regional cultural agendas susceptible to economic exploitation. The case study of how Burgundians marketed artisan workmanship, gastronomical traditions, vernacular architecture, and folkloric traditions at the 1937 Paris International Exposition illustrates how a commercial paradigm of French national identity was rooted in provincial productivity.

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Introduction: The Problem with Rural France

   One must visit its provinces to truly
   understand France. Only there ... are
   the nation's particularities unveiled.

--Stefan Zweig, Voyages [1931]

Moralists, pundits and scholars have anchored their interpretations of French history in the putative virtues and alleged deficiencies of France's agrarian traditions and agricultural structures (Duby and Wallon 1976; Pitte 1983; Agulhon 1988; Antoine 1999; Le Roy Ladurie 1974; Le Roy Ladurie 2001; Moriceau 2002). Herman Lebovics characterizes conventional discourses about the nature or identity of "true France" as inherently reactionary insofar as they generally employ "political-theological nonsense" to maintain "that there can be only one way to participate in the culture of a country and only one natural political organization that fits society" (1992, xiv and xiii). Stephane Gerson's argues that the concept of "local France" has "long evoked a story of neglect, coercion, nostalgia, and reaction" (2003, 539). Many still imagine rural France as the source of reactionary political and social agendas. The problem with such interpretations, anchored in depictions of the French Revolution's counter-revolutionary enemies to the Revolution Nationale's crypto-fascist supporters, is that they frequently either dismiss or undervalue the diversity and modernity of cultural formations originating in the French provinces.

This view has been challenged recently. Thiebaut Floryi characterizes early twentieth-century French regionalism as a "rich and multi-faceted ideology that seem[ed] to reconcile the most contradictory doctrines and still offered a certain unity of thought" (1992, 42). Patrick Young adds that "regionalism lent itself to a range of inflections, many informed by the desire to consciously avoid the charged polarities of French Politics" (2002, 171). Shanny Peer shows how folk representations of "rural France" were endorsed and exploited by France's leftist Popular Front government at the 1937 Paris International Exposition (1998). Supporting these interpretations, this article examines the Burgundian presence at the 1937 Paris International Exposition in order to better understand the nature and significance of regional contributions to the French modernization project during the Interwar years.

Consistent with interpretations that emphasize the importance of regional and rural agendas from France's Third Republic through Vichy's National Revolution and into the late twentieth century, my analysis of Burgundian regionalism examines how resuscitated or newly created "traditions" served to link regional interests to a French national political identity (Faure 1989). Although some scholars might argue that the resurgence of French regionalism "was only and gradually reintroduced under the condition that it became presentable in republican eyes" (den Boer, 47), I maintain that regionalism resulted from the regionalists' own ability to influence the terms and conditions under which regional cultural and economic practices were politically recognized, especially during the interwar years.

French Modernization and Burgundian Regionalism

   The point is that politics is social, not
   textual, and if the text is made political,
   its politicization is effected at its
   point of entry into the social. …