Academic journal article The Romanic Review

`Qui a Pais N'a Que Faire De Patrie': Joachim Du Bellay's Resistance to a French Identity

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

`Qui a Pais N'a Que Faire De Patrie': Joachim Du Bellay's Resistance to a French Identity

Article excerpt

The poet Joachim Du Bellay is commonly recognized as one of the most famous figures of sixteenth-century French literature who gave voice to pro-French sentiment. A prominent member of the Pleiade, he was also the author of its famous manifesto, the Deffence et illustration de la langue francoyse, in which he defended the French language as being the equal of other vernaculars such as Italian and sought to inaugurate a new literature worthy of France. Jean Dorat, the precepteur of many of the Pleiade poets, declares in a liminary poem that this treatise will bring Du Bellay eternal glory as a lover of his country. (1) However, it is the point of this essay to show that Du Bellay's sense of French identity, in other words his grasp of what is specifically shared by the larger community of people making up an imagined French patrie, (2) is not nearly as coherent or well defined as one would believe; this will be done by focusing on the two works which are generally accepted as offering the most pronounced expression of feeling for France, the Deffence and the Regrets, a sonnet collection written during Du Bellay's four-year stay in Rome. Specifically, I hope to demonstrate that both works express considerable ambivalence about a French identity, even a resistance to it. Indeed, the Regrets give strongest voice to the expression of a provincial, rather than of a national identity despite their being a chronicle of Du Bellay's largely disenchanting encounter with Roman and Papal culture.

As the title suggests, the French language is the focus for French sentiment in La Deffence et illustration de la langue francoyse. Within that context, French literature, and thus French poets, are called upon to play a special role: since French is the language of the king and his court, by composing good French verse, Du Bellay and those who follow the precepts of the Deffence are promoting the Valois monarchy. Yet as we shall see, not only does Du Bellay's project for the defense and embellishment of the French language contain significant contradictions, but its relationship to the monarchy is ambiguous as well: for example, in his dedication to his cousin Cardinal Jean Du Bellay, Joachim speaks rather abstractly of his "affection naturelle envers ma Patrie," and in the postface, expresses the hope that his treatise will find favor with "la nation Francoyse." Lastly, the very notion of this patrie will be shown to be problematic, both on a linguistic and ontological level.

The problems begin with the title of Du Bellay's manifesto. The primary meaning of "to defend" is to ward off (de-fend), keep at a distance, and thus to protect against. (3) While Ferguson's study of the Deffence explores the military and psychological dimensions of the term "defense," it does so from an "anxiety of influence," and thus a more narrowly psychoanalytic perspective. (4) Work on the concept of cultural identity, rather than individual or authorial identity, in the years since Ferguson's article appeared, sheds further light on the rich contradictions of Du Bellay's text. (5) The project of the Deffence involves a sense of French identity that is necessarily expressed through the confrontation with other cultures. Finding such an identity involves precisely establishing a balance between likeness and dissimilarity, between reproduction and differentiation. (6) While identity begins with the idea of a shared common origin, it is not wholly focused on the past but uses history, language, and culture to construct a fantasy about what it could be come. (7) Finally, differentiation, which is never complete but is rather always in process, (8) occurs through the establishment of boundaries and "frontier-effects." (9) Indeed, identity can function precisely because of the capacity to create demarcations based on exclusions. (10)

Defending the French language thus means constructing a space for that which is quintessentially French. In this light, the Deffence appears particularly complex and problematic. …

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