CJ -- Politics

 An RREO Original Review

Dictionnaire des intellectuels français: les personnes, les lieux, les moments [Dictionary of French Intellectuals: People, Places, Events]. Ed. Jacques Julliard and Michel Winock. Paris: Seuil, 1996. 1258 p. 25 cm. ISBN 202018334X: 390.00 FF

French intellectuals, especially those who achieved international fame and influence through their support of Soviet communism during the years 1944-56, have been the object of study for the last nearly thirty years. The literature remains dominated by biographies, autobiographies, and personal memoirs, many condemning their subjects, many explaining their own youthful actions. Recent historical studies treat such modern French figures as cultural and political phenomena as well as personalities and attempt to place them within a tradition of social, political, or intellectual history. The field of studying French intellectuals continues to evolve. One of the latest contributions is Michel Winock's Le siècle des intellectuels (Seuil, 1997).

Jacques Julliard and Michel Winock, both well-published in history and politics and often by Seuil, where Winock is a literary consultant, have produced with the collaboration of an extensive list of social scientists a reference tool both to organize the material of the field and to encourage its further development. As the subtitle indicates, this dictionary constitutes a resource for biographical entries of individual personalities as well as for the places and moments that give a social context to the politically engaged French intellectual. The places are either real or symbolic, e.g. lieux de mémoire; the moments include the great debates of the time or events that incited intellectuals to commit themselves politically.

The chronological focus of this dictionary begins with the Dreyfus Affair and continues to today's Doctors without Borders. The term intellectuel, which the editors take great pains to define so as not to offend either by inclusion or exclusion, is reserved for personalities who achieve status in an intellectual field, and then become politically engaged in the affairs of their day. Historically these fields evolve from the primarily literary and university-based intellectuals to include scientists and today's doctors. Famous personalities in the entertainment business and couturiers, as well as professional politicians, are excluded.

The dictionary is structured in classic alphabetical form, with varied length essays, all signed and most followed by a brief but useful bibliography. Copious indexing at the end expands and relates the entries with extensive cross-referencing. The 47-page personal name index integrates a far greater number of people into the history of modern French intellectuals than is possible in individual biographical entries. Subjects who are given individual entries are listed and indexed again in the following list of "les personnes," with birth and, if appropriate, death dates. The one-page and three-line chronological listing of "les moments" provides a quick glimpse of the key events from the Dreyfus Affair to Yugoslavia with the page numbers of their major entries. Most interesting, and perhaps the greatest advance for a reference tool in integrating personalities into their social contexts, is the listing and indexing of "les lieux." "Les lieux" are separately categorized as places of education or recherche, e.g., the CNRS, the Ecole Polytechnique, les khâgnes; places of involvement, e.g., CGT's institutions culturelles, the Comité national des écrivains, the Groupe des Six, followed by Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant organizations; places of production and distribution focus on the media, e.g., Autrement, Commentaire, television programs; places of social gathering, e.g., Cinémathèque française, Société des Amis de . . .; and places of recognition, e.g., the Académie des sciences, the Collège de France, the presentation of prix littéraires. The four-page listing of "les lieux" gives a quick glance of key social elements related to the phenomenon of the French intellectual as well as page numbers referring the reader to the major entries.

Julliard and Winock, along with their collaborators, have produced a useful volume for an area of study still evolving. With their efforts to expand beyond the biographical approach, they have succeeded in publishing a tool that will be useful for those interested in the best-known French intellectuals of the last 100 years as well as those interested in the broader topics of modern intellectual, social, political, and media history.

Carol Armbruster, Library of Congress

Next Section
Previous Section
Table of Contents

Comments, suggestions, or questions
Last update: July 31, 2000 [RD]
© 2005 Casalini libri - VAT no. IT03106600483