The first part of this essay is also available online at: www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n17/ande01_.html
In Britain, the early 1990s saw the breakdown of Thatcher's rule and the passage to a less strident neo-liberal agenda, under the atonic stewardship of Major. In France, the trend was in the opposite direction. There, the dominance of a market-minded consensus reached its height in the early years of the second Mitterrand presidency. The gains of the arc of opinion represented by François Furet and his friends were there for all to see. France was finally delivered of its totalitarian temptations. The shades of the Revolution had been laid to rest. The Republic had found its feet in the safe ground of the centre. Only one heritage of the past had yet to be thoroughly purged of its ambiguities: the Nation. This task fell to Pierre Nora. In his editorial on the tenth anniversary of Le Débat in 1990, Nora had hailed the 'new cultural landscape' of the country, and within another couple of years, he completed his own monumental contribution to it. Originating in a seminar at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in 1978-80 - the same conjuncture as Le Débat itself - the first volume of Les Lieux de mémoire came out under his direction in 1984. By the time the last set appeared in 1992, the enterprise had swollen to seven volumes and some 5600 pages, mustering six times as many contributors as the Dictionnaire critique de la révolution française, from a more ecumenical range of scholars. His aim, Nora declared in his initial presentation of the project, was an inventory of all those realms of remembrance where French identity could be said to have symbolically crystallised.
LRB 23 September 2004 | PDF Download