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Colonial Unconscious: Race and Culture in Interwar France

by Elizabeth Ezra Cornell University Press
Pub Date:
Pbk 192 pages
AU$59.99 NZ$64.34
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France between the two World Wars was pervaded by representations of its own colonial power, expressed forcefully in the human displays at the expositions coloniales, films starring Josephine Baker, and the short stories of Paul Morand, and more subtly in the avant-garde writings of René Crevel and Raymond Roussel. In her lively book, Elizabeth Ezra interprets a fascinating array of cultural products to uncover what she terms the ''colonial unconscious'' of the Jazz Age--the simultaneous attraction and repulsion of exoticism and the double bind of a colonial discourse that foreclosed the possibility of the very assimilation it invited.Ezra situates the apotheosis of French colonialism in relation to both the internal tensions of the colonial project and the competing imperialisms of Great Britain and the United States. Examining both the uses and the limits of psychoanalytic theories of empire, she proposes a reading of French colonialism which, while historically specific, also contributes to our understanding of contemporary culture. The enduring legacy of empire is felt to this day, as Ezra demonstrates in a provocative epilogue on the remarkable similarities between the rhetoric of colonial France and accounts of the French victory in the 1998 World Cup.
''Ezra's slender yet dense volume is the latest contribution to the growing scholarly literature on the history of colonial representations and their impact on collective mentalities during the interwar period, a relatively new field that enriches the already substantal corpus of works analyzing political, social, and economic dimensions of French colonialism.''-Brett Bowles, Iowa State University, H-France Book Reviews Sept. 2003.
Elizabeth Ezra teaches in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at the University of Stirling. She is the author of Georges Melies: The Birth of the Auteur, editor of European Cinema, and coeditor of France in Focus: Film and National Identity and Transnational Cinema: The Film Reader.