Issue 2004, number 28: summaries
Les traductions des résumés des articles publiés dans le numéro 28 ont été assurées par Léonard Burnand et le professeur Dennis Wood.
«Benjamin Constant member of the Tribunate»
Thanks to Sieyès’s intervention, Benjamin Constant was made a member of the Tribunate, on 3 nivôse an VIII (24th December 1799). Having made up his mind to play an active role in politics, he made every effort to speak in numerous debates on such different subjects as parliamentary privilege, the right to draw up petitions, special criminal tribunals, the «droit de tester», or the national debt. The twelve or so speeches which he made not only reveal his ability in legal matters, but also his liberalism as a parliamentary adversary of Bonaparte, concerned with setting limits on power which was becoming more and more authoritarian, but also anxious to protect French society from any new revolutionary adventures. His independence of mind and his skills as an orator, both of which made him one of the principal spokesmen for the opposition to the Consulate, led to his expulsion from the Tribunate, on 17th January 1802.
«The Private and the Fictional in Constant’s Writings»
After some brief historical remarks which throw light on the gulf between the private journals of Benjamin Constant and the literary models available to him – journals which only became readable (in all senses of that word) at the end of the nineteenth century – this study concentrates on the links between writing about the self and the creation of fiction. The aim is above all to bring out in Constant’s private writings the significance of rhetorical and thematic models and of commonplaces of every kind which appear there despite Constant’s intentions in a form of expression which is intended only as a vehicle for the writer’s private thoughts. When we consider the relationship between the private inner life of Constant and his fiction, it is clear that the texts studied here (private diaries and more or less autobiographical works of fiction) offer valuable insights, since at the very least they reveal, day by day and page after page, how giving expression to one’s self can move ceaselessly from, on the one hand, total transparency, that is, telling the whole truth with an immediacy which simply turns the writer’s thoughts into words, and, on the other hand, artifice – that is, the lie that results from a readymade discourse, one which is constrained by literary conventions of various kinds. It then becomes possible to see how, and according to which linguistic codes, self-revelation inevitably merges into a construction of the self.
«Constant and the history of his time: the final chapter of the Mélanges de littérature et de politique»
The last chapter of the Mélanges de littérature et de politique (1829) is entitled Des erreurs que l’histoire favorise sur les gouvernements absolus et les gouvernements populaires. Although it had not been previously published – unlike the other chapters of the Mélanges, which reproduced old material – this text enlarges upon an «idée très neuve» that Constant had already expressed in his review of Sismondi’s Histoire des républiques italiennes (Minerve française, 19th April 1818). The present article examines the differences in form and content between the 1818 version and its later 1829 reworking. It also reveals a relatively little-known aspect of Constants’s work as an epistemologist of history. His way of dealing with his main sources (Dangeau and Rulhière) demonstrates that in some sense he belongs to the «new generation» of Romantic historians such as the Thierry brothers and Guizot.
«Benjamin Constant and Greece»
From his juvenilia to his last literary essays, Benjamin Constant always showed a great passion for Ancient Greece and its civilization. On a political level, although he admired Athenian democracy, he was too aware of history to think that Greece could be a model for post-Thermidorian France. However, in his book on religion, he presented Greek polytheism as the foundation of liberty in the progressive development of mankind. During the Restoration of the French monarchy, this passion for Greece prompted him to fight for the cause of Greek independence.
«A two-way mirror: Guy de Pourtalès discovers Benjamin Constant»
This article proposes a genetic analysis of Guy de Pourtalès’s essay «Remarques sur Benjamin Constant» and offers some reflections on the influence of Constant on Pourtalès’s works. In 1919, back from the Great War, Pourtalès took a deep interest in Constant. He wrote an essay about him, which was published in the Revue hebdomadaire in May 1920. Four years later, he wrote a new version of this text and included it in a collection of his essays, De Hamlet à Swann. Drawing on Pourtalès’s manuscripts, it is possible to follow the development of Pourtalès’s thought by examining the process of his rewriting of his essay on Constant. Later on, Pourtalès was to return to Constant, first in his novel Montclar, which was clearly influenced by Adolphe, then in the Mémoires he wrote in 1940, at the end of his life.
«The word (mot) in Constant’s writings and utterance (parole) according to Todorov»
Tzvetan Todorov’s humanistic approach to Constant is based in general on Constant’s liberalism and in particular on Adolphe. Contrary to what is generally believed, for Adolphe words are more important than actions. Working on the principles established by Todorov, a lexical and semiotic analysis of the novel is undertaken, and then a semantic context is determined for manifestations of la parole (utterance). But even more than parole, le mot (the word) only lays stress on absence, on that which is not said (le non-dit), on that which is not written down (le non écrit), all of which are prolonged further than an echo. Indeed it would be necessary to treat le mot (the word) in Adolphe as something other than merely a synonym for la parole (utterance). In fact all of these words only reduce Adolphe to silence, for there are moments when he does not have the right to speak, and others when he refuses to open his mouth. To this can be added his tendency to escape from situations by using witticisms. One can only conclude that this text is the very embodiment of a kind of degree zero of communication.