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Open Access Publications from the University of California

At the Limits of Description: Ethnography and Aesthetics in French Modern Literature, 1859-1934

  • Author(s): Reeck, Matt
  • Advisor(s): Murat, Laure
  • Mufti, Aamir
  • et al.

The colonial conquests of the European nation-state and the ascendance of science and technology within European society characterize the modern era. Among those French writers who ventured into the non-European world, Eugène Fromentin, Victor Segalen, André Gide, and Michel Leiris saw how a politics of representation inheres in the literary task of describing the world peoples. In questioning the limits of their worldview and their aesthetic training, as well as the limits of European knowledge, these writers begin to articulate new forms of literary description. In their works, description emerges as a multi-tiered forum of representation in which epistemological and aesthetic thinking conditioned by an ethical principle shapes textual practice. Ethnographic textual production forms the outward limit of what these literary writers consider aesthetic. In their minor tradition, these writers move beyond the picturesque for more ethically minded descriptions of world peoples.

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