Chiara Nifosi is Assistant Professor of French Studies at the Universidade de Lisboa. She is currently working on her first book project, entitled L’Écrivain cartographe. Pour une rhétorique de l’espace chez Proust. This work explores the philosophical potential of Proust’s rhetorical strategies for describing space in his literary output through an interdisciplinary approach involving also contemporary theories on landscape in art history and geography. Her interests range from comparative European modernisms to nineteenth-century French poetry to the intersection between philosophy, social sciences and literature
“Seen from Above: Aerial Imagination in French War Poetry”
Recently defined as a “no man’s land” in the field of French studies (Parenteau 2014), the poetry of World War I remains nowadays a compelling topic of research, especially in view of delineating the features of French modernism. In this national context, I will undertake the analysis of the intersection between aviation and literature, a connection that reinforced French cultural identity from the 1920s through the 1940s (Wohl & Galano 1988). More specifically, I will analyze renditions of the augmented perception of space inaugurated by new aerial technology in Guillaume Apollinaire’s and Jean Cocteau’s war poetry. I contend that airplanes, which allow the observer to embrace larger portions of territory, turn the poetic exploration of space into the source of a new aerial imagination that foregrounds the intersubjective nature of landscape. Through the stylistic analysis of a selection of poems drawn from Apollinaire’s Calligrammes (1918) and Cocteau’s Le Cap de Bonne-Espérance (1919), I will argue that the imaginative potential of aviation goes well beyond the symbolic fascination with the myth of Icarus and the rhetoric of heroism; it operates instead a radical change in the poetic approach to geographic knowledge. While “[la] pâle géographie” is seen by Cocteau as the counterpoint to the magnificent aerial visions enjoyed by his friend and war hero Roland Garros, Apollinaire’s ambition to revive what appears so “décharné” on the geographical map puts forth the need for alternative modes of understanding and representing space in the battlefield. Seen from this perspective, Apollinaire’s and Cocteau’s attempts to fill the actual spaces of war with poetic enchantment is not a form of escapism; on the contrary, their endeavor makes use of aerial imagination to rearrange the pieces of a devastated geography, which no longer finds adequate translation into mere cartography, while also laying the foundations for the aerial rhetoric that will contribute to shaping French nationalism in the following decades.