Framing the Manifesto: Between the National and the Transnational
In an interview published twenty years ago in Le Débat, Pascal Quignard called for ‘une déprogammation de la littérature’ (1989: 88), a deprogramming of contemporary French literature that would both avoid prescription and challenge orthodoxy. Quignard continued: ‘Nous avons besoin de cesser de rationaliser, de cesser d'ordonner ceci, de cesser d'interdire cela …’. Critics of late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century French literature, most prominently Dominique Viart (2005), have demonstrated that contemporary writing in France no longer presents itself as programmatic, preferring instead to engage with the immediacy of the present or with the everyday, or, alternatively, to tease out traces of the past through various processes of excavation. Such tendencies may be seen as a reflection of the wider uncertainty regarding the future, evident in – although, of course, not restricted to – turn-of-the-century France. They may also relate to the increasing dislocation of literature from an explicitly national identity or cultural project. It is arguable that the relative absence, since the late 1970s, of the literary manifesto, a form that had hitherto provided key landmarks in the literary field, is a further clear indication of the reluctance of writers to align themselves with the confidently Modernist tendencies of forward-facing, collective movements.
Emerging in the nineteenth century, where it often took the alternative form of letters, prefaces or more general critical interventions, the manifesto was increasingly privileged in the context of Modernism as the preferred vehicle of self-performance by avant-garde literary groups.
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