Balzac's La Comédie humaine: the Archival Rival

Abstract: 

Profound affinities exist between Balzac's La Comédie humaine and the emergent état civil archive. Through Balzac's meticulous representation and monitoring of characters' identities, La Comédie humaine functions as a "disciplinary" archive, and prodigious textual machine for fabricating individual identities. Le Colonel Chabert (1832) provides a keen reflection on the new ontological order in which human existence becomes predicated upon bureaucratic documentation. A paradigmatic postrevolutionary man, Chabert rises out of, and returns to official non-existence; fabricated, his identity can also be revoked. The vicissitudes of his "Napoleonic" destiny dramatize the fundamental precariousness of human existence in the modern world. (MDG)

Author: 
Garval, Michael D
Release Year:
Volume: 
1996-1997 Fall-Winter; 25(1-2): 30-40