Bonafos on Zantedeschi (2019)

Zantedeschi, Francesca. The Antiquarians of the Nation. Monuments and Language in Nineteenth-Century Roussillon. Brill, 2019, pp. 312, ISBN 978-90-04-36896-5

Expanding upon her previous research on the Occitan movement in nineteenth-century France (Une langue en quête d’une nation: la Société pour l’étude des langues romanes et la langue d’oc 1869–1890, 2013), the author examines the modalities of a Catalan cultural and linguistic renaissance (renaixença rossellonesa) in nineteenth-century Roussillon, the historical province incorporated in the département of Pyrénées-Orientales during the French Revolution. As an examination of the “cultivation of culture,” i.e., “the close relationship between cultural practices and political ideologies” (4), this study demonstrates why the Roussillon renaixença never reached the level of political consciousness and agency that characterized Catalan or Basque identities, to name but two neighboring examples. This, however, by no way reduces it to a failed endeavor. In fact, the author’s argument is precisely that Roussillon’s Catalan renaissance, which she situates at the turn of the twentieth century––a later development than in Catalonia or Provence––has been overlooked in part because it mainly remained a cultural phenomenon with “conflicting loyalties” to both France and Pays catalans (11). The region’s peripheral position constituted somewhat of a double-edged sword since the uniqueness of Roussillon’s experience and contribution was eventually overshadowed by the success of the more prominent Catalan and Occitan movements.

To illustrate Roussillon’s unique situation and role in the retrieval and revival of Catalan culture and language within the larger context of France’s nation-building process after the French Revolution, Zantedeschi analyzes the ways in which the region’s intellectual movement evolved at the crossroads of the Occitan and Catalan enterprises. The author makes clear that while Roussillon’s cultural elite and intellectual movement were ineluctably tied to their Eastern and Southern neighbors, the region also retained its own challenges and specificities, such as navigating within France’s centralized culture, and cultivating a spoken language that varied from Barcelona’s Catalan while also negotiating with the linguistic encroachment of French. This specific position called for further attention to Roussillon’s original contributions to philology and Romance studies, making this book a welcome study. Divided into three parts (Monuments, Language, Cultural Revival), it begins by analyzing the rise of France’s monumental preservation efforts and Romantic historiography (Part one). It then turns to the rediscovery and study of meridional vernaculars (Part two), before addressing the development of a Catalan revival in Roussillon (Part three). In the process, the author gives her readers a thorough description of necessary historical, cultural, and ideological contexts at every step. Such a scope can be both a blessing and a curse. To the students of these topics, the book will provide an ambitious and substantial account of major stages and issues relative to the French nation-building process (heritage consciousness, historiography, tensions between national and local levels within the Paris/Province dichotomy, linguistic universalism vs. particularism, the development of learned societies, the rise of Romance studies, etc.). For readers more well-versed in these issues, the monograph might elicit a sense of déjà-lu, due in no small part to the structure of each section, in which the contextualization presented in the first chapter delays the discussion of Roussillon’s case until the second chapter. In these chapters focused on Roussillon, the book gives due credit to three generations of influential figures, starting with Joseph Tastu, François Jaubert de Passa, and Pierre Puiggari, followed by François-Romain Cambouliu, Justin Pépratx, and Bernard Alart, with a third generation including Pierre Vidal, Jean Amade, and Abbé Joseph Santol. It also pays attention to other, more famous Félibrige and Catalan figures such as Frédéric Mistral, Manuel Milà i Fontanals, Joaquim Rubió i Ors, Antoni de Bofarull, Victor Balaguer, Jacint Verdaguer, and Pompeu Fabra.    

A quick note on the language and illustrations: besides occasional typos and minor, albeit recurring, linguistic approximations that a bilingual (English/French) reader will easily rectify, the book contains some formulations and translations that might confuse or mislead on their intended meaning, especially the translations of primary sources. As for the illustrations presented at the end of Chapter two, the Voyage pittoresque de la France must be attributed to Jean-Benjamin de La Borde. Additionally, some discussion of these illustrations in the text could have further contributed to the exposé on the retrieval of the past.

Notwithstanding these finer points, The Antiquarians of the Nation is a remarkably informed study in transnational ideological currents, which makes it a perfect contribution to Brill’s National Cultivation of Culture series. Presenting Roussillon as one important actor in the making of European and Mediterranean modern identities, it will undoubtedly garner interest from scholars of nineteenth-century intellectual history on both sides of the Pyrenees and beyond.