Savoirs romantiques. Une naissance de l’ethnologie

Daniel Fabre & Jean-Marie Privat (eds.), Presses Universitaires de Nancy, 2011.

While ethnology and anthropology, before they constituted themselves into specialized knowledge, have a long prehistory, their true emergence is precisely located in the vicinity of the philosophy of the Enlightenment. Yet we feel an affinity between ethnological curiosity and a romanticism that exalts exotic and popular differences, that recognizes the poetic power of languages and oral traditions and that bases the modernity of nations on long-standing legacies. Between 1800 and 1850, the expression of these values found forms of expression in writers and artists, many of whom were still happy polymaths, that used and sometimes mixed all genres: from the treatise on moral science to the novel, including travel narratives and the literary recreation of poems and traditional stories. This book revisits these encounters between the knowledge that asserts itself and a literary and aesthetic field that reorients and diversifies itself. But its horizon is wider. Romanticism not only welcomes the picturesque aspects of otherness, it places these intense curiosities on the horizon of a moral and political critique of modernity that will play a decisive role in the birth of ethnology in the present sense of the term. Progress, this idea of a continuous perfectibility of man, this belief in a necessary positivity of evolution, has a worrying side: the inevitable disappearance of the defeated, victims of the march towards the future. While all the sciences of society are born from the concern to manage and improve nearby societies, anthropology or ethnology takes care of the condemned and the forgotten, whether they are from elsewhere or from here, and recognizes their equal dignity as an expression of the human situation. This is the profound and poorly understood contribution of romanticism, to which anthropology or ethnology owes not only its choice of object, its methods and its ethics, but its fundamental proximity to literature, which, on the one hand, also watches over these ruptures of time and brings these cultural apocalypses out of silence.

The first volume of a series devoted to understanding the relationship between ethnology and the various fields (literary, artistic, scientific and political) in which it played its part, this book, edited by Daniel Fabre and Jean-Marie Privat, brings together the contributions of Noël Barbe, Jean-François Courouau, Daniel Fabre, Philippe Gardy, Philippe Martel, Jean-Marie Privat, Fañch Postic, Xavier Ravier, Claude Reichler and Claudie Voisenat.

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