“Industrial Memory: Rebuilding Cultural Identity in Today’s Angoulême”

40 Years of Contemporary French Civilization Conference
September 3rd-5th, 2015
Baltimore, Maryland

In this paper, I examine the interplay of past and present at work in the ongoing construction of Angoulême’s identity: on one hand, its heritage as a hub of paper manufacturing, memorialized in the Musée du papier; on the other, the Cité internationale de la bande dessinée et de l’image (museum, library, archive, and cinéma d’art et d’essai) and the Festival de la bande dessinée hosted there each January.

I argue that Angoulême has transformed its paper-producing history into what I term “industrial memory,” which informs the cultural endeavors of the Cité and the Festival. In renewing its economy and symbolic image after deindustrialization, the city has used this industrial memory to temper modernity’s undesirable consequences, such as the erasure of a sense of place or local memory. By replacing the interests of the now defunct paper-making industry with those of the city’s current inhabitants, Angoulême is “rewriting” its patrimony (to borrow Jean-François Lyotard’s suggestive term) in a democratized, dynamic, and arguably “pedagogical” manner, foregrounding the use of paper in a simultaneously sophisticated and popular form of visual artistic creation.

In arguing these points, I advocate a methodology to urban cultural studies that highlights the dialectic of modernity and postmodernity at work in numerous cities across France. This multi-faceted approach interweaves several fields currently on the rise—spatial studies, festival studies, museology and museography (see Thierry Paquot, Andreas Huyssen)—to understand the contemporary city as produced not only by architects and urbanists, but also by the dwellers who inhabit it, the marcheurs (see Michel de Certeau) who populate its streets, and the activities and events that enliven it.