Interview with Adam Piette on Paul Ricoeur

In the fourth and final of our interviews with the contributors to the Special Section on Paul Ricoeur (TCS 27.5), Simon Dawes interviews Adam Piette, whose article draws on Ricoeur to compare the remembrance and forgetting of two massacres in Vichy France.

Photo: Adam Piette


Simon Dawes: Could you tell us a little about Ricoeur and your interest in his work?


Adam Piette: I have a long-standing interest in French culture and intellectual history since my thesis dissertation on memory and sound effects in Proust, Mallarmé and the bilingual Beckett and over a decade’s teaching at Universities in France and Switzerland. I have also published on the literature of the Second World War and on Cold War culture. Ricoeur has been a constant companion to my thinking and feeling about narrative, memory and French intellectual history, as he has been for so many since the outstanding Time and Narrative. His syntheses of tough philosophy and theory have been so influential and so useful for most labourers at the heartlands, hinterlands and borderlands of cultural studies of all kinds. My interest in the memory book was reignited by the simple fact that Ricoeur is there dealing with the commemorative and memorial formations which have been so central to my own work, but also since they seemed to me to be charged with the difficult affects and burdens of French post-Vichy cultural history.

SD: Your article discusses Ricoeur’s treatment of two massacres in Vichy France. Could you tell us about these incidents and the ways in which they have been retrospectively constructed? What role does Ricoeur play in this construction?

AP: The two massacres at Tulle and Oradour were the worst incidents of reprisal killings that occurred in occupied France in the throes of the Normandy landings, and brought brutally into the living memory of France in the postwar the vicious realities of the tactics the SS and Panzer regiments had previously only deployed in the Eastern Front. Oradour is now a memorial town, with the burnt remains of the massacre preserved as pilgrimage site. Tulle, however, was forgotten despite the stark horror of the hangings there. Cold War politics and the complex struggle for control over the story of the war between pro-communist and Gaullist forces determined the memorial choices to commemorate or not these different towns and their atrocities. Also critical in the construction of the commemorations or amnesia related to the events were the amnesty of surviving perpetrators in the again politically motivated sequence of events surrounding the trials. I use the story of the different constructions of the killings at Tulle and Oradour to test Ricoeur’s theories about commemorative French culture after the war and am suggesting that Ricoeur’s model for memorialization needs to be revised by the specifics of how culture wars shape political memory.

Adam Piette is Professor of Modern Literature at the University of Sheffield and author of Remembering and the Sound of Words (Oxford University Press, 1996), Imagination at War: British Fiction and Poetry, 1939-1945 (Macmillan, 1995) and The Literary Cold War, 1945 to Vietnam (Edinburgh University Press, 2009). [email: [email protected]]

Simon Dawes is Editor of the TCS Website, and Editorial Assistant to Theory, Culture & Society and Body & Society

To read Adam’s article ‘Contesting Realms of Memory in Early Cold War France: Tulle, Oradour and Ricoeur’s Memory, History, Forgetting’, or any of the other articles in the Special Section on Paul Ricoeur or in the rest of the September issue of TCS (27.5), go here

To read our TCS Blog Exclusive, ‘How to Read Ricoeur: A Guide Through Ricoeur’s Key Texts’ by Alison Scott-Baumann, go here

Leave a Reply