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UC San Diego's Department of Music

June 18, 2015
JANN PASLER GETS WARM RECEPTION IN FRANCE FOR NEW TRANSLATION OF COMPOSING THE CITIZEN



  Author Jann Pasler of the music faculty spent two months this spring in France, where her new book La Republique, la musique, et le citoyen,1871-1914 was greeted with a flurry of attention from media and academia and in literary circles. She conceived and wrote the new book for the French public and the Bibiotheque des histoires series of Editions Gallimard.

All the attention was humbling, said Pasler, whose book explores how music can bring social classes together and can play a significant part in forging a national identity. Gallimard, her French publisher, launched the promotional campaign for the book in March and it was featured at the Paris Book Fair. Pasler gave presentations at the Sorbonne and at the Bibliotheque historique de la ville in Paris. Le Monde, France's national newspaper, devoted nearly a full page of coverage. It received positive reviews in most of France's major newspapers including L'Humanite and La Liberation and, recently, La Quinzaine litteraire, the French equivalent of the New York Review of Books. Just last week, La Republique was excerpted and reviewed in Books in a special supplement on music. The book was also spotlighted by the The Huffington Post and Pasler was interviewed by French and Swiss public radio and Marianne magazine.

La Republique is a completely revised version of Pasler's Composing the Citizen: Music as Public Utility in Third Republic France (2009). Other authors with translated works in Gallimard's Bibliotheque series include EJ Hobsbawm, Frances Yates and Jerrold Seigel, while authors of books in French include Michel de Certeau, Michel Foucault, Francois Furet, Mona Ozouf, Carlo Ginsburg and Claude Nicolet.

Translating the book was a complex and demanding task. Although Pasler is fluent in French she worked closely with a Francophone translator to refine subtle nuances and with her Gallimard editor to recast the book for a broader audience including not only historians but a diverse array of French intellectuals and the general public.

La Republique is the latest result of a longtime fascination with music, culture and history that Pasler said dates back to the early 1990s. Since then she has extended her investigations into music, western and non-western, in the former French colonies former French colonies such as Vietnam (Indochina), North Africa, Senegal, Gabon and the Central African Republic as well as Madagascar. 

As an outsider, she brings fresh perspective to her European subjects.

'Developing an original point of view is in part a story of my own intellectual development and the kinds of questions I began to ask in the late 1980s, which grew out of my work and seminars on postmodernism. These include not only looking at the monuments of the past, but also the daily life of music-making, the forgotten as well as the memorable. This led me to take concert life seriously.

'It is work that is not top-down, not focused only on musical elites and the debates over cultural policy, but also the musical tastes, practices and aspirations of ordinary people from the working classes to the upper aristocracy. I try to compensate for being foreign to France by not prejudging the material and by letting it determine my priorities. Being alert to differences in another culture can lead to questions and observations that might not occur to those living in it. My concurrent work on race, gender and colonialism in France has introduced fields that have not yet permeated the work of most French musicologists and historians.'

In her research, Pasler digs deep. She said that she has read hundreds of books in French about French music, history, culture, politics and related subjects. She has visited rare archives including collections held by the Concerts Colonne orchestra, the Countess Greffulhe Concert Society, the Societe des Grande Auditions de France, the Paris Zoo and military bands.

Now that the book is out, the work continues.
 
'I have been working on colonial archives in Paris, Aix-en-Provence, Nantes, Hanoi, Saigon, Tunis, Dakar, Rabat and Marrakech,' she said. 'This is taking three forms: a book on music, race, and colonialism in the French empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; a book on the early French music ethnographies in these colonies; and a book on colonial radio. I recently received a grant from the U.S. State Department for my colonial radio project in Tunis, Morocco, and Dakar.'


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