Silencing the people

The example of Adam Billaut, a wealthy carpentry entrepreneur from XVIIe century, shows how the popular verb was delegitimized, to makeworker-buddy a marginal figure. Literary rankings are a political operation.

At the beginning of XVIIe century, poetry is an activity whose production is thought of as a continuum, without differences being established according to the social origin of the discourses. It is notably practiced by notables, doctors, lawyers, various officers, but also by rich merchants, entrepreneurs or enriched craftsmen, without the work of each being associated with social status.

The trauma of the Fronde

On a local scale, a whole series of artisans sing in learned verses the intelligence of the worker's gesture and claim the articulation of words and material, of the intellect and the hand. Jean Pussot, master carpenter from Reims, Franois Poumerol, arquebusier, Jacques Sarode, master glassmaker or Franois Hamoys lapidary, express through writing the pride of the profession and work. They publish in particular within the framework of their city and use their poetry as an opportunity to express a form of civic spirit, of local patriotism.

Whether it is the occasion of archer company festivals, poetic competitions, festivities linked to city entrances, their words and their art speak of the glory of the city and the participation of these bourgeois elites in the political life of the place. Among these bourgeois and scholarly poets, benefiting from social and literary recognition from the 1630s, Adam Billaut (1602-1662), a wealthy Nevers carpentry entrepreneur, belonging to the clientele of Anne de Gonzague, princess of Nivernais.

Then comes the traumatic event of the Fronde: in the mazarinades, in the libels, the bourgeois notables write as well as the elites. Adam Billaut himself is an author of mazarinades. All these authors described as political will be designated as so many violent and ignorant popular figures. Faced with this threatening political figure, it therefore became necessary, explains Dinah Ribard, to delegitimize popular speech and construct the fiction of a people who do not speak.

This is a political operation which will be carried out via the army of literature. with the great reinforcement of very well-known legitimate figures (notably Scarron, Georges de Scudry, Corneille), gathered to offer introductory praise to his work, Billaut will be torn from the local scene, published on the Parisian stage and constructed as buddy-worker. the signature he used until then replaces the expression of carpenter from Nevers.

If his poetry remains scholarly, the titles gesture towards the world of manual labor, Ankles in 1644, then The Crankshaft in 1663: everything was done so that this master of the trade, Master Adam, this notable, was redefined as the prototype of a modest worker. The poetry produced by the supposedly poor worker is then defined as exceptional, surprising, making it possible to construct the rule that invalidates this exception: workers, craftsmen, simple notables neither speak nor write, and what they say is not political.

Civic marginalization

The poetic operation is therefore above all, according to Dinah Ribard, a political operation aimed at excluding those who allowed themselves to take part in the political scene of the Fronde. In the towns, the possible places of expression of these notable poets also tended to close: entry ceremonies became rarer, companies of archers lost their prestige, municipal functions escaped them from the 1660s: officers increasingly replaced them. plus shopkeepers and workshop masters. The poetic operation thus completes civic and political marginalization.

In the following century, the enterprise of delegitimizing the articulation of the work of the hands and the culture of the mind continued. On the one hand, the figure of Master Adam, poet-carpenter, continues to be highlighted as a social exception (notably by Voltaire), the scholarly character of his poetry completely disappearing under the judgments constructing his reputation based on a supposed popular social status, and his Work subject to selection for anthology collections where only the texts, sometimes truncated, most likely to be defined as popular.

On the other hand, the literary world produces a whole game of construction of literary deceptions, of invention of fictitious and grotesque popular authors, which aim to discredit any supposedly plebian author: the figures of Henri Sellier, supposed Parisian cobbler, or of Matre Andr, supposed wigmaker, play this role of social regulation of a literary universe which intends to remain socially homogeneous and which also affirms this through the trial and the stigmatization it places on Jean-Baptiste Rousseau, a poet from the world of well-off Parisian shopkeepers.

The question is not, for Dinah Ribard, to know whether there are workers who write, but rather to see how the official literary field invents XVIe century, then enriches the figure of the worker-poet as a marginal and exceptional figure. It is a question of seeing by what mechanisms such a figure is created, which social intermediaries participate in it (political figures, men of letters, editors, censors, anthology compilers) and for what purpose.

Once constructed, this figure undoubtedly had effects: if the carpenter of Nevers cannot be seen as the cause of the poetic silence of the artisans of the Age of Enlightenmentthe author notes that his literary presence was an active principle which contributed to this silence (p. 192). Its constructed exceptionalism functioned as an effective principle of prohibition.

Friends, scholars and artisans

Dinah Ribard shows that the editorial operation which constructed Master Adam into a national figure does not stem from some specificity of his writing, but rather from a choice of circumstances made by cultural entrepreneurs. That rich, literate artisans write poetry on the local scene, as Master Adam did, does not mean that they will experience the same editorial destiny.

END XVIIe Saint-Etienne, the poetry of Jean Chapelon constitutes a tool of local politics; Arnaud Daubasse, horn bathrobe from Villeneuve-sur-Lot, also uses literature to describe the events of local life; Georges Boiron, artisan engraver, likewise. It is not the people that are in question in these poems, but the urban community in which they participate as notables. At XVIIIe century, they will not be brought closer to the figure of Master Adam, whom they nevertheless resemble. The Age of Enlightenment does not establish a new figure of poet-artisan, since its rarity must be preserved.

However, there was, in the Age of Enlightenment as in the XIXe century, men who were at the same time poets, scholars and artisans, and whose words work as close as possible to the act of making, such as Jean-Henri-Prosper Pouget, a jeweler poet who fell into oblivion, or Jean-Antoine Peyrottes, a Clermont potter -lHrault in the middle of XIXe century. This poetry which makes worker's work an intellectual experience is not, however, that which will be designated as open pose.

Literature and social rankings

If Dinah Ribard found traces of these men, they are unknown today, as literary history has precisely consisted of constructing their minority and their necessary oblivion. Those which were reissued at the end of the XVIIIe century and XIXe were presented as representatives of a working people, to which they nevertheless belonged neither by their status nor by the nature of their writing. The category of worker-poet continues to invent itself and anchor itself in the literary landscape.

The works of Master Adam were republished, sometimes truncated or modified in anthologies, then in 1806 and 1842. They will now take their place in an important corpus of published texts. workers, published by workers' newspapers or Saint-Simonian anthologies: Savinien Lapointe, Agricol Perdiguier, Jean Reboul, Marie Magu, Charles Poncy, Louis Gabriel Gauny, these authors are well known. Known as worker buddies.

The literary field welcomes these texts, not for their quality, which we readily agree to find mediocre, but for the act of speech that they represent, that of a representation of oneself and one's own, that of an expression which constitutes political representation. The poetic continuum was replaced by a division between scholarly poetry and labor poetry written by workers and speaking not of their work, but of their desire for political emancipation. The diversity of their voices and their writing is reduced to the unity of this gesture understood as pure expressive instinct, the eternal voice of the people to which no other place in literature can be recognized than that, minor and stereotype, of the people.

Dinah Ribard's patient rudiment allows a whole series of poetic figures to escape the classifications constructed by the literary field to marginalize them. The goal is not to reclassify: once classified, notes the author, you are not reclassified.

What needs to be highlighted is the work of literature as a field: It was the manipulation of working figures that made people believe that living from the work of their hands made them alien to the culture of the mind, the mastery of words, and writing. It is a contribution of literary activity to the reorganization of society along class lines (p. 245). Precise, inventive, the work is a fascinating and important contribution to the history of social rankings.