November 15, 2005 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on November 15, 2005.
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A respite... from the very difficult news emanating from the Hexagone over the past few weeks: the Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal is one of the wonderful places in Paris which built the modern France -- as the latter now copes with, and to some extent pioneers in, the Globalization growing pains facing us all (more below) --
Unlikely combinations: the famous library, and its sites both physical and "digital" -- plus, the ghost of Victor Hugo -- and the cannons of Paris -- and Kyoto? -- and Georges Perec?...
"The collections of the Arsenal originated with the library of the Marquis de Paulmy, installed in 1757 in the residence of the Grands Maîtres de l'Artillerie, in the heart of the old Arsenal de Paris founded by François Ier, rebuilt by Sully, and enlarged during the 18th c. by Boffrand.
"Antoine René d'Argenson, the Marquis de Paulmy (1722-1787), already had assembled a magnificent and encyclopedic collection, one rich in medieval manuscripts and prints. In 1786 he enlarged this with a part of the collection of the Duc de la Vallière, prior to selling the entire library to the Comte d'Artois.
"Nationalized by the Révolution, the collection stayed in its location. Enriched with numerous and often valuable volumes nationalized from the great abbeys of Paris, and with the archives of the Bastille, the Arsenal was declared a public library on 5 floréal an V (April 28, 1797).
"The library's real fame began with the arrival of the writer Charles Nodier (1824), who presided over a literary salon of high reputation there until his death. Throughout the 19th c., the collections turned increasingly toward literature, particularly the theater, thanks to obtaining the copyright deposit for plays in 1837, and for history... From 1880 to 1914, the library received a copy of every Parisian periodical...
"Today the Arsenal's acquisitions policy concentrates on,
French literature of the 16th - 19th c.
"Today the Arsenal collection is estimated at 1 million volumes, 12,000 manuscripts, 100,000 prints, and 3000 maps and plans."
The Arsenal was indeed an arsenal, once: they did make guns there, and they stored them there, right in what now is the center of Paris or nearly -- across the river from the peaceful little Ile St. Louis, and right next to the tranquil houseboats of the Canal St. Martin, also known as the Bassin de l'Arsenal.
For the history, see the 1739 Turgot map of Paris, the section "Marais & Iles" at folio 6: the following Kyoto University Library version of that famous map offers the entire Plan Turgot in wonderfully-accessible detail, showing the grand buildings, elegant gardens, and esplanades of the old Paris "Grand Arcenal" area very well -- also the Canal St. Martin site, still just city wall ramparts at that time, no longer "moat" but not yet "canal", leading up to the then-still-towering Bastille...
Kyoto University Digital Library:
Collection of French Architecture / Topographical Description Materials
To see more, online, by and about the Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal:
The descriptions above are translations of excerpts from that offered by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, of which the Arsenal now is a part, online at,
The BnF offers links there to:
It is an interesting problem, the successful integration of a famous old institution into a larger and more modern assemblage. And it is a common problem, on campuses academic and corporate, and within institutional communities citywide or professionwide or nationwide: so often there is some precious "nugget", in there somewhere, which for whatever reason ought to be preserved.
And too often this preservation effort is not successful: collections become merged, and the "nugget" simply disappears -- or internal civil wars break out which balkanize the larger institution, and its battling collections, at great cost in finances and service inefficiencies and personnel frustrations.
The Web seems to help. Now we have the Arsenal, still, with its catalog merged into the larger for efficiency: and with one great collection gone to the "center", true, but with the others retained in improved facilities -- and the famous old premises preserved and functioning as well or better than before.
And now we have physical site renovations, at the Arsenal:
"After the transfer to the BnF rue Richelieu site of the collections of Theater Arts, which long were housed by the Bibliothèque de l"Arsenal, the library was re-arranged within its designated-monument building on the rue de Sully. Bringing things up to date for security and cataloging are the top priorities...
"An architect specializing in historical monuments will oversee the preservation of the library's building, which recently became a designated monument in its entirety, paying particular attention to the building's interior decor.
"No movement of the collections will be necessary... there will be an increase in the rare books réserve...
"As of the beginning of this year  the catalog of rare books -- with its 150,000 entries covering the core of the collection -- is available in the main BnF BN-OPALE-Plus catalog. This catalog conversion will be rapidly followed by that of the catalog of the Georges Douay Theater Arts collection...
"A third major recon project (60,000 entries covering 1880-1988) will take place from the end of 2005 and go on for several years... It must be recalled as well that in addition to its million printed books, the Arsenal conserves an important collection of medieval and modern manuscripts, and a prints collection of great interest... [also] collections assembled around the work of writers associated with the history of the Arsenal itself (Mme. de Genlis, Nodier, Huysmans, Heredia, Pierre Lou^?s, Marie and Henri de Régnier)...
"...and of the writers of the Oulipo, thanks to the deposit within these walls of the private collection of Georges Perec and of the archives of the Association Georges Perec...
"And of course the literary evenings at the Arsenal will continue throughout 2005, and exhibitions already are being and will be programmed: the first, in 2006, will be devoted to Saint-Simonism -- the second, in 2007, to the history of games."
-- from, "La Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal prend ses aises" by Marie-Noëlle Darmois, in Chroniques de la Bibliothèque nationale de France, no. 30 avril-mai-juin 2005, p. 3, ISSN 1283-8683.
The Arsenal long has been a place for "literary evenings", and it seems it still makes those a priority, revolutions and even modern construction projects notwithstanding: one account --
" 'From 1819 to 1824, under the double influence of both André Chénier and his 'Méditations', in reaction to the masterpieces of Byron and of Scott, echoing the cries emanating from Greece, fortified by the religious and monarchical illusions of the Restoration, a collection of 'préludes' took form, dominated by a sort of vague melancholy, idealistic, chivalrous in tone and with an often exquisite overlay of precise detail...' [Sainte-Beuve]
"The Toulousains, the tender Soumet, the petulant Guiraud of the red hair and Gascon accent, were the first to establish the tone; Emile Deschamps proposed the creation of a group and the founding of a review. That was 'La Muse française', a reunion of distinguished young men and women -- too distinguished -- lovers of poetry, royalists by tradition, 'Christians by convenience and vague sentiment' [quoting Sainte-Beuve again].
"Each addressed the other by his or her given name: 'Alfred', 'Emile', 'Gaspard', or 'Victor'... The beautiful Delphine Gay was 'Delphine', to all. But when Jules de Rességuier, the most troubador among these troubadors, tried to butter up Victor Hugo for permission to call his wife 'Adèle', 'the young [he was 20] and grave poet refused'. Familiarity was not Hugo's forté.
"The true center of the cenacle of 'La Muse française' quickly became the good Nodier, and the meeting place initially his parlor at rue de Provence, then, from January 1 1824, the Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal...
"On Sundays, the salon lit up the Arsenal. One entered a lively working windmill-of-ideas: there was Séverin Taylor, born at Brussels of English parents, a French officer, friend of Vigny and favorite of the powerful; there Sophie and Delphine Gay, the latter radiant as the daylight and baptised 'La Muse française'; and Soumet, enjoying two great triumphs at the theater, 'the two most beautiful tragedies of the era', Hugo called them...; Guiraud, celebrated for his 'Petit Savoyard'; Alfred de Vigny and Gaspard de Pons, in uniform regal blue; and of course the Deschamps brothers, and the giant Adolphe de Saint-Valry...
"From eight until ten, they chatted. Nodier, standing at the chimney, would begin a recitation: memoirs of youth or a fantasy tale. Growing animated, he would become eloquent. Then a literary discussion would open: 'André Chénier has gone too far,' Victor Hugo would declare, 'his verse, with its interruptions and run-ons, no longer is musical, and poetry above all is song'. Nodier would protest: 'Chénier is romantic in his own way, which isn't so bad... There are no fixed rules in art.' Emile Deschamps, smiling, his fine lips revealing his elegant teeth, would intervene: 'You'll come back to that, Victor...'
"At the stroke of 10, Marie Nodier seating herself at the piano and the conversations ceasing, chairs pushed against the wall, and everyone dancing... Vigny, pale and delicate, waltzing with Delphine Gay. The serious men, among them the young Hugo, continuing the discussion over in a corner in a low voice. Mme. Victor Hugo, her 'spanish eyes' suddenly animated, dancing, and her husband, from time to time, throwing her a troubled look..."
The 19th c. French library: much of both the folly and the grandeur of the Great European Era, all in a single image, with the Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal playing its vital & central part: a "community" & "face-to-face" & "physical" role -- one needed more than ever, now, in the new Global Cities of our Digital Age.
Visitez the Arsenal: imagine the "intense discussion" -- 20-yr-old Victor Hugo, over in the corner -- and the dancing...
One delight, of which Georges Perec would have approved very much, in dealing with our new digital - toile - ouebbe - Matrix - Globalized - whatever universe, is the sheer serendipity of the associations which nowadays turn up: Paris, Hugo, cannons, Kyoto, and Perec... all on one wordlist... Oulipo would be fascinated. And yet nowadays this is a commonplace, on the nets.
The Plan Turgot was nowhere to be found, in France; so, *click*, up it came in Chicago, at a "mirror-site" which failed to connect because the original host-site in Manhattan was down; so, again, simply *click*, and we are in Kyoto -- Ryoanji down the road, and the Katsura Detached Palace nearby -- but here we are looking for the 1739 Plan Turgot of Paris and so we find it, and in better digital shape in Kyoto than it was in either Paris or Chicago...
One of the great interests of Victor Hugo was context. His novels and his poetry are filled with wonderful description: evocations of mood, portraits of a great den of thieves in Paris, and of the illusory comforts of French provincial life, and of Waterloo -- all sometimes but not always, and rarely necessarily, related to the "plot" of his writing.
So perhaps we are losing that, now. If the Plan Turgot appears more readily, and more conveniently, and in far greater detail, online in Kyoto than anywhere else, what becomes of the context?
Perhaps we will look for the Katsura Detached Palace on a webserver somewhere in Toulouse, or in Kansas, along with Corbu's Unité d'Habitation, and recipes for Tamil thali dishes. Perec is laughing at us, I can hear him... It is funny.
And all this is somewhat of a diversion, as I said, from the more serious and perhaps pioneering if painful efforts, of the French, in dealing with Globalization's new "labor mobility" mandate...
Longtime readers here already will know that I am a fan of Saskia Sassen, the University of Chicago sociologist who writes about Global Cities, and about the global überclasses and underclasses (those two neither her terms nor mine) which they are producing.
Sassen makes the interesting point that the pools of migrant and immigrant labor which many advanced nations are building up now, in their highly-wired and stratispherically-wealthy cities, in fact are necessities of life in the New Economy: who else is going to flip the burgers, serve the Starbucks, clean the UV resistant bomb-proof windows of the glitzy mile-high skyscrapers -- also take out the garbage, wash the dishes, park the cars, sweep up the papers in the parks...
Sassen herself calls them, carefully, part of "producer services" -- she includes lawyers and bankers [The Global City 2d ed 2001, p. 90ff.] -- one point about the lower-paid migrants and immigrants among them being that if they are necessities we must cease brutalizing them, and certainly "excluding" them, and it might even be time that we all began providing a livable and promising place for them, at least as long as the rest of us are going to be relying on them -- a "de-nationalized place", perhaps, along with the rest of us, in our increasingly - globalized international and even trans-national economy.
For more on Sassen see,
For more on the French, well, read any headline. What has happened there, this month, already has happened in Germany somewhat, and will happen in the US and in Japan and anywhere else in the Wired World which has not kept up with its own migrants and immigrants. Globalization growing pains...
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