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Daily RC Article 135

Left Bank: Parisian Renaissance and Intellectual Legacy


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… Left Bank [in Paris] is a portrait of the overlapping generations born between 1905 and 1930, who lived, loved, fought, played and flourished in Paris between 1940 and 1950 and whose intellectual and artistic output still influences how we think, live, and even dress today. After the horrors of war that shaped and informed them, Paris was the place where the world’s most original voices of the time tried to find an independent and original alternative to the capitalist and Communist models for life, arts, and politics - a ‘Third Way’.

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Those young men and women, budding novelists, philosophers, painters, photographers, poets, editors, publishers and playwrights, shaped by the ordeals of World War Two, did not always share the same political or cultural outlook, but they had three things in common: the experience of war, their brush with death and the elation of the Liberation of Paris. And they promised themselves to reenchant a world left in ruins. …

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After four years of Nazi occupation and daily torment, Paris’s galleries, boulevards, jazz clubs, bistros, bookshops and the myriad daily newspapers and monthly reviews born in the last years of the war became forums for heated discussions, battle plans and manifestos... The flourishing publications, all edited within one square mile, boasted an audience well beyond Paris… They were heard and followed by decision makers in Europe and elsewhere in the world precisely because they originated from Paris. Together, in Paris, this band of brothers and sisters created new codes. They founded the New Journalism, […] and forever blurred the lines between literature and reportage… Philosophers founded new schools of thought such as Existentialism while setting up political parties…

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Photographers reclaimed their authorship through photojournalism agencies such as Magnum; censored American writers such as Henry Miller published their work first in French; black jazz musicians, fleeing segregation at home, found consecration in the concert halls and jazz clubs of Paris, where New Orleans jazz received its long overdue appreciation while bebop was bubbling up. Some in the Catholic Church experimented with Marxism, while a colourist and former art gallery owner-turned-couturier named Christian Dior intoxicated the world with the ‘New Look’ in fashion design.

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After 1944, everything was political; there was no escape. World citizens of the Left Bank knew this, and they did all they could to question both US policies and the Communist Party’s views. Paris was, for them, both a refuge and a bridge to think in a different way. They opened up the possibility of a Third Way, ardently embracing the idealism of the United Nations and the glimmer of utopia in what would later become the European Union.

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All of them, achieved a string of undeniable successes, [but also] left behind a litany of failures. Tony Judt addresses the latter in his academic work Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals 1944–1956… Paris intellectuals had so much power bestowed on them by circumstances and their own genius and yet failed, in his view, to change the world. Tony Judt called his book “an essay on intellectual irresponsibility.” That they were expected to change the world in the first place raises the question: how did they arouse so much wild hope? Left Bank is as much about post-war Parisian intellectual irresponsibility as about political, artistic, moral and sexual incandescence.

This text explores the vibrant Left Bank scene in post-war Paris, where a generation of intellectuals and artists sought a 'Third Way' after World War II. Shaped by war experiences, this diverse group sought to reinvent life, arts, and politics. They ignited discussions, founded new movements, blurred literary boundaries, and challenged political norms, leaving a lasting impact despite their failures. The book delves into their achievements, their high expectations, and their failures, questioning the weight of their influence and their responsibility in reshaping the world.
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