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At the Limits of the Utopian Festival

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What can a nineteenth-century utopian fiction written in France possibly teach contemporary America about itself ? This article demonstrates how Paris in America, meant at the time of its publication to shore up French loyalty to the Union cause during the American Civil War, is an allegory unaware of itself, speaking otherwise than it seems to speak. Its author, the scholar and statesman Edouard de Laboulaye, depicts the structure of daily life in the United States as a utopian festival, in which time is constantly filled with significance. In so doing, however, Laboulaye uncovers what I would argue is an ongoing American tendency to create temporal bubbles in which only the stimulating but solvable incidents rise pell-mell to the status of great meaning, while true predicaments and tragedies are whisked out of sight.


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