From phantasmagoria to mundanity: the fetishization of the automobile in 20th-century French representations
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The automobile is an object that has been systematically consumed to become part of the fabric of society, hence its impact and its perception make the car a particularly precise means of studying cultural values. As it grew in popularity, the automobile conditioned the texture of modern life. The particularly car-centred society of modern and contemporary France is thus apt for such an examination. Precisely because the automobile became so ubiquitous, people from all classes interacted with it, making it part of the national cultural fabric. The automobile thus provides us with an accurate prism through which to examine the evolution of French society in the modern and post-modern eras. This thesis explores how the capacities of the automobile are displaced and consumed to create an object of desire, specifically a desire to acquire and use the automobile in what became systems of automobility. The practices which are scrutinised have often led to the object acquiring a special position. The evolution of the status of the automobile is examined as it became valorised in such a way that it was perceived to be enhancing human capacities. Taking the Second World War as a pivotal period in the development of France, this thesis demonstrates how the automobile was consumed and fetishized in two distinct ways before and after this conflict. More specifically, Marx's concept of the phantasmagoria of the fetishized commodity forms the conceptual basis of the first part of the analysis. The second part examines how the specific phantasmagoria of the fetishized automobile was subsequently modified in French society, and here Baudrillard's examination of the system of objects helps explore the second-stage fetishizing of the car as a symbol of mundanity. This theoretical refinement and this social evolution together allow us to view French culture 'through the window' of the automobile as it embodied technology and progress in 20th-Century France.
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