‘Tu renonces à toi pour devenir tout le monde’: Visions of Labour and Society in Blaise Cendrars and Fernand Léger

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Throughout their creative careers, the writer Blaise Cendrars (1887-1961) and his friend, the painter Fernand Léger (1881-1955), expressed solidarity with manual workers, highlighted the dignity of labour and criticised social inequality. Cendrars pioneered literary and poetic forms that resist elitism and eschew the ivory tower for the busy street. Léger professed his desire to ‘paint in slang’, joined the Communist party and produced a well-known series of paintings on the subject of construction workers. Both men situated their respective creative practices in the context of artisanship rather than artistry. Yet their relationship to work and the class struggle is paradoxical. Individually and in their various collaborative projects, both artist and writer embraced technology as a corollary of international modernism, celebrated the growth of manufacture and expressed optimism in machines. Yet the industrial progress that they hailed had led to alienated labour and produced the very machinery that had nearly killed both men in the First World War. Moreover, despite their belief in social equality, Cendrars and Léger were seduced by the lure of advertising and enjoyed the material benefits of patronage. Through a selection of close analyses, this chapter explores these tensions in order to assess the vision of work and society that emerges from their creative representations.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLabours of Attention
Subtitle of host publicationEssays for Edward J. Hughes
EditorsAdam Watt
Place of PublicationCambridge
Number of pages15
ISBN (Print)978-1-839540-55-4
Publication statusPublished - 21 Sept 2022


  • Blaise Cendrars
  • Fernand Léger
  • French literature - 20th Century
  • French art - 20th Century

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