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The Art of SurvivalFrance and the Great War Picaresque$
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Libby Murphy

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780300217513

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300217513.001.0001

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Tactics of the Foot Soldier

Tactics of the Foot Soldier

The Arts and Antics of Le Système D

(p.43) 2. Tactics of the Foot Soldier
The Art of Survival

Libby Murphy

Yale University Press

This chapter develops the French wartime concept of Le Système D as an imaginative framework for finding stability amid the chaos of war. Le Système D provided an overarching narrative framework within which the threat to poilu (French infantry soldier) integrity (both physical and psychic) depicted in scenes of combat could be offset in scenes of rest behind the lines. Here the poilu is shown putting himself back together again psychically through forms of creativity and play. Soldier-novelists Henri Barbusse and Roland Dorgelès and civilian humorists at the popular magazine La Baïonnette showcased behaviors long associated with the picaro but updated for a modern context. Depictions of soldier thieving and trickery, craftsmanship, bricolage, and evasive tactics reveal a new picaresque imagination at play. They meet the challenge posed by the war for a new kind of protagonist, one skilled in the arts of survival.

Keywords:   Système D, picaro, poilu resourcefulness, soldier-novelists, civilian humorists, thieving, trickery, bricolage, evasive tactics

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