17th-century's France reached a high level of culture, through the absolute monarchy of Louis XIV, the “sun king”. A this time, the highest form of literature was the tragedy.
Why that? The reason is that the greek tragedy was considered as a useful weapon to express what was needed to be expressed, what was needed to be expressed as the French national psychic formation, i.e. psychodrama + symmetry.
According to the French interpretation of this time, the highest cultural form was the Greek tragedy as theorized by Aristotle. The goal of the tragedy was to express compassion and terror ; the audience had to feel high emotions, so that a process of catharsis – purgation of passion – happened.
A tragedy had also to obey some rules. First of all, the “bienséance”, i.e. seemliness. Then, “vraisemblance”, i.e. likelihood. The play must also be based on three unities: unity of place (a single physical place), unity of time (12-24 hours must be represented), unity of action (all the play must follow one action, without sub-actions).
All these rules were very useful to express the French national psychic dimension. The fact that there was only one action permitted to make it like a symphony, the actors of the play becoming an orchestra playing at different levels. The French sense of symmetry could be so expressed, particularly in Pierre Corneille's very elaborated plays.
The “bienséance” is very important too, because it was so necessary to show only well educated people. It was not only a way to promote the aristocracy as the “real” humans, but also a way to avoid any explanation which would put psychology aside, falling into a question of temper.
Jean Racine wanted to show pure psychology, universal psychology, which was in fact national, French psychology.
The question of the “vraisemblance” was so very important for him, whereas for Pierre Corneille it was not such important (like in fact the tragedy in itself), because Pierre Corneille wanted mainly on his side to make a construction permitting to express the French sense of construction, i.e. the sense of symmetry.
In the same way, Jean Racine needed the unity of space and time, so that the only thing that stay was the mere thought, condensated in psychology.
It is important here to see that this importance of psychology, in contrast to the senses that would come afterwards and which make that always a person “knows” what is physically happening (knowing that it is feeling fear, happiness, etc., always with distance), links us directly to René Descartes.
Jean Racine had a portrait of René Descartes, and if its religious ideology is different, it is obvious that we find here a French national aspect, which is obviously appearing in the “Jardins à la française”, where nature has to be shaped by humans to have some values.
The mathematic shapes of vegetation were the proof that before feeling, the humans were thinking, the mind being independent from the senses.
This is the very ground for the French national character. And to prove it, tragedy was the most useful weapon.
It is the reason why France never knew romanticism. Romanticism was a German national struggle against aristocratic (French) classicism, to liberate the senses.
Nevertheless, the French absolute monarchy was based on a balance between aristocracy and bourgeoisie, and there were already senses, in the form of psychology.
There was no need for romanticism, there was already a need of dialectical materialism to overcome the mechanic psychological French view.
Without dialectical materialism, the French national character rushed into psychological cults: occultism, symbolist poetry, bergsonism and the “vaudeville” comedy in the 19th century, freudianism in the 1920's (especially through surrealism), “Nouveau roman”, existentialism, “New wave” in cinema and the theatre of the absurd in the 1950's-1970's, contemporary art in the 1980's, etc.
Against this trend, the French Communist Party upheld merely rationalism, in the sense of the Lumières. This was not enough of course, as the dimension of the senses were forgotten. This opened door to the romanticism of may 1968, nationalist romanticisms in the 1980's, etc.
In fact, with tragedy, French national character already found its highest psychic formation. The only way to overcome this logic but mechanic, ingenious but symmetric kind of psychic formation, is to make the great leap in the universal psychic formation.
The French national psychic formation has to be defended against national nihilism, so that it can be merge with the universal psychic formation appearing with the World Socialist Republic produced by world socialist revolution.
And no revolution is possible without understand the national psychic character and the way it goes to the universal psychic character. This is the very sense of developing culture, so that it is ready to merge with all the others cultures, forming the socialist culture, at world scale.
“It may seem strange that we who stand for the future merging of national cultures into one common (both in form and content) culture, with one common language, should at the same time stand for the flowering of national cultures at the present moment, in the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
But there is nothing strange about it.
The national cultures must be allowed to develop and unfold, to reveal all their potentialities, in order to create the conditions for merging them into one common culture with one common language in the period of the victory of socialism all over the world.
The flowering of cultures that are national in form and socialist in content under the dictatorship of the proletariat in one country for the purpose of merging them into one common socialist (both in form and content) culture, with one common language, when the proletariat is victorious all over the world and when socialism becomes the way of life -- it is just this that constitutes the dialectics of the Leninist presentation of the question of national culture.”
(Political report of the Central Committee to the 16th Congress of CPUS(b), June 29, 1930)