NYU in France, Fall 2010
Paris in French and Expatriate Literature
Tu/Th, 9-10:30 am
Instructor: Lauren Elkin
Email: LE19 at nyu.edu

This class primarily investigates representations of Paris in French and expatriate literature, from the mid-19th century to the present day.  The governing image for this class is the flâneur, that quintessential Parisian figure whom Edmund White describes as an “aimless stroller who loses himself in the crowd, who has no destination and goes wherever caprice or curiosity directs his or her steps” (Le Flâneur, 16).  Through the flâneur, we will bear witness to the transformation of the Parisian urban space, beginning with Haussmannization, continuing in the early 20th century and the First and Second World Wars, through to the revolts of 1968, and culminating in the present moment, breaking through the périphérique to look at writings on the banlieue and voices from the HLM.

We will examine and contrast the way these writers move through and respond to the city, comparing their levels of access and mobility, examining the narrative and textual strategies they adopt to write (or, in the case of Varda and Kassovitz, “write”) the city.  This emphasis on movement and the modern city will allow us to look at different tropes and uses of the city, as amusement park, as machine, as Surrealist space, as gendered, classed, and racialized space: a space striated by intersecting power relations. We will also learn about different movements in literary history: aestheticism, Surrealism, Anglo-American Modernism and the Nouveau Roman, to name a few.

The class will require several writing assignments, a presentation, a midterm, and a final exam.



One Response to About

  1. kharv says:

    Similar to the view of the flaneur, who gives, Aragon brings his reader through the city of paris through the eyes of the narrator. The intense imagery and mystical descriptions provide an image of a magical city. In Aragon’s Paris Peasant, the unecpected images he portrays are a clear indicator of the surrealism movement that grew in the 1920s. Also like a flâneur, he offers no judgment rather he simply explain what he sees and how he sees it particularly in Passage de l’Opera, and the café as well as in the descriptions of people like the coiffure and women he encounters, where unlike the flâneur, he will sometimes interact with them.
    At one point, he describes Passage de l’Opera to an ocean.
    “I was astonished to see that its window was bathed in a greenish almost submarine light, the source which remained invisible. It was the same kind of phosphorescence that I remember, eminated from the fish I watched, as a child… but still I had to admit to myself that even though the canes might conceivably possess the illuminating properties of creatures of the deep, a physical explication would still scarcely explain this supernatural gleam and above all, the noise whose low throbbing echoed back from the arched roof. I recognized the sound: it was the same voice of the seashells that has never ceased to amaze poets and film stars. The whole ocean in the Passage de l’Opera,” (36).
    He gives a mystical description of a place he frequents often and observes as he sees people pass by. He also gives a description of a women whose name he provides: Lisel in the same mystical way, portraying her as a mermaid like creature. Conversely, he later goes on to describe the Passage de l’Opera as “a big glass coffin, and like that same whiteness deified since the times when people worshipped it in Roman suburbs, still presides over the double game of life and death (L’Amour verses La Mort) played by libido…” (47). His use of an ancient civilization contributes to the feeling of mysticism. Also common in surrealism is the discussion of love.
    Aragon directly asks the reader to “try to imagine your conflicts of interest, microbes, and ponder upon your domestic squabbles,” He wonders “what bookkeepong errors, what frauds, what misappropriations of municipal funds preside in observable phagocytes, over the consequences of the physical phenomenon?” For Aragon, “love is the sole sentiment noble enough for us to ascribe it to the infinitely small,” (46). What does he mean by this question and this statement about love?
    Aragon provides an interesting comparison between Venus and the women in Passage de l’Opera. He flatter these women with such a comparison but at the same time he goes on to describe some as “vulgar and already depreciated” He also says that “they are content to be solely women that the man who is still irresolute and solitary in his conception of love…” (48). The dreamlike image of Venus juxtaposed with the women strolling in the passage, quite a shocking and unexpected image, strips these women of any identity other than what their body provides.
    He makes many interesting comparisons throughout this reading and manages to describe everyday routines in unexpected ways as well. He takes a common and ordinary job, like that of the coiffure, and makes it sound beautiful and magical. “How enviable his allotted routine will be: from now on he will spend every moment of his day uncoiling the rainbow of women’s modesty, lightly floating heads of hair, these charming bed curtains. His life will pass in this thick haze of love, his fingers intertwined with the very emblem of woman’s wantonness, with that most subtle device for caresses that she sports so nonchalantly,” (52). This is not a necessarily realistic description rather it is one that is mystifying and enticing. He again describes the women as mythical creatures that give the reader a sense of fluidity. The coiffure has the chance to see these women in an intimate and vulnerable state and share this moment, perhaps, with the woman of his dreams.
    These dreamlike images scattered throughout the reading certainly express the idea of surrealism and the fact that these images are described by an observer connects to past discussions on the flaneur.

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