Just Like Tomorrow: Fate, a pile of shit

Jeff Jackson

Doria, the female protagonist in Faïza Guène’s Just Like Tomorrow, is a first generation French-Moroccan living in an Arab immigrant compound called Paradise. Though her parents immigrated to France in hopes of financial and social improvement, and established themselves in what they thought to be a literal and figurative “Paradise”, they are far from the fiscal and emotional security of Paris. Paradise, inhabited by what seems to be only North African immigrants, is completely separate from the French city of Paris. Doria blames this separation—her inability to become truly French and life as a struggling immigrant—entirely on fate.
Ironically, in Paradise, there is no such thing as a happily ever after. “Fate stinks…basically, whatever you do you’ll always get screwed” (pg 11). No matter how hard Doria tries to fit the role of a young French girl, she will always fail. She fails in every arena: socially, academically, and emotionally. It is not only Doria who is unable to transition into being French, but also all of Paradise. Youssef ends up in Jail. Hamoudi is unable to find love. Yasmina loses her job at the Formula 1 motel. However, there is a noticeable difference between the financial and social failures of the parents and the failures of their children. Yasmina, and the other immigrants her age, have a fear of the French. They are intimidated by the language and flee to the comfort of the bled. In the face of their French counterparts, as seen when Doria and Yasmina receive a letter detailing the arrival of Doria’s half brother, Yasmina is embarrassed. She cannot read the letter, as it is written in French. This intimidation makes it impossible to ever assimilate. It is not only fate that keeps the original immigrants from succeeding in French society. They do not know how to act in this society, and have a fear of learning how.
The youth, however, those who were born into Paradise, seem to know what it takes to be French—what it takes to be Western—yet are doomed by Fate. Unlike her Moroccan parents, Doria is neither French, nor African. “She appears to be lost; she appears to be somewhere else” (pg 37). She tries to establish a place for herself in this Western society, yet she ends up “identifying with this total basket case who’s running a high fever and keeps hallucinating because she has fallen off her camel” (pg 51). She has no control over fate. No matter how many films she watches or how much effort she puts into her Civilization Studies, she will fail. This separation for the world in which she so wishes to belong is quite possibly why Doria appears to be so depressed. Mrs. Burlaud searches for a reason to Doria’s emotional struggles, and even tries to blame them on her unknown half brother, yet this depression may very well stem from the fact that she is stuck in Paradise, with Paris mocking her from only a few metro stops away.
The parents of this generation have certain expectations about success in France. To Yasmina, success is “a swivel chair on wheels” (pg 86). Their children, however, are more realistic, and understand just how divided they are from Western culture. They know that they cannot change division, and thus do not put forth any effort to. “It’s like most of them don’t think it’ll make any difference and our futures are screwed up anyways” (pg 57). The parents turn to God for help; the children know that God, and fate, is ultimately against them. There is no way to trust God in a situation where one is fated to fail. In fact, turning to God for help is almost as pointless as turning to the French. “We worry about the future, but what’s the point? We might not even have one” (pg 14).

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Doria’s Metropolis & Mental Life

Faïza Guène’s Just Like Tomorrow follows the daily life of Doria, a fifteen-year-old girl of Moroccan heritage living with her single mother in the banlieue of Livry-Gargan on the outskirts of Paris. Through Doria’s cynical, often hard-boiled gaze, Guène paints an utterly un-romanticized portrait of modern-day Paris and its surrounding suburbs that presents a stark contrast to the idyllic Paris of “those black and white films from the sixties… the ones where the buff actor’s always telling his woman so much lies, with a cigarette dangling from his lips…” (13). This is not the Paris of languid lunches in sidewalk cafés or aimless promenades through the Luxembourg gardens. Guène’s is an immigrant’s Paris, occupied by high-rise housing projects and seedy minimarts. Doria observes her surroundings with a perspicacious (albeit often incredulous, dissatisfied and critical) eye, presenting to us her genuine viewpoint on a city idealized by so many.

Much like Simmel’s city-dweller, who adopts a blasé attitude as a defense mechanism against the overstimulation of the senses that city life inevitably instigates, Guène’s Doria is perennially pessimistic, utterly disillusioned by the world around her, which she perceives as an endless cycle of kif-kif, or “same old, same old.” In Paris, she is often limited by her race and gender, “trapped” in a low socioeconomic echelon—and this fosters her constant judgment and criticism of the city and its inhabitants. Doria insists repeatedly on the negative aspects of her life, “Fate stinks. It’s a pile of shit because you’ve got no control over it. Basically, whatever you do you’ll always get screwed” (1).  She refuses to allow herself to feel the emotion of hope, as she has learned that expecting the worst leaves little room for disappointment. Her toughened attitude stems from that which she has been surrounded by—namely, poverty, discrimination and intense inequality.

At certain points in the novel, Doria exhibits a tendency towards a certain breed of flânerie. Early on, she writes, “I was bored, so I took the Metro. I didn’t know where to go, but it’s a way of passing the time. I like seeing so many different faces. I did all of Line 5, from end to end” (21). On the metro, she muses whimsically over a gypsy man playing the accordion on the train, fantasizing about his life in Romania and even following him between compartments. This sense of wonder cannot last, though—“Real life” and its implications seep quickly back into Doria’s ever-racing mind. Though Doria does not possess anywhere near the same level of economic freedom that Hemingway describes having in The Sun Also Rises, or even the personal freedom of Jean Rhys in Good Morning, Midnight, she is able to traverse the city in her own way—albeit on buses and subway cars rather than in cafés, art galleries and taxis, in “neuf-trois” rather than St. Germain des Près or Trocadéro—ruminating over what she observes and, as in the case of the gypsy accordion-player, often distracting herself for a moment from her own disenchantment with the city. She is fiercely independent and self-sufficient; shopping for groceries, cooking for her mother, even taking the rent money to the landlady’s, yet she holds a distinct contempt for many of those around her, specifically those who have more than she does. Simmel writes, “Indeed, if I am not mistaken, the inner side of this external reserve is not only indifference but more frequently than we believe, it is a slight aversion, a mutual strangeness and repulsion which, in a close contact which has arisen any way whatever, can break out into hatred and conflict.” (Simmel, 331).  This “conflict” appears throughout Just Like Tomorrow, as Doria, in the style of a modern Holden Caulfield, harshly criticizes nearly everyone she encounters. Like Simmel’s city-dweller, she has been shaped and hardened by her surroundings—by the urban landscape of the Paris banlieue and its diverse inhabitants. As the novel progresses and she lets “neeky Nabil,” Lila and Sarah into her life, accepting the misgivings and faults of Hamoudi and even Mrs. Burlaud, she learns slowly to accept the possibility of openness, upward mobility (both emotionally and financially) and even hope.

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revised reading schedule

So sorry to have missed class this morning. The medicine has kicked in and I’m up and about, though still a bit wobbly.

Let’s push all of the readings forward by one session– so we’ll talk about Debord on Thursday and start the Guène next Tuesday. Which means the 14th, instead of having presentations, we’ll finish up the Guène. Sorry to have to do that but I’d like to keep the schedule intact.

Let me know if you have any questions, and thanks for your understanding.

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class cancelled (Tues 30/11)

as I’m laid out with a migraine, self-medicating but not better yet. Apologies.

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Society of the Spectacle: the film

In case the irony of watching Debord’s “The Society of the Spectacle” as a film isn’t too overwhelming for you, you might be interested in seeing how Debord adapted his work for a more, um, specular medium than that of the page.

Parts 2-9 on Youtube.

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Spectatorship of the Spectacular

Susan Pelletier

In his Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord presents the lived experience as existing completely within the realm of the spectacle, in which representation supersedes reality, and through which society and the world are seen only through the gaze of the prevailing economic system. Through a definitively Marxist analysis of capitalism and its cultural structure, Debord argues, quite famously, that this spectacle, or consciousness, “is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images” (93). He finds that communication only happens through relating to these mediated images and conversation is accomplished only through the relationships we have to those representations. In this way, he relates the economic structure of capitalism to not only the way the world is viewed, but also the way it is constructed. Debord furthers this theory through his discussion of urbanism, which he claims is “capitalism’s seizure of the natural and human environment, developing logically into absolute domination” (105). He finds that through a reification and conscious act of those holding hegemonic power, isolation and alienation are created and utilized to naturalize the current economic system, and therefore the spectacle is reinforced. In this way, the powerful controllers of government and mediated images reify the ideologies and systems that benefit them, in a way so that it appears to the less powerful that the act is in their own interest.
In relation to Debord’s analysis of the urban environment is his concept of urban movement, and the construction of spaces he calls “distribution factories”, which allow this capitalist function of consumption and the fetishising of commodities to be realized. These include shopping malls, highways, and other means of simplified access to commodities. He claims that this manipulation of the urban environment in order to stabilize and normalize the consumptive economic system “is only the first element of the general dissolution which has led the city to the point of consuming itself” (106). For Debord, the construction and architecture of cities takes place as part of the spectacle in an effort to continue and strengthen the spectacle. How then can this idea be related to that of Haussmanization? Was this modernization of Paris Napoléon III’s effort to reinforce capitalism? Through the creation of wider boulevards, more coherent and sensible methods of travel between districts, consumer activity was certainly not impeded, but rather assisted, and in that way, this reconstruction serves as an absolute example of Debord’s claim.
Even more interesting to consider, is the role of the flaneur in this environment. He who walks these constructed and spectacularized streets is participating fully in the spectacle, even if he chooses not to interact with those he observes. Debord addresses this idea in his analysis of the spectator, of whom he writes “the more he contemplates, the less he lives; the more he accepts recognizing himself in the dominant images of need, the less he understands his own existence and his own desires” (98). He goes on to consider that if the spectator, or the flaneur experiences the city through observation, he is then experiencing the spectacle not through his own activity or production, but through the representation of that work in another’s actions. He claims then, “this is why the spectator feels at home nowhere, because the spectacle is everywhere” (98).
In another work, Debord and his contemporaries, the Situationists, created a map entitled “The Naked City”. This map was constructed of nineteen different pieces of the Plan de Paris, an actual, geographically correct street map of the city, set about in a seemingly haphazard order in order to represent “the spontaneous turns of direction taken by a subject moving through these surroundings in disregard of the useful connections that ordinarily govern his conduct” (Jorn). The map is captioned as an “illustration of the hypothesis of psychogeographical turntables.” For Debord, this represents the way that the spectacle’s construction of the city influences the way it is walked, experienced, and explored. Thus, in this way, for Debord, the flaneur is manipulated by the spectacle, and his observation and experience take place directly within and of that spectacle. It is apparent then, that the art and texts created by the flaneur are situated, as are all works according to Debord’s text, within the spectacle and act only as representations of that which is already being mediated. If one accepts this ideology, the conversation that we have about those texts is capable of taking place only within the spectacle and through those mediated images of reality.

How does this view change the interpretation of the flaneur and his experience, or his art? Is it possible for the flaneur, the situationist, anyone to actually escape the lens of the spectacle and view reality rather than its representation? Is there a purpose in trying? For Debord, this is not a possibility, and he claims that the Surrealist and Dadaist works, to which many of the celebrated flaneur belong, while attempting to break outside the spectrum of the spectacle, in fact become imprisoned within it. What then does this mean for the reader of those texts, and how can we understand the effects of the spectacle on the text if we too are existing and understanding within it?

Works Cited
Debord, Guy E., and Asger Jorn. “The Naked City.” Image. Documents Relatifs à La
Fondation De L’Internationale Situationniste (1948-1957).

Debord, Guy. Society of the Spectacle. Detroit: Black & Red, 1983. Print.

McDonough, Thomas F. “Situationist Space.” October 57 (1994): 58-77. Print.

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Notre Dame as the Center of Paris

Jeff Jackson

Notre Dame de Paris is quite possibly the most famous Christian landmark in Paris, and certainly one the most beautiful. Though greatly popularized in Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, it is Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris that originally paints the grand portrait of Paris’ most celebrated cathedral. Hugo sets his novel in 1482, three hundred years after construction began on the cathedral. Through the story of Quasimodo, the adopted son of the archdeacon of Notre Dame, he represents a Paris that is literally and symbolically dominated by the great cathedral.

Book Three of Victor Hugo’s novel begins by describing Notre Dame as “without doubt, even today, a sublime and majestic building” (123). This majesty and sublimity is consistently utilized by Hugo to reflect the overall importance of the building to the city as a whole. Started in 1160, Hugo believes the cathedral to have been constructed not by architects, but by men of art. Each part of the building, every stone in the wall, works in harmony to create a magnificent whole. However, the church, much like the Hugo’s characters, is far from perfect; it is “wrinkled and scarred”. On the façade of the church, one can see the legions of political and religious revolutions. It contains architectural elements from both the Romanesque and Gothic period, serving to symbolize multiple moments in French history. It is a building of transition. According to Hugo, “great buildings, like mountains, are the work of centuries”. This ability to withstand, and eventually represent, change is what has led the cathedral to be used by artists of all kinds to represent the city as a whole.

Notre Dame has long served as a literal and symbolic center of Paris, and Hugo uses it as a bridge between three areas of the city: the city, the town, and the university. The church, on the Ile de la Cité, is literally in the middle of the city, neither of the left bank nor of the right. The intellectual, the political, and the peasant have a kind of interaction that was not found in other parts of the city. The boundaries of class seem to be much weaker in the shadow of the great cathedral. The novel itself has characters of all class, backgrounds, and lifestyles, and it is through the church that these characters find their interaction. Clergymen, soldiers, and gypsies all meet at Notre Dame de Paris.

Hugo calls the cathedral a “symphony of stone”, and when I visited this morning, I heard this silent symphony perfectly. Though filled with hundreds of people from around the world—again taking the role as creator of interaction—the cathedral has a silence that is nothing but peaceful. Although it has witnessed centuries of change and revolution, it has maintained its role as a true sanctuary. There is clearly something beyond the church’s beauty that has led it to become such an idolized figure of not just Parisian architecture, but of Paris as a whole. It is this element of peace found in the sanctuary that attracts the public. This peace is seen in both the past and the present. Like the Notre Dame of 1482, the Notre Dame of today is open to all, and is a conductor of interactions that are at the same time international, yet surprisingly personal.

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