Subjects of History: Identity and Memory in the First Person Narratives of Patrick Modiano, Assia Djebar, and Hervé Guibert. Vanessa Doriott Anderson - PDF

Subjects of History: Identity and Memory in the First Person Narratives of Patrick Modiano, Assia Djebar, and Hervé Guibert by Vanessa Doriott Anderson Department of Romance Studies Duke University Date:

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Subjects of History: Identity and Memory in the First Person Narratives of Patrick Modiano, Assia Djebar, and Hervé Guibert by Vanessa Doriott Anderson Department of Romance Studies Duke University Date: Approved: Alice Kaplan, Supervisor David Bell Roberto Dainotto Laurent Dubois Dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Romance Studies in the Graduate School of Duke University 2012 v i ABSTRACT Subjects of History: Identity and Memory in the First Person Narratives of Patrick Modiano, Assia Djebar, and Hervé Guibert by Vanessa Doriott Anderson Department of Romance Studies Duke University Date: Approved: Alice Kaplan, Supervisor David Bell Roberto Dainotto Laurent Dubois An abstract of a dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Romance Studies in the Graduate School of Duke University 2012 Copyright by Vanessa Doriott Anderson 2012 Abstract In the wake of a twentieth century marked by the Occupation, the Algerian War, the AIDS crisis, and the aftermath of these events, the debates surrounding French identity have acquired particular urgency. French novelists, meanwhile, have increasingly turned to first person narratives; autobiographies and especially autofictions continue to dominate current publication lists. Equally concerned with identity questions, these same texts have often been accused of solipsism, and their authors described as narcissists of little talent. In this dissertation, I argue that the debates surrounding national identity and the problematic construction of a written personal identity are, in fact, intimately related. I analyze a variety of first person narrative works by three major contemporary authors (Patrick Modiano, Assia Djebar, and Hervé Guibert) in order to resituate these purportedly personal critiques of Frenchness within an evolving historical and historiographical trajectory that informs national, community, and personal identity. In so doing, I suggest the ways in which both subjects and identities are constructed (and critiqued) textually with respect to a history of traumatic events, as well as the collective memories that those events inspire. I argue that Modiano s contemporary evocations of Occupation-era France, Djebar s complex and shifting assessment of the Algerian War and the legacies of French colonization in Algeria, and the dominant position occupied by Hervé Guibert s AIDS writings in relationship to the rest of his prolific production all merit reexamination. I therefore seek to analyze the fraught construction of identity in a French society marked by its shifting relationship to history as memorialization, while complicating the generalizations that often result from identity-based scholarship. The novel juxtaposition of Modiano, Djebar, and Guibert within the dissertation enacts my desire iv to challenge the limits posed by reading authors solely in the light of narrowly-defined identity politics. v Contents Abstract...iv Acknowledgements...viii Introduction... 1 French Identity, in Continuity and Crisis... 2 Painful Pasts The Scandalous Singularity of the Autobiographical Subject About the Authors A Subject in Search of an Identity: Patrick Modiano s Postwar Narratives of Loss Singular Subject, Collective Memory In the Name of the Father Being Like Collective Amnesia Postwar Proust Writing Between the Lines: Assia Djebar s Subjective History The Art of Representing Exception Regard interdit; son coupé : The Foundations of a Situated Historical Narrative.. 87 L amour, la fantasia: Toward a Subjective History A Dialogue with Fanon How to Have Literature in an Epidemic: Hervé Guibert and the Imperatives of AIDS Representation Mes parents, or Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Image Makers: Hervé Guibert and Cyril Collard A l ami qui ne m a pas sauvé la vie, or Portrait of the Artist as a Dying Man Conclusions vi Bibliography Biography vii Acknowledgements I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to my advisor, Alice Kaplan, whose patient mentoring and wise insight have helped me grow personally and professionally. She has been a constant guide, somehow always making me feel that I had her full attention and support, whatever the geographic distance or other demands on her time. Her advice has been absolutely priceless. It is an honor to have been her student. I am also deeply grateful to the members of my dissertation committee, David Bell, Roberto Dainotto, and Laurent Dubois, for their incisive comments, advice, and support throughout my graduate studies. In France, Dominique Rabaté has been exceptionally generous with his time and knowledge. I feel lucky to be surrounded by so many brilliant people, whom I respect and admire so much. Duke s Department of Romance Studies has been very generous to me, allowing me to teach two literature courses related to my dissertation and supporting my work in so many tangible and intangible ways. My thanks to the faculty, especially Michèle Longino, Anne-Gaëlle Saliot, Helen Solterer, and Clare Tufts. This project has received additional support in the form of fellowships from the Duke Graduate School as well as the Embassy of France, for which I am truly grateful. I am indebted to the librarians at the IMEC in Caen, France, for their patient assistance during my archival research. Special thanks to Christine Guibert for allowing me to consult these archives. Françoise Denis, Nick Dobelbower, and Diane Brown planted the seeds for this project when I was still an undergraduate at Macalester. They helped me discover my great intellectual passions, and remain my role models for inspired teaching and mentoring. The faculty at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities helped me become a viii more competent and thoughtful scholar. Special thanks to Dan Brewer, Mária Brewer, Bruno Chaouat, Juliette Cherbuliez, Ron Greene, Judith Preckshot, and Eileen Sivert. My diss-pote, Nichole Gleisner, bravely battled her way through previous versions of this manuscript. I am grateful for her always-insightful readings. The Djebar and Guibert chapters also benefited tremendously from the helpful questions posed by audiences at Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Texas at Austin. I would like to thank all of my students, who have been invaluable interlocutors throughout the life of this project. Special thanks to Sofía Becerra, who is an extraordinarily perceptive and intellectually curious student of literature, as well as a wonderfully skeptical critic. I could not have pursued my intellectual dreams without the lifelong support of family and the more recent, but equally treasured encouragement of dear friends, including Nicolas and Élodie Di Méo, Debbie Hill, Julia Mack, and Lauren and Justin Roper. My faithful canine companion, Bruno Howard, has kept my feet warm and my spirits up. The Anderson-Strickland family, especially Ann Anderson and Betty Anderson-Strickland, have welcomed me into their fold from the beginning and cheered me on the whole way. I am fortunate to be able to claim them as my own. My extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins has provided me with much emotional support. My parents, Jim and Linda Doriott, and grandparents, Arden and Olga Larson, are the satellites in my life. Their choices made it possible for me to live my dreams. They remind me not to take myself too seriously (and not to brag or I won t have any friends thanks, Mom). Saying that I love and appreciate them barely scratches the surface. My husband, John, has patiently endured the most frustrating challenges associated with this project and celebrated its most exhilarating moments. He has ix accompanied it, and me, across continents and through the years. He is my most trusted critic, confidant, and friend. I want to thank him for living this adventure with me. These pages are for him. x Introduction By its very nature, first person narrative raises questions of identity: who is the I that is being written? Does it correspond more or less exactly to the writing subject, whose biographical details then become important critical clues? To what extent might we consider the text autobiographical? Authentic? Or, perhaps most vexingly, representative? These questions are central to Subjects of History: Identity and Memory in the First Person Narratives of Patrick Modiano, Assia Djebar, and Hervé Guibert, in which I confront three contemporary authors (Patrick Modiano, Assia Djebar, and Hervé Guibert) with notions of identity, memory, and representation. Not only are these writers textual representations of the self at stake; larger issues of French national identity come into play. Generally speaking, authors and narrators overlap in these first person narratives, but it is still possible to identify discrepancies between a biographical and a textual identity, even in their most autobiographical texts. In my work on these three authors, I argue that this gap at the individual level is mirrored by a discrepancy bearing broader societal implications. In other words, these authors write from a problematic position, both as subjects attempting to reconcile writing and written identities, and as citizens struggling in relationship to a notion of national identity, or Frenchness, that is constructed in the text and influenced by history. All three authors have been assessed by both popular and academic critics not only in terms of their public persona as an author (Modiano s excessive shyness has been evoked to the point of cliché; Guibert s name still inspires emotional allusion to his extreme beauty, even 20 years after his death), but also as a representative of, or for, something else. Although this phenomenon plays out differently for each author, we can trace its outlines along the lines of a community identity (Modiano s Jewish father, 1 Djebar s Algerian childhood, Guibert s love-hate relationship with the gay community) and a collective legacy (the Occupation, the Algerian War, the AIDS crisis) that enter into constant collision with the universalist vision of Frenchness. In the following chapters, I analyze the ways in which these authors have been understood as often extremely problematic representatives of otherness, drawing on French popular and academic criticism as well as an Anglophone tradition of identity-based criticism that tends to conceive of these issues very differently. I combine this historiographical approach with extended textual analyses in order to examine the fraught relationship between textually constructed Frenchness and the self. French Identity, in Continuity and Crisis What does it mean to be French today? At the dawn of the twenty-first century, this question has acquired both symbolic and political urgency in a France that has in recent years weathered riots, debates about the veil and the burqa, the reemergence of the extreme right as a political threat, and a purported decline in cultural identity. 1 Underlying all of these issues is the tension between Frenchness and otherness represented by continued immigration from France s former colonies, and the aftermath of that immigration as ensuing generations reinterpret what it means to be part of a country that has long promoted its own brand of universalism, integration, and the 1 Vincent Martigny argues that, while questions surrounding the national seem to return every decade, the issue has acquired new political urgency with the 2007 presidential campaign and subsequent election of Nicolas Sarkozy, whose campaign on this theme was the more politically aggressive. See Martigny, Le Débat autour de l identité nationale dans la campagne présidentielle de 2007: quelle rupture? French Politics, Culture and Society 27, no. 1 (Spring 2009): (my translation). While he acknowledges the instrumentalization of national identity by Sarkozy for political purposes, Martigny also views concerns over national identity as part of a longer trajectory, and Sarkozy s rhetoric as extremely typical of an authoritarian civic republicanism inscribed in French tradition, 24. See also Anne-Marie Thiesse, Faire les Français: Quelle identité nationale? (Paris: Stock, 2010), and Marcel Detienne, L Identité nationale, une énigme (Paris: Gallimard, 2010) for analyses of the current debates that locate them within a much longer trajectory. 2 erasure of public difference in favor of a harmonious and homogenous national body. 2 On November 2, 2009, the French government launched a massive public debate surrounding the question. The fact that the directive to discuss the issue came from the Ministry for Immigration and National Identity, created under Nicolas Sarkozy, only further emphasizes the concerns that motivate it. 3 Can France retain its national identity following decades of immigration from countries that represent racial, cultural, and religious otherness? Or, to rephrase the problem according to cultural preoccupations, can we still place a value on Frenchness? 4 Has it somehow been diluted, rendered insignificant? Or has the meaning of national identity simply, fundamentally changed? These are questions that can be approached fruitfully through the analysis of first person 2 For a critique of universalism and the exclusions that found it, see Naomi Schor, The Crisis of French Universalism, Yale French Studies 100, France/USA: the Cultural Wars (2001): For a history of immigration written in light of the challenges it is said to pose to integration, see Gérard Noiriel, Le Creuset français: Histoire de l immigration XIXe-XXe siècles (Paris: Seuil, 1988). For more on the contemporary debates surrounding immigration and national identity, see Alec C. Hargreaves, Multi-Ethnic France: Immigration, Politics, Culture and Society (New York: Routledge, 2007). The question of immigration and its real and purported effects on national identity is discussed at length in chapter four, National Identity, Nationality and Citizenship, Eric Besson, Minister of Immigration, Integration, National Identity and United Development, formally launched this debate, during which a series of local meetings were held throughout the country and a government-sponsored website was opened for public commentary. Although Besson insisted on the success of the great debate on national identity, national newspapers such as Le Monde and Libération painted a different story. On February 2, 2010, Le Monde asked whether the debate was misguided, citing the following figures: 53% of those polled believed that the debate served electoral purposes, 63% stated that it was not constructive, and 61% opined that it did not lead to a definition of what it meant to be French. See Identité nationale, un débat qui fait fausse route?, available online at The conference that was meant to synthesize the debate was eventually canceled, the governmental web page devoted to the project has been deactivated, and few delegates attended the auxiliary discussions held at the Assemblée nationale. Meanwhile, in Libération, the cream of the French university called for the suppression of the Ministry of National Identity, while intellectuals, cultural figures, and politicians including Benjamin Stora, Patrice Chéreau, and Dominique de Villepin signed a petition entitled Nous ne débattrons pas [We won t debate]. See Catherine Coroller, Ces chercheurs qui refusent les termes du débat. Libération, December 4, 2009, available online at 4 Donald Morrison s provocative article on the devaluation of contemporary French culture, In Search of Lost Time, published in Time on November 21, 2007, although far more popular than erudite, ignited a polemic involving French intellectuals and cultural figures such as Olivier Poivre d Arvor, Bernard-Henri Lévy, Frédéric Martel, Pierre Assouline, and Antoine Compagnon. The article was later expanded and published as a book in both French and English. See Donald Morrison and Antoine Compagnon, The Death of French Culture (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010). 3 literary texts that are deeply concerned with individual identity as well as its construction with respect to history, memory, and collective identity. In the late nineteenth century, when Jules Ferry s educational reforms were instituted, when French schoolchildren were first obliged to attend school and uniformly supplement their native dialect with standardized French, when school began to consistently serve the needs of the state by forming citizens, 5 new theories of French nationality emerged. Ernest Renan described a French nation in which ties to the land trumped blood ties, and common goals trumped common ancestry, despite his insistence on a shared past. 6 In other words, to be French was to grow up in France and share its values, including a certain understanding of its history. 7 Frenchness could be adopted, acquired, assimilated. Frenchness was not necessarily a birthright, but rather a belief system, a state of mind. The tenets of French universalism, including the notion that France represents the ideals of liberty and human rights before an international audience, continue to be transmitted by French politicians and received favorably by many outside France even to this day, although the borders and international standing of today s France are markedly different. After all, Renan s France still constituted an 5 Eugen Weber s Peasants into Frenchmen (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1976) discusses a process of becoming French that spanned the nineteenth century and newly included a common language and a shared educational system. See especially his chapter Civilizing in Earnest: Schools and Schooling, See Ernest Renan, Qu est-ce qu une nation? et autres écrits politiques (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, n.d). Marcel Detienne argues, meanwhile, that Renan s famous plébiscite de tous les jours applied only to people with the same roots. However, in his speech Renan clearly privileges the will of the individual, as well as universalist ideals. See Marcel Detienne, L Identité nationale, une énigme, Renan s approach to history and memory is particularly fascinating in the context of a contemporary French literature that remains haunted by the traumatic legacies of the twentieth century. Renan advocates for selective memory; in other words, a nation remains cohesive to the extent that it is able to forget the painful or unsavory elements of its history. In Renan s words, L oubli, et je dirai même l erreur historique, sont un facteur essentiel de la création d une nation, et c est ainsi que le progrès des études historiques est souvent pour la nationalité un danger, 227. We see this approach to the tension between history and memory play out again and again in twentieth-century French politics, as leaders have sought to stifle or enflame the memory of specific events in order to promote a politically viable reading of French history. 4 intact empire: swaths of Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and the Caribbean were still governed with some form of French oversight. French was the language of diplomacy and carried greater practical as well as cultural weight than it does today. While France was not literally everywhere, its flag still flew from capitals all over the world, and the official use of its language was widespread. The disjunction between French citizens and colonial subjects was stark, however. The latter s practical attachment to the French nation was undeniable, a reality of life in the colonies. Yet even as Renan described the lofty possibilities of French citizenship and its universal values, restrictive citizenship laws prevented many of those born in French territory from attaining political and social parity with their European neighbors. In Algeria, a veritable magnet for struggling immigran
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