20th & 21st Century French & Francophone Studies International Colloquium, “Disassembling and Reassembling the Desert”, 13-16 April 2023 in Tucson, Arizona. Hosting institution: University of Arizona.
Le Prix Recherche au présent 2023 a été attribué à André Pettman (Columbia University)
pour sa contribution: “Vivre Sans: Deserting Capitalism, Governance, and Identity in Les Renards pâles by Yannick Haenel”.
There is an emerging trend of 21st -century French novels, by authors such as Philippe Vasset, Yannick Haenel, and Virginie Despentes, that depict a fall into precarity (in the form of unemployment, extreme poverty, and homelessness), framing these forms of destitution as symptomatic of the rise of neoliberal capitalism, while also pointing to the possibility of taking up precarity as a means of “deserting” capitalism entirely and fostering community autonomous from economic exigencies and governance. Desertion is part of a radical political act called a destituent gesture, which seeks to both destroy existing power structures and withdraw from them entirely. Thus, to desert this world is to renounce and to destroy its centralized forms of state power, while, simultaneously, creating new communal forms of autonomy.
Of these texts, Les Renards pâles by Yannick Haenel is notable for its intersectional examination of poverty, colonialism, and identity. The novel’s narrator joins the Renards pâles, a revolutionary, anti-identarian groupuscule formed by undocumented Malian immigrants and named after the anarchist god of the Dogon, an ethnic group indigenous to the central plateau region of Mali. Curiously, however, all its members, regardless of their ethnic or cultural background, choose to self-identify as Black, African, and Dogon. From this universalized minority position, they connect their struggle with the repressed history of French colonialism and start a riot in the streets of Paris, enacting a reparatory revolution intended to destroy both French society and all forms of identity. Drawing on Stefano Harney & Fred Moten’s notion of “blackness,” I consider how Les Renards pâles makes a case for precarity as a potential source of solidarity and destitution. I argue, however, that the novel lacks a sustained attention to the specificities of the various minority social positions with which it tarries. As such, its anti-identarian gesture risks reproducing the schemas it seeks to desert.
Second classé 2023 : Jackson B. Smith (Princeton University)
avec: “Forgetting the Desert, Remembering the Desert: Breaking Silence in Alain Resnais’s Muriel and Laurent Mauvignier’s Des hommes”
Alain Resnais’s 1963 film Muriel ou le temps d’un retour and Laurent Mauvignier’s 2008 novel Des hommes both confront the question of uncommunicated—and thus apparently silenced—memories among veterans of the Algerian War of Independence. This presentation approaches each work as an attempt to directly narrativize the functioning of memory and forgetting. In both works, the desert—literally and metaphorically—pervades representations of memory. Characters’ silences are met with questions about the desert from individuals in metropolitan France who imagine it as a vast empty space. By contrast, when each work directly represents characters’ memories of the desert and the war, one recognizes the complexity and plenitude of their traumatic experience. Paradoxically, this trauma produces a silence that, like the desert’s presumed “emptiness,” is perceived as an absence of memory. In Resnais’s film, a recently returned veteran obsessively collects material memories of Algeria—notably film and audiotape—but refuses to speak about the war. In each instance where the character’s silence is broken, his speech is prompted by recorded media, inviting analysis of analogous functioning of mental and material forms of memory. Des hommes offers a counterpoint to this analysis, since its written form allows readers access to a direct representation of the unspoken memories of characters who are presumed to have forgotten their experiences during the war. Mauvignier’s recourse to metaphors of the desert and vivid description of character’s past experiences allows for a dual reassessment of the desert and of traumatic memory as being far from empty or silent