SPEAKER 1: This is a production of Cornell University.
TIMOTHY MURRAY: I am the director for the Society for the Humanities. But pretty much everybody here knows that, probably like everybody here knows what a pleasure and an honor it is for us to have Professor Verena Andermatt Conley here from Harvard University. This is an invitational lecture for the Society for the Humanities Senior Scholar in Residence, that being Professor Conley.
And I should say her visit here has a long prelude. And the first prelude began in Switzerland, where she led a very tranquil life on the shores of Lake Geneva before she invaded the United States, where she did her PhD in Comparative Literature and French at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This building has a very strange trajectory between Madison and Cornell, evidenced by the Carolyn "Biddy" Martin Dining Room right now.
Now Professor of Comparative Literature and Romance Languages Literatures at Harvard, Verena excels also her leadership-- exerts her leadership over culture and the arts as Master of Kirkland House at Harvard. She has also taught at Miami University, the University of Paris-VIII, University of California-Berkeley, and UCLA.
We all know her to be a very prolific translator and scholar. I think it's fair to say that Verena is almost single-handedly responsible for bringing French feminism to the United States, not only through her translations of Helene Cixous, our AD White Professor at Large, but also through her monograph on Helene Cixous, Writing the Feminine.
She also published, on behalf of Miami Theory Collective, in 1994, the collection Rethinking Technologies, whose essays by the likes of Felix Guattari and Katherine Hayles-- who was here this weekend-- really reopened the discussion of the relationship with technology to philosophy to electronic culture and capital. For my money, it remains to be probably the most informative and most acquisitive volume on new approaches to the technological that we have. I think it's still in print, even.
SPEAKER 2: It's being reprinted.
TIMOTHY MURRAY: Oh, it's being reprinted by the University of Minnesota Press. It's being reprinted. Since that time, Verena Conley also has become a leading voice in, I guess we could broadly say, ecopoetics through her monograph-- especially through her monograph, Ecopolitics, the Environment and Poststructural Thought, which is a spectacular book.
If you hadn't had the chance to read it, it really opens up new intersections in the relationship between ecology, philosophy, the-- I guess we should say-- promises and perils of poststructuralism in relationship to what it offers, and might not yet have delivered vis-a-vis the ecological. It's a fantastic book.
And her-- what should we say-- the book of all books that I highly recommend that all of you read as soon as possible, The War Against the Beavers-- Learning To Be Wild in the North Woods, which reflects on her combative life in her summer cabin near the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area of Minnesota.
In French, Verena has also published Litterature, Politique, et Communisme-- Lire Les Lettres Francaises. She's written widely in cultural studies. Art Criticism, I noticed, has a new essay forthcoming in a new collection on Deleuze and queer studies.
And she's been just a remarkable presence amongst our Fellows. We welcome her generosity, her warmth, her friendliness, and her critical acuity. And so thank you very, very much for speaking to us on-- now I've forgotten the title-- "Spatial--"
VERENA CONLEY: It's a very-- you haven't started yet, but off to a good start. It's a very vague and purposefully vague title. It was a very broad title, "Spatial Relations." Thank you.
Thank you, Tim. And thanks everybody for coming. And since this is almost the end of the stay for me here, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everybody, thank Tim for the invitation, thank the Society for the Humanities, and just say how much I've enjoyed my semester. It was extremely productive.
And it was wonderful hearing everybody at noon today. So all these ideas that are circulating in my head. So really, my pleasure to be here.
One letdown, perhaps, is that this paper-- I have multiple deadlines coming together this week. And I've been very harried and harassed. So spatial fiction has nothing to do with water. There are two allusions.
I have a manuscript that I completed on spatial fictions. It's not even that because I would have had to change it around. But it is something that I sent off yesterday before it comes back again, and-- that has to do with a new literary history in France-- in French. So it's called "Global France."
And my colleague and friend, Mitchell, was supposed to be in it. But he pulled out. So I did not pull-- I didn't dare to pull out because it's done-- it's edited by my colleagues.
And so my piece is really for that volume. It's a piece that has to do with air more than with water. And I mean air because it's written at very high altitude. So it is very general. But I hope, nonetheless, that we can discuss-- that it will lead to some discussion.
I had a little paragraph that would tie it into water. And then that's the end of water. So I say, In France-- because Tim asked me to write a paragraph-- I say, In France, as in other Western and non-Western countries, economic networks develop into matrices of electronic technology. What is called their streams, flows, and barriers-- dams-- draws the very image of their imaging from a host of water metaphors.
If, in our seminar, water is a critical concept for the Humanities, the metaphors that carry our imagination of global traffic and passage assist us in linking worldwide dilemmas concerning water as depicted in the recent movie Flow. And that's what I wanted to do it on. But we don't live in the best of all worlds.
To demographic movement-- in this paper I would like, however indirectly, to link issues of migration to water metaphors through attention to the containing vessel called the "nation-state"-- flow of digital images, flow of capital, flow of people. Through a reading of Etienne Balibar and others, I would like to argue that population movement had a lasting impact on the nation-state subjectivity and citizenship on a discipline that is, in fact, tributary to the imagination of fluvial passage, French and francophone literature and culture.
The contention is that contemporary French culture is diverse and vibrant. It no longer comes in pure or filtered works of art or writing, but in mixed genres, hybrid, and recombined forms thanks in no small way to digital process that explode a narrow affiliation of nation and literature.
So this is my introduction. And here is the paper. So again, it's a circumstantial paper and has certain constraints. Sorry.
What do we mean by "global France?" Is it the presence of Carrefour shopping centers in every Asian city on the Pacific Rim, the global circulation of products of LVMH under the watchful eye of its CEO, Bernard Arnault, or the presence of Total's oil rigs planted off the shores of the ex-colonies of Africa? France is often dismissed in the American media for opposing globalization, a synonym in the minds of many a Frenchmen, such as a farmer activist, Jose Bove, of the Americanization of the planet.
Globalization is generally equated with quasi-instant electronic communication as well as with the circulation of commodities and the borderless flow of finance. However, as a result of decolonization as well as economic globalization, a much-increased flow not only of money but of bodies also circulates all over the world. How does all this affluence emanate from France in our global age and where does it go?
In France, as in most Western and non-Western countries, worldwide electronic and economic networks and resulting population movements have had long-lasting impact on the nation-state, subjectivity, and citizenship, as well as on French and francophone literature and culture in general. A "French" literature and culture, a somewhat mythic concept that expresses the essence and the soul of the nation, has given way to American-style media culture but also to diverse and transnational cultures that are produced in and from France.
Did I tell you that this volume is on Global France? So it's-- I did tell you that. OK, so that's why you get a lot of that.
We could easily begin by showing that what, for the last century and a half, came to be called "French national culture" has always been in the plural, the product of many encounters and intersections. Migrations among provinces, countries, and kingdoms existed in the Middle Ages. The advent of oceanic travel pushed borders away from Europe. The Sun King watched tragedies inspired by Greek sources. And the great French novelists and philosophes of the Enlightenment were in dialogue with English writers and philosophers familiar with the New World.
Even before decolonization, established French presses published-- albeit selectively-- Caribbean, North African, and African writers who were, as the Algerian writer Rachid Boudjedra reminded his audience during a recent talk, heavily inspired by surrealism, but also by American literature, especially William Faulkner.
In the 1960s, after a century of long and often violent efforts by the bourgeoisie to produce a homogeneous French nation, a self-enclosed entity defined by the illusion of a unified and unifying culture based on the exclusion of others, a number of writers and theorists and artists, many of whom, like Helen Cixous, Julia Kristeva, and [? Smetana ?] [? Dodroff ?] came from outside France, founded or developed literary journals that focused on the poetics of texts rather than on national literature and literary history.
Among these journals were Tel Quel, Poetique, and Litterature. Helen Cixous, one of the driving forces of Poetique, declared that writers and theorists from around the globe were in proximity with each other across genres as well spatial and temporal boundaries through their writerly treatment of similar dilemmas, such as the articulation of life and death.
To a mentally and physically polluted country with lingering memories of colonialism and Vichy, they preferred literary spaces of resistance and invention. Like "beacons," in the words of Helene Cixous, these writers communicated with one another and used their common vigilance to fight against social and political injustices.
Indeed, since World War II-- but especially since the 1960s-- space became a critical concept at the very moment when the writers and theories noted above felt compressed under the impact of technologies and of what was still thought to be the disciplinary bourgeois state. They remained critical of the administrative state as well as of the term "nation," with its connoted emphasis on and always phantasmatic homogeneity and unity.
Sensing changes taking place, and without always being able to fully articulate them, these writers and thinkers focused on poetics, but also on a return to the everyday and away from monumental history. They emphasized everyday spatial practices that undermined the bureaucratic authority. They consider official national literature to be the handmaidens of an all-encompassing rational thought in the service of the state that permeates life and ultimately, immobilizes it in a state of rigor mortis.
In the parlance of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, striated spaces that have lost their flexibility need to be made smooth, and so, too, micro spaces to be opened in the state's macro spaces to make possible other ways of thinking. Critical attention to everyday spatial practices which function without regard to state-imposed administrative networks and indirectly question modernist strategies of industrial society that foster colonialism are the subject of Henri Lefebvre, of Michel de Certeau. Period.
It is also the domain of Jean-Luc Godard, a poetic and political filmmaker who, indulging in theoretical Lefevre and literary Faulkner illusions explored in Deux ou Trois Choses Que Je Sais d'Elle, Two or Three Things I Know About Her, 1966, the effects on people following the imposition of a spatial order and the creation of the first Grands Ensembles, massive suburban apartment complexes in the outskirts of Paris, built to relocate French workers for insalubrious conditions and to repatriate the Pieds-Noirs, the French Algerians who left North Africa after 1962.
Godard shot his film at the Cite de Quatre Mille of La Courneuve, not far from the Aubervilliers train station through which tourists now shuttle without stopping on their way to and from Roissy Airport. One memorable sequence features a male and a female facing each other in profile, their heads not covered with straw a la TS Eliot, but zipped up in two traveler's bags, one blue, bearing the Pan Am logo of the globe, and the other, red, the bold letters of TransWorld Airlines.
Through this image-- and if I were up to date, Celeste asked me if I had images. And I don't. It would greatly enhance this.
But you have these two people with the bags over they heads walking, with a beautiful picture of a transatlantic encounter, of a map in the back. So through this image and others, Godard asks, When not only the state, but growing media culture imposes icons of the globe upon inherited literary and cultural values, how can one reinvent and make more habitable the city spaces in which they are shown?
Many texts and films of this period ask how to recover an existential territory, be it mental or physical, or even more, how to open spaces that would defy an increasingly abstract system of signs born with the acceleration of technologies, engineered by the state, and then by the ideology of transworld consumerism. By way of their fictional and critical writings and films, Cixous, Lefebvre, Certeau, Godard, and others urged their readers and viewers to reappropriate space through language and new types of bodily practices.
In La Jeune Nee, The Newly Born Woman-- see, I never stray far from Helene Cixous after all. It doesn't get away. Cixous brackets a repressive and colonial-minded French state by espousing a series of combative texts foreign to the French national canon of chauvinistic quality.
However, in a long dialogue with Catherine Clement at the end of the co-authored book, Cixous voices pessimism for the future in an era opening to marketing and consumerism. And I quote, "There is, in a very generalized manner, a loss of voice in the world of writing, of literature, of creation.
So that means that all the governments united, whether right or reformist, are saying, if you still have eyes, shut them; and intellectuals of all countries, your mouth. And don't start making analyses. And besides, it isn't worth the trouble.
One sees the development of an international intrigue that is leading toward capitalist imbecilization in its most inhuman, most automatic, most formidable form-- the selling out of all countries, the handing themselves over the way France had done with the United States, is also down on condition of a complicitous silence," unquote.
Slowly, there came a realization among these writers and critics the bureaucratic state itself was transformed with the advent of American-style consumerism. Based on international finance, another type of economy restructured French society. It will reach an apogee under the impact of electronic technology and the global reach of media, which Roland Barthes already demystified in some of his essays in Mythologies.
What was perceived as the loss of life with the vanishing of traditional spaces and the emergence of a new social hierarchy are mockingly deplored in Jacques Tati's films such as Mon Oncle, which juxtaposes the lively scenes of the uncle with his friends at the local market and in the cafe where people sing and play music with a sterile existence of a family in the ultra-modern house replete with the latest technological gadgets.
In Playtime, all that remains of traditional neighborhoods is a lone flower vendor who has become the object of photography by tourists in search of a lost, everyday Paris. The city itself has mutated from a mass of five-story buildings under a steel gray sky into a kaleidoscope of transparent glass buildings in which everyone is under electronic surveillance. The symbolic cityscapes from the Eiffel Tower to Montmartre are reduced to reflections in glass doors.
And we could find the same in others that I will not mention-- not develop here, like Simone de Beauvoir, for example, and Georges Perec.
Arguing along inherited Cartesian lines in Le Systeme des Objets, Jean Baudrillard observed that consumerism transforms symbolic bourgeois spaces, the repressive side of which had been the object of intense feminist scrutiny. When, with market culture, interiority and debt, thought to be the personal space and warm hearth of the individual self, give way to exteriority, a certain freedom to invent space follows. A previously vertical order becomes more horizontal, though new hierarchies based on money quickly reappear.
Baudrillard will declare later that with what he calls the "new global tendency" introduced by consumer-style economy, a return to the everyday was a dead end at a time when the aim of capital was to eradicate symbolic spaces and to establish in their places more functional counterparts.
The perceived collapse of existential territories was indeed symptomatic less of the refinement of state control than of another, then as yet unnameable condition of global consumerism. In retrospect, it can be said that the intellectual movements questioning the ethos of the French state of the 1960s coincided with this very transformation.
With globalization-- which might actually be qualified as a second globalization, the first being that of the transatlantic encounters in the 16th and 17th century, and without counting that of communism which tried to impose the same language everywhere-- France underwent the same transformations as most other Western industrial countries.
Formed by the revolution of 1789 and the colonial enterprise in the following century, the French state in the 1960s witnessed a weakening at the hands of transnational companies in Jean-Francois Lyotard, in his political writings, called "the arrival of big money." France was soon called upon to deal with this reconfiguration and to protect its own citizens against a loss of rights at the very same time that it was summoned to address another major shift taking place through massive migrations from the country's ex-colonies as well as from Eastern Europe and Asia and other parts of the world.
With globalization, migration, and the Constitution of the European Union, France began to change to the point where today critics-- in the line of Etienne Balibar-- ask whether France is still recognizable as a separate country or whether it is simply a border against the southern hemisphere? Balibar even goes so far to ask, provocatively, whether or not only France but Europe itself is still recognizable as a continent, or whether it, too, has simply become a border.
In this new context of technological acceleration, economic globalization, extensive population movements, and the progressive withering and transformation of the nation state, what happens to French literature and culture? Leaving aside, for the time being, the question of consumerism, the media, and technologies, and focusing more on the effects of population movements on culture, we can ascertain that the unraveling of an earlier French state-thought as Paul Virilio put it, with its classical ideals and embodied in many literary histories grounded in positivism, which began in the 1960s with the new focus literary and cultural spaces, is now complete.
A post-Enlightenment and postrevolutionary style-- universalism-- that paradoxically, had led to often repressive politics of assimilation is no longer possible. Neither is a humanism that asserts the existence of a universal human condition. A national culture, that from the immediate post-war years through the 1960s had rather unquestioningly assimilated in its canon the likes of Beckett, Camus, Ionesco, Sarraute, even Cixous and Derrida, has come under a renewed scrutiny.
Beckett is now criticized-- excuse me, is now celebrated-- dear me-- as the greatest Irish writer while Camus's L'Etranger has been criticized for its transparent treatment of "man's condition" that is blind to a colonial setting, estranging the action from an ambiguous homeland. Cixous and Derrida rediscovered their Algerian roots through their difficult relation to French language and literature.
Over the last few decades, these very writers and theorists have gradually shifted their focus away not only from universal human dilemmas, but also from pure poetics toward the exploration and re-elaboration of their transnational ties. These ties, more and more numerous, opened the French nation-state and its culture to the outside. They also transformed them from the inside. In fact, they undo the very possibility of a binary division between inside and outside with the advent of a networked world.
However, although a global world may seem borderless, and many writers and intellectuals such as Jacques Derrida in On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, dream of a cosmo place to come, people are still defined and will be for some time in relation to a nation-state to which they belong or in which they do or would like to reside. These new dilemmas and tensions within the country's borders inflect the production of culture.
The notion of community, heretofore dismissed as a pre-revolutionary phenomenon, recently appeared in Republican France. Communities help produce what is far from a once-ingrained ideal of a homogeneous national culture and even from that of a world culture that the media purveys in its news and advertising. They consist of people of diverse ethnic, religious, or even national origins who often have ties that reach far beyond French borders.
Through these communities, the very concept of the nation-state bearing a renewed emphasis on subjects and citizens is being further reassessed. Consequences are many fold. On the one hand, the country's borders, more porous than ever, enable easy passage for money and for certain people from the European Union and from elsewhere.
On the other, new, visible, and invisible borders are erected inside the country in the form of racism and economic discrimination. In the French "state," as it is defined by Republican and administrative language, a sudden obsession with things national comes forward at the very moment when the term "nation" transmogrifies under the impact of migration.
In addition, since 2001, outer borders are becoming tighter again amidst threats and phantasms of terrorism. Of importance for many writers and theorists is an active decoupling of the nation and the ideal of blood and soil from the state human and citizens' rights, and a transformation of the ladder so that it reflects the changes taking place. Between the new communities, with their increasingly numerous transnational links that make up the contemporary French state, no simple continuity is discernible.
In 1985, Michel de Certeau, echoed more recently by Etienne Balibar, made it clear-- in a couple of essays on ethnic encounters published posthumously in English in a volume entitled The Capture of Speech-- that some codes, such as fashion, food, and music travel easily. Their mobility has led to a hybridization of cultures, although as Certeau cautioned, the latter generally is but a thinly disguised hybrid monism that is a unified, often dominant discourse exploited by the media that only simulates diversity.
Other codes, however, especially those pertaining to symbolic issues such as sexuality or gender, marriage, life and death, are more resistant. In spite of their erosion through media culture, these issues bear unconscious residues that have not entirely disappeared. They are at the very core of much contemporary literature theory in film produced in and from France.
Writers from the various communities residing in France may have recourse to French in order to criticize repressive aspects of their own culture. For example, Rachid Boudjedra's The Repudiation, or more recently, Nina Bouraoui's Forbidden Vision deal critically with questions of sexuality, women, and gender in Muslim communities. More numerous are those who, from their communities in France, residing as French citizens from Algeria or Senegal rather than from Provence or Burgundy, write about problems confronting French society.
Balibar calls these voices "France's alterity." It is perhaps not so much a question of alterity, a term that is too binary for a networked world, that puts in question such a division, but of a culture produced in the contemporary state of France that is more and more splintered from the idea of a nation.
France today consists of various communities. It is the writer's responsibility to boost fictions that are active translations and ongoing negotiations between them.
In his studies of classical France, Michel Foucault sensitized his readers in the 1960s and the 1970s to the power of taxonomy. While texts written in the French idiom in other countries of the world-- often those France's ex-colonies from the Maghreb to sub-Saharan Africa-- can be classified as francophone texts, those produced in France are part of the country's culture. An attempt to classify them separately marks a form of voluntary or involuntary exclusion.
To separate texts written from other communities within as francophone-- as it is often done in American curricula-- is to refuse to acknowledge that the French national culture as it had been envisioned in the 19th and early 20th centuries has de facto ceased to exist. In other words, literature produced by these voices, by the voices of these communities, cannot be treated as distinct from a French literature and culture.
These forces may or may not be in dialogue with others outside of countries and have distant transnational ties. They are hybrid but also plural and of diverse tenor. They are, in any case, far from homogeneous.
In such a climate, it is no longer possible to heed a single dominant voice, such as that of Jean-Paul Sartre, who may have well been the last heroic and indeed, universal French intellectual. In the global and multipolar world, what Bruno Latour derides repeatedly as "the cargo dreams of transcendence" that conservative thinkers like Luc Ferry are so intent on reviving are no longer possible.
A new universalism focuses less on the metaphysical problems experienced by all of humanity-- among them Sartre's and Camus's ideas of transcendence-- than on the existence of conflicting, even competing, universalities in the French state, the European Union, and in world space. Even if problems today are similar around the world, geography, history, and geopolitical context give a particular profile and an angle on culture or cultures that are both local and transnational.
If writers and theorists of the '60s first wrote against state-sanctioned spatial compression by mobilizing literary spaces or by using tactics to prevent the disappearance of everyday spaces under what they perceive to be technologies in the service of the state, those writing at the cusp of the 21st century shift their emphasis to engage in an urgent elaboration of what Balibar calls "a nouvelle espace," a new space both mental and physical, in which borders are undone and new articulations created among communities and even countries.
In an ongoing effort to translate cultural specificities always with a remainder, these writers actively engaged in the construction of new spaces not only in France, but also in Europe and in the world at large. Unlike their Anglo-Saxon counterparts that are more prone to mediation, writers from migrant communities in France have inherited the longstanding Republican militant tradition that they are turning to productive ends.
We can ask, at this point, whether traditional cultural means, such as literature, film, are even capable of dealing with problems of a magnitude that face France and the world today? Current social, economic, and political dilemmas that cannot be separated from globalization are quite different not only from those Sartre had outlined, but also from those that preoccupied the founders of Tel Quel, Poetique, and Litterature, who undid national literature in the service of bureaucratic machinery-- including that of the university, the site of intense interrogation and of active political firmament-- by means of international poetics or even identification with those who sought to combat the state by way of spatial practices.
Today, from their communities, contemporary writers are dealing with social and political problems that are the result of decolonization and economic globalization and no less with consumer culture and increasingly, the fortunes of literature and culture in the context of electronic communication. It may be symptomatic that no poet or literary figure in French has emerged in the early years of the millennium to lead the charge of an intellectual brigade as had the either great existentialists in the 1940s or the avant-garde and the poststructuralist elite of the 1960s and 1970s.
Writers and intellectuals have been miniaturized, as Bruno Latour once more puts it jokingly, "Their books are made available on easily reproducible compact disks. In a global context where center and periphery are obsolete points of reference, they circulate in networks that may or may not intersect with one another." Cultural activity gets dispersed in smaller units.
How to re-appropriate vanishing existential territories becomes less important than how to live and move diversely in these multiple networks. Less prone to hold onto universal belletristic ideals, these new spaces are more directly politicized. They aim creative energies toward a reshaping of inner and outer borders, whether mental or concrete, under mounting global pressure.
For this purpose, it can be said that genres themselves have been hybridized. Faced with acceleration through technologies and commercialization of much literature and film with the production of media intellectuals and writers, the critical essay of limited circulation often in dialogue form has taken on renewed importance as have written or filmic documentaries and a certain militant theater that deals with current political issues.
Commentaries and theories of shorter half-life replace the more ambitious, and from its onset, always-already unfinished novelistic project of Sartre's The Roads To Freedom, but also of those of the avant-garde literature and so-called "high theory" of the 1970s. Contemporary critical essays of ephemeral and temporary fracture ask, in Balibar's terms, burning questions in new and complex ways. They are written from what the philosopher calls, "lieux de fiction," "sites of fiction."
They are not only literary intentions, but constructions based on knowledge and experience that include an unconscious. They produce a real that always contains a fictional dimension. At stake in these essays is the construction of common spaces.
Written by those who live or have lived in France, they include, for example-- I'm just giving you a few examples-- Guattari's Three Ecologies, Deleuze's Negotiations, Derrida's On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, or Latour's The War of the Worlds-- What About Peace? All these writers and theorists produce their fictional spaces that concern problems of the nation-state, subjectivity, citizenship, the media, and marketing as well as what it means to exist in a multipolar, national, and world space and how to live along a cutting political edge.
Others, like Azouz Begag, are written from immigrant communities refusing racist reductions of ethnicity. Begag-- somebody like Begag-- fights to give voice to individual immigrants and to bring their experience of the city and the country to the eyes and ears of a sympathetic public.
Still others, written by political refugees-- and here we have people like Assia Djebar, who writes in French, now resides in the United States, and weaves different writerly voices in her narrative webbings such as Le Blanc de l'Algerie, The Algerian White, in order to denounce current social and political injustices in Algeria and negotiate new, less violent ways of being in common.
So all these writers express similar cultural problems from different angles. And by way of their critical negotiations, they create an ever-changing "French" culture. And I have some more examples here. Such is also the recent attempt of what we can call "docu-fiction."
We can think of Francois Maspero's and Anaick Frantz, a writer and photographer who, in the documentary fiction, Roissy Express, journey into the suburbs of Paris, try to give a voice and a face to many humans making up the heterogeneous communities that compose France today by stopping at the various train stations between Paris and Roissy, such as Aubervilliers. And like Certeau's practitioners of the everyday, Maspero and Frantz, they literally walk and talk and let others speak and even invent their poems, which is an important dimension, and also create their theater.
The distance between these docu-fictions and the filmic and textual narratives of the 1960s can be seen when juxtaposing Godard's in retrospect, magisterial Two Or Three Things I Know About Her with a little-known documentary film by Patrick Lebel, Notes Pour Debussy, Lettre Ouverte a Jean-Luc Godard-- Notes for Debussy, Open Letter to Jean-Luc Godard-- I don't have to translate-- Lebel, who appeared in Godard's 1966 film as Bouvard, a Flaubertian character mindlessly reciting titles of piles of videos challenges what he perceives as a Swiss filmmaker's univocality in his filming of the Grands Ensembles. Period.
In his own fictionalized documentary, Lebel revisits the same building ironically bearing the name from classical culture, the Debussy of the Quatre Mille in La Courneuve. Contrary to Godard, in a style that is more than cinema verite or simple witnessing, Lebel invites the inhabitants of different communities from the housing estate to produce their own narratives.
By enabling the telling their stories and the inventing of new ones, Lebel helps the residents engage in an act of resistance and of creation. Residents participate through word and deed in the construction of a new French space, this nouvelle espace that Balibar and others argue for in their writings, which the collective creation of a colored wall mosaic at the end of the film makes clear.
The pieces of the mosaics are like pixels of digital photography that, contrary to its analog counterpart that reproduces a preexisting reel, make possible an ongoing composing and recomposing of images. With the proliferation and interweaving of voices with no outside critics, filmmakers and writers put themselves on stage. They become one voice among many. They are no longer interpreters of an object, but mediators.
And I was thinking of Patricia Zimmerman, when she was here. She had an expression-- they bring in. They don't push back. Between Godard and Lebel, you would have the bringing in and the pushing back. And there seems to be in all of these docu-fiction, an effort to bring in.
And for this bringing in, we could even cite Hate, for example, which tries to give voice and a face to the inhabitants of a neighborhood. And in Kassowitz's published script that led to the film, the published script contains photographs by a certain Gilles Favier.
And the photographer doesn't reproduce the photographs from the film, but chooses different images and, in turns, in his words, invents a new documentary fiction that questions the double reality of life in the banlieue in the making the film. And speaking about the photographs taken during the shooting the film Hate, Favier adds that the photographs have no captions. They invent, in the space of the book, yet another fiction in dialogue with that of the film itself.
The documentary aspect is also used in many other films. I was thinking of Kechiche's Games of Chance and Love, which is an interesting remake of Marivaux and also Laurent Cantet's The Class, where the class produces its own film. And so the effort seems to be in a lot of this fiction and in a lot of these films to bring in the people rather than speak for them.
And so, again, the important part is that there is nobody who is looking at, but everybody is kind of on stage, if you'd like. Or everybody is part of this process.
The process of putting oneself on stage, of speaking with and of letting others speak, as well as a renewed emphasis on translation and negotiations also leads to the resurgence of a certain militant theater. Often communally created with a plurality of voices, this collective theater replaces the classical stage with another stage-- space that frequently includes the public.
And here we can mention Helen Cixous's The Perjured City, but even more so-- and here is water-- drums on the dam. And in the best of all worlds, I would've talked about dams and water. She focuses on ecological problems of nature and habitability that loom large in Asia, the impending flooding of the three Gorges of the Yangtze River in China, but also others in Vietnam and Korea.
At the limit, we could also include Julia Kristeva's Therese, Mon Amour, a Baroque 750-page tale of Theresa of Avila that travels across centuries and genres written at the intersection of biography, autobiography, epistolary exchanges, philosophy, theatrical dialogue, musical annotations, of opera, photograph, sculpture, and paintings, to fictionalized history consists of a writing of multiple voices with no return to a world outside of itself.
These writers, filmmakers, theorists, philosophers address dilemmas that are local as well as transnational and even global. They cannot be subsumed under the banner of an earlier universal humanism or of a national republic of letters. They recognize the world consists of different, even conflicting, universalities that all make up and redefine contemporary French culture.
Distinct from francite, this new "Frenchness"-- if we still want to call it that-- is based on contingencies and ongoing transformations rather than timeless values. We're off elaborating new ways of being in common. In a densely populated country and world, these writers and artists are working in and from different networks. Bending genres and crossing disciplines, they re-evaluate and re-elaborate the tradition of French universalism.
In addition to the movements of people, they are keenly aware of the encroachment of economic globalization with the power of the media, but also of what becomes of the world implemented by electronic technologies. Far-reaching consequences affect the nation-state, along with traditional notions of politics and culture.
Today, as Jacques Derrida and many others have argued, humans leave the world of print culture for that of information and electronic technologies. In an interview with Paul Virilio, Friedrich Kittler responds to his French interlocutor, who laments "the death of mankind" with the advent of tele-technologies by pointing out, quite simply and tersely, that it is not so much the death of humans as of culture and politics as we know them.
What, in such a climate, will remain not only of national literature, but of literature tout court? [? Whether ?] literature, a term coined in 1802 by Madame de Stael, when we change our rapport with the age of print culture? What will remain of film a medium of the 20th century in the 21st century? Will they simply be classified in the annuals of a blogosphere and a myriad number of Facebooks and YouTube?
What of theory? To put it in a little less extreme way, in the parlance of Deleuze and Guattari, can literature and film continue to resist and create, to occupy the street, rather than as in the age of state thought , hold the fort? For our purposes, the question can be rephrased-- can a re-assessed French "literature" and culture continue to open spaces from which to rephrase "burning questions" or simply to think otherwise?
Jacques Ranciere, a writer always keen on mediating-- meditating on-- I'm sorry-- on the relation between politics and aesthetics and establishing "la part des sans part"-- the portion of the portionless-- ponders the question in relation to art. In a recent interview in Art Forum, March, 2007, he asks what art can do.
We can adapt his question by changing Sartre's earlier, "Qu'est-ce que la litterature?"-- what is literature?-- to what can literature do?-- Que peut la litterature? What is its power, its "puissance"? With an advent of media culture and the digital age, can we still continue to believe in the power of literature and not only in literature as fantasy?
We have seen how the scope of French literature has been extended to include various and diverse cultural fictions. We can mobilize for our purposes Amartya Sen, quoted by Balibar, to say that these new writerly, filmic, or theoretical fictions open new spaces by expanding the readers' and the viewers' capacity as subjects and as citizens.
We can also go back to a question we had raised earlier-- in an age ruled by technology and globalization, are these fictions simply little white pebbles in a deep sea of technology, as Certeau put it a few decades ago? In answer, let us turn once more to Deleuze, who insists on the necessity and importance of opening vacuoles, or micro spaces, in the everyday that will enable us to think otherwise.
It is not a question of going back to a vanishing everyday of yesteryear, or of seeking refuge in rarified literary spaces, as in the 1960s, but rather of inventing other ways of being in common from today's conditions, conditions that include large cities, migrant populations, and technologies that demarcate generations of populations from one another.
We can invoke, too, Helene Cixous, who reshaped Beckett's dying words in her book, Le Voisin de Zero, Sam Beckett-- The Neighbor of Zero, Sam Beckett. When asked what he had learned from life, the writer whom Deleuze called "the greatest Irish poet" answered, "precious little." This is, perhaps, what remains of literature, film, and theory-- precious little. It may be little, but it is precious.
It is still capable of opening spaces and of enabling travel, as well as translation and negotiation between communities. More and more, with the help of technologies, in an effort to create common, national, European, and world spaces, it neither legitimates a national culture, nor does it signify universal transcendental values.
Rather, by calling into question, as Ranciere would have it, in a slightly different context, and I quote, "divisions and boundaries, high culture and popular culture, representation and the unrepresentedable, the modern the postmodern, to point to the configurations of possibilities, the perception of the multiple alterations and displacements that make up forms of political subjectivation and artistic invention," unquote.
Literature, theory, and film, if we want to keep these distinctions, undo the boundaries, defining heretofore certain practices. In their own fashion, they do away with earlier aesthetic constraints and make possible the opening of passages in the creation of new meanings that are far from the reductive constructions of the dominant media as well as from the earlier disciplinary boundaries and homogenizing effects of national languages and literatures.
Like other fields-- such as anthropology and sociology-- literature is being hybridized. It comes in smaller texts or casings and in magnetic or digital coding and rarely as pure works of art or writing. It comes often in mixed genres or is ephemera-- critical essays, documentaries, and CD-ROMS or web projects. It circulates along electronic networks produced by heterogeneous groups of writers, theorists, and filmmakers from France from its ex-colonies and from other European or other countries.
It is received less as a national product than as an array of novel productions. These hybrid forms explode a former narrowly defined national meaning. They open new spaces for novel connections and thus, in their own ways, realize things French that have now become truly global. Thank you.
TIMOTHY MURRAY: We'd like to invite you to a reception. But first we have ample time for questions or discussion.
VERENA CONLEY: Yes.
SPEAKER 3: I'm wondering if you would consider a written work, like Pierre Bourdieu's La Misere du Monde, like the Lebel film. That's--
VERENA CONLEY: I must confess that, not because I don't want to, but I don't know Bourdieu. I mean, every time I give a talk on whatever topic, people ask me Bourdieu.
And it's really one of my-- it's on top of my to-do list. I mean, I really don't know. I should. I really should because it's-- yeah.
SPEAKER 3: Because that's an unusual one, in the sense that that is one in terms of overturning sociological work in which he does "bring in," and all of the terms that you've used. Especially, too, in the sense of the way he puts sociology on stage.
It is quite interesting what he does and how all of these French problems are made to be problems of globalization or are made to be more problems of-- that are world problems. But also the way in which the interlocutor is a midwife that brings out the speech in this way. So very much all the things that you were talking about.
It's a pivotal work. It's not like the others. It's quite different.
VERENA CONLEY: What's the title?
SPEAKER 3: It is La Misere du Monde.
VERENA CONLEY: I am very ignorant. And thank you for bringing this to my attention. If I had done my homework-- and I realized re-reading this how many repetitions and [INAUDIBLE]
It would have been helpful if I'd had some PowerPoint, actually, because, for example, the-- something that's-- if you look at Balibar-- I mean, Balibar-- Latour's book on Paris, Paris, Ville Invisible, which is a catalog. It's huge. I could have brought it, but I couldn't walk here with it. It's a big thing, and that precisely asks the question, what is the sociale? And [INAUDIBLE]
But then, if you go to the web project, the web project is amazing. And so it hybridizes not only the discourse because what is this Paris, Ville Invisible-- Paris, Invisible City. It's been translated, too.
All you have to do is type in the web, Paris, Invisible City, and it will pop right up. It's just beautiful. And I teach it every once in a while. The students love it. It's just--
SPEAKER 3: It's translated as The Weight of the World they tried to keep--
VERENA CONLEY: Oh, is that what they do? OK, well thank you for pointing that out. Yes.
SPEAKER 4: What is interesting regarding this book is first, that it was one of the only sociological-- or sociology bestsellers in France.
VERENA CONLEY: Yes.
SPEAKER 4: And also, that, indeed, moving away from all the tradition that Bourdieu himself found-- had tried to found, it's a book not about society, but about atoms. It's only-- I mean, there is no society anymore in this book, if you read it. It's only kind of interviews with people.
Of course there are situations within a certain social context, but holding onto the picture you get from society is not the kind of macro picture you can get from the rest of Bourdieu's social essays. So there is no more social grid to it.
VERENA CONLEY: Well, that's a little bit Latour's argument, too, since-- I mean, his argument has to do with the idea what he calls "the cascade d'images." And a "cascade," if I'm not mistaken, is a term that comes from physics and not from water here.
So it's all these things that kind of collide and that only stabilize themselves when you frame them. And you can frame them-- in any material, you can frame them with words Think certain expression that argument is. And it's open to the debate, but the world is constantly moving. Everything is in constant movement.
And so what stabilizes it is when we say something, when we use an expression, or when we frame the image and hopefully what the importance is what this meaning finally is, the way we align some things. And how do we align images? How do we put them together? And that is how meaning is produced.
So it sounds like it's a similar [INAUDIBLE] from actually what I was doing here. Because I said at the beginning I'm going at a very high altitude. And it's wrong because that's precisely kind of the overview that you want to avoid. [INAUDIBLE] Yes.
SPEAKER 5: Verena, I was wondering if the-- in the other part of your talk, you were stressing the importance of writers from elsewhere who have transformed the French literary cultural scene and the move from universalism to exploration of different kinds of national ties and hybrid identities, et cetera. But then, at the end, with your questions about "Que peut la litterature?" and where is literature going, you shifted from that to this vision of hybridized text and from things circulating.
I mean, I guess I'm wondering about that because that it does seem to me that, despite the transformation of the French literacy scene, it's still holds place in comparison with other countries, anyway, where there is a very substantial and systematic production of novels and literary works of more of a traditional kind along with certain experiments.
And I guess I don't have the sense that-- but it may just be that I don't log onto the right site, that France is this website with all these different genres. There's still all the books that look like novels in those bookstores. There's still a lot of bookstores--
VERENA CONLEY: That's very kind that you mention that because I think they just gave away the prix Goncourt-- is it Goncourt? And I just saw it online. And they have this really stuffy picture of these people receiving the Goncourt and all of that. I was like, where am I in this?
VERENA CONLEY: Yeah, an Afghan, an Afghan.
SPEAKER 6: And that's--
SPEAKER 6: --which is [FRENCH], they give it to a non-native speaker of French, which is interesting.
VERENA CONLEY: That's right.
SPEAKER 5: Indeed, that's what marks the French, at least, all these writers, but it's still the Goncourt, there's still these novels. It's just a hybridized--
VERENA CONLEY: You know, I'm joking with you, I know, I know. But let me say that I was talking about possibilities and so--
SPEAKER 5: Possibilities, OK-- possibilities.
VERENA CONLEY: Patrick [? Weil ?] came to me and talking, he said, you must lean forward. And so I was leaning forward, or trying to push it in a direction.
It was-- I wanted it to go. No, I know fully well how traditional it is in many ways, though you're right. I mean, the Goncourt was given to this Afghan writer.
SPEAKER 6: And two years ago.
VERENA CONLEY: That's right. That's right. However, however, however, there is this, too. And, I mean, if you're looking at Derrida's question of technology, I mean, he very clearly says that we are getting out of this world of print culture. And where do we go?
So don't forget-- I'm mean, literary history is not really my thing. But don't forget that I was really doing this, too, for a specific volume for a specific topic. However, I personally am very interested in this kind of hybridization. And I think that the dichotomies that are established by somebody like Paul Virilio are unfair, unfortunate, really because he doesn't show the productive aspects of this technology. I mean, it's not just that we have to jump on the bandwagon.
But if you look, for example-- and now I really am sorry I didn't do my homework-- if you look at Latour's catalog from Paris-- Ville Invisible, which is beautiful, just beautiful. But then, if you look at the web project, I mean, it's fantastic. And so you can really have-- I think, as we go along-- and there, [INAUDIBLE] going on a limb. But as we go on, I think more and more of these projects are going to be hybridized.
And so, if you looked at Kristeva's website for her Therese d'Avila, Therese Mon Amour, which is actually a very good book. It's huge. I have to read it for foreign translation. And it's really very productive, multimedia everywhere. And her website has all kinds of music and painting.
And I told them, they should have a CD-ROM go with the translation because it would be-- for students, who are looking at that, and who are opening this up-- 700 pages, that's a hard read, a hard sell. But if you have something that-- colors and sounds. And I think we should think in terms of enhancing things, not taking them away.
But there I totally agree with you. Yes. I was thinking at the time, I actually started doing this a year ago under extreme duress. And then I had to pick it up over the last two weeks again. And I was thinking, too, that there's this woman who writes this-- [SPEAKING FRENCH] what is her name? Casanova--
SPEAKER 4: Casanova Pascale.
VERENA CONLEY: Yeah.
SPEAKER 5: Casanova.
VERENA CONLEY: I find it very conventional in terms of what she does. And so I think that had been in the back of my mind, too. And you always work out the context as [SPEAKING FRENCH]. And so-- there was a context there were interesting circumstances.
SPEAKER 5: Mm-hmm, sure.
VERENA CONLEY: And I think that some fantastic [INAUDIBLE] France actually. I mean, a very immediate set-up in many ways. I think the whole Latour project he has online is fabulous, with art and print and text and the whole works. So I have too much going on. I mean, I know, I know, I know. Yes.
SPEAKER 4: Since you've been talking technology, and about this notion that the state be unraveling, to some extent, or changing in nature, following this Balibarian argument. I was wondering about this-- the evolution of the plot regarding the digital library in France, you know, the project initiated by the French Bibliotheque Nationale under its former director, Jean-Luc [? Jaminet, ?] a project which is still thought of as a rival project of Google Books or the [? Bac. ?]
And I recently read that this project-- now, it's supposed to be European. But it's-- the name is Gallica. So it's very interesting. And I read through, like, this afternoon in my email that--
VERENA CONLEY: I mean--
SPEAKER 4: Yeah, and Gallica's usually-- originally that's why it's Gallica is it's originally the name of the numerator of the digital iteration from the Bibliotheque Nationale de France. But now that they're speaking about the European level, they still call it "Gallica," which is very strange.
I mean, I read something-- I received an email about the instructions that publishing houses have been receiving regarding how to transmit the kind of compulsory duty they have to forward the copies of the books to as a form of [FRENCH] for the digitalization, it seems to be something very, very contested because there also is a kind of private company handing over the business.
So this is this question of how the-- here, I mean, regarding exactly another side of the production of literature as a public object, a public patrimoine-like form and its privatization and a monopoly of the state. I think it's a-- I was wondering what you would have regarding the side of the transformation of the literary national "Frenchness," so to speak.
VERENA CONLEY: Right, but what specifically is the question?
SPEAKER 4: Well, this idea of the-- while literature is being, among others, digitalized, you have still this reassertion of the French state control over this notion through the very technology. And I mean, what-- do you have any ideas about this aspect? I wasn't sure of this one.
VERENA CONLEY: Yeah, sure. I can see that. No, I don't. I don't know, maybe in a couple of hours I will, but right now, no.
SPEAKER 4: OK.
VERENA CONLEY: But I mean, that's the kind of The interesting part is precisely that centralization that is still there, and the attempt to centralize everything that is still there at the same time that it is also a discernment level. And maybe at another level, it is exploded.
SPEAKER 7: Because I'm very convinced, actually, by the model that you propose, just as I test it against my own recent experiences of French culture. And I'm thinking-- for instance, I recently watched other [INAUDIBLE] films again. And Human Resources and Time Out, both such intensive studies of French or [INAUDIBLE] European culture get picked are also about globalization by revealing these structures that-- the reading inside the film is the same way that you would work with a digital photograph, in this case, Matthew [? Dean. ?] But because since you're being distracted also, but by being able to find such detail and such a rich optical unconscious in the digital photograph.
I wonder two things. The first thing I wondered is whether or not [INAUDIBLE] there isn't like, a deeper legacy of this move toward unpacking intensity as characteristic of this kind of French culture? So that Cixous could be characteristic of this, you know, with her intense focus on Beckett or Clarice Lispector, her authors. So if she's almost parodying the republic of letters model by building this world republic of letters of--
VERENA CONLEY: Yeah, I see what you mean.
SPEAKER 7: And the last thing I want to ask about is just the language of the semantics of the [INAUDIBLE] mondalisation, how do you say globalization in French, as sustained through globalization, whether there's even at a semantic level, a kind of worlding the world-making that's happening that gives a difference through this whole process in that context?
VERENA CONLEY: Yeah, that's an excellent question. I mean, I think that [INAUDIBLE] Cixous and some of these other people of the '60s were really-- and you contradict me if you don't think so. I do think that they were among the first to de-nationalize literature. And they denationalize it because they were so critical of national literature.
And that was really a kind of world literature and a focus on poetics rather than on national and literary histories of domination. And I think-- that was when I went to school. And so I was caught between the literary history when I was a little girl, and--
--it was unbelievably boring. And then suddenly--
VERENA CONLEY: -- poetics came in and they'd opened up. But then physically, I think, the actually, it's if you look at the I'm almost struck by the emphasis in Europe on national literatures still now. And I think-- I don't think it's going to last, I mean, personally. I think though we have the [FRENCH] and though we have this and though we have that. I mean, look at it-- I mean, it's European, and it's everything. That's one thing.
The other thing is that actually, France has always been more and more literatures than maybe America has because it always had a lot of translation available. Some of the gripe there I have with the American curricula and francophone literature that always separates the francophone from the French. I mean, we have-- on the PhD qualifying, we have French literature of the 20th century and then francophone literature is on there.
What do you mean? I mean, this is part of the other stuff. But anyhow-- so they always have that.
But it's like, indifferent today because with all these-- I mean, you have those population pressures on our minds. And so I think the-- when you distinguish, you have also these transnational ties and-- something that is not elaborated on all that much even within European countries, some of these transnational ties are more and more numerous. And so whom do you address and where do you situate yourself [INAUDIBLE]?
The other thing that I think about that's interesting is that with the global age, you have author return to the local. And that's really interesting. I mean, all returns local. Technologies even them, and that's not in my paper here. But there is that return to the local at the same time that everything is so for the global.
SPEAKER 6: [SPEAKING FRENCH]
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Flow of digital images, flow of capital, flow of people. Through a reading of Etienne Balibar and others, Conley discussed the lasting impact of population movement on the nation-state, subjectivity and citizenship, on a discipline that is, in fact, tributary to the imagination of fluvial passage: French and francophone literature and culture.
Verena Conley (Senior Scholar in Residence, Society for the Humanities at Cornell and Professor of Comparative Literature and Romance Languages and Literatures, Harvard University) has written on feminism, technologies, and the environment in post-structuralist theory and the transformations of space in contemporary French culture. Her books include "Hélène Cixous: Writing the feminine;" "Ecopolitics," "Rethinking Technologies."
Conley presented her paper on Nov. 12, 2008 in the A.D. White House.