Reading urban environments : French exiles in the poetry of Charles Baudelaire and ethnography of Léon-Gontran Damas
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This report examines how urban environments create a sense of exile for marginalized communities in the work of French poet Charles Baudelaire and the ethnography of French Guianese Creole writer Léon-Gontran Damas, Retour de Guyane. Through a comparative literary analysis informed by an environmental justice framework I examine how urban decay prompts the development of discourses on public health in nineteenth-century Paris and twentieth-century French Guiana. A main question I address is: How do representations of exile in French and Francophone literature indicate the process of nation-building? I foreground the discriminatory legacy of French colonialism in my analysis of Retour de Guyane to highlight how governmental neglect resulting in Guiana’s infrastructural decay constitutes an act of environmental racism and social exclusion. By using French Guiana as a case point, I illustrate examples of deliberate environmental degradation of racialized communities today in the twenty-first century and describe how Charles Baudelaire and Léon-Gontran Damas transmit the value of environmental awareness for the sake of intergenerational well-being.