Re-charting French space : transnationalism, travel and identity from the postcolonial banlieue to post-Wall Europe

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Gott, Michael Robert

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Contemporary French identity issues are often conceived spatially in popular imagination and political discourse. France and French identity have been mapped into a series of imagined exclusionary spaces through media representations and political rhetoric. This dissertation argues that artists in the fields of film, rap music and fiction are actively yet often indirectly intervening in French identity debates by reframing the question of “integration” and by demonstrating that not only can one be simultaneously French and “other,” but that French identity is always already more complex and transnational than prevailing discourses of “imagined” identity will admit. This is done most effectively, I contend, by avoiding the clichéd and reductive spaces and spatial categories that inflect the debate. The works I examine employ travel and motion to move beyond the discursive ghettos such as beur or banlieue cinema or “minority” music and fiction. While often less overtly political these responses are more effective than the more typical banlieue narrative of clash and confrontation with power. Taking examples from cinema, I argue that the road movies I address are effective weapons of the weak precisely because they avoid the traps inherent in representing the banlieue. My analysis demonstrates that the discursive ghetto is not always a bad thing for a filmmaker because referring to representational stereotypes can open the possibility of more readily “trapping” the viewer and therefore forcing him/her to actively participate in the process of decoding the author’s positioning. Often works attempting to contest spatial exclusion run the risk of simply falling into entrenched binary conceptions of society, reinforcing what the viewer already thinks they know about life in the suburbs or as a minority in general. Looking beyond cinema to music and literature, I demonstrate how artists are mobilizing narrative of space and identity to re-chart France with “hyphenated” perspectives, from African and Algerian to Portuguese and Pied-noir.



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