Photo © Renaud Camus
Photo © Renaud Camus
Photo © Renaud Camus
Photo © Renaud Camus
Photo © Renaud Camus
Photo © Renaud Camus
Photo © Renaud Camus
Photo © Renaud Camus
Photo © Renaud Camus
Photo © Renaud Camus
Photo © Renaud Camus
Photo © Renaud Camus
Photo © Renaud Camus
Photo © Renaud Camus
Photo © Renaud Camus
Photo © Renaud Camus
Photo © Renaud Camus
Photo © Renaud Camus
Photo © Renaud Camus
Photo © Renaud Camus


Paru dans Contemporary French and Francophone Studies
Date Juin 2004
Titre Americans go home – which is more american, Paris-Texas or Paris-France?
Auteur Adrian Rifkin
   Vol. 8, No. 3 Summer 2004, pp. 259–272
ISSN 1740-9292 print/ISSN 1477-2876
Adrian Rifkin is a professor of visual culture at Middlesex University, United Kingdom, and author of Ingres Then, and Now (Routledge, 2000), as well as Street Noises: Parisian Pleasure 1900 –1940 (Manchester University Press, 1993), and has recently published “Waiting and Seeing” in The Journal of Visual Culture 2:3 (December 2003) and “Sexual Anaphora” in Umbr(a), A Journal of the Unconscious 3 (2002).

Americans go home – which is more american, Paris-Texas or Paris-France?

This paper dwells on the relation between an unsatisfactory and inappropriate word, american, and an inadequate word, Paris. If I spell american with a lower case, this is not to universalize it, but rather to reduce its dramatic effect. It refers to something from “over there,” which was of course the title of a First World War song about going to Europe, but which comes to Europe and takes it away again in a circle of exchange that has political, economic, and moral consequences. Paris is an inadequate word to denote the variety of discourses and affects to which the city it names has given rise, so that it, the city or the word, lures people into a life that they find it wants them to live. Neither Walter Benjamin in the 1920s and 1930s nor Ned Rorem twenty years later intended to stay more than a few months. Yet both stayed for years – finding in Paris an adequacy that today it has taken on anew, despite its extreme modernizing, only because in american it has once again become “old Europe.” [1] Incidentally, the word home is struck through, other than where cited, because of its proximity to the intolerable concept of the “nation.”
If you want to take sides, or maybe you have to take sides between different versions of Europe, perhaps between an old one and a new one, it’s a difficult thing to do. Old Europe is not terribly appealing, with its perfume of putrefied colonialisms that won’t fade away – even in the odor of postcolonial magnanimity; its delusions of national glories ripped from an unjust history and their concomitant guilt; its ethical subject often shakily constructed on the ruins of quite recent fascist dictatorships and their preceding Enlightenment. [2]
Some of “old Europe” ’s appeal, as we know so well, is an effect of the dissatisfaction felt with their apparent history-lessness on the part of North Americans, their desire to look elsewhere than in their destruction of the first cultures of their continent – which rhymes oddly with the translation of Fenimore Cooper, all the rage in Paris during the 1820s and foundational for the European detective philosophy of the clue. Or it speaks to the ambivalent memories and equivocal nostalgias of European refugees and migrants in the USA, searching for the before of their exile and the signs of its menace. And the current meaning of a new Europe is, for a reactionary US administration, nothing more or less than the reduction of this palimpsest of effects to the figure for an uncritical and slavish concordance of military interests, through which certain phenomena such as “postcommunism” or right-wing “socialism” come to be seen as an instrumental newness. This entails a certain merging of what is and isn’t american, a blurring that, for example, makes Prime Minster Blair more like President Bush than Harold Wilson was ever like L. B. Johnson – although if France is still “old,” it’s probably rather because President Chirac remains closer to Nixon-the-peacemaker and crook than because he refused to join the war in Iraq. Old France, of the left and right alike, with all its nostalgia for an essential and pure Republican authority, now rips aside the veil of alterity to find in the other’s face the image of its own myopia. The mystery will remain, however: what was there before the unveiling can no longer be told, has no space to voice itself in this story of equality, fraternity, and so on.
What is it today to be told “yankees go home”? What is it, in a time of globalized cultures and crumbling and thankfully violated boundaries, for an enunciation to occur of the order of “moi français(e),” “toi yankee,” a proper enunciation in the manner of Benveniste, in which the terms hold even at the infinitesimal moment of enunciation so that one knows that is that, just that, French and American? Maybe no more than a moment in which one inhabits the culture industries in one way rather than another – rap, techno, hip hop, rai, and even chanson française – and by this token hardly belonging to nation at all: unhomely, homeless music.
In a collection of essays entitled Settling the Score, the now eighty-year-old American composer Ned Rorem recalls one of his many conversations with Francis Poulenc in the early 1950s. [3] He shows Poulenc some settings he has done of poems by Ronsard. Rorem is then a young American musician on the make in Paris, a protégé of Nadia Boulanger and well enough connected to lodge in the hotel of Marie-Laure de Noailles, with whom he entertains a close and somewhat violent relationship. It was a social relationship, I hasten to say, as I am not sure that I would set out from Rorem here were he not gay, and not only gay, but a major chronicler of gay life before the concept of “being out” had a name. It is through a thoroughly gay episteme, an outlook that seems terribly lucid, insouciant, and calm by the side of Genet’s grim onto-homosexuality, that he writes the liaisons and the de-liaisons between his being-american and his being-in-Paris. Sometimes his insights have the quality of a necessary banality, accepting stereotypes and feeling from or through them as he works his way from one man to another.
So what is deposited from his life in his diaries and other memoirs is a fleeting image of something that, in Jean Genet or André du Dognon, would be a whole novel – in the mode of a high tragic and Catholic abjection that, no doubt, Rorem is happy to sample in his tricks as something that France has to offer – an Algerian quickie in the Harp Street (in american in the text), or in a cage d’escalier in a smarter area. Rather like Klaus Mann in Amsterdam after his exile from Germany at the time of Hitler, Rorem reveals the social workings of a city as an afterthought, as a residue in an account of the quotidian and in a narcissistic reflection on his own artistic progress that is already musically French, and French in desire as well. In the mirror space of Paris he sees himself from both sides at once.
Life in Paris is a dream, as much as was to be the painter Gerry’s life in Minelli’s An American in Paris. Rorem has the high life and the low life, a certain experience of Greenwich Village, I suspect, originally out of Parker Tyler, but in French. This is no bad thing, not only because it is two things, but because in their enunciation, in the word, the musical note, the sex-act, they merge and emerge at the same time. Rorem reflects, “were Jimmy Baldwin’s roots really in Paris or were mine for that matter, rather than in Dakar or Oslo? Yes; artistically; although his beloved Gide was filtered through Harlem while my Gide grew up in Chicago’s Hyde Park….” [4]
And if Rorem goes a little deeper into that space than Gerry/Gene Kelly in Minelli’s film, it is not because Minelli is any less aware of the fiction and its uses; on the contrary, he is in some ways, especially in the opening fifteen minutes of the film with its insistent use of reverse shots and perverse reflections, even more acutely conscious of the returning and warping gaze, of oneself from almost behind the gaze, and shot by shot he keeps this on the surface of the film. Rorem deepens the fiction in a different practice of his art as well as of sexual difference. One night, “On the Boulevard des Batignolles on Sunday night,” Rorem notes, “was a bicyclist who (walking) turned three times to look at me then vanished. For my part this was a love I will never forget. Unhad love is sweeter.” [5] This could be any city, but the observation is apt in a one that so emphasizes possession in its sexual imago. Lack is sweeter…or even the condition of love.
On another night he records the Capital’s response to the execution of the Rosenbergs, a city in turmoil, slogans and graffiti everywhere, Americans go home… He doesn’t hear it as addressed to him, who lives chez Noailles: “I went to France because I was already French, not the other way round. It is not the going home (though we may never have been “home” before) that makes homebodies of us; we are homebodies so we go home.” [6]
Anyway, Poulenc warns Rorem about getting too involved in the setting of French poetry – reminding him that they, the French, do it perfectly well. Rorem, as an American, is very much a voice for a complex French melodic modernism as a valid contemporary mode of composition to set against serial, electronic or noise-driven modernisms, and part of his response to Poulenc, out of the respect inherent in the musical choices he has thus made, is to take his point and to get on with some Whitman settings instead.
This is a preoccupation: how to make two things work so as to reveal each other, a process of hybridizing that is and is not identical with imperialism and not unlike the problem of francophonie itself, and its displacement of supposedly national characteristics, histories, or other collections of symptoms into each other’s production of the word – unlike the Gershwin of An American in Paris, a score that seems to be simply an imperial self-idealizing that renders the film’s potential subtleties into something less than they might have been.
One thing that interests Rorem here and in his other writing and listening, and that, I think, is not far removed from his sexual exploration of men and mores, is the notion of a singing mother-tongue, and its attendant problem of what it means if one has failed to acquire one’s “own.” So many american singers never learn to sing american, but perfect their French or German accents to sing unaccented. (As it happens this very postwar period is legion with exquisite american sopranos and mezzos who specialize in Duparc, Canteloube, and Hahn – Gladys Swarthout and Nan Merriman for example. And these women, with their exquisite pronunciation of the final “e” and subtly breathed liaisons might be heading for Alice Kaplan’s French Lessons, well avant la lettre…) Rorem’s thinking about his work raises the question of when in a process is something a gesture of effacement or the dissolution of a boundary. His own americanness is sublimated in a musical style that prefers the modernism of Les Six to the sonic world of Cage, the American avant-garde and its French version in the figure of the young Pierre Boulez.
Go home! Twice it is told him, in different ways, once by the Rosenberg demonstrators, once by Poulenc’s considerate advice; but sexually, socially, and musically he stays, if ever he left home for, as we have seen, he was French before ever he went to France.
This is a beginning of some kind, for a topology of something French and something american that is not a rerun of Jamesian endlessness or the jeremiad of americanization.
But if what I had wanted to do in this paper was to enable myself to find a way of continuing to talk about Paris, then it was to disclose and to connect some points of departure that would enable a fresh figure of the City to emerge from the ruins of historical tedium. A tedium, from which Rorem is epiphanically free, induced by the hypertrophy and inappropriate universalizing of the concept of the Haussmanian, on the one hand, and the Benjamin industries on the other, brought together with the gross inadequacy of contemporary Paris to sustain the demands of such a conceptual framing.
The former tendency, through the over determined and powerfully mythic positioning of Paris as an ur-site of modernity is already, from the middle of nineteenth century, or from Edgar Allen Poe himself, and the impact of Fenimore Cooper on the French detective feuilleton, an americanization of kinds. And if in its most general outcome as a unique model for and perspective on the modern city, it has tended to denature the particularity of many other, different processes of modernity (almost any city from Africa to North America can get to be haussmanized if it has as much as one big avenue driven through the slums or ceremonial way), then its overcoming, through postmodern and postcolonial studies – that is, the attention paid to so many complex models of transformation, their time scales, their symbolic elaboration, their appropriations and mis-identifications – is bound to leave Paris as if without its historiographical value. That is indeed its capital value, its nightmare of (being a) dead capital. We can at last look at Paris quite coldly, as no longer a model for very much at all, but rather the figure of a series of projections and radical misrecognitions, americanisms, that have made a kind of world culture out of it, a culture that has anyway been disrupted or lost its relation to the object.
In this event the Benjamin industries take on their profile and we begin to get some sense of the way in which the estrangements and homeliness of Ned and Gerry have become, in our own time, syllabus. If we turn Paris against this anglo-americanization of education and its theoretical models that have been distilled out of historical figuring, once more it will disappear. At least it will be swallowed down into the monstrosity that is the definition of a national capital anywhere today (Dakar, Oslo). But the particularity of Paris’s monstrosity will hopelessly dissolve in the mystery behind the veil. What was particular to Paris was, after all, precisely this subordination, the requirement to be a model, an idéal du moi, which French political culture now in its turn looks for – and for which it finds no other space than the obscure face of another, difficult other who must in turn be made to look like this projection. The culture industries’ version of this desire turns out to be the kitsch of a film like Amélie or Tavernier’s Zone Libre (both subsidized, in the French manner, to be French) where at least the tiresome present can be in its turn effaced by its technological capacity to fake itself as if it were only hollywoodian.
Of course, there is something in Benjamin’s work that invites this projection that turns Paris into a monster, or enfolds it. Maybe we can see this better if we remember Adorno’s warning about the significance of his project as philosophy. It is on this terrain of the paris-ness of the arcades project and its endless archives that studies of the flâneur, for example, the rethinking of the flâneur as gendered and so forth, push their shoots and turn into a jungle of syllabus, in which Turin or Manchester or the colonial erection and then devastation of some non-western city can never be as important as Paris for the concept of modernity. So while the oddity of the Passagen Werk as a text about a city remains to be resolved, this remaining is a process of re-viewing Paris as a theoretical object sometimes at odds both with its own histories and their fragile virtuality, as well as with their necessary undoing.
I tried to come to grips with this some time ago in an article addressed to the odd question of why Benjamin never talks properly about Zola – but to no more effect, I think, than Susan Buck-Morss’s salutary warnings concerning Benjamin’s own evolving pessimism in regard to the figure of the flâneur. [7] The Benjamin industries are no Penelope! What they weave is exponential. [8] Nonetheless, maybe the fact that a whole new generation of scholars will work in the new national library, at Tolbiac, and never walk out into the historic environment of Benjamin’s thinking will come to have its impact; and then either the Arcades will be forgotten, enabling the Passagen Werk to achieve its purely theoretical effect. Or the power of syllabus will anyway be such that the Arcades entirely overwhelm the philosophy as the only plenum of Benjamin’s meaning, as one now has to rediscover them from the Mall at Tolbiac. The academic will become even more like an american tourist.
In relation to all of this, then, Paris today is unworthy in the way that objects may come to fall short of a theory that embraces them: rather pokey, provincial, and dreadfully subdued by tourism, as well as by well-meaning gestures of appeasement like the summertime beach along the quais: it consoles a little for the spread of those general processes of sameness that are the mark of urban social change the world over, like the wall of glass from Jean Nouvel’s Institut du Monde Arabe down to Tolbiac. Or, at a more vernacular level, it is bullied by redundant detailing, like the decorative gateways added to the old street markets – superfluous denoting of what is already named and known, phatic rituals of pleonasmic recognition. One dreams instead a sign that finally proclaims “ceci n’est pas le marché Montorgueil/Daguerre/Duhesme,” although here the risk is one of faking nostalgia itself. I feel no nostalgia for the Arcades prior to their refiguring as a stock-in-trade of cultural studies: none at all, although I must have enjoyed wandering through them before they had become as cluttered with endless little redundancies of theoretical overproduction as they had once been cluttered bits and pieces of the marvellous as in Aragon’s submarine vision of Le paysan de Paris. If anything their current buzz and clientele have probably made the Arcades more like what they were in 1830 than what they had become in 1962: that is, thoroughly frequented by a well-enough heeled middle class in search of ornaments, clothes, and food – even if one now subtracts the users of the one-time BN and extend the map to include the Passages Brady and Prado. These last have long been the terrain of an anglophone subculture closer to Brick Lane than to vieux Paris, another reminder of how the appearance of the colonial subject forces the metropolis to desert itself and become another, or die of asphyxiation. [9]
But I do miss going over there, to the first arrondissement, intending to work in the old reading room, but deciding not to work once I have arrived, and having nonetheless plenty else to do. Get to Tolbiac and decide you don’t want to work – well, you can watch any of 11 or so commercial movies and eat a prix fixe that includes a ticket to the next one; it will all be for the good of studies in contemporary cinema. If ever there were an american-type mall in Paris this is it, though the access to popcorn is pretty poor. But american it is, and as such it is the price of forgetting another american Paris, the Paris, or was it America, of Irma la douce, for example – that desperate attempt to hold the old tropes of gallantry, normative sexual adventure and the friendly flic in place. And the library itself, of which the main glory is certainly its website, is as good an example as we have of a fordist approach to the organizing of how we acquire book knowledge.
But it is working well – on my one visit to escape the 2003 summer’s unbreathable air, I bumped into four persons I had not expected to see at all in a few days’ visit to the city. Yet all of them were academics in French studies of one sort or another, also hiding out from the heat, and who would be spending plenty of the next year in the real american malls of the imperial wastelands where they work. As the continuities become more perfect, it seems worth remembering that the Arcades are not the simple origin of the mall which is their corruption, but that the fantasizing of America as a model for France and Paris has a long and honourable history, at least as old as the Arcades themselves, as we know from Tocqueville’s or Champfleury’s admiration.
How then can we be sure that the problem of americanization is an interesting one in any way? And is it not anyway permissible to think that Paris and France are so americanized in so many ways that the problem is not one of an economic process that has happened and must be regretted but rather of the means of imagining either that it has not, or that within this there is complexity of some kind? It is not to do with the number of Starbucks per square kilometre that americanizes, as in London, but with a way of putting up with things, with the weird misroutings of the concept of a nation and its politics and cultures through a map of expectations of the national.
The idea that there is something French or Parisian about the strip of vitamin shops, Chinese takeaways, minor jewelry and tat distributors, small supermarkets and cafes whose food comes from some processing plant in the suburbs, that stretches from the Place de la Concorde to Père Lachaise, down the rue de Rivoli, Saint Antoine and up the rue de La Roquette, is as about as odd as feeling that there is an essence of regional identity in the strip malls of the far north end of Chicago – even if, as Sartre’s observations on American cities so clearly show, the way in which the streets come into the world, historically, purposively and so forth, are actually profoundly different. For in the end Chiracian city planning and its economic character, in the broader framework of Mitterrand’s monumental politic, is a norm of normalization, or rather a sub-norm of the norms already offered by Disneyland, CA or the american strip mall. Chirac will go down in history not so much as a good anti-american, but rather as a great mayor, alongside Daly of Chicago and Giuliani of New York, and for much the same results. Remember that he was the first mayor since the Paris Commune – and it has been under his reign that the city has set about to complete the removal of signs of the friche from any space that can be better furnished with commercial infill or public monuments – thus irreversibly undermining the possible materiality of its historical imaginaire as a city of a certain bohemian otherness. That had been in its time one of the vectors of class difference, especially in Benjamin’s discussion of conspiracy, and in that respect of crucial importance in the knotting together of ideologies of modernity.
Two trivial things struck me in the hot summer of 2003: one was that on the Place Léon Blum, near where I live in Paris, the French fries from McDonalds are probably now slightly better than they are at the Café Rey – my main standby for goodish food, regional meat, and tra la la, where they – the fries – now definitely come as preformed pulp from the suburbs. After all, the Rey is not customer-sensitive in the same way as McDonalds, which is now committed to use products from the terroir of France, just as in England it advertises the brand of potatoes with which it makes the fries. The Rey has history on its side and now, like so many cafes that have been done up (it has the overstated and anxious newly typical décor of bookshelves and a few old novels). It successfully takes in a thirty-something public who previously spurned it, while oldies and teenagers go to cheaper McDonalds. For the Rey, its evident authenticity is its protection from attention to quality.
That struck me, as did the phenomenon that McDonalds’s great critic and some time hero for the techno movement, José Bové, had the temerity to pronounce against the Teknival, a form of worldification that has been around at least as long as anti-mondialisation itself and for which the peasant leader has as much feeling as did Jesse Helms for Robert Mapplethorpe. At a certain point, however, the organizers of the main techno festival, the Teknival tried to set themselves at his service and in support of his rights. It is one thing to stone McDonalds – without for all that being anti-american as Bové once insisted – and I am constantly surprised that it doesn’t happen more frequently; it is another to throw brickbats at techno because it and its people might pollute your sacred land of protest in the Larzac, if you see it mainly as a source of litter, with all its american horror of fast food and cheap snacks. For there is something very american about this adoption of a posture resembling the frontier farmer, or a figure from Andrew Wyeth, that amercanizes just a little, and just here, the very core of the politics of antiglobalization. Of course, any self-assured and committed teufer (slang for a festival goer) likewise denounced that summer’s Teknival as ferociously and in much the same terms as Bové has treated the Big Mac, taking it to account for its excessive massification and its consequent subjection to a centralized, panoptical control. Bové and Techno touch each other for a moment: the Teknival supported the peasant leader in his struggles but split finally because they were too unclean in the wrong way.
But, alas, that is neither here nor there. Techno is neither regional nor regionalist, as befits a dominant form of the entertainment industry, but its enactment or execution is a sum of multiple particularities that are both necessarily local and a questioning of the very concept of the local. In a summer number of Libération an ex-teufer lamented the decline of the techno party, of what had been festivals “qui ont défriché les espaces de liberté qu’on arrivait à voler à la société du spectacle…” (“which cleared free spaces that were being stolen from the ‘society of spectacle’ ”). In this light, we begin to see Bové and his allies, who wanted above all for the festival to be put on arid land – finally on an unfinished highway – as part of a process for the regularizing and control of a once romantic and radical gesture of the fugitive implantation of an essentially and deeply urban music in the countryside: in effect, a force in the process of rendering it even more fully commercial and within the bounds of civil and economic laws. If there is, or was, something Detroit, or London, or Parisian about this music, it was not just in the definition of an urban-national mode as in its displacement from the need for precisely such a definition, its constitution as a moment of movement, as being nomad, if you like, as the extraterritorial. The techno culture of a capital city needs not just its huge parades as in Berlin, but the projection into the countryside as an actually performed image of its specific liberties on the screen of the countryside as other. In this sense, the techno festival is a figure for the renewal of an urban imaginaire as the historical condition for the very survival of the countryside, but in the particularized performances of a world entertainment industry that is not going to go away – at least not under conditions that we would recognize as economically, aesthetically, or socially viable.
It is important to note, in this respect, how much the intellectual energy of Parisian life is, in recent years, driven through the pages of youth and music culture magazines like Inrockuptibles, Technikart or Nova as well as the more old-fashioned bohemian Vacarme, rather than through a forum such as La Quinzaine Littéraire, Lignes, or Débat. Likewise, it is important to note how this shift has resulted in a conscious gendering and ethnicizing of the mainstream, and in a consciousness of all kinds of other differences at the quotidian level of the text that the higher echelons of Parisian intellectual life are far from even perceiving. [10] This brings the intellectual habitus into a configuration more like that of the anglo-american in terms of its preoccupations and innervations, but without which the specificity of a contemporary Parisian intellectual formation would be seen as little more than that of its well-established entropies. So it is in the procedures, affects, and social differences of Rai, Techno, Rap, and other immigrant musical forms, which also have their own nomadic histories, that a crucial refiguring of the city, and by synechdoche, of the country can occur in the very questioning of their particular value. The inheritor of Rorem’s concern with the singing voice is not so much a contemporary Poulenc or the musicians of IRCAM, but a rap group like TTC, which precisely twines together sounds and musical phonemes that otherwise would never have met up.
If the conceptual world of the peasant leader has no horizon around this form of the present and the future, which is a proper space for the enunciation of differences and the temporary anchoring of subjects in a world system, then it participates in another world altogether; that of an isolation, for which the word america is paradigmatic. Ironically, as I have insisted, americanization may proceed as a morale, as a political economy of thinking; its limits and its inertial yet aggressive ethnocentrism reproduce themselves like an invading capital.
But to loop back to enrich this irony yet further, let us note that Bové is joined in his countryside by none other than Renaud Camus at his chateau in the Gers. From here the sometime master of the night-time paths of gay Paris holds court to a high culture in the old mode and conducts the affairs of his reactionary, anti-immigration political party, In-nocence. Home, we can say, is in the countryside and in an international culture carefully restored to the purity of its national components. He is embroiled in the affair Camus, in which he is accused of anti-Semitism, something largely a function of his assertion, in his diaries and other writings, of a neo-Drumontian notion of Frenchness that will enter into a cosmopolitan relation with other cultures only on this basis, where the national is somehow fantasized as free from its accretions.
Thus, Camus has migrated from the terrain of a wholly new, post-Barthesian grammar of gay experience to the fusty stupidity of a regional discourse of vulgar cultural elitism, exclusion and racial purity in which the gay, as with Pym Fortuyn, becomes the opportunistic ally of an old and incompetent republicanism that is also an old imperial mentality. The only place in Paris for Camus now, as he recognizes, would be in the Académie, which has not as yet opened its doors to him, though he got eight votes last time he came up for consideration. To say that Camus was ever of a progressive turn of mind would be an error, but even as he smells of old Europe, its separation from america seems like a fake, the faking of a home.
The figure that Camus fashions for us over so many thousands of pages is theoretical – the subject that escapes its own pleasure that escapes its own subjecthood in a round of elegantly figured jouissance, Its absence, if you like, is only in the text, in the way that text works; the cumshot is a phrase, not an epiphany, in its uncomplicated presentness and its iteration in which the next is the immanent substitute for the now. In this way, as I have argued elsewhere, Camus was able to reverse the traditional tonalities of the map of “homosexual” Paris from the dark, tormented sounding of the abject and abjected subject, with all its specific and wonderful and outmoded pleasures in the manner of Genet, to something transparent, quotidian, but utterly nonepiphanic and resembling the bright light of american outness foretold by Rorem.
Tricks was on a different scale from New York or San Franciscan gay writing because its grammatical involutions and suspenses and the syntax of the Parisian street or bar or cruising ground met in a way that marked desire differently from, let us say, the missed heartbeats of Andrew Holleran’s New York or the american Jewishness of a Lev Raphael. Its americanism was to be more out than out, but to conceal this improbable parisianism in post-Barthesian writing – or, should I say, in Barthesian writing of a genre that he, Camus, invented and that resembles a techno-enunciation. But if we are to think of the city as entering writing at different historical moments, and if we are to track the poetics and the sexual politics of just gay writing from Gide to Camus, we can see the multiplicity of thinking the figure of the city through the modes of representing its sexualities. And we can see the way in which it, the city, comes to be seen on account of them and as one of their effects. As with Rorem, this may never have to do with that place as nation or as home.
That is not a new thing to say, I know, but I want to repeat it, for it remains a proposition of some power and of some perversity. This form of visibility – of the figuring of a city through this set of ideas and affects – this particular form of allegory may be fixed: for example, by a force that requires it to be available as the confirmation of a subjecthood. Obviously, in the fifteen to twenty years following the war, it is what makes Paris visible in the work of Minelli, which very rapidly adapts even the nuances of social change to its historically normative form of narrative or allegory and re-emerges as even more fetishistically fixated in, let us say, Irma la douce. Old Europe is anyway a function of this america.
Camus, then, knows that as a literary form his Paris is lost to him and he to it: in his diary for the year 2000, entitled K310, he notes a report given to him of a meeting at the bookshop Mots à la Bouche, at which Guillaume Dustan has been speaking of his collection Rayon Gai (published with Balland – now discontinued for better or for worse):
Au cours du débat qui a suivi, quelqu’un dans la salle a demandé à Dustan s’il publierait, éventuellement, un livre de Camus… Certainement pas!! A répondu Dustan, Camus c’est bon jusqu’à 82-83. Tricks très bien, Journal d’un voyage en France, c’est déjà plus tout à fait ça. Après c’est de la littérature bourgeoise, ce culte des valeurs bourgeoises. Plus de sexe. Ça m’intéresse pas.
(During the discussion that followed, someone in the audience asked Dustan if he would consider publishing one of Camus’s books…Certainly not! Dustan replied. Camus was good until ‘82 or ‘83. Tricks, good, diary of a journey in France, already it is no longer completely that. Later it’s bourgeois literature, this cult of bourgeois values. No more sex. That doesn’t interest me.) [11]
Camus notes this, that no one objects to the outrage, and then goes on to an elegiac critique of the decline of culture into cultures, music into musics: everything we, in the anglo-american university, know as cultural studies and that we celebrate as progress. (Look, for example, at Didier Eribon’s heroic attempt to place French gay studies within the field of a theory of subculture – something that I think we now find to be mechanistic and inappropriate for a discourse on diversity.) Dustan’s and Camus’s Paris inevitably come to diverge through the commercial developments of gay culture and social life over the twenty years that mark the time between the beginnings of their literary career, as well as the dramatic passage through the onset and assimilation of AIDS – another process that was quite different in Paris than it was, say, in London or New York.
Thus, the emergence of Dustan, not from the literary left, so to speak, but from the sexual techno-left, as much as a reporter/opinionmaker in a free scene and sex guide em@le is from a complex and introverted spatial structure of a fully developed gay economy – in all senses of that word too – the Freudian and the Marxian, whose margins are generated from within its drives and mechanisms rather than from the position of an overall social or literary marginality. Neither a secret enclave as in the old days of Arcadie, nor a voice from critical distance, however out, from Hocquenghem to Camus, the contemporary enclave of gaietude is itself a central spectacle of a spectacular society, and in this way Paris is no more or less of a holiday-style choice than any other major city in Europe.
In this the literary figure of a Dustan can be located quite directly as a figure for a style – of sexual performance and its appropriate prosody. Dustan proclaims this to be that of the “greatest living writer”, Brett Easton Ellis, whose grammatical and figural savagery he translates, via Sarraute, into the wholly unamerican activity of total, bareback sexual freedom – a kind of sexual equivalent of slow food in its reversion to nature, or, rather, to the second nature of urban anarchy. Here again we have a view of the city that interweaves different possible structures for the subject, which is clearly articulated through a network of ideas, which in a sense belong somewhere else, or here, in Paris, at the risk of disfiguring them, appropriating them and also of transforming the image of the city. [12]
In trying to point to this enunciative, textual notion of a relation between cultures, which finds itself best figured in the international culture industries themselves, typified by rap or techno, that are an extreme form of their diffusion, and in underlining the multiplicity of subject forms that traverses them, I hope only to have drawn one form of attention to the faded quality of the terms of our discussion: France, america, and so on. France or French and america or american in my suggested topology are neither adequate spaces of enunciation, proper grounds for the emergence of a contemporary political, aesthetic, or moral subject, and discussion surrounding their degree of each-otherness tends itself to nostalgia for yet another lost time that never was. In that sense, we may as well all have long ago gone home.


[1] I too have stayed with Paris far too long, and while I would like to thank Keith Reader for inviting me to give this paper at the conference “Parisian Topographies” held at the University of Glasgow in July 2003, I hope that it will be the very last of its kind for me.
[2] It is worth remembering that if the USA always rather liked European fascist generals in either Greece or Spain, some, like Salazar in Portugal, resisted Coca Cola, while the merely Gaullist Charles de Gaulle really sent the Americans packing.
[3] Ned Rorem, The Paris and New York Diaries (San Franciso: North Point Books, 1983); and Settling the Score, Essays on Music (New York: Anchor Books, 1985).
[4] Ned Rorem, Knowing When to Stop, A Memoir (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994) 396.
[5] Rorem, The Paris and New York Diaries, 91.
[6] Rorem, Knowing When to Stop, 382.
[7] My article, Total Ellipsis, first published in parallax 2 (1995), is now available as a PDF file on my website, See Susan Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing, Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project (Cambridge: MIT, 1989) 304 ff. See also Black, Blanc, Beur: Rap Music and Hip-Hop Culture in the Francophone World edited by Alain-Philippe Durand (New York 2003).
[8] “More books on Benjamin and still the pile grows…Benjamin’s prose breeds commentary like vaccine in a lab.” Peter Osborne, quoted as the incipit to de-, dis-, ex-. The Optic of Walter Benjamin, ed. Alex Coles, number 3, Black Dog, London, 1999, (unpaginated).
[9] Now the set of a trendy film set in Indian Paris, but for the international interest in this area, see
[10] The literature on Techno and Rap in these journals is immense, as it has become in mainstream newpapers as well. In Le Monde or Libération they are totally normal, without for that matter appearing to bring about any change in concepts of the national, the ethnic, gender or whatever. For TTC, hear Ceci N’est Pas Un Disque, Big Dada Disques, 2003.
[11] Renaud Camus, K310 (Paris: 2000) 289.
[12] For Dustan see an entretien at; and for typical writing see either Plus fort que moi (Paris: POL, 1998) and Dans ma chambre (Paris: POL, 1999) or Génie Divin, Paris: Le Rayon, Balland, 2001).
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