Porous Cities: Affective Ambulation in Urban French Literature

Tierney, Paige, French - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Blatt, Ari, French, University of Virginia
Krueger, Cheryl, French, University of Virginia
Roger, Philippe, French, University of Virginia
Crane, Sheila, Architectural History, University of Virginia

Since the emergence of the flâneur figure in the nineteenth century, French literature has taken a particularly keen interest in the creative and enlightening potential of walking in the city, both as a practice and as subject matter. While French writers have long been attuned to the effects of the environments that they traverse, this dissertation considers how certain works of French literature published between 1960 and 2007 have portrayed urban walking as a way of exploring the porous relationship between city and ambler: that is, in moving through the city on foot, the ambler is also moved by the city. This porosity results from the urban experience being necessarily mediated by a body that feels, adjusts, and reacts moment by moment. Accordingly, this project is driven by a concern with the affective and embodied encounters that transpire as one moves through an urban environment. To historically ground my analysis of these texts, I locate the advent of the Situationist International (SI) as a point at which affective experiences of walking through the city emerge as a guiding force of urban investigation and transformation. Inspired by the SI’s critical approach to affective ambulation through the practice of dérive, I examine what happens in each text as a result of walking that takes affect into account. Unlike the Situationists, however, I propose that the literary form offers a distinct and compelling perspective on urban walking by tracing how these moving moments surface textually. Across three chapters and six texts, I examine literary representations of affective ambulation in different urban settings. I begin with the Situationist Michèle Bernstein’s two romans détournés, entitled Tous les chevaux du roi (1960) and La Nuit (1961), which offer an unconventional and relational perspective on the SI’s practice of dérive in Paris. I then turn to two texts—La Forme d’une ville (1985) by Julien Gracq and Description d’Olonne (1992) by Jean-Christophe Bailly—in which the narrators’ wanderings through their respective cities of Nantes and Olonne put forth what I see as a literary affective cartography. Finally, I examine Jean Rolin’s La Clôture (2002) and Philippe Vasset’s Un Livre blanc (2007), two recent examples of contemporary literature that incorporate affect into on-foot investigations of the Parisian periphery in order to maintain a discreet presence. In varied yet related ways, these texts center the body in motion and its affective reactions to the city as crucial to their depictions of urban experience. Read together, they show that French literature has continued to draw inspiration from peripatetic movement through the city while itself offering insight into the evolution and adaptation of this enduring practice.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
walking, affect, urban space, French literature
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