"Une littérature compliquée": (Re)Writing the Margin in Contemporary France

Cordova, Kelley, French - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Blatt, Ari, Department of French, University of Virginia

This dissertation considers a preoccupation with the margin in current French literary production to assert that a number of its texts mobilize practices gleaned from the social sciences to ask how the deep-seated center/margin binary influences what we know of France, and shapes the experience of living there today. From historiographical inquiry into the obfuscated Harki figure in Alice Zeniter’s L’Art de perdre (2016), to the location and critique of administrative and discursive hierarchies oppressing the “migrant” population in Natalie Quintane’s Un œil en moins (2018) and Les Enfants vont bien (2019), to investigations into housing-related disparities in Paris provoked by urban planning initiatives in Joy Sorman’s L’Inhabitable (2011, 2016), I forward that in an increasingly diverse France where debates on identity and belonging abound, such texts strive to reinvent how we speak of and write the marginalized. Emphasizing the empirical prowess of these works in examining political and social tensions of national and international significance, current scholarship contemplates how the book might become a locus of healing, restitution, and space of belonging. However, if the texts in question call for a timely reconnection to Others, forgotten territories, and even ourselves, I argue that their investigations are models of “complication,” or the combined efforts of research, analysis and problematization that enrich how it is that we interact with and in our shared globe. Deploying complication as a lens through which to subvert engrained belief systems and hegemonic discourse in which the marginalized are at stake, the works of my corpus textually introduce complex and often conflictual narratives, compound methodologies, a myriad of resources, and hybrid forms to rethink, and I argue rewrite the margin. This includes the very binary distinguishing margin from center, and its concomitant discriminations related to race, origin, gender, religion, and social class, among other identity-related factors. Individual chapters examine the layers of complication these interdisciplinary texts inscribe in their narratives and suggest what their transparent use of fieldwork, statistics, biographical information, archival materials, excerpts from press articles and media outlets, and government and legal documents add to their narratives. As an emergent form of literary responsibility, complication endeavors to inclusively transform collective narratives and ways of knowing in France. Informed by scholarship in literary studies, the social sciences, ecocriticism, feminist theory, and intersectionality from the United States and the French-speaking world, my dissertation reveals that France’s “complicated literature” is of the utmost importance in a climate where Republican universalism, and indeed “Otherblindness,” have become increasingly difficult to endorse.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Contemporary French Literature, Margin, Marginalized, Harki, Migrant, Insalubrious Paris, Complication, Complicated Literature
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