Post-Colonial Paris: Fictions of Intimacy in the City of Light, a new book by today’s guest blogger Laila Amine, is published this week in the series Africa and the Diaspora: History, Politics, Culture.
When I meet new people and they hear my French accent, the conversation often veers to Paris, its beauty, its rich culture, or to the dream of one day visiting the City of Light. Their fantasy of Paris (and France more broadly) and my experiences as a child of North African immigrants in government subsidized housing could not be more different. In the cultural imaginary of Paris, there is little room for the working class multi-racial outskirts, unless the subject is Islamic culture and the subjection of women and queer subjects.
The Paris imagined in Maghrebi, African American and French immigrant cultures was both invisible in the scholarship and hypervisible as the “Badlands of the Republic” in French mainstream media. Like the city of the Francophile tourists, this other Paris is largely an imagined territory, albeit associated with crime, unbridled patriarchy, and violence.
Un-shackling the sensational and the Paris outskirts, this book chronicles everyday life in the impoverished sectors of the French capital in various contexts and cultural traditions. We find versions of Postcolonial Paris in post-World War II Maghrebi and African American expatriate fiction, 1980s beur fiction and cinema, and contemporary French immigrant cultures. Together, works by Driss Chraïbi, Mehdi Charef, William Gardner Smith, Faïza Guène, J.R., and Princess Hijab register the shifting politics and grammars of race in a nation where it does not appear on the census and where the public overwhelmingly condemns it as an Anglo-Saxon importation.
Spanning 1955 to 2015, authors of African descent have pondered the French tyranny of universalism and interrogated the myth of Paris as a space of liberation for the African diaspora. Some of the most well-known Francophiles, such as James Baldwin, also wrote about a French capital marred by colonial exclusion. By desegregating the cultural study of Paris to include its impoverished outskirts, the book reveals that writers and filmmakers have deployed Franco-African intimate encounters to articulate the political exclusion of racialized subjects. In the colonial and contemporary eras, their narratives of intimacy can help us better understand the ways in which gender and sexual difference work(ed) to construct, maintain, or challenge racial boundaries.
Postcolonial Paris would not have been possible without the numerous scholars of Postcolonial French Studies, Paris Noir, and Black Europe who paved the way, including Sylvie Durmelat, Anne Donadey, Nacira Guénif-Souillamas, Trica Keaton, Alec Hargreaves, Jarrod Hayes, Michel Laronde, Neil MacMaster, Adlai Murdoch, Mireille Rosello, Paul Silverstein, Tyler Stovall, and Benjamin Stora.
is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She was born and grew up in France.