Volume 2, Issue 2, November 2011
Midnight in Paris
The American love story with Paris, rudely interrupted by the “Liberty Fries” episode, has recently revived with a vengeance in the form of memoirs, scholarly analyses, and a string of “chick-lit” romances. It is our great luck that Woody Allen has chosen to ride the crest of this wave with a fond look at the city and the days when Americans came in droves to fulfill their artistic dreams. Although the phenomenon is two-centuries’ old, the Lost Generation remains its most powerful embodiment : the huge success of the exhibition of the Stein family as art collectors [shown in San Francisco, Paris, and New York] being yet additional proof. In managing to bring this particular moment of the past and present together in so entertaining a fashion, Woody Allen has offered those of us who teach the history of Paris on North American campuses a great vehicle for discussion, as Jeff Jackson demonstrates. Anyone who presumes that the myth of Paris as a Bohemian haven for writers is dead and gone might take a look at Douglas Kennedy’s The Woman from the Fifth, “soon to be a major motion picture,” which offers a less rosy version of the transplantation. The fascination, one should note, is mutual, and the French remain as mesmerized by Manhattan as Americans by the City of Lights.
To read the review…
To The Hermitage
Cross-cultural encounters permeate this issue, although by accident rather than conscious decision. In To the Hermitage Malcolm Bradbury weaves parallel stories of the voyage to Saint Petersburg of an English novelist in 1993 and Denis Diderot’s visit to Catherine the Great in 1773. The juxtaposition allows Bradbury to address both the Enlightenment and its critics and, as Kent Wright argues in his illuminating review, to offer his own rejoinder. He was not alone, moreover, in believing that fiction offered the best vehicle for a sympathetic rendering of the Enlightenment. The novel combines tongue-in-cheek pastiche of academic wrangles and eighteenth-century literature with realistic narrative, and can therefore be read (and hence taught) on multiple levels. Like David Lodge, Bradbury brings to his romps a profound literary knowledge and his novel is as good a guide as any to the literary currents of the late twentieth century. One might hesitate to assign Patrick Suskind’s Perfume or Andrew Miller’s Pure, despite their vivid recreations of eighteenth-century Paris, when one can have students read Diderot, Mercier, or Marivaux, but To the Hermitage does something more. Unlike Woody Allen who, in juxtaposing two eras, asks that we distance ourselves from an imaginary past, Bradbury uses the juxtaposition to bring us into the past.
To read the review…
Breathless and Cléo de 5 à 7
France and America are featured once more in Patrick Young and Rebecca Pulju’s examination of post-war consumer culture through the classic New Wave films Breathless and Cléo de 5 à 7. The cultural changes that accompanied the French economic miracle fascinated and worried observers who depicted a young generation adrift amidst the plenty. Godard’s film offered an homage to American cinema, but, as Patrick Young observes, by framing it within French existential philosophy, it invented a powerful new genre. Both Breathless and Cléo de 5 à 7 tie the new consumerism to an inner emptiness and narcissism. Characters roam about unmoored, seeking to affirm their existence through appearance, seeking their reflection in mirrors. The more optimistic of the two, Agnès Varda suggests that an inner self remains locked within and that women can recover it by breaking free from the temptations and demands of the market. The films therefore provide fodder for discussions of French post-war prosperity against the backdrop of the Cold War and Algerian War, gender, consumerism, and selfhood.
To read the review…
Liana Vardi, University of Buffalo