Modern Languages

Frères Ennemis – In Conversation with William Cloonan

Frères Ennemis focuses on Franco-American tensions reflected in literature. Each chapter explores the evolution/devolution of the often fraught relations between the two nations, ranging from an initial French fear of American cultural dominance to the eventual realization that France could absorb this cultural invasion into its own traditions. We caught up with author William Cloonan to discuss this recent publication.

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Firstly, could you tell us a bit about Frères Ennemis and what drew you to focus your work in this area?

I have always been intrigued by the ways the Americans and French manage to get on one another’s nerves. Loyal allies in every major conflict since the American revolution, each nation seems nevertheless  gifted in creating annoyances for the other. Sometimes the differences are silly and sometimes serious. As I studied this bizarre phenomenon in literary texts I began to understand that the tensions were more political than personal and reflected the struggle of two great powers to achieve and maintain a preeminent position on the world stage.

The cover of your book features a particularly striking display of postwar French tensions. Where does the image come from, and what is its relevance to your book?

André Fougeron painted Atlantic Civilization (1953) to illustrate French leftist concerns about the growing influence and presence of the United States in France and Europe. The topics alluded to in the painting are serious, the German rearmament, racism, the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg for spying, etc., but the figures seems caricatural, as if taken from a comic book. I felt this painting displayed both the serious and silly aspects of Franco-American relations which I wanted to discuss in my study.

In your study you introduce a concept called urban colonization. What do you mean by this expression, and how does it function thematically in Frères Ennemis?

Urban colonization is an expression I coined to describe the way a group of wealthy American expats essentially take over sections of Paris and transform them into an alternate universe which is neither France nor the United States. This is a world where the only French tolerated are either servants or nobles whose primary value is decorative. They enhance the grandeur of the Americans by being at their beck and call. While this tendency is most apparent in The Custom of the Country, it figures in every novel where the American expat community plays a role.

In your chapter on Jean Echenoz, you introduce the subject of the influx of American consumerism in postwar France. How is your treatment of this social phenomenon different from other analyses?

I argue that the disdain on the part of French intellectuals for American products, especially appliances (refrigerators, washing machines, vacuums, etc.) is greatly misplaced. As fond as the French have become of taking polls, it is a pity that grandmothers, daughters, sisters, –women in general—never seemed to have been consulted with regard to their sentiments concerning the influx of American household products. This discussion allows me also to challenge hoary concepts like “the American character,” and “France’s traditional way of life.” I argue these are largely empty phrases whose putative strength comes from their lacking any real substance.

You discuss the thematic importance of the English language in several chapters. Could you develop this idea and show how it plays an important role in several of the novels you discuss?

In my study, language is power. For the French to speak with Americans in both French and American novels, the language has to be English, and the predominant role of English reflects the growing political importance of the Unites States and the failing fortunes of France. The U.S. is the present and the future, while France is the past.

What are you working on next?

In the final chapter of my book, I point to an emerging trend in contemporary French fiction with regard to the United States. Due to a variety of social factors in both countries, among them 9/11, the election of Obama, racism in France and the rise of extreme right wing movements in the two countries, French novelists are developing a renewed curiosity about l’Amérique. Social criticism is still very much alive, but there are many fewer clichés about the States bandied about. I see this change primarily in three areas, the treatment of American movie stars and pop icons, the depiction of everyday life, and finally in the recent spate of parodies of American fiction by younger authors writing in French. This new direction in French literature will be the subject of my next book. Obviously, Trump’s effect on the image of Americans will be a crucial element in this study.

For more information on Frères Ennemis please visit our website.

 

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Modern Languages

Liverpool University Press is delighted to announce that Barbara Spackman’s book, Accidental Orientalists, received an Honourable Mention from the Modern Languages Association (MLA) as they announced the twenty-fifth Howard R. Marraro Prize.

Spackman

Barbara Spackman is a professor of Italian studies and comparative literature, and holder of the Giovanni and Ruth Elizabeth Cecchetti Chair in Italian Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. Accidental Orientalists is the first monograph in English to address Orientalism in the writings of Italian travellers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and to do against a backdrop of comparative reference to works in English and French that preceded or were contemporary to them.

Accidental Orientalists, published in July 2017, is the second title to appear in LUP’s Transnational Italian Cultures series which aims to publish works in the expanding field of postcolonial, global and transnational Italian studies, setting a new agenda for academic research on what constitutes Italian culture today.

The committee for the award said the following about Spackman’s book:

‘Barbara Spackman’s contribution to the archives of Italian and orientalist studies illuminates a heretofore little-known cluster of authors and cultural phenomena that invites us to rethink Italian modernity transhistorically. The lives of these ―accidental orientalists‖ resonate profoundly as points of departure from which to reflect on Italy’s diasporic past and evolving diasporic present and future. Accidental Orientalists: Modern Italian Travelers in Ottoman Lands has opened a new chapter in the migration and movement of Italians in the Mediterranean basin across linguistic, gender, and religious boundaries. These affective adaptations and reactions contribute to the twenty-first century cultural negotiations that inform narratives of identity, displacement, destabilization, and reconsolidation.’

Read the official press from the MLA here.

For more information on Accidental Orientalists please visit our website.
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Modern Languages

The Mauritian Novel – In Conversation with Julia Waters

In advance of the publication, Julia Waters discusses her book The Mauritian Novel, what prompted her research, and why this book is such a timely a study in the field.

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As Mauritian ecologist Vincent Florens asserts, Mauritius truly is a ‘laboratoire du monde’. With no original, in-dwelling inhabitants, Mauritius’s present-day population is made up entirely of the descendants of French colonial settlers, enslaved Africans and Malagasy, Indian indentured labourers, Chinese traders and other economic migrants from across the globe, with each successive human wave leaving its mark on the languages, cultures, customs and natural environment of this small, postcolonial ‘rainbow nation.’ On 12 March this year, Mauritius marked fifty years of independence from Great Britain, in a ceremony attended by heads of state, crowds of ordinary Mauritians – and me. Despite Mauritius’s inauspicious beginnings as an independent nation, post-colonial Mauritius has been widely praised for its ‘economic miracle’ and for the peaceful accommodation of its multi-ethnic population. Nonetheless, Mauritian literature – especially that written in the wake of the inter-ethnic ‘Kaya riots’ of 1999 – paints a rather different picture of the island-nation, marked by inequality, injustice, difference, division and violence. Given the diverse composition of Mauritius’ population (made up of Franco-Mauritians, Indo-Mauritians, Sino-Mauritians, Muslims and Creoles), Mauritian fiction is also centrally preoccupied with the question of what it means to be ‘Mauritian’ today: in other words, with the issue – or problem – of ‘belonging’.

What drew you to focus your research on Mauritian Literature and the notion of ‘belonging’?

My fascination with Mauritian literature was originally sparked, back in 2001, by a lively, wine-fuelled conversation with Mauritian academic, Kumari Issur, at an ASCALF conference in London. I had just presented a paper on Gallimard’s contentious ‘Continents Noirs’ series and Kumari recommended that I read Amal Sewtohul’s first novel, Histoire d’Ashok et d’autres personnages de moindre importance, which was about to appear in the same series, along with his compatriot, Ananda Devi’s Pagli. Numerous subsequent visits to Mauritius, meetings with Mauritian authors, impassioned debates with Indian Ocean academics, and continued voracious reading, often ‘hot off the press’, of the impressive stream of novels that have continued to flow from the tiny island-nation since, have merely confirmed my initial fascination with Mauritius’ culture, history, society and literature.

My interest in the notion of ‘belonging’ – a sense of attachment to, and identification with, a place or people – was prompted both by the thematic and stylistic recurrence of the notion in contemporary Mauritian literature and, more broadly, by the term’s paradoxical ubiquity and obscurity. Everyone thinks they know what they mean when they talk about belonging, but, as geographer Marco Antonsich points out, they ‘actually know very little about what belonging stands for and how it is claimed.’[1] I was keen to find out more. Whereas existing postcolonial paradigms, such as hybridity or créolisation, had already been fruitfully applied to the Mauritian situation, no one had yet taken belonging, or the ‘universal human desire to belong’, as the primary thematic and conceptual focus of study. As John Crowley points out, ‘while the term [belonging] itself is not new, it is little used as an analytical or theoretical tool.’[2] I was keen to rise to this challenge.

What makes your book stand out from others in its field?

My monograph is the first book-length study in English on twenty-first-century Mauritian fiction in French and as such, I hope, makes a significant contribution to the recent expansion of research on Indian Ocean cultures. The book is original in its focus on the under-researched, affective dimension of belonging (place-belongingness) and its intersections with the often brutal and exclusionary ‘politics of belonging.’ My chapter on Shenaz Patel’s Le Silence des Chagos, in which I explore the uses and abuses of competing notions of belonging in the UK’s forced expulsion of the Chagos islanders in the 1960s and 70s, should also be of interest to anyone following the latest developments in their long struggle for the right to return at the International Court of Justice this year.

My book develops a new, multidimensional approach to understanding issues of belonging and exclusion in diverse, multi-ethnic societies that will, I hope, be of interest to a broad academic audience than those already interested in Mauritian literature or Indian Ocean cultures. Through a series of close textual analyses of individual novels or pairs of novels by leading contemporary Mauritian writers, my book examines Mauritian literary responses to the inter-ethnic ‘Kaya’ riots of 1999 and to the problems of belonging and exclusion that they so dramatically exposed. And it does so by applying an eclectic range of theoretical approaches, not usually associated with ‘postcolonial’ texts, to the particular concerns of individual novels and chapters: violence, place, gender, displacement, the everyday, migration.

Your book is available Open Access, can you tell us why you chose to pursue this option?

In this, the 50th anniversary year of Mauritian independence (1968), there is intense international interest in post-independence Mauritian culture. There is also renewed interest this year in the plight of exiled Chagos islanders, as the Mauritian government challenges the U.K. for its illegal separation of the Chagos archipelago from Mauritius, prior to independence. My book is therefore timely and should, I hope, garner considerable international attention, including amongst readers in Mauritius, India, Africa and the Indian Ocean region. Open Access publication is thus ideal for making my book both logistically and financially accessible to these and other key readerships, both overseas and in the UK. I am therefore grateful to the University of Reading for their institutional support of the OA publication of my monograph – and to Liverpool University Press, Modern Languages Open and Oapen Library for making it happen.

[1] Marco Antonsich, ‘Searching for Belonging – An Analytical Framework’, Geography Compass, vol. 4, no. 6 (2010), pp. 644 ̶ 59; p. 644.

[2] John Crowley, ‘The Politics of Belonging: Some Theoretical Considerations’, in Andrew Geddes and Adrian Favell (eds.), The Politics of Belonging: Migrants and Minorities in Contemporary Europe (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999), pp. 15 ̶ 39; p. 18.

 

You can find out more about the book here and read it for free here.

Liverpool University Press is a proud supporter of Open Access publishing with over 40 OA monographs currently available. You can find out more about our OA policy here and browse some of our OA titles on the OAPEN library

 

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Modern Languages

Postgrowth Imaginaries – In Conversation with Luis I. Prádanos

The most recent publication in the Contemporary Hispanic and Lusophone Cultures series is now available! The work is also open access and is available on Modern Languages Open and the Oapen Library. We caught up with author Luis I. Prádanos to discuss Postgrowth Imaginaries.

Postgrowth Imaginaries cover

Firstly, could you tell us a bit about Postgrowth Imaginaries and what compelled you to focus your research in this area?

I wanted to understand the cultural dimension of the ecological crisis and its relation to the economic dominant paradigm. Many fields study these processes separately (economics, environmental studies, cultural studies), but I believe that the only way to make sense of our current historical conjunction in politically and ethically relevant ways is to investigate these processes together.

What makes post-2008 Spain such an optimal context to investigate these cultural processes?

It is an optimal context due to the dramatic changes in the social metabolism of the region during the last few decades (rapid economic growth, accelerated ecological destruction, massive adoption of cultural consumerism and an energy-intensive lifestyle) that resulted in a post-2008 long economic and social crisis. These changes are crucial to understand the acritical celebratory rhetoric of growth and modernization that resulted into the current socioecological crisis. Spain exemplifies a very intense and accelerated case of neoliberal globalization rise and fall (but it is also a region where many innovative and vibrant counterhegemonic practices and narratives are emerging).

You mention that some areas covered in Postgrowth Imaginaries have often been ignored in Iberian cultural studies. Are there any key areas you think it’s important to highlight which have previously been ignored?

The inextricable entanglements among ecological processes, economic paradigms, and cultural changes are undertheorized in Spanish cultural studies. Not many cultural scholars in my field take seriously how cultural sensibilities influence material and energy flows and how specific ecologies, energy regimes, and urban infrastructures condition and shape our cultural, political, and aesthetic possibilities. Fortunately, these topics are receiving more attention in the last few years.

How does this volume pave the way for future research on the topic?

I hope that this intervention will encourage more Iberian cultural scholars to develop a more systemic, posthumanist, and ecological understanding of culture. I would love to see more research projects in my field that are informed by political ecology and environmental humanities.

What are you going to be working on next?

I am now working on a project that converges energy humanities and urban cultural studies. In this work I explore the interrelations among cultural sensibilities, political power, and energy technologies. I believe that studying Iberian contemporary cultures from this angle can be illuminating, as it reveals how dominant cultural imaginaries can only be maintained by completely ignoring the nonrenewable and environmentally destructive substance that fuels petro-capitalism and made it both historically feasible in the past and biophysically impossible as a future option. I am interested in exploring how certain arrangements of energy power and urban infrastructure support the dominant cultural imaginary in Spain (and the other way around) and how such arrangements could be modified to facilitate the emergence of counterhegemonic cultures that are socially desirable and ecologically viable.

 

For more information on Postgrowth Imaginaries please visit our website or read it for free on Modern Languages Open.

 

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Modern Languages

Post-Migratory Cultures in Postcolonial France – In Conversation with Kathryn A. Kleppinger and Laura Reeck

The most recent addition to the Francophone Postcolonial Studies series Post-Migratory Cultures in Postcolonial France is now available! We caught up with editors Kathryn A. Kleppinger and Laura Reeck to discuss their recent publication.

Post-Migratory Cultures in Postcolonial France

What prompted the volume?

Given the span of time – twenty years – and important demographic changes in France, our original idea was to provide an update to Alec Hargreaves’s and Mark McKinney’s very important volume, Post-Colonial Cultures in France (1997).  Their volume transposed postcoloniality, which had primarily been used as a critical lens to study France’s former colonies, to metropolitan France and looked specifically at the case of post-colonial minorities for whom France became a contact zone.  But these postcolonial minorities were not necessarily French citizens.  Our volume, for which Hargreaves and McKinney have written the Afterword, focuses on activists, artists, and cultural producers who are French citizens and who have lived in France for all their lives (or virtually so).  Post-Migratory Cultures in Postcolonial France explores this proximity with the attendant opportunities and challenges that it brings for people who are too often marginalized or at once highly visible and invisible.  We suggest that the post-migratory is an important conceptual category that stands to help rearticulate and update relationships between the local and global, national and transnational, all the while holding postcoloniality as relevant.  Also, part of our motivation stemmed from our sense that it was time to cross over resolutely to the 21st century and hone in on 21st century cultural production, which is exclusively featured in the volume.  All too often, the most contemporary cultural production gets treated insufficiently in edited volumes.  We wanted to ensure that Post-Migratory Cultures in Postcolonial France was timely and spoke to the current social and cultural moment in France, and all the contributors harnessed this perspective.

 

Can you summarise some of the common themes and findings in the diversity of topics covered in the volume?

 Although the volume explores many cultural forms — literature, rap, hip hop dance, visual art, bandes déssinées, film, new media — there is a cohesiveness and consensus that emerges.  Examining such topics as institutions/institutional memory, laïcité, Blackness, and Islamophobia, the volume explores vacuums created by French republicanism and faux colorblindness, and advocates for an adjustment to indifference to social differences.  It seems as though the artistic and cultural forms that best account for this adjustment themselves collapse boundaries and differentials – for example, rapper-writers, or El Seed’s street art as it grows onto institutional walls.  Filling in the void of silence and activating post-memory also recur across the volume, whether in the case of the children of harkis or second-generation Vietnamese French, both cases in which trauma resulting from war and displacement figures prominently.  Another interesting consideration is the level of access to various stages.  The volume suggests there is unequal opportunity and access depending on the stage in question: while the dance, music, and street art stages seem somewhat favorable and open, the literary and mediatic establishments’ gates remain largely shut to post-migratory postcolonial minorities.  Meanwhile, these artists and cultural producers have appropriated their own spaces (whether on Twitter or on the walls of buildings) and are demonstrating that they, too, deserve to be recognized as innovators: they produce works with their own distinctive voices and refuse to relegate their art to the margins of French high culture. By revealing the social and political nature of canonization and consecration in France, they make us more aware of our own expectations and blindspots when we “consume culture.”

 

How do you think this book will pave the way for further research into cultural production in relation to new social identities?

We are excited to contribute to this conversation! Each of the fields of study presented here (media, film, literature, visual arts, dance, etc) merits attention in its own right, so we hope to see new monographs in these areas as well as additional collections that seek to synthesize new material as we have done here. While we chose to focus on how these artists and cultural producers reconsider Frenchness and their place in French society, further research could look at the ways in which contemporary post-migratory producers engage with concepts such as neoliberal economic policies and the future of Europe in a transnational world. Each of these themes requires sensitivity to the relationship between the local and the global and the role of historical events and precedents in the contemporary era, which are tensions we address in our volume. We also think the volume points toward the importance of intersectionality in new social identities in France, an area of research that is key and imminent in our view. We hope our vocabulary, centered around the concept of the post-migratory, provides researchers with a theoretically useful foundation upon which to build future investigations.

For more information on Post-Migratory Cultures in Postcolonial France please visit our website.
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