My Father and I
The Marais and the Queerness of Community
Publication Year: 2009
"It is a living museum of a long-gone Jewish life and, supposedly, a testimony to the success of the French model of social integration. It is a communal home where gay men and women are said to stand in defiance of the French model of social integration. It is a place of freedom and tolerance where people of color and lesbians nevertheless feel unwanted and where young Zionists from the suburbs gather every Sunday and sometimes harass Arabs. It is a hot topic in the press and on television. It is open to the world and open for business. It is a place to be seen and a place of invisibility. It is like a home to me, a place where I feel both safe and out of place and where my father felt comfortable and alienated at the same time. It is a place of nostalgia, innovation, shame, pride, and anxiety, where the local and the global intersect for better and for worse. And for better and for worse, it is a French neighborhood."-from My Father and I
Mixing personal memoir, urban studies, cultural history, and literary criticism, as well as a generous selection of photographs, My Father and I focuses on the Marais, the oldest surviving neighborhood of Paris. It also beautifully reveals the intricacies of the relationship between a Jewish father and a gay son, each claiming the same neighborhood as his own. Beginning with the history of the Marais and its significance in the construction of a French national identity, David Caron proposes a rethinking of community and looks at how Jews, Chinese immigrants, and gays have made the Marais theirs.
These communities embody, in their engagement of urban space, a daily challenge to the French concept of universal citizenship that denies them all political legitimacy. Caron moves from the strictly French context to more theoretical issues such as social and political archaism, immigration and diaspora, survival and haunting, the public/private divide, and group friendship as metaphor for unruly and dynamic forms of community, and founding disasters such as AIDS and the Holocaust. Caron also tells the story of his father, a Hungarian Jew and Holocaust survivor who immigrated to France and once called the Marais home.
Published by: Cornell University Press
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Title Page, Copyright
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Every book is a community. This one is no exception. I have written it nei-ther for myself nor by myself. It bears the imprint of many friendships andmany sources of support, moral and otherwise. Throughout this long pro -cess, I have relied on the kindness of strangers and on the tough and tenderMy father’s dream was to own a bookstore. He never did, but with this...
Prologue:My Father and I
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My relationship with my father was a disaster. Or at least that’s how it oftenfelt to me. Let me give you an example. One day in the fall of 1998, my fa-ther and I took a little walk through the Marais, the old and emblematicJewish neighborhood of Paris where he once lived and worked. My father,who by then lived in Caen, Normandy, was visiting my sister in Paris and...
Part IThe Marais
The Old Neighborhood
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It was a marshland. It was a fashionable neighborhood for the aristocracy. Itwas a dilapidated enclave in the heart of Paris where poor immigrant Jewsfirst settled before moving up in French society—or not. It was later reha-bilitated and transformed into a prime real estate area and a magnet forforeign tourists. It is filled with the ghosts of a bloody history: ghosts of...
A Queer Ghetto
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It works almost like clockwork. Every culture, national or otherwise, peri-odically identifies a threat to its very foundation and core principles. If thedanger isn’t there—and it seldom is—it must be invented or at least wildlyexaggerated. The idea is simple and the phenomenon well known: it isthrough repeated expulsions of threats that a system reinforces the bound-...
Part IIThe Queernessof Community
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Am I the only one who thinks that Remembrance of Things Past wasn’t such abad En glish title for Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu after all? Not somuch because of its Shakespearian reference, but because Proust’s novel isessentially about, well, things of the past—chief among them, I believe,Jewishness and queerness and, beyond, survival in general. Using each as a...
Disaster, Failure, and Alienation
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The sentences are instantly recognizable and their effect all the more disas-trous in that they often come in familiar forms and settings from people youknow and like. The voice of a relative at the other end of a long- distancephone call, the lover across a restaurant table, the friendly doctor you’vebeen seeing for years are now telling you that “There’s been an accident” or...
The Queerness of Group Friendship
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A few months before my father died and just weeks after I saw him alive forthe last time, an old friend of mine paid him a visit. Sophie and I were inhigh school together. She was smart, funny, seductive, and just plain stun-ning. (She still is, if you care to know.) My father was crazy about her backthen and he never even tried to conceal the fact that he thought she would...
EpilogueMy Father and I
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On 25 February 2004, sometime in the eve ning, my father collapsed in hisapartment from a massive blood clot to the brain. After a brief coma, heI spent most of 2002 in Paris doing research for this book. During that time,my father made several brief trips there, as he often did even when I was notaround, to visit my sister and her kids. He and I soon settled into our own lit-...
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Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2009