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  • Paris and the Fetish: Primal Crime Scenes by Alistair Rolls
  • Claire Gorrara
Paris and the Fetish: Primal Crime Scenes. By Alistair Rolls. (Chiasmus, 33.) Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2014. 181 pp.

Alistair Rolls’s study takes Freud’s 1927 essay on fetishism as its starting point for an exploration of five predominantly literary Parisian crime scenes. This ‘fetishistic world view’ (p. 32) is associated with the scenario in which two opposing and apparently mutually exclusive narratives of crime are able to co-exist in the same text. It is in these moments of deconstructive potential that Rolls develops his study of the primacy of textual fetishism, drawing on the prose-poems of Baudelaire, above all ‘À une passante’, Barthesian poststructuralism and the distinction between the readerly and writerly text, and the Yale school of deconstruction. Via this optic, Rolls re-investigates the sexual/textual poetics of Frédéric Cathala’s L’Arbalète: la vraie vie commence, Fred Vargas’s L’Homme à l’envers, Sartre’s La Nausée, and Léo Malet’s Nestor Burma contre CQFD and Les Eaux troubles de Javal. Paris and its cityscapes — imagined and real — in conjunction with the figure of the woman ‘passing by’ play a key role in all narrative instances of the textual fetishism that Rolls explores: from the attack on a Christian Dior New Look model in 1947 on the streets of Montmartre to the textual doubling of female murderers, their guilt, and their innocence, in Malet’s Nestor Burma mysteries set in the ‘double metropolis’ (p. 145) of the Paris of the late 1940s and 1950s. Rolls’s close textual readings look to uncover ‘the primal scene’ (associated in the Freudian scenario with female sexuality) that has been screened or ‘disavowed’ but whose discovery allows new authorial intentions to be considered and new murderers and victims to be identified. Intertextual [End Page 420] lines of connection prove vital to evincing such textual fetishism and generate some illuminating paired readings, such as Vargas’s L’Homme à l’envers read with and against Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, Cathala’s L’Arbalète, and Claire Etcherelli’s Elise, ou, La vraie vie. As Rolls demonstrates throughout his study, what ostensibly may appear to be representations of sexuality can be analysed as something other, revealing ‘their reflexive, and thus primarily textual, purpose’ (p. 13). In its innovative re-invention of five Parisian crime texts, Rolls’s study will appeal to scholars alert to the creative potential of a fetishistic world view as a means to re-imagining Paris through its literary crimes.

Claire Gorrara
Cardiff University


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pp. 420-421
Launched on MUSE
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