My Father and I

My Father and I: The Marais and the Queerness of Community

David Caron
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    My Father and I
    Book Description:

    "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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5842-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. IOU
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    David Caron

    Every book is a community. This one is no exception. I have written it neither for myself nor by myself. It bears the imprint of many friendships and many sources of support, moral and otherwise. Throughout this long process, I have relied on the kindness of strangers and on the tough and tender demands of those close to me.

    My father’s dream was to own a bookstore. He never did, but with this book, which is his, he will now be in bookstores. I only wish he had been around to see what he inspired. My writing has allowed me...

  4. Prologue: My Father and I
    (pp. 1-22)

    My relationship with my father was a disaster. Or at least that’s how it often felt to me. Let me give you an example. One day in the fall of 1998, my father and I took a little walk through the Marais, the old and emblematic Jewish 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 took the opportunity to do a little shopping at Jo Goldenberg’s famous delicatessen before returning home. Since we didn’t get to see each other all that much anymore...

  5. Part I THE MARAIS

    • [1] The Old Neighborhood
      (pp. 25-74)

      It was a marshland. It was a fashionable neighborhood for the aristocracy. It was a dilapidated enclave in the heart of Paris where poor immigrant Jews first settled before moving up in French society—or not. It was later rehabilitated and transformed into a prime real estate area and a magnet for foreign tourists. It is filled with the ghosts of a bloody history: ghosts of aristocrats who were massacred by a revolutionary mob and of the young Dauphin himself; ghosts of Jews taken from their homes before being sent to Auschwitz; ghosts of old people who killed themselves rather...

    • [2] A Queer Ghetto
      (pp. 75-110)

      It works almost like clockwork. Every culture, national or otherwise, periodically identifies a threat to its very foundation and core principles. If the danger isn’t there—and it seldom is—it must be invented or at least wildly exaggerated. The idea is simple and the phenomenon well known: it is through repeated expulsions of threats that a system reinforces the boundaries that condition its existence. Since at least the 1990s France has been going through the kind of national anxiety and identity crisis that precipitates such reactions. The seemingly unstoppable rise of the extreme right, increased European integration, economic globalization,...


    • [3] Things Past
      (pp. 113-149)

      Am I the only one who thinks that Remembrance of Things Past wasn’t such a bad English title for Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu after all? Not so much because of its Shakespearian reference, but because Proust’s novel is essentially about, well, things of the past—chief among them, I believe, Jewishness and queerness and, beyond, survival in general. Using each as a metaphor for the other, Proust repeatedly describes queers as Jews and Jews as queers. A cunning rhetorical trick, if there ever was one, it simultaneously makes sense and obscures meaning, since each category he summons...

    • [4] Disaster, Failure, and Alienation
      (pp. 150-182)

      The sentences are instantly recognizable and their effect all the more disastrous in that they often come in familiar forms and settings from people you know and like. The voice of a relative at the other end of a long-distance phone call, the lover across a restaurant table, the friendly doctor you’ve been seeing for years are now telling you that “There’s been an accident” or “We need to talk about something” or “I’ve got some bad news,” and literally in no time, before a second sentence is even uttered, a deathly frigid emptiness descends upon your body and your...

    • [5] The Queerness of Group Friendship
      (pp. 183-221)

      A few months before my father died and just weeks after I saw him alive for the last time, an old friend of mine paid him a visit. Sophie and I were in high school together. She was smart, funny, seductive, and just plain stunning. (She still is, if you care to know.) My father was crazy about her back then and he never even tried to conceal the fact that he thought she would make a perfect daughter-in-law. Sophie has been living in the States for quite a while now, so when she mentioned she was going back to...

  7. Epilogue. My Father and I
    (pp. 222-242)

    On 25 February 2004, sometime in the evening, my father collapsed in his apartment from a massive blood clot to the brain. After a brief coma, he died in the hospital the next day at the age of eighty-four.

    I 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 not around, to visit my sister and her kids. He and I soon settled into our own little routines. I would go pick him up at Saint-Lazare, the train station that...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 243-250)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 251-260)
  10. Index
    (pp. 261-268)