Inspiration on the Streets of Paris 2013
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There is the Paris of the guidebooks: the Louvre, Notre Dame, the venerable monuments that constitute what the French proudly call the cultural history of their patrimoine. But there is another Paris that has always attracted those with a more forward-looking spirit, those writers, artists and activists living at the margins, agitating for social, political and aesthetic change. Much of that transgressive thinking has been inspired by and manifested on the streets of the city which continue to be a canvas for the creative energies of Parisians--both native and foreign. The figure of the flaneur, the modern street wanderer, will be central to our readings and our adventures in Paris. We will trace his random path from the poetry of Baudelaire to the Surrealist novels of Breton. We will study some work of film makers and photographers whose images document early 20th century bohemian life in the cafes, flea markets, and theatres of Montmartre, Montparnasse and Saint-Germain, as well as the modern industrialized mass culture that threatened its survival. One sign of the survival of Paris’ revolutionary spirit can be seen in the art produced by more contemporary street wanderers that flourishes on the walls of particular neighborhoods as well as in galleries and museums. Some of that work is by non-Parisians, a reminder both of the international spirit and demographics of this cosmopolitan city and of its particular fascination for Americans. We will explore some examples of Americans drawn to the promise of a more progressive social and artistic atmosphere in Paris through work by writers including Stein, Hemingway, and Baldwin. We will also explore the role played by African Americans in the Jazz Age in Paris, with particular attention to the dancer Josephine Baker and the Revue Negre.
Our time spent in academic work on specific texts and visual documents will be supplemented with more direct engagement with the city. Reading Stein’s portraits of artists will take us to the Picasso Museum; and discussions around colonialism and racial attitudes will take us to the original anthropological Musee de L’Homme and its updated counterpart the new Quai Branly museum. Readings about street art will lead us to the revolutionary and artistic enclaves of the neighborhoods of Belleville and Butte aux Cailles as well as select galleries and artists’ studios.
Professor Robin Lyndenberg, Department of English