Social Intersections 06 (project)

Ridiculously humid tonight. No possibility for thought, but may manage some typing. Not really very pertinent, but I recall that Truman Capote once famously said of Jack Kerouac that he was not a writer but a typist.

Here really just a long quote from Francois Maspero Roissy Express: A Journey Through the Paris Suburbs (1990). A book that, to be honest, I haven’t read but that has a strangely extensive preview available on the Google Books site. Roissy Express describes, and photographically documents (Anaik Frantz), a month-long journey through the Paris suburbs, following the RER train from the northern station of Roissy to the southern station of St Remy les Chevreuse. Sherringham discusses it as an example of ethnographie proche (ethnography of the near) in his Everyday Life: Theories and Practices from Surrealism to the Present (2006). Rather than focus, in typical ethnographic style, on tracing the cultural landscape of the exotic other (the nomadic hill tribe, the ‘archaic’ jungle dweller, the picturesque remnant of ‘ancient modes of being’), Maspero and Frantz turn their attention to the prosaic and everyday Parisian world that surrounds them. However, they deliberately avoid the methodology and language of ethnography. Instead, they adopt the role of interested travellers. Each day they travel to the next station on the line, find a place to stay and then tour around the place, exploring things that interest them and interacting with the locals (particularly via Frantz’s photographic approach, which avoids the usual strategies of secrecy – of life caught unawares; instead she asks permission of her subjects and allows them to choose how they would like to pose). Anyway, I found this early quote explaining the original motivation for the journey. Maspero had just farewelled a friend jetting off on an international trip from Charles de Gaulle airport (Roissy is (or was?) the closest railway station to the airport):

And it was on the return journey through grey rain, feeling abandoned in the empty off-peak carriage, that he suddenly had the idea for this journey – it seemed so obvious – because he was looking though the RER window at the shapes of the suburbs, his eyes aching with loneliness, staring at the dead landscape of that winter’s afternoon, because he was looking at it like an outside world he might have crossed in a diver’s mask. That was that: he’d had enough of great intercontinental journeys; enough of clocking up the miles without seeing any more than you would through the misted-up windows of the Trans-Siberian Express; enough of droning through skies above the clouds and oceans. All the journeys have been done. […] Secret places were there before his eyes, waiting to be discovered, unknown even to those who travelled through them daily and often to those who lived there; incomprehensible, disjointed spaces which used to be pieces of geography which we really must try to rewrite.1

  1. Maspero, F. 1994 Roissy Express: A Journey Through the Paris Suburbs, (Trans. Paul Jones) Verso, London, p.8
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