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Maps and TerritoriesGlobal Positioning in the Contemporary French Novel$
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Joshua Armstrong

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781786942012

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781786942012.001.0001

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A Tale of Two Frances

A Tale of Two Frances

Virginie Despentes’s Vernon Subutex Trilogy

(p.115) Chapter Five A Tale of Two Frances
Maps and Territories

Joshua Armstrong

Liverpool University Press

This chapter reads Virginie Despentes’s Vernon Subutex trilogy (2015-17), a comédie inhumaine that depicts a deeply divided—increasingly neoliberal and reactionary—France. Despentes, in a rather utopian vein, would heal those divisions, staging a collective social awakening. As such, the trilogy is symptomatic of a trend one encounters in a swath of recent French novels, in which a sudden refusal of the neoliberal socio-political order ignites revolutionary movements. A key element of these novels (including Despentes’s) is the representing of a post-Mitterrand France for whom society is marked by la précarité [precarity]. Vernon Subutex must fall through the cracks of society and become homeless in order to, in a surprising reversal, encounter new, utopian, and borderline-mystical social possibilities. I uncover the internal contradictions of this reversal, however, noting that such contradictions are also symptomatic of that recent utopian novelistic impulse that must imagine another world at all costs. This chapter reads Despentes’s depiction of a divided, pre- and post-‘Charlie Hebdo’ France in the light of Emmanuel Todd’s Qui est Charlie: Sociologie d’une crise religieuse ? [Who Is Charlie?: Xenophobia and the New Middle Class], as well as via a reading of Despentes’s own writings on gender and society.

Keywords:   Virginie Despentes, Vernon Subutex, King Kong Théorie / King Kong Theory, Charlie Hebdo, Je suis Charlie, Emmanuel Todd, Qui est Charlie? / Who Is Charlie, Precarity, Contemporary French society

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