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For a long time, I’ve been certain in which style and voice I wanted to write my thesis. I did not want it to be too academic this time, but rather write in a more prose-like style, trying to convey the feeling and experience of “being there” through a more personal style, and with a slightly stronger personal presence in the texts. Instead of arguing left and right with every thinkable theory and ethnography – in the text proper and/or in hundreds of footnotes – like I tried to excel in my previous thesis, this time I rather wanted my argument to mainly rely on my own ethnographic descriptions.
The writing of my thesis has moved into a new phase. Today is the first day that I spend at home of my six month’s leave. I’m supposed to change focus from what has occupied my mind more or less full time since I left for Paris late September 2005. So far on this day of leave, I’ve read some chapters in the excellent classic neighbourhood study Street Corner Society – from an Italian area in Chicago in 1937-9, sorted some baby clothes (thinking what a strange world of circuits of baby stuff that exists out there; we’ve been included in five different ones going exclusively through the female line, partly through kin but mainly through friends – should check with Argonauts of the Western Pacific to what extent it could be compared to the Kula circuits… ;-) ) and I’ve had a quick visit from a friend of mine also on maternity leave. When she left, I felt overwhelmed by spare time, thinking immediately what kind of work I could do.
Then I realised that I could for the first time sit down at the table with my MacBook, in my new living room, with a new view, and have time to do just this. I wanted to reflect a little on what has happened in the writing process since the last time I reported from it here on my blog-diary. But when I turn on the stereo to put on a cd fit for writing, a well-known voice from the excellent music program Jungeltelegrafen, says: “…from the man who hates the notion World Music more than anybody else… Nitin Sawhney!”. (How I enjoy having one of the great participants in my previous thesis described like that!) But how am I supposed to take a break from work when work just turns up everywhere!? Nitin Sawhney contributed extensively to my Master thesis with his musical eclecticism and profound and interesting thoughts on British society. Now he has come with a new cd which musically treats what has happened to London after 7/7 2005:
… On 7.7.2005 a bomb exploded on a London bus. A singer and friend of mine, Natty, was there. Two weeks later he was present at the shooting of a Brazilian man – Jean Charles de Menezes. Last year we wrote a song together. Natty, like myself, feels something indefinable has shifted. London’s has changed. … (Nitin Sawhney 2008 London Undersound).
The CD starts quietly with “Days of fire”, Natty rapping the lyrics, and Sawhney playing the guitar and piano and doing the programming. (Hear the song on youtube with a slideshow from the events in London here)
On these streets where I played
And theses trains that I take, I saw fire
But now I’ve seen the city change in –
Oh so many ways, since the days of fire
Since the days of fire
(Nitin Sawhney & Natty 2008, “Days of fire” on London Undersound)
So far in my listening, I’ve found several tracks I really appreciate. A review of the cd can be found in The Observer here.
Strangely – or maybe not; maybe the world is just that small – one of the first people I got to know in Paris told me unpromptedly how he had taken his father to a concert with Nitin Sawhney. He appreciated to hear that Sawnhey had participated in my previous study, and now he’d help me out in the present one.
Being on leave has so far been difficult, but I’m sure it will be far easier to put work behind me next week when things start to get serious.
Ouch! High summer is long gone! Clearly, it’s autumn out there: The air is brisk, the sun is lower in the horizon and red, orange and yellow have started to invade the greenery. Not only do I not particularly like autumn (however nice the weather might be, it never escapes melancholic undertones), but also do I not like to get surprised by how fast time passes. And high summer is ages ago!
It’s high summer and hot, and I don’t feel like doing what I’m supposed to do (I’m supposed to write a book review on Being a Hindu in Oslo.) High summer makes me melancholic. At least in one area of life I see the glass as half empty, and that’s when it comes to summers. The Norwegian summers are so short, that for half-empty-glass persons like myself, it’s only really May and the beginning of June one can enjoy fully without a bittersweet aftertaste of “soon it’s over…”. July in Norway is the time for 3-4 weeks of general holiday, and Norwegian workplaces, public offices and roads and streets (where there aren’t tourists) are as empty as they are in August in Paris or Athens.
The idea and implementation of paid holidays are at least as old in Norway as it is in France. However, I didn’t hear and care about the struggle for paid holidays before I lived in France in 2006 during the 70th anniversary for the left wing coalition Le Front Populaire. They lasted for only one year, and I think – as with many things in France – their symbolic importance outclass their actual political relevance. The film La vie est à nous (The life is ours, or The people of France) by Jean Rénoir from 1936 documents the life under The Popular Front, and the photographer Willy Ronis documented the first paid vacations, together with other famous photographers. I can’t think of any social democratic reform which is really celebrated here in Norway. And it’s not until confronted with the surprise of non-European visitors I find it strange that the country slows down and the functions close off to a minimum during July. Of course, it’s the general holidays!
(I’m hooked on the page-turning writing of Balzac at the moment – perhaps another reason why my book review isn’t progressing as fast as it should – and from his description of political and social divisions and hierarchies in early 19th century France, I get a clearer understanding of why social reforms have become such potent political symbols.)
It’s already the end of July, and in mid August already the summer is waning up here in the North. I’ve never mind going to school and I even love my job, but the end of summer has always been such a melancholic period that I’ve already started giving it an occasional sad thought. Why can’t July have at least 8 weekends? Well, it’s time to go back to the book review and get done with it. Afterwards, I’ll let myself start contemplating on the epistemological reasons behind why my fieldwork in Paris has started to get a rosy shade after having been left mostly in peace in notebooks and videos for a year.
Link to Burma Shave by Tom Waits (whom the new opera house said no thanks to this July!!!) – no much to do with this post, everything to do with summer moods
Today, it is one year since I packed my bags and left the field. I left a little earlier than planned because the field exhausted me and I wanted some calm. The last ten days I had lived in an hotel, because the letting contract had run out and I was not in the mood, nor had the energy, nor the extravertness to ask any of my acquaintances for a place to stay. After sleeping 6 months on the world’s hardest futon four floors above the madness of Rue du Faubourg du Temple, the crammed hotel room with thin walls and slamming doors almost felt like a relief. Instead, I think it was the nature of the fieldwork itself that exhausted me.
In London, I lived in a great flat share (in such a lovely British terraced house with blackbirds, squirrels and cats in the greenery outside my window), where I could withdraw from the maelstrom of the field for some hours or a day or two, with people to share my frustrations and find inspiration. In Paris, I had nothing but aloneness – and probably quite a lot of loneliness – when I refuged from the field. In addition, the field itself was several levels more advanced than what I had sharpened my anthropological tools on in London.
My command of French limited, but had I not chosen to study a group of people whose force was their command of language, game of words and poetry? In London, practically all my “informants” were my peers, in terms of level of education and to some extent social background, and they were no more than ten years older or younger than me. In Paris, the majority hadn’t even finished 12 years of schooling and only a handful had been to university. Instead, many had been through a whole different school of life than I could imagine. In terms of age, they ranged from 20 years younger to 35 years older. Moreover, while my focus of study had been of great interest to the people concerned in London, I never really felt that that was the case in Paris. Perhaps it was the language that made me qua researcher far more interesting to spend time with in England than in France, perhaps it was the subjects of concern, or perhaps it was just the French tradition of liaisons that rarely let me qua femme (et blonde et exotique en plus) retreat in favour of the researcher and even friend. I wouldn’t say that this fieldwork demanded black belt in professional and language skills and social sagacity, but it demanded enough to make me so exhausted in the end that I voluntarily left Paris more than two weeks before schedule. But it was really an awful summer anyway. And besides, I had important business to sort out at home.
After an autumn of absence, the field started coming back to me. When I hurried through my old neighbourhood in East Paris for a quick coffee by Canal Saint Martin on my way back from Corsica to Oslo in the spring, I realised how much I missed the atmosphere. What atmosphere? I can’t say for the moment, but that particular feel the streets of North East Paris instigate is something I grapple with in my writing at the moment. The sheer diversity of human beings and activities everywhere at all times, the history, beauty and grandeur emanating from the buildings and boulevards, the touch of anarchy and creativity in the street art and street life… I don’t know, but there is a difference. It was very hard to live it, but I really miss it. Now, for the time being, I’ll have to make do with trying to describe it.
Another presentation which I blatantly will fail to give (see this post), were to take place at a conference in Oxford in about one week’s time, Encounters and Intersections: Religion, Diaspora and Ethnicities.
The problematics of this paper give me the opportunity to look at two other aspect of the space created during a slam session: the particular quality of the encounters taking place. While only a very few of the participants talked explicitly about the political and subversive character of the slam phenomenon (see previous post), many more will describe it as a quite unique place for encounters. This is thus more of a native’s point of view than what is treated in the previous post. The ways many people describe the soirées echoes in my opinion important values of the French Republic. This is the next aspect I’ll introduce in the analysis of the space created during a session. In the previous post, I looked in the direction of connections between the local socio-political environment of the city and the soirées, in this it’s the connections between the soirées and the Republic herself I postulate. These problematics will go into chapter 2 and Chapter 5 (see the outline at the end of this post). Here’s my abstract for the conference:
Parisian performance poetry: a republican space for encounters?
In this paper, I will explore the space for encounters created during Parisian slam poetry sessions. Many participants characterise this performance poetry scene as a medium for rencontres (encounters) of people of different backgrounds. The sessions are among the most mixed events one can find in France, in terms of social and ethnic background as well as age and gender. It can thus be seen as an arch expression of the French republican ideal of mixité sociale and the value of vivre ensemble (“living together” – a term with similarities to the British notion of “community cohesion”).
The performances treat a vide variety of issues, expressed with a variety of different artistic styles, from rap to French traditional poetry via experimental theatre. However, seen from a British multiculturally inspired paradigm, the issues of collective religious or ethnic identities are conspicuously absent.
I will place the poetry sessions within the socio-political geography of East Paris (a popular, bohemian and increasingly gentrified area shaped by immigration) and the French republican paradigm of social integration. The paper is based on 16 months of fieldwork in East Paris. In addition, I will draw on my previous research project on British Asians in London.
Department of Social Anthropology/Cultural Complexity in the New Norway
Postboks 1091 Blindern
Cicilie Fagerlid is working on her PhD thesis with the preliminary title Society in the Making: Post Colonial Paris and the Slam Poetry Scene. She is employed at the Department of Social Anthropology and Cultural Complexity in the New Norway, strategic research programme, both at the University of Oslo.
The most recent paper I failed to give (see previous post) was looking at the slam poetry phenomenon from the perspective of where it is situated, – socio-politically as well as geographically. I wanted to explore the connection between the slam scene’s geographical position in the North and East (and to some extent the 13th Arrondissement in the South) and the socio-political characteristics of these parts of the city. Here’s the abstract for the presentation:
Parisian slam poetry – a space of resistance?
Cicilie Fagerlid, PhD fellow at Cultural Complexity in the New Norway (strategic research programme at the University of Oslo)
In this paper, I will explore the relationship between the Parisian slam (performance) poetry scene and the socio-political landscape of North and East Paris, where the scene is situated. This part of the city is historically popular and left-wing with an important influence of bohemians and artists, and an equally long history of regional and international immigration.
I will argue that what is created during an evening of poetry performances, is to some extent a space of biopolitical resistance. Similar forms of resistance to standardisations of everyday life and/or governmental politics overflow the urban space of the northern and eastern Parisian neighbourhoods – in terms of streetart, political and artistic posters and stickers, low-cost and “alternative” film and music festivals, readings and talks in bookshops and cultural centers, a plethora of demonstrations filling the streets with colours and noise and a general, unruly everyday streetlife. I will situate the slam poetry within this landscape and discuss to what extent Antonio Negri’s notion of a (bio)space “in-between” power relations can be a helpful analytical perspective:
“Where is exodus at home? Where is the space for those who want to go into exodus from power and its domination?” For me, exodus sometimes requires force. And this is, paradoxically, an exodus that does not seek an “outside” of power, but which affirms the refusal of power, freedom in the face of power, in the hollow of its meshes (Negri, Petcou, Petrescu and Querrien 2008).
Negri,Toni, Constantin Petcou, Doina Petrescu and Anne Querrien 2008: “What makes a biopolitical space? A discussion with Toni Negri” in Eurozine at http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2008-01-21-negri-en.html (accessed 02.05.2008)
I’ve decided to continue working on the problematics of this paper during the summer, making it into the two first chapters of my thesis (see the end of this post for a preliminary outline). In the first chapter, I will describe and analyse some of the areas where the slam soirées take place (how I’m looking forward to wander the streets of Belleville and Ménilmontant in my imagination again!). In Chapter 2, I will ask how we can understand the particular space created during a slam – thus grasping the micro-dynamics of a soirée – and secondly, making a connection to chapter 1, I will look at what might be the relations between the slam phenomenon and the particular environment of the city where it is situated.
For some reason, the summer Oslo mood certainly inspires a delve back into my memory of Parisians streets and cafés…
But what has happened to my blog?! It’s a long time since my webmaster warned me that it had been given a brown mark by some RSS newsreader for its lack of updating, and people as far as Cotounu in Benin and Saint Denis in France are wondering what’s going on… The problem boils down to the unfortunate fact that not even my thesis is being updated at the moment. But as the summer calm comes to the university, and I’m starting to feel better after a couple of hard months, it seems like things will get back on track.
In march I wrote several abstracts that got accepted to various conferences and workshops (Parisian performance poetry: a republican space for encounters? – The concept of minority and inclusion in national memory in France and Britain – Citizenship and citoyenneté: A comparison between postcolonial Britain and France – Identity and belonging in postcolonial Paris: the slam poetry scene – Parisian slam poetry: A space of resistance? – “Scar academy”: The French performance poetry scene) but alas, I won’t be doing any of the presentations, as things have gone a bit astray lately. Instead of being bent over my thesis uninterruptedly the last six months, je me suis mariée (à Rome!) in January, conceived a child in February, tried to get a house in Corsica in March and sold and bought a flat in Oslo in May and June. And all that is also part of life. In July I’ll get a hell of a lot of writing done.