“My Father and I: The Marais and the Queerness of Community”– Using the Private to Reflect the Public
Caron, David. “My Father and I: The Marais and the Queerness of Community’. Cornell University Press, 2009.
The Marais was once the center of French Jewish life as well as a tribute to the French model of social integration. Today it is a communal home where gay men and women stand in defiance of the same French model. It is a place of “freedom and tolerance” where lesbians and people of color feel unwanted and it is the place where young Zionists from the suburbs meet on Sundays and harass Arabs. The Marais is a place that is open to the world, a place to see others and to be seen, a place where one feels safe and out of place at the same time and it is a nostalgic place, a place of anxiety and shame, of pride and innovation. Above all else it is a French neighborhood.
The Marais is the oldest neighborhood of Paris that still survives. David Caron, a gay man explores the relationship between himself and his Jewish father. Both live in the Marais and both claim the neighborhood as their own. This is a very personal memoir and it is sometimes painful to read as it shows us the intricate relationship between father and son. Caron looks at the construction of identity through the Marais and he looks at how Jews, Chinese immigrants and gays have taken the Marais as their own. The groups in the Marais are a daily challenge to the concept of the French of universal citizenship that denies political legitimacy to them. (I remember the Marais from the late 70s and the 80s when I was a student for two summers in Paris and I must concur with all that Caron says. I am not a French citizen but I lived among the French and ate, slept and drank with them).
Caron uses the private as a template to understand and analyze the public. This is what makes this book so perfect—the coming together of Caron’s life with history. Caron is historical and personal as well as literary, geographical and ethnographic as he gives us his picture of the gay community in today’s France. This is a story of identity that is collective as well as transformation and loss. Caron’s gay life is very different from the life of his Jewish father and we read the narratives of both. Their relationship is not good as it not the failed community of the Marais. There is something missing in both instances. Could it be simply the failure to connect? We see what the meaning of the word community really means by learning of the Marais. Caron writes provocatively as he blends theory and history together.