“Returning to Reims” by Didier Eribon— Sexuality and Class

Eribon, Didier. “Returning to Reims”, Alan Lane, 2018

Sexuality and Class

Amos Lassen

Didier Eribon tells us how sexual identity can clash with other aspects of a person’s identity from his own personal experiences. He does so by using the tools of sociological inquiry and critical theory. He grew up in a working class family in Reims, France but became a Parisian intellectual. His family was conservative, as is the case many times in provincial France yet he became one of France’s leading writes despite his humble beginnings.

After the death of his father(in Reims), Eribon returned home where he again met the working class world that he had known as youth but pushed into the back of this mind. He had moved to Paris some 30 years earlier. Eribon had always considered his father to be a homophobe; an intolerable bigot but with his father death, he began intense self-reflection and realized that his father, like others in Reims, was the product of the intersection of domination and culture. He begins to investigate his own past, his family’s history and the road that he had personally journeyed on. Eribon comes to the conclusions about the class system in France, the role of education in the creation of self, how sexual and cultural identities are formed and the latest history of French politics which allowed for the shifting voting patterns of the working class as seen in his own family who had moved from the Communist Party to the National Front.

This personal reflection is also a look at the direction that leftist politics have taken in today’s contemporary world. Eribon’s own questions about social class, sexuality, and intellectual community show us a “ complex, frequently conflicted confluence of social and psychic identities.”

I remember when the book was first published in France in 2009 and the enthusiastic reception it received but it took us almost five years until an English translation was available. We are lucky to have a very readable and very beautiful translation which makes this not only a fascinating and compelling read but one that is totally educative. The following quote by Eribon himself summarizes briefly what you will find here:

“On thinking the matter through, it doesn’t seem exaggerated to assert that my coming out of the sexual closet, my desire to assume and assert my homosexuality, coincided within my personal trajectory with my shutting myself up inside what I might call a class closet”.

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