I lingered long over the 140 pages of Gail Scott’s tremendous My Paris, sipping sections cautiously, trying not to wind up anywhere near the end. Alas, all books must end, and the book that accompanied me throughout the month is appropriately finished on the last day of April. It’s a book you have to be open to, to prepare your mind for by turning over some of the peaty ground, accepting the stretching that comes from the deliberately provocative style. Chopping sentences into fragments, present participling her way through the book. Causing you to be more aware, making you present. I’m trying to resist, but must insert the words: experimental, avant guarde. Any book that causes you to look up the difference between present participles and gerunds deserves a gold star in my book (verbs vs. nouns, for the curious). Scott says her technique is more “in between. They’re an attempt at moving backwards and forward at the same time in the sentence.”
This is the first book I’ve read in awhile that got me off my ass and produced pages of writing, using as an exercise her technique. Inspirational how things look from this different perspective.
So what’s it all about? The narrator is a Québécois who’s scored a “leisure lottery studio” in Paris for a few months to write. She retreats to bed reading Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, gives updates about the building concierge, obsessively watches the display windows across the street, notes the worker demonstrations below her window, and sprinkles in weather reports from Bosnia where the war rages on. She meets up with friends, jumps into bed with ladies, comments on the terrible treatment of immigrants from “the south” (Africa) while nervous about her own lack of visa. Circling around, becoming a flâneur (“maybe already less a traveller. Than a sort of flâneur (of interior!) Though Benjamin saying flâneur already hawking observations. Like simple journalist. By time of Baudelaire.” p10), coming back to the same themes consistently, even little themes like wanting to ask “C” if her mother would be jealous. Balzac’s Girl with Golden Eyes. Trying to sell a book on murdered women wanderers.
Dealing with the reality of Paris vs. the Paris she was expecting. “But. Loving this state of absolute unfeeling. Putting ‘one’ in total posture of receptivity. Why shouldn’t the flâneur be stoned.” (p 34). Quoting Rilke: This is what I want: to float on the waves/ Unattached to time then “38. It occurring to me — state of feeling-less. Precursive to state of floating. Possibly problematic. Because in hovering/observing. ‘One’ passively absorbing little external details. Arbitrarily pre-selected. By Paris ‘one’ expecting.”
“So much formal public space. Seeming impossible. Under late capitalism.” (p 10). “Chic small boutiques. Suffering capital’s latest conspiracy. Globalization.” (p 16) In conversation with S: “Art Equals Commerce. Plus que jamais, more than ever… I saying nothing. If art equals commerce. There is no artist.” (p 16)
A similarity to San Francisco: “She and I pointedly bemoaning. Quantities of tourists. For benefit of houseguest. One hundred thousand daily. Television saying. Germans. Brightly dressed Scandinavians.” (p 36)
“To charm requiring anecdotes.” (p 16)
“6. The marvelous is to be had. I thinking at 5:30a. Looking out a window. Pale blue sky beyond anarchy of chimney pots. You just have to pierce the smugness of the surface.” p 10.
63. Waking. Happy. Thinking relationship to Paris. Now one of vague familiarity. Albeit people complaining letters not describing streets. As they used to. Clothes. Facades. In every little detail. I being increasingly caught up. In rhythm of trajectory. As if sentences. Like steps. Driven not by predicates. But by gerund. Or back-and-forth gesture. Possibly befitting subject. With foreign queen on dollars. E.g. walking down Saint-Germain. Thinking marvelous surely to be had. Simultaneously fearing 19th-century buildings. Over shoulder. About to dissolve into dust. (p 70)
After C argues with film critic about misogynous movie:
“Under glass canopy of metro she blurting. Homos worse than heteros these days. Meaning critic. I saying nothing. Wanting to stay afloat. To stay out of categories. Moving back and forth. Across comma of difference. A gerund. Or gesture.” (p 91)
Continually nervous about lack of visa, she sees on TV that there was a police raid at the metro she was just near, 350 checked for papers and 16 arrested. “Though I likely safe with DUNQUERQUE entry stamp. Unless nervous tic of physiognomy. Giving away. The trick being with dealing with cops. Or any authority. Hiding all capacity for disobedience. By keeping eyes empty.” (p 93)
On cover Fifteen Leading Intellectuals. Derrida. Lyotard. Deleuze. Etc. All worriedly reflecting on growing entrenchment of Right. Which Right they having spent lives striving to philosophically defeat. By en principe displacing. Deferring. Huge Western I. Casting unecological shadow. Over earth. Malheureusement issue not including Kristeva. Weil. Arendt. Irigary. Buci-Glucksmann. Collin. Witig. Nor any other woman. (p 105)
Projecting: 19th century subject. Waking post-Commune. Doubting reliability of species. Which doubt fostering “modern” psychiatric ward. Wherein master himself pacing. Narrating someone else’s dreams. They being someone else’s: impossible to pin down. Resultant shock. To ordered 19th-century mind. Ultimately spawning surrealism.
And “one” walking there near cusp of 21st. Mid countless objects representing point of convergence. Between 19th and 20th. Feeling certain — with hindsight — of genius. It being task of museum to make “one” feel lucid. Grizzled feast having been laid out for “one’s” unique consumption. Each item. Tagged with orchestrated (unconscious) association. By aura-conjuring hand of curator. Therefore — racing towards Champ-Elysees. In dark. (Days being extremely short now.) Feeling certain marvellous to be had. (p 109)
She leaves, flies home to Québec, overhears young architects talking about career opportunities post-war zone. Bosnia again. The final section of the book is cordoned off as “Le Sexe de l’art”, 5 additional pages perhaps of journal wherein she returns to Paris a few years later. Lots of dashes — and strikethrough orgasms. Not a fan of this last add-on section and still scratching my head over its inclusion. What does it amplify or provide? Is it there just for us to see her further confidence? — Drifting — Sauntering — Mist — Drifting — Drifting.
Discovered via Zambreno’s Green Girl where she quotes “Why shouldn’t the flâneur be stoned.”