Reading Space: (Un)Mapping Otherness in Nineteenth-Century Paris Restricted; Files Only

Wang, Shiyuan (Spring 2023)

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Space and Text constitute two of the most important concepts in post-modern theorizations of politics. Paris in the nineteenth century, in particular, embodies the archetypal space that is hyper-textualized. Not only is it saturated with endlessly circulating texts and reading thanks to the advent of new printing press technologies, urban space itself metamorphizes into a visual field that beseeches reading. One of Balzac’s most cited proclamations in Ferragus thus depicts Paris as “la ville aux cent mille romans” (“the city of a hundred thousand novels”)––a space itself transformed into text, forever narrativized. 

The purpose of this thesis is to interrogate the far-reaching implications of this hyper-textualization of space and its critical role in the production of the modern subject and its politics. In particular, I approach the motif of otherness as a critical concept that, from within, complicates the homogenizing pretension of the space-text. Far from conferring immediately legible identities, I show that the urban representation of space in realist-naturalist literature relies on structural citations of the Other as something that at once compromises their mimetic cartographies and superimposes them with other fantastic topographies. In the first chapter, I examine the structural reliance on Orientalist discourse for both destabilizing and structuring the urban production of meaning and value in Balzac’s La Fille aux yeux d’or. In the second chapter, I read the representation of women in Zola's La Curée and Nana, and highlight the underlying appropriation of the feminine other in the textual reading and mapping of urban space behind Zola's naturalist pretension. 

The ultimate goal is to dispel the myth of space as a transparent text and unveil its active discursive and social production via the mapping of self and otherness in and through space. On the other hand, it also hints at a possible rereading of the modern subject and its Other as, in essence, spatial categories. This leads to a critical rethinking of space both as a political construct and as the site of possible political praxis.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Other in Space: Interrupted Reading 3

Structure and Approach 6

CHAPTER 1: The (Ex)Citing City: Gold, Pleasure, and Orientalism in Balzac’s La Fille aux yeux d’or 9

Orientalism and Urban Excitation 14

The Citational City 22

“là rien de réel”: Space of the Unreal and Space of the Other Real 28

“l’original de la délirante peinture”: Orientalism (and) Beyond Urban Citations 33

CHAPTER 2: Vegetal Women: The Territorialized and Territorializing Other in La Curée and Nana 36

La Curée: Pillars, Plant Life, and Female Bodies 42

Nana: Putrefaction and Improper Spatialization 54

Urban Space, Mimesis, and Otherness 63

Conclusion 67

Bibliography 74

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