Monday, July 09, 2007

Identity Soup: Today's Juxtaposition

A small post. In Feb. 2006, Jeffrey wrote this:
Back to the temporal archive: pork is a food central to Christian identity, a demarcative use that is positively medieval. Is it no surprise, then, that rightwingers in France -- people who are fond of imagining a medieval purity of the French and of Europe that in fact never existed -- have taken to serving pork-based soups to the poor in order to exclude impoverished Muslims and Jews from their charity? Craig Smith reports in the New York Times that "la soupe au cochon" has been christened "identity soup" by those who serve it (many of whom belong to the extremist Bloc Identitaire, whose website features feral pigs....

The Jews, the Christians, and the Muslims of today's Paris are not the same as the Jews, Christians, Muslims of the Middle Ages, but that pig soup and the lines of community and exclusion it is supposed to materialize really are part of the food's enduring medieval temporality. Spooning out dishes of pig soup won't work, of course, to bring about the wished-for boundaries and purified spaces; it may even provoke violence (in anger over exclusion, in anger over the fact that the soup isn't magically doing its demarcative job). This "traditional" meal of pig flesh is served with exuberance, and as if in perfect innocence ("la France n’est pas encore une république islamiste" the racists declare sweetly, ladle in hand). Yet la soupe au cochon marks a frightening return of medieval rhetorics of antisemitism and Islamophobia, demonstrating the ways in which an object as seemingly inert as bowl filled with pork can carry into the present its own little wrinkle in time.

On Saturday, I saw La Vie en Rose (in France: La Môme (The Kid)). Edith Piaf has just stunned New York with a performance of the title song, full of feeling because she's directing it to her lover, the boxer Marcel Cerdan. Marlene Dietrich shows up and declares "votre voix est comme l'âme de Paris" (your voice is like the soul of Paris: note, I swear she said ta voix, but various French bloggers contradict me).

So what? The lover, the fellow who summoned up the soul of Paris in her, was Marcel "Le Bombardier marocain" Cerdan (although I should note that although Cerdan was born and lived in Morocco, his parents were born in France).

And Piaf? The Soul of Paris? Her mother was Italian, but not only Italian: Edith's maternal grandmother was an Algerian Berber, Aïcha Saïd Ben Mohammed.


Jeffrey Cohen said...

Karl, you know I love these moments of unexpected hybridity. This is a wonderful one.

I've been working a bit the Museum of London and having lunch looking at the Roman Wall, the very wall that William the Conqueror built the Tower upon. Architectural incorporations leave more lasting traces, at least, than these cultural/racial/what have you human ones, since the human category differentiations tend to be so flimsy to begin with.

One last thing: at night I've been working at a coffee shop at the intersection of New Oxford, Charing Cross, and Tottenham Court Roads -- the meeting of many rivers of humans walking the city. Young lovers come and go as I type away, and very few of them seem to be human categories in self-segregation -- meaning that, less awkwardly, it is amazing (and beautiful) to see race beside the point.

Eileen Joy said...

The Edith Piaf story demonstrates nicely how certain "items" considered to be quintessentially "French" rarely are. A great text on this subject is Pierre Nora et alia's "Les lieux de memoire" project, especially, in the English, abbreviated version, "Realms of Memory," Volume III: Symbols.

Heo said...

Karl, I've nominated you for a thinking blogger award. If this is not OK, please feel free to ignore the nomination.

Now, to the topic at hand. Once I get past the anger, digust, and dispair that these types of stories inevitably evoke, I'm always slightly amazed by the ways in which those of the rightwing who would use religion as an identifier misidentify themselves.

We are us (list of good adjectives), because we are not them (list of bad adjectives), followed by behavior that makes the us worse than any them imaginable.

On my bad days, I just think that humans really need to go on the trash heap of history as quickly as possible so a better species can have a crack at the planet.