Fast Cars, Clean Bodies: Decolonization and the Reordering of French Culture

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Overview

Fast Cars, Clean Bodies examines the crucial decade from Dien Bien Phu to the mid-1960s when France shifted rapidly from an agrarian, insular, and empire-oriented society to a decolonized, Americanized, and fully industrial one. In this analysis of a startling cultural transformation Kristin Ross finds the contradictions of the period embedded in its various commodities and cultural artifacts - automobiles, washing machines, women's magazines, film, popular fiction, even structuralism - as well as in the practices that shape, determine, and delimit their uses.

In each of the book's four chapters, a central object of mythical image is refracted across a range of discursive and material spaces: social and private, textual and cinematic, national and international. The automobile, the new cult of cleanliness in the capital and the colonies, the waning of Sartre and de Beauvoir as the couple of national attention, and the emergence of reshaped, functionalist masculinities (revolutionary, corporate, and structural) become the key elements in this prehistory of postmodernism in France.

Modernization ideology, Ross argues, offered the promise of limitless, even timeless, development. By situating the rise of "end of history" ideologies within the context of France's transition into mass culture and consumption, Ross returns the touted timelessness of modernization to history. She shows how the realist fiction and film of the period, as well as the work of social theorists such as Barthes, Lefebvre, and Morin who began at the time to conceptualize "everyday life," laid bare the disruptions and the social costs of events. And she argues that the logic of the racism prevalent in France today, focused on the figure of the immigrant worker, is itself the outcome of the French state's embrace of capitalist modernization ideology in the 1950s and 1960s.

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Ross (literature, U. of California, Santa Cruz) explores how the modern French resistance to influence from the US and former French colonies is framed in metaphors of purity and defilement to evoke the image of a pristine culture beset by foreign contamination. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
New Statesman
A rare example of cultural studies done with zest as well as depth...this must be the first book to make a firm link between [Jacques Tati's] Monsieur Hulot's Holiday and [Roland Barthe's] Mythologies.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262181617
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/1994
  • Pages: 274
  • Product dimensions: 7.31 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction 1
1 La Belle Americaine 15
Car History 15
Moving Pictures 22
Cars, Couples, and Careers 54
2 Hygiene and Modernization 71
Housekeeping 71
Keeping House 105
3 Couples 123
The Great Divorce 123
The Making of the New French Middle Class 126
Neobourgeois Space 145
4 New Men 157
New Men and the Death of Man 157
Cadres 165
Immobile Time 176
Notes 197
Selected Bibliography 233
Selected Filmography 251
Index 255
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