Remembering Places and Places of Memory: The Topographical Obsession with Paris in Patrick Modiano’s Fictional Works

Dr Khalifa Samuel
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For more than thirty years, Patrick Modiano has relentlessly pursued the amnesia of the Holocaust. An orphan of memory, like Georges Perec or Philip Roth, Modiano is haunted by his pre-history: 'I was only twenty, but my memory preceded my birth. I was sure, for example, that I had lived in Paris under the Occupation since I remembered some characters from that time and some remote and disturbing details, of the kind never mentioned in history books'.

In Modiano's writings, remembering is a duty which leads to an art of ruse and pretence. Both Un Pedigree (2005) and La Place de l'Étoile (1968), written almost forty years earlier, make the same observation. For memory to be kept alive, it should not be rigidified, but rather recognised as a space traversed by forgetting.

No more history can fiction resist the memory of the unspeakable. However, through shattering two previously legitimate forms of memory, History and Literature, the texts of Modiano succeed in reaching a partial, intermediate truth, the only kind which can be envisaged. This sense of reality, which must be expressed rather than understood, becomes the object of an investigation — or of a quest. Dora Bruder is at first a name, then a trace, then a presence. The memory of her disappearance becomes a reality indissociable from writing itself: 'If I were not here to write it down, there would be no trace of this unknown person'. As a memorial text, the book therefore appears not only as a way of comprehending the mystery of memory, but also of liberating the mourning contained within the scandal of absence.

Keywords: Patrick Modiano, Representing the City, Paris, History and Memory, Life Writing, Fiction and Identity
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
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Dr Khalifa Samuel

Lecturer in contemporary French studies, Language Department, Institut d'Etude Politiques de Paris

Samuel Khalifa (PhD French Literature,Sorbonne Nouvelle) is lecturer at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques (Paris). He has taught French language, literature and cinema at the University of London (Royal Holloway) and the Hogeschool van Amsterdam (Higher Education Teaching School). From 2002, he is a consultant for the Training and Development Career Programme of the UN personnel at the UNESCO (Paris HQ).
His principal researches concern memory and the representation of urban space. His specific interests include contemporary European cinema and life writing. He is the author of article on Patrick Modiano,Georges Perec and Jean-François Steiner.

Ref: H06P0127