Éric Hazan’s The Invention of Paris traces the elaboration and evolution of the modern city, both spiritual and spatial. This is all thanks to a handful of iconic monuments made famous from millions upon millions of reproductions, both professional and amateur. But also from a visual heritage that many people know, if few could actually name: the photography of Atget, Lartigue, Brassaï, Ronis, Cartier-Bresson and Doisneau, the paintings of Manet, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec. And, of course, Paris has long had a grip on the popular imagination worldwide, renowned as a centre of libertinism, freethinking, artistic fervour, popular revolt, and, most curiously, romance. …
Hazan, an art historian and publisher of note, was born in 1935 to a Jewish Egyptian father and a stateless Palestinian mother. It is this heritage that makes him more at ease with Paris’ multi-cultural complexion – so often ignored in official historiography – and the flux of time, than many French people of his generation. He names at one point among his favourite places in the capital the intersection of rues Jean-Pierre Timbaud and Morand in the 11th arrondissement. At this ‘impromptu square’ old working-class Paris, in the form of the headquarters of France’s metalworkers’ union, converges with recent immigration, in the form of a Mosque. Given that the Mosque, the Mosquée Omar, is considered one of the more radical in France, this fondness marks Hazan out as having a social sanguineness rare in French historians.
Not surprisingly, Hazan is a man of the left: strident yet lucid; withering yet good-humoured, angry but rarely dyspeptic. He is also capable of mourning the losses of the past without recourse to nostalgia. And he even sees Paris as recovering some of its vigour over the past two decades, as the architectural ravages visited on the city in the 1950s and 60s are replaced by more sensitive planning and Paris’ immigrant communities constitute themselves as the new working class. In this, he is similar to Alain Badiou, who has since the mid-1990s focused a project for a new working-class radicalism on the energy of the sans papiers and the youth of the banlieues. He is also surprisingly indulgent of the gentrification of the old working-class neighbourhoods (though to be true, this gentrification is really only partial) even if he can’t resist one or two well-aimed jabs that made me, personally, go ‘ouch’”
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Eric Hazan is the founder of the publisher La Fabrique and the author of several books, including Notes on the Occupation.