The Environmental Humanities welcome Cole Cridlin (French and Italian) for a colloquium to discuss his written work. There will be a prepared response by Simi Kang (CMU, Mellon-Sawyer Postdoctoral Fellow).
French director Sébastien Lifshitz’ 2004 film Wild Side offers a complex narrative of transsexual subjectivity in France. While both the film and its director have won wide acclaim, the film has been surprisingly undertreated by scholars. What studies do exist have considered the film in relation to temporality (Reeser), nationality/citizenship (Provencher), and capitalism (Rees-Roberts); however, there remains a crucial aspect of the film that has gone unstudied: the film’s relation to its setting in rural Northern France. In A Queer Time and Place (2005), Jack Halberstam coins the term “metronormativity” to describe the rural-to-urban narrative that maps itself onto the coming out narrative of the modern queer subject, the former granting a spatial dimension to the temporal trajectory of the latter (36). One implication of this model, which is based upon the urban mythologization of rural spaces, is that urban spaces are perceived as zones of tolerance and acceptance while rural spaces are widely rendered as backwards and lonely. Wild Side problematizes Halberstam’s model by offering the depiction of a post-urban transsexual woman who is forced to return to rural France in order to care for her dying mother, Dominique (Josiane Stoléru). In the film, the protagonist Stéphanie’s (Stéphanie Michelini) interactions, both with other characters as well as the French landscape itself, reveal that rurality is able to (re)inscribe itself onto her body in ways that further the evolution of her transsexual subjectivity in ways that would otherwise be impossible in metropolitan Paris. Such a transformation reveals the metronormative narrative to be a form of “cruel optimism” as described in Laura Berlant’s Cruel Optimism (2011) that ultimately prohibits Stéphanie from being able to fully flourish in the cityscape of her urban home. Setting metronormativity in dialogue with Judith Butler’s notion of a “grievable life” (The Psychic Life of Power), this paper reveals the extent to which the metronormative narrative forces Stéphanie’s character to adopt a melancholic relationship with the rural space(s) she had previously inhabited. This relationality is one inherently based upon Freudian distinctions between melancholia and mourning that prohibit the subject from, in the case of metronormativity, being “free and uninhibited and” to fully incorporate itself into its newly-realized urban life (“Mourning and Melancholia”, 252-3). To stake out the significance of melancholia’s function in Wild Side, I purposefully draw upon a pastoral mode of cinema that considers the relational possibilities between human and non-human nature through its concern with the place of the human in nature. I contend that Lifshitz’ treatment of rural spaces in the film draw upon and rework the pastoral mode of cinema to reveal the protagonist’s melancholic relationality to both her childhood and her childhood home. As she is joined in rural France by her two lovers, Mikhail (Édouard Nikitine) and Djamel (Yasmine Belmadi), Stéphanie’s ability to rework her connections to rural France, which ultimately culminate with her mother’s death, and the trio’s subsequent return to Paris allow for the transformation of her melancholy into mourning via the grief she exhibits at the end of the film. To this end, the chapter concludes not only in having considered the manners in which Wild Side complicates the standard urban-terminal metronormative narrative, but also in mapping the contours of what I ultimately introduce as a new cinematic model that reconceptualizes both the pastoral mode of cinema: the post-pastoral. This, in turn, serves as a productive strategy for establishing a discourse that counters hegemonic notions of metronormativity in 21st century conceptualizations of queer subjectivities.
For the pre-circulated reading, please click here for access to the Google Drive.
Wednesday, January 15 at 4:30 p.m.