FNAR 318/518 ENGL 211: Paris Modern—Spiral City


Paris has been shaped by a mixture of organic development, which is today perceptible in the ‘snail’ pattern of its arrondisements whose numbers, from 1 to 20, coil around a central island several times so as to exemplify a ‘spiral city,’ and of the violent cuts, interruptions and sudden transformations that again and again forced it to catch up with modern times, the most visible of which was Baron Haussmann’s destruction of medieval sections of the city to make room for huge boulevards. Thus Parisian modernism has always consisted in a negotiation between the old and the new, and a specific meaning of modernity allegorized for Louis Aragon, the Surrealists, les Nouveaux Realistes and Walter Benjamin consisted in old-fashioned arcades built in the middle of the 19th century and obsolete by the time they turned into icons of Paris. The aim of the class will provide conceptual and pragmatic (visual, experiential) links between a number of lectures, texts, theories and films deploying various concepts of the modern in Paris, with a guided tour of the main places discussed. Particular attention will be paid to Paris’s presence in the world as a capital of fashion and as center of a former empire. The class will also look at the development of new suburbs and Grands Projets under President Françoise Mitterand, including the troubled social housing schemes defined by Villes Nouvelles such as Noisy-Le-Grand and Cergy Pontoise. The course that Professors Rabate (English) and Lum (Fine Arts) will lead studies Paris as a work of science-fiction where its many futures are embedded in its many pasts, where discontinuity is a continuous process and where the curving line of the snail’s shell is a line of ceaseless curling resulting in a perennial oscillation where an outside converts into an inside and an inside converts to an outside. The course will include travel to Paris over spring break to get an in-depth look at the topics discussed in class. Student assignments include a Benjaminian portfolio of research material according to a Paris topic of the student’s choosing. The portfolio will be presented in class.


Ken Lum, Professor and Chair of Fine Arts Department, School of Design, University of Pennsylvania
Jean-Michel Rabaté, Professor of English and Comparative Literature, University of Pennsylvania


Wednesday, 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.


Addams Seminar Room 111