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Virginie Despentes

Core reading

Virginie Despentes, Vernon Subutex, Volume 1 (2015) [please buy the Livre de poche edition and please ensure you buy Volume 1 rather than Volume 2]

Advance preparation

Week 3

  1. Research Despentes and her other work (see also Best & Crowley).
  2. Explain and discuss the novel’s title (and the name of the main character)? What do you make of some of the other character names? (e.g. Alex Bleach, Lydia Bazooka, La Hyène?)
  3. To what extent does the novel prepare the reader for Vernon’s becoming homeless?
  4. Discuss the role of pornography thematically and formally in the text (see also Best & Crowley and Long).
  5. Discuss the depiction of drugs in the novel.
  6. Student presentation: ‘Vernon est resté bloqué au siècle dernier, quand on se donnait encore la peine de prétendre qu’être était plus important qu’avoir.’ (107) Discuss.
  7. Consider the novel’s depiction of twenty-first-century French society.

Week 4

  1. Describe Vernon’s particular experience of Paris once he becomes homeless. Consider how he experiences the urban geography of the city, his savoir-vivre or survival strategies and how he acquires them, the attitudes of the police, other city functionaries and passers-by.
  2. Examine the novel’s depiction of the upper echelons of the film industry (Laurent Dopalet) and high finance (Kiko, his flat and his retinue).
  3. In what ways is competitiveness (success and failure, winning and losing) presented in the novel?
  4. Describe and discuss the novel’s depiction of the effects of social media on: (a) interpersonal relationships (b) individuals, their curiosity, activities and self-esteem (c) politics (d) truth
  5. Passage for commentary: ‘Contrairement aux prognostics de Laurent’ (350) => ‘se concentrer sur le flot de ses pensées.’ (351)

Further reading

  • Best, Victoria & Crowley, Martin, The New Pornographies: Explicit Sex in Recent French Fiction and Film (Manchester: Manchester UP, 2007), ch. on Despentes’s earlier work, in particular pp. 163–79. See here.
  • Blanc, Maurice & Clément, Serge (eds), Espaces et sociétés 116-117 (2004), special issue: Habiter sans logis. Accessible via Cairn. See in particular the editors’ introduction and articles by Julien Damon, Daniel Terrolle and Clément et al.
  • Long, Julia, Anti-Porn: The Resurgence of Anti-Pornography Feminism (London: Zed Books, 2012), in particular ch. 3, ‘Pornification and Its Discontents’, pp. 111–146. Available as an e-book here.
  • Pasquet, Guy-Noël (ed), Le Sociographe 48 (2014), special issue: Nouvelle gestion sociale des SDF. Accessible via Cairn.
  • Smith, Andrew, ‘In Defense of Homelessness’, Journal of Value Inquiry 48 (2014): 33–51. Accessible via the Library here.