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SMYRNA-DETROIT-BERLIN...: AN URBAN QUEST FOR PERSONAL IDENTITY IN JEFFREY EUGENIDES’ MIDDLESEX


NICOLE OLLIER
Université Bordeaux-Montaigne, France

Issue:

CP, Number 21

Section:

No. 21 (2016)  Editorial

Abstract:

After John Bunyan’s allegorical The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come (1678), a tradition of urban peregrinations may be observed in Anglophone literature as part of a Bildungsroman; thus, we only have to think of James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) in the city of Dublin, or Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy. Jeffrey Eugenides uses the pattern, extending it to several cities and several generations in his novel, Middlesex. The narrator’s life begins before his conception with his grandparents’ exodus from Asia Minor, and his own exile from America to Germany: we have a triptych of cities – Smyrna-Detroit-Berlin –, each city tending to proliferate with satellites, each offering to be read like a text, if we admit that “a city is constructed like a text, it is an ‘inscription of man in space’ (Barthes 1988: 193) unfolding, challenging, confusing, thrilling and threatening all at the same time.” (Campbell & Kean 1997: 162) This Barthesian inscription of man in space is echoed in Walt Whitman’s definition of cities as organic bodies connecting the individual to the whole, and stressing their “dynamic, forward-looking qualities and transformative potential” (Idem, 162). Fitzgerald adds in “an edge of sexuality, mystery and a strange mixture of glamour, wealth and fading glory that is always part of the urban milieu” (Idem 177), while Upton Sinclair sees the city as a jungle. In addition to literature, painting and the cinema are well-adapted to the celebration of cities. If the painter Edward Hopper is fascinated by the “raw disorder of New York”, Woody Allen declares his love to his city without being able to choose among its contradictions in Manhattan (1979). For contradictions and ambiguities are indeed what most characterize a city, making it difficult to understand, exciting curiosity, sometimes triggering fear.

Keywords:

urban quest, identity, Smyrna, Detroit, Berlin, Jeffrey Eugenides.

Code [ID]:

CP201621V00S01A0006 [0004480]

Full paper:

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