By Jan Baetens
Tourism is big business and “literary” travel guides are often marketed as culturally correct tools to upgrade the experience of the journey, be it abroad or at home. The new book by Eric Hazan (a publisher and political activist born in 1935 whose crisp and provocative ways of writing and thinking can be given as an example to many of those who are much younger than him) is not a book of this kind. A personal and often directly autobiographical expansion of his well-known social history of Paris (The Invention of Paris, translated by Verso in 2011), Une Traversée de Paris (“A Crossing of Paris”, a heavily connoted title which refers to the tradition of Situationist psychogeography as well as to a famous French movie on the black market during the German occupation) is, in the first place, a political book: a challenging contribution to the rich corpus of non-tourist books on Paris (other recent examples can be found in the work by Jean Rolin, Zones, 1997, which exists in a bilingual pocket edition, and Thomas Clerc, unfortunately not yet available in English).
Walking though Paris –and Hazan is a wonderful guide, a great observer, an excellent writer– is a very different experience from what tourist offices and their marketing spin doctors describe in countless brochures and reportages (all costs paid by the organizations that commission the writing, of course –and should it be repeated: literary slum tourism is an extremely popular, well paid and highly profitable part of this industry). The book is not at all an aggressive rebuttal of the tourist dream factory. It does what all great literature should do: make us aware of a different reality, and help us look better; that is, to really watch instead of just look around.
On: Eric Hazan, Une Traversée de Paris, éd. du Seuil, 2016, 194 p.