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Dirty Work: Labor, Dissatisfaction and Everyday Life in Contemporary French Literature and Culture (1975-present)

  • Author(s): Fronsman-Cecil, Dorthea Margery
  • Advisor(s): Brozgal, Lia N
  • et al.
Abstract

“Dirty Work: Labor, Dissatisfaction and Everyday Life in Contemporary French Literature and Culture (1975-present),” is an analysis of the representation of everyday activities – namely, of work, leisure, and consumerism – in contemporary French novels and other cultural productions. This dissertation examines how these contemporary texts use narrative, generic, and stylistic experiments to represent cynicism and dissatisfaction with everyday life as the consequences of neoliberal capitalist ideology and instrumentalist thinking, which define “work” as labor that produces commodities and profit and “leisure” as consumerism. In this way, these cultural productions critique capitalist instrumentalism for reducing human subjectivity to embodied economic struggle. I demonstrate how these texts portray dissatisfied laborers (and unemployed people) exhausted by unfulfilling work and financial precariousness, who implicate these conditions for thwarting their pursuit of more meaningful activities – artistic creation, meaningful work, love, community-building, political action – and existential freedom. By problematizing the effects of capitalist ideology, economic inequality, and received ideas about work and art, the texts in the corpus portray creative work, political consciousness, and social engagement as essential to contemporary individuals’ sense of subjective fulfillment and of belonging within French society. The corpus of this dissertation includes a wide range of authors, from best-selling novelists to “cult” underground figures: works by controversial but popular authors Michel Houellebecq and Fr�d�ric Beigbeder; newer literary voices Nathalie Kuperman, Gauz, and Julien Campredon; and punk and underground writers Virginie Despentes, Kriss Vil�, and Jean-Louis Costes. In addition to fiction, the corpus includes songs, zines, and journalism. I read these narratives of everyday life – literary fiction, genre fiction, subcultural fiction, and other texts – through a critical lens informed by continental and Marxist philosophy, literary theory, and the social sciences. With this critical framework, I illustrate that the texts in the corpus portray creative work, social engagement, and political consciousness as essential to contemporary individuals’ sense of subjective fulfillment and of belonging within French society. Finally, by recuperating the texts of subcultures for scholarly study, this dissertation also sheds timely critical light on texts overlooked by scholars for up to 43 years, illuminating their aesthetic and thematic correspondences with better-known works.

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