Romans noirs à Marseille

“Politiciens, voyous, et flics corrompus naviguent à vue, jetant les bases d’un système mafieux qui règne encore sur Marseille aujourd'hui.” This is the description on the back cover of Francois Thomazeau’s Marseille confidential, a noir novel set in Marseille in the 1930s. It’s in this same atmosphere of moral bankruptcy where the stories unfold in Maurice Attia’s Pointe rouge, set in 1968 but with recurring memories of the Algerian War of Independence and Ahmed Tiab’s Pour donner la mort, tapez 1. This latter novel, set in the 2000s, is saturated with memories of the Algerian Civil War of the 1990s. Memories of traumatic historical periods and the particular characteristics of the city of Marseille are just some of the literary tropes shared by these literary crime narratives. The police investigation serves as a venue for social critique around issues of immigration, colonial history, urban struggle, corruction, poverty, social marginalization, the rise of the right and a corrupt left, socialist political vacuum. How do all of these noir novels set in Marseille provide insights into the tensions of contemporary French society? What use is made in these novels of American noir cinema, itself produced in a charged climate of racial and political tensions of post-war America? We will engage with all of these questions in discussions with the authors themselves, talking with them about their writing and questions of the potential for social critique and reflection on the state of the nation in contemporary France.

Marseille is an interstitial urban space in the landscape of the French nation. Although it is France’s “second city” it is not a miniature replica of Paris as many smaller, provincial French cities can appear. Whereas provincial cities of France seem to be smaller versions of Paris, Marseille is something of a completely different nature. An animal of a different species, so to speak, from which reflections on the state of the nation emerge as liminal, between hegemonic places and voices of the center. 

The “polar”, or “noir” novel has always been a social-critical literary genre which voices critique of social exploitations, moral bankruptcies, injustices, failings, and disenfranchisement of marginal populations. The noir novel set in Marseille is a space of interstitial literary expression which lays bare the social problems ailing the contemporary French nation, problems which are repressed and silenced in the space of the main Parisian arrondissements and in other, less “morally corrupt” literary genres. In novels such as those we’re discussing, annunciation from interstitial voices grapples with such issues as the politics of the far right, immigration, all of those social elements that are considered worthless, problems of those populations that “don’t matter”. Marseille as the site of exile, immigration, transience, along with the mafia culture of “maguilles” and “combines” makes for an excellent site of social analysis of France today. 


Attendance by invitation only.