Belleville rouge, Belleville noir, Belleville rose: The Complex Identity of a Parisian quartier

Carolyn Stott

Abstract


The Parisian quartier of Belleville has long been the subject of scholarly literature and popular culture due to its colourful history and diverse population. Its symbolic boundaries extend beyond the geographical limits imposed by its administrative demarcation. Myths abound as to the extent of its rebellious past, its contemporary image as a melting pot and its prevalence as a décor for the noir genre. In this article a three-tiered categorisation of Belleville is adopted which corresponds to various representations of the suburb in literature, popular culture and from the perspective of its inhabitants. Belleville rouge reflects the quartier’s revolutionary past and the late 20th century struggle associated with its physical metamorphosis. Belleville noir focusses on the quartier’s criminal face, as it is depicted in Parisian film and roman noir and as it exists in reality. Belleville rose highlights the pleasures of the quartier: its cosmopolitan character whose representation verges at times on utopian.    In his Malaussène series (1985-1995), writer and former resident Daniel Pennac portrays Belleville as a unique blend of rouge, noir and rose. This fusion of fairy tale, detective fiction, myth and reality establishes a complex Bellevillois identity distinct from other contemporary representations. The article concludes that it is impossible to associate a single identity with Belleville. The quartier’s contemporary face is inextricably linked to its past, the memory of which is preserved by its inhabitants and by social and literary commentators such as Pennac. In keeping with historian Pierre Nora’s concept of cultural memory, Pennac thus assumes the role of guardian of Belleville’s cultural memory in the face of the quartier’s perpetual evolution.

Keywords


Belleville; identity; Paris; representations; Daniel Pennac

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5130/portal.v12i1.4100