Recommended by Henry Abelove, it's an excellent read. In this mix of memoir and critical analysis, French sociologist Didier Eribon asks why he had not written before about his working-class origins when he had written extensively on the also-stigmatized identity of being gay. The flight from Reims, where he grew up, to Paris is, on the one hand, a fulfillment of gay desire and, on the other, an abandonment of his class. Insightful analysis of how the social worlds and identities we are born into—including the worlds of work, education, sports, and "culture"—predetermine so much of our life. They show us what is possible; they also don't show us what is possible. It is a violence inflicted on both gay and working-class people, giving rise to an abiding feeling of shame that we can try to rework politically into pride and action, but we can never free ourselves from. Perhaps I am too influenced by the generic conventions of a memoir, but I would have liked to learn more about the day-to-day details of working, studying, and cruising in Reims. 

Some of my favorite passages:

"That is why any sociology or any philosophy that begins by placing at the center of its project the "point of view of the actors" and the "meaning they give to their actions" runs the risk of simply reproducing a shorthand version of the mystified relation tha social agents maintain with their own practices and desires, and consequently does nothing more than serve to perpetuate the world as it currently stands—an ideology of justification (for the established order)."

"A worker's body, as it ages, reveals to anyone who looks at it the truth about the existence of classes."

"When people write about the working class world, which they rarely do, it is most often because they have left it behind. They thereby contribute to perpetuating the social illegitimacy of the people they are speaking of in the very moment of speaking about them. This happens even if they write with the goal of exposing and critiquing the very status of social illegitimacy to which these people are relegated over and over again, because in writing they take a necessary critical distance, and with it the position of a judge or an evaluator."

"An interest in artistic and literary objects always ends up contributing, whether or not it happens consciously, to a way of defining yourself as having more self-worth; it helps produce a differentiation from those who lack access to those same objects, or a "distinction," in the sense of a gap between yourself and others..."

"Merleau-Ponty, too, while emphasizing that "the vote consults people at rest, outside their job, outside their life," that is, according to an abstract and individualizing logic, insists on the fact that "when we vote, it is a form of violence": "Each rejects the suffrage of the others." Far from seeking to collaborate in defining all together what the "general will" of the people might be, far from contributing to the establishment of a consensus or to the emergence of a majority to whose wishes a minority would agree to acquiesce, the working class, or some part of it (and in this it is like any other class: think of the reaction of the bourgeoisie each time the left is elected to power), is there ready to contest the claim that some elected majority represents the "general" point of view...."

"I might put it this way, taking my inspiration from the metaphoric floral prose of Genet: there comes a moment when, being spat upon, you turn the spit into roses; you turn the verbal attacks into a garland of flowers, into rays of light. There is, in short, a moment when shame turns into pride. This pride is political through and through because it defies the deepest workings of normality and of normativity."


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