Fast Cars, Clean Bodies examines the crucial decade from Dien Bien Phu to the mid-1960s when France shifted rapidly from an agrarian, insular, and empire-oriented society to a decolonized, Americanized, and fully industrial one. In this analysis of a startling cultural transformation Kristin Ross finds the contradictions of the period embedded in its various commodities and cultural artifacts - automobiles, washing machines, women's magazines, film, popular fiction, even structuralism - as well as in the practices that shape, determine, and delimit their uses.
In each of the book's four chapters, a central object of mythical image is refracted across a range of discursive and material spaces: social and private, textual and cinematic, national and international. The automobile, the new cult of cleanliness in the capital and the colonies, the waning of Sartre and de Beauvoir as the couple of national attention, and the emergence of reshaped, functionalist masculinities (revolutionary, corporate, and structural) become the key elements in this prehistory of postmodernism in France.
Modernization ideology, Ross argues, offered the promise of limitless, even timeless, development. By situating the rise of "end of history" ideologies within the context of France's transition into mass culture and consumption, Ross returns the touted timelessness of modernization to history. She shows how the realist fiction and film of the period, as well as the work of social theorists such as Barthes, Lefebvre, and Morin who began at the time to conceptualize "everyday life," laid bare the disruptions and the social costs of events. And she argues that the logic of the racism prevalent in France today, focused on the figure of the immigrant worker, is itself the outcome of the French state's embrace of capitalist modernization ideology in the 1950s and 1960s.
An October Book
"A rare example of cultural studies done with zest as well as depth...this must be the first book to make a firm link between [Jacques Tati's] Monsieur Hulot's Holiday and [Roland Barthe's] Mythologies." —New Statesman & Society
“Fast Cars, Clean Bodies is a very perceptive American book about France. I know of no equivalent in either language. It reads easily, elegantly, mobilizing a wealth of information.”
—Denis Hollier, Yale University
“Kristin Ross provides a lucid, informed account of the rapid an disruptive transformation of French society and culture in the crucial period preceding 1968. Making a pointed use of the novel, film, cultural criticism, and the media, she charts the tensely related processes of domestic ‘modernization’ and decolonization, showing how they resulted in the colonization of everyday life. Certain to generate discussion and debate, Fast Cars, Clean Bodies is a thought-provoking tour de force that is important for both French studies and cultural studies in general.”
—Dominick LaCapra, Bowmar Professor of Humanistic Studies and Director of The Society for the Humanities, Cornell University
“Kristin Ross rocks our knowledge of a period: her feeling for the textures of modernization in post-war France subtly connects the well-plumbed, electrified domestic bliss of the modern couple innovative torture in Algeria, car crashes to urban renovation, the new woman to the new man. She renews the ways in which a cultural history can read between the archives of cinema, literature, ethnography, and sociology, so that, in a series of astonishing encounters, it seems as reasonable for Jacques Tati to rub shoulders with Francoise Sagan as with Fernand Braudel.”
—Adrian Rifkin, Professor of Fine Art, University of Leeds
“An original and illuminating re-interpretation of post-war French culture and of the myth of modernization.”
—Jill Forbes, Ashley Watkins Professor of French, University of Bristol