Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Serious sociological reflection

Georges Simenon was born on Friday, February 13 — 102 years ago. Last Friday, A Different Stripe posted a great quote about it:
"It's a boy," she stammered. As for him, with a complete lack of self-restraint, he said, crying all the while:

"I shall never, never forget that you have just given me the greatest joy a woman can give a man..."

"Désiré... Listen... What time is it?"

The child had been born at ten past twelve. Élise whispered:

"Listen, Désiré... He's come into the world on a Friday the thirteenth... Nobody must know... You must beg that woman..."

And that was why, the next morning, when Désiré, accompanied by his brother Arthur as a witness, went to register the child's birth at the Town Hall, he told the clerk, with an innocent expression:

"Roger Mamelin, born at Liége, at No. 18, Rue Léopold, on Thursday 12 February 1903."
That's from Pedigree, Simenon's novelization of his own life, which I have not yet read.

As if to chide me, there's also an excellent essay by Elliott Colla on "Maigret's Jurisdiction" in the LA Review of Books:
By mapping out the emergent networks of French modernity as a sprawling social geography, Simenon turned crime writing toward serious sociological reflection. Take, for instance, the enigmatic opening lines of Pietr the Latvian: "ICPC to PJ Paris Xvzust Krakow vimontra m ghks triv psot uv Pietr-le-Letton Bremen vs tyz btolem." Maigret translates the phrase, which, we learn, is composed in the language of a continental network of police agencies. Rendered legible, the words read: "International Criminal Police Commission to Police Judiciaire in Paris: Krakow police report sighting Pietr the Latvian en route to Bremen." The next memo reads: "Polizei-Präsidium Bremen to PJ Paris: Pietr the Latvian reported en route Amsterdam and Brussels." These memos and others sketch a colorful map of overlapping networks: a rail that could take a Latvian national through Poland and Germany, then Holland and Belgium and on to France; a police network linking the national polices of these various countries in a single system of knowledge and surveillance; and, of course, a communication network linking these two systems — rail and policing — to one another in real-time.

The rest of the novel fills out this geography, and indicates just how exhilarating and terrifying it was for Simenon to witness the emergence of this interwar landscape where polyglot nations intersected and interpenetrated each other by way of crime and interdiction. Bodies, goods, and information travel back and forth across borders with near infinite possibilities. This movement is what makes crime possible, by allowing men to leave their pasts behind or to inhabit more than one identity at a time.
All those Maigret reissues to explore. And I still have a few old Simenon paperbacks that I dug up in second-hand shops lying around, unread. And there are several untranslated works also available to me to practice my French. I have a feeling I'll be getting back to basic, serious sociological reflection with Simenon very soon.

No comments: