Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Redrawing History: Visual Postmemory in Tardi's 120, Rue De la Gare

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Redrawing History: Visual Postmemory in Tardi's 120, Rue De la Gare

Article excerpt

This essay explores ways in which Jacques Tardi's adaptation marks the otherwise apolitical narrative with historical indicators. Through the comics medium and the prolific use of shifting signifiers and monikers, the text grapples with the uneasy notion of a national identity threatened by Nazi occupation and the legacy of World War II.

Transforming a detective novel into a graphic detective novel, as Jacques Tardi does with his adaptation of 120, rue de la Gare, (1) is an act that complicates the textual superimposition of reader and detective. Shoshana Felman has famously claimed that detective fiction and psychoanalysis function together through a tripartite "exercice analytique de l'interprete/lecteur/detective," since all three usually occupy the same narrative position and perform similar investigative functions (31). The transformation of the detective novel into comics provides yet another direction or position along a new axis of representation, in its images and visual structures. Not only is the comics viewer-reader subject to the detective's vision and narration, as she is in a novel, but she also occupies another, more distanced "outside" perspective--an extradiegetic, malleable point of view in which the detective's narrative exists simultaneously within the textual narrative guided by the detective's voice and within a distanced field of vision, a seeing eye that is not necessarily from the same position as the detective. The comics medium thus allows for a multidimensional layering along several axes: text and image, presence and absence, space and time all come together in mutual interplay on a given page, creating a dense topos of narrative and representational possibilities.

Using this comics medium to rework Leo Malet's original 1943 noir detective novel therefore provides Tardi with a layered and complicated approach to representing memory and history. In Multidirectional Memory, Michael Rothberg proposes a way of understanding memory as "multidirectional: as subject to ongoing negotiation, cross-referencing, and borrowing; as productive and not privative" (3, emph. Rothberg's). For Tardi, wrestling with the legacy of World War II is both a personal and political act of "ongoing negotiation," and the comics medium provides a potential space for multidirectional intervention in the representation of this legacy. The images and the narrative both address the fundamental instability of national identity in times of crisis, reinforcing the connection between the larger concerns of "Frenchness" with the more intimate, individual concerns over names, signifiers, and subject positions.

120, rue de la Gare is, on the surface, a pulp detective story in which France's ace detective, Nestor Burma, must solve a case of torture, a murder, and two attempted murders, as well as discover the location of the titular address and what that address contains. However, this many-stranded investigation takes place against the backdrop of World War II, where Tardi's artistic intervention becomes most prominent. World War II and the Vichy regime stand as a moment of crisis: how can a nation be at once victim and perpetrator, occupied and complicit? What does it mean to identify as French during such a moment, and what are the stakes in claiming this identity in the face of this legacy? The aims of this essay are thus twofold: first, to explore the ways in which Tardi's adaptation manipulates the narrative and the comics medium in order to mark the otherwise apolitical narrative with historical indicators; and, second, to demonstrate how, through that same combination of visual and textual media and in its prolific use of shifting signifiers and monikers, the text grapples with the uneasy notion of national identity as the country is divided under Nazi occupation. The ever-changing, slippery identities of the characters in 120, rue de la Gare parallel the shifting, unstable collective identity of what it means to identify with a nation--to identify as French--both during World War II and in its aftermath. …

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