Fast Cars, Clean Bodies: Decolonization and the Reordering of French Culture
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Fast Cars, Clean Bodies: Decolonization and the Reordering of French Culture

3.72 of 5 stars 3.72  ·  rating details  ·  54 ratings  ·  9 reviews
"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...more
Paperback, 273 pages
Published February 28th 1996 by MIT Press (MA) (first published October 1994)
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On a discourse level, Ross presents a brilliant and insightful criticism of the historical processes of decolonization in conjunction with modernization movements. She expands on the "memoricide" critiques from Benjamin Stora (that France and the French have actively forgotten about the impacts of France's colonial/imperialist roots) in order to outline the processes that contributed to this dangerous defect of, in her words, making "colonialism itself seem like a dusty archaism." The refusal to...more
This book is simply outstanding as a piece of cultural analysis, as a savvy piece of cultural history, and as a companion guide to the films of Jacques Tati. Tati is a recurring figure in the book (more often via his film Mon Oncle) than the common M Hulot’s Holiday or Playtime although both of them as well as Jour de fête make regular appearance. Ross presents Tati as one of the key commentators on France in the late 1950s and early 1960s – the period in question here – and her focus on the com...more
May 26, 2008 T.J. rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: pretentious grad students, Francophiles, OCD soap users, that French film buff
This is an utterly engaging read that looks at France at the disintegration of its colonial empire and its rebirth as a modern European state following World War II. The losses in Vietnam and Algeria play as distant backdrops to the rising consumer culture and need for soap and automobiles in a 1960's France eager for cheap Algerian labor (before they bitterly turned against the builders of their economic success two decades later). Ross is at times dry, other times bitingly clever as she traces...more
This is a small book (less than 200 pages) but very dense. Ross, author of another great book, The Emergence of Social Space: Rimbaud and the Paris Commune, analyzes France's rush to Americanize after WWII and its negation of the colonial struggle as an anachronism. She gives a politicized reading of the Structuralists and New Novelists, arguing that their insistence on the end of history and the end of man was an implicit collaboration with the rising new technocracy (funded by the CIA, of cour...more
Chelsea Szendi
Working with a tight economy of words, Ross opens up the multifaceted implications of interweaving France's decolonization and modernization narratives. With a few clean strokes, she asks some very big questions. I found this book particularly provocative because some of the core themes and concepts can probably travel very well to other advanced industrial nations at the time: the role of French theory (i.e. structuralism in this context) may have been unique in France and beyond, but France wa...more
I love Ross. I don’t always agree with her, and she drives social historians crazy, but she is so inventive and such a creative thinker, it’s difficult not to be smitten with her. This is her easy one, and quite different from what most people are used to in a history book. After the first chapter or so you will never be able to look at an automobile the same way again.

Her book on May 1968 is just as imaginative, but aimed squarely at other scholars and places greater demands on the reader.
this is a well-written book and everything, but most of the emphasis she puts on hygiene or cars seems rather commonplace, so i did not feel like i learned too much. still it made me think quite a bit about the timothy burke book lux women lifebuoy men -- perhaps that book must have been inspired by this one quite a bit?
Christopher Sutch
Very interesting analysis of French post-war modernization. I found the final chapter, with its analsysis/critique of structuralism, to be extremely valuable.
Nothing good can come from assigning a lit-crit book to a history major.
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