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Essays in French Literature, Thought and Visual Culture


Edited By Georgina Evans and Adam Kay

This collection of essays arises from the 2005 Cambridge French Graduate Conference on the theme of threat. From the baleful and ubiquitous eyes of surveillance cameras to the ever-present possibility of total nuclear annihilation, threat is everywhere around us. Yet the phenomenon itself, if indeed it is a single phenomenon, has received little attention. This volume seeks to remedy this oversight with a collection of concise, hard-hitting essays on a variety of topics in French culture. Organized around central approaches to the problem of threat – (inter)cultural, philosophical, and approaches through the visual arts – the book examines anxiety, privacy, loss, invasion, and other issues related to the theme. Though emphasis is placed on the contemporary period, writers of the French Renaissance also receive due attention.


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LAURA MCMAHON Touching Intact: Sophie Calle’s Threat to Privacy 69


Laura McMahon Touching Intact: Sophie Calle’s Threat to Privacy From the high stakes of DNA tracing and CCTV surveillance, to the more trivial curiosities of reality TV and internet browsing histories, the con- cept of tracing is one which persistently, and often provocatively, hovers around the edges of much social, political and cultural interaction. The recent debate over the introduction of identity cards in Britain is a case in point, highlighting the divide between the desire on the one hand for stricter identity controls and the concern on the other for preserving civil liberties. The perceived risk of being traced is linked to the fear of losing one’s privacy, a fear which has become something of a social obsession. As Jonathan Franzen argues, privacy is ‘espoused as the most fundamental of rights, marketed as the most desirable of commodities, and pronounced dead twice a week’.1 Private lives in postmodern times seem to be increas- ingly under siege, at every moment exposed to the potential threat of the penetrating public eye. Nowhere is this made more apparent than through the medium of the photograph, one of the most effective methods of tracking and identify- ing the subject. As Susan Sontag observes, ‘photographs furnish evidence’: their ability to frame and fix the subject is a powerful tool and one which is used to constantly blur the boundaries between the public and the pri- vate.2 In La Chambre claire, Roland Barthes writes that photography has resulted in what he calls ‘l’irruption du priv...

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