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A Cult-Classic Novel of French Bohemia Is Translated into English for the First Time


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At the Bookforum website, Hannah Stamler celebrates the translation into English for the first time of French author Jean-Jacques Schuhl’s cult-classic novel Dusty Pink (Rose poussière). Originally published in 1972, the novel follows a first-person narrator as he wanders through the bohemian districts of Paris and London, offering cutting, wry observations about fashion, sex, and mass culture. Dusty Pink is translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman and published by Semiotext(e). Here’s an excerpt from Stamler’s review:

In Dusty Pink, trends and their bearers are only ever half-alive, infected with the twin germs of their ephemerality and replaceability. The featured characters—mostly anonymous residents of London and Paris—are not portrayed as individuals, but instead presented as either as unnamed prototypes, like the dandy or the fashion model, or as mere amalgamations of clothes and hairdos soon to become outmoded. The only people who receive proper names are the uber-famous, like Rolling Stones Mick Jagger and Brian Jones, though they seem named less as humans than personae, icons manufactured for record sleeves and television screens (to deadly consequence, in the case of Jones, who died in 1969—a casualty to young celebrity).

As Schuhl puts it, in a phrase he intentionally, and irreverently, misattributes to Coco Chanel, “Style isn’t funny. It’s something on the brink of suicide.” This perspective helps to explain why fashions can sometimes manifest here as shades that are not only grimy but definitively tainted: sickly whites and dusty pinks containing an undercoat of rot; colors at least a couple paces removed from any natural human skin tone. To embrace fashion is, Schuhl implies with a hearty wink, to accept a morbid sort of social contract—subsuming the self to the mass through objects that are, in the end, fleeting and fickle.

Image of Jean-Jacques Schuhl via lexpress.fr.