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Conference : “Screening Crime in the Arab World”
4 – 6 May 2023
Saint Joseph University of Beirut
This conference will focus on Arab crime films and TV series, by which are meant, broadly, works of fiction centering on crimes, criminals and criminal investigations (by law enforcement agencies or ordinary citizens), from the beginning of Arab cinema to the present. The term “Arab” is understood in a broad sense, as referring to any film or series produced in the Arab world and/or having Arabic as a main language.
The aim of the conference is not to impose a rigid taxonomy on these crime dramas, but to read them in their historical contexts of production and reception and to reflect on the multiple dimensions – narrative, cultural, social, legal, political, etc. – of crime and, where appropriate, of criminal investigations in Arab movies/shows.
The film industry in the Arab world took up the themes of crime and its investigation from an early stage. Since its rise in the 1950s, Arab cinema, particularly in Nasser’s Egypt, has featured a plethora of crimes, criminals, magistrates and investigators. The themes and atmospheres of Arab crime films are often reminiscent of American or French film noir: featuring black-and-white cinematography and dramatic music, mixing melodramatic crime stories (often murder stories) with social realism, it gives pride of place to desperate situations in which injustice, disorientation, madness and fate take centre stage.
The same applies to TV series, which were very successful long before the development of pay platforms and complex series, and often foreground criminal investigations. Parolin’s observation about Egyptian series applies to the field in general: “Enigmas or crimes often constitute the central narrative device of whole shows that are not necessarily identified as belonging to the same genre” (Parolin 2021a). The prominence of these enigmas or crimes is today reinforced by the emergence of platforms such as Shahid VIP, which were conceived under the influence of Netflix. These contribute to revitalize popular genres and to root the crime genre in the television habits of Arab audiences.
The substantial corpus of noir films and police or crime series, their place in the movie/TV landscapes of the Arab world, the formal or aesthetic expressiveness to which they aspire, the sometimes complex and elaborate discourses which they formulate on the world of crime, their appropriation of thematic or stylistic motifs from other cinemas (notably Hollywood), their critical reception and popular success: all these aspects invite us to think of them in terms of genre and to investigate their contexts, their codes, their characteristics, as well as the variety of readings they allow.
A few cinematic and serial milestones
Early cinematic representations of crime include such milestones as Rayā wa Sakīna (Raya and Sakina, 1953) or al-Waḥš (The Monster, 1954) by director Salah Abou Sayf, based on scripts by Naguib Mahfouz. Although investigations may be haphazard, the pursuit of the culprit at the head of an organized criminal system and the suspense that characterise them bring them close to the gangster film or film noir. These films also show that, while rooted in a local context, the cinema of the Egyptian classical period explicitly refers to certain Hollywood authors and codes. This trend can also be seen in Youssef Chahine’s Bāb al-ḥadīd (Cairo Station, 1957) or al-Iḫtiyār (The Choice, 1971). More recently, the German-Danish-Swedish production The Nile Hilton Incident, a multi- award-winning film by Swedish-Egyptian director Tarik Saleh (2017), has been largely perceived as “true film noir” in the Egyptian style (Jean-François Rauger, Le Monde, 2017).
Crime films appeared in the Maghreb in the mid-1970s, but only gained international visibility at the turn of the millennium. Thus Nour-Eddine Lakhmari’s Casanegra (2008, in Moroccan dialect) or Faouzi Bensaïdi’s Bay‛ al-mawt (Death for Sale, 2011) are powerful testimonies to the breakdowns and vulnerabilities of Arab societies.
Literature helps to fuel the cinema with tales of enigmatic murders. The Franco-Algerian film Morituri (2007), directed by Okacha Touita, is adapted from the novel of the same name by the writer Yasmina Khadra. The Egyptian Ahmad Mourad wrote the screenplays for the films adapted from his own noir novels: al-Fīl al-azraq (The Blue Elephant, 2014) and Turāb al-mās (Diamond Dust, 2018), directed by Marwan Hamed. In Morocco, Abdulillah Hamdoushi wrote a screenplay based on his novel al-Ḥanaš (al-Ḥanaš, 2017).
Crime drama on television is also on the rise in some Arab countries, especially during Ramadan. This is the case, for instance, with Egyptian series such as Man al-ǧānī? (Who is the culprit?, 2015); Istīfā (Preliminary Report, 2015); Kalabš (Handcuffs, 2017) or Ḍidd maǧhūl (Unsolved Case, 2018). In Syria, Luġz al-ǧarīma (The Mystery of Murder, 2003); Ḫaṭṭ al-nihāya (The Path to the End, 2002-2017) or Kašf al-aqni’a (The Masks Fall, Ramadan 2011) are among the leading shows. In Morocco, al-Qaḍiyya (The Affair, 2006-2007), al-Ġūl (The Ogre, 2016) or al-Sirr al-madfūn (The Buried Secret, Ramadan 2020) illustrate the criminal phenomenon. And the list is long.
Guidelines for conference papers
The following dimensions and issues may be addressed during the conference:
- The noir/crime/detective dimensions of Arab films and series. What kinds of crimes are committed? What are the roles/functions of criminals, victims and investigators? On what principles and methods are investigations based and what do they reveal? What are the value systems, the ideologies, the historical, socio-political, economic and psychological motives, the dominant points of view, the visual style, the narrative characteristics of these crime films and series?
- The place and popularity of the crime genre in the production and distribution systems of Arab films and series, possibly in comparison with those of other countries within the region and beyond.
- The relationship with true crime. Some real stories have made the headlines and given rise to fictional adaptations – whether in films, radio or TV shows – such as the famous case of the two sisters Rayā and Sakīna (1919-1920) or, more recently, the murder of Suzanne Tamim (2008), which has inspired a number of television series, including Layālī (2009), Ahl Cairo (2010), al-Murāfaʿa (2014) or the above-mentioned film The Nile Hilton Incident. It would be interesting to address the perceptions of such cases, their fictional narrativization, the link between crime fiction and history, or to investigate the social contexts in which such adaptations are rooted.
- The many interactions and relationships between Arab crime films/series and foreign works. One may, for example, seek to shed light on their kinship with film noir or series in other countries, as well as on the specific modalities of investigation in the case of transnational transpositions, as for example in such shows as Grānd Hotel (2016) adapted from the Spanish series Gran Hotel, or Zayy iš-Šams (2017) adapted from the Italian Sorelle.
- The comparative study of literary crime fiction and its film or television adaptations. Major directors such as Salah Abou Sayf or Tawfiq Saleh were inspired by novels by Naguib Mahfouz (al-Liṣṣ wa-l-Kilāb, 1962) or Tawfiq al-Hakim (Yawmiyyāt nāʾib fī l- aryāf, 1969). (Parolin 2021b).
- The role of writers and screenwriters in the creation of these works and in the cumulative perception of a noir/crime/police genre in the Arab world.
Presentations may choose to take a panoramic view, or to focus on a particular country or historical period, or on specific creators or works, all of which are relevant to the conference.
Abstracts in Arabic, English or French and of no more than 400 words, should be received by 15 May 2022. They should include, in a Word document, the author’s name, position, institution, e-mail address and a brief biographical note.
They should be sent to Katia Ghosn: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com and to Benoît Tadié: firstname.lastname@example.org
Early June 2022: sending of the scientific committee’s opinion to the authors for acceptance of the communication proposal.
Participants are responsible for their own transport and hotel expenses. They are invited to ask their research center for reimbursement.
Scientific Committee: Karl Akiki (Saint Joseph University of Beirut) ; Katia Ghosn (Paris 8 University) ; Toufic El-Khoury (Saint Joseph University of Beirut) ; Gianluca Parolin (Aga Khan University) ; Benoît Tadié (Rennes 2 University) ; Dork Zabunyan (Paris 8 University).
Bibliographie indicative / Select bibliography
- Ahmed Bedjaoui et Michel Serceau (dir.), Les cinémas arabes et la littérature, Paris, L’Harmattan, collection Images Plurielles, 2019.
- Pierre Beylot et Geneviève Sellier (dir.), Les séries policières, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2004.
- Luc Boltanski, Énigmes et complots, Paris, Gallimard, 2012.
- Raymond Borde et Étienne Chaumeton, Panorama du film noir américain (1941-1953) (1955), Paris, Flammarion, 2004.
- Denise Brahimi, 50 ans de cinéma maghrébin, Paris, Minerve, 2009.
- Ian Cameron (ed.) The Movie Book of Film Noir, Londres, Studio Vista, 1992.
- Claude-Michel Cluny, Dictionnaire des nouveaux cinémas arabes, Paris, Sindbad, 1978.
- El-Khoury Toufic, Aliénation et déterminisme dans le film noir classique (1944-1949), Paris, L’Harmattan, collection Champs Visuels, 2020.
- Jennifer Fay et Justus Nieland, Film Noir. Hard-Boiled Modernity and the Cultures of Globalisation, Londres et New York, Routledge, 2010.
- Jane Gaffney, «The Egyptian Cinema: Industry and Art in a Changing Society », in Arab Studies Quarterly, Vol.9, N°1, Belmont, 1987, p. 53-75.
- Katia Ghosn et Benoît Tadié (dir.), Le récit policier arabe/Arabic Crime Fiction, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz verlag, 2021.
- Terri Ginsberg and Chris Lippard (eds.), Historical Dictionary: Middle Eastern Cinema, Lanham, Scarecrow Press, 2010.
- Nathaniel Greenberg, The Aesthetic of Revolution in the Film and Literature of Naguib Mahfouz (1952-1967), Lanham/Londres, Lexington Books, 2014.
- Sebastien Layerle et Monique Martineau-Hennebelle (dir.), « Chroniques de la naissance du cinéma algérien », Collection CinémAction, N°166, Charles Corlet, 2018.
- Berrah Mourry (dir.), « Les cinémas arabes », Éditions Charles Corlet, collection CinémAction, N°43, 1987.
- Fawzī Nāǧī, Waqāʾiʿ būlīsiyya fī l-sīnimā, Le Caire, GEBO, 2012.
- Gianluca Parolin, « Bunyat al-Tahqîq fî ‘Yawmiyyât Nâʾib fî ’l-Aryâf’ Bayna al-Riwâya (1937) wa-l-Fîlm (1969) », in Salmā Mubārak & Walīd al-Ḫaššāb (eds.), al-Iqtibās: Min al-adab ilā al- sīnimā. Maḥaṭṭāt fī tārīḫ muštarak, Le Caire, al-Marāyā, 2021c, p. 141-162.
- Thomas Pillard, Le film noir français face aux bouleversements de la France d’après-guerre (1946-1960), Nantes, Éditions Joseph K, 2014.
- Samir Saif, Aflām al-ḥaraka fī l-sīnimā al-miṣriyya. 1952-1975, Le Caire, General Egyptian Book Organization, 1970.
- Galāl al-Šarqāwī, Risāla fī tārīḫ al-sīnimā al-‛arabiyya, Le Caire, General Egyptian Book organization, 1970.
- Alain Silver et Elizabeth Ward (dir.), Film Noir. An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style (1979), New York, The Overlook Press, 1992.
- Dominique Sipière, Le récit dans les séries policières : d’Hercule Poirot à Mentalist, Paris, Arman Colin, 2018.
- Yves Thoraval, Regards sur le cinéma égyptien, Beyrouth, Dār al-Mašriq, 1975.
- Sue Turnbull, The TV Crime Drama, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2014.
- Shafik Viola, Arab Cinema. History and Cultural Identity, Le Caire, The American University in Cairo Press, 1998 (2007).
- Magda Wassef (dir.), Égypte. 100 ans de cinéma, Paris, Institut du monde arabe, 1995.
- Collectif, « al-Sīnimā al-maġribiyya », Maǧallat Āfāq, n° 85-86, Rabat, Manšūrāt Ittiḥād kuttāb al-Maġrib, juin 2014.
Paris Nanterre University, 7-8 October 2021
The close relationship between crime fiction and authentic events is a crucial aspect of popular culture, in Europe as elsewhere. On the one hand, crime fiction has always drawn from news stories and social issues as a source of inspiration to deal with and reveal the most unspeakable practices or hidden aspects of our societies. On the other, news media have regularly borrowed the devices of fiction to increase their dramatic appeal: among the most notable examples are the serialization techniques adopted by the 19th century press to report police cases, the “true crime” programs of cable and satellite television and the multitude of articles or reports that make use of fictional intertexts. A number of recent studies have shown the importance of these exchanges, highlighting how the communicational dynamics of news media and the narrative structure of crime fiction have displayed strong reciprocal affinities since the advent of modern media culture, ever since the appearence of the 19th century literary genre of the urban mysteries and up to the contemporary ambitions of much crime fiction to occupy the space of journalistic investigation. Such exchanges, which can be found everywhere in the western world and beyond, also thanks to their broad international circulation, play a significant role in the ongoing homogenization of European imagination.
Moreover, the relationship between media culture and crime narratives is not limited solely to the ways in which fiction borrows some of its plots from the news, or the news imitate the stylistic devices of fiction. Rather, it calls into play the discursive structures that underpin both the journalistic discourse and crime fiction (in all of its different varieties: mystery, investigation, revelation, sensationalism…). Such proximity suggests that the two domains share not only a common social (as well as political and psychological) sensibility to the world, but also similar hermeneutical and rhetorical strategies in their respective interpretations and reconstructions of reality. More generally, their complex interplay, far from being anecdotal, suggests the existence of a profound complementarity between discourse and imagination. Assuming the existence of a much closer relation between fictional and factual accounts of crime may help explain the parallel evolution undergone by the two domains during the transformation of the media ecosystem. In fact, each new medium has invented its original modes, both fictional and factual, of representing crime, reformulating earlier forms inherited from the past and adjusting them to its own logic and means of expression.
In this conference, we would like to examine the porosity of media discourses on crime, both fictional and factual, and their meanings in terms of cultural imagination, ideology and/or social discourse. We invite proposals from all fields of media studies–literature, press, radio, television, cinema, internet and social media–particularly in a European perspective. Emphasis should be placed on the contemporary period and the ways in which media contexts impact textual forms and formats. Proposals are welcome that interrogate the ambiguity between fiction and factual events: for example, case studies that analyze the ways in which fictional stereotypes, forms and styles are adapted into factual statements or, conversely, the ways in which true crimes are transformed into fictions. Investigations on cases that blur the boundaries between the fictional and the factual after a process of media adaptation or migration are also welcome as well as more theoretical, global, transversal or historical approaches.
Possible topics include, but are by no means not limited to, the following:
- The circulation of figures and stereotypes between the fictional and the factual within the same medium: contamination of forms, genres and modes of expression; borrowings, adaptations or appropriations. Examples: political fictions, true crime documentaries, fictionalized authentic events, journalistic and documentary productions using fiction.
- The transmedia circulation of forms and content, and its effects in terms of reconfiguration or shift of meaning from the fictional to the factual, and vice versa: how does the process of intersemiotic translation affect the limits of representation, and how does the process of content reconfiguration occur within the different media ecosystems, according to their uses and the generic boundaries they prescribe between fictional and factual? Examples: journalistic investigations converted into TV series or film fictions, factual re-readings of works of fiction in social media.
- The dissemination of the same figures and motifs through different media, and the ways in which their different occurrences cohere at the intersection of the fictional and the factual. Examples: the recurrence of criminal motifs across the media sphere, the emergence of phantasmatic criminal figures, standing halfway between fantasy and reality (the female cat burglar, the criminal network, the white slave trade, the Satanist ritual, etc.)
- The cultural, social, political or, more broadly, ideological meanings produced by processes of contamination, circulation or homogenization between fictional and factual narratives. The role of fiction in structuring the ideologemes of contemporary culture; the use of mixed forms, such as political fictions, documentaries or counter-cultural productions to express either hegemonic or counter-hegemonic discourses.
- Comparative approaches of cases from different European countries: comparison and constrast of different media ecosystems, legislations, specific linguistic characteristics or cultural practices; investigation of particular national case studies.
- Analyses using digital tools that will be able to superimpose several corpora (factual and fictional, different countries, etc.) and bring out common lexical and generic registers, and patterns of transformations and appropriations according to genres, languages and countries.
- The circulation of imaginative content and forms across the different European countries, according to its effects: homogenization vs relocation or appropriation, variations in the imports distribution of such different globalized forms as the true crime, the thriller, etc.
- The historical dimension of this circulation, with respect to both the collective imagination and the media sphere: archaeology of crime representation across the media (pastiches, reuse of documents or archives), persistence of forms inherited from other media (e.g. the urban mystery, the melodrama, the whodunit.), resurgence of forgotten motifs (urban legends, expert discourses shaped by serial stereotypes, and so on).
The conference is organized as part of the H2020 DETECt project and the ANR Numapresse project. The conference will be held at the Paris Nanterre University.
Arabic fiction has thematized crime ever since the classical period. However, the existence of detective stories or, more generally, of crime fiction as a genre within Arab culture has yet to be fully acknowledged. This book therefore offers both a theoretical reflection on this genre in its context and a set of studies on instances of crime fiction in the Arab world. Covering a vast historical and geographical range, it tackles famous writers as well as authors of young adult fiction, deals with the current practitioners of noir as well as with classical detective stories, and also focuses on the adjacent fields of film and television production.
Arabic Crime Fiction / Le récit criminel arabe thus fills a theoretical and historical gap in current scholarship. Bringing together specialists of Arab literature and cinema and/or crime fiction, it provides an overview of a rich and varied genre, at the crossroads between the narrative, philosophical, and legal traditions of the Arab world, the realities of contemporary society, and the international forms of crime fiction. It thus demonstrates that Arabic crime fiction does, indeed, exist, even though it is not yet fully recognized by the publishing market and academic institutions. (From the publisher’ s website;)
A table of contents and introduction to the volume can be found at https://www.harrassowitz-verlag.de/Le_r%C3%A9cit_criminel_arabe_/_Arabic_Crime_Fiction/title_6742.ahtml)
To see the full programme and book of abstracts, please visit the conference website
Forgotten Connections in Popular Culture
I. De Miguel
The Graduate Center – Bernard Baruch College
City University of New York (CUNY)
While Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories, and in particular, Murders in the rue Morgue (1841) are considered the starting point for the detective genre (Baudou 159), Honoré de Balzac, has been seen as one of the genre’s initiators too. In 1841 also, Balzac published as a serial and without any fanfare in the newspaper Le Commerce his novel Une Ténébreuse Affaire. The narrative, set over a timespan running from 1803 to 1833, starts by depicting a sinister man cleaning his rifle in front of his terrorized wife and the arrival from Paris of two espions de police. Yet Balzac’s narratives are not structured around a crime leading to an investigation, and are, therefore, dismissed as crime novels by many scholars.
There are however many connections between some of Balzac’s novels, French serialized novels (le roman feuilleton) rooted in melodrama,TV series and crime fiction up to its current development by Virginie Despentes. Serialized narratives, with their episodes and their techniques of delayed solution, progressively influenced detective fiction and gave birth to series based on events linked to a main character, the literary forerunners of TV series.
As “Roman-feuilletons”, such as Balzac’s popular works of serialized fiction published in installments in 19th-century French periodicals started losing interest, the section “fait divers” (or miscellaneous contents, narrating news items, often in sensationalist terms) started attracting readers. This miscellany soon became a synonym for scandals, criminal cases, and court-related stories, which proved to be even more financially rewarding for the press than serialized fiction. It is not surprising, therefore, that the origins of the detective novel in France are usually linked to a specific daily periodical, “Le Petit Journal,” created in 1863 and specialized in “faits divers.” Émile Gaboriau, one of the journal’s chroniclers, is also traditionally considered the father of French detective fiction. His narratives combined two writing modes: sensationalistic journalistic chronicles and feuilletons, the serialized fiction prized at the time.
As highlighted by Jacques Dubois, during this period the romantic feuilletoninfluenced by the melodrama experienced a progressive shift towards the detective novel, keeping some common characteristics like:
• an innocent accused falsely and a mystery to solve
• a romantic and honorable hero, acting at the margins of official justice, that tries to bring back justice and harmony to the community
• the city appearing in the background, as a labyrinth, a metaphor for the complexity of urban society
• fueling suspense, the installments that ended with the phrase “la suite au prochain numéro” (“to be continued”) influence the rhythm of the narrative
We find here many traits inherited from melodramatic plays: the innocent victim, the honorable hero, a narrative fed by a secret (in detective novels the crime will replace the secret from the melodrama), and many digressions that will delay the novel’s solution. Eugène Sue’s Les Mystères de Paris (1842) is a perfect example of this. These characteristics incorporated the progressive-regressive movement of two intertwined narratives: the story of the investigation and the story of the secret (later, the crime). Gaboriau’s The Widow Lerouge (1863) inspired Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet (1887), but Sherlock Holmes became much more famous than Gaboriau’s detectives, le père Tabaret and Monsieur Lecoq. In “Avènement et ascension du roman policier”, Jacques Baudou notes that mainly the later translation of Conan Doyle’s first three novels published in France by installments and later as books propagated the first wave of detective novels in France (159).
Yet, as Kálai Sándor observes in “Pratiques sérielles dans le roman judiciaire : Le cas de Gaboriau”, Gaboriau started a series of narratives that evolved into five separate novels published between 1863 and 1873 with a recurrent character, Monsieur Lecoq, and contributed to the founding of the genre. Sándor adds that the publicity for the feuilletons made by Moïse Millaud, owner of the Petit Journal, announcing and delaying Monsieur Lecoq’s novels also participated in the creation of the genre by creating the first series. This confirms Matthieu Letourneux’s assertion in Fictions à la chaîne (2017) that as mass culture started rationalizing its production, the 20th-century’s cultural industry fully understood the interest of considering novels according to a logic of cycles or series (291). Sándor mentions other writers of the time, such as Fortuné du Boisgobey (1821-1891), author of Une affaire mystérieuse and of Le Forçat colonel, both published in 1869, and Pierre Zaccone (1818-1895), author of Mémoires d’un commissaire de police (Dentu, 1875) whose detectives appeared in several novels without as much success as Monsieur Lecoq.
But before Gaboriau, Balzac had used narrative techniques that we can link to the modern detective novel. In Les Chouans (1829), Marie de Verneuil, an aristocratic ‘femme fatale’ sent by Fouché, Napoleon’s minister of police, tries to seduce and have the anti-Republican hero captured. In L’Auberge Rouge (1831), like in many melodramas, and some of Agatha Christie’s novels, the murderer is confronted with the narration of the crime in front of an audience and is exposed by the expression on his face and his reaction. In Maître Cornelius (1832) there is a locked room mystery with a murderer that acts during his sleep. Based on true facts, Une ténébreuse affaire, seems, in terms of detective fiction, as the most modern of Balzac’s narratives. The two policemen, Corentin and Perayde, appear as predecessors of the couple of the detective and his sidekick. Corentin is the natural son of Fouché and is the exceptionally intelligent and dangerous policeman. Peyrade is more of a comic figure. Since Balzac was a great admirer of Fenimore Cooper, Corentin is compared to an Indian explorer with exceptional senses that help him see what the normal eye cannot see. The two spies try to capture the returned sons of a noble family. The noble émigrés are accused of kidnapping Malin, a Republican politician that bought their proprieties and land after the revolution, but at the end of the novel they are pardoned and only their guard is executed. The last chapter takes place thirty years later in a Parisian salon, where a high ranked official explains that Malin, the kidnapped politician had documents concerning a coup against Napoléon and that Fouché was also involved. In fact, Fouché organized the kidnapping of Malin. In this last chapter, the reader realizes that he has been terribly misguided by an unreliable narrator, and that the official narrative does not correspond to reality.
From the roman-feuilletons whose intrigue lasted forever and digressed in many ways, TV series took many features, including the recurring character appearing in the roman policier. In TV serials with chronological episodes there is suspense and a rhythm fueled by the fragmentation of the episodes.” On the other hand, TV series with self-contained episodes (such as Columbo) do not need to be watched chronologically since a character or a set of characters will experience a complete event in each episode (as it happened in Dupin’s, Sherlock Holmes’ or Arsène Lupin’s short stories).
Multimedia and transmedia development of serials is nothing new. In Le roman feuilleton français, Lise Quéfélec notes that the numerous theatrical adaptations of romans-feuilletons contributed to the diffusion of the genre. As André Maurois recalls in Les Titans ou les trois Dumas, from his start as a playwright, Dumas père excelled at writing suspenseful endings for the acts of his plays, a technique that he brilliantly used to keep interested the readers of his roman-feuilletons (173). As in TV series, Dumaswho had extensively studied Walter Scott’s novels, excelled on defining the characters in detail at the beginning of a novel. We can establish here a parallel with classical TV series, such as Columbo, since, as Stephane Benassi explains in Séries et feuilletons T.V. : pour une typologie des fictions télévisuelles, in a TV series the main character will be defined in the pilot episode with a very strong personality and will remain unchanged as long as the series will exist. Benassi adds that in Columbo there is a common universe throughout the series, but each episode represents a micro-narrative with a similar structure and rhythm, whereas in a serial, the common universe will form a cohesive macro-narrative that will allow many variations in terms of the evolution of the story, and a recurrent character. Benassi also notes that for the first adaptations of detective novels into TV series, TV channels’ high executives prioritized policies of neutrality and consensus, erasing political or ideological contents. For example, according to Umberto Eco, with a very French touch, both Arsène Lupin and Fantômas were very successful TV series in France but since Arsène Lupin showed a more conventional behavior, the series lasted longer in hopes to keep the support of TV advertisers. We find here a parallel along the evolution of the roman feuilleton, most ideological in its beginnings, and more politically correct later on (Eco in Benassi).
Surprisingly, melodrama as a genre resurfaces, in a different guise, among the profusion of judiciary TV series created in the US in the 1950s. In Television and the Legal System, Barbara Villez explains how the criminal process staged in these series connects with an investigation to uncover a mystery or a culprit, and to establish the truth. As I see it, the figure of the lawyer that gives birth to a recurring character, can easily be coupled to the figure of the aforementioned honorable righter of wrongs of the melodrama, since the TV drama lawyer untangles misunderstandings and defends an innocent victim unjustly accused, winning all the cases. As Villez explains, judiciary TV series grew out of the lack of confidence in justice that took place in the US in the 1950s, when the lawyer, a trusted figure at the time, became part of popular culture. According to Villez, with not only a recurrent character but also a repetitive narrative scheme with an innocent wrongly accused, the weekly series of Perry Mason showed the inner workings of justice and emphasized the figure of the lawyer-hero fighting the prosecutor (and I add, the villain in the melodrama). For Villez, such series had a very high impact and educated the audience not only on justice, but ultimately on democracy, since as they evolved, they started dealing with issues of social justice, and the characters became more complex, less idealized (and we could also say, as it often happens in contemporary crime novels). As Borges claimed in his 1978 conference “The Detective Story,” (El cuento policial) the modern detective story also engendered a specific kind of reader that would no longer read a narrative without a hint of suspicion and incredulity. By exposing hidden truths and questioning the notion of what is perceived as “reality,” works of fiction like the North American legal series mentioned by Villez, but also Balzac’s and many detective novels up to Virginie Despentes contemporary rewriting of the genre, uncover the hiatus between official discourses and the truth. These works of fiction contribute, in fact, to develop critical thinking.
A fan of TV series, the French writer Virginie Despentes has achieved great success following the controversies of the famous adaptation of her first novel, Baise-moi, published in 1994 as the first volume in a paperback series (Poche Revolver) devoted to Crime Fiction by publisher Florent Massot. Her more recent trilogy Vernon Subutex (2016-2018) has been celebrated as a modern roman-feuilleton. Although Vernon Subutex has not been published as a crime series, the novel is presented by the editor as a ‘fake crime novel’ with short chapters that take the form of each character’s flow of consciousness and an intricate web of characters, of both marginal and conventional status. The narrative takes place around two suicides or eventual crimes, and La Hyène the detective from Apocalypse bébé (2010) also appears in the novel. Despentes treats the chapters of the first volume as if they were episodes, slowing down the rhythm of the main narrative to introduce Vernon’s acquaintances, and narrate his wanderings through the voices of these secondary characters. Like in most recent American series, the set of characters displays an uncommon level of diversity for high-brow French literature, including a Tunisian non-religious professor and his devout daughter, rock musicians, a rich trader, a black singer, pornstars, and transgender characters. This group of characters described with details in the first chapters allows Despentes to consider issues from different angles and to resist dominant mainstream heteronormative representations (like Villez suggested for the series, Villez 26). In the second and third volume, the group starts acting as a collective hero, as it happens in many TV series (Villez first sees this happen in Hill Street Blues). Vernon Subutex had a record store in Paris and lost it with the arrival of virtual music platforms. Whereas, the first volume gives the setting for the Parisian identities and mentalities that once surrounded Vernon, and how they have changed, the second one does not uncover the truth about the two eventual crimes but it highlights that for many of the characters an irremediable sense of loss came along with the new economic model, and what it destroyed since the 1980’s. Despentes’s narrative seems to assert that “human beings” stopped being at the center of how society considers things, that money took over the system, displacing the most vulnerable, not giving them a place in society, and destroying all sense of community. The perception of this latter collective crime seems to be what brings all this disparate group of characters together. According to François Jost, the legitimate interest and the success of many American series revolves around several criteria. I would emphasize three of them. One is the fact that the main hero becomes a familiar character with qualities but also flaws (Jost refers to Norton Frye’s ‘low mimetic mode” with heroes and environments similar to the audience’s, and I would note that this also happened in detective novels). The second one is the use of common transnational tropes such as conspiracy or secrecy, the rejection of the elites, and exposing manipulations of public opinion. And the third is the appearance of the collective hero. We can see these three criteria through the voices conveyed by Vernon Subutex’s group of characters and the social analysis Despentes includes in the novel. Despentes seems to think, as did Balzac for the post-revolutionary period, that our contemporary world is increasingly unreadable. Through his wanderings, the character of Vernon socializes with crowds from both the lowest strata and the richest milieus of French society (like another famous French detective, Arsène Lupin). Despentes reminds French society that there was a time when the working class felt as a collective, not as a series of individuals in competition, and provides an uncommonly rich and comprehensive picture of social, economic, and political realities. Despentes also claims her attachment to popular culture by using noir fiction, along with her admitted influences of punk culture, and TV series. Like Balzac does in Une Ténébreuse Affaire, Despentes alludes to the conflict opposing how facts were officially narrated and what actually happened as neoliberalism took over the economy in the 80’s and the 90’s. Despentes exposes and resists institutional violence by decoding the past, providing a better understanding of the present and of the functioning of power.
As we can see, from their very early forms, detective novels have contributed to promote critical thinking and political awareness, furthering Villez’s claim that popular culture plays an important role in shaping the public’s perceptions of law, justice, and ultimately democracy.
would like to dedicate this research to Dr. Julia Przybos, Professor of French at
the Graduate Center, New York and author of Entreprise
mélodramatique, Paris: Corti, 1987.
Baudou, Jacques. « Avènement et ascension du roman policier », Temps Noir 18, Paris : Joseph K., 2015 : 159-173.
Benassi, Stéphane, Séries et feuilletons T.V. : pour une typologie des fictions télévisuelles, Liège: CÉFAL, 2001.
Borges, Jorge Luis, “The Detective Story,” 1978 in Eisenzweig,Uri.Autopsies du roman policier, Paris: Union générale d’éditions, 1983.
Dubois, Jacques. « Naissance du récit policier ». Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, vol. 60, 1985, 47-55.
Eco, Umberto. Innovation and repetition: between modern and post-modern aesthetics, in Daedalus, New York, August 1985. Translated as « Innovation et répétition : entre esthétique moderne et postmoderne », Réseaux, 12:68, 1994.
Eco, Umberto. De superman au surhomme, Paris : Grasset, 1993.
Jost, François, De quoi les séries américaines sont-elles le symptôme ? Paris : CNRS, 2011, Print.
Letourneux, Matthieu. Fictions à la chaine : Littératures sérielles et culture médiatique, Paris: Seuil, 2017.
Maurois, André. Les Titans ou les trois Dumas, Paris: Hachette, 1966.
Frye, Norton (in Jost), Anatomie de la critique, Paris : Gallimard, 1969.
From Dallas to True Detective– podcast franceculture
Pellini, Pierluigi. Un Caso tenebroso, Palermo: Sellerio, 1996, 21.
Quéffélec, Lise. Le roman feuilleton français,1989. Print.
Kálai, Sándor, « Pratiques sérielles dans le roman judiciaire », Belphégor [En ligne], 14 | 2016, mis en ligne le 10 octobre 2016, consulté le 10 septembre 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/belphegor/696 ; DOI : 10.4000/belphegor.696
Villez, Barbara. Television and the Legal System, London: Routledge, 2009.
Vanoncini André, « Balzac et la ténébreuse naissance
du roman policier », Romanische Studien, 3 (2016): 260-273.
 As noted by Maurice Serval, « Autour d’un roman de Balzac : Une ténébreuse affaire », in Revue d’Histoire littéraire de la France No. 4 (1922), pp. 452-483, « Elle ne trouva pour l’accueillir, que le rez-de chaussée d’un journal politique, « Le Commerce », et aucun critique n’en parla ».
 See Pellini in Vanoncini André, « Balzac et la ténébreuse naissance du roman policier », Romanische Studien, 3 (2016): 260-273.
 Kálai Sándor, « Pratiques sérielles dans le roman judiciaire », Belphégor [En ligne], 14 | 2016, mis en ligne le 10 octobre 2016, consulté le 10 septembre 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/belphegor/696 ; DOI : 10.4000/belphegor.696
 Mentioned by Umberto Eco in “Innovation and repetition: between modern and post-modern aesthetics”, Daedalus, New York, August 1985. Translated as « Innovation et répétition : entre esthétique moderne et postmoderne », Réseaux, 12:68, 1994, 22-23.
 See Stéphane Benassi, Séries et feuilletons T.V. : pour une typologie des fictions télévisuelles, Liège: CÉFAL, 2001, p. 104 and p. 107-108.
 Barbara Villez (Université Paris 8), « Que nous apprennent les séries sur le système judiciaire ? » conférence du 20 février 2015 au Forum des Images (Paris) https://www.forumdesimages.fr/app_beta.php/les-programmes/toutes-les-rencontres/cours-de-cinema-que-nous-apprennent-les-series-sur-le-systeme-judiciaire-par-barbara-villez
Today see’s the long-awaited publication of Henry Blanc’s 1973 comic strips adaptation of Berceuse pour Bérurier, the 1960 San-Antonio novel. Originally published in the French daily newspaper France Soir, whose circulation was, back then, well over one million copies a day (1 300 000, in 1963) Henry Blanc’s strips appear now, some 46 years later, for the first time as a volume, in a limited edition, restricted to 160 copies (numbered by hand from 1 to 160), thanks to a non-business entity “Les Amis de San-Antonio”. This collector’s item has been carefully and admirably curated by Thierry Gautier, Didier Poiret and Jean-François Pribile, founding and long-serving members of said entity, dedicated to furthering the knowledge of San-Antonio’s work.
The comparison of figures and places suggests a widening gap between a publishing industry of which San-Antonio was once, around the middle of the past century a stalwart, a dependable source of massive income, but which has now moved on, and the world of erudite and nostalgic readers, with their necessary and irreplaceable contribution. Once a big business, and by all accounts a hard-nosed one at that, San-Antonio has now become mostly a labor of love. While San-Antonio’s literature, which found in mass-market circulation its raison d’être, always depended on its readers for its very existence, it now seems that San-Antonio’s survival from oblivion, and the question of his legacy hinges more than ever on the dedication of readers taking over their free time (or devoting their retirement) to locate and browse through increasingly fragile archives to bridge gaps in knowledge, piecing together traces left in media long discarded and retracing a history based on material artifacts now almost forgotten, or whose last remains, like in this case, are archived in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.
Indeed, Gautier, Poiret and Pribile’s edition, with its detailed, erudite and rewarding introduction and the wealth of original documents it reproduces in its appendices, goes much beyond a tribute to the adaption of San-Antonio as comics, or to Blanc’s skills as an illustrator, or Robert Mallard ‘s (author of the texts under the strips) as a storyteller. It captures a moment of French cultural history, re-inscribing San-Antonio within a history of the successive forms and media it borrowed to reach its millions of readers over an entire era. As such, this edition continues to illustrate the productivity of the “cultural turn” advocated a decade ago (Jeannerod, San-Antonio et son double, PUF, 2010 ; Rullier, Gautier, Jeannerod & Lagorgette, San-Antonio et la culture française, PUS, 2010). Shifting away from the sole preserves of linguisitics and literary studies, cultural studies approaches help apprehending the multi-faceted and transmedia dimension of San-Antonio production, and articulating them with existing social conditions, representations, ideologies and industrial structures.
San-Antonio might nowadays appear as a relic from a past increasingly inscrutable and difficult to comprehend. Gautier, Poiret and Pribile’s tireless work in finding, selecting, reproducing and contextualising the strips (Berceuse pour Bérurier, the story published today, is merely one of twenty novels which served as a basis for the strips, published continuously between September 10, 1963 and March 12, 1975, amounting to a respectable total of 3536) sheds light into a moment of press and popular publishing industry which, at that stage was hard for anyone living in France to ignore, but which has slipped off almost everybody’s radar since.
From the narrower point of view of San-Antonio’s commercial success, it is easy to point out the coincidence between the start of the France Soir publication in 1963 and the recognition of the “San-Antonio phenomenon” in the following years. His 1964 book L’Histoire de France vue par San-Antonio was a best seller with 350 000 copies sold that year and became his first to sell over a million copies; in 1965 Robert Escarpit dedicated his seminar in the University of Bordeaux to the first Conference on San-Antonio. The continuous numbering of the 3536 strips re-frames the adventures of San-Antonio and gives a new dimension to their serial nature, merging the series of novels in an uninterrupted duration, emphasizing a sense of timelessness. It is now possible, based on Gautier, Poiret and Pribile’s precise research of concordances between the novels and the strips ( pp. 13-14) to establish the following correspondence between the novels (implicitly) adapted and the strips published in France Soir under a solely generic title (as “Les Enquêtes du commissaire San-Antonio” and then (from 1970, after strip 2210) “Les Enquêtes de San Antonio” ). Only the last three novels in the list below were adapted under their title:
France Soir 1963/1964 Du sirop pour les guêpes, Fleuve Noir, 1960
France Soir 1964 Du brut pour les brutes, Fleuve Noir, 1960
France Soir 1964/1965 Entre la vie et la morgue, Fleuve Noir, 1959
France Soir 1964/1965 De « A » jusqu’à « Z », Fleuve Noir, 1961
France Soir 1965/1966 Bérurier au sérail, Fleuve Noir, 1964
France Soir 1966 Des gueules d’enterrement, Fleuve Noir, 1957
France Soir 1966/1967 San-Antonio Polka, Fleuve Noir, 1962
France Soir 1967 Messieurs les Hommes, Fleuve Noir, 1955
France Soir 1967/1968 On t’enverra du monde, Fleuve Noir, 1959
France Soir 1968 Du mouron à se faire, Fleuve Noir, 1955
France Soir 1968/1969 Tout le plaisir est pour moi, Fleuve Noir, 1959
France Soir 1969/1970 Le loup habillé en grand-mère, Fleuve Noir, 1962
France Soir 1970 Descendez-le à la prochaine, Fleuve Noir, 1953
France Soir 1970/ 1971 Fais gaffe à tes os, Fleuve Noir, 1956
France Soir 1971/ 1972 Viva Bertaga, Fleuve Noir, 1968
France Soir 1972/ 1973 En long, en large et en travers, Fleuve Noir, 1958
France Soir 1973 Emballage cadeau, Fleuve Noir, 1972
France Soir 1973 Berceuse pour Bérurier, Fleuve Noir, 1960
France Soir 1973/1974 Ça ne s’invente pas, Fleuve Noir, 1973
France Soir 1974/1975 Sérénade pour une souris défunte, Fleuve Noir, 1954
Henry Blanc, San-Antonio, Berceuse pour Bérurier, Édition établie et présentée
par Thierry Gautier, Jean-François Pribile et Didier Poiret, Gardanne, Les Amis de San-Antonio, 2019
“Unified in Diversity?”
The Promotion and Reception of Europeanness in Contemporary Crime Fiction
Call for abstracts
We invite case studies in literary fiction, film and television series. For example, we are looking for analyses of cross-media phenomena such as Inspector Montalbano, the Millenium trilogy, or Babylon Berlin, which originated from literary works and became transnationally successful television series. Such cases would be especially interesting since the market logic for audiences in literary and screen reception is still markedly different. We are also particularly interested in case studies about television series such as The Team, Crossing Lines, or Eurocops, whose presumed Europeanness is already embedded in their production process.
I. De Miguel, PhD candidate, City University of New York
Even though classical Arabic proto-detective fiction written in the 13th century  preexisted the appearance of the modern detective novel (usually attributed to Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The Murders in the Rue Morgue in 1841), detective novels located in North African and Middle Eastern countries need to be contextualized. Since society and criminality are central to crime fiction, regional and cultural particularities must be taken into account when reading North African and Middle Eastern detective novels.
Within this context, Silvia Tellenbach’s interesting article “Law, Crime, and Society in the Middle East” provides a comprehensive analysis of the cultural and sociological background that needs to be considered. In an interview to the magazine Horizons in 1987, the writer Rachid Boudjedra (1941-) explained the late emergence of the detective novel in Algerian literature, attributing its cause to Algeria’s mainly rural development and to “the lack of a criminal tradition”:
There isn’t at all a tradition of crime in Algeria. Algeria’s society is a rural one. Urban areas barely started to develop fifteen years ago. In rural societies, there’s crime among peasants, but there’s almost never an investigation, because this sort of crime is always covered. Or then, it’s a crime that takes place in broad daylight as a vengeance or some sort of vendetta. The silence of the village decides of the lawfulness of such an act. Algeria’s war of Liberation brought some changes to this situation. As a matter of fact, the first crime novels located in Algeria are strongly rooted in that event.
As Silvia Tellenbach 2016’s research shows, Boudjedra’s claim not only proved to be correct, but it is also applicable to other North African and Middle Eastern countries. In fact, Tellenbach’s article brings to the fore the often-disregarded connection between specific characteristics of North African and Middle Eastern cultures, and their literatures, and the nature of criminality in these countries.
Tellenbach’s interesting analysis confirms a lack of tradition of homicides in Arab societies. While “all over the world, we can observe that criminal behavior is much more frequent among men, especially young men”, Tellenbach observes that even though the population of “most Middle Eastern countries is very young” (33) this does not translate into a higher crime rate as compared to Western societies. According to Tellenbach, Head of the Section “Turkey, Iran and Arab States” at the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law, several factors contribute to crime prevention: social control by families, social control in the public sphere (for example, in the neighborhood), and control of the population by the police and the secret services. Tellenbach also contemplates the difference between rural and urban settings where clannish or tribal systems of mediation or restorative justice may apply without the intervention of the police.
In light of the statistics provided by international organizations such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s homicide statistics, Tellenbach concludes that the most common crimes are thefts and bodily injuries and that homicide rates are very low. When murders take place, the crime usually happens within the victim’s family or within the victim’s close environment. These crimes are often honor killings and, more often than not, the perpetrators confess their own crime. On this particular point, one might certainly want to challenge Tellenbach’s opinion that “such crimes are not of very much interest in criminal novels” (37). While the perpetrator’s confession might take away much of the interest in a whodunnit, such criminality is certainly within the “noir” tradition and could be explored in novels or films.
Furthermore, Tellenbach points out other forms of crime that Middle Eastern societies have had to confront in the last decades. Along with the fight against terrorism, crimes such as corruption, nepotism and misappropriation, both at low and high levels of society, appear as the background of crime novels exposing political or social conditions (Yasmina Khadra’s Dead Man’s Share and Rafik Schami’s The Dark Side of Love) Tellenbach also notes an increased awareness about organized crime by national and transnational groups trafficking with humans, money or drugs. Still, such a dangerous topic has been less dealt with in criminal fiction.
Concerning criminal investigations and prosecutions, and to a certain extent, the figure of the detective, Tellenbach underlines that “most Middle Eastern states adopted criminal laws and laws on criminal procedure are influenced by the French law” (39). Thus, a warrant is most often needed to search a suspect’s domicile. Secret services and the “police politique” along with the existence of secret prisons also alter the criminal landscape and fiction of Middle Eastern countries. Feared by the population, secret and political police might not have offered the best image so as to give birth to a popular hero.
To conclude, I would add that censorship, first, and exile later on (as in the case of Yasmina Khadra (1955-) or Abdelkader Djemaï (1948-)) also needs to be taken into account when examining the emergence and evolution of crime novels written in Arabic or French in North African and Middle Eastern countries. Self-censorship, for instance, might have contributed to limit the production of detective novels to a form of entertainment, often recurring to settings in foreign countries, like Al Sid’s Machettes, coconuts et grigris à Conakry (Tunis: Alyssa Éditions, 2000) written under a pseudonym. As Anne Griffon observes in her study of popular literature in Algeria “Romans noirs et romans roses dans l’Algérie d’après 1989” (Master’s Thesis) written under the supervision of Guy Dugas, the exile of Algerian writers after Algeria’s civil war in the nineties modified France’s and Algeria’s editorial landscapes: As the Algerian publishing houses had to face the war, the influx of Algerian authors increased largely the number of Algerian novels published in France.
Boudjedra, Rachid. Interview by Rédha Belhadjoudja. “Le polar? Je connais!” Horizons, 9 November 1987, I-IV.
Burton, Richard F. trans., The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night (1885-1888) (Burton Club Edition, reprinted U.S.A., n.d.)
Griffon, Anne. Romans noirs et romans roses dans l’Algérie d’après 1989, Master’s thesis (mémoire de DEA), Paris : Université Paris IV- Sorbonne, 2000. Web (http://www.limag.refer.org/Theses/GriffonDEA.PDF)
Malti-Douglas, Fedwa. “The Classical Arabic Detective” Arabica 35.1 (1988), 59-91.
Tellenbach, Silvia, “Law. “Crime, and Society in the Middle East” Crime Fiction in and around the Eastern Mediterranean. Ed. Sagaster, B., Strohmeier, M., Guth, S. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2016, 33-44.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC): “Homicide Statistics”.
 In “The Classical Arabic Detective” Fedwa Malti-Douglas analyzes the figure of the detective as it appears in a specific type of Arabic medieval prose texts called adab, and used to educate and entertain. Some of these literary anecdotes emphasized the extreme sagacity of the figure of a caliph or a judge able to figure out enigmatic situations by the mere use of ratiocination. In contrast with Western detective narratives focused on solving a mystery, they would also include punishments for the culprits and the rendering of justice. Malti-Douglas examines three anecdotes, giving them the names of “The Case of the Painted Hand” (59), “The Case of the Excited Slave” (65), and “The Case of the Merry Slave” (66). She also mentions the “Tale of the Three Apples” from The Thousand and One Nights (74). “The Case of the Painted Hand” and “The Case of the Excited Slave” appear in Akhbadr al-Adhkiya’ (Stories of the Adhkiya’) of Ibn al-Jawz (d. 597/1200). “The Case of the Merry Slave” appears in Al-Nuwayri, Nihayat al-Arab fi Funun al-Adab (Cairo: al-Mu’assasa al-Amma lil-Ta’llf wal-Tarjama wal-Tibaca wal-Nashr, n.d.), v. III, p. 150. n.d.
 « Il n’y a pas du tout de tradition du crime chez nous. La société algérienne est une société rurale. Cela fait à peine 15 ans qu’elle commence à s’urbaniser. Dans cette société rurale, le crime paysan existe, mais il n’y a presque jamais d’enquête, car ce crime-là est toujours camouflé. Ou alors, c’est un crime en plein jour consécutif à une vengeance, à une sorte de vendetta. Le silence du village légifère sur la justesse d’un tel acte. C’est la guerre de Libération qui a apporté quelques changements à cette situation. D’ailleurs, les premiers polars chez nous sont fortement ancrés dans cet événement »