My dissertation, “The Architecture of Homelessness: Space, Marginality, and Exile in Modern French and Japanese Literature and Film,” explores the literature of marginality in the age of rampant urban growth and development, initially during the Haussmannization of Paris and during Meiji Japan. Both cross-cultural and interdisciplinary, my project compares the liminal aspects of the architecture of two vastly different metropolises, Paris and Tokyo, through representations in literature and film. In addition, it reaches back in time to mid-nineteenth century and stretches forward to modern day.
The opening chapters analyze works by writers Emile Zola, Higuchi Ichiyō, and Shimazaki Tōson, who captured their respective countries' urban transformation as it was occurring and simultaneously represented the lives of people, especially the lower classes, marginalized by this exponential growth. In these chapters I argue that the liminal space left over from newly built architecture and the space on the edge of mainstream society becomes “home” to those displaced persons. This process of urbanization and the subsequent marginalization of its minorities irrevocably bind these two nations together.
While my first three chapters concentrate on the rapid urbanization of Paris and Tokyo as represented in literature, in the final chapter, I articulate the way in which homelessness is depicted on film in France and Japan through cinematic analysis of five films: Akira Kurosawa's Rashōmon and Dodesukaden, Eric Rohmer's Le Signe du Lion, Mathieu Kassovitz's La Haine, and Abdellatif Kechiche's L'Esquive. I argue that these four filmmakers, in the style of Naficy's “exile cinema,” confront this taboo topic in their texts by bringing the problem of urban failure to the public's consciousness.
Rather than mental illness, addiction, poverty, or ill-fated fortunes, I propose that the central problem of homelessness rests with an individual's alienation from his or her community or in-group. Homelessness, urban living, and marginal spaces are not particular to any one city. My project moves away from East-West dualism and area studies to explore global concepts of space, the effects of rapid urbanization at its onset and today, and the problem of homelessness, which has no boundaries.