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Interview with Rachel Nadon, CIRM's BMO 2024 postdoctoral fellow

Published: 3 June 2024

Portait de Rachel Nadon

It was a busy spring for Rachel Nadon! On April 2nd, she began her stay as the BMO Posdoctoral Fellow at CIRM for the year 2024, and on July 1st, she will take up her new position as a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Québec Literature in the Département de littérature, théâtre et cinéma at Université Laval! Despite her short stay with us, we are eager to find out more about her fascinating research project, which she hopes to pursue as a professor.

But first and foremost, a brief biography is in order. With a PhD in French-language literatures from Université de Montréal, Rachel Nadon works on the relationship between emotions and the sensational press. Member of the Groupe de recherches et d’études sur le livre au Québec (GRÉLQ), she works at the crossroads of cultural studies and literary history. She co-edited the collective Relire les revues québécoises : histoire, formes et pratiques (PUM, 2021). She is also director of Mens : revue d’histoire intellectuelle et culturelle.

Her research project as a BMO Postdoctoral Fellow, which she plans to pursue,  is “Emotions and archives of feelings: reading Montreal through Allô Police, 1970-2004”.


The question on everyone's mind: why Allô Police?

I've already been working on yellow newspapers for a few years ("yellow newspapers", just to get everyone on the same wavelength, is an expression that includes all sorts of different newspapers, crime papers, gossip papers, saucy cartoon papers, etc.). These are newspapers that are often ephemeral, that don't last long and whose circulation is difficult to evaluate. Allô Police had a very long life, from 1953 to 2004. It also had a huge circulation, between 100,000 and 200,000 copies a week in the 1950s. So, on the one hand, there's the duration and popularity of this newspaper.

And on the other, I have noticed that everyone has one or more anecdotes about Allô Police. When I was a kid, my parents used to cover my eyes a little when we passed the Allô Police in the convenience store! But just about everyone has something to say about Allô Police: reading it only on vacations (like a little party), cutting it up for scrapbooking, reading it on the sly, despite parental prohibitions, etc. It is this conjecture of two elements that intrigues me: its popularity, the widespread yet almost intimate nature of its reading. Although few people mention Allô Police as a legitimate reading habit...


What motivates you to study the relationship between emotions and the sensational press?

When I started reading Allô Police, I realized that emotion was quite important in my reading. I was confronted with articles about mutilated and decapitated people; there were lots of photos of corpses. Itis something that really grabbed me, and which seems to me to go beyond the notion of sensationalism. Starting from my emotions of fascination and disgust, and perplexity too, I came to pay attention to the texts, to the way emotions like fear, disgust, even love, were named. I realized that all this, the mobilization of emotion in different ways, was part of the reading pact of these newspapers. I should point out that my reading emotions are probably not the same as those of another readership, that of the 1950s for example; I cannot assume that, at least!


What are your goals and expectations for your residency as a postdoctoral fellow at CRIEM?

The project is structured in two parts. First, I will be reading copies of Allô Police from the 1976 Olympics to the end of the newspaper's activities in 2004. I'm particularly interested in the 1980s and 1990s, because I want to see how the paper stages the city. For example, what neighborhoods are named, what events are covered? Does it resemble the years I've already studied (the 1950s-1960s)? I will be able to pursue these questions, analyzing the ways in which the city of Montréal is constructed over the course of the articles. I am also going to see how a newspaper like Allô Police situates itself in relation to the pro-sex and anti-sex feminist movements, and everything to do with pornography and sex work. As it's a newspaper that makes a living out of sexuality and its particular circles, I'm interested.

There's a second aspect to the project, that of archives. I want to explore people's memories of this diary, with the idea of reconstructing an archive of readings, or rather an "archive of feelings", to use Ann Czetkovich's words. The aim is to seek out stories, objects of all kinds, business cards, photocopied editions, photos, scrapbook pages made from Allô Police clippings, etc. This will be a good way to reflect on the different uses of the newspaper and the ways in which people interacted with Allô Police, but also on the memories they retain of it and what it tells us about a way of living in or representing Montréal. It goes beyond a simple "broadcast-reception" type of reading, I want to touch on the uses of the newspaper and its ways of circulating, and of "orienting" us in the city.


Can you explain the concept of the archive of feelings?

Ann Czetkovich is interested in the experience of trauma among lesbian and queer people. According to her, this experience isn't "officially" documented, but is associated with objects or narratives. These objects - it could be a diary or pulp collections - are not necessarily linked to the experience of trauma, but evoke it in different ways for someone or for a community. These objects, figures or photos (for example), are invested with sentimental value and meaning, but they are not considered archives in the institutional sense of the term. Ann Czetkovich, in her book An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures, analyzes these archives and "produces" them, too. There is a double movement of analysis and creation (she "constitutes" cultural productions as archives, so to speak), and that is what I want to do too. Does the experience of emotionally reading a newspaper like Allô Police produce an archive of feelings? I would like to collect objects and stories that would enable us to reflect on the relationship between emotions, memory and the city.


This implies creative work.

For the project, I'd like to set up a website, collect alternative archives of Allô Police, meet people who still remember it, and explore different modes of distribution, such as fanzines. I have co-written a "detective serial" in the cultural magazine Liberté, in which I've used the device of fiction to integrate interviews I have already done with Allô Police actors. I'm also thinking of organizing a round-table discussion on the 20th anniversary of Allô Police's demise.

For me, in this project, there is a dimension of research and creation in the strict sense, i.e. reading and research on the one hand, and "reconstituting" the archives on the other. More broadly, it allows me to reflect on the question of archives, which is a complicated one when it comes to large-scale cultural productions. The documents that bear witness to the production of these periodicals are often not intended for conservation or archiving. In fact, the product itself - the newspaper - was never intended for preservation!


Why is it important to study a crime news journal like Allô Police?

On the one hand, it is a place of memory, in the sense of a space of memory that bears witness to many events affecting Montreal and many other places. This place of memory allows us to read the watermark of changes affecting society, but also relationships between people, the way we conceive of crime and criminals. In short, it allows us to reflect on what affects people, and what constitutes an era. And at the same time, it is a place of memory in the most fundamental sense: people remember it. Many readers meet there. It's important to highlight how a newspaper that has had bad press has brought together a community of readers, a community that could be reconstituted by, among other things, the very diverse uses to which this newspaper has been put.


What are your plans for your first months (or rather first years!) as an assistant professor of Québec literature?

One thing is for sure: I want to pursue this project! It is very close to my heart. I am interested in pursuing all these reflections on how a tabloid newspaper like Allô Police has left an emotional, concrete and material mark on people's lives and on the city of Montréal. More broadly, I have a project on the cultural history of bad taste in Québec; to be continued, as they say!


A perfect day in Montréal?

It's summer, I get on my bike, I go swimming in Parc Jarry, I have a coffee in the Mile End and we eat hot dogs at Orange Julep..


3 essential symbols of Montréal?

Olympic Stadium, Caffè Italia and Milano (together), and the Lachine Canal


Favorite neighborhood?

My neighborhood, Little Italy, because of my neighbors!


Bibliography on emotions and cultural & literary studies:

Sara Ahmed (2014), Cultural Politics of Emotion, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press,2nd ed., 256 p.

Ann Czetkovich (2003), An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures, Duke University Press, 368 p.

Michel de Certeau (1990), L’invention du quotidien, tome 1 : Arts de faire, Folio, 416 p.

Richard Hoggart (1970), La Culture du pauvre, trad. de l’anglais par Jean Claude Passeron, Paris, Minuit, 420 p.

Will Straw (2021), «The Pastness of Allo Police», dans Martha Langford et Johanne Sloan (ed.), Photogenic Montreal: Activisms and Archives in a Post-Industrial City, Montréal, McGill/Queen’s University Press, p. 199-216.

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