Blog Post

What’s New in the New Strauss-Kahn Storyline ?

It's hard to catch up with the latest episodes in the Strauss-Kahn drama (rumor has it that screenwriters are frantically taking notes to spurt out a series for cable television come September). As every hour brings new contradictory elements to the storyline, and characters sue and counter-sue faster than people pull guns in The Matrix, the job of making sense of it all becomes thankless (not the entertainment value, as sales of the New York Post and other news outlet show.) If only French cinema could be as narratively inventive as its political prodigy... (*sigh*).

A brief (and soon obsolete) summary of the latest episodes: On Friday July 1st, Strauss-Kahn was released, after a month of a half of house arrest for seven counts of sexual assault (and against a bail of $6 millions, given back the same day); next thing we know, thanks to copious leaks to the press, all charges against him may be dropped in the next few weeks because the plaintiff would have lied to the Grand Jury about her whereabouts right after the alleged sexual assault (and during her plea to get legal immigration status upon entering the US). More, the innocent, naïve, shy, obedient muslim immigrant we thought we knew as the plaintiff would be connected to drug dealers and money landering, and, cherry on the cake, would even be a prostitute. That's a narrative twist few screenwriters would dare. But hey, wait a minute: now Tristane Banon, the French journalist who said she was sexually assaulted by DSK in 2003 (a story she has shared with the media on several occasions since 2007) is determined to sue DSK for attempted rape. DSK's lawyers threatens to sue her back for libel. And Naffissatou Diallo sues the NY Post for difamation. Wait, we're not done: DSK could even sue the State of NY, Nafitassou Diallo, or the Sofitel Hotel...

If your head is spinning, so is mine. (Side note to undergrads: Law  School is still a good bet for jobs.)

Under New York Times' Joe Nacero's pen, the judicial timeline of D.A. Cyrill Vance continues to make perfect sense. I think he is right to warn against a revisionist history of the case.

The perplexities and complexities of this still unfolding, obscure legal affair show us once more that drawing conclusions from individual "faits divers" is a risky business; that media time and judicial time are at odds in essence; and that the concept of "truth" is redefined by all parties involved to justify their moves (with the vexing issue of subordinating the investigation of facts to the "credibility" --and moral character--of the plaintiff, rather than on an absolute principle of truth-finding).

But the fact that the conclusions one can draw from the individual case are limited in scope and on shaky grounds should not prevent us from trying to analyze the collective (and divided) response to these events in France and in the US. The DSK affair has served as a catalyst for the uncovering of specifically French practices and cultural assumptions about gender and justice, and a healthy interrogation in the US and in France about the modalities of their respective legal systems (both arguably flawed) and what concept of "truth" and "justice" they promote.

Meanwhile, the French press is quick to bury the legal case and spin another story: DSK's chances at joining the presidential race (yes, a month ago everyone in France raged about the "perp walk" and said this could only signal the political death of DSK.) Some journalists, though, continue to do their job and probe all the facets of the story, including what is not new in the news: the report from the Crime Victims Treatment Center in Harlem where the plaintiff was first examined. There they see women of all backgrounds, disoriented and shocked, trying to tell stories they cannot grasp, stories they wished they could only forget.

After the sound and the fury, now what? Back to business as usual? Well, there is a modicum of hope in the fact that as they all try to draw lessons from the latest dramatic turn of events , editorialists from major French press organizations  acknowledge that regardless of its judicial outcome, the story has revealed a certain complacency towards gestures, speeches, and acts of sexism and harassment against women in French society at large. And they all warn against going back to the status quo.

The legal story might draw to a close; the political story accelerate and turn to new directions; but the cultural history they both fold into is not over.

 

Cecile Alduy's picture

« Je ne puis tenir registre de ma vie par mes actions: fortune les met trop bas; je le tiens par mes fantasies. » Montaigne, Essais, III, 9, 945

A prescient definition of blogging, no?

Cécile Alduy, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of French Studies at Stanford University. A former student from the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, she teaches French literature and film, with an emphasis on gender and ethnic studies.  Her research interests include Renaissance literature and culture, the history of the body, poetry, cognitive theory, and more generally how we make sense of the world.