Eric Hazan, publisher and historian of the French left, dies at 87

Eric Hazan, an influential publisher who brought some of the country's most incendiary left-wing writers to France's attention and was himself a hallmark historian of Paris, died there on June 6 at age 87.

His death was confirmed by the publishing house he founded, La Fabrique, which did not release further details. Mr. Hazan had been treated for cancer.

From an old building in a working-class neighborhood of Paris, Mr. Hazan's small firm wielded enormous influence, publishing provocative writers such as the left-wing philosophers Alain Badiou and Jacques Rancière, the scholar Edward Said, and the historian Enzo Traverso.

La Fabrique tackled colonialism, Palestinian rights, Israeli politics and the Holocaust, all driven by the hostility that Hazan, the son of Jewish immigrants forced into hiding during World War II, felt towards capitalism, ethnocentrism and all the rest. forms of nationalism.

But it was as a politically engaged historian of Paris that Hazan made his biggest mark, writing a series of passionate and erudite historical guides to the city he loved but whose future he feared, at least one of which won widespread acclaim in both cases . shores of the Atlantic.

Mr. Hazan could read the streets of Paris like few others, unearthing the historical significance of street signs, plaques on buildings, dents in a wall and what he called the “psychogeography” of entire neighborhoods.

As a former surgeon who underwent a midlife conversion — he didn't publish his first book until he was 66 — Mr. Hazan dissected the city's neighborhoods with clinical precision. He would then bring them back to life by summoning generations of ghosts, from the city's medieval history onwards.

“The Champs-Élysées is the main axis of collaborationist Paris. There is almost a tradition there,” Hazan wrote in his 2002 book, “L’Invention de Paris” (“The Invention of Paris”). He went on to invoke not only the complacency of bourgeois Parisians towards the Nazis during the occupation, but also their lesser-known outcry towards the invading Prussians who, they hoped, would crush the Communard rebels in 1871.

Occupied Paris, with its network of SS torture centers; revolutionary Paris, with its hidden landmarks of the insurrection; Imperial Paris, where the heavy hand of authoritarian rulers can be easily detected, as in Rue de Rivoli, all this came under Hazan's scalpel.

When he found what he called “traces” of the city walls that were built by order of King Philip II in the late 12th and early 13th centuries, he didn't just mean the physical remains of the walls, of which there are few, but also what referred to its “urban consequences” – the way it continues to delineate the neighborhoods of Paris to this day.

Novelist and critic Lucy Sante, writing in the New York Review of Books in 2010, described “The Invention of Paris” as “one of the greatest books about the city anyone has written in decades, towering over a crowded, passionate field and lyrical. and broad and immediate.

Mr. Hazan's passion stemmed in part from his despair at the disappearance of old working-class and bourgeois Paris under a vast wave of tourism, gentrification and ostentatious wealth. He lamented, for example, the “complete museumization” of the area around the church of St.-Germain-des-Prés, on the Left Bank, which he said has been sterilized by an influx of big capital and mass tourism, leaving “ none of its post-war glory.

In much of the Right Bank, where luxury shops for well-heeled tourists have taken over, “the glamor is gone,” he told the Guardian in 2011. “It's cold.”

He predicted, perhaps more with hope than realism, that the city would be saved if it could “cross its borders again” and incorporate the ring of inner suburbs where millions of immigrant families live in poverty and isolation.

Other books on Paris by Hazan that have been translated include “Paris in Turmoil: A City Between Past and Future”; “A Walk Through Paris: A Radical Exploration”; “A history of the barricade”; and “Balzac's Paris: the city as human comedy”.

In these books the figure of Mr. Hazan himself is evident, an inveterate wanderer attentive to the stories that the stones around him told.

“It is not just that he was interested in everything and his commitment to humanist culture was much broader and deeper than that of many 'intellectuals' who smile at the militant commitments of his species,” wrote the philosopher Rancière in a tribute after the death of Mr. Hazan. “It was because he fought for a world of the widest and richest experience, and he did not separate the work of knowledge and the emotions of art from the passion of justice.”

Eric Hazan was born on July 23, 1936 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, an affluent suburb of Paris. His father, Fernand Hazan, a prominent publisher of art books, was born in Cairo, where Fernand's father owned a bookshop. Eric's mother, Blanche (Pascal) Hazan, born in Romania, worked in her publishing house with her husband.

The family fled south after the 1940 German invasion, settling first in Marseille, where Fernand Hazan quickly put the family back on its feet by establishing a candy factory, using honey imported from Guinea and produced by spiders, as Mr. Hazan recalled in a series of interviews on France Culture radio in 2018.

The money his father earned allowed the family to buy a house in nearby Antibes, which was then under the control of more tolerant Italians, and the family remained hidden there for the duration of the war in what Mr. Hazan remembered as self-sufficient. “autarchy”.

Eric did not go to school during this period, but he was never afraid, he recalled, because his parents had turned preparations for a possible roundup and deportation into “a game of cops and robbers.” As a result of that initial threat, Hazan decided that “France is not my mother,” as she told Le Monde in 2021.

After the war, he attended the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, one of Paris' leading high schools. At his father's urging but against his inclinations, he became a doctor and surgeon in the hospitals of Paris.

Mr. Hazan went to newly independent Algeria in 1962 to provide his services, and to Lebanon in 1975 to practice medicine in Palestinian refugee camps. Two years before abortion was legalized in France in 1975, he was one of the first doctors to publicly acknowledge having performed the procedure.

But, at age 47, he decided he had had enough of medicine and surgery and took over his father's publishing business. He eventually sold it to Hachette in 1992 and founded his own publishing company in 1998.

La Fabrique, left without a single room, became “a focal point for the decolonisation movement”, Traverso recalled in The New Statesman. It also produced a brief but famous encounter with the authorities for Mr Hazan: after the bizarre and farcical ‘Tarnac Affair’ in 2008, when self-styled anarchist revolutionaries sabotaged railway lines, and a copy of “L’Insurrection Qui Vient”, (“The Coming Revolution”), published by La Fabrique, was found among the belongings of those arrested. Mr Hazan was questioned by the police; sales of the book soared.

Information about his survivors was not immediately available.

Mr. Hazan believed in the idea of ​​revolution and the renewed possibilities of insurrection, to the point of admiring Maximilien Robespierre, the leader of the French Revolution in its bloodiest phase.

“Changing the world for him was not a plan for the future, but a daily task of adapting our vision and finding the right words,” Rancière wrote of Hazan. “And he understood that revolt is itself a means of discovery.”

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