Paris on a daily basis: a personal and sociological diary

Receipt: January 30, 2023

Acceptance: March 28, 2023

París a diario

Hugo Jose SuarezCoordinación de Humanidades, UNAM, Mexico, 2022, 414 pp.

Hugo José Suárez is a versatile and multifaceted sociologist. He can do research on subjective religious experience in different urban spaces, as well as on urban transformations in the city of La Paz (Bolivia) in the context of a complex and multifaceted modernizing globalization. He can dialogue with relevant contemporary sociologists about their intellectual trajectories, as well as write journalistic articles and blogs. Hugo José can summon the most diverse voices to reflect on uncertainty in our convulsive historical times and publish, at the same time, a sociological essay in which photographs occupy a central place as a form of recording reality. Hugo José Suárez can carry out rigorous sociological research, theoretically sustained and using the most diverse techniques and methodological tools, such as writing notebooks and notes in which he records, in brief texts, small events of daily life that catch his attention, turning them into short stories in which the personal gaze is interwoven with a sociological reflection of broader scope. Suárez can map the diversity of new theoretical paradigms that show that there are no univocal discourses in the social sciences and, at the same time, propose "a wandering sociology," which he defines as "traveling and exploring cultural forms, under a sociological lens and with a narrative that is as personal, experiential and attractive as it is scientific and based on observed data. And Hugo José Suárez can also transform the personal diary - an intimate and reserved refuge, hidden and profound, self-reflective and risky - into a new sociological gaze through an act of free writing, which proceeds almost gropingly and without reaching certain and absolute conclusions. This is the case of París a diariorecently published by the Coordination of Humanities of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).unam).

París a diario began to be written in the café La Selva, in Coyoacán, in March 2018 and was finished in July 2020 in the café Lomi in Paris (it includes a final chapter about the experience of living the pandemic in that city for a few months). Hugo José Suárez often writes in cafés. What better place for solitary and subjective writing than a café, a place of passage that, during the time when you let your fingers run across the keyboard or outline words with a pen on a blank sheet of paper, becomes a home? Is it perhaps by chance that writers like Joseph Roth or Sándor Márai -firsthand connoisseurs of exile- or Claudio Magris -the great writer of borders- have written permanently in cafés, in that protective space that, whether in the lullaby of its sounds or in the stillness of its silences, can transmute into a place of belonging where, with the powerful stimulus of a strong dose of caffeine, ideas and words will flow?

Suarez writes París a diario under the protection and the pulsating rhythm of the calendar, tied to the daily reality of each day. An introspective turn to find himself, the diary gives voice to the record of a fragment of his life during his stay in that city. Like any diary, it is a way of rehearsing, of writing from a blank page. It is a réservoir of memory that can repair, perhaps, the fissures of memory; it is a revealing mirror of her days, a recovery of the strength of the word and the narrative power of the self. The diary is a collage open-ended, unfinished, that is rooted in improvisation. His writing opens like a fan to thoughts, retrospective glances, logs of the present, confessions, notes and notes of readings, daily anecdotes, political reflections, descriptions of characters, family memories, future agendas, testimonies, confessions, intimate semblances, joys, frustrations, impressions, dreams, feelings, emotions, fears, anxieties, anguish. Flexible and kaleidoscopic.

But Hugo José's diary in Paris is also a story of travels, physical and symbolic, in which the author discovers with a new look a Paris already known and inscribes it in his traveler's notebook as a way of making the trip visible to others. It is, at the same time, an incursion into the otherness of a city in which he does not live; a story in which a first-person voice takes shape, making explicit the writing exercise and privileging, more than description, what happens during the journey itself. París a diario is, without a doubt, the outline of a diverse and complex city and, at the same time, a battering ram to reflect on certain crucial themes of our contemporaneity: exile, uprooting, diversity, foreignness, belonging, home, etc., in a tonality close to the voices and landscapes, revealing the minimal and hidden stories of those who appear in the journey and in the mapping of the city.

In this line, the diary is also, in a way, the crossing of the flâneur Benjaminian, even if Walter Benjamin is not a writer who would dazzle Hugo José and Paris has been transformed to an extent that would be almost unknown to the passers-by of the century. xix. His look of flâneurThe book, which -with attentive eyes and, I imagine, a pencil in his pocket- wanders a bit adrift through neighborhoods, streets, museums, libraries and iconic buildings, unveiling the polyphony of the urban experience and its invisible transits, tracing -in an exercise of social microhistory, political and cultural microhistory - the scattered fragments, some of the residual characters and scenarios of city life in which thousands of stories explode, in a sort of urban postcards that, personally, sociologically, evoke George Simmel and, literarily, Jorge Luis Borges and Roberto Arlt.

His diary is also a kind of intellectual trajectory - reminiscent of the novels of formation - in which converge a vast repertoire of readings, teachers, colleagues and encounters that formed him and continue to nourish him. In this line, the journal draws on these contributions and many others (those of Michael Taussig, Richard Sennett and Loïc Wacquant, among others), proposing a new way of doing sociology, "hybrid" and "impure," far from the "faded ceilings of books on theory and methodology," as the Chilean anthropologist Juan Carlos Olivares wrote (1995: 24) and close to new scriptural forms - far from the cryptic dullness of so many traditional texts - in which, as Suárez has pointed out in another of his books, "science need not be at odds with imagination, intuition, recollection, memory and narrative" (2018: 31).

The sociologist Hugo José records with photographic eye and miniaturist precision the small details, the insignificant traces and the smallest stories, small and hidden, of what he encounters on the path of daily life, in order to project, from there, a sociological reflection of greater scope. A small event in his family life, referring to his daughters' school, launches him into a reflection on French education. A dinner among neighbors in the street where he lives prompts him to think about Parisian gentrification, showing that sociological thought is not only in the great texts or in erudite theoretical disquisitions, but also in the small stories of the flesh and blood people through whose faces, bodies and subjectivities the great historical and social processes pass. Hugo José Suárez's is a sociology narrated "at ground level," which interweaves factual information - from the first-person perspective - with the subjective interpretation of the facts. The writer goes out into the street, listens and observes - with the sharp eye of a chronicler - to construct, in this book, an X-ray of Paris, both of its urban architecture and its people. In his physical and emotional journey through the city, he strips himself of the canonical criteria of "objectivity" and lays bare his own subjectivity and biographical narrative, also converted into cognitive instruments. The sociologist that is the author makes his voice visible, acquires a face, makes his presence felt by sharing with the reader his emotions, reflections, doubts and discoveries.

At the same time, however, the sociologist that Hugo José is has been seduced by literature, writing from the perplexity and uncertainty of it, so far removed from the certainties that sociologists - or at least some of them - want to find as the conclusion of their research. It is this seduction that allows him to seek out detours to find winding paths that open up as he writes in an exercise of "sociological imagination," which ties together biography, history and society, and transmutes it into a creative exercise, in a permanent journey between the recording of facts and the passion for writing, the rigor of the academic with the inner boldness of his pen, the sharp eye of the chronicler with the warm and sensitive intimacy of the diary-writer.

The writing of any diary digs into the scars of memory, always volatile, always changing. If, as Hugo José Suárez himself affirms, "what has been lived chronologically narrated implies a daily work of filtering -conscious, intentional, regular and rigorous- [in which] 'erasure' is inevitable" (2022: 281), we should also ask ourselves: what are the silences -his silences- that Hugo José left hidden in his notebooks about Paris? Is there a Paris that was silenced and that did not enter this diary? May Hugo José one day fill these silences from a new diary and from wherever his wandering with "wandering sociology" always in a provisional suitcase takes him.


Olivares, Juan Carlos (1995). El umbral roto. Escritos en antropología poética. Santiago: Fondo Matta, Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino.

Suárez, Hugo José (2018). La Paz en el torbellino del progreso. Transformaciones urbanas en la era del cambio en Bolivia. México: Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales, unam.

— (2022). París a diario. México: Coordinación de Humanidades, unam.

Gilda Waldman holds a degree in Sociology, Universidad de Chile. M.A. and Ph.D. in Sociology, Faculty of Political and Social Sciences, unam. Completed studies for a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature, Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, unam. Diploma in Literary Creation, unam. Full Professor "C" of undergraduate and graduate studies at the School of Political and Social Sciences, unam. Member of the National System of Researchers, level ii. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Award (unam, 2016). She has taught courses at the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León (Mexico), Universidad Autónoma de Baja California (Mexico), Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa (Mexico), Universidad de Sonora (Mexico), Universidad de Guadalajara (Mexico) and Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. She was coordinator of the Master's and Doctorate in Sociology of the Graduate Studies Division (Faculty of Political and Social Sciences), unam). She is the author of the book Melancholy and utopia. The reflection of the Frankfurt School on the crisis of culture. (1989) and co-coordinator of three collective books: Memories (un)unknown. Disputes in history (in collaboration with Maya Aguiluz, Mexico, unam, 2007), Thinking about globalization, democracy and diversity (in collaboration with Judit Bokser and Juan Felipe Pozo, unam, 2009) y Stamped passport. Crossing the boundaries between social sciences and literature (in collaboration with Alberto Trejo, uam-Xochimilco, 2018).

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