Aubrey Gabel

Aubrey Gabel

Aubrey Gabel (PhD, UC Berkeley 2017) is a specialist in 20th- and 21st-century French and Francophone literature, culture, and film. Her fields of research include formal experimentation, literary groups and avant-gardes, sociologies of literature, gender and sexuality studies, translation studies, and visual culture (especially comics and graphic novels). Professor Gabel has articles, critical reviews, and interviews published or forthcoming in Studies in Twentieth- and Twenty-First Century Literature; SITES; Comparative Literature; French Politics, Culture, and Society; Contemporary French Civilization; and Theater Journal. She has also published in public-facing venues like Public Books, The Comics Journal, and The Los Angeles Review of Books and serves on the editorial board of Romanic Review.

At Columbia, Professor Gabel teaches Contemporary Civilization in the Core Curriculum, as well as undergraduate and graduate courses on 20th- and 21st-century literature, culture, and film. Recent course titles include, “Violence, Politics, and the Graphic Novel,” “Sex, Drugs, and Marxism,” and “Postwar French Cinema and Bad Taste.” Before moving to Columbia, she taught at UC Davis, UC Berkeley, CU Boulder, and Paris VII. She has received fellowships from the Heyman Center for the Humanities, the Berkeley Language Center, the Dartmouth Center for French Cultural Studies, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, as well as a Lenfest Junior Faculty Development Grant. Outside of academia, Aubrey Gabel works as a freelance translator and interpreter, with interests in oral history.

Professor Gabel is currently completing a book manuscript The Politics of Ludics: French Authors Playing Politics from the 1950s to the Present, which investigates how French authors use literary ludics, or unusual formalist methods, to interrogate the larger political crises of late 20th-century France, including May ’68 and the Algerian War, the rise of French feminist, Maoist and Third-Worldist groups, and the collapse of French Communism. This transdisciplinary and transhistorical monograph employs mixed methods—including Bourdieusian sociological analysis, archival research, textual philology, and close readings—to interrogate how and why French authors turn to ludic formal methods like constraints (limitations placed on texts) and procedures (limitations on the time/space of writing). Drawing on an unusual array of case studies, including work by Oulipians Georges Perec and Jacques Jouet, as well as authors who are not conventionally understood to be formalist, like Monique Wittig and François Maspero, the monograph argues that French authors use ludic methods to represent contemporary history and politics, as well as to position themselves within the literary field.

Far from an era that could politicize Surrealist antics, postwar-to-late-20th-century France is marked by a renewed and growing skepticism with respect to the political potential of form, informed by the dominant, if progressively waning, influence of Sartrean commitment. Because ludic authors do not form a cohesive genre, group, or movement, or limit themselves to ludic writing, they have largely been left out of the story of French late 20th-century avant-gardism. In the early 1960s, the literary group Oulipo developed playful self-presentation as a strategy for engaging in the literary field, drawing on its close ties to the College of ‘Pataphysics; alongside Minuit editor Jérôme Lindon, essayist Roland Barthes, and other thinkers of dégagement, Oulipo cofounder Raymond Queneau was uncomfortable with using an author’s committed politics, especially one’s close ties to the French Communist Party, as the sole yardstick for literary practice. The group styled itself as “secret” or “apolitical,” establishing authors as free agents, or relatively autonomous actors, who enact an exit strategy, or an attempt to escape the demands of the literary field. By the late 1960s, authors who had flirted with playing the Marxist or Communist, like Georges Perec and Monique Wittig, became increasingly became uncomfortable with the demands placed on them. They turned to ludic methods to contemplate contemporary history and politics in coded speech, which allowed them to avoid censorship during the Algerian War and to sidestep the public persona required by Sartrean authorship. Fast forward to the 21st century and French authors who had been shaped by May ’68 and Third-Worldist activism, like the editor François Maspero or third-generation Oulipian Jacques Jouet, will continue to draw on procedural ludics as a method for representing Communism in its aftermath.

Selected Publications:

“Transported Memories: How ‘I remember’ Poetry Became an International Form,” Comparative Literature. Forthcoming March 2024. 

“Not So Secret: Oulipo’s Open Secrecy.” L’Oulipo et la Seconde Guerre Mondiale. Ed. Dominique Glynn and Jean-Michel Gouvard. Bordeaux: Presses universitaires de Bordeaux, 2023. Forthcoming.

François Maspero, The Journalist: Multidirectional Activism,” French Politics, Culture, and Society, Volume 40, Issue 3 (Dec. 1, 2022). 

Notes on Charles Johnson: Cartoonist, Radical,” The Comics Journal, Nov. 9th, 2022. 

Julie Doucet : How a Zine Author Went Canonical,” Los Angeles Review of Books, July 23rd, 2022.

Guy Delisle: A Dad Cartoonist and World Traveler Returns to the Factory,” Public Books, Nov. 22nd, 2021.

The Case of the Dream Writer: Perec, Pontalis, and Dream Writing.” Studies in Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Literature. Vol. 45, Iss. 1, Article 27. (2021). 

L’utopie serait-elle institutionnalisée?: Georges Perec at the Moulin d’Andé.” SITES Special Issue “Sous les pavés” Ed. Hannah Freed-Thall and Thangam Ravindranathan. Vol. 23 Iss. 2 (2019), pp. 171-9.