Aubrey Gabel

Aubrey Gabel

Research interests
Aubrey Gabel (PhD, UC Berkeley) is a specialist in 20th- and 21st-century French and Francophone literature, culture, and film. Her fields of research include formal experimentation and literary ludics, literary groups and avant-gardes, sociologies of literature, gender and sexuality studies, translation studies, and visual culture (especially comics and graphic novels).

She is currently working on a book manuscript entitled Serious Play: Formal Experimentation and Politics in French Literature from the 1950s to the present, which tells an alternative history of the French avant-garde through case studies of formal “outliers”: writers whose work tested the limits of the avant-gardisme. Far from an era that could politicize Surrealist antics, the postwar period is marked by a renewed skepticism with respect to the political potential of form, in spite of the irreverent playfulness of May ’68 or Guy Debord’s Situationnistes. Writers like Georges Perec, Monique Wittig, Jacques Jouet, and François Maspero were often perceived as somehow lacking—either “too political” to be formalist or “too formal” to be political. They distanced themselves—or were ostracized—from mainstream political venues, living on the outskirts of French Communism, Feminism, Maoism, and Third-Worldism. Their discomfort, however, with the role of the public intellectual showcases a history of opposition to Sartrean engagement and its close ties to the French Communist Party. Their experiments with form and constraint negotiate new ground for understanding political identity and the inner workings of political groups, asking fundamental questions about who has the right to speak and how, at the height of consumer capitalism and in the aftermath of the collapse of industrialism, communism, and politics as we know it.

Her next book, Not So Secret: The Practice of French Literary Groups, offers an ethnography of secrecy in 20th- and 21st-century literary groups and avant-gardes. The book argues that many French artistic and intellectual collectives were “open secrets”: they were well known in intellectual circles and often broadcasted their secrecy to mainstream publics. “Secrecy” also comes in many different forms, from the grand machinations of underground militant groups, to the strange rituals and regulations of secret societies and the silly in-jokes of pseudo-institutions and chummy friends. This volume interrogates how intellectual groups as diverse as Acéphale, Surrealists, Oulipo, ‘Pataphysics, and Bourbaki performed their secrecy—through shared practices, group identity, intellectual and political engagement, and publications—and to what ends.

At Columbia, Professor Gabel teaches in the Core Curriculum, as well as undergraduate and graduate courses on 20th- and 21st-century literature, culture, and film. Before moving to Columbia, she taught at the University of California, Davis, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Colorado, 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. Outside of the classroom, she is an active freelance translator and interpreter, with interests in oral history.

Selected Publications

“‘L’utopie serait-elle institutionnalisée?’: Georges Perec at the Moulin d’Andé.” Contemporary French & Francophone Studies: SITES, Special Issue ‘May ’68: Sous les pavés’. Ed. Hannah Freed-Thall and Thangam Ravindranathan. Forthcoming.

“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, 2019. Forthcoming.

“For Play?: Literary Ludics and Sexual Politics.” Queer Games Studies: Gender, Sexuality, and a Queer Approach to Queer Games Studies. Ed. Bonnie Ruberg and Adrienne Shaw. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, March 2016.

Other Media: “FrancoForniens: Bringing Oral History into the French-Language Classroom.” Berkeley Language Center Fellows’ Report.