Graduate course descriptions
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Theories of Literature
This course introduces a range of theoretical approaches to the interpretation of literature, covering the fundamentals of close reading, narratology and rhetoric and exploring models of reading associated with structuralism/deconstruction, Marxism, new historicism, postcolonialism, psychoanalysis, ecocriticism, feminist and queer theory. We read theoretical texts alongside literary works, exploring how they can enrich our approaches to these texts.
Sociology of Literature (taught in French)
This course introduces the students to a growing subfield of both literary studies and sociology as well as history: sociology of literature. It is particularly developed in the French-speaking countries: The course and discussions will be in French, and many of the texts will be in French when an English version is not available. After two classes centered around theories that form the basis of most of current sociology of literature, the course will explore empirical case studies, which all have also a theoretical aspect. This will be organized into three parts. Part one will be dedicated to the social conditions of literary production and of being a writer. Part two will focus on inequalities in the literary field, depending on “identity” factors (gender, race, nation, language). Part three will be centered around the reception of the literary text and its afterlife, in particular its process of consecration. Typically, one class consists of a discussion around two texts (chapters of a book, and one article). It is introduced by a student who will compare both texts: they will also introduce the other students to a text that they would have picked within the “additional texts” (they can also propose a text outside of this list). Each class will bring together empirical case studies that have a temporal and/or geographical scope: in general, one will concern the Francophone world, and another one will concern another linguistic area. Sociology of literature always try to go beyond the particular to try and find patterns across time and space: this course is henceforth also a class of comparative literature.
Passing/Transfuges:on being someone else
This course pursues a comparative analysis of situations in which people pretend to be someone else, or something other than the identities that they are assigned at birth or by prevailing social norms. It considers three typical forms of this fluidity of self and other: the phenomenon of racial passing in post-emancipation US history; attempts to import the notion of passing in the context of gender identity; and the related concept of the transfuge - who tends to be a transfuge de classe - in contemporary France. Drawing from a range of theoretical perspectives (sociological, psychological, philosophical…) and close readings of literary texts (novels, autobiographical writings…) we will explore similarities and differences between these different forms of becoming, seeking answers to a range of broader questions relating to authenticity and performance, to self-fashioning and social reproduction, to outer cues and inner feelings, and to how class, race, and gender align and intersect, in domination and subversion, at different points in time and in different places. Authors and theorists examined include: Nella Larsen, WEB du Bois, George Sand, Philip Roth, Judith Butler, Pierre Bourdieu, Didier Eribon, Kaoutar Harchi, and Annie Ernaux.
The Politics of Memory. Remembrance, Ethics and Identity in France since 1945 (taught in French)
This seminar will explore the multidimensional interplay between collective memory, politics, and history in France since 1945. We will examine the process of memorializing key historical events and periods – the Vichy regime, the Algerian War, the slave trade – and the critical role they played in shaping and dividing French collective identity. This exploration will focus on multiple forms of narratives – official history, victims’ accounts, literary fiction – and will examine the tensions and contradictions that oppose them. The seminar will discuss the political uses of memory, the influence of commemorations on French collective identity, and the role played by contested monuments, statues and other “lieux de mémoire” (“sites of memory”). We will ask how these claims on historical consciousness play out in the legal space through an exploration of French “memorial laws”, which criminalize genocide denial and recognize slave trade as a crime against humanity. These reflections will pave the way to retracing the genesis of the “devoir de mémoire” (“duty to remember”), a notion that attempts to confer an ethical dimension to collective memory. The seminar will examine the multiple uses of the French injunction to remember – as a response to narratives of denial, as an act of justice towards the victims, and as an antidote to the recurrence of mass crimes and persecutions.
Proust vs Colette (taught in French)
Two anniversaries give rise to this confrontation. We commemorated the centennial of the death of Proust (1871-1922) in 2022, and celebrate the 150th birthday of Colette (1873-1954) in 2023. They belong to an exceptional generation born around 1870, the “Modern French Classics,” with Valéry, Gide, Claudel and Péguy. They met in fashionable salons in the 1890’s, when Colette, just married to Willy, arrived in Paris, and they did not much like each other: he was a snob, she was outrageous. But Colette read Du côté de chez Swann as soon it came out in 1913, and was strongly impressed by the evocation of the village of Combray. Proust congratulated Colette warmly after reading Mitsou in 1919, a brief romance between a dancer and a lieutenant during WWI. During the last years of Proust’s life, Proust and Colette were the two most visible and popular authors on the postwar literary scene. Among the “Six of 1870,” common to Proust and Colette is the focus on sensations, memory and time, as well as a curiosity for sexual transgressions. “Combray” and La Maison de Claudine explore the lost paradise of childhood; Le Pur et l’Impur is a response to Sodome et Gomorrhe; Le Temps retrouvé and La Naissance du jour the autofiction as a genre. We will read the two authors as serendipitous counterparts.
Souleymane Bachir Diagne
Modern science marking the end of the closed world meant that Earth, the abode of the human being, lost its natural position at the center of the universe. The passage from the Aristotelian closed world to the infinite universe of modern science raised the question of the meaning of human existence, which is the topic of the seminar. How that question continued to resonate in French literature and philosophy, will be examined, first through the study of texts by Blaise Pascal in the 17th century; then through the reading of texts centered around the topic of the “discovery of existence” (echoing, as we will see, many of Pascal’s topics): texts by Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Frantz Fanon and Albert Camus will thus be analyzed.
Sexualities: Medieval and Modern
Camille Robcis and Eliza Zingesser
In this class, we are interested in how gender and sexuality have been constructed in the past and present. The class will be divided into four units, for which our guiding questions are as follows: 1. How should one teach and write about the history of sexuality? In a time when queer people remain under threat in much of the world, including this country, is it better to look for readily identifiable queer forebears in past periods? Or should we, on the contrary, seek to avoid any kind of anachronism in looking for queerness in the past, hewing strictly to the non-normative or deviant categories labeled explicitly by past thinkers? Is there a third way? 2. How have gender and sex been constructed in the past (as a binary, a spectrum, or something else?). Are they a function of sexual ‘orientation’ (if one can even speak of such a thing before the 19th C) or the other way around? How have they been constructed recently? 3. How do social and political factors condition our sexual desires? Should the bedroom be a battleground for a political agenda, as some anti-porn feminists (and others) claim, or should we decide that sexual desires are outside the bounds of morality and/or politics? Can we interrogate the conditions surrounding our sexual desires without imposing moral norms around them? 4. What are some of the recent debates in queer theory? How do issues of race and disability intersect with gender, sex, and sexual orientation? How has the category of ‘trans’ involved a rethinking of sex and gender? Has queer theory strayed too far from sexuality?
In this year-long workshop, students who have completed their oral examinations discuss how to write a grant proposal, a prospectus, and a dissertation.This course has two modules. Part I addresses how to come up with valid research problems and significant questions, how to select pertinent sources and marshal them into an argument, how to integrate concepts, theory, and evidence, and more. In part II, students at the writing stage of the dissertation will workshop their chapters.
Francophone Romance: Love, Sex, Intimacy in the French Colonial World
Colonial domination and violence have been interwoven with desire and various forms of intimacy. Personal relationships have been vectors of colonial power as well as sites of resistance. This course explores various ways in which love, desire and intimacy have emerged as questions in French colonial practice. It covers a broad historical and geographic span stretching from the age of plantation slavery to the era of decolonization and from the Caribbean and Louisiana to Vietnam and Africa. The primary lens is literature, a medium in which the personal dimensions of empire have often found expression, though we also draw insights from history, sociology and law.
Earth/Theatre: Arts of inhabiting Gaia
Fréderique Ait Touati (Visiting professor)
This seminar will examine Ancien Régime culture through the history of Versailles from its origins as a hunting lodge through Louis XIV's displacement of the court to the château in 1682, through the Revolution. We will read contemporary literature; look at cultural history, architecture and the arts; and consider film treatments from Sacha Guitry's 1954 "Si Versailles m'était conté" to the recent television series "Versailles."
Medieval Media Theory
In this year-long workshop, students who have completed their oral examinations discuss how to write a grant proposal, a prospectus, and a dissertation.
This course has two modules. Part I addresses how to come up with valid research problems and significant questions, how to select pertinent sources and marshal them into an argument, how to integrate concepts, theory, and evidence, and more. In part II, students at the writing stage of the dissertation will workshop their chapters.
French Empires: History and Historiography
As in many other European countries in the last thirty years, the historiography of France has been reshaped by interest in the imperial trajectory of the nation. This class will explore this 'imperial turn’ and examine its specificity vis-à-vis the historiographies of other European empires. We will examine the questions that have been at the center of the historian's agenda: what kind of historical processes is revealed (or masked) by the imperial perspective? How do we think historically about the relationships between nation, Republic, and empire? How has the 'imperial turn' shaped the categories and writing practices of historians? What are the contributions of historians to the understanding of postcolonialism? All readings and discussions are in English.