Graduate course descriptions

Proust vs. Sainte-Beuve
Prof. Antoine Compagnon
A seminar on the origins of the Proust’s novel, À la recherche du temps perdu, in the pamphlet Contre
Sainte-Beuve, both an essay and a narrative drafted by Proust in 1908-1909. But who was Sainte-Beuve? And how did the monumental novel curiously emerge out of a quarrel with a 19th-century critic? We will also look at the various attempts to reconstitute the tentative Contre Sainte-Beuve, buried deep in the archeology of the Recherche.

African Literature and Philosophy
Prof. Souleymane Bachir Diagne
The seminar will be a study of the philosophical and literary movement known as Negritude, created in the late 1930’s by black poets and thinkers Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906-2001) from Senegal, Aimé Césaire (1913- 2008) from Martinique and Léon Damas (1912-1978) from Guyana. The ways in which Negritude has developed in conversation with the works of philosophers such as Marx, Nietzsche, Bergson, Levy-Bruhl, Sartre and Teilhard de Chardin will be examined. So will be the role played by Negritude in the contemporary development of African philosophy, in the works of thinkers like Paulin Hountondji, and Marcien Towa for example.

Discovering Existence
Prof. Souleymane Bachir Diagne
Modern science and the end of the closed world meant that Earth, the abode of the human being, had lost what was considered its natural position at the center of the universe. The new situation raised the question of the meaning of human existence, which is the topic of the seminar. First, the course will present a description of the passage from the Aristotelian closed world to the infinite universe of modern science. The responses to that new world by Descartes and Pascal will then be examined through the study of passages from Les Méditations and Les Pensées. We will then proceed to study how, in the twentieth century, Pascal’s philosophy of human existence found an echo in Jean Paul Sartre’s philosophy of the proliferation of existence and Albert Camus’ confrontation with the “absurd”.

Communism or Democracy? A French debate at the end of the 20th century
Prof. Etienne Balibar
In the last three decades of the 20th century, i.e. roughly in the wake of the 1968 insurrections and the final collapse of the Soviet regime and the end of the Cold War, a lively debate took place in France as in other countries, but with specific character, which involved a number of prominent philosophers, writers and political theorists, usually (but not always) classified on the left. It has left profound traces on contemporary political philosophy and philosophy in general. As a consequence, it proposed deep and diverse insights into the vexed question of the articulation of communism and democracy, which can be compared fruitfully with the current debates about "assembly" movements and post-capitalist democracy. The class will read a number of texts from this debate, organizing them in the form of dialogues among the protagonists and trying to identify their points of heresy.

Law and Violence in Modern European Empires
Prof. Emmanuelle Saada
This class explores the history of the relationship between law and violence in Europe and its empires since the 16th century. We will pay special attention to the articulations between political and philosophical debates and legal and governmental practices. Readings will be drawn from intellectual history and legal theory as well as from the social and political history of European imperialism and colonialism. The French and British cases will be at the center of our reflection but we will also explore links with other European empires and with US History.

Francophone Romance: Love, Sex, Intimacy in The French Colonial World
Prof. Madeleine Dobie
The forms of domination and violence that have characterized empire have always been interwoven with desire and various forms of intimacy. Personal relationships have been vectors of colonial power as well as sites of resistance. In this course we consider various ways in which love, desire and intimacy have emerged as questions in the French colonial context. The course 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. We consider both the transmission of categories and practices across colonial contexts and historical transitions and regional specificities. The course methodology is interdisciplinary, drawing on insights from history, sociology and law. The primary lens is, however, be that of literature, a medium in which the personal dimensions of empire have often found expression. We consider how recurrent themes and figures of colonial desire and intimacy have taken shape across different genres and registers of writing.

During the first few weeks of the semester we focus on the first French colonial empire, established in the Americas and the Indian Ocean in the 17th and 18th centuries. We consider love, sex and intimacy as dimensions of the system of plantation slavery, exploring questions such as the biopolitical relationship between production and reproduction and the intersectionality of gender, sexuality and race. We begin by looking at fictional and non-fictional texts from the slavery period, then, consider how the history of slavery frames the treatment of race, gender and sexuality in the work of several important 20th-century Francophone Caribbean writers. In the second part of the course we turn to France’s second colonial empire, established in Africa and Asia in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Our readings in this section explore the colonial ‘family romance,’ i.e. the presentation of the colonial relationship as a natural, familial bond between parents and children. We consider the central place that marriage and sexuality occupied in legal codes that prescribed the rights and duties of ‘citizens’ and ‘natives’ along with the ambiguous status of ‘métis.’ The course ends with consideration of gender and sexuality as sites of tension within anticolonialism and nationalism.

Practicum in French Language Pedagogy
Dr. Pascale Hubert-Leibler
Designed for first-time teaching fellows (second-year graduate students). The goal of the course is to provide novice instructors with practical support throughout their first semester of teaching, help them learn about and apply best practices, and give them a theoretical foundation in second-language pedagogy.


Madeleine Dobie
This course is an introduction to research, literary analysis and academic writing for students entering the MA or PhD program in French studies. It covers the fundamental principles of close reading as well as methods of academic research, including the expanding range of digital tools. Students begin to prepare for the various components of the doctoral program, including the oral and explication de texte exams, the MA essay and the Prospectus. They also develop skills that contribute to writing successful fellowship and grant applications. The course familiarizes students with important journals, professional societies and online resources in the field, preparing them to enter the academic profession. The course is organized as a workshop with weekly readings and, in some cases, short writing assignments and exercises. We use collaborative techniques such as brainstorming and peer editing.

Thomas Dodman
This course explores overlaps and interconnections between history and literature. It introduces students to the ways in which literary scholars examine the historical dimension of texts and, conversely, historians grapple with the literary qualities of their narratives. In spring 2020 the course will focus on the methodological challenges and epistemological effects of working at small scales of analysis: in psychoanalytic case studies; ethnographic fieldwork; microhistorical research; and genre-defying narratives that weave together biography, sociological study, and the author’s implication (ethical, political) in the object of study. Course open to graduate students and advanced undergraduate students. All classes and readings in English.

Pierre Force
A one-semester survey of seventeenth-century French literature, with an emphasis on the relationship between literature and the major cultural, philosophical, and religious developments of the period.

Joanna Stalnaker
The objective of this course will be to tease out Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s complex and often contradictory ideas on women and gender difference in nature and society, to examine his own gender construction in his autobiographical writings, and to determine how women writers from the eighteenth to the twenty-first centuries have responded to these aspects of his work. Readings of Rousseau’s works (in French) will include the Discours sur l’inégalitéÉmile, the Lettre à d’Alembert and the Confessions. Other authors will include Louise d’Épinay, Isabelle de Charrière, Olympe de Gouges, Germaine de Staël, Mary Wollstonecraft, Marie-Jeanne Roland de la Platière, George Sand and Monique Wittig, along with contemporary feminist criticism on Rousseau. The course will be taught in French with most readings in French, but papers may be written in English for non-majors or graduate students from other departments. This course fulfills the pre-1800 requirement for the French major and the 18th Century requirement for the MA or PhD in the French Department.

Elisabeth Ladenson and Nick Dames
Female protagonists are central to both French and British fiction in the 19th century, but they tend to be depicted very differently. Sexuality, for instance, is much more explicit in French fiction, with its emphasis on adultery narratives, than in marriage-plot-heavy British novels. Relatedly, the most famous accounts of women’s lives are by women in England and by male authors in France. With these questions (among others) in mind, we will take a close comparative look at some of the most emblematic novels depicting women’s lives in the 19th century. Texts will include Brontë’s Jane Eyre; Flaubert’s Madame Bovary; Eliot’s Middlemarch; and Zola’s Nana.

Camille Robcis
This graduate seminar will focus on some of the seminal texts in European social and political thought throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We will pay special attention to the relationship between texts and the various contexts in which they were produced. Each week, we will pair a primary text with critical works from across various disciplines (history, anthropology, literature, political theory, history of science, and psychoanalysis). Readings will include Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, Durkheim, Mauss, Schmitt, Arendt, Adorno, Lenin, Luxemburg, Saussure, Lévi-Strauss, Lacan, Derrida, Foucault, Fanon, CLR James, Wittig, and Irigaray.

Kaiama Glover
This course explores configurations of the feminine as force of disorder in the largely masculinist literary universe of the twentieth-century French-speaking Caribbean. How do certain kinds of female characters reflect the disconcerting realities that plague the communities in which they are embedded? What alternative modes of being might women’s non- or even anti-communal practices of freedom suggest? How do such freedom practices disrupt North Atlantic theorizations of the individual in/and community? How capable are we, as Global South scholars, of maintaining commitments to read generously in the face of anti-sociality or moral ambiguity? What ordering codes do we inadvertantly perpetuate through our own reading practices?

Over the course of the semester, we will look closely at the “troubling” heroines presented in prose fiction writing by authors of both genders in order to identify the thematic points of intersection and common formal strategies that emerge in their work. We will consider the symbolic value of the “witch,” the “zombie,” the “goddess,” the “old maid,” and other disturbing or disturbed women as so many reflections on – and of – social phenomena that mark the region and its history.