Undergraduate course descriptions

French through Film (taught in French)
Heidi Holst-Knudsen
French socio-political issues and language through the prism of film. Especially designed for non-majors wishing to further develop their French language skills and learn about French culture. Each module includes assignments targeting the four language competencies: reading, writing, speaking and oral comprehension, as well as cultural understanding.

French through Current Events (taught in French)
Samuel Skippon
The course will offer students an understanding of fundamental underlying concepts that structure French society and that are necessary to grasp if one wants to follow current events in France. Given that this course will deal with current events, the readings will depend entirely on how the news unfolds. 

3rd-year Grammar and Composition
Alexandra Borer
Prerequisites: FREN UN3405 must be taken before FREN UN3333/4 unless the student has an AP score of 5 or the director of undergraduate studies permission. The goal of FREN UN3405 is to help students improve their grammar and perfect their writing and reading skills, especially as a preparation for taking literature or civilization courses, or spending a semester in a francophone country. Through the study of two full-length works of literature and a number of short texts representative of different genres, periods, and styles, they will become more aware of stylistic nuances, and will be introduced to the vocabulary and methods of literary analysis. Working on the advanced grammar points covered in this course will further strengthen their mastery of French syntax. They will also be practicing writing through a variety of exercises, including pastiches and creative pieces, as well as typically French forms of academic writing such as “résumé,” “explication de texte,” and “dissertation.

Introduction to French & Francophone History
(taught in French)
Thomas Dodman
This class provides an introduction to the history of France and of the francophone world since the Middle Ages. It initiates students to the major events and themes that have shaped politics, society, and culture in France and its former colonies, paying special attention to questions of identity and diversity in a national and imperial context. Modules include a combination of lecture and seminar-style discussion of documents (in French). This course is part of a two-course sequence and is a core requirement the French and Francophone Studies major.

Introduction to French & Francophone Literature
(taught in French)
Laurence Marie
This class offers a survey of major works of French and francophone literature from the Middle Ages to the present. Emphasis will be placed on formal and stylistic elements of the works read and on developing the critical skills necessary for literary analysis. Works will be placed in their historical context.

Shock Wave: Transgressive 20th & 21st Century French & Francophone Literature & Film
(taught in French)
André Pettman
In its widest sense, transgression is the violation of cultural, social, religious, and legal norms or laws. Traditionally, transgression is regarded as being unacceptable, objectionable, and even harmful. Certain behaviors, such as cannibalism or incest (Freud 1913; Lévi-Strauss 1949), are transculturally deemed as taboo. From another perspective, however, transgression holds the potential to rupture and radically reshape the status quo, a conviction perhaps most evident in the realm of art. Transgressive art shocks us, it elicits outrage, paralyzes us in horror, it makes our stomachs turn, our knees weak. It shakes the tenets of our morals, challenges our sensibilities, and interrogates our notions of what is offensive, appropriate, and societally acceptable. What is it about a work of art that makes it transgressive? Do we know it when we see it? Is it derived from a work’s content or is it also a question of its form? How does it interface with questions of authorship, sociopolitical context, and reception? What limit must a work go beyond in order to be deemed transgressive? What is the relationship between subversion and transgression? Can we speak of an aesthetics of transgression?

These questions will drive our exploration and critical engagement with French and Francophone literature and film. In addition to offering a broad overview of 20th - and 21st-century French and Francophone literary and cinematic production, this course will focus on the shifting cultural, social, and political contexts of these works. We will consider how these contexts – in conjunction with a work’s content and form – shape what constitutes transgression and how or why a work is shocking. To contemplate a more comprehensive understanding of transgression and its specificities and contingencies, we will cover an array of literary and cinematographic genres (prose narrative, autofiction, nouveau roman, noir thriller, new wave, experimental film, horror), and themes (romantic love, desire, sexuality, colonialism, familial relations, cultural norms, religion, censorship). Along with primary source texts and films, we will read selected secondary sources to gain knowledge of influential theories of transgression and raise additional questions related to race, gender, genre, sexuality, violence, and the construction of the self.

What is this Trash?: Bad Taste in French Cinema
Aubrey Gabel
This course will chart a history of cinema, from the postwar to the present, through exemplary films of mauvais goût or bad taste. Whether they were explicitly banned or censured, deemed too grotesque, pornographic, or violent, or quite simply panned or labeled unwatchable, the films in this course challenge received expectations of what a film should be. We will begin with the ever-popular French New Wave movement, specifically Louis Malle’s Les amants (1958), which sparked a US legal debate about pornography. From handheld cameras to improvised dialogue, New Wave filmmakers played with form, producing supposedly “unwatchable” experimental and documentary films. Around the same time, political films of the Algerian War and decolonization were banned or never screened (or both). If Godard injected Maoist propaganda and Black Panther discourse into a Rolling Stones concert film, practitioners of cinéma-vérité challenged presumptions of objectivity, by inviting their subjects to participate in their own documentation. Expectation-bending ‘60s and ‘70s experimental films (think Straub-Huillet or Situationism) existed alongside early “cult” cinema, whether it be pop science fiction like Vadim’s Barbarella (1968) or Laloux’s unsettling, animated film La Planète sauvage (1973). By the 1980s, the commercially successful cinéma du look combined hyper-stylized sets with slow-paced drama, but also included some of the earliest representations of the AIDS crisis. Turning to the low-tech cinema of the 1990s, we will juxtapose homemade documentaries (like Guibert’s account of succumbing to AIDS) with modern filmmakers known for employing non-professional actors (Dumont). By ‘00s and early ’10s, we will consider how past controversies have been revived in the present, whether it be delicate American sensibilities (Doucouré’s Mignonnes (2020)) or the conditions of production before the era of consent (Despentes, Breillat, Kechiche, Ozon). Finally, the course will close with very recent films that revive popular genres and delve into bizarre, grotesque imagery, testing the limits of viewers’ minds and stomachs, including Ducournau’s coming-of-age cannibalism and a car-impregnated, serial killer (seriously) or Dumont’s murder mystery film and TV series P’tit Quinquin. (Class taught in English with films in French with English Subtitles. Secondary materials in English. French minors or majors must submit papers in French. This class will also involve a few class field trips (TBD), likely to the Museum of the Moving Image and the Lincoln Film Center, as well as at least one in-person screening at the Maison Française.)

Senior Seminar (taught in French)
Antoine Compagnon
Required of all French and French & Francophone Studies majors and concentrators. Usually taken by majors during the fall term of their senior year. Critical discussion of a few major literary works along with some classic commentaries on those works. Students critically assess and practice diverse methods of literary analysis.

Theories of Literature
Madeleine Dobie
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
Thomas Dodman
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)
Emmanuel Kattan
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.

 FREN GU4723
Proust vs Colette (taught in French)
Antoine Compagnon
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.

Discovering Existence
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.

French through Paris
Alexandra Borer

French through theater
Pascale Crépon

Introduction to French & Francophne History

Introduction to French & Francophone Literature

French Cinema
Aubrey Gabel

Francophone Romance:  Love, Sex, Intimacy in the French Colonial World
Madeleine Dobie
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)

Caroline Weber
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
Eliza Zingesser