Recent and Upcoming French Graduate Seminars

FR2715: The French-speaking Mediterranean, Spring 2022, David Pettersen

This seminar brings a Mediterranean perspective to the French-speaking world as a means of investigating how regional approaches to the study of cultures, languages, literatures, and media challenge the national approaches that have long defined scholarship on the countries surrounding the middle sea. This seminar will survey some of the key scholarly works that have theorized the Mediterranean, from Fernand Braudel to the present. We will examine how scholars have understood some the key topoi that have defined the field, including sun, sea, food, cities, ports, trade, tourism, warfare, translation, borders, migration, and refugees. Our approach will be diachronic, and we will examine competing images of the Mediterranean in works of literature and cinema from the Early Modern period to the present, especially the flows of cultures, goods, and human beings throughout the Mediterranean and the conflicts between its countries and peoples. Finally, we will go beyond questions of representation to consider how culture industries operate around the sea, especially the publishing, media production, and film festival industries.

FR2402: Early Modern Adaptations
Spring 2020, Chloé Hogg

Literature to screen (but how about screen to literature?). Book to bande dessinée. Oral tradition to elite literary practice to children’s lit to video game. Fan fiction. Revivals. Vulgarization. TV series. Podcasts. Adaptation is everywhere in our hypermediated media worlds. And as Thomas Leitch writes in the inaugural issue of the journal Adaptation (2008), “Adaptation studies are on the move.” This seminar takes a transmedial, diachronic approach to study the cultural production and media of early modern France as the processes and products of adaptation (Hutcheon). How did early modern writers, artists, artisans, and audiences adapt the stories and material of Antiquity—culturally prestigious, yes, but also tasteless, outdated, obscene, and shocking to early modern publics? How did early modern cultural productions adapt media forms and protocols to incorporate popular traditions, new technologies, and expanding global contacts? And what can we learn from the processes of adapting “the early modern”—stories, figures, images, texts—in contemporary cultural production from Versailles (the TV series) to La Princesse de Clèves (the graphic novel)? What does it mean to study early modern (as) adaptations? Do we always have to read the book to study the film? This course draws on critical readings in adaptation studies, media theory, media archeology, film studies and literary studies; our seminar corpus includes texts, images, gaming, films, fan fiction, graphic narratives, television, theater, radio/audio, and digital media. Students will produce an adaptation case study; a teaching unit or lesson; and/or a creative or critical adaptation of their research. Course taught in French primarily.   

FR2703: Metropoles-Megacities​
Spring 2020, John Walsh

This seminar explores the urban environmental imaginaries of writers and filmmakers of the Global South. What do their depictions reveal about contemporary and historical forms of the urban? How do they make sense of globalizing ideologies of urbanization, especially neoliberalism and its consequences for social and environmental justice? More broadly, how do literary representations intervene in and contribute to wider debates at the intersection of urban studies, postcolonial theory, and the environmental humanities? These questions serve as a critical backdrop for the study of the ways in which these imaginaries generate new and unexpected geographies of urban experience, shaped by intertwining political and ecological phenomena, including inequality, poverty, migration, pollution, and climate change. The course will be conducted in French or English, depending on enrollments. We will read a variety of fiction (Chamoiseau, Begag, Lahens, Mabanckou, Charles) and theory (Lefebvre, Harvey, Westphal, Mbembe, Sarr, Roy, Brenner). We will also view films by Sembène, Farès, Benyamina, and Peck.

FR2703: Animality, Gender, Sex
Spring 2020, Kaliane Ung​

In recent years, we have come to realize that our destiny as humans is closely linked with that of the bee, the earthworm, or other animals. How should we consider gender and sexuality in this new paradigm, when cloning appears as a possible option for the preservation of species? This graduate seminar focuses on recent theoretical, literary, and cinematic texts that put animality into relation with gender and sexuality. Queer studies, gender studies, feminist studies, and trans studies have been radically rethought through the category of animality. How, for instance, is the category of woman linked with animals as a tentative gesture to redefine the “female” seventy years after Simone de Beauvoir’s seminal work The Second Sex? The critical apparatus will allow us to open the word “female” to a plurality of meanings, freeing it from the constraints of a female body often characterized by the violence it is subjected to (Catherine Malabou). Thinking of oneself as an animal also means changing one’s perception of the world and finding new ways to care for it. Students will be introduced to foundational thought in ecocriticism (Rachel Carson, Stéphanie Posthumus), in which “ecology is composed through histories of interaction, relationality, interconnection, and materiality” (Eva Hayward). Starting with Deleuze’s notion of “becoming-animal,” we will study animals as beings of language, but also as ontological beings larger than the metaphors and allegories with which they are associated, in order to approach animal studies and queer studies as drafting an “ethics of difference” (Donna Haraway) and redefining our idea of Nature (Bruno Latour). Primary materials might include French, German, Latin American, and American texts read in English, as well as films (Boon Joon-ho, Lucile Hadzihalilovic, Jean Cocteau, Wes Anderson).

FR2710: Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory
Fall 2019, Giuseppina Mecchia​

In this course intended for beginning graduate students in the modern languages, students will survey major movements and concepts in literary and cultural theory of the 20th/21st centuries. These theories have provided us important ways to think about how to read and interpret literature, film, and other cultural artifacts, and, as such, are an important aspect of graduate studies in the humanities. This course is meant to provide students a general background in theory that they can further develop in certain areas as they continue their studies.

FR2761: French Studies, Gender Studies
Fall 2019, Todd Reeser​

To say “French studies and gender studies have much to say to each other” is an understatement. To do French studies without gender studies or to do gender studies without French studies is impossible (not to mention unwise). In the era of #MeToo and growing representation of transgender characters in media, this has never been more true. In this course, we will systematically put into dialogue primary texts in French and approaches/theories in gender studies. How can theoretical principles be adapted to primary texts? “Gender” will be taken in the fullest sense of the term, incorporating questions related to feminism, masculinity, transgender, cisgender, hetero/sexuality, queer, lesbian/gay/bisexual, etc.

The organization of the course will not be based on a single historical or temporal period, but on approaches to gender. In fact, we will take select cases from a variety of periods to consider how time and gender do/do not relate (e.g. What remains from pre-modern feminism in Simone de Beauvoir or in 21st-century feminist thought? To what extent can we talk of “trans” in early modern France? How does French colonialism presage current representations of North African masculinities?).

Central to the course, too, will be connections—or more likely, disconnections—between Anglo-American gender/sexuality studies and French-language theories and texts/contexts. What concepts in French cross over into English-speaking contexts, and what concepts do not? Why? What language about gender is used in each linguistic context? How does post-colonial thought factor in to these discussions? Also central to the course will be ways in which the all-important concept of “universalism” pertains to gender and sexuality. How is universalism a vexed concept? How is it helpful? What does it do to gender and gender constructions?

Texts taken include theory, manifestos, film, TV, theatre, poetry, autobiography, medical treatises, philosophy, conduct manuals, fairy tales, graphic novels, textbooks, music videos, and others. Students will finish the course able to think in more sophisticated terms about gender/sexuality and to better position interests in French in gender studies broadly (and vice versa). Students will be able to adapt the course content to their own interests and write final papers on topics related to areas of specialization (from medieval to 21st-century film and media, with all stops in between).

FR2970: Teaching of French
Fall 2019, Richard Donato​

This course supports the concept that instructional expertise is developed in and through teaching. Using a modified "lesson study model" of teacher development, new and experienced foreign language instructors will work together to identify problems of practice, discuss the theory and instructional practices that address these pedagogical concerns, and collaboratively develop a lesson to be taught by a member of the class and later analyzed and refined by the class as a whole. Videotapes of these lessons will be used as the primary source of information for analysis, discussion, and reflection. Four major areas will ground our work: 1) designing lessons to promote a language learning community, 2) teaching culture through language, and language through culture, 3) advancing oral language proficiency, and 4) developing literacy in a foreign language. Assignments include participation in collaborative lesson plan development, reflective reports on videotapes of classroom instruction, written analysis of tutorial work with language learners, and a culminating project developed in stages throughout the course that unifies the four themes in a statement of teaching philosophy. Not language specific, this course is intended for current and future teachers in the modern foreign languages.

FR2505: La Monnaie vivante, 1822-1842: Roman, affects et argent chez Claire de Duras, Balzac et Stendhal
Spring 2019, Giuseppina Mecchia​

Au cours du 18ème siècle, le roman était progressivement devenu un genre littéraire de plus en plus enraciné dans différents réseaux sociaux et commerciaux. Il était, cependant, encore difficile de lui donner une valeur monétaire précise, et même d’établir les droits et les responsabilités légales de ses auteurs et éditeurs. Dans notre cours, nous allons lier ces questions à des théories contemporaines sur le fonctionnement du capitalisme par rapport aux biens « immatériels », tels que les sensibilités, l’intelligence et le potentiel d’intégration sociale. Les romans de Claire de Duras, Balzac et Stendhal – qui tiennent de genres littéraires situés entre le moralisme psychologique, le romantisme et une critique réaliste -- mettent en scène personnages, situations et stratégies langagières qui nous font « sentir » les problèmes liés à l’individuation romanesque dans un régime économique et social à moitié entre les restes de la féodalité et l’emprise naissante du capital financier et industriel. Quelques travaux d’économistes politiques contemporains franco-italiens-suisses seront donc lus en parallèle avec des textes d’esthétique, philosophie politique et critique littéraire, en particulier par Pierre Klossowski, Georges Bataille et Jacques Rancière et des critiques littéraires travaillant sur les oeuvres et les auteurs au programme.

FR2102: The Medieval Body
Spring 2019, Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski​

In this seminar we will explore a number of crucial issues in medieval culture through the lens of the body: the gendered body; the hybrid body; the Saracen and black body; the disabled body; the tortured body; the mystic body; the witch’s body, the aging body. Reading texts and studying images from a variety of genres (romances, fabliaux, saints’ lives and visions, medical texts, political treatises, judiciary documents, manuscript illuminations and paintings) we will analyze medieval notions of gender and gender transformation/hybridity; medieval theories about race; definitions of witchcraft as they relate to bodily manifestations; and ideas about pain in relation to martyrdom and torture. We will also explore the growing field of medieval disability studies.

FR2765: Afropeans, Afropolitans, and the African Diaspora in Europe
Fall 2018, John Walsh

Beyond the rights and privileges of citizenship, what attributes and feelings create a sense of belonging to greater communities, including cities, nations, and even continents? Conversely, how have global problems, including wars, economic recession, and climate change, as well as the flow of migrants and refugees and the return of nationalism and xenophobia, given rise to an anxiety of belonging? If one were to map belonging by way of literature, what borders and topographical markers (racial, cultural, linguistic, religious) would be visible? More broadly, how do aesthetic and cultural forms evoke shifting political winds?

The seminar takes up these guiding questions in the study of contemporary literature and media that evoke cross-cultural encounters between Africa and Europe. These texts bring to light, as Sabrina Brancato observes, “the contribution of people of African origin in shaping European culture and thought as well as acknowledging how crucial the existence of Africa was and is to the very notion of Europe.” For the Cameroonian novelist, Léonora Miano, “Afropean” describes black Europeans who “refuse to have to choose between their sub-Saharan or Caribbean parts, and their European part.” “Afropea is, in France,” she continues, “the mental locale that those who are unable to claim the privilege of French stock give to themselves” (86). Such appeal to the imaginary owes to the ways in which race continues to play a divisive role in defining “French” and “foreigner.” As Achille Mbembe argues, “Neither the revolution nor liberal republicanism has completely transcended the foundational tension among race, culture, and nation at the core of the French national imaginary.”

The terms “Afropean” and “Afropolitan” challenge (neo)colonial frames of conceiving European identity. Having inherited the legacy of what is loosely known as “the Black International,” or the long line of cultural and political movements, including the Harlem Renaissance, Negritude, Pan-Africanism, and U.S. Civil Rights, they draw on theories of race, gender, sexuality, nation, and diaspora. These overlapping ideas contribute to the diversity of Afropean and Afropolitan expression and form the thematic structure of the seminar. As we examine a range of fictional and theoretical texts, our task is not to resolve the conflicting perspectives that emerge from them but rather to ask questions that will help us to situate this literature historically and consider it alongside debates on national identity, (im)migration, and globalization. At the intersection of literary, cultural, and political forms and modes of thought, our challenge is to map Afropean Studies not as a discrete field but within transnational networks, including Africana, Diaspora, and Postcolonial Studies.

FR2402: Literary Scandals
Fall 2018, Chloé Hogg

Early modern French literature—that of the seventeenth century in particular—is canonically defined by the texts and aesthetic we deem “classical.” The seventeenth century itself is known as a moment of literary institutionalization, marked by “la naissance de l’écrivain” (A. Viala) as a social, cultural, and professional category, by the codification of genres and regularization of works through rules such as “les trois unités” and aesthetic-moral codes of la vraisemblance and les bienséances, by the flourishing of literary salons and academies, and by the foundation of the Académie française (1635), which assured literature a place in the French state and asserted state control over literature. Yet this age of classicism was also an age of scandal. It saw the first modern writer’s trial and the first literary publicity campaign. It saw the beginning of modern (secular and institutionalized) censorship and the burgeoning of print culture in France. Irenic narratives of sociability and salons likewise tend to overlook the cultural contestations that roiled the eighteenth-century world of letters, as this world of letters became an increasingly commercialized media marketplace for print.

This course explores the elaboration of literature, as institution, activity, and cultural technology, through a series of early modern literary and media scandals. We will examine the work of scandal—what it makes possible as well as what it forecloses—through close reading and research of the texts and contexts of a number of notable early modern “affaires,” from Théophile de Viau’s sodomite sonnet to Jeanne Guyon’s heretical deep reading to Voltaire’s activist texts. What did it mean to write and read scandalously in early modern France? What can literary scandals teach us about early modern notions of public and private, gender and sexuality, author and reader? What new pleasures and subjectivities did these scandals offer? And how was the age of scandalous literature (re)defined as the age of classicism and sociability, salons and galanterie? Primary readings include a variety of genres (poetry, theater, polemical texts, novels, autobiographical writings) and works by Théophile de Viau, Corneille, Georges de Scudéry, Molière, Villedieu (Marie-Catherine Dejardins), Madeleine de Scudéry, Lafayette, Bussy-Rabutin, Boileau, and Guyon.

FR2648: Unversalism and Its Others
Spring 2018, David Pettersen​

This seminar will examine how the tradition of universalism in France has inflected and continues to inflect representations of space, migration, difference and history in French-language films. The course also explores how universalism has impacted the production, distribution, and reception structures of the French film industry up until the present. Étienne Balibar has argued that universalism is a social construction open to continual renegotiation, and one of our central preoccupations will be to understand how individual films and filmmakers have constructed and contested the universalizing cast of French culture and history from their own positionalities. We will study films from the French colonial and decolonization periods; we will examine the formation of auteurism in France and its use elsewhere as a universalizing impulse; we will look at contemporary films about France’s postcolonial communities and marginalized urban peripheries, and finally we will consider French-language filmmaking in North and West Africa with an eye towards understanding how these films and filmmakers negotiate their relationship to the French language and hexagonal co-funding structures, distribution networks, and audiences. Our readings will include both broad theorizations and critiques of universalism (Badiou, Balibar, Memmi) and targeted research within film and media studies that deals with these issues.

FR2225: Gender and Sexuality in the Renaissance
Fall 2017, Todd Reeser

Questions of gender and sexuality were central to the development of the French Renaissance in the sixteenth century. “La querelle des femmes”—the debate over the nature and status of women—became a major focus in literary and cultural texts of the period, both for men and for women. Because the development of Renaissance Humanism had major implications for constructs of masculinity and femininity, the seminal question Joan Kelly asked in the 70’s “Did Women have a Renaissance?” can still be asked, though perhaps in different terms. The study of the ancients, while at the basis of the Renaissance, provoked great anxiety as writers and thinkers reworked the less attractive aspects of Greek and Latin texts in a Christian world. Non-normative morphologies of gender and sexuality also became popular as hermaphrodites, androgynes, tribades, sodomites, and monsters appeared with surprising frequency in various discursive contexts. Ancient and Italian texts afforded new definitions of masculine and feminine identity, as well as love and desire, in a world defined by fragmentation and fluidity.

In this seminar, we will examine and interrogate key cultural constructs of gender and sexuality conveyed in texts of the Renaissance. This central issue will lead us to consider many of the main cultural and literary currents of the period—such as Humanism, Neoplatonism, Aristotelianism, marriage, medicine, friendship—and thus provide students with little or no background in Renaissance studies an understanding of the century’s context. We will read both canonical and non-canonical writers (Rabelais, Montaigne, Marguerite de Navarre, Labé, Paré, Artus), but we will also use various cultural discourses to organize our thinking (e.g. the female body in medical texts, masculinity in tracts on friendship). At the same time, we will examine relations between the early modern period and select recent approaches in gender studies—including issues such as masculinity, performativity, the sex/gender distinction, gender fluidity, the body, and same-sex sexualities. The course thus aims to give students the opportunity to think about how to go about studying questions of gender and sexuality when such questions are at the fore in the Humanities.