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Amherst College Courses

Amherst College Courses

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French

Professors de la Carrera†, Katsaros (Chair), Rockwell‡, and Associate Professor Sigal†; Visiting Assistant Professor Brodnicka;  Assistant Professor Nader-Esfahani; Senior Lecturer Uhden.

The objective of the major is to learn about another culture directly through its language and principally by way of its literature. Literature is here understood as a significant expression of a culture.Emphasis in courses is upon examination of significant authors or problems rather than on chronological survey. We read texts closely from a modern critical perspective, but without isolating them from their cultural context. To give students a better idea of the development of French Literature throughout the centuries, we encourage majors to select courses from a wide range of historical periods, from the Middle Ages to the present.Fluent and correct use of the language is essential to successful completion of the major. Most courses are taught in French. The Department also urges majors to spend a semester or a year studying in a French-speaking country.The major in French provides effective preparation for graduate work, but it is not conceived as strictly pre-professional training.Major Program. The Department of French aims at flexibility and responds to the plans and interests of the French major within a structure that affords diversity of experience in French literature and continuous training in the use of the language.A major in French (both rite and Honors) will normally consist of a minimum of eight courses. Students may choose to take (a) eight courses in French literature and civilization; or (b) six courses in French literature and civilization and two related courses with departmental approval. In either case, a minimum of four courses must be taken from the French offerings in the Amherst College French Department. One of these four must be taken during the Senior year. French 410H does not count toward fulfilling this requirement.All courses offered by the Department above French 103 may count for the major. The one rule of selection is that two of the eight courses submitted for the major must be chosen from offerings in French literature and culture before the nineteenth century. One of these must be a course that covers the Medieval period or the Renaissance, the other a course that examines the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries. (French 311 may be counted toward the major as one of these two courses.) Up to four courses taken in a study abroad program may count toward the eight required courses for the major. Comprehensive examinations must be completed no later than the seventh week of the second semester of the senior year.

Honors Program

Candidates for Departmental Honors must write a thesis in addition to fulfilling the course requirements for the major described above. Students who wish to write a thesis should begin to develop a topic during their junior year, and must submit a detailed thesis proposal to the Department at the end of the first week of Fall semester classes. Subject to departmental approval of the thesis proposal, candidates for Departmental Honors will enroll in French 498 and 499 during their senior year. (French 498 and 499 will not be counted toward the eight-course requirement for the major.) Oral examinations on the thesis will be scheduled in late spring.

Study Abroad

A program of study approved by the Department for a junior year in France has the support of the Department as a significant means of enlarging the major's comprehension of French civilization and as the most effective method of developing mastery of the language. For a more detailed explanation of the ways in which courses taken in a study abroad program may be counted toward the course requirements for the French major, see Study Abroad .

Exchange Fellowships

Graduating Seniors are eligible for two Exchange Fellowships for study in France: one fellowship as Teaching Assistant in American Civilization and Language at the University of Dijon; the other as Exchange Fellow, Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris.

Course Numbering System.

French 101-208 are French Language and Composition courses.  French 101-207 are numbered by degree of difficulty.  French 207, 208 and 311 have identical prerequisites and may be taken in any order.  All courses numbered 320 and above, with the exception of those courses conducted in English, list French 207, 208, 311 or 312 as prerequisites.  Courses numbered 320 and above are advanced courses, but are not ranked by order of difficulty.  They are organized, instead, by period in the following manner: 310-319 Medieval Literature and Culture; 320-329 Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Literature and Culture; 330-339 Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture; 340-349 Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture; 350-359 Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Literature and Culture; 360-369 Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Literature and Culture / Advanced Language Courses; 470+  Advanced Sminars; 498-499 Senior Departmental Honors; 490 Special Topics

†On leave fall semester 2023-24. ‡On leave spring semester 2023-24.

103 Intermediate French

Intensive review and coverage of all basic French grammar points with emphasis on the understanding of structural and functional aspects of the language and acquisition of the basic active skills (speaking, reading, writing and systematic vocabulary building). We will be using the multimedia program, Imaginez. Three hours a week for explanation and demonstration, plus small sections with French assistants. This course prepares students for FREN 205.

Requisite: FREN 101 or two years of secondary school French. Fall and Spring semesters: Senior Lecturer Uhden and Assistants.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023, Fall 2024, Spring 2025

205 Language and Literature

An introduction to the critical reading of French literary and non-literary texts; a review of French grammar; training in composition, conversation and listening comprehension. Texts will be drawn from significant short stories, poetry and films. The survey of different literary genres serves also to contrast several views of French culture. Successful completion of FREN 205 prepares students for FREN 207 or 208. Conducted in French. Three hours a week.

Requisite: FREN 103 or three to four years of secondary school French. Fall semester: Professor Nader-Esfahani. Spring semester: Professor de la Carrera.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023, Fall 2024, Spring 2025

207 Introduction to French Literature and Culture

Through class discussion, debates, and frequent short papers, students develop effective skills in self-expression, analysis, and interpretation. Literary texts, articles on current events, and films are studied within the context of the changing structures of French society and France’s complex relationship to its recent past. Assignments include both creative and analytic approaches to writing. Some grammar review as necessary, as well as work on understanding spoken French using video materials. Highly recommended for students planning to study abroad. 

 Requisite: FREN 205, or completion of AP French, or four years of secondary school French in a strong program. Fall semester:  Professor Rockwell. Spring semester: Senior Lecturer Uhden.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023, Fall 2024, Spring 2025

208 French Conversation

To gain as much confidence as possible in idiomatic French, we discuss French social institutions and culture, trying to appreciate differences between French and American viewpoints. Our conversational exchanges will touch upon such topics as French education, art and architecture, the status of women, the spectrum of political parties, minority groups, religion, and the position of France and French-speaking countries in the world. Supplementary work with audio and video materials.

For Spring 2024, Professor Brodnicka's book list includes "Aspects de la Civilisation Africaine" and "Contes Initiatiques Peuls" by  Amadou Hampâté Bâ, plus "Sagesse et Initiation: À travers les contes, mythes, et legendes fang" by Bonaventure Mvé Ondo. Professor Nader-Esfahani's book list includes "Amour de loin" by Amin Maalouf, "Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard" by Marivaux, and "Médée" by  Jean Anouilh.

Requisite: FREN 205, or completion of AP French, or four years of secondary school French in a strong program. Limited to 16 students. Fall semester: Not offered. Spring semester: Professor Nader-Esfahani and Professor Brodnicka.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2024, Spring 2025

310 Literary Masks of the Late French Middle Ages

The rise in the rate of literacy which characterized the early French Middle Ages coincided with radical reappraisals of the nature and function of reading and poetic production. This course will investigate the ramifications of these reappraisals for the literature of the late French Middle Ages. Readings may include such major works as Guillaume de Dole by Jean Renart, the anonymous Roman de Renart, the Roman de la Rose by Guillaume de Lorris, selections from the continuation of the Roman de la Rose by Jean de Meun, anonymous Fabliaux, and poetic works by Christine de Pisan, Guillaume de Machaut, Jean Froissart, and Charles d’Orléans. Particular attention will be paid to the philosophical presuppositions surrounding the production of erotic allegorical discourse. We shall also address such topics as the relationships between lyric and narrative and among disguise, death and aging in the context of medieval discourses on love. All texts will be read in modern French. Conducted in French.

Requisite: One of the following—FREN 207, 208 or the equivalent. Omitted 2023-24. Professor Rockwell.

2023-24: Not offered

311 Amor and Metaphor in the Early French Middle Ages

The eleventh and twelfth centuries witnessed social, political, and poetic innovations that rival in impact the information revolution of recent decades. Essential to these innovations was the transformation from an oral to a book-oriented culture. This course will investigate the problems of that transition, as reflected in such major works of the early French Middle Ages as: The Song of Roland, the Tristan legend, the Roman d’Eneas, the Arthurian romances of Chrétien de Troyes, anonymous texts concerning the Holy Grail and the death of King Arthur. We shall also address questions relevant to this transition, such as the emergence of medieval allegory, the rise of literacy, and the relationship among love, sex, and hierarchy. All texts will be read in modern French. Conducted in French.

Requisite: One of the following—FREN 207, 208 or the equivalent. Omitted 2023-24. Professor Rockwell.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Fall 2024

323 Trial and Error: An Interdisciplinary Experiment with Montaigne's Essais

(Offered as FREN 323 and EUST 323) "If my mind could gain a firm footing, I would not make essays, I would make decisions; but it is always in apprenticeship and on trial" (III, 2 "Of Repentance"). A Renaissance jurist and thinker, Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) is widely recognized as one of the key figures in the history of self-writing and of the essay as genre. This course, however, situates Montaigne beyond these two frames. In the spirit of Montaigne himself, it proposes to attempt, to sample, to taste—in sum, to essay—the Essais (1580-1595). From confessions of impotence to love affairs with books; from rebuttals of human reason to reflections on solitude and age; from networks of exchange to disease and contagion, the uncategorizable content of the Essais, combined with a dynamic form replete with detours and deviations, is an invitation to err among and try a variety of subjects. Similarly, our objective is not to gain expertise, but to experiment and to experience. Our trials will combine a close reading of a selection of Montaigne’s Essais alongside critical, historical, or theoretical texts from a diverse range of methodologies and fields, such as medicine, sound studies, cultural gerontology and more. In addition to engaging with the writings of Montaigne, this course therefore serves as a more general opportunity to consider the place of literature among and within other disciplines. Conducted in French.

Prerequisites: FREN 207, 208 or the equivalent. Fall semester. Professor Nader-Esfahani.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2014, Fall 2023

325 True or False: The Search for Reality in Early Modern France

How can we be certain of the veracity of what we perceive? What do we do when our methods and objects of knowledge are put into question? What is meant by “fact,” “evidence,” “reality,” “truth,” “theory,” “fiction,” “opinion,” “belief,” or “falsehood”? What are the factors that grant authority to certain figures and media, and what are the elements that lead us to dismiss others as unreliable sources? Is the distortion of reality always harmful, or can it help to unveil certain truths? How do we reconcile our search for reality with our desire for fiction? To what extent is fiction beneficial, and even necessary, and when does it become dangerous?

These are some of the questions that will guide our study of works of fiction and non-fiction from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. With a focus on early modern France, the course may address subjects such as language and knowledge, developments in science and technology, the burgeoning gazette or news industry, the European encounter with the American continent or “New World,” the French wars of religion, and the culture of dissimulation. Readings may include figures such as Paré, Marguerite de Navarre, Montaigne, Aubigné, Descartes, Galileo, Georges and Madeleine de Scudéry, and Madame de Lafayette. Conducted in French. 

Requisite: One of the following--FREN-207, FREN-208 or the equivalent. Omitted 2023-24. Professor Nader-Esfahani.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Spring 2025

327 Refractions: Optics & Literature in Early Modern France

From the inverted retinal image to the invention of the telescope and microscope, the seventeenth century marks a pivotal moment in the history of vision and optical instruments. What are the repercussions of discovering a retinal image that is but an effect of light and color, and realizing that the world as the eye sees it is literally upside down? What does one make of telescopic and microscopic observations that show objects other than they appear and which unveil worlds beyond what the eye can see? Is the eye, once deemed the most noble of the senses, no longer a reliable form of knowledge? What does this mean for the viewing and knowing subject and their knowledge of the world and of themselves in the world?

This course is an investigation of these transformations and their consequences, not only in scientific circles, but among writers who engage with, adopt, and adapt these objects and observations in their thought. More generally, by examining scientific debates and French writings from a period that precedes the disciplinary divide, this course aims to interrogate and understand the very categories of “literature” and “science.” We will analyze literature’s integration of scientific thought and findings, the language and rhetoric of scientific writings, texts that defy categorization or blur disciplinary lines, as well as broader considerations on the relationship between curiosity, marvel, imagination, invention, and discovery. Readings may include Descartes, Kepler, Galileo, Cyrano de Bergerac, Corneille, Baroque poetry, and more. Conducted in French.

Requisite: One of the following—FREN 207, 208 or the equivalent. Spring 2023-24. Professor Nader-Esfahani.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Fall 2016

328 From Sprezzatura to Social Media: Practices of Self-Representation in Seventeenth-Century France and Today

When the Renaissance philosopher and essayist Michel de Montaigne wrote that "dissimulation is among the most notable qualities of this century," the word "notable" referred to the prevalence rather than an appreciation of the practice. This course examines the subject of self-representation in light of the culture of dissimulation that dominated the early modern period. To what extent is our behavior codified by society? How do the public and private spaces we inhabit inform self-representation? How do our interlocutors condition our degree of sincerity or caution? How do we conceal our intentions and emotions, and how do our words and bodies sometimes betray our true thoughts and feelings?

Beginning with sixteenth- and seventeenth-century works that theorize and propose models of conduct in public spaces, we will first seek to define simulation, dissimulation, and sincerity and the circumstances in which they are applied. We will also identify the possible consequences of these acts. We will then turn our attention to works of fiction and non-fiction from the seventeenth-century to analyze how these ideas manifest themselves in practice. Finally, we will discuss how early modern texts and their engagement with this subject allow us to critically consider our contemporary practices of self-representation, especially in light of our own culture of curated social media profiles.

All French texts will be read in French, and those not originally written in French will be read in French or English translation. Conducted in French.

Requisite: One of the following—FREN 207, 208 or the equivalent. Omitted 2023-24. Professor Nader-Esfahani.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Spring 2022, Fall 2024

330 The Doing and Undoing of Genres in the Eighteenth Century.

This course explores the formation and transformation of novelistic and theatrical genres in eighteenth-century literature. Readings will include novels by Diderot, Marivaux, Prévost and Laclos, as well as plays and essays on theater by Diderot and Beaumarchais.  Conducted in French.

Requisite: One of the following - FREN 207, 208 or the equivalent. Omitted 2023-24. Professor de la Carrera.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Spring 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2015, Spring 2019

338 The Republic of Letters

An exploration of Enlightenment thought within the context of the collaborative institutions and activities that fostered its development, including literary and artistic salons, cafés, and the Encyclopédie. We will read texts by Rousseau, Diderot, Voltaire, and others, drawn from the domains of literature, philosophy, memoirs, and correspondence. To get a better idea of what it might have been like to live in the eighteenth century and be a participant in the "Republic of Letters," we will also read a variety of essays in French cultural history. Conducted in French.

Requisite: One of the following--FREN 207, 208 or the equivalent. Spring semester. Professor de la Carrera.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2017, Fall 2019

342 Women of Ill Repute: Courtesans, Cocottes, and Sex Workers in Nineteenth-Century French Literature

(Offered as FREN 342 and SWAG 342) Prostitutes play a central role in nineteenth-century French fiction, especially of the realistic and naturalistic kind. Both widely available and largely visible in nineteenth-century France, prostitutes inspired many negative stereotypes. But, as the very product of the culture that marginalized her, the prostitute offered an ideal vehicle for writers to criticize the hypocrisy of bourgeois mores. The socially stratified world of prostitutes, ranging from low-ranking sex workers to high-class courtesans, presents a fascinating microcosm of French society as a whole. We will read selections from Honoré de Balzac, Splendeur et misère des courtisanes; Victor Hugo, Les Misérables; and Gustave Flaubert, L’éducation sentimentale; as well as Boule-de-Suif and other stories by Guy de Maupassant; La fille Elisa by Edmond de Goncourt; Nana by Emile Zola; Marthe by Joris-Karl Huysmans; La dame aux camélias by Alexandre Dumas fils; and extracts from Du côté de chez Swann by Marcel Proust. Additional readings will be drawn from the fields of history (Alain Corbin, Michelle Perrot) and critical theory (Walter Benjamin, Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva). We will also discuss visual representations of prostitutes in nineteenth-century French art (Gavarni, Daumier, C. Guys, Degas, Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec). Conducted in French.

Requisite: One of the following—FREN 207, 208 or the equivalent. Omitted 2023-24. Professor Katsaros.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2015, Fall 2018, Fall 2020, Spring 2023

345 Illuminations: An Introduction to Modern French and Francophone Poetry

This class will introduce students to essential voices in French and Francophone poetry, from the mid-nineteenth century to the contemporary era. It will focus on the emergence of poetic modernity, through some key themes such as the representation of identity and the self; the idea of dissonance; the conflict between realism and the fantastic; and the complex relation with the French language and French literary tradition.

We will read poetry by Charles Baudelaire; Arthur Rimbaud; Jules Laforgue; Guillaume Apollinaire; and the Surrealists Robert Desnos, René Char, and Gisèle Prassinos. Selections from Francophone literature will introduce poetry from a broad array of geographical areas and cultures, including French Guyana (Léon-Gontran Damas); Senegal (Léopold Sedar Senghor); Lebanon (Vénus Khoury-Ghata, Salah Stétié); Algeria (Kateb Yacine, Assia Djebar); and Martinique (Edouard Glissant). Conducted in French.

Requisite: One of the following--French 207, 208 or the equivalent. Omitted 2023-24. Professor Katsaros.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

346 Enfants Terribles: Childhood in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century French Literature, Culture, and Art

(Offered as FREN 346 and EDST 346) Images of childhood have become omnipresent in our culture. We fetishize childhood as an idyllic time, preserved from the difficulties and compromises of adult life; but the notion that children’s individual lives are worth recording is a relatively modern one. Drawing from literature, children's literature, history, and art,  we will try to map out the journey from the idea of childhood as a phase to be outgrown to the modern conception of childhood as a crucial moment of self-definition. We will pay particular attention to the nature against nurture debate and to gender biases in education. We will discuss theories of child-rearing, the emergence of children’s literature, and the material culture of childhood (e.g., clothes, toys, children's books).

Readings may include essays by historians of childhood such as Philippe Ariès, Elisabeth Badinter, Martine Sonnet and Colin Heywood; selections from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s treatise, Émile, ou de l' Éducation, as well as excerpts from Félicité de Genlis's Adèle et Théodore, ou Lettres sur l'éducation. We will also read a physician's account of the "wild child" known as Victor, Dr. Jean Itard's Mémoire sur l'enfant sauvage de l'AveyronLa petite Fadette by George Sand [Aurore Dupin]; Les Malheurs de Sophie by the Comtesse de Ségur; and Jules Renard's autobiographical Poil de Carotte. This course will also closely examine eighteenth- and nineteenth-century artists' visions of childhood, with a particular emphasis on female artists such as Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, Marguerite Gérard, and Berthe Morisot. Conducted in French.

Requisite: One of the following—FREN 207, 208 or the equivalent. Fall semester. Professor Katsaros.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Spring 2018, Fall 2020, Fall 2023

347 Dreamworlds: Utopia and the French Imagination

(Offered as FREN 347 and ARCH 347) In the aftermath of the French revolution, utopias proliferated in France as perhaps never before. Socialist thinkers such as Charles Fourier (1772-1837) invented entire systems designed to improve social justice, equality, and harmony. Utopian dreams were not restricted to political thought, however: technology, science, and the arts also inspired, and gave shape to, visions of a perfect world. This class will be an introduction to utopian thinkers, designers, and artists of the nineteenth and early twentieth century and will ask why utopia had such a strong hold on the French imagination at the time. We will study philosophical and political sources; city planning and architecture; the development of science-fiction as a utopian genre; Georges Méliès and the beginnings of film; as well as the link between the French colonial Empire and utopian thought, through the example of Algeria.

We will be reading, among other sources, excerpts from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Charles Fourier and Etienne Cabet; futuristic novels by Rosny aîné; essays by historians Mona Ozouf, François Furet, and Antoine Picon; as well as Le Corbusier’s treatise on urban planning, Urbanisme. Class materials will also be drawn from film, architectural plans, and the visual arts. Conducted in French.

Requisite: One of the following—FREN 207, 208 or the equivalent. Omitted 2023-24. Professor Katsaros.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Fall 2022

350 Francophone Ghost Stories: African and Afro-Atlantic Narratives from Beyond the Grave

Ghosts are part of modern life. The ghost, sociologist Avery Gordon reminds us, is simply a form by which something lost, or barely visible, makes itself known to us. This seminar explores post-humous narration in the literatures of Africa and the Caribbean, focusing on ghostly, otherworldly, non-human, and (un)dead narrators who tell their story from beyond the grave. Over the course of the semester, students will encounter narrators who have drowned, disappeared, exploded, or been devoured by sharks. We will read a novel narrated by a dead queen reincarnated as a moth, another by the furniture and inanimate objects belonging to a dead woman. These spectral voices provide haunting supplements to histories of slavery, colonization, gender violence, clandestine migration, and terrorism. In addition to literature and film, we will read key critical and theoretical texts on narratology, the uncanny, haunting, Black Atlantic history, and decolonial theory. Ghost Stories explores (1) how phantom narrators unsettle our understanding of narration and (2) how literature helps us to reckon with what modern history has rendered ghostly. What can the dead teach us about living in a time of unfinished decolonization? How can literature help us to learn to live with ghosts? Conducted in French.

Professor Calhoun.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Fall 2011

352 The Space In-Between: Writing Exile and Return in the Twentieth Century

The twentieth century was a century of migrations. Many writers and poets experienced exile, whether displaced by the furious violence of history, forced out of their country by an unbearable political situation, or simply led by their literary ambition. For many, the host country becomes a problematic permanent residency; for others, it is only a passage before an often painful return to the native land. These various experiences intensely mark authors' relationship to writing: suspended between two countries, two languages and two cultures, these poets and writers form challenging conceptions of space and time. In the midst of a violent century, the book becomes a refuge against savagery, or on the contrary a place to cry out one's rage; an intimate territory in a foreign world, a space of questioning and reflection. We will read texts by Aimé Césaire, Albert Camus, Edmond Jabés, Georges Perec, Assia Djebar and Dany Laferrière, and watch films by Jean Rouch, Nurith Aviv and Manthia Diawara. Theoretical texts will include essays by Walter Benjamin, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Edouard Glissant and Edward Said, among others. Conducted in French.

Requisite: One of the following--FREN 207, 208, 311 or equivalent. Omitted 2023-2024. Professor Sigal.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2016, Fall 2019

353 Tangled Legacies: Cultural and Political Histories in Francophone West Africa

(Offered as FREN 353 and BLST 353) This course will examine the complex and longstanding historical, political, and cultural relationship between France and West Africa. Throughout the semester, we will trace the historical foundations of the West African region, the socio-political effects of its colonial encounter with France, and the diverse responses to the region’s postcolonial realities. We will start our discussion by following the evolution of modern states in West Africa from two defining historical periods: the development of medieval empires in the Sahel and the impact of French colonial domination in the region during the first part of the twentieth century. We will subsequently explore, in light of this history, the philosophical significance of the ever-shifting West African identities through their contemporary political and social expressions. Some of the themes, inspired by this ongoing and often ambivalent relationship between West Africa and France, are decentering histories, the economics of underdevelopment, religious pluralism, decoloniality, and creative/digital activism. These themes will be examined through oral and written histories, essays, articles, literature, speeches, music, art, and film in the course. This course will be taught in English.

Fall semester. Professor Brodnicka.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2023

354 Contemporary Francophone African Womxn Writers

While most of us are familiar with African novelists in the Anglophone world, such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, we are less acquainted with their Francophone counterparts, who have just as much to offer through the portrayal of their unique realities. In a world that is challenging and often hostile to womxn, especially those of African descent, Francophone African womxn writers offer their own stories, perspectives, and solutions. From the locus of their homelands or their adopted countries, between Europe and Africa, these authors touch on topics as diverse as immigration, identity, trauma, love, racism, and healing. The emergent themes from these discussions highlight the distinctive Francophone African voices as well as their universal applications to contemporary realities. We will engage both local and global contexts through different literary genres, such as novels, academic articles, plays, poetry, music, and film. Readings may include Veronique Tadjo, Aimer selon Veronique Tadjo, Fatou Diome, Les veilleurs de Sanghomar, Rokhaya Diallo, A Nous la France, Diary Sow, Je pars, and Nathalie M’Dela Mounier, Black Casting. Taught in French.

Omitted 2023-24. Professor Brodnicka

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Spring 2023

355 Remember! Writing on Genocide

“Language has unmistakably made plain that memory is not an instrument for exploring the past, but rather a medium. It is the medium of that which is experienced, just as the earth is the medium in which ancient cities lie buried. He who seeks to approach his own buried past must conduct himself like a man digging. Above all, he must not be afraid to return again and again to the same matter; to scatter it as one scatters earth, to turn it over as one turns over soil.” Walter Benjamin surely wrote these words with Marcel Proust (whom he translated) in mind. The opening pages of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time will be the starting point of our reflection. In these seminal pages, the narrator reminisces about his early life through all the bedrooms where he slept. Benjamin’s words, however, take on a particular significance when “the matter” of memory is the experience of genocide and mass murder. In this class, we will read and watch direct or indirect accounts of the Holocaust, the genocide of the Tutsis, the Khmer Rouge regime, and the Indonesian mass killings of 1965-1966. Confronted with texts and films of this kind, we will interrogate the relation between literature and memory, writing and trauma, remembering and forgetting. We will read books by Marcel Proust, Elie Wiesel, Scholastique Mukasonga, Patrick Modiano, Boris Boubacar Diop, and Art Spiegelman; watch movies by Alain Resnais, Claude Lanzmann, Ritty Panh, Joshua Oppenheimer, and Chantal Akerman; and read various short essays. Conducted in French.

Requisite: One of the following--FREN-207, 208, or the equivalent. Omitted 2023-24. Professor Sigal.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

356 Troubled Minds: The Self under Siege

The coincidence of the “I” and the self might seem redundant, even self-evident. But, in the twentieth century, the very act of writing one’s life, of writing about the self, is often the starting point of a quest that brings authors to express conflicted, paradoxical, even violent ideas about themselves and the world. Whether they aim at revealing the naked truth about their life, or on the contrary attempt to conceal it, they use literature as a repository for their experience, as well as an echo chamber of their convoluted thought. Confronted with such texts, we, the readers, may react with puzzlement or skepticism, rejection or envy. In other words, reading a writer telling about her or his experiences engages our own selves. This class will be the occasion to examine how we read when faced with the “I” of the other. Primary readings may include texts by Antonin Artaud, Michel Leiris, Georges Perec, Roland Barthes, Colette Fellous, and Maryse Condé. Secondary readings may include texts by Michel de Montaigne, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Martin Buber, and Marguerite Duras. Students will engage with the material in three steps: writing a reading journal; presenting their work-in-progress in class or during a symposium organized during the semester; writing a final essay. Conducted in French.

Requisite: One of the following--FREN 207, 208, or equivalent. Omitted 2023-24.. Professor Sigal.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2017, Fall 2020

357 I See Voices!, Experiments in Language

In 1868, a mysterious 22-year-old writer calling himself the Comte de Lautréamont published The Songs of Maldoror. Of the eponymous hero of the book, Lautréamont wrote: “He is as handsome as the retractility of the claws in birds of prey; or, again, as the unpredictability of muscular movement in sores in the soft spot of the posterior cervical region; or, rather, as the perpetual motion rat-trap which is always reset by the trapped animal and which can go on catching rodents indefinitely and works even when it is hidden under straw; and, above all, as the chance juxtaposition of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table!” Do you understand what Lautréamont means? I do and I do not. I do not understand, but I see what he means. I see a world which does not resemble the world as I experience it. A world where beauty is neither aesthetically pleasing nor universal, where flowers are evil and rat-traps endlessly inspiring. For many critics, The Songs of Maldoror marked the birth of literary modernity in French. Writers who wished to create new modes of writing and of representing the world set out to destroy meaning. Dictionaries became useless, the textual became eminently visual, and language created new worlds, as the distinctions between prose and poetry, between reality and dreams, collapsed. In this course, we will follow avant-garde writers’ experiments in thinking language anew: not as a set of fixed relationships, but as a perpetual movement between words and objects. We will read primary sources by Arthur Rimbaud, Comte de Lautréamont, Dada, the Surrealists, Henri Michaux, Gherasim Luca and Hélène Cixous; and critical sources by Plato, Ferdinand de Saussure and Michel Foucault, among others. Conducted in French.

Requisite: One of the following: French 207, 208 or the equivalent. Omitted 2023-24. Professor Sigal.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2022

358 "The Assassination of Literature:" the Case of the Novel

In an essay titled “What is literature?” French philosopher Michel Foucault writes: “…It is characteristic that literature, ever since it has existed, since the nineteenth century, ever since it offered Western culture this strange figure we wonder about, it is characteristic that literature has always assigned itself a certain task, and that task is precisely the assassination of literature.” To investigate this symbolic assassination, we are going to read novels that confront and critique the traditional novel form. The writers we will read play with the conventions of the novel to interrogate the relationship between truth and fiction. They experiment with new narrative forms. They do not seek to create a fictional world that is realistic and similar to our world, but to open a gap between what happens inside the book and what happens around us in order to open our eyes and minds to new possibilities. The genre of the novel morphs into a philosophical and critical space that interrogates in turn the function of literature. Authors may include Samuel Beckett, Maurice Blanchot, Theresa Hak Kung Cha, Roland Barthes, Dany Laferrière, Eric Chevillard, and Hélène Cixous. Taught in English.

Omitted 2023-24. Professor Sigal.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2022

359 "What's the Magic Word?" The Power of Literature

The Oxford English Dictionary defines magic as “the use of ritual activities or observances which are intended to influence the course of events or to manipulate the natural world.” Sorcerers use recipes, incantations, and actions to bend the natural order of things. In this class, we will question why some of the most prominent writers in French modernity have engaged with magical thought in their works. In the nineteenth century, numerous authors used magic as a metaphor to express the irrationality inhibited by a culture obsessed with reason and progress. In the twentieth century, avant-garde movements embraced this trend: writers, poets and artists were avid practitioners of fortune telling, telepathy, astrology, and numerology. Concurrently, magic became a prominent subject of modern ethnologists: magical thinking articulated both the dawn of science in religious societies and the persistence of religion in scientific societies, and thus allowed ethnologists to cross-examine two phenomena essential to defining modern societies. Authors took a great interest in these findings. We could link their interest to a desire to produce a language made of words that “do things.” In a way, writers are like magicians whose incantations do not function anymore, as if their language had lost its power. In this class, we will read both literature and ethnology to investigate the ways in which magical thinking infused the birth of literary modernity. We will read literary works by Flaubert (Madame Bovary), Nerval, Artaud, Breton, and Césaire; and critical and ethnographical texts by Mauss, Levi-Strauss, Métraux, De Certeau and Bailly. Conducted in French.

Requisite: One of the following--FREN 207, 208, 311 or equivalent. Omitted 2023-2024. Professor Sigal.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017, Spring 2021

360 Translating Contemporary French

This course aims at improving the students' knowledge of the contemporary French language and of contemporary French society through translation. We will draw from a wide variety of sources, such as fiction, poetry, film, songs, graphic novels and advertising, to gain a better understanding of idiomatic French and of the translation process. Some translation theory will be introduced, but the class will primarily focus on close readings and critical interpretations of sources.  Conducted in French.

Requisite: One of the following--FREN 207 or 208 or the equivalent. Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2022-23. Spring semester: Professor Katsaros.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2016

410H French in Practice for Senior Majors

The course provides a forum for seniors for the practice of spoken French at the advanced level with native speakers. Students will prepare and deliver presentations; practice interviewing techniques; and learn and practice using technical vocabulary from a variety of disciplines in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. The choice of short readings and vocabulary sets will vary each time the course is offered and will reflect the interests of the students enrolled.

Open only to Senior French majors. Spring semester. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2023, Spring 2025

Medieval and Renaissance Literature and Culture

314 Studies in Medieval Romance Literature and Culture

(Offered as FREN-324 and EUST-324) The study of a major author, literary problem, or question from the medieval period with a particular focus announced each time the course is offered. The topic for Spring 2023 is: "The Grail, the Rose, and Dante." We will study the social, philosophical, poetic and institutional currents that contribute to the emergence of allegorical texts in the period between the twelfth and the late-fourteenth centuries. Readings include the Quest for the Holy Grail and works by Chrétien de Troyes, Guillaume de Lorris, Jean de Meung, Dante Alighieri, and Marie de France. All readings will be done in English translation. Conducted in English. Omitted 2023-24. Professor Rockwell.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Spring 2022

Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture

339 Worldliness and Otherworldliness

Many eighteenth-century writers imagined and invented other, better societies. To attenuate their criticisms of the social, political, and religious structures of the ancien régime, they had recourse to the viewpoint of fictional "outsiders" who arrive in France as if for the first time and describe what they see in minute and telling detail. We will analyze the role that these "other" worlds and the "otherworldly" point of view played in the development of eighteenth-century thought and literature, as well as some of the repercussions that these questions have had in twentieth-century thought. Readings will include Montesquieu's Lettres persanes, Rousseau's Discours sur l'origine de l'inégalité, Diderot's Supplément au Voyage de Bougainville, and Madame de Graffigny's Lettres d'une Péruvienne, as well as Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents and a selection of essays by Claude Lévi-Strauss. Conducted in French.

Requisite: One of the following—FREN 207, 208 or the equivalent. Omitted 2023-24. Professor de la Carrera.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2015, Spring 2017, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

Senior Departmental Honors Courses

498, 499 Senior Departmental Honors

Spring semester. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

Special Topics Courses

490 Special Topics

Independent reading course. Full course.

Admission with consent of the instructor required. Fall and spring semesters. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023, Fall 2024, Spring 2025