Spring 2020

I See Voices!, Experiments in Language

Listed in: French, as FREN-357


Raphael Sigal (Section 01)


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. Spring semester: Professor Sigal.


Attention to Writing, Languages Other Than English


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2020