Spring 2014 Courses

French 580: Violence and the Sacred

Prof. Richman

The purpose of this course is to understand why some of the most innovative works of the twentieth century appeared under the dual signs of violence and the sacred. Drawing from sociology and anthropology, they contend that from the foundations of social life to the appearance of art and religion, humans have instituted rituals in order to transgress interdictions and confront the violence of death and desire.  Outside the norms of everyday life, most rituals fall under the purview of the sacred without entailing belief in a transcendent deity or allegiance to institutionalized religion. Refusing to relegate this left sacred to exotic otherness, the so-called dissident surrealists ----Georges Bataille, Michel Leiris and Roger Caillois---also dubbed “renegade Durkheimians”, investigated trance, possession, the festival, and sacrifice in their own approaches to writing, eroticism, and politics. Their collective impact on post-war critical discourse is especially evident in the work of Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, René Girard, and Jean-Luc Nancy.

Women figure prominently in the conjunction between violence and the sacred, both as authors and as heroines for modernity. Often derived from Biblical stories (Judith), antiquity (Lucretia) and even prehistory (“Venus” statuettes), they defy conventional assumptions regarding female victimization. Besides authors named above, selections from “Laure” (Colette Peignot) are also included.

This course is designed as an introduction to the distinctive encounters between the new “sciences humaines” and traditional literary culture in the first part of the twentieth century. Its focus on violence and the sacred reconstructs a genealogy that is unique to French cultural history as well as fundamental to an appreciation of much contemporary thought and writing.

*Conducted in English; some reading knowledge of French helpful though not essential. Open to advanced undergraduates with permission of instructor.

*Requirements: periodic reaction papers, at least one oral presentation, one final paper.


French 601: Language Teaching/Learning

Prof. McMahon

This course is required of all Teaching Assistants in French, Italian, and Spanish in the second semester of their first year of teaching. It is designed to provide instructors with the necessary practical support to carry out their teaching responsibilities effectively, and builds on the practicum meetings held during the first semester. The course will also introduce students to various approaches to foreign language teaching as well as to current issues in second language acquisition. Students who have already had a similar course at another institution may be exempted upon consultation with the instructor.



French 640 : Courtly Love and Its Discontents

Prof. Francis

From the songs of the troubadours and trouvères to the early modern period, some aspects of courtly love remain constant, such as the supposition that courtliness will be received gracefully and the need to keep the relationship safe from the ever-present danger of médisants. Yet, courtly love and the literature to which it gives rise is also a reflection of the specific literary, cultural, and historical context of a given period, and it is in this vein that we will consider how Renaissance French authors call both the behavior and the language of courtly love into question.

We will consider how poets like Jean Lemaire de Belges and Maurice Scève both situate themselves within and separate themselves from the tradition of Petrarchan love poetry, as well as how female poets like Pernette du Guillet and Louise Labé question the motivations of this poetry through their own works. We will see how sixteenth-century French authors like François Rabelais and Marguerite de Navarre selectively draw upon medieval sources like Jean de Meun and Christine de Pizan to raise the reader’s suspicions about courtly love. Finally, by focusing on the poems and plays that sprang from the so-called Querelle des amies in the middle of the century, we will see how conceptions of courtly love are affected by Neoplatonic philosophy and the Reformation with its emphasis on Pauline charity, or love that does not seek its own advantage.

Each week, we will combine close reading with a consideration of the work’s context, and we will also read and discuss a selection of the scholarship on each work in order to assess its approach and conclusions. Students will be expected to actively participate in the discussion, and will be required to give at least one oral presentation in addition to the final paper.

The course is taught in English, and discussions will be based on texts in the original Middle French, though students may have recourse to translations in Modern French and English.


French 650: Studies in the 17th Century

Prof. Dejean

Readings in 17th-century French literature. For additional information, please contact the instructor.


French 675: Poe's French Legacies

Prof. Goulet

Edgar Allan Poe was considered a vulgar hack by many of his fellow Americans, but in 19th-century France, he was touted as an ill-fated poetic genius, the original poète maudit.  Through the translations and biographical essays of Charles Baudelaire, who found in Poe a kindred spirit in the “goût de l’infini,” French intellectuals came to know the American writer as a model of compositional lucidity and morbid mastery.  From his inklings of an urban modernity in "The Man in the Crowd" to the nevrotic perversity of "Berenice," Poe's aesthetics have cast an influential shadow on French culture.  Beginning with Baudelaire, we will explore in this course the many literary and artistic movements in France that were directly inspired by Poe's uncanny mix of the macabre and the methodical:  Symbolist poetry (Valéry, Mallarmé), the Scientific Fantastic (Maupassant, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam), fin-de-siècle Decadence (Huysmanns, Odilon Redon), Science Fiction (Verne), the detective novel (Gaboriau), and 20th-century Surrealism (Breton, Max Ernst).  

Poe texts in English; all other readings in French.