Department of French
Paper Fr11: Literature, Visual Culture, Thought and History in the French-speaking World Since 1945
Part IB students may submit a portfolio of essays for this paper - see the Faculty Guidelines for further details.
This paper will be offered for the final time in this format in 2011/2012. From 2012/2013, it will be replaced at Part IB by Fr6: Innovation and Upheaval: deformation and reformulation in the 20th and 21st centuries and at Part II by Fr12: Ethics and Experience: Literature, Thought and Visual Culture of the French-speaking World (1900 to the present).
In the aftermath of the Second World War, France finds itself confronted by the dramatic, and even traumatic, legacy of the Occupation and Liberation, and by the struggle to determine who will inherit the spirit of the Resistance. By 1958, France has been defeated in Indochina; Algeria is the site of a bloody and controversial war, which will also end in defeat. Ten years later, the streets of Paris and other major cities are filled with rioters, and De Gaulle's government nearly faces collapse. During the turbulent years covered by this paper, French culture is also confronted - among many other factors - by the challenge of second-wave feminism, the need to acknowledge the historical trauma of Vichy, and the misery and social exclusion of the banlieues. Against this backdrop, literary, artistic, and intellectual culture becomes the scene of energetic renewal and revolution, from the Nouveau roman to the Nouvelle vague, from structuralism to the Situationists, from women's writing to autofiction. And those who had once been its colonial subjects, both within and beyond metropolitan France, insist that their voices should also come to shape the language in which this culture speaks to itself and to the world.
This paper offers students the opportunity to encounter these and many other dimensions of modern and contemporary French culture. Major writers who can be studied within this paper include Blanchot, Césaire, Djébar, Duras, Genet, Glissant, Sarraute, and Tournier; it is also possible to work on film-makers such as Alain Resnais, Jean Eustache and Jean-Luc Godard, and world-famous thinkers such as Barthes, Deleuze, Derrida, Fanon, Foucault, Irigaray, and Kristeva, as well as such contemporary writers and film-makers as Echenoz, Houellebecq, Angot, Denis, and Breillat, and postcolonial authors including Djébar, Chamoiseau, Chraibi, Condé and Glissant. In addition, the paper offers two Section A topics, which give an overview of the period: currently, these topics are 'Postcolonialisms', and 'Philosophy and politics'.
Note: A certain number of writers and film-makers at work during this period were also active before 1958. Some of these are covered in this paper: these include Blanchot, Genet, Césaire, and Resnais, for example. Others, however, are featured on the Part IB and Part II paper Fr10, 'French Literature, Visual Culture, Thought and History from 1890 to 1958': this latter group includes for example Bataille, de Beauvoir, Beckett, Camus, Sartre, and Bresson. A definitive list of such 'cross-over' cases is appended to the reading list for each paper, indicating on which paper the figure in question may be studied.
Where to begin?
If you're planning to take Fr11 at Part II, it's essential to spend your Year Abroad doing plenty of preparatory reading, especially to cover the political and historical dimensions of the period, to start to familiarize yourself with some of its most demanding and important thinkers, and to build an awareness of the great richness and diversity of material on offer.
This diversity may initially seem daunting. It is indeed one of the features of the period that both authors and critics have resisted canonical hierarchies, and so the notion of selecting a handful of authors as somehow more important or more representative than others jars with the very approach taken by many of them to this question, and with the exciting opportunity offered by this paper to explore emerging new work. Nonetheless, you may well feel the need for an initial way into this period. There are a number of possible approaches: you might, for example, sample works
- by a number of the better-known authors of the period, such as: Blanchot; Césaire; Duras; Ernaux; Modiano; Perec; Robbe-Grillet;
- from within a particular genre, such as: the novel (Robbe-Grillet, Yourcenar); theatre (Genet, Ionesco); poetry (Bonnefoy, Ponge);
- from within particular movements, such as the 'nouveau roman' (Butor, Robbe-Grillet, Sarraute);
- by major thinkers (Derrida, Barthes, Foucault, Lacan, Irigaray, Kristeva, Cixous, Bourdieu);
- with particular social or political resonances, such as: postcolonial writing (Césaire, Djébar, Senghor, Fanon); women's writing (Cixous, Rochefort, Wittig); concentration camp testimony (Antelme, Delbo, Semprun).
For an ideal overview of the period, see Victoria Best, An Introduction to Twentieth-Century French Literature (Duckworth, 2002). It will also be helpful to consult studies which discuss a range of authors: e.g. Colin Davis, Ethical Issues in Twentieth-Century French Fiction (Macmillan, 2000), or Emma Wilson, Sexuality and the Reading Encounter (OUP, 1996).
Lecturers and supervisors
Lecturers and supervisors for this paper include Jenny Chamarette, Martin Crowley, Georgina Evans, Louise Hardwick, Ian James, Jean Khalfa, Andy Martin, Laura McMahon, Isabelle McNeill, Chris Watkin, Emma Wilson.