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COLL Courses in French & Francophone Studies

The French & Francophone Studies Program regularly offers a wide range of COLL courses. Here below are just a few examples of recent topics. Some are crosslisted with other departments or programs.

COLL 100/ 150 Courses in French & Francophone Studies
FREN100 (COLL100): Spectacular Politics

Prof. Giulia Pacini

Spectacular Politics will study the politicization of theater and the theatricalization of politics in early modern France. We will read plays by Molière, Corneille, and Gouges, and address the following questions: To what extent could one say that early modern French culture was fundamentally spectacular? What role did performance and spectacle play in the social and political scenes of this period? What debates were played out on the stage and in the contemporary discourse about acting and theater-going? Why did people believe that plays could corrupt the soul?

This course will study the impact of theater and theatrical performances at court, in the city, in fairgrounds and in the streets of Paris. In addition to reading critically or popularly acclaimed literary masterpieces, we will examine essays that describe or theorize the effects of theater on the evolution of moral, social and political conventions. Specific sub-topics for the course are therefore: the history of the Comédie Française; the evolution of the physical stage; the classical rules of dramaturgy; early modern ideas about the pedagogical function of the theater; the history of pantomime and innovative eighteenth-century uses of gestural languages; the censorship of plays and debates about censorship; the life and particular status of actors and actresses; early modern arguments about the value or dangers of theater-going; different forms of spectator behavior; the political importance of the pit or parterre; the role of revolutionary festivals. In class we will watch filmed performances to discuss questions of casting, staging and acting styles. Taught in French.

FREN (COLL 100): Real and Unreal Cities

Prof. Brett Brehm

In this course, we will explore the shocks and enchantments of modern urban life as represented in literature, music, the visual arts, and cinema, among other forms. Nineteenth-century Paris, with its social and artistic revolutions and uprisings, will serve as our initial focus and point of departure. From there, we will expand our inquiry into other cities and up to the present day to examine issues of memory, identity, the meeting of East and West, and the future of urban ways of life.

The COLL 100 curriculum provides you the opportunity to develop your digital literacy skills, research skills, abilities to access and evaluate academic resources, and presentation skills beyond the written word. With these goals in mind, we will visit Swem library together as a class to gain insights into the resources you have available here on campus and online.

Our examination of the social organization of urban space will pay particular attention to issues of race, gender, and social class as these issues shape and are shaped by space and place. How, for instance, did consumer culture develop in nineteenth-century Paris, and what can be drawn from literary and theoretical engagements with that culture? How were public and private spaces defined in the built environment, and how did artists and writers choose to represent and imagine the boundaries of the public and the private? For some, the experience of crowds in cities, for example, could be disorienting and unsettling. What about that sensory overload can help us ponder the history of the human sensory world? How are concepts of identity, diversity, and difference negotiated between and within different communities in cities? How did urban experience inspire distinctive artistic and literary forms and possibilities emblematic of modernity?

FREN150/ ENSP 150 (COLL150): Slow Living, ou L'Art de Végéter

Prof. Giulia Pacini

Might vegetating help us flourish? Is there a link between personal wellness and the slow living of plants? A French author once suggested that “being a vegetal” while on vacation might be a deeply restorative practice that allows us to “sprout” once again. To understand the human relationship to plants, as well as the ways in which we might learn from the green world that surrounds us, this course delves into select works of the French and Francophone literary tradition. We shall read a broad range of texts by fantasy authors, satirical essayists, Romantic poets, existentialist philosophers, political thinkers, botanists, and experts in plant theory. To nuance our positions, we will talk about lethal mandrakes, rational cabbages, and “hanged-men” orchids from France’s former colonies. We will also make time for experiential encounters with the plant world: some students may choose to engage in ‘forest-bathing’; others may decide to practice plant-inspired yoga, and/or to cultivate a personal relationship with a plant of their own. Let’s discover what an encounter with plant life might offer us in this age of acceleration and environmental crisis. It might slow us down to reflect on what growth means for us personally and for society as a whole. It will help us interrogate notions of identity and difference; it will push us to deconstruct binaries and power structures; it might inspire us to question normative discourses about gender and sexuality. Above all, we will consider life, development, time, and flourishing from alternative perspectives. Taught in French.

FREN 150/ ARTH 150 (COLL 150): Surrealist Show and Tell: Objects and Collections

Prof. Kate Conley

Arguably the most influential avant-garde movement of the twentieth-century (1922-69), surrealism produced a theory of the object in 1936 founded on the things they admired from the Pacific Islands and the North American Southwest and Northwest Coast and found in flea markets and junk stores that they repurposed into works of art which did not conform to contemporary notions of art.  They saw the ghosts of former functions in their collected things, a ghostliness that animated them with “forcefields” of energy. 

This course will examine surrealist ideas about the object and consider the objects the surrealists collected and made.  We will examine how they displayed their things in their living and work spaces and in exhibitions and what kind of meaning their collected objects had for them.  We will conclude by asking how the theory of surrealist object anticipates recent explorations of new materialism(s) and the posthuman by 50 years.   

COLL 150 serves as an introduction to scholarly research and writing on a focused topic that transforms a consumer of information into a creator of knowledge. Students will gain a foundational understanding of the surrealist movement and the techniques of close reading and analytical writing. This seminar will primarily be taught in French and is designed primarily for freshmen and transfer students.  Papers may be in French or English           


COLL 200 Courses in French & Francophone Studies

Prof. Giulia Pacini

This interdisciplinary course focuses on representations of nature and the “natural” in the French and Francophone cultural tradition. Questions of interest include: How and why were insects put on trial in sixteenth-century France? Why have feminists accused seventeenth-century French philosophers of the “death of nature” and what are the consequences of nature's being so often gendered female? How did Descartes’ objectification of the natural world facilitate France’s colonial ambitions? Why did Louis XIV invest so heavily in the animals, plants, and waters at Versailles? Why did the French government push for the planting of hundreds of thousands of trees at the height of the Terror? When did the French start thinking about issues of preservation and conservation? Why did the French worry about deforestation and stormy weather on the island of Mauritius? How did French colonialism exploit natural resources and the concept of the “natural”? How have contemporary postcolonial narratives helped reaffirm the vitality, agency, and communicative powers of nature? As we address these questions, we will also study Rousseau's notion of a “state of nature” and the ideological agendas served by this discourse, and we will expand upon his notion of a social contract to consider the rights of nature. Ultimately, we will draw on this long history to re-envision humanity’s relationship to the natural world in a context of ever-accelerating climate change. Course materials include extracts from novels, poems, a song, political texts, paintings, engravings, films, as well as secondary sources in the history of science, philosophy, and political theory. This course will be conducted entirely in French.

FREN 315 (COLL 200): Provocative Texts: French Literature in its Cultural Contexts

Prof. Giulia Pacini or Prof. Brett Brehm

This course will test the powers of fiction and poetry by studying provocative masterpieces of French & Francophone literature. We will consider the roles literature has played in the emergence of the individual subject. We will also trace a history of reading, writing, and publication practices from the medieval period to the present. Topics of discussion, among others, will include: theories and practices of writing and authority, the process of canon formation, language and musicality, literature and politics, and literature and philosophy. Rather than a traditional survey of French literature (which might focus on texts’ most important themes, formal traits, genres, and genealogies of influence), we will examine particular material, social, legal, economic, and ideological forces that have shaped France’s literary culture.

Insofar as this COLL 200 course studies the literary expression of shifting values and attitudes in France and the broader Francophone world, it is anchored in the Arts, Letters, and Values domain (ALV). By placing texts in their larger historical context, this course will also look outward to the domain of Cultures, Societies, and Individuals (CSI). Students will be asked to make coherent and meaningful interconnections across these two academic domains.

COLL 300 Courses in French and Francophone Studies
FREN385 (COLL 300): Contested Memories in Francophone Cultures

Prof. Magali Compan

Memory is a key aspect of identity construction, and can be “stored” in different kinds of media: objects, rituals/cultural practices, monuments and literary and cinematographic texts. This course will focus more particularly on collective memory and its use in the construction of a national identity. students will examine different kinds of media (songs, architecture, celebrations, literature etc) representing a French collective memory with references to its colonial past.  We will examine the portrayal of national histories, the embodiment of collective myths, and the expression of individual identities and the role they play in the representation of the past.

However, with a violent past made of slavery and colonization, how has France articulated its collective memory? The focus of this course will be more particularly on how previous French colonies which are also part of the French Republic face the tension of such contested memories. One made up of suffering under the French colonial master, and one made up of the ideals of the French republic.

Questions, which will be central in this course, are the following: What exactly is memory, how is memory produced? What is collective memory and what are its purposes? What can go wrong in the process of producing memories? How does traumatic memory relate to “normal” memory? How can literature be read as a form of memory? These questions will be dealt with by means of a combination of theoretical texts, literary texts, and films. The “literature of memory and trauma” will especially consist of histories of war, genocide, and migration.

COLL 400 Courses in French and Francophone Studies
FREN 450 (COLL 400): Rage Against the Machine: 
Slavery, Colonization, neoliberalism and the Hatred and Violence they Unleashed

Prof. Magali Compan

This course offers a study of the colonial and post-colonial Francophone world through an examination of the resistance movements to the imposition of systems such as slavery, colonization, and neoliberalism. Such legal systems, founded on predation and dehumanization of the Other, have nourished hate and violence.  In return, the fight against the predatory man is often violent. However, while this unleashing of rage has in many cases translated into dead bodies, we will also examine how it promoted personal and/or social justice, human dignity, and a shared humanity.

This course examines the ways in which literature or other creative responses (film, graphic novels, music, plastic art, painting) articulate resistance against hegemonic forces of oppression and create new spaces for public discourse and collective memory. How do artists tell stories of suffering, loss, social abandonment, and resilience? What are the formal properties of texts attempting to uncover unspoken reserves of rage?  What are the recurring patterns of exclusion? Is the rage of the oppressed similar to the rage of the privileged? What are the strategies the powerless will put in place to gain power? What are the powers of artistic creation in the face of such violent histories?

Students will examine the forms and uses of violence in francophone cultures from sub-Sahara Africa, the Maghreb, the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean. By reading verbal and visual texts from countries as diverse as France, Algeria, Haïti, Guadeloupe, Senegal, Mayotte, Madagascar, and Mauritius island we will explore some artistic responses to violent events such as the Algerian War, the Malagasy insurrection, slavery in Guadeloupe, textile factory in Mauritius, kwassa Kwassa in Mayotte etc. Students will learn about socio-cultural, economic, and historical contexts that have shaped the francophone world and its cultures. The course will also rely on postcolonial theory, African literary criticism which will strengthen students’ critical analysis of the works of fiction.

FREN 450 (COLL 400): The Surrealist Movement in Art, Literature, Life

Prof. Kate Conley

The surrealist movement was the most influential avant-garde movement of the twentieth century, not least because it welcomed women.  Its influence continues to be felt today in art, literature, and popular culture.  Launched in Paris in 1922 by a group of young men who sought to build a new way of thinking about the human condition in the wake of World War One, the movement grew to include artists and writers from across Europe, the United States, and Latin and South America.  Curious about Freudian psychoanalysis, they sought to achieve equivalent insights into the human psyche through the arts.   Starting in the 1920s, they politically opposed colonialism and actively opposed the rise of fascism; several surrealists joined the Resistance to the Nazi occupation of France or sought exile in the United States.  The movement concluded officially in 1969. This course examines landmark surrealist texts and studies the art, film, and collecting practices of the surrealist group, from the 1920s through the 1960s.  

French 450 (COLL 400): L’Amérique, Version française

Prof. Michael Leruth

This course will explore evolving French perceptions of the United States and what these perceptions tell us about how France sees itself. While the course will begin will some older examples from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, it will deal most extensively with the current era. Themes will include American power and excess, democracy and pop culture, leaders from Reagan to Trump, and entrepreneurial prowess and economic inequality. Authors considered will include Simone de Beauvoir on sororities and Colonial Williamsburg, Jean Baudrillard on L.A. and Vegas, Frédéric Beigbeder on 9-11, Bernard-Henri Lévy on religion and baseball, and Alain Mabanckou on Black Lives Matter. Focus on student research in diverse forms. Course conducted in French.

French 450 (COLL 400): Bohemians to Avant-Gardes and Beyond

Prof. Brett Brehm 

In this senior seminar, we will explore diverse figurations of the bohemian artist in French society across representations in different media (in painting, music, poetry, novels, dance, and film, among others). We will investigate how a distinctive bohemian artistic culture took shape and flourished in nineteenth-century Paris and beyond. How might we understand the aura about those artists who lived and created on the margins of society? How did these artists discover new aesthetic possibilities in bohemian independence and adventure? How did they celebrate youthfulness? How does the mythic bohemian figure offer a means to assess both geographic and social borders and what it means to live along those fault lines? How does the bohemian imagination unsettle notions of place and belonging, home and nation?  We will explore these and other questions from Baudelaire's modernity to such avant-garde movements as Surrealism and Dada, from the bohemian artistic salon of Nina de Villard to the poems of Rimbaud and the paintings of Van Gogh, from Satie's cabaret songs to Surrealist games. We will also consider what the Bohemian legacy means today, in particular by critically analyzing the cultural trope of Bohemia and its far-reaching social, political, and aesthetic impact. How, for instance, do we understand contemporary French youth culture as drawing from this legacy, as both integral to and in conflict with a certain idea of French culture and national identity? How might the Bohemian social and cultural legacy provide a singular perspective on contemporary issues about immigration in Europe and in France, the state of French culture in the midst of globalization, and political support for the promotion of French culture and identity both within and outside France?

Key concepts and questions: ideas about home (what does it mean to be 'at home' and to have a home?), the relationship between the arts and society, modernity, and the idea of youth and youthfulness.