Here are the sessions sponsored by our division at the 2015 MLA Convention:
134. Rewriting la Grande Guerre
Program arranged by the Division on Twentieth-Century French Literature
Presiding: Scott P. Durham, Northwestern Univ.
1. “Remarkable Memories of the ‘Great War,'” Nora M. Alter, Temple Univ., Philadelphia
Memories and representations of World War I have preoccupied filmmaker Chris Marker in conjunction with his early experimentations with new forms of media and exhibition. Beginning with his first video installation, Quand le siècle a pris forme (1978), for the exhibition “Paris-Berlin 1900-1930” at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, Marker re-presented footage and images from the Great War. Experimenting with the opportunities that a three-dimensional space might provide montage, he set up two monitors on which footage from World War I, the Russian Revolution, the onset of the Great Depression and other significant historical events played. In his last exhibition, Owls at Noon Prelude: The Hollow Men (MoMA, 2005) Marker revisits the First World War. Loosely based on T.S. Eliot’s 1925 poem, the project is a meditation on the ephemerality of memory especially as it pertains to war. Raising to another register the tension between the kineticism of film and the stasis of photography that characterizes Marker’s early work, Owls at Noon Prelude features digital images that are at once still and in motion. The subtle inner movement of the pictures projected on eight screens suggests a dialogic concept of history and time. A history, in which war has so quickly and too often been forgotten so that it keeps returning with an ever-greater vengeance with each new cycle. World War I was the first filmed war and the first war to subsequently capture the filmic imaginary—two intertwined facts that fascinated Marker. This paper will explore how World War I was a touchstone for Marker both thematically as well as technologically.
2. “Voyage au bout de la nuit: A Politics of Memory (in) Space,” Vanessa Brutsche, Univ. of California, Berkeley
This paper offers a renewed reading of one of the most canonical novels about World War I and its aftermath, Céline’s Voyage au bout de la nuit. The novel is frequently read for its groundbreaking argot style or for the psychology of the antihero, yet I argue that the spatial and temporal trajectory of Voyage au bout de la nuit, with its indictments of colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism, is not simply the story of an individual, traumatic memory. Rather, it is a complex, often tortured reflection on the overlapping, contradictory histories of human violence. By analyzing this novel through the lens of recent work on the nature of the collective memory of traumatic historical events, we can bring Voyage and the domain of WWI literature into contact with influential new developments in literary, cultural, and memory studies that prioritize the transcultural and transhistorical productivity of “multidirectional memory.” We do not seek to simply transfer this model for memory to a different historical period, however, but to engage in a sustained reflection on how to imagine a model for collective memory in this period, with its own specificity. This paper will explore how the politics of space in this novel can also be read as a politics of memory, or in other words, how the ‘voyage’ of the novel across various ‘sites of memory’ configures a trajectory of collective memory in the wake of World War I.
 Rothberg, Michael. Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization. Stanford UP, 2009.
3. “Between Testimony and Politics: Drieu la Rochelle’s War,” Jason Earle, Sarah Lawrence Coll.
Pierre Drieu la Rochelle is often remembered today through the lens of World War II, as one of France’s most infamous literary collaborationists. Yet almost the entirety of Drieu’s work prior to 1940 can be considered as a reaction to the Great War, one originating from his experiences as a soldier in the Fifth Infantry Division. In poems, essays, stories, and novels, Drieu repeatedly foregrounded his own first-hand accounts of the war, often in order to decry the decadence of France.
This paper will explore the politically fraught relationship between testimony and literature in Drieu’s war narratives, focusing primarily on the title story of his 1934 collection La Comédie de Charleroi. Written the same year as Drieu’s conversion to fascism, yet set in 1919, the story relates the traumas of the eponymous 1914 battle through the vivid remembrance of the psychological and physical tortures suffered by the narrator. I will read this text alongside others by Drieu by engaging with recent scholarship on testimonial literature, particularly those works that have sought to historicize this genre by returning to post-WWI compendiums of soldiers’ experiences from the trenches. Further, I will demonstrate that within the story’s formal act of testimony are inscribed much of the anti-Semitism and fascist tendencies that marked Drieu’s later work. Drieu’s war narrative thus draws on the formal frameworks of an existing tradition of testimonial literature while simultaneously politicizing this genre within the context of interwar-era France.
4. “‘O Disemboweled Palaces': Avant-Gardism and the Critique of Cinematic Beholding in the Age of the Great War,” Jennifer Wild, Univ. of Chicago
In the age of the Great War, the cinema in France took to the upright. As opposed to the cinema of attractions (1895-1910) which allowed the spectatorial body to remain formless, prone, and engaged with the horizontal sphere of culture, by 1913 the cinema had become a vertical architecture for spectatorial immobility and silent, contemplative beholding. During wartime, this homogenized picture of controlled, bourgeois spectatorship affirmed the realist pretense of “legitimate” experience, whether aesthetic, social, or in service of the State. But it also became the film industry’s idealized expression of solidarity on the home front as it expanded its nationalist profile with film distribution on the front, “grand national films,” and the opulent transformation of theaters like the Gaumont-Palace.
This context of nationalized, “verticalized” beholding was crucial to the development of a radical, avant-garde poetics that sought to overturn systems of representational order, and the experiential structures of State-sponsored violence and control. Out of wartime journals Littérature and Dada, I trace an historical lineage of the vanguardist critique of architectural anthropomorphosis, what Georges Bataille theorized a decade later in Documents (1929): “[I]t is in the form of cathedral or palace that Church or State speaks to the multitudes and imposes silence upon them.” Situating Bataille’s thought within the discourses of Dada subsequently revises an understanding of the cinema’s original avant-garde value: it emerged less from its images and more against its architectures for beholding such as we find at the Gaumont-Palace, otherwise known as the “cathedral of cinema.”
332. French Poetry and Media in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries
Program arranged by the Division on Twentieth-Century French Literature
Presiding: Eric Trudel, Bard Coll.
1. “François Jacqmin, a Provincial Revolutionary?” Jan Baetens, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
2. “‘Poésie dans le métro': Disappearing Reading on the Subway,” Nicolas L’Hermitte, Princeton Univ.
3. “Manque: Multimedia Transpositions in the Poetry of Dominique Fourcade,” James Michael Petterson, Wellesley Coll.
4. “Odes radiophoniques de Jean-Paul Daoust,” Jorge Calderón, Simon Fraser Univ.