MLA Sessions 2015

Here are the sessions sponsored by our division at the 2015 MLA Convention:

134. Rewriting la Grande Guerre

Thursday, 8 January5:15–6:30 p.m., 19, VCC East

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.”[1] 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.

[1] 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

Friday, 9 January1:45–3:00 p.m., 13, VCC East

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.

Calls for Papers: MLA 2015

French Poetry and Media in the 20th and 21st Centuries

Transformations and redefinitions of poetry through its encounters with media (cinema, radio…), from Apollinaire’s Esprit nouveau to e-poetry. 250-word abstracts by 22 March 2014; Éric Trudel (

Rewriting La Grande Guerre

How might French literary/cinematic/visual representations of WWI or its after-effects be rethought in light of new developments in literary/media/modernist/cultural studies? 250-word abstract/vita by 22 March 2014; Scott Durham (


MLA Sessions, Division on Twentieth-Century French Literature

Here are the sessions sponsored by our division at the 2014 MLA Convention:

61. Literature and/as Ethnography

Thursday, 9 January1:45–3:00 p.m., Ontario, Sheraton Chicago

Program arranged by the Division on Twentieth-Century French Literature

Presiding: Alison S. James, Univ. of Chicago

1. “Sortir des livres: The Ethnographic Impulse in Twentieth-Century French Literature,” Vincent Debaene, Columbia Univ.

I would like to explore the notion of ethnographic impulse in connection with the evolutions of both literature and the anthropological discipline in France in the 20th century. I intend to consider this notion in comparison and contrast with another notion (which can be considered both as an analogue and a converse), namely that of “temptation.”  Indeed, while Roland Barthes refers to his own “tentation ethnologique,” Pierre Bourdieu clearly states that social sciences need to resist any “tentation littéraire” – on both sides, the issue is framed in terms of impulse and resistance or repression. The comparison between the logic of impulse and the logic of temptation thus provides an interesting perspective on the exchanges between literature and anthropology throughout the 20th century.

2. “For a ‘Relational Ethnopoetics,'” Maxime Philippe, McGill Univ.

In 1936, Antonin Artaud travelled to Mexico. During this trip, he visited the Sierra Tarahumara to participate in the Tarahumara rituals dedicated to the sun and to the peyote. After his return, Artaud wrote several texts about this experience, which he kept rewriting till his death. Artaud included one of these texts in his last radio broadcast To Have Done With The Judgment of God as he associated closely these rituals with his critique of western tradition and theatre and considered them as a model for his project of a new Theatre of Cruelty. These narratives have been studied and their ethnographic relevance discussed, as Artaud’s narratives are highly subjective and influenced by his concerns. It is possible to trace how Artaud’s primitivism and his mysticism have altered his perception of this experience. Nonetheless, Artaud is a good example of what James Clifford calls a “surrealist ethnography” and could be an inspiration for a new practice of ethnography: a poetic one. I would like to consider more specifically the truly poetic aspect of this experience and contemplate how Artaud’s experience has informed his poetic practice. In Artaud’s work, the Tarahumaras stand for more than just a primitive non-occidental tribe. I will argue that this practice could be termed a “ relational ethnopoetics” as it shows how the establishment of a Relation (Glissant) with another culture can help an artist to criticize and challenge artistic institutions. I will consider similarly how the reference to other non western rituals as the Balinese theatre and the Hindu rituals in Artaud’s work reveals a deep understanding of these cultures that helped the author to redefine his artistic practice encompassing a multiplicity of media.

3. “Michel Leiris and Ethnographic Intertextuality,” Justin Izzo, Brown Univ.

This paper examines the interplay of autobiography and anthropology in Michel Leiris’s La Règle du jeu. In an autobiography that often reads like an ethnography of the self, one that investigates such classically anthropological notions as the sacred and mystical language, Leiris’s literary writing is in conversation both with his prior fieldwork in Africa and with his dissatisfaction with his foray into the social sciences. I argue that Leiris’s strategy is one of “ethnographic intertextuality,” a vision of literature as wholly informed by anthropological discursivity but one that, paradoxically, evinces its discomfort with certain of anthropology’s epistemological premises.

4. “Des non-lieux aux lieux imaginaires: Le geste autoréflexif chez Marc Augé et Didier Van Cauwelaert,” Anna E. Navrotskaya, Penn State Univ., University Park

Pour Marc Augé, un texte ethnographique est une narration au deuxième degré: une interprétation d’une interprétation de l’altérité (Non-Lieux). Un ethnologue observe l’Autre et s’observe à le faire. L’écriture ajoute un niveau de plus à cette série de mises en abime. Dans Un aller simple de Didier Van Cauwelaert, on retrouve une succession similaire d’identités jumelées et de gestes autoréflexifs, y compris celui de l’écriture. L’invention et l’improvisation sont des caractéristiques habituellement invoquées dans le discours théorique sur l’art et la créativité. Dans ma communication, je démontre que l’autoréflexivité est également une caractéristique essentielle de tout acte créatif. Elle permet d’établir un lien de parenté entre le discours ethnographique et la fiction comme deux expressions de la créativité. Un Ethnologue dans le métro et Le Metro revisité comparés à Un Aller simple présentent un cas propice à examiner. Le processus de transformation d’un non-lieu en un lieu personnifié et celui d’invention et modification d’identités sont deux exemples de l’émergence du Moi face à l’altérité de l’Autre. Selon Emmanuel Levinas, c’est la rencontre avec cette altérité qui nécessite la prise de conscience du Soi et engendre « l’œuvre de l’identité ». C’est un geste autoréflexif au cœur de toute relation, mais également de toute création.

252. Where Is French Theory Today?

Friday, 10 January10:15–11:30 a.m., Superior B, Sheraton Chicago

Program arranged by the Division on Twentieth-Century French Literature

Presiding: Danielle Marx-Scouras, Ohio State Univ., Columbus

1. “Foucault’s Foresight: Mapping the Rise of the Neoliberal Age in The Birth of Biopower,” Rosemarie Scullion, Univ. of Iowa

2. “Aller-Retour: The American Afterlife of French Theory,” Bishupal Limbu, Portland State Univ.

3. “Radical Critique between the Arab Spring and Littérature-monde,” Neil Doshi, Univ. of Pittsburgh

4. “New Directions in Francophone, Postcolonial, and Subaltern Studies: Bayart’s ‘Carnaval académique’ or Glissant’s ‘Querelle avec l’Histoire’?” Jennifer Therese Howell, Illinois State Univ.

552. Francophone African Writers and Anthropology

Saturday, 11 January1:45–3:00 p.m., Missouri, Sheraton Chicago

Program arranged by the Division on Twentieth-Century French Literature and the Division on African Literatures

Presiding: Vincent Debaene, Columbia Univ.; Justin Izzo, Brown Univ.

1. “Paraliterary Ethnography and Colonial Self-Writing: The Student Notebooks of the William Ponty School,” Tobias Warner, Univ. of California, Davis

2. “Bizarre Bodies: Parody and Improvisation in Amadou Hampâté Bâ’s Writing of Culture,”Jonathon Repinecz, Univ. of California, Berkeley

3. “Kourouma and the Hunters, Kourouma’s Hunters,” Karim Traoré, Univ. of Georgia

This session critically addresses an insufficiently explored corpus: the numerous works by French­-speaking African writers who engaged with anthropology in the 20th­ century.

Such an engagement is indeed a noticeably widespread and diverse phenomenon. One need only think of authors such as Paul Hazoumé, Léopold Sédar Senghor, Amadou Hampaté Bâ, Fily Dabo Sissoko, Amadou Kourouma or Yambo Ouolouguem: all of these figures either wrote ethnographic texts, texts about anthropology, or literary works which incorporate elements of anthropological discourse. This interdisciplinary literary approach leads us to reconsider the generally accepted historical narrative which too often conceives the relationship of African authors with anthropology as a rebellion of the “Native” against a violent and reifying discourse created by the West. Contemporary visions of literature and anthropology have led scholars to assume that literature offers a discourse of resistance against a colonial discourse of “scientific” knowledge production. However, this opposition is not as clear­-cut as it appears at first glance.

Senghor and Hazoumé graduated from the Institut d’ethnologie de Paris, for instance. Hampaté Bâ was first an informant, then a professionally trained ethnographer. Sissoko produced several ethnographic articles before turning to autobiographical essays. Kourouma, for his part, explicitly acknowledges his debt to Malian anthropologist Y.T. Cissé’s work on the oral genre of the hunters’ epic. Even Aimé Césaire’s famous rejection of Griaule’s school of “ethnographers who go in for metaphysics” in his Discourse on Colonialism is part of a wider argument defending the anthropological works of Michel Leiris and Claude Lévi­-Strauss.

The three panelists all study works of African literature in terms of the re­appropriation of anthropological discourse rather than in terms of competition or outright rejection. Moreover, they all demonstrate careful consideration of their texts’ cultural and historical conditions of production. This approach follows Christopher Miller’s recommendation in his seminal book, Theories of Africans (1990), that a “fair Western reading of African literatures” cannot “take place in the vacuum of a ‘direct’ and unmediated relationship with the text” and “demands an engagement with […] anthropology” ( 4).

Tobias Warner will begin by setting up both the historical context and the terms of the debate with an analysis of the Student Notebooks of the William Ponty School. Beginning in 1933, West African students at the Ecole Normale William Ponty – the “elite” French colonial teacher-­training college – completed their studies by writing monographs known as devoirs de vacances. Students were required to produce ethnographies of some aspect of their community of origin during their summer vacation. There are over 700 of these monographs, collectively known as the “Cahiers Ponty” (Ponty notebooks). While the Ponty notebooks have long served as background sources for social scientists, they have never been studied as a genre in their own right. Based on extensive primary research, this paper explores how Ponty students stretched and contested the limits of the literary and the ethnographic as modes of seeing and speaking for the social world. It argues that the Cahiers Ponty played a far­ reaching (if poorly understood) role in shaping the contours of colonial modernity and early francophone literature in West Africa.

Working from this useful historical overview, Jonathon Repinecz focuses on the use of anthropology in the work of Amadou Hampâté Bâ, who famously turned down entry into the Ecole Normale William Ponty in 1921. As punishment, the governor appointed him to an administrative position officially described as that of “an essentially precarious and revocable temporary writer”. Such a position led him to crisscross French West Africa in the 1920s and ­30s, documenting African, as well as colonial, customs and finally becoming in the 1940s a professional ethnological researcher, reading and meeting major figures of French anthropology. However the narrative L’Etrange destin de Wangrin (1973) puts a number of twists on this activity of documentation and collection, especially through the description of Gongolooma­-Sooké, the deity to whom Wangrin is consecrated and who reflects the ambiguity of his protégé, a black colonial interpreter whose characterization is modeled both on the trickster figure and the epic hero. Hampâté Bâ’s portrayal of the deity exemplifies the concepts of débrouillardise (Bayart) and bricolage (Lévi­Strauss) and needs to be read as a dynamic act of writing culture, against the idea of a unified Bambara worldview as it has been depicted by French colonial-­era ethnographers like Léon Tauxier or Germaine Dieterlen.

Finally, following up on his book Le Jeu et le sérieux. Essai d’anthropologie littéraire sur la poésie épique des chasseurs du Mande (2000), Karim Traoré investigates Ahmadou Kourouma’s appropriation of the Mandé hunters’ epic (their maana) in his novel En attendant le vote des bêtes sauvages (1998). Professor Traoré traces this appropriation back to Kourouma’s main source, namely the studies of the Malian anthropologist Youssouf Tata Cissé. He explores the consequences, for the novel as a whole, of this borrowing from a unique source and studies the effects of this fictionalization of Mandé hunters for a readership presumed to be unaware of the Manding donso culture.

With these papers, we hope to contribute to recent trends in both 20th­-century French and Francophone literary studies and the history of anthropology (trends that demand a detailed and comparative reexamination of anthropology’s past and effects, beyond the idea that the discipline was fatally flawed by its inscription in the colonial situation), while shedding a new light on twentieth-century African cultural production.

Calls for Papers: MLA 2014

Francophone African Writers and Anthropology
Divisions: Twentieth-Century French Literature; African Literatures
This collaborative session will explore the engagement of French-speaking African writers with anthropology in the 20th century. 300-word abstract, short CV by 15 March 2013; Vincent Debaene ( and Justin Izzo (

Literature and/as Ethnography
Division: Twentieth-Century French Literature
Papers will explore the ethnographic impulse in 20th/21st-century French literature. Topics may include the exotic and the everyday; ethnographic narrative and fiction; description and participation. 250-word abstracts, brief CV by 15 March 2013; Alison S. James (

Where is French Theory Today?
Division: Twentieth-Century French Literature
“French Theory” in a global context (e.g. migration studies, social media, Occupy movements); how other cultures, emergent scholarship, new political practices reconfigure theory. 250-word abstract, brief CV by 15 March 2013; Danielle Marx-Scouras (