Tag: Literature

More Summer conferences and publications!

As promised, more updates here on what French at Stirling colleagues have been up to since teaching ended in the Spring. And this time, it’s a chance to catch up with what Emeline Morin, Lecturer in French, has been doing, starting with a paper entitled ‘(Un)veiling the sordid: metamorphosis in Marie Darrieussecq’s and Marcela Iacub’s Pig Tales’ that Emeline gave at the University of Glasgow back in May, part of their ‘Glasgow International Fantasy Conversations. Mapping the Mythosphere.’

In June, Emeline was then at the University of Southampton for a one-day conference organised by the ‘South, West, and Wales Gender Cluster.’ The conference was called ‘Marginalised Networks: Locating Queer and Gendered (Trans)national Connections’ and Emeline’s paper was called ‘Bridegroom tales and forced marriages: Francophone and Anglophone feminist fairy tales through time.’ And in August, Emeline went to Durham University for the ‘Consent: Histories, Representations, and Frameworks for the Future’ conference where she gave a paper entitled ‘Sexuality, Marriage, and Consent in Fairy Tales: the Value of Rewriting Stories’ that examined issues of consent in tales such as ‘The Sleeping Beauty’.

Finally, on the conference front, just last week (and evidence of the many and varied directions French and Francophone Studies can take you in!) Emeline spoke at the Royal Geography Society-IBG Annual International Conference in London, co-delivering a paper that she’d co-written with her friend and colleague Dr. Rachel Hunt (a lecturer in geo-humanities at Edinburgh Uni). The paper was called ‘The Bothy: a Scottish mythopoeia,’ and they discussed how cultural myths around Scotland impact real landscape and places such as bothies.

2019 Sept Emeline fairy-tale-vanguard_300And alongside all these conference papers, Emeline has also had a chapter published in Stijn Praet and Anna Kérchy’s edited collection The Fairy-Tale Vanguard: The Literary Self-Consciousness of a Marvelous Genre, entitled ‘Cartesian Wit and American Fantasy: A Comparative Study of Eric Chevillard’s The Brave Little Tailor (2003) and Robert Coover’s Briar Rose (1996).’

A very productive few months indeed!

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Conferences and ‘To-Read’ Lists

Next up in today’s blog catch-up, I’m delighted to have our first post by Hannah Grayson who joined us as a Lecturer in French at the start of this year, focusing on her research trip to the States earlier this semester:

‘Back in March I was lucky enough to be in the USA for two academic conferences. My first stop was Washington, DC, where the American Comparative Literature Association was hosting its annual meeting at Georgetown University.

Unlike a lot of conferences, the ACLA has a distinctive structure where seminar groups of 10-12 people meet for two hours each day over three days in order to foster extended discussion. I would definitely choose to participate in this kind of structure again, as it allowed us lots of time to develop our conversations and draw links between papers. Our seminar stream, organised my colleague Eloise Brezault from St Lawrence University and myself, was titled ‘Responding to Violence: Hierarchies of Memorialization in Postcolonial Africa’. Our aim was to explore why certain instances of violence take precedence over others in terms of historicization, and how literary/cultural texts can both reorient historiographical trends and provide new lenses for revisiting historical moments. Among other things, we discussed the use of digital technology to tell stories in new ways, and different forms of responding to the silencing of history.

Our Stirling colleague Fiona Barclay presented research on the contested memorialisation of the massacre that took place on 26th March 1962 in Algiers from her current project. My own paper ‘Responding to Ebola’ was on En compagnie des hommes, a recent novel by Véronique Tadjo who is one of the authors studied at Stirling in the option module French and Francophone Cultures of Travel. I discussed Tadjo’s itinerant writing, and her critique of political responses to the 2014-16 Ebola epidemic. There was also plenty of time to attend other sessions, and I followed a fascinating seminar stream on injustice and witnessing. On the final evening, the keynote address was given by prize-winning author, Amitav Ghosh, who spoke to us about the challenges of representing polyglot societies in what he described as the essentially monolingual form of the novel.

2019 HG US Trip Pic 1With a few days to spare I took the opportunity to visit the Library of Congress, which is the largest library in the world. Though I was mainly marking first-year commentaries, it was also a great opportunity to read some new material on Tierno Monénembo, a francophone Guinean author whose writing was at the heart of my doctoral research. I also got to see the Lincoln Memorial and the White House, but will have to plan a return trip to make the most of Washington’s amazing collection of museums.

 

The next stop was Oklahoma City: a place, according to those I asked in DC, known for being totally flat, extremely windy, and not much else! Oklahoma City certainly isn’t known for being a centre of interest for scholars of French and Francophone literature, but it is there that we gathered for the annual 20th and 21st Century French and Francophone Colloquium. I presented on Tadjo again, but this time on a panel about the suffering body: ‘Corps en souffrance: s’adapter et survivre face à la maladie’. It was great to discuss the place of illness and mourning, and the position of the patient, in literary texts by René Allendry, Maëlys de Kerangal and Emmanuèle Bernheim.

The theme of the conference, ‘Catastrophes, Cataclysms, Adaptation & Survival’, had caught my eye because of my research interest in fictional representations of crisis in sub-Saharan Africa. Where the majority of papers were based on texts from metropolitan France, those from the wider francophone world particularly interested me and I’ve now added Edgar Sekloka’s Coffee and Failles by Yannick Lahens to my to-read list for this summer. Stirling students who take the French Atlantic Slave Trade module would have especially enjoyed Fabienne Kanor’s presentation on the process of writing her novel Humus, which tells the stories of 14 female slaves who in 1774 chose suicide in the Atlantic rather than a life of slavery. She spoke about the journeys she made from archives in Nantes to Badagry, Nigeria, and her process of writing those 14 voices, always keeping the sounds of the sea present in the text, and asking herself, “comment témoigner à leur place de cette catastrophe?”

On the final day of the conference I made my way through a huge St Patrick’s Day parade to the Oklahoma City national memorial and museum. Having discussed the filmic and literary representations of so many episodes of violence in the two conferences, it was very moving to walk around the monument to the 168 lives lost in the domestic terror attack of April 1995. I spoke with staff there about the process of designing the memorial, the decision to have an empty chair for each of the lives lost, and the presence of an elm tree which remarkably survived the blast and all the destruction that followed. I was also reminded of research I’ve done in Rwanda around how museums, monuments, fiction and testimony all contribute to building a memory landscape in the wake of the Genocide against the Tutsi of 1994. But perhaps that’s something for a future blogpost!

All in all it was a great trip, and I came back to Scotland with a huge to-read list, and lots of ideas to follow up.’

2019 HG US Trip Pic 2

2019 HG US Trip Pic 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many, many thanks to Hannah for this article and we’ve taken careful (and grateful!) note of the promise of future ones!

‘Hearing someone speaking another language always seemed slightly magical’

I’m delighted to say that responses are still coming in to the emails I sent out to colleagues and students last week asking about how and why they started learning languages… and how and why they’ve kept going with them. Emeline Morin is a Lecturer with us at Stirling, originally from France but now working in Scotland:

Like Mathilde, I started learning bits and bobs of English from songs. For instance, aged 5 or so, I vividly remember my mum telling me what “I will always love you” means from Whitney Houston’s song.

I only properly started to learn English in high school, aged 11, and I was very excited to start. I come from a very rural part of France and never really travelled as a child, so to me, hearing someone speak a foreign language, no matter which one, always seemed slightly magical.

I’ve always been a big reader, and when I think about it, my love for books definitely impacted my wish to learn languages. When I was 12, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came out in English in July and would not be published in French until the end of November. I was so frustrated, I spent hours on forums searching for the (usually fairly rough) translations people wrote chapter by chapter. That’s when I became very dedicated to learning English because I decided that I just had to read the books in original from then on.

In high school, I also picked up Latin (which included a trip to Italy!) and Spanish. By the end of high school, I loved languages so much, I decided to do a degree in English and Spanish and I also picked up a bit of Mandarin, Russian, and German. (For some reason, German is the one language I have tried and just do not seem to be able to retain AT ALL).

This year marks the tenth anniversary of my move to Scotland. Being able to live abroad and to settle down here, to make friends and family has been incredible. Not only do I still feel that I am learning every day, I have also learnt a lot about my own language and culture while teaching it and confronting it to an outsider’s point of view.

Learning a language is not always easy, and is sometimes frustrating, but I don’t know of many things as rewarding either.’

Many thanks to Emeline for finding the time to send us this post – we’re hoping to find ways of following up on the references to songs and books and language learning over forthcoming blog posts!

Why study Languages?

I’m sure many of you will have seen or heard coverage this week of a BBC survey looking at the drop in the uptake of languages at secondary school level across the UK. If you didn’t, there’s plenty to read about it here and elsewhere.

This is, of course, a source of great concern for all of us working in Languages at whatever level within the education system and the reporting prompted us at Stirling to ask some questions, of ourselves and of our students, about our own experiences of language learning and what motivated us (or didn’t) to keep going with a particular language. Emails went out to all our students and to all colleagues, and the responses have been fascinating, as well as being funny, impassioned, thoughtful, concerned… and many other things besides. So, what better reason for a blog post? Or several!

What I’d like to do here, to start with, is to gather together the responses that have come in from colleagues, ie from those of us who teach French at Stirling, and there’ll then be a few blog posts from our students. The questions, though, are the same for all of us, as for the students namely: at what age did you start learning a language that wasn’t your native language? What language was it? What made you continue learning it (if you did)? And if that language wasn’t French, at what age did you start learning that and why and why did you decide to study it at University? And, finally, are there other languages you have previously studied but stopped studying and, if so, which ones and why?

And this time, if you’ll forgive the indulgence, I’ll start with my own experience… So, I’m Cristina Johnston and I’m currently Programme Director for French at Stirling and I started studying French at secondary school, in first year. However, before I started learning French, I was very lucky because I had already been exposed to Italian as my mother (and half my family) come from Ticino, the Italian-speaking canton of Switzerland. I spent school holidays in Switzerland, with my grandmother and family there, and many of them (most of them, at the time) didn’t speak any English but spoke either Italian or the dialect of Ticino, so if I wanted to communicate with them, I just had to speak Italian.

So, when I got to first year of secondary school and French classes started (there was no alternative to French for pupils in first year in my school), although it was a new language and a new accent and new words and new ideas, it somehow already felt familiar to me. I could understand bits and pieces from the first lesson when – as I still vividly recall – our fantastic teacher, Mr Prosser (with whom I’m still in touch every now and then so many years on), appeared and insisted on speaking French and on us speaking French, from the outset, for everything. Others who’ve been in touch about this have spoken about feeling that kind of familiarity and comfort within the new language and that was certainly my experience.

From second year, I also did German and continued with both to the end of secondary school, with French remaining very much my favoured language but German really growing on me, particularly as we got the chance to read more in German (Kafka and Frisch and Dürrenmatt). I spent a year living in France between school and Uni (taking ‘French for foreigners’ classes at Lille III University which was brilliant) and then it was just obvious that French would be part of what I’d do at University, too, so I did. I also took up Czech in first and second year of University which was challenging, to put it mildly, but which I thoroughly enjoyed, not least because, if you wanted to take second year Czech, you had to spend a month at a Summer School in the Czech Republic during the Summer which seemed like an excellent way to spend my time.

In other words, for me, languages have always been there, in different contexts, at different levels, with different levels of enthusiasm, and if I think about what has motivated me to continue studying languages, it’s very often people – Mr Prosser at secondary school, excellent Czech tutors at University in the shape of Josef Fronek and Igor Hajek, but also friends from countries where the languages are spoken and from other countries where other languages are spoken, and, since starting work as a Lecturer in French, students, too. It’s about the books and the films and the plays and the museums and the travel and the food, too, of course, but it’s the people who are the primary motivation, from my perspective.

Our Language Coordinator, Jean-Michel DesJacques, studied languages in secondary school because the system left him no choice in the matter. You simply had to do at least two languages, one in S1 (in his case, English) and another from S3 (German, for him) with the possibility of picking up a 3rd language in lycée. For him, that structure is relevant when we consider the practical timetabling issues in Scottish schools nowadays and the impact that has on language uptake. There were also special, geographical circumstances that came into play (Jean-Michel comes from the region on the border between France and Switzerland), meaning that tv was readily available in French, German and Italian. He had an older brother who lived in England, American relatives, American pupils visiting his college every year and, he assures us, ‘parents who grew up during the war who were convinced we needed to build a new Europe…’

Hannah Grayson spoke French for the first time in her first week of secondary school: ‘I was 11 years old and very shy, but I was quite pleased we all had to take French as a compulsory subject. It was like an immediate *click*, where I just loved it. I liked the sound of the words, the challenge of learning the names of things in another language, and the fun activities we got to do in class. After that, I chose to carry on with French because I found it really exciting to be able to express myself in another language. I met people from France and loved being able to understand them in their native language. As somebody who likes learning, I like French because there’s always more to learn – there’s always something else I could read, or words I haven’t yet come across.’

Elizabeth Ezra only really started learning French at University but says she wishes she’d been able to start it earlier and ‘learn it at a more relaxed pace!’ In her case, growing up in the States, ‘apart from a few Spanish words that everyone growing up in Southern California learns, that was my first exposure to a language other than English.

French wasn¹t initially my main subject – I just kind of took it on a whim – but I was given the chance in my first year of uni to spend ten weeks in France. I¹d never been out of California (let alone on an airplane) and thought I might never have another chance to go abroad, so I jumped at it.

Even though I was always good at grammar, I couldn¹t really understand a word people in France were saying for a *very* long time. I was actually convinced that this French thing was an elaborate practical joke, and that at some point people would burst out laughing and speak in perfect English about how gullible I was. I loved the south of France, where I was living and studying, but I hated feeling that people thought I was stupid because I could hardly speak. Of course I know now that’s not how it works, and that’s not how people think, but at 17, I didn’t realise that.

In my second year, I took more French because, frankly, I didn’t want all the (very) hard work I’d put in to learning the language in my first year to go to waste (which isn’t a very good reason to pursue something, but there you go). Fortunately, I soon fell in love with French literature. In my third year, I did my study abroad in Paris, which introduced me to the world of French literary theory and philosophy, which I also fell in love with. Once again, while I continued to be good at grammar, I was very bad at understanding spoken French, and they almost didn’t let me take classes at l’Université de Paris III. To remedy my weakness, I obviously read a lot in French, but I also bought a transistor radio (if only there had been podcasts back then) and forced myself to listen to French radio a
couple of hours each day. Eventually, I was able to pick out more and more words, until my comprehension was up to speed.

I came back from Paris with all guns blazing, keen to pursue the study of French literature and culture. After finishing my undergraduate studies, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.’

And finally, for the moment, Mathilde Mazau, started learning English at 11 (en 6e au college, en Martinique). It was her ‘langue vivante 1’ – she also did Latin, German and Spanish, but later. She says: ‘I fell in love with English through music when I was a little child and I think being able to understand and sing the songs I loved (rather than “chanter de la bouillie anglaise”) was my main motivation. I then continued English at uni and taught the language for many years in France before coming to Scotland.’

As other responses come in from colleagues, I’ll add them to the blog but this gives a pretty good starting point, at least from our perspective! Next, it’s the turn of our students to have their say (and maybe try to find some pictures to illustrate all of this!)…

‘One of the best things about academic research is how eclectic and varied it can be’

With the teaching term over, staff turn to their research and have more time to attend conferences. Dr Fiona Barclay was speaking at a conference in Leeds last week. Here’s what she has to say about it:

“One of the best things about academic research is how eclectic and varied it can be, and how it offers the chance to investigate the significance of familiar cultural phenomena. For example, many people in the UK and further afield will be familiar with Downton Abbey, and its fictional portrayal of the ups and downs of an upper-class family around the turn of the twentieth century. It’s an example of a family saga, which is a genre often used by writers to examine the changes taking place in the nation, using the fortunes of an often middle- or upper-class family as a way to stand in for the experiences of society more generally. So, in Downton Abbey we see the effects of the First World War on the different classes, and see how the class structure evolves over time; it’s a microcosm of the changing nation. The conference which I attended in Leeds last week focused on portrayals of the family saga in literature, TV and radio, but not just in English: it brought together academics working on texts in French, German, Spanish and even Czech and Japanese. So we heard papers on the great literary family sagas of nineteenth and twentieth-century France, some of them running to 27 volumes, but also on the East German equivalent of Radio 4’s ‘The Archers’ , which told the story of a typical socialist family in the GDR, and TV series on the Mafia such as ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘Gomorrah’.

My own paper looked at the French settlers who lived in Algeria until it became independent in 1962 and they were forced to resettle in France. It looked at novels which recount the tale of four generations, from the earliest settlers in the 1840s onwards, and showed how the writers used the tremendously difficult experiences of the early pioneers, many of whom were soon killed by violent conflict and disease, to justify the privileged existence of their settler descendants, who were very poor but not as poor as the Arabs they lived amongst. But the novels are not solely about justifying the settlers’ treatment of the Arabs: they also suggest that Algeria itself is a family of characters in conflict. By presenting the warring Europeans and Arabs as the ‘brother enemies’ Cain and Abel, and considering whether the act of colonization might be a re-enactment of the original sin of the ‘first man’ (which is the title of the Algerian philosopher Albert Camus’ last novel), these writers use the form of the family saga and draw on Biblical ideas about family inheritance and the ‘sins of the fathers’ to ask difficult questions about colonialism which it would be unthinkable to ask in other contexts. Given the furore which greeted President Emmanuel Macron’s recent suggestion that colonialism was ‘a crime against humanity’, this is one contentious issue which will continue to provoke strong reactions for a long while to come.”

Many thanks to Fiona for sending us this blog post and we look forward to posting more about other research activities over the course of the summer.

A Conversation with Jean-Pierre Jeunet

In May of last year, I was contacted by a colleague at St Andrews who asked if I would be willing to chair a discussion with Jean-Pierre Jeunet at the Byre Theatre. This ‘Conversation with Jean-Pierre Jeunet’, as it was billed, was being held to launch a new series of cultural events at the theatre, and I was asked to chair the event because I had written a book about Jeunet’s films (with the searingly original title Jean-Pierre Jeunet, published in the University of Illinois Press Contemporary Film Directors series in 2008).

2016 Elizabeth Ezra Jeunet cover

I was a bit apprehensive about the whole thing, not because I would have to moderate a discussion in front of hundreds of people; not because I hadn’t thought much about Jeunet’s films since I’d published the book; and not because I would also be interviewing Reif Larsen, the author of the novel on which Jeunet’s latest film was based, but whose work I had not read. None of these things bothered me unduly: I was used to standing up in front of large groups of people; I could swat up again on Jeunet’s work in preparation for the interview; and Larsen’s novel looked as though it would be fun to read. No, what bothered me was the fact that I had never met Jeunet before, and I knew that when artists and critics meet, things don’t always go well. It’s one thing, as a scholar, to work on someone who is long gone—say, Shakespeare, or Méliès—and who, therefore, cannot contradict your interpretations of their work. But it is quite another thing to come face to face with someone about whom you have devoted an entire study, and who might not like what you have said about them.

But then I read Larsen’s book, and I loved it. (The book is called The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, a title changed in the film to The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet.) I enjoyed the novel for its own sake, but it was also immediately apparent why Jeunet had been drawn to it—it exhibits a quirky inventiveness, a boundless energy very similar to that found in Jeunet’s films. In fact, I learned while preparing for the interview that Larsen had been influenced by Jeunet’s work when he wrote his book, which makes for a kind of endless chicken-and-egg story if you think about it too long.

2016 Elizabeth Ezra TS Spivet poster

Meeting Reif Larsen an hour or two before the event on the 14th of October began to put me at ease. Both he and his wife, Russian literature scholar Katharine Holt, were extremely likable, and, since they also came from the US, we swapped stories about the Old Country, and about our experiences as expats in Scotland. But then Reif said casually, no doubt oblivious to the fact that he was confirming my worst fears: “Jean-Pierre can get a little funny at times. Don’t take it personally. He really hates academic interpretations of his work.” Great, I thought; just fantastic.

And indeed, when Jeunet himself appeared before our entrance on stage, our conversation was initially quite stilted. I asked him what he was working on at the moment, and he said, somewhat testily, “Sex.” I took his response to mean a film about this topic, rather than a personal exploration of the subject, though I was in no hurry to find out which of these two alternatives he intended. I imagined our interaction on stage as consisting of similarly halting exchanges, and began to think that maybe this event wasn’t such a good idea after all.

But here’s the thing: once we were seated on stage and began talking in earnest, Jeunet’s wariness melted away, and he was absolutely charming. We had a great conversation, which somehow seemed to flow quite naturally; Larsen and Jeunet already had a good rapport with each other, and the three-way dialogue format worked well. The time flew by. In other words, it was all good. Afterwards, we went to dinner at a lovely restaurant (which was also much better than I had expected), where I sat between Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Reif Larsen, and we talked about the works—the novel, the film, and even the scholarly book—that had brought us all together.

2016 Elizabeth Ezra Jeunet Larsen pic
Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Elizabeth Ezra and Reif Larsen