Courses available in French


Mon ultime prière: Ô mon corps, fais de moi toujours un homme qui interroge!

— Fanon

French 118B: Eighteenth Century Literature — The French Enlightenment and its Afterlife


Voltaire, Traité sur la tolerance; Montesquieu, Les Lettres persanes; Graffigny, Lettres d’une péruvienne; Rousseau, L’Origine de l’inégalité; Diderot, La Religieuse; Beaumarchais, Le Mariage de Figaro.

Course Description:

Recent, tragic events in France have put the French Enlightenment front and center in national and international debates.   Once again Voltaire has become a bestseller as people in France try to come to grips with issues that define national and cultural identity and even modernity itself.  The cartoons in Charlie Hebdo, the murderous attacks on the artists and writers, the massive reaction the attacks provoked, all of these send us back looking for answers to questions first publicly debated in the eighteenth century, questions like what is freedom of expression?  What is, or should be, the relation between religion and the State?  What do secularism or freedom of religion really mean?  What do we mean when we talk about freedom and equality?

At the end of the eighteenth century Immanuel Kant tried to answer the question: What is Enlightenment?  He came up with this answer: The Enlightenment was the time during which and the process by which human beings finally emerged from their own self-imposed childhood.   The Enlightenment meant shaking off traditional authorities– kings, priests, fathers—and refusing to acknowledge the authority of handed-down ideas.  Everything was up for grabs: ideas about politics, religion, sex, the family, and the nation.   Both the content of beliefs and practices and the methods by which concepts and practices were formed came up for scrutiny as writers and thinkers turned their studies away from the supernatural and the metaphysical toward the natural, the physical, and the social.  Moreover, Enlightenment was a public process.  Reading, thinking, writing, criticizing was something no one person could accomplish by him or herself  “Dare to know” was the watchword Kant retrospectively assigned to the readers and writers of the Enlightenment.  But this process was shaped by the censorship rigorously exercised by the monarchy; we will discuss censorship and the repression of writers. We will revisit many of the classic works of the French Enlightenment trying to take Kant’s injunction as our watchword as we seek to discover the relation between our own complicated societies and the legacy of the Enlightenment.

Prerequisites: French 102 or consent of Instructor.

Additional information:
This course satisfies one “Literature” or one “Elective” in the French major; satisfies one Historical Period requirement in French major. Satisfies College of Letters and Science breadth in Arts and Literature. Priority enrollment for declared French majors.

Section times and locations in the Schedule of Classes