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On ne naît pas femme, on le devient.

— de Beauvoir

French 260A: Studies in 20th-Century Literature — Cultural Forms of Testimony — From the Shoah to the Current Refugee Crisis

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Course Description:

This course takes as its starting point the emergence of a particular conception of testimony in the aftermath of World War Two. How do the poetics of testimony forged in a postwar culture of trauma and witnessing affect contemporary frameworks for envisioning today’s refugee crisis? Theoretical writings (by Adorno, Arendt, Agamben, Derrida, Didier and Eric Fassin, Lanzmann, Rancière) will help us tease out some continuities and discontinuities between postwar debates on representation- in the artistic sense and the juridico-political sense- and contemporary reflections on the refugee crisis.

We will examine a range of cultural production, including literature and visual media, to explore the following questions: To what extent does testimony- in the form of “bearing witness” to one’s own history or that of others- constitute a genre whose effects shape, if not produce, truth, identity and authority? Is testimony exclusively the province of the victim? How can we “site” the refugee in geopolitical and conceptual terms? How pertinent is the concentrationary history for thinking about refugees today? How do we discuss the relationship between bearing witness and the transformation of such witnessing into aesthetic form? To what extent can cultural frames put pressure on or re-envision existing politics of representation and protection? What are some possible relations between hospitality and artistic form?

Texts and films by Alain Resnais, Claude Lanzmann, Jorge Semprun, Shumona Sinha, Sylvain George, Elizabeth Klotz and Nicolas Perceval, Marie Ndiaye, Philippe Lioret, Marie Cosnay, Laurent Gaudé, Abdourahman Waberi, Nicole Caligaris and others.

Section times and locations in the Schedule of Classes