Courses available in French


Le voyage n’est nécessaire qu’aux imaginations courtes.

— Colette

French 260B: Studies in 20th-Century Literature — Poetic thinking – Valéry before and after Jacques Derrida


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Course Description:

With the success of Charmes, Paul Valéry became the public face of poetry in  20th– century France.  He was also an influential prose writer (“Monsieur Teste”), a theorist of poetics, and an author of prose poems.  In private, he was a wide-ranging thinker who kept Notebooks for decades, in which he addresses issues of language, science, politics, time, and images from, we could say, the perspective of a thinking poet.

It has been noted that the philosopher Jacques Derrida, who wrote a number of essays on Valéry, alludes to him frequently and often elliptically throughout his work. Some believe that Valéry anticipated Derrida on a number of important questions; others note that Valéry appears to haunt Derrida’s work.

The first part of our seminar will be devoted principally to reading a range of Valéry’s works – poems, prose pieces, critical essays and some fragments from the Notebooks, along with a few critical essays on Valéry (Adorno). One of the questions we will pose is: what does it mean to think from the vantage point of a poet?

This question will lead us to consider a few essays by Derrida on Valéry, and a few other texts by Derrida that allude only indirectly to Valery.  Does reading Derrida enrich our understanding of what is at stake in the poetics and thinking of Valéry?  Along the way we will consider how the “brand” Valéry enters into debates about literature, first in Sartre’s What is Literature?) and then in the context of the group Tel quel  which challenges Sartre from the perspective of Valéry in 1960, before going on to publish the major thinkers of “French Theory” including Jacques Derrida.

Readings will include works such as the following of Valéry: Charmes, Monsieur Teste, Idée Fixe, Degas, Danse, Dessin,  Le Cours de Poétique, La Crise de l’Esprit , La Politique de l’esprit,  and selections from the Cahiers; essays  by Adorno and  Sartre, What is Literature; and works by Derrida (L’autre Cap, Qual quelle, L’Animal que donc je suis,  and  Psyché: Inventions of the other).

Section times and locations in the Schedule of Classes