Demand the Impossible! France in the 1960s

R1A (Sections 2 & 3) :  English Composition through French Literature in Translation
Fall 2014
M. Koerner


Franz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (1961)

George Perec, Things: A Story of the Sixties (1965)

Situationist International, On the Poverty of Student Life (1966)

Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (1967)

Monique Wittig, Les Guérillères (1969)

Kristin Ross, May ’68 and Its Afterlives

*supplementary texts and excerpts from longer works will be provided in a Course Reader.



The Battle of Algiers (Pontecorvo, 1966)

A Grin without a Cat (Marker, 1977)

La Chinoise (Godard, 1967)

Letter to Jane (Dziga Vertov Group, 1972)



In this course we will study the tumultuous events in France of the late 1960’s that culminated in May ’68 with the student occupation of universities and the largest labor strike in French history. Situating these extraordinary events in relation to their broader, global context – from the liberation struggles in formerly colonized countries to the international protests against the Vietnam War and the emergence of young people, women, immigrants and people of color as new agents of social change – this course offers students an overview of one of the most transformative periods of the twentieth century. As this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley, we will also explore how the “right to speak” and the desire for liberated forms of expression connected students in France to similar movements among students in the U.S. as well as those in Prague, Berlin and Mexico City. In challenging traditional social norms and existing forms of authority and representation, young people across the globe were calling the society they inherited into question. This course investigates the legacies of these movements in reimagining the terms of politics and democracy, and how they redefined the limits of the possible.


In connection with these themes, this reading and composition course focuses on the analysis of texts, images, and sounds (translations of literary works, historical documents, speeches and manifestos, as well as photographs, posters, film and music related to the period we are studying). In addition to gaining critical skills in literary and rhetorical analysis, students will strengthen their capacities to produce informed responses to materials encountered in class, to ask compelling research questions, and to build persuasive arguments. To this end, writing assignments emphasize drafting, revising and responding to peer-feedback. In addition to several in-class writing exercises, students should expect to write two short response essays (2-3 pages) as well as a final research paper (8-10 pages).

Additional Information:

French R1A satisfies the first half of the Reading and Composition Requirement. Classes are conducted in ENGLISH.

Section times and locations in the Schedule of Classes