French Perspectives on the United States, Encounters in Literature, Philosophy and Film

R1B (Section 1 or 2) :  English Composition through French Literature in Translation
Spring 2017
Class No: 15273, 15274
M. Koerner


Simone de Beauvoir, America Day By Day

Jean Baudrillard, America

Course Reader


Seeing New York, perceiving again suddenly this vivid contrast that exists everywhere but which was blotted out of my eyes by familiar forms of it, that was for me a kind of second revelation; the class struggle still exists, it exists more intensely.

– Michel Foucault 1971


This reading and composition course focuses on the relationship between French and American culture through a survey of nineteenth and twentieth-century French writers and filmmakers who have made this relationship a central theme of their work. Over the course of the semester, we will analyze texts written by French writers travelling in the United States, short critical essays and works of literary criticism, as well as documentaries and feature films. How have ideas about “America” and “American Literature” circulated, both positively and negatively, among French thinkers, social critics and artists? How has the notion of the “American Dream” as well as that of the “American Nightmare” been interpreted from afar? In exploring the relationship between France and the United States, we will pay special attention to issues of class, race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality in order to better inform our understanding of the way American culture has appeared within French thought.


Writing assignments will focus on the close analysis of texts and images, strengthening critical skills for thinking comparatively and historically, and producing compelling research questions for further inquiry and investigation. In addition to in-class writing exercises students should expect to write three short response essays (2-3 pages), an extended analysis of one literary text or film (4-5 pages), and a final research paper (8-10 pages).


Texts and films to be studied include:

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (excerpts); Charles Baudelaire, New Notes on Edgar Poe; Simone de Beauvoir, America Day By Day; Jean-Luc Godard, Made in the U.S.A.; Agnes Varda, Black Panthers; Michel Foucault, “Attica;” The Prison Information Group, Intolérable (excerpts); Jean Genet Declared Enemy (excerpts); Gilles Deleuze, “Whitman;” Jean Baudrillard, America

Additional information:

French R1B satisfies the second half of the Reading and Composition Requirement. Classes are conducted in ENGLISH

Section times and locations in the Schedule of Classes