Course Meeting Times

Seminars: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session

Course Overview

In the decades following the Second World War, a cluster of extraordinary French thinkers were widely translated and read in American universities. Their works were soon labeled as “French Theory.” Why would sharing the same nationality make authors such as Lacan, Cixous, Derrida, Foucault or Debord, ambassadors of a specifically “French” theory? The course will explore the maze of transatlantic intellectual debates since 1945 and the heyday of French existentialism. We will study the debates on communism, decolonization, neo‐liberalism, gender, youth culture and mass media. This course is taught in English.

Sessions will be divided between

  • Students’ presentations of the weekly theme
  • A class discussion to engage with the main readings and movies screened
  • A weekly analysis of topical issues on France and the United States

Grading Policy

Final grade will be determined from the three types of required exercises:

  • One grade will be based on short-answer papers (20%). It will consist of a half-page maximum argument on the weekly theme.
  • One grade will be based on one oral presentation (30%), individually or in pairs. It will be limited to 10 minutes maximum. Students will also have to speak to the class during their oral presentation (not to read a pre-written text).
  • Two grades will be based on a creative video project based on a piece of art selected by each student at the Museum of Fine Arts. Students will first visit the MFA and select a work of art related to French culture and society. They will then explain why they made such a selection (1 page paper, 10%). Finally, they will ask to what extent the work they selected would have been different if it were an American one. They will discuss the issue on a video (5 min maximum, 30%). The students are strongly encouraged to submit their 1 page outline before they start recording the video. The video will be submitted two weeks before the end of classes.
  • One grade will be based on c****lass participation (10%): the evaluation will be based on 1. Attendance; 2. The demonstration that the students have done the weekly readings; 3. The quality (and not the quantity) of their oral output. To help preparing the discussion, questions on the readings and their most topical aspects will be suggested every week.


Choose oral presentation topics in SES #1

Individual research paper plan due in SES #7

Video project due in SES #11


The following table indicates which topics, readings, and questions were covered during each class session. For the full citations of the assigned readings, please see the Readings page.

1 Is There French Theory in This Class?

René Margritte, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (1929)

René Magritte, “Les deux mystères” (1966)

Michel Foucault, “This is Not a Pipe” (1968)

2 Judging the War, Rebuilding a Nation

Albert Camus, “Reflection on the Guillotine” (1957)

Alice Kaplan, The Collaborator Trial and Execution of Robert Brasillach (2000)

Question: Is death penalty worse than life sentence and why?

3 The Genesis of May 1968

Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism is Humanism (1946)

Guy Debord, Society of Spectacle (1967)

Movie: Jean-Luc Godard, Pierrot le Fou (1965)

Question: Is entertainment the new “opium of the people?”

4 Revolution and its Outsiders: Women, Migrants, Sexual Minorities

Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus. Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1972)

Michel Foucault, The Will to Knowledge (1976)

Question: If you had to stage a revolution, what would you do first?

5 The Capitalist Machine: Society as Prison

Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish (1975)

Movie: Jacques Audiard, Un prophète (2009)

Question: Is surveillance desirable in a democracy?

6–7 Cultural Mythologies

Roland Barthes, Mythologies (1957)

Visit: Museum of Fine Arts

7 The Idea of Europe

Discussion with Professor Helen Drake, Loughborough University

Robert Schuman, “Declaration May 9, 1950”.

8 “Parlez-vous français?” The New Politics of Language

Jacques Lacan, The Language of the Self (1968)

Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition. A Report on Knowledge (1979).

Question: Do you think migrants have to speak French to become French citizens?

9 Social Distinction

Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: a Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste (1979).

Movie: Agnès Jaoui. Le gout des autres (2000)

Question: Do you consider yourself educated and why?

10 Feminist and LGBT Politics: the Ethics of Ambiguities Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (1949)

Didier Eribon, Insult and the Making of the Gay Self (1999)

Question: Is surrogacy against women’s rights?

11 Communities and Anticommunitarianism

Maurice Blanchot, The Unavowable Community (1983)

Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology (1967)

12 Postcolonial France

Franz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (1952)

Movie: Abdel, Kechiche, L’Esquive (2004)

13 Video Project Presentations  

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2012
Learning Resource Types
Presentation Assignments
Written Assignments
Media Assignments