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FRICTION: French Research in Culture Theory and Imagination Seminar Series

This seminar series sets out to explore the latest research in French Studies, promoting the rub between disciplines and practices that are enriching the field. Convened from the vantage point of metropolitan France, FRICTION asks what creative, spatial, identitarian, and critical frames are bristling together in modern French Studies. As a methodology, ‘friction’ invites us to fret against the implied literary posture of the French university context and bring the interdisciplinarity and transnationalism of the Institute to bear on a more diverse, decentred, and decanonized study of France. Photo credit: Leandro Erlich, Bâtiment, 2004, Installation monumentale, Courtesy GALLERIA CONTINUA, Production CENTQUATRE-PARIS

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Programme description 

Schedule of events 2022-23 

References and Suggested Reading

FRICTION: Programme description

In 1987, the Moroccan poet and decolonial thinker, Abdelkébir Khatibi, wrote a book on the figure of the stranger across modern French literary thought. Traversing canonical writers from Duras to Barthes, Aragon to Segalen, Khatibi probed the intellectual and cultural borders that housed France and generated its outsides. But from the first pages onwards, he was troubled by where such boundaries might lie, asking ‘quelle France pour elle-même et pour tout étranger qui l’abord de l’intérieur et de l’extérieur ?’ [what do we mean by ‘France’ in and of itself, and for all of those foreigners who broach it from within and without?] (1987: 10).

For Khatibi, the question revealed the internal liminality, or estrangement, that sat at the heart of any national or patriotic ‘French’ cultural frame. Those texts that claimed to engage with the putative alterity of their outsiders, actually revealed a France that was unknown to itself and whose epistemic archaeology demanded excavation.

For scholars in French Studies, Khatibi’s question of borders have become increasingly urgent. The taxonomic unease of French and Francophone has exploded the ‘illusory homogeneity’ of the Hexagon, to embrace diverse, transnational, and intercultural Francospheres. Yet, the politics of language endures, yoking writing in French to a postcolonial critique that cleaves between a mother and colonized tongue. Researchers like yasser elhariry and Edwige Tamalet Talbayev have called for a Mediterranean approach to French Studies, noting the translingual possibilities of the sea as critical method; while new paradigms of encounter have emerged through transcolonial optics, eco-criticism, and an attentiveness to world literature in French. Strides in French queer and transgender studies have also moved towards transatlantic and Franco-Maghrebi contact, as they foreground the importance of material bodies and minds over a republican universalism that discourages identity-driven thinking. Literary studies have embraced (or, in some cases, ceded to) the diffracted, polycentric landscape of fiction, not canons. Meanwhile, the ethical imperative for care across French textual and visual culture has called for a renewed affective inclusivity where relation seeks to transcend borders altogether.

This seminar will engage with these broad methodological and thematic questions by multiplying its responses to Khatibi’s question: ‘Quelle France pour elle-même et pour tout étranger ?’ Taking friction both as a methodology and as an acronym, we are delighted to welcome the following critical and creative writers who will discuss how they work in and across languages and borders: 

Schedule of events 2022-23

References and Suggested Reading