Bella Brodzki

BA, Sarah Lawrence College. MA, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. PhD, Brown University. Special interests in critical and cultural theory, gender studies, postcolonial studies, translation studies, autobiography and life narrative, and modernist and contemporary fiction. Selected scholarly publications include essays in PMLA, MLN, Yale French Studies, Studies in Twentieth-Century Fiction, Yale Journal of Criticism, Modern Fiction Studies, Profils Américains, and in collections such as Borderwork: Feminist Engagements with Comparative Literature; Women, Autobiography, and Fiction: A Reader; Critical Cosmos: Latin American Approaches to Fiction; Feminism and Institutions: A Dialogue on Feminist Theory; and MLA Approaches to Teaching Representations of the Holocaust. Author of Can These Bones Live?: Translation, Survival, and Cultural Memory; co-editor of Life/Lines: Theorizing Women’s Autobiography. Recipient of National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships, Lucius Littauer Award, and Hewlett-Mellon grants. Visiting professor at Université de Montpellier-Paul Valéry and Université de Versailles-St. Quentin. SLC, 1984–

Undergraduate Courses 2020-2021


French and Francophone Women Writers From Beauvoir to Slimani

Open , Joint seminar—Fall

This course is taught in English. An additional discussion session will be organized for advanced French students.

This course will focus on French and francophone women writers from 1945 to the present. Whereas women’s writing as conventionally considered in the first half of the 20th century is singularly identified with Colette, the postwar and postcolonial eras produced an explosion of artistic expression by women across a broad range of genres. In this course, we will concentrate primarily on fiction and memoir by women writing in French from locations such as Algeria, Guadeloupe, Senegal, and Quebec, as well as France. We will examine the various ways in which women under certain conditions exemplified aesthetic and social transgression by writing at all, foregrounding the rapport between orality and textuality. The writers studied will allow us to explore how sexual and racial politics figure in language itself, often through formal innovation and experimentation. A critical component of this course will consist of selections by feminist thinkers such as Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, and Monique Wittig, who interrogated the relationship between gender and genre/sex, writing and the (female) body, and language and (feminine) desire. Alongside readings, we will also screen several films by significant women filmmakers such as Chantal Akerman, Claire Denis, Agnès Varda, and Céline Sciamma. Texts will be read in English translation; students of French will have the opportunity to read texts in the original; and we will analyze the correlation between the works’ translation history and their position in the global literary marketplace. Writers studied could include Mariama Bâ, Simone de Beauvoir, Nicole Brossard, Maryse Condé, Assia Djebar, Marguerite Duras, Annie Ernaux, Linda Lê, Lydie Salvayre, Nathalie Sarraute, and Leïla Slimani.


Global Intertextualities

Open , Seminar—Spring

This course provides exposure to a wide array of contemporary global writing from locations such as France, India, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Readings consist of literary texts written in the last decade, originally in English as well as in translation, though students able to read these texts in their original languages will be encouraged to do so. Primary attention will be directed to the particular stylistic, formal, and thematic features of the individual works, as we keep in mind the dynamic relation between local contexts and transnational space—the complex circuits by which languages and cultures circulate and exchange in a global economy. Thus, we will interrogate notions such as “cosmopolitan,” “world,” “global,” and “postcolonial” as modes of intertextuality and consider what “comparative literature” means today.


Previous Courses

The Occupation and Its Aftermath in French Literature and Film

Open , Joint seminar—Spring

This course will explore the fraught relationship between representation and memory by focusing on French literature and film produced during and following World War II. After the fall of France in 1940, the country was divided into two parts: one half under German occupation; the other half ruled by a collaborationist regime headquartered in Vichy. Every aspect of life, including cultural and artistic production, was subject to authoritarian control. Means of political expression and dissemination came up against laws instituting surveillance, censorship, rationing, roundups, and deportations to internment and concentration camps. We will focus on the unique position of writers and filmmakers as witnesses to, and interpreters of, national humiliation, personal catastrophe, and collective shock. Artists, under both the occupation and the Vichy government, were forced to choose whether to speak out, join the resistance, collaborate, or keep silent. During the decades that followed liberation, writers proved integral to the (re)appraisals of France’s conduct during the war. The first half of this course will be devoted to texts and films produced from 1940-1945, while the second half will address postwar efforts to reconcile, contextualize, and, in some cases, justify a political and historical narrative that framed France as both heroic and resistant to Nazi oppression. Interspersed with primary texts and films will be secondary materials drawn from testimony, trauma theory, and memory studies. Texts will be read in English translation; students of French will have the opportunity to read texts in the original. Among the authors to be studied are Sartre, Duras, Beauvoir, Camus, Vercors, Némirovsky, Semprun, Céline, Modiano, Perec, and Salvayre. Filmmakers could include Truffaut, Malle, Lelouch, Melville, Chabrol, Carné, and Ophüls.

Related Disciplines

Comparative Literary Studies and Its Others

Open , Seminar—Fall

As a discipline that defines itself as an inherently interdisciplinary, cross-cultural, and transnational enterprise, comparative literature occupies a distinct place in the humanities. Many locate the origins of “comp lit” in Goethe’s conception of Weltliteratur, according to which the literary imagination transcends national and linguistic borders even as it views every work of literature as historically situated and aesthetically unique. Since its beginnings, comparative literature has foregrounded the dynamic tensions between text and context, rhetoric and structure—comparing different works within and across genre, period, and movement in their original language. By balancing theoretical readings in/about comparative literature with concrete examples of close textual analyses of poems, short stories, and novels, this course will also expose students to the ways in which comparative literature has expanded from its previous classically cosmopolitan and fundamentally Eurocentric perspectives to its current global, cultural configurations. Comparative literature is continually reframing its own assumptions, questioning its critical methodologies, and challenging notions of center and periphery—therefore, subverting traditional definitions of the canon and which writers belong in it. Today, it is impossible to study comparative literature without engaging its relation to translation studies, postcolonial and diaspora studies, and globalization, as well as to the ongoing concerns and various approaches of language-rich literary criticism and theory.

Related Disciplines

Translation Studies: Poetics, Politics, Theory, and Practice

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

Linguistic proficiency in a foreign language is strongly recommended.

Translation is the process by which meanings are conveyed within the same language, as well as across different languages, cultures, forms, genres, and modes. The point of departure for this course is that all interpretive acts are acts of translation, that the very medium that makes translation possible—language itself—is already a translation. Because difference, “otherness,” or foreignness is a property of language, of every language, perhaps some of the most interesting problems that we will address revolve around the notion of “the untranslatable.” What is it that escapes, resists, or gets inevitably lost in translation? And what is gained? Does linguistic equivalence exist? How do we understand the distinction between literal and figurative, formal and vernacular, expression? And what underlies our assumptions about the authenticity of the original text or utterance and its subsequent versions or adaptations? Although translation is certainly poetics, it is also the imperfect—and yet necessary—basis for all cultural exchange. As subjects in a multicultural, multilingual, and intertextual universe, all of us “live in translation”; but we occupy that space differently, depending on the status of our language(s) in changing historical, political, and geographic contexts. How has the history of translation theory and practice been inflected by colonialism and postcolonialism? How are translation and power linked in the global literary marketplace? Our readings will alternate between the work of theorists and critics who have shaped what we call translation studies and literary texts that thematize or enact the process of translation, beginning with Genesis and the Tower of Babel. In addition, a workshop component to this course, involving visiting members of the foreign-language faculty and other practitioners of translation, will engage students directly in the challenges of translating.

Related Disciplines