Jason Earle

AB, University of Chicago. MA, MPhil, PhD, Columbia University. Area of specialization: 20th-century French literature. Dissertation on secret societies and conspiracies in interwar French literature. Research interests include 19th- and 20th-century French literature and cultural history, literature and politics, history and theory of the novel, and the avant-garde. SLC, 2012–

Undergraduate Courses 2019-2020

French

Intermediate French III/Advanced French: The Fantastic, the Surreal, and the Eerie

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Fall

This course will be conducted in French.  Admission by placement test (to be taken during interview week at the beginning of the fall semester) or after completion of Intermediate II.

France is often thought of as a nation of reason, the intellectual birthplace of Descartes’s philosophical method and the Enlightenment project of the 18th-century philosophes. Yet there exists an equally strong tendency in French literature toward the shadows, the irrational, and the occult. This seminar will explore that underbelly of French thought by focusing on three different periods. First, we will trace how a strain of “romantisme noir”—characterized by dreams, hauntings, ruins, and vampires—emerged in the 19th century as a reaction to the turmoil of the French Revolution and Industrial Revolution. The genres of the fantastic and cruel tales will be studied in depth as crucial counterpoints to realist fiction. Second, our attention will turn to the early 20th century and the Surrealists, who transformed the exploration of dreams and the unconscious into a revolutionary artistic project. Here, students will read manifestos, poems, and narrative works that contested the reign of rationalism by seeking out the aesthetic and political potential of madness and desire. Finally, we will read works by contemporary French writers who have revived the fantastic tradition in order to better understand how and why a literature of the strange and irrational persists to this day. Authors to be studied could include Maupassant, Gautier, Balzac, Nerval, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, Lautréamont, Breton, Aragon, Eluard, Ndiaye, Darrieussecq, and Echenoz. Secondary readings will be drawn from feminist criticism, psychoanalysis, and narrative theory. In this course, students will also review the finer points of French grammar, improve their writing skills through regular assignments, and develop tools for literary analysis and commentary.

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Literature

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.

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First-Year Studies: Modern Myths of Paris

Open , FYS—Year

No knowledge of French is required for this course.

This course will explore the powerful hold that Paris exerted on literature in the 19th and 20th centuries, the period when the city became a world capital of artistic, intellectual, and political life. Our guiding focus will be on how writers use the geography of Paris—its streets, monuments, markets, and slums—to depict the complexities of modern life, posing the urban landscape as a place of revolution and banality, alienation and community, seduction and monstrosity. We will pay particular attention to the ways in which the representation of the city allowed writers to question the form and function of literature itself. We will begin with the 19th-century French novelists and poets who made Paris the site of epic literary struggles, including Honoré de Balzac, Charles Baudelaire, Victor Hugo, Guy de Maupassant, and Émile Zola. We will see how the city provided fertile ground for the aesthetic experimentations of 20th-century literature in works by Guillaume Apollinaire, André Breton, Colette, and Georges Perec. Our study will explore writers who have recorded the often violent and traumatic history of modern Paris, such as Marguerite Duras, Leïla Sebbar, and Patrick Modiano. Finally, we will analyze how Paris is experienced as a cosmopolitan space in works about expatriates, immigrants, exiles, and travelers from authors as varied as Henry James, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, James Baldwin, Alain Mabanckou, Faïza Guène, and Enrique Vila-Matas. Beyond our focus on close readings of literary texts, students will have the opportunity to read some historical and theoretical considerations of Paris. We will also watch several films where Paris features prominently. This class will alternate biweekly individual conferences with biweekly small group activities, including writing workshops, screenings, and field trips.

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Previous Courses

Intermediate French II: The Writing of Everyday Life in French 20th-Century Literature

Intermediate , Seminar—Year

Course conducted in French. Admission by placement test to be taken during interview week at the beginning of the fall semester or by completion of Intermediate French I (possibly Advanced Beginning for outstanding students).

This French course is designed for students who already have a strong understanding of the major aspects of French grammar and language but wish to develop their vocabulary and their grasp of more complex aspects of the language. Students are expected to be able to easily read more complex texts and to express themselves more abstractly. A major part of the course will be devoted to the study and discussion of literary texts in French. “Question your soupspoons.” In this challenge to his readers, Georges Perec summed up, in his unique manner, a particular strain of 20th-century French letters, one that seeks to turn literature’s attention away from the extraordinary, the scandalous, and the strange toward an examination of the ordinary makeup of everyday life. This course will examine some of the aesthetic and theoretical challenges that the representation of the quotidian entails. Does the everyday hide infinite depths of discovery, or does its value lie precisely in its superficiality? How do spaces influence our experience of everyday life? How can (and should) literature give voice to experiences and objects that normally appear undeserving of attention? How does one live one’s gender on an everyday basis? Can one ever escape from everyday life? We will review fundamentals of French grammar and speaking and develop tools for analysis through close readings of literary texts. Students will be encouraged to develop tools for the examination and representation of their own everyday lives in order to take up Perec’s call to interrogate the habitual. Readings will include texts by Proust, Breton, Aragon, Leiris, Perec, Queneau, Barthes, the Situationists, Ernaux, and Calle. The Intermediate I and II French courses are specially designed to help prepare students for studying in Paris with Sarah Lawrence College during their junior year.

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Intermediate French III/Advanced French: Paris, Literary Capital

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Year

Following the November 2015 terrorist attacks, the French publishing world witnessed a surprising phenomenon: The translation of Ernest Hemingway’s 1964 memoir of Paris, A Moveable Feast, became a runaway bestseller. The remarkable resonance of Hemingway’s book in the wake of a national tragedy highlights the profound link between literature and the French capital. This course will explore that bond by analyzing how French and francophone writers have represented Paris from the late 18th century to the present day. We will draw from a variety of genres and traditions—realist novels, prose poems, avant-garde texts, and critical essays—in order to analyze the relationship between the spaces of the city and the form of literature. Our focus will be on the many faces of the capital: We will consider the Paris of revolution and daily life, of tradition and modernity, of community and isolation. Topics to be considered will include the literature of monuments; streets and the flâneur; wealth, capital, and urbanization; history and memory; peripheries, zones, and the banlieue; and Paris as symbol of the French nation. Authors to be studied may include Mercier, Hugo, Balzac, Baudelaire, Zola, Apollinaire, Breton, Beauvoir, Duras, Barthes, Perec, Ernaux, Guène, and Vasset. We will also watch several films where Paris features prominently. Students will review the finer points of French grammar, improve their writing skills through regular assignments, and develop tools for literary analysis and commentary.

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Beginning French: Language and Culture

Open , Seminar—Year

Course conducted in French. There will be two sections offered: the first by Mr. Leaveau; the second by Mr. Earle.

An introduction to French using the multimedia “Débuts” system (textbook/two-part workbook/full-length movie, Le Chemin du retour), this class will allow students to develop an active command of the fundamentals of spoken and written French. In both class and group conferences, emphasis will be placed on activities relating to students’ daily lives and to French and francophone culture. The textbook integrates a French film with grammar study, exposing students to the spoken language from the very beginning of the course. Other materials may include French songs, cinema, newspaper articles, poems, and short stories. Group conferences replace individual conference meetings for this level, and a weekly conversation session with a French language assistant(e) is required. Attendance at the weekly French lunch table and French film screenings are both highly encouraged. Students who successfully complete a beginning- and an intermediate-level French course may be eligible to study in Paris with Sarah Lawrence College during their junior year.

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Intermediate French III/Advanced French: From the Fantastic to the Surreal

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Year

France is often thought of a nation of reason, the intellectual birthplace of Descartes’s philosophical method and the Enlightenment project of the 18th-century philosophes. Yet there exists an equally strong tendency in French literature toward the shadows, the irrational, and the occult. In the first semester of this course, we will trace how this romantisme noir developed in the 19th century as a reaction to the turmoil of the French and Industrial Revolutions. We will read texts on ruins, dreams, hauntings, and the dreaded mal du siècle from authors such as Chateaubriand, Hugo, and Musset. We will then read Balzac, Maupassant, and Villiers de l’Isle-Adam to see how the genres of the fantastic and cruel tales emerged as a counterpoint to realist fiction. We will also consider the figure of the cursed poet through Baudelaire and Lautréamont’s innovative poetry of debauchery and damnation. In the second semester, our attention will turn to the 20th century and the upheavals of modernity. We will focus on the Surrealist movement, seeing how these authors transformed the exploration of dreams and the unconscious into a revolutionary artistic project driven by madness and desire. Here, we will read manifestos, poems, and narratives by Breton, Aragon, and Soupault. In the concluding section of the course, we will see how a literature of the irrational persists in contemporary French and francophone writing. In this course, students will review the finer points of French grammar, improve their writing skills through regular assignments, and develop tools for literary analysis and commentary.

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