Eric Leveau

on leave fall semester

Graduate, École Normale Supérieure, Lyon, France. Agrégation, Doctorate, Paris-Sorbonne. Special interest in early modern French literature, with emphasis on poetics and the evolution of notions of writer and style during the period. Current research in environmental criticism, theory, and literary representations of the environment in the Western tradition. SLC, 2003-2006; 2008–

Undergraduate Courses 2022-2023

Biology

Gothic Decay: The Literature and Science of Soils, Swamps, and Forests

Open, Joint seminar—Spring

Western literature and culture deeply influence how our country negatively perceives transitional spaces, such as the spaces between cultivated land and forest or between water and land. The need for control pushes us to reshape or eliminate marshes, swamps, thickets, and other forms of overgrowth. Similarly, we feel uncomfortable considering the soils in which we bury our dead—or we ignore them completely. Yet, a closer examination of the biology of decay reveals cycles of life that follow death, with growth, reproduction, and nutrient exchange accompanying decay at every turn. We will read excerpts of literary works that have shaped our cultural perception of decay and of these transitional states and spaces, including works by Sophocles, Mary Shelley, Alice Walker, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and others. We will also explore the ecosystems themselves through lab experiments and trips to local parks and field stations (Center for the Urban River at Beczak, Untermeyer Gardens). This joint course will evaluate the divide between culture and science and explore how cultural representations may evolve with an adequate framing of scientific research and findings. This course fully participates in the collaborative interludes in the Sarah Lawrence Interdisciplinary Collaborative on the Environment (SLICE) Mellon course cluster.

Faculty

Literature

Gothic Decay: The Literature and Science of Soils, Swamps, and Forests

Open, Joint seminar—Spring

Western literature and culture deeply influence how our country negatively perceives transitional spaces, such as the spaces between cultivated land and forest or between water and land. The need for control pushes us to reshape or eliminate marshes, swamps, thickets, and other forms of overgrowth. Similarly, we feel uncomfortable considering the soils in which we bury our dead—or we ignore them completely. Yet, a closer examination of the biology of decay reveals cycles of life that follow death, with growth, reproduction, and nutrient exchange accompanying decay at every turn. We will read excerpts of literary works that have shaped our cultural perception of decay and of these transitional states and spaces, including works by Sophocles, Mary Shelley, Alice Walker, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and others. We will also explore the ecosystems themselves through lab experiments and trips to local parks and field stations (Center for the Urban River at Beczak, Untermeyer Gardens). This joint course will evaluate the divide between culture and science and explore how cultural representations may evolve with an adequate framing of scientific research and findings. This course fully participates in the collaborative interludes in the Sarah Lawrence Interdisciplinary Collaborative on the Environment (SLICE) Mellon course cluster.

Faculty

Previous Courses

Literature

Literature in Translation: Roland Barthes and French Literature and Theory (1945–2018)

Open, Seminar—Spring

Roland Barthes was at the crossroads of all the literary and theoretical currents that defined post World War II France. His work thus constitutes an excellent introduction to the passionate debates that defined this period and will allow us to assess the role of French theory in today’s poststructuralist and postmodern world, both in France and in America. From Writing Degree Zero and S/Z to A Lover's Discourse and Camera Lucida, we will discuss a variety of issues related to linguistics, psychoanalysis, gender studies, and feminism but also the visual arts and theatre. We will study Barthes’ major works in dialog with philosophers and theorists such as Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Lacan, Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze and Guattari, Sontag, and Butler while reading, at the same time, some of the literary masterpieces that kept inspiring him such as Racine, Sade, Balzac, Flaubert, Proust, and Brecht.

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Studies in Ecocriticism: The Idea of Nature in the Western Tradition

Open, Small Lecture—Spring

As the capitalistic and predatory model aggressively promoted by the United States continues to reveal itself as a major threat for biodiversity and the environment in general, it is vital to explore and understand the concept of “nature” at the core of the Western tradition and how it was shaped over the course of more than 2,000 years. This course will create a series of bridges between and among the history of literature, philosophy, and science, with implications for many other disciplines. Most importantly, we will discuss the Western and Judeo-Christian concept of nature in the context of race and ethnicity in America today by confronting it with works and arguments developed by black, indigenous, Latine, and Asian American authors. Among many themes, we will study how antiquity came to develop a concept of “physis,” so different from our modern understanding of physics, but also shaped our aesthetic eye with the creation of the pastoral genre and the idea of agreeable and tamed landscapes or set a model for a utilitarian relationship to nature with Hesiod and Vergil’s agricultural treaties. We will also analyze specific places, such as the forest in medieval chivalric romances and American “wilderness” fictions, or chaotic landscapes admired and imagined by the Romantics, or the sea as depicted in Melville’s Moby Dick. The 17th-century scientific revolution and its mathematical and mechanistic approach to nature will lead us to discuss with Descartes the concept of animality in parallel with contemporary philosophers such as Deleuze and Guattari, who make use of models like the burrow or territoriality imported from the animal realm. Going into a completely different direction, we will question the characteristics of a Judeo-Christian conception of the world, organized around a remote and immaterial god, in direct opposition to a more organic understanding of nature as a “motherly” and immanent figure with all of the reservations that such a figure implies. These are some of the questions that we will explore, and the focus of our discussions will be to bring new voices in order to deconstruct the Eurocentric concept of “nature.”

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Theory for Reading

Open, Large seminar—Fall

In this introductory class, we will deepen our understanding of how the acts of writing and reading have been understood in the Western tradition since antiquity and what they mean for us today. Each week, we will pair a piece of fiction or poetry with a philosophical or theoretical commentary. We will thus read Homer in the context of Plato and Aristotle’s understanding of poetry and fiction but with also in mind Nietzsche’s criticism of Platonism in The Birth of Tragedy. In the same spirit, Walter Benjamin’s use of Marxist theory will help us read E. A. Poe’s fiction and Baudelaire’s poetry in the context of mid-19th century Paris. We will also discuss Shakespeare’s Hamlet in light of its psychoanalytical readings by Freud and Lacan and analyze Kafka’s Metamorphosis alongside Deleuze and Guattari’s theorization of marginal forms of writing. Feminist and gender theory with Beauvoir and Butler, linguistics with Barthes, works by Foucault and Baldwin will also be discussed. Students will be encouraged to apply the material of this course to other texts of their choice. There are no conferences associated with this seminar, but students will have the option of developing a small personal research project.

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French

Beginning French

Open, Seminar—Year

This class is designed primarily for students who haven’t had any exposure to French and will allow them to develop an active command of the fundamentals of spoken and written French over the course of the year. In class and in group conferences, emphasis will be placed on activities relating to students’ daily lives and to French and francophone culture. The course will rely heavily on the the study of French songs, cinema, newspaper articles, poems, and short stories. During the spring semester, students will be able to conduct a small-scale project in French on a topic of their choice. There are no individual conference meetings for this level. The class meets three times a week, and a weekly conversation session with a French language assistant 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 are eligible to study in Paris with Sarah Lawrence College during their junior year.

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Beginning French: Language, Culture, and Action

Open, Seminar—Year

This class is primarily designed for students who haven’t had any exposure to French. The course will allow them to develop an active command of the fundamentals of spoken and written French over the course of the year, using concrete situations of communication. In addition to the regular use of theatre in the classroom, we will explore French and francophone culture through the study of songs, cinema, newspaper articles, poems, and short stories. This class will meet three times a week; it will not include individual conference meetings, but 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.

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Intermediate French I (Section I): Contemporary French and Francophone Culture

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course will offer a systematic review of the most fundamental aspects of French grammar. The emphasis of the class will be on developing oral proficiency by working on specific grammatical structures and conjugations, as well as idiomatic expressions. We will also work on writing skills through in-class short essays and exercises with the primary goal of strengthening students’ grammatical agility. We will meet twice a week for two hours. We will use recent and contemporary French and francophone popular culture (songs, film, cartoons, fashion, etc.) as a gateway to explore underlying trends and tensions that have been at work in the francophone world since the 1960s. Some of the questions that we will discuss this semester include colonization and its aftermath in France and Belgium, as well as in several sub-Saharan African countries; the complex issue of race and slavery as part of France’s past in the Caribbean; the presence of Islam in France as a result of immigration from Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia; the history of feminism and gender; and the question of ecology and climate change. Each week will be organized around a song, a film, and a text that echo each other around a common theme. We will memorize lyrics and write and act dialogues, as well as short essays. This course will be an excellent preparation for the spring 2022 Intermediate I course, which will focus on reading and writing more elaborate texts. In addition to conferences, 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. The Intermediate French I and II courses are specially designed to help prepare students for studying in Paris with Sarah Lawrence College during their junior year.

Faculty

Intermediate French I (Section I): French Identities

Open, Seminar—Year

This course will offer a systematic review of French grammar and is designed to strengthen and deepen students’ mastery of grammatical structures and vocabulary. Students will also learn to begin to use linguistic concepts as tools for developing their analytic writing. More than other countries, France’s identity was shaped by centuries of what is now perceived by the French as a historically coherent past. In this course, we will explore the complexities of today’s French identity or, rather, identities, following the most contemporary controversies that have shaken French society in the past 20 years while, at the same time, exploring historical influences and cultural paradigms at play in these débats franco-français. Thus, in addition to newspapers, online resources, recent movies, and songs, we will also study masterpieces of the past in literature and in the arts. Topics discussed will include, among others, school and laïcité, cuisine and traditions, immigration and urban ghettos, women and feminism in France, France’s relation to nature and the environment, the heritage of French Enlightenment (les Lumières), devoir de mémoire, and the relation of France with dark episodes of its history (slavery, Régime de Vichy and Nazi occupation, Algerian war). Authors studied will include Marie de France, Montaigne, Voltaire, Hugo, Flaubert, Proust, Colette, Duras, Césaire, Djebar, Chamoiseau, and Bouraoui. In addition to conferences, 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.

Faculty

Intermediate French I: French Identities

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

This course will offer a systematic review of French grammar and is designed to strengthen and deepen students’ mastery of grammatical structures and vocabulary. Students will also learn to begin to use linguistic concepts as tools for developing their analytic writing. More than other countries, France’s identity was shaped by centuries of what is now perceived by the French as a historically coherent past. In this course, we will explore the complexities of today’s French identity—or, rather, identities—following the most contemporary controversies that have shaken French society in the past 20 years while, at the same time, exploring historical influences and cultural paradigms at play in these débats franco-français. Thus, in addition to newspapers, online resources, recent movies, and songs, we will also study masterpieces of the past in literature and in the arts. Topics discussed will include, among others, school and laïcité, cuisine and traditions, immigration and urban ghettos, women and feminism in France, France’s relation to nature and the environment, the heritage of French Enlightenment (les Lumières), devoir de mémoire, and the relation of France with dark episodes of its history (slavery, Régime de Vichy and Nazi occupation, Algerian war). Authors studied will include Marie de France, Montaigne, Voltaire, Hugo, Flaubert, Proust, Colette, Duras, Césaire, Djebar, Chamoiseau, Bouraoui. In addition to conferences, 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. This course is open to first-year students as a First-Year Studies course, as well as to sophomores, juniors, and seniors. For those first-year students, three to four years of French prior to college is expected, as well as a strong interest in going to Paris during junior year. There will be biweekly conferences in French and a mandatory additional weekly 1.5 hour class on “Theory for Reading Literature” during the fall semester. This additional weekly class will be optional for spring semester and will be entitled “Readings in Ecocriticism: The Idea of Nature in the Western Tradition.”

Faculty

Intermediate French III: Soil, Nature, and Culture in Contemporary France

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course will explore the question of nature in France in the context of both climate change and the rich cultural and literary history of the country. Some of the themes that will allow us to better understand how the French relate to nature include the forêt de Brocéliande in medieval novels of the Arthurian stories cycle; discussions about the status of animals in 17th-century France; romantic depictions of nature in French novels, set both in France and America in the early 19th century; evocations of exotic islands, in contrast to Paris’s industrial revolution, in Baudelaire’s poetry; and Louis Ferdinand Céline’s account of life in French Congo in the 1920s. In parallel to this literary exploration, we will study how France is reacting to the threat of climate change, from legendary vineyards that must face rising temperatures, to new legislation that stirs the country into new practices, and to the work of NGOs that work to protect habitats in various parts of France. We will look at a mix of theoretical works by Foucault, Deleuze, and Irigaray, among others, as well as focus concretely on specific regions, local associations, and farms that are inventing a green future. In addition to conferences, 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.

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Intermediate III: Advanced French: French Women Writers and Molière in 17th-Century France

Intermediate/Advanced, Seminar—Fall

This course will focus on all aspects of the strong influence that women exerted on literature and culture in France during the classical period of Louis XIV’s reign. We’ll study the historical and social implications of the phenomenon of the “salon,” perceived as a space of freedom for women to redefine the literary landscape of their time. We’ll look at how women writers challenged their male colleagues at the heart of their aesthetic and ideological dominance but also how intellectually independent women were, in return, perceived by society. We will thus read major subversive masterpieces written by women during the period while putting them in dialogue with a series of plays by Molière. France’s iconic playwright was, indeed, also one of the best readers of his time; and he put, in illuminating perspective, the struggles between women and men writers over the creation of a new literary canon. In addition to Molière’s response to the rise of a female and feminist literature during his time, we will also explore his complex relationship with French neoclassical theatre and tragedy; in particular, his positions regarding the most recent philosophical and religious controversies and, ultimately, the rise of Louis XIV to absolutist power. In such a rich context of past debates and literary works, we’ll also try to bring into our discussion the contribution of recent feminist theory in order to foster a dialogue across the centuries. Authors studied will include Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Corneille, Mlle. de Scudery, Racine, Mme. de Villedieu, Mme. de Sevigne, La Rochefoucauld, Mme. de Lafayette, and Mme. d’Aulnoy.

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