French

The French program welcomes students of all levels, from beginners to students with several years of French. Our courses in Bronxville are closely associated with Sarah Lawrence’s excellent French program in Paris, and our priority is to give our students the opportunity to study in Paris during their junior or senior year. This may include students who start at the beginning level in their first year at Sarah Lawrence, provided that they fully dedicate themselves to learning the language. 

Our program in Paris is of the highest level, with all courses taught in French and with the possibility for students to take courses (with conference work) at French universities and other Parisian institutions of higher education. Our courses in Bronxville are, therefore, fairly intensive in order to bring every student to the level required to attend our program in Paris. 

Even for students who don’t intend to go abroad with Sarah Lawrence, the French program provides the opportunity to learn the language in close relation to French culture and literature, starting at the beginning level. At all levels except for beginning, students conduct individual conference projects in French on an array of topics—from medieval literature to Gainsbourg and the culture of the 1960s, from Flaubert’s Madame Bovary to avant-garde French female playwrights. On campus, the French program tries to foster a Francophile atmosphere with our newsletter La Feuille, our French Table, our French ciné-club, and other francophone events—all run by students, along with two French assistants who come to the College every year from Paris.

In order to allow students to study French while pursuing other interests, students are also encouraged, after their first year, to take advantage of our Language Third and Language/Conference Third options that allow them to combine the study of French with either another language or a lecture on the topic of their choice.

During their senior year, students may also think about applying to the English assistantship program in France, which is run by the French Embassy in Washington DC. Every year, Sarah Lawrence graduates are admitted to this selective program and spend a year in France, working in local schools for the French Department of Education.

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2018-2019 Courses

French

Beginning French: Language and Culture

Open , Seminar—Year

This course is conducted in French.

This class will allow students to develop an active command of the fundamentals of spoken and written French. In class and in group conferences, emphasis will be placed on activities relating to students’ daily lives and to French and francophone culture using a variety of 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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TBA

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Beginning French: Language and Culture

Open , Seminar—Year

This course is conducted in French.

This class will allow students to develop an active command of the fundamentals of spoken and written French. In class and in group conferences, emphasis will be placed on activities relating to students’ daily lives and to French and francophone culture using a variety of 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 I (Section I): French Identities

Open , Seminar—Year

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

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 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. It is not surprising, then, that the 15th-century figure of Jeanne d’Arc is today the symbol of the extreme right-wing party of Le Pen, which has gained a significant influence in France in the last 30 years. This phenomenon can be seen, in part, as a reaction to the changing face of France’s society, exemplified by the French “Black-Blanc-Beur” soccer team that Zidane led to victory in World Cup 1998. 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 religious neutrality; the repressed question of slavery in France; “cuisine” and tradition; immigration and the heritage of colonization, integration, and urban ghettos; women, French love, and the “Balance ton porc” movement; the 1789 revolutionary concept of citizen; etc. Authors studied will include Marie de France, Montaigne, Racine, Voltaire, Hugo, Flaubert, Proust, Colette, Duras, Césaire, Chamoiseau, and Bouraoui. 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 I (Section II): Growing Up French, Language and Culture Through Contemporary Literature and Film

Open , Seminar—Year

Admission by placement test to be taken during interview week at the beginning of the fall semester or by completion of Beginning French.

This course offers a systematic review of French grammar and is designed to help students strengthen and master grammar skills and vocabulary. In class, we will examine the foundations of French identity, how this identity has historically been shaped, and whether it is open to all groups. As language and its artistic expression are fundamental components of French identity, we will analyze contemporary literary and cinematic representations of youth in France and the broader French-speaking world. These sources interrogate the notion of a unique French identity and instead emphasize diversity, fractures, and contestation. We will study a variety of genres—novels, autobiographies, short stories, graphic novels, documentaries, fiction films, and historical texts—to develop students’ critical reading and writing skills and oral fluency in French, as well as their knowledge of and appreciation for contemporary French and francophone literature, film, and cultures. 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.

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Intermediate French II : The Age of Existentialism

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. In this course, we will mainly study texts by the central figure of existentialism in France, Jean-Paul Sartre, with special attention to his postcolonial writings. The texts will include plays and short stories, as well as philosophical and political essays.

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TBA

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

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Fall

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

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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Paris, City of Light and Violence

Open , Seminar—Fall

So they had begun to walk about in a fabulous Paris, letting themselves be guided by the nighttime signs, following routes born of a clochard phrase…. —Julio Cortázar, Hopscotch

For centuries now, the city of Paris, France, has held an actual and imaginary intensity in the lives of many. In this seminar in cultural anthropology, we will explore a number of themes and forces that have shaped the cultural and political contexts of life in Paris through the 19th and 20th centuries and on into the 21st—from great works of art to transformations in urban design to the politics of colonialism, migration, racism, marginalization, and police surveillance, as well as critical events of state and collective violence. In walking (conceptually) about a Paris at once fabulous and haunted, we will come to know various signs of being and power in this renowned city. In attending to key events in the recent history of Paris—in 1942, 1961, 1968, 1995, and 2015, for instance—we will work toward developing a comprehensive sense of the many social, cultural, and political dimensions of urban experience in la ville lumière, the “city of light,” in both its central arrondissements and its peripheral banlieues. Along the way, we will consider a number of important literary writings (Hugo, Balzac, Baudelaire, Breton, Modiano, Cortázar, Perec, Sebbar, and Bouraoui), films (Godard, Truffaut, Marker, Varda, Tati, Kassovitz, Haneke, and Sciamma), and scholarship (Benjamin, Dubord, Harvey, Kofman, Fanon, Barthes, Foucault, Derrida, and Latour). Students will be encouraged to undertake conference work on artists, writers, and thinkers associated with Paris or to develop their own anthropological reflections on Paris or another intensive city known to them.

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Understanding Experience: Phenomenological Approaches in Anthropology

Open , Seminar—Spring

How does a chronic illness affect a person’s orientation to the everyday? What are the social and political forces that underpin life in a homeless shelter? What is the experiential world of a deaf person, a musician, a refugee, or a child at play? In an effort to answer these and like-minded questions, anthropologists in recent years have become increasingly interested in developing phenomenological accounts of particular “lifeworlds” in order to understand—and convey to others—the nuances and underpinnings of such worlds in terms that more orthodox social or symbolic analyses cannot achieve. In this context, phenomenology entails an analytic method that works to understand and describe in words phenomena as they appear to the consciousnesses of certain peoples. Phenomenology, put simply, is the study of experience. The phenomena most often in question for anthropologists include the workings of time, perception, emotions, selfhood, language, bodies, suffering, and morality as they take form in particular lives within the context of any number of social, linguistic, and political forces. In this course, we will explore phenomenological approaches in anthropology by reading and discussing some of the most significant efforts along these lines. Each student will also try her or his hand at developing a phenomenological account of a specific subjective or intersubjective lifeworld through a combination of interviewing, participant observation research, and ethnographic writing.

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Specters of the Subject: Hauntologies of Ghosts, Phantasms, and Imaginings in Contemporary Life

Advanced , Seminar—Year

“The future belongs to the ghosts,” remarked the philosopher Jacques Derrida in 1996. As his interlocutor Bernard Stiegler phrases the main idea behind this statement, “Modern technology, contrary to appearances, increases tenfold the power of ghosts.” With the advent of the Internet, various forms of social media, and the ubiquity of filmic images in our lives, Derrida's observations have proven to be quite prophetic, such that they call for a new field of study—one that requires less an ontology of being and the real and more a “hauntology” (to invoke Derrida's punish term) of the spectral, the virtual, the phantasmic, the imaginary, and the recurrent revenant. In this seminar, we consider ways in which the past and present are haunted by ghosts. Topics to be covered include: specters and hauntings, figures and apparitions, history and memory, trauma and political crisis, fantasy and imagination, digital interfaces, and visual and acoustical images. We will be considering a range of films and video, photography, literary texts, acoustic reverberations, Internet and social media, and everyday discourses and imaginings. Through these inquiries, we will be able to further our understanding of the nature of specters and apparitions in the contemporary world in their many forms and dimensions. Students will be invited to undertake their own hauntologies and thus craft studies of the phenomenal force of specters, hauntings, and the apparitional in particular social or cultural contexts.

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“A Talent for Every Noble Thing”: Art, Architecture in Italy, 1300-1600

Open , Seminar—Year

This course involves an in-depth survey of the major monuments of Italian art and architecture from 1300 to 1600. Equal emphasis will be given to the histories and societies of major city-states such as Pisa, Siena, Florence, Venice, and Rome; the canon of art works by artists such as Giotto, Donatello, Brunelleschi, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo; readings of major critics and historians of Italian art; and the broader intellectual trends, social realities, and movements that provide a context for our understanding of the artists’ and, to a lesser extent, the critics’ creations. Thus, unified Italian church designs will be juxtaposed with gender-segregated social practice, theories of genius with concepts of handicraft, pagan ideals with Christian rituals, creative expression with religious orthodoxy, and popes with monks, dukes, financiers, and “humanist” intellectuals. The first semester will focus on a close reading of texts surrounding the first polemical “humanist” pamphlets about art in early modern history—Alberti’s On Painting and On Architecture—and will include works by Erwin Panofsky, Ernst Gombrich, and Michael Baxandall. The second semester will engage the development of the “High” Renaissance and the intellectual and aesthetic debates surrounding Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael as philosophers, naturalists, geniuses, models, and marginalized outcasts. Class papers will deal with developing a vocabulary for compositional analysis, critical issues in Italian intellectual and social history (particularly, gender studies), and varied interpretive strategies applied to works of visual art and culture. Conference projects may involve selected topics in religion, history, and philosophy of the Italian Renaissance and art and architecture in Europe and the “New World” from 1300 to the present.

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Surrealism: A Transmedia Movement (Poetry, Painting, and Film)

Open , Seminar—Fall

This seminar will provide an in-depth survey of surrealism, one of the most important, exciting, and enduring artistic movements of the 20th century. Surrealism was also the first literary and artistic faction to seriously engage with the new medium of film, and its makers represent the first generation of artists to have grown up with film. Developing as an offshoot of Dadaism in the wake of World War I, surrealism was officially founded in 1924 with the publication of André Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto. The groundbreaking work of Sigmund Freud, exploring the unconscious, provided a major source of inspiration for these artists, who were struggling to understand themselves and the horror they had just survived. Surrealism would be not only transnational—moving beyond its original roots in Paris to become a truly international avant-garde movement—but also transmedia, whose proponents were poets (Breton, Louis Aragon, Robert Desnos, Paul Éluard), painters (André Masson, Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí), and filmmakers (Germaine Dulac, Man Ray, Luis Buñuel), who often collaborated. Our weekly screenings will begin first with a surrealist precursor, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, followed by two masterpieces of surrealist film, Buñuel and Dalí’s Un Chien andalou and L’Âge d’or, which not only changed the way most of us see and think about cinema but also paved the way for horror films. We will trace surrealism’s influence in Buñuel’s later career and, in Hollywood, through the work of filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, the Coen Brothers, and Martin Scorsese. Our readings will explore, in translation, the writings of the surrealists themselves, along with key secondary literature. Student conference projects will concentrate on one visual artwork from the upcoming exhibition, Monsters & Myths: Surrealism and War in the 1930s and 1940s, from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut.

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First-Year Studies: Comedy and Romance in the Middle Ages

Open , FYS—Year

Knights and ladies, quests and combats, magic and love...these ingredients of medieval literary romance have been around for a thousand years and are still going strong today. But did these motifs mean something different in the medieval world? What accounts for their enduring appeal? We begin in the 12th century with an introduction to romance in both male and female perspectives from Marie de France, Chrétien de Troyes, and the troubadour poets. We end in the late 15th century with selections from Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte D’Arthur, the definitive version of King Arthur in English. The rest of our texts—including the story of Tristan and Iseult, love poetry by Dante and Petrarch, and narratives by the Gawain poet and Chaucer—enable us to explore how the stuff of romance continued to be developed, revised, and subjected to the scrutiny of laughter during the intervening centuries. In class discussion, our focus is on understanding the human experiences that these texts portray. To do this, we need to uncover the assumptions and methods that medieval writers and readers brought to literary creation and to reconstruct, as best we can, the material and imaginative worlds of the Middle Ages—captivatingly strange yet surprisingly recognizable.

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First-Year Studies: (Making) World Literature

Open , FYS—Year

Translation is the lifeblood of literary culture. Translation can also have extraordinary political significance, especially in historical moments when worldviews narrow, borders expand, and difference is treated as a threat. In this seminar, we will read canonical works and celebrated contemporary novels from around the world by writers—including Jorge Luis Borges, Yoko Tawada, Gustave Flaubert, Ananda Devi, Franz Kafka, Samanta Schweblin, Roberto Bolaño, Valeria Luiselli, and many more—reflecting on the literary dimensions of these texts as we also think about questions of translation, circulation, creativity, and consecration. In the process, students will not only learn how to analyze literature, identifying tone or style and building arguments around plot elements or imagery but will also develop frameworks for thinking about which texts make their way into English and how they do so. The course will combine one-on-one conference work with group activities and exercises designed to introduce students to the resources available to them on campus, take advantage of New York City’s cultural offerings, and improve their analytic and expository writing skills with workshops.

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

Open , Seminar—Spring

This course will be taught in English, with the possibility of conducting conferences in French or English.

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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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.

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