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 consider 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.

Bienvenue!

French 2021-2022 Courses

Beginning French

Open, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

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. We will use grammar lessons in order to learn how to speak, read, and write in authentic French. In class, emphasis will be placed on activities relating to students’ daily lives and to French and francophone culture. The course will rely heavily on the study of songs, cinema, newspaper articles, poems, and short stories from various French-speaking locations, including France, Senegal, Algeria, Quebec, and the Caribbean. 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(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 are eligible to study in Paris with Sarah Lawrence College during their junior year.

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

Intermediate, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

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 a challenge to his readers,“Question your soupspoons,” 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 I: France Through Film

Intermediate, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

This course will offer a systematic review of French grammar and is designed to strengthen and deepen the student’s mastery of grammatical structures and vocabulary. Students will also begin to use linguistic concepts as tools for developing their analytic writing. Through a variety of French films, we will combine the study of language with the investigation of aspects of French history and culture while exploring current social, political, and economic issues. We will also draw on other media—including online videos and blogs, newspapers, and literary texts—to enable students to build and increase their language proficiency, cultural awareness, and appreciation of 20th- and 21st-century France. The first semester will be dedicated to a survey of French cinema, from the Lumière brothers through the Nouvelle Vague. The second semester will address the complexities of French identities through contemporary (post-World War II) movies. 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: Soil, Nature, and Culture in Contemporary France

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

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

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

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.

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Advanced Beginning French

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits | Remote

This course is designed for students who have studied some French in the past but wish to review the fundamentals of French language and grammar before venturing into the study of complex literary texts in French. The course has two objectives. First, students will pursue an intense, fast-paced, and thorough revision of the fundamentals of French grammar, composition, and conversation. Students will be encouraged to write multiple short essays and participate in oral class activities and will be exposed to various kinds of documents in French (songs, movies, paintings, etc.). Second, we will work on techniques of literary study and discussion in French. Our focus will be on short texts from the French and francophone worlds. We will read a selection of fables, tales, short stories, prose poems, journalistic essays, and one-act plays written in French. By the end of the course, students will be able to discuss these texts using basic tools and concepts in French. Conferences will be individual, allowing students to pursue their interests in any area of French and francophone literatures and cultures. 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. 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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Intermediate French I (Section II): Scène(s) de littérature

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

This semester-long course will continue a systematic review of French grammar designed to strengthen and deepen mastery of grammatical structures and vocabulary. Students will continue to use linguistic concepts as tools for developing their analytic writing. Writing and revising short-response papers will be a critical part of class work. Over the course of the semester, we will study a series of scenes from French and francophone literature from its origins to today. From the early 12th-century lais of Marie de France to contemporary works by Aminata Sow-Fall or Aimé Césaire, we will discuss what is specific to a scene in literature. What is it about literary scenes that differs from those created on a stage or in a photograph? And what happens when we encounter them as part of a class rather than on our own? We will look at contemporary stage work and digitized archives of photographs, as we develop points of comparison with other art forms. Readings will include works by Marie de Rabutin-Chantal (Madame de Sévigné), Jean de La Fontaine, Aloysius Bertrand, Gustave Flaubert, Annie Ernaux, and Fatou Diome. At regular intervals, we will look at today’s press in France and discuss the way in which global issues are viewed through the particular lens of a daily publication out of Paris. This part of the course will afford us the opportunity to discuss climate change, food politics, “laïcité”.... 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 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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Sursum Corda: Art and Architecture from Michelangelo to the Dawn of the Enlightenment, 1550-1700

Open, Lecture—Year

In Annibale Carracci’s painting of St. Margaret (1609), an Early Christian martyr, an altar is inscribed: Sursum Corda (Lift Up Your Hearts). This course explores what that meant in the 17th century—for the arts to be a vehicle of uplift and salvation, a challenge to the supremacy of nature, an analysis of history, and a site of contention, paradox, and pride for artists and architects. Using PowerPoint presentations, class discussion, and papers focusing on works in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the course will cover the art of 16th-century Italy—as that art frames the questions that painters, sculptors, and architects pursued throughout Europe in the 17th century, commonly called the Age of the Baroque. Included will be studies of major movements in religion, politics, and society (Catholic reform and the founding of the Jesuits Order, the evolution of academic art, the creation of papal Rome, the importance of private patronage); issues in aesthetics and art theory (the transformation of classical models, theories of the reception of nature, the links to poetry, and the dynamics of style); the emergence of the varying national traditions (the sweet style and Bel Composto in Italy, Calvinist naturalism and the power of light in The Netherlands, and high classicism and Bon Gout in France). Focus will also be on careers of artists like Titian and the erotics of the brush; Michelangelo and transcendent form; Caravaggio and naturalism as the death of painting; Artemisia Gentileschi, biography and exemplum; Bernini and the beautiful whole; Rubens and the multiple ways of transforming; Rembrandt and the rough style; Vermeer and the discipline and technique of light; and Poussin and the modes of expression, among others. Group conferences in the first semester will focus on the art of Michelangelo as practice and problem and theories of the Baroque; in second semester, theories and problems in 17th-century architecture.

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Romanesque and Gothic Art: Castle and Cathedral at the Birth of Europe

Open, Large Lecture—Fall

This course explores the powerful architecture, sculpture, and painting styles that lie at the heart of the creation of Europe and the idea of the West. We will use a number of strategies to explore how expressive narrative painting and sculpture and new monumental architectural styles were engaged in the formation of a common European identity; we will uncover, as well, the artistic vestiges of diverse groups and cultures that challenge that uniform vision. These are arts that chronicle deep social struggles between classes, intense devotion through pilgrimage, the rise of cities and universities, and movements that could both advocate genocide and nurture enormous creativity—in styles both flamboyant and austere—growing from places as diverse as castles and rural monasteries to Gothic cathedrals. The course will explore those aspects of expressive visual language that link works of art to social history, the history of ideas, and political ideology.

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Paris: A History Through Art, Architecture, and City Planning

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

In this course, we will trace the history of Paris from its foundation until World War I, working from the visual arts that both defined and emanated from this remarkable city. We will explore works of art, architecture, and urban design as documents of history, social and cultural values, and the history of ideas. Our readings and discussions will lead us to interactions between the arts and the history, fashion, religion, science, and literature of Paris. In both individual and group projects, students will chart these relationships graphically and construct a cultural history of Paris from Roman Lutetia to the City of Lights.

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Theatre and the City

Open, Large Lecture—Year

Athens, London, Paris, Berlin, New York...the history of Western theatre has always been associated with cities, their politics, their customs, their geography, their audiences. This course will track the story of theatre as it originates in the Athens of the fifth-century BCE and evolves into its different expressions and practices in cities of later periods, all of them seen as "capitals" of civilization. Does theatre civilize, or is it merely a reflection of any given civilization whose cultural assumptions inform its values and shape its styles? Given that ancient Greek democracy gave birth to tragedy and comedy in civic praise of the god Dionysos—from a special coupling of the worldly and the sacred—what happens when these genres recrudesce in the unsavory precincts of Elizabethan London, the polished court of Louis XIV, the beer halls of Weimar Berlin, and the neon “palaces” of Broadway? Sometimes the genres themselves are challenged by experiments in new forms or by performances deliberately situated in unaccustomed places. By tinkering with what audiences have come to expect or where they have come to assemble, do playwrights like Euripides, Brecht, and Sarah Kane destabilize civilized norms? Grounding our work in Greek theatre, we will address such questions in a series of chronological investigations of the theatre produced in each city: Athens and London in the first semester; Paris, Berlin, and New York in the second.

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Words and Music

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

In this course, we will examine and try to understand the magic that happens when words and music combine in song. Song will be defined broadly. Most of our repertoire will be drawn from Western music history, and the range of compositions will be extraordinary: from the chants of Hildegard von Bingen to the often esoteric and intricate motets of the Ars Nova, from the late Renaissance madrigals to early and romantic opera, and from the art songs of Schubert and Debussy to experimental contemporary works. There may also be some in-class performances. Participants will be responsible for regular listening and reading assignments, listening exams, and group presentations. There will be no conferences, but we will have regular individual and group consultations to help prepare presentations and papers.

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Existentialism

Open, Lecture—Spring

Does life have a purpose, a meaning? What does it mean “to be”? What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be a woman (or to be a man)? What does it mean to be black (or to be white)? What makes us into who we are? What distinguishes each of us? And what, if anything, is in common to all of us? These and other questions are raised by existentialist philosophy and literature, mostly through interrogation of real-life experiences, situations, and “fundamental emotions” such as anxiety, boredom, loneliness, and shame. In the first half of this class, we will get acquainted with the core tenets of existentialist thought by reading two of its most influential figures: Jean-Paul Sartre (France, 1905-1980) and Martin Heidegger (Germany, 1889-1976). In the second half, we will analyze texts by authors who set out to expand or challenge these core tenets on the grounds of their experiences of oppression. These authors are Simone de Beauvoir, Frantz Fanon, and Jean Améry. Group conference will meet weekly and play a central role in this course. In it, we will mostly read literary texts or watch films that are relevant to the work of the above-listed authors. Conference material will include stories by Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, and Ralph Ellison and films like The Battle of Algiers (1967) and Monsieur Klein (1977).

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Critical Race Theory: Philosophical Perspectives

Open, Lecture—Spring

What is race? In what ways have prominent political movements—such as liberalism, Marxism, and feminism—failed to fully address the significance of racism? How should the relationship between racial and gender identity be conceptualized? How do processes of racialization differ across the globe? Is the assertion of racial identity in conflict with universal humanism—or are these, in fact, necessarily connected? In this course, we will look at some of the major themes, debates, and questions within critical race theory from a historical and global perspective. In the first half of the course, we will engage with thinkers from the African continent and the Caribbean who centered issues of Black consciousness and decolonial, antiracist solidarity. We then look at some of the major historical forbearers of critical race theory within the United States before turning to contemporary debates. Some of the figures that we will be reading include Paulette Nardal, Léopold Senghor, Frantz Fanon, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Angela Davis, and Kimberlé Crenshaw. By foregrounding the plurality of critical-race theoretical traditions, this course provides students with the theoretical tools to critically engage problems central to current political realities and discourse. Group conferences will meet every week, and discussion will be a central part of the course.

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Decolonizing Philosophy

Open, Seminar—Fall

In this course, we will think about the various strategies for reforming the philosophical “canon” with decolonial aims in view. Some of the questions that will guide our discussions throughout the semester are: How does academic decolonization differ from political decolonization? What are the connections between philosophy as an academic discipline and the historical reality of colonialism? Does decolonial theory require a break with the Western tradition of thought? And, if not, what are the advantages and disadvantages of remaining in dialogue with the Western “canon”? What are the various decolonizing strategies, and what goals do they enact? In the first half of the course, we will read a variety of key texts within decolonial theory that propose very different answers to these questions. Some of the thinkers we will look at include Walter Mignolo, Marisa Belausteguigoitia, Audre Lorde, Kwasi Wiredu, Lewis Gordon, and Nadia Yala Kisukidi. The second half of the course then moves on to put into practice one strategy for decolonizing philosophy in order to allow us to engage these questions more concretely. This strategy involves reading “canonical” texts of European phenomenology—including texts by Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger—through the lens provided by decolonial thinkers such as Paulin Hountondji, Frantz Fanon, and Mariana Ortega. Beyond equipping students with the tools to think critically about canon formation and the meaning of academic decolonization, this course will familiarize students with seminal texts in Latinx and Africana traditions of decolonial theory, as well as with critical and decolonial phenomenology.

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