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Talking French

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020


I Am Not Particularly Sensitive to Space and Location, Except When it Comes to Real Estate. Still, I Cannot Help But Notice their increased importance in the human sciences: philosophers evoke heterotopies and dream of geophilosophy, historians explore lieux de mémoire (“sites of memory”), and distant reading or surface reading competes with close reading. It is as if to the end of history there corresponded a beginning of geography, and some scholars, like Michel Collot, have even spoken of a spatial turn (15).

In teaching and studying French literature, which I have been doing for a long time, geographic forces have always had a significant role, because of the distance between France and the United States and because of the global situation of the two countries. That the distance has become less daunting in the past fifty or sixty years has led to more scholarly exchanges, smoother collaborations, easier access to subjects or objects, and the study of the literary extrême contemporain (“extremely contemporary”), say, or that of modern popular literature is now less problematic. As for the global situation, there has been a French loss and an American gain of cultural power, with less United States attention paid to French cultural products. This relative disaffection permeates many texts. I remember quite well how Donald Morrison buried French culture (Morrison and Compagnon), and I will not forget that Mark Bittman even argued in the New York Times that one ate better in London than in Paris. Across the ocean too, there was concern. As early as the 1990s, Jean-Marie Domenach deplored the twilight of French civilization. A few years later, Nicolas Baverez described a falling France.

the changing profession
Copyright © Modern Language Association of America, 2016

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