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Social networks have naturalized a practice—talking about oneself—that in fact has a long and complex history, filled with moral and philosophical debates: should one do it? And, more recently, can one do it? This doubt has been haunting French autobiography since the mid-1970s, as a strong current in the Humanities questioned the reliability of memory, the immutability of the 'I' who tells of their life, and the distinction of fact and fiction.

The course will examine how major writers (Marguerite Yourcenar, Georges Perec, Nathalie Sarraute, 2022 Nobel Laureate Annie Ernaux), as well as best-selling contemporary authors (Delphine de Vigan, Edouard Louis, Philippe Delerm, graphic artists Brigitte Findakly and Lewis Trondheim) have dealt with these issues, and succeeded in renewing a genre once considered either impossible or dead.

Course URL Canvas link TBA

Learning Goals

In successfully completing the course, students will have…

  • developed skills in academic writing, and learned how to follow scholarly standards, including proper referencing and documentation of sources.
  • learned how to read the works on the syllabus attentively and with critical understanding. Some of these works are considered staples of modern French autobiography;
  • gained insight into memory and subjectivity, narratology, and genre theory;
  • learned something about major thinkers (Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, Saussure, Benveniste, Foucault, and Barthes) as well as France’s leading autobiography theorist, Philippe Lejeune;
  • learned about fundamental notions of psychoanalysis and linguistics;
  • learned a great deal about twentieth-century French political, social, and cultural history, from World War II to the presidency of Emmanuel Macron (with an emphasis on the Algerian War and May 68).

Exams, Assignments, and Grading Policy

Two 5-page papers 30%
Two creative assignments 20%
Final paper 20%
Attendance, participation, homework 30%

Books to purchase (available at the Rutgers Bookstore)

Georges Perec, W or the Memory of Childhood. ISBN-13: 978-1567921588
Annie Ernaux, Shame. ISBN-13: 978-1888363692
Edouard Louis, The End of Eddy: A Novel. ISBN-13: 978-0374266653
Delphine de Vigan, Based on a True Story. ISBN-13: 978-1632868152
Brigitte Findakly and Lewis Trondheim, Poppies of Iraq. ISBN-13: ‎ 78-1770462939

Course Closed? Please contact me (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) to be placed on a Wait List.