Charles J. Stivale
Wayne State University
Dept. of Romance Languages and Literatures
Detroit, MI 48202

Monsieur Jourdain Meets Cultural Studies

 FRE 874-91

 FRE 777-96

 FRE 874-97

In preparing a contribution to this round table on "Nineteenth-Century French Studies within a Cultural Studies Frame," I have cast myself somewhat presumptuously as M. Jourdain who came to Cultural Studies sans le savoir, as it were, and adapted to it by experimenting with its different forms through teaching and research. I have recounted elsewhere my background in French and Cultural Studies (Stivale 1997b), so in this paper, I undertake two tasks: in the first section, I provide an overview of what I consider to be some aspects of French "(dis)connections" with Cultural Studies as the field has developed within many Communications and English departments. This overview will provide a context for the second part in which I reflect upon a distinction (not original) between employing a "culture studies" pedagogical and theoretical frame of reference and a more broadly "cultural studies" one. While these two sub-fields overlap, I understand this distinction to indicate, on one hand, the study of literature within a general framework that acknowledges and includes the functioning of socio-cultural dynamics as important for literary study (i.e. culture studies, perhaps too generically defined). On the other hand, the analytical framework of cultural studies (with or without caps) deploys more specific concepts from the broad Anglo-American and occasional continental European critical corpus that has evolved since the 1950s. I will explain this distinction further in terms of three sets of course syllabi available as links to this text.

French (Dis)Connections

As someone situated professionally on the sometimes awkward cusp between Cultural Studies and French/Francophone Studies, I have observed over the past decade the growing French (dis)connections between these two fields as well as within French Studies around the contested terrain of CS. With the "dis" in this term, I wish to evoke recurrent difficulties in relations, evident in a concerted disparagement of CS by some French critics (and critics in French; see Pavel 1992 and 1997) and a wariness of the French engagement in CS (or lack thereof) by some Anglo-American scholars (see Grossberg 1997: 304, n. 2 [bottom]). In the first part of this paper, I consider briefly the (dis)connection from the side of North American French studies and describe several of these versions, that is, particular French-American perspectives that embrace CS.

During the 1990s, while developing a research project on Cajun dance and music expressions (Stivale 1994, 1997a), I was led toward thinking through the quotation marks that I place around "cultural studies" when I attempt to understand the possible links between this term and the "French" adjective associated with it. While the disciplinary turn in French toward "cultural studies" has particularly inflected much of my thinking, I wish to be careful here to distinguish the North American French studies to which I am referring from French studies as practiced in France where little acknowledgment or influence of research in Anglo-American cultural studies is evident. This distinction is not at all a sly way to portray one form of French studies as more legitimate than the other, as Le Hir (1997: 176) has imputed. Rather the distinction acknowledges the very clear fact that while research and teaching in North American French studies has taken account both of cultural work in the Anglo-American realm and in global research, research in French studies cultural ­ in a sort of effet Minitel ­ tends to limit its theoretical referents to the French/Francophone sphere. The aforementioned review essay in Critique by Pavel is the exception that confirms the rule.

I also have to distinguish the circumstances described in this analysis from Canadian French Studies since many of the issues that I discuss are specific to the complex tensions between French and United States intelligentsias. Jean-Philippe Mathy has traced French accounts of American society and mutual intellectual differences throughout this century, noting that "the love-hate relationship between French and American cultures [is] finally over . . . [since] powerful forces on both sides of the Atlantic resist adoption of viewpoints foreign to their national traditions" (1993: 259). Mathy notes further that the multiculturalist paradigms of CS, giving voice to the struggles of emerging minorities and populations seeking recognition for their rights, stand in sharp contrast to the French model of cultural "intégration" and universalism handed down from the Jacobine ideology (1995: 3; see Stivale 1997b). The extension of this conflict to the demonization of the American feminist movement by French commentators during the 1990s has been lucidly examined by Joan Wallach Scott (1997).

Moreover, this development of CS in U.S. French Studies coincided with the well-known conservative backlash against the growing questions about canonicity and multiculturalism, specifically related to neglected women's and francophone forms of artistic expression, questions that arose in this field during the 1970s and 1980s. In the early 1990s, French studies experienced its own "culture wars" in the form of a polemic about which French texts should (or should not) be included in a "properly" French curriculum in North America. \1 Meanwhile, as these exchanges were unfolding in different journals, enrollment in French (and most national foreign languages, except Pacific rim languages and Spanish) began to experience a sharp decline, such that departments sought new strategies through which to "market" their curricula. Whereas "French for business" had succeeded as one such strategy during the 1970s and 1980s (when the MBA alternative seemed so viable for some students), new approaches needed to be articulated in the 1990s, i.e. at a time when the French critical hegemony seemed to have waned, but not necessarily for eager students still interested in things culturally French.

While this history is now familiar to most of us, I believe it is necessary to recall these conjunctural details in order to situate how cultural studies has come to represent for French studies a double advantage, or a double threat, depending on one's point of view. On the "advantage" side, with careful curricular revision, a French program could undertake program changes with a cultural studies orientation that might attract students to a broadened, multicultural, and especially global francophone (vs. solely continental and canonical French) perspective. This revised program could orient language courses toward readings, audio-visual work (e.g., with the SCOLA satellite network), and online activities within this broadened framework. Similarly, literature and culture courses could be transformed by including "texts" that would not be limited to strictly literary works, and the study of these "texts" could broaden the students' development of new reading strategies from diverse socio-cultural and critical points of view.

From the "threat" side, however, even colleagues who do not reject the "cultural studies" conceptual framework out of hand still may fear that this disciplinary "import" to a French program poses a dual threat, not merely to the linguistic and cultural French specificity that often attracts majors to French studies (e.g. the love of French language and/or French "culture", however vaguely this term might be understood). The additional threat is construed as sacrificing a program's language-oriented and/or century-/genre-oriented framework around which French programs have usually been organized for the sake of an ill-defined and possibly fleeting trend to which many English departments have succumbed precisely for strategic "marketing" reasons, i.e. as part of the institutional battle to maintain enrollments. Some colleagues who might otherwise be amenable to some change from this perspective insist that rather than fall (even terminologically) under the dubious sway of "cultural studies," French programs should insist instead on "culture studies," even "cultures studies." The purpose of these distinctions presumably would be to emphasize the importance of multiple cultural influences within the recognizable coordinates of a specifically French (or French Studies) curriculum without associating the language program with CS initiatives that proliferate within English departments.

While the aforementioned French "culture wars" swirled, other scholars were preparing thoughtful articles on the impact of cultural studies in the French curriculum and defining different positions. Sandy Petrey argued in The French Review that cultural studies as it has evolved within Anglo-American communications and English departments "means a great many things, and some of its meanings are not only unhelpful but actively hostile to basic principles of French Studies in the United States" (1995: 391). The reasons for this tension, even hostility, are numerous, he maintained, and not the least important is the fact that "French Studies depends on the validity of a certain idea of France that Cultural Studies denounces on principle" (Petrey, 1995: 391). This "certain idea" consists of a traditional sense of distinction, of those archetypal "things French" -- literature, history, language, high culture ­ that attract students to French studies, but that are also unapologetically Eurocentric and steeped in cultural traditions that Cultural Studies puts into question (see also Chambers, 1996).

Less alarmist positions on this debate about the tension between "French" and "cultural studies" have been proposed, among them Lawrence Kritzman's (1995). He observes correctly that "a pedagogical rethinking of the teaching of French culture" is long overdue (1995: 7), and his recommendations for providing students access to diverse approaches in French and francophone studies would go far to disarm criticism that caricatures French studies as anachronistic and elitist. Says Kritzman:

"The professor of French culture should prepare students to become more culturally competent by drawing on various analytic models and critical conceptions that focus on the following hypothetical areas: 1. the semiotic [identifying how cultural forms find articulation in a heterogeneous social space]; 2. the socio-epistemic (the examination of social field and the problematic of power); 3. the memorialist (the relationship between history and memory); and 4. the ethno-cultural [to analyze the multiple spaces of culture within and external to the nation so as to provoke a crisis on the representation of a unified national subject]" (1995: 11-17).

Another commentator, Marie-Pierre Le Hir, would prefer a dialogue between French and Anglo-American cultural studies. Although Le Hir's particular promotion of Pierre Bourdieu's work as a pre-eminently French form of cultural studies seems decidedly non-dialogical at the very least, her call for "bridging disciplinary boundaries" emphasizes that the role of cultural studies is not "to passively contribute to the reproduction of the literature field but to produce knowledge in spite of and against disciplinary constraints" (1997: 182). Le Hir thus makes no effort to define -and to justify- the dominant/non-dominant distinction that she confidently wields in her critique of CS, a distinction presumably corresponding to Anglo-American CS vs. unspecified "non-dominant theories," including Bourdieu's (1997: 182). However, she does argue quite reasonably in conclusion for a mode of French studies that would take the best from both French and Anglo-American approaches, i.e. French studies conceived not as "an antiliterature discipline, but an intellectual one devoted to the comparative exploration of knowledge production in France and the United States" (1997: 188).

A recent example of this very project may be found in a volume edited by Steven Ungar and Tom Conley, entitled Identity Papers: Contested Nationhood in Twentieth-Century France. In the Afterword to this volume, Conley explains the volume's purpose, "to show how both French and culture studies can be meshed in such a way that the sharp focus of disciplinary inquiry in the former (literature, cinema, new historicism) will assure breadth and perspective by appeal to the latter (where many boundaries have yet to be redrawn)" (1996: 273). Outlining the fading attraction of an earlier conception of French studies ­ one focusing on elucidation and stylistic analysis of the French canon through an alignment of explication de texte with New Criticism --, Conley argues that this disciplinary "mix of order, incisiveness, rectitude, candor, precision, and even science" gradually became intelligible as a failed "civilizing project," as a process of oedipalization in non-native French speakers' relation to the linguistic idiom, and thus as "the articulation of a closed, depoliticized, boundless space in which the classroom becomes the hothouse of a family romance that takes pride in insulating itself from world-scale dilemmas that know none of the refinements of received French" (1996: 274).

Thus, it is entirely understandable, says Conley, that many students and scholars so indoctrinated would now "embrace culture studies as a welcome alternative to the dictée, the explication de texte, or close reading of preordained literary masterpieces" (1996: 274). Rejecting what can now be understood as hegemonic "operations inherited from nineteenth-century colonial practices," today's "spiritual children of the generation trained in the postwar years," Conley argues, are turning away from the lessons of French teachers who "produced the highest standards of linguistic refinement," but who lived "otherwise pitifully isolated lives in a mixed and bustling world." This exodus from things patently French, says Conley, has an explanation beyond the impulsion of Freudian mechanics: "Not having grown into the patrician culture of France, but living at a moment when the demarcations established by nineteenth-century geography no longer exists, [these spiritual children] see how the spatial, linguistic, and paternal borders that produce identity appear archaic in view of current world problems" (1996: 275).

While I have reviewed these positions all too briefly, the purpose has been twofold: first, I need to situate my "field position" "in-between" French and Anglo-American theoretical and critical divides. In doing so, I must also indicate that I recognize the extent to which references to a purported "Anglo-American model" are certainly at once too monolithic and too vague (given the complex development of CS on both sides of the Atlantic and in other geographical sites and intellectual practices). Nevertheless, these diverse critical approaches and analyses associated broadly with "cultural studies" are having an indisputable and often unsettling impact in many fields.

Although I do not consider myself necessarily to be in the majority, I see this impact as altogether salutary, particularly in the attempts to trace new parameters for research. The Ungar/Conley volume is one recent example of this, raising among other important questions "how and by what means identity can be a useful historical artifact in the domain of cultural studies" (1996: 279). My own gesture in this direction in the scholarly domain has been to deploy concepts developed by Deleuze and Guattari and other theorists as possible tools for understanding particular critical and cultural practices, whatever the "field" in which these practices might reside (see Grossberg, 1997: 344-345; Stivale, 1998). That is, following Grossberg's reflections on the CS "crossroads blues," this gesture would pursue "cultural studies" that thinks of theory as a "strategic resource" and, quite possibly, "enabling agency and action" (1998: 79).

Classrooms and Programs

A second area of impact lies in attempts to define new pedagogical models suitable for particular fields of study. Like other positions on CS noted above, Conley argues that "local practices of analysis, that move between and across boundaries of literature, colonial studies, political science, and the arts, can create different ways of doing things, map out different spaces (and not just those of French genius or the tradition de qualité that the notorious professors of pure French invoked above had imparted to American natives in the remote deserts of postwar America!)" (1996: 279). Explaining this project in terms borrowed from Michel de Certeau, Conley maintains that "focus needs to be shifted from a microoperation of French studies ­ a practice of heterology in monolingual American contexts ­ to a macropolitics by which literatures and social sciences decolonize or de-identify each other" (1996: 279).

In terms of pedagogical practices, I have often felt like Molière's Monsieur Jourdain, startled to discover from the literature master that he doesn't have to learn "prose" since he has been speaking it all his life. That is, the understanding of literary works has always already seemed to me rather vapid without various forms of "mov[ing] between and across boundaries," as Conley puts it. Corresponding generically to what I defined as "culture studies," this transversal movement would include a solid dose of socio-cultural contextualization, particularly for studies in the traditionally delimited field of nineteenth-century French studies. However, I am less emphatic than Conley and am more prone to the Kritzman position in terms of curricular revisions: on the one hand, I recognize certain benefits for program structures in deploying concepts of Anglo-American CS. On the other hand, I conceptualize such courses as preparing students both for greater cultural competence (and not only with French culture) and for critical and scholarly appreciation of texts examined. Finally, following Petrey, I urge that in undertaking these program revisions, we not forget the linguistic and socio-cultural specificity that make our programs distinct and rewarding for helping students to develop a rich, non-Anglophone cultural awareness.

Thus, I conceptualize French studies (whatever the sub-discipline) as facilitating students' access to modes of critical thinking ­ both in theory and in practice ­ within the sociocultural movement of French literary historical development. Such a program would not be limited necessarily to the tradition de qualité, the canonical treasures of French high culture, but these canonical texts remain useful referents since the extant corpus of their critical analysis allows us to provide students with examples of thorough critiques derived from both primary and secondary literary sources. Such a program would, therefore, not eschew this literary canon as a matter of principle, nor would it necessarily privilege the analysis of popular texts and thereby constitute these implicitly as a new "canon". Above all, this approach would allow curricular concerns to drive the particular program revisions as deemed suitable within the local context without necessarily bending to appeals to marketability and current trends that may or may not result in higher enrollments.

As a way of providing some examples of my pedagogical work in this area, I provide links to three syllabi and study materials for courses that I have taught from what I construe to be different perspectives adhering to "culture studies" and, when suitable, including texts and concepts from the Anglo-American CS canon. One caveat: I do not pretend that these syllabi and course materials necessarily represent progressive or exemplary pedagogical practices. I see these documents rather merely as tools that have functioned more than adequately in approaching my teaching. Like all such attempts at curricular and pedagogical development, these continue to be "works in progress."

FRE 874 (1991), "La Question Femme au Dix-neuvième Siècle"

In the graduate seminar that I taught in fall 1991, the course's purpose was to consider the bases of proto-feminist debates throughout the nineteenth century as well as predominant contrary positions taken by certain influential male authors both in fiction and polemical writings. Moreover, in considering responses to this "question femme," the participants also examined attempts by various women to find a voice in order to express their own vision of woman's place at the threshold of the twentieth century.

In preparing the syllabus for this course, I wanted to employ an approach that I now understand as a form of "French culture studies" with which we are readily familiar: to situate the literary works under consideration clearly within the socio-cultural context of the developing women's movement as well as in terms of the diverse reactions against women in the works of particular male writers. However, I had several other goals in mind: to help the participants to become familiar with some contemporary feminist criticism that they could consult to enhance their understanding of the literary texts and also to employ as models for undertaking their own critical work. This goal connects to another that I approached by structuring the course according to an academic professional model. That is, as I indicated on the Grading and Assignments sheet [], the participants would undertake their own research paper following the three steps to which we often adhere in developing an article: defining the abstract, preparing the project as a short conference talk, then fleshing out that talk into a written text with considerably more research. As exemplars, I provided the participants with samples of an abstract, conference talk, and journal article that I had developed several years earlier. The sample article also had the advantage of showing the participants an example of the PMLA style.

In retrospect, this is the course that most adheres to the conceit of "Monsieur Jourdain" in the title of this paper. In developing the course, I had my own research interests in mind as well as the participants'. That is, I included some material from the book I was currently preparing on Maupassant, but linked this work to the broader topic of "la question femme" that allowed us to establish the connection between primary texts and socio-cultural contexts. I no doubt would organize this course differently now, not only in the selection of primary texts, but also in the selection of the many interesting secondary critical works that have been published during this decade. However, judging from the term papers developed for the course (including the first step towards an eventual M.A. essay on George Sand), the combination of goals provided the student with a rich array of material from which to draw in subsequently preparing their M.A. and Ph.D. examinations.

FRE 777 - "Socio-Cultural Semiotics"

I was subsequently asked to teach the first French Area contribution to our interdepartmental graduate minor sequence in "Literary Criticism and Cultural Studies". Since this course was not strictly within the nineteenth-century French curriculum, I was free to use materials that I had previously developed as well as much new material, particularly related to the socio-cultural semiotics of the 1990s Culture Wars. Given the curricular needs, I organized the course primarily from a self-consciously "Cultural Studies" perspective, employing essays from Michael Bérubé's Public Access (1994) and from the massive Grossberg, Nelson, and Treichler Cultural Studies volume (1992) for the participants' oral critiques and general discussion.

As a fundamental problematic for the course, I asked the participants to reflect on possible definitions of "cultural studies" as these might be manifested in the critical work they would examine and also produce through their own research. This concern reflects what was then and continues to be my own consideration of the term "French cultural studies" that I was developing into an essay at the time of this seminar, subsequently published (Stivale 1997b). As I indicate in the statement of the seminar's goals [], I also placed greater emphasis on meta-critical texts rather than on primary literary works in order "to provide students (both those intending to enter the academic profession and those interested in broadening their critical acumen) with tools for working with literary and cultural texts and with a clearer understanding of what the stakes might be in undertaking such work at the end of the twentieth century."

An additional component of the course was the organization of an ancillary series of meetings entitled "Professional Issues for Languages, Literatures and Cultural Studies," open not only to the seminar participants, but to graduate students in all the language and literature departments. Part of the description reads: "In order both to complete the weekly 'hours' required for a 4-credit course AND to provide complementary materials and discussion about the broad topics of professional issues and literary and cultural criticism, the course will meet in eight supplementary and voluntary sessions of approximately 90 minutes each. . . . In this series of eight meetings, we will follow two formats: a) discussion of professional issues related to research, conferencing, the job market and criticism [five meetings]; and b) readings of texts by and discussion with three author/scholars, dealing with the broad topic of 'literary and cultural studies in the 1990s' [three meetings]. Also, during two final weeks of class meetings, each participant will present a 10-15 minute talk (in a mini-conference mode) based on the research paper that will be due April 24" [cf.]. These additional meetings provided the participants with diverse academic perspectives both in terms of the professional issues examined and, more importantly, in terms of the research projects that the invited speakers presented.

As is evident from this brief description and the linked documents, the goals of this course were manifold, not only because of the nature of the interdisciplinary seminar (students from English, German, Spanish, and French), but also because the focal topic of "socio-cultural semiotics" allowed me to establish important connections between the "culture wars" of the 1990s and Cultural Studies more generally and to suggest how these issues are linked to an array of professional matters. Most pertinent, I believe, to our concerns in this roundtable, this course allowed the participants and me to confront the myriad issues as an approach to translating them into our own analyses of particular research projects. In this way, the course succeeded, however modestly, in providing a dynamic and productive interchange between CS, teaching, and research.

FRE 8740-97 - "Autour de Rimbaud"

Most recently, I completed teaching a nineteenth-century literature seminar entitled "Autour de Rimbaud." I chose to develop this course in two directions simultaneously: on one hand, more traditionally and textually, I asked the participants to focus on close readings by poems by Baudelaire and Rimbaud, with discussions on the intertextual entourage (e.g. Verlaine, Mallarmé) and on critical interpretations (e.g. Fowlie 1994, Porter 1990, Paliyenko 1997). On the other hand, I provided the students with different examples of twentieth-century artistic creations that we juxtaposed to the primary poetic works, particularly to Rimbaud's literary production: first, essays and poetry by Artaud and Breton; then, musical works and poetry by Jim Morrison and the Doors (together and Morrison alone), linked to video material from Oliver Stone's The Doors (1991), the Gordon Forbes documentary The Doors: A Tribute to Jim Morrison (1981), and Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979); then comparison of poetry and prose by Kathy Acker (particularly, In Memoriam to Identity) with poetry and music by Patti Smith. I also made available to interested students a copy of the Agnieszka Holland film about Verlaine and Rimbaud Total Eclipse (1996), but did not include it in the course for a number of technical and aesthetic reasons.

This dual approach admittedly leaned more in the direction of an intertextual "cultural studies" than a socio-cultural one, i.e. without focusing insistently on the French socio-cultural context as I had done in the 1991 seminar. The close readings gave the participants a very firm grounding in the primary textual material and allowed them to compare different poetic traits and themes, particularly with support from the aforementioned literary critical sources. However, the "cultural studies" aspect also allowed participants to consider the real effects that art and poetry can have on successive generations of artists (and professors!), particularly when the imagery is linked to a proliferating mythology of the poète à la fois sacré et maudit ­ Morrison, of course, but also Patti Smith's 1970s punk performances with the Patti Smith Group, and Kathy Acker's deliberate appropriations of texts and myths for her own sacrilegious literary ends.

These different perspectives on "cultural/culture studies" suggest quite obviously that these terms, at the very least, are constantly in evolution quite generally and that their conjunction with the modifier "French" can both complicate and nuance the terminological valence. As for my own engagement with teaching practices, the focal concern in all of these courses has been to help students to develop their critical and linguistic skills and to broaden their range of understanding based on a challenging array of texts and questions about them. The different perspectives presented here have thus allowed me to experiment with different topics and readings, to extend possible directions for my own research into the classroom, and especially to question and challenge the diverse definitions of "cultural studies" that tend to emerge when pursued from a multiplicity of directions.


1/ The key texts in this debate are Apostolidès (1993), Compagnon (1991), Hullot-Kentor (1993), Pavel (1995), Schor (1992, 1993 and 1995). One volume in particular raised the ire of some commentators (most notably, Compagnon), Hollier (1989), that provides a culturally based approach to French literary history as an alternative to traditional French literary anthologies. See Le Hir (1995-96) for a review of French and American perspectives in French studies, and see Fourny and Schehr (1997) for a special issue of -Contemporary French Civilization- with essays that juxtapose "cultural studies" and "culture wars" in the American French Studies context.


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