Nineteenth-Century French Studies 2000

Pedagogical Roundtable: Choix de textes pour les études dix-neuviémistes

University of Illinois
October 19-21, 2000

Updated May 17, 2004

Organizer:

Charles J. Stivale
Wayne State University
Detroit, MI 48202
C_Stivale@wayne.edu

STATEMENT ABOUT THIS PANEL

All texts will be available for consultation and downloading by September 25, 2000. Following brief position statements by the panelists, the panel will be devoted entirely to discussion.

Lawrence M. Porter (Michigan State University)
porter@msu.edu

Gayle A. Levy (University of Missouri-Kansas City)
levyg@umkc.edu

David Powell (Hofstra University)
rlldap@Mail1.Hofstra.edu

Kathryn Grossman (Pennsylvania State University)
kmg2@psu.edu

Anne E. McCall (Tulane University)
annemc@mailhost.tcs.tulane.edu


Abstracts (to link to papers, click on highlighted titles):

Lawrence M. Porter (Michigan State University)
porter@msu.edu

Abstract: "Fostering Creativity in Literary Study" [A revised version of this essay, co-authored with Anita Alkhas and Larry Kuiper, will be included in Modern French Literary Studies in the Classroom: Pedagogical Strategies, ed. Charles J. Stivale, NYC: MLA Publications, forthcoming]

When non-elite students begin graduate study in a foreign literature and culture, they often have had little or no experience in doing research on literature, and they feel daunted by the expectation that they should produce an original analysis. Not realizing that inspiration is the product of time and familiarity, they tend to plunge into reading literary criticism, which they cut and paste without ever developing their own voice.

Before they can do so, our intervention as teachers should be manifold: to empower the students with self-confidence, to make them aware of how structures with dynamic potential can help them develop their thought, to give them the stylistic tools for refining their insights, and to free them from the hegemony of established critics. With specific references from 19th-century French literature, this presentation will illustrate classroom exercises on the rhizomatic power of definitions, on how binary thinking can be made self-deconstructive, on distinguishing subject from theme, on integrating one's investigations with a personal "identity theme", and on using both the microcosm approach and rudimentary content analysis for questioning authority.

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Gayle A. Levy (University of Missouri-Kansas City)
levyg@umkc.edu

Abstract: "Reading dans tous les sens: Thoughts on Teaching Un Coup de Dés" [A revised version of this essay will be included in Modern French Literary Studies in the Classroom: Pedagogical Strategies, ed. Charles J. Stivale, NYC: MLA Publications, forthcoming]

In the paper I propose for the Nineteenth-Century French Studies colloquium, I describe my techniques and experiences in teaching Stéphane Mallarmé's poetic masterpiece Un Coup de Dés. Over the past four years I have taught this text in three different classes. Each time the students react in the same manner. They greet the text with disbelief, resistance, and in some cases denial ("This cannot be a real poem!") and then, with reading techniques and exercises I provide, they learn to appreciate and sometimes honestly like Mallarmé's crowning glory.

After a brief review of the history and textual generation of this text (rereading Igitur helps with any attempt to understand the later work), I outline the steps taken in presenting this poem to students. The first and most important habit they must break is what I call the tyranny of reading left to right. Reading Un Coup de Dés works best if one reads flexibly, to some degree sees as much as reads. The students need to let their eyes run across the page, allow the links between type fonts and sizes catch their attention, see the tectonic structures created by the differently lengthened and spaced lines, let the metonymic and structural similarities between the words play out, all this before they bring their analyses to bear upon the meanings of the words. Breaking the tyranny of reading left to right can be accomplished with the help of Apollinaire's calligrams, or through the example of "reading" a painting, in addition to Rorschachian-type activities in which I encourage the students to see Un Coup de Dés instead of read it. If the students theorize their own symphonic or polyphonic mode of reading, then the work of under-standing this hermetic poem is much more pleasurable.

The final part of my paper includes a more traditional exegesis of the poem, which is nonetheless linked to the techniques of reading dans tous les sens outlined above, where I bring to light the important themes (the shipwreck; the master; artistic liberty, creation, and destiny; l'écume/la plume); my ultimate claim is that this poem is about creative genius and the importance of chance in artistic work (cf. chapter 4 of Refiguring the Muse, Peter Lang, 1999).

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David Powell (Hofstra University)
rlldap@Mail1.Hofstra.edu

Abstract: "'Yes, This WILL Be on This Test and on Future Tests,' or: How To Exploit Intermediate Languages Classes in Literature and Culture Classes" [A revised version of this essay will be included in Modern French Literary Studies in the Classroom: Pedagogical Strategies, ed. Charles J. Stivale, NYC: MLA Publications, forthcoming]

Departing from an orientation to a specific literary text, I link the important facets of phonetics, translation, and grammar as bases for helping students come to terms with stylistic and structural elements in a cultural texts broadly defined. In terms of phonetics, I consider how
issues of rhyme, accent, language levels, and so-called "non-standard" phonemes contribute to helping students better understand texts. I approach selected grammar issues -- such as poetic syntax, use of feminine forms in gay texts, and various forms of commands, among others -- in order to lay the ground at the intermediate level for enhancing student's appreciation of different texts at the advanced level. Finally, issues of translation arise constantly as students grapple
with diverse meanings connoted through verb tenses, idioms, and language levels, issues that are so many opportunities for opening up different literary texts for students' greater understanding. With an emphasis on strategies we can use in intermediate level courses, I hope to encourage greater preparation of students for textual analysis in advanced courses.

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Kathryn Grossman (Pennsylvania State University)
kmg2@psu.edu

Abstract: "Teaching Notre-Dame de Paris: A Classic Case" [A revised version of this essay will be included in Modern French Literary Studies in the Classroom: Pedagogical Strategies, ed. Charles J. Stivale, NYC: MLA Publications, forthcoming]

As one of the world's most celebrated but least known texts, Victor Hugo's early masterpiece Notre-Dame de Paris (1831) presents special challenges in the classroom. On the one hand, this romantic reworking of Beauty and the Beast has become a permanent feature in our mythical landscape. Thanks to the popularization of its basic story line during the past century and a half not only through numerous abridgments and bandes dessinées in a wide range of languages, but also through a continuous line of theatrical and cinematographic renditions, the novel has been in the public eye worldwide almost since its publication. Two recent hits - Disney's 1995 film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and the 1997 rock opera by Luc Plamandon and Richard Cocciante, Notre-Dame de Paris - are but the latest iterations to emerge from the entertainment industry. On the other hand, the original texte intégral remains largely unread today. Hugo's 500-page volume is both long and difficult: the opening moves slowly and seems strangely static; the French medieval setting strikes many American students as remote and irrelevant rather than charming and exotic; the constant intrusion of historical, geographical, philosophical, and aesthetic digressions, especially in the first half of the story, distract, annoy, and finally discourage first-time readers; and the vocabulary is demanding in any language, while translation fails to capture the word play, auditory effects, and metaphorical resonances of Hugo's poetic prose.

Given the many opportunities and constraints that surround the work, I have developed an array of successful strategies for teaching it at different academic levels. At Penn State, I regularly include an unabridged English translation of Notre-Dame de Paris in general education courses aimed at freshmen and sophomores; excerpts from the French text in introductory literature courses for French majors and minors; and Hugo's texte intégral in graduate seminars on French romanticism or the nineteenth-century novel. Many of the course materials that I have devised can be aimed at more than one kind of audience; and, since I am fortunate enough to teach in "smart" classrooms, I am able to use videos, CD-Roms and the Internet to enrich the study of the text. In this paper, I will discuss the ways in which I approach Hugo's novel in literature courses at a variety of levels, looking first at ways to read the text, then to discuss it, and finally to supplement it with a multimedia platform in the classroom.

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Anne E. McCall (Tulane University)
annemc@mailhost.tcs.tulane.edu

Abstract: "Culture without Compromise" [A revised version of this essay will be included in Modern French Literary Studies in the Classroom: Pedagogical Strategies, ed. Charles J. Stivale, NYC: MLA Publications, forthcoming]

As the overlapping fields of cultural studies, French studies, and French cultural studies have made their way into foreign language departments, these interwoven areas of inquiry have engendered their own tracks, majors, and advanced degree programs; on a more modest level, they have caused the creation of new courses, including the ever polemical electives in English. At the very least, the growth of these overlapping domains has transformed the standard undergraduate civilization classes required of majors and minors in many programs for the past several decades. Hierarchically iconoclastic and marked by their self-conscious, critical savvy, these contemporary adaptations of old-style civilization courses may well speak more to the imagination and the interdisciplinary interests of our students than those focusing previously on two thousand years of political event history or France's wine regions. These newer courses remain problematic, however, and perhaps more so than the courses that they have replaced since they introduce topics, objects of study, and ideological perspectives that appear simultaneously too trivial and too sophisticated for students with limited linguistic competence, historical knowledge, and critical experience. For that very reason, core-level French culture and cultural studies classes constitute both a place of professorial anxiety over what seem like inevitable compromises -- most notably between the development of target language skills and understanding of cultural studies analyses, many of which are in English -- and an ideal space for pedagogical creativity.

While there are no set answers to these challenges, several years of experience in just such a classroom have yielded a series of strategies that move beyond the apparent conflicts in the course's goals and methods. Small tactics for minimizing the number and extent of compromises, such as the pairing of choice short readings in French and in English, met with immediate success, but this has increased significantly with the addition of a semester-long common class project around an individual text that students decipher, transcribe in the case of manuscripts, and sometimes translate before generating questions for research groups. In a chronologically based class, the nineteenth-century is particularly well positioned to serve as the focus for such projects, since it is at the beginning of the semester's final stretch. This allows for student growth as well as the progressive exploitation in class of cross-cultural linguistic knowledge gained by students in their research. The range of potentially successful texts for such problem-based inquiries includes manuscripts, newspaper articles, encyclopedia entries, and chapters from autobiographical accounts. A letter/testimonial written by an Ursuline nun who emigrated from France to New Orleans in 1904 illustrates the integration of such projects into just such a core survey course taught in French. A full understanding of the six-page letter necessitates an understanding of the history of childhood, rural society, bourgeois and working-class divisions, the situation of women, church-state relations, and autobiographical genres. The types of knowledge and sources in French and English that are marshaled for this project oblige students to examine directly the very questions that sometimes stymie culture classes, and the result of this common experience of cultural construction and criticism is anything but compromising.

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Statement on the panel

Following the exciting discussion held at the Pedagogical Roundtable during the 1999 Colloquium, entitled "Choix de textes pour les études dix-neuviémistes," we continue to adopt the roundtable format employed successfully at the previous Colloquia in order to generate further discussion among participants and with the audience.

The topic for this roundtable follows from the 1999 discussion on the extremely rich pedagogical problem which we all face each semester, that of the choix de textes for courses at all levels and in diverse institutional settings. All the presenters at the NCFS 1999 Roundtable made available syllabi and/or lists of texts deemed important for courses with different foci and different student audiences - from the graduate seminar in French to the general education course on great books. However, how an instructor actually approaches specific texts in the classroom is another topic for continued discussion. This panel includes papers from colleagues who concentrate on specific texts, literary or cultural, or specific classroom problems in order then to address strategies through which we might engage our students with the literary or cultural text(s) once we have chosen it/them.

In the colloquium panel, each author will present a 5-7 minute thesis summary of the longer paper, and then open discussion will take place for approximately 40 minutes. Each presenter may want to prepare handouts of the teaching materials available on the Web site.

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