Spotlight on Doctoral Research

Stève Levillain

Steve LevillainThe literatures of immigration from North Africa to France represent one of the constitutive fields of investigation for Postcolonial Francophone studies. As such, approaches to this are often locked in a postcolonial perspective. Through my courses in 20th century literature, I discovered several aspects of literature of immigration that relate to French popular literature. In light of this, my dissertation establishes a link between these two literary genres by analyzing the evolution of urban spaces in the Parisian periphery. The primary objective of my dissertation is to translate aspects of the contemporary issues of the French banlieues from a purely postcolonial perspective to questions of institutional choices in French city planning over the course of the past hundred and fifty years. The underlying assumption is that the spatial transformation that has taken place has affected the social interactions of the inhabitants and contributed to the evolution of a working class mentality. The expectation is that an in-depth understanding of this interaction will allow me to explore the socio-cultural situation in France’s suburbs today.

The theoretical background of my dissertation relies on a proposition by the geographer and philosopher, Henri Lefebvre, whose concept of a dialectical opposition between what it means to live in or occupy a space provides the basis for my approach to reading the novels of my corpus. Bourdieu’s notions of symbolic and linguistic capital also act as an instrument for examining interactions between the characters in these novels, while Michel de Certeau’s dialectic of strategies and tactics proves useful for considering character agency.

Beginning with the renovation of Paris, undertaken by Haussmann in the second half of the nineteenth century, each of the five chapters of my dissertation corresponds to a particular moment of this evolution. For every chapter, I analyze the characters’ relationships with their spatial surroundings, as well as the nature of their social interactions with other residents. The first novels are the only ones of my corpus set in the interior part of Paris. As more and more of the urban working class is driven outside of the city limits by the renovations and the rapidly developing industry in the periphery, the texts illustrate the increasing social isolation and loss of agency for the characters. In aligning popular literature and literature of immigration on the same axis, my focus lies primarily on the geographical space, the banlieue, and its transformation in time.


Stephanie Kupfer

In my dissertation, I examine the work of two major French women filmmakers: Catherine Breillat and Claire Denis. Beginning with their earliest films, I analyze their evolution as auteurs, that is, filmmakers who have established a distinctive but evolving style as well as a set of thematic preoccupations across a significant number of films and a considerable span of time and whose films are recognizable no matter the subject they treat or the context in which they are made. And I argue that it is useful and valuable to consider them female auteurs. The putative gender neutrality of the auteur label is in fact an assumption of masculinity and the fact that these women have achieved a rare distinction in a male dominated field should not go unnoticed. It can also be said that both Claire Denis and Catherine Breillat consistently practice a feminine form of filmmaking. This designation is not related to their gender but rather to the fact that their filmmaking opposes, through form and representation, the logical, teleological narratives and adherence to patriarchal values associated with traditional filmmaking. While traditional, masculine filmmaking is designed to halt the proliferation of meaning, feminine filmmaking allows for ellipses, creates a space for the unsaid and the unknowable; it asks questions but does not answer them; it allows the viewer to participate in the production of meaning. I assert that the female auteur label, as well as the feminine form of filmmaking practiced by Breillat and Denis, rather than limiting these women in any way, have in fact opened up a space within cinema for them to challenge and rewrite dominant cultural narratives, including but not limited to "official" accounts of France's colonial history (Denis) and patriarchal constructions of women, sex, and sexuality (Breillat).