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FR12: Ethics and experience: literature, thought, and visual culture of the French-speaking world (1900 to the present)

This paper is available for the academic year 2024-25.

This paper offers an approach to modern and contemporary literature, thought and visual culture from the French-speaking world that emphasizes the extreme and the 'real'. This will be configured politically and historically with relation to cultural and intellectual responses to genocide and to colonialism in the treatment of topics on the Holocaust and on Algeria. It will be configured in philosophical terms through study of questions of ethics and experience in Modern French Thought, with reference firstly to Existentialism and secondly to broadly Post-Structuralist approaches through Levinas, Nancy, Derrida, Cixous and others. It will be configured in terms of autofiction, self-portraiture and life-writing. Through the paper, questions of testimony, evidence, hospitality, alterity, violence, vulnerability, and intimacy will return in different formulations. The paper is concerned throughout with the capacity of cultural forms, writing, moving image media, installation art, for offering an imprint of experience, for, in Nancy's terms, making sense.

  • The Holocaust
  • Algeria
  • Eroticism and Intimacy
  • Life-writing
  • Existentialism
  • Ethics
Preparatory reading: 


Full Reading List:

See the reading list.

A wealth of articles about material featured on the paper may be found here.

Teaching and learning: 

This paper will be taught in a combination of lectures and supervisions.

For the Fr.12 Moodle site, please see here


Please see the specimen exam paper for an example of the current format of the paper.

Course Contacts: 
Professor Ian James