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FR6: Innovation and Upheaval: deformation and reformulation in the 20th and 21st centuries

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

This paper will allow students to explore key developments in literature, thought and visual culture from the French-speaking world from the perspectives of innovation and upheaval, conflict and renewal. It will take as its central concern the rupture and transformation of social, aesthetic, and cultural forms. Processes of historical, social, and subjective relation, mutation, and renewal will be addressed through motifs of formation and deformation, and with regard to political and cultural responses to colonialism, decolonization, and the postcolonial, as well as questions of identity in terms of gender, sexuality, class, and race.

The search for new artistic, social, relational, and cultural forms in response to existential and historical processes of rupture and innovation will accordingly be key to the paper’s concerns, as will be the modes of philosophical, ethical, and political critique generated through these processes. Students will further develop analytical skills relating to the historical-cultural contextualization of aesthetic practices as well as theoretical and critical approaches to such practices.

  1. Making and unmaking forms: Apollinaire, Alcools, Calligrammes; Beckett, Fin de partie, L'Innommable; Buñuel and Dalí, Un Chien andalou; Dulac, La Coquille et le clergyman
  2. Forming and deforming the self: Cahun, Aveux non avenus; Césaire, Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, Discours sur le colonialisme; Ernaux, Une Femme, La Place; Resnais, Hiroshima mon amour
  3. Philosophies of freedom: Cixous, ‘Le rire de la Méduse’; Fanon, Peau noire, masques blancs; Sartre, L’Existentialisme est un humanisme
  4. 17 October 1961: Adi, Ici, on noie les Algériens; Daeninckx, Meurtres pour mémoire; Panijel, Octobre à Paris; Sebbar, La Seine était rouge
  5. Filming postcolonial cities: Benyamina, Divines; Diop, Vers la tendresse; Sciamma, Bande de filles; Sissako, Bamako
  6. Récits contemporains: Chamoiseau, Solibo Mognifique; Devi, Eve de ses décombres; Djebar, Femmes d’Alger dans leur appartement; Houellebecq, Les Particules élémentaires
  7. Lyrical relations, poetic worlds: Glissant, Le Sel noir; Portugal, Définitif Bob; Ponge, Le Parti pris des choses
Preparatory reading: 

For introductory and preparatory reading, please see Sections A & B of the full reading list for the paper (see link in next section).

Full reading list

Please see the full reading list for Fr.6


Teaching and learning: 

The paper will be taught through a combination of 20 lectures and 10 college supervisions. Each topic will be covered in two lectures: one overview and one devoted to particular prescribed materials. Six lectures will focus on the critical commentary exercise.

For the Fr.6 Moodle site, please see here.


The paper is assessed by examination or by two Long Essays.

The examination paper will take the following form. Section A will feature a choice of six questions, to be answered synoptically with reference to more than one topic. Section B will feature a choice of seven questions, one per topic, formulated openly and to be answered with reference to work by two or more authors or film-makers prescribed for a single topic.

Section C will feature a choice of three commentary passages, all drawn from the prescribed materials. Students must answer ONE question from each section; these answers should be 1200-1300 words long.

Since this version of Fr.6 will run for the first time in 2022-23, past papers are not yet available. Download a specimen examination paper.

Course Contacts: 
Prof Martin Crowley (Michaelmas Term 2023)
Prof Ian James (Lent & Easter Term 2024)