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FRE4016 : Contemporary Life Writing in French: Textual and Visual Experiment

  • Offered for Year: 2020/21
  • Module Leader(s): Professor Shirley Jordan
  • Owning School: Modern Languages
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


In consonance with the overall aims of the degrees offered in the SML, the aims of this module are:

- to introduce students to key developments in twentieth- and twenty-first-century experimental life writing in French, including life writing that incorporates visual media
- to introduce students to key theoretical concepts, practices and definitions related to the field of contemporary life writing, including feminist perspectives, reader/writer relations, the everyday, and distinctions between ‘autobiography’, ‘life-writing’, ‘autofiction’, ‘photobiography’ and other evolving practices
- to equip students to analyse a range of landmark life writing experiments in French and understand these writings in their socio-historical context
- to encourage critical thinking about the problem of self-knowledge as articulated in life writing
- to provide the critical and conceptual tools needed for analysing photographs in the context of life writing

Outline Of Syllabus

This module will bring students to consider the challenges involved in life writing and will introduce them to a range of major practitioners producing experimental life writing in French. It will be structured around three key questions: how can the complexity of personal experience be explored in textual and visual form? What does experimental life writing tell us about the problem of self-knowledge? And what do we learn about socio-historical context from studying life writing? We will explore selected texts, photographs and photo-texts from the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries and examine a range of critical works that help us to make sense of them. In addition, students will become familiar with key concepts and theories in autobiography studies and will be equipped with the critical tools required to analyse text/image relations, especially concerning uses of the photograph in the context of life writing.
The module will typically cover the following broad topics drawing on a variety of examples of life writing and related theoretical and critical works:

- Autobiography, life writing and the problem of form

- Feminist approaches to writing lives and the specificity of women’s life writing in French

- The autobiographical pact: life writing and reader/writer relations

- Life writing in socio-historical context

- Memory and childhood experience

- Photography and self-knowledge

- How to analyse photography in life writing

Key texts to be studied in detail may change from year to year but will be selected from a corpus of major practitioners such as Georges Perec, Marguerite Duras, Roland Barthes, Claude Cahun, Annie Ernaux, Hervé Guibert, Camille Laurens and Marie NDiaye.

Shorter excerpts from a wide range of other life writings and from critical and theoretical works about life writing will be drawn upon in lectures to illustrate important trends and techniques.

This course will be taught and assessed in English. Students will be required to read primary and some secondary material in French.

Teaching Methods

Please note that module leaders are reviewing the module teaching and assessment methods for Semester 2 modules, in light of the Covid-19 restrictions. There may also be a few further changes to Semester 1 modules. Final information will be available by the end of August 2020 in for Semester 1 modules and the end of October 2020 for Semester 2 modules.

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Structured Guided LearningLecture materials182:0036:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion301:0030:00N/A
Structured Guided LearningStructured research and reading activities181:0018:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops42:008:00Synchronous online
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops52:0010:00Synchronous present-in-Person
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study981:0098:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lecture materials (in the form of recordings and written documents) will be used to introduce students to the major trends in twentieth- and twenty-first-century life writing in French. These materials will help students to map and to understand the main theoretical concepts and approaches that characterize the field. They will provide clear analytic frameworks within which to understand the primary works. Finally, they will introduce students to the tools required for understanding the correlation between photography and self-knowledge and for analysing related textual-visual experiments in life writing. Students will be expected to work through the lecture materials and accompanying directed reading/viewing which will be clearly signposted on Canvas. In online and face-to-face workshops, students will analyse a range of materials in detail, develop their ability to present ideas orally, and be helped to produce informed, stimulating and original analyses of key texts and text-image combinations. They will be able to practice effective close reading to assist in this. Further, students will gain practice in summarizing the arguments found in secondary sources such as recommended academic articles on life writing. Through in-class discussion and informal feedback students will develop their ability to evaluate and improve their own work. The language of delivery for this module will be English, but it will enhance students’ linguistic capacity in French too since it will involve reading and analysing complex French texts. Independent study time will be devoted to reading primary works, studying required passages in close detail, preparing seminar contributions and reading and note-taking from secondary critical sources and additional teaching material. Teaching material will be available primarily through Canvas and through the Robinson library, and students will develop their independent learning skills and research techniques.

Assessment Methods

Please note that module leaders are reviewing the module teaching and assessment methods for Semester 2 modules, in light of the Covid-19 restrictions. There may also be a few further changes to Semester 1 modules. Final information will be available by the end of August 2020 in for Semester 1 modules and the end of October 2020 for Semester 2 modules.

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1M1002500 words essay, in English.
Formative Assessments
Description Semester When Set Comment
Written exercise1MTeaching week 5.The critical commentary, circa 1,500 words, will be designed to help students improve their writing skills & close *
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The summative essay assesses students’ ability to demonstrate their knowledge of selected theories and practices of French life writing and photography and to produce appropriately analytic readings of primary works. It requires demonstration of the ability to undertake effective close reading of complex material in French. It also develops students’ skills in bibliographical work, footnoting and referencing. The formative assessment is designed to give students one-on-one support in skills required for the essay.

* textual analysis

Reading Lists