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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

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture112:0022:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching111:0011:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery31:003:00Week 12
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study1164:00164:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures will be used to introduce students to the major trends in twentieth- and twenty-first-century life writing in French. They 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 selected in a given year. 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 make use of the notes they take in lectures, as well as lecture PowerPoints and/or handouts in order to hone their knowledge base of the field of study. In seminars, students will develop their ability to present ideas orally, to produce informed, stimulating and original analyses of key texts and text-image combinations and to practice effective close reading to assist in this. Further, students will gain practice in reporting back to the group and summarizing the arguments found in secondary sources such as recommended academic articles on life writing. Through in-class discussion and informal feedback in seminars 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. Private 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 Blackboard or through the Robinson library, and students will develop their independent learning skills and research techniques.

Assessment Methods

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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Report1M30One commentary of 1500 words, submitted in Week 7 of Semester 1
Essay1A70One essay of 2500 words. To be written in English and submitted end of Semester 1
Formative Assessments
Description Semester When Set Comment
Essay1MDetailed essay plan
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The critical commentary allows students to demonstrate their knowledge of selected theories and practices of French life writing and photography introduced in the first part of the module and to show their ability to produce appropriately analytic close reading of a selected extract from a primary work. The essay requires students to engage more extensively with the theoretical knowledge gained during the module and to produce in-depth analysis of a given aspect of French life writing and photography, or of the practice of a particular author. The essay assessment also develops students’ skills in bibliographical work, footnoting and referencing.

Reading Lists