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Warwick Seminar for Interdisciplinary French Studies: upcoming events in 2023-24

Seminars will take place either online, on Microsoft Teams (6-7.30pm, UK Time), or in the Warwick Faculty of Arts Building (4.30-6pm; room FAB3.30). All are welcome to both the online and in-person events. To access the online events please click on the Teams link for the relevant seminar, displayed below. We recommend you download the (free) Teams app for ease of access. Please email the convenor, Philippe Le Goff, at P dot Le-Goff at warwick dot ac dot uk, with any questions.

Recordings of selected papers from 2022-3 can be found here, those from 2021-2 can be accessed here and those from 2020-1 here.

Wednesday 25 October: Lydie Moudileno (University of Southern California), 'Finding Dahomey: African Royalty in the Diasporic Imagination', followed by a Response from Pierre-Philippe Fraiture

As much as they fascinated the West since early modern encounters, African royals (and particularly precolonial Kings) have equally marked the imaginary of the African diaspora. Using Dahomey as an emblematic case study, this talk will examine how figures of African royalty --real and imagined-- have been mobilized to claim distinction and racial dignity, from Panafrican discourses to Afrofuturist aesthetics.

Lydie Moudileno is the Marion Frances Chevalier Professor of French, Professor in Comparative Literature and Professor in American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California (USC). Her work focuses on racialized representations in national and global contexts, postcolonial France, popular culture, and narratives of diaspora, with a focus on France and Francophone cultures from Africa and the Caribbean. Her latest publications include Mythologies Postcoloniales, a Barthes-inspired study of colonial signs in 21st century France (co-authored with E. Achille Editions Champion in 2018). She is also one of the editors of Postcolonial Realms of Memory. Sites and Symbols in Modern France, a multi-contributor volume documenting physical and immaterial traces of Empire in the French Republic (Liverpool University Press, 2020).

Wednesday 29 November: Sinan Richards (KCL), 'Stand and Deliver! Your money or your life: Lacan and Fanon on Freedom and Psychosis'

In 1946, the French neurologist and psychiatrist Henri Ey claimed that ‘if we were to follow Lacan’s conception of psychogenesis, there would no longer be any psychiatry’. By 1946, Jacques Lacan was already a dangerous outlier and radical figure in French psychiatric circles, threatening the foundations of the empirical psychiatric sciences. So, why did the young trainee psychiatrist, Frantz Fanon, read, cite, and dedicate a portion of his doctoral thesis to the mystical Lacan while he was a student in Lyon in the early 1950s? This talk will demonstrate the close intellectual proximity of Lacan’s psychoanalytic project to Fanon’s anticolonial, revolutionary clinic. Through a careful reassessment and reconstruction of the early Lacan and the early Fanon, focusing primarily on untranslated materials, I will show the specific ways that Lacan’s iconoclastic contributions to psychiatry from 1928-1953 informed and influenced Fanon in the period 1951-1961. Central to my argument is Fanon’s concept of alienation from Peau noire, masques blancs, which is, as I will show, inherited from Lacan’s concept of the same name. For both Lacan and Fanon, alienation is directly connected to his twin concepts of psychosis and freedom.

Sinan Richards is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow based at King’s College London. He is also a member of Centre de recherches interdisciplinaires sur le politique (CRIPOLIS) based at the Université Paris Cité. His first book, Dialectics of Love in Sartre and Lacan (Palgrave) examined Sartre’s and Lacan’s writings on love to draw out a distinctly Lacanian conception of love and subjectivity. Dr Richards is currently finishing his next book, Homo Alienatus: Freedom and Psychosis in Lacan and Fanon (British Academy Monographs, Oxford University Press, forthcoming), which will investigate the many overlapping connections between the early Lacan and the young Fanon.

This seminar will take place in the Warwick Faculty of Arts Building room FAB3.30, 4.30-6pm.

Wednesday 31 January: Nick Nesbitt (Princeton), 'Reading Capital Against the Grain: The Concept of Capitalist Slavery'

Nick Nesbitt is Professor of French and Italian at Princeton University and Senior Researcher at the Czech Academy of Sciences. He is the author of The Price of Slavery: Capitalism and Revolution in the Caribbean and Universal Emancipation: The Haitian Revolution and the Radical Enlightenment.

This seminar will take place on Microsoft Teams, 6-7.30pm UK time. Click here to join.

Wednesday 28 February: 'Anticolonial thought and practice: the Second Congress of Black Artists and Writers (Rome, 1959)'
Erica Bellia (Cambridge), '"Like a Congress of Italian Socialists": The Second Congress of Black Writers and Artists through the Lens of Italian Periodicals'
Philippe Le Goff (Warwick), 'Colonization as "thingification"'
Luca Peretti (Warwick), 'Petroculture and anticolonialism in Rome circa 1960'
Chair and discussant: Jennifer Burns (Warwick)

In 1959 over one hundred black artists and writers met in Rome for a congress organised by Présence Africaine, the pan-African quarterly founded and directed by Alioune Diop. The event was attended by Frantz Fanon and Aimé Césaire (among others), and had a significant - yet forgotten - impact on Italian culture at the time. The Congress has recently been rediscovered, by artists and scholars alike, and this seminar aims to contribute to this new interest in the event and the themes that were discussed in Rome - négritude, anticolonialism, the role of Black intellectuals in a decolonising world, etc.

Event co-organised by the Warwick Seminar for Interdisciplinary French Studies and the Italian Research Seminar. Sponsored by the School of Modern Languages and Cultures, the Humanities Research Centre and the IAS.

This event will take place in the IAS Seminar Room, Institute of Advanced Study (ground floor), Zeeman Building, 4.30-6.30pm.
Wednesday 6 March: Alessandra Aloisi (Oxford), 'On the Threshold of Dreams: Proust, Maine de Biran, and the Differential Unconscious'

In the first page of Proust’s novel, the narrator describes the fluctuations of his consciousness between sleep and wakefulness as a dialectic between passive identification and active separation. Among all the possible philosophical references that, more or less openly, underpin this passage, there is one reference that has been rarely pointed out. This famous and yet enigmatic page can perhaps be enlightened if we look at a specific conception of consciousness that was first introduced by the French philosopher Maine de Biran (1766-1824) at the beginning of the 19th century. While Bergson’s influence on Proust has often been discussed, the possible afterlife of Biran’s philosophy and psychology in Proust’s novel is little studied. However, it can bring new light to the literary and philosophical understanding of key aspects of La Recherche.

This paper is part of a larger research project on the afterlife of Maine de Biran and his thought in the long nineteenth century, with special reference to the question of the unconscious, in which Biran’s legacy was overshadowed by the emergence of psychoanalysis. The hypotheses that guides this research is that, while Freud conceived of the unconscious in a conflictual relationship to consciousness, Maine de Biran, taking up Leibniz’s legacy, proposed a differential (rather then oppositional) view of the unconscious. For the idea of “differential unconscious”, I draw on Gilles Deleuze’s reading of Leibniz.

Alessandra Aloisi is Lecturer in French at Oxford (Oriel College and Wadham College). In 2015-2017, she was Marie Curie post-doctoral fellow at the University of Warwick. Her research lies at the crossroads between literature, philosophy, and cultural history, and she is particularly interested in the cross-fertilization between philosophical, literary, and medical discourses in modern and early-modern French and European texts. She is the author of two volumes: Desiderio e assuefazione. Studio sul pensiero di Leopardi (Pisa: Ets, 2014) and The Power of Distraction. Diversion and Reverie from Montaigne to Proust, forthcoming for Bloomsbury Academic in October 2023, following its initial publication in Italian (Il Mulino, 2020) and in Spanish (Alianza Editorial, 2022).

This seminar will take place in the Warwick Faculty of Arts Building, room FAB3.30, 4.30-6pm.

Wednesday 1 May: Nick Hewlett (Warwick), 'Marx and Freedom'

Can we be free, will we be free?

Marx as a young man wrote explicitly about freedom and this chimed with the Zeitgeist. Freedom was the development of the fully rounded individual within a broader community, no longer alienated, and this was freedom for all human beings. The 'mature' Marx is often viewed as having very different priorities, concentrating on the analysis of capitalism and more broadly the critique of the highly unjust status quo. But in fact the whole of Marx's oeuvre should be seen as a philosophy of freedom, with the later works concentrating more on the dissection of unfree society, but no less optimistic and concerned with the flourishing of humanity as a whole.

Nick Hewlett is Emeritus Professor at the University of Warwick. He has published widely on on French politics, modern French history and political thought. He is currently working on the contemporary significance of Marx, and the political economy of international politics today.

This seminar will take place in the Warwick Faculty of Arts Building, room FAB3.30, 4.30-6pm.

Wednesday 15 May: Madeleine Chalmers (Leicester), '"Wild Thought" and World Knowledge: The Alternative Taxonomies of Frédéric Bruly Bouabré'

Frédéric Bruly Bouabré, ‘L’Invention de la casquette’, Connaissance du monde (1993)

While the title of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s La Pensée sauvage (1962) rings some twenty-first-century alarm bells, it is one of the first texts to take modes of knowledge that operate outside western scientific and educational schema on their own terms as sophisticated and valid epistemologies. The extensive anthropological study of taxonomy, cosmology, and conceptual bricolage which Lévi-Strauss details among indigenous groups in Australia and North America suggests that encyclopaedism is not a European aspiration. Rather, it is a global aspiration to global knowledge.

This paper takes as its focus the work of the Ivorian artist Frédéric Bruly Bouabré (1923—2014), who worked on his monumental Connaissance du monde until his death. Spotlighted in MoMA’s 2022 exhibition ‘World Unbound’, Bouabré was a prolific visual encyclopaedist and self-taught artist. Working with cardboard, biro, and colouring pencil, he created compendia of knowledge over decades, eschewing the arcane in favour of genealogies, phonetic alphabets, and analogical relationships designed to communicate and share his vision of the world. The 449 drawings of his phonetic Alphabet bété and the pictograms of his Méthodologie de la nouvelle écriture bété were designed to allow speakers of his dialect to read and write it – but also to render it accessible beyond west Africa. New origin stories (such as the evolution of the baseball cap from the tortoise shell) combine with the transmission of ancestral Bété culture and its myths.

Bouabré was educated under the French colonial system and worked as a civil servant in its administration until 1948, when a ‘vision’ prompted his full commitment to his art. This paper places his work in dialogue with the nineteenth-century French tradition of encyclopaedism, exploring how he reinterprets this form and its linguistic codes to make it a vehicle for west African culture. It then explores how – far from being the preserve of institutional orthodoxy – encyclopaedias, dictionaries, and glossaries have been arenas for autodidacts and marginalized social outsiders to map relationships that others do not, or cannot, see.

Ultimately, this paper suggests that these DIY epistemologists might allow us to renovate Lévi-Strauss’s concept for our contemporary research context, which is ever more keenly attuned to questions of identity and difference. 

Madeleine Chalmers is Lecturer in French Studies at the University of Leicester and works on the intersections of science, literature, and philosophy in modern and contemporary French culture. Her book French Technological Thought and the Nonhuman Turn is forthcoming with Edinburgh University Press's Crosscurrents series in 2025. Her new project, "DIY Epistemologies", focuses on the place of "outsider thought" in French intellectual and aesthetic culture.

This seminar will take place on Microsoft Teams, 6-7.30pm UK time. Click here to join.