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BA History and French / Course details

Year of entry: 2021

Course unit details:
Absurdist Fiction in Post-World War II France

Unit code FREN20691
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by French Studies
Available as a free choice unit? Yes

Overview

French Absurdist fiction was born out of the despair that followed World War II. It addressed the apparent lack of meaning of the human condition and criticized the belief in human progress. We will start the semester with a play that is famous for having been inspired by a bloody French news event: Les Bonnes by Jean Genet (1947) is the story of two rebellious housemaids plotting to murder their employer. We will then study one of the best-known plays from the theatre of the Absurd, Fin de Partie by Samuel Beckett (1957), which broke with theatrical conventions. The play takes place in a seemingly post-apocalyptic ‘huis clos’ where characters appear to question their presence on stage. We will finish by exploring L’Écume des jours (1947) by Boris Vian, a poetic novel about love, desire and grief that has been adapted into a film by Michel Gondry. Introductory lectures will present the main themes, genres, and historical context, while seminars will focus on questions of human freedom, love and the desire to kill. We will see how the selected texts feature ‘nonsense’ talk and actions. By questioning the purpose of human existence, these texts question our own relationship with reality.

Aims

To provide an overview of Absurdist fiction in literature and theatre

To familiarize students with different forms of representation of human freedom, love and death drive.

To provide students with key concepts of Absurd fiction (‘nonsense talk’, ‘meaningless actions’, ‘purpose in life’, ‘absurdist humour’)
To be able to analyse and discuss main stylistic issues in key literary and dramatic texts 

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to:

Analyse and discuss key concepts related to Absurdist fiction and to the Theatre of the Absurd

Demonstrate some knowledge of issues related to human freedom, death drive and notions of the meaning of life

Show some knowledge of two different literary genres from one specific period

Develop critical skills to analyse literary and dramatic texts

Syllabus

Week 1: Introduction to theories of the Absurd and main themes

Weeks 2,3,4: Jean Genet, Les Bonnes

Weeks 5,7, 8: Samuel Beckett, Fin de Partie

Weeks 9,10,11: Boris Vian, L’Écume des jours

Week 12: Review sessions and formative assessment in preparation for the final exam

 

Teaching and learning methods

Week 1 is composed of a 2-hour introductory lecture and 1-hour seminar

Weeks 2-5 and 7-11: A combination of lectures and seminars totaling 3 hours per week

Week 12 is dedicated to review sessions and formative assessment

 

Teaching in French and in English


Overview of Blackboard content:
All class presentations and extra material will be posted on Blackboard

 

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students will be able to:

Demonstrate a sound knowledge of issues related to human freedom, purpose of human existence, and notions of the meaning of life

Understand variations in the representations of the Absurd by authors and playwrights from the post-WWII period and from different literary traditions.

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

Think critically about literary representations of freedom, love, death drive, ‘nonsense’ talk and actions.

Analyse and synthesize a range of texts pertaining to Absurdist fiction

Develop a coherent and well documented argument  

Practical skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

Think critically about literary representations of freedom, love, death drive, ‘nonsense’ talk and actions.

Analyse and synthesize a range of texts pertaining to the genre of Absurdist fiction

Develop original ideas and engage with theories of the Absurd

Improve public speaking and group participation

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course students will be able to:

Develop original ideas and engage with literary and dramatic theories

Improve public speaking and group participation

 

Assessment methods

Assessment task

Formative or Summative

Length

Weighting within unit (if summative)

Coursework (commentary)

summative

2500 words

40%

Essay plan (for sample exam question)

formative

500 words

formative

Exam

summative

two hours

60%

 

RE-SIT ASSESSMENT

Assessment task

Length

Exam (1.5h commentary and 1.5h essay)

3h

 

Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

written feedback on the commentary

summative

written and oral feedback on the essay plan

formative

written feedback on the exam

summative

 

Recommended reading

Primary sources:

 

Jean Genet, Les Bonnes (Gallimard Folio)

Samuel Beckett, Fin de Partie (Les éditions de minuit)

Boris Vian, L’Écume des jours

 

Secondary sources:

 

Michael Y. Bennett, The Cambridge Introduction to Theatre and Literature of the Absurd, Cambridge University Press, 2015

Martin Esslin, The theatre of the Absurd, Bloomsbury Academic, 2014

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Jerome Brillaud Unit coordinator

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