Literary History and Alterity

Lionnet discusses the various issues surrounding French literary identity and the notion of a world literature in French.

Françoise Lionnet
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Speaker's affiliation
Name of Series
Contemporary History & the Future of Memory
Sponsoring Department
Division of Literatures, Languages, and Cultures (Stanford University)

Professor Lionnet begins by revealing that French literature is no longer conventionally French. She explains that there are many ‘canonical figures’ who are Francophone but do not have lineage in France. She cites the key poetic movements of the 18th century that opened the way for romanticism and poeticism in prose of three Creole poets notably including the poet Parny. In France, he was seen as Creole. In Russia, where he spent some time during his travels, Parny was seen as French. Professor Lionnet moves on to discuss the role of Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) which seeks to promote the French language and oppose the universality of English. Professor Lionnet also focuses on the tension between the writers’ identity being defined by the language they write in or by their political, social, and ethnic situation. This debate extends into the wider problem of the hierarchy caused by the Francophone system because it arguably impedes French-speaking writers’ access to the same literary glory as native French writers, not in line with the ideals of the French republic. Professor Lionnet then begs the question of how are we to name this new global literature and how are to deal with this universalism. Professor Lionnet concludes the first part of her talk by proposing that universalism is the core of the issue. The question lies in how far we are ready to accept differences in the approach to French literature.

Professor Lionnet begins the second part of her talk by explaining that questions of belonging are still crucial in contemporary debates of identity, especially in literature. Therefore, to Professor Lionnet, geographically neutral methods of literary criticism fall short. Professor Lionnet also discusses the 2007 manifesto, published in the newspaper Le Monde, for a world literature in French which crystallizes the cultural, ideological, and political issues relating to identity and language and tries to end the notion of Francophone as unemployable in French literary culture. Professor Lionnet criticizes the manifesto in a variety of ways. First, she explains that the manifesto naively tries to decouple language and power. She also questions the ability of the French language to work as a world language in all walks of life and highlights the importance of French as a language that adapts and is influenced to wherever region it is used. In arguing against the manifesto, Professor Lionnet finishes by saying that what is missing from the concept of a world literature in French is respect for the multiplicity of all the languages of the world.