Representing Catastrophe: the German Occupation and Algerian War in Post-War French Culture
About this module
Following on from level 2 modules on contemporary French and francophone politics, literature and culture, this module offers students the opportunity to explore in greater depth the historical and socio-political causes and the cultural and ideological consequences of the two major catastrophes that struck mid-twentieth century France: the defeat and occupation by the Germans in 1940, and the loss of Algeria in 1962 following an undeclared civil war that lasted longer than World War Two. A key aim is to study and compare how these major historical events continue to shape contemporary France, and how cultural texts (novels, films, autobiography) engage with history, memory and national and personal identity.
Teaching and Learning
The module will be taught in English over two terms, by weekly lectures, fortnightly seminars and termly tutorial sessions. The first weeks of the course in each term will examine the historical, political and social aspects of the two events, while the remainder will focus on key themes, critical approaches, and texts and films, which have attempted to come to terms with these moments of crisis, from the 1940s to the present. Topics to be covered include: occupation, resistance and collaboration; liberation, the crisis of decolonisation and the struggle for Algerian independence; terrorism and torture; guilt and repression; myths, ideology and the impact on contemporary France. In term one, we will concentrate on detailed study of four works produced from the 1940s to the 1970s: Marcel Aymé’s satirical novel about the liberation (Uranus); Henri Alleg’s testimony about his arrest and torture by the French army in Algiers (La Question); Claire Etcherelli’s poignant novel about a doomed love affair between a French woman and an Algerian in 1950s Paris (Élise ou la vraie vie); and Marcel Ophuls’s iconoclastic documentary film about Clermont-Ferrand under the Occupation (Le Chagrin et la pitié). In term two, we will study four works produced from the 1990s to the present day: two feature films, directed by Dominique Cabrera (L’Autre côté de la mer) and Rachid Bouchareb (Indigènes); and two novels, by Irène Némirovsky (Suite française) and Boualem Sansal (Le Village de l’Allemand). Reference will be made to a small number of other relevant works.
The module will be assessed by two summative essays of 2,500 words, written in English or French, focusing respectively on the texts and topics covered in each term. Building on information and approaches covered in lectures and seminars and your own personal research, you will be expected to offer a comparative analysis of two works and explore how literary and/or cinematic texts engage with the historical issues and ideological debates raised by World War Two and the struggle for Algerian independence.
Jean-Pierre Azéma (1979), De Munich à la Libération (Seuil); Julian Jackson (2001), France: the Dark Years 1940-1944 (OUP paperback); Henry Rousso (1990), Le Syndrome de Vichy de 1944 à nos jours (Seuil, paperback); Alistair Horne (1977), A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 (New York Review Books); Benjamin Stora (1991), La Gangrène et l’oubli (La Découverte); Todd Shepard (2006), The Invention of Decolonisation: The Algerian War and the Remaking of France (Cornell University Press).
Please note that at least one of FREN2011, FREN2041 and FREN2061 is a prerequisite for this module. Given the popularity of this module, only students who meet the prerequisite are allowed to take it.
Where to start
Assuming you meet the prerequisite and are interested by the module, during your year abroad you should dip into a couple of the works set for detailed study to see if they appeal to you, and do the same with the background texts. Bear in mind that if you are resident in France, works in French should be readily available and can often be bought second-hand very cheaply. If you decide to register for the module and your registration is confirmed, before returning to Durham it would be advisable to look more systematically at works to be covered in term one and at least two history books (e.g. Jackson and/or Rousso on WW2, Horne and/or Stora on Algeria).
Any queries to module teaching Professor Christopher Lloyd [firstname.lastname@example.org]