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Race and the Apocalypse

TuTh 11:00am-12:15pm, Prof. Sean Singh Matharoo (

« Nous travaillons à une lyse totale de cet univers morbide » —Frantz Fanon
The principle of sufficient reason (PSR), made explicit by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz in La monadologie (1714), asserts that everything has a reason for being, and so nothing is irrational. It could be argued that the PSR at once promises and forecloses the future. Quentin Meillassoux, in Après la finitude (2006), critiques and inverts the PSR: nothing has a reason for being, and so everything is irrational. Do we find in this inversion a sufficient alternative to the PSR? In this seminar, we will slowly approach this question, asking after how and why a critique of and an alternative to the PSR may be thought as we together turn to the study of race and the apocalypse in French and francophone literature and media and philosophy. We will ask after what it means to speak of and, indeed, write down such a critique and such an alternative in the wake and ongoing practice of antiracist, anticolonial, and climate struggle. We will further ask: What does it mean to oppose the ongoing realities of colonial-racial violence in light of the ongoing realities of climate change? What, if any, is the form of the subject opposed to the ongoing realities of colonial-racial violence in light of the ongoing realities of climate change? How and why might the agonizingly close, ceaselessly interrupted, painfully repetitious, ultimately noisy reading of, watching of, listening to, and, finally, thinking with French and francophone literature and media and philosophy open new spaces, new times for futural social forms—perhaps, climatic forms—generously inadequate to the ongoing realities of colonial-racial violence in light of the ongoing realities of climate change? We will remain attentive to questions of aesthetics, form, ethics, and, of course, language, asking after how and why language might model such futural social forms. For this reason, we will be returned, again and again, to the problems and promises of translation, history, the law, property, alienation, speculation, and “the human.” A final question to guide and, perhaps, even, not guide us: Are we simply unearthing the ruins of the past apocalypse?

*Taught in English.

Prerequisites: FREN 300 and one of FREN 370, FREN 371, or FREN 372.

Theater and the Past: History as Repertoire

Recommended pre-requisites for undergrads: FREN 300 plus at least two additional 300-level French courses, as well as previous study of theater (in any language). Please feel free to contact the instructor for help in deciding whether this course is right for you.

The raging success of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton spectacularly illustrates theater’s power as a mode of reflection on the past. Historical dramas have captivated theater audiences since Antiquity. Yet, in many ways, theater resists the typical demands of historical storytelling. Characterized by presence, live-ness, and repetition, the temporality of theater challenges the linearity of historical chronology. What does it mean to imagine the past as drama rather than as narrative? In this seminar, we will explore how dramatists have approached history as repertoire in a wide array of plays. We will consider how plays about historical events “replay” the past, how they navigate the representation of violence, how they color history with emotion, how they process historical trauma, and how they create resonances between disparate times and places. The heart of the course will focus on early modern France—specifically what is often labeled the “neo-classical” corpus—a rich source of both historical dramas and theoretical writing about the stakes of dramatizing history. But the course will also include study of dramatists who revolutionized theater’s approach to history in the twentieth century. The course will conclude with a brief look at the emerging field of “Performance as Research,” a collaborative mode of scholarship that brings actors and theater-makers into dialogue with academic researchers. Through the example of PaR, we will think about how theater might inspire an approach to historical scholarship (on whatever period) that transcends old historicist-versus-presentist binaries. Course reading will include dramatic works by Garnier, Hardy, Corneille, Racine, Bernard, Voltaire, Beckett, Brecht, and Mnouchkine as well as criticism and theory by Benjamin, Carlson, Hurley, Manning, Roach, Schechner, Schneider, and Taylor. A full reading list will be available upon request after October 31. Seminar discussions will take place in French.

Previously Offered:

Spring 2019, Fall 2021