Current FRIT Faculty Research
Transgender Universalism in France
Alongside other projects, I am in the process of developing a book project on the concept of transgender universalism. If the French nation-state has aimed since the Revolution to consider its citizens as citizens first and to relegate other identity categories to second place (gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, etc.), I ask what has happened over time to transgender citizens in this French model of political identity. I spent two months in the archives in Paris in summer ’15 working through transgender representation in TV, film, tabloid journalism, autobiography, medicine, law, theater, and novels from the 1930s until today. Having already published articles on French transgender film and fiction of the 21st century, I am now working on incorporating this archival work to extend my project back in time and to think about how to marry gender/queer/transgender theory, political theory, and specific French cultural artifacts from the 50s to today. I am especially interested in how representations of transgender citizens produce French universalism in unexpected ways. Currently, I am writing a chapter on this question in the 50s and on the first French film with an identifiable transsexual character who undergoes sexual reassignment surgery.
Europe in the Middle Ages
For a long time I have been working on late medieval political literature and holy women. In many ways these two interests have converged in the last few years. In May 2016 -- just before the BREXIT vote in the UK -- my French colleague Joël Blanchard and I organized a colloquium on the concept of Europe in the Middle Ages at the Université du Maine in Le Mans, France. We are now editing the papers from this meeting and are excited about the insights they provide in this time of multiple crises in the European Union. I am also part of an international team of scholars that explores the relationship between two great 14th-century Europeans: Saints Birgitta of Sweden and Catherine of Siena. I am investigating their political discourses and their place in the political literature of their time. In my book Poets, Saints, and Visionaries of the Great Schism, 1378-1417 (Penn State UP, 2006) I analyzed their efforts to put an end to the Great Schism of the Western Church; now I am interested in their calls for a new crusade and the strategies they use to calm civic and international strife. The central question for me is how women can gain a political voice in the Middle Ages -- and today, for that matter. Women's education is another issue I am working on right now and I have explored it for texts that propose new colonies in the Holy Land. A couple of pieces on Pierre Dubois, an early fourteenth-century theorist on the crusades and the retaking of the Holy Land, have just appeared. Together with my studies on Christine de Pizan, all this work really aims to give women their rightful place in medieval culture and modern scholarship.
Playing the Detective in 18th c European Cultural History
In the past several years my research has focused on the Italian writer, literary critic, and lexicographer Giuseppe Baretti (1719-1789), who traveled rather extensively in Europe, and ended up living and working in London, where Samuel Johnson’s friendship helped securing him a place in the important literary and cultural circles of the time. It is by now a widely shared opinion that with his private teaching, his anthologies and grammar books, his dictionaries, literary dissertations, travel accounts and cultural commentaries Baretti succeeded in playing a vital role in the revision of ideas about Italy and Italian culture in mid to late 18th-century England. As it often happens with the output of cosmopolitan writers of the period - who published in more than one language and had international experiences – a good portion of this author’s writings have gone dispersed, and what is available to present-day readers exists in a fragmented and incomplete state, and has been therefore studied in small, individual ‘parcels’. I have worked, and continue to work towards a comprehensive evaluation of Baretti’s production, by filling as many gaps as possible in our present knowledge of his life and work.
I brought to light a total of fourteen letters penned by Baretti, and studied closely his Commonplace Book. More recently I have discovered manuscript material never before edited and published: two long encomiastic poems dedicated by Baretti to the king of Spain, Charles III, and his wife Maria Amalia of Saxony. The publication of a critical edition of these and other little known poetic texts is due shortly.
Currently I am working on projects directly related to my ongoing scholarly interests. I am pursuing my research on the Franco-Chilean Director Raoul/Raùl Ruiz: I am now fully engaged in writing an essay about his adaptations of 19th c. novels. The starting point is the stunning 2010 “Mysteries of Lisbon,” a Spanish-language adaptation of a Portuguese novel, but I make my way back to the hegemonic 19th c. French novelistic tradition in bringing in as an essential referent “La Maison Nucingen," which was an adaptation of an earlier novel by Balzac. This is part of a reflection on tradition, literariness and transnationalism in contemporary French and Italian cinema. I am also writing my second essay on Michel Houellebecq within a critique of the relation between contemporary novels and cultural commentary, and in particular on the role of authorship as related to celebrity strategies in late capitalist societies. Finally, I'm carrying on a reflection on Italian women authors of the mid- to late 20h century –which I formerly developed in relation to Elsa Morante. I am currently completing an essay about the kind of authorship practiced by Natalia Ginzburg in the wake of an explicitly patriarchal role model, the 19th c. literary giant Alessandro Manzoni.
Charting the Island
My current project, a book-length manuscript entitled “Charting the Island: Position and Belonging in Sicily from Unification to the Union,” sketches out the spatial rhetorics by which Sicilian cultural production shapes the island’s position and belonging to configurations of identity like “Italy,” the “Mediterranean,” the “South,” and “Europe.” Focusing on three big-picture and high-stakes moments in Sicilian history—the 1908 Earthquake of Messina and Reggio Calabria; the ventennio nero; and Italy’s entry into the European Union—my project likens Sicilian belonging to spatially-inflected tropes like ellipsis, synecdoche, and anaphora. The cultural products I examine are wide-ranging and diverse, allowing the project to embrace both literary and non-literary texts from the last hundred years or so: Messina's post-earthquake urban shantytown; Mussolini’s 1937 visit to Sicily to project military force from the island to war-torn Spain on one hand and its nascent Empire on the other; the proposed construction of the Bridge of the Straits; the political theatre of immigration and the symbolic valence of Lampedusa.
Orphic Poetry in Renaissance Italy
My current book project, Orphic Poetry in Renaissance Italy, examines intersections of literature, music, and philosophy, focusing on the new significance that the figure of Orpheus took on in Italian culture beginning in the mid-fifteenth century. Whereas earlier medieval authors had seen Orpheus primarily as a literary and mythical character, Italian humanists in this period attributed to Orpheus a body of poetry that could be interpreted by philosophers, imitated by poets, manipulated by princes, and performed by musicians. I show that the rediscovery of Orphic texts – especially the Greek texts known as the Orphic Hymns – contributed to new reflections on the nature of poetic inspiration, and to the emergence of new forms of poetry and music, from Marsilio Ficino's reconstructions of ancient Orphic singing to Angelo Poliziano's innovative musical drama, the Orfeo.
The Emotions of Absolutism
Seventeenth-century France has been called the Age of Reason and the Age of Absolutism, but it was the age of emotion as well. Descartes claimed the passions as a distinctly modern field of inquiry; Charles Le Brun taught artists how to draw emotions; and Madeleine de Scudéry redrew the map of human relations in the Carte de Tendre. My current book project studies this affective revolution in the context of the birth of print news (the first periodicals in France date from the 1600s). In today’s age where new media creates new affective relationships to power—when we can “friend” (and unfriend) our presidents or follow their tweets—it behooves us to consider the intertwining of emotion and information, affect and media, that defined the early modern subject of absolutism. My new project takes me from media to materiality. From unruly matter on the classical stage (blushing swords and disappearing walls) to the talking coins, birds, flowers, and trees that fill volumes of gallant poetry, what kinds of relationships to the material world does early modern literature navigate, uphold, or subvert? And what happens when we bring the messiness of materiality to the disembodied elegance of French classicism? As a spin-off to this project, I've also organized a faculty-graduate workshop at the University of Pittsburgh on “Premodern Elements”: earth, wind, air, and fire.
From Classroom to Market
My research interests include innovative instructional methodologies and practices that are specific to the teaching of foreign and second languages.For example, I have recently developed courses at the intermediate level in Italian that incorporate content-based instructional methods. My next research project will examine how instructors and program coordinators can incorporate and integrate current best teaching practices into their curricula, and in particular will examine the use of flipped classrooms, technology-enhanced courses, and alternatives to traditional textbooks. Another research interest of mine stems from my interest in Italian food culture and food studies. I am currently working on a presentation in which I will discuss how food culture can be employed in L2 Italian classes and in English-taught history and culture classes to introduce ideas that revolve around diversity and multiculturalism in Italy. This talk will also discuss how to build students' intercultural competence within the field of food studies, by helping students move beyond facile stereotypes that surround Italian cuisine, and help them obtain a better understanding of how food and cuisine have helped shaped Italian regional and national identities.
The Postcolonial Mediterranean Imaginary
Where my first book, Staging the Novel: Bodies of Francophone-Algerian Culture, addresses relations between the Francophone-Algerian novel and forms of political, popular performance, my current work-in-progress moves from questions of form and aesthetics to explore relationships between culture and space in the Mediterranean. Titled Reading Cultures in the Mediterranean this manuscript-in-progress examines the circulation of cultural genres in the Mediterranean, examining the particular ways in which forms of collective memory are imagined through the translation, adaptation, and circulation of both literary texts and performance practices through time and space. This project draws upon completed and ongoing archival research; collaborations with theatre artists; and work on both authors and publishing houses. I envision a book project that focuses on Francophone authors from the Maghreb, Lebanon, and France. Alongside, I continue to maintain strong interests in comparative theatre studies and am concurrently working on two side projects that will culminate in journal articles. The first, focusing on popular, political theatre in Algeria and India, draws on multi-site fieldwork to comparatively analyze the ways local traditions tied to notions of community are transformed in the context of theatre that emerges as a response to the politics of neoliberal globalization. The second project addresses the ways Algerian writers and playwrights have engaged or responded to – either directly or through a body of work – the aesthetics of Samuel Beckett. My interest lies specifically in asking how Algerian artists’ engagement in a Beckettian aesthetics of indifference might further ongoing reevaluations of the postcolonial and political aspects of Beckett’s oeuvre.
The Eco-Ethics of Haitian Literature
I’m currently revising a manuscript on contemporary Haitian literature. The Haitian earthquake of 2010 brought to the surface a history of environmental and political injustice. In fact, Haitian writers have long depicted the imbrication of geological, political, and social fault lines, and their stories speak to the global implications of disaster, rather than simply its Haitian or Caribbean dimensions. Their literary representations of vulnerability and “Relation” (in its Glissantian resonance of a constant opening to cultural and linguistic difference) constitute what I am calling an “eco-ethics” for the Anthropocene. This is the name proposed by a diverse group of scientists (including atmospheric chemists, geologists, and environmentalists) for a new epoch, the “Age of the Human.” Scientists contend that humans are now geological agents capable of impacting the Earth’s systems. The urgency of this call to action appears straightforward, yet its assumption of an abstract, undifferentiated humanity masks a neoliberal ideological agenda. The central argument of my book is that Haitian literature calls into question all politics of ecological disaster predicated on the illusion of a generalizing, future-oriented humanitarian condition. I’ve published pieces of the manuscript, including the writings of Yanick Lahens, Kettly Mars, and the documentary films of Raoul Peck. I’ve also given conference papers and lectures on depictions of migrants and refugees in the fictional works of Emile Ollivier, René Philoctète, and Louis-Philippe Dalembert.
Francophone Linguistic Landscapes
Last year Amani Attia (LCTL, Arabic) and I collected photographs of linguistic landscapes in Paris. We have used these materials in courses this past year on the Oakland campus and I also used them in my stylistics course on the Pitt-in-Paris program as we compared field examples of bilingualism and translation in public advertising. It is interesting to see that while Paris may be the world's largest French-speaking city, it has become, like all other major metropolitan areas, a global Anglophone city as well. Gallo-Euro-English as defined by Jennifer Jenkins (2009) is alive and well in Paris as a commercial and cultural medium. I am currently adding to the corpus of photos, now that we have established stylistic categories in which to place them. In the summer of 2017, supported by a Bowman Grant, I was able to photograph linguistic landscapes in Montreal, a city that, despite its centuries-old and extremely powerful Anglophone minority, presents linguistic landscapes with a much greater proportion of French language signage than many parts of Paris.
French Banlieue Cinema
My current book project seeks to bring a new approach to banlieue films or rather, popular French films that rework the iconography and tropes of the banlieue cinema genre, by fusing them with genre formulae more traditionally associated with Hollywood cinema, especially its low status B-genres, including horror, musicals, science fiction, action-adventure, gangster films, and interracial buddy comedies. Since the 1990s French banlieue films have evolved into a genre that provides a recognizable set of locations, character types, and narrative tropes—ones that have endured across several decades and a diverse set of directors. Much of the scholarly work on banlieue cinema has treated it through a sociological and contextual lens, measuring the degree to which individual films and directors represent the suburbs accurately and gauging what kind of progressive political interventions they make. By analyzing the different transnational genres that have mediated the banlieues in popular French cinema, I show how a body of French popular films seeks to challenge France’s culture of universalism and change public misperceptions of the banlieues and its residents in ways that are complementary to, but distinct from, other banlieue films that take a militant, sociological, or documentary approach.