Help me explore French critical texts (art, language, literature)
May 16, 2021 10:02 AM   Subscribe

I haven't read a lot of French criticism and would like to change this. Texts I've read and liked: Derrida's Monolingualism of the Other, Bourdieu's Language and Symbolic Power (I've read extracts), Barthes's A Lover's Discourse. I'm interested in texts that relate to art, linguistics, literary theory, and identity. Also, probably should mention that I specified French criticism because I can read French (slowly and badly — but it works!).

PS: I find texts by big names quite intimidating but I want to get over this — and the plan is to work on this over the summer months.
posted by bigyellowtaxi to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Reading Benoît Peeters's biography of Derrida made me kind of wish I'd had a better cognitive map of who was friends / pointedly not friends with whom when I was first reading these folks. Like, I'd heard of Derrida's friendship with Bourdieu, but not that his son Jean was named Jean (for Genet) Louis (for Althusser) Emmanuel (for Levinas). Strictly speaking, it doesn't change anything to know that, but timelines, biographical narratives, and intellectual genealogies probably do offer some scaffolding to help with remembering this stuff.

Particular critical texts don't really leap to mind as more important than others for someone getting into it--it's all pretty fun, and it sounds like you're off to a good start. I guess it's not clear from A Lover's Discourse, but Barthes is often an entry point, because he wrote a lot of short, readable texts that are still significant. If you do spend time on biographical stuff, don't miss his own 'autobiography' which sort of problematizes / pokes fun at the genre.
posted by Wobbuffet at 11:27 AM on May 16, 2021

Best answer: I would recommend studying "l'ecriture feminine." Irigaray is the primary go-to ("When Our Two Lips Speak As One") but also Helene Cixous ("The Laugh of the Medusa").
posted by mermaidcafe at 12:09 PM on May 16, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I think you need some Michel Foucault, a real touchstone for my fine-art education a while back. Barthes is fun/funny too. I'm also a big fan of Paul Virilio, though his work is definitely niche.
posted by multivalent at 1:11 PM on May 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Jacques Lacan for a linguistic take on psychoanalytics.

Beaudelaire for a dip into poetry, the beginnings of modernist critique.

Claude Lévi-Strauss for anthropology.

(I love this question and have read excerpts from these in French as a student!)
posted by icy_latte at 1:26 PM on May 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Second mermaidcafe on Irigaray and Cixous. Also, if you liked A Lover's Discourse, you might also like Irigaray's "Elemental Passions", which is written in a similar mode.
posted by media_itoku at 1:51 PM on May 16, 2021

The other suggestions are great, I say as someone who can't read French but appreciated them in translation, I'll just add Guy Debord's La société du spectacle to the list.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:20 PM on May 16, 2021

Best answer: Dammit, I lied, saw Beaudelaire and thought Jean Baudrillard. The latter's book Simulacres et Simulation might also be worth a look.

If you at some point decide to branch out into film, there's also Deleuze and Bazin and some other writing in that area that might then be of interest.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:29 PM on May 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Somewhat belatedly, I would recommend Julia Kristeva.

If you're interested in the crossroads of different languages (French and English) then my suggestion would be Derrida's De la Grammatologie, followed by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's Translator's Preface to her English translation, Of Grammatology. Both were formative for me.

Lastly, Jean Francois' Lyotard's La Condition Postmoderne (on metanarratives) and Leçons sur l'Analytique du Sublime are also interesting and seem to tick your boxes.
posted by fregoli at 7:21 AM on May 23, 2021

Response by poster: A big thank you to everyone. I've ordered a bunch of texts and can't wait to get started.
posted by bigyellowtaxi at 3:27 PM on May 23, 2021

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