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Crèvecoeur’s Land of the Free: Questioning the Foundations of American Hospitality from a French Perspective
Professor Judith Still

Location: Room 124, 43 Gordon Square, London WC1H OPD
Date and time: 24 May 2023, 6pm to 8.30pm

This event is jointly hosted by the Centre for French, Francophone and Comparative Studies, and the Eighteenth-Century research Group.


This paper investigates some of the ‘fabulous’ knots in the repeated representation of America as a hospitable land via the writings of the Franco-American J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, which are composed both in the ‘colonial period’ and after the establishment of the United States. Crèvecoeur is best known for his Letters from an American Farmer (1782), a foundational text for American identity, although analysis of his later writings in French enables an even more interesting picture to emerge. I argue that Crèvecoeur is important in unpicking the contradictions related to enslavement and to Americans’ relationship to animals and the environment; however, here I shall focus particularly on his complex and conflicted representations of the indigenous peoples of America. These both reflect and challenge the commonplaces of his day with respect to hospitable sauvages. Hospitality raises the thorny questions of (the definitions of) property and freedom. Crèvecœur’s constant refrain is that the dispossessed of the Old World migrate to the New – there to be welcomed hospitably, work as free landowners, be adopted as citizens, and, by mixing with other Americans, take on a new (hospitable) identity in the melting pot. His works, at moments, approach the genre of the prospectus encouraging immigration. However, he (an adopted Oneida) is painfully aware that neither the image of the New World as empty, nor the somewhat different myth that native peoples are properly paid for their land and that it is legally, and so justly, acquired, is true. Other stories or fragments haunt his narratives. The population of indigenous peoples in the USA was reduced by more than 90% by 1820. The Declaration of Independence (with its strange ontology picked up by Derrida) is 1776; however, it is 1924 before Congress accords a mixed blessing and recognizes Native American people as citizens of the United States… 

Judith Still BA MSC PhD FBA is emeritus Professor of French and Critical Theory at the University of Nottingham and Vice-President (Humanities) of the British Academy. She is the author of Justice and Difference in the Works of Rousseau (1993), Feminine Economies (1997), Derrida and Hospitality (2010), Enlightenment Hospitality (2011), Derrida and Other Animals: the Boundaries of the Human (2015). She is the editor of Men’s Bodies (2003), co-editor with M. Worton of Intertextuality (1990) and Textuality and Sexuality (1993); with D. Knight of Women and Representation (1995) and Theory-tinged Criticism (2009); with S. Ribeiro de Oliveira of Brazilian Feminisms (1999); with Atack et al of Women, Genre and Circumstance (2012); with S. Jordan, Disorderly Eating in Contemporary Women’s Writing (2020). She is working on the Franco-American farmer-philosopher St John de Crèvecoeur (see 10-Minute Talks: Crèvecœur: what is an American? | The British Academy)

Illustration: J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur. Portrait at the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium.

Birkbeck Arts Week 2022

between Damian Catani and Michaël Ferrier

When: — 
Venue: Online


Conversation on the question of whether it is possible to separate the art from the artist, between acclaimed French novelist Michaël Ferrier and Birkbeck’s Damian Catani. Online.

Damian Catani’s biography of the controversial French novelist Louis-Ferdinand Céline was published by Reaktion Books in September 2021. Damian will be in conversation with acclaimed French novelist Michaël Ferrier, on the question of whether it is possible to separate the art from the artist when the artist has as abhorrent political views as Céline had, especially considering the fact that his novels drew so much on his own life. However, the debate will not focus solely on this aspect of Céline; it will also explore the literary impact of a novelist described by Marie Darrieussecq as “One of the best French writers ever, who re-invented the very language of literature, and a complete SALOPARD”.

Damian Catani is Senior Lecturer in French at Birkbeck, University of London. He is a specialist in 19th- and 20th-century French literature, especially late 19th-century poetry and the relationship between literature and ethics. His other published books are The Poet in Society: Art Consumerism and Politics in Mallarmé (2003), and Evil: A History in Modern French Literature and Thought (2013).

Michaël Ferrier is a Franco-Mauritian essayist and the award-winning author of several novels. He is also professor of French at Chuo University in Tokyo, Japan. His latest novels are Mémoires d’Outre-Mer (2015), translated as Over Seas of Memory (2019), and Scrabble: une enfance tchadienne (2019). Ferrier is a great reader of Céline and has published a book on Céline entitled Louis-Ferdinand Céline et la chanson (2004).

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15 November 2017
“Narrating the Community”

Professor Rémi Astuc
(Université de Cergy-Pontoise, France)

Can community be narrated ? Can it be verbally articulated, when community is above all a feeling? Many leaders (and maybe artists?) have longed for those magical words that would unite people.

Using what anthroplogy teaches us, especially in magic and rituals, we will consider the possibility of finding communal energy again and of putting it into practice in today’s world. From ancient myths to contemporary literature, art has undoubtedly had an essential role to play in the quest for narratives that could unite humanity.

Rémi Astruc is Professeur de littératures francophones et comparées at Université de Cergy-Pontoise, where he was also Director of the Department of Literature. He is an expert on representations of identity and community in literature, comedy and the grotesque, and the anthropological function of literature, and is the author of numerous books and articles on these themes.

Time: 2pm – 3pm
Place: 43 Gordon Square, room 323

Irving Goh masterclass : Gilles Deleuze and Community
Irving GohFriday 10 June 2016, 2 to 5 pm, 112

Dr Irving Goh is the author of The Reject: Community, Politics, and Religion After the Subject (2014). He has also published widely in journals such as  diacriticsMLNdifferences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural TheoryPhilosophy East & WestCultural CritiqueTheory & Event, and Cultural Politics. He wrote his PhD at Cornell University under the direction of Dominick LaCapra, Timothy Murray, Jonathan Culler, and the French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy. He is currently a Newton fellow at the University of Cambridge.

Irving Goh will join us to discuss Deleuze’s understanding of the concept of community.

Refreshments will be served. To book a place, please contact Nathalie Wourm at

A Strange Confusion of Kinship

by Jean Owen

Date: 18 June 2012
Start time: 6pm
Location: Room GO2, 43 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury

Free entry; open to all
“Giving an overview of the phenomenon of incest-as-adult sexuality, my paper will establish a model of incest based on a daughter’s desire for her father through such examples as the tale of Myrrha (Ovid, ‘Metamorphoses’) and Kathryn Harrison’s ‘The Kiss’ (1997). With emphasis on the biological relation between the incesting couple and the notion of genetic sexual attraction, I shall explore the impact of this ‘forbidden love’ on the family in terms of law, literature and life.”

Jean Owen


Birkbeck Blog

There is no Class Distinction in Music

by Susan Alexander-Max
(Director, The Music Collection)
Date: 1 May 2012
Start time: 4pm
Location: room B07, 43 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury

Free entry; open to all
“Giving a brief and general outline of our music heritage, my paper will highlight the changing face of music from Ancient Greece to the present day. How has it been, and still is, a ceaseless source for expression socially, politically and aesthetically? With emphasis given to 17th and late 19th /early 20th century French literature, these various uses of music have often run concurrently; composers and authors have worked together using music as the voice for their specific needs. Through literature, opera and later through film, I would like to look at these specific needs. Music has been used to disguise and, at the same time, expose class distinction. How has this affected the community?”

Susan Alexander-Max


Can You Hear the Background Noise?: Silences and Silencing in Mon coeur à l’étroit (Marie NDiaye, 2007) and White Material (Claire Denis, 2009)
by Geoff Brown and Pauline Eaton

Date: 5 March 2012
Start time: 4pm
Location: room G02, 43 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury
Free entry; open to all

“At the heart of Marie NDiaye’s Mon Coeur a l’étroit is an unspoken event, and the novel’s plot is woven from silenced threads of narrative. Pauline Eaton’s paper will illustrate the effectiveness of this narrative silencing, which suppresses kinship and community, and ask whether NDiaye’s recent work, which specifies what was previously indicible is less powerful as a consequence.

The dialogue in White Material is fragmented, incidental, ineffective. It contrasts starkly with the evocations of the silent landscape and the mood music of the film. Geoff Brown’s paper will demonstrate that the soundtrack – whether musical score or ambient noise – conveys the significance of events in ways untouched by the alternating chatter and taciturnity of the characters.”

Geoff Brown and Pauline Eaton

From Normative Unhappiness to Non-Normative Bliss:
Modernist Intimacies in Katherine Mansfield and Dorothy Richardson
by Dr. Jennifer Cooke
(Loughborough University)
Date: 10 November 2011
Start time: 2pm
Location: Room G01, 43 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury

Free entry; open to all

“It’s an examination of the representation of the unhappiness of marriage and the authors’ exploration of same-sex desire and states of bliss as an alternative. At the end of the paper I explore how these are echoed in recent intimacy theory by Bersani and Phillips. There’s no need forthe audience to know the work of the writers in advance.”

Jennifer Cooke

Liberté, Egalité et Homoparenté
by Kim Everett
(University of Greenwich)
Date: 26 October 2011
Start time: 6pm
Location: room G02, 43 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury

Free entry; open to all


“BRAKC looks at how bonds between humans are represented and conceptualised and how they have mutated across time and space. The family lawyer looks at bonds that attract “family” recognition and importantly, those that do not. For the individuals involved this has important practical implications but of equal importance is the effect of the normative force of law: family forms once deemed “unnatural” or subversive can gain societal acceptance once accorded legal status.

This paper will focus on a particular type of kinship – that of same-sex parenthood – which although recognised legally in many European countries (including the UK) does not attract legal recognition in France. This paper will firstly examine the latest legal developments in this area and will then reflect upon the reasons that could explain why France, one of the first countries to introduce civil partnerships (PACS) for same-sex couples in the late 90s, lags behind its neighbours in granting legal status to same- sex parents.

Two broad themes can be discerned running through the debates on same-sex parenthood in France. The first is that parenthood must be founded on a “biological truth”. There are two strands to this argument; that a child must have two parents of a different sex and that the child must be linked genetically to both. The second is that to grant legal recognition to same-sex parents would be to run contrary to a founding principle of the French Republic, that of universalism and equality before the law. The former line of argument is not peculiar to France, the second, of course is. I argue that it is the combination of these two themes, one in its appeal to a “natural order”, and the other to French universalism that has proved to be a powerful and effective weapon in countering claims for recognition of same sex parenthood.”

Kim Everett


The Philosophy of Humanitarian Intervention

by Professor Cécile Fabre
(Lincoln College, Oxford)


Date: 17 October 2011
Start time: 4pm
Location: room B03, 43 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury

Free entry; open to all
“There now is a broad consensus, amongst war ethicists, that military intervention into the internal affairs of a sovereign state is sometimes morally permissible, in particular as a means to stop and prevent crimes which, in the now standard phrase, shock ‘the conscience of mankind’. The issue is particularly salient at the moment, in the light of the intervention in Lybia. Yet, defending the right to intervene from an ethical point of view is surprisingly difficult if one bears in mind that an intervention consists in killing some (many?) individuals, not all of whom are in fact responsible for the egregious wrongdoings which trigger the war. My aim, in this talk, is to try and do precisely that. I first offer an argument in favour of intervention. I end with some remarks about rules of conduct in such wars – particularly as pertain conduct vis a vis innocent civilians.”

Cécile Fabre


Reading the Queer Will

by Dr. Daniel Monk

Date: 23 June 2011
Start Time: 6pm
Location: room 110, 43 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury

Free entry; open to all

“Drawing on literary, media sources and case-law in the UK and the USA, this paper argues that the principle of testamentary freedom provides an overlooked space for the lawful and public expression of alternative kinships and ‘deviant’ and ‘unnatural’ desires. At the same time the principle exposes sexual minorities to particular risks and represents a highly contingent space for political expression.

The paper argues that ‘queerying inheritance’ can contribute and complicate debates within socio-legal scholarship about intestacy reform and sociological scholarship on intimate and sexual citizenship and identity politics.”

Daniel Monk



Digital Communities:
Literature and the Internet in France

by Dr. Nina Parish
(University of Bath)

Date: 31 January 2011
Start Time: 4pm
Location: Room 110, 43 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury

Free entry; open to all

“At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the traditional book format is being called into question by technological developments and changing reading habits. In the computer age, the creative possibilities offered by the computer and related technologies cannot be ignored. In this paper, I will examine how electronic media and digital technologies have had an impact on the literary world in France exploring the use of the computer by writers to create, distribute and receive work as well as how it has changed the way this community functions.”

Nina Parish



Fleeing Modernity?
Kafka’s Castle and constructions of Gemeinschaft

by Graham Fallowes

Date: 22 November 2010
Start Time: 2pm
Location: Room 110, 43 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury

Free entry; open to all

“Studies have over recent years revealed a strong interrelationship between Kafka’s writing and the polemical-ideological setting of early twentieth century Prague. Most compellingly, Kafka’s writing has been shown to resonate with the ideological preoccupations of the city’s Zionist movement, which enjoined assimilated Jews to look towards the traditional social structures of the Hassidic Ostjuden as a means of re-imagining their own identity. This resonance in turn raises the question of how Kafka’s writing relates more generally to the period’s increasingly suspicious stance towards modernity, in which the cult of Gemeinschaft often appeared to eclipse Enlightenment ideals of citizenship.

In this seminar, I will attempt to demonstrate how aspects of this discourse emerge in Kafka’s Castle: a novel which often derives narrative force from the mismatch of K., a seemingly modern protagonist, and his pre-industrial village setting. I hope to show the manner in which the terminology of the early sociological discourse, where the term Gemeinschaft was explicitly defined and popularised, can be usefully employed to describe the ensuing social dynamics between K. and the villagers. In so doing, I aim to demonstrate the manner in which The Castle plays out many of the paradoxes inherent within the surrounding discourse, predicated upon critiquing modernity, yet reliant upon a fundamentally modern outlook.”

Graham Fallowes


La Communion Comme Dévoration Chez Wajdi Mouawad

by Dr. Aude Campmas
(King’s College, University of London)

Date: 21 April 2010
Start time: 13.00
Location: Room G02, 43 Gordon Square

Free entry; first come, first seated.

“En juin 1992, le dramaturge québécois Wajdi Mouawad recevait une bourse du conseil des arts du Canada pour retourner dans son pays d’origine, le Liban, qu’il avait quitté quinze ans auparavant afin de fuir la guerre civile. Il avait 25 ans et commençait une odyssée théâtrale qui s’achèverait 16 ans plus tard après l’écriture d’une tétralogie : Le Sang des promesses.

L’état de guerre est un motif central de Littoral, Incendies, Forêts et Ciels. Les quatre pièces mettent en scène la destruction des frontières, des limites, des liens, des familles qui conduit à l’émergence du monstrueux, du chaos. Nous nous proposons d’étudier comment, dans un monde où le mot «famille » n’a plus de sens, ou les frères et sœurs s’entretuent, où les liens du sang conduisent à l’horreur, l’espoir naît de la reconstruction d’histoires, de routes, de liens, d’amitiés.

L’amitié chez Wajdi Mouawad est communion et ses histoires racontent la solidarité, l’amour en temps de guerre. L’amitié permet aussi de reconstruire les chemins détruits, les liens brisés, de tracer des noms sur les tombes oubliées, bref par ces lignes diverses de mettre les monstres en cage (derrière des lignes), de comprendre et de pardonner, de reconstruire une communauté.

Mais toute communion (d’âme) est dévoration de l’autre. C’est peut-être cela Le Sang des promesses…”

Aude Campmas


A Walled City: Nicosia and its Divided Memories

by Evanthia Tselika
(Birkbeck, University of London)

Date: 17 March 2010
Start time: 13.00
Location: Room 324, 43 Gordon Square

Free entry; first come, first seated.

“The divided city of Lefkosia, Lefkosha, Nicosia (Cyprus) is the European Union’s most Eastern frontier and a former subject of the British Empire. It is largely known to the international world because of the ethnic and national strife between the Christian (Greek) and Muslim (Turkish) population of the island, a situation that can be mirrored by other locales in the Balkan area post the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The city is marketed to tourists as the ‘only divided’ capital within the European Union, a firm reality that began with the ethnic troubles that developed in the first half of the twentieth century and unfolded itself to the firm division that divided the urban and rural landscape for thirty years. The general interpretation of Cyprus is that this is an island exclusively inhabited by Greeks and Turks and it is these frictions that have lead to the cold war that has been the ‘Cyprus Problem’.

Cyprus throughout its history represented a mixture of cultures but due to its entangled narratives in the twentieth century, its multi cultural past had been denied. As it is now becoming the home for tens of thousands of refugees, economic migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa and Turkish settlers (a term ascribed to migrants from Inner Turkey that move to Northern Cyprus), this former British colony is undergoing one of its most diverse experiences of cultural plurality.

This presentation aims to highlight the developments of these cultures of ethno nationalism that describe the divided landscape of the city. This will be achieved through the examination of social, cultural and anthropological theory as it has been applied to readings of the divided communities of Cyprus and the ambiguous border situation with its gaps, its voids and its charged imaginaries. In this bi-polar centre the legacies of the 20th century and the transformations of the 21st are challenging this divided city to introspection, vis-a-vis its claims to an international vocabulary, however ignored, and its architectonic steps forward.

As the wider spectrum of my research is concentrating on how creative production can be utilized as a tool for much needed social contact, I will also mention in brief some debates over the use of the physical space of the no man’s land, of this urban ‘frozen in time’ void. Through the umbrella of creation in the public space and social engagement through the arts, this project will aim to narrate visual voices of the inhabitants of a peripheral community in an environment where the divisions of the two ethnicities have been the driving force of political life on the island. Through efforts of bi communal, peace building events a loose frame work has existed in which art has functioned in a socially engaged manner on the island. However in a location where mono cultural agendas have been the framework of how a bi cultural existence could take form, multiculturalism has developed post 1974 indicating that new schemes and increased efforts for social contact are vital.

Interpretations of contemporary visual culture are presented with manifestations into the street and through action, site specific and participatory art. The production of socially engaged creative work becomes a move to challenge us to imagine how we would form, cast and shape local social relationships within the global infrastructure of our lives. In an expansionist Europe where identities are largely transforming and migration is reshaping the national landscape, cultural and creative contact amongst the different elements of society is urgent if smooth co existence and mutual respect is to ensue (particularly in a charged ethno landscape such as Cyprus).”

Evanthia Tselika


Class and Gender in some Literary Utopias of the 1920s

by Dr. Luis Trindade
(Birkbeck, University of London)

Date: 3 February 2010
Start time: 13.00
Location: Room B13, 43 Gordon Square

Free entry; first come, first seated.

“The 1920s were a moment when utopian and dystopian creativeness proliferated in Portuguese literature. Several writers imagined delightful or terrifying communities from where we can now draw a map of the dominant political subjectivities of the time. Religious and atheist, on the one hand, men and women, on the other, seemed to compose the two main imaginable forms of collective organization. In this sense, such narratives could be used to pacify or fight a political situation haunted by the Russian Revolution and whose organizing political identities (the proletariat and the bourgeoisie) were kept strangely absent from literary representation.”

Luis Trindade


Vladimir Nabokov, Childhood, and Desire

by Dr. Thomas Karshan
(Queen Mary, University of London)

Date: 11 November 2009
Start time: 13.00
Location: Room G19, 43 Gordon Square

Free entry; first come, first seated.

“What makes the figure of the little girl (or boy) at play so seductive to writers such as Lewis Carroll and Vladimir Nabokov, Alexander Pope and J. M. Barrie, Andrew Marvell and James Joyce? In this paper I trace the philosophical and literary debates which feed into the portayal of children in these writers – especially in Nabokov. In particular I show how the child becomes an image of the indeterminate aesthetic realm theorised by Kant and radicalised by Nietzsche, but always threatened by the dull workaday world of consensus reality. The familiar sense that children are artistically desirable because they symbolise the imagination is endorsed, but (hopefully) revisited in a way that makes it once again surprising and usefully shocking.”

Thomas Karshan