Passions du réel : la littérature à l’épreuve des faits

For the last few decades in France, the “call of the real” (Forest) has presented itself to many writers as nothing less than an ethical imperative. Indeed, texts belonging to referential or “factual” literature have multiplied to such an extent that commentators – echoing Husserl’s famous exhortation – have talked about a “return to the real” (Viart), as if literature, in its rejection of fiction, was vowing to immerse itself anew in the world. Thus Georges Perec attempts to describe the place Saint-Sulpice in Paris as faithfully as possible and to a point of “exhaustion”; Annie Ernaux, in her Journal du dehors, aims for a kind of “photographic writing”, one that should be entirely objective; Philippe Vasset, in exploring the uncharted surroundings of Paris similarly hopes to write “as close to the ground” as possible.

But how does one write the real? And what are the consequences of this “drive” for truth (Jeannelle)? How can one reconcile the desire to document, to bear witness to what is there or memorialize what is already vanishing, with the formal and aesthetic issues that are at the core of what we consider to be properly literary? Can one even distinguish unambiguously fact from fiction, truth from invention? And how is our very understanding of “reading” challenged by these accounts? These are a few of the questions that will structure our investigation, as we work through a selection of “factographic” writings – some recent, others less so –, paying particular attention to texts concerned with space, with the urban and suburban landscapes.

Texts by Augé, Bailly, Bove, Bon, Clerc, Ernaux, Perec, Rolin, Sorman and Vasset, among others.

This course is designed for selected undergraduates and graduate students.