French Narratives and Film: Gender and Sexual Diversity


This seminar is funded by a grant awarded to Prof. Durand by the University of Arizona's Institute for LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) Studies.
This seminar – entirely taught in French - introduces and focuses on novelists, filmmakers, and scholars who have analyzed the creation of new forms of possible character development for male and female gender roles and identities. These authors reconsider views on gender performativity and gender norms as well as the incest taboo, social violence, and social transformation.
With the help of several theorists from both sides of the Atlantic, the seminar will focus on French novels and films that were published/produced between 1980 and 2000. As in other parts of the Western world, in France, these two decades were the theater of major occurrences that had a direct impact on the defining and interpretations of gender and sexuality: the arrival, spreading, and recognition of the AIDS epidemics as well as cybernetics; the organization and increased visibility of gay groups and activists; and important new legislation such as the Civil Pact of Solidarity (PACS) – a form of civil union between two adults (same sex or opposite sex) for organizing their joint life.
The objective of this seminar is to identify and examine the several characteristics that seem to shape the corpus of French texts and films dealing with gender and sexuality during the key decades of the 1980s and 1990s as well as to study and discuss the (often controversial) public and academic reactions to such works. Consequently, we will examine:

  • The blurring, uniformization, disappearance, redefinition, or eradication of the notion of gender: the main character in Tahar ben Jelloun’s L’enfant de sable is a girl raised as a boy; we never know for the entire novel if A***, the main protagonist, is a man or a woman in Anne Garréta’s Sphinx; and the notion of gender is erased by the end of Michel Houellebecq’s The Elementary Particles leaving us with cyborgs.
  • The social transformation of gender roles and sexuality in France: in both Marguerite Duras’ L’amant and Annie Ernaux’s Passion simple the female narrators claim their sexuality and terminate the masculine hegemony in the bedroom; in Marie Darrieussecq’s Truismes, the female narrator progressively transforms herself into a sow; and we see the raise and coming out of a French homosexual community in Benoît Duteurtre’s Gaieté parisienne and Ann Scott’s Superstars
  • The physical, psychological and social effects of AIDS in France in the 1980s and 1990s as recounted and witnessed by Hervé Guibert’s A l’ami qui ne m’a pas sauvé la vie and L’homme au chapeau rouge as well as in Vincent Borel’s Un ruban noir.
  • Violence like rapes, abuse, and taboos such as Sadism and Masochism or incest: novels like Christine Angot’s L’inceste and Virginie Despentes’ Baise-moi stage a confrontation of the discourses of violence and taboos to open up a space of ethical critique that effectively answers the challenges that violence poses to representation.

Novels (final selection to be determined)
Angot, Christine. L’Inceste [Incest]. Paris: Stock, 1999.

Ben Jelloun, Tahar. L’enfant de sable. Paris: Seuil, 1985. Translated as The Sand Child.

Borel, Vincent. Un ruban noir [A Black Ruban]. Arles: Actes Sud, 1995.

Darrieussecq, Marie. Truismes. Paris: P.O.L., 1996. Translated as Pig Tales. A Novel of Lust and Transformation.

Despentes, Virginie. Baise-moi. Paris: Florent Massot, 1994. Translated as Rape Me.

Duras, Marguerite. L’amant. Paris: Minuit, 1984. Translated as The Lover.

Duteurtre, Benoît. Gaieté parisienne [French Gayness]. Paris: Gallimard, 1996.

Ernaux, Annie. Passion simple. Paris: Gallimard, 1992.

Garréta, Anne. Sphinx. Paris: Grasset, 1986.

Guibert, Hervé. L’homme au chapeau rouge. Paris: Gallimard, 1992. Translated as The Man in the Red Hat.

---. A l’ami qui ne m’a pas sauvé la vie. Paris: Gallimard, 1990. Trans. as To the Friend Who Did not Save my Life.

Houellebecq, Michel. Les Particules élémentaires. Paris: Flammarion, 1998. Trans. as The Elementary Particles.

Scott, Ann. Superstars. Paris: Flammarion, 1999.

Wittig, Monique. Virgile, non. Paris: Minuit, 1985. Translated as Across the Acheron.
Films (final selection to be determined)

Annaud, Jean-Jacques. L’amant, 1992.
Balasko, Josiane. Gazon maudit, 1995.
Berliner, Alain. Ma vie en rose, 1997.
Blier, Bertrand. Tenue de soirée, 1987.
Chéreau, Patrice. L’Homme blessé, 1983.
Collard, Cyril. Les nuits fauves, 1992.
Denis, Claire. Beau travail, 1999.
Fontaine, Anne. Nettoyage à sec, 1997.
Téchiné, André. Les Roseaux sauvages, 1994.
Theory (final selection to be determined)
Butler, Judith. Undoing Gender. New York: Routledge, 2004.

---. Gender Trouble. Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Durand, Alain-Philippe. “Pascal Bruckner et Michel Houellebecq. Deux transécrivains au milieu du monde.” Michel Houellebecq sous la loupe. Eds. Murielle Lucie Clément and Sabine van Wesemael. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007. 153-67.

---. Un Monde techno. Nouveaux espaces électroniques dans le roman français des années 1980 et 1990[A Techno World. New Electronic Spaces in theFrench Novel of the 1980s and 1990s]. Preface de Marc Augé. Berlin: Weidler, 2004.

---. “Discothèques. Sur Sphinx d’Anne Garréta.”  L’Atelier du Roman 18 (1999): 126-34.

Durand, Alain-Philippe and Naomi Mandel, eds. Novels of the Contemporary Extreme. New York: Continuum, 2006.

Fassin, Eric. L'inversion de la question homosexuelle. Paris: Amsterdam, 2005.

Foucault, Michel. Histoire de la sexualité. Tome 1: La volonté de savoir. Paris: Gallimard, 1984. Translated as The History of Sexuality Vol. 1.

Garréta, Anne. Pour en finir avec le genre humain [Finishing Off Gender]. Paris: F. Bourin, 1987.

Haraway, Donna. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women. The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1999.

Martel, Frédéric. Le Rose et le Noir: Les homosexuels en France depuis 1968. Paris: Seuil, 1996. Translated as The Pink and the Black: Homosexuals in France Since 1968.

Schehr, Lawrence R. French Post-Modern Masculinities: From Neuromatrices to Seropositivity. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2010.

---. Alcibiades at the Door: Gay Discourses in French Literature. Palo Alto: Stanford UP, 1995.

Wittig, Monique. The Straight Mind. Boston: Beacon P, 1992. Translated as La pensée straight.

Please Note: Some texts and films studied in this course include violent scenes and/or nudity or very explicit sexual scenes.

Class Number: 

FREN 542


Regular grades are awarded for this course: A, B, C, D, E.

Pre requisite(s): 

Graduate Standing or permission of instructor.

May Be Repeated: 

Course may be repeated with different topic for a maximum of 6 unit(s) or 2 completion(s).



May be convened with: 

FREN 442