Modern Languages

Contemporary French and Francophone Cultures at 50: Mapping the Field

With the publication of Alison J. Murray Levine’s Vivre Ici: Space, Place and Experience in Contemporary French Documentary, the Liverpool University Press ‘Contemporary French and Francophone Cultures’ series has reached its fiftieth title. Series editor Charles Forsdick looks over the history and accomplishments of the series to mark the occasion. 

All Contemporary French and Francophone titles are 50% off this month. Use code CFFC50 or follow this link.

Since the launch of the collection in 2003, CFFC has included some of the most innovative, original and significant research in twentieth- and twenty-first-century French studies from throughout the English-speaking world. Strengthening the study of cinema in the series (other notable titles include Margaret C. Flinn’s The Social Architecture of French Cinema, 1929–1939), the appearance of Levine’s book is a perfect way to mark this milestone as it exemplifies the aims of the collection: Vivre ici analyses a key cultural trend in recent French culture, in this case the renaissance of contemporary French documentary film; it underlines the importance of space and place, aspects that link a number of titles in the series (most notably Verena Andermatt Conley’s Spatial Ecologies: Urban Sites, State and World-Space in French Cultural Theory); it reveals the cross-disciplinary reach of French studies, engaging with phenomenology, film theory, eco-criticism and cultural history; and perhaps most importantly, it engages with the subject in a way that speaks to a range of readers, not just in French studies and film studies but across a variety of other fields.

The growing success of the series is testament to the commitment of LUP to pioneering publishing initiatives in Modern Languages – including the Open Access platform Modern Languages Open – at a time when a number of other presses have withdrawn from the field or drastically limited their engagement with it. Reaching the fiftieth volume of a series characterized by consistent evidence of the highest quality scholarship is also a clear indication of something else: the continued health of ‘French studies in and for the twenty-first century’ as a buoyant research field, engaging with and on many occasions spearheading new initiatives in the arts and Humanities. CFFC does not stand in isolation: the authors who contribute to it are informed by the wide portfolio of French studies journals published by LUP, most notably Francosphères (whose new vision for the study of the French-speaking world without the divisions of the ‘French’ and the ‘Francophone’ has become an important point of reference), but also the Australian Journal of French Studies and Contemporary French Civilization. The series is also closely associated with the soon to be nine titles of the distinctive Society for Francophone Postcolonial Studies annual yearbook collection. At the same time, CFFC authors are often in dialogue – implicit or explicit – with other elements of the LUP catalogue, such as the series Postcolonialism Across the Disciplines, edited by Graham Huggan and Andrew Thompson, or the new initiative on Transnational Modern Languages.

Fifteen years ago, CFFC grew out of an original LUP series, edited by Ed Smyth, on ‘Modern French Authors’, a collection of monographs – in many case the first devoted to their subject in English – on important contemporary writers, including Akane Kawakami on Patrick ModianoJean-Pierre Boulé on Hervé Guibert and Siobhán McIlvanney on Annie Ernaux, Ed’s vision for the original series underpinned CFFC, where a number of titles – Jane Hiddleston on Assia DjebarMaeve McCusker on Patrick ChamoiseauDouglas Morrey on Michel HouellebecqAndrew Asibong on Marie NDiayeLucy O’Meara on Roland Barthes at the Collège de France, and Pierre-Philippe Fraiture on Valentin Mudimbe – demonstrate the radical diversification of literary and intellectual canonicity in the twenty-first century. CFFC’s titles have often sought, however, to move beyond the focus on individual authors to identify wider shifts in French and Francophone literary and cultural production. Jean Duffy, for instance, in Thresholds of Meaning, focused on the recurrent interest in passage, ritual and liminality in contemporary French narrative, or Larry Schehr, in what proved to be his final book, provided a major study of French postmodern masculinities, ranging – as his subtitle suggests, ‘from neuromatrices to seropositivity’. Visual cultural beyond the cinematic has also played an important role, with Matthew Screech and Mark McKinney both contributing volumes on French comics, the ‘ninth art’, Andy Stafford studying the important but neglected form the photo-essay, and David Scott devoting a volume to the poetics of the poster.

Given the historical emphases in French studies on monolingual and monocultural considerations, the series has actively sought to diversify and destabilize, and often denationalize and decolonize, any understanding of the field’s core object of studyLeslie Kealhofer-Kemp analyses, for instance, Muslim women in French Cinema; Kathryn A. Kleppinger explores what she calls the ‘branding’ of the ‘Beur’ author in minority writing and the media; and Katelyn E. Knox offers a provocative study of the representation of whiteness and blackness in contemporary French culture. This challenging destabilization of assumptions is particularly striking in Jane Hiddleston’s Decolonising the Intellectual, a telling study of politics and culture in the wake of the French Empire that stresses the evolution of notions of humanism in a frame of decolonization.

It is also important to note that through CFFC, Liverpool University Press has become one of the principal English-language publishers on Haitian literature and culture, responding to growing interest in the country following the 2010 earthquake, the subject of Martin Munro’s Writing on the Fault Line. Munro inaugurated a series of important titles in 2012 with his Exile and Post-1946 Haitian Literature, an influential study of key Haitian authors such as Alexis, Depestre, Ollivier, Laferrière and Danticat, and this book has been followed by other studies including Kaiama Glover’s major book on Spiralism, Haiti Unbound. The interest in Haiti reflects a wider commitment to work on the Francophone Caribbean, and CFFC includes Celia Britton on community in Caribbean writing, Louise Hardwick’s study of childhood and autobiographical writing in the AntillesJason Herbeck’s engagement with the controversial issues of identity and authenticity in the region, and Nick Nesbitt on the contribution of francophone Caribbean thinkers to Critical Theory. Other volumes have contributed to a wider mapping of the literatures and cultures of the Francosphere, and CFFC encompasses Debra Kelly on self and identity in North African writing in French, Raylene Ramsay’s work on Francophone Pacific writing (a volume soon to be complemented by Julia Waters’s study of contemporary Mauritian writing in French), as well as Rosemary Chapman’s searching reflections on the literary history of Francophone writing in Canada, Nicki Hithcott on Rwandan genocide writing and Ruth Bush on the underexplored area of publishing Africa in French. The series also focuses on other transnational connections, highlighting cultural axes within the Francosphere, such as in Edward Welch and Joseph McGonagle’s analysis of the visual economy of France and Algeria in the wake of the War of Independence, or exploring other genealogies that have attracted little attention, such as the role of North American authors in the birth of the Francophone African crime novel, as studied in a book by Pim Higginson. CFFC titles represent a simultaneous mapping and recontouring of some of the most exciting and urgent developments on French studies over the past fifteen years. Several have also proposed new paradigms for exploring the French-speaking world, as is the case with Bill Marshall’s study of the French Atlantic which promotes an approach that is both oceanic and diasporic.

The purview of CFFC is deliberately inclusive and eclectic, and extends to the study of wider socio-cultural phenomena such as cycling, the subject of a book by Hugh Dauncey, or French cultures of consumption, studied by David Walker. The series is additionally committed to revisiting disciplinary intersections, an aspect exemplified by Colin Davis’s recent engagement with ethics and trauma in twentieth-century French writing (an area that Mireille Rosello had already probed in The Reparative in Narratives, a book that argues many French-language authors repair trauma through writing). I note also Bruno Chaouat’s reflection on contemporary thought and anti-Semitism in Is Theory Good for the Jews?, itself intersecting with Lucille Cairns’s earlier book on Francophone Jewish writing. Another welcome development reflected in the series is at the point of intersection with cultural topography, and two highlights have been books by Keith Reader on the Bastille district and Nick Hewitt on Montmartre.

Finally, some recent contributions have pointed to the intellectually urgent work of exploring the limitations of French studies, especially when understood exclusively along national or linguistic lines. Yasser Elhariry’s Pacifist Invasions is exemplary in this regard, with its study of Arabic, translation and that the author calls the ‘postfrancophone lyric’, as is Denis Provencher’s searching study of the lives and stories of queer Maghrebi and Maghrebi French men in the light of the discourses and practices of sexual difference. Others have sought in similar ways to think beyond the Francophone and postcolonial, as it the case with Oana Panaïté in her study of ‘paracolonial aesthetics’ in contemporary French fiction or Aedin Ní Loingsigh’s pioneering volume on Francophone travelogues, Postcolonial Eyes.

The series would not have been possible without the dedication of our authors to sharing research that explores new boundaries – geographical, cultural and conceptual – in French studies. At the same time, we record our thanks to the CFFC advisory board, Tom Conley, Jackie Dutton, Lynn A. Higgins and Mireille Rosello. The inspirational contribution of the late Michael Sheringham, an enthusiastic advocate for the series, is also noted with profound gratitude. With forthcoming titles on places not yet represented in the collection such as French Guiana, on key but underexplored authors such as Joseph Zobel, on major cultural phenomena such as the periodical Lignes, the middlebrow, the performance of listening in postcolonial Francophone culturecross-dressing and gender performance in contemporary francophone Caribbean cultures and more besides, ‘Contemporary French and Francophone Cultures’ continues to grow, encompassing additional geographical areas within the Francosphere, studying developing cultural forms and analysing emerging theories and concepts. We look forward to the next fifty titles.

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*Offer ends midnight 31st March 2018.