Modern Languages

Open Access and Modern Languages Open – In Conversation with Luis I. Prádanos and Julia Waters

To celebrate 120 years of Liverpool University Press, we’re focusing on a different theme each month. During April, we’ve been focusing on Open Access. Modern Languages Open (MLO) is a platform for the open access dissemination of peer-reviewed scholarship from across the modern languages to a global audience. Recent publications which have been added to MLO include Luis I. Prádanos’ Postgrowth Imaginaries: New Ecologies and Counterhegemonic Culture in Post-2008 Spain and Julia Waters’ The Mauritian Novel: Fictions of Belonging. We spoke to these authors to find out more about their experience with Open Access and MLO.

What made you decide to explore Open Access for your monograph?

LP: I wanted my book to be freely available not just to other scholars with access to university libraries, but also to all students and activists that could find it useful. Also, I work as a professor in a public university and therefore I consider that my scholarly work should be public.

 JW: My decision to explore Open Access publication for my monograph, The Mauritian Novel: Fictions of Belonging, was motivated by its subject-matter, its likely readership and the timing of its publication. Due to be published in the year in which Mauritius celebrated 50 years of independence, when significant international attention was already being paid to post-colonial Mauritian society and culture, I was keen that my book be readily and promptly available. My book explores many of the historical, political and socio-cultural factors that make belonging – its key thematic and conceptual focus – such a central but fraught issue in contemporary Mauritian literature.  Open Access would make my findings available to a wide range of scholars working on related topics in different disciplines, as well as to scholars of Mauritian, Indian Ocean and postcolonial francophone literatures from around the world.  Key readerships for the monograph’s findings are from Mauritius, India, Africa and the Indian Ocean region. At £80 in hardback and £30 in paperback, the cost of conventional paper copies would have made my book prohibitively expensive for several of the book’s most crucial international audiences.

Do you think it was important that the topic of your work specifically be freely available?

 LP: Yes, my work challenges the dominant economic imaginary and its dependency on constant growth for exacerbating social inequality and ecological depletion. I did not want for my book to become one more commodity to fuel the growth machine I was criticizing. Capitalism is a theory of scarcity and it actually needs to create scarcity to be able to profit from something that is not scarce. Knowledge is abundant and does not get depleted when somebody uses it. Quite the opposite, the more knowledge is shared the more it grows. Capitalism creates perverse mechanisms to restrict access to knowledge in order to make it artificially scarce and be able to make it into a commodity and profit from it.

JW: My monograph is the first book-length study in English on twenty-first-century francophone Mauritian fiction. Its focus on the under-researched, affective dimension of belonging and its intersections with the ‘politics of belonging’, as portrayed in recent Mauritian novels, makes an original, significant contribution to the recent expansion of research on Indian Ocean cultures. Through original, close textual analyses of individual novels or pairs of novels by leading contemporary Mauritian writers, mine is the first book to examine Mauritian literary responses to the inter-ethnic ‘Kaya’ riots of 1999 and to the problems of belonging and exclusion that they exposed. Although published with a UK-based academic publisher, Open Access publication thus makes my book’s findings easily accessible to scholars, students and general audiences in the Indian Ocean region and beyond. My book’s new, multidimensional approach to understanding issues of belonging and exclusion in diverse, multi-ethnic societies will also, I hope, be of interest to a broader academic audience, who, with Open Access publication, are able to access my findings freely.

Has there, to your mind, been more engagement with your work due to it being Open Access? How do you think the MLO platform has encouraged people to engage with your work?

LP: Sure, I know that some professors are already assigning parts of the book into their courses because it is convenient and students do not need to buy anything. I also know that some people in Latin America and Spain are reading it because it is available open access.

JW: It is hard to tell, at this early stage, whether engagement with my work has increased as a direct result of its being Open Access. I think there will always be a place for traditional hard copies and library holdings: anecdotally, I think academics like to ‘try out’ books and articles online and then, if they find them useful, they still like to buy their own copy. I also think that reviews in academic journals and other fora still play an important part in promoting and disseminating new research. What has definitely been particularly gratifying, however, has been the response from the authors whose works I discuss in my book: they were pleased to be able to read my analyses of their novels ‘hot off the press’ and several have since been in contact with their responses and appreciations. I’m convinced that this kind of immediate, productive exchange between literary authors and academic critic, despite the great geographic distance, would not have been possible – or, at least, not in such an instant, interactive, responsive fashion – with more conventional publication.

How important do you think it is for modern languages research to become more accessible?

 JW: Modern Languages research is, by nature, multidisciplinary and speaks to multiple audiences in different countries and different cultural and academic contexts: notwithstanding the potential barriers of publishing just in English, Open Access does make this research more accessible to these different audiences across the globe.

With the increasing shift to Open Access how do you think modern languages, or the humanities as a whole, might be affected?

 JW: There will inevitably be a period of transition and adaptation, as Open Access gradually gains ground on conventional, hardback and paperback publishing. The economic model for publishing, particularly for small, academic publishers, will need to be radically rethought. But academics themselves have always been motivated more by making their research available to as wide an audience as possible than they have by financial profit: Open Access makes the latter ambition far more achievable. I am confident that Modern Languages research is well-placed to benefit, longer term, from the technological advantages of Open Access publication.  

For more information on Postgrowth Imaginaries please visit our website or read it for free on Modern Languages Open

For more information on The Mauritian Novel please visit our website or read it for free on Modern Languages Open.

 Liverpool University Press is a proud supporter of Open Access publishing with over 40 OA monographs currently available. You can find out more about our OA policy here and browse some of our OA titles on the OAPEN library

 

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Modern Languages

Le mariage burlesque: Carnival cross-dressing in the French Caribbean

This piece was originally published on The Conversation.

The mariage burlesque of the Plastic System Band carnival group in Lamentin, Martinique, 2012. Charlotte HammondAuthor provided

Anyone in the French Caribbean islands of Martinique or Guadeloupe during the carnival festivities will witness a unique and wonderfully subversive tradition: le mariage burlesque.

As a legacy of the refusal to assimilate into a French model of marriage and family, le mariage burlesque parodies the idealised fiction of a heterosexual nuclear family unit. Each year on lundi gras (the first Monday of the carnival) men and women perform each other’s conjugal role by cross-dressing as their gendered other. So the man masquerades as the (often pregnant) wife and – to a lesser extent – the woman dresses and performs as the husband. The happy couple is followed by a wedding procession and are “married” by a registrar and a priest along the carnival route.

The late Martinican theorist Édouard Glissant described the tradition as a critique of the family structure imposed by the colonising French republic. He wrote:

There is an occasion in Martinique in which men and women both agree to give a performance of their relationship. This is the tradition of the burlesque marriage during carnival, a critique of family structure.

In recent years there have been debates on the traditional role of family in France. A universalist notion prevails – the model of family promoted by the French Republic is made up of a heterosexual couple who live together, whether married or not, with children born of (or adopted by) the two parents.

Controversy around alternative forms of conjugal union, including legislation to enable same-sex marriage, gay adoption and surrogacy, have prompted fierce debates on the continued relevance of this traditional model. And, given that recent changes in legislation apply to France’s overseas territories, these debates have questioned the continued relevance of the French values of marriage and family in Guadeloupe and Martinique.

Family after slavery

French colonial discourse related marriage to “civilisation”. According to this racist logic, the African – who was considered subordinate – was unsuited to marriage. In the French Caribbean, unions between enslaved men and women of the same plantation were encouraged as they would produce another generation of slaves for the profit of the owner. Marriage between slaves (with the permission of their master) became legal from 1664 – but, in reality, the plantation system constrained the development of strong family units which would often be broken up when slaves were sold on to other plantations. This tended to disrupt the pure parent-child line of descendance or “filiation” promoted by the French state.

Following the abolition of slavery in 1848, French policies of assimilation (into la grande famille nationale) reinforced a desire for official marriage among its “daughters”, or les filles, as Guadeloupe and Martinique were disparagingly known. The extended family, in which grandparents, aunts, nannies and godparents are as likely to raise children as mothers, therefore came to signify not only resistance to a dominant social order of family imposed by slave owners, but also its imposition on French Caribbean territories during the aftermath of slavery.

In 1946, the islands voted to become overseas départements, granting them a distinct political status in relation to mainland France that promised full integration into the French Republic. However, this status has resulted in many social and economic disparitiesincluding severe unemployment, high cost of living and persistent racial discrimination.

As researchers in the social sciences have shown, family in this context – as the product of both African kinship traditions and its restructure during slavery – did not conform neatly to the model of family promoted by the French Republic.

Traditionally, le mariage burlesque was a ritual (with both European and African roots) to promote the birth of new unions during the festival period in the run up to Lent. Men would often adopt women’s roles during carnival through male-to-female cross-dressing. Today some gender studies scholars have argued that cross-dressing in the context of Caribbean carnivals merely reaffirms gender difference and masculine domination.

Yet in this context, where Eurocentric understandings of sexuality and gender are so often cut and pasted without attention to local histories and traditions, le mariage burlesquerepresents the contradiction imposed on French Caribbean citizens who continue to uphold a European (and heterosexual) model of marriage and family as the norm despite the co-existence of alternative family structures.

The “lesser” presence of women during le mariage burlesque has been addressed directly in the work of Martinique-based artists Annabel Guérédrat and Henri Tauliaut. In 2016 Guérédrat and Tauliaut performed the Marcel Duchamp-inspired La Mariée mise à nu par son célibataire même (The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelor) during the mariage burlesqueparade of Fort-de-France, Martinique.

‘La Mariée mise à nu par son célibataire même’ (The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelor), Martinique, 2016. Photo by Marvin Fabien @artincidence.Author provided (No reuse)

Guérédrat, dressed as a dominatrix bride in white and cradling a black dildo, sheds an oversized wedding veil and leads Tauliaut, in full gimp mask and black gown, along the carnival route. This commanding female performance subverts normative gender relations in a Martinican society which remains largely macho and a carnival space where male-authored representations of women dominate.

The tableaux concludes with the couple departing on a boat against a tropical Caribbean landscape in the background. This parody of tourist brochure clichés that depict the Caribbean as a honeymoon paradise destination evokes the inequities of a global tourism industry that often replicates an uneven master/slave dynamic.

Each year carnival in Guadeloupe and Martinique attracts tourists from France and the rest of the world who come to enjoy this vibrant theatre of the street. For both visitors and locals the mariage burlesque masquerade ensures a collective memory of the cultural and political transvestism of the overseas departments, dressed up to resemble France and its universalist values. It is an embodied reminder of the enduring one-sided marriage between the islands and France.

 

Charlotte Hammond is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at Cardiff University and author of Entangled Otherness. See the original post on The Conversation.

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Modern Languages

Middlebrow Matters – In Conversation with Diana Holmes

Middlebrow Matters is the first book to study the middlebrow novel in France. It asks what middlebrow means, and applies the term positively to explore the ‘poetics’ of the types of novel that have attracted ‘ordinary’ fiction readers – in their majority female – since the end of the 19th century.  The book has recently been unlatched by Knowledge Unlatched, and the ebook can now be accessed for free. We caught up with author Diana Holmes to discuss more about the book.

9781786941565

Firstly, could you tell us a bit about Middlebrow Matters and what drew you to focus your work in this area?

Since at least A-level days I have been fascinated by literature, even the more arid reaches of modernism (Robbe-Grillet and the French ‘new novel’ come to mind). But I gradually became aware of a real divide between what I thought of as ‘books to read with a notebook and pen handy’ and the books I read – constantly – for pleasure. There was something in the deeply pleasurable experience of reading fiction that was neither valued nor accounted for in most literary criticism and theory. I wrote seriously about fully ‘popular’ fiction, including the Harlequin romance, but that did not correspond either to the sort of novel I and (I think) most avid book-lovers read, which falls between ‘literary’ and popular and is thus … middlebrow.

There was also a sort of semi-conscious political motivation in the desire to write this book. Literary scholarship tends to display a quiet disdain for ‘what most people read’. Difficult, ground-breaking, challenging, shocking is good: absorbing, page-turning, easy-to-read, moving is bad – hence the negative connotations of the word ‘middlebrow’. And somehow what women write and read is more readily placed in the latter category.

This is the first book to focus on the middlebrow novel in France. How does this volume pave the way for future research on the topic?

Inevitably, despite the self-consciously challenging stance of each generation of literary scholars, a sort of master (the word is apt) narrative of a country’s literature gets written and generally accepted. Much has to be excluded, and I think what has disappeared especially in France is that broad swathe of serious-but-pleasurable fiction read by the majority – and the majority of readers over the past century have been women. Fiction read by a significant section of the population surely plays its part in forming, or inflecting, socio-political values.  In some cases such literature is hard to re-discover: I am still surprised by the relative absence in France of the rich seam of middlebrow women’s writing so evident in Britain in the inter-war period (thank you Virago and Persephone), and I hope there are authors there I failed to find.  Much work remains to be done on reading tastes at different periods, on forgotten writers and on the mainstream, broadly popular reception of acknowledged writers such as Mauriac, Colette, Beauvoir.

The book looks at several middlebrow authors from varying periods. Is there a particular author who you think is crucial to this study, or one you particularly enjoyed writing about?

Well of course there is Colette – I think the only book in which I have managed not to talk about Colette is the one on François Truffaut’s cinema. She is crucial here not of course because she is under-recognised (though she was for a long time), but because in the copious criticism devoted to her the aspect of her work least acknowledged is probably her huge appeal for ‘ordinary’ readers, and the reasons for this. Then there is the brave band of Belle Époque women novelists – hugely read at the time, then totally forgotten until (mainly Anglophone) feminist critics rediscovered them over the last few decades, though they remain largely out-of-print. Topical as they were, their novels (I think especially of Daniel Lesueur) are still brilliant page-turners that also deal with hard questions of gender politics,  and they deserve further attention. As does the equally topical but also durably eloquent fiction of Françoise Sagan.

You close the book with a double reading of Marie NDiaye’s  La Femme puissante which is a particularly interesting feature of your work. How did you find switching to and from ‘non-academic mode’, and what did you conclude from this?

This was part of the original proposal for the book – one of those bright ideas that you later have moments of regretting when it proves really difficult to write! Rather than a conventional conclusion – I hoped the central argument had been sufficiently spelled out – I wanted to try to put into words the (usually unarticulated) experience of suspending disbelief and travelling in imagination into the fictional world, and to compare this with the more detached, analytical reading I also engage in as a literary critic. To separate these completely is of course artificial, but what I learned from the exercise was that ‘just reading for pleasure’ is as instructive as the more cerebral process of analysing a text, though in a different way. The ‘immersive’ reading of Ndiaye’s story left traces of felt emotion that my critical reading might well have ignored. Through imaginative absorption into someone else’s consciousness and a world dissimilar to our own, we simulate experience beyond the confines of our own lives and thus (even if unconsciously) we grow a bit, develop, get outside our own skin. This is not often captured in literary analysis.

What are you working on next?

This book took a long time to write and I have unfinished business begun alongside ‘Middlebrow’ that I want to complete before deciding on the next direction. There is a collaborative edited volume on French feminism 1975-2015, Making Waves, now in production with Liverpool University Press. I am also engaged in a collaborative project on women and ageing in French culture, and writing a comparative piece on ageing in the work of Annie Ernaux, Nancy Huston and Margaret Drabble. Then a research group in Paris have invited me to speak at a conference on women and literary periodicals in France (Femmes et revues), and that allows me to go back to archival work on ‘my’  Belle Époque women writers and their spirited struggles to be taken seriously by a deeply patriarchal literary establishment. One of these will probably contain the seeds of a new project.

Visit our website for more information on Middlebrow Matters or to read the ebook for free.

 

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Modern Languages

Colette: writer, feminist, performer and #MeToo trail blazer

This piece was originally published on The Conversation.

Colette, photographed by Henri Manuel. Wikimedia Commons

The French writer Colette was indifferent and even hostile to the feminist movement in the early 1900s. But both her writing and the way she lived her life represent a vibrant and radical feminism in tune with the #MeToo spirit of today.

Born in rural Burgundy in 1873, Sidonie Gabrielle Colette (the abbreviated pen name came later) belonged to a middle class but unorthodox family. Raised by a mother who was as sceptical of religion as she was of bourgeois respectability, she was 20 when she married Henri Gauthiers-Villars (“Willy”), the 33-year-old charming but dissolute writer son of a family friend.

The marriage was both a good and a bad move for Colette. Willy introduced her to the rich Bohemian culture of the Parisian demimonde, and launched her career by insisting (despite her reluctance) that she write down memories of her schooldays.

But his serial infidelities distressed and depressed her. And as an unscrupulous literary entrepreneur, Willy cheerfully sold his wife’s semi-autobiographical “Claudine” novels under his own name.

The stories of a spirited, tomboyish heroine rapidly became a publishing sensation, with profitable sales of related merchandise including Claudine cigarette holders. But the profits were all Willy’s.

When, in her early 30s, Colette decided to leave the marriage, she had to find a way to support herself. Energetic and resourceful, she began to publish under her own name and took classes in dance and mime. She trained in the gym and went on stage, becoming the only great French author (to my knowledge) to have alternated writing with dancing semi-nude on stages all over France.

She combined her careers, writing both fiction and non-fiction set behind the scenes of the music hall, giving a voice to the underpaid women performers who featured so often from a male perspective in paintings and novels of the time. She also began a passionate affair with a cross-dressing lesbian aristocrat, Missy, and scandalised the nation by sharing a passionate kiss with her on stage.

In the 1907 pantomime which included a kiss with a woman. Wikimedia Commons

Director Wash Westmoreland’s recent film about Colette takes us to this point in her colourful career. She would go on to write prolifically as a journalist, novelist, essayist and innovator in the blended genre of “autofiction”.

She would nurse in World War I, marry twice more, bear a daughter at the age of 40, bolster her flagging finances by opening a beauty parlour – and finally become, for the French, “our great Colette”. But a whiff of scandal was still attached to her name, and acceptance of her as a great writer was slow.

The Catholic Church even refused to grant her a religious funeral (although she would have agreed with the Church, for religion formed no part of her passionate love of life.)

Sex and sensuality

Westmoreland’s film, starring the British actor Keira Knightley, shines a deserved spotlight on an important feminist figure. From the Claudine series on, Colette gives us a serenely irreverent perspective on a patriarchal culture.

She reverses the gaze of heterosexual desire to provide sensual, detailed descriptions of male bodies, and writes with equal sensuality and precision of same-sex desire. She writes movingly of romantic love and motherhood but insists, in her novel Break of Day that both are also peripheral to a woman’s life:

Once we’ve left them both behind, we find that all the rest is gay and varied, and that there is plenty of it.

In life, as in writing, she places female friendship centre-stage, sometimes subverting the eternal triangle by making its primary focus the relationship between a man’s wife and his mistress. She often published in women’s magazines, right up to her death in 1954 (Elle serialised her final books), and wrote comically and caustically of trying to make her own robust, food-loving body fit into the willowy fashions of the inter-war years.

In a very public life, as in her fiction, she exemplified financial and social independence and shame-free sexuality – what we would now call “gender fluidity”. She possessed a generous optimism that went against the grain of the angst and despondency which characterised so much male literature of the 20th century.

She remained, throughout, a popular writer. An author read for pleasure, for the sensuality of her prose, the dry note of humour that peppers her eloquence, the lightness of touch that means her seriousness is never heavy or self-important.

One of France’s greatest – and certainly most unconventional –- writers, she has been translated – often brilliantly – into other languages. Her appearance on cinema screens should bring her even more readers.

Diana Holmes is Professor of French at the University of Leeds and is author of Middlebrow MattersSee the original post on The Conversation.

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News

‘Ethnography and Modern Languages’ published on MLO invites readers to join the discussion

The article ‘Ethnography and Modern Languages’ by Naomi Wells et. al has been published on the Liverpool University Press open access platform, Modern Languages Open. Readers are invited to join the discussion on the role of the ethnographic in Modern Languages and can leave their response directly on the MLO platform.

In response to recent debates and discussions on the subject, the article proposes ways in which an engagement with ethnographic practices and theories can be transformative in relation to approaches to Modern Languages teaching, research and wider engagement, as well as how such approaches can be more effectively supported within and across institutions.

Read the complete article on Modern Languages Open >

To add a response, simply go to the article on the MLO platform and click on the ‘discussions’ tab to the right of the article.

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