Annie Ernaux: Shame and the Politics of Memory (In-Person)
68 Jay Street, #425
Brooklyn, NY 11201
What does it mean to describe one’s drive to write as a lifelong struggle against loneliness and forgetfulness? Annie Ernaux, whose “courage and clinical acuity” in writing earned her the Nobel prize in 2022, takes the matter of her own working-class milieu as the stuff of literature: her factory worker parents, their lives on either side of WWII, her personal experience of illegal abortion, the ungovernable vicissitudes of sexual desire, illicit affairs, marriage, and divorce. Setting herself apart from earlier writers with comparable drives yet very different class affiliations—Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf—Ernaux’s perspicacious voice proceeds from within a specific gendered and classed experience, one that necessarily complicates the literary first-person and consequently makes, for Ernaux, writing a profoundly political activity. How can we read Ernaux’s singular body of work with and apart from the writers who inspired it—Proust, Woolf, Roland Barthes—and as itself an inspiration to the burgeoning genre of contemporary autofiction?
In this course, we will read widely across Ernaux’s work—including A Man’s Place, A Woman’s Story, Shame, Happening, and The Young Man—in order to ask, both broadly and in textual detail: What can we make of the “clinical acuity” attributed to her style? How does her writing seek to translate affect into language? What, if any, is the relationship between gender and genre (in French, the same word)? How does widespread acclaim contribute to the canonization of working-class and feminine experience—and to what end? Does Ernaux’s writing live up to her own claim that “when the unspeakable is brought to light, it’s political”?
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
January 30 — February 20, 2024
Please email us to be placed on the waiting list.