HIST-LIT 90EL: France and its "Others": Race, Nation, and Identity in (Post)Imperial Society)





Instructor: John Boonstra
Meeting time: Monday/Wednesday 12:00 - 1:15

France and Its OthersIn a controversial—and bestselling—recent novel, Michel de Houellebecq imagines France’s government and society taken over from within by Muslim extremists who impose Sharia law. Fears of internal “colonization”—by Muslims, immigrants, Jews, Americans, and various “Others”—are nothing new in French history. Yet, by tapping into the growing influence of the anti-immigrant extreme right in French politics over the past several decades, the popularity of Houellebecq’s novel raises a number of provocative questions for contemporary French—and global—society: how has a country premised on the “equality” and “fraternity” of all of its citizens continued to exclude religious, ethnic, and racial “Others?” And, perhaps more perplexingly, how did what was once a global empire—whose reach extended from the South Pacific to the Caribbean, from North and sub-Saharan Africa to Southeast Asia—become so anxious about being “colonized” within Europe itself? Most proximately, how did the violence of France’s colonial wars—in Algeria and Indochina especially—and the tumult of postcolonial migration shape the fears and fantasies of national and imperial identity?

This course will address these questions by taking a longer and wider view of the (post)colonial experiences of twentieth-century France. Surveying works of history, politics, literature, anthropology, and film—from Sartre and de Beauvoir to Houellebecq and Sarkozy, Ousmane Sembène and Frantz Fanon to Azouz Begag, Linda Lê, and Alain Mabanckou—we will seek to understand how the perceived dangers of invasion drew on and departed from the ambiguities and insecurities of imperial power.