Saussure the ethnographer: Peoples, the popular, and non-identity in Europe

February 16, 2017 - 6:30pm to 8:30pm
Columbia Global Centers | Paris

Part of the "Politics of Translation: Translating Cultures" series organized in association with the University of Kent.

2016 celebrated the centenary of Ferdinand de Saussure’s Course in General Linguistics. This key work in the intellectual history of the twentieth century has traditionally generated an image of Saussure as a formalist theoretician and an abstractor of language, inspiring the Francophone structuralism which has now been widely critiqued, after having shaped and affected so much of European thinking from the late 1950s on, including English-language theory specifically.

Saussure’s lesser-known work on Germanic legends shows a strikingly different Saussure, engaged in ethnology and folkloristics and delving deep into social and cultural themes which, long after the debates of early nationalisms and their colonial developments, after the horror of World War II and the violent fractures of decolonisation, still preoccupy Europeans: what is a people, in the anthropological and conflict-laden fact of the plurality of peoples? And how do we think about the contemporary pressures bearing on the political notion of the people, in a context of advanced globalisation, new patterns of migrations, and the current populist moment?

Claire Joubert, Professor of English Literature at Université Paris 8 and director of the interdisciplinary research programme “Poétique de l’étranger”, conducts research on the theoretical and political effects of the diversity of languages, exploring the critical issues raised by linguistic difference in the history of discourses on language, literature and culture. Her recent work engages with three terrains rich with the differentials within the English language itself: Indian literary history (Problèmes d’histoire littéraire indienne, co-edited with L. Zecchini, Revue de littérature comparée, special issue Oct-Dec. 2015), the history of Black Globalities, and the genealogy of Global Studies. Her last publications include Le Postcolonial comparé : anglophonie, francophonie (ed., PUV, 2015) and Critiques de l’anglais. Poétique et politique d’une langue mondialisée (Lambert- Lucas, 2015).



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