La Situation du langage: discussion et débat

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La Situation du langage: discussion et débat

June 07, 2016

On May 30th, to mark the publication of Claire Joubert’s new book Critiques de l’anglais, the Paris Center hosted a discussion surrounding the question of language in academic disciplines, in literary criticism, and in publishing. Joining Joubert was Catherine Bernard, professor of British Literature and Art History at Paris VII, Marc Arabyan, professor of semiotics and linguistics at the University of Limoges, and François Rastier, a semanticist and the director of study at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.

The book and discussion each centered around a focus of the lack of interdisciplinary studies in France, contrasting this to the American tendency of studying individual disciplines by setting them within the context of one another. The book exemplifies this multidisciplinary approach in citing not only English literature, with examples found in James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and J.M. Coetzee, but also making references in philosophy, translation studies, postcolonial studies and anthropology.

Catherine Bernard contextualized this notion in alluding to and commenting upon several passages throughout Joubert’s book, looking at early sections where Joubert cites Roland Barthes in discussing “the problematics of language,” relating these questions of English to the poststructuralist movement, which focused on “decentering” the author, looking for other sources of meaning in relation to the text.

The book grounds itself in the notion of "Globish," a term defining a subset of English grammar which Joubert posits as being the result of postcolonial globalization and the symptom of an increase in social knowledge, the making available of knowledge to society with the intent of bettering the human condition. However, this suggests the issue of the possible deletion of the question of language, the result of it no longer becoming a conversation, the concern upon which the discussion involved itself.

The presentation could be summarized by this general questioning of the disciplines, seeing how they are merged in English and examining the stakes of their lack of interaction in French. Bernard cited the intersection among cultural anthropology, ethnology and language as an example of this interplay. She illustrated the concept of how objects considered undeserving of study can be made suitable for excavation in breaking them down, understanding them from different viewpoints and in the context of different subjects and areas of focus. This was tied into the discussion of "Globish," suggesting that this division of language could be seen as one of these undeserving objects, again looking at language in relation to other subjects, other areas of study, which will reintroduce a certain intensity and dynamism to which language can be approached.

This was concentrated in an interrogation of how we separate mass from multitude: What do we mean by mass products, and what is our responsibility towards the multitude? All of this was discussed in a context of reactionary nostalgia, reflecting upon Hugo’s discussion of the masses, Zola’s discussion of the masses, and then looking forward to questioning how we remain capable of talking about the masses in contemporary considerations of the topic.

-Isabelle Eyman