FR30270 The Object in Postwar French Culture

Academic Year 2023/2024

The nature and status of material things has been a central preoccupation of modern French culture and this module explores the way in which the world of objects has been described and analyzed by a number of French writers and theorists in the second half of the twentieth century. The primary materials for study are: Francis Ponge, 'Le Parti pris des choses'; Roland Barthes, ‘Mythologies’; and Georges Perec, 'Les Choses'. The key questions raised by these works concern the relations between people, objects and words or images: are objects simply made and used by human beings or do they have an agency and a will of their own? How can people and objects and the relationships between them be represented through words and images? Are words and images objects in their own right? Primary materials are studied in the original and a reading knowledge of French is essential.

Show/hide contentOpenClose All

Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On completion of this module, students should be able to: - analyze and engage in critical discussion of the nature and status of the object in postwar French culture; - analyze and discuss the set texts in relation to their medium of expression and in relation to the problematic of the object; - relate the set texts to a broader historical and intellectual context.

Indicative Module Content:

See general module description text for key issues that are addressed.

Set Works:
Francis Ponge, Le Parti pris des choses
Roland Barthes, Mythologies
Georges Perec, Les Choses: histoire des années soixante

Indicative Bibliography:

General Works:
Baudrillard, Jean, Le Système des objets (Paris: Gallimard, 1968).
Brown, Bill, ‘Thing Theory’, in Critical Inquiry, 28: 1 (2001), 1–22.
Latour, Bruno, Nous n’avons jamais été modernes: essai d’anthropologie symétrique (Paris: La Découverte, 1991).
____________, ‘From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik, or How to Make Things Public’, in Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel (eds), Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005), pp. 14–41.
Marx, Karl, ‘The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof’, in Robert C. Tucker (ed.), The Marx-Engels Reader (1972; New York: Norton, 1978), pp. 319–29.
Pietz, William, ‘The Problem of the Fetish I’, in Res, 9 (1985), 5–17.
____________, ‘The Problem of the Fetish II’, in Res, 13 (1987), 23–47.
____________, ‘The Problem of the Fetish IIIa’, in Res, 16 (1988), 105–23.
Ross, Kristin, Fast Cars, Clean Bodies: Decolonization and the Reordering of French Culture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995).

On Ponge:
Genette, Gérard, ‘Le Parti pris des mots’, in Romanic Review, 46: 4 (1975), 283–87.
Harrow, Susan, ‘From Culture Critique to Poetic Capital: Ponge’s Things in Language’, in The Material, The Real and the The Fractured Self: Subjectivity and Representation from Rimbaud to Réda (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2004), pp. 113–63.
Higgins, Ian, ‘Introduction’, in Francis Ponge, Le Parti pris des choses, ed. by Ian Higgins (London: Athlone Press, 1979), pp. 1–36.
Ponge, Francis, Méthodes (Paris: Gallimard, 1961).
____________, Entretiens de Francis Ponge avec Philippe Sollers (Paris: Seuil, 1970).
Riffaterre, Michel, ‘Ponge tautologique ou le fonctionnement du texte’, in Philippe Bonnefis and Pierre Oster (eds), Francis Ponge: colloque de Cerisy (Paris: Union Générale d’Editions, 1977), pp. 66–84.
Robbe-Grillet, Alain, ‘Nature, humanisme, tragédie’ (1956), in Pour un nouveau roman (Paris: Minuit, 1961), pp. 45–67.
Richard, Jean-Pierre, ‘ Francis Ponge’, in Onze études sur la poésie moderne (Paris: Seuil, 1964), pp. 198–224.
Sartre, Jean-Paul, ‘L’Homme et les choses’, in Critiques littéraires (Situations I) (Paris: Gallimard, 1975), pp. 298–358.

On Barthes:
Culler, Jonathan, Roland Barthes (London: Fontana, 1983).
Leak, Andrew, Barthes: Mythologies (London: Grant and Cutler, 1994).
Ross, Kristin, ‘Yesterday’s Critique, Today’s Mythologies', in Contemporary French and Francophone Studies, 12:2 (2008), 231–42.
Ungar, Steven, ‘From Event to Memory Site: Thoughts on Rereading Mythologies’, in Nottingham French Studies, 36:1 (1997), 24–33.
Welch, Edward, ‘Une réconciliation du réel et des hommes: Mythologies and the Politics of Things’, in Nottingham French Studies, 47:2 (2008), 19–28.

On Perec:
Bellos, David, Georges Perec: A Life in Words (1993; London: Harvill, 1999).
Burgelin, Claude, ‘Les Choses, un devenir-roman des Mythologies’, in Recherches et travaux, 77 (2010), 57–66.
Perec, Georges, ‘Le Nouveau Roman et le refus du réel’ (1962), in L. G.: une aventure des années soixante (Paris: Seuil, 1992), pp. 25–45.
____________, ‘Pour une littérature réaliste’ (1962), in L. G.: une aventure des années soixante (Paris: Seuil, 1992), pp. 47–66.
____________, ‘L’Esprit des choses’, in Arts-Loisirs, 54–75 (October 1966–March 1967) (16 columns).
____________, ‘Pouvoirs et limites du romancier français contemporain’ (1967), in Les Choses (Paris: 10/18, 2007), pp. 147–71.
____________, ‘Approches de quoi?’ (1973), in L’Infra-ordinaire (Paris: Seuil, 1989), pp. 9–13.
____________, ‘Douze regards obliques’ (1976), in Penser/classer (Paris: Hachette, 1985), pp. 43–58.
Sheringham, Michael, ‘Georges Perec: Uncovering the Infra-Ordinary’, in Everyday Life: Theories and Practices from Surrealism to the Present (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 248–91.

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours


Seminar (or Webinar)


Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
Approaches to teaching and learning may vary in accordance with university and public health guidelines.

Weekly seminar work supported by lectures. Lectures introduce key concepts and problems. Seminars take the form of student discussion based on readings and guide questions (set texts plus additional online materials) prepared in advance. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
FR20020 - French Language II a, FR20040 - French Language II b

FR40400 - Thinking Things

Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade In Module Component Repeat Offered
Essay: Analytic essay on topic related to second and/or third of set texts studied. Coursework (End of Trimester) n/a Graded No


Essay: Analytic essay on topic related to first set text studied. Week 7 n/a Graded No



Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Autumn No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment
• Group/class feedback, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Essay submitted Week 7. Returned to students with individual written feedback. Group feedback in lecture.

Set texts:
Francis Ponge, Le Parti pris des choses (Paris: Gallimard/Poésie)
Roland Barthes, Mythologies (Paris: Seuil/Points)
Georges Perec, Les Choses: histoire des années soixante (Paris: 10/18 or Presse-Pocket)