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French Graduate Student Association

French Graduate Student Association Conferences

The French Graduate Student Association (FGSA) of the Department of French and Romance Philology holds an annual conference centered around a theme or a series of concepts. Participants include students and professors from Columbia Univerisity, as well as graduate students from across the nation and around the globe.

Paper abstracts are received and reviewed by the Selection Committee well in advance of the conference dates. Past conferences have been very successful so participants are encouraged to submit proposals as soon as possible.

This year's FGSA conference:

The French Graduate Student Association of Columbia University is pleased to announce its 21st annual conference,

Making Sense

In fragment 434 of the Pensées, Pascal reflects on the nature of man: “What a chimera then is man! What a novelty! What a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, imbecile worm of the earth; depositary of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error; the pride and refuse of the universe!” At a time in history when the nature of man and his place in the universe were becoming increasingly less certain, Pascal dramatically summed up the incomprehensibility of what would seem most familiar: ourselves. Pascal’s apologetics can be read as one man’s attempt to make sense of human misery and greatness for both himself and his contemporaries. But making sense of man in a religious context is just one facet of the human enterprise. Human beings, regardless of their craft or discipline, have relentlessly sought to make sense of themselves, of this life, and of the world around them. Disciplines as diverse as literature, art, music, philosophy, sociology, and the natural sciences all purport to make sense on some level, either through language, symbols, sound, images, machinery, or sheer movement. It seems, as is apparent in all fields of knowledge, that human beings are driven at the core to make sense.

In this conference we will reflect on the different ways in which human beings attempt (successfully or not) to make sense of themselves and their world. We will also focus on attempts to do away with sense-making altogether. When and why is it important to make sense (or not)? What are the concrete tools and epistemological practices necessary to each field of knowledge in order to make sense? When we fail to make sense, how do we know we have failed, and to what can we attribute our failure? Does making sense imply that we humans are in fact producers of sense, or do the tasks and objects we attend to contain their own inherent logic? When we say, “making sense,” do we primarily mean “being understood by others” or “coming into our own understanding of a particular object”? Finally, what is the role of subjectivity in sense-making, particularly in fields that aspire to thoroughgoing objectivity?

We welcome 200-300 word abstracts in French or English addressing this topic within any period of French and Francophone literary, cultural, or scientific history. Perspectives from other disciplinary fields and interdisciplinary approaches are encouraged. Presentations will be limited to 20 minutes. Please submit your abstract with title and contact information (name, affiliation, email address) by January 6, 2012 to fgsaconference2012@gmail.com. The conference will be held on March 2, 2012.

Possible themes include, but are not limited to:

Literary and Artistic Sense-Making

  • Fiction as a way of making sense of “reality”
  • Poetry as a challenge to our common sense
  • (Auto)biography: making sense of the self
  • When literature tries to be scientific
  • Philology as a privileged practice • Is art supposed to make sense?
  • The Avant-Garde and the breakdown of traditional codes of meaning
  • Surrealism (in literature and in art) as non-sense?
  • Translation/adaptation

Philosophical Sense-Making

  • Following the path of the Ancients: the Socratic search for the self
  • Theories vs. practices of making sense
  • The breakdown of sense: existentialism, phenomenology, and the absurd

Religious Sense-Making

  • Hermeneutics of sacred texts
  • Mysticism and mystical language
  • Before and after the “death of God”

Sociological Sense-Making

  • Making sense of new social spaces (urban, industrial, technological, etc.)
  • The (il)logic of separation between social groups or nations
  • Making sense in the wake of colonialism and conflict
  • Going beyond the language barrier

Scientific Sense-Making

  • “From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe”: the crisis of the Scientific Revolution
  • Measuring the immeasurable
  • When science meets religion

Past conferences:

Consumption: Pleasures of the Text, Materiality, and Cultural Practice
Nineteenth Annual Graduate Student Conference Department of French and Romance Philology, Columbia University Friday, March 5, 2010, at the Maison Française

L'Ennemi: Difference and Antagonism in Literature
Seventeenth Annual Graduate Student Conference
Department of French and Romance Philology, Columbia University
February 29, 2008, 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, Maison Française

« Car je est un autre » : Articulations du rapport entre identité et altérité
Sixteenth Annual Graduate Student Conference
Department of French and Romance Philology, Columbia University
April 6, 2007, 8:30 am to 6:00 pm, Maison Française

MARKING LOSS: READING AND WRITING ERASURE IN FRENCH AND FRANCOPHONE LITERATURE
Fifteenth Annual Graduate Student Conference
Department of French and Romance Philology, Columbia University
February 17th, 2006, 8:30 am to 6:00 pm, Maison Française

THE PEN AS SWORD: ACTIVISM IN LITERATURE
Eleventh Annual Graduate Student Conference in French, Francophone, and Comparative Literature
Columbia University
March 20, 2002

FICTIONS OF THE MACHINE
Tenth Annual Graduate Student Conference in French, Francophone, and Comparative Literature
Columbia University
March 24, 2001

BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS
Ninth Annual Graduate Student Conference in French, Francophone, and Comparative Literature
Columbia University
March 25, 2000

CARNIVAL: A HISTORY OF SUBVERSIVE REPRESENTATIONS
Eighth Annual Graduate Student Conference in French, Francophone, and Comparative Literature
Columbia University
March 27,1999

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