Annie Ernaux: Writing, Politics

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9:30 - 16:45
St Hugh's College
St Margaret's Road
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(Papers delivered in French and English)

Annie Ernaux was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in December 2022, 'for the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory.'

Born in 1940 to a humble family in provincial France, Ernaux bears witness to key experiences and preoccupations of her generation, class, and gender in the numerous works of fiction, non-fiction, and through the political stances that have punctuated her almost 50-year career: her writing scrutinises the manifestations and interiorisation of social determinism and symbolic violence, the hurdles that thwart upward social mobility, women’s alienation within the domestic sphere, the stark realities of illegal abortion, the limits of consent, the gaze that a disease or female sexual desire may elicit in Western society, and contemporary places and sites of consumption, such as new towns and superstores.

Ernaux sheds light on these realities in her early autobiographical novels and later autosociobiographical récits and diaries. As a public figure, she has also regularly taken sides in urgent contemporary debates through interviews, petitions, and open letters. Over the past five years, these interventions have concerned the #metoo movement, the Islamic headscarf debate in France, the ‘yellow vests’ protests, the contemporary rise of the extreme right, the way in which Emmanuel Macron has managed public services, the Covid pandemic and his pension reform, and, on the international stage, the Israeli government’s policy in the Occupied Territories and the treatment of women by the Iranian state authorities in the wake of Mahsa Amini’s death in custody in September 2022.

While the specific paradigm of ‘engagement’ in Ernaux was the subject of a colloquium organised in Cergy-Pontoise nearly ten years ago and while, over the last decade, critics have often focused on the sociological dimension of her work, the many forms taken by the political in her writing, and notably her more recent production, call for renewed academic scrutiny. This conference aims to focus on this multidimensional interface of writing and the political in Ernaux by analysing the commitment of her texts to some of the above socio-political questions as well as more oblique ways in which politics manifests itself in what she terms ‘writing life’. It will also interrogate her crafting of forms that convey individual and collective experiences of the polis from within and the critique – if not the contestation – of literature that may emanate from Ernaux’s representations of domination. Lastly, it will consider her participation in national and international political debates through non-literary texts over the past ten years and her multi-layered identity as an innovative author, a ‘transfuge de classe’, an outspoken feminist, and a left-wing intellectual now having achieved global recognition through the Nobel Prize.

Organised by Professor Ève Morisi (St Hugh’s College, Oxford), in collaboration with Professor Élise Hugueny-Léger (University of St Andrews), Professor Ann Jefferson (New College, Oxford) and Professor Lyn Thomas (University of Sussex)

With the support of St Hugh’s College, the Oxford Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, the Society for French Studies, and the Maison Française d’Oxford.

This colloquium is part of a series of events organised by Professor Ève Morisi (St Hugh’s College, Oxford), following the award of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Annie Ernaux in December 2022. The series also includes a screening of the documentary The Super 8 Years (Oxford Curzon Cinema, 8 June, 4pm, followed by a Q&A with director David Ernaux-Briot), an exhibition entitled Annie Ernaux, Nobel Laureate: Class, Gender, and Life-Writing (St Hugh’s College, 8 June-8 November 2023), and a screening of the film adaptation of L’Événement by Audrey Diwan (Happening, 9 June, MFO).

*We regret that no hybrid option is available for this event.