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How is literary production constrained by political, cultural and social factors? A new IMLR research project funded by the AHRC asks this question in relation to French literature from 1980 to the present day. Dominic Glynn explains more:


Arguments about the decline of French literature in terms of readership and quality have been made frequently in recent years. Listening to some commentators in the media, everything has gone to pot: where are the likes of Gide or Sartre (Houellebecq?!), the intelligentsia asks. This project challenges these arguments by studying literary production in France over the last thirty years.

Traditionally, two approaches have dominated the study of literary practice in France. One focuses on the social world in which literature is produced, while the other studies what is produced, the literary texts. However, there is a lack of theorised cross-over between them. Current evaluation of the process of literary production (writing, translating, editing, publishing, disseminating) is therefore skewed and partial. The Literature under Constraint (LUC) project addresses this lacuna in scholarship by developing a rigorous methodology that bridges the gap between these two approaches. As a result, it will be possible to examine evolutions of style and genre with respect to the shifting constraints on writers. The aim is to elucidate which factors (mind-sets, political context, social environments, intermediaries) shape and constrain literary production, but also to explore whether constraint bolsters creative activity.

LUC argues that literature is a moment of private, individual expression brought into the public space by various intermediaries (literary agents, editors, graphic designers, critics). The project therefore takes issue with the romantic vision of the writer as sole author, working in isolation from the world, which still colours much literary scholarship. To this end, LUC investigates French literature from 1980 to the present day using and challenging theories developed in cogent disciplines such as art history, book studies and sociology.

The principal aim of the project is to build a transnational and multi-disciplinary network to investigate how social, political and cultural constraints have shaped literary production in France from 1980 to the present. By the end of the program of activities, a closely linked cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary research team will be established. The team will have formulated a robust methodology that combines textual analysis with sociohistorical study.

The network assembles a cutting-edge interdisciplinary research team that includes renowned experts in the fields of French literature sociology and related fields (translation studies, book history). It also involves Early-Career Researchers (ECRs), and Postgraduate Research Students (PGRs). By forging collaborations with universities and cultural organisations in Europe, US and Canada, the team will promote UK research in the humanities at an international level. In so doing, it will challenge semi-institutionalised boundaries between the humanities and social sciences in UK and abroad.

The network is putting together a packed programme of events. Researchers interested in joining the network or finding out more about the network’s activities are encouraged to sign up to the project’s newsletter by emailing LUC-REQUEST@JISCMAIL.AC.UK

Dominic Glynn, Lecturer in French Studies, IMLR