This past October, the Department of French and Italian co-hosted a symposium titled Les Actualités de Patrick Modiano. The event consisted of a three-panelist roundtable discussion, followed by a few questions, and then a buffet of French cheese and wine where guests were able to continue discussion and talk with the roundtable’s panelists. The symposium proved very successful; originally scheduled for two hours, many guests stayed later hoping to further tackle the topic.
The event was a collaboration between the department and Minneapolis’ Alliance Française, a French cultural center in downtown Minneapolis that holds events for French speakers and Francophiles. The symposium brought a mixture of Alliance Française members, University of Minnesota students and professors, fans of Modiano, and French expats living in the Twin Cities. The gathering of Francophone and Francophile people is important, notes PhD candidate Selim Rauer, because it allows them “access to very important questions or topics bringing together not only a cultural dimension, but also a socio-historic one.” Audience members came to listen to panelists discuss the literary work of French novelist Patrick Modiano, who now in his seventies, did not attend the event. The symposium thoroughly discussed his writings on “memory and reconstruction of the past in order to actualize the present” during the era surrounding World War II. In 2014, Modiano was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, and has won numerous other literary awards.
Symposium moderator and department chair Bruno Chaouat is a Modiano scholar himself. He took initiative of the multidirectional discussion and was able to bring in three important panelists to discuss the work of Modiano: Morgane Cadieu, Maxine Decout, and Lawrence Kritzman. Cadieu, a French native and Modiano expert, teaches French literature at Yale. Decout, another French native, is a specialist in both Modiano and George Perec, and is a professor at the University of Lille in Northern France. Kritzman is a notable scholar and prestigious professor at Dartmouth College. He also was the only guest to discuss Modiano in English. “It was amazing. He gave his own interpretation, and the way it was articulated was very different compared to the two other guests,” Selim said. “It was important to have access to the knowledge, critic, and interpretation of such an important scholar like Kritzman, because even though he has a strong association with French literature he is coming from another cultural space, and is able to fuse together those two experiences and realities.”
The collaboration between the Department of French and Italian and Alliance Française gave an inviting space for students, faculty, and the greater community to participate in a dialogue outside of the traditional educational setting; providing a unique opportunity for those interested to continue their passion for French and French culture.