100 Good Reasons to Study Modern Languages, Reason 90: Because the Humanities Matter

posted by Simon Kemp

Modern Languages at university form part of a family of subjects, along with history, English, philosophy and several others, known as the Humanities. This week’s Good Reason to study modern languages is because it’s a humanities subject, and because all the humanities are important. (You can find the other reasons by clicking the ‘100 Reasons’ tag at the bottom of this post.) The American writer and academic, Francine Prose, makes an eloquent case for studying the humanities in a recent article, and suggests why these subjects might be more important than ever in today’s world. Here’s an extract:

Those of us who teach and study are aware of what these areas of learning provide: the ability to think critically and independently; to tolerate ambiguity; to see both sides of an issue; to look beneath the surface of what we are being told; to appreciate the ways in which language can help us understand one another more clearly and profoundly – or, alternately, how language can conceal and misrepresent. They help us learn how to think, and they equip us to live in – to sustain – a democracy.

Studying the classics and philosophy teaches students where we come from, and how our modes of reasoning have evolved over time. Learning foreign languages, and about other cultures, enables students to understand how other societies resemble or differ from our own. Is it entirely paranoid to wonder if these subjects are under attack because they enable students to think in ways that are more complex than the reductive simplifications so congenial to our current political and corporate discourse?

 I don’t believe that the humanities can make you a decent person. We know that Hitler was an ardent Wagner fan and had a lively interest in architecture. But literature, art and music can focus and expand our sense of what humans can accomplish and create. The humanities teach us about those who have gone before us; a foreign language brings us closer to those with whom we share the planet. The humanities can touch those aspects of consciousness that we call intellect and heart – organs seemingly lacking among lawmakers whose views on health care suggest not only zero compassion but a poor understanding of human experience, with its crises and setbacks.

Courses in the humanities are as formative and beneficial as the classes that will replace them. Instead of Shakespeare or French, there will be (perhaps there already are) college classes in how to trim corporate spending – courses that instruct us to eliminate “frivolous” programs of study that might actually teach students to think.

You can find the full article here.

Europe

posted by Catriona Seth

In 1813, Germaine de Staël published a seminal work called De l’Allemagne, which offered a wide-ranging introduction to German romantic literature and philosophy. She had long been an advocate of learning from one’s neighbours and had a particular admiration for the British political system. She had also written Corinne ou l’Italie, a novel which suggested that Italy, at the time a fragmented series of little duchies, principalities and papal States, could unite around its common cultural heritage. She was very interested in what languages and reading foreign texts or those written in the past can teach us:

Comment pourrait-on, sans la connaissance des langues, sans l’habitude de la lecture, communiquer avec ces hommes qui ne sont plus, et que nous sentons si bien nos amis, nos concitoyens, nos alliés ? Il faut être médiocre de cœur pour se refuser à de si nobles plaisirs. Ceux-là seulement qui remplissent leur vie de bonnes œuvres peuvent se passer de toute étude : l’ignorance, dans les hommes oisifs, prouve autant la sécheresse de l’âme que la légèreté de l’esprit.

Enfin, il reste encore une chose vraiment belle et morale, dont l’ignorance et la frivolité ne peuvent jouir : c’est l’association de tous les hommes qui pensent, d’un bout de l’Europe à l’autre.

This is one of the extracts included in the anthology of texts mainly from the long eighteenth century, freely available to download here. All of them deal with the subject of Europe which seemed to us to be particularly topical. There are pieces taken from works by major figures like Rousseau or Voltaire – and others who did not write in French, like Gibbon or Kant. There are also some by forgotten authors. Most are short, some of them are almost aphoristic, a few of them are in verse. They all show that during the Enlightenment (and indeed before), thinkers were wondering about political integration, ties with neighbouring lands like Turkey or the Maghreb, common cultural practises and social rituals, but also about the role individuals might play in shaping the future of international relations.

Putting together the anthology was a collective effort. Like Tolérance. Le combat des Lumières, published in the aftermath of the January 2015 killings in Paris, it was carried out under the aegis of the Société française d’étude du dix-huitième siècle. Like its predecessor, it was a collaborative effort, piloted by my the Professor of French and Italian from the university of Augsburg, Rotraud von Kulessa, and by myself, with the help of colleagues from different countries. This, however, is only part of the story. We want people, wherever they are, to be able to use the book, to read it freely, to download it, to dip into it or to read it from cover to cover… That is already possible now. We also want it to be available to people who do not speak French or who would benefit from having the texts in two languages. Tolérance was translated into English in an amazing manner by Caroline Warman and 102 students and academics from Oxford—if you have not seen it yet, this is where you can find it:

http://www.openbookpublishers.com/product/418/r

Our plan is to translate L’idée d’Europe in the same way. Language students from all over Oxford and their tutors are getting involved and once the work is finished and the book online, we will make sure you get the inside story on this blog so… enjoy reading L’idée de l’Europe in its initial French version and watch this space for The Idea of Europe.

 

French Film Competition – The Winners

 

posted by Simon Kemp

As promised last week, here are extracts from the winning entries in our French film competition.

First, here is part of Sophie Still’s reimagining of the ending of Jean de Florette. Our judges said her new end to the story ‘both captured the mood and character of the film and dramatically reworked the ending’.

Manon is standing, holding a furry, wriggling mass in her arms. Once again, she is standing in Ugolin’s garden and once again, he is nowhere to be found. She approaches another flowerbed of plants and vegetables, crouches and sets the rabbit down in the soil.

Manon: There you are, little rabbit.

The rabbit sniffs at a bean plant and begins to nibble on a lettuce leaf.

Manon: That’s right. Feel free to eat whatever you want!

Suddenly an out-of-breath Ugolin rushes into the garden.

Ugolin: (holding up the secateurs, shouting angrily) Looking for something? How dare you destroy my flowers! Do you know how much they were worth?

Manon jumps in surprise, revealing the rabbit which is munching happily on the vegetables. He screams.

My plants! That’s it you’ve had it now!

Ugolin lunges towards the flowerbed. Manon screams and backs away quickly but he grabs the rabbit instead and dangles it by its ears.

Manon: (shouting) No! Put him down! Don’t touch my rabbit!

Ugolin: (grinning manically) But little girl, he’s not your rabbit anymore. He has come into my garden and eaten my plants – that makes him a pest, which means I’m allowed to do this…

He drops the rabbit onto the ground in front of him and snatches up the shovel that was leaning against the wall of the house. He raises it above his head.

Manon: (screaming) No! No!

Ugolin brings down the shovel and crushes the rabbit. Manon bursts into tears and screams and screams. Before he can do anything else, she dives in, scoops up the rabbit’s broken body and runs as fast as she can down the hillside. Ugolin calls after her.

Ugolin: Come back in here again and you’ll be next!

******

Manon hands the rabbit to Jean, who examines it carefully.

Jean: Oh my! Poor creature. Did a fox do this?

She wipes a tear from her eye and sniffles but does not reply. Jean picks up his shovel and begins to dig.

Jean: We are gathered here today to celebrate the life of Monsieur –

Manon: (quietly) Pierre

Jean: Monsieur Pierre who lived a short but happy life. He loved lettuce leaves and we loved him. He will be missed.

He picks up the rabbit and is placing it carefully in its deep grave when he nearly drops it in surprise.

What is this? The bottom of this grave is full of mud! But if there is mud, that must mean that there is—

Manon: (bursts out) Water!

Secondly, here is an extract from Lidija Beric’s new ending for Paris nous appartient, which the judges described as a ‘brilliant and ingenious reworking’ which ‘perfectly captures the darkness and complexity of the original’.

« Pourquoi lui as-tu dit de venir? »
Nos yeux se sont rencontrés et je l’ai vu, j’ai vu ce mélange de haine et d’amour quand il m’a regardée.
‘Terry !’
Je n’ai daigné répondre. Nous avons attendu dans le silence comme les ombres calmes au milieu d’une tempête.
Les pas faibles d’Anne ont soudain pu être écoutés et Philip a craqué. Il a crié encore « Pourquoi ? Pourquoi lâche –»
« Il est nécessaire qu’elle vienne. » Ma voix était monotone.
Les coups frappés à la porte ont transpercé l’air comme des balles.
« Ta nécessité est arrivée. » Il a craché.
« Comment oses-tu? Je n’ai rien ! Je n’ai rien sans mon enfant ! C’est toi, tu as tous ce que tu veux-»
« Tais-toi! Elle est folle, ton enfant, elle sera bientôt sur le point de mourir! Quand oublieras-tu la passé et te concentreras-tu à l’avenir ? Paris est en danger des forces étrangères. Si nous restions là sans rien faire-»
« Je vous écoute ! Terry ! » a-t-Anne poussé des cris.
Je n’ai réagi qu’en baissant ma voix. « Pourquoi penses-tu que je l’ai dit à Anne ? »
« Pas encore, évidemment-»
« Je vais lui dire maintenant. »
« Et quoi, alors ? Ce que tu as dit à Juan ? »
« Qui sait quel rôle je vais jouer aujourd’hui ?» j’ai dit énigmatiquement.
J’ai ouvert la porte pendant que Philip a disparu aux ténèbres de la pièce voisine.
« Anne. Montrez-moi. »
Anne n’a pas du tout hésité à me donner la note de suicide.
Je lui ai mené dans le salon. C’était une interprétation maintenant. J’ai allumé la platine pour que la musique de Juan puisse m’accompagner avec l’air mystérieux.
Anne a deviné tout de suite.  « C’est l’enregistrement de Juan ? »
« Qui d’autre ? » J’ai dit du ton condescendant. « Et je sais ce que vous pensez. Que j’ai trahi Gérard parce que je ne le lui ai donné pas. Ma raison était simple. Je ne pouvais pas le laisser partir. Cela aurait signifié que j’avais oublié Juan. Ma connexion avec lui était si forte que je devais garder l’enregistrement. »
« C’était quoi, votre connexion ? Que l’aviez-vous tué ? » Anne a demandé.
« Les agents de la Falange l’a tué. »
« Ce n’était pas suicide ? Mais vous lui avez dit quelque chose. Quelque chose qui l’a affecté…»
« La même chose que je vais vous dire. Maintenant. Êtes-vous prête ? C’est une vérité de la  puissance incroyable. »
« Vous avez pour but de me détruire ? »
« Ca dépend. Voudriez-vous vous asseoir ? »
Comme si elle était dans un rêve, elle est tombée dans la chaise.

We’ll launch a new competition at the same time next year, and we look forward as always to the wildly creative contributions we receive.

French Film Competition 2017

 

posted by Jenny Oliver and Jonathan Patterson

2017 sees the sixth year of Oxford University’s French film competition, in which school pupils are invited to watch (a) selected French film(s), and write an essay or script re-imagining the ending. As in previous years, the competition was open to students across secondary school year groups, and in 2017 we received almost 100 entries, from over 40 different schools.

The judges were delighted by the incredibly strong field of applications, and hugely enjoyed reading (and watching!) the entries. Across the age ranges, students from across the country had clearly enjoyed tackling the creative challenge set. This year, entrants were given the choice of two films in each category: one ‘classic’, and one contemporary. Shortlisting was not easy; there were a great number of highly inventive pieces that showed impressive maturity. The most successful entries managed to develop plot and character convincingly from the tone established in earlier scenes, picking up smoothly from the set starting-point, with compelling dialogue and plausible innovations, all within the specified limit of 1500 words.

The winner of the years 7-11 category was Sophie Still, whose screenplay re-imagining of the ending of Jean de Florette both captured the mood and character of the film and dramatically reworked the ending. Runner-up in this category was Dylan Ferguson for his humorous and imaginative reworking of Mic Macs. Highly commended by the judges were Peter James Cocks and Ella Keith, while Caroline Mirza, Sarah Shah, Charlotte Cheah, Lucy Horobin, Arabella Hall and Carol Habib were all commended.

In the older age category (years 12-13) the winner was Lidija Beric for her brilliant and ingenious reworking of Paris Nous Appartient, which perfectly captures the darkness and complexity of the original. Runner-up is Matilda Butterworth, who impressed the judges with her vibrant and tonally sensitive new ending to Microbe et Gasoil. In this category, Sophie Daisy Elliott and Eilidh Morrice Lang were highly commended, while commendations go to Ilana Pearce, Lucy Morgan,Tom Owens, Louisa Van Aeken, Beth Molyneux, Finlay Marum, and Ella Williams.

We’ll be posting some extracts from the winning entries on next week’s blog.

 

Some more specific notes from the judges on the entries for individual films follow below:

 

Jean de Florette: Pagnol’s classic received a large number of entries, many of which were very promising. A number of excellent entries majored on the divided loyalties of Ugolin; others gave a fresh perspective to the Soubeyran deception as perceived through Manon’s eyes. The most convincing entries were those that developed the motifs of tragedy, greed and/or revenge, engaging all the main characters, with a strong sense of cinematographic drama.

Mic Macs: the best entries were humorous and imaginative, but balanced this with great attention to plot and character motivation, and kept the underlying topic of the arms trade clearly in sight. Many entries developed the psychological profile of Bazil and/or his relationship with Elastic Girl, and quite a few played in dramatic ways with the competitive dynamics between the villains Marconi and de Fenouillet.

Microbe et Gasoil: the most successful re-imaginings of the ending maintained convincing characterisation, but added a significant twist to the denouement. Many entries reflected sensitively and thoughtfully on the relationship between the two main protagonists, and several very successfully maintained director Michel Gondry’s quirky and distinctive sense of tone.

Paris Nous Appartient: rewriting Rivette’s complex, contorted screenplay was a demanding task, and the judges were extremely impressed with the overall standard of entries. Several played on the motif of appartenance with considerable sophistication. In keeping with the original, the very best entries were those which shifted the action around Paris, offering terse dialogue and unexpected plot twists that did not attempt to resolve or demystify the dénouement to a neat conclusion.