Christy Wampole, Princeton University - “What is Degenerative Realism?”


Thursday, November 12, 2020, 6:00pm




Christy Wampole, Princeton University

“What is Degenerative Realism?”

France and the World Seminar, Mahindra Humanities Center

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This talk explores a particular strand of realism in the contemporary French novel, one that uses degeneration as both a thematic and formal tool to comment on a perceived civilizational decline in the West and a parallel disintegration of reality itself. The most well-known of the novelists representing this tendency is Michel Houellebecq, but many others, including Aurélien Bellanger, Frédéric Beigbeder, and Yann Moix, have also produced bleak narratives whose form and content is marked by degenerative realism. This talk will show how the new phase in France’s long realist tradition has been shaped by demographic anxiety, the Minitel and the Internet, and a retooling of older forms like the roman à thèse.

Christy Wampole is a writer and Associate Professor of French at Princeton University. She specializes in 20th- and 21st-century French literature, particularly the essay and its hybrid forms (essay film, photo essay, essayistic novel), and has taught courses recently on race in France, realism and post-truth, the contemporary, and comparative French and American feminism. She has published three books: Degenerative Realism: Novel and Nation in 21st-Century France (Columbia UP, 2020), Rootedness: The Ramifications of a Metaphor (Chicago UP, 2016, winner of the MLA Prize for a First Book), and The Other Serious: Essays for the New American Generation (HarperCollins, 2015). She has also published scholarly articles, opinion pieces, and essays in publications such as MLN, Modern Language Review, French Forum, L’Esprit créateur, The New York Times, The New Yorker, and Aeon Magazine.