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Photo of Annabelle Cone, instructor of French
Annabelle Cone

Holding Court is an interview series that features the authors of the new books on display in the King Arthur Flour café in Baker-Berry Library.

In this week's edition, we speak with Annabelle Cone, comics scholar and instructor of French, who not only studies and teaches graphic novels, but created her own.  Empty Nesting, a graphic memoir, explores episodes in Cone's life with wit, insight, and humanity.

What is your book about?

Life after divorce at fifty, with a gay roommate and a grown daughter in a big old farmhouse in rural New Hampshire. Being in charge of it all, all of a sudden.

Where did you get your ideas for this book?

My own life!  But also from reading other people's graphic memoirs. I love self-deprecating humor and not taking one's personal crises too seriously.

What does research look like for you? What element of research could you not live without?

The book is a memoir, very much inspired by autobiographical feminist theory (which I have worked on in the past), and by graphic memoirs written by famous authors like Boulet, Gabrielle Bell, Julia Wertz and Allison Bechdel. The practice of writing a graphic novel came directly from the practice of teaching and researching the genre.

What do you think the library of the future will look like?

I hope very much like the library of the present. We need to keep reading books, but also designing books, book covers, page layouts, and to have a sense of organization of a book, from the preface, to the introduction, to the end notes, to the bibliography and the blurb on the back cover.

 What advice would you give to an aspiring scholar or writer?

Stick with it and don't doubt yourself. We need scholars and writers to explain the world and make sense of its many complications.

And finally, what do you read for fun?

If I had more time, I would dig into the many novels coming from Africa and Asia (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Haruki Murakami, to name the most famous). If I had more shelf space, I would acquire more graphic novels.

Photo of Robert St. Clair, assistant professor of FrenchIn this week's edition, we speak with Robert St. Clair, assistant professor in the Department of French and Italian.  Rob is a scholar of 19th century French literature, who finds the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud an inexhaustible source of inspiration and inquiry.  The author of Poetry, Politics, and the Body in Rimbaud: Lyrical Material (Oxford University Press, 2018), Rob is also co-editor in chief of the Rimbaud-focused journal Parade Sauvage. How does Rob manage to get work done?  With post-it notes.  Lots of them.

What is your book about?

Poetry, Politics, and the Body in Rimbaud is about the social materiality of poetry in Second Empire France (1851-1870)—that is to say, the intersections of the aesthetic and the historical, of art with its social situation. It takes as an emblematic case of this materiality the role played by representations of the body in the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891): the enfant terrible of French letters whose work transformed the literary landscape of French modernity before he ostensibly gave up on poetry altogether at the age of 20.

Where did you get your ideas for this book?

From years of reading Rimbaud's poetry and being productively puzzled.

What does research look like for you? What element of research could you not live without?

If I were to settle on one allegorical image of what research looks like for me, it would be this: post-it notes. An absolute maelstrom of post-it notes littered across piles of books. I have always found that reading is the sneakiest, most productive form of writing there is. So, in a word, the research element I couldn't live without is: books. Library books. None of my research could have been done without library books!

What do you think the library of the future will look like?

My sincere and real hope is that the library of the future persists and thrives in its material form: that is, as a real place, with real librarians, with real books among real stacks that one can wander around in - perhaps for the sheer pleasure of picking up a book out of curiosity, perhaps in only apparent aimlessness. If I did not regularly lose entire mornings leafing through the stacks in Baker-Berry - coming on occasion across invaluable texts and studies that I hadn't been looking for - I shudder to think of the state some of my work would be in.

What advice would you give to an aspiring scholar or writer?

Don't stop reading.

And finally, what do you read for fun?

It's not always easy to find time for this, but I find it's crucial. In the past week I've been reading a book by the art historian T.J. Clark called Heaven on Earth. It's a study of the idea and political problem of the utopian in Western art from the late middle ages to the contemporary period. There's a chapter in there on Bruegel's Land of Cockaigne (Shlaraffenland, Le Pays de cocagne, or something like the more recent "Big Rock Candy Mountain") for which every page was breathtaking, poignant, humorous, a little on the despondent side. Similarly in the vein of picking things up for no reason, I got through a very short novel by Georges Perec the other day, Quel petit vélo à guidon chromé au fond de la cour? It's a deeply funny, playfully complex little story about a group of friends trying to come up with a way of getting one of their pals - whose name the narrator can never quite recall or get consistently right - out of the draft during the Algerian War of Independence (like any good "joke," in other words, its implicit cultural and historical backdrop is anything but a laughing matter).

 

 

photo of faith beasleyHolding Court is an interview series that features the authors of the new books on display in the King Arthur Flour café in Baker-Berry Library.

In this week's edition, we speak with Faith E. Beasley, Professor of French and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.  Author of Versailles Meets the Taj Mahal (University of Toronto Press, 2018) Beasley is an expert in seventeenth-century French literature by women.  Awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2012, Beasley used the prize to complete research and writing on this book, an exploration into the conversations about India during the early modern period in France.

What is your book about?

I identify and explore the traces that the encounter with India left on the cultural artifacts and mindset of early modern Europe. I focus on France's "Grand Siècle" and the female-dominated salon culture that was unique to France and resurrect the traces of conversations about India in the literary works, correspondences, philosophical texts, novels, fables, and memoirs produced by members of a particular salon.

Where did you get your ideas for this book?

I have always been interested in the shadows of history, in finding and telling the stories that have been lost or sometimes intentionally cast aside and rejected from the dominant narrative of the past. My first two books, Revising Memory and Salons, History, and the Creation of 17th-century France, focused on the women writers of France's canonical 17th century and their influence on culture, and then explored why their story and the institution associated with them, the salon, was either erased from history or revised so it no longer posed a threat to the traditional view of the image of Louis XIV's France. This book also places into question our idea of what the west thought of India and the influence India exerted on the western imaginary. For the past 20 years I have lived between France, the US, and India, and been immersed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. I started to notice references to India in some of France's most well-known works of literature and philosophy and was struck by how these references reflected a very different relationship between West and East than the one portrayed by orientalism. This interdisciplinary and cultural analysis of the encounter between two great civilizations at peak moments of their history challenges our preconceptions of the relationship between west and east, as it complicates our understanding of the past by including voices, especially those of women, who have been silenced.

What does research look like for you? What element of research could you not live without?

Research for me is above all reading: reading versions of history, literary works, letters, philosophy...works from many different disciplines. In the early modern period, the boundaries between disciplines were much more fluid and sometimes didn't even exist. I also love to visit museums to see what people who were writing the texts I'm reading were looking at as they constructed images of the world around them. My goal is to learn how people thought, and how they came up with new ideas, not just what those ideas were. We read literary works differently when we have a deep understanding of their historical context. I find texts and images online, but I derive much more pleasure from time spent in libraries in Paris, in the archives, looking at the marginalia in early editions of works. I can't work without touching physical books, nor read a book without having a pencil in hand for notes! I always have to have a writing utensil and paper around me to jot down ideas, even on my bedside table!

What do you think the library of the future will look like?

My ardent hope is that it will still contain actual books. Reading a text online is simply not the same experience.

What advice would you give to an aspiring scholar or writer?

Write about questions and issues that engage your mind but also your heart, your very being. Don't just go with the latest fad or write to please others. Your work must come from deep within you to keep your interest as well as attract readers. And don't be afraid to revise!

And finally, what do you read for fun?

I have always loved to read biographies. My next project will be a biography in fact! I'm fascinated by how a writer constructs someone's life, and by different biographies of the same subject. My other great passion is historical novels. I love to enter the past, become engrossed in another world. I appreciate texts that get me into people's mindsets and that offer different ways of viewing and interpreting the world.