Research

I am interested in the intersection of French literature and economics. It is my plan to explore the following two topics in greater detail this coming academic year: implications of debt-driven derivative identity in French transnationalism and postcolonialism and discourses of material consumption. The most important goal of my research will be its ability to make a meaningful impact inside and outside of academia.

I invented the term debt-driven derivative identity to describe a literary identity that goes beyond the transnational implications of a country’s national literature after colonization has ended. This term will focus on the foundation of the author’s identity. This is a particularly acute phenomenon in French literature. When a foreign culture invades and dominates an existing and developed culture, there is an inherent violence in this act: literal and metaphorical. Stemming from Derrida’s notion of violent hierarchies, if an author never has the ability to develop his or her voice without intervention from the French culture which hovers above it, does this not necessarily create a negative image of self, an unwillingly borrowed body of works that influence the author whether consciously or unconsciously? “Debt-driven” as concept works to describe this curious condition of derived identity in the Francophone world which is involuntarily tied to negation. It is to say: I am not myself if I am unwillingly bonded to my “creators” in the act of my creation. Qui suis-je? becomes enveloped in a negative and infinitely bonded referential state. With the term debt-driven derivative identities, I want to investigate the methods which Francophone writers have invented to purge themselves of negation, moving from debt to level ground to surplus. Of course, this is evident in the Négritude movement; however, through the lens of economic terminology and theory, new conclusions can be drawn from these attempts of the artistic reformulation of the self within the economic totality of authorship.

Discourses of material consumption are interesting to me in terms of theories of excess and instances of feast or famine ideology. For me, this is particularly striking through the rapid pace of industrialization in the 19th century and the “thingification” of everything going forward into the 20th and 21st centuries—gift economy shrinks into nothing while market economy swallows everything. In literature, we can see this in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and Huysmans’ À Rebours to only name a few. Wealth consumes not only material goods, but also the character’s sense of self. If there are no monetary boundaries, and every “thing” is within reach, why do we see such atrophy of the self in these portraits of excess? What I have found is that discourses of material consumption are directly linked to ethics. By exploring this topic in greater detail, we can find exactly how the concept of money works metaphorically and how it can shift the ethics and morality of literary characters simply by presenting itself in different forms (lack, sufficient and excess). Further questions I might potentially expound upon are as follows: Is social mobility a tranquilized example of this material consumption and, if so, when does it transform into “keeping up with the joneses” and at what cost? Does the monetarily comfortable self harbor more contempt for the poor self or the wealthy self? Aspiring to be more and to have more have different implications in many works in modern French literature and it is my goal to uncover and form relationships between them.

I embrace the fact that my research interests will evolve in time, becoming stronger versions of themselves or shrinking into launch pads for more fruitful pursuits. I find the intersection of literature and economics to be particularly productive in terms of the questions that can be answered about both disciplines and the solutions that can potentially be drawn from them.

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Research