Literature, Narrative and Law Seminar, Robert Penn Warren Center

The Robert Penn Warren Center Seminar on Literature, Narrative and Law is
directed by: Professor Robert Barsky and Professor Daniel Gervais, Department of French and Italian, and the Law School, Vanderbilt University

The Literature, Narrative and Law Seminar welcomes anyone interested in the many topics now addressed in this field, including the use of obscenity laws to regulate creative work, the representation of law in literature, law as literature, the application of literary methods to legal texts, the challenges of constructing “characters” appropriate to literary and legal settings, and the revitalization of law through reference to humanistic texts and approaches. All talks are in the Robert Penn Warren Center, unless otherwise noted. Contact: Professor Robert Barsky

Spring 2018

Thursday, February 8th at noon (Alexander Room, Law School) and Friday, February 9th 4PM (Robert Penn Warren Center): Professor Debbie Anker, Harvard University

Deborah Anker is Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Harvard Law School Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRC). She has taught law students at Harvard for over 30 years. Author of a leading treatise, Law of Asylum in the United States, Anker has co-drafted ground-breaking gender asylum guidelines and amicus curiae briefs. Professor Anker is one of the most widely known asylum scholars and practitioners in the United States; she is cited frequently by international and domestic courts and tribunals, including the United States Supreme Court. Deborah Anker is a pioneer in the development of clinical legal education in the immigration field, training students in direct representation of refugees and creating a foundation for clinics at law schools around the country.

Fall 2017

Tuesday, November 14th, 5:00PM, Luigi Achille, Migration Policy Center (Florence) on Narrative and Law (Robert Penn Warren Center) and 7:00PM: Discussion and viewing of A Bigger Splash, with Luigi Achille (Cohen 203)

A Bigger Splash is a 2015 English-language Italian-French psychological thriller drama film directed by Luca Guadagnino and written by Alain Page and David Kajganich, based on the film La Piscine. The film stars Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ralph Fiennes and Dakota Johnson. The film was named after David Hockney’s 1967 painting of the same title. It competed for the Golden Lion at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival.

Monday, November 13th, all day: Luigi Achille (10AM-11AM, Political Science Interview, Commons 349; 4:10-5:40PM: HUM 1610 (Cohen 203)
Luigi Achille holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in political anthropology from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). His research and writing focus on everyday forms of political engagement and disengagements, citizenship, nationalism, Palestinian issue, refugees and refugee camp, and the politics of space. His research and writing are based on extensive fieldwork conducted primarily in the Middle East. Ethnographic in approach, his work has led him to spend long time living and working in the urban Palestinian refugee camps of Jordan. His last research project has culminated with the publication of a book about the significance of the “ordinary” in the process of political self-fashioning in Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan, Palestinian Refugees and Identity: Nationalism, Politics and the Everyday (I.B. Tauris, 2015).

Monday, November 6th, 10:00AM (Robert Penn Warren Center) and 4:10-5:40 (Cohen 203): Professor Sahir Aziz. Sahar Aziz is Professor of Law, Chancellor’s Social Justice Scholar, and Middle East and Legal Studies Scholar at Rutgers University Law School. Professor Aziz’s scholarship adopts an interdisciplinary approach to examine intersections of national security, race, and civil rights with a focus on the adverse impact of national security laws and policies on racial, ethnic, and religious minorities in the U.S. Her research also investigates the relationship between authoritarianism, terrorism, and rule of law in Egypt. She is the founding director of the interdisciplinary Rutgers Center for Security, Race, and Civil Rights. She is also a faculty affiliate of the Department of Political Science at Rutgers University-Newark. She teaches courses on national security, critical race theory, evidence, torts, and Middle East law.

Monday, October 16th – Tuesday, 17th: Georgia Cole, Joyce Pearce Junior Research Fellow in Development Studies, Refugee Studies Centre, Oxford University (Monday October 16th, 4:10-5:40PM: HUM 1610 (Cohen 203)
Tuesday, October 17th, 10AM-11AM, Political Science Interview, Commons 349
Tuesday, October 17th, 5PM-6PM, Robert Penn Warren Center)

Georgia Cole holds the Joyce Pearce Junior Research Fellowship in Development Studies, and has completed her DPhil in International Development on the topic of ‘The Politics and Semiotics of the Cessation Clauses for Rwandan and Eritrean Refugees’. She is also working on a project to provide a comparative analysis of the politics of the post-liberation trajectories of the Eritrean and Rwandan states, and ‘Engendering Understandings of Faith-Based Humanitarian Responses to Displacement: Intersections between gender and religion in humanitarian interventions’ with Dr. Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh and Chloe Lewis. Other interests include the position and importance of cycling in Eritrean politics.

Monday, October 2nd (all day): Professor James Hathaway, University of Michigan Law School: 10AM-11AM, Political Science Interview, Commons 363
Noon-1:30, Law School talk, Renaissance Room, Law School
4:10-5:40PM: HUM 1610 (Cohen 203)
James C. Hathaway, the James E. and Sarah A. Degan Professor of Law, is a leading authority on international refugee law whose work is regularly cited by the most senior courts of the common law world. He is the founding director of Michigan Law’s Program in Refugee and Asylum Law and the Distinguished Visiting Professor of International Refugee Law at the University of Amsterdam. From 2008 to 2010, Professor Hathaway was on leave to serve as dean of the Melbourne Law School, where he established Australia’s first all-graduate (JD) law program. He regularly provides training on refugee law to academic, non-governmental, and official audiences around the world. Professor Hathaway’s publications include The Law of Refugee Status (2014), with Michelle Foster; Transnational Law: Cases and Materials (2013), with Mathias Reimann, Timothy Dickinson, and Joel Samuels;Human Rights and Refugee Law (2013); The Rights of Refugees Under International Law (2005); Reconceiving International Refugee Law (1997); and more than 80 journal articles. He is founding patron and senior adviser to Asylum Access, a nonprofit organization committed to delivering innovative legal aid to refugees in the global South, and counsel on international protection to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. Professor Hathaway sits on the editorial boards of the Journal of Refugee Studies, the Immigration and Nationality Law Reports, and

Wednesday, September 20th, 10:00AM-10:50 and 5-6PM: Robert Barsky at the Humanities Symposium, Belmont University. The event will take place in Ayers Academic Center (JAAC) 4094 (Conference Room). This building sits on the corner of Wedgewood Ave and 15th.

10:00-10:50AM, JAAC 4094. Featured Speakers Panel discussion and Q&A Session: Jere Surber, Melissa Snarr and Robert Barsky.

5PM-6PM. “Are We Home Yet? The Uncertainties of Vulnerable Migrants First Encounters with the Host Country”: The legal and narrative dynamics of host country interactions with migrants is an urgent topic for investigation, worldwide. With the on-going crisis in Syria, mounting gang violence in Central America, and other regions such as Eritrea, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, South Sudan, and Afghanistan under continued pressure, there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel for vulnerable migrants. And with the Trump administration’s approach to refugees and undocumented migrants, it’s clear that the issues surrounding the treatment, admission, and policing of migrants and asylum seekers will remain at the top of national agenda for years to come. In order to understand the impact of current debates and new legislation upon vulnerable migrants, Robert Barsky will discuss the narrative-law dynamic in the critical first encounters between forced migrants who have come to seek a new life in the United States, and officials charged with making front-line decisions that determine whether these newcomers are coming “home”, or risking prison and deportation

Film Series:

Tuesday, October 17th, 6:00PM The Eritrean Exodus (with Georgia Cole): Follow Chris Cotter, an American traveler, as he explores a common migration path through Ethiopia and into Israel, tracking the plight of Eritrean refugees. Chris and his crew visit several refugee camps, including the never-before-documented Afar region. The refugees tell stories of oppression, torture, and survival. Searching for solutions, Chris speaks to various NGOs and experts, including Assistant Secretary of State, Anne Richard. The outlook is bleak, but the spirit of the Eritrean refugees is hard to ignore.
Monday, October 23rd, 4:10-5:40: Paul Kramer, Associate Professor of History, Vanderbilt University; Clive Mentzel, Director of the Office of Active Citizenship and Service, Vanderbilt University (Cohen 203)

Fire at Sea: Winner of the Golden Bear for Best Film at the Berlin Film Festival 2016, Gianfranco Rosi’s incisive, poignant and deeply moving portrait of the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa–and the humanitarian crisis occurring in the seas around it–is both a masterly work of documentary filmmaking and a timely call for urgent action. Situated 150 miles south of Sicily, Lampedusa has hit headlines as the first port of call for hundreds of thousands of African and Middle Eastern refugees hoping to make a new life in Europe. After spending months living on the island and engaging with its inhabitants, Rosi accumulated an incredible array of footage, portraying the history, culture and daily lives of the islanders. Focusing on 12-year-old Samuele, as he explores the land and attempts to gain mastery of the sea, the film slowly builds a breathtakingly naturalistic portrait of the Lampedusan people and the events that surround them. The result is a lyrical, poetic and searingly powerful documentary that casts neither judgement nor aspersions, but simply shows the world to the viewer–to utterly devastating effect.
Monday, Oct. 30th, 4:10-5:40: Louisa Saratora (Asst. State Refugee Coordinator; William Mwizerwa, Executive Director of Legacy Mission Village; Thach Gatluak, president and CEO of CEO of Nashville International Center for Empowerment (NICE); Fozia Mohamed, Adult Education Liaison for NICE (Cohen 203)

Undocumented: A documentary crew accompany a group of illegal immigrants crossing the Border, but their plans run afoul when they are captured by a gang of sadistic radicals in New Mexico.

The Good Postman is a 2016 documentary film directed by Tonislav Hristov. The film offers a tragicomic perspective on the ‘refugee crisis’ of 2015 from a small Bulgarian village located near the Turkish border. The village has suffered decades of economic and demographic decline. The handful of remaining residents observe refugee families from Syria and elsewhere as they cross the border, and ponder inviting them to settle in the vacant village houses. This proposal, advocated by the village postman and main protagonist Ivan, polarizes opinions and brings into focus the local people’s own fears, hopes and disappointments. Although the film uses a semi-fictionalised plot, all characters portray themselves in a narrative which closely follows real events which unfolded in Bulgaria during 2014 and 2015.
Spring 2017

Thursday, Feb 9th, 6:15pm – 7:30pm, Russell Berman (Stanford U): “From Goethe to Merkel: Refugee policy and culture in Germany”, 109 Calhoun Hall [related talk]:

Monday February 13th, 4-5:30, Gabriella Sanchez, UTEP “Border Crossings: the Ethnographic Documentation of Migrant Smuggling Facilitation”
Amid the tragic representations of the European migration ‘crisis’ and those involving the arrivals of unaccompanied minors to the US Mexico border, the migrant smuggler –the facilitator of migrants’ clandestine journeys — has emerged globally as the quintessential predator of late modernity. In mainstream narratives of migration, plagued with references to transnational organized crime, ‘cartels,’ terrorism and violence, smugglers are consistently depicted as heinous criminals operating in vast and complex networks, taking advantage of the naiveté and vulnerability of migrants. Empirical research on the people behind the organization of irregular migratory journeys, however, is scant. Drawing from ethnographic work conducted among migration facilitators and those who rely on their services along the US Mexico border, North Africa, the Middle East and Australia, this seminar seeks to critically engage with the mainstream narrative of the migrant smuggler. Relying on the testimonies of the men and women behind migrants’ transits this presentation seeks to unpack a rhetoric dominated by references to crime and security situating the practice of border crossings in the larger context of migratory flows, inequality and globalization.

Monday February 13th, 5:30-7:00, “The Impact of Walls: Experiencing Borders in East/West Germany, Israel/Palestine, & U.S./Mexico”

Join us at the First Amendment Center for a panel discussion regarding the impact of WALLS. Panelists will discuss the Berlin Wall between East and West Germany, the wall that separates Israel and Palestine, as well as the proposed wall for the U.S./Mexico border. [Related Talk]

GABRIELLA E. SANCHEZ (Ph.D., Arizona State University) is an Assistant Professor of Security Studies and Associate Director for Research at The University of Texas El Paso’s National Security Studies Institute. Her research and teaching interests involve the social ecology of transnational organized crime, of border crossings and human mobility efforts, and of bottom-up resistance and insurgent movements. Prior to joining NSSI she was a Clinical Assistant Professor at The Catholic University of America, a Research Fellow at Monash University’s Border Crossing Observatory (Melbourne, Australia), a Visiting Lecturer at Wellesley College,   a Fulbright Scholar at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and a Post-Doctoral Researcher at START, the University of Maryland’s Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence. An anthropologist by training, Dr. Sanchez has completed field research in over 20 countries on five continents, including transborder research for her book Human Smuggling and Border Crossings(Routledge,2015) emerging from her ethnographic work among human and drug smuggling facilitators. A consultant for federal and state agencies and global NGOs, her professional affiliations include the American Anthropological Association, the American Society of Criminology, the Racial Democracy, Crime and Justice Network, and the University of Oxford’s Border Criminologies Research Group.  She is also a reviewer for the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, the Bulletin of Latin American Research, and Sociological Perspectives.

Friday, March 3rd 4-5:30, Ari Bryen, Vanderbilt Mediterranean / Classical Studies. Ari Bryen is a historian of the ancient Roman world. His interests in ancient legal documents have led him to ask about the role of law and courts in day-to-day life in Rome’s provinces, and in imperial encounters in general. Working with ancient documents has also given him an interest in historical methodology, that is, in the array of humanistic and social-scientific reading techniques for extracting new answers and questions from old, fragmentary, and occasionally intractable bits of ancient trash. This has involved looking at processes of drafting and archiving, interpreting visual and literary modes of presenting legal information, and of tracing how stories about laws, courts, and rulers come to be redacted and retold by non-elite actors. His first book, Violence in Roman Egypt (2013) was a study of petitions from Roman-period Egypt, some of our only extant non-elite narratives from the ancient world. Bryen has held fellowships from the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University, the American Council for Learned Societies, and the Institute for Advanced Study. He came to Vanderbilt after teaching at Georgetown, Berkeley, and West Virginia University. He is also currently the section editor for the ancient world for the journal, History Compass.

Monday, March 20th 4-5:30, Kristina Touzenis, International Organization for Migration, Geneva. Ms. Kristina Touzenis is Head of the International Migration Law Unit at the International Organization for Migration where she is responsible for the activities related to international and regional law issues. She has an LLB and LLM from the University of Copenhagen. She had been working in Italy for 9 years, before joining IOM Geneva, including 5 for IOM Rome, and has been teaching both post and undergraduates at the Universities of Trieste and Pisa. Her research focuses on the human rights of women and children and she has published on both international human rights and international humanitarian law issues. She is currently researching issues related to criminal law and human rights.

Thursday, March 30th, 4-5:30, David Maraniss, author and Visiting Professor, Vanderbilt

Born in Detroit, David Maraniss is an associate editor at The Washington Post. Maraniss is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and bestselling author of Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story; First in His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton; Rome 1960: The Olympics that Stirred the World; Barack Obama: The Story; Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero; They Marched into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967; and When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, which was hailed by Sports Illustrated as “maybe the best sports biography ever published.” He lives in Washington, DC, and Madison, Wisconsin.

Friday, April 7th4-5:30, Sarah Koellner, PhD candidate, Department of German, Vanderbilt

“All persons shall be equal before the camera‹. Everyday Surveillance and the Value of Privacy through the German lens.” While the working title implies a focus on film, my presentation predominantly tackles poetic narratives that experiment with the narration of surveillance.

Thursday, April 13 4-5:30, Julius Grey, Social Justice Lawyer, McGill and Grey Casgrain

Julius H. Grey (born 1948) is a Canadian lawyer and university professor. He is particularly known for his expertise in constitutional and human rights law. He is a senior partner at the law firm Grey Casgrain. Born in Wrocław, Poland, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1971, a Bachelor of Civil Law degree in 1971, and a Master of Arts degree in 1973 from McGill University. Grey has been a member of the Quebec Bar and the Canadian Bar Association since 1974. Since 1976 he has been involved in numerous associations such as the Canadian Foundation for Individual Rights, serving as its president from 1985 to 1988. He was a professor of law at McGill University from 1979 until 1993. In 1982 Grey defended two Montreal writers who had published an article, “Signs of the Times,” in the January 22 issue of the Jerusalem Post, which summarized the anxiety then being experienced by the Montreal Jewish community following the election in November 1976 of the Parti Québécois. On February 17, the newspaper Le Devoir attacked the Post article, under the sensationalist headline “La diaspora de Montréal est menacée par l’anti-sémitisme.” A day later an editorial, “Le Québec discrédité en Israël,” appeared in the paper. Grey filed a suit in Quebec Superior Court, charging that the authors had been the victims of a hate campaign. Le Devoir finally settled out of court and printed an apology on its op-ed page on December 17, 1985. Grey assisted in annulling a stipulation in the Charte de la langue française (Bill 101) that forbade the application of different languages on business signboards. Presently, French must merely be the predominant language, but others are allowed. Grey supported La servante écarlate by Margaret Atwood, the French version of The Handmaid’s Tale, in the French version of Canada Reads, broadcast on Radio-Canada in 2004. Grey defended the periodical La Presse Chinoise against a defamation lawsuit filed by Falun Gong. In 2005, the Superior Court of Quebec ruled that the articles published by the newspaper did not qualify as defamation. However, a subsequent ruling by the Quebec Court of Appeal in June 2008 reversed the lower court’s ruling. Grey has publicly supported the New Democratic Party and Québec Solidaire. He was rumoured to be a future star candidate for the party in Montreal, following that party’s successful capture of Outremont in a by-election by Thomas Mulcair on September 17, 2007; however, he did not run in the 2008 or 2011 general elections. Although he considered running in the next Canadian federal election, he did not. Grey is married to Lynne Casgrain, ombudsman of the McGill University Health Centre and daughter of former Québec cabinet minister Claire Kirkland-Casgrain.


November 11th, 4PM: Robert Barsky, “Preventing Terrorism by Fostering Inclusion: Advocating for Policies that Promote a ‘Sense of Belonging'”

Professor Barsky will sketch out the results of two research projects that point to the advantages of fostering a sense of belonging among migrant communities in the host country. The case studies are from two very different realms, immigrant literature and worker self-management (in the manufacturing of automobiles), but they both suggest that policymakers should consider what members of immigrant communities seek in the longer term in terms of integration. In the case of those who commit violent actions in the host country, the research also suggests that policymakers would benefit from undertaking meticulous investigations into individuals’ sense that they didn’t belong in the host country, and that they had to destroy what it represents. By creating concrete conditions for different communities to feel they belong, policymakers can help their diverse populations feel connected to, and thus protective of, their societies.

October 21st, 4PM: Daniel Gervais (Law, Vanderbilt) “Measure for measure: Literary Property in the time of William Shakespeare”

Shakespeare wrote before the invention of modern literary property and its common law cousin, copyright. A look at how law in his time treated authors reveals a multilayered system of patronage and private ordering, and a complex relationship between the figure of the author, his “work” and the propriety of borrowing.

Wednesday, April 20: Dean Lauren Benton (history, Dean of the College of Arts and Science) and Professor Lisa Ford will present a paper titled “The Commissioner’s World: Colonial Inquiries and the Making of a Global Legal Order,” from a chapter in her forthcoming book with Lisa Ford, Rage for Order: The British Empire and the Origins of International Law, 1800-1850. Seminar coordinators: Robert Barsky (French) and Daniel Gervais (law).

Friday, April 15th, Marie-Pierre Bouchard, University of Toronto “Human Rights and Literature Remix: a Systemic and Institutional Perspective on the Global Cultural Market”.

Friday, March 4th, Michael Arntfield (Fulbright Fellow, French and Italian, Vanderbilt) at  “The Criminal Humanities: Conceptualizing Crime & its Investigation Through Literature & the Arts.”

While most people see a digitally interfaced world as harmless and even the height of human social evolution, the reality is that a more critical understanding of how these extended spaces and communicative exercises negatively affect us is needed. For instance, few people are likely aware of the fact that over 92% of serial homicides in recorded history, both solved and unsolved, have occurred since the dawn of Web 1.0 in 1990. There have also been more serial killers in the last 15 years than in the previous 50 years. This is not a coincidence. Aside from those who use the Internet and the anonymity and pathological fantasy offered by digital platforms to directly prey on others and acquire victims, the psycholinguistics of digitization—or how language is understood, processed, and created through technology—is still a murky area of research. Moreover, it directly relates to phenomena like cyberbullying, as well as how offenders not only advertise their crimes but also escalate to more serious crimes through the reinforcement of others, with social media functioning as a tool of what’s known as operant conditioning.

January 14th, Paul Miller (French and Italian, Vanderbilt).


December 2nd, 4PM. Philip Kaisary. “The 1805 Haitian Constitution”.

Professor Kaisary’s research interests include Haitian Revolutionary Studies, the literature and culture of the postcolonial Atlantic, and race, law, and human rights. He is author of “The Haitian Revolution in the Literary Imagination: Radical Horizons, Conservative Constraints” (University of Virginia Press, 2014) which examines the representation of the Haitian Revolution by major Caribbean, African American, and US writers, artists, and thinkers. The study spans English, French, and Spanish languages, and includes poetry, drama, historical writing, biography, fiction, jazz, and opera. In 2015-16, Philip will be a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at Vanderbilt University. Philip joined Warwick Law School in 2012. He graduated from Edinburgh University in English Literature (MA Hons) in 2001, from Sussex University with an MA in Postcolonial Studies in 2003, and he holds a PhD from Warwick University in English & Comparative Literary Studies (2008). On the completion of his PhD, Philip was awarded an Inns of Court Lord Haldane Scholarship and he attended Oxford Brookes University School of Law where he received a Graduate Diploma in Law and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice; he qualified as a solicitor in 2012. Professor Kaisary is also meeting with West students on December 2nd at 3PM, following which time he’ll be presenting a paper on the 1805 Haitian Constitution in the Robert Penn Warren Center, to which West students are invited.

November 18th, 4PM. Joseph Fishman. “The Copy Process” There’s more than one way to copy.  The process of copying can be laborious or easy, expensive or cheap, educative or unenriching.  But the two intellectual property regimes that make copying an element of liability, copyright and trade secrecy, approach these distinctions differently.  Copyright conflates them. Infringement doctrine considers all copying processes equally suspect, asking only whether the resulting product is substantially similar to the protected work.  By contrast, trade secrecy asks not only whether but also how the defendant copied.  It limits liability to those who appropriate information through means that the law deems improper. Professor Fishman’s research focuses on intellectual property, particularly its relationship to creativity and the creative process. His most recent work, “Creating Around Copyright,” published in the Harvard Law Review, examines copyright restrictions’ underappreciated upside for stimulating creativity among those who need to work around them. Professor Fishman joined Vanderbilt’s law faculty in fall 2015 after serving as a Climenko Fellow and Lecturer in Law at Harvard Law School. He earned his A.B. magna cum laude from Harvard College with a joint major in music and religion, his M.Phil. in musicology from the University of Cambridge, and his J.D. cum laude from Harvard Law School. After law school, he was a law clerk for Judge Jeffrey R. Howard of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit and for Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. He practiced as an associate at Jenner & Block in the firm’s content, media and entertainment group, where he specialized in litigation involving the music industry, before entering the legal academy.

This Article argues that copyright doctrine should borrow a page from trade secrecy by factoring the defendant’s copying process into the infringement analysis. To a wide range of actors within the copyright ecosystem, differences in process matter.  Innovators face less risk from competitors if imitation is costly than if it is cheap.  Consumers may value a work remade from scratch more than they do a digital reproduction.  Beginners can learn more technical skills from deliberately tracing an expert’s creative steps than from simply clicking cut and paste.  The consequences of copying, in short, often depend on how the copies are made. Fortunately, getting courts to consider process in copyright cases may not be as far-fetched as the doctrine suggests.  Black-letter law notwithstanding, courts sometimes subtly invoke the defendant’s process when ostensibly assessing the propriety of the defendant’s product.  While these decisions are on the right track, it’s time to bring process out into the open.  Copyright doctrine could be both more descriptively transparent and more normatively attractive by expressly looking beyond the face of a copy and asking how it got there.

Thursday, April 23rd Louis Betty is assistant professor of French at the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater.Title: “The Case Against Freedom: Michel Houellebecq and the Charlie Hebdo Attacks”. In 2014, he was awarded a University of Wisconsin System fellowship at the Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he conducted research on nineteenth-century French religious utopianism. He is the author of five peer-reviewed articles on Michel Houellebecq, as well as a book manuscript currently under contract with Pennsylvania State University Press. The monograph, entitled Without God: Michel Houellebecq and Materialist Horror, explores themes of atheism, secularization, and religious and sexual utopianism in Houellebecq’s novels. He is also the author of reviews of Houellebecq’s fiction and poetry. In addition to published work, Dr. Betty has presented papers on Houellebecq at the Nineteenth Century French Studies Conference and the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900. His PhD (2011) is from Vanderbilt University.

Description: On the morning of January 7th, 2015, two Islamist gunmen opened fire in the Paris offices of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, killing eleven members of the weekly’s staff, including several of its cartoonists. The shooters, two brothers affiliated with the Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda, claimed the murders were revenge for Charlie Hebdo’s frequent and often blasphemous cartoon depictions of the Prophet Mohammed. On the same day—and in a markedly less brutal context—the Parisian literary milieu was being roiled by what has lately become something of a French cultural institution: the appearance of a new novel by Michel Houellebecq, currently Europe’s bestselling author and the most successful French literary export in decades. The timing of the two events gave rise to one of the most peculiar if not sickening coincidences in recent literary history. Not only had a cartoon Houellebecq appeared on that morning’s cover of Charlie Hebdo, but his novel Soumission (Submission), which imagines France’s election of a Muslim president in the 2022 elections, had been published the same day. Many commentators expected a piece of Islamophobic pamphleteering worthy of Charles Maurras and Louis-Ferdinand Céline; President François Hollande, in a display of literary largesse, promised to read the novel. However, in the aftermath of both the shootings and Soumission’s publication, a strikingly different interpretation of the novel’s handling of Islam emerged. Soumission was not only not Islamophobic—it was in many respects an apology for Islam as an antidote to Western and specifically French economic, moral, and existential malaise. Houellebecq’s previous novels had all explored, in varying ways, the “disasters” produced by the liberalization of values in the West—social atomization, sexual misery, empty consumerism, and joyless agnosticism, among others—and Soumission was poised to extend Houellebecq’s vilifying treatment of liberalism to perhaps its most logical conclusion: the happy capitulation on the part of an unhappily free West to the values of an illiberal social, moral, and epistemological order. The vitriol of the novel was, in other words, aimed at France rather than Islam, with the latter serving as a provocative remedy to Western spiritual malaise that Houellebecq’s previous works had tracked.
In this seminar, we will explore the “case against freedom” that Soumission and Houellebecq’s other novels implicitly and at times explicitly lay out—that the flourishing of liberal notions in the wake of the Enlightenment that gave us free markets, moral and sexual liberty, and postmodern relativism has been a disaster for the West. Rather than ask, “shall we be free?” Houellebecq’s novels instead wonder about the benefit of being free. Do human beings necessarily profit from the economic, moral, and epistemological freedom that modernity has given us? Does a polity that guarantees us the liberty to buy whatever we want, sleep with whomever we want, and believe whatever we want really have humanity’s best interests at heart? Are autonomy and happiness in some ways at cross purposes with each other? These questions, which strike at the very heart of Western assumptions about the “good life,” are precisely those that Houellebecq’s novels, and especially Soumission, dare to ask. Beyond offering an introduction to Houellebecq’s work, this seminar will thus also make room for a discussion about fundamental legal and political values that have shaped the West.

March 19th, : Kevin Davis, General Counsel, Vanderbilt University will discuss: “Incriminating Literature” or the significance of possessing certain kinds of writing in our (i.e. US and possibly other regimes’) assessment of criminal guilt. There have been several cases in recent years dealing with the seizure of anarchist literature in the US, but a much longer history, too, that includes using individuals’ collections of literature of different kinds as indirect (sometimes direct) evidence of crimes.  And controversy over the legal and logical propriety of how one’s possession of certain writings supports inferences about beliefs or activities.

February 26th: Sarah Blake, “Writing about Kanye West: A Poet Discovers the Law.” When a poet’s book is accepted by a press, it is the poet’s job to seek permissions for anything included in the text. There’s usually not even a lawyer to consult with. Seeking quotes from newspapers is pretty straightforward, with simple online forms, but when the book is about a celebrity, sometimes it’s unclear what permissions are needed and who one might contact for said permissions. Blake ended up in contact with the Vice President of Def Jam records, Kanye West’s booking agent, and, finally, his copyright lawyer. The pursuit of copyrights can push back release dates, affect contracts, and can result in significant changes to the work. Come hear the poet discuss the steps she took to bring her book to print.

February 27th: Thomas Crocker (Law, University of South Carolina) will speak on his work on “Dystopian Constitutionalism.”
“From WWII through the present, Supreme Court opinions have drawn contrasts between American constitutionalism and dystopian states. They engage in what I identify as dystopian constitutional analysis in constructing consequence avoidance arguments using conceptions of totalitarianism, tyranny, and the “police state” in addition to references to George Orwell’s 1984, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union. I argue that all of these comparative states–real and fictional–allow the Court to consider the systemic negative consequences of constructing rules in a particular way while avoiding the pitfalls of utopian thinking. I argue that dystopian constitutionalism provides an important analytic method missing from narrow, particularistic doctrinal approaches. It also displays the broader imaginary informing judicial decision-making in which literary examples play a prominent role.”


December 4th: Professor Ed Rubin, Law School and Department of Political Science discusses his new book: The New MoralitySelf-Fulfillment and the Modern State
“Political and social commentators regularly bemoan the decline of morality in the modern world. They claim that the norms and values that held society together in the past are rapidly eroding, to be replaced by permissiveness and empty hedonism. But as Edward Rubin demonstrates in this powerful account of moral transformations, these prophets of doom are missing the point. Morality is not diminishing; instead, a new morality, centered on an ethos of human self-fulfillment, is arising to replace the old one. As Rubin explains, changes in morality have gone hand in hand with changes in the prevailing mode of governance throughout the course of Western history. During the Early Middle Ages, a moral system based on honor gradually developed. In a dangerous world where state power was declining, people relied on bonds of personal loyalty that were secured by generosity to their followers and violence against their enemies. That moral order, exemplified in the early feudal system and in sagas like The Song of Roland, The Song of the Cid, and the Arthurian legends has faded, but its remnants exist today in criminal organizations like the Mafia and in the rap music of the urban ghettos. When state power began to revive in the High Middle Ages through the efforts of the European monarchies, and Christianity became more institutionally effective and more spiritually intense, a new morality emerged. Described by Rubin as the morality of higher purposes, it demanded that people devote their personal efforts to achieving salvation and their social efforts to serving the emerging nation-states. It insisted on social hierarchy, confined women to subordinate roles, restricted sex to procreation, centered child-rearing on moral inculcation, and countenanced slavery and the marriage of pre-teenage girls to older men. Our modern era, which began in the late 18th century, has seen the gradual erosion of this morality of higher purposes and the rise of a new morality of self-fulfillment, one that encourages individuals to pursue the most meaningful and rewarding life-path. Far from being permissive or a moral abdication, it demands that people respect each other’s choices, that sex be mutually enjoyable, that public positions be allocated according to merit, and that society provide all its members with their minimum needs so that they have the opportunity to fulfill themselves. Where people once served the state, the state now functions to serve the people. The clash between this ascending morality and the declining morality of higher purposes is the primary driver of contemporary political and cultural conflict.
A sweeping, big-idea book in the vein of Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History, Charles Taylor’s The Secular Age, and Richard Sennett’s The Fall of Public Man, Edward Rubin’s new volume promises to reshape our understanding of morality, its relationship to government, and its role in shaping the emerging world of High Modernity.

October 30th: Professor Daniel Gervais, Vanderbilt Law School, will discuss the rise of copyright law, and the role played by authors including Wordsworth, Faulkner and Hemingway.

Thursday, October 2nd from 4:00-5:30, THOMAS P. CROCKER, DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR OF LA, Law School, room 231 (just past the Law School Library, 2nd floor); Title: Constitutive Visions: Sovereignty, Necessity, and Saramago’s Blindness”. Description: What happens if the biological demands of necessity take priority over politics?  How much of distinct human life would remain possible, and what are the conditions of this possibility? What would be left of political or individual sovereignty? These are the questions Jose Saramago asks in his novel, Blindness, and in doing so shows us the centrality of vision to both politics and constitutional form.   Without a spectator, there can be no politics. Without vision, there can be no effective popular sovereign to ground participation in a legal order. And without law and politics, a recognizably human life is not possible. Within these constraints, I will draw insights from Saramago’s novel for understanding the relationship between necessity and sovereignty in the exercise of constitutional vision and constituent power.

Biography of the Speaker: Thomas Crocker is Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of South Carolina School of Law, where he teaches Constitutional Law, Criminal Procedure, Free Speech and Democracy, National Security and the Constitution, as well as seminars in Jurisprudence and Law & Literature. Professor Crocker graduated from Yale Law School, where he was Book Reviews Editor of the Yale Law Journal and an editor of the Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities. After graduating from law school, Professor Crocker clerked for Judge Carlos F. Lucero on the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. Prior to following his interest in law, he taught philosophy, graduating with a Ph.D. in philosophy from Vanderbilt University, and an M.A. in philosophy from the University of Wales (U.K.). He was a Visiting Assistant Professor in philosophy at St. Lawrence University, a teaching fellow in the Department of Philosophy at Vanderbilt, and a teaching assistant in the Department of Philosophy at Yale. Professor Crocker spent the 2010-11 academic year on fellowship as a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in Cambridge, MA. From May 2011 until December 2011, he was a Senior Fulbright Scholar in Germany at the Johann Goethe Universität, Frankfurt am Main where he was also a fellow of the university’s Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften (Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities) and a participant in the Formation of Normative Orders Cluster of Excellence. While on fellowship he worked on a book project addressing constitutional governance and emergency powers entitled Overcoming Necessity: Emergency, Constraint, and the Meanings of American Constitutionalismto be published by Yale University Press. Professor Crocker’s scholarly writings in law have appeared, or are forthcoming, in the UCLABoston CollegeWashington UniversityTexasFordhamSMU, and American University Law Reviews, as well as in the peer-reviewed journal Law & Literature. In two articles, “Torture, with Apologies,” in the Texas Law Review and “Overcoming Necessity: Torture and the State of Constitutional Culture,” in the SMU Law Review, he focuses on the problems created by the practice of torture for rights-protecting constitutional commitments as well as separation of powers principles. He criticizes consequentialist justifications for torture in supposed emergency situations, arguing that the Constitution does not invite utilitarian tradeoffs between national security and liberty. In his article, “Displacing Dissent: The Role of Place in First Amendment Jurisprudence,” appearing the Fordham Law Review, Professor Crocker argues that because where we speak is often just as important as what we say, increased government efforts to restrict the location of speech threaten to undermine First Amendment guarantees. He also contributes to theoretical debate over constitutional interpretation in his article, “Envisioning the Constitution,” which was published in the American University Law Review.

Friday, April 14th

Mark Canuel (English, University of Illinois at Chicago) presents “Toward a Political Theory of the Romantic Novel” on FridayApril 18th at 3PM, in the Robert Penn Warren Center. Mark Canuel’s new book ( on justice and the sublime is a wonderful addition to the field.

Visiting Distinguished Max  Kade Professor of German, Alexander Kosenina (University of Hannover) presents:  Law and LiteratureThe Rise of Crime Fiction in the 18th CenturyFRIDAY, MARCH 22, 2013   3:10 P.M., 206 Buttrick Hall

Wednesday, March 19th

Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities Conference Room Roberto Dainotto, Department of Romance Studies, Duke University “‘It’s Not a Question of Jurisprudence….”


Kristina Touzenis, Friday, November 8th at 3PM.
Ms. Kristina Touzenis is Head of the International Migration Law Unit at the International Organization for Migration where she is responsible for the activities related to international and regional law issues. She has an LLB and LLM from the University of Copenhagen.
Kristina has been working in Italy for the past 8 years, before joining IOM Geneva, including 5 for IOM Rome, and has been teaching both post and undergraduates at the Universities of Trieste and Pisa. Her research focuses on the human rights of women and children and she has published on both international human rights and international humanitarian law issues. She is currently researching issues related to criminal law and human rights.

The Robert Penn Warren Center’s “Literature and Law” Seminar is pleased to present, on Tuesday, April 16th at 3:10:
“The Three Laws of Measure for Measure”, by Paul Yachnin, Director of the Institute for the Public Life of the Arts and Ideas, McGill University
Is there law that works in Measure for Measure, or is the world of the play, in spite of all its proclamations and statutes, essentially lawless? In this talk, Paul Yachnin undertakes to answer this question by considering the play in terms of what he calls the three genres of law—the law of sovereign will, the law of kind, and the law of judgment—and by resituating the play’s treatment of law within the dynamic interrelationship between the play world and the play in the playhouse.
McGill University’s Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas—IPLAI—is a unique venture. It is a collaboration of the faculties and schools of Architecture, Arts, Law, Education, Music, Management, and Religious Studies. The threefold mission of IPLAI is to foster innovative, collaborative, humanities-centred teaching and research, to build bridges between the academy and the multiple publics outside the academy in ways that promote active, two-way intellectual traffic, and to bring scholarship and the creative arts into substantial, mutually beneficial conversation and collaboration.
Vanderbilt University has cultivated strong ties to McGill University, through all of our faculties, and our lead collaboration fostered by the Vanderbilt International Office is with the IPLAI. Other members of the IPLAI will be on hand for the occasion, including Michael Jemtrud, Professor of Architecture, and Leigh Yetter, Professor of History, McGill University.

Visiting Distinguished Max  Kade Professor of German, Alexander Kosenina (University of Hannover) presents:  Law and LiteratureThe Rise of Crime Fiction in the 18th CenturyFRIDAY, MARCH 22, 2013   3:10 P.M., 206 Buttrick Hall

Thursday October 22nd
speaker: Very Rev Dr Richard Finn OP, Regent, Blackfriars Hall, Oxford
title: George Pire OP: An Inspiration for Today?
description: George Dominique Pire is the only Dominican friar to have won the Nobel peace prize. His life reveals the deep connection between his intellectual formation as a friar in Belgium and his creative work on behalf of the victims of war and poverty. Awarded the Nobel prize in 1958 for his work with refugees whose re-integration into society he promoted, Pire went on to develop a philosophy of personal responsibility and dialogue in meeting the challenges of a fragmented global order. Largely forgotten in recent decades outside a small circle, he is one of the inspirations for the new Las Casas Institute at Blackfriars, Oxford. This talk sets out the story of his life, his leading ideas, and introduces a discussion of their relevance to contemporary issues that contribute to our understanding of how humanities or humanistic training can impact on how one understands the world.

Thursday, October 11, Literature and Law Seminar, 3 p.m. at the Warren Center with Maitre Julius Grey (lawyer, former Professor of Law at McGill University). This reading group will meet to discuss current approaches, new challenges, and new possibilities that are offered to legal and literary scholars when they use insights from both fields to illuminate their work. The seminar welcomes anyone interested in the many topics now addressed in this field, including the use of obscenity laws to regulate creative work, the representation of law in literature, law as literature, the application of literary methods to legal texts, the challenges of constructing “characters” appropriate to literary and legal settings, and the revitalization of law through reference to humanistic texts and approaches. Seminar coordinator: Robert Barsky (French and Italian).

Friday January 13th, 2:30-4, Professor Michael Hodges, Philosophy, Vanderbilt University

Professor Hodges works in the areas of Wittgenstein, American Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion, and Philosophy of Education. Recent projects include a series of papers on transcendence and a book on philosophy of education. Professor Hodges regularly teaches courses in American Philosophy, Wittgenstein, and Philosophy of Religion.

Thursday January 26th,
11;30-1:30. Richard Green, Ohio State University
Speaker: Professor Richard Green, Humanities Distinguished Professor of English Richard Firth Green is the author of A Crisis of Truth: Literature and Law in RicardianEngland (1998), Poets and Princepleasers: Literature and the English Court in the Late Middle Ages (1980) and of numerous articles in such journals as SpeculumMediumAevumChaucer Review, and Studies in the Age of Chaucer. He is currently working on medieval popular culture.
Title: Public vs. Private Necessity, and on Legal Fiction
Fields of interest: Twentieth Century European and American intellectual and cultural history with particular interest in the history of intellectuals and education.

Friday, February 10th, 2:30-4:00. Lynn Ramey, French Department, Vanderbilt
Speaker: Here at Vanderbilt, I am continuing my research on the French Middle Ages, looking at the development of racial consciousness in medieval European literature and the importance of the Middle Ages to modern notions of race. I teach courses in medieval and Renaissance French literature and culture, as well as introductory literature and grammar courses.

Friday, February 24th, 9:00-11:00 Chris Pexa, English Department, Vanderbilt

Friday, March 16th, Russell Jacoby, UCLA
Speaker: Professor Russell Jacoby, History Department, UCLA

Publications: The End of Utopia: Politics and Culture in the Age of Apathy (Basic Books, 1999) 
Dogmatic Wisdom: How the Culture Wars Divert Education and Distract America (Doubleday, 1994)
The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe (Basic Books, 1987; new edition with new Introduction, Basic Books 2000)
The Repression of Psychoanalysis: Otto Fenichel and the Political Freudians (Basic Books, 1983) 
Dialectic of Defeat: Contours of Western Marxism (Cambridge University Press, 1981)
Social Amnesia: A Critique of Contemporary Psychology (Beacon Press, 1975; Transaction, 1997)
Anthology:  The Bell Curve Debate: History, Documents, Opinions (Times Books, 1995).
Articles and reviews in American Historical Review, Grand Street, Nation, Los Angeles Times, London Review of Books, New York Times, Harpers and elsewhere.
Awards: Guggenheim, NEH ,Mellon, Lehrman Fellowships. 
Professional affiliations: American Historical Association and American Pessimist Society.

Friday April 6th, noon. Kaius Tuori, Academy of Finland
title: “Dysfunctional Despots and Virtuous Rulers: The Making of the Legal Capabilities of the Roman Emperor”

speaker: 2012- Academy Researcher, Academy of Finland; 2011-2012 Senior Researcher, University of Helsinki, Center of Excellence in Global Governance

May 1, 1-3PM Robert Penn Warren Center
Peter Hitchcock (CUNY) will give a talk, followed by responses from Michael Holquist, at the Robert Penn Warren Center

4:30PM-6:30PM, catered meeting at the Curb Center

May 2nd, MORNING (9-12)
1. introduction to the Curb Center (Bill Ivey) and Quebec/Canadian Studies (Robert Barsky) and Quebec Government Delegation (M. Boyer and Andrée Tremblay) 

2. discussion amongst all participants of possible points of interaction between IPLAI and Vanderbilt’s Curb Center and Robert Penn Warren Center.

3. Roundtable discussion on “Towards a definition of the humanities”, circulated by Paul Yachnin, McGill.

4. discussions of Quebec’s approach to arts funding and the role that arts play in policy, featuring talks from Ms. Boyer and Andrée Tremblay, Délégation du Québec, Atlanta

LUNCH at the Curb Center

Then after lunch:


1. I would like for each participant to give a prepared 8-10 minute or so talk on the current crisis in the Humanities, and/or arts policy and funding from their specific perspective (discipline, province, research). This will be filmed, and put up as a special issue of AmeriQuests ( <>) devoted to these questions. Readers will be able to watch the video of each speaker, as well as reactions from the group. I envision 3-4 of these presentations, followed by comments from the group, 4 or 5 times in the afternoon.

2. I will outline our plans to use AmeriQuests to advance the discussion through a “portal” we are building, in collaboration with Duke UP, and I’d love to have input about how to advance our respective goals with the aid of a tool for diffusion like this portal.


Friday September 17th. Professor Andrea Mirabile (Italian, Vanderbilt) and Professor Matteo Soranzo, (Italian, McGill University), who discussed justice in the context of Quattrocento Naples. This is part of his visit to Vanderbilt to present some new findings on specific authors ( Giovanni Pontano and Jacopo Sannazaro) and some constant features in the modes of cultural transmission in Renaissance Italy. Co-sponsored by the Vanderbilt McGill Initiative.

Wednesday, October 6. l Decameron. Presented by: Andrea Mirabile, Assistant Professor of Italian, Department of French & Italian, Italy (1971) Dir: Pier Paolo Pasolini. This adaptation of nine stories from Bocaccio’s Decameron renders the tales of lecherous clerics, scheming merchants, and errant lovers in an era of budding industrial capitalism, sexual repression, and moral hypocrisy. Italian, German with English subtitles. 112 mins.

Friday October 15th
, 9:30 a.m. in the Warren Center, with guest Andrea Mirabile (French and Italian), who will lead a discussion on Pier Paolo Pasolini and censorship. For any inquiries, contact seminar coordinator Robert Barsky (French and Italian),

Friday, November 5th. The 18th-/19th-Century Colloquium and the Literature and Law Seminar will host an extended visit with guest Caleb Smith, “‘At the Court of Hell’: Enthusiasm, Blasphemy, Exhortation.”Caleb  Smith is an Assistant Professor in English at Yale University. The Literature and Law Seminar will host an extended visit with Smith after his talk. This event is co-sponsored by the Department of English and the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities. For additional information, please contact one of the seminar coordinators: Gabriel Cervantes (English), <> , Rachel Teukolsky (English),, or Robert Barsky (French and Italian)

Friday, November 19th, 9:30 a.m. in the Warren Center, with guest Professor Ed Rubin (former dean of law, Vanderbilt University; currently professor of law and political science), who will lead a discussion on Sir Gawain, the Green Knight, and Kafka. For any inquiries, contact seminar coordinator Robert Barsky (French and Italian),

Friday, December 3rd. Robert Barsky, Vanderbilt French/English, on “Conversational Strategies for Front Line Interviews With Refugees and Undocumented Immigrants”.
The hypothesis that guides this work is that although it may be valuable to lobby for competent translators to help vulnerable foreigners in cross-cultural settings, such as Convention refugee determination hearings or criminal trials, it is nevertheless too late to make much of a difference at that point, because most of the incriminating damage is done in the initial encounter between claimant/defendant and authority. Approaching a discussion about the relative merits of translation versus interpretation from this perspective, that emphasizes the TIME at which the conversation occurs, would suggest that linguistic accuracy is much more important in formal hearings, while interpretation is crucial during the initial encounter, because it is during this period of negotiation that a sensitive and qualified interpreter can keep a claimant from incriminating herself or mis-communicating the situation to authority. The literature/law overlap is in the invention of the person as character, or character as person, a process that occurs in language and, by extension

Friday, January 14 – Gabriel Cervantes, post-doctoral student, Vanderbilt Department of English, will speak on “Clemency and the Colonies in Aphra Behn’s America.” 10:30 a.m. at the Warren Center.

Friday January 21 – Desmond Manderson (McGill Law
and the Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas) and Paul Yachnin (Chair, McGill English). The talk will be based on work with the Shakespeare Moot Court, which has a website at That teaching gave rise to a series of co-written presentations and essays and also a book in progress which will serve as the basis for the talk. We will also outline information concerning the new Institute for the Public Life of Art and Ideas, which features interdisciplinary teaching and research on Law. 10:30 a.m. at the Warren Center.

Friday Feb. 11, Robert Watson (PhD student, Vanderbilt University Department of French and Italian) 10:30AM
“Identities Before the Law: Questions of Nationality and Citizenship in Maghrebi Jewish Autobiography”
In addition to the fraught coexistence of multiple languages, Maghrebi Jews were caught among competing cultural and political projects. While Maghrebi Jewish life-writing celebrates the diversity of its origins and influences, the political and legal constraints of identity in the postwar period forced Jews to take sides. George Cohen underscores the impossibility of the situation of Tunisian Jews buffeted by Zionism, Arab nationalism, and French colonialism: “to take sides was to betray someone, and nobody wanted to do this.” While coexisting in the 1920s and 1930s, these nationalist movements created huge tensions when their utopian goals became reality, embodied by Israel’s Law of Return (1950)—which guaranteed citizenship to any Jewish immigrant—and Moroccan and Tunisian Independence in 1956. How could Moroccan and Tunisian Jews fight against the French, who were their cultural and intellectual model? How could they be full citizens of newly independent countries whose constitutions inscribed Islam as the official religion? Maghrebi Jewish identity had to be deformed to fit into the exclusionary
definitions of belonging that Morocco, Tunisia, France, Israel and Canada imposed on them.  Finally I examine how the pull of their multiple attachments continued with them as they left the Maghreb into exile.
Bio: Robert Watson is a PhD Candidate (ABD) in French Literature and Jewish Studies in the Department of French & Italian.  His dissertation project is entitled “Cities of Origin, Cities Exile: Writing Maghrebi Jewish Identity in French, 1985-2010” focusing on the autobiographical literature produced by the last generation of Francophone Jewish writers born in colonial Morocco and Tunisia.  These writers remember the (Jewish) Maghreb from Paris and Montreal, giving birth to and interrogating a fragile Maghrebi Jewish Diasporic identity.  His other projects include studies of Francophone Cultural Production in Israel, Queer Maghrebi and Israeli Cinemas, and Theories of Decolonization.

Feb. 25, 10AM. Professor Michel Pierssens, Université de Montréal «Literary History’s many ‘Turns’» (in conjunction with French and Italian)
Michel Pierssens teaches modern French literature at Université de Montréal. He has taught extensively in French (Aix, Paris 3, Paris 8) and U.S. universities (U. of Wisconsin-Madison, U. of Michigan-Ann Arbor, UC San Diego, Harvard). A proponent of «épistémocritique» (the study of literary consequences of the development of scientific culture from the 19th c.), he founded and edited SubStance (UW Press), co-founded and co-edits Histoires Littéraires (Paris) and the e-journal Épistémocritique ( The author of numerous articles and several essays (La Tour de Babil, Savoirs à l’Oeuvre, Lautréamont. Éthique à Maldoror, Ducasse et Lautréamont) he also co-edited the 14 volumes of Colloques des Invalides. The proceedings of a recent international colloquium on Scientific Poetry are soon to be published.





Mar. 4, Michelle Shepherd, the Andrew W. Mellon Assistant Professor, Vanderbilt University), 10:30 AM will present on:“Gender and Citizenship in Spain
This paper examines the juxtaposition of “foreign” women with Spanish women from a previous generation in Lucía Etxebarria’s “La negra” [Black Girl] and Iciár Bollain’s film Flores de otro mundo [Flowers from Another World]. Connecting characters who appear to be radically different is a textual maneuver that allows the reader/viewer to perceive remarkable similarities in their life opportunities despite the generation gap that separates them. Specifically, women living during Franco’s dictatorship (1939-1975) and women perceived to be Others of Spain both experience limited forms of citizenship that position them in the private sphere. These relationships can be explained through the legal discourses that outline how women are imagined to occupy Spanish national space; hence, Franco’s Leyes Fundamentales del Reino [Fundamental Laws of the Realm] and the Ley de Extranjería (2000) [Aliens Law] inform my readings as these laws similarly shape how women are “read” as subjects in Spain. In “La negra” and in Flores de otro mundo, the question of how women are written or inscribed into legal doctrine, the social landscape, and cultural production continually arises. The national identities conceivable for these women inhere in gendered identities that undermine their inclusion in the national project. With the advent of democracy and a putative shift to gender equality, the permanence of a gendered Other both in legal discourse and in cultural production evinces the internal contradictions and limitations of contemporary Spanish nationalisms.
Biography: Michelle Shepherd is an Andrew W. Mellon Assistant Professor of Spanish. She studies twentieth and twenty-first century Peninsular literature and film. She is currently completing a book on gender, national identity, immigration, and domesticity in contemporary Spain. This project analyzes transnational literature and films in which conceptualizations of gender and citizenship are  contested and reshaped through immigration.
Wednesday, March 16
Literature & Law and Postcolonial Theory Seminars, noon in the Warren Center with guests Dr. Clifford Canku, Reverend Michael Simon, and Dr. John Peacock. “Owasin cante wasteya iyuskinyan nape ciyuzapi do: Translating Each Dakota Letter,” Dakota Prisoners of War Letters from the 1862 Dakota Minnesota Conflict. The panelists are a team of scholars who have been working for the past decade on translating letters written by Dakotah (Sioux) prisoners of a US military concentration camp, circa 1865. The lead translator is a Dakotah elder and educator, Dr. Clifford Canku. This event is co-sponsored by the Postcolonial Theory Seminar, the Literature & Law Seminar, the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities, the Department of English, the Department of History, and the Quebec and Canadian Studies Program. For any inquiries, contact seminar coordinator Robert Barsky (French and Italian),
Apr. 22nd, Joint Session, 10AM-1:30: Prof. Richard Janda McGill Law School (Vanderbilt-McGill Initiative) will discuss “Justice foundations for ecological economics.” In essence, if there were to be a shift from a market economy that generates dramatic sets of ecological externalities to an economy that operates within what have been called “planetary boundaries”,” what would the justice foundations of such an economy be and how would it handle the justice claims arising out of the transition from the old economy to the new economy. All of this is premised on the notion that the existing economy is unsustainable. Afterwards,  Marc Angenot, McGill Department of French (Vanderbilt-McGill-Initiative) who will speak on “The Historian in Prosecuting Garb: The Concept of Moral Responsibility in Law and Historiography”Biography for Marc Angenot: Marc Angenot (born Brussels, 1941) is a Belgian-Canadian social theorist, historian of ideas and literary critic. He is a professor of French literature at McGill University, Montreal, and holder of the James McGill Chair of Social Discourse Theory there.


For more information, please contact Robert F. Barsky.
copyright Robert F. Barsky, 2006