“The Excremental Canon of French Literature: For a Fecal Universalism”

Presented by Annabel Kim
Roy G. Clouse Associate Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures, Harvard University

Wednesday, April 26

Abstract: Readers and critics have too long overlooked excrement’s vital role in the twentieth- and twenty-first-century French canon. In a stark challenge to the tendency to view this literature through sanitizing abstractions, in my book Cacaphonies: The Excremental Canon of French Literature, I take fecal matter and its place in literature seriously to argue for feces as a figure of radical equality, both a literary object and a reflection on literature itself, without which literary studies is impoverished and sterile. The shit in the canon expresses a call to democratize literature, making literature for all, just as shit is for (or of) all. Shit’s presence in this prized element of French identity is a continually uttered desire to manifest the universality France aspires to—as encapsulated by the slogan Liberté, égalité, fraternité—but fails to realize. In shit there is a concrete universalism that traverses bodies with disregard for embodied differences. Literature, and the ideas to be found therein, cannot be separated from the corporeal envelopes that create and receive them. In reminding us of this fact, Cacaphonies reveals the aesthetic, political, and ethical potential of shit and its capacity to transform literature and life.

Bio: Annabel L. Kim is the Roy G. Clouse associate professor of Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard University and the author of Unbecoming Language: Anti-Identitarian French Feminist Fictions and Cacaphonies: The Excremental Canon of French Literature. Kim is the co-editor, with Morgane Cadieu, of a forthcoming issue of Yale French Studies, Lesbian Materialism: The Life and Work of Monique Wittig, and the editor of a special issue of Diacritics on the politics of citation, Citation, Otherwise. Kim is also the co-translator, with Lynne Huffer, of Monique Wittig’s The Literary Workshop, forthcoming with Verso in 2024, and is currently translating Céline Minard’s Plasmas for Deep Vellum.