Dr. Anaïs Frantz de Spot has been teaching at our IES Abroad Paris French Studies Center since 2011. She completed her Associate’s and Bachelor’s degree in Modern Letters, a Master’s degree in Modern Letters and Advanced Studies in French Literature and Civilization, and her Doctorate in French Literature and Civilization, all from La Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3. Dr. Frantz de Spot’s primary areas of research are in 20th and 21st Century Literature, French Cinema, and French Feminism. She has taught courses, seminars, and tutorials at several institutions, including La Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3, Sciences Po Paris, Tufts University Paris, Middlebury College Paris, Berkeley University Paris, and Abdelmalek Essaâdi University in Morocco. She’s been involved in television documentaries, cinema, radio, and has even recorded an EP. Dr. Frantz de Spot is well published, and examples of her work and research can be found on her personal website.
IES Abroad: What courses can IES Abroad students take with you in Paris?
Dr. Anaïs Frantz de Spot: I typically teach two courses per semester and a course in the summer. My courses fall in the disciplines of Literature, Gender Studies, and Film Studies:
IES Abroad: What makes Paris the best city in France to study French Literature?
AF: Paris has been an extraordinary cultural hub, both past and present—it is historical and alive. Studying literature, film, various forms of feminism—which are what I teach here at IES Abroad—all have true resonance in Paris. The IES Abroad Paris French Studies Center is located on the Rue Daguerre, a street named after the inventor of photography, and it is just two doors away from the studios of Agnès Varda, a seminal filmmaker of the Nouvelle Vague. It is also two streets from the hotel where Simone de Beauvoir, the author of the feminist’s bible, The Second Sex, once lived; and the cemetery where the poets Charles Baudelaire, Robert Desnos, and Andrée Chedid now rest. More importantly, Paris is the place where many avant-garde movements emerged, and where cultural revolutions continue to be born. Finally, Paris has always been an inexhaustible source of inspiration for writers, filmmakers, and artists. With this in mind, I invite my students to walk the streets of Paris like they would turn the pages of book. Paris is a book, every poet from Victor Hugo to Jacques Réda has said so.
IES Abroad: What has been the most interesting question you’ve received from an IES Abroad student in one of your courses? What was your response?
AF: Recently, while I was showing some photography by a young, queer French artist, a student, who in college had learned to approach every cultural revolution from the perspective of class relations, asked me whether or not the questions of cross-dressing and transgender identity claims really concerned the impoverished lower classes of French society. Who is responsible for cultural revolutions? Who has time to fight them? Whom do they concern?
These are important questions. Actually, the “third wave” of feminism is supposed to be for everyone, not just educated, white, middle-class women. So we approached the subject via a documentary film where young girls of southern Mediterranean origins living in the suburbs of large French cities were invited to speak about their experiences. Here we could clearly see that, yes, the question of cross-dressing was in fact as much a concern for them as it is for academics and “queer” artists.
IES Abroad: Why do you feel it is so important that your students understand feminist and gender theory?
AF: There is still a lot of work to be done. It’s up to the new generations to become aware of this in order to stop producing and reproducing, in sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s terms, the norms which establish and justify male domination. Students are very aware of this necessity, whether expressed as poetic utopias or very concrete proposals to change social structures and representations.
Paris is such an exciting place for this. It was in Paris that Olympe de Gouges first produced her revolutionary, feminist, anti-slavery play in 1788. It was in Paris that Hubertine Auclert declared herself the first militant “feminist” in 1877. In Paris, the Movement for Women’s Liberation was born in 1968. In Paris, the Femen Inna Chevchenko sought refuge in 2012.
IES Abroad: You have been called an exemplary model of an engaged teacher-scholar. How would you describe your teaching style, and what are your goals as an educator?
AF: Today, thanks to the internet, students have easy access to knowledge. Therefore, I think the professor’s role is not so much to transmit knowledge, as to communicate a passion for knowledge, to give access to a desire for knowledge. How to read a text? How to watch a film? How to understand feminist theory? What does a work of art say about society, human relationships, mortality, the universe? Knowledge is not an abstract or academic thing, and art is not a luxury. They answer fundamental needs. A work of art, whether it is literary, artistic, or theoretical is a door to something like a truth about our human experience. The professor is there to make you want to open that door. By turning the door handle, the student can catch a glimpse of a piece of that truth.
IES Abroad: What advice do you have for students preparing to study abroad in France?
AF: To those students who wish to study literature at IES Abroad Paris French Studies, I recommend that they first immerse themselves in a book or film depicting the myth of American artists in Paris, such as Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast or Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. They should fantasize about Paris before living here and discovering the Parisian’s version of myths.
IES Abroad: What has been your most memorable teaching moment?
AF: I recently invited a French writer to come and do a creative writing workshop as part of a class on women’s novels. During the semester, we studied the relationship between women and writing. The perspective of the course was “from silence to authority”. I really wanted my students to experience what it is like to come out of silence and into the act of writing. I myself took part in the workshop. The word “room” was our starting point. A room as the theater of our existence, the place where we are born, where we love, where we die. In fact, we had started the semester with Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. It was an intimate and moving moment we all shared. Some truly beautiful things came out of it.
IES Abroad: What is your proudest career achievement thus far?
AF: I can think of two things. First, the time when my Ph.D. thesis was published as a book. It was the culmination of eight years of research, reading, and reflecting on writing, including a two-year Master’s degree. More recently, three colleagues and I created a research group for the writer Violette Leduc at the Institute of Modern Texts and Manuscripts. Unlike George Sand and Colette and Marguerite Duras, Violette Leduc has not gotten the institutional recognition she deserves, and yet she is one of the great writers. We are currently working on her manuscripts in the aim of making her work better known.
Ready to be inspired by Dr. Frantz de Spot? Take one of her classes on our Paris French Studies Program!