Kritzman speaks on French

by Karen Rose | 2/23/95 6:00am

Chair of the Comparative Literature Department and French Professor Lawrence Kritzman said it is necessary to rethink the way French is taught at the college level in a speech before a faculty-dominated audience yesterday.

Kritzman gave his speech, entitled "Identity Crises: France, Culture, and the Idea of the Nation," in a filled auditorium in the Rockefeller Center for the Social Sciences.

Rather than speaking about his new book, "Horizons of Despair," Kritzman said he preferred to talk on a subject that has dominated his intellectual life: the study of French.

"My greatest pleasures are the nurturances I have received from my students," he said.

Kritzman said France is currently undergoing an identity crises. Much has changed in France over the past 20 years that Kritzman attributed to "a series of blows to French pride."

"La France is an endangered species," he said.

According to Kritzman, the study of French has undergone many changes, and professors must revise their approaches to teaching the language.

Kritzman said the study of French over the past years has often focused too highly upon aesthetics and universal concepts.

He suggested students studying French should look beyond aesthetics that are often the result of forced consent.

In his speech, Kritzman outlined the history of the study of French in American universities.

According to the 1876 Dartmouth course catalog, the study of French began sophomore year and focused on grammar, literature and geography.

In the 1970s the study of French was viewed as a mark of distinction or elitism and was thought to be superior to other European languages, according to Kritzman.

During this time period, the study of French was based on stereotypes, and had "degenerated into wine and cheeses studies," he said.

Kritzman then suggested ways in which to remedy the study of French, but warned he has no "magical solutions."

"Students need to gain cultural competence," he said. "We must train students to read the signs of culture."

"Students should become more attentive to the flow of behavior within the French culture," he added.

Kritzman ended his speech on an optimistic note that was met with a bountiful round of applause.

"I foresee a glorious future for French studies, but we must reflect diligently on what we are doing and how the climate we are working in has now changed," he said.