Bretey Lecture

2015 Bretey Lecture in French Studies

‘Postcards from Paris: Past and Presence’


Prof. Sonya Stephens (Mount Holyoke College, USA)

18 March 2015 at 5.15pm

Venue: Samuel Alexander A113


Abstract: The introduction and success of the illustrated postcard, the ‘carte Libonis’, at the exposition universelle of 1889 is widely considered to be the moment at which the postcard became circulating evidence of an act of seeing. More than 300,000 engravings of the Eiffel Tower were sent from the newly established post offices on its platforms and at its summit, and were quickly understood to be an act of cultural and political promotion, of representation, and of self-representation. This lecture will explore the ways in which the signing and ‘postcarding’ of Paris becomes both an act of individual affirmation and identification (with the object pictured), and an assertion of (French national) identity and culture.  Drawing on the postmodern cultural studies framework, which has shown that visual tourist destination images and icons are ‘texts’ arranged into discourses that embrace particular combinations of narratives, concepts, and ideologies, and that form connected circles of representation, or cultural circuits, the lecture will also examine the ways in which, at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth, seeing and the sights/sites framed by postcards promote and prescribe the experience of self, space, culture and spectacle.

Speaker: Sonya Stephens is Professor of French at Mount Holyoke College, USA, where she also serves as Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty. Her research focuses on cultural production in nineteenth-century France, and particularly on the relationship between literature and visual culture.  She is author of Baudelaire’s Prose Poems: The Practice and Politics of Irony (Oxford, 1999), and numerous articles on nineteenth-century France, and  editor of A History of Women’s Writing in France (Cambridge, 2000), Esquisses/Ebauches: Projects and Pre-Texts in 19th-C France (Peter Lang, 2007), and a forthcoming volume of essays focused on cultural transpositions and translations from 1830 to the present.

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