Romance Languages and Literatures

Alison James

Associate Professor of French Literature, and the College; Academic Careers Adviser; French Graduate Adviser


Wieboldt 224



Ph.D., Columbia University, 2005.

Program(s): French and Francophone Studies

I work on twentieth- and twenty-first-century French literature, with a particular focus on the Oulipo group, representations of everyday life, nonfiction narrative, and connections between literature and philosophy. In general terms, my research aims to reconnect experimental literature to the realist tradition that it is often assumed to have abandoned, via an emphasis on the collective and social meanings of literary forms. This approach grounds my first book, Constraining Chance: Georges Perec and the Oulipo (Northwestern University Press, 2009), a study of one the major figures of postwar French literature. I argue that Perec uses formal and semantic constraints both as a spur to literary inspiration and as a means of exploring the tension between chance and determinism, fate and freedom, historical forces and human agency. 

My current book project, Speaking Facts: The Documentary Imagination in French Literature, focuses on works that test the boundary between fact and fiction. I identify the emergence, in the wake of naturalism, of a documentary impulse that shapes literature’s relationship to visual representation, testimonial discourses, and autobiographical narrative. The realist emphasis on authentic details becomes in the twentieth century a fascination with facts, which anticipates an explicit turn away from fictional invention in contemporary literature.

My teaching has an important interdisciplinary component, often relating literature to the visual arts and/or cinema (“Literature and Photography”; “Seeing/Writing the Everyday in Twentieth-Century France”), or connecting poetry to philosophy (“Philosophy and the Poetics of Presence in Postwar France”). In addition to introductory courses on modern and contemporary French literature, I have also taught undergraduate and graduate seminars on history in the novel, the literary avant-garde, realism in the twentieth century, and autobiography.

James CV

Books, Edited Volumes, Journal Issues

Selected Articles

  • “Dans la caverne de Platon ou de la fiction comme ‘réalité augmentée.’” In Régis Jauffret: éclats de la fiction, ed. Christophe Reig. Paris: Presses de la Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2017. 101–118.
  • “Interlingual Oulipo.” Modern Language Notes 131.4 (September 2016): 864-876.
  • “History-Forms: Jacques Jouet’s Documentary Poems.” Contemporary French & Francophone Studies: Sites 20.3 (2016): 444–452.
  • “La Force des faits dans l’écriture du présent.” In Pour un récit transnational: la fiction au défi de l’histoire immédiate, ed. Yolaine Parisot and Charline Pluvinet. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2015. 311–323.
  • “Thinking the Everyday: Genre, Form, Fiction.” L’Esprit créateur 54.3 (Fall 2014): 78–91.
  • “Poem-Walking: The Survival of Paris in Jacques Roubaud’s La Forme d’une ville.”Modern Philology 111.1 (August 2013): 107–131.
  • “Le fait divers aux frontières de la fiction: la rhétorique documentaire d’André Gide.”Gide à la frontière, Actes du colloque de Granville, Bulletin des Amis d’André Gide 177–78 (2013): 75–86.
  • “Poetic Form and the Crisis of Community: Revisiting Rancière’s Aesthetics.” In Thinking Poetry: Philosophical Approaches to Nineteenth-Century French Poetry. Ed. Joseph Acquisto. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. 167–83..

Selected Courses

  • Margins of Fiction in Contemporary France
  • Littérature et photographie
  • Realism and its Returns in Twentieth-Century France
  • Oulipo in Context
  • Philosophy and the Poetics of Presence in Postwar France (with Mark Payne, Classics)
  • The Literary Avant-Garde in France
  • Introduction to Twentieth-Century French Literature
  • Le roman et l’histoire (XIXe-XXe siècles). 
  • Seeing/Writing the Everyday in Twentieth-Century France (with Jennifer Wild, Cinema and Media Studies)