Patrick M Bray

Associate Professor of French

My research and teaching interests span a variety of topics in modern French literature and theory – especially space, first-person narrative, the concept of the event, and the relationship between text and image. I have published articles and presented conference papers on a variety of authors and thinkers such as Rancière, Deleuze, Virilio, Derrida, Cixous, Houellebecq, Proust, Nerval, Sand, and others.

My current book project, "Proustian Iterations: Conceptualizing the Literary Event," looks at how twentieth-century French literature and thought has grappled with the uniqueness of Proust’s "À la recherche du temps perdu".
Starting with an account of how Proust’s novel challenges our notions of habit, atavism, and aesthetic originality, I then turn to those writers who most engaged with Proust’s legacy, either to embrace or reject it. Whether Beckett or Sartre, Simon or Sarraute, Perec or Chris Marker, writing and creating after Proust means confronting his radical literary innovations and the double impossibility either of fully incorporating them into a new work or of completely escaping Proust’s influence. Other chapters will explore Proust’s profound impact on French theory, specifically how literature itself “thinks” time. Blanchot, Barthes, Ricœur, Deleuze, Rancière, and Kristeva, among countless others, have traced Proust’s literary conception of time and repetition; yet as Derrida has argued in relation to the singularity of the event, there is a “certain impossible possibility of saying the event.” In this book, I ask if a literary event is possible. Given the iterability of novelistic expression, the necessary repetition inherent in all language, how do we understand the singularity of a literary work?

I have recently completed two book projects. The first is an edited volume on the work of Jacques Rancière for Bloomsbury Publishing, "Understanding Rancière, Understanding Modernism" (March, 2017). Rancière’s work re-examines the divisions that have defined our understanding of modernity, such as between art and politics, representation and abstraction, and literature and philosophy. The volume concludes with an extended interview I conducted with Rancière about the problematic notion of modernism and disciplinary concerns in the contemporary academy.

The second book project is a completed monograph, "The Price of Literature:The French Novel’s Theoretical Turn", which examines the presence of theory in the novel, something Proust likened to leaving a price tag on a gift. Emerging after the French Revolution, what we now call literature was conceived as the art of writing liberated from representational constraints. I show how literature’s freedom to represent anything at all has meant that it cannot articulate a coherent theory of itself – unless this theory is a necessarily subversive literary representation (what I call the novel’s theoretical turn). For Foucault, literature exists as a “counter-discourse” to modernity. Literary thought, the theory that is produced by the text, can only function by exploring that which escapes dominant ideological representations, the margins where minorities and outcasts dwell. I analyse how certain iconic texts after the birth of literature (by Mme de Staël, Hugo, Balzac, Flaubert, and Proust) perform a theoretical turn in order to claim for literature not only a hybridity that allows it the freedom to represent anything in the world, but the ability to transform the world it represents. Theoretical “digressions” in these novels create paradoxical notions of aesthetic value based on the distinction between visual and readable representation – theory (from the Greek theorein, to view) would supplement the novel’s narrative or linguistic deficiency as an oppositional form of knowledge set against positivist discourses. I conclude The Price of Literature by looking to contemporary French theory in order to argue that the “a-disciplinarity” of literature, its distinction from other discourses and its awareness of the visibility of its own form, is what makes interdisciplinarity possible.

My first book, "The Novel Map: Space and Subjectivity in Nineteenth-Century French Fiction" (Northwestern University Press, 2013), argues that nineteenth-century French novels negotiate the relationship between the self and the world as a function of space. With the tumult of the French Revolution and the beginning of industrial capitalism, the ways French national space was experienced and represented in literature profoundly changed in the nineteenth-century. In the first-person works of Stendhal, Nerval, Sand, Zola, and Proust, cartographic images situate the narrator within an imaginary space that is at odds with the narrative structure of the novel. The time inherent in narrative unsettles the spatial self that is drawn by the maps and so creates what I call “the novel map,” a concept that I use to describe the contradictory directions taken by French nineteenth-century novels as they projected a holistic image of the self inscribed in the synthetic spaces of a fictional text.

In 2014, I edited a volume of essays in the journal "L’Esprit créateur"with Philip John Usher of New York University entitled "Building the Louvre: Architectures of Art and Politics". The special issue examines the Louvre as a site where for hundreds of years art and politics have offered competing representations of public space. To build on the spirit of collaboration begun with the volume, I organized a conference open to the general public at the Columbus Museum of Art that brought together the volume’s contributors, who work on such diverse topics as the Louvre’s beginnings as a medieval fortress, the Louvre in crime fiction, and the construction of the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Areas of Expertise
  • Modern French Literature
  • Literary theory, critical theory, spatial theory
  • Science and literature
  • Ph.D., Harvard University
  • B.A., Cornell University

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Office Hours Autumn 2018:
Wednesday 10:00 - 11:00 am
Friday 2:00 - 3:00 pm

223 Hagerty Hall
1775 College Road
Columbus, OH 43210