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Simon Kemp

Fellow & Tutor in French (Somerville); Associate Professor of French
Faculty of Medieval & Modern Languages

I teach French literature and language for the college and university.

Although I teach a wide variety of literature from the nineteenth century onwards, my main interest is in twentieth- and twenty-first-century French culture. I’m currently working on the second volume of a trilogy of academic studies on the representation of consciousness and the unconscious mind.

The first volume, Writing the Mind, explored how writers since Marcel Proust have drawn on ideas from religion, philosophy, psychoanalysis and science for their understanding of how the mind works, and reflected these ideas in the minds of the characters who people their fiction. From existentialist theories of consciousness in Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophical novels to neuroscience and evolutionary theory in Marie Darrieussecq’s recent writing, by way of Freudian psychoanalysis in André Breton’s Surrealist texts or theological speculations in Georges Bernanos’s Catholic novels, the human mind has been presented in subtly and fascinatingly different ways across the course of the last century. I have been unpicking these differences in order to chart developments in literary representation, drawing up a cultural history of consciousness.

The second volume, Reading the Mind, examines the validity and usefulness of competing theories of the mind in literary criticism, and the final volume, Seeing the Mind, will focus these same concerns on film studies.

I also continue to speak and publish on topics relating to two previous monographs: the use and abuse of detective stories by French literary writers keen to explore themes of perception, reason and truth, and the state of narrative form in the contemporary French literary novel, conceived as a ‘return to the story’ in the wake of a period dominated by radical experiment.

I also maintain a lively interest in translation studies, and currently convene the Advanced French Translation course for the university. In 2007, I received the University Teaching Award for outstanding contribution to learning and teaching.

When I came to Somerville in 2010, I set up the college’s annual Study Day, offering sixth-formers a taste of the university experience, and I continue to be heavily involved in the college’s outreach programmes. I welcome enquiries from anyone considering taking an undergraduate or graduate degree at Somerville.

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