American writers and artists – from Thomas Jefferson to Henry James, Edith Wharton to Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald to Shay Youngblood – have viewed the French as a people who value art and creativity, the aesthete and the intellectual more highly than Americans. Those Americans marginalized or discriminated against in the U.S., such as Josephine Baker and James Baldwin and a variety of jazz musicians, have judged Paris to be a place where they can live and love and create as they please. In this seminar we will discuss what Americans hope to find in Paris that they don’t find in the United States, we will locate where the Paris of their dreams departs from reality, and we will compare their quests across generations and demographic groups. We will also be on the lookout for how the writers’ narratives can sometimes be at odds with the structures, both film and fiction, that contain them. Throughout the semester we will attempt to think more complexly about American stereotypes of Paris and French people, both positive and negative; about why these stereotypes exist and what functions they serve for Americans. But we will also consider how Americans are perceived by the French and why, and the effects of misperceptions on both sides of the Atlantic. The topics highlighted in the course outline – from cosmopolitanism to globalization – will make their way into our discussions throughout the semester.
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