University of Florida Homepage

Emeritus Faculty Spotlight: Bernadette Cailler

1)  In what years did you graduate from Cornell? The University of Paris? The University of Poitiers? I know you arrived at UF in 1974. Did you teach anywhere else prior to that ?

Yes, I hold degrees from Cornell: a PhD in Comparative Literature, with a minor in Cultural Anthropology, 1974, and a M.A., 1967; also, from Paris: 1968, and Poitiers: 1964, 1961. Prior to taking my position at UF, in 1974, I had taught in various capacities, as a T.A. or a lecturer in London or at Cornell, or as a full-fledged Lycéeteacher in France. And I had spent two summers teaching respectively at Hampton Institute (VA), and Alfred University (NY).

2)  Can you describe how your research on French-Language Studies and Literatures and Cultures connects with Africa and the African diaspora?

Quite young, I understood how morally wrong slavery and colonialism had been, and how horrific racism was/is. I was born during WWII, and lived through the post-war decolonization years. I remember the day when Dien Bien Phu “fell” to the Vietnamese patriots, and the talks going on in my hometown. I remember many events linked to the Algerian war of Independence. I heard about La Question by Henri Alleg, when I was 17, during my first year at the university. It had just been published. I started reading Frantz Fanon and other seminal figures quite early.

My first degrees were actually in British, US, and Irish Literatures. In my early twenties, in France, I had written a Diplôme d’Etudes Supérieures thesis on W.B.Yeats, at a time when I had already become aware of many aspects of the colonial and post-colonial situations. Eventually, I became interested in authors from the French overseas departments, mainly Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, in some authors from Haiti, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon, and also sub-Saharan Africa, such as Cheikh Hamidou Kane and Valentin Y. Mudimbe. In my work, I tend to focus on close reading of specific texts. I often analyze how a creative writer relates to the past in collaboration and in contrast with historians. Concomitantly, I concentrate on the irreplaceable (poetic) ways through which the literary text “gives birth to upheavals that change us” (Edouard Glissant), that is, modifies our visions, feelings, and, potentially, behaviors. This coming June, in Martinique, I will present a paper that deals largely with an outstanding writer and scholar, Michaël Ferrier, whose ancestral background spreads from hexagonal France to the Indian Ocean, and who has lived in Japan for many years. At FSU, recently, I participated in a conference on The Performance of Pan-Africanism, with a paper titled: “Between blindness and clairvoyance: Malraux and Césaire revisited (Dakar 1966)”.

I would need several pages to explain why the popular dichotomy between French and Francophone Studies does not hold water. Whoever is interested in French Studies cannot ignore Africa, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, some areas in the Pacific, the Middle East, Canada… I could go on. At Cornell, I met enlightened professors, such as David Grossvogel, William Kennedy, Saunders Redding, Philip Lewis, and some others, who understood that important trends of contemporary thought were due to the work and talents of a number of so-called Francophone writers. There, I was given extraordinary freedom to explore my interests, from one department to the other, from one independent study to the other. I shall for ever be grateful to Cornell and its people, fellow graduate students included. Not to mention the fact that, at Cornell, I lived through many events linked to the US involvement in Vietnam, and also to the African-American and Gay liberation movements.

3)  Do you still reside in Gainesville?. Are you still active in the UF community ? Do you have an update that you can provide the broader CAS community with?

Yes, I still reside in Gainesville, the place where I met my husband, violinist Elwyn Adams, who died in November 1995. He has remained a great source of inspiration and strength for me. I never make any important decision without thinking about what his opinion would be. An “update”?: just a note to remind us all that, as neuroscientists are now teaching us, privileging the so-called “scientific” mind over the “poetic” mind is a scientific impasse (cf.: Lorand Gaspar’s work). The complexity and importance of literary/artistic creativity and scholarship ought to be highly honored in any research university. Regarding UF, of course, I still attend selected events.


CAS News Bulletin: Week of November 7th, 2016