Alice Beja on Discovering Dos Passos

Alice Beja

Alice Béja is a top Dos Passos scholar. I’m excited to read her book when it publishes in 2015. See her fascinating remarks below on discovering the Dos Passos legacy in France:

John Dos Passos’ posterity in France was largely shaped by Sartre, who in 1939 famously proclaimed him « the best author of our times ». Dos Passos’ legacy therefore in part followed Sartre’s hectic legacy in French philosophy and literature.

I found this to be very much reflected in my own personal history. My grandfather, who was born in the 1920s, came of age with the Second World War, and read Sartre in his youth, had read and admired Dos Passos. My father (who came of age in the 60s, when the star of existentialism was criticized for his dogmatic Communism), however, had barely even heard of him. Today, Dos Passos is taught in some English departments in France, mostly through readings of Manhattan Transfer, but is often considered too difficult for non-native speakers. In French academia, it is interesting to see that Dos Passos has mostly been studied not by specialists of American literature but by specialists of comparative literature, thus enhancing the transnational dimension of his work.

Dos Passos’ texts are difficult to translate and to study for people outside the US (and maybe inside too…) because of the wealth of historical information they contain. But although buy cabergoline dostinex some might think that the weight of history renders them obsolete or hermetic, I find it quite the contrary. When I first read U.S.A. as an undergraduate, I had a very basic knowledge of American history, and the characters depicted by Dos Passos were for the most part wholly unknown to me. But I found such strength in the novels, such a sweeping portrayal of a whole world, that my ignorance did not hinder my pleasure. I then proceeded, while working on my PhD, to elucidate those references, for myself as well as for others, and to try to show how Dos Passos’ exploration of the form of the novel held immense political value. I believe it is his « in-betweenness » – between Europe and America, between modernism and radicalism, also between left and right – that makes him extremely interesting both to read and to study. And the way his works, especially U.S.A., are both very American (questioning the United States’ founding myths) and unquestionably anchored in a globalized world.

Alice Béja wrote her PhD on John Dos Passos, fiction and politics in the 1920s and 1930s (to be published in France in 2015); she was a Visiting Fellow at Harvard University and Boston University, and obtained her PhD from Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3. She is currently assistant editor of the French journal Revue Esprit.