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Project D9

Sports and the Heroic in French Literature from the Interwar Period to Today


Prof. Dr. Andreas Gelz
Claudia Müller

Department of Romance Languages and Literature

Since the 20thth century, athletics have become an important domain of the heroic in modern society. Sports have produced heroes whose societal importance can be demonstrated through their portrayal in literature. The goal of this project is to describe the portrayal of heroic patterns in Francophone narratives from the interwar period to the 21st century. The heroically characterized self-portrayal of athletes, which is often found in texts, as well as society's ascription or functionalization of the athlete-hero represent two essential focuses of research: the significance of the relationship between a programmatic universalism of athletics that was especially present in the first half of the 20th century and the internationalization and globalization thereof in the second half of the century. Using this as a starting point, this project takes a metatextual and self-reflexive approach to the relation between literature and athletics that is geared toward the renewal of the literary language of form and the exploration of the linguistic remnants of heroic manners of expression that remain to this day. Within the scope of their research, this project group will analyze athletics as boundary work: as an action that allows for transcending natural – and in this case, bodily – borders, and for aestheticizing one's own existence while performing and experiencing a sensual presence. In the research of the heroic, these constituent factors are analyzed and influenced by relevant literature. The athlete as a hero, athletics as a heroic action and sports complexes as the domain of the heroic are discussed in these texts as a figure, realm and place of projection in which people can confront their own experience. What had begun in France by the 1920s has since become a worldwide and differentiated phenomenon that affects both popular and high literature. This project attempts to explain these varying aspects in two sub-projects. One dissertation is devoted to France in the post-war period and thus the beginning of an intense literary occupation with athletics, while another study is exploring the obvious renewed interest in athletics in contemporary French literature.