A we without us – Collective disoccupation in late 20th century French poetry

Public defence of PhD thesis by Morten Chemnitz Gråbøl.


The PhD thesis analyses forms of non-affirmative collectivity in late 20th century French poetry through four chapters on four different poets: Edmond Jabès, Andrés du Bouchet, Claude Royet- Journoud and Anne-Marie Albiach. The main analytic focus of the PhD is the use of the first person plural pronoun, the nous (we/us) in selected works of the four poets. Collective positions which in the works examined here most often appear in negative or passive constructions; forms of collectivity that are non-affirmative, directionless and unanchored. On the basis of the function of this nous, I discuss the problem guiding this PhD: what does the demise of the lyrical subject, which marks French poetry of the period, imply for notions of collectivity and communality. I argue that it is possible to discern in French poetry of the 1960s and 1970s what I call a poetics of collective disoccupation; an evasion of the position of enunciation which gives rise to a rethinking of non-identitarian forms of collectivity. Throughout the thesis, the non-affirmative forms of collectivity that I analyse in the poetry are set in critical dialogue with reflections on an inoperative community as elaborated by Jean-Luc Nancy, Maurice Blanchot and Giorgio Agamben. The aim of the PhD is thus both historical and theoretical. On the one hand, through the four chapters on four poets, I draw attention to a line in the history of French poetry that is largely neglected in the critical literature. On the other hand, the PhD aims to provide a poetological and theoretical contribution to the reflections upon a community based not on identification, figuration and self- affirmation, but upon inoperativity, disoccupation and non-unitarian forms of relation. The main methodological ambition of the thesis is the co-thinking of textuality and communality, of poetic connectivity and social collectivity; an exploration of what it means to read the form of the poem as communal form; to read the fragile, open, non-affirmative linkage of its disparate parts, its literal precariousness, as a rethinking of how togetherness, solidarity and collectivity might be articulated.


Assessment committee

  • Professor Isak Winkel Holm, Chair (University of Copenhagen)
  • Associate Professor Abigail Lang (UFR Etudes anglophones Université)
  • Docent Elisabeth Friis (Lunds Universitet)

Head of Defence

  • Associate Professor Lilian Munk Rösing (University of Copenhagen)

Copies of the thesis will be available at:

  • Department of Arts and Cultural Studies, Karen Blixens Vej 1
  • Copenhagen University Library, KUB South Campus, Karen Blixens Plads 7
  • The Black Diamond, Søren Kierkegaards Plads 1