French literature as a crucible

John Ireland

“I enjoy the challenge of presenting 19th century French literature as a crucible in which so many of our examined and unexamined ideas and mythologies about literature and culture today, here in the United States, are formed,” says John Ireland. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

 

Since 1966, the Silver Circle Award has been presented to some of UIC’s best teachers. Winners, who are honored at their college commencements, receive $500 and their names join a long list of distinguished colleagues. But what makes the award especially meaningful is its selection committee: the graduating seniors.

 

“Coming out of a class that went really well makes my whole day,” John Ireland says.

Ireland, associate professor of French and Francophone studies, teaches students from every year and level at UIC, from French 201 through master’s-level courses.

His research and teaching touch upon a range of subjects, including 20th century theater and prose, avant-garde theory and practice, theater and theatricality, Sartre and existentialism, and French Canadian literature, film and critical theory.

He helps his undergraduate students understand “what an intensely social phenomenon literature is, with all sorts of reverberations.”

“I really enjoy the moments when a discussion reaches a point where every participant has forgotten everything else about themselves except for their involvement in an idea, a character’s dilemma, or the implications of a particular narrative strategy,” he says.

Ireland considers Introduction to French Literature I, a 200-level survey class on literature and culture from the French Revolution to the present, as one of his most important courses.

“I enjoy the challenge of presenting 19th century French literature as a crucible in which so many of our examined and unexamined ideas and mythologies about literature and culture today, here in the United States, are formed,” he says.

Ireland, who came to UIC in 1993, is director of undergraduate studies for French and past president of the North American Sartre Society.

He often cites the noted philosopher when giving advice to students.

“Jean-Paul Sartre once said, ‘L’intelligence est une exigence.’ Intelligence is the demand we make of ourselves to think further, not to be self-satisfied.”