Trinity Fellow Dr Jean Khalfa has been appointed an Officier in the Ordre des Palmes Académiques in recognition of his teaching and research in French and Francophone studies.
The honour comes from the French Minister of National Education and Youth on behalf of the Prime Minister of France. In 2023, the French Ambassador to the UK, Madame Hélène Duchêne, will visit Cambridge to formally bestow the award.
In the letter of appointment, here translated, Madame Duchêne wrote:
This distinction rightly rewards your remarkable career at Trinity College, University of Cambridge, devoted to teaching and research in French and Francophone studies, at the intersection of the history of philosophy, anthropology and aesthetics.
I particularly salute your work on behalf of the translation and knowledge of major authors such as Michel Foucault or Frantz Fanon in the United Kingdom, as well as your commitment to supporting international student programmes and Franco-British scientific exchanges.
Dr Khalfa said:
I have had many interactions with colleagues worldwide in the course of my work and publications over the past few years but am very happy to see this recognition beyond the academic sphere by the French government of the broader impact of my research and teaching.
In the twentieth century Trinity has had a great tradition in French studies: Ralph Leigh on Rousseau, Marian Hobson on Diderot and David Kelley on Baudelaire. I am glad that my work on Frantz Fanon in particular, which has turned out to be very topical in our current historical phase, has had such an impact.
Frantz Fanon (1925-1961), the Martinique psychiatrist and political thinker, is known for his influence on anti-colonial struggles worldwide and his research into the pathological conditions generated by colonial and neo-colonial situations.
In 2015 Dr Khalfa and Professor Robert Young of New York University unearthed lost or forgotten works by Fanon. Their resulting book, Écrits sur l’aliénation et la liberté, first published in French, was immediately translated into English and is now in its second edition in both languages. Their analysis attracted significant attention worldwide. It casts new light on Fanon’s thinking about violence, identity and religion in the context of decolonisation.
Dr Khalfa has been invited by universities around the world to speak about these discoveries, which include plays Fanon wrote in 1949. He has also been a consultant and participant in three films on Fanon that have been shown in France, Germany, the UK, the US, Algeria, Tunisia and soon in Colombia.
Several contemporary visual artists have also used the plays as points of reflection to develop new work. You can listen to Larry Achiampong and David Blandy in a conversation with Dr Khalfa organised by Kettle’s Yard.
One of Fanon’s plays discovered by Dr Khalfa features a painting by the Cuban-French artist Wifredo Lam. A protégé of Picasso, Lam is best known for large-scale paintings that fuse modernist and surrealist aesthetics with Afro-Cuban imagery to explore themes of power, spirituality and nature.
He also engaged in dialogues with poets, composing with them spectacular livres d’artistes. Dr Khalfa has curated a collection of these illustrated books in the Wren Library, including very rare volumes, thanks to the generosity of alumni and other donors. He is currently editing a book on Lam’s work.
The College collection, which he helped assemble, further includes original works by, Miró Léger, Masson, Matisse, Braque, Picasso and Hockney, and a fine example of a very rare livre de dialogue between Stephane Mallarmé and Edouard Manet, Le Corbeau. The late Nicholas Kessler, who studied Economics and Law at Trinity in the 1950s, bought and donated many of the books in recent years.
Dr Khalfa said:
The College now has a unique, world-class collection of exceptional modern French and francophone artists’ books in the Wren Library, built with the generous help of alumni and donors whom I have had the good fortune to meet and advise.
The English version of Fanon’s theatre is published by Bloomsbury (2020): Frantz Fanon The Plays from Alienation and Freedom.
Several chapters of Dr Khalfa’s book, Poetics of the Antilles (Peter Lang 2017) are devoted to Fanon.