What They Learned: Jacob Coleman ’21

The French and Francophone Studies and German and German Studies double major combined his language studies with literary analysis in his thesis, which explored Colette’s fiction through the lens of Hannah Arendt’s philosophical theories.

The greatest writers find ways to create an emotional connection with their readers. Jacob Coleman ‘21 fell victim to the prowess of French author Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. The French and Francophone Studies and German and German Studies double major’s thesis, “Écrire l’immortalité: La nature et la transcendance chez Colette et Hannah Arendt,” combines literary studies and philosophy as it analyses the construction of poetics in Colette’s work, which he read in French, using several of German philosopher Hannah Arendt’s theories. The topic of his thesis project was inspired by his emotional connection with Colette’s work.

“I would never have been able to write as much as I did about Colette in an academic context without first and foremost feeling moved on a personal level by her writing: the manner in which she crafts a scene, a landscape, a character, or depicts the human heart,” said Coleman.

Coleman used Arendt’s ideas about eternal resurgence (immortality) and labor of the vita activa (the life processes or processes of corporeal maintenance) to approach Colette’s work. He loves Arendt’s independence as a thinker. 

“Arendt did not describe herself as a philosopher, and as a thinker she is uniquely free from disciplinary constraints,” he said. “A truly independent and original mind, which is perfect for me, because I also tried to take a cross-disciplinary approach.”

Coleman was advised by Assistant Professor of French and Francophone Studies Kathryne Corbin, who introduced Coleman to Collete in her course on female journalists, where they studied articles from Dans la foule. “I also worked with her as a research assistant my senior year, a period during which I feel like I perfected my ability to work with texts in French from the late-19th and early-20th century,” he said. Coleman also worked with Associate Professor of German Imke Brust, who provided useful context on Arendt’s philosophy, and Bryn Mawr Assistant Professor Edwige Crucifix, who helped him refine his ideas and overcome creative difficulties.

What are the implications for your thesis research?
I’d like to think that my work provides some new insight on the textual construction of poetics (methodologically inspired by Kristeva’s work on the subject), an aesthetic application of Arendtian political philosophy, and a way to use the ideas of death and absence to envision a metaphysics of transcendence. 

What are your plans for the future? 
I’m going to be teaching in France next year and am as-yet-undecided about continuing my academic work in a doctoral program, but I know that regardless of my career path, I will still have a meaningful relationship with Colette as (one of) my favorite author(s). I also know that any career path I choose will make use of my language skills.

“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.