Kamuf Knighted by France

In recognition of her achievement developing a cultural and educational relationship with France, Peggy Kamuf receives an academic knighthood from the French government.
BySusan Bell

Peggy Kamuf, Marion Frances Chevalier Professor of French and professor of comparative literature, has received one of France’s most prestigious honors.

Kamuf, director of the Comparative Studies in Literature and Culture doctoral program at USC Dornsife, has been named a Chevalier, or Knight, in the Ordre des Palmes Académiques (Order of Academic Palms) by the French government.

Considered one of France’s oldest and most coveted civic honors, the Ordre des Palmes Académiques, established by Emperor Napoléon in 1808, recognizes those who have contributed significantly to the development of relationships with France in culture, science or education.

“I am very pleased and it was a wonderful surprise,” said Kamuf, who learned of the honor through a letter from the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., and a certificate signed by then-French Education Minister Benoît Hamon.

For the past six years, Kamuf has been running the Derrida Seminars Translation Project to translate from French into English the seminars of influential French philosopher Jacques Derrida.

Each year, Kamuf leads a group of scholars and doctoral students to L’Institut Mémoires de l’édition contemporaine, an archive facility housed in an 11th-century former abbey near Caen in Normandy in northern France. There, she and five other experienced translators of Derrida meet over a period of one week to review their work line by line.

“In this collaborative project, we are doing very significant work for the advancement of French culture in the world, which is what this award is all about,” Kamuf said. “As 40 years of Derrida’s lectures and seminars are being published posthumously in France, we are translating them into English.”

So far, Kamuf, who is also involved in editing the French editions, and her team have completed five volumes of Derrida’s seminars, each numbering some 300 pages.

“It’s a very long-term project. We estimate there will be more than 40 volumes in the series and at the current rate of publication, it will take a very long time. Obviously, I’m not going to be able to see to the end, and that is one reason why I and my collaborators decided to bring younger people on board. Every year we invite six to seven graduate students to join the workshop as well as younger faculty. Four of my doctoral students from USC Dornsife have been involved in the project.”

Kamuf, who has taught at USC Dornsife for 26 years, earned a Ph.D. in romance studies at Cornell University in 1975.

She has been a visiting professor at the Centre d’études féminines et d’études de genre at Université de Paris VIII Vincennes-Saint-Denis, in Spring 2006 and Spring 1998. She is a Distinguished International Fellow of London Graduate School and was Directeur de programme correspondant (elected program director or chair) of the Collège international de philosophie in Paris from 1989 to 1995.

Kamuf researches literary theory and contemporary French thought and literature. In addition to her work on Derrida, she has written extensively about the works of Hélène Cixous and Jean-Luc Nancy, and has translated a number of their texts. Her earlier work explored 18th-century French fictions of the feminine, producing Fictions of Feminine Desire: Disclosures of Heloise (University of Nebraska Press, 1982).

She has also written about signature and authorship, especially in Jean-Jacques Rousseau, but also in Stendhal, Charles Baudelaire, and Virginia Woolf in Signature Pieces: On the Institution of Authorship (Cornell University Press, 1988) and the institutionalization of literary studies, specifically in France, in The Division of Literature, or the University in Deconstruction (University of Chicago Press, 1997).

Her Book of Addresses (Stanford University Press, 2005) is a series of essays on fictionality, sexual difference, psychoanalysis and literary theory, and To Follow: The Wake of Jacques Derrida (Edinburgh University Press, 2010) collects 10 years of her writings on the French philosopher who died in 2004.

Kamuf is a member of the editorial board of the Oxford Literary Review and winner of the René Wellek Prize from the American Comparative Literature Association for 2005. She received the USC Raubenheimer Outstanding Senior Faculty Award in 1995.