Graduate School Spotlight: Rachel Paparone
Graduate Spotlight: Rachel Paparone
Expected Graduation: December 2012
Degree Objective: Ph.D. in French Literature
Rachel Paparone, a PhD candidate studying French Literature, came to the University of Georgia on a whim.
“I chose the University of Georgia kind of by chance,” she said. “I was applying to various schools and a friend in the Spanish Department told me how wonderful the program was. Since it was January in New York and the winter had already been hard, I decided to apply to the University and try to move south.”
Although she originally came to University of Georgia knowing just one person, Paparone soon found support in her professors and fellow graduate students.
“I’ve been fortunate to be able to work with wonderful professors who have taken an active role in mentoring me during my time here. They’ve encouraged me to explore my own ideas and interests, but they’re also always challenging me to go a little further, to do a little more. I really appreciate that. I’m also lucky to be a part of a Department where the graduate students work together well and genuinely enjoy what they do. For me, this has created a sense of community and has provided a forum for the exchange of ideas that has helped me to grow as a student.”
Like her decision of which school to attend, Paparone came to the decision to study French Literature by chance.
“As a child I was fascinated by the idea that people could understand each other when speaking another language, so that motivated me to study language,” Paparone explained. “My grandfather spoke French, so it seemed the obvious choice.”
It wasn’t until her major professor suggested reading a novel by Jean-Christophe Rufin however, that Paparone decided to combine her interest in the French language with another focus- literature.
“Rufin’s novels are some of my favorite, and I never would have read them if Dr. Krell had not recommended them during a course I took with him,” she said.
Paparone’s research focuses on the way in which democratic governments and businesses use environmentalism as a tool to gain power and money, and how French author Jean-Christophe Rufin addresses this subject through his character’s interaction with the environment.
“I’m passionate about Rufin’s books because I think that the issue of climate change is fundamentally one of ethics: does nature have the right to be treated as one might treat human beings? Rufin explores this in depth, and stresses that environmentalism should never oppress human rights. More often than not, this clash can be seen in terms of the imposition of culture onto nature,” Paparone explains.
Jean-Christophe Rufin, a French author whose novels depict the clash between Northern developed societies and indigenous population in Brazil and eastern Africa, has seen first-hand the effects of the imposition on developing societies. Through his novels he provides valuable insights into the ideologies that motivate such destruction. A doctor and humanitarian turned author, Rufin also explores what happens when human rights become secondary to various ideologies including environmentalism, capitalism and religious fundamentalism.
“In Le parfum d’Adam, a novel by Rufin, the CIA is on the trail of an environmentalist who is going to put cholera into the drinking water in a slum in Rio de Janeiro because he believes that killing all of the poor people and thus reducing the population is the answer to global warming. For my research, I analyze how, on one hand, the environmentalist absolutely believes in what he is doing, and lives a very austere and environmentally responsible life in the Mojave Desert, but on the other hand he is a pawn of more powerful people who would stand to gain from a reduction in population,” Paparone explains.
“I think more and more people are going to start studying the role that environmentalism plays in literature, and vice versa,” Paparone explained when asked how she sees the field of French Literature progressing. “I also think that literature departments are going to become more and more interdisciplinary, allowing for the study of the role of science, politics, etc. in literature.”
“Rufin’s novels are relatively unexplored at this point, but they’re really very pertinent. It’s important that students of French Literature be exposed to his work, since he is one of the big authors in France right now,” she said. “I hope that as more people study his work it will have more of a presence in French Literature courses. Unfortunately, his books aren’t widely available in English, but I hope that will change as well.”
“I hope that people get two things out of my research. First, I want more people to read Rufin’s novels, since they’re so much fun to read. Second, I hope that people start to realize how powerful environmentalism can be for governments and businesses. It is of course a great thing that people want to buy green products and do their part to help reverse global warming, but I also think that Rufin is correct in saying that people in positions of power use that desire to manipulate the public.”
“I really love teaching and exposing students to the French language and to French literature, so I hope I’ll be in a position to mentor students in the way that my professors have mentored me,” said Paparone. “I love the way that a good book can make you forget everything happening around you; it’s possible to totally immerse yourself in someone else’s story. I get to do what I love all day, which is really fortunate!”
Paparone’s love of literature, particularly novels by Rufin, is quite evident. Five years from now, Paparone sees herself still enjoying her passion.