Meet Associate Professor Alistair Rolls. Associate Professor Alistair Rolls, Associate Professor School of Humanities and Social Science (French) and Senior Lecturer, teaches French at the University of Newcastle. A fluent speaker of French, Alistair holds a Bachelor of Arts and a PhD from the University of Nottingham in the UK, and lived in France for a number of years. During his time in France, he worked in teaching on a couple of occasions. In France also, he worked, inter alia, for Renault as a translator. In a recent email to me, Alistair says, “I taught in France for a couple of years: in a lycee in Bordeaux [at one stage] and at ENS de Cachan in Paris when I was finishing my PhD… I spent my longest stint in Paris as a translator for Renault… “
A dedicated teacher, Associate Professor Alistair Rolls is very much a believer in the potential power of the Humanities to run through all disciplines, and the importance that this would have to learning and well-being and life skills, and including the discipline of French, and he says, “Interconnectedness of disciplines is key–despite the fact that I’m the National President for the Australian Society for French Studies.”
Alistair also argues that “Irrelevance opens minds.” Associate Professor Alistair Rolls is at the forefront of what many may consider “irrelevance” and is proud of it. In his biography (see his staff profile, University of Newcastle, Australia), he says: “I believe deeply that in order to grow and expand as individuals – to access something precious – we need to do irrelevant things.
“My academic research on literature and poignant literary figures allows for just that. It encourages everyone, not just the academic community, but also a wider audience, to take a text, engage with the words, interact with the message and ultimately form a relationship with the book.
“Now I ask: Have you changed in anyway? Have you grown? What ideas have been ignited?”
Associate Professor Rolls takes this concept one step further to argue: “If you can read a piece of work, digest it and never change your thoughts, then it doesn’t matter what you read, it will have no impact.”
He proclaims that this is the power of literature. “It’s what you – the reader – actually do with the book that matters and it all begins with irrelevance.”
Associate Professor Alistair Rolls is a leading expert on Twentieth and Twenty-First Century French Literature. He is the principal English-speaking scholar on the immortalized French writer Boris Vian, and is paving the way forward in the field he calls Fetishism Criticism, a discourse which recognizes that two opposing narratives can co-exist while actually refuting each other.
Vian remains one of the most well-known popular culture characters in French history even though he is disproportionately under-valued alongside other leading French figures of the time. Alistair Rolls argues that, “Vian had an extraordinary breadth of talent. He was a writer of books, poems, short stories, plays and songs and was also an accomplished jazz musician, mathematician and engineer by trade. Yet, he remains frustratingly misunderstood because he is considered a jack-of-all trades and master of none.”
In his staff profile biography, Alistair “recalls how pure serendipity played a key part in launching his love affair with the often misunderstood genius known as Vian; the focus of his PhD and countless academic publications that followed,” and he says: “I was working in a French high school in Bordeaux as an assistant when a fellow teacher gave me several of Vian’s books. I began reading his works and didn’t have a clue where to start. He posed a challenge unlike other authors I was well acquainted with. I couldn’t box him or define him; so instead, I proposed an alternative way to understand him. A series of different lenses, including fetishism and intertextuality which shone a light on his literary brilliance.”
Reflecting on the highlights of his career to date, in his staff profile, Alistair Rolls says: “I was extremely privileged to join an expert panel of three at the Sorbonne in 2007, and to deliver a keynote speech at the first major Vian academic conference. This was the most flattering honour. Then, in 2010, I was listed in the bibliography of the first collected works of the author, which was a significant acknowledgement of my contribution to understanding the artistic talents of Vian and his influence on our culture.”
An “ideas” person, Associate Professor Rolls is always exploring new ways and mediums to challenge the norm, provoke new thought and expand creatively. In his biography on his University staff profile, Alistair says: “My new fascination is crime fiction, and in my book Paris and the Fetish: Primal Crime Scenes, which is due out early 2014, I explore reasonable and radical re-reads of various texts through fetishism. In the Freudian understanding of Fetishism this basically means we know something not to be true but believe it to be true at the same time.”
Alistair’s planned projects include collaborating with several colleagues from the University of Newcastle from the English and Classics disciplines on the production of articles focusing on various authors: “This is a unique opportunity to take a new approach – an innovative perspective – and do something irrelevant, but likewise, so very relevant to our personal growth and the intellectual development of our society.”
In 2011-2012, and again in 2014, Associate Professor Alistair Rolls was Deputy Head of School, Research Training, School of Humanities and Social Science, Faculty of Education and the Arts, at the University of Newcastle, Australia. Currently, amongst other things, Alistair is on the Board of French Studies, Australia. As well, he is the President of The Australian Society for French Studies; a member of the Editorial Board for The Australian Journal of French Studies Australia, and has attended, presented at, and convened national and international conferences. For one example, as National President of the Australian Society of French Studies, Alistair, together with Dr Marie-Laure Vuaille-Barcan, convened the National Conference, the National French Studies (ASFS) Conference in Newcastle in 2015.
A prolific writer, Alistair has both sole authored and co-authored at least 9 books, and written 19 or more chapters, and 56 journal articles. For a full account of Associative Professor Rolls publications, see his staff profile on the University of Newcastle, Australia, home page by clicking on Staff Directory, and typing “Alistair Rolls” in the search box provided.
Alistair Rolls has supervised at least 14 higher research theses, on both the MPhil and PhD level, to completion, and is currently supervising a further two. In 2015, Alistair was awarded Dean’s Award for Supervision Excellence (Team – with Dr Marie-Laure Vuaille-Barcan) University of Newcastle – Faculty of Education and Arts, and in 2007 he was awarded Vice-Chancellor’s Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning University of Newcastle, and Carrick Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning University of Newcastle, as well as the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Research Excellence for the Faculty of Education and Arts University of Newcastle.
Alistair was on the confirmation Committee at both my MPhil and PhD Confirmations. I first met him at my MPhil Confirmation, and again, later, when I was making my PhD confirmation. For me, these processes were very nerve-wracking–they were in fact frightening even though the board were extremely lovely to me. Nevertheless, I found that both of my confirmations to be informative, enlightening and (fortunately for me) had happy outcomes.
A skillful teacher and research supervisor, Alistair is very involved with supporting and promoting Humanities and the student body. In previous posts I have mentioned the NewMac Postgraduate Conferences. I have also mentioned that when I was involved with NewMac, in my role as student “secretary”, I invited four senior academics to act as the conference judges. Even though he had a young family, Alistair readily gave up his precious Saturdays (a day of well-deserved rest for academics, and one which all academics treasure, and value as being their ‘own’ and guard jealously,) to accept the invitation to act as one of the four academic judges at the postgraduate conference, NewMac. Alistair, and the other judges, helped to make NewMac a very happy day, and a very successful venture.
Above: the four University of Newcastle, Australia, academics who gave up their Saturday “freedom'” to accept my invitation to be the conference judges. Left to right (front row only): Professor Dennis Foley; Associate Professor Jo May; Associate Professor Alistair Rolls; Associate Professor Marguerite Johnson. Unfortunately, the two academics from Macquarie University who also accepted my invitation to act as judges at conferences, Dr Lorna Barrow (on the right), and Associate Professor Kate Fullager (on the left), were not in this group photo as they had to leave early to return to Sydney to fulfil other pressing engagements. Alistair, and all these other academics worked very hard, and well beyond the boundaries of their duties, and helped to make the NewMac Postgraduate Conferences an astounding success.
More recently, also outside the bounds of his duties as a senior lecturer and teacher and research candidate supervisor in the School of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Newcastle, Australia, Associate Professor Alistair Rolls has done me the great honour as one of his colleagues (though I am not, of course, anywhere near his status), of giving me permission to sit in on his First Year French lectures. I have always wanted to learn French, but never once dreamed I would have the opportunity to do so. I must admit that I’m not vey good at it though; still, I try, I’ve picked up a reasonable smattering of the language, and I enjoy the lectures, and I’m very, very grateful to Alistair for affording me this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Dr Marie-Laure Vuaille-Barcan. Dr Marie-Laure Vuaille-Barcan. Dr Marie-Laure Vuaille-Barcan is Senior Lecturer, School of Humanities and Social Science (French), Head of Languages for the School of Humanities and Social Science Diploma in Languages Convenor for the Faculty of Education and Arts.
Dr Marie-Laure Vuaille-Barcan has been a French lecturer at the University of Newcastle, Australia, since 1995. Marie-Laure was born in Lyon, France. Her qualifications are: Maitrise, University of Lumiere, Lyon II, France; Licence de Lettres (BALitt), University of Lumiere, Lyon II, France; Diplome d’Etudes Superieures Specialisees, University of Lumiere, Lyon II, France; PhD, University of Newcastle, Australia.
Dr Vuaille-Barcan completed her PhD in 2007: her thesis focused on the translation into French of the Australian novel “Southern Steel”, by Dymphna Cusack, in which she analyses the issues of translation with the insight from recent translation theories and explains the original ambitions of an author who, even if she is often underrated nowadays, holds a significant position within the Australian literary tradition.
Marie-Laure’s first book, based on her PhD and entitled Transfert de Langue, Transfert De Culture: La Traduction en français de “Southern Steel”, de l’Australienne Dymphna Cusack, was recently published by Peter Lang.
Since her studies in didactics of languages and cultures, she has taken a keen interest in developing various techniques of teaching French as a foreign language, adapted to the Australian students. She has also developed a passion for the many challenges raised by literary translation, especially the transfer of culture-specific items. Marie-Laure is also working with Alistair Rolls and other colleagues from the University of Adelaide on an analysis of the translation of Australian crime fiction into French.
Research Supervision: Marie-Laure has supervised 8 research thesis, PhD level, to completion, and is currently supervising 1 research candidate. Dr Marie-Laure Vuaille-Barcan’s research expertise is listed on her University of Newcastle, Australia, staff profile. Her expertise is in French language and culture; French literature Literary translation theories; and Translation practice (from English into French). Her teaching expertise is in French language and culture (all levels); Literary translation theories; and Translation practice (from English into French). Marie-Laure’s fields of Research are: LOTE, ESL and TESOL Curriculum and Pedagogy (excl. Maori); French Language; Translation and Interpretation Studies. In 2007, she was awarded the Vice-Chancellor’s citation for outstanding contributions to student learning University of Newcastle, at the University of Newcastle, Australia. In the December of last year, Dr Marie-Laure Vuaille-Barcan, together with Associate Professor Alistair Rolls as a team, received an award for PhD supervision: “In 2015 Dr Marie-Laure Vuaille-Barcan was awarded was awarded Dean’s Award for Supervision Excellence (Team – with Associate Professor Alistair Rolls) University of Newcastle – Faculty of Education and Arts” (see Marie-Laure’s staff profile, University of Newcastle, Australia).
Dr Vuaille-Barcan has written 4 books, some sole authored, and some co-authored, and has other works that are currently unpublished or in press, and has written 6 book chapters, and 14 journal articles, and some other articles and conferences papers. With some of her works, Dr Marie-Laure co-authored with Associate Professor Alistair Rolls. As well, Mare-Laure Vuaille-Barcan has attended and presented at, and co-convened a number of national and international conferences including the National Conference, the National French Studies (ASFS) Conference in Newcastle in 2015, which she convened with Associate Professor Alistair Rolls. Marie-Laure’s work at the University also extends to ties in the community with Alliance française in Newcastle, and some other French groups. Regarding the Alliance française de Newcastle, Marie-Laure has just emailed me to say that she has been a part of the committee from her first year in Australia, and the Vice-President for several years.
From my observations, I can say that Marie-Laure is keenly interested in promoting the French language, and in teaching French, and is encouraging and supportive of her students. It is my firm belief that a second language is no burden to carry: learning a second language, in this case French, and the ability to speak it not only broadens one’s world and life skills, it also increases one’s ability to communicate. French is a pretty language, and one which runs throughout, or lies at the basis of, a good part of the English language. Surprisingly, I have found that being able to speak and read even a little French has enabled me to recognise a few words and meanings in other European languages. From personal experience I can also say that Marie-Laure is a very genuine and kind person, and has a sunny personality, and she always has a smile and a cheery greeting, “Bon jour Jo, ça va?” whenever we meet. Like Alistair, even though I am not a student as such, Marie-Laure is very encouraging of my efforts to learn French. In regards to myself and my efforts to learn French, what I have written about Alistair in my post above, applies in this post. Like Alistair, Marie-Laure too, has gone beyond and outside of the bounds of duty as a senior lecturer and teacher and research candidate supervisor in the School of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Newcastle, Australia, and has done me the great honour as one of her colleagues (though I am, of course, not of her status), of giving me permission to sit in on First Year French lectures, and correcting my work when I ask. As I have said in my post on Alistair, I have always wanted to learn French, but never once dreamed I would have the opportunity to do so. I must admit that I’m not vey good at it though; still, I try, I’ve picked up a reasonable smattering of the language, and I enjoy the lectures, and I’m very, very grateful to both Alistair and Marie-Laure for affording me this wonderful opportunity.