Celebrated author reflects on writing

Volumes 1 and 2 of the Encyclopedia of Erotic Literature are proudly displayed on the desk of Distinguished University Professor of French and Francophone Literature and French author Gaetan Brulotte.

Brulotte, who has been at USF since 1984, edited and compiled the two huge tomes with John Phillips, a professor at London Metropolitan University.

Brulotte was invited to USF as a guest lecturer by the Division of Languages, now the Department of World Languages. Within six months of the invitation, he was asked to become a full-time professor. Brulotte has received many awards in his time at USF, including the Presidential Award for Faculty Excellence and the Outstanding Research Achievement Award.

His encyclopedia contains erotic literature from cultures around the world, including those of ancient Greece, Japan, China, India, Romania, and North and South America. Brulotte strives to “undo the work of censorship” which plagues erotic literature, according to Peter Cryle of the Journal of the Australian Universities Language and Literature Association.

Brulotte also wrote the play “Le Client” (The Violins), which debuted in 2001 at the Avignon Drama Festival in France, an event that regularly attracts more than 500,000 people.

Brulotte’s first piece was inspired by an experience he had working as a produce processor in Ontario when he was 15 years old. Brulotte and several of his childhood friends worked lifting 50-pound crates of celery, corn, peppers and tomatoes for processing by machines. The smell of wet celery and peppers would seep into his clothes and skin so much that he would not go near celery for at least 20 years.

Some of the least strenuous work was with tomatoes, which the female employees worked with exclusively. Brulotte was inspired to write “A Dream of Tomatoes” with his friends, which told of their yearning to work with tomatoes and the difficulty of working in Ontario in the summer. The story depicts the contrast of being splashed by cold, wet crates of vegetables with an outdoor environment that was like the “surface of the sun.”

Stories about the human condition are Brulotte’s favorites to read and write.

“I react strongly to unfairness,” he said.

“Laughing at Power,” the introduction he wrote for the book Laughter and Power, speaks directly to this theme. The article says that laughter “often expresses a revolt against power or against boundaries in life.”

Controversially, he predicates power figures’ historical fear of power. “Plato sees laughter as a potential source of disorder, and Jesus takes himself far too seriously to ever laugh,” Brulotte said.

This semester, Brulotte is teaching Great French Love Stories and The 20th Century French Novel. While proficiency in French is mandatory for some of his classes, not all of Brulotte’s students are studying for French-related degrees.

Undergraduate student Jessica Antiquino is majoring in business with a minor in French language, and raved about Brulotte’s engaging teaching style. Francine Louis, a French student pursuing her master’s degree, said, “I will take every class he offers,” a sentiment nearly unanimously agreed upon by Brulotte’s other students. Brulotte describes his classes this semester as a “super book club,” and says that any serious reader should try him out. If you do not speak French, his Great French Love Stories class, an exit level course taught in English, is a popular choice.

Despite his awards and honors, Brulotte fears that he may not be read after he dies. He believes there are too many “conventional authors” today who will almost certainly never be read posthumously. His exhortation to be “unconventional” reaches beyond just writers. Brulotte said that we should all strive every day to be a little less conventional.

Brulotte will present his lecture on erotic literature Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, on the fourth floor of the Library. He will also speak at an International Conference on the State of Taste – both of the tongue and aesthetic – touching on literature, art, fashion, beauty and style. The conference will take place in the Grace Allen Reading Room March 28 and in the Teco Room in the College of Education building March 29.