Stipendiary Lecturer in Modern Languages (French)

Matt Phillips

  • I work on twentieth- and twenty-first century French literature and thought, and my current research focuses on matters of emotion, affect and mental illness as well as current debates about the uses of literature.
  • I enjoy exploring literature, critical theory and translation with small groups of undergraduates.
  • I am currently finishing up a book on empathy and modern French literature.


I joined Trinity as a stipendiary lecturer in 2022, and have also worked as a tutor at Exeter, Wadham, and Worcester colleges. Before coming to Oxford, I was a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at Royal Holloway (University of London), taught at the University of Paris-Diderot, and worked as a postdoctoral collaborator at the Swiss Center for Affective Sciences (University of Geneva). I completed by BA, MPhil and PhD studies at the University of Cambridge.

In my research, I explore matters of emotion, affect and mental illness through the lens of modern and contemporary French literature. I am also interested in debates about whether and why literature is (ethically, medically, socially, or politically) useful, and texts that pose problems for popular understandings of why we read.


At Trinity, I teach the two Prelims literature papers (‘Short Texts’ and ‘French Narrative Fiction’) which introduce first-year undergraduates to literary studies in French. For second- and final-year undergraduates, I teach nineteenth- twentieth- and twenty-first-century French and Francophone topics and authors for Papers VIII and XI, as well as French-English translation. I have also lead seminars introducing students to literary and critical theory.


My research interests range across modern and contemporary French literature, culture and thought; theories of emotion, affect and mental health; the medical humanities; and debates surrounding the uses of literature.

I am currently finishing up my first book, Empathy’s Mess: Unsettling Interpersonal Relations with Post-War French Writing, which is under contract with Liverpool University Press. Empathy is often thought of as playing an important social role, by encouraging mutual understanding and cooperation; moreover, it has been suggested that reading and studying literature might help promote empathy. My readings of three important modern French writers (Jean Genet, Roland Barthes and Annie Ernaux), however, demonstrate the diverse ways in which literary texts can challenge or ‘mess with’ their readers’ empathic engagements, and suggest these works instead allow us to explore the diverse (and not always edifying) roles empathy plays in our personal, social and political lives.

I am also working on a second project with the working title Depressive Texts: Exploring Distress and Well-Being with Modern French Novels, which I began with the support of a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship. While some argue reading and writing literature might play a 'therapeutic' role in mental health (arguments in which I am (cautiously) interested), my starting point is less how literary works might foster mental well-being, than how they critically engage with debates surrounding the causes and nature of mental distress, and the question of what well-being today could or should look like. Completed publications for this project include pieces on Régine Detambel, Georges Perec and Jean- Philippe Toussaint, and I am also looking at works by Emmanuel Carrère, Marguerite Duras, Marie NDiaye, Nathalie Sarraute and Leïla Slimani.

Selected Publications

Empathy’s Mess: Unsettling Interpersonal Relations with Post-War French Writing (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press; under contract)

‘Perec’s Unsure Text: Exploring Depression Equivocally with Un homme qui dort’, French Studies (in press)

‘On Bibliotherapy: Literature as Therapy and the Problem of Autonomy, with Régine Detambel’s Les Livres prennent soin de nous’, Australian Journal of French Studies, 47 (2020), 337–51

‘Empathic Static: Empathy and Conflict, with Simon Baron-Cohen and Virginie Despentes’, in Parasites: Exploitation and Interference in French Thought and Culture, ed. by Matt Phillips and Tomas Weber (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2018), 229–51

For a full list of publications, see my Faculty webpage:

Modern Languages and Linguistics
Matt Phillips