Effie Rentzou

Director of the Program in European Cultural Studies
Office Phone
329 East Pyne


Effie Rentzou studies literature and its relation to other arts, with particular attention to the historical avant-garde movements and modernism.   Her interests include poetics, the relation between image and text, social analysis of literature, politics and literature, and the internationalization of the avant-garde.   After earning a BA in Classics from the University of Athens, she earned a second degree (Maîtrise) in French Literature at the University of Paris IV-Sorbonne, where she also completed her DEA and PhD (2002). In 2003 she was the Ted and Elaine Athanassiades Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in the Program in Hellenic Studies at Princeton University, where she also taught from 2004-2008 as a lecturer with a joint appointment in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Department of French and Italian. She teaches courses on modernism, the avant-garde, surrealism, politics and culture, and poetry, and she has published widely on these topics in journals, edited volumes, and exhibition catalogues. She is one of the founding members and of the International Society for the Study of Surrealism, of which she was the president for 2021-2023. In 2023 she was awarded the title of Chevalier in l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques by the French Government as a recognition for her contributions to French culture and education.

Research Interests

Effie Rentzou’s first book, Littérature malgré elle : Le surréalisme et la transformation du littéraire (2010) examines in three ways the construction of literary phenomena in the production of an anti-literary movement, surrealism: as a social institution, as a reconsideration of traditional literary forms, and as a recreation of the rhetorical pact with the reader.

Her second monograph,  Concepts of the World: Avant-garde and the Idea of the International, 1910-1940 (2022), explores the conceptualization of the “world” in the work and activities of writers and artists within and around historical avant-garde movements. How did the avant-garde imagine its interconnected world? And how does this legacy affect our understanding of the global today?  The historical avant-garde—which encompassed movements like futurism, Dada, and surrealism—was self-consciously international, operating across global networks and developed with the whole world as its horizon and its public. In the heady period between the end of the Belle Époque and the tumult of World War II, both individual artists (including Guillaume Apollinaire, Blaise Cendrars, Francis Picabia, Louis Aragon, Leonora Carrington, and Nicolas Calas) and collective endeavors (such as surrealist magazines and exhibitions) grappled with contemporary anxieties about economic growth, imperialism, and colonialism, as well as various universalist, cosmopolitan, and internationalist visions. By probing these works, Concepts of the World offers an alternative narrative of globalization, one that integrates the avant-garde’s enthusiasm for, as well as resistance to, the process. Rentzou identifies within the avant-garde a powerful political language that expressed the ambivalence of living and creating in an increasingly globalized world—a language that profoundly shaped the way the world has been conceptualized and is experienced today. 

In addition to these two monographs, she has coedited the volume 1913, The Year of French Modernism (2020), the first book to respond to two deceptively simple questions: "What constituted modernism in France?" and "What is the place of France on the map of global modernism?" Taking its cue from the seminal year 1913, an annus mirabilis for literature and art, this book captures a snapshot of vibrant creativity in France and a crucial moment for the quickly emerging modernism throughout the world.

She is currently working on a book about anti-fascist literature and art in France during the 1930s and 1940s, with the working title The Original Antifa: Surrealism Against Fascism. She is also the co-curator of the exhibition “Honneur à l’objet!” which will open at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris in February 2025.



The French Avant-Garde and the Idea of the International, 1910-1940

Litterature malgré elle

Littérature malgré elle : Le surréalisme et la transformation du littéraire (2010)

1913 the year of french Modernism

1913, The Year of French Modernism (2020)