History of Literature






French literature


 

CONTENTS:

The Middle Ages

The 16th century

The 17th century

The 18th century to the Revolution of 1789

From 1789 to the mid-19th century

19th-century thought

The 20th century. From 1900 to 1940

The mid-20th century. Approaching the 21st century





 


French literature
 


The mid-20th century. Approaching the 21st century

 

Jean Coctea
Vercors
Jean-Paul Sartre
Albert Camus
Simone de Beauvoir
Francoise Sagan
Alain Robbe-Grillet
Nathalie Sarraute
Eugène Ionesco
Jacques Prévert
Claude Lévi-Strauss
Jacques Lacan

Michel
Foucault
Jacques Derrida
Gilles Deleuze
Félix Guattari
Marguerite Duras
Georges Perec
Claude Simon
Georges Simenon
Frédéric Mistral
Robert Merle
Jean-Francois Lyotard
Jean Baudrillard
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry "The Little Prince" Illustrated by Antoine de Saint Exupery
Henri Bergson "Creative Evolution"
Gabriel Marcel
Emmanuel Levinas
Maurice Merleau-Ponty

 

 



The mid-20th century



The German Occupation and postwar France

France’s defeat by German troops in 1940 and the resultant division of the country were experienced as a national humiliation, and all French citizens were confronted with an unavoidable choice. Some writers escaped the country to spend the remaining years of the war in the safety of exile or with the Free French Forces. Others, faithful to political options made during the previous decade, moved directly into collaboration. Still others, out of pacifist convictions or a belief that art could remain aloof from politics, tried to carry on as individuals and as writers, ignoring the taint of passive collaboration with the occupying forces or the Vichy government. Jean Cocteau and Jean Giono were among this last group and later were criticized for their conduct. Giono, in fact, was briefly imprisoned, as was Louis-Ferdinand Céline, whose reputation was seriously damaged by his anti-Semitism.

Several writers joined the military, as well as the intellectual, resistance. André Malraux served on many fronts and commanded a group of underground Resistance fighters in World War II in France, projecting the image of the writer as a man of action; he was to serve as a minister under Charles de Gaulle in the postwar government and the Fifth Republic.

The German attack on the Soviet Union in 1941 was decisive for the French Communist Party, which was to gain considerably through its organized opposition to fascism. The events of the 1930s and ’40s strengthened the conviction that intellectuals could not remain politically uncommitted. After 1945, existentialism, depicting humanity alone in a godless universe, provided intellectual scaffolding for this view of individuals as free to determine themselves through such choices.

Mean while, the Occupation brought prestige and an attentive audience to writers who upheld the honour of their defeated country. The poetry of resistance reached a wide public, notably in the works of the Communist activists Paul Éluard and Louis Aragon, whose poems were often transmitted orally through the occupied zone. A flourishing clandestine press included the newspaper Combat and the Editions de Minuit, whose first book was Le Silence de la mer (1941; The Silence of the Sea) by Vercors (Jean-Marcel Bruller). Translated and reprinted in Allied countries, Vercors’s short novel, like Aragon’s collection of poems Le Crève-Coeur (1941; “Heartbreak”; Eng. trans. Le Crève-Coeur), became an emblem of French resistance and was instrumental in restoring French pride and prestige. Printed at the end of the war, Camus’s fable La Peste (1947; The Plague), an allegory of the Occupation, returned to the issues of resistance and collaboration to present both a humane understanding of the pressures and limits set by circumstance and a moral judgment that to fail to recognize and fight evil is to become part of it.
 


Jean Cocteau





 

born , July 5, 1889, Maisons-Laffitte, near Paris, France
died October 11, 1963, Milly-la-Forêt, near Paris


French poet, librettist, novelist, actor, film director, and painter. Some of his most important works include the poem L’Ange Heurtebise (1925; “The Angel Heurtebise”); the play Orphée (1926; Orpheus); the novels Les Enfants terribles (1929; “The Incorrigible Children”; Eng. trans. Children of the Game or The Holy Terrors) and La Machine infernale (1934; The Infernal Machine); and his surrealistic motion pictures Le Sang d’un poète (1930; The Blood of a Poet) and La Belle et la bête (1946; Beauty and the Beast).

Heritage and youth
Cocteau grew up in Paris and always considered himself Parisian by speech, education, ideas, and habits. His family was of the solid Parisian bourgeoisie—cultivated, wealthy, and interested in music, painting, and literature.

Cocteau’s earliest memories had to do with the theatre, in popular forms, such as the circus and the ice palace, as well as serious theatre, such as the tragedies performed at the Comédie-Française. At age 19 he published his first volume of poems, La Lampe d’Aladin (“Aladdin’s Lamp”).

Cocteau was the product of the years immediately preceding World War I, years of refined artistic taste that were devoid of political turmoil. His real exploration of the world of the theatre began when he encountered the Ballets Russes, then under the direction of Sergey Diaghilev. When Cocteau expressed a desire to create ballets, Diaghilev challenged him to “étonne-moi” (“surprise me”). This famous remark seems to have guided the poet not only in his ballets, such as Parade (1917), with music by Erik Satie, and Le Boeuf sur le toit (1920; “The Ox on the Roof”), with music by Darius Milhaud, but also in his other works; and it is sometimes quoted in his plays and films.

During World War I, Cocteau served as an ambulance driver on the Belgian front. The landscape he observed there was later used in his novel Thomas l’imposteur (1923; Thomas the Imposter or The Imposter). He became a friend of the aviator Roland Garros and dedicated to him the early poems inspired by aviation, Le Cap de Bonne-Espérance (1919; The Cape of Good Hope). At intervals during the years 1916 and 1917, Cocteau entered the world of modern art, then being born in Paris; in the bohemian Montparnasse section of the city, he met painters such as Pablo Picasso and Amedeo Modigliani and writers such as Max Jacob and Guillaume Apollinaire.



Portrait of Jean Cocteau by Amedeo Modigliani.


Influence of Radiguet
Soon after the war, Max Jacob introduced Cocteau to the future poet and novelist Raymond Radiguet. The 16-year-old Radiguet, who appeared to be a prodigy, advocated an aesthetic of simplicity and of classical clarity, qualities that would become characteristic of Cocteau’s own work. The example of Radiguet counted tremendously for Cocteau; and when Radiguet died in 1923, at age 21, the older man felt bereft of a friendship that had been based upon a constant interchange of ideas, encouragement, and enthusiasms.

An addiction to opium, brought on by Cocteau’s grief over his lover’s death, necessitated a period of cure. Jacques Maritain, a French Thomist philosopher, paid his first visit to Cocteau in the sanatorium. Through Maritain, Cocteau returned briefly to religious practice. These complex experiences initiated a new period in his life, during which he produced some of his most important works. In the long poem L’Ange Heurtebise the poet engages in a violent combat with an angel that was to reappear continually in his works. His play Orphée, first performed in 1926, was destined to play a part in the resurrection of tragedy in contemporary theatre; in it, Cocteau deepened his interpretation of the nature of the poet. The novel Les Enfants terribles, written in the space of three weeks in March 1929, is the study of the inviolability of the character of two adolescents, the brother and sister Paul and Elisabeth. In 1950 Cocteau prepared the screenplay for a film of this work, and he was also the film’s narrator.

Cocteau had enlarged the scope of his work by the creation of his first film, Le Sang d’un poète, a commentary on his own private mythology; the themes that then seemed obscure or shocking seem today less private and more universal because they have appeared in other works. Also in the early 1930s Cocteau wrote what is usually thought to be his greatest play, La Machine infernale, a treatment of the Oedipus theme that is very much his own. In these two works he moved into closer contact with the great myths of humanity.


Filmmaking in the 1940s
In the 1940s Cocteau returned to filmmaking, first as a screenwriter and then also as a director in La Belle et la bête, a fantasy based on the children’s tale, and Orphée (1949), a re-creation of the themes of poetry and death that he had dealt with in his play.

Also a visual artist of significance, Cocteau in 1950 decorated the Villa Santo Sospir in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and began a series of important graphic works: frescoes on the City Hall in Menton, the Chapel of Saint-Pierre in Villefranche-sur-Mer, and the Church of Saint-Blaise-des-Simples in Milly-la-Forêt. His adopted son, the painter Édouard Dermit, who also appears in his later films, continued the decoration of a chapel at Fréjus, a work Cocteau had not completed at his death at age 74.

Wallace Fowlie

 

 

 


Vercors


born Feb. 26, 1902, Paris, France
died June 10, 1991, Paris

French novelist and artist-engraver, who wrote Le Silence de la mer (1941; The Silence of the Sea), a patriotic tale of self-deception and of the triumph of passive resistance over evil. The novella was published clandestinely in Nazi-occupied Paris and served to rally a spirit of French defiance.

Bruller was trained at the École Alsacienne and worked as a graphic artist and engraver until he was drafted into the French army after the outbreak of World War II. While recovering from a broken leg, he joined the Resistance, taking the nom de guerre Vercors (from the geographic region of that name). In 1941 he cofounded Éditions de Minuit, an underground press devoted to boosting morale among the French and maintaining a literary resistance movement. Thousands of copies of Le Silence de la mer, the first book published by the press, circulated throughout occupied France. It was later widely translated and in 1948 was made into a motion picture.

Vercors, an outspoken leftist, continued to write fiction, plays, and essays, but he never matched the initial success of Le Silence de la mer. His later works included Le Sable du temps (1946; “The Sand of Time”), Plus ou moins homme (1950; “More or Less Man”), Sylva (1961), Tendre Naufrage (1974; “Tender Castaway”), Les Chevaux du temps (1977; “The Horses of Time”), and a collection of memoirs.
 




Sartre

The war transformed the literary scene, eclipsing some writers and lending prestige—for the time being, at least—to those who had made the right moral and political choices. During the Occupation, Jean-Paul Sartre had continued to explore the questions of freedom and necessity, and the interrelationship of individual and collective responsibility and action, in plays such as Les Mouches (1943; The Flies) and Huis-Clos (1944; No Exit, also published as In Camera) and in the treatise L’Être et le néant (1943; Being and Nothingness). After Liberation, the writer and his ideas set the tone for a postwar generation that congregated in the cafés and cellar clubs of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The myth of this disillusioned youth, its district of Paris, its innocence, its jazz clubs, and its worship of Sartre were captured in Boris Vian’s L’Écume des jours (1947; Froth on the Daydream). Sartre’s patronage of Jean Genet, Cocteau’s discovery, helped confirm the reputation of Genet, whose novels of prison fantasy and homosexual desire added to the radical ferment of the 1940s (among them Notre-Dame-des Fleurs [1943; Our Lady of the Flowers] and Querelle de Brest [1947; Querelle of Brest]) and whose plays would give new direction to drama in the 1950s.
 


Jean-Paul Sartre




French philosopher and author

born June 21, 1905, Paris, France
died April 15, 1980, Paris

Main
French novelist, playwright, and exponent of Existentialism—a philosophy acclaiming the freedom of the individual human being. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1964, but he declined it.

Early life and writings
Sartre lost his father at an early age and grew up in the home of his maternal grandfather, Carl Schweitzer, uncle of the medical missionary Albert Schweitzer and himself professor of German at the Sorbonne. The boy, who wandered in the Luxembourg Gardens of Paris in search of playmates, was small in stature and cross-eyed. His brilliant autobiography, Les Mots (1963; Words, 1964), narrates the adventures of the mother and child in the park as they went from group to group—in the vain hope of being accepted—then finally retreated to the sixth floor of their apartment “on the heights where (the) dreams dwell.” “The words” saved the child, and his interminable pages of writing were the escape from a world that had rejected him but that he would proceed to rebuild in his own fancy.

Sartre went to the Lycée Henri IV in Paris and, later on, after the remarriage of his mother, to the lycée in La Rochelle. From there he went to the prestigious École Normale Supérieure, from which he was graduated in 1929. Sartre resisted what he called “bourgeois marriage,” but while still a student he formed with Simone de Beauvoir a union that remained a settled partnership in life. Simone de Beauvoir’s memoirs, Mémoires d’une jeune fille rangée (1958; Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, 1959) and La Force de l’âge (1960; The Prime of Life, 1962), provide an intimate account of Sartre’s life from student years until his middle 50s. It was also at the École Normale Supérieure and at the Sorbonne that he met several persons who were destined to be writers of great fame; among these were Raymond Aron, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Simone Weil, Emmanuel Mounier, Jean Hippolyte, and Claude Lévi-Strauss. From 1931 until 1945 Sartre taught in the lycées of Le Havre, Laon, and, finally, Paris. Twice this career was interrupted, once by a year of study in Berlin and the second time when Sartre was drafted in 1939 to serve in World War II. He was made prisoner in 1940 and released a year later.

During his years of teaching in Le Havre, Sartre published La Nausée (1938; Nausea, 1949), his first claim to fame. This novel, written in the form of a diary, narrates the feeling of revulsion that a certain Roquentin undergoes when confronted with the world of matter—not merely the world of other people but the very awareness of his own body. According to some critics, La Nausée must be viewed as a pathological case, a form of neurotic escape. Most probably it must be appreciated also as a most original, fiercely individualistic, antisocial piece of work, containing in its pages many of the philosophical themes that Sartre later developed.

Sartre took over the phenomenological method, which proposes careful, unprejudiced description rather than deduction, from the German philosopher Edmund Husserl and used it with great skill in three successive publications: L’Imagination (1936; Imagination: A Psychological Critique, 1962), Esquisse d’une théorie des émotions (1939; Sketch for a Theory of the Emotions, 1962), and L’Imaginaire: Psychologie phénoménologique de l’imagination (1940; The Psychology of Imagination, 1950). But it was above all in L’Être et le néant (1943; Being and Nothingness, 1956) that Sartre revealed himself as a master of outstanding talent. Sartre places human consciousness, or no-thingness (néant), in opposition to being, or thingness (être). Consciousness is not-matter and by the same token escapes all determinism. The message, with all the implications it contains, is a hopeful one; yet the incessant reminder that human endeavour is and remains useless makes the book tragic as well.


Post-World War II work
Having written his defense of individual freedom and human dignity, Sartre turned his attention to the concept of social responsibility. For many years he had shown great concern for the poor and the disinherited of all kinds. While a teacher, he had refused to wear a tie, as if he could shed his social class with his tie and thus come closer to the worker. Freedom itself, which at times in his previous writings appeared to be a gratuitous activity that needed no particular aim or purpose to be of value, became a tool for human struggle in his brochure L’Existentialisme est un humanisme (1946; Existentialism and Humanism, 1948). Freedom now implied social responsibility. In his novels and plays Sartre began to bring his ethical message to the world at large. He started a four-volume novel in 1945 under the title Les Chemins de la liberté, of which three were eventually written: L’Âge de raison (1945; The Age of Reason, 1947), Le Sursis (1945; The Reprieve, 1947), and La Mort dans l’âme (1949; Iron in the Soul, 1950; U.S. title, Troubled Sleep, 1950). After the publication of the third volume, Sartre changed his mind concerning the usefulness of the novel as a medium of communication and turned back to plays.

What a writer must attempt, said Sartre, is to show man as he is. Nowhere is man more man than when he is in action, and this is exactly what drama portrays. He had already written in this medium during the war, and now one play followed another: Les Mouches (produced 1943; The Flies, 1946), Huis-clos (1944; In Camera, 1946; U.S. title, No Exit, 1946), Les Mains sales (1948; Crime passionel, 1949; U.S. title, Dirty Hands, 1949; acting version, Red Gloves), Le Diable et le bon dieu (1951; Lucifer and the Lord, 1953), Nekrassov (1955), and Les Séquestrés d’Altona (1959; Loser Wins, 1959; U.S. title, The Condemned of Altona, 1960). All the plays, in their emphasis upon the raw hostility of man toward man, seem to be predominantly pessimistic; yet, according to Sartre’s own confession, their content does not exclude the possibility of a morality of salvation. Other publications of the same period include a book, Baudelaire (1947), a vaguely ethical study on the French writer and poet Jean Genet entitled Saint Genet, comédien et martyr (1952; Saint Genet, Actor and Martyr, 1963), and innumerable articles that were published in Les Temps Modernes, the monthly review that Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir founded and edited. These articles were later collected in several volumes under the title Situations.


Political activities
After World War II, Sartre took an active interest in French political movements, and his leanings to the left became more pronounced. He became an outspoken admirer of the Soviet Union, although he did not become a member of the Communist Party. In 1954 he visited the Soviet Union, Scandinavia, Africa, the United States, and Cuba. Upon the entry of Soviet tanks into Budapest in 1956, however, Sartre’s hopes for communism were sadly crushed. He wrote in Les Temps Modernes a long article, “Le Fantôme de Staline,” that condemned both the Soviet intervention and the submission of the French Communist Party to the dictates of Moscow. Over the years this critical attitude opened the way to a form of “Sartrian Socialism” that would find its expression in a new major work, Critique de la raison dialectique (1960; Eng. trans., of the introduction only, under the title The Problem of Method, 1963; U.S. title, Search for a Method). Sartre set out to examine critically the Marxist dialectic and discovered that it was not livable in the Soviet form. Although he still believed that Marxism was the only philosophy for the current times, he conceded that it had become ossified and that, instead of adapting itself to particular situations, it compelled the particular to fit a predetermined universal. Whatever its fundamental, general principles, Marxism must learn to recognize the existential concrete circumstances that differ from one collectivity to another and to respect the individual freedom of man. The Critique, somewhat marred by poor construction, is in fact an impressive and beautiful book, deserving of more attention than it has gained so far. A projected second volume was abandoned. Instead, Sartre prepared for publication Les Mots, for which he was awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize for Literature, an offer that was refused.


Last years
From 1960 until 1971 most of Sartre’s attention went into the writing of a four-volume study called Flaubert. Two volumes with a total of some 2,130 pages appeared in the spring of 1971. This huge enterprise aimed at presenting the reader with a “total biography” of Gustave Flaubert, the famous French novelist, through the use of a double tool: on the one hand, Karl Marx’s concept of history and class and, on the other, Sigmund Freud’s illuminations of the dark recesses of the human soul through explorations into his childhood and family relations. Although at times Sartre’s genius comes through and his fecundity is truly unbelievable, the sheer volume of the work and the minutely detailed analysis of even the slightest Flaubertian dictum hamper full enjoyment. As if he himself were saturated by the prodigal abundance of his writings, Sartre moved away from his desk during 1971 and did very little writing. Under the motto that “commitment is an act, not a word,” Sartre often went into the streets to participate in rioting, in the sale of left-wing literature, and in other activities that in his opinion were the way to promote “the revolution.” Paradoxically enough, this same radical Socialist published in 1972 the third volume of the work on Flaubert, L’Idiot de la famille, another book of such density that only the bourgeois intellectual can read it.

The enormous productivity of Sartre came herewith to a close. His mind, still alert and active, came through in interviews and in the writing of scripts for motion pictures. He also worked on a book of ethics. However, his was no longer the power of a genius in full productivity. Sartre became blind and his health deteriorated. In April 1980 he died of a lung tumour. His very impressive funeral, attended by some 25,000 people, was reminiscent of the burial of Victor Hugo, but without the official recognition that his illustrious predecessor had received. Those who were there were ordinary people, those whose rights his pen had always defended.

Wilfrid Desan

 




Camus


At this period, Sartre’s name was linked with that of Albert Camus, then editor in chief of Combat, whose novel L’Étranger (1942; The Stranger, also published as The Outsider) explored similar issues of the social attribution of identity. The two broke off relations after Sartre’s critique of Camus’s L’Homme révolté (1951; The Rebel). Sartre moved toward the existentialist Marxism of his Critique de la raison dialectique (1960; Critique of Dialectical Reason) and Camus toward a stoical humanism, his later fiction (La Chute, 1956; The Fall) showing evidence of his isolation, his creative unease, and his distress over France’s war with Algeria.
 


Albert Camus




 

born Nov. 7, 1913, Mondovi, Alg.
died Jan. 4, 1960, near Sens, France

French novelist, essayist, and playwright, best known for such novels as L’Étranger (1942; The Stranger), La Peste (1947; The Plague), and La Chute (1956; The Fall) and for his work in leftist causes. He received the 1957 Nobel Prize for Literature.


Early years
Less than a year after Camus was born, his father, an impoverished worker of Alsatian origin, was killed in World War I during the First Battle of the Marne. His mother, of Spanish descent, did housework to support her family. Camus and his elder brother Lucien moved with their mother to a working-class district of Algiers, where all three lived, together with the maternal grandmother and a paralyzed uncle, in a two-room apartment. Camus’s first published collection of essays, L’Envers et l’endroit (1937; “The Wrong Side and the Right Side”), describes the physical setting of these early years and includes portraits of his mother, grandmother, and uncle. A second collection of essays, Noces (1938; “Nuptials”), contains intensely lyrical meditations on the Algerian countryside and presents natural beauty as a form of wealth that even the very poor can enjoy. Both collections contrast the fragile mortality of human beings with the enduring nature of the physical world.

In 1918 Camus entered primary school and was fortunate enough to be taught by an outstanding teacher, Louis Germain, who helped him to win a scholarship to the Algiers lycée (high school) in 1923. (It was typical of Camus’s sense of loyalty that 34 years later his speech accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature was dedicated to Germain.) A period of intellectual awakening followed, accompanied by great enthusiasm for sport, especially football (soccer), swimming, and boxing. In 1930, however, the first of several severe attacks of tuberculosis put an end to his sporting career and interrupted his studies. Camus had to leave the unhealthy apartment that had been his home for 15 years, and, after a short period spent with an uncle, Camus decided to live on his own, supporting himself by a variety of jobs while registered as a philosophy student at the University of Algiers.

At the university, Camus was particularly influenced by one of his teachers, Jean Grenier, who helped him to develop his literary and philosophical ideas and shared his enthusiasm for football. He obtained a diplôme d’études supérieures in 1936 for a thesis on the relationship between Greek and Christian thought in the philosophical writings of Plotinus and St. Augustine. His candidature for the agrégation (a qualification that would have enabled him to take up a university career) was cut short by another attack of tuberculosis. To regain his health he went to a resort in the French Alps—his first visit to Europe—and eventually returned to Algiers via Florence, Pisa, and Genoa.


Camus’s literary career
Throughout the 1930s, Camus broadened his interests. He read the French classics as well as the writers of the day—among them André Gide, Henry de Montherlant, André Malraux—and was a prominent figure among the young left-wing intellectuals of Algiers. For a short period in 1934–35 he was also a member of the Algerian Communist Party. In addition, he wrote, produced, adapted, and acted for the Théâtre du Travail (Workers’ Theatre, later named the Théâtre de l’Équipe), which aimed to bring outstanding plays to working-class audiences. He maintained a deep love of the theatre until his death. Ironically, his plays are the least-admired part of his literary output, although Le Malentendu (Cross Purpose) and Caligula, first produced in 1944 and 1945, respectively, remain landmarks in the Theatre of the Absurd. Two of his most enduring contributions to the theatre may well be his stage adaptations of William Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun (Requiem pour une nonne; 1956) and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed (Les Possédés; 1959).

In the two years before the outbreak of World War II, Camus served his apprenticeship as a journalist with Alger-Républicain in many capacities, including those of leader- (editorial-) writer, subeditor, political reporter, and book reviewer. He reviewed some of Jean-Paul Sartre’s early literary works and wrote an important series of articles analyzing social conditions among the Muslims of the Kabylie region. These articles, reprinted in abridged form in Actuelles III (1958), drew attention (15 years in advance) to many of the injustices that led to the outbreak of the Algerian War in 1954. Camus took his stand on humanitarian rather than ideological grounds and continued to see a future role for France in Algeria while not ignoring colonialist injustices.

He enjoyed the most influence as a journalist during the final years of the occupation of France and the immediate post-Liberation period. As editor of the Parisian daily Combat, the successor of a Resistance newssheet run largely by Camus, he held an independent left-wing position based on the ideals of justice and truth and the belief that all political action must have a solid moral basis. Later, the old-style expediency of both Left and Right brought increasing disillusion, and in 1947 he severed his connection with Combat.

By now Camus had become a leading literary figure. L’Étranger (U.S. title, The Stranger; British title, The Outsider), a brilliant first novel begun before the war and published in 1942, is a study of 20th-century alienation with a portrait of an “outsider” condemned to death less for shooting an Arab than for the fact that he never says more than he genuinely feels and refuses to conform to society’s demands. The same year saw the publication of an influential philosophical essay, Le Mythe de Sisyphe (The Myth of Sisyphus), in which Camus, with considerable sympathy, analyzed contemporary nihilism and a sense of the “absurd.” He was already seeking a way of overcoming nihilism, and his second novel, La Peste (1947; The Plague), is a symbolical account of the fight against an epidemic in Oran by characters whose importance lies less in the (doubtful) success with which they oppose the epidemic than in their determined assertion of human dignity and fraternity. Camus had now moved from his first main concept of the absurd to his other major idea of moral and metaphysical “rebellion.” He contrasted this latter ideal with politico-historical revolution in a second long essay, L’Homme révolté (1951; The Rebel), which provoked bitter antagonism among Marxist critics and such near-Marxist theoreticians as Jean-Paul Sartre. His other major literary works are the technically brilliant novel La Chute (1956) and a collection of short stories, L’Exil et le royaume (1957; Exile and the Kingdom). La Chute reveals a preoccupation with Christian symbolism and contains an ironical and witty exposure of the more complacent forms of secular humanist morality.

In 1957, at the early age of 44, Camus received the Nobel Prize for Literature. With characteristic modesty he declared that had he been a member of the awarding committee his vote would certainly have gone to André Malraux. Less than three years later he was killed in an automobile accident.


Assessment
As novelist and playwright, moralist and political theorist, Albert Camus after World War II became the spokesman of his own generation and the mentor of the next, not only in France but also in Europe and eventually the world. His writings, which addressed themselves mainly to the isolation of man in an alien universe, the estrangement of the individual from himself, the problem of evil, and the pressing finality of death, accurately reflected the alienation and disillusionment of the postwar intellectual. He is remembered, with Sartre, as a leading practitioner of the existential novel. Though he understood the nihilism of many of his contemporaries, Camus also argued the necessity of defending such values as truth, moderation, and justice. In his last works he sketched the outlines of a liberal humanism that rejected the dogmatic aspects of both Christianity and Marxism.

John Cruickshank





Beauvoir

The conflicts submerged in the euphoria of liberation surfaced during the Cold War and were intensified by the colonial wars of the 1950s. In her novel Les Mandarins (1954; The Mandarins), Simone de Beauvoir (Sartre’s lifelong partner) vividly depicted the moral, political, and personal choices confronting French intellectuals in a world defined by the battle for hegemony between Washington and Moscow. However, her analysis of women’s situation, Le Deuxième Sexe (1949; The Second Sex), a succès de scandale on its first appearance, was to be a more influential achievement. The publication in 1958 of her Mémoires d’une jeune fille rangée (Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter) marked the beginning of a sequence of autobiographical works that tracked the different phases of her own life and the exchanges within it between public and private experience. After Sartre’s death she gave a moving account of his later years in La Cérémonie des adieux (1981; Adieux, A Farewell to Sartre). The posthumous publication in the 1990s of their letters and diaries from the war years later brought the relationship between the couple, and their relationships with others, into more-complex and sometimes surprising perspectives.
 


Simone de Beauvoir



 

French writer
in full Simone Lucie-Ernestine-Marie-Bertrand de Beauvoir

born Jan. 9, 1908, Paris, France
died April 14, 1986, Paris

Main
French writer and feminist, a member of the intellectual fellowship of philosopher-writers who have given a literary transcription to the themes of Existentialism. She is known primarily for her treatise Le Deuxième Sexe, 2 vol. (1949; The Second Sex), a scholarly and passionate plea for the abolition of what she called the myth of the “eternal feminine.” This seminal work became a classic of feminist literature.

Schooled in private institutions, de Beauvoir attended the Sorbonne, where, in 1929, she passed her agrégation in philosophy and met Jean-Paul Sartre, beginning a lifelong association with him. She taught at a number of schools (1931–43) before turning to writing for her livelihood. In 1945 she and Sartre founded and began editing Le Temps modernes, a monthly review.
Her novels expound the major Existential themes, demonstrating her conception of the writer’s commitment to the times. L’Invitée (1943; She Came To Stay) describes the subtle destruction of a couple’s relationship brought about by a young girl’s prolonged stay in their home; it also treats the difficult problem of the relationship of a conscience to “the other,” each individual conscience being fundamentally a predator to another. Of her other works of fiction, perhaps the best known is Les Mandarins (1954; The Mandarins), for which she won the Prix Goncourt. It is a chronicle of the attempts of post-World War II intellectuals to leave their “mandarin” (educated elite) status and engage in political activism. She also wrote four books of philosophy, including Pour une Morale de l’ambiguité (1947; The Ethics of Ambiguity); travel books on China (La Longue Marche: essai sur la Chine [1957]; The Long March) and the United States (L’Amérique au jour de jour [1948]; America Day by Day); and a number of essays, some of them book-length, the best known of which is The Second Sex.
Several volumes of her work are devoted to autobiography. These include Mémoires d’une jeune fille rangée (1958; Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter), La Force de l’âge (1960; The Prime of Life), La Force des choses (1963; Force of Circumstance), and Tout compte fait (1972; All Said and Done). This body of work, beyond its personal interest, constitutes a clear and telling portrait of French intellectual life from the 1930s to the 1970s.
In addition to treating feminist issues, de Beauvoir was concerned with the issue of aging, which she addressed in Une Mort très douce (1964; A Very Easy Death), on her mother’s death in a hospital, and in La Vieillesse (1970; Old Age), a bitter reflection on society’s indifference to the elderly. In 1981 she wrote La Cérémonie des adieux (Adieux: A Farewell to Sartre), a painful account of Sartre’s last years. Simone de Beauvoir: A Biography, by Deirdre Bair, appeared in 1990.
Simone de Beauvoir revealed herself as a woman of formidable courage and integrity, whose life supported her thesis: the basic options of an individual must be made on the premises of an equal vocation for man and woman founded on a common structure of their being, independent of their sexuality.



 


 

Toward the nouveau roman

The popular literary event of 1954 was Bonjour tristesse (“Hello, Sadness”; Eng. trans. Bonjour Tristesse). Published when its author, Françoise Sagan (pseudonym of Françoise Quoirez), was only 19 years old, this novel of adolescent love was written with “classical” restraint and a tone of cynical disillusionment and showed the persistence of traditional form in the preferred fictions of the novel-reading public. The Naturalist novel survived in the work of Henri Troyat and others, while its assumptions about the role of the author and the nature of fictional “reality” continued to be taken for granted by a host of novelists and their readers.

These assumptions, challenged in the interwar years in the Joycean novel, had already found opposition in the prose fictions of Samuel Beckett, Joyce’s disciple and fellow Irishman, who published his first major text in French in 1951. Molloy (Eng. trans. Molloy) was the first of a trilogy exploring the constitution of the individual subject in discursive form, setting out the framing limits of identity constituted by language, history, social institutions, family, and the forms of storytelling (the other two volumes in the trilogy are Malone meurt [1951; Malone Dies] and L’Innommable [1953; The Unnameable]). As the century progressed, it became increasingly clear that Beckett’s work was seminal in the understanding of the material operations of writing: where writing comes from, how words work, and the extent to which all individuals live in language.

In the mid-1950s, however, critical attention was focused on the group dubbed the nouveaux romanciers, or new novelists: Alain Robbe-Grillet, Claude Simon, Nathalie Sarraute, Michel Butor, and Robert Pinget. Marguerite Duras (Marguerite Donnadieu) is sometimes added to the list, though not with her approval. The label covered a variety of approaches, but, as theorized in Robbe-Grillet’s Pour un nouveau roman (1963; Towards a New Novel), it implied generally the systematic rejection of the traditional framework of fiction—chronology, plot, character—and of the omniscient author. In place of these conventions, the writers offer texts that demand more of the reader, who is presented with compressed, repetitive, or only partially explained events from which to read a meaning that will not, in any case, be definitive. In Robbe-Grillet’s La Jalousie (1957; Jealousy), for example, the narrator’s suspicions of his wife’s infidelity are never confirmed or denied, but the interest of the writing is in conveying their obsessive quality, achieved by the replacement of a chronological narrative with the insistent repetition of details or events. Duras’s Moderato cantabile (1958; Eng. trans. Moderato Cantabile) favours innovative stylistic structuring over conventional characterization and plot, her purpose not to tell a story but to use the play of form to represent the movements of desire—complex, ambiguous, and disruptive.

The nouveau roman (French: “new novel”) was open to influence from works being written abroad, notably by William Faulkner, and from the cinema. Both Robbe-Grillet and Duras contributed to the nouvelle vague, or New Wave, style of filmmaking. The nouveau roman was taken up by the literary theorist Jean Ricardou and promulgated by him through the avant-garde critical journal Tel Quel. (Founded in 1960 by Philippe Sollers and other writers, Tel Quel reflects the transformation and politicization of Parisian and international intellectual modes in that decade.) Its scope narrowed over the years, and texts written in this mode were increasingly concerned with emphasizing their status as language games divorced from the real.
 


Françoise Sagan


pseudonym of Françoise Quoirez

born June 21, 1935, Carjac, France
died September 24, 2004, Honfleur

French novelist and dramatist who wrote her first and best-known novel, the international best-seller Bonjour Tristesse (1954), when she was 19 years old.

Educated at private and convent schools in France and Switzerland, Sagan attended the Sorbonne. She wrote the manuscript of Bonjour Tristesse in three weeks; it was made into a film in 1958. Among the novels that followed Bonjour Tristesse are Un Certain Sourire (1956; A Certain Smile), Aimez-vous Brahms? (1959), Les Merveilleux Nuages (1961; Wonderful Clouds), Un Profil perdu (1974; Lost Profile), De guerre lasse (1985; Engagements of the Heart, or A Reluctant Hero), and Un Sang d’aquarelle (1987; Painting in Blood). Most of Sagan’s novels feature aimless people who are involved in tangled, often amoral relationships. Almost all her protagonists are young women involved sexually with older, world-weary men or, less frequently, middle-aged women and their young lovers. Her plays, which resemble her novels in content, were generally well received. They include Château en Suède (1960; Castle in Sweden) and L’Excès contraire (1987; Opposite Extremes). She also wrote film scripts, short stories, and nonfiction.
 

 

 


Alain Robbe-Grillet


born Aug. 18, 1922, Brest, France
died Feb. 18, 2008, Caen


representative writer and leading theoretician of the nouveau roman (“new novel”), the French “anti-novel” that emerged in the 1950s. He was also a screenwriter and film director.

Robbe-Grillet was trained as a statistician and agronomist. He claimed to write novels for his time, especially attentive “to the ties that exist between objects, gestures, and situations, avoiding all psychological and ideological ‘commentary’ on the actions of the characters” (Pour un nouveau roman, 1963; Toward a New Novel; Essays on Fiction). Robbe-Grillet’s world is neither meaningful nor absurd; it merely exists. Omnipresent is the object—hard, polished, with only the measurable characteristics of pounds, inches, and wavelengths of reflected light. It overshadows and eliminates plot and character. The story is composed of recurring images, either actually recorded by an objective eye or drawn from reminiscences and dreams.

If Robbe-Grillet’s fiction, with its timetables, careful inventories of things, and reports on arrivals and departures, owes anything to the traditional novel, it is to the detective story. His first work, Les Gommes (1953; The Erasers), deals with a murder committed by the man who has come to investigate it. Le Voyeur (1955; The Voyeur) deals with the murder of a young girl by a passing stranger. In La Jalousie (1957; Jealousy), a jealous husband views the actions of his wife and her suspected lover through a louvre shutter (jalousie). Among his later novels are Dans le labyrinthe (1959; In the Labyrinth), Instantanés (1962; Snapshots), La Maison de rendez-vous (1966; The House of Assignation), Projet pour une révolution à New York (1970; Project for a Revolution in New York), Topologie d’une cité famtôme (1976; Topology of a Phantom City), Un Régicide (1978; “A Regicide”), and Djinn (1981). Robbe-Grillet continued to write into the early 21st century; novels from this period include La Reprise (2001; Repetition) and Un Roman sentimental (2007; “A Sentimental Novel”), the latter of which concerns incest and pedophilia. His autobiography, Le Miroir qui revient (Ghosts in the Mirror), was published in 1984.

Robbe-Grillet’s techniques were dramatized in the motion pictures he directed, among them L’Immortelle (1963; “The Immortal”), Trans-Europ-Express (1966), and L’Homme qui ment (1968; The Man Who Lies). His best-known work in the medium, however, is the screenplay for Alain Resnais’s film L’Année dernière à Marienbad (1961; Last Year at Marienbad). Ultimately, Robbe-Grillet’s work raises questions about the ambiguous relationship of objectivity and subjectivity.

Robbe-Grillet was the recipient of numerous honours. In 2004 he was elected to the French Academy.
 

 

 


Nathalie Sarraute




 

née Nathalie Ilyanova Tcherniak

born July 18, 1900, Ivanova, Russia
died Oct. 19, 1999, Paris, France

French novelist and essayist, one of the earliest practitioners and a leading theorist of the nouveau roman, the French post-World War II “new novel,” or “antinovel,” a phrase applied by Jean-Paul Sartre to Sarraute’s Portrait d’un inconnu (1947; Portrait of a Man Unknown). She was one of the most widely translated and discussed of the nouveau roman school. Her works reject the “admirable implements” forged by past realistic novelists such as Honoré de Balzac, particularly the use of biographical description to create full-bodied characters.

Sarraute was two years old when her parents were divorced, and her mother took her to Geneva and then to Paris. Except for brief visits to Russia and an extended stay in St. Petersburg (1908–10), she lived in Paris thereafter, and French was her first language. She attended the University of Oxford (1921) and graduated with a licence from the University of Paris, Sorbonne (1925); she was a member of the French bar, 1926–41, until she became a full-time writer.

Sarraute challenged the mystique of the traditional novel in her theoretical essay L’Ère du soupçon (1956; The Age of Suspicion) and experimented with technique in Tropismes (1939 and 1957; Tropisms), her first collection of sketches. In this work she introduced the notion of “tropisms,” a term borrowed from botany and meaning elemental impulses alternately attracted and repelled by each other. Sarraute described these impulses as imperceptible motions at the origin of our attitudes and actions, and forming the substrata of such feelings as envy, love, hate, or hope. Within this aggregate of minute stirrings, Sarraute portrays a tyrannical father pushing his aging daughter into marriage (Portrait d’un inconnu), an elderly lady enamoured of furniture (Le Planétarium, 1959; The Planetarium), and a literary coterie reacting to a newly published novel (Les Fruits d’or, 1963; The Golden Fruits). Later works include Elle est là (1978; “She Is There”), L’Usage de la parole (1980; “The Usage of Speech”), and an autobiography, Enfance (1983; Childhood).
 




Theatrical experiments

In the 1940s and early ’50s, drama found immediate subject matter in the overt clash of politics, ethics, and philosophies, public and personal, that were the substance of everyday life. Jean Anouilh’s many plays (exemplified by Antigone [1944; Eng. trans. Antigone]) are lucid, classical moralities, showing that there is a price to be paid for loyalty to people and beliefs. Henry de Montherlant’s historical dramas explored the heroic inconsistency of human behaviour and the fascination of secular and religious idealism. Sartre’s expressed aim for his theatre throughout the 1940s and 1950s was to show systems of values in conflict. From Les Mouches (produced 1943; The Flies), written for a France suffering Nazi oppression, to Les Séquestrés d’Altona (1959; The Condemned of Altona, also published as Altona), staged when France had become the oppressor in Algeria, his work gives form to the conflicting imperatives of personal survival and collective responsibility and the impossible choices set for the revolutionary by the competing discourses of family, religion, nation, and class.

This was an outstanding moment for the French stage. At the same time, government policy to provide state financial aid after the war led to the encouragement of great drama in the provinces (the Avignon Festival, founded by the great director Jean Vilar in 1947 to reach a younger public with more vibrant and modern acting and staging techniques) and the establishment of remarkable and innovative theatre companies in Paris, such as the Théâtre National Populaire and the Compagnie Jean-Louis Barrault–Madeleine Renaud. The work and the theories of Jarry, Cocteau, and Artaud now began to bear their fruit. The plays of Anouilh and, to a lesser extent, those of Sartre still conveyed their intentions effectively from the author’s script. Playwrights such as Jean Genet, Eugène Ionesco, Arthur Adamov, and Samuel Beckett focused to a great degree on the realization of text in performance. Though Genet’s Les Bonnes (The Maids) appeared in 1947 and Ionesco’s La Cantatrice chauve (The Bald Soprano) in 1949, public recognition of the new theatre did not come until 1953, with Roger Blin’s production of Beckett’s En attendant Godot (1952; Waiting for Godot). (Blin is notable for his early presentation of plays by Beckett, Genet, and other important dramatists.) Their antecedents as diverse as the fool of Shakespearean drama and the tramp of silent comedy, Vladimir and Estragon are locked together in lyrical, violent, and trivial exchanges that model the devastating absurdity of latter-day Western humanism in a highly stylized dramatic form that brings together musical composition, high tragedy, pantomime, and knockabout farce. Recognition, when it came, certainly answered fully Artaud’s requirement for a theatre that would shock its spectators into awareness of the darkness that shaped their world. Le Balcon (1956; The Balcony), Genet’s violently erotic representation of the spectacular fascination of power and its corrupting effect on revolutionary impulses, waited two years before the censor would admit it to the stage. Les Nègres (1958; The Blacks), less visual in its obscenity, was no more careful of the audience’s sensibilities, tearing apart the verbal and social discourses that create and sustain racial oppression.
 


Eugène Ionesco





born Nov. 26, 1909, Slatina, Rom.
died March 28, 1994, Paris, France


Romanian-born French dramatist whose one-act “antiplay” La Cantatrice chauve (1949; The Bald Soprano) inspired a revolution in dramatic techniques and helped inaugurate the Theatre of the Absurd. Elected to the Académie Française in 1970, Ionesco remains among the most important dramatists of the 20th century.

Ionesco was taken to France as an infant but returned to Romania in 1925. After obtaining a degree in French at the University of Bucharest, he worked for a doctorate in Paris (1939), where, after 1945, he made his home. While working as a proofreader, he decided to learn English; the formal, stilted commonplaces of his textbook inspired the masterly catalog of senseless platitudes that constitutes The Bald Soprano. In its most famous scene, two strangers—who are exchanging banalities about how the weather is faring, where they live, and how many children they have—stumble upon the astonishing discovery that they are indeed man and wife; it is a brilliant example of Ionesco’s recurrent themes of self-estrangement and the difficulty of communication.

In rapid succession Ionesco wrote a number of plays, all developing the “antilogical” ideas of The Bald Soprano; these included brief and violently irrational sketches and also a series of more elaborate one-act plays in which many of his later themes—especially the fear and horror of death—begin to make their appearance. Among these, La Leçon (1951; The Lesson), Les Chaises (1952; The Chairs), and Le Nouveau Locataire (1955; The New Tenant) are notable successes. In The Lesson, a timid professor uses the meaning he assigns to words to establish tyrannical dominance over an eager female pupil. In The Chairs, an elderly couple await the arrival of an audience to hear the old man’s last message to posterity, but only empty chairs accumulate on stage. Feeling confident that his message will be conveyed by an orator he has hired, the old man and his wife commit a double suicide. The orator turns out to be afflicted with aphasia, however, and can speak only gibberish.

In contrast to these shorter works, it was only with difficulty that Ionesco mastered the techniques of the full-length play: Amédée (1954), Tueur sans gages (1959; The Killer), and Le Rhinocéros (1959; Rhinoceros) lack the dramatic unity that he finally achieved with Le Roi se meurt (1962; Exit the King). This success was followed by Le Piéton de l’air (1963; A Stroll in the Air). With La Soif et la faim (1966; Thirst and Hunger) he returned to a more fragmented type of construction. In the next decade he wrote Jeux de massacre (1970; Killing Game); Macbett (1972), a retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth; and Ce formidable bordel (1973; A Hell of a Mess). Rhinoceros, a play about totalitarianism, remains Ionesco’s most popular work.

Ionesco’s achievement lies in having popularized a wide variety of nonrepresentational and surrealistic techniques and in having made them acceptable to audiences conditioned to a naturalistic convention in the theatre. His tragicomic farces dramatize the absurdity of bourgeois life, the meaninglessness of social conventions, and the futile and mechanical nature of modern civilization. His plays build on bizarrely illogical or fantastic situations using such devices as the humorous multiplication of objects on stage until they overwhelm the actors. The clichés and tedious maxims of polite conversation surface in improbable or inappropriate contexts to expose the deadening futility of most human communication. Ionesco’s later works show less concern with witty intellectual paradox and more with dreams, visions, and exploration of the subconscious.



Les Chaises (English: The Chairs) is an absurdist "tragic farce" by Eugene Ionesco. It was written in 1952 and debuted the same year.

The play concerns two characters, known as Old Man and Old Woman, frantically preparing chairs for a series of invisible guests who are coming to hear an orator reveal the old man's discovery which is implied as being the meaning of life, this is never actually said. The guests supposedly include "everyone" implying everyone in the world; there are other implications that this is a post-apocalyptic world. The Old Man, for example, speaks of the destruction of Paris. The invisibility of the guests implies that the Old Man and Old Woman are the last two people on the planet. As the “guests” arrive, the two characters speak to them, and reminisce cryptically about their lives. A high point in the happiness of the couple is reached when the invisible emperor arrives. Finally, the orator arrives to deliver his speech to the assembled crowd. Played by a real actor, the orator's physical presence contradicts the expectations set up by the action earlier in the play.

The old couple then throw themselves out of the window into the ocean; they commit suicide because they claim at this point, when the whole world is going to hear the Old Man's astounding revelation, life couldn't get any better. As the orator begins to speak, the invisible crowd assembled in the room and the real audience in the theatre discover that the orator is a deaf-mute.

At the end of the play, the sound of an audience fades in. Ionesco claimed this sound of the audience at the end was the most significant moment in the play. He wrote in a letter to the first director, “The last decisive moment of the play should be the expression of ... absence,” He said that after the Orator leaves, "At this moment the audience would have in front of them ... empty chairs on an empty stage decorated with streamers, littered with useless confetti, which would give an impression of sadness, emptiness and disenchantment such as one finds in a ballroom after a dance; and it would be after this that the chairs, the scenery, the void, would inexplicably come to life (that is the effect, an effect beyond reason, true in its improbability, that we are looking for and that we must obtain), upsetting logic and raising fresh doubts." The oddity here is that in the version of The Chairs published by Puffin, we are told that "When first produced, the curtain fell during the moaning of the dumb Orator. The blackboard was omitted." This implies the 'last decisive moment' was ignored by the director whom Ionesco had written to highlighting its importance.



Rhinoceros (French original title Rhinocéros) is a play by Eugène Ionesco, written in 1959. The play belongs to the school of drama known as the Theatre of the Absurd. Over the course of three acts, the inhabitants of a small, provincial French town turn into rhinoceroses; ultimately the only human who does not succumb to this mass metamorphosis is the central character, Bérenger, a flustered everyman figure who is often criticized throughout the play for his drinking and tardiness. The play is often read as a response to the sudden upsurge of Communism, Fascism and Nazism during the events preceding World War II, and explores the themes of conformity, culture, philosophy and morality.

 

This piece is divided into three acts, each showing a stage in the onset of rhinoceritis.

Act I
Loose rhinos cause the first shock and surprise the characters. Jean can't believe what he saw was real and states "it should not exist." The grocer lets out a cry of fury when he sees the housekeeper leave with her bloodied cat: "We can not allow our cats to be crushed by rhinos or anything else." As with the start of any extremist movement, people are initially afraid.

Act II
People are beginning to turn into rhinoceroses and to follow the rhinoceritis movement. This is where the first opposition is clearly made, as Botard, an old-fashioned French schoolmaster and staunch adherent of the Enlightenment, remarks that it is "a nonsense story," "It is a shameful machination". He does not believe that rhinoceritis is real . Yet, he too will turn into a rhinoceros despite these prejudices, saying that even the most resistant are misled by the rhetoric of the dictatorship. People are starting to turn into rhinoceros: in the case of Mr. Bœuf, followed by his wife: "I can not leave him like that," she said to justify herself. The firefighters are overwhelmed by the increasing number of rhinos in the city.

Jean, at first concerned and disturbed by the presence of rhinos in the city, transforms into a rhino under the desperate eyes of his friend Bérenger. Thus we witness the metamorphosis of a human being into a rhinoceros. Jean is at first sick and pale, he grows a bump on his forehead, breathes loudly and has a tendency to growl. He then gets greener and greener and his skin begins to harden, his veins become prominent, his voice becomes hoarse, and his bump grows into a horn. Jean stops his friend from calling a doctor, he paces in his room like a caged beast, his voice becomes more and more hoarse and he starts bellowing. According to him, there is nothing extraordinary in the fact that Bœuf had become a rhinoceros, "After all, rhinos are creatures like us, who have a right to life just like us". He who was so learned, so well-read, suddenly proclaims "Humanism has expired! You are an old ridiculous sentimentalist."

Act III
Finally, everyone becomes a rhinoceros except for Bérenger, Dudard (a male co-worker), and Daisy (another co-worker and a "scientist", with whom Bérenger had been hopelessly in love). Dudard trivializes the transformation and becomes a rhino because his duty is "to follow [his] leaders and [his] peers, for better or for worse." Bérenger and Daisy agree to resist rhinoceritis and marry to restore the human race. Soon afterwards, however, Daisy refuses to "save the world" and follows the rhinos, suddenly finding them beautiful, as she admires their enthusiasm and energy. After much hesitation, Bérenger decides not to surrender: "I am the last man, I will stay till the end! I do not give up!" He ends up weeping because now he cannot become a rhinoceros even if he wanted to.

 




Postwar poetry

New currents in the novel and the theatre were easier to define than those in poetry, where the lack of a broad readership was, in itself, an encouragement to fragmentation. The works of Jacques Prévert and the songs of Georges Brassens and Jacques Brel did achieve the status of popular poetry; but, apart from Saint-John Perse, there was no major figure in the tradition of Claudel and Valéry, and the poetry of the post-Surrealist generation appeared to have no clear formal or ideological direction. In contrast to the tendency to abstract and symbolic language that characterized the poetry of René Char and Pierre Emmanuel (pseudonym of Noël Mathieu), the prose poems of Francis Ponge developed a materialist discourse that aimed to allow the object to “speak” for itself, foregrounding devices such as wordplay that emphasized the act of poetic perception and the role of writing in the object’s construction. This fascination with structures of perceiving, the forms that communicate them, and the relationship of poet and poetry to the lived, material “real” is the great preoccupation of Yves Bonnefoy, arguably the major French poet of the second half of the century. Bonnefoy published his first important collection, Du mouvement et de l’immobilité de Douve (On the Motion and Immobility of Douve), in 1953. A similar focus on the capacity of poetry to engage poet and readers in the joint search for meaning in the external world is to be found in the work of poets such as Philippe Jaccottet, Eugène Guillevic, and Michel Deguy.

On the whole, the intellectual bourgeoisie that might have provided the larger audience for poetry’s investigations into the working of words was at this point more interested in formal experiments in the visual arts, especially the cinema. A younger generation, from the late 1960s, was more open to fantasy and the imagination but impatient of formal discipline. The “do-it-yourself” poetry that appealed to this group’s egalitarian instincts was as ephemeral as the little magazines in which it appeared during the 1970s, and the “crisis of verse” that Jacques Roubaud described in his study of French versification, La Vieillesse d’Alexandre (1978; “Alexander in Old Age”), remained unresolved.

Roubaud’s own poetry, including Trente et un au cube (1973; “Thirty-one Cubed”), looked to Japanese literature as the inspiration for work that was structured yet free from the burden of European rhetoric. He was associated with OuLiPo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle; “Workshop of Potential Literature”), an experimental group of writers of poetry and prose formed by Raymond Queneau and inspired by Alfred Jarry, who saw the acceptance of rigorous formal constraints—often mathematical—as the best way of liberating artistic potential. Queneau, most widely known as the author of Zazie dans le métro (1959; Zazie in the Metro), had already in 1947 offered the example of his stylistic demonstrations in Exercices de style. In his Cent mille milliards de poèmes (1961; One Hundred Million Million Poems), the reader was invited to rearrange 10 sonnets in all the variations possible, as indicated by the title. OuLiPo’s attachment to the serious pleasures of word games, and their engagement in sometimes unbelievably demanding forms, has perhaps its best illustration in the prose works of Georges Perec, discussed below. This renewal of interest in the playful aspects of literary composition was consistent with contemporary critical theory—the revision by Ferdinand de Saussure and, later, Roland Barthes, of the relation between language-systems and meaning.
 


Jacques Prévert




born Feb. 4, 1900, Neuilly-sur-Seine, Fr.
died April 11, 1977, Omonville-la-Petite

French poet who composed ballads of social hope and sentimental love; he also ranked among the foremost of screenwriters, especially during the 1930s and ’40s.

From 1925 to 1929 Prévert was associated with the Surrealists Robert Desnos, Yves Tanguy, Louis Aragon, and André Breton and renewed, in their style, the ancient tradition of oral poetry that led him to a highly popular form of “song poems,” which were collected in Paroles (1945; “Words”). Many were put to music by Josef Kosma and reached a vast audience of young people who liked Prévert’s anticlerical, anarchistic, iconoclastic tones, crackling with humour. He lashed out at stupidity, hypocrisy, and war, and he sang of lovers in the street and the metro and of simple hearts and children. Most popular is his Tentative de description d’un dîner de têtes à Paris-France (1931; “Attempt at a Description of a Masked Dinner at Paris, France”).

Prévert mastered the art of the small sketch that catches the reader off guard. He used free verse, irregular verse, occasional rhymes, puns, cascades of words intentionally in disarray, enumerations, antithesis, and other devices.

He also wrote for a group of politically militant dramatists with whom he eventually visited the Soviet Union (1933). Prévert wrote many excellent film scripts. His best ones, made for the director Marcel Carné, are Drôle de drame (1937; “Odd Drama”), Les Visiteurs du soir (1942; “The Visitors of the Evening”), and Les Enfants du paradis (1944; “The Children of Paradise”). Collections of his poems include Histoires (1946; “Stories”), Spectacle (1951), Grand bal du printemps (1951; “Grand Ball of Spring”), Charmes de Londres (1952; “Charms of London”), Histoires et d’autres histoires (1963; “Stories and Other Stories”), and Choses et autres (1972; “Things and Other Things”).
 






The 1960s: before the watershed


In the early 1960s, free of colonial entanglements, France enjoyed a period of perceived increasing stability and affluence, managing for the time being to avoid facing the consequences of the processes of decolonization, which were already creating the conditions of far more radical sociocultural change. Frantz Fanon’s Les Damnés de la terre (1961; The Wretched of the Earth), appearing with a preface by Sartre, made a considerable stir, but there was as yet no effective audience for its sharp analyses of the damage done to European culture and morality by Europe’s destructive treatment of the Third World. Because of its focus on French policy in Algeria, Genet’s corrosively satiric drama Les Paravents (1961; The Screens) premiered in Berlin and was not performed on the French stage until 1966, four years after the war in Algeria ended. Despite le fast-food, le marketing, and le rock, French culture was confident that it preserved an individual character, and the French enjoyed the defense offered against such transatlantic imports by René Etiemble in his polemic Parlez-vous franglais? (1964; “Do You Speak Frenglish”). The technocratic middle class, which benefited most from the country’s prosperity, was open to new ideas in science, and its materialist outlook found expression in Jacques Monod’s Le Hasard et la nécessité (1970; Chance and Necessity). Monod, who won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for 1965, rejected earlier ideologies, including religion, and drew on science for a view of the human place in the universe. The new technology seemed to promise endless growth and the erosion of class divisions. Other thinkers and creative writers doubted the value of society’s new directions.

The most significant developments in literature seemed to be outside the field of imaginative literature, though more often than not they drew for their inspiration and power on the radical writings of recent generations, and they themselves quickly engendered literary innovations. In regard to these innovations, the journal Tel Quel was particularly instrumental.




Structuralism

Learning to live with uncertainty and to take pleasure in the abandonment of absolutes was the determining mode of thought in the 1960s and ’70s, and in this French thinkers set the international agenda. Structuralism, based on the analytic methods of the linguistic theorist Ferdinand de Saussure, proposed that phenomena be considered not in themselves but in terms of their working relationship to the organized structures within which they exist. The structural anthropology of Claude Lévi-Strauss resulted in popular texts on social and cultural practices that forced Western cultures to reconsider themselves in the light of the other cultures they had exploited in order to flourish. Among Lévi-Strauss’s influential works are Tristes Tropiques (1955; “Sad Tropics”; Eng. trans. Tristes Tropiques) and Le Cru et le cuit (1964; The Raw and the Cooked). The semiology (the science of signs) of Roland Barthes gave impetus to the study of the political nature of language and the attempt to understand the ways in which a society’s discourses speak through and constitute both writers and readers. His works include Le Degré zéro de l’écriture (1953; Writing Degree Zero) and Mythologies (1957; Eng. trans. Mythologies). The latter offers readings of the icons of contemporary culture and has become a basic text in the academic discipline known as cultural studies. Barthes made a crucial distinction between the “writerly” and the “readerly” text, emphasizing the scope a “readerly” text gives to plural, disruptive readings. Le Plaisir du texte (1973; The Pleasure of the Text) pursued the concept of the subversive pleasure of reading. The “death of the author” trumpeted by early Barthes turned out eventually to have been much exaggerated, and his own later interest in autobiography certainly went some way to disproving it; but the issues the provocative concept raised—the autonomy of the individual subject, the nature of creative inspiration—were important ones.
 


Claude Lévi-Strauss


born Nov. 28, 1908, Brussels, Belg.
died Oct. 30, 2009, Paris, France


French social anthropologist and leading exponent of structuralism, a name applied to the analysis of cultural systems (e.g., kinship and mythical systems) in terms of the structural relations among their elements. Structuralism has influenced not only 20th-century social science but also the study of philosophy, comparative religion, literature, and film.

After studying philosophy and law at the University of Paris (1927–32), Lévi-Strauss taught in a secondary school and was associated with Jean-Paul Sartre’s intellectual circle. He served as professor of sociology at the University of São Paulo, Brazil (1934–37), and did field research on the Indians of Brazil. He was visiting professor at the New School for Social Research in New York City (1941–45), where he was influenced by the work of linguist Roman Jakobson. From 1950 to 1974 he was director of studies at the École Pratique des Hautes Études at the University of Paris, and in 1959 he was appointed to the chair of social anthropology at the Collège de France.

In 1949 Lévi-Strauss published his first major work, Les Structures élémentaires de la parenté (rev. ed., 1967; The Elementary Structures of Kinship). He attained popular recognition with Tristes tropiques (1955; A World on the Wane), a literary intellectual autobiography. Other publications include Anthropologie structurale (rev. ed., 1961; Structural Anthropology), La Pensée sauvage (1962; The Savage Mind), and Le Totémisme aujourd’hui (1962; Totemism). His massive Mythologiques appeared in four volumes: Le Cru et le cuit (1964; The Raw and the Cooked), Du miel aux cendres (1966; From Honey to Ashes), L’Origine des manières de table (1968; The Origin of Table Manners), and L’Homme nu (1971; The Naked Man). In 1973 a second volume of Anthropologie structurale appeared. La Voie des masques, 2 vol. (1975; The Way of the Masks), analyzed the art, religion, and mythology of native American Northwest Coast Indians. In 1983 he published a collection of essays, Le Regard éloigné (The View from Afar).

Lévi-Strauss’s structuralism was an effort to reduce the enormous amount of information about cultural systems to what he believed were the essentials, the formal relationships among their elements. He viewed cultures as systems of communication, and he constructed models based on structural linguistics, information theory, and cybernetics to interpret them.





Lacan and Foucault

The teaching and writing, much of it dating to the 1930s, of the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (Écrits [1966; Ecrits: A Selection]) influenced many major thinkers in the 1960s and ’70s. Lacan proved to be a major influence on avant-garde French feminism, and he led Freudian thought in fresh directions through his work on the part played by language and unconscious desire in the formation of a human subject that must always be seen as open, incomplete, and in process. Michel Foucault has perhaps been even more influential than Lacan, his studies carrying into the context of public and private life his explorations of the relations of power to forms of knowing. In the early 1960s, writing in an accessible fashion on gripping topics such as madness, Foucault showed how the individual subject is formed inside the discourses of society’s institutions. Louis Althusser linked Marxism, structuralism, and Lacanian psychoanalysis in his Freud et Lacan (1964; reprinted in Writings on Psychoanalysis: Freud and Lacan), which was published in the year that Foucault delivered his lecture Nietzsche, Freud, Marx.
 


Jacques Lacan

born April 13, 1901, Paris, France
died Sept. 9, 1981, Paris

French psychoanalyst who gained an international reputation as an original interpreter of Sigmund Freud’s work.

Lacan earned a medical degree in 1932 and was a practicing psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in Paris for much of his career. He helped introduce Freudian theory into France in the 1930s, but he reached prominence only after he began conducting regular seminars at the University of Paris in 1953. He acquired celebrity status in France after the publication of his essays and lectures in Écrits (1966). He founded and headed an organization called the Freudian School of Paris from 1964 until he disbanded it in 1980 for what he claimed was its failure to adhere with sufficient strictness to Freudian principles.

Lacan emphasized the primacy of language as constitutive of the unconscious, and he tried to introduce the study of language (as practiced in modern linguistics, philosophy, and poetics) into psychoanalytic theory. His major achievement was his reinterpretation of Freud’s work in terms of the structural linguistics developed by French writers in the second half of the 20th century. The influence he gained extended well beyond the field of psychoanalysis to make him one of the dominant figures in French cultural life during the 1970s. In his own psychoanalytic practice, Lacan was known for his unorthodox, and even eccentric, therapeutic methods.
 

 

 


Michel Foucault



French philosopher and historian
in full Paul-Michel Foucault

born October 15, 1926, Poitiers, France
died June 25, 1984, Paris

Main
French philosopher and historian, one of the most influential and controversial scholars of the post-World War II period.

Education and career
The son and grandson of a physician, Michel Foucault was born to a solidly bourgeois family. He resisted what he regarded as the provincialism of his upbringing and his native country, and his career was marked by frequent sojourns abroad. A distinguished but sometimes erratic student, Foucault gained entry at the age of 20 to the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Paris in 1946. There he studied psychology and philosophy, embraced and then abandoned communism, and established a reputation as a sedulous, brilliant, and eccentric student.

After graduating in 1952, Foucault began a career marked by constant movement, both professional and intellectual. He first taught at the University of Lille, then spent five years (1955–60) as a cultural attaché in Uppsala, Sweden; Warsaw, Poland; and Hamburg, West Germany (now Germany). Foucault defended his doctoral dissertation at the ENS in 1961. Circulated under the title Folie et déraison: histoire de la folie à l’âge classique (“Madness and Unreason: A History of Madness in the Classical Age”), it won critical praise but a limited audience. (An abridged version was translated into English and published in 1965 as Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason.) His other early monographs, written while he taught at the University of Clermont-Ferrand in France (1960–66), had much the same fate. Not until the appearance of Les Mots et les choses (“Words and Things”; Eng. trans. The Order of Things) in 1966 did Foucault begin to attract wide notice as one of the most original and controversial thinkers of his day. He chose to watch his reputation grow from a distance—at the University of Tunis in Tunisia (1966–68)—and was still in Tunis when student riots erupted in Paris in the spring of 1968. In 1969 he published L’Archéologie du savoir (The Archaeology of Knowledge). In 1970, after a brief tenure as director of the philosophy department at the University of Paris, Vincennes, he was awarded a chair in the history of systems of thought at the Collège de France, France’s most prestigious postsecondary institution. The appointment gave Foucault the opportunity to conduct intensive research.

Between 1971 and 1984 Foucault wrote several works, including Surveiller et punir: naissance de la prison (1975; Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison), a monograph on the emergence of the modern prison; three volumes of a history of Western sexuality; and numerous essays. Foucault continued to travel widely, and as his reputation grew he spent extended periods in Brazil, Japan, Italy, Canada, and the United States. He became particularly attached to Berkeley, California, and the San Francisco Bay area and was a visiting lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley for several years. Foucault died of a septicemia typical of AIDS in 1984, the fourth volume of his history of sexuality still incomplete.


Foucault’s ideas
What types of human beings are there? What is their essence? What is the essence of human history? Of humankind? Contrary to so many of his intellectual predecessors, Foucault sought not to answer these traditional and seemingly straightforward questions but to critically examine them and the responses they had inspired. He directed his most sustained skepticism toward those responses—among them, race, the unity of reason or the psyche, progress, and liberation—that had become commonplaces in Europe and the United States in the 19th century. He argued that such commonplaces informed both Hegelian phenomenology and Marxist materialism. He argued that they also informed the evolutionary biology, physical anthropology, clinical medicine, psychology, sociology, and criminology of the same period. The latter three disciplines are part of what came to be called in French les sciences humaines, or “the human sciences.”

Several of the philosophers of the Anglo-American positivist tradition, among them Carl Hempel, had faulted the human sciences for failing to achieve the conceptual and methodological rigour of mathematics or physics. Foucault found fault with them as well, but he decisively rejected the positivist tenet that the methods of the pure or natural sciences provided an exclusive standard for arriving at genuine or legitimate knowledge. His critique concentrated instead upon the fundamental point of reference that had grounded and guided inquiry in the human sciences: the concept of “man.” The man of this inquiry was a creature purported, like many preceding conceptions, to have a constant essence—indeed, a double essence. On one hand, man was an object, like any other object in the natural world, obedient to the indiscriminate dictates of physical laws. On the other hand, man was a subject, an agent uniquely capable of comprehending and altering his worldly condition in order to become more fully, more essentially, himself. Foucault reviewed the historical record for evidence that such a creature actually had ever existed, but to no avail. Looking for objects, he found only a plurality of subjects whose features varied dramatically with shifts of place and time. The historical record aside, would the dual “man” of the human sciences perhaps make its appearance at some point in the future? In The Order of Things and elsewhere, Foucault suggested that, to the contrary, a creature somehow fully determined and fully free was little short of a paradox, a contradiction in terms. Not only had it never existed in fact, it could not exist, even in principle.

Foucault understood the very possibility of his own critique to be evidence that the concept of man was beginning to loosen its grip on Western thought. Yet a further puzzle remained: How could such an erroneous, such an impossible, figure have been so completely taken for granted for so long? Foucault’s solution emphasized that in the emerging nation-states of 17th- and 18th-century Europe, “man” was a conceptual prerequisite for the creation of social institutions and practices that were then necessary to maintain an optimally productive citizenry. With the advent of “man,” the notion that human character and experience were immutable gradually gave way to the notion that both body and soul could be manipulated and reformed. The latter notion lent the technologies of modern policing their enduring rationale. For Foucault, the epitome of the institutions of “discipline”—a mode of domination that sought to render each instance of “deviance” utterly visible, whether in the name of prevention or rehabilitation—was the Panopticon, a circular prison designed in 1787 by the philosopher and social reformer Jeremy Bentham, which laid each inmate open to the scrutiny of the dark eye of a central watchtower. Among contemporary instruments of discipline, the surveillance camera must be counted one of the most representative.

Although this discipline operated on individuals, it was paired with a current of reformism that took not individuals but various human populations as its basic object. The prevailing sensibility of its greatest champions was markedly medical. They scrutinized everything from sexual behaviour to social organization for relative pathology or health. They also sought out the “deviant,” but less in order to eradicate it than to keep it in acceptable check. This “biopolitics” of the reformers, according to Foucault, contained the basic principles of the modern welfare state. A thinker more inclined to strict materialism might have added that in both discipline and biopolitics the human sciences served an ideological function, cloaking the apparatuses of arbitrary domination with the sober aura of objectivity. Foucault, however, opposed the materialist tendency to construe science—even the most dubious science—as the simple handmaiden of power. He opposed any identification of knowledge—even the most mistaken knowledge—with power. Rather, he called for an appreciation of the ways in which knowledge and power are always entangled with each other in historically specific circumstances, forming complex dynamics of what he termed pouvoir-savoir, or “power-knowledge.”

For Foucault, domination was not the only outcome of these dynamics. Another was “subjectivation,” the historically specific classification and shaping of individual human beings into “subjects” of various kinds—including heroic and ordinary, “normal” and “deviant.” The distinction between the two came somewhat late to Foucault, but once he made and refined it he was able to clarify the status of some of his earliest observations and to identify a theme that had been present in all his writings. His understanding of subjectivation, however, changed significantly over the course of two decades, as did the methods he applied to its analysis. Intent on devising a properly specific history of subjects, he initially pressed the analogy between the corpus of statements about subjects produced and presumed true at any given historical moment and the artifacts of some archaeological site or complex. He was thus able to flesh out the sense of his frequent allusions not simply to “discourses” but also to their more inclusive cousins, épistémès. He was able to reveal the inherently local qualities of past conceptions of being human and able further to reveal the frequent abruptness of their coming into being and passing away. This “archaeology of knowledge” nevertheless had its shortcomings. Among other things, its consideration of both power and power-knowledge was at best partial, if not oblique.

By 1971 Foucault had already demoted “archaeology” in favour of “genealogy,” a method that traced the ensemble of historical contingencies, accidents, and illicit relations that made up the ancestry of one or another currently accepted theory or concept in the human sciences. With genealogy, Foucault set out to unearth the artificiality of the dividing line between the putatively illegitimate and its putatively normal and natural opposite. Discipline and Punish was his genealogical exposé of the artifices of power-knowledge that had resulted in the naturalization of the “criminal character,” and the first volume of Histoire de la sexualité (1976; The History of Sexuality) was his exposé of the Frankensteinian machinations that had resulted in the naturalization of the dividing line between the “homosexual” and the “heterosexual.” Yet even in these luminous “histories of the present” something still remained out of view: human freedom. In order to bring it into focus, Foucault turned his attention to “governmentality,” the array of political arrangements, past and present, within which individuals have not simply been dominated subjects but have been able in some measure to govern, to be, and to create themselves. He expanded the scope (and lessened the bite) of genealogy. No longer focused exclusively on the dynamics of power-knowledge, it came to encompass the broader dynamics of human reflection, of the posing of questions and the seeking of answers, of “problematization.” It could thus chart the possibilities, past and present, of ethics—the “reflective practice of freedom”—a domain in which human beings could exercise their power to conceive and test the modes of domination and subjectivation under which they happened to live.

Foucault’s increasing concern with ethics led him to a far-reaching revision of the design of the subsequent volumes of The History of Sexuality. Originally conceived as a study of the social construction of the “female hysteric” in the 19th century, the second volume was released after much delay as a study of carnal pleasure in ancient Greece; the third volume dealt with the “care of the self” in later antiquity. In later work, a concern with ethics led Foucault to study how people care for one another in social relations such as friendship. It led him finally to an elegant meditation, unpublished at his death, on the conduct of modern philosophy, the title of which is that decidedly open-ended question to which Immanuel Kant and Moses Mendelssohn had been asked to respond some 200 years before: “What Is Enlightenment?”

Foucault appropriately placed himself in the critical tradition of philosophical inquiry stemming from Kant, but his thought matured through the multiplicity of its engagements. He rejected both Hegelianism and Marxism but took both quite seriously. The work of the French modernist writers Raymond Roussel, Georges Bataille, and Maurice Blanchot galvanized his conviction that neither a proper epistemology nor a proper metaphysics could be founded on a general and ahistorical conception of the “subject.” The writings of Friedrich Nietzsche directed him to the history of the body and of the collusion between power and knowledge. It also offered him the prototypes for both archaeology and genealogy. In the work of the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze he discerned elements of a general epistemology of problem formation. His conversations with the American scholars Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow stimulated his turn toward ethics and the genealogy of problematization. Special mention must finally be made of his teacher and mentor, Georges Canguilhem. In Canguilhem, a historian of the life sciences, Foucault found an intellectual example independent of the phenomenological and materialist camps that dominated French universities after World War II, a sponsor for his dissertation, and a supporter of his larger investigative project. Owing less to Nietzsche than to Canguilhem, Foucault came to regard human life as an often discontinuous, often disruptive and clumsy, and sometimes despotic quest to come to terms with an ever-recalcitrant environment. A history of systems of human thought would thus have to be a persistently local history. It would have to recognize that all ideas are normative, no matter what their content. It could be a history of truth, but it also would have to be a long—and in its own way tragic—history of error.


Foucault’s influence
Foucault has been widely read and discussed in his own right. He has galvanized an army of detractors, the less attentive of whom have misread his critique of “man” as radically antihumanist, his critique of power-knowledge as radically relativist, and his ethics as radically aestheticist. They have not, however, prevented him from inspiring increasingly important alternatives to established practices of cultural and intellectual history. In France and the Americas, Foucault’s unraveling of Marxist universalism has continued both to vex and to inspire activists of the left. The antipsychiatry movement of the 1970s and ’80s owed much to Foucault, though he did not consider himself one of its members. His critique of the human sciences provoked much soul-searching within anthropology and its allied fields, even as it helped a new generation of scholars to embark upon a cross-cultural dialogue on the themes and variations of domination and subjectivation. Foucault’s elucidation of the dense and minute dimensions of discipline and biopolitics likewise has had a noticeable impact on recent studies of colonialism, law, technology, gender, and race. The first volume of The History of Sexuality has become canonical for both gay and lesbian studies and “queer” theory, a multidisciplinary study aimed at critical examinations of traditional conceptions of sexual and gender identity. The terms discourse, genealogy, and power-knowledge have become deeply entrenched in the lexicon of virtually all contemporary social and cultural research.

Foucault has attracted several biographers, some of whom have been happy to flout his opposition to the practice of seeking the key to an oeuvre in the psychology or personality of its author. Yet, in their favour, it must be admitted that Foucault’s personal life is a worthy subject of attention. He regularly made the issues that most troubled him personally—emotional suffering, exclusion, sexuality—the topics of his research. His critiques were often both theoretical and practical; he did not merely write about prisons, for example, but also organized protests against them. In 1975, while in Spain to protest the impending executions of two members of ETA, the Basque separatist movement, by the government of Francisco Franco, Foucault confronted police officers who had come to seize the protest leaflets he had prepared. He also publicly attacked Jean-Paul Sartre at a time when Sartre was still the demigod of Parisian intellectuals.

Although he despised the label “homosexual,” he was openly gay and occasionally praised the pleasures of sadomasochism and the bathhouse. He was something of a dandy, preferring to shave his head and dress in black and white. He declared that he had experimented with drugs. Even more scandalously (at least to the French), he declared that his favourite meal was “a good club sandwich with a Coke.” Foucault cultivated his celebrity as “an all-purpose subversive,” but neither his thought nor his life contain the substantive principles of an activist program. Foucault was skeptical of conventional wisdom and conventional moralism—but not without exception. He was an ironist—but not without restraint. He could be subversive and could admire subversion—but he was not a revolutionary. He dismissed even the possibility of providing an answer to Vladimir Ilich Lenin’s great, abstract question “What is to be done?” Rather, he insisted upon asking, more concretely and more locally, “What, in a given situation, might be done to increase human capacities without simultaneously increasing oppression?” He was not confident that an answer would always be forthcoming. But whether the situation at hand was common or simply his own, he sought in all his endeavours to remove himself to a vista distant enough that the question might at least be intelligently posed.

James Faubion
 





La Nouvelle Critique (French New Criticism)

The new and subversive critical tendencies of the 1960s demanded more of the reader, who was to become an active participant in decoding the text, not a passive recipient. The term New Criticism (not to be confused with the Anglo-American New Criticism, developed after World War I, whose proponents were associated with the maintenance of conservative perspectives and structures) covers a wide range of very different practices and practitioners, from Georges Poulet and Jean-Pierre Richard to the Marxists Lucien Goldmann and Pierre Macherey and, later, Philippe Sollers and Julia Kristeva. Their new modes of reading, which challenged the conservative traditions embedded in the universities, contributed to the build-up of a wider demand for radical change. The New Critics despised the university establishment and met with opposition from it about the time that Barthes’s Sur Racine (1963; On Racine) was published. The confrontation was symptomatic. The educational system was itself rigid and outdated; a liberal university admissions policy was combined with a teaching method based largely on formal lectures, and the vast student body was without any say in the running of a system that seemed to be largely irrelevant to its needs.

 

 



Approaching the 21st century




The events of 1968 and their aftermath

During the student revolt in May 1968, streets, factories, schools, and universities became the stage for a spontaneous performance aimed at subverting bourgeois culture (a show with no content, occluding real life, according to Guy Debord, La Société du spectacle, 1967; The Society of the Spectacle). Posters and graffiti, the instruments of subversion, were elevated to a popular art form. Theatre experimented with audience participation and improvisation, a movement that continued into the 1970s. Rock music and comic books flourished. In the late 1960s television, which had been closely controlled by the government under de Gaulle, began to play an increasing role in cultural life; discussion programs and spin-offs from serials or adaptations increasingly replaced newspapers in guiding taste. The immediate aftermath of the May Events was a closing of conservative ranks, but this was short-lived. May 1968 has become the newest icon in France’s revolutionary cultural tradition.




Derrida and other theorists

The philosopher Jacques Derrida (L’Écriture et la différance [1967; Writing and Difference]) contributed to the contemporary cult of uncertainty with his poststructuralist project to “deconstruct” the binary structures of thinking on which Western culture appeared to be based and to expose the hierarchies of power sustained by such simple oppositions (such as the favouring of speech over writing or masculine over feminine). Derrida challenged the conventional cultural markers of authority, attacking “logocentrism” (the belief in the existence of a foundational absolute word or reality) and “phonocentrism” (lodging authenticity and truth in the voice of the speaker). In their L’Anti-Œdipe: capitalisme et schizophrénie (1972; The Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia), Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari gave a radical thrust to the analysis of individual desire, to be considered not in Freudian terms of repression and lack but as the source of transformative, liberating energy. Foucault continued his enquiries into the social forces and institutions that call individual subjectivity into existence, in volumes such as Surveiller et punir: naissance de la prison (1975; Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison) and Histoire de la sexualité (1976–84; The History of Sexuality). Pierre Bourdieu, who founded the sociology of knowledge, published La Reproduction (1970; Reproduction in Education, Society, and Culture), his seminal investigation into the social processes that ensure the transmission of “cultural capital” in ways that reproduce the established order.

 


Jacques Derrida




French philosopher

born July 15, 1930, El Biar, Algeria
died October 8, 2004, Paris, France

Main
French philosopher whose critique of Western philosophy and analyses of the nature of language, writing, and meaning were highly controversial yet immensely influential in much of the intellectual world in the late 20th century.

Life and work
Derrida was born to Sephardic Jewish parents in French-governed Algeria. Educated in the French tradition, he went to France in 1949, studied at the elite École Normale Supérieure (ENS), and taught philosophy at the Sorbonne (1960–64), the ENS (1964–84), and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (1984–99), all in Paris. From the 1960s he published numerous books and essays on an immense range of topics and taught and lectured throughout the world, including at Yale University and the University of California, Irvine, attaining an international celebrity comparable only to that of Jean-Paul Sartre a generation earlier.

Derrida is most celebrated as the principal exponent of deconstruction, a term he coined for the critical examination of the fundamental conceptual distinctions, or “oppositions,” inherent in Western philosophy since the time of the ancient Greeks. These oppositions are characteristically “binary” and “hierarchical,” involving a pair of terms in which one member of the pair is assumed to be primary or fundamental, the other secondary or derivative. Examples include nature and culture, speech and writing, mind and body, presence and absence, inside and outside, literal and metaphorical, intelligible and sensible, and form and meaning, among many others. To “deconstruct” an opposition is to explore the tensions and contradictions between the hierarchical ordering assumed or asserted in the text and other aspects of the text’s meaning, especially those that are indirect or implicit. Such an analysis shows that the opposition is not natural or necessary but a product, or “construction,” of the text itself.

The speech/writing opposition, for example, is manifested in texts that treat speech as a more authentic form of language than writing. These texts assume that the speaker’s ideas and intentions are directly expressed and immediately “present” in speech, whereas in writing they are comparatively remote or “absent” and thus more easily misunderstood. As Derrida points out, however, speech functions as language only to the extent that it shares characteristics traditionally assigned to writing, such as absence, “difference,” and the possibility of misunderstanding. This fact is indicated by philosophical texts themselves, which invariably describe speech in terms of examples and metaphors drawn from writing, even in cases where writing is explicitly claimed to be secondary to speech. Significantly, Derrida does not wish simply to invert the speech/writing opposition—i.e., to show that writing is really prior to speech. As with any deconstructive analysis, the point is to restructure, or “displace,” the opposition so as to show that neither term is primary.

The speech/writing opposition derives from a pervasive picture of meaning that equates linguistic meaning with the ideas and intentions in the mind of the speaker or author. Building on theories of the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, Derrida coined the term différance, meaning both a difference and an act of deferring, to characterize the way in which linguistic meaning is created rather than given. For Derrida as for Saussure, the meaning of a word is a function of the distinctive contrasts it displays with other, related meanings. Because each word depends for its meaning on the meanings of other words, it follows that the meaning of a word is never fully “present” to us, as it would be if meanings were the same as ideas or intentions; instead it is endlessly “deferred” in an infinitely long chain of meanings. Derrida expresses this idea by saying that meaning is created by the “play” of differences between words—a play that is “limitless,” “infinite,” and “indefinite.”

In the 1960s Derrida’s work was welcomed in France and elsewhere by thinkers interested in the broad interdisciplinary movement known as structuralism. The structuralists analyzed various cultural phenomena—such as myths, religious rituals, literary narratives, and fashions in dress and adornment—as general systems of signs analogous to natural languages, with their own vocabularies and their own underlying rules and structures, and attempted to develop a metalanguage of terms and concepts in which the various sign systems could be described. Some of Derrida’s early work was a critique of major structuralist thinkers such as Saussure, the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, and the intellectual historian and philosopher Michel Foucault. Derrida was thus seen, especially in the United States, as leading a movement beyond structuralism to “poststructuralism,” which was skeptical about the possibility of a general science of meaning.

In other work, particularly three books published in 1967— L’Écriture et la différence (Writing and Difference), De la grammatologie (Of Grammatology), and La Voix et le phénomène (Speech and Phenomena)—Derrida explored the treatment of writing by several seminal figures in the history of Western thought, including the philosophers Edmund Husserl and Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. Other books, published in 1972, include analyses of writing and representation in the work of philosophers such as Plato (La Dissémination [Dissemination]) and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Husserl, and Martin Heidegger (Marges de la philosophie [Margins of Philosophy]). Glas (1974) is an experimental book printed in two columns—one containing an analysis of key concepts in the philosophy of Hegel, the other a suggestive discussion of the thief, novelist, and playwright Jean Genet. Although Derrida’s writing had always been marked by a keen interest in what words can do, here he produced a work that plays with juxtaposition to explore how language can incite thought.

One might distinguish in Derrida’s work a period of philosophical deconstruction from a later period focusing on literature and emphasizing the singularity of the literary work and the play of meaning in avant-garde writers such as Genet, Stéphane Mallarmé, Francis Ponge, and James Joyce. His later work also took up a host of other issues, notably the legacy of Marxism (Spectres de Marx: l’état de la dette, le travail du deuil et la nouvelle Internationale [1993; Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International]) and psychoanalysis (La Carte postale: de Socrate à Freud et au-delà [1980; The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond]). Other essays considered political, legal, and ethical issues, as well as topics in aesthetics and literature. He also addressed the question of Jewishness and the Jewish tradition in Shibboleth and the autobiographical Circumfession (1991).


Criticism
Although critical examination of fundamental concepts is a standard part of philosophical practice in the Western tradition, it has seldom been carried out as rigorously as in the work of Derrida. His writing is known for its extreme subtlety, its meticulous attention to detail, and its tenacious pursuit of the logical implications of supposedly “marginal” features of texts. Nevertheless, his work has met with considerable opposition among some philosophers, especially those in the Anglo-American tradition. In 1992 the proposal by the University of Cambridge to award Derrida an honorary doctorate generated so much controversy that the university took the unusual step of putting the issue to a vote of the dons (Derrida won); meanwhile, 19 philosophers from around the globe published a letter of protest in which they claimed that Derrida’s writing was incomprehensible and his major claims either trivial or false. In the same vein, other critics have portrayed Derrida as an antirational and nihilistic opponent of “serious” philosophical thinking. Despite such criticism, Derrida’s ideas remain a powerful force in philosophy and myriad other fields.


Major Works
Most accessible to a general reader are the early interviews in Positions (1972; Positions, trans. by Alan Bass, 1981), and a later selection, including a letter and discussion concerning the Cambridge honorary degree, in Points de suspension, ed. by Elisabeth Weber (1992; Points …: Interviews, 1974–1994,1995). “Circonfession,” in Geoffrey Bennington and Jacques Derrida, Jacques Derrida (1991; Jacques Derrida, trans. by Geoffrey Bennington, 1993), combines theoretical discussion by Bennington with playfully disruptive autobiographical remarks by Derrida. Representative selections with introductory commentary can be found in A Derrida Reader: Between the Blinds, ed. by Peggy Kamuf (1991). Derrida’s classic critique of the treatment of speech and writing in Western philosophy appears in the more difficult essays of L’Écriture et la différence (1967; Writing and Difference, trans. by Alan Bass, 1978), and Marges de la philosophie (1972; Margins of Philosophy, 1982), as well as in the celebrated De la grammatologie (1967; Of Grammatology, 1976), which focuses on the work of Saussure and Rousseau. La Dissémination (1972; Dissemination, 1981) contains a crucial essay on Plato. Limited Inc (1988) is a polemical exchange with the American philosopher John Searle about the theory of speech acts; the volume includes an afterword, “Toward an Ethic of Discussion,” that clearly articulates Derrida’s positions on many contemporary theoretical issues.

Discussions of literature can be found in Acts of Literature, ed. by Derek Attridge (1992), which includes an important interview as well as key essays on Joyce, Franz Kafka, Ponge, Paul Celan, and William Shakespeare. Donner le temps (1991; Given Time, 1992) is an exemplary analysis of a prose poem by Charles Baudelaire. Psychoanalysis is covered in essays on Freud and Jacques Lacan in La Carte postale: de Socrate à Freud et au-delà (1980; The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond, 1987). Spectres de Marx: l’état de la dette, le travail du deuil et la nouvelle Internationale (1993; Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International, 1994) treats the legacy of Marxism. La Vérité en peinture (1978; The Truth in Painting, 1987) is an advanced discussion of aesthetic theory and avant-garde artistic practice. L’Autre cap: suivi de la democratie ajournée (1991; The Other Heading: Reflections on Today’s Europe, 1992) is a more straightforward reflection on issues confronting the new Europe. Politiques de l’amitié (1994; Politics of Friendship, 1997) explores philosophical reflections on friendship and the importance of friendship for a politics of the future.

 

 

 


Gilles Deleuze


born January 18, 1925, Paris, France
died November 4, 1995, Paris

French writer and antirationalist philosopher.

Deleuze began his study of philosophy at the Sorbonne in 1944. Appointed to the faculty there in 1957, he later taught at the University of Lyons and the University of Paris VIII, where he was a popular lecturer. He retired from teaching in 1987.

Two of Deleuze’s early publications, David Hume (1952; with Andre Cresson) and Nietzsche and Philosophy (1962), were historical studies of thinkers who, though in different ways, emphasized the limited powers of human reason and mocked the pretensions of traditional philosophy to discern the ultimate nature of reality. In the 1960s Deleuze began to philosophize in a more original vein, producing two major works, Difference and Repetition (1968) and The Logic of Sense (1969). In the former he argued against the devaluation of “difference” in Western metaphysics and tried to show that difference inheres in repetition itself.

A central theme of Deleuze’s work during this period was what he called the “Eleatic-Platonic bias” of Western metaphysics—i.e., the preference, which originated with the pre-Socratic school of Eleaticism and the subsequent philosophy of Plato, for unity over multiplicity (“the one” over “the many”) and for sameness over difference. According to Deleuze, this bias, which manifests itself in the characteristic philosophical search for the abstract “essences” of things, falsifies the nature of experience, which consists of multiplicities rather than unities. In order to do justice to reality as multiplicity, therefore, a completely new set of philosophical concepts is required. Deleuze also criticized traditional metaphysics for its “arboreal” or “treelike” character—i.e., its conception of reality in terms of hierarchy, order, and linearity—and compared his own thought, by contrast, to the structure of a rhizome, an underground plant stem whose growth is aimless and disordered.

Following the student uprising in Paris in May 1968, Deleuze’s thought became more politically engaged. Anti-Oedipus (1972), the first volume of a two-volume work (Capitalism and Schizophrenia) written with the radical psychoanalyst Félix Guattari (1930–92), is an extended attack on traditional psychoanalysis and the concept of the Oedipus complex, which the authors contend has been used to suppress human desire in the service of normalization and control. The book concludes with a rather naive celebration of schizophrenia as a heroic expression of social nonconformity. In the second volume, A Thousand Plateaus (1980), which they present as a study in “nomadology” and “deterritorialization” (the former term suggesting the nomadic lifestyle of Bedouin tribes, the latter a general state of flux and mobility), Deleuze and Guattari condemn all species of rationalist metaphysics as “state philosophy.”

In 1995, depressed by chronic illness and his generally deteriorating health, Deleuze committed suicide.

Richard Wolin
 

 

 


Félix Guattari


born April 30, 1930, Colombe, France
died August 29, 1992, near Blois

French psychiatrist and philosopher and a leader of the antipsychiatry movement of the 1960s and ’70s, which challenged established thought in psychoanalysis, philosophy, and sociology.

Trained as a psychoanalyst, Guattari worked during the 1950s at La Borde, a clinic near Paris that was noted for its innovative therapeutic practices. It was at this time that Guattari began analysis with the celebrated French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, whose reevaluation of the centrality of the “unconscious” in psychoanalytic theory had begun attracting many disciples. In the mid-1960s Guattari broke with Lacan, whose thinking he felt remained too closely tied to Freud’s, and founded his own clinics, the Society for Institutional Psychotherapy (1965) and the Centre for Institutional Studies and Research (1970).

Inspired by the student uprising in Paris in May 1968, Guattari collaborated with the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze (1925–95) to produce a two-volume work of antipsychoanalytic social philosophy, Capitalism and Schizophrenia. In volume 1, Anti-Oedipus (1972), they drew on Lacanian ideas to argue that traditional psychoanalytic conceptions of the structure of personality are used to suppress and control human desire and indirectly to perpetuate the capitalist system. Schizophrenia, they continued, constitutes one of the few authentic forms of rebellion against the system’s tyrannical imperatives. In place of traditional psychoanalysis, they recommended a new technique inspired by the antipsychiatry movement, “schizoanalysis,” in which individuals are analyzed as libidinally diffuse “desiring machines” rather than as ego-driven Freudian subjectivities.

Volume 2 of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, A Thousand Plateaus (1980), is characterized by a self-consciously disjointed, paratactic style of philosophical inquiry, reflecting the authors’ conviction that the “linear” organization of traditional philosophy represents an incipient form of social control. The work is presented as a study in what Deleuze and Guattari call “deterritorialization”—i.e., the effort to destabilize the predominant, repressive conceptions of identity, meaning, and truth. The authors conclude by glibly dismissing Western metaphysics as an expression of “state philosophy.”

Ever conscious of the most minute fissures in the social order and searching for creative ways to undermine fixed ideas and inherited truths, Guattari became an advocate of “molecular revolutions” in life and thought. In so doing, Guattari joined the French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault in proclaiming the death of the traditional (Marxist) intellectual, who aimed at a “total social revolution.” Instead, new inspiration would derive from the struggles of heretofore marginalized groups, including homosexuals, women, environmentalists, immigrants, and prisoners. Guattari’s third and final work cowritten with Deleuze, What Is Philosophy?, was published in 1991.

Richard Wolin
 





Feminist writers

The Mouvement de Libération des Femmes (MLF; Movement for the Liberation of Women) developed within the radical thinking and action that marked 1968 and produced feminist extensions of the work of Lacan, Derrida, and Deleuze. Combining the disciplines of literary theory and psychology to explore language as an instrument for radical change, Julia Kristeva wrote the highly influential La Révolution du langage poétique (1974; Revolution in Poetic Language). Its account of two new areas of discourse, the semiotic and the symbolic, proposed new ideas on the formation of identity, especially the mother-child relationship, which have transformed ideas of women’s function and significance. Simone de Beauvoir’s work provided inspiration for large sectors of the movement. Autobiography or autobiographical fiction were popular modes, combining lively linguistic experiment with innovative analyses of individual experience, focusing especially on hitherto taboo areas, such as female sexuality and the family and its discontents. Among writers in this vein were Violette Leduc in La Bâtarde (1964; “The Bastard”; Eng. trans. La Bâtarde) and Marie Cardinal in Les Mots pour le dire (1975; The Words to Say It). Creative writers in the realist mode addressed a widening popular readership with accounts of the lives of women trapped in slum housing and dead-end jobs. Notable works in this mode include Christiane Rochefort’s Les Petits Enfants du siècle (1961; “Children of the Times”; Eng. trans. Josyane and the Welfare) and Claire Etcherelli’s Élise; ou, la vraie vie (1967; Elise; or, The Real Life). But an equally significant impact was made by writers looking for ways of transforming masculine language for women-generated versions of feminine subjectivity. The texts of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett lie behind Hélène Cixous’s écriture féminine, a kind of writing that emblematizes feminine difference. This writing is driven and styled by a “feminine” logic opting for openness, inclusiveness, digression, and play that Cixous opposes to a “masculine” mode that is utilitarian, authoritarian, elitist, and hierarchical. In the 1970s Cixous expressed the theory of the new style in texts such as La Jeune Née (1975, in dialogue with Cathérine Clément; The Newly Born Woman), and she has continued to practice it in prose fictions of varying value, such as Dedans (1969; Inside), awarded the Prix Médicis, Révolutions pour plus d’un Faust (1975; “Revolutions for More Than One Faust”), and Angst (1977; Eng. trans. Angst). The radical lesbian writer Monique Wittig made language experiments of a slightly different kind in prose fictions that push the boundaries of genre and model women’s struggle for self-designation inside forms of language and social institutions that are the product of masculine priorities and values. The novel L’Opoponax (1964; The Opoponax) is a brilliant account of the making of a feminine subject, from childhood to adolescence. Le Corps lesbien (1973; The Lesbian Body), a violent, sadomasochistic, and lyrical text of prose fiction, is a unique attempt to evoke in its own language the body of female desire.

In the theatre, feminism also made its own space. Marguerite Duras’s India Song (1972; Eng. trans. India Song) found new configurations of space and sound to describe the protean nature of gendered desire. Cixous’s Portrait de Dora (1976), initially a radio play, is a psychodrama of the patient’s escape from the interpretative webs of Freudian desire. In contrast, her epics in the mid-1980s on the Cambodian and Indian struggles were tailor-made for founding director Ariane Mnouchkine’s Théâtre du Soleil, a troupe known for spectacular performances in large-scale venues.
 


Marguerite Duras


born April 4, 1914, Gia Dinh, Cochinchina [Vietnam]
died March 3, 1996, Paris, France


French novelist, screenwriter, scenarist, playwright, and film director, internationally known for her screenplays of Hiroshima mon amour (1959) and India Song (1975). The novel L’Amant (1984; The Lover; film, 1992) won the prestigious Prix Goncourt in 1984.

Duras spent most of her childhood in Indochina, but at the age of 17 she moved to France to study at the University of Paris, Sorbonne, from which she received licences in law and politics. She favoured leftist causes and for 10 years was a member of the Communist Party. She began writing in 1942. Un Barrage contre le Pacifique (1950; The Sea Wall), her third published novel and first success, dealt semiautobiographically with a poor French family in Indochina. Her next successes, Le Marin de Gibraltar (1952; The Sailor from Gibraltar) and Moderato cantabile (1958), were more lyrical and complex and more given to dialogue.

This splendid instinct for dialogue led Duras to produce the original screenplay for Alain Resnais’s critically acclaimed film Hiroshima mon amour, about a brief love affair in postwar Hiroshima between a Japanese businessman and a French actress. She directed as well as wrote the 1975 film adaptation of her play India Song, which offers a static, moody portrayal of the wife of the French ambassador in Calcutta and her several lovers. Some of her screenplays were adaptations of her own novels and short stories.

Duras turned regularly to a more abstract and synthetic mode, with fewer characters, less plot and narrative, and fewer of the other elements of traditional fiction; her name was even associated with the nouveau roman (“new novel”) movement, though she denied such a connection. The semiautobiographical story of L’Amant, about a French teenage girl’s love affair with a Chinese man 12 years her senior, was revised in the novel L’Amant de la Chine du Nord (1991; The North China Lover). Among her other novels were L’Après-midi de Monsieur Andesmas (1962; The Afternoon of Monsieur Andesmas), Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein (1964; The Ravishing of Lol Stein), Détruire, dit-elle (1969; Destroy, She Said), L’Amour (1971; “Love”), L’Été 80 (1980; “Summer 80”), and La Pluie d’été (1990; Summer Rain). Collections of her plays were included in Théâtre I (1965), Théâtre II (1968), and Théâtre III (1984).
 


 

Other literature of the 1970s

After 1968, literature became committed to the search for different themes, perspectives, and voices. The women’s movement, with its insistence on seeking out a diversity and proliferation of voices, was highly influential; another important factor, not unconnected with this, was the rise of writing in French from France’s former colonies. Other influences must include, in academia, the commitment of critical theory to the business of finding fresh angles and lines of investigation and, on the wider popular front, the exponential expansion of the media and its unprecedented demand for fresh stories, images, and forms. Within this growing commitment to the fashionable, the history of the novel became one of quickly displaced trends and meteoric rises (and disappearances). At the same time, several writers with established reputations continued to demonstrate their merit (Beauvoir, Duras, Beckett—the latter in powerful pieces of increasingly minimalist prose), and they were joined by others. Georges Perec, one of the best-known members of OuLiPo, had first made his mark in 1965, with the novel Les Choses: une histoire des années soixante (Things: A Story of the Sixties), a devastatingly comic account of a young couple in thrall to consumerism and the rhetorics of advertising. He followed this with other discourse games, such as La Disparition (1969; A Void), a text composed entirely without using the letter e, and La Vie: mode d’emploi (1978; Life: A User’s Manual), his most celebrated work, constructed in the form of a variant on a mathematical puzzle. Michel Tournier caught the public imagination with work that set up an adult relationship with the heritage of children’s stories. Vendredi; ou, les limbes du Pacifique (1967; Friday; or, The Other Island) was followed by Le Roi des Aulnes (1970; The Ogre, also published as The Erl-King), an extraordinary combination of myth and parable. His short stories collected in Le Coq de bruyère (1978; The Fetishist and Other Stories) and the novel Gaspard, Melchior, Balthasar (1980; The Four Wise Men) were subversive rewritings of ancient tales. Other writers provided more direct responses to the political and economic frustrations of the decade: J.M.G. Le Clézio’s apocalyptic fictions, for example, evoked the alienation of life in technological, consumerist society.

In the 1970s writers began to confront the events of the Occupation. Perec’s W; ou, le souvenir d’enfance (1975; W; or, The Memory of Childhood) is an autobiography formed of the alternating chapters of two seemingly unconnected texts, which eventually find their resolution in the concentration camp. The novels of Patrick Modiano used a nostalgic fascination with the war years to explore problems of individual and collective identities, responsibilities, and loyalties.
 


Georges Perec



 

born March 7, 1936, Paris, France
died March 3, 1982, Ivry

French writer, often called the greatest innovator of form of his generation.

Perec was orphaned at an early age: his father was killed in action in World War II, and his mother died in a concentration camp. He was reared by an aunt and uncle and eventually attended the Sorbonne for several years. His best-selling first novel, Les Choses: une histoire des années soixante (1965; Things: A Story of the Sixties), concerns a young Parisian couple whose personalities are consumed by their material goods. In 1967 he joined the Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle (Workshop of Potential Literature). Known in short as OuLiPo, the group dedicated itself to the pursuit of new forms for literature and the revival of old ones. Perec’s novel La Disparition (1969; A Void) was written entirely without using the letter e, as was its translation. W; ou, le souvenir d’enfance (1975; W; or, the Memory of Childhood) is considered a masterpiece of innovative autobiography, using alternating chapters to tell two stories that ultimately converge. By far his most ambitious and most critically acclaimed novel is La Vie: mode d’emploi (1978; Life: A User’s Manual), which describes each unit in a large Parisian apartment building and relates the stories of its inhabitants.

Perec’s work in other areas includes a highly acclaimed 1979 television film about Ellis Island. Je me souviens (1978; “I Remember”), a book of about 480 sentences all beginning with the phrase “I remember” and recording memories of life in the 1950s, was adapted for the stage. At his death, Perec was working on a detective novel, which, edited by Harry Mathews and Jacques Roubaud, was published as 53 Jours (1989; 53 Days). A collection of essays, Penser/Classer (1985; “To Think, to Classify”), was published posthumously.
 




Historical fiction

The frustrations of the times may have added to the attraction of the historical novel, which remained popular throughout the second half of the century. Marguerite Yourcenar, who in 1980 became the first woman elected to the Académie Française, had shown that the genre could move beyond escapism. Mémoires d’Hadrien (1951; Memoirs of Hadrian) and L’Oeuvre au noir (1968; The Abyss), evoking the making and unmaking of order in Europe, offered portraits of men who grappled with the limitations of their time. In addition to proffering rich evocations of the past, Yourcenar’s accounts had contemporary political resonance. History proved able to accommodate a vast range of fiction, from popular romance and fictionalized biography to the linguistic and narrative experiments of writers such as Pierre Guyotat, whose Éden, Éden, Éden (1970; Eden, Eden, Eden), a novel about war, prostitution, obscenity, and atrocity, set in the Algerian desert, was banned by the censor for 11 years; Florence Delay in her stylish novel L’Insuccès de la fête (1980; “The Failure of the Feast”); and, especially, Nobel Prize-winning author Claude Simon, many of whose works, notably La Route des Flandres (1960; The Flanders Road), Histoire (1967; “Tale”; Eng. trans. Histoire), and Les Géorgiques (1981; The Georgics), not only evoke deeply human experiences of loss and longing but also explore forms of memory and remembering and questions of subjectivity and historical truth. Historical fiction was sustained by the prestige of historiography, in the shape of Michel Foucault’s studies of sexuality and attitudes to death, and the narrative and materialist social history associated with the journal Annales, founded in 1929 by Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre.

 


Claude Simon

in full Claude Eugène Henri Simon

born October 10, 1913, Tananarive [now Antananarivo], Madagascar
died July 6, 2005, Paris, France

writer whose works are among the most authentic representatives of the French nouveau roman (“new novel”) that emerged in the 1950s. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1985.

The son of a cavalry officer who was killed in World War I, Simon was raised by his mother in Perpignan, France. After studies at Paris, Oxford, and Cambridge, he traveled widely and then fought in World War II. He was captured by the Germans in May 1940, escaped, and joined the French Resistance, managing to complete his first novel, Le Tricheur (1945; “The Trickster”), during the war years. Later he settled in his hometown in southern France, where he bought a vineyard and produced wine.

In Le Vent (1957; The Wind) Simon defined his goals: to challenge the fragmentation of his time and to rediscover the permanence of objects and people, evidenced by their survival through the upheavals of contemporary history. He treated the turmoil of the Spanish Civil War in La Corde raide (1947; “The Taut Rope”) and Le Sacre du printemps (1954; “The Rite of Spring”) and the 1940 collapse of France in Le Tricheur. Four novels—L’Herbe (1958; The Grass), La Route des Flandres (1960; The Flanders Road), La Palace (1962; The Palace), and Histoire (1967)—constitute a cycle containing recurring characters and events. Many critics consider these novels, especially La Route des Flandres, to be his most important work. Later novels include La Bataille de Pharsale (1969; The Battle of Pharsalus), Triptyque (1973; Triptych), Les Géorgiques (1981; The Georgics), and Le Tramway (2001; The Trolley).

Simon’s style is a mixture of narration and stream of consciousness, lacking all punctuation and heavy with 1,000-word sentences. Through such masses of words, Simon attempted to capture the very progression of life. His novels remain readable despite their seeming chaos.




Biography and related arts

There was a corresponding interest in biography, autobiography, and memoirs. The novelists Julien Green, Julien Gracq (pseudonym of Louis Poirier), and Yourcenar (discussed above) were among several figures of an earlier generation who began in the 1970s to publish journals and memoirs rather than fiction, and the film versions of Marcel Pagnol’s 1950s recollections of his Provençal childhood met with great success. The vogue would gather momentum in the last decades of the century, in texts which, increasingly, became technically innovative, such as Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes (1975; Roland Barthes), a contradictory, self-critical portrait; and Nathalie Sarraute’s Enfance (1983; Childhood). Genre boundaries blurred: in Barthes’s Fragments d’un discours amoureux (1977; A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments), criticism and self-analysis became fiction and writing became an erotic act.

 


Detective fiction

Detective fiction, a genre sometimes exploited by the nouveau roman, had an outstanding practitioner in Georges Simenon, the inventor of Inspector Maigret, who during the 1970s also turned to autobiography. The gangster novels of Albert Simonin, like the parodies of Frédéric Dard (better known as San-Antonio), made imaginative use of Parisian argot, but the chief attraction of the thriller for more “literary” writers was its form, which they, like a number of filmmakers, adopted as a framework for the investigation of questions of identity or moral and political dilemmas. In Patrick Modiano’s Rue des boutiques obscures (1978; “The Street of Dark Shops”; Eng. trans. Missing Person), for example, a detective who has lost his memory looks for his identity in the darkness of the wartime past.

The 1980s and ’90sThe closing years of the century were a time of adjustment to political, economic, and social changes. The slow recognition that France was no longer a major player in global politics was accompanied by a reassessment of the leading part the country still played on the cultural stage—not least in Europe, where cultural politics became increasingly important in France’s bid for power in the new European Union. Conservative commentators sometimes lamented that French culture at times appeared to be marginal and history to be “happening elsewhere” (as a character remarked in Alain Jouffroy’s novel L’Indiscrétion faite à Charlotte [1980; “Charlotte and the Indiscretion”]).
 


Georges Simenon


in full Georges-Joseph-Christian Simenon

born Feb. 13, 1903, Liège, Belg.
died Sept. 4, 1989, Lausanne, Switz.


Belgian-French novelist whose prolific output surpassed that of any of his contemporaries and who was perhaps the most widely published author of the 20th century.

Simenon began working on a local newspaper at age 16, and at 19 he went to Paris determined to be a successful writer. Typing some 80 pages each day, he wrote, between 1923 and 1933, more than 200 books of pulp fiction under 16 different pseudonyms, the sales of which soon made him a millionaire. The first novel to appear under his own name was Pietr-le-Letton (1929; The Strange Case of Peter the Lett), in which he introduced the imperturbable, pipe-smoking Parisian police inspector Jules Maigret to fiction. Simenon went on to write 83 more detective novels featuring Inspector Maigret, as well as 136 psychological novels. His total literary output consisted of about 425 books that were translated into some 50 languages and sold more than 600 million copies worldwide. Many of his works were the basis of feature films or made-for-television movies. In addition to novels, he wrote three autobiographical works—Pedigrée (1948), Quand j’étais vieux (1970; When I Was Old), and Mémoires intimes (1981; Intimate Memoirs), the last after the suicide of his only daughter—and a critically well-received trilogy of novellas about Africa, selections of which were published in English as African Trio (1979).

Despite these other works, Simenon remains inextricably linked with Inspector Maigret, who is one of the best-known characters in detective fiction. Unlike those fictional detectives who rely on their immense deductive powers or on police procedure, Maigret solves murders using mainly his psychological intuition and a patiently sought, compassionate understanding of the perpetrator’s motives and emotional composition. Simenon’s central theme is the essential humanity of even the isolated, abnormal individual and the sorrow at the root of the human condition. Employing a style of rigorous simplicity, he evokes a prevailing atmosphere of neurotic tensions with sharp economy.

Simenon, who traveled to more than 30 countries, lived in the United States for more than a decade, starting in 1945; he later lived in France and Switzerland. At the age of 70 he stopped writing novels, though he continued to write nonfiction.
 





Fiction and nonfiction


Postcolonial literature

As the century closed, on the far side of the distress caused by the gradual demise of the old regime, it was possible to see new and vital trends emerging. Pierre Nora, writing in 1992 the closing essay to his great project of national cultural commemoration, Les Lieux de mémoire (Realms of Memory), begun in 1984, was struck by the elegiac tone of the finished work and commented that a different tone might have emerged if he had invited his contributors to focus on more marginal groups. Indeed, an important contribution was being made to French cultural life not only by Francophone writers from North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Caribbean but by descendants of immigrants in France itself. Fiction, autobiography, and drama produced by the children of North African immigrants born and brought up in France (known as les beurs, from the word arabe in a form of French slang called verlan) began to find publishers and audiences from the early 1980s. Their insights into the tensions of cross-cultural identity and the patterns of life in the underprivileged working-class suburbs of Paris, Nancy, and Lyon began to enrich the cultural capital of a mainstream readership that was increasingly learning to see itself as formed in the crosscurrents of internationalism and the anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, far-right National Front (Front National), as delineated in works such as Leïla Houari’s Zeida de nulle part (1985; “Zeida from Nowhere”) or her Poème-fleuve pour noyer le temps présent (1995; “Stream-of-Consciousness Poetry to Drown the Present In”). The French also began to come to terms with the Algerian conflict, as evidenced by the success in France of Albert Camus’s posthumously published Le Premier Homme (1994; The First Man), an autobiographical novel based on his father’s childhood in Algeria, in a working-class European colonist milieu. Assia Djebar, one of the turn of the century’s outstanding novelists, is painfully positioned in terrain that is both European and transatlantic. Having established—in novels such as L’Amour, la fantasia (1985; Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade)—her reputation as both ardent defender and critic of her native Algeria, which emerged from colonial oppression with gender repressions still intact, she divided her working life between Europe and the United States, producing fictions that look to the Algerian motherland but are also alert to the hierarchies of power on the frontiers of the new Europe, as in Les Nuits de Strasbourg (1997; “Strasbourg Nights”).

 

Regional literature

Funding from the European Union helped keep alive regional traditions. The Occitan renaissance organized by the poet Frédéric Mistral in the last quarter of the 19th century and relaunched several times, most significantly after World War II, by the Institute of Occitan Studies, is still productive. Fortune de France (1977–85; “The Fortunes of France”), Robert Merle’s saga of the Wars of Religion (between the Protestants and Catholics in the 16th and 17th centuries), helped keep the Occitan-speaking region of southern France in the forefront of the popular imagination. Writing in Breton dwindled significantly for many years but has revived, and writing in French focused on the Breton landscape remains significant, especially for poetry. Florence Delay’s novel Etxemendi (1990) set its plot in the Basque independence movement.
 


Frédéric Mistral




 

born Sept. 8, 1830, Maillane, France
died March 25, 1914, Maillane


poet who led the 19th-century revival of Occitan (Provençal) language and literature. He shared the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1904 (with José Echegaray y Eizaguirre) for his contributions in literature and philology.

Mistral’s father was a well-to-do farmer in the former French province of Provence. He attended the Royal College of Avignon (later renamed the Frédéric Mistral School). One of his teachers was Joseph Roumanille, who had begun writing poems in the vernacular of Provence and who became his lifelong friend. Mistral took a degree in law at the University of Aix-en-Provence in 1851.

Wealthy enough to live without following a profession, he early decided to devote himself to the rehabilitation of Provençal life and language. In 1854, with several friends, he founded the Félibrige, an association for the maintenance of the Provençal language and customs, extended later to include the whole of southern France (le pays de la langue d’oc, “the country of the language of oc,” so called because the Provençal language uses oc for “yes,” in contrast to the French oui). As the language of the troubadours, Provençal had been the cultured speech of southern France and was used also by poets in Italy and Spain. Mistral threw himself into the literary revival of Provençal and was the guiding spirit and chief organizer of the Félibrige until his death in 1914.

Mistral devoted 20 years’ work to a scholarly dictionary of Provençal, entitled Lou Tresor dóu Félibrige, 2 vol. (1878). He also founded a Provençal ethnographic museum in Arles, using his Nobel Prize money to assist it. His attempts to restore the Provençal language to its ancient position did not succeed, but his poetic genius gave it some enduring masterpieces, and he is considered one of the greatest poets of France.

His literary output consists of four long narrative poems: Mirèio (1859; Mireio: A Provencal Poem), Calendau (1867), Nerto (1884), and Lou Pouèmo dóu Rose (1897; Eng. trans. The Song of the Rhône); a historical tragedy, La Reino Jano (1890; “Queen Jane”); two volumes of lyrics, Lis Isclo d’or (1876; definitive edition 1889) and Lis Oulivado (1912); and many short stories, collected in Prose d’Armana, 3 vol. (1926–29).

Mistral’s volume of memoirs, Moun espelido (Mes origines, 1906; Eng. trans. Memoirs of Mistral), is his best-known work, but his claim to greatness rests on his first and last long poems, Mirèio and Lou Pouèmo dóu Rose, both full-scale epics in 12 cantos.

Mirèio, which is set in the poet’s own time and district, is the story of a rich farmer’s daughter whose love for a poor basketmaker’s son is thwarted by her parents and ends with her death in the Church of Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Into this poem Mistral poured his love for the countryside where he was born. Mirèio skillfully combines narration, dialogue, description, and lyricism and is notable for the springy, musical quality of its highly individual stanzaic form. Under its French title, Mireille, it inspired an opera by Charles Gounod (1863).

Lou Pouèmo dóu Rose tells of a voyage on the Rhône River from Lyon to Beaucaire by the barge Lou Caburle, which is boarded first by a romantic young prince of Holland and later by the daughter of a poor ferryman. The romance between them is cut short by disaster when the first steamboat to sail on the Rhône accidentally sinks Lou Caburle. Though the crew swims ashore, the lovers are drowned. Although less musical and more dense in style than Mirèio, this epic is as full of life and colour. It suggests that Mistral, late in life, realized that his aim had not been reached and that much of what he loved was, like his heroes, doomed to perish.

 

 


Robert Merle



Robert Merle (28 August 1908 - 28 March 2004) was a French novelist.

 

Born in Tébessa in French Algeria, he moved to France in 1918. A professor of English Literature at several universities, during World War II Merle was consripted in the French army and assigned as an interpreter to the British Expeditionary Force.[1] He ended up in Dunkerque where he was not evacuated but captured by the Germans. Merle used his experiences in his 1949 novel Week-end at Zuydcoote that won the Prix Goncourt. It was filmed in 1964.

He has also written a 13 book series of historical novels, Fortune de France. Recreating 16th and 17th century France through the eyes of a fictitious Protestant doctor turned spy, he went so far as to write it in the period's French making it virtually untranslatable.

His novels Un animal doué de la raison (A Sentient Animal, 1967), a stark Cold War satire inspired by John Lilly's studies of dolphins and the Caribbean Crisis, and Malevil (1972), a post-apocalyptic story, were both translated into English and filmed, the former, in 1973, as The Day of the Dolphin. It starred George C.Scott and had a screenplay by Buck Henry. It bore very little resemblance to Merle's story.

He died of a heart attack at his home La Malmaison in Grosrouvre near Paris.
 




Postmodernism

Thought and sensibility at the end of the century were in thrall to postmodernism, which has been variously described as a radical attack on all authoritarian discourse and a return to conservatism by the back door. Jean-Francois Lyotard’s La Condition postmoderne (1979; The Postmodern Condition) declared the end of the modes and concepts that had fueled 18th-century scientific rationalism and the industrial and capitalist society to which it gave birth: the “grand narratives” of historical progress and concepts of universal moral value and absolute worth. Societies were to be seen instead as collections of games or performances, played within arbitrary sets of rules. Jean Baudrillard’s critical accounts of the inscription of consumer society and its discourses into private and public lives had a subversive impact at the moment of their first production through such works as Pour une critique de l’économie politique du signe (1972; For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign). But from the 1980s his work was perceived as a product of conservative postmodernism that seemed to assert that history had no more use and that value judgements were at an end. His La Guerre du Golfe n’a pas eu lieu (1991; The Gulf War Did Not Take Place) was an attack on the posturing of all parties to the Gulf War; this posturing, Baudrillard argued, had replaced meaningful political thought and action.

As postmodernism became less fashionable, traditions concerned with society, history, and morality reemerged. The psycho-political critique of Deleuze and Guattari made its way into the intellectual mainstream. Pierre Bourdieu continued his analytical and empirical studies of cultural institutions, including broadcasting and television (Sur la télévision [1996; On Television]). A society traditionally split between elite and mass culture was given a new positive account of the nature of the ordinary consumer in Michel de Certeau’s L’Invention du quotidien (1980; The Practice of Everyday Life), which aimed to provide the tools for people to understand and control the discourses that shaped the ordinary processes of living.
 


Jean-Francois Lyotard

born August 10, 1924, Versailles, France
died April 21, 1998, Paris

French philosopher and leading figure in the intellectual movement known as postmodernism.

As a youth, Lyotard considered becoming a monk, a painter, and a historian. After studying at the Sorbonne, he completed an agrégation (teaching degree) in philosophy in 1950 and joined the faculty of a secondary school in Constantine, Algeria. In 1954 he became a member of Socialisme ou Barbarie (“Socialism or Barbarism”), an anti-Stalinist socialist group, contributing essays to its journal (also called Socialisme ou barbarie) that were vehemently critical of French colonial involvement in Algeria. In 1966 he began teaching philosophy at the University of Paris X (Nanterre); in 1970 he moved to the University of Paris VIII (Vincennes–Saint-Denis), where he was appointed professor emeritus in 1987. In the 1980s and ’90s he taught widely outside France. He was professor of French at the University of California, Irvine, from 1993 and professor of French and philosophy at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., from 1995.

In his first major philosophical work, Discourse/Figure (1971), Lyotard distinguished between the meaningfulness of linguistic signs and the meaningfulness of plastic arts such as painting and sculpture. He argued that, because rational thought or judgment is discursive and works of art are inherently symbolic, certain aspects of artistic meaning—such as the symbolic and pictorial richness of painting—will always be beyond reason’s grasp. In Libidinal Economy (1974), a work very much influenced by the Parisian student uprising of May 1968, Lyotard claimed that “desire” always escapes the generalizing and synthesizing activity inherent in rational thought; instead, reason and desire stand in a relationship of constant tension.

In his best-known and most influential work, The Postmodern Condition (1979), Lyotard characterized the postmodern era as one that has lost faith in all grand, totalizing “metanarratives”—the abstract ideas in terms of which thinkers since the time of the Enlightenment have attempted to construct comprehensive explanations of historical experience. Disillusioned with the grandiose claims of metanarratives such as “reason,” “truth,” and “progress,” the postmodern age has turned to smaller, narrower petits récits (“little narratives”), such as the history of everyday life and of marginalized groups. In his most important philosophical work, The Differend: Phrases in Dispute (1983), Lyotard compared discourses to “language games,” a notion developed in the later work of Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951); like language games, discourses are discrete systems of rule-governed activity involving language. Because there is no common set of assumptions in terms of which their conflicting claims or viewpoints can be adjudicated (there is no universal “reason” or “truth”), discourses are for the most part incommensurable. The basic imperative of postmodern politics, therefore, is to create communities in which the integrity of different language games is respected—communities based on heterogeneity, conflict, and “dissensus.”

Richard Wolin

 

 


Jean Baudrillard

born July 29, 1929, Reims, France
died March 6, 2007, Paris


French sociologist and cultural theorist whose theoretical ideas of “hyperreality” and “simulacrum” influenced literary theory and philosophy, especially in the United States, and spread into popular culture.

After studying German at the Sorbonne, Baudrillard taught German literature in secondary schools (1956–66), translated German literary and philosophical works, and published essays in the literary review Les Temps Modernes. At the same time, he attended the University of Paris X at Nanterre, where in 1968 he completed a dissertation in sociology, Le Système des objects (The System of Objects), under the direction of Marxist historian Henri Lefebvre. Baudrillard taught (1966–68) in the sociology department at Nanterre, which was one of the centres of the May 1968 student revolts, with which he was in sympathy. He then moved to the University of Paris IX (now the University of Paris at Dauphine), from which he retired in 1987.

Baudrillard’s early work—including The System of Objects, La Société de consommation (1970; The Consumer Society), and Pour une critique de l’économie politique du signe (1972; For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign)—combines Marxist political economy and a semiotics (theory of signs) influenced by Roland Barthes in a critique of everyday life in consumer society, in which, according to Baudrillard, things have symbolic value in addition to values derived from Marxian use and exchange. In Le Miroir de la production; ou, l’illusion critique du matérialisme historique (1973; The Mirror of Production) and L’Échange symbolique et la mort (1976; Symbolic Exchange and Death), Baudrillard broke with Marxism to develop an account of postmodern society in which consumer and electronic images have become more real (hyperreal) than physical reality and in which simulations of reality (simulacra) have displaced their originals, leaving only “the desert of the real.” This phrase was quoted in the popular American science-fiction film The Matrix (1999), whose hero hides contraband in a copy of Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation (originally published as Simulacres et simulation, 1981). An accomplished photographer, Baudrillard asserted that “every photographed object is merely the trace left behind by the disappearance of all the rest.”

Among Baudrillard’s other major works are Oublier Foucault (1977; Forget Foucault); Amérique (1986; America), based on a trip to the United States; La Guerre du Golfe n’a pas eu lieu (1991; The Gulf War Did Not Take Place); Jean Baudrillard: Photographies 1985–1998 (1999), a collection of his images and related essays; and L’Esprit du terrorisme (2002; The Spirit of Terrorism: And Requiem for the Twin Towers). The first issue of The International Journal of Baudrillard Studies appeared in early 2004.



Prose fiction

In the field of prose fiction, Jean Echenoz’s comic pastiches of adventure, detective, and spy stories pleased both critics and the reading public. New themes emerged in the terrain in between modes and disciplines. Photography and writing joined to produce the photo-roman, concerned with exploring the relationship between the image, especially images of the body, and the narrative work that goes into its construction and interpretation. Good examples of the photo-roman are Barthes’s La Chambre Claire (1980; Camera Lucida) and Hervé Guibert’s Vice (1991). Gay writing, already becoming more political and more polemic, found an important collective focus in the AIDS crisis, most notably in Guibert’s best-selling A l’ami qui ne m’a pas sauvé la vie (1990; To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life). The quality and variety of women’s writing was outstanding. Social issues were addressed in the autobiographical fiction of Annie Ernaux, who, in La Place (1983; Positions, also published as A Man’s Place) and Une Femme (1988; “A Woman”; A Woman’s Story), looked at the stresses between generations created by social change and changes of class allegiance. Ernaux’s later writing was more directly personal: L’Événement (2000; Happening) is her account of an abortion she underwent in her early 20s. Christiane Rochefort’s novel of child abuse, La Porte au fond (“The Door at the Back of the Room”), appeared in 1988. Hélène Cixous’s feminist classic, Le Livre de Prométhéa (1983; The Book of Promethea)—learned, funny, sparkling, and innovative—achieved its writer’s ambition to make a distinctive model of the desiring feminine subject, within but not consumed by the inherited forms of writing and culture. Marguerite Duras’s autobiographical novels L’Amant (1984; The Lover) and L’Amant de la Chine du Nord (1991; The North China Lover) voiced their author’s own version of the feminine erotic. Monique Wittig stylized lesbian sadomasochism in her parodic Virgile, Non (1985; “Virgil, No”; Eng. trans. Across the Acheron). Another generation began publishing in the 1980s. Marie Redonnet’s prose fictions sit at the edge of popular culture, in a bizarre blend of realism and fantasy, engaging in confident negotiation with the myths and forms of both maternal and paternal inheritance. Chantal Chawaf’s sensually charged prose offers a highly original version of the blood rhythms of the body in Rédemption (1989; Eng. trans. Redemption), a very new kind of vampire novel.

Writers offered radically different versions of life in the contemporary world. Sylvie Germain’s magic realism works on landscapes steeped in history, where the past painfully but also productively encloses the present. Her novel La Pleurante des rues de Prague (1992; The Weeping Woman on the Streets of Prague) is a dreamlike, surreal evocation of a city haunted by its sorrowful history. Tobie des marais (1998; The Book of Tobias) reworks the apocryphal tale in a France that is simultaneously, and pleasingly, medieval and modern. Michel Houellebecq appears less pleased with the burden imposed on his present by the past, especially by the liberal generation of the 1960s, which he holds responsible for everything noxious in the modern world. The narrative personae of his highly successful novels Extension du domaine de la lutte (1994; Whatever) and Les Particules élémentaires (1998; The Elementary Particles, also published as Atomised) are splenetic victims of their own failure of nerve, attacking a society in their own image, narcissistic and world-weary. Marie Darrieussecq’s Truismes (1996; Pig Tales: A Novel of Lust and Transformation) is a more dynamic novel; it is an imaginative political and moral satire depicting the blackly comic world of a young working woman with a highly materialistic lifestyle who begins to turn into a pig—and finds her transformation both appropriate and satisfying.


 

Poetry

Christian Prigent asked in his essay of 1996 what poets were good for in the modern world (A quoi bon encore les poètes). His work and that of such well-established figures as Philippe Jaccottet (La Seconde Semaison [1996; “The Second Sowing”]) were well-recognized at the turn of the century, and Michel Houellebecq published his collected poems (Poésies) in 2000. Martin Sorrell’s bilingual anthology, Elles (1995; “They [the women]”), has shown the flourishing state of women’s poetry. In it, Marie-Claire Bancquart, Andrée Chedid, and Jeanne Hyvrard offer their own insights into the problematic of gender roles and the challenge of finding a female poetic voice. Hyvrard inscribes a special preoccupation with the political condition of women across the world.

 


Drama

Most interesting of all, perhaps, was the revival of scripted drama at the end of the 20th century. The directors’ theatre that held sway in the 1970s and early 1980s (inspiring spectacular and innovative staging developments in nontraditional venues that took theatre to new audiences in Paris and the provinces and gave great scope to actors for developing their own stagecraft and improvisatory skills) had marginalized new writing. Ministry of Culture subsidies supported the work of Michel Vinaver and Bernard-Marie Koltès, whose plays are concerned with individuals struggling with the institutional discourses—family, law, politics—of which contemporary consumer society and their own identities are woven. The quick exchanges of Vinaver’s play L’Émission de télévision (1990; The Television Programme, published in Plays) express the anxieties of a world in which realities are constantly shifting. Koltès’s work is especially concerned with the marginalized individuals and groups—immigrants, poor, criminals, or simply disaffected—who carry the weight of the postcolonial world. His Dans la solitude des champs de coton (1986; “In the Solitude of Cotton Fields”), written two years before his death from AIDS and now translated and performed across the world, is a brilliant two-actor play that embodies the central theme of his drama. Modern life, for Koltès, is focused in the deal—in confrontations and negotiations between unequal individuals, client and dealer, in struggles for power, which are also struggles for survival. Dealing is done in language, and what is acted out on the Koltesian stage are the rhetorical performances by which people live—on the edge of darkness, at the frontiers of disorder. Close to the surface of the language of the deal and constantly piercing its skin is the violence that, in Koltès’s view, constitutes the postcolonial world.

It is perhaps in the theatre that the value of current insights into the ludic and performative nature of the human condition can most easily be tested. At the close of the century, the most modern of creative writers in this respect remained Irish-born Samuel Beckett, standing at the intersection of Irish and French cultural traditions. Although Beckett died in 1989, more than a decade before the close of the 20th century, his importance, influence, and presence had never been greater. Shifting in its latter stages to an increasingly minimalist but always materialist mode, variously exploiting and offsetting the rhythms of language, vision, and movement in order to explore the limits and the potential of form, Beckett’s drama enshrines the serious nature of play. In so doing, it brings into focus what have always been the best parts of the French contribution to the Western cultural tradition: the analytic vision that penetrates the patterns and structures of the historical moment, the synthetic imagination that clarifies those patterns for others to see, in all their force and intensity—and the driving desire to see them otherwise.

Robin Caron Buss
Jennifer Birkett

 


APPENDIX

 


Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


"The Little Prince"
 

Illustrated by Antoine de Saint Exupery






 

born June 29, 1900, Lyon
died July 31, 1944, in flight over the Mediterranean


French aviator and writer whose works are the unique testimony of a pilot and a warrior who looked at adventure and danger with a poet’s eyes. His fable Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) has become a modern classic.

Saint-Exupéry came from an impoverished aristocratic family. A poor student, he failed the entrance examination to the École Navale. In the course of his military service, he obtained his pilot’s license (1922). In 1926 he joined the Compagnie Latécoère in Toulouse and helped establish airmail routes over northwest Africa, the South Atlantic, and South America. In the 1930s he worked as a test pilot, a publicity attaché for Air-France, and a reporter for Paris-Soir. In 1939, despite permanent disabilities resulting from serious flying accidents, he became a military reconnaissance pilot; after the fall of France (1940) he escaped to the U.S. In 1943 he rejoined the Air Force in North Africa and was shot down on a reconnaissance mission.

Saint-Exupéry found in aviation both a source for heroic action and a new literary theme. His works exalt perilous adventures at the cost of life as the highest realization of man’s vocation. In his first book, Courrier-Sud (1929; Southern Mail, 1933), his new man of the skies, airmail pilot Jacques Bernis, dies in the desert of Rio de Oro. His second novel, Vol de nuit (1931; Night Flight, 1932), was dedicated to the glory of the first airline pilots and their mystical exaltation as they faced death in the rigorous performance of their duty. His own flying adventures are recorded in Terre des hommes (1939; Wind, Sand and Stars, 1939). He used his plane as an instrument to explore the world and to discover human solidarity in the fraternal efforts of men to accomplish their tasks. His language is lyrical and moving, with a simple nobility. Pilote de Guerre (1942; Flight to Arras, 1942) is a personal reminiscence of a reconnaissance sortie in May 1940 accomplished in a spirit of sacrifice against desperate odds. While in America he wrote Lettre à un otage (1943; Letter to a Hostage, 1950), a call to unity among Frenchmen, and Le Petit Prince (1943; The Little Prince, 1943), a child’s fable for adults, with a gentle and grave reminder that the best things in life are still the simplest ones and that real wealth is giving to others.

The growing sadness and pessimism in Saint-Exupéry’s view of man appears in Citadelle (1948; The Wisdom of the Sands, 1952), a posthumous volume of reflections that show Saint-Exupéry’s persistent belief that man’s only lasting reason for living is as repository of the values of civilization.
 

 

 


Henri Bergson

"Creative Evolution"







French philosopher
in full Henri-Louis Bergson

born Oct. 18, 1859, Paris, France
died Jan. 4, 1941, Paris

Main
French philosopher, the first to elaborate what came to be called a process philosophy, which rejected static values in favour of values of motion, change, and evolution. He was also a master literary stylist, of both academic and popular appeal, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1927.

Early years
Through his father, a talented musician, Bergson was descended from a rich Polish Jewish family—the sons of Berek, or Berek-son, from which the name Bergson is derived. His mother came from an English Jewish family. Bergson’s upbringing, training, and interests were typically French, and his professional career, as indeed all of his life, was spent in France, most of it in Paris.

He received his early education at the Lycée Condorcet in Paris, where he showed equally great gifts in the sciences and the humanities. From 1878 to 1881 he studied at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, the institution responsible for training university teachers. The general culture that he received there made him equally at home in reading the Greek and Latin classics, in obtaining what he wanted and needed from the science of his day, and in acquiring a beginning in the career of philosophy, to which he turned upon graduation.

His teaching career began in various lycées outside of Paris, first at Angers (1881–83) and then for the next five years at Clermont-Ferrand. While at the latter place, he had the intuition that provided both the basis and inspiration for his first philosophical books. As he later wrote to the eminent American Pragmatist William James:

I had remained up to that time wholly imbued with mechanistic theories, to which I had been led at an early date by the reading of Herbert Spencer. . . . It was the analysis of the notion of time, as that enters into mechanics and physics, which overturned all my ideas. I saw, to my great astonishment, that scientific time does not endure. . . that positive science consists essentially in the elimination of duration. This was the point of departure of a series of reflections which brought me, by gradual steps, to reject almost all of what I had hitherto accepted and to change my point of view completely.

The first result of this change was his Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience (1889; Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness), for which he received the doctorate the same year. This work was primarily an attempt to establish the notion of duration, or lived time, as opposed to what Bergson viewed as the spatialized conception of time, measured by a clock, that is employed by science. He proceeded by analyzing the awareness that man has of his inner self to show that psychological facts are qualitatively different from any other, charging psychologists in particular with falsifying the facts by trying to quantify and number them. Fechner’s Law, claiming to establish a calculable relation between the intensity of the stimulus and that of the corresponding sensation, was especially criticized. Once the confusions were cleared away that confounded duration with extension, succession with simultaneity, and quality with quantity, he maintained that the objections to human liberty made in the name of scientific determinism could be seen to be baseless.


Philosophical triumphs
The publication of the Essai found Bergson returned to Paris, teaching at the Lycée Henri IV. In 1891 he married Louise Neuburger, a cousin of the French novelist Marcel Proust. Meanwhile, he had undertaken the study of the relation between mind and body. The prevailing doctrine was that of the so-called psychophysiological parallelism, which held that for every psychological fact there is a corresponding physiological fact that strictly determines it. Though he was convinced that he had refuted the argument for determinism, his own work, in the doctoral dissertation, had not attempted to explain how mind and body are related. The findings of his research into this problem were published in 1896 under the title Matière et mémoire: essai sur la relation du corps à l’esprit (Matter and Memory).

This is the most difficult and perhaps also the most perfect of his books. The approach that he took in it is typical of his method of doing philosophy. He did not proceed by general speculation and was not concerned with elaborating a great speculative system. He began in this, as in each of his books, with a particular problem, which he analyzed by first determining the empirical (observed) facts that are known about it according to the best and most up-to-date scientific opinion. Thus, for Matière et mémoire he devoted five years to studying all of the literature available on memory and especially the psychological phenomenon of aphasia, or loss of the ability to use language. According to the theory of psychophysiological parallelism, a lesion in the brain should also affect the very basis of a psychological power. The occurrence of aphasia, Bergson argued, showed that this is not the case. The person so affected understands what others have to say, knows what he himself wants to say, suffers no paralysis of the speech organs, and yet is unable to speak. This fact shows, he argued, that it is not memory that is lost but, rather, the bodily mechanism that is needed to express it. From this observation Bergson concluded that memory, and so mind, or soul, is independent of body and makes use of it to carry out its own purposes.

The Essai had been widely reviewed in the professional journals, but Matière et mémoire attracted the attention of a wider audience and marked the first step along the way that led to Bergson’s becoming one of the most popular and influential lecturers and writers of the day. In 1897 he returned as professor of philosophy to the École Normale Supérieure, which he had first entered as a student at the age of 19. Then, in 1900, he was called to the Collège de France, the academic institution of highest prestige in all of France, where he enjoyed immense success as a lecturer. From then until the outbreak of World War I, there was a veritable vogue of Bergsonism. William James was an enthusiastic reader of his works, and the two men became warm friends. Expositions and commentaries on the Bergsonian philosophy were to be found everywhere. It was held by many that a new day in philosophy had dawned that brought with it light to many other activities such as literature, music, painting, politics, and religion.

L’Évolution créatrice (1907; Creative Evolution), the greatest work of these years and Bergson’s most famous book, reveals him most clearly as a philosopher of process at the same time that it shows the influence of biology upon his thought. In examining the idea of life, Bergson accepted evolution as a scientifically established fact. He criticized, however, the philosophical interpretations that had been given of it for failing to see the importance of duration and hence missing the very uniqueness of life. He proposed that the whole evolutionary process should be seen as the endurance of an élan vital (“vital impulse”) that is continually developing and generating new forms. Evolution, in short, is creative, not mechanistic.

In this developing process, he traced two main lines: one through instinct, leading to the life of insects; the other through the evolution of intelligence, resulting in man; both of which, however, are seen as the work of one vital impulse that is at work everywhere in the world. The final chapter of the book, entitled “The Cinematographical Mechanism of Thought and the Mechanistic Illusion,” presents a review of the whole history of philosophical thought with the aim of showing that it everywhere failed to appreciate the nature and importance of becoming, falsifying thereby the nature of reality by the imposition of static and discrete concepts.

Among Bergson’s minor works are Le Rire: essai sur la significance du comique (1900; Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic) and, Introduction à la metaphysique (1903; An Introduction to Metaphysics). The latter provides perhaps the best introduction to his philosophy by offering the clearest account of his method. There are two profoundly different ways of knowing, he claimed. The one, which reaches its furthest development in science, is analytic, spatializing, and conceptualizing, tending to see things as solid and discontinuous. The other is an intuition that is global, immediate, reaching into the heart of a thing by sympathy. The first is useful for getting things done, for acting on the world, but it fails to reach the essential reality of things precisely because it leaves out duration and its perpetual flux, which is inexpressible and to be grasped only by intuition. Bergson’s entire work may be considered as an extended exploration of the meaning and implications of his intuition of duration as constituting the innermost reality of everything.


Later years
In 1914 Bergson retired from all active duties at the Collège de France, although he did not formally retire from the chair until 1921. Having received the highest honours that France could offer him, including membership, since 1915, among the “40 immortals” of the Académie Française, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1927.

After L’Évolution créatrice, 25 years elapsed before he published another major work. In 1932 he published Les Deux Sources de la morale et de la religion (The Two Sources of Morality and Religion). As in the earlier works, he claimed that the polar opposition of the static and the dynamic provides the basic insight. Thus, in the moral, social, and religious life of men he saw, on the one side, the work of the closed society, expressed in conformity to codified laws and customs, and, on the other side, the open society, best represented by the dynamic aspirations of heroes and mystical saints reaching out beyond and even breaking the strictures of the groups in which they live. There are, thus, two moralities, or, rather, two sources: the one having its roots in intelligence, which leads also to science and its static, mechanistic ideal; the other based on intuition, and finding its expression not only in the free creativity of art and philosophy but also in the mystical experience of the saints.

Bergson in Les Deux Sources had come much closer to the orthodox religious notion of God than he had in the vital impulse of L’Évolution créatrice. He acknowledged in his will of 1937, “My reflections have led me closer and closer to Catholicism, in which I see the complete fulfillment of Judaism.” Yet, although declaring his “moral adherence to Catholicism,” he never went beyond that. In explanation, he wrote: “I would have become a convert, had I not foreseen for years a formidable wave of anti-Semitism about to break upon the world. I wanted to remain among those who tomorrow were to be persecuted.” To confirm this conviction, only a few weeks before his death, he arose from his sickbed and stood in line in order to register as a Jew, in accord with the law just imposed by the Vichy government and from which he refused the exemption that had been offered him.


Influence
Although it did not give rise to a Bergsonian school of philosophy, Bergson’s influence has been considerable. His influence among philosophers has been greatest in France, but it has also been felt in the United States and Great Britain, especially in the work of William James; George Santayana; and Alfred North Whitehead, the other great process metaphysician of the 20th century.

 

 

 


Gabriel Marcel





born December 7, 1889, Paris
died October 8, 1973, Paris

philosopher, dramatist, and critic, usually regarded as the first French Existential philosopher.

Early life and influences
Marcel was the only child of Henry Marcel, a government official, diplomat, and distinguished curator. Gabriel’s mother died suddenly when he was four, leaving him with a sense of deep personal loss and yet of a continuing mysterious presence; the event made death and the irrevocable an early urgent concern for him. He was brought up by his maternal grandmother and his aunt—a devoted woman of stern upright character, who became his father’s second wife and who had a major influence on his early development. He was, much to his distress, the centre of constant familial attention and care, and, despite his brilliant scholastic achievements, his family’s incessant demands for ever better academic performance, together with the rigid, mechanical quality of his schooling, filled him with a lifelong aversion toward depersonalized, forced-fed modes of education. He found some consolation in travelling to foreign places on his vacations, and when his father became French minister to Sweden he accompanied him. These vacations were the beginning of his lifelong passion for travel and of the fulfillment of a deep inner urge to make himself at home in the new and to explore the unfamiliar. In later life he became versed in several foreign languages and literatures and played a significant role in making contemporary foreign writers known in France.

Religion played no role in Marcel’s upbringing. His father was a lapsed Catholic and cultured agnostic, who never bothered to have him baptized, and his aunt-stepmother, of nonreligious Jewish background, was converted to a liberal, humanist type of Protestantism. Reason, science, and the moral conscience were held to be sufficient guides, superseding traditional religion. Despite abundant parental love and solicitude, Marcel, in later life, looked back to this period as one of spiritual “servitude” and “captivity” that impelled him (without his knowing it) into a personal religious quest and to a philosophical inquiry into the conditions of religious faith.


Areas of his work
His search took three paths: music, drama, and philosophy. Hearing, playing, and composing music assumed an important role in the shaping of Marcel’s mind from an early age, and composers such as J.S. Bach and Mozart played a more decisive role in his spiritual development than did great religious writers such as Augustine and Blaise Pascal. As a composer, his favourite mode was improvisation on the piano, for him a communion with a transcendent reality and not the mere expression of his private feelings and impressions. Only a small number of Marcel’s improvisations have been transcribed or recorded; in 1945, however, he became a composer in the ordinary sense, devoting himself to the scored musical interpretation of poetry, ranging from that of Charles Baudelaire to that of Rainer Maria Rilke.

Playwriting provided another early and significant mode of expression. Henry Marcel frequently performed accomplished readings of dramatic works for his family. From an early age, Gabriel invented dialogues with imaginary brothers and sisters, and he wrote his first play at the age of eight. His own family situation had provided the living matrix for his later dramatic presentations of intertwined and irreconcilable aspirations, frustrations, and conflicts of definitely individual characters. The dramatic delineation of the chaotic and unpleasant aspects of human life complemented the expression of a transcendent harmony in his music, and both touched on key experiences and themes which were to be explored later in his philosophical meditations. They were unconsciously concrete illustrations of his philosphy before the fact, not deliberately contrived examples after the fact; they dealt with what were to be Marcel’s main philosophical concerns as they emerged in the dramatic spiritual crises and relations of his full-dimensioned real-life characters, not with a disingenuous manipulation of animated concepts as in the conventional “play of ideas.”

Marcel dealt with themes of spiritual authenticity and inauthenticity, fidelity and infidelity, and the consummation or frustration of personal relationships in his early plays, such as La Grâce, Le Palais de sable, Le Coeur des autres, and L’Iconoclaste. In Le Quatuor en fa dièse his musical, philosophical, and dramatic dispositions merge to render vividly the sense of the interpenetration of persons whose lives are bound up with one another. He appended one of his most significant philosophical essays (“On the Ontological Mystery”) to the play Le Monde cassé, in which the “broken world” of the title is displayed in the empty life and relations of the charming, despairing, and yet still hoping woman who is its protagonist.


Philosophical development
Philosophy, an early passion with Marcel, was the only subject that aroused his whole-hearted participation during his preparatory education. At 18, he was at work on his thesis for a diploma in higher studies, “The Metaphysical Ideas of Coleridge in Their Relations with the Philosophy of Schelling,” and he studied philosophy at the Sorbonne. Although he passed examinations to become a teacher of philosophy in secondary schools (1910), he never completed his doctoral dissertation—on the necessary conditions for the intelligibility of religious thought. He taught philosophy only intermittently, usually earning his living as a publisher’s reader, editor, writer, and critic.

At first, philosophy for Marcel meant a highly abstract type of thought that sought to transcend the everyday empirical world. Gradually, over a long period of probing and searching, he came to shape a concrete philosophy that sought to deepen and restore the intimate human experience left behind by abstract thought. This philosophical “conversion” occurred when he was working for the French Red Cross, during World War I, trying to trace soldiers listed as missing. In place of the information on file cards he came to see real, though invisible, persons—presences—and to share in the agony of their grieving relatives. What Marcel called his “metapsychical” experiments—investigations of possible communications by means of telepathy, clairvoyance, prophecy, and spiritualism—also played a role in his philosophical conversion. For him these experiences convincingly challenged the conventional naturalistic and materialistic bent of contemporary philosophy, indicating a realm beyond that of ordinary sense-experience, and promising freedom from conformist biases and prohibitions in his philosophical quest.

Originally Marcel intended to express his philosophical reflections in the conventional treatise form, but as he came to see his philosophical vocation as essentially exploratory and the philosopher’s situation to be always in search and en route (homo viator), he abandoned this format as too didactic. Instead he published his philosophical workbooks, his day-to-day journals of philosophical investigations (such as Metaphysical Journal and the later shorter philosophical diaries in Being and Having and Presence and Immortality). He also wrote essays on particular themes and occasions (as in Homo Viator); these were usually a more rounded development of themes explored initially in various journal entries, such as exile, captivity, separation, fidelity, and hope, which were also a response to the particular situation of the French people during the German occupation of 1940 to 1944.

The decisive event in Marcel’s spiritual life was his conversion to Roman Catholicism on March 23, 1929. The culmination of years of philosophical inquiry into the meanings and conditions of personal existence and faith, the action represented his realization that he had to choose a particular form of faith, that there is no faith in general. Despite his apparent affinity with Protestantism, which seemed more in keeping with his essentially nonconformist character and his need for intellectual freedom, he chose Catholicism, which he came to understand as a universal faith, not a special ecclesiastical institution or a partisan, exclusivist stance. After that decisive occasion he continued as an independent philosopher with a specific spiritual disposition, never as a theological apologist or spokesman for an official Catholic philosophy. And he continued in his plays, as well as in his philosophy, to explore and illuminate the dark and negative aspects of human existence.


Basic themes and method
Marcel’s contribution to modern thought consisted of the exploration and illumination of whole ranges of human experience—trust, fidelity, promise, witness, hope, and despair—which have been dismissed by predominant schools of modern philosophy as not amenable to philosophical consideration. These explorations were buttressed by a remarkable reflective power and intellectual rigour, a metaphysical capacity par excellence.

His early central concept of “participation,” the direct communion with reality, was gradually elaborated to elucidate everything from the elemental awareness of one’s own body and sense-perception to the relation between human beings with ultimate being. The full, open relation between beings, thus conceived, is essentially “dialogical,” the relation between an I and a thou, between the whole of a person and the fullness of what he confronts—another being, a “presence,” and a “mystery,” rather than an “object” of detached perception, thought, and expression. Such a relation requires an opening up to what is other than oneself, disponibilité (approximately “availability,” “readiness,” “permeability”) and also an entering into, involvement, or engagement—dispositions demonstrable in everyday existence. The opposite is also ubiquitous—the refusal to open up and engage oneself, to give credit, to trust or hope, the disposition toward negation, despair, or even suicide. This possibility, for Marcel, is an essential characteristic of the human condition: man may deny as well as affirm his existence and either fulfill or frustrate his need to participate in being.

Marcel’s method of thought and expression in dealing with these matters is an open, intuitive one. He probes the meaning of such terms as hope, fidelity, or witness and sketches the reality that they indicate through a sensitive description of the mind, action, and attitude of the hoper, faithful one, or witness. He makes use of concrete metaphors and real-life instances to evoke and embody the difficult-to-express experiences and realities he is exploring.

In his own unique way, Marcel was an outstanding example of one of the central emphases of mid-20th-century philosophy—Phenomenology. Marcel’s use of this intuitive method was original and was developed independently of the work of the great German Phenomenologist Edmund Husserl and his followers, just as his notion of the I–thou relation was developed independently of Martin Buber and other dialogical thinkers, and just as his exploration of Existential themes occurred long before his reading of Kierkegaard and the bursting forth of Existential philosophy on the mid-20th-century European scene. Marcel may justly be called the first French Phenomenologist and the first French Existential philosopher (though he deprecated the term Existentialism).

Marcel was married in 1919 to Jacqueline Boegner (died 1947), whom he called “the absolute companion of my life.” Their only child was an adopted son, Jean-Marie, the relation to whom may have inspired Marcel’s later reflections on “creative paternity” and the spirit of adoption.

Seymour Cain

 

 

 


Emmanuel Levinas





French philosopher

born December 30, 1905 [January 12, 1906, Old Style], Kaunas, Lithuania
died December 25, 1995, Paris, France

Main
French philosopher renowned for his powerful critique of the preeminence of ontology (the philosophical study of being) in the history of Western philosophy, particularly in the work of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889–1976).

Lévinas began his studies in philosophy in 1923 at the University of Strasbourg. He spent the academic year 1928–29 at the University of Freiburg, where he attended seminars by Edmund Husserl (1859–1938) and Heidegger. After completing a doctoral dissertation at the Institut de France in 1928, Lévinas taught at the École Normale Israelite Orientale (ENIO), a school for Jewish students, and the Alliance Israelite Universelle, both in Paris. Serving as an officer in the French army at the outbreak of World War II, he was captured by German troops in 1940 and spent the next five years in a prisoner of war camp. After the war he was director of the ENIO until 1961, when he received his first academic appointment at the University of Poitiers. He subsequently taught at the University of Paris X (Nanterre; 1967–73) and the Sorbonne (1973–78).

The principal theme of Lévinas’s work after World War II is the traditional place of ontology as “first philosophy”—the most fundamental philosophical discipline. According to Lévinas, ontology by its very nature attempts to create a totality in which what is different and “other” is necessarily reduced to sameness and identity. This desire for totality, according to Lévinas, is a basic manifestation of “instrumental” reason—the use of reason as an instrument for determining the best or most efficient means to achieve a given end. Through its embrace of instrumental reason, Western philosophy displays a destructive and objectifying “will to domination.” Moreover, because instrumental reason does not determine the ends to which it is applied, it can be—and has been—used in the pursuit of goals that are destructive or evil; in this sense, it is responsible for the major crises of European history in the 20th century, in particular the advent of totalitarianism. Viewed from this perspective, Heidegger’s attempt to develop a new “fundamental ontology,” one that would answer the question of the “meaning of Being,” is misguided, because it continues to reflect the dominating and destructive orientation characteristic of Western philosophy in general.

Lévinas claims that ontology also displays a bias toward cognition and theoretical reason—the use of reason in the formation of judgments or beliefs. In this respect ontology is philosophically inferior to ethics, a field that Lévinas construes as encompassing all the practical dealings of human beings with each other. Lévinas holds that the primacy of ethics over ontology is justified by the “face of the Other.” The “alterity,” or otherness, of the Other, as signified by the “face,” is something that one acknowledges before using reason to form judgments or beliefs about him. Insofar as the moral debt one owes to the Other can never be satisfied—Lévinas claims that the Other is “infinitely transcendent, infinitely foreign”—one’s relation to him is that of infinity. In contrast, since ontology treats the Other as an object of judgments made by theoretical reason, it deals with him as a finite being; its relationship to the Other is therefore one of totality.

Lévinas claims that ethics can be given a theological foundation in the biblical commandment “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex. 20:13). He explores the ethical implications of this mandate in religious studies such as Difficult Freedom: Essays on Judaism (1963) and Nine Talmudic Readings (1990). Among Lévinas’s other major philosophical works are Existence and Existents (1947), Discovering Existence with Husserl and Heidegger (1949), Difficult Freedom (1963), and Otherwise than Being, or Beyond Essence (1974).

Richard Wolin

 

 

 


Maurice Merleau-Ponty



 

born March 14, 1908, Rochefort, Fr.
died May 4, 1961, Paris

philosopher and man of letters, the leading exponent of Phenomenology in France.

Merleau-Ponty studied at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris and took his agrégation in philosophy in 1931. He taught in a number of lycées before World War II, during which he served as an army officer. In 1945 he was appointed professor of philosophy at the University of Lyon and in 1949 was called to the Sorbonne in Paris. In 1952 he received a chair of philosophy at the Collège de France. From 1945 to 1952 he served as unofficial co-editor (with Jean-Paul Sartre) of the journal Les Temps Modernes.

Merleau-Ponty’s most important works of technical philosophy were La Structure du comportement (1942; The Structure of Behavior, 1965) and Phénoménologie de la perception (1945; Phenomenology of Perception, 1962). Though greatly influenced by the work of Edmund Husserl, Merleau-Ponty rejected his theory of the knowledge of other persons, grounding his own theory in bodily behaviour and in perception. He held that it is necessary to consider the organism as a whole to discover what will follow from a given set of stimuli. For him, perception was the source of knowledge and had to be studied before the conventional sciences.

Turning his attention to social and political questions, in 1947 Merleau-Ponty published a group of Marxist essays, Humanisme et terreur (“Humanism and Terror”), the most sophisticated defense of Soviet communism in the late 1940s. He argued for suspended judgment of Soviet terrorism and attacked what he regarded as Western hypocrisy. The Korean War disillusioned Merleau-Ponty and he broke with Sartre, who defended the North Koreans.

In 1955 Merleau-Ponty published more Marxist essays, Les Aventures de la dialectique (“The Adventures of the Dialectic”). This collection, however, indicated a change of position: Marxism no longer appears as the final word on history, but rather as a heuristic methodology. Later he returned to more strictly philosophical concerns.
 

 

 
 
 
 
 

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