So was it true of the Paris of my youth, that its streets were full of young people prepared to fight to the death against the bourgeoisie, without knowing whether it be an idea or a uniform, and certainly not knowing that, by any reasonable understanding of the term, they themselves were it. One other feature of the literature of 68 deserves mention, because it bears on the lasting influence that this literature has had, especially on academic studies in America.
Behind all the flamboyance and the nonsense it was possible to discern the vestiges of previous ideas — ideas that had been alive at the end of the war, when Paris was a centre of serious intellectual debate and when the post-war generation was attempting to shake off the memory of occupation and betrayal, and to conceal the bad things that it had felt and done. The discussions of the Prague school of linguistics, members of which had sought refuge in France in the s, and who had been inspired by the work of Saussure, were absorbed into those of academic Marxism and literary Freudianism, to produce the peculiar synthesis that we find in the work of Roland Barthes.
The distinctions between 'signified and signifier', between langue and parole, between phoneme and morpheme, entered the new language, alongside the theories of base and superstructure, use value and exchange value, production and exploitation taken from Marx and the theories of repression and the libido borrowed from Freud. And there is one idea acquired during the great pre-war self-examination that has not lost its credibility, an idea that endures because it is not a scientific hypothesis that stands to be refuted, but a philosophical reflection on the nature of consciousness.
This is the idea of the Other. The dialectic of Self and Other is the great gift of German idealist philosophy to modern European culture.
From Fichte to Heidegger the point has been made in a hundred ways, and never without a measure of dignified obscurity, that we come to freedom and self-consciousness only by the path of alienation, and that the self is born from the confrontation with the other, in whose refusal to succumb and to be absorbed we recognise the truth of our own condition — the truth that we too are other, and limited by others like us.
These lectures are now widely available in the edition of Raymond Queneau, who attended them. Each came away from the lectures with his own version of the 'Other', and his own ambition to describe the Other in revealing parables.
For the humane Levinas the Other is the human face, in which I find my own face reflected, and which both hides and reveals the light of personality. For Merleau-Ponty the Other is both outside me and within, revealed in the phenomenology of my own embodiment. For Sartre the Other is the alien intrusion, which I can never vanquish or possess, but which taunts me with its ungraspable freedom, so that, in the famous last line of Huis Clos, 'l'enfer c'est les autres'. The Other Person is enough to make any length a possible depth in space, and vice versa, so that if this concept did not function in the perceptual field, transitions and inversions would become incomprehensible, and we would always run up against things, the possible having disappeared In the concept of the other person, the possible world does not exist outside the face that expresses it, although it is distinguished from it as expressed and expression; and the face in turn is the vicinity of the words for which it is already the megaphone For let us not forget that it was Hegel's version of the idea which had first inspired the youthful Marx, in his theories of alienation and private property.
It was already apparent in the post-war generation that French literature was taking sides, and that this was a kind of substitute for the engagement that Sartre recommended from his throne in Les Deux Magots. By the time of , a kind of impenetrable meta-literature, literature about literature about literature, had evolved, incorporating the features I have mentioned, and about which only one thing was clear — which is what side it was on.
If the politics were obvious, then the obscurity of the language was no defect. On the contrary: in these circumstances obscurity could be read as proof of a profundity and originality too great to be encompassed by ordinary words. Hence obscurity served to validate the politics, to show that throwing stones at policemen was the conclusion of a practical syllogism which had the highest intellectual authority for its every step.
I don't need to dwell on the aspect of fraudulence in this literature. Surely nobody with a respect for intellectual honesty could doubt the verdict of Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, in their now famous book Intellectual Impostures, which entirely demolishes the phony expertise of Deleuze, Guattari, Baudrillard, Lacan and many more.
And if you still feel that the matter is not closed, and haven't visited Andrew Bulhak's Postmodern Generator, on the web, and had the joy of generating your own contribution to this pile of bullshit, then that is certainly what you should do. What Sokal and Bricmont overlook, however, is the political significance of the postmodern metaliterature.
They identify themselves as men of the left, which is of course necessary if they are to have the remotest chance of influencing those who are tempted to join the stampede towards postmodern meaninglessness. But they fail to point out, and perhaps fail even to see, that being on the left is what it is all about. The boiling tide of nonsense flows between secure walls on which indelible messages have been chiselled. These tell us that the world is in the hands of the Other; that the other is capitalism, bourgeois society, patriarchy, the family, in other words, the array of traditional power-structures from which we must be liberated; that we can understand and decipher the secrets through which these structures are maintained in being; and that by understanding the Other we empower the self.
In short, the metaliterature that has arisen in the wake of 68 consists of spells, with which to subdue an alien world and open a path to liberation. And that is why it has secured its extraordinary following.
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To me this is the most important cultural fact: not that nonsense should survive and propagate itself. This is nothing new, as we know from the history of alchemy and 'esoteric doctrine' — the history of dullness, as Pope called it, in a satire as pertinent today as it was more than two centuries ago. Even if we lack a plausible epidemiology of nonsense, there is no mystery in the fact that nonsense, once introduced, has a natural capacity to reproduce itself.
For, in the right circumstances, nonsense is power. In the decades following its birth, the metaliterature of was accepted throughout the English-speaking academic world, not as a source of knowledge, but as a political weapon. Works like l'Anti-Oedipe and Derrida's Dissemination assumed the place that books of spells acquired in alchemy.
In the hands of a new academic establishment, which had no confidence that there could be any ground for academic studies in the humanities other than that provided by a political agenda, these works were the instruments of a Faustian pact. By means of the holy books the teacher of the humanities could acquire power over the Other, and possession of the academic citadel from which the Other was being forced to flee. Perhaps this is one reason for the enormous gratitude with which the generation of 68 was received in humanities departments in Britain and America. Derrida, Cixous, Kristeva and others accumulated honorary degrees all across the Anglophone world, and Deleuze was apparently, in , quoted more often than Kant in academic writing in English.
Hillis Miller, were swept up in the flood, and analytical philosophers either refused to take note of it or, in the case of Richard Rorty, claimed to be swimming in the same subversive current as its exponents. Was the problem that we lacked a real discipline to lead us onto firm ground and in a clear direction? Or was it simply that the charm of nonsense, when attached to a left-wing posture, proved irresistible? It seems to me that this question touches on deep differences between our two cultures — that of English-speaking common sense, and that of French literary panache.
French culture is not now, and seldom has been, simply a machine for the production of subversive messages. Others expressed their repudiation of France and its Catholic culture less childishly. The betrayals and capitulations of the Second World War, and the experience of the Nazi occupation amplified the disgust with the French cultural inheritance.
The generation of Sartre emerged from the war with a deep need for a scapegoat that would bear the burden of their guilt. This scapegoat was bourgeois France, and the Marxist theory gave the perfect description of its sins, which ceased to be our sins, once they were pinned on the Other. Many, like the poet and novelist Louis Aragon, joined the Communist Party, conveniently forgetting the Nazi-Soviet pact, when the Communist Party had sabotaged the French war effort by staging strikes in the munitions factories and calling for a negotiated peace with Hitler. Bernanos and Mauriac both survived the war and Mauriac was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in The generation of Sartre was also the generation of Camus and Aron, and of Commentaire — the journal that stood courageously against the intellectual terrorism of the Communist Party.
We should also notice that intellectuals in France often enjoy a secure place in public life and a share of political influence. They arise and flourish outside the academy, preferring the mantle of the prophet to the gown of the scholar. This was the case with Sartre and his generation. But it remained true with most of the major figures of Their reputations were established in the open market of ideas, and few of them enjoyed, at first, the protection of an academic institution.
Of course, in the wake of , when new universities were scattered all across the capital by a President Pompidou anxious to be seen as a friend of the intelligentsia, the leftist gurus were head-hunted to extinction and disappeared from the streets. But a new mutation of the species was soon appearing in the restaurants and bars.
Like the left-intelligentsia of the sixties and seventies, the liberal intelligentsia that replaced them occupy distinguished social positions, move freely in political circles, and are figures about town of a kind that we know in Britain only among footballers and fashion models. They have television series, dedicated columns, public appearances and stunning mistresses.
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They rely upon their celebrity, rather than on the endorsement of colleagues and the privilege of tenure. Their star rises and falls with the speed of politics rather than that of academic journals — which, it is important to remember, usually have a three-year backlog, unlike politics, which has no backlog at all, but only a frontlog of dangerous competitors.
To put the matter simply, the extraordinary influence of the literature of says far less about France and its culture than it does about the Anglophone academy, and about the weakness of the culture on which that academy was originally built. The Anglophone academy is conceived as a community of scholars, and what is left over, when the results of scholarship are deducted from its achievement, is not usually art or literature or anything that would lift students out of their previous experience and grant them a redemptive worldview, but often little more than plain common sense.
That is not entirely true, of course.
And Bertrand Russell, the principal founder of analytical philosophy, was surely rightly awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Retrieved 27 October Roger Penrose at Penn State University". Archived from the original on 16 April Retrieved 9 July Behavioral and Brain Sciences 13 4 Davis, Martin More on Roger Penrose.
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