Poststructuralism and Critical Theory's Second Generation
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Poststructuralism and Critical Theory's Second Generation

Alan D. Schrift

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Poststructuralism and Critical Theory's Second Generation

Alan D. Schrift

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"Poststructuralism and Critical Theory's Second Generation" analyses the major themes and developments in a period that brought continental philosophy to the forefront of scholarship in a variety of humanities and social science disciplines and that set the agenda for philosophical thought on the continent and elsewhere from the 1960s to the present. Focusing on the years 1960-1984, the volume examines the major figures associated with poststructuralism and the second generation of critical theory, the two dominant movements that emerged in the 1960s: Althusser, Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida, Lyotard, Irigaray, and Habermas. Influential thinkers such as Serres, Bourdieu, and Rorty, who are not easily placed in "standard" histories of the period, are also covered. Beyond this, thematic essays engage with issues as diverse as the Nietzschean legacy, the linguistic turn in continental thinking, the phenomenological inheritance of Gadamer and Ricoeur, the influence of psychoanalysis, the emergence of feminist thought and a philosophy of sexual difference, the renewal of the critical theory tradition, and the importation of continental philosophy into literary theory.

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Alan D. Schrift
As an artist one has no home in Europe, except Paris …
(Ecce Homo, ‚ÄúWhy I Am So Clever,‚ÄĚ ¬ß5)
When philosophers think of ‚ÄúFrench Nietzscheanism,‚ÄĚ they tend to associate this development with the 1960s. But French Nietzscheanism has, in fact, a long history in which one can locate three particular moments: first among writers of both the avant-garde Left and neoroyalist Right from the early 1890s until the First World War; then among nonconformist intellectuals in the years before and after the Second World War; and finally among philosophers in the 1960s and 1970s. Nietzsche1 himself was drawn to France and his works found there an early and welcome home. Richard Wagner √† Bayreuth, the first translation of any of Nietzsche‚Äôs works, appeared in French in January 1877, barely six months after it first appeared in German.2 And by the time Nietzsche‚Äôs first works appeared in English (Thus Spoke Zarathustra and The Case of Wagner were published in 1896), Henri Albert already had plans to publish a translation of Nietzsche‚Äôs complete works through Mercure de France, a project he completed in 1909 with the French translation of Ecce Homo.3 But this initial enthusiastic reception of Nietzsche‚Äôs works in France should not obscure the fact that the association of Nietzscheanism in France with the emergence of poststructuralism in the 1960s is not mistaken, because it was not until the late 1950s that Nietzsche‚Äôs work was taken seriously by French philosophers as philosophy. Before we examine this uniquely philosophical moment of French Nietzscheanism, therefore, a few comments on the two earlier moments are in order.
Early in the twentieth century, there was considerable interest in France in Nietzsche‚Äôs thought, but this was located primarily outside the university and, when in the university, outside the faculty in philosophy.4 Professor of German Literature Henri Lichtenberger (1864‚Äď1941) taught the Sorbonne‚Äôs one full-year course in German language and literature in 1902‚Äď1903 on Nietzsche, and Lichtenberger‚Äôs La Philosophie de Nietzsche,5 first published in 1898, was already in its ninth edition by 1905. Charles Andler (1866‚Äď1933), also a professor of German literature, published a magisterial six-volume study of Nietzsche between 1920 and 1931.6 Outside the university, from the 1890s into the early twentieth century, Nietzsche was widely read by and associated with the literary avant-garde, most notably Andr√© Gide (1869‚Äď1951) and his circle, many of whom studied with Andler at the √Čcole Normale Sup√©rieure and were later associated with La Nouvelle Revue Fran√ßaise. There was also an attraction to Nietzsche among certain literary and political circles associated with the Right that began in the 1890s and was later associated with Charles Maurras (1868‚Äď1952) and the Action Fran√ßaise, and which continued until the approach of the First World War, when their nationalistic and anti-German attitudes made it impossible for them to any longer look on Nietzsche with favor.7 While the literary Left welcomed Nietzsche as a philosopher-poet who challenged the strictures of contemporary morality, the philosophical establishment was dismissive of Nietzsche‚Äôs stylistic transgressions, his ‚Äúirrationalism,‚ÄĚ and his ‚Äúimmoralism.‚ÄĚ Where Gide promoted his association with Nietzsche in his L‚ÄôImmoraliste, published in 1902, Alfred Fouill√©e‚Äôs Nietzsche et l‚Äôimmoralisme,8 one of the few works on Nietzsche written by a philosopher during this period, also appeared in 1902, went through four editions by 1920, and was extremely critical of Nietzsche, questioning why any serious philosopher would attend to his thought. In fact, Nietzsche was so closely identified with ‚Äúimmoralism‚ÄĚ that the term was introduced and defined as ‚ÄúNietzsche‚Äôs doctrine‚ÄĚ in the prestigious philosophical dictionary Vocabulaire technique et critique de la philosophie, compiled from 1902 to 1923 by members of the Soci√©t√© Fran√ßaise de Philosophie, under the direction of their General Secretary Andr√© Lalande.9
The near total failure by university philosophers to acknowledge Nietzsche‚Äôs work from 1890 through the First World War and beyond is less the result of unfamiliarity with his work than a consequence of their decision to ‚Äúprofessionalize‚ÄĚ philosophy both by emphasizing its logical and scientific rigor and by distinguishing sharply between philosophy and literature.10 During this period, although there were serious antagonisms between the three dominant ‚Äúschools‚ÄĚ within French academic philosophy ‚Äď the positivists, neo-Kantians, and spiritualists11 ‚Äď the university professors were united in thinking that the university was the only space for ‚Äúserious‚ÄĚ philosophical discussion. As a consequence, Nietzsche‚Äôs popularity among so-called philosophical ‚Äúamateurs‚ÄĚ was taken as evidence of his philosophical unworthiness within the academy.12 Even after the First World War, although Nietzsche remained a canonical figure within German studies13 and was very much a part of the cultural debate between the Right and the Left, there was almost no philosophical scholarship on his thought.
From the 1930s to the 1950s, Nietzsche continued to be ignored by the university philosophers.14 But during these years, the ‚Äúsecond moment‚ÄĚ of French Nietzscheanism took shape as his thought emerged as an important reference for avant-garde theorists who would, in the 1960s, become associated with philosophers. The most significant figure here was Georges Bataille,15 for whom Nietzsche was a constant object of reflection from the foundation of the journal Ac√©phale in 1936 through his Sur Nietzsche, published in 1945.16 Through Bataille, Pierre Klossowski, and others, including the philosopher Jean Wahl, Nietzsche was a constant presence in the activities of the Coll√®ge de Sociologie. Two features distinguish Bataille‚Äôs approach to Nietzsche: his attempt to read Nietzsche in relation to Hegel, and his desire to challenge the association of Nietzsche‚Äôs thought with fascism and National Socialism. These features come together in Bataille‚Äôs framing Nietzsche as ‚Äúthe hero of everything human that is not enslaved,‚ÄĚ17 and as he develops these features, Bataille emphasizes, more than earlier French readings, the place of the eternal return in Nietzsche‚Äôs thought. Bataille and his collaborators at Ac√©phale were all influenced by Karl L√∂with‚Äôs Nietzsches Philosophie der ewigen Wiederkehr des Gleichens, which appeared in 1935 and was reviewed by Klossowski in the second issue of Ac√©phale (January 1937).18 For Bataille, where Hegel‚Äôs philosophy is directed by an unfaltering teleology, Nietzsche‚Äôs thought of eternal return affirms the immanence of each moment as an unmotivated end in itself.19 And where Hegel‚Äôs dialectic of determinate negation leaves nothing to chance, Nietzsche‚Äôs emphasis on the death of God and the immanent, excessive possibilities of the moment leaves everything to chance. By attending to the will to chance at the core of the eternal return, Bataille deemphasized the significance of the will to power, which he saw as central to the fascists‚Äô willful misappropriation of Nietzsche and which he criticized for being motivated by an instrumental rationality that mistakenly reduced all value to use-value instead of affirming the transvaluation of all values that opens the future to the possibility of the new.
The other significant work on Nietzsche written during this period, sociologist Henri Lefebvre‚Äôs Nietzsche, shares with Bataille the desire to read Nietzsche against the fascists, arguing that ‚ÄúThe Nietzschean idea of the future is not fascist. ‚ÄėSurpass! Overcome!‚Äô This Nietzschean imperative is precisely the contrary of the fascist postulate, according to which conflicts are eternal and human problems don‚Äôt have solutions.‚ÄĚ20 But unlike Bataille, Lefebvre also sought to emphasize both Nietzsche‚Äôs existentialism and his compatibility with Marx. A committed Marxist and member of the Parti Communist Fran√ßaise until he was expelled in 1958, Lefebvre21 opens his text with an epigraph from Marx‚Äôs 1844 Manuscripts, and goes on to argue that Nietzsche‚Äôs account of human alienation raises important themes that are insufficiently addressed by Marx‚Äôs exclusively economic account of alienation. At the same time, he argues that Nietzsche lacks a coherent theory of alienation, which would require that he see the alienation of thought from life ‚Äúas the result of social differentiation and the division of labor‚ÄĚ (144). Because Lefebvre finds Nietzsche‚Äôs revaluation of values easy to ‚Äúintegrate with the Marxist concept of man,‚ÄĚ he concludes that ‚Äúit is absurd to write [as Drieu la Rochelle did in his Socialisme fasciste (1934)] Nietzsche contre Marx‚ÄĚ (164). Lefebvre‚Äôs Marxist vision drifts toward existentialism as he notes that in Nietzsche‚Äôs magnificent future, ‚Äúthe men of our epoch will, suffer, despair, and always return to hope. And it is this which gives their life its unique character‚ÄĚ (ibid.). Even the eternal recurrence squares with Lefebvre‚Äôs existentialist Marxist vision of the future, as the eternal recurrence gives rise to the Nietzschean Imperative, ‚Äúan imperative that gives existence an infinite density: ‚ÄėLive each moment in a way that you will to relive it eternally‚Äô [‚ÄėVis tout instant de sorte que tu veuilles toujours le revivre‚Äô]. There doesn‚Äôt exist an eternity and a pre-existent truth that fatalistically determines us. On the contrary: we create eternity, our eternity!‚ÄĚ (87).22
Somewhat surprisingly, given Nietzsche‚Äôs early association in the English-speaking world with existentialism, the second Nietzschean moment in France, while emerging at the same time as French existentialism, is not particularly associated with that movement. Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, and Beauvoir were no doubt familiar with Nietzsche‚Äôs works, but Nietzsche‚Äôs thought did not play nearly as influential a role in existentialist philosophy as that played by Hegel, Husserl, or Heidegger. Even Wahl, who was the figure at the Sorbonne most closely associated with contemporary German philosophy, devoted far more time to Kierkegaard than to Nietzsche during these years. The existentialist who was most comfortable appealing to Nietzsche was Albert Camus,23 but he did so more from the perspective of a literary rather than philosophical writer. Sartre, on the other hand, was quite hostile to the idea of Nietzsche‚Äôs philosophical importance. In an essay on the work of Brice Parain, Sartre wrote that ‚ÄúWe know that Nietzsche was not a philosopher.‚ÄĚ24 And Sartre follows this comment about Nietzsche not being a philosopher with the following: ‚ÄúBut why does Parain, who is a professional philosopher, quote this crackbrained nonsense?‚ÄĚ
In contrast to the two earlier moments, what distinguishes the third Nietzschean moment in France is precisely that Nietzsche‚Äôs thought is for the first time taken up by professional philosophers. Nietzsche‚Äôs philosophical moment in France begins in 1958, when La G√©n√©alogie de la morale appeared on the reading list in French translation for the agr√©gation de philosophie.25 Appearing again in 1959, these were Nietzsche‚Äôs first appearances on the examination since 1929, and they began a series of his appearances over the next two decades.26 In precisely those years when Nietzsche‚Äôs Genealogy was one of the required texts (1958‚Äď59), Deleuze was beginning his university career at the Sorbonne, where he taught as Ma√ģtre-assistant in the history of philosophy from 1957 to 1960, and where he offered a course on the Genealogy in the fall of 1958,27 which surely explains why the Genealogy plays such a central role in Deleuze‚Äôs Nietzsche et la philosophie.28 To appreciate the novelty of Nietzsche‚Äôs philosophical moment, consider the following: in 1959 and 1961, Wahl gave the first lecture courses on Nietzsche ever offered by a professor of philosophy at the Sorbonne,29 and during precisely these years, 1958‚Äď62, we see appear the first six articles on Nietzsche ever to be published in France‚Äôs prestigious philosophical journals.30 And to appreciate the novelty of Deleuze‚Äôs 1962 publication of Nietzsche et la philosophie,31 consider that there were only three books on Nietzsche publishe...

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Citation styles for Poststructuralism and Critical Theory's Second Generation
APA 6 Citation
Schrift, A. (2014). Poststructuralism and Critical Theory’s Second Generation (1st ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from (Original work published 2014)
Chicago Citation
Schrift, Alan. (2014) 2014. Poststructuralism and Critical Theory’s Second Generation. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis.
Harvard Citation
Schrift, A. (2014) Poststructuralism and Critical Theory’s Second Generation. 1st edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Schrift, Alan. Poststructuralism and Critical Theory’s Second Generation. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis, 2014. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.