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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eBook - ePub

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, “Why I Am So Clever,” §5)
When philosophers think of “French Nietzscheanism,” 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 à Bayreuth, the first translation of any of Nietzsche’s works, appeared in French in January 1877, barely six months after it first appeared in German.2 And by the time Nietzsche’s 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’s 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’s 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’s 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’s 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 (1864–1941) taught the Sorbonne’s one full-year course in German language and literature in 1902–1903 on Nietzsche, and Lichtenberger’s La Philosophie de Nietzsche,5 first published in 1898, was already in its ninth edition by 1905. Charles Andler (1866–1933), 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 André Gide (1869–1951) and his circle, many of whom studied with Andler at the École Normale Supérieure and were later associated with La Nouvelle Revue Française. 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 (1868–1952) and the Action Française, 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’s stylistic transgressions, his “irrationalism,” and his “immoralism.” Where Gide promoted his association with Nietzsche in his L’Immoraliste, published in 1902, Alfred Fouillée’s Nietzsche et l’immoralisme,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 “immoralism” that the term was introduced and defined as “Nietzsche’s doctrine” in the prestigious philosophical dictionary Vocabulaire technique et critique de la philosophie, compiled from 1902 to 1923 by members of the Société Française de Philosophie, under the direction of their General Secretary André Lalande.9
The near total failure by university philosophers to acknowledge Nietzsche’s 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 “professionalize” 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 “schools” within French academic philosophy – the positivists, neo-Kantians, and spiritualists11 – the university professors were united in thinking that the university was the only space for “serious” philosophical discussion. As a consequence, Nietzsche’s popularity among so-called philosophical “amateurs” 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 “second moment” 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 Acéphale 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 Collège de Sociologie. Two features distinguish Bataille’s approach to Nietzsche: his attempt to read Nietzsche in relation to Hegel, and his desire to challenge the association of Nietzsche’s thought with fascism and National Socialism. These features come together in Bataille’s framing Nietzsche as “the hero of everything human that is not enslaved,”17 and as he develops these features, Bataille emphasizes, more than earlier French readings, the place of the eternal return in Nietzsche’s thought. Bataille and his collaborators at Acéphale were all influenced by Karl Löwith’s Nietzsches Philosophie der ewigen Wiederkehr des Gleichens, which appeared in 1935 and was reviewed by Klossowski in the second issue of Acéphale (January 1937).18 For Bataille, where Hegel’s philosophy is directed by an unfaltering teleology, Nietzsche’s thought of eternal return affirms the immanence of each moment as an unmotivated end in itself.19 And where Hegel’s dialectic of determinate negation leaves nothing to chance, Nietzsche’s 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’ 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’s Nietzsche, shares with Bataille the desire to read Nietzsche against the fascists, arguing that “The Nietzschean idea of the future is not fascist. ‘Surpass! Overcome!’ This Nietzschean imperative is precisely the contrary of the fascist postulate, according to which conflicts are eternal and human problems don’t have solutions.”20 But unlike Bataille, Lefebvre also sought to emphasize both Nietzsche’s existentialism and his compatibility with Marx. A committed Marxist and member of the Parti Communist Française until he was expelled in 1958, Lefebvre21 opens his text with an epigraph from Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts, and goes on to argue that Nietzsche’s account of human alienation raises important themes that are insufficiently addressed by Marx’s 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 “as the result of social differentiation and the division of labor” (144). Because Lefebvre finds Nietzsche’s revaluation of values easy to “integrate with the Marxist concept of man,” he concludes that “it is absurd to write [as Drieu la Rochelle did in his Socialisme fasciste (1934)] Nietzsche contre Marx” (164). Lefebvre’s Marxist vision drifts toward existentialism as he notes that in Nietzsche’s magnificent future, “the men of our epoch will, suffer, despair, and always return to hope. And it is this which gives their life its unique character” (ibid.). Even the eternal recurrence squares with Lefebvre’s existentialist Marxist vision of the future, as the eternal recurrence gives rise to the Nietzschean Imperative, “an imperative that gives existence an infinite density: ‘Live each moment in a way that you will to relive it eternally’ [‘Vis tout instant de sorte que tu veuilles toujours le revivre’]. There doesn’t exist an eternity and a pre-existent truth that fatalistically determines us. On the contrary: we create eternity, our eternity!” (87).22
Somewhat surprisingly, given Nietzsche’s 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’s works, but Nietzsche’s 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’s philosophical importance. In an essay on the work of Brice Parain, Sartre wrote that “We know that Nietzsche was not a philosopher.”24 And Sartre follows this comment about Nietzsche not being a philosopher with the following: “But why does Parain, who is a professional philosopher, quote this crackbrained nonsense?”
In contrast to the two earlier moments, what distinguishes the third Nietzschean moment in France is precisely that Nietzsche’s thought is for the first time taken up by professional philosophers. Nietzsche’s philosophical moment in France begins in 1958, when La Généalogie de la morale appeared on the reading list in French translation for the agrégation de philosophie.25 Appearing again in 1959, these were Nietzsche’s 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’s Genealogy was one of the required texts (1958–59), Deleuze was beginning his university career at the Sorbonne, where he taught as Maître-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’s Nietzsche et la philosophie.28 To appreciate the novelty of Nietzsche’s 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, 1958–62, we see appear the first six articles on Nietzsche ever to be published in France’s prestigious philosophical journals.30 And to appreciate the novelty of Deleuze’s 1962 publication of Nietzsche et la philosophie,31 consider that there were only three books on Nietzsche publishe...