French Theory certainly was not French eventually



From Brooklyn Rail:

French Theory is no theory. It is a well-known fact that “Theory,” as in “French Theory,” is neither a theoretical endeavor nor a theoretical manifestation of thought. “Theory” as in “French Theory” has evidently little to do with Plato’s apex of human evolution: contemplation of the ideal form as such. In the Platonic sense, theory is the ultimate abstraction. And it is quite obvious that “French Theory” is almost never purely theoretical—and most often, even, is theoretical only by deduction and conclusion. With the significant exception of Alain Badiou (a defender of Platonism and therefore of theory, but quite a latecomer in the field) there is no theorist that would be at the same time a theoretician: Michel Foucault turned the history of philosophy, thought, and social behaviors into a basis for a philosophy of its own—actually, into a philosophy of his own. Roland Barthes was primarily a literary scholar and a semiologist, using signs to read texts and interpret the text of the world. Gilles Deleuze engaged with aesthetics, cinema, the history of philosophy, sciences, literature, and very often with specific bodies of text as basis for his own research. So did Jacques Derrida, whose writings were often in the margins of others, from Marx, to Artaud, to Husserl, to Nietzsche. Félix Guattari’s work emerged from psychoanalysis, and so did his collaboration with Deleuze. Hélène Cixous is a poetess of extraordinary vision, as well as a thinker. Jean-Luc Nancy, as well as Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, and Jean-François Lyotard, have all very often used motives for their thinking and dealt with specific questions, issues, and moments. Julia Kristeva brings together psychoanalysis, linguistics, semiology, and literary criticism. And these are only a few striking examples, where no Platonic “Theory” is ever to be found. Quite the opposite.

French Theory is not French. Or rather, it does not want nor seek to be French. In fact, it most often deals with the outside: drawing from the massive influence of Marxian economics, Nietzschean philology, Freudian psychoanalysis, Husserlian phenomenology, Heideggerian metaphysics, and American post-Saussurean linguistics, the French thinkers that have been considered part of that group have always tried to deal with legacies coming from abroad (mainly the German-speaking world) and to have a point of view that would not be primarily French. They were addressing others, and not necessarily—or not exclusively—as French. Hélène Cixous’s writing is constantly infused by the contamination of many other languages; it is an impure language, whose purity only exists in its ability to weave all other idioms into its own transformed, poetic thread.

“Not New, Not French, Not Theory”, Donatien Grau, Brooklyn Rail

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