A Five-Year Report


by Justin E. H. Smith

I have been a professor of philosophy and a fonctionnaire in Paris for five years. I think by now this gives me at least some credibility as a participant-observer (Lévi-Strauss never spent more than two years at a time in the Amazon). I pass my days mostly around people who talk about figures and ideas that proved their worth centuries ago, and that will not be forgotten centuries from now, but because I am American and I talk to Americans with peculiar ideas about French philosophy, I am often asked to comment on whatever remains of the Parisian intellectual style from the past century that gained some considerable popularity abroad and that still survives in some pockets, like Christian Audigier car freshener on sale at an Indiana truck stop.

So here is my quinquennial report: the more I learn about the functioning of high-mandarin French academia (I mean the functioning of the actual institutional gears and levers that cause the relevant actors to say the things they say in the way they say them), the more I see the history of the importation of French ‘theory’ into the United States for what it is—a farce, a systematic misunderstanding of vast comic proportions.

Piece originally published at