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Reviews163 French Philosophy ofthe Sixties: An Essay in Antihumanism, by Luc Ferry and Alain Renaut; xxix & 229 pp. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1990, $35.00 cloth, $13.95 paper. During the sixties and early seventies, French theory taught the death of man and the end of universal truth. The late seventies brought the critical reaction ofa new generation of French intellectuals. Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, for instance, called for "something less critical than positive," arguing that "there must—always—be truth and knowledge." Derrida began to describe deconstruction as "affirmative," and Foucault insisted that we must now "promote new forms of subjectivity." During the eighties, Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, Lacoue-Labarthe, Nancy, and others were working on a new philosophy of man and on a new ethics. French Philosophy of the Sixties, published in France in 1985 as La Pensée '68, participates in this turn from the death of man to his rebirth. Emphasizing the distance which separates the eighties from "sixties philosophers" Foucault, Derrida , Bourdieu, and Lacan, the authors virulendy attack the antihumanism of these thinkers in order to make humanism acceptable again. Like Nancy in Llmpératif Catégorique (1983) or Lyotard, Descombes, Lacoue-Labarthe, and Nancy at the important 1982 Cerisy-la-Salle Conference, later published as La Faculté de Juger (1985), they also revalorize a certain version of Kant. At the same time, Ferry and Renaut's work seriously lags behind the more constructive work of their French contemporaries. Dismissing or ignoring Foucault , Derrida, and Bourdieu's more recent writings to keep them neatly categorized as sixties philosophers, they fail to address the issues of human singularity , responsibility, spirituality, and agency raised by these writings and debated by their peers. And failing to understand either what drove sixties thinking to antihumanism, or why the new philosophy of man is not and cannot be a simple return to the status quo ante, they simplistically embrace a humanism characterized by individualism, autonomy, human will, and universals. Ferry and Renaut approach sixties philosophy taxonomically. They use a Weberian ideal type (learned from Aron) to describe it as consisting of three principal "intellectual structures" (pp. 3, 4): the theme ofthe end ofphilosophy, the paradigm of genealogy, and the disintegration of truth. None of these relates direcdy to antihumanism, but the authors argue that these "various themes and motifs . . . converge on an accusation against subjectivity" (p. 64). Each intellectual structure is described in terms of "two great deconstructive models" (p. 4), Marxist and Heideggerian, which the authors view as inconsistent with each other. In subsequent chapters, when they apply their ideal type to Foucault, Derrida, Bourdieu, and Lacan, they use this inconsistency in the German models to argue that the French theorists in question were inconsistent with themselves and "agents ofan individualism they often denounced" (p. 67). 164Philosophy and Literature The authors also seek to demonstrate that "various German philosophers were the chief prosecutors who drew up the case against the subject brought by the '68 philosophers" and that "contemporary French philosophy has basically been not so much an original and creative moment in intellectual history as simply a secondary growth" (p. 25). They therefore treat Foucault, Derrida, Bourdieu, and Lacan as little more than hyperbolic repeaters of Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud. The influence of the Germans on the French will come as no news, and this is a particularly reductive analysis of it: "If, according to the formula we have explained, Foucault = Heidegger + Nietzsche, and if, as we will show later, we can say that Lacan = Heidegger + Freud, French Heideggerianism can be defined by the formula Derrida = Heidegger + Derrida's style" (p. 123). The best chapter in the book is on "Interpretations of May 1968." Here the authors provide a useful categorization and critique of accounts written from participants' Marxist and Heideggerian points of view, and argue for an "interpretive pluralism" (p. 59) which they have also learned from Aron. Unfortunately , they fail even to understand that words like "subjectivity" or "individual " can have many meanings, and they themselves relate sixties' thinking to 1968 only by virtue of the dates of its earliest works. Although invariably awkward and sometimes obscure, Mary Schnackenberg Cattani's translation is timely. It appears as we...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 163-164
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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