Post-Rationalism: Psychoanalysis, Epistemology, and Marxism in Post-War France by Tom Eyers (review)
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Post-Rationalism: Psychoanalysis, Epistemology, and Marxism in Post-War France. By Tom Eyers. (Bloomsbury Studies in Continental Philosophy.) London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013. x + 217 pp.

In recent years increased attention has been paid to the Cahiers pour l’analyse, a journal published by a group of normaliens between 1966 and 1969 — the anni mirabiles of French theory. Despite its brief lifespan, the journal published articles by most of the period’s major figures, including Althusser, Derrida, Foucault, and Lacan. The wide disciplinary range of contributions, however, belies the journal’s narrower focus on questions of epistemology, science, and the formalization of knowledge. The Cahiers’ very existence thus represents a challenge to conventional histories of post-war French thought, which have tended to weight its origins heavily in phenomenological, Heideggerean, or neo-Nietzschean soils. Tom Eyers’s ambitious study takes up this challenge, positioning the journal as a timely starting point for a reassessment of the intellectual roots of structuralism. Many of the latter’s formalizing tendencies, he argues, can be traced to an earlier epistemological tradition, notably the work of Gaston Bachelard and Georges Canguilhem. The structure of Eyers’s book is Janus-faced: it looks backward to this earlier tradition from the vantage point of ‘high’ structuralism (represented here by Althusser and Lacan) while also looking ahead to contemporary figures such as Alain Badiou and Jacques Rancière. The resulting vista is what Eyers calls ‘post-rationalism’, an alternative to the well-worn but seemingly implacable labels ‘structuralism’ and ‘poststructuralism’. As a descriptive term, post-rationalism is useful because it highlights the philosophical continuity between these earlier epistemologists and their later (post-)structuralist inheritors. It also accentuates motifs common to all three post-rationalist generations: the nature and limits of subjectivity; the relationship between mathematics, logic, and the real; the imbrication of ideology and science; and a suspicion of binaries such as relativism–realism and empiricism–rationalism. Five closely related chapters bring the central players of Eyers’s narrative — Canguilhem, Bachelard, Lacan, Althusser, and Badiou — into dialogue both [End Page 430] with each other and with less central post-rationalists such as Derrida, Deleuze, Irigaray, and Macherey. As one might expect, then, this is not a book for the faint of heart. Eyers’s intricate analyses are frequently dense and demanding, although he is careful to deploy scrupulously close readings to produce a narrative that is by and large convincing. One curious feature is the book’s methodology. Eyers flatly rejects a historicist focus on context or influence. His ‘strong claim’ (p. 5) is that most philosophical problems addressed by the post-rationalists remain of critical importance today. This open-endedness necessitates an ‘ethic of temporal multidimensionality’ (p. 4) in which common problems are traced across non-linear philosophical and historical settings. While this approach does produce unexpected and fascinating juxtapositions (for example, Bachelard and Lacan), it also threatens the organic progression of Eyers’s argument, as less central figures are summoned on and off stage in a manner that can be somewhat disjointed. Nonetheless, in its range of material and its interpretative daring, Eyers’s book is one of an ambition rarely seen today. As focus inevitably turns towards more contemporary trends, it will surely prove to be a singular resource and a potent rejoinder to those stressing the novelty of a ‘scientific turn’ in recent French thought.

Paul Earlie
The Queen’s College, Oxford
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