This article assesses the life and work of Marc Angenot by tracing the series of "red threads" that run through the huge corpus of his work. Along the way, Barsky provides an overview of Angenot's theories, which bear upon philology, history, literary theory, linguistics, semiotics, and literature. He also assesses the ways in which Angenot's uniquely European classical training has (and should have) intersected with a North American intellectual culture, while offering a roadmap for understanding the theoretical and methodological implications of an approach that is nearly as daunting as the "social discourse" and the "grand narratives" it attempts to describe.
This interview between Robert Barsky and Marc Angenot engages the central themes of Angenot's work while providing a sense of the ties that bind the diverse corpus of work together. This wide-ranging discussion shows the breadth of the materials under examination and, moreover, the array of tools he brings along with him for the task; along the way, he describes his efforts to unearth both the consistencies that are at the base of any discourse hegemony and the absurdities, contradictions, and scandals that flow through its dialogical veins.
In this foundational text for the large scale project that produced several major works, including 1889: Un état de discours social, Marc Angenot describes the project of amassing and assessing every French text written, and every utterance uttered in 1889, as a way of establishing a range of topics, opinions, argumentative strategies, current usages, in short, the "social discourse" of a single year. As ambitious as it is monumental, this article offers a program for understanding an era in our history, while providing a series of guidelines for studying any utterance and any text, which demands nothing less than the need for it to be considered against the backdrop of discourses within which it was made, and which made it possible.
Implicitly refuting Sartre's famous What is Literature?, as well as all versions of literary analyses that look to discover the uniquely original and extra-contextual elements of the literary text (and the genius of their authors), Angenot offers a fresh new assessment of the role literature plays in a given social discourse compendium. Along the way, he portrays the literary text as that which speaks after all other discourses have had their say, not to offer a more profound or original perspective, but to simply re-cast what is already "thinkable" and "sayable" within the prevailing social discourse. If literature does fulfill a particular role, says Angenot, it is by conveying to the reader a carnivalesque sense that when it comes to knowledge claims made in other domains, "it ain't necessarily so."
Fredric Jameson considers Angenot's work within a broader effort to elaborate a theory, or discern a model, applicable to the study of literary history as a "form" or "genre," and along the way assesses the (literary) work of the nineteenth century in light of 1889, a 1200 page "cube" he deems "a classic if anything ever was." Invoking approaches and works by Adorno, Bakhtin, Balzac, Benjamin, Flaubert, Foucault, Marx, Nietzsche, Weber, and Zola, among others, and a range of ways in which Angenot's "story of the year" approach impacts their respective views, Jameson's assessment, like Angenot's, provocatively takes on the task of determining "how to forestall the grim closure of the synchronic and the definitive imprisonment in the past."
Besides being a unique compendium of fin-de-siècle French culture and civilization, Marc Angenot's 1889 raises important issues regarding the rationale and methodology of historical reconstruction. The choice of a single year rather than a larger period, the choice of an exhaustive study of discursive possibilities, the refusal of traditional hierarchies between genres, styles, and printed sources: these are ways to create an entirely new perspective on the nineteenth century as well as new tools for research, so many significant advances that also have some limitations.
This paper correlates Marc Angenot's theory of social discourse to the transgredient notions of the dialogical in Mikhail Bakhtin, and of governmentality in Michel Foucault. Together these three concepts allow a close investigation of the material/textual production of hegemonic truths, as well as an exploration of the means of transforming such truths and elaborating new forms of subjectivity and agency. Angenot, Bakhtin, and Foucault deploy the concept of discourse differently, yet their texts variously attribute a crucial role to fiction in the cultural production of knowledge and power relations. Together, their historical analyses set forth an eminently pertinent set of theoretical and methodological tools for contemporary cultural studies.
This is an article in two parts. Part 1, "Besinnung: Remembrance, Recollection, Reasoning Again," approaches, starting from Augustine's Confessions, Marc Angenot's "social discourse theory" and his article "Pour en finir avec les études littéraires." In the spirit of Nietzsche's maxim "You should be closest to a friend with your heart when you resist him," the great strengths of Angenot's approaches are pointed out, as well as limits of and reservations about a Foucauldian discourse theory that cannot accommodate fiction. Part 2, "What May the Century Amount to," is a set of independent theses in a sustained dialogue with Angenot's work.