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Book Reviews Jean-Philippe Mathy. French Resistance: The French-American Culture Wars. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2000. Pp. ix + 211. $29.95 cloth. Jean-Philippe Mathy's French Resistance: The French-American Culture Wars examines a series of persistent historical, intellectual and, at times, not-so-intellectual skirmishes in the name of culture and national identity. Beginning with the question of "theory," Mathy analyses the willto -misunderstanding between American and French culture, particularly, though by no means exclusively, through North American reception of and resistance to French thought. As Mathy demonstrates in his wide-ranging symptomatic readings, matters of "reading" frequently conflate and confuse discursive analysis with processes of overdetermination involving journalistic stereotyping of the attributes of national identity. He illuminates, for example, those ".. .irritations caused in the English-speaking world by French foppishness, weakness for abstractions, and absolutist proclivities...[which] have survived to this day...whether diey involve issues of national identity, individual rights.. .or conflicting interpretations of the legacy of the French Third Republic in matters of ethnic and linguistic diversity" (8). In drawing on a range of discursive sources, from Alan Sokal to some far more interesting, fraught examples of hasty construal, such as postcolonial and leftist critiques of Gayatri Spivak's "Gallocentric" politics or the apparently compromised idealism of Jacques Derrida's critique of racism (44-45), Mathy unveils the historically engrained tendency amongst "[t]he critics of French theory... [who] often revive the traditional opposition between Gallic abstruse skepticism and Anglo-American common sense" (41). While many would see the criticism of Spivak, Derrida et al. as necessary correctives, Mathy is careful to avoid negative attacks in showing how positions on both the American and French sides have an unerring self-recuperative tendency whereby the critic doesn't speak so much as s/he becomes the conduit for the voicing of historicoepistemological assumptions, whether addressing the critique of poststructuralism or the "persistence of anti-Americanism in post-Cold War France." This persistence Mathy observes in recent critical concerns on the part of various thinkers in response to Le Pen and "me way ethnic and sexual minority claims were couched in the United States" (16). From such perspectives and premises, Mathy turns his attention to the historical persistence of native Anglo-American méconnaissance which "has roots in the history of literary relations between the two traditions for the past two hundred years" (57), and which accounts on the one hand for the resistance and misreading of poststructuralism so called (and let's not forget (hat this is an Anglo-American term imposed at least since the late 1960s to define the disparate complexities of Gallic intellectual discourse) and, on the other, with "the critique of French political and cultural centralization" (57). Mathy's critique is carefully formulated historically, viewing Edmund Burke, common sense and organic liberal traditions as convenient narrative moments in medias res for the demarcation of cultural and national limits and the 200-year-old aporetic experience , which has emerged as a result of competing narratives of two distinct cultures. Mathy returns in part to a tradition of progressivist ideological discourse, maintained in France since the Revolution as the spectral inheritance of the Enlightenment, following its encryptions as expressions of a certain cultural-intellectual adherence and engagement which found itself faced with the dual crisis "brought in by the breakdown of the Communist bloc" and "[t]he return to the Republic [which] also illustrates the impossible choice confronting many leftists " (87). Furthermore, he persuasively traces how "the rearticulation of the republican idea was wedded to the critique of liberalism in contemporary France" (108). Such a representation significantly counters the tendency to reductivism. In response to mis, Mathy exposes how, in general , there exist in both North America and France oversimplified national appreciations of the Vol. XLI, No. 1 97 L'Esprit Créateur other's national culture, as though one could assume an identity for culture where both the very idea of "identity" and "culture" could be determined as single and homogeneous. This is given especial focus in the idea that there is an "opposition between a liberal-pluralist American model of ethnic relations and a monolithic and centralized French conception of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 97-98
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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