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Eve Tavor Bannet PLURALIST THEORY-FICTIONS AND FICTIONAL POLITICS Despite the now widespread practice of reading texts in contexts, context is rarely, if ever, invoked when French poststructuralist theory is considered.1 The divorce ofFrench theory from French politics and society has facUitated its appropriation by the new historicisms and by politicized literary criticism outside France. At the same time, this divorce has deflected attention from the social and political myths naturalized by theoretical structures, thus permitting French theory to present itself as a universally applicable tool. But French theory is not capable of making contemporary political points in every culture or of being harnessed to the study ofjust any historical period. The political fictions enshrined in French poststructuralist thought may have made sense in the political and discursive context of France in the late sixties and early seventies—even if they did prove largely ineffectual as "active interventions in history and politics."2 But the same political fictions enshrined in the same plural and decentered structures make little political sense when they are exported to other countries; and they make even less sense when they are imposed, as invariable grids, on the cultures of the past. The political force oftheoretical structures cannot be assessed without considering their function and reception in different social, political, and discursive contexts. For instance, the plural structures of French theoretical writings have found much more ready acceptance in the United States than they have, say, in England, because, as William E. ConnoUy has pointed out, "pluralism has long provided the dominant description and ideal of American politics."3 In the American context, where pluralism and decentralization are referential terms as well as 28 Eve Tavor Bannet29 highly prized values, nothing could be more intellectually and politically respectable than to espouse them, and it is not immediately obvious why the structures of French theoretical writings should be either fictional or questionable. The abstract universalism ofmuch political rhetoric also tends to mask the fact that there are almost as many varieties of pluralism as there are of novels or of criticism or of anything else.4 A Frenchman asserting that "The plural, the collection ofsingularities, this is just what power, capital, the law of value, personal identity, the identity card, the University, responsibility, the family and the hospital repress and quell,"5 is speaking in a particular discursive context. He is echoing two generations of French left-wing intellectuals who viewed with intense disfavor France's rapid transformation after World War II from a predominantly agricultural society into a modern, capitalist, industrialized, and—as they thought, "Americanized"—"technological society." French left-wing critics of modernization ignored what Raymond Aron and Michel Crozier tried to tell them: that France was not like America; that in America, the bureaucratic and technological organization of society was not accompanied by authoritarian centralism and dirigisme; and that totally centralized power, authoritarian control of the economy, the media, and education, and lack of direction from the margins to the center were peculiar to French social and political structures, and had been at least since Napoleon.6 As far as the French left was concerned, modern capitalist society was virtually indistinguishable from centralized direction. This is why they tended to argue that there is no difference between "totalitarianism" in Russia, America, and France, and it is why the Hegelian master-slave dialectic as expounded by Kojève became fundamental to the thinking ofthe French left. This identification ofmodern "Americanized" society with the programmed society also explains why French left-wing critiques of the symbolic and social order—including those of Lacan, Barthes, Foucault, and Derrida—tend to be accompanied by stringent attacks on centralism, hierarchical structures of authority and domination , standardizationand programmed conformities,justas it explains their rejection ofall theoretical totalizations, whether modeled on Hegel and Marx or on structuralism and semiotics. In this peculiarly French context, the valorization ofthe margins over the center, militant nonconformity, and the assertion of difference, constituted a recognized contestatory political position. It also represented a potential, a projected and imagined alternative to the status quo in France. We should not forget that for the French left, decen- 30Philosophy and Literature tralization, pluralism, and the abUity to make...


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