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  • From Bataille to Badiou. ‘Lignes’: The Preservation of Radical French Thought, 1987–2017 by Adrian May
  • Oliver Davis
From Bataille to Badiou. ‘Lignes’: The Preservation of Radical French Thought, 1987–2017. By Adrian May. (Contemporary French and Francophone Cultures, 54.) Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2018. vi + 314 pp.

This is the first scholarly study of the intellectual review, Lignes, a significant institution on the critical left in France since its inception in 1987 but relatively little known in its own right abroad. Adrian May offers a very engaging, ‘sympathetic’, and ‘largely expository’ account, which aims to ‘familiarise’ (p. 16) readers with the publication and which is organized first chronologically and then thematically, carefully tracking shifts in the review’s approach and contextualizing them within the wider intellectual and political landscape. Perhaps the most significant of these changes of line concerns the development of critical awareness about the use to which la laïcité was increasingly being put by the ‘new republicans’ to stigmatize a minority Muslim population, with the review shaping wider understanding of that reactionary formation as it developed through the 1990s. Differentiating Lignes from other reviews, May rightly emphasizes the staunch opposition it has embodied to liberal conceptions of political and intellectual debate which overvalue consensus, associating them especially with the centre-right journal founded in 1980, Le Débat. Although Tel Quel is said to be ‘evidently’ one of the ‘closest predecessors’ of Lignes (p. 85), perhaps Les Révoltes logiques more clearly anticipated its critique of the ‘new philosophers’ and its custodianship of the emancipatory radicalism of 1968. One constant is editor Michel Surya, known for his biography of Georges Bataille (Paris: Séguier, 1987) but also as a novelist and political theorist, and May argues that it was ‘Bataille’s dual critique of liberal democracy and fascism’ (p. 21) that set the line of the review’s resistance to the compromises of France’s increasingly securitarian liberal democracy during the period. Surya’s suggestive neologism, ‘mla pensée’ (cited p. 110), captures something of the simultaneously individual and shared character of the thought fostered by the review, as perhaps of thought in general: one’s own but never entirely one’s own because it exceeds the regime of property, ownership, and the proper. His neologism also captures something of the review’s related self-presentation, in the mid-1990s, on the side of impropriety and the impure — a stance which could also have been traced back through Nancy, who features prominently as a contributor, to Kristeva and Derrida. There is no substantial discussion of the journal’s circulation, readership, or internal decision-making processes. Instead, the reading proceeds by determining the overall orientation of articles and issues, and apprehending the political and cultural questions they address largely in terms of already agglomerated trends, the ‘movements’ beloved of literary and intellectual history: ‘French neo-Nietzscheanism’, ‘French Theory’, or, most problematically of all because the category is already polemical, ‘la pensée 68’. Although this can be a little frustrating at times — I found myself disagreeing vehemently both with the verdict on Rancière’s ‘eruptive politics’ (p. 207) and the way it appeared to have been arrived at — it can also be extremely helpful, as when May embarks on a superb analytical reconstruction of the reactionary moralization of politics from the standpoint of the review. May offers a similarly impressive analysis of the journal’s conceptualization of the socially excluded as ‘the vanquished of neoliberal capitalism’ (p. 157), which deftly connects Surya’s critique of ‘transparency’ with the emerging work of Frédéric Lordon. This is a very engagingly written, informative, and original study of a significant review, which also offers a unique perspective on the critical left in France over the last three decades. [End Page 667]

Oliver Davis
Warwick University


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