French Theory: How Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, and Co. Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States

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Overview

“In such a difficult genre, full of traps and obstacles, French Theory is a success and a remarkable book in every respect: it is fair, balanced, and informed. I am sure this book will become the reference on both sides of the Atlantic.” —Jacques Derrida

 

During the last three decades of the twentieth century, a disparate group of radical French thinkers achieved an improbable level of influence and fame in the United States. Compared by at least one journalist to the British rock ‘n’ roll invasion, the arrival of works by Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jean-François Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard, Gilles Deleuze, and Félix Guattari on American shores in the late 1970s and 1980s caused a sensation.

 

Outside the academy, “French theory” had a profound impact on the era’s emerging identity politics while also becoming, in the 1980s, the target of right-wing propagandists. At the same time in academic departments across the country, their poststructuralist form of radical suspicion transformed disciplines from literature to anthropology to architecture. By the 1990s, French theory was woven deeply into America’s cultural and intellectual fabric.

 

French Theoryis the first comprehensive account of the American fortunes of these unlikely philosophical celebrities. François Cusset looks at why America proved to be such fertile ground for French theory, how such demanding writings could become so widely influential, and the peculiarly American readings of these works. Reveling in the gossipy history, Cusset also provides a lively exploration of the many provocative critical practices inspired by French theory. Ultimately, he dares to shine a bright light on the exultation of these thinkers to assess the relevance of critical theory to social and political activism today-showing, finally, how French theory has become inextricably bound with American life.

 

François Cusset, a writer and intellectual historian, teaches contemporary French thought in Paris at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques and at Columbia University’s Reid Hall. His books include Queer Critics and La Décennie.

 

Jeff Fort is assistant professor of French at the University of California, Davis. He has translated works by Maurice Blanchot, Jean Genet, and Jean-Luc Nancy.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780816647330
  • Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
  • Publication date: 5/2/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 408
  • Sales rank: 450,068
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Table of Contents


Preface to the English Edition     xi
Introduction: The Sokal Effect     1
The Invention of a Corpus
Prehistories     17
The Academic Enclave     33
The Seventies: A Turning Point     54
Literature and Theory     76
Deconstruction Sites     107
The Uses of Theory
The Politics of Identity     131
The Ideological Backlash     166
Academic Stars     193
Students and Users     217
Art Practices     230
Theoretical Machinations     248
There and Back
Theory as Norm: A Lasting Influence     265
Worldwide Theory: A Global Legacy     287
Meanwhile, Back in France...     309
Conclusion: Difference and Affirmation     329
Acknowledgments     339
Translator's Acknowledgments     341
Notes     343
Index     377
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