The French Review 65.2 (1991)

CHAMPAGNE, ROLAND A. French Structuralism. Boston: Twayne Publishers, Twayne World Authors Series 818, 1990. ISBN 0-8057-8262-1. Pp. 165. $25.95

[Reprinted with the permission of The French Review]

This sweeping introductory study promises to provide, in 10 chapters, an analysis of five "ideologists of the movement" (Claude Lévi-Strauss, Roland Barthes, Jacques Lacan, Michel Foucault, and Louis Althusser), then "three arenas in which significant achievement occurred as spinoffs of the controversy over the structuralist ideologies" (19), i.e. "political" responses to structuralism (Gilles Deleuze, Michel Serres, and the "nouveaux philosophes"), developments towards universal (i.e. rhetorical, semiotic and narratological) grammar(s), and works by Jean Piaget, Lucien Goldmann and René Girard on "first-order narratives." My evaluation considers the extent to which this study might serve as a useful reference tool and, ideally, as an introductory text in (under)graduate courses. While several chapters do constitute adequate presentations, notably, the mise en place of French structuralism's origins (ch. 1) and succinct studies of Foucault's and Althusser's projects (ch. 5 & 6), the work as a whole simply creates more problems than it resolves.

As reference tool, Champagne's study is riddled with inconsistencies, some "merely" chronological or factual: Barthes publishing his "mythologies du mois" in Les Nouvelles littéraires (34) instead of Lettres nouvelles; Lacan revealing "only in 1975" (48) the "irony" of his work on the "mirror phase" to his 1953-54 seminar on "Les écrits techniques de Freud"; Deleuze's use of the double helix, in Foucault (1986), as conceptual image that "leads to Deleuze's theory of serial discourse" developed in the 1969 Logique du sens (94-95). Other questionable assertions point to Champagne's approximate grasp of certain writers' works -- for example, one cannot fairly consider Deleuze or Hayden White "disciples" of Foucault (125), nor Félix Guattari "a Lacanian psychoanalyst" (89) -- as do various lacunae: while situating quite thoroughly Lévi-Stauss's importance in founding ethnological structuralism, Champagne still omits mention of "L'étude structurale du mythe" in Anthropologie structurale; he ignores the 1972-73 essay "A quoi reconnaît-on le structuralisme?" in discussing Deleuze's relation to structuralism and to "serial discourse"; and despite ample evidence to the contrary, Champagne insists on grouping these writers as a "movement," even "under the banner of the structuralist name" (32). Moreover, Champagne's implicit aversion to the critical practice of "deconstruction" leads him not only to omit mention of Derrida's seminal critique of Lévi-Strauss presented at the 1966 Johns Hopkins conference, and of the "invasion structuraliste" published in L'écriture et la différence, but also to ridicule Derrida's discourse (104) and consistently to misrepresent "deconstruction" (42, 104, 118, 129).

Besides these inconsistencies and other (particularly bibliographical) lacunae, several specific analyses are entirely inadequate in that a Lansonian biographical thrust subverts the exegetical effort, especially in the chapters on Barthes and Lacan. Asserting continuously that Barthes "reads obliquely," Champagne never defines precisely his understanding of this concept. His insistence that S/Z is the "epitome of French structural analysis" (17) portends his serious misreading of this transitional text: despite Champagne's assertion that Barthes "coined the expression readerly text in 1973 in Le Plaisir du texte" (37), surely Barthes's distinction of texte lisible and texte scriptible is clearly established early in S/Z. Yet, Champagne constructs his entire analysis of Barthes's supposed "ideology of the readerly text" (46) on a misapprehension of what "readerly" means in Barthes's work, i.e. "an ongoing irretrievable play of words" (42) that, in fact, best describes the scriptible. Furthermore, just as this chapter's conclusion is marred a muddled attempt at psycho- and mytho-biography (44-45), the thrust of Champagne's otherwise disjointed study of Lacan's work lies in his assertion that the clinical tool of hypnosis also functioned surreptitiously in Lacan's teachings through a supposedly "mesmerizing" influence over his followers and seminar audiences (56).

While French Structuralism leaves little doubt of Champagne's passion for contemporary French intellectual thought, further study of the critical "heritage" presented here, "uniquely French in its snobbish appeal and in its political intrigues" (20), would certainly be more readily facilitated by recourse to any number of works now available in paperback and more accessible thanks to less tendentious considerations of the primary material.

Charles J. Stivale
Wayne State University