The French Review 60.5 (1987): 742-743.

BAUDRILLARD, JEAN. La Gauche divine. Paris: Grasset, 1985. Pp. 165.
FERRY, LUC, & ALAIN RENAUT. La Pensée 68: essai sur l’anti-humanisme contemporain. Paris: Gallimard, 1985. Pp. 293.

[Reprinted with the permission of The French Review]

What could these works of apparently conflicting theoretical bases possibly have in common? After all, Baudrillard's "Chroniques des années 1977-1984" contribute to his project of describing modes of (post)modem "simulacres et simulations," whereas Ferry/Renaut seek to question the very post-structuralist underpinnings that inform Baudrillard's work. The interest of this juxtaposition lies in their shared status as "chapters" in what we might call "tales of the conjoncture", i.e. their mutual de-mythification of contemporary lieux communs of the French intelligentsia, political for Baudrillard, philosophical for Ferry/Renaut.

Baudrillard highlights his critique of simulacra with recurrent metaphors of the French Left's "religious" agony and ecstasy: in "Le calvaire de l'Union de la Gauche", Baudrillard maintains that the French Left's attempts to take power were consistently undermined by the Communist Party's implicit bad faith, manifest in its continued unwillingness, even inability, to help constitute and then participate in a political majority. Having thus denounced the moral bankruptcy of the PC, Baudrillard devotes the second section to two reflections on the PS majoritaire: he first suggests that the dispassionate "extase du socialisme" of post-10 mai, 1981, had nothing to do with the electorate's "allégeance au socialisme comme volonté de representation ... Je pense qu'on entre littéralement, avec ce socialisme non sexué politiquement, avec ce socialisme extatique et asexué, dans l’ère du prêt-à-croire, comme la mode est entrée dans l'ère du prêt-à-porter" (72). Thus, socialism in power serves merely as a model, "une simulation de changement (simulation au sens de développement du meilleur scenario possible)" (73), whose consequences for the French intelligentsia were particularly devastating: "Nous sommes donc sommés de simuler en retour, de faire comme si l'irrésistible progrès de l'histoire nous avait amenés là et comme si tout cela s'accordait, selon une strange ressemblance formelle, avec l'espoir de changer la vie" (80-82). Then, in an essay written following the summer of 1983's crisis of intellectuels de gauche, Baudrillard refuses to succumb to "ce référendum symbolique du régime auprès des intellectuals,'" and denounces the Socialists' transformation of the "principe même du social" from a social contract into "une sorte d'interface, d'interactivité permanents, principe de branchement et de contact: société contractueue, et non contractuelle" (96). Rejecting the 'holy' pretensions of "la gauche divine" to establish some final and coherent organization of "le social," Baudrllard proclaims that rather than heeding the pious calls of the Socialists for virtuous solidarity, intellectuals must "arracher cela, arracher les peuples à leur malin génie pour les rendre à leur bonne volonté, à leur bon désir, et le social à son bon fonctionnement" (103). Finally, in the lengthy, sometimes muddled final section, Baudrillard most clearly attacks the philosophical positions to which Ferry/Renaut also object: while continuing to criticize the Socialists’ "acharnement thérapeutique," i.e. the transformation of "le social" into "un homme définitivement malade, sous perfusion continuelle' (119), he directs an equally virulent attack at "cette merveilleuse culture informatique et cybernétique du changement' (146-147). In implicit reference to Jean-François Lyotard, Baudrillard insists that "cette forme moderne, 'postmoderne' de la liberté est inacceptable" since it constitutes the surrender of such theorists of post-modernism to "l’Etat en perdition, qui annihile la société civile, ou ce qu'il en reste, en s'y injectant, qui neutralise chaque molécule de cette société en la programmant et en la responsibilisant sur ses propres objecfifs' (147).

This critique of current political dehumanization is mirrored in Ferry/Renaut's analysis of "le problème philosophique de la pensée contemporaine," but, while clearly opposed "aux apories et aux effets ruineux de l'anti-humanisme" of post-structuralist philosophical speculation, the authors' reading explicitly "vise à intégrer une dimension de ce qu'elle recuse, en cherchant à définir un humanisme qui ne peut aujourd’hui que se vouloir exempt des vieilles naivetés" (24-25). They approach this ambitious project in three precise steps: in chapters I and II, they first define the model of "le type idéal des 'sixties' philosophantes" that will serve as a research tool for their subsequent analyses of specific philosophers. Then, confronting the seeming incompatibility between the anti-humanist "sixties" philosophical thought and May 68's humanist affirmation of the self, they present a brilliant analysis of "les interpretations de Mai 1968" and resolve one paradox by suggesting another: "Le sujet meurt dans l'avènement de l’individu... En dénonçant les illusions inhérentes, à leurs yeux, à l'idéal de 'conscience volontaire' que véhicule avec elle la notion classique de subjectivité, les philosophies de 1968 auront par conséquent . . . participé d'une promotion sans doute inédite de ces valeurs de l'individualité qu'au moins certaines des figures intellectuellement dominantes des 'sixties' croyaient pourtant combattre"(100-102). Thus, in the second step, Ferry/Renaut refer to the German models of contemporary French philosophy in order to analyze the works of four representatives of "la pensée 68": "Le nietzschéisme français" of Michel Foucault (III), "L'heideggerianisme français" of Jacques Derrida (IV), "Le marxisme français" of Pierre Bourdieu (V), and "Le freudisme français" of Jacques Lacan (VI). However, the extent to which the authors truly engage the positions under consideration in these chapters is very unequal: while the chapters on Foucault and Derrida are quite remarkable in their exploration of apparent inconsistencies within both theoretical projects, the authors' evident anti-communist, liberal parti pris in the chapter on Bourdieu yields a suspiciously dismissive critical evaluation, and they have little hope of presenting an adequate critique of "lacanisme" given the "rationalist" psychoanalytical interpretation that they explicitly endorse at the outset of the chapter. But, the definition of two modes of "la mort du sujet" (the Marxist and Heideggerian denunciations of the subject's autonomy) allow the authors to discern the confusion inherent in contemporary thought between the idea of the subject's clôture (which Ferry/Renaut oppose as well) and the idea of the subjects autonomie: "De là procède sans doute la tentation de considérer que la destruction de l'idée de clôture suppose aussi le renoncement à cette idée d'autonomie qui avait défini l'homme de l'humanisme. De là aussi la condamnation de tout humanisme comme métaphysique. De là enfin l'anti-humanisme contemporain" (266). Ferry/Renaut oppose this logic by then defining their own conception of "un humanisme non métaphysique" in the conceptually dense final sections of chapter VII, entitled "Retour au sujet."

Thus, despite the obvious ideological and metaphysical distance between Baudrillard and Ferry/Renaut, their analyses converge in their critique of contemporary forms of simulacra. Whether one finally accepts or rejects such "reconstructions" will depend to a great extent on the reader's previous familiarity with and commitment to post-structuralist theory. However, these works are important not merely for the positions that they argue, but also for what they reveal about contemporary French society: as examples of current attempts within the French intelligentsia to integrate and enunciate the political and philosophical insights gleaned during the previous decades, these works constitute clear indices of contemporary "pragmatics," what we might call, like it or not, "la pensée 80."

Charles J. Stivale
Wayne State University

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