The American Politics of French Theory: Derrida, Deleuze, Guattari, and Foucault in Translation by Jason Demers (review)


This most welcome book gets off on the right foot by eschewing such problematic terms as “post-structuralism” or “French theory” in studying the work of French thinkers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Jacques Derrida, and Michel Foucault. These terms are of a strictly Anglo-Atlantic provenance, a convenient but misleading encapsulation that facilitated their journey or translation into the Anglo-Atlantic world. Instead, Demers prefers to view this transmission as an ensemble of relays between “people, groups, places, ideas, and moments in time” (3), as well as codes; metalanguages; markets for symbolic capital, a notion derived from Pierre Bourdieu; and “networks of feeling” (5n), a term the author borrowed from Raymond Williams. Demers observes, for example, that there was a relay or “mutual implication” (5) between Paris and Columbia University, which occurred in the aftermath of the events of May ’68, that recalled a somewhat earlier circuit, also leading to Paris, which involved the mid-1960s Berkeley free speech movement. To approach the work of Deleuze and Guattari, Derrida, and Foucault by resorting to terms such as “post-structuralism” or “French theory” severs them from the crucial relays and circuits constituting the complex and highly mobile transpositions of their work to an American intellectual and political milieu, and vice versa, and it is clear that Demers views, quite rightly, that the political and the intellectual are inextricably bound up with each other.

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