The Wind from the East: French Intellectuals, the Cultural Revolution, and the Legacy of the 1960s

The Wind from the East: French Intellectuals, the Cultural Revolution, and the Legacy of the 1960s

Richard Wolin

Language: English

Pages: 408

ISBN: 0691154341

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Michel Foucault, Jean-Paul Sartre, Julia Kristeva, Phillipe Sollers, and Jean-Luc Godard. During the 1960s, a who's who of French thinkers, writers, and artists, spurred by China's Cultural Revolution, were seized with a fascination for Maoism. Combining a merciless exposé of left-wing political folly and cross-cultural misunderstanding with a spirited defense of the 1960s, The Wind from the East tells the colorful story of this legendary period in France. Richard Wolin shows how French students and intellectuals, inspired by their perceptions of the Cultural Revolution, and motivated by utopian hopes, incited grassroots social movements and reinvigorated French civic and cultural life.

Wolin's riveting narrative reveals that Maoism's allure among France's best and brightest actually had little to do with a real understanding of Chinese politics. Instead, it paradoxically served as a vehicle for an emancipatory transformation of French society. French student leftists took up the trope of "cultural revolution," applying it to their criticisms of everyday life. Wolin examines how Maoism captured the imaginations of France's leading cultural figures, influencing Sartre's "perfect Maoist moment"; Foucault's conception of power; Sollers's chic, leftist intellectual journal Tel Quel; as well as Kristeva's book on Chinese women--which included a vigorous defense of foot-binding.

Recounting the cultural and political odyssey of French students and intellectuals in the 1960s, The Wind from the East illustrates how the Maoist phenomenon unexpectedly sparked a democratic political sea change in France.

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didactic and au stere. Professors assumed that students h ad n o thing to con tribute to the educatio n al process. H en ce, dialogu e bet ween the two gro ups was rare. Students m ock ed universities as " knowledge-vending m achines" and "diploma facto ries." Between 1955 and 1967 the student po pulatio n h ad increased by 300 p ercent- from 150,000 to 510 ,000. H eretofore, high er education h ad b een reserved for the social elite. H owever, given recent demographic ch an ges, these exp

h ad attained an unprecedented level of m aterial well-being. Yet b en eath the veneer of beautiful app earances, a p ervasive existen tial disco ntent seeth ed . The afflu ent societ y's triumph occurred at the exp en se of o ther, substantive political and cultural values the Fren ch held dear. The Fifth R epublic's presidential system suited crisis situatio n s. But under conditions of political no r malcy, it seem ed p atently undem ocratic . D uring the 1960s Fren ch youth lo nged to express

trustworthy professionals. 114 chapter 4 “ T h e Year 19 67 Will B e Chin ese” The year 1967 was Chinese.10 In Paris signs of Maoism’s popularity abounded. Mao-collared suits—“les cols Maos”—had become immensely fashionable. Try as they might, the clothing boutiques in Paris’s tony sixteenth arrondissement could not keep them in stock. For their part, Left Bank booksellers were perpetually selling out of Quotations from Chairman Mao. Lui, the French equivalent of Playboy, decided to jump on

remark “The Revolution is not a dinner party.”13 Badiou’s philosophy, as well as his reflections on politics, is suffused with metaphors of destruction. He believes that destruction is philosophically justified and ontologically necessary if one desires to surmount the obstacles of “place”—what Badiou derides as “capitaloparliamentarian” place in particular. Badiou cheerfully endorses Nietz­ sche’s notion of active nihilism as an effective means of eliminating “semblance” (artifice and

acts on French soil), threatened many signatories with arrest. In a celebrated Sartre, interview with Jacqueline Piatier, Le Monde, April 18, 1964. Sartre, Words, 255. 5 Le Duc Tho, the Vietnamese negotiator at the Paris Peace Talks, who received the prize in 1973 along with Henry Kissinger. 3 4 182 chapter 5 bon mot, de Gaulle, when confronted with Sartre’s open defiance, was alleged to have remarked: “On n’arrete pas Voltaire!” (One doesn’t arrest Voltaire!). The French president could

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