This dissertation is a study of the way that French intellectuals engaged in major political debates in the years immediately after World War II. It examines three moments in particular: the purge of writers and intellectuals who collaborated during World War II, the Algerian war of independence, and the emergence of structuralism in the early 1960s. Initially, the mode of engagement developed by the existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, called commitment, dominated the political debate over the postwar purge between 1945 and 1948. At the same time, Maurice Blanchot, Albert Camus, and Jean Paulhan critiqued Sartrean commitment for its philosophical inadequacy, its political inefficacy, and its moral ambiguity. As a result, they developed their own mode of engagement, based on the articulation of political arguments through unlikely means, such as literature and philosophy, which achieved prominence by the end of the war in Algeria in 1962. This dissertation concludes with an examination of the mode of discursive, or textual analysis developed in an exchange between Maurice Blanchot and Michel Foucault at the beginning of the 1960s. This exchange reveals that their version of textual analysis itself served as a mode of engagement in politics, and was rooted in the critique of Sartrean commitment articulated during the postwar purge, and the war in Algeria.
This dissertation has the additional significance of redefining how the body of thought known in the United States as French theory is conceived. Ultimately, the move away from existentialism and its mode of political commitment was one of the main factors that contributed to French theory's growth in the 1960s. By historicizing French theory within the culture and politics of postwar France, this dissertation shows that French theory must be understood as a large and synthetic intellectual community, rather than as a description of a particular kind of philosophical or literary thought. The relations which obtained within this community affected, and sometimes even determined the generation of theoretical ideas and texts. This dissertation shows that French theory has continued utility for contemporary scholarship when it is taken to indicate the relations of this intellectual community.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2010. Major: History. Advisor: Thomas Wolfe. 1 computer file (PDF); v, 325 pages.
Richtmyer, Eric William.
Beyond Commitment: intellectual engagement in politics in Postwar France, 1944-1962..
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