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French Theory: How Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, & Co. Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States First Edition Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0816647330
ISBN-10: 081664733X
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Jeff Fort has translated works by authors such as Jean Genet, Maurice Blanchot, and Jacques Derrida. He is currently a lecturer in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley.

Marlon Jones grew up in California, and lives in England. With Josephine Berganza and Jeff Fort, he translated French Theory by Francois Cusset.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 408 pages
  • Publisher: Univ Of Minnesota Press; First Edition edition (April 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081664733X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0816647330
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #693,963 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
French Theory was originally published in France in 2003. I find it ironic that this book is now published in the US in an English language translation, and even more so that it is read by its American readers as an introduction to "French Theory". This was never the intention of the author. François Cusset does not provide a summary, an abstract or a survey of the thoughts of Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, & Co. In fact, he derides the US propensity to engage with a philosopher's work through readers' digests, surveys or anthologies, instead of reading his books in their original form. In addition, he is critical of the very notion of "French Theory", which he uses in English and writes in italics. He shows that this expression is an American invention, and that the authors subsumed under this term share little in common apart from their surprising fortune on US campuses since the beginning of the 1980s.

The original intention of the book was to introduce to the French public the enthusiastic reception, the unexpected developments and the violent controversies taking place in US academia and originating in the ideas of a cohort of French thinkers (all male) - Barthes, Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, Gattari, Lyotard, Baudrillard, with occasional references to a few women - Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray, and Julia Kristeva. These avant-garde philosophers had their heyday in France in the turbulent 1970s, but had since lost most of their shine. They were never really considered as representatives of "French thought" in the first place - they held marginal positions in academia, and did not write in the tradition of Cartesian thinking often identified as the hallmark of the French mindset.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this for my mother based on the review, figuring if she didn't like it, I would. She is a highly educated person, but wasn't familiar with the topic, and I thought it would introduce her to some of the theory that I use, etc. and give her some kind of entry into my academic world.

No dice - she found that you have to already be familiar with the topic to get anything out of this. After reading it, I agree. I found it wholly fascinating, but can understand why someone else who is not in this environment would be lost. The writer makes many assumptions regarding the reader - it's NOT an introduction by any stretch of the imagination.

That being said, it's a good book.
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Format: Paperback
The most important uses of this book for me , as an American, were:
1) Chapter 12, "Theory as Norm", although by far not a rigorous synopsis of the major writers, did give an excellent micro-feel for what each of them was trying to achieve( at least from the perspective of their impact as perceived in America); although not an endpoint, certainly a starting point for those readers who would want to know what the big deal was all about. In fact, the "Prehistories" chapter served that function as well. Chapter 12, in a very useful way, also pointed out how intention and effect (the writers in French versus the readers in English) could be skewed by misinterpretation and mistranslation, politics, and a whole host of other forces.
2) In many places, this synoptic approach served as a very good lead-in to a particular writer, for example, the section "The Invention of Poststructuralism(1966)" described Derrida's "technique"(if that's a good word for it) in just a few paragraphs, and was instrumental for me in reading other sources and finding other references for that writer. After reading these pages, I immediately went to Derrida's "Writing and Difference", and picked up the thread of what was being explicated here in this book. This helped me a great deal in regard to Foucault, Proust, and Levi-Strauss.
I was not that interested in the genealogical or archaeological threads of the book, whether or not it was too anecdotal or not, but for me it was a great introductory work!
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Format: Paperback
I agree with the reviewers who say this book is mostly for academics who are already somewhat familiar with the subject matter. But, also agree that if you have been in the American academic system for a while, you have probably already encountered many of the relevant names already. If you have and have tried to navigate their texts on your own, you may have been like me and in desparate need of a history lesson.

This book is a fabulous whirlwind tour of a vast array of important names (author functions). It aligns texts and authors in a historical narrative and is loaded with citations. I am excited to reread this book and use it to decide what to read next.

I feel as though this book creates a corpus called "French Theory" and in reading it, I have discovered that it's the subject I have been struggling to study all my life. I feel as though I have been reading one complicated and unconnected text after another desparately trying to get my arms around the field. Finally, an advanced textbook on the subject. Love it.
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Format: Paperback
French Theory has a "controversial" reputation in American academia. I have always wondered why most "serious" scholars denounce French Theory as "quackery", and French theorists as empty jargon cobblers, while Comp Lit and English departments are so hostile to criticisms. After reading this book, I think I would agree with the author as to where the problem lies. It is not the French thinkers such as Foucault, Derrida, and Deleuze who were peddling "quackery". Nor is it the American theorists who are selling huge doses of obfuscatory academic halluciations. Decontextualization is the key to the answer. The French authors were never a homogenous school. They were typical "Old-World public intellectuals" addressing French history, and social issues. The invention of French Theory in the American University is a result of an intrinsic struggle of American culture, ideology and identity. Since French Theory is only one episode in a long history of academic bickering in the American University, we may very well say that French Theory will evetually give way to a new theory and a new debate.

What fascinates me most in this book is the recount of the changes that have taken place in the American University, philosophy of education (in a non-technical sense), intellectual trends, and ideological struggles. The transformation of the university from the old "referential and moral" institutions to the new "professionalistic and isolated" corporations does seem to be the source of many differences between the Old World (including the British, French and German traditions) and the New World in terms of the education system and intellectuals' roles in society in general.

As for the writing, I think it is generally clear. Sometimes it digresses too much away from "French Theory".
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