Francois Cusset: His forthcoming book takes a fresh perspective on how "Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, & Co. Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States"





Last week, while rushing to finish up a review of Francois Cusset’s French Theory: How Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, & Co. Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States (University of Minnesota Press), I heard that Stanley Fish had just published a column about the book for The New York Times. Of course the only sensible thing to do was to ignore this development entirely. The last thing you need when coming to the end of a piece of work is to go off and do some more reading. The inner voice suggesting that is procrastination disguised as conscientiousness. Better, sometimes, to trust your own candlepower — however little wax and wick you may have left.

Once my own cogitations were complete (the piece will run in the next issue of Bookforum), of course, I took a look at the Times Web site. By then, Fish’s column had drawn literally hundreds of comments. This must warm some hearts in Minnesota. Any publicity is good publicity as long as they spell your name right — so this must count as great publicity, especially since French Theory itself won’t actually be available until next month.

But in other ways it is unfortunate. Fish and his interlocutors reduce Cusset’s rich, subtle, and paradox-minded book (now arriving in translation) into one more tale of how tenured pseudoradicalism rose to power in the United States. Of course there is always an audience for that sort of thing. And it is true that Cusset – who teaches intellectual history at the Institute d’Etudes Politiques and at Reid Hall/Columbia University, in Paris – devotes some portions of the book to explaining American controversies to his French readers. But that is only one aspect of the story, and by no means the most interesting or rewarding....



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