“A line of thinking we could really use to hear right now”

Featured resource: Michael Lucey’s translation of Eribon’s memoir, Returning To Reims

Three prominent French intellectuals and writers recently visited the Department of Comparative Literature, along with the French Department and the Program in Critical Theory. Geoffroy de Lagasnerie, Professor at the École Nationale Supérieure d’Arts de Paris Cergy, where he teaches philosophy and sociology, gave a lecture on “Democracy in History: Snowden, Assange, Manning,” on October 27.  In the audience were the French philosopher Didier Eribon and the French novelist Édouard Louis.  Louis and Lagasnerie have recently co- authored two compelling and widely circulated public documents, the Manifeste pour une contre-offensive intellectuelle et politique (Manifesto for an intellectual and political counter-offensive) that was published in Le monde  in September 2015, and republished in a number of other venues, including the Los Angeles Review of Books, and Manuel Valls vous n’avez rien fait contre le terrorisme (Manuel Valls, you have done nothing to fight terrorism), a compelling text that appeared in Libération on August 3, 2016. Both were part of an effort to rethink what progressive politics might be for contemporary intellectuals, writers, and activists. Lagasnerie’s lecture (which you can listen to on-line at http://criticaltheory.berkeley.edu/events/event/democracy-in-history-snowden-assange-manning/) presented some of the ideas in his book from 2015, L’art de la révolte. Snowden, Assange, Manning, devoted to reexamining the ways we think about what constitutes democratic actions of protest.

Didier Eribon, who wrote an acclaimed biography of the French intellectual Michel Foucault, has become one of the most important progressive intellectual voices in France today. He gave a lunchtime seminar on October 28, presenting his most recent collection of essays, Principes d’une pensée critique(Principals for critical thinking). In particular, he discussed the first essay in that volume, devoted to the topic of critical self-writing. “Who is speaking when someone writes about themself?” he asks in that essay. Among many writers he discusses in that essay, he mentions the Algerian writer, Assia Djebar, who once famously wrote, “An observation forces itself upon me: I was born in 1842.” Djebar was, in fact, born in 1936, but as Eribon points out, the first question you have to answer when you write critically about yourself is: When did the conditions under which I was born come into being? How far back in time did the historical sequence that made me who I am, that determined this or that part of my being, begin?

Michael Lucey, Professor of Comparative Literature and French, has been translating a number of the bestselling books from France by two of our visitors. They are books that discuss both gay sexuality and contemporary politics, including the frightening rise of extreme right-wing politics in Europe.  His translation of Didier Eribon’s Returning to Reims (a book that discusses both what it is like to grow up working class and gay, and why so much of the French working class has gradually shifted from voting on the left to voting on the right) was published by MIT Press in 2013. Eribon’s sociological memoir has been turned into a popular play in France, and is currently enjoying a huge success in Germany.  Lucey has also recently translated the prize-winning first novel by Édouard Louis, The End of Eddy, which will be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in Spring 2017. Already translated into 20 languages, The End of Eddy is a wrenching account of growing up in poverty and struggling with the homophobia, racism, and  violence that pervades the world around you. Lucey is currently translating Louis’s second novel, History of Violence.