Thinking about the French thinking

Dr Sudhir Hazareesingh is a very important mediator of and commentator on French thought for an English audience (this book, for example, is a good start for anyone dipping their toes into the field). In this recent lecture delivered at the LSE, he argues that French ‘progressive’ (his words) thought currently finds itself in a cul-de-sac of moribund ideation and reduced influence on national and global politics.

However, the diagnosis (and therefore also the prognosis) is simplistic. First, he conflates ‘progressive’ with ‘leftish’, and then elevates this fabular entity into the standard-bearer for all ‘legitimate’ or proper’ French philosophy. Second, he defines the power of this entity as generated by its ability to foster grand and unifying narratives that can join up the dots of the complexity of meaning que l’on trouve sur le terrain and unify it towards a progressive end (although he does nod towards acknowledging the corresponding blindness of those within this ideology to assimilating the value of the ‘Other’ in their midst, and the straight line that leads to the appropriation of laïcité by Marine le Pen these days).

Perhaps it was for want of time, but Hazareesingh misses the strand of French thought that is really interesting – and that I and many others would claim represents, in fact, the true inheritance of French intellectual life: namely, the radically immanentist, fecundly pluralist ontologies of Michel Serres, Bruno Latour and (that adopted French intellectual) Peter Sloterdijk. Actually, Hazareesingh slips into precisely the error that Latour diagnoses as symptomatic of the Moderns: his definition of ‘progress’ has its arrow pointing the wrong way! So he ends up describing a politics that can do nothing but oscillate between the two traditional ‘attractors’ and has not yet taken account of the all-important third attractor, the one that changes everything.

So nice intro. Worth a listen. But in 200 years time the histories of French thought will, methinks, be identifying a very different lineage from the one for which Hazareesingh is writing the memento mori here.

book

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