The New French Philosophy

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Richard Marshall reviews Ian James's The New French Philosophy:

Ian James sets out to show that in the new French philosophy the idea of ‘new’ is its subject, where new is understood in terms of ‘rupture’ and ‘discontinuity’ and ‘novelty.’ The French philosophers wonder how the new is possible. Gilles Deleuze started this in the 1960’s in his philosophy of ‘difference.’ Lyotard, Derrida and Foucault continued. Lyotard’s ‘event’ seeks to explain how discourses are contested and thinking is transformed. Jeff Malpas thinks this ‘the founding moment of any postmodernism.’ Lyotard’s ‘The Different’ is defined as an instability in language and discourse. It is supposed to create ‘new addressees, new addressors, new significations and new referents’ and ‘new phrase families and new genres of discourse.’ Derrida’s late ‘Spectres of Marx’ is about going beyond existing research programmes, ‘… beyond any possible programming, new knowledge, new techniques, new political givens.’ Foucault talks about epistemic breaks as an ‘event’ in ‘The Order of Things.’ He asks, ‘ how is it that thought has a place in the space of the world, that it has its origin there, and that it never ceases to begin anew?’ He suggests a process that ‘… probably begins with an erosion from the outside, from a space which is, for thought, on the other side but in which it has never ceased to think from the very beginning.’

James discusses seven new French philosophers; Jean-Luc Marion, Jean-Luc Nancy, Bernard Stiegler, Catherine Malabou, Jacques Ranciere, Alain Badiou and Francois Laruelle. This is intended to be neither exhaustive nor up to date but rather an indicative group in support of an argument about a paradigm shift. These seven all agree with Foucault that the new comes from ‘an erosion from the outside.’ Five of them established themselves in the 1970’s. Two are younger and not yet established as much.

In the 1970’s the philosophers moved away from a linguistic paradigm which had dominated Derrida, Lyotard and Foucault. Signifiers, signifieds, the symbolic, discourse, text, writing, arche-writing were recast in terms of materiality, the concrete, ‘… worldliness, shared embodied existence and sensible-intelligible experience.’ The paradigm of structuralism and post structuralism as being a literary genre was subjected to its own ‘event’.

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