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Matters of Time

Material Temporalities in Twentieth-Century French Culture


Edited By Lisa Jeschke and Adrian May

Matters of Time provides an unorthodox array of perspectives on materialist thought and representation in twentieth-century French intellectual culture. Time is figured as the quintessential revolutionary concept, through key historical moments from Jean Jaurès’ orientation of the socialists at the turn of the century to the inter-generational conflict and politicization of everyday life in May ’68. Essays on dialectics and theories of teleological progress are placed side by side with accounts of the existential turn in Marxist thought in France. Contributions on Heidegger and Sartre inject meditations on human mortality into considerations of a new politics of finitude. The volume also emphasizes the inseparability of aesthetic and political thought for the French avant-gardes: chapters on Sade, Artaud and Jarry place Marx’s theories of production and commodity fetishism into contact with bodily abjection. The manipulation of time in cinema and matter in painting are examined as a testament to the twentieth century as a period of continuing experimental tension between form and signification. Generational futurity is explored through Genet’s spatial representations of filiation and Verlaine’s proto-ecological attunement to nature. The volume as a whole constructs a necessarily fragmented timeline of the breaks, tensions and antagonisms in twentieth-century French thought, culture and politics, with particular focus on questions of late capitalism and political, intellectual and aesthetic progress and regress.
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Time Matters: The Mouvement du 22 mars and the Dawn of May ’68


← 62 | 63 → DANIEL POITRAS

The voluminous literature on the causes of May ’68 in France and elsewhere can hardly be summarized in a few lines. Nonetheless, we can identify one bias that continues to structure many interpretations: the use of an ideological grid. Through such lenses, the sudden surge of creativity and utopic thought and practices of the late 1960s is contextualized within a period characterized by: the constitution of a French ‘New Left’; the influence of fashionable intellectuals like Herbert Marcuse; a vague and encompassing Zeitgeist (spirit of the times); the imitative behaviour of histrionic students living in an obsolete, imaginary revolutionary world; and the influence of events (like the Berkeley students’ revolt in 1964) or philosophies (the variants of Marxism, the Situationist International). The list could go on. Despite being repeatedly declared obsolete throughout the twentieth century, the ideological grid is still used to label some things, generally to emphasize their ‘disconnectedness’ with an implicit ‘reality’. As David A.Snow and Scott C.Byrd have written, ‘ideology’ becomes a ‘cover term for the values, beliefs, and goals associated with a movement or a broader, encompassing social entity’.1

The extended life of the ideological grid is even more visible in new fields of research, such as the one currently turning its attention to student movements. This is no coincidence: the long sixties, identified with the rise (and almost the death) of so many student movements around the world, was an age in which ideology was as intensely...

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