Athens in Paris: Ancient Greece and the Political in Postwar French Thought

By Miriam Leonard | Go to book overview
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Introduction:
‘Nous autres grecs’1

Il n’y a rien à faire: la philosophie se parle en Grec.

Levinas, De Dieu qui vient à l’idée

In the immediate aftermath of the student revolts of May 1968 two French scholars compiled an anthology of tracts and pamphlets— the manifestos of the short-lived ‘student commune’. This 800page tome remains the definitive guide to the ‘événements’ which shook the French academy in the spring of ’68. In the preface to the volume the authors resist the temptation of offering any synthesising narrative of the diverse political causes which were united under the banner of the student uprising. One question, however, does emerge: to what extent can the student revolt be linked to the wider industrial action which accompanied the violent demonstrations unleashed by the students? In one recent critic’s words, ‘May ’68 was the largest mass movement in French history, the biggest strike in the history of the French workers’ movement, and the only “general” insurrection the over-developed world has known since World War II.’2 Were the student riots just one more selfindulgent bourgeois outcry at the periphery of this social movement or, our authors ask, were they rather the harbinger of a widespread political revolution?

The editors of the Journal de la commune étudiante3 are Alain Schnapp and Pierre Vidal-Naquet, two of the most prominent post-war scholars of the ancient world—two classicists who today are figureheads of the so-called ‘Parisian school’, the pioneering research group which has revolutionized the study of Greek civilization over the last thirty years. It may be no great surprise to find out that two classical scholars have led parallel lives as chroniclers of the French student movement. It is, after all, not the first time

1 Derrida (1992), essay title.

2 Ross (2002), 4.

3 Schnapp and Vidal-Naquet (1969).

-1-

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