The Wind from the East: French Intellectuals, the Cultural Revolution, and the Legacy of the 1960s

The Wind from the East: French Intellectuals, the Cultural Revolution, and the Legacy of the 1960s

The Wind from the East: French Intellectuals, the Cultural Revolution, and the Legacy of the 1960s

The Wind from the East: French Intellectuals, the Cultural Revolution, and the Legacy of the 1960s

Synopsis

Michel Foucault, Jean-Paul Sartre, Julia Kristeva, Phillipe Sollers, and Jean-Luc Godard. During the 1960s, a who's who of French thinkers, writers, and artists, spurred by China's Cultural Revolution, were seized with a fascination for Maoism. Combining a merciless exposé of left-wing political folly and cross-cultural misunderstanding with a spirited defense of the 1960s, The Wind from the East tells the colorful story of this legendary period in France. Richard Wolin shows how French students and intellectuals, inspired by their perceptions of the Cultural Revolution, and motivated by utopian hopes, incited grassroots social movements and reinvigorated French civic and cultural life.


Wolin's riveting narrative reveals that Maoism's allure among France's best and brightest actually had little to do with a real understanding of Chinese politics. Instead, it paradoxically served as a vehicle for an emancipatory transformation of French society. French student leftists took up the trope of "cultural revolution," applying it to their criticisms of everyday life. Wolin examines how Maoism captured the imaginations of France's leading cultural figures, influencing Sartre's "perfect Maoist moment"; Foucault's conception of power; Sollers's chic, leftist intellectual journal Tel Quel; as well as Kristeva's book on Chinese women--which included a vigorous defense of foot-binding.


Recounting the cultural and political odyssey of French students and intellectuals in the 1960s, The Wind from the East illustrates how the Maoist phenomenon unexpectedly sparked a democratic political sea change in France.

Excerpt

If you can remember anything about the sixties,
you weren't really there.

—Paul Kantner, Jefferson Starship

According to an oft-cited maxim, all history is the history of the present. Try as they might, historians are incapable of abstracting from contemporary issues and concerns. in fact, were they to do so, their work would surely reek of antiquarian sterility. At best, historians can make their biases clear to ensure they do not exercise an overtly disfiguring infuence on their presentations and findings.

The “presence of the past” is especially true of the 1960s. Analysts and commentators have heatedly debated their meaning and import, but nearly all agree that the decade was a watershed. Whatever their ultimate meaning, the 1960s were a caesura that signified the impossibility of returning to the status quo ante. Thus, today the 1960s remain an inescapable rite of passage for those who seek to fathom the nature of the political present. First, their range and extent was genuinely international. in an age of instantaneous, mass communication, virtually no corner of the globe could remain immune from their influence and legacy. Second, the decade's effects, rather than being confined to one specific manifestation or mode, were, to invoke French anthropologist Marcel Mauss, a “total social phenomenon.” the 1960s and their aftereffects influenced—and left permanently transformed—the realms of politics, society, fashion, art, and music.

By the same token, it would be impossible to deny that the 1960s have also become historical. Thus the decade has provided fertile ground for interpreters who are seeking to distill and comprehend the . . .

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