The Time of Theory: A History of Tel Quel (1960-1983)

The Time of Theory: A History of Tel Quel (1960-1983)

The Time of Theory: A History of Tel Quel (1960-1983)

The Time of Theory: A History of Tel Quel (1960-1983)

Synopsis

This is the first full-length study in any language of one of the most important elements in post-war French intellectual and cultural life. The journal Tel Quel was the focus of much of the intense theoretical activity of Paris in the 1960s and 1970s and played a vital role in the development of the key thinkers of the time, including Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Louis Althusser, Jacques Lacan, Julia Kristeva, and Philippe Sollers. Patrick ffrench traces its history, across the "time of theory" and the catastrophe of May 1968, to the review's controversial affirmation of literature as akin to theology in the late 1970s.

Excerpt

In Ancient Greece, a group of people travel, in a procession, to consult the oracle. Having arrived, and heard the divine words, they sit down to contemplate, to speculate on what they have heard. From procession to speculation, through the experience of the divine voice, a dramatic change occurs. This movement is reflected by the two meanings of the word théorie in French: speculative thought, and procession. the time of Tel Quel, 1960 to 1983, exhibits both derivations; it is a time of speculation, an intense ferment of activity devoted to the elaboration of a theory of literature. It is also a time of procession, of a traversal or passage of people across spaces, spaces which were at the time those between the institutions of intellectual Paris, and are now those of the texts open to our readings. in this time of theory there is also a dramatic change, but in the opposite direction. After speculation, theory returns to its processionary mode. This procession, or traversée is not closed within the frame of a system, it is not a theory as structure, but a more sinuous, sensuous affair, a dance. Tel Quel's history exhibits this move from the terroristic closure of theory as speculation, a terror before the divine voice, to a dance across space, incarnating the divine voice in the body. It is the history of a shift to a time after theory which is to a large extent that of the present.

What is the divine voice in this mythic, metaphoric story? For Tel Quel it is the voice of writing, divine in that it speaks through the body of the writer, not from his intentional ego, neither from his unconscious. It is language itself which is the oracle, giving rise to speculation and to dance.

The time of theory, its temporality, is complex. On the one hand it refers simply to a historical moment in the history of the French intellectual context of the 1960s when various anti-humanist, scientific discourses from different sites intersected with one another, mobilizing the French intelligentsia in favour of theory. These discourses are now attached to names: Lacan, Derrida, Foucault, Barthes, Althusser, Kristeva, Lévi-Strauss. Tel Quel is the site of their intersection. the time of theory is, then, the moment of a scientific discourse which in Tel Quel takes the literary text as its object.

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