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From Bataille to BadiouLignes, the Preservation of Radical French Thought, 1987-2017$

Adrian May

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781786940438

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781786940438.001.0001

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The Communism of Thought

The Communism of Thought

Reviews and Revolution in the 1960S with Blanchot and Mascolo

(p.60) Chapter Two The Communism of Thought
From Bataille to Badiou

Adrian May

Liverpool University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Several important Lignes dossiers in the 1990s retraced the political activities of Robert Antelme, Dionys Mascolo and Maurice Blanchot in the 1950s and 1960s. This chapter restores the narrative of intellectual engagement traced by these significant collections and demonstrates the influence of these figures on the cultural politics and intellectual community of Lignes. Following their radicalisation during the French resistance, Antelme and Mascolo joined the French Communist Party after World War Two, participated in anti-colonial initiatives, recruited Maurice Blanchot to protest the return of Charles de Gaulle to power and the continuing Algerian War, and participated in the events of May 1968. Between Blanchot and Mascolo, two differing vectors of intellectual engagement, one more theoretical and literary and the other more stridently Marxist and materialist, are expounded. Lastly, the influence of Mascolo’s Le 14 Juillet, Blanchot’s Revue internationale and Philippe Sollers’ Tel Quel on Lignes is examined, and Michel Surya’s theorisation of the relationship between literature and politics is described with reference to Bernard Noël.

Keywords:   Dionys Mascolo, Maurice Blanchot, Robert Antelme, Bernard Noël, Communism, La Revue internationale, Le 14 Juillet, May 1968, Anti-colonialism, Tel Quel

When delineating the contours of an intellectual milieu, often the first step is to outline its philosophical, political or literary influences to explain how it came to occupy its position in the cultural field. As demonstrated in the previous chapter, with Lignes the establishment of such a genealogy is not only necessary but also part of the review’s explicit project. Whilst Michel Surya’s Georges Bataille and subsequent Lignes publications did much to elucidate the 1930s, Surya’s next major monograph was La Révolution rêvée (2004), an account of intellectual activity from 1944 to 1956. Surya’s stated aim was to rescue this period of intellectual history from the rewriting undertaken by liberal historians since 1989 (2004b, 17). As a prime example, Tony Judt’s Past Imperfect (1992) had presented all intellectual engagements on behalf of the communist cause as shocking for their ‘insouciance in the face of violence, human suffering, and painful moral choices’ (1992, 3), stressing the ‘moral inadequacy’ and ‘intellectual irresponsibility’ of many French thinkers (11). Surya’s book covered exactly the same period as Judt’s and, rather than outright condemnation, his aim was to place such intellectual engagements back into their original context, restoring the movements of thought found in post-war reviews in order to make sense of the ideological commitments of his predecessors.

La Révolution rêvée was initially meant to cover the entire post-war period up until 1968, but the high level of detail unearthed through Surya’s close reading of intellectual reviews made this an imposing task. Yet the work on the late 1950s and 1960s was carried out in another (p.61) manner by Lignes, especially with the significant dossiers devoted to Maurice Blanchot and La Revue internationale (September 1990), Robert Antelme (January 1994) and Dionys Mascolo (March 1998). As Antelme, Blanchot and Mascolo were unaffiliated to the official strains of the dominant post-war movements of Surrealism, communism and existentialism, many of their texts and actions had faded into obscurity: through Lignes, their joint history of post-war engagement was restored. Having met during the resistance, joined and then left the PCF by 1948, Antelme and Mascolo began theorising a heterodox Marxism free from Soviet dogma. In the 1950s, Mascolo launched his own anti-colonial initiatives and contested Charles de Gaulle’s return to power in 1958 with his review Le 14 juillet. Blanchot joined Mascolo in this endeavour, becoming one of the key figures in drafting the famous ‘Manifesto of the 121’ against the Algerian war. The group then tried to launch an ambitious intellectual journal, La Revue internationale, in the early 1960s, and enthusiastically participated in May 1968 until the close of this period of revolutionary fervour. Many documents related to these activities had remained unpublished or anonymous: the special issues of Lignes brought them to light for the first time.

Yet, as well as documenting the past, Surya stresses that this pedagogical project was also a means ‘to think in the past the questions that Lignes was posing me in the present’ [penser au passé les questions que Lignes me posait au présent] (LNS.23–24.2007, 34–5). The 1960s were of especial interest to Surya as a time in which intellectual activity, and especially the importance of reviews, was being actively theorised. Blanchot’s Revue internationale is described by Surya as the model which most inspired Lignes (LNS.23–24.2007, 38). This chapter will thus reassemble the narrative of the activities of Antelme, Blanchot and Mascolo restored by Lignes, whilst highlighting their role as intellectual precursors for the review. Alongside the function of the intellectual, their debates over the relationship between art and politics, the efficacy of cultural interventions and the relative autonomy of the aesthetic continue to influence Surya’s thinking on politics and literature. Lastly, to explain the ruptures as well as the continuities between Lignes and the 1960s, the historical gap between the two will be traversed via a comparison to Tel Quel. This legendary theoretical review shared a similar canon of literary influences to Lignes, but came to very different conclusions regarding the revolutionary efficacy of literature. Once these historical genealogies are concluded, we can examine the responses of Lignes to contemporary events in the following chapters.

(p.62) A Friendship of Solidarity, a Communism of Need

In 1942, Dionys Mascolo, a Sicilian autodidact inspired by Surrealism, was editing Bataille’s L’Expérience intérieure and Blanchot’s Faux pas for Gallimard. He also met Marguerite Duras and her husband Robert Antelme, and the three of them joined François Mitterrand’s resistance cell in 1943. Antelme was caught and arrested in 1944, leading to his deportation to Buchenwald, Gandersheim and eventually Dachau. After the liberation Antelme, on the verge of death and in quarantine, was discovered by Mitterrand, who undertook a rescue mission with Mascolo to bring him home to Paris. Antelme’s testimony of his incarceration, L’Espèce humaine (1947), has since become one of the canonical works of Holocaust literature.

Duras returned to her wartime diaries to write about Antelme’s capture and return in La Douleur (1985). On Duras’s request for documentation, Mascolo rediscovered several letters from Antelme from 1945 which he then published in Autour d’un effort de mémoire (1987). Notably, this was the year of Lignes’ creation, and in its first two issues Mascolo’s friend Daniel Dobbels heralded the book’s publication. This signalled the beginning of Lignes’ re-examination of the political and intellectual legacy of this milieu. Dobbels stressed that the experience in the camps had installed in Antelme the idea of a liberal communism (L.2.1988, 106): in a Cold War period dominated by the Manichean alternatives of Soviet orthodoxy and American liberalism, Antelme desired a more appropriate third way between the two.

As Surya notes, most initial responses to the Holocaust were surprisingly optimistic: humankind would learn to become better from this experience, and both Marxists and existentialists rushed to reclaim the word ‘humanism’ as their own (2004b, 221–4). Rather than this progressive sense of humankind’s constant improvement, Antelme’s experience suggested a more regressive, minimal conception of human nature. In the camps, deportees were progressively stripped of their humanity, suffering such degradation that they became almost unrecognisable, whilst their captors revealed the extremes of cruelty humans which were capable of inflicting on each other. However, that human beings persisted as such despite such degradation was, for Antelme, proof of their immutability: ‘He can kill a man, but he can’t change him into something else’ (1998, 220). This, however, was all that could be said of human nature:

(p.63) The calling into question of our quality as men provokes an almost biological claim of belonging to the human race. After that it serves to make us think about the limitations of that race, about its distance from ‘nature’ and its relation to ‘nature’; that is, about a certain solitude that characterizes our race; and finally – above all – it brings us to a clear vision of its indivisible oneness. (1998, 6)

The only quality one could ascribe to humankind was its resistance to annihilation, a universal quality shared by victims and executioners alike, with whom Antelme developed a profound solidarity. In the letters published by Mascolo in Autour d’un effort de mémoire, Antelme names this solidarity ‘friendship’: ‘I do not think friendship as a positive thing, as a value, but something more, I mean as a state, an identification, and therefore as a multiplication of death’ [je ne pense pas l’amitié comme une chose positive, je veux dire comme une valeur, mais bien plus, je veux dire comme un état, une identification, donc une multiplication de la mort] (Mascolo, 1987, 23). As Martin Crowley glosses, Antelme ‘mobilised the key notion of unconditional recognition of the other, uses friendship as the name of this recognition, and articulates a model of solidarity or fraternity which is defined not by resemblance but by openness’ (2003, 53). Antelme’s structure of friendly solidarity was to become the guiding principle behind Mascolo’s political endeavours.

In the 1994 Lignes dossier, testimonies from Antelme’s friends, such as Jean-Louis Schefer, demonstrated how closely Antelme’s daily comportment corresponded to such a conception of friendship: ‘I was moved by the weight injected into the words Robert used in conversation, words that demanded only truthfulness in return and a concern for justice’ (Dobbels, 2003, 226 [L.21.1994, 198]). Contemporaries were inspired by Antelme’s unostentatious generosity, his ethical attentiveness to justice and his modesty of expression, a self-effacement which allowed others the freedom of speech and decision. Mascolo likewise attests that Antelme’s experience changed the lives of those around him: the house on La Rue Saint-Benoît shared by Mascolo, Antelme, Duras and, later, Edgar Morin became a communal space, open to all and in which all personal projects were suspended in favour of the collective (1987, 69). The group swiftly became politicised: the house harboured an informal Marxist study group, and Mascolo was determined to develop an alternative communism of which Antelme would be the secret inspiration (1987, 79).

Duras had joined the PCF in 1944; Mascolo and Antelme followed after the war, but tensions would lead to their rapid exit. The Soviet (p.64) gulags already made Antelme’s membership barely tenable. He was initially reluctant to draw attention to this issue, rejecting a call from David Rousset to denounce the existence of Russian camps as it would fuel anti-Soviet propaganda (LNS.3.2000, 190). After he left the party, however, Antelme declared that communism had become ‘smothered, disfigured, covered with the blood of its crimes’ (Dobbels, 2003, 26 [L.21.1994, 116]). Further conflict was brought about by a shift in the PCF’s cultural policy, as intellectuals were instructed to follow the USSR’s doctrine. Andrei Zhdanov, secretary of the Soviet Central Committee, decreed in 1946 that all art, except for socialist realism, was anti-communist and decadent. Although the PCF initially resisted Zhdanovism, by August 1948 it fell into line and Surrealist writers like Raymond Queneau and Michel Leiris were strictly defined as bourgeois enemies. Documents published by Lignes demonstrate that Mascolo and Antelme vigorously protested this suppression of literary freedom (L.33.1998, 27). They had recently met Elio and Ginetta Vittorini, striking up a lifelong friendship. Elio had just published his ‘Lettera a Togliatti’, in which he defended the relative autonomy of culture against this new Zhdanovist orthodoxy. Antelme and Mascolo were subsequently chastised by PCF chiefs for interviewing Vittorini in Les Lettres françaises, and in response they lambasted this new approach to cultural politics as inefficient, sectarian and a misunderstanding of the nature of ideological combat (L.33.1998, 26). By 1949, the existence of the Soviet gulags and the PCF’s sclerotic attachment to Zhdanovism forced Antelme and Mascolo out of the party and towards an unaffiliated and heterodox Marxism.

Intellectual thought within the PCF was being ‘hamstrung by the philosophical pretentions of Stalin’, whilst those abandoning the party in the 1950s rejuvenated French Marxism through a renewed attention to the concept of ‘alienation’ found in Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts and Georg Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness (Poster, 1975, 39). The notion that capitalist production alienated humankind from its authentic essence created a conceptual bridge between Marxism, French existentialism and the Surrealists’ desire to disrupt bourgeois rationality. Largely forgotten today, Mascolo’s Le Communisme (1953) was one of the first major works of post-war heterodox French Marxism. Although Mascolo was inspired by the Surrealists, especially André Breton, Antelme’s experience had tempered his enthusiasm for their emphasis on the magical and the marvellous to focus instead on material human suffering and need. L’Espèce humaine has been described by François Dominique as a (p.65) thoroughly materialist work: against a body-soul dualism, it posits the here and now as the only existing world, hence ‘all the famous treasures of the soul are only so much smoke before the words which say “hand”, “face”, “nakedness”, “bread”’ (Dobbels, 2003, 172). Building on Antelme’s absolute materialism and the Hegelian Marxism of Edgar Morin’s L’Homme et la mort (1951), Mascolo concluded that the satisfaction of human needs was communism’s principal goal: ‘communism is the movement of the satisfaction of material needs. The man of need, homo necessitudinis, is its basis. This movement is materialist, revolutionary, and conforms to theoretical Marxism’ [le communisme est le mouvement de la satisfaction des besoins matériels. L’homme de besoin, l’homo necessitudinis, en est le fondement. Ce mouvement est matérialiste et révolutionnaire, et conforme au marxisme théorique] (1953, 8). Mascolo’s major theoretical innovation was to argue that intersubjective communication and recognition were also material human needs. It was Antelme’s conception of friendship as a state of universal identification that best described humanity’s infinite need for recognition.

Alongside the abolition of material inequality, intersubjective communication therefore became a communist goal for Mascolo: ‘It should really suffice to break the silence to begin to speak of communism’ [Il devrait plutôt suffire de sortir du silence pour se mettre à parler du communisme] (1953, 41). Yet this was not communication as the simple exchange of information. Note the qualification above: it should be enough to simply break the silence to speak of communism, but for Mascolo the majority of everyday language, impoverished by bourgeois liberalism, caused one to speak without really saying anything. Speech was another form of labour, and it, too, had been alienated by capitalist production. Authentic communication should go beyond the platitudes of everyday speech, but should also come from a place of subjective or material lack, revealing humankind to be nothing other than a being in, and of, need. Contra the PCF, Bataille, Blanchot, Queneau and Leiris were exemplary writers for Mascolo:

They have never written anything that shows that they have forgotten the existence of that which is simply possible, of that which isn’t said, that which isn’t sure, that which is not yet known, recognised, named, studied, and which nevertheless exists, is lived, followed, demanded or simply felt as a lack.

[Ils n’ont jamais rien écrit qui manifeste qu’ils aient oublié l’existence de ce qui est simplement possible, de ce qui ne se dit pas, ce qui n’est pas sûr, (p.66) de ce qui n’est pas encore connu, reconnu, classé, nommé, étudié, et qui existence cependant, est vécu, poursuivi, exigé, ou simplement ressenti comme un manque]. (1953, 52)

Critics have lamented that Mascolo’s ‘markedly anti-rationalistic gnosis’ made for more of a ‘confessional’ than political work, one tending towards a humanist ‘quietism’ (Kofman, 1985, 114–15). Yet, politically, the goal for Mascolo remained a global communist revolution. However, as conditions in France were far from revolutionary, artists instead had their own specific role in inaugurating and propagating authentic communication. As Crowley glosses, artists did not have an ‘immediate tactical value’: aesthetic discourses were unlikely to bring about a tangible political change any time soon. However, ‘a politically and metaphysically authentic poetics’ could disrupt everyday language and generate subjectivities more prone to revolutionary action in the future (2006, 146). This was the relatively autonomous political role that art could play outside of the PCF’s orbit.

Le refus anonyme

Mascolo was also seeking to define a specific role for the intellectual, and throughout the 1950s became much more actively engaged as a militant. The republication of various tracts, letters, articles and notes in Lignes (March 1998) reveals his subsequent trajectory. The publication of Le Communisme had extended the reach of the Saint-Benoît network, and in 1955 Mascolo formed the Comité d’action contre la poursuite de la guerre en Afrique du Nord, whose meetings were attended by Jean-Paul Sartre and Aimé Césaire. Pursuing more theoretical endeavours, in 1957 he also formed the Cercle international des intellectuels révolutionnaires. Collaborators included the libertarian-socialist Claude Lefort from Socialisme ou Barbarie, who wished to abandon the Party form to focus on workers’ councils and self-management. ‘SouB’ was formed through an explicit critique of Trotskyism and also championed a return to the ‘young Marx’ of alienation over political philosophy. The same applied to fellow collaborator Kostas Axelos, one of the most influential theorists of French Heideggerian Marxism in the 1950s; for Axelos, Heidegger’s metaphysics augmented Marx’s too limited definition of alienation. Axelos was the editor of the Arguments book series and, as he desired an ‘open, fragmentary, multi-dimensional, poetic, planetary thought’, he also embraced philosophy from Plato to Nietzsche (Poster, (p.67) 1975, 223). Edgar Morin, a close friend of Mascolo and another of the circle’s collaborators, was also a founder of Arguments. Significantly, this broad review encompassed sociology and economics, articles on the third world, culture, language, the contemporary novel and articles by Roland Barthes (another of the review’s editors) on semiology, encompassing the sort of disciplinary plurality Mascolo was aiming for. Lastly, the group included some, such as Jean Duvignaud, who wrote for Maurice Nadeau’s more Trotskyist, vanguard literary review Les Lettres nouvelles (Stafford, 1998, 32). Therefore, alongside his former ties to Surrealism, Mascolo can be seen to be playing a pivotal role in connecting various heterodox Marxist thinkers throughout this period in an attempt to collaboratively develop a diverse yet coherent long-term theoretical project. Defections from the dogmatic PCF had produced an inventive but fragmented left. Following a trip to Poland, where Mascolo detected a communal sensibility lacking in France, he realised that without collective action French intellectuals were ‘proletarianised’ (1993, 121). Rather than a new Party or political programme, therefore, Mascolo’s aim was to inaugurate a permanent and collaborative debate between revolutionary intellectuals of all countries and all cultures (1993, 75).

To achieve this intellectual unity, Mascolo wanted his own theoretical review. Mascolo and Jean Schuster subsequently edited three issues of Le 14 juillet in 1958 and 1959, but, rather than engaging in theoretical elaboration, the review was an active attempt to resist Charles de Gaulle’s return to power. As the Algerian war descended into violent chaos, the former Governor General Jacques Soustelle seized power in Algeria and demanded that de Gaulle be made French President to suppress the Algerian resistance. Whilst de Gaulle’s return was largely welcomed by the public and democratically legitimate, figures on the left worried that his demand for six months of emergency powers and the creation of a new, Fifth Republic could lead to an autocratic state supported by the military. Mascolo and Schuster asserted their support for Algerian independence and declared de Gaulle’s new government illegal. Opening Le 14 juillet, Mascolo acknowledged that, given de Gaulle’s popular support, their refusal of the situation was vain: nevertheless, it remained a show of determination to clearly state ‘I cannot – I could never accept this’ [je ne peux pas – je ne pourrai jamais accepter cela] (Mascolo, 2004, 82). Furthermore, this was not simply a nihilist rejection of political reality, but a gesture to reunite the dispersed left: ‘Against all, this is not solitude. This means a certain manner of being together, plurally. We (p.68) are less alone than ever’ [Envers et contre tous, cela n’est pas la solitude. Cela se dit d’une certaine manière d’être ensemble, à plusieurs. Nous sommes moins seuls que jamais] (2004, 83). If the first and last word of this position was an emphatic ‘No’ to de Gaulle, it was an affirmative no, one which concealed a hidden ‘Yes’ to the solidarity and friendship that could end intellectual dispersion. By not attaching a positive programme to this outright negation of the status quo, a broad, non-exclusionary platform of solidarity was sought. This was the first attempt to articulate the kind of negative community suggested by Antelme’s friendship on a wider scale.

Whilst Bataille had supported Mascolo’s anti-colonial initiatives, he subsequently wrote to Mascolo to denounce this new stance as futile (1997, 483). Despite his friend’s reticence, this was Blanchot’s point of entry: on reading the first issue of Le 14 juillet, he immediately sent Mascolo a letter expressing his complete agreement. Blanchot’s own contributions to Le 14 juillet gave him an opportunity to critique his former nationalism, self-reflexively commenting that ‘the colonial reaction is a movement of despair (just as the nationalist upsurge is a form of distress)’ (Blanchot, 2010, 13). This was, therefore, a disavowal of his pre-war politics, ascribing his former nationalism to a symptom of severe distress. Yet his article, ‘Le Refus’, also developed ideas found in his pre-war writings: outright refusal of political reality had already been a feature of his 1930s texts, and a certain intransigent extremism intrudes on these later articles. Nevertheless, there is a qualitative difference in the tone of Blanchot’s response to Mascolo:

When we refuse, we refuse with a movement free from contempt and exaltation, one that is as far as possible anonymous, for the power of refusal is accomplished neither by us nor in our name, but from a very poor beginning that belongs first of all to those who cannot speak. (2010, 7)

Here is a rejection not just of nationalism, but of any exclusive community, and Blanchot later described communism as ‘that which excludes (and excludes itself from) every already constituted community’ [ce qui exclut (et s’exclut de) toute communauté déjà constituée] (L.33.1998, 148). This impersonal protest wishes to effect a universal contestation by accommodating a plurality of voices. Whilst this remained an intransigent refusal, the emphasis on weakness rather than contempt aimed at creating a disaggregated communal structure, open primarily to those on the political margins. As Crowley states, ‘United, solidary, not yet (p.69) together, this community of refusal also exists through the absence of foundation which this refusal claims, or rather through its poverty, the divestiture in which it seeks to found itself (without founding itself)’ [Uni, solidaire, pas encore ensemble, la communauté de refus l’est aussi de par l’absence de fondement dont le refus se revendique, ou plutôt par la pauvreté, le dessaisissement dans lesquels il cherche à se fonder (sans se fonder)] (2004, 113).

In Robert Antelme (2004), his significant contribution to the Lignes collection, Martin Crowley also stressed how much Blanchot’s theoretical work in the late 1950s and 1960s was heavily influenced by Antelme. Subsequently, given Blanchot’s influence on Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Nancy, Antelme himself remains a residual presence in texts such as Derrida’s Spectres de Marx (1993) and Politiques de l’amitié (1995). For instance, Blanchot’s emphasis on an inclusive solidarity that does not coalesce into a community is most clearly present in Derrida’s frequent use of the disjunctive sans: in Spectres de Marx, Derrida’s ‘New International’ was envisioned as a platform for a global critique of capitalism ‘without status, without title, and without a name […] without a party, without country, without national community’ and ‘without common belonging to a class’ (1994, 85). Such formulations are described by Crowley as inconceivable without the Blanchot of the refus period, and so also without Antelme (2004, 113). The Lignes dossier on Antelme, and subsequent monograph publications, therefore revealed the extent to which Antelme had exerted a subterranean influence on an entire generation of French thinkers. Crowley’s own Lignes-published L’Homme sans (2009) similarly drew on Bataille, Antelme, Blanchot, Mascolo, Derrida, Nancy and Jacques Rancière both to define a humanity without qualities open to the kinds of universal solidarity envisioned by Antelme, and to emphasise humans as creatures of material need as developed by Mascolo in Le Communisme. Crowley’s work for Lignes, then, is paradigmatic both in its concern to preserve and contextualise otherwise forgotten intellectual legacies, and then to further pursue these lines of philosophical and political enquiry.

Lignes also tried to remobilise Mascolo’s contestation of the Fifth Republic in its own contemporary moment. In 1990, it republished Le 14 Juillet in its entirety to coincide with the centenary of de Gaulle’s birth. Surya was firm in his unwillingness to celebrate such an event: ‘The commemoration would hypostatise a hybrid, two-headed figure, half-Gaullist, half-Petainist’ [La commémoration hypostasierait une figure hybride, bicéphale, mi-gaulliene, mi-pétainiste] (1990, 9). Whilst (p.70) the creation of the Fifth Republic was contested in 1958, Surya argues that since no one seemed to question its existence in 1990 everyone had become implicitly Gaullist. François Mitterrand, once close to Mascolo’s circle, had originally promised to abolish the presidential role if he were elected, but abandoned this policy once in power. Early articles in Lignes critiqued this stance, especially after Mitterrand’s 1988 re-election campaign during which he relied on his personality rather than offering concrete policies (L.3.1988, 35). De Gaulle had presented himself as the strong leader France needed, and as such the constitution of his Fifth Republic was seen by Lignes as providing the ideological blueprint for the years to come. The review’s analysis was prescient: heading into the new millennium, the tendency was towards strengthening, rather than contesting presidential authority, especially under Nicholas Sarkozy. Dobbels was equally convinced that such strong, nationalist presidents would only aid the far right (1990, 7–8); the Front National received between 20 and 30% of the vote in some cantons in 1990, and the party’s relentless rise was also a key characteristic of the next 25 years. In republishing Le 14 juillet, then, Lignes wished to both reactivate the constitutional debate of 1968 and highlight its concerns regarding presidential populism.

In one last echo of Blanchot’s refus at the turn of the millennium, Surya once more attempted to unite a dispersed left in the Lignes issue Désir de révolution (February 2001). Unlike the 1960s, in the contemporary moment a real desire for revolution seemed lacking, and so instead Surya proposed the term refus as a possible common denominator with which to forge a broad-based solidarity (LNS.4.2001, 7–10). The call largely failed, however: Étienne Balibar argued that it may be easy to refuse bourgeois society, but harder to transform global capitalism (11–15); Michel Löwy preferred collective, subversive actions to individual statements of refusal (119–24); and Jean-Luc Nancy described such refusals as too pure and too simple (131–41). This Lignes issue therefore demonstrated the still fractured nature of the intellectual left in 2001, and also the difficulty of sustaining a refus without a common cause or positive programme. By contrast, seven years later Alain Badiou’s call to unite the left around the word ‘communism’ was both more successful and more controversial, as we shall see in Chapter 6.

Influenced by Antelme’s friendship, and Blanchot and Mascolo’s non-exclusive political organisations, Surya has described his preference for Lignes to provide an open space for political discussion rather than a fixed position (LNS.23–24.2007, 9). Even if Surya’s attempt to rally (p.71) people around the term refus failed, the review generally maintains a relatively open stance by negatively critiquing the present without providing too much of a prescriptive, positive programme. However, at moments of evident political tension, such as the new social movements in the mid-1990s or the financial crisis of 2008, the review took a much more clearly fixed oppositional stance before relaxing back into a more contemplative plurality. In addition, when it comes into contact with the real world, Lignes is often forced to alter its radical critical negativity, as we shall see, for example, concerning religion in Chapter 3. Surya has therefore described a constant oscillation occurring in Lignes, one that shifts between providing an open space and a more concrete political position (1999a, 290). This oscillation will be pursued throughout the following chapters; here, we will examine how further inspiration for Lignes came from Mascolo and Blanchot’s next venture, La Revue internationale.

Plural Speech

In 1960, the trial of Francis Jeanson, the leader of a network providing aid to the Algerian Liberation Front, was about to commence, marking an escalation of tensions in France over Algeria. Mascolo decided to intervene publicly, and began drafting what would become the ‘Déclaration sur le droit à l’insoumission dans la guerre d’Algérie’ (often called the ‘Manifesto of the 121’). As Zakir Paul argues, given that there was a ‘total lack of institutionally sanctioned political discourse in favour of Algerian national independence’, the intellectual initiative was significant, and signatories included Jean-Paul Sartre, François Truffaut, Alain Resnais and Claude Simon (2010, xxxix). Although the Manifesto was collaboratively written, Blanchot provided the title, and thus the strong emphasis on the right to insubordination, rather than the duty. As another of Mascolo’s negatively formed communities, in not obliging signatories to subscribe to a prescriptive programme they sought to find minimal common ground for a broad-based opposition to the war. Whilst Blanchot’s role in the Manifesto is now known, early drafts published by Lignes demonstrate that the majority of the composition was undertaken by Mascolo and Jean Schuster and, whilst lacking this stress on rights over duties, their early drafts still entreat people to disrupt the French military operation through civil disobedience (L.33.1998, 79–83).

(p.72) The Manifesto was immediately banned by the French state, yet it caused a media scandal and became pivotal in changing public opinion. Subsequently, Blanchot wrote to Sartre arguing that the real success of the Manifesto was its open, communal structure, a kind of solidarity predicated on its impersonal force (L.11.1990, 218). Blanchot saw the collaboratively written manifesto as a unique form of political speech which allowed the articulation of a plurality of voices. He wanted a new form of intellectual review to support this intellectual plurality and, as Sartre was unwilling to alter the form of Les Temps modernes, alongside Mascolo and Vittorini, from 1960 to 1965 Blanchot concentrated his efforts on creating La Revue internationale. The project was highly ambitious and never materialised, aside from an issue ‘zero’ appended to the Italian newspaper Il Menabo. Lignes (September 1990) therefore made many of the texts and surrounding documentation available for the first time, demonstrating both the theoretical scope of the endeavour and its influence on Surya’s own review.

The fundamental conviction of La Revue internationale was that, in a globalising world, every national problem was also an international concern. Editorial committees were therefore established in France, Germany and Italy for a trilingual publication, with contributors sourced from around the world.1 Texts would be individually composed but collectively edited and translated, then presented anonymously so that every contributor became responsible for assertions which they had not written. Again, the review aimed not so much at a common standpoint as developing a plural structure by accommodating multiple voices, revealing the differences and distances between each. Rather than overtly political texts, Blanchot advocated a literary approach to current affairs, defining contributors to La Revue explicitly as écrivains. As Leslie Hill summarises, literature was not storytelling for Blanchot and, unlike Mascolo, he did not value it for its ‘richer potential for communicativeness’ (1997, 92). Instead, Blanchot championed literature for its ability to challenge any ‘stable ethical or political foundation’, a form of writing conceived of as contestation or questioning. As a result, the form

(p.73) of La Revue internationale was to be its most radical gesture. Blanchot wanted it to cover everything, to ‘say the “world” and everything that takes place in the world’ (2010, 60 [L.11.1990, 185]). However, this did not mean indiscriminately writing about anything and everything, but rather extricating the novelty of an event ‘where the whole is at stake’ (Blanchot, 2010, 57 [L.11.1990, 180]). The central spine of La Revue internationale was to be ‘Les Cours des choses’, a series of fragmentary texts of only one or two pages in which significant global events would be represented through a literary style of writing that did not construct a monolithic narrative of history: events would be treated by multiple authors in different manners, pluralising the historical record. As Bident describes, poetry would guide the review’s politics, and fragments would construct the totality (1998, 407).

This literary approach to politics was not without its difficulties. Writing to Bataille, Blanchot described a double movement in response to politics: one dialectical, which gestures towards decisive action; the other non-dialectical, which ‘is not at all concerned with unity and does not tend towards power (to the possible)’ [ne se soucie pas du tout de l’unité et ne tend pas au pouvoir (au possible)] (Blanchot in Bataille, 1997, 595–6). In theory, Blanchot’s literary writing had attempted to create a space in which authority was dissipated and identities were challenged, a space welcoming alterity and infinite possibilities. Yet the reawakening of Blanchot’s political impulse drew him back towards current events which, rather than this speculative probing, seemed to demand precise and concrete interventions. These were, then, two divergent vectors with differing discourses: ‘One names the possible and wants the possible. The other responds to the impossible’ [L’un nomme le possible et veut le possible. L’autre répond à l’impossible] (Bataille, 1997, 596). Blanchot admitted that there seemed to be an unresolvable tension between political and literary responsibility and, as previously discussed, he was not always successful at mastering his desire for a personal authority in his political writings. Nevertheless, with this new review he sought a form of cultural politics that would unite the two vectors: ‘Elements of a solution do exist, though: one of the tasks of the review should be to explore them in more detail’ (Blanchot, 2010, 59 [L.11.1990, 183]). Hill notes that Blanchot’s 1950s literature had been progressing towards fragmentary rearrangement rather than linear narratives, and this new, political project reinforced this literary impulse. Because such fragments were not part of a dialectical unity, but were instead a way ‘to affirm writing as a response to the threat and promise of the future’, perhaps (p.74) the review could draw together the two vectors of intellectual responsibility (2012, 26).

This literary emphasis caused tensions within the review’s milieu, however, and the French texts were received with both bafflement and hostility by their international collaborators. Elio Vittorini complained that the repeated treatment of the same events was tedious, whilst Blanchot stressed that such a repetition was a crucial component of infinite plurality (L.11.1990, 269). Furthermore, Vittorini argued that what the French called écriture was actually philosophy, a dated form of ontological research which aimed to revalorise Heideggerian metaphysics (L.11.1990, 274). The influence of Heidegger on Blanchot’s writing has been frequently noted, and Blanchot himself would portray his writing as a form of ontological research. Contrary to Heidegger, however, instead of an attempt to unveil the true essence of Being through literature, Blanchot would argue that his writerly practice was an attempt to infinitely question any such essentialism. What frustrated Vittorini, and others, was how little such an approach seemed to bridge the gap between literature and politics: could an effective form of cultural politics really be produced from ontological contestation? That Vittorini references Blanchot’s texts as particularly baffling seems pertinent: Mascolo and Vittorini had previously held comparable positions on aesthetics and politics, and the disaccord here revolves around this overtly Blanchotian conception of literature. This is one of the first signs of a latent tension between Mascolo and Blanchot. Whilst Mascolo was increasingly wedded to a revolutionary materialism, Blanchot’s communism has been described as primarily theoretical (Holland, 1995, 190). The divide between Mascolo and Blanchot over textuality and materialism deepened in the following years.

Affirming the importance of Blanchot’s meditations on the fragmentary nevertheless, in the new millennium Lignes republished ‘Le Nom de Berlin’, a Blanchot text destined for La Revue internationale. Here, Blanchot presents Berlin as an exemplary case in which the totality of an object can only be apprehended fragmentarily, the city having been literally fragmented by the Berlin Wall. This prompts further speculation on the nature of fragmentary writing, which is described by Blanchot as:

a patient-impatient, mobile-immobile method of research, and also the affirmation that sense, the entirety of sense, could not be immediately within us and what we write, but that it is still to come and that, questioning the sense, we grasp it as the becoming and what will come.

(Blanchot, 2010, 74 [LNS.3.2000, 132])

(p.75) Once again, writing is depicted as an endless process: ‘Every fragmentary word, every fragmentary reflection demands this: an infinite reiteration and an infinite plurality’ (Blanchot, 2010, 74 [LNS.3.2000, 132]).

Commenting on ‘Berlin’ in Lignes, Christophe Bident argued that the construction of the Berlin Wall was a concrete manifestation of the fundamental political desire to isolate and separate different communities, demarcating zones of inclusion and exclusion. Whereas politics is seen as essentially divisive, Blanchot’s writing was emphasised as an open space of interrogation. Thus, states Bident, Blanchot tried to neutralise ‘the algebraic or electrically polarised difference which would consist in attributing a + and a – to each side of a division’ [la différence polaire, algébrique ou électrique qui consisterait à attribuer un + et un – de chaque côté de la frontière] (LNS.3.2000, 143). What Blanchot thus provided for Lignes was a way of reconsidering intellectual engagement that still granted the writer a degree of responsibility, but which refused Sartrean authority and instead created ‘a place in which each and every person could come to occupy’ [une place que chacun peut venir occuper] (LNS.3.2000, 146). Blanchot’s position here could be seen as foreshadowing the emphasis on liberal pluralism against dogmatic political polemics championed by Le Débat in the 1980s. Yet Le Débat’s political liberalism emphasised individual rather than collective responsibility, and whilst the end of the Cold War led to an exaggerated confidence in liberal democracy as the best form of governance, Blanchot’s infinite questioning would want to probe the very foundations of contemporary politics and nation states. Blanchot would be closer here to Jean-Luc Nancy and Claude Lefort than to François Furet or Pierre Nora.

Notably, the republication of ‘Berlin’ appeared at a turning point for Lignes. It was printed in the third issue of the new series (October 2000), the first number to include an expanded editorial board after the departure of Daniel Dobbels and with Francis Marmande also soon to leave. As discussed further in Chapter 6, the new editorial board cemented a more militant stance within the review, with greater participation from former Althusserians. Yet it is important to note that this more militant intellectual heritage did not wholly supplant the neo-Nietzschean genealogy represented by Bataille and Blanchot. Whilst, between 2002 and 2012, more politically than literary minded figures, such as Alain Badiou, Alain Brossat and Jacques Rancière, would dominate the review’s more militant stance, Bataille and Blanchot (p.76) would return as key concerns, and Surya attempted to hold these two different intellectual trajectories in a productive tension.

Such a tension is most clearly demonstrated in the issue Le Nouveau désordre international (October 2003), as it opens with contributions from Jean-Luc Nancy and Alain Badiou. Nancy’s opposition to the 2002 American invasion of Iraq is clear, as he states that this was not a war with Iraq, but one inflicted upon Iraq. Extending his meditations to the wider Middle East, he adds that there is nothing left to say regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and perhaps it was time for concrete gestures of reconciliation to take place (LNS.12.2003, 8). These declarative statements therefore seem to demand action. However, Nancy proceeds to challenge such certainties, noting that simply denouncing American imperialism is a reactionary response given the lack of genuine alternatives, and so overtly anti-American rhetoric should be avoided. Philosophy had a different task:

The philosopher, by contrast, has much to do with questions posed in entirely fresh ways, truly shaking their foundations, such as: What is a ‘world’? What is a ‘people’? What is ‘capital’? What is ‘power’? What does ‘politics’ mean? And ‘religion’?

[Le philosophe, en revanche, a fort à faire avec des questions remises entièrement en friche, véritablement de fond en comble, telles que: qu’est-ce qu’un ‘monde’? qu’est-ce qu’un ‘peuple’? qu’est-ce-que le ‘capital’? qu’est-ce que le ‘pouvoir’? que veut dire ‘politique’? et ‘religion’?] (8)

Nancy’s text thus straddles Blanchot’s two vectors, initially seeming to name the possible and call for action before challenging its own discourse in the vein of ‘Berlin’ (which Nancy had translated from Italian in 1983). Nancy calls this a philosophical, rather than a literary, task, but his sense of questioning and contesting received certainties is comparable to Blanchot’s. Badiou’s text follows immediately after Nancy’s and, in stark contrast to this open-ended questioning, recommends ‘the concentration of thought on a problem whose formulation could seem very singular, even extraordinarily narrow’ [la concentration de la pensée sur un problème dont la formation peut sembler tout à fait singulière, voire extraordinairement étroite] (LNS.12.2003, 30). As will be discussed in Chapter 6, Badiou’s critical method relies on precisely the mathematical polarisations that Blanchot eschewed. Badiou’s process requires Manichean separations, explicitly designating the good and bad sides of a political divide and articulating a precise sequence of actions that should follow; rather than questioning, militant philosophers should (p.77) prescribe how the world should be. The contrast to Blanchot’s approach is clear, and in the following years Badiou would reach new levels of public fame, largely through the books published by Lignes. Therefore, at the start of a period in which Lignes became more closely associated with Badiou’s militant prescription, the publication of ‘Le Nom de Berlin’ indicated that this other, Blanchotian mode of thinking remained an important intellectual legacy for the review.

Whilst Surya is not always the most sympathetic reader of Blanchot, his admiration for La Revue internationale is unqualified, calling it the project that most influenced Lignes (LNS.23–24.2007, 38). The importance of reviews for Mascolo and Blanchot is certainly clear. Surya stresses that most of Blanchot’s political texts were written ‘in reviews and for reviews. In the movement of thought which reviews allow’ [dans des revues et pour des revues. Dans le mouvement de pensée que permettent les revues] (in Blanchot, 2003, 8). Mascolo also argued for the specificity of periodical texts, requesting that all pieces for La Revue internationale be ones which authors would not have thought of writing had the review not existed. Rather than pieces already published elsewhere, Mascolo wanted texts that had been deliberately developed with the review’s fragmentary and literary structure in mind (L.11.1990, 223). When the review stalled and Vittorini suggested that they publish a book instead, Mascolo declined, arguing that books did not allow for the same kind of movement of thought. For Mascolo, the failure of what he called the communisme de pensée was a blow: ‘To write all alone is necessary and inevitable. It is also sad, and maybe frivolous’ [Écrire tout seul est nécessaire, inévitable. C’est triste aussi et peut-être frivole] (L.11.1990, 300).

This idea of the movement of thought produced by reviews is equally important for Surya. Whilst La Révolution rêvée was not explicitly a history of post-war reviews, it relied heavily upon them as a key source, sites in which thought could be seized collectively and in motion (2004b, 14). Surya’s methodology analysed texts within the moment in which they appeared, tracking the development of certain words, concepts and positions day by day in an attempt to trace the flow of ideas. Consequently, Surya later claimed that he wanted Lignes to produce not ‘the possibility of a new movement, but a new possibility of movement’ [la possibilité d’un mouvement nouveau, mais une nouvelle possibilité de mouvement] (LNS.23–24.2007, 10). The review’s name reflects this attempt, suggesting the desire to forge new paths or lines of flight within stagnant political and intellectual discourses. Lignes represents both the (p.78) non-dogmatic, open plurality desired by Antelme’s friendship and the attempt to renew a collective and creative intellectual culture. Echoing Mascolo, Surya notes that such a plural inventiveness requires a tension between writing alone and thinking together:

I emphasise, as strongly as possible, both the effectively collective character, ‘collectivist’ even (let’s risk this word here, play with it), of such an enterprise of thought, and its irreducibly singular character, ‘individualist’ (for the counterpart of ‘collectivist’), solitary, even. Of this I am convinced: it is alone that we think together.

[Je souligne à la fois, et autant que faire se peut, le caractère en effet collectif, ‘collectiviste’ même (osons le mot ici, amusons-nous avec) d’une telle entreprise de pensée, et son caractère irréductiblement singulier, ‘individualiste’ (pour faire pendant à ‘collectiviste’); solitaire même. C’est seuls que nous pensons ensemble: j’en suis convaincu]. (2010a, 78)

Yet Surya also laments the difficulty of maintaining such motion today, as readers seem less interested in the movement of a review than in particular, isolated and static themes (2007, 36). Indeed, whilst early issues of the review contained various thematic dossiers alongside book reviews and short, fragmentary pieces on current events, over time Lignes has increasingly tended to produce monothematic issues directed by specialists in their respective fields. Whilst such single-topic issues allow a certain problem to be investigated in depth, they encourage readers to purchase only those of particular interest to them rather than subscribing, and they operate more as individual book collections rather than a review in motion. Nevertheless, Surya’s persistence with Lignes for nearly 30 years demonstrates his commitment to the review form and the motion of thought which it can still produce, as this book hopes to demonstrate.

Inspired by Antelme and Mascolo, Blanchot’s own formulations of what an open and plural cultural politics might look like has left evident traces both in how Surya theorises his own review and in the kinds of intellectual interventions produced by Lignes contributors, such as Jean-Luc Nancy. The conclusion to this chapter will draw out some further consequences for Lignes. Here, we return to the 1960s, and May ’68 in particular, an episode which drove a clear wedge between Blanchot’s and Mascolo’s conceptions of material and textual politics. The emphasis on textuality will then be traced through the review Tel Quel, followed by a consideration of Surya’s rereading of Bataille, Blanchot and Mascolo in the present.

(p.79) Theory as Material Force

After five years, the editorial team of La Revue internationale disintegrated. Aside from disagreements over its literary style, the difficulties of international collaboration and securing stable publishers in each country also proved to be intractable. Blanchot was especially disappointed with this failure, yet his spirits were revived when May ’68 provided another forum for communal politics. Whilst Blanchot, Mascolo and company played a minor role in the wider events, they offered their solidarity to the students and embraced the liberated atmosphere of revolutionary optimism. Within the occupied Sorbonne University, Duras, Mascolo, Antelme, Blanchot and others formed Le Comité d’action étudiantsécrivains, a collective which continued to meet every day well into July. Tracts, manifestos and articles composed for the bulletin Comité appeared in Lignes on the thirtieth anniversary of May ’68. Once again, the group produced ‘neither a programme, nor a platform, nor a political line’ [ni programme, ni plate-forme, ni ligne politique] (Mascolo, 1993, 340). Yet rather than Blanchot’s Revue internationale and its more literary, theoretical communism, this Comité more closely represented the culmination of Mascolo’s materialist conception of intellectual activity. In Le 14 juillet, Mascolo had argued that intellectuals needed to participate within a broader social base: rather than politics prescribed by an elite, ‘the political organisation of the world is henceforth the work of each and every person’ [l’organisation politique du monde est désormais l’œuvre de tous et de chacun] (152). This implied the intellectuals embedding themselves within the general population. Furthermore, building up towards the ‘Manifesto of the 121’, Mascolo believed that, with general levels of education rising, the intelligentsia could now exert a powerful influence on the government which, if strategically deployed, could not be ignored. This proved prescient, as the ‘Manifesto’ did have a considerable public impact. Therefore, whilst the PCF continued to denigrate intellectual activity as bourgeois, Mascolo believed that, when endowed with popular support, intellectuals could have a tangible influence. Citing Marx, he stated the following:

The weapon of criticism cannot, of course, replace criticism by weapons. Material force must be overthrown by material force.

But theory also becomes a material force when it grips the masses.

[L’arme de la critique ne saurait remplacer la critique des armes. La force matérielle ne saurait être renversée que par la force matérielle. (p.80) La théorie elle aussi devient force matérielle lorsqu’elle pénètre les masses].

(L.33.1998, 170)

For Mascolo, theory became a material force in May ’68.

Rather than through Blanchot’s conception of plural speech, Mascolo wanted the intellectual to become anonymous as an organic part of the masses. Whilst before 1968 the intellectual spoke on behalf of the voiceless, here the intellectual collective became ‘a microcosm of the people’ which experienced ‘the impersonal revolutionary demand’ [un microcosme du peuple (…) l’exigence révolutionnaire impersonnelle] (Mascolo, 1993, 31). Practically, this required genuinely collaborative political statements, and Duras described the hellish process of collective writing in which, after hours of painstaking revisions, individual concerns were purged and the community began to function (Mascolo, 2004, 326). This was a concerted attempt to break down what were perceived to be individualistic, bourgeois subjectivities, prompting participants to become a ‘stranger to everyone and to themselves’ [étranger à tous et à soi] (338). However, by early 1969 the Comité was disbanded precisely because individual conflicts had crept back in; Mascolo commented that it had become a bickering family simply airing their dirty laundry (L.33.1998, 176). Nevertheless, for a brief moment a truly communal political organisation was lived.

The republication of documents attesting to this communal anti-individualism is part of Lignes’ response to the retrospective denigration of May ’68 by politicians, the mass media and philosophers. Both la pensée 68 and the events of May ’68 were scapegoated for a process of cultural transformation that had been two decades in the making. Kristin Ross has described how, since the 1950s, France’s booming economy had allowed it to undertake an ‘accelerated transition into Fordism’ and embrace an American-style mass culture (1995, 3). Whilst the societal changes that resulted were the product of two decades of gradual change, May ’68 dramatically highlighted the rupture of a new generation with more traditional French culture and values, and so subsequently ‘all the problems and dissatisfactions’ associated with this cultural transformation were blamed on the student revolt and its intellectual accompaniment (Ross, 1995, 3). Therefore the ‘new philosophers’ made it fashionable to portray oneself as a repentant soixante-huitard who had once believed in the revolution but who now saw that republican liberalism was the only responsible path. Luc Ferry and Alain Renaut associated la pensée 68 with the student revolts in order to blame them both for indulgently valorising ‘the cult (p.81) of private happiness and the very liberal pursuit of individual projects’ over social responsibility (1990a, xxii). Gilles Lipovetsky’s L’Ère du vide (1983) also lamented the rampant consumerism and individualism of the 1980s, laying the blame on the 1960s. Therefore, alongside its supposed indulgence of communism and fascism, la pensée 68 was also charged with propagating a bad form of American liberalism, one indulging the hedonistic pursuit of self-satisfaction and little concerned with republican values. There was in fact an ‘accelerationist’ moment in the early 1970s, when Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Œdipe (1972), Lyotard’s Économie libidinale (1974) and Baudrillard’s L’Échange symbolique et la mort (1976) combined the avant-garde embrace of transgression of societal norms with the deregulation of capitalist flows to claim that a new, communal emancipation would be unleashed from this nascent neoliberalism (Noys, 2010, 5). Deleuze and Guattari’s work in particular has been seen to be ‘in dangerous consonance with new forms of capitalist accumulation’ (Noys, 2010, 2). Yet these authors quickly spotted the dangers of the current neoliberal order and repudiated these stances, Lyotard later calling Économie libidinale an ‘evil book’ (1984, 7). La pensée 68 was again being blamed en bloc for structural changes to the global capitalist order. Nevertheless, denigration of May ’68 continued right up to Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidential campaign in 2007, when he claimed that it had imposed an intellectual relativism and cynicism on France, noticeably lowering political and moral standards in the country ever since (Gordon, 2008, 143).

In response, Lignes increasingly defended both May ’68 and la pensée 68. The republication of the Comité documents aimed at demonstrating that at least some soixante-huitards were also opposed to the American individualism which Blanchot later called ‘the weak-minded conception of everyday liberalism’ (1998, 18). Crucially, against the culturalist readings of May ’68 which saw the events as simply a manifestation of the hedonistic desires of a new generation of affluent teenagers, Daniel Bensaïd emphasised the strictly political aspects of the revolts, noting that France also witnessed its biggest ever wave of industrial strikes in the same months (L.34.1998, 58). Ten years later, Lignes published Bensaïd and Alain Krivine’s 1968: Fins et suites (2008), a collection of articles written on successive anniversaries of May ’68 which document both the growing conservative backlash against the events and the contemporary political importance they still retained. The dossier on Mascolo in 1998 was another such manner of celebrating the political (p.82) legacy of the 1960s, contextualising the student movement within wider shifts of Marxist and revolutionary theory.

Although documents pertaining to a second issue of Comité appeared in 1969, this was the end of Blanchot’s political participation alongside Antelme and Mascolo. Mascolo’s revolutionary materialism was becoming increasingly incompatible with Blanchot’s more literary endeavours. In Sur le sens et l’usage du mot ‘gauche’ (1955; Lignes edition 2011), Mascolo had argued that there was no such thing as an electoral left: the difference between the parliamentary left and right was merely one of opinion, and so this left, as a simple reaction to the right, remained a certain kind of bourgeois activity (2011, 11). The true measure was to know if one was an abstract idealist or a genuine materialist, and then to match one’s actions to one’s politics. For Mascolo, electoral politics would never do enough to combat the insatisfaction of human needs: only a revolution would suffice. Mascolo’s committed materialism is therefore one in which ideas and actions coalesce, suggesting that literary and intellectual activities are in themselves insufficient without revolutionary activism. In May ’68, rather than the emphasis on sexual or cultural liberation, Mascolo continued to insist that the real problem was the electoral left’s attachment to a system of formal democracy that was complicit with capitalist exploitation (L.33.1998, 165). In Lignes, Alain Brossat noted that May ’68 committees were in fact steeped in a collective, participative democratic culture (L.34.1998, 35). Rather than the European consensus surrounding liberal democracy, the legacies of participatory democracy and Workers’ Councils were defended as ways of countering the current democratic deficit. This critique of formal democracy was reactivated in Lignes’ second series in the debates between Badiou and Bensaïd over the strategic value of parliamentary politics, discussed in Chapter 6. Furthermore, we should note here Mascolo’s privileging of the insatisfaction of human needs over sexual liberation. Chapter 7 will discuss to what extent Lignes has ignored gender and sexuality issues in favour of contesting economic inequality.

Mascolo also took a clear line against Maoist conceptions of a cultural revolution, arguing that there is no such thing as a culturally revolutionary act. For Mascolo, the revolution would arrive from outside of culture, through a political movement which would then retrospectively give culture a new, revolutionary sense (Mascolo, 2004, 337). Situationist discourses fed into May ’68, and Mascolo absorbed their claims that cultural products were being recuperated by the capitalist system. For Mascolo, culture was reinforcing rather than challenging (p.83) the government and, given that public broadcasting was controlled by the state, Mascolo called for a boycott of public media. With intellectuals devolved into the masses and theory becoming a material force, politics was now communicated through friendship: without books, without even the need for a review, the revolution was seen by Mascolo as a contagious force, propagating itself through clandestine speech (L.33.1998, 141). Art retained its relative autonomy, but Mascolo now granted it a distinctly secondary status. Whilst Surrealists such as Paul Éluard claimed that their radical poetry could only ever serve revolutionary ends, for Mascolo this illusory aesthetic liberty was a distraction from material inequality. Instead, during a trip to Cuba in 1967, Mascolo was surprised to see three breeder bulls and an anti-aircraft gun appearing in an art gallery alongside the expected paintings. Rather than absorbing these ready-mades into an imaginary realm of art, their appearance in the gallery pierced the crushing boredom of the museum and forced material reality to intrude onto aesthetic concerns. The Cubans’ material needs (milk) and revolutionary might (anti-aircraft guns) imbued art with a concrete immediacy that suggested the possibility of a more active artistic communism: material, political reality gave art its significance, not the other way around (Mascolo, 1993, 294). Most notably, this materialist aesthetic drew Mascolo away from Blanchot’s literary communism. As the Comité disbanded in 1969, Mascolo retrospectively commented that writers (explicitly naming Bataille and Blanchot) were luxuries: ‘irreplaceable luxuries, but luxuries all the same from the point of view that we should take’ [d’irremplaçables luxes mais des luxes tout de même du point de vue qui se doit d’être le notre] (L.33.1998, 142). Mascolo implicitly placed Bataille and Blanchot on the side of an aesthetic idealism, and against Blanchot’s ‘theoretical’ communism he stressed his commitment to materialism. Although Blanchot and Mascolo remained friends, they would never again engage in concerted political activity together as they had between 1958 and 1968. Whilst Mascolo continued to pen militant, materialist political interventions, Blanchot retreated back into writing, replacing politics with ethics as he turned towards Emmanuel Levinas and Judaic thought.

Whilst Blanchot has long since been consecrated as one of the most influential thinkers of his generation, Mascolo remains a rare reference in French or anglophone academia. Lignes makes a case for the subterranean intellectual legacy of Mascolo, Marmande arguing that Barthes, Deleuze and Lacan, amongst others, would propagate Mascolo’s ideas (p.84) without really knowing it (L.34.1998, 48). The sense of communism as a material affect circulating amongst bodies was certainly the experience Deleuze would take away from May ’68, and in letters to Mascolo from 1988, republished by Lignes, Deleuze asserted that Blanchot’s and Mascolo’s conception of friendship had been influential on his own (L.33.1998, 222–6). Yet perhaps even more so than Blanchot, the term écriture became ‘attached’ to Barthes (Stafford, 1998, 31), and Barthes’s ‘aestheticized essayism’ (Stafford, 1998, 87) and emphasis on ‘literary contestation’ (Stafford, 1998, 119) in the 1960s seems closer to Blanchot than to Mascolo’s materialist revolution. Similarly, any confluence between Mascolo and Lacan is more likely to come from their shared intellectual debt to Bataille than any direct transmission between the two. Instead, it appears that the legacy of the more militant, later Mascolo is more easily located in Lignes’ second series, between Badiou and Bensaïd as they try to relaunch the political legitimacy of the term ‘communism’. Fearing arrest after his major involvement in May ’68, Bensaïd took refuge in Duras’s apartment where he met Antelme, Mascolo and Blanchot. After Lignes exhumed these documents, Bensaïd was reminded of this period of his life and began to cite Mascolo more frequently. Mascolo became an exemplary figure of the communist militant, especially for the manner in which he stressed that ‘communism’ was the most precise term ‘to designate the stakes of the epoch’ [pour désigner l’enjeu d’une époque] (LNS.32.2010, 192). Subsequently, Badiou’s Communist Hypothesis once again attempted to provide this term as a positive political orientation, a later lecture citing Mascolo directly. Therefore, whilst the first series of Lignes is dominated by Nancy’s and Blanchot’s emphasis on the negative constitution of open and non-exclusive political communities, the second series sees the renewal of Mascolo’s more prescriptive and avowedly communist programme.

Over the course of 20 years, the milieu which originally formed around Duras’s house on La Rue Saint-Benoît left Lignes a rich seam of thought to draw from. Yet throughout the 1960s this heritage also became increasingly divided. Mascolo, more militant, saw art as autonomous but also secondary to a strongly engaged, revolutionary politics, whereas Blanchot posed a vector of thought that resisted the closure of signification and of national communities, stressing the ethical demands of writing over action. This tension traverses Lignes’ entire history, and the neo-Nietzschean and former Althusserian strands of la pensée 68 will be explored in the coming chapters. Before moving on to Lignes, however, (p.85) to fully ascertain the influence of Blanchot and Mascolo’s milieu on the review, the gap between the 1960s and the 1980s must first be traversed, a journey most fruitfully made via a comparison to the legendary intellectual review Tel Quel.

Transgression from Tel Quel to Lignes

Although Tel Quel is rarely mentioned in Lignes, when one compares their literary and philosophic canons it is evidently one of the review’s closest predecessors. Between 1960 and 1983, this famous intellectual journal pioneered theories of textuality, aided the rise to fame of Derrida and Foucault, and also did much to secure the posthumous critical receptions of writers such as Bataille and Antonin Artaud. However, Tel Quel was also notoriously dogmatic and terroristically jargonistic, becoming a divisive presence in intellectual circles. Coming after the moment of ‘high theory’, Lignes was less jargonistic, preferring a more sober and clear discursive style, and the Mascolo dossier demonstrated the wariness in Lignes regarding its predecessor: in 1971, Mascolo sent a letter to La Quinzaine littéraire complaining of the exploitation of Bataille, Breton and Artaud in certain intellectual circles since May ’68, clearly referring to Tel Quel (L.33.1998, 193–4). Mascolo’s letter was sent at the height of Tel Quel’s efforts to mobilise transgressive literary works for a revolutionary cultural practice. In Lignes, further removed from the atmosphere of sexual liberation and the lifting of taboos in the 1960s, transgression is seen as a more intimate, personal experience with little progressive social efficacy. There are historical and conceptual reasons for the different readings of Bataille and cultural politics proffered by Tel Quel and Lignes, which will be delineated below. Lastly, working through these issues once more in the new millennium, Surya mediates between Bataille, Blanchot and Mascolo to arrive at a more nuanced account of the relationship between politics and art in the contemporary moment.

Bataille and Blanchot played a significant role in the post-war period for their opposition to Sartre’s conception of engaged literature. For Bataille, writing was a space of absolute liberty that should not serve useful ends, and for Blanchot it was an opaque space of ontological and conceptual contestation removed from daily life. Whilst Sartre’s Les Temps modernes set the intellectual agenda in the immediate post-war period, by the 1960s the rise of structuralism and textual (p.86) theory prompted a reformulation of the straightforward link between art and politics implied by engagement. In 1960, Tel Quel initially seemed to renew the call for art for art’s sake to move beyond Sartrean engagement. Yet Danielle Marx-Scouras argues that Philippe Sollers, one of Tel Quel’s principal editors, also harboured a desire to resurrect ‘the literary modernity of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries’ with a belief that autonomous art was in itself a progressive force (1996, 17). Additionally, Tel Quel’s interest in Bataille and Artaud privileged texts which explored bodily experiences, madness and the subversion of conventional morality. Influenced by Bataille’s notion of pure expenditure, both writing and sexuality were seen as unproductive, wasteful forces which society either suppressed or channelled towards useful ends. Drawing also on Sade, Kafka, Joyce, Céline and Pasolini, Tel Quel occupied this marginal space of literature to examine and challenge the moral and cultural limits of contemporary society. As ffrench summarises, Sollers’s most consistent contention throughout the review’s history was that ‘society is neurotic in its repression of its foundation’, and literature was a key means to both diagnosing and curing such neuroses (1995, 100).

Furthermore, ffrench argues that Tel Quel’s political position subsequently oscillated depending on the strength of its faith in literature as a means of subverting ideology, and hence how far ‘the application of a logic of transgression’ could be pushed (1995, 62). In 1968, in a position inspired by the PCF but also still close to that of Bataille, Sollers claimed that writers had no socially useful function. However, by the 1972 Cérisy conference on Bataille and Artaud organised by Tel Quel, Sollers was asserting instead that writers had a specific role to play in enacting both an artistic and a political revolution (1973, 9–12). Literary experimentation was seen as directly fomenting revolutionary subjects, giving avant-garde artists an effective and active role to play. Tel Quel had entered its Maoist phase and embarked upon the kind of Cultural Revolution decried by Mascolo: hence his protests against Sollers’s utilisation of writers for ideological arguments that Bataille would not have supported. The tone of Tel Quel became increasingly terroristic and hectoring during this period, Mascolo lamenting the ‘unfathomable misery of these repetitive dogmatisms’ [insondable misère de ces dogmatismes successifs] (L.33.1998, 200). Nevertheless, if the gulf between Mascolo and Tel Quel around 1971 is clear, retrospectively it is also evident that the faith of both parties in theory or literature as materially revolutionary forces was misguided. Tel Quel overestimated (p.87) the social impact which transgressive literary works could have, whilst Mascolo also overemphasised the success of the revolutionary moment of May ’68 when, in 1970, he claimed that the ruling class was ideologically close to defeat (L.33.1998, 189). The failures of the theoretical and literary avant-gardes of the 1960s and 1970s would in turn temper Lignes’ own pretentions in this domain. Surya argued that, although the idea of forming a new avant-garde was tempting, it was a historically dated proposition. Those attempting to resurrect such vanguards, such as the neo-Situationists, simply exposed themselves to open ridicule: ‘One probably couldn’t be less political than them’ [On ne pouvait pas être moins politiques qu’eux, sans doute] (LNS.23–24.2007, 11). If literature, theory or Lignes itself was to have any sort of political impact, it would not be as a revolutionary vanguard.

Marmande came to a similar conclusion after exploring the historical exhaustion of transgressive aesthetics. Literary transgression is described by Marmande as directly linked to the period of the historical avantgardes from Surrealism to Tel Quel. Yet, as capitalism accelerated and increased its ability to assimilate threatening subcultures into its cycles of production, transgression was itself commercialised (think, for example, of the commercialisation of punk): ‘In the richest societies, where an exemplary rule of the total spectacle is unfolding, sexuality no longer seems to be a breach which opens out onto the unknowable’ [Dans les sociétés les plus riches où se démontre une loi parfaite du spectacle total, la sexualité n’apparaît plus comme la brèche qui ouvre à l’inconnaissable] (L.36.1999, 30). The problem with Tel Quel’s politics of transgression was what ffrench calls its ‘trans-historical’ analysis of literature: the review’s cultural politics was formed during a certain 1960s conjuncture in which social mores were changing radically. Tel Quel developed a political strategy for a moment that soon passed, quickly rendering their subversive actions passé. For Marmande, the fashionable marketing of subcultures and the conservative backlash against May ’68 all conspired to blunt the progressive potential of Tel Quel’s cultural politics. Shorn of its revolutionary aspects, by the late 1970s Tel Quel abandoned its revolutionary ambitions and literature instead came to be seen as a way of allowing negativity to be integrated within, rather than challenging, the symbolic order, becoming ‘in some way curative’ rather than ‘a subversive avant-garde’ (ffrench, 1995, 201–2).

Consequently, ffrench argues that the ‘political and psychoanalytical encounters’ of Tel Quel had failed, ‘while the experience of literature’ would remain constant (1995, 90). Lignes tacitly took this knowledge (p.88) on board: psychoanalytic readings of literature are largely absent from the review, which also resists a strong politicisation of literature. Lignes shares with Tel Quel a similar appreciation of modernist and socially subversive authors, Surya citing Proust, Kafka, Musil, Joyce, Borges, Broch, Artaud, Beckett, Celan, Sartre, Genet, Flaubert and, centrally, Blanchot, Bataille and Klossowski (LNS.38.2012, 5). Furthermore, Mathilde Girard notes the continuing focus on limit texts from Tel Quel to Lignes, the latter also privileging texts that explore themes of childhood, madness, sainthood, crime, perversion and cruelty (LNS.38.2012, 64). However, the point of such limit texts is no longer their socially or psychologically subversive potential. Instead, Marmande and Surya frequently quote Bataille’s defence of Sade, in which he argued that obscene texts should not be censored so that they can tout dire: as Marmande glosses, Bataille was not arguing that reading Sade was socially useful or could produce progressive political action, but that it at least revealed something of human behaviour in exploring its furthest limits (L.36.1999, 22).

Conceptually, Michel Foucault’s Preface à la transgression (1963; Lignes edition 2012) also warned against Tel Quel’s politicisation of transgression. Foucault argued that transgression could not be placed dialectically into the service of politics as it relied on both crossing a limit, but also on reinscribing this limit as a taboo in itself. Marmande endorsed this reading, opening his article on transgression with this Foucauldian definition:

Transgression (violation, sin, fault in the Latin of the Church) is the deliberate movement by which a limit (juridical, moral, religious) is confronted – in other words, designated. It neither effaces nor abolishes it.

[La transgression (violation, péché, faute, en latin d’église) est le mouvement délibéré par lequel une limite (juridique, morale, religieuse) est affrontée – autrement dit, désignée. Il ne l’efface ni ne l’abolit].

(L.36.1999, 6)

Citing Foucault, Marmande also describes transgression as the affirmation of a partage (‘sharing’, but also ‘division’) (L.36.1999, 27): this is suggestive of the ontological, rather than sociocultural readings of transgression that would become prevalent in Lignes in the new millennium. Such a conception, heavily influenced by Nancy as well as Foucault, is prominent in the Lignes issue Nouvelles lectures de Georges Bataille (May 2005). Nancy had argued that, in emphasising the (p.89) transgressive and obscene aspects of Bataille’s writing, many critics ‘have hammed it up compared to what were, in spite of everything, Bataille’s restraint and sobriety’ (1990, 60). Rather than as a dissolute exhibitionist overtly flouting social and moral norms, Bataille was a relatively private individual who was more interested in discreet moments of ecstatic experience. Experiences of violence or sexual abandon were extreme examples of moments in which rational thought was waylaid in an affective intensity. Yet, more soberly, these experiences highlighted the subject’s lack of self-sufficiency or holistic integrity, making it clear that humans are always inhabited by, and at prey to, external forces. Even our ‘own’ consciousness is bound up with other socially imbricated beings. The affirmation of sharing noted by Foucault, then, would be a sense in which transgression becomes the ontological recognition of our co-belonging in the world. Subsequently, in the 2005 Lignes issue on Bataille, Nancy and Foucault are mobilised against Tel Quel’s emphasis on the subversion of social conventions to describe Bataille’s transgressions as ontological experiences: such an ontology portrays a conception of être as a being in excess of itself, locating its borders only in exteriority and in contact with others. The subversive aspects of Bataille’s œuvre are not entirely ignored, Lina Franco in particular discussing Bataille’s scatological practice of writing (LNS.17.2005, 194). But, on the whole, if Bataille’s life is described by Sylvie Trécherel as a search for the most complete form of liberty possible (LNS.17.2005, 218), this is a personal and intimate, rather than collective endeavour, conceptually represented by this shift from a sociocultural to an ontological notion of transgression.

Lignes would therefore endorse Mascolo’s hostility towards Tel Quel’s political mobilisation of Bataille, seeing it as politically, historically and conceptually flawed. In his book on the novelist and Lignes contributor Bernard Noël, Le Polième (2011), Surya once again works through these issues. Crucially, Le Polième appeared in the same year that Lignes republished Mascolo’s Sur le Sens et l’usage du mot ‘gauche’: echoing Mascolo’s claim that the only real left was one of revolutionary action, Surya states that, for Noël, ‘politics is revolutionary or it is nothing’ [la politique est révolutionnaire ou qu’elle n’est pas] (2011, 16). Yet Surya argues that this strong sense of politics has been eroded by the depoliticisation of liberal consensus and the reliance of governments on responsible economic management: from Nancy in the 1980s to Lignes in the present, then, the erosion of politics due to the pressing demands of managing the economy continues to be a recurring concern. In his poetry, (p.90) fiction and critical essays, Noël traced and historicised the development of literature and liberalism beyond 1968. His novel La Château de Cène was banned in 1969 as a crime against public morality. However, when it was subsequently published in 1975, Noël argued that it was because European governments now had less need to physically repress a docile populace: transgression was a spent force and outright censorship was no longer necessary. Instead, liberal democracies had begun to employ a strategy of sensure, censorship with an ‘s’. Rather than a censorship which would ban controversial works, sensorship instead works by stripping words of their sense and mollifying or recuperating their contestatory potential. For Noël, ‘we live in a bourgeois world where the vocabulary of indignation is exclusively moral’ [nous vivons dans un monde bourgeois, où le vocabulaire de l’indignation est exclusivement moral] (Noël, 2011, 22); this frustration with moral discourses will be further discussed in Chapter 3, but for Noël it represents the replacement of Marxist dialectics and political debate with technocratic governance and a socially normative consensus. This is a frequent contention in Lignes, and in terms of the trajectory outlined in this chapter the desire to prevent the foreclosure of language and meaning is represented in literature by Blanchot and in philosophy by Nancy.

Régine Detambel has argued that there are two ways to combat sensure: direct action in the public sphere as a militant, and the more clandestine approach of poetic writing (2007, 90). Detambel notes that Noël had done his part as a militant, fighting censorship laws and providing aid to the FLN in the 1950s. But culture also has an infra-political role in combatting sensure. Noël was heavily influenced by Bataille and Blanchot, and so argued that literature should not be servile to political constraints. However, Surya comments that Noël’s work is nevertheless pervaded by a political joy and a communist intimacy, a register which infused the political communities of Mascolo and Blanchot in the 1960s but which is missing from much contemporary discourse (2011, 65). For Surya, whilst a writer should not concern herself with the practical political implications of her work, writing can contain an essential liberty from which the left can derive its own political principles (LNS.43.2014, 46). Surya argues that whilst Noël has never committed his writing to the service of a particular political goal, the infusion of his work with a communist joy and intimacy means that everything he has written has been profoundly engaged in propagating and encouraging this essential liberty. In a subtle distinction, Surya goes on to contrast Rimbaud with Marx, stating that for Noël it is (p.91) life that should be changed, rather than the world which should be transformed’ [la vie qu’il faudrait changer, davantage que du monde qu’il faudrait transformer] (2011, 64). Just as transgression was seen to act on an ontological rather than social level, the infra-political impact of literature also operates on an intimate level: rather than the aesthetic shocks or transgressive gestures that would awaken the slumbering masses into a revolutionary fervour, at best literature presents a form of personal liberty that could become collective, without providing the means to politically produce such a collectivity. Whilst using the work of Noël to articulate this position, Surya ascribes it to a combination of Bataille’s, Blanchot’s and Mascolo’s influence: following the discussion elaborated in this chapter, schematically we could identify the revolutionary politics with Mascolo, the work on language with Blanchot and the demand for an absolute, personal liberty with Bataille.

Lignes – An Intellectual Review Heading into the Twenty-first Century

Through the significant dossiers published by Lignes throughout the 1990s, this chapter has traced the political lives of Robert Antelme, Dionys Mascolo and Maurice Blanchot in the post-war period. Antelme’s redefinition of friendship as a form of broad-based political solidarity played a formative role in a philosophical discourse much more frequently associated with Jacques Derrida and Blanchot. Antelme subsequently influenced the political activities of Mascolo and Blanchot, from Mascolo’s theorisation of Le Communisme, through the rejection of Charles de Gaulle in Le 14 Juillet to the ‘Manifesto of the 121’, La Revue Internationale and May ’68. In its own contemporary moment, Lignes republished Le 14 Juillet to reignite the debate over the structure of the Fifth Republic in an attempt to break the consensus forming around liberal republicanism in the 1990s. May ’68 was then celebrated by the review as a moment in which other forms of participatory democracy could be implemented to combat the growing democratic lassitude and apathy affecting European parliamentary politics. Furthermore, models of cultural politics throughout the post-war period were probed by Lignes to better situate its own approach. Blanchot identified two contrary vectors of intellectual activity which the review attempted to keep in tension. In the following chapter, the neo-Nietzschean critical ethos suggested by Bataille, Blanchot and Nancy will be explored; rather (p.92) than dogmatic politics, here an anti-essentialist and anti-identitarian probing and questioning of received wisdom is championed, one in which writing should be granted an absolute liberty. Mascolo, on the other hand, seemed to move beyond the relative autonomy of literature to place art within a more materialist political struggle. As the review enters the new millennium and more militant contributors, like Alain Badiou, attempt to launch a more active communist project, Mascolo’s materialist and anti-parliamentary politics return.

Most significantly for Surya and Lignes is perhaps the legacy of Blanchot’s Revue internationale. Whilst Lignes is a more political than literary review, Blanchot’s model provides a less straightforwardly ‘engaged’ stance towards current affairs, Surya defining Lignes as more of an open space rather than a defined and concrete position. Sharing Blanchot’s and Nancy’s concern with the perceived dangers of revolutionary programmes, political action is conceived of as provisional, uncertain and conjunctural. Therefore, just as Mascolo’s projects attempted to form a minimal common ground of agreement and avoided divisively programmatic statements, the first issue of Lignes did not even contain an editorial, let alone a mission statement or a collective declaration. Like Mascolo, Surya wanted his review to foster the movement of thought rather than create a defined movement, and so avoiding a strict editorial line was one way of keeping Lignes in motion. Surya thus emphasises that, with Lignes, he is not trying to form a closed community. Yet a review necessarily remains a communal endeavour, mediating between solitary writing and a joint articulation of thought: it is alone that we think together. A review is a space of sharing, as solitary authors appear side by side on its pages, coming into contact only at their articles’ borders. The vicissitudes of independent thought within a collective project is the principal source of interest when it comes to reviews, and this book will continue to track them in subsequent chapters.

However, alongside the literary and philosophical inspiration from Blanchot and Nancy, it was also a sign of the times to stress the absence of a political project in the 1980s and 1990s. Intellectuals surrounding Le Débat had called for an abandonment of radical political polemics and progressive programmes in favour of a consensual approach to liberal-democratic consensus. In the late 1970s, Sollers himself rallied to the new philosophers’ stance of intellectual dissidence, entailing a ‘rejection of the very idea of a project and of the idea of a collective group called Tel Quel’ (ffrench, 1995, 235). Across Europe, even stridently militant (p.93) journals such as the New Left Review undertook such transformations when faced with the collapse of the USSR, the inauguration of the American New World Order and the pessimism of the conjuncture of 1989. As Duncan Thompson notes, the ‘abandonment of a driving political project’ led editor Perry Anderson towards a new ‘pluralism’ without the ‘presumption of any automatic agreement’ (2007, 158). An open format and a rejection of vanguardism and dogmatism were widespread responses to the wider intellectual disorientation experienced in the face of an unopposed global liberalism, and so the innovative pluralism suggested by the name Lignes was also a symptom of the era’s ideological confusion. This reactive pluralism was replaced by a more tightly militant stance for some intellectuals as they detected a movement out of the ‘1989’ conjuncture: in France, the social movements of 1995 marked the start of this process, and chapters 4 and 6 will document the more active politicisation of Lignes in response. Surya has admitted that Lignes sometimes became the position that it did not want to be (LNS.23–24.2007, 20). With the review’s intellectual heritage mapped, the following chapter turns towards its first series to demonstrate how, in contact with current events, other intellectuals and rival reviews, the coagulation of such a position began to take place.


(1) The French editorial board was made up of Blanchot, Mascolo, Antelme, Maurice Nadeau, Roland Barthes and Louis-René des Forêts; Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Uwe Johnson, Gunther Grass, Ingeborg Bachmann and Martin Walser were the German contingent; and in Italy, Elio Vittorini, Italo Calvino, Francesco Leonetti, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Alberto Moravia. Iris Murdoch was contacted to find contributors from England, Richard Seaver in the US and Leszek Kolakowski in Poland.