Indo-European Thought in Twentieth-Century France update 12: working in some UK archives; Benveniste’s EPHE teaching; some talks on the research

After the last update a friend contacted me with some valuable information – about an archive which was already on my list of ones to try to visit when in the United States next year, but should certainly now be a priority.

I’ve not been able to get back to Paris this month, so have been mainly working at home or UK libraries and archives that can be day trips. One was the University of Reading, to look at the George Allen & Unwin archives they have in the Museum of English Rural Life. This gave an interesting insight into how some of the work I’m looking at was first translated into English or in many cases not translated, as there were several projects declined. All were translated eventually. The trip was more complicated than I’d initially thought – as the train line between Coventry and Reading was part-closed. It was only a few documents to consult, so I spent more time travelling than looking at things, but still worthwhile.

I must have walked past hundreds of times, but I finally walked through the door of the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick. It has extensive collections for trade unions and political associations, but no obvious collections relevant to my previous projects. I made an initial visit to look at some French correspondence in the Eric Hobsbawm papers, and may go back for some other things. (I’ve read Richard Evans’s biography of Hobsbawm recently.) Somewhat tangential to my project, but it’s minutes from my office, so it seemed worthwhile to at least have a look. They also have Gillian Rose’s papers, and her library is part of the main Warwick collection. Given the number of books I’ve looked at which come from her library, I’d be surprised if there was nothing useful in her papers. So, that’s hopefully something for a future visit.

I also made an initial visit to two archival collections in Cambridge – one University, one private. John Brough’s papers are the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies library, and Harold W. Bailey’s at the Ancient India and Iran Trust. Both were professors of Sanskrit at the University, Brough succeeding Bailey. Bailey’s papers were the more useful, and I’ll try to go back for another visit. The main thing I was looking at is the correspondence between Bailey and Émile Benveniste. Benveniste examined Bailey’s DPhil in 1933, before he had his own doctorate, but they kept in contact for decades. Brough is most of interest to me for some critical pieces he wrote on Georges Dumézil.

I also had a few days in London, mainly working at the British Library, but also going back to UCL’s library for the first time in years, as they have what I think is the only UK copy of a book by Dumézil in Italian – Jupiter, Mars, Quirinus. What’s interesting about this is that it is not a translation of a single book – Dumézil wrote four books in a series of that title – but contains most of the first two books of that series, a sizable part of another book outside that series, and a part of volume IV. I say a bit more about what it contains here, though I still have a couple of questions which I’ll need to check on a future visit.

In the wider work, one interesting thread I followed was the story of what Émile Benveniste did during the second world war. He was mobilised at the start of the war, became a prisoner of war two days before the surrender, but escaped the Frontstalag, moved to the free zone, and later crossed into Switzerland, where a former student, Jean de Menasce, helped find him work as a university librarian. One question is which ancient language he used to correspond clandestinely with the student, now a Catholic priest. Sogdian is one possibility, Pahlavi another. Sogdian would be almost too perfect, given the way I begin my discussion of Benveniste, but Pahlavi seems much more likely. Looking into this story has suggested some more archives which I’d like to consult, one in Paris, one possibly in Switzerland, and perhaps one in the USA.

I also spent some time working through the records of Benveniste’s teaching at the École pratique des hautes études. Reports on the courses taught in both of his subject areas (Comparative Grammar and Iranian languages) are provided in the Annuaire, which is all available online, but I’ve compiled all of these into a single document which will be a useful reference tool. It’s particularly useful when working in the archives to have a place with all this information.I’d already done this for Dumézil, and for both of them with their teaching at the Collège de France. (I say a bit about that in an earlier update.) It helps me to see connections to publications, and it’s also interesting to see the names of those who attended their classes. It also clarifies the periods during the war when both were not teaching, for very different reasons.

One of the benefits of a research fellowship is that I can follow interesting leads where they take me, rather than having to be more restrictive in focus. But it can also take me down long detours – reading about one person, and their relations with another, so read about the other, and follow up on their connections to another person, and so on, taking me further and further away from what I was, or should be, doing. The most recent example of this was that Benveniste gave the first series of Ratanbai Katrak lectures in Paris in 1926, delivered in French, but published only in English as The Persian Religion According to the Chief Greek Texts. The next two Paris lecture series were given by Henrik Samuel Nyberg and Arthur Christiansen. De Menasce gave a series after the war, as did Dumézil’s former student Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin. But the lectures were also given in Oxford, with the first by Louis H. Gray, and then by Harold W. Bailey and Walter B. Henning. I don’t know much about Gray and Christiansen, but all of the others feature in at least a minor way in the story I’m telling. But it took a bit of digging around to find out the early sequence of lectures, especially the year delivered and title, and they are all published but often in quite obscure outlets. Some of the books are available at or similar, but others are a bit harder to find. The lectures still take place, with the ninth Oxford series by Alberto Cantera currently underway.

I say a bit about the work of Marie-Louise Sjoestedt on Celtic languages and mythology here, and about Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Fondation Loubat lectures here.

I also spoke a bit about this research at the Translation and the Archive in the Continental Tradition workshop in London on 19 May, though there I mainly spoke about Lefebvre and Foucault. The talks were supposed to be recorded but unfortunately there was a technical problem which means that didn’t work. I did record my own talk on my phone so I’ll try to clean up the recording and share if anyone is interested. I’ll next be speaking about the Indo-European research to the Warwick Seminar for Interdisciplinary French Studies on 31 May. The focus will be on the period immediately after the war. It’s an online event, open to anyone interested, and details are here.

Previous updates on this project can be found here, along with links to some research resources and forthcoming publications, including the reedition of Dumézil’s Mitra-Varuna. There is a lot more about the earlier Foucault work here. The final volume, The Archaeology of Foucault, is now out worldwide. The special issue of Theory, Culture & Society I co-edited on “Foucault before the Collège de France” is available open access for a limited time. There are some video abstracts here.

Posted in Claude Lévi-Strauss, Emile Benveniste, Eric Hobsbawm, Georges Dumézil, Gillian Rose, Henri Lefebvre, Indo-European Thought, Michel Foucault, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

François Krug, Réactions françaises: Enquête sur l’extrême droite littéraire – Seuil, March 2023

François Krug, Réactions françaises: Enquête sur l’extrême droite littéraire – Seuil, March 2023

Ils sont trois visages et trois têtes de gondole de la littérature française : Michel Houellebecq, Sylvain Tesson, ou encore Yann Moix. Des parcours différents, mais un point commun, ignoré de leurs lecteurs.
Dans l’ombre, tous ont été, et sont restés, des « compagnons de route » de l’extrême droite. Cette enquête sur l’itinéraire de ces trois « stars », révèle comment s’est constitué une coterie littéraire très réactionnaire où se côtoient, depuis les années 1990, de petits et de grands écrivains, des éditeurs, des journalistes, des animateurs TV et des idéologues peu fréquentables. 
C’est l’histoire d’une génération qui, par goût de la provocation, mépris de son époque ou pure conviction, a franchi la ligne rouge – ou plutôt, brune.
Sait-on que Michel Houellebecq n’a jamais cessé de prendre sous son aile des royalistes de l’Action française puis des blogueurs stars de la « fachosphère » jusqu’aux dirigeants de Valeurs actuelles ? Sait-on que Sylvain Tesson, l’écrivain-voyageur, a fait ses débuts sur Radio Courtoisie, la station d’extrême droite ? Que son premier voyage, un tour du monde à vélo, se fit sous l’égide d’une association d’anciens de l’Algérie française et du FN ? Qu’il entretient des liens étroits avec la Nouvelle Droite ? Sait-on que les liens de Yann Moix avec des antisémites et même des négationnistes ont été plus étroits qu’il ne veut le dire ? Que ses douteux amis ont joué un rôle dans ses plus grands succès ? 
Une enquête implacable sur les dessous d’une histoire méconnue. 

François Krug est journaliste indépendant. Il collabore régulièrement au Monde et à son magazine M, après avoir été journaliste politique et d’investigation pour le site Rue89. Il est coauteur de Benalla et moi (Seuil, 2020).

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Achille Mbembe and Felwine Sarr eds, To Write the Africa World and The Politics of Time: Imagining African Becomings – Polity 2023

Achille Mbembe & Felwine Sarr eds, To Write the Africa World – Polity 2023, trans. Drew Burk

In October 2016, thirty intellectuals and artists from Africa, its diasporas, and beyond gathered together in Dakar and Saint-Louis, Senegal, to reflect on the present and future of Africa in the midst of transformations that are sweeping through the contemporary world. The aim was to take stock of the renewal of Afro-diasporic critical thought and to discuss the new perspectives emerging from the ongoing projects constructing political, cultural, and social imaginaries for and from the African continent. 

This book brings together and makes available to the English-speaking world the material presented at the 2016 Ateliers de la pensée – Workshops of Thought – in Dakar. The authors deal with a wide range of issues, including decolonization, the development of social utopias, and the pursuit of new forms of political, economic, and social production on the African continent. Running throughout is a constant concern to interrogate the categories and frames of meaning that have served to characterize the dynamics of the African continent and a shared desire to produce new frames of intelligibility through which to see Africa’s present realities and its future. The contributions also attest to the view that there is no African question that is not also a global question, and that the Africanization of the global question will be a decisive feature of the twenty-first century.

To Write the Africa World and its companion volume The Politics of Time will be indispensable for anyone interested in Africa – its past, present, and future – and in the new forms of critical thought emerging from Africa and the Global South.

Achille Mbembe & Felwine Sarr eds, The Politics of Time: Imagining African Becomings – Polity 2023, trans. Philip Gerard

As we enter the third decade of the twenty-first century, the world is undergoing a major historical shift: Africa, and the Global South more generally, is increasingly becoming a principal theatre in which the future of the planet plays itself out. But not only this: Africa is at the same time emerging as one of the great laboratories for novel forms of social, economic, political, intellectual, cultural, and artistic life. Often arising in unexpected places, these new forms of life materialize in practices that draw deeply from collective memory while simultaneously assuming distinctly contemporary, even futuristic, guises.

In November 2017, the second session of the Ateliers de la pensée – Workshops of Thought – was held in Dakar, Senegal. Fifty African and diasporic intellectuals and artists participated and their debates unfolded along numerous thematic lines, approached from the standpoints of many different disciplines. This volume is the result of that encounter. Among the many topics discussed were the concurrence and entanglement of multiple temporalities, the politics of life in the Anthropocene, the project of decolonization, and the preservation and transmission of different ways of knowing. At a time when the world is haunted by the specter of its own end, the contributors to this volume ask whether one can, by taking Africa as a point of departure, seize hold of other options for the future – not only for Africa, but for the world. 

The Politics of Time and its companion volume, To Write the Africa World, will be indispensable works for anyone interested in Africa – its past, present, and future – and in the new forms of critical thought emerging from Africa and the Global South.

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Stefan Kipfer, Urban Revolutions: Urbanisation and (Neo-)Colonialism in Transatlantic Context – Brill, September 2022; paperback Haymarket September 2023

Stefan Kipfer, Urban Revolutions: Urbanisation and (Neo-)Colonialism in Transatlantic Context – Brill, September 2022

A paperback is forthcoming from Haymarket in September 2023

What do struggles over pipelines in Canada, housing estates in France, and shantytowns in Martinique have in common? In Urban Revolutions, Stefan Kipfer shows how these struggles force us to understand the (neo-)colonial aspects of capitalist urbanization in a comparatively and historically nuanced fashion. In so doing, he demonstrates that urban research can offer a rich, if uneven, terrain upon which to develop the relationship between Marxist and anti-colonial intellectual traditions. After a detailed dialogue between Henri Lefebvre and Frantz Fanon, Kipfer engages creole literature in the French Antilles, Indigenous radicalism in North America and political anti-racism in mainland France.

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Maurice Blanchot, Notes sur Heidegger, ed. Étienne Pinat – Éditions Kime, 2023

Maurice Blanchot, Notes sur Heidegger, ed. Étienne Pinat – Éditions Kime, 2023

Doesn’t seem to gave a publisher page yet, but listed here.

Dans une lettre de 1987, Maurice Blanchot revient dans un post-scriptum essentiel sur son rapport à l’œuvre du philosophe : « Grâce à Emmanuel Levinas, sans qui, dès 1927 ou 1928, je n’aurais pu commencer à entendre Sein und Zeit, c’est un véritable choc intellectuel que la lecture de ce livre provoqua en moi. Un événement de première grandeur venait de se produire : impossible de l’atténuer, même aujourd’hui, même dans mon souvenir » . Ce choc intellectuel se produit quelques années avant le commencement de l’œuvre critique de Blanchot et demeure en sa force jusqu’à la fin. Si, du vivant de l’auteur, le lecteur avait pu voir le nom de Heidegger réapparaître dans bien des articles, ce qui lui permettait de savoir cet intérêt, c’est seulement la mort de l’auteur qui révéla, dans ses archives, aujourd’hui déposées à la Houghton Library de Harvard, plus trois cent pages pour l’essentiel tapuscrites du travail que Blanchot aura consacré de la fin des années 40 au début des années 60 à l’étude de l’œuvre de Heidegger et de la maigre bibliographie secondaire alors existante. Excellent germaniste, Blanchot lit tout ce qui paraît en allemand, et se confronte à la difficulté de faire passer en français le travail de Heidegger sur la langue allemande, une lettre inédite de 1959 à un destinataire inconnu révélant que c’est là, à ses yeux, « l’amitié intellectuelle » que nous devons au philosophe.

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Luke Munn, Technical Territories: Data, Subjects, and Spaces in Infrastructural Asia – University of Michigan Press, July 2023 (print & open access)

Luke Munn, Technical Territories: Data, Subjects, and Spaces in Infrastructural Asia – University of Michigan Press, July 2023

Territory is shifting. No longer defined by the dotted line of the border or the national footprint of soil, today’s territories are enacted through data infrastructures. From subsea cables to server halls, these infrastructures underpin new forms of governance, shaping subjects and their everyday lives. Technical Territories moves from masked protestors in Hong Kong to asylum-seekers in Christmas Island and sand miners in Singapore, exploring how these territories are both political and visceral, altering the experience of their inhabitants.

Infrastructures have now become geopolitical, strategic investments that advance national visions, extend influence, and trigger trade wars. Yet at the same time, these technologies also challenge sovereignty as a bounded container, enacting a more distributed and decoupled form of governance. Such “technical territories” construct new zones where subjects are assembled, rights are undermined, labor is coordinated, and capital is extracted. The stable line of the border is replaced by more fluid configurations of power. Luke Munn stages an interdisciplinary intervention over six chapters, drawing upon a wide range of literature from technical documents and activist accounts, and bringing insights from media studies, migration studies, political theory, and cultural and social studies to bear on these new sociotechnical conditions.

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Theory, Culture and Society Special Issue: ‘Foucault Before the Collège de France’ – all papers open access until mid June 2023

Theory, Culture and Society Special Issue: ‘Foucault Before the Collège de France

all papers open access until mid June 2023

co-edited by Stuart Elden, Orazio Irrera and Daniele Lorenzini

The issue includes papers by most of the editors of the early Foucault courses and manuscripts, pieces on Foucault on art, literature and Nietzsche, translations of Foucault, Macherey and several others. All open access for a limited time.

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Thomas Wheatland, The Frankfurt School in Exile – University of Minnesota Press, April 2023

Thomas Wheatland, The Frankfurt School in Exile – University of Minnesota Press, April 2023

Members of the Frankfurt School have had an enormous effect on Western thought, beginning soon after Max Horkheimer became the director of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Frankfurt am Main in 1930. Also known as the Horkheimer Circle, the group included such eminent intellectuals as Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm, Leo Lowenthal, and Friedrich Pollock. Fleeing Nazi oppression, Horkheimer moved the Institute and many of its affiliated scholars to Columbia University in 1934, where it remained until 1950. 

Until now, the conventional portrayal of the Institute has held that its members found refuge by relocating to Columbia but that they had little contact with, or impact on, American intellectual life. With insight and clarity, Thomas Wheatland demonstrates that the standard account is wrong. Based on deep archival research in Germany and in the United States, and on interviews conducted with luminaries such as Daniel Bell, Bernadine Dohrn, Peter Gay, Todd Gitlin, Nathan Glazer, Tom Hayden, Robert Merton, and others, Wheatland skillfully traces the profound connections between the Horkheimer Circle’s members and the intellectual life of the era. Reassessing the group’s involvement with the American New Left in the 1960s, he argues that Herbert Marcuse’s role was misunderstood in shaping the radical student movement’s agenda. More broadly, he illustrates how the Circle influenced American social thought and made an even more dramatic impression on German postwar sociology.

Although much has been written about the Frankfurt School, this is the first book to closely examine the relationship between its members and their American contemporaries. The Frankfurt School in Exile uncovers an important but neglected dimension of the history of the Frankfurt School and adds immeasurably to our understanding of the contributions made by its émigrés to postwar intellectual life.

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Jeffrey J. Cohen and Julian Yates, Noah’s Arkive – University of Minnesota Press, June 2023

Jeffrey J. Cohen and Julian Yates, Noah’s Arkive – University of Minnesota Press, June 2023

Most people know the story of Noah from a children’s bible or a play set with a colorful ship, bearded Noah, pairs of animals, and an uncomplicated vision of survival. Noah’s ark, however, will forever be haunted by what it leaves to the rising waters so that the world can begin again. 

In Noah’s Arkive, Jeffrey J. Cohen and Julian Yates examine the long history of imagining endurance against climate catastrophe—as well as alternative ways of creating refuge. They trace how the elements of the flood narrative were elaborated in medieval and early modern art, text, and music, and now shape writing and thinking during the current age of anthropogenic climate change. Arguing that the biblical ark may well be the worst possible exemplar of human behavior, the chapters draw on a range of sources, from the Epic of Gilgamesh and Ovid’s tale of Deucalion and Pyrrah, to speculative fiction, climate fiction, and stories and art dealing with environmental catastrophe. Noah’s Arkive uncovers the startling afterlife of the Genesis narrative written from the perspective of Noah’s wife and family, the animals on the ark, and those excluded and left behind to die. This book of recovered stories speaks eloquently to the ethical and political burdens of living through the Anthropocene. 

Following a climate change narrative across the millennia, Noah’s Arkive surveys the long history of dwelling with the consequences of choosing only a few to survive in order to start the world over. It is an intriguing meditation on how the story of the ark can frame how we think about environmental catastrophe and refuge, conservation and exclusion, offering hope for a better future by heeding what we know from the past.

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Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Dalia Gebrial discuss prison abolition, racial capitalism, and critical geography – Verso podcast

Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Dalia Gebrial discuss prison abolition, racial capitalism, and critical geography on the Verso podcast:

On the Verso Podcast this week Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Dalia Gebrial join our host, Eleanor Penny, for an eye-opening discussion that uncovers the intricate logic and connections between the prison system, the modern digital platform, and the transformative potential of abolitionist politics.

Subscribe and listen via the links below, and keep your eyes (and ears!) peeled for upcoming episodes from Nancy Fraser, Robin Kelley and Helen Hester.

Read more about the Verso podcast here.

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