While the Sixties were in France the years of the system and of the structures, those of hyper-theoreticalism, in which the subject was considered without identity as dependent on the social or psychic structures to which he was subjected, in the second part in the seventies the landscape suddenly changes: the structures are canceled, the system no longer acts; we are witnessing the return of the actor, of the subject, of the individual. With the revolutionary hopes gone and the state-providence entered into crisis, the liberals resume the initiative, and the modern, modernity ends up coinciding with the forms of democracy, with the individual. We are faced with a new individualism.
In this context, literature changes direction. The writer is alone: ”incalculable, unstable, varied, irreducible like literature itself” (Sollers). In this sense, the late 1970s and 1980s could be defined as ” beyond the theory principle ”. The traditional theory / literature relationship is overturned on its own foundations. At one time it was philosophy that occupied the sovereign place, now it is the theorists and philosophers who feel in the face of literature, or more precisely in the face of fictional writing, a sort of lack and imperfection: contemporary theorists, from M. Foucault to J. Derrida to R. Barthes and J. Lacan, express a sort of active nostalgia for literature, and tend, as in an asymptote,
They perceive that the traditional language of “goodwill” theory and philosophy, as Proust called it, excludes or is unable to reach on its own some realities that have begun to make their importance felt (” the unconscious ”, ” the body ”, ” the game ”, etc.), and with which the literary language is instead in direct communication. It is a privilege of literature to ” do ” directly, that is, not to make plans but to fulfill oneself in oneself, in the ” plaisir ” of oneself (Barthes).
According to PHILOSOPHYNEARBY, the iron law that in the 1960s governed the relationships between the key concepts of L. Althusser’s Marxist theory, those of Lacan’s psychoanalysis and those of semiology as a new science, etc., quickly moved away. And this distancing continues and deepens, at the beginning of the Eighties, in what will be the last writings of Barthes and Foucault.
A sort of theoretical melancholy seems to emanate both from the essay La chambre claire. Note sur la photographie by Barthes on photography, published a month before his death (March 1980; it., 1980), and from Foucault’s last work (he died in June 1984, and the second and third volumes of Histoire de la sexualité, on the meaning of sex in antiquity, l ‘ Usage des plaisirs [trad. It., 1985 3 ] and Le souci de soi [trad. it., 1985] come out then). In both cases, the conceptual ardor – that necessary for undertakings that had taken on certain totalizing phases (for a certain period, for example, Barthes had nourished the dream of a new science of signs) – gives way to attention reflective, to the calmness of a disenchanted gaze in many respects (“pessimist” as Foucault said in his latest texts, and at the same time “activist”). The last message, in these two creators of theoretical reflection, is that of ” attention to the individual ”; and this expresses one of the fundamental and precious aspects of their activity: the anti-dogmatic function. Foucault reads in historical discontinuity a lesson in relativity and, at the same time, a solicitation to go beyond thought. Analyzing the importance of ethics in the ancient world, he also ends up highlighting “the absence of ethics” in today’s liberation movements, founded as they are on “a purportedly scientific knowledge of the self, of the unconscious, of desire “. Underlining the “aesthetics of existence” of the ancients, he proposes to replace, in contemporary ethics, the notion of “authenticity” with that of “creativity”.
Moreover, this last period of French literature is also the one that will have most clearly contributed to drawing retrospectively, behind the official French twentieth century described by literary histories (that of the great universally recognized protagonists and established schools), a more complex, more dark and problematic, whose architects worked for a long time in isolation and with total disregard of the immediate effect, in the sole concern of exploring a line that for decades may have seemed alien to the progress of the time.
This effect of displaced, delayed knowledge can also be seen in the case of the late diffusion of Lacan’s work, known only in the 1960s, with the publication of the Ecrits (1966; trans. It., 1974, in 2 vols.), While his researches and his teaching in the field of psychoanalysis (the “ return to Freud ”, operated as a return to texts and the incidence of in the field of the unconscious: “the unconscious is structured like a language”) had already lasted for several decades, forming and influencing, through the seminars of Sainte Anne which they attended regularly, many of the intellectuals who would later establish themselves (M. Foucault, P. Veyne, etc.).