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Ilya Kalinin, professeur invité ENS
Conférences le 16 et 23 janvier 2019

par Astrid Mazabraud - publié le , mis à jour le

École normale supérieure
Mercredi 16 et 23 janvier de 17h30 à 19h30
45 rue d’Ulm, Salle Celan,

(Les conférences seront données en anglais)

French Theory and it’s Russian Prehistory

The concept of “French Theory” has become deeply embedded in the analytical lexicon of the humanities. The establishment of this intellectual formation, its transition from the Structuralist to the Post-Structuralist phase, and its later influence on the development of humanistic inquiry across the world (especially in the USA), have been well studied. However, considerably less attention has been devoted to the question of the role of theoretical conceptions that arose in Russia in the 1920s-1930s (primarily articulated by V. Shklovsky, B. Eichenbaum, Y. Tynianov, R. Jakobson, S. Eisenstein, D. Vertov and V. Propp) in the development of French humanistic thought of the 1960s-1970s. Within this domain, only a few isolated cases and episodes have been widely recognized : the appearance of translations of the Russian Formalists and of Mikhail Bakhtin (thanks to the efforts of J. Kristeva and T. Todorov) ; the collaborative analysis of Charles Baudelaire’s “Les Chats” by C. Lévi-Strauss and R. Jakobson ; Lévi-Strauss’ introduction to Propp’s Morphology of the Folk Tale, in which the French anthropologist named the Soviet literary scholar as a precursor to Structuralism. Yet the true history of the often unnoticed or unrecognized presence of these conceptual legacies in the French humanistic tradition has yet to be written. Reconstruction of this history reveals extraordinarily intriguing and unexpected trajectories, connecting together the two theoretical contexts (French and Russian). This is not only a history of reception, arising from a specific choice of texts for translation and the reconfiguration of ideas in a new theoretical context. Additionally, it is the story of the creative re-reading of the texts selected for translation—both productive in its own right and distorting of the original. Further, it is a story about how certain of the Russian scholars’ ideas (for instance, the principle of “making strange” or defamiliarization) turned out to be cardinally useful for French humanistic thought (for instance, in the early works of R. Barthes), yet were simultaneously stripped of all traces of their origin. Finally, this is a story about the homology in structure and meaning, quite apart from any genealogical interconnection, between the theoretical programs that arose in Russia in the 1920s and France in the 1960s-1970s in their entirety—a homology that may be explained by reference to the similar cultural-historical and political agendas of, on one hand, the cultural revolution in Russia, and on the other, the revolutionary processes preceding and following 1968 in France. In particular, I am articulating a novel archeology of knowledge, tracing the at times self-evident and at other times subterranean intellectual legacies of the theoretical debates of early Soviet Russia.

  • 1-Brecht, Barthe, Shklovsky : Verfremdungseffekt, defamiliarization, Mythologies

It is well known that Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt exerted a significant influence on Roland Barthe’s early “Marxist-semiotic analysis,” as presented primarily in his Mythologies. Yet the articulation of Brecht’s concept was itself deeply influenced, in turn, by the principle of “making strange” or “defamiliarization,” formulated by Shklovsky. In this manner, one may map out a linkage, of which the French scholar was himself not aware, connecting his works with the early works of the Russian Formalists.

  • 2. Kristeva between Russian Formalists and M. Bakhtin : paradoxes of misreading

Kristeva’s critical reading of the works of the Russian Formalists, which she set in opposition to Bakhtin’s ideas on dialogism, the polyphonic novel and carnival culture. This was a highly significant episode, given that Formalism was already interpreted at this moment as the precursor of Structuralism, and Kristeva sought to supersede the latter in her development towards Post-Structuralism. In consequence, she articulated an intentionally reductionist reading of the Formalists’ works in order to inscribe them within the domain of a classical poetics of reflection—a domain that was, in fact, an object of Formalist critique, just as it was for Kristeva herself. Nevertheless, quite apart from her production of a negative interpretation of Russian Formalism, ultimately, her reading of Bakhtin’s works was deeply productive, making possible her derivation of the concepts of intertextuality and écriture.

  • 3-Cultural Revolutions 1918-1928-1968 One of the main topics of theoretical discussions following 1968 was the question, posed by Michel Foucault, of the formative role of discourse—of its regulating effect whose action extends not only to the structure of the message, but to the speaker him or herself. The shift in optics that Foucault accomplished, made it possible not only to see discourse as а medium of power, but as power itself, power that produces the identity of those who use or gain access to use of this discourse. This seminar unit concerns to the deep homology between M. Foucault’s and G. Deleuze’s understanding (primarily in their dialogue on “Intellectuals and Power”) of a new relationship between theory (discourse) and practice and the debates among left theorists of the Cultural Revolution in Soviet Russia (primarily those of the LEF group—S. Tretyakov, N. Chuzhak, and V. Shklovsky). Foucault and Deleuze’s main thesis in this text is that the masses’ actual experience of struggle (of labor process, of everyday practices ) enables them to know their situation much better than any intellectual ; moreover, it enables them to express this situation much better than the intellectuals. We faced to the same argument in the period of Soviet Cultural Revolution. According to the conceptions of LEF, the worker was supposed to acquire a voice and become a “writer,” creatively appropriating and renewing his native language of production and transforming his own position (profession, workplace, practice) into a launch-pad for the new discursive regime.