Sylvère Lotringer Obituary | Philosophy books


It was the misfortune, or perhaps the privilege, of critic, writer and professor Sylvère Lotringer, who died at the age of 83, to be known above all not as the man who launched postmodern French theory in America. , but for his supporting role in his second wife’s film. 1997 semi-fictional epistolary memoir on his erotic obsession with another man.

In I Love Dick, which later became an Amazonian series with Griffin Dunne as Lotringer, the French professor goes on sabbatical to California, accompanied by his wife Chris Kraus, an experimental filmmaker, who falls in love with the eponymous academic, on the model of the British critic Dick Hebdige. Lotringer joins the correspondence, signing himself in a letter as Charles Bovary, thus presenting himself as a cuckolded husband to Emma Bovary and Dick as her lover Leon Dupuis.

The couple invite Dick to join in what amounts to a postmodern art project that blurs fiction and reality. The project would consist of pasting the letters of the correspondence on his car and around his house. “It seems like a step towards the divisive performing art that you encourage,” Lotringer wrote to Dick at one point. In fact, Hebdige published cease and desist letters unsuccessfully.

Kraus and Lotringer made the book known by reading excerpts from their letters to Dick on radio broadcasts, never calling the correspondence fictional but rather the letters fictional: they were, they explained, piercing false vanity. literature that protected the author’s privacy. The I Love Dick project was French postmodern theory in action, as the couple saw it as akin to the feminist art-stalking projects of postmodernist artist Sophie Calle, who was a student of Jean Baudrillard. Baudrillard, for his part, was one of the philosophers Lotringer introduced to the United States and with whom he collaborated on several books.

Lotringer was founding editor-in-chief in 1974 of the postmodern theoretical journal and the publishing house Semiotext (e), which enabled Lotringer to work, as he puts it, as a “foreign agent provocateur” bringing together French theory and contemporary American art in a fruitful collaboration. The project did not always go well. In 1975, he organized a conference, Schizo-culture, in New York, during which French postmodernist and poststructuralist philosophers met for the first time American artists, as well as radical political groups including the Black Panthers.

Michel Foucault gave a lecture on repression, while John Cage performed the random play Empty Words. But fights broke out, orators insulted each other and Foucault was accused from the prosecution of being a CIA agent. The psychoanalyst Félix Guattari announced just before his panel: “I am the president of this panel and I abolish this panel”, then left. And yet this conference and Semiotext (e), Lotringer’s two ideas, profoundly changed American intellectual and artistic cultures, for better or for worse.

Lotringer was born in Paris to Polish Jewish immigrants, Doba (née Borenstein) and Cudek Lotringer, who ran a fur store. Sylvère and her older sister, Yvonne, were the only Jewish students in their school. After enduring the Nazi occupation of Paris, the Lotringers emigrated to Tel Aviv in the new state of Israel in 1949.

There Sylvere joined Hashomer Hatzair, a socialist-Zionist youth movement and experienced life in a kibbutz called Bar Am. “[We] shared everything… Socialism was a reality, ”he recalled. It was a collective romance that he sought to recapture later in his life. He and his family returned to Paris and, after graduating from Lycée Jacques Decour, he was studying for a license (1962) and a master’s (1963) in comparative literature from the Sorbonne.

He then enrolled at the École Pratique des Hautes Etudes, where he studied with Lucien Goldmann and Roland Barthes. His doctoral thesis, defended in 1967 and written with the help of Leonard Woolf, whom he met during his research in Great Britain, and following conversations with Clive Bell, TS Eliot and Vita Sackville-West, was titled: Virginia Woolf: From the Death of Values ​​to the Values ​​of Death (“From the Death of Values ​​to the Values ​​of Death”).

“I got my doctorate as a way to postpone the project,” Lotringer said. “Algeria was our Vietnam, and I didn’t really want to be sent there. Indeed, at the Sorbonne, he had led student demonstrations against the colonial war in France.

Lotringer taught for two years (1965 to 1967) for the French government cultural services in Turkey. He went to the United States in 1969 to become an assistant professor of French at Swarthmore College, in Pennsylvania, before joining the faculty of comparative literature at Columbia University in New York in 1972. Although he taught there until when he retired in 2009, he claimed to find universities. more and more stultifying: “The student rebellion lasted only four years [past] and nobody dared [mention] there is none left.

Founding Semiotext (e) was a liberation. He recalled that one of the first issues of the review focused on art and madness: “trying to thwart the madness of capitalism by going further. This is what we have been doing ever since. ”

In the late 1970s, Lotringer began wearing a studded leather jacket and hanging out with his students on punk shows at CBGB and SoHo. He followed Baudrillard in opposing until the end of his life the idea that the revolution against capitalism was possible; rather, it is necessary to develop what they call “fatal strategies”. “There is no other side of capitalism, it is everywhere,” Lotringer said. “Cut a tentacle off the monster and the others grow faster on the other limbs.” Capitalism is creeping inside us too, for better and for worse, and we must continue to push its creative energy in other directions, avoiding reduction to trade and self-interest.

Lotringer and Kraus, his second wife, whom he married in 1988, separated in 2005 and later divorced. Her first marriage, to translator Lucienne Binet, also ended in divorce. He is survived by his third wife, artist Iris Klein, whom he married in 2014; by his daughter Mia, from a previous relationship with Susie Flato, co-founder of Semiotext (e); and by two grandchildren, Jonah and Nico.

Sylvère Lotringer, critic, writer and theorist, born October 15, 1938; passed away on November 8, 2021