“French Theory” is how American humanists qualified the body of work of a great number of 1960s French philosophers. “French Theory” puts under suspicion all and any mental work.
French Theory is an American observation. “French Theory” is not known to the French as such: the expression was born, and thrived, in the USA. Some professors in the USA love it, others hate it (the resulting conflict is called the culture wars).
According to those Americans who defined it, French Theory is supposed to emanate from an impressive assemblage of disparate French philosophers (and, as we will see in a further essay, increasingly desperate). That exotic assemblage is the most surprising part to the French, as many of those philosophers did not agree with each other’s work.
It goes without saying that the herd of physicists whose entire religion is “Shut Up And Calculate” hate “French Theory” with a passion. This went on until they finally understood that hatred from intellectual to intellectual did not serve the honor of the human spirit, nor the intellectual cause, in the eye of the increasingly suspicious public.
“French Theory” was influenced (in my idiosyncratic opinion) by a formidable array of deep thinkers: Sade, Herder, Hugo, Nietzsche. According to them, following even earlier authors such as Julius Caesar (who walked the talk, or rather fought his way through), much human psychology is explained by the “Will To Power”. “French theory” insists that much social and institutional organizations, theories, and countless “truths” are truly all about the will to power. Society, its institutions, works, and art, come to be viewed as a generalized calculus of power.
The principal architects of French Theory are:
Louis Althusser , Jean Baudrillard, Simone de Beauvoir, Hélène Cixous, Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Félix Guattari, Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, Jacques Lacan, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Jean-François Lyotard, Jacques Rancière, Monique Wittig. I would add to this traditional list Alain Badiou.
What does “French Theory” see? Not just suspicious motives all over. Not just suspicious structures all over. Suspicious neurology all over.
When The Will to Power Darkens Black Holes:
A particularly controversial aspect of “French Theory” has been its suspicion of established science.
Let me give a sharp personal example of French Theory in action: when I exposed to some of the best Black Hole theorists in the world, that Black Holes, by a particular strand of logic, ought to drop out of the universe gravitationally, I was teasing them (out of their self-satisfied complacency). From that particular point of view (which is what theory means in Greek), which I rolled out, Black Hole theory leaves much to be desired.
If those gentlemen had been sincerely interested primarily by the science, they ought to have engaged me in a passionate debate. Instead, they ignored the subject, after showing signs of impotent rage. Why? All what those famous brains could feel, and see, was that their position is society was compromised by my idiotic theory.
My theory was idiotic, because, should it become widely known, it may have compromised the standing of Black Hole theory, hence of Black Hole theorists, in the eyes of the public. Should my observation disseminate, those worthies were in danger, those sacred monsters, to turn, in the public eye, from great gurus, mysterious oracles, to uncomprehending toddlers. Thus it was safer to ignore the problem altogether, while giving a warning that it ought not to be broached again, with a discrete show of deep rage. So Black Hole theorists kept on thinking of Black Holes as gathering geodesics, a very classical picture.
This personal example (and I came across a few others) told me that, for many of these professors who are household names, social standing was more important than real understanding. If anything, I have come across way worse since: watch economists ignoring plutocracy and the banking system, when they ponder what’s wrong with the world socioeconomy.
The Will to Power is all over learning, and sometimes, it reduces to the will to money. Academic editions sell books at outrageous prices, which nobody can afford… except the taxpayer supported libraries. And in the USA (followed by the UK) private or pseudo-public “universities” universally serve the richest class, by providing taxpayer supported exclusive education to the very few.
And so on. Black Hole theory may not be clear, but the Dark Side is pretty transparent. By making the will to power in all the metaphysics that counts, it reduces humanity to a crab basket, solving all problems in one stroke. Indeed, what do crabs know about problem? Nothing. Thus, no problem!