Several members of the French Department have recently expressed concern that Cambridge’s subscription to the journal Lignes (classmark : L700.c.386) had lapsed. Thanks to the efforts of our supplier in Paris, we have just succeeded in bringing our holdings up to date. Doctoral candidate Adrian May explains why this title is so significant.
Lignes, founded in 1987 and still publishing today, is a French intellectual revue, a thrice-yearly, para-academic periodical publication in whose pages contemporary and heated debates on philosophy, politics, art and literature are played out. Directed by the Georges Bataille specialist Michel Surya, Lignes is one of the only publications to carry on the legacy of the ‘French theory’ generation of the 1960s and 1970s, which propelled the likes of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes to international fame.
That the revue has survived for twenty-five years, regularly appearing despite an increasingly difficult publishing climate, is in itself a testimony to the value of Lignes’ analyses and the unique position it occupies in French intellectual circles. This extended lifespan also makes it an incredibly useful witness of French politics, society and culture throughout this period. Recent issues document intellectual responses to events such as the Arab Spring, the riots in the Paris suburbs, the financial crisis, the proliferation of immigrant retention centres, and the expulsion of Romani populations from the French territory. From their own relatively stable position to the left of the Socialist Party, Lignes chronicles the mutations of French political life from the 1980s to the present day, providing researchers with an excellent historical record of the debates elicited as European governments struggle to balance rising economic pressures and structural unemployment with resurgent nationalist movements and a new international context after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Lignes also deliberately carries out a pedagogical and archival mission, devoting issues to misunderstood or under-represented thinkers in which unpublished or forgotten essays, letters and documents are collected, contextualised and discussed to emphasise their contemporary relevance. Dossiers on the likes of Dionys Mascolo (1916-1997), David Rousset (1912-1997) and Daniel Bensaïd (1946-2010) have subsequently become invaluable resources for intellectual historians attempting to elucidate the complex relationship between politics and thought in France throughout the twentieth-century. Their book collection has allowed them to extend this activity, making widely available important minor texts such as Foucault’s famous text on heterotopic spaces, and the Anti-Oedipus Papers (translated in 2006), the letters which explicitly demonstrate the significant contribution of Félix Guattari to the joint works he published with Gilles Deleuze in the 1970s, the latter more commonly thought of as these seminal texts’ principal author. Such archival research, begun under the auspices of the Lignes editorial team, has led to publications and translations of international significance which continue to have relevance to scholarship in the arts and humanities.
The revue also has particular links to the University of Cambridge. Martin Crowley, Reader of Modern French Thought and Culture at Queens College, has published two books in their monograph series: Robert Antelme, l’humanité irréductible (2004) and L’Homme sans, politiques de la finitude (2009). The former, the first monograph in French devoted to Robert Antelme (1917-1990), continues Lignes’ intellectual history work, signalling the importance of Antelme’s writings for later, more established figures such as Derrida and Jean-Luc Nancy. The latter is Crowley’s own intervention in current French philosophical debates, revolving around the articulation of an appropriate, non-exclusive political solidarity with a post-humanist ontology. Crowley has also published five articles in Lignes to date, including one in the most recent issue devoted to the renowned French writer Maurice Blanchot, and is a member of the editorial board. Furthermore Adrian May, a doctoral candidate in the French department, is currently completing his thesis on the revue, which will establish the importance of Lignes over the last twenty-five years whilst providing a new perspective on French intellectual life in general into the twenty-first century. Whilst much scholarship has been carried out on previously influential revues such as Les Temps modernes and Tel Quel, few studies have focused on the contemporary period, with many assuming that intellectual activity in France had waned. Lignes is therefore the perfect example to demonstrate the continued vibrancy and interest of contemporary intellectual engagement on the continent.
The completion of the University Library’s holdings of Lignes is, then, a significant and welcome addition to the archives. For more information on the revue itself, along with its extensive monograph collection, readers are advised to visit http://www.editions-lignes.com.
Guest author: Adrian May