Cover of Transparency in Postwar France by Stefanos Geroulanos
Transparency in Postwar France
A Critical History of the Present
Stefanos Geroulanos


September 2017
520 pages.
from $30.00

Cloth ISBN: 9780804799744
Paper ISBN: 9781503604599
Digital ISBN: 9781503603417

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This book returns to a time and place when the concept of transparency was met with deep suspicion. It offers a panorama of postwar French thought where attempts to show the perils of transparency in politics, ethics, and knowledge led to major conceptual inventions, many of which we now take for granted.

Between 1945 and 1985, academics, artists, revolutionaries, and state functionaries spoke of transparency in pejorative terms. Associating it with the prying eyes of totalitarian governments, they undertook a critical project against it—in education, policing, social psychology, economic policy, and the management of information. Focusing on Sartre, Lacan, Canguilhem, Lévi-Strauss, Leroi-Gourhan, Foucault, Derrida, and others, Transparency in Postwar France explores the work of ethicists, who proposed that individuals are transparent neither to each other nor to themselves, and philosophers, who clamored for new epistemological foundations. These decades saw the emergence of the colonial and phenomenological "other," the transformation of ideas of normality, and the effort to overcome Enlightenment-era humanisms and violence in the name of freedom. These thinkers' innovations remain centerpieces for any resistance to contemporary illusions that tolerate or enable power and social coercion.

About the author

Stefanos Geroulanos is Associate Professor of European History and Director of the Center for International Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences at New York University. He is the author of An Atheism that Is Not Humanist Emerges in French Thought (Stanford, 2010).

"This expansive and original book sheds important new light on the thought of the trente glorieuses as profoundly preoccupied with opacity and otherness. Geroulanos communicates the deep ethical and political commitments that motivated these philosophical and social investigations, underscoring why the French thought that emerged in this period still matters."

—Judith Surkis, Rutgers University

"With elegance and rigor, Geroulanos traces the evolution of the concept of transparency in postwar France in fields ranging from philosophy and film to psychoanalysis, medicine, and social history. Interweaving original archival research with careful close readings, this extremely impressive semiotic history challenges us to think about texts, their contexts, and our present in fascinating new ways."

—Camille Robcis, Cornell University

"Essential for understanding the problems we face in the digital age with regard to new forms of exposure, Geroulanos's masterful account of postwar thought inaugurates a new style of semiotic history and provides a necessary propaedeutic to a revaluation of our current ideals of transparency and openness."

—Bernard Harcourt, Columbia University

"Transparency, as examined here, has more to do with mechanisms a society or individuals deploy for self-reassurance, self-justification, and political and moral order. Piercing through transparency in a critical manner requires active perceptual shifts that re-engineer long-established collective ways of seeing and thinking. As such, Geroulanos's ambition for producing a critical history of the present equally lets us ponder en transparence the obscure legacy of the Enlightenment and Western modernity....Transparency in Postwar France is a captivating read, which bears resonance with our present times in so many ways and in contexts that exceed the geographical boundaries of France."--Audrey Evrard, H-France Forum

"As Stefanos Geroulanos amply demonstrates, there is still plenty of scope for its erudition, richness and analytical rigour, [Transparency in Postwar France] takes the intellectual history of postwar France in exciting new directions. The most obvious innovation is that the entire book is held together, not by one or two authors, or a specific concept within a thinker's writing, but by a single master concept: "transparency". This becomes the guiding thread that gives the arguments their coherence. Of course, for this to work, "transparency" not only needs to be a clearly-articulated concept, but also speak meaningfully across texts, times and places. This is a tall order....Geroulanos makes an impressive case....What is immediately obvious about this book is how it has changed the way I look at post-war France. I am starting to see new connections, debates, ideas and images."--Emile Chabal, H-France Forum

"Interweaving intellectual history with political history, history of science and cultural studies, Geroulanos shows how French intellectuals 'built tool after tool for dismantling' Cartesian-based claims to society, ethics and politics as coherent, legible and stable entities....Geroulanos gives us a model for doing a kind of Derridean analysis, as he turns over the ideas of multiple thinkers from multiple perspectives and multiple contexts."--Contemporary European History