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 originality...in 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
"The innovative epistemological and methodological reflection underpinning the project will be of interest to intellectual historians working on periods and places far removed from France in the decades following the Second World War, making Transparency in Postwar France one of the most thought-provoking works of modern intellectual history to have appeared in recent years."
—Iain Stewart, H-Diplo
"An imposing work of intellectual history, which will no doubt find its place on the shelf alongside some of the classics of the genre. A review of this work could, in some ways, stop there. It is a book one needs discover for oneself—especially at this particular moment in the reception of the postwar French intellectual tradition."
—Stephen Sawyer, H-Diplo
"Moving away from a treatment of concepts as belonging to disciplinarily defined conversations, or even to particular spheres of social life, Geroulanos has written a history of transparency as a passage point of signification, through which a multitude of cultural productions are made legible. The payoff of this methodological innovation is enormous, and Geroulanos offers novel readings of intellectual figures like Jacques Derrida, Max Jacob, and Jean Starobinski alongside analyses of discourses on the black market, cinema, and political integration. The result is an exemplary and surprising intellectual history that the reviewers celebrate for its creativity and ambition. Transparency in Postwar France is not only a major achievement in its own right, but a provocation and an incitement to expand the scope of intellectual history."
—Isabel Gabel, H-Diplo
"Geroulanos has produced not a slice through the history of French ideas, but rather the most comprehensive intellectual history of the postwar French moment since Martin Jay's magisterial Downcast Eyes, published a quarter of a century ago.1 Few histories have weaved together such a range of intellectuals, both the major names—Jean-Paul Sartre, Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida—but also myriad other figures who are mostly forgotten today, but who wielded significant influence at the time. Breaking free from the gravitational pull of the discipline of philosophy, Geroulanos also tells us about French anthropology, biology, linguistics, even making brief excursions through the history of French policing, film, and in a particularly engaging chapter, gangsters."
"An impressive achievement... The book traverses a staggeringly broad set of ideas linked by the emergence of this concept of transparency in postwar French phenomenology (Emmanuel Levinas, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Paul Sartre), history of science (Gaston Bachelard, Alexandre Koyré), Marxism (Sartre and others), structuralism (Louis Althusser, Jacques Lacan, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Michel Foucault), deconstruction (Jacques Derrida). But he does not limit himself to great thinkers and, in an original move, carries his analysis of the transparency metaphor into discourses about the black market, gangsters, juvenile delinquents, and young rebels in New Wave cinema. As Geroulanos demonstrates with great elegance, transparency defies and cuts across philosophical classifications, capturing the emergence of new anxieties, new objects of analysis, and new modes of seeing the world as well as new self-perceptions. Each part of the book traces the fashioning of transparency as a symbol of a totalizing impetus in culture, science, social life, and politics."
—Carolyn J. Dean, H-Diplo
"Stefanos Geroulanos's book is a conceptual history of another term that postmodernism has sought to problematize: transparency. His ambitious, wide-ranging, and erudite study provides a comprehensive account of this concept's place in French thought since the 1930s, while also rethinking the intellectual history of this period from the standpoint of debates surrounding transparency.... Intellectual historians who believe that their task is to map out the relationships between ideas will find much to admire in Transparency in Postwar France."
—Journal of Modern History