Tianmo Wang: May’68 and French philosophy

My project centers on the tension between philosophy and political actions. My major field of study is French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, who collaborated a few of his important works with French militant psychiatrist Felix Guattari. One entry point of their political legacy is the disruptive leftist event took place in 1968 France, known as May’68. Among the French intellectuals, who are known as structuralists/post-structuralists, Deleuze and Guattari were one of the most prominent supporters of May’68, during which Marxist students and workers occupy factories, schools, and the streets of Paris as well as the countryside. Deleuze and Guattari’s understanding and supporting of May’68 was in great contrast with French intellectuals like Roland Barthes and Pierre Bourdieu, who for different reasons were very critical of May’68.

(A May’68 poster which says “Peasants, workers, students– solidarity”)

(The clash between students and the police on streets during may’68)

(occupying the prestigious Sorbonne University during May’68)

(occupying the main amphitheater of Sorbonne University)

(street barricades in Latin Quarter Paris)

(bookstore outside Sorbonne University)

(Sorbonne University)

Yet, as controversial and contradictory as May’68 itself, Deleuze and Guattari’s politics are full of contradictions. The contradictions of Deleuzian political philosophy is manifested in his teaching at Vincenne University, a radical university that was the legacy of may’68. At Vincenne, Deleuze’s teaching discourse was very anti-authoratative– he claimed that students should feel free to take whatever that matters to them from his lectures and neglect the rest– yet when it comes to action, he still preserved the position as the rigorous philosophical Master who believes that true thinking takes a process of efforts. Deleuze thus appears as the philosopher who is both conservative and radical– not to mention that his personal life remained very bourgeois.

(Gilles Deleuze[left] and Felix Guattari[right])

What I did in the past month was that I audited the summer class May’68 and Its Legacy at NYU Paris. I took this class myself two years ago, and this time I was there to give a presentation on Deleuze and his political legacy. I focused on two very important works by Deleuze and Guattari– Anti-Oedipus, and A Thousand Plateaux–so as to discuss the politics of multiplicity and becoming that are central concepts in these books.