The Wind from the East: French Intellectuals, the Cultural Revolution, and the Legacy of the 1960s

Princeton University Press

Michel Foucault, Jean-Paul Sartre, Julia Kristeva, Phillipe Sollers, and Jean-Luc Godard. During the 1960s, a who's who of French thinkers, writers, and artists, spurred by China's Cultural Revolution, were seized with a fascination for Maoism. Combining a merciless exposé of left-wing political folly and cross-cultural misunderstanding with a spirited defense of the 1960s, The Wind from the East tells the colorful story of this legendary period in France. Richard Wolin shows how French students and intellectuals, inspired by their perceptions of the Cultural Revolution, and motivated by utopian hopes, incited grassroots social movements and reinvigorated French civic and cultural life.

Wolin's riveting narrative reveals that Maoism's allure among France's best and brightest actually had little to do with a real understanding of Chinese politics. Instead, it paradoxically served as a vehicle for an emancipatory transformation of French society. French student leftists took up the trope of "cultural revolution," applying it to their criticisms of everyday life. Wolin examines how Maoism captured the imaginations of France's leading cultural figures, influencing Sartre's "perfect Maoist moment"; Foucault's conception of power; Sollers's chic, leftist intellectual journal Tel Quel; as well as Kristeva's book on Chinese women--which included a vigorous defense of foot-binding.

Recounting the cultural and political odyssey of French students and intellectuals in the 1960s, The Wind from the East illustrates how the Maoist phenomenon unexpectedly sparked a democratic political sea change in France.

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About the author

Richard Wolin is Distinguished Professor of History, Comparative Literature, and Political Science at the City University of New York Graduate Center. His books, which include Heidegger's Children and The Seduction of Unreason (both Princeton), have been translated into ten languages. His articles and reviews have appeared in Dissent, the Nation, and the New Republic.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Jul 1, 2010
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Pages
408
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ISBN
9781400834372
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Europe / France
History / Modern / 20th Century
History / Social History
Philosophy / History & Surveys / Modern
Political Science / Political Ideologies / Communism, Post-Communism & Socialism
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Martin Heidegger is perhaps the twentieth century's greatest philosopher, and his work stimulated much that is original and compelling in modern thought. A seductive classroom presence, he attracted Germany's brightest young intellects during the 1920s. Many were Jews, who ultimately would have to reconcile their philosophical and, often, personal commitments to Heidegger with his nefarious political views.

In 1933, Heidegger cast his lot with National Socialism. He squelched the careers of Jewish students and denounced fellow professors whom he considered insufficiently radical. For years, he signed letters and opened lectures with ''Heil Hitler!'' He paid dues to the Nazi party until the bitter end. Equally problematic for his former students were his sordid efforts to make existential thought serviceable to Nazi ends and his failure to ever renounce these actions.


This book explores how four of Heidegger's most influential Jewish students came to grips with his Nazi association and how it affected their thinking. Hannah Arendt, who was Heidegger's lover as well as his student, went on to become one of the century's greatest political thinkers. Karl Löwith returned to Germany in 1953 and quickly became one of its leading philosophers. Hans Jonas grew famous as Germany's premier philosopher of environmentalism. Herbert Marcuse gained celebrity as a Frankfurt School intellectual and mentor to the New Left.


Why did these brilliant minds fail to see what was in Heidegger's heart and Germany's future? How would they, after the war, reappraise Germany's intellectual traditions? Could they salvage aspects of Heidegger's thought? Would their philosophy reflect or completely reject their early studies? Could these Heideggerians forgive, or even try to understand, the betrayal of the man they so admired? Heidegger's Children locates these paradoxes in the wider cruel irony that European Jews experienced their greatest calamity immediately following their fullest assimilation. And it finds in their responses answers to questions about the nature of existential disillusionment and the juncture between politics and ideas.

Fifteen years ago, revelations about the political misdeeds of Martin Heidegger and Paul de Man sent shock waves throughout European and North American intellectual circles. Ever since, postmodernism has been haunted by the specter of a compromised past. In this intellectual genealogy of the postmodern spirit, Richard Wolin shows that postmodernism's infatuation with fascism has been widespread and not incidental. He calls into question postmodernism's claim to have inherited the mantle of the left--and suggests that postmodern thought has long been smitten with the opposite end of the political spectrum.

In probing chapters on C. G. Jung, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Georges Bataille, and Maurice Blanchot, Wolin discovers an unsettling commonality: during the 1930s, these thinkers leaned to the right and were tainted by a proverbial "fascination with fascism." Frustrated by democracy's shortcomings, they were seduced by fascism's grandiose promises of political regeneration. The dictatorships in Italy and Germany promised redemption from the uncertainties of political liberalism. But, from the beginning, there could be no doubting their brutal methods of racism, violence, and imperial conquest.


Postmodernism's origins among the profascist literati of the 1930s reveal a dark political patrimony. The unspoken affinities between Counter-Enlightenment and postmodernism constitute the guiding thread of Wolin's suggestive narrative. In their mutual hostility toward reason and democracy, postmodernists and the advocates of Counter-Enlightenment betray a telltale strategic alliance--they cohabit the fraught terrain where far left and far right intersect.


Those who take Wolin's conclusions to heart will never view the history of modern thought in quite the same way.

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