All entries for Tuesday 16 January 2007

January 16, 2007

Kristeva on the French Revolution

The Rights of Man and Citizen

The Rights of Man and Citizen

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was designed to make everyone aware of rights and responsibilities.

1 Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.
2. The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.
3. The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation. No body nor individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation.

Kristeva explains how rights are inserted into a grid of human institutions and within the scope of the nation. Thus later on the word, ‘man’, is replaced by the word, ‘citizen’.

6. Law is the expression of the general will. Every citizen has a right to participate personally, or through his representative, in its foundation. It must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens, being equal in the eyes of the law, are equally eligible to all dignities and to all public positions and occupations, according to their abilities, and without distinction except that of their virtues and talents.

The word citizen is used here significantly when the document directs us to civic responsibilities. Kristeva notes: ‘Never has democracy been more explicit, for it excludes no one—except foreigners’ (149). Natural man leads to political man which leads to political man and in fact there is some caution in dissociating natural and political man at all.

What happens to peoples without an adequate government to defend them (the Napoleonic expansion comes to minds, for instance)? What happens to peoples without a homeland (the Russians, the Poles, victims of destruction of their state; or, in more radical fashion, the Jews)? Generally speaking, how are those who are not citizens of a sovereign state to be considered? Does one belong to mankind, is one entitled to the “rights of man” when one is not a citizen? (150)

Kristeva is adamant that the French Revolution brought a call for national rights not human ones. She notes Arendt’s belief that the legacy of nationalism guaranteed the rise of Nazism in the twentieth century. For Kristeva, the composition of a world order in nation-states is barbaric, since only legal nationals are guaranteed rights. The only possible antidote to this could be what Kristeva calls the principle of human diginity: ‘Maintaining the dignity of the human being as principle and aim allows one to understand, to care for, perhaps to mollify its founderings’ (153).

Kristeva comes to a view on the kind of society that should emerge from the Declaration. It would be one that balances the rights and duties of citizens and non-citizens. She also demands an ethics based on education and psychoanalysis that would ‘reveal, discuss, and spread a concept of human dignity, wrested from the euphoria of classic humanists and laden with the alienations, dramas and dead ends of our condition as speaking beings’ (154).

Foreigners During the Revolution
1. Universal Brotherhood and the Birth of Nationalism
By 1790, Guy-Jean-Baptiste Target announced a proposal in the National Assembly of France for foreigners to be naturalized after five years. It was approved by the Assembly immediately. New societies for foreigners began to emerge in France and there were new newspapers catering for foreigners. Unfortunately as the nature of government began to change, the authorities began to be suspicious about foreigners who might be spies or plotters. They were also blamed for the economic crisis. “Hospitality certificates” and “civic examination” were invented and two parties emerged with different attitudes towards foreigners. Dantonists wanted peace but were anti-foreigners, while Hébertists desired war against Europe but supported immigrant patriots. Clubs for foreigners were banned and Robespiere’s Report on the Principles of the Revolution (1793) blamed foreigners for everything. In events that followed, the Terror brought about the arrest of the Hébertists and Hébert’s cosmopolitan ideas condemned many to death. Nationalism was the safest ideology to embrace. All foreigners, ‘were excluded from public service and public rights’ (161).

Anarchis Clootz

2. Anarcharsis Clootz: The “Speaker of Mankind” Against the Word “Foreigner”
Clootz was born in the Rhineland of Dutch origin and educated by Jesuits, but in 1790 he proposed to the National Assembly that the Declaration would be supported by the entire world. Allied with the Girondists, he believed in ‘expanding the rights of man to include foreign peoples, who would thus rise against their tyrants under the aegis of France’ (161). When the Terror began to emerge, Clootz did not take action against foreigners and continued to expound his ideas about a universal republic. He even deconstructed the term, foreigner. Clootz was accused of being a foreigner, incapable of feeling patriotism, and eventually, he was arrested and guillotined on March 20th 1794.

Thomas Paine

3. Thomas Paine: The “Citizen of the World” Wants to Save the King
Thomas Paine was key figure during the American Revolution. His Common Sense attacked the aristocracy and crown of England and demanded independence. Paine visited France during its revolution and answered Burke’s criticisms of the French (Reflection Upon the Revolution in France) with his own Rights of Man. Paine beli4eved in a social and democratic form of government and education and he displayed great idealism concerning human beings and the French Revolution. Paine was supported by English nonconformists like Mary Wollstonecraft and Nicholas de Bonneville in France.

Interestingly, although Paine was anti-monarchists, he also pleaded the case of the French king and was against his execution. However, Marat referred to the fact that Paine came from a Quaker family and suggested that his religious principles had clouded his judgement. After the execution of the Girondists, Paine was also arrested but eluded the guillotine.

Kristeva on Hegel


The Nephew with Hegel: Culture as Strangeness

Kristeva begins:’ When in its dialectical motion, the world of the Spirit becomes foreign to itself, Hegel deems that two parts of the spiritual world start facing each other: actuality and pure consciousness’ (144). It is a process, ‘constituted by culture (Bildung)—political, economic, social, intellectual …—as estrangement of the natural being’ (144). In this strangeness, ‘individuality becomes stable only by giving up the self fro the universal: that is the role of Myself the philosopher’ (144). Hegel thinks of estrangement in a number of ways:
• the self-estrangement of the French monarchy ‘where language becomes alienated in turn as a pure appearance in order to seek an empty power’ (145);
• and the distraught utterance as representative of cultural estrangement which creates pure self-consciousness.
Kristeva writes how ‘Culture in Hegel’s sense, in its scission and essential strangeness, proceeds by way of disunion and contradiction, which it unifies in its wrenching discourse’ (146). Kristeva sees this kind of culture as prevailing particularly in France.

Kristeva on Fougeret de Monbron

Fougeret de Monbron

Fougeret de Monbron, a Cosmopolitan with a Shaggy Heart
Charles Louis Fougeret de Monbron wrote Cosmopolitanism or the citizen of the world in 1750 and it is thought that he inspired Diderot’s Nephew. For Fougeret, it is the vices of different countries that inspires him to travel and he enjoys reenacting them in pantomime fashion. Fougeret told Diderot that he had a shaggy heart indicating his status as a negativist: ‘Subjectivistic relativism, hatred towards others and oneself, and the feeling of being empty and fallacious, govern the impossibility of settling down and the acid laughter of cosmopolitanism’ (142). This is not a peaceful universality, but, ‘the passionate tearing away that shakes the identity of one who no longer recognizes himself in the community of his own people’ (142).

It was now that the word cosmopolitan came to be seen in a negative light by those who valued the nation-state and a battle ensued between Montesquieu’s positive version and Fougeret’s negative one.

Kristeva on Diderot


The Foreigner: Alter Ego of the Philosopher
In the Enlightenment, the “good savage” becomes the foreigner and Kristeva notes that ‘philosophical fiction became poeopled with foreigners who invited the reader to make a twofold journey’: the journey to an unknown place and the journey into one’s own society and identity in comparison (133). The foreigner is, ‘the figure onto which the penetrating, ironical mind of the philosopher is delegated—his double, his mask’ (134). Kristeva intends to use the example of Diderot and his Rameau’s Nephew.

The Strange Man, the Cynic, and the Cosmopolitan

Rameau’s Nephew is a dialogue by the French philosopher, Denis Diderot, but it was never published or even distributed in manuscript in the author’s lifetime. The dialogue takes place between Diderot (Moi, “Myself”, the philosopher and believer in virtue) and Jean François Rameau (Lui, “He”, a parasite, a failed poet and composer and believer in expediency), nephew of the great composer Jean-Philippe Rameau. The contrariness of the opposition means that each cancels the other out. Here is a summary from The Oxford Encyclopaedia of the Enlightenment:

[F]or Moi, whose materialism recognizes no ethical absolutes, it is extremely difficult—even impossible—to rule out anything by principle. And Lui is ready to bring back into the picture all those untidy items—the pleasures of selfishness and immediate gratification, freedom from those unnatural social constraints termed “principles”—that Moi is most anxious to ignore. As the dialogue proceeds and the strength of Lui’s arguments grows more apparent, the two characters appear less like contraries than like two sides of the same coin, with Lui playing the disturbing underside of Moi, the unthinkable consequences of his own materialism and his own repressed desires. Lui’s perspective becomes so pervasive that, at times, the two characters seem on the verge of fusing into the same persona. The union apparently never happens, and so, at the end, Moi and Lui are back in their separate, contrary characters, as if nothing had changed. The start of the opera is at hand; the world goes on as before. (“Denis Diderot”)

Kristeva tries to discover who this Lui or Nephew is. He could be ‘[t]he philosopher’s opponent’, ‘his hidden self’, ‘[t]he opposite other’, ‘the nocturnal double’ or ‘the confrontation between Myself the philosopher and the strange He’ (134-135).

Rameau’s Nephew does not want to settle down—he is the soul of the game that he does not want to stop, does not want to compromise, but wants only to challenge, displace, invert, shock, contradict. Negation, this is understood, not only of conscience and morality but of the will as passion: a twisting of sexuality—and then a negation of such negations. (135)

Kristeva explains how the Nephew is thrown out of a party when he is discovered as an other, yet this was precisely the reason that he was invited to the party in the first place. This strangeness excels in ‘witticism and pantomime’ (135). In witticisms, language is, ‘a liberating process: clash of opposites, pleasure springing up, truth of laughter’ (135). Regarding pantomime, the Nephew ‘mimes those he talks about’ and ‘his own feelings’ thus refusing to take on a single viewpoint but a multiplicity of identities (136). This spreads even into Diderot’s sentence which is imbued with ‘articulation of opposites’ and a syntax with, ‘the benefit of the fragment-objects of the polyphonic musician’s body’ (136).

Kristeva notes that the Nephew allies himself with Diogenes the Cynic. Diogenes believed in wisdom as an act rather than thought; he led his life in accordance with nature rather than laws of society; and he upheld ‘shamelessness’ symbolized by the dog (Kristeva calls him a ‘dog-man’ (137)). Diogenes was also remembered for his erratic behaviour; he walked the streets of Athens during daylight hours with a lighted lantern searching for an honest man and lived in a tub, which he carried around with him. Kristeva also recalls ‘the incisive expressions of the cynics: their art of argumentative paradox, whereby they assume the position of their opponents and uphold in turn two contradictory points of view; their mockery of vices ands social conventions, which leads to ethics of naturalness and licentiousness, both aggressive and wanton’ (137). Kristeva describes the cynic then as ‘the other of reason’ who ‘discredits himself in order to have us face our shameful otherness’ (137). Diogenes was a model for Diderot and the Nephew is ‘the cynic’s cynic’ (138).

Kristeva turns now to Menippus, who satirized (in Greek) the follies of men and philosophers in a serio-comic style, using a mixture of prose and verse. Diderot writes of Menippus’ writing with enthusiasm and Bahktin believes that he was the founder of dialogism and Kristeva notes: ‘The Nephew’s pantomime is faithful only to Menippus’ rhetoric, not to Diogenes’ virtue’ (138).

The strange man, spasmodic and pantomimic, would be the inhabitant of a country without power, the sociological symptom of a political transition. If he claimed strangeness to the point of idiosyncracy [sic] […] would it not also be because political institutions that are undergoing a crisis no longer insure the symbolic identity of the power and the persons? Myself the philosopher generalizes human instability, which he suspects lies with all as soon as there is dependency on the other. […] Being frank to the point of strangeness reveals modern man on a political level as a man without a country. His pantomimic positions could only be assumed by cutting through the kingdom, by going across the borders of wobbly sovereignties. Into cosmopolitanism. (140)

Kristeva ‘On Foreigners and the Enlightenment’


Montesquieu: The Fully Political and the Private Sector

Kristeva begins with Charles-Louis de Secondat Montesquieu (1689–1755) who was a French writer and political philosopher during the Enlightenment. Montesquieu was best known for works such as Lettres persanes (The Persian Letters, 1721) and L’esprit des lois (The Spirit of Laws, 1748) on the diversity of laws that govern human conduct. He was of provincial origins, but received a formal education and later spent time in Paris and Bordeaux. He worked his way up to the position of magistrate and also journeyed through Europe. Montesquieu was ultimately concerned with coming to a better understanding of social and political affairs, criticizing tyranny and studying political and social arrangements that promoted political moderation and freedom.
Kristeva believes that The Sprit of Laws uphold ‘_human sociability’ influenced by ‘Cartesianism (the jurist Jean Domat), Christian theology (Fenelon), English neo-stoicism and empiricism (most particularly with Locke and Shaftesbury’ (128). Kristeva is particularly concerned with Montesquieu’s ideas about totality and cosmopolitanism. According to Kristeva, Montesquieu’s totality includes ‘nature and culture […]; men and institutions; laws and mores; the particular and the universal; philosophy and history’ (128). In Laws, Kristeva sees an ideality.

Kristeva deals with Montesquieu’s discussion of physical causes, particularly of climate, and she sees determinism in the notion that moral causes, including laws themselves, are of greater weight and importance, while climate is only one factor among a myriad that may help to shape the nature of collective life. She also notes how for Montesquieu, trade can be a means towards universalism and what emerges is ‘a _borderless political philosophy dominated by the concern for politics understood as the maximal integration of mankind in a moderate, attainable ideality’ (129).

Montesquieu lacks nationalism and he enables an international society to be instituted via trade. For Montesquieu, each nation in Europe needs the other to succeed, whether it be England, France or Poland. This attitude raises the problem of the rights of man versus the rights of the citizen. In this philosophy, nation-states would be answerable to a higher moral and political power than that of their own government. Kristeva summarises Montesquieu’s objectives as ‘[t]he separation of powers, the preservation of a constitutional monarchy whose possible excesses would constantly be checked by a reasonable judiciary, the very belief in a social peace based on the freedom of individuals and obtained by upholding the dichotomy between the social and the political that is represented by the original enactment of power in the royal figure’ (132). The idea of a foreigner is obliterated but the idea of strangeness is not. Moving to a logical conclusion, Kristeva notes that such a philosophy upholds the private and the secret in the social domain: ‘a union of singularities’ (132).


Facebook Widget

The Midnight Heart

“Zona de plagas donde la dormida come / lentamente / su corazón de medianoche” – Alejandra Pizarnik

Night ramblings of insomnia, and day ramblings for the sleep deprived.

Search this blog

January 2007

Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa Su
Dec |  Today  | Feb
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31            



my read shelf:
Zoe's book recommendations, favorite quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

Red Room

Visit me in the Red Room

The Secret

Book Cover

Blog archive



Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter, #4)

Comment Policy

Feel free to leave a comment on this blog, but I want to let readers know that I only accept comments that are linked to a valid homepage, e-mail or blog. I don’t accept anonymous comments. If a conversation is going to work, I want to know who it is that I’m talking to. If you really have a good reason for remaining anonymous, drop me a line instead by e-mail.

Most recent comments

  • Yes, you're right it does make you think and I know what he means. I also like the fact that it's su… by Sue on this entry
  • True, I hope so too, but it makes you think! by on this entry
  • He takes a very pessimistic view of things. I think the human spirit will prevail. I don't see the p… by Sue on this entry
  • Hi Zoe, do you know the glass dresses made by the artist Diana Dias Leao? They're not meant to be wo… by redbotinki on this entry
  • We're having some technical issues with this blog post, so please bear with me! by on this entry

Favourite blogs

Spanish Daily Word

Not signed in
Sign in

Powered by BlogBuilder