Black Village, Lutz Bassman (Verdier / Open Letter, translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman)
Brought together by fate, a trio of characters stumble through a world of absolute darkness, with no way to tell where they’re going, what lies ahead, or how much longer they might endure this fate. The only faint glow they manage to obtain comes from the low-grade fuel produced by the skin of the hand of one of the three characters. Their world seems to exist in the wake of ‘the disaster’, an apocalypse resulting from a war between capitalists and communists. To pass the time and give themselves some sense of continuity, they tell stories. Bassmann (aka Antoine Volodine) makes the 30 snippet stories absorbing and creates a reading experience that gets under the skin. The post-exotic novel with overtones of Beckett, Stanislaw Lem, Pynchon, and Tarkovsky’s Stalker, conveys a strong and affecting mood.
La Société ingouvernable, Grégoire Chamayou (La Fabrique / Polity Press, translated by Andrew Brown)
This original account sketches a genealogy of the opposition between market and state operations and institutions against a background of increasing societal unrest. Grégoire Chamayou develops an understanding of “authoritarian liberalism” through discourses and practices of “private governance”. With material emanating primarily from those at the top of the corporate world–theorists of management and the economy, industry publications, speeches of CEOs–and to a lesser extent from those at the bottom–workers, militants, activists–the philosopher argues that a new form of liberalism emerged from the 1950s to the 1980s, which combined features of political authoritarianism with the promotion of a free market. This far-ranging study makes the case for the importance of studying the private sector in order to properly understand the nature of political reality and addresses many of the fears held today by many regarding our global political future.
Abondance et liberté, Pierre Charbonnier (La Découverte / Polity Books, translated by Andrew Brown)
In this pioneering genealogy of Western philosophical thought,Pierre Charbonnier charts the development of the concepts of affluence and liberty, and considers them in conjunction with the past and present-day realities of climate change, biodiversity loss and ecological instability. Abundance and liberty were once the incentives offered by 19th century industrialists disseminating a social imaginary of ‘the good life’, but it is becoming apparent that they can no longer be sought in the same places. Retracing the relation between capitalism, economic growth and “nature”, Charbonnier takes us from a moment when “emancipation from nature” was considered sine qua non, to our contemporary period when infinite economic growth finds its limits in ecological disaster. In this seminal work, Charbonnier poses challenging questions to the readers: how are we to configure a historical and humanist response to environmental collapse? Can we reorient the idea of freedom towards a new ethos of sufficiency and global justice? This uniquely interdisciplinary project is a book for our times.
Après la loi, Laurent de Stutter(PUF/Humensis / Polity Press, translated by Barnaby Norman)
In this bold and original philosophical reflection on the distinction between Law and Rights, Laurent De Stutter interrogates the norm of legality across a wide range of contexts (Ancient Greek, Babylonian, Arab, Chinese, Indian, Egyptian, and Hebraic) and offers insightful reflections on the concepts. As the hold of Western law on global conceptions of the norm is ebbing, De Stutter develops an argument which focuses on what happens ‘after the law’. This pleasant read with a snapshot quality to it stresses the vital necessity of the Law to protect the (human) “being” in both Western and Eastern cultures and praises it as a remedy against chaos and the dissolution of the being. Bringing together law, history and literature in an engaging and erudite way, the distinctions and categories made by the author prove to be wonderful food for thought.
L’Invention des corps, Pierre Ducrozet (Actes Sud / Seeking an American Publisher, translated by Margaret Morrison)
This ambitious novel follows Álvaro, a young Mexican teacher and hacker, on the run from an Army massacre of his students. He crosses into the US illegally and falls into the hands of a Silicon Valley billionaire determined to cheat death by performing transhuman experiments. Eventually fleeing with a brilliant geneticist, they discover a new community, and a new way of being themselves. The road trip narrative deals with many current topics which are crucial for our human future. It takes on a number of important contemporary concerns: artificial intelligence, the use and abuse of the natural order, and the question of elites who may or may not be secretly ruling the world. L’Invention des corps combines some fantastic writing and gripping plots. It received the Prix de Flore in 2017. For more information about this title, you may also contact Nathalie Alliel at Actes Sud.
La Robe blanche, Nathalie Léger (P.O.L / Dorothy, A Publishing Project, translated by Natasha Lehrer)
In 2008, the Italian performance artist Pippa Bacca hitchhiked around Europe in a white wedding dress as a messenger of peace. In April of that year, she was found murdered in Turkey. Nathalie Léger writes succinctly and effectively about the importance of the gesture, and the mythology of the white dress. She refers to Ms. Bacca, but also to other women performance artists, to the public’s reaction to their performances and to their reception by critics and journalists. While she expresses sympathy for the artists’ endeavours, she also wonders, at times, about their naiveté. Léger is succinct and sensitive to the meaning of the performances she recalls, connecting them to the history of the reception of women who make artistic and social gestures. This touching work speaks to particular events within European culture all while addressing the broader social movement that reflects women’s consciousness.
Stay tuned for the 2020 second session winners…
Cultural Services of the French Embassy