:: Article

For the Continuation of the Review, Les Temps Modernes

By Steve Light.

In January I received word from French friends that the journal, Les Temps Modernes, founded by Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty in 1945 and which very quickly and ever thereafter has been one of the most revered, if not the most revered of intellectual journals has (subsequent to the death of its editor-in-chief for the past 30 years, Claude Lanzmann) been terminated by its publisher, Antoine Gallimard. This is not something that many could have imagined and I felt it would be a great pity if Les Temps Modernes were to cease.  But in fact negotiations between the editorial committee and Antoine Gallimard were underway so it was not entirely accurate to say the review had ceased.  However, Gallimard did not want to continue the review as it had been, rather he wanted a very much reduced format, which would amount to its end as such.  And this past May the editorial committee of the review published a statement in Le Monde announcing a definitive end.  Yet, negotiations still continued. Things remain unclear at present as to what will happen.  And Antoine Gallimard has published a statement in Le Monde in which he gives his reasons for bringing the review to an end.  I write as an advocate of the review’s continuation in the form the editorial committee would wish it to have.

Among all the good reasons for this advocacy, I have a very special and personal one.  I was in high school when I discovered Les Temps Modernes although I would not actually see and read a copy of the journal until my first year of college.  Like so many others I read Sartre’s Nausea when I was 16.  I had come to the book with great anticipation but it disappointed me.  However, Sartre’s essays in a volume called Situations stirred me greatly, especially the ones on Paul Nizan and Andre Gorz. These two essays led me to Nizan’s Aden-Arabie, a book with which I was instantly taken and a book for which I have ever after felt affection, and to Andre Gorz’s The Traitor, a book which was decisive in my intellectual and philosophical formation and which I will always esteem.  And it was during this heady time that I read a book by Michel-Antoine Burnier, Choice of Action: The French Existentialists on the Political Front Line (the original French title was The Existentialists and Politics).  It was in this book that I first heard of Les Temps Modernes and learned of the events that led to its founding and to its place in French intellectual, literary, and political life. By time I got to college the review held a fabled place within me.  I took out a subscription to it.  It was always such a pleasure to receive a new number of the review.

But if over the years I have naturally had my differences with some of the contributors, nonetheless, Les Temps Modernes will ever remain a review for which I feel affection, because there was an occasion when the review provided me a very special kind of delight. The episode might seem inconsequential and in almost all respects this is true, true except in terms of the ever warm and ever precious feeling that a beautiful moment and an unexpected but absolutely delightful happiness will always engender—ever renewed, ever fresh, vivacious, wonderful!

When I was a college student I had occasion to write a little article about the differences between intellectual life in the U.S. and in France and I favored the French, given my admiration for many French thinkers and writers, among them Castoriadis, Baudrillard, Jabes, Bonnefoy, Gorz, Faye, etc.  And my article was subsequently published in an American academic review of literary and cultural theory.  But even before its publication in English, the Japanese literary theorist, Ichiro Haryu, took a great liking to the article and (without writing to me to let me know) translated it and together with an introduction in which he so generously rendered me compliments, he had it published in a literary review, Shin Nihon Bungaku (New Japanese Literature).  remember so vividly receiving a package from Japan and, puzzled a bit, opening it to find two copies of the review together with an explanatory letter of Haryu’s.  What a beautiful gift!  What beautiful generosity on his part!

And so, the thought came to me, yes! I should send my article to Les Temps Modernes!  I knew there was very little chance they would want to publish it, but nonetheless…And quite naturally I never heard from them.  A year later I found myself in a place to which I would often go: the periodical room of the university library. I would make the rounds of the various reviews in which I was interested and I would hope that the most recent issue of each might have arrived.  And in fact the new issue of Les Temps Modernes was there.  I took it off the shelf to peruse the contents which one would find on the front cover.  And then in an immediacy I will never forget, there it was—my name!  And after it the title of my article!  The happiness I felt, the smile that could have warmed the entire city, the delight, O, yes the utter delight and all the more for being so unexpected, that smile still comes to my face whenever I think of that splendid moment. They had done it! They had translated my article and published it!  And if they didn’t get in touch with me, all the better, because then I would not have been able to have this wondrous and ever so happy surprise, this ever so enduring delight.  And from this moment on I knew I was indebted, happily, so happily, to the review for the pleasure my memory of that moment brings me and will always bring me.

The catastrophes of our contemporaneity—climatological, economic, social, political, and so on and so forth—mean that the demise of Les Temps Modernes would if it were to take place weigh very light.  And yet, it would be better if the review were to continue and to take up a new life precisely because whatever it might contribute certainly has far more warrant then whatever warrant might be given for its end.

Steve Light, a basketball point-guard following upon Nate Archibald, Pete Maravich, and Willie Somerset—and akin as well to Steve Nash, Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, and Earl Boykins—is also a philosopher and poet. His most recent books are: The Emergence of Happiness (New York: Spuyten Duyvil, 2019) and Against Middle Passages (New York: Spuyten Duyvil, 2017). He is the translator of Jean Grenier’s Islands: Lyrical Essays (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2005) and his writings and translations have appeared in many countries.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, December 10th, 2019.