Sylvère Lotringer

  • CALL TO ORDER: CLAUDE LÉVI-STRAUSS

    Only a handful of modern thinkers have had so profound an impact on our understanding of the world as Claude Lévi-Strauss, whose revelatory application of linguistic theory to the field of anthropology—in tracts such as The Elementary Structures of Kinship (1949), Tristes Tropiques (1955), and The Raw and the Cooked (1964)—gave birth to a structuralist model that forever transformed the studies of art history and literature, psychology and sociology. In the opening decades of the twenty-first century, his rethinking of global cultures and circuits of exchange has never been more relevant. When Lévi-Strauss died this past October, at the age of one hundred, we asked art historian THOMAS CROW, anthropologist MICHAEL TAUSSIG, and cultural theorist SYLVÈRE LOTRINGER to consider his life and legacy. Taussig’s contribution appears below. For Crow and Lotringer’s considerations, pick up the April issue of Artforum.

    MY MOST DISTINCT MEMORIES of Claude Lévi-Strauss and the structuralist earthquake he introduced in the United States shortly before I first arrived here as a lecturer in 1971 are these:

    A youngish man from the art school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in my regular café, engrossed day after day in a book called Structuralism (by Jean Piaget, as I later learned). Not much of a memory, you say, but the intensity of that young man’s concentration sticks in my mind, emblematic of the extraordinarily exciting, almost religious passion then sweeping the University of Michigan campus. No one really knew or

  • “Christian Boltanksi: La Vie Possible

    Artist Christian Boltanski produces art as a “great complaint” against an unacceptable past. He has given it form through ephemeral means, all the more powerful for their simplicity: clothes, shoe boxes, blurred snapshots, and flickering lightbulbs; staged disappearances, memories of unaccounted lives.

    Philosopher Gilles Deleuze once praised the sublime lament of those overwhelmed by a misfortune too big for them to bear. Artist Christian Boltanski—born in occupied Paris in 1944, but not one of the “liberated”—produces art as a “great complaint” against an unacceptable past. He has given it form through ephemeral means, all the more powerful for their simplicity: clothes, shoe boxes, blurred snapshots, and flickering lightbulbs; staged disappearances, memories of unaccounted lives. In his more recent practice, the scope has expanded and the art been reduced further

  • THE GREAT REFUSAL

    Forty years ago this month, students and workers, often numbering in the thousands, took to the streets around the world, from Latin America to the Eastern bloc, in the spirit of ushering into life real alternatives to the day’s existent political and cultural orders. The sheer magnitude of these events remains striking and, indeed, is often the stuff of nostalgia—and yet their true significance is perhaps still unclear when it comes to the shapes of aesthetic, social, and political narratives today. Seeking to take stock of our own moment, Artforum invited a number of art historians,

  • A REVOLUTIONARY PROCESS NEVER ENDS

    SYLVÈRE LOTRINGER: In the years that preceded May 1968, the Situationists had an uprising in mind, but it had happened one century before. It was the Paris Commune of 1871, in which Marx saw the dawn of communism. The historical situations, of course, were widely different. The Paris Commune surged in reaction to the Prussian invasion and the betrayal of the Versailles government, which surrendered France to the enemy. The Versaillais surrounded the capital and starved the Communards to death, eventually gunning down those who survived. But it wasn’t this grim story that Henri Lefebvre heatedly

  • THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR

    ELEVEN SCHOLARS, CRITICS, AND ARTISTS CHOOSE THE YEAR’S OUTSTANDING TITLES.

    JOHN BALDESSARI

    Kierkegaard once said that his goal in writing was to make life difficult for people. I read Edward Said’s On Late Style (Pantheon) because its title suggested that it might offer insights into my life’s pursuit of trying to understand art. The subtitle of the book is Music and Literature Against the Grain. The photo of Said on the back cover shows his shirt collar slightly askew, which I chose to understand as an unintended message.

    There are no artists (in the narrow sense) discussed, but the book contains

  • MY ’80s: BETTER THAN LIFE

    As editor of Semiotext(e) for close to three decades, SYLVÈRE LOTRINGER has introduced American readers to Continental theorists from Gilles Deleuze to Michel Foucault, from Paul Virilio to Antonio Negri. But when it comes to the ’80s, Lotringer, who here recounts his passage through the decade, will probably always be remembered for his Foreign Agents series—those little black books through which the art world first learned the name Jean Baudrillard.

    They are already purged of death, and are even better than life; more smiling, more authentic . . .

    —Jean Baudrillard, Simulations (1983)

    The ’80s