On March 27, you published an article by Blake Smith about my book Le Sexe des Modernes, Pensée du Neutre et théorie du genre, published in France in 2021 by Editions du Seuil. I don’t have to comment on what the article said, I would just like to address one point in the text that surprised me, and even more than that. Smith wrote, “Marty hates America with all the obscene glee of an aging French academic.” One can guess that he must have taken pleasure in writing this sentence, yet it is not only inaccurate but almost crazy. I would like to make two points.
1. The example Smith gave to justify his statement around the right of a transgender person to freely enter a McDonald’s is not mine but a quote from Butler herself (page 489 of my book, excerpt from Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly (2015)). I am quoting this sentence as representing an ideal displayed by Butler herself. And I add to this quote from Butler about the McDonald’s : “that is, for an old fashioned European intellectual, in hell ...” But you did not understand that (a) I am gently making fun of Butler’s naivety and not that of Americans in general, whom I know well enough to know that this is not an ideal that is common to them, and (b) I am at the same time making fun of the snobbery and aristocratic elitism of the European intellectual. By writing “for an old-fashioned European intellectual,” I am clearly signaling the irony, and to make sure that the reader understands, I add an element of hyperbole: “in hell ...” The crude anti-Americanism that I attribute to the aged figure of the European intellectual is the subject of my irony, not my own opinion.
2. Smith comes back at the end of his text to this completely fantastic question (“[Marty’s] fulminating anti-Americanism”). But if I were a great neurotic of anti-Americanism, would I have placed a work by Andy Warhol on the cover of my book (“Self Portrait in Drag”), thus showing my admiration for this great American artist?
What surprises me even more is that Smith did not pay attention to the fourth part of my book: “Michel Foucault, the post-European.” That is to say, Here post-European stands for “American”—that is, one who has broken with the figure of the French intellectual, now considered dead. My praise of Foucault includes not only his interest in analytical philosophy and American neo-liberalism, but also his adherence to a whole system of American values. Read pages 433-465 (but also everything that comes before), and there is no ambiguity: I fully support Foucault in his position as a “fellow traveler” of America. That is why I am more than surprised that Smith sees me as an old Frenchman full of bitterness and stupid anti-Americanism.
Once again, the mere cover of the book should have convinced Smith otherwise. But maybe he has this fantasy of the French intellectual who hates America. Such intellectuals certainly exist, and their numbers are rapidly growing, but I am not one of them. Regarding the rivalry between the United States and France, you will note that it is first and foremost Butler’s idea, which, as I show in my book, she constantly plays on in order to distinguish herself, as an American, from French culture—for example, by making fun of the “romanticism” of Lacan, Foucault, and Derrida. There are many other illustrations of this Butlerian tropism. It does not come from psychology but from a perfectly coherent intellectual strategy.
But I am already too long. I hope the editors of Tablet will have the courtesy to mention my consternation at the accusation of anti-Americanism.
Éric Marty takes objection to my characterization of him as an anti-American whose antagonism toward the trans-Atlantic undermines the efficacy of his Barthes-inspired efforts to think how the “neutral” and “gender neutral” approach developed by French post-structuralists in the 1970s can resist the ideological crusade now being waged in the name of “gender” without falling into an equally shrill counter-crusade. His petulance rather proves my point. I would encourage anyone interested in the specific points Marty raises to read his book and see for themselves whether or not his anti-Americanism strikes them as an ironic performance.
I hardly condemn anti-Americanism in general; in my own heart, as a Southerner, I too damn the Yankee with varying degrees of seriousness. It strikes me only as an issue in this particular case because Marty stakes so much on the power of his approach to move past conflict-ridden, simplistic binaries into a more nuanced, sophisticated, and unpolemical mode, yet he is unable to discuss America or to engage with what I think is my quite sympathetic reading of his book without a display of pique. Unless this too, is yet another performance, the irony of which escapes my simple American mind.
Éric Marty is Professor of French Literature at Paris Diderot University and the author of Le Sexe des Modernes, Pensée du Neutre et théorie du genre.
Blake Smith, a contributing writer at Tablet, lives in Chicago.