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The Long 1968: Revisions and New Perspectives

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From the mid-1960s to the early 1970s, revolutions in theory, politics, and cultural experimentation swept around the world. These changes had as great a transformative impact on the right as on the left. A touchstone for activists, artists, and theorists of all stripes, the year 1968 has taken on new significance for the present moment, which bears certain uncanny resemblances to that time. The Long 1968 explores the wide-ranging impact of the year and its aftermath in politics, theory, the arts, and international relations—and its uses today.

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1 Foucault’s 1968

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BERNARD GENDRON

Michel Foucault’s career as a public intellectual, his stances in words and deeds, in theory and practice, were deeply informed by the events of May 1968 and the political struggles that followed upon it. It is difficult to single out any cultural theorist or political philosopher of importance for whom May 1968 had such a decidedly dramatic impact or who was more engaged with its meaning and import. Yet, there has been scant scholarly attention to this relationship, perhaps because it is thought to be of little interest beyond the biographical or because it is surmised that he was not particularly sympathetic to the uprisings of May 1968, given his often-expressed skepticism concerning the emancipatory promise of mass revolutionary movements.1 Absent from Paris in May 1968, he had no memories to share of the barricades nor any badge to wear.

Against these doubts, I argue that Foucault’s relation to May 1968 was extensive and intimate as well as crucial for understanding his theory and practice in the 1970s. Most obviously, in the wake of 1968, Foucault became a militant political activist, whereas earlier his posture toward politics was one of ironic detachment. Less appreciated is the shock and disruption that the events of 1968 administered to his theoretical work and methodologies. It is well known that, roughly between 1969 and 1975, Foucault’s thinking underwent a major transformation, usually described as the transition from “archaeology” to “genealogy,” that eventuated in the publication of Discipline and Punish in 1975. According to most commentators, this resulted from Foucault’s discovery of basic flaws in his archaeological method.2 A closer analysis, however, reveals that his intense engagement in political militancy within a post-1968 horizon was the chief catalyst for temporally halting and then redirecting his theoretical work.

 

2 Palimpsests of ’68: Theorizing Labor after Adorno

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RICHARD LANGSTON

There was never enough time for ’68 to happen. Before the ideas underlying the myriad events now associated with the single explosive year 1968 could ever unfurl entirely, its actors and the greater cultural contexts in which they found themselves had already moved forward in time. The year 1968 was already over before the conceptual work ’68 set out to do ever came to fruition. Further complicating matters, especially in spite of today’s self-congratulatory anniversaries celebrating the fruits of ’68, a thoroughgoing critical understanding of the events, people, and ideas conveniently filed under the heading “1968” requires us to question the structural straitjacket that the date implies. Both the causal historicism typical of diachronicity and the simultaneity of synchronicity overlook how ’68 was both a critical engagement with anachronicity and an opening into proleptic time. Neither traumatic nor systemic, ’68 looked backward in time in an effort to differentiate its own present historically and, precisely because of the lack of time required to perform this complicated work, never came to a close in its own moment. To argue that ’68, the unfulfilled revolutionary spirit of the year 1968, is still with us today is thus only valid if and when we acknowledge that ’68 never resided wholly in its own time and that this uncompleted past has also never been entirely fulfilled in our own. Herein resides the utopian conundrum of ’68, a conundrum—as will be shown in the course of this chapter—that the often overlooked German thinkers Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge ensconced as the motor of their political philosophy after 1968.

 

3 What’s Left of the Right to the City?

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JUDIT BODNAR

An undeniable legacy of 1968 is the proclamation of the right to the city. What happened in Paris, Prague, and many other cities, however, was merely the crystallization of long-existing conditions: even the concept was formulated earlier. Henri Lefebvre finished The Right to the City in 1967, on the centenary of volume 1 of Marx’s Capital, as Lefebvre himself noted, but it was not this temporal coincidence or the intellectual kinship that determined its significance. The concept of the right to the city came into its own with the events of 1968; it received justification in people reclaiming the streets for radical politics, people who acted as if they had all read Lefebvre and were staging his work in the streets of Paris. The right to the city has informed urban theory and inspired urban justice movements ever since. Some also note the radical transformation this notion has gone through since its conception, what with the “undeclared vulgarization” of some of Lefebvre’s ideas, and their circulation in severely abridged forms undermining their original meaning.1

 

4 The Rise and Fall of an International Counterculture, 1960–1975

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JEREMI SURI

In The Feminine Mystique—Betty Friedan’s 1963 attack on domesticity—the author describes how she “gradually, without seeing it clearly for quite a while . . . came to realize that something is very wrong with the way American women are trying to live their lives today.”1 Despite the outward appearances of wealth and contentment, Friedan argued that the Cold War was killing happiness. Women, in particular, faced strong public pressures to conform with a family image that emphasized a finely manicured suburban home, pampered children, and an ever-present “housewife heroine.”2 This was the asserted core of the good American life. This was the cradle of freedom. This was, in the words of Adlai Stevenson, the “assignment” for “wives and mothers”: “Western marriage and motherhood are yet another instance of the emergence of individual freedom in our Western society. Their basis is the recognition in women as well as men of the primacy of personality and individuality.”3

 

5 Invisible Humanism: An African 1968 and Its Aftermaths

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JAMES FERGUSON

One of the premises of this volume is that the full significance of what we call “1968” can only be grasped by attending to a wide range of ideas and events that unfolded at more or less the same time in many different locations around the world. This entails a recognition that there is not a single 1968 (with its epicenter in, for instance, Paris in May). The mood and moment of ’68, this volume insists, was irreducibly plural and meant different things in different places. To this it is necessary only to add that the same is true of Africa’s 1968s. This is why the title of this essay refers to “an” African 1968, not “the” African 1968. As I will argue, there were many African 1968s.

We do live in a world of centers and peripheries, and France was undoubtedly a center from which many things reverberated in those heady years (the United States was no doubt another). But the 1968 phenomenon is generally reckoned to be so significant precisely because it swept across (as it is often put) “the whole world.” It was never just a matter of Paris but also of Saigon and Hanoi. Czechoslovakia was in the middle of it, but so was Tokyo. In Mexico City as in Chicago “the whole world was watching.” In dealing with a set of events whose significance rests on their claimed globality, peripheries turn out to be surprisingly central.

 

6 Pushing Luck Too Far: ’68, Northern Ireland, and Nonviolence

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SIMON PRINCE

On October 5, 1968, police officers broke ranks to beat a small civil rights march off the streets of Derry. The young poet Seamus Heaney recognized this moment as a “watershed in the political life of Northern Ireland”: it was no longer possible to believe in “shades of grey.”1 On October 4, 2008, the commemorations marking the fortieth anniversary of the march opened in Derry’s Guildhall with an easy-listening version of Nina Simone’s “Free.” This was appropriate for an event that smoothed out the story of the past to suit the needs of the politics of the present. A Nobel Peace Prize winner, John Hume, and a former high-ranking member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), Martin McGuinness, each laid claim to the movement’s legacy; the different Irish nationalist traditions—constitutionalism and physical force—each laid exclusive claim to continue the struggle of the Catholic minority.2

But the speech given by the journalist Nell McCafferty was played in a new key. She took out her medicine and encouraged people in the audience to talk about the drugs that they had been prescribed, for she felt that popping pills was the only proper response to the sight of elderly men parading onto the platform in acts of self-promotion. The late 1960s that McCafferty recalled were not about peaceful politics or the politics of the gun; they were about homeless families squatting in empty properties, the occupation of public buildings, and protesters challenging bans on marches. She talked about nonviolence, a democratic idea that is little heard of in the public discourse of Northern Ireland.3 It is an idea that questions the act of peacefully working within the system as much as violently trying to overthrow it. It is an idea that since the 1960s has helped end empires, topple dictators, and pull down barriers to equality. It is an idea that subversively suggests that even democratic states often have to be forced to concede change. The uneasy listening continued for the politicians when McCafferty asked and eventually bullied those who had also broken the law to raise their hands. A spontaneous round of applause sounded around the hall.4 In a reprise of what had happened four decades earlier, nonviolent confrontation had briefly offered the Catholic community something different from constitutional nationalism and militant republicanism.

 

7 Mexico 1968 and the Art(s) of Memory

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JACQUELINE E. BIXLER

2 de octubre no se olvida (October 2 is not forgotten).

—popular slogan, 1968–present

Like the mythical two-faced Janus, the words “Mexico 1968” conjure up two diametrically opposed historical images. For many, particularly those who reside outside Mexico, the mention of “Mexico 1968” brings memories of the XIX Olympics and of the two African American athletes who raised their black-gloved fists as a sign of Black Power upon receiving their medals. While most Mexicans know that the Olympics were held that year in Mexico City, the words “Mexico 1968” are much more likely to evoke memories of a long summer of marches and manifestations that ended on October 2, within days of the Olympic opening ceremony, with the death of an untold number of students and bystanders in the Plaza de Tlatelolco.

Memory, particularly as it relates to history, has been a subject of intense philosophical debate since the days of antiquity, when Plato described memory as a block of wax onto which we imprint perceptions and ideas. Key questions persist, however. What do we remember? How do we remember? Why do we remember? Recent years have produced a “memory boom” in both critical theory and cultural production as the result of the Holocaust, the Vietnam War, the Dirty War in Argentina, and other hauntingly unforgettable events of the not-so-distant past. According to Kerwin Lee Klein, “Academics speak incessantly of memory because our epoch has been uniquely structured by trauma.”1 In the case of Mexico, the twentieth century was rife with trauma, beginning with the Revolution of 1910, the deadly earthquake of September 19, 1985, and the 1994 Chiapas uprising and multiple assassinations of high-level political figures.2 But the deepest and most lasting trauma of all was inflicted on the evening of October 2, 1968, when Mexican army troops opened fire on thousands who were attending a peaceful student-led rally in the Plaza de Tlatelolco. On that day, twentieth-century Mexican history fractured into two eras: pre- and post-1968. As David William Foster notes, October 2, 1968, “marks a dividing line in Mexico’s socio-historical consciousness; and in many ways the enormous changes in Mexican society in past decades, including considerable erosion of the PRI’s [Partido Revolucionario Institucional] political authority and symbolic stature, are a consequence, if not directly of what happened in the plaza, of fault lines in Mexican society that became brutally evident with those events.”3 Indeed, it was the very awareness of these fault lines that later caused the residents of Mexico City to bypass the government and form the grassroots brigades that saved thousands of those trapped beneath the rubble of the 1985 earthquake.4 The year 1968 was to be the cornerstone of Mexico’s modern collective consciousness, a consciousness characterized by distrust of and resistance to governmental authority, whose weapons ranged from rifles to the manipulation of historical “facts.”

 

8 White Power, Black Power, and the 1968 Olympic Protests

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MARTIN A. BERGER

In October 1968 the Olympic sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos staged a protest that became an icon of 1960s America (figure 8.1). After placing first and third, respectively, in the Olympic men’s 200-meter race in Mexico City, each man mounted the medal stand with an “Olympic Project for Human Rights” button pinned to his track jacket, black socks displayed prominently by shoeless feet and rolled pant legs, and a single black glove. After receiving their medals, the men pivoted toward the rising flags and, as “The Star-Spangled Banner” played, raised black-gloved fists in the air and lowered their heads. As the pair stood motionless on the stand, the scene was captured in black and white by press photographers and in color by television journalists and quickly circulated around the world. The next day, Smith explained his intentions in a television interview with the sports reporter Howard Cosell: “The right glove that I wore on my right hand signified the power within black America. The left glove my teammate John Carlos wore on his left hand made an arc with my right hand and his left hand also to signify black unity. . . . John Carlos and me wore socks, black socks, without shoes, to also signify our poverty.”1

 

9 Bodies Count: The Sixties Body in American Politics

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ROBERT O. SELF

Historical discussions of feminism in the United States typically locate post-1968 women’s liberation as the origin of a new politics of the body in post–World War II American political discourse. By making the personal, especially the sexual and the reproductive, political, women’s liberationists redefined how the socially constructed body was understood. Constrained by male control of female bodies, they contended, women lacked the power to shape their sexual and reproductive destinies. Their bodies were not fully their own. After 1968, however, white women’s liberationists, Third World feminists, and other activist women of color politicized abortion and reproductive health, along with rape, sexual harassment, and other dimensions of “sexual politics.” The result was a new political language, a tide of new legislation, and a vibrant jurisprudence—forged by Supreme Court decisions in such cases as Roe v. Wade (1973), Craig v. Boren (1976), and Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson (1986)—that were collectively transformative, if contested and incomplete. Ascribing these developments to post-1968 feminist activism is right, provided we acknowledge earlier precedents in European and U.S. feminisms in both the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.1

 

10 Beginning 9 Evenings

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MICHELLE KUO

The artist’s work is like that of a scientist. It is an investigation which may or may not yield meaningful results; in many cases we only know many years later.

—Billy Klüver, “The Great Northeastern Power Failure”1

Its ambition was matched only by its scale: 9 Evenings: Theatre & Engineering was a colossal enterprise, a performance series that lasted, appropriately, nine evenings in October 1966 in New York and was attended by over ten thousand people. Thirty engineers from the AT&T Bell Laboratories campus in Murray Hill, New Jersey, worked together with ten artists; their fervent struggles against and with one another brought the working methods of the postwar laboratory and studio into unprecedented intimacy. These travails have been chronicled widely as both pinnacle and nadir of the neo-avant-garde aspirations of the 1960s. But the historical reception of the event is much more complex than its contemporary traces indicate. Indeed, 9 Evenings moved collaboration toward a peculiar kind of organization and production, a vital shift that fundamentally altered modes of collective action, disciplinary bounds, and the terms of performance.

 

11 Sensorial Techniques of the Self: From the Jouissance of May ’68 to the Economy of the Delay

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NOIT BANAI

Without elevating the French revolts of May 1968 to the status of mythical events that can be neither captured nor repeated, it is apparent that their power to connote new forms of governance and subjectivization has not waned. Especially in the last decade, contemporary art practitioners, such as Olafur Eliasson, have harnessed the participatory, democratic discourse that surrounded the events of May 1968 as a way of invigorating the public to generate forms of subjectivization within art institutions. This ostensible repetition raises important questions about the afterlives of 1968 as a particular (yet plural) historical confluence of political circumstances, material practices, and representational and textual artifacts that still resonate in the contemporary imaginary. Indeed, if the last forty years have seen diverse recuperations and reproductions of May 1968 as a global seismic shift, the one I would like to excavate revolves around the intersection of phenomenological experience and the democratic opposition to government power within the French context. Articulated as a critical paradigm for collective organization by diverse voices during the ’68 revolts, this particular history becomes all the more pronounced through its novel iterations in aesthetic manifestations such as Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project at the beginning of the twenty-first century.1 At the crux of this essay is the presentation of a microhistory that asks how the modality of participation, considered both a political manifestation of and resistance to biopower, has gone through a radical transformation since the “long ’68” to become a conceptual platform for contemporary aesthetics. My main focus is the way in which the discourse of revolutionary “spontaneity” that characterized the French revolts has been modified into an insistence on the ethical experience of the “delay” in Eliasson’s installation. To crystallize the implications of this conceptual and temporal reformulation, it is imperative to understand how the body and visual apparatus of the “participant” have been envisaged and deployed in these two disparate moments and to what ends. Through such an analysis, we can assess the continuing valence of 1968 and confront the complex methodological problems that come with evaluating such apparent paradigm repetitions.

 

12 Tempered Nostalgia in Recent French Films on the ’68 Years

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JULIAN BOURG

The representational heterogeneity of 1968 is self-evident. The events of that year were multiple; they advocated multiplicity, generated countless instant accounts, and have been interpreted and polemicized in a myriad of ways. Film is a fitting form for reckoning with the sixties as a whole and 1968 in particular not only because impressions of 1968 at the time and since have trafficked in images, and not only because film lends itself to capturing diverse temporalities and spaces, but also because of the simple fact that no one has stopped making films about “the ’68 years.” Where do we stand today in relation to 1968 with respect to film? I would like to discuss two films: Philippe Garrel’s Les amants réguliers (Regular Lovers, 2005) and Christian Rouaud’s Lip, l’imagination au pouvoir (Lip: Imagination in Power, 2007).1

Both of these films return to les années soixante-huit (the ’68 years), that period in France that opened with the student and worker strikes of May–June 1968 and continued into the mid-1970s. Even against the backdrop of worldwide upheaval, the French events of May and June were noteworthy. Nowhere else did matters go so far. Beginning in the student milieu, the largest general strike in twentieth-century Europe led to upward of ten million workers leaving or occupying their workplaces. The government of Charles de Gaulle experienced a shuddering crisis of confidence as the president dramatically left the country in late May for a military base in Germany to check on the loyalty of the army. Although the student-occupied Latin Quarter was cleared in June and special elections later that month strengthened de Gaulle, the events of 1968 were considered by many, as was said at the time, the “beginning of a long struggle,” a “breach” in the wall of conventional society, an opening of historical possibility that militant action would keep open and extend (figure 12.1).2 The late 1960s and early to mid-1970s saw an upswing of left-wing radicalism, the formation of new social movements, and the abrupt emergence of the French counterculture. This climate of radical social and political action began to taper off in the mid-1970s.

 

13 Rhetorics of Resistance: The Port Huron Project

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MARK TRIBE

When I started teaching at Brown University in 2005, I was surprised by how little antiwar protest there was on campus. Brown has a long history of student activism: the eruptions of 1968 culminated in Brown’s adoption of progressive new curriculum drafted by students, and in 1985 students erected shanties and staged hunger strikes to protest the university’s investments in companies doing business in South Africa. It was clear that my students objected to American involvement in Iraq and the Bush administration’s disregard for civil liberties, but they seemed to believe that resistance was futile. It is not hard to imagine why. In 2000 they witnessed a presidential election that many believed had been stolen. In 2003 many students participated in the largest antiwar protests in history (the BBC estimated that six to ten million people in sixty countries protested the imminent invasion of Iraq on February 15 and 16 of that year), but the Bush and Blair administrations were undeterred.1 In 2004 many students worked on John Kerry’s presidential campaign only to see George W. Bush reelected by a narrow margin amid accusations of voting fraud. Their formative political experiences had left them demotivated, if not cynical.

 

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