“Modern capitalism and its spectacle allot everyone a specific role in a general passivity. The student is no exception to the rule. He has a provisional part to play, a rehearsal for his final role as an element in market society as conservative as the rest. Being a student is a form of initiation. An initiation which echoes the rites of more primitive societies with bizarre precision. It goes on outside of history, cut off from social reality. The student leads a double life, poised between his present status and his future role. The two are absolutely separate, and the journey from one to the other is a mechanical event “in the future.” Meanwhile, he basks in a schizophrenic consciousness, withdrawing into his initiation group to hide from that future. Protected from history, the present is a mystic trance.”


A very interesting essay, much more nuanced than the stuff I tend to read lately. I feel like I am missing a lot of the cultural background of Paris 1966; it’s written before 1968, but I’m not sure how much it is before, politically, consciousness-wise, ideology-wise, etc. Without this background and zeitgeist, I find it pretty heavy going, as the arguments are pretty nuanced. At one second he is denouncing general passivity, then subservience to power, then a bohemian lifestyle, then the student’s own consumerism of Camus vs Sartre etc. All very insightful, but I find it hard to put such things together to get a picture of the period! Perhaps this is the problem when you read the marginalised voice without knowing what the mainstream ones were saying.

Note how suddenly his view of Berkeley is much less nuanced and sophisticated — that’s probably reciprocal to my own view and understanding of events in France.

I find it a bit over-sophisticated — in the best French traditions! — but that may just amount to being over-sophisticated for me, with my lack of knowledge of the period. I also had an impression of bad tactics, since it seemed to denounce pretty much everyone (except a group in Japan I’ve not heard of before), which is often justified but not always useful. This then gives me an impression also of hypocrisy, since this seems to indicate a sort of sectarianism, over-denunciation and cliquishness which he is himself denouncing.

But this is an essay from another time and another place, so it’s hard to judge these things.

In broad terms though I thought is was an excellent critique of “the student”, and a very powerful argument at the end — I found it suddenly much less acidic there, though maybe that’s just because I’m more familiar with it — for workers’ councils and so on.

The poverty of student life
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