"Oh, I tried the Left Bank. At university I used to go with people who walked around with issues of Tel Quel under their arms. I know all that rubbish. You can’t even read it." — Philip Roth, The CounterlifeIllisibilité: During the 1960s, Tel Quel authors wore this epithet, which means "unreadability," as a badge of honor. It was the Age of Structuralism, an era of high intellectual fashion. Left Bank intellectuals who were less enamored of the journal’s supercilious brand of semiotic hermeticism accused the high-powered literati who regularly appeared in Tel Quel’s pages — a list that reads like a Who’s Who of French Theory — of practicing "theoretical terrorism."
A witticism that made the rounds of the Latin Quarter during the 1970s gleefully took aim at structuralism’s lexical pomposity:
Q. What’s the difference between a Mafioso and a structuralist? A. The latter makes you an offer that you can’t understand.Unlike in France, among North American universities Tel Quel still seems to possess a solid coterie of reverential admirers. Be that as it may, there is no circumventing the fact that things ended rather poorly for the Tel Quel brain trust, as led by the prodigiously gifted, punctuation-averse, Philippe Sollers. (From 1974 to 1981, every issue of Tel Quel began with an excerpt from Sollers’s unpunctuated work-in-progress, Paradis. Sollers explained that his omission of punctuation was a form of rebellion against the "tyranny of metaphysics": "Punctuation is metaphysics itself and incarnate, including the blank spaces and scansions.") By the late-1970s, Tel Quel’s advocacy of far-left political causes, from Stalinism to Maoism, had become such an embarrassment that Sollers, along with his wife and co-editor, Julia Kristeva, elected to scrap the entire enterprise. In 1982, Tel Quel abruptly ceased to appear. The same year, with a few editorial tweaks, it was rebaptized as L’Infini.
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