may 1968

may 1968
  ---- by Richard G. Smith
  In the spring of 1968 Baudrillard was engaged in his university career, teaching sociology at Nanterre (Université de Nanterre Paris X) as a Maître Assistant. Thus Baudrillard was based at Nanterre when, on 22 March, radicalised students occupied one of the university's administration buildings. That incident subsequently initiated months of conflict at the university between students and senior management, finally leading to the shutdown of the university on 2 May. The discontent spread from Nanterre across Paris and to elsewhere in France, the social upheaval eventually resulting in a general strike that paralysed the French economy. The events forced the de Gaulle government to the edge of collapse before its successful restoration of political and economic stability - with the help of the French Communist Party (Parti Communiste Français, PCF).
  Despite being at the epicentre of the May 1968 revolts, Baudrillard was never a nostalgic 'sixty-eighter', one of those soixante-huitards who dreamed of placing 1968 in a revolutionary series with 1848 (The European Revolutions), 1871 (Paris Commune), 1905 and 1917 (Russian Revolutions):
  Nanterre . . . the sociology department . . . Cohn-Bendit . . . the 22 nd of March . . . We were at the center of the 'events'. We participated . . . we went to the barricades . . . The 'spirit of May' circulated for several years at Nanterre. We still had a certain power. The students were behind us. We defended the department of sociology above all. The situation lasted until 1973-4. I stayed on a few more years, through inertia. During the work of mourning, for me, there was no longer any activity. I had passed to the side of theory. Leftism, or what it had become, closed militarism, was no longer an option. (UD, 16)
  For Baudrillard the events of 1968 were 'the forerunner of nothing' (FF, 115), an indecipherable event that was 'impossible to rationalize or exploit, from which nothing has been concluded' (FF, 114-15). Nevertheless, while not a disappointed '68er' veteran, it is evident that the failure of May 1968 was an important watershed for Baudrillard, throwing into question the role of the intellectual. In an interview Baudrillard states that after 1968 it was 'extremely difficult . . . to take up, once again, the position of the intellectual who is conscious of himself', to be able to speak in someone else's name: 'I don't think an intellectual can speak for anything or anyone' (BL, 79).
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The Baudrillard dictionary. . 2015.

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