The Lives They Lived, The Lives They Touched

by Corey Robin on March 9, 2015

The year after I graduated college, I lived out in the East Bay area. I was interning at a magazine, for free, and temping (among various other jobs) to support myself.

At one of my temping gigs I befriended a woman from Carbondale, Pennsylvania. Her name was Gloria. She had long black hair, wore lots of leather and makeup, and listened to hard rock and heavy metal. I think she had a son, though I can’t remember for sure. A working-class Italian-American from back East, we didn’t have much in common except a shared love for complaining about our job and trash-talking our boss. Even so, she wound up telling me a lot about her personal life (I have vague memories of  a problematic boyfriend on the scene). She also lent me a cookbook of Italian recipes that I never returned to her.

One day, Gloria furtively pulled out a folder of clippings and told me they were about her Aunt Viola. Viola had been a mother of five in Michigan who went south in the 1960s to march for voting rights for black Americans. Gloria told me she was shot and killed. Gloria was clearly proud of her aunt, but she also said that not everyone in her family felt the same way. I had never heard of her aunt or this story.

Viola_LiuzzoI forgot about both, until years later, when I learned the story of Viola Liuzzo. I put two and two together and realized that Gloria was Viola’s niece. For many years, Liuzzo was one of the forgotten heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. But apparently she now has received her due in the film Selma, which I haven’t seen yet.

Mary Stanton wrote a lovely piece on Liuzzo back in 1999, which was revived and posted this month, but before I provide some excerpts here, I want to come back to Gloria. As far I could tell, Gloria was not a political person. She was mostly a survivor—of bad jobs, bad relationships, bad luck. Even so, she had strong feelings about racism and racial equality, rooted in a sense of obligation to her murdered aunt. Just a small reminder of how many lives a radical movement of social change like the Civil Rights Movement can touch.

From Stanton’s piece: [click to continue…]

Car(te) Blanche

by Baptiste Coulmont on March 9, 2015

Readers might know Michel Maffesoli, the French sociologist famous for having been the PhD advisor of a socialite seer, Elizabeth Teissier (who did produce an astrological Ph.D). Maffesoli is the herald of a brand of postmodern, non-empirical sociology mixed with esoteric and masonic references. He was a student of Gilbert Durand (who himself was a promoter of academic astrology) and of far-right political scientist Julien Freund. But he was also full professor in one of the most important sociology department in France (at the Université Paris 5). And after the Teissier affair, he has been selected by several ministers of Higher Education to be a member of the Administrative Council of the CNRS, and to be a member of the prestigious *Institut Universitaire de France*. His colleagues and peers at the IUF awarded him the highest professorial rank (“Classe exceptionnelle”). He is the PhD advisor of more than 130 students (seriously, you can check the number on He is the Editor of two journals, *Sociétés* (published by De Boeck, a respectable academic press) and *Les cahiers européens de l’imaginaires* (published by the CNRS).

It has always been difficult to understand the coexistence of the deep contempt of mainstream French sociologists for Maffesoli (he is widely denigrated as a fraud) and of his academic and more wordly successes. One could point to his friendly acquaintance with post-gaullist politicians and to his masonic affiliations, as well as other forms of network connection, but that would not be a full explanation. Recently, Manuel Quinon and Arnaud Saint-Martin, two French sociologists, decided to “Sokal” the Maffesolian band of sociology. Adopting a pseudonym, they wrote an article in postmodern language submitted it to *Sociétés*. They wrote some gobbledegook and *Sociétés* very rapidly decided to publish it as “Automobilités postmodernes: quand l’Autolib’ fait sensation à Paris.”

The car in question

The article is about the Autolib, an electric car rental service available on a subscription basis in Paris.

In the article, the “transgender” Autolib is described as the turning point for the modern *episteme*, as the return to the protection of the primordial matrix, and so on. Being well-versed in maffesolese, they know that “modern” is bad, faustian, promethean, and that “postmodern” is good, comforting and dyonisian. In less than 10 pages, they use half a dozen languages: French, English, German, Latin, Greek (in Greek and Latin alphabets), and various typographic affectations (italics, parentheses, slashes in the middle of words). The vocabulary is often complex—”glyschomorphous”, “phallogocentric”, “diairetico-schizomorphous”—but lacking any particular definition. At the center of the article lies a pun. “Essence”, in French, is both essence (as in essential), and gasoline (as in oil). Thus our fictional author writes that the Autolib is “an open car, but not in essence because it is an electric car”. They also insist that postmodernity is “gaseous”, because Zygmunt Bauman’s modernity is “liquid”. The Autolib reveals itself in conclusion as the origin of a “new directing myth for a new epoch (postmodernity)”.

One month after the publication of their article Saint-Martin and Quinon disclosed their hoax in a long article Le maffesolisme, une sociologie en roue libre : Maffesolism, a freewheeling sociology, where they describe the planning of their article, the swift “evaluation” process and their goal (the ultimate academic destruction of Maffesoland). But their article is also a comprehensive and thorough analysis of Maffesoli’s texts and metaphysics. It is on the basis of this analysis that they have written their pastiche, which is, in some respects, better than what Maffesoli and his students write themselves.