Little known in North America today, André DeMerde was once a towering figure in French Letters. In protest over the brutal repression of Algerian dissidents, he moved from Paris to Tangiers in the mid '50s and conducted his literary incursions against what he calls Empirical Culture from this remote expatriate base.
At first, his dispatches were prominently published in the European left-wing literary press and were responsible for vastly increased awareness of the rapidly deteriorating political situation in North Africa. Gradually though, DeMerde's voice was drowned out by a rising tide of drug-addled students, crypto-Marxist philologists and a cadre of Continental philosophes who had, in his view, taken permanent leave of their senses. By the time of the pivotal events of 1968 -- now in their own turn long forgotten -- it was nearly impossible to find an intellectual in Paris, much less the United States, who could recall the crucial role DeMerde had played only a few years earlier.
Always interested in contrary public voices and their fate, EGR was recently fortunate to encounter this venerable patriarch of culture criticism quite by accident. As it turned out, we found him panhandling outside the Port Authority bus terminal in New York City. He agreed to speak with us in return for a bag of fried pork rinds and a pint of Mad Dog 20-20.
Who Owns the Language?
An Exchange With André DeMerdeEGR: You edited the seminal journal Tel Quel in 1965, played no small role in the development of semiotic hermeneutics, and strongly influenced thinkers as diverse as Jacques Derrida, Little Richard, Jorge Luis Borges, Liberace, Julia Kristeva, Ed Sullivan, Jacques Lacan, Pinky Lee, Roland Barthes and Ed McMahon. In a career that has spanned nearly a half century of literary and media studies, what events seem to you especially noteworthy in retrospect?
André: Before we get into all that, I must say I'm amazed. I never thought it possible