What does it mean to do a “microhistory” of a concept? Stefanos Geroulanos
pursues just such a project in the 22 chapters of Transparency in Postwar France: A Critical History of the Present
(Stanford University Press, 2017). A rich and complex history of France in the decades after 1945, the book is as intellectually packed as it is methodologically adventurous. Organized roughly chronologically from the end of the war to the 1980s, the book follows numerous objects, themes, and paths, coming together as a web of thinkers, metaphors, and values that referred and responded to transparency in distinctive ways in the French context. In France as nowhere else, transparency was a particular type of problem, a notion regarded with deep skepticism, suspicion even, for much of the postwar period.
An intellectual history that considers the work of anthropology, political and economic theory, scientific, literary and cinematic texts, Transparency
chases the concept well beyond the kinds of philosophical discourses that so often dominate the history of ideas. Divided into five sections, the book begins with the history of the concept of transparency and its uses in the immediate postwar years. It continues with a discussion of state, society, and utopia across a range of sites and figures, from the black market to gangsters, to maladapted adolescents. The third part of the book moves from the 1950s to the early 1960s, exploring norms, structuralism, self and other, face and mask. Part four turns to the question of radicalization and modernity and moves toward May ’68. The final part of the book tracks questions about the agent of history from the late 1960s to the middle of the 1980s. A wild and formidable book that overwhelms in a good way, Transparency
is a challenging and impressive project. Speaking with Stef was a pleasure and I hope listeners will enjoy our conversation!
Roxanne Panchasi is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at Simon Fraser University. Her current research focuses on the representation of nuclear weapons and testing in France and its empire since 1945. She lives and reads in Vancouver, Canada. If you have a recent title to suggest for the podcast, please send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
*The music that opens and closes the podcast is an instrumental version of “Creatures,” a song written and performed by Vancouver artist/musician Casey Wei (“hazy”). To hear more, please visit https://agonyklub.com/