Martin Bernstein

Martin Bernstein

2019 Undergraduate Fellow
History & Literature

Thesis title and description:
“A material history of theory”

I'm interested in the ways certain French thinkers' works were mediated into and transformed in the US in the latter half of the 20th century. I take Jacques Derrida as a first case study: beginning in the 1960s, his works were transformed from the politically engaged leftist philosophy they had been in France, to a literary theoretic method of reading that was initially perceived as apolitical. I want to get a handle on the material and institutional practices that encouraged or enabled such a change. To this end, I will examine teaching materials and departmental records from Johns Hopkins and Yale Universities, both of which were influential in mediating Derrida's early works into the US. What larger forces shaped the way Derrida's work was taught and transformed, and what material practices were involved in such a transformation? The resulting uses of Derrida's thought specifically, and French 'poststructuralism' generally, provided a language in which a generation of US academics framed their thinking about cultural politics. Considering how this language was built will hopefully enable me to ask how US liberalism acts on institutional and material levels to affect ideas about politics.