Re: [OPE-L] Derrida's ghosts

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Tue Nov 08 2005 - 08:03:12 EST

Here's one of many articles on the web which refer to the dissertation
that Ian alluded to.  This article is from the WSWS.

Actually it's an interesting story on more than one level -- e.g.
Elizabeth Teissier was an advisor to former President Mitterand.
The article reminds the readers of Nancy Reagan following the advice
of an astrologer at a time when she weilded greater influence over the
White House. Perhaps the more interesting story then isn't Terssier's
dissertation but rather how the belief in astrology by politicians can
have a _real_ impact on state policies.

While it is informative, I am not impressed by some sections of
Steinberg's WSWS article -- especially the alleged "empirical
examination" of  postmodernists which "reveals their participation
at some time in Stalinist or other organizations of the radical left."

In solidarity, Jerry


      The "Teissier affair"
      Astrology rehabilitated at the Sorbonne university in Paris
      By Stefan Steinberg
      21 September 2001

      For some months France's best known astrologist Elizabeth Teissier
has featured heavily in the media and has been at the centre of an
almost surreal debate on the scientific merits of astrology.

      In April, Ms. Germaine Elisabeth Hanselmann, better known as
Elizabeth Teissier, defended her doctorate dissertation, entitled
Epistemological situation of astrology across the ambivalence
fascination/rejection in post-modern societies, at Paris' Sorbonne

      Her 900-page thesis, supposedly demonstrating the scientific
qualities of astrology, was subsequently accepted by a majority
of a panel of professors, as the basis for awarding Teissier a doctorate
in sociology.

      Not only does a closer look at l'affaire Teissier throw a revealing
and bizarre light on the way in which a French president conducted
politics in one of the most developed countries in Western Europe, the
acceptance of Teissier's paper by one of France's most prestigious
universities makes clear the degeneration of scientific thought that has
taken place in the French educational system, heavily influenced by
so-called post-modern ideologists.

      Elizabeth Teissier, a former model for Chanel, the luxury fashion
and perfumery house, and more recently the most publicised astrologer in
France, revealed some time ago that she had served as an advisor to the
French president Francois Mitterrand for a period of seven years. She has
written a book on her work for the president entitled Sous Le Signe de
Mitterrand (Under the Sign of Mitterrand). In the book she claims she
used the stars to guide the president in choosing his every political
move, including military actions during the Gulf War.

      At the start of her collaboration with Mitterand, she writes, she
predicted a major international incident, which she said would take
place in the summer of 1990. In August of the same year, when Iraq
invaded Kuwait, Mitterrand immediately called upon her to compute
Hussein's horoscope and determine the dictator's next move. Reflecting US
propaganda at the time, which justified its aggression against Iraq by
demonising Saddam Hussein, Teissier relates in her book that she foresaw
that Saddam would be very slow to pull back his troops, since he possessed
"the same astrological cocktail as Hitler-a Taurus with Libra ascendant."

      It is of course difficult to say how much of Teissier's account is
true. What is clear is that Teissier did have a close relationship
with President Mitterand and was known to attend his office on
regular occasions. It is also a matter of record that Mitterand was
intrigued by astrology, levitation and poltergeists. At a speech
before assembled scientists, the president confused astrology with
the science of

      Teissier makes clear that she relies heavily in her work on the
statistical research of Michel Gauquelin, who has sought to prove a
connection between the movement of the planets and the fortunes,
careers and performances of leading sportsmen. In her recent
doctoral paper, Teissier attempts to justify her thesis by boasting
of how President Mitterrand "asked her to sketch the astral
portrait" of his Prime
Minister Pierre Bérégovoy. (In the course of drawing up such a portrait,
Teissier somehow missed the conjunction of stars that pointed to
Bérégovoy's suicide a short time later.)

      Teissier's work and book could be dismissed as some sort of
practical joke, were it not for the fact that her recent thesis was
accepted and approved by a panel of prominent professors at the Sorbonne.
Although the panel accepted it as a treatise on sociology, Teissier
abruptly dismisses any discussion of sociology at the beginning of her
paper, writing, "a discussion about the philosophy of sociology... would
be out of place here..." Her entire 900-page paper is peppered with
reactionary nonsense. Without over-testing the patience of our readers,
here are a few examples:

      * "Recent investigations have allowed us to establish a relation
between cancer and even AIDS with the dissonances of these two
planets [Neptune and Pluto] with respect to the natal theme." (p.

      * "... miscarriages, uterine cancers and other gynaecological
disorders are foreseeable, because they become more probable by the
transit of a dissonant star sign." (p.239)

      * On page 127 Teissier examines the horoscope of author and former
leading Gaullist minister Andre Malraux and concludes that he
probably inherited his "considerable talents from a former life."

      * In the course of her paper, she makes clear that her targets are,
"the aggressive rationalists who are allergic to the stars" (p. 42)
and "the militants of official science." (p. 767)

      The recognition being afforded to astrology in France and other
countries is one of the clearest expressions of the crisis of social
thought, which has taken particularly intense forms during the past
decade. It is well known that US President Ronald Reagan and his wife
Nancy called upon the services of an astrologer during his term in office,
and a college of astrology has recently been accredited in the US. In the
United Kingdom, a research fund has been set up to investigate the
potential of astrology, and in Denmark and Austria, business astrologers
are active, with university backing. In India, the Education Minister has
called upon all 200 universities to offer astrology courses, offering them
each five extra places for teaching and support personnel, and he has
demanded that all high schools teach Vedic mathematics and astrology.

      Nevertheless, the revival of a debate over astrology in France-the
home of the rationalist thought of Descartes-has an especial
significance. Astrology has had a difficult time in France for the
past three centuries. The categorisation of genuine sciences and the
development of an Encyclopaedia of human knowledge was a principal
task of the
Enlightenment, which permeated the thinking of an emerging French
bourgeoisie, and which was to play such a major role in the French
Revolution of 1789.

      Already over a century before the Revolution, astrology was
denounced as a discipline unworthy of study by Jean-Baptiste Colbert,
chief minister to the French monarch Louis XIV, and the man who founded
the French Académie des Sciences in 1666. Following the trial 12 years
later of the mystic and poisoner Voisin, a monarchical degree was passed
which threatened to punish practising soothsayers with banishment. Now
nearly three and a half centuries later, soothsaying has been
rehabilitated at the Sorbonne.

      It is significant that Teissier regards her thesis as a contribution
towards the comprehension of astrology in a post-modern society.
Postmodernist thought, as it has developed over the past three
decades, is characterised by a radical relativism that denies
objective truth and evinces a scepticism towards all theories aimed
at providing a general explanation of the world. For the
postmodernists the scientific study of reality is reduced to the
exchange of mere discourses, or stories, whereby religion, forms of
mysticism or even astrology can be afforded equal rank-indeed
prioritised over scientific disciplines.

      An empirical examination of many of the leading figures in
postmodernist thought reveals their participation at some time in
Stalinist or other organisations of the radical left. In his biography of
the prominent French philosopher and postmodernist Michel Foucault
(1926-1984), The Passion of Michel Foucault, author James Miller describes
how the French academic establishment sought to defuse the radicalism of
the 1968 movement by offering its leading lights top positions in colleges
and universities. Foucault, who sympathised with the Maoists in the
aftermath of '68, was given a leading post at the Collège de France, while
his friend, philosopher and fellow Maoist sympathiser Gilles Deleuze took
over Foucault's old post at the university of Vincennes.

      After the events of 1968-when France was gripped by a general strike
and President de Gaulle was set to flee the country-and the betrayal
and subsequent discrediting of the French Communist Party, a certain
division of labour took place in French academic circles with the
emergence of an openly right-wing, anti-socialist movement of
ideologues and thinkers, the New Philosophers. For their part, many
of the so-called postmodernists in France and elsewhere were able to
retain a certain aura of radicalism for a period of time. The
dissolution of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s was
regarded by many radicals, already moving to the right politically,
as the final collapse of any alternative to capitalism. Witnessing
the meteoric rise of the stock market and the apparent final victory
of the Moloch "Capital", there was a concerted retreat by many
ex-radicals into the types of individualism, mysticism and forms of
idealism that characterise much of postmodern thought and which now
has considerable influence in French academia.

      Over half a century ago, the founder of the Fourth International,
Leon Trotsky, conducted his own struggle against a petty bourgeois,
radical opposition inside the Fourth International. Denouncing the
pseudo-radicalism of the Burnham-Shachtman opposition, which based
itself on the most vulgar forms of pragmatism, and proclaimed its
"scepticism to all theories", Trotsky responded: " 'Scepticism
towards all theories' is nothing but preparation for personal
desertion." (In Defence of Marxism, New Park Publications, p.230).
He also described the Burnham-Shachtman opposition to materialist
dialectics and scientific thinking as follows: "The struggle against
materialist dialectics... expresses a distant past, conservatism of
the petty-bourgeoisie, the self-conceit of university routinists
and.... a spark of hope for an after-life." (ibid, p.67)

      With their accolades for the dissertation of Teissier and her
attempt to rehabilitate astrology, the Sorbonne professors have
sought to fan the "spark of hope for an after-life" into a flame.
Their decision makes abundantly clear that the struggle against
mysticism and ideological backwardness will not be resolved in the
university classroom, but in the construction of a mass socialist
movement against capitalism based on the powerful wealth of
materialist and scientific thought embodied in the Marxist movement.

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