SylvÃ¨re Lotringer, who popularized French critical theory in the United States, helped inspire the “Matrix” film series, lectured for celebrities from the counter-culture, lent his name to a character from a acclaimed novel and a television series based on it, sparked rants on Fox News and founded an influential publishing house – all while trying to erase memories of a childhood spent on the precipice – is died Nov. 8 at his home outside Ensenada, Mexico, Baja California. He was 83 years old.
The cause was heart failure, said his wife, Iris Klein.
A Parisian Jew of origin and academic holder of the French department of Columbia University with a specialty in abstruse philosophy, Professor Lotringer has somehow charmed his path in a classic American career composed of successive bursts of glory of 15 minutes.
He emerged into public life in the late 1970s as a sort of PT Barnum for postmodernism. Two conferences he held in New York – âSchizo-Cultureâ in 1975 and âNova Conventionâ in 1978 – crystallized an emerging avant-garde composed of aging Beats, experimental musicians, performance artists, punks and a new generation of philosophers.
At âSchizo-Cultureâ, the philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault – one of whom conferences focused on the history of masturbation – were drawn into ideological battles with rowdy mobs. At “Nova”, Philip Glass, Patti Smith and Frank Zappa paid tribute to writer Beat William S. Burroughs. A 19-year-old Thurston Moore, years of the formation of the Sonic Youth group, was also present, but only as a humble devotee of the assembled luminaries.
Around the same time, Professor Lotringer and a group of graduate students founded a magazine he gave to the cryptic name Semiotext (e). Its pages have become a gathering place for its eclectic clique. Figures like Burroughs and Foucault have appeared alongside rising figures like writer Kathy Acker. An issue in honor of the âSchizo-Cultureâ conference sold out of 3,000 issues in three weeks.
Professor Lotringer responded to this popularity by losing interest in his magazine, which ceased publication in 1987, and by ceasing to launch its flagship events. (One exception: a 1996 lecture at a Nevada casino where French philosopher Jean Baudrillard was giving a lecture in a gold lamÃ© suit.)
“Never give people what they want, or they will hate you for it,” Professor Lotringer said in a maintenance with The Brooklyn Rail in 2006.
Instead, he pushed Semiotext (e) to publish thin books of esoteric critical theory with no introductory text or explanation. “Their place was in the pockets of studded leather jackets as much as on the shelves,” he said. recalled in Artforum magazine in 2003.
It had an impact with Semiotext’s first book, “Simulations” (1983), by M. Baudrillard, which quickly became “the po-mo poster of the art world”, the publisher and critic Rhonda Lieberman wrote in Artforum in 2005. The first film “Matrix”, released in 1999, drew elements from the work of M. Baudrillard that Professor Lotringer had published, including the dialogue – like the expression “desert of reality” – and the concept of virtual reality going beyond real life.
Semiotext (e) continued to publish books and uncover improbable mainstream hits. In 2009 and still in 2010, Fox News personality Glenn Beck used a Semiotext (e) book, “The Coming Insurrection,” to claim that “people on the far left call people to arms” and to warn, “We are doomed. “. His tirades pushed the book to number one on Amazon’s bestseller list, The New York Times reported.
“I would be willing to be on the show if he had read the book, but he never read it,” Professor Lotringer told The Times.
Semiotext (e) has evolved over time with the help of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whose publisher distributes its books, and with the addition of two co-publishers, who have introduced new themes and authors. Yet the degree to which Semiotext (e) remains associated with its founder can be inferred from the fact that the book he is best known to have published features Professor Lotringer himself as a character.
This book is “I love Dick” a novel by Chris Kraus, one of the co-editors of Semiotext (e) and ex-wife of Professor Lotringer. Its plot features a character named SylvÃ¨re Lotringer, who finds himself entangled in his wife’s attraction to a colleague named Dick. (The woman in the book is called Chris Kraus.)
The novel did not gain much attention when it was published in 1997, but critical acclaim gradually built; more than 50,000 copies were sold in 2016 alone. The following year, Amazon adapted the book into a TV shows of the same title, with Griffin Dunne as Professor Lotringer, Kevin Bacon as Dick and Kathryn Hahn as Kraus.
The real Ms. Kraus described Professor Lotringer as brilliant but also gently erased. âUnder his reputation at the Mudd Clubâ – a well-known punk-rock dive – âas a pervert sex philosopher, Sylvere was a closet humanist,â Ms. Kraus wrote. “Guilt and duty more than S&M propelled his life.”
Writer Lucy Sante, who explored New York in the 70s and 80s, among others, and who attended âSchizo-Cultureâ and studied with Professor Lotringer, recalled both her charisma and her estrangement.
“We went to the movies, we went to a party, we went to a club – there was SylvÃ¨re, of course,” she said in a telephone interview. âHe is the man of mystery. He’s everyone’s boyfriend, but no one knows him too well.
Ms. Kraus proposed a theory relating Professor Lotringer’s editorial work to his sensibility.
âYou could say that everything he achieved with Semiotext (e) was the result of travel,â she said. “Every time he did a book interview with a philosopher, it was a way to avoid writing about his own war experience.”
SylvÃ¨re Lotringer was born on October 15, 1938 in Paris, less than two years before the city fell into the hands of Nazi Germany. His father, Cudek, and his mother, Doba (Borenstein) Lotringer, were Jewish immigrants from Poland who ran a fur store.
SylvÃ¨re and her older sister, Yvonne, were the only two Jews in their school. The director had contacts in the French Resistance, and she gave the young Lotringers false papers so that they could pretend to be two of their comrades, Serge and Huguette Bonnat.
The family fled to the countryside, where a woman to whom they had rented accommodation for the holidays took in the children. SylvÃ¨re’s mother asked her to repeat over and over again: âMy name is Serge Bonnatâ, adding: âThey kill little children who say their real names. After almost revealing his name on a trip to buy milk, he was forbidden to leave the house.
After the liberation of Paris, SylvÃ¨re suffered beatings at school and only found a sense of belonging with a group of young Zionists. He prepared to move to Israel and establish a kibbutz with his friends, but then began to question himself when he failed his final high school philosophy exam.
He described this period in a memoir, âThe Sliding Man,â which he embarked upon in writing towards the end of his life. (It remains unpublished. Professor Lotringer’s wife, Ms. Klein, provided a draft.)
“We had only the future in mind and believed it was near,” wrote Professor Lotringer. âNo question asked, only one answer. No wonder I failed my exam.
On behalf of himself and his friends, he sent a letter to their mentors resigning from the Zionist movement.
He continued to show promise in Parisian intellectual circles – by creating a Marxist cultural magazine with the writer Georges Perec, by contributing to another magazine edited by the poet Louis Aragon and by studying with Roland Barthes. He developed an interest in Virginia Woolf and traveled across Britain in a Vespa to interview figures related to her, such as Leonard Woolf and Vita Sackville-West.
Professor Lotringer obtained a doctorate. in Sociology of Literature from the Practical School of Advanced Studies in 1967 and shone among appointments at universities in Turkey, Australia and the United States.
Besides Ms. Klein, with whom he had homes in Mexico City and Los Angeles, he is survived by a daughter, Mia Lotringer Marano, from a relationship with Susie Flato, a former colleague at Columbia and Semiotext (e), and two grandsons. Two previous marriages ended in divorce. Her sister died in 2010.
In a Semiotext (e) monograph entitled âBeing Givenâ, Professor Lotringer said that on his return to Paris, he was looking for Serge Bonnat, the boy he had imitated during the war. He called all the entries of the name in the Paris directory, then the entries of other people with the same name.
Finally, in 2016, he had Mr. Bonnat on the phone.
“I am a righteous one!” he said, using a French term to refer to the Gentiles who helped the Jews during the war. âWe are going to celebrate this with a bottle of champagne. “
The two men spent an afternoon together. But the reflection on the experience sparked in him a haunting thought: barely 0.5% of French society, he discovered, was called “Fair.”
“What were the Unfair do in France during this period, the 99.5% of the population that is never mentioned? he wrote. “And what are they doing today?