Philippe Sollers

(b. 1936)

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Frenchwriter and editor. Born in Bordeaux to a middle-class family of factory owners, he was educated at the Jesuits’ École Sainte-Geneviève, but was expelled. He pretended to have schizophrenia to escape compulsory military service in Algeria. He adopted the nom de plume Sollers (his real name is Joyaux) in the early 1950s. His first novel Une curieuse solitude (A Strange Solitude), which he would later disavow, was published in 1958. It received high praise from Louis Aragon and François Mauriac, prompting Sollers to quip that his career had been launched with the help of both the Kremlin and the Vatican. Sollers experimented with the style of the so-called nouveauroman (new novel) pioneered by Alain Robbe-Grillet and Claude Simon, but later dismissed it as overly academic. A devotee of the work of James Joyce—he collaborated with Stephen Heath to translate Finnegans Wake (1939) into French and famously pronounced that novel to be the most formidably anti-fascist work produced between the two World Wars—Sollers's work displays a similar interest in language's prodigious capacity for meaning. He created the journal Tel Quel in 1960 and it rapidly overtook Les Temps moderne as the leading intellectual publication of its time. For a period of over 20 years, Tel Quel set the international benchmark for new and innovative thinking and writing by publishing figures such as Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Julia Kristeva. Many of them, Barthes and Derrida in particular, repaid the compliment by writing fine studies of Sollers's own work. Through the 1960s Sollers was an avid Maoist and together with Barthes and Kristeva made study trips to China to witness the Cultural Revolution at first hand. The journal folded in the early 1980s, at least in part because of disagreements within its editorial board about how to respond to Maoism. In 1983 Sollers launched a new journal, L'Infini, which much as its predecessor did, continues to publish cutting-edge work in critical theory and creative writing.

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.

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