Claude Roget: Philosopher Or Fraud?
Claude Roget: Montmartre Mountebank by Louis Bloch
Order Is Terror by Claude Roget
Literature and Vacuum by Claude Roget
“Uncommunicative Modalities In Roget’s Anti-Texts” by Maurice Duchamp
Words: First Tools of Capitalistic Oppression by Claude Roget
Stratagems of Corporate Enslavement by Claude Roget
Decapitation and Capitalism: A Play by Claude Roget
Louis Bloch’s critical biography Claude Roget: Montmartre Mountebank denounces one of the most influential philosophers of our time as an "audacious plagiarist.” Bloch’s argument that Roget’s books leave an “embarrassing stain” on contemporary philosophy has generated both moral outrage against and spirited defense for Roget’s intellectual legacy—the Post-Linguistic school of philosophy. Devoted students have recently posted the legendary unabridged first editions of Roget’s works—which many believe are loaded with plagiarized passages—on the Internet, fuelling debate over the extent of Roget’s originality.
Roget’s boyhood does little to suggest the later lady-killer and shameless self-promoter. Teachers described him as a “wall-flower,” and “silent as a stone.” His most marked characteristic as a boy was his constant fear of his mother’s purse, an overstuffed accessory that he would point at in shrill terror until she removed it from view. But after his father’s death in battle during the Algerian civil war, the embryo of Roget’s personality emerges. His grief gave way to a burst of extroversion, and an interest in debating and student government. In his high school debating club he developed a reputation for defending the most absurd theories, once arguing that the more cheeses a society (like France) produces, the more likely it is to experience civil unrest, in contrast with the politically stable but cheese-illiterate nations of Britain and the United States. But having discovered Marx in his senior year of high school, Roget saw France’s instability, cheese-induced or otherwise, as a state of affairs ripe for exploitation.
Roget rocketed to fame at the age of twenty-four during the violent May, 1968 campus convulsions in Paris. As a student protester, Roget quickly published the long manifesto Order Is Terror, which argued that since the social order in France was enforced by armed police it was inherently violent and oppressive. “If France truly believes in democratic principles,” he wrote “it must disband the army and police to let the will of the people rise to the surface unchecked.” Although reviews found Order Is Terror “abysmal” and “bereft of scholarship or thought,” in the climate of the campus convulsions it earned Roget an assistantship at the Sorbonne, where he has remained on the faculty to this day, despite not having taught a class there since 1987.
Even early in his career Professor Roget focused his energy more on producing works for publication than on teaching. Bloch, a former student of Roget, remembers him holding court with his admirers at a café:
Roget often said things he thought especially witty or insightful. Sometimes he would stop the conversation in mid-sentence, and hold up his hands to silence us while he wrote down what he had just said. He believed everything he said had relevance to some book he was writing. As his fame grew, some of us volunteered to serve as Roget’s scribes. We learned to watch his face for the discreet nod that meant he had just said something he believed worthy of preservation.
But there were still times when Roget was forced to take his own notes. Bloch relates one former lover’s claim that Roget took notes for his absurdist play Decapitation and Capitalism while they made love, scribbling even during her climax. Today it is not unusual for Roget’s dinner guests to see him switch on a pocket tape recorder to record his entire dinner-hour monologue after their small talk has ceased and he has seized the reins of the conversation.
Roget solidified his reputation in 1973 with the publication of Literature and Vacuum, which argued that all writing—from an infant’s pre-literate crayoning to King Lear—are of “precisely equal value,” and that only the dictates of race, class, and gender fool us into valuing literature over other forms of writing. But more than a critique of literature, Literature and Vacuum set out to show the appalling limits of language itself to represent reality. Consider:
Language always connotes itself self-referentially as a solipsistic meta-language, an infinite regress mediated by its own inherent linguistic modality about itself, which, ipso facto, is incommensurate with “reality” as hitherto described by post-Humean and pre-Heideggarian Western metaphysicians working within the epistemological straightjacket of murky and untestable neo-Kantian a priori propositions about our collective ψυχε [psyche]. Plato’s famous condemnation of poetry as dangerous to his Republic sprang from his insight that poetry has the effrontery to claim that it transcends language and says something “meaningful” about “the world”—rather than about other Words, as we now know. Science, by atomizing reality, makes no such claims of transcendence, but, through its mundane and joyless exactitude, manufactures the pervasive and comforting illusion that our absurdly arbitrary units of measuring “reality”—the meter, the Celsius degree, the hour, the color “blue”—are worthy nets with which to capture the slippery and incomprehensible flux that “reality” “really” “is.”
Indeed, for Roget, Man’s development of language represents regression in evolutionary terms:
Because a dog is more in tune with the magical, pre-linguistic world, the dog’s barking and growling—indeed, the sounds he emits during defecation—are far more “meaningful” and “poetic” than even the strongest passages in Proust or Dante.
A masterpiece of timing, Literature and Vacuum was just the book that a generation of philosophers weaned on Post-Structuralism was waiting for. Roget was quickly heralded as the Deconstructor-In-Chief of the Post-Linguistic Movement by Maurice Duchamps, Professor of Non-American Studies at the Sorbonne, who had become Roget’s intellectual valet. Duchamps’ seminal article “Uncommunicative Modalities In Roget’s Anti-Texts” launched scathing salvos at traditional philosophy, including his famous assertion that “those who still study the so-called Great Philosophers in earnest are like so many naïve children.” A flood of articles appeared heralding “The Post-Linguistic Movement,” many of which reverentially cited Roget’s work as sacred text. Despite his argument that “the linguistico-philosophical enterprise is hardly nobler than a good game of Scrabble®,” Roget started churning out wordy philosophical tomes at the dizzying pace of four per year for the rest of the 1970s.
This excerpt from this story ends here. To read the entire story, please read: The Satirist: America's Most Critical Book