Catherine Clément

At the occasion of the centenary of the birth of Claude Lévi-Strauss

The Speaker

Catherine Clément is one of the brightest specialists currently working in the fields of anthropology and psychoanalysis. She comes from a family that is half-Catholic, half-Jewish.

Catherine Clément was accepted into France’s prestigious predoctoral university, called “Ecole Normale Supérieure,” where she received a degree in philosophy.  Among her professors were Michel Serres and Ferdinand Alquié. Her mentors have been Vladimir Jankélévitch, whom she assisted at the Sorbonne at the age of 24, and Claude Lévi-Strauss, who asked her to interpret an African myth and to whom she dedicated her first essay in 1970. Afterward, she was Jacques Lacan’s student.

After twelve years of teaching, she retired from the academic world and has been publishing feature articles for le Matin de Paris on cultural life (books, expositions, music, theater). In this capacity, she has done interviews with the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre and François Mitterrand.

In 1969 she was named head of the Ministry of Culture’s arts board, which took her abroad to India, where she lived for four years. The country would then play a leading role in the books she would later write (For the Love of India, Flammarion, 1993; The Last Days of the Goddess, Stock, 2006; Theo’s Voyage, Seuil, 1998). With deep affection for this country which is nearly a continent, she also wrote thirty works about it, including essays as well as several novels which were favorably received (The Sultan, Grasset, 1981; The Senora, Calmann-Lévy, 1991). She also lived for extended periods of time in Austria and Senegal.

In 2001, she went into politics with Jean-Pierre Chevènement. Jean-Jacques Aillagon, with the Raffarin government, entrusted her with writing a report on culture on television, in which she proposed practical and simple solutions to end the deterioration of public television in France.

Catherine Clément defends the concept of “elitism for everyone” which is opposed to the idea derived from the teachings of Pierre Bourdieu that everything has a cultural aspect and that any approach that is any more reductive is limited to the culture of heirs.


Structuralism, forty years on
From around 1960 to 1975, the French intellectual world went through a period characterized to a great extent by structuralism. Forty years on, after years of living abroad that took her from India to Africa, Catherine Clément provides an assessment of the structuralist period in France, which remains unparalleled and extraordinarily useful in understanding the world.
For the centenary of the birth of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Catherine Clément will give free rein to her thoughts on this great person, offering a personal account which shall be both valuable and illuminating insight. And she will give a more comprehensive idea of the whole intellectual journey which has left deep and abiding traces in the
history of world thought.

Psychoanalysis: Therapeutic or intellectual movement?
While in most countries psychoanalysis has fallen in with different kinds of therapies and medications, in France psychoanalysts have resisted this. France is one of the few countries where it is not regulated.
Catherine Clément will describe the abundance of intellectual passion that surrounds those who work as psychoanalysts and which is an ever increasing topic taken up by young French novelists. In case of any kind of government threat, philosophers, linguists, and writers will come to the aid of psychoanalysts to defend what appears to them as a right to exercise their freedom. This, then, is how Catherine Clément intends to look at psychoanalysis.

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