You are here: Home / Names / Alain Grosrichard (1941)

This project is funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) research grant and is supported by the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP) and Kingston University's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

AHRC logo

CRMEP logo

Alain Grosrichard (1941)

Currently President of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Society in Geneva, Switzerland, and Professor Emeritus at the University of Geneva, Alain Grosrichard is one of the leading experts on Rousseau and the French Enlightenment more generally. Born in Paris in 1941, Grosrichard entered the École Normale Supérieure in 1962, where he quickly befriended Jacques-Alain Miller and Jean-Claude Milner. Like others of the Cercle d’Épistémologie, Grosrichard was deeply influenced by the teaching of Louis Althusser and Jacques Lacan. In his later work, Grosrichard would continue to engage with eighteenth-century French thought using Lacanian ideas. His major work Structure du sérial (1979) was a study of representations of ‘oriental’ despotism in Western thought, from Racine and Montesquieu to Diderot and Rousseau. Grosrichard showed how, in the vision of these Western authors, the ‘sultan’ in the East played a role not unlike the ‘phallus’ in the Lacanian schema, a figure who incorporates the Name-of-the-father and, through his unencumbered jouissance and origin order that places all other members of the ‘sultan’s court’, serves at once as the site of prohibitive law and an object of envy. The ‘Other’ of the oriental despot, Grosrichard argues, was a screen on which Western ideas of law and the political were played out. When Grosrichard’s volume was translated into English in 1998, Mladen Dolar introduced it as a Lacanian alternative to Edward Said’s classic account, Orientalism (1978).

One of the original editors of the Cahiers pour l’Analyse, Grosrichard brought a historical perspective to the journal. His contribution to volume two develops Georges Canguilhem’s theses on the equivocal relation between psychology and philosophy through a historical investigation of the ‘Molyneux problem’ in Enlightenment thought. Grosrichard took the editorial lead for volume eight of the Cahiers, devoted to the ‘unthought’ of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Grosrichard’s contribution to this volume was a deliberate response to Althusser’s now classic critique of the ‘discrepancies’ that mar Rousseau’s theory of the Social Contract. Grosrichard insisted that the essential incompleteness of Rousseau’s political theory needed to be complemented by an assessment of his literary works, wherein one finds a proto-Lacanian theory of the subject that accords with this essential incompleteness. Grosrichard was not involved in the production of the Cahiers’ final two issues, on the sciences and formalisation, as he was at a teaching post in Morocco where he had been appointed upon passing the agrégation. At the outbreak of the May events in Paris in 1968, Grosrichard took part in agitating activities in Morocco before being captured by local authorities and sent back to France. Unlike many involved in the Cahiers, who took up teaching positions in the newly founded experimental university in Vincennes, Grosrichard was appointed to a teaching post in the department of philosophy in the university in Aix-en-Provence shortly after his return.

In the Cahiers pour l’Analyse

Alain Grosrichard, ‘Une expérience psychologique au 18ème siècle’, CpA 2.3 [HTML] [PDF] [SYN] [TRANS]
Alain Grosrichard, ‘Gravité de Rousseau (L’Oeuvre en équilibre)’, CpA 8.2 [HTML] [PDF] [SYN]

Select bibliography

  • Structure du sérial: la fiction du despotisme asiatique dans l’Occident classique. Paris: Seuil, 1979. The Sultan’s Court: European Fantasies of the East, trans. Liz Heron, introduction by Mladen Dolar. London: Verso, 1998.
  • ‘L’air de Venise’. Ornicar? no. 24, 1982.
  • ‘On ne s’avise jamais du tout (sur un passage des Confessions de J.J. Rousseau’. Ornicar? no. 30, 1984.
  • ‘La voix et la vérité’. In Littérature et opéra, eds. Philippe Berthier and Kurt Ringger. Grenoble: Presses Universitaires de Grenoble, 1987.
  • ‘L’innoculation de l’amour’. In De l’amour. Paris: Flammarion, 1999.
  • Editor. Les Confessions de Jean-Jacques Rousseau. 2 vols. Paris: Flammarion, 2002.