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May ’68 in Literature and Theory: The Last Season of Modernism in France, Slovenia, and the World

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The research project ‘May ’68 in Literature and Theory’ will intervene in the study of the global student and labor movement that erupted in May 1968 by systematically analysing two so far neglected but key aspects: the dimensions of the literary and the semi-peripheral. It will show how critical theory and late modernist, neo-avant-garde literature were related to these protests, which, opposing institutional politics of the late sixties and early seventies, struggled for the socio-economic transformation of both the capitalist world-system and its second-world socialist alternative.

Neo-avant-garde literature and theory broke with both the bourgeois and the socialist version of the institution of art, including the respective canonical interpretations of literature in mainstream humanities and the school apparatus. Thus, literature and theory, regardless of their differences ([post]structuralist theory’s antihumanism vs. literature’s postexistentialist individualism), opened the possibility of taking the utopian-transformative impulse from the realm of thought into political action, and from concepts and aesthetic feelings into everyday life. The project will compare developments in capitalist Paris, the core of the modern literary world-system and the global exporter of theory, and socialist Ljubljana, a literary semi-periphery that nevertheless kept up with France by producing a theory that came to be recognised worldwide (the Ljubljana School of Lacanian Psychoanalysis), and a literary and artistic neo-avant-garde that, together with other contributions from the global (semi-)periphery, revitalised the immunised modernism of the Western core (e.g, the ludism and conceptualism of the OHO group).

The project starts from the hypothesis that in Slovenia, a republic of the non-aligned and self-managed socialist Yugoslavia, the critique expressed or inspired by the student movement in the United States and Western and Eastern Europe has, perhaps more clearly than anywhere else, shifted from the political field to the field of culture and literature. When the last phase of modernism fade together with the student and labor movement, postmodernism in aesthetics and neo-conservatism in politics followed in the core of the world-system. In Slovenia and other Yugoslav republics, the last season of modernism was followed by the socioeconomic and cultural crisis of the self-management experiment, the bloody disintegration of the federation, and the emergence of independent successor states. The project will answer the question of how the conjuncture of 1968, whose struggle to transform the world seemed to have failed, led to the that of 1989, which did transform the world by announcing the end of the utopia that had inspired 1968. To this end, the project will produce and, applying the most advanced approaches in digital humanities, analyse the archive of Slovenian literary and theoretical production of the period. The focus will be on the question of transformations in four distinct yet closely interconnected social spheres: the national and literary language; the relationship between literature and visual and performing arts; the generational structure of the public sphere; and the patriarchal structures of post-war society



Juvan, Marko (ed.). Med majem ’68 in novembrom ’89: transformacije sveta, literature in teorije. Ljubljana: Založba ZRC, 2021.

Habjan, Jernej. Introduction: May ’68 at Fifty. Interventions 23.3 (2021): 349–55.

Mandić, Lucija. Literatura in teorija v Tribuni in Studentu leta 1968. Slavistična revija 69.1 (2021): 53–67.

Habjan, Jernej. Introduction: 1968 Thought and Its Usual Suspects. European Review, 23 June 2020:

Juvan, Marko. Literature, Theory and Politics of the Long ’68: The Last Season of Modernism and Peripherality. European Review, 16 June 2020:

Habjan, Jernej, and Andraž Jež (ed.). May ’68 in Yugoslavia (= Slavica TerGestina 24.1 [2020]).

Habjan, Jernej. The Global Process of Thinking Global Literature: From Marx’s Weltliteratur to Sarkozy’s littérature-monde. Journal of Global History 14.3 (2019): 395–412.

Juvan, Marko. Peripheral Modernism and the World-System: Slovenian Literature and Theory of the Nineteen-Sixties. Slavica Tergestina 23.2 (2019): 168–99.

Gabrič, Aleš. Jože Pučnik on a Path to Becoming a Dissident. Prispevki za novejšo zgodovino 57.3 (2018): 78–93.

Habjan, Jernej. Rancière’s Lesson: October ’17, May ’68, October ’17. CR: The New Centennial Review 18.3 (2018): 53–71.


Project type
fundamental research project

Research areas
General and comparative literature, literary criticism, literary theory H390