Cynthia Haven at The Quarterly Conversation:
The conference has been called “epochal,” “a watershed,” “a major reorientation in literary studies,” “the French invasion of America,” the “96-gun French dispute,” the equivalent of the Big Bang in American thought.
To hear the superlatives, one would have thought that “The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man” symposium held at Johns Hopkins for a few frantic days from 18 to 21 October 1966 was the first gathering of its kind ever held. It wasn’t, but it did accomplish a feat that changed the intellectual landscape of the nation: it brought avant-garde French theory to America. In the years that followed, René Girard would champion a system of thought that was both a child of this new era and an orphan within it. He was at once proud of his role in launching the symposium, and troubled by some of its consequences. Let us consider what happened during this watershed autumn.
The event itself was René Girard’s inspiration. He had assumed the chair of the Romance Languages Department from Nathan Edelman the year before, and became one of the triumvirate who brought the symposium together. Another was that brilliant figure who has been somewhat overlooked in American intellectual history—the restless, quicksilver Eugenio Donato.