Professor Jean-Marie Apostolidès Dies
The Department of French and Italian was once the brightest, if not the biggest, constellation in the Stanford firmament. John Freccero, René Girard, Michel Serres, Valentin Mudimbe, Brigitte Cazelles and others, are no longer with us. Jean-Pierre Dupuy, Elisabeth Boyi and Hans Gumbrecht are still with us, although the latter two are retired. And now, another luminary of that legendary department has passed on. Jean-Marie Apostolides – author, playwright, historian, literary critic, teacher, Situationist and social theorist – left behind an immense and immensely original body of work. The diamond of his magnus opus, Héroïsme et victimisation (2003), will shine on for a long time to come. His two earlier books, Le roi machine (1981) and Le prince sacrifié, were field-defining works that remain required reading in early modern French studies. In France his work on Tintin was – and still is – much loved. He produced and directed many memorable plays at Stanford, and his course on “Women in French Cinema” (widely known as the "French porn" course) drew many hundreds if not thousands of undergraduates to the department over the years.
“He was an electric presence on campus,” says Christy Pichichero, a former student, now an associate professor at George Mason University and external fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center. “He was charismatic, playfully mischievous, and bold in his brilliance—students were captivated and sat on the edge of their seats, even in his largest lectures. He was a true freethinker, a soixante-huitard in spirit who provocatively critiqued social and institutional norms. He brought something entirely unique and irreplaceable to the Stanford community.”
Those of who knew Jean-Marie well will always remember his vibrant intellectual imagination, his personal charm and quirks, his ever-thickening French accent in English, his generosity toward colleagues and students, his superabundant vitality, and his winsome smile. He was never shy when it came to opinions, and he had many of them, both entitled and unentitled. He concluded one of his interviews in his later years with the following remarks: “As a collective we are always embedded in myths, fictions, and I dare say lies. We cannot exist as a society without lies. We need falsehoods in order to reach the truth. I would not separate falsehoods from truth any more than I would separate imagination from science. They are mixed together in such a way as to make it impossible to extricate them.” Jean-Marie Apostolides, or Aposto, as he was known to us, gave Stanford and the world a lot more than he took from them, and for that his friends, students, and colleagues are more grateful than ever now that he has reached the other side.
Jean-Marie Apostolidès was born on November 27, 1943, and passed away on March 24, 2023, at the age of 79.