If you owned a newly-renovated 48-room hotel in the Latin Quarter of Paris and wanted to give it a catchy name that would ensure a full house all year round, would you call it “French Theory”? Really?
I wouldn’t, but perhaps that just shows my lack of marketing savvy.
In February 2022, the French newspaper Le Monde, or rather its magazine M Le mag, published a long article by Stéphanie Chayet called “Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida… About the French origins of ‘wokism’”, in which she explains that “French Theory” is “the name forged across the Atlantic to bring together these French thinkers of post-structuralism.” She quotes François Cusset, the author of a book called French Theory, as saying that in their native France, the thinkers in question “more or less fell into oblivion during their lifetime” but that these difficult philosophers have reached a level of notoriety in the United States that they have never reached at home.
If this is really the case, I may have to eat my words. If Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida and French Theory are so well known in American universities, perhaps the name really can attract enough American academics to fill 48 hotel rooms in the Latin Quarter throughout the year.
The hotel’s new website is persuasive, in any case, with texts that strike me as being masterpieces of tongue-in-cheek advertising: “French Theory thrives on inspiration in all its multifarious glory. An hotel, concept store and musical laboratory, French Theory contributes to the creative revival of the Parisian Left Bank.”
A single room (9 to 10 square meters) is now called a Study Room: “The Study Room is a haven for the modern intellectual. Simple and elegant, it is a perfect fit for both tortured writers and solo ramblers.”
A room for two with a queen size bed is now called a Professor Suite, “a luxurious homage to the great thinkers and writers who built the reputation of the Latin Quarter.”
All the rooms are said to “celebrate the cultural heritage of the Left Bank while adding a welcome touch of modernity to your stay. […] Whether it’s exploring the city, staying in for a cozy evening or even working on your next best-seller, these rooms are the perfect base to do so.”
As a ‘modern intellectual’ and a ‘tortured writer’, I was sorely tempted to book a room at French Theory for a week in September 2022. They even had a vacancy for me, but what finally put me off was the price. The hotel has been so thoroughly upgraded that it now has a third star, and their prices have more than doubled since 2019.
Only part of this price increase is due to inflation and the pandemic. According to French press reports in 2022, hotel prices in Paris have risen by an average of 35 % since 2019, the last pre-pandemic year.
As it happens, I have stayed at this hotel three times in recent years: five nights in September 2011, five in July 2017 and five in August 2019.
The name of the hotel in those years was still Hôtel Cujas Panthéon — Cujas being the name of the street and the Panthéon being the second closest landmark, 350 meters away. (The closest landmark is the Sorbonne, just around the corner and only 110 meters away.)
For my visit in 2011, I booked months ahead of time because I knew some other VirtualTourist members would also be staying in this hotel, and in fact I had some nice chats over breakfast down in the vaulted stone basement with Steve (stevemt), Dave (davesut), Ann (aussierose) and Ann’s husband Howard.
Now, a decade later, the basement has been turned into “the beating heart of French Theory, the Audio Lab.” Breakfast is now served in their new café on the ground floor, or at tables set up out on the street in re-purposed parking spaces.
My photos in this post are from 2011 and 2022. I wrote the text in 2022.
See also: More changes on Rue Cujas.