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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University May 29, 2007 | Vol. 36 No. 36
Obituary: Christian Delacampagne, Professor of French Thought, Literature


Christian Delacampagne, a professor of 20th-century French thought and literature in the Department of German and Romance Languages and Literatures, succumbed to cancer on May 20 at his home in Paris. He was 58.

Delacampagne joined the French faculty in 2002 after an international search, bringing to the Krieger School what Dean Adam Falk described as "an unusually eclectic background" that included serving as director of French Cultural Centers in Barcelona, Madrid, Cairo and Tel Aviv, and as cultural attache in Boston for the French Foreign Service.

He was trained at the prestigious Ecole Normale Superieur in Paris, studying with Derrida, Althusser, Foucault and other major figures of the late 1960s, and earned a doctorate from the Universite de Paris-Sorbonne in 1982. He was named a chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et Lettres in 1992 and a chevalier of the Ordre National du Merite in 1995.

His interests included interactions between literature and the visual arts, and between culture and politics.

Stephen Nichols, chair of the Department of German and Romance Languages and Literatures, said, "Christian Delacampagne's many friends throughout the world can attest to his determination not simply to do philosophy but to live it. Whether consciously or not, he followed the dictum of Marcus Aurelius: 'Whoever does not know the world, will never be able to find himself in it. Whoever does not know why he was made, will never know either himself or the world.'

"Christian's time in the department was tragically brief," Nichols said, "but it was long enough to show that he did indeed know the world of Hopkins, his purpose in it and how he could serve it. He will be sorely missed by his students, his colleagues and all those in the Hopkins family with whom he interacted."

A prolific writer who authored more than 30 books and contributed to dozens more, Delacampagne often explored human rights and civil liberties, publishing such works as Le Racisme (1976) with his mentor, Leon Poliakov, and Figures of Oppression (1977). His History of Philosophy in the Twentieth Century (1995) is widely read and translated, as are many of his books. Even while fighting cancer, Delacampagne showed incredible energy and optimism, publishing three more books this year alone, including The World Belongs to Me: Fragments of a Nomadic Life, which ponders the diversity of languages and cultures that he encountered throughout his travels over the years.

In 2003, he collaborated with his wife, Ariane, a translator and photographer, on Animaux Etranges et Fabuleux, which was published simultaneously in the United States by Princeton University Press as Here Be Dragons: A Fantastic Bestiary. The book explored the menagerie of imaginary animals that humans have conjured up over the ages and received several awards, including one from the Academie des Beaux-Arts.

Interviewed by Johns Hopkins Magazine about the book in 2004, Delacampagne said, "I have always been interested in the study of religions because I perceive religion as a fascinating phenomenon from an anthropological point of view. This is where my interest in imaginary animals comes from. Mythical animals have always existed and continue to exist in world art, and they usually have a religious meaning."

Delacampagne was for 30 years a regular contributor to the French newspaper Le Monde, writing columns about human rights and current conflicts, including those in the Middle East.

Before coming to Johns Hopkins, he had taught at Tufts University and Connecticut College.

He is survived by his wife and son.


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