The Rigor of Things
eBook - ePub

The Rigor of Things

Conversations with Dan Arbib

Jean-Luc Marion, Dan Arbib, Christina M. Gschwandtner

  1. 232 páginas
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

The Rigor of Things

Conversations with Dan Arbib

Jean-Luc Marion, Dan Arbib, Christina M. Gschwandtner

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Información del libro

In a series of conversations, Jean-Luc Marion reconstructs a career's path in the history of philosophy, theology, and phenomenology. Discussing such concepts as the event, the gift, and the saturated phenomenon, Marion elaborates the rigor displayed by the things themselves. He discusses the major stages of his work and offers his views on the forces that have driven his thought.The conversation ranges from Marion's engagement with Descartes, to phenomenology and theology, to Marion's intellectual and biographical backgrounds, concluding with illuminating insights on the state of the Catholic Church today and on Judeo-Christian dialogue. Marion also reflects on the relationship of philosophy to history, theology, aesthetics, and literature. At the same time, the book provides an account of French intellectual life in the late twentieth century. In these interviews, Marion's language is more conversational than in his formal writing, but it remains serious and substantive. The book serves as an excellent and comprehensive introduction to Marion's thought and work.

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Información

Año
2017
ISBN
9780823275779
1. My Path
Jean-Luc Marion, what would you say if you had to summarize in a few comments the meaning of the philosophical work that has prompted you along the course of your career?
This question already gives rise to a paradox, for one really carries on a philosophical project without knowing what prompts it, or even precisely because one does not know it. In a sense, I have never had the impression that I knew where I was going, and I have never started a philosophical undertaking, such as a book or an article, being sure of where I was going or even what I was doing. Obviously, I always know the question I have been asked or am asking myself, but I do not know exactly where I am going, and the interest of high-level philosophical work surely lies in the fact that one covers a distance that one only sizes up retrospectively. It is also true that with each book one sees one’s aims with less clarity. In this sense, then, I cannot respond to your question. And conversely, even though I am certainly conscious that a certain unity emerges, I don’t think I’m the one best positioned to describe it.
I remember one revealing instance. One day, I think I was in the hypokhâgne,1 I was walking with a friend in the Luxembourg Gardens, and out of nowhere the very simple idea suddenly occurred to me that “the question of being” was not the first question but that it is raised, like a reflection—a reflection more than an effect—from a more primordial situation, which we could call, let’s say, creation. Being comes after an entirely different event; it comes as its trace, its remnant, and its deposit. Even today I still recall having seen this at that moment. I don’t think I have ever said or written this anywhere else, but assuredly from the very beginning it was that which drove me: namely, whether to be or not to be is not the first question.
Entry into Philosophy
“That” struck you, just as Rousseau had the idea of the First Discourse when he went to see Diderot locked up in Vincennes?
Well, I didn’t fall into catalepsy, but that struck me maybe like Sartre’s tree2—I was surrounded by trees—and it was an event for me. I have always been profoundly convinced by this obscurely obvious fact. I later realized that I was conscious of it before having formulated it and even before having formed a notion of its meaning. But since then I have not stopped going back to it.
You had this intuition in the hypokhâgne. But who motivated you to strive for the École normale supérieure? Did you come from a background that pushed you toward such goals?
Not at all. When I entered the hypokhâgne, I didn’t even know that the preparatory class led to the École normale supérieure, rue d’Ulm. And I was so naive and ignorant that, when we got our schedules, I was surprised that there was no physics or mathematics! I was elated when I was told there would be no more of that. Actually, I come from a family of engineers, and I was thus destined to be an engineer. And I had everything to equip me for that. From earliest adolescence I was steeped in mechanics, walking around in my uncles’ factory, then following them in the industrial yards, for example in the coal mines of the North or those in Asturias. The manufacturing of engines, of gearboxes or of reduction gear, the design of suspensions and of the cooling of motorcycles or cars, that was all part of everyday conversation. I have inhaled the acrid smell of the smelting works and the sour smell of castor oil at the Montlhéry racecourses. I have been deafened by the red roar of open blast furnaces and by the howling of Norton 500 engines running at full speed or the acceleration of scooters shifting gears during a race. At the age of ten, or even earlier, I took my first flight in a Stampe, then in a Piper, with my uncle and godfather, who even made me hold the clutch of a Jodel (the first, a two-seater of 60 CV, I believe). With this advice: “Never move it more than the size of a napkin ring.” And: “It’s easy to take off: Just face the wind and pull the handle when the back goes up.” Or: “Landing is difficult, but it is really just a matter of leveling to the ground with the loss of speed.” That was good advice, I think, which can easily be applied to the intellectual life. I also marveled at the wood chips flying from the jointer plane, the coils being cut from the steel by the milling machine or the turning tool, the virtuosity of the fitters, artists who worked in tenths of millimeters without electronics. I wondered at seeing an engine dismantled to its crankshaft, then repaired and reassembled under the hood in a half hour. I even knew how to mix mortar with a shovel and without a cement mixer by using the correct proportions of sand and cement with or without gravel, and how to build a wall out of bricks or even of stones that still need cutting. I admired working with wood or plaster (the watercolors of construction). And many other things. This was my early and fascinating experience of technology. I do not regret it, I still feel nostalgic about it, and I have learned from it. As in running, the middle-distance race—the king of athletics—is the perfect initiation to the life of the mind, in all senses, including mastery over suffering one consents to for a result—for oneself.
What was your parents’ profession?
My father was a weapons engineer in the Defense Department. He was in charge of combat tanks, first the AMX 13, then the AMX 30, and also of the armor-plated reconnaissance engine, the EBR Panhard, and so forth. My mother first taught as a teacher trained in the traditional way, then as a literature professor; all my uncles were engineers. In theory I was destined to be good at math and to enter an engineering school, like everyone around me with the exception of one grandfather, a retired lawyer and respectable painter, and another grandfather, a mountaineer killed as an Alpine chasseur at Douaumont in 1916. Probably providentially I found myself little by little inclined to literature—I think to the great displeasure of some of my family. My father, who miraculously survived the retaliation camps3 from 1940 to 1945, was of the opinion that literature, in his words, “is just a lot of hot air.” This always seemed strange to me because he had Corneille’s and Racine’s speeches memorized and had the sort of culture and knowledge of literature that was never inflicted on me in high school, which he had acquired from the brothers of the Christian schools (the celebrated “Frères quatre-bras”) and from the Jesuits. He had this kind of direct relationship with French literature far earlier than me, and it was doubtlessly better. Still I had the good luck of falling ill one year, at the transition between fifth and fourth grade,4 including a later relapse. I was prescribed fresh air (at Menton, a winter of dreams) and was to remain lying down or even immobile. This was a marvelous thing! I was able to read like crazy, everything or, rather, anything (Zola, Camus, Teilhard de Chardin, Stendhal, Pascal, Kierkegaard, Miroir-Sprint, detective thrillers . . . and the Bible), often without understanding anything at all. That did me a world of good and allowed me a little later to become “literary,” thus pretty early on.
I have one very specific memory from my schooldays at the Sèvres high school: One day, probably in second grade, having to do a ten-minute presentation about Micromégas, I spoke for an hour, ending with a commentary on the Cold War and the failed Paris Conference! For the first time I discovered that I could hold an audience. Everyone was surprised, my classmates, the teacher, myself, and from that moment I was “literary” without reservation, playing this little social role consciously (I must have been pretty unbearable). But Sèvres was a high school where the supposedly innovative pedagogy of the time encouraged tacit competition between all the students and all the classes. In short, I read in a helter-skelter fashion, mixed everything up, and didn’t understand a whole lot. I argued about every thing and anything with total recklessness, but at least I was in deeply. That said, retrospectively I can see that from the beginning I did not write literature; everything went through the concept. Even so, the year of philosophy did not go well at all.5 I was in conflict with the teacher, a young student [lit. a “normalienne,” i.e., someone from the École normale] from Jordan, who was intelligent and ideological, proud to be working on a dissertation with Deleuze (obviously we hadn’t the slightest idea who he was, but she often appealed to his authority). We were immediately involved in a kind of rivalry to see who would be the teacher. I never managed to make it through a class but would always be kicked out by the end of a half hour. Because I had other interests, I did not really start working until I was in the hypokhâgne, in the Condorcet high school. There also I still hesitated between literature and philosophy. Besides, even when studying with Beaufret I was never the first in philosophy but almost always the second.
Can you tell us anything about the first?
I seem to remember that it was often Alain Renaut who won. He was excellent and an orthodox Heideggerian at the time. I was still second in the agrégation. Never first. There was always a good reason for that, a sort of little gap, because I did assignments that didn’t quite follow the norm, weren’t entirely on the subject, went in a slightly different direction than the one expected. Indeed, literature was my passion, which I owe without doubt to another admirable khâgne teacher who taught at Condorcet, Daniel Gallois. He was a person of the novel in the strictest sense: He appeared in Le foulard rouge, where Gilles Perrault retraces some of the history of OCM [Organisation civile et militaire], a civil and military organization of the Resistance from the fashionable districts, of which Gallois was a perfect representative. He was arrested and tortured, but he did not speak, a true hero of the Resistance. Obviously he never talked about this. A legendary personality. No one who went through the khâgne under him will ever forget him. He taught me to be very rigorous in demonstration, plan, or conclusion, to make sure an argument is rhetorically sound. But he also had a feeling for poetry. He knew by heart—I think this is a true claim—everything worth anything in French poetry. During that entire period—and this feeling has never wholly left me even today—I told myself that I should devote my time to study either the poetry of the sixteenth century or the symbolism and poetry of the twentieth century. Thus, at the time of the entrance exams for the École, I was most at home in literature, and my first degree was a literature degree. I thus learned the French language and poetry with this formidable and exceptional lover of bow ties, the great Daniel Gallois (Daniel, like the prophet, we kidded), who terrorized us but truly loved us, as we found out at the end of the khâgne. I decided between literature and philosophy only very late, at the time of my entry into the École, because one day in the aquarium6 my friends (at least Rémi Brague and Jean-Robert Armogathe) asked me very insistently to move to philosophy. Because I am obedient and easily swayed, I accordingly opted for philosophy.
Let’s stay with poetry for a moment. What kind of authors do you like?
Ronsard, Maurice Scève, Du Bellay, Jean-Baptiste Chassignet, Jean de Sponde, and Baudelaire, Verlaine, Mallarmé, Rimbaud. Next to poetry, the novel in fact seemed to me a bit like liquor that has grown somewhat stale. Yes: Maurice Scève, Ronsard, Mallarmé, Claudel’s poetry (obviously also his theater, but it is more like a staged or dramatized version of his poetry; one forgets this a bit). I also went through a period dominated by René Char, then more generally by contemporary poetry. Besides, among all the things I appreciate about the Académie française, there is power in always going back to the French language, in experiencing its absolutely inextinguishable and superior resources. For a long time, the challenge for me was to succeed in mastering several foreign languages for teaching, for lecturing, and for work, but, when all is said and done, I believe that one day I will try to learn French! I probably won’t succeed, but that just makes it all the more urgent.
But it is clear that, in contrast to Levinas, for example, who began with novelistic projects, you were never tempted by the novel.
Providence has spared me that temptation, which would have led to disaster, hopefully to an obscure one. I have certainly, here and there, tried my hand at poetry, but without any success: One does not easily write a Mallarméan sonnet, and Mallarmé himself did not often succeed at it. Moreover, reading Heidegger’s poetry (not to mention Sartre’s novels) has definitely confirmed me in the conviction that one should not mix up the genres. In turn, for philosophy, I believe that I am now beginning to have an entry-level knowledge of more or less how one must undertake it.
To what would you attribute this incompatibility between poetry and philosophy? Descartes said that one does much better in metaphysics when one is less gifted in mathematics, and vice versa. It seems that this is somewhat the same thing.
Actually, I think that one cannot practice both of them or that one does so only with great difficulty. Even Valéry does not really manage it (even so, I know at least two or three indisputable exceptions). In the one case [philosophy], it is the concept that is determinative; in the other, it is neither allegory nor metaphor but the word. One must choose between the word and the concept. Their logic is not the same. In both realms one demonstrates, but one does not show with the same means or following the same kind of rigor. It is hazardous to claim to move from one logic to the other. Even when a poet moves over to prose, often he makes more (and better) prose poems than conceptual demonstrations. In short, in my view a conceptual literature means a bad literature. Inversely, a nonconceptual philosophy indicates a bad philosophy. The poem and the concept do indeed offer two registers of manifestation, but they remain irreducible to each other.
We will come back to this, because even so there is in your work a certain use of language and of words that requires further commentary. You say that you owe your philosophical vocation to Rémi Brague’s appeal. Yet you already had Jean Beaufret as a philosophy teacher in the khâgne. Do you remember his courses?
Beaufret? He taught so well because he thought in front of you, directly, if I can put it like that. He said what he thought, or, more exactly, when he said something, he thought it. That was quite different from the teachers who told stories. Beaufret took at face value the Heideggerian principle of “not telling stories” and to speak only in thinking. For example, this translated into the habit of always citing authors in the original language. Beaufret would begin by writing Greek, German, and Latin on the board; then he would ask us to translate it. We would give a flat translation, and then he would help us see that each term had a history, a genealogy, and that one must reconstitute this history in order to understand its meaning. And then he would jumble the chronologies; accordingly, when he demonstrated something, relating a sentence in Kant to a sentence in Descartes and another one in Aristotle, he would conclude in an inimitable breathless voice: “You see, what they say is not alike, but they are saying the same; not the same thing, but the same.” The students took notes (because he dictated) without really understanding, and Beaufret, inhaling from his yellow Gitane, then concluded with: “But what, did Aristotle read Kant?” The students thought the old man a bit tired after two hours of instruction, but he drew another puff and confirmed: “But yes, obviously, obviously!” And this “obviously, obviously,” that is, that Aristotle had naturally read Kant, was decisive for me. It implied that the philosophers, especially within metaphysics, precisely respond to each other, that they remain in permanent correspondence. This is the correspondence that allows us to do what we call “the history of philosophy,” that is to say, to show how metaphysics is unfolded. This was one of the main things with Beaufret. Yet what strikes me in hindsight is that in a sense he never spoke of Heidegger in class.
Even so, he is known for being the one who introduced this thinker into France.
Of course! But he introduced us much more to Heidegger by not speaking of him directly in class. As the good khâgne teacher that he was, he apparently limited himself to teaching us the history of philosophy to prepare us for the École entrance exams. But I discovered very quickly later to what extent this history of philosophy came from the Heideggerian history of metaphysics: He put Heidegger into our heads, but without citing him. It was more like a direct performance of Heideggerian thought than a course on Heidegger. That is probably why he had such an impact on us. It wasn’t a commentary on or an explication of Heidegger, as if it were a matter of sustaining certain theses against others, but one found oneself inside of a thought in the process of thinking without always being fully aware of it. When I passed the entrance exams, I only knew some of Heidegger’s texts, the Introduction to Metaphysics, the “Letter on Humanism.” What one reads in the preparatory class. I did not know more, in fact rather less, of Heidegger than of Kant. I knew a little bit of Lacan, from which to draw pretty conclusions; I obviously believed myself to be Spinozist, like all the beginners who let themselves be taken in by appearances, and I droned on rationally at least once in each paper, but I had not read Sein und Zeit before arriving at the École. Nevertheless, I had actually already become more Heideggerian than I imagined. That is why it was necessary for me later, but then very quickly, to shake off this armor I wore without knowing it. I was only able to do this by writing God Without Being.
What memories do you have from your ye...

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