Monday, 30 March 2009

The differentness of France: Philosophie

Sad how France, which when I was young seemed a completely independent, excitingly different culture parallel with and equal to our own, now seems marginalised in the more global scene, just one subculture in a Europe that seems less significant by the day in comparison with the Anglophone world and the emerging giants in the east.

But Philosophie Magazine [click on the philosophy label in the right margin] stays as distinctive as ever, with no English equivalent that I know of. As I've said, if I were an English teacher now there’s stuff in it I'd be using.

March issue: cover theme: Pourquoi fait-on des enfants? Good question, good answers, good pics.

And how about this: in silence, write 600 words on ‘Silence’. We might once have had to in an O Level English Language exam, and we can imagine the sort of light, knowing, belles-lettristical whimsy we might have churned out. But which of us would have come up with this?

…. Silence has no need of silence to make itself heard. On the contrary. Whenever we mute a sound we testify to it. Every sentence acknowledges, in hidden words, the empire of the silence that bounds it. The word chatters, says Ionesco. The word is literature. The word is an escape. The word prevents silence from speaking. Silence is the last word of gabble, the unspoken of all speculation. Before its function in communication, speech represents a tacit pact amongst human beings who want to furnish the silence like an empty room, and then gag it. A wasted effort…. What is it that silence whispers? The solitude of humanity in the midst of things, and their contingent necessity to be just what they are. If the world wasn’t silent, we wouldn’t ask it so many questions. Confirming chance and disavowing reason, silence hallucinates exhalations of reality as the desert produces mirages of an oasis. No one would have a taste for hidden truths nor a worry about keeping ourselves amused without some direct intuition of an incurable silence. Silence is the father of God.

(These bits are from the middle. Some of my translation is just guessing.)

How French, how over-the-top ridiculous, how seductive. As with so much French writing, one wants to ask, exactly what sort of claims are these? Empirical? Universal? Necessary or a priori? How does he know? What would it be to argue against them? And I recall reading that French philosophy owes as much to rhetoric as to logic. How different…

The author is Raphäel Enthoven who we’re told has a programme on the Arte channel called Philosophie, Sundays at 1:00. If I could I'd watch it. Meanwhile, I love reading this stuff in which there’s just enough that isn’t nonsense.

Elsewhere there’s a conversation between the ‘Christian agnostic’ Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt and the ‘Muslim existentialist’ Abdennour Bidar. Both rejected their upbringing and education, that of Schmitt atheistic and then (under Derrida) deconstructionist, Bidar’s ‘Muslim intellectual’ and then Sufi. Schmitt finds rationality lacking, Bidar mysticism without rationality. Weaned on the idea of the absurdity of the universe and, as a result having dried up as a writer, Schmitt turns to the mystical and aesthetic:

‘In western modernity, man isn’t God’s inheritor, he takes his place. He takes himself to be the source of meaning. In itself the world is absurd and meaningless, and it’s human consciousness that gives rise to the universe of meanings. ‘Absurdism’ comes from an immoderate pride, but in practice leads only to anguish. I increasingly detached myself from it to make contact again with mystery, the idea that there’s a meaning of which I'm not necessarily the source.’ Meanwhile, Bidar rewrites Islam to make it compatible with reason while resisting ‘absurdism’.

Plus: an ‘author dossier’ on Aristotle; an interview with Stanley Cavell, the American philosopher who writes about Shakespeare and cinema as well as the standard topics; a discussion of Marx and Engels’ claim that ‘philosophy is to the study of the real world as masturbation is to sexual love’; something on Deleuze; some Japanesse stuff; Montaigne…. I realise I'm only half way through and already April’s issue has arrived.

No comments: