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Letter from France


A second RP readers’ and editors’

meeting to discuss articles appearing in this issue will be held on 20
June at 8 pm in the upstairs room of
·the Lamb and Flag, Rose street,
London WC2 (off Long Acre, between
Covent Garden and Leicester Square
tube stations).

Lette.. r ….ca
(The authors came with a party from
GREPH (Groupe de recherches sur
l’enseignement philosophique), who
visited us in February.)
France and England are such old
military allies that it perhaps
shouldn’t be surprising’ that two
militant philosophical groups Radical Philosophy and Greph should get together and discuss the
similarities and differences between
them as well as the possibilities of·
exchange and common action. The
gesture (and we wish to mark the
·sense of artificiality contained in
that word) assumes a certain displacement as well as an emplacement, a recognition of alterity as
well as of insularity.

, What emerged during the weekend
of discussions was a contradiction.

On the one hand, we recognized that
the different situations of the two
countries make impossible any
immediate, spontaneous identification of the two movements, either
in terms of origins, means, or ends.

The most striking difference is that
for RP it is a question of changing
the content of philosophical teaching,
whereas for Greph, the problem is
more one of redoing the existing
teaching system, its structure and
ideology, while keeping at bay
regressive reform measures. On
the other hand, despite the recognition of difference, both sides
seemed to share a desire to join
efforts in what might be the positive
lever of each grou’s deconstructionin-progress. If the negative lever
consists of a subversive criticism
· of the institutions in place in each
country, then the positive would
consist of a comparative, transformational analysis of those institutions
with the end of re-placing them.

From such a confrontation, England
would benefit by being shown the
example of a country which allows a
great deal of latitude in the content
of philosophical teaching, one where
even those betes noires of the logical tradition – Hegel and Nietzsche are very much a la mode. France
would benefit from the English example of a decentralized educational
system within which philosophy
seems to be treated as a subject
among others of equal value rather
than as either a dispensable delicacy or a sacred cow (‘LA Philosophie’ – both the black cow at
midnight and the multi-coloured
one at noon).

Beyond the simple confrontation of
things as they are, we, for our part,

would suggest the following as
possible nodes of commpn investigation:

1 the implicit sexism of philosophy
2 the possibility of philosophical
teaching elsewhere thail’n the
academy and of the open
university …

3 the content of philosophy in relation to the form of its teaching,
to the modes of its production
and preservation, to the pedagogical machinery of the
academic institution•..

4 the history of philosophical
teaching and how that informs
and determines the givens of our
own individual situations …

5 the dominant ideologies or
implicit philosophies of each
country as they emerge in the
classroom …

Given the difference of situations,
any joint effort on the part of the
two groups would have to recognize
its artificiality. But artificiality
might not be all that bad – or, at
least, not as bad as the history of
philosophy has given it out to be.

The distrust of artificiality goes
hand in hand with a conception of
philosophy as something pure, ideal,
neutral, ultimately liberal, which
should never dirty its hands by
entering into, for instance, the
partisan brawl of politics, or, for
that matter, the back-biting and
in-fighting of any healthy academic
department. Such a conception
would never admit that philosophies
might be conditioned by the countries and languages in which they
develop, and hence, its telos would
be an ‘International Philosophy
Association’ which would efface all
specific differe~ces and elevate
them into a generality suitable to
the philosophical Idea in all its universality and transcendentality (Ce
sont de tres beaux mots, n’est-ce
pas?). But what if philosophy is
itself, in its entire history, nothing
but a partisan brawl, pOlitics, in
the lowest sense of that word, at its
most refined? Are we not ourselves
living examples – in our striving to
make our ideas succeed those of our
predecessors, in our campaign to
make our work gain acceptance, in
our desire to be, in a sense, for our
own term, the elect? Hasn’t the
blindness to this aspect (this constitution, one might say) of philosophy been responsible for the
failure up until now to take stock of
the teaching or of the pOlitics of
philosophy, since teaching and
politics are considered to be rather
unelevated enterprises in compari
son with the delights of unmediated
meditation? And the same could be
said of woman, that ever excluded
other of philosophy, the goddess of
.artificiality for Nietzsche. Philosophy (in its most ideal, ‘real’,
non-political, neutral forms from
Plato to Hegel to . ‘. . your own
professors?) has been the search
for truth as the exclusion of artifice,
in all its versions – woman, writing,

teaching, politics’ etc. At the same
time, philosophy, at its most sublime, has been nothing but the purest artifice, as useless as a metaphor, so, metaphorically, one might
say that it has been a dirtying of
hands, intellectual masturbation, a
man’s game (with himself). We
shouldn’t fear the artifice. of our
political gestures, therefore, just
as we shouldn’t fear vulgarity. The
lowest, the excluded of philosophy,
has always returned to haunt it at
its highest moments – so a psychoanalysis of philosophy is not unjustified. We merely do what our predecessors have done without admitting it to themselves. One cannot
politicize philosophy; it already is
political. How else would one describe the exclusion by the English
logical tradition of an entire age of
continental philosophy? or the
exclUSion, except for a short period
of permissiveness at the end of the
18th century, of woman from French
philosophy? When we decide to dirty
our hands by entering into the politics of philosophy, by making political gestures with other movements
against certain traditions or by
putting our hands into the machinery
of producing and memorializing ideas
in teaching, we do not so much leave
the ‘realm of philosophical ideas’ as
uncover the workings of that realm.

The philosopher who first washed
his hands of pOlitics, of political
teaching, of artifice in general, of
vulgarity, has had to repeat the
operation throughout ea~h succeeding generation of philosophy, and it
is this repetition which reveals at
once the compulsive nature and the
futility of neutrality.

A quoi nous menent-ils alors, nos.

efforts communs? It is also a problem of translation. Our specificities
become most evident at the moment
of translation. The difference in the
two languages figures the difference
in our two systems of teaching.

Thinking of the first, one gets a
better notion of the second. One
senses the fatality of natural limitation and the necessity of an artificial
effort to overcome it. Nous ne
pouvons pas rester ou nous sommes:

And yet, we can only stay where we
are. This is the paradox we impose
upon each other as two different
groups doing (almost) the same thing.

The border between the two countries
(the English Channel, if you will, la
Manche) acts as a limit which forces
us to realize that we only work with
what we have at hand – bricolage.

At the same time, being fluid, like
all limits, it invites transgression,
crossing over, pretending (strategically and provisionally, that is,
artificially and pOlitically) that the
border is not there. 11 s’agit d’une
invitation a venir – to come to speak
of what is to come – dans une autre
langue, d ‘une autre langue. A la
prochaine …

Martine Meskel, Michael Ryan
.Greph, Paris

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