If the Encyclopédie project of Diderot et al. is remembered today, it is not because it is much consulted, but for the tremendous Enlightenment optimism that made its conception (if not its completion) possible. In historical terms, it is the idea of the Encyclopédie that is most important, not what is contained within the volumes themselves. The idea of the or even an Encyclopedia is, however, beginning to look increasingly like a Borgesian fantasy. Most contemporary encyclopedias are decidedly (purposefully) limited in scope; to be successful they must function, immediately and with some enduring relevance, as sources of reference and information to be used in piecemeal fashion. To this extent, The Edinburgh Encyclopedia of Continental Philosophy works.The Edinburgh Encyclopedia is also, however, the expression of a grand idea. To this extent, it does not work. The aim of the encyclopedia, according to its editor Simon Glendinning, is to reveal to the world of Anglo-American analytic philosophers that so-called continental philosophy is neither dangerous nor stupid; that there is no compelling philosophical explanation for the continental/analytic divide; and that if they – the analytic philosophers to whom Glendinningʼs Introduction is wholly and unambiguously addressed – were only to read some continental work ʻin the right spirit and … with goodwillʼ this would become clear.
Glendinning adopts the strong thesis that the idea of ʻcontinental philosophyʼ does not just originate with analytic philosophy, but survives only as its deﬁning ʻnot-partʼ. ʻContinental philosophyʼ staggers under the burden of its constitutive negative implications. According to the analytic philosophical tradition which coined it, it means inferior philosophy: what, qua analytic philosopher, one does not do, but also what ought not to be done. For what one hears coming from the continent is not the clearly enunciated vowels of ʻordinaryʼ English but the incomprehensible jabberings of Johnny foreigner, not just odd and perverse but morally pernicious.
If this is a caricature, it is one that analytic philosophers have, on occasion, lived up to. Glendinning quotes Ryle (of whom one might have expected better) addressing an audience in France at a supposedly bridge-building conference in 1958, explaining how analytic philosophers have avoided the puff and pretension of the continent. In contrast to the likes of Husserl, says Ryle,
British thinkers have showed no inclination to assimilate philosophical to scientiﬁc enquiry.… I guess that our thinkers have been immunized against the idea of philosophy as the Mistress of Science by the fact that their daily lives in Cambridge and Oxford Colleges have kept them in contact with real scientists. Claims to Führership vanish when postprandial joking begins. Husserl wrote as if he had never met a scientist – or a joke.
Perhaps the reference to Führership (alluding, as Glendinning notes, to Husserl – a Jew) indicates what the character of this postprandial joking might have been like. In a slightly different vein, Glendinning quotes R.M. Hare from his lectures on British philosophy, this time to various German audiences in 1957:We do not think it a duty to write books; still less do we think it a duty to read more than a few of the books which others write.… Our duty is to discuss philosophy with our colleagues and to teach our pupils to do the same – books and articles are an unconsidered by-product of this process; their content is generally quite familiar from verbal discussion years before they get published … [British philosophers] ﬁnd it hard to discuss philosophy with, or read the books of, people who do not even seem worried about convincing the sceptic that their philosophical propositions mean something.
The lesson that Glendinning draws from these quotations – and others like them – is that this arrogant doltishness is more or less all that characterizes the analytic justiﬁcations for any substantive differences between analytic and continental philosophy. (Glendinning, though, is a tad more polite, given that it is the analytic side that he is addressing.) Ryleʼs and Hareʼs standards of philosophical rigour dissolve on contact with this question, and there remains no philosophical reason for the division of philosophy into two incompatible streams. They have always been and are
Johnny foreignerSimon Glendinning, ed., The Edinburgh Encyclopedia of Continental Philosophy, Edinburgh University Press,
Edinburgh, 1999. xiv + 685 pp., £80.00 hb., 0 7486 0783 8.now held apart, Glendinning writes, by ʻgulf-seeking polemicsʼ for which a psychoanalytically structured explanation is more appropriate: externalization of (analytic) philosophyʼs internal possibility of failure – sophistry. The category of ʻcontinental philosophyʼ survives, according to Glendinning ʻonly as long as the thinkers and themes [of continental philosophy] are not only supposed not worth reading but, in fact, are not seriously readʼ.
That Glendinningʼs imagined readership comprises analytic philosophers is clear, given that the ʻlong obscure booksʼ to which Hare refers are in fact seriously read by quite a few non-analytic philosophers in the Anglophone world. It also betrays – whether consciously or not – a certain accommodation to the supposed analytic audience, which misses much of the point of the practice of ʻcontinental philosophyʼ in Britain over the last few decades. There is no suggestion, for example, that the will-oʼ-the-wisp nature of the category of analytic philosophy will also be revealed. Rather, continental philosophy, once read and understood, will be assimilated into the analytic tradition, because there is no good philosophical reason not to do so. In a connected manner, the idea that the phrase ʻcontinental philosophyʼ is primarily a disparaging one fails to acknowledge those who use it otherwise: for example, those who set up courses in ʻContinental Philosophyʼ in British university philosophy departments, and the students who choose to study them. For whilst Glendinning may be right that the label ﬁrst spewed forth from Oxbridge, it has subsequently been appropriated precisely in order to gain some critical distance from the Ryle/Hare mentality exhibited above. Continental philosophy in Britain, especially, has achieved a level of self-determination which Glendinningʼs remarks fail to recognize – a self-determination which long ago dispensed with the fawning need for Oxbridge acceptance.
Were Hare a young man today, his attitude towards publication would, of course, make him unemployable. And so much the worse for British intellectual life, a chorus of voices cry. But the principle of the RAE funding system – suitably adjusted to dispel the ﬁction of that level playing ﬁeld on which one plays cricket in white – looks veritably meritocratic compared to the aristocracy of Oxbridge philosophical hegemony. To be fair, Hare is, of course, a dinosaur and an easy target here. To many in the thriving non-xenophobic analytic and post-analytic scene (viz., Glendinning) Hareʼs comments are excruciatingly embarrassing, because, on the whole, analytic philosophers are not like this any more.
On the other hand, British philosophy is still dominated – numerically, culturally, ﬁnancially, and in terms of institutional power – by Oxbridge or practitioners of the Oxbridge style. According to Glendinning, the hostility towards continental philosophy from these quarters is based primarily on political and cultural differences masquerading as philosophical disagreement, and his hope is that a philosophical appreciation of analytic/continental commonalities would cut across the political-cultural and institutional divide. However, this overlooks the inextricable intertwinement of the philosophical with the cultural-political, which is one of the ﬁrst principles of twentieth-century continental philosophy. Glendinningʼs ʻsolutionʼ actually reafﬁrms the location of the problem in the realm of philosophy, a location that it claims to deny. In effect, Glendinning envisages an overcoming of the continental/analytic divide in Idea only. In Britain, however – the only place, really, where the distinction is signiﬁcant – this is not a problem that is going to go away whilst the various institutional and political conditions which gave rise to it remain in place. Ryle and Hareʼs references – implicit and explicit – to high table, the senior common room, the tutorial system, the intimate, maledominated coterie of the colleges and so on, highlight the origins of the problem. It is no accident that continental philosophy made and continues to make its mark primarily in ʻnewʼ (i.e. redbrick) universities and ex-polytechnics.
Even so, perhaps a ﬁrst step in this particular revolution would be for some of the bourgeoisie to go over to the side of the proletariat, and The Edinburgh Encyclopedia of Continental Philosophy might be the bait. Unfortunately, though, no analytic philosopher who is not already sympathetic will be in the slightest inclined to change his or her mind on the basis of this encyclopedia. This is not the fault of the encyclopedia itself, although a few of the entries are truly very bad, and would be seized upon with glee by the prosecution in the case against continental philosophy. But even where the entries are well-informed, well-argued, interesting and useful, it is difﬁcult to imagine them having the appeal that Glendinning expects. With regard to the French philosophers of the last ﬁfty years – those who are emblematically ʻcontinentalʼ for some analytic philosophers today – it seems most unlikely that these essays will do much to dispel the sort of attitudes peddled by Sokal and Bricmont in the minds of analytic sceptics. This is – to repeat – not because the essays are badly written, or because their subjects are intellectual imposters, but because the working out of these philosophies involves a set of methods, assumptions, aims and philosophical commitments that are often alien or anathema to those of the analytic tradition.
Most of the essays in The Edinburgh Encyclopedia of Continental Philosophy work in so far as they are preaching to the perverted. Each of the eight thematic sections comprises a general introduction and six or so essays of some ﬁve or six thousand words on individual thinkers or, more rarely, on sub-themes. However, there is little editorial coherence in the scope and ambition of the essays. In probably the best of the sections, ʻThe Frankfurt School and Critical Theoryʼ, the essays on Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, Benjamin, Bloch and Habermas all attempt to cover the intellectual careers of their subjects in their entirety, and each is about as authoritative an introduction of this length that one is likely to get. In the section on ʻClassical Idealismʼ, on the other hand, the essay on Kant deals only with the Critique of Pure Reason and that on Hegel restricts itself to the Phenomenology of Spirit. Within these self-imposed limitations each of these pieces would certainly function well as an introduction, which is, in fact, how the encyclopedia will actually be used. Still, given the importance of Kant and Hegel for postwar continental philosophy in both Germany and France, their treatment here is decidedly unencyclopedic, and symptomatic of the limits of the project as a whole. There is no mention, for example, of Kantʼs aesthetics, and no section or even subsection on aesthetics more generally, perhaps one of the most important areas of contemporary continental philosophy.
In contrast, Sartre appears as sole or joint protagonist in at least four of the essays, covering his relation to Heidegger, the relation between existentialism and literature, existential ethics, and the phenomenological aspects of his work. De Beauvoir, on the other hand, commands no individual essay, appearing only in relation to Sartreʼs existential ethics and in the essay on ʻFeminism and Phenomenologyʼ. If, as the author of this latter essay argues, ʻA strong case can be made for the position that Simone de Beauvoir was a principal, if not the principal, originator of existential phenomenology, and later, the founder of feminist existential phenomenologyʼ, why does her work not deserve the recognition that the ascription of an individual essay affords other thinkers here? In fact, no woman warrants a separate entry in the Edinburgh Encyclopedia. Those who are included are mostly lumped together in essays on feminist philosophy where they receive but scant attention. The essay on ʻFrench Feminismʼ in the section on poststructuralism begins by pointing out that the thinkers discussed under this rubric – Irigaray, Cixous, Kristeva, Witting, Kofman and le Doeuff – have almost nothing in common except the fact that they live (or lived) in France and write (or wrote) in French. Le Doeuff, for example, is profoundly antipathetic to Irigarayʼs work, and Cixous, unlike the others, is primarily known as a playwright. The indignity and deceptiveness of this sort of homogenization is widely recognized; its repetition here is, at best, lazy.
Glendinning justiﬁes the theme-based approach with the idea that ʻit is probably most helpful to think of Continental philosophy as comprising a number of smaller, relatively interrelated, schools or movements of thought.ʼ While this works with, for example, ʻClassical Idealismʼ and ʻThe Frankfurt Schoolʼ, collecting together ʻPolitics, Psychoanalysis and Scienceʼ is arbitrary and awkward. Sartre apart, postwar French philosophy is divided into ʻStructuralismʼ and ʻPoststructuralismʼ. Most authors are sensitive to the potentially misleading character of these labels, but this just leaves the reader to question the wisdom of the structuring division in the ﬁrst place. It also leads to a few manifest absurdities. Levinas, for example, is categorized as a poststructuralist, when much of his work predates the ﬂowering of French structuralism and his basic philosophical commitments are quite at odds with poststructuralist orthodoxy.
Other themes and thinkers that one might expect in an encyclopedia of continental philosophy encompassing end-of-the-century diversiﬁcations are also absent. Despite sections on existentialism, phenomenology and psychoanalysis, there is no concerted treatment of the work of Fanon, for example, and the apparent decision not to include ʻcontinentalʼ work from the USA (although most of the contributors work and live there) means that issues of race and ethnicity are not tackled, except in the introduction to the section on ʻPhilosophy of Existenceʼ, which is, unfortunately, one of the worst essays in the collection. Lest it should be objected that precious space needed to be reserved for more important thinkers, one might ask why the longest bibliography in the encyclopedia (seventy-eight entries across more than two pages, compared to Kantʼs seventeen and Hegelʼs twenty-ﬁve) goes to… Dumézil – as the bookend to a purely anthropological essay with a touching one-page postscript defending the political credentials of this self-confessed ʻhomme de la droiteʼ.
Seduction and serenityJean Laplanche, Essays on Otherness, Routledge, London and New York, 1998. vii + 279 pp., £15.99 pb., 0 415 13108 1.
In the foreword to their classic The Language of Psychoanalysis, Laplanche and Pontalis explain that they are analysing the ʻconceptual equipmentʼ of psychoanalysis, or the set of concepts it has gradually elaborated in order to account for its own discoveries. The greater part of Laplancheʼs extensive body of work has been devoted to this task of analysis or conceptual archaeology. He is perhaps the most reﬂective of all French psychoanalysts. He is certainly one of the most erudite. The ﬁve volumes of Problématiques published between 1980 and 1987 (summarized in New Foundations for Psychoanalysis, published in French in 1987 and in translation in 1989) represent a major exercise in conceptual history. Those volumes examining the concepts of anxiety, castration and symbolization, sublimation, the unconscious and the id, and transference, are important works in their own right. Laplanche is also the scientiﬁc director presiding over the slow production of a new and complete edition of Freud. The new edition is both a further exercise in Freudian archaeology and a useful reminder that Lacanʼs famous return to Freud was all too often a return to dubious translations and poor editions.
The appearance in translation of a new selection of essays by Laplanche, all from the 1990s, is welcome, but both the publisher and John Fletcher, in his otherwise excellent editorʼs introduction, overstate their novelty. Many of the themes dealt with are already addressed in New Foundations and in the ʻdossierʼ on seduction, translation and drives compiled by John Fletcher and Martin Stanton for the ICA in 1992. The ten short and elegant essays collected here are a restatement rather than a new breakthrough.
As in all his work, Laplanche is concerned here with the genesis and fate of Freudʼs concepts. The development of psychoanalysis is not viewed as a linear process: new concepts do not emerge full ﬂedged, and original insights are obscured as Freud reverts to biology, to phylogenesis or evolutionary theories in an attempt to consolidate his metapsychology. In his more evolutionist moments, Freud liked to cite Haeckelʼs law, which states that the ontogenesis of the individual reproduces the phylogenesis of the human race. Laplanche reformulates this as ʻLaplancheʼs lawʼ: the development of theory reproduces that of sexuality and the unconscious. The classic example, referred to elsewhere as the theory of Big Sigmund and Little Hans, is the hypothesis that castration provides the explanation for sexual difference: Freud both recognizes and fails to recognize that this is, precisely, a childhood theory of sexuality which predicates sexual difference on a phallic/non-phallic duality rather than a more complex distinction between ʻmasculineʼ and ʻfeminineʼ.
Freud famously likened the discovery of the unconscious to the Copernican revolution: the sun does not revolve around the earth and the ego is not master in its own house. Laplanche demonstrates that psychoanalysis also has a tendency to revert to Ptolemaic thinking. The decentring gives way to recentring. Insight and blindness as Paul de Man would have said. Laplanche refers to it as innovation and going astray. In astronomy, the Copernican revolution took science from a closed world to an inﬁnite universe. Freudʼs ʻCopernican revolutionʼ remains incomplete. Again and again, Freud blinds himself to his own insights. The unconscious that was initially deﬁned as an ʻinternal foreign bodyʼ implanted within the human being becomes a body of repressed memories that can be recovered through verbalization. If the unconscious is no more than a set of memories, the goal of analysis must be to eradicate the unconscious itself: it is no more than a pathological and pathogenic kernel that can be excised. If it is no more than a repository of hidden meanings that can be deciphered, psychoanalysis is nothing more than a variant on the ancient art of hermeneutics. Freud alternates between the view that the unconscious is a product of repression, and the thesis that it is a primordial entity, a phylogenetic inheritance or a quasi-biological id. Again and again, the unconscious is domesticated as psychoanalysis attempts unsuccessfully to come to terms with its own discovery that the unconscious is other, strange and alien. Psychoanalysis goes astray. Having decentred the human subject by discovering the unconscious, it recentres it on the ego.
According to Laplanche, we have to go back to the beginning and accept that psychoanalysis begins with the seduction theory of the 1890s. Few areas in psychoanalytic theory are more contentious. ʻSeductionʼ is, perhaps, an unfortunate term. Children are not ʻseducedʼ in the sense that Don Juanʼs victims are seduced: they do not surrender after a struggle with their own sense of virtue. They are alwaysalready sexualized beings who encounter an adult sexuality that is not theirs. Freudʼs use of the term is euphemistic and it covers everything from the ʻaccidentalʼ exposure of the child to adult sexuality (all those nursemaids, wet-nurses and indiscreet parents), to actual sexual abuse and rape. Elaborated in the 1890s, the original seduction theory held that neuroses stemmed from an actual sexual trauma, the memory of which was repressed in childhood and then reactivated at puberty. In September 1897, Freud rejected his own theory: the unexpected frequency of hysteria implied an improbably high number of perverse and abusive fathers. The reminiscences from which hysterics suffered were constructions and reconstructions, fantasies and desires pertaining to the Oedipal desire for the parent of the opposite sex. Despite the claim that Freudʼs suppression of the seduction theory was, as Masson has it, an ʻassault on truthʼ motivated by a failure of the moral nerve, Freud did not deny the reality of the sexual abuse of children; in the ʻOutline of Psychoanalysisʼ of 1938, he describes it as ʻcommon enoughʼ.
Laplanche is not suggesting that psychoanalysis should return to a literalist version of the seduction theory, but he does insist that a truth or theoretical insight can be extracted from it. It provides a general theory that accounts for the formation of the unconscious but whose theoretical problematic is insufﬁciently elaborated. Laplanche describes it as the general theory of primal seduction. Seduction is an encounter with adult sexuality and an enigmatic signiﬁer, and it is inherent in the child–adult relationship. Unlike Lacan, Laplanche does not equate ʻsigniﬁerʼ with a verbal structure. It could be a gesture or an action. A woman who breastfeeds her baby is not simply meeting its nutritional needs; she is also communicating with it, addressing signiﬁers to it. Laplanche rightly points out that for Freud – to say nothing of Klein – the breast is an eroticized object for the baby, but not for its mother (Luce Irigary would no doubt add that Laplanche strays away from his own insight by failing to see that women are not one sex and have two breasts). Breastfeeding, or simply holding and handling a baby, is suffused with sexuality for both adult and baby. The adult is not fully aware of all its implications: the gesture, signiﬁer or action has an unconscious meaning.
If the signiﬁer-gesture is enigmatic to the adult, it is also quite enigmatic to the child too. The enigma is the stimulus to theorize, to speculate, for instance, that sexual difference might originate in castration. To theorize is to translate, to attempt to replace the enigma with a meaningful signiﬁer or string of signiﬁers. But the translation is always a failure: something remains enigmatic. There is always an element of otherness, of alienness, that cannot be captured or reduced. It is the enigmatic signiﬁer (or thing-presentation) that is repressed and forms the core of the unconscious. The unconscious is not a primordial or biological id, but something alien that is implanted within the human being during the encounter with the other. Winnicott remarks that there is no such thing as a baby: no baby exists outside the relationship with the carer. Laplanche takes a similar view to the extent that he rejects the idea that there is – or was once – some monad-like organism closed in upon itself, which gradually opened itself up to the outside world and the other: this is biological solipsisms or idealism. The enigmatic and repressed thing-presentations – the other within – exert pressure from inside and are described by Laplanche as the ʻsource-objectsʼ of the drives. Sexuality and the drives come from the outside or from the other, and they remain alien and non-integrated. The dimension of otherness is always there.
Based upon enormous erudition and a lifelong familiarity with Freud, Laplancheʼs theses are seductive. They are also unsettling. The value of the exegesis is beyond doubt but the introversion and introspection do induce a feeling of theoretical claustrophobia. Laplanche denies being a historian of ideas, rejects the view that the Freudian unconscious has anything to do with other nineteenth-century theories of the unconscious, and chides Freud for his self-deprecatory comment that Schopenauer had anticipated his discoveries. It is rather as though psychoanalysis were a continent unto itself, as though there were nothing outside it or alongside it. For anyone outside or even on the fringes of that continent, Laplancheʼs theses look suspiciously like the contention that, unlike the human subject it decentres, psychoanalysis is self-centred, self-regulating and self-sufﬁcient.
There is something disquieting about this serene self-sufﬁciency. The silence about actual child abuse is disturbing. To say, like Freud, that it is ʻcommon enoughʼ and then to say no more is not good enough. Nor is it good enough to remain as silent about it as Laplanche does, if only because – to parry the alternative accusations that psychoanalysis implants ʻmemoriesʼ in its patients or that it is too close to being a form of recovered-memory treatment – psychoanalysts will have to involve themselves in what they see as a debate that is taking place elsewhere. There is nothing enigmatic about the rape of children in care.
Virtue after After VirtueAlasdair MacIntyre, Dependent Rational Animals: Why Human Beings Need the Virtues, Duckworth, London, 1999. xiii + 172 pp., £14.95 hb., 0 7156 2902
6. ^ Stuart Hampshire, Justice is Conﬂict, Duckworth, London, 1999. 93 pp., £10.95 hb., 07156 2950 6.
MacIntyre and Hampshire were already well known when I was a student in the sixties. Now they are both at that end stage of their careers where they are giving distinguished lecture series, which is what these books are made up of. They well illustrate the different paths the two thinkers have taken.
Hampshire established an early reputation as one of the more independent and original thinkers of the generation of Oxford philosophers who came after Ryle. He wrote a couple of much admired books (Spinoza and Thought and Action); but then he became Warden of Wadham College, Oxford, the sort of job which seems fatal to serious thought (perhaps it is all that sherry). Anyway, this book of his Tanner Lectures shows the after-effects. It is a tired and sorry piece of work, a mere assertion of a Rawlsian, proceduralist account of justice, without any attempt to set it in a contemporary context or defend it against recent criticism.
MacIntyre, too, had a brilliant beginning. He was associated with the New Left in its early days but, after an unhappy spell as a dean in Essex at the height of the student movement, he moved to the USA where his work seemed to become stalled. There were mutterings about his failing to live up to his early promise; but then, suddenly, After Virtue appeared and rapidly established itself as one of the deﬁnitive works of contemporary philosophy.
His Paul Carus lectures, which make up the present book, continue and extend the arguments of After Virtue. The audience at the lectures must have been bemused, but their loss is our gain. Instead of the philosophical easy-listening that is usually served up on such occasions, these lectures have the density and tight construction of a text that is written to be read. They constitute a single, brilliantly sustained piece of philosophical argument in which a ʻThomistic Aristotelianʼ form of virtue ethics is developed and defended in the context of current ethical positions. Such an ethic is central to the argument of After Virtue, but what it involves is only sketchily indicated in that book: these lectures add detail and substance to the notion. There is no better account of how Aristotelian ideas can be developed and deployed in modern ethical thought.
In After Virtue, MacIntyre repudiated what he called the ʻmetaphysical biologyʼ underlying Aristotleʼs ethics. He has thought better of that now. A major theme in the present work is that we are physical, biological beings, and ethics must be grounded in our bodily, animal nature. The discussion of the issues raised by our animality is the most interesting part of the book. MacIntyre challenges the widespread and deeply rooted tendency to separate human beings from the rest of the animal world and to treat them as ʻexempt from the hazardous condition of “mere” animalityʼ, despite the well-nigh universal theoretical acknowledgement of the truth of evolutionary theory.
This tendency is strong in both analytic and continental work. In the analytic tradition it is evident in the Davidsonian view that only human beings, as language users, can be said to have thoughts and beliefs. Heidegger arrives at a similar conclusion when he insists upon a fundamental distinction between being which is not Dasein (including animal being) and Dasein, human being, which has a ʻworldʼ and can apprehend something ʻasʼ something. In the most closely argued part of the book, MacIntyre criticizes both sets of views. He draws on recent studies of dolphins to question the notion that there is a sharp dividing line between humans and other animals. Such animals, he argues, have many of the capacities which are at the basis of language use, and we should regard them as ʻpre-linguisticʼ rather than non-linguistic creatures.
As bodily beings we are vulnerable to many kinds of afﬂictions, injuries and disabilities. This is the second main theme of this study. As MacIntyre observes, there is little reference to vulnerability and dependence in the history of Western philosophy, which has stressed rather the notions of human autonomy and independence. This may well be connected with the failure or refusal to acknowledge the bodily dimension of human existence. A central aim of MacIntyreʼs argument is to redress this balance and to draw out the moral, social and political implications of such a changed perspective. He goes about this in Aristotelian fashion, by developing an account of the ʻvirtuesʼ, the conditions for human ﬂourishing. ʻThe virtues of rational agency need for their adequate exercise to be accompanied by what I shall call the virtues of acknowledged dependency.ʼ
Recognition of our bodily being does not prevent MacIntyre from acknowledging that humans also differ from other animals in crucial respects. Language use gives us abilities which other animals lack; notably the ability to stand back from our desires and needs, and reﬂect upon and evaluate them. If we are to ﬂourish as human beings we must develop our distinctive human capacities as rational beings. We must develop from infantile dependence and animality to become ʻindependent practical reasonersʼ.
Language use is not the only condition needed for such development. The realization of our rational nature occurs only in and through relationship with others: with parents, teachers, and a wider network of social relationships. MacIntyre goes on to give an interesting account of the form these relationships must take if we are to develop into independent practical reasoners. MacIntyre refers to these conditions as ʻvirtuesʼ. Though it has become fashionable again in recent years, such Aristotelian language still sounds stilted and antiquated. Nevertheless the ideas expressed by it are of great importance. They embody a naturalistic approach which, on the basis of a theory of human nature, aims to give account of the moral, social and ultimately political conditions required for human ﬂourishing.
We all begin life as physically dependent creatures, and many of us will become so again in old age. Moreover, illness and disability are conditions which may afﬂict us all at any time in our lives. These facts lead MacIntyre to insist that we need patterns of social relationships of ʻgiving and receivingʼ which are not purely reciprocal. Parents, for example, have ʻunconditional responsibilityʼ for their childrenʼs welfare. Such relationships cannot be understood as forms of market exchange, in contract theory terms (as suggested by rational choice theorists). Indeed, MacIntyre argues, the institutions of contract and free market exchange themselves presuppose prior communal understandings and practices.
The needs created by human dependency cannot be met either by the family or the state, according to MacIntyre, but just how they are to be met in the modern world is left open. At this point, his account becomes notably sketchier, vaguer and, as he puts it, ʻutopianʼ. Unfortunately, however, no speciﬁc ʻutopianʼ suggestions are even indicated and, in this context, the phrase seems to mean little more than ʻunresolvedʼ.
There is work still to be done here. But whether it can usefully be done by further pursuit of the sort of Aristotelian virtue ethics that MacIntyre has been developing is, it seems to me, questionable. For it is doubtful whether the forms of social and political life needed for individuals to ﬂourish in the modern world can be speciﬁed in purely moral terms, or that they can usefully be thought of as forms of ʻvirtueʼ to be derived from a universal account of human nature in the Aristotelian fashion.
For example, the kinds of institutions and social relationship needed for the disabled and elderly to lead satisfactory lives in a modern capitalist society is not simply an issue about ʻvirtuesʼ, though no doubt certain social attitudes of universal human concern and care must underlie such institutions and relationships. How to realize such attitudes, however, is a social and political matter which can be decided only in the context of a speciﬁc society. In other words, this is not just a moral question; it is a matter of social policy which can be intelligently discussed only on the basis of some understanding of contemporary social and political realities. Care of the elderly and ill, which would have been the responsibility of the family in early periods (from Aristotleʼs time until very recently), is now being taken over by the state. Whether or not this is a desirable development is not simply a moral issue, and to explore it properly we need to go beyond the limitations of Aristotelian ethics.
Aristotle himself was well aware of this sort of point – his Ethics leads directly into his Politics. MacIntyreʼs arguments lead him in a similar direction. In the ethical sphere, MacIntyre is happy enough to recognize that Aristotleʼs account of human nature needs to be supplemented with modern theories of biology, animal behaviour, psychology, and so on. It seems equally clear that MacIntyreʼs latter-day Aristotelianism similarly needs to be supplemented with modern social and political ideas. It is MacIntyreʼs view, one suspects, that the resources for this job are best provided by Hegel and Marx; but he is reluctant to acknowledge this explicitly. These ﬁgures, it seems, are presences lurking somewhere in the background of MacIntyreʼs philosophy, silently exercising an inﬂuence but seldom explicitly invoked. As this book more that ever makes clear, it is impossible to complete MacIntyreʼs project of a modernized Aristotelianism without drawing on the sort of social and political theories which these ﬁgures provide.
Q&A Penelope Deutscher and Kelly Oliver, eds, Enigmas: Essays on Sarah Kofman, Cornell University Press,
Ithaca, 1999. xvi + 284 pp., £ 37.50 hb., £14.50 pb., 0 8014 2912 9 hb., 0 8014 8141 4 pb.
If you wish to become a French philosophical guru, there is, in the words of E.C. Bentley, a great deal to be said for being dead. Sarah Kofman now fulﬁlling this condition, the process of canonization has begun, in which this collection of essays is an important step. Two questions immediately arise. What is the exact object of the exercise? And is the subject worth it?
The answer to the ﬁrst question is fairly obvious, and Enigmas makes a very good case for it. Kofman is the author of more than twenty books. Her range is impressive: there is hardly a philosopher dear to the heart of contemporary French culture, from Freud to Nietzsche, from Marx to Derrida, on whom she has not written. Besides, the author herself is a source of interest: not only because of her associations (with Derrida – some of her texts were ﬁrst written for his seminar – but also with Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe), but also because of her life (her father was a rabbi murdered by the Nazis, she spent part of her childhood in occupied Paris and barely escaped with her life: the last book she wrote was an autobiography, Rue Ordener, rue Labat).
There is more to it, however, than this. This is when the construction of Sarah Kofman becomes a necessity: she is not only an interesting philosopher; she is also a woman philosopher and a feminist, and as such a member of a rare species. The trinity of French feminist theorists, Cixous, Irigaray and Kristeva, is in need of reinforcement, especially on the philosophical front, since Cixous never claimed to be a philosopher, and Kristeva is better known as a psychoanalyst. Only Irigaray can be said to have produced a feminist philosophy. And Kofman certainly is a philosopher: by profession and by taste. This makes her all the more respectable, in an atmosphere where the old theory-without-frontiers is being quietly recentred on philosophy proper – thus, Deleuze the philosopher is beginning to overshadow Guattari, the stray psychoanalyst.
So the work of construction this collection undertakes can lay claim to a form of historical necessity: the need for a new French philosophical guru is clear (at least in Anglo-Saxon countries: I am not sure Kofman has survived so well in France). But here the second question interferes: is she really worth the operation? A ﬁrst reading of Enigmas will raise doubts, for a simple reason. The essays collected here are very good, some are excellent, but the best ones are often not really about Kofman, references to her work being of the order of a pretext. The structure of a typical essay seems to be: ʻon Kofman and Xʼ, where X turns out to be more interesting, or more important, than Kofman. Thus, Paul Pattonʼs essay on metaphor is remarkable, but I have learnt more from it on conceptions of metaphor in Derrida and Deleuze than on Kofman. Again, we have essays on Nietzsche or Freud, where Kofman makes a somewhat modest appearance. Even if her reading of Marx (in Camera Obscura) is shown to have inﬂuenced Derrida (who never really acknowledged the debt), we are left with the impression that Specters of Marx is the real thing and that Kofman, as a philosopher, is interesting but slight.
This is unfair to a number of pieces, which are real tributes to Kofmanʼs contribution, notably Duncan Largeʼs, on Kofmanʼs Hoffmann, which is admirable. In fact the problem is neatly formulated by Françoise Duroux, in her essay ʻHow a Woman Philosophisesʼ, where she makes a distinction among philosophers between professors and inventors. Most of us spend our lives writing commentaries on the masters; only a few are ingenious enough to become inventors and prospective masters. She, of course, would like to argue that Kofman is an inventor. But if she is, where are her inventions, or, if we adopt a Deleuzean deﬁnition of the task of philosophers, how many new concepts has she invented? And echo answers: none.
There is, however, a less negative answer to the question, and this is where the book is entirely justiﬁed. It can be found in Durouxʼs essay or in the essay by Penelope Deutscher, ʻComplicated Fidelityʼ, which deals with Kofmanʼs relation to Freud. According to Duroux, Kofmanʼs contribution to philosophy is not a set of concepts, but a technique of reading, or how a woman philosophizes: not ʻthe intelligent, conscientious and respectful exegesisʼ of a classic text, but a questioning of the motivating forces behind the construction of a system, of the economy of the concepts involved, of the interest of the speculation. In a similar vein, Penelope Deutscher analyses the complicated process of ﬁdelity whereby Kofman identiﬁes with her author (in this case Freud on woman), appropriates and ʻstylizesʼ him, and reconciles her deployment of masks for her author with close and critical readings of the texts.
This is where the interest and importance of Kofmanʼs work becomes clear, where we can see that she is entitled to survive, or to be revived. She is an extraordinary practitioner of an art, the art of close reading, that we have learnt to associate with the name of Derrida, but which is in fact the product of a long and venerable French academic tradition that concerns all the human sciences, as well as philosophy and literary studies. It is one of the strong points of the French academy that would-be philosophers and literary critics are trained in the techniques of explication de textes (techniques of close reading much neglected in Anglo-Saxon universities). Kofman is a typical product of this education, except that she brings an exceptional talent to the practice. This alone should make her an inventor. The essays in this collection, even those which give rise to the uneasy feeling that they are not primarily about Kofman, establish this with considerable efﬁcacy.
Out of its timeMax Blechman, ed., Revolutionary Romanticism, A Drunken Boat Anthology, City Lights Books, San Francisco, 1999. xii + 250 pp., $15.95 pb., 0 8728 6351 4.
In the mid-1960s Arthur O. Lovejoy announced that ʻwe should all cease talking about Romanticismʼ: ʻThe word romantic has come to mean so many things that, by itself, it means nothing.ʼ If this remains so, if ʻromanticismʼ, by itself, is a hopelessly self-referential signiﬁer, how much more meaningful is it when it is married to the term ʻrevolutionaryʼ? There is, to be sure, a comforting speciﬁcity to the phrase ʻRevolutionary Romanticismʼ, but it gives rise to as many problems as it solves.
For a start, as Max Blechmanʼs mysterious muse insists in the Preface to this provocative collection of essays, ʻThatʼs a tautology – romanticism is revolutionary.ʼ For another thing, thatʼs not entirely true anyway: it is also an oxymoron – the nostalgic impulse of romanticism is frequently counter-revolutionary, as in Balzacʼs novels. In fact, a crude Lukácsian case could be made for saying that it is tautologous in its ﬁrst phase, before the defeats of 1848, when it is ﬂush with democratic fervour, and oxymoronic thereafter, when it becomes more and more mystic, in the face of a triumphant instrumental rationalism. This account is unnuanced because it ignores the fact that, as a Westanschauung, romanticism is simultaneously reactionary and radical – it rejects the anaemic emptiness of modernity, the disenchantment of everyday life in the shadow of industrial capitalism, but it does so in the name of an immemorial past whose imaginative promise offers hope of its re-enchantment or transformation. Perhaps the only safe way of interpreting romanticism is to appreciate that it represents a spectrum of political positions, as the typology of romantic anti-capitalism in Robert Sayreʼs and Michael Löwyʼs Révolte et melancolie proposed.
Lovejoyʼs plea for an end to the discussion of romanticism was poorly timed. For in the late 1960s, the students of literary critics like Northrop Frye and M.H. Abrams, who had dominated the academic debate about romanticism in the 1950s, took it out of the lecture halls and into the streets. They set it on its feet and tried to teach it how to march. Prophetically, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Henri Lefebvre had hailed the ﬁrst signs of this fragmentary yet generalized refusal – encompassing ʻacts of verbal or physical insubordination, rebellions, revolts, protests, abstentionsʼ – as a ʻnew romanticismʼ. The situationists and their followers, sadomasochistic lovers of the old Marxian dialectic of modernity, were the pioneers of this politics. If Walter Benjamin, in a phrase from Daniel Blanchardʼs memoir in this volume, regarded renunciation of the ʻauraʼ as necessary ʻin the name of his melancholic subjection to modern technicityʼ, then Guy Debord promised to redeem it, parodically, in his drama of situations, which succumbed to the logic of the spectacle even as it mocked it behind its back. The spectre of situationism stalks the pages of Revolutionary Romanticism.
For Blechman, an American writing his doctoral dissertation in France, the situationists embody the romantic spirit of the great revolutionary upheaval of his parentsʼ generation. And it is this spirit that he wants to resuscitate before it dies out with the memories of its participants. Blechman, one canʼt help feeling, is ʻa dreamer of dreamsʼ, ʻborn out of its due timeʼ, like the poet of William Morrisʼs Earthly Paradise. Like Morris, he appears belated in relation to his immediate romantic precursors (though he turns this tardiness to his advantage, as we shall see). Blechmanʼs project for the regeneration of a revolutionary romanticism confronts a cultural situation in the present not unlike that of post-Napoleonic France, in which, according to Lukács, ʻa whole generation, growing up with the gleams of unlimited possibilities, suddenly found itself condemned to inactionʼ.
But if Lukácsʼs melancholy reﬂections originally invoked a sense of historical tragedy, their reprisal today points to its repetition as farce. Postmodernism is one name for this spectacle of the experience of defeat, acted out with a kind of frenzied euphoria in the Western academy. Recent postmodernist accounts of romanticism tend to depoliticize it by insisting, in somewhat sinister tones, on its ʻspecial relationʼ to postmodern theory. In Fantastic Modernity, for example, the central claim of Orrin Wangʼs ʻDialectical Readings in Romanticism and Theoryʼ is that both discourses structure themselves around the trope of modernity. It is as if modernism itself, and especially its more romantic mutations, from the surrealists to the situationists, did not also grapple with this trope or, rather, the reality of modernity. Revolutionary Romanticism, in its reafﬁrmation of the now unfashionable optimism of the soixant-huitards, is a surreptitious attack on the epigonoi of postmodernism. The title of Blechmanʼs book, then, is as much prescriptive as it is descriptive: it promises a polemical reassessment of the libertarian and utopian tradition of romanticism, and at the same time offers reference points for the renewal of a leftist, futurist romanticism (what Ernst Bloch called its ʻunﬁnished forward dreamʼ). How does the book fulﬁl this promise? In its ﬁnal essay, Blechman revealingly asserts that ʻThe Situationist International was the pinnacle of the revolutionary avant-gardes of romanticism that began with the Frühromantik and that end with their autonegation.ʼ In a sense, the volume is an attempt to prove this line of descent. It begins with his own account of ʻThe Revolutionary Dream of Early German Romanticismʼ, and follows the tradition through a series of essays, on Michelet, Morris, Mühsam and Marcuse among others, before arriving at Blanchardʼs reminiscence of ʻDebord in the Resounding Cataract of Timeʼ. A powerful, if impressionistic, sense of a revolutionary romantic genealogy emerges. The individual essays are of uneven quality though. Miguel Abensourʼs treatment of News from Nowhere as an ʻexperimental utopiaʼ is utterly compelling, and Christopher Winksʼs account of the mnemic power of monuments and symbols in the Commune is also fascinating. However, several others, like Annie Le Brunʼs comments ʻOn the Subject of Romantic Womenʼ, are weightless and insubstantial.
In his Preface, Blechman boldly asserts that the strength of Revolutionary Romanticism ʻlies in the power of its perspective as much as in the quality of the individual essaysʼ. As much or more so. It is Blechmanʼs overarching narrative that lends coherence and conviction to the volume. And it is this that creates its difﬁculties. At times, the narrative seems to have been imposed rather too forcefully, a fact betrayed by the diction of Blechmanʼs editorial acknowledgements (Arthur Mitzman, we are told, has ʻradicalized – in fact, restoredʼ an essay published elsewhere, while Peter Marshallʼs contribution is ʻa romantic spinʼ on his book on Blake). The problem is perhaps that, with the exception of Blechmanʼs pieces, the essays donʼt deal in sufﬁcient detail with revolutionary romanticism itself. Maurice Hindleʼs essay on ʻRevolting Languageʼ is typical in this respect: if it offers a fruitful ʻpolitical readingʼ of Keatsʼs ode ʻTo Autumnʼ, it fails to reposition him in relation to revolutionary romanticism. Blechmanʼs framing essays carry the polemical burden. Unlike some of his essayists, he displays an obvious political commitment to the revolutionary romantic project as he constructs it (see his ʻReply to Agnes Hellerʼ, RP 99, which is as much a manifesto as an intervention into questions raised by her interview in RP 94). It is as if the other contributors are the critical equivalent of session musicians, turning in workmanlike performances in their specialist ﬁeld for the sake of the prodigious upstart with his experimental ambitions (Löwy, in this light, is the Ernest Ranglin of studies in revolutionary romanticism).
Blechmanʼs own performance, like his persistent editorial presence, is seductive. In particular, his ʻReﬂections on Revolutionary Romanticismʼ, the ten theses with which the volume reaches its suitably vatic conclusion, are a rousing plea for the future: ʻthe failure of the great romantic revolt of ʼ68 does not only suggest how revolutionary romanticism must yet be; it also indicates how romantic the movements for changing the world must yet become.ʼ Blechmanʼs ʻnew millenniumʼ arrived early – the ﬁrst indication of ʻa renaissance of revolutionary romantic strugglesʼ were manifest outside the WTO conference last November. In this sense, certainly, there is nothing belated about his situationist romanticism. The anticapitalist protesters at the Seattle demonstration, in all their colourful confusion, are at least potentially the heirs to his tradition. The irony is that, in the face of an almost spontaneous anticapitalist movement on that scale, the ʻunitary demandʼ of Blechmanʼs ʻromantic imperative for a universal regenerationʼ, ʻAll power to the imagination!ʼ, at the moment of its seeming triumph, suddenly sounds inadequate. The utopian function of a new ʻnew romanticismʼ might have been reactivated more effectively if the ʻgreat march of organized labourʼ arranged for the second day of the Seattle protest had converged with the other demonstration, instead of being diverted by the union leaders.
SequencingWilliam D. Blattner, Heideggerʼs Temporal Idealism, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, £35.00 hb., 0 5216 2067 8.
Despite Heideggerʼs pronouncement on the opening page of Being and Time that time serves as ʻthe possible horizon for any understanding of beingʼ, the attempt to substantiate this claim has received scant attention among its interpreters. Typically, studies of Being and Time, while focusing on the rich and innovative Division One, tend to downplay or even leave aside the difﬁcult and complex issues of temporality. In Heideggerʼs Temporal Idealism, William Blattner contributes to an overcoming of this deﬁcit by offering an extensive analysis of the role of temporality in Division Two of Heideggerʼs early masterpiece.
Like much recent American scholarship on Heidegger (Dreyfus, Okrent, Olafson, Haugeland, Guignon), Blattnerʼs broadly pragmatist and analytic approach combines impressive textual knowledge with a strong emphasis on conceptual analysis and common-sense illustration. Given the seemingly wilful obscurity and complacency of so much that currently passes for Heidegger scholarship, such an attitude, at least to this reader, is appealing. Conjoined with this approach, however, is the obvious risk of trivializing the claims under scrutiny. Heideggerʼs Temporal Idealism is brimful with tedious examples, involving Smith, Jones, Brown, and others in a very American way of life. But philosophically more worrisome is the implied conﬂation between ontical and ontological research. According to Blattner, Dasein is simply a person; for no apparent reason he thus disregards Heideggerʼs painstaking attempt at distinguishing his existential analytic from empirical human science.
Another difﬁculty that follows from Blattnerʼs pragmatist approach arises from the claim that ʻat its core Heideggerʼs enterprise is explanatoryʼ. By invoking the impersonal, quasi-scientiﬁc language of explanandum and explanans, though softened to denote a relation of dependency, Blattner overlooks the modernist inspiration of Being and Time – the sense in which Heideggerʼs interpretive explorations of the ordinary, rather than discounting subjective response, aim to master it in exemplary ways. An existential analytic, since it analyses that entity which in each case is mine (Dasein), aims at the attainment of the self; its inherent perfectionism proceeds by means of self-reﬂection, not proof. Perhaps Blattner would have come up with a different assessment of the status of Heideggerʼs discourse had he paid more attention to the issue of authenticity, yet both authenticity and historicality, the two great existential and political themes of Being and Time, are largely omitted from consideration.
According to Blattner, Heidegger (along with his predecessors Plotinus, Leibniz and Kant) proposes a species of temporal idealism: ʻIf Dasein did not exist, time would not obtain.ʼ As being, or more precisely the being of entities, interpreted as an ontological framework ʻin virtue of which an entity is an entity and an entity of the sort it isʼ, is to be understood in terms of time, it follows that being is also dependent on Dasein. Thus the early Heidegger, he argues, is an ontological idealist. But this is not the only comprehensive message of Heideggerʼs Temporal Idealism. Construed as an expression of ontological idealism, Being and Time ultimately fails. Having realized this, Heideggerʼs Kehre – on this issue Blattner does not have a lot to say, though – amounts to a thinking about being that escapes the subjectivism of his early thought (as well as any recognizable realism) in favour of ʻan antimetaphysical understanding of the clearing as the space in which being, and hence entities, can stand out as what they areʼ. Although the later Heideggerʼs ʻquasi-mysticismʼ seems rationally indefensible in a positive sense (Blattner is by no means a mystic), it enjoys a certain credibility in view of the sheer lack of rationally plausible alternatives.
Defending such strong claims is a vast and challenging undertaking, yet Blattner constructs a strong case for his view. The ﬁrst chapter deals with Heideggerʼs notion of care (Sorge). Particular attention is here paid to the so-called ʻunattainability thesisʼ, which amounts to the claim that Daseinʼs proper abilitycharacteristics, though to be pressed ahead into, are not attainable. It follows from Daseinʼs existentiality (its questionability) that the realization of its selfinterpretive ʻfor-the-sakes-of-whichʼ can never simply be attained but are forever deferred, to be realized. Dasein is an ability-to-be; it is not to be identiﬁed with any speciﬁc ability. Moreover, the seemingly unrestricted freedom entailed by the unattainability thesis, its expression of groundlessness, gets modiﬁed by the so-called ʻnullity thesisʼ, which holds that Dasein ʻcannot press into how things matter to itʼ. In conjunction with the notion of ʻfallingʼ, Blattnerʼs reconstruction of care presents a powerful account of human ﬁnitude and freedom which avoids some of the pitfalls of more abstract, non-situative conceptions of freedom (e.g. Sartre). It also serves as the basis for his interpretation of originary temporality (originary temporality makes care possible), the meaning of which is supposed to explain the occurrence of ordinary, physical time.
Blattnerʼs reading of Heideggerʼs derivation of ordinary time from originary temporality (and hence from Dasein qua care) involves several steps. Stripped to the bone, the contention is that world-time (the ﬂow of time, understood as a sequence of pragmatic Nows, experienced by Dasein in an everyday way), while dependent on originary temporality, is explanatory of ordinary time. Thus if at least one link in the chain of derivation goes to pieces – this is Blattnerʼs overall point – then the whole ediﬁce collapses.
Turning to the ﬁrst step of the argument, the account of originary temporality, Blattner rightly, in my view, disengages the notion of originary temporality as such from that of authenticity. As opposed to a host of commentators, he realizes that ʻauthentic temporality is … one mode of originary temporalityʼ. Moreover, originary temporality is plausibly reconstructed in terms of non-sequential temporal ʻecstasesʼ (future, past, present), where each of these correspond to one of the three modalities of care: existence, facticity and falling.
Where Heidegger ﬁrst slips up is in the derivation of world-time from originary temporality. While succeeding in accounting for datability, spannedness, signiﬁcance and public time (the four ofﬁcial dimensions of world-time), he fails to make good how sequentiality, the ﬁfth and unrecognized, yet according to Blattner necessary, aspect of world-time depends on originary temporality. But if the derivation of sequentiality fails, then so do the remaining dimensions of world-time, since they ultimately presuppose sequentiality. In arriving at this conclusion, Blattner rests his case on the view that ʻthe sequence of worldtime Nows must reﬂect the sequence of tasks dictated by the for-the-sake-of-whichʼ. The difﬁculty Heidegger allegedly faces consists in showing that the purposive chains of originary iteration of the Present always generate the right sequence of world-time times. However, nowhere does Heidegger make such a strong claim. Nor is it evident that he should. In my view, rather than having to show that there is an actual match between the sequences, it would be sufﬁcient to argue that since multiple tasks cannot be executed simultaneously, they would only be possible on the assumption of world-time sequentiality, hence worldtime is sequential.
Blattner also argues that Heidegger, though offering a fairly convincing argument for the thesis that ordinary time is levelled-off world time, does not entirely succeed in demonstrating that being is temporal through and through. On this point I agree, and in particular with the charge that Heidegger largely fails to develop the notion of praesens – which is not to say that it cannot be done. Seemingly, the most promising way of conducting such an elaboration would, as Blattner points out, be to link praesens with the comprehensive notion of enpresenting.
Despite its shortcomings, this rich and rewarding book is likely to be the most advanced study of Being and Time currently existing in the English language.
John Mullarkey, ed., The New Bergson, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1999. xvi + 235 pp., £40.00 hb., 0 7190 5380
3. ^ Henri Bergson, Duration and Simultaneity: Bergson and the Einsteinian Universe, edited by Robin Durie,
Clinamen Press, Manchester, 1999. xxviii + 211 pp., £16.99 pb., 1 903083 01 X.
The 1907 publication of Creative Evolution established Henri Bergsonʼs reputation as Europeʼs foremost philosopher and earned him international acclaim. But, as John Mullarkey remarks in his introduction to The New Bergson, few philosophers have witnessed such a rapid decline in the inﬂuence of their ideas. As Mullarkey goes on to argue, the widespread diffusion of Bergsonʼs philosophy was also its dissipation; the pervasiveness of its appropriation resulted only in its effacement. By the mid-1920s Bergsonʼs predominance had all but evaporated. In the ensuing decades (with a few notable exceptions – among them Gilles Deleuze, whose 1956 essay ʻBergsonʼs Conception of Differenceʼ is published for the ﬁrst time in English translation in this collection), his books were little read or discussed.
The renewed interest in Bergsonʼs philosophy that these essays demonstrate risks a renewed dissipation. The context of contemporary philosophical interests – both analytic and continental – within which Mullarkey chooses to situate Bergsonʼs thinking, and so test its current signiﬁcance, might again lead to its particu-larity becoming effaced. However, it is only through Mullarkey taking the risk of effacement that The New Bergson can emerge. Through the dissipation of interest in Bergsonʼs ideas, through the risk of effacement as these ideas are reconsidered in order to ascertain their current relevance, the possibility is opened of an effacement that, through its dissipative movement, prompts Bergsonʼs return. This is not the effacement of Bergsonʼs particularity; it is an effacement through which Bergsonʼs particularity can continue to arise. Bergsonʼs philosophy of change and transformation is generated out of, and perpetuated by, a continual, dissipative process of self-effacement. To renew and extend Bergsonʼs philosophical project is to create and recreate ideas that go beyond it, thereby repeating the self-effacement out of which that project launches a movement beyond itself.
The two essays organized in Mullarkeyʼs collection under the heading ʻLifeʼ are sensitive to these levels of (self-) effacement. In focusing attention on the evolutionary movement of life as a process of invention and differentiation beyond the boundaries of the organism, rather than one of ﬁliation and descent that prescribes such boundaries (Keith Ansell Pearson), and in arguing for openness and interconnectedness, against pragmatic division and the exclusiveness of abstract systems with regard to societies and the environment (P.A.Y. Gunter), both essays implicitly acknowledge effacement as, at once, an open and indeterminate process of differentiation, and a divisive and immobilizing act of closure for the purposes of utility. They assume – as Marie Cariou does in her rather sceptical appraisal of Bergsonʼs account of memory – that every representation of Bergsonʼs thought, every sentence that deﬁnes it, is a death sentence for its ﬂuid mobility. Yet, if the movement of invention that has come to be known as Bergsonism is to be relaunched, it is only through the inertia and ﬁxity inﬂicted by representation; a representation that is aware of its own dissipative movement and, hence, its own provisionality.
Not all of the essays Mullarkey selects demonstrate an awareness of the movement of ceaseless invention and transformation they address, nor of the movement of effacement inherent in their own writing as a result. Mark Antliff, although offering a fascinating glimpse of Matisseʼs creative process as it repeats the process of Bergsonism, ends his essay with a static juxtaposition of representations that draws Bergsonian duration together with Rosalind Kraussʼs eroticized temporality and the Surrealist art of Ernst and Duchamp. Similarly, Paul Douglass, in his account of Bergson and cinema, attends only to the conventional narrative and spectatorial aspects of cinema, rather than pursuing the repetition of cinematic movement to be found in Bergsonʼs thought.
However, the essays Mullarkey gathers together under the heading ʻMindʼ, in so far as they are more directly concerned with a close reading of particular books (Matter and Memory, in the case of the essays by Frédéric Worms, Marie Cariou and Eric Matthews, and The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, in the case of F.C.T. Moore), move through and beyond static reception and representation. In the closing section of Frédéric Wormsʼs 1997 Introduction à Matière et Mémoire de Bergson, which Mullarkey excerpts, on the Summary and Conclusion with which Bergson ends Matter and Memory, a formal relation of this summary is articulated with all that has gone before in terms of an accelerated repetition of the prior movement of the book. In reading Matter and Memory so as to grasp the complex movement of its interacting speeds and slownesses, Worms effects the repetition and furthering of the experiment of Bergsonʼs thought.
This movement of experimentation recurs throughout Mullarkeyʼs collection. The experiment with dualism and with the image is taken further by Mullarkeyʼs inclusion of a previously unpublished 1913 letter from Bergson to John Dewey. In it Bergson defends what he terms the partial realism of his doctrines against Deweyʼs criticisms, situating his extensive use of the term image in Matter and Memory, midway between realism and idealism. The experiment with philosophical time – a time that Einstein was to deny – is pursued in Timothy S. Murphyʼs essay. This is augmented and deepened by the republication of the English translation of Bergsonʼs Duration and Simultaneity, extended, in Robin Durieʼs new edition, with a number of appendices detailing its hostile reception, Bergsonʼs subsequent defence, and the eventual effacement of the book from the Bergson canon.
Through the depth and complexity of the tendencies of differentiation that Deleuze describes in his 1956 essay, the movement of Bergsonism is actualized in the inverse movement of any writing that returns to reconsider it. To return to Bergson is, through looking back at him, to enter into coincidence with the forward-moving process of his thinking. The success of Mullarkeyʼs book lies in its ambition, and often in its ability to effect this coincidence, and so create Bergson anew.