The Present Alone is Our Happiness

June 1, 2016 | Author: Bong Valencia | Category: Types, Books - Non-fiction
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Pierre Hadot, Conversations...



. I Conversations with Jeannie Carlier and Arnold I. Davidson

Pierre Hadot Translated byMarc Djaballah





A-, 5"H'334~q

Stanford University Press Stanford) California

English translation ©

200 9

by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford

Junior University. All tights reserved. The Present Alone Is Our Happiness: Conversations with Jeannie Carlier and Arnold J. Davidson was originally published in French under the title La Philosophic comme maniere de vivre. Entretiens avec Jeannie earlier et Arnold I. Davidson

© 2001, Editions Albin Michel. Publication assistance for this book was provided by the French Ministry of Culture-National Center for the Book. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means) electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system without the prior written permission of Stanford University Press. The translator wishes to thank Cheri Lynne Carr for her assistance in the translation of this volume. Printed in the United States of America on acid-free, archival-quality paper Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Hadot, Pierre. [Philosophie comme maniere de vivre. English] The present alone is our happiness: conversations with Jeannie Carlier and Arnold I. Davidson / Pierre Hadot, Marc Djaballah. p. em. - (Cultural memory in the present) Originally published in French under the title La Philosophie comme maniere de vivre. Includes bibliographical references. ISBN 978-0-8°47-4835-3 (cloth: alk. paper) ISBN 978-0-8047-4836-0 (pbk, : alk. paper) I. Hadot, Pierre-Interviews. 2. Philosophers-France-Interviews. 3. Philosophy, Ancient. II. Carlier, Jeannie. B2430.H334A5 194- dc22 [B]

4. Philosophy-History.

III. Davidson, Arnold Ira.

I. Djaballah, Marc, 1975IV. Title.

V. Series.




Introduction I

Tied to the Apron Strings of the Church


Researcher, Teacher, Philosopher


3 Philosophical Discourse


4 Interpretation, Objectivity, and Nonsense


5 Unitary Experience and Philosophical Life

6 Philosophical Discourse as Spiritual Exercise

7 Philosophy as Life and as Quest for Wisdom 8 From Socrates to Foucault. A Long Tradition


9 Unacceptable?



The Present Alone Is Our Happiness

Postface Notes



To change life. Even to change a life. Few books have this effect. And yet, after reading Qu'est-ce que la philosophie antique? [What is Ancient philosophy?], this is what a young American, who was not a philosopher but a historian, wrote to Pierre Hadot: "You changed my life." This reader anticipated a question that I asked Hadot in these interviews: "Beyond their great erudition, are your books not protreptics, that is, books that aim to turn ttrepein in Greek) the reader toward philosophical life?" Carrying out this aim involves two distinct projects: on the one hand, to inform the reader of a set of facts that decisively show that for the Greeks philosophy was not the construction of a system but a choice of life; and on the other hand, to allow the reader to turn toward philosophy thus understood. The distinction is captured by the difference between the French title of Hader's book Exercices spirituels etphilosophie antique [Spiritual exercises and ancient philosophy], which certainly does not grab one's attention (although it sold well), and the title of the English translation, Philosophy as a Way ofLife. This unfaithful title is certainly not misleading, however. In the interviews contained in this volume, Hadot explains what might be called the indirectly protreptic character of his three great works of erudition on ancient philosophy: Exercices spirituels etphilosophie antique (1981), La Citadelle interieur [The inner citadel] (1992), and Qu'estceque fa philosophie antique?(1995). He invokes Kierkegaard's "method of indirect communication) and suggests that rather than telling people to "do this," one "allows a call to be heard"; by describing the "spiritual exercises lived by another, [one can] give a glimpse of and suggest a spiritual attitude, allow a call to be heard" (Chapter 9). These three books do this with irreproachable erudition that remains clear and is never weighty. Letters that Hadot has received from readers are) as it were, proof that the call has been heard. Perhaps the present book goes slightly beyond these dis-



crete suggestions. The discussions presented in it do not attempt to answer the question What is ancient philosophy? even though they do often discuss Greek and Latin philosophers. "The main problem that poses itself to the philosopher," Hadot maintains-not at the beginning of these interviews, as a program, but at the end, as an assessment-"is ultimately to know what it is to do philosophy" (Chapter 8). To this central question-What is it to do philosophy?-Hadot ultimately gives only one answer, but an answer that is modulated in rather diverse forms, as though variations on a theme. These modulations of his response are inscribed in his intellectual and personal "path" of development, which is retraced in the first interviews and revisited in subsequent interviews in the course of discussing how to read and interpret ancient philosophy, what is perennial in it and what might no longer be acceptable for us; about the value we can find in the "experimental laboratories" that are the ancient philosophies; and in a word, about how they can help us to live better. In its first form, Hader's response is extraordinarily precocious: he was practically still a child when the sky-the starry sky-granted him an unforgettable, inexpressible experience (remarkably, the idea that what is most important cannot be said appeared already) that he subsequently recognized as what Romain Rolland called the "oceanic sentiment": "1 was filled with an anxiety that was both terrifying and delicious, provoked by the sentiment of the presence of the world, or of the Whole [Tout], and of myself as part of this world" (Chapter I). "1 think that I have been a philosopher since that time," Hadot says some sixty years later (Chapter I). Thus he did not wait for his encounter with ancient philosophers (he studied Thomism first, a systematic philosophy if ever there was one) to discover that philosophy is not the construction of a system but a lived experience. Hador identifies Rolland's "oceanic sentiment" with Michel Hulin's "savage mysticism," which he discusses several times in the conversations presented here. To the mysticism of negation and separation that in his youth had so fascinated him in Plotinus (aphele panta, "remove everything") he prefers a mysticism of welcoming: "welcome all things." Hadot's superb anthology that concludes this volume makes it clear that the "oceanic sentiment," felt many times throughout his life, has not ceased to nourish his philosophical reflection. This is the only theme that does not originate in ancient thought: in their admirable texts the ancients



expressed their amazement before the cosmos and" the lived awareness of belonging to the great chain of being that puts us into solidarity with stones, trees, animals, men, and the stars; but if they felt this sense of fusion with the whole, they did not say so. Hadot's first real contact with ancient philosophy was indirect. It was through Montaigne that he discovered the famous Platonic definition: Philosophy is an exercise in dying. "Perhaps I did not understand' it properly at the time," Hadot says today, "but it was in fact one of the texts that led me to represent philosophy as something other than a theoretical discourse" (Chapter 8). Montaigne's text is rich precisely because, when it is not taken absolutely and out of context, it supports several interpretations, and it gradually migrates to the heart of Hader's reflection both as a scholar and as a human being. Yet it was not this Platonic phrase from Monraigne that allowed Hadot to discover that ancient philosophical discourses did not aim to construct systems; he came to see this through what (on reflection and without worrying about adhering to current trends, which is never a concern for him) he called "spiritual exercises." It was rather the realization of a Frenchman who by grade 9 had already been taught to write a well-formed essay with a clear discourse and without repetition or contradiction. Ancient philosophical discourse, by contrast, did not respond to criteria of order and clarity. The works of Aristotle and Augustine are poorly written, and those of Plato contradict themselves. Although Hadot is obviously not the first to have pointed out these facts, he calls our attention to a particularly important consequence. In the present interviews, addressing himself to the nonspecialist more directly than in perhaps any of his previous works, Hadot shows that the inconsistencies of ancient philosophers are explained by the fact that they are addressed to a specific audience or listener. Hadot aimed not to inform but rather to persuade, transform, or produce a "formative effect"-in short, to persuade the listener that the ancient treatises are, almost without exception, protreptics, and that at the same time these discourses, whether dialogues or not, are also "experiences of thought" or exercises in "how to think," for the benefit of the listener and sometimes with his or her collaboration. For the ancients, philosophy was above all a way of life, and this is why they called not only the Cynics, who had no theoretical discourse, philosophers, but



also anyone-including women, simple citizens, and political men-who lived as a philosopher, even without writing or teaching, These people were called philosophers because the ancients considered philosophy to be above all a way of life. They admired Socrates for his life and his death more than for his doctrine, which was not written and was immediately captured and modified by those who used his name. In the present conversations, Hadot gives brief indications of this theme's resurgence beyond the Christian Middle Ages. He also emphasizes the temptation, for all philosophers, to believe that to do philosophy is to construct an impeccable and absolutely new theoretical discourse. "The more or less skillful construction of a conceptual edifice will become an end in itself" (Chapter 3), and "the philosopher always has a tendency to be content with his own discourse" (Chapter 8). This slope is especially steep in a country in which the formal philosophical essay sows the first seeds of many honorable merits. Hadot's interpretation of Plato's text on the exercise of death, reinforced by years of extensive work with the ancient texts from both the Platonic and the Stoic traditions, departs entirely from the fascination with death, from the Christian memento mori as from all exegesis that would make death preferable to life. For Hadot, to exercise death is really to exercise life, that is, to overcome "the partial and biased self" [Ie moi partiel et partial], to elevate oneself to a "vision from above," to a "universal perspective." This triadic, but ultimately unified theme is-like a leitmotif-constantly taken up in the course of these interviews, for Hadot sees possible applications in all the dimensions and situations of everyday life, for all human beings. To overcome the "partial and biased self" is first to become aware of our belonging to the human community, and of the necessity to keep the good of this koinonia in view when we act. Hadot masterfully shows the importance of this theme both in the discourse of ancient philosophy and in the practice of the ancient philosophers, from Socrates to Plotinus, as well as of all those who, without being "professional" philosophers, have been inspired by their precepts. Was it known that the Scaevolas, adepts of Stoicism, showed themselves to be honest magistrates? Or that governor Mucius Scaevola paid for his trips out of his own pocket rather than use his position to fill his pockets, and even demanded that his subordinates share this integrity? Or that when



Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius, who was accountable for millions of subjects, learned of the deaths of child trapeze artists, he went to the trouble of commanding that these exercises should henceforth be protected by nets? Or that he asked himself about the legitimacy of the war in which he was involved as he defended the Roman borders against the Sarmatians somewhere in the Balkans? These principles and examples are useful for application to contemporary contexts without having to be updated. In line with the ancient philosophers, perhaps especially Aristotle, Hadot considers this rule-the overcoming of the "partial and biased self,' and the "look from above" or the "universal perspective"-also to constrain the scholar: "In order to study a text or microbes or the stars, one must undo oneself from one's subjectivity" (Chapter 4). Both in the practice ofdemocracy and in scientific work, "one must undo oneself from the partiality of the individual and impassioned self in order to elevate oneself to the universality of the rational self" (Chapter 4). Hadot breaks a spear on the timely idea that all discourses are of equal value, that all interpretations are equally subjective, that is, incapable not only of attaining objectivity but even of attempting to do so. Let there be no mistake, however: because the historian-in particular the historian of philosophy-is in question, it is clear that adopting a universal perspective can in no way imply the aim to interpret texts as though they were outside time, place, or the society in which they were produced. Hadot explains the shift in his course of development from an atemporal and atopical conception of philosophical discourse, which he considers to be. nefariously widespread, to one that takes its historical inscription into account with precision (Chapter 8). For the ancients, this self-overcoming or universal perspective concerns not only the scholar and the politician but the entire human genre. The Greeks were the first to conceive of the unity of the human community, slaves included, and to proclaim themselves citizens of the world. When asked about the meaning of chis "universal perspective," and about its relation to Kant's "universal law" (Chapter 8), Hadot underlines their resemblances: in Kant, "morality creates itself in the unexpected and, in a sense, heroic leap that brings us from a limited perspective to a universal perspective" (Chapter 8), or "from a self that sees only its own interest to a self open to other humans and to the universe" (Chapter 8). This is indeed



the heritage ofSocrates, who said to the Athenians, "Who more than I has forgotten his personal interest to take care of you?" Three further, related themes are admirably expressed-much more effectively than I could do here in a few lines-in the small collection of texts that closes the volume. Hadot initially encountered the first theme in high school when writing an essay on a text by Henri Bergson that defined philosophy as "the decision taken once to look at the world naively in and around oneself." He found this naive perception in the ancients, for example, in Seneca's text that he cites, as well as in painters and poets closer to our time. Another connected theme is related to the awareness of the importance of the instant constantly expressed by the Stoics and the Epicureans (this is the actual meaning of the Epicurean Horace's carpe diem), but also by certain modern authors, such as Montaigne and Goethe-the present alone is our happiness. This wealth of the instant is tied to what Hadot calls "the pure happiness of existing"-wonder,. but also, for the moderns, anxiety and even terror before the enigma of existence. These themes are quite obviously intertwined. The "oceanic sentiment" is the fine point of what Hadot calls cosmic conscience: to experience the present instant-s-the only time and the only place we can grasp in the immensity of the times and places to which we belong-means "to live as though we were seeing the world both for the last and for the first time" (Chapter 10), as though looking at the world naively for the first time. And the consciousness of belonging to the world is also inclusion in the community of humans, with the ensuing duties. Will we say that Hadot has ceded in turn to the temptation to construct an impeccable system? In no way. Metaphysics and ontology are entirely absent from the present volume. Plato had previously attempted to prove rationally that virtue is more advantageous than vice, that it is in our interest to do good. This is not the case here. Nothing is proven. Happiness is not promised. In fact, nothing at all is promised. We are told only that today, as in the day of Socrates or Marcus Aurelius, a certain number of principles that guided the everyday life of these philosophers can also produce for us a life that is "more conscious, more rational, more open to others and to the immensity of the world" (Chapter 7).



Thus this is a book written for everyone. Does this mean it holds no interest for professional philosophers? I do not think so. A mix of coincidences and predictable consequences has given this book three voices, united by friendship. Arnold I. Davidson is professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago; he is the person primarily responsible for introducing Pierre Hadot to the United States, and for arranging for his works to be translated into English. For some time he had had the project of conducting interviews with Hadot. When Helene Monsacre, our editor-aware of my very old friendship with Hadot and his wife-approached him about a series of interviews, the four of us decided that Davidson and I would share the task. We were well aware that our questions, our interests, and our spheres ofcompetence were not the same. Davidson is really a philosopher and very attuned to all of the contemporary philosophical problems. For my part, I evoked themes that were only marginally philosophical, such as the critique of astrology, prayer, and Stoic determinism, as I do in my seminar at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. The result is that, like ancient philosophical discourses, this book contains, if not contradictions, at least repetitions, themes approached from different points of view-one could almost say, answers that address the listener, whether "profane" or "professional" philosopher. Its unity is closer to that of a sonata than to that of an essay. Thus it is clear that the question here is not about the construction of a system but about philosophy as a way of life.

Jeannie Carlier


llTied to the Apron Strings

of the Church

Jeannie earlier: You were born in Paris to French parents, but your cousins spoke German. May we assume that it is not an accident that you are asfond ofGoethe as you are of'Montaigne?

My mother was the daughter of a man from Lorraine who had refused to opt for Germany at the time of the annex of Alsace-Lorraine in 1871. She had found work at Rheims as a cellar worker in a country house. Every year during my childhood, around 1930, we would go on vacation to the Lorraine repossessed by France afterthe First World War. My cousins lived in villages or in small cities close to the German border, not far from Sarreguemines and Sarralbe. Many of them spoke not French but a German dialect. In the train stations, for example, all the instructions for the travelers were written in German. The parish priests, who did not hide their hostility toward secular France, delivered their sermons in high German, which was also used by the children to say their prayers in Church. Catholicism was very rigorist. My shorts were scandalous. The boys of my age wore pants that fell below the knee, in order to hide their "pieces of flesh," as the Bliesbri.ickpriest would say. The parish priests, decently paid thanks to the concordat with the Vatican that was maintained in Alsace-Lorraine by France after the war, were absolute masters in their parish. For example, in the 1920S, the priest ofZetting had refused to give


Tied to theApron Strings ofthe Church

my cousin Communion, humiliating her in front of the other parishioners because, as was the fashion after the war, she had cut her hair. So I encountered the problem of the complex relations between France and Germany very early, during my childhood, through the experience of Lorraine vacations, but also by way of the stories of my grandfather and my parents, who had had to leave Rheims on foot in 1914 and had finally found refuge in Paris, where I was born in 1922. They returned to Rheims a month after my birth, to a city almost entirely destroyed by the bombings. It took twenty years to repair the cathedral, inaugurated in 1939-on the eve of the Second World War. I have always loved the good city of Rheims, famous for its cathedral and its champagne, where I lived from 1922 to 1945. To get back to Lorraine, I have always been annoyed by the ignorance of the French de l'interieur ["mainland"] (as those from Lorraine say) about the part of France in which German was spoken. At the beginning of the war, in 1939, Lorraine had been completely evacuated. One of my cousins from Lorraine, who was able to return to his village under exceptional conditions, found his house ransacked; stupidly, the pigs had even been locked in the closets. The French, seeing German inscriptions, thought they were in Germany. Speaking more generally, the ignorance that many French have of German realities irritates me. I think, for example, of a rather dramatic event that took place around 1970. A young German professor had been invited to give a paper in Paris. On this occasion, he met a professor, a French and Jewish historian, whose parents had died in the Holocaust. He refused to shake his German colleague's hand. He later told me this, and that he had suffered from it terribly because his own father, a communist, had died in a concentration- camp. Why would one have the systematic and blind attitude of this French historian, ignorant of or ignoring the fact that others in the opposing camp might have suffered' as well? But I think that everything worth saying on this subject has been said in Alfred Grosser's admirable book Le Crime et La memoire [Crime and memory], which addressed in certain intellectuals a "display of the will not to know."

Tied to the Apron Strings ofthe Church


]. C.: Your mother was a practicing Catholic? My mother was very pious; she went to Mass every morning. She was a very complex person: she was very happy, sang a great deal, and sometimes amused herself by making appalling grimaces. Despite being very sociable (as opposed to my father, who never wanted to see anyone), she was hostile to young people and to exaggerated" mortifications, but she was of an almost fanatical faith. In my childhood I felt that there was conflict between my parents. My mother made me pray for the conversion of my father, who no longer went to Mass and who sometimes made bizarre allusions to my mother's confessor, the father of Bretizel, Since then, I have come to understand that after my birth, my mother, who had been very ill, could not have children. As a result, her confessor had forbidden her to have conjugal relations, according to the doctrine of the Church: no union if it does not aim at procreation. My father and my mother slept in separate rooms. Eventually, my father went back to Sunday Mass, but always alone, at six or seven in the morning. Every year he also took his eight days of vacation, always alone, which, incidentally, was a privilege of the employees of country houses; it took until 1936 for the employees and the workers to be allowed paid vacations. He spent these vacations either in Alsace or in the Sarre.

J C.:

What memories do you have ofthis somewhat removedfather?

lowe him a great deal because of everything he taught me about the most diverse subjects. He was self-taught. He .was from a village in the area of Vertus in the Marne. His family was very poor and he had begun to work at the age of eleven or twelve, at Chdlons-sur-Marne (as they said at the time). This did not stop him from learning German and English, stenography and accounting. It was also the period of Esperanto, the attempt at a universal language. He had correspondents in Esperanto in various European cities. He owned a good library of German books and had done a study of the physical education associations (Turnvereine) in Germany. He drew and painted well; I kept one of his self-portraits. An accident left him blind toward the age of fifty. He endured this suffering with exemplary patience for twenty years, until his death. I learned braille from him. We were very complicit: I often read to him, took walks with him.


Tied to the Apron Strings ofthe Church

]. c.: Yourfather had thus somewhatmoved awayfrom religion, but you received a very religious education nonetheless? Yes, I would say, to invoke the title of a novel by Denise Bombardier, that 1 had a "holy water childhood." I went to the grade school of the Freres des Ecoles chretiennes, on rue de Contrai at Rheims. These religious men were very devout and gave us what seemed to be a very good education. They also went to the effort of organizing our games at recess. But we were quite scared by what they told us in the moral education that took place every morning. There was, for example, the question of the appearance of the devil in the seances at the Masonic lodges, and of the nun who appeared to another in a dream in order to reveal to her that she was suffering eternal torments because, despite her exemplary Christian life, she had hidden a mortal sin in confession. My mother had had three sons (I was the last, ten and fifteen years younger than my older brothers) and decided that her three sons would be priests. She had decided this with such passion that when one of my brothers, the one who she perhaps loved the most, asked her what she would say if he left the priesthood, she replied, "I would rather see you dead,' thereby repeating a phrase attributed in sermons to Blanche of Castile, who is alleged to have said it to her son, Saint Louis, about "mortal sin." In any case, I never imagined that I could do anything in life other than what my two brothers did, and thus I naturally found myself at the Petit Seminaire de Rheims at the age of ten. I boarded there for two years, and then I lived at home because of my delicate health. The priests who taught at the Petit Seminaire were very devoted and qualified, especially those who were in the upper classes, grades II and 12. They were really humanists who instilled in me the love of antiquity. But some of the teachers of the "grammar" classes [roughly grades 7 to 9] were not as qualified, and sometimes were of inferior moral character. One of them, a uniformly detested eighth-grade teacher by the name of Beuge, was even downright sadistic. Naively, I had taken him as a confessor. When I would confess in his room, sometimes he would leave me kneeling until I was so uncomfortable that I had to ask him to let me sit down. In his eighth-grade class it was not rare to see an unfortunate student sitting on the ground, holding a dictionary up in front of him in a position knowingly chosen to hurt the most. This type of attitude was

Tied to the Apron Strings ofthe Church


not, for that matter, foreign to the way the school was run in general. Besides the public spanking I witnessed in seventh grade, administered by the superior to a child who had misbehaved in the dormitory, on Monday nights-Monday being the day that grades were given for conduct and work from the previous week-one could see the elevated platform of the refectory, where the professors had their meal, decorated by punished children on their knees facing the other students or standing in a corner, deprived of their meal.

J C.: Were you a pious childyourself? Yes, I had a faith that was completely naive but, I must say, without enthusiasm. For example, the day of my first Communion my grandfather said, "This is the happiest day of your life," and I wasn't happy at all that he had told me that, because I did not feel anything special. When, at the age of twelve, I went to Rome on a pilgrimage with my two brothers and the pope appeared on the sedia gestatoria [portable throne], my brother Henri began to scream, "Long live the pope!" and I was completely surprised by this enthusiasm. I thought that it was interesting but that he did not need to put himself into such a state. Things changed at the time of my adolescence. Indeed, for a long time I have had the impression of having been in the world only from the time of my adolescence. I will always regret having thrown away-out of Christian humility-s-the first notes written that were like the echo of my personality, for it is very difficult for me now to rediscover the psychological content of the overwhelming discoveries I made then. I do remember their framework. One happened on rue Ruinart, on the path I took home to my parents' house every day from the Petit Serninaire, Night had fallen. The stars were shining in the immense sky. At this time one could still see them. Another took place in a room of our house. In both cases I was filled with an anxiety that was both terrifying and delicious, provoked by the sentiment of the presence of the world, or of the Whole, and of me in that world. In fact, I was incapable of formulating my experience, but after the fact I felt that it might correspond to questions such as What am I? Why am I here? What is this world I am.ini i experienced a sentiment of strangeness, of astonishment, and of wonder at being there. At the same time I had the sentiment of being immersed in the world, of being a part


Tied to the Apron Strings ofthe Church

of it, the world extending from the smallest blade of grass to the stars. This world was present to me, intensely present. Much later I would discover that this awareness of belonging to the Whole was what Romain Rolland called the "oceanic sentiment." I believe that I have been a philosopher since that time, ifby philosophy one means this awareness of existence, of being-in-the-world. At that time I did not know how to formulate what I felt, but I experienced the need to write, and I remember very clearly that the first text I wrote was a sort of monologue in which Adam discovers his body and the world around him. From this moment on I have had the sentiment of being apart from others, for it did not seem possible that my friends or even my parents could imagine things of the kind. It was only much later that I realized that many people have analogous experiences, _ but do not speak of them. I began to perceive the world in a new way. The sky, the clouds, the stars, the "evenings of the world," as I would say to myself, fascinated me. With my back on the window ledge, I looked toward the sky at night with the impression of being plunged into the starry immensity. This experience dominated my entire life. I experienced it many times again-several times, for example, in front of Lac Majeur at Ascona: or at the sight of the chain of the Alps from the bank of Lake Geneva at Lausanne or from Salvan, in Valais. This experience has been the discovery for me of something overwhelming and fascinating that was absolutely not connected to Christian faith. Thus it played an important role in my inner development. Moreover, it considerably influenced: my conception of philosophy. I have always conceived of philosophy as a transformation of one's perception of the world. Since then, I have been strongly impressed by the radical opposition between everyday life-which is 'lived in semiconsciousness and in which we are guided~ by autornatisms and habits without being aware of our exisrenee in the world-and of the privileged states in which we live intensely and are aware of our being in the world. Bergson as well as Heidegger clearly distinguished these two levels of the self: the self that remains at the level of what Heidegger calls the "they," and the one that rises to the level ofwhat he calls the "authentic." I did not dare tell anyone what I had experienced: I felt for the first time that there are things that cannot be said. I also remembered that when the priests spoke about God or about

Tied to the Apron Strings ofthe Church


death, crushing or terrifying realities, they recited ready-made phrases that appeared conventional and contrived to me. What was most essential for us could not be expressed.

J C.:

What is the relationship between the experience that would become the leitmotif ofyour philosophy-what you often also call "the pure joy ofexisting" and the certainty that what is most important cannot be said, which you had already had as an adolescent-and the religious education you receivedat the Seminaire and at home?

It was an experience that was entirely foreign to Christianity. This seemed much more essential, much more fundamental than the experience I could have in Christianity, in the liturgy, in the religious offices. Christianity seemed to be tied rather to everyday banality. The two worlds, the one of secret experience and the one of social convention, were ultimately juxtaposed for me because at this age Christianity did not pose any problems. Things were like that, and that is all there was to it. Later I encountered someone for whom this situation posed a problem. It was Reiner Schiirmann [the author of Principe d'anarchie [Principle of anarchy], Le Seuil, 1982], who attended my courses for at least a year at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in the 1970s, when he was a Dominican novice at Saulchoir.' He was highly influenced by Heidegger, and his Christian faith was juxtaposed without harmony onto his experience of "authentic" existence, of the openness to Being. He shared with me personal notes in which he expressed his helplessness, and I remained rather perplexed, not knowing how to help him. I tried to put myself into his Christian perspective and to persuade him of the possibility of accepting this coexistence in himself but I believe he ultimately renounced the Christian faith. Moreover, while still at the Petit Seminaire, thanks to my excellent professors, I also discovered Greek and Latin antiquity, Greek tragedy, Virgil, and his Aeneid. In the tenth grade we studied the episode of Dido and Aeneas. Although everything that had to do with love was hidden from us, here there were very moving verses about this theme. Again I had the confused impression-I did not clearly realize it-that there was an experience here that was also entirely foreign to Christianity,


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J c.: What you follow Romain Rolland in calling "oceanic sentiment, " one might be inclined to call "cosmic sentiment," because it is more general. Has it not, moreover, happened to everyone~ undoubtedly with less intensity? But one does nothing about it, as though it is just something that falls on us in this manner. Furthermore, you say that this "sentiment" is entirely foreign to Christianity. In fact, with the exception ofthe Old Testament (the heavens and the Earth tell the glory of'death), in all the Christian texts you cite-most notably the Christian spiritual exercises-this sentiment does not appear a great deal, whereas in antiquity, the sentiment ofwonder before nature is repeated with an extraordinary lyricism, not only amongpoets such as Lucretius, but even among the driest ofphilosophers, such as Epictetus. Is this not ultimately a deep rupture? I would defend the expression "oceanic sentiment" used by Romain Rolland, and on this basis I would distinguish this experience from the experience of wonder in the face of nature, which I have also experienced. In speaking of the oceanic sentiment, Romain Rolland wanted to express a very particular nuance, the impression of being a wave in a limitless ocean, of being part of a mysterious and infinite reality. Michel Hulin, in his admirable book La Mystique sauvage [Savage mysticism] (and for him, "savage mysticism" is nothing other than the oceanic sentiment), characterizes this experience as "the sentiment of being present here and now in a work that is itself intensely existing," and also speaks of a "sentiment of an essential co-belonging between myself and the ambient universe.'? What is capital is the impression of immersion, of dilation of the self in Another to which the self is not foreign, because it belongs to it. The sentiment of nature exists in the gospel. Jesus speaks of the splendor of the lilies of the field. But I said that the oceanic sentimentas I experienced it, which is different from the sentiment of nature-is foreign to Christianity because it does not involve either God or Christ. It is something situated at the level of the pure sentiment of existing. I am not certain that it was familiar to the Greeks. You are right to say that they had the sentiment of nature, and they had it to the highest degree, but they speak very rarely of immersion in the Whole. It is true that there is this phrase by Seneca-toti se inserens mundo, "plunging into the totality of the world"-with regard to the perfect soul." But in fact one cannot be sure that it corresponds to the experience we are talking about. Perhaps

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there is also an allusion to this experience when Lucretius speaks of the chill and of the divine will that seized him when thinking about infinite spaces." The absence of literary testimony does not signify the absence of the experience, but we are reduced to ignoring it. This experience is, in any case, by no means exceptional. The most diverse of writers allude to it, for example, Julien Green in his journal, Arthur Koestler in Darkness at Noon, Michel Polac in his journal, Jacqueline de Romilly in Sur les chemins de Sainte-Victoire [On the paths of Sainte-Victoire], Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov, and perhaps Rousseau in The Reveries ofa Solitary Walker (the fifth reverie), to mention only a few names from a very long list. It is found in other cultures-such as Hindu (in Ramakrishna, for example)! or Chinese: one can see it in certain aspects of Chinese thought and painting.

j. C.: At the ageoffifteen, you enteredthe Grand Seminaire. What were your impressions at the time? What was a Grand Seminaire like at the end of the I930s? After the first part of my high school diploma, which included a French essay, I entered the Rheims Grand Seminaire in 1937. I was very happy there. We each had a room of our own, a luxury that had not been allowed before then. Once night had fallen, the electricity was cut. Often, before falling asleep, I looked at the immensity of the starry sky. Intellectually speaking, the setting we worked in was agreeable. There was meditation every morning, and we attended two Masses. The rest of the day was divided between courses and reading and studying works of spirituality. The philosophy class lasted two years. Thomist philosophy was studied, but so was Bergson, who, after having been condemned by the Church for writing L'euolution creatrice [Creative Evolution], had all but become a Church Father since writing Les Deux Sources de la Morale et de la Religion [The Two Sources of Morality and Religion]. Bergson has had a considerable influence on the development of my thought insofar as his philosophy centers on the experience of a bursting forth of existence, of life, that we experience in ourselves in the exercise of willpower and in duration, and when we see ourselves at work in the elan [motivating force] that produces living evolution. I passed my high school examination in philosophy in 1939, and the subject of the essay was this sentence by


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Bergson: "Philosophy is not the construction of a system, but the resolution made once to look naively at the world in and around onesel£" I have often, too often perhaps, told about the enthusiasm I felt while treating this subject. But this also testifies to the fact that it was a considerable event for me, and it shows that in 1939 philosophy professors also questioned themselves about the problem of the essence of philosophy.

J c.: The war would break out the sameyear. How did you experience it? After the period that was called the Phony War, there was the offensive of May 1940. All the inhabitants of Rheims had to be evacuated. The Grand Seminaire sought refuge in Lucon, in Vendee. This gave me the opportunity to discover the incredibly reactionary mentality of the clergy from Vendee. During Sunday Mass at the Lucon Cathedral, prayer for the Republic (in Latin at the time, Domine saluamfac rempublicam [God save the Republic]) was not said. I played the organ during the proceedings, and when the time came, I played the first notes and my co-disciples made a scandal by breaking into this, one might say, revolutionary prayer. I also think of a comment by a professor from the Lucon seminary when he announced the armistice of June 1940 and the formation of the Petain government: "At last we have a Catholic minister of national education!" Millions of French were thrown into the street, hundreds of thousands of soldiers were taken prisoner, France was defeated, humiliated, and that is all they could come up with to tell us! Shortly thereafter, I joined my parents, who had taken refuge near La Rochelle. We stayed in the village of Croix-Chapeau until October, during the course of which we were able to go back to Rheims. Then I went back to the Grand Serninaire.

J c.: Didyou stay there throughout the Occupation? No, only between 1940 and 1942. In our ivory tower, life continued as it did before. The only problem was nourishment, but the priests given this task proved themselves very skilled at transporting meat and potatoes into hiding, and the farmers were very generous. One day a German pilot who was doing acrobatics above the high school nearby in order to impress

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his mistress crashed into the steeple of the Grand Seminaire-s-but fortunately not into the adjacent refectory, where we were eating! The Germans rushed in and took over the seminary. We barely had time to hide the sheep and calves in a classroom, where they did their business copiously. this way from famine, we could read the works of mystic writers. I was especially interested in the monumental His toire litteraire du sentiment religieux [A literary history of religious thought] by Abbe Bremond. But there was also Jean de la Croix [John of the Cross] and his admirable poems, and Teresa of Avila, and Therese of Lisieux. Then I fervently experienced the desire for mystical union. The idea of a direct contact with God fascinated me. Ever since, I have asked myself the following question: "Given that God is absolute, how can there be contact 'and especially identification between what is relative and what is absolute?" In the books of mysticism that we read, the director of conscience played a considerable role: he was the guide on the path of purgatory, or on the path of illumination, or on the path of unity-three steps, incidentally, inherited from Neoplatonism. I was thus very disappointed to discover that my director of conscience did not seem to be very interested in this. I even changed my director of conscience, thinking that the new one would be somewhat more inclined to address these questions, but they were all very reserved.


J Did you have the impression that the Churchs reserve toward mysticism was rather typical? Although there had been such great Christian mystics, mysticism was considered with suspicion. Was it not discouraged, just as today, when a miracle appears, the Church becomes involved as little as possible? I believe that there is a historical problem here. It seems to me that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, at the time ofJean de la Croix, or later, of Fenelon, a great deal of attention was given to mystical phenomena and to the classical paths inherited from Neoplatonism: the purgative, illuminative, and unitary paths. The mentality has changed, but I do not know the reasons for this. Whatever the case may be, we were not at all encouraged to attain mystical experience, because ultimately it was thought to be a matter of exceptional phenomena. What mattered was to


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do one's duty. In any case, given that Christian mystical experience was a divine gift, one that cannot be attained by human forces alone, it was thought that God himself would take care of giving it according to his good graces. Whatever the case may be, I never had a mystical experience in the Christian sense, which is not surprising, but I had a very sentimental piety. During Holy Week, I participated in Christ's suffering so intensely that when he arrived at church on Holy Saturday or Easter Sunday, I had the impression of a real deliverance. During the night between Holy Thursday and Good Friday we took turns praying all night, and I tried to participate in Christ's agony. I had in fact read in Pascal that Christ would be in agony until the end of the world and that one should not sleep during this time.

J C.: What haveyou retainedfrom your theologicalformation? All of the studies in theology that I had begun at the time included a part devoted to biblical exegesis. Our professor of exegesis personified prudence, but we were nevertheless able to get a glimpse-notably in the exegesis of the New Testament, but of the Old Testament as well-that there was an important human element in this inspired text. At this point I read Jean Guitton's admirable book Portrait de Monsieur Pouget, which is devoted to the life and ideas of a blind Vincentian priest who seems indeed to have been an extraordinary character. His superiors had forbidden him to give his exegesis course because he used a historical and criticallet us say, scientificv--merhod to study the books of the Bible. He said that in these studies one must take into account the collective mentalities that had influenced the authors of the sacred books. This was the first stage of my education in the interpretation of texts, to which I have devoted a considerable part of my life. The superior ofthe Grand Seminaire had decided that for the 1941-42 year I would have to interrupt my theological studies because of my young age (there was a chance that I would be ordained at the age oftwenty-one), and that I would be a supervisor at the Petit Serninaire, At the same time, I was to begin my philosophy degree (incidentally, without being able to go to Paris to follow classes). In June and July of 1942, while supervising the study of the older boys [les grands] during the day and the younger boys

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[Ies petits] during the evening, I passed the Certificat d 'Etudes litteraires classiques [certificate of classical literary studies] (which required me to read all of Balzac's novels, the Arthurian novels, and the works of Chenier) and the Certificate d'Histoire de la philosophie [certificate of history of philosophy]. (The essay was on the cogito in Descartes and in Kant, and the Latin version with commentary of a text by Seneca). I came back to the Grand Serninaire in October 1942, where I spent the 1942-43 school year. But that year Service du Travail Obligatoire (STO) [compulsory work service] was decreed, and after a medical examination I was put into this service in Germany. I was supposed to leave in July 1943. Now, there were many of us in this situation and the superior had to give us, catastrophically and in a single sitting, the courses of initiation to the realities ofsexual life (we called them the diaconals) so that we would not seem too foolish. This entire world that had been totally unknown revealed itself to me that evening, and l must say that I was totally floored. One ofmy older brothers, who was a professor at the Grand Seminaire of Versailles, knew of channels one could take to do the STO in France. It was intended for the students of the major schools (the Centrale and so on). Officially it was for metal specialists, who were exempted from going to Germany because they were indispensable to French industry. I came to Paris to undertake the administrative procedures of which I no longer remember the details but that resulted in my assignment to the SNCF [the Societe Nationale des Chemins de fer Francais, or French National Railway Company]. Thus I found myself in the locomotive repair factory of Vitry-sur-Seine, not far from the Rhone-Poulenc factory, which stunk and continues to make the whole city smell of-the strong odor of chlorine. Because while being welcomed I had made a naive remark that had made all my pseudo metal specialist companions laugh, the director of the factory put me in the most difficult workshop, in which locomotives are taken apart. We worked under the machines in order to take the different very heavy pieces apart while being splashed with mud. I did what I could, but I dragged down the team, for which my blunders made output levels plunge. The workers did not hold it against me. At the same time, I was made to take the metalworkers apprenticeship certification, which was granted to me even though I had to adjust my pieces with a hammer, having sawed everything crooked.


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J c.: You are not thefirst philosopher to have worked with his hands: Cleanthes wasa porter, I believe. But a metalworker-what a symbol! This allowed me to learn at least one important thing. Until then, in my literary, philosophical, or theological essays, I had adjusted not metal but ideas. In this case, one can always manage, in one way or another. Concepts are easily malleable. But with matter, things became more serious. No more give, no more approximating, no more or less artificial arrangements. This does not mean that no rigor is possible in the works of the spirit, but it is very rare, and it is very easy to delude both oneself and others.

J C.: Soyou were in Paris, far from Rheimsandfar from the ecclesiastical milieu? Dead tired every evening, I got up every day at about five o'clock in the morning to go to six o'clock Mass at the Peres du Saint-Esprit, on rue Lhomond. Afterward, I took the train to Vitry, On Sunday I got up early to spend my day at the Grand Seminaire of Versailles, where Ply brother was. I tried to remain tied to the Church's apron strings as much as possible. In September I was moved to another factory. Now I worked at the Massena station, repairing wagon bellows. It was less difficult. In October there was another change. As a result of the actions of the Resistance, trains were often derailed. To raise them back up there was a very powerful crane-the so-called most powerful crane in Europe-that was also stationed, I believe, at Massena. Obviously it might have been a target of destruction for those in the Resistance. The Germans thus required that it be guarded day and night. This guard remained close to it, in order to be blown up with it, in the event that it was destroyed. In sum, I became a hostage. When it left-accompanied by workers-to pull up a locomotive, we had to go with it, and even, in principle, to stay inside it. Only once a foreman obliged me to stay inside during the transport, even during the night, in the roar and the vibrations of this machine. But all the other trips were quite pleasant, all things considered. During the trip, which lasted several days, we slept in the freight car, we cooked-

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French fries, for example, which were an extremely rare dish in this time of restriction. This hostage situation had its advantages. Often I could read, because of the inattentiveness of the guards. I remember discovering Plato's Phaedo for the first time in this way. When I was on night duty, during the day I could go to the Parisian libraries, such as the one at the Guimet Museum. I was interested in Hindu mysticism at the time. Toward the end of the year it became clear that ultimately everyone would have to go to Germany. The exceptions were no longer accepted. Once again, the Grand Serninaire of Versailles intervened. I no longer remember the details, but I was summoned by a work inspector who, as I discovered afterward, belonged to the Resistance. He sent me for a medical visit. The doctor discovered a heart murmur, which was quite real. This was the beginning of cardiac problems that have followed me throughout my life. As a result, I was "posted at the Grand Seminaire," a statement that figured on my work card. I believe that the experience I had' just lived, and that had been lived by a certain number of seminarians, was one of the causes that provoked the development of the priest-worker movement at the time. They had come to the realization that there was an all but insuperable gulf between the workers' world and the ecclesiastical world, the latter being too tied to the prejudices and values of the bourgeoisie.

J C.: Your lastyear ofseminary school tookplace in Versailles in I944? Yes, and this issued in my ordination as apriest at Rheims, in a seminary entirely occupied by American soldiers. I was twenty-two at the time, and normally I should have obtained an age dispensation from Rome, but it was impossible to communicate with Rome. If I was ordained quickly, it was because a philosophy professor was needed at the Grand Seminaire of Rheims for the 1944-45 school year.

J C.: YOu enteredthepriesthood without hesitation and without qualms? This event should be situated in the framework of my childhood and youth. As I have said, my mother wanted her three sons to be pastors. I did not imagine that I could do anything else. There was pressure, not at


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all on the part of my father but on the part of my mother. When I was at Grand Serninaire, I felt certain that I would not be made a parish priestprofessor at the most. I was too intellectual to take care of the patronage of children, to do catechism, and so on. I told myself that the best would be to be a monk, perhaps a Dominican. I also thought of the Carmelites, because of Jean de la Croix. I did not consider the Jesuits because we were swayed by Pascal's dark depiction of them in his Lettres prouinciales [Provincial letters]: "There is nothing like Jesuits!" But when I spoke to my mother about it, she exclaimed, "That is impossible, it would be the death of your father" (my father was blind and very attached to me). In fact, she absolutely wanted to have us at her disposal. She could not allow me to be closed up in a convent, no longer able to visit her. My future was thus programmed from a very young age. I did not imagine anything else. One could say that everything that was not ecclesiastical was completely foreign to me, and my six months of military service did not allow me to see the allure of the outside world. But it remains that I was extremely reticent to take the Oath Against Modernism. I had not been warned of this formality and I was made to read a text almost every line ofwhich repelled me. I believe that this oath is no longer in use. It had been introduced in a directive by Pius X dated September I, 1910. I was to declare, among other things, that I believed that the doctrine of faith transmitted by the apostles and the Fathers had remained absolutely immutable since its origins and that the idea of the evolution of dogma was heretical. I also had to declare that a purely scientific exegesis of the Holy Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers was inadmissible and that freedom of judgment in this situation was forbidden. I remember that I was terribly perplexed in this unexpected situation, but I finally told myself: "Let us see how things turn aut"-an attitude that I can now, with the perspective of age, say is, like pity, disastrous and engenders many tragedies. Ultimately, aside from this doubt at the moment of the Oath Against Modernism, I had no hesitation; I simply had no idea what my commitment entailed. I did not make the decision in light of knowledge of what was involved. I only discovered the realities of life little by little.

J C.: So here you are, in the autumn ofI944, a freshly ordained priest, assigned to teach philosophy before having completed your degree. Under

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what conditions did you lead this double life, that ofa teacher and that ofa student?

I spent the 1944-45 school year teaching philosophy, not only in the Grand Seminaire but also in a young girls' boarding school (I was barely older than some of them) kept by nuns. In the back of the class, a sister watched over the orthodoxy and decency of my remarks. The archbishop of Rheims sent me to complete my degree in Paris at the end of this year of teaching. I was to follow courses at both the Institut Catholique and the Sorbonne. This is how I arrived in Paris in October 1945. I lived on rue Cassette, in a house that received the priests studying at the Institut Catholique, and where one can still see the door where the September massacres took place during the Revolution. At the Institut Carholique I followed courses, notably by Father Lallemand, an ultra-Thomist; by Verneaux, a scholar of Kant; and by Simeterre, a plato specialist. At the Sorbonne, Poirier taught modern logic (we were introduced· to formal logic, that is, ultimately Scholastics, at the Institur Catholique)." It was written in the stars that I would never acquire a mastery of modern logic. Poirier spoke about everything but logic, and when he did deign to speak of it, it was without pedagogy. This did not stop me from getting my logic certificate in February 1946, during a special session reserved for residents and those who refused to work for the STO during the war. Now I had received, without requesting it, a document concerning my visit to the work inspector of Versailles at the end of 1943. It attested that I was entitled to the status of rifractere au Service du Travail (a French civilian who worked in Germany during the war). This document was certified by the Association de Resistance "Les Negriers,' 14 rue Vergniaud, Paris. This was obviously completely false. In my life I used this fake, which I did not request, for no other purpose than to pass this exam quickly and easily. Easily because Poirier-whom some, I do not know why, accused of collaboration (by circulating tracts in his classes)-had decided that on the program for the semester there would be only formal logic. I was thus punished for this weakness by a serious flaw in my formation. I have since attempted to rectify this lacuna, but in all very poorly. There was also Albert Bayer, who gave ethics courses.' He spoke with a bit of a cocky tone, fervently believed in progress, and predicted


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that we would see men go to the moon. Rene Le Senne gave admirable courses, written as formal essays, with an introduction, a development, and a conclusion. I also learned a great deal from his Traite de morale generale [Treatise 01) general morals]." Georges Davy taught us sociology," and Raymond Bayer, aesthetics, with projections of works of art." As a result of a scheduling conflict, I unfortunately was not able to follow Jean Wahl's course on Heidegger." 1945-46 was a year of dense intellectual activity, in the effervescence of the end of the war and of existentialism. Aside from two educarions-sfrom the Institut Carholique and from the Sorbonne-and from completing the two corresponding certificates, I also attended many lectures, by Henri-Irenee Marrou, Berdyaev, and Albert Camus, among others.'? Every Friday, I went to the circle led by Gabriel Marcel. I had read several of his books at the Grand Serninaire, and even his dramatic play, The Broken World, and I had learned a great deal. I was admitted, by way of an intermediary I no longer recall, to the discussions he held late in the afternoon every Friday. I attended them for a year, but his personality seen close-up, as well as the people around him, displeased me by its artificial verbiage.

J C.: So your first contact with existentialism was through Christian existentialism? I tried to reconcile Thomism and existentialism. I thought I was following Jacques Maritain. In his Sept leconssur I' etre [Seven lectures on being], he said that in order to have the sense of being, which is the object of metaphysics, speculation was insufficient. One must "feel things vividly and deeply." I especially intended to follow the example of Etienne Gilson, who proposed a version of the doctrine of Thomas Aquinas that was strongly tainted by the philosophy of the moment. Real existentialism, in his eyes, was found in the Thomistic distinction between essence and existence. He also gave a sustained homage to Merleau-Ponty: «For the first time in a long time, philosophy decides to speak of serious things." On this point he also evoked an experience of the whole being in which "the body is vitally interested." For him, philosophy consisted in knowing, and not in constructing and producing a system. I do not regret, incidentally, having begun with Thomism. It was at least a philosophy that attempted

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to speak "formally," and I have always been disappointed by the vagueness of the concepts of modern philosophy. Then I met Father Paul Henry, Jesuit and editor ofworks of Plot in us, who would playa very important role in my choice of thesis topic for the Institut Catholique and for the Sorbonne, but especially in the general orientation of my methods of study and perhaps even in my spiritual evolution." This stage in my development also involved a nun who was also preparing her certificate at the Institut Catholique and whom I would see regularly. I felt a love for her that was as Platonic as it was passionate. Father Louis, having noticed this, asked us not to see each other any longer. But in fact we continued to correspond and we remained friends.

J c.: Paul Henry suggesteda thesis topicthat did not really correspond to your wishes and which, assuredly, was not designed to guarantee large printings and a career sustained by the interest ofa vast audience.

In effect. I hesitated between a thesis on Rilke and Heidegger, under the direction of Jean Wahl, and a thesis on Marius Victorinus, a Neoplatonic Christian writer from the fourth century of our era who is far from having given up all his secrets, which would have been officially under the direction of Raymond Bayer but in fact under the direction of Paul Henry. I ultimately opted for Victorinus. Since my youth I had experienced a great attraction to mysticism in all its forms, which, it seemed to me, would open me to the inexpressible experience of God. Saint Jean de la Croix but also Plotinus were among my favorite authors. As a result, I thought I could unify my university work and my interest in mysticism. When I went to see Father Henry, I was expecting him to propose a thesis on Plotinus. To my great surprise, he recommended that I study an obscure Latin author, Marins Vicrorinus. He thought that in the Latin I would be able to make sense of this author, taken to be almost incomprehensible on the basis of the pieces translated by Plotinus, Thus I worked on this author for more than twenty years, until the publication of my doctoral thesis. In it I found neither mysticism nor Plotinus, but, it seemed to me, traces of his disciple Porphyry. The archbishop of Rheims had granted me a supplementary year (1946-47) to begin this work, but at the beginning of the academic year


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there was an emergency and he called me back. The priest and professor of philosophy at Saint-Remy College in Charleville had left with a young girl. Thus I found myself in the cold Ardennes, teaching in a boys' school and in a boarding school for young women. The library of the city owned the old nineteenth-century translations of Proclus and of Damascius, potentially very useful for my thesis research. I still remember reading these two Neoplatonic writers during lunch break, at the summit of Mount Olympus, beside the Meuse. The following year (1947-48) I felt it was necessary to go to Paris to work on my thesis seriously. Thus I traveled back and forth between Paris and Charleville every week. During my Parisian sojourns, I stayed at Antony, where I gave classes in a girls' boarding school to pay for my travels and lodging. But I did not hold to this regimen and had to stop all teaching as a result of extreme fatigue. After resting in the Vosges and in Switzerland, I was received that year and the next at Saint-Germain-enLaye by the sisters responsible for the nursing services in that city. It was in 1949-50 that I began to follow Henri-Charles Puech's courses in the fifth section," and Pierre Courcelle's course in the fourth section of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes." It was also in 1949 that Raymond Bayer had me admitted to the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) [National Center for Scientific Research], to work on both a doctoral dissertation, still on Victorinus, and the catalog of philosophical vocabulary of the Middle Ages that he directed. The same year, my thesis at the Institut Catholique was accepted. It was a study of the notion of God causa sui in Marius Victorinus. My thesis director was a very mysterious character, the priest Cadiou." Paul Henry and, I believe, Dominique Dubarle were on the committee. I gave a doctoral lecture on an eminently Thomistic subject, but treated it in an existentialist spirit, as the real distinction between essence and existence. Henri-Charles Puech and Pierre Courcelle attended this defense. The same study relating to Victorinus served as my Diplome d'etudes superieurs [post-master's, predoctoral degree of advanced studies], presented at the Sorbonne under the direction of Raymond Bayer. Puech encouraged me to apply for a degree at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, still on Victorinus. The required text was submitted to Alexandre Koyre, This time I presented a translation of the Christian works of Victorinus. I devoted myself to it

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from 1950-60. The work was published in 1960 in the collection Sources Cbretiennes [Christian sources].

J C.: The year I949-50 thus marked a turning point: a thesis for the Institut Catholique, a degree of Etudes Superieurs, and especially entering the CNRS. YOu left secondary teaching definitively, and, with a salary, you became less dependent on the Church. What have your relations with the ecclesiasticalworld been since I949? In 1949 I obtained authorization from the parish priest (of the "students' parish") to live in the presbytery, which was very close to the Sorbonne, and to participate in the communal life of the parish. Thanks to him, I lived in this magnificent context for two years. I never tired of this beautiful church, with its forest of pillars. In exchange for this hospitality, I was expected to offer certain services, including to take charge of the parish newspaper. In this manner I discovered what it is to make a newspaper. It is very interesting. I wrote several articles in it-notably, a rather lengthy review of L'Homme reuolte [The Rebe{J, by Albert Camus, who on this occasion wrote me a letter that I have unfortunately since lost. I was working on my dissertation and I attended Jean Hyppolite's courses on Hegel and on Heidegger. He explained, most remarkably, the chapter in Heidegger's Holzwege [Offthe beaten track] devoted to Holderlin: "Why Poets in a Time of Distress?" I greatly admired the clarity with which he explained difficult texts. The years I spent at Saint-Severin represent a turning point in my life. During this period I began to adopt a critical attitude toward the Church. I had more than one reason for this. For example, there was a vicar in the clergy of the parish who wanted to reestablish February 2 as the day of purification for women who had just givep birth, a ceremony analogous to the one to which Mary had submitted herself in conformity with Jewish law. For this vicar-who incidentally was a medical doctorthe ceremony implied that women were impure as a result of sexual relations and of childbirth. This seemed crazy to me. There were also two seminarians there who were supposed to be initiated into parish life and who, in their juvenile ardor, were revolted by the ecclesiastical mentality, which they did not consider to be evangelical. I must say that I agreed with them completely. They often showed a zeal that the parish priest


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found untimely, especially on certain days, or rather on certain nights, when he discovered that people in difficulty, homeless people, were lodged on all of the floors of his presbytery, and he had to throw them out. The seminarians reproached him then for lacking an evangelical spirit. But the practice of the Gospel would have required a complete upheaval of our mode of life! There was also Jean Massin, the future musicologist, who directed spiritual teams. They assembled many students, a good number of them from the Ecole Normale. He gradually developed a criticism ofthe Church as well. I was assigned by the parish priest to bring a more orthodox dimension to these teams. Thus 1participated in the movement that offered the students, among other things, an initiation into biblical problems by using historical and exegetical methods that aimed to be rigorous. Here again, especially in the domain of exegesis, I recognized that there was a basis to Massin's criticisms. I struck a pale figure next to his personality, next to his eloquence (I heard students from the Ecole Normale cry while listening to him; I heard him talk for a whole hour, if not two, about these simple words from Genesis: "Abraham sits")-and next to "his satirical spirit, often inspired by what was perhaps a somewhat broad psychoanalysis (he would say "well oedipalized" instead of "well educated"). A terrible shock added itself to this: the encyclical Humani Generis of August 12, 1950. Everything that was keeping me in the Church was condemned: Teilhard de Chardin's evolutionism, and ecumenicalism. (I also read the Protestant journal Riformewith great interest.) Moreover, the proclamation of the dogma of Assumption on November I, 1950, added itself to my disappointment. This development of martial theology had deviated, it seemed to me, from the very essence of Christianity. Why attempt to attach Mary to the human condition? Finally, a sentimental problem added itself to this. Since 1949 I had loved the one who for more than ten years would be my wife and I thought I did not have the right, as many of my colleagues did, to lead a double life. All these factors together resulted in my decision to leave Saint-Severin and the Church in June of 1952, and I was married in August 1953, despite the warnings from people in my entourage who knew the one I would marry and told me that our marriage was a very poor match from every point ofview. (It would in fact end in divorce eleven years later.)

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J C.: Was this a terrible disappointment for your mother, and even maybe, for her, afeeling offailure? I must say that I did Dot have the courage to go to Rheims to confront her face-to-face. I wrote her a letter, feeling as though I had committed a murder. I had in my mind the image of an aviator who drops his bombs on a city. For her it was the crumbling of all her hopes. The idea that she would not have the right to see me anymore added itself to this. But finally the tension calmed, and in the following years I visited her from time to time at Rheims.

J C.: J imagine that in addition to all the heartbreak involvedin your decision, you also had to deal with crassly materialproblems? In fact, when I informed the CNRS of the change in my situation, the result was a rather substantial increase in salary. This was because, if I recall correctly, the CNRS attributed only a quarter of its research allocation to ecclesiastics, on the basis of the principle that they have other revenues available to them. But my material situation was rather difficult nonetheless. I was lodged in a maid's room in the sixth arrondissement [the Parisian administrative circumscriptions], at 14 rue des Pyramides, which Jean Massin lent to me. During the 1952-53 year, I was able to appreciate the comfort that the good Parisian bourgeoisie provided for its help: one or two toilets for twenty rooms or so, no heating, and torrid heat in the summer. One day when I had invited someone over for lunch, the books balanced precariously atop the cupboard fell.into the bowl of fries, still full of oil. ... After I was married, I moved to Vitry-sur-Seine, where the smell of the chlorine from Rhone-Poulenc was always floating in the air. We were with my mother's aunt, but under very uncomfortable material conditions. These years were very difficult. Beyond family problems, I was always worried about my future. At the time, CNRS researchers did not have the comfortable security of the functionary that they now know. They were submitted to a yearly renewal, and it was understood that one could stay at CNRS only temporarily. One year, their decisional committee, overtaken by untimely zeal, fired a great number of researchers. 1 was saved from shipwreck and welfare by Maurice de Gandillac, who intervened so that


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I would be retained. I am very grateful to him for this, as I am for the very understanding letter he wrote to me when I informed him that I was leaving the Church. Pierre-Maxime Schuhl, whose seminar I attended, became worried about my plight. 1? He told me that I had no hope for a position at the university because I was not a certified teacher [agrege1. He recommended that I take the exams to become a librarian, which I did, and during the year of preparation I learned many things. But the career of a librarian did not attract me. So I stayed at CNRS and continued to work on my doctoral dissertation.

J C.:

In short, you stayed tied to the apron strings of the Church for twenty years, from your tenth to your thirtieth year. What do you now think ofthis ecclesiastical world that you knew wellfrom the inside? I must say first that I have a great deal of gratitude for the complete intellectual education that I received from most of the professors who devoted themselves to giving it to me-c-all the more so in that, I realized only much later, all my studies, secondary and advanced, were financed by the archbishop of Rheims. If I had not gone to the Petit, then to the Grand Seminaire, my parents would surely not have been able to pay for my studies. Moreover, I would say that my rupture with the Church was not a rupture with my friends, who continued to display much sympathy toward me, especially Paul Henry, Jean Daniele, and Claude Mondesert, as well as my very good friend Georges Folliet. I moved away from Christian faith very slowly. For a time I would sometimes attend religious ceremonies, but they always seemed rather artificial because, following the council of Vatican II, they were recited or sung in French. I was not opposed to the translation in principle, bur it always seemed to reveal the immense distance between the world of the twentieth century and the mythical or stereotypical formulas of Christian liturgy-a distance that was sensed less when the people did not understand what was being said. I believe that Henri-Charles Puech had the same impression I did when he told me with a big smile, "Jesus, God's sheep," alluding to the translation of the Agnus Dei. It was not the Latin that was incomprehensible, but the concepts and the images hidden behind Latin for centuries.

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The ecclesiastical world that I knew from 1930-50 is obviously extremely different than the actual ecclesiastical world. Since then, there has been the Council ofVatican II, which took the unfortunate experiences of the first half of the century and the biblical criticism of great theologians from that period into account. I had read with enthusiasm the writings of Father Henri de Lubac, Father YvesCongar, and Father Marie-Dominique Chenu, who played important roles in the reform brought about by the Council. But I also have certain grievances. My main reproach to the clergy of the past is aimed especially at the Sulpicians, a society of priests established in the seventeenth century, who directed most of the large seminaries in France. Whether at Rheims or at Versailles, one might say that, for the most part, they still lived in the time of their founding father, Jean-Jacques Olier, a bizarre character whom the curious reader can read a page about in Father Mugnier's [ournal." To give a single example, every day before eating, both in Rheims and in Versailles, we gathered for readings of the examinations of conscience of Monsieur Tronson, a Sulpician from the seventeenth century. These examinations had been somewhat modernized, the stagecoaches had been removed, but all the situations envisaged in fact supposed the daily life of the seventeenth and not the twentieth century. We irreverently called these exercises the tronsonnade; it was the Sulpicians' aperitif But this is merely an amusing detail. What is more serious is this artificial space, entirely isolated from the exterior world, where all personal initiative, all originality, all taking responsibility were repressed. We were totally ignorant of the reality of the world, and especially of the reality of the feminine world/ When my mother offered, much to my surprise, to ask Mademoiselle Chevrot, the young and beautiful organist of the Rheims cathedral, to give me organ lessons, I refused out of fear, because in my subconscious th-ere was something diabolical about women. The result of this confined education is that, for my part, when I was ordained as a priest in 1944, I was absolutely not prepared to face the concrete realities of the daily life of normal people. It is only little by little that I freed and affirmed myself. We were capable, at the limit, of exercising our ministry in the conservative, chic world of a bourgeois parish, but, for example, completely disarmed in the face of the sad reality of the suburbs of the big cities.


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I believe that things have changed considerably now. However, I think the real source of harm is what I would call surnaturalism. What I understand by surnaturalism is the idea that it is especially by supernatural means that one can modify one's way of conducting oneself: It is the blind confidence in the omnipotence of grace that allows one to face all situations. On television these days, one hears stories of pedophile priests. On this occasion one can very clearly see what surnaturalism is. The confessors and the bishops too often have the tendency to think that if someone cannot dominate certain impulses, it is enough to pray, especially to the Virgin Mary, and he will end up being cured of these impulses. In fact, there is a total lack of psychology in this attitude, and in these recent matters of pedophilia of which I was speaking, one can say that those who are really responsible are the confessors who had these priests believe that confidence in the grace of God was enough, that one can through prayer easily get out of these difficulties; and also the bishops, who should-it is simple common sense, for that matter-find a ministry for these priests that keeps them far from contact with children. In the ,past I have seen situations in which the priest, conscious of his weaknesses, asked to be taken away from the place in which he was exposed to dangers, and the bishop or the superior responded, "If God put you here, it is that he also gives you the grace to overcome your difficulties; all you need to do is pray, and" everything will be well." In fact, in Thomistic theology-and perhaps even in a general way in all Christian theology-surnaturalism is based on the idea that since the Revelation and the Redemption there is no longer a natural morality. In the scholastic philosophy textbook that I used in my studies, all the parts of philosophy were treated, except morality, for it was expressly said that it was useless to teach purely natural morals to seminary students-on the one hand, because the only true morality is theological morality; and on the other hand, because if one explained natural morality, one would risk exposing the students to the danger of naturalism, which consists in believing that one can practice virtues without grace. This tendency has another noteworthy aspect. One says to oneself: What counts is faith in God, and the fact that one remains a sinner is of little importance. Father Henry sometimes cited, approvingly, Luther's phrase, Peccafortiter et crede

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fortius ("Sin with all your forces, but believe even more forcefully"). This is fundamentally the theme of Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory. It is all well and good to confess that one is a sinner, but it would be even better to think of the harm that one does to another through one's sin. In Le Canard enchaine of December 6, 2000 (yes, I do read Le Canard enchain! from time to time), the following remarks of Monseigneur Jacques David, bishop of Evreux, who had advised a pedophile priest to . turn himself in, were reported: "I had also advised colleagues [that is, other bishops] confronted by priests in difficulty to do the same thing." This is all well and good but, Le Canard added, accurately, "It is especially the kids who are in difficulty." Here we are in fact in the presence of a rather ecclesiastical reaction. What counts above all, in the aim of the Church, is the priest in difficulty, and the Church he puts into difficulty. The victims are not considered first; it is not thought that the danger to which they are exposed should be put to an end immediately. One can imagine all the unhappy children who, in the past were, and still now are, victims of the conspiracy of silence that surrounded such actions. The Church is not, for that matter, the only one practicing hypocrisy. In analogous situations, the army or the police are not outdone; they also have esprit de corps. Reasons of state, reasons of the Church-there are always good reasons. One of the consequences of this surnaturalism is also that priests often consider themselves to be excused from practicing the natural virtues if it is useful to the Church, or to themselves-hence the pious lies, the infringements on the virtue of justice. For example, the employees in the businesses run by the clergy are often poorly paid because these employees are in the service of the Church and are expected to sacrifice themselves for it; or as I myself observed, the readers who cut pages out of Migne's Pathologie in the library of the Institut Catholique are most likely ecclesiastics. On this score, it is perhaps useful to recall an old history, that of Americanism. Americanism was a movement that corresponded to certain characteristics proper to American Catholicism at the end of the nineteenth century: attention to moral and social problems more than to dogmas and devotions, and respect for the individual freedom and responsibility of laymen. By translating the works of an American bishop, Monseigneur Ireland, in 1894, and by prefacing a translation of Walter


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Elliott's Life ofFather Heeke (1897), arguably the inspiration for tendencies proper to American Catholicism, in France, Father Klein had provoked a quarrel that Pope Leon XIII thought he could end in 1899 by issuing Testem Benevolentiae, which condemns Americanism, to Cardinal Gibbons, bishop of Baltimore. According to this letter, the Americanists maintained, among other things, that in order to attract dissidents more effectively, it is appropriate to leave in the shade or to attenuate certain elements of the doctrine as being of lesser importance. They also maintained the need to let go of the relation that the faithful have to ecclesiastical authority, in order to guarantee laymen's freedom of thought and to leave them greater freedom to follow the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I remember that the opposition between clerical domination and the initiatives of laymen had always been a problem in the Church, as one can see, for example, in Ruedi Imbach's book Dante, la philosophie et les laics [Dante, philosophy, and laymen]. Finally, the Americanists think that natural and active virtues are better suited to the present day than surnatural and passive virtues. This Roman wariness with regard to naturalism is still alive today, a century later, and I believe that the ecclesiastics still too often neglect natural morals.

J C.: You have briefly evoked the Oath Against Modernism that was imposed on you in the course ofyour ordination, and at the beginning of the movement ofpriest-workers. How did you experience the attitude ofthe Church on these matters? I have just evoked Roman condemnations. I believe that the brutality of these condemnations is to be deplored. Notably, this began with modernism, at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. Alfred Loisy, accused of modernism, was hit with excommunication. This means, for example, that as a professor at the College de France, he was not able to attend the religious burial of the administrator, because his presence alone would have obliged the officiator to interrupt the religious ceremony. After the Second World War, under the pontificate of Pious XII, the priest-workers were condemned. On this subject, I would mention Francois Leprieur's utterly remarkable book Quand Rome condamne: Dominicains et pritres ouvrier [When Rome condemns: Dominicans and priest-workers], which shows how the Dominicans, tied

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to the movement of priest-workers, were condemned in a way that is "prejudicial to natural law.'"? Many were sanctioned (banned from teaching, exiled sometimes) without knowing the exact reasons that something was happening to them. And when there was a trial, the accused, entering the tribunal, did not know what he was accused of; he had not been previously informed about his dossier, he did not even know that, at the end of the trial, he would be imposed with the obligation to keep secret everything that was said during the interrogation and the condemnation. Leprieur, in his conclusion, speaks of the unhealable wound left in their hearts by the Roman condemnation. I cannot enter into all the details, but one must indeed recognize that we are in the presence here, and probably since Pope Pious IX, of a both centralist and dictatorial system that, if fortunately it no longer turns the guilty over to the secular arm to be executed, nevertheless retains an inquisitional mark and, too often, shows a serious lack of respect toward the human person. A worthy effort was made at the Council of Vatican II to remedy this attitude. But it seems, unfortunately, that this system, which has nothing evangelical in it, continues to be used today. What is extraordinary is that since Galileo (to take a famous example), Roman theologians-persuaded that the truth is their own and absolutely immutable-at given times have severely condemned opinions or methods that a few years later everyone, including Roman theologians, has recognized are correct. The most flagrant case is in the domain of exegeSIS.

2lResearcher, Teacher, Philosopher

Jeannie Carlier: Were you free to devoteyourselfentirelytoyour doctoral dissertation as ofI953? I began preparing the critical edition ofMarius Victorinus with Father Henry. This collaboration marks a decisive turning point in the method of my work. Until then I had been a "pure philosopher." I was interested in metaphysics and, truth be told, in mysticism, especially Plotinus. But from that point on, I undertook training as a philologist and historian. I discovered philological disciplines that I had never practiced-the critique of texts, the reading of manuscripts, at least of Latin manuscripts. To prepare for this reading, I took courses at the Ecole des Chartes and at the Fourth Section of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (EPHE). Many philosophers do not realize what is involved in the study of ancient texts. When translating Marcus Aurelius, for example, it is possible to spend an entire day determining what a particular Greek word can mean in a given context. Thus, with Paul Henry, I edited the complete theological works ofMarius Victorinus. Alone I edited Ambrose of Milan's Apology ofDavid, and the fragments of the commentary On Parmenedes that I attributed to Porphyry. I collaborated in the preparation of the critical edition of a very interesting Greek fragment found at Ai-Khanoum, at the border of Afghanistan, and which may be a passage from a lost dialogue of Aristotle. Finally, I edited the first book of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations. I am currently undertaking further editing projects.

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During this period I also discovered the methodology of the history of philosophy. Previously I treated philosophical texts, whether of Aristotle, Saint Thomas, or Bergson, as though they were aternporal, as though words had the same meaning in every philosophical period. I understood that the evolution of thoughts and mentalities throughout the centuries had to be taken into account. Henri-Irenee Marrou once dedicated an offprint to me by writing, "To the philosopher who has become a historian. A historian who has become a philosopher." The discipline of philology is exhausting, but it often gives a certain pleasure, for example, when one realizes that the text that is accepted by everyone is obviously mistaken, and that, thanks to the examination of manuscripts or of the context or of the grammar, one has rediscovered the right lesson, which has happened to me a few times with Marcus Aurelius, and with Ambrose. It is a discipline that is useful to the philosopher in that it teaches humility; the texts are very often problematic and one must be prudent when one attempts to interpret them. It is also a discipline that can be dangerous to him, to the extent that it runs the risk of being satisfied with itself: and holds up real philosophical reflection. I think that for Paul Henry himself it was a way to avoid asking serious theological questions.

J C.: Who is this Marius Victorinus with whom no one isfamiliar? He is a rhetorician from the city of Rome who translated the treatises of Plotinus and finally converted to Christianity. He left an apologetics oeuvre, in which he defends the doctrine of the consubstanriality of the three persons of the Trinity, affirmed at the council of Nicea. This is a very enigmatic oeuvre. He cites Plotinus, and develops a Neoplatonic metaphysics that I thought I could attribute to Porphyry, the disciple of Plotinus; but recently Michel Tardieu discovered that entire passages of Victorinus' oeuvre correspond literally to a Gnostic text, the Apocalypse de Zostrien [Apocalypse ofZostrien], which we know only through its copied version. There is also likely a common source to this passage ofVictorinus and the passage from the Gnostic text, but which one? I spent twenty years of my life (from 1946 to 1968), at least in part, translating Victorinus and writing a doctoral dissertation about him. Ultimately this has not been time totally lost. I have learned many things by working on it, from the point of view of historical method as well as


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critical method, I discovered little-known aspects of Neoplatonism, notably, the magnificent fragments of a commentary on. the Parmenedes that I attributed to Porphyry. But finally, perhaps I spent too much time on this enigma. I would like to see someone solve the enigma of Victorinus' sources nonetheless.

]. C.,, In I959 you wereamong thefirst in France to speakofWittgenstein. Is therea relation to Victorinus? In a certain sense. In effect, my research on Victorinus in no way satisfied my passion for philosophy, This is why, especially during the years 1958-60, I participated in different research circles: the philosophical research group of the journal Esprit, led by Paul Ricoeur, where I met, most notably, Jean-Pierre Faye; Ignace Meyerson's Centre de Recherches de psychologie comparatives [Research center of comparative psychology], where I met, among others, Jean-Pierre Vernant, Madeleine Biardeau, and the doctor Hecaen. In 1960, Ignace Meyerson organized at Royaumont a very interesting colloquium on the person, in which I participated and during which I became friends with Louis Dumont, with whom I have remained in contact. I also discovered Wittgenstein's Tractatus LogicoPhilosopbicus, then his Philosophical Investigations. I was quite surprised to observe that this philosopher, who was presented as a logical positivist, spoke of mysticism in the last pages ofhis work. I tried to understand how this was possible. Thus, on April 29, 1959, I gave a paper to the College Philosophique, led by Jean Wahl, on the Tractatus. I know the exact date thanks to the book Emmanuel Levinas by Marie-Anne Lescourret, who gives a lively description of the meetings of the College. They took place in the building that is facing the gate of Saint-Germain-des-Pres. At this time I found a series of articles on Wittgenstein, who was little known in France. I even attempted a translation of the Tractatus, but it never got past the stage of a rough draft. In 1963, at the request of Angele and Hubert de Radkowski, I wrote, in a month, a little book for the collection La recherche de l'Absolu [The search for the absolute], Plotin ou la Simplicite du regard [Plotinus or the Simplicity of Vision], which since then has often been reedited. I' was attracted by Plotinus' mysticism, while sensing to what point it was foreign to our modern world.

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In 1968, I struck out in an entirely different direction, most notably by preparing for a conference at Eranos a paper entitled "Influences du neoplatonisme sur la philosophie de la nature" [Influences of Neoplatonism on the philosophy of nature]. This work gave me a better appreciation for the importance of reflection on the notion of nature, and I hope that after thirty years of research in the area I will perhaps manage to publish the results in a book. '

J C.: In many respects, I964 was only a hinge year. You were elected director o/studies at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, section ofreligious sciences, and you metyour wife. I was not unknown to the fifth section of EPHE. I had followed the courses of Henri-Charles Puech and prepared for a degree under his direction-a translation of Marius Victorinus-and I had also followed the courses of Andre-Jean Festugiere. I had heard him translate and comment on the Life ofProclus by Marinus, and on the Commentary on Plato's Timaeus, by Proclus. One learned a great deal by listening to him. My candidature was upheld primarily by Rene Roques' and Paul Vignaux.? I was elected, I believe without difficulty, to the chair of Patristic Latin, because of my works on Marius Victorinus.

J C.: The same year, at the Hardt Foundation, you met a German who would becomeyour wife. More exactly, I found her again. If I believed in destiny, I would say that our meeting was written in the sky. In effect, I had seen her for the first time at the Congres de Philosophie Medievale in Cologne, and for me it was love at first sight. Afterward we exchanged books, a correspondence, but one letter was lost, and everything came to an end. In September 1964 I went to the Fondation Hardt at Geneve-Vandoeuvres to put the finishing touches, with the German theologian Carl Andresen, on a German translation of Marius Victorinus that was to be published by Artemis Verlag. When r arrived I was told that Mme Ilsetraut Marten was there. I understood then that a new life would begin for me. We were married in 1966 in Berlin.


Researcher, Teacher, Philosopher

When I met her, I absolutely did not know that my wife was writing a doctorate under the direction of Paul Moraux at the Freie Universitat of Berlin on the theme of Seneca and the tradition of spiritual direction in antiquity. It was very close to my own preoccupations, which had been oriented for some time toward the definition of philosophy as spiritual exercise and way of living. My wife has exercised a very important influence on the evolution of my thought. But moreover, lowe to her the fact that I am still alive. I am a regular at Parisian hospitals. Over the course of the past twenty years I have undergone four serious operations. If I did not have my wife next to me day and nighr-

]. C.: Your direction ofstudy in the Fifth section ofthe Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes wascalled the chairofPatristic Latin. Didyou choose this titleyourself? My colleagues wished to keep this direction of study illustrated by Paul Monceaux. Moreover, my studies on Marius Victorinus, my translation of his works, might give the impression that I am above all a Latinist. But a few years later my colleagues authorized me to change the title of the section so that it would read "Theologies and Mysticisms of Hellenistic Greece at the End of Antiquity." After having offered courses on the sermons of Ambrose of Milan and on Augustine's Confessions-a masterpiece of universal literature that I began to translate for the Bibliotheque de la Pleiade (the project was abandoned, but it gave me the opportunity to meet Brice Parain, whom I have always admired)-I was able to give courses on the mystic texts of Plotin us, on Marcus Aurelius, and on ancient logic. This last subject brought me auditors who would become famous. The Hautes Etudes is a remarkable institution. The auditors are free to come and go, and the director of studies is free to choose his subjects of research. The courses must be the fruit of original research. As of 1971 or 1972, I became secretary of the section, first assigned to education, then to administration, which is a rather heavy task. My first cardiac arrest, which was a plunge into arrhythmia, occurred during a difficult argument. 1n short, a work accident, the cardiologist told me. In 1968, at a Sorbonne that was yet to bear the traces of the "events," I finally passed my state doctoral dissertation entitled "Porphyre et

Researcher; Teache1; Philosopher


Victorinus," accompanied by a these complementaire (published in 1972) on the life and work of this enigmatic Christian rhetorician. Maurice de Gandillac, Henri-Irenee Marrou, Joseph Moreau, Pierre Courcelle, and Pierre-Maxime Schuhl were on the committee. At this time I began to be read abroad. It was in 1968 that I was invited to the Eranos Conferences at Ascona," thanks to the intervention of Henry Corbin, my colleague from the Fifth Section, who thought I had' the same enthusiasm for archangels and the imaginary as he did for Jung's archetypes. The context was splendid, and the other invited participants were very kind, but I was not an adept of the reigning orthodoxy. I gave a paper on the influence of Neoplatonism on the philosophy of nature in the West, which generated only moderate enthusiasm. I was invited a second time, in 1974. The scenery of Lac Majeur was just as magnificent. My paper on the figure of Socrates was slightly more warmly received, but I have not been invited back since then. Thanks to Hans Blumenberg, around 1970 I became a corresponding member ofthe Academic des Sciences et le Litterature [Academy ofScience and Literature] of Mayence. I assiduously attended' the sessions, which allowed me to be in sustained contact with my German colleagues.

]. C.: Around I968, then, the title ofyour chair was broad and Marius Victorinus was behind you. He obligedyou to learn philological rigor, and it was also in part because ofhim, ofhis incoherence, that you began to ask yourselfwhat ancient philosophy is. Is this the direction your research took? First of all, in my teaching I developed my research on Plotinus' mystical treatises, and I finally felt the desire, which was fulfilled only later on, to do an annotated translation of Plotinus' treatises. But this time, Plotinus himself: and Marcus Aurelius, to whom I began at this time to devote courses, led me to think in a general way of what I call the phenomenon of ancient philosophy-a phenomenon in the sense of not only a mental phenomenon, but also a social, sociological phenomenon. I tried to ask myself the question, What is a philosopher? What do philosophical schools consist of? This is how I was brought to conceive of philosophy not as pure theory but as a way of life. Around this period I also began to attach considerable importance to the existence of spiritual exercises in antiquity, that is, to the


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practices-some of which are of a physical order, such as nutritional or discursive regimenting, dialogue, and meditation; others of which are intuitive, such as contemplation; but all of which aim to generate a transformation in the subject practicing them. The discourse of the master of philosophy could also itself take the form of a spiritual exercise in that by listening to him or by participating in a dialogue, the disciple could develop spiritually, transform himself internally. This is when I read the book Seelenfuhrung [Direction of the soul] by Paul Rabbow, which presented the different possible forms of these practices among the Epicureans and the Stoics, and which also had the merit of marking the continuity that exists between ancient spirituality and Christian spirituality, but perhaps by limiting itself too exclusively to the rhetorical aspects of spiritual exercises. My wife's books and the exchanges we had together revealed new aspects of the phenomenon that I was trying to understand. In 1977 this ultimately culminated in the opening article of the Annuaire de la Ve section, entitled "Exercices spirituels." This article was obviously supposed to provide a sample of what I was doing in my course. At the same time, however, I gradually developed the sense that what I had proposed in this article, to those who cannot or do not want to live according to a religious life, was the possibility of choosing a purely philosophical mode of life.

J c.: Is it not a remarkable program to propose to the nonreligious the possibility ofchoosing apurelyphilosophical modeoflife? Is this not whatgives meaning, on another level, to a gooddeal ofyour scholarly research? But this article wascalled "Exercices spirituels. "Is there not, after all, something religious in this expression? Do you think that the onlytrue religion isphilosophy or, like Porphyry, that "only the sage is a priest"? We believe that spiritual exercises are of a religious order because there are Christian spiritual exercises. But spiritual exercises appeared in Christianity only and precisely because of Christianity's will, beginning in the second century, to present itself as a philosophy on the model of Greek philosophy, that is, as a mode of life comprising spiritual exercises borrowed from Greek philosophy. In the Greek and Roman religions, which did not involve an inner commitment of the individual but were primarily social phenomena, the notion of spiritual exercises was absent.

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However, many religions, such as Buddhism and Taoism, impose a mode of life on their adepts that includes spiritual exercises. Thus there can be philosophical spiritual exercises and religious spiritual exercises. For example, in the heyday of secularism, Jules Payot, in his book L'Education de la uolonte [The Education ofthe Will], published in 1900, recommended what I call spiritual exercises; thus he discussed spiritual retreat-which is possible, he said, even in the midst of a crowd-as an exercise for the examination of conscience, or the different techniques of self-mastery. More generally speaking, it seems to me that religion and philosophy must be carefully distinguished. I have discussed this question frequently with Fernand Brunner, the late philosopher from Neuchatel, with whom I was good friends. He attempted to bring religion and philosophy closer by giving religion a philosophical tonality, and philosophy a religious tonality. For my part, I think-perhaps falsely-that the word religion should be used to designate a phenomenon that involves images, people, offerings, celebrations, and places that are devoted to God or to gods. This absolutely does not exist in philosophy. One might say, but then what do you do with the religion in spirit and in truth, with religion freed from sociological and ritualistic aspects and reduced to an exercise of the presence of God? I would respond, it is of the order of wisdom or philosophy. This is also why I consider that mystical phenomena, even if it happens that they can be observed in different religions, are not specifically religious. They do not involve the social aspects that I mentioned, and they situate thems~lves-for example, in Plotinus-in a purely philosophical perspective. They can be observed in philosophers who are totally atheist, such as Georges Bataille. From its origins, philosophy developed itself as a critique of religion, with destructive critique-for example, that of Xenophon, who said that men made gods in their own image-or purifying critiquesuch as that of Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, the Epicureans, and finally the Neoplatonists. Critique is purifying in, the sense that philosophy finally tends to transform religion into philosophy. It does this either by developing a theology, albeit a purely rational theology, or by using allegory to think about the different divinities in many different ways, as did the Stoics, for whom Zeus was fire, Hera air, and so on. The Neoplatonists did this as well, identifying the gods of paganism with Platonic entities; and


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the Epicureans, who represented the gods as sages. In a general manner, philosophy has always had the tendency to rationalize religious myths, specifically by giving them philosophical content.

J C.: One could object that in the fourth andfifth centuries there were Neoplatonists who integrated practices of a specifically religious order into theirphilosophy, becausethe mode ofphilosophical life involved rites, the rites oftheurgy, if theurgy is not magic but something that can resemble magic to the extent that material objects are used to obtain a spiritual effect. One must first recognize that the Neoplatonists, in wanting to establish a correspondence between the gods of Paganism and the various entities of their system, killed all the charm and the sacred horror these products of the human imagination may have had. Their purifying critique is almost a destructive critique. However, at times they have also brought superstitious and puerile practices into philosophy. This is absolutely right, and I find this difficult to forgive. This is why I do not particularly appreciate Iamblichus or Proclus. This intrusion of religion into philosophy had always been rather enigmatic to me. I believe that it is an unfortunate attempt to compete with Christianity, which at the time also presented itself as a philosophy of Platonic inclinations, but one associated with purifying rituals. This intrusion of religion was, moreover, tied to the metaphysics of Iamblichus' successors. Like the Christians, they discovered that the soul had really fallen into matter by a sort of original sin, as it were, and thus one can have faith through material rites and the help of divine grace. This cannot be found in Plotinus. j C.: Platonism, traditionally since Plato, is reservedfor the elites. The hoi polloi-literally, "the numerous," the masses-understand nothing. Now, the Neoplatonist Iamblichus instituted three grades oftheurgy, and he reserved one for the level ofordinary men, attached to matter. This is perhaps an attempt to comb as broadly as Christians, who have always said, our message is universal. Yes, thus we encounter the concern of the Pagan philosophers to combat Christianity on its own terrain. The emperor Julian would have

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wanted secular priests to be just as austere as Christian priests and devote themselves to acts of charity. This represents, as it were, the birth of neopaganism, including a theology that reduces the different gods to emanations of a single and unknowable principle, and a purifying or sacramental ritual allowing the polloi to be saved as well. This is the neo-paganism that Gemiste Plerhon and other humanists attempted to resuscitate during the Renaissance. One can also make out a contamination of Paganism and of Christianity in this Neopaganism.

J c.: Do not most "real" religions, the ones that mostpeople practice and not the ones the theologians theorize, have the characteristic that onecan, through prayer (sacrifices, magicalrituals, everything one can imagine), hope that the gods will give a fortunate outcome to those in an otherwise hopeless situation? The god ofthe Bible and the Greek gods let themselves be swayed. Thegods ofthephilosophers do nothing ofthe kind. A famous verse in Homer provoked the indignation ofall the Greek philosophers: "The gods themselves can be swayed. " Yes. One of the aspects of the critical purification of philosophy in effect consists in denouncing the vanity of prayers of request to underscore their absurdity, because the most contradictory invocations are raised toward the gods as men ask at the same time for rain and for good weather, for their victory and the defeat of the adversary. There are nuances to be made about this subject, however. On the one hand, philosophy, Greek or Latin, can very well be directed toward God or the gods without it being a "religious" prayer that seeks to sway God; on the contrary, as Epictetus says, it could be a hymn of praise, one of the tasks of the Stoic philosopher being to sing God's praises, which is, for him, universal reason. This is the spiritual exercise of contemplation. On the other hand, it is worth considering that for the Stoics and the Platonic tradition, religion has a precise place in philosophy. It is situated exactly in the theory of duties. Duties toward the gods, as one can see in Epictetus' Manuel [Manual], indicate both that one accepts, as a philosopher, their will without attempting to sway it, and that, as a citizen practicing religion, one can very well still admit the legitimacy of religious practices, ofsacrifices, of divination, and of other things as elements of the social reality that surrounds one.


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J C.: This critical attitude toward religion, common-with a few exceptions-to ancient philosophers, reappears in the Renaissance, after the eclipse ofthe Middle Ages? During the Middle Ages everything changes, because philosophy is no longer merely religion's servant. As soon as philosophy frees itself from a theology, it becomes a critique, either purifying or destroying, of religion. Philosophers-Spinoza no less than Kant, for example-have always had a tendency to purify the idea of God and detach it from properly religious representations. It seems to me that what has been called natural religion is merely a theistic philosophy. As such, it lacks what is essential in religion: the rites. Now, I recognize that by defining religion in this way, I oppose a rather general use of the word, namely, to speak of God, transcendence, or mystery. I have observed the fact in Thomas Mann, who in a letter remarks, "We live and we die in a mystery, and one can, if one wishes, qualify the consciousness we have of it as religious." Similarly, Einstein spoke of the scientific religiosity and the cosmic religion of his own position, which he expresses by reporting, "I have the strongest emotion in front of the mystery of life," while refusing a God who rewards and punishes.' In his inaugural lecture, Merleau-Ponty said roughly the same thing as Thomas Mann and Einstein, but was careful to specify that this is a philosophical attitude: "Philosophy awakens us to what is problematic in itself in the existence of the world and our own existence, to the point that we are never healed from searching, as Bergson would say, for a solution 'in the master's book.'" 6 This is a philosophical attitude that MerleauPonty refuses to qualify as atheist, because it merely consists of displacing the sacred or defining it in another way.

J C..' YOu neither passed the agregation

[examination for teaching

certification] nor attended the Ecole Normale Superieure, and you did not ensure a career by choosing a fashionable thesis topic either. Andyet, in I982,

you were elected to the College de France. This wasthe initiative ofFoucault, from whomyou are separated by many things. The process began in the fall of 1980. I had just left the hospital after my first heart operation. I received a telephone call from Foucault. Pasquale Pasquino, an auditor of mine from Hautes Etudes who had had

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many discussions with Foucault, had made my article on spiritual exercises known to him. He asked me if I would accept to be presented as a candidate. I was both very surprised and very happy. The election always takes place in two steps. First, the name of the chair is voted on, with full knowledge that the title in fact corresponds to a particular candidate. For this first phase, one must write a notice of "titles and works," and visit all the professors, scientific or literary. I made these visits in the fall of 198'1. It was a very interesting experience. I was very surprised .by the vast literary culture of the scientists and by the interest they had in my research. Finally the day of the vote arrived; it was Sunday, November 29. My presenter was Paul Veyne. In the course of the afternoon, Foucault informed; me by telephone that the assembly had unanimously adopted the title of my chair. In the spring of 1982, the second stage of the ceremony took place: the "nominal" election, which is rarely problematic. A third stage, it too ritualistic, was the inaugural lecture in February 1983, in which I attempted to present the notion of ancient philosophy. Thus I was admitted into this venerable institution, in which the assembly meets around an immense table in the presence of a large painting representing its founding by Francois I. It is a remarkable institution, for the freedom it gives its members to develop their research and to let a vast audience benefit from it. I would reproach only its slightly pretentious slogan: Docet omnia [All things are taught]. For everything is not taught there, obviously, and even individual professors do not teach the entirety of the subject matter implied by their titles, but rather the particular domain in which, in his discipline, he thinks he has advanced science the most. This in itself is a very good thing. For my part, during my nine years of teaching I spoke of themes on which I had worked considerably and that were dear to me: philosophy as a way of life, the attitude of the ancients toward nature, Plotinus' mysticism, Marcus Aurelius' stoicism. So I kept company with very great scholars for about ten years, but I have regretted that I was not able to profit from it. I was able to form friendships only rarely.

J C.: What are the generalimpressions you retainfrom these forty years ofresearch and teaching? What do you think ofthe French universitysystem?


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First of all, I recognize that I was very fortunate to be admitted in succession to institutions in which one can focus on personal research. I began as a researcher at the CNRS [Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique] at a time when researchers in the humanities were allowed to work primarily on their own projects, even if they individually also participated in collective works. (I compiled the cards for Raymond Bayer's Vocabulaire philosophique du latin [Latin philosophical vocabulary].) Now, however, according to a method copied from the normal situation in the exact sciences, researchers are asked to collaborate on a group work. This often draws them away from their fields of interest, and at times even from their areas of competence. At times, considerable personnel are gathered to do a piece of work that a single researcher or small group of researchers could complete much more quickly. It is true, however, that the isolation of researchers, with which I was familia.r;, in the 1950S and 19605, was very difficult. T-hereafter I was admitted to two ideal institutions, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes and the College de France, where, as I said before, one can reconcile teaching and research admirably. .I was admitted to the first with no teaching certification, and no doctoral dissertation yet, and to the second while I did not belong to the intellectual noblesse, of which one of the principle titles is to be a former student of the Ecole Normale Superieure, I did not even speak the language of initiates that is indispensable today in the humanities. So I had a great deal of luck. I was admitted to the CNRS on the recommendation of Raymond Bayer alone. At the time, in 1950 or 1951, the professors, the members of the CNRS commissions, were all-powerful. Afterward I was admitted to the EPHE, thanks to the support of my professor Henri-Charles Puech. As I said, if I was admitted to the College de France, it is in large part due to Pasquale Pasquino, who had spoken of me to Michel Foucault. 1 was so unknown that one of Foucault's colleagues, to whom Foucault had recommended my candidature, confused me with my wife: "Ah yes, the one who wrote a book on Seneca!" In recognizing that I have been very fortunate, I already sketch a criticism of the system that regulates elections in national education. I was lucky despite my ignorance of everything that one must generally do to succeed. One must begin early. Already when their children are in high school, parents must think of the best way to have them succeed in the contest of

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the Ecole Normale Superieure or the other major schools [grandes ecoles]. What is the best high school, the best preparatory class? Afterward, one must choose well one's thesis director-the powerful person who will be capable of getting you admitted into the CNRS or into the university. For everything depends on the sponsor. Whether it is a question of career or of publication, one must think of everything, one must adopt an expert tactic. During a meeting of the College International de Philosophie a few years ago, I was practically reproached for publishing my book Exercises spirituels et philosophie antique [Spiritual exercises and ancient philosophy] in a "confidential" way, through Etudes Augustiniennes, a publisher that did not have a large distribution. But I had no relations in the circle of publishers that aim at the general public, and I was very thankful to my friend Georges Folliet for accepting to publish this collection of studies. Things changed when I became a professor at the College de France. Curiously, I was no longer transparent! I certainly was before this. Consider, for example, how the candidate for a chair at the College who had come to see me on a candidacy visit told me that he was happy to make my acquaintance, although two or three years earlier I had participated with him in a colloquium in which there were not very many of us. I had given a presentation in front of him, had lunch facing him several times, and even spoken to him.... But at the time, I was merely director at EPHE, and so not very interesting because ineffectual in the perspective of a great career. I had not especially retained his attention. An election is often a matter of luck, of the fortuitous meeting between different interests and different politics, In the three elections I have spoken about, there is no proof that I was admitted for reasons of personal merit. I would be mistaken to take pride in it. The fact of having been elected to an institution, as prestigious as it may be, in no way proves that the one elected is prestigious. They often speak of elitist systems, of elitocracies, or of meritocracies. But is it really an elite that is chosen? Is the choice always a function of the competence, the intelligence, the moral value of the work? What are the real factors that contributed to the choice? It is ultimately a set of coincidences: the birth, the fortune, the good high school, the ability, the luck (to have fallen on the question that one was prepared to answer, or to have had a powerful sponsor, or to have been


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used as a bargaining chip in a negotiation). Are the famous contests that ope.n careers and ensure the recruitment of state personnel often contests of circumstance and of luck?

J C.: You seem not to appreciate contests very much, and the teaching certification in particular. Does this system of contests, notably the famous teaching certification (agregation) , not harm the scientific and human development of the candidates? Does it not too often privilege rhetorical qualities; the ability to treat a subject, even if one is barely familiar with it; the art of speaking in an elegant and obscure manner? Already in 1841, Balzac, in Le Cure de village [The Village Priest], brilliantly put our contest system, which was already in place at the time, on trial. (The success of a young man in a contest, he said, gives no certainty about the value of the grown man he will become.) In 1900, Rene Haussoulier, in his preface to Charles Michel's collection of Greek inscriptions, spoke of the "degrading exams," of the "horizons narrowed by the B.A. or the teaching certification contests," of the French students "who have neither the leisure nor the courage to undertake such tasks."? In 1961-62, in the summary of his courses provided in the Annuaire de la Ve Section of I 'Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Father Festugiere in turn declared, "It is saddening that the French students are completely devoid of curiosity, One sinks into the emptiest of routines and watches disappear the essence of the humanities, which is to form minds." Have things really changed in this beginning of the twenty-first century? Whatever the case may be, to get back to the problem I was evoking, it sometimes happens that the candidate's qualities are not the decisive factor in an election. Here i blame not people, who always believe they are doing what is best, but the electoral system, which seems defective to me. In this system, politics too often plays an important role, and by "politics" I mean especially local politics. In the universities, the advantage is given to the candidates who are already there, which can be understood to a certain point. But it often totally eliminates consideration of the merits of the other candidates. Moreover, when professors approach retirement, they often think of their succession and obstruct the elect jon of candidates who, by their competence, could compromise and make useless the future

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election of their proteges. There is also politics involved in connection with the legitimate desire of a given professor to be elected to a particular academy. For this, one must make oneself useful. One sometimes complacently accepts the insistent council of a given academician who would want to have one of his proteges elected and whose voice would be precious. Moreover, under the influence of powerful people, it also happens that a given academy that has the right to give its opinion about the elections of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes and the College de France refuses to accept the vote of one of these institutions' assemblies in order to obstruct the ministry of education's nomination of a given candidate-for reasons that appear to be more political or even religious than scientific. It thereby inverses the order of choice: the one who had been in second position is thus placed in first. This rarely happens, but it has been seen. There have been famous examples. Fortunately, the national ministry of education does not always allow itself to be influenced. It is almost a question of a centenary use: the Academic des Sciences Morales et Politiques had tried to obstruct Alfred Leisy's election to the College de France in this manner in 1909. In the case of the College de France, one must recall that this institution is surrounded by serious guarantees to ensure the objectivity of its elections. The candidate must present his titles and works, and a precise teaching project, which all the members of the assembly are supposed to read attentively. Moreover, the candidate must visit each of the professors, who through questioning can take his personal qualities into account. But the assembly is made up of scientists and literary scholars, and one must say that the scientists have difficulty understanding the literary projects, and the literary scholars, the scientists' projects. The difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that the candidates' research, particularly in the literary domain) is so specialized that even their own colleagues have difficulty assessing them in full knowledge of their value. How can this be remedied? Perhaps by obtaining evaluations from outside the assembly-and if possible, outside of France-from specialists in the field in question. In any case, there is a real problem here, one that may be insurmountable. I note the difficulties, but the pros and cons would have to be weighed with consideration to find a solution.


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J C.: Do you haveanything to say about the CNRS? I belonged to the CNRS for about fourteen years. Given the precariousness of the situation of researchers at the time, which was the almost heroic period of the CNRS, I joined a union, the CFDT [Confederation Francaise Democratique du Travail], to be defended, if possible, in case I was laid off. Because the membership of the CFDT was not very large at the time, I was even obliged to take on certain union functions, in the human sciences, while Mademoiselle Yon, a biologist, took care of the exact sciences. It was a matter, for example, when the researchers obtained the right to have delegates in the commissions, of choosing representatives from the CFDT. I myself was elected to the philosophy commission as a union representative. This allowed me to participate in the functioning of the CNRS and to see how things work, In my humble opinion, during this period the way that researchers were recruited was rather defective. It was the principle do ut des [I will scratch your back if you scratch mine] that reigned. A characteristic example: During a session in which I participated, the president of the commission, who had chosen the reporters who were to read their evaluations of the dossiers of a given candidate in session, had given the dossier of his protege to Mr. X and had taken the dossier of Mr. X's protege to report on himself But I discovered after the fact that he had prepared two reports: a favorable one, in case Mr. X upheld his end of the contract, and an unfavorable one, in case Mr. X did not. It turned out that Mr. X upheld the contract. The president's protege was thus admitted, as was, consequently, Mr. X's protege. He was merely a means of reward or of revenge. Moreover, the CFDT union was not very powerful at the CNRS, at least at the time, to the point that to be admitted as a researcher, one had to be supported by the national syndicate of scientific researchers, tied to the FEN [Federation de l'Education Nationale, or Federation of National Education]. Having become director at the EPHE, after 1964 I wanted to present a candidate who was an absolutely remarkable person and who has since proven himself: I did not succeed in getting him admitted. For three years in a row I presented the same candidate, with no result, after which I told him, Have yourself presented by another union; meet with so-andso. He was taken immediately, the following year. Thus the recruitment

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was made not on the basis of the value of the candidates, but according to union politics. In 1968 or 1969, we had been asked for advice concerning the reform of the CNRS. In a letter to the director of the humanities at the time, I wrote that it would be good to choose a system analogous to the one that exists outside France, such as in Germany, in Switzerland, and I believe in Canada as well. In these countries, reports are requested from specialists outside the commission and even often outside the country, whether it is a question of the recruitment ofa researcher, the constitution ofa research laboratory, or a book grant. This preponderance of certain university or union personalities was harmful, I think, in certain sectors, to the harmonious development of the CNRS, at least in the domain of the human sciences. When I was in the philosophy commission, I had the habit of saying that in nature, function creates the organ, but at the CNRS, it is the organ that creates the function. By this I meant that if the powerful professor or a given powerful union felt like presenting a vague research project, it was immediately deemed to be indispensable, without the com~ission asking itself seriously whether the project was really urgent and useful in the general framework of the discipline. Incidentally, I made a committee for the reform of the CNRS laugh one day by appealing to a terribly incoherent metaphor: "the sharks who take the lion's share." I have the excuse of being furious.

j. C.: You were undoubtedly no softer when it came to the matter ofthe functioning ofuniversity libraries. I will leave aside the question of the Bibliotheque Nationale de France and focus on university libraries. When we were in the other cities, and when we saw the libraries in Canada, in England, in Germany, and in Switzerland (I did not go to the United States), it became clear that the students have much easier and abundant access to material than in France. In Canada I saw libraries in which there are small offices where the students can work and use computers. In Great Britain and Canada, the students have access to the book stacks. In Germany, at the Frankfurt library, there is access to the book stacks; in Berlin, in an immense room, the students had at hand practically all useful literature, all the basic books, the collections of texts, the historical collections. In a reading room


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at the Sorbonne library, there are a few dictionaries and-now this is an enormous progress-the Collection des Universites de France (bilingual Greek and Latin texts), but it is ultimately insufficient. The greatest concern is that students, who have great difficulty finding a place to sit in overcrowded study rooms, have all the difficulty in the world finding books that haven't been bound, borrowed, or stolen. Several years ago, during the winter, the lights went out in half of the reading room at the Sorbonne library; this lasted several months without the slightest reparations being made. Either the students brought flashlights, or they did not come. At the time I protested to the library administrator, which had no effect-perhaps due to lack of funds! But is this not a case in which emergency funds should have been released? The state of great misery of the provincial libraries must also be discussed. I once criticized the quality of a doctoral dissertation in the presence of HenriIrenee Marrou. He answered me, "Oh, what do you expect? He works in the provinces."

J C.: Before retiring in the fall ofI99I, did you have the opportunity in the course ofyour career to distract yourselfat all, to do anything other than to teach or to write books? I had the good fortune that my parents bought a piano and gave me lessons when I was five years old. I took piano lessons until I entered the Petit Seminaire at the age of ten. Then I played sonatas by Mozart and Beethoven, and waltzes by Chopin. When I got older I would say that one rnust play Mozart in the morning, Beethoven at noon, and Chopin in the evening. Subsequently, I learned to play the organ, which is a wonderful instrument made for the great naves and cathedrals, and it gives the impression of having an entire orchestra at one's disposal. My participation in the liturgical ceremonies consisted in playing the organ. The one responsible for liturgical music at the Grand Serninaire would reproach me for playing pieces that were too sentimental and romantic. He put a book of the works of Bach in my hands, demanding that I play nothing else. I exacted my revenge by executing in such a languorous way a piece that included triplets that he came to find me, furious, saying that I had certainly not played music by Bach. I triumphantly showed him the page of music. It remains that Bach's organ music is something to be admired. In my

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youth, the piano was a passion for me. In the family home, I played several hours a day. After leaving the Church, I continued to playa great deal, but ultimately work and concerns no longer left me the needed leisure. I have often attempted to come back to it. I even began taking lessons again last year. I sometimes listen to music while working, when the effort of reflection. is not too constraining. I heard that Merleau-Ponty did this too. Certain operas fascinate me, for example, the Chevalier a la Rose [The Knight of the Rose], which I have listened to on videocassette every year since the night of Saint-Sylvestre. I adore Wagner, in relation to whom I share Baudelaire's enthusiasm: freed from weight, Baudelaire glided above the world here below by listening to Wagner's music. But there are also Cesar Franck, Gabriel Faure, and the "In Paradisum" of the requiem, and Gustav Mahler. Certain passages of his symphony Resurrection seem to me to express the springing up of existence. I will not enumerate all my readings, but I will mention the authors I have reread throughout my life. There was Montaigne, who enabled me to discover ancient philosophy and who is so inexhaustible that I have yet to explore him entirely. Rilke was my breviary, especially during the years 1945-60. I discovered him in 1944, thanks to Gabriel Marcel's Homo Viator, which contains the very beautiful chapter "Rilke, Witness of the Spiritual." 1 read the Elegies and the Sonnets to Orpheus in the excellent edition with commentary by d'Angelloz. As I have already said, I wanted to write a dissertation on Rilke and Heidegger, because Heidegger had said that the Elegies expressed in poetic form what he had wanted to say in Being and Time. Jean Wahl was very sad when I gave it up, and furious at Raymond Bayer: "It is not enough that he takes my time (Bayer always ate into at least a quarter of an hour of Wahl's class, which followed his), but now he takes my students!" I do not know whether Heidegger would have approved of the verse from the seventh elegy, "Being is here a splendor," but I would tell it to myself often. I also read Letters to a Young Poet, The Notebooks ofMalte Laurids Brigge, and The Book ofHours, which spoke a great deal about God, but in an entirely different way than in Christianity. It spoke of a God who will come, of a God who we begin to make through our existence, of a God who lives all lives, even the most humble. Through his criticism of industrial and technical civilization, Rilke made me feel


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forcefully the breach between man and the Earth, between man and nature, between man and cosmic unity. Filled with enthusiasm by Rilke, I made Rilkean pilgrimages to Sierre, where I visited the castle of Muzot and where I met Rudolf Kassner, one of Rilke's friends; and to Raron, where I saw Rilke's tomb and all of the scenery of the Valais. In this valley of the Rhone before it Bows into Lake Leman, I always feel the presence of Rilke. I do not regret having seen the scenery of Ouino. During the time I was discovering Rilke, I was also discovering German Romanticism, thanks to Albert Beguin's L:Ame romantique et le reve [The romantic soul and the dream]. This is why for a long time I have had a passion for Novalis, most notably for his Disciples at Sass and his Hymns to the Night; for C.W.F. Schelling as well, and for Georg Lichtenberg, who is not really a romantic but whose aphorisms are at times entertaining and especially very profound, and I still read and reread him. I became interested in Goethe, especially as of 1968; my paper in Ascona on the philosophy of nature pushed me to him. I was seduced by his aesthetic understanding of the science of nature, which ultimately has no great scientific value but already harkens, it seems to me, to the philosophy of perception of Bergson and of Merleau-Ponty. I liked his criticism of human chattering, trivial and smug, which he opposes to the silence and gravity of nature, which expresses itself in eloquent drawings. I have also read and reread Goethe's Elective Affinities, Wilhelm Meister, Faust, and especially Faust II, in which I discovered the Epicurean and Stoic idea of the value of the present instant. It is an inexhaustible work. In the course of reading Goethe and books on Goethe, I realized that he was not the Olympian we usually take him to be. Humanly speaking, he was somewhat disappointing, often lacking courage, somewhat inclined to the bottle, with bizarre ideas, like the one of giving his son a guillotine as a toy. Often. there is no Goethean serenity, but on the contrary, as I hope to show in a forthcoming book, a man divided between terror and amazement. Nietzsche is another author I have read and reread, but not entirely. Ultimately I am far from knowing the heart of his thought. I discovered him first through Ernst Bertram's Nietzsche: Essai de Mythologie [Nietzsche: an essay of mythology], which enchanted me first by its form.

Researcher, Teacher, Philosopher


The book has the originality of regrouping all sorts of significant details about Nietzsche's work around themes-unifying symbols, for example, such as Durer's painting, the knight, death and the devil, or the figure of Socrates, and the scenery, such as Portofino, and Venice. I believe that this method is promising, because it ties the work of the author to the various experiences he has had, to the visions he has seen. Independently of this uncommon form, the book revealed Nietzsche himself to me in the' extraordinary richness of his internal life. Thomas Mann admired this book by Bertram, but it was harshly contested by the Nietzsche specialists, most notably by Charles Andler, because it does not sufficiently attend to Nietzsche's doctrine. But personally, I find that the man Nietzsche is, in all his contradictions, very well revealed in this book. Thanks to Bernard Condorninas, I had the opportunity to have the translation of the book (which had been published in 1932) republished with a new preface, in which I especially speak of Bertram and of the circle around Stefan George to which he belonged. This is a man, it is true, whose life and ideas can be criticized. I read Nietzsche himself the way one reads aphorisms, by delighting myself always in his perspicacity and his lucidity. In an entirely other order of ideas, but I will mention it nonetheless, there is a modern novelist who I adore, David Lodge, because of the truth and the humor of his paintings of the university setting, but also because of the Catholic setting. He is both very entertaining and very profound.

J C.: But your retirement is also verystudious? In effect, I profit from this freedom to write books that have been waiting to be written for years: translations with commentary of Plotinus, a study on Marcus Aurelius (The Inner Citadel), a translation of book one of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations (the sequel will follow soon, I hope). I was also very happy to be able to write the small book What Is Ancient Philosophy? In addition, I am trying to complete a study, begun about thirty years ago, devoted to the theme of the veil of nature. My grandson, who is eight, monopolizes a good deal of my time. Sometimes he asks me to write on the computer the stories he invents, and he dictates them to me as he walks from one end of my office to the other. I am very happy and proud of it.

3l_ _ Philosophical Discourse

Arnold I Davidson: When we approach a text ofancient philosophy, we tend to treat it as though it were a text ofmodern philosophy-either as a systematic theory o/the world, ofman, and so on, or as a sum ofpropositions that can be demonstrated or refuted, as it were, abstractly. According to your perspective, however, it is a mistake oforientation to treat the texts ofancient philosophy in the same way as the texts of modern philosophy. Would you explain thefundamental differences between these two types oftexts, and thus the two types ofreading required?

You are absolutely right. Ancient philosophy texts and modern philosophy texts are extremely different. The first difference is that ancient philosophy texts also have a relation to the oral, to oral style. For example, Plato's dialogues were designed for presentation in public readings, and even the very austere texts ofAristotle's commentators had to be presented to students orally first. Often they come to us thanks to notes that students took during the course. It is also possible that the pre-Socratics' texts were first read in public. Incidentally, this phenomenon was not particular to philosophy; as the linguist Antoine Meillet suggests, all literary works of antiquity have a relation to the oral. This is what explains, notably, "the impression of slowness that they give."· Despite what certain historians may think, I am persuaded that ancient and even medieval civilizations were dominated by the oral. As a result, the philosophical texts of antiquity were always directed at a limited audience. Unlike the modern

Philosophical Discourse


book, which can be read throughout the world, at any moment by anyone, in thousands of copies, ancient texts were addressed to precise people, whether it be the group of students or a particular disciple to whom one wrote. And one always wrote in particular, precise circumstances, whether one put down the courses one gave in writing or wrote to a correspondent who had asked a question. In fact, the vast majority of the philosophical writings of antiquity correspond to a play of questions and answers, because for almost three centuries, from Socrates to the first century B.C., the teaching of philosophy was almost always presented on the questionanswer schema. It was always a matter of responding to a question, a question posed by a student, or rather, posed by the teacher-Socrates, for example-to oblige the student to understand all the implications of his own thought. This culture of the question still subsisted in the scholasticism of the Middle Ages. Teaching, then, was practiced in large part in the form of dialogue. However, after the first century ofour era, something modern, so to speak, was introduced: texts by Plato, Aristotle, Chrysippus, other Stoics, and Epicureans began to be explained and commented on. But as Hans-Georg Gadamer has remarked, their commentaries are also questions posed to the text." Exegesis still largely consisted in responding to a question: Did Plato think that the world was eternal? for example, was a way to treat the question, Is the world eternal? Thus, from the beginning to the end of ancient philosophy, we have almost the same situation: philosophical writings respond to questions. For example, in the Life of Plotinus, Porphyry says that Plorinus composed his writings in response to the questions that were asked in the course. We are thus in the presence of an extremely interesting phenomenon: the thought that is exposed in writing is not developed as the exposition of a complete system of reality. This complete system of reality probably exists in the mind of Plato, ofAristotle, of Epicurus, or of Chrysippus, but it is supposed only in the answers to the questions, or in the type of questions posed. The writing itself does not consist of systematic exposition. Furthermore, as a result of this context of writing, which is almost always narrowly tied to teaching, questions and answers are given as a function of the needs of the audience. The teacher who writes, or whose words are written, knows his disciples; he knows, by previous discussions, what they know, what they do not know;


Philosophical Discourse

he also knows their moral state, the problems that present themselves to them; and he often speaks as a function of this particular situation. One is always faced with a writing that is more or less a writing of circumstance, not an exposition that is absolutely universal in breadth, valid for all times and in all countries, but rather particularized. Everything I have just said contrasts with the structural method, endorsed most notably by Victor Goldschmidt, which tends to minimize the role of the oral character of ancient philosophy.'

A.D.: This means that the oral has its own constraints, which are not exactly the sameas those ofthe modern mind no longer tied to the oral or to teaching for a particular group. Do you think the dialogue is a privileged genre in ancientphilosophy? The dialogue as a philosophical genre hasall but disappeared todayfor us; we especially havesystematic treatises. What doyou think ofthe priority ofdialogue as literary genre tied to a very specific group, to a very specific audience? It is true that in antiquity the dialogue was one of the fundamental forms of teaching. For the sake of simplicity, let us say that it took rather diverse forms. It could take the form of an exercise of argumentation with codified rules that aimed both to form the mind and to prepare the disciple for the oratory games of the city or the tribunal. It could take the form of a free discussion that would at times be reduced by a disciple to a single question, which the teacher would answer with a long exposition but that was always addressed to a well-defined audience. In a certain sense, as Epictetus says about discussion with his teacher Musonius Rufus, everyone had the impression of being addressed by Musonius." At the beginning of the second book of his Definibus, Cicero does indeed describe these different forms of dialogue, but it is the form of dialogue, the question-answer schema that we have already discussed, that matters above all for our purposes. It is very interesting to note that the Latins, when they spoke of a philosophical writing, called it a dialogue, for example, when referring to the works of Cicero or of Seneca, in which we always find questions asked by a real or fictional character. In antiquity, philosophy was thus essentially dialogue, a living relationship between people rather than an abstract relation to ideas. It aimed

Philosophical Discourse


to form rather than to inform, to take up Victor Goldschmidt's excellent phrase, which he used in reference to Plato's dialogues.' But one must add that there were other literary genres in antiquity. We have already evoked, for example, the commentary, about which we have said, among other things, that it consisted in asking questions about a text. But it can also be the systematic exposition' of a geometrical type, on the model of Euclid's Elements. We see it outlined in Epicurus (Letter to Pythocles), and finding its perfect form in Proclus (Elements of Theology and Elements ofPhysics). I think the goal of his rigorous demonstration was less to undertake a theoretical exercise of axiomatization than to allow the disciple to acquire an unshakable certainty in the dogmas of the school that must regulate his life. I think this is clear enough in Epicurus' case, but possibly in the case of Proclus as well. A.D.: In antiquity there were still other philosophical genres that have disappeared today: for example, consolations and correspondence. Now, it seems that at a certain moment, the systematic treatise invaded allphilosophy: consolations and correspondence have become purely private: real dialogues happen only exceptionally. What have we lost with the absence ofthese different literary genres?

Consolations and correspondence are literary genres in which the philosopher exhorts his disciples or his friends in very specific circumstances-an unfortunate event in the case of consolations, various life circumstances in the case of correspondence, such as Epicufus' and Seneca's Letters. These are ultimately other forms of_ dialogue. These literary forms-dialogue, consolations, correspondence-continued to exist in the Middle Ages, in the Renaissance, and still in the seventeenth century, but precisely in literary form, without the philosophical teaching itself taking a dialogical form. Thus we have the dialogues of Berkeley, Hume, and other philosophers. Descartes' Letters to princess Elisabeth sometimes seem to be letters of spiritual direction, worthy of antiquity. I believe that systematic treatises, written with the intention of proposing a system, belong to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Descartes, Leibniz, Wolff). The ancient literary genres gradually disappeared. You ask if there has not been a loss from this point of view. We will return to this question later, but there is a partial but very real loss


Philosophical Discourse

of the. conception of philosophy as a mode of life, as a choice of life, as therapy as well. We have lost the personal and communal aspect of philosophy. Moreover, philosophy has progressively entrenched itself on this purely formal path, in the search for novelty in itself at all costs. For the philosopher, it is a question of being as original as possible, if not by creating a new system, at least by producing a discourse that makes itself complicated in order to ·be original. The more or less skillful construction of a conceptual edifice will become an end in itself. Philosophy thus has progressively distanced itself from the concrete life of humans. It should also be remarked that it is possible to understand this evolution in terms of historical and institutional factors. From the narrow perspective of the universities, it is a question of preparing students for study in a scholastic program that will allow them to obtain a civil servant degree and that will open a career for them. As a result, the personal and communal relation necessarily disappears for them, in order to make way for a teaching addressed to everyone, that is to say, to no one. Unfortunately, I think it is extremely difficult in our day to resurrect the dialogical character of ancient philosophy. It seems to me that this dialogical form of teaching is realizable only in communities of the type of the ancient schools, organized to live philosophy communally (sumphilosophein, as they used to say). Perhaps this might be possible in communities that would be of the monastic type? But I believe that in everyday life and in university life, it would be very artificial. However, without returning to a dialogical form of teaching, it does seem as though since the beginning of the nineteenth century we are witnessing a rediscovery of the philosophical and ethical fecundity of dialogue, that is, of the relationship between the I and the You, which is outlined in Schleiermacher and Feuerbach, and developed in Buber and Habermas. A.D.: The close relations between the philosophical signification of a text and its literary genre are noticeable-something that is obvious in your interpretation ofthe Thoughts ofMarcus Aurelius. If one thinks that these Thoughts are a systematic treatise, one immediately realizes all sorts ofincoherence, ofcontradictions; it seems as though there is no structure; but if one does understand the literary genre and the relation between literary genre and philosophical finality of the Meditations ofMarcus Aurelius, one can

Philosophical Discourse


understand the text from another point ofview; one can see a logic in it, but it is not at all the logic ofa modern systematic treatise. Can you explain how a text like Marcus Aurelius' can again show the necessityofputting literary genre and philosophical specificity together in antiquity? Marcus Aurelius' book is an absolutely privileged example to illustrate this problem of literary genres. Different historians have fundamen- . tally understood the Meditations as a function of their own ideal of the philosophical literary genre. Moreover, it is remarkable that the English did such good work on Marcus Aurelius in the seventeenth century-that is, Thomas Gataker and Meric Casaubon (who was not English but lived in England) both recognized the real literary genre of Marcus Aurelius; they used the Greek word hupomnemata, which designates the notes one takes for oneself: Furthermore, they saw that it was a question of exhortations that Marcus Aurelius made to himself: By contrast, during the same century, a Frenchman, Jean-Pierre Joly, had the notion that the apparently disjointed character of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations came from the fact that he had written a systematic treatise that had been destroyed and that someone had tried to put back into order, not unlike what happened with Pascal's Pensees. At the time of Romanticism, it was thought to be a diary [journal intime], like the diary of Henri Frederic Amiel or of Maurice de Guerin-s-Marcus Aurelius, on the eve of the battles on the Danube, expressing his disgust for life, his sadness. There has been a return, recently, to the position of Gataker and Casaubon, notably, in an article by Brunt," in a book by Rutherford'? and in my own work as well. There has thus been a recovery of the idea that Marcus Aurelius was attempting to awaken in .himself the Stoic dogmas that were to govern his life but that had lost some of their persuasive force; thus it was necessary to attempt constantly to persuade himself anew.. His goal was to have the Stoic dogmas at hand in an efficient manner-in particular, the three fundamental precepts of Epictetus: never let anything into the mind that is not objective, always take the good of the human community as the end of one's actions, and make one's desires conform to the rational order of the universe. There is thus an internal logic to Marcus Aurelius' book. Bur in order to awaken these principles in all circumstances, one must adopt the form of the aphorism: the short and striking formula that gives them life again. Appreciation of this dimension


Philosophical Discourse

can enhance an understanding of ancient philosophy more generally. In this connection, I was influenced in' my youth by Cardinal John Henry Newman's Grammar ofAssent, in which he distinguishes notional assent and real assent. Notional assent is the acceptance of a theoretical proposition to which one adheres in an abstract way, such as a mathematical proposition, for example, 2 and 2 make 4. This commits one to nothing; it is purely intellectual. Real assent is something that involves the whole being; one understands that the proposition to which one adheres is going to change one's life. Newman developed this theory from the perspective of Christian anthropology, but I think it can also be applied to the particular case of Marcus Aurelius. What he wants is to have real assent with the dogmas of Stoic propositions, for example, that there is no good or evil other than moral good or evil, or that other human beings are related to one in reason and that one must therefore love them, forgive them. To arrive at this real assent, one must use the imagination as well as reasoning, and an entire psychological discipline.

A.D.: In relation to thisproblem, Ifind it remarkable that Wittgensteins Philosophical Investigations can be read in the same framework. It is in no way a systematic treatise; ifit is read as a systematic treatise, as it sometimes is in the United States, one says that it is full of inconsistencies and poorly written-the same criticisms that had been addressed to the writing ofMarcus Aurelius. As Stanley Cavell and others have shown, however, it is a type of dialogue-many small, continually renewed dialogues-because one must repeatedly overcome a temptation, conduct a real therapy, in order to change the life, not only the opinion, ofthe interlocutor, who is also Wittgenstein, who must change himself It is not insignificant, therefore, thatyou were the first in France to have discovered Wittgenstein. In a text from 1959 or I960 ((Jeux de langage et philosophic" [Language Games and Philosophy]), you used, perhaps for the first time, the expression "spiritual exercises" to discuss Wittgenstein, andyou insisted on the fact that in Wittgenstein there is a whole therapy, that there is no systematicity ofthe modern type. This suggests that one can even today recoverthe literary genre and type ofancientphilosophy, so that at every moment in the history a/philosophy one can find an author who tries to renew them. Why do you think that this model-philosophy as a mode of life, as necessity to transform onese/f---::.remains so alive, even ifit is somewhat hidden by the things you have indicated, the university, and so on?

Philosophical Discourse


First I would briefly like to say something parenthetically. You have insisted on the fact that Wittgenstein's readers have found that there are many inconsistencies in the Philosophical Investigations. Concerning the genesis of the notion of philosophy as a choice of life or of the notion of spiritual exercises in my work, it should also be said that I began by reflecting on this problem: how to understand the apparent inconsistencies of certain philosophers. In Munich in the 1960s, I even gave a paper that was' never published called, I believe, "Sysrerne et incoherence en philosophic" [System and incoherence in philosophy]. I have always been struck by the fact that the historians say, "Aristotle is incoherent" and "Saint Augustine writes poorly." And this is what led me to the idea that the philosophical works of antiquity were not written as the exposition of a system but in order to produce an effect of formation. The philosopher wanted to make the minds of his readers or listeners work, in order to improve their disposition. This is a rather important point, I believe. I did not begin with more or less edifying considerations about philosophy as therapy, and so on, as opposed to philosophy as, for example.... No, it was really a strictly literary problem, which is the following: For what reasons do ancient philosophical writings seem incoherent? Why is it so difficult to recognize their rational plane? To answer your question about the possible renewal of the ancient model ofphilosophy, I will restrict myself to the problem ofliterary genres, because it is our present topic. To begin, I believe that the ancient civilization of the oral has definitively disappeared since the invention of the printing press, which itself will eventually be surpassed by the I nterner. I said earlier that I doubted the possibility of reviving the dialogical character of philosophical teaching. But you are right to remark that, from the Renaissance to our day, there have been authors who have tried to renew, in their writings, ancient literary genres. One can think, for example, of Montaigne's Essays, which perfectly recalls the genres of Plutarch's treatises and Descartes' Meditations. These are spiritual exercises that take into consideration the time it will take the reader to be able to change his mentality and transform his way of seeing things: Shafstbury's Exercises, inspired by Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus; Schopenhauer's aphorisms; Nietzsche; or Wittgenstein's Tractatus.


Philosophical Discourse

II} a certain sense, one might say that there have always been two opposed conceptions of philosophy, one puts the emphasis on the pole of discourse, the other, on the pole of choice of life. Already in antiquity, Sophists and philosophers confronted each other. The former sought to shine through the subtleties of dialectic or the magic of words; the latter required their disciples to make a concrete commitment to a certain mode of life. This situation ultimately spread, at times with the preponderance of one tendency or the other. I believe that philosophers will never get beyond the self-satisfaction they experience in the pleasure of speaking. In any event, to remain faithful to the deep-Socratic, one might sayinspiration of philosophy, a new ethic of philosophical discourse would have to be proposed. As a result, philosophy would renounce taking itself as an end in itself or, worse yet, as a means to display the philosopher's elegance, and would instead become a means to overcome oneself and to move onto the plane of universal reason and opening to others.

41Interpretation, Objectivity, and Nonsense

Arnold 1. Davidson: A whole current ofcontemporary thought insists on the fact that it is impossible to give an objective interpretation ofa text, that interpretation always depends on the interpreter's point ofview. This hermeneutic problem can be considered in relation to the following question: Is the author's will, what the author meant, most important for the understanding ofa text, or is it the autonomy ofthe text itselfthat is most important? Consequently, in order to interpret a text, should one attempt to recoverthe author's intention, and can it be done in a more or less objective modality?

This is a question that I have asked myself often since reading Gadamer's theories-which, as you say, show that the subject does indeed interpret texts as a function of its subjectivity-as well as the very interesting Introduction to the Philosophy ofHistory by Raymond Aron, which addresses the difficulty of being objective. These theories have merit that should be recognized: they have legitimately uncovered the illusions that were held about the historian's objectivity as a result of neglecting the influence on historical interpretations of the passions, of rancor, of social situation, and of philosophical options. This is quite true, but it is merely one aspect of the problem. Indeed, I believe that this relativism represents a danger, for it has quickly issued in a position that, in a sense, Foucault himself accepted at a certain time: not only is the exegete incapable of


Interpretation, Objectivity, and Nonsense

really 'knowing what the author meant, but more important, the author himself no longer exists. From here one can generate interpretations in which one can say anything about anything. I am not the only one to consider this to be very dangerous, and numerous examples prove it. Notably, I was struck by Ernst Gombrich's remarks in one of his books on art. He reflects on the sense of the statue of Eros situated at Piccadilly Circus, above a fountain put up between 1886 and 1897 to honor the memory of the seventh Count of Shaftesbury, a great philanthropist.' He enumerates the successive interpretations of the monument that could have been given. At the time, the sculptor, Albert Gilbert, had declared that he wanted to symbolize Christian charity with the figure of Eros. However, explanations of every kind-that we can now list-have been proposed since then. Inspired by this example, Gombrich firmly states the principle that in order to interpret a work of art or a text, one must, before anything else, look for the author's intention. On this point, he cites a very important book by E. D. Hirsch concerning the interpretation of literary works.i Hirsch distinguishes sense and signification in such works. He shows that there is a sense meant by the author, an intention that one must attempt to grasp. But subsequently he recognizes that it is possible to discover different significations that various audiences can give to the work. This can explain the successive interpretations of the status of Eros at Piccadilly Circus. Furthermore, this or that expression, or such and such a symbol, can, by themselves, have various implications. For example, the choice of the figure of Eros can carry, as a result of the collective representations concerning the figure of Eros, certain implications that escape the author's intention. As Andre Gide said in Paludes, "If we know what we meant to say, we do not know if that is all we were saying. One always says more than 'that.'" Hirsch's book is also relevant in another respect. He effectively insists on the fact that the sense of the text meant by the author depends narrowly on the literary genre to which the text belongs. It is clear that this book, which is in fact very nuanced, runs against the current of the present fashion. Is this the reason it has never been translated into French, despite my efforts to have it translated? It leads one to believe that it is not only in Rome that there is a list of prohibited books.

A. D.: Those who criticize the idea that the sense ofthe text can be recovered through the author's intention conceive ofthe author's intention as a

Interpretation, Objectivity, and Nonsense


secret psychological reality that must be uncovered. One might say that you havefound the key to readingMarcus Aurelius' Meditations without introducing a secret or a psychological or biological discovery. In the aphorisms of Marcus Aurelius' book, a triadic structure can be recognized-the distinction of three disciplines or exercises (asceses): the discipline of desires, the discipline of action, and the discipline of judgment. These disciplines consist, respectively, in making one's desires, actions, and judgments conform to reason. The presence of this schema, easily recognizable throughout the book, shows that it responds to an intention of the author. These repetitions do not aim, for example, to inform the readers about a Stoic doctrine. No, the author's intention is clear. For Marcus Aurelius, it is a matter of reactualizing, of awakening, the dogmas that must conduct life. The manuscripts say that Marcus Aurelius' book is "By himself," which corresponds perfectly to the intention of the author. These are not thoughts directed at others, or effusions of the author's sensibility. The author's intention is not a matter of psychological or biographical discovery. His intention is clearly inscribed in the content and form of the work. One must nevertheless recognize that, for the modern interpreter, it is very difficult to grasp the author's intention. It is very easy to fall into anachronism, because we are not aware of many of the historical conditions under which it was written-who it is aimed at, who it copies, perhaps. This is how it can have been thought that in his book Marcus Aurelius was giving us his everyday states of mind, just as Rousseau was confessing in pis Confessions, or Plato was methodically developing in his dialogues. In fact, Augustine's title, Confessiones, means "God's praises," as the opening lines of the work clearly show-praises for what God did for Augustine, but also for humans in general-because Augustine had a tendency to consider the events of his life as symbols of the history of faith. For example, in describing the famous theft of pears committed in his youth, he in fact means to describe Adam's sin in taking the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. The allusions to the biblical texts that appear in his text show it clearly. As for Plato's dialogues, without getting into the quarrel about Plato's oral teaching, there seems to be general agreement with Victor Goldschmidt on the point that Plato wrote them not to inform but to form. Whatever the case may be, as E. D. Hirsch has correctly


Interpretation, Objectivity, and Nonsense

remarked, the first way to recognize the author's intention is to look for the literary genre to which the work belongs. In a general way, in fact, with regard to ancient authors, the rules of discourse are rigorously codified. One must take into account the fact that they were writing in a traditional system that obeyed the requirements proper to each literary genre. One does not write in the same way when one exhorts someone, when one consoles him, when one exposes a doctrine, or when one dialogues. In order to understand exactly the breadth of an affirmation, and all the more so for the general sense of a work, one must carefully distinguish, first, what the author must say-for example, because he is a Platonist or a Stoic, or because he is addressing a particular audience that is more or less formed-then what the author can say-for example, he can exaggerate the presentation of a doctrine in order to strike the mind more effectively, or be unfaithful to the dogmas of the school because he wants to adapt to a certain audience-and finally, what the author means [veux dire, literally, wants to say]' his deep intention-for example, in Marcus Aurelius' case it is self-exhortation; in the case of Augustine's Confessions, it is not so much to confess as to sing the work of God in the world and in humans. It is possible to suppose that the archaic authors or the founders of the schools were also conditioned by a tradition of preexisting literary genres. I think this is in fact the case. In history there is never an absolute beginning. Oriental models influenced the first Greek thinkers. Gerard Naddaf has shown the importance of a triadic structure in the writings of the pre-Socratics-genesis of the gods, genesis of humans, and genesis of the city-inherited from Babylonian cosmogonical myths, the literary genre to which the biblical genesis belongs.I This schema is found in the Timaeus [dialogue], which is also a genesis, a history of generations. These authors thereby attach themselves to a tradition that precedes them. The school founders are tributaries of multiple traditions. Plato, for example, should be situated in the Socratic, Pythagorean, and sophistical traditions. I believe it was Bergson who said that every philosopher thinks in reaction to another thinker, but this situation also conditions; it imposes a determinate problematic, and sometimes restrains the momentum of every philosopher's thought.

Interpretation, Objectivity, and Nonsense


Besides, C1-S you said, if one speaks of the intention of the author, it is not a matter of a more or less secret psychology. This type of psychological interpretation is based on the idea that a work of art is the expression of a unique individuality, a Romantic idea that neglects the constraints that always weigh on an author. With regard to the ancient world, it does not take into account the conception of literary composition at the time. The author's intention is in fact the choice made with regard to the goal of his work, its mode of presentation, its method, the way in which it plays with all the rules that impose themselves. Historical psychology must be handled with much precaution. For example, despite what some have meant to show on the basis of the fact that Fronto, Marcus Aurelius' future rhetoric teacher, wrote to him about his illnesses after Galen had given anatomy lectures to the Roman aristocrats, one must not believe that the second century after Jesus Christ was hypochondriacal. Here again, the true intentions must be determined. The content of the letters shows that Fronto did not intend to describe his malaises complacently, but simply wished to excuse himself for his absences. With respect to the Roman aristocrats, it was a matter not of morbid curiosity but of scientific curiosity. We know that these characters were Aristotelians, and thus impassioned by scientific research. That Lucretius, as a good Epicurean, sought to deliver humans from their anxiety does not mean that he was anxious himself: It is very risky to speak of "the anxiety of Lucretius/" There are also cases in which the author does not mean everything he says and in which all the sentences of a text do not necessarily express his thought. This happens especially in cases where an author uses another author without saying so, as happens quite often, at least it did at the end of antiquity (and sometimes does in our day ... ). For example, the Latin Fathers and the Greek Fathers sometimes wanted to illustrate their sermons with beautiful thoughts borrowed from pagans. Thus they cited Plotinus, but without saying so and often for one, single sentence. One can see the relation between this sentence and the rest of the sermon. Thus they wanted to cite this passage of Plotinus because of one sentence. They cited the context of the sentence, even though the context dealt with something different than the sentence that mattered to them. As a result, many interpreters say that Ambrose and Gregory of Nyssa were Platonists.


Interpretation, Objectivity, and Nonsense

But one cannot saddle the author with the entire doctrine contained in one too-frequently cited passage. Thus there will be sentences in a text that do not correspond to an assertion the author makes. One cannot say, at that moment, that it is the author's intention to affirm this or that doctrine. To arrive at the author's will in a probable manner, one must undertake a tight criticism of the author's text.

A. D.: Then you think it is possible to attain a sort ofobjectivityin the interpretation? All the work of the interpreter must consist in attempting to locate objective facts whenever possible. To take an example from late antiquity, if one reads a text by Ambrose of Milan and finds in it a Greek text by Origen translated word for word, as I happened to find in Ambrose's sermon on the apology of David, one thing is certain: he had contact with the Greek text. Sometimes it is so flagrant that one could find a Greek word missing in Origen's text, thanks to Ambrose's Latin. Here is a domain in which scientific rigor is the goal. The great idea I retained from Paul Henry is precisely that only literal and not doctrinal comparisons are conclusive. That is to say that when one looks for doctrinal relations, which is what most historians do, one can maintain that a given author had been influenced by another author strictly on the basis of vague resemblances or places described by many authors. But this proves nothing at all. On the contrary, when there really is an accumulation of incontestable paraIIels, one can conclude in an objective manner that a relation exists between the authors. This is only one example in a very specific domain, but many others could be listed. Thus the parallels between specific conceptual structures, expressed in a characteristic vocabulary, can also be conclusive. Consider, for example, the triadic structure shared by Epicretus and Marcus Aurelius that I discussed earlier. There again, objective facts can be found. The problem of scientific objectivity is extremely interesting from the point of view of spiritual exercises. Since Aristotle, it has been recognized that science should be disinterested. To study a text or microbes or the stars, one must undo oneself from one's subjectivity. Gadamer and Raymond Aron will say, that is impossible. But I nevertheless think this is an ideal that one must attempt to attain through constant practice.

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Thus the scholars who have the rare courage to recognize that they were mistaken in aparticular case, or who try not to be influenced by their own prejudices, are undertaking a spiritual exercise of self-detachment. Let us say that objectivity is a virtue, and one that is very difficult to practice. One must undo oneself from the partiality of the individual and impassioned self in order to elevate oneself to the universality of the rational self: I have always thought that the exercise of political democracy, as it should' be practiced, should correspond to this attitude as well. Self-detachment is a moral attitude that should be demanded of both the politician and the scholar.

A.D.: Let us proceedto another aspect ofyour thought about the objectivity ofinterpretation. You have written, "Investigations about the past must have an actual, personal, formative, and existential sense." You have always insistedon thispoint, so thefollowing questionpresents itself: How to reconcile the objectivity, albeitprobable, ofthe interpretation with the actual sense ofa philosophical text? I find what you wrote in the preface to Bertram's book on Nietzsche extraordinary: "The writing ofhistory, indeed probably much like all human activity, must be a coincidentia oppositorum by trying to respond to two equallyurgentcontraryrequirements. In ordertoperceive and evaluate historicalreality, there must be, on the one hand, a conscious and total self commitment, and on the other hand, an intended objectivity and impartiality. To my eyes, it is only the ascesis ofscientific rigor, that selfdetachment requiredfor an objective and impartial judgment, that will be able to give us the right to implicate ourselves in history, to give it an existential sense. "5 What remains between these two requirements ofthepossibility ofan "actual" sense ofa text? I did not remember having written that, but I am quite pleased that you refer to it, because it corresponds nicely with what I feel about the problem today. I think that the first of these requirements, not only for a scholar but also for someone who reads an ancient text, is to aim for objectivity and, if possible) for truth. That is to say that there is no point in distorting the meaning of a text in order to adapt it to the requirements of modern life, or to the aspirations of the soul, and so on. The first task is above all objectivity. Wh~never possible, one must attempt to resituate the text under study in its historical perspective. It is extremely important


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not to commit anachronisms in the haste of giving texts meaning. On this score, I would like to evoke briefly one of my constant concerns in the interpretation of texts, precisely to avoid anachronism. This is the effort to resiruate, as much as possible, the works within the concrete conditions in which they were written. On the one hand, there are spiritual conditions, that is, philosophical, rhetorical, or poetic traditions. On the other hand, there are material conditions, namely, scholastic and social milieu, constraints arising from the material support of writing, and historical circumstances. Every work should be resiruared in the praxis from which it emanates. But as Aristotle said about pleasure, there is always added to the effort of objectivity a supplement, a surplus, which is the possibility of finding our spiritual nourishment in it. This time, we are in a certain sense implicated in the interpretation. If one tries to understand a text properly, I believe that afterward one can be brought, almost spontaneously, to discover its human meaning, that is, to situate it in relation to the general problem of humanity, of the human, even if it is not edifying at all. Thus one can basically do as the Stoics did concerning their representations.. First, begin with adequate and objective judgment: this is what was said. Then, eventually, make a judgment of value: this has a given significance for my life. This time, one can speak of a return to subjectivity, a subjectivity that, incidentally, attempts to elevate itself to a universal perspective. In fact, the meaning intended by the ancient author is never actual. It is ancient, and that is all there is to it. But it can take on an actual significance for us to the extent that it can appear to us as, for example, the source of certain actual ideas, or especially because it can inspire an actual attitude in us, an inner act, or a spiritual exercise. On this point, I find what Raymond Ruyer has written interesting: "No one except the specialists are very interested in the preambles of Stoicism, taken from Heraclitus' physics, or in Epicurean morality, or Democritean atomism. But as attitudes, Stoicism and Epicureanism remain very alive."? One must therefore distinguish from the ideology that justified the attitude in the past, the concrete attitude that can be actualized. In order to actualize a message from antiquity, one must draw from it everything that marks its time. One must demythologize it, as Bultmann said about the gospel.

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One must attempt to isolate the inner reasoning, the concrete attitude it implies. In Epicureanism, for example, there is an attitude of welcoming the present that remains valuable without taking into account the theories about the minimum and maximum of pleasure-very technical theories that Epicurus had in any case apparently borrowed from Aristotle. Analogously, the Stoic attitude of concentrating on the present without allowing oneself to be crushed by the past or worried about the future also remains valuable. Furthermore, at times an ancient phrase remains completely free of the mythological and sociological conditionings we discussed. For example, when Marcus Aurelius writes, "Soon you will have forgotten everything, soon everyone will forget you," the aphorism speaks to us directly. It has, one might say, an eternal value. Nietzsche refers to the "good sentence, too hard' for the tooth of time, imperishable in the midst of everything that changes."? The meaning intended by Marcus Aurelius was tied to- the need to exhort himself to think of death. In this sense, it is . historically marked, but it can be reactualized without difficulty. A.D.: IfI understand you correctly, this means that after the quest for objectivity there is a second moment ofevaluation, and to evaluate an ancient text, one must do something to actualize it. One must not deform it, but reemploy it in another context, from the point ofview ofour actual requirements. This implies that what remains important is the core o/significance to be reactualized. This callsto mind our idea that there are universal philosophical attitudes, that is, a universal Platonic type, a universal Epicureanism) and so on, always equal to itselfbut always in a different context, and always to be reactualized.

Obviously, affirming that there are universal attitudes supposes something like the idea of a human nature..Let us say at least that these attitudes are transhistorical and transcultural. When I previously called attention to this question in The Inner Citadel, I said, if I recall, that finally there are really only a few possible attitudes in relation to existence, and without the influence of historical order, the different civilizations are led to have, in this regard, analogous attitudes. This is obvious for the Chinese. In What is Ancient Philosophy? I cited this extraordinary example from Pyrrho, who tried to arrive at perfect indifference by living a life that was perfectly equal to the life of every other human, who took care of his


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sister's pig, and who sold fowl in the market. Then I cited the attitude of the Chinese philosopher Lie Yukou, who did exactly the same thing, taking CC1:re of the pig and the household chores to help his wife. This attitude of indifference-for example, remaining the same regardless of the circumstances; refusing to judge the value of things; refusing to say, this is good, this is bad; accepting everything in life; doing everything like everyone else but without getting attached to anything, by remaining indifferent to everything-that is the skeptical attitude. I do not mean skeptical in the seventeenth-century sense of the word, as signifying the intellectual refusal of certainty, but rather in reference to the contexts of Greece and China, for example, where it is a matter of refusing to pass value judgments on things. This is an attitude that does seem to be universal, that one might, for that matter, discover for oneself: Without needing to read this or that, it can happen by itself: Olivier Lacombe compared Plotinus' mysticism to certain tendencies of Hindu thought. One could say that there is in both cases an effort to overcome all duality. Might one not think that this analogy is based in one of the universal forms of mystical experience? Another example: the Stoic attitude, which consists in consenting to destiny, and also in putting oneself in a universal perspective, can be found in China. The Chinese texts cited by Jacques Gernet are rather conclusive. Emile Brehier, for his part, compared the Stoic attitudes with certain Buddhist attitudes. It is quite feasible also to conceive that Epicureanism, that is, an attitude of release, could be universal. This idea of a universality of spiritual exercises can also be situated in the perspective ofthe effort to remove what is essential in an attitude~in a choice of life-from its mythical and traditional straightjacket.

A.D.: I would like to mention another methodological domain that you outlined in a little text from I968: "Philosophie, exegese et contresens" [Philosophy, exegesis, and nonsense]. You emphasize that there are in the history ofphilosophy cases of nonsense and incomprehension that, you say, "very often provoked an important evolution in the history ofphilosophy, and notably made new notions appear." Obviously, nonsense is not a mode ofobjectivity, but you have signaled the importance ofwhat you call creating nonsense.

Interpretation> ObjectivifJ!, and Nonsense


In the short, perhaps thirty-year-old text you refer to, I may have been somewhat temerarious in formulating, as it were, general principles to understand the evolution of the history of philosophy. Also, in speaking of cases of nonsense in the history of philosophy; I was thinking especially of ancient philosophy. The deformations that Aristotle inflicted on the thought of the pre-Socratics is, for example, well known. The Neoplatonists were not to be outdone in attempting to artificially systematize disparate and often irreconcilable notions taken from Plato's dialogues, and moreover, associating them with mythical notions taken from Orphic poems or the Chaldean Oracles [Oracles chaldaiques: Ancient, especially Neoplatonic, hermeneutics makes a text say exactly what it wants it to say, and thereby quietly commits a multitude of inconsistencies that take the most varied form. Moreover, it has a very efficient instrument at its service for this, namely, the allegory, which allows one to attribute to texts significations that are all the further from their original meaning. The allegory was dear to the Stoics, the Platonists, and. the Christians. It notably allows the Christians to vindicate the continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament, as .Michel Tardieu has shown. It is true that new concepts were occasioned by false interpretations and nonsense. It seems to me that a good example is the Heraclitean aphorism usually translated "Nature likes to hide itself" [phusis kruptesthai philell. I studied the history of the interpretation of this text in my 1983 courses at College de France, and I hope to publish a book on rhis subject. The original meaning of this aphorism is very difficult to determine. Without repeating the entire discussion, I can say only that it seems to me that this meaning is connected to the antithesis between life and death. Given the meaning of the word phusis at the time, this could be either, "That which gives life tends to give death" or "That which is born tends to die." But with the evolution of the word phusis in the following centuries, the aphorism took on very different meanings in different philosophies. Philo of Alexandria, who cites it at the beginning of our era, gives it the meaning, "Nature likes to hide," which seems to me to contradict the original meaning, especially in view of the fact that for Philo nature is nothing other than the creating God. From this perspective, nature hides itself because it is transcendent. The aphorism takes on yet another meaning for the Neoplatonists. For them, nature corresponds to the lowest part


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of reality, to the sensible world, and to inferior divinities. If nature likes to hide, it is not because of its transcendence but rather because of its weakness and inferiority; and from this perspective, "to hide" signifies to wrap oneself in the veils of the body and of myth. I cannot give the entire history of the theme here, ·but I will say that for Heidegger, Heraclitus' aphorism takes on yet another meaning. He translated it as follows: "To hide belongs to the predilection of Being." Thus he identifies phusis and Being: it is in the very essence of Being to hide itself: What appears is beings, but their very appearing, that through which they appear-that is, Being-refuses to reveal itself: That which makes beings appear hides itself Thus one can see an entire series of new meanings emerge from three enigmatic words, and we are not even sure of-knowing what the author meant by them. In any case, it is possible to speak of creative nonsense, of creators of new sense, because his sense implies concepts that not even Heraclitus could have thought of. This does not mean that nonsense creates truth. What had impressed me in 1968 was this accumulation of moments of incomprehension, of false interpretations, of allegorical fantasies that had survived throughout the history of philosophy, at least of ancient philosophy-for example, the history of the philosophy of ousia, that is, of essence or substance, from Aristotle to the theological quarrels of the Church Fathers and of the Scholastics. What a tower of Babel! It is troubling to think that reason operates with such irrational methods and that philosophical discourse (and theological discourse as well) can have evolved at the whim of exegetical fantasies and nonsense. But this is a topic that cannot be addressed with a few sentences, and I was, as I have already said, temerarious to treat it in such a short text.

A.D.: We spoke first ofobjectivity, then of the searchfor an "original meaning," then of creating nonsense. Perhaps a case of creating nonsense is sometimes tied to a requirement that makes it actual? The actualization of ancient thought has sometimes required cases ofnonsense. Do you think there are two requirements, that ofobjectivity and that of the "actual" meaning, and that sometimes the reactualization happens through a caseofnonsense? To answer you, I would appeal to an example from Husser! that I developed in my inaugural lecture to the College de France. At the end of his

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Cartesian Meditations, Husserl cites, to illustrate his thought, a phrase of Augustine: Noli foras ire, in te redi, in interiore homine habitat ueritas, "Do not look outside, return to yourself: truth lives inside man." Augustine's text is a citation from Saint Paul, but as Augustine presents it, the citation is nonsense in relation to Saint Paul's text. The mistake is not Augustine's but that of the Latin version of the Bible he cites. This version unduly brings together elements that belong to different sentences. In the first sentence, Paul says he hopes that Christ lives (a) in the heart of his disciples. In the second sentence, Paul hopes. that his disciples will be fortified in regard to what concerns inner man (b). The Latin version that Augustine cites presents the following text: "That Christ lives [a] in inner man [b]." This group of words obviously does not correspond to the author's intention, but Augustine recognizes his own doctrine in it. He replaces Christ with Truth, which is obvious for him. He gives a new meaning to the phrase by using it to affirm that Truth is found in the conversion of the self toward itself. Husserl uses this phrase by tying it to another phrase, the one by the oracle at Delphi: "Know yourself,' He writes, "The Delphic oracle 'Know yourself' has taken on a new meaning. First, one must lose the world by epoche (that is, the phenomenological bracketing of the world), in order to recover it thereafter in a universal coming to consciousness of oneself: Noli foras ire, in te redi, interiore homine habitat ueritas" One is in the presence here, first, of an actualization of the Pauline phrase that Augustine reemploys to describe the attitude of inner conversion; then, of an actualization of the Delphic phrase by Husserl, for whom self-knowledge becomes the transcendental ego's coming to consciousness; and finally, of Husserl's actualization of the Augustinian phrase: inner man become transcendental ego. I would say that if we have a good example of reactualization and a remarkable homage given by Husserl to the ancient tradition, prolonged in his eyes by Descartes' Meditations, which he thereby restores to that tradition, there really is no nonsense. This is because, in the case of the Delphic oracle, in the case ofAugustine, and finally in the case of Husserl, the reactualization operated by Husserl is not situated in the conceptual order. It is a matter not of the interpretation of a text but of the retrieving [reprise] of an existential attitude, a deepening of the self-consciousness that undoes itself from the world in order better to find it. It is precisely a matter of the successive reactualizations of a spiritual exercise, of an act


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of spirit. If it is possible to actualize an attitude, then a spiritual exercise, an inner act, a text must, on the contrary, be understood and interpreted within the perspective of its time. Even if it is acts of creating nonsense that allow new concepts to appear unexpectedly, this does not mean that one can actualize a text at the price of nonsense. The requirement of objectivity must never disappear. In other words-and this brings us back to the beginning of the conversation-ancient texts cannot be treated as though they were contemporary texts without the risk of completely deforming their meaning. This is often the error of analytic philosophers, who treat philosophers without any historical distance. It leads one to believe that they would be astonished that Aristotle was not aware of Russell and Whitehead's Principia Mathematica. It seems to me that the primary quality of a historian of philosophy, and undoubtedly of a philosopher, is to have a historical sense.

5lUnitary Experience and Philosophical Life

Arnold I Davidson: You have had a vigorous interest in mysticism for some time nato, and in Plotinus' mysticism in particular. What is the origin of the reasonfor, this interest?

This did not come from the experience of my adolescence that I alluded to. If: in the course of my religious education, I encountered Christian mysticism, I did not make the connection between what I was experiencing and what I was reading in the Christian mystics. When I was still very young I read Pascal, who had used the famous phrase "God sensible to the heart." There was also a "memorial" found sewn into his suit after his death that relates a sort of ecstasy he had experienced in 1654. In any case, I discovered the term mystical experience for the first time in a book by distinguished neo-Thomist Jacques Maritain, Distinguer pour unir ou les degres du savoir [Distinguish to unite, or the degrees of knowledge], which locates it precisely at the peak of knowledge. More importantly, however, in the "spiritual" readings we did at the Grand Seminaire were works by jean de la Croix [John of the Cross]. This mystic codified the steps of the mystical itinerary, distinguishing three paths: the purgative path, the illuminative path, and the unitary path, which, incidentally, were inherited" from Plotinus and Neoplatonism. But he also wrote admirable poems that were very seductive to me. I experienced the desire


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to have analogous experiences. In my eyes, this was the highest point a human life could attain. I naively believed myself capable of reaching it, as every Christian does, for that matter. I was so fascinated by Jean de la Croix that I wanted to abandon the secular clergy to join the religious order of the Carmelites, a contemplative and eremitic order-precisely the one to which Jean de la Croix belonged. The prior of the Carmelites ofAvon, not far from Fontainebleau, where I went on a retreat, helpedme understand that the desire for direct contact with God was a mistake, and that one must absolutely pass through Jesus Christ. One might also ask oneself whether finally the Christian message is compatible with mysticism, because mystical experience, as I was saying, is supposed to afford direct contact with God, whereas in Christianity, Christ is the indispensable mediator. But this is not the occasion to tackle this difficult problem. In any case, I did not have even the slightest mystical experience. In Maritain's book, Plotinus' mysticism was evoked several times in order to show the extent to which it was inferior to Christian mysticism, but Maritain recognized that it had iniluenced Saint Augustine. This is why, in 1945-46, I began to read Plotinus, especially the treatises in which he speaks about his mystical experience. I also discovered a purely philosophical mysticism in this way. I would add that although I worked on Plotinus' mystical texts for a long time, in doing so I approached only a minuscule part of the gigantic domain of universal mysticism.

A. D.: Is thereaphilosophicalpreparationfor mysticalexperience, even if thispreparation does not guarantee the desiredresult, that is, mysticalunion? The question can be asked in another way. In your view, what is the relation betweenspiritual exercises and unitary experience? In Plotinus, there are two paths that prepare one for experience: first there is a cognitive path, on which one studies theology, and notably, negative theology. Plotinus says it is a matter, as it were, of signposts that indicate the path but do not make us take it. Then there is a practical path, which is the real path that concretely leads to experience. For Plotinus, this' practical path consists of purifications, askesis, spiritual exercises, the practice of virtues, and the effort to live according to the Spirit. In this sense, one might say that, for Plotinus, philosophy, both in

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its discourse and in its choice of life, prepares one for mystical experience. I just used the word Spiritdesignedly, as I have in some of my translations of Plotinus. What I mean by the word Spirit is a reality that most translators and commentators of Plotinus call, and with good reason, Intellect. This is the first being that emanates immediately from the supreme reality, the supreme reality being for Plotinus the absolute One. The Intellect, which is divine, contains all the Forms of beings, all the Ideas. If I h~ve often used the word Spirit, a word that has obvious spiritual connotations, it is precisely it) order to be in a better position to understand the expression "live according to the Spirit." For it is perhaps more difficult to understand what it might mean to live according to the Intellect. But as Emile Brehier has convincingly shown, for Plotinus the Intellect represents, above all, a spiritual attitude of self-collection in meditation.' When one says that the human self lives according to the Intellect or the Spirit, or identifies with it, this means it has perfect transparency in its relation to itself: that it overcomes the individual aspect of the self to attain the level of universality and interiority. In effect, the Intellect is, as it were, the place where all beings are interior to one another, each Form being both itself and all the Forms. The self is thus interior to itself: to the others, and to the Spirit. To attain this level of self is, incidentally, already to attain a first degree of mystical experience, for it is a matter of a mode of being and of suprarational thought. The superior degree would be the state of total unity, contact with the One, which is also the Good. A. D.: In other words, there are levels ofmysticism. But there is another problem tied to the type ofmysticism. Given that a mystical experience can be provoked by artificial means-drugs, for example-is there a difference between an experienceprovoked in this manner and the unitary experience of the great mystics?

On this point I can't pretend that I have anything relevant to say. I can only recommend Michel Hulin's book, which gives this problem excellent treatment. His book is called La Mystique sauvage [Savage mysticism]; I have already mentioned it. 2 He means by this term the set of mystical experiences that are tied not to a religion or to a spiritual tradition, in which he includes both the "oceanic sentiment" and experiences obtained through the use of drugs. As for the experiences obtained under


Unitary Experience and Philosophical Life

the influence of drugs, which seem to give an impression that is rather analogous to mystical experience, he shows that these are artificial experiences. This is because they are not based on an effective transformation of the individual in the framework of a moral and ascetic preparation, and they have the result that the individual is prey to an impression of the unreal, of despair, of anxiety; therefore, in the end it is a matter of rather destructive experiences. We have already called attention to the oceanic sentiment-to which Michel Hulin devotes some extremely interesting pages-s-in relation to the experiences I have had, in my youth especially but occasionally since. In general, primarily at first, they presented themselves to me suddenly, spontaneously, with no ascetic or intellectual preparation. Since then, I have often tried to awaken the consciousness of my existence as part of the universe, to recover the intensity of this experience, and sometimes I have succeeded. Whatever the case may be, I think that what I experienced was a piece of good luck for me. It was at the origin of my philosophical vocation and of a greater sensibility to nature, to the universe, and to existence. I have the impression that the oceanic sentiment is quite different from, for example, Christian or Plotinian mystical experience, Obviously one could say that what both experiences share is that the self experiences the sentiment of a presence or a fusion with something else, but it seems to me that there is in mysticism of the Christian or Plorinian type a certain personal relationship, often expressed in terms borrowed from the vocabulary of love. One can guess that there is a tendency in Plotinus to personify when he speaks of the One as a god. A. D.: In effect, the terms used to describe mystical experience and experiences oflove are often the same. What exactly is the relation between the experience oflove and the mystical operation?

It is a fact that all the mystics in all the spiritual traditions describe what they experience in terms borrowed from the experience of love. It is a universal phenomenon-for example, in the Jewish tradition, in which the Song of Songs is both a love poem and a mystical poem. This is also the case for the Muslims, the Hindus, and the Christians, where once again the Song of Songs is taken to express union with God. This is also true in the Platonic tradition, in Plato's Phaedrusand Symposium, in which

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this love is sublimated. What is remarkable in Plotinus is that, unlike in Plato-I noticed this in Treatise 50-not only masculine love but also conjugal love can be a model for mystical experience. In fact, in Plotinus there is not only a comparison between union with God and union in love; there is also the idea that human love is the point of departure for mystical experience, which is the prolonging of human love. For if we love a being, it is because, first and foremost, we love supreme Beauty. It is be~ cause through love supreme Beauty attracts us, and thus Beauty is already a sign of the possibility of a mystical experience. The union of bodies, for that matter, to be two in one, serves as a model for the union between the mystic and the object of his experience. One would have to relate every other problem to this subject. Mystical experience could be, for the mystic, a compensation for ascetic privation of the pleasures of love, and it could even be that mystical experience is accompanied by sexual pleasures, by a sexual repercussion in the body. But I do not have sufficient expertise in the psychology of the mystics to be able to discuss this.

A.D.: You have made an important distinction, recently, between negative theology and mystical experience. Negative theology is a rational method, a philosophical discourse, but mystical experience requires a concrete itinerary o/transformation beyond rational discourse. Asyou wrote in your commentary on Treatise 38, "reason, by theological methods, can raise itselfto the notion ofthe Good, but only life according to the Spirit can lead to the reality ofthe Good. '-S Can you specify the relationship between negative theology and the concrete expression ofmysticism? To begin, let us specify what negative theology means. It is a theology, thus a discourse on God, but one that uses only negations. Thus, to borrow examples from Pseudo-Denys the Areopagite's Mystical Theology, God is not mobile, or immobile, or unity, or deity, or good, or spirit, and so on. The reason for these negations is that God is considered to transcend all the predicates that humans can use to speak of him. This method makes us aware of the fact that the supreme principle is inconceivable, that the Absolute cannot be an object that one can speak about and, as Plotinus says, that in speaking of him we are merely speaking about ourselves. (It is understood that one can speak only of what is relative.)" This theological method was developed in Platonism, especially since the


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first century B.C. (by Philo ofAlexandria), and was taken up by Christians and Gnostics. I think that negative theology and mysticism are too often confused. This is indeed a pervasive confusion, and one might say that it is historically grounded. Pseudo-Denys' book does have the word mystical in its title. But for the Greek tradition, this word signifies "secret." In fact, if we examine its content, it is nothing but a treatise on negative theology. But Plotinus, as you said, very clearly distinguishes negative theology, which is a purely rational and abstract method, from unitary experience. Earlier I said that he compares it to a signpost that indicates the path, but the signpost is not the path. The path is askesis and life by the Spirit. However, negative theology is nevertheless closely related to unitary experience. One might say that the accumulation of negations provokes a void in the soul that predisposes one to the experience. There is a link between unspeakable and mystical in Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (but one cannot say that this is a case of negative theology). He writes, "There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into .words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical."5 It seems to me that for Wittgenstein the limit of language-the unsayable-s-which is also the "mystical," is existence itself: the existence of the world. "The mystical is the fact that the world is."

A.D.: You wrote that mystical experience seems universal whereas the description and the interpretation ofthis experience are always tied to a tradition, a set ofdogmas, a universe ofdeterminate thought. How does one combine the universality ofthis experience and the plurality ofthese descriptions?

I think it is in fact a case ofa universal phenomenon. There is an immense mystical literature throughout the world: in the Far East (Taoism, Brahmanism, Buddhism), in Greece (Platonism and Neoplatonism), and in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, under the influence, incidentally, of Neoplatonism. To this one must add the numerous experiences of "savage mysticism" that Michel Hulin discusses. In the descriptions of the mystics, mystical experience appears everywhere with the same fundamental characteristics: it is unspeakable; it brings either delicious anguish or joy and appeasement; in general, it comes and goes suddenly. But there are also differences. First, the mystic's attention may be directed toward spiritual objects-for example, in Plotinus, toward the Spirit and the One, and

UnitaryExperience and Philosophical Life


in Jean de la Croix, toward the Trinity-but it may also be directed at the sensible-for example, in Zen Buddhism, as Pierre Ryckmans says, "The Buddha's absolute is discovered in the absolute ofthe banal and immediate real.'" In Wittgenstein, one might think that the mystic's attention is directed at existence ("that the world is"). Moreover, the theoretical or theological explanations of this state differ considerably from one tradition to another. For example, Jean de la Croix and the Christian mystics consider' these states to be the effect of a divine grace that associates the soul with the inner life of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Plotinus, for his part, explains the union of love with the One as follows: There are two aspects or two moments of the divine Spirit or the Divine Intellect-the moment in which it is generated from the One and in which it is not yet "thinking" but only "loving" or in a contact of loving intoxication with its source, and another moment in which it constitutes itself as thinking Spirit. The soul, unified with the divine Spirit, undergoes unitary experience when it coincides with the loving Spirit. In other traditions one would find different explanations. But of what does the experience itself really consist, and how is one to explain it? This is what is most important, and I am completely incapable of saying. I have tried, in my works on Plotinus, to provide the elements of a response. But it is a very slim contribution, for the problem is gigantic.

A.D.: It seems as though philosophical preparations-s-ascetic, moral, intellectual-s-baue become just as important for you as unitary experience. Even ifthis experience is neverproduced, the behaviors thatpreparefor it have value. What is the relation between thepossibility ofa unitary experience and all the necessities ofa philosophical life? Before giving my opinion, I will, after all, say a few words about Plotinus. I believe that, for him, if philosophical life in fact prepares one for an eventual mystical experience, this philosophical life has value in itself: All things considered, Plotinus' mystical experiences were extremely rare. Porphyry tells us that the rest of the time-that is, almost all the time-he tried "to be present to himself and to others,"? which ultimately is an excellent definition of what every philosophical life should be.


Unitary Experience and Philosophical Life

If we now consider the problem in a general manner, we must also say that ecstatic experiences are not an integral part of a philosophical life. If they occur, under one form or another, it is true that they can open perspectives on the mystery of existence for the philosopher, but they cannot be ends, and seeking to provoke them would be useless. A.D.: At the end of the Postface of the most recent edition of Plotin ou la simplicite du regard [Plotinus or the simplicity of vision}, you direct a small criticism at Plotinian mysticism. You write, "Cut away everything, said Plotinus; but in a living contradiction would not one also have to say, Welcome all things?" This criticism is undoubtedly tied to a change in your philosophicalpreferences, for it seemsto me thatyou are now more attracted by Stoicism and the Stoic spiritual exercises than by Neoplatonic mysticism.

In itself: Plotinus' advice to the one who wishes to attain unitary experience-"Cut away everything"-can appear to remain legitimate, in its own particular perspective. It is a matter of overcoming everything particular, determinate, or limited, in a moment that stops at nothing but always goes toward infinity; for in the Platonic tradition, every determination is something negative. Yet by adding "Welcome all things," I wanted to convey that, in the face of this mysticism of cutting away, there was room for a mysticism of welcoming, a mysticism according to which things are not a screen that would hinder us from seeing the light, but a colored reflection that reveals it and in which "we have life," as Faust said about a waterfall in the prologue to Faust II One can recognize the presence of the indescribable in the simplest, humblest, most everyday realities. Allow me, in order to make myself understood, to indulge in a lengthy citation of Hugo von Hofmannsthal's The Lord Chandos Letter: "When I found a half-full watering can the other evening forgotten under a walnut tree by some gardener, with its water darkened by the shade of the tree and covered from one end to the other by an aquatic insect, all this assemblage of insignificant things communicated the presence of infinity to me so strongly that a chill ran through me from the roots of my hair to the base of my heels, to the point that I would like to burst into words that I know, if I found them, would bring these Cherubimsthat I do not believe in down." It is not only a question of inanimate objects. Daily life itself: notably the relations we have with other humans, can be charged with a

UnitaryExperience and Philosophical Life


mystical, or at least sacred, value. Already Seneca had said, "The human is for humans a sacred thing." My criticism of Plotinus is thus situated in the general perspective of universal mysticism. I wanted to emphasize that there are numerous types of mystical experience. I would add that my doubts concerning Plotinian mysticism already appeared in 1963, in the conclusion of Plotin ou La simplicite du regard [Plotinus or the simplicity of vision]. There I insisted on the distance that now separates us from Plotinus. Plotinus' mysticism appeared in this context as, to use Bergson's expression, a "call"-a call not to reproduce the Plotinian experience with servility, but simply to welcome the mysterious, the ineffable, and the transcendent in human experience with courage. For I had sensed in writing this book how it would risk, if taken literally, leading the reader into the mirage, the illusion of the "purely spiritual," far from concrete reality. The danger was confirmed for me as soon as I had completed the book. 1 have already elsewhere described how, after having stayed cloistered for a month in order to write this small work, I had, while out to get bread from the baker, a strange impression. But I rnisexpressed myself in my story when I wrote, "I had the impression of finding myself on an unknown planet." In fact, in seeing the ordinary folks all around me in the bakery, I rather had the impression of having lived a month in another world, completely strange to our world, and worse than thistotally unreal and even unlivable. This did not stop me from continuing for years to work on Plotinus, both to study the extraordinary phenomenon that is mystical experience, and to attempt to define the relation that connected this experience and the teaching of Plotinus, as well as out of love for the beauty of certain mystical pages of Plotinus. Yet, from a personal point of view, mystical experience, whether Christian or Platonic, did not hold my interest as it did during my youth, and Neoplatonism seemed to me an untenable position. Notably, I had quickly moved away from the attitude ofJean Trouillard, who both in his books and in his life professed a sort of Neoplatonism. For him, Plotinus was still actual, and he reproached me for having written the sentence at the end of Plotinou fa simplicite du regard on the gap separating us from Plotinus. To return to your question, it is true that, now, in order to understand my idea of philosophy, it seems to me that Stoicism and Epicureanism are more accessible than Plotinus to our contemporaries. Certain Epicurean


Unitary Experience and Philosophical Life

thoughts, certain aphorisms by Marcus Aurelius, and certain pages by Seneca can suggest attitudes that can still be taken up today. On the contrary, it is almost impossible for us to understand what Plotinus meant without clarifying his text with long commentaries; this is, incidentally, why in 1987 I undertook my collection, published at Editions de Cerf and now in Le Livre de Poche, of Plotinus' Les Ecrits [Writings].

A.D.: In mystical experience thereis a transformation ofthe self There is also, and this is an apparentparadox, a rupture with the self How can self transformation also be a rupture with the self? On the one hand, in the description that Plotinus gives of mystical experience, one finds numerous expressions in which he insists on the fact that the self loses itself One might say he is no longer soul, he is not even Spirit anymore, obviously he is no longer body; that is the rupture with the self:8 On the other hand, there is also a whole series of expressions, notably in the ninth Treatise, in which he speaks of effusion, of dilatation, of expansion of the self which give the impression of an intensification of the self.9 This would be the aspect of self-transformation. Finally, I wonder whether these two aspects are not one and the same. At the moment of ecstasy, the selfleaves its limits and dilates itself in infinity. This is both a loss and a gain, the ascension of the self to a higher mode of being. One might say that the highest point the self can attain is the point at which one has the impression of losing oneself in something that totally overcomes one. But it remains that, for Plotinus, .this state is not a break in the train of consciousness, because the soul will remember the ecstasy and will talk about it-in an inexact way, Plotinus emphasizes.

A.D.: In Plotin ou la simplicite du regard [Plotinus or the simplicity ofvision}, you usedthe expression "the true self" [Ie vrai moil. But is it not a transformation ofthe selfratherthan the discovery ofthe "true self"? This question brings me to specify what one might mean by levels of the "self" I would distinguish three levels, plus one. The three levels would be, first, that of sensible consciousness, whereby the self behaves as though it were indistinguishable from the body; then, that of rational consciousness, whereby the self becomes aware of itself as soul and

Unitary Experience and Philosophical Life


as discursive reflection; and finally, the level of spiritual consciousness, in which the self discovers that it has always been, unconsciously, Spirit or Intellect, and thus overcomes rational consciousness to attain a sort of spiritual and intuitive lucidity, without discourse and without reflection. This is the level that Plotinus and especially his disciple Porphyry consider to be the true self. Philosophy consists in elevating oneself from the first ' to the third level. I said three levels, plus one, because mystical experience would represent a completely different level. In the mystical experience of the One, this true self overcomes its state of identification with Spirit and achieves a state of absolute unity and simplicity. He lives, as it were, with Spirit in the state of indetermination and infinity-of drunkenness, Plotinus says, in which the Spirit finds itself at the moment of its birth out of the One. It overcomes itself: therefore, and transforms itself; it dilates itself in infinity. But for a philosopher, this is an exceptional experience. A.D.: You cite, in connection with Plotinus' experience, this verse by Paul Claudel: "Someone within me who is even more myselfthan me."

In Claudel, it is a case not of Plotinian mysticism but of a Christian perspective, that is, the idea that the Creator is fundamentally more ourselves than we are ourselves, because he is the origin of the self: One could say that the same holds in the case of Plotinus' doctrine, because the One is also at the origin of things. But I wonder if I was right to cite Claudel about Plotinus. On this point I can list only the aporias. First, the Christian God is personal, and he can be conceived-as "someone," as a self internal to ourselves. The Plotinian One is not personal. The Spirit can be our true self because it is defined and doubled into subject and object, but the Absolute of the One cannot be our self. This is why I wonder whether, in Plotinian mystical experience, one can speak of an identification between the self and the One. How can the relative coincide with the Absolute? It would be preferable to speak of a sense of an indefinable Presence. It remains that Plotinus does seem to speak of identification explicitly, in the ninth treatise." I understand this passage as the description of an impression of identification. These are the questions I am asking myself:


Unitary Experience and Philosophical Life

A. D.: One might add that in your article "La figure du sage,"you have shown that the problem ofthe true selfis also tied to the problem ofwisdom and not only to the problem ofmysticism; one must always seek the selfabove oneself The true selfis both inside and outside; it is a continual searchfor the bestpart ofoneself which is a selfovercoming as well as the recognition ofthe fact that one part ofourselves is our true self This is the case in Stoicism, in Aristotle, and in Plotinus. It is true that in Aristotle, for example, the Intellect appears as something that overcomes us and that is of a divine order while remaining our true self. That which is the essence of the human is thus something that surpasses it. Plotinus says of the Intellect that it is a part of ourselves to which we elevate ourselves. Marcus Aurelius speaks of the daimon, an inner divinity, that is no other, ultimately, than reason, which is both ourselves and above ourselves. When the philosopher attempts to attain wisdom, he tends toward this state, in which he would be perfectly identical to the true self: which is the ideal self. Generally speaking, I personally tend to conceive of the fundamental philosophical choice as an overcoming of the partial, biased, egocentric, egoist self in order to attain the level of a higher self This self sees all things from a perspective of universality and totality, and becomes aware of itself as part of the cosmos that encompasses, then, the totality of things. I retained the following sentence from Anne Cheng's book Histoire de la pensee chinoise [History of Chinese thought], about the Tao (or Dao): "Every form of spirituality begins by a 'letting go,' a renunciation of the limited and limiting self,"!' This remark makes me think that this idea of a change of levels of self can be found in extremely different philosophies.

Gl_ _ Philosophical Discourse as Spiritual Exercise

Arnold I. Davidson: From a philosophicalpoint ofview, what isa spiritual exercise? Wouldyou give us some examples? As far as I know, the expression "spiritual exercises" has not been used very often in relation to philosophy. In a book published in 1954 entitled Seelenfiihrung: Methodik der Exerzitien in der Antike [The direction of souls: Method of exercises in antiquity], Paul Rabbow, whose work has been an inspiration for all those interested in this aspect of philosophy, used the expression "moral exercise." He showed that Saint Ignatius' famous Spiritual Exercises belong to this tradition. In 1945, Louis Gernet spoke of an "exercise" in reference to the technique of collecting and concentrating the soul.' And in 1964, in his book Myth and Thought in the Greeks, Jean-Pierre Vernant spoke of "spiritual exercises" in relation to Empedocles and techniques of recollection of past lives.? The expression seems rare, but it is not all that unusual. I would define spiritual exercises as voluntary, personal practices meant to bring about a transformation of the individual, a transformation of the sel£ We have seen two examples of these spiritual exercises with Jean-Pierre Vernant and Louis Gernet. Another ancient example is preparations for the difficulties oflife, an exercise thought highly of by the Stoics. To be able to bear the strokes of fate, sickness, poverty, and exile,


Philosophical Discourse as SpiritualExercise

one must prepare oneself in thought for their possibility. One is better able to bear what is expected. This exercise can in fact be found considerably earlier than the Stoics. It had been favored by Anaxagoras and again by Euripides, in his play about Theseus. Besides, Anaxagoras spoke like a Stoic before his time when, upon learning of the death of his son, he declared, "I knew that I had given birth to a mortal being." Another example is formulated by Plato in the Phaedo: "To do philosophy is to exercise dying," that is, to separate oneself from the body, from the order of the senses and the selfish point of view it implies. The Epicureans also appeal to spiritual exercises: the examination of conscience, for example, or the confession of misdeeds, meditation, and the limitation of desires. Despite my attempts to avoid it, some of what I have written about spiritual exercises in general may suggest that spiritual exercises are added to philosophical theory, to philosophical discourse, that they would be practice that merely complements theory and abstract discourse. In fact, all philosophy is an exercise-instructional discourse no less than the inner discourse that orients our actions. Obviously the exercises take place primarily in and through inner discourse-there is even an expression for this, a Greek term often used by Epictetus in his Manuel: epilegein, that is to say, "to add an inner discourse to the situation," for example, by reciting maxims such as "One must not will what does not occur, but one must will that what occurs, occurs as it occurs." These are inner expressions that are used, and they alter the individual's disposition. But there are also spiritual exercises in outer discourse, in the discourse of instruction, and this is very important for me insofar as my main preoccupation has been precisely to show that what was considered to be pure theory, abstraction, was practice in both its mode of exposition and its finality. When Plato writes his dialogues, when Aristotle gives his courses and publishes his course notes, when Epictetus writes his letters or even his very complicated and lengthy treatise on nature {which has unfortunately come to us in tatters, in small pieces found in Herculaneum)-in all these cases, indeed, the philosopher expounds a doctrine. However, he exposes it in a certain way-a way that aims to form more than to inform. Often, as I have said, philosophical discourse presents itself in the form of an answer to a question, in connection with the school's method of instruction. In fact, one does not answer the question right away. If the goal were simply

Philosophical Discourseas Spiritual Exercise


to satisfy the desire for knowledge, it would suffice to provide for a given question a given answer. Most of the time in the ancient context, and this is characteristic of Aristotle, the question is not answered immediately. Many detours are taken in order to provide an answer. The same holds in Plato's dialogues or in Plotinus. The demonstration is even rehearsed several times. These detours and repetitions aim first to teach one to how to reason, but also to allow the object of investigation to become, as Aristotle would say, perfectly familiar and connatural, and ultimately to interiorize knowledge perfectly.' The meaning of these exercises is obvious in what we call Socratic discourse, which of course is ultimately also Platonic discourse, in which the questions or the answers aim to provoke a doubt, an emotion-as Plato says, to make a bite mark in the reader. This type of dialogue is an exercise (ascese); one must subject oneself to the laws of discussion, that is, (I) to recognize the other's right to self-expression; (2) to recognize that what is obvious is to be welcomed, which is often difficult when one is wrong; and (3) to recognize the norm, above the interlocutors, of what the Greeks call logos-an objective discourse, or at least one that aims to be objective. This is obviously true of Socratic discourse, but it is also true of so-called theoretical exposition, which aims primarily at bringing the disciple to lead a spiritual life. It is a matter of rising above and moving :beyond inferior reasoning-and especially what is obvious to the senses, knowledge of the senses-to rise toward pure thought and the love of truth. This is why I think that theoretical exposition can be considered a spiritual exercise. It is also true that theoretical exposition cannot be complete if the listener does not make an inner effort at the same time, for as Plotinus, for example, said, it is impossible to understand that the soul is immortal if one does not detach oneself from the passions and the body. A.D.: How did you come to realize the centrality ofspiritual exercises in antiquity? As you have said, it was not at all the result of a quest for spirituality, but rather the consequence ofa methodological problem: how to interpret ancient philosophy texts. Can exercise and system be methodologically opposed?

At first, as I have already said, the problem for me was to explain the (apparent) incoherencies of the philosophers. There was the enigma of


Philosophical Discourse asSpiritual Exercise

Plato's dialogues, which are often aporetic and not consistent with each other, I was also surprised to see Paul Moraux, in "his introduction to Aristotle's Treatise on the Heavens, say that Aristotle contradicts himself and that he writes poorly. Moreover, it was extremely difficult to grasp the movement of thought in Plotinus' treatises. Finally, I came to think that these apparent inconsistencies could be explained by the fact that Greek philosophers did not aim, above all, to provide a systematic theory of reality, but to teach their disciples a method with which to orient themselves, both in thought and in life. I would not say that the notion of a system -did not exist in antiquity. The word existed, but it designated an organized totality whose parts depended on each other rather than an edifice of thoughts. The notion of systematic thought existed as well, under the influence of Euclid's geometry and axiomatics. I have already touched on the existence of a philosophical literary genre that can be characterized as systematic that consists in deducing all the possible consequences from fundamental principles and axioms. In fact, this effort at systematization was meant to allow the disciple to have at hand the fundamental dogmas that gujde action and to acquire the .unshakable certainty given by the impression of logical rigor and coherence. This is true of the Stoics, famous for the coherence of their doctrine, but also of Epicurus in his Letters, in which the trace of the model for Euclid's Elements can be recognized. In summary, two things can be remarked. On the one hand, in my efforts of interpretation, I have discovered that when one wishes to interpret a philosophical work of antiquity, one must first of all endeavor to follow the movement, the meanders of the author's thought-in short, the series of dialectical or spiritual exercises that are not necessarily rigorously coherent but that the philosopher has his disciples practice. In Aristotle, for example, it takes the form of repeating an exposition from different points of departure. On the other hand, when the philosopher aims to be systematic, for example, in certain texts of Epicurus or the Stoics, it is often a matter of the practice of a spiritual-as it were, a mnemotechnicexercise that aims for a better assimilation of the dogmas that determine a mode of life, and for the possession of these dogmas in oneself with certainty.

Philosophical Discourse as SpiritualExercise


A.D.: Might one not say that the goal ofa modern system is to give an explanation ofthe world, ofman, and that, contrary to this, the primary goal in an ancient philosophical text is to transform the listener?

I think I have already mentioned it but recall Victor Goldschmidt's formula about Plato's dialogues, which is absolutely extraordinary, He said, "These dialogues aim not to inform but to form." I think that in fact this is valid for all ancient philosophy. Naturally, philosophical discourse also provides information about being, matter, heavenly phenomena, and the elements. However, it is also meant to form the spirit, to teach it to recognize problems and methods of reasoning, and to allow one to orient oneselfin thought and in life. I believe that Werner Jaeger had an excellent intuition when he titled his book Paideia, which signifies "formation"-a book in which he gives an exposition of the entire universe of archaic and classical thought. For the Greeks, what counts is the formation of the body and the spirit. When Epictetus designates the philosopher who has made progress, he often says that he is pepaideumenos, that he is "formed." This is perhaps the main contrast with a certain modern philosophy, this attitude in relation to formation. A .. D.: This means that if one tears the philosophers'formulas from their context ofenunciation to see in them the expression oftheoretical propositions that are absolutely valid, one risks twisting their signification, deforming the meaning?

Personally, I always prefer to study a philosopher by analyzing his or her works rather than looking to put together a system by extracting theoretical propositions from his or her works, separated from their context. The works are alive; they are an act, a movement that carries the author and the reader. Systematic studies are like herbariums full of dead leaves. Within the framework of a particular work-for example, Epicurus' Letter to Herodotus-it is perfectly acceptable to take the assertions about nature proposed by Epicurus as absolutely valid theoretical propositions. Epicurus himself meant to present them as theoretical propositions when he wrote the letter. But one must also not forget their context, that is, the therapeutic role he explicitly ascribes to them at the end of the Letter. these propositions must ensure the peace of the disciple's soul, to deliver


Philosophical Discourse as Spiritual Exercise

him from the fear of the gods. Presumably these theoretical propositions were made in a way that aimed to produce their .liberating effect most effectively. One must always be prudent when it comes to deciding about the theoretical content of a philosophical text. Throughout antiquity, the Platonists argued about whether in the Timaeus Plato had really wanted to teach that the world was created in time by a maker who would have reasoned in order to make it the best possible. This is nevertheless what he explicitly says. But the Neoplatonists believed that for Plato the world of the senses was eternal, that it emanated from the intelligible world without intervention from a will or an act of reasoning. For them, Plato's assertions must be situated in the perspective of the mythic discourse that Plato set out to develop in the Timaeus. In general, the meaning of an assertion must be interpreted as a function of the literary genre chosen by the author, and of the context in which this assertion is inscribed. We have discussed this in a previous conversation.

A. D.: When we hear the expression "spiritual exercises, " we almost spontaneously think ofChristian religion and spirituality; but you maintain that this interpretation ofthe expression is too limited, because spiritual exercises need not be tied to religion, either historically orphilosophically. What do you mean by the word spiritual? The expression "spiritual exercises" has been vigorously disputed, even by my dear colleague and friend Sandra Laugier at a meeting of the College Philosophique devoted to my work. As I said the first time I wrote about the subject, it is not currently in favor (de bon ton). Yet a certain number of philosophers have quite easily accepted it-thus my colleague Luc Brisson, or Michel Onfray, who professes a hedonistic materialism. Why did I choose it, and why can I say that it was not because of its possible religious connotations? I chose it for the following reasons. I had been quite struck by the title of a collection that appeared shortly after the war: La Poesie comme exercice spirituel [Poetry as a spiritual exercise]. Unfortunately I lost this book, but the title had shed light for me on the notion of poetry. Later, in Elisabeth Brisson's book, I read that Beethoven referred to the exercises of musical composition that he required of his students and that were meant to attain a form of wisdom-one that

Philosophical Discourse as Spiritual Exercise


might be called aesthetic-as spiritual exercises." Moreover, Paul Rabbow, whom I mentioned earlier, has shown that Saint Ignatius' famous Spiritual Exercises were inherited from ancient thought through the intermediation of the monks, who employed the expression "spiritual exercises" to refer to their own practice. The guiding thread of Paul Rabbow's book, at least in my eyes, was to show that ultimately the expression "spiritual exercises" was not religious because it had a philosophical origin. This is the second reason I employed the words. Thirdly, I nevertheless attempted to avoid the words, and I tried everything that one could say instead. "Moral exercises" was not good because they were not only exercises of a moral order; "ethical exercises" did not work either; and "intellectual exercises" did not cover everything that is represented by the notion of spiritual exercises. One could speak, if need be, of practices. Raymond Ruyer had employed the expression montages, but this gives the impression of something arrificial.' I don't like the expression "self-practices" [pratiques de SOl] that Foucault brought into style, and the expression "self-writing" [ecriture de SOt] even less. It is not "self" [SOt] that one practices any more than it is "self" [sotl that one writes. One practices exercises to transform the self [Le mOl] and one writes sentences to influence the self [Le mOl]. It is worth noting, parenthetically, that this is yet another example of the impropriety of contemporary philosophical jargon. Thus I have resigned myselfto employ the expression "spiritual exercises," and all things considered, this is quite standard; the notion has been employed frequently and" for a long time to designate the voluntary practices I have discussed. Finally, the expression "spiritual exercises" does not fool anyone; people-philosophers, historians-have used it without thinking of either 'religion or Saint Ignatius. I made up my mind when I found a fragment of his journal in Georges Friedmann's La Puissance et La sagesse [Power and wisdom] in which he says, "Every day, a spiritual exercise," and the examples of practices he provides could very well be those of the Stoics. He was in no way thinking of practices of a religious order. Moreover, as I have already said, JeanPierre Vernant has used the words in relation to ancient practices, which included exercises such as respiratory techniques. Even if these techniques are corporeal, they nonetheless have spiritual value, because they provoke a psychic effect. Ultimately, I do not think the expression is problematic.


Philosophical Discourse as Spiritual Exercise

Nevertheless, it is not in itself enough to express my conception of ancient philosophy, which is a spiritual exercise because it is a mode of life, a form of life, a choice of life.

A.D.: Spiritual exercises are usually situated in the ethicalpart ofphilosopby, whereas the logical and physical parts remain theoretical. But you haveshown that in reality the border between the theoretical and thepractical passes inside each part or discipline ofphilosophy. It is an element ofcapital importance for your interpretation to establish that logic, physics, and ethics are bothpracticaland theoretical. I think that what you have just said is very important. The thing seemed clear to me about the Stoics, but I came to the realization that it was a general phenomenon in all antiquity. The Stoics thus distinguished philosophical discourse, and philosophy itself: By this they meant that when one teaches philosophy-philosophical discourse being divided into three parts: logic, physics, and ethics-one explains the theory oflogic, the theory of physics, and the theory of morality to the students. At the same time, they would say that this philosophical discourse was not philosophy. Philosophy was the effective, concrete, lived exercise; the practice of logic, of ethics, and of physics. Real logic is not the pure theory of logic but lived logic, the act of thinking in a correct way, of exercising one's thinking in a correct way in everyday life. There is thus a lived logic, which the Stoics would say consists in criticizing representations, that is, the images that come from the outside world~to not rush to say that a given thing that happens is evil or good, but to reflect, to criticize representation. This is obviously also true of ethics. Genuine ethics is not ethical theory but ethics lived in life with other people. The same holds for physics. Real physics is not the theory of physics but lived physics, that is, a certain attitude toward the cosmos. This lived physics consists, first of all, in seeing things such as they are-not from an anthropological and egoistical point of view, but from the perspective of the cosmos and nature. This attitude appears clearly in what might be called Marcus Aurelius' physical definitions-definitions that consider the object of the definition to be part of nature, for example, the earth and human things are an infinitesimal point in the immensity; the imperial crimson, the blood of a seashell; death, a phenomenon of nature.

Philosophical Discourse as Spiritual Exercise


This lived physics also consists in becoming aware of the fact that we are a part of the Whole and must accept the necessary unfolding of this Whole with which we identify, because we are one of its parts. It consists, finally, in contemplating the universe, in its splendor, by recognizing the beauty of the most humble things. For that matter, this aspect of lived physics can be found in all the schools. In an article I wrote called "Physique et poesie dans le Timeetie Platon" [Physics and poetry in Plato's Timaeus], I tried to show that Plato's Timaeus is indeed basically a spiritual exercise in which the philosopher tries to put himself back in the perspective of the Whole. This is even true in the tradition of Platonists with, as it were, skeptical tendencies. Cicero says, for example, that even if one cannot know much about nature, applying oneself to the knowledge of nature, that is, contemplating nature, is something that provokes a very great pleasure. And here, basically, Cicero is merely Aristotle's heir in the very beautiful passage of the book On the Parts ofAnimals, where he too explains that the study of natural phenomena, even the ones that can seem the most repugnant, provokes a great pleasure. I believe that this holds until the end of antiquity. Think also of Ptolemy's famous poem that says, when I contemplate the stars, I am no longer a mere mortal.f To broaden the historical horizon somewhat, I think that this practice of physics as a spiritual exercise has in fact always existed in the history of philosophy. Goethe is a perfect example of this, for all his naturalist studies are always tied to a certain existential experience. It is a physics, but one that has spiritual value. One also finds this conception of physics, despite certain extravagances, in German Romanticism. A.D.: The idea ofa cosmic consciousness, which is for us a rather disconcerting idea, belongs to the perspective of a spiritual exercise ofphysics. One can thus endeavor to attain cosmic consciousness. Do you think this is an exercise that one can practice today?

In his book entitled Malicorne, Hubert Reeves speaks of the shock that observers experience in discovering Saturn through a telescope for the first time." This emotion and this experience depend not on the developments of contemporary physics, but on the experience of perception, on the contact of one part of the universe with another part of the universe.


Philosophical Discourse asSpiritual Exercise

In fact, there are two ways to apprehend the world. There is the scientific way, which uses measuring instruments, exploration, and mathematical calculations. But there is also the naive use of perception. This duality can be more fully understood by thinking of Husserl's remark, taken up by Merleau-Ponty: ,theoretical physics admits and proves that the Earth moves, but from the point of view of perception, the Earth is immobile. Now, perception is the foundation of the life we live. It is from the perspective of perception that the spiritual exercise you refer to can be seen, and it is probably better not to call it "spiritual exercise of physics," because in our day the word physics has only one, very precise meaning. It is preferable, rather, to call it the realization of the presence of the world and of our belonging to the world. Here the experience of the philosopher coincides with the experience of the poet and the painter. As Bergson has convincingly shown, this exercise effectively consists in overcoming the utilitarian perception we have of the world, in order to attain a disinterested perception of the world-not as a means of satisfying our interests, but simply as the world, which emerges before our eyes as though we were seeing it for the first time. As Merleau-Ponty says, "Real philosophy is to learn to see the world again." Thus it appears as a transformation of perception. On this point I would also cite an article by Carlo Ginzburg that alludes to a spiritual exercise that is sometimes practiced by writers (Ginzburg speaks of Tolstoy), and that consists of perceiving things as strange." As an example of such a mode of vision, he specifically cites Marcus Aurelius and his physical definitions, of which I have spoken. To perceive things as strange is to transform one's way of looking so that one has the impression of seeing them for the first time, by freeing oneself from habit and banality. For that matter, it is a question not of a purely aesthetic contemplation, but of an exercise meant to bring us beyond, once again, our biased and partial point of view, to bring us to see things and our personal existence in a cosmic and universal perspective, to situate us in the immense event of the universe, but also, one might say, in the unfathomable mystery of existence. This is what I call cosmic consciousness. I add, moreover, that the developments of contemporary physics and astronomy, through the vertiginous perspectives that they open, can lead

Philosophical Discourse as Spiritual Exercise


even the scholar to overcome the limits of pure scientific reasoning and to realize both the enigmatic and the grandiose character of the universe. This was the case with Einstein, and there are certainly many other cases of this kind. I am not sufficiently acquainted with the current scientific literature to be able to cite them all.

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