Agenda de la pensée contemporaine
(cet article est paru dans le N°16 - printemps 2010 )
articles parus en ligne
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N°16 - Summaries
FROM JUSTICE TO LAW – AND BACK AGAIN
Alain Supiot’s essay Homo Juridicus is a wide-ranging exploration of the basis of law. Contrary to the proponents of legal positivism, he argues that the law cannot be reduced to legal constraints, nor be declared morally neutral. Rather, it cannot be dissociated from Justice, whose transhistorical exigency pre-exists all subjective rights and legal rules, and has an anthropological basis. Law, as defended by Supiot, is rooted in Roman and Canon law ; it is “continental” (as opposed to the English-speaking world’s tradition of common law, which refuses to consider the objectivity of the Law without reference to subjective rights). According to Supiot, this law “capable of transcending private interests” is under threat from all sides. Its weakening is compensated by the rise of other references of a religious, ethnic, regional, tribal, sectarian, or other nature. He warns readers that while modern society is in itself just, it nonetheless risks destroying itself by undermining the institutions that allowed it to emerge.
LIBERAL SOCIETY “UNVEILED”
Jean-Claude Michéa and Dany-Robert Dufour have launched an original attack on the prevailing liberal order. For Jean-Claude Michéa, there is no point contrasting “good”, left-wing liberalism and supposedly cynical, delinquent capitalism. The liberal project implies a minimal structure governed by the Market and the Law. In the name of tolerance, this restrictive technological society of lesser evil has made Mandeville’s paradox its own : private vices are public benefits. Dany-Robert Dufour highlights the unopposed domination of commodities, which turns the human body in space and time into the liberated site of consumer urges, subjected to no less obsessive productivity. The Holy Market’s reign, together with its watchword “Don’t think, spend”, was foreshadowed in the work of the Marquis de Sade, the dark side of the Enlightenment. In the name of untrammelled, lawless pleasure, Homo consumans transforms individualism into cheap narcissism.
ACTIVITY/IDLENESS : IN SEARCH OF A NEW PARADIGM
interviews with Giorgio Agamben
To mark the publication in France of Homo sacer II, 2, Le Règne et la Gloire, the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben discusses one of the central notions of his work, idleness, in an interview with Aliocha Wald Lasowski. He begins by defining the notion, giving it a positive connotation by making it an active, rather than passive, choice, then studies its genealogy in the works of Aristotle, Saint Augustine, Saint Paul, and Luther, before broadening his perspective to include the political dimension. Might idleness be the new paradigm of human activity, providing us with a means of leaving capitalism behind ?
FROM RELATIVITY TO RELATIVISM
In 1996, Social Text, an American Cultural Studies journal, published an article whose post-modern vacuity was equalled only by its lack of scholarly rigour, to the point of outright errors in places. A few weeks later, its author, physicist Alan Sokal, publicly spoke out about the absurdity of his own article. His aim was to highlight the inadequate selection process at Social Text, which furthermore adopted a superior stance towards the so-called “hard” sciences, denying them all claim to objectivity and arguing that such sciences had no greater grasp on reality than did metaphysics, theology, and poetry. From this relativist perspective, these sciences are just another narrative, no more, no less. Sokal’s hoax led to a long and bitter dispute in the scholarly community. Sokal has given accounts of the affair in a number of books. Marking the publication of the most recent of these, Beyond the Hoax, Etienne Klein’s article looks back at the affair as a whole and underlines the limits of the form of relativism currently fashionable.
THE SPECTATOR TO COME
The film-maker Jean-Louis Comolli refuses predefined differences and misleadingly self-evident frames. He rejects the conventional distinction between fiction and documentaries or cinema and television and is uncompromising in thinking about his art, for “ways of doing things” are “modes of thought”. Paying particular attention not only to material, economic, and political conditions, but also to technological issues, his latest work, Cinéma contre spectacle – a paradoxically united collection – is again inspired by the most in-depth analyses of Situationism, yet without taking Guy Debord’s radically pessimistic stance. Does spectacular alienation leave room for possibilities of emancipation ? What place do the performing arts have in store for the spectator to come ?
IN PRAISE OF PROSE
This History of prose in France, as the subtitle has it, offers as its central thesis the argument that “literary language” (as the title goes) was born in the novels of Flaubert and the Goncourt brothers in around 1850 and came to an end in the works of Barthes and Claude Simon after 1970. Such prose – a more sublime version of common language, discrete from elevated language but less and less distinct from poetry – was caught between the neo-classical conservatoire and the laboratory of modernity, becoming a transcendent model of cultural identity and thereby achieving over a century of quasi-sacred autonomy, analysed in its least detail, principally at sentence level, by a team of stylisticians who collected countless examples and studied them from various points of view – first thematic, then chronological. What are the apparent guiding lines behind this ambitious undertaking and what might the less explicit choices governing it be ?
FROM PSYCHIATRY TO MENTAL HEALTH