Transcendence and the Concrete: Selected Writings

Transcendence and the Concrete: Selected Writings

Transcendence and the Concrete: Selected Writings

Transcendence and the Concrete: Selected Writings

Synopsis

Jean Wahl (1888-1974), once considered by the likes of Georges Bataille, Gilles Deleuze, Emmanuel Levinas, and Gabriel Marcel to be among the greatest French philosophers, has today nearly been forgotten outside France. Yet his influence on French philosophical thought can hardly be overestimated. Levinas wrote that "during over a half century of teaching and research, [Wahl] was the life force of the academic, extra-academic, and even, to a degree anti-academic philosophy necessary to a great culture." And Deleuze, for his part, commented that "Apart from Sartre, who remained caught none the less in the trap of the verb to be, the most important philosopher in France was Jean Wahl."

Besides engaging with the likes of Bataille, Bergson, Deleuze, Derrida, Levinas, Maritain, and Sartre, Wahl also played a significant role, in some cases almost singlehandedly, in introducing French philosophy to movements like existentialism, and American pragmatism and literature, and thinkers like Hegel, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Jaspers, and Heidegger. Yet Wahl was also an original philosopher and poet in his own right. This volume of selections from Wahl's philosophical writings makes a selection of his most important work available to the English-speaking philosophical community for the first time.

Excerpt

Jean Wahl, once considered by the likes of Georges Bataille and Gilles Deleuze to be among the greatest philosophers in France, and by Emmanuel Levinas to be “the life force of the academic, extra-academic, and even, to a degree, anti-academic philosophy necessary to a great culture,” has today nearly been forgotten outside France. Yet his influence on French thought can hardly be overestimated. As professor at the Sorbonne for over three decades, president of the Société Française de Philosophie (1960—74), editor of the Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale (1950—74), and founder and director of the Collège Philosophique, Wahl was in dialogue with some of the most prominent and well-known French philosophers and intellectuals of the twentieth century, including Bataille, Henri Bergson, Simone de Beauvoir, Michel Butor, Deleuze, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Édouard Glissant, Jean Hyppolite, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Gabriel Marcel, Jacques Maritain, Jacques Lacan, Levinas, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone Weil, impacting several of them greatly. Wahl, who has been called “the most influential French interpreter of contemporary philosophy,”2 also played a significant role, in some cases almost singlehandedly, in introducing French philosophy to movements such as phenomenology, existentialism, American pragmatism and literature, and British empiricism. And Wahl was an original philosopher and poet in his own right. He was, along with Gabriel Marcel, among the first to make the case that philosophy must look to the real, to the actual rather than the ideal, and attend to the concrete data of human existence. It was his focus on existence that made it possible for him to put forward a novel account of transcendence that avoided the assumption that transcendence must take us out of this world into some otherworldly domain. Instead, Wahl understood transcendence to be itself a fundamental component of what it means to exist as a human being. It was his focus on existence and transcendence that guided his interpretations of G. W. F. Hegel and Søren Kierkegaard as well as his encounters with Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers, and while a sensitive and insightful reader of the work of others, his own philosophical voice comes through clearly in all of his writings, as the selections we have chosen for this volume will show. After providing a biographical sketch of Jean Wahl (Section I), we will examine his influence on some of the most important French philosophers of the twentieth century (Section II), his introduction of philosophical movements and figures into France, Great Britain, and the United States (Section III), and his own original philosophical and poetic approaches to transcendence and the concrete (Section IV).

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