Academic journal article The Romanic Review

After()birth: Michel Tournier's Philosophoria

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

After()birth: Michel Tournier's Philosophoria

Article excerpt

Michel Tournier's Le Vent Paraclet is subtitled "essai" on the cover of the Gallimard edition, but translated into English as The Wind Spirit: An Autobiography. Besides obscuring the Trinitarian reference of the French title, the translation transforms the text from an unspecified "attempt," whose success or failure are equally unspecified, into an example of a recognized, if ill-defined, genre. The text connives in this subjectifying reading, but it would connive as well in its own mistranslation as a philosophical treatise. This is in part because Tournier aspired, as he relates in the "essai," to the status of philosopher within the French university system, only to be "taille en pieces" by "l'agregation, ce bachot hypertrophie, bouffi, ubuesque, l'institution la plus malhonnete et la plus nefaste de notre enseignement" (1). This institutional failure marked the "naissance" of his "vocation litteraire," a vocation itself marked by the institutional failure: "Je me figurais qu'on peut faire oeuvre philosophique seul, en dehors du cadre universitaire, sans l'entourage des confreres et des etudiants ... comme un moine defroque qui s'imaginerait pouvoir observer la regle de son ancien ordre en gagnant sa vie comme ouvrier ou comme coinmercant" (158-159). The tension between philosophy's sacred community and the profane, commercial world of literature, figured in Tournier's simile, finds its (non-)resolution in the phorics and metaphorics of birth that are woven into his "essai."

Tournier conceived his model of philosophical birth, a model itself drawn from or inseminated by the history of philosophy, while studying for the agregation with a group of friends (including Gilles Deleuze) during the Nazi occupation of Paris. And what could be more philosophical than his explicit fundamental premises, drawn from idealist thought, that "le degre de realite d'un objet ou d'un ensemble d'objets depend de sa coherence rationnelle" (152) with "Le plus coherent etant toujours cause du moins coherent" (153)? For example, "si le monde des reves est universellement taxe d'irrealite ... c'est en raison de son caractere decousu, chaotique, incoherent" (152) in comparison with "le monde reel." And "le monde reel" has only "une coherence relative" (it is filled with lacunae, contradictions and absurdities) in comparison with the most coherent entities: "les systemes philosophiques" which "surclassent le reel en solidite et en densite, tout de meme que celui-ci ridiculise le monde des reves" (153) (2). "Les systemes philosophiques" are therefore more real, because more coherent, than "le monde reel" by the first principle, and by the second principle, must be the cause of "le monde reel," though the plurality of "systemes philosophiques" renders the question of causality, like that of origin, problematic. We will return to this. In any event, "le monde reel" can only be the cause of dreams of systems; indeed, "le monde reel" is to "les systemes philosophiques" as "le monde des reves" is to "le monde reel." "Le monde reel" is a dream of philosophy, the middle step of a Platonic stair that descends from Form through material to artistic representation, but this does not necessarily imply that (a) philosophy is a dream of a philosopher. The philosopher cannot produce, but only reproduce from a beginning which would not be an origin.

In fact, the position of the philosopher in this hierarchy follows from the same principles that determine the status of "le monde reel" and "le monde des reves": "Les systemes sont-ils l'oeuvre des grands philosophes comme l'admet une conception naivement causaliste? Evidemment non ... C'est tout au plus le philosophe qui n'est que le dechet que laisse tomber dans le monde empirique le systeme qui se forme, comme le placenta qui reste au fond du lit de gesine apres la naissance d'un enfant" (153). The philosopher could not produce a system or (a) philosophy that is more coherent and thus more real than he himself is (3); to think in this fashion would be to fall into a "conception naivement causaliste" of reality's descent. …

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