Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Remembering Paul Ricoeur

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Remembering Paul Ricoeur

Article excerpt

Early on he said, "The word is my kingdom and I am not ashamed of it."1 In a later book, Memory, History, Forgetting, he cited this from Vladimir Jankéloevitch as an epigram: "He who has been, from then on cannot not have been: henceforth this mysterious and profoundly obscure fact of having been is his viaticum for all eternity."2

It is almost eighteen months now since Ricoeur's death. I believe he would have agreed that as the work of mourning progresses, the balance shifts between what at first is an almost overwhelming sense of grief and an accompanying sense of loss. Grief, for those who feel it, never completely disappears, but it is the sense of loss that most holds its strength. So I do not want to grieve today over Ricoeur's death. Those who knew him could see it coming the last year or so of his life, however much we might have hoped that like Gadamer or Hartshome he too would live to be a hundred or more-and that we might talk with him one more time, or that he could keep working, as he gave every indication of doing until that last year or so when he really began to slow down. We knew that he didn't fear death, any more than he looked for it, but also that he kept talking of maybe just one more book. Yes, he is gone but his work remains and that is what I want to talk about today.

It is easy to say that many members of this society felt respect for Ricoeur. We turned out in great numbers on those occasions when he could participate in our meetings, yet his work did not figure on the program very often over the years as the topic of someone else's paper. There are probably more papers on Ricoeur this year than were given in total over the last five to ten years, which, without meaning to denigrate their authors' efforts, may be as much a result of his death as anything. For Ricoeur never wanted or encouraged a school, and certainly he would have been upset by the idea of a flock of followers or anything like a Ricoeur Society. He chose rather to pursue his own problems and to hope that others would pick up on them. "Talk about my philosophy, about philosophy, not about me," I can hear him saying. Yet his death changes things and we need to acknowledge this; not in the sense that the time has come for a Ricoeur school or society, but in the sense that the canon, so to speak, has closed. There will be no more new books. Translations? Probably yes, there is still a lot of material already in print out there but not available in English. And maybe these yet-to-come translations can even be put together with a few of the available shorter texts already in English that have been published in obscure, or overlooked, or difficult to obtain journals. Ricoeur would rarely if ever say no when people asked if they could publish the lecture they had just heard, and since he always started over, there were lots of such occasional writings. Sometimes these essays overlapped with other things he was working on; and he wasn't above a bit of cut and pasting, but often they were brilliant on their own. His essay on human action considered as a text, for example, or the lecture on the fragility of political language immediately come to mind.3 But now the canon is closed and we can see that for years we were trying to keep up, if not catch up with him without really knowing where he was going next. And how often did that next book or essay come as an eye-opening and to be sure, a thought-provoking surprise. Who among us, for example, could have predicted that at almost the age of ninety he would take up the question of recognition and the politics of identity, which is one of those questions currently in the air? Or that in doing this he would bring to light the ail-too obvious fact that once you look for it, recognition has not been dealt with in the history of philosophy in a way that has produced what philosophers would acknowledge to be a major statement, aa class text. This forced him to change his usual search for starting points in the history of philosophy and to turn instead to the dictionary. …

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