Bio


Français/English

I am Full Professor at the Philosophy Department of University Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis. I am also co-editor of the journal SubStance.

Quite generally, my work concerns the relationships between Imagination and Reason. I take Imagination in a sense akin to Bachelard’s, as a core of images present both in dreams and in fiction. I argue that this kind of Imagination necessarily interplays with all our rational processes, in science, technology and philosophy. This has lead me to try and put at work a philosophical style of writting which deliberately relies on fiction in order to ground a speculative perspective and enable a critical outlook at the contemporary world.

I first attempted to analyze the way in which imagination (dreams, fictions) penetrates scientific and technological domains : logic (in the work of Kurt Gödel), the cybernetics of Norbert Wiener, or the prospect of brain reading in neuroscience. In this perspective, I have investigated scientists’ archives. In the scientist’s papers, one can uncover the fictions, personal dreams, superstititon sometimes, which underlie definite scientific results.

Conversely, imagination transforms in its relationship to science and technology. Bizarre beings are born in this interplay, not only robots. Contemporary machines transform our fictions, in their very form, in their medium : how for instance in electronic art, and digital literature, new sorts of fiction can be put at play in a dispositif that no longer follows the linearity of a narrative. What kind of fiction (no longer exactly stories) can be staged in this way ? How are we to analyze this e-magination ?

Finally, this intertwining of imagination and reason raises a problem for the writing itself of philosophy. Part of my early work concerned the question of reason, and justification, in French philosophy (from Cavaillès and Bachelard up to contemporary authors). I now offer to consider fiction as a systematic method of philosophical investigation, in order to give to philosophy both a speculative impact and critical scope in contemporary contexts. In more personal works, I use fictions in order to investigate domains that the philosophical tradition has ignored, or repressed : wasted time, phobias, sea-sides. Domains from which philosophers seem to shy away, preferring to discuss work rather than laziness, or the noble Angst rather than the absurd phobia, or preferring to the uncertain shores of the sea-side the firm ground on which the tree of science may be rooted.

I am currently working on several projects. I am in the process of writing a book entitled “Syndromes technologiques”, where I attempt to investigate through fiction how contemporary technology transforms first person experience both in its content and its status. I also collaborate with Stéphane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon on a film project called Welcome to Erewhon, a contemporary adaptation of Samuel Butler’s novel using foundfootage. With Paul Harris, from LMU, we are launching at SubStance a new series of born digital works: see here.

Some of my academic publications may be found here.

Bienvenue à Erewhon

En collaboration avec Stéphane Degoutin et Gwenola Wagon

 

Dans le roman que publie Samuel Butler en 1871, les habitants d’Erewhon, découvrant que les machines évoluent, et évoluent plus vite que les êtres vivants, décident de s’en débarrasser. Ils détruisent toutes leurs machines. Cent cinquante ans plus tard, nous retrouvons la ville d’Erewhon, où les machines n’ont pas disparu. Tout au contraire. Les machines s’occupent maintenant de tout: industrie, agriculture, loisir, sécurité. Les machines prennent même soin de humains. Tout semble donc s’être passé pour le mieux. Les humains sont heureux. Les humains sont bienheureux.

 

Phobic Postcards

 

 

If the greatest philosopher in the world finds himself upon a plank wider than actually necessary, but hanging over a precipice, his imagination will prevail, though his reason convinces him of his safety. Many cannot bear the thought without a cold sweat. I will not state all its effects. (Pascal, Pensées)

This project explores phobia through twelve videos and many notes. Absurd fears, where there is nothing to fear really. Pascal’s philosopher standing on the plank above the abyss knows there is nothing to fear. He knows the plank is large enough. But it does not help. It is as if his vertigo were outside the reach of his philosophy.

When Descartes is attacked by thieves on a boat crossing the Elbe, he does not panic. He draws out his sword. It is a natural fear that the philosopher overcomes with his strong character. Then there is Heidegger in the Black Forest, of course, and the anguish of the Dasein: a great and noble fear, without any object.

I have never been able to experience the anguish of the Dasein. I am happy in the forest… until I hear a crack in a bush and start wondering what kind of beast is hiding there. The Existentialists are like the Rationalists. In the end, neither of them fear anything in particular. Our stupid vertigo standing on Pascal’s board remains outside of their philosophy.

So can philosophy say anything about phobias? Can it offer a cure against phobias?

During the two years that the project documents, I looked into the history of philosophy for traces of philosopher’s phobias. I believe I have found a few. For instance, I think I have proof that Descartes was afraid, not of bandits but of water. I have also tried various philosophical and unphilosophical cures.

For instance, I have tried to joke about my phobias. Wit belittles its object. Just make fun of the crocodile that is looking at you, and it will not seem so frightening. That’s Woody’s cure. It works, at least in Woody Allen’s films. The problem is: would I be able to make a joke in front of the crocodile, or standing on Pascal’s Plank? Could I make a joke if my life depended on it?

I have tried running a marathon. That is Baudelaire’s Cure. In an entry in his diary, Baudelaire notes that 12 or 14 leagues are enough to represent the in nite to the human mind. 12 leagues are just a little more than a marathon. Could I master this kind of in nite? What worried me above all was the dilation of time that one feels in panic and which might take place again while I was running. I would not stop, but what if each minute that I spent running felt longer and longer? Would poetry help keep time together?

In any case, I could not go on running marathons. So I tried laying on a psychoanalyst’s couch. The psychoanalyst did not say much. There was a lot of “hum, hum.” But I could see this cure could work. However, it would destroy my phobias. I would no longer be afraid of black dogs, and albino crocodiles, but whatever these represent in the childish mind I seem to have kept. So the world would be all at: crocodiles would longer distort space and time. All at and dull. I would rather keep my phobias.

Hum, hum.

In the end, I resolved to adopt Bachelard’s cure. Yes, Bachelard de- vises a cure against phobias, which consists of an imaginary training. It is like re-accomplishing the labors of Hercules so as to master in imagination all kinds of dangers. One tells oneself a story where one goes deep in an elemental distortion and, like Hercules, tries to nd a way to cope with the thing. In this way, one becomes an Imorg, like a cyborg, but an organism modi ed through imagination so as to be able to survive in all kinds of hostile environments. I already had twelve videos about my phobias, like the twelve labors of Hercules. It all t together. So telling stories would be the cure: that was what I had been doing without knowing.

Hum, hum.

See project Phobic Poscards  at SubStance@Work

A French version is currently under construction with the help of grant “Brouillon d’un rêve” from the Société Civile des Auteurs Multimédia.

Un laboratoire philosophique. Cavaillès et l’épistémologie en France

« L’histoire – note Léon Brunschvicg – est le laboratoire du philosophe ». Cette idée nous a semblé définir la perspective de l’épistémologie historique qui se développe dans les années trente avec Cavaillès, Bachelard et Lautman. Il s’agit bien en effet d’une réforme des notions classiques de la philosophie, la conscience, la raison, l’imagination, le rapport entre la pensée et le sensible, la subjectivité et l’objectivité, mise en oeuvre et mise en expérience dans une histoire des sciences. Bien que la philosophie en France après guerre se détache largement de l’histoire des sciences, elle restera marquée par cette réforme philosophique commencée dans les années trente. C’est du moins ce que nous voulons montrer.
Nous nous proposons de présenter les grandes articulations de l’épistémologie historique, autour de Cavaillès, d’analyser les opérations conceptuelles qu’elle accomplit, pour en suivre le retentissement jusque dans la philosophie contemporaine.

L’Autre des mathématiques

Sur la conférence de Lacan au colloque de Batimore, 1966:  “Of Structure as an Inmixing of an Otherness Prerequisite to Any Subject Whatever”

Comment définir le rapport de Lacan aux mathématiques, ou le rapport du « structuralisme » de Lacan à un « structuralisme » mathématique ?

Le texte marque un moment clé dans le parcours de Lacan où, à la fois, Lacan sépare son modèle du sujet de celui qui ressortirait des mathématiques et de la science modernes, et utilise de façon systématique des objets mathématiques pour fixer ce modèle du sujet.

Il s’agit en particulier de situer Lacan par rapport à Cavaillès (et à Bateson) qui utilisent également les mathématiques (et parfois les mêmes éléments mathématiques) pour mettre en question l’étendue de la conscience.

Lire les diapositives

Exposé au colloque “Batimore 1966”, Université Paris 10, décembre 2016

Elemental Times

 In his novel Vendredi ou Les limbes du Pacifique, Michel Tournier opposes the time of the Earth which can be measured, numbered and which accumulates, and the time of the Sun, which does not pass in the same way. The time of the Earth, as Tournier describes it, is the kind of time, which, in Max Weber’s essay, The Spirit of Capitalism and Protestant Ethic, it is a sin to waste, a view that Weber considers as being at the origin of capitalism. But there would different ways to describe both the time of the Earth and the time of the Sun. After all, time was first measured with the help of a sundial.

In the same way, in La poétique de la rêverie, Gaston Bachelard refers to water, as an “element”, to describe the “dreamer’s cogito”, a state of being that, precisely, is not a cogito in Descartes’ sense and in which there is no time. But water, the river in which we only bath once, can also be the image of time. In his book L’eau et les rêves, Bachelard himself investigates this image and this view of water.

These examples raise several questions. Why do we refer to elements, water, earth, fire or, at least, the Sun, when we want to describe these unusual times, times that would not pass as the time of the clock? Why do these elements support such various views of time? To try and answer these questions, I will discuss Bachelard’s analysis of “elements”, and the role they may be given in an imaginary metaphysics.

Communication at the SLSA Conference, Atlanta, November 2016th

Métaphysique d’un bord de mer

Entretien avec Géraldine Mosna-Savoye, autour de la métaphysique d’un bord de mer, pour Les nouveaux chemins de la connaissance, France Culture, 1er juillet 2016.

Ecouter ici :

http://www.franceculture.fr/emissions/les-nouveaux-chemins-de-la-connaissance/la-metaphysique-d-un-bord-de-mer-par-pierre-cassou