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.

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. Which seems to imply both that philosophy doesn’t have anything to say about phobias and that it is powerless against phobias.

But how can we be serious when speaking about phobias? We can’t, because phobias are absurd, and they relate to definite objects, singular situations, so we must tell stories. Maybe it is better to break away from philosophy’s medium (since Descartes at least), the text, and try something different. Another way to approach our experience. Videos. Sounds and images.

 

See 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.

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

In the Penal (Neuro-) Colony

ISEA 2016 (Keynote), May 21st, 2016, Hong-Kong 

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Kafka’s short story, « In the Penal Colony », is centered on a complicate and rather mysterious machine. The inspector, and the reader, will never completely understand its function. But we know that it writes, it engraves the sentence on the body of the man convicted in characters that are in themselves undecipherable. The convict does not know his sentence until after it has been carved on his body, at the very end in fact, just before he dies.

The machines of neuroscience are complicate and mysterious to us. Some of them are meant to spy our thoughts in our brains, or report our lies or recognize and read our biases (are we aggressive, psychopaths, racists, pedophiles?). We may not be conscious of these biases but the machine would spot them nevertheless. It seems that we have written on our body (in our brain in fact) in characters that we cannot read ourselves something fundamental about our person. Is it similar to chiromancy? For the believer, the lines of our hands meant something which was decisive for our future but which only an expert could read. Of course, chiromancy was a children tale, whereas neuroscience is science. Another difference may be that we have lines in our hands whether we try to read them or not. What about the neuro-traces of our biases? These strangely shaped red zones that appear on the colorful map of the criminal brain, did they exist before the machine was set into action? Or did the machine somehow impose them in the brain of the subject? Do we live in a penal (neuro)-colony?

It is the question,I will investigate using several art works referring to the brain: a machine for reading thoughts that the Belgian writer Jean-Philippe Toussaint put up at the Louvre in 2012, several pieces from Gregory Chantonsky, and a recent film by Gwenola Wagon and Stephane Degoutin.

At stake is the relationship between the subject and a new form of power conferred to technology. There is embodied in the machines of neuroscience a new kind of biopolitics that does not concern life in general but the specific existence of brain. To what extent does the subject of the (neural)-penal colony remain human? Or has become (s)he a telepathic rat? How could (s)he escape? Do these works, writings, installation, films, concerning neuroscience enable us to confront the neuro-power or do they contribute to fascinate us and re-establish the (neural)-penal colony

Correlationism and Postmodern Stories

Correlationism and postmodern stories

Loloya Marimount University, Los Angeles, April 8th 2016

 

Abstract

This paper discusses Q. Meillassoux’ arguments in Après la finitude in relation to fiction. My main example is the story that Lyotard tells at the beginning of his article “Une fable postmoderne”. This story produces “ancestral statements” but these appear in a story rather than in science, whereas Meillassoux only refers to “ancestral statements”, coming from, or apparently coming from science. To what extent can fiction make ancestral statements? What is the speculative value of ancestral statements in fiction?

I make two claims.

First, I argue that the importance that Meillassoux gives to science in his book comes from the fact that he considers all science to be reducible to one theory referring unequivocally to a single universe, which is doubtful with regards to contemporary science.

Second, I argue that Meillassoux ‘s criticism of correlationism and his own attempt to get out of correlationism depend on what I call the “principle of the present” according to which only the present can be immediately given, or in Meillassoux’ words “the given is contemporaneous to the givenness”. That is, I can not have an immediate access to, have an intuition of, be given, the past nor the future, but only the present. This principle occurs in two keys arguments in Meillassoux’ book. Bergson’s theory of memory would seem to support the view that this principle of the present is false. Moreover, if one can consider fiction as a kind of givenness, a form of intuition as it were, then it clearly does not verify the principle of the present, since I can tell now a story about the past or the future. Thus I conclude that fiction considered as a form of intuition may produce ancestral statements while remaining in a correlationist background. In fact, if one refuses the principle of the present, the alternative between correlationism and speculation that Meillassoux puts in place falls: one can speculate, make ancestral statements, while still being a correlationist.

See the slides

Imagine the Earth without humans !

Copie de IMG_0128 (2)

Performing Arts Forum, Ste Erme, 05/03/2016

 

 

Can we (and if so how) imagine the Earth without humans ?

 

Imagine, in a literal sense, produce an image, a sort of picture, a description: a desolate beach, gray sand, threatening waves, inhabited  by monsters like in H. G. Wells, The Time Machine. But then there is a human, the time traveler. A usual argument would say that we can’t imagine the Earth without humans because by so doing we would reintroduce something human on the Earth. This is still true in various versions of speculative realism. Neither in Q. Meillassoux’ nor in G. Harman’s perspectives, can we imagine the Earth without humans. For G. Harman, we can only proceed by “allusions”. A description like H. G. Wells only concerns apparent objects which are defined by the relations between us and real objects: the Earth that we can describe, picture, is always humanized and must be distinguished from the realm of real objects which we can not properly speaking describe. For Q. Meillassoux, all we can do is prove that the universe is mathematical and hope that our science will finally come close to the true mathematics of the universe. A description like Wells’ is flawed for two reasons: not only it implies secondary qualities which only make sense when referred human perception but, as we will see, it also implies a kind of time paradox.

 

In a nutshell, a description like Wells’ seem to bear many features that refer to humans (colors, waves, sunset), so how could it give a picture of an Earth without humans?

 

My aim, in this discussion, is to convince you that this way of formulating the problem is wrong. I will argue that it relies on several implicit assumptions. One of them is a principle of co-presence which denies any temporal difference between “given” and “givenness”. Another one is the model of the “thing”, which refers to a certain form of life which is not exclusive (non human life does not necessarily cut up things out of the continuum of perception, Bergson) and which, even from a human point of view, is inadequate on a desolate beach (how many things do you see? Almost none. The sea, the sand, are not things but elements in Bachelard’s and Merleau-Ponty’ sense).  

I claim it is perfectly possible to imagine the Earth without humans. In fact, we do it all the time. One should give a speculative function to fictions such as Wells’. But this requires both to reformulate the opposition between correlationism and speculation, and to discuss again the distinction between appearance and reality.

 

Part I. On Q. Meillassoux, After finitude

Both Q. Meillassoux’ attack on “correlationism” (on the topic of ancestral statements) and his own way out of correlationism (by reference to our possible annihilation) rely on a “presentism” according to which “the given cannot be anterior [nor posterior] to the givenness”. Bergson’s theory of memory offers a counterexample to this principle. I argue that there is no reason to accept this principle of co-presence between the given and the givenness and that, in particular, considering fiction as a form of givenness enables one to introduce a temporal difference between given and givenness. This in turn undermine Q. Meillassoux’ opposition between correlationism and the speculative perspective.   

It is then possible to outline a theory of fictions giving a speculative function to fictions while remaining inside correlationism.

 

Part II. Metaphysics of the seaside

I will start with various descriptions of the sea-side by an XVIIIe century geographer, Claude Masse. In a sort of thought experiment, I will then try to imagine the life of a being indigenous to this landscape: a husserlian subjectivity, if you wish, who instead of waking up on the Earth, with various things that (s)he can touch, would only know waves of water and waves of sand: what kind of body would (s)he feel to have, what kind of space and time would (s)he live in?

My point is that our usual metaphysics, the examples we take as philosophers (touching a thing instead of feeling the wind on our skin, walking instead of swimming) is related to a certain environment. The sea-side as described by Masse would call for a completely different metaphysics.  

 

Part III. On G. Harman and T. Morton’s theory of objects and hyper-objects.

In a way, T. Morton has introduced the notion of hyperobjects to qualify beings such as the sea, climate change, nuclear waste) which cannot be considered as objects properly speaking. I will compare Morton’s hyper-objects with Merleau-Ponty’s elements. They have many aspects in common. Both admit that the  object of perception bears a kind of surplus but, for T. Morton, as for the OOO, this surplus distinguishes the real object from its phenomena, whereas, for Merleau-Ponty, it is the phenomenal object which bears an indefinite surplus.

The question is: which of them, hyper-objects or elements, will enable us to imagine the Earth without humans?