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.

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

Une histoire de machines, de vampires et de fous


Une histoire de machines, de vampires et fous, Paris, Vrin, 2007


Deux façons de présenter cet essai.

Une parodie contemporaine des Méditations métaphysiques de Descartes dans laquelle le Malin Génie est devenu un vampire, le corps un robot et l’esprit, une image, un être de peinture qui passe par toutes sortes d’aventure et rencontre Russell aussi que Borges.

Ou bien une analyse de l’imaginaire intérieure à l’imaginaire. La thèse en est que l’imaginaire contemporain, qui parcourt la littérature comme les sciences, met en scène, parmi d’autres oppositions, un face-à-face particulier entre les deux figures de la machine et du vampire. Il s’agit de jouer sur les images, d’utiliser leurs ressorts propres, dans la fiction par conséquent, pour mettre en lumière leur structure.





Les limites imaginaires du monde de la raison

Quatre conférences au CUF Saint Petersbourg 9-18 février 2016


La plage du Moulleau                                     (Jean-Paul Alaux, 1909)


Conférences I et II. Introduction. Descartes, ou comment le rationalisme prend l’eau

Conférence III. Le bord de mer

Conférence IV. Le cas Gödel

Mon zombie et moi

Mon zombie et moi. La philosophie comme fiction, Paris, Seuil, 2010

Que et où suis-je ?

Après avoir revisité un certain nombre de positions classiques sur la nature et le statut du sujet (celle de Descartes notamment) et de réponses possibles à la question de savoir ce que je suis (une personne ? une machine ?), cette enquête développe une théorie originale fondée sur la notion de figures imaginaires.

On y trouvera une façon nouvelle de faire de la philosophie, s’appuyant sur et passant par la fiction. Cette méthode est mise en œuvre par l’analyse d’une série de figures tirées de la littérature, où sont convoqués des auteurs classiques comme Poe, Maupassant, Nerval, aussi bien que des écrivains de science-fiction comme Wells, Conan Doyle, Stapledon, Ph. K. Dick. S’y ajoutent d’originales fictions imaginées par l’auteur, qui deviennent autant de plans d’expérience philosophique : puis-je, au sens propre, perdre la tête ? être invisible ? intouchable ? habiter un tableau ? être fait de plusieurs morceaux ?

Voici, autour de la question du sujet, un parcours par la fiction d’un pan de la philosophie aussi bien qu’un voyage philosophique à travers la science-fiction.