Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Hier sein ist herrlich

Janus Head presents Memory, History, Forgiveness: A Dialogue Between Paul Ricoeur and Sorin Antohi (pdf), in which Antohi prompts Ricouer to talk about his move away from a philosophical anthropology of fallible man. Here are some excerpts (endnotes omitted).

Sorin Antohi: This philosophical anthropology was defined by a modesty, a humility that is quite rare in the human sciences. It was telling us to accept that man is not all-powerful and omniscient, but that he is prone to err. He is fallible by virtue of his very nature. But then...

Paul Ricoeur:...Yes, this is a notion that I have been trying to transcend. In the intermediary book between Memory, History, Forgetting and Time and Narrative, namely, Oneself as Another, the central concept is man insofar as he is able and capable. What man can do: I can speak, I can narrate, I can act, I can feel responsible. The evolution of my thought has gone from the culture of guilt of the 1950s and 1960s to the Gifford Lectures, which I gave in 1986, at the center of which was capable man. And therefore my last book on memory, history and forgetting is related not to fallible man but to capable man. This is to say that man is capable of making memory and of making history. The very distinction, which I owe to Pierre Nora and to Michel de Certeau, between "doing history" and "making history," revolves around the idea of ability: incapability appears only negatively, whereas fallible man was almost the positive side of man. I do not renounce or deny this. I have written all this, and I perfectly admit that people might say, "Listen, when you speak of fallible man, I am with you; but when you speak of capable man, I no longer do so, nor do I follow you when you produce a grand theory on the representation of the past." I have even invented a word, la représentance, which is about the ability of the historian to give us a credible equivalent to what the Germans call Darstellung--that great concept of the German historical school, of Droysen in particular. For me, the problem of history is the problem of Darstellung, which is related to the idea of truth. And I will tell you why I hold on to it. I hold on to it because of the moral discussion surrounding the question of knowing whether there is a duty to remember [un devoir de mémoire] vis-à-vis such or such group of victims. If we were not certain of what the witnesses report and of what the historians within a fairly large consensus have begun to establish concerning these crimes, if none of it were true, we would not be under the obligation to remember. Therefore, we are under an obligation to seek truth before we are bound by a duty, by a debt of memory.

And further:

Paul Ricoeur: Yes, man can within limits, those of fallibility. Fallibility reappears, in a way, within the inabilities of capable man. But I devote space to four sorts of abilities in this book. First, language. All beings capable of language do not have the same access to language. Cultivated people are better able than others within the order of language. Friends of mine who work as judges tell me that they see people who are accused but are unable even to understand the word "stealing." I think of these boys who have been arrested and who are dragged through the courts ten times, thirty times...We are not equal within language. There are inabilities. Take now the ability to act. It is greater among people with power, whereas in the history of the miller, Menocchio, in microhistory in general, we see weak people, who dwell in uncertainty, and who ask themselves whether they will be arrested by the Inquisition, and so forth. There are degrees of ability, therefore. For example--and we may have to reconcile ourselves with this, including with Hayden White--this marvelous ability to narrate. Because it is universal: everybody has narrated. We are trying together to narrate a path and it is with small narratives that we are now progressing in our discussion. And one must be able to narrate in order to have this next, fourth ability: accountability. That is to say that I can feel, as one says in English, accountable. For this, one must be able to give an account.

And finally:

Sorin Antohi: ...And by the way, it seems to me that the passage from fallible man to capable man includes this idea that we are responsible, accountable. At the limit, fallible man could have been excused, exonerated...

Paul Ricoeur: One should not exaggerate, however, since this little book on "fallible man" does come after the book on the voluntary and the involuntary, where I have nonetheless tried to give much to the voluntary since I speak of the possibility of managing emotions, managing habits, and then of assuming mortality. This book concludes with an avowal concerning what I call the "absolute involuntary," which includes the unconscious and the fact of being born. For there is, after all, and since the beginning of my work sixty years ago, the idea of mortality which traverses everything through and through. At this time, I was welcoming this... I would not say joyously, but I had concluded my book with the idea of assenting to finitude. I was an avid reader of Rilke, and I ended with this verse: Hier sein ist herrlich: "being here is sumptuous, wonderful, magical." Now, in my old age, with the proximity of death, I repeat again: Hier sein ist herrlich.

A number of creative translations of herrlich spring to mind. Another day, perhaps.

posted by Fido the Yak at 3:58 PM.


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