L'Amour intellectuel de Dieu: Religious Revival in Recent FrenchThought

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at SPAMosu.edu
Mon Dec 25 02:22:00 MST 2000

*****   L'Amour intellectuel de Dieu: Lacan's Spinozism and Religious
Revival in Recent French Thought

Douglas Collins

Department of Romance Languages
University of Washington
Seattle WA 98195
dcollins at u.washington.edu

Irony is attached to this past fall's transferal of the remains of
André Malraux to the Panthéon.  The desacralized church of
St.-Geneviève, recycled by the Revolution for the purpose of storing
the ghosts of questioners of old faiths, now contains the body of the
man whose most currently relevant achievement is perceived to have
been his prediction that religion and not Enlightenment values would
make possible and dominate the century that is about to be born.
Michel Tournier's novel of the life of Moses appeared during this
same autumn,(1) and in an interview published on the occasion, the
author excitedly reflected upon what in France has been called "le
retour du religieux."  "Read the newspapers, and books," he said,
"they only speak of God.  We are headed towards a century of
religion; Malraux was totally right."(2)  And here is Régis Debray,
juxtaposing two famous prophesies, the first from Sartre, one the
ex-revolutionary now feels to have been embarrassed by another, that
of Malraux: "Between [the statements] that 'Marxism is the
unsurpassable horizon of our time' and 'The twenty-first century will
be religious or it will not be,' the course of events seems to
suggest that a choice has now been made."(3)  This seemed to have
been the only Malraux the year knew anything of.  A third such 1996
reference, this from Luc Ferry : "The famous line of Malraux on the
possibility of planet-scaled religious event marking the twenty-first
century has caused us to speculate endlessly."(4)  The man whom
Lyotard (plausibly) described as having believed in nothing but
himself,(5) is seen as imagining only a posterity that would exclude
him, is reassigned by posterity as futurologist of faith.

The timing of the Malraux celebration might have made its
opportunistic sense for the Gaullist government, eager for symbolic
legitimacy at the moment when the more tangible variety proved
unavailable, but it could not have been more curiously off at the
moment the prediction of Malraux rushes towards its vast
confirmation.  As early as 1982 Marc Augé wrote that "the easily
perceptible current of the day in France is the intellectual
rehabilitation of religion and the Bible."(6)  Alain Finkielkraut
reported: "And it is in this melancholic climate of farewells to the
hopes of modernity that now begins a spectacular renaissance of
religious feelings. [...] History once succeeded God; God has now
succeeded his successor."(7)  Christian Jambet, formerly of the
tradition of "la pensée 68": "Religious belief has now become a
central fact, a way of feeling power where power had almost entirely
disappeared.  After World War II religion meant the abdication of
thought.  But it now again has a role in the drama of thought."(8)
Ghita Ionescu, writing in the Times Literary Supplement in 1993:
"[T]he real sea-change in the modern French moral and mental
attitudes is the restoration of the dominant Catholic spirit."(9)  A
year later in the same periodical, Henri Astier sought to explain the
relative indifference of the French to 300th anniversary of
Voltaire's birth: "Since the late 1970s, a markedly spiritual trend
has made a comeback in French philosophy, in the writings of authors
like Paul Ricoeur and Emmanuel Levinas."(10)  And more than a decade
after the first examples of this movement, Jean-Pierre Vernant could
observe: "Only ten years ago the people of my generation could be
astonished to notice that religion no longer belonged to the past but
to the present.  One gets used to one's own astonishment, to such an
extent that one is no longer astonished.  It is true that today the
resurgence of religion has taken on a considerable scale."(11)

"Too much God," Hegel famously complained of Spinoza.  The charge has
echoed through the Left Bank as this current has taken on ever
greater vitality.  The birthday of Voltaire may have been a dry
affair, but this also Parthenoned ghost has retained some residue of
his former authority. "Ecrasez l'infâme," the same Debray suggested,
as he here contrasts the past with the present: "In Paris, Marxist
theory was then all the rage, 'all powerful because it is true.'  Its
place has now been taken by the sacred and the return to the
spiritual in no less terrorist a form.  'Heaven inside our heads' has
eclipsed the earth and the Holy Scriptures have pushed aside the
duplicated leaflets."(12)  A discomforted Julia Kristeva reported on
the agenda as of 1984: "At the moment we're in the middle of a
regression which is present in the form of a return to the religious,
a return of a concept of transcendence, a rehabilitation of
spiritualism.  It's a vast problem which can be interpreted in
various ways.  It is not uninteresting.  There are now in France all
sorts of spiritualistic movements: pro-Christian, pro-Jewish, pro
this, pro that."(13)  "Sartre was all right until he fell into the
hands of the Jews," an early disciple said.(14)  At the end of her
life, rancorous Simone de Beauvoir described how Sartre spent his
last decade discussing the meaning of the Torah with the, on her
account, intolerably rude Jewish philosopher Benny Lévy, who like a
number of former Maoists sought to reuniversalize through developing
an interest in a draconian critique of representation.(15)  Related
is Sollers's complaint of Simone de Beauvoir's undisguised hostility
to the late Sartre's frequentations: "The dubious company he
kept...former revolutionaries now turned toward God and learning
Hebrew....It's as if that's what shocks her most --- God and Hebrew."
Kristeva's husband imagines the words of an urgently indignant final
Althusser: "For now the Opium's making a comeback -- religion
itself....That really is the last straw!  Where can such a crack in
the edifice have sprung from?  Such a terrifying leaking away of
meaning?  Vigilance must have been relaxed....God?  No Really!
Anything but that!"(16)  In January of 1996 Catherine Clément seconds
the critique of laxity: "The rationalist rigor that has marked the
years since the war is now threatened by the onslaught of religion
that is not limited to the rise of fundamentalisms in far-off
lands."(17)  Complaining continues in May of 1996, when Christian
Delacampagne wrote: "Alas, we have been flooded with this current
return of the religious."(18)


Not only have we in this country not taken the measure of this vast
phenomenon, with its dozens of figures and hundreds of books, but we
have not even so much as honored it with the most uncomprehending,
briefly dismissive cringe.(19)  Among the most visible early examples
was the 1979 appearance of Bernard-Henri Lévy's Le Testament de Dieu,
a book that describes itself as owing its reasoning to Girard and
Levinas,(20) whose own works have their complex roles in this
tradition.  Perhaps the earliest example would be the Lacan-inspired
theology found in L'Ange, by Christian Jambet and Guy Lardeau.(21)
Sartre's 1980 Nouvel Observateur interviews that dealt with his new,
warm feelings about religion provoked the raising of eyebrows already
described.(22)  Deserving of prominent mention are the numerous books
of the Catholic philosopher Jean-Luc Marion,(23) as well as the
journal Communio, in which he has had a prominent role.  Numerous
also are the books of the Jewish thinker Daniel Sibony, author of,
for example, Le groupe inconscient,(24) La Juive,(25) and Les Trois
monothéismes.(26)  The books of Sibony, as well as the biblical
readings of Mary Balmary -- her Le Sacrifice interdit; Freud et la
Bible(27) and L'Origine divine; Dieu n'a pas créé l'homme(28) --
together with those of Bernard Sichère, for example his Histoires du
mal,(29) provide examples of the impact upon this current of Lacan
that will be my major focus in what follows.

Two Christians have their roles -- the novelist Christian Bobin(30)
and the philosopher Jean-Louis Chrétien, author of La Voix nue;
phénoménologie de la promesse.(31)  Michel Serres's 1993 book on the
legend of angels is but one example of many of his texts that have
their roles in this current.(32)  There has been the widely followed
debate over the extensively translated work of the Catholic
theologian Eugen Drewermann.  The most recent books in this tradition
to have achieved best-seller status would be philosopher Ferry's
book, L'Homme-Dieu ou le sens de la vie, (dealing in part with the
public interest in Drewermann) and André Comte-Sponville's Petit
Traité des grandes vertus.(33)  The most dramatic and intellectually
compelling of recent examples is certainly C'est Moi la vérité, a
reading of the gospels by Michel Henry.  This eminent historian of
philosophy and thinker in the phenomenological tradition, author of
much respected books on Marx, Husserl, Freud and Kandinsky, here
describes what he feels to be the superiority of the logic of Jesus
to the Western philosophical tradition: "Religious beliefs,
two-thousand and more years old, only they are in a position today to
instruct us about ourselves."(34)  Notable as well are the writings
of Shmuel Trigano, including his La Nouvelle Question juive,(35) and
the new journal of Jewish thought, Pardès, with which he has been
associated.  Not untouched by Lacan as well are the projects of
Christian Jambet, previously mentioned author of L'Ange, who now is
an enthusiast and scholar of the history of Shiite Islam.(36)  For
American followers of French developments, the tip of the iceberg has
been Derrida's new writings on religion....

... Notes

1. Eléazar ou la source et le buisson (Paris: Gallimard, 1996).
2. "Entretien avec Michel Tournier," Lire, October 1996, p. 36.
3. A Demain De Gaulle (Paris: Gallimard, 1990), pp. 16-17.
4. L'Homme-Dieu ou le sens de la vie (Paris: Grasset, 1996), p. 127.
5. Signé Malraux (Paris; Grasset, 1996).
6. Génie du paganisme (Paris: Gallimard, 1982), p. 79.
7. La Sagesse de l'amour (Paris: Gallimard, 1984), p. 128.
8. Le Monde (co-authored by Guy Lardreau) (Paris: Grasset, 1978), p. 146.
9. In a letter to the editor, on "Catholicism in France" (April 9, 1993) p. 15.
10. "The Unfashionable Gadfly," TLS (December 9, 1994), p. 16.
11. "Quand quelqu'un frappe à la porte. . . ," in Le Religieux dans
le politique (Paris: Seuil: 1991), p. 9.
12. Critique of Political Reason, trans. David Macey (London: Verso
Editions, 1983), p. 4. See also Debray's La Puissance des rêves
(Paris: Gallimard, 1984).
13. "Two Interviews with Julia Kristeva," Partisan Review, I (1984), p. 130.
14. Quoted by Paul Webster and Nicholas Powell, in
Saint-Germain-des-Prés (London: Constable, 1984), p. 249.
15. La Cérémonie des adieux (Paris: Gallimard, 1981).
16. Women, trans. Barbara Bray (N. Y.: Columbia UP, 1990 [1983]) p.
98. See also pp. 172, 292 and 355. On the matter of whether or not
Althusser was either shocked or disappointed by the revival of
interest in religion, see pp. 410-431 of Bernard-Henry Lévy's Les
Aventures de la liberté (Paris: Grasset, 1991).
17. "La Raison contre la religion," [interview with François Ewald]
Magazine littéraire, no. 339 (Jan. 1996) p. 39. See also Clément's
novel, La Putain du Diable (Paris: Flammarion, 1996).
18. "Derrida, dans l'épreuve de l'aporie," Le Monde, 3 mai, 1996, p. ix.
19. An exception to my charge of indifference would be the
specialized study of Judith Friedlander, Vilna on the Seine: Jewish
Intellectuals in France Since 1968 (New Haven: Yale University Press,
20. (Paris: Grasset, 1979).
21. (Paris: Grasset, 1976).
22. Published eventually in book form in L'Espoir maintenant; les
entretiens de 1980 (Paris; Verdier, 1991).
23. Including La Croisée du visible (Paris: La Différence, 1991),
Réduction et donation (Paris: Presses universitaires de France,
1989), Dieu sans l'être (Paris; Fayard, 1982), Prolégomènes à la
charité (Paris: La Différence, 1986) and L'Idole et la distance
(Paris: Grasset, 1977).
24. (Paris: Bourgois, 1980).
25. (Grasset, 1983).
26. (Seuil, 1992).
27. (Paris; Grasset, 1986).
28. (Paris: Grasset, 1993).
29. (Paris: Grasset, 1995).
30. Le Très-bas (Paris: Gallimard, 1992).
31. (Paris: Minuit, 1990).
32. Angels, A Modern Myth, trans. Francis Cowper (Paris and New York:
Flammarion, 1995).
33. (Paris: Presses universitiares de France, 1995).
34 .C'est moi la vérité (Paris: Grasset, 1996), p. 169.
35. (Paris: Gallimard, 1979).
36. See La Logique des Orientaux. Henri Corbin et la science des
formes (Paris: Seuil, 1983) and La Grande Résurrection D'Alamût
(Pais; Verdier, 1990)....

[The full article is available at
<http://www.anthropoetics.ucla.edu/Ap0301/collins.html#n36>   *****

It's depressing to witness "L'Amour intellectuel de Dieu" on a
Marxist e-list....The irony is that vocal Marxist opponents of
post-modernists on this list are making the same turn to God,
religion, spirituality, etc. as they have....


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