Paul Valéry, Jacques Bouveresse, Theodor Adorno

Jacques Bouveresse is a French philosopher who is invested in analytical philosophy, with a particular interest in Wittgenstein, and is out of step with the fashionable philosophy issuing from France since the 1960s. A fraction of his work has been translated into English. This article was of particular interest to me:

Bouveresse, Jacques; Fournier, Christian [trans]; Laugier, Sandra [trans]. “Philosophy from an Antiphilosopher: Paul Valéry,” Critical Inquiry, vol, 21, no. 2, Winter, 1995, pp. 354-381.

Valéry was a poet with a keen interest in philosophy and science, and approached philosophy as an “antiphilosopher”. Bouveresse adduces a number of interesting quotes from Valéry. I selected a few of them for my web page:

Some Thoughts of Paul Valéry on Philosophy

Bouveresse is taken with Valéry’s affinity with positivism and especially Wittgenstein, which is precisely the point at which I grow tired of the matter. There are a number of other interesting quotes, on the nature of language, for example, but ultimately this obsession with the dissolution of philosophical problems is of no value to me. And Valéry is an annoying reactionary.

A far more overall perceptive analysis can be found in an essay by Adorno:

Adorno, Theodor W. “Valéry’s Deviations,” in Notes to Literature; Volume One, edited by Rolf Tiedemann, translated by Shierry Weber Nicholsen (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), pp. 137-173.

Here one gets the subtleties of what Valéry is on about, though there is limited overlap with the material covered by Bouveresse. Though this is slightly off the main topic, I can’t resist quoting an observation by Adorno which says much about 20th century French philosophy:

What is especially apparent in such formulations but in fact defines the rhythm of Valéry’s thought in general is what the official history of philosophy would call the opposition of rationalist and irrationalist motifs. The status of those motifs, however, is the opposite in France of what it is in Germany. In Germany it is customary to class rationalism with progress, and irrationalism, as a legacy of Romanticism, with reaction. For Valéry, however, the traditional moment is identical to the Cartesian rationalist moment, and the irrationalist moment is Cartesianism’s self-criticism. The rational-conservative moment in Valéry is the dictatorial civilizing moment, the autonomous ego’s avowed power to control the unconscious. [ . . .] Now as ever, such domination is justified in Cartesian terms, on the basis of clara et distincta perceptio. (pp. 151-2)

The pseudo-radicalism of much of French philosophy of the 20th century, rebelling against the stodgy bourgeois Cartesian inheritance, is herein anticipated, though its bankruptcy is not.


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