Tag Archive | Paul Ricoeur

Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and Psychoanalysis III

ricoeur3SIGMUND FREUD

According to Ricoeur, Freud approaches man as desire before he can be word, that is, man speaks in order to express her desire, which reinforces Ricoeur’s theory of the semantics of desire when approaching psychoanalytical hermeneutics: the word is born from human desire, therefore semantics before being anything else are desire. However, we cannot forget Freud’s Beyond the pleasure principle where he states that death is stronger than the libido, how then does man balance his death impulse? Freud says: trough the union with another human being, that is, trough Eros desire is born in the relationship with another person different than myself, and only this union overcomes the death impulse. However, Ricoeur, far from happy, with this explanation gives to the death impulse another sense: creativity; the death impulse in man leads him no to destruction but to symbolical creation: ‘La pulsion de mort soit représentée par une fonction aussi considérable qui n’a rien à voir avec la destructivité, mais au contraire avec la symbolisation ludique, avec la création esthétique et finalement avec l’épreuve de réalité elle-même’. In this context it is interesting the blur border between destruction and creativity, a very postmodern topic, is not deconstructionism a way to create again from the ashes?

The transformation of death into aesthetic creation – what Ricoeur calls symbolization – is the expression of man’s dissatisfaction; if Eros is a constant in human life, creation is what aims to satiate the insatiable desire, the insatiable Eros, so that the death impulse does not long for destruction but improvement: ‘Si l’homme pouvait être satisfait, il serait privé de quelque chose de plus important que le plaisir et qui est la contrepartie de l’insatisfaction, la symbolisation. Le désir donne à parler en tant que demande insatiable. La sémantique du désir, dont nous parlons sans cesse ici, est solidaire de ce report de la satisfaction, de cette médiatisation sans fin du plaisir’.

Ricoeur’s arguments regarding the death impulse resemble those on the concept of sublimation where he again puts the emphasis on the need for creation. It seems that the French philosopher gives a big importance to man’s  creative self-fulfillment rather than to repressed sexuality. Men would solve their inner conflicts through symbolization being the artist the touchstone of this expression: ‘L’artiste comme le névrosé, se détourne de la réalité, parce qu’il ne peut satisfaire à l’exigence de renoncement pulsionnel et transpose sur le plan du fantasme et du jeu ses désirs érotiques et ambitieux. Mais, per ses dons particuliers, il trouve un chemin de retour du monde fantasmatique vers la réalité : il crée une réalité nouvelle, l’ouvre d’art, où il devient effectivement le héros, le roi, le créateur qu’il a désiré être, sans avoir besoin de faire le détour d’une transformation effective du monde’.

Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and Psychoanalysis II

SIGMUND FREUDricoeur3

Ricoeur argues how the dream is a kind of discourse which needs to be translated into another discourse to find out the latent meaning the dream-image encloses; the dream is here understood as ‘désir en images’, hence the Ricoeur’s choice ‘semantics of desire’ for a psychoanalytical hermeneutics.  So two different discourses are working together to interpret a whole hide meaning, a process called ‘travail de rêve’: the dream belongs to the meaning discourse, while the act of suppression to that of power, that is, in a psychoanalytical interpretation there is always a dialectics of manifested image meaning and the will to suppressed it; to put it into speech is to overcome the discourse of power -understood as resistance to be pronounced. The dream image contains in itself this dialectic as the image is indeed a revelation and a disguise of the same meaning. The mask is what better symbolizes the dream: it reveals and conceals simultaneously, and, I think, this revealing and concealing is an essential part of the erotic -in opposition to the porno-, so the link between the dream and desire may be found in this mode of appearance, something which is revealed and concealed.

‘Le rapport du caché à montrer dans le déguisement requiert donc une déformation, ou une défiguration, qui ne peut être énoncée que comme un compromis de forces’. It follows the role played by censure to which Ricoeur gives its importance. Censure is what causes this distortion, this will to disguise, to show it in other words, in this case through another discourse, that of the image: ‘d’une part, la censure se manifeste au niveau d’un texte auquel elle inflige des blancs, des substitutions de mots, des expressions atténuées, des allusions, des artifices de mise en pages, les nouvelles suspectes ou subversives se déplaçant et se cachant dans des entrefilets anodins ; d’autre part, la censure est l’espressione d’un pouvoir, plus précisément d’un pouvoir politique, lequel s’exerce contre l’opposition en la frappant dans son droit d’expression ; dans l’idée de censure les deux systèmes de langage sont si étroitement mêlés qu’il faut dire tour à tour que la censure n’altère un texte que lorsqu’elle réprime une force et qu’elle ne réprime un force interdite qu’en perturbant son expression’. Ricoeur goes on affirming that Freud’s originality resides in the fact of seeing the unconscious as the place where both sense and suppression take place. That is what makes possible to translate the unconscious into the conscious through their common structure which is the capacity of representation.

Regarding sublimation, Ricoeur critiques the fact that the work of art is the expression of a sexual energy which may express the author’s conflicts; he instead argues that sublimation is of a dialectic character as well, allowing thus to observe a return to a primitive area, which may correspond to the unconscious conflict, and a going forward in the production of meaning of the work itself, hence resolving the conflict: ‘l’œuvre d’art est en avance sur l’artiste lui-même : c’est un symbole prospectif de la synthèse personnelle et de l’avenir de l’homme, plutôt qu’un symptôme régressif de ses conflits non résolus […] Le sens véritable de la sublimation ne serait-il pas de promouvoir des significations nouvelles en mobilisant des énergies anciennes d’abord investies dans des figures archaïques ?’ This production of new meaning remains Ricoeur’s theory in The Rule of Metaphor, where metaphor displays a new world of significance, and very well relates to the need for resolution through a creative act.

Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and Psychoanalysis I

SIGMUND FREUDricoeur3

In De L’interprétation: Essai sur Freud (1965) Paul Ricoeur spends more than 500 pages discussing with Freud and considering the effects of psychoanalysis on modern culture and interpretation. One of the most interesting conclusions is the translation from the image to the word, that is, from the world of dreams to that of the language. That means the image to be the first expression of meaning which may be translated into a primitive sense, or ‘la parole primitive du désir’; hence the dream is a text, already a primitive desire, and the linguistic expression is another kind of text which recites the primitive form of thought, the image, through a primitive word: ‘Comme dit Bachelard, l’image poétique « nous met à l’origine de l’etre parlant » ; l’image poétique, dit-il encore, « devient un être nouveau de notre langage, elle nous exprime en nous faisant ce qu’elle exprime ». Cette image-verbe, qui traverse l’image-représentation, c’est le symbole’

Both image and word may then conform a symbol which conceals and reveals at the same time: the dream image does so, and that is the reason it should be put into words, but the word trying to decipher the image, or trying to reveal what it conceals, is also subjected to its own concealments, as words are always chosen in a context. Here the defiance of hermeneutics and the psychoanalytical therapy, whose relation to the Kabbalah is being highly discussed due to its methodology. All that comes down to what Ricoeur calls the semantics of desire which is actually that of dreams and, in consequence, of the linguistic therapeutic discourse: ‘Le rêve comme spectacle nocturne nous est inconnu ; il ne nous est accessible que par le récit du réveil’ c’est ce récit que l’analyste interprète ; c’est à lui qu’il substitue un autre texte qui est à ses yeux la pensée du désir, ce que dirait le désir dans une prosopopée sans contrainte’

This coming back to somewhere far behind us, as psychoanalysis does trying to find the meaning in the unconscious, may explain, according to Ricoeur, the contemporary aim of deconstructionism: ‘cette tension, cette traction extrême est l’expression la plus véridique de notre « modernité » ; la situation qui est faite aujourd’hui au langage comporte cette double possibilité […] : d’un cote, purifier le discours de ses excroissances […] ; de l’autre cote, user de mouvement le plus « nihiliste ». le plus destructeur […] pour laisse parler ce qui une fois, ce qui chaque fois a été dit quand le sens parut à neuf’. So, Ricoeur goes on, a first original meaning inhabits a second one, it may be similarly to how the symbol and the psychoanalytical therapy go back and forwards, back to rescue the first meaning and forwards to build a new one. The symbol as well participates of this dialectical movement, a part of it relates to its origins and another one reveals a new meaning being aware that Ricoeur talks of living symbols, those able to change their interpretations while remaining part of an archaic association: ‘C’est dans cette liaison du sens au sens que réside ce que j’ai appelé le plein du langage. Cette plénitude consiste en ceci que le second sens habite en quelque sort le sens premier’.

Letters from Kabul

letter_ww2If there is an image one can repeatedly find in war literature and film is the reading of a letter, and if there is something especially beautiful one can remember of war literature and film is the reading of a love letter. I was wondering why one find it especially romantic, and I think again Ricoeur will give us an answer.

What characterises a war country is the difficulty of communications, one is not able to to contact the ‘outside’ world whenever one wishes to, even today, which increases the usual qualities of a love letter, mainly desire and waiting, which actually feed each other in an increasing circle of desire and waiting. The non-communication between the two worlds translates into an isolation not just for the war country but for the other one too, say, for example, Afghanistan and England. Isolation is at the end a subjective perception of being deprived of something outside your possibilities, so both the person in London and that in Kabul feel isolated regarding each other, and here comes the importance, even the magic of the letter.

The letter, in such circumstances, becomes the maximal expression of the other, of the other’s presence, acquiring a high, almost vital, importance. At the lack of the other’s body, gestures, voice, words, gaze, anything which constitutes this other, the letter means the whole of this other; it means remembrances, gestures, body, voice, gaze, and meaning. The other is displayed by the letter in the act of reading, especially when one really desires and lacks this person, so the letter as such becomes a metaphor which introduces the reader into the world of the other; thus, London is born in Kabul, whatever it does mean for the reader, every time the letter from London is read, and vice versa. Actually, one puts reality in suspense and inhabits the letter, the one who, and what, is displayed by it. But London is not just displayed in Kabul by and for the reader but it is displayed according to the properties of the one who has written it in London, the writer is completely present in a letter, especially in a love one because that is the main goal of these kind of correspondence: to embody oneself in the mind of the reader through the world displayed by the letter. A good letter, we can say, should be similar to a Barthes’ idea of the text in The Pleasure of the Text, even the body should be expressed by the words without necessity of talking about it, and it may be one of the reason why female and male letters are different, they are also sexualised letters.

That is the power of a letter fulfilling the self by embodying the desired other overcoming distance, even time. A simple letter can mark the time of a person whose source of hope, love and friendship is there: if the post arrives at 7pm, it becomes a crucial hour which one trusts knowing that the spirit is being feeder there for the next 24 hours or more. Whatever the time is between letter and letter, it works by means of hope and it brings the person forward in his or her doings because tomorrow is born from the hope of a letter.

Why The Rule of Metaphor?

beginning,book,clock,life,metaphor,the,book,of,life-90bf7c739b718491e480e40bf3471e4a_h_largeSome days ago, I made a comment on the title of the English edition of Paul Ricoeur’s La Métaphore Vive. Well, for those interested  here is the answer of Robert Czerny, the translator; a very nice and welcomed answer. I copy here our respective emails:

Dear Robert,

I wish to make a comment on your title translation (The Rule of Metaphor).
I think La Métaphore Vive is a fantastic theory of hermeneutics at the opposite side of the question of “rule”. If there is something far away from the meaning of “rule”, or “norm”, that is the theory of Paul Ricoeur concerning linguistics. Even a first sight to the words “rule” and “living” shows something wrong with these two words, something unlikely. Indeed Ricoeur is concerned with the most intuitive sense of meaning; the one  blooming at its very perception, which is alive. There is no sense of rule in Ricoeur’s theory of metaphor but sense of endlessly becoming; newness; creation; life. Until some point, rule is death, or at least there is a very first intuition to join rule with lack of creativity, that is, with compliance, uniformity, conservatism, death. 
 
What do you think of that? Why not just a translator like The Living Metaphor?
 
Best wishes,
Aina Marti 
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
Dear Aina, you are absolutely right about the title.
In fact, I explain the curious title in the third paragraph of the translator’s foreword (I assume it is still there, but perhaps some publishers have removed it – it was in the first edition). The explicit reference to Aristotle is the main clue. I could have added that “Therefore the ‘rule’ is that there is no rule!” but that would be like explaining a joke, and explained jokes are painful.
This humorous, almost oxymoronic title had Paul Ricoeur’s approval. I had the privilege of getting to know him (and his wife) personally in the Fall of 1972 and Fall 1973. He asked me to do the translation in late Fall 1973. He had a good sense of humour, and he liked the irony of the title. (One might also say, the error of the title, if one takes it literally.) Charles Reagan, who has written on Ricoeur, also questioned the title along the same lines as yourself. These are the only two objections I have heard.
Needless to say, I agree with all you say about metaphor according to Ricoeur: blooming, newness, creativity… That is why I added the subtitle (also with his approval – it does not exist in the French) that mentions “creation of meaning in language”.
How did you get to know this book? How does it fit into your interests, studies or work?
With best wishes, Robert

Practical Information on Ricoeur’s Theory Today

paul chez lui, dans la salle 2(2)For those interested in Paul Ricoeur’s hermeneutics and aesthetics, I am glad to show you important projects in which Ricoeur gives a significant base to see how the last research projects develop, especially in the realm of aesthetics.

http://cral.ehess.fr/index.php?1333

Moreover, there is emerging a great bibliography source on Ricoeur in cooperation with Sorbonne University and L’Ecole d’Haut Etudes:

http://www.fondsricoeur.fr/intro.php

All that just shows how important the influence of this philosopher was and is; all kind of contribution will be very welcome for the academic world.

Baroque Gaze in Woolf’s Between the Acts

Theatre-MysteryIn 1940 Virginia Woolf finished Between the Acts, a novel close to The Waves and very clearly belonging to her last years in style and narration. Indeed, Woolf’s last novels are characterised by a strong presence of symbolical meaning and language, a very intuitive perception of the world, something which brings her narrative close to Ricoeur’s understanding of the text as a world to be deciphered by means of words and images. Very symbolical and metaphorical as well as very modernist, Between the Acts is a work within a work, more exactly, a play inside a novel.

The meaning of this novel is more apprehensive by intuition than by logical thought, and the interrelation between the play and the novel belongs, I dare to say, to a metaphysical realm. The whole book describes, or re-describes -using Ricoeur’s concept- the meaning of a single day where a play takes place. The play is a historical one, and it shows the  Elizabethan England, that is, the English Golden Age -calling to some world’s conception; and it is displayed between the wars, in 1939. What is put on stage is life in a fictional realm and in the real one, where the reader finds himself. While the novel’s characters are looking at the stage, the reader is looking at them and beholding the whole scene of looking as a theatre. The sense of scenario is strongly presented to the reader, and it implies a sense of volatility, illusion, in the very least, falsehood. Woolf killed herself a year after writing this novel, and it is very interesting to see how the sense of spectacle permeates the text. In A Sketch of the Past, an autobiographical text written by Woolf during the years 1939-40, she outlines the feeling of being in the world as a spectator, as an outsider. Between the Acts expresses this feeling metaphorically presenting life as a play and making of both, the characters and the reader, spectators; she is sharing her existential experience.

Fiction becomes here the only possible world to create a pre-experience of suicide, of despair. A whole day has become a pageant, and this day is linked to the world through the historical moment represented in the play. The idea of being on the stage so properly of the Baroque epoch comes into play in 1940, where death and futileness were present again in a sense of decadence. Shakespeare and Calderon de la Barca make this point central, life is a stage, however, the difference resides in the extension of the drama: in the Golden Age it was cosmological, in Modernism it is individual. It is Virginia Woolf who is properly experimenting her existential inconsistency, and her novel involves daily characters in a normal day. It is daily life what becomes nonsensical, the individual existence is affected by a non-real experience -maybe this same feeling led Walter Benjamin to write The Origin of German Tragic Drama in 1925. But baroque authors were concerned with a world vision theory, so to say, not with a personal experience of annihilation.