Regarding Aesthetics

Edgar Morin

(Robert Laffont, 144 pages, 2016)

 

Edgar Morin is one of those intellectuals on whom time has no hold. At 95, he remains one of our most fascinating thinkers. In his new essay, Sur l’esthétique, he illustrates the ability of the arts to makes us see the world in all its richness.

—Augustin Trapenard, France Inter, December 20, 2016, interview.

What is the purpose of beauty? How can we define the pleasure we feel when we encounter beauty?

For Edgar Morin, the aesthetic emotion is a sensation that fills us with pleasure and wonder. It can be sparked by a natural spectacle, a work of art, as well as by objects or works that we aestheticize. It plunges us into a kind of trance that he qualifies as “poetic.” Life does not make sense, but poetry gives our lives meaning. Life gains meaning for us in the poetic state, and the aesthetic emotion is a component of the poetic state.

Aesthetics, the hallmark of art, are a fundamental element of human sensibility. But where does artistic creativity come from? Should we call it inspiration or genius? What is the in vivo experience of the artist? The artist, in order to create, calls on many forces, both unconscious (inspiration) and conscious (revisions). In the same way, the aesthetic emotion that seizes each of us before a work of art is at once irrational and rational, since it calls on feeling just as much as cognition.

Love, and curiosity for life’s mysteries, gives meaning to our lives. In this profound and uplifting collection of thought, Morin deconstructs the complexities of some of his observations and theories. The aesthetic paradox, for example, in the adagio of Schubert’s Quintet, where the expression of the composer’s pain delights us through the beauty of the music—the sadness depicted here is not canceled by the feeling of aesthetic happiness, but in fact makes the listener share it with love.

From Lascaux to Beethoven, from Dostoevsky to Orson Welles, Morin brings to light the works and the artists that, for him, mark the aesthetic experience and help demonstrate its depth. Great works are not just “entertainment”; their comedies and tragedies give us an understanding of the human condition.

Today, heavy obstacles, as well as insidious standardization, often get in the way of the poetry of life. In these times of violence and mediocrity, beauty is a powerful antidote.

Born in 1921, philosopher and sociologist Edgar Morin is still active as one of France’s preeminent contemporary thinkers. Research Director Emeritus of the French National Centre for Scientific Research, he also holds an itinerant UNESCO Chair of Complex Thought. He has received honorary doctorates from universities in twenty-seven countries. Morin’s work has been awarded numerous literary prizes and has been translated into many languages, including Chinese, English, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish. His large body of work includes the six volumes of Method (1977–2004); Homeland Earth (Hampton Press, 1999); The Cinema, or The Imaginary Man (Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2005); On Complexity (Hampton Press, 2008); California Journal (Sussex Academic Press, 2008); Vidal and His Family (Sussex Academic Press, 2009), among others.

 

Mythology and Philosophy: The Meaning of the Great Greek Myths

Luc Ferry

(Editions Plon, 2016, 580 pages)

 

***12,000 copies sold in the first three months***

This book takes a new look at Greek mythology, illuminated by Luc Ferry’s perspective as a philosopher and expert on the subject.

“Our everyday speech is peppered with dozens of expressions which come directly from Greek mythology: having an “Achilles’ heel” or “the Midas touch,” making a “Herculean effort,” “opening Pandora’s box,” being caught “between Scylla and Charybdis,” fearing a “Trojan horse,” remembering to “beware of Greeks bearing gifts,” etc. Hundreds of references to Sirens, Typhon, Ocean, Mentor, Python, Sibyl, Stentor, Laius, Argus, Oedipus, and other mythical characters still slip into our daily conversations.

Luc Ferry invites us to rediscover them with the retelling of the wonderful stories they come from. He goes further, explaining that the great myths are more than just “tales and legends.” They also offer profound wisdom and life lessons.

Mythology is an inspired attempt to provide answers to the ages-old metaphysical question of the “right way for mortals to live.” The leap is not far from this to philosophy, and this philosopher could not be better placed to help us make the leap with him.

Luc Ferry is a philosopher, former Minister of Education, and the author of numerous bestsellers, including Apprendre a vivre (Plon, 2006), La sagesse des mythes (Plon, 2008), La revolution de l’amour (Plon, 2010), L’innovation destructrice (Plon, 2014) and La revolution transhumaniste (Plon, 2016).

 

Black Physics

Vincent Bontems and Roland Lehoucq

Illustrations by Scott Pennor

(Les Belles Lettres, 2016, 208 pages, with black-and-white line drawings)

 

A philosopher and a physicist come together to try to shed light on the “black” or “dark” concepts of physics. Indeed, so many of physics’ phenomena are named using the words “black” or “dark” that Bontems, a philosopher, and Lehoucq, an astrophysicist, decided to examine why we use those words to describe so much of the universe. There are of course the oft-mentioned black holes, but there are also black sky, black body, dark matter, dark energy, and more.

But why, if most of the universe is dark matter that can only be detected by its gravitational effects, and which does not absorb, reflect, or emit light, should we call it black or dark? Are there connotations that develop from so naming these phenomena, and do their names influence the way we study them, imagine them, and research them?

For every term designated by black or dark, the authors explain the denotation, not only what it means to a physicist, but also what it metaphorically, and at times unconsciously, brings to the layperson’s  mind.

Vincent Bontems is a philosopher specializing in the sciences. He graduated from the Ecole Nationale Superieure, and works in a research laboratory. His interviews with Bernard Stiegler were published in 2008.

Roland Lehoucq is an astrophysicist at the Atomic Energy Commission, specializing in cosmic topology. He also teaches at the Institut de Sciences Politiques in Paris.

 

The Red Line of Ecology

André Gorz in conversation with Willy Gianinazzi

(Editions E.H.E.S.S., 107 pages, 2015)

 

André Gorz’s thinking has crystallized, through his philosophical and sociopolitical books, on how life is fought by the capitalistic mega machine which reduces human beings to consuming and working functions.

—Willy Gianinazzi

André Gorz answered questions and discussed increasingly important social subjects in three unpublished interviews in 1990, 2003, and 2005. As the founder of political ecology, he recalled his friendship with Jean-Paul Sartre (who appreciated their equal-to-equal relationship), and talked about how their conversations contributed to his reflections on a wide range of topics: wage labor issues, such as the reduction of work time; social alienation; guaranteed basic income; and the works of Karl Marx, the French sociologist Alain Touraine, and Austrian philosopher and priest Ivan Illiche.

 Willy Gianinazzi is a historian and was close friends with Gorz, as well as a specialist of Gorz’s work. He edited and chose to publish these three interviews in one publication, in order to demonstrate how Gorz’s thinking has always been contemporary, always current, and how his philosophical reflections were always driven by people and their well-being in society.

André Gorz (1923–2007) was a philosopher. He was a journalist for Les Temps Modernes (Jean-Paul Sartre’s journal), L’Express, and founder of the magazine Le Nouvel Observateur (still one of the most prominent news magazines in France). His books include Le Traître (The Traitor, Verso, 1989) and one of his latest, Lettres à D. Histoire d’un amour (Letter to D: A Love Letter, Polity, 2009) in 2006, an ode to his sick wife, before they committed suicide together a year later.