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Reviews407 Pascalian Fictions:Antagonism andAbsentAgency in the Wager and Other Pensées, by Van Kelly; 338 pp. Birmingham, AL: Summa Publications, 1992, $38.95. Pascalian Fictions is a densely written, deftly argued reading of two important fragments from the Pensées. From those fragments, numbers 135 and 418 in the Lafuma edition, Van Kelly mines the riches of Pascal's anti-Cartesianism. As is clear to even casual readers of the Pensées, the status and stature of reason figure among the basic preoccupations of the apologetic project. In this regard, Professor Kelly sees fragment 135 as exemplary: asserting its capacity to formulate the thought of itself as having never existed, the speaking voice sabotages the privileged status of the cogito by positing the "nonnecessity of thought" (p. 28). The privilege sapped from the cogito is diverted variously to sensory perception or to the imagination. In both cases, "the intensity and conviction with which I think that I am" would be compromised and the self humbled (pp. 31—32). Professor Kelly then goes on to show how Pascal's fragment also alters the meaning of the operative vocabulary of Descartes's portrait of the thinking subject. This recasting is to be seen as part of a larger theological and moral agenda ofspiritual mortification, the primary tenet and objective ofwhich would be to show that the cogito is in fact "a modern version of original sin" (p. 56) . This first chapter, entitled "Pascal, Malin Génie," ends with an indictment of Pascal, who stands accused of a special maliciousness for imagining the murder of the mother, thereby annihilating "the matrix that bears the premises of thought." In the end, this sort of fanciful extrusion may not necessarily serve the best interest of Professor Kelly's brilliant and resourceful commentary. Chapters 2 through 4, comprising the bulk of the book, amount to a breathby -breath reading of the Pascalian wager. Indeed, the patience, relentlessness, and seamless quality of the argument are such that the critic is presented with the daunting editorial challenge of decidingjust which of those breaths are to be considered. Recognizing, therefore, the virtual impossibility of doing real justice to the totality of Professor Kelly's analysis, I will present some of its (many) salient features, and will leave it to readers of the book—readers who must include anyone remotely interested in Pascalian thought—to savor both the force and finesse of that analysis. The first of the main sections of the book is entitled "Prolegomena to the Wager—The Absent Agent." It is here that Kelly reflects on the opening segment of fragment 418—from the beginning to the expression "O. Tournez. O." The purpose of the prolegomena is to confront and contest the validity of Cartesian ontology and, in so doing, to question its theological and moral ramifications. To this end, Pascal will have his fictive gamemaster maneuver the reader away from the pride ofreason towards the humility ofpenitence and the force of revelation. In Kelly's words, "the eschatological tenor [of] the 408Philosophy and Literature gamemaster's discourse . . . imparts a properly theological direction to his critique of Descartes. The tone is urgent,judgmental and intensely polemical" (p. 100). Part of the urgency of the gamemaster's critique is to destabilize the idea that the existence of God is in any way solidly provable. The ontological prolegomena "thoroughly informs the subsequent metaphysical bet, or wager on the existence of God, which is Pascal's most notorious fiction" (p. 126). In Chapter 3, "Mathematical Bases—The Wager Improper," Professor Kelly takes up another of the three speculations informing the dialogue between gamemaster and doubter-player. This speculation is the mathematical, the other two being the ontological and the psychological. In the mathematical section, the gamemaster formulates five payoff matrices, all ofwhich represent variants on the relationship of odds, losses, and gains. Of the five, Kelly privileges the third, that is, the one relating infinite gain to finite loss. At the heart of the analysis is the establishment of a new order or totality, the transfinite. Kelly then asserts that it is precisely because the mathematical has been supplanted by the transfinite or poetic code that the seemingly unfavorable...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 407-409
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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