- Thinking (in) EuropeAn Indirect Question for Rodolphe Gasché
I would like to take my point of departure for these few pages from a sentiment regarding Europe that has accompanied me for over three decades of study and professional life. A sentiment, an inclination . . . actually, I hesitate over its designation. Is it perhaps a mere prejudice that I have learned in the course of my studies, an unfounded bias that I would have picked up from long exposure to markedly Eurocentric academic cultures? Or is it more profoundly anchored in the discipline to which I have devoted myself, perhaps even linked to its very essence, and thus an intuition of a “truer” kind? Can it thus be called an experience of philosophy, and thus worthy of a philosophical meditation? Or finally, is it more fundamentally an experience of a site, or perhaps of an ethos that has appeared in Europe in recent decades by reason of a particular engagement with language (using this term “ethos” in the manner proposed by Heidegger in his “Letter on ‘Humanism’”1)?
I will not try to give more than a provisional articulation of this sentiment, and will phrase it as simply as possible: the philosophical legacy to which I [End Page 161] devote my work (let us call this legacy post-Heideggerian) remains tied to Europe in such a way that it makes best sense to pursue that work here.
I must add immediately that this is a sentiment I have not borne lightly or without struggle—I am deeply suspicious of it. In the mid-1980s, I left an academic post in France and returned to the United States with the conviction that if I were to devote myself to that elusive thing called thought, I would best do it in my own language and in a struggle for philosophical concreteness in circumstances where the health of my native political and cultural institutions was at stake. There were events in the ensuing years— “successes,” I suppose—that gave me heart and matched anything I have known in Europe (I see my work with William Haver in that regard). But in the course of almost two decades, I was also aware of a growing sense of failure, manifest in an increasing detachment from professional associations or even publishing. I could not be sure of the sources of this feeling and preferred to practice a kind of Lyotardian “endurance” rather than admit that the work I was attempting had little or no place in that place.2 To this day, I hesitate to draw any firm conclusions from my experience and prefer to think that I simply did not find the proper measure, the proper style, the proper address, or even, simply, the thing itself.
But in the past several years, and in response to an invitation to return to Europe after 20 years of stubborn repatriation (an invitation I accepted), I have found my old sentiment returning to me, like a challenge. And I have to wonder: is there perhaps some ground to believing that, as a thinker in the post-phenomenological tradition, I am more at home here in Europe than in any other site I have known in my academic life (a set of institutions in North America)? I am not certain what my reaction would be should the answer prove positive, since I am not at all sure that Heimlichkeit is such a good thing in philosophy. In fact, I would prefer to believe that what impels me to thought is a kind of exile. Moreover, I bear a deep resistance to the idea that a form of philosophical thought has a proper place. I would want to challenge an assumption that I know is easily formed from the philosophical references I have provided—the assumption that since my very definition of “thought” has a markedly European provenance and comes from a tradition that has insistently defined itself as European, it will follow that thought will [End Page 162] appear more possible to me in Europe. To such a suggestion, I would hasten to respond: Then I have been mistaken in taking it for thought! For I use...