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  • Philosophy on the Western FrontMarc Crépon and the Trials of Violence in Our Times
  • Michael Naas

"It's queer, when one thinks about it," goes on Kropp. "We are here to protect our fatherland. And the French are over there to protect their fatherland. Now who's in the right?"

—Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front

The dead are their own nation and race, one identity, young or old, devout or unbelieving—a union of souls.

—Don DeLillo, "In the Ruins of the Future"

Marc Crépon has been on the front lines, as it were, of philosophy's attempt to rethink the nature of violence in our times. In book [End Page 1] after book, he has made it his business to try to rethink, through both philosophical and literary means, the nature of violence and hatred and the possibilities of countering them through a new philosophy of pacifism or nonviolence, a philosophy that is never completely divorced from the political but that can never be simply subordinated or reduced to it. He has tried to analyze, to remember, and to counter, as well as philosophy can, the forces of violence and hatred that seem to be everywhere in our world, forces that have left their mark in a particularly visible and poignant way in France in the twentieth century, though also—and perhaps in a different way, and it is this difference that I will want to concentrate on here—already in these early decades of the twenty-first century. For violence has a way of interrupting our lives and our work, and Crépon's work can today be read not only for the way it has thought the irruption of violence in our lives but for the way it has itself registered and been marked by violence in an absolutely singular way. Though only eight years separate the two works I would like to concentrate on here, The Thought of Death and the Memory of War, first published in 2008, and the recently published L'épreuve de la haine: un essai sur le refus de la violence (The Trial of Hatred: An Essay on the Refusal of Violence), this latter work, while wholly consistent and continuous with the former, has had to take into account irruptions of violence that have made the work itself no longer simply a work of reflection and memory but, as I will try to argue, one of testimony, trial, and resistance.1

From thinking and memory, then, to testimony, from a certain form of reflection to being put to the test by hatred and violence, and from a mobilization of memory to think our present and our future to an attempt to counter the forces that threaten us today, and not just in France or Europe but everywhere—that seems to be the itinerary that Marc Crépon has himself taken in the past few years and the one he seems to be encouraging us to take along with him. It gives reason to be optimistic, even if the landscape against which Crépon is writing seems to furnish fewer and fewer reasons for such optimism.

Because Crépon begins, as I have suggested, with memory, with a memory of the Western literary and philosophical tradition but also with memories of war—of particular wars, European wars, and this is not insignificant—let me [End Page 2] begin with a memory of my own, one that brings front and center what is at stake in both Crépon's The Thought of Death and the Memory of War and his more recent The Trial of Hatred. Every summer for the past ten years, I have had the pleasure of participating in a weeklong seminar organized by the Derrida Seminar Translation Project in the archives of IMEC (Institut Mémoires de l'Édition Contemporaine) just outside of Caen in Normandy, France. Each week is spent discussing both the original French and the working draft of an English translation of a previously unpublished seminar by Jacques Derrida, one of the 42 seminars that Derrida gave between 1960 and 2002.2 There are typically 14 to 16...


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