- I Know Why the Philosopher SingsExploring the Work of Fabrice Hadjadj
In French Catholic circles, Fabrice Hadjadj (1971–) is one of the most extraordinarily versatile thinkers, writers, and artists since Gabriel Marcel, himself a philosopher, essayist, dramatist, and composer. On top of his journalistic output in a diverse range of publications (notably in Le Figaro and Avvenire), Hadjadj's extensive oeuvre which is now approaching thirty works—including essays, plays, art criticism, works of exegesis and original songs—has earned him a series of critical accolades: the Grand prix catholique de littérature (2006) for Réussir sa mort. Anti-méthode pour vivre (2005), the Prix du cercle Montherlant-Académie des Beaux Art (2008) for L'Agneau mystique (2008), the Prix de littérature religieuse (2010) for La Foi des démons ou l'athéisme dépassé (2009), and the Prix des Libraires Siloë-Pèlerin (2017) for Résurrection: mode d'emploi (2016). Hadjadj is as highly fluent and prolific a speaker as he is a writer. Many of his speeches on national and international platforms can be found on YouTube, and of his invitations those including the Scouts de l'Europe and international meetings of the Communion and Liberation Movement.
These diverse invitations result from the increasing esteem in [End Page 78] which Hadjadj is held. Currently director of studies at the Philanthropos Institute in Fribourg, Switzerland, Hadjadj served a two-year term from 2014–16 as a consultant to the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Laity. The widely read French leftist newspaper Libération has identified Hadjadj as the "maître à penser—the leading thinker" of the French "cathosphère,"1 and Archbishop Charles Chaput describes him as "one of the finest Catholic minds for decades."2 The profound impression Hadjadj frequently makes outside literary and theological circles was captured most eloquently in a talk given by Laurent Lafforgue, the French educational reformer and Fields-Medal winning mathematician: "[Hadjadj's] pages often leave me dumbfounded and catch me off balance, but in reading them I recognise their accuracy and truth. No contemporary writer of French interests me more."3
One other striking fact about Hadjadj is that he had devoted much of his intellectual power and undoubted verve to crossing the divide between serious philosophy—he is often introduced as a holder of the agrégation de philosophie, one of France's most distinguished academic titles—and popular culture. As his growing bibliography demonstrates, Hadjadj is a creative and disciplinary chameleon, or perhaps a subversive of literary invention, who blends, transforms, or undermines standard text types in multiple ways, constantly swapping philosophy for theology, essay for theatre, and art commentary for song writing (Nos vies quotidiennes, his first album, was released in 2017). At the same time, his pushing of interdisciplinarity to the extreme—his imbrication of theological investigation with philosophical discourse, or social criticism with lyric creativity—may explain why he remains one of contemporary French culture's most provocative yet least studied religious thinkers and literary artists.
There are no monographs dedicated to his voluminous and otherwise sympathetically received output and hardly a trace of discussion about him in learned journals. Arguably, biographical factors play a part in what ostensibly appears as his decided marginality. He describes himself as "un juif de nom arabe et de confession catholique—a Jew with an Arab name and a practicing Catholic," any part of which [End Page 79] profile is guaranteed to offend some constituency of French opinion.4 With Hadjadj, however, the paradoxes seem endless: this Jewish Catholic family man with eight children and counting, acknowledges today his debt to Nietzsche, the author of the death of God, happily celebrates the language of the notorious anti-Semite novelist Louis-Ferdinand Celine and, in his 2018 Lenten Conferences at Notre Dame, cited controversial French novelist Michel Houellebecq more than any other contemporary author.5 For all that, Hadjadj expresses no resentment about his own relative obscurity, dismissing the hypothesis that he is akin to one of Paul Verlaine's accursed poets, living in some unhappy ghetto of cultural and social infamy. On the contrary, he evinces sincere...