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diacritics 30.2 (2000) 43-69

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Tracing Ricoeur

Dudley Andrew

François Dosse. Paul Ricoeur: Les Sens D'une Vie. Paris: La Découverte, 1997. [PR]

The Time of the Tortoise

Gilles Deleuze chose not to see the end of the century that Michel Foucault claimed would be named after him, a century that began just as philosophy registered the aftershocks caused by the work of his closest progenitors, Nietzsche and Bergson. Amplifying the waves they made with tempests of his own, Deleuze tried to capsize the flat-bottom boat of academic philosophy by insisting that it look beyond its own discourse for both the life and the vocabulary to account for life that should be its only mission. Scanning French philosophy for what it might contribute to art, fiction, and cinema, I invoke the stirring character of Deleuze, but I do so to deflect attention to another figure, Paul Ricoeur, whom Deleuze conveniently sets off by contrast.

Less than a decade since his death, Deleuze is in danger of having ceded his claim to Ricoeur, the real long-distance runner, who is now pressing his publications into the new century, moving relentlessly beyond his exhausted reviewers. Last year, a fanfare of publicity greeted La mémoire, l'histoire, l'oubli, another magisterial tome appearing too late to be included in François Dosse's intellectual biography or in my overview here, which lifts off from that biography. Ricoeur, destined to keep writing--unable to conclude his conversation with philosophy--has outlasted Deleuze, whose notoriety derives from the radical break he makes with the thought of our times, for his abrupt deviations and more abrupt conclusions. Ricoeur's reputation rests seldom on anything conclusive but instead on his persistent interaction with and deployment of so much of that thought. By accident or by savvy design, Ricoeur's trajectory (initiated in the phenomenological atmosphere of the prewar era) has taken him through myth criticism, psychoanalysis, structuralism, language philosophy, analytic philosophy, deconstruction, poetics, historiography, ethics, and epistemology. He carries his learning forward to each new endeavor, not believing in "the radical break" or the prefix post-.

François Dosse tracks Ricoeur in a magnificent account that places its subject in relation to each of these movements. But Parisian academic fashion forms only one facet of a life whose brilliance is refracted as well by theology, politics, and a remarkable social network. The thickness of his life evidently provides Ricoeur the necessary ballast to maintain his orientation on the stormy seas of intellectual debate. In fact, across a span of seventy years of uninterrupted reading and writing, he has anticipated, invoked, or debated virtually every important school of French thought, doing so in a way that both establishes their value and serves his own agenda. Ricoeur profits from the productive tension that results, even--indeed, especially--when this brings about a dislocation of his views. These exchanges inevitably leave his own ideas clearer, more defensible, and invulnerable to charges of parochialism. Although Ricoeur concludes his three-volume Time and Narrative with an aggressive chapter explicitly asking, [End Page 43] "Should We Renounce Hegel?," there is something deeply Hegelian about this strategy of taking on, then managing to assimilate, all comers so as to emerge stronger. Ricoeur may not share Hegel's limitless arrogance (literally arrogating everything to himself), but his humility is equally ambitious.

There was never any question for Deleuze about renouncing Hegel. His antipathy to this "philosophe de l'État" was immediate, total, and itself completely arrogant. As for Ricoeur, Deleuze apparently avoided the man Dosse dubs "philosophe de la Cité," at least before 1986. Then, he links their names after each had just published a multivolume treatise on temporality and fabulation, Deleuze's cinema books picking up the notion of "bifurcated time" that Ricoeur had just developed in Time and Narrative. Proust was explicitly a key source for both of their studies. But apparently, and outwardly, it gets no closer than this. In concatenating these two French philosophers, I follow the lead of Olivier Mongin, who finds them both to be supreme philosophers of time, yet incompatible on...