Wednesday, November 18, 2015

André Glucksmann: The Anti-Nihilist

Philosophy of Life

André Glucksmann [1937–2015]Anne-Sylvaine Chassany writes for the Financial Times that his mother’s response during the Second World War, during the German occupation of France and its roundup of Jews, influenced his views as an adult: “As they were rounded up to be deported, she began yelling to the other Jews that death camps were their true destination. A communist militant who had fled Nazi Germany only a few years earlier, she was better informed than most. Fearing a wave of panic, the officers released the family. ‘The first lesson of my existence was that insolence and telling the truth paid off,’ he said in 2006 when he published his autobiography, Une rage d’enfant (A Child’s Rage).”
Photo Credit:Marion Kalter; AKG

An article, by Adam Gopnik, in The New Yorker looks at the life and thoughts of André Glucksmann, a French philosopher, who passed away on November 10th after a long struggle with cancer; he was 78. Once a Marxist, he left the Left and its radical politics after reading Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago (1973), which soon turned him against the Soviet Union and its totalitarian ideology.

In “The Coruscating Moral Vision of  André Glucksmann” (November 11, 2015), Gopnik writes:
André Glucksmann, who died on Monday night, in Paris, was one of the great figures, and master thinkers, of contemporary French life, with the irony that much of his greatness depended on his passionate dismantling of the idea of “great men” and “master thinkers,” which he thought had disfigured European life for far too long. His death, at age seventy-eight, is more than painful; it is disconcerting and disorienting. If you were lucky enough to know him, it was always still possible to imagine taking one more Métro trip to his large, book-filled bohemian apartment in the north of Paris, and, with his brilliant wife, Fanfan, engaged alongside—in an atmosphere always somehow more Chekhovian than French—taking tea and talking about the world.
Glucksmann, whose silver bangs and hooded, eagle eyes became a familiar icon of French intellect—in the seventies, when he first emerged as one of the “New Philosophers,” his telegenic qualities had been an undeniable part of the package—was not the kind of philosopher who liked argument for its own sake. He preferred truth, if you could find it, for other people’s sake. He would take all the time in the world seeking that, however remote the case: the struggles of the Chechens and Ukrainians and Rwandans were as alive for him as the local worries of France. His globalism was a reminder of the best side of French universalism in a time of contracting horizons.
Glucksmann is the opposite of the existential nihilist; his life was dedicated to a search for truth and meaning, both ideas that weigh heavy on my soul and which today, for reasons that are well known, seem quaint— although they ought not to be. When people are not thinking clearly, they fail to understand the problems that today beset society.

Alienation, particularly among the youth, is one such problem that needs addressing; the need to encourage youth and direct their energies and intellect in a proper direction cannot be over-emphasized. Declining job prospects, contributing to loss of hope in the future, only increase the sense of alienation. The young desire, crave meaning; work forms a great part of personal meaning and satisfaction. The youth, it is true, are our future, but only if they believe that they are a part of a future in which they can contribute to the greater good.

In the case of Glucksmann, his thinking was to a large degree influenced by his experiences as a boy in occupied France during the Second World War. It was later influenced by what he read, including his close reading of such books as Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov and its indictment against nihilism (“without G-d, everything is permitted”); and Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard, and its indictment against inaction and complacency (“nobody cares at all about what might happen, even when they already hear the trees falling;” Glucksmann interview in Open Democracy, 2011). 

Both happen to be among my favourite works. For those who have read and appreciated Doestoevsky and Chekhov, the implications for today are clear. One evil can be worse than another evil; one truth more true than another. There are times when such choices become all the more clearer. And necessary.

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For more, go to [NewYorker]

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