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Christopher Watkin on Michel Serres

Professor Watkin is a Senior Lecturer in French Studies at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. At its broadest, his research explores how people make sense of the world, and how they interact with ideas and positions different from their own. His previous publications include: “Phenomenology or Deconstruction?”, “Difficult Atheism”, and “French Philosophy Today: New Figures […]

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This is Yitari Amalalam and as some of you may know, I am the producer of entitled opinions.
The following conversation between Professor Robert Harrison and Christopher Watkins
was recorded on January 31st before the closure of KZSU due to the coronavirus pandemic.
I hope you enjoy this show and I wish you all health and happiness during this difficult time.
This is KZSU Stanford.
Welcome to entitled opinions.
My name is Robert Harrison and we're coming to you from the Stanford campus.
That's right.
The Stanford campus were five little steps at the back of some academic building
lead you down into the underworld of KZSU.
From in here we look out our belly button window at the world and see a whole lot of frowns.
Out there they have pills for ills and thrills and even spills but no pill against the unworlding of the world.
In title opinions it's not the pill your mother gives you which does nothing at all.
It's the pill that makes her ten feet tall.
That's why she takes it when you're not around.
Its special alchemy turns mothers and lovers and nihilists into transcendentalists.
A mor mi mous sicamifapar la de.
Well said Beatrice.
On this radio program love is what moves us and makes us speak.
Down here we practice the persecuted religion of thinking while above ground the wasteland
grows and the unacknowledged anxiety in the face of thinking no longer allows insight into the oblivion of being which determines the age.
That's a high-degenerian mouthful.
If thinking and being are the same as KZSU as comrade per many days declared.
Well there's not much being left in the world.
What has taken its place?
Let's not call it unbeing or nonbeing.
Let's call it disbeing.
The oblivion of being is the disbeing of beings.
So you better stay down here with us friends.
Down here we have no anxiety in the face of thinking.
Speaking of thinking we have a show today about one of the great thinkers of the post-war generation.
I mean my friend and one time Stanford colleague Michel Sére, the French philosopher, author of over 60 books who passed away last year in June 2019.
A decade or so ago I did two shows with Sére on entitled opinions.
The conversations were in French because Sére never managed to inhabit or adopt the English language as his own.
His thinking was at home in Latin, Greek and French and he did love Italian, but English was too Germanic and foreign for him.
He's been widely translated however and here are a few Sérezzian thoughts for you, a choice appetizer for the show to follow.
Quote, "contingency means common tangency.
In it the world and the body intersect and caress each other.
I do not wish to call the place in which I live a medium.
I prefer to say that things mingled with each other and that I am no exception.
I mix with the world which mixes with me."
Second quote, "One could say that someone cheats and deceives because he wants to win.
So the first attribute of God is indifference to winning.
Detach yourself from notions of winning or losing, be indifferent to victory or loss, and you will enter into science and thought."
A message for our fellow Americans.
Last quote, "Information is becoming our primary and universal addiction."
I mentioned that Michel Sére was a friend and colleague of mine for almost 30 years.
He would come to Stanford for two five weeks stints a year.
I became friends with him early on and had I not met him when I did, I might not have written the kinds of books that I went on to author.
It was he who encouraged me to break out of the straight jacket of narrow academic specialization and to enlarge my conception of what it means to be a humanist.
My first book, which I was close to finishing when I arrived at Stanford, offered an intensive textual analysis of Dante's early work, the Vitan Roava.
Once I became friends with Sére and took to heart his invitation to open my horizons, I immediately embarked on a very different kind of book, a history of forests in the Western imagination from the Epic of Gilgamesh to our own day.
That book, "Forrest, the Shadow of Civilization," published in 1992, is dedicated to Sére.
Yet he managed to beat me to the punch because just before "Forrest" came out, I received a copy of his book, "The Natural Contract," which to my great surprise, Sére had dedicated to me.
The dedication, with a quote from Livy, Kazu Kauram in Sélevis Natus, was for me a far bigger deal than the publication of "Forrest" a month or two later, and the rest as I say, is history.
Sére had a pro style as well as a style of thinking that were inimitable.
He's the only professor at Stanford, who I can remember, whose seminars were regularly attended by other faculty members.
There was an orific as well as a Pentecostal quality about them.
And I borrow this term Pentecostal from my friend and colleague Pierre Santamal, who attended many "Amishel-Sére" seminars in the early years before Pierre went on to Brown University from Stanford.
In any case, when had the impression at times that something was speaking through him, that he was a medium through which deep, long-buried sources of knowledge and wisdom came up from the depths,
or rained down from the sky as the case may be, it was very close to what Hannah Arendt with reference to Heidegger's teaching in the 1920s called "Passionate Thinking".
Whether he was teaching literary works or the origins of geometry, you could be sure that Sére would bring together religion, an ancient history, anthropology and mathematics, law and literature.
He had a wholly new way of reading philosophy, literature and the traditional in general.
Those of us who were drawn to his seminars had a thirst for complexity.
The French theory heads of the time had a thirst for obscurity, which is something quite different than complexity.
And if the truth be told, the theory heads didn't really know what to make of Sére, precisely because of his complexity.
In the heyday of deconstruction, Sére taught us that textualization leads to in-initian.
The surest way to zombify philosophy, literature or science is to textualize them.
He taught by counter example how to bring into play a heterogeneous plurality of discourses and perspectives.
He showed by a counter example that written works are not folded in upon themselves, but contain unsuspecting strata of historical and scientific knowledge of cultural legacies and practices.
So the overriding aim of his teaching, as well as his writings, was to let the dense recessive background on what author, text or tradition become apparent.
When I say background, I don't mean context, I mean the epistemic life worlds and Savois that inform the matter at hand.
Saved provided us with a model of complexity for which the word interdisciplinarity does not do justice.
One could call it a new encyclopedia inism, but I prefer to call it by a term that he himself coined in his book "Jénez" or "Genesis."
And that term is "diversalism."
Saved's concept of "diversalism" is not opposed to universalism, but represents a very different declension of it than the German metaphysical one, a declension that finds universality and multiplicity rather than unity, contingency rather than necessity, and singularity rather than generality.
"diversalism" is the confluence of different streams of knowledge and the very lifeblood of complexity that is to say the lifeblood of human culture itself.
I'm happy to be joined in the studio today by someone who has just finished writing a book about Michel Seir, a book that will be published a few months from now.
Christopher Watkins is a senior lecturer in French studies at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.
In his own words, his research, and I'm quoting, seeks to make sense of how people make sense of the world and how they interact with ideas and positions different from their own.
In his first book, Phenomenology or Deconstruction, Question Mark, what can explore the complex relationship between two major philosophical tendencies in the thought of Maurice Metloponti, Paul Ricur, and Jean-Luc
He followed that book with another one called Difficult Atheism 2011, which examines how three contemporary thinkers, Anambadju, Jean-Luc
Noel-C, and Quantam Meis-Sou, make sense of the world without the gods of metaphysics, poetry, and religion.
He then went on to write French philosophy today, "New Figures of the Human in Badjure, Meis-Sou, Malabu, Seir, and Latu."
And then comes the book that interests us here today.
Michel Seir, "Figures of Thought," which is the first systematic treatment in English of this major, 20th and 21st century philosopher whose cross-disciplinary work finds complex,
"North-West Passages between the Sciences, Humanities, and Arts."
So let me welcome Chris to the show.
Chris, it's a pleasure to have you here on entitled opinions at Stanford, and I'm looking forward to exchanging some thoughts with you and reflections about Michel Seir, both as a person, as well as a thinker.
And I know that you did never met him personally, but you did discover him really through his writings, and you felt that this was a figure that was rather scandalously underrepresented in the general panorama of French intellectuals of the post-war period in France.
So can you tell us how you came to discover Michel and what you find so salient about his thinking?
Yeah, thank you, Robert. Let me begin just by saying what a joy it is for me to be here today with you. Thank you so much for arranging this. Thank you all sort of Victoria for helping the show.
I came to Michel Seir by something of an embarrassing and secure to see it really. I was writing this book on French philosophy today, and I was looking for a thinker who understood what it means to be human, not in terms of a particular capacity that we possess,
whether it's rational thought or language use. For reasons that I explain in the book, I find that position particularly dangerous and fraught with problems.
And I stumbled across Michel Seir's gracie de l'univer, this idea he has of the universe having a great story that begins with the Big Bang, and goes through a series of bifurcations.
He uses the image of a branching, a hammer, a series of twists and turns to get to the present day. And one thing that attracted me to say was the way in which he places the human within that story.
So we understand ourselves not in terms of particular capacities that we possess, but in terms of our place in this wider story.
And so that was in a sense the extent of my use of him for that book. And it's one of those things that it's very hard to put one's finger on the French of course, have the beautiful saying, the Jean-de-Sique-Werse, that meant that I couldn't leave him there.
I've tried to reflect since to reconstruct what it was that drew me to write the only book I've ever written on a single author.
I think partly it was the grandeur of his vision that he's attempt to incorporate and articulate a huge variety of disciplinary perspectives, a huge timeframe in his thought.
I have to confess that I was attracted to the fact that there is precisely as you said in the introduction, no caesionism. He has no brand, no logo.
And he never wanted to. Exactly. And I found that incredibly refreshing.
I love the fact that he published with the publishing house, Le Pommier. He didn't scramble for the big renowned academic publishers that we were all pressured to handker after by our respective institutions.
And, you know, I love the fact that he smiled a lot as a philosophy that he's not all the time taken for granted.
That's right. And so it may well have been, as far as one can retrospectively reconstruct these things, a combination of those factors that made me think that I want to spend a good chunk of my life, a number of my years of my academic career, writing a book on this unique philosopher.
I think that the one thing I'd add to what I've said is that when I read him, I really did get the sense that I've very rarely had, reading any philosophy, that this is new ground that is being plowed.
This is not a recycling of philosophical commonplace as given in new sort of twist and buffed up and shone.
But, Sarah really was doing something that no one else that I'd come across at least had even got close to. And I wanted to try and find out for myself and then to communicate as well as I could to other people what it was.
He was technically a philosopher, he got his degree in philosophy, and he was also a very steeped in mathematics and he had a scientific education, and he had a mastery of the history of science, a very few philosophers of his generation do have.
And I think that it might be the fluent way in which he could incorporate different knowledge or sub-wad in the plural, coming from all these different spheres and have what from the 20th century intellectual historical perspective seems to be a very retrogressive ambition as a philosopher, namely synthesis, rather than analysis.
I'll call this in the context of high French theory in the 70s, 80s, and even 90s, which was hyperbolicly analytical and deconstructive, no?
Do you find that his ambition for the grand synthetic narrative is merely untimely in the Nietzschean sense or is it does it show that he has pre-modern sensibilities or does it show that he's actually a step ahead of us?
In that vision of what the true mission of philosophy should be?
I think he framed it very nicely in the question that he's in the interstice between two moments where a grand, not a homogenising, but a articulating vision of knowledge is sought after.
So, yes, very much that was the ambition, the vision of knowledge, and so relatively recently comparatively speaking.
And I think as you alluded to in the question, we're also coming into a period now where both institutionally and intellectually will be nudged towards what tends rather clumsily to be called interdisciplinary.
And I think what Cair does is he very astutely brackets all the buzz around interdisciplinarity and shows us a much deeper, moral, organic, more authentic way of threading different bodies of knowledge together.
But I think what we tend to do under the banner of interdisciplinarity is rather sort of ham-fisted ways of finding anything that two disciplines have in common and then trying to build something out of it.
That is very much not what Cair is doing.
In the book I talk about what he calls a global intuition, a way of inhabiting and understanding and experiencing the world, that lends itself to seeing knowledge as one ocean.
Rather than as a series of enclosures, each with its own owner who's trying to keep everybody else off their land.
So it's organic, it's deep.
Now, I agree entirely with that account of what's at work in his...
What I'm curious about your opinion on is whether his manner of going about telling that larger story, that omnipultural story to use your term, is one that does the best possible job of communicating how everything hangs together.
I know that you're a fan of his style of writing, and I would like you to do a kind of apollo-gea for that style because I have a lot of people that I know friends and otherwise just academic colleagues who find his style of writing off-putting, grandstanding, to self-complacently aesthetic,
and that he doesn't make enough concessions to the prose of argumentation and logical connections and so forth.
So I would love to hear you speak a little bit about the very unique idiosyncratic style in which all his books come to us.
I have heard, and in the book engage with these critiques of say, he has been accused of writing poetically as if that were a crime.
And I think what puts off a lot of people tells you a lot about the intellectual moment in which we live, that there's a set of conventions for how one is expected to write philosophically,
really he's fundamentally challenging. So then in the first chapter of the book I talk about the difference between the line, the Cartesian chain, leading an ex-robly from one point to another until it reaches a final conclusion, as opposed to the CERESian web where one tabulates and moves between different nodes in a network.
I think he called that "Rezor" the kind of network. It's not a network. It can be a web or something.
And I think the question that I'd want to ask of people who reject him because of his style is if that is where he's coming from, how would one expect him to try to communicate that?
Do you, Paul, that the new wine, so to speak, of this interconnected network to live Nitzian view of the world into the old wine skins of Cartesian style, in which case there'd be another accusation that I think would come his way, which would be that his style and a mind's what he's trying to say.
You're claiming one thing about the world, and you're writing in a very different register almost as if, to use a rather banal example, one would to say, "I cannot speak English, or I cannot dream."
The very saying of it undermines what he's trying to say. And so I think part of it is avoiding that tension between the what of what he's saying and the how of it.
Another thing that's particularly relevant to say, I think, when it comes to understanding his style, is that he's not seeking merely to communicate information to us.
That is not what he's about in his writing. There's one moment that I found incredibly helpful in writing the book where he says in a conversation with Bruno Latour, that he's not seeking always simply to communicate.
But to body-fought to speak about what he calls a global intuition, profound and sensible. And I think to invite the reader into that intuition of the world.
So not to fill our heads with facts about the world, but to try and inculcate in us, to rhythm us into a way of being in the world.
And part of the way that one does that is through a particular style of writing, the way that one uses language to create rhythms and patterns and resonances and foldings that help the reader to understand what it means to inhabit this world, not only intellectually, but also sematically, coparially.
And I think if he didn't have the style that he did, he would be able to do that much less comprehensively.
I'm glad you caught all that merely through his prose because I have long wondered whether it's in his full-bodied presence, namely those seminars I was referring to in the intro, where that musicality and the rhythm of the prose and the kind of poetic thinking is animated really by the living breath of the...
You know, the presence of the person himself. And wondering how well it actually carries over onto the page as such.
And having been his interlocutor for over two decades, he's told me several times that he also believes that real communication has to hide the message, not to reveal the message.
Otherwise, it gets worn down and it gets consumed. And therefore, there seems to be also a deliberate hiding of what would we call it cognitive content of a particular thinking would be.
And I can understand that poetry derives a lot of his power through concealment as much as through revelation.
But sometimes I'm not sure that a poetic style is necessarily in congruous with philosophical reasoning.
I think Michel Foucault was a very beautiful lyrical writer. I mean, you could not find better passages of prose in post-war French philosophy than some of Michel Foucault's paragraphs.
I think even Dettie Dauma, not a big fan of, really sometimes sores in his prose.
And yet there is this allegiance to concepts and so forth.
Now, Michel, and here we're going back to the title of your book, you call it Michel Foucault.
Figures of thinking. And I take it by that you mean that he does prefer to think through figures rather than through concepts.
I get that right? Yes, that's right. In his particular understanding of figures.
Yeah. And could you say something about these figures? What are the dominant figures in his corpus?
I think this is one of the areas, I'm really glad you asked the question. It's one of the areas where he is bringing something genuinely new to the table of philosophical discussion in the second half of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
So he has this idea in Lugoshi Bueto, which is a recent text of his, of figures of thought.
And the way that he describes them boils down to three main aspects.
So he says first of all, the way that he thinks is in terms of algorithmic operators.
So it's not particular concepts that say this or that, but it's particular ways of manipulating ideas,
particular gestures to perform that can be performed on any number of contents.
So that's the first characteristic of a figure. Secondly, he's really strong on emphasizing the idea that these figures of thought are actually natural phenomena.
There's no dichotomy here between the rhythms and gestures of the natural world and the intellectual world.
So he says quite explicitly in Lugoshi Bueto that species of flower and fauna are figures, a bountyeer in their entirety, not sort of images of figures, but proper figures.
And he therefore argues that wherever these figures come from, they all emerge from the movement of the universe he says from life, from the body, from cultures, in short he says from thought.
So there's a unity between the patterning and the rhythming we see in the natural world and the patterning and rhythming of thought.
And the third feature is that these figures are to be found for also in literature.
So he has a number of these recurring literary characters that do a lot of philosophical work for him that are not merely illustrative,
but that are doing a lot of the heavy lifting in his works. We've got Don Quiero, we've got Ulysses, Hallequin and Pierre, or he returns to time and again, the grounding quiz are turned so forth.
And for him, these are just as much figures as, for example, the days in one's garden, or the fausbury flop a particular way of patterning and rhythming the body, or the pada deux or any other dance.
And he tries to draw ideas out of these figures. So in contrast, for example, to someone like Delur's, for whom we've got these conceptual pasonai in the book he co-wrote with Gattavi Wattis philosophy.
But there, if you like embodied ideas, the idea comes first, the conceptual pasona is the immigrant or the friend. Won't one come put a definite article before them.
For sir, it is very much the character, the figure that comes first. And one can reductively draw from that figure from Hallequin and Pierre, for example, philosophical ideas, but those ideas always remain subservient to the figure.
It's the embodiment, whether we're talking about the embodiment of a literary character, or the physical corporeal embodiment of an idea in the natural world that's important to say that's what figures have that ideas and concepts have lost and are therefore less because of it.
So you would say the same about the rhizome for Delur's or the desert and the deep territorialization and that these are images or figures that come after the concept.
And if it's true that the figure remains primary, and we should think, does that make him in some creative way of phenomenologist in the pure sense of the term, if you understand the figure as phenomenal rather than merely noetic?
I think it certainly makes him resistant to intellectualism and to intellectualizing thought.
I think that the term that I would choose, and it's perhaps not as far away from phenomenology as one might expect, is he is a materialist thinker.
And for him ideas are always embodied, so for example, in one of my chapters I try and go in some depth into the idea that he has that all code is material and all material is coded.
We've already gone too far and made a false dichotomy when we try and separate concepts off from embodiment.
He wants to go upstream of that sort of modern move and say that there is no fundamental difference between matter and coding or coding is material and all material is coded.
Yeah, I'm not sure who would necessarily disagree with that. Maybe our colleagues in Silicon Valley, I'm not sure.
So what about this heavy emphasis on communication that you have in the earlier part of Misha's career, especially with the five volume Hermes, Hermes being the God of the messenger?
And you have a whole chapter I believe in your forthcoming book on communication, and you do believe that that idea of communication is all encompassing in a certain way as an approach to say, how did he understand communication?
Is it in the way that you've just described as a material part of the coding of all living things? Even inanimate matter itself is communicative or in what sense is this a super concept or I guess a super concept would be counterproductive because as you say he did not want to think conceptually primarily, you wanted to think differently.
Yeah, if I can just go back to the point that you made just before that question that people today wouldn't disagree with the idea that all coding is material and material is coded.
I think there are plenty of people who would be ready to argue for the indifference or the inertness or the blankness of the natural world.
The Contemail Sufrey example has an idea of what he calls the great outdoors that there's neither up nor down, there's no meaning in the natural world.
It was a big for Albert Camu with his idea of the absurd that all the meaning that there is in the world is that which is projected onto it by humans.
In the book I argued that there's a moment in Catarinae-Malibu's thoughts as well where she's talking about the indifference of the world.
So I think he is pushing back against this idea abroad that there is an inertness or a blankness or an indifference in the natural world, such that when language supervenes upon it, this would be a structuralist moment.
What we're doing is imposing meaning and imposing structure on the world rather than reading off some meaning that's there already.
To come to the idea of communication, hold on one sec now I'm going to respond to that just to say that I didn't have in mind necessarily our colleagues in the humanities and philosophy.
But I'm thinking of geneticists, even quantum physicists and the idea that we're talking about material entities. It could be subatomic particles, it could be the code-ness of the genome, it could be even the software codes where there's always a material substrate to these encodings.
That is what I took to be a general idea that there is some link to the material, not the abstractionists.
And then I think absolutely right. And I think that then raises the question of what is the relationship between that coding and human syntactic language?
And I think what Sarah has to offer to that debate is what I talk about in the book as one of the main general of his figures of thought. I try and group his figures of thought into categories.
And one thing that he does repeatedly is to take something that we tend to think of hierarchically.
So for example there's human syntactic language which is the model of our language. And we might say that certain animals speak or use language, but we also always do so slightly without talking in our cheek in a slightly metaphorical way that with the footnotes that they don't really use language in the same way that we do.
They might not use language, but they do communicate. Absolutely. This is what Sarah said. So he takes that structure where human language is the measuring rod by which we decide whether anything is linguistic.
And he demotes that to one instance of a much broader phenomenon. And for him and this segues back into your question about communication, everything is an instance of the reception of the
storage, processing and a mission of information. That is true for human language. That is what we do linguistically, copirially. But it's also true not only for animals for Sarah, but also for inanimate objects, rocks.
He also talks about towns as receiving processing, starting and emitting information, individual PCs, the worldwide web. So this is a paradigm of communication that not only breaks down the human nonhuman dichotomy, but also gleefully skips across the difference between the animate and the inanimate between nature and culture.
It's a universal understanding of communication in which humans play a part, but which we do not control, we do not have the definitive instance of this information processing. In fact, we're quite inefficient information processes in many ways.
This reminds me of Isaiah Berlin's distinction between the hedgehog and the fox. Two of my colleagues, one being Michel, the other being René Girard, were the archetypes of the two types of thinkers.
René Girard being the hedgehog who had one big idea and kept probing and digging and getting to that one idea.
Michel being the ultimate fox who goes wandering around and therefore interconnecting, going through different realms to find the messages that are being communicated across different domains.
He has that certain light-lightness and it was also in his very persona, even in his gait, the matter of not only thinking but also walking and of doing, and there was a certain kind of divine lightness in the touch and the movement.
Perhaps that is also another reason why you don't have a distinct school of Surazian thinking, not that he ever wanted one on the contrary.
That's another thing. René was really quite committed to having a school of Girardianism and kept promoting the institutional aspects of his thought.
With Michel, it was really the very opposite of that. Perhaps because he knew the degree to which disciples are such an infinite disappointment compared to the insight of their presumed masters.
I'm in mind that in relation to this idea of the fox and the hedgehog of a story that Sarah tells, it's a part of a play that he quotes, not under Fatu Villas, Aclica, on Parela, Lune, Harlequin, the emperor of the moon.
Sarah is particularly fascinated with the moment in this play where Harlequin has returned from the moon and he's telling an assembled, learned body about what he's found and they're expecting it to be terribly exotic, tell us about all the wonderful things that you found.
Harlequin begins by saying, well, it's pretty much like here, with some differences here out there and the Lune assemblies terribly upset, feel happy they've been cheated of their entrance money.
And Harlequin stands at the front of the auditorium and starts undressing taking off layer after layer after layer of multicolored clothing. People by this stage are walking out there discussed that he's got nothing to say.
He can't tell us about the exotic, the other, the different. He finally strips down to his skin, which is tattooed to the point where it's just as multicolored as any other layer.
And as one of the last people is leaving the room in disgust. This person turns around and to their astonishment shouts, Parela, Parela, Harlequin has turned into Parela, the multicolored dappled Harlequin has become the all white Parela.
Harle, at the front of the stage. And I think in a similar way, yes, there is the fox, but I think there's a moment at which the fox turns into the hedgehog for Sarah.
So yes, he is everywhere. He is connecting everything, but there is, I think, one big idea, necessarily there, which is simply that everything is connected.
And that is what he keeps hammering away at this very simple idea. And there's a sense in which he shows that the great simplicity of that single idea and the multiferious complexity of everything are coincidence of opposites that I'm trying to remember the word that used earlier.
It's something to do with uni diversity. Diversalism. Diversalism. That's a word that he uses in Jaines.
So it's not diversity, it's a different kind of concept.
So it's a unity which is a coincidence, which coincides with the greatest diversity.
And that those two are not in conflict. You know, Harle Queen is Parela. The fox is the hedgehog.
Yeah, but let me push back now because I have many conversations with me shit on this and I would frequently remind him that if all things are ultimately interconnected, that's because they are in a prior mode differentiated.
And that you cannot make love or air us, you know, the sole force of the universe. If you don't also admit a certain primacy of polemos or hate, if you want to use a figure for that which repels, that which radically resists being fused together, being amalgamated and subsumed under another thing.
The force of differentiation, of separation and splitting apart and remaining apart. If there were not this priorly existing vast diversity and what the principle of that diversity is namely repelling rather than attracting, then you could not interconnect things.
I'm not sure he gave enough importance to that which primordially differentiates and as a result allows things to be interconnected from a distance.
I can see that there needs to be a differentiation. I think I remain to be convinced that that need be propelled necessarily by hate.
I was just giving a talk once in which he was speaking about the old Greek concept of the air-offs which binds everything. It's a bonding force.
And so it was a great eulogy to the bonding force of love. I said, "Yeah, okay, but what about hate?" I mean, polemos strife hate, I call it.
Polemos is the father of all things as their hair-clite is said. Well, air-offs comes later then because it's a father of all things. What do you do? Do you have room for polemos in your theory? Not his theory, but it's the underplaying something that is equally primordial.
As the bonding power of interconnection.
There are certainly other ways of introducing difference. The Christian Trinity comes to mind as one example of a way of differentiating that doesn't, at least within that theological frame, rely on hatred or resentment.
No, it has love because it's self-indifferentiating in order that the three persons of the Trinity might exist in love.
So I don't know what he would say about...
I know what he would say. It's a trapezal.
I would say, "You're right, but that's all you know, what can I do?" I'm more interested in love than polemos.
I mean, he didn't care about defending its thesis in that way, but in that sense he was always very seductive and charming to not find someone who was not at all feeling that he had to defend a thesis or a principle.
And that is incredibly attractive about him, isn't it? I think it's one of the things that once I began reading him really kept me, so to speak in the track to be, of his thought, that he's not always staking out his territory in country distinction.
So when I see very rarely names his antagonists, he does have them.
He very rarely names them, Descartes in the Leibniz book being a notable exception to that.
And all of these German-loving French philosophers know, he had a kind of suppressed animus against the idolatry of the German metaphysicians among his even his compatriots of Jean-Paul Satt and the others and did he then?
Well, he certainly finds any philosophy that relies upon a difference and analysis to be profoundly misguided, certainly.
And he's got this wonderful moment where he doesn't name megaloponti, but it's clear that it's megaloponti.
And he talks about the philosopher sitting in his nice, cloistered room, looking through the window at the apple tree outside and pontificating upon the tree without
to descend the stairs and go out and actually touch it and smell it and feel it or even.
God forbid, eat one of the apples.
And yes, so he has certainly, he's thought does define itself in relation to other approaches, but he's not always banging on about it.
He's content to set his own table, let us eat at his banquet.
And then as we sort of go home, brushing the crimson of her shirt afterwards to think about how he relates to other thinkers.
So if one were to ask, and I've been asked several times, oh, I don't know anything about Michel Sier, what should I read of his highly embarrassing question because he's the author of over 60 books and you say what, which one do I mean, now, once your book comes out, I will say, why don't you go read Christopher Watkin?
And then you get a sense of the multifaceted nature of the work as a whole and then you can go and read him.
But if you were to naively answer a question like that from someone who is not necessarily an academic, but someone who wants to find out what is the importance of this thinker and what could such a reader read most profitably in your view?
I would definitely say to people, don't read my book without reading CER.
So I don't write like CER rights, nor do I think a book on CER should be written in the way that CER rights.
That would be terrible.
And therefore, in order to understand him, I think one does need to read him, use my book as a springboard to get into CER.
If the person who were asking me were in the arts and humanities sort of engaged in thinking about those social questions, I think a great place for them to start certainly in our contemporary cultural moment with all the terrible news that we're getting weak up on week now about the climate crisis, we'll be able to have a look at the natural contract and the way in which at a very deep level rewires,
ecological debate, he was always very particular about saying the natural contract is not a book about ecology, he said it's book about law and weaving law into the natural world and running with this idea that we need to make some sort of contract with nature.
I think it's a very powerful idea, an idea whose time one hopes is coming if not has all already come. So I definitely point people to that.
People of a month...
I'm pleased with that, it's dedicated to me, so I'm all for it.
If people of a more philosophical disposition, I'd say, read the parasite.
Difficult book.
Yes, stylistically very dense.
One of his densest, but if people are familiar with reading 20th century French philosophy, one hopes that they would not be too put off by the style, there's a decent second-relatricher on the parasite, unusually for sale as well.
So if someone's looking to engage in an ongoing conversation about his work from a philosophical point of view, I think the parasite is one of the best places to start.
If people seriously want to understand, this is not now your general reader, but if someone really wants to get a handle on sale,
I'm afraid the bad news is we really do need to read the Leibniz book, all 800 pages of it.
Have you done so?
A couple of times.
And it's a tragedy that it hasn't been translated yet. One hopes that it will, if a listener to this programme is into translating.
French text, this is a project that is long, long overdue.
Do you think they could do a bridged condensed version of it?
I would not personally welcome an image to version, just the way that I think.
But look, if that's all that can be managed in the short term, then that'd be better than nothing.
I think for the general reader, perhaps not really familiar with philosophy at all, has never read in philosophy,
but is intrigued by Michel Serre.
I probably point someone like that to one of his best sellers, the book that's been translated into English as thumbelina,
a pitiful set in French, which talks about the technology and the culture of millennials and the way in which the internet and related technologies are shaping us.
I think that's a very gentle introduction to his thought.
Times of crisis written in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis is similarly very entry-level,
so it might be a stepping stone to going a bit deeper into some of his other writing later on.
I would add just one more title, Chris, which is an English malfeasance, which is L'Amal-Prop in French.
It was translated very well translated and published by Stanford University Press.
It's a very kind of shorter book that goes to the heart of many ecological issues about planetary pollution and other things of that sort.
And I'm really glad you've mentioned that. It gives you a very good sense of the way in which Serre thinks as well.
So he talks in that book, for example, about how industrial pollution and the crowd at a football match and a bird singing, and in fact the same phenomenon.
So it's these drawing these unexpected, often almost offensive links, counterintuitive links between things we would want to keep apart.
And so he's saying, "No, you've got to see these things as interconnected in order to be able to address the problems that arise by them."
So yes, malfeasance, absolutely.
Well, I want to remind our listeners, we've been speaking with Christopher Watkins, who is visiting Stanford from Monash University and Melbourne, Australia.
The author of several books on French philosophy.
And French philosophers, one of the major theorists, I think of French philosophy in the 20th century.
Very happy to have him on entitled opinions, and he is the author of a forthcoming book that we've been talking about this hour on Michel Serre, the figures of thinking.
So thanks again, Chris, for coming on.
Next time you're in town, we'll have you back on entitled opinions.
It's been my great pleasure, Robert. Thank you very much indeed.
Take care.