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PHILO RECHERCHE - FAC

 Arts, Language and Hermeneutic Aesthetics” 

Interview with Paul Ricoeur 
Paul Ricoeur, Professor Emeritus, Paris X, and Nuveen Chair Professor Emeritus, University of Chicago.

(Conducted by Jean-Marie Brohm and Magali Uhl. September 20, 1996 in Paris)

Translation - R.D. Sweeney, Don Shula Professor Emeritus, John Carroll
University, Cleveland,  Ohio, USA.
sweeney@jcu.edu

 p 1 - p 2 - p 3 - p 4 - p 5 - p 6 - p 7 - p 8 - p 9 => Text  in    

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Is it the case that this referent is something imaginary, in the sense in which, for example,  Sartre and a certain phenomenological tradition understand it, and does access to the referent necessarily pass through language?

I mean to say that the referent is exterior to the sign;  but there are several modes of exteriority. It is perhaps in the nature of exteriority that the problem is to be found.  In painting you have landscapes, portraits, interior subjects, allegorical motifs, abstract compositions, etc. Take for example Poussin;  this is a remarkable example, because he constantly intermingles Christian figures, pagan figures and landscapes. The demand for meaning comes here from the intermixing of multiple referents, some of which are literary,  mythological,  biblical, others naturalistic, with a sort of mutual contamination, because nature becomes both pagan and biblical and, reciprocally, the mythological and biblical figures are invested in nature. To return to the connection with language, it is not without a certain verbal culture that we can grasp this type of work.  Would it not, then, be necessary to pose the question in another way:  Can we imagine the arts among beings which do not have language?  Is it the case that only beings that can signify with words and phrases are able to have the idea of the iconicity of the phantasmic, of its referential value, not only as internal signifying, but in relating to something else?

Music is ultimately the limit case.  Most musicians in fact are not into language, they are into the organization of sound.   It is perhaps the relation between the signified and the sound that is the limit case. 

Yes, but it is also necessary to take all the arts together. There is music because next to it there is painting, theater, etc.  In the symphony of the arts there are gradations where language goes decrescendo, from the novel, the theater, the story, down to music, passing by way of painting, sculpture and the intermediary arts. There will always remain in language this superiority, that it permits us to speak about music. Are there arts, then, including music, without the reflexive capacity of language, which is trying to give names to these moods (humeurs)  of which we have spoken?    Indeed our emotions are also the product of a great literature of naming, of exploring as well as structuring the passions, as Descartes and Spinoza have emphasized, which consists not only in naming them, but also in putting them into an order and eventually of deriving them within the framework of a grand system.

This is what you would call “refiguration,” which expresses the capacity of the work of art to restructure the world of the reader, auditor, or spectator in upsetting his horizon, contesting his expectations, remodeling his feelings in reworking them from the inside , which you name so rightly “the biting power of the work on the world of our experience.”?

Is not this work absolutely parallel in language to what is done outside of language by the arts not transcribable into language, like music basically, but also, in different degrees, painting and sculpture?  The possibility of “speaking about” belongs doubtless to the character of significance attached to verbal signs and non-verbal signs and to their capacity to be interpreted mutually.  Music makes us think perhaps by making us speak.  The work of musical critique basically helps us to comprehend not only how a work is structured, but how it structures the feelings, and to attempt to name the feelings thus created:  what is it in our language, we ask ourselves, that would be the closest approach to the singularity of that feeling?

Leos Janacek says in essence that where the word is lacking music begins, where words cease, one sets oneself to singing . . .

This is again a manner of speaking, for it is also a mark of language that words are lacking:  it is a matter of a lack in language.  Perhaps all the arts are also lacking in one fashion or another. 

In what?

Probably in the creative impulse, which is what we call the ineffable, the unformed, which is only partially exhausted by the forms.  Forming is both an advance, but at the same time a failure with respect to what wishes to be said.  Something demands to be figured, composed, structured.  What?  One could take names from other registers of the human sciences, like ethics, the religious, etc.  It would remain untranslatable into any other type of language which would not be one of those.

Next :  You admit this notion of the absolute untranslatable which perhaps would be this transcendental imaginary? Can one conceive it philosophically?

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