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 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.

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

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

Not unless it’s by lack, the being in default which is also a being-in-debt.  There are some beautiful analyses by Heidegger on the Schuld which is more than moral:  it is the being-in-debt, which is also tied to the being which he calls gefallen, that is to say limited in its situated being.

Ultimately, with respect to what Wittgenstein says: “Of what one cannot speak , thereof one must be silent”, could not one maintain the inverse in relation to the untranslatable:  we must ceaselessly try to say what cannot be said.?

Yes, you evoke he conclusion of the Tractatus, that is, a type of closed discourse which at the end designates its own lack. But Wittgenstein also explores ordinary language, mysticism and morality. There are other language games possible. In the Tractatus, he has played only one, that which is perfectly structured in the realm of the purely theoretical by “This is the case.” The closedness of this discourse is itself designated at the end by silence, but this silence can be broken by another type of discourse, by Wittgenstein himself, who has indeed not stopped speaking. . . And thus the Tractatus becomes a kind of closed island in a sea of discourse. 

You have just evoked the notions of lack, of absence, of silence.  How do you see the installation by the work of art of this other than silence, of this other than absence?

It’s the work of art itself.  Music precisely breaks the silence, even if it also creates silence. It segments itself by means of silence and in a certain way it reveals silence, both interstitial and surrounding, and perhaps there it withholds itself by the feeling that all is not said in this work, since there will be other works.  We could even say that the artist is the unity of multiple works:  what is not said in one is said in another.  The identity of the creator multiplies itself, fragments itself and is recomposed through this series which constitutes the approximation of an unsayable.  In addition we recognize the works;  we say, it’s a Cezanne, it’s a Monet. The series -- this is what creates the interest, testifying to the identity of the creator.

The inexhaustible is perhaps also the inexhaustible of identity-ipseity, that, to cite you, of a “subject capable of designating itself as being himself the author of his words and acts, a non-substantial and non-immutable subject, but nonetheless one responsible for his saying and doing”.  Ultimately, do we not recognize the ipseity of a Picasso even though he also has changed from one period to another?

I had tried to extend beyond its birthplace this risky distinction between two kinds of identity, the repetitive identity of the same, of the idem or “sameness,” on the one hand, and the identity in process of the ipse, on the other (a distinction that is marked by selbig and selbst in German, same and self  in English). I had thought first of all of the narrative construction of identity in ipseity, but I had also applied it to its keeping a promise: I will hold myself to the “keeping.”  Is there not also a keeping, a maintaining, which brings it about that one recognizes in a single work the same author?  This is an interesting sameness, since it is the sameness of a succession within novelty.  Each work is each time a new work, but one which, in participating in a series, designates the ipseity of the creator. . . .

And perhaps also of the receiver?

To understand, for the spectator or listener, is also to know how to follow the trajectory from one work to another:  the game of identity and plurality in the composition of a promise to oneself, of a self-constancy in diversity.  In addition there is here an ethical aspect.  “I will hold myself,” this is a promise kept, in any case a plan followed, a fidelity to oneself, which is not a repetitive imitation, but a creation faithful to itself, a fidelity in the progression of the same promise, in the multiplicity of its effectuations.

This makes one think of the question of uchronia or utopia.  Ultimately this ipseity opens up a world, it is not simply a manner of “inhabiting the world” such as it is.  It is this other world that is an almost eschatological promise. 

I believe it is necessary to retain the word world:  it designates a possibility of inhabiting, or a habitability put to the test.  A world is something I find and which I can inhabit under diverse modalities, according as it is hospitable, familiar, strange, or hostile.  The paintings of marine disasters, of expanses of sky, of glacial deserts, show a space in which it is not possible to put a human shelter:  thus there is restored to its fragility the act of inhabiting submitted to the vulnerability of being in a hostile world. The very notion of shelter is of interest for inhabiting, because it is the relation of menace to security, at the same time that it is the delimitation of a space shared between an interior and an exterior.  Every work of art perhaps repeats this relation between interior and exterior.  In painting it is also the reflection on the margins, and the frame is sometimes interpreted by some people as a broken window:  the immensity of the world is as it were cut off at the interior of the frame by a sort of crevice, of a placing into a depth scooped out within the closed-in space of the frame.  In refiguring our world, the work of art is revealed in its turn as capable of being a world.

Is this notion of world not a little too “mundane” in all senses of the term?  This relates to the question of ethics evoked previously in which one can ask oneself if it is part of the world even if it relates to the world?

Ethics has as its function to orient action, while in aesthetics there is a suspension of action, and therefore, by the same stroke, of the permitted and the prohibited, of the obligatory and the preferable.  I believe we must maintain the category of the imagination, which is a good guide.  The imagination is the non-censurable.  

For art?

Yes, for art, under all its forms.  Every time composition becomes customary and  is transformed by injunctions, by “ethicizing” the aesthetic in some way, there is the necessity of a moment of rupture, of provocation, as the examples of Schoenberg, Varese or Boulez show in music.  This is in order to regain the free expansion of the imaginary, defined by that non-censured capacity.

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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