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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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What is the relation precisely between this non-censure and the potential censure by ethics which presupposes prohibitions and ethical commandments (“Thou shalt not kill”), when  in principle there are no aesthetic commandments?

What we must not do is to draw an ethics from an aesthetics, which is the counterpart of the liberation of aesthetics in respect to ethics.  From this point of view I would say with the Medievals that we must maintain the perfect autonomy of  each of the great Transcendentals:  The Just, the True, the Beautiful.  The Beautiful is neither just nor true. I agree that Being is said by the beautiful, but precisely it is not said in the truth-functional (veritative) mode, nor in the injunctive mode.

You are not then in accord, it seems, with the postmoderns  who make of aesthetics an ethics and of ethics an aesthetics, in particular with all those a la mode theories which consist in making of life a work of art, an aesthetic masterpiece?

In particular with all the aestheticization of Nietzschean interpretation.  It is here that we rejoin the latest positions of Derrida, now so close to Levinas, when he says:  “There is one thing only that one cannot deconstruct, it is the idea of Justice.”  I really believe that the idea of Justice is irreducible to any aesthetic idea.  Then is it the case that aesthetics can suggest to us something concerning Justice?  This is perhaps the lateral route that Kant himself has explored by way of the Sublime, as distinct from the Beautiful.  Not all aesthetics is an aesthetics of the Beautiful.  To the degree that all beauty elevates us, in particular by its rupture with the utilitarian, it reveals a potential ethical meaning, if only  because it demonstrates that everything does not enter into the commercial order.  This has a moral meaning:  the person is not a means but an end.  In liberating us from the dictatorship of the commercial order, aesthetics effects the beginning of a conversion to the other than the utilitarian or even the pleasant.

Can one say that art introduces us to a “suffering communityas your colleague Michel Henry maintains, or to a community of the Just in the Levinasian sense?  In certain works of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven we sense this nostalgia or this expectation of an authentic human community. 

Here it is necessary to correct what I asserted previously in saying that ethics is the regulation of action.  One should not separate in effect the acting man from the suffering man, practice from the “pathic” (pathique).  It is perhaps at the point of the articulation of practice and the pathic that aesthetics has something to say, as has been shown in particular by Michel Henry, who studies carefully the figurations in exteriority of the pathic in painting, notably in Kandinsky. What we have said about moods relates equally to the pathic.  Perhaps here we are in the zone where the aesthetic and the ethical partially overlap. But to the degree that human action creates suffering by violence, can a pathetique be captured by the aesthetic? This is the question that has been raised by the Shoah.  Perhaps it is not possible to recount by a narrative or by a scenario, but one can perhaps lament-chant. One is then in the order of the lyric, which is the discourse of the pathic.  In language, which is not only practical, there is also the lyrical which one can explore, like the story, from the point of view of time. This is the time of the burden, of usury, of  the sadness of aging, of the nostalgia for what will never return, of the inquietude of what menaces or will not come.  All this pathic of temporality takes place in that zone of connection and actual contamination between the verbal lyrical and the pictorial or musical expression.of the pathic. There is also a creation of the pathic which has not been experienced, of power to undergo otherwise, and this adds to the pathic beyond the already suffered.  By the pathic, one should understand in addition not only  suffering, but also enjoyment, or more broadly the felt.

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