New PDF release: Reading the French Enlightenment: System and Subversion

By Julie Candler Hayes

Analyzing the French Enlightenment bargains an formidable reinterpretation of an important point of eighteenth-century inspiration, the rationalizing and classifying impulse or "systematic spirit." Julie Candler Hayes surveys the prior fifty years of philosophical mirrored image at the Enlightenment, and takes factor either with conventional liberal and with modern serious bills, arguing in its place for a brand new figuring out of "systematic cause" as advanced, paradoxical, and finally freeing. via shut research of philosophical, medical, and literary texts, she emphasizes the urgency of preserving a discussion among earlier and current, Enlightenment and modernity.

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Perception may be unreliable, arbitrary, and contingent, the effect of unknown causes, but the disjunction between the center of consciousness and the world is sharp and unambiguous. Thus ``SysteÁme'' ± origins and itineraries 39 Buffon's method, while presenting a formidable critique of and alternative to the totalizing effects of abstract taxonomy, maintains a certain complicity with its potential for creating patterns of estrangement and domination. d'—lem˜ert ± esprit syste m—tique vsF esprit de systeÁ me D'Alembert's Discours preÂliminaire to the EncyclopeÂdie is the text which most fully articulates the tensions we have seen emerging through the ®rst half of the eighteenth century.

In perusing these ®nal pages of the SysteÁme du coeur, one has the impression that the ``re¯exions jetteÂes au hazard sur du papier'' from which the work supposedly originated, have again succeeded in freeing themselves from the author's system, although, given his practice, such a system seems to have been little more than wishful 28 Reading the French Enlightenment nostalgia for clarity, distinctness, and utterly unanswerable arguments. The incipient paradox in Gamaches's Avertissement between unre¯ective, but ``systematic,'' readers, and intelligent, but unpredictable, readers, is one that other writers will attempt to explicate and resolve.

A secret garden''36 where other perceptions, connections, and potentials are to be found. Let us begin by reconsidering the Odyssey. Both Rousseau's insistence on the unresisting ``tranquillity'' of Odysseus's companions, and Horkheimer and Adorno's concentration on the hero's ruthlessness give a one-sided view. Despite the siren-like seduction of such readings and their usefulness in various contexts of philosophy and cultural analysis, it is nonetheless the case that this Odysseus whose single-minded quest has been read as the preservation of identity through purposive reason, and therefore taken as emblematic of the rationalizing process, was a very different sort of ®gure for the Greeks, who saw in him the thorough embodiment of meÃtis or cunning intelligence.

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