MICHEL SERRES PANTOPIC NON-PHILOSOPHY: no logo but legion

Michel Serrres is an excellent example of non-philosophy, precisely because he lays no claim to such a label, or to any label. In his recent book of intervews PANTOPIA, published in 2014, he declares (page 360, my translation):

I do not know how to act in any other way than to want to go everywhere. Like Pantopia. I have paid dearly for that….I have never been considered a specialist of a single domain or of a single problem. But above all there is no concept attached to my name.

The interviewer cites the multitude of philosophical characters in Serres’ work, and he replies:

I feel myself traversed by these personae. I am legion. Who am I? I am a seaman, a philosopher, a teacher, a philosopher, a writer, but also Hermes, Hominescent, Third Cultured, Narrator, etc. My mind functions by means of “analogisme”… it unceasingly projects itself in differences, traversing the infinite plurality of beings and of things.

This explains why I prefer, in all of Serres corpus, the amazing series of books where he gives his writing over most explicitly to this pluralist polyphony of personae: beginning in 1980 with THE PARASITE, through GENESIS, ROME, THE FIVE SENSES, STATUES, right up to THE ORIGINS OF GEOMETRY published in 1993. This is an astonishing sequence of works, and despite their difficulty they come far closer to realising the ideal of pop-philosophy celebrated by Deleuze, yet never fully achieved (although I think his CINEMA I AND II come close).

Michel Serres remarks that his “method” is analogical and animist, his thoughts express themselves spontaneously in a diversity of philosophical characters. He refuses to call them “conceptual personae” for two reasons:

  1. these characters are not conceptual: they are singularities that are recounted in stories, rather than concepts belonging to the domain of generality.
  2. they are not personae: they belong to their own story, they are not extensions of Serres’ ego and of his story. They are generic beings that exist in the world.

These characters are “generic”, neither particular nor general, but bridges between the two. They are also philosophical without being conceptual and literary without being novelistic, bridging the gap between philosophy and literature.

“In reality, I think that the distinction between literature and philosophy is to a large extent a university artefact. Philosophers’ works are full of stories and novelists’ works are full of conceptual analysis” (Michel Serres PANTOPIE, 105, my translation).

One consequence of this is that one should look for “philo-fiction” in the work of Michel Serres (or of Bruno Latour or of Gilles Deleuze), rather than in that of François Laruelle or of his disciples.

“The place that I occupy is in effect difficult to situate. Philosophers don’t recognise me as one of them because I produce stories, and the literary don’t recognise me as one of them, because I am not really writing literature. But, in reality, I situate myself in a great tradition which goes from Montaigne to Pascal. I feel very close to this tradition of French language philosophy where the story is fundamental” (ibid, 91).

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