Reading François Jullien’s THE INCOMMENSURABLE (0): From extro-comparatism to decoincidence

I have been reading François Jullien’s work, off and on, for a little over 33 years – since the publication in French of his PROCESS OR CREATION An introduction to the thought of Chinese literary scholars, published in 1989 and still untranslated. His books are quite popular in France and he has published at least 47, many of which are available in cheap paperbacks.

François Jullien is a French philosopher-sinologist, grounded also in Hellenistic studies, who chose to effectuate a long detour from his original formation in philosophy and from the presuppositions implicit in Western philosophy by means of an immersion in Chinese thought, and then proceeded to a return to philosophical creation.

Jullien’s published works can be divided into five stages, representing a chronological evolution:

  1. Literary studies of traditional Chinese texts
  2. Extro-comparatist studies of Western and Chinese thought. (Note: Jullien claims not to be practising « comparatism », but of course he is. No self-respecting French philosopher ever admits to belonging to a particular category such as « structuralism » or « comparatism ». Jullien compares Western and Chinese thought from a point of view « outside » Western presuppositions, so we can call this practice « extro-comparatism »
  3. Inter-cultural studies. Jullien develops a set of concepts that allow him to move back and forth between Western and Eastern modes of thought
  4. Philosophy of existence. Jullien philosophises in his own name, creating a assemblage of philosophical concepts that allow him to think in new ways, thanks to his sinological detour
  5. Decoincidence. Jullien’s most recent thought has come to turn around the concept of « decoincidence », and he has even created the « Association Décoincidences », whose mission is to use this concept to analyse the way way ideology functions to entrench coincidence and its concomitant obedience

My interest is in phase 4, François Jullien’s own philosophy and concepts, and their a contribution to the ongoing philosophical dialogue. In other words, I am interested primarily in what he brings back from his travels, not in the first instance in his travels themselves and in its value for Western contemporary readers. Is the voyage worthwhile to us?

I have decided to liveblog my reading of L’incommensurable, published in 2022. This book can be seen as a conceptual culmination of the fifth, or « decoincidence », phase of Jullien’s research.

I have been interested in the concept of the « incommensurable » for over half a century, ever since first encountering the concept in the work of Paul Feyerabend and Thomas Kuhn. It is also a key concept in the thought of Deleuze and also of Lyotard. Indeed, Lyotard makes « incommensurability » not only the major concept of his « book of philosophy » (THE DIFFEREND) but also the underlying concept of the forefront of French thought.

Apostrophising Habermas Lyotard in 1982 declares:

« What you call recent French philosophy, if it has been in any manner postmodern, it is in that by way of its reflection on the deconstruction of writing (Derrida), on the disorder of discourse (Foucault), on the paradox of epistemology (Serres), on alterity (Levinas), on the effect of sense by nomadic encounter (Deleuze), it has thus placed the accent on incommensurabilities » (Appendice Svelte, in Tombeau de l’intellectuel et autres papiers, my translation).

Thus François Jullien’s recent book is situated squarely within what I have analysed on this blog as the meta-research programme of recent and contemporary French philosophy. It will be interesting to see what contribution he will make to this ongoing meta-project, and how his own project will singularise itself.

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