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Félix Ravaisson’s Of Habit

I just read Ravaisson’s Of Habit. It is really a great little book. There is so much more in this essay than I expected and it really shows just how indebted 19th-20th Century French Metaphysics are to Schelling. Ravaisson of course attended Schelling’s lectures in Munich and was apparently set to translate some of Schelling’s works into French though it never panned out. Bergson sounds so much less “out there” when read in the context of Ravaisson. Not only are the roots of Bergsonism in there (by way of the virtual, the focus on memory and repetition, “secret vital forces” at the heart of the organism, etc.), but also the carnal phenomenology that largely separates the French phenomenologists (Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, Henry, Marion, etc.) from the Heideggerian tradition. There’s also a form of the unconscious, which he calls an “unreflective spontaneity” that “breaks into […] the organism, and increasingly establishes itself there, beyond, beneath the region of will, personality and consciousness” (53). He also speaks of it in terms of “effort,” which the translators use to translate both “effort” and “puissance” [power]. The latter term of course becomes important in Deleuze and his reading of Nietzsche. It also proves important in Foucault’s later writings on the Self. Deleuze distinguishes “puissance” (as power-to, possibility) from “pouvoir” (as power-over, domination) when he discusses Nietzsche’s Will to Power. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Ravaisson talks of “puissance” in relation to an unconscious drive (connected with “instinct” and “tendency”), as the ground of possibility at the centre of the organism, much in the same way that the psychoanalytic and vitalist traditions see it. There must be a connection between this early 19th Century Naturphilosophie and the later French psychology tradition (Janet). Besides that, it shows the biologization of Schellingian speculative metaphysics, grounding Schelling in much the same way that thinkers like Lorenz Oken did. Anyone interested in either the Schellingian or 20th Century French tradition owes it to themselves to read this brief essay.

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