« A PHILOSOPHICAL EXPERIENCE IN THE MONTS D’AZUR (SUMMER 2012) »
« I would like to give an account of an experience I had during a stay at La Réserve des Monts d’Azur, in an unusual meeting for me with a world of animals, and one that I still cannot explain in terms of the profound benefits, an encounter with a singular type of animal presence paradoxically emphasizing the absence of the man , and thus creating a sense of something important missing in oneself which could explain the malaise that characterizes the human condition, that which Freud diagnosed as the “malaise in civilization ».
We can not know what “thinking” could mean for an animal, or relate it to human ways of thinking, because we do not really know what the animal feels, as Descartes said. For the human being, to think corresponds to a mode of existence which engages all that he is, to think describes the essence of the man to speak like the classical philosophy (we are “thinking substances”, still Descartes ). But for the animal, the thought is perhaps only a particular modality of the act, a mode of relation in the middle marked by a multitude of small differences modifying its perceptual worlds, as J. von Uexküll explains it (Animal environment and human environment), thus posing for him new problems. In this sense, man and animal share the same genesis in which the psyche develops only when the vital functions are no longer sufficient to solve the problems posed in the living world whose entire life energy aims to ensure conservation and reproduction.
« It’s possible that animals think »
It is possible that animals think, or, to avoid a term too laden with multiple implications, that they can be in psychic situations that lead them to produce acts of thought.
So there is no sense to demonstrate at all costs that animals “think” – in classical philosophy, the question is always taken up again to show, in the end, that there is an essential difference between man and animal, that is, to define what the human is in the human being. The question is about man but never his animality, the question does not arise as to what “animal” the humanity of man comes from.
As soon as we ask the question of the relations between man and animal, terms in which we question always cover moral and metaphysical notions. But if we stick to life sciences and to what behavioral psychology teaches us, in order to represent what psyche and thought are, all we can ascertain is that we cannot exclude at first the hypothesis that every being, from the moment he is alive, can access thought and develop a complex psychic universe.
We do not know what a body can do, said Spinoza. And in the same way, one can not anticipate what a being can be as soon as he has life, what he can do and with whom he can enter into a relationship. Relating to the human soul, the metaphysical hypothesis (the term encompassing here what is classed under the name of religious and mystic) of an animal soul, and even of a vegetal soul, refers to the idea of a common essence. There is no differential conception of the soul, but it is from the body and its functions that we can deduce from the differences between the ways of living of a soul according to whether it is incarnated in a human body , animal or plant. The question is therefore not so much what distinguishes man and animal, but what distinguishes the psychic and the vital.
Philosophy begins with the Socratic act of basing the eminent dignity of man on the “anthropological difference”, distinguishing intelligence and instinct and opposing the vital principle of men to that of living beings (animals and plants). Socrates opposes intelligence to instinct, since Socrates instinct is judged by the intelligence will say Nietzsche. In this debasement of the body for the benefit of the soul originates a humanism that is always valid for us and for which man is an absolutely singular reality that is comparable to no other in nature (phusis). But from this difference of nature between the instinct of animals and the human intelligence derives above all a consequence of which we always suffer effects because it is rooted in depths of our thought patterns: the animal will now be considered through man to the extent that human reality becomes the completed model of all forms of being .
In the most “scientific” text of Plato, Timaeus, we thus witness the creation of animal species according to a gradual degradation from man, as a sort of theory of evolution in reverse. And even in what may be called Aristotelian “naturalism”, based on equivalence between human, animal and plant functions, man sharing with animals the same type of sensitivity, imagination, memory, if not even of desire (the human species is not different in nature from animal species), difference remains in what makes man’s superiority: faculty of reasoning (to logistikon) and ability to choose freely (to prairésis ), or ability to opt for what is logically preferable.
It is precisely this whole cultural montage, on which is based as well representation that we have of ourselves as our capacity to organize our relations with the world, which was literally deconstructed in the simple “exposition” of a animality returned to itself.
“Walking visit” to the animals is a record that leaves us still in this exteriority of humanity to animality, even if the regulated and respectful approach of European bison or Przewalsky horses is worth as a ” show “whose emotional intensity seems to warn that it is something other than a simple zoography without grids or cages, as impressive as it may be for itself.
« Animal and Plant coexist, exist one through the other »
It is a totally unexpected moment, the irruption of a sort of immanent scenography in the living, which will break into this mental device where the animal is always seen through man. At dusk, we will discover the vast meadow that occupies a large part of the estate, occupied (in the strict sense of the term, that is to say, once inhabited and disposed to an activity animating everything) by what appears then as the entire animal population of the area, including commensal species descended from the forest and surrounding mountains. Bisons and horses, large deer, wild boars, foxes, etc., all arranged, in no apparent order, according to a way of occupation and spatialization of the frame where animal and plant coexist, exist one through the Another, according to an enigmatic register, that to say that it represents an immemorial mode of belonging to a common world remains a vague approximation.
« A mixture of delight and astonishment »
The enigma lies in the nature of the sensory register in which the simple view of what is shown plunge us . A mixture of delight and astonishment (these two types of sensations referring to the same way of being taken away from oneself) which expresses itself in a type of emotionality that is too complex, or too little accustomed, to be clearly described. but where the feeling of a deep inner peace seems to manifest in the same agreement the peaceful and the pain.
That the spectacle of an animality rendered to itself can thus peacefully inspire us a form of agreement with oneself is still conceivable. But there remains this vague feeling of sorrow, of almost attrition (like the indefinable regret of having committed a fault for which one will have to pay) of which it is difficult to give an account. And that seems to plunge too deeply into the obscure depths that the clear conscience covers, to be only the rather ridiculous effect of a sentimentality in which we like to take refuge so as not to have to think.
« This show is what our ancestors can see daily »
I do not have any theory available here. Except perhaps an indication given in a reflection made by one of the actors of the Mont d’Azur team saying simply : « this show, it is what our ancestors can see daily for tens of thousands of years. That’s what they saw every day! ».
As if, in this moment of fullness, the empty space of the landscapes that make up our customary world appears hollow. This world in which mankind has been created by denying all that was not himself, starting with wild animal and plant (sylvus, which refers to forest, antagonistic symbol of civilization), this world is an empty frame, with no other background than the vain reflections of our power, that is to say, of our capacity for destruction – the agonistic folly of which we can measure by remembering that we estimate by millions (!) the number of wolves killed by men in the northern hemisphere, from the Middle Ages to the present day.
A world whose emptiness is poignant to us simply sends us back to another emptiness even more profound, to an absence in us, a lack. That of this animality of which our humanity has diverged some 30,000 years ago, our animal part, our “becoming-animal” (G. Deleuze) is present in us as an absence.
There would probably many to object to such an idea. But it seems to me difficult not to consider that much of the “savagery” that we produce in our relationship to the world (consumerist destruction), savagery also of man against man (war as a universal form of violence) and against itself (madness), finds an abyssal origin in this inaugural act by which humanity has denied in himself the part of animality from which he comes . When a force is cut off from what it can, says Nietzsche, it turns against itself to act for its own annihilation. Men prefer to want “the nothing” as to want nothing at all, Nietzsche calls this inversion of values “nihilism”, or the will of nothingness.
The stay at the Mont d’Azur Reserve gives everyone the opportunity to live the experience properly « sensation-nelle » a pace of life, at the crossroads of the « alive »(meaning organization of matter) and the « lived» (in the sense of experience of human beings), for which nihilism would not be a fatality. »