Adorno on Paul Valéry & Cartesian Rationalism & Irrationalism in French Philosophy

What is especially apparent in such formulations but in fact defines the rhythm of Valéry’s thought in general is what the official history of philosophy would call the opposition of rationalist and irrationalist motifs. The status of those motifs, however, is the opposite in France of what it is in Germany. In Germany it is customary to class rationalism with progress, and irrationalism, as a legacy of Romanticism, with reaction. For Valéry, however, the traditional moment is identical to the Cartesian rationalist moment, and the irrationalist moment is Cartesianism’s self-criticism. The rational-conservative moment in Valéry is the dictatorial civilizing moment, the autonomous ego’s avowed power to control the unconscious. [ . . .] Now as ever, such domination is justified in Cartesian terms, on the basis of clara et distincta perceptio. (pp. 151-2)


SOURCE: Adorno, Theodor W. “Valéry’s Deviations,” in Notes to Literature; Volume One, edited by Rolf Tiedemann, translated by Shierry Weber Nicholsen (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), pp. 137-173.

Comment: The pseudo-radicalism of much of French philosophy of the 20th century, rebelling against the stodgy bourgeois Cartesian inheritance, is herein anticipated, though its bankruptcy is not. — RD


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Paul Valéry Studies - Newcastle upon Tyne


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