[lit-ideas] The Camel derived from idea of the ego

  • From: "Lawrence Helm" <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "Lit-Ideas" <Lit-Ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 17 Nov 2007 10:34:16 -0800

?A Frenchman, an Englishman, and a German each undertook a study of the


?The Frenchman went to the Jardin des Plantes, spent half an hour there,
questioned the guard, threw bread to the camel, poked it with the point of
his umbrella, and, returning home, wrote an article for his paper full of
sharp and witty observations.


?The Englishman, taking his tea basket and a good deal of camping equipment,
went to set up camp in the Orient, returning after a sojourn of two or three
years with a fat volume, full of raw, disorganized, and inconclusive facts
which, nevertheless, had real documentary value.


?As for the German, filled with disdain for the Frenchman?s frivolity and
the Englishman?s lack of general ideas, he locked himself in his room, and
there he drafted a several-volume work entitled: The Idea of the Camel
Derived from the Concept of the Ego.?


La Perlerin, September 1, 1929, p. 13 and quoted in the front of French
Philosophy of the Sixties, An Essay on Antihumanism by Luc Ferry and Alain



F&R don?t use the term ?Renaissance Man? that I recall.  I used that term to
epitomize what they say about the ?subject? at the time of the Renaissance.
The anti-humanists, they argue, have chipped away at the subject much as
Esperanza is at this moment chipping away at the concept of the Renaissance
Man, but it isn?t the terminology they are concerned about, as near as I can
tell, but the undermining of the autonomy of the subject by such Germans,
perhaps, as the one irreverently epitomized in the La Perlerin quote.


In their Conclusion F&R write about what the Subject is permitted, by the
philosophers they discuss, to know: 


?To conclude this essay we will return to our starting point.  Is there some
paradox, some contradiction , emphasizing the essential character of the
individualist component of May ?68, as we have done, and in using the
expression ?68 philosophy? to designate these philosophers, when as diverse
as they are, they had in common not only their critique of humanism but
their lack of sympathy (which is the least one can say) for the ?consumer
society? where individuality of the most exaggerated kind has flourished and


?This whole book proves an answer to this objection, but since we wish to be
clear we will repeat that the critique of truth as Absolute Knowledge,
though perfectly legitimate in itself when not accompanied by a
consideration of the regulating value that the demands of reason can ideally
nevertheless preserve, can be wonderfully reconciled with the individualist
sentimentality that the formula ?To each his own truth? expresses so well.
If the truth must be shattered, if there are no facts but only
interpretations, if all references to universal norms are inevitably
catastrophic, then is not the essential thing to ?participate,? as the say?
And, from this point of view, do not deconstructions of modernity accompany
democracy, in the Tocquevillean sense of the word, to the farthest point,
making authenticity the supreme value, whatever its content may be?  The
most spontaneous and naïve ideology, for example, the ideology of those
lyceens who saw their philosophy professor as combating popular opinion,
meets the most elaborate philosophy when it valorizes the ?plural,? the
?open,? the ?complex,? ?fertile tensions,? even ?contradictions? in and of
themselves.  In short, as the song says ?everyone does his own thing,?
everyone has the absolute right to heterogeneity (to difference) since, as
we have noted, everyone agrees with J. ?F. Lyotard: ?Consensus obtained
through discussion, in Habermas? sense?  That violates the heterogeneity of
language games.?  [quoted from Lyotard?s La Condition post-modern, Paris,
1979, p. 8]


Quite simply, there are two questions: If freely consented to and discussed,
what is so terrible about such a consensus?  And if consensus is not sought
through free discussion, where will it emerge, if not from violence?  Even
though he was writing with his right hand, it is true, Marx taught us at
least one thing: Merely left to themselves, heterogeneous interests are
nothing other than the law of the fittest.?







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