Friday, December 24, 2004

From the Mail: Freienstein on Blondel

Peter Freienstein writes:
[Hyperlinks added by BV]

I am very happy you actually answered my letter. Thanks a lot! That Oliva Blanchette is working on an intellectual biography of Blondel I know from his homepage. I wrote to him and he confirmed that the book is finished and he is trying to publish it. He told me in an e-mail that it would be published by the end of 2004. However, so far I haven´t heard of the book.

Two very good authors on Blondel are the following: Michael Conway, The Science of Life (2000) and John McNeill, The Blondelian Synthesis (1966). In fact these are the best discussions of Blondel´s thought that I know of. The first one is great on unravelling the 'French connection' and introduces the reader to Ravaisson, Lachelier and Boutroux, all of whom have been extremely important for the formation of Blondel´s system.

The second one is an effort to reveal the German sources of Blondel´s ideas. As some kind of answer to Kant has been a lifelong preoccupation of Blondel´s, this is fundamental reading. (The way Blondel grapples with Kant is evident already in his diary, an excerpt from which has appeared in German, translated by Hans Urs von Balthasar - Tagebuch vor Gott: 1883-1894 - which is a fascinating read I will never forget.)

Three essays Blondel wrote in the years after L´Action have been translated into German under the title Der Ausgangspunkt des Philosophierens (Hamburg: Meiner, 1992). These are brilliant pieces. Whatever Blondel says on philosophy is connected with his teleological orientation. Even in L´Action this is already apparent, as he keeps pointing to the need of first going through appearances to finally reach being, to finally recognize backwards [retrospectively] even the appearances as being. It is like someone who is in a dark room full of furniture, but can´t make out anything clearly. He can touch and feel, but wants to know more. So he makes his way through the room to somehow switch on the light. Having done so he understands about the room and is aware that only in this light can he say anything valid about it. Blondel´s is some kind of 'eschatological gnoseology.'

This holds good for all the other aspects of his thought. Also when he discusses autonomy and heteronomy. In one of his writings he turns to his hut in Aix-en-Provence and explains that in its actual construction it can only stand because of the roof, which supports all the walls, which without the roof would tumble down. So in some kind of reversal of the natural orientation the end supports the beginning. What comes last is what is first. It reminds me of Rosenzweig´s celebrated suitcase example. What you take out last has been put in first.

Personally, by the way, I have been philosophizing all my life. Even my childhood memories are full of this. I later on studied Theology and English and now am a high school teacher in Hildesheim near Hanover, where I live. It´s great for me to find philosophical companions even across the Atlantic, for as a teacher I have to deal with so many non-philosophical issues every day. Still, I have a philosophy workshop attended by a number of good students, and I like my job, no doubt. At the moment I am preparing a booklet for teachers on Kazuo Ishiguro´s novel The Remains of the Day, a novel that has impressed me in many ways. I learned that Ishiguro studied philosophy in England. I strongly recommend you to read it. I think one cannot read the book without being touched to the core. Thanks for your patience!

Yours sincerely,

Peter Freienstein