Françoise Balibar in Conversation
The Collège International de Philosophie (CIPh) can be viewed as, and in fact is, a by-product of the French May `68 revolt. That it started among students, especially students in philosophy, had two consequences in the following years: firstly, there was a major demand for more reflection on political and philosophical matters among those who had participated in the movement; secondly, the political (and centralized) power, once it had regained mastery of the situation, was naturally inclined to reduce the importance of philosophy, a discipline taught in the lycées and at the university level, and viewed as subversive. I shall examine how the conjunction of these two factors (a new interest in philosophy outside the field of its professional and traditional practice and the attacks on its very existence inside the educational system) resulted in the search for a renewed practice of philosophy among a group of philosophers around Jacques Derrida. I shall review the different steps which led, in 1983, to the foundation of the CIPh. It will appear that, from the beginning, the CIPh was at the same time inside the institution (its birth was made possible by the election of Mitterrand as President in 1981 and the renewal of the administration which ensued); but also outside of the institution, `sans référence aux garanties, hiérarchies ou légitimités antérieures’ (Derrida).
In the second part of my talk, I shall try to explain the mystery of its longevity. How is it that the CIPh, rooted as it is in the ideology of may 68, has survived up to now, nearly 30 years later, in a general context increasingly so alien to such an ideology? I shall argue, as a tentative explanation, that the strength of the CIPh lies in its extravagancy; in the way it exceeds institutional limits. The mere definition of the CIPh as a place for research (`recherche et formation à la recherche’) in a country such as France where dedicated state institutions (CNRS, INSERM and so on) have the monopoly (through grants and logistics) of research activities was, and still is, one of these extravagancies. Another extravagancy was (but is no more) the definition of the CIPh as situated on the borders common to two more more traditional disciplines; still, the CIPh has a different approach to pluridisciplinarity: it involves, not a collection of talks and papers by specialists, one after the other in their own field, but `seminars’, a modality of research activity borrowed from the German University as founded by Humboldt. These extravagancies, and some others into the details of which I shall enter, are what make the CIPh so special. But one should not indulge in too much auto-satisfaction: the CIPh has its weaknesses (on which I shall insist) that make it as fragile as a piece of chinaware.
Biography: Françoise Balibar; Born 1941 in Clermont-Ferrand. Student in the ENSJF (Ecole Normale Supérieure pour Jeunes Filles) in the science section (1960-1964). 1964-2001 teaches Physics, first as assistant at the Sorbonne, then from 1971 onwards, as full professor at Paris VII University. Co-author (with Jean-Marc Lévy-Leblond) of a textbook on Quantum Physics, translated into English under the title Quantics and unorthdox in intention. From 1981 to 1991, translator into French of Einstein’s works (6 volumes including scientific, philosophical and political writings).
Introduction by Professor Andrew Gibson .