R. M. Stanton (review date 3 October 1980)
SOURCE: Stanton, R. M. “When Logic Turns Lethal.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4044 (3 October 1980): 1109.
[In the following review of La conscience malheureuse, Faux traité d'esthétique, and Rimbaud le voyou, Stanton notes that Fondane's philosophy and criticism were highly original, and anticipated later French intellectual debates.]
Benjamin Fondane's work contains the aspirations and defeats of a lost generation of refugees. His life took the same course as those of so many hundreds of thousands of others—flight from his native land, Romania; an uncertain interim existence in Paris, expecting the worst; and finally, arrest by the Gestapo, deportation and death in the gas-chambers of Birkenau-Auschwitz in October 1944. The anonymity, though, the banality of the suffering, freed him from old ties to polite formalities, academic manners and artistic “savoir faire”. Once exiled, no holds were barred. Beautiful illusions, neatly constructed thought-systems, were swiftly axed. Awkward emotions—anger, despair and frustration—were no longer censored. The result, as the three volumes now reissued show, was some of the most controversial and original poetry, philosophy, and film and political commentary of the period.
Fondane's major objective was to expose the uses to which academic discourse was put in modern society. He believed that ideal, rationalistic political systems masked extremes of violence, that complex terminology, with narrow, fixed definitions, concealed powerful prejudices. “I call ‘idea’”, he wrote in 1933,
all that has pretensions to unique certainty, infallibility, authority, all that commands, constrains, oppresses and kills, defines truth once and for all, unique truth that forbids doubt, research, abstention, subjugates exceptions to the majority, judges the abnormal by the normal, the individual by the crowd. I call ‘idea’ all in the name of which one makes whites kill blacks, Germans kill Jews, bourgeois kill communists, communists / kill Trotskyists … I don't know an idea which hasn't got at least 100,000 murders on its conscience.
Fondane's basic strategy was to illustrate how logical hierarchies mirrored political and social ones. In some cases he juxtaposed serious arguments with absurd examples. Husserl's eidetic abstraction (epoché), for example, the method by which philosophers were supposed to move from experience to secondary objective meaning, was related to the later view that “primitives” were inferior precisely because they could not perform such a process, that is, they had no philosophers to advise them (cf, Husserl, Der Krisis...
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