eRenlai Editor (e人籟編輯)
Luce Giard is a senior fellow researcher at the CNRS and the EHESS. She is the depositary and editor of Michel de Certeau's works. She is the director and organizer of the international conference "Michel de Certeau, le voyage de l'oeuvre" (Paris, March 2016).
- Could you introduce to us the colloquium you are presently organising, and which will be taking place in March 2016 in Paris?
The Conference in March 2016 in Paris will allow readers of Certeau's works to encounter and compare their analysis of his works. Invited speakers will come from all over the world. Generally they have never met one another, many of them are neither aware of other kinds of interpretation about Certeau's works nor have been able of reading papers published in many other languages.
- This colloquium seems to be very much focused on the reception of Michel de Certeau abroad. What are the countries in which Certeau's thought exercised most influence, and for which reason?
Certeau's books have been translated into 20 different languages, which shows how broad is the reception of his thought. Not all books are circulated in every country. Selections according to topics and/or related to circumstances and intellectual settings in different countries explain the choices made here or there about topics, issues, historical periods in which a local or regional readership got attracted to Certeau's thought.
There were also and there are still differences in time about Certeau's reception in different countries. For instance, in the USA Certeau was first known for his cultural studies, but in Great Britain more attention was given to his theological output. In Latin America his political insights were very influential at the time of dictatorship and social violent struggles
- Could you tell us more about the way Certeau's insights, concerns and methodologies are now received in Asia?
In Asia Certeau was first read in Japan thanks to some Japanese intellectuals who had studied in France in the semiotic and linguistic milieu with Greimas and Roland Barthes. Then his works started to be translated into Chinese, and in the last few years it was the same in Korea.
It seems that in Japan his analysis of the question of "time", "time-periods", and historiography attracts much attention. In China what concerns the practices of everyday life and also anthropology is at the center of the picture. In Korea the issues about possession, spirits, and the like are highly regarded in his works: the first translation to appear in Korea was "The possession at Loudun".
Illustration by Bendu
Some writings by Michel de Certeau have been translated into Chinese. Chinese translations of "History and Psychoanalysis" (2010) and volume 2 of "The Practice of Everyday Life" (2014) have appeared, and "The Writing of History"(2012) and "The Practice of Everyday Life" (volume 1, 2009) have attracted the attention of anthropologists and historians. The other dimensions of Certeau's thought remain practically unknown. Much remains to be done in order to foster the impact that the thought of Certeau may potentially exercise on Chinese social and human sciences.
In October-November 2014, the Xu-Ricci Dialogue Institute at Fudan University invited Luce Giard, editor of the works of Certeau, to come to Shanghai. Three lessons introduced the audience to Certeau's thought and methodology in the field of historiography, anthropology and spirituality. And, most important, a one-day faculty seminar organized around some texts of Certeau, attended by 15 young professors from four different universities, discussed the methodology and meaning of social research in today's China.
Different initiatives are now taking shape in order to translate, disseminate and cross-fertilize the thought of Certeau in the context of contemporary China.
Luce Giard, her editor, has offered an excellent and inspiring English biography of Michel de Certeau, available online at http://www.jesuites.com/histoire/certeau.htm#bio
Luce Giard's essay can be complemented by the reading of François Dosse, Michel de Certeau le marcheur blessé, Paris, La Découverte, 2002 and a Spanish translation is available thanks to Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City.
The sketch that follows is mainly based on Luce Giard's text.
Michel de Certeau was born in 1925, in Chambéry (Savoie). He studied at the universities of Grenoble, Paris, and Lyons from 1944 to 1950, receiving degrees in Classics and Philosophy. He also studied at the "Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice" at Issy-les-Moulineaux, a Paris suburb, for two academic years and then at the Catholic University of Lyons, which had a strong program in biblical studies. In 1950 he decides to join the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), following the usual curriculum of philosophy and theology studies, with special focus on Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. He was ordained a priest in 1956.
He first started a dissertation on Saint Augustine, aiming to analyze how the latter had reshaped Christian theology into a pessimistic legalist doctrine by selectively adopting elements of the Greek Church fathers and readapting them for people shaped by Roman legal concepts. Certeau would always be fascinated by the circulation and transformation of concepts, codes and practices. This unachieved study of Augustine already encapsulates his travels from theology to history, from anthropology to sociology
However, he was soon asked to rather invest on the study of the first spiritual authors of the Jesuit Order, including Ignatius of Loyola. Certeau thus received a Doctorate in religious history with a dissertation on Pierre Favre's spiritual diary in 1960. Favre (1506-1546), a Savoyard (canonized by Pope Francis in December 2013) encountered Ignatius Loyola at the University of Paris, he was among the first companions who joined Loyola to found the Society of Jesus in 1543. Certeau moved soon to the figure of Jean-Joseph Surin, a Jesuit from Bordeaux, contemporary of Descartes, who had been involved in difficult cases of demonic possession (see Certeau's The Possession at Loudun, University of Chicago Press, 2000). Certeau provided editions of Surin's Guide spirituel (1963) and of his Letters (1966). His desire to better understand Surin's destiny and mystical writings brought him to the active psychoanalytical milieu in Paris and he became close to Jacques Lacan (see Certeau's Histoire et psychanalyse entre science et fiction, Gallimard, 1987, partly translated in Heterologies, University of Minnesota Press, 1986. Full Chinese translation published in 2010).
During those years, Certeau steadily worked for French Jesuit journals: the influential monthly Études, the quarterly Christus specialized in spirituality and two scholarly journals on religious history and theology, Revue d'ascétique et de mystique, and Recherches de science religieuse. He underwent a life-threatening car accident in 1967, in which he lost one eye The other turning-point in his life was brought by the events of May 1968 (see his book The Capture of Speech, University of Minnesota Press, 1997).
His analysis of the cultural and social changes taking place then brought him much fame in France, and from this time onwards he was asked to participate in endless cultural and media events. From 1970 on, he would publish book after book: on demonic possession (1970), on historiography (1973, 1975), on linguistic policy and social hierarchy (1975), on mass media, consumption and daily life (1980), on mystics (1982). At the same time, he would regularly teach graduate programs in different research fields at various universities: theology (Catholic University, Paris), anthropology and psychoanalysis (Université de Paris-Vincennes), then anthropology and history (Université de Paris VII), as well as literature and cultural studies at University of California at San Diego in 1978-1984. His Californian experience in San Diego ended when he accepted a new position at EHESS in Paris on "the historical anthropology of beliefs (16th -18th centuries)." He opened his teaching there in Fall 1984 but died from cancer in January 1986.
Names such as Roland Barthes, Jacques Lacan, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida or Jean-François Lyotard are usually mentioned in any description of the “French Theory” landscape (the intellectual climate that took shape towards the end of the 1960s and developed in the 1970s and in most of the 1980). It was their works which exercised most influence abroad, especially in the United States, where the term “French Theory” was ultimately coined. The name of Michel de Certeau is not usually quoted in this context. Several reasons might explain this situation:
- Certeau was an independent thinker, who never tried to attach his name to a school or a given theory. “Michel de Certeau was not fond of defining who he was, nor did he like hemming in what he did to fit within the sort of disciplinary categories that university professors, as to reassure themselves, claim as their own.”
- At the same time, he remained a Jesuit till his death: though he certainly developed a very peculiar intellectual style compared to the majority of Jesuit intellectuals, this affiliation seems to be at odds with an intellectual movement that, at first glance, had no religious consonance at all and is often described as “anti-humanist.”
- Thirdly, if Certeau was very influential in France the echo met by his work was for long rather limited abroad. Nowadays, the situation has drastically changed: during the last thirty years, translations of his works have been published in more than 20 languages. Certeau has found an audience on which he has exercised an influence that may be deeper than it has been the case for Foucault or Derrida, even if the readership of the two latter is more widespread.
Certeau was an active member of the French intellectual scene at the period considered. He participated in the same debates and circles as well-known historians and philosophers did, such asPierre Nora, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Roger Chartier or Louis Marin, among others. At the same time he developed studies on topics of his own that progressively became very influential. He was a risk-taker, or yet, as writes his biographer François Dosse, a “wounded walker.” In a text he wrote as a homage, Jacques Derrida has described Michel de Certeau as living and writing under a “Yes”: Certeau, he says, had reflected upon the way all mystical experiences and discourses start by risking a “Yes”, a “Yes” that makes the ones who pronounce it able to depart from well-known ground so as to embark into unknown territories. Saying “yes’ means at the same time to mark a breaking point and to enter into a promise. And Certeau, continues Derrida, thanks to the unconditional “Yes” under which he was placing himself, was living intellectual exploration as both danger and promise.
 Roger Chartier, On the Edge of the Cliff, Baltimore, John Hopkins U.P., 1997.p.39.
 Such appreciation should actually be qualified: a thinker like Lacan cannot be understood outside his relationship to the Catholic tradition. More generally, the relationship of “French Theory” to the topic of religious faith and even religious institutions would require a careful appraisal.
 Both Certeau and Derrida meditate over a well-known sentence from Angelius Silesius (1624-1677): “God never says anything else than a ‘Yes’ ” (Gott spricht nur immer Ja).
 Jacques Derrida, “Nombre de Oui”, in Luce Giard (ed.) Michel de Certeau, Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, “Cahiers pour un temps”, 1987, pp.193-205.
In June 2015, the French monthly Esprit published an issue on: "François, a Jesuit Pope."
The issue includes three articles of special interest for the readers of eRenlai:
- Luce Giard offers us a portrait of Teilhard, linking the prophetic version of the thinker to the transformations brought in the Chuch by the present pontificate.
- Benoit Vermander traces back the history of the second Jesuit mission in China, thus giving us glimpses on the institutional context of which Teilhard was part.
- Jin lu, a popular contributor of eRenlai, brings together the mystique of michel de Certeau with the spirit of Pope Francis.
Taken as a whole, this issue by Esprit and the documentary brought forward by eRenlai testify to the resilience of a spiritual and intellectual tradition that is taking a new meaning in view of the present global challenges.
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