Ricoeur and Castoriadis in Discussion
An excerpt from Suzi Adams' new book
This is excerpt contains Suzi Adams’ Foreword to the new Rowman & Littlefield book Ricoeur and Castoriadis in Discussion: On Human Creation, Historical Novelty, and the Social Imaginary, edited by Adams and published in September of 2017. A longer selection, which includes Johann Arnason’s Preface, is linked in PDF at the bottom of the piece. Both are courtesy of the authors and publisher.
The radio discussion between Paul Ricoeur and Cornelius Castoriadis took place in March 1985. It is the only direct encounter between these two great thinkers of the imagination and human creativity. While each was familiar with – and occasionally referred to – the other’s work, they were not interlocutors in any systematic way. This makes the radio dialogue especially valuable. The dialogue itself is relatively short and sometimes fiery. The fault lines are clear to see. Where, for example, Castoriadis defends an approach to creation ex nihilo that rejects an interpretative dimension, Ricoeur repudiates the idea of absolute novelty in favor of a more measured and hermeneutic perspective on human creativity. But as the supplementary essays in this volume clearly demonstrate, critical comparison between Ricoeur and Castoriadis’s intellectual projects provides fertile ground for further philosophical, sociopolitical, and historical reflection.
The dialogue is, however, peppered with some persistent misunderstandings. At one point, Castoriadis notes that they seem to be speaking ‘at cross purposes’. This can be attributed – at least in part – to the various seminar series that each had given in the years prior to the radio encounter, but which were not published at that time and thus remained unknown to the other. This is especially important in Ricoeur’s case, who gave two series of lectures in Chicago in 1975: the first on ideology and utopia as the social imaginary and the second on the more properly philosophical aspects of the imagination. In Castoriadis’s case, his seminars on ancient Greece, delivered at the EHESS in 1982– 1983, were a significant source for his views in the radio discussion.
It is an honour to present the English-language publication of the Ricoeur – Castoriadis radio discussion. The French edition was published as Dialogue sur l’histoire et l’imaginaire social in 2016. It comprised the Ricoeur–Castoriadis dialogue proper and a substantive preface by distinguished Ricoeur scholar, Johann Michel (who, in collaboration with Pascal Vernay, also edited the publication). The English version offers a translation of both the radio dialogue and Michel’s preface. It also includes a preface written especially for this edition by eminent Castoriadis scholar, Johann P. Arnason. Each preface offers a thoughtful contextualisation of the Ricoeur–Castoriadis encounter, but it does so from a different vantage point. Additionally, the English- language publication features supplementary essays by Ricoeur and Castoriadis scholars. Four of these – by George H. Taylor, Johann P. Arnason, Jean-Luc Amalric, and Suzi Adams – were commissioned especially for this volume and engage directly with the themes of the radio dialogue. The final essay by François Dosse, who has written intellectual biographies on both Ricoeur and Castoriadis, takes a broader perspective.
The first essay, by George Taylor, focuses on Ricoeur and Castoriadis’s shared interest in the social imaginary, but notes their divergent emphasis on the creative and productive imagination, and the implications that this difference holds for their approaches to historical novelty. Taylor argues, however, that Ricoeur’s earlier work on the imagination, such as that found in the imagination lectures and the ideology and utopia lectures, demonstrates a different approach to the question of creativity that brings him closer to Castoriadis’s perspective. Johann Arnason’s contribution takes a different approach. He not only notes common ground between the two thinkers, but highlights points of possible conflict from which each thinker retreats. Taking up the themes of historical novelty and continuity/discontinuity in history, Arnason argues that their shared concern with questions of meaning, historical reactivation, and creation does not result in discussion of historical processes, which, as historical novelty unfolds over time, would be important to incorporate. Jean Luc Amalric’s essay focuses on the role that the imagination plays in each thinker’s approach to human creativity. In Castoriadis’s thought, it features as origin, whereas in Ricoeur’s hermeneutical approach, it has a mediating function. Amalric takes the interrelated themes of ‘creation’, ‘production’, and ‘institution’ to build his argument that, although there is indeed common ground, the two thinkers diverge significantly regarding the method of accessing the imagination, as well as their approach to its ontological/hermeneutical status for the human condition. In her contribution, Suzi Adams emphasizes the underdetermined quality of meaning that allows a potential bridge to be built between Castoriadis’s ‘creation ex nihilo ’ and Ricoeur’s articulation of production as ‘from something to something’. In her reconstruction of the problematic of historical continuity and discontinuity in the radio discussion, Adams expands the scope of reference to reveal an implicit dialogue on the hermeneutic spiral, which she argues needs to be rethought in relation to creation, interpretation, and critique. The book concludes with an essay by François Dosse. Dosse focuses on the overall intellectual trajectories of Ricoeur and Castoriadis, rather than on the radio encounter. Taking a wider – and more historical – scope, Dosse traces the shifting implications of the imagination and imaginary in Ricoeur’s and Castoriadis’s respective projects. He argues that, despite their many differences (philosophical, political, and otherwise), there is genuine convergence in the pivotal place that the imaginary holds for the human condition, as the motor of history.
Suzi Adams is Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Flinders University, Australia. She is the author of Castoriadis’s Ontology: Being and Creation (2011), and editor of Cornelius Castoriadis: Key Concepts (2014) and Cornelius Castoriadis: Critical Encounters (a special issue of the European Journal of Social Theory, 2012, co-edited with Ingerid Straume).
For a PDF version of this Foreword, along with Johann Arnason’s Preface to the book, please click here.