Posts Tagged ‘Michel Onfray’

I had the pleasure of seeing Michel Onfray speak last night in Montreal, a philosopher that I admire greatly. He is the first voice that I have heard in a long time, besides Chris Hedges, that speaks to me directly and holds an understanding of the world very similar to mine. It is always great to hear oneself in the words of someone much more eloquent, but it is also such a special moment when we read someone who understands our idols like us. One thing that I admire most of Onfray is his mission to make philosophy accessible to everyone, much like Camus who believed that we should ensure that philosophy does not only stay in the hands of the professionals, when this is the norm we are faced with philosophers who write for philosophers only and what is the point of that? Michel Onfray, to continue with this personal mission, founded the tuition-free Université Populaire at Caen where he and several colleagues teach philosophy and other subjects. The Université Populaire, which is open to all who cannot access the state university system, and on principle does not accept any money from the State – Onfray uses the profits from his books to help finance it – has had enormous success. This concept and specific inception is based on Onfray’s book La Communauté Philosophique: Manifeste pour l’Université Populaire (2004).

I find this concept to be exciting and necessary, especially in these – Occupy Wall Street, Maple Springs – reactionary times, the popular university in an incredible tool to be able to offer an education by the people for the people. I used to feel uncomfortable with the elitism that permeated my Master’s philosophy classes, the notion that specialized language – which alienates anyone that has no working knowledge of the material – somehow gave it validity and helped to reinforce the academic ivory towers. Camus was of the same opinion if you ask me, that is why he said repeatedly that he was not a philosopher, if we use a Hegel or Sartre as an example, writing texts that are extremely complexes and lost in specialized vocabularies, then yes I agree that he was most definitely not a philosopher. Also, this type of philosopher would say that it is a completely cerebral activity; one of writing books that no one really understands except for the small circle of contemporaries. Camus, on the other hand, lived his philosophy. He believed like Nietzsche that he had to say Yes to life and wrestle with these ideas every day in all situations and expressing in diverse mediums – novels, essay, plays, articles – and with a language that tried to include everyone in the debate. Always focusing on the human – whether it be the human sentiments felt during the Algerian war for independence or any other situation where one had to look at the world with honest eyes – was always a priority for Camus.

If we are to continue these micro revolutions (Maple Spring, the Occupy movement), we must assure that philosophy and other revolutionary ideas be brought to the general public and out of the hands of the professionals. Caen was the first popular university, there are already other copies that have sprung up in France in Lyon, Narbonne, Arras, and other cities, and I was pleased to find out that there is also one in Montreal. This movement must not lose momentum, and it can bring a milieu where people can gather and contribute in the development of radical ideas and theories. With these “institutions” we can work to rehabilitate materialist and sensualist thinking and use it to re-examine our relationship to the world. Approaching philosophy as a reflection of each individual’s personal experience, inquiring into the capabilities of the body and its senses and encourage society to celebrate them through music, painting, and cuisine.

I am calling for a postanarchism, I advocate an anarchism in line with Orwell, Simone Weil, Jean Grenier, Foucault, Deleuze, Guattari; a Nietzschean revolt in order to put an end to the “One” truth, revealed, and to put in evidence the diversity of truths, to help make disappear ascetic Christian ideas and to help arise new possibilities of existence. This is a call to everyone, people sick of living in this unjust world. Michel Onfray is accused of not being 100% objective in his works, when he despise someone he really tears them a new one (i.e. – Freud, Sartre), and when he admires someone he will paint a generous picture of them as people and their philosophies (i.e. – Camus, Nietzsche). I am of the same school, it is hard for me to believe and fight for the vision of someone that did not live by their philosophy. The more that I look into the life of Camus, the more I see a generous, humble, and moral man; and that is how we can start this Nietzschean revolution!


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I just finished reading a book by Michel Onfray entitled L’Ordre Libertaire: La vie philosophique d’Albert Camus, it is a philosophical biography about the person and the development of his thoughts throughout his life. It is a really great concept, I find that this is always a question that we ask ourselves when we read the great minds of our times or the past, did they actually live their philosophy? Camus lived his philosophy and always stayed true to who he was. The poor boy from the neighbourhood of Belcourt in Alger, was a “pieds noirs” by definition but lived the life of a Muslim Algerian much more than his European brothers and sisters, the boy of a poor illiterate cleaning lady widowed during the First World War, used literature as a way to escape the strict and stern grandmother that would beat him on a regular basis at home, and found a way out of the only world that he knew, one of poverty and suffering. He didn’t have the privilege of being raised in the same circle as Jean-Paul Sartre and the others of the St-Germain des Pres group, who were raised in a family of privilege and surrounded by books and the best of ivy schools. Camus saw philosophy and literature as a way out, his philosophy always reflected the life that he lived and he made it a point to always stay true to his beliefs no matter what the subject was. Because of his upbringing, he did not approach philosophy the same way, he was more of a non-philosophers philosopher, living the Nietzschean ‘Yes’ at all times. He lived a philosophical life until his untimely death in 1960, where we found the manuscript to The First Man and The Gay Science by Nietzsche.

What exactly is a philosophical life? How can we think of a man’s existence, his engagement in the world, his outlook on the work, as clear and singular. Michel Onfray would respond that the philosopher thinks that to live and live better, he must reflect on what drives his actions, meditate on the goal and draw an existential map, he reads, writes, in order to organize the chaos that is categorised by a certain verb. For Camus, his verb is action. During this work, Onfray takes all the writings from, whom some would call the James Dean of philosophy, and does not distinguish them, his novels, essays, theater plays, correspondences with friends, notebooks, and treats them as a continuous work. But who is Camus? Michel Onfray describes the philosopher as sensitive and affectionate, generous and loyal, sometimes fragile, hesitant, not sure of himself.  Camus wrote to be read and understood, this is what helped him to exist. Thus, who is the real Albert Camus? Philosopher, author, journalist, the creator of a new language, passionate reader, freedom-loving positive anarchist, anticolonial thinker, no ones disciple. Onfray says that Camus was a hedonist philosopher, pagan, pragmatic, Nietzschean, and he was the son of the poor and he remained loyal to them his whole life.

What this book made me realize was that Camus had a different approach to his colleagues, he commented on Being and Nothingness by stating that it was a strange mistake in our lives that we try to feel our lives from the outside. It is this fidelity to the interior life that Camus builds his philosophical and political sensibilities. It is thanks to this fidelity that he speaks in the first person, just like Montaigne, Pascal, Rousseau, Kierkegaard or Nietzsche. It is in this fidelity to the basic values (honour, dignity, simplicity, fraternity) that he is able to describe the emotions and perceptions from Algeria: the sounds of the city that enters the homes through the balconies, the smells of restaurants in the small side streets, the light from the bay in Alger, the freshness of the evenings with their gentle perfumes. Noces was written for the hedonists and The Rebel pour anarchist thought.

I must admit that I really enjoyed Onfray’s study of anarchy and Camus’s lifelong relationship to it. The Rebel is a text that I have always admired, for many reasons, but one that I truly connected to is the fact that Camus knew that this book would not be well received by the public. He, however, stayed true to who he was and wrote a book that was antitotalitarian, antifascist, anti-capitalist, Camus the libertarian, defends pacificism and the right to criticize. The reception of the book, as we all know, started a war between the intellectual elite against the poor farmer’s son from the poor neighbourhood of Belcourt as being a philosopher for the bourgeois, seeing as he condemned the Soviet regime once it was discovered the existence of the Gulags (very reminiscent of the concentration camps that had happened not that long ago). I always found this argument hard to follow, that Sartre justifies the work camps in the ultimate goal of the communist regime in Russia is fine by me, but how is he the philosopher of the people (a bourgeois by every sense of the word) and that Camus was not with the people. We all remember the series of articles that he published in Alger Republicain at the age of 25 about the situation and suffering in Kablylie in 1939. He defended the arab and muslim minorities, criticized colonialism and its mechanics, avid opponent of classism, and opponent of the death penalty and bloody revolutions. He also stated that the rise in Algerian nationalism was due to the accumulation of the humiliations, frustrations, and exploitations that the people endured. I find that this book was maybe not read with the attention that it deserved, The Rebel is still relevant today and thanks to the clarity and insight that Camus brings, it will always be a reference for our world.

Camus had only one wish, ” Je demande une seule chose, et je la demande humblement, bien que je sache qu’elle est exorbitante : être lu avec attention.” Roughly translated it says that he asks for one thing, and he asks humbly, even if he knows that it is exorbitant: to be read carefully. I think that we owe that much to him.

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