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Franco-American Pragmatism?

Franco-American Pragmatism?
by Michael Adams, Cohort 13


Early this summer a group of IDSVA students were able to spend an illuminating few days in Istanbul with visiting professor Sylvère Lotringer. Just as Istanbul straddles East and West, with literally one half in Europe and the other in Asia, Lotringer himself represents a bridge across another East and West, in this case linking contemporary French philosophy with American philosophy.

What struck me was that Lotringer’s philosophy is not merely theoretical, but practical. Coincidentally, I finished reading John Dewey’s Experience and Nature during our time in Istanbul. Perhaps serendipitously would be a better word, since I could not help but notice parallels between Dewey and Lotringer in their quest for a philosophy that is pragmatic. Pragmatism seems to have fallen into ill-repute since the days of Dewey, since it has come to mean compromise, almost in the sense of a willingness to compromise one’s values in order to move forward with a project. Yet, there is another sense of Pragmatism, and it better describes both Dewey and Lotringer: a willingness to engage with culture and society at large, to make the philosophical rubber meet the road. Lotringer’s “Schizo-Culture” conference in 1975, for instance, brought together the most recent French thought and the American artistic avant-garde.

Lotringer’s lectures in Istanbul centered around nomadology—a theory that the most imaginative ideas occur on the fringes of a civilization. That is not to say that civilization is bad, but to realize that it stultifies itself. Like Lotringer’s creative career, his message to us is to act both within established structures (like the art world or academia), but to remain a nomad at heart, with an eye on the ideas at the horizon, too far away for others to see.