Michaël Fœssel holds “water bars” as the perfect symbol of what horrifies him: “hygienism”. “It’s a pretty good paradigm for criticizing what’s wrong with society,” he said. The place he chose, rue de la Roquette, in Paris, is therefore “a restaurant, a wine bar… a place to live too!” “, as the Walkers of the Planet Facebook page announces. Next to the piano, hung on the wall, the “one” that Libé dedicated to the last book of the philosopher. He is served a glass of red, surely the Pinot Noir he likes – the exchange between regulars went without words. Michaël Fœssel lives in the neighborhood. It is on the terrace, brushed by the mirrors, that we sit down so that he can smoke in peace, he who has never tried to quit. “I’m an old-school smoker, two packs a day. I admit that I am not overly driven by the principle of conservation. »
The voice is serious, the gaze velvety, which sometimes turns diabolical at the bend of an idea, the formulas elegant. A few days earlier, on the evening of the first round of the presidential election, the disciple of Paul Ricœur was at the Cirque d’hiver with “the chef”, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, whom he publicly supported. They talked about philosophy, exile, Seneca. The admiration is evident. It was already the man who would later become the leader of the New Popular Ecological and Social Union that Michaël Fœssel had chosen to discuss, a few weeks earlier, in the pages of Philosophie Magazine in February, on the occasion of the release of his latest book.
After several notable essays, including Récidive, 1938 (PUF, 2019), Quartier rouge. Pleasure and the left (PUF, 204 pages, 17 euros), his tenth book, was preceded by a rumor full of hope. The philosopher denounces the takeover of the right on the theme of pleasure: it is up to her to defend a “French way of living” which would be attacked from all sides by sad censors – feminists, vegetarians, ecologists. Faced with this good living right, the left would have forgotten the body, the senses, the enjoyment, in a penitent hunt for privileges which makes all pleasure suspect. However, to change the world, “you have to offer something other than self-criticism,” he writes. The left and the pleasure, therefore, like two lost causes which, rubbed against each other, could spark a spark, perhaps a flame.
Hierarchy of pleasures
The ace. The topic, unsurprisingly, was only discussed in the campaign from a food perspective. He who deplored that the right monopolizes the notion of pleasure under the banner of the French art of living finds himself having to arbitrate on the left between the steak-red wine of Roussel and the couscous-favorite-dish-of-the-French of Sandrine Rousseau. “It’s as if we couldn’t pose the problem of pleasure and politics other than in the register of identity,” he regrets. I would have liked to talk about less expected topics: sensuality, partying. »
In his hierarchy of pleasures, these two come before good food. This is his book on the night, La Nuit. Living Without a Witness (Autrement, 2018), which made him known to the general public. “To become a place of experience, the night requires me to give myself over to it without counting,” he writes. He likes them adventurous: going out must be going out of yourself. The pleasures that interest him, he says, are those that arise unexpectedly. Pleasure becomes an event, and then, “you can’t get over it”. “It means exactly what it means: you’re not going back to where you were before. This is how the experience of pleasure is political: it has to do with freedom. It allows you to expand your relationship with the world, to question desires that you thought were certain, pleasures that you didn’t think were made for yourself. “Pleasure for me is first of all a happy experience of disidentification,” he sums up. So ? ” I taste. “However, he firmly declines the black pudding that we are offered as an aperitif, a childish disgust that has never been revised. But take a pinot.
When asked about the last time he “enlarged his relationship to the world,” he is more likely to talk about the time his world shrunk. A communist apprentice, he left at the age of 14 for the GDR, in a CGT camp. He discovers there the sadness, the greyness, the absence of freedom, the hypocrisy of the system. He left “immune to real communism.” Proof that displeasure is also political.
Later, in 2006, he returned to Berlin, where he fell in love “in every sense of the word”. He prolongs his youth there for ten years. Discover the Berghain, this gigantic club established in a former thermal power station known for its titanic parties, its culture of secrecy. It is forbidden to take pictures there. That’s good, it’s hard to imagine him taking selfies. Thus, the same city that vaccinated him against real communism gives him “confidence in the possibility of making the joyful collective”. “Berlin is not just a party city. It is a very political city. »
order and chaos
He still spends about a third of his time there in the summer. Without Berlin, he would have become “an academic”, meaning: an adapted, an adult. “The concept of maturity infuriates me,” he swears. I am a retarded child” – childhood is the theme of his next book. The need for health has not yet reminded him. It’s a chance – he doesn’t see himself growing old -, but it’s also a risk: “I have to notice that, in the evenings, I am more and more often among the older ones. I’m not making a drama of it, but I wouldn’t like to drag myself at 60 to Berghain. But I don’t rule it out! He will surely console himself. If he met an old man in a club, Michaël Fœssel would probably show him all his affection, he who is “upset only by people who go off the rails”. We would almost forget that, during the day, he is a teacher in a military school.
After a brilliant career – khâgne at Henri-IV, ENS, aggregation, thesis on “Kant and the ambiguity of the world” – he was chosen in 2013, at the age of 38, to succeed Alain Finkielkraut at the chair of philosophy of the Polytechnic School. It is because his taste for chaos leans on order. “It’s not just Berlin that saved me, it’s also philosophy. Not only currents of thought, but also the fact of having to write, to build courses. His days are as rich as his nights. He is also an advisor to the management of the journal Esprit, co-director of the collection “L’ordre philosophie”, at Seuil. At Polytechnique, he is one of the most classic professors, he swears. Philosophy is his place of mastery. The thinkers he admires – Nietzsche, Kant – are not those one would expect from him. “I prefer that to people who, in philosophy, will go and get “border” authors to introduce disorder into an otherwise very orderly life. Me, it’s the opposite. I often say that I prefer to live like Deleuze and think like Kant than the other way around. »
He lives in a shambles, owns nothing. But his discourse on disorder is tidy. He is not fooled by himself. “I would accept being told that I am looking for good reasons to justify adolescent excesses. This evening, he will have dinner with Myriam Revault d’Allonnes, his thesis director. But the night will only begin.