In this joint event, Olivier Remaud and Chunjie Zhang will explore the possibility of using normativity and reflexivity as ethics in relation to environmental and cultural cosmopolitanisms in the first half of the twentieth century.
Remaud will first lecture on “The World as Earth. Environmental Reflexivity and the Philological Mind.” From oceans filled with plastics to rainforest burnings, the impact of human actions on the earth and the atmosphere has reached a global level. All species from mammals to birds are concerned with what is today called the “sixth great extinction”. In this lecture, he will take a deep time perspective and draw on how to get an awareness of what is happening to the planet.
During periods of world crisis, both environmentalists and philologists try to preserve diversity. Methodologically they share a crucial postulate: the world is reflected in details we can “read”. To illustrate this, Remaud will discuss first the thinking of the American environmentalist Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), then that of the German philologist Erich Auerbach (1892-1957).
The main thesis of the lecture will be that the philological mind presents a model of the reflexive attitude needed by anyone wishing to decipher crisis contexts and take into account all living beings that inhabit the earth. Beyond the “nature-culture divide”, the point is to know how to keep eyes wide open and act accordingly, i.e. how to be a world citizen.
Echoing Remaud’s lecture on the relation between reflexive mind and the environment, Chunjie Zhang will discuss “Reflexivity as Ethics: Liang Shuming’s Neo-Confucian Vision of the World.” Liang Shuming (1893-1988, 梁漱溟), a Chinese philosopher and a contemporary of Aldo Leopold and Erich Auerbach, is deeply concerned with the relationship between humans, cultures and the natural and material world. Liang’s thinking interestingly corresponds with that of Leopold and Auerbach with respect to the importance of a reflexive mind. Liang contends that a reformed Confucianism, integrated with Western tradition, offers a profound philosophical reflexivity for the world humanity and its future. It would be a fruitful dialogue to compare Liang to Leopold and Auerbach, including all differences, to explore a less studied aspect in global intellectual history.
After the downfall of the imperial dynasty in 1911, China experienced a political as well as an ideological and cultural crisis in the first half of the twentieth century. While one group of Chinese intellectuals was in favor of Western culture and considers traditional Chinese culture backward and useless vis-à-vis the pressure of modernization and imperialism, another group still insists on the values of classical Eastern thinking of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. The latter proposes that a careful integration of the Greco-Roman tradition and the Eastern traditions could yield successful ways of thinking not only for China but also for the entire world. In his famous book The Cultures of the East and West and their Philosophies (Dong Xi Fang Wen Hua Ji Qi Zhe Xue, 1921), Liang argues that the essence of culture and its philosophy is interconnection. Hence we should not single out a culture or one school of thought; rather it is important to reflect on the connections across the watershed of the East and West in a time of crisis and become a responsible world citizen. In his late essay Outline of Eastern Thinking (Dong Fang Xue Shu Gai Guan, 1960/1975), Liang argues that the ability to reflect on one’s own behavior and words individually and collectively, as Confucianism and Buddhism explicate, is the foundation for world peace and cosmopolitanism. Late Liang has become more inclined toward Buddhism as the best solution for freedom and dialectics in practice.
Olivier Remaud is professor of philosophy at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) of Paris, chair in History and Theory of Cosmopolitanisms. Among his publications: Michelet. La Magistrature de l’histoire (Michalon, 1998 – second edition 2010); Les Archives de l’humanité. Essai sur la philosophie de Vico (Seuil, 2004); Faire des sciences sociales (co-eds, EHESS Press, 2012, 3 vols.); Un monde étrange. Pour une autre approche du cosmopolitisme (Presses Universitaires de France, 2015); Solitude volontaire (Albin Michel, 2017 – second edition 2019); Errances. Vie de Bering (Paulsen, 2019, forthcoming). He is currently working on two books, one dealing with a reflection on “Wildness and the melting ice on Earth” (to be published by Actes Sud), the other about “Worlding the visible and the invisible”.
Chunjie Zhang received her Ph.D. from Duke University and is currently an associate professor of German at the University of California, Davis. Her book Transculturality and German Discourse in the Age of European Enlightenment (Northwestern University Press 2017) endeavors to compose an alternative narrative to national and Eurocentric literary and cultural history in the long eighteenth century and emphasizes the impact of non-European cultures on German travel writing, popular literature, and philosophy. She co-edited a special issue of “Seminar: a Journal for Germanic Studies” on “Goethe, Worlds, and Literatures” in 2018. She is also the editor of the book “Composing Modernist Connections in China and Europe,” published with Routledge in 2019. Currently, hosted by Dominic Sachsenmaier at Universität Göttingen, she is working on a book project “World as Method: Cosmopolitan Thinking in German and Chinese Modernist Cultures.”