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Since Symbolique du corps, your work has focused on the origins of modern subjectivity. Your latest book looks at “fragility,” an old term denoting what in modern terms we call “finitude,” at the risk of diluting its meaning. How has exploring our fragility enabled you to pursue your project?
I like to follow a specific and easily grasped common thread. In several instances I have begun with a simple word and followed it in all its different forms (in philosophy, but also beyond into theology, literature, poetry, and history). This was the approach I took for example in writing La Joie spacieuse, a book whose subtitle reveals the word that served as its common thread: Essai sur la dilatation. The value of such terms, which denote affects or aspects of the human condition (expansion [“dilatation”], joy, or fatigue), is that they allow us to precisely express a philosophical concept, but are also everyday words that can lead to all kinds of descriptions, evocations, and accounts.
The concept of fragility can be explored through a history of its various meanings. The uniqueness of the typically Latin word fragility, and one of the leading arguments of my book, is that all civilizations and languages have considered finitude, without necessarily calling it such. There was however no fragility, in its literal sense, for the Greeks. They had words to convey that an object was breakable or brittle, but these did not apply to the human condition. The basic word was astheneia…

Interview with
Jean-Louis Chrétien
A philosopher and poet who recently published Fragilité (Paris: Minuit, 2017).
Interview by
Michaël Fœssel
Camille Riquier
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