Published on February 4, 2008
GABRIEL MARCEL ON THE FAMILY: GABRIEL MARCEL ON THE FAMILY LIFE: LIFE Born in Paris, Dec. 7, 1889, the son of French ambassador to Stockholm Mother died when he was 4 yrs. Old Rich cultural upbringing, extensive travel Wide reading in German and Anglo-American philophies At 18, took diplome with thesis on “The Metaphysical Ideas of Coleridge and their relation to the Philosophy of Schelling.” 1910, Ph.D. at Sorbonne, passed agregation Slide3: Early readings on Bradley (immediate experience), Royce (loyalty) and Hocking (Absolute) March 23, 1929, conversion from no religion to Catholicism. While reviewing Francois Mauriac’s work, was asked, “Why are you not one of us?” Still anti-scholasticism Died October 8, 1973. Gabriel Marcel, “ The Mystery of the Family,” Homo Viator: Gabriel Marcel, “ The Mystery of the Family,” Homo Viator Outline: The Family as Mystery The Family as Value & Presence The Family as Mystery of the Incarnation of the Pact Between Man and Life The Family as Mystery of Fidelity The Family as Mystery of Hope The Family as Mystery: The Family as Mystery .Why “Mystery” and not “Problem”? Family, not just one problem but infinity of problems Family belongs to reality of presences. Problems: facts exterior to me Mystery: realities bound up with my existence e.g. union of body & soul: less a given than giving, root of presences: presence to myself and presence of others to me. Slide6: Similarity between union of body and soul and mystery of family: incarnation. Mystery of the family: too close and too far to be found in objective knowledge. Too close: a constellation of which, as a child, I spontaneously take for granted I am the center. I am the reply to reciprocal appeal of two beings who flung to each other. I am also the judgment upon those who called me into being, and thusnew relationships will be established between them and me. Too far: I am also the link to an indefinite network, stretching back beyond my life. origins simply cannot be spoken of as causes of which I am the product. Slide7: Thus, to evoke mystery of the family is less to attempt to solve a problem than to recapture a reality and to awaken the soul to its presence. Slide8: Evocation difficult because of contemporary scene—problems of divorce, birth control, choice of lover, etc. Social crisis linked to certain blindness of value of family. Philosopher has to discover roots of this social crisis. Slide9: Digression: university talk on divorce to students, some of whom are children of divorced parents. Marcel did not avoid talking sincerely of the problem. Slide10: Needed is reflection on tragic situation today, which is linked to weakening or denial of sense of holiness, reverence for life & death—giving way to pressures of pride, pretentiousness, boredom, despair. It is in the family that dire consequences of this giving way first becomes apparent. We cannot refuse to face the danger by saying the family still exists. The family exists only if it is apprehended as a value and a presence. The Family as a Value and Presence: The Family as a Value and Presence Relive our experience as children, the experience of a certain pride of belonging Pride is a certain response made from depths of my being to an investiture of which it behooves me to prove myself worthy. Pride experienced on my own account, not aim at impressing another. Pride (vs. vanity) constructive, helps to give me foundation on which to establish my conduct. Vanity turned outwards the rest of the world, sterile and disintegrating. Slide12: Through pride, we can trace in what way family is a value. Family is a recognized hierarchy, authority, which I do not have to integrate myself into it because I have been caught up in it from the origin, involved in it, rooted in it. Family as Presence: Family as Presence As Presence, family is a protective skin between me and foreign, threatening, hostile world. Painful: experience of tearing away from this tissue, cradle, cocoon (by sudden or slow process, e.g. death, separation, nameless power). Awareness of this primitive privileged “us” in the family inseparable from a home of our own. Home connected with permanent habit-ation: familiar objects which gives a sense of perpetual life, an always. Slide14: Traumatic: house move. One chief cause of disappearance of family consciousness: nomadic lifestyle of workers in industrial centers Objection: these are only outward and temporary conditions. Marcel’s answer: in the family, the outward is also the inward > in growth of being, the two are inseparable. Disappearance of settled habitation inseparable from fading away of traditions. Traditions are to the inner man what family setting is to the visible. Home is not just environment, but settings also form the human being. Without setting, development of the human person exposed to dangers of incoherence. Traditions bear upon the continuity of the family, secure the bond between generations. Every family produces a certain ritual to secure solid foundations. Slide15: Why the disintegration of the family’s architecture? Reasons varied and deep. Slide16: Certainly, extraordinary acceleration of rhythm of life prevents slow sedimentation of habitus necessary for family. Still such acceleration could not take place without reckless waste of reserve accumulated by living. Gustav Thibon on tragic aspect of contemporary life: denouncing squandering of reserves, he makes the distinction between improvidence of the saint and the improvidence of the decadent man. Saint: does not worry future because he has laid up treasure, source of eternal life, within him. Decadent man: yields to immediacy of egoism, does not economize. To economize : to keep in order to give more effectively. Slide17: Technological progress, not in itself, but as incorporated in the daily life of individuals, has also effected a loss of human substance. seen clearly in craftsmanship in human relationships, standardization of individuals, little respect for individuals and local customs and peculiarities. Close relationship between acceleration of rhythm of life and impoverishment. Slide18: Analogy in traveling across Brittany: empty when you travel fast, mystery rediscovered at leisurely travel. Mystery of places conceals human presence. From philosophy of duration, the two are inseparable. So also in the family: depopulation of the country linked to dissolution of the family. Existence in towns makes pretension of triumph over laws of change, strives to inaugurate a certain order of life. Slide19: American cities, prototypes of preservative processes to escape from cosmic rhythm and to substitute caricatures of eternity. But this human rhythm tends to become the machines and automatons, which are not super-organic but sub-organic. Thus, inexpressible dismal sadness in great cities, belonging to everything that is devitalised, is bound up with decay of the family. This sadness is sterility, a disavowal felt by the heart, which concerns the very conditions of life. Think of those changes which weaken the ties between us and our loved ones: loss of transparency in the intimacy of couples, separation, collision, hurts—a dislocation of man and life, related to the misunderstandings of married couples. Thus, family attacked in the double spring from whence it derives its special vitality: fidelity and hope. Slide20: Example of woman in depopulated village, complaining of monotony and lack of amusements. Need for amusement, need for diversion, is bound up with ebbing of life’s tide. Ebbing of life’s tide: human being imagines he regains life by seizing every occasion of experiencing violent sensations (stimulants) These stimulants supposedly protect one from boredom. But what is boredom is not an escape from what? From oneself. Slide21: Ego faced with dilemma: to fulfill oneself or to escape. Without fulfillment, ego experiences a gaping void. Anyone who is absorbed does not experience this void: he is caught up in plenitude, life envelops him and protects him. Countryside: woman suffers more of boredom than man because she has more time to think of such things unless she is occupied with motherhood which is not a burden but a support for her. Gabriel Seailles: “One is borne along only by one’s responsibilities.” Ebbing of life or consciousness: repudiation of one’s fundamental commitments. What are these commitments? .The Family as Mystery of the Incarnation of the Pact between Man and Life: .The Family as Mystery of the Incarnation of the Pact between Man and Life Pact (nuptial bond) between man and life, within man’s power to untie but when he does so, he loses the notion of existence. Man, the only being capable of adopting an attitude towards not only his life but life itself. It is through this faculty of adopting an attitude that he is spirit. Another way of speaking of man’s transcendence over life and death. Pact of man and life: confidence which man promises life and the response of life to this confidence. It is precisely in the family that this pact is worked out.. Slide23: Example in Marriage: Marital Act, not a pure and simple mating, not a satisfaction of instincts, impulse, caprice, but one which is to last. Many false marriages: legal union but nothing in the depths of character or will that corresponds to this socially binding form or the sacramental character of union entered into. Neither is marriage a simple contract (exclusively rational idea of marriage), which can be renounced by common accord. Thus, divorce can readily be admitted. Slide24: Society can argue that for the sake of convention, individuals must be sacrificed, so no divorce. But individual can claim to be an exception. The only condemnation of divorce that can be justified is the condemnation which they must recognize as being pronounced in the name of their own will, a will so deep that they could not disown it without denying their own natures. Slide25: If conjugal union finds its consummation and sanction in the appearance of a new being, it is absurd to think that the same couple should become free again whenever their sentiments change. They are no longer united by a reciprocal common accord which they can annul but by the existence of a being for whom they are responsible and who has rights over them which cannot be set aside, unless we are to argue that in the animal species there comes a moment when male and female lose all interest in their offspring because it no longer needs them. : Here, formalism easily slides to animalism or naturalism. Common element of formalism (rationalism) and animalism (naturalism): lack of generosity. Slide26: From both extremes, we lose sight of the unity of the family, without which we lose sight of the mystery of the family. Unity of the family not possible without generosity of the heads of the family. Family not created by man who generates by chance, produces offspring like animals without accepting consequences of his acts: he produces a brood, not a family. If family is a reality, neither should marriage simply be a mere association of individual interests but should regulate itself in some way to the offspring. Slide27: But marriage concluded only in view of procreation is in danger of degeneration, is a violation of the dignity of the person: the union of two persons is just a means of reproduction. Not true that procreation is the end of marriage. Marital act and procreation are two complementary phases of our history as creative being. “Creative” denotes contribution of each to the universal work in our world, like that of an artist who is the bearer of some message he must communicate and pass on. Slide28: On the human level, the operation of the flesh ought to be the hallowing of a certain inward fulfillment, an out-flowing not forced but springing from experience of plenitude. Operation of the flesh loses its dignity and degenerates if it is not an act of thanksgiving, a creative testimony. From this point of view, difference between husbands and wives who secure themselves an heir to succeed them and husbands and wives who sow the seed of life without ulterior motive by radiating the life flame permeating them. Slide29: These observations shed light on the meaning of the sacred bond which is man’s lot to form with life. U this renderalm, all generalizations are deceptive, because each soul constitutes a microcosm. Thus we have no right to judge individual cases, like childless couples. But we have right to judge social order, such as increase of divorce, contraception, abortion, etc. Slide30: But question not of proclaiming the immoral or anti-social of any conduct or action but of discussing the symptoms in such action of a disaffection of beings from Being. Disaffection of beings from Being, not the denial of an explicit promise but the drawing back by which a spiritual organism dwindles shrivels, cuts itself off from the universal communion which is its nourishing principle of life and growth. The Family as a Mystery of Fidelity: The Family as a Mystery of Fidelity The crisis in family institutions can be traced to deeper misunderstanding of the virtues through which the unification of our destiny is consummated. Wrong fidelity: a safeguard to preserve existing order. True fidelity: creative Slide32: Example: bond between child and parents, open to double risk of deterioration: a) Narrow traditionalism—child, entirely in debt of those who gave it life. b) Child as creditor because they view life as crushing burden. Applied to birth control practitioners: out of pity for possible descendants (not yet living!) Slide33: This is related to cynical egoism, which measures value of life by pleasures and comforts. For both, life transmitted in procreation, is really neither a blessing nor a curse in itself but possibilities for good and evil because the being is a subject. As subject, the being is able to enjoy and suffer and capable of attaining someday the consciousness of what he has at first only felt, Slide34: Of course, children should share this generosity. Unfortunately, they do not always do, because of individualism that is prevalent in society. It boils down to the spirit which is to be incarnated, established and maintained, the spirit spreading beyond the self, the spirit of creative fidelity. The more our hearts and intellects keep before them the idea of our lineage, of the forbears to whom we are responsible, the more this spirit will succeed in freeing itself from selfishness and cowardice. Inversely, the more we lose this sense of lineage, the less we discern our ultimate responsibilities, the more the family will tend to be just an association with common interests. Slide35: Creative Fidelity here does not depend on any particular religious belief. There exists a form of Christianity, overemphasizing eschatological, that undermines the soul’s love of life. On the other hand, a certain religio exists among pagans themselves: reverence for dead, for gods residing at home, which gives evidence to this pact between man and life-force. Unfortunately, this religio has given way to pressures of the progress of technics that we lose sight of the natural morality and order recognized by our forefathers. Need to restore this religio. The Family as Mystery of Hope: The Family as Mystery of Hope Deafness to call of creative fidelity due to loss of sense of hope. Hope linked to sense of communion: “I hope in Thee for us.” The more this “for us” confines itself to the self, in the domain of the family, to ways of safeguarding a certain Having, the more hope deteriorates. It is only by breaking through Having, manifested in anxiety, that hope can effect an entrance into our soul. Slide37: Anxiety seen in decadence of our youth today. Renewal can only spring from a religious principle, but not the work of Christians alone. State must not paralyze initiatives of people of all complexions as they unite to revivify society. Life: Incarnation, and the family is the meeting point of the vital and spiritual. Creature condition: acknowledgement of Divine Fatherhood Slide38: Vs. naturalism—regards man as link of endless chain of causes, he arrogates to himself an absolute sovereignty. Vs. Materialism—man humiliated, no special identity, the more he develops pride which impels him to deny any human order to which he might owe obedience. Family choked between these two systems Family relationships afford no guarantee of solidity unless referred to superhuman order. Humanity is only truly human when it is upheld by foundation of consecration. To recover reverence for life, we must start not from below (biology, eugenics) but from above.