14.5.08

What does the world think of Michel Serres?

Inspired by Angela Last's comments to me in a recent email, I'd like learn what people from among the international readership of Michel Serres think about his work. The idea isn't to try to find concensus but rather to explore the range of reactions and thoughts that his complex work inspires in people.

Angela's opening volley
I think Michel Serres has a different status in each European country. In Germany, for instance, hardly anyone knows him, although a few of his books were translated into German. In England, he is very popular with a lot of social scientists, but not so much with philosophers. In France and the francophone part of Switzerland, he seems to be a well-known figure (intellectuals are much more public figures over there - they are on TV and in magazines and everything), but a figure of some sort of controversy: some people like him, some people smile at his ideas, some people are enraged by him joining the academie francaise, some people outright deride his ideas.

In Canada, I'd say he's largely unknown, though where he is read, I think he has a hearing. Memorial University in St. John's, NFLD, awarded him an honourary doc a few years back.

Send in your comments and take a swing at figuring out what people in your part of the world think about his ideas.

1 comment:

Stephanie Posthumus said...

Interesting question.
In terms of Serres's reception in France, he's more widely read and accepted by the "masses" than by the intellectual elite. Aside from Luc Ferry's and Jean Baudrillard's well-known attacks on Serres's natural contract, I've found some virulent critiques by Alain Roger and Augustin Berque, French landscape theorists ("paysage", a term used in tandem with "environnement" in France). Is this because Serres is so well received by the media (radio - Chroniques du dimanche soir - and television)? I think it has something more to do with the fact that many intellectuals think Serres is directly attacking France's long humanist tradition. But Kerry Whiteside clearly shows that Serres's eco-philosophy is a form of skeptical humanism. So did these intellectuals just not read Serres correctly?
Another point to consider: Serres's former student, Bruno Latour, has been more favorably received than Serres in French philosophical and political circles. Latour's style is more accessible, less poetic, less metaphoric than that of Latour's. So maybe it's a question of Serres's style that attempts to join the literary/poetic and the philosophical. Maybe the content and style of Serres's work combined don't conform to previous French philosophical models (but then do Derrida or Deleuze and Guattari?)
Finally, it should be added that Serres has a small following at Simon Fraser University in BC. Last February, a reading group held a symposium at which both William Paulson and myself presented papers. This group has been studying Serres's Natural Contract for a year. So there are pockets of Serres's readers here and there in Canada.