If the greatest philosopher in the world finds himself upon a plank wider than actually necessary, but hanging over a precipice, his imagination will prevail, though his reason convinces him of his safety. Many cannot bear the thought without a cold sweat. I will not state all its effects. (Pascal, Pensées)
This project explores phobia through twelve videos and many notes. Absurd fears, where there is nothing to fear really. Pascal’s philosopher standing on the plank above the abyss knows there is nothing to fear. He knows the plank is large enough. But it does not help. It is as if his vertigo were outside the reach of his philosophy.
When Descartes is attacked by thieves on a boat crossing the Elbe, he does not panic. He draws out his sword. It is a natural fear that the philosopher overcomes with his strong character. Then there is Heidegger in the Black Forest, of course, and the anguish of the Dasein: a great and noble fear, without any object.
I have never been able to experience the anguish of the Dasein. I am happy in the forest… until I hear a crack in a bush and start wondering what kind of beast is hiding there. The Existentialists are like the Rationalists. In the end, neither of them fear anything in particular. Our stupid vertigo standing on Pascal’s board remains outside of their philosophy.
So can philosophy say anything about phobias? Can it offer a cure against phobias?
During the two years that the project documents, I looked into the history of philosophy for traces of philosopher’s phobias. I believe I have found a few. For instance, I think I have proof that Descartes was afraid, not of bandits but of water. I have also tried various philosophical and unphilosophical cures.
For instance, I have tried to joke about my phobias. Wit belittles its object. Just make fun of the crocodile that is looking at you, and it will not seem so frightening. That’s Woody’s cure. It works, at least in Woody Allen’s films. The problem is: would I be able to make a joke in front of the crocodile, or standing on Pascal’s Plank? Could I make a joke if my life depended on it?
I have tried running a marathon. That is Baudelaire’s Cure. In an entry in his diary, Baudelaire notes that 12 or 14 leagues are enough to represent the in nite to the human mind. 12 leagues are just a little more than a marathon. Could I master this kind of in nite? What worried me above all was the dilation of time that one feels in panic and which might take place again while I was running. I would not stop, but what if each minute that I spent running felt longer and longer? Would poetry help keep time together?
In any case, I could not go on running marathons. So I tried laying on a psychoanalyst’s couch. The psychoanalyst did not say much. There was a lot of “hum, hum.” But I could see this cure could work. However, it would destroy my phobias. I would no longer be afraid of black dogs, and albino crocodiles, but whatever these represent in the childish mind I seem to have kept. So the world would be all at: crocodiles would longer distort space and time. All at and dull. I would rather keep my phobias.
In the end, I resolved to adopt Bachelard’s cure. Yes, Bachelard de- vises a cure against phobias, which consists of an imaginary training. It is like re-accomplishing the labors of Hercules so as to master in imagination all kinds of dangers. One tells oneself a story where one goes deep in an elemental distortion and, like Hercules, tries to nd a way to cope with the thing. In this way, one becomes an Imorg, like a cyborg, but an organism modi ed through imagination so as to be able to survive in all kinds of hostile environments. I already had twelve videos about my phobias, like the twelve labors of Hercules. It all t together. So telling stories would be the cure: that was what I had been doing without knowing.
See project Phobic Poscards at SubStance@Work
A French version is currently under construction with the help of grant “Brouillon d’un rêve” from the Société Civile des Auteurs Multimédia.