The Wild Mind of Michel Maffesoli

Michel MaffesoliThe following interview first appeared in French in issue 42 of the journal Rebellion.

R / You were born in the South of France and grew up in the mining region of Graissessac (Hérault). What influence has this background had on your work and on your perception of academia?

MM — Indeed, my youth in the working-class village of Graissessac has certainly had an influence on my work, and on what we might call my perception of the world. As far as my work is concerned, I’ve talked about this in several of my books (see in particular the book of interviews with Christophe Bourseiller: Qui êtes vous Michel Maffesoli, Bourin Éditeur, 2010). The working-class milieu where I grew up taught me a sense of pride in one’s work — even a certain ‘addiction’ to it. It’s this, incidentally, that leads me to be so harsh in my judgment of those I call ‘pensioners of the Republic’, all these ineffective intellectuals and so-called researchers who never actually find anything.

At the same time, the atmosphere of the mining village gave me the sense of celebration and the ‘tragic’. So for example, the festival of Saint Barbara on December 4th was a paroxysmal moment, where effervescence in all its forms expressed itself with vigour over the course of an entire week. When I wrote L’ombre de Dionysos [The Shadow of Dionysus] (1982), I was trying to demonstrate the importance of passions and collective emotions in the organisation of the social bond. These festive phenomena, in every society, are corollaries of a sense of the tragic. It’s because of our ‘embedded knowledge’ that accident, death and finitude are always present that it’s possible in these moments to experience a heightening of the senses and a desire to fully enjoy the present. Continue reading

Love in the Time of Science

homo eroticusBy Anais Ginori

After the advancement of freedom during modernity, the defining characteristic of the postmodern era is dependence. We exist today only through the eyes of others. The new book by French sociologist Michel Maffesoli, entitled Homo Eroticus, analyses our relationship with emotion in the contemporary world.

The latest stage in the evolution of our species is the homo eroticus, for whom emotion takes precedence over reason, impulse over reflection, pleasure over duty. “Eros now triumphs, both in private and public”, says Maffesoli, whose book is devoted to this new anthropological figure that has emerged in counterpoint to the homo sapiens. For Maffesoli, homo eroticus – the human being driven by desire – is at the centre of what is now known as postmodernity. Our actions are no longer a function of intellectualisation and reason, but of love, the intricate weave of emotion that surrounds us, which Maffesoli calls “emotional communion”.

In his view this is the culmination of a process that began in the West with the liberation of morals in the 1960s, and has since been strengthened by the development of new technologies, the retreat of religion, and finally the crisis of capitalism. Identity is now shaped by the law of desire, with profound repercussions in the body social. From culture to politics, everything is subject to the rule of pleasure. The paradox of this ‘liberated’ love, Maffesoli warns, is that human beings have created even more interdependence. ‘We exist only through the eyes of others’. Continue reading