Han Ryner on the “Subjective” (from the Anarchist Encyclopedia)


I suppose if the stuff that keeps me from getting important translation done is also translation of a useful sort, then my failure to stay on task isn’t quite so serious. In any event, chipping away at the entries in the Anarchist Encyclopedia is useful, and Han Ryner (Henri Ner) remains a rather under-represented voice in English. (These are working translations; all the usual cautions apply.)

Subjective, Subjectivism, Subjectivity. These words are directly opposed to objective, objectivism, objectivity. The senses of the words subject and object and their compound forms are so varied in philosophy that their semantic history would be long to relate and barely intelligible. Explaining the sense that Descartes gave to the word object would alone require a few pages. A nearly contemporary philosopher, Charles Renouvier, who died in 1903, still used object and subject in a sense almost opposite to the usage generally adopted today.

The modern meaning has its origin in the terminology of Kant. Madame de Staël says excellently (De l’Allemagne, III, 6) : “In German philosophy, one calls subjective ideas those that arise from the nature of our intelligence, and objective ideas all those which are aroused by sensations.” In a still more general fashion, and in order to speak in the customary, substantialist language, the subjective is all that which relates to the Self and the interior life; the objective, all that relates to the Non-Self.

On page 1817 of this Encyclopedia, Ixigrec has clearly explained the scientific point of view and condemned every subjective method. He is absolutely right, in the realm of general affirmation. That which is subjective must remain individual and never attempt to impose itself on others. I have not even offered or proposed my metaphysics or ethics; I have explained them. And that is not so that others may dream my dream or act according to my conscience. Those who have, like me, the taste for that particular poetry that is called metaphysics must neither allow themselves to impose a single poem—I mean a single system, nor intend that others adopt their dream and their system. If, by perhaps enlarging the present sense of the word, I have given the title “Subjectivism” to a presentation of my ethics, it is for several reasons. I indicate in this way that, despising all morals which would be universal and dare to command, I strive to stylize my life according to the counsels of a “wisdom that laughs,” which has no pretension of being able to serve for all. Let it encourage me stoically or cradle me “epicureanly,” the wisdom that I hear always teaches me that the outside, the objective, the material of my life has less importance than the manner in which I accommodate it: there are few circumstances in which I can not give it in myself, if I am a sufficient artist, the form of happiness. In the end, the first counsel of wisdom appears to me to be the famous “know yourself,” and the intellectual part of wisdom is only a critique of my powers and my wants.
In metaphysics, what I call subjectivism is only the denial of all authority, for others as for myself, or, if you prefer, an affirmation of free thought and individualism. But, in ethics, would I be immodest to believe that my subjectivism is a deepening of ordinary individualism?

As a bonus, here’s Ryner’s entry from “The Congress of Poets,” August 1894.

M. HENRI NER.—If science and skill were the great poetic merits, I would name José-Maria de Hérédia as the master of today and Jean Moréas as the guide of tomorrow. But to the hollow in the proud armor of the first, to the void within the supple doublets of the second, I prefer the heart that cries in Verlaine, so penetrating and so profound, and the spirit that laments in Sully-Prud’homme, so noble and so loud. Rather than the stiff warrior and the handsome page, my salute would be to the sorrowful man and the melancholy thinker.

However, I know a complete poet, a poet who already has glory and to whom respect must go without reserve. Whoever reads both French languages cannot refuse his vote to Mistral, to Mistral equal of Lamartine in “Mireille”, superior to Hugo in “Calendal” and, since Aubanel is no more, the first among living lyrical poets for his “Iles d’or.”

[Working translations by Shawn P. Wilbur; revised 2/26/2012]

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About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.