Philosophe Alain

Le site de référence sur le philosophe français Emile Chartier, dit Alain (1868-1951), par l’Association des Amis d’Alain, fondée par ses proches après sa mort.

Le site de référence sur le philosophe français Emile Chartier, dit Alain (1868-1951), par l’Association des Amis d’Alain, fondée par ses proches après sa mort.


Dawn light bears no resemblance to evening light.  Sometimes they have the same colours, but it’s doubtful whether a painter can show, by light alone, the difference between earliest morning and latest evening; it’s because he halts the sun. In reality, dawn grows lighter from moment to moment, which is enough of a sign. At the dawn of the year, this same sign is just as eloquent; each day announces a little more sunlight. And although clouds, fog and cold gather together to deceive us, this touch of light, more insistent every day, awakes us and prepares us.

It’s also true that all the signs agree. As soon as the leaves of the past year fall in the wind, we begin to commemorate; these eloquent remnants turn our thoughts back to the previous spring. But now the trees are all new; they lift our gaze; they deepen the sky. Yesterday, across the black branches, the light of the setting sun seemed washed out. The sounds are different; even the sound of the wind is different. A bird tried the beginning of a song. Spring is dead, spring is born. There is no interregnum.

Man sings like a bird. We are alerted by the song of a bird; but no doubt the birds are alerted by the song of man. The song of Christmas is the first song of spring that arises over the earth; it is man’s prediction to all of nature. A learned festival, a festival of the mind or spirit.  The first of January is like Caesar’s Christmas. Epiphany is the Christmas of the ancient kings. Carnival is the Christmas of slaves. Easter is the oldest of these confirmations; the memory of a time when expectation was short; or perhaps a memory of the age of glaciers in our continent, when a late spring suddenly exploded, as we still see in the high mountains. There is only one festival, the festival of the sun.

Idolatry? I don’t know. Worship always consists in making an image resonate with ideas.     A ray of sunlight creates only a festival of midges. While a festival of the spirit on its own, a festival which made no association of  the great changes of nature with the surest thoughts would be a meagre festival. I imagine Christmas Day at the Cape, in the southern hemisphere. What meaning can there be in this pine and these lights, in the period of the longest days, in a season when all the trees are green? It has to be agreed that the hymn to the child does not then resonate very well with the human body and with all things. To which Hegel would reply that it is the distinctive feature of animals to live in immediate union with nature, “while instead”, he says, “the mind turns night into day.” This is certainly a fine remark. Still, the mind cannot regulate human beings completely. And it’s not enough to confirm an idea by a gathering and songs, if there isn’t also an echo from nature. There is rather more to a religion than swearing one’s faith. Strong signs from the world are needed, and a kind of response from God. From this poetry, this agreement between nature and our thoughts, people will draw what idea they can, as pure and abstract as they can manage.  But if that idea is not first linked to the pulse of life, won’t it lack life? The first of May is a festival of peace, of work and hope. And I agree that one can celebrate these ideas, in November and at any time, and even that we must. “The mind turns night into day.” Songs and poems make seasons by order. But in the end it is not completely a festival if the nature of things does not unfold and half-open at the same time as our hopes.


Alain, 01/02/1928

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English translation copyright © Michel Petheram


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