Awake, Asleep, Sleepwalking - States of the Body, States of the Self in Maine de Biran's Thought

Devarieux Anne
Language of the article : French
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According to the philosopher Maine de Biran, in his Mémoire sur la décomposition de la pensée, the immanent and general tension of the effort is equal to the awakeness of the Ego. The individual gains self-consciousness thanks to the tension of his will, namely in the general tension of his resistant body, independently of any intentional aim, of any active perception or representation of objects (the so-called “intentionned” or “express” effort). Thus it is necessary to distinguish different degrees of effort, from pure self-apperception (in which the ego appears like a watchman) to attention (increased vigilance of the will intentionally tensioned outwards) and reflection (the highest degree of alertness). Consequently the effort (that is the internal duality composed by two terms, the so-called “hyper-organic” strength and the inner resistance of the muscular system of the body) constitutes the immediate and internal apperception of the Ego, and varies according to its own intensity. Sleep is, according to Biran, a periodical suspension of the will and consequently of the sentiment of effort : in such a state, self-consciousness vanishes. Nevertheless upon awakening, the person once again becomes self-conscious, since the same strenghth meets the same body’s resistance.

So there are many ways of being awake, many ways of sleeping, even during the day-time, and Biran helps us to understand how hypnotic and indeed even somnambulistic states, not far at all from sleep, can take place, in our conscious lives (Biran reads and comments in particular the writings of J.-P.F. Deleuze). The question is ultimately to apprehend the full implications of such considerations since Biran refuses to assimilate self-consciousness (motor activity) to some kind of hypnotic and purely affective life (as in Michel Henry’s phenomenological analysis, and despite his acknowledged debt to Maine de Biran’s thought).

Pour citer cet article :

Devarieux Anne (2016). Awake, Asleep, Sleepwalking - States of the Body, States of the Self in Maine de Biran's Thought. In Depraz Natalie (Eds), Phenomenology of vigilance and attention. Philosophy, sciences and technics, Intellectica, 66, (pp.13-36), DOI: n/a.