When Anne Dufourmantelle drowned in a heroic attempt to save two children caught in rough seas, obituaries around the world rarely failed to recall that she was the author of a book entitled In Praise of Risk, implying that her death confirmed the ancient adage that to philosophize is to learn how to die. Now available in English, this magnificent and already much-discussed book indeed offers a trenchant critique of the psychic work the modern world devotes to avoiding risk.
Yet this is not a book on how to die but on how to live. For Dufourmantelle, risk entails an encounter not with an external threat to life but with something hidden in life that conditions our approach to such ordinary risks as disobedience, passion, addiction, leaving family, and solitude
Keeping jargon to a minimum, Dufourmantelle weaves philosophical reflections together with clinical case histories. The everyday fears, traumas, and resistances that therapy addresses brush up against such broader concerns as terrorism, insurance, addiction, artistic creation, and political revolution. Taking up a project than joins the work of many French thinkers, such as Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida, Jean-Luc Nancy, Hélène Cixous, Giorgio Agamben, and Catherine Malabou, Dufourmantelle works to dislodge Western philosophy, psychoanalysis, ethics, and politics from the redemptive logic of sacrifice. She discovers the kernel of a future beyond annihilation where one might least expect to find it, hidden in the unconscious.
In an era defined by enhanced security measures, border walls, trigger warnings, and endless litigation, Dufourmantelle’s masterwork provides a much-needed celebration of the risks that define what it means to live.
“To live is to accept a certain degree of risk—the risk of hairline disappointments, of a too forceful will to believe, of brusque rejections that fatigue the soul, of being misunderstood yet again, of being undone without ever being saved. We could venture the idiom ‘life goes on’ with cynicism or despair, but we could also do so with the measure of desire. Anne Dufourmantelle’s beautiful book places us on the side of life and love, showing us the power of psychoanalytic reflection on those moments when we are asked to find the courage to risk ourselves on behalf of the other.”
Jamieson Webster, author of Conversion Disorder
Magisterial. Dufourmantelle shows how life is universalized in risk and how recognizing this fact means enlisting in a fraternity among humans.