Jean d’Ormesson, Cipsh and Diogène
Jean d’Ormesson, Cipsh and Diogène
The death of Jean d'Ormesson deprives the International Council for Philosophy and the Humanities of one of its founding fathers.
For a long time the action, even the existence of Cipsh was inseparable from his figure. From the 1950s, he was first a ubiquitous Deputy Secretary General, alongside Sir Ronald Syme, then the Secretary General, then the President. From the outset, he had understood the essential motive which had pushed Unesco to create the Cipsh: anxious to encourage exchanges between scientists of the two blocs, its main mission at the time, Unesco had the requirement to entrust to professional organizations (or, as it has since been called, "non-governmental") politically and culturally sensitive tasks, which she herself preferred not to carry out directly.
It was from this implicit mandate that Jean d'Ormesson created the modus operandi and style of the Council. Thanks to the resources generously provided by Unesco, it periodically brought together Cipsh organizations at General Assemblies and symposia convened across the continents: in Ann Arbor, Tokyo, Mexico City, Bucharest, Palermo, Dakar, Rio, Dubrovnik, Montreal Delhi, Caracas, Cairo, Rabat, Harare ... He then played in Paris, the link with the Unesco Secretariat, which he had gradually come to know, despite himself, all the gears. Also, the large learned projects that Unesco entrusts to the Council - international studies on fascism, on racism, on the varied presence of the humanities around the world - receive regular subsidies, intended for congresses and other scholarly tools selected by the member organizations: bibliographies, dictionaries, atlases, editions of texts and other scholarly works that sustainably benefit from this political and diplomatic game at the service of culture.
Under his long reign, Cipsh prospered. Jean d'Ormesson installs the Cipsh in UNESCO buildings, becomes friend of the leaders of the member federations and invites scientists from all over the world to join the Cipsh Bureau. At the same time, he creates friendly relations with ambassadors, senior officials and political leaders at Unesco. Admittedly, his intellectual prestige and public visibility made his task easier, especially since Unesco was at the time an institution very sensitive to the dynamics of the French cultural world; but he also ensures that the action of the Cipsh takes place on the scale he preferred, namely that of an elite academic institution, charged with discreetly ensuring the role of intellectual and material bridge between the great scholarly networks of the world and the United Nations cultural agency.
Very early on, Roger Caillois also associated him to Diogenes’ management. Together, they attract the most prestigious authors of their time; but the summaries of the journal also show a singular capacity to identify young intellectuals still little known, whose innovative spirit they appreciate. It is largely by mixing themes and profiles, following the idea of diagonal sciences dear to Caillois, that the journal quickly asserts itself within the human sciences and contemporary philosophy; Of course, there is a vigorous international impulse accompanied by a strong taste for interculturality.
Like Cipsh, the magazine is distinguished by a certain aristocratic look. To appear in Diogenes was not for everyone: the texts went back and forth between the founder of the magazine and his deputy, accompanied by small handwritten words that often castigated those who tended to over-appreciate themselves. No one, not even a Nobel prize, was immune to severe criticism from management. The letters sent to the authors of the manuscripts, always kind and cordial, bore no trace of these preparatory exchanges, which deserve a separate chapter in the informal history of literature and contemporary publishing.
Over time, however, even this formidable mechanism wears out. The Unesco crisis of the mid-1980s affected the resources allocated to the various partner organizations, including Cipsh. But it is especially at this moment that a profound transformation of the human sciences begins to become visible: namely, the gradual extinction, at least in the West, of great learned and intellectual figures, writers, philosophers, humanists able to produce founding works and to radiate throughout the planet. For Jean d'Ormesson, passionate about the great culture of all time, an era was probably coming to an end.
He knew how to handle a difficult passage of responsibilities with wisdom. By the time he retired in 1996, he was entrusting Cipsh to a universally valued scholar, Jean Bingen, a former member of the Cipsh Bureau and his longtime friend. This choice can be associated with the desire to anchor the Council in the world of scholarly erudition and at the same time open to a plurality of cultures. His presence was discreet, and yet he continued to lend his support and moral authority to Cipsh. When another normalist, Maurice Aymard, was chosen by Jean Bingen to succeed him, it is still Jean d'Ormesson that he wished to meet among the first.
He also took the necessary steps to ensure the continuity of Diogenes. Having himself succeeded Caillois at the death of the latter, it was his assistant Paola Costa Giovangigli he entrusted the review in turn. She took office and directed the journal with as much skill, passion and generosity as her predecessors. When Diogene celebrated his first half-century of life with a beautiful symposium organized by Unesco, it was again Jean d'Ormesson who gave the main speech, later published under the title "Fifty years, it is a beautiful age for a magazine ".
Would Jean d'Ormesson have appreciated the evolution of Cipsh and Diogenes, both of them so resolutely turned towards the intercultural, Asia, China? No one can say it. This cosmopolitan Frenchman, in love with Venice and Italy, might have looked with a benevolent smile at this new orientation; he would no doubt have appreciated the effort to seek the ideas and the great figures of culture where history puts them; in fact, what was dear to him was the fundamentally learned and intellectual nature of these enterprises, without which there is no spirit, no charm, no grace.
Milan, December 9, 2017.
Luca Maria Scarantino.
December 13, 2017