July 26, 2017
A heroic French philosopher dies saving children from drowning
by Ian Dreiblatt
Very sad, and improbably poignant, news from France: philosopher and psychoanalyst Anne Dufourmantelle has died. Dufourmantelle, fifty-three, was the author of more than twenty books, some of them co-written with Jacques Derrida, Avital Ronell, and others.
In the introduction 2003’s Blind Date, Ronell writes, “Anne Dufourmantelle… belongs perhaps to the lineage of stellar women writers in France who tend to cover philosophy and psychoanalysis in uncompromising ways, often with relentless integrity.” After her death, Françoise Nyssen, France’s culture minister and director of the respected publisher Actes Sud, declared that Dufourmantelle had “helped us live.”
The story, reported in Le Monde and by Roisin O’Connor at the Telegraph, could hardly be more moving: late last month, Dufourmantelle was on a Mediterranean beach in the south of France, and saw two children struggling to stay afloat. (Some reports say one child, and some describe the child as the son of a friend.) According to witnesses, she leaped into the water without hesitating, and made her way towards the children, but was grabbed by a strong current and dragged out to sea. Lifeguards were able to save both children, but Dufourmantelle drowned.
The chain of events is all the more remarkable for the fact that risk has been a recurring interest in Dufourmantelle’s work. In a recent interview quoted at Le Monde, she said, “When there’s truly a danger to be faced… we are called to strong action, to devotion, to overcoming ourselves.” In another interview with M, the newspaper’s magazine, she said, “Life consists of risk in its entirety. To live without risk would not really be living — it would be half-living, under spiritual anesthesia…. [Risk] means allowing oneself to be changed, meeting otherness in every event.”
She is survived by her partner, the writer Frédéric Boyer, and by a community of colleagues and students worldwide who treasured her for her formidable intellect and legendary kindness.
Ian Dreiblatt is the director of digital media at Melville House.