The Risk of Believing


dictee — or for theresa, Jeremy Fernando, 2017

by Anne Dufourmantelle, translated by Jeremy Fernando

Believing, it is what seems to us the least risky act in the world. A simple adherence, an acquiescence to what presents itself or to what we have chosen to identify ourselves with. All our being attaches itself to it; it suffices to let itself be caught. Faith represents itself blindfolded. At best an illusion, at worst the antechamber of crime, the justification of the worst passions. We speak of credulity like a particularly poor form of stupidity, without even the enchantment of the innocent. However, there is a risk in belief which is magnificent. Pascal and Kierkegaard have spoken, and not only as Christians, of the untenable philosophical position of the paradox that they defend. Of what makes an obstacle and vis-à-vis that which whereof we can only rush to effectuate a jump, that is to say cross an unlimited theoretical and spiritual space. There is no rational continuity possible. For, what is belief, if it is not being faced with what cannot be believed? It is in this sense only, absolutely paradoxical, that risk can be taken — in making a jump that reason refuses to make. But this risk would be the contrary of an adherence, of a belief in the sectarian sense of the term; au contraire it would be an exposition at the extremes. Believing then would be to get rid of all beliefs in order to stay in front, like that, of the unbelievable, and still confront it. It is what renders sometimes analysis a space where madness can speak without fear and almost without judgment. Where delirium can withdraw and unwind without doing too much harm.

The Pascalian wager is not without reason but it places faith in the unverifiable, or at least on what verifies itself only due to the fact of being wagered, that is to say experienced. Sort of the future-anterior of the Pascalian wager which thus, by a « reasoned » slight of hand, invites each to prefer granting asylum to God rather than to indifference. However, verifiability today is the only recognised reliability: what can reproduce itself, which gives place to a reproducible, teachable, knowledge, subjected to tests to which all can have access. Without that criterion, no valid knowledge. How many lives would be saved if we could climb above our familiar schemas, our antediluvian repetitions, our constantly re-travelled furrows? But believing in what has not happened, in what has no reason to be believed? That is perhaps the risk. It is not to rediscover hope (l’espoir) at the bend of the route where we left it, but betting on what cannot be hoped for (l’inespéré).

If risk is an event, it defines a before and an after, a crisis in the time which renders impossible the wise return, secure at « as before ». Is it not what the patient in analysis waits for and precisely has so much trouble believing, namely that the unpredictable may appear, befall, manifest itself, transform his life? It makes us believe that this is what he expects, but if he could not risk that before, it is perhaps due to the fact that he could not even represent it as possibly real; for, that fractures in an instant his previous life, rendering it obsolete, useless, or vague. And, if entering the capacity of the unhoped for was one and the same thing. Antigone stands up to all human law, for what speaks to her heart is according to the incredible: for her, respecting the law of the entombment of the dead trumps all other laws, and that obstinateness leads her to her death, a death which all reason speaks to us of madness and the abdication of a possible life — and however, the only possible choice for her.

To risk believing, it is to surrender to the incredible, to surrender to it like we say to render one’s arms or to give oneself up as a prisoner, to surrender oneself not to reason but to the part of the night that lives in us — that takes from above the symptom, that takes everything from high-up, elsewhere, and that obliges us to look towards the top. Eminent position evidently uncomfortable. Rather, sharpen the critique and be the critics, like Nietzsche said, from back-worlds such that they disintegrate, there, under our eyes. But open the line of the horizon up until the unlimited, surrender to the risk of belief such that all that we know (nous connaissions, savions), have experienced, can be subverted, knowing that we are permitted no return. It is the path of Socratic irony, arriving at the aporia and having to radically bifurcate. Believe — yes — but in an absolutely aporetic sense. A sense which turns into scandal, which is a stumbling block to the real and will always be. Believe, of course, in this place where thought, paradoxically, is silent, where she no longer offers, as such, resistance. Belief is a dissidence or an abdication. As dissidence, she goes towards a horizon she does not envisage, that she cannot envisage, for the overflow of limits she embodies (believing, is it not also an affect? a passion?) opens zones of creative resistances, literally « deranged », untameable, spaces.

Because believing is not necessarily being believed nor giving way to the imaginary — this is what Kierkegaard has attempted to think. Betting on the unthinkable. Effectuating a jump. Engaging in a discontinuity — there — where everything brings us back non-stop, continuously. Being absolutely unreasonable does not suffice. It would be necessary to displace the line of the horizon … Change discourse, parameters, angle of view. Divert the look towards the edge of the tableau, finally seeing what happens at the margin, there in its detail, change of parameters, of alphabet, of history, of stories, of memory.


From Anne Dufourmantelle, ‘Le risque de croire’ dans Éloge du risque. Paris: Éditions Payout & Rivages, 2014: 173-176.

About the Authors:

Anne Dufourmantelle (1964–2017) was a French philosopher and psychoanalyst. She posits that risk is an essential part of life, an integral part of living, of being alive: for, « being completely alive is a task, it’s not at all a given thing. It’s not just about being present to the world, it’s being present to yourself, reaching an intensity that is in itself a way of being reborn ». On July 21, 2017, Anne died whilst attempting to rescue two children caught in dangerously turbulent waters off Pampelonne beach in Ramatuelle. Lifeguards eventually reached the children, who survived; but she could not be resuscitated.

Jeremy Fernando reads, and writes; and is the Jean Baudrillard Fellow at The European Graduate School. He works in the intersections of literature, philosophy, and the media; is the general editor of both Delere Press and the thematic magazine One Imperative; and is a Lecturer & Fellow of Tembusu College at The National University of Singapore.