Life Style

Pierre Zaoui: “Life obliges us to love it”

The cross : ” I love life “, what does this ready-made expression mean?

Pierre Zaoui: In reality it can mean a thousand things, from the most beautiful to the most false, including the most ambiguous. When the French aristocrats, during the Terror, danced and shouted ” live life ! “ while waiting for the cart, they affirmed both a hedonistic love of life to the end and a very stoic contempt for life.

→ INVESTIGATION. The upheavals of self-love in the era of individualism

When Schiller’s Don Carlos cries out ” Life is Beautiful ! “ rather, it signifies the joy of the illusion of love. When Capra films It’s a Wonderful World (Life is Beautiful in French), it is about giving a more moral, more human version of the love of life: you have to trust life, one day or another, secret good deeds are always rewarded.

And when Brigitte Fontaine sings “Ah how beautiful life is! », It is quite another thing: it is 1997, the triple therapies have just arrived and seem to put an end to the hecatomb of AIDS, it is a song of rebirth which has not completely forgotten “The passing shadows”, the terror that is also life. From this point of view, it’s a topical song.

Can we talk about” love life “ anyway?

PZ: You are right, say ” life is Beautiful “ or “The world is wonderful” is not exactly say ” I love life “, at least in the strongest sense. Because loving life for good supposes not qualifying it, not specifying it, just loving it. In the strongest sense, it is moreover the only way to love, otherwise it is only a question of “Love by qualities” of which Pascal speaks, almost the opposite of true love: a simple selfish interest hidden under the illusion of an emotion.

When you really love a person, you love him as a whole, with also his weaknesses, his shadows, mediocrity and ugliness. It’s the same for life. Spinoza lets it be understood: the sage understands the necessity of the divine nature so well that he is able to draw joy even from the apparent worst of life, wars, misery, hatred. But I will confess that I have never achieved such wisdom …

Can this be decreed? Do you have to love life?

PZ: No, it cannot be decreed at all. Except in very rare cases, life forces us to love him, otherwise we would have long since disappeared, man being a species that can self-destruct at any moment. Not only do we not choose to love life, but we also don’t really choose the form and the way in which we are going to love it.

Bergson, for example, speaks of two ways of loving life, which correspond to two contradictory movements: by “Attention to life” it designates the effort made by intelligence to help us acquire a stable vision of reality, of the manifestations of life, and thus be able to lead a normal life. But another expression, “Attachment to life”, designates the effort, specific this time to artists and mystics, to return to life as a primary source, by standing out, unlike particular manifestations.

→ MAINTENANCE. Alexis Jenni “We can make love last”

And life still has a thousand other tricks to be loved. Some will love it through its highest intensities, even if it means being burned there, others in its lowest intensities, even if it means being bored to death, some will love it in its brilliance and its foam, others in its more underground and invisible sources.

Can this be learned? An education in the love of life?

PZ: The stake seems to me less to learn to love life, since, once again, that cannot be decreed, than to learn to love it well or to love it better than we usually do. . Thus, to remain caulked at home today and not to enjoy the “Return of life”, in the streets and on the café terraces, does not seem to me to be a great way to enjoy life, although it shows a very deep attachment to life.

To love life in a beautiful way supposes to find a fair balance between its desires to enjoy it and its concern to preserve it, between its impulses and its prudence. But such a balance can be found neither with injunctions, nor with prohibitions. There’s nothing more depressing than hearing yourself say “Enjoy”, ” longed for “, “Be happy”, “Stop being sad”. All the more so as we then lose the very spice of life, its lightness, its carelessness.

It is even possible that such a balance cannot be found in theory as we never know in advance whether such an event, good or bad, will break or on the contrary awaken our love of life. Life is forever ambivalent. By wanting too much to privilege just one of the terms of this ambivalence, we very quickly find ourselves cornered against the other.

And concretely?

PZ: At the individual level, it seems to me that there is not much you can do except trust life, with a childish, animal, pre-intellectual trust, even when it seems to be behaving so badly.

→ INVESTIGATION. The delicate task of saying death in the time of Covid-19

On the other hand, at the collective level, it is much simpler. Because a society that loves life is a society that loves its beating heart, that is to say its youth. There is therefore only one watchword: let us help our young people by all means, let us have confidence in our youth to teach us a just love of life …

With the pandemic, death resurfaced in our society, which tried to hide it. Can we love life despite death?

PZ: This is one of the great lessons of philosophy: learning to die and to cope with the death of others is not necessarily morbid, it is sometimes the only way to confer on life a dignity and a value superior to those of simple survival. We must not turn from death to meditate on life alone, but still speak of life in the face of death. This is nothing but life itself – not distraught life, not real life, but life itself.

Death can always fuel the love of life, which is what all death rituals are for. During confinement, especially the first, we saw the dead, and at the same time we were unable to mourn, say goodbye to those who were going to die or bury them. It was incredibly violent. The burial of the dead is the foundation of life. If we don’t take care of the dead, we don’t take care of the living.

→ READ. Hymn to love, the record of The cross


The author

Pierre Zaoui is a philosopher, teacher at the University of Paris. He notably wrote
a book, Crossing disasters (Seuil, 2010, 384 p., € 23.30), a very nice reflection
on the question of knowing how “one survives the life”, the life which ends badly, with its ruptures, sorrows, bereavements, illnesses and death.


With the pandemic, we live in a world and a society tempted to withdraw into oneself. The cross therefore wished to devote two weeks to exploring the different dimensions of love, from its expression in the conjugal and family context to its social and political expression, without forgetting its artistic fruitfulness.

The challenge

“To love life” is the somewhat easy injunction of wellness magazines or advertising slogans. But as the philosopher shows here, loving life is almost an art, which cannot be decreed. Loving life also means knowing how to deal with the darkest manifestations, including death.


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