Power of Gentleness: Meditations on the Risk of Living

Anne Dufourmantelle (Author) Katherine Payne (Translator)
& 1 more


Key moments of our lives, especially at the beginning and end, are marked by gentleness--but the simplicity of that concept is misleading. Gentleness is an active passivity that may become an extraordinary force of resistance within ethics and politics. In this powerful rethinking by a renowned philosopher and psychoanalyst, whose untimely death captured worldwide attention, gentleness becomes a series of embodied paradoxes: power that is also soft, nobility that is also humble, sweetness that is also intelligent, subtlety that is nevertheless striking, fragility that has the potential to subvert the status quo.

In Greek and Christian myth, in the philosophical and religious traditions of China and India, and across Western literature and art, gentleness occurs in moments of tenderness such as birth, care, and mutual love, but also where least expected, amid danger, humiliation, and cruelty. Gentleness, Dufourmantelle shows, is marked above all by our early human connections to the physical world, uncovered and rediscovered primarily through the senses, with all the ambivalences that entails.

Today, we are most familiar with a gentleness sold to us in the diluted form of mawkishness. This is how we try to evade its subtlety--no longer by fighting it, but by enfeebling it. In the name of our highest values--happiness, truth, security--we enforce "gentle" safeguards against hurt and are persuaded to participate in our era's three divinities: efficiency, speed, and profitability. But in doing so we seal ourselves off from the life-affirming gamble that a true gentleness affords.

True gentleness entails an ethic of desire. Against a society that crushes human beings "gently" through consumerist logic and the illusion of total transparency, Dufourmantelle celebrates the uncompromising gentleness discovered by Gandhi and other revolutionaries. At the same time, within the despair confided by her patients, she traces the force of resistance and intangible magic that gentleness offers in the lived experience of ordinary women and men who fully embrace the risk of living.

This work received the French Voices Award for excellence in publication and translation. French Voices is a program created and funded by the French Embassy in the United States and FACE (French American Cultural Exchange).

Product Details

Fordham University Press
Publish Date
March 06, 2018
5.0 X 7.6 X 0.4 inches | 0.3 pounds

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About the Author

Anne Dufourmantelle (Author)
Anne Dufourmantelle (1964-2017), philosopher and psychoanalyst, taught at the European Graduate School and wrote monthly columns for the Paris newspaper Libรฉration. Her books in English include Blind Date: Sex and Philosophy, and, with Jacques Derrida, Of Hospitality. Dufourmantelle's death while seeking to rescue two children caught in a rip-tide attracted worldwide attention.

Catherine Malabou (Foreword By)
Catherine Malabou, holder of Visiting Chairs in numerous North American universities, teaches philosophy at the CRMEP (Center for Research in Modern European Philosophy) at Kingston University (UK). The most recent of her books are, Changing Difference: The Feminine in Philosophy, and, with Judith Butler, You Will Be My Body for Me.


"Power of Gentleness achieves [the] incredible feat of being a gentle book. . . . . One of the most surprising points of the book is the argument that the true enemy of gentleness is . . . gentleness. Fake gentleness, mawkishness, this passivity sold to us via every new age commercial technique. . . . True gentleness contains an element of negativity, . . . and therein lies the crux of the problem: gentleness has its own dialectic. . . . Power of Gentleness is an important text that teaches us, comforts us, disturbs us too, that in any case touches us, always, at every moment. From this book that is so devoted to fragility, the reader emerges--and this is incontestable--that much stronger."--Catherine Malabou, from the Foreword
"With rigor and charm, Anne Dufourmantelle breaks in an emergent concept--crucial yet unclassifiable--that has been overlooked by the big guns of philosophical discourse. The notion of gentleness resets the hermeneutics of affect and ontology."--Avital Ronell, New York University
"A profound philosopher and psychoanalyst."--New York Times