The Path of Light and Philosophy – A Conversation with Anca Vasiliu, Esteemed Philosopher in France

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Anca Vasiliu, a prominent philosopher with a rich academic and research career in the field of ancient philosophy, hails from Bucharest. She studied at the Nicolae Grigorescu Institute of Fine Arts and furthered her education at universities in France. Holding a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University Paris X Nanterre, under the guidance of Jean-Luc Marion, Anca Vasiliu has had an impressive academic journey, rising to the position of high-level research director at CNRS and serving as a doctoral supervisor at Sorbonne University (Paris IV).

She is renowned for her significant contributions to ancient philosophy, with works such as „Du diaphane. Image, milieu, lumiere dans la pensée antique et médiévale” (Vrin, 1997), „Eikôn. L’image dans le discours des trois Cappadociens” (PUF, 2010), „Dire et voir. La parole visible du Sophiste” (Vrin, 2008), „Image de soi dans l’antiquité tardive” (Vrin, 2012), „Divines techniques. Arts et langage homérique à el fin de l’Antiquité” (Classiques Garnier, 2016), „Penser Dieu. Noétique et métaphysique dans l’Antiquité tardive” (Vrin, 2018), „Montre l’âme. Lecture du Phèdre de Platon” (Sorbonne Université Presses, 2021). Additionally, she is the scientific director of the international journal of ancient and medieval philosophy, „Chôra,” founded in 2003. She also coordinated, alongside Alexander Baumgarten, the translation and additions to the „Vocabularul european al filosofiilor” into Romanian (Polirom, 2020), a notable contribution to the philosophical heritage.

Anca Vasiliu has been honored with numerous awards and distinctions, including the Grand Prize of Philosophy from the French Academy for her complete works in 2022. She is also a Doctor Honoris Causa of Babeș-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca and the University of Ioannina (Greece). With a rich and diverse career, Anca Vasiliu is a prominent figure in the world of contemporary philosophy.

As part of the Romanian excellence campaign beyond borders, „Supporting Excellence!” launched by Occidentul Romanesc on January 15, 2015, Anca Vasiliu was awarded the Romanian Excellence Trophy at a prestigious event held in November 2022 in Madrid. She is also a member of the jury for the „Supporting Excellence!” competition, edition IV, 2023-2024, within the framework of the campaign launched by Occidentul Romanesc on January 15, 2015.

During the summer, in conjunction with the selection of Timișoara as the European Capital of Culture, the Polytechnic University of Timișoara organized an exceptional cultural event to which Anca Vasiliu was invited. The event spanned 10 consecutive nights and consisted of a dialogue between the 10 distinguished Romanian guests and the local community. The well-known journalist Cătălin Ștefănescu from TVR1 moderated the event. These meetings took place in a cultural setting and provided an opportunity for students and residents of Timișoara to engage in discussions with prominent figures from the Romanian diaspora. After the conclusion of the event, the discussions and encounters were broadcast in a series of programs on TVR1, presenting the stories and perspectives of the 10 guests over several weeks.

What do the distinctions and awards you’ve received, especially the Grand Prize of Philosophy from the French Academy for your entire body of work, mean to you?

I received the recent distinctions and awards with astonishment and the fear that my journey may not yet be complete (I like to think it isn’t), with the concern that what follows might not measure up to expectations. I have never worked with the idea of receiving any reward or recognition. On the contrary, I have always worked with the idea of repaying as best I can to those who have educated me and invested their time, knowledge, and trust in me. I wanted to show them that they were not wrong in the investment they made. I would like to continue working in a way that allows me to express gratitude in this way, even posthumously, to those who have supported me, sometimes with admiration and even friendship. On the other hand, I consider the awards received as a stimulus, not for me, but for the younger generation of intellectuals who may feel uncomfortable in the current world, a world increasingly less oriented towards education, culture, art, and knowledge. 

Last fall, you were awarded the Excellence Trophy at an event in Madrid attended by Romanian elites from three continents. What does this distinction mean to you, awarded by a non-profit organization that has been publishing Occidentul Românesc for 14 years, an independent publication with no political or religious affiliations, dedicated to Romanians outside Romania’s borders?

It was an unexpected and especially emotional moment for me. I confess that I was not aware of the existence of this organization or the publication Occidentul Românesc. Upon discovering them, I spontaneously accepted the invitation and participated amazed in the event, having the opportunity to discover in this way a Romanian community that I did not know: the face of Romanians living in the West, working, and achieving notable successes in various specialized fields. Romanians integrated into „Western” societies, coming from all corners of the world and proudly embracing both their Romanian origin and their successes in their fields of expertise.

Never before had I had the opportunity to meet doctors, writers, professors, entrepreneurs, journalists, visual artists, musicians, Romanian diplomats gathered in a relaxed and natural atmosphere, sharing their extremely varied experiences, all enjoying getting to know each other and feeling good with „compatriots.” Although I am largely solitary, I felt proud to belong to this community and to be able to share my experience with people I met for the first and perhaps only time but with whom I did not feel estranged. In essence, each of our experiences has a degree of similarity with the other, even if we come from different geographical and disciplinary backgrounds. I think it is a remarkably healthy, human, and beneficial initiative. It is a model of unity beyond the determinism of borders and political choices; perhaps it is a model of a future society that respects its values and fosters both brotherhood and freedom.

What are the projects or research lines you are currently involved in, and what are your expectations and future goals?

I continue in the research direction I mentioned earlier. Last year, I completed a book on the demiurgic function of language, based on a comparative study of two Platonic dialogues, the Sophist and the Timaeus. This demiurgic function does not mean that language effectively manufactures the objective world, but rather, it constructs the reality of this world—the reality that the mind grants or denies to the existence of an objective world. Plato, following Parmenides and Empedocles, thus lays the foundations of the first metaphysics, as the science par excellence of philosophy will later be called. This book will be published in the spring of 2024 by PUF. Now I am working on another study dedicated to the relationship that sight maintains with light. For me, this relationship is a parable of the ability of vision (which is a mental faculty) to create a link between the corporeal and the incorporeal, given that light, for ancient and medieval culture, is not a physical phenomenon. Without instruments to measure light but only with observation instruments, ancient culture did not have a physical theory of light, as it was neither matter nor wave energy, as in modern sciences. The theme is, of course, immense. I approach it from the way Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus address the problem of light as a condition of vision, and in the epilogue, I outline two late echoes of this issue, in Dante and Marsilio Ficino, revisiting older studies from a new perspective. I hope to publish this new book in late 2025 or 2026. I also have other projects on the horizon, but as they are only in the sketch stage, I prefer not to speak about what has not yet begun.

Recorded by: Occidentul Romanesc