Florian Forestier: Le Réel et le transcendental



Le Réel et le transcendantal Book Cover Le Réel et le transcendantal
Florian Forestier
Editions Jérôme Millon
Broché 20.00 €

Reviewed by: Erik Hoogcarspel (Internationale School Voor Wijsbegeerte)

‘Le Réel et le transcendental’ was originally the title of a dissertation by which Florian Forestier earned his Ph.D. at the University of Toulouse on June 18, 2011. The complete text consisted of two parts, the first of which had the very same title, the second one was called ‘La phénoménologie génétique de Marc Richir’. Both texts have appeared as separate books and were published by Springer in 2015.

Forestier is a member of the phenomenological school of the Belgium philosopher Marc Richir, who passed away in November last year. Richir advocates a makeover (refonte) of the classical phenomenology and Forestier explains why this is necessary, especially in view of the challenges phenomenology has been exposed to by structuralism and deconstructivism. He argues that phenomenology can rise again from its ashes with a new vigour and with more capabilities than ever to solve the problems of our present world.

Most philosophers are familiar with the term ‘transcendental’ from reading the works of Immanuel Kant. For Kant the transcendental approach consisted in the research of the conditions of the possibility of valid knowledge. The transcendental categories for instance make sure that science is possible and the transcendental unity of apperception guarantees that my knowledge is not spread randomly over different persons. These elements are transcendental because they are not induced by experience, they are a priory and just make experience possible. Forestier however means by the transcendental that which makes phenomena possible. Transcendental phenomenology still is the study of phenomena, but it looks upon these with a gaze that asks itself: ‘what makes them appear, which conditions are necessarily implied?’

The real (le Réel) is the opposite, the other pole, not unlike the thing in itself for Kant, but much more concrete. It is the limit of all that is implied by the appearance of phenomena, the source of all meaning that has no meaning by itself. It is a fundamental dimension of the phenomenological field, without it phenomenology would be nothing but fiction. In fact the concept has been influenced by the writings of Lacan and Levinas, it is the dimension in which language develops itself and which reappears in the heart of all speech acts, without being mentioned. One thing however is clear, and Forestier stresses this several times: phenomenology is not ontology, it is not about being, contrary for instance to Jean-Paul Sartre who called his first main work ‘Being and Nothingness’ (L’Être et le Néant) and described it as a phenomenological ontology, strongly influenced as he was by Martin Heidegger. The new phenomenology however is solely about appearing or phenomenality. The space of phenomena does not extend itself between being and nothingness, but between the real and the transcendental.

The book has four chapters. The first one introduces Forestier’s view on phenomenology and how it has been confronted with the transcendental. The second one argues that the transcendental should be seen in an expanded way. The third chapter introduces the mobility of the transcendental and the fourth one discusses the new phenomenology.

So what is the transcendental in phenomenology and how has it changed since its first introduction by Husserl in his ‘Logical Investigations’? Forestier, like his teacher Richir, follows the analysis of the French philosopher Jacques English. According to English, Husserl came to think about the transcendental when he realised the mutual convertibility of the different intentional modalities, like perception, imagination, signification, and so on. They seemed to belong to the same space, which is related to intentionality. It is because of intentionality that the not yet revealed is revealed. Transcendental phenomenology investigates the structure of the modifications that determine the way the a priori and transcendent objects are given to us. It is intentionality that makes us aware of the existence of an external world, but this is not something out there, but an experience of a relatedness within ourselves. Forestier argues that we live intentionality in more than one way and we even cannot exclude that some animals experience it in some way. Multiple variations in intentionality bring the imagination into play and with this the many meanings and intentions we develop by living in our world. This interplay between imagination, perception and meaning is an important field of study of phenomenology.

In Husserl’s famous ‘Logical Investigations’, experiences of consciousness are seen as preconditions to gain access to the things perceived, they are not yet subjects of reflection themselves. What is investigated is how it is possible that the different things appear to us and how we develop knowledge about them, so the conditions a priori, that are not dependent on empirical circumstances. The state of the intentional experience is a problem that cannot be solved at this stage, if it would come up at all. There is not yet a clear vision of the relation between the intentional acts and its objects, they are still considered fully transcendent to consciousness. The aim is to understand how a logical discourse about the world is possible. The intentional structures are malleable. At this point the enigma of meaning reveals itself and it appears that there is difference between intuitive acts and ones that give meaning. Only in this way we can understand how an individual thing distinguishes itself from the background of generality.

In the ‘Logical Investigations’ meaning is the result of a special kind of acts, but it is still difficult to say how we come to know what it is. Meaning is not part of the experience of a thing but part of the way we think about it and in that way it refers to both itself and the thing. In the second part of the ‘Logical Investigations’ Husserl investigates the problem of essences which put the problem of meaning in a more general frame. Phenomenology is redefined now as an eideitic science, a science of essences, a science of the a priori. Some phenomenologists would later consider this to be an idealistic early phase of phenomenology that had to be overcome, others however claim that this is the true phenomenology. Forestier agrees that essences are important but not in the way that has been discussed thus far.

In the first decade of the 20th century Husserl starts to think about what acts do and at that point time becomes an important factor, because this can only be investigated from the inside, from the point of view of the performance of acts and gradually the lived experience becomes the focus of inquiry. It appears that a thing always has more meanings than it shows, it always has a surplus that is never fulfilled in perception. Things never appear separate from the intentionality of consciousness and appear within a perspective and against a horizon.

Husserl distinguishes between appearance and being, the first has two levels: the itself appearance and the way it relates to different meanings. Phenomenology has become the science of meaning and meaning evolves from a quality of a thing to a structure of relations between phenomena. What becomes important now is the question how something happens to become an object of consciousness and which part time plays in this process. Forestier suggests that Husserl’s fear to call up a kind of psychologism was the reason that the genetic part of intentionality was under evaluated. Everything now has a double structure of on one hand being something that is perceived and on the other something with meaning, the meaning exists apart from perception and is a timeless idea.

Husserl pinpoints the difference between phenomenology and empiricism by defining the phenomenon as a concrete unified entity of which different aspects can be analysed. Moreover it is not a thing which is perceived but a direct experience in consciousness. This gives rise to more ambiguities, because when I direct my attention to my own sensations in my own consciousness I am not only the one who generates the sensations but also the one who experiences them. However when I become conscious of the sensations as just my sensations, they are transformed, by an intentional modification, into events in my consciousness which I can investigate. These phenomena that I can investigate constitute the field of the phenomena, the phenomenological.

A phenomenon is something that appears, but what is the relation between the appearance and that which appears, the transcendent? In the concept of intentionality a transcendent is already implied, because consciousness is directed at something which it is not. So intentionality tends to move outwards, to constitute an outside, this drive Husserl considered to be a natural urge. This seems to be an awkward solution. Perhaps a better one is suggested by Marc Richir, who attributes transcendence to the influence of the community or rather to language and culture, which he calls the symbolic institution. Anyhow, the phenomenon is free of any ontological propensities, it comes into consideration before any thoughts about things existing ‘out there’ arise. This is why we need to take a step back, to conduct an epochē in order to think phenomena. Later on Marc Richir, being a third generation phenomenologist, will introduce the phenomena as unstable events, constantly appearing, disappearing and reappearing from the boiling magma of the phenomenal. The phenomenon is nothing but phenomenon, rien que phénomène. The relation between the appearance and that which appears becomes a mutual implication and no external necessity comes into play. Meaning becomes something which arises by itself in the process, the meaning forms itself, le sens se faisant.

The transcendental turn in Husserl’s phenomenology means that the focus shifts from knowledge to the knowledge of knowledge, or knowledge as a phenomenon. The way things exist is strongly related to the way they are known, the noëses. In this sense Husserl calls his phenomenology a transcendental idealism, a term which caused many readers to put him on a par with Hegel and Berkeley. Forestier does not agree, and he is not alone in this. He reads Husserl in such a way that the way things appear cannot be understood without taking the co-operation of consciousness into consideration. It is a perspective on the world that focusses on the way things appear naturally to consciousness. The structure of natural consciousness, the worldly ego, is called the transcendental ego.

This constitutes the transcendental dimension, which is however purely formal according to Forestier, it is not a new hidden or higher reality. The transcendental ego can be compared to a mathematical function, it is not egotistic or narcissistic. Consciousness does not constitute reality, it constitutes meaning, the meaning of that which shows itself. When it describes an appearance it constitutes a collection of structures of categories and types, but it needs the help of the appearance. Constitution is a tool and a method, it is a way to understand and make clear what the character is of that which appears. The noëma (the constituted known) is nothing but the attribution of a kind of unity to that which appears, it is the way I understand something: when I look at a tree there is no noëma in between me and the tree.

If we want to understand something we also need to know where it has come from and how it will develop. This means that we have to take more into consideration than only the presence of the objects. This not only implies a philosophy of time, but also an existing structure of possibilities, a landscape, a view of the world. Consciousness has to constitute a number of layers of possibilities and needs a guiding principle in order to conduct its investigations and enrich its understanding. Forestier notices however that this doesn’t have to lead to a philosophy of essences, which are to be constituted by consciousness by the use of the imagination.

Phenomenology has a problem that never was solved by Husserl. It wants to much: it wants to be a science and therefore deliver concrete and exact knowledge of its objects, but it also wants to clarify its own knowledge and the structure of the phenomenological fields. By the methods of reduction and epoche however a certain distance of the object is introduced and with this the possibility that certain and exact knowledge of phenomena might be impossible, in other words that phenomena are blurry by nature. The same goes for the laws and structures Husserl introduces, perhaps the phenomenal is not as fixed, closed and rationally structured as Husserl expected. What appears to be very important however is the correlation, or mutual implication, of phenomena. This means that two phenomena both cause each other and that the one is unthinkable without the other. This even seems to hold in models that allow more coincidental and local relations like the one of psychoanalysis and Marc Richir.

Knowledge, and the phenomenological one too, is based on intentionality, but the objects of intentionality are transcendent, which means that there is much more to the objects then we have in mind. There are many aspects of objects and relations between them that escapes our attention. This makes us think that they are real, but can we also say that they exist? In his ‘Logical Investigations’ Husserl seems to hesitate between two options: objects are immediately given to us in intuition or existence is a judgement and therefore part of the way we think about objects. Perception seems to favour the first one and reflection the second, but perception only seems to claim existence when the object perceived as embedded in a field of meaning. The meaning of the object is however related to its essence or eidos, which cannot stand by itself. When I see a flower I know that it’s part of a plant which has roots. The roots are not given in perception, so they are ideal at that moment. The ideal is makes it possible to understand the flower and that makes it interesting. In other words, Husserl’s transcendental turn is preceded by an ideal turn. The structure of the ideal becomes dynamic and this inspired Marc Richir to formulate his principle of meaning forming itself. Language is without boundaries and continuously developing itself, showing itself as schemes and phenomena, that are embedded in a rhythmic pattern because of their surplus.

We perceive objects within a horizon, this horizon makes us belong to the object and to the world. The horizon in other words, is related to the sphere of emotions or affectations. These are modalities of our intentionality and make us feel like we belong to a world. Husserl thinks we have an original belief in the world, it is part of our natural attitude. This is the basis on which we develop our likes and dislikes, which are the results of a system of habits that is maintained by emotional sediments. In other words, there is an original belief, a doxa, that makes us live our lives together with others, make friends and foes and develop feelings of belonging to certain groups and communities. In the beginning Husserl sees the world as the object of an absolute consciousness, later it is a necessary shape in which the transcendental subject already is involved. The problem here is that Husserl tries to unify two perspectives of the world, from the inside it is a flowing structure, a kind of empty meaning that is part of my experiences, from the outside it is a surrounding horizon wherein the ego has to orientate itself. The only solution for this seems to be to give up the concept of unity of the world.

Heidegger challenges the phenomenological reduction and wants to replace it with a kind of transcendence that uses the structure of the life world. His phenomenological analysis takes place from within the world and follows its structures. Perception is only perception in so far as it is perception of something that exists, as a kind of opening towards being, where this being is at stake. The traditional categories of the thing are too limited and abstract, they neglect a lot of the original meaning of things. Already before we perceive them, we are exposed to things and they are significant for us. All relations with things we have, even the scientific ones, are made possible by this original belonging. It is this original belonging to the world as such, as being, that Heidegger wants to understand. The world manifests itself among others in the experience of anxiety and in the amazement before the world. The conditions of the possibility of meaning is the appearance of an original gap, a distance of the given from itself in itself. The later Heidegger attempts according to Forestier to express being in language and eventually ends up with an analysis of meaning that approaches the one of Husserl’s, because the meaning of being and the being of meaning are hard to discern. Heidegger’s problem is that he tries to investigate the transcendence of phenomena and their foundation at the same time and considers the transcendence to be the movement of being, which is the bottomless openness to the world. Richir (and with him Forestier) accuses Heidegger to treat being and being there as a kind of entities and to put too much emphasis on being at the cost of the phenomena. On top of that Heidegger hesitates between the world as phenomenological concept and a concept of the world that gives access to a new kind of thought. Forestier accuses Heidegger in general of using too much the classical metaphysics that he wants to leave behind (p.133). Later however the thing is analysed as being a battle between the world and the earth. Being there opens itself to the world by surrendering itself and trusting itself to it. It surrenders itself to the solidity and reliability of the earth which is resistance to transcendence, the world. Nevertheless the dimensions of earth and world cannot be separated and need each other. Being calls for thought, it opens up to itself, that is why it is both nothing and language. The event (das Ereignis) is being that is manifesting itself and withdrawing at the same time, meaningful and yet meaningless. It has an original fourfold structure (heaven, earth, gods and mortals), the vectors of appearance. At this point as we know, Heidegger has a very bleak view on the future of phenomenology without offering much of an alternative, and of course Forestier is anxious to prove him wrong.
The new phenomenology can only be genetic. This thinking in terms of becoming was started by Husserl and further developed by Merleau-Ponty, Maldiney and Richir. One of the problems is the relation between being and appearance. Appearances have to be explained as an interference of being by being the for the sake of being, this leads to a cross-eyed ontological gaze where being and beings appear side by side. In other words ontology as to be overcome by the new phenomenology that will be more dynamic and flexible. One of the important concepts will be the crossing-over or chiasma, which has been introduced by Merleau-Ponty. Among the philosophers of this new phenomenological movement Forestier mentions Jean-Luc Nancy. Nancy calls for a philosophy of the concrete, the tangible. The world is originally multiform, it is the there-is (il y a) unwrapping itself. Being is not different from appearing and appearing is accompanied by consciousness. The world is both not real in the sense of purely objective, and not unreal in the sense of a dream, it is just effectiveness in interaction. Being is multiplication, making space and time, it is contingent and because of this it is factual. We make sense of it by understanding, but this understanding is not unlimited and free. This making sense of and this understanding, is however not something we do ourselves, it just happens. We are at the world and meaning happens. There is a fold in the world which does the sense making. This fold takes the place of what used to be the ontological difference, but is not a thing, it is a movement, a constantly folding in itself and because of this it is the very structure of the phenomenal, a gesture of gutting and secretion of the concrete.

With these terms we have reached the phenomenology of Marc Richir, which is supposed to be a continuation of the philosophy of Husserl’s and of Merleau-Ponty’s, but is also inspired by the philosophy of Kant and Fichte. Although Richir in his early years was very sympathetic towards Heidegger’s project, he later rejected Heidegger’s phenomenology altogether. Phenomena here are in perpetual movement, they are twinkling between appearing and disappearing, between being themselves and being other. We may imagine ourselves a fixed world, where we perceive things that are not noticeably changing, but this image not only hides a continuous change, is even supported by this. Richir calls the arising of unchanging things existing by themselves the ontological simulacrum. The word ‘simulacrum’ refers to the mirror-like structure of the phenomenological field. Phenomena are not determined inside out by themselves or an essence, a red book on the table does not exist sui generis. There is a process of phenomenalisation that links the red colouring pieces which twinkle between manifesting themselves and disappearing, in order to make place for an object as a whole that presents itself as their support. The coming into existence of the ontological structure of the thing that supports its qualities, is like a simulacrum and the activity of the imagination is a necessary part of reality. The imagination doesn’t make up things, it is creative, it gives phenomena an appearance. How the imagination works is made clear by our dreams.
Richir investigates the phenomena by means of a new kind of reduction: the hyperbolical phenomenological reduction, where the focus is just the phenomena and nothing else. A phenomenon is not stable, it overgrows itself and vanishes. Besides, it is not a unity, but a moving phenomenal multitude. Important are the phenomenalizing schematisms, although they are without concepts, they make it possible for phenomena to constitute themselves among themselves. They enable a phenomenon to appear as something contingent and tentative in a world, they describe how something given and concrete is found without a previous existence like an improvisation and illusion of itself. They also make any appeal to a ‘symbolic instituter’, a universal source of meaning like a god or a universal consciousness, redundant. They show themselves as a gesture of taking themselves up and loosing themselves at the same time, always ahead of themselves and at the same time following themselves, in a continuous flow that flows into itself.
The phenomenological field is intrinsically chaotic and dangerous and it structures itself as this world, but many other worlds are possible. Phenomena arise, but their shape doesn’t exist anywhere, we can conceive the shape as something that works as a rhythm, possibly with habits and interfering with other rhythms. This whole process works without anyone doing anything, there is no subject that decides. An indication of this is that we cannot decide what we are going to think or say, we only become aware of it it afterwards. We can decide what we are going to say on a certain occasion of course, but in that case we are only repeating what we have thought before. Meaning forms itself, but it is not a unity, it is a kind of taste, accompanied by rhythms and coincidences, composed of different pieces of meaning, the wild essences which Merleau-Ponty mentions in ‘The Visible and the Invisible’, that flow around on the edge of language and beyond. Richir divides the phenomenological field into different layers, he speaks of architectonics, a structure of archè or original layers, which determine each other mutually. This enables us to understand how phenomena change meaning when they are transposed to a different level. Language and culture is one of those levels.

In the last chapter Forestier brings up the real again, in a certain way the real is that which philosophy never speaks of, which it in principle never can mention, because it is beyond any reason and it never makes sense, and it is the reason that meaning is always on its way. It is also the reason why philosophy is always on its way and never finished. Forestier still has an unfinished businesses with Derrida, because the latter claimed to have overcome phenomenology by showing that it suffered from the metaphysics of presence. The answer comes from a deconstruction of the concept of presence, this is not self given but a dynamic difference from itself. Moreover, the Derridean dogmatic concept of an endlessly postponed meaning (différence means difference as well as delay) has been overcome by Richir’s new analysis of meaning. The concept of the twinkling of phenomena transforms the concept of presence into a dynamic self qualifying process whereby the relation between language and phenomena is reinstalled. Deconstruction has made us aware of the importance and the creativity of difference and exposed the old biases of stability and unity, the new phenomenology introduces difference and change into the heart of presence. Thinking about the phenomenal implies now thinking about thoughts and meaning and this gives new perspectives of research. The logic of mutual implication is clearly a central paradigm, Forestier mentions here the work of Michel Bitbol, a quantum physicist, who writes in the same spirit.

This is an important book, it is well written and it deserves a wide attention and many discussions. Richir of course has discussed the value and importance of his renovations on many occasions and in many places in his work, but his work is not always very easy to read. Forestier has gathered all the new developments, problems and discussions in a clear and concise fashion. He has divided the several topics carefully into different chapters, paragraphs and sub-paragraphs, which is very convenient for discussions and lectures. I’m not sure however whether the real is as important as Forestier takes it to be. Isn’t it just the stripped version of Kant’s thing in itself, which has created so much confusion? Or perhaps it is the distance echo of a God that cannot have a name but created the world by his word? If it’s so unspeakable and unthinkable as Forestier says it is, we cannot conceive it to have any relationship whatsoever with anything whatsoever, it would be completely redundant. It is an exception to the law of mutual implication or perhaps it is this law perceived as an entity, which would be a flagrant contradiction. If we have meaning forming itself, why not the real forming itself? In that case we couldn’t speak of THE real, but just of reality as a process and it would not be different from the principle of mutable implication, correlation or, like it is called in Asian traditions, ‘dào’ or ’emptiness’.