The introduction of The Subject(s) of Phenomenology: Rereading Husserl wastes no time getting down to the nitty gritty. Iulian Apostolescu begins the volume immediately by setting the stage with two of the most common and difficult problems that Husserl scholars must grapple with. First, while the main subject matter of Husserl’s phenomenology can be said to be the subject, this is understood to mean the pure field of transcendental subjectivity. (The precise nature of what this means and entails is very murky, and depending which phase of Husserl you read, the answer can change.) Gather several Husserlians in a room to represent the span of his early works through to the posthumous pieces, and you will get a variety of answers to the question, “What is the subject of phenomenology?” Husserl’s work covers such a wide variety of themes and ties into so many other figures and fields, that you get a rather stunning plurality of topics. Second, attempting to carry out Husserl’s famous demand that we must return to things themselves, proves to be not as simple as it sounds, and the phenomenological method he developed is not always the easiest tool to implement. And let us not forget the debates about the phenomenological reduction. Taking this all in, the reader quickly understands what this volume will be attempting to do: (1) inspire new discussion about what phenomenology is and what its subject is; (2) critically engage with, and at times pose challenges to, the predominant interpretations of Husserl that have great hold in philosophy; and finally, (3) extend phenomenology into the twenty-first century and see how it handles the issues that occupy contemporary scholars. No small feat, indeed.
Apostolescu has gathered a diverse group of authors from across the globe, both young and established phenomenology scholars, and this gives the volume a feeling of great breadth and weight. It is organized into three parts that set up a fantastic flow, taking the reader first through discussions dealing with the fundamentals (The Phenomenological Project: Definitions and Scope), and then onto specific aspects and issues of Husserl’s phenomenology (The Unfolding of Phenomenological Philosophy), and lastly to the outer limits, where it is applied to some new contexts (At the Limits of Phenomenology: Towards a Phenomenology as Philosophy of Limits). Each part is jam-packed with a variety of chapters that provide a unique moment to encounter Husserl but in a connected fashion that feels cohesive and grounded.
The chapter that drew me immediately was ‘Does Husserl’s Phenomenological Idealism Lead to Pluralistic Solipsism? Assessing the Criticism by Theodor Celms.’ Mainly, this is due to the fact that Celms is rather obscure, and his criticism of Husserl’s transcendental phenomenological idealism is so rarely discussed in literature (especially English scholarship). Parker does a masterful job of acquainting the reader with the context through which Celms’ critical writing emerges, beginning with the criticisms of Husserl’s idealism by his early students after Ideas (1913) was published, and then moving into the charges of solipsism that Husserl had to confront in the wake of this work. Along the way, he discusses debates in the interpretations of (and misinterpretations of) Husserl’s idealism, feelings about the phenomenological reduction, and his theory of constitution. The introduction to Celms and his critical comments about Husserl is excellent and clear, and he presents both men in discussion. Overall, this chapter is important for scholars to understand the critical thoughts of those who studied with Husserl and had interactions with him shortly after the publication of Ideas.
The second contribution that struck me was Corijn van Mazijk’s ‘Transcendental Consciousness: Subject, Object, or Neither?’. The reason for this is simply that he seeks to address the question: what is transcendental consciousness? A not so simple thing to do, and yet she takes this challenge head on telling the reader that her aim is to provide a new answer. For me, this was exciting. He offers up in a detailed and clear fashion three different interpretations of transcendental consciousness, complete with their consequences and critiques of where they fall short. Along the way, he brilliantly highlights the tensions created by Husserl’s own words that have led to these interpretations. It is a fantastic read that left me feeling validated with respect to any confusion I had experienced regarding the transcendental consciousness. For myself, an early phenomenology scholar, it was also helpful in acting as a kind of foothold to move through this difficult, somewhat unfamiliar discussion, and it allowed me to arrive at my own position on things with a greater degree of clarity.
Saulius Geniusas’ chapter ‘What is Productive Imagination? The Hidden Resources of Husserl’s Phenomenology of Phantasy’ is another one that caught my eye. I have always found the discussions of the structures of the mind to be incredibly intriguing and exciting, and the imagination is definitely one of my favourite topics. So, when I saw the title of this one, I thought – did Husserl talk about productive imagination? After the abstract, I was hooked. The heart of Geniusas’ piece is phantasy, an intriguing and important concept of Husserl’s, and he demonstrates how it can be a reproductive mode of consciousness. He brings memory into the discussion and shows how both it and phantasy produce patterns of meaning that ultimately can be transferred to and thus play a major role in shaping our subjective experience of others and the world around us. He has a compelling argument here for how phantasy can be understood as productive imagination, and it is one I will revisit later for further reflection. The Kantian side of me cannot deny a good structural analysis!
I should also mention Keith Whitmoyer’s ‘Husserl and His Shadows: Phenomenology After Merleau-Ponty.’ This article was incredibly helpful and fascinating, to me, and to anyone, I imagine, more ensconced in early phenomenology. I have a new appreciation for Levinas as well as Merleau-Ponty because of this chapter.
In summation, I highly recommend this book. I must say I have rarely encountered an introduction that sets the stage so well for what is to come. As an editor, Apostolescu has really done an excellent job with this volume. The chapters cover a vast array of Husserl’s topics and ideas, and that means a scholar of any phase of Husserl will find something inspiring or enlightening. This volume is definitely not intended for the inexperienced Husserl reader or a junior scholar, and that is a big part of its appeal. It is a thoroughly rigorous and intellectually stimulating work filled with articles for the researcher who knows Husserl well but leaves space for new ways of becoming acquainted with texts and his ideas. Many of the most difficult topics or perplexing concepts in Husserl are found here, and that makes for a challenging yet enjoyable read. And on that point, it is not an easy read by any means; it is not a volume to approach after several hours of Zoom lecturing and your attention span diminished or your eyes feeling as if on fire. Sometimes I felt very ‘mind-full’ after reading a chapter, and it was hard to move on to read anything more: I had to sit and toss around inside my head what was argued, and then often I would go dig up some Husserl volumes to further reflect and find my bearings and opinions. Some chapters had details about Husserl’s phenomenology I was only vaguely familiar with, and so they inspired me to turn that primary text for a further look [Note: my area of expertise is early Husserl and so anything after the 1920s is a very distant graduate student memory to me. This might change though after this book.] This is the first book in a long while that I couldn’t read quickly. I deeply enjoy books like this – they remind me why I became a scholar and what it means to truly critically read an article and have a dialogue with it. This book demands a high degree of attention, and it is hard to do that when your brain aches. Mind you, it is hard to read Husserl when your brain aches anyway. However, I am confident that dedicated Husserl and/or phenomenology scholars will thoroughly enjoy this volume, and this book will become a treasure in the collection.