Iulian Apostolescu (Ed.): The Subject(s) of Phenomenology: Rereading Husserl

Luz Ascarate

The Subject(s) of Phenomenology: Rereading Husserl Book Cover The Subject(s) of Phenomenology: Rereading Husserl
Contributions To Phenomenology, Vol. 108
Iulian Apostolescu (Ed.)
Hardback 103,99 €
XIV, 380

Reviewed by: Luz Ascarate (Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne)

We can think of the Husserlian phenomenological project and the history that surrounds it as the passage “from visible graces to secret graces”, borrowing the expression with which Alain Mérot (2015) describes Poussin’s artistic work. In Mérot’s words, the visible graces are those of rigour (diligentia), order and visual eloquence with which Poussin always sought to show the clarity he was voluntarily seeking in all things. These visible graces make possible, in Pousin’s work, the realization of “secret graces”, which are those inexplicable and never totally expressed graces that support the deep and dark unity of the world, inseparable from the delectation that his work offers. It is because of the transmission of hidden graces that Poussin, according to Mérot, is accessible only to those who are both intelligent and sensible. Moreover, it is precisely because of the transmission of these secret graces that his work needs, in order to exist in all its fullness, a community of chosen people to whom it can be addressed.

Like Poussin’s work, facing the path of making grace visible by combining various techniques from the history of painting, Husserl’s work is a work in progress, a work that is always preparatory: “Everything I have written so far is only preparatory work; it is only the setting down of methods” (Husserl, 2001a). We can say in this sense that, insofar as the contemplation of a painting by Poussin makes us participants in the grace made visible and not sufficiently expressed (secret), the methods of the phenomenological vision are put into practice by every reader of Husserl. In this way, everyone who sees through Husserl, irremediably leaves aside, in her or his reading, something that cannot be said. It is for this reason, perhaps, that phenomenology continues creating interpretative divergences even so many years after the method’s foundation. Nevertheless, this is the same reason why phenomenology must confront other traditions of thought (from positivism to structuralism, among others) in front of which it still has something to say.

This book presents us with the panorama of these divergences, establishing the center of the discussion in the semantic richness of the notion of “subject(s)”. Thus, we can understand this book as the discussion of the subject(s) as the main theme, or main themes, of phenomenology. But we can also understand this book as the discussion of whether the main theme of phenomenology – expressed in the imperative to go back to the “things themselves” – revolves around the notion of subjectivity (subject), although transcendental, or of the multiplicity of subjectivities (subjects). Moreover, the main interest of this book is that it is situated in the field of the most recent of Husserl’s readers, which allows us to question the relevance of the phenomenological method in front of the themes of contemporary philosophical debate: “The Subject(s) of Phenomenology: Rereading Husserl sets out to critically re-evaluate (and challenge) the predominant interpretations of Husserl’s philosophy, and to adapt phenomenology to the specific philosophical challenges and context of the twenty-first century” (viii). In this way, as we expect of every new book of phenomenology, this book puts in dialogue phenomenology with the most recent philosophical proposals in order to show the limits that this tradition must overcome, or at least identify, to defend its actuality. The presentation of these dialogues and limits is organised around three orientations, each of which is developed in one of the three parts of the book: 1) the logical field of phenomenology, 2) problems and applications of the phenomenological method, and 3) the extents of phenomenology.

Part I, which has five chapters, is entitled “The Phenomenological Project: Definition and Scope”. This section concentrates mainly on the logical and linguistic framework of the Husserlian project. The Logical Investigations (2001b and 2001c) are thus a constant reference in this part of the book.

In the first chapter, “An Analytic Phenomenology: Husserl’s Path to the Things Themselves” (3-15), Jean-Daniel Thumser presents the path of the Husserlian language to things themselves, a path which he calls, for the first time in phenomenological literature, an analytical phenomenology. This essay concentrates on Husserl’s methodological language, from logical investigations to his ‘late manuscripts’. Thumser opposes the Husserlian language to the common language and to the scientific language (3). Unlike these languages, the language of phenomenology, according to the author, responds to the objective of phenomenology, which is “describe the essence of the experiencing life by practicing the phenomenological reduction” (3). The author speaks in the terms of an analytical phenomenology as a way to understad how transcendental language can express lived experience. The aim of the author of this contribution is to show the unity of Husserlian thought from this particular method while showing its limits.

In the second chapter, entitled “Parts, Wholes, and Phenomenological Necessity” (17-30), Adam Konopka reconstructs the notion of Husserlian necessity from the early logic of Husserlian phenomenology referring to parts and wholes. This notion of necessity will be presented as the radicalization of the Kantian conception of the material a priori from the diversification of phenomenological a prioris: “Kant accounts for the necessity proper to the unity and organization of manifolds in a one-sided relation to the subjective accomplishments of the knower. In contrast, Husserl account (sic.) for necessary unities of sense in terms of a two-sided relation of intentionality that is inclusive of lateral unities of coincidence” (29). However, to the author, Kant and Husserl are both convinced that transcendental philosophy clarify the necessity of the lawful regularities in a contingent world by a reference to the necessary conditions of their knowability.

Simone Aurora, in “The Early Husserl Between Structuralism and Transcendental Philosophy” (31-43), establishes a dialogue between Husserlian phenomenology and structuralism. To this end, he must overcome the apparent opposition that, due to the problems of an interpretative caricature of both traditions, would make this dialogue impossible. The author seeks to show that both Husserl’s early philosophy and structuralism must be considered as part of the same transcendental tradition. He concentrates on the notion of Wissenschaftslehre and the mereology of the “Third Logical Investigation” to identify “original” structuralist elements in Husserl’s transcendental philosophy: “Husserl’s version of structuralism is, however, original in many respects. Indeed, unlike the various structuralist currents that have animated many scientific fields, the philosophical programme which underlies the Logical Investigations is by no means limited to a specific disciplinary domain” (39). In this way, the author sets the relevance of Husserlian broad and philosophical structuralism in comparison with other structuralisms.

In the fourth contribution, entitled “Transcendental Consciousness: Subject, Object, or Neither?” (45-56), Corijn van Mazijk problematizes the term “transcendental consciousness”. The author presents three different interpretations of this concept. The first type of reading is classified by the author as ‘subjectivist’. This reading “sees transcendental consciousness as a kind of too narrowly restricted, exclusively first-person reality” (46). The second is the analytic or representationalist one characteristic of the thinkers of the U.S. West Coast. According to these thinkers, Husserlian phenomenology is interested in the ways in which we acquire knowledge of things and says nothing about the being of these things. From this reading, consciousness and the things it apprehends are totally different entities. Phenomenology would then have its own region of objectivities. The third reading is proper to thinkers of the U.S. East Coast (including Dan Zahavi) which challenges the West Cost interpretation. “These scholars understand transcendental consciousness in a more world-encompassing sense” (47). The East Coast argues that transcendental consciousness is no different from its world and is above the subject-object distinction. In the face of this discussion, van Mazijk proposes that phenomenology refers to the entire reality: “phenomenology and natural science genuinely study one and the same reality, even though they have different themes” (52). What is at stake, in the author’s view, is a metaphysical commitment in Husserl’s thought. It should be noted that, to van Mazijk, “metaphysical here (as in its classic sense) refers to a positive claim about what all (actual and possible) being in its final sense amounts to” (50) and Husserl maintains precisely that the ontological region of the transcendental consciousness includes the totality of the being.

Vedran Grahovac’s paper, “Philosophy as an Exercise in Exaggeration: The Role of Circularity in Husserl’s Criticism of Logical Psychologism” (57-94), shows that Husserl develops, in his Logical Investigations, a circular strategy of analysis that allows him to take advantage of the circularity inherent in psychology for the logical framework of his analyses. Thus, Husserl’s criticism of psychology and empiricism would consist above all in showing a circularity that is presupposed in these theories. The advance of Husserl’s philosophy itself depends on these theories, which he overcomes by transforming his themes and his own philosophy in the mode of a circular process. Moreover, for the author,

The persistence of the critical relation of pure science of logic towards psychologism, as the exaggeration of the latter through the self-regulation of the former, secures, in fact, the fixity of its epistemological position. The emphasis on the conscious particularism of the logical claim for universality clearly remains a pivotal concern for Husserl in the 1905–1907 lectures on Logic (85).

Part II, entitled “The Unfolding of Phenomenological Philosophy”, develops different themes that are very present in the current debate of phenomenological tradition, such as the relevance of phenomenology for the social sciences, problems of the transcendental point of view, imagination, intersubjectivity, and passivity. We can say that the papers here are organized in such a way that they outline the passage from the themes of static phenomenology to those of genetic phenomenology.

In Victor Eugen Gelan’s contribution, entitled “Husserl’s Idea of Rigorous Science and Its Relevance for the Human and Social Sciences” (97-105), we see how Husserl’s idea of rigorous science constitutes a great contribution not only to the understanding of the idea of science in general, but above all to the scientific character of the human and social sciences. To this end, the author presents Alfred Schutz’s thought, which allows him to show both an applied phenomenological idea of rigorous science and Husserl’s influence on the social science tradition. Moreover, the author points out that there is a thematic convergence in both thinkers that make such a contribution possible: “Husserl understood that it was necessary to complete his analysis of transcendental intersubjectivity (in Ideas I) with an investigation of subjectivity at the level of the natural world and attitude (elaborated in Krisis), from which the positive sciences emerge. This is where Husserl and Schutz meet” (104). Gelan also shows the methodological aspects of phenomenology that are valuable for social sciences, such as phenomenological reduction and the theory of the constitution of sense, aspects that are inscribed in the Husserlian idea of rigorous science.

Marco Cavallaro’s essay, “Ego-Splitting and the Transcendental Subject. Kant’s Original Insight and Husserl’s Reappraisal” (107-133), puts Husserl and Kant in dialogue about being an “I”. To this end, Cavallaro defines being an I as self-identity and self-consciousness. Firstly, the text attempts to reconstruct Kant’s implicit thought on the problem of Ego-splitting, and secondly, the text presents the view of Husserlian phenomenology on this same problem. According to the author, Husserlian phenomenology considers Ego-splitting the foundation of all transcendental philosophy. Cavallaro maintains that all self-consciousness implies an Ego-splitting and “that this is at odds with the prerequisite of self-identity we generally attribute to every experienceable or solely thinkable object” (128). He thus concludes that the splitting is a eidetic necessary character of the Ego.

“What Is Productive Imagination? The Hidden Resources of Husserl’s Phenomenology of Phantasy” (135-153) by Saulius Geniusas reconstructs the concept of productive imagination from the Husserlian point of view. The author treats this concept in a relative way, as opposed to the concept of reproductive imagination, which he seeks to expose first through the concept of fantasy. Next, the author shows that fantasy cannot be conceived as an ingredient of perceptive consciousness. Memory and fantasy, according to him, generate patterns of meaning and can therefore be taken in the field of positional experience. This allows him to show the place of productive imagination in the cultural field: “One can thus say that the cultural worlds are indeed historical through and through: the systems of appearance through which they are constituted admit of almost endless corrections, transformations and variations” (151). Moreover, according to Geniusas, despite Husserl’s concerns about the Kantian concept of transcendental imagination, Husserlian phenomenology of fantasy allows us to make a re-appropriation of the Kantian concept of productive imagination and apply it to the cultural world.

Rodney K. B. Parker’s contribution “Does Husserl’s Phenomenological Idealism Lead to Pluralistic Solipsism? Assessing the Criticism by Theodor Celms” (155-184) establishes a dialogue between Husserl and Theodor Celms. The author reconstructs Celms’ critique of Husserl’s supposed solipsism in Der phänomenologische Idealismus Husserls (1928). This reconstruction allows him to rescue Celms’ contribution to the formulation of Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations under the assumption that Husserl read Celms’ book before writing the text of Cartesians Meditations. Parker defends Husserl’s transcendental idealism by pointing out that the theory of intersubjectivity present in the Fifth Cartesian Meditation can neutralize transcendental solipsism. In any case, according to Parker, if transcendental idealism leads to a solipsistic pluralism, this would not be problematic.

Matt E. M. Bower’s essay “Finding a Way Into Genetic Phenomenology” (185-200) questions the place of genetic phenomenology in Husserian thought. The author concentrates on the clarification of the method of reduction and on its different ways in order to show the limits of these in dealing with the genetic themes of phenomenology. In the face of this, the author seeks to propose a new way that can give an account of the genetic description without leaving the transcendental scope. For this, he is inspired by Husserl’s late reflections on abnormal forms of consciousness. The characteristic feature of this new path is the fact that it is indirect: “The way to genetic phenomenology is indirect, and is at least one step removed from the familiar ‘ways to the reduction’” (191).

In “The Allure of Passivity” (201-211), Randall Johnson puts in discussion Husserl and Merleau-Ponty on the subject of passivity. To present Husserl’s thought on this subject, the author takes as his main reference the passive synthesis lectures, which, according to the author, were not known to Merleau-Ponty: “Based on H. L. Van Breda’s account of Merleau-Ponty’s visit to the Husserl Archives in 1939 and documentation of which manuscripts were available to him while they were being housed in Paris from 1944 until 1948, as well as those he later borrowed, it seems unlikely that Merleau-Ponty was able to read the passive synthesis lectures” (207). Merleau-Ponty’s contribution to the phenomenology of passivity consists, according to Johnson, in the diaphragmatic self-relation of an ego that cannot sustain its fragments. It is precisely the fragmentary forms of Merleau-Ponty’s notes that represent this characterization of passivity, which have produced, in the author, a strong impression capable of inspiring a profound reflection on love, with which this paper ends.

Part III, entitled “At the Limits of Phenomenology:  Towards Phenomenology as Philosophy of Limits”, explores the challenges of the phenomenological method in different limit areas, which can be understood as different extensions of the Husserlian perspective of phenomenology. We can identify here four orientations of these explorations: time, expression, the social ground of the phenomenological method, and the reception of Husserl’s work by his French readers (heirs and critics).

The temporal orientation is explored by the first two papers. On the one hand, “Time and Oblivion: A Phenomenological Study on Oblivion” (215-229), by Benjamin Draxlbauer, is a phenomenological analysis of a time limit-case. The phenomenon of oblivion is treated as a limit-case arising in the description of time-consciousness in Husserlian terms. The author shows the passage from the early Husserlian thought on this subject, in relation to retention and intentional consciousness, to the reflections of Husserl’s later manuscripts. Husserl’s late perspective, according to Draxlbauer, calls into question his early thought on this subject by mobilizing the concepts of sedimentation and horizon. On the other hand, Christian Sternad, in “On the Verge of Subjectivity: Phenomenologies of Death” (231-243), explores various conceptions of the very different time limit-case that is death. What interests the author is to show how the conceptions of death of phenomenological thinkers such as Husserl, Heidegger, Scheler, Fink, Sartre, Lévinas or Derrida influence the conceptions of subjectivity of each of these thinkers. Moreover, Sternad understands death as the interruption of the correlation between subject and object. With it, “death” questions the fundamental premises of the phenomenological method as it ends the subject of the experience to describe. What puts this in relevance is the relation between the notions of death and intersubjectivity, as the author of this paper defends.

The second orientation of Part III puts Husserl in dialogue with Frege and Merleau-Ponty around the concept of expression. First, Neal DeRoo in “Spiritual Expression and the Promise of Phenomenology” (245-269) presents Husserl’s response to Frege’s theory of meaning, which makes Husserl’s thinking on expression possible. According to the autor, this concept allows Husserl, on the one hand, to situate meaning as the connection between subjective acts of meaning and objective meanings. On the other hand, this concept allows Husserl to develop his notion of spirit and the analysis of the “lifeworld”. Moreover, according to DeRoo, in the Husserlian intention of understanding the scientific knowledge on the basis of Husserl and Frege’s discussion, “expression” will constitute the promise of the phenomenology itself. Second, “Individuation, Affectivity and the World: Reframing Operative Intentionality (Merleau-Ponty)” (271-290) by Elodie Boublil, focuses on the notion of “coherent deformation” present in Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of expression. The author argues that, through this notion, Merleau-Ponty understands the individuation of subjectivity from its creative and ontological aspect. With this, Merleau-Ponty manages to show the dynamics inherent in intentionality and its expressions. The paper reveals that in his discussion with Malraux, Merleau-Ponty develops a phenomenology “from within” that displays the metamorphoses of the subject in diverse works of expression such as those of literature and art.

The third orientation explores the limits of the social basis of the phenomenological method, either from the point of view of the socio-geographical limits highlighted by the non-European vision of the world, or from the point of view of the socio-political limits highlighted by the political demands that we can address to phenomenology. Firstly, Ian Angus, in “Husserl and America: Reflections on the Limits of Europe as the Ground of Meaning and Value for Phenomenology” (291-310), problematizes a point that is present in the “Vienna Lecture” and that will be extracted in the Crisis text. This is the moment when Husserl defines the spirit of Europe by discounting Papuan people, the Inuit, the Indigenous peoples, and the Romani, and including “America”. For Angus, “this discounting and inclusion cannot be simply dismissed or ignored but constitutes a fundamental gesture in his critique of the crisis into which European reason has fallen” (292). This gesture is analyzed through the concept of institution (Urstiftung) of the Crisis, so that the “discovery” of America will be understood as an event instituting the spirit of Europe. Thus, the author defends that phenomenology can only be fully realized if, going beyond its European limits, it becomes a comparative diagnosis of the planetary and universal crisis of reason. Secondly, “Politicising the Epokhé: Bernard Stiegler and the Politics of Epochal Suspension” (341-354) by Ben Turner exposes Stiegler’s political appropriation of Husser’s epoché method. This method will not be seen simply as access to the structures of transcendental consciousness by suspending the influence of the world. Rather, what will suspend the epokhé will be the existing social systems to allow a moment of critical unfolding of disruptive source, which will be the institution of a new epoch. The author shows that the understanding of Stiegler’s epokhé has been achieved through, on the one hand, Husserian phenomenological thinking about the internal consciousness of time and, on the other hand, reflections on the pharmacological point of view of certain techniques that are both poisonous and curative. The political point of view of the epokhé must, thus, fight against the poisonous aspects of the epoché.

Last but not least, the fourth orientation of Part III groups three contributions that present the French reception of Husserlian phenomenology from very different topics but that identify, each time, a limit theme of Husserlian phenomenology. Firstly, I would like to present the last text of the book, which shows the contribution of the French critics of Husserl to the phenomenological project. This text, “Not Phenomenology’s ‘Other’: Historical Epistemology’s Critique and Expansion of Phenomenology” (355-380) by David M. Peña-Guzmán, deals first with the tensions between the tradition of French epistemology and the tradition of Husserlian phenomenology. At the same time, the author seeks to defend that, beyond possible misunderstandings, both traditions have similar features. The central references of the essay are Jean Cavaillès and Gaston Bachelard. Peña-Guzmán proves that the critiques of phenomenology by these thinkers have made possible an expansion of the phenomenological Husserlian project in their heirs and readers. Thus, the author of this essay considers that French historical epistemology is the Other of phenomenology. Secondly, I introduce the contribution, “Phenomenological Crossings: Givenness and Event (327-339)” by Emre Şan, which shows an example of the reappropriation and development of phenomenology in the French tradition. This essay focuses on the post-Husserlian developments of Michel Henry, Merleau-Ponty, and Jean-Luc Marion. Şan shows that these authors exceed the limits of the given meaning of the phenomenological perspective of noetic-nematic correlation. This is accomplished with the modification of the phenomenon considered, by these authors, as the event of meaning. With it, they manage to extend the scope of phenomenality to subjects such as the invisible, totality, affectivity. Finally, Keith Whitmoyer, in his essay entitled “Husserl and His Shadows: Phenomenology After Merleau-Ponty” (311-326), reflects on the reading of Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, and Derrida of Husserlian phenomenology. With these authors, he conceives Husserl’s work as a work that should not be considered from a luminous pattern, but rather from a certain brilliance that shines through the paradoxical multiplicity and chiaroscuro of his path. In this way, Husserl’s phenomenology must be understood as the clarification of that which in us makes reduction possible and that which in us resists reduction.

This last idea allows us to return to the reflection with which we started this review. Mérot (2015) affirms about Poussin, in the same text we referred to at the beginning, that he shows the correspondences that sustain the “dark and deep unity” of the world on a certain visual elocution, which is an application, through visible graces, of secret graces. The same can be said of the Husserlian phenomenological project, which, many decades after its foundation, continues to cause the perplexity of that which, wanting to make visible, does not become visible without making visible in that same movement that involves simultaneous occultation. The subjects of phenomenology are thus variable, multiple, urgent, and undefined. Let it be permitted to us then, in front of the perplexity proper to the phenomenological path, to finish this review with a poem by Jaccottet (1977) that makes us think of the paradoxical light with which the phenomenological method seeks to illuminate things themselves: “mêlé au monde que nous traversons, / qu’il y ait, imprégnant ses moindres parcelles,/ de cela que la voix ne peut nommer, de cela /que rien ne mesure, afin qu’encore /il soit possible d’aimer la lumière/ ou seulement de la comprendre,/ ou simplement, encore, de la voir/ elle, comme la terre recueille,/et non pas rien que sa trace de cendre”.


Celms, Theodor. 1928. Der phänomenologische Idealismus Husserls. Riga: Acta Universitatis Latviensis.

Husserl, Edmund.  2001a. “O. Adelgundis Jaegerschmid: Conversations with Edmund Husserl, 1931–1938.” In: The New Yearbook for Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy, vol. 1, p. 336.

———. 2001b. Logical Investigations, Volume I. Trans. John Findlay. London: Routledge.

———. 2001c. Logical Investigations, Volume II. Trans. John Findlay. London: Routledge.

Jaccottet, Philippe. 1977. À la lumière d’hiver. Paris : Gallimard.

Mérot, Alain. 2015. Des grâces visibles aux grâces secrètes. dir. Nicolas Milovanovic et Mickaël Szanto. Poussin et Dieu, cat. expo. [Paris, musée du Louvre, 2 avril-29 juin 2015], Hazan/Éditions du musée du Louvre, pp. 76-83.

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