Giulia Cabra: Il valore dell´altro. Intersoggettività, amore ed etica in Edmund Husserl

Il valore dell’altro: Intersoggettività, amore ed etica in Edmund Husserl Book Cover Il valore dell’altro: Intersoggettività, amore ed etica in Edmund Husserl
Itinerari filosofici
Giulia Cabra

Reviewed by: Celia Cabrera (CONICET/ National Academy of Sciences of Buenos Aires)

Giulia Cabra’s book, Il valore dell’altro. Intersoggettività, amore ed etica in Edmund Husserl, proposes an insightful analysis of the intersection between two central themes of Husserlian phenomenology: Intersubjectivity and ethics. As indicated by the title, the guiding question that runs through the work concerns the value of the other, a topic of great relevance in phenomenological ethics. The question can be resumed as follows: How is the other given as a subject of value? More specifically: What conceptual elements of Husserl´s phenomenology provide the basis for recognizing the value of the other? Answering this question makes it necessary and justifies Cabra’s proposal for a complementary approach, insofar as it is a theme that besides being addressed at the axiological-ethical level must be anchored in the most basic foundations of Husserl´s theory of the experience of the other. Cabra´s book shows that this overlap of themes is fruitful in both directions: Ethical-axiological analyses expose the deeper meaning of some basic elements of Husserl´s transcendental theory of intersubjectivity (especially, with regard to his understanding of the lived body), and the transcendental theory of intersubjectivity lays the groundwork for an ethical account of alterity that goes beyond its own means (especially, through the analysis of love). In the author´s own words, the hypothesis that serves as a point of departure of the work is that “a synergistic reading of Husserl’s reflections on intersubjectivity and ethics allows for theoretically original and fruitful outcomes for the deepening of both realms within the author’s thought” (p. 307). Certainly, the task is not easy and requires a reading of a wide range of texts in which Husserl devoted himself to reflections on both intersubjectivity and ethics, at various stages of his philosophical production and with different methodological approaches. Cabra’s work proposes a journey through multiple writings of Husserl, tracing a thread that extends from the analyses of the experience of the other in the Fifth Cartesian Meditation to the research manuscripts on ethics from the Freiburg years, and which covers static, genetic, transcendental, personalist, and communitarian approaches.

In the process of laying the groundwork for addressing the question of the value of the other, the book delves into various topics in detail, many of which cannot be fully covered in this review. In the following sections, I will outline the main aspects developed in the book and delineate its broader argumentative strategy.

The book is divided into two main sections, each of which follows one of the two proposed paths: The first section follows the path through the lived body (Leib), while the second section follows the path through love (Liebe). Broadly speaking, the three chapters that make up the first section of the book (entitled La via del Leib: Individuazione, libertà, valore) aim to shed light on the fundamental elements that explain the constitution of the experience of alterity. This is accomplished by first delving into Husserl´s analyses of the sphere of owness and later going deeper into the intersubjectively shared world.

The first chapter is devoted to the transcendental theory of the experience of the other (Fremderfahrung) as developed by Husserl in the Fifth Cartesian Meditation and in related research manuscripts published in volumes XIII, XIV, and XV of Husserliana. The key question posed by the author there is whether such transcendental analysis contains elements that make it possible to highlight how the other subject is experienced as a subject of value (cf. p. 21). The chapter begins with a focus on the primordial sphere. Against this background, the author aims at showing the centrality of the lived body as an organ of perception (Wahrnehmungsorgan) and an organ of the will (Willensorgan). The role of corporeality in the constitution of perception, as developed by Husserl in the Dingvorlesungen (Hua XVI),  is addressed showing that the lived body is a system of passive and free kinesthesia, on which perception depends. In order to clarify how the passage from the perceptual level to the volitional level is motivated, Husserl´s analyses of the “I can” in Ideas II are considered. The result of these analyses is that the lived body is the primary form in which the “awake subjectivity” (wache Subjektivität) manifests itself. Moreover, the Leib is the place where the perceptual-sensory layer and the personal-spiritual layer intermingle, and where the freedom of the incarnated transcendental ego is established (cf. p. 310). 

Chapter 2 turns to the dynamics of the encounter with the other subject. A special analysis is devoted to the phenomenon of expression (Ausdruck), i.e., to the fact that the other appears always through an expressive body that manifests different degrees of will. It is by virtue of expression that the other appears as a subject of free movement, as a free subject. This chapter introduces one of the most important ideas of the work, namely, the freedom of the person which the author anchors on Husserl´s conception of the lived body. According to Cabra, given the conditions that make it possible for the other subject to be recognized as a transcendental subject, the same conditions also enable their recognition as a free subject. The Leib makes this transition possible and indicates the fundamental freedom of the other (cf. p. 313). This freedom is evidence of the fact that the person has a value of its own (Eigenwert). The proper value of the person is linked to their status of being a free individual, capable of being an ethical subject (as she will show later, this means responding to the categorical imperative). As she claims later on: “This confers upon it the predicate of the value of dignity (Würde): freedom makes the person different from every other worldly being and confirms the initial intuition of inviolability by the personal subject, already indicated by the identification of the Eigenheitssphäre” (p. 313). Bringing the themes of freedom and dignity to the fore is one of the merits of this book. To my knowledge, few works in the exegesis of Husserl´s writings address these themes, which remain in the background of his ethical account of the human person.

In this point, it is noticed that those elements of the experience which are the conditions of possibility of the intersubjective experience are not completely reducible to the primordial sphere, but refer to a personal intersubjective dimension of the Umwelt that only are disconnected from the Eigenheitsphäre by means of abstraction. This indicates the path taken in Chapter 3, which serves as a bridge to the second part of the book devoted to the axiological and ethical analyses. Cabra shifts there to the personalist perspective to consider intersubjective experience as a part of the surrounding world (Umwelt), which is a shared world. This shift of perspective to the personalist attitude is a crucial step to approaching the topic of the work: the comprehension of the other as a subject of value. As Cabra explains, “The encounter with the other, which is made possible because they appear through the Leib, is always inserted in a personal horizon. Only from this perspective is it possible to find the value of the other” (p. 159).

The second section of the work (La via della Liebe: Dovere e chiamata, empatia, prossimità), divided into four chapters, proceeds along the lines of the previously announced change of perspective, from the attitude focused on the sphere of owness to the personalist attitude. This section focuses on Husserl´s reflections on ethics from the Freiburg years, especially, on his analyses of love published in the fourth section of Husserliana XLII, Grenzprobleme der Phänomenologie.

Having introduced the Husserlian approach to love in Chapter 1 of this section, in which the author highlights the intentional emotional nature of love and its normative dimension, Chapter 2 has the precise aim of elucidating its inherently intersubjective character. Love takes on various forms, one of which is love as a phenomenon between persons, distinct from love for an object, for science, nature, etcetera. According to the author, personal love is love in the original, primary, and fundamental sense (cf. p. 232) or, as she also points out, the “paradigm of love” in that, through the experience of love, the value of the other subject and the duty toward them are experienced. Love is, thus, the founding moment of ethics. Since the primary reference (Bezug) of love is the other person, “neighborly love” (Nächstenliebe) is characterized as the highest ethical form of love.

The consideration of love as inherently intersubjective calls for an elucidation of its intentional structure and fulfillment. This is the task of the third chapter which explores the relationship between love and empathy (Einfühlung). Love does not fully coincide with empathy, it is a special form of empathy and, in a certain sense, it transcends empathy (cf. p. 237).  In order to understand the connection between love and empathy, the double meaning of empathy, which goes back to Husserl´s manuscripts published in Hua XLII, is emphasized. On the one hand, empathy in a basic sense, which is analyzed by Husserl in the Fifth Cartesian Meditation, is a theoretical-cognitive form of grasping the other. This fundamental form of empathy is to be distinguished from empathy in an emotional sense, as a “participation in the life of the other” (p. 238) which enters into the individuality of the other person and is fulfilled through love. The introduction of the theme of individuality gives the reader a glimpse of the author´s aim: love grasps the other in their individuality, and this lays the grounds for grasping them as having a “value of uniqueness” (Einzigkeitswert). This aspect is developed in Chapter 4, which presents the guidelines for an axiology of love. I will discuss this final chapter in more detail since it introduces some complex ideas that deserve a deeper analysis, and it integrates the previous results of the investigation into its own argumentation.

While the previous chapters have reflected on the specific features of love as an intentional act -emphasizing its emotional and volitional character-, Chapter 4 aims to analyze the values of love (Liebeswerte). In other words, the focus now shifts from love as an act to what love is directed at. Among the aspects developed in this chapter, I would like to draw attention to three themes that hold a central place in the author´s line of reasoning: (1) The discussion of the subjectivity-objectivity of the values of love; (2) The comprehension of the relationship between the descriptive, axiological, and normative dimensions; (3) finally, the approach to the universality-singularity of the ought revealed through love. These aspects, which I separate only for the sake of exposition, are interrelated in the work.

With the first theme, Cabra addresses a classic problem of the philosophy of values: Is the value dependent upon the subject giving the value? And, if so, does this imply that the value is reducible to such act of giving? The question becomes more compelling when we consider that the focus of the work is the value of the other. That is, that the elucidation of the status of the values of love is a corollary to addressing the value of the other subject. In this context, the question can be reformulated as to whether the value of the other person is contingent upon the subjective turning towards in the act of valuing, or if it is an objective value “recognized” by the subject. In the author´s view, the values of love have both a subjective and an objective dimension. On the one hand, values of love are dependent upon the turning towards of the subject from her personal core, since they are connected to the innermost center of the person. In this regard, they possess a subjective dimension. On the other hand, love in a proper sense is directed toward that which holds value (cf. p. 271). In other words: Genuine love is love for what is worth loving. How is this dual character of values of love, both subjective and objective, to be understood? Cabra´s proposal can be summarized as follows: Values of love are objective values which have subjective relevance because they have a unique meaning for the singular person. In this way, the author seeks to illustrate the dynamics of constitution wherein something given as objective is apprehended through a subjective position taking. The textual foundation of her interpretation is to be found in the lecture Einleitung in die Philosophie from 1919/1920 where Husserl refers to values of love as “the same objective value as individual, subjective value of love” (Hua Mat IX, 146, note 1). In light of this, two implications can be drawn: (1) every value of love has an objective value and (2) every objective value can become a value of love (p. 266). With this, the author aims at distancing from the interpretations that “emphasize solely the subjective side of the constitution of the values of love without considering that subjective preference does not lack a fundamental objective level” (p. 267)

What is the outcome of this interpretation for the understanding of the value of the other? Applying the same dynamic between the subjective and objective dimensions, the conclusion is that the other subject is subjectively preferable (vorzüglich) and at the same time objectively endowed with value. The other is objectively a subject of value to the extent that they have a fundamental dignity as a person (p. 285).

At this point the work turns to the distinction between two forms of empathy developed in Chapter 3. The basis for recognizing the other as a subject of value is established by recognizing the other as a transcendental subject in empathy (in the first sense previously distinguished). What does love add to this level of recognition in empathy? The dimension of “exclusivity” and the “value of uniqueness” (Einzigkeitswert) of the other, which cannot be reduced to any of the previous levels of constitution (cf. p. 288). In the author´s words: “Love fulfills this first objective-formal level of personal valuation recognizing not only the `objective´ value of the other, that is, their being a transcendental subject with their individuality, but also considering them as a `unique´ subject, `subjectively preferable´ concerning other values, and deciding in their favor.” (p. 317) Interestingly, the general idea that the other is the primary value to be promoted, i.e., that love is primarily love for the other, which has been defended throughout the work, leads the author to an incisive proposal of a hierarchy of values of love, which could solve Husserl´s conclusion of a tragic “sacrifice” when confronted with the choice between values of love. Since, according to the author, each value of love derives from the value of the other, “the choice between different values of love would not have the character of a tragic conflict if it were a matter of Liebeswerte of different hierarchy according to different degrees to which love is realized as Nächstenliebe.” (p. 302)

With regard to the second point mentioned, although Cabra`s analyses in this chapter concentrate specifically on the values of love, her reflections also put forward a thesis regarding the broader question of the relationship between facts and values, broadly considered. In the author´s interpretation, Husserl´s theory of value responds to the demand to consider that facts and values are not opposing categories, and that there is no unbridgeable gap between the descriptive and normative moments (cf. p. 279). In fact, the idea that something has value because it is worth of value aims to express the close connection between empirical properties and value properties (although, as the author affirms, Husserl does not clarify the nature of this connection). This would bring Husserl´s position closer to that of Brentano and distance it from Schelerian axiology (cf. p. 277).

It is also interesting to note how the work thematizes the absolute ought (absolutes Sollen) that is manifested to the person through love. The values of love have a normative and motivational force that becomes a guiding principle for the person´s life. Because of its connection to values, it is argued that in love the absolute ought is manifested immediately to the person. This means that the normative level does not “supervene” or is superimposed, but is implicit in the axiological dimension (cf. p. 304). In this way, not only is the axiological level not extrinsic to the descriptive level but  also the  normative level is not extrinsic to the axiological level.

Finally, the transition from the axiological level of values of love to the normative level of the absolute ought provides the author with the opportunity to reflect on the special relationship between universality and singularity that love brings about: In the dynamics of love, the universal is manifested in the singular. The other subject is experienced as a value whose realization enables the fulfillment of the universal categorical imperative. In other words: Through love, the universal categorical imperative is unveiled to the singular individual. Thus, love and vocation represent the “singularized universal” ( p. 302) since it is only in the encounter with another subject that the person can respond to the call to act according to the categorical imperative.

A final aspect of this chapter that I would like to mention is that throughout the analyses devoted to Husserl´s phenomenology of values, the author offers a clarification of the meaning of concepts that can easily lead to ambiguities, and proposes its own interpretation regarding their distinction: Among other things, a special consideration is given to the use of the terms “value of love”, “personal value”, “subjective value”, and “individual value” (cf. pp. 267-270), and to the difference between “having value”, and “being a value” (cf. p. 271). These clarifications are important not only for the reader of this book but also for the reader of Husserl’s work, especially when dealing with texts on the emotional-evaluative sphere, which due to its elusive nature requires the use of a complex set of terminology for its description.

The work wraps up with a conclusion that summarizes how the two paths taken (Leib and Liebe) intersect and it offers a methodological reflection on how the static approach inherent in the analysis of the Fremderfahrung is complemented by the genetic perspective. According to this, love brings with it a revision of the static foundational model in that the other subject is immediately experienced as endowed with value, as a ‘phenomenological absolute’: “On the one hand, the analysis of the Fremderfahrung, and within it the primary role of the Leib, show the static conditions of possibility for recognizing the other subject as a subject of value, through the consideration of their freedom, expressed in the Leib. On the other hand, love as a gaze that reveals the genesis of the primary manifestation of the value of the other subject and the duty towards them, represents the place where intersubjectivity and ethics meet at its highest form” (p. 319).

Summing up, it is impossible not to notice that this book is the result of an extensive and meticulous research. In addition to the level of detail achieved in the analyses, and the careful interweaving of the different themes and methodological approaches in the construction of the work,  I would like to highlight the originality of Cabra’s proposal.  From the perspective of the precise question she aims to answer, she puts forward reading hypotheses on difficult aspects of Husserlian phenomenology of values that are still not settled by Husserl´s scholars. This is very fruitful in a context where Husserlian analyses of values are being rediscovered and increasingly debated, thanks to the publication of the Studien zur Struktur des Bewusstseins (Hua XLIII, 1-3). More generally, as the author affirms, with the exception of Janet Donohoe´s work Husserl on Ethics and Intersubjectivity from 2016,[1] the explicit connection between Husserl´s analyses of intersubjectivity and his ethical thinking has been missing in the critical literature on his work to date (cf. p. 5). Il valore dell`altro fills this gap through a deep study, documented in detail in Husserl’s texts that reveals to the reader a path to grasp the profound connection between these two themes. In addition to being a valuable tool for scholars, her work contributes to the understanding of the unity that permeates Husserl’s philosophical project, and to further promote the growing studies of Husserlian ethics and value theory.

[1]     Janet Donohoe. 2016. Husserl on Ethics and Intersubjectivity. From Static to Genetic Phenomenology. University of Toronto Press.

Paul Ricoeur: Lectures on Imagination, University of Chicago Press, 2024

Lectures on Imagination Book Cover Lectures on Imagination
Paul Ricoeur. Edited by George H. Taylor, Robert D. Sweeney, Jean-Luc Amalric, and Patrick F. Crosby
University of Chicago Press

Dan Zahavi: Conștiința de sine și alteritatea. O investigație fenomenologică, Editura Ratio et Revelatio, 2024

Conștiința de sine și alteritatea. O investigație fenomenologică Book Cover Conștiința de sine și alteritatea. O investigație fenomenologică
Dan Zahavi. Romanian translation by Remus Breazu
Ratio et Revelatio

Hans-Jörg Rheinberger: Split and Splice: A Phenomenology of Experimentation

Split and Splice: A Phenomenology of Experimentation Book Cover Split and Splice: A Phenomenology of Experimentation
Hans-Jörg Rheinberger
The University of Chicago Press
Paperback $30.00

Reviewed by: Aloisia Moser (Katholische Privat-Universität Linz)

How to not cut nature at its joints or malapropisms in science


Those who have followed the discussions on metaphor and model may find it difficult to see what is new in Rheinberger’s book “Split and Splice.” His main claim being that in order to gain new knowledge there must be an unforeseen or rogue element in the research process. Metaphor specialists have made a similar claim about language and meaning. Max Black (Black 1955; 1981) and Mary Hesse (Hesse 1963) have proclaimed that what brings us to new meaning in metaphor and models is something that comes on top of using words to refer to something literally. Meaning, especially new meaning, comes from the way we constellate words in new and unforeseen ways, for example using a term that does not refer to a thing instead of another. They also pointed out that sometimes the very materiality of words, for example their sound, creates new meaning, especially but not only in poetry. Metaphor specialists like Hesse have compared the way metaphor works with how models work in science. Models in science must be represented or made visible in a similar way to how language refers to things that do not yet have a name. You cannot do that literally.

When we use language metaphorically, we are not following the theory that we share, we are going against it. “Juliet is the sun” is a sentence that is obviously not true according to how literal language works, but we get its meaning: that Juliet is bright and shining and warm and life-giving, just like the sun. Metaphor specialists tell us that by using language like this we learn something new about Juliet (and by juxtaposing it with Juliet, the sun becomes a little more like a woman called Juliet). If Rheinberger were simply to say that this is also true for scientific models, he would not be saying anything new.

But Rheinberger is not just saying that scientific theories or models are like metaphors – he goes one step further, as does Donald Davidson in his famous paper on malapropism. Davidson claims in this paper that we do not need to use language properly at all, we can basically make nonsensical propositions and they still bring out new meaning, namely through the materiality of the words strung together, through the sounds, or even through similarity of the letters in written language. Rheinberger calls this facet of randomness of the juxtaposition of words in their materiality as “serendipity” – it is malapropism inserted into the experiment. What Rheinberger is claiming is that the scientific method works like a malapropism, which is a much stronger claim than the one that says that models work like metaphors.

A malapropism is a use of language that is not literal and where there is no intention on the part of the author or speaker. With malapropism we are entering a different kind of territory, and Davidson struggled with this in his essay “A nice Derangement of Epitaphs”(Davidson 2005) because he had to explain how meaning could be created even though the speaker was not using words literally and her intentions were not aligned with the words that she used to say something. In fact, in some types of malapropism, the opposite of what is meant is being said and the meaning is still conveyed. Often in a malapropism the speaker makes a mistake, as in a Freudian slip. Or the speaker uses one word instead of another simply because it sounds similar and there was not enough time for the speaker to correct and use the correct word. Davidson goes on to explain that the listener can still deal with this. Whereas language theorists claim that the hearer must “shar[e][ing] a complex system or theory with the speaker” (Davidson 2005, 93), “an interpreter has, at any moment of a speech transaction, what I persist in calling a theory” (ibid. p. 100). But Davidson goes on to say that “as the speaker speaks his piece the interpreter changes his theory, enters hypotheses about new names, changes the interpretation of familiar predicates, and revises previous interpretations of particular utterances in the light of new evidence.” (Davidson, ibid.) So, the speaker starts with an initial theory of interpretation, that she thinks the interpreter shares with her. Then she can consciously dispense with it, and the interpreter must modify her initial theory into an incidental or passing theory. At the end of his paper on malapropism Davidson concludes that there is no such thing as language as philosophers have assumed. There is no clearly defined common structure. Nor is there communication by appeal to convention.

Rheinberger makes a point about scientific theories and methods in Split and Splice that is very similar to the one made about language and understanding in Davidson’s malapropism essay. We need to imagine that the ‘speaker’ in this model is that which we are investigating in a particular investigation, and how that presents itself to or affords itself to us. Things are not simply given. “Data” as Rheinberger aptly says in the first part of the book are not, as the word suggests, simply given, they are already configured from the traces, that the scientific investigator measures. Rheinberger’s point is that there is something rogue about the process of investigation in science, something akin to what happens in malapropism. The experiment is an event, and the scientific process is not literal and unambiguous, but fragmentary and subject to serendipity. And that this is the method by which we arrive at new knowledge.

In a text called Postscriptum (Rheinberger 2022) to the workshop and special issue On Epistemic Times: Writing History 25 Years after Synthesizing Proteins in the Test Tube Rheinberger writes not so much a conclusion, but an outlook on “Conjunctures, Traces and Fragments.” He points out that the title of his book Spalt und Fuge, English Split and Splice was chosen because spalten, to split and fügen, to splice are the two cardinal activities of experimentation and he deliberately avoids using the terms analysis and synthesis. The latter are the logical categories that he claims have been imported into the practice of experimentation. But they did not grow out of them, and they suggest too neat of a division and fusion. Rheinberger writes:

[…] experimentation, as a process of finding one’s way into the unknown, needs more practice-oriented categories in order to apprehend its moves. If you split a log, the wood resists, and the products of your wedging activity will show uneven faces, depending on the knots and inner structure of the trunk. The same holds true for the object of your experimental inquiry. Knowledge of these structures is of the utmost importance for experimental exploration. If you splice a rope or if you graft a twig onto your vine, the points of suture will remain visible as signs of a mutilation. So will the pieces of your experimental activity, if joined to form a whole again. And it is indeed of utmost epistemic importance for the ongoing experimental process not to forget that these sutures always are—and will have to be—provisional. The title of this phenomenology of experimentation, Split and Splice, aims at calling to mind these epistemic uncertainties, inherent in the life of epistemic things. (Rheinberger 2022, p. 517)

Rheinberger emphasizes the “movement of the aleatic” (p. 518), which allows us to see the unforeseen as materialized. A conjecture is triggered by something small but has great consequences. These events, or what Bachelard calls “life-worlds” as “cultures”, provide access to emergence. (Cf. Ibid.) And Rheinberger goes on to call this “serendipity,” like actors who claim that to have been in the right place at the right time. According to Robert K. Merton, serendipity becomes the term for the “eventfulness of the research process.” (Ibid.). In Split and Splice, such conjunctures are treated as grafting activities. They are generally concerned with the interface between instruments and the objects of research, epistemic things. Rheinberger argues that these interfaces are the main loci of resistance and surprise in the research process, which is what the constellation of words in their materiality/sound was in malapropism. He concludes the section on conjunctures with the phrase “Glückliche Fügungen“ – “Happy Splices” (this was the title of one of the papers presented at the workshop). Experiments are subject to happy splices, and we need them. At the end of Split and Splice, Rheinberger points out that the only way scientific experiments can produce new knowledge only if they pay attention to the splits and splices of their experiments and do not whitewash them into neat analyses and syntheses.

The book Split and Splice therefore aims to present a phenomenology of experimentation, which for Rheinberger means that we are looking at the “shapes and contours that scientific experimentation has acquired historically” (p. 1). Here we see the same focus on the materiality of the whole movement of experimentation, not just the individual experiment. It is particularly important for Rheinberger that experimentation is seen as a knowledge-generating process. The various facets of the shapes of the experience are examined both from an “infrascopic” and from a “suprascopic perspective” (ibid.) These shapes shape the form of the book, by looking below and beyond the threshold of perception.

1. The Infrascopic

In the first part of the book, called “the infrascopic” Rheinberger investigates the micrological aspects of experimentation, such as the production of traces, the construction of models, ways of making things visible, grafting and note-taking. These are aspects of the experimental infrastructure and its materialities. Central here is the difference between the experimental space of traces and that of data, as Rheinberger introduces it, the difference between “the order of the graphematic and the order of representation.” (p. 519). Traces that result from the interface between apparatus and target must be made permanent or stored in order to serve as data and to be manipulated in this space, outside of the temporal constraints of the experiment. “Here the traces undergo a change of medium”, Rheinberger writes, “from the medium of the experiment to a medium of a different grain and materiality, be it wire, paper, or the digital” (Ibid.). While he speaks of traces in the experiment, the French word “trace” also means track, path, or mark, and this is what must be kept in mind when reading “trace”. What the trace amounts to is that the meaning of a sign is generated by the difference it has from other signs, and this means that the sign also contains a trace of what it does not mean. In this sense, “trace” becomes a term for a “mark of the absence of a presence, an always already absent present.” (Of Grammatology, Spivak xvii). What then is the notion of trace in Rheinberger’s experiment? Like the meaning of the sign, the epistemic thing gradually gains significance and becomes reified step by step. The most pertinent observation here is that neither “the traditional epistemological conception of induction nor that of deduction will be of help to us” – indeed, Rheinberger thinks that even Charles Sanders Peirce’s notion of abduction will not do, even though it comes close and is usually credited with novelty in the process of scientific investigation. What we get is a notion that Rheinberger calls “subduction.” Abduction differs from deduction and induction in that it does not begin with a general from which the individual is deduced or from individuals which are generalized through induction, abduction is the assumption of a general hypothesis, usually from a singular, which leads to the truth through conjecture or guesswork. In subduction, finally “novelty can come about inadvertently, [that] the unprecedented can be made to happen.” (p. 11) And the space in which this happens is “between the agents of knowledge and their objects of their interest.” (ibid.).

Rheinberger starts with the notion that the original gesture of the modern sciences was to “try[ing] to make the invisible visible.” We try to reveal and make accessible to our senses things that cannot be observed immediately or unmediatedly. And here we see that an “instrumentally mediated disturbance” is needed to make contact with the material. Like the documentary filmmaker who tries to show how the life of a person “is,” she cannot help but interfere with that life through the camera. In the same way, we interfere with our scientific measurements through the instruments that we use and that lead us to new knowledge in the first place.

The point is that this media/technological landscape is the only way in which science exists, and more importantly, this landscape has emerged from the process of knowledge generation itself, Rheinberger writes. Traces are a form of “material manifestation—a form of palpability” (ibid.). They are more rudimentary than what we call a representation, their nature is indexical, it is the primary manifestation of an epistemic thing, and it predates the distinction between writing and imaging. Rheinberger adds here that writing and imaging are our traditional forms of representation, but the trace is their raw material, the raw material of the experimental semiosis. In this sense, the trace is asemic, it is not yet semantic, it does not yet have meaning. But this makes it a puzzle. A trace is a trace of something, but that something is always absent (ibid. p. 13). The trace convinced Derrida that there could be no simple origin. To put it in scientific terms, the supposed origin of the trace is absent “not only in the sense of no longer being here, but in a much stronger sense: it ever was before. We cannot catch the thing that generates the trace in flagrante. Were this possible, we could save ourselves the whole experimental effort” (p. 13.).

The central task is to reflect on the epistemic and technical constitution of trace-generating experimental systems and the experimental environments or landscapes that they form. And this is where Rheinberger’s harsh criticism of the sciences comes in: he argues that this has not found its place in the self-perception of the sciences. What counts for them is the result, the finding. Instead, Rheinberger focuses on the occurrences and events of the experiment. There is neither a knowing “I” nor completed knowledge, the book is positioned in between. And this in-between consists of the traces that are created. There are paths and trajectories in which this happens. Rheinberger points out that all experimentation moves along two different epistemic axes, “depending on whether it is about the exploration of spatial structure or the determination of temporal sequences” (p. 14). In short, what is too big must be miniaturized, what is too small must be enlarged. Processes must be sped up or slowed down. And these procedures are the instructions for generating traces and providing ways of transforming them into data., i.e. ordering and condensing them, so that patterns can emerge that give contours to the phenomenon under investigation. (Cf. Ibid.)

It is time to give an example of such a trace. Rheinberger chooses radioactive substances. Radioactive substances can be measured because they indicate the path they take through the body, and a small amount of the substance can indicate the whole. In short, the system produces and simultaneously registers the traces. But these sequence gels or other experimental traces are transient. They disappear after some time. To capture them, an additional manipulation is necessary, also to make visible what is happening. Here we make the change from medium to data. The invisible intensity pattern is transferred to a sensitive film. In this way, fleeting traces can be transformed into permanent data. Rheinberger uses a word play on data here: “unlike what the name suggests, nothing is “given”—it is all the result of a process. (p. 19).

This is what Rheinberger’s book is about: how experimentation can lead us to new knowledge. And it is the wilder and more material splitting and splicing rather than the controlled and intellectual analysis and synthesis that gets us there.

In the next chapter we come to the model as a figuration that originates in the space of data. In addition to models, we can have lists, filters, orders according to variable criteria, storage, curating, and so on. The data space is quite malleable, writes Rheinberger, because we no longer have to deal with “resistances of the materiality of the experimental process.” However, Rheinberger emphasizes that the data manipulation comes with its own set of complications. We have seen a growth in data space that has been unprecedented in the last half century. This brings with it a new dynamic, that makes it appear as a real space in its own right. Data space now has its own materiality and an inherent unruliness of its own practices. We need to pay attention to this, too, Rheinberger argues.

What makes models both strong and weak is the simplification they offer. Their weakness is that we can forget for a moment that they are illusions. and their strength is that they can be easily reconfigured even as the data changes. (Recently, an Internet meme showed about 10 different kinds of model possibilities for the same kind of data, one of which was the shape or outline of a gorilla). Rheinberger points out that we oscillate between models of and models for. While science is concerned with models of, models for are found in art and architecture. Models of can be divided into functional and structural models. The example of a model organism comes from molecular genetics, we look at ribosomes, which are model organisms. The term “model organism” did not appear until the second half of the 20thcentury and played a decisive role in the development of molecular biology. The ideal model organism has material consequences because of its ideality. Why is that? Because one has to intervene in order to standardize the organism (cf. p. 27). The model organism has been modified and this “determines their character as a research tool” (ibid.). In that the model organism embodies previously acquired knowledge and becomes less an object of investigation than a technical condition of the experimental system. The models served in such a way that a picture “could be grasped at first sight and that suggested further, experimentally accessible questions on the basis of these synoptic premises” (p. 32). Rheinberger argues that the models, in their pictoriality, have the character of affordances, a term we know well from actor network theory and neo-materialistic philosophies. The model as an image becomes a kind of actant. The connection of this production of an illusion or image is not a deficiency of the model, but instead Rheinberger shows that it is an advantage. This is where the English translator curiously called or translated the restriction as malapropism, which triggered the analogy I made at the beginning of this review and my comparison of what Rheinberger does with Donald Davidson’s essay on malapropism. It is all about the new meaning in the metaphor as well as the new meaning that comes from the experiment found in the model. Because of this imaginary fiction, it is easier to formulate expectations and to address them experimentally. We have entered fully into the circularity between model and experiment full on, Rheinberger writes: “The model serves as an indirect source for an iterative process of producing of new experimental traces that, when transformed into data, can be reexamined for their compatibility with the existing model.” Rheinberger goes on to quote Alan Badiou from his early book the Concept of Model, in which he argues that the model, as a transitory aid is destined to deconstruct itself in the scientific process. What Rheinberger wants to point out is that the model represents under a specific synopsis and neglects aspects that do not come into view under the given experimental conditions. But new questions are generated, and the attempted answers continually modify the model.

There is so much more Rheinberger has to say about models; when he distinguishes structural models from functional models, it turns out that the latter attempt to associate functional states with components or regions, while structural models operate away from primary traces or data collections to a mediated form at the level of synopsis. This leads to feedback not only between models and experimental data production, but also between models themselves that refer to the same epistemic object (cf. S. 39). We are not dealing with the question of what the model means and what its reference is, but with a relation between different representations. It is nice how Rheinberger invokes Frege’s distinction between sense and reference by noting that the model either makes sense or it does not. Structural models are thus determined by two main parameters underlying their construction: “the external shape in three-dimensional space” as well as the “Internal articulation and positioning of dozens of macromolecular components with respect to each other” (p. 37). They are not primarily representational models, but rather “a tool of further knowledge production” (p. 39).

Finally, Rheinberger looks at computer graphics models, the latest addition. Here, too, the potential for gaining knowledge lies in the comparison of different models that alternative visualization technologies give us using different data sets. The different technologies are indeed different interferences, since they require different preparation procedures for the probes. “Native, untouched particles, however, cannot be seen or made visible, which makes the manipulation of their stature unavoidable. The only possibility of gaining a robust assessment of their shape is a permanent triangulation between the different results of such manipulations” (p. 44).

Rheinberger concludes the chapter on models with a brief excursion into computer simulations. As epistemic entities they are qualitatively different from other models in that they do not result from experimental traces transformed into data, accompanied by the change of medium in the transformation to data. Simulations operate on self-generated data. This gives them the advantage of allowing us to visualize origins and futures that are inaccessible in real experiment. Since we have computers, simulations have opened up additional space for experimentation that now makes models themselves the object of research. At the end of the chapter, Rheinberger points out something quite fascinating: that we are used to the precession of the simulation type of model from the fields of art and architectures. There, the models are not models of, but models for. “Here, the relation between the model and the modeled is inverted from the start” (p. 45). What this means for the relationship between the sciences and the arts is unfortunately beyond the scope of Rheinberger’s book, but it is widely discussed today, especially since we have begun to talk about artistic research.[1]

Chapter 3 of Split and Splice is entirely devoted to the trope of “making visible.” We have been circling this since the beginning of the book when we talked about synopsis and the imagery of models. Rheinberger believes that making visible is “the fundamental gesture of the modern sciences in their entirety,” and that it speaks directly to the moment of making inherent in the process. But “visualization is always bound to variegated forms of intervening,” (p. 46), Rheinberger continues.

The trace marks the beginning of the process of making something visible and lives from its proximity to the material and its proximity to the tools that bring it into being. “It therefore precedes the critical distinction between image and writing” (Ibid.). Even the practice turn in sociology, history and the philosophy of science has not yet looked closely enough at “what goes on in the space between the knower and the object of knowledge.” Meanwhile Goethe considered contemplation important and pointed to the middle ground. In his study of Newton’s theory of color, he refused to let the mediated quality of knowledge simply evaporate and to pretend that there was direct or immediate transparency. The chapter discusses examples of forms of visualization in the laboratory. We have moved from models to the actual procedures of visual representation that underlie models and preparations. Rheinberger discusses “configurations,” which are procedures of spatial and temporal compression and expansion. The second are procedures of enforcement or enhancement, and the third are procedures of schematization, in order to draw up a typology of visualizations in the sciences.

An exemplary form of compression is the map. Another is the curve, which can synoptically represent a whole series of measurements of one or more variables. This makes patterns visible. Enhancement means that structures, and even processes are made visible by coloring or placing contrasts. The means of enhancement become part of what is to be represented. Deformations must be inherent to the process. This was the earlier example of radioactive marking. One type of enhancement is particularly interesting: biological agents that are introduced to expand. We do not see the bacteria and viruses, but the space occupied by the destroyed bacteria and multiplied viruses. This is certainly not representation by depiction, but it does make the processes in question accessible for further study (cf. p. 60). Finally, schematization is used when processes are too complex. The umbrella term for the schematization is “diagrammatic,” which has recently received a great deal of attention from cultural studies. A pictorial language is developed, a kind of „image regime“ (p. 61). Rheinberger quotes Hertz, a student of Helmholtz, who is said to have said that the sciences produce “internal simulacra” of the things of the world, making possible “different images of the same objects”. Admissible, correct, and useful are the three terms he uses to describe the technical side rather than the epistemological side of experimentation. It is about “the insertion of new apparatus or procedures in already existing experimental setups (p. 67).

Most systems are transformed by apposition. Since with Rheinberger we also are dealing with the translator of Jacques Derrida, who has used the concept of grafting dealing with writing, we find a subchapter on the “Graft of Writing” which beautifully makes the connection between the natural science and the humanities. If grafting is a process of manipulation in which a new connection is made between two separate entities, then we can compare it to nomadic movements as Isabelle Stengers has described them, prerequisites for illuminating the differences in cultural techniques. Derrida spoke of the transposition of linguistic particles from one discursive context to the other, which he called an “iteration”.

Dissemination and grafting characterize the heteroclite and heteronomous, which he considered a crucial feature of the cultural technique of writing. What he meant by this was that meaning spreads like a disease, erratically through the body. Meaning is not linear and cannot be accurately depicted. Grafting is the insertion of something foreign, something that does not emerge from the pre-existing structure. But it requires the pre-existing structure to articulate itself as this other (cf. p. 70) For Derrida, to write is necessarily to graft. Bachelard used the concept of graft in the context of poetic work and images of the elements. The graft adds something new, that cannot be derived from it in the sense of an imaginative derivation. It is “material imagination” as a result of an apposition. Interestingly, the graft is here not understood as a metaphor, he takes it at face value, Rheinberger argues, and it is a figure of “material imagination” (p. 71).

After the grafts come the interfaces, the sutures between the grafted new technology and the pre-exiting technologies. There is also hybridization, which merges two independently established into a new construct. Grafting and hybridization are crucial to the iteration of experimental systems.

The last chapter of Part One deals with the protocols that must be written as an integral part of every experiment. Why are these primary written notes and records important? Because they constantly accompany the experimenter. Notes convey the concrete processes of knowledge formation. They are not an authoritative voice that knows where to go, they are tentative. And that is why they are productive and mostly neglected. As Friedrich Kittler said: “A writing system is an indispensable space of notation for emergent knowledge” (p. 95).

2. The Supra-Scopic

The second part of Rheinberger’s book is as fascinating as the first, because it is about time, but not as time as an object of experimentation, but the temporal course that epistemic processes can take. George Kubler was an art historian, a thinker in terms of structures like Thomas Kuhn, and obsessed with material objects. And with Rheinberger, Kubler is aligned with Derrida as concerned with the “diachronic flow structures of the historical process and its conceptualization” (p. 100). Time is not a fow, but a structure composed of units, each of which carries its own temporality. He departs from the distinction between longue and courte duree of biology and the individual development. He wants to focus on the characters and properties of the objects of culture, the things with which the arts are concerned. In short, he is interested in “figures of temporal condensation of a medium range that he calls “shapes” (p. 101).He wants to see the processes common to art and science in the same historical perspective, without blurring the differences between artistic and scientific things. Utility and beauty are, after all, very different. But the genesis of epistemic things and works of art is not entirely different, since they share at least the trait of invention, change, and obsolescence at least. (Cf. Ibid.) No wonder Rheinberger is interested in Kubler, but not in returning to the “genius religion” of the great man-inventors. Novelty may be an idea, but the sudden inspiration of gifted brilliance is not the answer. Rather, it is the “unprecedented result of a retrojection,” Kubler suggests. Here is the example: An artist and a miner are digging for ore. They can assess the tunnels dug, still there is no guarantee what direction to take. Both artists and scientists move in a terrain of materiality. They are scarred by the paths that have been trodden before. They must confront the materials head on. Like Kuhn Kubler sees the arts as moving towards no goal. We move toward what we want to know. We seize the moment in the given circumstances of possibility. We create a series or a sequence.

Rheinberger then thinks about epistemic trajectories in terms of Kubler. He repeats what Fleck thought, namely that experiments tend to be “carried along by a system of earlier experiments and decisions,” recalling Kubler’s imagery of tunnels and shafts. Rheinberger then lists five kinds of trajectories or sequences that can be specified in the empirical sciences: frames for the production of experimental traces and data. To demonstrate this, he takes a model organism, the flour moth Ephestia kühnella, and shows us how it was used as an object of study to study its spread and learn how to eradicate it. But he also shows how it was eventually replaced by other model organisms because its genetics were too complicated to read.

Epistemic and artistic matters are therefore similar in that what we call the “ingenious ideas” are mainly the researchers who become aware of an option that such a system offers and usually through a new technique or a signal that surfaced in a hidden corner. Cultural novelty, Rheinberger concludes the chapter, is realized in history as the history of things and are closely tied to the materials and the options that emanate from them (cf. p. 114).

The second chapter of Part II is about experiential cultures, which are the specific forms of spatial expansion of experimental systems. Such systems may form ensembles or bundles, in which case they are called experimental cultures. Here we have an interesting glitch in the otherwise excellent translation. Rheinberger writes that the concept of “Sich-Teilen-in” is central, which means literally, “To-Divide-Oneself-Into.” But the translation uses the word “sharing,” which is not the best choice because it brings the meaning too close to the symbolic. Culture is usually tied to the symbolic, but Rheinberger wants to focus on the “materialities of the scientific work in process.” And this is why it is a self-splitting, not a sharing, a division that is material. Rheinberger says the Sich-Teilen-in contains the core of why we speak of cultures here. Aspects of experimentation that are similar are called styles of scientific thought or practice, as well as ways of knowing or doing. But the notion of culture underscores the aspect of material interrelation between experimental systems, a meaning that only emerges as these systems emerge.

Most importantly, Rheinberger does not want to discuss experimental cultures as part of a history of disciplines that looks at institutions. Instead, he wants to define scientific communities in terms of their shared paradigms, and to try to characterize them in terms of shared experimental life forms. This explains at least why the translator has chosen the term “sharing” earlier. Such a shared culture or life form of experimentation is then presented by looking at “in vitro” – the biological test tube culture. The transition from a living system to a test tube system was not simply a transition from biology to organic chemistry – but it was the replication of life under different conditions. The question is: “do we still see nature in the mirror?” In a chapter on culture as an epistemological concept, we get a discussion of the modern use of the term, the distinction between man-made and naturally occurring things (cf. p. 126).

Chapter 8 is called Knowing and Narrating. Reflection of modern science in its own activity. The metaphor of the legibility of the world is used here, and that the letters of the book of nature are inherent in nature and all we do is look for them to be revealed. The image tells us that the scientific discourse is transparent and unadulterated by the media through which it is represented. Against this background, Rheinberger asks: do scientific texts narrate or not? Or are they really descriptive or hypothetico-deductive as we would like to believe. He brings up the distinctions between explanation and understanding, nomothetic and idiographic, knowledge of nature and knowledge of history.

First comes the question of authorship, the question of narrative. Experimental systems embody and realize a narrative structure. Since the experimental order is in a constant state of reorientation, experimental systems not only tell stories, but also change them (p. 136).

This is how we arrive at the poetology of research. Polanyi’s ideas about the agency of things are introduced. What we see here to is that epistemological acts allow us to take the next step in given research situations and that it is the “unexpected impulses” that determine the “course of scientific development” (Polyani p. 141). An experiment must introduce unintended effects, or unexpected results. In a chapter on epistemicity and experimentality knowledge things are characterized as things that leave something to be desired. Their relationship to the world is a search for knowledge. Quoting Claude Bernard, Rheinberger suggests that experimenters arrange situations so that finding becomes possible. He writes “One could describe such searching as a game of eventuation. It is an engagement with the material world that requires, first, an intimate acquaintance with the things at hand, and second (and at the same time) a distancing, the ability to let things appear strange” (p. 143). At this point the term “Serendipity” comes up again, and it stands for the serendipity of research, the fact that a serendipitous byproduct has effects on a theory and produces questions that could not have been asked before. It is about an epistemology of the unprecedented (ibid.)

And finally, towards the end of the book Rheinberger comes to the fragment. Traditionally, the fragmentary has been regarded as a deficient state of things to be repaired by a view from the whole. I recently heard the Slovenian writer and Ingeborg Bachmann Price Winner Ana Marwan, reading from her latest book, Zabubljena, in German “Verpuppt” (Marwan 2023) make the same eulogy or declaration of love for the fragmentary. She said about her novel that she did not want to write a narrative, a whole story that makes sense, but to give priority to small pieces of life. To the momentary beauty of a fragment in time and constellation with other people, and not to the implementation of that piece into a larger whole of a life that makes sense. She argues that this is closer to the way life is and feels as lived, as fragmentary.

Rheinberger wants the fragmentary to be a driving force of the research process and believes that it characterizes “both the natural sciences and the historical humanities” (Postscriptum p. 520). Again, he distinguishes between the scientific activity of dissecting materials in order to gain knowledge of their fine structure and the relations between the parts, and the kind of dissection and fragmentation that for the historical humanists has always been done by time. The humanist finds her material already in a fragmented state and must reconstruct it. For the biological and physical sciences of the past, we have a similar fragmentation by time.

Both epistemic intervention and representation (a distinction made by Ian Hacking) are built on the fragmentary. Our mappings of the world are based on intelligent economy.” Rheinberger gives the example of Borges’ scientist who wanted to make a 1:1 map, without leaving anything out, he wanted to represent the whole, not just a fragment, but such a map would make no sense. Fragments allow for a “resistance to plenitude: gaps, leftovers, omissions” and especially the thing that is absent but left its imprint and is thus an absent presence “at the point of contact as an absent origin.” Here we clearly hear Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, the translator of Jacques Derrida.

In conclusion, Rheinberger presents a book on scientific method that deals in the first part with the spatial and in the second with the temporal problems of discovering any new epistemic object in science. Since we are finding our way into the unknown we need to take epistemic uncertainties as part of the process. Resistance and the influence of our experimental activity are part and parcel of the life of epistemic things.

[1] See the workshop Zufall und Einfall. Medien der Kreativität in Wissenschaft und Kunst. November 9-11, 2023 at KU Linz. The collected papers will be published with Transcript in 2024.

Tobias Endres, Ralf Müller, Domenico Schneider (Eds.): Kyoto in Davos. Intercultural Readings of the Cassirer-Heidegger Debate, Brill, 2023

Tobias Endres, Ralf Müller, Domenico SchneiKyoto in Davos. Intercultural Readings of the Cassirer-Heidegger Debate Book Cover Tobias Endres, Ralf Müller, Domenico SchneiKyoto in Davos. Intercultural Readings of the Cassirer-Heidegger Debate
Studien zur interkulturellen Philosophie / Studies in Intercultural Philosophy / Études de philosophie interculturelle, Volume: 26
Tobias Endres, Ralf Müller, Domenico Schneider (Eds.)
xviii, 541

Eugen Fink: Fashion: Seductive Play

Fashion: Seductive Play Book Cover Fashion: Seductive Play
Eugen Fink (Author) , Stefano Marino (Anthology Editor) , Giovanni Matteucci (Anthology Editor) , Ian Alexander Moore (Translator) , Christopher Turner (Translator)
Bloomsbury Publishing

Reviewed by: Chiara Tessariol


Fashion: Seductive Play is a monograph originally written in German by Eugen Fink in 1969 that focuses on the significance of fashion as an object of study that is also worthy of philosophical consideration. The book has been translated into English in 2023 and published in a new edition that is also enriched by an original Introduction written by Stefano Marino and Giovanni Matteucci. Through a detailed and in-depth contextualization of Fink’s thought, Marino and Matteucci (editors of this book) succeed in highlighting its topicality by comprehensively outlining his discourse on fashion as a philosophical question, being highly controversial today.

With a pragmatic stance, Fink points to a number of deficiencies that can be blamed on a certain typical dichotomous attitude that has characterized Western thinking and has often led to heedless disqualification of the aesthetic validity of fashion. However, a redefinition of popular culture that has taken place in the last few decades has made it possible to critically rethink and overcome the traditional oppositional division between high culture and low culture. Hence, one of the aims of this project is to propose what we can define as the first instance of legitimization of fashion and its play of forms, analyzed with an approach derived from phenomenological philosophy.

In their introduction, Marino and Matteucci circumscribe the origin of Fink’s book to a precise context within his philosophical development, making reference to Simona Bertolini’s work (a great expert of Fink’s thought) who has traced a specific timeline in the evolution of Fink’s philosophy (p. 7). Throughout his studies, Fink tackles various stages of philosophical reflection, which gradually lead him to also embrace fields such as anthropology and pedagogy. Eventually, his interests culminate in a pronounced scrutiny of the relation between human beings and their environment, and how human beings interact with the world through play —  understood as a vital thrust. This final stage in the development of Fink’s thought is precisely the stage in which we can place his fashion book. Besides this, through Marino’s and Matteucci’s essay the reader is immediately introduced to the specificity of Fink’s phenomenological investigation by means of an analysis of the concepts of play, appeal, seduction, leadership, and body. In particular, the latter is investigated in a somehow dialectical way: on the one hand, there is the level of the “alienated” body, i.e. the body understood as an object. On the other hand, there is the level of the body recognized as an organism and as the “instrument” through which we can have our unique and real-life experience. Fink, thus, emphasizes in a new way the importance of the bodily dimension, which has been severely undermined and repudiated by the Western tradition which is in favor of the spiritual sphere. Following the steps of this same reasoning, a second implication becomes apparent: by covering our body with clothes (which is distinguished from that of other animals because of its nakedness), we somehow enter into a second dimension. This extra layer differentiates us from all other species, because this “second skin” is culturally chosen, and delineates human beings as socially, artistically and intellectually refined creatures. So, fashion becomes the civilized, established medium that marks the individuals from the outside world, a cultural phenomenon that is surely worthy of study.

Through a theoretical-conceptual approach, the cardinal principles of Fink’s investigation are examined in this book and compared to other currents, to broaden the articulation of his philosophical proposal regarding fashion, eventually revealing the anthropological implications intertwined with it. Heir to the questions of philosophers such as Husserl and Heidegger, Fink succeeds in reconstituting his own original investigation, in which he takes up a new line of inquiry that delves into the expressive ambiguity of clothing and, more generally, into the polysemous field of aesthetics, understood as a complex system of symbols of ambivalent nature. It acknowledges the beauty of appearance, and its noteworthiness is revealed by retracing some dimensions that are viscerally linked to human existence and cannot be minimized by being reduced to a mere consumerist discourse. So, it becomes evident that clothes are a sort of bridge that connects the individual to the outside world and, likewise, delimits his/her physical presence, separating the body from the rest, circumscribing the subject’s individuality and making known its meaningful interaction with other organisms. The meaning that human beings assign to their own image and aesthetics, hence, acquires an actual importance, and this emphasizes the practical-operational character of appearance, rather than its purely conceptual nature.

Ultimately, the originality of Fink’s philosophical thinking is recognized by Marino and Matteucci in their Introduction specifically for its anthropological roots, which find their raison d’être in his historical perspective. From the author’s critical point of view, fashion is understood as a sort of compensation for the decline of human beings’ primary instincts during its evolution. Clothing, together with other forms of interaction, is constituted as an alternative form of transformation and personification of human beings’ surroundings, thus identifying art forms as a different way of expressing one’s being. On account of this, through a socio-anthropological excursus, it is shown how clothes function, firstly, as a barrier to safeguard the body from the gazes of the world, as a sort of social connection between the wearer and the observer. Secondly, clothes function as an active interaction of performative symbols that acquire an explanatory connotation when worn in front of others. Through an elaborate proposal, Fink develops his own theory on fashion, acknowledged as a necessary practice for human being’s existence. The dialectical reconstruction of the fashion phenomenon here serves as a common thread, capable of grasping the essential continuity in the author’s perspective.


The original version of the book was opened by a short Preface written by Walter Spengler (included also in this English edition) that makes another salient point. Although it is difficult to briefly define the concept of fashion because of its multifaceted nature, we cannot deny that it has a profound meaning for human beings. When we refer to “fashion”, we immediately tend to think of clothes; however, any aspect of the human experience, in principle, is fashionable. In its broadest sense, fashion can be applied to everyone — men, women, children — and everywhere — in architecture, in travel destinations, or even in ways of giving birth or dying. This human “fashion-ability” proves to be crucial, because when one misses its meaningfulness, one also risks to miss a whole set of values, symbols, and ideas that belong to that specific trend — given that, people can even be socially excluded when they do not possess fashionable features or do not follow certain biases. There is therefore a sort of unwritten rule that presses the human being in his/her appearance to be exposed to the judgment of others, who trivially can define him/her as “in” or “out” on the basis of tacit shared standards.

The first chapter of Fink’s book, after Spengler’s Preface, scrutinizes the roots of clothing, understood as a significant representational medium for humankind since its origins. Fink’s argumentation draws on a Kantian conception which reworks with elegant delicacy, the Biblical narration on how the human being became truly “human”. A dialectical traversal between Kant and Fink unfolds in many articulations that, although conditioned by the Kantian legacy, results in a series of genuine implications of thought. The main ideas about the anthropological “rise” of human beings are thereby retraced.

Initially, through the use of language, the human being enters into a thoughtful relationship with the world. Aware that he/she can make use of the light of reason, the human being is now also capable of rebelling against leadership and acquires, for the first time, the capacity to choose. The break between what we may call the pre-human condition and a properly human one (characterized by reason) is underscored by the Finkian reworking of this narration that stresses how individuals self-determine, refine themselves, and establish a leadership and a deeper relationship with the space they inhabit. People, uplifted from their primordial slavery condition, experience a freedom from which they will not return back. Secondly, Kant pointed out the difference in sexual drive and the concept of nudity that exists between non-human animals and human beings. While for the former, sexuality is dictated by the seasonal heat, the human being experiences his/her sexuality with greater constancy. Moreover, nudity is a concept peculiar only to the human experience of life, which, in fact, sees the use of fig leaf – an image laden with erotic symbolism – in covering one’s genitals. Fink takes up the reins of Kantian thought by admitting that the human being is adept at refining his/her drives and reworking his/her relationships in such a way as to give them an emotional and affective value. It follows a statement that postulates a dichotomy between a benign and a malevolent power of thought, which allows the individual to reflect on possible future scenarios, and yet, now aware of strains of life, has to deal with preoccupations that burden him/her. However, in this dialectical exchange Fink accentuates the concept of “care,” for which the capability of the human being to reflect on his/her past plays a central role and explains why he/she acts in favor of a better future, providing what is necessary for his/her existence, while recognizing that labor and pain are inescapable. To continue, the concept of human dominion over other animals, used as tools, is examined. There is, thus, a mutual respect between humans as co-rulers (p. 42), a kind of “self-proclamation” of human beings as a chosen species who live above all others, and whose freedom is only limited when the freedom of another human being begins. In this regard, Fink positively underlines that sociability is a covenant between humans that derives from reason and that our freedom is not limited by the other, but rather coexists with the other. Ultimately, an inherent reflection on freedom is provided: on the one hand, freedom offers us more choices; on the other hand, decision-making power forces us to face a situation to ponder and chart our own path. The human being, as creator of his/her own destiny, manages to give value to his/her own body, even with the use of material production.

In the Christian narrative, as opposed to the spirit, soul or mind (which elevate the individual), the body holds the individual in the earthly dimension, connoting it as a limitation to our proximity to a higher sphere. The body becomes the expedient that brings us closer to the animal realm and does not allow us to approach a divine existence. However, as the author stresses here, humans’ vital experience always takes place in an embodied manner; indeed, without the body, human beings could not open themselves to the world.


In the second chapter of Fink’s book, human society is contextualized in its forms and organizations, and the concept of “fashion” is analyzed within existing divergences of the system. In a broader sense of the term, fashion reflects the Zeitgeist of our time, providing the means by which we identify ourselves with the actual historical context. In truth, fashion influences our lives so much that those who contradict the Zeitgeist by dressing differently, for example, paradoxically confirm the influence of fashion and emphasize how far it has spread to all the different layers of society. Or else, in the strictest sense of the term, the fleetingness of fashion is also affirmed, which, in its continuous evolution, is manifested in a short time span. Once again, an assessment of Western thinking with regard to the significance of fleetingness is made, whereby the human being deciphers the importance and worth of things on the basis of their durability and temporal stability. This gives rise to one of the main prejudices against fashion: because of its intrinsic nature, it is unstable and constantly changing over time, for which it is popularly considered to have no moral depth. Fashion, therefore, has been wrongly considered as frivolous and has been often portrayed as an unnecessary vice that people fall prey to – all victims of fashion businessmen who, for their own financial gain, induce people to buy more and more. While admitting the importance of the quality and durability of clothes that serve to cover the human body, Fink also foregrounds the aesthetic aspects of clothes, which are just as real as their functional features. Indeed, the human being lives in a reality that is manifested concretely, materially, and he/she is self-aware of his/her corporeality, through which he/she expresses a series of values and ideas that go beyond mere functionality, such as social status, personal taste, sexual desire, and so on. Fashion finds further social significance in its ability to scan time and place, by decoding who we are and what we do, by revealing gender, age, and a host of features that otherwise would not be expressible except through the language of clothes. Finally, considering fashion from an exquisitely economic point of view, Fink argues its validity by stressing that the current economy goes beyond production strictly related to primary needs, and in textile production there is also creative and artistic work that elevates a simple piece of cloth to an intangible, but no less important, value.


The third chapter of Fink’s book further explores the different meanings of the word “public” to which fashion is related. On the one hand, the notion of “public” can connote a political, state institution, linked to a system of laws and regulations. In addition, it can be used as the opposite of “private” or “familiar”, when we refer to all those social and work roles that lie outside our most intimate family sphere. Alongside the concept of public, we find the notion of “publicity”, which differs from the first term because it refers to a lifestyle that is not entirely subjugated by external constraints, i.e., how a person acts, speaks, and dresses is explained as a result of a primordial instinct to the emulation of others. In this context, garments, thus, become an intelligible element, a sort of frontier between publicity and singularity, reflecting both the individual’s taste and personality and, at the same time, the influence of external vogues. This sort of guidance from the surrounding arises from the work of the designer, who must be able to grasp what the consumer’s innermost and unconscious desires are, launch new ideas that challenge popular taste within an unpredictable fashion market, and finally translate them into their design. It is precisely this extravagance that makes people amazed and constantly breaks a temporary balance that allows them to create new ones. Designers propose new ways of thinking through their artworks, although the uniqueness of their creativity is soon lost because the industrial reproducibility of a garment is almost immediate. Conversely, a consumer experiments and plays with forms and contents, and is able to appreciate fashion in its infinite manifestations.

The aforementioned expressive capacity of clothing differentiates us from the animal world, where all kinds of enclosures have the mere function of protection, while human beings also entrust a cultural and meaningful symbolism to what they wear. Through his/her work the designer identifies the impulses proper to his/her contemporary era, which, in the 1960s (that is, the time when Fink’s book was first published in Germany), were already displaying greater freedom concerning sexual attraction and fluidity between the sexes. The designer, stripped of all taboos, interprets the impulses and desires dictated by sexual charge that are inherent in human beings and creates clothes that reflect these energies and drives. In doing so, for Fink there is a division between interpreting the image of the man and that of the woman. In the former case, the sexual symbolism of the man is much less pronounced and obvious: as a matter of fact, the attraction to him is reinterpreted in a more subtle way in the form of values such as masculinity, power, and physical prowess, to transmit the idea of security, strength, and protection. In the women’s case, what is pointed out are the most forbidding areas, to directly outline forms and shapes of the female body. Hence, women’s physicality is emphasized in a harmonious way, through an intriguing game of veiling and unveiling, covering and uncovering, playing with the accessible and the forbidden, in order to enhance her appeal.


The fourth chapter of Fink’s book focuses on the notion of stimulus and how it works, even unconsciously, on human reactions, first at a biological level. Merely through a single detail, fashion manages to cause a response, a stimulus precisely, in the beholder. The human being, in his/her relationship with the other, is always subjected to new stimuli, which can give rise to different feelings such as sympathy or antipathy. Therefore, the relationship with the outside becomes meaningful, so that an interest can be aroused at different levels: it may derive from curiosity, from sexual interest or from an interest towards otherness, but anyway the totality of all those small reactions characterizes our interaction with the environment and form our cultural surroundings. Again, the role of the designer comes into play and takes part in the equation proposed by Fink. Appeal pervades human society and is cunningly read and interpreted by the designer with unobtrusive discretion, so as to elicit some reactions or emotions, almost on a subconscious level. There is, however, a political symbolism attached to appeal which can express a social status, or an erotic charge that manifests itself in different ways — according to the taste of the current Zeitgeist.

At any rate, it must be recognized that there is a fine line between what suggests a reaction and an interest in us and what overtly highlights certain parts of the human body. When physical characteristics are explicitly shown off, the opposite effect occurs, in which the naturalness of what one wants to show off is lost, hence mislaying that veiled je ne sais quoi that is typical of the fashion game of seeing-through. By analyzing the concept of appeal, a challenge is opened up to the reader whereby we no longer think of fashion as a mere game of concealing and revealing, as a way of exaggerating or hiding forms. Rather, we are now led to think of fashion as a true act of representing something deeper and more innate, which takes us back to the primordial human nature and our instincts: an innate response in the human being full of meaning that mediates with our deepest Self. So, when we judge clothing from a moral perspective, we miss the fact that attire remains in-between two opposed dimensions: one that refers to the idea of “civil”, that can be rationally understood and that aligns with socially accepted and promoted values, and another that is “natural”, that represents the physical tangible part of our body which is viscerally linked to the concept of nature — a blank canvas on which to express culturally established concepts.


So far, in examining Fink’s book, we have observed the world of fashion as a vehicle for certain values of appeal, status, or human artistic expression. However, in the fifth chapter of his book Fink shifts his attention to an understanding of fashion in relation to the question of human sociability. By analyzing leisure time, both on a philosophical level and from an economic-productive point of view, Fink shows the seriousness of both production time and leisure time, emphasizing the inability of the human being to make full use of the latter. Rest time and the need for sociability are phenomena that have always permeated humankind, although historically the possibility of enjoying spare time has been a prerogative of the élite, since the main part of the population was subjected for centuries to what we may call “dehumanizing working conditions”. Whilst anciently there were occurrences of participation and entertainment of the population, the dissonance between the more privileged and the less favored found a point of resolution that mainly coincided with the French Revolution, an historical moment that sanctioned an extended freedom for all social strata. Moreover, shortly before the publication of Fink’s book (originally appeared in 1969, as I said), we witnessed advances in the industrial sector, the affirmation of mass production, and the implementation of the assembly line as a productive organization. All these factors introduced and established tight rhythms in the working hours of men and women, who ultimately made this rhythmic progression of time their own. The notion of rhythm and organization of time turns out to be tricky: the human being, absorbed in this incessant tempo, is almost incapable of filling his/her free time spontaneously and creatively: somehow it seems that, once he/she acquired the coveted freedom, he/she became unable to enjoy it. The more society advances in its progress, the more urgent the need to structure leisure time is. Consequently, new industries are born to organize different activities for people, such as games, sports, and events which, although aimed at filling the people’s time in a creative, free and convivial manner, mirror and mimic the existing timing and dynamics of work and formal activities. So, in leisure time we witness a kind of performance in which the actors participate voluntarily where they dress with an established style, behave in a certain way, and create events and participate in a play for which they entertain themselves, but not without labels, behavioral patterns or tacitly agreed norms.

​​Fink, through an analysis of the human being’s daily splitting of time, highlights once again the limits of the dichotomous approach that has been typical of Western thought, according to which leisure time is less important than work time, since it neither produces nor is considered “serious”. As in the case of fashion, also in this case Fink succeeds in unhinging prejudices about what is popularly considered to be superfluous or less necessary to human existence, giving a demonstration of the validity of all the nuances of the beautiful and the pleasurable that human beings eventually wish to experience. Fink makes the investigation of beauty a cultural issue and evinces the adult’s intrinsic need to relate to the others in a playful context and how human beings manifest their sincere desire to show themselves to the others in so many ways, including through clothes. As follows, dress becomes a symbolic medium, a set of meaningful constructs that finds its own expression in leisure time, giving the person the opportunity to originally style his or her image.

Finally, the role of young people in the use of clothes is also theorized. As bearers of a new and often critical image of society, they challenge the taste and moral values of their time, in order to create new ones. It is precisely with them that fashion and, in general, aesthetic sensibility become a means of cultural redemption, demanding a pedagogical and societal responsibility to recognize, appreciate and enhance the beauty that accompanies human life in all its forms, both as artworks and as forms of design that adorn and embellish the play of the human being.


Thinking about fashion also means contextualizing it to different historical moments. As I have stated above, in the 1960s the transformation of the production industry was already evident. Mechanization enabled forms of reproducibility capable of responding to an ever-increasing demand for goods, finally allowing people, not only to meet their basic needs but also, to satisfy and enjoy their whims, reaching the less well-off social strata also (and not only) in matters of fashion. While the dichotomous approach between high culture and low culture has already been discussed above, in the sixth chapter of Fink’s book this precept again becomes indispensable in understanding the function of cultural industries which, in their multiplicity of ways of manifesting themselves, recognize the fundamental value of the free creativity of individuals.

Fink’s reflection investigates fashion as a cultural industry, disentangling it between the different accusations of being a constricting leadership or being a tempting seduction. If we interpret fashion as a coercive pressure, we admit that in every trend there is also a normative force that defines the most fashionable lines of the moment. Nonetheless, this drive mostly points in the direction of the current style, offering many different outfits from which a person can choose. In a broader context of analysis, there are several transformational leadership dynamics that stem from the experience of state authority or the pedagogical leadership of a teacher. Similarly, what is witnessed in fashion is a diktat that is proposed by a sort of unknown authority that shows us the next trends to follow to stay fashionable; for instance, in fashion newspapers the idea of “must have” often echoes between the pages. However, the human being, endowed with reason and awareness, accesses the phenomenon of dress in a process of self-determination, according to one’s cultivated taste. Thus, the aesthetic choice is an active stance by the individual, who freely plays with fashion and trends, relating to them more as suggestions than as despotic directives. Furthermore, referring to the concept of seduction, Fink illustrates the reasons why this concept must not be necessarily limited to a negative connotation, thus proposing a renewed consideration of aesthetics in virtue of its equally important positive attributes. The term “seduction”, as a matter of fact, has been traditionally used to indicate something sinful, something wrong, which can lead us into a trap. By contrast, for Fink there exists a pure, transparent and above all real beauty that individuals can discover and experience throughout their existence. The beauty of a design, whether from nature or man-made, brings a relief and, as Fink argues, a “positive illusion” (p. 109) that sustains the human being by alleviating the inevitable hard, tedious, sacrificial, and working experiences of life. Charme is necessary to save the human being from his/her situation of misery, whereas it provides a moment of contemplation, a consolation, at least apparent, from life’s hostilities.


In the last chapter, Fink draws his conclusions by deliberating on a possible existential justification for fashion. If considered in purely economic terms, it is evident that there exist goods that are far more important and useful than clothes, i.e., necessities. It is equally true that, from a market perspective, any good or activity reflects the economic possibilities of people who have purchasing power that allows them to own those goods and access those activities. So, assuming that the individuals’ economic well-being is used to achieve a specific power, image or relevance within a certain social group, it follows that the value we place on material goods no longer determines a purely economic value, but also a political one. Moreover, the fact that fashion is seen as unnecessary gives it, a fortiori, a negative connotation since, in the Western polarized approach, there is a division between useful goods, which are positively received, and useless goods, from which we morally tend to distance ourselves. Therefore, it becomes possible to interpret the choices of sharing and exhibiting one’s closeness to fashion from a mere moralistic point of view, but in doing so, for Fink, we overlook its most authentic and original value: its aesthetic value. Fashion is actually neither useful nor necessary. In its irrationality and elusiveness, it is an artistic expression and ultimately even a symbolic and political statement; its nature is ambiguous, dialectical and polysemous, just like the human being’s identity, and, like the human being, it essentially exists as such. Besides this, fashion is also strictly linked to human nature because of its capacity to transform the human beings’ physical life experience. Due to the complex phenomenon of the fashion system, it would be erroneous to simply judge it as positive or negative, or as worthy of existence or not: in fact, nowadays fashion permeates our lives and its existential character is a certain phenomenon. In this way, the intentionality of Fink’s reasoning lies not as much in the moral or utilitarian argumentation of la mode, but rather on what is, in universal terms, justified for its very own existence. By all appearances, such a question denotes the superficiality of the accusations leveled at fashion; after all, as Fink observes, there is no supreme authority with the power to decide what, in this world, is justified to exist or not.

Fashion belongs to the human dimension and diversifies the human being from all nonhuman animals: it is a cultural product and a complex signifying organism. Its ambiguity makes it unique and capable to creatively play with the wearer who, conversely, gives to the clothes a personal meaning, without discarding the relationship with the surrounding environment, but eventually establishing a continuous dialectical relationship between being and appearing, private and public, wearer and beholder. Indeed, fashion plays between multiple branches, revealing and concealing, playing with sex appeal, demonstrating a power, a social status, the membership to a group, and differentiating male and female gender, or mixing them.


In the 1960s, when Fink’s book was written, great changes were taking place within society. That decade represented a moment of political and social transformation, it gave new impetus to industry and looked towards modernization, as it offered space to a new freedom of expression for a hitherto, non-existent precariousness of identity, and forcing the young generation to ask new questions that need to be answered.

It is precisely in this context of cultural ferment that Fashion: Seductive Play becomes an instrument of ideological struggle, acquiring a profoundly pioneering significance. Its publication, indeed, can be understood as the concretization of a blatant awareness on the part of philosophy, which admits its role in the construction of a prospective critique, applicable to a tangible reality that is inevitably subject to change. Fink’s text is, thus, a rare proof of philosophical exploration of fashion, aesthetics and the corporeal dimension; a sort of enterprising and compelling prelude that opens a new path for philosophical fashion studies. Its argumentative richness lies in Fink’s realist attitude that, thanks to his dialectical ability, unhinges the groundless accusations moved towards fashion. It eventually replies to some questions and prejudices that have widely characterized Western culture and challenges some of its limitations and fallacies. Thanks to the editors’ accurate Introduction, the English edition of Fink’s book is also enriched with new insights that reveal an urgent — and, now more than ever, topical — need for a confirmation, still uncertain in some ways, of fashion’s legitimacy as a research topic.

Indeed, many of the stereotypes to which — according to Fink’s critical analysis — fashion was subjected, are still alive and popularly shared. However, thanks to a cultural profiling of trivializing logics, Fink allows us to understand the essentiality of the fashion phenomenon from a cultural-pedagogical point of view. Firstly, recognizing the essential value of our physical dimension and then, consequently, the symbolic system we adhere to by dressing ourselves. Finally, the publication of Fink’s book in English translation, many years after its original publication in German, proves to be a precious rediscovery and appreciation of fashion issues noteworthy for its unconventional character, an overture that has opened a dialogical encounter between philosophy and fashion that is still ongoing.

Patrizia Breil: Körper in Phänomenologie und Bildungsphilosophie. Körperliche Entfremdung bei Merleau-Ponty, Waldenfels, Sartre und Beauvoir

Körper in Phänomenologie und Bildungsphilosophie: Körperliche Entfremdung bei Merleau-Ponty, Waldenfels, Sartre und Beauvoir Book Cover Körper in Phänomenologie und Bildungsphilosophie: Körperliche Entfremdung bei Merleau-Ponty, Waldenfels, Sartre und Beauvoir
Wissenschaftliche Beiträge zur Philosophiedidaktik und Bildungsphilosophie
Patrizia Breil
Verlag Barbara Budrich

Reviewed by: Thomas Zingelmann (Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena)

­­­Die 2021 erschienene Arbeit, welche eine leicht veränderte Fassung der Dissertation der Autorin ist, macht eine klare Diagnose: Trotz einer differenzierten Debatte über Leib und Körper verpasste die Phänomenologie in weiten Teilen bisher körperliche Entfremdungserfahrungen zu beschreiben. Besser gesagt: Breil konstatiert, dass die phänomenologischen Diskussionen über Leib und Körper vornehmlich durch die Rezeption Maurice Merleau-Pontys geprägt ist, wobei aber die Schriften Jean-Paul Sartres und Simone de Beauvoirs Phänomene aufgreifen, die sich mit der Traditionslinie Merleau-Pontys und Bernhard Waldenfels‘ nicht beschreiben lassen. Dem möchte die Autorin Abhilfe verschaffen, indem sie dieser Problematik aus einer existentialistisch-phänomenologischen Perspektive begegnet und sich darum bemüht den Boden für eine Beschreibung körperlicher Entfremdung zu bereiten. Abseits der Beseitigung einer Leerstelle in der Phänomenologie sieht Breil hier eine pragmatische Notwendigkeit: Die Erziehungswissenschaft und Philosophiedidaktik haben keine passenden Konzepte für die Erfahrung der Heranwachsenden. Ihnen fehle das adäquate theoretische Instrumentarium, um beispielsweise Pubertäts- oder Gewalterfahrungen der Sache gemäß aufbereiten zu können. Insofern ist auch Breils erklärtes Ziel die existentialistischen Ansätze für Erziehungswissenschaft und Philosophiedidaktik fruchtbar zu machen. Ihr Vorhaben ist klar: „Unter Bezug auf Phänomenologien, die den Körper in seiner Materialität thematisieren, wird eine Theorie des unverfügbaren Körpers skizziert, die eine notwendige Ergänzung von phänomenologischer Erziehungswissenschaft und Philosophiedidaktik darstellt.“ (S. 163) Ihre Überlegungen werden durch die These getragen, dass körperliche „Unverfügbarkeit […] zentraler Aspekt des Menschseins“ sei. (S. 144)

Das Buch gliedert sich gleichmäßig in zwei Teile: Teil I behandelt „Pathologien des unverfügbaren Körpers“ in Auseinandersetzung mit Merleau-Ponty, Waldenfels, der phänomenologischen Erziehungswissenschaft und der Philosophiedidaktik. Teil II thematisiert „Unverfügbarkeit als Modus körperlicher Existenz“ in Auseinandersetzung mit Jean-Paul Sartre und Simone de Beauvoir, mit deren Hilfe Breil dann einen Ansatz für Lehrkonzepte in Aussicht stellt.

Breils Ausgangsbeobachtung ist, dass „der eigene Körper auffällig“ (S. 7) wird, und zwar in einer Weise, dass die bestehende oder sich verändernde Materialität des Körpers als unverfügbar, im Sinne von unkontrollierbar erfahren wird. Der Körper würde so in „Unabhängigkeit von dem leiblichen Gesamtzusammenhang“ (S. 9) erfahren. Darauf zielt auch die Rede von Entfremdung bei Breil ab, dass der Körper entweder als nicht dem Selbst zugehörig oder zumindest als widerständig erfahren würde. Der Körper, den man hat, wird als fremd und eigensinnig erfahren. Damit ist auch schon eine Dimension ihrer Arbeit angesprochen, die doch einen Mehrgewinn in der Debatte um Entfremdung darstellt. Denn ihr Ansatz ergänzt, wie Breil selbst anspricht, den sonst von der Gesellschaftstheorie dominierten Diskussionsbereich, in welchem der Gehalt der subjektiven Erfahrung von Entfremdung kaum eine Rolle spielt. Breil ist hier ganz deutlich: Ihr geht es um „die historisch unspezifische, individuelle Möglichkeit, den eigenen Körper als widerständiges und rein physisches Gegenüber zu erfahren, dessen Stellung zum Selbst in Frage steht.“ (S. 9) Im Raum steht nicht etwa die Frage, inwieweit polit-ökonomische Umstände, Strukturen und Bedingungen zur Erfahrung spezifischer körperlicher Entfremdung führen. Ihr Buch ist von der Frage geleitet, welches die Merkmale sind, die zu dieser Erfahrung überhaupt notwendigerweise gehören. Anders gesagt – und das ist typisch phänomenologisch: Es geht um die logisch-notwendigen Strukturen dieser Erfahrung, egal wer diese wann und wo macht. Hier stellt sich Breil die entscheidende Aufgabe klassische Begriffsarbeit zu leisten, da sie der Überzeugung ist, dass es überhaupt erst ein „geeignetes Vokabular“ (S. 9) bedürfe. Daran anschließend versucht sie für die Alltäglichkeit und entgegen der Pathologisierung – denn so erklärt sich auch die Überschrift von Teil I – dieser Erfahrung zu argumentieren: Sie ist unter Zuhilfenahme der Hegelschen Dialektik der Überzeugung, dass es der „zeitweisen Entfremdung“ (S. 10) bedarf, um Selbsterkenntnis zu erlangen. Diese These und Rezeption Hegels wird im philosophiedidaktischen Teil weiter ausgeführt: Die notwendige – das heißt hier unumgängliche – Erfahrung der Widerständigkeit des eigenen Körpers (wie etwa in der Pubertät), soll für die Bildung des Individuums zunutze gemacht werden, indem eine intensive reflektierte Auseinandersetzung ermöglicht wird (S. 288).

Breils Buch verfolgt also ein doppeltes Unterfangen: Sie versucht die Frage zu klären, was körperliche Entfremdung ist, indem sie Entfremdung als Erfahrung beschreibt. Ist dies einmal geklärt, soll die Rolle dieser Erfahrung für (Selbst-)Bildungsprozesse herausgestellt werden. Unerlässlich sei es, der Intersubjektivität für diesen Themenkreis eine fundamentale Rolle zuzuschreiben. Breil ist der Überzeugung, dass diese Dimension mit anerkennungstheoretischen Prämissen in Anschluss an Alexandre Kojève und Axel Honneth eingeholt werden könne – allerdings wird sie dies nicht weiter ausführen und lediglich in Aussicht stellen. Denn es verhalte sich so, dass Identität „nur über die Entäußerung und nur im vorgestellten oder realen Angesicht des Anderen erlangt werden kann.“ (S. 12) Insgesamt möchte Breil eine Perspektive auf die Entfremdungserfahrung eröffnen, die erst einmal nicht normativ, sondern rein deskriptiv ist. Wie gesagt: Breil versucht dieses Phänomen ganz nüchtern und unaufgeregt zu betrachten, weil es – zumindest was die Pubertät angeht – eh unumgänglich ist und man sich daher Gedanken machen muss, wie damit umzugehen sei.

Breils Ansatz besteht darin, zuerst zu klären „wie auf Basis dieser leibphänomenologischen Voraussetzungen ein Fremdwerden des Körpers theoretisch erfasst werden kann.“ (S. 14) Hier ist ihr Urteil eindeutig: Die wirkmächtige Traditionslinie von Merleau-Ponty, die sich in ihrer Rekonstruktion unteranderem über Waldenfels, Käte Meyer-Drawe und Wilfried Lippitz zieht, ist nicht dazu imstande diese Phänomene nicht pathologisierend zu beschreiben. Denn das ist Breil wichtig: Ihre Arbeit soll dazu verhelfen „einer Pathologisierung von Entfremdungserfahrungen entgegenzuwirken.“ (S. 296) Es sei wichtig „ein Vokabular aufzuarbeiten, das eine bessere Beschreibung der eigenen körperlichen Existenz ermöglicht.“ (S. 282)

Die Rekonstruktion Merleau-Pontys umspannt im Großen und Ganzen das Gesamtwerk mit besonderem Augenmerk für die Leib-Konzeption in der Phänomenologie der Wahrnehmung und der Theorie des Fleisches in seinem Spätwerk. Ihm hält sie insbesondere folgendes entgegen: „Dieses Hereinbrechen eines Körpers, der sich in seiner Bedeutungslosigkeit aufdrängt, kann mit dem Leibbegriff Merleau-Pontys nicht eingeholt werden.“ (S. 72) Warum dies nicht möglich sei, erklärt sie wie folgt: „Während Leiblichkeit vornehmlich als Grund des innerweltlichen Sinngeschehens thematisiert wird, präsentieren sich Erfahrungen körperlicher Objektivierung nachgerade sinnentleert.“ (S. 72) Es sei nicht nur so, dass er körperliche Entfremdung lediglich nicht thematisiere, Breil versucht darzulegen, dass er dies aufgrund „einer Theorielücke“ nicht könne. (S. 72) Weil dem Leib bei Merleau-Ponty eine bedeutungskonstituierende Dimension zugeschrieben wird, habe man es gleichzeitig mit einer Herabwürdigung des Sinnlosen und Kontingenten zu tun – was dann bei Jean-Paul Sartre positiv hervorgehoben werden wird.

Waldenfels, der wohl kaum wie ein anderer in der deutschen Phänomenologie das Werk Merleau-Pontys vertritt, als aber auch kritisch weiterentwickelt, wird von Breil ebenfalls einer genauen Prüfung unterzogen. Dies ergebe sich aus dem Umstand, dass beide für die phänomenologisch orientierte Erziehungswissenschaft und Philosophiedidaktik eine ausschlaggebende Rolle spielen. Waldenfels‘ Werk wird entlang der Theoriebausteine Responsivität, Fremdheit und Ordnung rekonstruiert. Im Gegensatz zu Merleau-Ponty werden Phänomene körperlicher Entfremdung zwar denkbar und auch beschrieben, aber Breil wendet ein, dass die Beschreibungen nicht adäquat, weil pathologisierend seien: „Obwohl mit Waldenfels‘ Konzeptualisierungen die Weichen für eine umfassende Analyse leiblich-menschlicher Verletzlichkeit gestellt sind, verhindert doch bereits die sprachliche Seite der Theoriebildung eine angemessene Erfassung der zugrundeliegenden Erfahrungen.“ (S. 108) Oder anders gesagt: „In Waldenfels‘ Theorie der Responsivität bleibt die Körpererfahrung – obzwar durchaus möglich – ein Fehler im System.“ (S. 110) Hier erläutert Breil auch, was ihr an so einer Einschätzung missfällt: „Eine solche Einschätzung muss vor dem Hintergrund einer Pädagogik der Leiblichkeit, die sich an der Lebenswelt von Schüler*innen orientiert […], fatal erscheinen. Statt einer Stigmatisierung des Körpers muss es vor allem im Hinblick auf physische Veränderungen in der Pubertät eine Möglichkeit geben, körperliche Entfremdung sowie körperliche Bedeutungslosigkeit als mitunter alltägliche Form der Fremdheit zu verstehen.“ (S. 110)

Hieran anschließend versucht sie aufzuzeigen „inwiefern die dargestellten Defizite der phänomenologischen Theorien sich in die phänomenologische Erziehungswissenschaft vererben“. (S. 115) Dazu werden vornehmlich die Arbeiten Meyer-Drawes und Lippitz‘ rekonstruiert, wenn aber auch Exkurse zu Eugen Fink und Otto Friedrich Bollnow gemacht werden. Für die Erziehungswissenschaft und Philosophiedidaktik kommt sie zu einem ähnlichen Urteil wie bei Merleau-Ponty: „Nennungen des Körpers sind lediglich einer Vereinfachung der Theoriebildung oder einer begrifflichen Ungenauigkeit zuzuschreiben, die den Körper zum Leib macht und Materialität so schließlich auch sprachlich jeder möglichen Theoretisierung entzieht.“ (S. 144) Anders gesagt: Es handelt sich „um eine fehlende Differenzierung der Begrifflichkeiten“. (S. 152) Alles in allem kommt sie zu dem Schluss, dass mit Merleau-Pontys schon ein Weichenstellung gestellt ist, die zu einer „Vergeistigung des Leibes“ (S. 158) führt. Deswegen ließe sich sagen, dass „eine anerkennende Theorie des unverfügbaren Körpers fehlt.“ (S. 162)

Wie weiter? Der zweite Teil „Unverfügbarkeit als Modus körperlicher Existenz“ lässt sich als Spiegelung zum ersten lesen. Breil schlägt vor die im Kontext von Erziehungswissenschaft und Philosophiedidaktik „nicht in ausreichendem Maß“ (S. 163) beachteten Phänomenologien Sartres und Beauvoirs einzubeziehen. Dabei ist nicht ihr Anliegen, die bis hierhin untersuchten Phänomenologien zu verwerfen, sondern zu erweitern. Sartre als existenzialistischer Phänomenologie biete sich deswegen an, weil „Erfahrungen der eigenen Körperlichkeit im Sinne eines materiellen Selbstseins durchaus einen zentralen Bestandteil seiner Phänomenologie darstellen.“ (S. 202) Dreh- und Angelpunkt ist für Breil bei Sartre sein dreifaltiges Körper-Konzept fruchtbar zu machen: „„Der Körper-für-Andere ist kein Objekt-Körper, sondern er ist die leibliche Möglichkeit einer Erfahrung des Objekt-Körpers. Auf diese Weise ist es mit Sartre möglich, den eigenen Körper als Objekt zu empfinden, ohne selbst Objekt zu sein. So können schließlich dualistische Erfahrungen auf Basis einer nicht-dualistischen Körperlichkeit thematisiert werden, ohne dass die Erklärung ins Pathologische abdriftet.“ (S. 214) Denn, was sie im ersten Teil den rekonstruierten Autoren und Autorinnen vorhält, ist, dass diese zwar versuchen den Körper-Geist-Dualismus zu überwinden, aber einem neuen verfallen, und zwar einem Körper-Leib-Dualismus. Insofern wird mit Sartre also die theoretische Schnittstelle bereitgestellt, um phänomenologisch Erfahrungen körperlicher Entfremdung beschreiben zu können, also was der Ansicht Breils nach mit Merleau-Ponty nicht möglich war.

Wo Sartre das Gegenstück zu Merleau-Ponty ist, ist dies nun Beauvoir gegenüber zu Waldenfels: So ist Breil der Überzeugung, dass Waldenfels zwar Phänomene körperlicher Entfremdung beschreiben könne, dies aber nur pathologisierend. Mit Beauvoirs Theorie wird „der Rückgriff auf ein Vokabular ermöglicht, mit dem körperliche Existenz affirmativ beschrieben werden kann.“ (S. 270) Beauvoirs Werk zeichne sich durch die „konkrete Auseinandersetzung mit der eigenen Existenz, also auch mit der eigenen Unverfügbarkeit“ aus. (S. 270) Hierdurch würde eine „Ethik des Scheiterns“ (S. 270) ermöglicht, welche nach Breils Ansicht unabdingbar für das Geschäft phänomenologischer Erziehungswissenschaft und Philosophiedidaktik sei. Denn das ist letztlich auch das Ziel von Breil: Die Zielgruppe der Erziehungswissenschaft und Philosophiedidaktik ist diesen Erfahrungen ausgesetzt, sie selber aber haben ihrer Ansicht nach nicht die Mittel, diese Erfahrungen theoretisch einzuholen. Insofern geht es ihr weniger um eine dezidierte Phänomenologie körperlicher Entfremdung als mehr der Vorarbeit hierfür und wie diese Theoriebausteine für besagte Bereiche fruchtbar gemacht werden können. Sie fordert aus diesen Gründen ein „Weiterdenken des Bildungsplans in Richtung der auch körperlichen Existenz“. (S. 270) Die Rezeption von Sartre und Beauvoir ermöglicht es nach Breil, einerseits das Kontigente und Sinnlose überhaupt zu denken und andererseits diesen Erfahrungen ihre Legitimität zuzugestehen.

Im abschließenden Teil kritisiert Breil bisherige Bildungspläne in der Ethik vor dem Hintergrund der Erfahrung der Lernenden und plädiert dafür, das Thema körperlicher Unverfügbarkeit in den Lehrplan mitaufzunehmen. Denn „die Bezugnahme auf den Körper [zeichnet sich] durch eine fehlende Grundlagenreflexion aus, die sich nicht zuletzt in der undifferenzierten Verwendung der Begriffe Körper und Leib ausdrückt.“ (S. 282) Dies wird durch ihre Rekonstruktion begründet, die mit Sartre und Beauvoir zeigen sollte, wie Identität (auch) durch Entfremdungserfahrungen gestiftet wird: „Durch die vertiefte Kenntnis über Verfahren der Identitätskonstitution wird die Wichtigkeit von Entfremdungserfahrungen und Erfahrungen der Bedeutungslosigkeit für die Herausbildung eines authentischen und emanzipierten Selbst hervorgehoben.“ (S. 283) Insofern käme diesem Themenbereich eine „orientierende Funktion“ (S. 296) für die Lernenden zu.

Breil hat also versucht aufzuzeigen, dass das Phänomen körperlicher Entfremdung nicht nur eine Leerstelle in bestimmten Phänomenologien ist, sondern dass dieser Erfahrung auch eine identitätsstiftende Funktion zukommt, weswegen es begründet sei, diesem Themengebiet einen Platz im Bildungsplan einzuräumen. Sie charakterisiert ihre Ausführungen als Vorarbeit: „Diese Überlegungen stellen den theoretischen Unterbau eines noch weiter zu entwickelnden körper- und situationstheoretischen Ansatzes in der Philosophiedidaktik dar, der als Ergänzung zu bisherigen Ansätzen zu verstehen ist“. (S. 296)

Das Buch zeichnet sich durch eine enge Auseinandersetzung mit den genannten Autoren und Autorinnen aus. Es wird hier vornehmlich klassische Rekonstruktionsarbeit geleistet, denn eigene Phänomenbeschreibung geliefert. Anders gesagt: Die phänomenologische Tradition wird daraufhin überprüft, inwieweit sie das Phänomen körperlicher Entfremdung mitbedacht hat oder gar mit den je eigenen begrifflichen Mitteln denken kann. Das ist zugleich Stärke und Schwäche von Breils Arbeit: Sie kann begründet aufzeigen, dass das Phänomen körperlicher Entfremdung in den Diskussionen wenig bedacht ist und versucht anhand der Theoriebausteine Wege und Möglichkeiten zu finden, diese Erfahrung adäquat zu beschreiben. Zugleich bedeutet dies sehr viel Textdiskussion. Das ist insoweit eine verpasste Chance, als dass die wenigen Momente, in denen Breil selber als Phänomenologin in Erscheinung tritt, sehr vielversprechend sind.

Die Rekonstruktionen zeichnen sich durch eine enorme Belesenheit aus: Man kann mit Fug und Recht behaupten, dass sich Breil bei jedem der vier Autoren und Autorinnen nicht weniger als das Gesamtwerk zu eigen gemacht hat – und das umfasst in den Fällen Sartre und Beauvoir auch das literarische Werk. Insofern hat man es mit einer bedachten und sehr informierten Rekonstruktion zu tun. Diese bleibt allerdings auch immer diskutabel: Klopft Breil zwar jeweils das Gesamtwerk hinsichtlich ihres Themas ab, so liegt es in der Natur der Sache, dass jede Rekonstruktion einer tour de force gleicht. Hier wäre es womöglich besser gewesen entweder selektierter auf das Thema hin zu arbeiten und Voraussetzungen dann Voraussetzungen sein zu lassen oder aber mehr als Autorin und insbesondere Kommentatorin in Erscheinung zu treten, die sich deutlicher in den Diskussionen verortet. So wird zwar beispielsweise alles darangesetzt, das schwer verständliche Spätwerk Merleau-Pontys für ihr Thema nutzbar zu machen, aber eine Einordnung und Kommentierung dessen fehlt größtenteils. Man möchte wissen, wie sie zu dem steht, was sie da rekonstruiert – abseits der Engführung auf körperliche Entfremdung.

Ohnehin bewegen sich die Rekonstruktionen auf einem schmalen Grat zwischen thematischer Instrumentalisierung und einer Rekonstruktion des Gesamtwerks. Zwar ist die Gliederung jederzeit übersichtlich, indem Theoriebaustein nach Theoriebaustein dargelegt wird. Aber es gibt Passagen, wo nicht klar wird, wer hier der ideale Leser ist. Das kann für manchen Leser dazu führen, dass der Zugang verwehrt bleibt, weil die Rekonstruktionen zu viel voraussetzen oder aber es führt für andere hingegen dazu, dass sie sich hier mehr Tiefgang und Diskussion der einzelnen Argumente wünschen. Breil zeigt aber immer ihre tiefe Kenntnis der Materie, was sich zuletzt auch am Literaturapparat sehen lässt. In jeglicher Hinsicht ist der aktuelle Forschungsstand und die dazugehörigen Debatten miteingearbeitet und (in den Fußnoten) diskutiert. Das ist sicherlich auch eine Stärke ihrer Arbeit, die die breite Anschlussfähigkeit der Phänomenologie und den hier besprochenen Themen zeigt – andere mögen dann aber hier auch wieder Tiefgang vermissen, wenn beispielsweise über die „Digitalisierung der Lebenswelt“ gesprochen wird (S. 44 und 300).

Der Überzeugungskraft des ersten Teils wäre es entgegengekommen, wenn man zuerst die Defizite in der Erziehungswissenschaft und Philosophiedidaktik aufgezeigt hätte und woraus sich diese eigentlich speisen. So erscheinen Merleau-Ponty und Waldenfels – überspitzt gesagt – als Wurzel allen Übels in diesen Bereichen – ohne dass man ihnen hier aber die Verantwortung geben könnte. Denn Breils Anliegen gemäß sieht sie ja vielmehr das Versäumnis in den beiden Bereichen, denn bei den Autoren. Anders gesagt: Das Problem besteht weniger bei Merleau-Ponty und Waldenfels, denn vielmehr was in Erziehungswissenschaft und Philosophiedidaktik und wofür es rezipiert wird.

Für Breils These, dass Entfremdungserfahrungen identitätsstiftend sind, fragt man sich, warum dafür Hegel herangezogen werden muss, insbesondere vor dem Hintergrund, dass es sich ja um eine Arbeit im Bereich der Phänomenologie handelt. Denn dafür sind ja Sartre und Beauvoir geeignete Gesprächspartner – wie Breil ja selber zeigt. Hingegen kann eher noch angemerkt werden, dass Breil etwaige wichtige Gesprächspartner entgangen sind: Jens Bonnemann, Iris Marion Young und Susan Brison. Bonnemann versucht mit einer Phänomenologie des Widerfahrnis grundlegend die pathische Seite des Erlebens zu beschreiben[1]; Young unternimmt den Versuch sozialgenetische Erfahrungen körperlicher Unverfügbarkeit darzulegen[2]; Brison – zwar keine dezidierte Phänomenologin – beschreibt anhand ihrer erlebten Vergewaltigung und den Erfahrungen danach, was dies mit ihrer Identität macht.[3]

Breils Buch bietet für all diejenigen, die an der Leibphänomenologie interessiert sind einen guten Überblick über grundlegende Konzepte. Darüber hinaus besticht es durch weitumspannende Rekonstruktionen der genannten Autoren und Autorinnen. All dies wird entlang der Frage nach dem Verhältnis von Leib, Körper und Selbst entwickelt. Aufgrund dieser Charakteristika ist ihr Buch für all diejenigen empfehlenswert, die sich nur für bestimmte Teile interessieren. Die Kapitel sind in sich schlüssig und bieten einen guten Umfang, um einerseits einen Überblick zu bekommen, aber auch andererseits schon tiefer einzusteigen. Und aufgrund ihres interdisziplinären Ansatzes bietet es dann auch Anschlussmöglichkeiten für Erziehungswissenschaft und Philosophiedidaktik, hinsichtlich dieser Achse. Denn Breils Verdienst ist es Sartre und Beauvoir überhaupt in das Fachgespräch zu bringen. Beide sind bisher nämlich wenig rezipiert. Hier leistet Breil dann wichtige Vorarbeit, indem sie ausgehend von beiden Theorien einen körper- und situationstheoretischen Ansatz für die Lehre entwickelt.

[1] Jens Bonnemann. 2016. Das Widerfahrnis der Wahrnehmung. Eine Phänomenologie des Leib-Welt-Verhältnisses, Münster.

[2] Iris Marion Young. 2020 [1980]. Werfen wie ein Mädchen. Ein Essay über weibliches Körperbewusstsein, Stuttgart.

[3] Susan J. Brison. 2022. Aftermath.Violence and the Remaking of Self, Princeton.