Eugen Fink: Fashion: Seductive Play

Fashion: Seductive Play Couverture du livre 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 Couverture du livre 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.

Joeri Schrijvers and Martin Koci (Eds.): God and Phenomenology: Thinking with Jean-Yves Lacoste, Cascade Books, 2023

God and Phenomenology: Thinking with Jean-Yves Lacoste Couverture du livre God and Phenomenology: Thinking with Jean-Yves Lacoste
Joeri Schrijvers, Martin Koci (Eds.)
Cascade Books

Samir Gandesha, Johan F. Hartle, Stefano Marino (Eds.): The “aging” of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory. Fifty Years Later

The “aging” of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory. Fifty Years Later Couverture du livre The “aging” of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory. Fifty Years Later
Edited by Samir Gandesha, Johan F. Hartle, Stefano Marino

Reviewed by: Anna Angelica Ainio (PhD ETH Zürich)

The idea of aging seems, at first sight, to be at odds with the concept of theory itself. Theory is supposedly something immaterial that should encompass or anticipate the idea of a development with time, or at least this would be the case if we were talking about theory in the context of systematic or analytic philosophy. Instead, the concept of aging (Altern) in Adorno’s theory is at centre of a discourse tied to his conception of history with regards to critique. The very idea of critical theory, as the first generation of Frankfurt School intellectuals posited it, is a movement which intervenes on concepts, such as that of truth, that are to be understood historically. This entails that the question of aging assumes specific historical connotations and becomes an essential element in the process of criticism. Indeed, it is only because of its temporal core that a theory can become dialectical and therefore gain historical consistency for Theodor W. Adorno.

However, another question which might come to mind when thinking about aging is in which way the type of aesthetic theory that Adorno delineated would still have to do with today’s artistic development. It is through these lenses that the book, ‘The Aging of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory’, edited by Samir Gandesha, Joan Hartle and Stefano Marino, looks at Adorno’s aesthetics and gives a nuanced and multifaceted account of it. The book, which was published in 2021 by Mimesis International, presents fourteen critical essays by international scholars and an editorial introduction.

The editors choose to utilize the concept of aging, as explicated in the title, as they deem it to be central to the Adornian conception of criticism (Gandesha S., et al., 9). Indeed, aging is delineated as a dialectical quest for what remains of the philosopher’s aesthetics, conveyed through different writings among which his last and perhaps most enigmatic work: Aesthetic Theory (Ibidem, 11). As an unfinished manuscript, Adorno’s work has received renewed critical attention from the eighties onwards. In ‘The “Aging” of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory’, the authors frame their and their contributors’ approaches as a critical dialogue with Adorno. The multiplicity of texts that they include, as they put it, ‘often proceed dialectically “with Adorno” and simultaneously “against Adorno”’ in a productive dialogue that aligns with Adorno’s own understanding of a critical philosophical dialogue, as he himself outlines it with regards to Hegel (25).  Indeed, this type of approach considers how one can productively engage with Adorno’s aesthetic theory today by following the pathway of the Adorno’s own approach to Hegel – that is, thinking about what Hegel himself would have said with regards to the present (24). That means engaging in a critical understanding of the philosopher that neither is a defense nor is it an ‘exercise of distinguishing between “what is living and what is dead”’ (ibidem).

An instance of this re-evaluation from within Adorno’s theory is Gunter Figal’s essay ‘Is Art Dialectical? Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory Revisited’, where the author argues that one should critically assess the fact that, for Adorno, art ought to be necessary dialectical. Through a thorough analysis of Adorno’s aesthetics which goes back to its Hegelian and Kantian roots, Figal sustains that there is a need to overcome Adorno’s dialectical understanding of art as it is bound to the idea of ‘artistic rationality’ (87). Indeed, to build a dialectical understanding of art, Adorno needs to posit the existence of an artistic rationality which would resemble the determined rationality Adorno identifies to be constitutive of contemporary society. However, this is at odds with some instances of contemporary artistic endeavours where the creative act does not embrace the sort of all-encompassing controlling rationality that characterizes society, as Adorno describes it. Figal gives the example of Jackson Pollock’s dripping technique, where the element of chance is incorporated in the act of artistic creation (90). Figal’s is a provocative take on aesthetic theory, and one that wants to provoke discussion within the scholarly community.

Gerhard Schweppenhäuser’s essay, titled ‘Nature and Society in Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory’ cleverly considers the role played by natural beauty and its nuanced conception in Adorno’s aesthetics. Indeed, because the concept of natural beauty is at the basis of Adorno’s utopian conception of art, Schweppenhäuser tries to outline how this plays a part when one wants to consider the philosopher’s aesthetic theory together with his theory of society (105). Indeed, Adorno’s aesthetics and social philosophy inform one another as artworks ‘stand for the right of the suppressed nature to exist’ (96). Therefore, as the concept of natural beauty has become absurd in a reified society, the very utopian moment resides in the artworks that structurally aim towards this conception. At last, Schweppenhäuser quite on point emphasizes the reflective moment in Adorno as the kernel of both his theory of society and of art. Therefore, what is rendered visible in Adorno’s conception of art is its reflective character which lies bare art’s inherent contradictions (110-111). This in turn reflects the social sphere as art is a ‘fait sociale’ and becomes the ultimate source of criticism (105).

Another significant contribution on the topic of the formal structure of artworks is that of Giacchetti Ludovisi. In his essay ‘Aesthetic Form and Subjectivity in Adorno’, Ludovisi shifts from a viewpoint that necessarily wants to evaluate Adorno’s conception of autonomous art in contrast to non-autonomous art and argues that one productive way to look at Adorno’s aesthetics is by linking the formal structure of art to psychoanalytical interpretation. Ludovisi creatively draws parallelisms between psychoanalytical concepts and formal structures of art situating his essay within interpretations such as Joel Whitebook or Amy Allen’s (Whitebook 1996; Allen 2020). Moreover, Ludovisi productively emphasizes the formal aspects of Adorno’s artistic criticism drawing on Adorno’s own work as a composer within the context of atonal music.

The book is composed of five different sections, each of which collects two to three essays from international Adorno scholars. Each one of the different parts is thematic and aims at dealing with a specific aspect of today’s scholarly debate on Aesthetic Theory. The sections are titled Revisions, Conditions, Materiality, Constellations and Contemporaneity. While the division of the book into different parts presents a useful tool for navigating its structure, it may feel arbitrary at times. An instance of this are section two, ‘Conditions: On the (im)pulse of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory’ and three ‘Materiality: on the construction of the specific in Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory’, where the dividing line between the two is blurred at times. Hence, an essay such as Surti Singh’s ‘Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory: the artwork as a monad’ could have easily been placed in the second section, as it deals with the interpretation of Adorno’s aesthetic theory considering the Leibnizian conception of monads.

Moreover, while the book achieves its aim in giving a nuanced account of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory fifty years after its publication, the choice of including such a wide number of essays risks losing the common thread which ties them all together. Despite this lack of a unitary point of view, which might impact the reader which approaches this collection from beginning to end, the book’s eclectic character can be one of its strong points too. A prismatic collection of viewpoints on allegedly one of the thorniest parts of Adorno’s theory, this book represents a refreshing collection of original contributions, each one to be extracted and read singularly. Moreover, an excellent introduction by the three editors sets the tone of the book and signals that there is a harmonized critical approach from authors that have indeed collaborated in the past. The choice of essays present in the book shows the originality of the editors’ perspective on contemporary Adornian scholarship and makes the book a precious collection of scholarly essays.


Gandesha, S., et al. 2021. The « aging » of Adorno’s Aesthetic theory. Fifty Years Later. Milan: Mimesis International.

Whitebook, J. 1996. Perversion and Utopia: A Study in Psychoanalysis and Critical Theory. Cambridge. Mass: MIT Press.

Allen, Amy. 2020. Critique on the Couch: Why Critical Theory Needs Psychoanalysis. Vol. 73. New York: Columbia University Press.

Eugen Fink: Oase des Glücks: Gedanken zu einer Ontologie des Spiels, Karl Alber, 2023

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Interpretationen und Quellen (Band 7)
Eugen Fink, Herausgegeben von Prof. Dr. Annette Hilt, Prof. Dr. Dr. Holger Zaborowski
Karl Alber

Grant Gillett, Walter Glannon: The Neurodynamic Soul, Springer, 2023

The Neurodynamic Soul Couverture du livre The Neurodynamic Soul
New Directions in Philosophy and Cognitive Science
Grant Gillett, Walter Glannon
VII, 206

Francisco J. Gonzalez: Human Life in Motion: Heidegger’s Unpublished Seminars on Aristotle as Preserved by Helene Weiss, IU Press, 2024

Heidegger's Unpublished Seminars on Aristotle as Preserved by Helene Weiss Couverture du livre Heidegger's Unpublished Seminars on Aristotle as Preserved by Helene Weiss
Francisco J. Gonzalez
Indiana University Press

Joel Hubick: The Phenomenology of Questioning: Husserl, Heidegger and Patocka, Bloomsbury, 2023

The Phenomenology of Questioning: Husserl, Heidegger and Patocka Couverture du livre The Phenomenology of Questioning: Husserl, Heidegger and Patocka
Joel Hubick
Bloomsbury Publishing

David Farrell Krell: Three Encounters. Heidegger, Arendt, Derrida

Three Encounters. Heidegger, Arendt, Derrida Couverture du livre Three Encounters. Heidegger, Arendt, Derrida
David Farrell Krell
Indiana University Press

Reviewed by: Joeri Schrijvers (North-West University Potchefstroom)

Probably one of the best writers in contemporary continental philosophy, David Farrell Krell’s Three Encounters is a real treat to read, especially if you have, like me, an appetite for autobiographies. The book is, in a sense, an eyewitness account: Krell knew all three authors and here recounts his experiences and conversations with them—apparently, through some kind of archive fever, kept meticulously in his journal. One does not have to read this book in all too critical manner and can just enjoy the stories and insights that Krell shares along the way. Originally, I had planned to compare and converse with Krell’s other works which I kept track of, especially Derrida and Our Animal Others (2013), Ecstasy, Catastrophe (2015a) or his Phantoms of the Other (2015) which I have reviewed here a few years ago. The review will now however just retrace the main threads one might distill from the book but not before mentioning once again what a joy to read this book is—I haven’t read a book much faster than this the past year. It pays, probably, to have some traction in the field: readers who know, for instance, that J. Glen Gray produced one of the finest translations of Heidegger to date.

Krell, of course, has read enough of Derrida to be somewhat wary of autobiographies. No genre seems more susceptible to lies and errors than the autobiographies in which the ‘I’ claims to speak the truth once and for all. “Things will go better for the truth”, Krell later says, “if one could project autobiography into fiction, if one could translate every ‘I’ into a ‘He’, ‘She’ or ‘It’” (330). Underlying Krell’s attempt at autobiography, this “memoir” (308) as he hesitantly, that is, not without quotation marks, calls it, is the firm belief that thinking and living should not make two, for philosophy “has everything to do with existence” (xii). It would have suited Heidegger very well if one needed to know of Aristotle, or of any other philosopher, only that he lived and worked, yet it is in Heidegger’s case the living itself that at time falls short of thinking—something which Krell won’t hesitate to repeatedly advance against the thinker.

Krell’s first chapter, “Before the Beginning”, recounts how he got to philosophy in the first place, having started a history major first. Two sources, for Krell, stand out. First, his reading of William Barrett’s Irrational Man and, second, having moved to Duquesne to study with John Sallis, Nietzsche who would be the subject of Krell’s doctoral dissertation Nietzsche and the Task of Thinking. The title may show that Heidegger, too, was already present in Krell’s life and work. Three themes enamored Krell when reading Barrett: the theme of nothingness, which will would play a large role in existentialism, the concomitant freedom from all dogmatic religions it would entail, and the theme of finitude, where philosophy, supposedly, at last would see this finite world of ours as is, as a finite world that is. Krell then came to Heidegger through reading the latter’s Introduction to Metaphysics—which will probably have led him never to forget about the question of being (as readers of sole Sein und Zeit, rushing through its Introduction seems to befall somewhat). Heidegger, for Krell, was the first philosopher he encountered that at least took Nietzsche seriously, when stating that he, Heidegger, wanted to bring Nietzsche’s accomplishment to a full unfolding (12-3).

Chapter two deals with Krell’s early efforts to translate Heidegger—he, in fact was the American Jean Beaufret. Where the latter brought Heidegger to the French, it is to Krell’s credit that the Americans, early on, could read a bit of Heidegger. The Americans in fact owe to Krell two important volumes that, as far as I know, are still regularly used and quoted: Early Greek Thinking and Basic Writings. A few people, however, were involved with these first, early translations: Joan Stambaugh, who would later translate Being and Time, Glen Gray, who translated What is called thinking? and one Hannah Arendt. “For decades,” Krell tells us from the start, and notwithstanding “the events”, “she was every bit as active in overseeing the translation of Heidegger’s works” (17). Nothing would be published without her agreement. And there is a story or two about how strict she was about the quality of translations. Krell was admitted to the circle of translators because of his attempts at Der Spruch des Anaximander, an essay that needs, not to say, braucht, a good translator indeed. Reiner Schürmann, too, was still around, and led Krell (not) ever so gently to the insight that there is not such a thing as (the one) good translation (18-22). At best, one should realize that one is no master of a language at all: not of the target language and not even of one’s native language. In this sense too, one might need to think about the adage later Heidegger will communicate: we do not “have” language, rather language is “what holds us”.

Krell’s translation made its way to Hannah Arendt’s desk and led to their first meeting. A long discussion about how to translate “ein Gefälle” issued from it—incline, cascades, cases (23)? Translators among us will recognize how joyful these conversations can be, the weighing of words, the different senses and meanings one comes across when meeting other lovers of language! Krell reports, in his journal, to be struck about the theatricality that oozed around here (24). She could be gripped, he says, by an idea that allowed here to zone out for a while only to come back (to senses, to speech) ever so clever. Arendt’s position in the circle of translators was not a dominant one, however. There was something called “Grey’s law” (28): the more important a word for Heidegger was, the less certain they were how to translate it into English. Every so often, Heidegger himself was consulted, but being no master of the English himself, a final word, we would guess, could not be found.

In 1975, Early Greek Thinking was published. Soon after contracts for Heidegger’s Nietzsche volumes and the Basic Writings would be send and signed. The latter volume is intriguing because Heidegger himself had “direct input into the book’s contents” and was even willing to  have a translation of the introduction of Being and Time in the volume—an Introduction that, at the time of writing Sein und Zeit he updated almost on a daily basis I once read. Krell’s first encounter with Heidegger concerned this volume precisely. Krell and Grey wanted to include some of the central sections of Sein und Zeit, say the ones about anxiety and death, too. The master however asked: what is the principle of selection precisely (29)? It took Krell some time, and some courage, to admit that there was no such principle and, on that basis, they agreed to leave the Introduction to Being and Time in the book but refrained from using particular sections of Sein und Zeit. If there was no principle, there was, however, a goal: to let students see as many aspects of Heidegger’s thought as possible. That is why the essay on the Work of Art and the later Letter on Humanism (1946) were inserted.

Before we proceed with these encounters, a first thread should be mentioned. Krell will not hesitate to mention it himself quite often. “The generosity of spirit” (33) present in all these thinkers is what is most striking for him: no question was too much, no detail just a detail, no letters left unanswered. One can just imagine the impression these minds, and their willingness to assist him, made on the young Krell! These Basic Writings surely found his way to the English-speaking world (and even to a home in Belgium!): of the expanded edition of 1993 “about forty thousand copies” (38) were send out to buyers and libraries, and Krell adds that he is no idea what the first edition (running from 1977 to 1992) had done.

The translations of Heidegger’s Nietzsche volume started soon after that, and Krell admits that he has difficulties with the “caricature” Heidegger sometimes made of Nietzsche (41), stating that Nietzsche would merely be an upside-down version of Platonism, whereas Heidegger knew well enough that there never would be a simple end to metaphysics. Yet the chapter concludes on a remarkable note that I’ve missed in my own humble readings of Derrida. “Both Heidegger and Nietzsche [are] going into eclipse […] nowadays” and, along with this Derrida’s remark, that “thinkers are measured […] by the number of eclipses they survive” (42). Safe to say, almost, Krell’s conclusion: “no eclipse […] will obscure either Heidegger or Nietzsche for long, at least for those readers who […] think about ‘the intimate and the ultimate’” (ibid.).

During the time of editing the Basic Writings volume, and thereafter, Krell had at least four works sessions and several other brief meetings with Martin Heidegger, the topic of the third chapter. The then thirty year old Krell met with Heidegger between June 1974 and January 1976—these would be the last two years of Heidegger’s life—to discuss, mainly, the ongoing translation of Heidegger’s two Nietzsche volumes. Joan Stambaugh would accompany Krell this first time and Heidegger would inscribe Krell’s volume of the Nietzsche book with the intriguing sentence that “the battle between David and Goliath, in philosophy, is not yet decided” (53)—a riddle, if not a simple pun, on the fact that Krell’s doctoral supervisor introduced the dissertation at the defence with the remark that David had taken up Goliath—the Nietzsche volumes are after all no less than 1100 pages. Much later Krell would show Heidegger’s subscription to Derrida (220).

Krell recalls, especially, how small Heidegger was and ventures that perhaps his size was one of the reasons behind the polemic that accompanied Heidegger everywhere especially in his early days, complaining for instance about those academics that “travel from one meeting to the next” (54, Cf. GA 20, 376) and don’t have (or take) the time to properly work—a remark that Krell will repeat, although somewhat less politically, in his Derrida and Our Animal Others (Krell 2013, 6). Perhaps a “taller man, a Cassirer or a Jaspers, could afford to be more tolerant and easygoing” (54). Heidegger’s judgement of his philosophical contemporaries has always been severe and Krell notes that even in the fifties (in What is called thinking?) Heidegger noted that no matter how much philosophy one has read, this still is no guarantee that one finds oneself thinking. The two remarks make Krell ponder for a first time, in this book at least, about “Heidegger’s leap to the right” which of course, “no curbstone psychology can […] make clear” (55). Krell will make clear, however, that he follows the model of Glen Gray and Hannah Arendt who would, despite everything, remain dedicated to read Heidegger’s work but who would also remain “critical and perspicuous of about the man and his work. The only thing they were unable to do […] was to light a match to burn either the man or his work” (ibid.).

Next to his size, Heidegger’s voice gripped Krell. Krell takes note of Heidegger’s “high-pitched, raspy voice” (ibid.) that nonetheless, as Jaspers would write, is as eindringlich—we all know how the audiences were gripped, from the start, by Heidegger’s lectures—as succinct.

The banality and everydayness of these meetings is charming nonetheless. Heidegger gave some new editions of his work—the Reclam edition of The Origin of the Work of Art, for instance, which happens to sit in my own library too—to Krell during their second meeting. In this meeting Heidegger intervened on the question which essays to take up in the Basic Writings. On the Way to Language would be, according to him “Schwierig, zu schwierig” (60), to difficult, to deserve a place in the volume that would introduce his thought to the new continent. Gray and Krell had decided by then to exclude those essays that concerned the place of this or that thinker in the history of metaphysics, as for instance Hegel and the Greeks. Interesting, too, is that Heidegger himself requested that Time and Being be excluded from the volume too afraid perhaps that people would see in this essay the carrying out of the reversal that everyone then was talking about. In its stead, “[Heidegger] convinced me that the proper culmination of this thinking—fittingly a thoroughly questioning culmination, every bit as tentative as its companion piece despite its assertive title—was the essay The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking” (61). It is true: one of the most thought-provoking and readable essays it still is. Krell obediently notes: “Even when I inserted the language essay [The Way to Language, JS] into the second edition of Basic Writings, I made certain to let the ‘End’ essay appear at, and as, the end” (61).

Krell goes on to discuss Nietzsche lecture of 1938-39 (now taken up in GA 46), planned as a seminar or workshop even but turned into a lecture by Heidegger because simply too many people attended, because it is one of the few later instances in which Heidegger discusses life, animal life even. Apart from the volumes on Nietzsche (then still published with Neske) there is still other material on Nietzsche. Another essay, this one from a proper workshop in 1937 (see now GA 87, 161ff) is one of the few places Heidegger would discuss the question of love through an account of Nietzsche’s amor fati, here promoted even to “Nietzsche’s Basic Metaphysical Position” (66). In these pages, Krell worries about Heidegger’s, say differential, positioning of Nietzsche’s “eternal recurrence of the same” within the history of being, as the last metaphysical trick the last metaphysician has up his sleeve (a worry that would lead Reiner Schürmann, by the way, to the crucial remarks in Broken Hegemonies: “So, somewhere between 1844 and 1900 we just stopped thinking metaphysically?) and the other, somewhat contradictory, claim that no one since Nietzsche has “risen to the challenge of taking thought seriously enough” (67), a challenge at which Heidegger himself perhaps, in his best days, would accept to have failed and faltered—it is Nietzsche, after all, who broke Heidegger. Er hat mich kaputt gemacht.

Krell once asked Heidegger when he realized he wouldn’t be able to complete Sein und Zeit. To which Heidegger supposedly had answered: 1924-1925. It is possible, Krell says, that he misheard—the Kehre, and any intimation of it, is usually placed somewhere in the thirties—yet, Krell lets us note, attentive readers of the Prolegomena to the History of the Concept of Time, a lecture course from 1925 no less, will have noticed, first, that the interpretation of ecstatic temporality of Dasein is absent from these lectures and, secondly, that that the theme of the temporality of being is all the more present (70-71). It is possible that the (somewhat anthropological) turn to Dasein distracted even Heidegger from the question of being. Note to self (or to the readers): finally read this volume bearing this in mind. Don’t waste your time on meetings.

One more “whimsical matter” (74) deserves a mention, at least because James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake wanders through Krell’s book (and other reviewers than me possible will make more about this—although Krell made me laugh when discussing Derrida, and telephones, or was it gramophones?). Krell asked Heidegger to sign his copy of Sein und Zeit, forgetting for a while that, half in jester, Krell inserted a bit of Joyce at the first pages of his copy about all the things, and then some, that cause or otherwise entail “the ensuance of existentiality” (75). Krell’s heart must have skipped a beat. Heidegger did not notice, or pretended not to notice, Joyce’s odd words. The chapter closes with a moving report of Heidegger’s death Krell had received from Friedrich W. von Hermann mentioning that Elfride at first did not notice the passing of her husband properly, mistaking his death for sleep, so apparently not recognizing death as death. It is, furthermore, clear that Krell holds Heidegger’s acquaintance in high regard: “I felt respect an even affection for the man I met” (83) and respect and affection in effect shine through these pages.

There is debt to Heidegger, for Krell, for many things: for the business dealt with—there were a lot of copyright issues, it seems, with these English translations, a lot of misunderstandings too—for the photos, letters and signatures received and of course for the philosophical teachings that the man of Todtnauberg brought to us all. There is a distance, too. This debt and this distance is the topic of Krell’s fourth chapter. At the same time, the debt and the distance is a short-hand of Arendt’s (and Gray’s) model how to deal with Heidegger, especially his positioning during those dark, black thirties and forties. Earlier on Krell had indicated that he would fill in the gaps in the time of his encounters with the biographies available of these thinkers (xiii). In this chapter, Krell therefore turns to Rüdiger Safranski’s Ein Meister aus Deutschland and Antonia Grunenberg’s Hannah Arendt und Martin Heidegger. One need read very little of Heidegger to know that there is, as Safranski also notes, a tendency to self-mythologize in his life and work (89). Krell heard from Arendt and Stambaugh that apparently only his brother Fritz “could mock Martin’s grand self-stylizations” (91) and that Elfride hated him for it. Heidegger had many talents, of course, but modesty and self-critique don’t seem to be part of them. The thinker that calls for Besinnung, pretty much everywhere, lacks all Besonnenheit in his later “polemics and plaidoyers in his own defense” (107).

Krell then relates Safranski’s story about Heidegger’s upbringing and youth: the dependency of conservative Catholicism for his education, the tension between the liberal education in the towns and the earlier conservative strand of these institutions that housed him, a tension, shadow perhaps, that Heidegger seems only difficult to shed. Antimodernism would indeed accompany Heidegger during his entire life, yet at the same time there was something of a revolutionary zeal about his early (and later) thinking which one would expect rather from a liberal-progressive mind. “Heidegger’s internal struggles with Catholicism” is well known (yet not sufficiently studied) and Krell takes pleasure in mentioning Max Müller’s report to church leaders in 1947 about Heidegger’s relation to the Church (“he is relentlessly circling about the question of the Absolute” (94, citing Grunenberg)) and in Safranski’s note that nothing of the antisemitism, then pervading in Catholic antimodernism, is present in Heidegger’s own “early ‘Catholic’ writings” (94). Krell has a few qualms about Safranki’s “throwing in the towel” (95) when it comes to the later Heidegger, mainly because “earth and sky are raging now, and mortals might do well to think about building for the sake of dwelling” (97). And if the likes of René Char value “The Thing” so highly and Hannah Arendt considered What is Called Thinking? as the best of Heidegger’s thinking (ibid.), then a thinker, any thinker, might do well to at least reconsiders one’s judgement. Krell’s judgement, on the other hand, is worth considering: “at his worst, Heidegger succumbed to the seductions of power, destructive power; at his best, he searched for the origins of that destructive power, and tried, without authority, to promulgate a different sort of thinking. I am unable to mock the effort” (97-98).

When meeting Heidegger, Krell knew very little about Heidegger’s own destructive path during the thirties and forties—and had he known, one might also wonder whether one would have dared asking him about that period. Heidegger’s fatal turn to politics, Safranski has argued, already starts with the criticism Sein und Zeit would receive from George Misch and Helmuth Plessner, arguing that there is no politics in the book. Slowly but surely, Heidegger would make his way, first in university politics, then in national politics (99) and by 1933 he is indeed “caught in a revolutionary fervor and furor” (ibid.). From the beginning, however, Heidegger seemed blind for all the politics around him: amidst of the mobs, the violence, and repression, Heidegger would still think, and say, that these are but a passing phase. One must, however, recall, that no one has the hindsight we now all have, and that Heidegger was not the only one not to see what was happening. (The only question here seems to be whether we, you and I, would be able to recognize what is happening if it would happen all around us).

The latter question in effect is forgotten in the “works” of those today that “devote oneself solely to ‘unmasking’ Heidegger’s texts” (100): these seem to “partake of that self-same militancy and decisionism” (100) to which Heidegger himself fall prey, when purging being of those elements foreign to it, from the Medieval “mania for security in sanctity”, to “modernity [as] the willful machination of Roman vulgarity” (100), up to the grandiose role Heidegger reserved for himself when finally detecting that it was being itself that erred. Except that in these latter-day devotees the purging works the other way: this or that sentence is clear evidence for this or that and therefore we bid good riddance to the entire work, not to mention that these devotees themselves are, apparently, pure and immune enough to undertake the task of such purging.

This obviously does not mean that Heidegger’s politics do not make us think. Krell mentions two things he thinks about quite often: those aspects in his life that pushed him in this fatal direction and his “callousness” (101) regarding his Jewish students. It is clear, too, that the Black Notebooks reveal something of an intellectual, cultural-spiritual antisemitism, not to say a “being-historical” (Trawny) variant (103). Krell’s assessment here is rather brief, a bit obscure even: the flowery language used might be a sign, too, that he is at a loss for words about just what happened to the thinker in this period. Krell indeed admits: there are “no signs of Heidegger’s suffering on account of the dangers to which his best students were exposed from 1933 onward” (ibid.) leaving Krell particularly “speechless and defeated” (ibid.). Heidegger’s “hardness of heart” was central already to Krell’s reading of the Black Notebooks (see 2015a, 157). Krell is clear, however, that recounting all these events as just a political error is not enough, and he will turn to Arendt more and more for the beginning of an answer. Here the question posed to Heidegger, “in a way that [he] would have understood” (104) is: should not such a disregard for your students and colleagues have made you, if only later, think? (ibid.). Does not your silence about the camps, liberated only six years earlier, “make a mockery” of the very question What calls for thinking? (108). To repeat, Heidegger’s life in effect might have fallen short of his thinking. An inkling about these thoughts, for Krell, lay in the question of love. Krell notes the distance he takes from Heidegger in and through his readings of Hölderlin. Whereas Heidegger focuses on Hölderlin’s reading of the homeland, Krell published a book on Hölderlin’s travels precisely (see Struck by Apollo). Is it the case that only through our travels the love for the other and the love for otherness truly awakens?

What can we learn from Hannah Arendt? She began to visit Heidegger again every summer after 1967. Here too, Krell says, he knew nothing about their earlier affair. Krell knew of her work, heard her speak in New York, and met up with her in Germany several times after the summer of 1974, where they had, after a period of exchanging letters, that “long conversation on [the] translation of ‘Der Spruch des Animander’” (119) mentioned earlier and in which Arendt showed herself particular patient “even though patience did not seem to be her strong suit” (ibid.). “I knew her as a person who loved above all else the vita contemplativa. Yet it is true to say that for her, thinking was never untroubled, tranquil contemplation. Rather, thinking had to wrestle with the problems of the world and with the ways in which we either rise to the occasion or falter and fumble when responding to those problems” (120-121).

In time, their exchanges become less formal and “Hannah” (120) was writing letters of recommendation for Krell who then was looking for a job. In any case, Krell featured enough in Arendt’s life to become a, say ‘character’ in it: it must be pretty odd to find yourself mentioned in a letter from Arendt to Heidegger (126)!

Krell now returns to Arendt’s admiration for Heidegger’s ‘Anaximander Fragment’, which perhaps is the place where the latter speaks most compassionate about our dealings with beings, about their coming and going, and our own finite coming and going, for if Heidegger cared a lot for ‘things that grow’ he did not seem to care much for ‘things that live’. Heidegger’s translation of the fragment would indeed impress many—not to mention Derrida’s wonderful essays on it. Heidegger speaks, with Anaximander, about justice and injustice, about things and time ‘being out of joint’. Usually, one translates Anaximander as saying that things “pay penalty” [tisis] to one another for their injustices, yet Heidegger has it—and I turn to Krell—that tisis is “not penalty but ‘mutual esteem,’ such that beings honor one another by not insisting on their own presence, not persisting in their own drive to prevail always and everywhere” (133). The passage is too beautiful not to think about. Krell adds that this thought of beings that are and need to be “considerate of one another” must have “touched on what Arendt was looking for” in her thinking of love as amor mundi and the Augustinian, ‘I will that you be’ (ibid.).

They discussed Heidegger’s Nazi involvement during what would be their last meeting in Summer 1976. Arendt called Heidegger a “lousy administrator” (135) and insisted that his resignation from the rectorate had nothing to do with politics, and certainly was not an act of resistance (136). She gestured strangely when Krell mentioned the reports about Heidegger’s antisemitism. At first Krell thought that this was because she thought the accusation senseless but, on second thought, and bearing Heidegger’s silence with regard to the suffering of his students in mind, Krell states, recalling Arendt’s own difficult years in Marburg, that these gestures “may have been a sign of something far more painful and confounding” (137). Krell is wise enough not to comment on the relationship Heidegger and Arendt entertained for quite a while, but we should at least mention that we owe him for helping Hannah out, carrying her suitcases around through the Freiburg railway. In that suitcase? Heidegger’s love letters to Arendt, which make for an inspiring yet baffling reading once one knows that all of these were written at the time of finishing Sein und Zeit which, as is well-known, only mentions love in a few odd cases.

To learn about the relationship between Arendt and Heidegger, Krell turns to Grunenberg’s account in the sixth chapter, “Arendt with and without Heidegger”. Even though it is clear from these letters that Heidegger was “overwhelmed with love” (146), “benumbed” (150) even, a term later reserved for the things that merely live,  here too some “skepticism”, worrying “about the possible self-deception in […] passion”—Am I in love with your love for me?—leading up to the refusal of “a friendship between souls” (ibid., the latter quote citing Grunenberg), arises, causing Krell, in turn, to worry about “Heidegger’s irremediable remoteness” and “insurmountable emotional distance [with] all his fellows” (146).

Heidegger destroyed Arendt’s letters to him, and all we have from their period together is a text from Arendt called “Shadow”, speaking of a certain tenderness to the world which, again, might have drawn her to Heidegger’s Anaximander. Inversely, if it is so difficult for Heidegger to describe a meeting of singular Dasein with singular Dasein in Being and Time—solicitude seems to be bare ontological minimum—one of the best definitions of love can be found in his letter to Arendt, and it is easy to imagine how this must have confused the writer of Sein und Zeit: “Love is being able to take only the singular ‘you’ as actual. When is I say that my joy in you is great and growing, that means that I also believe in everything that belongs to your history. I am not fabricating some ideal: the way you are and the way you will remain with your history—that is how I love you” (147, citing the letters between the two in German, 36). Soon, however, Heidegger would start to downplay and denigrate “the squalls of romantic love”—Krell indicates how in the course Einleitung in die Philosophie from Winter 1928 Dasein is “broken” by sexual difference—and Krell, significantly concludes: “As a Dasein that in addition to questioning also lives, however, he is often not smart enough to come in out of the rain” (148-149).

Well-known is Safranski’s statement that Arendt’s philosophy would complement Heidegger’s, as for instance her vision of the public realm would alleviate his stress on the struggle of singular Dasein. Krell, interestingly enough, has doubts. Far from insisting on the originality of her theme of natality, he says, she would point us to the few pages in Being and Time that mention that the phenomenon of birth truly poses a problem for Heidegger himself (153), even if it is the case that she gave each birth “a more positive resonance”, since “each new birth promis[es] enhanced possibilities for humankind” (154). The latter idea would enthrall Derrida but I would only subscribe with serious reservations: it may be true abstractly, it seems not to be true in practice.

There is worry enough about the public space in Arendt—“she lived long enough […] to see the public space all but entirely mediatized” (156). She, herself, worried about whether her passage about the public space in Origins of Totalitarianism, stating that in this place even ‘the mobs and the elite’ would gather (ibid.) had possibly (if not hopefully) hurt Heidegger. The mediatization, as such I would say, worries Krell. It is not the first time that one Donald Trump is mentioned in this book. “Arendt had no illusions,” he says, adding that “evil could be clownish as well as banal” (ibid).

Once again, understandably, Heidegger’s positioning against his students, his Jewish students in particular, come to mind. Krell states that one of the worst statements of Heidegger in the Black Notebooks is that he is all for the “unrestricted application” of the “principle of race” (161, cf. GA 96, 56), an “allusion to the Shoah,” perhaps, “if only prospectively” (ibid.).  Heidegger was no prophet, of course, and all these phrases, the ones about the “total annihilation” (e.g. GA 36/37, 90-91), Vernichtung, included, should be put in a serious historical context—all of these should be compared to what was known to the Germans, to certain of their leaders, in a given historical period. Not everyone knew everything, even though not everyone ‘had no knowledge of it’.  Yet Heidegger was not at Wannsee in 1942.

These pages are interesting, too, for those looking for a first contact with the ‘the trouble with Heidegger’. Krell closes by stating that whereas Grunenberg’s judgement is generous—Heidegger was less an antisemite than an opportunist and his involvement with the nazis possible rather than necessary—Arendt could be very harsh, although “not consistently” (166). She deems Heidegger charakterlos, excluding “both a good and a bad character” (ibid.). One might say, following Krell somewhat: he was too little ‘Mensch’ and too much ‘Dasein’.

After being in exile for eight years Arendt left Europe for the States in 1941 where she became an activist for fellow refugees, and pleaded for a “two-state solution,” (167) as later Derrida will also do. After the war, Arendt’s stirred controversy for not insisting on the ‘the guilt-question’ but rather on everyone taking responsibility for their deeds (168). On her first trip back (in 1950) she contacted Heidegger who would read some of his Was heisst Denken? to her. Heidegger was not allowed to teach just yet and suffered from it—he had had a severe depression in 1946. The confrontation between Arendt and Elfride, Heidegger’s wife, is not easy, to say the least, and Krell will write later that he surmises that it is because of this that the contact between the two thinkers will now, for a long time, be broken off. There are a few attempts on Heidegger’s part two alleviate the conflict, but writing a letter to your wife on Valentine’s day to explain your relationship with a mistress perhaps wasn’t his best idea. Krell once more notes Heidegger’s tendency to see himself as the victim (172), this time of his “states of excitement” (171) needed for his thinking, just to find the way from what at first is sensed to the sayable, as if the thinker of being needed to be inspirited, maddened by excitement and could enthusiastically—in a Greek sense—go about his ways. Krell concludes with Grunenberg that “Heidegger often enough betrays Sein […] for Geist, slipping back into that quasi-Hegelian position that he ought to have eschewed” (168, also 165)—as if being could only speak through him and it was with him alone that its history would reach, if not its consummation, then at least a ‘new beginning’. Here too Heidegger slipped into a lack of thinking that could go either way: either someone was to be applauded for hearing the voice of being or someone was to be castigated for not hearing this voice at all. That Heidegger even allowed such particular Seiendes to say all there is to Seyn is in Krell’s Ecstasy, Catastrophe once more underlined as a “failure of thinking” on Heidegger’s part (Krell 2015a, 170).

Of course Elfride alone did not cause Arendt not to visit Heidegger until 1967. Arendt suffered from the later Heidegger’s “mannerisms” as much as the next one. Above all, it is his silence about the extermination of the camps that unsettles her (174). Arendt refers to Heidegger being trapped, stumbled into a trap that he first set for others, in a parable about the fox in her Denktagebuch. One might paraphrase: if it is the case that Die Sprache spricht it is noteworthy that all actual and empirical words are improper and cannot heed Being, or could otherwise give words to being. Only a poet, here or there, can do so. Yet since fewer and fewer poets speak in this atom-age all this fox can do is listen to the silence of Being until Being itself, and all beings with it, grow mute.

Krell had been reading Derrida since 1979 and met him a few years later, the topic of the seventh chapter. A friendship developed between the two men, especially over Derrida’s Geschlecht-series, and they would meet three to four times a year. Krell will mostly use the letters between them in this chapter, although there are plenty of anecdotes, too, of the time they spend together—apparently Derrida kept all of Krell’s letters, which are now at the IMEC archive in Caen (208). Derrida’s first letter to Krell, in 1983, reveals “certain constants” (195). Krell mentions the lack of time, the enormous workload, the depletion of energy but especially Derrida’s gratitude for and generosity towards the engagement of others with his work. From my own reading of these letters, I would add all apologies Derrida uses in these letters (and which reflect a certain aspect of his work as well): apologies for not being on time, for responding too late, and so on, which would later lead to a genuine “mailophobia” (245).

Krell then recalls listening to Derrida’s lecture on Heidegger’s Hand in 1985, a lecture which would become Geschlecht II, and was the “most powerful presentation [he] had ever heard” (196) even though, as usual with Derrida, it lasted for hours. It is here, too, that the two men met for the first time: at the airport, Krell offered to carry Derrida’s suitcase to the taxi and, after the conference in Chicago, they traveled to Yale together (where Derrida presented what, decades later, would become Geschlecht III). Derrida, it seems, was almost always en route. Krell then narrates the conferences he was organizing where Derrida would be the main speaker, one of which in Essex where Krell worked at the time. For this conference, it was agreed that Derrida could focus on “his ‘hesitations’ concerning Heidegger’s thought” (208), later published as De l’esprit (1987). It is through this lecture that Krell, too, began to doubt about “Heidegger’s assurance that mortals could be readily distinguished from all other life-forms” (ibid.).

Krell especially remembers Françoise Dastur’s remark at the Essex conference, stating that Heidegger had not only argued for the major role of questioning when it comes to thinking but that it also, and more so, was the claim, the “address” of the question on us that was at issue (218-219). Derrida listened carefully and when revising his paper for publication, his answer to Dastur ended up being “may be the longest footnote in the history of philosophy” (219). Another exchange in Essex deserves our attention too, for it is important for anyone reading the Geschlecht-series and Derrida’s ‘critique’ of Heidegger’s account of ‘sammeln’ and gathering. Apparently, someone asked Derrida whether “a thought of unity that would not suppress differences” is at all possible. Derrida replied smilingly and answered immediately: “That is my dream. It is what I try to think. I can’t avoid dreaming [but] I try not to dream all the time” 220). The entire gist of the Geschlecht-series in one single sentence!

Another story from the Collegium Phaenomenologicum in 1987, where Derrida spoke and Jean-Luc Nancy presented as well, needs to be mentioned. Both men, apparently, were pretty good soccer players. Yet the scene ends when Derrida kicked the ball so hard that the ball went off terrain and onto the porch where it landed with a loud noise shattering a vase they then thought was an ancient one. All men hid—Derrida, Nancy and even Rodolphe Gasché, the organizer of the conference, were nowhere to be found (224). Il faut very much répondre, but clearly not all the time and everywhere!

A revised version of the Essex paper—now with the long footnote—was presented in Paris too. Levinas also attended. When Levinas gave his speech, Derrida and Krell wanted to join, but when Levinas saw Derrida, he got up from his chair asking him what he was doing there, chastising him quite severely: “you should be at home working!” (230). This is but an anecdote, of course, but nonetheless one that gives food for thought. One can easily imagine Derrida attending Levinas’ lecture out of courtesy, perhaps, or even to pay homage, who knows—Levinas was getting old and in the last years of his life—but how different is Heidegger’s approach to his work and his ‘whereabouts’, realizing that he was bored with and in the company of others, wishing he would have been able to work instead (Cf. GA 29/30, 165).

Before I dash off to a next meeting, let me conclude by narrating Krell’s eight chapter, mainly about 1987, a year filled with controversies for Derrida with the De Man-affair especially, a close friend of Derrida’s. De Man was the man who, in a sense, brought deconstruction to America but in this year it became evident that he was behind not a few antisemitic writings in his early journalistic writings, causing an even worse reputation to the ‘bad name’ deconstruction already had among quite a few ‘thinkers’. There was a quarrel, too, between Krell and Derrida over Levinas’ work, which Krell took as one more of the “usual sort of moralizing and policing typical of ethical sources” undergirded, once more, by the commands “from on High” (238). Krell presented this thesis at a conference at Vanderbilt in 1987, where Derrida also spoke. Derrida’s response to Krell’s paper is worth pondering: “is the priestly Levinas the only Levinas? Is it fair to remain with the rejection of the priestly Levinas?” (240), questions, we know, that triggered Derrida in both his classics on Levinas Violence and Metaphysics (1967) and A Dieu à Emmanuel Levinas (1996). And Derrida to proceed: “Is it not the case that infinite violence as such is not flat and boring, but, on the contrary, devilish and interesting? [As] the piety turns into the opposite of piety—that is interesting. Levinas’s violence cannot be reduced, but it can be turned” (ibid) and, a little bit later, “I read Levinas with the hypothesis in mind that he sacrificed God” (241). A certain God was certainly sacrificed by Levinas—Levinas was not the thinker of dogmas and creeds—and what remains is the raising of the stakes of the face to face encounter, which is now ‘guided’ by a call that comes literally from God knows where, anarchic if not diabolic, but a call nonetheless, an ‘intersubjective curvature’ if you will, that no one can easily put aside.

The nineties, for Derrida, were the years of “animality”, a question that had occupied Derrida from the beginning but that now comes to the fore. Along with this comes a rather strange confession of Derrida that he had rather that they would leave his work “to sleep peacefully” (247), that he himself even prefers to forget about insights that came to him during the writing of this or that work. This “need to protect his work” (249) occupies Krell quite a bit in this eight chapter. At the beginning of the nineties, Krell too taught in Paris and he would regularly meet up with Derrida and Françoise Dastur. Derrida was then teaching seminars about cannibalism, a continuation of his work on “Eating the Other”. Krell to comment: “What I remember most vividly about these lectures were Derrida’s imaginative yet quite concrete references to what are usually called ‘bodily functions’. I had always felt that […] Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of the flesh has somehow been left in abeyance by deconstruction, but the flesh came back with a vengeance [and] it would continue to come back throughout this decade dedicated to ‘animality’” (250). Krell also notes the intensity of these seminars of Derrida and, quite significantly, dares to echo the words that Hans Jonas once used to describe Heidegger’s lectures for these seminars.

These are also the years of Derrida’s Aporias, where his ‘hesitations about Heidegger’ become evident once again and where Derrida’s doubts about getting one’s death ‘into view’, properly, even as ‘the possibility of impossibility’ Heidegger spoke about, leads him to interrogate the ‘end of the living’, of what is alive, again. The aporia is an impasse or a limit, as a superficial reading would have it: what we get in view is our finite being-in-the-world, our being-in-the-world-together, but not, not properly, the ‘end’ of being-in-the-world, let alone what comes after. Krell adds: “toward the end of his address [Derrida] said something that would continue to obsess him for the rest of his days: if ‘my’ death does not come to appear as such, if there is no crossing that frontier, this means ‘nothing less than the end of the world, with each death, each time’” (261, referring to Aporias). “The theme of mourning,” Krell says, “[became] for me perhaps the central theme of Derrida’s thought” (262).

It is worth noting that this makes for Derrida’s concern about the general state of phenomenology—but a concern, too, that was present early on in Derrida. Just read his introduction to Husserl’s Geometry. “The confidence that underlay[s] the phenomenological project of the recuperation of evidence and the restitution of all things past to presence, in other words, the project devoted to keeping everything [a phrase from Sartre’s Les mots, JS] [is] a confidence that both Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy and [my] own Feu la cendre [are] dedicated to undermining” (264). Nothing, ever, is remembered, or present even, as such. One might say: Il y a la différance or, as Nietzsche once quite amusingly called ‘the thing-in-itself’ “das Derdiedas” (246). But remember, too, what we mentioned earlier: Derrida kept everything, even essays that Krell’s eight-year daughter had her father send to Derrida (209).

Chapter nine takes Benoît Peeters’ biography of Derrida as its point of departure, speaking of Derrida’s family and his attachment to the Jewish community. Community, in general, sparked an “allergic reaction” (282) in Derrida. Yet Derrida, for Krell, thought more about “our fractured polis and our fractious politics” (ibid.) than is usually assumed: his thought about a divided sovereignty in effect brings him close to Arendt’s view that the American innovation might lie in “the abolition of sovereignty within the body politic of the Republic” (ibid., quoting Jerome Kohn).

This chapter, “Each Time Unique” is, perhaps fittingly, “all about mourning” (287). Derrida’s work of mourning is well-known, and the title of this chapter bears the same name as Derrida’s French volume. For Derrida, mourning suffers from the same aporia as the other grand themes he broached. If there is such a thing as mourning, it is not, really, it is not successful that is: if mourning would be successful, over and done with, one would no longer be mourning the deceased any more. The deceased will then have been forgotten and mourning will not have taken place, say, properly. This sums up Derrida’s “[line] of resistance” (289) against Freud: there is no such a thing as successful mourning. One does not ‘move on’, one does not lose a particular someone or something, but one loses the world in its entirety, with every singular death one unfortunately comes across.

The chapter proceeds by recounting Derrida’s early reception in France. Although Derrida’s “genius” (297) was recognized by many, and not the least (Ricoeur, Althusser, Hyppolite, Canguilhem), academic averageness gave Derrida a hard time. Lacan, too, thought of Derrida as an imposter. Heidegger, on the other hand, “expressed a desire to meet Derrida” (298) and it is unfortunate for us that this did not happen, for Derrida would have kept everything. Heidegger, apparently, was intrigued by the notion of différance, where the French “forced [him] to admit that [this] language could do something that the German could not do” (298), namely signify at once difference and deferral.

Krell then takes on Derrida’s Circumfession, a text, I’m sure, that no one of us really understands. And Krell too seems to struggle. Krell speaks of a “pericardial thinking” (310). If Derrida’s seminar were truly a ‘thinking in action’, “without safety nets” (252), then one sees here a thinking tapping all of its veins until it bleeds, a thinking according to the heart.

In the “Concluding Reflections”, Krell rehearses the main themes of his ‘memoir’, the things he would like to remember having written the book, the things to keep at heart as it were. Krell’s life is indeed a remarkable bumping into geniuses and “is much the better and much the happier for these encounters” (324). Life is often better on paper, of course, yet this memoir should make us wonder whether we should not try to keep more, we, who encounter the thinkers of our admittedly somewhat thoughtless times, and smile at their e-mails just once before deleting them.

There is much to think about in Krell’s book, and having written this review which is surely too long, and looking into my notes, I see my scribbling mentioning that this is a book one best reads for oneself. That is true, perhaps. It will give teachers an anecdote or two to lighten up their classes. It will give thinkers an idea or two to think about, for there is something about the lives of philosophers that cannot be easily dismissed if one thinks about their philosophies. To be sure, one might have some misgivings about Krell’s book. It is rather conservative at times, even though even at those places it raises good questions: can there be such a thing as a contemplative e-mail? (302, also 293). I think there is, though—the matters of the heart have a way of finding its way through whatever medium available. We should just think more (and better) before just deleting these. It is, attempts to be rather, political at times: there are regular references to Trump, for instance. I did not find these, always, convincing, even though here too the question is whether we are able to recognize what is happening all around us and, especially, whether such recognition as such can take place. Philosophy’s procession into politics will always remain a delicate manner.

Susi Ferrarello, Christos Hadjioannou (Eds.): The Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology of Mindfulness, Routledge, 2023

The Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology of Mindfulness Couverture du livre The Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology of Mindfulness
Susi Ferrarello, Christos Hadjioannou (Eds.)
542 Pages 4 B/W Illustrations