Daniele De Santis, Burt Hopkins, Claudio Majolino (Eds.): The Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy

The Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy Book Cover The Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy
Routledge Handbooks in Philosophy
Daniele De Santis, Burt C. Hopkins, Claudio Majolino (Eds.)
Hardback £190.00

Reviewed by: Gabriele Baratelli (University of Cologne)

This volume arguably represents the most ambitious and complete attempt until today to collect in a uniform form a series of highly qualified contributions on the entire spectrum of phenomenological philosophy.[1] Given the peculiar character of each entry of this Handbook, it will be no surprise if the text will be taken as a useful guide by students entering for the first time in the difficult terrain of phenomenology as well as by experienced scholars. On the one hand, the book is, in fact, certainly meant as an introduction, as a “conceptual cartography” that alludes to the answers and to the immense potentialities that this philosophical practice has expressed in its history. This is done by means of the precise but not esoteric description of its language and conceptuality. On the other hand, with diverse gradations, the entries are also original contributions that certainly make significant progresses in phenomenological research.

The text is divided into five main parts. The first one is devoted to history, conceived in two senses.  The first essay of this section, written by Pierre-Jean Renaudie, gives an excellent and concise overview of the history of the phenomenological movement itself. The others concern instead the conceptual heritage of phenomenology and the original transformation of traditional doctrines and methods coming from the history of philosophy that it brought about. The style of the contributions varies a lot. This is certainly a virtue for the expert, but it can easily become a limit for the beginner. To make a comparative example, Burt Hopkins’ “Phenomenology and Greek Philosophy” provides an analysis of one of the classical themes of phenomenology, namely its relationship with ancient metaphysics. This is realized in three steps. Since the terms of the discussion have been laid out by Heidegger in the 1920s, Hopkins takes into critical account at first his interpretation of Husserl’s method through the lens of Plato’s and Aristotle’s philosophies. It is argued that both Heidegger’s identifications (of the doctrine of categorial ideation with Aristotle’s doctrine of the apprehension of eide, and of the theory of intentionality with Plato’s statement that speech is about something) are totally unwarranted. This technical assessment of Heidegger’s miscomprehension of Husserl’s main tenets leads Hopkins afterwards to the related conclusion that the entire Heideggerian conception of Greek philosophy has to be recognized as the “myth not only of Plato’s philosophy being limited by a prior understanding of the meaning of Being as presence, but also of it being a fundamentally driven by an ontology”. After a brief intermezzo devoted to a not very well-known Husserlian discussion over the origins of philosophical thought and the role played in it by the sceptics and Socrates, Hopkins presents Jacob Klein’s account of Plato’s doctrine of the eide. Besides its intrinsic interest, this last part helps clarifying Hopkins’ critical account of Heidegger. It has moreover the merit of assigning to Klein’s analyses of Greek philosophy the deserved position next to the other classical phenomenological interpretations. The presentation of the subtlety of his arguments as well as the skilful use that Hopkins makes of them to confute and correct Heidegger’s shortcomings is certainly proof of the richness Jacob Klein’s thought. To come back to our concern, it is clear that this text has strong theoretical claims, whose authentic appreciation could require the reference to the other texts of the author and, especially for the beginner, to the other entries of the Handbook (including the one dedicated to Klein himself).

Francesco Valerio Tommasi’s “Phenomenology and Medieval Philosophy” has instead a less demanding theoretical commitment, as it displays an historical outline of the different approaches to Medieval philosophy (and religion and theology in general) that characterizes phenomenology (Tommasi focuses on Brentano, Scheler, Stein, Heidegger and Marion). The reconstruction is driven from the outset by a clear interpretative idea, namely, as Tommasi puts it: “The history of the relationship between phenomenology and medieval philosophy is, for the most part, the history of the relationship between phenomenology and Neo-Scholasticism”. The paper has then a twofold utility: by studying the reciprocal influences of two of the greatest philosophical tendencies of the XXth century, it shows indirectly, so to speak, the noteworthy role that Medieval thought played in phenomenology itself. Regarding the conceptual viewpoint, the key-concept that allows Tommasi to give uniformity to his reconstruction is arguably that of analogia entis. This “fragile architrave” of Scholastic thought gathers together the initial emergence of a phenomenological conceptuality in Brentano (for whom, as it is well known, the encounter with Aristotle’s doctrine of category and Being was decisive) and some of its most radical outcomes, including Heidegger’s philosophy. On this view, significant differences among the phenomenologists can be detected through the analysis of their appropriation of this pivotal notion. This undoubtedly sheds new light on phenomenology overall and on its conflicting relationship with Neo-Scholasticism. Without this common ground, in fact, even the “very heavy blow to the Neo-Thomist model” provoked by Heidegger’s critique of “ontotheology” would remain inexplicable.

The other essays concern the relationships with the Cartesian tradition, British empiricism, German idealism and Austrian philosophy.

The second section is the real core of the text. It presents a list of concepts and issues that form, so to speak, the basic ingredients of phenomenology. The entries are either fundamental concepts that often immediately refer to a specific author, for example “Dasein” and “Life-World”, or general topics, like “Ethics”, “Time”, “Mathematics” and so forth. The order is alphabetic, so that any hierarchical connotation and immanent principle of organization is excluded. The complex technicality of phenomenological vocabulary is here analysed thanks to a useful kaleidoscopic operation. Since many terms have already taken upon various meanings, one the strategy followed in the texts of this section is to refract the successive sedimentations of meanings showing the hidden reasons and the misunderstandings responsible for their complex conceptual history. Paradigmatic of this choice is the crucial entry “Phenomenon”, written by Aurélien Djian and Claudio Majolino, in which the connotations of this fundamental concept are unfolded throughout the history of phenomenology. Among the important shifts that characterized this history, two of them appear probably as the most significant ones: Husserl’s departure from Brentano’s notion of phenomena, and Heidegger’s departure from Husserl’s. Thus, in the first case, while for Brentano a phenomenon is “what appears as it truly is, something whose existence is tantamount to its appearance”, for Husserl is rather “what appears beyond existence and non-existence, something whose existence is indifferent with respect to its appearance”. This change clearly determined the “eidetic” character of Husserlian phenomenology as a “purely descriptive” science in the Logical Investigations. This feature will be constant in Husserl’s further reflections, despite the increasing sophistication of his method and the corresponding substantial modifications of the concept of phenomenon itself (modifications that are recognized in three further steps and painstakingly described in the paper). Heidegger’s case involves something else. Thanks to a precise clarification of the famous §7 of Being and Time, the authors explain how Heidegger considered phenomenology as a method that has to deal with the “how” things show themselves, and not with a certain “what”, namely phenomena themselves. Moreover, he distinguished between the “vulgar concept of phenomenon”, something that “initially and for the most part” shows-itself in the world, namely entities, and something that, by showing itself, is essentially concealed, namely Being, the “proper phenomenological concept of phenomenon”. A different phenomenological method corresponds to each pole of this ontological difference: the one of positive sciences and the one of hermeneutical ontology, i.e., “a method to wrestle from its concealment what essentially does not show itself (Being) and yet is fundamental with respect to the immediate and unproblematic self-showing of worldly entities”. This new peculiar scientific attempt is then irreducible to Husserl’s original one, as it focuses not on “phenomena” simpliciter, but exclusively on “the most exceptional phenomenon of all”. The final part of the essay reconstructs the more recent developments of phenomenology by showing the “Heideggerian logic” they embody. Be it Levnias’ phenomenon of the Other, Henry’s Life or Marion’s Givenness, in all these cases it is reiterated that the idea of an authentic phenomenological thought has to face the most exceptional phenomenon of all. The differences lie rather in determining which is the most fundamental one. This paper, therefore, alongside with many others, not only elucidates a central theme in conceptual and historical terms, but it also offers indirectly an interpretation of the sense of several, apparently contradictory, phenomenological trajectories.

The third part is composed of a list of major phenomenologists. For each of them is given an overview of their work. It is noteworthy that this section dedicates deserved space to authors that are still little known (the list includes, for example, Aron Gurwitsch, Jacob Klein, Enzo Paci). Here, the ideas analytically set forth in the previous section form specific constellations of meanings within the unitary production of each philosopher.

The fourth part, —“Intersections”—concerns the significant influence of phenomenology on other philosophical traditions and the positive sciences. This section not only stresses once again the peculiarities and the theoretical richness of phenomenology, but also its fundamentally relational nature. In “Phenomenology and Analytic Philosophy”, for instance, Guillaume Fréchette takes into account the vexata quaestio of the alleged fracture between “continental” and “analytic philosophy” that occurred during the XXth century. The author recollects the most significant episodes of dialogue (and reciprocal incomprehension) of the last decades and gives an overview of the philosophers that, explicitly or not, tried to “bridge the gap”. However, Fréchette underlines the fact that this divide is exclusively determined by contextual and institutional factors, and not by fundamental theoretical principles, as it has been usually the case for conflicting schools of thought in the history of philosophy. In the last part of the essay he conceptually formulates both traditions by invoking the realist/anti-realist distinction. On the one hand, this analysis proves the previous thesis, since it is shown that these opposing tendencies are equally present in both traditions. On the other, by an overarching reflection concerning the so-called “philosophy of mind”, it sheds light on the (often undervalued) similarities and influences that, besides any actual recognition, inform the course of recent philosophical research. Other papers are instead devoted to the relationships with psychoanalysis, medicine, deconstruction, cognitive sciences.

The fifth and final part of the text connects phenomenology, historically grounded in the Western world, to other areas and thus to conceptualities apparently distant from the philosophical tradition. As Bado Ndoye notes in the first essay of the section dedicated to “Africa”, this operation can even appear odd, if not paradoxical, if we think that when Husserl mentioned “African or non-Western people in general, it was always in order to make a contrast with what he used to call the ‘Idea of Europe’, as if the very essence of the latter could not be cleared if not opposed to a radical exteriority”. Husserl’s “eurocentrism”, however, is of a peculiar kind since it privileges the role of European humanity as that which factually revealed the authentic idea of reason and science. The content and especially the telos of this idea are not of course limited to one culture, but rather represent the common horizon that has to define humanity as such. Given this premise, the wide interest that phenomenology received all over the world cannot be a surprise and does not imply eo ipso an endorsement of relativism. Ndoye shows precisely this by analysing the work of Paulin J. Hountondji and his critique of the philosophical Western prejudices over Africa from the exact standpoint of Husserl’s universal idea of science. This happens in Hountondji’s account of Tempels’ Bantu Philosophy (1947), which is charged with confusing philosophy and ethnology, and in this way creating “philosophemes” attributed to a “fantasized vision of African societies”. This attitude does not rule out the importance of empirical research but is useful, on the contrary, to appreciate its authentic role and meaning. Ndoye suggests that in this sense Hountondji’s trajectory repeats Husserl’s, inasmuch as the latter finally encounters the question of the life-world as the unavoidable dimension that precedes every objective science. Despite the plurality of its manifestations, the correct interpretation of this original dimension helps “to pass through the element of the particular, in this instance the local cultures, as a gateway to the universal”.

Two things have to be certainly recognized in the editorial composition of this Handbook. The first is to have successfully produced and assembled a useful and insightful instrument for further phenomenological studies. The second is the courage behind the realization of such a project. The unity of this book, in fact, surpasses the collection of excellent contributions that it contains. Through its pages, phenomenology is not presented in the rigor mortis of definitions and historical analyses dictated by an eccentric scholarly curiosity. It is instead fierily depicted as a “living movement” whose role within and outside the philosophical sphere is not exhausted. In other words, this book does not impose the seal of the past to phenomenology, but rather it vividly presents it in its actual force, as a cultural project that is still in becoming in such a way that it can still meaningfully respond to our present needs.

Now, if this is what motivated, at least partially, this enterprise, then a very basic assumption is here presupposed. Namely, the fact that phenomenology, whatever it really is, exists. Given a superficial knowledge of the history of philosophy after Husserl up to the present, a sceptic could simply deny this alleged fact: the contrasts among philosophers at first recognizing themselves as belonging to the same scientific community inspired by Husserl’s works are so fundamental and the paths taken from them so diverse that any possible feature giving an acceptable unity and coherence seems to vanish.  The sceptic could find in the constant appeal to metaphors describing the course of phenomenology further evidence for his thesis. For instance, in Renaudie’s already mentioned historical essay, it is said that phenomenology cannot be characterized as a systematic doctrine, having fixed and clear fundamental principles and a cumulative-like progress. On the contrary, what is common to its different manifestations is only a “philosophical style”. As a consequence, Renaudie himself describes the history of phenomenology through a series of “conceptual shifts” (“transcendental”, “existential” and so forth) and he finally compares this flourishing of expressions to a plant, “the wilting of which does not necessarily prevent its growing back under a new and rejuvenated shape”. On this view, the many unorthodox interpretations stemming from Husserl’s texts would not destroy the sense of the entire project but, on the very contrary, would be essential to foster its development. Surely fascinating, but again, the sceptic would reply: is it  really so? Is it not just a verbal escamotage to cover the historical failure  of phenomenological thinking, whatever it tried to be at the end? Is not this narrative even more doubtful in contrast to Husserl’s own words, where in the Crisis the existence of almost as many philosophies as philosophers is presented as an urgent contemporary problem?

As said before, the editors do not elude this question and, in the introduction, they give a few remarkable hints to clarify their position. Even more clearly, perhaps, the collection of essays itself indicates a possible reply to the sceptic. The way in which they are organized, as well as the very diversified contents and perspectives offered, reveal a tension towards two complementary directions. The first one has to do with the “origin” of phenomenology, and specifically with the inevitable theoretical heritage of Edmund Husserl’s epoch-making work. Without Husserl, that is, without his immense factual influence, phenomenology, and therefore any history of phenomenology, would have never been arisen. Having in mind Paul Ricouer’s notorious dictum, namely that phenomenology is the sum of Husserl’s works and the heresies that stemmed from them, the editors suggest that this history has to be primarily described as a “‘self-differentiating’ history, a series of more or less dramatic (theoretical or even spatial) departures from Husserl, or even as a sum total of all the one-way train and air tickets away from him”. This does not amount to saying that the inevitable coming back to Husserl has to be meant as a return to “the things themselves”, in the sense of an auroral locus in which phenomenology was authentically conceived and practiced, untouched by its successive distortions. This solution cannot work since the sceptical arguments could be in fact repeated on this level. After all, who really is Husserl? Given the profound changes that mark his philosophical career, not to mention the various interpretations and criticisms to which his work underwent, the sceptic would maybe paraphrase what Einstein once bitterly said of Kant, namely that every philosopher has his own Husserl. Be that as it may, the state of affairs that occasioned the “ongoing cluster of heresies of heresies”, is not in contradiction with its grounding in Husserl’s texts. The latter do not contain a fixed and coherent system of doctrines, but rather (despite the huge amounts of material) a “small beginning” that has to be still understood and, when necessary, criticized. The very content of Husserl’s ground-breaking philosophizing, in other words, has not finished to be unfolded with his death: new shades appear in a circular motion in which phenomenology tries to define itself in such a manner that “Husserl’s own doctrine assumes a constantly new aspect and shape as it is looked at from such and such an angle”. The ultimate reference point, therefore, is not a mythological Husserl, “the true one”, but the conceptual space that he opened and that still waits for its authentic discovery.

The other side of the reply to the sceptic involves a certain view of the future. The connection to an origin meant in this way cannot but find its verso in a unity that is still to come. Now, despite the appearances, it is undoubtful that phenomenological doctrines share a certain “family resemblance”, whose sense points beyond each of them. Just like “the many different adumbrations do not exclude the dynamic unity of what is experienced though them”, the multiple directions presented in this text are directed to a common ideal pole. In other terms, each of them cannot live without the others in a multiplicity of positions that, insofar as they are genuinely phenomenological, contribute to build the very same “Husserlian” theoretical space.

In conclusion, this book is a great guide for everybody who is looking for an orientation in a certain domain of phenomenology. But we could say, it is a phenomenological guide, a book of phenomenology, that gathers a (empirical but ideally infinitively extendable) community whose project is shared. The implicit tension that crosses the contributions hides thus a promise, the promise that many heard at first in Husserl’s own words and that this text has succeeded in making audible once again. The restoring of this philosophical ambition is what preserves the necessary looking back to the past into a nostalgic and antiquarian task and at once what projects the very same enquiry into the future.

[1] To my knowledge, the only comparable text in English is The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Phenomenology (2012) edited by D. Zahavi, published by Oxford University Press, which is limited to a smaller portion of this spectrum.

Hagi Kenaan: Photography and Its Shadow

Photography and Its Shadow Book Cover Photography and Its Shadow
Hagi Kenaan
Stanford University Press
Paperback $24.00

Reviewed by: Arthur Cools (University of Antwerp)

In Photography and its Shadow, Hagi Kenaan addresses the medium specificity of the photographic image, particularly the transformation of the image experience due to the invention of this medium. It is not his first publication to reveal his interest in and critical confrontation with the dominance of the visual in contemporary culture. In his book on the French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, The Ethics of Visuality. Levinas and the Contemporary Gaze (Tauris, 2013), Kenaan stated that “[s]omething has happened to our gaze. The experience of seeing has changed. The visual field has undergone a radical transformation” (xiv). In this study, he scrutinized the limits of contemporary visuality, which attracts the gaze “into the constant flickering of images, large and small screens, at every angle, at every moment, in every possible size, always in plural” (xii). Contrasting the visuality of the image with Levinas’s phenomenological description of the appearance of the face of the other person, he explored the possibility of the emergence of what he called the “reflexive gaze,” a visual field that appears to be oriented (in the strong sense of the word “orientation,” as being essential to what appears) and that as such opens up an ethical domain.

In his new book, Photography and its Shadow, it may appear that Kenaan is leaving behind the Levinasian optics of ethics as first philosophy, were it not the case that the title of this publication reminds us of an early article on art by Levinas entitled “Reality and Its Shadow” (1948). While in this article Levinas does not consider the emergence of the photographic medium, and Kenaan in his new book does not pay particular attention to Levinas’s treatment of the artwork and artistic visuality, the notion of the shadow reveals the legacy of the latter in Kenaan’s approach to photography. This legacy is manifest at different levels: the understanding of the image as a shadow; the reflection on the kind of connections between reality and shadows; the examination of the appearance of shadows in the general economy of being; the definition of the shadow as a double of reality, which fixes the momentary or, as Levinas formulates it, which “transform[s] time into images” (Levinas 1948, 139);[1] and as a “fixed shadow” (Kenaan 2020, 6), a “shadow [that] is immobilized” (Levinas 1948, 141). Significantly, it is Levinas who, at the end of his article, brings the creation of the artistic image since the Renaissance into the horizon of the Nietzschean theme of the death of God, or what he calls “the alleged death of God” (Levinas 1948, 143). It is this same Nietzschean horizon that gives a decisive twist to Kenaan’s approach to photography, as becomes manifest in the third part of the book, entitled “Photography and the Death of God,” where he writes: “The proclamation of God’s death by Nietzsche’s madman was the point of departure for our study of photography. Photography emerges with the death of God, a condition that calls for a new way of orienting humans within an indifferent (homogeneous, meaningless, nihilistic) space” (Kenaan 2020, 159).

Let us consider this central claim of the book, through which Kenaan intends not only to describe the transformation of the visuality of the image by the photographic medium, but also to understand this transformation in light of a more encompassing historical transformation of Western culture as a whole in the 19th century and its aftermath, which Nietzsche labeled the death of God. This connection with a broader cultural field of investigation provokes a certain analytic complexity. The approach is first of all phenomenological in that the author describes the specificity of the visual experience of the photographic image on the basis of many concrete examples. This phenomenological approach is complemented by a strong historical interest, with the author returning to the beginnings of photography and providing a detailed description of the different techniques from which photography – as a practice (as a guideline for ‘taking’ pictures) and as a new theory of the image (as an image of nature, made by nature, not created by the artist’s hand) – emerges in the 19th century. However, the methodology is intended to be “ultimately ontological rather than historical” (9), in the Heideggerian sense of the word, namely in the sense that, as the author formulates it in the opening lines of his book, “[p]hotography has become an intrinsic condition of the human” (2) and this condition is both “existential” (i.e., photography has become part of ordinary experience) and transformative (i.e., this condition indicates an ontological shift in our understanding of the world and ourselves).

The central claim of the book is thus ontological, with the Nietzschean theme of the death of God not mentioned merely to establish a contextual and/or epochal connection with the appearance of the photographic image in modern culture, but in order to define the ontological transformation that manifests itself in and through the visuality of the photographic medium. This transformation, understood in its ontological dimension, is not limited to the photographic medium or to the question of what an image is, but more radically concerns the experience of seeing, the visibility of world, the meaning of existence. Kenaan is certainly not the first to draw particular attention to the transformation of the image experience and of visual perception through the invention of the photograph, but his departure point of the Nietzschean theme of the death of God within the framework of a Heideggerian understanding of ontology creates a new, intriguing perspective. How is this theme at work in Kenaan’s approach to photography?

In fact, the theme of the death of God brings together different lines of argumentation and it is the combination and consequent elaboration of these lines that constitutes the book’s originality, as well as its complexity. The first – and most familiar – of these argumentative threads consists in pointing to a reversal of Platonism with regard to the image experience. Here, Kenaan joins “an anti-Platonic approach” characteristic of theories of the image in the late 20th century. This approach no longer takes the image to be a copy or a representation but “is aware of the need to articulate a modality of presence that belongs to images qua images (and not as objects or functions)” (102). Maurice Merleau-Ponty already announced this new direction of thought in Eye and Mind when he wrote: “The word ‘image’ is in bad repute because we have thoughtlessly believed that a drawing was a tracing, a copy, a second thing.”[2] However, considering the reversal of Platonism as an intrinsic condition of the invention of the photographic image, Kenaan not only dates the event of this reversal more than a hundred years earlier (even prior to Nietzsche’s birth), disconnecting it from the debate about the developments of modernism in painting, but also points to a naturalistic basis and proposes a new, more precise interpretation of the reversal of Platonism with regard to the image experience. The invention of photography presupposes that the appearance of the image is no longer related to the divine or to the ideal forms, as is the case in Platonism, but to the mere physical laws of (breaking) light rays and (fixing) shadows. It is the possibility of seeing in mechanically fixed shadows the appearance of an image which defines the reversal of Platonism. In photography, the relation between image and shadow is reversed and this reversal implies a completely different ontological understanding of what a shadow and an image are.

Kenaan retraces this new relation between image and shadow in the writings of William Henry Fox Talbot, the author of The Pencil of Nature (1844), who described the invention of photography as the art of “photogenic drawing.” Talbot’s descriptions of his photographic experiments, which he initially called skiagraphy, “shadow drawing” or “shadow writing” (117), reveal that the invention of photography coincided with the discovery of the shadow as a transcendental condition for the photographic image and as an intrinsic part of the visibility of nature. In this regard, Talbot liberates the shadow from the binary opposition between being and appearance that determines Plato’s ontology. In a Platonic framework, shadow and image belong to the realm of appearance; they are both dependent on the presence of the real (being), and they are in this sense secondary. Moreover, the relation between the two is one of identity: the shadow, as projection of a material object, is defined as an image (eidolon) of that object, and the image, considered as the visual appearance of the idea (the original presence of the real), is defined as a shadow projected by that idea. Talbot discovers in his experiments with light rays that shadows have their own unique mode of appearance and that this mode of appearance is given in nature. The shadow belongs to the way in which nature unfolds its visibility. The shadow therefore cannot be reduced to the binary logic of object and copy, being and appearance. It is not in itself already an image, but the photographic image depends on it; depends on the possibility of “capturing,” “controlling” and “fixing” the shadow event projected by light rays. On the basis of his readings of Talbot, Kenaan describes the appearance of the shadow as an “in-between.” It both belongs to nature and transcends nature, it is part of nature’s visibility and it reproduces this visibility, it is not itself an image but it provides the ground for a potential image: “the shadow manifests a doubling of nature that belongs to the very order of nature itself” (135). In this sense, he makes plausible the continuum thesis that defends a causal continuity between shadow and image; between nature’s visibility and the image’s visuality. In this sense, the appearance of the photographic image has its origin in nature.

A second line of argumentation is construed around another aspect of the Nietzschean theme of the death of God, namely the belatedness of the effects of this event. In Nietzsche’s narrative, the event of the death of God is not yet recognized, its meaning remains concealed and its consequences are simply denied. In this sense, the death of God casts a shadow, the extent of which is still undefined. In a similar way, Kenaan argues that the invention of photography, which is based on the discovery of the shadow in nature’s visibility, conceals its origin and confounds its meaning. He speaks of a “betrayal” (136). The second part of the book, “The Butades complex,” reveals the mechanism of this betrayal: photography, in its attempt to distinguish itself from the traditional concept of image creation as an act of drawing, defines itself within the limits of the idea of drawing. Butades, the myth of the Corinthian maid who traces the shade of her departing lover, plays an important historical role in this context. According to Pliny, who was the first to mention this story in his Natural History, “the drawing of pictures began with ‘tracing an outline round a man’s shadow’” (58). Between 1770 and 1820, in the wake of romantic classicism, this story was very popular in the visual arts as a pictorial theme about the origin of painting and of art in general. At the beginning of the 19th century, it delivered the main narrative frame for understanding the invention of photography and presenting the photographic image to the public: “‘The legend’s popularity in the eighteenth-century British visual culture, […], did not coincidently anticipate the dawn of a new relationship between image, object, and beholder that was photographic. Rather, it virtually establishes this relationship by setting the terms in advance by which photography would be discovered, understood, and assimilated’” (61). Kenaan quotes here the study by Ann Bermingham, “The Origins of Painting and the Ends of Arts: Wright of Derby’s Corinthian Myth (1782-1785).”

Relying on this narrative, however, it is clear that photography betrays its own newness. To make a photograph is not an act of drawing – the latter is created by the drafter’s hand, the former implies a mechanical process. Moreover, the shadow in the myth of Butades is defined as the picture of the beloved one. The myth relates the act of drawing to the amorous desire of keeping present an original presence even when this presence has gone, disappeared or died. The betrayal of photography’s newness implies thus a denial of what the invention of photography discovered: the continuously moving, transforming and evanescent appearance of shadows in nature’s visibility. Shadows, experienced as intrinsic to nature’s visibility, are not fixed and do not depict an original presence. Therefore, the idea of taking a picture, formulated to promote the camera as a technical means and photography as each individual’s way of keeping present whatever they want, is misleading: it conceals the mechanical process that is the birthmark of the photographic image, it misunderstands the outcome of this process as the visual depiction of an original experience, and it turns nature and world into a vast repository of photographic images.

A third line of argumentation deals with Nietzsche’s perspectivism. Nietzsche formulated this idea in his early writings in an epistemic context, namely as a criticism of the defenders of an all-encompassing theoretical access to the objectivity of reality. Perspectivism holds that a view from nowhere is not possible: knowledge of the real is not given independently of a point of view. The connection with the later theme of the death of God is obvious: “Perspectivism is primarily a way of acknowledging the disintegration of an all-encompassing structure of legibility, the loss of coordinates to orient man’s place in the universe. The collapse of an overarching, super-sensible principle that upholds human meaning and value is what Nietzsche understands as the ‘death of God’” (159). It is Kenaan’s contention that the invention of photography has opened the possibility of an infinity of perspectives: “The idea of an infinite plurality of perspectives is part of its inner logic. […] photography’s space consists of an indefinite multitude, a plurality of viewpoints that refuse to coalesce” (157). The introduction of the photographic apparatus detaches vision from the human eye and transforms the relationship between the visible and the visual: “photography’s visualization of the visible becomes, in principle, limitless” (154). This not only means beyond the limits of the human eye with regard to distance (too far or too close), time (too fast or too slow) or light sensitive (too bright or too dark), but also beyond the limits of the evanescent unfolding of nature’s visibility: “Every visibility is a potential photograph that can be taken from an infinite variety of perspectives.” In this regard, the photographic visualization has the potential of achieving “full domination of the visible.”

Anti-Platonism, denial of its own origin, and perspectivism: it is through these three conceptual frames that the major Nietzschean theme of the death of God functions as a heuristic and organizational device in Kenaan’s approach to photography. As a consequence, the appearance of the photographic image is presented as a kind of epochal transformation within the human condition. Ontologically speaking, this transformation can be articulated in at least three different ways: 1. a subversion of the Platonic opposition between being and appearing, including the ontological upgrading of the presence sui generis of the shadow; 2. the concealment of the mechanical nature of the photographic image and therefore the concealment of its emptiness and arbitrariness; 3. and finally, the submission of the embodied visual appearance to the limitless visibility of the photographic image, and hence the collapse and fragmentation of all meaning and values given within the visual field of human experience.

The outcome of this examination of the photographic image is challenging and at the same time disturbing because of its general, encompassing and nihilistic claim that the rise of the photographic image is based on the breakdown of all human meaning and value as given with the embodied condition of visibility. Moreover, according to Kenaan, this “ultimate breakdown of human meaning” (178) defines photography’s visual dominance today, despite its efforts to conceal it: “The visible thereby becomes a homogeneous expanded space of inhuman eyes, identical units, each of which can record an infinite number of views that are all equally set to provide sequences of representation. In such a space (the term ‘world’ no longer applies here) each and every point is a place mark for potential views” (170). Here, it becomes clear that the Nietzschean theme of the death of God not only functions as a heuristic device to analyze photography’s specific transformational power regarding embodied visible perception but also that the visual specificity of the photographic image is intended to concretize and to visualize the abyssal implications of the Nietzschean theme of the death of God: the appearance of a limitless shattered space of the visible without coherence and orientation, disconnected from the human body and indifferent with regard to the human world.

It thus seems that, in bringing Talbot’s invention of photography and the Nietzschean theme of the death of God into the same field of reflection, Kenaan first of all intends to say something about our contemporary culture, which has predominantly become a visual culture, and in which he has detected in his other book, The Ethics of Visuality, “a pathology” (xviii) of the gaze. The outcome of the examination in Photography and its Shadow seems therefore to confirm and to legitimize the starting point of this other book in the examination of another approach to vision, inspired by the philosophy of Levinas, that breaks with the limitless fragmentation of the visual without meaning: “the eye is flooded with images, swamped yet driven by a chronic hunger – rather than a desire – that does not seek meaning in the visual, only stimulation” (xv). However, returning to the mechanical roots of the photographic image, one may wonder what the theme of the death of God precisely adds to the analysis of the visual experience of the photographic image and whether the generalization it implies does not distort the specificity of this experience.

Considering the birthmark of the photographic image, Kenaan does not distinguish between the many different kinds, such as the digital and the analogical, the virtual and the real, the moving image and the snapshot, the simulation and the video game, the publicity poster and the family photobook, the visual artwork and scientific image production, or the passport photograph and the selfie on Instagram. The photographic image is considered a pars pro toto, and the original condition of a general transformation of visibility in contemporary culture. However, the problem with this generalization is not only that images have different meanings according to their various functions in contemporary society, but also that we are aware of these meanings and their differences and, accordingly, have different image experiences. The generalization implied by the Nietzschean theme of the death of God does not allow for an examination of these differences and, in a certain way, hinders access to such an analysis. Even if familiarity with the photographic image “[i]n our age of satellites, drones, Google Glass, and GoPro” makes it possible to bring randomized visible objects into one sentence, such as “the red spot on a seagull’s bulk, a particle of food processed in the digestive system, a cookie crumb on the desk of an administration, the tip of an iceberg melting in the Arctic, a dead fish in an oil spill in the ocean, the bronze hand of an ancient god at the bottom of the sea” (170-1), among many others, the meaninglessness of this collection of fragmented objects does not replace or obliterate the possibility of meaning recognition in each of these photographs. The latter is in fact dependent on the here and now of the single image experience, whereas the former requires abstraction from it.

Here, we touch on and are confronted with the basic ontological assumption of Kenaan’s approach, which we mentioned at the beginning and that Kenaan reformulates in his debate with Roland Barthes as: “[O]ntology teaches us to see the photographic as an Existential” (104). This means, according to Kenaan, that the task of ontology is “to open photography to the way in which its presence can be seen as a branch of being” and not, as is the case in Barthes’s view, to seek to define the essential features of the photographic image. The notion of “existential” is introduced to describe photography as a way of being (a way of understanding world and oneself) and not as a distinctive category of image experience. “Existential” is the term that Heidegger explicitly used to describe the existentiality of existence ontologically (cf. Being and Time §9). However, “existence” is the term he coins (against the metaphysical tradition, which defines existence in relation to a given essence) to address the question of the ecstatic openness to being, which distinguishes the manner of being of the human being. Moreover, this openness is only possible from a “being there” (Dasein), a situated being-in-the-world, or human being’s facticity. To understand the photographic as an “existential” thus implies a description of the photographic as one way of being of this facticity (among other ways of being, such as being mine, being-with, being born, being understanding, being caring, being anguished, being towards death, etc.). In other words, even if it is factually true that the mechanical condition of the birth of the photographic image (the invention of the camera) provokes a visibility disconnected from the human eye, it is still necessary to relate this visibility to human being’s facticity in order to be able to understand the photographic ontologically as an “existential.”

This ontological orientation indisputably constitutes the originality of Kenaan’s approach. It enables him to interpret the appearance of photographic visibility as an epochal transformation of being-in-the-world. Yet, it might be that the Nietzschean theme of the death of God, although explicitly intended to examine this transformation as epochal, is not sufficiently specific with regard to photographic visibility understood as an “existential.” In particular, it lacks the tools to describe the openness to being as related to this visibility. Nor are the naturalistic descriptions of Talbot’s experiments of (fixing) shadows able to address this. The natural effects of breaking light rays do not say anything about the existentiality of the human being, which seeks to capture and to understand these effects. What turns these natural effects into a new kind of visibility, the visibility of the photographic image, presupposes human being’s openness to being. Photographic visibility is a visibility with regard to the human condition. If this visibility thus constitutes an epochal transformation, as is the central claim of Kenaan’s approach, it should be possible to describe this transformation in terms of how the relation to being is concerned with the specific visibility of the photographic image. Kenaan leads the reflection in that direction but changes course by stating that the camera’s visibility is disconnected from the human body and interpreting this disconnectedness in line with Nietzsche’s perspectivism as a limitless plurality of views.

That the camera provokes a visibility disconnected from the human body is, however, itself visible in the photographic image. This kind of being visible is called “framing”: the photographic image reveals the visual appearance of a framing of the visible. Kenaan indeed mentions and explores the nature of this framing, especially in the experiments by and the examples related to Talbot, but he omits to analyze and describe the appearance of this framing as an “existential,” that is, as an appearance that delineates human being’s openness to being. It is not argued how and to what extent the Nietzschean theme of the death of God could be interpreted as the expression of the visual appearance of a framing. However, it is not difficult to point to some ontological implications that result from the framing of the visible.

The visual appearance of a framing implies first of all a re-organization of the relation between the visible and the invisible. In the field of an embodied perception, the invisible is intrinsic to that perception as what cannot be seen: either because it does not belong to the visible (but to another sense, e.g., it can be smelled), or because it is part of the other side of the perceived objects that we cannot see from our embodied perspective but only in moving our body around that object (what Husserl calls “adumbrations”). In neither case does the invisible limit or contradict the fullness of the embodied visual perception. However, this is different in the visual appearance of a framing. Here, the invisible is essential in at least two ways. The photographic image is itself cut out, extracted from or selected in a field of visibility that encompasses the framing. The invisible is also present within the framing as something that appears as not yet fully visible, still arising, happening. If it is the case that the photographic image catches and attracts the human gaze and is able, as Kenaan contends, to dominate the visible, then it is only because and on the basis of these two ways that invisibility limits its visuality. This means that the visual experience of the photographic image is not without a relation to what exceeds the visibility of the frame and is not without a certain organization of the frame.

Moreover, the visual appearance of a framing – whether or not fixed by the mechanism of the camera – presupposes the recognition of a frame. In fact, Talbot’s experiments showed this very well: he delineates and sets up a frame each time to be able to study the effects of light rays and precisely this experimental method makes it possible to recognize the effects of framing in natural processes of light rays. Interesting cases such as trompe l’oeil (and, by extension, immersive) experiments demonstrate that there is no visual experience of a framing without the recognition of the frame. In this regard, the visual appearance of a framing still refers to and depends on the condition of the human body in two ways: in order to be recognizable, it is necessary that the frame is adapted either to the visual apparatus of the human body (i.e., it remains within the limits of the human eye’s capabilities and expectations) or to its cognitive apparatus (i.e., it corresponds to a conceptual modelling). The fact that mechanical or digital production of visual fragments is limitless – like a camera out of control that cannot stop taking pictures of the same object whatever the picture resolution may be – is completely irrelevant without a reference to the human body in one of these two ways. This means that the mere fact of being framed does not fix or define the meaning of the visual appearance of the framed fragment. Or, to put it in an “existential” way: the visual appearance delineated by the photographic image cannot undo, replace or supplement human being’s openness to being.

Finally, as Kenaan amply demonstrates in his examination of the historical development and interpretations of the photographic image, each particular framing appears to be historical: it exposes and is the expression of human being’s situated being. The historical leaves a trace in the visual appearance of the framed that the frame cannot erase.  Without this trace of the historical, Barthes’s discourse on  the punctum of the individual photograph, to which Kenaan refers, and also his own discourse on “[p]hotography’s goodbyes,” which he calls “the book’s subject” (51), would not make sense. Yet, to say goodbye is not necessarily the appropriate response to photographs. In some photographs, the trace of the historical relates to the singularity of the here and now of the framing event as being intrinsic to the meaning of the photograph. This is especially the case for documentary photographs that record events from the perspective of the witness, that is, from the perspective of a here and now, the meaning of which the photographer is witnessing. In these cases, the frame of the photograph is explicitly used to reveal and express something about the meaning of the historical and hence about the meaning of human being’s facticity. This means that, however fragmented its visual appearance may be, the photographic image can contribute to making sense of being-in-the-world and to witnessing the values we live by.

As these remarks make clear, Kenaan’s approach is original and inspiring because it analyzes the photographic image as an “existential” and not just as a distinctive category of the image. It consequently shows the relevance of situating the visuality of the photographic image in a broader cultural, epochal transformation of visual experience. Establishing different and intriguing connections with the Nietzschean theme of the death of God, it sheds a new light on the origins of the photographic image and its effects on the visible. In this way, it contributes to a re-examination of the visual experience of framing in its relation to the human condition.

[1] All references to this article are quoted from Emmanuel Levinas, The Levinas Reader, edited by Seán Hand, Basil Blackwell, 1989.

[2] Quoted from Mauro Carbone, The Flesh of Images: Merleau-Ponty between Painting and Cinema. New York, Suny Press, 2015, 2. Mauro Carbone pointed to this “form of reversal of ‘Platonism’” that “develop[s] the premises affirmed by Nietzsche’s philosophy and explored by modern art” (Ibid.) in the work of Merleau-Ponty.

Kas Saghafi: The World after the End of the World: A Spectro-Poetics

The World after the End of the World: A Spectro-Poetics Book Cover The World after the End of the World: A Spectro-Poetics
SUNY series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy
Kas Saghafi
SUNY Press
Hardback $95.00

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

I came to this book because of the back cover’s promise that “for Derrida, salutation, greeting and welcoming is resistant to the economy of salvation”. Having written a book myself on the topic of greetings and salutations—a book that contested precisely this claim—I could not not be intrigued. There is no doubt that the salut, and especially the ‘salut sans salvation’ plays a central role in Jacques Derrida’s later writings. In fact, it would be really hard to doubt whether, for Derrida, this little word ‘salut’ could ever be sufficiently resistant to the economy of the salvation: many of his writings in effect question whether it is, for us late moderns, possible at all to distance ourselves from Christianity or any other matter that speaks of salvation.

Yet Saghafi promises (the promise being a salvific remainder in itself) to give us just this. In seven chapters and a prologue, all in one way or another devoted to mourning the death of the other, which arguably is the book’s main concern, Saghafi explores what happens when the other greets us and what happens when this no longer occurs—on the occasion of the other’s death for instance. The author is quite clear that a personal event had interrupted his writing: “a heartrending, ravaging event in ‘my’ world led me, forced me, in my grief” (xxiii, also 137, n.19) to think about these themes of mourning and departure—the latter theme inspired, though, by Jean-Luc Nancy, one of the other protagonists of the book. It is true that the death of the other is no small matter, not for Derrida, and not for any one of us. Derrida, in brief, claimed that the other’s death is not a ‘part’ of the world that disappears but that with the death of the other—every other—no less than an entire world crumbles.

The book argues that “Derrida’s taking up of the notion of ‘the end of the world’ […] dictates an engagement with the thought of salut, for if the death of the other—a parting—signifies the end of the world, this departure then necessitates, stressing the perfomative, a salut-ation” (xxvii). How to address the other once she has left and gone to ‘the other side’ and how, if so, does she greet us ‘from wherever she is’ (referring to Derrida’s final note saluting his audience at the gravesite ‘smiling at us from wherever he might be’)?

The first chapter comments on Derrida’s reading of Paul Celan’s verse ‘the world is gone, I must carry you’. One is reminded here of Ludwig Binswanger’s account of the death of the lover: when my lover dies, our relationship depends on me, and on the few friends that are similarly left behind. It is we who will have to carry (out) our relationship. Our love, the love between my lover and me, is upon the occasion of her death, in my hands entirely. Derrida’s comments on our mortal condition make us aware that it is only through our dealings with the other that there is world in the first place. We carry the world, in a sense, through and for the other. If the other is gone, the world no longer makes sense and one might rightly say: it is the end of the world—the world is gone indeed. Throughout the book teases out some of Derrida’s more familiar themes in his last seminar The Beast and the Sovereign, reception of which is only now beginning. Saghafi carefully reads into  this seminar’s interpretation of ‘carrying the other’ a “remarkable description of an experience” (12).  It is with this experience that Saghafi’s book will close.

Chapter two introduces to the debate between Derrida and Nancy. Where Derrida states that the reason for religion is to provide a safe space for the living, a promise that they’ll be safe and intact, Nancy’s notion of what is intact differs. It is for Nancy only the dead body, which for him attains a certain completion, a state of ‘being finished’, that is intact. Nothing can happen to or arrive for the dead. Derrida’s account of religion mentions that the sanctity, which provides and promises that the living will be safe and intact, assumes itself a position of perfect integrity: the holy is what will remain untouched—it is ‘at a distance’ and is what will save us without itself feeling the need to be saved. Yet to know about this safe haven over there, about this instance that is set apart from all the rest, some mediation is needed. This is what Derrida calls the “law of tact” (25). In a language echoing the tradition, one would need to say that the divine must first have ‘touched’ us whilst so instructing us not to touch the divine, that is, not to grasp, comprehend it in its immediacy. Saghafi adds: “what is tact but ‘knowing how to touch without touching’” (25, quoting Le toucher, 82). The tactful advance of what is saintly needs to be reciprocated similarly, on the part of us humans, with tact. One is reminded of the beginning of The Animal that therefore I am, where Derrida notes that reticence and restraint are at the origin of the religious attitude: Bellérophon is admonished not to expose and make public the nudity of a women imposing herself, which he had, of course, had already seen. Bellérophon needs to ‘unsee’ what he has seen and ‘untouch’ what had touched him. The latter movement Derrida calls the drive for immunity: to leave untouched what has touched us.

Both Derrida and Nancy here take Christic scenes from the gospels, particularly of Jesus’ supposed resurrection, as figurative of how we today could approach the question of death. Christ’s frequent insistence of touching the sick, for instance, illuminates the law of tact. Nancy has responded to Derrida’s stance in his Noli me tangere, insisting, for his part, on what remains (and needs to remain untouched) in these scenes. Well-known are the examples of the risen Christ ‘not to touch’ him—’for I will be with you for not much longer’. For Nancy, this departure of the Christ is a figure for the parting that we all experience, witness (and eventually undergo) in this span of eighty odd years granted to us. Christ so presents “the infinite continuation of death” (29 quoting Noli me tangere, 17) to us. For Nancy, what is untouched is what is intact and which will no longer touch.  What remains with and for the living is the persistence of death and departure  of everything which surrounds us. This is what Nancy’s secular  notion of anastasis intends to convey: it is the attitude of the men and women who have seen death in life and are ‘still standing’.  Derrida will however fiercely critique Nancy’s, well, stance, because this secular account of resurrection for Derrida cannot sufficiently distance this secular ‘salut sans salvation’ from its religious counterpart and will therefore continue to console and save. A deconstruction of Christianity as Nancy proposes is destined to repeat Christianity in its very gestures.

Chapter three focuses on Derrida’s deconstruction of death. Here Saghafi discusses Derrida’s Aporias where the latter questions the most common “figure” of death, namely as “the crossing of the line between existence and non-existence (45): one moment you’re here and the next moment you’re not. Noteworthy here is the parallel between death and the event: “both are unpredictable, radically other, lack a horizon, and come as an absolute surprise” (48). Death, for Derrida, is the great unknown: one cannot even say, with certainty, that through death one crosses a threshold between one place and the other or that one moves from one state to the other. Death, then, is not a threshold, not what crosses a threshold “but rather what affects the very experience of the threshold itself” (47, quoting Aporias, 34): death is no longer that instance that separates life from death, existence from non-existence but that skandalon that is ‘already here’ whilst ‘being over there’ and utterly other. Concretely this would mean that the living, somewhat like Nancy also argues, need to learn to live with death in the midst of their lives already. Like Heidegger, death for Derrida is not something that will happen later—’eventually’—but what happens ‘first and foremost’ to others; on the contrary, death is already here to the point of being the condition of a meaningful life. Life then is itself (a form of) dying constantly. It is, in short, a “living of death” (50, quoting H.C For Life, 89) while dying alive—a factum for a mortal being that is dying, ‘coming closer to death’ general opinion would say at every point in time. Saghafi states it nicely: “”the finitude of Dasein does not mean that it will die one day, but that is exists as dying” (85). Derrida’s difficult idea somewhat resembles the more popular opinion that it is only because of our mortality that life makes sense and that we undertake actions at all (an echo of which one, in turn, can found in John D. Caputo’s recent works).

Chapter four focuses on Nancy’s take on resurrection as ‘anastasis’. Nancy is quite clear that he seeks to retrieve the nonreligious meaning of resurrection, a sense utterly secular and mundane. In a text devoted to Maurice Blanchot—’Consolation, Desolation,’ part of Dis-enclosure—Nancy, Saghafi argues, responds to Derrida’s objection mentioned above. Nancy insists that no consolation is at issue here. At times one has the impression of a race between Derrida and Nancy to interpret death as the utmost foreign instance. For Nancy for instance the dead do not leave something behind as if something of them would remain in a certain place (64). One wonders whether Nancy is thinking of the place Derrida mentioned at his salutary note. On the contrary, Nancy argues, the dead do not depart to somewhere, we just “enter into the movement of leave-taking” (64, referring to Partir-le départ, 46): the dead one is the one who never stops leaving us (without a place to go to or to return from).

Here Nancy meets, in a way, Derrida again. For if the dead friend in a sense never stops leaving us (however painful), it is up to us to keep the dead alive. This is possible from out of a peculiar sensibility Nancy argues: “as soon as I name the dead one […] I grant her another life” (71). Another example might be the phone calls people make to the voicemails of deceased loved ones. This address and salutation is something we would need to think about when pursuing this sensibility. Yet it is not the end of religion, as Saghafi at the beginning of his book seems to imply, it might instead be its very beginning—no thought of salvation would perhaps ever occur without these salutes. In any case, this is where Nancy’s stance toward death arrives: “relations do not die” (71, referring to Adoration 92). There remains something of our relations to the dead as long as we speak about or address our dead ones. Again we find these difficult thinkers approaching a thought that has passed into cultural knowledge. A strange consequence of this kind of resurrection is, of course, that such a resurrection no longer befalls the good and the saintly only but the wicked ones just as well (and perhaps even more): after all, people still speak about (and thus relate to) Adolf Hitler too—an insight I owe to William Desmond, who mentioned this to me already a long time ago.

Saghafi concludes the chapter with mentioning that Nancy, somewhat oddly and unexpectedly, mentions “an unheard-of place” (72 in Adoration, 92) in which one could somehow encounter the (dead) other. It is clear then that both Nancy and Derrida are partaking in a thought of “the beyond of death” (74), however secular they are or wanted to be. With this, Saghafi suggestively and also somewhat provocatively, asks: “Would it be a strange hypothesis to suggest that Nancy’s [is] a reading of Derrida’s seminar The Beast and the Sovereign, 2?” (74). There is, to my knowledge, no direct reference to this seminar in Nancy’s most recent works.

Chapter five discusses Martin Hägglund’s recent interpretation of Derrida in his  book Radical Atheism. It is safe to say that Saghafi is not a fan of Hägglund, who refuses to see any ethical or religious turn in Derrida’s thinking, whereas Saghafi’s account of Derrida’s deconstruction of death rather sees in Derrida a secular account of the ‘beyond’ of death, a ‘dying alive’ that, even though it might be a phantasm is no less real. The desire for survival can therefore not be, as Hägglund has it, a mere desire to live on, as long as possible, until our deaths. Saghafi does not spare harsh words when it comes to Hägglund: his work is supposed to be “shorn of subtlety, elegance and complexity” (79 and esp. 154, n.4).

There is a lot to say about Derrida’s atheism, but the best lines come from Derrida himself. Saghafi quotes from Penser ce qui vient (80), a talk given at the Sorbonne in 1994 just after the publication of Spectres of Marx. Here Derrida beautifully says that he is an atheist “who remembers God and who loves to remember God”. The quote is sufficient already to question Hägglund’s indeed rather straightforward account of a rudimentary—Dawkins-like—radical atheism in Derrida. Derrida knew very well what damage a thought of the absolute can do; yet he knew, similarly, that there is, as Nancy has it in Adoration, a genuine need for the absolute and that it, here and there, has done some good too.

Saghafi agrees with Hägglund that there is an “infinite finitude” to be detected in Derrida, but he differs from Hägglund’s interpretation about how the phantasm of infinity from out of finitude is to be conceived. With Geoffrey Bennington’s classic Derridabase, Saghafi states that différance has given us to think “the inextricable complication of the finite and the infinite” (83-4) just as it complicates, as we have seen, the boundaries between life and death. This complication, for Derrida, has an odd consequence: if our mortal condition is such that we exist and are alive as dying then death is the end of this possibility of dying. When dead, my possibility to die (alive, continuously) has come to an end. By dying, I stop dying alive. This also means that, as long as we are not dead, we are in effect “essentially survivors” (91, quoting Politics of Friendship, 8) like one says after a hard day of work that we have survived another day.

These subtleties aside, it is time to ask: from whence the phantasm of infinity in these mortal lives of ours? From what experience, say, a phenomenologist (which Derrida also was) might start? If we are here only ‘for a little while’, as Heidegger would have said, how does this while, this span between birth and death, this delay, this lapse and deferment of death—terms that are all linked to Derrida’s French sursis—dream up something of the infinite? For these questions, chapter 6 turns to Michael Naas’ magnificent Miracle and Machine (2012) and its elaborate discussion of survival and living on: “Derrida did not believe that  we live on somewhere else or that we live again […] While we are not resurrected for another life […] ‘we’ do survive or live on for a time after death” (99, quoting Miracle and Machine, 270). What is this ‘for a time’ and in what sense goes it grant us a sort of delay from death? Saghafi here offers a reading of the second seminar on The Beast and the Sovereign: “Survivre does not refer to a state of life after demise […] but to a reprieve, an afterlife that is more than life or more life still” (100). General opinion would have: gone but not forgotten.

Derrida came to this idea, one might argue, through his idea of the originary trace and the traces we leave on, say, post-cards, in letters, home-movies and so on. There is something awkward about writing a few lines in a book, for instance, once one realizes that it is likely that these lines might survive my own very being and will be read by someone, likely a loved one, long after my demise. These traces of what I was, then, might even occur grief and pain on the other’s part (or joy if these few lines were funny). In that sense, these traces are ‘my’ survival and are already, in a sense, left there in this book, on this post-card, for the other. This ‘curvature of intersubjective’ space, to allude to Levinas, is present for Derrida in all friendly relations. One might even say that if I am not ready to mourn your loss, I am not really your friend either. This means that, from the very beginning, the possibility of loss is present in friendly and loving relations: the possibility that he or she parts and that one of us will have to mourn about this demise is always present. Yet the loss of the friend, as we have seen, is not the loss of the friendship altogether, except that he, she or me will have to carry the relationship forward. Friendship, Derrida says, “is promised to ‘testamentary revenance, the haunting return of […] more (no more) life’” (103, quoting Politics of Friendship, 3)Derrida’s plus de vie means both no more life and more life. All this, of course, signifies that for Derrida “surviving begins before death and not merely after it. [Life] itself is originarily survival” (104). Since the infinite dying will always persist, we will always (at least for a while) be survivors of the other. In this way, Derrida takes the idea of a testamentary revenance to an ontological level.

Chapter six turns to Derrida’s treatment of the phantasm of living death, mostly through Derrida’s reading of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe in, again, The Beast and the Sovereign 2. With the phantasm, Derrida (and Saghafi) are trying to understand “the phantasm of infinitization at the heart of finitude” (36, quoting Death Penalty 1, 259).  Such a phantasm, in no way, can be separated from the real as the metaphysical tradition was wont to do. On the contrary, the phantasm (although dreamed up and imagined) is what exercises a power over us, what makes things happen (or not). It is this hold over us, of the idea of the infinite and of infinitization more general (which happens most often, these days, in the repetitive machine-like bad infinity of consumption culture) that Derrida sought to understand.

The phantasm of ‘living death’the topic of the seventh chapteris for Derrida most noteworthy in Robinson Crusoe’s constant fear of being buried alive by an earthquake or swallowed alive by wild beasts. Such a phantasm of ‘dying alive’ is, although imagined, no less than a lived experience. Derrida even argues that Robinson, because of his repeatedly imagined anxieties, has already lived through the experience of being buried alive. The phantasm is a performative: it provokes the event (Cf. 124). It is this experience (of the phantasm as phantasm) that Derrida tries to take seriously. Yet this, say, ontic and fictional phantasm in Defoe’s novel is a figure just as well for our ontological status as survivors who are, as long as we are living, dying.

This ‘shared sense’ of dying alive is, for Derrida, an affect and a sensibility: we sense that we are survivors now and will be survivors for a while later. It is with a finitude that reaches further than mere finitude that we are dealing here. A phenomenologist might compare this idea to the idea of breathing: with every breath I take, I am in effect closer to death. Yet every breath I take also entails that I am still alive and will live a bit more. In this sense, breathing too is an auto-immune pharmakon.

This leads us to a second somewhat odd consequence of Derrida’s thought of eternity, immortality or the afterlife. Robinson’s fear and phantasm are not the eternal life of the gods or of souls saved, but rather the fear of, come the moment, not being able to die. This ‘immortality’, if any, wavers between no longer able to live and not yet capable of death. This is also what separates Derrida’s idea of eternity from Nancy’s: where Nancy is influenced by a “Spinozist reading of eternity” (74) when arguing that eternal is what is independent of time, Derrida’s dealing with the phantasm shows a dying alive that still takes time. It is an eternity or a ‘beyond’  that arises from within time.

One might sense an idea of community in Derrida here: since I sense that something will survive (of) me, I sense the other as “the survivor of me” (126, quoting The Beast and the Sovereign 2, 131). Since, however, I am also the other of the other (as Derrida famously argued in his critique of Levinas in Violence and Metaphysics) I will necessarily also be a survivor of others. In every relation, then, there is survival and there will be survivors.

It is this “weave” (127) of life and death that the concluding pages of the book bring to bear.  This weave is the ground without ground from which all ideas of infinity, all phantasms of infinitizations, spring: we believe that it will go  on forever and act accordingly. And even though Derrida will not subscribe to any simple (bad) idea of infinity, such a groundless ground is nonetheless the base from which one can speak of “an excess of life that resists annihilation” (129, quoting Archive Fever, 60).

Does this thinking of survival offer anything to those who have lived through the experience of loss and death? Is there beyond the idea that I will survive my living body for a while anything that speaks ‘from beyond the grave’ as it were? The odd logic of community mentioned above, through which I live as if I will live eternally (or at least for an indefinite amount of time) also means that the logic of this (mortal) life surpasses the logic of thinking, rationality and consciousness. This, Derrida argues, entails that “this thinking of affect requires a certain ‘as if’, ‘as if something could still happen to the dead one’” (132, quoting The Beast and the Sovereign 2, 149). There seems to be developing a new sense of sensibility here which arises “if we allow ourselves to be affected [by a possibility of the impossible, [by] the impossible possibility that the dead one can be still affected or that we could still be affected by the dead one him- or herself” (ibid.). This, then, seems the final deconstruction that Derrida has left us with: “is being-affected excluded by death? Is there no affect without life?” (133). It seems that The Beast and the Sovereign permits us to doubt—and this is a lot. It means that although it might not be reasonable to believe in the afterlife, it is not altogether unreasonable to come up with the idea.

It is to Saghafi’s credit to makes us think about these issues. Yet one must also state that the book feels somewhat incomplete. At times, Saghafi gives us a cacophony of citations which leaves us guessing just a bit too much about the book’s overall argument. The two main themes of the book, namely mourning after ‘the end of the world’ and the question whether Derrida’s discourse can be dissociated from the discourse on religion are handled in a quite unbalanced way. In fact, after chapter two or so the latter theme disappears completely from the book’s focus (although there is a mention of it at p. 97). This bring us to two critiques.

Perhaps, first, the author realized that the two discourses, on salut and salvation, in Derrida cannot be dissociated? There is no way for Derrida that today, in contemporary culture, any discourse can be safely sheltered from the discourse of Christian religion (precisely because the idea of being saved and safely sheltered is the very idea of Christianity) and certainly not the discourse of greeting and address as being one of the very sources of religion for Derrida. This is at least what Derrida implies in Rogues where he speaks of two orders within the earthly Jerusalem: these orders, be they of the unconditional and conditional, of the salut with salvation as much as the salut sans salvation, are indeed ‘heterogeneous’ (which Saghafi notes) but also indissociable and inseparable (Rogues 114 and 172n. 12). The one time that Derrida actually mentions a “radically non-Christian deconstuction” (35, quoting Death Penalty 1, 245), one might also read:  “can one think [such] a deconstruction?” “Nothing is less certain” (Death Penalty 1, 245).

Secondly, one cannot help to detect some romantic exaggeration in Derrida’s thinking of death as the end of the world, each time anew. Although it certainly is the case that every other death is absolutely other and a genuine loss for all the people around the deceased one, it also needs to be acknowledged that differences are to be noted between the deaths of a lover and a friend over and against the death of a long-lost friend, an acquaintance or, say, a former coworker. It rather seems the case that the sense and shape of the shared world with this particular other alleviates or strengthens rather our experience of his or her loss. One therefore also needs to ask whether Derrida is not, with the idea of every other death as a genuine ‘end of the world’ introducing some ‘sameness’ in the idea of death: is it true that all deaths, always and everywhere, would entail ‘the end of the world’ for us and for me?

Agnès Louis: Le corps politique: Introduction à la phénoménologie politique

Le corps politique: Introduction à la phénoménologie politique: Arendt, Lefort, Merleau-Ponty, Ricœur Book Cover Le corps politique: Introduction à la phénoménologie politique: Arendt, Lefort, Merleau-Ponty, Ricœur
Agnès Louis
Éditions OUSIA
Paperback 18.00 €

Reviewed by: Hans Arentshorst (University of Jyväskylä)

The emergence of totalitarianism in the 20th century not only marked a destructive turning point in modern history, but it also led to a ‘political turn’ in the phenomenological movement. Philosophers with a phenomenological background, such as Hannah Arendt, Claude Lefort, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Paul Ricœur, started to apply phenomenological insights to the study of political life in order to understand the emergence of Nazism and communism. This resulted in original and nuanced accounts of both totalitarianism and democracy, which are still relevant today, especially in the face of the growing popularity of nationalist and populist movements.

When it comes to the reception of their work, it is interesting to note that one almost never reads discussions of ‘political phenomenology’ as a coherent movement with its own method and beliefs. Apparently, the work of these philosophers is considered to be too idiosyncratic and incommensurable to be discussed together as part of a single movement. It is here that the originality lies of Le corps politique by Agnès Louis: by analysing the work of Arendt, Lefort, Merleau-Ponty and Ricœur – mainly focusing on similarities and how they complement each other – she provides an account of ‘political phenomenology’ as a coherent movement.

The central concept with which Louis tries to tie together the work of these four philosophers is the body politic, which is somewhat surprising since this is at most a marginal concept in their work. In the introduction to the book, Louis gives a brief historical reconstruction of the use of the concept of ‘body politic’ in political philosophy, followed by an explanation why she thinks this concept is fruitful for framing the movement of political phenomenology.

When people today talk about the political community they live in, they usually refer to it as ‘nation’, ‘country’, or ‘society’, but – as Louis reminds us – it used to be common to speak of the ‘body politic’. By looking at three paradigmatic thinkers of the body politic—Aristotle, John of Salisbury and Thomas Hobbes—Louis shows how the notion of the body politic was accompanied by three central claims about political life. The first claim is that individuals can only truly realize themselves when they are part of a political community; by becoming political, human life takes on a superior form that it otherwise would not take. For example, in Aristotle’s picture ‘mere’ life (focused on reproduction) becomes the good life (focused on the actualization of moral and political capacities), and in Hobbes’s account a violent state of nature becomes a peaceful Leviathan. The notion of the body politic thus expresses the idea that liberation and belonging to a political community go hand in hand.

Secondly, the metaphor of the body politic entails that the form that human life takes in a political community is particular and that therefore there exists a plurality of political bodies. The possibility of a single political body that includes all of humanity is rejected, which we find clearly expressed in Hobbes, who famously rejected the possibility of a universal sovereign.

Thirdly, the notion of the body politic is informed by a certain conception of the body, which reinforces a certain conception of political life. For example, the conception of the body in Aristotle and Salisbury, in which the distinction between body and soul is central, leads to a different picture of political life than Hobbes’s mechanistic conception of the body. Despite these differences, they agree that there is an analogy between bodily life and political life.

Given these three claims, Louis says, it is not surprising that the notion of the body politic became problematic and disappeared in modern democratic societies. First of all, democratic societies give primacy to the individual, and individual freedom is now understood as having the possibility to escape any pregiven identity. The idea that individuals can only liberate and realize themselves by belonging to a political community therefore becomes suspect. Secondly, the understanding of humanity in modern democracies becomes broader and more abstract: humanity now consists of all individuals independent of their political and cultural attachments, which conflicts with the notion of humanity as being divided into a plurality of different body politics, each having their own form of life. As Louis says, the metaphor of the body politic thus seems to be too demanding for us when it comes to the individual, and too limited when it comes to our interpretation of humanity.

In modern political life there thus emerges a permanent tension between freedom and belonging, or freedom and embeddedness. And unfortunately, modern political history has showed a tendency to resolve this tension one-sidedly, either absolutizing the pole of individual freedom (i.e. imagining that the individual can liberate him or herself without belonging to any political community) or absolutizing the pole of communal embeddedness (i.e. the individual belongs to a community where political existence does not lead to any kind of liberation).

It is here, Louis thinks, that phenomenology can make a valuable contribution. In its analysis of embodied subjectivity and the life-world, the phenomenological movement has provided nuanced insights about the way in which freedom and embeddedness are always intertwined in human experience. What would happen if these phenomenological insights be applied to the analysis of political life? This brings us back to the concept of ‘body politic’ and to the third claim mentioned above: that the body politic is always informed by a certain conception of the body. What Louis aims to do in her book is to rehabilitate the notion of ‘body politic’ by connecting it to a phenomenological conception of the body. In this way she wants to explore how phenomenology can help us to better understand the tension in modern political life between freedom and embeddedness.

The book consists of three parts. In the first part Louis gives a general introduction to some basic aspects of the phenomenological tradition—most notably the phenomenological method and the phenomenological conception of the body—which are necessary for understanding the presentation of political phenomenology in the rest of the book. Louis says the phenomenological method consists of an analysis that is characterized by a respect for phenomena and a sensitivity to the way in which subjective existence is embedded in the world. And even though Husserl and Heidegger were never directly concerned with issues of political philosophy, Louis shows that the phenomenological method can be fruitfully applied to political life in order to do justice to political phenomena by avoiding various forms of reductionism, and to become aware of how subjective existence is embedded in the political world. And indeed, it has been the merit of political phenomenologists like Arendt and Lefort to have done justice to political phenomena in an intellectual climate dominated by Marxism and sociology, in which it was very common to reduce politics to a supposedly more fundamental reality, either economic or sociological. Furthermore, they have contributed to a better understanding of the experience of living in a totalitarian or democratic society, as opposed to positivist approaches that reduce political life to a collection of objective empirical data.

The second aspect of the phenomenological tradition that Louis discusses—its conception of the body—is especially crucial for the argument in the rest of the book. Since Louis wants to introduce a concept of the body politic that is informed by a phenomenological account of the body, she has to explain how to understand this and how it plays a role in the work of Arendt, Lefort, Merleau-Ponty and Ricœur. Louis is aware that this is not an easy task since the four philosophers use the concept of ‘body politic’ in different ways, if they use it at all. Merleau-Ponty and Lefort seem to prefer the notion of ‘flesh’ over the notion of ‘body’ when speaking of modern political life. And although there are passages in Arendt’s work where she uses the notion of body politic, this is not informed by a phenomenological conception of the body. Only Ricœur uses the notion of body politic to refer to modern democracies while at the same time drawing an analogy between political life and embodied subjectivity.

Still, despite this conceptual confusion, Louis thinks that a phenomenological conception of the body politic can function as a helpful focal point for discussing the similarities between Arendt, Lefort, Merleau-Ponty and Ricœur. Louis therefore presents a Husserlian account of the ‘flesh-body’ (corps de chair) in which there is an intertwinement of activity and passivity. On the one hand, the flesh-body plays an active role in human experience: for example, it is the place from which objects and the world can be experienced as a unity, and it plays an active role in the experiencing of others. At the same time, there is a passive side to the flesh-body: it is something given to us at birth and it remains something opaque and strange, something that we can never completely appropriate or control. The flesh-body is thus paradoxical in the sense that it is both active and passive, both personal and impersonal.

Louis sees a parallel between this paradoxical character of the Husserlian flesh-body and the way in which Arendt, Lefort, Merleau-Ponty and Ricœur describe political experience in a healthy political community as an intertwinement of freedom and embeddedness. In their different ways, they all show how freedom (or political action) is embedded in a social, institutional and historical situation that can never be completely known or controlled. So both in the Husserlian account of the flesh-body and in the account of political life by the four political phenomenologists freedom is never absolute, since it is always preceded by something—the flesh-body or social-historical reality—that can never be fully controlled or made fully transparent. Louis’ notion of a ‘phenomenological body politic’ thus refers, simply put, to a political community in which this interdependency between freedom and embeddedness, or activity and passivity, is acknowledged.

In the second part of the book Louis explores the way in which totalitarianism destroys the ‘phenomenological body politic’ by turning to the critical reflections on Nazism and communism by Arendt, Lefort, Merleau-Ponty and Ricœur. Louis starts by discussing Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism in which totalitarianism is described as a phenomena that manifests itself as a permanent movement, which aims to realize total domination with the help of terror and ideology. Two visible effects of this permanent movement are central in Arendt’s description: first of all, the atomization of society, whereby the totalitarian Party uses terror and ideology to destroy the common world, thereby isolating individuals and preventing them from forming a meaningful community in which political action is possible. Secondly, since total domination is only possible when it encompasses all humanity, totalitarianism cannot settle for a limited territory nor acknowledge the existence of a plurality of political bodies, but it has to remain a de-territorialized movement. Arendt’s analysis of totalitarianism thus shows how totalitarian power refuses to become embedded in any body politic whatsoever.

For Lefort, the main characteristic of totalitarian power is that—in its quest for  complete control and domination—it suppresses all internal division, such as the division between different spheres of human activity (economy, politics, religion, science, art, etc.), the divisions within society (no autonomous associations) and within politics (no diversity of opinion within the Party), the division between the political and the social (since totalitarian power denies any separation between itself and society), and finally the division between the real and the symbolic.

This striving for unity is accompanied by both an organic representation of society as a giant body or organism and a mechanistic conception of society as a machine. Together, they fuse into a conception of society as a mechanical body, which points to the ideal of a society that can be completely known and fabricated. As Louis says, this is the opposite of the flesh-body, which is always characterized by division: there is a part that is intimate and a part that is opaque and strange, and therefore our power to master experience is always limited. It is this limit to power that the totalitarian Party does not acknowledge; it wants to be autonomous without being embedded, thus destroying the phenomenological body politic.

Merleau-Ponty and Ricœur have not provided full-blown theories of totalitarianism, but their work contains interesting critiques of communism. For Merleau-Ponty the main problem of communism is its gradual disconnection – visible both in the Soviet Union and in Sartre’s ‘ultra-bolshevism’ – between the Party (the will) and the social-historical experience of the proletariat (the flesh). As soon as the Party stops understanding itself as being embedded in the proletarian experience, Merleau-Ponty argues, it becomes a will without flesh, thus destroying the emancipatory possibilities of communism.

Ricœur argues that communism is problematic because it is unable to clearly distinguish between social-economic and political reality and to acknowledge the relative autonomy of the latter. This is illustrated by the fact that communism cannot conceive of an evil that is properly political; it reduces all forms of evil to the social-economic evil that results from the inequality of the relations of production. Once a socialist regime is established, all evil should therefore be abolished. But by denying the possibility of political violence, it also becomes impossible to control or limit it; this explains, according to Ricœur, the unleashing of terror in communist states.

In sum, Louis shows in the second part of the book how the four philosophers criticize totalitarian power for running amuck and refusing to be embedded, thereby destroying the phenomenological body politic. Whereas the second part of the book thus provides a ‘negative’ picture of the destruction of the body politic, in the third part Louis tries to extract a ‘positive’, substantial picture of the phenomenological body politic from the work of Arendt, Lefort, Merleau-Ponty and Ricœur. She does this by focusing on three areas where the tension between freedom and embeddedness manifests itself: political action, history, and the symbolic unity of the social.

Louis explores the area of political action by looking at the work of Arendt and Ricœur. Similar to Aristotle, Arendt associates biological life with servitude and determinacy, and political life with freedom and action, that is, our capacity to create something new and to escape from the repetitive patterns of biological life. But, as Louis asks, if freedom is about starting something new and breaking with repetitive patterns, is there still a need for the agent to be embedded in a political community in order to realize freedom?

Arendt’s answer is affirmative: action needs to be embedded, first of all, in what she calls ‘plurality’. In order for action to become an objective reality, the presence of others is needed, which creates a space of visibility in which action can appear, a space of signification where action can become interpreted and meaningful, and it creates the possibility for an action to be fully accomplished, since this requires bringing others to act. Secondly, action needs to be embedded in the physical and juridical reality of the political community, which together create a common space between people where action has a chance to realize itself not just in exceptional circumstances but in a regular manner.

Arendt thus illustrates how in a free political community autonomy and embeddedness are intertwined and – despite her association of ‘the biological’ with servitude – she refers to such a community as a ‘body politic’. However, her concept of body politic remains vague and she does not draw an analogy between the body politic and embodied subjectivity. This is why Louis complements Arendt’s analysis with that of Ricœur, who largely agrees with Arendt but who explicitly draws an analogy between the duality of political action (starting something new and being dependent on others and institutions) and the duality of embodied subjectivity.

A second area where the tension between freedom and embeddedness manifests itself is history. Louis explores this tension by focusing on the work of Merleau-Ponty and Lefort, who both speak of the ‘flesh of history’ to refer to the complex interdependency of freedom and historical embeddedness. In the last chapter of the Phenomenology of Perception, where Merleau-Ponty gives his account of freedom, he argues that freedom is effective in human life only insofar as it is  not absolute: the subject is always already embedded in a specific personal history that provides certain options and motivations on which he or she can decide to act or not.  The same goes for collective history: every historical period offers certain options and roles to be taken up, between which individuals can choose and which they can play good or bad.  Merleau-Ponty’s account  of the relation between freedom and history thus rejects the two extremes of absolute freedom (which denies historical embeddedness) and historical necessity (which denies individual freedom).

In his later work, Merleau-Ponty further developed these reflections on historical embeddedness by introducing a specific understanding of the notion of institution. Against Durkheim, who understood institutions as social facts that restrict human behavior, Merleau-Ponty understands an institution as a symbolic matrix that opens up a field of possibilities for giving form and meaning to human co-existence.

Louis then shows how Lefort further developed Merleau-Ponty’s reflections by connecting this understanding of institution as a symbolic matrix to the question of the political. According to Lefort, every society is the result of a political institution of the social, that is, by a process in which form and meaning is given to human relations based on a common understanding of the nature of society. However, this political institution is executed in different ways, as Lefort illustrates by comparing different ‘forms of society’.

For example, in primitive societies, which Lefort also calls ‘societies without history’, the political institution of the social is understood as something that has been done by ancestors, gods or heroes in a distant past, and it is now beyond anybody’s power to change. The nature of society is thus fixed once and for all, and this explains, according to Lefort, why primitive societies suppress all conflict and why they resist all novelty and social transformation: only in this way can society’s identity remain stable and be preserved over time. Democratic societies, however, operate differently: they deny a transcendent foundation of the social and instead allow permanent conflict and debate over the nature of society. This explains the emergence of ideologies in modern democratic societies, such as liberalism, socialism or conservatism, each painting a different picture of the nature of society and each presenting a different program of the changes and transformations that are needed in order to realize such a society.

Unlike primitive societies, democratic societies thus embrace both conflict and transformation, and in this way, Lefort says, they become truly historical societies. In democratic societies we find ourselves embedded in a historical situation that presents several options for transforming society (liberal, socialist, progressive, conservative, etc.), and democratic politics consists in debating which option makes the most sense to pursue based on past experiences (failures, successes, unintended consequences, etc.). Lefort thus paints a similar picture to Merleau-Ponty of the connection between freedom and historical embeddedness – or of the ‘flesh of history’ – but he gives it a political twist by showing that it is only in democratic forms of society that a healthy balance can be realized between the two.

The third aspect of the phenomenological body politic that Louis discusses concerns the enigma that democratic societies can be both divided and united at the same time. Democratic societies are divided into relatively autonomous spheres of action, such as the economy, politics, religion, science, art, etc., each with their own norms. This raises the question why life in democratic societies can still be experienced as a unity, which Louis tries to answer by turning to the work of Merleau-Ponty, Lefort and Ricœur.

As Louis says, an important concern in Merleau-Ponty’s body of work has been to show the unity that penetrates the variety of domains of experience. However, in doing so, he has always resisted reductionist solutions – either materialist, sociological or idealist – that reduce the social world to an economic principle, a social fact, or a determined idea. Such explanations of social life remain abstract and cannot do justice to the variety of experiences, nor to their internal coherence. Instead, Merleau-Ponty conceives of social life as a totality, which he sometimes calls ‘civilization’; even though society is divided into different social spheres, these spheres communicate and interact because they are all informed by a specific understanding of the human, that is, a background understanding that pervades social life in all its dimensions.

As Louis shows, it is again Lefort who gives a political twist to Merleau-Ponty’s reflections by arguing that the specific understanding of the human that penetrates a society is of a political nature, and that it is closely related to the way in which power is organized in a society. Louis illustrates this by comparing Lefort’s accounts of the Ancient Regime and of democratic societies. According to Lefort, the society of the Ancient Regime was pervaded by a corporatist and mystical understanding (i.e. individuals had their place in corporations and this organization of society had a religious foundation), which went hand in hand with a form of government where the King was both the highest corporation and his authority had a sacred quality. Democratic societies, on the other hand, are informed by an understanding of man as articulated in the Declaration of Human Rights – as both autonomous and indeterminate – and this is accompanied by a paradoxical organization of power, which appears to be both emerging from society (the people are sovereign, which secures autonomy) but at the same time as being external to society (nobody can legitimately appropriate and embody power, which secures indeterminacy). A democratic regime thus secures a specific understanding of the human as both autonomous and indeterminate, initiating a permanent process of attempting to give substance to the human. In this sense, a democratic society is divided and symbolically united.

Louis’ discussion of Ricœur revolves around his critical analysis of Michael Walzer’s Spheres of Justice. In this book, Walzer argues – pace John Rawls – that a theory of distributive justice should take into account the plurality of goods that have to be distributed. However, Ricœur thinks that Walzer, in discussing this plurality of goods, does not emphasize enough that citizenship and political power cannot be discussed as goods to distributed like other goods. Citizenship, according to Ricœur, is a general condition for having access to social goods, whereas political power (or the state) is the central instance of distribution. In other words, the division of society into different spheres of distributive justice is only conceivable within a political community, or body politic, in which citizenship and the state are already instituted. Ricoeur conceives the nation-state to be the concrete form of the body politic within which complex justice can be established. The nation-state can both guarantee the autonomy of the different spheres of justice, but it can also prevent their complete dissociation: it is because citizens in the end feel themselves members of a nation-state that their pursuit of a plurality of goods in different social spheres does not lead to a radical dissociation.

Despite their differences, Louis thinks that the accounts of Merleau-Ponty, Lefort and Ricœur can be understood as a plea for the securing of a phenomenological body politic in which a healthy balance can be realized between the autonomy of social spheres and their embeddedness in the symbolic unity of a political community. The phenomenological body politic thus serves as an antidote to both totalitarian unity (in which the diversity of social life is abolished by the reign of ideology) and radical dissociation (where a particular social sphere, such as the capitalist economy, emancipates itself completely from all political frameworks).

In sum, Louis uses the third part of the book to extract insights from the work of Arendt, Lefort, Merleau-Ponty and Ricœur about the intertwinement of freedom and embeddedness in different areas of political life, and she ties these insights together with the help of the metaphor of the phenomenological body politic. In this way, Louis gives a convincing presentation of ‘political phenomenology’ as a coherent movement that wants to do justice to political phenomena and defend democratic political life as the privileged place for establishing a healthy balance between freedom and embeddedness (or, put more abstractly, between indeterminacy and determinacy). This account of political phenomenology is similar to the one given by Robert Legros (1996, 548), whose work seems to have been an important influence on Louis’ thinking.

In the final pages of the book Louis tells us that political phenomenology does not tell us which political position we should adopt, but it can help us to avoid the two pathologies of ‘absolute freedom’ and ‘stagnant embeddedness’. Even if we avoid these pathologies, Louis says, there is still plenty of room for political maneuvering – from a flexible conservatism to a radical reformism – and, depending on our situation, we have to decide if we need to secure more freedom or more embeddedness.

I want to conclude with three critical remarks. The first remark concerns Louis’ silence about the differences between Arendt and Lefort. This silence is partly understandable since she wants to focus mainly on similarities so that she can present political phenomenology as a coherent movement, but I think the differences between Arendt and Lefort are of such a fundamental nature that they cannot be ignored. For example, whereas Arendt makes a rigid distinction between ‘the social’ (as a sphere of determinacy and the biological) and ‘the political’ (as a sphere of freedom), for Lefort the social and the political are closely intertwined: the political refers for him to the complex process in which the social gets symbolically instituted.

And indeed, as Wim Weymans (2012) has argued, Arendt’s lack of attention to the symbolic dimension of democratic life is at the heart of many differences between Arendt and Lefort. Whereas Arendt has a tendency to interpret political phenomena in a concrete-empirical way, Lefort interprets them in the light of their symbolic dimension, which explains for example their different evaluation of human rights. Lefort considers human rights as emancipating because of their symbolic dimension: the fact that they are indeterminate and can never be fully realized in social reality creates a permanent possibility for citizens to criticize the existing state of society. Arendt instead perceives human rights as problematic because, in concrete reality, they are not protected by a particular state. One could list more differences between Arendt and Lefort (for example concerning equality, representation, or ideology) but I think this suffices to show that these differences are not unimportant but touch on central aspects of a political phenomenology: how to understand ‘the political’ and how to perceive and interpret political phenomena.

The second remark is related to the phenomenological metaphor of the body politic. Although I think Louis shows convincingly that there is an analogy between political life and embodied subjectivity when it comes to the tension between freedom and embeddedness, in the end this is just one of the tensions in modern political life. As soon as one analyses modern democracies more closely and concretely – as it has been done for example by some of Lefort’s students, such as Pierre Rosanvallon – then there emerge many other structural tensions, such as the tension between liberalism and democracy, the individual and the citizen, reason and will, expertise and opinion, representation and participation, juridical generality and identity, self-responsibility and solidarity, etc. All these tensions structure our democratic experience but, one could argue, they are of a much more incommensurable or ‘tragic’ nature than the tension between freedom and embeddedness. It remains to be seen if the phenomenological metaphor of the body politic can also help to illuminate these ‘tragic’ tensions in our democratic experience or if we would need other metaphors and imaginaries for that.

Thirdly, although Louis’ book convincingly shows that political phenomenology deserves a place in the landscape of contemporary political philosophy, one would still like to hear more about how it relates to other approaches. For example, political phenomenologists are not the only ones who have studied the relation between freedom and embeddedness; there has been a long tradition of Hegelian scholars who have reflected on this problem by rethinking Hegel’s notion of Sittlichkeit (e.g. Honneth 2014). And although Louis justly characterizes Heidegger’s phenomenology as apolitical, there has been a growing interest lately in ‘political ontology’ (e.g. Marchart 2007), which takes its inspiration largely from Heidegger. By comparing political phenomenology to these closely related approaches, I think its specific contribution to contemporary political philosophy could become even more clear.


Honneth, Axel. 2014. Freedom’s Right. The Social Foundations of Democratic Life. New  York: Columbia University Press.

Legros, Robert. 1996. “Phénoménologie politique.” In Dictionnaire de philosophie politique, edited by Philippe Raynaud and Stéphane Rials, 544-551. Paris: PUF.

Marchart, Oliver. 2007. Post-Foundational Political Thought. Political Difference in Nancy,  Lefort, Badiou and Laclau. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Weymans, Wim. 2012. “Defending Democracy’s Symbolic Dimension: A Lefortian Critique of  Arendt’s Marxist Assumptions.” Constellations 19 (1): 63-80.

William McNeill: The Fate of Phenomenology: Heidegger’s Legacy

The Fate of Phenomenology: Heidegger's Legacy Book Cover The Fate of Phenomenology: Heidegger's Legacy
New Heidegger Research
William McNeill
Rowman & Littlefield
Paperback $39.95 • £31.00

Reviewed by: François Raffoul (Louisiana State University)

In this short book, The Fate of Phenomenology. Heidegger’s Legacy, Heidegger translator William McNeill engages the question of phenomenology in Heidegger’s work. The question or conceit that is taken as a guiding thread for this work runs as follows: while the early Heidegger “enthusiastically” embraced phenomenology as proper access to authentic philosophizing, and as the “method of ontology,” after the publication of Being and Time, McNeill considers thatHeidegger appears to abandon phenomenology,” and that his “later thinking is for the most part no longer carried out in the name of phenomenology” (41). With respect to this alleged abandonment of phenomenology, McNeill adds that Heidegger “never fully or systematically explains why, neither in his published writings nor in his public lectures,” to then conclude: “the apparent abandonment or further transformation of phenomenology remains something of a mystery” (117). In what follows, I will briefly reconstruct the sequence of the work, and then raise a few questions.

As mentioned above, this is a short book, and McNeill recognizes the limited scope of his work, characterizing it as a series of “musings” (xiv), a “set of short reflections,” a sketch that “cannot and does not claim to offer a full or systematic account of Heidegger’s complex relationship to phenomenology” (ix). Rather, this work is more like a “provocation” on the way to a philosophical reflection on the fate of phenomenology in Heidegger’s thought. The book is composed of 7 chapters, with a preface and no conclusion. Two chapters are either already published or drawing from an earlier essay.

The first chapter looks at Heidegger’s early work, focusing on his confrontation with Husserl, on the interpretation of what is meant by “the things themselves.”  In opposition to Husserl’s emphasis on consciousness and transcendental subjectivity, and to a certain theoreticism, Heidegger posits “life” in its historical concreteness as the “‘primordial phenomenon’ (Urphänomen) of phenomenology,” 14).  McNeill follows Heidegger’s appropriation of phenomenology, insisting on its hermeneutic and deconstructive scope.

Chapter two pursues and develops Heidegger’s radicalization of phenomenology around the time of Being and Time, fleshing out the ontological sense that Heidegger gives it (as opposed to Husserl’s orientation towards consciousness). Being for Heidegger must be considered as what is primarily concealed. This, it should be noted, already announces the late expression of “phenomenology of the inapparent,” to which I will return. This element of concealment is crucial and determines Heidegger’s thinking of phenomenology.

In Chapter three, McNeill argues that Heidegger’s radicalization of phenomenology “was not quite radical enough: It did not quite get to the root of the matter, of the Sache.  That would require a further step, one that Heidegger would begin to venture only in 1930.”  McNeill claims that the early Heidegger approaches “the λόγος of phenomenology in its scientific guise,” maintains a “scientific” (wissenschaftlich) aspiration that is in tension with phenomenality itself” (xi), and concludes that, “The conceptual discourse of phenomenology, it turns out, was by implication complicit with doing a certain violence to things, indeed to phenomenality itself,” thereby necessitating a turn towards poetic thinking that is “no longer the conceptual λόγος of phenomenology” (xii). Further in the book, McNeill still refers to such “conceptual thinking of phenomenology” (123). These claims are a bit surprising, first because Heidegger had broken with the dominance of the theoretical as early as 1919, in a Freiburg lecture course, where he spoke of “breaking the primacy of the theoretical” on the way to an originary phenomenology of the facticity of life (GA 56/57, 59/50); second, because as we will see Heidegger rejected the ideal of scientificity in Husserl’s phenomenology; and, finally, because he approached λόγος in Being and Time in its apophantic and phenomenological scopes, and not under the form of the concept. The early Heidegger has certainly already broken with the dominance of the theoretical and of conceptuality, approaching phenomenology as belonging to life itself in its process of self-explication (always occurring against the background of a certain opacity, as factical). Heidegger still reminded us in the Zollikon seminars that “Phenomenology deals with what is prior to all conceptualization” (GA 89, 172/131). Referring to a “turn away from phenomenology” toward a more poetic attunement to letting be after Being and Time, McNeill contrasts this alleged conceptuality with Heidegger’s new emphasis on the motif of “letting.” But did Heidegger not precisely characterize in Being and Time the λόγος as a “letting be seen” (Sehen lassen)? The contrast established by McNeill in chapter three, although convenient, is thus not without complications.

In Chapter 4, McNeill focuses on the 1936 version of “The Origin of the Work of Art,” a choice that McNeill never really justifies. This is an odd chapter, as it is not entirely clear how it fits the problematic of the book on the fate of phenomenology in Heidegger’s thought. The chapter draws from an earlier publication by McNeill, but its justification in this work is not provided. We are asked to “reflect on the implications of that essay for the phenomenological approach.” Yet the question that follows reads: “Does the essay provide us with a phenomenological account of the work of art, as is sometimes claimed?” That is not the same question. The first statement seeks to reflect on the implications of “The Origin of the Work of Art” for phenomenology. The second asks whether the essay offers a phenomenological account of the work of art. Further, McNeill makes the very odd claim that the work of art “takes the place of phenomenology.” Heidegger’s effort in that essay would be to “twist our thinking free from the violence” (79) of conceptual thinking. Once again, the contrast made with an early privileging of conceptual thinking in Heidegger’s early work is without basis.

In Chapter 5, McNeill focuses on two recently published essays or self-critical notes written by Heidegger in 1936, “Running Remarks on Being and Time” and “Critical Confrontation with Being and Time,” texts that McNeill interprets as showing Heidegger’s intent “to take leave of phenomenology.” Yet the reason given for such a view is most telling. Heidegger would distance himself from phenomenology (as well as fundamental ontology), not because they “are simply inadequate or inappropriate, but because of their very success” (87). This nuance is crucial, for it shows that Heidegger does not simply dismiss or discard phenomenology, but on the contrary assumes its vocation in getting us to the matters themselves, in opening the way to a thinking of the event of being, or Ereignis, “the originating Ereignis of Being.” As McNeill puts it,

“Phenomenology, on this account, can be left behind because it has brilliantly accomplished its proper task and is thus no longer needed—at least by that thinking that now thinks the truth of Being as Ereignis” (76).

Ereignis becomes the ultimate phenomenon. This is why we are not seeing  a movement away from phenomenology, but rather, “a turning into and toward the issue or Sache of phenomenology” (58).  In a sense, it is a turning back, back to the matter of thinking. Phenomenology is a re-turn to the things themselves.  A leap into Ereignis, yes, but in the sense in which Heidegger speaks of it in What is Called Thinking?: “A curious, indeed unearthly thing that we must first leap onto the soil [Boden] on which we really stand” (GA 8, 44/41).

In Chapter six, a slightly revised reprint of an earlier essay, McNeill develops the “transition” (and the entire difficulty lies in determining the sense of this word), from phenomenology to the thinking of Being as Ereignis, referring to Heidegger’s thinking of a “history of being,” which he labels the “concept” of the history of being. A word in passing: McNeill has a tendency to designate Heidegger’s key words as “concepts.” We saw how he referred to the notion of a “conceptual λόγος” in Being and Time (when Heidegger was proposing there a phenomenological understanding of λόγος as “letting be seen”). He also writes of “the concept of destruction” (13), of the “central concept of care (Sorge)” (17), of how “the λέγειν of the early phenomenology tends, first, to bring Being to a concept” (79), or how Heidegger “develops the concept of the happening of Ereignis as a ‘history of Being” (103), etc… The title of an earlier essay of his reads: “On the Essence and Concept of Ereignis,” an essay in which McNeill keeps referring to the “concept of Ereignis.” Now, the language of conceptuality (or essence!) is certainly not appropriate to approach Heidegger’s thought, and particularly not the thinking of Ereignis: Ereignis is not a concept, but as we saw the ultimate phenomenon. In any case, in this chapter McNeill attempts to relate the notion of destruction with Heidegger’s later problematics of a history of being. We may note here that Destruktion in the early work was already connected to, indeed grounded in, historicity.

In chapter 7, after having spent the entire book claiming that Heidegger abandoned phenomenology, McNeill has to recognize (and without giving an explanation for the discrepancy) that in his last texts and seminars Heidegger did claim phenomenology as his own approach, and sought “to reclaim or rehabilitate the term phenomenology, along the lines of what he calls ‘a phenomenology of the inapparent’ (eine Phänomenologie des Unscheinbaren)” (122). This last expression, according to McNeill, “fulfills what Heidegger now calls the original sense of phenomenology, that which phenomenology has always sought, its concealed τέλος, as it were” (xiv), implicitly recognizing that phenomenology (as a phenomenology of the inapparent) has been a continuing thread in Heidegger’s thought. The original Sache of phenomenology has now been rethought as “the letting of letting presence as the happening of the inapparent” (xiv). We witness in these texts by Heidegger an assumption of phenomenology: not a move beyond phenomenology, but on the contrary an appropriation of a more primordial sense of phenomenology. This compels us to return to the assumptions of this work.

As we saw, McNeill’s entire problematic rests upon the hypothesis of an “abandonment” of phenomenology by Heidegger after Being and Time, upon the claim that “phenomenology is, to all appearances, discarded by Heidegger as the designation for his own method of thinking” (65). This led McNeill to wonder whether Heidegger remained a phenomenologist at all:

“Is the later Heidegger of the 1930s onward still thinking phenomenologically, as is often claimed? If so, in what sense? Why, in that case, does he no longer appeal to phenomenology as the method of his thinking? Has phenomenology been left behind or abandoned? Or is it somehow retained, but in a transformed or radicalized sense? Yet why, then, does he no longer use the term phenomenological to characterize his later thinking?” (ix).

Now, with respect to this last claim, we saw that Heidegger did use the term phenomenological to characterize his later thinking, during a period that spanned two decades (the 1960s and the 1970s), acknowledging his debt to phenomenology, claiming it as his own, and professing faithfulness to the phenomenological approach as constitutive of his own path of thinking. Would that have happened if he had “abandoned” or “left behind” phenomenology?

We note here several issues: first, it seems as if McNeill wonders whether Heidegger remained a phenomenologist after Being and Time because for a time he used the word less, considering that it is “the deployment of phenomenology itself, at least in name, that disappears” (65). As if the relative absence of the word “phenomenology” amounted to a repudiation or a retraction. Because the word is not uttered we have to conclude that phenomenology was left behind and abandoned? That would be a superficial view. To ask whether Heidegger is still a phenomenologist, if he still “belonged,” as it were, to the phenomenological movement, is to reduce phenomenology to a title or a school of thought as opposed to an effort directed at the “things themselves.” Heidegger always stressed that phenomenology is not to be approached as a particular philosophical movement but rather as a permanent possibility of thought, entirely oriented towards the access to the things themselves: “This procedure can be called phenomenological if one understands by phenomenology not a particular school of philosophy, but rather something which permeates [waltet] every philosophy. This something can best be called by the well-known motto ‘To the things themselves’” (GA 14, 54/TB, 44-45). This is why in the autobiographical essay “My Way to Phenomenology” (1963), Heidegger suggested that phenomenology “can disappear as a title [als Titel] in favor of the matter of thinking [Sache des Denkens]” (GA 14, 101/82, slightly modified). Instead of worrying about “titles” or “labels,” it might be worthwhile to question about what such relative eclipse of the term might harbor. In “A Dialogue on Language between a Japanese and an Inquirer,” when asked about his neglect of the term “phenomenology” (along with “hermeneutics”) after Being and Time, Heidegger had this telling response: “That was done, not — as is often thought — in order to deny the significance of phenomenology, but in order to abandon my own path of thinking to namelessness” (GA 12, 114/29). We recall here that remark in the “Letter on Humanism” where Heidegger stated that the human being “must first learn to exist in the nameless,” and how, “before he speaks the human being must first let himself be claimed again by being, taking the risk that under this claim he will seldom have much to say” (GA 9, 319/243). If there is any abandonment, it is to the nameless, so that, as William Richardson put it, the term “phenomenology” disappears “in order to leave the process name-less, so that no fixed formula would freeze its movement” (Through Phenomenology to Thought, 633). Indeed, the Sache of thinking is not some static object, but an event to which phenomenology always responds and corresponds, a response that always occurs as a relationship to the nameless. Phenomenology is never finished or complete, but always underway in its response to the eventfulness of being. As Heidegger stressed in an early course, whereas “Worldview is freezing, finality, end, system,” “philosophy can progress only through an absolute sinking into life as such, for phenomenology is never concluded, only preliminary, it always sinks itself into the preliminary” (GA 56/57, 220/188). The fact that there was less thematic discussion of the term “phenomenology” after Being and Time says nothing about the fact that Heidegger would have renounced the phenomenological impetus of his early thinking. There is simply no basis to make that claim. In fact, Heidegger actually rejected that view.

In his preface to William Richardson’s work, Heidegger ponders the initial title of the book, From Phenomenology to Thought. This expression might suggest that phenomenology would be left behind to the benefit of another kind of approach, i.e., “thought.” However, Heidegger disputes that implication, and proposes to replace “from phenomenology” with “through phenomenology,” precisely in order to show that not only phenomenology is not left behind, but that it is the very process and way of thought itself. He begins by recalling how his understanding of phenomenology as a return to the “things themselves” differs from Husserl’s orientation towards the modern categories of consciousness and transcendental ego. Whereas “‘phenomenology’ in Husserl’s sense was elaborated into a distinctive philosophical position according to a pattern set by Descartes, Kant and Fichte,” Heidegger returns to the question of being as fundamental Sache of thinking: “So it was that doubt arose whether the ‘thing itself’ was to be characterized as intentional consciousness, or even as the transcendental ego. If, indeed, phenomenology, as the process of letting things manifest themselves, should characterize the standard method of philosophy, and if from ancient times the guide-question of philosophy has perdured in the most diverse forms as the question about the Being of beings, then Being had to remain the first and last thing-itself of thought.” In fact, he insists, “The Being-question, unfolded in Being and Time, parted company with this philosophical position, and that on the basis of what to this day I still consider a more faithful adherence to the principle of phenomenology” (GA 11, 147-148/Through Phenomenology to Thought, xiv, my emphasis). On the basis of this reorientation of phenomenology, Heidegger then discusses the title of Richardson’s book in this way: “Now if in the title of your book, From Phenomenology to Thought [von der Phänomenologie zum Seinsdenken] you understand ‘Phenomenology’ in the sense just described as a philosophical position of Husserl, then the title is to the point, insofar as the Being-question as posed by me is something completely different from that position” (GA 11, 148/Through Phenomenology to Thought, xiv). However, if “we understand ‘Phenomenology’ as the [process of] allowing the most proper concern of thought [der eigensten Sache des Denkens] to show itself, then the title should read ‘Through Phenomenology to the Thinking of Being’ [durch die Phänomenologie in das Denken des Seins]” (GA 11, 148-149/Through Phenomenology to Thought, xvi). Through phenomenology as opposed to from phenomenology: this shows that the thinking of being enacts the task of phenomenology as a return “to the things themselves.” There is thus no shift from an early espousal of phenomenology to a later thinking of being and letting-be, as McNeill suggests. This is how Heidegger describes his so-called “turn” or reversal (Kehre) in his thinking: “The thinking of the reversal is a change in my thought. But this change is not a consequence of altering the standpoint, much less of abandoning the fundamental issue, of Being and Time. The thinking of the reversal results from the fact that I stayed with the matter-for-thought [of] ‘Being and Time’” (GA 11, 149/Through Phenomenology to Thought, xvi). There is no essential change of standpoint from an early to a later phase, but only the persistence of the same fundamental issue, i.e., the question of being. What matters in phenomenology is the revealing of the matters themselves, and, “Once an understanding of these is gained, then phenomenology may very well disappear” (GA 19, 10/7). Could it be for that reason (among others, such as Heidegger’s distancing with Husserl) that the term itself was not as often used after the turn, a turn or reversal that as Heidegger clarified in no way signifies the abandonment of his phenomenological thinking?

Heidegger thus speaks of the persistence of the same fundamental issue, i.e., the question of being. Indeed, the fundamental issue in Being and Time, accessed through an analytic of Dasein, is being. What is asked about [Gefragtes] in Being and Time is the meaning of being. And phenomenology is precisely understood by Heidegger as the method of ontology, as the access to being. In fact, as early as the 1925 course Prolegomena to the History of the Concept of Time, Heidegger had distanced himself from the Husserlian conception of reduction, which he characterized as a forgetting of the question of being. Husserl’s phenomenology is marked by a prior orientation toward an absolute science of consciousness.

“Husserl’s primary question is simply not concerned with the character of the being of consciousness. Rather, he is guided by the following concern: How can consciousness become the possible object of an absolute science?  The primary concern which guides him is the idea of an absolute science” (GA 20, 147/107).

In the final analysis, according to Heidegger, Husserlian phenomenology is a fundamentally Cartesian undertaking: “This idea, that consciousness is to be the region of an absolute science, is not simply invented; it is the idea which has occupied modern philosophy ever since Descartes” (GA 20, 147/107). Heidegger reiterates this point in the Zollikon seminars: “Thus, the term ‘consciousness’ has become a fundamental conception [Grundvorstellung] of modern philosophy. Husserl’s phenomenology belongs to it as well” (GA 89, 191/146). Consequently, the project of returning to pure consciousness, carried out through the various stages of the reduction, rests upon a subjectivist presupposition and can lay no claim to being an authentic phenomenological enterprise. “The elaboration of pure consciousness as the thematic field of phenomenology is  not derived phenomenologically by going back to the matters themselves but by going back to a traditional idea of philosophy” (GA 20, 147/107). To that extent, as Heidegger is not afraid to affirm, Husserlian phenomenology is … “unphenomenological!” (GA 20, 178/128). By contrast, Heidegger defines phenomenology as the very method of ontology, allowing him to grasp the phenomena (in contrast with Husserl), not in relation to a constituting consciousness, but to the event of being as such. Indeed, Heidegger stresses that phenomenology is concerned about the being of phenomena, the appearing and happening of phenomena (an appearing that, as will see, is itself inapparent). The opposition that Husserl established between phenomenology and ontology, or rather the “bracketing” of ontological themes in the transcendental phenomenological reduction, is a foreclosure of ontology that can be said to be rooted in the determination of phenomenology as a transcendental idealism, that is, in the subjection of phenomenology to a traditional (Cartesian) idea of philosophy. For Heidegger, on the contrary, as he stated in Being and Time, ontology and phenomenology are not two distinct disciplines, for indeed phenomenology is the “way of access to the theme of ontology” (SZ, 35). In turn, and most importantly, ontology itself “is only possible as phenomenology” (SZ, 35, modified). Thus, if the question of being, of the event of being, is the fundamental issue of thought, then phenomenology, as the pure apprehension of being, could not have been left behind and abandoned by Heidegger. Even when he had recourse to other terms, whether “mindfulness” (Besinnung), “remembrance” (Andenken) or “releasement” (Gelassenheit), Heidegger continued to think phenomenologically. As Thomas Sheehan clarifies: “Heidegger did all of his work on the question of being as phenomenology” (Making Sense of Heidegger, 106).

As we saw, McNeill seems committed to the view that Heidegger has abandoned or discarded phenomenology, returning to it throughout the book and claiming that his “later thinking is for the most part no longer carried out in the name of phenomenology” (41). Now, Heidegger’s later thinking was in fact carried out in the name of phenomenology. This is a simple matter of scholarship: precisely in his later thinking, through the 1960s and 1970s, Heidegger did explicitly and repeatedly claim phenomenology as the most authentic way of thought, one that he claimed as his own. The question thus arises: if Heidegger had abandoned phenomenology, then why did he claim it in the last two decades of life as his own? McNeill’s question, “Why, in that case, does he no longer appeal to phenomenology as the method of his thinking?”, is misleading at best: Heidegger did continue to appeal to phenomenology, not as the “method,” but as the way of his thinking until his very last years. This, in fact, is implicitly recognized by McNeill, when he refers to the notion of a “phenomenology of the inapparent,” which appears in Heidegger’s 1973 Zähringen seminars. This expression, I would argue, accomplishes the early sense of phenomenology, for instance as it is presented in Being and Time. Heidegger defines there the concept of phenomenology as a “letting be seen” (sehen lassen), which necessarily implies the withdrawal of the phenomenon. Indeed, if the phenomenon was simply what is given and apparent, there would be no need for phenomenology. As Heidegger put it, “And it is precisely because the phenomena are initially and for the most part not given that phenomenology is needed” (SZ, 36). This is why Heidegger could write that the phenomenon, precisely as that which is to be made phenomenologically visible, does not show itself, although this inapparent nonetheless belongs to what shows itself, for Heidegger also stresses that “‘behind’ the phenomena of phenomenology there is essentially nothing” (SZ, 36). What is the full, phenomenological concept of the phenomenon in Being and Time?

“What is it that phenomenology is to ‘let be seen’? What is it that is to be called a ‘phenomenon’ in a distinctive sense? What is it that by its very essence becomes the necessary theme when we indicate something explicitly? Manifestly, it is something that does not show itself initially and for the most part, something that is concealed [verborgen] in contrast to what initially and for the most part does show itself. But at the same time it is something that belongs to what thus shows itself, and it belongs to it so essentially as  to constitute its meaning and its ground” (SZ, 35).

What is concealed according to Being and Time is being itself, although in “The Way to Language,” Heidegger would state that Ereignis is “the least apparent” of the inapparent: “Das Ereignis ist das Unscheinbarste des Unscheinbaren—the least apparent of the inapparent” (GA 12, 247/128, modified). Phenomenology, in its very essence, is for Heidegger a phenomenology of what does not appear, a phenomenology of the inapparent, as he put it in his last seminar in 1973:

“Thus understood, phenomenology is a path that leads away to come before…, and it lets that before which it is led show itself. This phenomenology  is a phenomenology of the inapparent [eine Phänomenologie des Unscheinbaren]” (GA 15, 399/80).

Thought must be brought “into the clearing of the appearing of the inapparent,” Heidegger also wrote in a letter to Roger Munier, on February 22, 1974. The entire phenomenological problematic is thus rooted in the concealment of being, in what Heidegger calls the forgetting of being, which is to be meditated upon and remembered (itself to be understood paradoxically as a standing in oblivion: GA 14, 38/30), as opposed to overcome. Phenomenology becomes the guarding of the inapparent. This would suggest, without ignoring the various twists and turns that occurred throughout, a profound continuity and unity (which McNeill tends to ignore as he cuts Heidegger into pieces) between the early and later Heidegger, what Richardson refers to as the “Ur-Heidegger” (Through Phenomenology to Thought, 633). McNeill seems to only situate the problematic of a phenomenology of the inapparent in the 1973 Zähringen seminar, and only in terms of what Heidegger calls there “tautological thinking” (tautologisches Denken),  without realizing that not only does the theme of a phenomenology of the inapparent run throughout Heidegger’s corpus, but also the motif of tautological thinking: let us mention here the following occurrences that one encounters throughout Heidegger’s work: “die Welt weltet,” “die Sprache spricht,” die Zeit zeitigt,” “der Raum räumt,” “das Wesen west,” “Das Walten waltet,”  “das Ding dingt,” “Das Ereignis ereignet,” etc… In fact, the very idea of a “phenomenology of the inapparent” could be seen as the guiding thread of the entirety of Heidegger’s thought: from the “ruinance” of factical life in the early lecture courses to the concealment of being in Being and Time, from the errancy and the lethic at the heart of aletheia in “On the Essence of Truth” to the notion of “earth” in “The Origin of the Work of Art,” from the Geheimnis or mystery in the Hölderlin lectures to the sheltering of the λήθη in the 1942-1943 lecture course on Parmenides, from the withdrawal or Entzug in the essay on the Anaximander fragment or in What is Called Thinking to the Enteignis within Ereignis in “On Time and Being”… Each time phenomenological seeing is exposed to an inappropriable and inapparent phenomenon.

In conclusion, the work provides precise and detailed analyses of several of Heidegger’s texts, and to that extent is a valuable contribution. However, the overall interpretation is flawed, and the underlying hypotheses and questions that drive those analyses are misguided and miss the ultimate stakes of the question. The book is constructed upon an artificial problem: McNeill assumes an abandonment of phenomenology in Heidegger’s work that is not warranted by the texts and by the very trajectory of his thought. Further, this assumption is itself based on an inadequate understanding of phenomenology as a particular discipline or school of thought, a view that Heidegger rejects. Heidegger insisted that phenomenology was to be rigorously approached in its “possibility” (that is, not exclusively connected to the philosophical movement founded by Husserl). This is how Heidegger presents the issue in this passage from Being and Time, beginning with an ambiguous homage to Husserl that is immediately followed by a distancing with his former mentor: “The following investigation would not have been possible if the ground had not been prepared by Edmund Husserl, with whose Logische Untersuchungen phenomenology first emerged. Our comments on the preliminary conception of phenomenology have shown that what is essential in it does not lie in its actuality as a philosophical ‘movement.’ Higher than actuality stands possibility. We can understand phenomenology only by seizing upon it as a possibility” (SZ, 38). In “My Way to Phenomenology” (1963), Heidegger reiterates the same point:

“And today? The age of phenomenological philosophy seems to be over. It is already taken as something past which is only recorded historically along with other schools of philosophy. But in what is most its own phenomenology is not a school. It is the possibility of thinking, at times changing and only thus persisting, of corresponding to the claim of what is to be thought. If phenomenology is thus experienced and retained, it can disappear as a title in favor of the matter of thinking [Sache des Denkens] whose manifestness remains a mystery [Geheimnis]” (GA 14, 101/82, slightly modified).

“At times changing and only thus persisting”: this passage captures the persistence of the phenomenological thread in Heidegger’s thought. In a letter to Roger Munier from April 16, 1973, Heidegger still claimed that “For me it is a matter of actually performing an exercise in a phenomenology of the inapparent,” while clarifying that “by the reading of books, no one ever arrives at phenomenological ‘seeing’” (GA 15, 417/89). In fact, a proper introduction to phenomenology “does not take place by reading phenomenological literature and noting what is established therein. What is required is not a knowledge of positions and opinions. In that way phenomenology would be misunderstood from the very outset. Rather, concrete work on the matters themselves must be the way to gain an understanding of phenomenology. It would be idle to go back over phenomenological trends and issues; instead, what counts is to bring oneself into position to see phenomenologically in the very work of discussing the matters at issue. Once an understanding of these is gained, then phenomenology may very well disappear” (GA 19, 10/6-7). There lies, ultimately, the limit of McNeil’s work, if it is the case, as Heidegger reminds us, that “talking about phenomenology is beside the point” (GA 63, 67/53, modified).

Works Cited:

(GA): Martin Heidegger’s Gesamtausgabe (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1978–)

Martin Heidegger. GA 8. Was heißt Denken? (1951-1952). Ed. Paola-Ludovika Coriando, 2002. What is Called Thinking? Trans. J. Glenn Gray. New York: Harper & Row, 1968.

Martin Heidegger. GA 9. Wegmarken (1919-1961). Ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann, 1976, 1996 (rev. ed.). Pathmarks. Ed. William McNeill. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Martin Heidegger. GA 11. Identität und Differenz (1955-1957). Ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann, 2006. Letter to William J. Richardson. In William J. Richardson, S.J., Heidegger: Through Phenomenology to Thought, 4th ed. New York: Fordham University Press, 2003.

Martin Heidegger. GA 12. Unterwegs zur Sprache (1950-1959). Ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann, 1985. On the Way to Language. Trans. Peter D. Hertz and Joan Stambaugh. New York: Harper & Row, 1971.

Martin Heidegger. GA 14. Zur Sache des Denkens (1927-1968). Ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann, 2007. On Time and Being. Trans. Joan Stambaugh. New York: Harper & Row, 1972.

Martin Heidegger GA 15. Seminare (1951-1973). Ed. Curd Ochwadt, 1986, 2005 (2nd rev. ed.). Four Seminars. Trans. Andrew Mitchell and François Raffoul. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003.

Martin Heidegger. GA 19. Platon: Sophistes (1924-25). Ed. Ingeborg Schüßler, 1992. Plato’s “Sophist.” Trans. Richard Rojcewicz and André Schuwer. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997.

Martin Heidegger. GA 20, Prolegomena zur Geschichte des Zeitbegriffs (1925). Ed. Petra Jaeger, 1979, 1988 (2nd, rev. ed.), 1994 (3d, rev. ed.). History of the Concept of Time: Prolegomena. Trans. Theodore Kisiel. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.

Martin Heidegger, GA 56/57. Zur Bestimmung der Philosophie (1919). Ed. Bernd Heimbüchel, 1987, 1999 (rev., expanded ed.). Towards the Definition of Philosophy. Trans. Ted Sadler. London: Continuum, 2000.

Martin Heidegger. GA 63. Ontologie. Hermeneutik der Faktizität (1923). Ed. Käte Bröcker-Oltmanns, 1988. Ontology—The Hermeneutics of Facticity. Trans. John Van Buren. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.

Martin Heidegger. SZ. Sein und Zeit (Tübingen, Germany: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 1953). English translations: Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. New York: Harper, 1962; Being and Time, trans. Joan Stambaugh, rev. Dennis J. Schmidt. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010.

William Richardson. Through Phenomenology to Thought. 4th Edition: Fordham University Press, 2003.

Thomas Sheehan. Making Sense of Heidegger. A Paradigm Shift. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014.


Sigridur Thorgeirsdottir, Ruth Edith Hagengruber (Eds.): Methodological Reflections on Women’s Contribution and Influence in the History of Philosophy

Methodological Reflections on Women’s Contribution and Influence in the History of Philosophy Book Cover Methodological Reflections on Women’s Contribution and Influence in the History of Philosophy
Women in the History of Philosophy and Sciences, Vol. 3
Sigridur Thorgeirsdottir, Ruth Edith Hagengruber (Eds.)
Hardback 93,59 € ebook 74,89 €

Reviewed by: Theresa Helke (Smith College)


This book is about the inclusion and exclusion of women in the philosophical canon, and in philosophical curricula. Among the questions it seeks to answer are the following two:

  • What methodologies have caused the exclusion of women in philosophy?
  • What methodologies have made it possible for them to become a part of the history of philosophy?

These are important questions. Granted, in the twenty-first century, women are allowed to study philosophy at universities just as men are. Case in point, I did, at institutions in the US, UK, and Singapore. And unlike Maria van Schurman, Dutch polymath and the first woman to study at a Dutch university, no one required me to sit in a separate cubicle, hearing lectures through holes which one had drilled in the auditorium’s wall and covered with a plastered fabric, lest my presence distract. (Pieta van Beek (2010), “The first female university student”, p. 60)

However, women remain underrepresented in philosophy. For example, in the US, women constituted 27 percent of the faculty members in philosophy departments in fall 2017, the smallest share among the disciplines included in the survey. Women made up 25 percent of tenured faculty members, 48 percent of faculty members on the tenure track and 15 percent of those off the tenure track. [Endnote 1]

Similarly, women remain underrepresented when it comes to philosophy-degree recipients. In the US in 2014, 31 percent of philosophy BAs went to women, 27 of philosophy MAs, and 31 of PhDs. [Endnote 2]

While it’s not clear from these numbers whether there’s a higher attrition rate among women or whether departments admit fewer women than people of other genders to start, my own anecdata as a graduate student in philosophy supports the idea that there are generally fewer women. For example, for the first half of one semester, a seemingly-oblivious professor would address the room as “Ladies and gentlemen”. During the second, having noticed the gender distribution, he changed the salutation to “Lady and gentlemen”.

But beyond the actual data on faculty members and degree recipients, women remain underrepresented as authors of works in the canon. And it’s to this which the editors refer when they ask about the exclusion and inclusion of women. Indeed, the reader is to understand the methodologies to which the title alludes – at least I’m taking “methodological reflections” to mean reflections on methodologies – as “the theoretical analysis of the methods applied in the research of women thinkers in the past” (p. viii).

In other words, the book focuses on the absence of women’s works from the canon, more than the absence of women in e.g. graduate programmes.

And, as histories suggest, women’s works are absent from the canon. In 2015, W.W. Norton & Co. published The Norton Introduction to Philosophy, a 1,168-page textbook. Prominent philosophers from Princeton University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and elsewhere edited it. As Andrew Janiak and Christia Mercer pointed out in the Washington Post, the “textbook provides excerpts and commentary on 2,400 years of canonical texts, organized around central philosophical problems. It is philosophically astute, thoughtfully laid out — and contains no writings by women before the mid-20th century.” [Endnote 3] In short, the textbook suggests that during the first two millennia and three centuries which it covers, no women had an idea worthy of inclusion in the canon; until the 1950s, a group without women had the monopoly on good ideas.

Identifying which methodologies have led to the exclusion of women in philosophy, and which to the inclusion, we can begin to redress the gender imbalance in histories. (And some say, that will help redress the gender imbalance in classrooms. [Endnote 4]) Hence, the importance of the two questions which the collection seeks to answer. Again,

  • What methodologies have caused the exclusion of women in philosophy?
  • What methodologies have made it possible for them to become a part of the history of philosophy?

In this review, I’ll offer first a reconstruction of the collection, focusing on an exemplary chapter, and second an analysis.


Methodological reflections takes off with a synoptic introduction. [Endnote 5] In the cockpit are two co-pilots with extensive flight hours.

The first, Sigridur Thorgeirsdottir, is professor of philosophy at the University of Iceland. Past research projects include “Gender, Power and Violence: Interdisciplinary, Transnational and Philosophical Inquiries into War, Conflict and Crisis”. Current ones include “Feminist philosophy and the transformation of philosophy” and “Women in the history of philosophy”. She served on the editorial board of Wagadu: A Journal of Transnational Women’s and Gender Studies, and chaired the board of the United Nations University Gender Equality Studies Training programme at her university. The list of her prior publications is long, and features not only articles but also books. [Endnote 6]

The second co-editor, Ruth Edith Hagengruber, is professor of philosophy at Paderborn University, Germany. She founded the Research Area Eco Tech Gender at her university, and the Center for the History of Women Philosophers, the latter of which she also directs. Along with Mary Ellen Waithe, author of a valuable contribution to the collection (more below), and a third person Gianni Paganini, Hagengruber edits the Women in the History of Philosophy and Sciences series. It publishes monographs, handbooks, collections, anthologies, and dissertations. The reviewed collection is one among others.

Beyond this series, Hagengruber’s prior publications include the books Emilie du Châtelet between Leibniz and Newton, and (with Sarah Hutton, a contributor to the collection under review) Women Philosophers in Early Modern Philosophy; also (with Karen Green, another contributor) the article “The History of Women’s Ideas”. [Endnote 7] In sum, like Thorgeirsdottir, Hagengruber is a seasoned philosopher.

The flight path is clear – the book will proceed in four stages:

  1. “Methodology”
  2. “Rewriting the history”
  3. “Reflecting the content”
  4. “Celebrating women philosophers in art”

The pilots introduce us to the different crew members who’ll be on duty for each stage (the pilots will also be speaking to us again (Chapters 4, 6, and 13)).

In part I, as one expects in a safety briefing, the crew tells us what to do in case of emergency. Indeed, the authors reflect on the canonical exclusion which led to the current situation, and methodologies of inclusion in the writing of the history of philosophy to remedy it.

In part II, the next set of authors examine how a “sexual difference” present already in the early stages of philosophical tradition informed the development of philosophical culture and discourse in subsequent stages.

In part III, the third set of authors focus on twentieth-century philosophers who influenced the course of contemporary philosophy: among them, Simone de Beauvoir and Hannah Arendt.

And in part IV, Thorgeirsdottir offers a preface to nine images by artist Catrine Val, and those images appear.

The plane doesn’t spend equal times flying over each of the regions. If a chapter is an hour, the flight time is fourteen hours. Of those, the reader spends the most flying over “Reflecting content” (five chapters), and the fewest flying over “Celebrating women philosophers in art” (two chapters).

Here’s a full table of contents:

Full Table of Contents

Part I: Methodology

Chapter 1: “Sex, lies,and bigotry: The canon of Philosophy”, Mary Ellen Waithe

Chapter 2: “The recognition project: Feminist history of philosophy”, Charlotte Witt

Chapter 3: “‘Context’ and ‘fortuna’ in the history of women philosophers: A diachronic perspective”, Sarah Hutton

Chapter 4: “The stolen history – Retrieving the history of women philosophers and its methodical implications”, Ruth Edith Hagengruber (ed.)

Part II: Rewriting the history

Chapter 5: “The goddess and diotima: Their role in Parmenides’ poem and Plato’s Symposium”, Vigdis Songe-Møller

Chapter 6: “The torn robe of Philosophy: Philosophy as a woman in the consolation of Philosophy by Boethius”, Sigridur Thorgeirsdottir (ed.)

Chapter 7: “A journey of transformative living: A female Daoist reflection”, Robin R. Wang

Part III: Reflecting the content

Chapter 8: “Reconsidering Beauvoir’s Hegelianism”, Karen Green

Chapter 9: “Simone de Beauvoir and the ‘Lunacy Known as “Philosophical System”’, Tove Pettersen

Chapter 10: “Arendt, natality, and the refugee crisis”, Robin May Schott

Chapter 11: “The feminine voice in Philosophy”, Naoko Saito

Chapter 12: “Iris Murdoch on pure consciousness and morality”, Nora Hämäläinen

Part IV: Celebrating women philosophers in art

Chapter 13: “Celebrating women thinkers”, Sigridur Thorgeirsdottir (ed.)

Chapter 14: “Catrine Val: Female wisdom in Philosophy”

Consideration of each chapter in the collection would make this review far too long, but it might be useful to cite one as an example of the value of the volume.

An exemplary chapter

The first, and a chapter to which I referred approvingly above, is “Sex, lies, and bigotry: The canon of philoosphy”. In it, Waithe argues for the following two points: most historians of philosophy omitted women’s contributions from their histories either out of ineptness or bigotry; and to remedy the consequences of such a failure replicating itself in the university curricula of recent centuries, one can suspend for the next two centuries the teaching of men’s contributions to the discipline and teach works by women only (!).

Among the many valuable frameworks which Waithe offers, I’ll cite two. I’ll call them “the three sets” and “the two methodologies”.

The three sets

Waithe distinguishes between three sets of philosophical works, and these help one articulate the problem at the heart of the volume. The three sets are the following:

  1. The Compendium (“C”): all philosophical works. By definition, historians of philosophy can’t know each member of this set. Beyond Pythagoras and Poincaré’s contributions, the C includes “works that are lost but whose titles are remembered in our histories, works that are completely unknown but that are philosophical, works that have been forgotten or omitted from our histories, and recent works that have not yet withstood the test of time” (p. 4);
  2. The historical canon (“HC”): a subset of the C. Its members are in the philosophy curricula of many institutions. The HC includes “significant works, insights, arguments and their authors, important schools, movements, milestones, and the comparatively minor players whose contributions sharpened the debates or provided historical continuity to movements” (p. 4); and
  3. The true canon (“TC”): also a subset of the C. The TC’s members are the works which merit inclusion in the historical canon (p. 4).

So much for the three sets. The problem which philosophy faces – and here we get to the nub of the collection – is that the HC and TC aren’t co-extensive. Today, the HC does not include members of the C which are in the TC, and does include members of the C which are not in the TC.

As Waithe explains, at the moment, the HC is a portion of the C preselected for gender and race. Focusing on the gender aspect, she writes:

Contemporary source materials are derived from the previous HC, updated, one hopes, by recent important writings and their authors. Newer source materials and educational programs of the discipline were mostly based upon that HC, perpetuating the preselection for gender even if entries of the most recent contributions to the discipline did not completely preselect for it. In the early twenty-first century we have an HC that is generally segregated according to gender but with token newbies added on top. Karen Warren referred to this practice as “add women and stir.” (p. 8)

In other words, the HC is trapped in a vicious cycle: start with a set of texts none of whose authors are women; improve the reputation of these texts by studying them; and the next generation will start with the set of now-more-reputable texts none of whose authors are women. Sure, you can add a text by a woman, but you’re still left without much gender diversity.

How to explain the fact that philosophy hasn’t broken out of the vicious cycle, Waithe asks? The answer to this question relates to the second valuable framework which Waithe offers.

The two methodologies

Waithe describes two methodologies in the context of answering why philosophy hasn’t broken out of the vicious cycle – a non-trivial question.

Certainly, one can’t answer it by saying that philosophical works by women don’t exist, or that there’s only one woman writing. According to Waithe, recovery and restoration projects of the last three decades have located about one thousand works, and nearly two hundred women (p. 8). The philosophical works by women exist today thanks to successive generations of scholars and librarians carefully preserving them in multiple copies (p. 6).

(As I learnt and found particularly interesting, some pre-seventeenth-century works by women survived the censorship of various Inquisitions thanks to humility formulas. Such formulas appeared usually in the first pages of the women’s writing. They denied that the author claimed any authoritativeness with respect to the subject of their work. Waithe cites the example of Julian of Norwich who states in the “Short Version” of her work that “I am a woman, lewd, feeble and frail…” with nothing important to say, and then in the “Long Version” continues for hundreds of pages to develop a metaphysics and epistemology of religion incorporating her view of “Christ, our Mother”. These texts exist today, as do others.)

So texts by women exist.

Moreover, it’s not that no one has known about them: “(competent) historians of philosophy from antiquity until the eighteenth century” have known about them, Waithe tells us (p. 6).

Rather, if philosophy hasn’t broken out of the vicious cycle, it’s because of methodology.

Waithe describes two methodologies, each with different outcomes. The first is the “Lazy Boy Methodology”. It’s the one which historians of philosophy adopted; it’s the one which has led to the exclusion of women from the HC. Historians following this methodology engaged in scant primary research themselves. Instead, they copied, translated, combined, and edited the source materials which their predecessors had published and to which they easily had access.

And the second is the “Female Detective Methodology”. It’s the one which we should adopt; it’s the one which will lead to the inclusion of women in the HC, and a movement toward aligning the HC and the TC. Historians following this methodology will ask the right questions (e.g. “Does the absence of women in a history’s index mean that the work mentions none?”), question the veracity of the answers they receive, and dig further until they uncover the truth.

Offering i.a. these two frameworks – i.e. the three sets and the two methodologies – Waithe’s chapter is an example of the value of this volume.

So much for a survol or flying over the book. I turn to an assessment of it.


The book does many things well, I think, and a few which I’d change. I’ll highlight three things in each category.

What it does well

Three features of this volume deserve mentions as outstanding virtues – beyond Waithe’s three sets, and two methodologies:

  1. Capturing quiet outrage
  2. Illustrating concepts
  3. Generally being accessible to people without PhDs in feminist theory

Capturing quiet outrage

I read a strong moral emotion in some contributions, and appreciated the humour with which I saw authors expressing it. Consider a passage from Charlotte Witt’s chapter. Just as I cite The Norton Introduction to Philosophy as a recent example of a history which minimally includes women, Witt cites The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, published in 1967. Having noted that, among the articles on over 900 philosophers, only three are on women, she writes: “George Eliot, Madame de Staël and Saint Teresa of Avila; two novelists and a saint”.

While Witt doesn’t write “FFS”, she doesn’t need to. To me at least, the indignation is clear. It’s there in the phrasing of the second main clause, the descriptor “philosopher” conspicuously absent.

No, instead of expressing annoyance, Witt anticipates a rebuttal and draws an ironic conclusion:

And, lest you think that the list of 900 includes only philosophical heavy hitters, the editor tells us: “We have also made it a point to rescue from obscurity unjustly neglected figures, and in such cases, where the reader would find it almost impossi- ble to obtain reliable information in standard histories or in general encyclopedias we have been particularly generous in our space allotments” … . In that effort, not a single woman philosopher was considered worthy of an entry. The world of the 1967 Encyclopedia of Philosophy is one in which there literally were not any women philosophers of any note. (p. 23)

In this passage, Witt’s quoting the editor and spelling out what the quote suggests made me smile.

I think this capturing of quiet outrage, and use of humor, is important. The capturing of outrage can validate emotions which some readers might already be experiencing. At the same time, it can awaken readers, who are otherwise indifferent to the lack of gender diversity in the historical canon, to the current injustice. And both of these are important. So too is the way in which authors communicate. Certainly not in angry ALL CAPS. The text benefits from authors who, like Witt, can communicate in a way that doesn’t alienate.

Illustrating concepts

As you may have inferred, I’m partial to a metaphor, and a number of authors – including Robin R. Wang, Sigridur Thorgeirsdottir, and Karen Green – deliver. Here are some examples from Green, whose mastery of the genre is worth noting.

Acknowledging that even inserting women into the history of ideas through their relationship with men is progress, Green writes “To be added as minor jewels, glittering along the chain of masculine links is already an advance” (p. 118, I’ve added the italics).

Continuing with this jewelry imagery, she highlights the historical oversight of Christine de Pizan, Madeleine de Scudéry, and Catharine Macaulay:

It now seems, that what appears to be, from Le Doeuff’s point of view, an acceptance of philosophical subordination and failure of nerve on the part of women, is more properly seen as an artefact of the Hegelian history of ideas, which only admits women as danglers off the links in the philosophical chain of ideas, in virtue of their relationship to a male philosopher. (p. 119, again, I’ve added the italics)

Through this metaphor, and to use showbiz ones myself, it’s clear how those compiling histories misrepresented women who played a leading role in the history of ideas. The compilers represented them as groupies of illustrious men; these women were no such thing: they were original thinkers.

Later, Green uses a couple of other metaphors, which I’ll cite in passing:

First, to describe a methodology which would recognize the contributions to philosophy of both men and women, she draws on a metaphor which evokes the structure of a DNA molecule:

What we need, as an alternative, is a cultural double helix, a sophisticated history in which we recognize both the evolution and development of men’s ideas and the evolution and development of women’s ideas, as well as the complex interaction between them. (p. 121, I’ve added the italics)

And second, to state what action we need to take: referencing Wittgenstein’s metaphor about learning and the penultimate proposition of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: “The Hegelian history of ideas, indeed, provided the ladder. It is time to kick it away” (p. 122).

These images help the reader follow the arguments, and understand the history.

Being accessible

The third and final virtue which I’ll mention, and briefly so, is that each chapter offers enough context that an educator could assign any as a stand-alone reading in an undergraduate course.

There are many other virtues, but I’ll stop here and move to what I’d change.

What I’d change

I appreciate that a book can’t be all things to all people. That said, I’d have liked to see:

  1. More diversity;
  2. More clarity; and
  3. Fewer photos.

More diversity

I’d include more voices, or at least acknowledge the absence of other voices. The book left me asking myself questions the way a visit to Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar left Pete Wells doing so [Endnote 8]:

  • Putting aside racial diversity when it comes to contributors, why did the editors include at least two pieces on de Beauvoir?
  • Why not feature one of the “nearly two hundred women” which, Waithe claims, recovery and restoration projects have located?

I acknowledge that featuring all women is not the object of the book. I also acknowledge that commissioning philosophical texts on women other than de Beauvoir might be more of a challenge. But if we’re looking to include more women’s voices in philosophy, why not include more women’s voices in philosophy?

More clarity

I’d resolve the confusion between gender and sex. Throughout the book, authors appear to use the terms woman and female interchangeably, even though – as feminist theory tells us – they don’t necessarily denote the same thing. A woman is a being with a certain gender, and gender is a socially achieved status. Conversely, a female is a being with a certain sex, and sex is a biologically ascribed status. To quote de Beauvoir’s first line in the second volume of The Second Sex (and to gloss over much hermeneutics), “On ne naît pas femme: on le devient”. While one might be born a female, one isn’t born a woman. One becomes a woman.

Consider the following sentence from the book, in which the confusion of gender and sex is apparent: “The ideology of sexual difference that has permeated the philosophical tradition [and that] may explain the prejudiced view of women as lesser thinkers than males is not applicable to the study of women in the history of philosophy.” (viii)

Here, we have i.a. a term referring to sex (“sexual difference”), and then a comparison of the members of one gender (“women”) with the members of a sex (“males”). Maybe I’m missing something: a TERF disclaimer?! Either way, I’d resolve the confusion between gender and sex.

Fewer photos

I’d cut the photos. Like the last hour of a flight from London to Singapore, the last chapter is the one with which I struggled most. I couldn’t justify the presence of the images in the collection. The editors write:

we thank Catrine Val for the permission to include some of her suggestive pictures of women philosophers of the past. In her photographs[,] Catrine Val imagines how women philosophers and their ideas can be interpreted in art. These pictures and many more from her work on Philosopher Female Wisdom were exhibited at the University of Helsinki during the conference this book grew out of. (ix)

In other words, they express thanks and provide some context. (Note the sex-gender confusion here too: seemingly, holders of the “philosopher female wisdom” are the “women philosophers”.)

But again, this had me asking Wellsian questions:

  • Suggestive?
  • Suggestive of what?

I read “suggestive” here as “making someone think of sex and sexual relationships”, and that’s the last thing which I think the book wants to do when it comes to women in philosophy.

Maybe the editors meant evocative, and so in a PG sense. But even then, it’s not clear to me what the images evoke, and how that supports the work which the book is trying to do about the exclusion and inclusion of women in the canon.

To be clear: I don’t mean these questions, or those above when talking about the confusion between gender and sex, in the antagonising spirit I see in the New York Times restaurant review. I just mean to express my lack of understanding.

If any of the photos evokes anything to me, it’s that of the photographer dressed up as Iris Murdoch. The pose on the rock brings to mind the Oscar Wilde Memorial Sculpture in Merrion Square in Dublin. But that’s neither here nor there. To channel Witt and use damning descriptors: he was a poet and a playwright.

There are other issues. People like Caroline Criado Perez will find the book’s use of the term “women philosophers” troublesome: it suggests “philosophers” doesn’t include women, and does nothing to challenge the idea that men are the default. (As Criado Perez points out, one sees this idea, for example, in the names of the Wikipedia pages on England’s two national football teams: “England national football team” and “England women’s national football team” (as ever, I’ve added the italics).)

Personal findings

None of the issues should discount the excellent work. Methodological Reflections offers an important contribution to feminist philosophy and history of philosophy.

There’s a growing interest in at least feminist philosophy – or rather, some US departments are recognizing the interest in such philosophy. [Endnotes 9, 10, 11] Certainly, there are jobs for candidates with an AOS or AOC in “Feminist philosophy and ethics” or “History of philosophy”. One need only look at PhilJobs alerts.

I think one should applaud the pilots upon their landing the plane. And Methodological Reflections should appear in the syllabus of at least one course in any top Western undergraduate philosophy programme. This book is for anyone who wishes that the philosophical canon not remain a conservation area colonised by shoals of (white) men. [Endnote 12] And such books should appear on syllabi.

I wish this collection clear skies.

[1] Reference: https://www.amacad.org/humanities-indicators/profile-philosophy-departments-hds-3

[2] Reference: https://dailynous.com/2016/04/18/philosophy-degrees-how-many-are-awarded-and-to-whom/

[3] Reference: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2015/04/28/philosophys-gender-bias-for-too-long-scholars-say-women-have-been-ignored/

[4] Reference: https://www.chronicle.com/article/wanted-female-philosophers-in-the-classroom-and-in-the-canon/

[5] Thanks: Dwight Garner for the idea to use the flight metaphor https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/08/books/review-home-fire-kamila-shamsie.html

[6] Reference: https://uni.hi.is/sigrthor/publications/

[7] Reference: https://kw.uni-paderborn.de/fach-philosophie/prof-dr-hagengruber/

[8] Reference: https://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/14/dining/reviews/restaurant-review-guys-american-kitchen-bar-in-times-square.html

[9] Reference: Peg Brand, “Feminism and aesthetics” https://philarchive.org/archive/BRAFAAv1

[10] Reference: Gary Gutting, “Feminism and the future of philosophy” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/18/opinion/feminist-philosophy-future.html

[11] Reference: https://uh.edu/~cfreelan/SWIP/GradPrograms.htm

[12] Thanks: Marina O’Loughlin for the idea to talk about a conservation area https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/times2/the-rose-deal-review-kent-mlv72fdzz

Andrea Staiti: Etica Naturalistica e Fenomenologia

Etica naturalistica e fenomenologia Book Cover Etica naturalistica e fenomenologia
Andrea Staiti
Società editrice il Mulino

Reviewed by: Roberta De Monticelli (Director of the Research Centre PERSONA; San Raffaele University, Milan)

La teoria dei valori che ci manca

Dialogando con  Andrea Staiti (2020), Etica naturalistica e fenomenologia, Bologna: Il Mulino


  1. Tre osservazioni preliminari

La prima cosa da dire è che questo è un bellissimo libro[1]. La seconda, che era un libro necessario, e comincia a riempire una lacuna che i colpevoli ritardi dei fenomenologi, non solo italiani, e fra i più colpevoli quello di chi scrive, avevano lasciato spalancata come un grido di Munch.

Sì, perché non si tratta genericamente di filosofia morale, e neppure specificamente di etica normativa – le quali da almeno una ventina d’anni sono sotto la lente dei fenomenologi, anche se – a mio avviso – in modo ancora troppo esegetico o filologico, o non abbastanza fenomenologico.  Qui si tratta di metaetica, per l’essenziale, e in particolare di metaetica naturalistica, oggi di gran lunga la più gettonata anche fra i non specialisti (si vedano recenti dibattiti anche sul nostro www.phenomenologylab.eu).  E quindi, bene o male, di teoria dei valori: lasciata finora quasi senza interlocuzione proprio dalla fenomenologia, che quasi era nata per parlare di questo! Un vero scandalo, attenuato soltanto dalla presenza di pochi, troppo pochi e ancora troppo iniziali contributi, quasi tutti rigorosamente citati nel testo di Staiti.

Che esagerazione, penserete: la fenomenologia nata per parlare di questo! Ma sì, questa è la terza cosa da dire, prima di entrare in materia. Basta che pensiate ai valori epistemici: chiarezza, evidenza, rigore-scientificità, buona fondazione, verificabilità, conoscenza – e naturalmente avrete tutto ciò di cui anche la più tradizionale e poco immaginativa esposizione della fenomenologia – specie classica, specie poi husserliana – si preoccupa. Ma, tanto per andare più a fondo, e giustificare il mea culpa sui ritardi: penso che un’assiologia fenomenologica sia oggi il più urgente dei nostri bisogni intellettuali, un bisogno teorico ma anche culturale. Questa assiologia fenomenologica da farsi oggi salirà certamente sulle spalle dei suoi classici, ma altrettanto naturalmente dovrà pur discutere con i filosofi contemporanei – specie se condividono almeno implicitamente un impegno verso i valori epistemici, oltre che eventualmente trattarne al livello metateorico, e quindi dovrà tradurre il suo gergo in termini universalmente accessibili, come già sta facendo questo libro eccellente.

Quest’ultima considerazione era necessaria proprio per entrare in materia. Perché mette subito le carte in tavola: non si è mai tanto interessati ai libri quanto se ci si sta occupando proprio delle cose di cui parlano. Perciò questa mia discussione non sarà distaccata o neutrale: avrà sullo sfondo alcune delle tesi che mi stanno a cuore[2]. Non invasivamente spero, perché ora è delle tesi di Andrea Staiti che stiamo parlando. Ma per dare già un’idea di come voglio procedere, espliciterò subito l’essenziale della mia lettura. L’approccio di Andrea Staiti alla metaetica dà tutto quello che si poteva dare sfruttando il versante noetico dell’analisi fenomenologica – fuori dal gergo, il versante della riflessione sugli atti e i vissuti del soggetto, quelli che in terminologia più standard, e pur con una perdita di un dettaglio di informazione, si chiamerebbero stati intenzionali. Ma, come perdiamo contenuti rilevanti di analisi se riflettiamo sul vedere e il guardare senza tener conto delle caratteristiche proprie dei contenuti del visibile, così accade o può accadere se descriviamo i modi della cognizione assiologica – del valutare ad esempio – indipendentemente dai loro oggetti, o meglio dalla “materia” di questi oggetti, i valori: specifici oggetti di un’assiologia “materiale”, che la sua materia desume dal versante noematico dell’analisi, cioè dall’indagine sulla natura dei valori – ovviamente in quanto dati al loro specifico modo d’esperienza.

Procederò quindi affiancando questioni di assiologia materiale – o noematica, o a parte objecti – all’esposizione di alcuni fra i problemi e le soluzioni che Staiti propone, con una importante eccezione nel cap. III, a partire dalle risorse della fenomenologia noetica o a parte subjecti. Solo alla fine di questa disamina potremo capire se la prospettiva noematica è solo complementare rispetto a quella noetica caratteristica di questo libro, o è anche in qualche senso più fondamentale proprio da un punto di vista fenomenologico, ossia quanto alle fonti di evidenza, o riempimento intuitivo, dei principi di un’assiologia fenomenologica. Né nell’una né nell’altra ipotesi il valore della ricerca portata a termine in questo libro ne risulterà minimamente diminuito.

  1. Uno sguardo d’insieme

Cominciamo da uno sguardo sulla strategia generale del libro. Staiti sceglie di non disperdere la nostra attenzione nell’elenco sistematico delle posizioni possibili riguardo a alla questione fondamentale della metaetica, che riguarda l’esistenza e la natura delle proprietà assiologiche, e specificamente morali, posizioni che si dispongono intorno a quello che a partire da Moore (1903, 1964), ma in effetti già da Hume, appare un dilemma: se le proprietà assiologiche sono proprietà reali, che qualificano e modificano la realtà di questo mondo, sembrano perdere la normatività che pure le distingue, nel senso che dettagliano il mondo com’è, e non come dovrebbe essere; ma se vogliamo preservare questa distintiva normatività, dove le metteremo, per così dire, se non in un altro mondo, un mondo di modelli ideali, molto simile alle idee platoniche? In metaetica il “naturalismo” si origina qui, come rigetto più o meno argomentato del dualismo platonico che il secondo corno del dilemma comporta.

Staiti invece ci introduce subito in medias res, attraverso un’agile esposizione delle forme che prende il naturalismo metaetico, e del modo in cui la fenomenologia (come stile e metodo di pensiero filosofico che ha radice nei suoi classici)  si posiziona utilmente nel dibattito, proprio a partire dall’esigenza che in questo dibattito si fa sentire di rendere conto della fenomenologia del discorso morale (p. 21): cosa intendiamo dire quando diciamo che un’azione è sbagliata? Questa prima mossa permette di lasciare da parte, per così dire, quelle posizioni che risultano prima facie irrilevanti al senso e ai riferimenti, quindi alle condizioni di verità, del discorso morale, e fra questi ci sono già alcune delle più classiche e ricorrenti posizioni: quelle del cosiddetto non-cognitivismo, emotivismo ed espressivismo, che da Hume a Ayer a Blackburn e Gibbard  riducono le proprietà assiologiche a stati dei soggetti, in particolare stati emotivi, e i loro giudizi a espressioni di questi stati, e quelle dei fisicalisti che affrontano la questione delle proprietà assiologiche solo per denunciare l’illusorietà dei discorsi morali, riferiti a entità che non esistono – nell’ipotesi che esistano soltanto le entità riconosciute dalla fisica o a queste riducibili. La fenomenologia del discorso morale induce quindi anzitutto a specificare il senso in cui si può essere “naturalisti” in etica: sia accettando la distinzione fra naturalismo scientifico e naturalismo “liberalizzato” (De Caro 2013), che si riduce al requisito assai modesto di non ammettere entità che violino apertamente le leggi naturali (come gli interventi “divini”, in una forma piuttosto rude di teologia miracolistica o magica), sia accettando una parte dell’argomento mooriano secondo cui le proprietà assiologiche sono indefinibili nei termini di quelle naturali (Cuneo 2007, Crisp 2011).

Il cap. I ha così istruito la questione che occuperà, sotto prospettive complementari, gli altri tre capitoli: come render conto del rapporto fra proprietà naturali e proprietà assiologiche, in modo da rendere ragione, da una parte, all’esigenza del naturalismo (liberalizzato) che valutazioni e giudizi portino su fatti di questo mondo e non di un altro, e d’altra parte, al requisito di apriorità che la stessa “fenomenologia del discorso morale” ci presenta come inaggirabile? Perché se affermiamo che la tortura è inammissibile, noi riteniamo che la verità di questa tesi non dipenda certo dall’induzione empirica, che al contrario ci mostra la tortura praticata e impunita in molti luoghi della terra. Staiti intende mostrare che la fenomenologia (questa volta nel senso dello stile di pensiero e del metodo filosofico che portano questo nome) ha risorse per suggerire risposte illuminanti a questa questione, rispettivamente: dal punto di vista epistemologico (Cap. II), dove si mette a fuoco la nozione di intuizione morale in un utile confronto con Robert Audi; dal punto di vista ontologico (Cap. III), dove la relazione di sopravvenienza delle proprietà assiologiche su quelle naturali, tirata in direzioni diverse da naturalisti e anti-naturalisti per sottolineare rispettivamente la riducibilità e l’irriducibilità delle prime alle seconde, viene ad essere inclusa come caso particolare di Fundierung, o vincolo di (co)variazione fra parti dipendenti di un intero. Un bel risultato, perché la teoria husserliana degli interi e delle parti (III Ricerca Logica) è l’ossatura ontologico-formale di tutta la fenomenologia, e la misura della sua generalità e insieme della sua precisione analitica in quanto, potremmo dire (ma il termine non è di Staiti), teoria delle varietà apparenti, cioè di ogni possibile scenario concreto.   Infine, armato di questa doppia strumentazione epistemologica e ontologica, Staiti offre nel IV e ultimo capitolo una lettura squisitamente noetica del famoso Open Question Argument (OQA) di Moore, ovvero della ragione ultima per resistere alla naturalizzazione delle proprietà assiologiche. Riassumo informalmente: non è affatto l’idealità, cioè in definitiva il contenuto normativo della proprietà assiologica, a sfuggire alla sua definizione in termini di proprietà naturali, che lasciano sempre aperta la domanda decisiva (supponiamo che il bene sia il piacevole: ora questo caso di piacevolezza è anche cosa buona?). No: ma è, in definitiva, la sua vuotezza! E’ il fatto che ogni, come oggi diremmo, impegno assiologico (x è generoso, coraggioso, temperante) deve ancora ottenere un “riempimento intuitivo” adeguato, esemplare (“questa è quella che chiamiamo un’azione generosa!” – “questo è quello che chiamiamo un buon coltello!”) perché la proposizione assiologica in questione abbia anche solo la possibilità di essere vera. In altri termini, l’OQA misura semplicemente la differenza fra l’atto di comprensione “vuota” della qualità intesa, e l’atto (potremmo dire: l’incontro) che offre, in tutta la sua ricchezza descrittiva e tipizzabile, la cosa stessa come era intesa ancora non intuitivamente, non data in carne ed ossa, nella posizione assiologica.

  1. Analisi di temi per capitoli. A partire dalla conclusione, Capitolo IV

Cominciamo dalla fine, ma solo per dare la direzione della riflessione e poi affrontare nel merito una minuscola scelta degli argomenti di questo libro breve ma molto denso. Possiamo notare due cose: da un lato la sorprendente generalità della conclusione, che in definitiva sembra risultare valida per qualunque tipo di proposizione, ad esempio botanica o geometrica (pensate ai solidi platonici, e alla differenza fra saperne le definizioni e visualizzarli) o di teoria musicale o di tecnica alpinistica.  Ma questa generalità si ottiene al prezzo di dismettere come irrilevante l’angoscia quasi “munchiana” della Domanda Aperta di Moore, più formalmente quell’eccedenza dell’ideale sul reale – quel possibile sguardo su altri mondi che l’ideale, l’utopico, comportano;  insomma, quella loro possibile, caratteristica opposizione che i filosofi hanno sempre a loro modo concettualizzato, a partire dalla classica teoria di Platone del bene “al di là dell’essere”, epekeinas tes ousias. Quell’opposizione che ha in effetti del paradossale, perché è proprio l’esperienza di situazioni in cui non c’è giustizia, o in cui c’è positiva ingiustizia, che ci fa “vedere” cosa sia giustizia. C’è un sapore specifico dell’assiologico che si perde in questa conclusione.

  1. Sopravvenienza o fondazione. Capitolo III

Ma dall’altro lato possiamo apprezzare la coerenza e linearità dell’intero discorso, che riesce a sdrammatizzare l’opposizione fra due realismi, quello naturalistico e quello metafisico e dualistico dei non-naturalisti (Shafer Landau (2006), Enoch (2011), ma prima di loro Tommaso d’Aquino e il giusnaturalismo classico) “stemperandolo” prima nell’appello fenomenologico all’esperienza (Cap. II), che ci riporta a un confronto serrato proprio fra teorie della percezione (della natura dell’atto percettivo); e poi riassorbendo, per così dire, nella teoria degli atti perfino il problema della relazione fra proprietà reali o fattuali e proprietà assiologiche (Cap. III). Questo problema infatti, che i filosofi analitici nostri interlocutori risolvono in termini di sopravvenienza, viene affrontato da Staiti a partire dal “versante ‘soggettivo’ che ci è ormai familiare” (p. 100). In realtà, suggerisce Staiti, il mistero della sopravvenienza, o se preferite il dilemma della metaetica, si risolve a partire dalla teoria husserliana, tutta noetica, della fondazione degli atti non oggettivanti (emotivi e volitivi) sugli atti oggettivanti (percezioni e giudizi). E così anche la fondazione o non indipendenza, anzi proprio la fondazione unitaria o non indipendenza di ciascuna delle parti relativamente alle parti stesse e all’intero, questo potentissimo strumento analitico capace di descrivere con precisione estrema, come scrive Husserl, “ciò che tiene insieme tutte le cose […] i rapporti di fondazione”[3] (il dono dei vincoli, per così dire) – si riconduce a quel caso particolare che sarebbe la fondazione degli atti non oggettivanti sui quelli oggettivanti. Ma questo caso particolare, che governa la vita della coscienza, mi chiedo, è veramente più fondamentale delle fondazioni che scopriamo nelle cose stesse, nei fatti e nel loro rapporto coi valori? Non sarà anche qui, come dovunque in fenomenologia, la natura delle cose stesse a prescrivere il tipo di cognizione che le cose richiedono, e quindi a decidere anche della correttezza delle riflessioni noetiche? E perché mai, se no, aprire un capitolo nuovo e straordinario dell’ontologia formale fenomenologica, la teoria della varietà apparenti ovvero la mereologia (io la chiamo piuttosto olologia) husserliana? Intendiamoci, e Staiti lo sa bene, la teoria della ragione, cioè dei nessi motivazionali che legano gli atti, fa della fenomenologia della coscienza husserliana una teoria dell’esperienza sotto la “giurisdizione della ragione”, appunto, e non una semplice psicologia. Ma appunto: se questa teoria della ragione fosse sufficiente a descrivere con fedeltà lo specifico tipo di richieste poste ai soggetti dalla natura delle cose stesse (in quanto oggetti DATI nei modi in cui lo SONO, ovviamente), che bisogno ci sarebbe di una teoria della realtà oltre la teoria della ragione e prima di essa, di un’ontologia fenomenologica, formale e materiale o regionale? Quale sarebbe il senso di quel principio di priorità del dato sul costruito che è il motto stesso della fenomenologia, “alle cose stesse”?

Qui però la mia domanda è molto più specifica. L’assiologia non è una regione ontologica materiale a parte, e non potrebbe proprio! La circostanza che il valore né si riduce al fatto né sta in altri mondi che quello dei fatti, l’eccedenza e l’opposizione fra ideale e reale, stanno lì ad impedirlo: sono l’osso duro che resta inalterato e che nutre ancora il dilemma della sopravvenienza normativa (altrimenti ci potremmo comprare un qualunque neoplatonismo che riduce l’esse al bonum, o un qualunque spinozismo che riduce il bonum all’esse: gli errori “continentali” più frequenti).  L’osso duro che, io ne convengo pienamente, il fenomenologo proverà a sciogliere in termini “olologici” (io credo, e ho provato a mostrarlo altrove in diversi casi specifici[4], che i valori siano in definitiva qualità globali del secondo ordine, intuitivamente vincoli di variazioni di strutture (“essenze”) di concreta, strutture o essenze che sono a loro volta vincoli di variazione di contenuti dati). E tuttavia, la stessa assiologia formale – perché ad essa appartiene evidentemente la tesi sulla natura dei valori, che dovrebbe esserne la proposizione fondamentale – in tanto ha ragione di esistere, in quanto, appunto, formalizzazione di un’assiologia materiale. Ma la vera  questione è: cosa riusciamo a illuminare dell’esperienza dei valori, degli oggetti stessi o materie di questa esperienza, e soprattutto del pensiero che se ne nutre (dopotutto, il pensiero assiologico sta alla base delle strutture normative che sorreggono le civiltà umane) a partire soltanto dalle strutture formali della coscienza emotiva e volitiva? Forse non è un caso che la questione degli atti oggettivanti/non oggettivanti sia rimasta tanto più oscura di molte altre dottrine di Husserl, anche se Staiti offre un notevole contributo a dirimerla.

  1. Modi della presenza in carne ed ossa. Capitolo II

Questa considerazione, che come dicevamo riguarda il cap. III, mi permette di risalire al II con la domanda che ne è la prosecuzione. Siamo sicuri di poter rispondere adeguatamente alla teoria di Robert Audi della percezione morale, prima di aver presente l’intenzionalità specifica caratteristica degli atti di Wertnehmen, ovvero del sentire assiologico? E si può descrivere questa intenzionalità specifica senza indagare, da un lato, lo specifico oggetto intenzionale che questo sentire presenta, i beni e i mali, le cose stesse (oggetti fatti eventi situazioni etc. ) assiologicamente cariche; e dall’altro lato, però, la specifica posizionalità degli atti corrispondenti, la posizionalità assiologica? Questione tanto più cruciale in quanto il concetto di posizionalità gioca un ruolo decisivo nella conclusione di questo libro, cioè nella rilettura fenomenologica dell’intuizionismo di Moore, conclusione che io ho riassunto sopra (§2) in termini molto informali, precisamente perché non eravamo ancora entrati nel vivo della questione di cosa la posizionalità assiologica sia.

Mi spiego. Quello che colpisce nei testi di Audi è la completa assenza di contenuto, non-concettuale o concettuale, della qualità “morale” del percetto. Secondo Audi (2015) si può, letteralmente, “vedere l’ingiustizia” compiuta da qualcuno, nel senso che si vede l’oggetto o il fatto o l’evento con tutte le sue proprietà reali, fattuali:  in virtù delle quali il fatto costituisce un’ingiustizia, ad esempio un omicidio. Proprio come nel famoso esempio di Hume (1739)[5]: esaminate bene il fatto in questione, vi troverete la dinamica dell’azione, la forza e la direzione del movimento, i motivi e le passioni, ma non vi troverete alcuna proprietà o relazione corrispondente alla sua ingiustizia. Che differenza c’è allora fra Audi e Hume? Piuttosto dottrinale, direi: di dottrina che non modifica essenzialmente la visione, solo la reinterpreta. L’omicidio in questione un effetto me lo fa: un’impressione di unfittingness. Perché questo non è soltanto, come voleva Hume, uno stato soggettivo (eventualmente, intersoggettivo, una risposta socialmente appresa), privo di portata cognitiva sul mondo? Per la maggior complicazione della teoria della percezione di Audi, che prevede almeno tre componenti fra loro connesse: una componente “fenomenologica” (“l’effetto che fa”), una componente rappresentativa (la mappa mentale che corrisponde, ad esempio in termini di colori, forme, movimenti, all’evento fisico), e una componente causale (l’evento in questione che impatta sul sistema percettivo). A queste si aggiunge una ulteriore componente che è esperienziale o “fenomenologica” (quale, effetto-che-fa) ma non rappresentativa, ed ecco la nostra unfittingness. Ma questa aggiunta non basterebbe a rendere magicamente oggettiva e non soltanto soggettiva l’impressione, se non venisse in soccorso l’ausilio ontologico della sopravvenienza, per cui l’ingiustizia è “fondata” (grounded) o, in una versione precedente (Audi 1997) “ancorata” nelle proprietà reali dell’omicidio, e quindi infine inerisce al percetto – sia pure come uno stigma negativo, una bandiera non-verbale che dice “così non va”. Per rendersi conto dell’assenza di contenuto descrittivo, di “materia” della “percezione morale” di Audi, si può immaginare un caso di eutanasia che abbia le identiche qualità visibili di un accorto assassinio, e chiedersi come farebbe un’impressione assiologica tutta diversa ad “ancorarsi” in una scena percettiva identica. Eppure, del tutto a prescindere dal giudizio morale che l’osservatore finirà per darne, una qualità assiologica tutta diversa permea l’azione (diciamo ad esempio la pietà tragica che permea i gesti accorti dell’agente).  Generalizzando, si può parlare con Audi di “intuizione morale” quando l’impressione morale riguarda non questo fatto particolare ma, poniamo, l’omicidio in generale, che è sbagliato. Ma queste intuizioni appaiono altrettanto vuote di materia assiologica – altrettanto thin. Prive di componente assiologica descrittiva, ridotte alla componente formale normativa (giusto, sbagliato).

Ma a questa, in fondo assai mooriana, assenza di contenuto descrittivo delle proprietà assiologiche, Staiti ha qualcosa da obiettare, da fenomenologo? Posso sbagliarmi: ma mi pare di no. Qui la sua linea di difesa  “noetica” – che insiste su quale sia l’atto piuttosto che sulla sua materia – rischia, per aver troppo concesso a Robert Audi, di farci smarrire per via gli atti rilevanti: che non sono quelli della percezione sensoriale, ma sono quelli del sentire e degli approfondimenti riflessivi delle ricchissime qualità assiologiche delle cose (e delle relazioni fra qualità assiologiche), in tutto il loro spessore. La grazia di questo gesto, la gentilezza di questa persona, la crudeltà di questa azione, il nesso eidetico fra brutalità e violenza, ma non fra crudeltà e violenza. Se non la fraintendo, la strategia critica di Staiti è la seguente: 1. Contrapporre alla teoria della percezione di Audi quella fenomenologica (cioè una teoria non rappresentazionalista ma diretta, secondo cui percezione è presenza diretta dell’oggetto nel come, fallibile e sempre inadeguato o prospettico, del suo darsi); 2. Contrapporre alla teoria dell’intuizione morale di Audi quella fenomenologica dell’intuizione come riempimento di un’intenzione, fuor del gergo come verifica in modalità di presenza “in carne ed ossa” dell’oggetto di un giudizio (non necessariamente verbale o concettualmente articolato), cioè del positum di una posizione dossica.

  1. La questione della posizionalità

Ed eccoci alla famosa posizionalità. Io credo che poche nozioni siano importanti come questa in fenomenologia, perché è precisamente in sua assenza che la nozione non fenomenologica di intenzionalità si riduce a quella di aboutness. Uno stato mentale è intenzionale se è riferito a un oggetto. Punto. Ma se i fenomenologi preferiscono parlare di atti piuttosto che di stati, è precisamente perché “tutta la vita è prendere posizione”[6] : ogni stato intenzionale è un atto personale in quanto include una posizione, attraverso la quale soltanto rispondiamo al mondo, e rispondiamo sempre più o meno correttamente e adeguatamente a seconda che le posizioni siano corrette o no. Che siano dossiche (o di esistenza), come nelle esperienze e nei giudizi di fatto; che siano assiologiche (o di valenza), come nelle esperienze e nei giudizi di valore; che siano pratiche (o di endorsement), come nelle decisioni e nelle azioni. Che poi le posizioni e le loro modificazioni siano corrette o scorrette (e questa possibilità le pone tutte sotto la “giurisdizione della ragione”) dipende precisamente dalle cose stesse, che in tutte le loro dimensioni (di realtà, di valore, di praticabilità) sono fonti infinite di informazione, forniscono cioè contenuti o “materie” di indefinita ricchezza e “spessore”, mai esaurientemente note, sempre di nuovo da indagare. Ma se invece dovessimo ammettere, come Staiti suggerisce (pp. 87-89), che gli atti emotivi e quelli volitivi non hanno posizionalità propria, ma la loro “qualifica posizionale” è tratta da altri atti (i famosi atti “oggettivanti”), come potremmo, da fenomenologi, argomentare contro lo scetticismo non solo logico, ma anche assiologico e pratico? (E non c’è dubbio che fin dall’inizio della sua vita filosofica lo stesso Husserl abbia soprattutto avuto a cuore la questione dello scetticismo in tutte le sue forme, del confronto continuo con se stesso in cui essa pone il filosofo, e del modo in cui rispondervi sempre di nuovo). Come potremmo, dicevo, anche soltanto porre la questione della validità delle valutazioni e delle decisioni? Come potremmo cioè mostrare, non certo se una data valutazione è valida o no, che non spetta al filosofo, ma dove occorre continuare a “guardare”, come approfondire la cognizione e proseguire l’esperienza della cosa stessa, per vedere se lo è, infine, o no? Come può esserci una indefinita possibilità di approfondimento e ricerca anche nei campi d’esperienza assiologica (e pratica), se non ci sono posizioni originalmente assiologiche e pratiche, o almeno se anche i valori corrispondenti non sono dati “in carne e ossa”?

Io credo che sia questa la questione cruciale, dove un umanismo fenomenologico si distingue da uno semplicemente kantiano, oltre che, certamente, da un “naturalismo”, sia pure liberalizzato e quindi pericolosamente tendente a un grado zero di informazione, ontologica ed epistemologica (dato che esclude soltanto, come la filosofia ha sempre fatto dai tempi di Socrate, entità e fonti di conoscenza “soprannaturali”).

La questione è relativamente indipendente da quella del rapporto di fondazione fra atti, sulla quale ritorneremo. Possiamo riformularla così: da fenomenologi, possiamo essere “realisti” in materia di giudizi di valore come lo siamo in materia di giudizi di fatto? Intendo qui per “realismo” la tesi che la veridicità di un’esperienza e la verità di una proposizione non dipendono da norme in ultima analisi poste o costruite, ma da vincoli dati : dati tuttavia inesauribilmente, e in qualche modo anche imprevedibilmente, passibili di essere “scoperti” attraverso sempre nuova esperienza (e ricerca), nonostante la loro apriorità, eideticità, essenzialità (come ci sono e sempre ci saranno scoperte matematiche). L’apriorità dei vincoli eidetici non si oppone alla loro reperibilità “sperimentale” (semplicemente, non è per induzione empirica che li troviamo, come del resto non troviamo così le leggi gestaltiche dei percetti): e su questo non credo ci sia disaccordo rispetto a Staiti. Dove potrebbe esserci, invece, è proprio sulla metaetica, cioè in definitiva sulla risposta fenomenologica alla questione di che cosa sia l’etica, che naturalmente ha come sotto-questione quella sulla natura dei valori specificamente morali. Ma siccome l’etica è una disciplina dell’assiologia, il disaccordo riguarderebbe in definitiva quest’ultima. La questione sarebbe allora: ma c’è veramente posto, in questa garbata conciliazione di etica naturalistica (liberalizzata) e fenomenologia, per una adeguata descrizione  dell’esperienza quotidiana che noi facciamo di tutti i beni e i mali di ogni tipo e rango in cui siamo immersi, per una tematizzazione dei modi specifici della cognizione assiologica? (Un insieme di direzioni di ricerca che riguarda praticamente tutte le professioni, da quelle che riguardano la salute, l’abitazione, il benessere, a quelle che si prendono cura del funzionamento economico e civile delle società, a quelle che riguardano la sua struttura normativa politica, fino  alle professioni artistiche e scientifiche, e per chi vi si interessa, a quelle in vari modi intente ai valori del divino).

Mi sono lasciata prendere la mano. Non c’è peggior errore che quello di accusare un libro di non parlare di quello di cui non voleva parlare. E quindi, torno indietro. Questa apertura sugli orizzonti dell’assiologia materiale però non la cancello, perché offre a tutti e non soltanto agli specialisti di qualche testo sacro lo sfondo sul quale si staglia la mia tesi che l’etica presuppone essenzialmente l’assiologia materiale, e questa tesi è invece, mi pare, pertinente alla discussione di questo libro.

Concludiamo allora sulla questione della posizionalità e degli atti oggettivanti, prima di tentare una conclusione, per parte mia, di questa lettura e di questa discussione delle tesi di Andrea Staiti. La questione che sopra ho definito cruciale riguarda la conoscenza morale, specificamente. E’ la questione se l’esperienza morale che ne è alla base sia passibile di essere, da un lato, concettualizzata sempre meglio (con sempre maggiore precisione e finezza) e dall’altro sempre ulteriormente approfondita, in modo che la verifica e la correzione delle nostre posizioni possa far crescere, qui come in ogni altro campo, la conoscenza. Se ora, per scrupolo secondario (perché è la cosa stessa che conta, non i testi) apriamo il testo husserliano che Staiti cita più frequentemente dopo le Ricerche logiche, cioè le Lezioni di etica e teoria dei valori del 1908-14[7], andiamo a vedere che cosa si dice sulla questione della conoscenza morale, ci troviamo, senza stupore, che il solo “primato” della ragione logica[8] è nella circostanza che i contenuti assiologici e quelli pratici devono pur accedere al pensiero proposizionale (e dunque al linguaggio) per poter essere sottoposti al vaglio critico e alla verifica cognitiva, vale a dire per poter acquisire condizioni di verità[9]. E quindi, non è un caso che Husserl parli di “predicati logici” e non di “proprietà naturali”, come Staiti stesso ci fa notare (p. 91): per quanto ne sappiamo, infatti, qualunque questione, sia essa fattuale, assiologica o pratica, riceve condizioni di verità solo quando è articolata in una proposizione, e in questo senso, che non ha nulla a che fare con la questione della sopravvenienza normativa, non c’è dubbio che c’è un primato della “ragione logica”, vale a dire delle “posizioni dossiche”, necessarie a formulare tesi assiologiche (“Non c’è giustizia senza libertà”), e anche a mettere in questione la verità di giudizi di valore particolari (“Non è vero che Gianni è generoso”). In effetti è altrettanto evidente che il primato passa alle posizioni assiologiche e alla ragione pratica se ci chiediamo a cosa serva la logica (a ragionare bene, cioè con inferenze valide e sane) o perché mai dovremmo preferire la conoscenza del vero all’errore o all’ignoranza, o preferire un bene epistemico come una tesi ben fondata a un male epistemico come un’asserzione confusa e arbitraria: tanto è vero che nelle più mature lezioni di Introduzione all’etica del 1920-24[10] Husserl preferisce parlare dell’”intreccio” fra ragione logica e pratica.

  1. Essenze e sopravvenienze

Una piccola ma acuta conseguenza questa dissociazione del problema dell’accesso delle “materie” di qualunque atto al pensiero proposizionale e alla questione della verità dalla questione della relazione fra fatti e valori, o fra proprietà “reali” e proprietà assiologiche c’è: e riguarda precisamente quest’ultima questione. Staiti cita un testo dall’ultimo volume della Husserliana[11]:

“Un oggetto è ‘ciò che è’ anzitutto indipendentemente dall’esser  bello, buono ecc. Il predicato di valore presuppone un oggetto, un oggetto completo. (….) Un oggetto ha la sua natura e ha valore soltanto attraverso questa natura”.

Ebbene: veramente possiamo intendere questa tesi nel senso di una distinzione fra le proprietà “subvenienti” (non assiologiche) e  “sopravvenienti” (assiologiche)? Si noti: le prime corrisponderebbero alle proprietà “naturali” della metaetica, salvo godere (a differenza di queste) di un criterio per essere individuate come subvenienti, vale a dire che se immaginiamo di sopprimerle (o di variarle oltre certi limiti), viene soppressa l’unità oggettuale delle cose, “prive di valore ma pur sempre unitarie e perduranti secondo la loro essenza propria” (p. 91).

In effetti questo “criterio” ci dice con precisione che cos’è l’essenza di una cosa, il vincolo di covarianza violando il quale la cosa perde la sua identità specifica, cessa di essere una cosa di quel tipo: negli esempi offerti, la Nona Sinfonia di Beethoven cessa di essere l’oggetto che è se facciamo astrazione da proprietà temporali quali la durata, o il Davide di Donatello se facciamo astrazione dalle sue proprietà spaziali. Ma dovremmo davvero credere che perveniamo all’unità oggettuale della cosa soltanto se passiamo “dall’atteggiamento valutativo che caratterizza la vita quotidiana a un atteggiamento puramente teoretico e naturalistico (….), cioè l’atteggiamento delle scienze naturali, in cui si fa astrazione proprio dai predicati assiologici delle cose” (p. 91)? Se Staiti applicasse veramente il suo ottimo criterio, la risposta sarebbe certamente: no! La Nona Sinfonia cesserebbe di essere una sinfonia ben prima di cessare d’essere un oggetto temporalmente esteso (tale sarebbe anche lo sferragliare di un tram), appena si violassero vincoli ben più stringenti, come sono addirittura una struttura armonica, con tutte le relazioni tonali presupposte, uno svolgimento tematico, relazioni timbriche eccetera. Cesserebbe poi di essere la Nona di Beethoven anche solo toccando quella struttura armonica etc. (Cioè, come direbbe Husserl, variando anche una soltanto delle singolarità eidetiche che la caratterizzano come l’essenza individuale che è, anche prima di qualunque sua esecuzione o token concreto). E lo stesso avverrebbe con i gialli di Van Gogh o le morbidezze plastiche di Donatello.

Già qui risulta arduo individuare proprietà subvenienti separabili dalle qualità che all’intero (poniamo, a un movimento, a un tema, a un dipinto) sono conferite dalle posizioni tonali reciproche  delle parti (o dai contrasti cromatici degli elementi). Ma attenzione: questo vuol dire che queste qualità sono semplicemente parte dell’essenza. Dell’essenza specifica di una sinfonia e dell’essenza individuale della nona sinfonia. Sono i contenuti della sua concreta unità oggettuale, ne fanno la cosa che è.   Ora, queste qualità sono proprietà assiologiche. Dunque non è vero che l’unità oggettuale si preserva astraendo dalle proprietà assiologiche. Non è vero sul piano ontologico[12]. E non è vero su quello fenomenologico, o noematico e noetico: proprio non potrei distinguere una sinfonia dallo sferragliare di un tram se non udissi e sentissi, col flusso di suoni, il senso musicale che la composizione gli presta.

D’altra parte, il testo dell’ultimo volume della Husserliana citato sopra lo conferma (come fanno innumerevoli altri): “Un oggetto ha la sua natura e ha valore soltanto attraverso questa natura”. “Attraverso” qui è proprio la preposizione adatta a evocare la fondazione unitaria. Staiti, lo abbiamo visto nell’analisi del Cap. III, legge la fondazione unitaria come una specificazione della sopravvenienza. Ma se non giochiamo con le parole, non può allora al contempo comprare il tipo di taglio fra fatti e valori che la relazione, forte o debole, di sopravvenienza presuppone: per due ragioni.

La prima ragione è che questa relazione presuppone che le proprietà assiologiche non hanno materia o contenuto indagabile all’infinito, ma sono soltanto normative: tutto il “descrittivo” fa parte delle “proprietà naturali”. Staiti “compra” questa tesi (p. 113)[13], che in effetti fa parte dell’eredità mooriana dell’intera metaetica, nonostante i tentativi di metterla in questione, quali furono quelli di Iris Murdoch e di pochi altri. Se non fraintendo il suo testo, riportato in nota, finisce per condividere con Bernard Williams proprio l’idea che un concetto thick può essere analizzato in due componenti: quella “descrittiva”, che in effetti si riduce a un sottoinsieme di proprietà reali o naturali (quelle in virtù delle quali un’azione è crudele) e quella normativa, che aggiunge appunto un semplice operatore deontico, un “non dovrebbe”, o se vogliamo, una valutazione. E con questa osservazione ci avviamo alla sezione conclusiva di questa lettura, cioè all’esposizione della mia domanda fondamentale: si può far luce sull’esperienza assiologica senza respingere con decisione questa tesi, e senza accogliere la thickness, la ricchezza di contenuto o materia descrivibile in proposizioni vere (o false), come costitutiva di tutte le qualità di valore? Si può in fenomenologia proporre una metaetica senza basarsi su un’assiologia materiale?

La seconda ragione per respingere il tipo di dicotomia fra fatti e valori che la relazione di sopravvenienza, forte o debole, presuppone, è che l’unità oggettuale di ciascun bene è data precisamente dal tipo di valore che definisce quel tipo di bene. La stessa fondazione unitaria è assiologica, appare nel fenomeno come l’unità ideale dei suoi contenuti,  fra i quali ci sono certamente qualità assiologiche “subvenienti”, ogni volta che la cosa appartiene alla classe dei beni. Dei quali, come ben sappiamo, è popolato il mondo della vita, il mondo dell’atteggiamento naturale. Dove ci sono beni utili, che sono la gran maggioranza degli artefatti: come potremmo mai descrivere l’unità oggettuale di una sedia prescindendo dalla sua funzione, che è quella cui risponde la sua forma, che ne fa una cosa in un senso assai preciso utile? Certo, una sedia è una sedia prima di essere bella o brutta: ma questo è perché l’unità oggettuale che la costituisce sedia è la sua funzione o utilità, dopodiché potrà essere più o meno bella senza che il suo valore costitutivo ne sia affetto. Questo è ciò che succede ogni volta che ci troviamo di fronte a un bene. Un bene non è affatto semplicemente un oggetto naturale, che contingentemente riceve o acquista un valore. L’unità cosale di un bene è costituita dal valore o dal campo di valori che nel bene, parzialmente e più o meno perfettamente, si realizza. Nel mondo della vita ci sono ogni sorta di beni d’uso, beni artistici, beni (semplicemente) estetici come i paesaggi, beni come le istituzioni, eccetera[14].

Per concludere davvero su questo disaccordo parziale, va detta un’ultima cosa: includere componenti assiologiche nelle essenze non vuol dire affatto rinunciare alla distinzione fatti/valori, che ha certamente una sua legittimità di principio (p.92) – e su questo concordo pienamente. Vuol dire che la sua “origine fenomenologica” (p. 92) non è quella individuata da Staiti, e che in ultima analisi rinvierebbe alla distinzione fra atti oggettivanti e non oggettivanti. La sua origine fenomenologica è, io credo, l’opposizione fra l’ideale e il reale, quella – in un certo senso – che ci richiama l’angoscia del grido di Munch: e non ha veramente più a che fare né col naturalismo scientifico né col dualismo, né forse con un loro liberale incontro a metà strada. Perché, lungi dall’espungere la normatività dallo IS, il fenomenologo vi ingloba ogni sorta di OUGHT. Mi sia permessa, per rapidità, un’autocitazione:

“Le essenze o idee, dicevamo,  sono sempre portatrici di un elemento normativo. Poiché essere dato è essere strutturato, ecco la profusione di essenze, invarianti “eidetiche” che contraddistingue il mondo della vita secondo i fenomenologi, e anche implicite direttive di tutto il nostro percepire, sentire e fare. La sua infinita ricchezza racchiude ovunque ordine, significato, struttura, norme. Questo pensiero attraversa l’opera di Husserl dalle Ricerche logiche alla Crisi delle scienze europee.”[15]

Così, un cane a tre zampe non è un buon esemplare della sua specie, e un coltello che non taglia neppure, come non è un buon guerriero un guerriero che non sia coraggioso, o un buon palo della banda uno che, come nella canzone di Jannacci, non ci vede un accidente. La salute ha la sua norma vitale, fondata in biologia, e uno Stato che non sia in grado di assicurare ai suoi cittadini almeno la pace civile ha perduto la sua ragion d’essere.

 E tuttavia, l’angoscia assiologica perdura: meno drammaticamente,  perdura l’opposizione fra il reale e l’ideale. Perché se in definitiva ogni cosa è un esemplare del suo eidos, o dell’unità ideale della sua specie (nel linguaggio delle Ricerche logiche), non ogni cosa ne è un buon esemplare. Quanti insegnanti abbiamo conosciuto che non sono proprio insegnanti ideali. E le repubbliche ideali abbiamo cominciato a studiarle da quando viviamo in quelle reali. Lo scarto fra essere e dover essere è tutto nella realtà com’è, che sia naturale o che sia artifattuale, istituzionale, sociale, personale – e la perfezione non è di questo mondo.

  1. Conclusioni sull’etica e l’assiologia

 Riprendo dunque la domanda che ho formulato all’inizio di questa analisi: la prospettiva noematica, o sulla natura dei valori, che ora forse risulta più chiaramente incentrata sull’assiologia materiale (che questa prospettiva richiede di sviluppare), è solo complementare rispetto alla prospettiva noetica caratteristica di questo libro, o è anche in qualche senso più fondamentale proprio da un punto di vista fenomenologico, ossia quanto alle sue fonti di evidenza, alle fonti della conoscenza (rigorosa) che il filosofo non rinuncia a cercare? Per le ragioni che nell’analisi ho cercato di evidenziare, propendo per la seconda. Ma ora debbo spiegare in che modo l’assunzione di questa prospettiva più fondamentale farebbe maggior luce anche sugli stessi problemi che Staiti affronta.

Il disaccordo, ipotizzavo nella sezione 6, potrebbe vertere proprio sulla metaetica, cioè in definitiva sulla risposta fenomenologica alla questione di che cosa sia l’etica, che naturalmente ha come sotto-questione quella sulla natura dei valori specificamente morali.

Cominciamo a levar di mezzo le questioni secondarie. Staiti cita fra le fonti storiche principali  della ricerca fenomenologica i volumi dell’edizione critica delle opere di Husserl espressamente dedicati all’Etica, che sono rimasti per molto tempo inediti e hanno cominciato ad essere pubblicati solo dalla metà degli anni Novanta (p. 36). E cita anche Max Scheler e il suo Formalismo, solo recentemente riscoperto e rivalutato[16]. C’è però una ragione di questo ritardo, che coinvolge un intero universo di ricerche di assiologia materiale di straordinaria portata e radicate precisamente in quell’angoscia munchiana per la pianta bifronte dell’arbitrarismo o antiumanesimo teoretico e pratico, logico ed etico, che sempre si riproduce nel confronto fra il filosofo e il sofista: un confronto che avviene ogni giorno nell’anima stessa del filosofo ed è tutt’altro che accademica. Ai tempi di Husserl e ancora per tre quarti di secolo dopo la sua morte vinse, nel mondo e nell’accademia “continentale”, il sofista. E furono praticamente dimenticati i nomi degli assiologi che dal ceppo fenomenologico fiorivano e fuggivano o morivano: Herbert Spiegelberg, Aurel Kolnai, Roman Ingarden, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Moritz Geiger e molti altri. Ora, non c’è dubbio che l’eredità di Scheler non si fa molto sentire in questo libro. Ma questo è infinitamente secondario, anzi il suo pregio è che semmai vi si facciano tanti altri nomi di interlocutori vivi oggi.

Andiamo al dunque, invece. Cosa sono i valori specificamente morali?  Io credo che abbia molto senso cercarli nel mondo, ma non certo indipendentemente dalla messa a fuoco, del tutto fenomenologica, dei portatori ultimi di questi valori, che sono in definitiva gli agenti personali, ossia le loro decisioni, azioni, comportamenti, e alla base motivazionale di questi, le loro esperienze. E’ così fastidiosa, in tutta la metaetica mooriana e post-mooriana, l’oscillazione perpetua e oscura  fra un discorso sulla natura dei valori e uno su quelli specificamente morali, che poi dà il nome alla disciplina, “metaetica”. Che cosa sono il bene e il male morali? La tradizione fenomenologica fornisce una risposta ovvia anche se illuminante: buone o cattive moralmente sono le azioni e i comportamenti, e dunque le situazioni e le realtà cui danno luogo, e dunque in ultima analisi le volontà esplicite o implicite che animano azioni e comportamenti. Ebbene, quando sono buone moralmente queste volontà? Evidentemente, quando realizzano in ogni data situazione, e in funzione delle date possibilità e capacità dell’agente, i valori relativamente superiori accessibili e non quelli relativamente inferiori, o addirittura i corrispettivi disvalori, ad esempio: a supporre che io sappia nuotare, diciamo che salvando la vita a un bambino ho preservato un bene (realizzato un valore) superiore a quello del mio comfort che avrei preservato evitando di buttarmi nell’acqua gelata. Ovviamente sia la vita del bambino sia il mio comfort sono beni o parti di beni, quindi hanno valori: ma non certo valori morali! La salute non è certamente un valore morale, ma è certamente immorale danneggiare quella altrui per i propri interessi, e così via. Una tesi fondamentale della metaetica fenomenologica dovrebbe dunque essere che il valore morale della volontà presuppone tutti i valori non morali delle cose del mondo (e, in effetti, le loro relazioni)[17], e in un senso preciso ne dipende. Se la tua vita non avesse alcun valore, che male sarebbe sopprimerla? Se nessuna cosa avesse valore, perché ci sarebbero norme sulla proprietà e che male sarebbe il furto?

Naturalmente, per quanto antikantiana sia questa tesi, c’è una cosa su cui Kant ha assolutamente ragione, ed è che la volontà non e buona o cattiva in ragione dei beni che realizza, ma dell’intenzione che la muove. Ma come può definirsi la bontà dell’intenzione se non in riferimento al valore cui mira? E perché il dovere mi obbliga, se non in quanto deriva dal valore? Dunque c’è un elemento fortemente cognitivo della bontà morale, perché le decisioni dipendono dalle valutazioni e quindi dall’adeguatezza del sentire: ma questa a sua volta dipende da quella disposizione libera, volontaria, che è la veglia del sentire, l’attenzione della mente e del cuore.  In ultima analisi, dunque, moralmente buona è la persona in quanto veglia, non solo in quanto decide e agisce. Di più: in quanto è disponibile alla verifica continua delle relazioni fra i puri contenuti assiologici, fra i valori, o piuttosto a rimettere in questione tutte le proprie certezze, a fare ogni volta nuove scoperte assiologiche.

Queste due tesi impattano su alcune tesi di fondo di questo bel libro che ho forse un po’ troppo appassionatamente voltato e rivoltato. Insieme esprimono il cognitivismo assiologico in generale, e il cognitivismo etico in particolare.

Vediamo prima l’impatto di quest’ultima tesi, che esprime il cognitivismo etico così profondamente caratteristico del fenomenologo. Staiti all’inizio del libro risponde validamente all’obiezione secondo cui “la natura descrittiva della fenomenologia le impedirebbe di occuparsi di fenomeni etici, in quanto prescrittivi”. Questa obiezione, risponde Staiti, è quanto meno fuorviante: “Sono proprio i fenomeni prescrittivi dell’etica a dover essere anzitutto descritti per scoprirne la configurazione essenziale e le condizioni di validità” (pp. 36-37). Un primo punto con il quale non si può che concordare. Staiti prosegue: “Vi è però un nucleo di verità nel riferimento alla natura descrittiva, anziché normativa, della fenomenologia: la prospettiva fenomenologica non intende proporre un’etica normativa autonoma, distinta dalle tre canoniche alternative di eudemonismo utilitarismo e deontologia” (37). Ancora d’accordo: ma qui bisogna intendersi sulla portata della tesi. Quella che le conferisce Staiti è modesta, indulgente e affabile: si tratterà soltanto di un lavoro di chiarificazione, “che riporti le nozioni cardine delle tre tradizioni etiche alle loro fonti esperienziali e provi a rettificare eventuali pretese eccessive avanzate da ciascuna di esse”. La portata che conferirei io a questa tesi è invece più ambiziosa, e quindi molto meno indulgente e affabile: a ciascuna delle tradizioni rimprovererebbe un vero e proprio fatale errore, precisamente radicato nell’ignorare le tesi fondamentali di un’etica materiale dei valori. Alla tradizione eudemonistica imputerebbe la confusione di valori e fini, che porta ad agire con in vista non il maggior bene che posso portare al mondo ma lo stato personale (sia esso il mio piacere o la mia perfezione), eticamente irrilevante (non è vero che la propria felicità sia il fine, né d’altronde men che meno la ricompensa, dell’agire moralmente buono, anche se è vero, probabilmente, che ne è una fonte, o forse che solo il felice è veramente buono). Alla tradizione consequenzialista imputerebbe, come farebbe un kantiano, la confusione di beni e valori in quanto inficia l’incondizionatezza delle ragioni morali; a un kantiano imputerebbe la confusione di valori e beni, cioè l’ascrizione di ogni contenuto o materia delle motivazioni alle realizzazioni finite, relative, contingenti e contendibili dei valori nei beni, cioè l’inconcepibilità di determinanti del volere morale che siano insieme materiali (contenutistiche, thick) e apriori. Altro che pretese eccessive: errori fondamentali. Ma a questa minore affabilità fa riscontro un terzo punto, rispetto alla questione normativo/descrittivo, che a mio parere dovrebbe far parte delle tesi fenomenologiche di metaetica, ma che non so se possa dato l’impianto del libro, essere con questo compatibile: la giustificazione di ogni norma rinvia a una cognizione descrittiva, lungo le due direttive del dover essere e del dover fare: cioè lungo quella dei valori di perfezione eidetica, menzionati sopra, e lungo quella dei valori pratici o d’azione (in particolare quelli morali, come le virtù) quindi delle relazioni assiologiche pure di volta in volta in gioco. I valori infine non sono che una sottoclasse di eide, quella sottoclasse costituita dalle qualità con valenza positiva o negativa. La ricchezza delle loro materie ci rende tutti principianti nei vari domini delle assiologie materiali, ancora di più che in quelli delle ontologie materiali.

Infine, resta da verificare l’impatto che la tesi più generale del cognitivismo assiologico ha su tesi proprie di questo libro. E forse, allora, è la sua conclusione stessa a venire in questione. Un testo famoso di Peter Geach[18]  offre a Staiti la base per questa conclusione, sull’interpretazione fenomenologica dell’Open Question Argument di Moore. Per Geach, “buono” e “cattivo” sono sempre aggettivi “attributivi” e non “predicativi” – dove con “attributivi” si intende che “buono” non predica una proprietà ulteriore di una cosa di tipo X che possiede già le proprietà EFG , ma serve precisamente ad attribuire a questa cosa le proprietà che lo costituiscono: un coltello è buono se la sua lama è tagliente, il suo manico solido etc., e ogni volta vediamo dal sostantivo che cosa costituisca la “bontà” attribuita alla cosa: un buon cavallo, un buon romanzo, un buon filosofo, una persona buona. Dal punto di vista di Geach, dunque, il carattere “speciale”, “non naturale” che un mooriano attribuirebbe all’idea del buono, è del tutto illusorio, e dipende dall’aver considerato “predicativo” un aggettivo “attributivo”. Ora, non è difficile per un fenomenologo riconoscere in EFG le qualità che fanno di un coltello, un cavallo, un filosofo, un buon esemplare del suo tipo: ma questo non ci basta affatto per negare che un buon X sia in effetti un X ideale, o come anche diciamo un X “esemplare”. E naturalmente  questo non toglie alcuna normatività alla qualità di “buon” X. Riferito a un coltello, l’aggettivo seleziona tutte le qualità funzionali che il coltello deve possedere per essere utile, riferito a un cavallo le qualità vitali,  lo slancio, il vigore, la potenza che distinguono un purosangue da un ronzino; riferito a un romanzo la capacità di avvincere senza banalità e tutte le altre qualità estetiche che distinguono un’opera narrativa degna del nome da un report sconclusionato di fatti casuali, e così via. Perché dunque Geach non si accorge che la sua distinzione fra “attributivo” e “predicativo” non confuta affatto l’Argomento della Domanda Aperta, il quale mostra pur sempre che non posso analizzare proprietà normative in termini di proprietà non normative? A mio avviso, perché non si avvede dell’errore più fatale di Moore, che sta purtroppo avvinghiato alla sua più geniale scoperta: perché è vero che le proprietà assiologiche non sono analizzabili in termini di proprietà non assiologiche, ma è falso che non siano analizzabili in assoluto. Lo sono inesauribilmente, in termini di altre proprietà assiologiche. Ne abbiamo appena dato una serie di esempi.

Questo errore fatale è a mio avviso quello che ha dato adito a tutte le “soluzioni” del dilemma della metaetica che tagliano il “descrittivo” dal “normativo” nel modo sbagliato, cioè – come suggerì Bernard Williams, analizzando i concetti assiologici “thick”, dotati di un ricco contenuto (come vigoroso o aggraziato, banale o impudente eccetera) in due parti: da una parte materia e contenuto, cioè il descrittivo, l’insieme delle proprietà “naturali”; e dall’altra un operatore normativo generico, vuoto, universale – in ultima analisi espressivo di una prescrizione sociale, di un comando soggettivo, di una convenzione, di una pressione culturale.

Ecco: l’assiologia materiale, si potrebbe dire, è nata precisamente contro questo tipo di errore, che ha precedenti in molte forme classiche di nominalismo assiologico. There is a matter of values, not just a matter of facts! Perché le qualità assiologiche dei beni esperibili, come la comodità di una sedia, la potenza di un cavallo o la bontà morale di un uomo, tutte senza eccezione, sono thick e non thin, ricche di contenuto. Concetti assiologici “sottili”, come “buono” (ma anche “bello”) sono proxy per designare tutte le varietà di qualità assiologiche positive, o la valenza positiva che le accomuna: gli aggettivi di una lingua umana non bastano neppur lontanamente a designarle tutte, e l’esperienza assiologica più comune è quella di una sorta di ineffabilità, sempre superabile ma mai del tutto. Utilizzando la distinzione di Geach  possiamo dunque dire che l’aggettivo “buono” nel significato “attributivo” che qualifica un certo tipo di bene è una variabile che varia sulle qualità assiologiche materiali positive dei buoni esemplari di quel tipo di bene.

Credo che Staiti possa aver in mente qualcosa di non dissimile quando usa la distinzione di Geach per arrivare a un’”interpretazione fenomenologica dell’argomento della domanda aperta” di Moore. Per farlo, la sviluppa nel senso che “è buono” sta alla posizionalità assiologica come “esiste” sta alla posizionalità dossica. Ossia, “è buono”, esprime la posizione assiologica, la risposta alla valenza positiva della cosa intesa o incontrata. E fin qui saremmo più che d’accordo. Ma qui salta fuori quella che a me pare un’incongruenza. Staiti compra di Geach proprio la parte dell’argomento che contesta a Moore l’idealità, la non-riducibilità in termini di proprietà naturali, non normative, dell’idea di buono. Per questo abbiamo detto sopra, nella sezione 2 commentando questa conclusione, che secondo Staiti non è affatto per la sua idealità o la sua eccedenza normativa,  che l’esplicazione del valore in termini di proprietà naturali lascia aperta la domanda (“ma è davvero buono”?), ma per la sua vuotezza. Vale a dire, ci sarebbe un’intrinseca mancanza di contenuto del positum assiologico (forse perché correlato di un atto non oggettivante?), per la quale “quando sostituiamo “buono” con un qualunque altro aggettivo (“piacevole”, “salutare” … ecc.) la nostra domanda non si riferisce più a un positum, ma torna a riferirsi a un oggetto ordinario” (140). Ma perché, la poltrona che mi appare buona, quella che ho davanti consentendo con delizia, o che sogno per quando sarò tornato a casa, non è, in questa terminologia, un positum ?  E che cosa posso intendere con la mia posizione assiologica, se non che la poltrona è comoda?  Come potrei mai assentire con delizia o aspirare alla mia buona poltrona, se non “intendessi” questa sua invitante affordance, la sua comodità? E quand’è che la poltrona diventa “un oggetto ordinario”? Quando, abbandonandomici, ne verifico la comodità? Se spiego a qualcuno che è una buona poltrona perché è comoda, non c’è alcuna eccedenza mooriana: la domanda “ma è davvero buona?”, non ha senso. Altra cosa sarebbe se spiego a qualcuno che è buona perché è fatta di lana, materassi, molle. Allora avrebbe senso chiedere: ma è davvero buona? E’ comoda?

Ma tant’è : abbiamo già visto (sez. 7, con riferimento a Staiti p. 113) che per Staiti la vuotezza di un aggettivo thin come “buono” non può essere semplicemente quella di una variabile su predicati thick, su qualità assiologiche materiali, come comodo. Che il primo non può che esprimere la vuotezza oggettuale di una posizione assiologica e il secondo la proprietà di un oggetto (ordinario). Non riesco ad accedere all’evidenza fenomenologica per questa tesi: ma se non la fraintendo, è un netto rifiuto del cognitivismo assiologico. E infatti ecco la conclusione: la costante “apertura” delle domande mooriane

“non deriva dalla supposta non-naturalità del bene, bensì dalla “natura” peculiare degli oggetti di cui esso si predica: posita e non oggetti ordinari”. (141)

Una conclusione che, mentre leva a Moore la sua sola unghia, la tesi che la normatività non è naturalizzabile, leva anche il bene e il male dal mondo degli oggetti ordinari.

Non mi resta che ringraziare Andrea Staiti per questo – lo ribadisco – bellissimo libro. Forse, leggendo queste note, penserà che esse lo rimproverino di non aver scritto un altro libro. Invece io l’ho trovato appassionante proprio perché è questo. Per avermi dato materia per questo confronto serrato, e la gioia per ciò che ho imparato leggendolo: perché se non sono riuscita a rendergli ragione, ho forse, con il suo aiuto, capito meglio quanto resta da fare, quanto da chiarire, perché la vocazione assiologica della fenomenologia riesca infine a esplicarsi nel mondo della vita, ma soprattutto nel mondo dei vivi oggi – che ne ha molto bisogno.



Audi, R. 1997. Moral Knowledge and Ethical Character, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Audi, R. 2015. Moral Perception Defended, in: “Argumenta: Journal of the Italian Society for Analytic Philosophy, 1., 1, pp. 5-28.

Crisp, R. 2011. Naturalism: Feel the Width, in: S. Nuccetelli e G. Seay (Eds.) Ethical Naturalism: Current Debates, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Cuneo, T. 2007. Recent Faces of Moral Nonnaturalism, in “Philosophy Compass”, 2.6, pp. 850-879

De Caro, M. 2013. Naturalismo scientifico e naturalismo liberalizzato, in “Metodo. International Studies in Phenomenology and Philosophy”, 1,2, pp. 27-37

De Monticelli. 2020. Perceiving Values: A Phenomenological Approach, in: M. Mühling, D. A. Gilland, Y. Foerster (Eds.), Perceiving Truth and Values. Interdisciplinary Discussions on Perception as Foundation of Ethics, Series Religion Theology Natural Sciences at Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen – Bristol (CT), ISBN Print 9783525573204 e-Book 9783647573205, pp. 43-62

De Monticelli. 2018. “The Paradox of Axiology – A Phenomenological Approach to Value Theory”, Phenomenology and Mind, 15, 2018, ed. by S. Bacin and F. Boccuni, ISSN 2280-7853 (print)  ISSN 2239-4028 (online), pp. 116-128  https://oaj.fupress.net/index.php/pam/article/view/7327

De Monticelli, R. 2018bis. Il dono dei vincoli. Per leggere Husserl. Milano, Garzanti, Engl. Transl. Springer forthcoming.

De Monticelli, R. 2016. Sensibility and Values. Toward a Phenomenological Theory of the Emotional Life, in Analytic and Continental Philosophy – Methods and Perspectives. Proceedings of the 37th International Wittgenstein Symposium, Ed. by Rinofner-Kreidl, Sonja / Wiltsche, Harald A., Series: Publications of the Austrian Ludwig Wittgenstein Society – New Series (N.S.) 23, ISBN: 978-3-11-045065-1, pp. 381-400

Enoch, D. 2011. Taking Morality Seriously: A Defense of Robust Realism. Oxford: Oxford  University Press.

Geach, P. 1956. Good and Evil, “Analysis”, 17, 2, pp. 33-42.

Hume, D. 1739 [1978]. A Treatise of Human Nature , Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Husserl, E.  1900-1901 [1964]. Ricerche logiche, Il saggiatore, Milano 1968, 2 voll.

Husserl, E. 1911 [2001]. Filosofia come scienza rigorosa, Bari: Laterza.

Husserl E. 1908-14 [2002]. Lineamenti di Etica formale – Lezioni sull’etica e la teoria dei valori del 1914, a c. di P. Basso e P. Spinicci, Le Lettere, Firenze  (Trad. it. parziale di Husserliana XXVIII).

Husserl E. 1920-24 [2009].  Introduzione all’etica, Laterza, Bari (Trad. it. parziale di Husserliana XXXVII).

Husserl E. 2020. Studien zur Struktur der Bewusstsein, Teilband III, Wert und Gefühl, Husserliana XVIII.

Ingarden, R. 1955 [1989]. L’opera musicale e il problema della sua identità, Palermo: Flaccovio.

Moore, G.E. 1903 [1964]. Principia ethica, Milano: Bompiani.

Shafer-Landau, R.  2006. Ethics as Philosophy: A Defense of Ethical Nonnaturalism, in T. Horgan, M. Timmons (Eds), Metaethics after Moore, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Scheler, M. 1913, 1921, 1926 [2013]. Il formalismo nell’etica e l’etica materiale dei valori, trad. it., note, Introduzione di R. Guccinelli, testo originale a fronte, Milano: Bompiani.

[1] Di cui, infatti,  non sono la prima ad occuparmi: segnalo almeno le recensioni di Susi Ferrarello, e Bianca Bellini (2020). Anche per questo la mia lettura, più che una recensione, è una discussione approfondita, che prende questo libro molto sul serio come contributo a un campo di studi di enorme importanza, e che solo oggi rivede finalmente una ripresa da parte fenomenologica: questo può in parte giustificare, anche se non forse scusare, l’inusuale lunghezza di questa analisi, e la sua passione.

[2] Le principali fra queste sono esposte sinteticamente nel cap. VI di Towards a Phenomenological Axiology. Discovering What Matters, Palgrave, 2021, forthcoming, e in italiano nel cap. V di Al di qua del bene e del male. Per una teoria dei valori, Torino: Einaudi, 2015.

[3] Husserl (1900-1901), 1964, 22 p. 69 (trad. lievemente modificata).

[4] De Monticelli (2020, 2018, 2016).

[5] Hume (1739), 1978, p. 335.

[6] Husserl (1911), 2005, p. 97. Per una discussione di questa tesi e del concetto di posizionalità, che vi è strettamente connesso, v. De Monticelli (2018), pp. 158-163. Da questo punto di vista, a me pare che l’assenza di menzione, da parte di Staiti, del nesso fra Stellungnehmen e Saetze lo privi di un’importante risorsa analitica. La posizionalità di un Satz corrisponde in effetti alla “forza assertoria” con cui è intrattenuto, in un giudizio, il contenuto proposizionale. Il positum di cui parla Staiti (129-137) è certamente “l’unità del senso e del carattere tetico” di cui parla Husserl in Ideen I, § 133. Tuttavia mi sembra che Staiti non faccia uso della potente generalizzazione che Husserl fa del “carattere tetico” (che è poi la “forza assertoria” di Frege, ciò che Austin svilupperà nella pragmatica degli atti illocutori) nel senso di uno Stellungnehmen o  impegno caratteristico di ogni sfera di atti, dove dobbiamo tenere la sfera degli atti emotivi, a differenza che in Brentano, distinta da quella degli atti conativi). Voglio dire che è un punto rilevante in tema di posizionalità assiologica!

[7] Husserl (1908-14), 2002, cit. da Staiti a p. 90.

[8] Ma sacrosanto, nella sua modestia! Pensate ai deliri, che si avvieranno presto a diventare criminali, di Heidegger con il suo “tanto peggio per la logica” dell’operatore di negazione che si perde nel vortice di un nulla più originario….

[9] “La ragione logica ha però questa straordinaria prerogativa: essa formula l’istanza di giudizio, determina la legittimità e predica le leggi della correttezza in quanto leggi non soltanto per ciò che comprende il proprio campo, ma anche per ciò che concerne il campo di ogni altro genere di intenzione, e dunque per ogni altra sfera della ragione. La ragione valutativa e quella pratica sono, per così dire, mute e in un certo senso cieche. Il vedere in senso stretto e in senso lato, e dunque anche il vedere nel senso del “cogliere con evidenza” è un atto dossico”. (…) Si deve dunque tenere alta la fiaccola della ragione logica, poiché solo così quanto di forme e norme è rimasto nascosto nella sfera emotiva e della volontà, può manifestarsi ora in piena luce. Gli atti logici sono tuttavia soltanto la luce che rende visibile unicamente ciò che vi è già” Husserl (1908-14), 2002, pp. 85-86.

[10] Husserl (1920-24), 2009. Per la tesi dell’”intreccio” v, De Monticelli (2018bis), pp. 123-127.

[11] Husserl (2020), Hua XLIII/3, Staiti p. 99.

[12] Si veda, per la migliore ontologia fenomenologica dell’opera musicale, il classico Ingarden (1955), 1989.

[13] Nella nota 1 all’ultimo capitolo, parlando della distinzione introdotta da Bernard Williams fra concetti etici “sottili” (thin) e “spessi” (thick), Staiti afferma di considerarla filosoficamente fuorviante, perché “La differenza, ad esempio, fra il concetto di bene e il concetto di crudeltà non è una differenza di grado o di spessore, bensì una differenza che rispecchia quella tra proprietà di oggetti ordinari (la crudeltà) e proprietà di Sätze, cioè di oggetti meramente intesi (il bene”

[14] La distinzione fra beni e valori e la teoria dei beni come unità assiologiche concrete costituisce il capitolo iniziale e fondamentale del Formalismo (Scheler 2013). Recentemente, Emanuele Caminada ha attirato l’attenzione su quel caso di fondazione unitaria di tipo assiologico che Scheler esprime con il participio “durchdrungen” (GW II, 44), “permeato”: come l’utilità che “permea” la sedia, legando tutti gli aspetti essenziali alla sua funzione, pur nel variare possibile di materiali, fogge, dimensioni, stili…. Caminada (2016), «omnes ens est aestimativum»: On Scheler’s Formal Axiology and Metaphysics presentato alla conferenza Feeling, Valuing, and Judging: Phenomenological Investigations in Axiology, St. John’s University, New York City 19-21 May 2016. Ringrazio Emanuele Caminada anche per avermi segnalato Caminada ( forthcoming, 2021) “Things, goods, and values”.

[15] De Monticelli (2018), p. 77.

[16] Lo cita, mi sia permesso di sottolinearlo, meritoriamente nella bellissima traduzione italiana (ma con testo a fronte) di Roberta Guccinelli, che ha portato un po’ di luce su un capolavoro ignorato anche per l’illeggibilità di precedenti traduzioni: Scheler 2013.

[17] Mi permetto di rinviare per questo all’ultimo capitolo di R. De Monticelli (2015).

[18] Geach (1956).

Erik Norman Dzwiza-Ohlsen: Die Horizonte der Lebenswelt

Die Horizonte der Lebenswelt: Sprachphilosophische Studien zu Husserls 'erster Phänomenologie der Lebenswelt' Book Cover Die Horizonte der Lebenswelt: Sprachphilosophische Studien zu Husserls 'erster Phänomenologie der Lebenswelt'
Phänomenologische Untersuchungen, Band 37
Erik Norman Dzwiza-Ohlsen
Wilhelm Fink
Hardback $193

Reviewed by: Matías Graffigna (Göttingen Universität)

Dzwiza-Ohlsen’s book presents us with a thorough, systematic study of Husserl’s phenomenology along two axes of problems: on the one hand, it reconstructs—and argues for—a developmental history of the central phenomenological concept of lifeworld in Husserl’s works, following Manfred Sommer in tracing its roots back to a first “Göttingian” conception. On the other hand, the study focuses on language and particularly on Husserl’s theory of essentially occasional expressions (OE) from the Logical Investigations (LI, Hua XIX-01), which, further reconstructed, developed and complemented by the author, comprises a fundamental tool of analysis for the structure and levels of the lifeworld, both in its first Göttingian manifestation and in its mature “Freiburgian” form. The book thus proceeds in a zig-zag manner between, on the one hand, an exegetical and historical reconstruction of Husserl’s intellectual development, and a conceptual, critical analysis of the different problems related to the lifeworld, horizon-intentionality and OE on the other, consequently arriving at the main thesis of the work: that the concept of lifeworld in Husserl’s intellectual history represents a continuous development and reveals in all stages the idea of an occasional horizon.

The first section reconstructs the path from the LI to the Ideas (Hua III, IV and V), starting with an analysis of OE as “lifeworldly disturbances” [lebensweltliche Störungen] to pure logic. OE are known in the analytic literature as indexical expressions, such that vary their meaning according to the context of the utterance: “here”, “now”, “I” are typical examples. According to Dzwiza-Ohlsen, the LI are marked by a stark focus on pure logic and particularly on a logical conception of truth as apodictic and immutable, which renders Husserl’s analysis of OE, as Husserl himself would later claim, an “act of violence” [Gewaltstreich] against pure logic. The core of the argument is that, while OE are essentially situated and context-sensitive, pure logic does not admit of such variability and therefore Husserl lacked the appropriate theoretical tools to successfully analyze them. Though both theses are true, it is not quite clear that the context of the LI would prevent an interesting analysis of the OE. The author relies for this thesis on two premises, which are, in my opinion, a bit too strong.

First (28), he takes—following Derrida—Husserl’s analysis of expressions in solitary life (LI, §8) to be an anticipation of the phenomenological reduction and elevates it to the status of a methodological principle. Dzwiza-Ohlsen ends up criticizing Husserl for violating this “methodological restriction”: “Husserl analyses occasional expressions within a conversational situation […] and thus violates one of his central methodological premises, namely the reduction to solitary life” (35). So even though Husserl does analyze OE within communicative contexts, Dzwiza-Ohlsen criticizes that analysis on the ground of violating a methodological restriction. Arguably, there is no such methodological restriction in LI, but in any case, since the solitary life is not explicitly presented by Husserl as a methodological principle, it would fall upon Dzwiza-Ohlsen to make the case for such an interpretation, which he does not do. Given that Husserl does not declare himself beholden to such a restriction, as the case analyzed by the author and many others show, I do not see this claim as justified.

The author’s second premise is that the LI only present a logical notion of truth and, therefore, are unable to account for the truth of perception-based statements about individual objects: “For the appropriate interpretation [of OE], he would have needed a concept of truth that could apprehend the concrete, such as individual objects, people and their relations in events, insofar as he is reflecting on the conditions for reference. Because he does not do this, the determination of their empirical significance remains a riddle” (38-9). But we do not find in Dzwiza-Ohlsen’s analyses any mention of §§ 9-14 of the first LI, where Husserl presents his conception of reference and of meaning-fulfillment, or of § 5 of the sixth LI, appropriately titled “Perception as significance-determining act”, or of § 39, where Husserl presents four different conceptions of truth.

After arriving at the conclusion of OE as lifeworldly disturbances to pure logic, Chapter Two presents OE as a framework to interpret the history of the Husserlian conception of the lifeworld. The author makes use of Karl Bühler’s theory of language, introducing the notion of a ‘here-now-I-’ system of orientation under the rubric of “origo”. This term, sometimes used in pragmatics, stems from the Latin for “origin” and designates the point of reference for a given speaker. The OE are divided into four classes: spatial, personal, temporal and others. Together with Husserl’s original conception of OE in the LI, the theoretical tools presented by Bühler open the door for an exhaustive and example-rich analysis of the different classes of OE. Dzwiza-Ohlsen’s analysis of each class culminates in a general analysis (§ 7), where OE are defined as situated, context-sensitive, horizon-dependent and praxis-oriented. OE are no longer seen as somehow faulty or incomplete, but their possible vagueness and variability are vindicated as elements that necessarily belong to our everyday communication practices and, to that extent, as essential for our relation to the lifeworld.

Chapters Three to Five provide a further, in-depth analysis of OE mediated by a “triple jump” (69): (1) temporally, from the LI to 1907; (2) methodologically, from a logic-oriented phenomenology to the first considerations for a transcendental phenomenology as the basis of universal knowledge and (3) content-wise, by presenting the first concrete descriptions of lifeworldly situations within the natural attitude. Thus, Chapter Three focuses first on the spatial class of OE by drawing on Husserlian materials going back as far as the early, mathematical studies on space from 1894. It then moves to the Main Pieces [Haupstücke] (Hua II/XVI) and the lectures on Thing and Space (Hua XVI), where we find the first descriptions of the phenomenological reduction and an explicit thematization of the natural attitude as the terminus a quo of phenomenological philosophy: our world-experience as a reference point for phenomenological description and source for all eidetic analyses. Here Dzwiza-Ohlsen sees “the correlate of the natural attitude named by its later name: the lifeworld” (81). § 1 of Thing and Space, in which Husserl offers a very detailed description of the “natural spiritual-disposition” [natürliche Geisteshaltung], is offered by Dzwiza-Ohlsen as a clear anticipation of what would later be named the lifeworld.

Chapter Three concludes with further analyses of spatiality based mainly on the constitution of perceptual objects, which is taken as a point of departure for the analysis of our experience of reality and, in turn, of the lifeworld itself. The relation between intersubjectivity (as the source of objectivity) and perception marks the passage to Chapter Four, where the personal class of OE (such as personal and possessive pronouns) are analyzed in connection with empathy, motivation and the social world. Basing primarily on the Fundamental Problems of Phenomenology (Hua XIII), the close relation between the spiritual world, our “deictic” experience of our environment and, primarily, other human beings, is revealed as central. Dzwiza-Ohlsen proposes to understand our experience within the natural attitude as a kind of “index”, leading to an eidetic ontology of the lifeworld. The important point the author argues for is that our lifeworldly experience in the natural attitude already makes certain concepts available which can later be more rigorously or scientifically clarified. But the task of clarifying them in their lifeworldly being is precisely the task of phenomenology and the ontology of the lifeworld.

Chapter Five closes Section One of the book with the remaining class of OE: the temporal indexicals. The analysis of these is understood as the key for a theory of empirical meaning (as opposed to the theory of ideal meaning of the LI). The analyses are based on the Lectures on inner Time-Consciousness (Hua X), going through the innovations of the 1908 Lectures on Theory of Meaning (Hua XXVI), arriving finally at the revised sections of the LI (Hua XX/2) and Ideas I. An in-depth analysis of temporality allows the author to describe an “occasional horizon of empirical reference” (148), which together with a theory of meaning for empirical objects, aims to complement the otherwise logically one-sided conceptual elaborations of Husserl in the LI.

The terrain is thus set for Section Two: early and late phenomenology of the lifeworld. The Göttingian early concept of lifeworld is located in Ideas II (Hua IV), where concepts such as “social world”, “cultural world”, “surrounding world” and especially “communicative world” serve as candidates for an early version of the concept of lifeworld. The author focuses on the intersection of three dimensions to analyze this early concept: (i) phenomenological analyses of constitution; (ii) regional ontology, with a special focus on nature and spirit; and (iii) the theory of attitudes. Thus, the early concept of lifeworld is to be phenomenologically analyzed via constitutive performances within the region of spirit and in the corresponding personal attitude. An interesting, critical point raised by the author concerns how to understand the relation between the natural and the personal attitudes. While it is clear that the naturalistic (as opposed to the natural) attitude and all other scientific ones imply an active change and an abstraction of the objects and corresponding regions being thematized, both the natural and personal attitudes are those in which we typically find ourselves in our daily lives. All scientific attitudes also imply a reference to the natural attitude and to our experience within the lifeworld. If the natural and personal attitudes are not to be conflated, then the personal must imply a specific focus on, precisely, personal elements of the lifeworld.  The personal attitude abstracts from certain elements that appear in the natural attitude so as to make salient what is properly personal.

In Section Two, Chapter Two, the differences between the early and late conception of the lifeworld are explicitly treated. According to the author, the core difference is that the late conception “has less to do with a phenomenology of the lifeworld, but rather with a critical theory of the historical misdevelopment [Fehlentwicklung] of the sciences departing from the lifeworld” (242). For Dzwiza-Ohlsen, Husserl’s project in the Crisis (Hua VI) consists in analyzing the crisis of European humanity, science and culture through a teleological history, but lacks “detailed phenomenological descriptions and constitution-analyses of our natural, personal attitude within our cultural lifeworld” (249). Dzwiza-Ohlsen extracts and reconstructs seven desiderata for a science of the lifeworld according to Crisis (247-8), which he sees as better realized—“more detailed and universal” (253)—in the phenomenology of the lifeworld found in Ideas II than in the theory of the lifeworld presented in Crisis.  This is because the descriptive results of Ideas II hold true in any world, even if there were no science at all, while the Crisis project is dependent both on the analysis in Ideas II and on the existence of a science that can be diagnosed as being in crisis and offered a therapy through self-reflection [Selbstbesinnung] and teleological orientation. Thus, the basic thesis of Crisis can only be properly understood against the background of an analysis of persons living in the natural and personal attitude within the spiritual lifeworld. And such analysis is precisely what we find in the early conception of the lifeworld.

This main point of comparison could profit from some further argumentation by the author, since many questions remain open: by stating that the project of Crisis is not really a phenomenology, what conception of phenomenology does the author assume? Phenomenology is an eidetic science and Crisis presents us with countless eidetic analyses of the a priori structure of the lifeworld and of its being a ground for sense and experience, and not “just” the reconstruction of the history of science. In the third section of the Crisis, Husserl aims to develop precisely an ontology of the lifeworld that is previous to and independent of science. This ontology is the one that explains how it is that science can emerge on the basis of our experience, and how it remains always tied to it. On the other hand, the question arises: is the project of Ideas II focused exclusively on offering “situated” descriptions within the natural attitude? Is it not the attempt to clarify the constitutive performances foundational to the distinction between natural sciences and the humanities? In this regard, it is therefore not clear at all that the analyses offered in Ideas II would hold true in a world without science.

The Section Two, Chapter Three deals with the “skipped nature-concept of the lifeworld” (255). While Husserl’s analyses of the constitution of natural objects in Ideas II focus almost exclusively on these objects as conceived from the perspective of natural science, Dzwiza-Ohlsen claims that the constitution of these objects should also be phenomenologically clarified for the personal and natural attitudes within the lifeworld, which mainly means including not only the theoretical, but also the evaluative, practical and aesthetic attitudes. Thus, Husserl “skipped” a “nature-concept” that accounts for our natural (as opposed to theoretical) experience of nature, where nature is understood as the correlate of our personal, spiritual, lifewordly experience and not as the correlate of natural science. The chapter closes by going deep into the analysis of our experience in the natural attitude, with its focus on natural objects. Aesthetics, praxis, will and feelings are analyzed as essential elements permeating our daily life and the way in which we experience the world.

The third and final section of the book is a “concluding meditation” about Husserl’s contributions regarding the language, structure and truth of the lifeworld and of science in his late period. These fundamental dimensions of the lifeworld are now presented in an integrated fashion, making use both of Husserl’s own earlier analyses presented in this book as well as the scheme of OE. Thus, we learn that the structure of the lifeworld is situated in an intentional-horizon that is both typical and occasional; that the language we use is correlated with this typicality and occasionality, allowing us to express ourselves in relevant, situated ways; that truth is understood in reference to a notion of normality that emerges from the different communities, meaning that what matters in the lifeworld is the optimal realization of goals rather than an accurate description of an external reality. For this last purpose, our natural, lifeworldly language is said to be perfectly well suited.

Finally, in the “concluding meditation”, lifeworld and science are contrasted following the foundational thesis of the Crisis, and the notion of truth is treated in its own right for each domain. The objective truth of science rests upon intersubjective agreement which takes place in the praxis of the lifeworld and especially communicative praxis. Communicative praxis is disclosed as a condition of possibility for science and objective truth or, as the author says, “supra-occasional truth” (296).

Dzwiza-Ohlsen deals with several fundamental and significant problems in phenomenology from both a historical, reconstructive perspective and from a philosophical, critical attitude. The book offers rich analyses for those interested in the concept of lifeworld and its historical development, but is also to be noted for bringing the dimension of language to the foreground. The analyses of OE, abundant in examples, and its subsequent application to the diverse elements treated in the book, results in an in-depth phenomenological and historical description of one of Husserl’s most important philosophical contributions: the notion of lifeworld.

Gilles Deleuze: Letters and Other Texts

Gilles Deleuze: Letters and Other Texts Book Cover Gilles Deleuze: Letters and Other Texts
Gilles Deleuze. Edited by David Lapoujade. Translated by Ames Hodges
Paperback $19.95

Reviewed by: Ralf Gisinger (University of Vienna)

“Don’t think I am a compulsive letter writer or that I have a sense of dialogue. I hate it.”/ „Denken Sie nicht, ich sei ein gewissenhafter Briefeschreiber oder dass ich einen Sinn für Dialog habe. Ich hasse es.“ (72, an Gherasim Luca; Übers. RG)[1]


Die lange erwartete englische Übersetzung des 2015 im französischen Original erschienen Buchs Letters and Other Texts ist der dritte und letzte von David Lapoujade zusammengestellte bzw. herausgegebene Band mit posthum erschienen Sammlungen von Deleuze-Texten nach Die einsame Insel (2002) und Schizophrenie und Gesellschaft (2003).[2] Daneben existieren noch die zu Lebzeiten Deleuzes (1925-1995) von ihm selbst arrangierten Textkompilationen Unterhandlungen (1990) sowie Kritik und Klinik (1993).

Zum 20. Todesjahr Deleuzes publiziert, bietet der Band neben den Briefen vor allem schwer erhältliche sowie einzelne noch nicht erschienene Texte, aber auch ein längeres Interview (zusammen mit Félix Guattari) und 5 Zeichnungen von Deleuze. Während die beiden vorhergehenden Anthologien chronologisch und zeitbezogen strukturiert sind, kommt dem vorliegenden Band mehr die Rolle eines „Restbestands“ von noch unveröffentlichten (oder lange nicht verfügbaren) Schriften zu, wenngleich dies die Lektüre abwechslungsreich und immer wieder spannend gestaltet. Trotz der ausführlichen und gelehrsamen Einordnungen von Lapoujade (besonders in den Briefen) ist eine Kenntnis der Werkgeschichte von Deleuze eine Voraussetzung, um die tour de force an Zeitsprüngen und Textgenrewechseln inhaltlich mitzuvollziehen. Und doch liegen die Vorteile der kurzen Texte, wie schon in Die einsame Insel sowie Schizophrenie und Gesellschaft auf der Hand: in Briefen, Interviews oder Essays wird den schwierig verständlichen philosophischen Konzepten manchmal mehr Leben eingehaucht indem beispielhaft erklärt, pointiert zusammengefasst oder fast schon entstellend verkürzt wird. Sollten Die einsame Insel und Schizophrenie und Gesellschaft (aber auch Unterhandlungen), die damit schon seit über 15 Jahren fester Bestandteil des Forschungskorpus rund um Deleuze (und Guattari) sind, demensprechende Erwartungen an Letters and Other Texts geweckt haben, lässt sich dieser Anspruch natürlich nicht gänzlich erfüllen. Jedoch gibt es, neben tatsächlich eher belanglosen Briefen, immer wieder interessante Korrespondenzen (vor allem mit Guattari, Villani, Klossowski, Foucault oder Voeffray), die sowohl philosophische als auch allgemeine Einblicke in die Lebenswelt von Deleuze und seinen Adressaten über eine Zeitspanne von nahezu vier Jahrzehnten geben. Das Highlight des Buches ist sicher ein erstmals publiziertes gemeinsames Interview mit Guattari (geführt von Raymond Bellour im Frühjahr 1973) über den Anti-Ödipus (1972), aber auch die Unterlagen für einen „Course on Hume (1957-1958)“, der Einblicke in Deleuzes pädagogische Herangehensweise in Bezug auf Hume erlaubt, oder das zwar schon länger kursierende, aber erstmals seit 1946 wieder abgedruckte „From Christ to the Bourgeoisie“ empfehlen sich für eine durchaus lohnende Lektüre.

Der Anspruch auf Vollständigkeit der Edition von Deleuzes Schriften sowie die damit einhergehende Nachvollziehbarkeit, Auffindbarkeit und Übersetzung ist ein hoch zu schätzender Verdienst Lapoujades. Aus diesem Grund wird das „Patchwork“ bzw. der mangelnde rote Faden des Buchs nicht nur in Kauf genommen, sondern bildet sogar dessen notwendiges Grundgerüst, wird es eben als Ergänzung zu den bisher erschienenen Sammelbänden verstanden. Gleichzeitig muss konzediert werden, dass viele dieser Texte ohne den starken Aufschwung und die zunehmende Popularität von Deleuze in den letzten Jahren – insbesondere im englischsprachigen Raum – sonst wohl nicht nochmal abgedruckt worden wären

So reicht Letters in Bezug auf die Erschließung des Gesamtwerks (sowohl für die Deleuze-Forschung als auch zur allgemeinen Verständlichkeit von Deleuze und Guattari) nicht an die vorhergehenden Sammelsurien heran, die deutlich reichhaltigere Quellen an kurzen Texten in der Form von zumeist autorisierten Interviews, Zeitschriftenartikel, Gesprächen und Briefen, beinhalten, welche sich vor allem um zusätzliche Erläuterungen, konzise Zuspitzungen, konkrete Anwendungen oder Verteidigungen der eigenen Theorien drehen. Damit sind sie von herausragender Bedeutung, um die Intentionen, Abläufe und Prozesse von Deleuzes Denken und Schaffen nachzuvollziehen. Dafür wird mit dem Fokus auf Briefe eine persönlichere, ja geradezu private Ebene erschlossen (wobei stets in einem professionellen Rahmen verbleibend), die eine gewisse theoretische Kraft entfalten kann, auch wenn dies kritisch betrachtet werden sollte.

Das Buch ist in drei Teile gegliedert:

Der erste Teil beinhaltet Briefe an Félix Guattari, Michel Foucault, François Châtelet, Pierre Klossowski, Jean-Clet Martin, aber auch an außerhalb Frankreichs weniger bekannte Personen wie Jean Piel, Arnaud Villani, Alain Vinson, Clément Rosset, Elias Sanbar, André Bernold, Joseph Emmanuel Voeffray und Gherasim Luca. Dabei wurden einzig einige der Briefe an Arnaud Villani und Gherasim Luca sowie der erste an Alain Vinson vorher schon veröffentlicht.

Wie schon in den vorangegangen Textsammlungen bettet Lapoujade zu Beginn jeden der chronologisch geordneten Briefe in die jeweilige Zeit ein und gibt anderweitigen Kontext zu den Adressaten sowie zu Ereignissen, Umständen, Texten oder Personen, auf die in den Zuschriften referiert wird. Auch ein Namensindex am Ende des Buches leistet Hilfe bei Einordnung und Recherche. Leider befinden sich in der vorliegenden auf Englisch übersetzten Ausgabe in den Fußnoten einige kleine Fehler (z.B. 27; 29; 69 oder 97), die im französischen Original so nicht vorkommen.

Auch für langjährige Deleuze-Leser:innen dürften die 5 Zeichnungen überraschend anmuten (101ff.), die von Karl Flinker 1973 in einem Heft zu Foucault und Deleuze unter dem Titel „Faces et Surfaces“ [Seiten/Gesichter und Oberflächen] veröffentlicht wurden. Diesen Illustrationen folgen im zweiten Teil des Buches die „Other Texts“, diverse Texte, die entweder lange nicht verfügbar waren, zu unterschiedlichen Zeiten in Zeitungen beziehungsweise als Rezensionen oder noch gar nicht erschienen sind, was auf den „Course on Hume (1957-58)“ (119ff.) sowie ein Interview von Deleuze und Guattari mit Raymond Bellour (auf Vorschlag Foucaults) über den Anti-Ödipus (195ff.) zutrifft.

Des Weiteren sind im dritten Teil des Bandes fünf als „Jugendwerke“ deklarierte Schriften enthalten, die Deleuze zwischen seinem 20. und 22. Lebensjahr verfasst, allerdings später wieder zurückgezogen hat.

Wie im Titel programmatisch angekündigt, liegt das Hauptaugenmerk von Letters and Other Texts auf von Deleuze gesendeten Briefen, die zwar nach Personen chronologisch angeordnet sind, jedoch keine Antworten inkludieren, weshalb auch nicht von vollständigen Briefwechseln gesprochen werden kann. Dementsprechend erscheinen die Briefe trotz der ausgezeichneten Kontextualisierung Lapoujades teilweise zusammenhangslos beziehungsweise mit vielen Jahren Abstand. Gemäß dem Titel werde ich mich auch in folgender Rezension primär auf die Briefe konzentrieren.

Dass die im Buch versammelten Briefe keinen Anspruch auf Vollständigkeit erheben können, ist zwar evident, wird aber auch nicht explizit erwähnt. Lapoujade gesteht in der Einführung zu, dass die Briefe im Œuvre Deleuzes keine zentrale Rolle einnehmen, da Deleuze diesen keine Wichtigkeit einräumte und sie nicht als Teil oder Erläuterung seines Werks ansah (7). In dem Band sind ausschließlich von Deleuze geschriebene Briefe, nicht aber von den jeweiligen Adressaten enthalten – begründet wird dies damit, dass er keine Korrespondenzen aufbewahrte, wobei nicht ganz klar wird, ob vom Herausgeber eine solche Rekonstruktion von Briefwechseln überhaupt angestrebt wurde.

Es ist davon auszugehen, dass Deleuze außerdem die vollständige Veröffentlichung seiner Briefe nicht vorsah und wahrscheinlich auch nicht erwartet hätte, da er bei der Autorisierung (so etwa bei der auszugsweisen Publikation seines Briefs über Kant an Alain Vinson (17f.)) äußerste Zurückhaltung an den Tag legte. Die Diskussion um Deleuzes Verhältnis zu Briefen flammte posthum schon mit dem Nachruf Clameur de l’être (1997; Geschrei des Seins) von Alain Badiou (*1937) auf, in dem dieser nicht nur seine eigenwillige Interpretation von Deleuze niederschrieb („Metaphysik des Einen“), sondern freimütig sein (Nicht-)Verhältnis zu Deleuze aus seiner Sicht schildert, welches sich jedoch ausschließlich anhand des Narrativs von Badiou nachvollziehen und einschätzen lässt. Nach einer jahrzehntelangen Distanz und offenen (vornehmlich politisch induzierten) Kontroversen begannen die beiden Anfang der 1990er-Jahre einen kurzen, aber intensiven Briefwechsel über ihre theoretischen Divergenzen. Nach Badious Darstellung brach Deleuze, schon in seinen letzten Lebensjahren und durch Krankheit geschwächt, die Korrespondenz 1994 abrupt ab, teilte Badiou die Vernichtung der Briefe mit und verbat sich eine Veröffentlichung ebendieser (Badiou 2003, 14).

So interessant dieser Austausch für Wissenschaft und Öffentlichkeit wäre, wird Deleuzes Wunsch natürlich entsprochen und es finden sich keine Briefe an Badiou in Letters and Other Texts. Die beschriebene Episode wirft allerdings die Frage auf, nach welchen Kriterien die Briefe in Letters zusammengestellt wurden, was in dem Buch leider nicht ausgeführt wird: anhand der Verfügbarkeit und Zugänglichkeit oder des Ausbleibens eines dezidierten Veröffentlichungsverbot? Das editorische Problem, über keine Antworten der Empfänger zu verfügen, wird zwar in der Einleitung angesprochen, das moralische Problem der Veröffentlichung jedoch nur auf Deleuzes Frühwerke bezogen. Wenn Lapoujade in der Vorbemerkung Deleuzes allgemeines Verhältnis zu Briefen thematisiert, erkennt er zwar eine Ambivalenz an, lässt die Leser:innen aber nicht an weiteren Überlegungen zu diesem grundsätzlichen Dilemma teilhaben.

Ein ähnlich gelagertes Problem wie die Briefe betrifft die frühen Texte „Description of Women“ (1945), „From Christ to the Bourgeoisie“ (1946), „Words and Profiles“ (1946), „Mathesis, Science, and Philosophy“ (1946) sowie „Introduction to Diderot’s La Religieuse“ (1946), die vor 1953 erschienen sind, von Deleuze allerdings wie schon erwähnt später zurückgezogen wurden. Argumentiert wird dies durchaus überzeugend damit, dass diese (teilweise in veränderter/verfälschter Form) schon in Deleuze-Zirkeln kursiert seien und deshalb auf dieses Faktum nur mehr mit der Edition reagiert werden könne. Somit geht es Lapoujade und den Rechteinhaber:innen Fanny, Émilie Deleuze sowie Irène Lindon darum, eine autorisierte sowie originale Form dieser Texte zu gewährleisten. Die vorangestellte provisorische Bibliographie (11ff.) – von Deleuze wahrscheinlich 1989 erstellt – beginnt mit Empirismus und Subjektivität, seinem Hume-Buch 1953, was nicht einer gewissen Ironie entbehrt, wird somit die in Letters and Other Texts vollzogene Unterminierung der bewussten Auslassung seiner Frühschriften gleich von Anfang an ins Werk gesetzt.

Die Warnung, die Deleuze an Arnaud Villani 1981 ausspricht – „Don’t let me become an object of fascination or headache for you.” (80) – kann jedenfalls für die akademische Auseinandersetzung schon lange (zurecht) als überholt gelten. Mit dem vorliegenden Band dringt die Faszination in noch deutlich weitere Bereiche vor, die Deleuze selbst wahrscheinlich besagte Kopfschmerzen bereitet hätten. Obwohl Deleuze jungen Doktoranden in einer Mischung aus Bescheidenheit und Sorge um ihre universitäre Karriere rät, den Fokus ihrer Thesis nicht hauptsächlich auf ihn zu richten (an Villani, 80; an Voeffray, 91; an Martin, 94), nimmt er spätestens mit diesem Band einen Platz im historisierten Kanon ein, wo jedes jemals geschriebene (sowie gesprochene) Wort seziert und akademisch verwertet wird, was selbstredend auch auf den Autor dieser Zeilen zutrifft. Gerade die (immer auch, aber nicht nur) privaten Briefwechsel legen Zeugnis davon ab, wie sich die Deleuze-Rezeption diesbezüglich intensiviert und auch historisiert hat, sodass Letters nicht nur inhaltlich, sondern auch in der Form über die vorhergehenden Die einsame Insel und Schizophrenie und Gesellschaft hinausgeht. Deleuze formuliert in diesem Sinne an Joseph Emmanuel Voeffray reuevoll: “I should never have read a book on me at all.” (91).

Wie bereits ausgeführt, sah Deleuze das Medium „Brief“ einerseits nicht als übermäßig bedeutsam an, weshalb auch keine seiner empfangenen Zuschriften erhalten sind (denken wir an die vorher geschilderte Episode mit Badiou), andererseits auch nicht als eine Erweiterung seiner im Entstehen begriffenen Arbeiten, sondern entkoppelt von seinen Publikationen. Direkte, wenn auch kokettierende Verweise auf sein Verhältnis zu Briefen aus Letters and Other Texts sind etwa das eingangs zitierte: “Don’t think I am a compulsive letter writer or that I have a sense of dialogue. I hate it.” (72, an Gherasim Luca) oder an Pierre Klossowski: “I can no longer write a letter, it’s terrible. Effect of the solitude I nonetheless love.” (66)

Dies spiegelt sich zum Großteil auch in den Briefen selbst wider, die zwar spannende Einblicke in das Leben von Deleuze geben, so etwa in seine Lektüren, Aufenthaltsorte oder auch seinen Gesundheitszustand – dabei stets mehr beruflich als privat. Allerdings geht Deleuze in den Schreiben kaum philosophisch in die Tiefe oder gibt Erläuterungen für sein Werk bzw. seine Konzepte – mit faszinierenden Ausnahmen, auf die ich zurückkommen werde. Nur folgerichtig, wenn man bedenkt, was er Clément Rosset 1981 als Entschuldigung, Villani nicht in Paris getroffen zu haben, mitteilt: „[…] philosophical conversations are a pain” (23).

Begeben wir uns jedoch auf die Ebene der Entstehungskontexte, so ergeben sich interessante Zusammenhänge, von denen wiederum Rückschlüsse für andere Werke gezogen werden können.

So schreibt er im April 1968 an Jean Piel, dass ein Artikel zu Lewis Carroll derart den Rahmen von Umfang und Fragestellung sprenge, so dass es sich zu einem Buch entwickle (33). Betrachtet man das daraus entstandene Logik des Sinns (1969) unter dieser Voraussetzung als aus einem Text zu Carroll entstanden, lädt dies zu einer dementsprechend gewichteten Re-Lektüre durch diese Brille ein.

Der allgemeine Duktus der Schriften orientiert sich an einem Vorsatz, den er an François Châtelet im Jahr 1966 so formulierte: man benötige eine gewisse Wertschätzung um über etwas zu schreiben. So sei es ihm (Deleuze) lieber, gar nicht zu schreiben anstatt eines Verrisses (27). Diese Haltung scheint über weite Strecken auch in den Briefen durch, die geprägt von Höflichkeit, Anerkennung, Wertschätzung und Zuneigung sind, auch wenn dies sicherlich einer stilistischen Komponente geschuldet ist.

In den vorhergehenden Textsammlungen erschienen bereits Briefe, die in Letters nicht mehr aufgenommen wurden, so etwa an Jean-Clet Martin, Kuniichi Uno, Dionys Mascolo (Schizophrenie und Gesellschaft) sowie der „Brief an einen strengen Kritiker“/Michel Cressole  (Unterhandlungen), wobei insbesondere der Brief an Cressole (aber auch an Martin) durchaus eine Öffentlichkeit über den eigentlichen Empfänger hinaus adressiert – siehe auch den Verweis auf Cressole im Schreiben an Villani (77). Die Briefe ermöglichen einerseits die Erläuterung von schwer zu fassenden Begriffen [concepts] seiner Philosophie in einem einfacheren Stil, andererseits geben sie Innenansichten über Enstehungskontexte, Arbeitsweisen oder Methoden. In der Polemik gegen Cressole findet sich neben den Hinweisen auf seine philosophische Evolution etwa die berühmte Stelle über Deleuzes eigenes philosophisches Lesen und Produzieren, nämlich klassische Philosophen „von hinten zu nehmen“ und ihnen ein monströses Kind zu machen, das trotzdem ihres sei (Deleuze 1993, 15f.). Aber auch die Darstellung der ödipalen und repressiven Funktion der Philosophiegeschichte für das Denken stammt aus dem Schreiben an Cressole. Dagegen beleuchtet Deleuze in der Korrespondenz mit Uno besonders das Kennenlernen sowie die Zusammenarbeit mit Guattari in einer detaillierten Ausführlichkeit, wie sie sonst nicht bekannt wäre (Deleuze 2005, 223ff.). Und in dem Brief an Martin beschreibt er konzise die philosophische Operation der Begriffsschaffung [création], die sich stets am Konkreten zu orientieren habe, um erst von diesem zu Abstrakta vorzudringen (Deleuze 2005, 345).

Es ließe sich jedoch vermuten, dass die schon publizierten Briefe (in Unterhandlungen und Schizophrenie und Gesellschaft) inhaltlich begründet, d.h. aufgrund ihrer theoretischen Relevanz bereits in diesen Bänden erschienen sind, weshalb Letters and Other Texts ein wenig wie ein Residuum anmutet, wenngleich auch daraus wichtige und interessante Passagen für die Deleuze-Forschung zu extrahieren sind. Neben den bereits erwähnten Exzerpten sind dies vor allem:

  • Nachträgliche Werkeinordnungen, wie zum Beispiel in einem Brief an Arnaud Villani 1981, in dem Deleuze die Wichtigkeit seines Textes über den Strukturalismus (Deleuze 2005, 248ff.) sowie Teilen von Logik des Sinns relativiert, welche noch zu sehr der Psychoanalyse verhaftet bzw. in Bezug auf die Serien zu strukturalistisch gedacht seien (79).
  • Ein Schreiben an Joseph Emmanuel Voeffray 1982 primär über transzendentalen Empirismus (88f.), in dem Deleuze einen Bogen von den Problemen seiner Hauptwerke Ende der 1960er (Differenz und Wiederholung; Logik des Sinns) zu seiner aktuellen Beschäftigung (kurz nach Tausend Plateaus) spannt und besonders auf die stattgefundene Verschiebung zum Komplex „Abstrakte Maschine—Konkretes Gefüge“ verweist. Gleichzeitig deutet sich schon die Wiederaufnahme des transzendentalen Empirismus im Spätwerk an (89).
  • Die Selbstbezeichnung „pure metaphysician“ (78) aus einer Beantwortung von Fragen an Arnaud Villani 1980, die sich bereits zur Chiffre in der Deleuze-Forschung verselbständigt hat. Der Kontext dieser Charakterisierung liegt darin, den Schluss von Tausend Plateaus als Kategorientafel im Sinne Whiteheads (nicht Kants) zu verstehen (Deleuze/Guattari 1992, 695ff.). Im Anschluss an Bergson gehe es darum, den modernen Wissenschaften eine Metaphysik zu geben (78). Etwa in der Interpretation von Bonta/Protevi gelingt Deleuze (und Guattari) dies mit der Geophilosophie, allerdings beschreiben sie es als Deleuzes Ontologie, nicht als Metaphysik (Bonta/Protevi, 2006, viii).
  • Besagter Fragebogen von Villani, welcher allerdings zuvor schon in dessen Buch La Guêpe et l’orchidée (1999) erschienen ist, bietet auch sonst interessante Gesichtspunkte, so etwa die Philosophie als Wissenschaft zu klassifizieren, wenn sie die Bedingungen der Problematisierung bestimme (78).
  • Ausgesprochen informativ ist ein Verweis auf von Deleuze selbst ausgewählte kurze Textauszüge seiner Schriften (nur 2-10 Seiten) in einem Brief an Elias Sanbar im Jahre 1985 für eine Anthologie auf Arabisch (92f.). Ohne diese Selektion zu einem „Best-of“ erklären zu wollen, wirft sie ein Schlaglicht auf Passagen, die Deleuze selber (aus der Sicht von 1985) als essentiell oder paradigmatisch für sein Werk einstuft.

Besonders hervorzuheben ist ferner der Austausch mit Félix Guattari (1930-1992), Deleuzes langjährigem Freund („I also feel that we were friends before meeting“, 35) und Ko-Autor: „Es gibt nur ein Rhizom zwischen Félix und mir.“ (78; Übers. RG) Die beiden lernten sich im Frühjahr 1969 in der Region Limousin kennen und kurze Zeit später begann der erste Briefwechsel, welcher recht schnell den Beginn der Zusammenarbeit für den Anti-Ödipus (1972) einleitete. Die Briefe geben Einblicke in die erste Phase des Entstehungsprozesses des Anti-Ödipus, allerdings maximal als Ergänzung zu dem bereits 2006 erschienen, hauptsächlich auf Guattaris Beiträge fokussierten Buch The Anti-Œdipus Papers (hg. von Stéphane Nadaud), wo vornehmlich die Textentwicklung des Anti-Ödipus aufbereitet und dargestellt wird. Die in Letters gesammelten Briefe an Guattari (sicher nur ein Bruchteil der tatsächlichen Korrespondenz) zeigen jedoch darüber hinaus den Duktus und Ton der Kommunikation von Deleuze gegenüber Guattari – wie genau er dessen Texte ab ihrer ersten Begegnung 1969 liest und dessen Thesen (zum Beispiel den Maschinenbegriff) aufnimmt bzw. verarbeitet. Auch zwei Briefe im Rahmen der Vorbereitung für Tausend Plateaus sind im Buch enthalten, wozu bislang im Vergleich zum Anti-Ödipus deutlich weniger Quellenmaterial veröffentlicht wurde. Grenzwertig private Aufschlüsse ergeben sich aus einem dieser Briefe außerdem über die Art und Weise, wie bzw. über welches Medium die Auseinandersetzung mit den so genannten „Neuen Philosophen“ um Bernard-Henri Lévy Ende der 1970er Jahre am besten stattzufinden habe (51ff.).

Auch in anderen Briefen wird Guattari natürlich immer wieder Thema, so etwa im wiederholten Insistieren von Deleuze gegenüber Villani (immerhin im Abstand von drei Jahren), in dessen Texten bzw. Buch über Deleuze der Rolle von Guattari für die gemeinsamen Schriften zu seinem Recht zu verhelfen und diesem eine größere Relevanz für ihre gemeinsam erarbeiteten Konzepte einzuräumen (82; 84ff.). Deleuze stößt sich insbesondere an Villanis (verfehlter) Interpretation, Tausend Plateaus beruhe vornehmlich auf seiner Philosophie bzw. sei hauptsächlich von Deleuze verfasst.

Dies ist selbstredend eine der zentralen Fragen, die sich für die Deleuze&Guattari-Forschung in Bezug auf das rhizomatisch verflochtene Tandem stellt und die nach wie vor extensiv untersucht wird. Diesbezüglich ist wiederum eine Stelle aus dem Villani-Fragebogen von Interesse, in dem Deleuze bemerkt, dass die Mikro-Makro-Unterscheidung in Tausend Plateaus mehr von Guattari komme, wobei Deleuze die Unterscheidung zwischen zwei Typen von Mannigfaltigkeiten (die sich von seinem Bergson-Buch bis zu Tausend Plateaus mehr oder weniger durchzieht) dieser vorgelagert sieht und den Begriff der Mannigfaltigkeit [multiplicité] für wichtiger als die Mikrophysik (mehr ein Konzept Foucaults als Guattaris im Gegensatz zur Mikropolitik, Anm.) erachtet (79). Tausend Plateaus zeigt, wie diese verschiedenen Aspekte nebeneinander als Plateaus ko-existieren können, da einerseits die Mikro-Makro-Unterscheidung in diesem Werk ihre höchste Wichtigkeit erlangt (vor allem im 9. und 10. Plateau: „1933 — Mikropolitik und Segmentarität“ sowie „1730 — Intensiv-Werden, Tier-Werden, Unwahrnehmbar-Werden…“) und andererseits Deleuze/Guattari das gesamte Buch als „Theorie der Mannigfaltigkeiten“ (Deleuze/Guattari 1992, II) zusammenfassen.

Daran anschließend passt dazu das (neben den Briefen) meiner Ansicht nach zentrale Element des Buches – ein sehr ausführliches, aber auch aufschlussreiches Interview über den Anti-Ödipus mit Raymond Bellour, welches aber nie publiziert wurde, da es in der eigentlich angedachten Zeitschrift Les Temps modernes auf Intervention Guattaris aus politischen Gründen (wahrscheinlich die maoistische Prägung der Zeitschrift Anfang der 1970er) nicht erschien. Das Interview ist aus mehreren Gründen lesenswert sowie lehrreich:

1. Die Atmosphäre des Interviews schwankt zwischen locker-belustigt und angespannt. Besonders Guattari scheint von Bellours Fragen eher genervt zu sein („your question is lousy“, 200; „he’s going to say something stupid”, 205), was allerdings sowohl Guattari als auch Deleuze viele Erklärungen, Umschreibungen und Beispiele ihrer Thesen entlockt, die insbesondere für das Verständnis von Strömen [flux] oder ihrer Kritik an der familialen, reduktionistischen, ödipalen Psychoanalyse zugunsten eines sozialen und politischen Feldes gewinnbringend sind.

2. Wirft es ein Schlaglicht auf das Verhältnis von Deleuze und Guattari, ihrer (humorvollen) Kommunikation, gegenseitigen Vorlieben, aber auch Differenzen. So betritt Deleuze nach einem Telefongespräch wieder den Raum, worauf Guattari ihm mitteilt: „I said the opposite of what you said.“ Deleuze antwortet lapidar: “Good. Very good.” (231) Im Speziellen sticht der Fokus auf die politische Dimension hervor, die insbesondere Guattari immer wieder einbringt. Eine oft vorgetragene These, dass Guattari das Politische, wenn er es doch nicht in Deleuze hineintrage, so doch mehr zum Vorschein bringe und einfordere, zeigt sich in diesem Interview paradigmatisch.

3. Die starke bzw. umfassende Beschäftigung und Auseinandersetzung mit der Psychoanalyse, die Ende der 1960er/Anfang der 1970er noch eine viel breitere gesellschaftliche Rolle spielte. Noch vor dem Erscheinen über den Anti-Ödipus richtete Deleuze an Klossowski die Prognose: „either silence or war with psychoanalysts” (61) Auch in besagtem Interview vertreten Deleuze/Guattari ihre zentralen Thesen, wie etwa, dass das Begehren/der Wunsch [désir] nicht auf die Erfüllung eines Mangels zu reduzieren, sondern Produktion sei. Durch die beharrlichen Nachfragen Bellours entstehen bemerkenswerte (aber auch zugängliche) Passagen, beispielsweise die Forderung (sowie auch praktische Anwendung), konsequent in Strömen [flux], Intensitäten und Mannigfaltigkeiten zu denken und nicht einfach von präexistenten Fixpunkten (Subjekt/Objekt) auszugehen (200f.).

Zu guter Letzt geht es mir passenderweise um die Frage nach der Wirkung eines Buchs. Beklagt Deleuze im Interview 1973 noch den akademischen Aspekt des Anti-Ödipus als Ärgernis, wenn auch damit kokettierend (Guattari: „Exactly, it’s Gilles‘ fault.“ (208)), so klingt dies im Brief an Villani 1986, also 13 Jahre später, deutlich anders, man möchte sagen (wieder) deutlich akademischer. Deleuze nennt dem jungen Freund drei Aspekte, die ein existierenswertes Buch ausmachen sollten: In bisherigen Studien zum jeweiligen Thema 1. einen Fehler zu korrigieren (polemische Funktion), 2. etwas Übersehenes zum Vorschein bringen (erfinderische Funktion) sowie 3. einen Begriff [concept] zu schaffen (schöpferische Funktion). Interessanterweise steht dies in einem Spannungsverhältnis dazu, was Deleuze und Guattari im Anschluss an den Anti-Ödipus nicht müde werden zu betonen und auch im in Letters enthaltenen Interview immer wieder ansprechen (198f.; 207f.). So werden sie nicht müde zu betonen, das Buch nicht als Buch zu verstehen, sondern vornehmlich auf die (politischen) Effekte außerhalb und transversale Verbindungslinien abzuzielen sowie Äußerungsgefüge und Gefüge des Begehrens zu schaffen. Funktion des Buches sei dabei, nicht zu überzeugen, sondern abzuholen, wer die Psychoanalyse, aber auch das Subjekt, das Ego satthabe (207). Dass sich diese Hoffnung nicht erfüllen sollte, zeigt sich insbesondere in der Einschätzung im Vorwort zur italienischen Ausgabe von Tausend Plateaus. In einer seltenen Rückschau über die unterschiedliche Rezeption der zwei Bände ihres Opus magnum zu Kapitalismus und Schizophrenie ziehen sie Jahre später (1987) ein gänzlich anderes Fazit  noch im Interview 1973, weshalb ich ausführlicher zitiere: „Tausend Plateaus (1980) war die Fortsetzung des Anti-Ödipus (1972). Aber beide Bücher hatten objektiv ganz verschiedene Schicksale. Das lag sicherlich an den Umständen: die bewegte Zeit des einen, die noch unter dem Einfluß von 68 stand, und die Zeit der seichten flaute, der Gleichgültigkeit, in der das andere erschien. Tausend Plateaus ist von all unseren Büchern am schlechtesten aufgenommen worden. Wenn wir es dennoch besonders mögen, dann nicht so, wie eine Mutter ihr mißratenes Kind liebt. Der Anti-Ödipus war sehr erfolgreich, aber dieser Erfolg wurde von einem noch größeren Scheitern begleitet. Der Anti-Ödipus wollte auf die Verwüstungen Hinweisen, die Ödipus, das ‚Mama-Papa‘, in der Psychoanalyse, in der Psychiatrie und selbst in der Anti-Psychiatrie, in der Literaturkritik und im allgemeinen Bild, das man sich vom Denken macht, anrichtet. Wir haben davon geträumt, Ödipus den Garaus zu machen. Aber diese Aufgabe war zu groß für uns. Die Reaktion auf 68 hat gezeigt, wie stark Ödipus noch in der Familie war und wie er weiterhin in der Psychoanalyse, in der Literatur und überall im Denken sein Regime der kindlichen Weinerlichkeit ausübte. So blieb Ödipus für uns eine schwere Belastung. Tausend Plateaus hat uns dagegen, zumindest uns, trotz seines scheinbaren Mißerfolgs, einen Schritt weitergebracht und uns unbekannte und von Ödipus unberührte Gebiete entdecken lassen, die der Anti-Ödipus nur von ferne sehen konnte, ohne in sie vorzudringen.“ (Deleuze/Guattari 1992, I)

Auch in Letters reflektiert und resümiert Deleuze in einzelnen Passagen über intendierte, aber auch unerwünschte Effekte seiner Bücher. So bemerkt er in einem Brief an Voeffray (1983), dass die Schriften über Proust und Kafka keine Wirkung in seinem Sinne entfalteten (im Gegensatz zu dem Buch über Masoch). Indes waren Konzepte wie „Tier-Werden“ oder „Rhizom“ umgekehrt so erfolgreich, dass sie in einer Weise bar jeder Logik (!) verwendet wurden, die Guattari und ihn abstoße: „I sometimes feel like I’m being roasted by idiotic parasites.“ (91) – eine im Vergleich zum allgemeinen Duktus der Briefe seltene sprachliche Schärfe. Bei aller Kritik am vorliegenden Band könnte die nun vollständig vorliegende Edition der Schriften und Briefe im besten Falle einen Beitrag zum Schutz gegen idiotische Instrumentalisierungen von Deleuze liefern.

Wer darauf hofft, in Letters and Other Texts neue Theoriebausteine oder Verbindungslinien zu finden, welche fundamental andersartige Perspektiven auf und in Deleuzes Philosophie erschließen, muss enttäuscht werden. Das Buch beinhaltet jedoch wertvolle neu publizierte Texte und eröffnet in seiner Gesamtheit neue Ebenen, auf denen die Mannigfaltigkeit an deleuzianischen Strömen [flux] ineinander übergehen und sich verknüpfen lassen.


Badiou, Alain. 2003. Deleuze. »Das Geschrei des Seins«. Diaphanes: Zürich/Berlin [Deleuze. »La clameur de l’Etre«, 1997].

Bonta, Mark/ Protevi, Jon. 2006. Deleuze and Geophilosophy. A Guide and Glossary. Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh [2004].

Deleuze, Gilles. 2020. Letters and Other Texts, hg. von David Lapoujade. Semiotext(e): South Pasadena [Lettres et autres textes, 2015].

Deleuze, Gilles/Guattari, Félix. 1977. Anti-Ödipus. Kapitalismus und Schizophrenie I. Suhrkamp: Frankfurt am Main [L’Anti-Œdipe, 1972].

Deleuze, Gilles/Guattari, Félix. 1992. Kapitalismus und Schizophrenie. Tausend Plateaus. Merve Verlag: Berlin [Mille plateaux. Capitalisme et schizophrénie, 1980].

Deleuze, Gilles. 1993. Logik des Sinns. Suhrkamp: Frankfurt am Main [Logique du sens, 1969].

Deleuze, Gilles. 1993. Unterhandlungen 1972-1990. Suhrkamp: Frankfurt am Main [Pourparlers 1972-1990, 1990].

Deleuze, Gilles. 1997. David Hume. Campus Verlag: Frankfurt am Main/New York [Empirisme et Subjectivité. Essai sur la nature humaine selon Hume, 1953].

Deleuze, Gilles. 2003. Die einsame Insel. Texte und Gespräche von 1953 bis 1974, hg. von David Lapoujade. Frankfurt am Main [L’ile déserte et autres textes. Textes et entretiens 1953-1974, 2002].

Deleuze, Gilles. 2005. Schizophrenie und Gesellschaft. Texte und Gespräche von 1975 bis 1995, hg. von David Lapoujade. Frankfurt am Main [Deux régimes de fous et autres textes (1975-1995), 2003].

Guattari, Félix. 2006. The Anti-Œdipus Papers, hg. von Stéphane Nadaud. New York [Écrits pour l‘Anti-Œdipe, 2005].

[1] Seitenzahlen ohne weitere Angabe referieren auf Letters and Other Texts (Deleuze 2020).

[2] Ich verwende in dieser Rezension, wenn vorhanden, die deutschen Übersetzungen, allerdings das jeweilige Ersterscheinungsjahr im Original.

Gilles Deleuze: Letters and Other Texts

Letters and Other Texts Book Cover Letters and Other Texts
Gilles Deleuze. Edited by David Lapoujade. Translated by Ames Hodges
Paperback $19.95

Reviewed by: James Cartlidge (Central European University, Budapest/Vienna)

It is hard to overstate the effect Gilles Deleuze had (and continues to have) on academia. For someone who defined philosophy as the creation of concepts and devoted himself to the task so prolifically, it would surely be pleasing to him that people working in every corner of the human sciences have engaged with his creations. Deleuze’s philosophy is multi-faceted and complicated, but had a constant emphasis on thinking reality in its flux and becoming – and concepts are no exception. As Daniel Smith points out: “concepts are not eternal and timeless (true in all times and all places), but are created, invented, produced in response to shifting problematics”[i], and subject to change. Deleuze’s concepts have been given countless applications, developments, revisions, interpretations and reinterpretations, and they continue to resonate with many, philosophers and non-philosophers alike. Alas, Deleuze is no longer around to develop them himself, but the hive of activity around his work and the fascination it elicits for many shows no sign of abating. Two posthumous volumes of his work have appeared so far: Desert Islands and Other Texts and Two Regimes of Madness. Collected in them are numerous essays, interviews, conferences and other texts published in French between 1953 and 1995, which do not appear in any of Deleuze’s books. Letters and Other Texts is the third and final volume of this project. While it may not be as substantial as the previous two, the letters offer us a fascinating glimpse into Deleuze’s personality as a friend and academic, and there are some very interesting additions among the ‘other texts’. Academically speaking, those familiar with Deleuze’s work will find valuable resources for chronicling the development of some of his ideas, and the uninitiated will find useful texts to read alongside some of his major works – especially the long, hitherto-unpublished interview (with Guattari and Raymond Bellour) about Anti-Oedipus.

The book is structured into three parts, as David Lapoujade clarifies in his brief introduction:

  1. A set of letters addressed to different correspondents out of friendship or circumstance;
  2. A series of texts published or circulated during Deleuze’s life that were not included in the two previous volumes of posthumous texts;
  3. The four texts published before 1953 that Deleuze renounced although their publication can no longer be avoided. (7)

The book comes with some warnings. Many of these texts were either published but renounced later by Deleuze, or unintended for publication. Some of them he was thinking about publishing, but did not necessarily prepare them for it. There are texts here that are only being published at the wishes of his family, since they are being circulated containing errors and without authorization, and the letters (with one exception) were never intended for publication. Deleuze considered them to be private and not part of his work, even though he discusses his work in them. There are also significant gaps because Deleuze did not keep his mail – we do not have the responses of his correspondents, and many of the letters are not dated (though helpful approximations are made by Lapoujade). But these are only factors to bear in mind, and should not deter anyone from engaging with this valuable collection. From the perspective of studying his work and being interested in him as a human being, there are some brilliant pieces in here. Anyone familiar with the L’Abécédaire interview with Claire Parnet will know first-hand what an engaging and articulate speaker Deleuze was, and this also comes out in the letters (and the Anti-Oedipus interview). L’Abécédaire is essential viewing for those studying Deleuze because of its depth, breadth and brilliance, but also its relative straightforwardness compared to his published works. In Deleuze’s published work there is a commitment to the idea that a philosophical concept should not necessarily be easy to grasp, and must be wrestled with, thought about, thought about again, struggled to be comprehended. This is much less obvious in his interviews and letters, which are exceptionally clear and engaging, and nowhere near as much of a struggle to understand.

Let’s begin with the letters, and especially on the point of what they tell us about Deleuze as a person and professional. They are a very pleasant read, revealing Deleuze’s amiability at every turn and his deep admiration for his correspondents, especially Pierre Klossowski, Michel Foucault and the poet Gherasim Luca. From the perspective of his philosophical work and his intimate, most personal thoughts, they do not reveal too much – but there are some notable exceptions. Most of these correspondences are of a professional nature, and the minutiae of academic life found in them are charming. Apparently his course on cinema was his most worrying and difficult, which was a surprise to  him. (81) He didn’t seem to be a big fan of conferences or speaking at them – not entirely a surprise coming from someone who “insist[ed] that the activity of thought took place primarily in writing, and not in dialogue and discussion.”[ii] His two favourite parts of A Thousand Plateaus were the intimately-connected ‘Becoming-animal’ and ‘Refrain’ plateaus, which deal primarily with music and territorialization. (84) Dryly, he claimed (probably in 1970) that he’d “rather have another tuberculosis cavity than start over at Lyon.” (29) “This thesis pursues me as much as I pursue it” (31) he wrote to Jean Piel. To Guattari: “as usual, after my enthusiasm, doubt sets in.” (51) (Who hasn’t felt this way when writing a thesis at some point?) There are refreshing sections where Deleuze imparts advice on those that ask for it, like when Clement Rosset asks about writing his thesis (20-21), or Arnaud Villani considers writing about Deleuze.

Don’t let me become an object of fascination or a headache for you. I have seen cases of people who wanted to become the ‘disciple’ of someone and who definitely had as much talent as the ‘master’ but who ended up sterilized. It’s awful. […] You deserve much more than just being my commentator. (80)

There is one tension of significance to be found in the letters, and it also comes in the correspondence with Villani. The latter published a review of one of Deleuze and Guattari’s texts that substantially downplays Guattari’s role, much to Deleuze’s annoyance. Deleuze vehemently sticks up for Guattari in multiple letters: “remember that you have often taken my defence without me asking for it and here I am defending Felix who is not asking for it either.” (85) Many of these letters seem to show Deleuze to be self-effacing, often eschewing recognition and downplaying his achievements in favour of those he writes to, always giving credit where credit is due. Nevertheless, when the spotlight is directly on him, he takes it with grace: it is hard not to smile at his veritable elation at getting a positive review from Foucault, and how genuinely pleased he is with how he engages with his work: “I have both the impression that you understand me fully and that at the same time you have surpassed me. It’s a dream.” (68)

But what do the letters have to tell us about Deleuze’s philosophy? There are a few exchanges to look out for here. In a letter to Alain Vinson, for instance, Deleuze answers questions about Kant’s critical philosophy and his book on the subject. In the only portion of the letters that was published, Deleuze answers a questionnaire about his work sent by Arnaud Villani, where Deleuze’s well-known characterization of himself as “a pure metaphysician” (78) appears. Villani also asks Deleuze to summarise his disparate texts at some point, leading him to wonder if there is any kind of unity between them. His answer describes what he takes to be the three principal characteristics of any useful book, which might provide some readers with some guidance:

a book, if it deserves to exist, can be presented in three quick aspects: you do not write a “worthy” book unless: 1) you think that the books on the same subject or on a neighbouring subject fall into a type of overall error (polemical function of the book); 2) you think that something essential has been forgotten in relation to the subject (inventive function); 3) you believe yourself capable of creating a new concept (creative function). (86)

These aspects of his texts are exemplified later with some references to his books on Proust and Sacher-Masoch. (An essay on Sacher-Masoch is also included in the diverse texts.) Elsewhere, the letters to Jean Piel include some descriptions of the development of The Logic of Sense, and there is a very helpful and clear discussion of ‘transcendental empiricism’ in the letters to Joseph Emmanuel Voeffray.

But perhaps most important is the correspondence between Deleuze and Guattari, which mostly consists of discussions about the development of what would become their most well-known and well-read work: the two-volume Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Of especial interest are the letters about Anti-Oedipus, which contain early attempts to work out the exact direction and questions of their inquiry, and to formulate their concepts, such as ‘machine’. I would emphasize that seasoned students of Deleuze and Guattari may not find anything new or surprising here, but those struggling with the undeniable difficulty of reading Anti-Oedipus for the first time may find helpful the more concise and clear propositions about the aim of the text that appear in these letters. For instance:

as long as we think that economic structures only reach the unconscious through the intermediary of the family and Oedipus, we can’t even understand the problem […] what are the socioeconomic mechanisms capable of bearing directly on the unconscious? (37, 39)

In fact, Anti-Oedipus is probably the text that comes to the fore more than any other in Letters and Other Texts, owing not just to this correspondence, but the long interview conducted with Deleuze and Guattari by Raymond Bellour, which I will come to later.

I will not go into too much detail about the ‘writings of youth’, not only because Deleuze renounced them later on, but because they are not of as much interest as the letters and ‘diverse texts’. Suffice it to say that there are some early essays and book introductions here, including the first essay Deleuze published: ‘description of women’. It is understandable, given Deleuze’s later writings, why he distanced himself from work like this. Not to say that the essay is bad, or uninteresting, but it is of a completely different style and orientation than his mature philosophy. It clearly bears influence from Sartre and phenomenology, and is of a decidedly existentialist bent both in style and content, as passages like this show:

Major principle: things did not wait for me to have their meaning. Or at least, which comes to the same from a descriptive standpoint, I am not aware that they waited for me. Meaning is objectively inscribed in the thing: there is something tiring, and that is all. This big, round sun, this climbing road, this fatigue in the lower back. I do not have anything to do with it. I am not the one who is tired. I do not invent anything, I do not project anything, I do not bring anything into the world, I am nothing, not even a nothing, especially not: nothing more than an expression. I do not attach my little meanings onto things. The object does not have a meaning, it is its meaning. (254)

Again, this is by no means a poor essay, but the kind of work Deleuze would go on to do and the philosophers he would later most associate himself with are completely different. He goes on to criticise phenomenology and place importance on philosophers that were at the time not studied that much in France. Deleuze was working in a time where ‘the three Hs’ – Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger – were prevalent in French philosophy education. Deleuze eschewed this tradition and the major philosophy of the day (existentialism, Marxism, phenomenology) in favour of what he sometimes called the ‘minor’ history of philosophy, which he found more productive: Hume, Spinoza, Proust, Nietzsche, Bergson. Deleuze’s mature work would amount to a criticism of the movements, styles and philosophers he shows more allegiance to in his early essays  – but they are nonetheless of interest for the topics he discusses.

Philosophically and academically speaking, the ‘diverse texts’ are the best in this collection. Of interest are the two texts on Hume: a course Deleuze was thinking about publishing, and an essay submitted as part of his agrégation exam on the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion – “undoubtedly the only example of real ‘dialogues’ in philosophy.” (183) Hume was a particularly important philosopher for Deleuze – his first book, Empiricism and Subjectivity, is devoted to the interpretation of his work, and anyone interested in tracing this aspect of Deleuze’s career will find much worth in these two texts. The course is excellent, but consists of notes that Deleuze would presumably have expanded on at length in class, so it reads very densely and can be difficult to connect the dots at times. The Dialogues text is much more polished, contains brief summarizations of some of the text’s key arguments and offers reflections on the significance of the Dialogues and their correct interpretation. Deleuze explains nicely how the problem of religious belief becomes a problem for Hume because of the consequences of his wider theory of knowledge:

Hume finds belief at the foundation of knowledge. At the base of knowledge, there is belief […] The problem of religious belief then takes on greater urgency because one can no longer appeal to the heterogeneity of the two domains, knowledge and faith. […] Since everything is belief, the question is knowing under what conditions a belief is legitimate and forms true knowledge. (184)

And he is absolutely strident on which character represents Hume (which is Philo):

There is […] a common interpretation that says Hume put some of his thought into each of the characters: it is an untenable interpretation because it neglects both the originality and the essential of the Dialogues, that they go entirely against the idea of natural religion. (184)

Also in the diverse texts is a short, remarkably positive book review of an ethnographic text by Pierre Clastres, a French anthropologist Deleuze admired greatly and whose importance in relation to Deleuze and Guattari is perhaps underappreciated. Clastres is cited approvingly a couple of times in Anti-Oedipus but referenced more often and substantially in A Thousand Plateaus, which appeared three years after his untimely death in 1977. Part of the ‘war machine’ plateau is written as a tribute to his memory and makes use of his fascinating work on the Guayaki Indians, and his anti-evolutionary theory of so-called ‘primitive societies’, expressed by Deleuze and Guattari as follows:

Societies termed primitive are not societies without a State, in the sense that they failed to reach a certain stage, but are counter-State societies organizing mechanisms that ward off the State-form, which make its crystallization impossible.[iii]

The reason so-called primitive societies don’t have a state, on Clastres’ account, is because they put mechanisms in place to make sure it never arises, as though they unconsciously ‘saw’ ahead of time that this would be necessary. Given the power that Clastres’ ideas seemed to have for Deleuze and Guattari, it is interesting to see Deleuze engage with Clastres’ ethnographic text. He describes his style as one which “attains an ever-increasing sobriety that intensifies its effect and turns this book, page after page, into a masterpiece. […] In truth, it is a new ethnography, with love, humour, and procedures formed on location.” (192-193) Though the review was published in 1972, there are parts which arguably seem to anticipate the language of ‘lines of flight’ and ‘rhizomatic connections’ that would feature more heavily in A Thousand Plateaus, such as when Deleuze is describing Clastres’ method:

He enters his tribe from any direction. And there he follows the first line of conjunction that presents itself to him: what beings and what things do the Guayaki place in conjunction? He follows this line to the point where, precisely, these beings or things diverge, even if they form other conjunctions…etc. Example: there is a first line “manhunter-forest-bow-animal killed”; then a disjunction woman-bow (the woman should not touch the bow); from which a new conjunction “woman-basket-campsite…” starts; another disjunction “hunters-produce” (the hunter should not consume his products himself, in other words the animals he has killed); then another conjunction (hunter alliance-food prohibition, matrimonial alliance-incest prohibition). (193)

Clastres was clearly an influence on Deleuze and Guattari to some extent, though exactly how influential is unclear. But Deleuze’s review of Clastres, despite its brevity, is a welcome addition to the English translations of his work because it highlights an interesting (and perhaps underappreciated) intellectual, and his connection with Deleuze’s philosophy.

But the most substantial text to be found in this collection, from a scholarly viewpoint, is the Anti-Oedipus interview with Deleuze and Guattari, conducted by Raymond Bellour. Anti-Oedipus is the first volume of Capitalism and Schizophrenia (arguably Deleuze and Guattari’s most important text), so reading it is essential for anyone wanting to get to grips with their work. But reading it is a challenge for anyone: it is dense, bizarre and erudite in equal measure. The number of psychologists, philosophers, anthropologists and artists it refers to is dizzying. Concepts are often deployed without their meaning being explained – either until later or not at all. It seems determined to overwhelm the reader, confuse them and shatter their expectations of what an academic book on psychoanalysis is supposed to be. It is often ironic, makes plentiful use of foul language and takes delight in mocking its targets. It’s a brilliant text, but one that requires a lot of hard work on the part of the reader.

Some of the initial difficult to understand the main points of the book, and its arguments, can be lessened by reading this interview. It covers some of the book’s main points, the motivation behind it, the response it received, and includes some helpful questions from Bellour[iv] about the books central concept that provoke clarificatory responses from Deleuze and Guattari. They explain that the point of the book was to help a certain class of people for whom psychoanalysis, as traditionally practised, does not work.

There is a whole generation of young people in analysis, who are more or less stuck in analysis, who continue to go, who take it like a drug, a habit, a schedule and, at the same time, they have the feeling that it is not working, that there is a whole load of psychoanalytic bullshit. They have enough resistance to psychoanalysis to think against it, but at the same time, their thinking against it in terms that are still psychoanalytical. (195-196)

Deleuze and Guattari want to criticise and rethink psychoanalysis and the practise of therapy from the ground up. But doing this requires overcoming the psychoanalytic language and categories we are used to, which the authors attempt by deploying a cornucopia of new concepts. But their biggest targets, by far, are the dominant psychoanalytic conceptions of the unconscious and desire. They contend not only that these conceptions are wrong, but that they have been used to repress people and reinforce the capitalist hegemony. Desire and the unconscious contain great revolutionary potential which psychoanalysis, as usually practised, suppresses. The Bellour interview focusses more on desire, but the gist of their argument about the unconscious can be well illustrated by a quote they cite from D. H. Lawrence:

the unconscious contains nothing ideal, nothing in the least conceptual, and hence nothing in the least personal, since personality, like the ego, belongs to the conscious or mental-subjective self. So the first analyses are, or should be, so impersonal that the so-called human relations are not involved.[v]

Psychoanalysis mistreats the unconscious and obscures it because it conceives of it as ‘slightly-less-conscious’ rather than un-conscious and as a mere passive receptacle for repressed thoughts and drives. The crucial idea that motivates Anti-Oedipus –  as Foucault explains in the preface – is that we have been made to desire our own repression. The key to overcoming this is unlocking the potential of the unconscious as an active, productive machine through which desire flows.[vi] The flow of desire has been perverted such that people actually want to be oppressed, but if we could better understand the mechanisms by which this is possible, we can reprogram ourselves and begin to get out of this lamentable condition. Desire is suppressed when we treat it as a lack of something that one wants, it is rather an active force that flows through everything we do and produces our thoughts, behaviour and society itself.

One of Bellour’s strengths as an interviewer is that he, as Deleuze puts it, concertedly ‘plays the role of the simpleton’ (200). His questions and comments about desire are the sort that anyone would have on first hearing Deleuze and Guattari’s conception of desire, especially: why would we call this desire, when we always understand it in terms of lack? This provokes some helpful clarificatory responses from both authors. I have largely focussed on Deleuze here, but Guattari, though usually harder to understand, has moments of  exceptional clarity, such as when he expresses one of the key conceptions of  ourselves (that we have clear, well-defined identities) he and Deleuze are seeking to overturn.

It is an incredible illusion to think that people have an identity, are stuck to their professional function, father, mother, all that… They are completely lost and distressed. They flow. They put some shit on television, they look transfixed, caught in a constellation, but they are adjacent to a bunch of systems of intensity that run through them. You really must have a completely rationalist intellectual view to believe that there are well-built people who preserve their identity in a field. That’s a joke. All people are wanderers, nomads. (204-205)

Letters and Other Texts is the final part in a trilogy, the conclusion of an admirable project to bring the remainder of Deleuze’s texts to publication. It should be understood in context and read alongside Desert Islands and Two Regimes of Madness. Compared to the previous two volumes, Letters is much less substantial from an academic point of view, but there are still texts in here that will be of interest to Deleuzians of all stripes. In many ways, Letters is a fitting conclusion to the oeuvre of one of the 20th century’s greatest thinkers – in the letters, we see not just Deleuze the philosopher, but some of Deleuze the person: friendly, helpful, self-effacing, sincere, funny. Seasoned scholars probably won’t find much here that will be new to them, but students wanting to become familiar with Deleuze’s more difficult texts – especially Anti-Oedipus – will have a lot to go on here. Taken together as a unified project, Desert Islands, Two Regimes and Letters stand out as essential reading for anyone interested in Deleuze’s thought – and each has its place.

[i] Daniel W. Smith. 2020. “The Deleuzian Revolution: Ten Innovations in ‘Difference and Repetition.’” Deleuze and Guattari Studies, 14, Issue 1: pp. 34-49; p. 36.

[ii] Daniel Smith and John Protevi. 2020. “Gilles Deleuze.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2020/entries/deleuze/>

[iii] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. 2019. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (‘Apparatus of Capture’ plateau). Translated by Brian Massumi. Bloomsbury Academic: London/New York, p. 499.

[iv] Although Guattari certainly didn’t think they were helpful, and sometimes calls Bellour’s interventions ‘stupid’ and ‘lousy’.

[v] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. 2019. Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Anti-Oedipus. Translated by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane. Bloomsbury Academic: London/New York, p. 139.

[vi] Deleuze and Guattari suggest that we see a glimpse of what a completely unfettered unconscious would look like in schizophrenia.