Peter Sloterdijk: Not Saved: Essays After Heidegger

Not Saved: Essays After Heidegger Book Cover Not Saved: Essays After Heidegger
Peter Sloterdijk. Translated by Ian Alexander Moore, Christopher Turner
Paperback $26.95

Reviewed by: Anthony Crisafi (Philosophy Department, University of Central Florida)

Peter Sloterdijk is currently one of Germany’s most important and most controversial philosophers, and his work has been emerging in English translations more and more over the past ten years. Polity Press has published quite a bit of Sloterdijk’s work, and its publication of Not Saved: Essays After Heidegger is a much-needed addition for Sloterdijk’s English audience. In this book of essays, lectures, and excerpts, Peter Sloterdijk presents the reader with a collection of thoughts which all swirl around two main concepts: 1. That Heidegger is a fallen soul whose inability to venture from the provincial into the cosmopolitan led him to retreat from the human world; and 2. That only through what Sloterdijk terms the anthropotechnic – the mobilization of the human being – can modern humans find their way in the world and to create of it what they will. In his fashion, through extended dialogues with both the reader and with a wide range of thinkers, as well as a developed depth and breadth of intellectual knowledge – with a literary style that is dense and compelling – Sloterdijk laments the fallen Heidegger, acknowledging and admonishing Heidegger’s embrace of cynical evil, while offering a positive vision of human power based on conscious activity and intelligent creation.

Concerning the first point, the substance of Sloterdijk’s critique of Heidegger is that Heidegger, in eschewing the cosmopolitan city for the village, never fully understood how humanity expands. Instead, Heidegger sought to impede modern growth by insisting on a philosophy of anti-expansion, one in which, according to Sloterdijk in the later works of Heidegger, becomes a parochial return to the Catholic-Augustinian acceptance of the human as a deeply flawed being incapable of overcoming this fall except through some metaphysical/spiritual intercession. Heidegger sought to ground the person in Ursprunglichkeit (origin), but for Sloterdijk this was a false consciousness: The human is anthropotechnic by nature, one whose growth is dependent on creating and recreating itself and its world through constant kinetic movement forward. In this instance, for Sloterdijk, the “The People” is a fiction, as this assumes, like Heidegger, that there is an essential essence which is what connects people together. But if we reject this Heideggerian Ursprunglichkeit for a more mobile ontology, we see that what connects people together is not essential ideology, but rather necessary technics of desire. Here, Peter Sloterdijk writes the following:

We will be dealing with a bit of mythology in which the screenplay for the history of this world begins with its prelude in the beyond. The Augustinian Satan, who represents something like an allegory of negation on a level below the principal, does not resort — this much is certain—to any external motive for his revolt against the origin. He finds everything that is necessary for sedition in himself — to put it more precisely, in his capacity for freedom, his most important endowment. By virtue of this, he can, parodying divine creation ex nihilo, generate his ‘no’ from the abyss of an unmotivated act of the will. Thus one may not ask why and from where he has acquired his evil will. He wills as he will and nothing more. (63)

It is the Augustinian-Satanic human, flawed and always doomed to failure and falling by engaging in degrading and dehumanizing behavior, of itself and of others for which contemporary humans have embodied in the new era. But Sloterdijk both laments and admonishes Heidegger for his own evil. Because Heidegger was afraid to move forward, he therefore had to justify his own failures within this Augustinian-Satanic paradigm, which also allows Heidegger to posit that there are classes of human beings: God and human, rulers and ruled, and breeders and bred.

However, the antithesis to Heidegger’s cynicism is through anthropotechnics and mobilization. Mobilization is a theme throughout Sloterdijk’s main work, and it is also found within the sections of this book as well. This lack of mobilization is what makes Heidegger’s fall to the Augustinian-Satanic figure so much more difficult for Sloterdijk. In the first essay in the book, titled “The Plunge and the Turn: Speech on Heidegger’s Thinking in Motion,” Sloterdijk writes, “With this fanciful sketch, ladies and gentlemen, with this almost ridiculous curriculum of the philosopher educated to the end, I have outlined what Heidegger, The Freiburg professor of philosophy and educator/inspirer of a generation of young thinkers and scholars, never did nor even attempted” (27). It may appear as a strong interpretation of Sloterdijk here, but Heidegger was evil because he was a coward, and Sloterdijk sees this in Heidegers’s own retracting from cosmopolitan human engagement. Sloterdijk lays bare the stark contradiction in Heidegger as he writes, as he lays bare this critique of Heidegger. But Sloterdijk goes further to demonstrate that Heidegger’s retreat into Augustinian solipsism is actually a perversion of Augustine’s own emphasis on movement through mediation. Heidegger selfishly adheres to the retraction part, which is where, according to Sloterdjk, Heidegger’s fear of expansion leads him to fall into the ignorance of the Augustinian-Satanic figure. This misappropriation of Augustine can also be found in Heidegger’s own awestruck admiration for Nietzsche. Heidegger’s affinity for Nietzsche rests within a narrow focus on power in Nietzsche, where Heidegger then mistakes power for the pastoral in Nietzsche. He refers to Heideger’s myth of “path of thought” (41) grounded in the “heroic apprehension of the self” in pseudo-Nietzschean terms, while Sloterdijk then remarks that this is because Heidegger retreats into a philosophy which pleads for salvation while still at the same time cowardly hides behind the fear of mobilization.

Therefore, according to Sloterdijk, Heidegger turned away from thinking and retreated towards a mythic metaphysics, as, according to Heidegger, the human cannot find a path to thought without help. Here we can feel Sloterdijk wrestling with an apologetics for Heidegger as Sloterdijk sees Heidegger as a fallen figure to be pitied. The true power of the human, according to Sloterdijk, is the mobilization towards outward expansion, which itself is a movement towards atmospheric and ecospheric migration, leaving behind the Augustinian for the propulsion into the macrosphere. But Heidegger himself never experienced this, and as such he sought to keep others from experiencing it as well through the appeal to philosophical certainty. Therefore, according to Sloterdijk here in Not Saved, philosophy is the attempt to plot a course, which is what Heidegger got right. But there is not one course, and Sloterdijk reads Heidegger as falling into a trap, in which for Heidegger contemplation is the tension and the kinetics of discovery, not truth. Once the philosopher abandons the search for truth, he becomes the lost soul, never finding the real and substituting that for chasing redemption in exile.

This theme runs throughout the book, in which Heidegger as the Augustinian-Satanic character is prevalent. In the essay “Luhmann, Devil’s Advocate,” Sloterdijk writes that the essentialist nature of Heidegger is exposed through Lumann’s own critique of the Augustinian, in which Luhmann demonstrates he is not afraid of the underlying systems of human ontology. This can also be seen in the essay “The Domestication of Being,” where Sloterdijk contrasts Luhmann to Heidegger by writing “The discourse on the human being in historical anthropology proceeds from the fact that the expression ‘human being’ does not designate any object concerning which one could formulate direct (edifying or lamenting) statements, but rather only presents a conceptual container that, to speak with Luhmann, holds ‘vast complexities’” (98). Here we see Luhmann embracing the macrospheric expanse, where Heidegger seeks to retreat away from this complexity into a mythology of a cynical rejection of human complexity. Here again, Sloterdijk points out that this expansionist thinking was present in Plato and Aristotle as the demiurgic and creative power of the human being.

However, the essay that encapsulates this dichotomy between the fallen Heidegger and the anthropotechnic antithesis is “Rules for the Human Park,” for which Sloterdijk started a controversial war of words between he and Habermas. Habermas raised the criticism that Sloterdijk was relying on the eugenic language of the Nazis, while Sloterdijk would go on to accuse Habermas of fascistically trying to smother Sloterdijk’s main point in the essay: That humanism is based on sophisticated dialogues between others and for which creates the topological space for human identity and human being. In this essay, Sloterdijk returns to the themes he has already raised in Not Saved by focusing on the categorical mistake Heidegger makes in dividing the world into God and human, rulers and ruled, and breeders and bred. Here, Sloterdijk insists that it is through true humanism – the study of the minds of the past and present – that will move the human from being a part of a breeding stock and towards a holistic being.

In “Rules” Sloterdijk writes:

The phenomenon of humanism deserves attention today above all because it recalls—in however veiled and timid a manner—the fact that human beings in high culture are continually engaged by two formative powers at the same time—we would like here, for the sake of simplicity, to designate them simply as inhibiting and disinhibiting influences. The conviction that human beings are ‘impressionable animals’ and that it is hence necessary to get them to come under the right kind of influences belongs to the credo of humanism. The label ‘humanism’ recalls—with false harmlessness—the constant battle for the human being, which is carried out as the struggle between bestializing and taming tendencies. (196)

Here Sloterdijk argues that human beings are “impressionable animals,” alluding to Aristotle’s comments concerning humans as politikon zoon while also harkening back to Plato’s theory of how proper education helps to create the good citizen and the just state. With a specific emphasis on Plato’s regard for rules regarding human political and social conduct, Sloterdijk then argues that human beings are not firstly interested in education, but rather, human beings are like animals who want to engage in the conditions which may breed successful human beings within a political-social topology. As Sloterdijk writes “In his dialogue Politikos—often translated as The Statesman—Plato put forward the Magna Carta of a European pastoral politology . . . Its incommensurable position in the history of thinking about the human being above all consists in the fact that it is conducted as though breeders were having a conversation about work” (207). Therefore, in Plato’s dialogue, Sloterdijk sees the beginning of Heidegger’s turmoil: From its very inception, philosophy has been about creating rules for human consumption. According to Sloterdijk, “Thus this Stranger and his counterpart, the Younger Socrates, devote themselves to the tricky endeavor of placing the politics of the future or the herdsmanship of the city under transparently rational rules” (207). On the surface, one may be tempted to take Habermas’ rejection of Sloterdijk here as true, but that would be facile at best. Sloterdijk is not advocating eugenics or any kind of political-social breeding program; instead, Sloterdijk wants to reorient the anthropology of the breeding human towards a positive and forward thinking humanism.

To do this, Sloterdijk begins the essay by defining humanism as “What from Cicero’s time onward has been called humanitas belongs, in the narrowest and broadest senses, to the consequences of literacy . . . It has allowed its writing to continue like a chain letter across generations” (193). From this point, Sloterdijk moves into a sustained critique of Heidegger, specifically Heidegger’s “Letter on Humanism.” Sloterdijk begins by acknowledging the vast gratitude he has for Heidegger in general, but from there begins to criticize Heidegger for allowing the humanism of philosophical discourse degenerate into attacks against humanity in general. Sloterdijk writes:

A part of Heidegger ’s strategy thereby becomes manifest: the word ‘humanism’ must be given up if the actual task of thought, which in the humanist or metaphysical tradition wanted to appear as though it had already been accomplished, is to be experienced once more in its initial simplicity and inevitability. To put it sharply: why again tout the human being and his prevailing philosophical self-depiction in humanism as the solution when it has just been shown in the catastrophe of the present that it is the human being himself, along with his systems of metaphysical self-elevation and self-explanation, that is the problem? (198)

Here Sloterdijk once more takes Heidegger to task for not directly engaging in humanity, or rather from disengaging from humanity. The critique here is based on Heidegger’s Post-War status as a former Nazi in exile, rather than the esteemed philosopher Heidegger used to be. We must now realize that Sloterdijk is wrestling with both Heidegger the philosopher and Heidegger the historical figure, and for Sloterdijk both of these positions come together in Heidegger’s work in general. Because Heidegger always saw philosophy as a provincially elitist activity, Sloterdijk now contends that Heidegger never fully understood the true quality of human activity: To create humanism. Humanism, even in the face of Sloterdijk’s own arguments concerning breeding in this essay, is the rule for human activity.

In order to affect this new concept of humanism, Sloterdijk must also focus on the concept of anthropotechnics and its mobilization as the power of humanism. Therefore, the other philosophical archetype in this essay for Sloterdijk is Nietzsche, for whom Sloterdijk views as the antithesis for the cynical Heidegger. Sloterdijk asserts that it is through Nietzsche that Heidegger’s rejection of Plato’s concept of education is now understood as a human breeding system which arranges the material world by strict rules of hierarchy of powers, both material and phemonenological. Sloterdijk’s use of Nietzsche in this essay leads him to advance a radical critique rooted in a position posited strictly against the inhuman form of late modernism itself. For example, Sloterdijk writes that “The era of modern humanism as the model for schooling and formative education is over with, because the illusion can no longer be maintained that large political and economic structures could be organized on the amiable model of the literary society” (195). Modern society – which for Sloterdijk is the contemporary world of late and hyper capital – is awash in Heidegger’s cynicism: Instead of embracing humanism and the good, the modern age has followed Heidegger down the rabbit hole and into a world where there is no human good to truly discuss. Because Heidegger sees his own failure as a failure of ideas, so to then the modern world must be bereft of ideas for Heidegger to hide his own cynical, evil Nazi persona. Again, according to Sloterdijk’s critique of Heidegger’s “Letter on Humanism,” Heidegger hides his shame behind the Augustinian-Satanic figure by shifting the blame onto an abstract concept of evil rooted in anti-humanism.

From this point in the essay, Sloterdijk begins to unpack Nietzsche for the reader. For Nietzsche:

In contrast, Nietzsche—who read Darwin and St. Paul with equal attention—thinks that he perceives a second, darker horizon behind the bright horizon of the formation of the human being in schools. He perceives a space in which inevitable battles over directions of human breeding will begin—and it is this space in which the other, veiled aspect of the clearing is revealed . . . He [Nietzsche] wants to call the proprietors of the monopoly on taming up to this point—the priests and teachers who present themselves as friends of the human being—by their name and to designate their secret function; he wants to launch a world-historically new kind of contest between different breeders and different kinds of breeding programs. (204)

Sloterdijk’s understanding of Nietzsche here is a complex articulation of both the fundamental problem within political philosophy – philosophy as regulator of human activity – and what Sloterdijk sees as Nietzsche’s strength: The human as anthropotechnic and mobile. Sloterdijk demonstrates that Heidegger’s cynical rejection of humanism has wrestled humanity away from its own consciousness by technologizing human labor and regulating human congregation, specifically through modern capital’s control over media and the phantasy worlds they create. By reproducing text itself not as a phenomenon of human cognitive self-positioning but as a measurable quantity of human worth and dignity, reproducible within technological apparatuses, human being can be controlled through the architecture of modern capital itself. Plato and Heidegger posit that rules must come from specialized types of ruler, referred to as breeders, for which Sloterdijk questions whether or not the breeders become a different species altogether, as Heidegger also differentiates between human and animal species, effectively rendering any discussion of consciousness from the later.

The result in the essay “Rules for the Human Park” is that Sloterdijk comes back to the concept of humanism as not a set of rules but the means to create human spaces. Sloterdijk writes:

It is the signature of the technological and anthropotechnological era that human beings become increasingly involved in the active or subjective side of selection, without having to be voluntarily thrust into the role of the selector. Additionally, one may observe that there is an unease in the power of choice; soon it will become an instance of opting for innocence when human beings explicitly refuse to exercise the power of selection that they have in fact managed to achieve. But as soon as powers of knowledge are positively developed in a field, human beings cut a poor figure if they—as in earlier times of incapacity—wish to allow a higher force, whether it be God or chance or something else, to act in their stead. Since mere refusals and dismissals generally fail in their sterility, in the future it will arguably be necessary to actively enter the game and formulate a code of anthropotechnics. Such a code would even retroactively transform the significance of classical humanism—since it would disclose and put in writing the fact that humanitas not only involves the friendship of human being with human being; it always implies as well—and with growing explicitness—that the human being represents the higher force for the human being. (206)

Sloterdijk’s reading here of psycho-socio culture is as an aggressive purveyor and user of cynicism against philosophy as humanism and humanity as biological. In this case, the human is not a self-creating being with anthropotechnic power, but rather is a product of a radical barrier which cuts off from the self its desire to create, maintain, and sustain its own ontology. Humanism is recognized here by Sloterdijk as the extended dialogue with past minds and as the concretization of the ideal through this mobilized poesis. Therefore, the antithesis for Heidegger’s cynicism is for human beings to return to true humanism and become the very spirit for which has to overcome its current bioorganic-technological existence. Instead of creating categorically false differences between classes of breeders and those who are bred, mobilization becomes the activity for consciousness to embody and extend itself into the material through a synthesis of anthropotechnic root structures.

The selections of the essays, lectures, and excerpts from Sloterdijk’s works here in Not Saved: Essays After Heidegger provides the reader with a sustained critique of Heidegger while also clearing a path towards unity between human and world. The uncovering of Heidegger as a fallen figure allows Sloterdijk to posit a philosophy of mobility and movement forward, and the analysis of the anthropotechnic – the self-creating mobile human being – becomes the action and the activity for which we as modern humans find mobility. The translation of these pieces by Ian Alexander Moore and Christopher Turner is sensitive to Sloterdijk’s style while at the same time offering English readers the ability to savor Sloterdijk’s literary approach to philosophy. The book itself is not a primer for Sloterdijk, as it presents essays, lectures, and selections as pieces of an extended argument, as well as the nature of Sloterdijk’s dense prose, which is never stultifying but rather engaging and erudite. However, the translators are keenly aware of this as well, and as a general introduction to Sloterdijk’s methodology and concepts, this book is essential for anyone interested in one of the contemporary world’s most prescient, prolific, and prominent philosophers.

Work Cited
Sloterdijk, P. (2017). Not Saved: Essays After Heidegger. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Hans-Georg Gadamer: The Beginning of Philosophy

The Beginning of Philosophy Book Cover The Beginning of Philosophy
Bloomsbury Revelations
Hans-Georg Gadamer
Ancient Philosophy, History of Philosophy
Bloomsbury Academic
Paperback $20.66

Reviewed by: Zachary Isrow (Global Center for Advanced Studies)

Where does philosophy begin? Often, in the West, Thales of Miletus is considered father of philosophy. Yet, if one looks Eastward towards India and China, or South towards Egypt, there are surely philosophical origins long before Thales existed. Still, in the West the presocratics are where we look to uncover the beginning of philosophical thought. While many texts have been written addressing and interpreting the presocrates and their thought, Hans-Georg Gadamer’s The Beginning of Philosophy is not one of these – at least not in the typical sense. Gadamer’s book, based on the lectures he gave in 1988 at the Naples Institute for the Study of Philosophy in Italy, does not strictly seek to explore presocratic philosophy in its own regard, but rather hopes to address the hidden origins of philosophy.

Gadamer, a renowned philosophy of the 20th Century, with these lectures, introduces a new approach to ancient philosophy. Much of the current literature on presocratic philosophy focuses strictly on the ideas generated and discussed in relation to their influence on the future development of philosophy. While Gadamer does not fall far from this in his lectures, the book’s beginning two chapters “The Meaning of Beginning” and “Hermeneutic Access to Beginning” pave the way for a unique approach to thinking about presocratic philosophy. For this review, I will focus on this new approach Gadamer suggests and then briefly discuss how this new approach to presocratic thought lends itself to a more complete system of thought, rather than a series of seemingly sporadic fragments.

When we ask ourselves “where does philosophy begin?,” it is often question answered by reference to a time, place, or individual. Interest in actual interpretation of presocratic philosophy was never really a task set forth by intellectuals until the nineteenth century romantics in Germany, with Hegel and Schleiermacher (10). Still, none questioned the very origins of presocratic thought. Why did it develop the way it did? Was it mere curiosity? Was it the myths that sparked interest in things unseen? Gadamer, thinks that there is a secret origin to which “beginning” refers. He writes that “there is yet another, far more obscure precursor – something that lies prior to all rich in tradition, prior to medical literature as well as presocratics, namely, the language spoken by the Greeks” (13).

The Greek language is well-formed to investigate philosophical questions. Gadamer notes two aspects of the Greek language which make it most suitable for philosophic inquiry as being, in the first place, the use of the neuter, and in the second, the existence of the copula (14). Regarding the former, he writes that “It has to do not with the quality of a being, but the quality of a whole space, “being,” in which all beings appear” (14). This poses Greek as a language not only capable of abstraction, but rooted in an abstraction. The copula, which relates to the actual sentence structure in Greek, refers to the “use of the verb ‘to be’ to link the subject and the predicate” (14). Together, these two important distinguishing characteristics of the language used by the presocratics, positioned them to be able to immerse themselves into what would become philosophy.

The second sense of “beginning” is reflective, in that it already presupposes an end. “The anticipation of an end is a prerequisite for a concrete beginning” Gadamer suggests (15). In other words, beginnings always have an end or goal towards which they progress. There is, then, a teleology at work in the development of history, particularly in the history of philosophy. However, this development, already contains its end within its beginning and as such, nothing given to it along its progression is innovative or unexpected. So long as “nothing new, no innovation, and nothing unforeseen is present, there is also no history to relate” and so thus the “primordial opposition between nature and spirit” enters into philosophical discourse (16).

Gadamer here offers a final consideration of the meaning of “beginning,” which is most suitable for discussing the presocratics and their role in the history of philosophy. This is “beginning” as incipience, rather than the incipient entity. This allows that “many eventualities – within reason, of course – are still possible (17). More so, it escapes a predetermined or a presupposed path – it signifies an element of “uncertainty”. Gadamer thinks this is true of presocratic thought, in which there is “a seeking without knowledge of the ultimate destiny” that their seeking will have or at which it may conclude.

After setting up the three meanings of beginning as his premises, Gadamer shifts to focusing on the history of philosophy from a hermeneutic standpoint. This is what he calls ‘effective history’ and approaches the issue of scholarship through problemgeschichte, or, “problem history.” “In this sense,” writes Gadamer, “a problem is something that impedes the progress of knowledge” (25). Thus, in different fields and disciplines, the problemgeschichte is different. In more scientific fields we must continuously seek additional confirmation, never feeling fully satisfied by the current theory. Likewise, in most fields, if we disprove a theory, it is of little to no more use.

Philosophy, unlike other disciplines, does not disregard the problem simply because any possible solution has also been eliminated. It is, then “not correct to say that if a problem admits of no falsification then it presents no question to the thinker” (26). We must therefore approach the presocratics differently than has been previously attempted. Rather than interpreting the texts out of our own vantage point, that is, via reflection, we should instead let the text itself provided us with an interpretation. This means simply that “it is not correct to assert that the study of a text or tradition is completely dependent upon our own decision making” (28).

As Gadamer continues on with his lectures on the presocratics, he uses this approach so as to only use what the text itself allows for, without filling in gaps with speculation and reasoned interpretation. Only what the texts suggest does he consider to be a valid method of understanding the presocratic philosophers and their views. In doing so, he offers a unique approach to the contemplation of the very origin of philosophic thought.

Overall, this work provides an attempt to reconsider the presocratics in a way not typically found. The approach offered by Gadamer is one which enables the reader to reconnect with the texts themselves rather than resting only upon various interpretations. While this gives one a different method with which they can approach the presocratic texts and philosophies, it does not actually result in a new way of perceiving the presocratics. No real new insight is offered into the presocratics and their views, other than some details which have perhaps at times been overlooked due to the current “survey” methods used.

Due to its depth, I would not recommend this book to anyone altogether unfamiliar with ancient Greek thought as much of the value of the book would be lost in such a case. However, this text is valuable, especially for those who study philosophy and ancient philosophy in particular. It carries with it not only the new approach offered throughout, but also a new appreciation for the presocratics which are so often overlooked or by-passed.

Hans-Georg Gadamer: The Beginning of Philosophy

The Beginning of Philosophy Book Cover The Beginning of Philosophy
Bloomsbury Revelations
Hans-Georg Gadamer
Ancient philosophy
Paperback $20.66

Reviewed by: Guy Bennett-Hunter (University of Edinburgh)

The textual history of The Beginning of Philosophy is long and convoluted. Its origins are in Gadamer’s final lecture course as Professor Emeritus at Heidelberg delivered shortly before his retirement at the end of 1967. 20 years later, Gadamer delivered a series of Italian lectures on the same topic without a script. These were recorded and transcribed by Vittorio DeCesare. Reclam published a German translation by Joachim Schulte (Der Anfang der Philosophie (1988)). The present volume is based on Gadamer’s own ‘definitive revision’ of Schulte’s translation (ix).

It is perhaps appropriate that there should be such ambiguity about whether, and in what way, we can reasonably hope to have the authoritative version of this text. For rendering such questions explicit was Gadamer’s life’s work.

Gadamer’s theme is the beginning of Western philosophy, which he says also represents the beginning of Western culture (1). But what is most illuminating about the volume is the way in which Gadamer approaches his subject. He claims early on that ‘the sole philosophical access to an interpretation of the Presocratics’ is not Thales, Homer, or the Greek language but Plato and Aristotle. ‘Everything else is historicism without philosophy.’ (2) And, as he explains towards the end of the book, ‘I would not by any means want to be understood as though I did not appreciate the method of the historians. It is just that philosophy is something different.’ (102)

This ‘something different’ is a way of thinking that, rather than trying to eliminate the prejudices that are integral to all understanding, acknowledges them and works within their constraints. For, as Gadamer defines them, our prejudices are simply our rootedness in a tradition (38). Gadamer’s insistence on Plato and Aristotle as our sole hermeneutic access to the Presocratics is motivated by his recognition of the inadequacy of the concept of method ‘in the sense of guaranteeing objectivity’. For when they spoke of their predecessors, ‘Plato and Aristotle did not have our historical scholarship in mind but were guided by their own interests, by their own search for truth’ (22). Therefore, the sense of ‘beginning’ that Gadamer has in mind is ‘that of the beginning that does not know in advance in what way it will proceed’ (12). True research is not about finding answers as much as it is about discovering new questions and imagining fruitful new ways of posing them (17). Thus Gadamer embarks on his discussions of the Presocratic conception of the soul and its relationships to life and death.

His distinctive philosophical approach to these discussions, however, draws attention to his key point. Every text has at least two contexts: that in which it was created and that in which it is read. It follows from the fact that it is impossible, in a given case, to know whether these contexts align that, ‘torn out of its context,’ a quotation can be used for any purpose whatsoever. ‘Whoever quotes,’ Gadamer says, ‘already interprets by means of the form in which he or she presents the text of the quotation.’ (13) Witness the quite different purposes for which the Presocratics were quoted by the Stoics, Sceptics, and patristic writers. While there are significant difficulties involved in using the texts of Plato and Aristotle (which were not written for this purpose) to find out about this other tradition, Gadamer believes that Plato’s transparent use of that tradition to depict ‘his own turn toward the Idea’ (31) permits him to ‘guess at certain tendencies of the culture of this bygone era’ (30) in a way denied to the compilers of compendia of Presocratic quotations.

With regard to the first context, that in which the ancient Greek texts were created, Gadamer displays an erudition that is rare today. But it is their second context, that of contemporary philosophy, that impresses this reader with greater urgency. Through his engagement with Greek culture, Gadamer hopes to realize his ideal of philosophical research as ‘a movement that is open at first and not yet fixed but which concretizes itself into a particular orientation with ever-increasing determinateness’. What this engagement shows is that the supposed freedom of modern science to stand at a distance from the object being investigated simply does not exist. ‘We all stand in the life-stream of tradition’, Gadamer writes, ‘and do not have the sovereign distance that the natural sciences maintain in order to conduct experiments and to construct theories.’ (19) Rather than a philosophically problematic relation between subject and object, which is simply presupposed by the empirical method, Gadamer stresses ‘participation’, ‘like the believer who is faced with a religious message’ (22). While this may read like a challenge to the natural sciences’ ideal of objectivity, which they threaten to extend even to the human subject, Gadamer reassures us that the human sciences are properly occupied with quite different tasks (21).

In instructive contrast to the contemporary academy, where not only the social sciences but also the human sciences and philosophy have arguably been infected by these naturalistic inclinations, Gadamer identifies the ‘highest point of Greek philosophy’ as the idea of a ‘mutuality of participation existing between object and subject’. ‘For the Greeks,’ he writes, ‘the essence of knowledge is the dialogue and not the mastery of objects’. (60)

Such thoughts emerging from Gadamer’s reading of the Presocratics via Plato and Aristotle, will be familiar to the readers of phenomenologists like Karl Jaspers, who explicitly described the nature of the subject–object split [Subjekt–Objekt Spaltung] in similar terms. Subject and object are not to be reified, considered as entities or substances, each of which could possibility exist without the other. A Spaltung, usually translated as ‘split’ or ‘cleavage’, is not a dichotomy. It is a distinction between aspects of reality that are, at the most primordial level, unified. In form as well as content, then, The Beginning of Philosophy leads us to the perhaps unexpected conclusion that it is the phenomenological method, for Gadamer represented by Husserl and Heidegger, that has ‘pointed the way for contemporary philosophy’ (60).

Gregory J. Laughery: Paul Ricoeur & Living Hermeneutics: Exploring Ricoeur’s Contribution to Biblical Interpretation

Paul Ricoeur & Living Hermeneutics: Exploring Ricoeur's Contribution to Biblical Interpretation Book Cover Paul Ricoeur & Living Hermeneutics: Exploring Ricoeur's Contribution to Biblical Interpretation
Gregory J. Laughery
Destinee Media
Paperback $24.00

Reviewed by: A.G. Holdier (Colorado Technical University)

Over the last decade, the legacy of Paul Ricoeur’s hermeneutical strategy has entered the interdisciplinary arena in full force, interacting with theology, the natural sciences, and literary studies in various ways; Gregory J. Laughery’s Paul Ricoeur and Living Hermeneutics: Exploring Ricoeur’s Contribution to Biblical Interpretation now turns a critical eye to Ricoeur’s relevance within the field of biblical studies to produce a helpful volume that promises to introduce Ricoeur’s hermeneutical phenomenology to students in yet another tradition.

Such a project is unsurprising: Ricoeur himself frequently wrote on matters situated at the nexus of hermeneutics and religion, often using the Bible itself variably as both example and tool to demonstrate his philosophy. Laughery aims to follow in Ricoeur’s footsteps by recursively subjecting the Frenchman’s own work to the same treatment he once paid to the Bible in order to mine Ricoeur’s corpus ultimately for insight back into biblical hermeneutics in the contemporary world.

To this end, Laughery’s work provides a succinct summation of Ricoeur’s hermeneutics before applying said philosophy to a field (and, by extension, a culture) he describes as hamstrung by conflicting interpretive models. With the rise of poststructuralism and postmodernism, a reader is caught between one approach that “under-reads” and praises the de-materializing over-spiritualization of a text and another that “over-reads” and rigidly waters down the complexity of a text via a plethora of reductionistic concerns. Readers are paradoxically expected to maintain a perspective which is both “inside” and “outside” of a text simultaneously, a conclusion that cannot avoid discharging the text of any value, for “whether readers are left “outside” or “inside” the text, it has no meaning in and of itself. It is either unable to resist a ruling readerly imposition, or it spirals off into an endless spin of non-meaning” (5). Laughery argues that Ricoeur’s approach offers a reconciliatory path forward that can restore genuine meaning to a reading (of the Bible or of anything else) by avoiding the twin dangers of reading too much or too little in the text.

Laughery structures the book along Ricoeur’s tripartite mimetic process by prefiguring his argument with a brief biographical sketch of Ricoeur’s life alongside several of his key philosophical positions. Particularly for readers unfamiliar with Ricoeur, this section alone offers a valuable introduction to Ricoeurian studies, explaining many of the concepts and texts which made Ricoeur’s name within academia. Additionally, Laughery here sets up the oft-maligned modernist-postmodernist conflict as the primary adversary of his book before arguing that Ricoeur’s “living hermeneutics” eschews both the polarities of modernist certainty and of postmodernist uncertainty to maintain a hopeful optimism about a text; it is a hermeneutic with clear boundaries, but ones that “do not necessarily connote a loss of meaning” (17). This “both/and” approach to a text, Laughery suggests, offers the most flexible perspective possible for discovering real sense in a reading.

The second section – Configuration – comprises the majority of the book and sees Laughery lay out Ricoeur’s hermeneutical philosophy that prioritizes a text as an objective element of a culture. Offering a middle path between a dry, modernist reading that focuses exclusively on the words of a page and a whimsical, postmodern approach untethered from objective referents, Laughery emphasizes Ricoeur’s concern for “re-regionalizing” a text – that is, to treat a text as a real window into another, specific (regional) way of life. Properly understanding the Bible, then, means to allow it to present itself and the world it speaks from to the reader as a functional window into another culture; as Laughery puts it:

A Ricoeurian biblical hermeneutics is an attempt to allow the text to unfold its proposal of a world, letting speak what has been “said” within biblical discourse. The “said” has been inscribed in a diversity of forms (structures) directly related to their contents (sense and referent), which in the biblical text, among other things, is called a new world, new covenant, and the kingdom of God (88-89).

This approach thereby marries the objective presentation of modernism with the heartfelt emotion of postmodernism to create a meaningful statement which appeals simultaneously to both fact and emotion.

Laughery suggests that over-specialization in the discipline has led to such an approach rarely being taken in biblical studies, where instead a researcher’s preconceived categorical concerns preclude the text’s opportunity to speak for itself; to demonstrate this, Laughery contrasts Ricoeur’s methodology abstractly against the dominant perspectives of structuralism and the historical-critical method, as well as concretely across powerhouse figures within the field (such as Bultmann and Crossan). In the former case, Laughery plays a fair game, presenting a reserved description of both Ricoeur’s dialectical appropriation of each methodology’s strengths, as well as his ardent criticism of their weaknesses. As already described, Ricoeur considered both structuralism and a harsh literalism to make fundamental interpretive missteps, albeit it in opposite directions; rather than simply reject them wholesale, he sought to discover an “inherent complementarity” (132) within them to create an approach that neither wholly submerges a reader inside a text (as in historico-criticism) nor resists all submersion whatsoever (á la structuralism). The result is a “living” hermeneutical approach which treats texts as calcified forms of discourse inextricable from “an actual event, related to a subject and a referent addressed to someone” (110). Decoding this rooted message is the hermeneutical project.

In the case of the latter, he juxtaposes Bultmann’s demythologizing project with Ricoeur’s definition of myth that does not seek to strip a text of its mythological elements, but rather views mythology as the “attempt to express another world in the language of this one” (78). Similarly, Laughery includes an extended application of Ricoeurian hermeneutics to one of Ricoeur’s favorite biblical genres – parable – and brings Crossan’s pessimistic treatment of the ultimate indeterminancy of parables into the light of Ricoeur’s optimistic reaffirmation of the beneficial textual boundaries (both literary and cultural) which function to disclose the text’s world in an objective fashion.[1] In short, Laughery argues that Ricoeur’s hermeneutic allows a reader to explore a parable’s polyvalence, seeking insight from the structural underpinnings of the text, while maintaining hope that the reading overall is still heading somewhere specific (as rooted in the historico-cultural world of the text). In this way, Ricoeurian hermeneutics manages to employ various interpretive models while avoiding allowing any one methodology to morph into an ideology – a danger Ricoeur called an “interpretive ‘dead end’” (139).

Of course, no treatment of Ricoeur’s hermeneutical philosophy would be complete without a consideration of his work on narrative; Laughery brings this key theme of Ricoeur’s thought into conversation with the work of David Carr to consider the differences between the experience of living and the later telling of that experience in the form of a story. To Ricoeur, narratives entail the plotted description of a series of events structured intentionally to make various points or teach (often implicitly) various lessons or themes. A historical narrative is not identical to a life, but can only tell of that life retrospectively with the insight of where the story leads. Said another way, narrative allows one to view the story of a life – including, importantly, one’s own life – from a distance with an interpretive structure that must be decoded and learned from.

This becomes particularly useful for biblical hermeneutics, given the Bible’s blend of fictional and nonfictional narratives. Ricoeur had a particular interest in historical narratives and observed that if the referents of the biblical narratives are wholly inaccessible, then there is no way to distinguish fiction from nonfiction. The postmodern tendency to over-spiritualize and over-“literary-ize” (188) the text of Scripture makes the hermeneutical project impossible. However, the modernist assumption that knowledge of historical events is equal to accessing the events themselves is likewise mistaken. Instead, Ricoeur’s focused emphasis on discovering the rooted world of a text “contributes to biblical hermeneutics by embodying a fine balance between the récit of fiction and the récit of history” (190), given that it is able to accommodate the unique concerns of both genres.

The book ends with a short third section wherein Laughery rounds out Ricoeur’s mimetic process by Refiguring the lessons of the book as a whole to conclude the work with some summative thoughts. He muses on Ricoeur’s notion of appropriation to suggest that the project of reading a text inherently leads to a change in oneself – as he says, “the motion from the world of the text to the world of the reader must be carried out a step further by being lived out into the animate world” (218) – which is certainly a point that devout readers of the Bible frequently describe as well. In fact, it was in this small section – the shortest of the three – where Laughery offers the most pointed insights for biblical studies, as well as devotional Christian theology. On the final page preceding the book’s conclusion, Laughery finally makes plain the point which has been implied frequently throughout much of the work: if the true goal of interpretation is to uncover the world of a text, then the world we inhabit is something which can, and should, be interpreted to learn about both God and ourselves, in precisely the manner that the faithful readers of the Bible often speak. In short, when he characterizes Ricoeur’s project as one of “living hermeneutics,” Laughery means this literally.

On the whole, Ricoeur scholars will likely find little material in Paul Ricoeur and Living Hermeneutics that is unfamiliar: the majority of the book consists of an explication of Ricoeur’s basic hermeneutical philosophy in a manner that highlights Ricoeur’s theological examples while offering several pointed case studies from the realm of biblical studies. However, Laughery’s summary is comprehensive, accessible, and fair to Ricoeur in precisely the manner that an overview of a philosopher’s system should be. Notably, Laughery is not hesitant to critique what he sees as the weaker parts of Ricoeur’s methodology, such as his lack of emphasis on exegesis (something, again, especially relevant for biblical studies). Unfortunately, some readers may be disappointed in the significant emphasis on Ricoeur’s philosophy at the expense of a deeper consideration of academic biblical studies: though it is well-done, there is far more Ricoeur than Bible in this book.

Overall, Gregory J. Laughery’s Paul Ricoeur and Living Hermeneutics: Exploring Ricoeur’s Contribution to Biblical Interpretation is a very fine undergraduate introduction to the person and work of Paul Ricoeur, if that introduction would benefit from emphasis on biblical studies and, by the end, Christian theology. Of course, if the reader should think that an introduction to Ricoeur would not benefit from such things, then one will largely be disappointed in the work of Ricoeur himself, given how frequently he wrote on precisely those topics.

[1] As Laughery points out: “We argue that parabolic polyvalence is not entirely open to a gratuitous free-play. Texts, even parabled ones, have interpretations that can be considered more or less probable, in spite of those interpretations not being absolute” (121).

Andrés Osswald: La fundamentación pasiva de la experiencia

La fundamentación pasiva de la experiencia: un estudio sobre la fenomenología de Edmund Husserl Book Cover La fundamentación pasiva de la experiencia: un estudio sobre la fenomenología de Edmund Husserl
Filosofía UC
Andrés Miguel Osswald
Plaza y Valdés

Reviewed by: Alan Patricio Savignano (UBA-CONICET-CEF/ANCBA)

La Fundamentación pasiva de la experiencia es el primer libro del Dr. Andrés Miguel Osswald, fruto de su tesis doctoral acerca de la fenomenología genética de Edmund Husserl, dirigida por uno de los mayores especialistas del campo en Argentina, el Dr. Roberto Walton. La obra consiste en un profundo y extenso análisis exegético sobre la teoría fenomenológica husserliana de los estratos pasivos de la vida consciente, realizado a partir de un arduo trabajo con manuscritos póstumos de Husserl editados durante el último tercio del siglo pasado y los primeros años del actual. Estos textos abarcan desde los cursos de invierno sobre el tiempo en Gotinga en 1904-5, los Bernauer Manuskripte (1917-1918), los Analysen zur passiven Synthesis y los C-Manuskripte (1929-1934). En constante debate con la crítica especializada, Osswald ofrece aquí varias lecturas originales sobre los escritos estudiados, de las cuales se destacan su comprensión de la automanifestación o autoafección de la conciencia, su propuesta de distintos sentidos del concepto de inconsciente en Husserl, su interpretación sobre el surgimiento de la trascendencia y el vínculo intencional a partir de las síntesis pasivas dentro de la inmanencia, y su tratamiento de las capas pasivas originarias del yo trascendental –i.e. el proto-yo y el pre-yo.

En el primer capítulo, “El concepto de pasividad”, el autor, por un lado, nos adelanta una definición general del concepto central de su libro, la pasividad, y, por otro, señala el vínculo de esta noción con el comienzo del método genético en la fenomenología de Husserl. Ante la falta de una definición explícita por parte del filósofo alemán, Osswald propone llamar pasivas a todas “las operaciones de la conciencia que no emanan de un yo atento” (54). Al igual que Bruce Bégout, el autor sostiene que la primera versión de la teoría de la conciencia inmanente del tiempo y la descripción de los distintos horizontes del noema representan los primeros antecedentes en la filosofía de Husserl de reflexiones sobre operaciones pasivas. Sin embargo, es en la bibliografía póstuma, en especial en Analysen zur passiven Synthesis, publicados en el volumen XI de Husserliana, donde esta noción es mayormente tematizada. Allí la pasividad es descrita como la capacidad de formar un campo sensible pre-dado –i.e. anterior al acto egológico de aprehensión de un objeto en sentido propio– cargado con un relieve de significación plausible de despertar el interés del yo (52). Esta descripción corresponde a aquello que Osswald denomina “pasividad primaria”, operaciones que aportan condiciones de posibilidad para los actos yoicos. La pasividad primaria se distingue de la “pasividad secundaria”, la cual comprende operaciones que tienen en los actos del yo su condición de posibilidad, como, por ejemplo, los hábitos sedimentados expuestos en las Meditaciones cartesianas. En La fundamentación pasiva, Osswald se dedica casi exclusivamente a la pasividad primaria.

Por otro lado, el autor defiende en este primer capítulo que los análisis de una dimensión pasiva de la conciencia requirieron la ampliación del método fenomenológico hacia una perspectiva genética. En efecto, la pasividad se revela al momento de dilucidar una historia trascendental de la conciencia, que muestre cómo esta “se determina a sí misma en virtud de su propia experiencia” (39). La perspectiva genética, por lo tanto, atestigua que los contenidos de las vivencias y el sujeto concreto –i.e. la mónada– son el resultado de procesos pasivos regido por leyes genéticas apodícticas. En los manuscritos B III 10 de 1921, Osswald identifica un momento bisagra en el paso de la fenomenología estética a la genética. Allí Husserl revisa la teoría kantiana de la “síntesis de la imaginación productiva” de la primera edición de la Crítica de la razón pura. El interés por la facultad imaginativa demuestra, según el intérprete, una relativización y gradualización en las consideraciones de Husserl concernientes a la distinción entre una dimensión pasiva de la conciencia, el contenido hylético de la aprehensión (la sensibilidad, en Kant), y una dimensión activa, la aprehensión del acto (el entendimiento).

El segundo capítulo, “El tiempo”, consiste principalmente en un esfuerzo del autor por construir una lectura exegética de las distintas versiones de la teoría de la temporalidad de la conciencia de Husserl y su evolución a lo largo de los años. Para ello, Osswald recorre los tres textos fundamentales en que Husserl expone sus ideas al respecto: primero, las lecciones del semestre de invierno de 1904-1905, editadas junto a textos complementarios en Husserliana X (1969) –publicadas previamente por Heidegger a partir del trabajo de edición de Edith Stein, bajo el nombre de Lecciones de fenomenología de la conciencia interna del tiempo–; segundo, los manuscritos redactados en el valle de Bernau entre 1917 y 1918, publicados en Husserliana XXXIII; y por último, los textos conocidos por los especialistas como “manuscritos del Grupo C”, confeccionados en el período que va de 1929 a 1934, editados en el volumen VIII de Husserliana Materialien. La trama del capítulo se desarrolla alrededor de la hipótesis propuesta por Osswald de que la conjugación de la teoría del tiempo y los análisis de la síntesis pasiva dan respuesta a problemas centrales de la temporalidad señalados por la crítica. En la sección 2.3.2., intitulada “Tres interpretaciones”, Osswald pasa revista y discute las lecturas del tiempo en Husserl de tres especialistas del área: John Brough, Dan Zahavi y Rudolf Bernet (77-95). Con respecto a Brough y Zahavi, el autor desarrolla la polémica que tuvieron a propósito de los tres niveles de temporalidad de la conciencia formulados por Husserl por primera vez en las Lecciones y mantenido desde entonces. La disputa versa sobre si los actos son primariamente objetos inmanentes o no y si la automanifestación de la conciencia se debe a una autopercatación prerreflexiva de los actos mismos o más bien a un nivel independiente más profundo, el de la conciencia absoluta (77-89). Ante estas lecturas antagónicas, Osswald propone una solución alternativa basada en el reconocimiento de un nivel intermedio entre el tiempo inmanente de las vivencias y el de la conciencia absoluta (86). Esta dimensión corresponde a las unidades pre-objetivas de datos de sensación y de sentimientos sensibles que se componen pasivamente en el campo del presente viviente para un proto-yo [Ur-Ich]. Los conceptos tardíos del presente viviente y del proto-yo son el resultado de una profundización de una epojé que se restringe al momento impresional, a un presente que no pasa y que representa el lugar de donación de lo nuevo ajeno a mí y de donación de mí mismo. Según una terminología inaugurada por Zahavi, se distinguen aquí una heteromanifestación y una automanifestación.

El capítulo 3 de “La asociación” comienza la exposición de las síntesis pasivas de la reproducción y de la anticipación en el decurso temporal y la proto-asociación [Ur-Assoziation] en el presente viviente. En primer lugar, el autor vuelve a insistir aquí en que los estudios de la asociación pasiva son, tal como escribe Husserl, “una continuación superior de la teoría de la constitución original del tiempo” (112). En consecuencia, también dan respuesta a cuáles son las “condiciones esenciales básicas de la subjetividad misma” (129). Esta continuación se opera, según Osswald, gracias al cambio de una visión llana de la conciencia temporal, producto de un análisis formalista y estático del proceso de modificación retencional del período de 1904-5, por una concepción genética, que revela toda una geografía de relieves de contenidos sensoriales de la conciencia, constituidos pasivamente a lo largo de la historia del sujeto. Los contenidos sensoriales son ahora descriptos ya no como meros datos neutros dentro del esquema de aprehensión y contenido de aprehensión, sino como unidades temporales que se asocian al presente en virtud de relaciones de semejanza. Asimismo, la hyle, sostiene Osswald, es poco a poco desplazada por Husserl del lado noético de los actos hacia el lado noématico, convirtiéndose así en un concepto límite y relativo según las exigencias del análisis. Las asociaciones reproductivas e inductivas tienen la capacidad de motivar pasivamente actos como la rememoración y la espera –es decir, anteceden y predeterminan al yo activo hacia estos. Osswald advierte que, para Husserl, la anticipación está fundada en la reproducción, visto que anticipar presupone apercibir una constancia de los hechos pasados respecto de los hechos futuros. Ahora bien, aquello que realiza la síntesis más originaria, la de reproducción, es una evocación [Weckung] retroirradiante de contenidos sensibles retenidos del pasado hacia los contenidos intuidos en el presente impresional. Ciertas unidades retenidas de sensaciones se destacan de un fondo indiferenciado de pasado a causa de sus relaciones de semejanza [Ähnlichkeit] con el contenido hylético presente. De manera que la evocación consiste en el despertar pasivo de un contenido del pasado debido a su semejanza con lo intuido en la impresión; tal contenido posee, por ende, la capacidad de reflejar la irradiación de vivacidad de la impresión –fenómeno que Husserl denomina el destacarse [Abhebung]– y afectar al yo para captar su atención.

La interpretación continúa con la exposición de la proto-asociación del presente viviente, un concepto límite en el orden de fundamentación de los estudios genéticos en fenomenología. La proto-asociación es la responsable de constituir las unidades hyléticas en el presente, que luego serán retenidas y podrán ser evocadas por la reproducción. El autor repasa las leyes que actúan de modo complementario en la protoasociación: ley de semejanza [Ähnlichkeit], ley de contraste [Kontrast] o desemejanza [Nichtähnlichkeit] y ley de contigüidad [Kontiguität]. La primera sintetiza en base a la homogeneidad del contenido; las dos restantes, en base a la heterogeneidad del mismo. Estas síntesis primero asocian el contenido sensorial en unidades afectantes, las cuales luego se agrupan pasivamente en campos sensibles. Los campos sensibles superiores son los que distinguen entre sensaciones táctiles, auditivas, visuales, etc. Lo que Osswald encuentra más admirable en la labor de Husserl de describir el funcionamiento de la proto-asociación es la construcción de una teoría holística de los campos sensibles y las unidades hyléticas destacantes que evita el atomismo propio del asociacionismo empirista. En otras palabras, los campos no preexisten a la constitución pasiva de las unidades pre-objetuales de afección y éstas no existen fuera de los vínculos de semejanza y contraste que poseen entre sí.

El capítulo acerca de la asociación cierra con una interpretación sobre el concepto husserliano de inconsciente (146-153). Antes que nada, la noción del inconsciente aparece en el momento de distinguir entre grados de la afección. La afección se define como “la capacidad de la pasividad de inducir sobre la actividad [del yo]” (157). Los datos sensibles se destacan en el campo y ejercen en el yo una atracción [Zug], la cual, dependiendo su intensidad afectiva, puede hacer que él se vuelva a ellos y los tematice. Hay un espectro de grados de afección según su poder para despertar al ego. Husserl, explica Osswald, distingue dentro del mismo fenómeno de la afección entre unidades que afectan al yo, unidades que no lo afectan pero tienen una tendencia a hacerlo y unidades que no lo afectan en absoluto. La ausencia de toda afección es denominada “inconsciente” por Husserl. Sin embargo, Osswald afirma que el inconsciente no es un concepto unívoco en la fenomenología husserliana. En su opinión, pueden hallarse tres sentidos distintos para este concepto límite de afección nula o inconsciente. En primer lugar, se puede hablar de un inconsciente horizontal para referirse a los elementos co-implicados en la experiencia actual, es decir, el horizonte de intenciones vacías. En segundo lugar, es pertinente distinguir un inconsciente vertical, que refiere al fondo retencional de no-intuitividad de los contenidos pasados más distanciados al momento impresional. Por último, Osswald propone utilizar el concepto de inconsciente pre-afectivo para indicar el contenido sensorial antes de ser destacado para un yo. La última parte del capítulo está dedicada a los problemas que se inauguran con la reflexión sobre el inconsciente en fenomenología, de los cuales, para Osswald, el más apremiante es la percatación de que el concepto de la afección es circular, pues el destacarse de las unidades sensibles requiere de su capacidad de afección y lo mismo sucede en sentido contrario.

El capítulo 4, “La afección”, arriba a los confines del análisis de la conciencia pasiva por medio del desmontaje [Abbau] de los dos polos de la afección, la hyle y el yo, y la vinculación entre ambos. La labor de desmontaje se realiza en dos momentos distintivos gracias a la bilateralidad de toda vivencia. Osswald rescata que Husserl, en el período de los manuscritos C, reconoce que toda vivencia, incluso aquella que realiza operaciones pasivas no intencionales, es “bilateral [zweiseitig]”: posee un lado yoico y un “lado sin yo” [ichlos] o “extraño al yo” [ichfremd] (165). El “lado sin yo” refiere a la hyle vivenciada, la cual es analizada por Husserl en tres estratos: la proto-hyle [Urhyle], la hyle de sensación [Empfindungshyle] y la hyle natural [naturale Hyle]. El lado del yo, a su vez, es desarmado en estructuras más primigenias del proto-sentir, la proto-afección y el proto-querer, las cuales están guiadas por lo que Husserl considera un proto-instinto [Urinstinkt] –tendencia a la diferenciación, plenificación y objetivización de las unidades hyleticas. En estos niveles elementales, el yo es simple y anónimo, es decir, autoconsciente de él mismo de forma irreflexiva, sin conocerse a partir de un acto reflexivo, simple sujeto de las afecciones y de las acciones. El último rincón de los fundamentos de la subjetividad a la que llega la luz de la reflexión fenomenológica atestigua, para Husserl, un estrato de indiferencia entre el yo y el no-yo, donde ninguna distancia o duplicidad entre ambos polos puede darse, y, por lo tanto, no se cumplen las condiciones del vínculo intencional.

Una vez dada la descripción de los últimos niveles de fundamentación de la subjetividad, Osswald se ocupa de una de las mayores problemáticas de la fenomenología, a saber, cómo entender la relación entre la conciencia y lo extraño a ella, llamado por algunos generalmente “mundo” o “naturaleza”, aunque estos términos son utilizados con un sentido distinto por Husserl. El problema es ineludible, dado que su respuesta, como señala Montavont, podría hacer caer a la filosofía de Husserl en un idealismo, al confundir la hetero-manifestación y la auto-manifestación. Osswald nos ofrece aquí su interpretación: desde su punto de vista, la fenomenología es el análisis de “un proceso, estructurado según niveles, de progresiva ‘exteriorización’ de la inmanencia” (168), un proceso que es la historia misma de una subjetividad. “El vínculo intencional”, agrega, “se establece, en primer lugar, en el interior del curso inmanente como diálogo entre la afección y la acción” (173), siendo los análisis del vínculo primigenio de indiferencia entre la proto-hyle y el proto-yo el punto cero de arranque. La respuesta tiene una raigambre levinasiana que el autor con gusto reconoce. La proto-hyle puede ser leída desde la noción de “elemento” de Levinas, esto es, un hecho bruto, contingente, inaprehensible de manera total, que atestigua una exterioridad dentro del propio curso inmanente de la conciencia misma.

En el capítulo de “Sujeto y pasividad”, el autor se encarga de defender la compatibilidad en la fenomenología de Husserl entre la vía cartesiana y los análisis genéticos de las síntesis pasivas. A partir de una lectura inspirada en Michel Henry, Osswald afirma que la apodicticidad del cogito en los últimos escritos de Husserl debe comprenderse, no como la adecuación total del objeto de una reflexión interna, postura de Husserl durante los años de Investigaciones lógicas, sino como la indubitabilidad de la automanifestación pasiva de la conciencia en el presente viviente. Es decir, la apodicticidad del cogito consiste en la autoafección del yo en el curso temporal (206). Luego, el autor reconstruye la visión de Husserl acerca de los sujetos infantiles y los sujetos animales. Para ello, expone previamente la función de la empatía para comprender la vida consciente de sujetos no adultos o sujetos no humanos. En el niño, el uso de la empatía tiene como fin recuperar la etapa de la infancia primera inaccesible a la rememoración o a la reflexión del fenomenólogo. En el animal, la empatía busca la comprensión de “otros lejanos” que participan de un eidos diferente al de la humanidad. El autor se detiene sobre todo en la formulación husserliana de las estructuras yoicas en el niño y el animal. Principalmente repara en la noción tardía de pre-yo [Vor-Ich], distinto al proto-yo [Ur-Ich] de la vida pasiva del sujeto adulto humano. El pre-yo es “el centro ciego de irradiación de los actos instintivos, vinculado a la corriente temporal proto-pasiva y que se muestra en un horizonte de pasado lejano” (229). En definitiva, es el yo de los instintos, sobre el cual se montan y desarrollan las capas del proto-yo de las asociaciones y del yo de los actos.

El capítulo 6, “La paradoja de la pasividad”, es el último del libro y hace de conclusión. En este, el autor comparte unas reflexiones finales acerca del impacto de los resultados del estudio de la pasividad en el campo de la ética. Desde un punto de vista fenomenológico-generativo, la racionalidad en el ser humano adulto es el punto de llegada de la teleología monádica. Esta se relaciona con la posibilidad de tomar distancia de las motivaciones pasivas y la capacidad de llevar a cabo la reflexión. Osswald encuentra una clara continuidad en Husserl con la moral kantiana en este respecto. Sin embargo, advierte que la pasividad de ningún modo puede identificarse con el mal o, inversamente, la actividad con el bien. Tampoco hay que entender la motivación pasiva al modo de una causalidad psico-física. Por otro lado, el intérprete reconoce que no es tarea fácil combinar la perspectiva genética, que señala una continuidad entre pasividad y actividad, y la perspectiva ética, que implica más bien una ruptura. A pesar de que este último capítulo encara la temática de la pasividad desde una perspectiva de análisis diferente a los restantes –a saber, la ética fenomenológica y la teleología monadológica– resulta lamentablemente la sección más corta del libro y deja al lector con la necesidad de un desarrollo más amplio.

Para concluir, La fundamentación pasiva de la experiencia cumple ciertamente su objetivo de exponer el papel de la pasividad de la conciencia según la fenomenología genética husserliana y, por eso, considero que se convertirá muy pronto en una obra de referencia ineludible para quien se abocase al tema. Principalmente debe destacarte el impresionante esfuerzo exegético por parte de su autor en lo que respecta al trabajo con las fuentes y la discusión con la crítica. Durante su lectura, se descubre poco a poco la extensa urdimbre interpretativa sobre la cual la obra fue confeccionada; tal urdimbre cubre de forma total la amplia gama de obras editadas en vida y manuscritos póstumos de Husserl en los cuales trata las distintas síntesis pasivas de la conciencia. El producto final es, sin duda, una interpretación completa, coherente y armoniosa que recorre los estudios de la temporalidad inmanente, pasando por las asociaciones reproductivas y anticipativas, la proto-asociación en el presente viviente, y llega a las profundidades de la subjetividad instintiva del infante humano y el animal desde una perspectiva generativa del progreso teleológico monádico.

Conscience et représentation. Introduction aux théories représentationnelles de l’esprit

Conscience et Représentation: Introduction aux théories representationnelles de l’esprit Book Cover Conscience et Représentation: Introduction aux théories representationnelles de l’esprit
Analyse et Philosophie
Arnaud Dewalque and Charlotte Gauvry (ed.)
Philosophy of Mind
Paperback 29.00 €

Reviewed by: Marta Benenti (University of Turin)

The collection of papers edited by Arnaud Dewalque and Charlotte Gauvry aims to give an insight into the broad landscape of representationalist theories of mind in contemporary philosophy, doing justice to its variety and richness. Besides providing a wide selection of texts belonging to the representationalist tradition, some examples of critical perspectives are also available. Thanks to this volume, pivotal works in philosophy of mind and perception are made available to a French audience, offering an extremely useful tool to non-English speakers who approach the Anglo-Saxon analytic tradition. More than an introduction to one of the most relevant issues in philosophy and one of the liveliest and most stimulating debates in these recent years, this book provides a thought-out perspective on representationalism, supported by very accurate references and a rich bibliography.

The volume is organized into four sections, three of which contain the translations of several book chapters and papers, representative of three variants of representationalism put forward during the last 20 years. According to the proposed taxonomy – which is faithful to the historical and chronological development of this debate – such macro-perspectives are: (I) First Order Representationalism, (II) Higher Order Representationalism, and (III) Self-Representationalism. The concluding section (IV) is devoted to positions that are critical towards representationalism.

The structure and richness of the volume is duly presented and supported by an Introduction where the editors trace the relationships between the different kinds of representationalism, both along an historical and a conceptual axis. Which is not an easy task, given the intersections that have characterized the debate so far. Since several reviews of the books from which the translated chapters are drawn are already available, this review will focus on the introductory section of the volume, so as to provide an exhaustive overview of the discussion, rather than a set of brief abstracts.

The ongoing debate about the representational status of experience came recently to constitute a “new orthodoxy” in the philosophy of mind. The pivotal thesis of representationalist perspectives is that the human mind is essentially characterized by its capacity to represent objects or states of affairs as being in a certain way. The attempt to clarify the notion of consciousness in connection with this conception of the mind, brings the reader straight into the core of the debate: the complex relations between mind, intentionality and consciousness. And if the need for a satisfactory account of the qualitative aspects of experiences led by philosophers like Thomas Nagel and Franck Jackson to distinguish between first person and third person experiences, it also opens the door to reductivism and the so-called “mind-body problem” (8-13). The reference to this issue allows the editors to introduce one of the fundamental reasons animating representationalism, say, the attempt to preserve, by means of a descriptive approach, the qualitative aspect of experience from the reduction to its physical components. And it is precisely such a need that is believed to have been the impulse for representational theories to analyse consciousness and mental states in terms of representations and intentionality (14).

The possible relations connecting what is mental to what is intentional and conscious are analysed by Dewalque and Gauvry along the sides of a triangle having such notions as vertexes. Indeed, taking the mental to be bi-dimensional, that is, constituted both by intentionality and by consciousness, is a thesis that traces back to early phenomenology. According to Brentano, for something to be mental is for it to be intentional, showing the characters of directedness and aboutness. Husserl, however, had already called into question this view, claiming that there are at least some affective states that, despite being mental, are devoid of intentionality. Such original disagreement on the alleged identity between what is mental and what is intentional, is the symptom of another, more general one, that is: how can we class mental states and distinguish them from one another? Needless to say, this issue is still much debated among representationalist philosophers, called to take a stance on the legitimacy of the distinction between the content of mental states (what they are about) and their qualitative phenomenal character (19).

The second side of the triangle corresponds to the question whether consciousness is coextensive to the mental. Given that the word “consciousness” is employed in several different ways to indicate different states and properties, the concern is whether for a state to be mental, is for it to be conscious, or rather there exist mental states that need not be conscious (in one of the many senses of the word).

All these issues are to be considered in light of the wider theoretical aim to put forward a complete and unified theory of human consciousness. On the one hand, the need for completeness has to do with accounting at once for all the alleged components of human consciousness, while, on the other, aiming at unification implies providing a theory that is both descriptively and explanatorily satisfying. But, as the editors suggest, it seems that philosophers face a sort of dilemma when trying to fulfil both requirements: if mind is bi-dimensional in the just sketched sense, then a complete theory of the mental implies accounting both for its intentional and its conscious component. In case the two notions were not coextensive, this obviously would turn out to be problematic. On the ‘flipside’, a unified theory of mind should be either a theory of consciousness or a theory of intentionality, preventing it from being complete (25).

Representationalist theories of mind can be conceived as successful attempts to face this challenge. Indeed, rather than focusing on the two distinct axes: mental-intentional and mental-conscious, representationalism develops along the third side of the triangle, that is the one having as its vertexes, consciousness and intentionality. The main concern becomes finding a way to either ground consciousness in intentionality or, conversely, to ground intentionality in consciousness. Representationalist theories and theories of phenomenal intentionality (or phenomenal intentionalism) are the headings of the two groups of theories trying to apply one of the two strategies respectively (this is why representationalism is sometimes referred to as intentionalism). In other words, neither according to the former nor to the latter, a radical separation between intentionality and consciousness is viable. Philosophy should instead look for the relation connecting such components to appropriately describe and consistently explain our mental life (30).

Depending on how this grounding is intended, representational theories can be categorised as follows:

First Order Representationalism (FOR), is well interpreted by the works of Fred Dretske and Michael Tye (namely, the volume contains the translated versions of Dretske’s «The Representational Character of Sense Experience», Ch.1 of Naturalizing the Mind, 1995, and Tye’s «The Intentionality of Feelings and Experiences», Ch. 4 of Ten Problems of Consciousness, 1995). Generally speaking, FOR claims that a mental state is conscious if it represents something. This amounts to say that the phenomenal character of a mental state (the way it is like to undergo it) is exhausted by its content. Accordingly, what identifies a mental state and distinguishes it from other mental states is precisely what is presented in its content. More precisely, according to both Dretske and Tye, a representational relation consists in the causal co-variation involving a representation and its content: if the content varies, then also what represents such content changes. Despite being evocative and able to capture a fundamental aspect of representational relations, this view requires further refinements. In fact, it is not always simple to individuate the relevant causal relations within a chain. Dretske replies that this difficulty of claiming that which actually fixes the content of a mental state is the function of such a state within the system of the organism. Subsequently, a mental state consists in an informational content plus a certain causal or functional role. The main argument in favour of this view is the well known “argument from transparency”, which insists on the fact that every descriptive effort concerning our experience leads nowhere but to the properties of its content. In a certain sense, we look through our experience, which presents us its objects as a transparent medium. In their sum up to the most relevant and influential representationalist theories, the editors of this volume do not neglect an important consequence of what has been also called strong representationalism: accounting for experiences in terms of their intentional content paves the way to naturalistic reductionism insofar as it allows for a reduction of the properties instantiated by experience to causally connected natural properties. This consequence clearly applies less straightforwardly to weaker versions of representationalism, that hold the phenomenal character to supervene on the representational (or intentional) content. Finally, one of the main and most controversial issues of strong representationalism (reducing the phenomenal character of experiences to their intentional content) concerns the typical case of moods and the analogous affective states that seem quite far from being directed towards something (see 36 and Tye’s essay, 97-133).

Higher Order Representationalism (HOR) is the approach that can be attributed to philosophers like David Rosenthal, Peter Carruthers, Rocco Gennaro, and William Lycan. The volume contains both a translation of Rosenthal’s «Explaining Consciousness» (belonging to the collection edited by David Chalmers Philosophy of Mind. Classical and Contemporary Readings, 2002) and the one of Carruthers’s «HOP over FOR, HOT theory» (Ch.4 of his Consciousness. Essays from a higher-order perspective, 2005). Such thinkers generally believe that FOR does not account for the possibility to represent P without being aware to represent P. Thus, supporters of HOR claim that there must be something more that characterizes conscious mental states, distinguishing them from non-conscious ones. Their view implies the existence of second order intentional states, having as their intentional content, other – per se non conscious – intentional states. Armstrong and Lycan characterise such second order states as Higher Order Perceptions capable of providing information about our (first order) mental states (39). On the contrary, Rosenthal famously claimed that Higher Order Thoughts characterise our conscious states (his notorious argument against the perceptual view is nicely presented in the Introduction (39-40). Alternatively, one may endorse, with Carruthers, a dispositional view, according to which conscious states are those mental states that are available as contents for a second order thought (40 and his paper, 171-197).

Self-Representationalism is represented in the collection by two works: the first is Uriah Kriegel’s «The Self-Representational Theory of Consciousness» Ch. 1 of his Subjective Consciousness. A Self-Representational Theory (2009), while the second is «Consciousness and Intentionality» by George Graham, Terence Horgan and John Tienson (originally included in The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness, 2007). Self-Representationalism holds against HOR that the awareness we have to have in a certain mental state comes immediately with such mental states, and it is not a matter of higher order representations (42). Conscious states are at the same time representing and represented by themselves. More importantly, Self-Representationalism is a clear variant of phenomenal intentionalism inasmuch as it values the phenomenal character of experience as being the ineludible starting point of any theory of mental states. Needless to say, such a perspective refers to the phenomenological tradition that standard representationalism had originally taken as its target.

Naïf Realism is instead radically critical towards representationalist theories of mind. John Hinton, Bill Brewer and Mike Martin share the view that perceiving the world means being in direct contact with it and, at the same time, being conscious of its independence from our experiences. Naïf or empirical (the reference to Berkeleyan empiricism is explicit) realists argue against representationalism and theories of content, that they cannot account for the phenomenal character of our perceptual experiences and that they rely on false presuppositions. Namely, the representationalist’s reference to content implies that every experience is evaluable in terms of truth values, and this – according for instance to Brewer’s translated paper «Perception and Content» (European Journal of Philosophy, 2006) – is both phenomenally and epistemologically unacceptable, while additionally misinterpreting the singularity that is essential to each perceptual experience (52).

– Concluding the section dedicated to critical perspectives is the paper which exemplifies Contextualism. In his «Is Seeing Intentional?» (published in Perception. Essays after Frege, 2013) Charles Travis not only rejects the notion of content, but also the view that perception is a relation between a subject who represents the world as being in a certain way, and the content of such representation. Contextualism considers this view radically misleading, insofar as it takes perceptions to be evaluations about the world, just like judgements are. Instead, supporters of contextualism, mostly relying on philosophy of ordinary language, claim that our perception is always situated within a network of relationships most of which are conventional. This should prevent philosophy of mind from reducing perceptions to relations between subjects and (allegedly physically reducible) contents.

David Farrel Krell: Phantoms of the Other: Four Generations of Derrida’s Geschlecht

Phantoms of the Other: Four Generations of Derrida's Geschlecht Book Cover Phantoms of the Other: Four Generations of Derrida's Geschlecht
SUNY Series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy
David Farrell Krell
SUNY Press
Paperback $34.95

Reviewed by: Joeri Schrijvers (KU Leuven)

David Farrell Krell’s Phantoms of the Other. Four Generations of Derrida’s Geschlecht is an in-depth study of Derrida’s Auseinandersetzung with Heidegger. Krell takes Derrida’s Geschlecht-series as his starting-point to focus on Heidegger and Derrida’s “magnetization” (25, also 113) with the poetry of Georg Trakl. Heidegger’s preference for poetry and language is well-known but his fascination with Trakl really stands out as a bit odd nonetheless: what on earth has Heidegger seen in the poetry of this young, rather rough and dark, poet?

Krell examines Derrida’s series thoroughly and focuses on its missing never published third piece. Geschlecht I and II are published as the opening of Derrida’s Psyche. Inventions de l’autre II (Galilée 2003), the fourth features in Politiques de l’amitié (Galilée 1994), all of which were written in the eighties of the previous century. Around that time Derrida, prolific writer as he was, also was composing his De l’esprit. Heidegger et la question (Galilée 1987), which Krell treats in his chapter three. Of Geschlecht III, there exists only a typescript of thirty pages or so that Derrida handed out to the happy few present at a colloquium in Chicago in 1985. Krell contends that this typescript was drafted from a seminar on ‘Nationalité et nationalisme philosophiques: le fantôme de l’autre’ that Derrida held in Paris from 1984 through to 1985 (2-3). For this seminar, Derrida drafted 100 or so pages on Heidegger’s 1953 essay Die Sprache im Gedicht, now in Unterwegs zur Sprache (Neske 1975: 35-82). Derrida’s text, however, was never published and it is not sure whether it will be—later in his beautiful book Krell complains that next to no one can read Derrida’s handwriting (218).

In his Introduction, Krell examines Derrida’s early confrontations with Heidegger, the recently published “Heidegger: la question de l’être et de l’histoire” (Galilée 2013) is included, for example, in order to look for “anticipations of the Geschlecht-series” (16n.2). Here Krell examines what will become one of his book’s main themes namely, what he calls “Derrida’s hope” (ibid.)—readers of Derrida will note the pun: had not Derrida once written rather critically about “Heideggerian hope” (in Marges de la philosophie 1972: 29). These anticipations and this hope will prove to be rather similar in Heidegger and Derrida, and my point in what follows will be that Krell takes the similarity perhaps a bit too lightly. To be sure, Derrida has never hoped for a primary word, nor for a gathering that gathers all and most certainly not for a ‘destiny’ that this or that people would have chosen. Yet Derrida’s hope, “for a sexuality that is not trapped in and by dualities and duels” (ibid.), for a humankind, a Geschlecht that is, or becomes, one is surely one of Derrida’s greatest dreams that resists (even his) deconstruction.

It is here, with questioning Heidegger’s Dasein supposed neutrality, transcending sexual difference that Geschlecht I, which Krell discusses in his first chapter. All of us, of course, have been struck by Heidegger’s repeated claims of neutrality, by his dismissing embodiment, especially in Sein und Zeit, lest ‘Dasein’ is not a thing, not a body primarily, but rather describes the phenomenological gaze, shared equally by women and men, arising from out of being-in-the-world—I have ventured something of this sort in my own work (Schrijvers 2016: 25 and 194).

Of course, Derrida is right in saying that Heidegger neutralizes and in a sense neuters Dasein. “To pass from the masculine and the feminine to the neuter is clearly, for Heidegger, to pass toward the transcendental, toward a meditation on the conditions of possibility of the being of Dasein” (27): if the being of Dasein would be neither male nor female, then what is it? This neutral, transcendental vantage point has a striking resemblance to what Heidegger will later call the ‘split’, or ‘blows’ the one Geschlecht faces (Heidegger 1975: 49-50). There is obviously a bit of a fog when it comes to these ‘blows,’ and Derrida will not stop questioning and exploiting these ‘blows’ or ‘Schlage’ nor will he stop being puzzled by them. For the moment, let us track what Heidegger takes from Trakl: there would be (there would have been or there will be: this is what separates Derrida from Heidegger) one Geschlecht, one humanity (but Heidegger will exclude all Latinate words and things. Hence, Krell and Derrida note, there ‘will never have been’ oneness in the first place), that then receives a blow, and one becomes two: this is the male-female Schlag, a sort of twofold that is not yet conflictual. The conflict and the duel, Heidegger states, comes later (like the third party in Levinas patiently waits until the ‘ethical relation’ between the other and me has been dealt with) and then the Zwiefalt becomes Zwietracht: there will be men and women, friends and foes, families and tribes against other tribes. This, Heidegger will call, with Trakl, the “decomposition [Verwesenden] of the human Geschlecht” (Heidegger 1975: 50). Not so much ‘beyond essence’ but, as it were, ‘out of essence’.

All of this surely sounds a bit mythological and for some, still versed in that tradition, Christian even: for, doesn’t it echo a tradition that narrates a ‘paradisiac’ state without shame or reticence that rather quickly had fallen (but when?) into dispute, into jealously, into ‘male’ and ‘female’ to such a point that it wasn’t even sure who was to be ‘his brother’s keeper’? For this, we would have to wait for that other great unifier, Versammlung, of which Paul (who gathers by dividing!) said that he inaugurates a state in which there will be ‘neither male nor female, neither master nor slave’ (but when?).

Heidegger makes no mention of these echoes of Christianity; Derrida, an Algerian Jew no less, will point them out to us. In his reading of Hölderlin, no less than in his reading of Trakl, the former theologian Heidegger will pretend not to know what this ‘bread and wine’ theme is all about. Derrida worries about this gesture: is this “not the classic metaphysical problem, namely, the attempt to ground negativity and dispersion on what ought to have been purely positive and unified” (35) and is not this metaphysics, with Heidegger, primarily Christian (and also without Heidegger of course: why else would he be in denial and/or repeating it, unbeknownst to himself)? These questions, Krell argues, would have prevailed in the Geschlecht III (43-45).

The second chapter, on Geschlecht II, is again a patient summary and meditation on Derrida’s piece on Heidegger’s imagery of ‘the hand’. Derrida’s hope “for a love where no quarrel can arise” (17) is here framed against Heidegger’s thinking of the hand, of handiwork and all things zuhanden. Why, Krell asks, is there again no mention of “loving hands” (50) in Heidegger, of handshakes perhaps, but of course also (and again) of caress, of sexual giving and taking? Derrida mentions Heidegger’s obsession with the hand in the singular, with apes who ‘have no hand’, but here again: is one always better than two? And would not “the folding of two hands into one, that is, into the gestures of pointing, signifying, praying and gathering” (58) deserve at least equal attention than, for instance, the ‘holding hands’ of lovers: why would these hands not form a unity and a gathering just the same? Yet, even though Krell notes how this “become[s] a crucial question for Derrida” (50) as well as for himself this early in the book, it already appears that these themes of love, of the sister, and of hope in general are suggested and intimated by Krell rather than straightforwardly addressed. This reader, at least, was a bit disappointed on that score, although Krell’s writing, humble, modest and suggestive as it is, is surely a strongpoint of the book. Countless are the ‘if I may’s, the ‘if I am allowed’s that preface a remark or a critique by Krell, who sometimes wants to side with Heidegger rather than simply follow Derrida (e.g. 87, 92, 116, 118 and so on).

I am not entirely convinced by Krell’s third chapter on Derrida’s De l’esprit. Krell contends that its importance is obvious from the fact that it was composed, more or less, at the same time Geschlecht III was drafted. Yet its themes and concerns seem to lie elsewhere. I remember the imagined dialogue in De l’esprit between Heidegger and the theologians fondly as one more example of how Heidegger’s thinking was at times being deconstructed by the Christianity he wanted to avoid. Krell, too, notes some important convergences between Heidegger and Derrida on this matter. Heidegger’s thinking about language shares the same paradox as Derrida’s question about the question: Heidegger was very much aware that to ask about the being of language, that “relation of all relations” (Heidegger 1975: 215), is only possible by already using language, just as Derrida’s questioning of the primacy of questioning, rather than of hearing or being addressed, is a similar way of a snake eating its tail (75). In the end, Krell too, concedes that De l’esprit is less radical than the Geschlecht series (85).

Nonetheless, we should recall that the third Geschlecht stems from a seminar on ‘philosophical nationalism’. Derrida’s remarks on Husserl’s Eurocentrism and, shall we say, his rather xenophobic remarks about gypsies should make us pause and think, beyond philosophical ‘scientificity’ (Derrida 1987: 94-95): it might be used to not too quickly condemn and judge Heidegger, for instance (not before reading him, that is) and to realize that, whatever neutral, transcendental vantage point we might desire to reach, this is not possible without somehow our locale and our context creeping in into our very desire for transcendentality—after all, one does not choose one’s metaphysics nor does one control how such a metaphysics could be overcome.

Chapter four turns to Derrida’s Geschlecht IV, where Derrida’s critique of Heidegger’s preference for ‘gathering’ and ‘unifying’ gains its full force. The problem with this gathering is that it gathers everything, “love or hate, amity or discord, peace or war—it does not really matter, it all gets gathered. One is all. For a thinker of différance, this is a nightmare” (125). Levinas, too, will criticize Heidegger for this: the ontological difference would have gathered both the same and the other, leaving no room for this Other to leave the ‘train of being’. Very true, this, but the opposite tendency might be just as well oppressive, for if nothing ever gets gathered, nothing ever gets united, we might lose the ability for reconciliation, for a certain dialectic perhaps, just the same. Hence, if I may, my critique of Derrida: whereas all naming might be a gathering of differences, not all gathering is just such an inappropriate naming (Schrijvers 2016: 352n.40). Sometimes, contra Derrida, the philosopher should simply try to say and name what ‘is’; and this ‘is’, of course, is ‘of the essence’. Perhaps not all differences can and should be gathered under the general heading of différance.

Krell contends that Derrida’s Politiques de l’amitié gestures toward the missing Geschlecht and its question about Heidegger’s desire to unite “what can distinguish between those two strokes that have struck our Geschlecht, the first, which coins a more gentle twofold, and the second, which condemns [it] to discord [?]” (129). How and when does the neutral “duality” become a malignant “discord” and duel (96), or: from whence and why this being chased out of paradise (see 162)?

Chapter five focuses on the thirty pages Derrida handed out to the participants in the colloquium in Chicago, entitled Geschlecht III. Here Derrida argues that in Heidegger’s reading of Trakl something similar occurs: on the one hand, there is the simple, traditional commentary of poetry (Erläuterung). On the other hand, Heidegger wants nothing to do with these commentaries, focusing on ontic affairs (such as biography for instance) and attempts what he calls an Erörterung, a ‘placement’ of the one poem that Trakl wanted to poetize and bring to speech. Just as every thinker truly has one thought, so Heidegger thinks that every real poet has but one poem. For Heidegger, obviously, there would be a rigorous difference between the two: the one ontic (and many), the other ontological, one might say: neutral (and one). For Derrida, however, such a neat distinction simply cannot be—if there is this one poem of Trakl (s’il y en a indeed) then some insight surely is to be gathered from his biography, from his coke addiction for instance (of which Heidegger says nothing), of his suicide (probably from an overdose, but Heidegger, again, remains silent), from his relation to his sister Gretl (again, of which Heidegger says next to nothing). One can see that the two realms are endlessly interspersed and there would be no way to distinguish them once and for all: their relation is in deferral and can in no way be denied. Krell comments: “For Derrida dissemination leaves only traces of sense, recognizing as it does the archaic non-origin of all meaning, for Heidegger dissemination is that paradox of an [essence] that peters out in a scattering of forces, a kind of ontic-existentiel entropy” (137).

The second blow to ‘humanity’ “irrupt[s] from the discord of the sexes” (163) and strikes everywhere, invading even, for Heidegger, das Geschwisterliche (Heidegger 1975: 60): it is no less than a plague—Heidegger mentions the Greek word, he could (and perhaps should) have mentioned the Hebrew. Heidegger, of course, pays no attention to the rumours of incest that surrounds the relation between the two Trakl’s, Gretl and Georg. Heidegger’s dream, for Krell, is the dream for a “new Geschlecht” (159), restored from out of the return of a (new) dawn, of a childlike state of being (before sex, neutral in any case to the question of sexual difference) (163). Krell asks, rightly, “does the poet ever dream Heidegger’s dream?” (165) and then, without further ado, wrongly I think, relegates the dream of Heidegger to the “utterly phantasmatic” (169). The chapter concludes with Derrida’s rather deft deconstruction of the difference between the ontological and the sexual difference: “it [is] impossible […] to keep these blows apart [and] equally impossible to deny that sexual difference and ontological difference are structurally identical. [If] the difference between being and beings, which is initially granted in Western history, is soon cursed by oblivion of being, so too is sexual difference initially granted, only to be cursed at some point by discord and dissension” (167). This, again, should make us pause and think about whether that which Heidegger wants to avoid—sex, Christianity, metaphysics—is not always that neatly avoided. The ontic and empirical—our history, our biography—penetrates the ontological.

Chapter six treats the hundred or so pages of Derrida’s seminar on nationalism that served as the inspiration for the thirty pages of Geschlecht III. These pages are now deposited in the archive in Caen where ‘Derrida’ is gathered. For the time being, Krell wants us to pause by “the coldness of Heidegger’s reasoning” (181), when stating that nothing is lost when this decomposing Geschlecht will have made its way onto a new dawn and a new gathering. There, supposedly, is a clear-cut between our past and our future. And even if Trakl mentions the “unborn grandchildren” in his last poem, written right after witnessing first-hand the horrors of the world war, then Heidegger will continue stating, in his ‘placement’ of Trakl, that these “are by no means the unengendered sons of the sons who have fallen” (Heidegger 1975, 65, Krell, 181). Something as ontic as the war surely will not have changed the one poem that Trakl needed to write. Heidegger’s attention goes to the ‘one Geschlecht’ that will rise from this new dawn, and here too this “resurrection” seems to have nothing to do with Christianity, nor, as Krell notes, with the lovers who Trakl nonetheless seems to intend (183). Derrida offers a benevolent but penetrating reading of the relations between women and men in this paradisiac state Heidegger is aiming for and states that, prior to the second evil blow, there would have been a sexual difference not yet disturbed by duel and discord. The typescript breaks off with the following enigmatic lines: “this relation between brother and sister is thus not asexual, but is a sexual relation within a difference that is without dissension” (184). Derrida and Heidegger’s hope, in a sense, coalesce. Here, in this fraternal moment, a moment of love, a relation to the other is envisioned in which our Geschlecht is set aright again, as in a “third stroke” (185), where the Geschlecht is one and where all are “brother to the brother” and “brother to the sister” in and through a sexual difference that is not a matter of discord anymore.

Such a dream means trouble nonetheless. On the one hand, Heidegger seeks to abolish the univocity brought about by technology and the current Gestell; on the other hand, the univocity of the Geschlecht remains something to be hoped for… Derrida does not sleep (or dream) lightly however and, in the typescript, likens such a paradisiac state to death. “Death lies in wait in on both sides,” he states, “with the phantasm of the integrity of the proper place and the innocence of a sexual difference without war, and also on the opposite side, that of impropriety or radical expropriation” (189). It is as if Derrida is voicing common sense (imagine!): it can’t be all good, but neither is it all bad. There is neither a paradise without the duel and the discord and yet the dual is not war and conflict all the way down. The place of life is in the movement between the two, between the dual and the dual. As long as there is movement, there is no death. In Heidegger, though, Derrida rightly perceives “the grand logic of philosophy […] still at work” (189) or, in Krell’s words, “a confidence in the purity and mutual exclusion of opposites” (190).

Heidegger dreams of a more originary dawn and future for us mortals, separating as it were the days and the nights, the heavens and the earth in a clear-cut manner (and so repeating a gesture of the Judeo-Christian tradition whilst silencing this tradition). Derrida, however, has a few qualms about such a “more originary repetition” (190). This is where the dreams of Derrida and Heidegger separate: while Heidegger explains away all references to Christianity in Trakl’s poems, Derrida offers a reading of them that will shock not a few theologians. Heidegger asked why Trakl’s last poems of horror do not call upon God if this poet is so decidedly Christian, calling for the sister instead (Heidegger 1975: 76)? Derrida answers, to his students, that “if they would grant him a bit of time he could show that the figure of the sister and that of Christ could in fact be substituted” (191).

Let us cite the passage in full:

“Son of God, Christ is the brother of all men and all women; he is simultaneously the image or the intercessor of the father. Yet he is a brother whose virility is never simply manifest or unilateral, a brother who presents himself within an aura of universal homosexuality, or in a sexual difference that has been appeased, pacified […] thus a brother who can be nothing other than a sister” (192-3).

The passage goes on: is this “not the essence of a relation to Christ, the essence or at least the destination, [the] entire Christian experience of the Holy Family, which is to say, of any and every family” (193)? Christ, being simultaneously both father and mother, or brother and sister, would then, for Trakl (and for a certain Derrida) be the one that gathers all and everything. Theology is rife, of course, with suggestions about Christ’s sexuality, gathering twelve fishermen around him, dwelling with prostitutes of the likes of a Mary Magdalene and with an institution that (more or less) condones homosexuality but abhors it when such sexuality would not be appeased or at all pacified.

Be that as it may, Derrida comments that in Heidegger “both Christian and Jews might well be happy to latch onto this moment […] as the affirmation of some sort of messianism” (199). But we know that messianism was not foreign to Derrida either. For Heidegger, though, this messianism as “the transition [of the West] to its matutinal essence” (ibid.) is a return to what once was. For Derrida, such a return is phantasmatic, that is, “a return to something that never was, an impossible return to a past that never was present” in the first place (229). No early Greeks, no pre-Socratics, no originary experience of being, no experience of a soft and tender childhood will tell us how to be our being.

But Derrida does dream, however, and Krell argues that “the entire Geschlecht series is magnetized by such a promise—the promise of a radically different sexuality for the future of humankind” (199). Derrida is not, for all that, laughing at Heidegger’s phantasm of a newly found childhood for humanity but “takes Heidegger’s effort […] quite seriously” by pondering that “it is perhaps when the sexual sense separates itself and determines itself as only sexual that discord appears” (204). Then, one might say, it is when eros separates itself from agape, that love is lost and one simply lusts (and vice versa perhaps: an agape without eros would not be love proper). Love, from then on (but when…?), is intermingled with instrumentality, with the techné of a Don Juan as it were. The question to Derrida here, of course, is, how can we name that difference? How can we state it phenomenologically: when and “how does the stroke strike” (207)?

Derrida takes Heidegger seriously, which in itself should be one of the lessons gained from Krell’s book. His “generous” reading will also try to see that Heidegger is not simply lamenting a lost and bygone era, but rather that Heidegger “is calling for, rather than to, a possibility” (217). In effect, what matters for Heidegger is more the transition to something new, a new gathering of being and beings, rather than a simple return to a phantasmatic past. It is such a transition, which dawns upon us a possibility precisely, that permeates Heidegger’s call out of technology and out of metaphysics. Krell, as we will see, is a bit too pessimistic about the possibility of this transition in Heidegger. Heidegger’s was not a revolutionary spirit for whom all that is past is bad and all that will come is good. Derrida, too, pondered this possibility, late in his life especially, and argues for the following: even though the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ stoke are always intertwined, even though there is no specific ‘beginning’ or ‘end’ to it, one might always hope for ‘moments’ of peaceful fraternity, of, well, democratic fervor for fraternity, equality and freedom in a “brotherland” (218). Following this, it is a bit odd that Krell does not turn to Derrida’s reservations about fraternity and community, notably in his Voyous (2003). Such a sexual difference, or such ontological differences over sexuality, has repercussions for the ontological difference too: not the one, grand history and sending of being, but rather “multiple sendings, sending of the other and of others”, of otherness, perhaps, in general and essentially (211).

Krell inserts Trakl into the debate in his final chapter, focusing primarily on his relation to his enigmatic sister, Gretl. Krell returns to Heidegger’s “coldness” when it comes to our falling Geschlecht and states that “Trakl does not dream of the demise of any Geschlecht” (231). It is in effect more than likely that it was the horrors of the battlefield that caused his own demise. There is no doubt that Heidegger could be harsh in his judgement of people, of persons and of era. There is however another Heidegger too, one for which the past is not simply a Christian, ontotheological mistake, but whom rather calls to a patient transformation of that past, for a meditation on the possibilities that lie dormant in these traditions, very much like Derrida’s deconstruction is the hornet on the back of those traditions rather than simply being ‘against tradition’. Heidegger, in Unterwegs zur Sprache, wrote that “die wahre Zeit ist Ankunft des Gewesenen” (Heidegger 1975: 75) and has, in other writings where he was on the way to language just as well, made clear just how to envision such an arrival of what was: “Gewesenheit darf aber nicht als Vergangenheit begriffen werden”—that which has been is never simply past. On the contrary, Heidegger argues, “it has always already grasped over every today and now: it essences as tradition” (GA38, 117; Heidegger 2009, 100). Concerning this matter of the Verwindung of a certain history, Heidegger and Derrida are closer than expected. This would mean that we cannot comprehend the call for a ‘brotherland’ without the call (back) to our past, our metaphysics and our discords (and all the phantasmatic risks involved). Here too, not the one without the other. Derrida, too, would have known that no one ultimately is immune for a certain nostalgia, and a certain hope.

That would be my small bit of critique of Krell’s remarkable book, the ease with which it is prepared to call Heidegger’s other thinking a phantasm (e.g. 238) and the concomitant silence about Derrida’s doubts, elsewhere, about fraternity. Far from a phantasmatic either/or on this score, Heidegger would never have “banish[ed] th[e] tradition” (241): it is certainly true that Heidegger wanted to ‘overcome’ and even abandon Christianity, but he also said that this metaphysics would be overturned very, very slowly (if at all), and since a lot of this metaphysics is Christian, there is thus no way, in Heidegger, to banish and bar the Christian tradition. What dawns upon us as lying ahead of us, is precisely an Abbau or deconstruction of Christianity.

Krell has written a magnificent book: at times it is a true adventure in thinking. We should call ourselves lucky that he has not been “dashing off to meetings” (Krell 2013, 6, also 75 and 149) too much lately. Another book of his is out, on the Black Notebooks this time, and my copy is on its way. Let us, to conclude ponder the motto of this fine book, on Derrida’s dream, Derrida’s dreaming, and the nature of dreaming: “does not the dream, all by itself, demonstrate, that of which it is dreaming” (200)? Or, to quote another thinker that received Heidegger’s cold gaze, pondering the nature of love and imagination: “in jener ‘Einbildung’ enthüllt sich nämlich ein anthropologischer Wezenszug” (Binswanger 1993, 298).


Binswanger, Ludwig. Grundformen und Erkenntnis des menschlichen Daseins (Heidelberg: Asanger, 1993).

Derrida, Jacques. Marges de la philosophie (Paris: Minuit, 1972).

Derrida, Jacques. De l’esprit. Heidegger et la question (Paris: Galilée, 1987).

Derrida, Jacques. Politiques de l’amitié (Paris: Galilée, 1994).

Derrida, Jacques. Psyche. Inventions de l’autre II (Paris: Galilée, 2003).

Derrida, Jacques. Voyous. Deux essais sur la raison (Paris: Galilée, 2003).

Krell, David Farrel. Derrida and our Animal Others. Derrida’s Final Seminar, The Beast and the Sovereign (Bloomington, IN: Indiana UP, 2013).

Heidegger, Martin. Unterwegs zur Sprache (Pfüllingen: Neske, 1975).

Heidegger, Martin. Logik als die Frage nach dem Wesen der Sprache (Frankfurt a. M: Klostermann, 1998).

Heidegger, Martin. Logic as the Question Concerning the Essence of Language, trans. W.T. Gregory and Y. Unna (New York: SUNY Press, 2009).

Schrijvers, Joeri. Between Faith and Belief. Toward A Contemporary Phenomenology of Religious Life (New York: SUNY Press, 2016).

Jimena Canales: The Physicist and the Philosopher

The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time Book Cover The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time
Jimena Canales
Princeton University Press
Paperback $24.95

Reviewed by: Stephen Chadwick (Massey University)

From the perspective of the twenty-first century it may seem strange to devote an entire book to the central figures discussed here. The physicist, Albert Einstein, quite rightly remains a cultural icon, renowned the world over for his revolutionary work in physics. The philosopher, on the other hand, Henry Bergson, is unlikely to be familiar to many of the general readers for which this book is written. This was not, of course, always the case, as is evidenced by the fact that both men were Nobel Prize Laureates, albeit in very different fields; Einstein received the Prize for physics in 1922 and Bergson for literature in 1927. In this book Jimena Canales successfully analysis just how important and influential both figures were in the first half of the twentieth-century as well as why Bergson’s fame subsequently dwindled whereas Einstein’s remained solid. However, the book also shows why, regardless of his current status, many of Bergson’s views are still just as important as those of Einstein.

The ‘debate that changed our understanding of time’, and the context in which it arose, is largely set out in Part One of the book and began at a meeting that occurred in Paris on 6th April 1922. It was hosted by the Société Française de Philosophie and Einstein had travelled from Germany especially for the event. In the audience were both physicists and philosophers who had been invited to hear Einstein speak about his general theory of relativity. The meeting was as much politically as intellectually motivated, for at that time there was great tension between France and Germany. He was thus invited to France ‘with the express purpose that his visit would serve to restore relations between German and French scholars’ (17). In many respects, as the book shows, this intended purpose was not achieved. The meeting took place only three years after Arthur Eddington had sailed to the island of Principe to measure the position of stars during a total solar eclipse, the result of which lent great weight to the truth of Einstein’s theory and made him a legend overnight. All facets of the theory were discussed but one particular aspect, its concept of time, was to cause great controversy and it is the ensuing debate on this topic that forms the core of this book.

In the audience that day was the famous French philosopher, Henry Bergson, who did not actually intend to speak. Like many other intellectuals of the day he fully understood the revolutionary nature of the scientific aspects of the theory of relativity and was astounded by the experimental results that lent it such strong support. However, Bergson did have a problem with Einstein’s conception of time, one that he considered was narrowly concerned with clocks and measurements. He thought that this conception was unnecessary for the science and was rather a dangerous ‘metaphysics’. When Einstein proclaimed that ‘there remains only a psychological time that differs from the physicist’s’ and ‘the time of the philosophers does not exist’ Bergson could remain silent no longer (5). Much of the remainder of the meeting centred upon this aspect of Einstein’s theory and whether ‘the time of the philosophers’ really does exist.

For Bergson this dualism regarding time was an inadequate description of reality, for although there was the time measured by clocks, and the time as experienced, these could not be separated as easily as Einstein proclaimed. As Canales notes, ‘Bergson’s perspective on time measurement could not be more different from Einstein’s. The philosopher was convinced about the importance of the unquantifiable aspects of time, whereas the physicist was equally convinced of the opposite’ (252). Bergson developed this view in his book Duration and Simultaneity published later that year.

In terms of the debate, most physics thought Einstein had won and that ‘rationality’ had triumphed over ‘intuition’. However, many others took Bergson’s view much more seriously as evidenced by what occurred at Einstein’s Nobel Prize ceremony, which occurred later that same year. Although it was by far the greater achievement, Einstein was not actually presented with the Prize for his work on relativity but rather for that on the photoelectric effect. One of the reasons given for this was that relativity ‘pertains essentially to epistemology and has therefore been the subject of lively debate in philosophical circles. It will be no secret that the famous philosopher Bergson in Paris has challenged this theory.’ So Einstein failed to secure the prize on the merits of his work on relativity not because of any scientific shortfall but because of the alleged ‘metaphysics’ coupled to it. Subsequently, however, Bergson’s view was discredited by most scientists because of what appeared to be a total lack of understanding of relativity. Bergson claimed that the central message of his book Duration and Simultaneity was to ‘explicitly prove that there is no difference, in what concerns Time, between a system in motion and a system in uniform translation’ (25). This is fundamentally at odds with the theory of relativity and can be empirically proven to be false. Bergson did, however, subsequently state that he did accept the effects of time dilation but claimed that this had no effect on his conception of time.

In Part Two of the book Canales takes us beyond the actual meeting that occurred in Paris and introduces us to the lives and ideas of many of the significant scientists and philosophers of the age who became embroiled in the debate. Amongst them are Paul Langevin, Henri Poincaré, Hendrik Lortentz, Albert Michelson, Ernst Cassirer, Martin Heidegger, Hans Reichenbach, Rudolph Carnap, Jean Becquerel, Arthur Eddington and Bertrand Russell. Some of these supported Bergson whilst others Einstein and in a few cases neither. For each of these Canales provides biographical information, explains how they were associated with Einstein and Bergson, and how their views influenced the debate concerning the nature of time. The sheer number of figures that are introduced is testament to how important this debate became as well as to the breadth of this study. In addition Canales examines how the Catholic Church as an institution reacted to this debate as well how Einstein and Bergson dealt with the emergence of the new science of quantum mechanics, many proponents of which felt that it somewhat rescued Bergson’s conception of time.

Part Three ‘focuses on the debate by taking us beyond the men, asking instead what drove them to fall into such a stark impasse in the first place’ (242). Canales takes us on a journey through the development of technologies that occurred during the twentieth-century and explores the effect these ‘things’ had on the two conceptions of time, noting ‘what do we find when we look even more carefully behind the scenes of the debate? We stumble upon certain things that drove ‘adversaries’ into absolutely opposite positions’ (241). The ‘things’ that she considers include clocks, the telegraph, the telephone and radio communications, cinematographic cameras and film, atoms and molecules. In each case she explains at length the effect they had on Einstein and Bergson and their theories of time. She claims that ‘Einstein and Bergson disagreed about the meaning, use, and importance of all of these things’ and ‘they played a central role in the twentieth-century divisions often associated with Bergson and Einstein’ (241).

In the final part, Canales examines the last comments that the physicist and the philosopher made about each other. We find that, whilst Bergson did not deny his genius, he considered Einstein to be a relentless self-promoter. Canales presents some fascinating comments Einstein made about himself, and also describes aspects of his behaviour which suggest that there was some truth in this. Bergson’s last thoughts on Einstein’s conception of time, in his book La Pensée et le mouvant, show that he held firm to his own view when he writes ‘with regard to Time attached to Space, to a fourth dimension of Space-Time, it has no existence . . . other than on paper’ (335). Furthermore, ‘the reality of [Einstein’s] Space-Time is purely mathematical, and one cannot transform it into a metaphysical reality, or into ‘reality’ tout court, without giving to this word a new meaning’ (335). Einstein, who outlived Bergson by over a decade, similarly held steadfast to his view of time up until the day he died. Writing to a friend shortly before he died he said ‘you cannot get used to the idea that subjective time with its own ‘now’ should not have any objective meaning. See Bergson!’ (338).

In this book Canales shows that the apparent difference between ‘the time of the universe’ discovered by Einstein, and ‘the time of our lives’ associated with Bergson, had a major impact on the views of subsequent scientists, humanists, and philosophers that is still felt to the present day. She cleverly demonstrates why this is the case whilst at the same time providing interesting biographical background of the main characters as well as presenting it in the context of the social and political upheavals that raged across the world during the first half of the twentieth-century. Her writing style and composition makes the book an enjoyable read and her clear exposition renders some difficult concepts in physics and philosophy easily accessible. The book will be of great interest to both the specialist and the general reader.

Charlene Elsby, Aaron Massecar (Eds.): Essays on Aesthetic Genesis

Essays on Aesthetic Genesis Book Cover Essays on Aesthetic Genesis
Charlene Elsby, Aaron Massecar (Eds.)
University Press of America
Paperback $34.99

Reviewed by: Christopher DuPee (University College Dublin)

Essays on Aesthetic Genesis, edited by Charlene Elsby and Aaron Massecar, is a collected volume of essays responding to and discussing Jeff Mitscherling’s phenomenological trilogy, collectively titled The Revision of Hermeneutic Ontology, which consists of the books Roman Ingarden’s Ontology and Aesthetics, The Author’s Intention (coauthored with Aref Nayed and Tanya DiTommaso) and Aesthetic Genesis, from which the edited volume draws its name. In this trilogy Mitscherling develops the “New Copernican Hypothesis”, an explicitly realist revision or reversal of phenomenological interpretations regarding the nature of intentionality. Intention, under Mitscherling’s project, is to be decisively severed from consciousness, insofar as intentionality subsists within the world as a third ontological category, beside material and ideal existence. The implications of this revision, and its placement within the phenomenological tradition, make up the guiding thread for the collected responses.

The volume’s chapters are helpfully split into three thematic groupings, under Major Concepts, Historical Considerations, and Contemporary Discussion, though given the historically grounded nature of Mitscherling’s project, all three are dominated by comparative discussions.

Under Major Concepts, the prime concern for both papers is to show the historical legitimacy of Mitscherling’s hypothesis. In “On the Concept of Aesthetic Genesis”, Charlene Elsby connects the idea to certain shared theses of Plato and Aristotle. “The Copernican Turn of Intentional Being” similarly situates Mitscherling’s project within the history of 20th century philosophy, particularly relating to phenomenology but at the same time discussing Mitscherling’s promise with regards to the materialism and scientism of 20th century Anglo-American philosophy.

The general aim of the Historical Considerations section is to bring out some of Mitscherling’s often quite forgotten forbearers with Kimberly Baltzer-Jaray, Rob Luzecky, and Jason C. Robinson offering readings of Adolf Reinach, Roman Ingarden, and Hans-Georg Gadamer, respectively. Each of these bring out certain features and early formulations of Mitscherling’s own theses, while at the same time giving Reinach and Ingarden a new day in the sun after long periods of obscurity.

The notable exception is the first paper of the section, “Cartesian Soul: Embodiment and Phenomenology in the Wake of Descartes”, by Felix Ó Murchadha and Ane Faugstad Aarø. Here, the authors provide a reading of the history of phenomenology’s engagement with Cartesian thought that serves to challenge the narrative put forth by Mitscherling, and this paper is one of the high points of the volume. Rather than taking up a somewhat vulgarly dualist reading of Descartes and Cartesianism, the authors provide a reading more informed by Descartes Passions of the Soul, and its attendant concerns with embodiment and worldliness, tracing this element of Cartesianism through its French reception through Malebranche, Maine de Biran, and Merleau-Ponty. What this affords is a placement of Mitscherling’s project, not as a revolution in phenomenology, but very much in keeping with an historically realized form of interpreting intentionality to begin with. The end result is an admittedly strong qualification of Mitscherling’s own claims, insofar as the “New Copernican Hypothesis” is to be considered something so drastic as a “reversal” of phenomenology, while at the same not at all discrediting the results of such a project. Most refreshingly, this paper ends with connecting Mitscherling’s work to a number of contemporary French phenomenologists of the theological turn, such as Henry, Chretien, and Marion, who each share a number of concerns about alterity and the transcendence of the world quite similar to Mitscherling’s. This, it must be said, is the only reference to be found within the volume to any sort of contemporary phenomenological work.

This is not to say, however, that contemporary philosophical work on mind and embodied engagement with the world is somehow not represented. It is within the third section that Mitscherling’s work in brought into contact with debates concerning philosophy of mind, Peircean pragmatism, contemporary Hegelian philosophy, aesthetics, and eco-phenomenological debates, to name a few. Again, it must be said, that historical comparison makes up a good deal of the discussion, as Husserl, Stein, and Peirce make appearances as phenomenological interlocutors in the papers by Antonio Calcagno and Aaron Massecar, as do Aristotle and Hegel in Conrad Hamilton’s particularly rich contribution.

There is a curious situation, it must be said, that arises from the fact that Mitscherling’s entire project is grounded upon a specific narrative regarding the history of phenomenology, and that is that so much of the plausibility of the papers’ claims regarding the importance of Mitscherling’s work are based upon the claims of that particular narrative concerning the supposedly rampant idealism of phenomenology’s interest in consciousness. However, as was mentioned above, Murchadha and Aarø’s paper very early on challenges this narrative. So, on a sequential reading of the volume, so many of the grand pronouncements in honor of Mitscherling, and so much of the criticism of phenomenology, appear altogether inflated; that such claims are found in, Calcagno, George, and Massecar after Murchadha and Aarø’s paper generates a certain unease about the whole picture being sold. For all of that, however, this circumstance takes nothing away from any of the papers beyond the rhetorical; their specific theses stand on their own merit.

Essays in Aesthetic Genesis is, overall, a good and informative introduction to Mitscherling’s work, and certainly a good contribution to the development of a certain new wave of realist phenomenology and engagements therewith.

Jan Patočka: The Natural World as a Philosophical Problem

The Natural World as a Philosophical Problem Book Cover The Natural World as a Philosophical Problem
Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy
Jan Patočka. Edited by Ivan Chvatík and Lubica Ucník. Translated by Erika Abrams. Foreword by Ludwig Landgrebe
Northwestern University Press
Paperback $34.95

Reviewed by: Michael Deckard (Lenoir-Rhyne University)

There is something slightly mysterious about reading this book, like finding a notebook in a desk in the attic in a drawer full of cobwebs. Or searching the archives for something you only have an inkling of what you might find (see below for a further description of the Patočka archives in Prague). Even though everything in this book besides the Translator’s Note has previously been published before in other languages, this collection of texts provides in English an insight into a thinker’s life hitherto inaccessible, or at least forgotten. Hence, the mystery. Erazim Kohák’s work in the 1980s brought forth a life story and a philosopher, but focused on the phenomenological and Czech thinker. The dates of the texts from The Natural World as a Philosophical Problem are fascinating in themselves. The main text is Patočka’s habilitation from 1936, Přirozený svét jako filosofický problém, first translated into French forty years later in 1976 (a year before he died), Le monde naturel comme problème philosophique, and then in German in 1990 as Die natürliche Welt als philosophisches Problem. Now the English in 2016, some eighty years after the original publication and forty years after his death. I mention these three translations because the nature of the natural world, for Patočka, is at issue: why is this a philosophical problem, and not an historical or scientific one? What has become of this problem in the intervening eighty years since he wrote the text? Normally, one does not review a book published eighty years earlier, but besides the main text, there is a “remeditated” supplement to it written 33 years later (1970), and then an afterword to the first French translation (1976). But that still leaves a mystery: what can be recalled anew about such texts?

The mystery begins with the foreword, written by a close friend of over forty years, who speaks to the life of the man himself and not just his thought: “our conversations were never purely philosophical,” and that these took place “for nights on end in my Prague years between 1933 and 1939”, Ludwig Landgrebe writes. These years seem to haunt this book, and perhaps the life and country if not all of Europe itself. Experiencing these years in “a kind of exile” in Prague, Landgrebe says, “Talk of personal life, family, comments on the alarming political situation in Europe, common concern for the future of Germany…For me, the development of Patočka’s philosophy is inseparably linked with the history of a friendship.” (ix) This is not a normal foreword. In fact, it was written as memories right after Patočka’s death in 1977. In being guided through the homeland and Prague in particular, “History came alive on these occasions in its interwovenness with art and literature” (x). The foreword is a document in history concerning a time “near and far, familiar and alien,” (xv) and according to Landgrebe, it was the first book on the problem of the life-world (Lebenswelt) (xiv). And yet, the title of the work is not the lifeworld as a philosophical problem, but the natural world. Is this only a problem of translation? Should this 1936 book be interpreted as truly a book about the problem of the lifeworld, or rather as one regarding the natural world, which is a broader problem in philosophy and science than the “well-nigh uncatalogable” literature on the life-world problem. (See the recent review on this site by Philipp Berghofer of The Phenomenological Critique of Mathematisation and the Question of Responsibility: Formalisation and the Life-World).[1]

The introduction to the main text begins thus: “Modern man has no unified worldview. He lives in a double world, at once in his own naturally given environment and in a world created for him by modern natural science, based on the principle of mathematical laws governing nature. The disunion that has thus pervaded the whole of human life is the true source of our present spiritual crisis.” (3) The one philosopher mentioned in this introduction is Descartes—but isn’t Descartes himself a kind of founder of phenomenology as well as science? In a certain sense, then, this book is about “the history of the development of modern science” (113) for which he points to “Leonardo the engineer, Bacon the insatiable political practitioner and visionary, Descartes the mechanistic physician, and even Galileo himself” in the conclusion. Instead of calling it a disenchantment of the world, it is a “dehumanization of the world.”

Chapter 1, “Stating the Problem,” expands upon this fundamental “disanthropomorphization” (6), speaking to how one can philosophise again not just “through mere wonder (thaumazein), but rather on account of the inner difficulties of his spiritual life.” (7) The problem is simply that humans who have experienced modern science “no longer live simply in the naïve natural world; the habitus of his overall relationship to reality is not the natural worldview.” (8) If this book is considered a debate with the founders of modern philosophy, then after stating the problem, Patočka poses some answers: a return to the feeling of life (9-11), an historical typology of possible solutions (11-19), and Patočka’s own proposed solution (19-22). To put it as simply as possible, “to state what we expect from this philosophical anamnesis and why we look upon the subjective orientation as a way to reestablish the world’s unity, the breaking of which threatens modern man in that which, according to Dostoyevsky, is most precious to him: his own self.” (19) There are thus three parts to his solution: subjectivity, the natural world (through history), and language. All of these are meant to unify the self from its fractured nature.

Chapter 2, “The Question of the Essence of Subjectivity and Its Methodical Exploitation,” begins from Descartes, and follows a trajectory of Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Schelling, and finally the method of phenomenology as recapturing subjectivity. Several guiding clues are given as to this method, reduction and time consciousness being two of the most important. Regarding the first,

“the reductive procedure applies, of course, to each and every particular thesis, but above all to the so to say general theses, which are already presupposed in singular judgments, and so on, e.g., the thesis that the world exists with its specific real structures. The reduction applies thus not only to propositions about what is but also to propositions about the structure of what is: not only to ontic but also to ontological propositions. Reduction should not be regarded, as is sometimes the case, as a method for acquiring a priori knowledge.” (38)

By means of this guiding clue, both subjectivity and knowledge are saved through “abstaining” (Epoche), and thus purifying experience of sedimentation in order to achieve some singularity in “pure givenness” or “pure consciousness” as “lived-experience.” (41) It is worth pointing out here that occasionally an endnote by the editors mentions the “recently discovered personal copy of his habilitation thesis” in which there is a penciled note. (201n52) Part of Patočka’s thesis of this chapter is thus to show similarities between phenomenology and the “Platonic-Aristotelian noesis.” (203n71) Due to ideation’s relationship to time-consciousness, the human is intersubjectively constituted. Differentiating this view from Fichte, Schelling, Kant, and Descartes, to go in reverse historical order, nevertheless allows a “passage through phenomenological reflection.” (51)

Chapter 3, “The Natural World,” the heart of the book, entails that subjectivity is not enough, but rather that man is in relation to a world. Erazim Kohák has already written of this work in his 1989 collection of Patočka’s writings, touching upon the difference between přirozený svét and English or German or French: “the world of nature, the entire realm of animate being, including humans in their mundane dimension, with its vital order and natural teleology…the world—now in the sense of the coherent, intelligible context of our being rather than as a sum of existents—which comes ‘naturally’ to us, the prereflective, prepredicative coherence of our context which we take so much for granted.” (Kohák 1989: 23) The point, going back to Patočka’s text, is a conscious co-living with others, with regard to them, and common to all. Criticisms of his 1936 conception, even mentioned 33 years later in his French afterword, is that it was too human-centric. The references are to “home”, “refuge”, “alien”, but he is still aware of the human and the extrahuman dimension. While animals are mentioned within “living nature,” as well as “generations,” “traditions,” and even “myth,” there seems to be no references to fossils. minerals, or flora as part of this natural world. The historical development of the problem accentuates this absence in which something of German idealism is still too stuck in human sensibility, despite mentions of biologists like von Baer and Uexküll or philosophers like Bergson.

Chapter 4, “A Sketch of a Philosophy of Language and Speech,” takes up the third aspect of his proposal, basing language in sensibility, history, and acoustics. While using insights from the Czech school of linguistics, as Landgrebe says in his foreword, “the whole chapter can be read as echo of the discussions that took place in the 1930s in the Prague Linguistic Circle. Many issues of fundamental philosophical import discussed at that time have disappeared from current linguistics under the influence of the nominalist tradition.” (xvii)

When Patočka added a supplement to this main text 33 years later (115-180), he later wrote about that supplement, “Written in haste, under the pressure of circumstances, the added text falls short to this aim, i.e. to clarify and update our view of the problem.” (182) The main problem is thus whether to listen to him or not. If we did, we would only read the afterword, some nine pages long (181-190) Most Patočka scholars ignore this, as did the German edition as well as the editors and translator of this book “despite his openly stated criticism of the first of the two and its omission from the 1976 French edition.” (191) Now, in reviewing this whole text from the perspective of eighty-years later, the sense of mystery returns. The translator’s note, then, should really be read first, or at least at the same time, as Landgrebe’s foreword, since she concludes that “the two afterwords are mutually complementary.” (192) Remembering that for most of Patočka’s life he was under great scrutiny, Kohák points out: “Altogether, of the forty-six years of his active life as a philosopher, Jan Patočka lived only eight years free of censorship.” (Kohák, 1989: 27) This is not an arbitrary point of history. “Man is not only thrown into the world but also accepted. Acceptance is an integral part of throwness, so much so that being-at-home in the world is made possible only through the warmth of acceptance by others,” Landgrebe writes (xvii). It is not without irony and a sense of sadness that Patočka died, having been arrested and interrogated for over eleven hours, forty years ago this year and that we can now read his earliest book for the first time in English.

My own experience, having spent a few days this year in the Patočka archive, was remarkable. Upon discovering a 200+ page manuscript on Ficino with pages and pages of drawings, astrological and artistic, hidden in the 1940s in the Strahov Library in Prague, the content of the archive can truly astonish and surprise one. A few pages of this ms. have been translated into German in Andere Wege in die Moderne: Studien zur europäischen Ideengeschichte von der Renaissance bis zur Romantik by Ludger Hagedorn. The amount of time Patočka spent studying and researching this period from the Renaissance to Romanticism is incredible. Any good phenomenologist or historian wanting to understand the richness of Patočka should visit the archive. The mystery of the text mentioned at the beginning of this review concerns the prophetic style of the philosopher, and how such a text brings out a renewal of thought. Once the cobwebs are blown off, and the archive uncovered, thought and even resistance can begin anew.

[1] Philipp Berghofer. Review of The Phenomenological Critique of Mathematisation and the Question of Responsibility: Formalisation and the Life-World by Ľubica Učník, Ivan Chvatík, Anita Williams (Eds.), Springer, 2015.