Elliot R. Wolfson: The Duplicity of Philosophy’s Shadow

The Duplicity of Philosophy's Shadow: Heidegger, Nazism, and the Jewish Other Book Cover The Duplicity of Philosophy's Shadow: Heidegger, Nazism, and the Jewish Other
Elliot R. Wolfson
Columbia University Press
Paperback $30.00 / £24.00

Reviewed by: Peter Pangarov (Independent Scholar, Canada)

The Duplicity of Philosophy’s Shadow

The spectre of Nazism hangs over the work of Martin Heidegger. That spectre has ebbed and flowed. The publication of the Schwarze Hefte brought back that ghost once more. The Schwarze Hefte laid bare aspects of Heidegger’s antisemitism that had not previously been seen. In The Duplicity of Philosophy’s Shadow, Elliot Wolfson, a scholar of Jewish mysticism and philosophy who—by his own admission—was influenced profoundly by Heidegger, sets out to see the absences in Heidegger’s writing. Wolfson uses Heidegger’s approach to analyse the relationship of truth and untruth, silence, the limits of speech, and what can or cannot be said. From the outset, it is essential to acknowledge that The Duplicity of Philosophy’s Shadow is not in response to the Schwarze Hefte, but a much broader and nuanced conversation Wolfson engages in with himself, Heideggerian scholars, and Heidegger.


The intention here is to sketch out how Wolfson conceptualises and breaks down Heidegger’s personal, political and philosophical miscalculations, and the parallels between Heideggerian thought and that of Jewish Mysticism. It is not to necessarily delve into the depths of the commonality of Heidegger’s thought and that of Jewish mysticism; this is something that Wolfson accomplishes too thoroughly to be summarised in a brief review without resorting to an approach that loses a lot of that nuance. Instead, this review focuses on the analysis of the unthought, Heidegger’s reforming and rejecting the Philosophy of National Socialism, and Heidegger’s silence and refusal to denounce the horrors of National Socialism.

Understanding Miscalculation

Wolfson approaches his analysis of Heidegger as an outsider, one influenced by Heidegger, but an outsider nonetheless. Wolfson’s approach is shaped by Jacques Derrida’s reflection that “no thinker is above criticism, certainly not one as controversial as Heidegger, but even he, nay especially he, deserves to be read before he is castigated as an outcast and his lifework deemed irredeemable” (xii). By embracing this, Wolfson seeks to neither excuse nor dismiss Heidegger. Instead, to wrestle with that middle ground. Wolfson acknowledges that it is a middle ground that “I am afraid to say, one that can be borne only by those willing to invest an inordinate amount of time and energy in reading through this vastly arduous corpus.” An analysis of Heidegger’s miscalculation is,

The space we must inhabit, as uncomfortable as it might be, is one in which we acknowledge that Heidegger was both a Nazi given to anti- Semitic jargon and an incisive philosopher whose thinking not only was responding to the urgencies of his epoch but also contains the potential to unravel the thorny knot of politics and philosophy relevant for the present as much as for the past. (xv).

The task Wolfson gives himself, is to read Heidegger in a way unlike how Heidegger sought to interpret himself. This task involves and necessitates walking up to his politics, and not immediately reaching to condemn Heidegger’s silence on Auschwitz but thinking about what that silence says and means. In The Duplicity of Philosophy’s Shadow, Wolfson accomplishes that task without ever losing sight of the reality of the tragedy that occurred. This approach provides a testament to how to engage holistically with Heidegger without losing the historical fact of the tragedy of what happened in Auschwitz.

Politics as Thought and Unthought

Wolfson begins by highlighting that moral condemnation does not run counter to analysing National Socialism philosophically in the background of Heidegger’s work. For Wolfson, in actuality, suspending condemnation would be wrong as it would remove the historicity of the relationship between Heidegger’s thought and that of National Socialism. Herein, Wolfson needs to be applauded for stepping into a potentially uncomfortable position, but a necessary one. It is not possible to not condemn what occurred, but it is possible to remain objective in studying the relationship between Heidegger and National Socialism and seeing where that leads.

As Wolfson puts it,

the Heideggerian presumption that questioning is the means to reveal the matter of thought is not forfeited by adopting a critical stance regarding the monstrosity of Nazism nor is there justification to argue that objectivity can be achieved only by abandoning oneself to a thinking that would preclude the ability to discriminate between right and wrong (1).

Wolfson does not believe Heidegger relinquishes ‘the sanction of good and evil.” Rather, Heidegger sees good and evil as interpreted through historical destiny, and their interaction of going towards and away from a transcendent metaphysical grounding. Wolfson acknowledges herein that this view is not one that would be adopted by certain Heideggerian scholars. Of course, it’s challenging itself to say, beyond a basic framework, what would be and would not be acceptable to a majority in this particular context. Wolfson’s discussion of a transcendent metaphysical grounding does point to a broader criticism that maybe slightly unfairly levelled against the book as a whole: the book places the reader in the midst of an extraordinarily complex and necessary analysis that requires a nuanced knowledge of Heidegger’s corpus. So, the book is not the best starting point for those unfamiliar with the subject matter.

For Heidegger, philosophical enlightenment ‘consists of unmasking the shadow as shadow, that is, discerning the shadow as a form of luminescence and not as a privation of light, (5). Wolfson examines Heidegger’s attempt to purify the philosophy of National Socialism. From 1933 onwards, in his writings, and lectures, Heidegger sought to both critique and support the present manifestation of National Socialism. The purification that Heidegger sought was to remove the racism and anti-Semitism from the core of National Socialism. Heidegger saw Germany, and Germans as philosophical a people, and nation. By having National Socialism embrace this, Germany would accomplish its national destiny. This, as highlighted by Wolfson, is an alternative form of nationalist chauvinism.

Counter-posed here is a sense that Heidegger did express remorse in what he had engaged with, and that remorse impacted his ability to visit former friends, for instance, Carl Jaspers, not—in his words—“because a Jewish woman lived there, but because I simply felt ashamed,” (31). That sense of shame is a real and powerful factor that cannot be dismissed.

In this discussion, there is one aspect that perhaps speaks loudest: that of silence. More specifically, Heidegger’s silence. That of how,

Heidegger fell short of outwardly and forthrightly rejecting the movement or admitting that his own decision was a symptom of a philosophical catastrophe and not merely a political blunder, but this moral failing provides the opening through which the concealed of the unconcealed of his thinking may be revealed as the entanglement of truth and untruth, an entanglement that sheds light on the shadow so that the substance of the shadow is unveiled as the shadow of the substance (32).

Wolfson returns to this regularly from the outset. Analysing the unthought is most illuminating because something being unthought or absent is as such silent.


Heidegger’s silence on what happened to the Jews, and the ills of National Socialism, remains one of the most challenging parts of his legacy. Heidegger died in 1976, far removed from the era of National Socialism, but he never publicly denounced the horrors that occurred. This failure poses a challenge that Wolfson, taking inspiration from Derrida, seeks to answer.

Derrida embarks on what he labels a “risky hypothesis” that it was by not speaking that Heidegger offered the possibility for others to think the unthought connection between his thought and National Socialism. Had Heidegger explicitly offered an apology for his blunders, he would have likely been absolved, and there would have been closure and less of an impetus for subsequent philosophers and intellectual historians to contemplate the affinities, synchronisms of thinking, and common roots that he might have shared with Nazism. However, the legacy of Heidegger’s “terrifying, perhaps unforgivable, silence” bequeaths to us the duty of doing the work and the “injunction to think what he did not think,” (111).

This deserves to be unpacked because it is the line of thought that Wolfson develops and connects with traditions in Jewish Mysticism. By not apologising, Heidegger placed himself in a space he need not have occupied, and had he apologised he would have lessened the impact of his miscalculation. Choosing to fail to do that forces those within the Heideggerian tradition to engage with that silence and see what that speaks about his legacy. Before proceeding, it is worth noting that there is a truth in Derrida’s hypothesis, but it is challenging to imagine that the Schwarze Hefte would not have led to an alternative if not potentially worse crisis even if Heidegger had publicly apologised.

The framing of the “risky hypothesis,” and how it borders on a notion of silence used in the Kabbalistic tradition, highlights Wolfson’s ability to think the unthought. Silence is appealing because it is the only way left to react to what came before and the absence that creates. Heidegger’s silence can be seen as a form of language used as a reaction to something so unspeakable that the only language left for it is the absence of language. This silence is a product of a belief that it is only possible sometimes to understand what a thinker thought if we can first be aware of what they did not think, or at least did not verbalise in language—leaving it unsaid. This way the failure to speak is in a sense the action of speaking. It provokes the others to respond in a manner typically befitting language, not its absence. Heidegger interpreted silence as an “essential possibility of discourse” (115). For Dasein to be authentic, it has to be able to be reticent and confront the intelligibility of certain actualities and how they can and cannot be expressed. An inability to show something can be indicative of something in the same way that an ability to communicate something can be.

This silence takes on a further meaning that of representing the internal solitude of the philosopher, and the withdrawing into oneself, especially in response to an event as powerful as the Holocaust. Part of the challenge is the philosopher’s awareness of how they will be misinterpreted, and how that leaves certain things as unsaid. There is a truth here but a failure to condemn what occurred at Auschwitz exists in a different category than an inability to articulate an ontology. There is the matter that the misinterpretation of a philosopher is inevitable. There is a need to be aware of the historicity and content surrounding the philosophy that is misinterpreted. As Wolfson proceeds in analysing what has been said, there is a mandate, or need to address that which has not been said. Mainly, why that was not said, and what that absence means. Wolfson builds on Heidegger’s emphasis on the linguistic ability of human beings, and how that capacity to not just speak but not speak as a choice. By not speaking, Heidegger may be engaged in an act representative as well of his historicity in that particular time, and how certain truths may not yet be or were not yet able to be spoken.

Wolfson asks if Heidegger’s silence were not twofold. Firstly, could he only speak by not speaking? Secondly, was it just by heeding and understanding the importance of the said and unsaid that Heidegger could respond to what happened? This point is furthered by Heidegger’s notion that the bloodshed of the war was an example of the excess of evil and wilfulness that was a product of a “non-essence of beying,” (35). This break that is a product of the war and the annihilation that took place is that to which Heidegger speaks by not speaking to it. This speaking by not speaking and indirectness is compared to the Kabbalistic idea of the Other Side. The Other Side is the tool used to explain the existence of evil, the counter to grace. Wolfson explains this in Heideggerian terms as

the evil of the Other Side is the wilful manifestation of the nonessence that belongs to the essence of being, the event of appropriation, which comprises the inexpressible that is expressive of the essentially tragic nature of being (123).

The Other Side is the opposite of essence. It can be grasped as the potentiality of Dasein to undo itself or come apart. This awareness is one that is limited, and not available to all of those that seek to unravel that piece of knowledge.

The knowledge of being, consequently, is limited to the individuals who remain faithful to the truth of the cataclysmic beginning and can make peace with it. Such individuals are neither recognized by the calculative nature of historiographical knowledge nor by the meditative nature of historical contemplation. Their mission is not to be sought in the ability to confront the other, but to accept the essential misrecognition that ensues from living and thinking within the ring of solitude (126).

In rounding off the discussion of silence, Wolfson notes how this conception can be used to explain but not justify. That distinction is critical because it illustrates Heidegger’s thought and what may have remained unthought but influential to Heidegger. An understanding of that does not mean that those actions were justified but merely explainable.

This account of Heidegger’s silence breaks apart what silence meant to Heidegger and the similarities with other traditions. This analysis does develop and ground Derrida’s “risky hypothesis” as something that makes sense and can be understood as the actions that Heidegger took due to his own philosophical framework. Silence is in a sense a performative act or the awareness that it is the only way Heidegger thought he could respond. Whether, as Wolfson notes, that is justified is a separate matter, but it does develop an interpretation based on engaging with Heidegger’s work and methodology.

Duplicity/Thinking the Unthinkable

Let me conclude this investigation by stating once more that I offer no apology for Heidegger. Indubitably, there will be readers who will accuse me of doing what I emphatically announce I am not doing. No matter how insistent and clear-cut my denial, the passion surrounding Heidegger will prevent some individuals from being able to read my work without a predisposition that, oddly enough, smacks of the very absolutism, despotism and homogenization they find so offensive about the fascist ideology Heidegger unwisely embraced at a crucial moment in his own development as a thinker (169).

Wolfson begins his Afterword with this paragraph. In concluding, it is important to bear that in mind as is the following.

The truth, as is often the case, lies some- where in the middle too often excluded by our logic of the excluded middle, a middle where something can be both true and not true, where the propositions that Heidegger was a defender of Nazism and that Heidegger was an opponent of Nazism are not mutually exclusive (170).

The reason for including these is because these paragraphs speak to what Wolfson sets out to do and accomplishes, of wadding into an unpleasant murky water that others are reluctant to do so. He notes that Heidegger was a sublime thinker, but nonetheless he made serious lapses and brought into his philosophy ideas and associations that were and are repugnant. The challenge is to understand both, where they cross over, and learn from that. As Wolfson highlights, the inability to do that is its own dogmatism. As with his silence there are things about Heidegger that we can understand but not justify. Being able to sit in that tension is perhaps the most powerful thing we can embrace from the Heideggerian tradition, whilst acknowledging the horrors. That is a monumental task, but one that Wolfson accomplishes, which by itself makes this book essential in offering a fresh perspective that injects a nuance made possible by an outsider influenced by the material.

Jonathan Webber: Rethinking Existentialism

Rethinking Existentialism Book Cover Rethinking Existentialism
Jonathan Webber
Oxford University Press
Hardback £45.00

Reviewed by: Kyle Michael James Shuttleworth (Queens University Belfast)

‘Existentialism’ has long been held as a concept of contention. It has been used as a buzzword for bleakness, and a synonym for pessimism. Despite its misuse within popular culture, it has also been employed as an umbrella term to denote a philosophical movement. The conflation of this concept has led to a legacy of confusion regarding precisely that which constitutes existential thought, and who ought to be considered as an existentialist. Even much of the secondary literature has failed to provide a comprehensive definition of ‘existentialism’. Instead, we are often offered a constitutive list of themes which ‘existentialists’ supposedly share in common, such as nihilism, absurdity, and authenticity. It is precisely this linguistic ambiguity that causes Jonathan Webber to rethink existentialism, and that which he sets about dispelling. In the first chapter, he begins by discarding the outdated interpretations which actively incorporate non-philosophers, and those who rejected this label. Instead, Webber offers a carefully considered account, defining existentialism in accordance with the Sartrean maxim ‘existence precedes essence’. It is from this standpoint that Webber takes the reader on a journey of rethinking ‘existentialism’.

Webber begins to clear the confusion by demonstrating why the label ‘existentialist’ should not be applied to certain associated thinkers. In the second chapter, Webber addresses the misattribution of Camus to the inner circle. Here it is illustrated that Camus rejects the central tenants of existentialism, and that the disagreement between Sartre and Camus is a consequence of their subsequent philosophical stances. Another thinker who was initially associated with existentialism, but whom Webber demonstrates to be on the periphery, is Maurice Merleau-Ponty. In chapter three, Webber depicts Merleau-Ponty’s divergence in terms of his criticism of Sartre’s concept of radical freedom and Beauvoir’s defence that Merleau-Ponty has misunderstood Sartre. Although Webber does an excellent job of disentangling the intellectual connections between these theorists, one would appreciate further elucidation as to why additional thinkers ought to be excluded. Whilst Webber focused his attention on the development of existentialism in post-war France, there are two further thinkers who could have been addressed. Gabriel Marcel, for example, released his Philosophy of Existentialism in 1946, and Jacques Maritain published his Existence and Existent in 1947. As contemporaries of Sartre and self-proclaimed existentialists (at least initially) it would be interesting to see how they fit into Webber’s narrative.
In the positive phase of his project, Webber sets about determining who ought to be included. Until recently, Simone de Beauvoir has been believed to be without philosophical merit. The reason for overlooking her intellectual prowess is often attributed to her own rejection of the label ‘philosopher’ and referral to Sartre as the brains behind their project. Webber takes this to task in chapter four, where he demonstrates that Beauvoir articulates the existential ideal ‘existence precedes essence’ within her metaphysical novel She Came to Stay. Moreover, that the account which Beauvoir presents contains the concept of ‘commitment’ which presents a significant development upon Sartre’s theory of mind. Within chapter eight, a further important, and unexpected, contribution which Webber makes, is to include Frantz Fanon within the existentialist camp. Webber argues that within Black Skin, White Masks Fanon can be seen to ground his theory on the definition of existentialism insofar as he rejects that there is any essential difference between black people and white people. That is, for Fanon the belief that black people are inferior is caused by the sedimentation of a negative cultural representation in the collective consciousness. This is shown to make a significant development from Sartre’s own attempt to explain racial prejudice in terms of bad faith in Anti-Semite and the Jew.

Although Webber defines existentialism in accordance with the maxim ‘existence precedes essence’, he notes that Sartre and Beauvoir initially disagreed upon what this concept entailed. In this way, he maps the development of the definition amongst the advocates themselves. Whilst Sartre is usually considered to be synonymous with existentialism, Webber illustrates that Sartre’s early work is flawed in terms of addressing the problem of absurdity. By tracing the development of Sartre’s thought, Webber shows that Sartre later comes to adopt Beauvoir’s position to reach the mature position where his version of existentialism corresponds to those of Beauvoir and Fanon in terms of their respective concepts of commitment. Having illustrated the various stages in the development of the concept of existentialism, Webber differentiates these forms, which includes Sartre’s early approach, from what he terms the canonical account. Existentialism proper, for Webber, entails that there is no predetermined nature, and that one’s essence is formed through the sedimentation of projects. The canonical accounts of existentialism, according to Webber, are represented by Beauvoir’s Second Sex, Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks, and Sartre’s Saint Genet.

The ethical ideal espoused by existentialism is ‘authenticity’ and which is a response to absurdity. Sartre and Fanon are shown to offer eudaimonian arguments for authenticity, which suggests that the desire for authenticity emerges in relation to the realisation that inauthenticity leads to psychological distress. However, Webber notes that Sartre’s and Fanon’s accounts of authenticity fail to sufficiently overcome the issue of absurdity because they cannot address the meta-ethical problem of the grounding of normativity. Although Sartre appears to be at the centre of attention at the beginning of the book, it is Beauvoir who emerges as the hero of absurdity, insofar as she is shown to present the most fully articulated account of authenticity. Beauvoir’s concept of authenticity is shown to be supported by the categorical imperative that we should not value any ends which conflict with the value of human nature. Throughout the text, Webber refers to the ‘virtue of authenticity’, however, he does not explain why we ought to conceive of authenticity as a virtue. It is also difficult to understand the way in which authenticity could be construed as a virtue. If in relation eudaimonia, it does not make sense to refer to authenticity as a virtue because eudaimonia is not a virtue for Aristotle, but the end which the virtues lead to. Again, on the Kantian account, virtues are ends which are also duties, but it is questionable whether a way of life could be considered authentic if we have a duty to live in that particular way. Thus, clarity regarding that which is meant by ‘virtue of authenticity’ would be appreciated in avoiding any such confusion.

Webber makes a number of interesting observations and insights within his book. Whilst existentialism is often thought to be at odds with Freudian psychoanalysis, it is demonstrated that this is not the case. In chapter five, it is argued on the contrary that existentialism in fact falls within the Freudian tradition. Although Freud’s account appeals to innate drives, and the existentialists reject the idea of a predetermined essential-self, Webber illustrates that there is no contradiction, but instead a sustained engagement with Freud in attempting to overcome the Cartesian subject. In chapter six, Webber offers an original interpretation of Sartre’s play No Exit. The standard interpretation is that since ‘hell is other people’, we ought to prefer our own image of ourselves as opposed to that projected upon us by other people. Webber, however, claims that the real moral of the play is that bad faith inevitably impairs our relations with others. In each of these chapters, Webber offers interesting insights which make original contributions to the literature. However, with regards to the overall aim of defining a canonical account of existentialism, neither of these chapters seem directly related.

In the final chapter, Webber brings his analysis to a close by discussing the future direction of existentialism. In particular, he illustrates the practicality of his canonical account and the impact that it could have upon interdisciplinary exchange. Namely, he portrays what experimental science can learn from a more refined account of existentialism, and that this will enable existential-infused approaches to develop further. Although psychoanalytic approaches which have been built upon Sartre’s concept of radical freedom are subject to the same criticism as Sartre, Webber claims this field could undergo a revival were it to instead be built upon the theory of commitment.  Webber also notes that there are further lessons which can be learnt from existentialism. Whilst certain insights have been confirmed by experimental psychology, other claims, such as Fanon’s suggestion that psychiatric problems stem from the internalisation of stereotypes by the victim, remain unexplored. Thus, not only does Webber provides us with an analytically satisfactory account of existentialism, but also demonstrates the benefits possessing a more accurately defined theory.

The current political landscape has been marked by the sustained engagement with race and gender discourse. One can hardly open a newspaper, or read a social media news-feed without encountering a story about gender wage gaps, for example, or racism within first world countries. Whilst much philosophy remains decisively abstract in terms of application, Webber demonstrates how existential philosophers, such as Beauvoir and Fanon, engage with these very issues. In this respect, Rethinking Existentialism is a timely text which demonstrates the contemporary relevance of existential philosophy. Moreover, Webber’s book is lucidly written, and composed in an accessible manner which navigates both the personal relationships between theorists, and the development of their thoughts. Rather than individual sections which trace the trajectory of each theorist’s isolated intellectual development, Webber presents an interwoven account, articulating the development of particular existentialist figures in relation to one another. Whilst other authors confuse and conflate existentialism and existentialists, Webber clears the rubble piled-up and built upon by previous commentators. Webber provides elucidation and a clearing for those with an obscured view of existentialism, and a fresh and coherent perspective for those first approaching the subject. In this way, Webber’s Rethinking Existentialism is not only essential reading for anyone interested in existentialism, but the only book one needs.

Michael Marder: Heidegger: Phenomenology, Ecology, Politics

Heidegger: Phenomenology, Ecology, Politics Book Cover Heidegger: Phenomenology, Ecology, Politics
Michael Marder
University of Minnesota Press
Paperback $25.00

Reviewed by: Eva Anagnostou-Laoutides (Associate Professor in Ancient History, Macquarie University, Sydney)

As a classicist and ancient historian, I have always been intrigued by Heidegger’s frequent references to the Greeks and what he described as their “original,” in a Nietzschean sense, appreciation of the essence of Being. Then, again, I am deeply aware of the truth pertaining Glen Most’s statement about classicists and Heidegger (“Heidegger’s Greeks,” Arion 10.1 (2002) 83-98 at 96):

“For the professional classicist, there is almost nothing at all of interest in Heidegger’s work on Greek philosophy and poetry—which no doubt says as much about professional classicists as it does about Heidegger. Heidegger’s work remains entirely marginal to the classics profession, except for a very few classicists who are themselves largely marginal.”

While this partly explains my protracted grappling with this review, it also relates most clearly why Marder’s book has been so tantalizingly appealing to me.

First, although classicists are not habitually interested in Heidegger, they are interested in theoretical advances that may defend their interpretations of ancient Greek texts from the usual charge of being irrelevant and almost a pastime for recluses. Phenomenology has been one of the latest theoretical approaches to be adopted by scholars of ancient religion (such as the great Walter Burkert) and Heidegger is regarded as “the father of phenomenology,” given that for him Aristotle was certainly influenced by a rhetorical culture in defining man as a political animal and that the constituent parts of Da-sein (the speaking, listening, and caring which characterize Heidegger’s concept of Being-There) provide a common ground between rhetorical politics and phenomenology (S. Elden, “Reading Logos as Speech: Heidegger, Aristotle and Rhetorical Politics,” Philosophy & Rhetoric 38.4 (2005) 281-301 at 286-288).

Second, Marder’s book struck a chord with me because the author sets out to make a significant point, that is, to advocate our duty to engage with Heidegger rather than continue to ignore him because of his antisemitic sentiments. The controversy surrounding Heidegger has intensified since 2014 when the first books of his Black Notebooks were published with Marder noting in his Introduction (xi):

“What reawakens each time with the controversy, or what reawakens it, is the desire to expel Heidegger and to expunge his contributions from the canon of Western philosophy or from what may be legitimately taught, interpreted, and discussed in self-respecting philosophy departments.”

In attempting a bold, but not out-of-place, in my view, comparison, I have often felt a similar attitude towards the Classics in post-colonial Australia; I vividly remember a professor of English, who exasperated with Norman Lindsay’s misogynistic adaptation of classical models, asked a doctoral student in a full amphitheater: “why do you want to study this stuff?” The conflation of Norman Lindsay’s views with the right (and even need) to study them produces a gross methodological error, one fraught with greater dangers than people gradually feeling at ease with expressing socially dangerous sentiments. Not trusting students to make the differentiation is indicative of how little confidence we have in our educational system(s), let alone the staff responsible for teaching it. In this regard, Marder’s Introduction is indeed powerful and invests the rest of the book with a renewed sense of purpose, a purpose which many scholars in the humanities are likely to empathize with. This is important given that eight out of the nine chapters comprising this book have been published before in some form and that this reader felt at times that Marder should refine the chapters further to accomplish his purpose of defending the study of Heidegger in a more concerted way.

The main body of the book consists of three Parts, focusing respectively on Phenomenology (3-65), Ecology (69-129) and Politics (133-173). Each Part contains three chapters.

Part I consists of the following chapters: “‘Higher Than Actuality:’ The Possibility of Phenomenology” (3-26), “Failure and Nonactualizable Possibility” (27-46), and “The Phenomenology of Ontico-Ontological Difference” (47-65). In the first chapter, Marder takes start from Heidegger’s view, expressed in paragraph 7 of Being and Time, that phenomenology does not lie in its actuality, but we should rather understand it as possibility (3). Drawing on the History of the Concept of Time, Marder analyzes Heidegger’s understanding of possibilities as existentially necessary for Dasein, especially since for him the impossible is the index of death (5-6). Furthermore, according to Heidegger, “the grounding possibility of phenomenology is “received” … from its “meaning in the human Dasein” (20). Hence, fundamental ontology (the acceptance of Dasein and its existence prior to inquiring about its meaning) is Heidegger’s response to Husserl’s phenomenology; according to Heidegger, by defining the phenomenon as the representation of the world in our consciousness, Husserl privileges consciousness in relation to the object. Of course, possibility needs actuality, otherwise the phenomenological approach to experience risks being separated from reality; Heidegger’s reflects on actuality in his Letter on Humanism where he argues that the accomplishment which constitutes the essence of action depends on how we perceive “productivity” since active fulfillment may well come in the form of letting be (22). This Destruktion of traditionality, enabled by Heidegger’s appreciation of fulfilling a possibility as productive but not productivist, allows for a new appreciation of efficacy in phenomenology as well as the link between intention and intuition (23).

From a classicist’s point of view, Heidegger’s observations are extremely useful in how we perceive and interpret ancient socio-religious experiences; to bring a concrete example to the discussion, ancient religion students have dedicated considerable effort to “categorizing” ancient religious experiences as “rites of passage” or “mysteries,” admittedly in an attempt to grapple with theories from anthropology or socio-linguistics. While there is little denying of the overlap between the categories construed, or the superficial enthusiasm with which classicists have at times adopted theoretical models, we are still hung on the need for classification which is a priori intrusive and inevitably anachronistic (see, for example, the refreshing article by H. Hays, “The End of Rites of Passage and a Start with Ritual Syntax in Ancient Egypt,” Rivista Studi Orientali Supplemento 2 (2013) 165-186). The same can be claimed for classifications of ancient magic, with a mind-blowing yet established in scholarship differentiation between plant-based magic, mainly entrusted to women, and aggressive, erotic magic typically encountered in the hands of men … The concept of possibility introduced by Heidegger can at least function as a halting point to allow for reflection on how certain ancient authors toyed with possibility and their audience’s assumptions or to use Heideggerian language, their “horizons of understanding.”

Marder’s second chapter is equally instructive to this direction, in my view, as it discusses the link between possibility and the sense of failure that overwhelms us when we consider our finitude, the possibilities that we will inevitably fail to actualize because of death. Importantly, our temporality, our ex-istence is essential to Dasein and to our perception of the ec-static character of time. Reading closely Heidegger’s Being and Time, Marder argues that “[T]here can be, and there is, a nothing that has broken free from lack, and that is both the abyssal foundation of fundamental ontology and the springboard for an alternative theory of failure” (32). It is in this nothingness that our existential failure can give birth to numerous other possibilities, what he calls the “fecundity of failure” (31). Importantly, Heidegger understands this “falling” (Verfallen, BT 219) in relation to the Dasein’s ability to understand itself. This falling into the ordinary and mundane expresses the worldliness (the everydayness) of Dasein and is a movement away from the Self, a movement toward inauthenticity; to restore our authentic Self we need to be able to listen to the silent call of conscience or be ready to be anxious about it (39; also, see J.B. Steeves, “Authenticity and Falling in Martin Heidegger’s ‘Being and Time,’” The Jerusalem Philosophical Quarterly 46 (1997) 327-338). To me, the notion of “falling” (especially in light of possibility being higher than actuality) has obvious Christian overtones (and though one could argue the same about the Greek Underworld, Heidegger, as Most (2010, 86) notes, often addresses his Church congregation). Marder does touch upon this on pages 90-91 when he describes the economization of our existence and the devastation of the polis but does not really engage with the idea. Further, although Marder analyzes Heidegger’s differentiation between malfunction and failure in relation to techne in Time and Being (44-46), he does not involve the Aristotelian concept of phronesis which Heidegger did discuss.

The final chapter of Part I focuses on Heidegger’s attempt to situate himself between the phenomenologies of Husserl and Hegel. The notion of types or perhaps possibilities of phenomenologies is enticing and Marder does engage masterfully with Heidegger’s reading of both philosophers. Here, Marder follows two hypotheses: first, Heidegger employs the Hegelian phenomenology of spirit to refute Husserl’s positions and second, Husserl and Hegel come to stand for “the encryptions of ‘ontic’ and ‘ontological’ phenomenologies, of consciousness and of spirit” (49). Heidegger attempts to bridge the “ontico-ontological difference” by gathering together, “without mixing them, dialectical fire and phenomenological water.” Although Marder makes clear that Heidegger does not reject Husserl outright, he concludes that his intentional consciousness caters for a relative being and relative knowledge (53, 56). By trying to substantiate his historically conditioned appreciation of Dasein (i.e. non-metaphysical), Heidegger employs the concept of Mitdasein (being-with) which allows for our existence with objects, with ourselves and importantly with the Hegelian absolute, that is, we can participate in the self-knowledge of the absolute as analyzed by Hegel in the final paragraphs of his Enclyclopaedia Philosophy of Spirit (59-60). At this point, I was feeling rather smug with my progress in following Marder’s often longwinded arguments, and at the same time guilty for having missed the affinity of Mitdasein with post-structuralism (Woerman, M. Bridging Complexity and Post-Structuralism: Insights and Implications, Switzerland: Springer, (2016) 243ff. on Nancy and Heidegger), when it occurred to me that Marder does not explain how the consciousness of Mitdasein (as well as authentic Dasein) can be non-metaphysical. I say this because to my mind, although Mitdasein is enabling us to approach the absolute through Hegelian self-reflection, it necessarily implies a sense of isolation and/or separation from the objects which we “are with;” this thought has a very Platonic as well as Nietzschean ring to it which is, of course, totally metaphysical. Here, Marder does not offer the non-expert much guidance.

Part II consists of the following chapters: “To Open a Site: A Political Phenomenology of Dwelling” (69-92), “Devastation” (93-111), “An Ecology of Property” (113-129). In chapter four, Marder explains Heidegger’s application of the concept of failure in the context of the Greek polis, which is linguistically tied to the word polos (=swirl) (70); the latter is characterized by a perennial openness both in the sense that its members are renewed continuously but, also, in the sense that the questioning that takes place in the polis can never be concluded. Heidegger objects to the common translation of polis as state or city-state because it suppresses its ecological stance (72). Notably, he toys with the Nietzschean notions of hypsipolis and apolis, often through his grappling with Sophocles’ Antigone (73-74) which indicates that Heidegger recognizes oikologia, which in Heideggerian terms would be translated as house-being or house-gathering, as a concept often realized by those who substitute the site of the polis with the site of history – another deeply Platonic idea (cf. Republic, 592b on the Heavenly city), but, also interestingly agreeing with several stories of ancient founders who were never afforded civic identity. I am here thinking of Heracles, but, in defense of Marder’s point that to appreciate Heidegger’s preoccupation with the polis is inherently antisemitic, I would like to add the example of Moses, who led his people to the promised land, but was not allowed to cross the river and enjoy Canaan. Heidegger employs a geometrical appreciation of the dwelling; as Marder explains (75) dwelling, or being a Dasein, is conceived as the meeting point of a vertical dimension that refers to geographical situation and the political and a horizontal dimension that refers to the ethos of the polis. In fact, it is in the context of the polis that Dasein is revealed to be a Mitsein, being-with (76). Having the Platonic example at the back of my mind, I was not clear at this point how Heidegger deals with those exceptional (philosophizing?) individuals who manage to exchange the actual dwelling for the site of history; how does the notion of Mitsein apply in these cases? And, importantly, if the openness of the dwelling relies on it becoming hostile to the individual (as in the case of Antigone), should we consciously seek to rise above the Mitsein? Possibly questions of a novice in Heidegger’s thought, but in advocating the study of Heidegger, Marder could have spent a bit more time trying to guide the less advanced reader. Marder then argues that ecology has been replaced in modern societies by a political and ethical economy, which privileges quantitative valuation (78). Discussing Heidegger’s contribution to the concept of nomos, Marder notes: “The work of ‘mere fabrication’ of the law by human reason corresponds to the degradation of ēthos to the ethical with the help of morality …” (79). The intense economization of existence has allowed for the reign of nihilism, defined as the “danger of self-destruction” (82). In HHI 48, cited by Marder on 91, Heidegger explains: “What I mean by ‘economization’ is the encumbrance of the things and the world they co-create with the time, spatiality, and language (nomos) that are alien to them.” Heidegger charges the Romans with mistranslating the politikón, as the product which arose “out of the existence of the Greek polis,” with the Latin Imperium (83) (as well as with attaching to the Greek word = earth the notion of territory by translating gaia/gē as terra, 84). Admittedly, I am grateful to Marder for including the etymological arguments of Heidegger’s thought to his analysis, I found them delightful. Heidegger urges us not to confuse the need for housing with the desire for dwelling (87). By now, however, I really thought that Marder would press the question of people without terra and flung into history (regardless of whether this was a choice) … maybe the reader should be more patient for a treat later in the book?

In chapter five, Marder examines the question “what do we do when we devastate the world?,” noting that Heidegger anticipated “an abandonment of being” (93). He then introduces the distinction between destruction and devastation (94): “Staying with the logic and the vernacular of the preceding chapter, I am tempted to say: destruction destroys housing, while devastation devastates dwelling, striking not at the actual but at the possible, at the possibility of actuality.” For the next few pages, Marder details Heidegger’s desperate attempt to find hope in the face of ecological destruction, eventually glimpsing it in what Heidegger mentioned in HCT 18 (19): when the system fails possibility or the possibility of possibility, then possibility enters concealment. Thus, when devastation has completed its terrible effect both within and outside us, the concealment of the beginning harbored within Dasein offers the possibility of a new beginning (97). At this point, Heidegger appears almost poetic, perhaps even fatalistic. The worse effect of devastation in us is the “incapacitation of logos, of articulation” (99). Devastation, according to Heidegger, “transmits a scorching desert silence” which “cuts into Dasein and severs it from its world.” Again, to me, Heidegger’s thought at this point is pregnant with theological concepts, especially the eastern hesychast tradition (as an adaptation of pagan philosophical silence) and was a bit disappointed that Marder is not interested in the topic, though this observation is an aside rather than a criticism for the work which here becomes much more legible in terms of style. Going back to the problem of articulating devastation, Heidegger suggests discussing it as “evil,” though he suspiciously claims that “the devastation of the earth and the annihilation of the human essence … are somehow evil” (101). Heidegger appreciates evil as the opposite of logos, rather than in moral terms, but again here Marder avoids saying more about Heidegger’s antisemitism and how this plays against the fascist devastation of logos. Heidegger finds the positive aspects of devastation in the trace of its energy (103); devastation “procures its energy from a contentless and abstract possibility and, in effect, reconfigures energy as this possibility” (104). Although such an appreciation of devastation seems to almost brash off the Nazi regime and their followers as the mere means of devastation, Marder reminds us that Heidegger’s thought is here preoccupied with more mundane forms of devastation, primarily in the forms of economic rules (105). Finally, we come to the question, “what is to be done” about the onslaught of unconditional calculation? The answer being a. “fight the obvious temptation to get over it” (CPC 140/216 cited in Marder, 108) and b. endure it (GA: 94: 292, also on 108). Marder reminds us that here that being proactive is not necessarily a philosophical category, especially given Heidegger’s belief that in doing something we contribute to the expansion of devastation (109). Although Heidegger argues that devastation destroys the in-between space in which the polis exists, there is an in-between possibility in devastation too, the space between abandonment (of being) and releasement which may still save us (111).

In chapter six, Marder discusses the notion of property in the context of Marx’s political economy (113). Since Plato and Heidegger believe that the philosopher’s task is above all to “un-forget being in the midst of a profound ontological amnesia” (114), very much in line with the ancient conception of oikonomia, the modern institution of economy perplexes the mission of the philosopher: “the un-forgetting of being must engage in a painstaking analysis of economism and its corollary modes of appropriation that endanger planetary existence.” Marder here proposes to examine “how the ecologico-phenomenological attitude subtends an economic-political approach to ‘property’” by putting Heidegger in dialogue with Vladimir Bibikhin, a Russian philosopher who translated much of Heidegger’s work into his native language (114-115). Taking start from the post-Soviet privatization, construed by Bibikhin as the “capture of the world” (117), Marder explains how Heidegger allows Bibikhin to articulate the challenges of his society as a symptom of our overall tendency to “world-devastation and the obviation of logos inherent in the economic or economistic attitude.” Finally, Marder considers fascism and technocratic liberalism as alternatives to the ecology of property (119-122). Toying with the double meaning of the Latin capio as grab and grasp(=understand), Marder explains liberalism as preoccupied with grasping without being-grasped to which fascism responds with the reverse option of being-grasped without grasping (119) – notions which both Heidegger and Bibikhin employ in their struggle to restore the ecology of property (120). Here, we have a pseudo(?)-choice between the indifferent grasp of beings or the ecstatic surrender to them. For Heidegger, Marder concludes, “ontological history proceeds by way of ending, its ‘process’ twisting into the ends, a pair of them-fascism and technocratic liberalism-now looming large before us as the only destiny” (121). In his effort to free up some space between calculative rationality and thoughtlessness, Heidegger comes up with the notion of “inceptual thinking,” which diverts “the task of thought from the capture of the world,” to “dwelling with and in the world, all the while articulating and being articulated by this difference between ‘with’ and ‘in’” (123). Pages 127-129 focus on Bibikhin’s intricate method of translating Heidegger whereby he “makes his own what is of the other” while “making other what is his own” (127). Marder obviously enlists Bibikhin as an important ally to his argument about the usefulness of Heidegger’s thought (and crucially in trying to argue that what has been often construed as his antisemitism may in fact, be Heidegger’s indulgence into a separate trail of thought to the point of naivety or even lack of sensitivity), but his point remains latent and is never fully articulated.

Part III consists of the following chapters: “The Question of Political Existence” (133-144), “The Other ‘Jewish Question’” (145-161), “Philosophy without Right” (163-173).

In chapter seven, Marder focuses on Heidegger’s 1934-35 seminar on Hegel’s Philosophy of Right for which he has been accused of putting “Hegel in the service of Nazism” by “supplying a philosophical justification for the theories of state, power and leadership redolent of this deplorable ideology” (133). Accordingly, his aim is to “tease out … Heidegger’s unique being-historical take on the political philosophy” (133) of his predecessor. Marder argues that we should “examine the 1934-35 seminar in light of Heidegger’s own philosophy, which slots Hegel into the vast project of destruction (Destruktion) of Western metaphysics in a privileged way” (134). Like in chapter 3 where, despite of being critical of Hegel, Heidegger opted for a middle position between Husserl’s relative phenomenology and Hegel’s absolute phenomenology of being, Heidegger develops a similar strategy regarding political philosophy. But this time instead of comparing Hegel to Husserl, Heidegger compares what he perceives as Hegel’s idealistic approach to political existence to Karl Schmitt’s realism.

Marder lays out Heidegger’s critique of Hegel and Schmitt on pages 135-139, concluding that he rather “oversimplifies their positions in order to cement his alternative version of political existence” (139). In addition, Marder observes that “Schmitt’s nonmetaphysical political ontology, which has all the trappings of a ‘self- developing self- assertion,’ is as attuned to existential realities and possibilities as that of Heidegger himself” (140). Heidegger tries to avoid Hegel’s “absolutization of spirit” which privileges the metaphysical being and Schmitt’s “relativization of the political (as a relation to the enemy other),” which privileges the individual beings over the political (141). Instead, he claims that “political existence transpires in the difference between being and beings that Hegel and Schmitt all but effaced” (141). Heidegger introduces a valid contradiction between domestic and international politics (since the state is Dasein and hence, the center of its world, but not of the world) and insists that the essence of the political is its existence as a historical being-in-the-world personified by its leader (141-142). Earlier Marder suggested that Heidegger appreciates the state as “historical being” (GA 86: 85) through which “spirit gives itself actuality, political facticity, and freedom” (135). Further, he argues that “‘the essence of the state’ is ‘unification’ (GA 86: 79– 80), and that the Dasein of the leader effects ‘the unification of powers’” (142). Although Marder rightly observes that “translating the vocabulary of Being and Time into political categories proves impossible,” and is critical of Heidegger’s emphasis on the role of the leader, it must be said that to this day such views are widely held by many people and regimes across the globe who loudly reject Nazism while strongly defending their right to preserve a certain, unified identity. Thus, castigating Heidegger for putting forward a Nazi-echoing political system applies to the extent that he expresses these views in 1930s Germany and perhaps that he was misled by his historical context in grappling with the Dasein-based struggle he describes. Without underplaying in the least the gravity of the Holocaust, and hence by a similar token, we could argue that there is little point in studying Plato, a male, totalitarian aristocrat whose political views have been long branded as utopian. Marder is treading carefully here, stating that “We are yet to gauge the depth of ontico-ontological difference and other aspects of Dasein- analysis in the question of political existence” (144).

In chapter eight, we finally get to the core of the discussion about Heidegger’s antisemitism. To this direction, Marder compares Heidegger’s Black Notebooks as well as a 1933-34 seminar with the title “On the Essence and Concepts of Nature, History, and State” with Marx’s 1843 essay “On the Jewish Question.” Marder “suspects” that Heidegger’s antisemitism is mostly related to his reluctance to a. turn the figure of the Jew into a question and b. interrogate the logic of coming up with a specific figuration model for the nihilistic completion of metaphysics (145). Marder’s analysis of Heidegger’s attack on Husserl on account of his Jewishness which, in his view, accounts for the limits of his philosophy, is very successful as is his point that Heidegger clearly thought in similar terms about other groups such as “the Cartesians, but also the Bolsheviks, the English, the Americans …” whom he showcases “as though they were different specimens of an indifferent metaphysical nihilism” (145). On the same page, Marder suggests that we should resolve the Jewish issue as a question through which we are not looking for an answer but for an emancipatory commingling of the questioned and the questioning in a “single –and singular– being.” Marder finds this emancipatory path in Marx and his rejection of religion through which the conflict between Christians and Jews which makes the foreignness of the latter irreconcilable is resolved. The second stage of Marx’s emancipation is a critique of state per se (i.e. not the Christian state) and the third what Marx calls communism. The essence of Heidegger’s problem with the Jews or rather, the problem embodied by the Jews in his society, is this:  “The question of the role of world Jewry is not a racial question, but the metaphysical question about the kind of humanity that, without any restraints, can take over the uprooting of all beings from being as its world-historical task” (GA 96: 243 cited on 151). Hence, Marder explains “[T]he ontic displacement of traditional Jews, sublimated in the secular version of Jewish cosmopolitanism, has mutated, on Heidegger’s reading, into the ontological deracination of the world and of being itself” (152). Marder offers a very insightful analysis of how Heidegger’s fear of the worldlessness practiced by the Jews was already articulated by Hegel but also of how, despite claiming that race did not play a role in determining the kind of humanity we aspire to, he did fall prey to racial stereotypes (154). More problematic is his understanding of the Jews’ calculated overbreeding as a way of overpowering life and leading to nihilism (153). Marder claims that, overwhelmed by the prejudice of his time, Heidegger did not pay enough attention to the unique Jewish attachment to tradition as a valid alternative to space – a situation drastically altered by the Zionist project. Here, I would like to offer two points: first, although the Zionist project offered substance to Israel as a nation state, subscribing to a political ideal that originates in the nineteenth century, the spatial aspects of Jewish belonging were extremely pronounced in ancient accounts of the Jewish history; regardless of the debates about the exact dating of the Tanakh books, the idea of the Promised Land is ubiquitous in them (e.g. Genesis 15: 18-21; Exodus 23: 31; Numbers 34: 1-2; Deuteronomy 19: 8-9). Further, I wonder to what extent Heidegger would regard the Zionist project as enough response to the stubborn clinging of the Jews to the idea of foreignness (149), from a Mitdasein perspective. Second, for me, the “homelessness of modern man” (GA 9: 340) that Marder identifies as Heidegger’s main problem with modernity has given rise increasingly in the second half of the 20th and the 21st century to a number of cultural identities (which may or may not include racial, religious, and other dimensions), often in response to experiences of marginalization (e.g. Greek-Australian, Italian-American etc.), often competing with each other (e.g. Christian Black American vs homosexual Christians), certainly breaking down with tradition in some ways yet confirming it in others (e.g. both groups may subscribe to the idea of national army service), which would disrupt Heidegger’s appreciation of history as written by races or peoples (GA 96: 56 cited on 155) as much as the case of the Jews. I was urged to make this association by Marder’s observation on page 158 that Heidegger “converts the figure of the Jew into a complexio oppositorum (i.e., the complex of opposites, where otherwise antithetical traits coexist without the work of dialectical mediation) abounds.” Still, from this perspective, Heidegger’s failings make him totally relevant and worth-studying nowadays in the same way that Plato’s authoritarian regime, in response to the problems of Athenian democracy make him a core reading (for everyone really). Interestingly, Plato remains locked into the walls of the ancient city-state in the same way that Heidegger remains trapped in the nation-state. To put it differently, Heidegger adheres to a single version of history (cf. 159 where Marder notes Marx’s differentiation of the Jewish question according to the national context in which it is raised).

The last chapter of the book, co-authored with Marcia Sá Cavalcante-Schuback, tries to address “the relation between philosophy and politics, when both politics and philosophy lose their footing and their right” (165). According to Marder, “[T]hat is why the case of Heidegger mobilizes a question that is also ours, demanding an ‘active reading’ à la Lacoue- Labarthe, rather than the reading of a historian or a philologist.” I found this comment uninformed: historians and philologists have long insisted on post-structuralist rigor. As a trained philologist, Heidegger did not fail because of his penchant for etymology, his one-dimensional application of a discipline onto his understanding of Dasein. He failed, as the authors acknowledged on 164, because despite thinking the possible he kept consulting the actual, a kind of bias to which all scholars, all thinkers are susceptible. Here, the focus shifts on Heidegger’s reading of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right which tries to reunite “philosophy and politics (the latter, in the guise of right) precisely in the common destiny of their end as completion and exhaustion” (166). Heidegger sees in National Socialism the answer to the danger of Hegelian dialectics which produce an endless exchange; Heidegger refers to the scope of dialectic as “Back and forth— going— Dissolution— confusion,” (HPR 136 cited on 167) leading to “the loss of right.” Feeling that by the 1930s democratic liberalism and socialism had run their course, unable to produce anything new, other than “the back-and-forth of an exhausted dialectics” (168), Heidegger recognizes in National Socialism a “letting-emerge” of new possibilities. Another side of the problem is Heidegger’s insistence on actively fomenting the emergence of new forms to achieve “self-assertion.” His proposal can work only if “implemented together with the people grounding the state” (168). Marder admits that in embracing National Socialism as a way of transforming the essence of being by “rethinking and reorganizing power and work” was Heidegger’s biggest historico-political blunder (169). Still, Heidegger was not incorrect in his criticism of Hegelian dialectics; in his view, unlike Socratic dialectics, Hegel “does not invent a method for seeking the truth of being but identifies the truth of being itself as a method” (172). Heidegger continued to associate dialectics with actuality well into the post-war period and be frustrated by its inability to recognize phenomenological possibilities. The chapter concludes:

“… the darkest excesses of metaphysics tend to be repeated and magnified in every attempt to master and idealize finitude, putting it at power’s disposal. Do living and thinking ‘without right’ provide a sufficient insurance against this possible repetition […]? Our wager in this chapter has been on the incomplete dialectics of the without and an enduring search it instigates for the right to philosophy and to politics with others. Whether or not it could work, only being as time would tell” (173).

Appropriately philosophical, this conclusion lacks the force of the Introduction. Overall, the book achieves its goal of re-introducing Heidegger in philosophical debate though less so in political theory (for example, it would be interesting to see how Heidegger’s theories would be challenged by the increasing contemporary phenomenon of stateless people). I found Marder’s use of texts to support his arguments extremely valuable (and philological). The book would have benefited from a list of the sources used. Finally, although I applause Marder’s intention in putting this book together, he could have done more work to address his purpose in a more systematic way. That said, the book is still a must for every student of philosophy.

Andrew J. Mitchell: Heidegger unter Bildhauern. Körper, Raum und die Kunst des Wohnens

Heidegger unter Bildhauern. Körper, Raum und die Kunst des Wohnens Book Cover Heidegger unter Bildhauern. Körper, Raum und die Kunst des Wohnens
Heidegger Forum 15
Andrew J. Mitchell. Aus dem Englischen von Peter Trawny
Paperback 24,80 €

Reviewed by: Giovanna Caruso (University of Koblenz-Landau)

Die Rolle des Raumes, der bislang in Heideggers Denken neben jener der Zeit bzw. der Zeitlichkeit kaum wahrgenommen wurde, ist in den letzten Jahren immer häufiger in den Fokus der Forschung gerückt worden. Es wird dabei betont, dass vor allem die kleinen Schriften über die Kunst, die im Laufe der 1960er Jahre anlässlich von Heideggers Begegnung mit einigen zeitgenössischen Künstlern entstanden sind, von einem starken Interesse Heideggers am Phänomen des Raumes zeugen. Denn diesen Texten lässt sich eine Raumauffassung entnehmen, die im Vergleich zur Räumlichkeit des Daseins in Sein und Zeit oder auch zur Konzeption des Raumes als Wohnen in den 1940er und 1950er Jahren neue Verhältnisse zwischen Raum und Zeit, Raum und Dasein, Raum und Körper und nicht zuletzt zwischen Raum und Welt entstehen lässt. In diesem Forschungskontext, der der Spur des späten Heidegger auf der Suche nach seiner revidierten Raumauffassung folgt, verortet sich auch Andrew J. Mitchells Heidegger unter Bildhauern. Körper, Raum und die Kunst des Wohnens. Wie der Titel bereits verrät, stellt Mitchell Heideggers Konzeption des Raumes in seinem Verhältnis zum Körper und zur Kunst – insbesondere zur plastischen Kunst – dar. Zu diesem Zweck untersucht und interpretiert er in Anlehnung an Heideggers Denken die Werke der Bildhauer Ernst Barlach, Bernhard Heiliger und Eduardo Chillida, denen er jeweils ein Kapitel widmet.

Der erste Satz des Buches fasst implizit seinen Ausgangspunkt und sein Ziel zusammen: „Die Bildhauerei lehrt uns, was es heißt, in der Welt zu sein.“ (9) Eine fragwürdige, sehr allgemeine und sogar tendenziöse Annahme – könnte man denken. Auch die Erklärung, die der Autor kurz darauf vorschlägt – „In dieser Welt zu sein heißt stets, einen materiellen Raum von Strahlung zu betreten.“ (9) –, bleibt erklärungsbedürftig. Wenn man aber die Ungenauigkeit dieser Annahme vorläufig akzeptiert und sich von ihr durch den Text leiten lässt, wird im Laufe der Lektüre verständlich, dass dieser vermeintlich unverständliche Ansatz das Programm des gesamten Werkes Mitchells zum Ausdruck bringt. Denn dem Schlüsselbegriff ‚Grenze‘ folgend, will der Autor in seinem Buch zeigen, dass Heidegger durch eine Auseinandersetzung mit der Bildhauerei eine Raumkonzeption entwickelt, auf Basis derer der Unterschied zwischen Raum und Kunst aufgehoben wird. Mitchell zeigt darüber hinaus, dass, indem Raum zur Kunst und Kunst zum Raum wird, Heidegger ein neues Verständnis des Verhältnisses des Daseins zu seinem Wohnend-Sein bzw. zu seinem In-der-Welt-Sein entwirft.

Um die Entwicklung und zugleich die Ergebnisse der Heideggerschen Auseinandersetzung mit dem Raum-Begriff von den 1920er bis zu den 1960er Jahren darstellen zu können, gliedert Mitchell sein Werk in fünf chronologisch aufeinanderfolgende Teile. Auf eine lange Einleitung, die von Sein und Zeit (1927) über die Kunstwerksabhandlung (1935) bis zu den späten 1960er Jahren durch die bedeutendsten Etappen das Verhältnis von Dasein, Kunst und Raum im Denken Heideggers rekonstruiert, folgen drei aufeinander aufbauende Kapiteln, die die Zusammenhänge zwischen dem Denken Heideggers und der Kunst Ernst Barlachs (1.Kapitel), Bernhard Heiligers (2. Kapitel) und Eduardo Chillidas (4. Kapitel) untersuchen. Das dritte Kapitel hingegen ist einen Exkurs über Heideggers Vortrag Die Herkunft der Kunst und die Bestimmung des Denkens. Eine Darstellung dieser Abschnitte wird im Folgenden jene Aspekte fokussieren, die Mitchel zufolge für die Entwicklung des Denkens Heideggers in Bezug auf das Verhältnis von Raum, Kunst und Mensch eine besonders wichtige Rolle spielen.

Statt den Leser in das Thema des Buches einzuführen oder einen systematischen bzw. historischen Hintergrund zur Orientierung zu umreißen, versetzt die Einleitung ihn sofort ins Zentrum der Betrachtung. Durch eine Sprache, die deutlich eine starke Beeinflussung durch Heideggers Stil erkennen lässt, gewinnt der Leser einen unmittelbaren Zugang zur Thematik des Werkes: das neue Verhältnis von Körper und Raum, das sich deutlich in den Vorträgen und kleineren Schriften Heideggers der 1960er Jahre zeigt. Schon die ersten Seiten des Werkes entwerfen eine innovative Interpretation der Entwicklung der Raumauffassung im Denken Heideggers. Denn Mitchell stellt keinen Bruch zwischen der Raumauffassung von Sein und Zeit und jener der späten 1960er Jahre fest. Er vertritt vielmehr eine Kontinuitätsthese: Die in den 1960er Jahren von Heidegger entwickelte Auffassung des Raumes und seines Verhältnisses zum Körper „schreitet“ laut Mitchell „auf einem Denkweg durch Sein und Zeit zur Abhandlung über ‚den Ursprung des Kunstwerks‘“. (10) Damit bestreitet Mitchell jedoch nicht, dass sich die Raumkonzeption Heideggers im Laufe seines Denkens deutlich verändert hat. Er plädiert aber für die These, dass Heideggers Werke der 1920er und 1930er Jahre den Kern seiner späteren Raumauffassung bereits in sich tragen. Eben diese kontinuierliche Entwicklung des Heideggerschen Raumverständnisses wird von Mitchell in der Einleitung auf kurze und prägnante Weise dargestellt. Er zeigt zuerst, dass die Auffassung des Raumes in Sein und Zeit Grenzen aufweist, die seiner Analyse zufolge dadurch entstehen, dass Heidegger die Räumlichkeit des Daseins „vom daseinsmäßigen Nutzen des Zeugs (des ‚Zuhandenen‘) her“ (13) denkt. (Vgl. 11–17) Aufgrund dessen bleibe der Raum in Sein und Zeit ausschließlich ein funktionaler Raum, dessen Existenz vom handelnden Menschen abhängig ist. (Vgl. 17) In einem zweiten Schritt zeigt Mitchell, wie Heidegger die Auffassung eines funktionalen Raumes überwindet und im Kunstwerksaufsatz eine Konzeption entwickelt, die auf einem vom Dasein unabhängigen Raum basiert. (Vgl. 17-24) Diese neue Idee eines autonomen, „anti-utilitaristischen“ (21) Raumes wird Mitchell zufolge im Kunstwerksaufsatz im Schlüsselbegriff ‚Erde‘ expliziert: „Erde nennt eine exzessive und abgründige Phänomenalität, eine Erscheinung, die auf keiner unterliegenden Substanz beruht.“ (19) Auf dieser veränderten Auffassung des Raumes, die nun von Heidegger als Erscheinung bzw. als Lichtung der Wahrheit (vgl. 21) verstanden wird, basieren Mitchell zufolge die Veränderungen in Bezug auf das Verhältnis von Körper und Raum, die sich in Heideggers Denken in den 1960er Jahren anlässlich seiner Auseinandersetzung mit den Plastiken verschiedener Künstler äußern.

Vor dem Hintergrund der dargestellten Entwicklung untersucht Mitchell im ersten Kapitel seines Buches (vgl. 31-48) den Zusammenhang zwischen dem Spätdenken Heideggers und der Kunst Ernst Barlachs. Der Begriff der Seinsverlassenheit bildet dem Autor zufolge das Bindeglied zwischen Heideggers Denken und Barlachs Kunstwerken. In diesem Zusammenhang deutet Mitchell Verlassenheit als „Weg, Sein als weder völlig präsent (es hat Seiendes verlassen) noch als völlig absent zu verstehen“ (33) und somit das Seiende als „etwas Offenes, das in die Welt ausgeschüttet ist“, (34) zu erfahren. Die stark metaphorischen, fast poetischen Züge der Sprache Mitchells beeinträchtigen bisweilen ein systematisches, eindeutiges Verständnis des Textes. Dennoch lässt sich Mitchells Interpretation der Werke Barlachs in Bezug auf Heideggers Denken erkennen: Indem die formlosen Körper-Skulpturen Barlachs ein Seiendes ohne bestimmte Grenze bzw. ein offenes, nicht abgeschlossenes Objekt verkörpern, stellen sie laut Mitchell die Spannung zwischen Präsenz und Absenz dar, die der Seinsverlassenheit eigen ist, und werden somit als Ausdruck der „Unbestimmtheit des irdischen Lebens“ (43) gedeutet. Außerdem betont Mitchell, dass eine implizite Kritik an der Welt der Technik und am Formideal des Nationalsozialismus als deren Konsequenz vorgenommen wird: „Barlachs Skulpturen sind mehr geformt als jeder Nazi-Körper es sein könnte, gerade durch ihre Weigerung, Form zu verdinglichen oder zu kristallisieren und sie von ihren sie ermöglichenden Bedingungen abzuziehen.“ (47)

Dieses Verhältnis von Raum und Körper, das die formlosen, offenen Skulpturen Barlachs bereits implizit thematisieren, wird zum Hauptthema in Heideggers Rede Bemerkungen zu Kunst-Plastik-Raum, die er 1964 anlässlich seiner Auseinandersetzung mit den Kunstwerken Bernhard Heiligers gehalten hat. Auf Basis dieses Textes zeigt Mitchell im zweiten Kapitel seines Buches (vgl. 49–72), dass Heidegger das Verhältnis von Kunst und Raum eindringlich untersucht, dass er grundlegende Fragen über die Möglichkeit einer Auseinandersetzung mit dem Raum für den Künstler aufwirft und dass dabei auch das Verhältnis von Körper und Raum zunehmend an Bedeutung gewinnt. Bei dem Versuch, dieses Geflecht von Verhältnissen, Bezügen, Verweisen und Zusammenhängen zwischen Kunst, Raum und Körper zu entwirren, entwirft Heidegger laut Mitchell eine neue Auffassung des Raumes, die dazu zwingt, auch seinen Bezug zur Kunst und zum Dasein neu zu denken. Gegen die klassische Raumauffassung, die die Definition des Raumes mit den Körpern verbindet, zeigt Mitchell, dass Heidegger den Raum vom Raum und nicht vom Körper her denkt. Auf dieser Weise definiert Heidegger den Raum als Räumen. Dies ermöglicht, „Raum nicht länger abstrakt und homogen, sondern selbst schon sich versammelnd und furchend und ausstreckend und zurückschnappend in Gebiete, Fernen, Richtungen und Schranken“ (58) zu denken. Diese neue Raumauffassung fordert, dass auch das Verhältnis von Dasein und räumendem Raum vom Raum her gedacht wird – und nicht mehr wie in Sein und Zeit vom Dasein her. Aus dieser Perspektive neu gedacht, lässt sich Mitchell zufolge das Verhältnis von Dasein und Raum als ein sich gegenseitiges Durchdringen und Prägen verdeutlichen. (Vgl. 60) Entsprechend heißt In-der-Welt-Sein, dass das Dasein durch die Welt geprägt ist und dass sich die Welt konsequenterweise, wenn auch verdeckt, in jedem Dasein zeigt. Eben dieses unsichtbare Verhältnis des Menschen zur Welt und zugleich die unsichtbare Präsenz der Welt in jedem Menschen werden laut Mitchell von Heidegger in Heiligers Kopf-Werken zum Ausdruck gebracht: „Wenn der Künstler einen Kopf modelliert, so scheint er nur die sichtbaren Oberflächen nachzubilden; in Wahrheit bildet er das eigentlich Unsichtbare, nämlich die Weise, wie dieser Kopf in die Welt blickt, wie er im Offenen des Raumes sich aufhält, darin von Menschen und Dingen angegangen wird.“ (61) In diesem Verhältnis von Welt und Mensch kommt den Begriffen des Zwischen, der Bewegung und der Relationalität in der Argumentation Mitchells besondere Relevanz zu. (Vgl. 63–67) In Anlehnung an den kurzen Dankesbrief, den Heidegger nach einem Besuch des Heiligers Ateliers schrieb, (vgl. 63) und auf Basis einiger Bemerkungen Heiligers, der selbst seine Skulpturen als Kunstwerke in Bewegung bzw. als etwas Offenes, in dem Offenheit waltet und Welt erscheint (vgl. 63), beschreibt, deutet Mitchell die Welt als Zusammengehörigkeit von Menschen und Dingen bzw. als ein geheimnisvolles Dazwischen. (Vgl. 65–66) Dadurch will Mitchell an den Werken Heiligers zeigen, welche Deutung von Welt und Mensch sich aus der Heideggerschen Auffassung des Raumes als Räumen ergibt. Der Versuch Mitchells, diese Idee der Welt als Zwischen und ihre Bedeutung für den Menschen zu verdeutlichen, wird jedoch durch seine literarische Sprache, die das Verständnis erschwert, ausgedrückt: Mitchell schreitet an dieser Stelle seiner Betrachtung durch intuitive Verbindungen zwischen den Sätzen, er bedient sich metaphorischer Bilder, die schnell aufeinanderfolgen und die intuitiv aufeinander verweisen. Der Diskurs scheint existenziell poetische Gedanke hervorrufen und das Terrain des philosophischen Argumentierens bzw. der Kunstkritik verlassen zu wollen. Diese existenzielle Richtung verstärkt sich im nachfolgenden Paragraph ‚Artikulation 2: Verfall und Erosion‘. (Vgl. 67–72) Mitchell betont, dass die Kunstwerke Heiligers, die die Relationalität zwischen Mensch und Welt ausdrücken, „die Tatsache [attestieren], dass Bewegung ein Abnutzen ist“. (67) In diesem Sinne expliziert der Autor weiter, dass „ein Werden hin zu etwas […] ein Werden weg von etwas“ (67) ist. Eben dieses Thema der ‚Distanzierung von etwas‘ wird von Mitchell in seiner Deutung der Werke Heiligers betont, weil er darin den Ausdruck einer grundlegenden Weise des In-der-Welt-Seins sieht. Ausgehend von dieser Deutung der Werke Heiligers bringt Mitchell einen anderen Wesenszug des Verhältnisses von Mensch und Welt zum Ausdruck. Denn die Welt wird nun nicht als etwas verstanden, das den Menschen prägt, sondern als etwas, das uns verbraucht bzw. „erodiert“: (68) Insofern Mensch und Welt sich gegenseitig durchdringen und prägen und sich daher in einer ständigen Bewegung bzw. einem ständigem Werden befinden, das nicht nur ein Werden zu etwas, sondern auch ein ‚Weg von etwas‘ ist, verbraucht die Welt den Menschen. Mit den folgenden Worten drückt Mitchell diesen Gedanken in all seiner Radikalität aus: „Wir sind durch Welt verwittert, erodiert im Zwischen. Unsere Absprache besteht darin, gemeinsam zu erodieren.“ (68) Indem die Skulptur den Menschen in diesem Zwischen hält – so Mitchell weiter – und Verbindung zwischen Mensch und Welt stiftet und daher Mensch und Welt verändert, erweist sich die Skulptur für diesen Erosionsprozess des Menschen als mitverantwortlich. (Vgl. 71)

Bevor Mitchell auf das Verhältnis des Heideggerschen Denken und der Kunst Eduardo Chillidas eingeht – ein Verhältnis, das dem Autor zufolge eine weitere Entwicklung des Verhältnisses von Raum, Körper und Kunst im Denken Heideggers darstellt –, setzt sich Mitchell in einem kurzen Exkurs mit Heideggers Die Herkunft der Kunst und die Bestimmung des Denkens auseinander. (Vgl. 73–81) Mit der Interpretation Mitchells, die ausgehend vom Blick Athenas auf die Steingrenzen (vgl. 77) darauf zielt, die Zusammengehörigkeit von τέχνη und ϕύσις im Denken Heideggers zu begründen, ist die Heidegger-Forschung längst vertraut. „Der Ruf der ϕύσις ist“, schreibt Mitchell, „für die menschlichen Werke also eine Einladung die Welt zu prägen, doch zugleich auch sich selbst von der Welt prägen zu lassen.“ (80) Besonders interessant und originell ist dagegen der Gedanke, dass das Bas-Relief in einer ausgezeichneten Weise diese Zusammengehörigkeit von ϕύσις und τέχνη bzw. von Natürlichem und Künstlichem zum Ausdruck bringt. (Vgl. 80) Diesbezüglich weist Mitchell darauf hin, dass es vielleicht kein Zufall ist, dass die drei Bildhauer, mit denen Heidegger sich auseinandergesetzt hat, im Relief arbeiten. (Vgl. 80)

Im vierten Kapitel seines Werkes stellt Mitchell den letzten Schritt und daher das endgültige Ergebnis der Auseinandersetzung Heideggers mit dem Raum und dem Körper dar, das Heidegger laut Mitchell 1968 anlässlich der Begegnung mit den Kunstwerken Chillidas entwickelt hat. (Vgl. 83–109) Der grundlegende Gedanke dieses Schritts und der Wandel im Verhältnis zur vorherigen Raumkonzeption Heideggers besteht Mitchell zufolge darin, dass, indem Heidegger eine physikalische bzw. metaphysische Auffassung von Raum explizit ablehnt, jeder Unterschied zwischen Kunst und Raum aufgehoben wird. Wenn daher die Werke Barlachs und Heiligers noch von einer Trennung von Raum und Kunst zeugen, die auf unterschiedliche Art und Weise überbrückt wird, konstatiert Heidegger anlässlich der Begegnung mit den Werken Chillidas, dass eine solche Trennung und konsequenterweise eine Überbrückung der Lücke zwischen Kunst und Raum überhaupt nicht denkbar ist. (Vgl. 84–86) Denn Kunst ist keine „Besitzergreifung des Raumes“ (84), sondern sie ist schon immer ein räumender Raum, ein Ort gewordenen Räumens. Diese radikal neue Konzeption des Raumes und seines Verhältnisses zur Kunst bewirkt – so Mitchell – Veränderungen in der Auffassung des Verhältnisses von Raum, Werkzeug und Kunstwerk, von Raum und Menschen, von Raum und Sprache und von Raum und Körper. In Bezug auf das Werkzeug behauptet Mitchell, dass die Funktion des Werkzeugs als Medium zwischen Künstler und Materie in Frage gestellt wird. (Vgl. 91) Denn es gibt keine Leere mehr zwischen den beiden, die durch Werkzeuge gefüllt bzw. überbrückt werden muss. Mitchell verdeutlicht des Weiteren, inwiefern sich auch der Bezug des Daseins zum Raum ändert: Das Dasein verliert sein Privileg als Handelnder, der Räume bildet, stiftet, eröffnet oder ermöglicht. Vielmehr wird das Dasein vom Räumen des Raumes gedacht und ist daher schon dem All des Seienden zugehörig. (Vgl. 100-104) Inwiefern sich auch das Wesen der Sprache in Bezug auf diese neue Raumkonzeption verändert, wird von Mitchell nicht ausführlich erklärt. Er stellt in Heideggers Versuch, den Raum etymologisch zu erhellen, lediglich eine „Betonung der Sprache“ (105) fest. Diesbezüglich sagt er sogar: „‚Kunst und Raum‘ bringt uns dazu, eine Zwiefalt zu denken: dass Raum sprachlich und Sprache räumlich sei.“ (105) Leider erklärt Mitchell nicht, wie genau diese von ihm behauptete Zusammengehörigkeit oder sogar Identität von Raum und Sprache zu verstehen ist. Erklärungsbedürftig bleibt bedauerlicherweise auch die Verbindung, die Mitchell in den letzten Sätzen dieses Abschnittes zwischen Körper, Raum und Wahrheit herstellt. (Vgl. 108–109) Außerdem ist auf eine Irritation zu verweisen, mit der sich der Leser bei der Lektüre dieses Kapitels konfrontiert sieht. Im dritten Teil dieses Kapitels mit der Überschrift ‚Setzen Bringen Zusammenarbeiten‘ (94–99) setzt sich Mitchell mit dem Unterschied zwischen dem ‚sich-ins-Werk-Setzen‘ und dem ‚ins-Werk-Bringen‘ der Wahrheit in der Kunst auseinander. Der Autor macht darauf aufmerksam, dass – wie Heidegger selbst im ‚Zusatz‘ zu Der Ursprung des Kunstwerks bemerkt – in der Entwicklung des Heideggerschen Denkens ein Wandel vom Setzen zum Bringen stattfindet. (Vgl. 94) Dieser Wandel wird jedoch von Mitchell darin identifiziert, dass ‚Setzen‘ ein Moment von Gewalt mit sich bringe, während ‚Bringen‘ etwas Weicheres darstellt, indem es eine Begleitung und nicht eine Gewalt betone. (Vgl. 97) Aus diesem Grund erklärt der Autor: „Die Wahrheit des Werkes erscheint daher in ‚Kunst und Raum‘ weniger insistent als in ‚Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes‘.“ (97) Dabei übersieht Mitchell aber den bedeutendsten Unterschied zwischen den beiden Ausdrücken, der darin besteht, dass der erste (sich-ins-Werk-Setzen) reflexiv ist und der zweite (ins-Werk-Bringen) eben nicht. Und dies bewirkt eine grundlegende Veränderung des Verhältnisses von Wahrheit und Kunst und konsequenterweise auch eine Veränderung der Rolle des Künstlers. Denn während die Wahrheit im Kunstwerksaufsatz als die ‚sich-Setzende‘ aktiv im Kunstwerk erscheint bzw. geschieht, gewinnt der Künstler in den späteren Auffassung Heideggers eine viel stärkere Rolle, indem er die Wahrheit ins Werk bringt.

Das abschließende Kapitel fasst die Ergebnisse der vorhergehenden Kapitel zusammen und zeichnet dadurch den Weg, auf welchem Heidegger ausgehend von der Begegnung mit den formlosen Körpern Barlachs über jene mit den Köpfen Heiligers bis zu der Auseinandersetzung mit den Vögeln Chillidas seine Raumauffassung in den 1960er Jahren entworfen hat. Vor dem Hintergrund dieser neuen Raumkonzeption versucht Mitchell auf den letzten zwei Seiten, den Menschen in den Mittelpunkt der Betrachtung zu stellen und sein Verhältnis zu sich selbst, zu den anderen, zu seinem In-der-Welt-Sein und zur Wahrheit neu zu konturieren. Leider zeichnet sich auch dieser Abschnitt durch eine sehr kryptische Sprachverwendung aus. Aufgrund dessen bleibt es schwer nachvollziehbar, inwiefern Mitchell das aus der neuen Raumsauffassung entstandene Verhältnis von Mensch, Plastik und Raum als eine Aufforderung für den Menschen, sein Leben zu ändern, versteht. (Vgl. 114)

Abgesehen von diesen Unklarheiten der Darstellung trägt das Buch zweifellos zur Klärung der in der Heidegger-Forschung tendenziell vernachlässigten Thematik des Raumes bei und ergänzt diese um interessante Überlegungen und Denkanstößen. Denn Mitchell unternimmt in seinem Buch den gewagten Versuch, auf Basis sehr kurzer und zuweilen unsystematischer Texte des späten Heidegger eine systematische Raumkonzeption darzustellen. Es gelingt Mitchell jedoch nicht immer, die Schwierigkeiten zu umgehen, die ein solches Vorhaben unvermeidlich mit sich bringt. An einigen Stellen erweckt der Text den Eindruck, als ob der Autor, indem er in Anlehnung an die Texte Heideggers und mithilfe seiner Begrifflichkeit die Werke der drei Bildhauer deutet, ihnen Inhalte, Bedeutungen oder Verweise zuspricht, die diesen Kunstwerken andernfalls nicht zukommen. Eine andere Schwierigkeit, auf die bereits hingewiesen wurde, ist die Sprachverwendung. Oft wird eine sehr poetische Sprache verwendet: Einige Zusammenhänge und Verweise werden intuitiv aufgebaut und daher bleiben einige Gedanke erklärungsbedürftig. Auf Grund dessen entsteht der Eindruck, als habe sich der Autor nicht immer bemüht, seine Überlegungen zu erklären, und es stattdessen vorgezogen, á la Heidegger mit der Etymologie der Worte zu spielen und seinen Diskurs durch intuitive Verbindungen aufzubauen. Dies macht einige Textpassagen auch für den Heidegger-Kenner sehr schwer verständlich. Ob und inwiefern die Übersetzung Trawnys zu diesen Schwierigkeiten beiträgt, bleibt unklar. Außerdem lassen sich einige Ungenauigkeiten in der Auslegung der Texte Heideggers feststellen.

Trotz dieser kritischen Anmerkungen ist der Versuch Mitchells lesenswert. Denn der Leser erhält durch das Werk nicht nur einen Überblick über die kontinuierliche Entwicklung des Denken Heideggers über den Raum von Sein und Zeit bis zu den späten 1960er Jahren, sondern dem Leser werden darüber hinaus zahlreiche interessante Deutungsperspektiven des Heideggerschen Denkens angeboten, die sich als originell erweisen und über die Betrachtung Mitchells hinaus für eine Auseinandersetzung mit den Themen Raum, Dasein, Welt und selbstverständlich auch Kunst im Rahmen des Spätdenkens Heideggers fruchtbar gemacht werden können.

Patrick Flack: Idée, expression, vécu: la question du sens entre phénoménologie et structuralisme

Idée, Expression, Vécu: La question du sens entre phénoménologie et structuralisme Book Cover Idée, Expression, Vécu: La question du sens entre phénoménologie et structuralisme
Échanges Littéraires
Patrick Flack

Reviewed by: Anna Yampolskaya (National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia)

Le livre récent de Patrick Flack Idée, expression, vécu : la question du sens entre phénoménologie et structuralisme, paru chez Hermann en 2018, réunit onze études en histoire des idées, mais la portée de ce recueil va bien au-delà du questionnement purement historique. Le formalisme russe comme source d’inspiration pour le structuralisme plus tardif, l’art en tant que mode singulier d’interrogation sur la réalité, la recherche d’un sens nouveau du sensible – telles sont des grandes lignes de cet ouvrage ambitieux et provocant. La combinaison de la recherche historique avec les études théoriques permet à Patrick Flack de repenser l’héritage du formalisme russe et de l’établir comme un courant de la pensée véritablement philosophique et non seulement littéraire. La question du signe comme lieu de l’articulation et la cristallisation du sens, le rôle cruciale de l’expressivité dans l’institution du sens de l’œuvre littéraire guident le développement du questionnement philosophique de ce livre.

Dans l’introduction l’auteur entre en polémique avec l’historiographie « occidentale » qui rejette l’existence d’une source commune au structuralisme et à la phénoménologie en les décrivant comme des traditions concurrentes et absolument disjointes. Ce débat lui fournira la base factographique nécessaire pour consolider ses intuitions théoriques. Ainsi, Patrick Flack propose de changer radicalement la perspective historiographique en rejetant le point de vue largement répandu selon lequel le structuralisme est né de deux parents français, à savoir Saussure et Lévi-Strauss. L’autre modèle historiographique, le modèle « Est-Ouest », souligne le rôle de l’école de linguistique pragoise aussi bien que des traditions allemandes dans le développement du structuralisme, ou plutôt des structuralismes. Bien que moins réductionniste que le premier, elle ne répond pas à la question concernant les relations entre ces deux structuralismes, pragois et français. Le troisième modèle, en intégrant les acquis conceptuels des deux premiers, cherche à montrer toute la richesse des racines intellectuelles germaniques et slaves du structuralisme en dépassant les abstractions méthodologiques propres aux modèles mentionnés ci-dessus, où plutôt à révéler leur caractère artificiel et contingent. C’est dans cette perspective que l’examen analytique et historique du formalisme russe apparaît comme une affaire de l’urgence philosophique.

La but de la première partie de cet ouvrage, Idée et forme : le projet épistémologique du formalisme russe, est de dévoiler toute la complexité de la situation historique aussi bien que théorique en rendant compte du rôle de figures apparemment secondaires du mouvement formaliste russe. Patrick Flack construit un cadre théorique général afin de décrire les relations compliquées qui se sont développées entre le formalisme russe, ses sources néokantiennes et son héritage structuraliste. Dans son premier chapitre, Le formalisme russe entre ferment néokantien et linguistique structurale, l’auteur montre que l’idée de la science littéraire en tant que science rigoureuse qui constitue le cœur de l’approche formaliste est génétiquement liée à l’influence néokantienne sur la pensée russe. Sa thèse dépasse l’affirmation courante selon laquelle la présence constante des idées néokantiennes a « façonné le contexte intellectuel » générale de l’époque. C’est l’épistémologie des écoles de Marbourg et de Bade, leur méthodisme étroit qui a servi comme un catalyseur pour la méthode du formalisme russe naissant et, subséquemment, pour la méthode de la linguistique structurale. La nouvelle science spécifique de la « littérarité », de la « poéticité » ne deviendrait une vraie science qu’à la condition que sa méthode soit adaptée à son objet ; dans cette thèse de Rickert, Flack reconnaît le fondement de l’épistémologie formaliste. C’est grâce à cette intuition initiale que les théoriciens russes ont réussi dans leur projet ambitieux. Le passage analogue du néokantisme à la théorie du langage se trouve dans l’itinéraire philosophique de Hendrik Pos, une autre figure presque oubliée par les historiens des idées ; la dette de l’école pragoise à ce penseur original est discutée en détail dans le septième chapitre de ce livre.

Le manque de références directes aux sources néokantiennes dans les ouvrages formalistes s’explique, selon Patrick Flack, par le climat politique des années 1920 ; par contre, des adversaires marxistes du formalisme, dont un certain Trotski, ont souligné la parenté du formalisme avec les courants « idéalistes ». Bien que l’existence même des persécutions marxistes ne puisse être récusée, l’hypothèse de Flack devrait, à mon avis, être précisée. Les noms mêmes de Natorp ou Rickert ne pouvaient certes pas apparaître dans les ouvrages publiés après 1924 dans un contexte positif, mais les références directes et indirectes à Husserl sont bien présentes dans les protocoles du Cercle Linguistique de Moscou du début des années 1920 ; toute une polémique a existé entre les « husserliens » comme Gustav Chpet et Grigorii Vinokur et leur adversaire, Boris Iarkho. Ce dernier était un partisan célèbre de la refondation méthodologique de la science de la littérature ; en prenant une posture critique envers Husserl tout comme envers Rickert et sa distinction entre les sciences de la culture et les sciences de la nature, il défendait l’idéal de la science rigoureuse mais l’interprétait à la manière positiviste et non néokantienne.

Cette petite excursion dans la querelle méthodologique qui eut lieu au sein de l’école formelle nous permet de relever la problématique ainsi que les vrais enjeux de cette thèse : une question apparemment purement historique concernant le rôle du néokantisme dans la genèse du structuralisme et du formalisme russe est tacitement inscrite dans la perspective épistémologique concernant la relation étroite qui existe entre la méthode d’une science et son objet. Est-ce l’objet qui détermine sa méthode, comme chez Heidegger ou les néokantiens, ou est-ce plutôt la méthode spécifique qui donne accès à l’objet, voire le fait paraître en tant qu’objet tout à fait nouveau ? Afin de consolider son approche, dans le chapitre suivant Patrick Flack nous propose une lecture méticuleuse de l’article célèbre d’André Biély, poète-symboliste et théoricien du vers, au sujet de l’héritage du linguiste ukrainien Alexandr Potebnia. Ce texte incontournable d’André Biély a été commenté plusieurs fois par divers spécialistes des études slaves ; l’interprétation qui nous est offerte ici sert à établir Biély en tant que figure-clé dans le passage du néokantisme au (proto)structuralisme. Dès lors, la percée de Biély est surtout méthodologique et épistémologique car il a réussi à purifier les intuitions géniales de Potebnia de son psychologisme démodé; cela permit à Biély de poser le fondement transcendantal d’une nouvelle science qui combinait linguistique et esthétique. Cette thèse de Flack fait écho à celle d’un autre adversaire des formalistes, Victor Jirmounski, selon laquelle le nœud du système de Potebnia est sa méthode même, qui consiste en un rapprochement théorique entre la poétique et la science générale du langage. Ici on ne saurait passer sous silence la polémique implicite entre Flack et Tzvetan Todorov. En radicalisant la position du formaliste Boris Eichenbaum, Todorov affirme que chez les formalistes russes il n’y avait pas de théorie, il n’y avait pas de méthode, mais seulement « une manière de construire l’objet d’études », et que c’est cette absence de méthode et une naïveté presque positiviste qui conduisit l’école formaliste à la crise interne et à sa dissolution postérieure. Ainsi la généalogie épistémologique ébauchée par Flack permet de réévaluer certaines présuppositions répandues sur la signification et le destin mêmes du mouvement formaliste.

Néanmoins, les formalistes ont été assez attentifs à certains aspects théoriques apportés par les approches psychologisantes, positivistes ou socio-historiques. Le troisième chapitre, intitulé Deux théories du vers et une typologie du rythme musical, discute l’influence des théoriciens de la phonologie, Sievers et Beckung, sur la théorie du vers de Roman Jakobson. Le désaccord théorique n’empêche pas Jakobson d’apprécier la technique superbe et la pénétration des chercheurs allemands et de reprendre leurs intuitions sur une base méthodologique différente. Flack souligne l’importance des études empiriques en général pour le développement de la méthode (proto)structuraliste de l’analyse du vers aussi bien que la nécessité de contextualiser la méthode formaliste dans un cadre international et multidisciplinaire. Les relations compliquées du formalisme avec le marxisme sont illustrées par l’exemple des travaux de Rosalia Shor. La transition subtile de cette chercheuse peu connue du formalisme au marxisme éclaire la tendance générale qui a existé dans les années 1920 quand les figures majeures de la science naissante du vers, dont Ossip Brik, Lev Iakubinski ou Lev Polivanov, se sont ouvertes à la problématique socio-culturelle incarnée dans la pensée marxiste. Si le formalisme classique a fait rompre le lien entre la signification et l’expression, l’insistance des « jeunes » formalistes sur le caractère intersubjectif et historique de la signification les amène au réexamen de la théorie de l’expression.

Dans la deuxième partie du livre, L’expression entre idée et vécu : phénoménologie et structuralisme à Prague, l’auteur discute la notion d’expression chez les phénoménologues et les proto-structuralistes. Dans le chapitre Le moment phénoménologique de la linguistique structurale, il introduit la lectrice dans le contexte général des discussions sur le rôle de la phénoménologie dans la pensée de Jakobson. En rejetant les deux positions extrêmes, celles de Elmar Holenstein et d’Aage Hansel-Löve, Flack cherche à développer une approche plus équilibrée : en accentuant l’influence du premier Husserl sur Jakobson, il renonce à considérer la théorie de ce dernier comme « structuralisme phénoménologique ». Le problème clé est celui de la réduction : étant donné que Jakobson n’a jamais travaillé sous la réduction eidétique et transcendantale prise à la lettre, il faut conclure qu’on ne peut pas le ranger parmi les adeptes de la doctrine husserlienne. Mais les ressources de la méthode phénoménologique ne se limitent pas à l’héritage de son fondateur. L’auteur ébauche une perspective méthodologique dans laquelle il sera possible de poser la question sur l’affinité interne entre la phénoménologie plus tardive (surtout Chpet et Merleau-Ponty) et la linguistique structurale (Jakobson, Pos). Les chapitres suivants contiennent des recherches détaillées sur l’interprétation de la notion d’expression chez Jakobson, Husserl et Merleau-Ponty (chapitre Ausdruck – Vyraženie – Expression) et chez Hendrik Pos (chapitre Hendrik Pos : une philosophie entre idée et vécu).

Le rapprochement productif entre Jakobson et la tradition phénoménologique dépasse le cadre étroit de la question : des « échos » de la réduction dans l’approche jakobsonien sont-ils suffisants pour l’inscrire dans l’histoire du mouvement phénoménologique ? Flack reformule la théorie jakobsonienne du langage poétique en termes phénoménologiques afin de montrer la « complémentarité » des positions structuraliste et phénoménologique. Si pour Husserl l’expression n’est qu’un « véhicule du sens logique déjà formé » , chez Jakobson comme chez Chklovski le processus de la perception de l’expression contribue à la formation même du sens. La visée de l’expression, caractérisant, selon Jakobson, la perception esthétique de l’œuvre d’art présuppose la valeur autonome de la perception du signe expressif. C’est la structure perceptive du signe qui rend possible sa participation au processus de l’institution du sens ; dès lors, le langage cesse d’être un pur moyen de communication de la pensée déjà faite, mais « un phénomène poétique de plein droit ». Mais il y a un prix à payer pour cette réélaboration de la relation entre langage et perception : le rôle du sujet transcendantal comme producteur et donateur du sens est remplacé par la structure poétique du langage en tant que structure essentiellement anonyme. L’auteur montre qu’un « compromis » entre cette deux positions se trouve dans la philosophie de Merleau-Ponty : sa conception d’un sujet incarné, impliqué dans l’acte de l’expression au niveau corporel et moteur, lui permet d’intégrer les découvertes principales de Husserl et de Jakobson.

Dans le chapitre suivant Patrick Flack nous offre une biographie intellectuelle du penseur hollandais Hendrik Pos. La signification de sa pensée très originale pour le développement de la phénoménologie, du néokantisme aussi bien que de la linguistique structurale, est souvent méconnue, bien que son rôle d’intermédiaire entre des camps philosophiques différents mérite une attention particulière. On ne peut que féliciter l’auteur qui a comblé cette lacune importante dans le domaine de l’histoire des idées.

La troisième partie de ce recueil, Vers le sens du vécu : perspectives esthétiques et littéraires, unit trois recherches sur les enchevêtrements entre la phénoménologie et l’expérience artistique. La première, De l’objet esthétique à la forme sensible : phénoménologie de l’avant-garde russe, contient une tentative méritoire de déduire une nouvelle théorie phénoménologique de la lecture de la poésie transmentale russe (zaum). Patrick Flack souligne que la phénoménologie esthétique « objectiviste » de Waldemar Conrad, Moritz Geiger et Emil Utitz, contemporains des Cubo-futuristes, des poètes de zaum et des expressionnistes allemands, n’était pas capable de relever le défi de l’art nouveau. Il fallait une « radicalisation » des conceptions phénoménologiques du sensible pour que la phénoménologie de l’art non-figuratif devienne possible. Mais la théorie de la défamiliarisation est aussi insuffisante pour cela, parce que chez Chklovski l’acte de perception garde encore la relation à « des unités de sens toujours déjà constituées » ; dans cette perspective l’art ne cherche qu’à « re-sensibiliser » aux choses, mais il reste tributaire à l’ordre du monde stable et déjà construit. Selon Patrick Flack, dans ce contexte on peut même parler de «conservatisme ontologique » de Chklovski. Une autre vision de l’expérience sensible se trouve dans la poésie transmentale. Flack nous propose une herméneutique phénoménologisante de deux poèmes de Velimir Khlebnikov et de Vasili Kamenski, qui fait écho à la lecture classique de ces auteurs par Jakobson et Vinokur. Les poèmes transmentaux « n’ont pas d’objet » ; selon la formule célèbre de Jakobson, « ce que Husserl appelle dinglicher Bezug est absent ». Pourtant ces poèmes ne sont pas dénués de sens ; la forme poétique est vécue en tant que phénomène autonome. La forme sensible concrète s’articule pour elle-même et non comme un signe référant à quelque chose d’autre. L’ébauche de la réflexion théorique sur ce sujet se trouve dans Fragments esthétiques de Gustav Chpet aussi bien que dans les écrits de Maxim Königsberg (comme l’avait déjà montré Maxim Šapir). Le chapitre suivant, Dans l’ombre du structuralisme : Chklovski, Merleau-Ponty et … Chpet ?, fournit plus de détail sur la phénoménologie chpetienne et sa relation avec les idées de Chklovski et de Merleau-Ponty.

Bien que plus court que les autres, cet essai est très riche en idées nouvelles et productives. L’auteur trace ici le destin du concept chklovskien de défamiliarisation entre formalisme russe, phénoménologie et structuralisme en proposant une interprétation « ontologisante » ou plutôt « onto-esthétisante » de ce concept. La défamiliarisation apparaît à la lectrice non comme un procédé esthétique, mais comme le mode privilégiée de la donation des objets perceptifs. Dans cette perspective la défamiliarisation devient une vraie méthode philosophique, analogue à celle de la phénoménologie génétique : le sens des objet déjà fait, compris en tant que pure présence à soi, est remplacé par le sens en formation, qui est ouvert à des transformations et des déformations. Chklovski lui-même ne semble pas avoir pris conscience de la portée ontologique de sa théorie ; son développement chez Jakobson représente la « réduction linguistique » de ce concept. Il est repris par Jakobson sous la forme de la fonction poétique du langage : dans la poésie le mot est perçu avant tout comme mot dans la concrétude de sa forme acoustique et sémantique et non comme simple substitut de la réalité externe. Dès lors, la travail même de la défamiliarisation se fait à l’intérieur du langage qui devient le « médium spécifique, possédant une phénoménalité propre qui conditionne son fonctionnement et son articulation ». Mais du point de vue du sens perceptif, la théorie de la fonction poétique n’est qu’un pas en arrière : chez Jakobson l’approche génétique au signe contraste avec la stance statique en ce qui concerne le sens de l’objet réel. Le sens de l’objet perceptif ne dépend pas de sa « structuration par le signe », insiste Patrick Flack. Selon lui, c’est chez Merleau-Ponty que la présence incomplète devient l’objet de l’analyse phénoménologique : le sens perceptif ne devient accessible qu’à la phénoménologie expressive. Pourtant, la pensée de Gustav Chpet constitue une autre voie d’accès à la plénitude du sens : c’est grâce à la « forme interne » que le sens perceptif peut être conçu comme une corrélation entre extériorité sensible et intériorité perceptive. La question du sens perceptif a besoin d’une « double approche », phénoménologique aussi bien que structuraliste, et ainsi le rôle de Chpet dans l’élaboration d’une conception de la perception « esthétique » qui ouvre essentiellement le monde, est très important.

Le dernier chapitre de l’ouvrage, Structures temporelles dans la poétique des formalistes russe : répétition, accord, rythme, série du vers, est consacré au travaux de Brik, Kouchner et Tynianov. Le but principal de cet essai est de montrer comment la dimension temporelle de la poésie a été interprétée dans la pensée (proto)structuraliste du formalisme russe. Bien que dans la plupart de textes formalistes l’analyse du temps semble être complètement absent, il y a un certain nombre d’études dans lesquelles il joue un rôle privilégié ; comme l’indique Patrick Flack, cela peut apporter un éclairage nouveau sur la différence entre formalisme russe et structuralisme français. L’auteur souligne le caractère processuel de la défamiliarisation qui réactive la sensation d’une chose comme « sensation en train de se faire et non pas déjà faite » ; cela signifie que la structure temporelle de la subjectivité est présupposée par le projet chklovskien. Mais c’est chez Ossip Brik dans ses Répétitions sonores (1917) que la problématique temporelle dans les études du vers a été introduite. La temporalité intrinsèque au rythme poétique a été étudiée par Boris Kouchner dans Les accords sonnants (1917) et encore par Brik dans Rythme et syntaxe, où Brik a de facto montré que le temps est un élément constructif et productif de la structure poétique. La démarche décisive se trouve dans Le problème de la langue du vers de Tynianov (1924), qui contient l’esquisse d’une conception dans laquelle la fonction constitutive du temps apparaît comme indispensable pour « l’ébranlement de la signification » composant le trait foncier de la structure du vers. L’auteur conclut que selon Tynianov le sens du vers dépend essentiellement de sa temporalité.

Le livre de Patrick Flack s’arrête ici, mais l’appétit intellectuel de la lectrice n’est pas satisfait, il n’est que stimulé par ce recueil si riche par les sujets historiques et philosophiques divers. Le formalisme russe y est décrit comme un mouvement de la pensée dont la signification ne peut être saisie que dans le contexte général de l’histoire de la philosophie européenne du XXe siècle. Ou plutôt, l’histoire intellectuelle de l’Europe ne peut pas être envisagé sans sa partie slave, si souvent oubliée ou négligée. En décrivant l’enracinement du formalisme russe dans la pensée allemande, surtout dans le néokantisme et la phénoménologie naissante, aussi bien que sa parenté avec la pensée française, Patrick Flack nous rappelle toute la complexité de l’aventure spirituelle européenne.

Michael Staudigl, Jason W. Alvis (Eds.): Phenomenology and the Post-Secular Turn

Phenomenology and the Post-Secular Turn: Contemporary Debates on the 'Return of Religion' Book Cover Phenomenology and the Post-Secular Turn: Contemporary Debates on the 'Return of Religion'
Michael Staudigl, Jason W. Alvis (Eds.)
Hardback £115.00

Reviewed by: Thomas Sojer (University of Erfurt)

Are we living in a Post-secular age, and if so, how can it be understood (1)? By asking this question, Michael Staudigl and Jason W. Alvis introduce their remarkable anthology of contemporary debates on the ‘return of religion’.  The collection of eight essays was first published as a special edition of the International Journal of Philosophical Studies under the slightly different title Phenomenology and The Post-secular Turn: Reconsidering the ‘Return of the Religious’ in 2016. In contrast to the Open Access online version, this printed hardcover volume offers the rewarding invitation of reading and re-reading.

It is important pointing out one formal peculiarity: A separate section at the beginning of the anthology indicates that quotations should not be taken from the printed volume, but from the journal published in 2016 (vii-viii). Since the order of essays has changed, one will have to engage in a little arithmetic game when citing. In addition, as format of the original version in 2016 was adequately maintained, the person who cites has to disregard the page numbers of the 2018 physical copy, but to count the pages per essay from the 2018 physical copy before applying to the 2016 journal page count. Eight contributions from 2016 are offered with calculation as Open Access at Taylor Francis Online.

As the editors emphasise in the introduction, Anthony J. Steinbock provides the opening and basis of anthology by revealing what he thinks as all along missing from the secular realm. Steinbock’s paper The Role of the Moral Emotions in Our Social and Political Practices regards the current discourses on both post-secularism and the ‘return of religion’ as desiderata of our secular age to unfold a new understanding of moral emotions (12); e.g. emotions of self-givenness (guilt, pride, shame), of possibility (despair, repentance, hope), and of otherness (humility, loving, trust). With the new philosophical equipment of moral emotions on board, Steinbock proposes to emancipate the discourse on a possible return of religion from the oscillation between atheism and theism. He aims to re-introduce the experience of not being self-grounding at the very centre of a new discourse. Steinbock claims that moral emotions not only determine our internal spheres, such as the private, psychological or ethical domains but they relate ourselves to others with whom we find ourselves already involved (20). Thus, moral emotions are shaping the way we imagine political, social, economic and ecological dimensions of our world and elucidate modes of existence as modes of co-existence. However, in favour of values like subjectivity, rationality, and autonomy, Modernity has ignored and even denigrated moral emotions. Here, the phenomenological investigations of moral emotions shed light on the givenness of man revealing that the individual is not self-grounding but inter-personal and inter-Personal (22). This last capital letter refers to a vertical and de-limiting dimension of our social imaginaries. Steinbock observes in this regard that “the political is not merely ‘political’, as the ecological is not merely ‘ecological’. At the core of the experience is a pointer beyond itself. And this is precisely what has been missing in secularism” (24). To sum up, Steinbock’s contribution provides a valuable and welcome resource for everyone who is interested in the importance of moral emotions to the processes of social and political transformation throughout history.

By pursuing a phenomenologically inspired de-worlding, James G. Hart aims at a deeper meaning of being in the world, thus the meaning of world itself beyond the concept of a ‘megamachine’ (36). Via the mutual transitions from religious domination to secularism and the post-secular, the paper Deep Secularism, Faith, and Spirit asks about an original default stance of this development: Reading the New Testament Hart situates the biblical condition of humanity within a physical and social world of fundamental godlessness, calling it the ‘kosmos’ from which god finally redeems (29). Diametrical to the biblical default, Hart highlights sociological interpretations similar to which Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age defines as secularism as an historically evolution emerging from Christendom and consequently negating it. Here, Hart criticises Taylor for describing the conditions of experience exclusively within a framework of a sociology of religious belief based on Thomas Kuhn’s manner in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Hart accuses Taylor of ignoring the transcendental, phenomenological and metaphysical underpinnings of his hermeneutical analysis. Because of this ignorance, Taylor omitted in the eyes of Hart to consider an ‘agency of manifestation’, which is to understand the secular as a kind of pervasive deep background that pre-thematically and pre-conceptually shapes our consciousness of religious and secular experience (28). According to Hart, the deepest outcome of deep secularism has been manifested so far in the various strains of scientisitic and reductionist materialist naturalism, which dismisses the first-person experience as an illusion of the brain (44). Hart portrays present-day deep-secularism, unlike previous historical manifestations, as rejecting not only the contents of experience but experience as such, making knowing itself impossible. Concerning the debunking of belief in immortality by declaring the first-person experience an illusion, Hart outlines a dilemma that thinking of knowing in terms of a biological causality inevitably will self-destruct: He argues that “knowing cannot be a biological process because such processes as such (and our knowing of our knowledge of these processes) are not true or false, not necessary or probable, and have no syntax – as does our knowledge of these processes” (48). In this manifold and diverse contribution, Hart provides both philosophical and religious convincing ‘faith perspectives’ on questions about post-secularism due to deep secularism.

Another ‘faith-voice’, J. A. Simmons suggests that a disembodied, ahistorical, objectivist approach on faith (comma) in a postmodern/post-secular age was not only epistemologically but morally controversial (60). Consequently, he chooses to conduct phenomenological investigation by reflecting upon his personal lived existence as a so-called ‘postmodern Christian’ (52). Here, Simmons takes up Jean-Luc Marion’s warning against the intellectual arrogance of taking God’s perspective and finds a proposed solution in Merold Westphal’s notion that postmodernism is simply the idea that one cannot peek over God’s shoulder (59). By employing this extraordinary autobiographical approach, Simmons’ paper Personally Speaking … Kierkegaardian Postmodernism and the Messiness of Religious Experience performs what his original theory of Kierkegaardian postmodernism seeks to outline. In this regard, the attribute ‘Kierkegaardian’ implies that identity formation results from a specific social location. Simmons locates himself within four dichotomic propositions (58-59): as a person who ‘asks post-secularly’ out of his personal religious beliefs, not against them, he is motivated by Christianity, not threatening to it, he acknowledges his religious affiliation precisely because of his postmodern identity, not despite of it, finally he uses phenomenology in a postmodern/ post-secular context to immerse into his historical community not away from it. Against the backdrop of an unavoidable perspectival inquiry, Simmons discerns current debates in philosophy and theology as oscillation between an objectivist and a subjectivist solution (61). The objective side agrees that we remain within our contingent perspectives; however, God would enable us through divine revelation to grasp the Absolute Truth within these very perspectives. Simmons brands this version of epistemic realism ‘kataphatic orthodoxy’. On the other hand, the subjective side uncompromisingly rejects truth entirely following what Simmons brands consequently an apophatic orthodoxy (62). To neither pursue one nor the other extreme, he emphasises as Ludwig Wittgenstein calls it, the ‘rough ground’ of a hermeneutic analysis that can be obtained only in a personal approach (59). This personal access allows expressing the full radicality of faith. Only then God can be released from the equation to objective truth – hence articulating what a phenomenological concept of God entails: a God who is trouble (64). In addition to the fact that Simmons’ contribution is humorously written, it compellingly connects complex epistemological concepts with ordinary problems of a parishioner.

In the paper How to Overcome the World: Henry, Heidegger, and the Post-Secular Jason W. Alvis disputes in favour of the statement that only when we stop to take the obviousness and neutrality of the world for granted, we can indeed speak of the post-secular (74). The author finds an obvious and natural world challenged most prominently in the works of Martin Heidegger and Michel Henry, albeit in different ways: Heidegger criticises, on the one hand, a materialistic conception of world, which sees the world only as the sum of its parts. On the other hand, Heidegger rejects those religious and mystical interpretations of the world that portray its actual basis in an invisible, metaphysical essence beyond the material world (75): Heidegger’s concept of world is both ‘subjectively’ constituted by us, yet simultaneously constituting us within it. Additionally, it also constitutes our concepts of the world in a shared and public way shaping it for others (85). In his seminar on Heraclitus, Heidegger demonstrates the traditional understanding of ‘appearing’ is therefore misleading. The dichotomy between presence and absence needs to be abandoned in favour of paradoxical notion of what can be observed in the essential unfolding of an inconspicuous world (79). For Henry, on the other hand, it is the connecting link between ourselves and the inconspicuous world that consists of affects (82). He suggests a self-affection of life: The experience of oneself as living is what allows us to be affected by the world. Henry unveils thus a paradox of Modernity (84): While describing what is all too obvious in the world, this very description omits the most obvious notion of all which is that life itself being auto-affective. In the synthesis of Heidegger and Henry, Alvis proposes subsequently not to read the world as what appears as neutral and obvious but as exactly the opposite, namely the inconspicuous non-neutral. Alvis concludes the striking and insightful consideration as “what hides itself inconspicuously and presents itself as ‘ordinary’ or neutral is precisely what is pulling the strings of consciousness, directing the metaphysical backstage of everyday life” (87).

Taking Paul Ricoeur as a starting point, Christina M. Gschwandtner examines how fundamentalist groups cope with an inevitable ambiguity of human life between discordance and concordance within contemporary pluralist societies. Her paper Philosophical Reflections on the Shaping of Identity in Fundamentalist Religious Communities identifies the fear of losing personal and social identity as a significant factor within religious fundamentalism (102). Gschwandtner agrees with Ricoeur that religion is best studied through its language (93). However, she advocates by extending Ricoeur’s concept of religious language beyond biblical texts, in favour of all sorts of material culture with a foundational function, for example, Christian science fiction, Christian romance novels, movies, video games, homeschool materials, and religious social media platforms (94-95). Particularly interesting is what Gschwandtner’s reversed reading of Ricoeur’s linear account of secular de-mythologization (100): For Ricoeur, a community adheres to a first naïveté while accepting its own religious language uncritically as literal belief. The first naïveté is finally debunked as a myth by criticism, technology and science. Via a post-critical second naïveté the community re-mythologises the symbolic realm of the text, grasping a deeper meaning. Referring to current ethnological research, Gschwandtner reminds that most religious communities do not interpret their myths literally in the first place. However, facing the ambiguity of contemporary pluralist societies, these groups develop a ‘hermeneutic style’ of adopting a narrower and more literalistic interpretation of their founding texts (101). In this respect, Gschwandtner detects a tendency to abandon the mythical complexity and plurality of the past in favour of rigorously restricted and narrowed hermeneutics today. Furthermore, Gschwandtner demonstrates why Ricoeur’s linear and narrow depiction of hermeneutics partly misses recognising the violent potential of fundamentalist forces. Ricoeur believes, following René Girard, that while rituals may generate violence, sacred texts may contain it. Consequently, she suggests that beyond the “unnecessary (and unhelpful) bifurcation” between ritual and text, the question of individual identity formation must come to the fore (103-104). Even though Gschwandter criticises Ricoeur fruitfully in various aspects, by developing his ideas further, she remains faithful to the main ideas and emphasises about the strength of his hermeneutics in clarifying issues regarding religious fundamentalism. At this point it is noteworthy that the comprehensive notes (105-110) are remarkably outstanding, highly informative and in-depth.

In the paper Murdering Truth: ‘Postsecular’ Perspectives on Theology and Violence Robyn Horner first investigates how far the phenomenon of revelation is legitimised within philosophy by comparing Jean-Luc Marion and Jean-Yves Lacoste. On that basis, Horner asks the relation of revelatory truth claims and violence. With Marion’s concept of the saturated phenomenon, Horner reasons that it is phenomenologically feasible to describe revelation as an experience of excess, as the saturation of intuition (118). On the other hand, regarding the concept of Lacoste, revelation can also be interpreted as lacking and poverty of intuition or simply the experience of feeling nothing, closely link to the experience of atheist and believer (120). Horner associates the perspectives of both excess and poverty as a revelatory interruption that regards the potential for violence which needs to be examined in the light of the always-potentially-contrary-to-me nature of revelation (126). Although religious beliefs are often involved in violent conflicts, Horner rejects the idea of violence as a necessary corollary of God’s goodness. In this respect, she refers to René Girard’s mimetic theory emphasising the biblical pathway towards overcoming violence, as well as Kantian teleology, according to which a God who is violent by nature is incompatible with the good. What turned out to be fascinating is Horner’s suggestion on reading violence as an inauthentic hermeneutic of revelation (123). Consequently, she fails to define the hermeneutical perversion in response to the major world religious traditions but in response to the experience of revelation itself, echoing Marion and Lacoste instead. Here, Augustine speaks of two possible reactions to the truth: to love and to hate (125). Thus, violence can emerge if hatred for the revealed truth transforms into hatred for the otherness of the other in order to protect oneself from a truth that one may not wish to know. She concludes by warning that there is not only the danger of the horror religiosus, that is, provoking violence as a result of otherness in religious revelation. There is also the danger of inciting violence in secularism against the otherness of theism in general (127).

In the paper On Seizing the Source: Toward a Phenomenology of Religious Violence Michael Staudigl provides a compendious and insightful examination of the return of religion against the backdrop of religious violence. Because of the rationalised ghettoisation of religious violence by branding it as a form of senseless violence, Modernity structurally omits its own normatively embellished violence: “It is also high time to acknowledge various auto-idolatries of occidental reason that have rendered its assumedly liberating project inherently doubtful” (138) Staudigl’s concise yet comprehensive survey on contemporary debates illustrates the potential and the need to highlight the role of affective economies and cultural politics of emotions within the mechanisms of religious and non-religious violence (134-140). In response to this paramount challenge, Staudigl proposes fertilising as the so-called theological turn in French phenomenology and focuses example-wise on the concept of givenness in Jean-Luc Marion as well as on Paul Ricoeur who attributes an inherently hermeneutic character to a phenomenology of religion. Staudigl draws persuasively the conclusion that both approaches, however, do not embrace lived religion, but “attempt to rethink God in terms of superabundant ‘givenness’ or focus a textual hermeneutics that translates such givenness into the narrative semantics of the respective religious system of knowledge” (150). Starting from Ricoeur’s notion of mimetic rivalry and Jan Patočka’s waring of a return of orgiastic, Staudigl suggests reading religious violence as a product of monopolising appropriation of the originary source of givenness (153). A particularly interesting observation is that experiences of transcendence need to take flesh; in other words, they need to be translated into experiences of self-transcendence by a phenomenal or lived body which is both affectable and affecting (155). In resonance with Simone Weil’s linking of affectivity and thought in her notion of ‘I can, therefore, I am’, Staudigl foreshadows a re-embodying and materialising of Ricoeur’s hermeneutics of religion: “The sovereignty of the ‘I’ qua embodied ‘I-can’ is also its vulnerability.” (156) This approach of lived body gives remarkable insights into a new advent of archaic, brutal, and cruel violence, as what we witness in current wars of religion. Staudigl closes his observations with an intriguing foresight on the importance of lived religion and lived body as the affective medium building the reflective pivot of ‘carnal hermeneutics’ of a phenomenology of religion – which in particular do not obfuscate religious violence as the most irrational, while eclipsing the own rationalised forms of violence (160-161).

Against the backdrop of contemporary American democracy, the paper From Mystery to Laughter to Trembling Generosity: Agono-Pluralistic Ethics in Connolly v. Levinas (and the Possibilities for Atheist-Theist Respect) by Sarah Pessin explores possibilities for mutual respect and generous comportment between atheists and theists. William E. Conelly’s optimistic call to laughter in common between atheists and theist provides a discursive canvas for Pessin’s reflections. Starting from a philosophy of laughter in Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, the author elaborates analogous to Henry Bergson’s sense of closed and open societies into  two discrete phenomenologies of laughter (187): The laughing atheist on the on hand adopts an open and laughing comportment. The trembling theist, on the other hand, transforms a closed and trembling attitude into open and trembling comportment. In this regard, Conolly’s call for laughing together generates two opposing comportments, causing more separation than union. The best option for Pessin is a new way to adopt comportment by opening and trembling, however open to both theists and atheists in a non-theistic way. For this purpose, she invokes Emmanuel Levinas’ understanding of open direction of eros and enjoyment on the one hand, and a trembling direction which places man on the brink of tears and laughter to responsibility on the other hand (188-189). Of particular interest are Pessin’s preliminary reflections on the problem of laughing together: She reminds us of an impossibility of the all-pardon thesis in Ego and Totality, which states that in a real society no duality between two subjects exists, without causing unpardonable harm to the Other’s Other: “post-secular politics is always a politics of interrupted justice – a justice, in other words, that is always agonistic and never able to attain some sort of pure [post-agonistic] state of inner-human consensus, love, and/or harmony.” (177)

In order to estimate the extraordinary performance of this anthology, a look at the helpful and carefully selected index (201-206) at the end of the book is advisable. The vast diversity of personalities, philosophical terms and subjects stands in direct contradiction to the concise size of the volume of just two hundred pages. All the more, it is the accomplishment of this volume to navigate around the very complex topic about the return of religion which assembles an inspiring spectrum of different approaches without losing the common ground, or as Wittgenstein would put it, the ‘rough ground’ of the post-secular turn.

Cleo Hanaway-Oakley: James Joyce and the Phenomenology of Film

James Joyce and the Phenomenology of Film Book Cover James Joyce and the Phenomenology of Film
Oxford English Monographs
Cleo Hanaway-Oakley
Oxford University Press
Hardback £60.00

Reviewed by: Michael Deckard (Lenoir-Rhyne University)

Whether in early phenomenology, film, or #metoo, we are still today reeling from the fantasy or reality of the gaze, that is, the relationship of self to other. How does one define the other by means of the gaze? Is it in terms of a subject/object distinction? A hundred years after the end of The Great War (what may be called ‘the suicide of Europe’), film, philosophy and modernist literature have attempted to overcome the war between man and man, or man and woman, as much as nation and nation. But it has failed. The gaze, as Cleo Hanaway-Oakley envisions it, wishes to colonize and totalize the other, committing an act of violence just through looking. There is no way out of this fixation, but by redefining the cemented schemes of looking.

To revision film studies and its philosophical inheritance is to reinvent a way of looking or feeling, to find by re-watching or re-learning what it means to view film as a renewed and renewing enterprise. And this act in turn may revise the way of perceiving the other. This revision begins at the origin of film as a production of an aesthetic artistic avant-garde act. To view film phenomenologically would mean to take it out (epoché) of its well-trodden narratives. In one predominant scheme, there is a sense in which to use the words of Walter Benjamin, “an unknown woman comes into the poet’s field of vision…the delight of the urban poet is love…[but it] is not the rapture of a man whose every fiber is suffused with eros; it is, rather, like the kind of sexual shock that can beset a lonely man” (“On Some Motifs in Baudelaire,” quoted by Daniel Shea, “’Do they Snapshot Those Girls or Is It All a Fake?” mentioned by Hanaway-Oakley). The names known to film studies, Christian Metz and Laura Mulvey, represent a Freudian/Lacanian voyeuristic and scopophilic way of viewing film. If a spectator is passive, then the Cartesian subject/object distinction remains at the basis of this act of seeing. Behind Metz and Mulvey’s way of viewing film lies the following question: Does the ‘male gaze’ define patriarchy and inhuman, if not dehumanizing, male subject/female object totalizing? In other words, just by looking the male is already in a bind – there is no intersubjective or non-totalizing gaze. For this enterprise, watching a film is already non-reciprocal and disembodied, in a word, objectivizing. If voyeurism and the objectifying gaze are hegemonic (to use Gramsci’s term) in film theory, according to Cleo Hanaway-Oakley, then how might we escape or avoid this problem?

Each chapter in the book introduces a different aim. First, ‘Reciprocal Seeing and Embodied Subjectivity’ begins with the gaze of Bloom on Gerty McDowell (‘Nausicaa’) and provides a revisioning of this gaze from psychoanalysis to phenomenology and particularly Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of film. Her use of sources focus a great deal on the film studies and Joyce literature here rather than the psychoanalytical literature or phenomenology beyond Merleau-Ponty, but since her aim concerns reversibility and to move beyond the fixed understanding of this as “Gerty is a voyeur just as Bloom is” (9), part of her interesting revision takes this as “each character fails to see the other as a fellow subject, even though the reader is shown that both practice subjective looking—so the seer/seen binary remains intact” (10). How does Merleau-Ponty’s reversibility overcome the Freudian/ Lacanian fixation to “true intersubjectivity and reciprocity”? Following scholars such as Vivian Sobchack (The Address of the Eye and Carnal Thoughts), Spencer Shaw (Film Consciousness), and Jennifer Barker (The Tactile Eye), Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of film is no longer seen as impersonal but rather “the seer and the seen and the subject and the object remain as separate, distinct beings…intermingling occurs at a deeper level: the body-subject ‘simultaneously sees and is seen’.” (29)

Second, ‘Modern Thought and the Phenomenology of Film’ looks precisely at Bergson and his role in the development of film, but also the difference between him and phenomenology. To clarify, Hanaway-Oakley writes, “the main divergences in Bergsonian and Merleau-Pontian philosophy revolve around the role of the body in perception and the body’s relationship to its environment. For media philosopher Mark Hansen, the difference between Bergson and Merleau-Ponty too easily mask the similarities.” (43) Similarly, the overlap between ‘Gestalt Vision’ (such as in Hugo Münsterberg and Rudolf Arnheim) with Merleau-Ponty’s analysis of Wertheimer point to a comparability of scientific and psychological theories with aesthetic or creative organizing processes such that film-making and film-watching can mirror each other. This means that theory produces a truly empathic relationship “rather than separation and detachment,” challenging the very basis of subject/object dualism. This is continued by Sergei Eisenstein and Siegfried Kracauer (who himself, according to Hanaway-Oakley, was influenced by Gabriel Marcel) in which the notion of being an “incarnate being immersed in and interacting with a world” has a way of “acting-out or bodying forth.” (51)

While making the claim that James Joyce was interested in film is not controversial, his being a proto-phenomenologist is. What Hanaway-Oakley does in chapter 3 (‘Machine-Humans and Body-Subjects’) most deftly is to bring together Charlie Chaplin films with Joyce and Merleau-Ponty. As a prime example, Chaplin’s The Floorwalker (1916) includes a scene with a prosthetic leg in which “[the prosthetic leg] is not replacing a lost or damaged body part or signalling any utopian possibilities of extending human ability into superpowers. The leg plays only a minor role in the film—a ‘bit part’, if you will. Chaplin picks up the leg and looks at it quizzically then, in a rather quick, somewhat ambiguous gesture, he lifts his cane up towards the shop assistant.” (73) This gesture, rather like Merleau-Ponty’s analysis of the blind man’s stick in Phenomenology of Perception (taking up an example from Descartes’s Optics), and Vivian Sobchack’s in ‘A Leg to Stand on: Prosthetics, Metaphor, and Materiality’ (2004), incorporates the stick or Chaplin’s cane or a prosthesis in such a way that the body and the world are not entirely separate. What Joyce does in ‘Circe’ analyzed in several places in Hanaway-Oakley’s book is to further this connection with the body and the world. One example of this is when a nymph from a painting comes to life and Bloom’s desire is unhinged and that the nun and the slut are combined in this erotic life-giving painting. The tie of Phenomenology of Perception (‘The Body in its Sexual Being’) to Ulysses is complete.

The Final Chapter of the book (‘Tactile Vision and Enworlded Being’) begins by analyzing both Stephen’s thoughts in the ‘Proteus’ chapter of Ulysses alongside George Berkeley’s A New Theory of Vision (1709), Descartes’s Optics (1637), and Merleau-Ponty. How does the stereoscope or mutoscope, for example, enable tactile vision? One can touch something through the eyes even when neither sense have a ‘language’ in common. “Like Bloom, Descartes concludes that blind people must ‘see with their hands’.” (89) Whereas Descartes positions perception in an immaterial mind, Bloom and Berkeley materialize it, and “the blind man’s stick is not, for Merleau-Ponty, an intermediary between a physical object and a mental image.” (90) The tactile and the erotic are further interconnected, especially when stereoscopic images from 1904 (when Ulysses is set) are forms of early erotica or pornography, something Hanaway-Oakley connects to the Mutoscope-viewer as a haptic interposition of the crotch like the blind man’s stick. She further “dizzingly” describes parallactic proprioception and seeing ourselves as others see us.

Hanaway-Oakley constructs a term, ‘living pictures’, to try to overcome the voyeuristic gaze, working from both phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty and writer James Joyce. Her book thus attempts to defend a reciprocal gaze or embodied form of viewing film, to see others as they see you (including on screen). In three distinct contexts, then, early cinema, Ulysses, and phenomenology, “the phrase [I see myself as others see me] offers a reciprocal way of seeing, self-reflection, and the chance to contemplate the relationship of self and other, subject and object.” (13) An absorptive approach regards cinema as objective, impersonal and neutral as opposed to the phenomenological living approach in which cinema is subjective, engaged and ‘authentic’. Hanaway-Oakley proposes three avenues for ‘intervention’: first, phenomenological reflection is unlike introspection or mimetic copying in which there is some ‘objective’ reality in the image unrelated to the perceiver – an experience of cinema is living in so far as the perceiver takes part and contributes to the image by means of her experience. Second, the film-maker interacts with the spectator insofar as an ‘imprint’ or ‘trace’ (rather than a mimetic copy) of time is really imprinted on the viewer – this intervention challenges some traditional readings of Bazinian realism. Third, film is embodied and this intervention requires us to expand and enlarge our notion of embodiedness – we do not necessarily see things ‘out there’ as on a screen but rather the image becomes part of our bodily existence.

As an exemplar of these three interventions, Merleau-Ponty explored film phenomenologically in one short essay from 1945, ‘The Film and the New Psychology’ (included in the collection, Sense and Non-sense), the same year that Phenomenology of Perception was published. How much one can do with this is the question that Hanaway-Oakley leaves open. Her book begins and ends with an analysis of an episode of Ulysses, ‘Nausicaa’, where Bloom is gazing at a young crippled girl on the beach. This scene exemplifies a twentieth-century formulation of the gaze since the Great War. As Hanaway-Oakley writes,

In ‘Nausicaa’, as Bloom touches himself, he simultaneously touches Gerty across the distance: ‘his hands and face were working and a tremor went over her’. Bloom and Gerty’s feelings are reciprocal; neither is reduced to an object—they are both simultaneously object–subjects for each other. They experience a reversible relationship. Gerty recognizes an ‘answering flash of admiration in [Bloom’s] eyes’, and Bloom notes that there is a ‘kind of language’ between them. He learns to ‘see [himself] as others see [him]’ and to ‘look at [things] other way round’. (110)

This book brings together worlds not typically brought together, and is a joy to read. The length of it left me wanting more, and the seventeen- page bibliography gives one plenty to go on for reading further. While James Joyce and the Phenomenology of Film is not a work of film studies, as an intervention between philosophy, literature, and film, her analysis is extremely worthwhile and her deft use of film examples plus the widespread interdisciplinary world of literary criticism and modernism as well as film is exemplary. Where she is perhaps weakest is in the French side of Merleau-Ponty and wider phenomenology, but its breadth across the Merleau-Ponty oeuvre is illuminating and enjoyable. While by itself Hanaway-Oakley’s revision of the problem of the gaze and its violence is not entirely overcome, we are one step closer to seeing others as they see us.

Felix Duque: Remnants of Hegel: Remains of Ontology, Religion and Community

Remnants of Hegel: Remains of Ontology, Religion, and Community Book Cover Remnants of Hegel: Remains of Ontology, Religion, and Community
SUNY series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy
Félix Duque. Translated by Nicholas Walker
SUNY Press
Paperback $19.95

Reviewed by: Oded Balaban (Dept. of Philosophy, University of Haifa, Israel)

Felix Duque is arguably the most important living philosopher in the Spanish-speaking world. Remnants of Hegel is the first book translated into English. It is not a mere interpretation of Hegel, but rather a critical study that attempts to drive the aspects of its subject matter toward their ultimate consequences using Hegelian criteria. In other words, if Hegel’s philosophy is a critique of Kant’s critical philosophy, then Duque’s exposition is a critique of Hegelian philosophy. Furthermore, and just as Hegel develops Kantian categories in order to reveal a truth that goes beyond Kant, Duque develops Hegelian concepts in order to deduce a truth that transcends them. Indeed, Duque says that “The Hegelian system, impressive as it is, ultimately reveals itself as a miscarried attempt to reconcile nature and theory, individuality and collective praxis” (Duque, x).

Moreover, I should begin my review by noting that the book is clearly written for readers who are well acquainted with Hegel’s philosophy. In this respect, my review will attempt to overcome this difficulty by limiting itself to a reading that makes it accessible to those who are not conversant with this philosophy.

The book itself contains five chapters:

Chapter I: Substrate and Subject (Hegel in the aftermath of Aristotle). This chapter is concerned with the famous expression made in the preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit: “According to my view of things, which can be justified through the exposition of the system itself, everything depends on apprehending and expressing the true not as [nicht als] substance, but just as much [eben so sehr] as subject” (Duque, 17).

Chapter II: Hegel on the Death of Christ, is a discussion that seeks to analyze the transition from nature to society, or, rather, the transition from a natural human being to a historical being, and to a being having a second nature, which is the political life of man, a transition which is made possible by the understanding of society and politics as a higher level of self-consciousness.

Chapter III: Death Is a Gulp of Water. This chapter is concerned with terror in World History. More specifically, it is a critical exposition of Hegel’s idea of revolution and terror which primarily refers to the French Revolution. The politics of terror, the chapter argues, is the necessary result of trying to implement the revolution without mediations, that is, directly and as an abstract revolution (Duque, 83). Here Duque does not limit himself to an analysis of Hegel and his time, but also deals with its historical reception by the likes of Communism and Stalinism in the twentieth century. Such an idea of terror does much to radically undervalue the value of life and also makes us remember Hanna Arendt’s Banality of Evil. Indeed, terror is, paradoxically, a result of the French Revolution in its historical imagining of Napoleon, namely, the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity as mediated by his political force appearing as the opposite of those values’ true essence.

Chapter IV: Person, Freedom, and Community is an analysis of the last chapter of Hegel’s Science of Logic which is concerned with the notion of the absolute idea. It is an essential problem to understanding the book as a whole since Hegel begins and ends the book by praising this notion rather than explaining or developing it.

Chapter V: The Errancy of Reason. This chapter summarizes the previous chapters and engages in a holistic critical analysis of the topics discussed.

I would now wish to develop some ideas on Hegel inspired by reading Duque’s work and by my own understanding of Hegel’s philosophy.

Hegel’s logic is not normative. Unlike formal logic, which determines how we should think and not how we actually think, Hegel‘s Science of Logic, proceeds in the opposite direction by studying thought as it is as well as its development from the most abstract stage (the thought of pure being without further determinations) to the most concrete, this being the absolute idea as the unit of theoretical and practical thinking. Duque’s interpretation adopts this principle, and unlike the interpretations offered by Alexandre Kojève and many others, asserts that it should be taken literally, that is, by not trying to correct the author in order to understand him! Understanding by correcting makes the original a tabula rasa since it allows the interpreter to introduce any idea as it occurs to her or him to the work in the belief that it is an interpretation, while it is actually a creation of her or his own mind.

Hegel’s Logic is a reflective study of the concept. In Duque’s words, “the entire Logic is nothing but a relentless attempt to furnish a conscious and deliberate reconstruction of fugitive and fleeting linguistic forms and determinations.” (Duque, ix). The terms in his Logic do not have the fixity that they have in formal logic (both classical and modern), but their meaning varies according to the context, and especially according to the level in which the study is developed. Hegel perceives only the term, the word, as fixed, but not the concept or content that is expressed through words.

Hegel’s logic attempts to solve the classic problem of Aristotelian logic, in which “to say what something in the last instance really is, its ultimate logos, amounts to affirming all the affections, properties, and determinations of that thing” (Duque, 4). Hegel, however, is not successful in resolving this difficulty despite believing he is.

Hegel suggests that thought and reality, as well as mind and world, are inseparable in the sense that their meaning undergoes constant change and construction with respect to the conceptual level and context in which it takes place. A concept’s level of abstraction or concreteness thus simultaneously determines the degree of reality to which it refers. Put differently, this reading suggests that the Science of Logic ultimately serves as an ontological proof which not only proves the existence of God but also the existence of every concept subjected to actual thought. In other words, if I really believe in the concept of having a hundred thalers in my pocket, and not merely imagining them, then the hundred thalers become real and become part of my patrimony. I thus either have them in my pocket or, alternately, owe them and am obliged to pay them. This is not the case with Kant, since he merely imagines them, that is to say, recognizes from the very outset that they are not real thalers. This, in turn, is the difference between abstract and concrete concepts.

The process of concretion is clearly explained in the “logic of the judgment” discussion in the third part of Science of Logic, which is nothing but logic from the perspective of the relationship between the two essential components of judgment—subject and predicate. Thus, every judgment announces that the subject is the predicate. More explicitly, the subject of the judgment is the entity whose identity is being subjected to inquiry, and the answer is offered by all the predicates that refer to that subject. Each predicate thus changes the meaning of the subject, and, in reality, amplifies its meaning. In this respect, a subject is enriched by having more predicates attributed to it – as each of the latter forms another subject with other questions. In other words, to think is – formally – to pass from the subject, which functions as what is unknown and in need of becoming known, to the predicate, which functions as what is known and therefore as what bestows knowledge and meaning on the subject. It is thus a relation between a bearer of meaning (the subject) and a meaning (the predicate).

However, this relationship occurs within the frame of another relationship that occurs in the same intentional field. It is the relation (entirely unlike that of subject and predicate) between subject and object. Despite their difference, subject-predicate and subject-object relations cannot be separated but only distinguished. In effect, when the thought passes from the subject to the predicate, it does not consider the predicate (that is to say, it does not think about grammar) but its content, that is, the object or, rather, something that acquires the status of an object. The subject thus objectifies the target of though by means of predication. In the case of philosophy, that is to say, thinking about thinking, thought passes to something else, to what is being thought about, namely the object. And what is an object if not something that stands in front of the subject as a correlative to the subject? Hegel indeed argued that the object possesses nothing more than this relational character. The object is thus what was thought about by the subject. It is the entire universe existing insofar as it is the content of thought. There is no other universe. However, it is not the thought of my individual reflection. It is ultimately a universal reflection, and Hegel goes so far as to maintain that everything is Spirit (“There is nothing at hand that is wholly alien to spirit” (Hegel, Encyclopedia § 377, note, quoted by Duque, 38).

The Spirit is the objectification of subjectivity, the whole universe as thought of, a conceptualized universe, insofar as another does not replace it. But if something else remains, it is the task of thought to appropriate it, that is, as we said, to conceptualize it and thus imbue it with reality. This, in turn, is the secret of the coincidence of logic and metaphysics.

Thus, it turns out that the object is the complete expression of the subject. A strange reflection indeed. Fully aware of being a reflection and its denial at the same time—because it always returns to thinking about the object when it is supposed to be thinking about thinking about the object.

Hegel nonetheless moves backward. He rethinks the thought, concentrating not on content but on the fact of thinking about it. Hegel and his readers believed that they were thinking about Being when they were actually thinking about Essence; they thought they were thinking about Essence, and they were actually thinking about Concept! That is to say, Hegel was not concerned with a question of being but with the concept of being. It was not a question of essence but of the concept of essence, and it was not about concept but about the concept of concept. Hegel and his readers believed that they were thinking about substance when they were actually thinking about themselves—about the subject. Duque is therefore right in saying that all this does not mean we are solely concerned with thinking about substance, but also about the subject. This is because the substance is not even the truth, although it is a reflection, but this is a reflection that lacks reflection, or that does not know that it is a reflection. In other words, we are ultimately concerned with a subject thinking about itself.

The culmination of this backwards-advancing reflection is the Absolute Idea, which also serves as the culmination of subjectivity in the Subjective Logic (the third and last part of the Science of Logic). This must not be forgotten, as must the assertion that Hegel’s thought cannot migrate to another sphere, or does not enter it because Hegel does not need it, although he promises to explain something new, viz. the content of the Absolute Idea. But it is precisely here, at the end of the Science of Logic, that Hegel begins being poetic and stops being philosophical: he offers pure promises without any fulfillment. Such is the end of the great Science of Logic despite its colossality. Duque, in turn, ascribes a great deal of importance to this abrupt end in Hegel’s Logic. When the Absolute Idea is reached, according to Duque, “Everything else [Alles Übrige] is error, obscurity, struggle, caprice, and transience [Vergänglichkeit].” (Hegel, Science of Logic, quoted by Duque, 38). Is it not the case that everything should be included in the Absolute Spirit? Is the whole path unnecessary, as is the case of the ladder for the young Wittgenstein? This would go against the spirit of Hegel’s philosophy no less than his own assertion about error, obscurity, etc.

The Absolute Idea, then, does not fulfill Hegel’s intention. The universal absolute should deduce the individual in her or his singularity from itself because the individual is absolutely relational. It is a being that includes what is not her or him in itself, as well as what is other than itself, as the determinant of what it is. In other words, it is a concrete individuality understandable in its concrete universality. This is especially apparent when we think of the individual as a social being. If we take away all of the individual’s “environment” and context, namely, every socially shared issue and every general feature including language and clothing it will remain, contrary to what could be expected, an abstract individual: Just as when attempting to isolate the individual in order to understand it in her or his singularity, nothing remains and the very individual disappears. This, in turn, means that individuals are wholly social, that is, totally relational. This does not, however, imply that the individual is not individual, but that this is what it consists of: The more singular the individual, the more dependent she or he is on her or his network of relationships. Thus, the more relationships the individual has, the more individual she or he becomes.

When the individual denies her or his otherness, as in the case of the worker or the slave in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, she or he not only denies the other but it denies her or himself when alienating her or himself from her or his other because that other is her or his own other, not an abstract, isolated other. Thus, the more she or he is social, the more individual she or he becomes. The more she or he has relations to and dependencies on other individuals, the more she or he is a concrete singularity, a singularity determined by its relationships. This is entirely unlike the Aristotelian relations of genera and species, where the individual is obtained through isolation. The Aristotelian individual is obtained by excluding all difference. In Hegel the opposite is true: the more a thing includes the differentiated as differentiated in itself, the more individual it becomes. History is thus a process of socialization which is – in actual fact – a process of individuation. In Aristotelian logic, intension and extension are opposed: the greater the intension, the smaller the extension; the greater the definition, the smaller the subsumed individual(s). In Hegel, there is no such opposition. The individual is more social the more determined she or he is and the more she or he includes the other. Hegelian logic is not, however, intended as an alternative logic to Aristotelian logic, but rather as the self-consciousness of the Aristotelian logic as well as its inner development and evolution. Formal logic is thus a stage that the spirit must pass through in order to be finally be criticized by consciousness, as it is in the Logic of Essence, the second part of the Science of Logic, which engages in the critique of the “laws” of identity, non-contradiction, and the excluded middle.

I will now turn to the relationships between substance and subject. According to Aristotle, a substance is that which is neither said of a subject nor in a subject, namely, it is not a predicate as predicates are said about a substance (individuals, like this individual man or this statue). However, entities which say what a substance is are “secondary” substances, genera and species, that can be also subjects as well as predicates and are always general and never individual. However, saying what an individual is, has the genera and species as an answer, something that is not individual. The individual man belongs to a species, man, and an animal is a genus of that species. Thus, both man and animal are considered secondary substances. In this respect, Duque rightfully claims that the Aristotelian definition of substance as a negative definition arises from the impossibility of saying what it is without making it into something other than what it is. In other words, predicates will always betray their original intention since they cannot be individuals.

If there is something that is neither said of a subject nor exists in a subject, this is obviously because it is itself the subject, as Aristotle himself concedes: “All the other things are either said of the primary substances as subjects or in them as subjects” (Aristotle, Categories, 2a, 34–35, quoted by Duque, 6). Duque then proceeds to state:

Yet secondary substance does not exist of itself, unless it is given with primary substance. We are evidently confronted with a certain inversion here, with an irresolvable chiasmus: that which is first in the order of being is second in the order of logical discourse, and vice versa.” (Duque, 7)

The substance is for Aristotle the being of the being, and it is the fixed (permanent) side of change, something that does not change as things change. As a being of being it has a double function, meaning that it has two meanings in the sense that it is both the essence of the being and the being of the essence.

As the essence of being, the substance is the determinate being, the nature of the necessary being: the man as a two-legged animal. As the being of the essence it is the two-legged animal as this individual man.

This is a duality that Aristotle did not manage to resolve. When Aristotle says that the substance is expressed in the definition and that only the substance has a true definition, the substance is understood as the essence of the being, as that which reason can understand. But when, on the contrary, he declares that the essence is identical to determinate reality, as beauty exists only in what is beauty, Aristotle understands the substance as the being of the essence, and as a principle that offers necessary existence to the nature of a thing.

As the essence of being, the substance is the form of things and bestows unity on the elements that make up the whole where the whole is a distinct proper nature unlike its component elements. Aristotle refers to the form of material things as a species, and species is, therefore, its substance. As the being of the essence, the substance is the substrate: that about which any other thing is predicated but that cannot be a predicate of anything else. And as the substrate it is matter, a reality without any determination other than a potentiality. As the essence of being, the substance is the concept or logos that has neither generation nor corruption, that does not become but is this or that thing. As the being of essence, the substance is the composition, namely, the unity of concept (or form) with matter—the existing thing. In this sense, the substance comes to being and comes to its end.

As the essence of being, the substance is the principle of intelligibility of the being itself. In this sense, it is the stable and necessary element on which science is founded. According to Aristotle, there is no other science than that which is necessary, whereas the knowledge of what can or cannot be is rather an opinion. Substance is thus, objectively, the being of the essence and the necessary reality, and subjectively the essence of being, as necessary rationality. In short, the distinction Aristotle makes between primary substances (0ρώται οὐσίαι) and secondary substances (δεύτεραι οὐσίαι) consists of understanding the former as physical individuals and the latter as species (τά εἴδεα) and genera (τά γένη) of those individuals (Aristotle, Categories, 2a14).

In Hegel, on the other hand, the substance is the principle from which the individual is deduced. He argues for the primacy of the universal and the primacy of substance over the individual. Unlike with Aristotle, the universal is the principle of individuation, so that the individual has no meaning without the universal. This, in turn, is the basis on which his understanding of truth as substance but also as subject can be understood. Duque contends that “primary substance is entirely subsumed in secondary substance, or in universality. But this universality is indeed concrete since it bears and holds all particularity and all individuality within itself. It is concrete, but it does not yet know that it is.”  (Duque, 2018, 24). Namely, it doesn’t know that it is also a subject.

The intentional character of the subject, as it is understood in self-consciousness, means the understanding of the subject as the one that externalizes itself and then internalizes what was rejected, that is, that understands that this is its way of acting. It also means that being is ultimately recognized in reflection as a first instance, that is, as thinking. Substance is itself thinking, though not recognized as such. Ultimately, therefore, subject is a synthesis of self-consciousness and objectivity.

In judgment, when the subject moves toward the predicate, when it is objectified and when, in subsequent reflection, discovers that it returns to itself (since the predicate is predicated from the subject), then the subject ends up enriched with what the predicate attributes to it.

This, in turn, allows us to understand the controversial and somehow obscure dictum in the 1806 preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit:

According to my view of things, which can be justified through the exposition of the system itself, everything depends on apprehending and expressing the true not as [nicht als] substance, but just as much [eben so sehr] as subject (quoted by Duque, 17)

Hegel therefore contends that self-consciousness is externalized and thus becomes an object. But this posited object is itself the very subject that has been placed as another, thus appearing as an opposite to itself: it knows itself knowing the other.

And this happens because that object is not, as it were, a natural object, a given, but an object created or engendered (like any object, according to Hegel) by self-consciousness. They are, then, two momenta, that of subjectivity (being-for-itself) and that of objectivity (being-in-itself). In reality, however, they are not merely two momenta, but a single reality split into two momenta that are only true in their opposition and in their unity. For subjectivity does not become true if it is not objective and true objectivity cannot be natural but only produced by human endeavor (in the broad sense of the word). This is why the fact that men, at one point in history, had subjected other men to work, to externalize themselves, to produce objects out of themselves, and thus transform a given natural environment into a human environment, is a necessary step in human development, as this is a human creation, an elevation above the natural.

A misreading, according to Duque, is to believe that the substance is not true as if the subject has nothing to do with the substance (or mutatis mutandis, a misreading that believes that freedom has nothing to do with necessity). Just as reason does not exist without understanding, subject does not exist without substance. The subject is thus the conceptual understanding of the substance and the consciousness of necessity. Put differently, it is a continuation of Spinozism taken to its logical extreme.

Simon Høffding: A Phenomenology of Musical Absorption

A Phenomenology of Musical Absorption Book Cover A Phenomenology of Musical Absorption
New Directions in Philosophy and Cognitive Science
Simon Høffding
Palgrave Macmillan
XXII, 282

Reviewed by: Camille Buttingsrud (The Danish National School of Performing Arts)


“Who is playing?” (2). This question, which opens Høffding’s book, is prompted by the late Danish bassoonist Peter Bastian’s story of how he experienced looking at his own fingers “sprinting up and down the fingerboard” of the instrument he was playing, in awe of the skill of his own fingers. Høffding wants to understand the nature of such an unusual experience of the self, undergone by musicians in “those Golden Moments when it suddenly takes off”, as Bastian puts it. The debate regarding how best to comprehend and describe such altered states of subjectivity – found in, for instance, artistic absorption – has occupied theorists of expertise, cognitive scientists, and phenomenologists for a number of years. Høffding’s general approach is to find continuities between the various positions in this debate. The theory of one of the main voices in the debate, Hubert Dreyfus’ theory of skilled coping, is strongly disputed in Høffding’s book (94), though. Skilled coping is the idea that in expertise decision-making and skill acquisition are based on bodily coping rather than representational knowledge. Høffding’s own account of expertise, specifically of musical absorption, is built up through the chapters, and fully unfolds towards the end of the book.

Høffding develops his phenomenology of musical absorption by means of empirical as well as theoretical research. On the empirical side, he bases his investigation on a series of qualitative research interviews with the Danish String Quartet; on the theoretical side, Høffding’s work is rooted in the philosophy of mind and classical and contemporary phenomenology. Furthermore, theories from aesthetics, psychology of music, sleep science, and psychiatry are used in the comparative chapters of the book.

Throughout the book, Høffding focuses on three overlapping themes: the absorbed minimal self, the absorbed reflective self, and the absorbed body (6). These aspects of subjectivity are all part of what Høffding eventually calls performative passivity, a notion inspired by Edmund Husserl’s theory of passive and active synthesis (Husserliana 11).

Høffding’s book is divided into three parts: “Meeting the Danish String Quartet”, “Comparative Perspectives”, and “Phenomenological Underpinnings of the Musically Extended Mind”.

Part One, which presents his empirical research, starts with an elaboration of the qualitative interview processes. We are guided through Høffding’s cooperation with four classical musicians (Asbjørn, Rune, Fredrik and Frederik Ø) and are presented with interesting quotes from Høffding’s interviews with them. Høffding gives a detailed description of his method of phenomenological interview, or PI. PI is methodologically inspired by the work of “Susanne Ravn and Dorothée Legrand in particular” (15), and is developed because “classical phenomenology, apart from phenomenological psychiatry, has not been engaged with interviews” (27). PI is also inspired by Dan Zahavi’s work and by Shaun Gallagher’s idea of phenomenological factual variations relying on empirical data. As a supplement to the established phenomenological practice of thought experiments through eidetic variation, the idea is that “real cases” might serve the same function, and “force us to refine, revise, or even abandon our habitual way of thinking” (See Zahavi 2005 on “real-life deviations”, in Høffding 27).

Høffding takes the musicians’ first-person perspectives seriously and tries to dispense with other theories, explanations, and beliefs about musical absorption, letting the descriptions speak for themselves. The musicians’ descriptions comprise what he calls “tier one” in PI. “Tier two” is the phenomenological analysis of the empirical material, where structures behind the experiences are disclosed (19). Høffding explains how the two tiers are linked and overlap; phenomenology frames the research but the empirical material also informs the phenomenological investigation. To ensure transparent access to his data and work methods, Høffding provides an extensive explanation of how to conduct a phenomenological interview (33), and of his specific work with the quartet.

The musicians are presented one by one. We get to know the violinist Frederik Ø as a complex musician, with an initial need for “a little control” (47) during the performance of concerts. However, after his father’s sudden death, he becomes “emotionally involved in a different fashion” (50) and experiences what we later learn is intense absorption. Rune is the other violinist in the quartet, he is also a folk musician (54). During performances he is “letting the body take over”, and occasionally he experiences extremely intense absorption (57). Asbjørn plays the viola in the quartet. He easily gets intensely absorbed and regularly finds himself in “the zone”, as he calls it, during their concerts. Fredrik is the cellist of the quartet. Like Rune, Fredrik has also experienced the kind of extremely intense absorption one could call an “artistic blackout” (66). Fredrik is intensely absorbed during most concerts.

After the musicians’ profiles, Høffding presents a chart to distinguish the different kinds of experiences Frederik Ø, Fredrik, Asbjørn and Rune have described. Høffding names the chart “a topography of musical absorption” (73) and defines its five main categories as standard absorption, mind wandering not-being-there, frustrated playing, absorbed not-being-there, and ex-static absorption (74).

Standard absorption is the default mode of performing, Høffding writes. The quartet is often in this state, and the state covers a wide range of experiences. Standard absorption includes feeling slightly bored, such as when playing a concert is “just another day at work”, and it also includes more concentrated absorbed playing. In general, the performance runs smoothly in this state – the musicians feel satisfied, are not intensely absorbed and not too challenged (76).

To be in mind wandering not-being-there is the experience of playing automatically while non-related thoughts and associations pop up in one’s mind simultaneously. The quartet calls it “going to Netto”, indicating the experience of leaving the performance mentally to think about what one might need to shop later (77). This is not a state the musicians find themselves in very often.

Likewise, they do not often experience the state of frustrated playing. This mode of performance is one of pure survival. During and after an obstacle, interruption, or other externally imposed experiences, the musicians are intensively focused on trying to get back to standard absorption (80).

Absorbed not-being-there is one of the two states of intense absorption. It is the rare experience of being “completely gone” or “lost in the music” during performance (81). Even if they subsequently cannot conceptually recall the experience, the musicians describe it as bodily pleasant, euphoric, and “of high emotional and existential value” (82). This experience has been described as “lack of awareness, blackout, trance, or even that it wasn’t the musician himself who played” (81).

The other, and more frequently experienced, state of intense absorption is called ex-static absorption. Høffding takes its name from the Greek and Latin description of “standing out from” (85), “not only in the sense that one perceives the world in a distanced, disinterested fashion, but also that this kind of “neutral registration” pertains to oneself”. Here, Høffding aims to capture the intensely absorbed experience a musician has “in the zone”, when his sense of self is altered by the absorption. There is “a heightened overall perception” (86) and the musician feels “invincible”, “powerful” and in “control” of the situation as a whole (84) in this state.

In the following critique, I shall return to the experiences and descriptions of some of these modes of absorption.

In Part Two, Høffding presents and discusses theories of interest for a comparative study of absorption. We are introduced to viewpoints in the expertise debate, material on artistic and aesthetic experience, theories of sleep and dreaming, and the theory of flow, in addition to the phenomenology of schizophrenia.

Besides debating Dreyfus, Høffding engages in the expertise debate through the works of John Sutton et al. and Barbara Montero (102). The former’s theory of Mesh shows how conceptual reflection and bodily coping overlap in skilful activity; while the latter’s argument against “the just-do-it” principle is that thinking does not interfere with acting and “should not be avoided by experts” (106). Høffding is open towards these philosophers’ ideas on how conceptual reflection occurs in musical absorption.

In the discussions on artistic and aesthetic experience, dance and art appreciation is taken into account, and Høffding makes use of theories by Dorotheé Legrand as well as Mikel Dufrenne to finetune his arguments.

In the chapter on dreaming and sleeping, Høffding looks at Evan Thompson’s work and compares lucid dreaming and dreamless sleep with the musicians’ experiences of ex-static absorption and absorbed not-being-there, respectively. In this part of the book, Høffding draws a line between standard playing, mind wandering and absorbed being there, and sees this as a development where “the intentional threads are slackening” (151) and the musician gradually detaches more and more from the situation and his self.

Through the study of theories on schizophrenia, Høffding finds traits of hyper-reflection (168) and self-intimation in the musicians’ experiences of ex-static absorption. Although, where schizophrenia is an ipseity-disturbance (171), Høffding sees a musician as having a robust sense of self (163).

In Part Three, Høffding discusses musical absorption in light of Husserl’s notion of passive and active synthesis and presents his own theory of performative passivity. Høffding defines it as the experience of “altered agency over the process of playing”, “of someone or something other than me causing the music to unfold” (188). The main assumption behind his theory of performative passivty is that musical action is not primarily generated by active egoic consciousness but by a passive enlarged sense of subjectivity (188). The enlarged subject can easily include levels of egoic consciousness, though; there are constant and fluid shifts between passivity and activity (188). In this way, he sees no dichotomy between reflection and pre-reflection in absorption.

According to Høffding, a well-trained body schema is necessary to achieve intense absorption; only experts with thousands of hours of practice behind them can enter these states (215). The music itself and “letting loose of one’s emotions” can boost the opening of the passive dimension (215), and the unfolding of the music through one’s instrument and the bodily we-intentionality and interaction with other musicians are all intertwined with the passive, enlarged self (244).

Høffding closes with a chapter on how playing together feeds the musicians’ sense of passivity. We learn of musical we-ness, partly through Merleau-Ponty’s notion of intercorporeity; the shared and anonymous body (241).

According to Høffding’s findings, there is a path from ordinary absentmindedness and daydreaming, past the state of mind wandering whilst performing, to the most absorbed state of performative passivity (70). In passivity, Høffding claims, the musicians’ body schemata afford the musicians to perform automatically and enable them let go of attending to the technicalities of the performance (199). To Høffding, musical absorption “is a question of “happening” rather than “doing”” (252) and he ends the book by claiming: “Pleasure, beauty, meaning, and encounters with others, in addition to being something we create, is something to which we must be receptive” (255).



In his book, Høffding is open about not having had first-person experience of intense musical absorption (13). He also shares his inability to hear the difference between absorbed musicians’ performances and their performances under stress: “I find myself unable to detect whether a particular performance instantiates standard playing or playing under unusual stress” (100). He writes that intense absorption and its seemingly contradictory experiences of being “more conscious/present”, on one hand, and “less conscious/not present”, on the other (85), generates “a fundamental inability to understand and adequately express the nature of this experience” (85). At the same time, he rejects theories from peers with first-person experience of intense absorption (178). These facts are not necessarily problematic. But in light of them, it is difficult to see, prima facie, how Høffding is entitled to see his own work as “a paradigmatic case” – “the first of its kind” – and to claim that his conclusions will “serve as universal” within his field (30). In other words: he has never experienced x himself, he cannot perceptually detect x in others, he claims that x resists coherent description, he rejects the theories of those who have themselves experienced x – and, nevertheless, he declares his theory of x to be “paradigmatic” and “universal”. But let us not prejudge this. Let’s have a closer look at Høffding’s work and see whether it lives up to its own expectations.

Absorption as Phenomenon

The main goal of Høffding’s book is to investigate absorption. So, how does he understand the term absorption and the experiences behind it? Etymologically, the term absorption has developed from the Latin word absorbeo, which means “sucked or swallowed up”. The musicians’ experiences of being absorbed in terms of being “swallowed up”, are categorized by Høffding as absorbed not-being-there and ex-static absorption. These two are collectively referred to as intense absorption throughout the book.

According to Høffding, musicians are absorbed during all the five states in his topography, including frustrated playing and mind wandering not-being-there (73). But are these two states genuine experiences of absorption?

In frustrated playing, mind wandering not-being-there, as well as in standard absorption, Høffding includes the merely habitual activity of doing what one has learned by heart as an example of musical absorption. What does this all-embracing attitude do to Høffding’s theory of absorption?

Everyone experiences habitual activities, so let’s have a look at a plain example from our everyday lives. Learning how to bike demands conceptual reflection. As soon as you’ve mastered the skill, though, the task is engrained and will be experienced pre-reflectively. You can chat with your friends or listen to music while biking without being disturbed in the performance of the task. The same goes for artists and the elaborate skills they master. There is a level of performance where one is merely doing what one has memorized, and where random reflections and perceptions easily come and go on top of the execution of the activity itself, which has become second nature.

The question is: does this level of habitual mastering of skills qualify as absorption? As a practitioner of performing art, my answer is no. And so, as a philosopher, I find the dilution of the term absorption rather confusing. It is not clear how, for example, standard absorption is distinctly different, consciousness-wise, from situations like my biking example. Musical absorption is initially presented as “a self-transforming experience” (5), and the opening questions of the book: “Who is playing?” and “What kind of self is present when the musician is intensely absorbed in his music”? (2), are supposedly asked in order to investigate these altered experiences of the self. But only two out of Høffding’s five states of absorption constitute actual self-transformation and appear distinctively different from everyday experiences of consciousness; namely, absorbed not-being-there and ex-static absorption. That Høffding draws evidence from the musicians’ experiences of (what are quite plausibly) non-absorbed states in order to make his final points about what absorption as such amounts to, is a basic flaw in the argumentation that weakens the final theory.

That being said, seen as an overview and topography of musical performance, Høffding’s categorization chart nicely distinguishes different experiences musicians may have during practice, rehearsal and concert playing, and as such it is highly applicable.

Distance, Disinterest, and Detachment

In the construction of his arguments, Høffding appears to favour certain interpretations of the musicians’ statements, interpretations that emphasize occurrences of distance, disinterest, and detachment in absorption.

In one of his early interview sessions, Høffding categorized his transcriptions of the interviews in groups, one of them being “distance in absorption” (41). In his theoretical comparison chapters, he discusses how phenomenological psychopathology points to the existence of “unnatural” self-distance (8) in schizophrenia and finds parallels to this in the musicians’ experiences (162). He states that the musicians have “a superior bodily self-coinciding and self-reliance” (170), though, and sees the juxtaposing as a tool to understand how the “empirical foundation of ordinary consciousness (…) is prone to variation” (171). In a similar way, Høffding compares the musicians’ alleged experiences of self-distance in intense absorption to experiences of deep sleep (absorbed not-being-there) and lucid dreaming (ex-static absorption) (145).

Ex-static absorption “consists in a distance to oneself, one’s actions, and one’s body” (167), Høffding claims; whereas absorbed not-being-there is “entirely vacuous” (83), “followed by an almost total amnesia” (81). But how are the musicians phrasing these experiences?

Frederik Ø shares how he changes after his father’s sudden death and plays a concert where he lets go of his previous need to have “a little control” (47). During the concert it is “as if everything just disappears (…), I am not really there (…). Everything just is. So it is exactly both being present and not being present simultaneously” (50). He continues: “It is like… the feeling of looking over a large landscape (…), you cannot see the individual parts, you just know that all of it contributes to the being, and that you actually could affect the little things (…)” (51). Høffding sees Frederik Ø as being at a “distance from his own mental life” here (146).

Asbjørn tells us about the same experience of being “both less conscious and a lot more conscious (…)” (60). In his ideal absorption he is “this commander just moving the pieces and making the perfect phrase without trying, just because it is there and I can do anything I want” (62). In the same quote he talks about his ability to be aware of many musical elements at the same time, through his “hive mind” (62). We learn how he is “neutrally registering” the audience, not like a co-player but “looking at the set-up” and feeling like “a commander deploying the troops and control it (…)” (84). Høffding interprets Asbjørn’s experiences as “disinterested observation” (84).

Through his investigations of spatial experiences in schizophrenia, sleep, dream, and intense musical absorption, Høffding finds that they share traits of detachment (151), distance (85), and disinterest (192). Høffding takes these disconnections to the self and to the situation very literally. He compares the musicians’ experiences of being “a commander” and “flying over a landscape” with experiences of physical distance. In ex-static absorption one is thus too far away to have any agency, Høffding claims, “sitting in an airplane high up in the sky” perceiving from a great distance ”a very large landscape without parts” (147). When in absorbed not-being-there, the experience is of being too close to the music” to “perceive it well” (148). It’s like “looking at a large Monet from very close up” (147).

Høffding is referring to the altered perception of objects in the intensely absorbed states and offers us a discussion on the matter and a thorough explanation of his view. But is this the best way to interpret what the musicians experience?

Artists in general seem to claim that intense absorption is their ideal state of performing and the quartet is no exception. They stress how being intensely absorbed makes them “listen in a better way” (59), feel “powerful” (81), in “very deep control” (61), and feel “intense euphoric joy” (66). This sounds more like descriptions of total involvement – not like disinterest, distance or detachment. Is there an alternative to Høffding’s interpretation which captures the presence, engagement, and interest the musicians indicate they experience in intense absorption?

One way of describing it would be that in intense absorption the musician’s focus shifts from being on particular objects to embracing the situation as a whole. This does not indicate distance; on the contrary, it describes the integration with something larger than oneself that often happens in these states. As there is no experience of distance or disinterest in one’s bodily and affective self, but rather an increased focus through the body, intense absorption could be seen as a state characterized by bodily and affective agency. Høffding’s understanding, as well as the most common way of understanding agency, is based on the traditional dualistic and hierarchical idea that the self equals the mind, and that the bodily self is “automatic”, “pre-egoic”, and without the ability of agency – an understanding that often falls short in matters of art.

One could say that in intense absorption the mind is put on hold or is participating in a sparse manner; at that stage, judgments and objectifications are not needed to perform the activity. The bodily self has full power and control over the musical performance, works hard, and enjoys it.

Just like it is possible to be totally engaged in the analysis of a philosophical text, only to later to “wake up” and realize one is hungry or that one’s leg is “asleep”, one can shift focus from an everyday consciousness in performance to an utterly engaged bodily and affective focus.

Some of the above mentioned aspects seem close to what Høffding finds in his theory of performative passivity: the “blurring of the subject/object distinction” (215), “a powerful change in the deepest layers of subjectivity” (175), the opening to something larger than one’s self, for instance “musical interkinesthetic affectivity” (246), and the reliance upon the bodily (195). But Høffding favours the understanding of passivity and a receptive self in intense absorption and finds ways throughout the book to emphasise this.

In his theoretical investigations, Høffding occasionally uses quotes outside of their intended contexts. Referencing Evan Thompson, Høffding writes: “Lucid dreaming is essentially marked by a phenomenal distance to oneself (…)” (154). But on the page referred to in Thompson’s book “Waking, Dreaming, Being” (2015), there is no mention of distance in lucid dreaming. Thompson elaborates upon the I as dreamer and the I as dreamed in this manner: “These are not two entities or things; they’re two kinds of self-awareness, two modes of self-experience” (Thompson 2015, 140).

In another example, Høffding discusses the experience of objects in passive intentionality with Dan Zahavi. He mentions Zahavi’s “recent, comprehensive work on Husserl” (184), and glosses Zahavi as making a point about passivity (184). But the actual page concerns “the world annihilation” thought-experiment from Husserl’s “Ideen 1”, and says nothing about passivity.

Another example of biased use of theoretical evidence is Høffding’s references to the Kantian notion of aesthetic disinterest. He interprets this disinterest as “not soliciting engagement, but mere distanced observation” (124) and compares it with the quartet’s experiences of “observation as neutral” and not being “part of the set-up” (125). Though I’m far from being a Kant scholar, it is clear enough that Kant’s notion of aesthetic disinterest differs from our everyday understanding of the term disinterest. The Kantian term covers an interest in the aesthetic object as experienced in its own right – the immediate, direct perception of the aesthetic object. The lack of interest is a lack of interest in the object’s utility and determinate meaning. Høffding seems to understand and use aesthetic disinterest in a different manner – as an experience of observing from a distance without engagement.

Performative Passivity

Høffding interprets Husserl’s theory of passive and active synthesis as holding that passive and active are opposing ends of a smooth continuum. As such, Høffding repeatedly mentions that the theory “fits like hand in glove” (178) with the altered state of the self found in intense absorption; characterizing this type of absorption as that of extreme passivity and differing from other types of absorption mainly in degree. Taken together with his lack of patience for the expertise debate’s dichotomy between reflection and pre-reflection (113), one gets the impression that passivity and activity in passive and active synthesis must be experiences of consciousness that are altogether different from reflection and pre-reflection – a Husserlian gem unknown to most of us, presented in this book as the resolution of dualistic thinking about artistically absorbed subjects. But a more thorough look at Husserl’s theory, in parallel with Høffding’s book, shows that even though the distinction between activity and passivity is not the distinction between reflection and pre-reflection, we are not faced with a distinctly alternative description of subjective experience. The theory of passive and active synthesis is Husserl’s further investigation into how the deepest pre-reflective layers of subjectivity influence and cooperate with the subject’s active and intentional acts, being it on a pre-reflective or a reflective level. Musicians are, doubtlessly, undergoing passive and active syntheses during their concerts. We all are, every day. There is nothing extraordinary in experiencing passive and active syntheses. Husserl’s theory is rather an extraordinarily profound description of our consciousness structures (as far as this author understands Husserliana 11).

I agree with Høffding, though, that describing intense absorption “as a certain relationship between reflective and pre-reflective awareness, or as a specially trained form of reflection or pre-reflection” (176) is insufficient. This terminology is based on an out-dated, dualistic hierarchy where mind reigns over a body, upon which it simultaneously depends. Yet, Høffding still seems to buy into this hierarchy by describing a bodily and affectively active subject as “passive” – just because the subject’s mind is passive. By calling one of the intense states absorbed not-being-there – when his qualitative material states that it is an experience of “really being there” (57) and of being “immensely present” (67) – Høffding seems to ignore the fact that there are parts of us that are indeed there in intense absorption, even when “the head is completely empty” (57). To be fair; Høffding does not entirely deny this in his conclusions. But his semantics, and what seems to be his overall view of what a subject is, contradicts his evidence.

So, how does Høffding see passivity as compatible with absorption? Does it make sense to say that musicians get increasingly immersed in their work by means of a path from absentmindedness to mind wandering, past daydreaming to intense absorption – all during habitual playing? (70) It sounds rather vacuous – and Høffding actually labels absorbed not-being-there as “vacuous” (83). What would be one’s drive and motive, as a musician, then? Høffding’s answer is that music as a structure affords cooperation and absorption (252) – one is simply drawn to it.

When asked how the “primitive phenomenality” of a passive self can produce “complex and beautiful music”, Høffding answers that the musical work performed through the body schema and the musicians’ “emotional engagement” is sufficient for that purpose (250).

Perhaps this process of random perception of impressions from one’s life-world, combined with “letting loose of one’s emotions” during the performance of one’s memorized work is enough for some performing artists. I am not able to tell. But when it comes to creators of art, this theory’s applicability seems even more limited. Improvising performers are creators, alongside painters, composers, choreographers, sculptors, poets and others. Creating and producing art from scratch cannot be explained as habitual activity and haphazard receptivity.

Many creators, like many performers, experience their artistic activities as a kind of “conversation” with the world and their fellow human beings – just like Fredrik does (64). There are things you want to express and share through your art. “In the same way that I do not think about the technicalities of talking, so do I not think about the technicalities of playing”, Fredrik says (64), and divulges that these processes are not necessarily conceptually reflective – neither are they passive and anonymous.

Trusting the body schema in order to “let go” and get absorbed, might prove to be problematic for creators and performers of improvised art. Høffding claims that “if those micro movements are not in perfect place, the necessary trust will not be relegated and the distanced or ex-static view of one’s own body will not be enabled” (171). In improvised dance, in much jazz music, and in the performance of classical Indian ragas, for example, there is no way of preparing “every micro movement” – these art forms are created and performed simultaneously.

It is, therefore, not clear to me how Høffding’s theory of performative passivity could serve as universal within the field of musical absorption. Besides, I am far from convinced that this theory accounts for the active body in sufficient detail. That being said, I find Høffding’s qualitative research and cooperation with the four musicians intriguing and inspiring.

What Høffding writes is of importance. We are not often made aware of our possibilities of mere receptivity, of “letting go” (of the mind’s activities), of “being open” and “one with the world” in the way radical passivity allows us. Høffding’s book reminds us of these possibilities. Undergoing these aspects in passive and active synthesis is necessary in order to become absorbed in artistic and aesthetic activity and experience. I don’t find the theory of performative passivity sufficient as an argument for what absorption amounts to, but I appreciate the book. It bears evidence of a hardworking, passionate, insistent, and thorough philosopher and researcher.


Husserl, Edmund. 1966. Analysen zur passiven Synthesis: Aus Vorlesungs- und Forschungsmanuskripten 1918-1926. Nijhoff: Den Haag.

Thompson, Evan. 2015. Waking, Dreaming, Being. Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy. Colombia University Press: New York.

Zahavi, Dan. 2017. Husserl’s Legacy. Phenomenology, Metaphysics, and Transcendental Philosophy. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

Jorella Andrews: The Question of Painting: Re-thinking Thought with Merleau-Ponty

The Question of Painting: Rethinking Thought with Merleau-Ponty Book Cover The Question of Painting: Rethinking Thought with Merleau-Ponty
Jorella Andrews
Hardback £76.50

Reviewed by: Nikoleta Zampaki (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens,

The Question of Painting. Re-thinking Thought with Merleau-Ponty offers a unique and refreshing perspective on fields including visual studies, phenomenology, ecophenomenology, inter-artistic relations, and studies of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy. By developing an inter-artistic approach, Jorella Andrews demonstrates how phenomenology is relevant for painting. The title indicates the central thesis: perception and experience are aesthetic, so that there is an art of painting and an art of perception. Perceptual experience is open to interpretation in a way that is analogous to works of art.

The book is organized around a chronological account of Merleau-Ponty’s works and thought and its connections with art, highlighting how painting, as a way of exploration and artistic expression, articulates its contents and discourses on many aspects of daily life. Indeed, in the Visible and the Invisible, Merleau-Ponty points us in this direction: “Essence and existence, the imaginary and the real, the visible and the invisible, painting blurs all our categories in unfolding its oneiric universe of carnal essences, of efficient resemblances, and of silent significations”. (1) The instauration of appearing as such in painting is interpreted extensively through Andrews’ book. Painting represents but at the same time paints the invisible visibility of the visible. The focus here is on Merleau-Ponty’s later works, especially The Visible and the Invisible, Eye and Mind, and the Notes de cours 1959-1961. Andrews’ aim is to illuminate and trace a new ontological perspective as it emerges in these works.

Andrews reads works of art, particularly paintings, as disclosing a certain mutation of man and being. Moreover, Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology examines the embodied and interactive perception as well as the matter of experience. Phenomenological and artistic reflection are closely connected and this book clarifies how artistic standpoints ought to be examined in parallel with phenomenological investigation. In Merleau- Ponty’s thought aesthesis and aesthetics are intertwined. Embodiment has its own vitality and the feedback between artist and artwork represent the relation between body and world. Thus, Merleau-Ponty’s analysis of art centers on bodily presence, representation and feelings in the context of experience. The book also describes Merleau-Ponty’s aesthetic world as an opening contraction of the human world. Sensory experience is implicated in aesthetics and both are grounded in the body. The painter both experiences the world through the body and draws the world’s Totality. It is insofar as he or she is in contact with the realm of the visible that she or he is able to experience this Totality. This cosmic model of representation can be described as a Gestalt.

Andrews analyzes nature, rationalism, empiricism, dualism and behaviorism through the cognitive field that remarks the significance of Gestalt. In place of empiricism and intellectualism, Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology offers a vision on the matter of subjectivity and world as an accommodation of thought. Merleau-Ponty’s critique of Cartesian representationalism and its consequences has been taken up within cognitive philosophy and the philosophy of mind. Cartesian rationalism was unable to overcome the central artistic dimensions of depth. Andrews describes all these fields deeply and thoroughly, and she frames and places Merleau-Ponty’s thought within an artistic context.

Drawing on the concept of aesthetics, the book focuses on the presentation of the cooperative relationship between being and environment, as well as the structure of being and its presence in phenomenological and artistic context. Indeed, in the act of reading this book, all of our senses are participating to realize Merleau-Ponty’s aesthetic experience. We can perceive its uniqueness, which can be described by Merleau-Ponty’s terms and experience. This books draws the visible invisibility to the visual field of phenomenology and aesthetics. Our nature is collaborating with the Gestalt to touch Merleau-Ponty’s thoughts on art, a goal to which Andrews contributes with her magisterial writing.

The first part of the book reinserts phenomenology and its eco-spirit into the critical and theoretical framework of phenomenology and painting. Every being has its own consciousness and exhibits the structure of itself. The matter of embodiment and embodied perception are central axis of Merleau-Ponty’s thought throughout his works. Paul Cézanne was the painter who remains the basic example in in Merleau-Ponty’s works, thought he also draws on other painters, including Paul Klee and Henri Matisse. The formal philosophical thought of Merleau-Ponty intersects with the works of Cézanne and other painters as if they express what in transcendental phenomenology remains a mystery. The analysis of flesh follows from Merleau-Ponty’s recuperation of Cézanne, Klee and Matisse in their effort to capture the primodial and perpetual a priori opening to the open and the power of sense making. Flesh is the primordial instituting linguistic power that opens the world sensibly and instituting the human being as independent into the experience of the world.

Andrews refers to the theoretical framework of the art 20th and 21st centuries and engages a wider and better vision of the artistic discipline in order to introduce Merleau-Ponty’s thought on painting. Her reading of Merleau-Ponty’s notion of flesh is relative to painting. There is a carnal ground binding into a style of particular differentiation between brushwork, coloration, and technical processes, for instance that of impressionism or expressionism. Many philosophical and artistic concepts cover and at the same time unfold the question of painting and its impact on Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy. Three basic phenomenological ideas are embodied perception, lived body, and visible matters. Perception relies on lived experience and requires the contribution of our body, making the embodied nature of cognition form our perception.

The second part of the book considers extended thought and draws an illuminating connection among the body, embodiment, and the matter of art. Andrews shows that embodiment plays a major role within art, enabling the artist to integrate the spatiotemporal features of the body’s environment. Perception amounts to the body’s engagement with the world and picture our reality, a co-constitution of the lifeworld and the brain. The subjective body (Leib) and the objective body (Körper) forms a dialectical unity. Andrews recalls that the subjective body is the background of all the forms of experiences and especially the artistic. Inter-corporeity is the basis of our experience and artistic dimension whereas objectification is secondary aspect.

In the third part of the book Andrews focuses on linguistic concepts and on the theme of representation both in Merleau-Ponty’s work and in art. The phenomenon of resonance between linguistic tool and art is investigated extensively. Discourse plays the major role in the expression’s tools and mechanisms of artistic references. For example, Merleau-Ponty’s metaphors, as Andrews makes clear, are used as expressions of the lived experience of the subject and show how his thought is formed around the aesthetic experience of the phenomenological process. His metaphors hide an experimental and experiential spirit. The author exposes Merleau-Ponty’s immanent expressivity and creation of meanings. Underlying Merleau-Ponty’s conviction that personal expression (speech) is more meaningful than the impersonal (sedimented language) is a fundamental naturalism.

The fourth part of the book focuses on Merleau-Ponty’s terms such as flesh, visible, invisible, and chiasm as the main points of reinserting painting and artistic discourse into phenomenology through an ontological perspective. The field of vision and its depth through being’s embodiment is given in a vivid spirit, through memorable examples. Merleau-Ponty holds that the perceiver is embedded in the aesthetic space and interacts with it through experiences and senses. Flesh is the bridge between Leib and nature. Andrews notices the linguistic frameworks that aim to take our lived experience and inter-corporeity into an account of art. Linguistic resonance is strongly at play in inter-affectivity and artistic responses and leads that involved the entire subject’s body.

The book demonstrates how deeply the phenomenological and artistic traditions are connected and draws a perspective through a prismatic discipline in the phenomenological context. Andrews presents and re-presents the matter of intra-corporeality in the sense that subjectivity and objectivity are in dialogue. The microscopic world of living is in dialogue with the macroscopic world of painting through the linguistic resonance of inter-artistic relations. Moroever, the picture of embodiment and embodied cognition that is developed here impacts debates concerning the dignity of the person and life. The accounts of perception and of art are organic, interdependent, and dynamic.

The whole book provides an overview of Merleau-Ponty’s thought. But it also offers new points of view on the fields described above and never loses sight of the phenomenological field of Merleau-Ponty’s eco-artistic perspective. Andrews reinserts the reader to Merleau-Ponty’s thought and way of thinking as living communication with the world. The book contributes significantly to the intense debate concerning oculocentrism in the 1980s and guided by phenomenology at every critical juncture. In conclusion, it addresses major topics and motivates readers to explore an interesting field of research, which is still open to new interventions. The book is a welcome affirmation of the fluidity and versatility of Merleau-Ponty’s thinking, and promises to open the door to new intellectual and phenomenological creativity.


Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 1964. Le visible et l’invisible, C. Lefort (ed.), Paris: Gallimard.