Agata Bielik-Robson, Daniel Whistler (Eds.): Interrogating Modernity: Debates with Hans Blumenberg

Interrogating Modernity: Debates with Hans Blumenberg Book Cover Interrogating Modernity: Debates with Hans Blumenberg
Political Philosophy and Public Purpose
Agata Bielik-Robson, Daniel Whistler (Eds.)
Palgrave Macmillan
Hardback 96,29 €
XXV, 277

Reviewed by: Bruce J. Krajewski (University of Texas at Arlington)

In a recent review, Kate Hayles praises Catherine Malabou for admitting in Morphing Intelligence that she was “dead wrong” about some scholarly matter. While not begrudging Malabou her applause, most academics would have to admit the low cost of such an admission for a full professor invited to speak across the globe, and treated as a “celebrity,” as Malabou is. More praiseworthy is for younger academics, and those with unsubsidized careers in higher education’s hierarchy, to write that some prominent author is wrong. Those assertions can mean banishment from conferences, withdrawal of speaking invitations, and the like, since professional societies devoted (in the questionable sense) to major authors are understandably controlled almost always by an author’s fans, disciples, and sometimes family members. Speaking truth to yourself (a confession) and speaking truth to power is a distance similar to being winged in a Twitterstorm for your views and being “canceled.” None of this should be compared to the kind of courage, say, Alexey Navalny exhibits. That’s a different realm, but needs to be part of the context, lest academics damaged by schoolhouse politics slip into masochism.

The contributors to Interrogating Modernity demonstrate an inspiring irreverence and willingness to declare that the volume’s star, Hans Blumenberg, has gotten things wrong. That virtue makes for an admirable collection worthy of its subtitle. At this early stage—Blumenberg’s ashes were scattered only a quarter century ago—the scholarly work on Blumenberg has been uncritical, making Interrogating Modernity a refreshing novelty on the Blumenbergiana shelf.

Blumenberg’s followers have fashioned a mythic Blumenberg, portraying him as a mysterious intellectual Colossus, adopting Blumenberg’s own tendency later in his life toward self-aggrandizement. Thus, we have the film The Invisible Philosopher, for example. The followers’ strategy has upped the stakes for anyone who might question or criticize the great philosopher.

Willing to be heretical, the contributors to this volume refuse to be intimidated by The Wizard of Oz scenario fabricated by Blumenberg’s fans to promote knee-bending as opposed to scholarly spinefulness. The volume’s editors charged the authors with “putting [Legitimacy of the Modern Age, the book that arguably launched Blumenberg’s international reputation] into dialogue with later versions of modernity” (vii). The editors insisted on rethinking issues Blumenberg raises in Legitimacy, and the contributors frequently exceed expectations in responding to the call for rethinking.

The first essay out the gate encapsulates all that is good about this book. It’s not a head-on meeting with Blumenberg’s Legitimacy. It’s creative. It takes risks. It could have failed. Here’s a taste of Bielik-Robson’s experimentation: “Although it does not mention Job explicitly, Hans Blumenberg’s reading of Descartes suggests this affinity very strongly” (4). Bielik-Robson resurrects an old-fashioned scholarly recipe: rub any two things together and see what sparks fly.

Bielik-Robson recognizes Job as a figure of “self-assertion,” a topos in Blumenberg. Unable to tie Blumenberg directly to Job, Bielik-Robson uses a side door. Blumenberg’s research counterpart in the Hermeneutik und Poetik group, Hans Robert Jauss, views “Job as the first hero of self-assertion” in his essay “Job’s Questions and Their Distant Reply” (6). This clever move allows Bielik-Robson the opportunity to demonstrate an incompleteness in Blumenberg’s attention to Descartes. In Legitimacy, Blumenberg acknowledges the importance of Descartes: “Descartes appear[s] not so much as the founding figure of the epoch as rather the thinker who clarified the medieval concept of reality all the way to its absurd consequences and thus made it ripe for destruction.” Blumenberg wants to downplay “the founding figure,” the singular Descartes,” in order to promote “the thinker,” synonymous with anyone who employs the method Descartes used to bring about the old reality’s destruction.

The new reality Descartes advocates post-destruction appeals to Blumenberg, because it involves principles of construction to philosophize. That is, Descartes emphasizes the form and conditions of thinking rather than the contingent content. Like Descartes, Blumenberg wants “reoocupation” to function as a transcendental model untainted by historical events, a point fleshed out in the last chapter by Whistler. Historical changes are to be explained by Blumenberg’s ahistorical model.

Descartes studies his “own self” in a room of his own, where it occurs to him “that frequently there is less perfection in a work produced by several persons than in one produced by a single hand.” The primacy of the individual thinker is Job redux. Bielik-Robson describes Job’s situation in memorable prose. Job’s story becomes important when “the anthropological minimum [Job] asserted itself for the first time against … the theological maximum [God]” (15). In a schoolbook, this might be described as individuality versus omnipotence.

Job becomes a synonym for “enough is enough!” (16). For Bielik-Robson, Job’s story is the journey of a patient moving toward health. “According to [Jonathan] Lear, the patient reaches the point of relative health when she is able to exclaim: ‘Oh, this is crap!’—which very nicely corresponds with Blumenberg’s take on Descartes, who may be said to have reacted in a similar way, by simply deciding to cut himself off emotionally from the theological morass and call deus fallax a ‘metaphysical fable’—basically, a very crappy story” (16). Unfortunately, Blumenberg’s focus on the meta-analysis instead of the patient means the trauma of being fed up is not given its due as a revolutionary catalyst (18).

Elad Lapidot’s “Legitimacy of Nihilism” juxtaposes Hans Jonas and Blumenberg. Lapidot argues that Blumenberg rejects Jonas’s critique of modernity as “the return of Gnosticism” (45). For Blumenberg’s taste, that would leave modernity without as radical a break as he wants. Blumenberg needs a way past the logic that “legitimacy enters the world through negation, through illegitimacy” (48). Modernity establishes its own legitimacy apart from the previous historical epoch. According to Lapidot, the New itself “is a category of entitlement and legitimation.”

Opposing not only Jonas but also Martin Heidegger, Blumenberg seeks to jettison a notion of continuity attached to a substance. Lapidot writes, “This original constant substance is the basic assumption of all critiques against any historical age” (45). Blumenberg is uninterested in substantialism. He is after something more radical. “The new has no other foundation but itself, and so its specific form of legitimacy is self-legitimization” (47). This antifoundationalism is partly what attracted Richard Rorty to Blumenberg (Rorty was an early Anglophone reviewer of Blumenberg’s Legitimacy book).

Lapidot’s essay pairs well with Daniel Whistler’s “Modernizing Blumenberg.” Whistler begins boldly: “[Blumenberg] gets modernity wrong” (257). According to Whistler, Blumenberg supplements modernist figures’ arguments for modernity’s legitimation, fashioning a case that the modernist figures themselves did not make.

Like Lapidot, Whistler reports that the continuity between the middle ages and modernity Blumenberg emphasizes is functional, but not substantive. In a way, it’s the old form versus content argument. Rather than seeing the two as dependent on other, Blumenberg elevates form over content, since that’s the airplane ticket out of any historical ruptures at ground level. Forms fly above temporality’s constraints. From such a height, anyone might have anticipated Blumenberg to look down on things. Thus, Whistler writes, “[I]t is hard not to discern a slight tone of condescension in Blumenberg’s narrative of modernity” (259).

By siding with form and functionality, Blumenberg asserts that his account offers a novel stability. Whistler: “[W]henever the content of history changes, the forms stay the same. Forms may themselves be changing slowly, but their inertia is sufficient for them to remain a stable reference point by which to make sense of any novelty in history” (263). Blumenberg is not content with the messiness of mere history. “Like Kant, Blumenberg considers his transcendental apparatus to be immutable, to exist outside of the frame of historical change and epochal transformation” (264). Whistler concludes that this viewpoint makes Blumenberg a “right Aristotelian” (268). Given Blumenberg’s allegiances to far-right ideas linked to Latinate Catholicism, Whistler’s “right Aristotelian” designation rings true. Blumneberg is a “conservative” (267).

In the chapter contrasting Bruno Latour and Blumenberg, Willem Styfhals understands Blumenberg as an “apologist” (77) for the ecological mess we are in, and decides Latour offers better options for the predicted apocalypse. “The apocalypse is an unstable, unbearable position that might be conceptually appealing but not practically endurable. This is what Blumenberg made crystal clear in Lebenszeit und Weltzeit as well as in Legitimacy. The apocalypse is so attractive because it allows us to see the world in a radically different perspective, liberates us from the old world for a moment. But this moment does not give rise to a stable and durable position in the world” (77). Syfhals has missed Frederic Jameson’s insight, cited in Slavoj Žižek’s Living in the End Times, that calls for distinguishing among apocalypses: “[I]t is easier to imagine a total catastrophe which ends all life on earth than it is to imagine a real change to capitalist relations” (334).

Latour does not see capitalism as the problem; it’s religion: “If modernity were not so deeply religious, the call to adjust oneself to the Earth would be easily heard.” (71). Thus, Styfhals says, “[W]e should develop a political theology of the environmental apocalypse” (61).

While Blumenberg published at least one book specifically about technology, it’s difficult to categorize any other of his major writings as confronting environmental issues in the way Styfhals does with his focus on Latour and the Anthropocene. No one would think of Blumenberg as a stand-in for Rachel Carson.

The fourth chapter by Joseph Albernaz and Kirill Chepurin also addresses the theme of political theology. Styfhals’s use of apocalypse in the previous chapter has its place in the fourth chapter. For anyone acquainted with televangelism, the continual announcement of forthcoming apocalypses is a staple of populist Christianity. No matter that a specific date for the rapture is given and then passes. That failure is overlooked while a new date for the end is announced. The misreading of signs can be chalked up to human fallibility rather than an indication of a flaw in “God’s plan.” Albernaz and Chepurin recognize that what becomes important for Christianity is not that the world didn’t end as predicted, but that it continues: “But as Christianity found itself needing to explain the world’s continued existence, it was also establishing itself … as a [worldly] power. As a result, it needed to justify not the end of the world, but its prolongation” (86). The Christian Church sets itself up “as the institution of the not-yet that is the world – as the institution ‘stabilizing’ this not-yet” (86).

Within this context of an ever-delayed apocalypse, Christians fashioned a God with unlimited sovereignty and omnipotence. However, by the late medieval period God’s characteristics became incomprehensible, “alien to consciousness,” according to Albernaz and Chepurin (88). In response to this affront to consciousness, human beings develop their own rationality to give themselves security that is comprehensible (91-92).

The deleterious effects of Christianity’s global power as explored by Albernaz and Chepurin also concern Lissa McCullough. Her essay makes the case that if you thought Martin Heidegger and Carl Schmitt were harmful, then you need to take a second look at John Locke (124). “Locke founded a new religion focused around the sacrality of proprietas in The Second Treatise on Government, while retaining in The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695) as much as was reasonably salvageable of the trappings of Christian faith to give the new religion a respectable pedigree, hitching it to . . . the authority of an apparent continuity with Jewish-Christian tradition (122). If you wonder why some people feel it legitimate to kill others for stealing, you can thank Locke for valorizing property over human lives. McCullough writes that Locke and his advocates managed to persuade numerous capitalists that the individual’s only incentive to consent to “join” society is to protect the property he has” (122).

McCullough sifts through Blumenberg to demonstrate Blumenberg’s allegiance to Locke’s valorization of property, despite Blumenberg’s efforts to make Locke seem insignificant to the massive scholarly buttresses Blumenberg uses to build his cases. Vital matters pivot on a reference to Locke in a footnote, for example. “[A]n extended footnote in Paradigms for a Metaphorology (1960) … proves a vein of gold when mined for its immense implications. This footnote expands on the notion of truth as a product of labour. In it, Blumenberg remarks that this sort of produced [constructed?] truth is truth that is legitimately one’s own. The possession to be taken” (110). McCullough’s hermeneutical attention shows Blumenberg’s participation in Locke’s scheme. Blumenberg contributes to overturning the Horatian view that what is natural is not something one can own: “Nor he, nor I, nor any man, is made/by Nature private owner of the soil” (111).

In addition to articles that confront Blumenberg’s arguments and politics, the collection features authors who affirm Blumenberg’s positions. Zeynep Talay Turner’s “Political Legitimacy and Founding Myths” corroborates Blumenberg’s criticism of Hannah Arendt in Blumenberg’s “Moses the Egyptian,” written around 1978. Turner writes, “As Freud took Moses the man from his people [Blumenberg says Freud “damaged” his people’s “self-confidence”], so Hannah Arendt took Adolf Eichmann from the State of Israel.” Blumenberg does not hide his “indignation” towards this “stealing” (129).

Turner captures the salient features of “Moses the Egyptian” and presents an effective précis of Blumenberg’s use of the term “prefiguration.” Even though Turner seems ultimately to agree with Blumenberg about Eichmann in Jerusalem, Turner notes in his conclusion that Blumenberg may have been venturing outside his area of expertise in taking up the question of “what a Jewish state should do with someone who had sought to destroy the Jews” (146).

According to Turner and Blumenberg, Israel needed Eichmann to take on a mythic role at his trial in order to solidify Israeli nationhood. It’s not clear whether anyone ever laid that task at Arendt’s feet during the trial, since she was writing in the moment, as events unfolded. Unlike Blumenberg, Arendt did not have the luxury of hindsight, nor was she alive in 1978 to respond to such criticism. Furthermore, Turner and Blumenberg do not provide details of how Arendt’s book on Eichmann undermined Israel, then or since. Conceptual damage is of a different order from “stealing” a nation’s legitimacy.

In Chapter 7, Robert Buch concentrates on a “neglected” (153) part of Legitimacy of the Modern Age, the section about theoretical curiosity. Why has it been neglected? Buch: “The reasons for the relative neglect of the third part undoubtedly have to do with its length and more specifically its detail and apparent digressiveness, but above all its sheer material abundance.”

The editors sought to bring Blumenberg into conversation with other thinkers, and Buch chooses Husserl as Blumenberg’s conversation partner. Buch’s aim is “to juxtapose Blumenberg’s account of the genesis of early modern science with Husserl’s Crisis of the European Sciences” (153).

Perceptions of science’s legitimacy have relevance, Buch writes, given “the modern suspicion of science, aggravated dramatically in our times of climate crisis” (164). Husserl questioned the cause of a universal science, a science that adhered to rational structures and objectivity (166). Husserl reacted against the easy division between objectivity and subjectivity. Husserl posits that modern science fails to consider consciousness as a component of its investigations.

In Buch’s account, Blumenberg owes many debts to Husserl’s view of science and technology. The differences are fewer than the commonalities. One important difference appears in Blumenberg’s narrative about the electric doorbell in an essay Buch leans on heavily, “Phenomenological Aspects on Life-World and Technization,” now available in English in The Blumenberg Reader. Blumenberg says the electric doorbell, the workings of which are hidden in comparison to a mechanical doorbell, “is ‘packaged’ in a way that it conceals this history and deprives it from us in its abstract uniformity…. [I]t is legitimized by being … put into operation” (Blumenberg Reader, 386). The “artificial product,” the doorbell, is “shrouded” with “obviousness”; technization produces this unquestioned obviousness (Reader, 387), a point Blumenberg claims shows the limits of Husserl’s commentary on the connection between life-world and technization. Blumenberg aims to show that his account is “more complicated.” To appreciate Blumenberg’s point, think of the unknowability about the functioning of crosswalk buttons in urban centers, many of which remain deliberately unfixed. Even a non-working button gives the illusion of control.

Charles Turner’s chapter on “infinite progress” in science concludes with an exploration of time and the life of the politician (175). In the middle of the two topics is C. Turner’s choice for Blumenberg’s partner in dialogue, Max Weber. The question Weber poses that C. Turner investigates is: [W]hat are the chances that someone whose life is necessarily limited to one arena of activity can achieve something of lasting significance?” (181). Weber directs that question at scholars and politicians.

In making Weber’s question contemporary, C. Turner reminds readers about the fast pace of contemporary life coupled with an increase in life expectancy. In the infinity of time, how are finite individuals to gather meaning for their lives? For scholars, the fear is that one’s work becomes obsolete within the scholar’s lifetime. For the politician, long-lasting glory can come with great success, but few politicians are remembered beyond their lifetimes. As Weber puts it, the scholarly life is chained to progress (thus fear of obsolescence), while the political life is more like art in that multiple spectacular achievements by different artists are possible, though those achievements must be of a stature to escape temporal constraints (184).

Weber’s long view echoes Blumenberg’s considerations of Lebenszeit and Weltzeit, the tension between the individual’s tiny lifetime amidst the ocean of time that is world history. Blumenberg suggests we leave the tension in place, lest the world itself suffer as it did with Adolf Hitler. According to Blumenberg, Hitler’s sin was an effort at melding Lebenszeit and Weltzeit. The evidence lies in a quotation from Hitler: “I … stand under the command of fate to achieve everything within a short human life … That for which others have an eternity, I have merely a few meagre years” (191).

In Chapter 9, Oriane Petteni escorts her readers into the world of art history and optics. This gives Petteni reason to ponder Blumenberg’s preference not to be photographed (202), as if Blumenberg’s own study of optics caused his wish to avoid the medium. Petteni is well aware Blumenberg’s avoidance of selfies is something more than shyness. Petteni sees it as connected to much larger matters, like truth. The visible and the hidden link up with Western beliefs about truth. Petteni writes, “[I]n the modern age, truth no longer reveals itself; instead, it must be revealed by decisive action” (195). That is, we must work for our truth.

The comments on truth correspond to Blumenberg’s views about biology. Petteni sees that Blumenberg derives his anthropology from biology. Petteni turns to The Genesis of the Copenican World for evidence. “The Earth requires both exposure to the Sun for complex lifeforms to arise and protection from direct exposure to sun rays, which would otherwise threaten to consume every living thing. The exposure to light requires—for the Earth as well as for human beings—a kind of filter or screen” (203). Others back up Petteni’s sense that Blumenberg foregrounds the importance of indirection and camouflage, such as the recent biography by Uwe Wolff, who notes multiple times Blumenberg’s penchant for indirect communication.

Petteni finishes her reflections on Blumenberg via a journey through Franz Kafka’s Der Bau. The unfinished Kafka text parallels, for Petteni, Blumenberg’s open-endedness regarding the human impulse to fashion “endless significance” (211). The story about a burrow also fits in with a quotation Petteni cites by Heinz Wisman, “[Blumenberg’s] thought is strongly marked by the worry not to remain at the surface of things” (202).

Chapter 10 might serve readers best read in conjunction with the first and the last chapters where Descartes has a prominent role. One difference about Adi Efal-Lautenschläger’s chapter is the linkage between Descartes and Blumenberg’s book The Legibility of the World. Blumenberg himself points out the parallels between his theme in Legibility and Descartes’s Traité du monde et de la lumière. What does Blumenberg find in Descartes’ book? “The self is to be experienced according to the measure of the world, as compatible or not with its changing conditions” (Legibility, 92). This lesson runs counter to interpretations of Descartes that rely on the celebrated cogito ergo sum and tend to make Descartes a happy solipsist. The lesson also seems a challenge to Whistler’s essay in which Blumenberg leaves behind the messy world for timeless forms and models, though keep in mind that Whistler’s interpretation launches from a different Blumenberg work, Legitimacy rather than Legibility.

Efal-Lautenschläger contributes a useful dichotomy based on the arguments of Legibility: “Blumenberg chooses to put his concept of reality on the side of world-imaging, instead of world-modelling. [R]eality is understood as belonging to the arena of representations or of world-imaging. World imaging – and, with it, reality itself – has an interpretative orientation: the reality that results from the image of the world is designated as an act of reading” (224-25).

Credit the editors with choosing to follow Efal-Lautenschläger’s essay with one that expands Efal-Lautenschläger’s points. Returning to Blumenberg’s Legitimacy of the Modern Age, Sonja Feger dives into another pairing, “reoccupation” (Umbesetzung) and “reality-concepts” (Wirklichkeitsbegriffe). Feger tells readers that Blumenberg uses reoccupation “to explain how epochal change can be grasped. On the other hand, and in other texts, he provides a historical analysis of what he calls “reality-concepts.” “In this chapter, I attempt to bring these two concepts into line with each other” (237).

Reoccupation is up first. Feger: “It is important to note that “reoccupation”, that is, the English term Wallace uses to translate the German word Umbesetzung, does not allude to anything antagonistic; it is not about any kind of (intellectual) conquest or usurpation. Rather, the term brings into focus the process-character of epochal change” (244). Emphasizing the “process-character” of change points to Whistler again, because “reoccupation” is about a perennial question-and-answer model Blumenberg wants to say is at work. Not that a “firm canon” of “great questions” exists. Fegel warns readers not to become fixated on answers or questions in their concrete content. Relying on a quotation from Blumenberg’s essay on secularization, Fegel asks readers to remember that “the historical identity and methodical identifiability of supposedly secularized notions is an illusion created by the identity of the function that altogether heterogeneous contents can assume in certain positions within man’s system of understanding the world and himself” (245).

How do we find out about reality? In some places, like Blumenberg’s famous essay on the possibility of the novel, his response seems to be “sometimes we won’t.” Feger pinpoints his wording: “[I]t is quite natural that the most deeply hidden implication of an era – namely, its concept of reality – should become explicit only when the awareness of that reality has already been broken.” (246). It’s a version of not being able to see the forest for the trees. “The subject as historically situated can only account for earlier concepts of reality, not current ones” (246).

Exiting that reality dilemma depends on reality-concepts. “Making a reality-concept explicit draws on the distinction between an object (i.e. a certain behaviour towards reality) and reflection on that object” (247). While it looks as if Blumenberg’s position is that our reflecting on an object called reality is accurate only for earlier periods, Feger says our access to what’s real about the moment we are in depends on Husserlian transcendental phenomenology. “[T]ranscendental consciousness both carries out and simultaneously reflects upon the process of (reality-) constitution” (248). Problem solved (if Blumenberg is correct).


Bajohr, Hannes, Florian Fuchs, and Joe Paul Kroll (Eds.). 2020. History, Metaphor, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader. Ithaca, NY. Cornell University Press.

Hayles, N. Katherine. 2019. “Review of Morphing Intelligence.” Posted May 17, 2019. Accessed November 1, 2020.

Prisco, Jacopo. 2020. “Illusion of Control: Why the World is Full of Buttons that Don’t Work.” Accessed November 1, 2020.

Wolff, Uwe. 2020. Der Schreibtisch des Philosophen: Erinnerungen an Hans Blumenberg. München: Claudius Verlag.

Žižek, Slavoj. 2011. Living in the End Times. London: Verso.

Hanjo Berressem: Gilles Deleuze’s Luminous Philosophy

Gilles Deleuze's Luminous Philosophy Book Cover Gilles Deleuze's Luminous Philosophy
Hanjo Berressem
Edinburgh University Press

Reviewed by: Timothy Deane-Freeman (Deakin University)

There is a kind of light which is perceptible only on the “other side” of darkness, in a movement through the colour spectrum, through the shadowy non-colour, black, and beyond, where we discover a luminescence immanent to the universe itself. This is certainly the light which plays upon the impossibly black surfaces of Pierre Soulages’ Outrenoir paintings, constituting, in Alain Badiou’s words, “a light other than light” which opens up “the painterly landscape of a world without borders and of an infinite potential of perspectives…” (2017: 21-22). This is likewise the light seething beneath Bacon’s canvases, which will need to be “cleaned” of the figurative clichés already covering them, such that it might be captured in the aleatory diagrams of the artist (Deleuze 2003: 86-87). And it’s precisely this light which is the object of Hanjo Berressem’s impressive and accomplished study, Gilles Deleuze’s Luminous Philosophy, a monograph which aims, in the author’s words, “to develop a coherent image of Deleuze’s philosophy from two of its conceptual leitmotifs: light and crystals” (1).

Berressem’s reasons for centralising these two motifs are multiple. The notion of light, he will argue, captures the affirmative and optimistic spirit of Deleuze’s thought, its playful and joyous elements. At the level of Deleuze’s metaphysics, light provides us with a persuasive means of drawing out his Spinozism in the vocabulary of 20th century physics, of which more shortly. Finally, this approach opens up a new and productive way of thinking about the Deleuzian individual– as the crystalline centre for a refractive “play” of this immanent light, of which it constitutes a temporary and contingent means of capture. Of course, these three axioms are fundamentally linked. But perhaps most importantly, a symbiosis of light and crystals serves as a means of overcoming the traces of a problematic dualism, or even of dialectics, which some commentators have read into Deleuze.

If, following the latter, individuals (understood in the broadest possible sense) constitute transient centres of organisation on an energetic plane which is both their source and ecology, then we appear, in fact, to inherit two complementary, yet formally distinct planes in need of reconciliation: on the one hand, a plane of already constituted individuals, on the other, a plane of pre-individual forces, which serves as their condition. The oscillation between these two registers, such that their distinction is neither absolute, nor collapsed into the monism with which Deleuze will be charged by the likes of Badiou (2009), constitutes a central problem for Deleuze, and, as such, for his many commentators. Indeed, as Berressem notes, this tension, between Deleuze as a thinker of absolute deterritorialization, multiplicity and schizophrenic becoming(s), and Deleuze as the heir to a monistic “doxa of the body,” to use Badiou’s phrase (2009: 35), poses an immediate problem: “how to think the paradox of this conceptual simultaneity?” (21). And it is this task, indeed, upon which Berressem embarks.

For Berressem, this schism can be meaningfully thought using the twin images of light and of the crystal, which become a means of affirming the inter-dependence of these planes, and as such the radical immanence upon which Deleuze is so insistent. As Berressem explains:

…the notion of the complementarity of the plane of light and of the plane of crystals is one figure of [Deleuzian] affirmation. As the complementarity of these two planes suffuses Deleuze’s thought from its beginning to its very end, it allows us to draw a line of light through his work: a line of white light refracted by crystals (1).

This latter pairing, of crystalline individuals through which light passes—which, indeed, constitute temporary and refractory “captures” of light—thus offers up a compelling means of approaching the daunting parallelism Deleuze inherits from both Spinoza (the two formal series of thought and extension) and Bergson (the metaphysical dyad of virtual and actual), overcoming the Cartesian, or even, following Zizek (2012), Hegelian residues we might be tempted to identify in Deleuze’s work.

Further, once the infamous “plane of immanence”—the all-encompassing, yet necessarily elusive condition of Deleuzian metaphysics-—is modelled as a plane of “light,” with crystals conceived as temporary spatial orientations or polarisations of this light, we have transposed its form into one which is eminently compatible—though importantly, irreducible—to the image of the Universe we inherit from contemporary science. Physicists, indeed, dedicate themselves to the actualised functions of this “light” – a term which, in the context of their work, refers no longer to that band of the electromagnetic spectrum which is “visible,” but rather to the radiant chaos of electromagnetic waves, perceptible through instruments and mathematical modelling (gamma rays, X-rays, microwaves, radio waves). And in the same way that the human eye is situated within a particular band of perception, science too can only “see” those modalities of light which are actualised before its topoi, established on its particular plane(s) of reference.

Art, meanwhile, as we have seen, captures this light through its own perceptual techniques, forming it in concrescences of paint and celluloid, rendering visible its multiple and subterranean affects. While philosophy, finally, instigates its own luminous relation, tracing this light’s virtualities and “counter-effectuations” (Deleuze & Guattari 2009: 159), its potentialities and compossibilities, its becomings as opposed to its being—in other words, its invisibilities—such as constitute, in the vocabulary of a Deleuzian set theory, “a thread which traverses sets and gives each one the possibility, which is necessarily realised, of communicating with another, to infinity…” (2013a: 20). It is this luminous “thread” which serves philosophy’s entwined purposes, of resisting the doxa of “closed systems,” and of forging hitherto unthought connectives.

In part, the author’s success in advancing this “luminous” reading of Deleuze is due to his exploration of some of the dimmer corners of the Deleuzian oeuvre. Present are the usual suspects—Simondon and Bergson, Spinoza and Leibniz (Guattari, meanwhile, receives his own complementary volume[1])—however of equal importance to Berressem’s excavation of this “conceptual spine” are figures often considered peripheral to Deleuze’s project—Lucretius, D.H. Lawrence, Serres—whom he nevertheless plums for significant insights into the mechanics and becoming of Deleuze’s concepts.

Indeed the book’s argument for a hermeneutic centralising these “lines of light” (59) begins with a text which has seen relatively little attention in the well-tilled field of Deleuze scholarship (Ryan J. Johnson’s rich intervention aside[2]), 1961’s “Lucretius and the Simulacrum,” best known as an appendix to The Logic of Sense. In the book’s first chapter, Berressem reconstructs Lucretian natural philosophy as we find it in De Rerum Natura, the extraordinary text in which Lucretius defends the Epicurean “rain of atoms” (corpora) by positing the clinamen -that unpredictable swerve of atoms which creates the world of things and vouchsafes the possibility of free will. From this early text, Berressem will derive not only a profound and persistent Deleuzian affection for life, nature and change, condensed here in the Lucretian figure of Venus, but will also begin to elaborate the conceptual simultaneity of pointillism and dynamism, such as persists throughout Deleuze’s oeuvre. As Berressem explains, “the moment of the clinamen is of fundamental importance for the genesis of the world, as well as, on a much smaller scale, for the genesis of Deleuzian philosophy…” (29).

This model, according to which a rain of atoms (or perhaps more properly, as we will shortly see, photons) is subject to an unpredictable barrage of collisions, explains the genesis of the dappled and complex multiplicity we call life. If the atoms simply fell straight down, then their parallel trajectories would never intersect, and no phenomena would ever adhere. In their swerving and subsequent collisions, however, the aleatory and chaotic becoming of “nature” is unleashed – a nature which, from its very beginning, must not be thought in terms of any mechanism or determinism. This is because the inter-energetic processes unleashed by the “event” of the clinamen can be reduced neither to a dynamic logic of causal series, nor to a fundamentally pointillist atomism. Rather, each atom, whilst perceptible only in its processual (or actualised) dynamisms and collisions, retains, in spite of this, a shadowy virtuality, which persists and is never fully actualised. In Deleuze’s words, this is therefore a Universe in which “each causal series is constituted by the movement of an atom and conserves in the encounter its full independence,” (1990: 270) which is to say a set of virtual characteristics which persist outside the plane of actualised causes and effects.

In this context, Berressem argues that against a Cartesian lumen naturale, Deleuze will consistently embrace a Lucretian lumen veneris. Over a rational light which might ultimately render visible all of God’s creation, Deleuze will favour a light, “made up of a multiplicity of diffractions and absorptions that are sustained by a constant solar emission… this multiplicity of light, its diversity and the singularity of its instantiation, allows one to conceptualize a luminous philosophy” (34). The clinamen, in other words, in providing a model of the noetic inextricability of both virtual and actual “sides” of any object, becomes the first “event,” in Deleuze’s philosophy, a term which we can read as fundamentally entwined with two others which recur throughout Berressem’s book: the individual and the crystal.

The vocabulary of crystallisation, of course, stems from Deleuze’s engagement with Gilbert Simondon, whose philosophy of individuation is only just beginning to make its proper influence felt in the Anglophone academy. For Simondon, “crystallisation” offers up a model of the genesis of the individual which is immanent, ecological and processual, eschewing what he will claim is the profound inadequacy of philosophy’s preferred model-Aristotelian hylomorphism. According to this latter model, the individual is comprised of an innate matter upon which a determinate form is imposed, as it were, “from above.” The crystal, however, is the product of an autogenesis, according to which environmental energies are transformed or “transduced” around an initial event or locale, itself haphazard and contingent. As Simondon explains:

A crystal that, from a very small seed, grows and expands in all directions in its supersaturated mother liquid provides the most simple image of the transductive operation: each already constituted molecular layer serves as an organizing basis for the layer currently being formed… the transductive operation is an individuation in progress; it can, in the physical domain, occur in the simplest manner in the form of a progressive iteration; but in more complex domains such as the domains of vital metastability or of a psychic problematic, it can advance in constantly variable steps and it can expand in a domain of heterogeneity (2009: 11).

Here, in a microscopic model of Simondon’s broader project, crystalline individuation is traced from the example of relatively simple mineraloid transduction, up to the levels of complex biological, psychological and collective individuation.

And developing upon this project, Berressem dedicates impressive and methodical work, drawing on findings in biology and chemistry, to establish not only the possibility of discussing living individuals as crystalline—albeit not solid crystals, rather liquid or quasi-crystals—but also of speaking meaningfully of virtual individuals—be they psychic, noetic or philosophical—in terms of crystallisation. As he explains:

Similar to the way matter crystallizes itself into specific forms from within a field of vectorial and energetic potentiality, mind crystallizes itself into specific thoughts from within a field of vectorial and intensive potentiality… This is why for Deleuze, philosophy, as the art of thought, needs to open itself up to the non-philosophical: to link its concepts to pre- and non-philosophical plateaus and parameters. Only under this condition does it make sense to talk of crystals as ‘seeds of thought’ (28).

In other words, not only do crystals, conceived as “events” at the level of actualised matter, provoke the crystallisation of “thoughts” and “Ideas” in philosophy, but these same noetic crystals must be understood not as innate or immaculate, but rather situated within their own energetic and affective milieux or ecologies.

In his second chapter, Berressem zooms in, turning to an account of the refractive functioning of such a “crystalline” thought itself. Via a detailed treatment of Deleuze’s early engagement with Hume, in particular his elaboration of the subject—and later of the individual tout court—as the contraction of a habit, Berressem moves to a discussion of Deleuze’s noetic philosophy as it emerges in Difference and Repetition. Here, Deleuze claims that much of what is considered thought is in fact nothing but a habitual “recognition,” which sees, in keeping with the Kantian model, the faculties engaged in a harmonious function of “representation.” Philosophical thought, however, in keeping with its project of breaking with doxa, should strive to escape the model of recognition, taking as its object not the unified beings of an already thinkable representation, rather the multiplicities of an unthinkable becoming. In this context, Deleuze will sketch a cognitive model according to which the faculties “fail” in recognising their object, and embark upon a mutual experience of provocation and constraint – each thrust back into contact with that which is its “own,” and entering into a differential inter-agitation which is productive of the new.

Berressem draws out the already refractory model such a thought presupposes, positing philosophy as that style of “crystalline” thinking which is able to transform the unity of received light into such problematic multiplicities. As he writes, “in a process that is comparable to the refraction of white light into the spectrum of colours, crystallization refracts monism into multiplicity” (24). And while this “luminous” conception of thought finds plenty of implicit support in Difference and Repetition itself, Berressem’s work in drawing out the subtle yet consistent vocabulary of light throughout the book—such that it might be linked to the broader figure of a Deleuzian “luminosity”—is genuinely accomplished, providing fertile yet underemphasised connectives with a constellation of other Deleuzian texts.

The crystal, then, provides us with a model of thought and of its object, both of which constitute refractory crystallisations emerging through transduction around a particular germinal “event.” But, to return to the question with which we began, how are we to reconcile these particulate individuals with the pre-individual flows or forces which are their condition? How, in other words, are we to move from an atomist monadology to a crystalline ecology?

Essential here is Berressem’s use of the motif of photonic wave-particle duality, the “elemental complementarity of particles and waves” (32), which recurs throughout Luminous Philosophy. Quantum mechanics, in many ways, begins with the problem that neither the concept of the particle nor of the wave, as inherited from classical physics, properly explain the unique behaviours of photons at the quantum level. Photons, indeed, occupy an indeterminate space between these theories, such that, as Albert Einstein concedes:

…we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do (1938: 278).

In other words, elementary particles are interchangeably either individuals, flows or aerosols, depending upon the particular mode of visualisation, theorisation or of thought which is brought to bear upon them.

And this same indeterminacy can be expressed in terms of light and crystals, such that, as Berressem explains, “crystals are the effect of polarization, of the spatial orientation that defines, for instance, electromagnetic, gravitational or light waves” (23). Considered in this photonic sense, then, both waves of light and refractory crystallisations of light constitute the same ontological substance, albeit “thought” in formally distinct modes. In this way, Berressem restages Spinoza’s “parallelism”—such as Deleuze more or less retains—between a plane of extension and of thought, using the motifs of a luminous physics to maintain their ontological simultaneity as substance, God or nature.

Berressem’s third chapter traces this particle-wave model of parallelism into Deleuze’s work on both space and time, prosecuting fertile and original discussions of The Logic of Sense, The Fold and A Thousand Plateaus. Here, the author himself enacts a folding of the philosophy of time advanced in The Logic of Sense onto that of Difference and Repetition, in order to differentiate two temporal registers conceived in terms of light -an infinity of Chronic “strobes” or “pulses” constituting the microscopic physical adherences necessary for the maintenance of a “present,” alongside an immaterial, Aionic time, “an empty, intensive, virtual duration that is open to both a past and to a future” (118). Transposed into the author’s preferred metaphysical category of light, these alternate temporal modalities become “a diffuse aionic glow that suffuses a scene against the stuttering of the chronic strobe…” (118). Alongside temporality conceived in these luminous terms, Berressem here pursues the model of a crystalline space through Deleuze’s Leibnizian monadology, which sees the latter’s radically singular atoms reconceived as folds, pleats or fractalizations of immanent substance. The discussion in this chapter is of an immense richness, however in order to treat what I take to be the book’s fundamental themes, I will leave detailed explication to one side and direct the interested reader to Berressem’s text.

For now, it suffices to say that the model of wave-particle complementarity—alongside a “refractory” and affirmative model of philosophy—is brought to bear in what is the crowning achievement of the book, its final, long chapter, entitled simply “Luminous Philosophy.” Here, Berressem interweaves a discussion of colour in Deleuze’s 1956 essay “Bergson’s Conception of Difference” with discussions of light in the 1978-81 lectures on Spinoza, his work on cinema and his study of Francis Bacon. Across each of these latter works -as Berressem rightly notes- earlier, more disparate and allusive discussions of light consolidate and centralise, such that by the time of Cinema I: The Movement-Image, Deleuze will explicitly give us a “plane of immanence […] entirely made up of Light” (2013a: 67).

Cinema, after all, is the art of the photon, and Berressem devotes meticulous exegetical work in support of the claim that Deleuze’s two volume study of film constitutes not simply a quaint, “aesthetic” corner of the Deleuzian oeuvre, rather the central articulation of concerns present in Deleuze’s thought since at least as far back as his encounter with the Lucretian clinamen. In these books, Deleuze, drawing on Bergson’s idiosyncratic metaphysics of the “image,” gives us “the universe as cinema in itself, a metacinema” (2013a: 67), composed through a multilateral framing, splicing and montage of energetic states- an individuation of light commensurate with that enacted by the camera on its own microscopic scale.

But cinema, like philosophy, relates not simply to the “actualised” modalities of light- profoundly capable, as it is, of rendering visible virtual operations like those of thought, dreams and temporality. In this context, Cinema II: The Time-Image provides Deleuze’s most elaborate discussion of the crystal, which he identifies in the “crystal-images” of certain auteurs, the likes of Zannussi, Welles, Ophüls and Resnais. Their films, in combining images of dream, reality, falsehood, illusion and documentary, thus produce indeterminate relations between light’s actual and virtual dimensions, relations which, in terms of the refractory structure of the crystal, must be conceived as inherently productive. As Deleuze explains:

These are ‘mutual images’ […] where an exchange is carried out. The indiscernibility of the real and the imaginary, or of the present and the past, of the actual and the virtual, is definitely not produced in the head or the mind. It is the objective characteristic of certain existing images which are by their nature double (2013b: 73).

Berressem’s originality, in linking this luminosity to that which he has carefully excavated across Deleuze’s oeuvre, is to suggest that the two cinema books, taken together, thus form such a crystal, abiding at the very heart of Deleuze’s thought, and staging a parallel encounter between light’s actual (movement-image) and virtual (time-image) modalities. As Berressem explains:

The point-at-infinity of Deleuze’s cinematographic projective plane lies in the crystal space between the two books; the point-at-infinity where its two sides meet in a conceptual tête-bêche… it is this unthinkable point that marks the ultimate crystal moment in Deleuze’s philosophy. The ideal identification of the virtual and the actual at philosophy’s point-at-infinity (213).

As such, we find ourselves in the very “heart of lightness,” the centre of the immensely productive crystal constituted by Deleuzian philosophy, in the refraction between virtual light, actual light, philosophy and (cinema as) non-philosophy. This characterisation, whilst serving admirably to locate the cinema books at the heart of Deleuze’s oeuvre, and plugged in to a much broader ecology encompassing even his earliest works, likewise serves to draw out the key conceptual dimensions along which Deleuze’s most microscopic and localised arguments take place.

Clearly then, as I hope to have demonstrated, there is much of both use and of value in this study, which deserves to be recognised as a philosophical treatise in its own right, beyond the realm of Deleuze scholarship. The failings of the work are few and far between, and reflect the difficulty of ever fully accommodating a philosophical project of such bewildering breadth and erudition as that of Deleuze. One omission, perhaps, is Deleuze’s admittedly obscure politics, which -particularly as it calcifies in his collaborative works with Guattari- is largely absent. It’s possible indeed that the cleaving of Deleuze and Guattari in two, whilst opening up a set of fertile potentialities, comes at the cost of the overarching tenor of their project, both together and after their collaboration, which is marked by the long, and here unmentioned, shadow of May ‘68.[3]

A relative absence of meditation on the particular modes of individuation (or of crystallisation) engendered by capitalism -an essential theme for Deleuze as for Guattari- is mirrored in a more generalised eschewal of the agonism which, despite his explicitly “affirmative” position, often characterises Deleuze’s thought. There is a sense indeed, throughout the book, that the “luminosity” Berressem hopes to emphasise elides some of the critical edge animating Deleuze’s philosophy- an amicability evinced by the relative absence not only of Deleuze’s “enemies” (the Hegelian negative, Platonist idealism, Cartesian interiority, capital) but also the venomous source of the unique form of affirmation which Deleuze takes up- the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche.

Nietzsche, indeed, an infrequent reference here, advocates an affirmation which is not so much “luminous” as Dionysian, rooted in a valorisation of the shadowy violence of life. And Deleuze, like Nietzsche, will caution against any conciliatory or peaceable reading of his concepts, warning, in Difference and Repetition, against “the greatest danger […] of lapsing into the representations of a beautiful soul” (1994: xx). The beautiful soul, in this context, is that reader for whom all differences are recuperable under the arid rubric of “toleration,” for whom “there are only reconcilable and federative differences, far removed from bloody struggles…” (1994: xx). Berressem is not, of course, this naïve figure, but his relative silence on questions like the catastrophe of capitalism, as on dogmatic thought, “control,” and the loss of our “belief in the world”—and many other themes of a “Dark Deleuze” besides—mean that he does occasionally run the risk of being read in this way.

Alongside this politically muted Deleuze—a figure I admit many “Deleuzians” might well approve of—we also encounter a profoundly systematic Deleuze, as evinced by Berressem’s early statement of intent:

…if one considers every perceptual and cognitive process as one of pattern production and pattern recognition, a pattern of Deleuzian thought begins to emerge: Hume, Lucretius, Simondon, Difference and Repetition. All of these develop, in a logic that recapitulates that of difference and repetition proposed in Difference and Repetition, philosophical theories of the incarnation of the virtual in the actual (71).

While there is nothing wrong with this characterisation per se, underemphasised, perhaps, is the disjunctive and “differential” articulation to which Deleuze submits his own concepts.

Deleuze, like Nietzsche, is wary of any “systematic” reading of his thought, such as might reinscribe the monistic and proscriptive tendencies he will identify in “Royal” philosophies. In favour of building an exclusive or closed system, Deleuze will offer a necessarily “shifting,” consistently dynamic philosophy, which changes its concerns and vocabulary across his works. As he himself explains:

We all move forward or backward; we are hesitant in the middle of these directions; we construct our topology, celestial map, underground den, measurements of surface planes, and other things as well. While moving in these different directions, one does not speak in the same way, just as the subject matter which one encounters is not the same… (2006: 63)

Indeed the impressive continuity Berressem endeavours to establish across Deleuze’s oeuvre, linking early discussions of the Lucretian clinamen to his very last works on the immanence of “a life,” perhaps comes at the cost of those moments of discontinuity and of rupture which Deleuze himself is at pains to inject.

In the context of the increasing ubiquity of communication technologies at the end of the last century, Deleuze laments, in a 1990 conversation with Antonio Negri, a contemporary conflation of “communication” and “creation,” suggesting that genuine creation instead has a fundamental affinity with rupture, incommensurability and silence. “Creating has always been something different from communicating,” he explains, “the key thing may be to create vacuoles of noncommunication, circuit breakers, so we can elude control…” (1995; 175). Berressem’s book creates a rhizomatic topology of interconnection, such that every part of Deleuze’s oeuvre can be plugged into a metaphysics of crystals and of light. However, the contemporary political task—should we still hope to read Deleuze’s metaphysics as a politics—is perhaps of a different order.

As Andrew Culp has written, in his book Dark Deleuze, in many ways the shadowy opposite of Berressem’s work, “the necessity of ‘taking another step’ beyond Deleuze avant la lettre is especially true when both capitalists and their opponents simultaneously cite him as a major influence” (2016: 2). As Culp continues:

…the first step is to acknowledge that the unbridled optimism for connection has failed. Temporary autonomous zones have become special economic zones. The material consequences of connectivism are clear: the terror of exposure, the diffusion of power, and the oversaturation of information (2016; 4).

In other words, whilst identifying subterranean connections across Deleuze’s oeuvre, as between Deleuze’s metaphysics and contemporary science, is an enormously fertile endeavour, such work should always be conducted with the important caveat that non-communication and discontinuity -between individuals, as between disciplines and ideas- remain fundamental dimensions of Deleuze’s own philosophy.

These criticisms, however, are peripheral to the book’s many merits and great richness. There is much here of value not only for Deleuze scholars but for those interested in contemporary metaphysics, post-phenomenological thought, linkages between contemporary science and philosophy and more. Indeed, taken alongside Berressem’s accompanying volume on Guattari, which does indeed take a more concretely socio-political approach to its metaphysics, the work undertaken here is of a quite impressive breadth and quality. Gilles Deleuze’s Luminous Philosophy is a book which deserves, on this basis, a wide and enthusiastic readership.

Works Cited

Badiou, Alain. 2017. Black: The Brilliance of a Non-Color. Translated by Susan Splitzer. Cambridge: Polity.

Badiou, Alain. 2009. Logics of Worlds: Being and Event, 2. Translated by Alberto Toscano. London: Continuum.

Berressem, Hanjo. 2020. Félix Guattari’s Schizoanalytic Ecology. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Colebrook, Claire. 2002. Understanding Deleuze. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin.

Culp, Andrew. 2016. Dark Deleuze. Creative Commons.

Deleuze, Gilles. 2013(a). Cinema I: The Movement-Image. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. London: Bloomsbury

Deleuze, Gilles. 2013(b). Cinema II: The Time-Image. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. London: Bloomsbury.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1994. Difference and Repetition. Translated by Paul Patton. New York: Columbia University Press.

Deleuze, Gilles. 2003. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Translated by Daniel Smith. London: Continuum.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1995. Negotiations, 1972-1990. Translated by Martin Joughin. New York: Columbia University Press.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1990. The Logic of Sense. Translated by Mark Lester with Charles Stivale. London: The Athlone Press.

Deleuze, Gilles. 2006. Two Regimes of Madness – Texts and Interviews 1975-1995, David Lapoujade ed. Translated by Ames Hodges and Mike Taormina. New York: Semiotext(e).

Deleuze, Gilles, & Guattari, Félix. 1994. What is Philosophy? Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchill. London: Verso.

Einstein, Albert, & Infeld, Leopold. 1938. The Evolution of Physics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Johnson, Ryan J. 2017. The Deleuze-Lucretius Encounter. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Simondon, Gilbert. 2009. “The Position of the Problem of Ontogenesis.” Translated by Gregory Flanders. In Parrhesia, No.7: 4-16.

Žižek, Slavoj. 2012. Organs without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences. Abingdon: Routledge.

[1] Hanjo Berressem, Félix Guattari’s Schizoanalytic Ecology, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020. The relationship between these simultaneous sister volumes, the author explains, is such that “although each book can be read as an individual text, the two correspond to one another in such a way that when they are read together, an immaterial book emerges in the mind of the reader” (xvii). In the service of this virtual volume, square bracketed “hyperlinks” point the reader to corresponding passages in each book’s “actual” sister. This structure serves the obvious and immediate function of elevating Guattari’s thought to its proper place – distinct from, yet complementary to that of Deleuze. Despite the broad success of this innovation, Guattari’s absence was felt, at times, in the exegetical flow of the present work. The task of separating these two disruptive pupils remains a difficult one.

[2] Ryan J. Johnson, The Deleuze-Lucretius Encounter, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017.

[3] For a convincing argument to the effect that Deleuze and Guattari’s collaborations, as well as their subsequent work, are instigated by the “events” of May ’68, see Claire Colebrook, Understanding Deleuze, Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2002.

Fredrik Westerlund: Heidegger and the Problem of Phenomena

Heidegger and the Problem of Phenomena Book Cover Heidegger and the Problem of Phenomena
Fredrik Westerlund
Bloomsbury Academic
Hardback $62.10

Reviewed by: Michael Mosely (University of Sydney)

In Heidegger and the Problem of Phenomena, Fredrik Westerlund characterises Heidegger’s thinking from the time of his early Freiburg lecture courses, up until his late writings of the 1960s, as a struggle to understand the question of phenomena and the inherently related question of phenomenology. For Westerlund, the question of phenomena is an enquiry into what it means for anything to come to, or give itself, in meaningful appearance, and the question of phenomenology is an enquiry into what it means to explain and articulate how our experience of phenomena is structured.

Westerlund calls attention to the fact that there are two schools of thought on the question of phenomena/phenomenology in Heidegger scholarship. A transcendental, phenomenological reading and a historical, hermeneutic reading. In the former, Heidegger, although critical of Husserl, is nevertheless understood to be essentially offering an elaboration of Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology. This reading claims that Heidegger remains committed to the notion that it is possible to uncover the structures of our experience that allow phenomena to be meaningful through direct intuitive reflection. In the latter reading this notion is rejected because the historical contexts of meaning in which we find ourselves predetermine our experience of phenomena. For this reason, this reading holds that phenomenology must proceed through hermeneutic reflection on our current, historical context of meaning, or by “tracing and answering to the groundless differential logic at the basis of every historical formation of meaning” (5).

For Westerlund, these two opposed interpretations reflect a tension at the heart of Heidegger’s thinking. While Heidegger repudiates the possibility of phenomenologically direct reflections on the structures of experience on the basis of the radically historical foundation of our meaningful experience, in practice, much of Heidegger’s writings consist of phenomenologically direct reflections. Thus, rather than side with either interpretation, Westerlund sets out to attend to and explore the effects of this tension throughout Heidegger’s writings. This task is undertaken in Parts 1–3 of the book. Yet Westerlund does not only offer an exegesis of Heidegger but also a critical and systematic reading. The contradictions and blindspots of Heidegger’s claims are laid bare throughout the book and in the fourth and final part, the Epilogue, Westerlund offers a more extended critique. Here Westerlund argues that, contra Heidegger, it is our first-person experience that provides direct access to phenomena beyond their historical determination and that as such we are essentially open to the call of the other as someone to love and care for, which is a source of moral meaning not confined to a historical context .

The first part of Heidegger and the Problem of Phenomena contains three chapters and aims to show that in Heidegger’s earliest Freiburg lecture courses his philosophy is essentially a critical appropriation of Husserl’s phenomenology in that Heidegger’s thinking proceeds through “intuitive reflection on the essential structures of our first-person experiences” (15). Westerlund begins this task in Chapter One by giving a brief introduction to Husserl’s understanding of the problem of phenomena. In Westerlund’s account of Husserl’s phenomenology, the meaning of things and the structure of experience cannot be explained by reference to any ground of knowledge other than phenomenal self-presentation. The task of phenomenology is to turn our gaze away from the objects that we focus on in the natural attitude and examine experience as it is given in consciousness. Specifically, Husserl is held to seek to determine the essential structures of experience, such as how when we see one side of an object we nevertheless move within the horizon of possible perceptions of its other sides.

Following his discussion of Husserl’s phenomenology, Westerlund provides an exposition of the conception of philosophy put forth by Heidegger in his early Freiburg lecture courses as a primordial science of life. He shows that, for Heidegger, our primary experience of the world is our encounter with the pretheoretical significances of things. Highlighting Heidegger’s questioning of the given in his 1919 war emergency semester course, Westerlund explains that the domain of pretheoretical givenness is, for Heidegger, “nothing less than the basic domain of given meaningful being” (23). Subsequently Westerlund outlines Heidegger’s criticism of theoretical philosophy for its failure to recognise the primacy of pretheoretical experience, as well as Heidegger’s criticism of Husserl specifically for his remaining within the theoretical attitude of philosophy his and attempt to ground pretheoretical significance theoretically. Westerlund concludes the chapter by assessing Heidegger’s critique of Husserl and he argues that while Husserl’s focus on the comprehension of objects through perception leaves the connection between existentially and practically concerned experience unclarified, this does not diminish the capability for intuitive reflection on the structures of experience to uncover truths about our experience of phenomena.

In Chapter Two Westerlund outlines how Heidegger understands phenomenology and the structure of phenomena explicitly, with the aim of showing that Heidegger’s philosophy is, in 1919 and 1920, a critical appropriation of Husserl’s phenomenology. He shows that Heidegger’s phenomenology can be characterised as proceeding through intuitive seeing during this period by drawing attention to Heidegger’s account of the kind of experience of a Senegalese tribesman would have if transported to the lecture hall in Freiburg. Heidegger states here explicitly that the Senegalese’s experience of equipmental strangeness when looking at the lectern is identical with Heidegger’s own experience of the significance of the lectern as a place from which to lecture. Thus, Westerlund concludes, the aim of Heidegger’s phenomenological descriptions during this period is not to uncover the sense of a particular historical context but rather to use intuition to uncover the basic structure of pretheoretical life. Westerlund also shows that Heidegger’s phenomenology is reflective during this period. The description of the method of phenomenology Heidegger offers in his 1919–20 lecture course Basic Problems of Phenomenology begins with a going along with life without reflection, but ends with a leaping ahead into the horizons of experience and its motives, and an articulating of the structures of experience—that is, with reflection. Thus although Heidegger recognises during this period that historical concepts can distort phenomenologically intuitive seeing and reflection, and that we must therefore subject these concepts to critical destruction, this does not indicate that he has developed a historicist conception of phenomenology. Rather Heidegger’s phenomenology is Husserlian as he “both articulates and practices phenomenology as direct intuitive reflection on the constitutive structures of our experience” (48).

In Chapter Three Westerlund shows how the philosophy Heidegger develops in his early Freiburg lecture courses undermines itself with respect to its purpose. If, as Heidegger claims, our factical pretheoretical experience of phenomena is primary then what is left for philosophy to do? Westerlund highlights how Heidegger seems confused on this question, as he argues that philosophy is needed for a transparent enactment of life but also seems to suggest that the task of philosophy is only to remove theoretical abstraction so that we can live in unadulterated pretheroretical significance. For Westerlund, this problem can ultimately be traced to Heidegger’s desires to “critically regenerate…the age-old ambition of philosophy to explicate the basic sense of life and Being” as well as make philosophy relevant for “the challenge of facing and understanding the acute ethical-existential problems of our personal life” (54). At this early stage of Heidegger’s thinking, Heidegger cannot unite these two desires.

In Part Two Westerlund provides an account of Heidegger’s understanding of the question of phenomena/phenomenology in Being and Time (1927) and explains how Heidegger’s philosophy changed during the years intervening between his engagement with Aristotle’s De Anima in his 1921 summer semester seminar and the publication of his major work. In Chapter Four, Westerlund outlines how Heidegger’s historicist conception of phenomenology emerges. Heidegger’s engagement with Aristotle during the early 1920s is shown to be the occasion for the initial development of the historical as-structure, the notion that our pretheoretical experience of the world is determined by our prior understanding of the historical contexts of meaning in which we live. For Westerlund, Heidegger develops this notion through his interpretation of Aristotle’s concepts of phronēsis and nous. Phronēsis is understood as practical coping with the world that highlights the way that the significance of beings is founded on the basis of preceding concerns. Nous is the prior understanding that conditions our experience of beings; it is an understanding of eidē, of form, and additionally, an understanding of archai, the ultimate ‘from -out-of-which’ that determines the regions of Being from which different beings get their sense. Taken together, these concepts suggest to Heidegger that the significance of beings is determined by a historical as-structure or context of meaning.

Westerlund also in this chapter highlights Heidegger’s discovery of Aristotle’s privileging of sofia over phronsis, that is, the privileging of the pure perception of the eidē determining different beings. This privileging leads Aristotle to define Being as ousia, as constant presence, which determines the subsequent theoretical focus of philosophy. This discovery further suggests to Heidegger that phenomenology is fundamentally historical; if Being is determined historically then direct intuitive seeing is not possible. Rather it is necessary to undertake a hermeneutic destruction of the historical concepts latent in our tradition. Westerlund concludes the chapter with a lengthy exposition of Heidegger’s engagement with Husserl in Heidegger’s 1925 course and shows that Husserl’s categorial intuition, in its general form, becomes, for Heidegger, indicative of the way that our understanding of the world is guided by a pre-given historical context of meaning.

In the remaining chapters of Part Two Westerlund turns his attention to Being and Time. In Chapter 5 he considers the way that Heidegger’s elaboration of the ontological difference—the notion that our prior understanding of Being determines how beings appear—necessitates the enactment of fundamental ontology so that we might gain “clarity about ourselves and the world” (82). And he also outlines his problems with this view, namely, that our historically influenced understandings of the ontological structure of the world do not determine how we experience beings in a necessary manner. Westerlund additionally highlights the fact that the Heidegger’s project of fundamental ontology is not historical but seeks to determine the transhistorical structure of Dasein that constitutes the sense of Being itself. Chapter 6 contains Westerlund’s exposition of Heidegger’s account of Being-in-the-world. Here he highlights the way that our understanding of the historical world cannot be, for Heidegger, true or false. For Westerlund, this undermines the notion that it is necessary to distinguish between the historical prejudices of the They and a genuine understanding of phenomena, which he perceives as a significant problem. Chapter 7 treats this problem with reference to Heidegger’s concept of authenticity, which, for Westerlund, has a central role to play in Heidegger’s understanding of phenomena.

On Westerlund’s reading, Dasein is inherently challenged to acknowledge the utterly historically determined and therefore groundless nature of the possibilities it has available to choose for its identity. While inauthentic Dasein shirks this challenge and rather is guided by the They, to be authentic Dasein must meet this challenge. There is a problem with this notion, however. It does not seem possible for authentic historical possibilities to address Dasein as binding, as worth pursuing, without the binding character of these possibilities finding its source in the They. Westerlund identifies an oscillation between collectivism and subjectivism in Heidegger’s account of authenticity. It is collectivist in that it is the They that is the source of all ethical-existential normativity and it is subjectivist in that even if Dasein’s choosing itself apart from the They is possible, there is nothing to guide its choice other than “its own blind whims and impulses” (112). From this impasse Westerlund sees it as important to investigate into how life possibilities can appear as obligating at all and he argues that in Heidegger’s conception of both authentic and inauthentic Dasein, Dasein’s actions in life are motivated by a desire for social affirmation. Dasein seeks to live up to the collective values and norms of the They or those of the authentically chosen hero. This is problematic, for Westerlund, because it rules out the possibility of the ethical claim of the other. It is not possible, with this motivation, to care about the other as such, because all care is directed towards preventing the self from feeling the shame of failing to follow the norms that guide it. This problem is addressed at greater length in the Epilogue.

Chapter Eight, the final chapter of the second part, concerns Heidegger’s method in Being and Time. Westerlund opens this chapter by comparing and contrasting the interpretations of Heidegger’s method offered by Overgaard and Guignon. For Overgaard, the destruction is not a necessary part of fundamental ontology because the destruction itself presupposes an experience of Being that is phenomenologically basic—without this experience the historical senses of Being could not be identified as distortions. Guignon, on the other hand, hews closer to Heidegger’s actual comments in Being and Time that concern the necessity of the destruction for the retrieval and appropriation of Being. For Westerlund, like Overgaard, Heidegger does not follow through on his claim to be undertaking a hermeneutic-destructive mode of thinking and rather does presuppose that he is able to distinguish between our current prejudiced conception of Being and something more primordial. He highlights the fact that Heidegger’s existential analytic of Dasein is not an account of contemporary Dasein’s implicit, historical prior conceptions, but rather offers phenomenological descriptions of the basic structures of Dasein and its factical experience. Furthermore, it is the capacity of Heidegger’s descriptions to reveal truths about our day-today experience of the world, rather than their relation to the philosophical tradition, that gives them their validity. Thus direct, intuitive, phenomenological seeing remains a central feature of Heidegger’s method in Being and Time.

In the third part of Heidegger and the Problem of Phenomena, Westerlund discusses Heidegger’s later philosophy, with chapters on the turn [Kehre], Ereignis as the opening of the world, and the method Heidegger’s late thinking. Westerlund seeks to show in this part that Heidegger’s phenomenological method becomes more historical after the publication of Being and Time. There is also a chapter on Heidegger’s relation to National Socialism in this part. Chapter Nine contains Westerlund’s interpretation of Heidegger’s turn, which he understands as Heidegger’s turn from phenomenology to historical reflection. To support this claim Westerlund examines Heidegger’s discussion, in his 1937–38 lecture course Basic Questions of Philosophy, of the inherent turning of the question of the essence of truth into the question of the truth of essence. For Westerlund, this ‘turning’ is the turning from Heidegger’s explication of the basic structures of Dasein, which are that through which beings become unconcealed (and are the essence of truth), so that true or false judgements might be expressed about them, to “a historical interrogation of the openness and givenness of historical being itself” (the truth of essence). Heidegger’s philosophy is no longer concerned in the mid 1930s with structure of phenomena or intuitive reflection on the structures of experience but rather seeks to determine the “phenomenality of Being” and proceeds through historical reflection (143).

It is therefore the turn that motivates Heidegger’s engagement with the history of philosophy in the mid 1930s and Westerlund demonstrates the historical character of Heidegger’s thinking by providing an account of Heidegger’s conception of the task of philosophy at this time. During this period of his thinking the history of philosophy is understood by Heidegger to have been determined by the Greek, metaphysical designation of Being as constant presence and to free ourselves from this understanding of Being it is necessary to return to the Greek beginning of philosophy in order to determine whether it contains a more primordial understanding of Being. Heidegger finds just such a primordial understanding in the pre-Socratic conception of Being as φύσις and in the Greek word for truth, ἀλήθεια. Together these terms reflect a view of Being as an event that is opened up.

In Chapter 10 Westerlund addresses Heidegger’s relation to National Socialism and offers a number of criticisms of Heidegger’s thinking. In the 1930s Heidegger no longer advocates becoming authentic but holds that it is necessary to open a binding historical world. Westerlund points out that as for Heidegger ontology has ultimate priority over ethics there is no check on the establishing of a new world that ignores the ethical claim of the other, such as the world that National Socialism wished to erect. Furthermore, Westerlund criticises Heidegger’s framing of his anti-semitism in ‘metaphysical’ terms. He shows that in Heidegger’s making use of many common anti-Semitic stereotypes, his position essentially becomes only a “philosophically inflated version of the kind of cultural racism that vilifies a certain culture or religion on the basis of crude and falsifying stereotypes” (149). Westerlund also sees in Heidegger’s Black Notebooks an additional problem for Heidegger scholarship, namely that they seriously displace our view of the ‘spirit’ of Heidegger’s thinking. In Heidegger’s utter failure to offer any remarks that reflect sympathy towards those who were subject to violence, persecution, and murder at the hands of the NSDAP, and in his explaining away of the events of the 1930s and 40s in being-historical terms, his philosophy appears abhorrent. If thinking the history of Being fully inures one to the ethical claim of the other in the manner it appears to have done to Heidegger, then there is little to recommend such a thinking.

In Chapter Eleven Westerlund returns to explicating the historical character of Heidegger’s philosophy with his account of Heidegger’s conception of art as that which opens a binding historical world. On Westerlund’s interpretation, the thinking of Being prepares the way for the poetry that opens the ‘holy’. Art in general, but poetry especially, is understood to reveal as important a set of highest values and ideals that are to guide our experience of phenomena and this is the opening of a binding historical world. Westerlund explains that art establishes a binding historical world through the openness of the poet or artist to the address of history “as our as yet undetermined manifold of being-possibilities” and the poet or artist’s subsequent gathering  of “this manifold into a unified and limited historical world” (171). This gathering and presenting additionally requires founding the world on what Heidegger calls the earth. The world set up by the work of art must also be, for Westerlund, grounded in the natural surroundings in which we live and shaped by the materiality and sensuousness of the medium of the work of art. It is in this way that the meanings of history can become anchored in the earth and the purposes and meanings, the guiding ideals and values, can “shine forth in a concrete paradigmatic form” (174). Westerlund also addresses in this chapter how in Heidegger’s thinking of the 1950s and later, the earth and world binary is expanded into the fourfold of earth, sky, mortals, and gods, and that in this period things, such as a bridge, can also open a world.

Chapter Twelve contains a discussion of Heidegger’s own account of the method of his late thinking. Heidegger unsurprisingly is critical of Husserl’s phenomenology at this time and champions historical reflection. For Westerlund, however, Heidegger’s criticisms of Husserl’s thinking fail to distinguish between the content of Husserl’s phenomenology and its method. While Husserl is influenced by scientific abstraction and seeks certain truth, this does not establish a necessary connection between intuition-based reflection and the metaphysical desire for ultimate grounds. Westerlund further indicates the historical character of Heidegger’s philosophy by showing how Heidegger pursues his investigation of the event of the opening of a world. Westerlund highlights that Heidegger examines texts from the history of metaphysics to show that the understanding of Being as presence that the texts utilise is not accounted for within them, and that he also examines poems by Hölderlin, George Trakl, and Stefan George, and the work of the pre-Socratics, to show that these texts hint at clearing. He also points out that Heidegger’s analysis of word etymologies is used for this end. In the final section of the chapter, to combat the assertion that there are phenomenological analyses in the later Heidegger, Westerlund shows that the late Heidegger’s phenomenological analyses of objects, such as a jug (in relation to the fourfold), do not take place within accounts of concrete use-cases. These accounts therefore “threaten to remain unphenomenological constructions of the same kind as all other conceptual and theoretical projections that dogmatically postulate meanings that they cannot account for” (192).

In the final part of the book, the Epilogue, Westerlund subjects Heidegger’s thinking to a more thorough  critique, one that is a development of criticisms of Heidegger made by Levinas, Tugendhat, and Cristina Lafont and that is an elaboration on criticisms of Heidegger’s thinking he has offered throughout his study. In Chapter 13, Westerlund engages with Levinas’ critique of Heidegger in which Heidegger is charged with covering over our direct ethical relation to the other with the question of Being. For Westerlund, Heidegger’s philosophy relies on the human desire for social affirmation motivating all action (works of art only persuade us to follow historical norms) which defines Dasein as essentially egoistic and rules out the possibility of responding to the other with love and care. Furthermore, Heidegger’s concern for the task of “reflecting on the openness of being in order to make possible the establishment of a binding world” has absolute primacy, and supersedes all ethical concern for individuals. This is not only a drawback in itself, but Westerlund also sees that the world Heidegger desires, one that is structured by a set of highest values and ideals that all must follow, can very easily become a world of control, repression, and persecution. That Heidegger does not consider such dangers further indicates the ethically problematic status of his philosophy.

In Chapter 14, Westerlund, drawing on Cristina Lafont’s criticism of Heidegger, is concerned with Heidegger’s claim that our historical understanding of Being cannot be true or false because it determines the meaningfulness of beings, which necessitates taking over our historical context as groundless. Westerlund argues against this notion. He holds that Heidegger provides no phenomenological evidence to show that our understanding of Being cannot be considered true or false. For Westerlund, we are claimed by the other regardless of our historical context and it is for its alignment with the claim of the other that the ethical status of an understanding of Being and its values can be judged. Westerlund ultimately holds that we possess an openness of conceptual understanding that allows us understand and appropriate aspects of our own cultural worlds, and recognise that there is an irreducible dimension of experience that grounds other cultural worlds.

In Chapter 15 Westerlund argues against Heidegger’s view that historical reflection is the necessary method of phenomenology. For Westerlund, Heidegger also offers no evidence that our understanding of Being is determined by our historical situation. Rather our understanding of Being consists of openly seeing and grasping the structures of experience over our historical preconceptions. Even though our historical contexts guide our thinking primarily and may offer up distortions, we are always free to discard these distortions and examine the structure of experience, which determines the truth of our concepts. Furthermore, Westerlund argues, Heidegger’s historical method cannot actually demonstrate that the event or the clearing is the source of historical Being. Even if Heidegger could demonstrate that the event or the clearing is the foundational concept of the Western tradition, this would not show that it is the source of Being. Rather it would show only that the event or the clearing is the “philosophical horizon of the Western tradition”, and the truth of the concept would remain undetermined (220). As Westerlund puts it, “Heidegger’s metaunderstanding of the radically historicist character of his method does not allow him to account for what it is that gives to his thinking whatever truth or clarificatory force it possesses” (221). Ultimately, for Westerlund, while it is very difficult to accurately reflect on our own experiences and to free ourselves from prior prejudices this is precisely the task of phenomenology. The difficulty of phenomenology does not undermine its validity.

Westerlund’s Heidegger and the Problem of Phenomena is a valuable addition to contemporary Heidegger scholarship. It contains a number of sections that clarify central issues in the study of Heidegger. Westerlund’s accounts of Heidegger’s relation to Husserl’s phenomenology in his early Freiburg lecture courses, and of Heidegger’s development of a more thoroughgoing historicism through his engagement with Aristotle in the early 1920s, are excellent. Similarly, Westerlund’s treatment of Heidegger’s 1925 engagement with Husserl is the clearest I have encountered. Furthermore, Westerlund’s undertaking of a “philosophical“ rather than “exegetical” reading of Heidegger in which he is not constrained by the horizon of the texts he treats but rather provides independent articulations of what these texts show and fail to show is also very welcome. Heidegger scholarship can certainly benefit from more studies that take this kind of approach. The study is not, however, without its flaws. Westerlund covers a lot of ground in this work and as a result his treatment of individual topics often proceeds quite quickly. This sometimes prevents him from addressing relevant issues in a topic. He does not, for example, discuss how a work of art like van Gogh’s painting of a pair of shoes, discussed by Heidegger in “The Origin of the Work of Art”, could reveal the highest ideals and values of a culture. The speed at which Westerlund proceeds through Heidegger’s material also causes his overarching arguments to fade into the background at times and make the relation of some sections to these arguments unclear. Westerlund’s arguments would likely have been served better through structuring his book around his criticisms of Heidegger, rather than the chronological progression of Heidegger’s thought.

Renaud Barbaras: L’appartenance. Vers une cosmologie phénoménologique

L’appartenance: Vers une cosmologie phénoménologique Book Cover L’appartenance: Vers une cosmologie phénoménologique
Bibliothèque Philosophique de Louvain
Renaud Barbaras
Paperback 28,00 €

Reviewed by: Luz Ascárate (Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne)

« Dans l’éclatement de l’univers que nous éprouvons, prodige ! les morceaux qui s’abattent sont vivants » (René Char)

Renaud Barbaras intitule son dernier ouvrage L’appartenance. Vers une cosmologie phénoménologique. Le texte est constitué des leçons données en mars 2019 à l’UCLouvain et reprises dans son cours de Master II du premier semestre de l’année académique 2019-2020 à l’Université de Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne. Ce texte est une introduction au nouveau projet – qui occupera Barbaras pour les deux prochaines années comme il l’a avoué dans son cours de Master II du premier semestre de l’année 2020-2021 – d’une cosmologie phénoménologique. À vrai dire, nous nous retrouvons au seuil d’une nouvelle période de la philosophie de Barbaras. Dans ce nouvel ouvrage, en posant, tout d’abord, et à nouveau en phénoménologie, la question du corps et de la chair, pour délimiter ensuite la notion d’appartenance, il propose une unité fondamentale entre la capacité phénoménalisante et l’appartenance au monde. La formule ontologique, inspirée de Merleau-Ponty, qui se propose comme soubassement d’une telle unité fondamentale et comme événement originaire de l’étant est celle de la « déflagration », à partir de laquelle l’auteur esquisse une réponse aux problèmes génératifs propres à une cosmologie phénoménologique. Plusieurs problèmes se posent à cet égard. L’appartenance est-elle la notion légitime pour comprendre la phénoménalisation ? Une réponse rapide et négative à cette question pourrait se défendre à partir des critiques husserliennes de l’existentialisme. Si nous essayons de donner une réponse positive à une telle question, une deuxième question se pose. En quoi une ontologie de la déflagration continuerait à être phénoménologique ? Si nous sommes toutefois convaincus que la cosmologie phénoménologique ne trahit pas les motifs fondamentaux du mouvement phénoménologique, une troisième question se fait jour. En quoi consisterait l’originalité de cet ouvrage par rapport aux autres développements d’ontologie phénoménologique ? Afin de donner des réponses à ces questions, nous formulerons les hypothèses suivantes. La notion de déflagration, comme formule de l’arché (principe et origine) ontologique de la phénoménalisation, renouvelle, tout en demeurant fidèle aux fondements du mouvement phénoménologique, d’une part, une branche spécifique de la tradition phénoménologique – la branche proprement française –, et d’autre part, la branche ontologique en tant que telle. Mais par rapport à l’originalité et à la spécificité de la cosmologie barbarasienne, nous soutenons qu’à la différence d’autres ontologies phénoménologiques, la cosmologie phénoménologique de Barbaras ne surgit pas de la critique de la subjectivité transcendantale husserlienne (Fink et Patočka), ne finit pas par un négativisme de l’être (Sartre, Jaspers, Jonas), pas plus qu’il ne se subsume dans une onto-théologie phénoménologique (Heidegger, Lévinas et Marion). La cosmologie phénoménologique de Barbaras défend à la fois l’appartenance du sujet au monde et le caractère phénoménalisant du sujet. Le pouvoir phénoménalisant de l’étant n’est ainsi ni négatif ni neutralisant, sinon profondément vivant. Cette cosmologie trouverait ainsi à s’exprimer poétiquement, comme il l’a lui-même affirmé lors de son cours de Master II en 2019-2020 à Paris I, dans les vers suivants de René Char : « [d]ans l’éclatement de l’univers que nous éprouvons, prodige ! les morceaux qui s’abattent sont vivants » (Char, 1969, p. 153).

 I. L’ontologie dont la phénoménologie a besoin

Tout se passe comme si la cosmologie phénoménologique de l’appartenance donnait réponse à la question ouverte par Ricœur sur le type d’ontologie conséquente avec la phénoménologie (1990, p. 345-410). Selon celui-ci, la question de l’ontologie n’a pas été résolue dans la phénoménologie, étant donné qu’une telle solution finirait par dissoudre la catégorie de l’altérité. En effet, la cosmologie phénoménologique de Renaud Barbaras est la toute dernière formulation d’une question ontologique générale dont la réponse a été donnée, comme Ricœur semblait l’attester (1990, p. 410), depuis le commencement même de la philosophie, avec Parménide. Partant, nous sommes d’accord avec le jugement d’Etienne Gilson lorsqu’il écrit :

Il est évident que, tout élément du réel généralement concevable étant un être, les propriétés essentielles de l’être doivent appartenir à tout ce qui est. Lorsque Parménide d’Elée fit cette découverte, il atteignit une position métaphysique pure, c’est-à-dire infranchissable à toute pensée qui s’engagerait dans la même voie, mais il s’obligeait du même coup à dire ce qu’il entendait par « être » (Gilson, 1948, p. 24).

Parménide s’engage, selon Gilson, dans une voie métaphysique qui l’oblige à définir les termes de son ontologie. Si Ricœur ne va pas plus loin dans la question de l’ontologie, c’est parce qu’en suivant Husserl dans la mise entre parenthèses de l’ontologie, sans vouloir la nier, il la déplace dans le point d’arrivée promis qui, comme idée en sens kantien, guide, en son absence et sans faire partie de, la description phénoménologique. Précisément, par rapport à la crainte de l’ontologie que certains phénoménologues ont héritée de Husserl, Gilson remarque le contraste entre « le soin minutieux ou même le génie » des phénoménologues et « l’insouciance avec laquelle ils déblaient sommairement en quelques pages des problèmes métaphysiques dont les conclusions, acceptées par eux à la légère, compromettent parfois ensuite l’exactitude de leurs analyses et en faussent toujours l’interprétation » (Gilson, 1948, p. 22). Nous croyons toutefois qu’avec de telles sentences, Gilson n’adresse pas une critique de fond à la phénoménologie. A contrario, il félicite la rigueur phénoménologie tout en faisant une critique constructive de la méthode. Davantage, il admet l’urgence d’une phénoménologie réformée en avouant que notre temps a besoin « d’une métaphysique de l’être conçue comme prolégomènes à toute phénoménologie » (Gilson, 1948, p. 21). La cosmologie phénoménologique de Barbaras, dont le livre que nous commentons ici n’est qu’une introduction à un nouveau projet, promet, à notre avis, de prendre au sérieux les problèmes métaphysiques en nous offrant, finalement, l’ontologie que la phénoménologie, selon Gilson, a besoin. Ces problèmes nous conduisent au paradoxe, non résolu auparavant dans la tradition phénoménologique, que constituent notre appartenance au monde et la capacité de phénoménalisation de ce monde même.

Mais cette ontologie n’est possible que parce que le versant ontologique du mouvement phénoménologique, en dépit de Husserl lui-même, a posé à nouveau la question de l’ontologie sans en tirer toutes les conséquences. Ce versant commence, à juste titre, avec Max Scheler. Pour lui, la phénoménologie se réalise dans une ontologie qui pose la valeur (Wert-sein) comme être originaire de l’existant (Scheler, 2004). L’existence n’est pas ici mise entre parenthèses comme chez Husserl. Dans tous les cas, pour les deux, il y a une différence entre une attitude mondaine et une attitude phénoménologique. La corrélation intentionnelle serait l’évidence qui apparaît, pour chacun, dans l’attitude phénoménologique. C’est ici la découverte de l’intentionnalité par Brentano (Brentano, 2008, p. 102) qui inaugure le chemin vers une ontologie phénoménologique dans laquelle l’être sera considéré à partir de l’existence intentionnelle que la Modernité avait perdue. Pour Barbaras, l’intentionnalité est « l’envers centripète du mouvement centrifuge de la déflagration, la manière dont se réalise et se manifeste l’appartenance dynamique à l’événement originaire » (p. 80). Il souscrit ainsi à la position phénoménologique fondamentale qui rapproche Scheler de Husserl. Cependant, Barbaras fonde l’intentionnalité au seuil de l’être lui-même. Il ne s’agit pas d’une structure de la conscience dans les termes de Brentano, mais d’une structure ontologique fondamentale entre l’être et l’étant qui n’exprime que l’appartenance de l’étant à l’être est le caractère essentiel, non restrictif, de l’être se déployant dans l’étant.

Nous sommes convaincue que la phénoménologie est capable de révéler cet aspect intentionnel et foncier de l’existence parce qu’elle est elle-même une question qui prend la forme d’une réponse à une question dérivée : la question sur le comment (quomodo). La phénoménologie décrit le comment de la chose et en décrivant elle demande le quoi, le quid, un quid qui ne se donne jamais dans l’exercice de la méthode phénoménologique. La question sur le quid ne peut être résolue que par une ontologie, l’ontologie que Husserl a mise entre parenthèses, et que Heidegger, Lévinas et Marion diffusent dans une onto-théologie sans rendre assez compte de la capacité phénoménalisante du sujet, parfois subsumée dans une éthique. Pour sa part, Scheler place l’ontologie comme vrai fondement de la philosophie en incluant la catégorie de « monde » dans la dernière période de sa pensée. La capacité phénoménalisante du sujet semblerait toutefois se diffuser dans l’ordre des affectivités. Un versant criticiste de la phénoménologie fait dériver la question ontologique (quid) de la critique opératoire de la description phénoménologie (quomodo) tout en récupérant la catégorie de « monde ». Ce sont Fink et Patočka qui, en parcourant une voie criticiste, réintroduisent la question cosmologique déjà posée par Scheler. En tout cas, c’est cette même ontologie phénoménologique visée par l’ontologie négativiste de l’existentialisme, que Ricœur situe comme finalité promise par la méthode sans jamais y arriver (la voie longue), et dont la route est inaugurée par Merleau-Ponty sans pour autant être accomplie. Barbaras appartient sans doute au même mouvement phénoménologique qui pose la question du quid dans le même site originaire que la question sur le comment (quomodo). Nous pouvons affirmer à juste titre qu’il appartient au mouvement phénoménologique tout court.

Il y a néanmoins deux manières d’appartenir à un mouvement philosophique, lesquelles sont, corrélativement, deux manières de rendre possible la continuité et postérité de ce mouvement. La première est de rester fidèle à l’idée authentique du fondateur du mouvement en le défendant contre ses critiques et ses interprétations abusives, en montrant que sa pensée est encore importante dans un contexte philosophique toujours nouveau. Il s’agit de l’option exégétique du mouvement phénoménologique, qui continue à chercher, dans l’œuvre non publiée du fondateur, des réponses aux problèmes contemporains. La deuxième consiste à renouveler les fins qui ont mobilisé un tel mouvement philosophique à partir de nouvelles questions et de nouvelles réponses. Il s’agit de l’option créatrice qui implique toujours la formation de nouvelles branches. Les deux manières sont, d’une certaine manière, impliquées dialectiquement dans la pensée de Barbaras. Il est évident que l’apport de Barbaras n’est pas exégétique, mais sa proposition renouvelle cette tradition tout en y étant fidèle. Nous pouvons lire sa trajectoire philosophique à partir du geste phénoménologique dans la mesure où, en prenant comme point de départ les présupposés théoriques précédents (dans ses premiers ouvrages, voir par exemple, Barbaras, 1991 et 2004) pour les neutraliser et rendre possible la vision du phénomène (dans les ouvrages précédant ce dernier, voir par exemple, 2011a et 2016a), il amène, dans la toute dernière période de sa philosophie (2019), l’ontologie phénoménologique à sa formulation la plus radicale, en en tirant toutes les conséquences.

II. Le versant français de l’ontologie phénoménologique

La pierre de touche de L’appartenance. Vers une cosmologie phénoménologique de Renaud Barbaras est indubitablement la notion de déflagration comme origine cosmologique de l’ontologie de l’appartenance. Il s’agit d’un concept qui permet de mettre l’accent sur le caractère vital, dynamique et spatial de cette ontologie. En ce sens, même si ce livre inaugure une nouvelle étape dans la philosophie de l’auteur, il est conséquent avec les découvertes de l’étape précédante de sa philosophie qui a été déployée depuis Dynamique de la manifestation  (2013) jusqu’à Métaphysique du sentiment (2016a) et Le Désir et le monde (2016b). Dans ces œuvres, nous trouvons un effort pour penser la radicalité de la corrélation d’une phénoménologie dépassée par une métaphysique. Dans L’appartenance. Vers une cosmologie phénoménologique, c’est surtout la perspective cosmologique qui sera traitée comme la plus fondamentale et la plus originaire. Cette perspective met la catégorie de l’espace comme étant plus fondamentale que la catégorie du temps, bien que cette perspective, comme l’a fait remarqué Aurélien Deudon (2018), ait déjà redémarré dans les ouvrages antérieurs de l’auteur : « force est de conclure que le temps est la forme même de l’apparaître secondaire, tout comme l’espace était la forme de l’apparaître primaire » (Barbaras, 2013, p. 327).

L’importance donnée à l’espace nous permet de penser dans les termes avec lesquels Guy-Félix Duportail caractérise la phénoménologie française, comme traversant un moment topologique (2010). De ce fait, Benjamin (2018, p. 115) nous a averti de l’être spirituel (ein geistiges Wesen) transmis par tout usager d’un langage constitué au sein d’une culture. Ainsi, sans vouloir risquer un historicisme, nous pouvons postuler que chaque phénoménologue français déploie des traits propres aux différentes couches de sens que nous comprenons par philosophie française, si nous rapportons la tradition phénoménologique française à l’histoire plus générale de la philosophie française. Selon Camille Riquier (2011), la philosophie française trouve son origine dans la figure de Descartes. Il ne se réfère pas à cette origine dans des termes causaux ou ontologiques, mais comme un simple fait :

[I]l n’y a pas de philosophe français qui ne se soit retourné vers Descartes à un certain moment de son parcours, souvent décisif, pour éprouver sa pensée au contact de la sienne, ou pour reprendre un fil qu’il avait laissé interrompu, s’y rattacher et le prolonger. Le caractère fondateur qui lui a été reconnu de droit au regard de toute la philosophie moderne a masqué l’importance toute spéciale que les penseurs français lui ont toujours accordée, de fait, dans leur propre édification intellectuelle. En France, Descartes est un référent plus encore qu’une référence, qui fournit moins les idées que la trame qui servira à les ordonner, – ce qui n’est pas le cas ailleurs (Riquier, 2011, p. 3).

Riquier identifie trois voies cartésiennes suivies par les philosophes français, dont la première, où l’on peut situer les phénomènologues français, est celle du cogito. Ceux-ci auraient pu exploiter ses ressourses aux marges de la phénoménologie transcendantale uniquement « à la faveur du cogito de Descartes qui était là pour eux, derrière, plus large que celui de Husserl » (Riquier, 2011, p. 23). Les œuvres de Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Ricoeur et Barbaras ne seraient que le prolongement, selon Riquier, du sentiment de l’union de l’âme et du corps avec lequel le cogito cartésien déborde celui de Husserl en lui contestant sa prétention d’auto-fondation absolue (Riquier, 2011, p. 23). Force est de dire que la phénoménologie de Husserl n’a pas été reçue sans des conditions pré-compréhensives par la philosophie française. Cela peut expliquer que, comme l’affirme Bernard Stevens, la tradition de la phénoménologie française ait sauté de manière trop rapide aux réflexions de la Krisis, justement le livre plus « ontologique » de Husserl. À cela s’ajoute l’importance des réflexions sur la chair présentes dans Ideen II, livre qui a été aussi bien reçu par l’école française de phénoménologie, à la différence des Méditations cartésiennes, livre accusé souvent de solipsisme par la même école. De plus, Frédéric Worms remarque l’avènement du moment du vivant (Worms, 2009, p. 560) vers la fin du XXe siècle dans la phénoménologie française. Même si ce vivant apparaît sous la forme d’un bergsonisme minimal, dont le côté maximal est apparu au début du siècle.

Renaud Barbaras renouvelle ces préoccupations que nous pouvons qualifier de « proprement françaises » : le point de départ de sa cosmologie phénoménologique est la reconsidération radicale du corps, tout en échappant à une manière idéaliste de penser la chair comme conséquence d’une perspective ontologique fondée sur la conscience. Ce point de départ est inspiré de Merleau-Ponty même si son ontologie de la chair délivre les coordonnées du problème plutôt que la solution (p. 12), en risquant un dualisme sous-jacent à la distinction entre la chair mienne et la chair du monde. En allant plus loin que Merleau-Ponty, Barbaras essaie de résoudre le problème du dualisme que pose toute phénoménologie de la chair, et du solipsisme que pose toute phénoménologie. Comme Barbaras le montre, dans le premier chapitre du livre intitulé « De la chair à l’appartenance » (p. 1-26), la réflexion philosophique a manqué l’expérience foncière du corps au moment où elle l’a identifiée. Bien qu’un certain type d’ontologie ait déjà réfléchi sur la question du corps, celle-ci n’a pas été prise radicalement, car, au lieu d’être question, le corps est assumé comme une réponse (p. 13) au cœur d’une ontologie déjà donnée. Barbaras réalise ainsi une épochè des ontologies, qui ont caché le corps, sédimentées dans l’attitude naturelle. L’une de ces ontologies est l’ontologie de la mort sédimentée dans la science contemporaine pensant le corps du point de vue de l’inertie. Ce qui apparaît dans l’effectuation de cette épochè est une expérience fondamentale : l’appartenance. Pour Barbaras, penser le corps comme problème fondamental n’est rien d’autre que de mettre en avant la dimension d’appartenance. Afin de comprendre cette dimension de manière ontologique, l’auteur exerce deux remaniements ontologiques radicaux : a) la conscience n’appartient pas au monde ; elle est une modalité, parmi d’autres, de cette appartenance (p. 16); b) le fondement ontologique premier est l’espace et non le temps, comme une certaine perspective ontologique et phénoménologique l’a présupposé en prenant l’espace comme un dérivé du temps (p. 21). Ces deux remaniements ontologiques sont strictement liés car apparaître consiste à déployer l’espace. C’est pourquoi, seulement en prenant comme point de départ l’espace, nous pourrions saisir le sens phénoménologiquement radical de cette appartenance. Ainsi, Barbaras se place, à la fois, dans le moment topologique de la phénoménologie française, tout en utilisant les outils de la phénoménologie (l’époché et la description de l’expérience) débordés par l’expérience de l’appartenance. Mais est-ce que l’appartenance est comparable au sentiment de l’union âme-corps que Riquier présume déployé par les phénoménologues français dans le but d’aller plus loin que Husserl, tout en retournant à Descartes ? Nous croyons, tout au contraire, que la notion d’appartenance prouve l’originalité de Barbaras face à la tradition française de la phénoménologie, comme nous le verrons par la suite. Il nous convient ici de poser la question sur le quomodo de l’appartenance. Comment un étant appartient au monde ?

 III. L’éclatement du monde

À notre avis, dans la clarification des modalités de cette appartenance, nous pourrons comprendre les conséquences inédites de cette ontologie face aux ontologies antérieures et à la tradition française de la phénoménologie. Précisément, dans le deuxième chapitre du livre intitulé « Les trois sens de l’appartenance » (p. 27-56), Barbaras propose une typologie sémantique. Du point de vue de l’usage français du mot appartenance, trois sens d’appartenance apparaissent : être dans le monde ou le site (être situé, position inhérente à l’étant) ; être du monde ou le sol (être pris dans son épaisseur, là d’où l’étant se nourrit et d’où provient son étantité), être au monde ou le lieu (la phénoménalisation, l’occuper activement, s’investir, une forme de possession du monde). Pour Barbaras, il y a un rapport d’identité entre les trois sens d’appartenance : l’inscription onto-topologique de tel étant dans le monde a pour envers la phénoménalisation du monde dans cet étant. Ces trois sens de l’appartenance ne font donc qu’un seul. L’inscription ontologique d’un sujet situé topologiquement dans le monde est aussi le déploiement de la phénoménalisation. Pour une partie de la tradition philosophique transcendantale, la phénoménalisation du monde est fondée sur la distanciation du monde. Barbaras renverse ce préjugé : plus un étant appartient au monde, plus il le fait apparaître. Le degré zéro de cette appartenance sera représenté par la pierre. L’appartenance de la pierre déploie un lieu, mais à contre-courant des autres êtres vivants : en se concentrant. La vie de la pierre se manifeste alors tout d’abord comme temporalité. Sa spatialité apparaît de manière dérivée et comme défaut : « le défaut de déploiement spatial est l’envers de l’installation dans une durée longue » (p. 32). La plante est, contrairement à l’animal, spatialisation, mobilité pure : « elle est tout entière à l’extérieur d’elle-même » (p. 36). L’animal, au contraire, occupe l’espace sans sortir de lui-même. Or, l’homme est un homo viator (p. 33). Il apparaît au monde dans le sens de la mobilité et c’est le désir de l’homme la raison même de la mobilité. Le rapport entre conscience et sol se pose ici autrement que dans le cartésianisme, de telle manière que le problème même du solipsisme ne se pose pas. Mais tout en demeurant dans le sol français qui contient sa philosophie, Barbaras dépasse Descartes – avec qui, selon Riquier, les phénoménologues français dépassent Husserl – avec Bergson. Dans l’un des moments les plus poétiques du livre, l’auteur s’aligne avec Bergson pour distinguer entre un corps minime et un corps immense. D’un point de vue solipsiste, notre corps serait la place minime que nous occupons, qui renfermerait la conscience. Du point de vue de Bergson, selon Barbaras, si je suis là où la conscience peut s’appliquer, mon corps va jusqu’aux étoiles. Plus radicalement, en dépassant Husserl et Descartes, pour Barbaras, « ce mode de déploiement du lieu qu’est ici la conscience des étoiles repose sur l’appartenance ontologique du sujet aux étoiles, sur le corps immense, et vient réduire la tension entre le site, à quoi correspond le corps minime et le sol, qui n’est autre que le cosmos lui même » (p. 55). Autrement dit, les étoiles deviennent lieu parce qu’elles sont d’abord sol. La conscience appartient premièrement à un corps pour être elle-même conscience, et au monde, ou aux étoiles, advient le caractère essentiel de pouvoir être phénoménalisé pour un sujet qui y appartient. La question du quomodo va se métamorphoser ici dans les termes du quid à des niveaux différents. Comment tout en étant différent des étoiles pour les percevoir, nous les faisons paraître en ce que nous appartenons à une continuité avec elles dans le sol ? Quelle ontologie fondamentale serait-elle capable d’expliquer, en répondant au quid de l’être, l’unité et la différence au sein de cette nouvelle manière de penser l’appartenance ? En d’autres termes, la question est de donner réponse à l’origine ontologique (quid) de la phénoménalité. Dans les mots de Barbaras avec lesquels commence le troisième chapitre du livre intitulé « Vers une cosmologie : la déflagration » (p. 57-80), où il essaie de répondre à ces questions, « [i]l s’agit de comprendre pourquoi ce faire singulier [que le mouvement des vivants est un mouvement phénoménologique] dont nous parlons, dont l’autre nom est le désir, ne peut être qu’un faire paraître » (p. 57-58).

Plus exactement, la question est de savoir comment le sol qui se sépare de lui-même par le site donne lieu au surgissement du lieu. Mais le surgissement de la phénoménalisation ne doit pas être compris dans le sens d’une téléologie. Le paraître de l’être est totalement contingent sans pour autant laisser d’être le paraître de l’être. De la réponse à cette question dépend la réponse à une question qui en est dérivée : la question de l’unité de l’appartenance. Il faut pouvoir expliquer comment le sol, en se séparant dans le site, n’est autre que le sol lui-même. En prenant en compte que le sol contient tous les étants en tant qu’il les fait être, cette appartenance est ontologique : les étants ne sont pas seulement situés dans le monde, il constitue leur source, il nourrit l’être de l’étant qui y est inscrit. Il s’agit d’une ontogénèse dynamique surabondante. Cette surpuissance n’a d’autre positivité que dans ce qu’elle fait naître (p. 61) ; elle ne peut avoir rien d’étant pour être la source de tout étant. Le sol est donc accessible uniquement dans l’étant qu’il dépose, étant l’acte de déposer. Il est le jaillissement comme être et non un être qui jaillit. Barbaras admet qu’il ne s’agit pas de la puissance aristotélicienne « toujours référée à une substance et ordonnée au telos de l’acte », mais plutôt de la puissance plotinienne qui est Acte, débordement de l’Un qui donne ce qu’il ne possède pas (p. 61). Mais cette surpuissance ontogénétique ne doit pas diffuser le caractère spatial de l’appartenance : si l’être n’a pas d’autre sens que l’appartenance, produire n’est qu’installer dans l’extériorité. La puissance onto-génétique disperse, donne un site. Le site s’inscrit ainsi dans une surpuissance expansive. Le sol, étant la surpuissance expansive, produit le multiple dans son être jaillissement. Plus que monde, l’être est Nature au sens d’une physis originaire. En suivant Dufrenne (1981, p. 165), Barbaras remarque que la Nature indique, d’un côté, l’extériorité et l’antériorité du monde comme précédence ontologique, et, d’un autre côté, l’énergie de l’être comme puissance ou productivité. Cette formule exprime le monde de l’appartenance à la fois comme totalité antérieure extériorisante et comme surpuissance productrice. À ce titre, la phénoménologie qui prend ce monde-Nature comme objet ne peut se réaliser que comme cosmologie.

Arrivé à ce point, Barbaras est capable d’expliquer la mobilité de l’étant, une autre voie pour comprendre la nature du sol. La raison du mouvement est la distance du site au sol. Mais le site est contenu dans le sol : « sa distance au sol est distance au sein du sol » (p. 65). La mobilité de l’étant provient alors du sol. L’étant ne produit pas la mobilité, il s’y insère. Dès lors, le mouvement des étants témoigne de la nature de son sol. Le sol serait, selon Barbaras, la mobilité même (archi-mobilité, pur jaillisement). À dire vrai, c’est le sol qui, en tant que puissance ontogénétique, essaie de se rejoindre à partir de ce qu’il produit : de revenir à lui au travers des étants en lesquels il se sépare. En s’inspirant de Louis Lavelle (1937), Barbaras affirme que la participation ne fait pas de l’étant une partie du Tout. L’être n’est pas préalablement réalisé, mais l’étant participe à un acte qui est en train de s’accomplir grâce à une opération qui oblige l’étant à la fois d’assumer sa propre existence et l’existence du Tout. Autrement dit, la puissance ontogénétique à laquelle appartient l’étant n’existe pas en dehors de ses produits « et leur doit en ce sens son être » (p. 68). L’étant rejoint son sol par un mouvement désirant parce qu’il s’insère dans l’acte onto-originaire qui est en train de s’accomplir et qui lui donne l’énergie qui lui permet de déployer un lieu au sein du même sol qu’il essaie de rejoindre. Cela peut évoquer une affirmation d’un autre livre de Lavelle (1939) publié en aval de celui cité par Barbaras : « Elle [la vie] est toujours un retour à la source. Elle fait de moi un être perpétuellement naissant » (Lavelle, 1939, p. 92).

En voulant éclairer cette source qui est le sol, Barbaras pose à nouveau la question de Leibniz dans Les Principes de la Nature et de la Grâce : « pourquoi il y a plutôt quelque chose que rien » (Leibniz, 1996, p. 228), dans des termes cosmologiques : « comment y a-t-il quelque chose plutôt que rien ? » (p. 68). Cependant, il ne s’aligne ni sur Sartre ni sur Husserl, qui donnent, soit à l’existence, soit à la conscience, une irréalité ou négativité métaphysique, seule capable de dépasser le réel, de le penser ou de le constituer. Pour Barbaras, la négativité se pose uniquement en des termes ontiques. La source est une et indivisible : elle produit le multiple parce qu’elle ne l’est pas (négativité ontique). Mais elle n’est pas non plus un néant. Il n’y a pas création ex-nihilo. Il y aurait une forme de précession métaphysique : « rien de moins que la surabondance qui sous-tend tout étant pour autant qu’il vient à l’être » (p. 70). Sa négativité ontique consiste en son excès métaphysique. Il faut alors la comprendre comme l’événement en tant que mondification qui est l’advenir même d’une multiplicité d’étants (avènement). C’est pour cette raison que Barbaras choisit de caractériser cet archi-événément, sens d’être ultime du sol, comme déflagration. La déflagration est éternelle, car l’étant est immobile dans son archi-mobilité et stable dans son instabilité constitutive (p. 72). Barbaras avoue qu’il identifie ici, dans le concept de déflagration, l’archi-mouvement et l’archi-événement qu’il avait distingués dans son œuvre précédente (voir Barbaras, 2013). Ce qui nous permet d’affirmer que nous nous trouvons, en effet, au début d’une nouvelle période de la philosophie de l’auteur.

La déflagration peut aussi répondre aux problèmes touchant l’advenir du multiple. La déflagration est dispersion originaire qui renvoie à une pluralité de sites ou, autrement dit, à des étants individués et différents. Il y a autant de multiplicité numérique, spatiale, que de multiplicité qualitative : différence. Cette différence n’est autre que la gradation inhérente à la déflagration. Les étants s’éloignent différemment de leur source, « de telle sorte que la déflagration est naissance de différences dans la différence » (p. 75). En empruntant des expressions avec lesquelles Bergson explique l’évolution de la vie (1908, p. 108), Barbaras caractérise la déflagration comme l’éclatement qui est gerbe ontologique créant des directions divergentes, ce qui donne lieu à l’individuation de l’étant. C’est l’événement même de la contingence comme fait de la différence renvoyant à la contingence absolue de l’avènement de la déflagration comme absolu. Les éclats que sont les étants sont retenus dans leur propre avènement. Ils sont maintenus dans leur source, l’écho de l’archi-événement les transit éternellement sous la forme de la mobilité. Les différences entre les étants s’expriment donc en termes dynamiques, et la mobilité n’exprime que la proximité avec la surpuissance originaire. Effectivement, René Char n’a jamais si bien expliqué – rétrospectivement et de manière aussi fidèle – l’intuition philosophique rapprochant Barbaras et Bergson : « les morceaux qui s’abattent sont vivants » (Char, 1969, p. 154).

Plus précisément, dans le cas des vivants, leur mobilité exprime leur proximité ou leur degré d’insertion dans la déflagration. A contrario, l’immobilité de la pierre exprime un éloignement de l’éclatement originaire. Dans le cas de l’étant humain, connaître son sol exprime sa proximité à son sol. En termes simples, tout mouvement de l’étant est mouvement vers le sol, « quête ontologique » (p. 79). Barbaras se situe à l’opposé du transcendantal husserlien ou du distancement intellectuel cher à la phénoménologie : la pensée, la donation du sens, la réflexion, et pourquoi pas, la description phénoménologique, auraient pour source et condition de possibilité une profonde inscription dans le sol. Malheureusement, Barbaras n’explique pas ici les conséquences épistémologiques de cette cosmologie déflagrationniste pour une théorie de la connaissance renouvelée.

La déflagration barbarasienne est, partant, l’ontogenèse dynamique, la puissance ontogénétique, l’archi-événement capable de produire le multiple sans déchirer l’unité fondamentale des étants, l’archi-mouvement stabilisant. L’inspiration merleau-pontienne de l’idée de la déflagration est évidente : « Tel est à nos yeux le sens véritable de ces mots que Merleau-Ponty ajoute à propos de cette ‘explosion stabilisée’ qu’est ‘absolu du sensible’ : ‘i.e. comportant retour’ » (p. 79). La déflagration doit se comprendre alors dans les termes d’une explosion qui ne cesse jamais d’exploser. Les étants ne se séparent jamais de cette déflagration ; ils sont au seuil même de sa puissance et « reviennent sans cesse à elle, mettent à profit la puissance dont ils héritent pour rejoindre l’origine, recoudre la déchirure » (p. 79). En amont, dans L’Œil et l’esprit (1964), Merleau-Ponty a caractérisé la recherche de Cézanne de la profondeur dans les termes de la déflagration de l’être :

La profondeur ainsi comprise est plutôt l’expérience de la réversibilité des dimensions, d’une « localité » globale où tout est à la fois, dont hauteur, largeur et distance sont abstraites, d’une voluminosité qu’on exprime d’un mot en disant qu’une chose est là. Quand Cézanne cherche la profondeur, c’est cette déflagration de l’Être qu’il cherche, et elle est dans tous les modes de l’espace, dans la forme aussi bien. (…) Elle (la couleur) est « l’endroit où notre cerveau et l’univers se rejoignent », dit-il dans cet admirable langage d’artisan de l’Être que Klee aimait à citer (Merleau-Ponty, 1964, p. 65-66).

Pour Barbaras, la profondeur sera la manière dont le sol se phénoménalise comme tel, l’envers phénoménal de la déflagration. Mais celle-ci ne s’abolit pas au profit de ce qu’elle dépose, elle explose en comportant retour. Ceci ne veut pas dire qu’il y aurait deux mouvements : la retombée de l’étant est remontée. Le mouvement centrifuge de la déflagration dans l’étant est aussi le mouvement centripète de l’étant vers la déflagration. C’est dans ces termes qu’il faut comprendre que le site appartient au sol comme le multiple à la déflagration, de manière que le site n’est pas le sol mais n’est pas autre chose que le sol. L’intentionnalité comme déploiement d’un lieu à partir d’un site ne serait que la manifestation phénoménologique de l’inscription et du retour de l’étant vers son origine explosive. L’intentionnalité est donc la manifestation centripète du mouvement centrifuge de la déflagration, la réalisation de l’appartenance dynamique à l’événement originaire (p. 80). Le lieu est, enfin, la trace phénoménologique de la continuité ontologique qui demeure dans la séparation. La question de la phénoménologie se pose ici. Nous retournons à la question sur le comment : l’origine des lieux. Quelle serait la phénoménologie de la cosmologie de la déflagration ? Dans le quatrième chapitre intitulé « La genèse des mondes » (p. 82-109), Barbaras fera le point sur la phénoménologie d’où il vient (Merleau-Ponty, Husserl et Patočka) pour poser les termes de la phénoménologie vers laquelle il se dirige et qui demeure ici en état de promesse.

 IV. La phénoménologie que la cosmologie mérite

Au début du quatrième chapitre, Barbaras rappelle sa critique de l’ontologie phénoménologique de la chair de Merleau-Ponty. Cette conception présuppose une limitation que la cosmologie phénoménologique essaie de dépasser : « contrairement à ce que Merleau-Ponty affirme, que cette chair soit mienne, c’est-à-dire sentante, ne signifie d’aucune manière qu’elle se distingue de la chair du monde : c’est au contraire en tant que chair du monde, en tant par conséquent qu’elle lui appartient radicalement, qu’elle est mienne » (p. 81). La condition de la phénoménalisation est l’inscription phénoménologique dans le monde. La question classique de l’union de l’âme et du corps, qu’on a qualifié au début de cet article de purement française, est ici dépassée. Si ma chair est la chair du monde, j’ai une conscience signifie la même chose que j’ai un corps et inversement (p. 81). La distinction entre conscience et corps est une abstraction. Cela lui permet de répondre aussi à Husserl. C’est la profondeur de l’inscription dans le monde qui mesure la puissancce phénoménalisante et non l’inverse. Le faire paraître le monde n’implique pas une situation d’exception, mais une appartenance radicale à lui. Barbaras renverse ainsi également la qualité d’être éjecté du monde du Da-sein heidéggerien ou de l’être pour soi sartrien : « c’est pace que ce que nous nommons conscience est du monde en un sens plus radical que d’autres étants, qu’elle est précisément conscience, à savoir aptitude à le faire paraître » (p. 81). L’extériorité est inscrite au sein de cette nouvelle interprétation de la phénoménalité. En effet, l’ampleur du lieu n’est que la profondeur de l’inscription dans le monde. Un nouvel a priori universel de la corrélation, valide pour tout étant, apparaît : « autant d’appartenance, autant de phénoménalité ; autant de continuité ontologique, autant d’ipséité » (p. 82). Mais la question est de savoir comment comprendre le statut et l’origine de la phénoménalité. Afin de répondre à cette question, Barbaras montrera que la phénoménalisation consiste dans l’unité propre à la manière dont les étants remontent vers leur source.

Le début de sa démonstration est inspiré de la phénoménologie a-subjective de Patočka. Ce phénoménologue, auquel il a consacré deux livres auparavant (2007, 2011b), dépasse de manière définitive la phénoménologie transcendantale de Husserl – que Barbaras caractérise comme « la version orthodoxe de la phénoménologie » (p. 83) – en déliant la phénoménalité de l’étant de la référence à un sujet constituant. Cela ne veut pas signifier la perte absolue du sujet. Le sujet sera dérivé d’une conception non subjectiviste de la phénoménalité. Selon la critique de Patočka (1995) à laquelle Barbaras souscrit, Husserl n’aurait pas su respecter l’autonomie du champ phénoménal dévoilé par l’épochè phénoménologique. Plus précisément, il finirait par trahir l’épochè. En effet, l’attitude naturelle peut être comprise par l’intention de rendre compte de l’apparaître du monde à partir des lois du monde ou, dans d’autres termes, de tenter de rendre compte de l’apparaître à partir d’un apparaissant. Mais Husserl, tout en voulant suspendre l’attitude naturelle, fait reposer pourtant l’apparaître sur des vécus (un apparaissant). Il faut donc faire avec la conscience ce que Husserl fait avec la thèse du monde, la neutraliser, afin de pouvoir accéder à l’apparaître comme a priori ultime. Cet a priori ne sera pas distinct de celui des apparaissants mondains : l’apparaître est un et relève d’une même légalité. Pour Patočka, c’est le monde qui constituera ainsi l’a priori ultime de l’apparaître, étant le vrai point d’arrivée de l’épochè. C’est l’appartenance au monde le sens d’être ultime de l’étant. Le monde est l’apparaissant ultime : « la condition du donné est un archi-donné » (p. 87). Autrement dit, le monde est l’a priori de l’expérience du monde : l’empirique, ou plutôt l’ontologique, et le transcendantal coïncident. Il semblerait que Patočka finisse par faire dériver l’apparaître de l’apparaissant, comme il le reproche à Husserl. Cependant, selon Barbaras, ce n’est pas le cas si on comprend bien le sens de cet apparaissant qui est le grand Tout, qui est le monde. Pour s’expliquer, il reprend et renverse la détermination husserlienne de la perception comme donation par esquisses. La perception se déploie sous la forme d’un cours d’esquisses parce que l’on dispose par avance de la garantie de pouvoir parcourir la chose. Il a fallu que la continuabilité de cette expérience me soit donnée d’emblée : une chose ne paraît qu’au sein de son horizon. L’horizon n’est plus, comme pour Husserl, potentialité de la conscience. La présence intuitive doit se comprendre comme la cristallisation d’un horizon préalable. L’horizon sera le nom de l’être donné à la continuabilité de l’expérience : l’Un englobant. Dire d’une chose qu’elle apparaît signifie qu’elle s’inscrit dans une unité ouverte de toutes les apparitions possibles. L’expérience est ainsi en continuité avec toutes les autres l’expériences. À dire vrai, elle ne peut être qu’une : l’unité de l’expérience est ce qui commande son être d’expérience. La conscience n’est donc pas la condition de l’apparaître, elle serait la conséquence de l’apparaître : c’est dans la mesure où une chose apparaît dans une totalité englobante que l’unité peut se donner à une conscience et non l’inverse. S’il ne s’agit pas alors d’une conscience, la question qui se pose est celle du mode d’être de ce sujet capable d’accueillir cette unité.

Barbaras le confesse : « [l]es mots ici nous manquent (p. 92). Sans le deviner peut-être, il s’aligne sur les moments de description de phénoménologues qui, en voulant être fidèles à la description des aspects les plus mystérieux de l’expérience, rendent explicite les limitations du langage. C’est peut-être en ceci que réside la différence entre la phénoménologie et l’herméneutique, ou encore entre la phénoménologie et le structuralisme. Nous en trouvons l’un des exemples dans les descriptions husserliennes de la constitution de la conscience absolue du temps. Et c’est justement l’excédance du moyen de description par les faits phénoménologiques de la description même qui en dit le plus long sur la pratique fidèle de la phénoménologie et de la profondeur de la vision du phénoménologue. Scheler remarque précisément que la phénoménologie montre avec la parole ce qui doit être expérimenté par l’interlocuteur du phénoménologue, une expérience qui dépasse les moyens de l’expression de l’évidence (Scheler, 1954, p. 391). Dans tous les cas, il est aussi étonnant que compréhensible que les mots manquent quand Barbaras essaie d’éclairer le sens de l’être de ce sujet phénoménalisant. Selon Barbaras, ce sujet ne peut pas être constituant, mais il est requis par l’apparition qui le précède comme principe d’unification. Le sujet participe, dans l’unification de l’unité unifiante, de l’apparaître des choses sans les constituer. La réponse de Barbaras, en accord avec la cosmologie de la déflagration, est que le sens d’être de ce sujet consiste en un mouvement, « précisément celui qui constitue cette unité des apparitions que nous avons, pour notre part, nommée lieu » (p. 93). L’horizon des apparitions existe comme son propre déploiement dynamique indifférent au partage de la transcendance et de l’immanence. En suivant Patočka, Barbaras remarque que la pénétration dans le monde est l’envers d’une orientation qui implique que le sujet soit situé au sein de la totalité : « l’approche est toujours un ‘déloignement’ (Entfernung) » (p. 94). Mais c’est parce que l’approche constitue notre rapport originaire au monde dans un tout anticipateur, que nous voyons les choses ; le distancement n’est pas la condition de possibilité du voir. La phénoménalité est renvoyée, par Barbaras, à la mobilité. L’unité est effectuée par un sujet qui, appartenant au monde, s’avance vers son sol au sein de lui en déployant des lieux. Patočka a déjà mis l’accent, selon Barbaras, sur le caractère spatialisant de la phénoménalisation. Toutefois, le pas franchi par rapport à Patočka consiste à fonder cette dynamique spatialisante sur une appartenance ontologique et non topologique, « sur un défaut d’être qui ne peut avoir pour envers qu’une aspiration » (p. 95). Barbaras remet la question de la phénoménalisation dans les termes du lieu au sein de sa cosmologie, afin de donner à l’espace son importance constitutive. Au fond, l’indivisibilité de l’origine perdure sous la forme de la puissance unifiante qui habite chaque étant : son activité phénoménalisante (p. 97). L’unité est la trace d’une telle puissance indivise. La surpuissance de la déflagration demeure sous la forme des mouvements qui s’attestent dans une dimension unificatrice. L’étant poursuit cette unité dans le multiple et tente de la réaliser. La sortie de l’origine comme dispersion a une relation d’identité avec le retour à l’origine comme rassemblement. L’origine de la phénoménalité, l’origine des mondes, est ce qui apparaît de l’origine au sein du multiple, « la manière dont l’indivision de la puissance explosive se réfléchit au sein du fini » (p. 98). La forme est ainsi archè.

Mais si le monde est corrélat d’une appartenance, il y a alors trois sens du monde : le monde comme source (déflagration) qui renvoie au sol, le monde comme multiplicité ontique provenant de cet archi-événement qui renvoie au site, le monde comme forme ou sédimentation de l’origine au sein du multiple qui renvoie au lieu. Ils correspondent respectivement à l’appartenance ontologique, à l’appartenance ontique et à l’appartenance phénoménologique. Si l’étant va de son site vers son sol du point de vue phénoménologique, il y a un mouvement plus originaire par lequel la source explosive cherche à se rassembler dans sa dispersion. Le sujet véritable est le cosmos lui-même et sa vérité est celle d’une surpuissance originaire qui fait des mondes pour se faire être comme pure origine. Le monde proprement dit est, pour la phénoménologie de cette cosmologie, la trace de la puissance de l’origine au sein du multiple, la totalité comme sédimentation, le troisième sens du monde. Autrement dit, bien qu’il y a un cœur archi-événementiel (déflagration) du monde qui constitue son contenu (l’ensemble des étants), en donnant lieu à son contenu contingente, « l’archi-événement est archi-contingence » (p. 101). Il s’agit d’un néoplatonisme inversé, car la réalité de l’Un qui donne ce qu’il ne possède pas est cosmologique au lieu de métaphysique, elle est une réalité indéterminée et indivisible. De plus, si la pensée consiste dans un mouvement de séparation et de remontée (hypostase vers l’Un) qui produit le multiple, dans la perspective de Barbaras, le multiple manifeste originairement une séparation de l’origine, face à laquelle la remontée vers l’origine a le sens d’une unification.

Les lieux marquent la proximité de l’origine dans la distance. Si aucun monde ne peut s’approprier l’origine, il y a toutes sortes de mondes possibles, autant de mondes que d’étants dont l’amplitude se mesure à la profondeur de l’inscription dans le sol qui n’est que la proximité de l’origine. L’ampleur de la synthèse sur laquelle un monde se repose ou la puissance signifiante sera d’autant plus forte que l’étant sera moins loin de son origine (p. 104). Avec cette affirmation, Barbaras se situe à l’opposé de la phénoménologie qui caractérise le sujet comme étant un hors-monde. Pour la cosmologie phénoménologique, autant d’appartenance, autant d’intentionnalité ; autant d’intentionnalité, autant de subjectivité ; autant de proximité avec la déflagration, autant de puissance ; autant de puissance, autant de monde ; autant de monde, autant de subjectivité. C’est parce que nous sommes d’abord des êtres cosmologiques que nous sommes conscients et connaissants. Les degrés de subjectivation renvoient aux degrés d’appartenance. Barbaras avoue que Merleau-Ponty s’est dirigé dans cette direction mais qu’il n’a pas pu fonder son intuition parce qu’il prenait comme point de départ la chair sensible. La chair comme sentir est différente de la chair du monde qui est sentie en ce sentir même (p. 106).  Merleau-Ponty n’a pas pu fonder l’univocité dont il a pourtant eu l’intuition. Pour Barbaras, c’est parce que nous appartenons au sol ontologique du monde que nous sommes capables de le phénoménaliser. La subjectivité ne se distingue pas de la puissance phénoménalisante. Il ne s’agit pas de nier la différence, mais de ressaisir la différence, « nier qu’elle repose sur la séparation d’une entité subjective et d’un monde » (p. 107). Mais si la phénoménalisation ou la subjectivité a pour condition l’appartenance, elle n’a pas l’appartenance pour contenu. Le lieu n’est pas le sol, mais la manière dont le sol se donne à celui qui en est séparé au sein du sol. Le monde est la manifestation de l’archi-événement à celui qui en est un éclat. Partant, « le destin de l’origine est sa propre occultation dans le phénomène » (p. 108). En d’autres termes, la phénoménalisation implique une occultation. Le sol n’apparaît jamais comme sol et c’est pour cela qu’on peut dire qu’on est séparés en son sein. La dimension d’occultation s’accuse tandis que la phénoménalisation se fait plus ample. Le lieu que nous déployons est plus loin du sol. La profondeur de notre appartenance déclenche une puissance de phénoménalisation qui nous permet de déployer un lieu en ouvrant le monde lui-même. Ce monde se donne comme « objectif », détaché de l’activité phénoménalisante, et comme délivrant un sens de l’être. La plus grande appartenance débouche donc sur la séparation, car la phénoménalisation finit par nommer l’essence de ce qui est : « la puissance de l’origine débouche sur sa propre occultation » (p. 108). Nous avons alors plus de chances d’accéder à l’appartenance si l’on aborde les modes d’exister ou mondes où le lieu ne recouvre pas encore le sol. Le problème de la réduction phénoménologique se pose ici. Il faut admettre qu’au sein de la relation objective du monde de la vie, et malgré elle, le sol affleure. Il faut admettre que nous sommes d’une certaine manière initiés à notre sol d’appartenance au sein d’une existence qui nous en éloigne, pour transcender ce monde objectif à partir duquel on ne peut pas « exhiber sa propre condition de possibilité » (p. 109). Barbaras finit son livre alors par l’indication d’une réalité à définir qui serait celle de la profondeur, étant le mode sous lequel l’appartenance se phénoménalise dans le lieu. Pour y accéder, il ne faut pas suivre la voie de la subjectivité objectivante, mais celle d’une contestation interne à celle-ci : la voie du suspens de la puissance phénoménalisante. L’interrogation de la profondeur ne pourra s’accomplir, confesse Barbaras, que dans une esthétique. Il semblerait que la phénoménologie que mérite la cosmologie de la déflagration n’ait pas encore été déployée, et qu’elle serait peut-être une phénoménologie de la profondeur au titre d’une esthétique. Nous comprenons cette idée de profondeur dans la lignée de l’affirmation de Borges : « la musique, les états de bonheur, la mythologie, les visages travaillés par le temps, certains crépuscules et certains lieux, veulent nous dire quelque chose, ou quelque chose qu’ils ont dit que nous n’aurions pas dû perdre, ou ils sont sur le point de dire quelque chose. Cette imminence d’une révélation, qui ne se produit jamais, est peut-être le fait esthétique » (Borges, 1952). Cette profondeur ne serait que le mode sous lequel nous éprouvons la trace de la déflagration tout en essayant de donner monde sans pour autant recouvrir le sol au point de le nier. Et c’est pourquoi il nous faudrait ajouter aux vers de René Char avec lesquels nous avons commencé – « dans l’éclatement de l’univers que nous éprouvons, prodige ! les morceaux qui s’abattent sont vivants » (René Char, 158) –, les mots de Paul Veyne : « [i]ls s’abattent sur le monde, ils y reviennent, et ne chutent pas dans le néant » (Veyne, 1995, p. 516).


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Michael Potter: The Rise of Analytic Philosophy, 1879–1930: From Frege to Ramsey

The Rise of Analytic Philosophy, 1879–1930: From Frege to Ramsey Book Cover The Rise of Analytic Philosophy, 1879–1930: From Frege to Ramsey
Michael Potter
Paperback £31.99

Reviewed by: Piotr Stalmaszczyk (University of Lodz, Poland)

Michael Potter is Professor of Logic at Cambridge University, his studies in the history of analytic philosophy and the philosophical foundations of mathematics include an overview of philosophies of arithmetic from Kant to Carnap – Reason’s Nearest Kin (2000), a critical introduction to set theory – Set Theory and Its Philosophy (2004), and a study of Wittgenstein’s Notes on Logic (2008). His most recent book, The Rise of Analytic Philosophy, 1879-1930, is a comprehensive introduction to the work of four philosophers, Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Frank Ramsey, in the half century, from 1879 (the year in which Frege’s Begriffsschrift was published), till Ramsey’s death in 1930.

Analytic philosophy is one of the most important sources for modern philosophy of logic and mathematics, for philosophy of language, and for philosophy of mind. According to some philosophers and historians of philosophy, it is not only one of the most important developments in twentieth-century philosophy, but the most important one, at least in the English-speaking world (cf. Beaney 2007: 1). Michael Dummett has famously defined it in the following way:

“A succinct definition would be: analytical philosophy is post-Fregean philosophy. Frege’s fundamental achievement was to alter our perspective in philosophy, to replace epistemology, as the starting point of the subject, by what he called ‘logic’. What Frege called ‘logic’ (…) embraced precisely what is now called ‘philosophy of language’.” (Dummett 1978: 441).

Though the above definition is far from being uncontroversial, there is a general consensus that the achievements of Frege, Russell, and Wittgenstein were crucial for the early developments of analytic philosophy; with the work of Ramsey featuring less prominently in historical overviews. Several general and more detailed studies have already investigated the origins of this movement in considerable detail (it will suffice to mention the works by Michael Beaney, Michael Dummett, Hans-Johan Glock, Scott Soames, and Stephen Schwartz). However, there is still a need for studies analyzing, reanalyzing and contextualizing the achievements of Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, and Ramsey. This is precisely what Potter does; additionally, the author’s ambition is to trace the changes within the philosophers’ thought (the ‘genetic approach’).

The choice of the four philosophers in Potter’s monograph is connected with their unquestionable and durable relevance to current philosophy: Frege’s notions of sense and reference are central to modern semantics, Russell’s theory of descriptions may be regarded as a “paradigm of philosophy”, philosophy of language continues to be influenced by Wittgenstein’s picture theory, and Ramsey’s argument against the particular/universal distinction retains its validity (2). Assuming that analytic philosophy originated in 1879 with the publication of Frege’s Begriffsschrift and the birth of quantifier-variable logic, it might be claimed that further work by Frege, and also by Russell, (early) Wittgenstein, and Ramsey, flowed directly from this new logic. Throughout his study, Potter hopes to convey “a sense of the exhilarating progress they made, and of the extent to which modern analytic philosophy is in their debt” (3).

The detailed organization of this book is similar to the approach  characteristic of the author’s former studies. The book is divided into four parts, further divided into numerous chapters (21 devoted to Frege, 24 to Russell, 18 to Wittgenstein, and 10 to Ramsey), and each chapter is followed by concise suggestions for further reading. The book concludes with an extensive bibliography and a detailed index. Each part starts with a short biographical sketch (in the case of Russell and Wittgenstein, concentrating on the relevant time span), in which Potter contextualizes the life of the respective philosopher. Further contextualization, which takes into consideration appropriate ideas and developments, is provided in the more thematic chapters. Thus conceived, the parts offer a detailed chronological and thematic guide to the work and legacy of the individual philosophers.

Gottlob Frege (1848-1925) is generally associated with developments in modern predicate logic and analyses of sense and reference crucial for contemporary philosophy of language. He devised a symbolic language for logic, provided the seminal analysis of the meaning of an expression, offered a semantic analysis of identity statements, and formulated the context principle; he is also credited with putting forward the assumptions that lead to formulation of the compositionality principle and introducing the notion of presupposition (of the assertion). In the part on Frege (5-144), Potter provides an overview of logic before 1879, from the Stoics, through Aristotelian logic, transcendental logic, empiricism and idealism, to Boole’s early example of modern axiomatic logic. Potter observes that The Mathematical Analysis of Logic (1847) is the only plausible competitor as the harbinger of modern logic; however, even though Boole “had devised an algebraic calculus of considerable sophistication for solving problems in categorical and hypothetical logic, it fell short of unifying the Aristotelian and Stoic traditions” (19).

Potter devotes five chapters exclusively to the Begriffsschrift (the German title is rendered by the author as ‘Concept-Script: A formula language, modelled on that of arithmetic, for pure thought’), one of “the most remarkable books in the history of human thought” (21). The five chapters are concerned with foundations of logic, propositional logic, quantification, identity, and the ancestral. In order to fully appreciate Frege’s achievements it is necessary to understand the aim of his concept-script, the significance of his notation, usage of particular symbols, and, especially, the revolutionary introduction of a notation of quantifier and variable to express generalizations, all explained by Potter. In the short presentation of Frege’s account of function and argument, Potter observes that three features are worth stressing: the fact that in the decomposition of sentences a function is obtained by removing part of an expression, not part of its content; the possibility of replacing grammatical predicates; and, most importantly, Frege aimed to “decompose, and hence discern function-argument structure in already existing sentences, not to explain how the sentences acquired their meanings in the first place” (29).

In the remaining chapters in this part, Potter discusses in detail other studies and ideas of Frege: the Grundlagen (in 4 chapters), sense and reference (3 chapters), the Grundgesetze (2 chapters). Potter also tackles the development of early philosophy of logic, the Frege-Hilbert correspondence, the importance of Frege’s late writings. The discussed issues include the crucial components of Fregean semantics and philosophy of mathematics: the context principle, the concept and object distinction, the status of numbers, names and descriptions, different conceptions of sense, the reference of a sentence, (un)saturated senses, and more. Paul Pietroski remarked once that Frege “bequeathed to us some tools – originally designed for the study of logic and arithmetic – that can be used in constructing theories of meaning for natural languages” (Pietroski, 2005: 29–30). The discussion provided by Potter demonstrates the relevance of these tools for a number of current disciplines – he mentions the Fregean legacy in logic, philosophy of language (especially formal semantics and pragmatics), and mathematics. A possible addition to this list would be philosophy of mind, where Frege’s legacy is seen in, for example, contemporary discussion on different approaches to reference.

In one of his earlier studies, Wittgenstein’s Notes on Logic, Potter compared his analysis of Wittgenstein’s text to the work of a historical detective (Potter 2008: 3). Also, in The Rise of Analytic Philosophy, Potter offers analyses exemplary of a detective’s work; additionally, an important feature of his analyses is connected with discussing those ideas that were NOT followed by the individual philosophers; for example, he observes that although Frege introduced rules and basic laws of propositional logic, he did not discuss the question whether every logical truth expressible using only negation and the material conditional is provable in this system of truth-functional logic (35). Below, I mention the book Russell might have written (had he not met Wittgenstein); and, at yet another instance, Potter comments on the ‘one place we might expect to find Ramsey’s influence, given the closeness of their interactions in 1929, is in Wittgenstein’s later work, but in fact this influence is notably muted’ (468). Another example of Potter’s approach can be found in chapter 69, where he discusses Ramsey’s idea of universals, with the aim, among others, to unravel the (missing) influence on Wittgenstein’s departure from Frege’s views (the binary distinction between saturated and unsaturated entities).

Part II (145-312) is devoted to the achievements in the philosophy of Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) during the appropriate period. In the sections tracing the early influences upon the philosopher, Potter focuses on Bradleyan idealism, and McTaggart’s reading of Hegel. He also discusses Russell’s early work on geometry (An Essay on the Foundations of Geometry, 1897), moves next to Russell’s education in mathematics, and then the influence of, and further collaboration with, Alfred N. Whitehead. He also discusses G. E. Moore and his switch from absolute idealism to platonic realism, and the influence of the Italian mathematician, Giuseppe Peano. Important sections are devoted to Russell’s early, middle, and late logicism, his changing views on judgment, his studies of denoting, truth and theories of truth, types, the relationship between acquaintance and knowledge, the status and different understanding of facts, and approaches to monism. The list of topics important for Russell’s philosophy reads like an index of key topics in 20th century philosophy of language, with considerable implications outside this discipline.

The discussion demonstrates the importance of careful reading of texts, but even more so of direct contact – for Russell, meeting Peano, and the young Wittgenstein, was one of the turning points in his thinking about mathematics and philosophy of mathematics: ‘In May 1913 Russell began writing a book on the relationship between acquaintance and knowledge. He never completed it, partly as a consequence of Wittgenstein’s criticism” (365). One might only speculate about the developments in Russell’s philosophy had he not met Wittgenstein.

Russell’s (and Frege’s) influence and legacy in philosophy of language is indisputable. Potter offers an interesting comment on two crucial texts: ‘Much as Frege chose to write ‘On sense and reference’ as if it was about the philosophy of language, even though his real concern was primarily with logic, so also Russell presented ‘On denoting’ as if his concerns were with analyzing George IV’s curiosity about the authorship of Waverley rather than with solving the logical paradoxes’ (309). This resulted in both influence and controversies within analytic philosophy, and challenges offered by ordinary language philosophy, notably by Strawson. Potter notes that ‘ordinary language philosophy withered after Austin’s death (…) but its demise did not mark a return to Russellian analysis’ (312), which is a consequence of the linguistic turn in philosophy dominated by Rorty, Dummett, and Davidson. It might be added that the influence of ordinary language philosophy has been rediscovered in contemporary linguistics, especially pragmatics.

Though not directly connected with the topic of the book, it is interesting to observe that Russell ‘was the only one of the four philosophers discussed in this book to receive major public honours in his lifetime (the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Order of Merit)’ (149).

It would probably be difficult to find two philosophers so different in personality and way of life as Russell and Wittgenstein. Their philosophical concepts also differ, though they strongly influenced one another. Part III (313-415) is devoted to Ludwig Wittgenstein’s (1889-1951) early work. The first sections of this part provide insight into the development of Wittgenstein’s ideas, especially those connected with ‘facts’, ‘pictures’, and ‘propositions’. Potter offers here some ‘archeological’ research into the history of ideas and discusses the Bodleianus, the version (kept now in the Bodleian Library, hence the name) preceding even the typescript known as the Prototractatus. This first version of the Tractatus was concerned with theses 1-6: ‘what stands out straightway is that the outline ends not with the injunction to silence of the final published version but with a technical claim (..) about the expressive power of a certain notation. (…) The central claim of the 1916 Tractatus is thus that the world may be pictured logically by means of propositions obtained from elementary propositions by recursive application of the N-operator’ (319).

In the following chapters, Potter elucidates the changes Wittgenstein made to the final version, with fascinating discussion of the purported ‘solipsism’ (chapter 54), i.e. thesis 5.6. (‘The limits of my language mean the limits of my world’); this discussion is continued in the chapter on ‘the metaphysical subject’. Other chapters focus on ordinary language, on ethics, and on the mystical element in the Tractatus (chapter 62). This chapter also includes a useful – though brief – note on the possible reading of the Tractatus, which would distinguish, pace James Conant and Cora Diamond, the outer part and the inner part: the outer part (the ‘frame’) would consist of senseful instructions for reading the inner nonsensical part. As succinctly observed by Potter: ‘it is not altogether clear, however, which sentences belong to which part’ (405).

The final chapter of this part discusses the legacy of the Tractatus, and concentrates on issues such as elementary propositions, the picture theory, and briefly comments on the relation to, and legacy in, Wittgenstein’s later philosophy. Potter stresses that ‘the popular conception of two Wittgensteins was always too simplistic’ (409). He concludes his discussion by observing that Wittgenstein was right ‘to dismiss as incoherent the persistent attempts of philosophers to conceive of our representation of the world as undertaken from one viewpoint among many’ (415).

The last part of the book (417-471) is devoted to Frank Ramsey (1903-1930), a British philosopher, mathematician, and economist; the least known of the four philosophers discussed by Potter, due chiefly to his premature death at the age of 27. It has to be noted, however, that recent years have seen growing interest in his work and legacy, cf. the chapters in Lillehammer and Mellor, eds. (2005), and the most recent comprehensive monograph by Misak (2020). Ramsey’s contribution to philosophy is centered predominantly around the topics of truth, knowledge, belief, and universals. Potter also discusses his work on the foundations of mathematics, and traces the possible influence of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus on Ramsey’s conception of truth. The chapters on truth and knowledge demonstrate the potential of Ramsey’s ideas for contemporary discussions not only in semantics, but also in pragmatism, and philosophy of mind. A similar observation is to be made in connection with the chapters on the foundations of mathematics; however, in the final chapter, Potter comments also on the unfortunate misunderstandings and problems with the appropriate reception of Ramsey’s work.

The four philosophers discussed in Potter’s book all contributed to the rise of analytic philosophy, their legacy is still important today in a wide variety of disciplines, including philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, philosophy of mathematics, logic, and linguistics (especially pragmatics and semantics). Michael Potter’s study constitutes a comprehensive guide to their achievements and legacy. The book should be of considerable interest to anyone studying the roots of contemporary philosophy, and especially philosophy of logic, philosophy of language, and philosophy of mind. It would be most interesting to see a comparable study tracing the parallel developments of analytic philosophy and pragmatism and phenomenology (for some preliminary studies on analytic philosophy and phenomenology, see the contributions in Beaney 2007). Such a study might contribute to the development of ‘ideochronology’, dealing with the chronological relationship between philosophical ideas (modelled after glottochronology, which deals with the chronological relationship between languages).

Readers of Potter’s earlier books will recognize his ‘detective’s approach’ in this most recent volume. Potter meticulously traces the sources of ideas, discusses mutual influences, and carefully analyzes changes and shifts in theories, which makes his study almost a log-book for analytic philosophy.


Beaney, Michael. 2007. «The analytic turn in early twentieth-century philosophy.» In: Beaney (Ed.), The Analytic Turn. Analysis in Early Analytic Philosophy and Phenomenology. New York & London: Routledge, 1-30.

Beaney, Michael (Ed.) 2007. The Analytic Turn. Analysis in Early Analytic Philosophy and Phenomenology. New York & London: Routledge.

Dummett, Michael. 1978. Truth and Other Enigmas. London: Duckworth.

Lillehammer, Hallvard and D. H. Mellor (Eds.). 2005. Ramsey’s Legacy. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Misak, Cheryl. 2020. Frank Ramsey. A Sheer Excess of Powers. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pietroski, Paul M. 2005. Events and Semantic Architecture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Potter, Michael. 2000. Reason’s Nearest Kin. Philosophies of Arithmetic from Kant to Carnap. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Potter, Michael. 2008. Wittgenstein’s Notes on Logic. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

William E. Scheuerman: The End of Law

The End of Law: Carl Schmitt in the Twenty-First Century Book Cover The End of Law: Carl Schmitt in the Twenty-First Century
William E. Scheuerman
Rowman & Littlefield International
Paperback £35.00

Reviewed by: Samuel Lee (The New School for Social Research)

In the past few decades, we witness a renaissance of Schmitt studies in the English-speaking world. The field of legal philosophy in the US shares a similar trend. A vast amount of manuscripts, journals or PhD dissertations published every year and engage Carl Schmitt’s thought in different ways. As a disputed figure like Schmitt, the reception of his doctrine widely varies in the spectrum between far left and far right. Among many controversies, one of them is about him joining the Nazi party in 1933 and the immanent relationship between his political decision and his legal thought. Through the careful examination and critical engagement with Schmitt’s works in different periods, William Scheuerman argues that the life-long belief of legal indeterminacy led Schmitt to join the Nazi party eventually (8).

This book is divided into three parts. In the first part, Scheuerman shows that Schmitt’s early writings on judicial issues, the decisionist approach of sovereignty, the critique of liberal parliamentarianism, as well as the concrete order doctrine of international law, these stages consistently shed light on the lack of legal determinacy. To re-establish the ground of determinacy, Schmitt demands homogeneity of ethnic community (21), with which, for Scheuerman, Nazi offers a plausible solution for the Weimar Republic. Hence, Schmitt’s legal philosophy inevitably drives him to the Nazi. The next part compares Schmitt with two contemporaries, namely Joseph Schumpeter and Friedrich Hayek. Following Between the Norm and the Exception, Scheuerman continues to shed light on the impact of Schmitt’s thought in the transatlantic world. In this book, he rather focuses on the influence of Schmitt’s legal theory in the post-war America. Comparatively, there are very few studies examine this period of intellectual history.  Scheuerman substantially contributes to the intellectual history by revealing the theoretical relationship between these pivotal post-war scholars. In the last part, Scheuerman borrows Schmitt’s idea of political emergency and engages with the contemporary political and legal issue concerning global emergency in the era of terrorism. In this way, Scheuerman offers a timely reading of Schmitt and reveals the fundamental weakness and insights inherent in his legal political view.

As a work that is largely devoted to legal philosophy, not a political debate of sovereignty, Scheuerman comprehends Schmitt’s thoughts in the context of contemporary critique of liberal rule of law.  In the American context, there are two inter-related statements that generalize the challenges of the rule of law. First, the expansion of state interventions to different fields of capitalist economy and social welfare brings the judges and administrators with a vast amount of power.  Second, the proliferation of powerful constitutional courts, endowed with generous powers of judicial review over legislation, has arguably accelerated trends toward discretionary government. To put it in a nutshell, the overwhelmingly centralized power of executive and judicial power that accumulated over the past century culminated in the asymmetrical relationship between the branch of legislative and judicial. The latter could now outweigh the power of the former by means of large numbers of judicial reviews and the obscurity of legal interpretations. The democracy and the rule of law are under severe threat from within. This current crisis of the rule of law is, for Scheuerman, best depicted by Schmitt’s legal diagnosis. Despite the flawed political solution Schmitt offered, the accurate analysis against liberal parliamentarianism is worthy of scrutiny.

In the first part, Scheuerman studies carefully the works of Schmitt over his long academic lifespan. He realizes that the legal philosophy of Carl Schmitt was devoted largely to the critique of legal indeterminacy that happened in the liberal Weimar constitutional order. Eventually, this judgment results in consenting the Nazi’s reign and even the idea of Großraum in the realm of international law. Hence in Scheuerman’s claim, joining the Nazi is to a large extent consistent with Schmitt’s early legal and political thoughts. In the 1920s, for instance, Schmitt argued for the centrality of the ‘exception’ of law in the Political Theology. “In its very essence, all legal experience is permeated by indeterminacy, by the ever-changing dictates of the concrete exception.” (35) The sovereign that is endowed with ultimate power to decide the exception represents the ambiguity of the law. All laws are then normatively justified not by the abstract moral reasons, but the absolute decision of the sovereign in concrete circumstances.

This issue of legal indeterminacy that largely embodied in the liberal political and legal order is caused by the crisis of parliamentary democracy. The basic incompatibility between liberalism and democracy that posited by Schmitt seems to show the doomed failure of liberal parliamentarism in the age of mass democracy, given that only democracy could provide a substantial homogeneity between the rulers and the ruled. This homogeneity determines the legal meaning of all laws (50). Nevertheless, Scheuerman is aware that liberal parliamentarism does not necessarily lead to legal indeterminacy in Schmitt’s account. At least in the 19th century, the homogeneity was to a certain degree maintained by means of Besitz und Bildung (property and education) (47). In other words, before the age of mass democracy, the minority of the aristocrats who were qualified to engage deliberation and debate in the parliament would somehow realize the ideal of free discussion and promote social interest for all.  Yet, mass democracy fundamentally changed the game that the parliament deteriorated to vales of endless interest-based claims that lead to nowhere. “The people itself cannot discuss…and it can only engage in acts of acclamation, voting, and saying yes or no to questions posed to it”, as Schmitt famously put in the Constitutional Theory. As a result, the discursive characteristic of the parliament in the age of mass democracy turns anti-political in terms of paralyzing the political order and provoking legal indeterminacy.

In Scheuerman’s original interpretation, this argument “depicts twentieth-century mass-based authoritarianism as a fulfillment of the democratic project.” (49) Thus, Nazi would be a plausible solution of legal indeterminacy for Schmitt. Hence, since 1933, Schmitt wrote a vale of article to affirm the Nazi quest of ethnic and racial homogeneity. Unlike many scholars who conceive 1933 as the watershed of Schmitt’s academic life that shifts from the stage of decisionism to the stage of concrete-order approach, Scheuerman rather sheds light on the theoretical consistencies of Schmitt’s legal thought before and after 1933. “Essential to Schmitt’s idiosyncratic quest to reconceive the possibility of legal determinacy is an open endorsement of dystopian National Socialist visions of a racially and ethnically homogeneous ‘folk community’.” (135) Hence, to a certain extend, the Nazi realized the idea of sovereign dictatorship that Schmitt suggested in the early 1920s. The quest of homogeneous racial community and the emphasis of executive power of the party “re-politicize” Weimar’s state government through the friend-enemy distinction and dissolve the problem of legal indeterminacy. Scheuerman critically comments Schmitt over-emphasize the importance of the political, which would romanticize the use of violence. Also, the legal predictability and regularity are almost impossible to attain by the branch of legislative in mass democracy. Consequently, dictatorship seems to be the natural result.

Furthermore, Scheuerman believes the framework of the legal indeterminacy is embodied in Schmitt’s discussion of international law as well. Similar to the critique of liberal parliamentarism, liberal international law fails to represent a uniform will of a homogeneous group of people. Hence, the boundless extension of the liberal international law deprives the legality of it, insomuch as the legality should be grounded on the identity between the ruled and the ruler.  Scheuerman argues that, in order to criticize the liberal international law, Schmitt endorsed the experience of American imperialism to support the National Socialist imperialism in the 30s and 40s before the war (165). Schwab first proposed the similarity between Schmitt’s concept of Großraum and Hitler’s concept of Lebensraum[1]. Unlike the original international law that posits a groundless, anti-political notion of universality, imperial rule constitutes Großraum that is a grand political entity encountering others. In contrast to the globality of liberal international law, Großraum, illustrated by the US imperialism, has a hegemonic power to form the relations of domination. In the case of US, for instance, the nonintervention treaty between the US and the Latin American is made for the sake of protecting American property, though the US constantly used the exceptional clauses for various political purposes.

Scheuerman doubts if Schmitt could justify the German’s imperial expansion on the basis of the US imperialism. “In Schmitt’s legal theory, international law is systematically reduced to a direct and unmediated plaything of Nazi Realpolitik.” (190) Regardless of any traditional virtue of international law, Schmitt’s idea of Großraum is merely a veil for racial imperialism, as Scheuerman condemns. Accordingly, Schmitt fails to provide any alternative concept of international law to replace the liberal one.

The next part is to establish to linkage between the thought of Schmitt and two renowned American thinkers that are also Schmitt’s contemporaries, Schumpeter and Hayek. This contextual reading is inspiring and original, given that the majority of scholars shed light only on the Continental impact of Schmitt’s thought, such as the critical reception of Schmitt in the Frankfurt School or the Post-structuralism. On the other side of the transatlantic world, the influence of Carl Schmitt is largely ignored until the translation projects of George Schwab. By engaging with these thinkers, Scheuerman believes his studies could fill in this blank of intellectual history about the reception of Schmitt in the post-war American academia.

Concerning Schumpeter, his classic work Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy is for Scheuerman a response to Schmitt’s diagnosis of the crisis of liberal parliamentarism (217). Alike Schmitt, Schumpeter acknowledged Max Weber’s argument that modernization is the process of rationalism in which instrumental rationality, mechanization and bureaucratization dominate the modern logic of the world. The source of legitimacy, thus, is changed from charismatic leaders to rational legal authorities. What he disagreed with Weber is the annihilation of the heroic element in the discourse of iron cage. Schumpeter sheds light on the conception of the capitalist entrepreneur. Regarding the entrepreneurship, it allows the capitalist to be a heroic figure that pursue economic innovations and introduce new forms of economic activity to reform the current commercial routines. As a will to conquer, it appeals to the consumers. The boost of consumerism is a positive reinforcement from the market that manifests its support. His emphasis of will and heroic figure is akin to Schmitt’s notion of sovereignty.

More importantly, for Schumpeter, the rise of mass democracy, in the 20th century undermined the parliamentary democracy. In an essay, “Socialist Possibilities for Today” (1920), Schumpeter argued that liberal parliamentarism was genuinely functioned in the past due to the limit participation of the poor and working classes. The elites or the representatives that worked in the parliament – either from the bourgeoisie, the aristocracy or the state bureaucracy- they shared a similar view of social interests. This is the only way that “government by discussion” could work (227). This analysis clearly echoed with Schmitt’s diagnosis of the crisis of parliamentarism in the early 1920s. Through the archival study, Scheuerman finds out that in this period, Schumpeter did exchange his view with Schmitt on this topic. He even encouraged Schmitt to work on his famous writing, Concept of the Political, and had a high opinion of it. In the meantime, Schmitt quoted occasionally Schumpeter’s claims about imperialism in his works. For Scheuerman, their disagreement on the solution of the crisis of parliamentarism is clear but not too far. While Schumpeter endorsed liberal elitism; Schmitt rather opt for a mass-based authoritarian plebiscitarianism. To put it in a nutshell, for both of them, homogeneity that dissolved the problem of legal indeterminacy is the prerequisite of a functional parliamentary democracy. Mass democracy leads only to a dead end.

Apart from Schumpeter, Scheuerman also examine the intellectual inheritance between Schmitt and Hayek. The critique of the modern interventionist state by Schmitt in the 1920s and 30s had a great impact on Hayek, which resulted in his magnum opus, The Road to Serfdom (1944). Hayek posited a dichotomy between general law and individual commands that the former should not refer to “the wants and needs of particular people”. It determines his understanding of the rule of law. To put it in another way, the society and the state should be clearly separated. The former is diversified and heterogeneous while the latter is not. The interventionist state they witnessed in the first half of the 20th century was, as Hayek adopted Schmitt’s thought, the phenomenon of the total state. It is different from the neutral state that liberal thinkers endorsed in the 19th century, insomuch as the state and society were now fused with each other in the age of mass democracy (254). It resulted in the establishment of welfare state and lawmaking for the sake of a particular group of people. It is not hard to find the affinity between Hayek and Schmitt’s critique of interventionist development that contributes to the decay of liberal parliamentarism. In fact, as late as 1976, when Hayek wrote a new Preface to The Road to Serfdom, he still admitted he was not free from the “interventionist superstition” and this tone of anti-welfare state polemics was indebted to Schmitt’s decisionist approach (256). Despite several differences between Schmitt and Hayek in terms of the endorsement of the pluralist party state as well as the epistemological skepticism that the rule of law is grounded on, Scheuerman reveals the uncanny intimacy between their thought. For him, it could somehow explain the marriage between authoritarian plebiscitary and neoliberal capitalism in the 20th century, particularly the myth of Chinese capitalism.

In the last part, Schmitt’s legal and political thoughts are engaged with the contemporary political issues. In particular, the renaissance of the Schmitt studies in America is caused by the warfare in the name of anti-terrorism. When we take the global scale of the state of emergency into account, the explanatory power of Schmitt’s theory seems to outweigh the mainstream liberal political thought or legal thought. Scheuerman endeavors to scrutinize the relevance of Schmitt’s view and see if his understanding and ideas could shed some new lights to our current plights. The white house gradually centralized its power in the past century. After the cold war, the US government has a new way to strengthen its power-counter-terrorism. The terrorist attack in 2001 marked a watershed of US history in the sense that the USA Patriot Act was passed spontaneously. The bill endowed the executive government with unprecedented great power to fight the enemies by all costs, including regularization of emergency authority, such as a suspension of human rights of suspects during anti-terrorist interrogation.

Apparently, in Schmitt’s doctrine of sovereignty, the emergency power fundamentally constitutes the idea of sovereignty. “The sovereign is he who decides on the exception”[2], he eloquently wrote at the beginning of Political Theology. Provided that the emergency power is triggered in face of crisis, Schmitt’s notion of sovereignty argued for the “unavoidability and ubiquity of dire crisis” and it leads to his fundamental belief of legal skepticism (269). The latter is comparatively far-reaching in the field of legal theory. Scheuerman is not going to challenge these conventional views of Schmitt. Rather, his writing shows that Schmitt’s views about emergency power originated in his early academic writings and he maintained these thoughts for several decades. In this case, Schmitt’s intimacy with National Socialism before and during the WWII is closely related to his own intellectual reflection of sovereignty.

More importantly, many accept Schmitt’s idea that authoritarian rule and even inhumane measures maybe necessary for some exceptional circumstance lest the state would collapse in the crisis, even though the debate concerning counter-terrorism seldom embraces Schmitt’s theory (292). Hence, Scheuerman finds it essential to revisit Schmitt’s idea of international politics critically and presents different ways to engage with it. Schmitt’s emphasis of crisis in the notion of sovereignty denotes that “crisis management would constitute a paramount activity for contemporary government.” (289) To encounter the unpredictable crisis ahead, Schmitt inevitably favors the centralized power of the unified executive government, which would at least potentially undermine the rule of law. Moreover, in the light that the law fails to anticipate all sorts of emergent circumstances, the sovereign power of the executive branch of government should have the absolute power and limit not by the ‘situational laws’. In other words, the sovereign power must be lawless, for the sake of dealing with unprecedented crisis and saving the normalcy of legal order. For

Scheuerman, the extremely skeptical view of norms of Schmitt, which demands the laws to be able to predict all sorts of circumstance, is problematic. More precisely speaking, it is assaulting a straw man. To endorse Andrew Arato’s claim, there is a spectrum between a purely formalistic legal order and the lawless, absolute sovereign power. A reasonable degree of legal constraint by means of a set of constitutional procedure should be plausible to contain the emergency power of the government (291) and make it consistent with the rule of law.

Scheuerman’s interpretation of Schmitt is well grounded, systemic and timely. His historical configuration contributes both to the Schmitt studies as well as the studies on intellectual history in America.  Unlike a mere historical inquiry, Scheuerman endeavors to engage Schmitt with the contemporary debate in the field of legal theory, in order to find out how Schmitt’s legal thought would help articulate the legal problems we have, aka legal indeterminacy in the age of mass democracy. Yet, there are a few questions that this brilliant work should have addressed.

To begin with, Scheuerman strongly believes that there is a strong affinity between Schmitt’s theoretical reflection and his political decision of joining the Nazi party in 1933. Hence, he reconstructs a coherent theoretical view of Schmitt on legal indeterminacy by widely examining his works from the 1910s to the post-war period. It is, however, a bit surprise to find that in this book, Scheuerman seldom pays attention to the counter-side of the debate. Since George Schwab introduced Schmitt to the American intellectual circle by a series of English translation in the 1980s, a decade long debate emerged concerning whether Schmitt’s alliance with Nazi is motivated by his legal and political thought or not. American scholars like George Schwab[3] and Joseph Bendersky[4] strongly defended the ‘early Schmitt’ that Schmitt showed no sign of anti-Semitism or the empathy of National Socialism before 1933. On the contrary, Carl Schmitt was once a Kantian and then a conservative Catholic who devoted to be the guardian of the republican constitution. For the leftist side of interpretation, Schmitt’s legal and political thought before 1933 is far from legal Fascism. In contrast, he defended the newly born republican state of Weimar against the threat of populist movements and the formalistic positivism by developing a cutting edge doctrine of popular sovereignty. Scheuerman was apparently aware of their arguments and his article written in 1993 was an attempt to respond to these critiques[5]. However, his response is far from satisfactory. He does not consider elaborating his counterarguments in his latest work, which, to a certain degree, undermines the validity of his approach.

The defense against the Fascist reading of Schmitt before 1933 is mainly twofold: historical and theoretical. Historically speaking, the anti-Semitic charge of Schmitt is questionable in a few ways. Many of Schmitt’s friends were Jews, like Leo Strauss, Walter Benjamin, Jacob Taubes, Franz Neumann, Otto Kirchheimer, and Waldemar Gurian. When he moved to Berlin to teach in 1927, the school he chose was Handelshochschulen, a new established school that had a reputation of being an institution with many Jews. He published nothing openly against the Jews before 1933. Most importantly, according to Gopal Balakrishnan, the honeymoon between Schmitt and the Nazi party is much shorter than he anticipated. Schutzstaffel commenced to investigate Schmitt’s opportunistic tendency towards anti-Semitism. It didn’t result in a catastrophic retribution by SS is thanks to the protection from Goering. In a letter to the editorial board of the SS paper, Goering urged the SS to stop further attacks on Schmitt[6].

With regard to the theoretically concern, Schmitt’s concept of the political and the emphasis of the social homogeneity aim not at promoting the purity of nation, don’t mentions the exclusion of the Jews. In the Concept of the Political, for instance, he clearly stated that the friend/enemy distinction is dispensable from the personal hostility or profitability. In contrast, it is about an existential relationship between political entities. He specifically traced the idea of public enemy back to Plato’s The Republic in order to distant from the idea of private enemy. The eternal existence of the enemy also constitutes to Schmitt’s political metaphysics of pluriverse. In short, identity coexists as diversity. It could also echo Schmitt’s early Catholic view that the Catholic Church is a complexio oppositorum that contains a wide spectrum of contradictory schools and thoughts without dismantling the papacy. Unless the Jewish group is existentially threatened the unity and order of the absolute constitution, it is hard to find a legitimate reason to annihilate the Jews in early Schmitt’s doctrine of popular sovereignty.

Another question is posed with respect to Schmitt’s preference of authoritarian plebiscite. Scheuerman repeatedly argues that Schmitt’s critique of normativism and formalistic liberalism is to justify his preference on sovereign dictatorship or authoritarian plebiscite, which paves his way to the Nazi party (109; 165; 218). He, however, does not respond to the republican interpretation of Schmitt. For the counter-argument, some argue that Schmitt had no intention to reject liberal parliamentarism entirely. Nevertheless, encountering the vulnerable political order of Weimar republic, Schmitt was rather devoted to save democracy by separating it from liberalism. Liberalism that appeals to universalism and deliberation fails to embody the social homogeneity that democracy presumes at the first place. In light of solving the problem of legal indeterminacy, Schmitt revisited the tradition of pouvoir constituant and developed his own approach of popular sovereignty, aka decisionism. Andreas Kalyvas used three moments of democracy to conceive Schmitt’s democratic doctrine[7]. Hence, the emphasis of level of dictatorship is to manifest the political will that forms the order of the political community, instead of replacing exception with normalcy. At the end, the exceptional measures of sovereign are employed to restore the order for the sake of returning the power back to the normal political and legal order. In the Constitutional Theory, Schmitt sheds much light on the two pillars of the constitution, identity and representation. After the constitutional order is formed, the representation of the public will then will be endowed with the political power to execute the will of the people. It defines the second level of constitution, the positive constitution. The appearance of the people in the public sphere is to assure the representational organ of the state will stay as close as the people’s will. If so, it is unclear how Schmitt would prefer authoritarianism or even totalitarianism before 1933 at the expense of the normal representational apparatus of parliament.

In short, Scheuerman delivers a fruitful, well-grounded study on Schmitt’s account of legal indeterminacy and its legal and political consequences. Also, his brilliant critique of the decay of liberal parliamentarism is influential among the American thinkers in the early 20th century. To a certain extend, Schmitt’s thought shaped the landscape of the post-war American academia, as well as the contemporary reaction of the controversial political issues, such as counter-terrorism and the global status of emergency. His political decision of joining the Nazi is undoubtedly unwise, but his diagnosis of the immanent problems of liberal parliamentarism is still full of insights. This remarkable work would surely contribute much to the Schmitt studies as much as the debate of legal theory.


Balakrishnan, Gopal. 2002. The Enemy: An Intellectual Portrait of Carl Schmitt. London: Verso.

Bendersky, Joseph. 2016. Carl Schmitt: Theorist for the Reich. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Kalyvas, Andreas. 1999-2000. “Carl Schmitt and the Three Moments of Democracy.” 21 Cardozo L. Rev. 1525.

Scheuerman, Bill. 1993. «The Fascism of Carl Schmitt: A Reply to George Schwab.» German Politics and Society 29: 104. ProQuest.

Schmitt, Carl. 2011. Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Schwab, George. 1994. “Contextualising Carl Schmitts concept of Grossraum.” History of European Ideas, 19: 1-3, 185-190.

Schwab, George. 1989. The Challenge of the Exception: An Introduction to the Political Ideas of Carl Schmitt Between 1921 and 1936. Westport: Greenwood Press.

[1] George Schwab, “Contextualising Carl Schmitts concept of Grossraum,” History of European Ideas, 19  (1994):1-3, 185-190, DOI: 10.1016/0191-6599(94)90213-5.

[2] Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), 5.

[3] George Schwab, The Challenge of the Exception: An Introduction to the Political Ideas of Carl Schmitt Between 1921 and 1936 (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1989).

[4] Joseph Bendersky, Carl Schmitt: Theorist for the Reich (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2016).

[5] Bill Scheuerman, «The Fascism of Carl Schmitt: A Reply to George Schwab,» German Politics and Society 29 (1993): 104, ProQuest.

[6] Gopal Balakrishnan, The Enemy: An Intellectual Portrait of Carl Schmitt, (London: Verso, 2002), 207.

[7] Andreas Kalyvas, “Carl Schmitt and the Three Moments of Democracy,” 21 Cardozo L. Rev. 1525 (1999-2000).

Martin Jay: Splinters in Your Eye: Frankfurt School Provocations

Splinters in Your Eye: Frankfurt School Provocations Book Cover Splinters in Your Eye: Frankfurt School Provocations
Martin Jay
Paperback £13.99

Reviewed by: Michael Maidan (Independent Scholar)

Martin Jay is a distinguished cultural historian, a pioneer of the study of the Critical Theory of the «Frankfurt School» with his book Dialectic of Enlightenment (1973), and a scholar who wrote on different aspects of Critical Theory, on the concept of totality, and on the problematization of vision in modern French thought. Splinters in Your Eye, his most recent book, is made out of eleven essays, most if not all already published in some form.  They explore aspects of the work of the Frankfurt School’s main theorists, paying attention to the inner tensions and the wirkungsgeschichte of the theses formulated by Horkheimer and his band of merry theorists.

In an essay published in a previous book, Jay defended the honor of the kind of intellectual history that he displays in the book. Two aspects of his defense are relevant in this context. Jay calls himself a «synoptic intellectual historian,» namely, one that believes that «it seemed a sufficiently challenging task merely to reconstruct the demandingly difficult arguments of the Frankfurt School and relate them to some issues about the life histories of its members.» Synoptic cultural history came in recent years under attack because it abridges and reduces a complicated, heterogeneous mass to an abstract, homogenous form. (Jay, Two Cheers for Paraphrase, 52). This synopsis excludes normatively and hierarchically everything outside of a homogenized and consistent paraphrastic account. The observation that this kind of account may be a disservice for some texts is particularly acute when the subject matter is itself suspicious of premature totalization, as it is the case in Adorno’s thought.  To face this challenge, Jay assures us that «by turning it on Adorno’s intellectual production and isolating what I saw as the five main forces in his own field or starts in his constellation—Western Marxism, aesthetic modernism, mandarin cultural despair, Jewish theology and … proto-deconstructionism—I attempted … a methodological or formal paraphrase of his work in order to illuminate its substantive tension (op. cit., 61-2).  So, paraphrase and synoptic approach can be gentle enough to respect the nature of its subject-matter without incurring in mimetic repetition.  In the introduction to Splinters in Your Eye, Jay returns to this problem, using Adorno’s aphorism «the splinter in your eye is the best magnifying glass» (Adorno, Minima Moralia, 50). The splinter or the mote in question is an imaginative interpretation of the verse «why beholdest thou of the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?». This injunction is usually interpreted as a caution not to be judgmental. The «mote» is here converted, through the vicissitudes of translation, into a splinter. And the eye’s irritation, into a glimpse of truth (Jay, Splinters, xi).  It is through suffering, vicarious, or our own, that knowledge of society is possible, Adorno claims. In the same section, Adorno also refers positively to exaggeration. Jay will use this idea for the title of an essay on the Frankfurt School’s position regarding psychoanalysis.   Jay also refers to the provocative sentence that closes the section: «The whole is the false» (Minima Moralia, 50).  But if the whole is the false, what about critical theory? Adorno’s claim questions any attempt to bring the ideas of the different personalities involved in the Frankfurt School into a harmonic whole. Jay expounds further on the nature of the painful eye that it will avoid the illusion of a «panoptic vision.» This concept that Foucault borrowed from Jeremy Bentham’s speculations on a system of inescapable omniscient social control is the clearest counter-ideal to Critical Theory.  It is in recognition of the appropriateness of the fragmentary that Jay writes: «the exercises that follow are left in their unintegrated form, with no pretense to be a coherent narrative» (xvi).

What is a reviewer to do? To compound the fragmentations (from the subject-matter, the fragmentation of the intellectual historical account)? Or to try to suggest a synthesis that was already twice refused? Sometimes problems are best perceived by turning them around. In this case, by turning our gaze to a different approach, one which as hostile to Critical Theory as Jay’s is caring.

The last essay, «Dialectic of Counter-Enlightenment,» places us on a different plane. In this chapter, Jay deals with a fringe movement whose members have made of the Frankfurt School, a scapegoat for the illnesses and rottenness of contemporary society. With a twist. Because what they perceive as negative is what many will call the positive signs of reparation of long due injustices: the fight against racism, against discrimination on the base of gender and sexual orientation, the inequality of opportunities for minorities of all kinds (see a complete list in p. 157).  This is more than ironic. As Jay comments in another essay, the Frankfurt School has been ofttimes criticized for its ineffectualness, for its failure to become practically engaged with mass social movements, for the lofty tone of its pronouncements, etc. These critics make the opposite claim.

Against the claim that castigates the Frankfurt School for its presumed role in the development of a counterculture which rejected and supposedly replaced the traditional American culture of the 40s and 50s, first in academia, then in the media and cultural industries,  and finally in society as a whole, the historian can proceed in two ways. The first will be to show that, maybe except Marcuse, the influence of the Frankfurt School in American academia and popular culture was, to say the least, limited.  The different «critical studies» and what is called in the humanities and social sciences «theory» borrows much more from French post-structuralist thinkers, and indirectly from Husserl, Heidegger, and Nietzsche than from Adorno and Horkheimer (Cusset, 2003).

Instead of following this road, Jay takes advantage of the opportunity to turn his regard into this distorted account in the hope that «something [be] revealed about the legacy of the Critical Theory—and, more importantly, about the current society that can turn it into a simplistic meme—» (161), a meme that under certain circumstances can turn deadly.  Jay refers here to the manifest written by the Norwegian neofascist Anders Behring Breivik before engaging in a terrorist attack that left 77 dead. Breivik, among other arguments to justify his acts, ranted against the influence of Cultural Marxism, referring even to Jay’s Dialectics of Enlightenment as proof for his claims.  Jay goes further to write that the situation calls for the kind of dialectical account that Adorno and Horkheimer devoted to the Enlightenment itself (166). If Jay does not offer us such an account, he lists references to different claims that distort and twist the legacy of the Frankfurt School. But he recognizes that to develop a critical theory of counter-enlightenment is beyond the scope of a single essay (167). Jay mentions a few attempts to apply the methodology devised by the Frankfurt School for their study of Authoritarian Personality (1950) to the current situation in the USA (168-9) but seems to have doubts on the merits of that methodology. Quoting a remark from Harvard’s historian Peter E. Gordon, he wonders about the appropriateness to assign individuals to personality types, as this mimics the reification of contemporary society (169). Maybe what this shows is that the Frankfurt School has many historians, but few disciples willing to follow in their path.  Only Habermas stands out as a continuation of sorts of the heritage of the Institute.

Was this fate foreshadowed in the early beginnings of the School?  Jay explores this question in the first two essays in the book. «Ungrounded» deals with the foundation of the Frankfurt’s Institute for Social Research (ISR), which through the particular circumstances of its origins and independence from party or government, gives rise to the accusation of being suspended in an abyss (Abgrund). Jay refers here to Georg Lukács, the Hungarian Marxist literature scholar and philosopher whose 1922 History and Class Consciousness influenced the group of young scholars that ultimately created the ISR, that gave origin to the Frankfurt School.  Lukács, as an orthodox Marxist, rejected the idea of a critical stance that is not anchored in a political party, which is itself the conscious will and vanguard of the working class. Instead of a privileged vantage point, Horkheimer and his comrades preferred a sort of «immanent critique,» which Jay describes quoting from one of Adorno’s translators: «immanent criticism turns the principle of identity…into the power for the presentation of the way in which  an object resists its subjective determination and finds itself lacking» (4).  Jay raises two potential objections to this approach. The first recasts Adorno’s objection that immanent critique cannot be fully grounded on itself as «the totality is never fully self-contained.» The second objection has to do with what Marcuse called «one-dimensionality» and Adorno «totally administered» society.  In such a society, apparent dissatisfaction becomes functionalized in the service of the status quo. Despite such doubts on the actual possibility of a critical regard into the society that is not immediately instrumentalized, the members of the School continued to elaborate their positions. What are, Jay wonders, the motivations for such an undertaking? Maybe, he wonders, that motivation reflects the particular circumstances of the establishment of the ISR?

Jay embarks in the already well-known stories of Felix Weil’s role as founder and financial benefactor of the Institute, and Horkheimer’s appointment as Director of the Institute. Toward the end of the essay, Jay turns to explore the possible debts of Critical Theory to the philosophy of Schelling (11). In particular, to Schelling’s early thinking. Horkheimer wrote on Schelling and Idealism in the 1920s, and also Adorno has a substantive debt to his thought (15). Jay observes that «Schelling’s critique of rationalist metaphysics was attractive to thinkers trying to extricate themselves from…[a] philosophy in which all contingency was absorbed into a relational system» (13).  Others have observed that Schelling’s philosophy seems to anticipate the Dialectic of Enlightenment (15).  And Adorno in Negative Dialectics quotes approvingly Schelling as an antidote to a rationalistic consciousness philosophy.  These considerations led Jay to affirm that the uncertainty of «Abgrund» (groundlessness) may be less damaging to critical theory and to emancipatory practice than one may initially suspect.

In «The hope that earthly horror does not possess the last word,» Jay reminisces on his early contacts with the leading members of the ISR during the research that led to his writing Dialectical Imagination.  Three points can be highlighted in this essay.  First, the degree to which the members of the Frankfurt School wanted to shape Jay’s narrative. Second, the different perspectives of the individual members. Finally, Jay’s interpretation of the feelings of the founders of the ISR about their Jewish origins, and about the influence of their background in the outlook and the public perception of the Institute.  One of many, the anecdote regarding the title of Jay’s book, is telling. Jay suggested the title «Permanent Exiles» (28-9).  Horkheimer and Weil criticized the title as not only unprecise but also dangerous because it lends justification to their many foes from the right.

The next chapter, «Max Horkheimer and the Family of Man,» explores the balancing act of Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s return to Germany. Horkheimer understood their public role as «reeducator of Germans, especially Youth, in the democratic values he had learned in exile» (35).  This understanding, and the realities of the Cold War, led to de-emphasize the earlier, more radical approach to contemporary society.  Jay exemplifies this with a close reading of Horkheimer’s talk at the opening in 1958 of the photography exhibits «The Family of Man» in the US-funded Amerika-Haus in Frankfurt. Jay emphasizes Horkheimer’s references to Kant, Emerson, and Dewey and their firm belief that man should count as an end and never as a means (36).

Further, Horkheimer characterizes the exhibit as «representative of all the forces that are now counteracting the…regressive movements that have occurred in Europe in recent years» (36). Jay notes the distance between the endorsement of the humanistic agenda of the exhibits and Horkheimer’s previous pronouncements in his writings of the late ’40s.  Also, Jay finds puzzling Horkheimer’s valorization of the power of images to give unmediated access to abstract philosophical concepts. After his return to Germany, Horkheimer increasingly endorsed the Bilderverbot, the biblical prohibition of images, which constitutes a central component of the Jewish faith (also to be analyzed in an essay comparing Adorno’s and Blumenberg’s position).

«Family of Man» approached the family at two levels. On the one hand, it showed pictures of couples and happy families from different cultures. On the other, it implied that humanity should be seen as one big family.  Jay deals with both levels and compares the underlying presuppositions of the exhibit with Horkheimer’s and Frankfurt Schools’ analysis of the family.  Jay also confronts Horkheimer’s remarks with Roland Barthes’ criticism of the exhibit. Jay sees the differences in approach mainly as a reflection of a difference in context.  Barthes was reacting against the danger of abstract universalism, whereas Horkheimer was dealing cautiously with the heavy heritage of Nazism and the war (45).

The «marriage» between Freud and Marx is the subject of the fourth essay.  The relationship of the Frankfurt School to Freud and psychoanalysis was complicated and not limited to the realm of theory. Horkheimer helped create a psychoanalytic institute in the University of Frankfurt and even invited it to share space in the ISR’s newly built building on the university campus. Horkheimer also lobbied the city of Frankfurt to give Freud the Goethe Prize in 1930. Even a few members of the ISR, including Horkheimer, underwent analysis.

Jay states four overlapping motivations that presided this matrimony. First, the hope that psychoanalysis may answer why orthodox Marxism, despite the widespread discontent with the status quo, failed in the 1920s’ Germany to generate a revolutionary practice. Second, to explain the emergence of Fascism, a social movement that traditional Marxism did not foresee. Third, in the case of Marcuse in particular, Freudism was expected to be a way to envisage a different civilization, beyond the one-dimensional one.  Lastly, in the case of Adorno and of Horkheimer, to build a plausible materialism. But, except for Fromm, their interest in Freud stayed mostly limited to his philosophical anthropology, and the members of the ISR remained indifferent to psychoanalysis as a therapy (53).

Jay surveys the different receptions of Freud in the Institute, from Fromm’s attempts to a build a social psychology which could be empirically verified and a tool to explore socio-political events, Adorno’s integration of Freudian insights into his analysis of the «culture industry» via de concept of fetishism, and Marcuse’s most explicit use of Freud for utopian purposes in Eros and Civilization (1955) (60).  In his work, and in the magazine Dissent, Marcuse attacked Fromm’s humanistic version of Marxism and his dismissal of Freud’s Metapsychology and instincts theory. Jay quotes Marcuse’s re-interpretation of Oedipal longings as archetypical of freedom from want, and his rejection of its surplus repression in the name of the reality principle.  Jay’s assessment that Fromm «never recuperated» from Marcuse’s onslaught in Dissent seems a bit extreme. Not only Fromm had a successful and long carrier, not only Marcuse’s name only become widely known after the 1968 student’s revolt, but Marcuse contributed a chapter to Fromm’s 1965 edited collection Socialist Humanism, indicating some level of agreement between the two.

Jay’s use of the metaphor of marriage to describe the attempts to bring to a synthesis Freud’s theory with Marxism or parts thereof also allows us to think a less blissful relationship, at least in Adorno’s late work (63).  Adorno was skeptical of a full reconciliation between the social and the psychological, and between the cultural and the natural.  He writes in his characteristic fashion: «The separation of Sociology and Psychology is both correct and false…correct insofar as it registers more intransigently the split that has actually taken place in reality than does the premature unification at the level of theory» (Sociology and Psychology, quoted by Jay, 64). The rejection of the premature unification of the social and the individual is supposed to prefigure a potential emancipatory outcome. He concludes this essay referring to Horkheimer’s work in post-WWII Germany to reintroduce the teaching of psychoanalysis and to renew the association of the ISR.

The fifth essay tells an enthralling story about the young Leo Löwenthal and his participation in the «Jewish renewal movement» in the 1920s. Löwenthal was very close to Rabbi Nobel, the charismatic rabbi that played a central role in developing the Freie Jüdische Lehrhaus. Jay discusses Nobel’s contradictions and how these allowed Nobel to be a magnet for highly educated and conflicted youth living through the turmoil of the first years of the Weimar Republic. Nobel had a refined German education, was an orthodox rabbi, a friend of the leading Jewish intellectuals of his time, and a gifted speaker.  Additionally, he helped Löwenthal financially during a bout of conflict between Löwenthal and his family.  Jay examines Lowenthal’s «Jewish writings,» which consists of an essay published in Nobel’s Festschrift («The Demonic: Draft of a Negative Philosophy of Religion») and a series of short articles on leading Jewish thinkers of modern times (Mendelsohn, Maimon, Heine, Marx, Lassalle, Herman Cohen, and Freud).  But, as Jay notes, Lowenthal’s energies were soon directed elsewhere (74). While there may be several reasons for this change of heart, the fact remains that Löwenthal’s interest in Jewish subjects faded, although maybe not entirely, as he republished his early essay on Heine in a 1947 issue of the magazine Commentary.

The sixth essay sets up a dialogue between Adorno and Blumenberg around the notion of «non-conceptuality.»  There are similarities between Adorno’s position in Negative Dialectics and Blumenberg’s criticism of the privileged role of concepts in philosophy. According to Jay, Blumenberg seems to have acknowledged his debt to Adorno. So, for example, Blumenberg gave a seminar on Negative Dialectics a year after its publication. While no transcripts from the workshop survived, the fact itself is meaningful.  Blumenberg used the notion of «non-conceptuality» in his writings of 1970, in what Jay considers a salute to Adorno.  Jay speaks of an «overlap» between the intentions of both thinkers to present an alternative to philosophy’s traditional preference for conceptualization (84).  Adorno and Blumenberg were both critical of Heidegger in general and of Heidegger’s attempt to offer a solution to the tension between conceptualization and content in particular. The title of the essay refers to the biblical Bildersverbot (prohibition of images), a common trope for a residual Jewish sensibility. Both Adorno and Blumenberg were of Jewish descent. Adorno’s father was Jewish, and so was Blumenberg’s mother. In the context of the Frankfurt School, the «ban on images» metaphor was used in two primary contexts. One, a refusal to engage in utopian speculation about an emancipated future society. The second, an affirmation of the irrepresentability of the Holocaust, as in Adorno’s ban on poetry after the Holocaust (90). Non-withstanding those similarities between the two thinkers, Adorno’s position is very different from Blumenberg’s.  As Jay shows it nicely, for Adorno, the non-conceptuality was historically bound, and a claim to redemption to be fulfilled in a different society. He quotes Adorno on Identity:

«To define identity as the correspondence of the thing-in-itself to its concept is hubris; but the ideal of identity must not be simply discarded … hidden in [the supposition of identity] is also the truth moment of ideology, the pledge that there should be no contradiction, no antagonism» (Adorno, Negative Dialectics, 149, quoted by Jay, 93).

Visual arts played no significant role in the work of the members of the Frankfurt School. Benjamin was the exception, and he was interested, among other things, in the «emancipation of color» in modern art. «Chromophilia: Der Blue Ritter, Walter Benjamin and the Emancipation of Color» brings together Jay’s interest in the history of visual arts in the early 20th century and his study of the Frankfurt School.

Using unpublished fragments from 1914-15, Jay presents Benjamin’s long-life interest in the color revolution. One opposes a child’s to an adult’s view of color. For the child, color is contour, but the adult sees objects only, abstracted from color fragment. Benjamin was, according to Jay, fascinated by the Blaue Ritter color experiments. In another fragment, Benjamin writes about the rainbow in contrast with graphic images, which with line and figure, separate the endless configuration of color.  Jay brings closer Benjamin’s reflection on color and his ideas about an Adamic language. WW I, which saw the death of two of the central figures of Der Blaue Reiter group, seem to have affected Benjamin’s hopes that the emancipation of color would foreshadow human freedom (111-12). In a following article devoted to Benjamin’s comments on stamps, Jay explores his own experiences in philately and its utopian dimensions.

The ninth essay expounds on the German American film theorist Miriam Hansen, the author of Cinema and Experience (2012). This one is the only essay in the book that deals with a thinker belonging to the younger generation of critical theorists.

As Jay puts it, Hansen’s problem is to develop a critical account of the film that goes beyond the blunt dismissal of the cultural industry characteristic of the first generation of critical theorists (including Krakauer). Hansen incorporated to her analysis the notion of a «counter-public sphere» in which technologically mediated distanced forms of interaction prevail. This notion elaborates on the ideas of Alexander Kluge and Oscar Negt (both associated with the Frankfurt School and with Habermas in particular) (125-6).  Hansen also rescues from the early Frankfurt theorist the idea of mimetic comportment and the ideal of the «renewal of experience» (126).  Hansen claims, according to Jay, for the existence of an alternative public sphere that can only realize itself through the destruction of the dominant, bourgeois public sphere. Jay is somewhat skeptical about the possibilities of such an alternative. Hansen showed an alternative public sphere realized through cinema only for a limited period, which corresponds to the early silent cinema.  Furthermore, Jay defends the rights of the public sphere in its Habermasian sense, as a place of rational discussion, even as an ideal for democracy (134). Paradoxically, the criticism of purposive rationality cannot make room for the straightforward enjoyment provided by imaginative identification.

Based on a paper presented at a Brandeis conference to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Marcuse’s One-dimensional Man, Jay explores the different ways in which this famous book can be said to be «ironic.»  First, there is the irony that this pessimist analysis of contemporary society, which forecloses all possibility of a challenge to the encroachments of instrumental rationality, is published at the very same moment when new avenues of resistance are opened.  That consideration leads to a review of the analysis of irony in Adorno, and eventually to the question in what sense the argument in One-dimensional Man is itself ironic.  In Minima Moralia, Adorno seems to deny that irony is still possible.  Irony for  Adorno «convicts its object by presenting it at what it purports to be» (quoted by Jay, 138). But, in our advanced industrial societies, «Irony’s medium, the difference between ideology and reality, has disappeared» (quoted by Jay, 139).  But, is this also Marcuse’s position? Jay probes different types of irony, with the object, ultimately, of examining if there is, in One-dimensional Man, a «more promising notion of irony» that avoids the flaws of the ones Jay already reviewed. Jay will look for an alternative in a notion of irony described by Christoph Menke, a member of the third generation of the School.  Discussing Oedipus Rex, Menke makes a difference between the «irony of the action» and the «the poets’ irony.» The first refers to the character Oedipus’ blind responsibility for his fate. The second, which we share as spectators, is our knowledge of the situation and our capability to foresee the outcome. Both irony positions are unified in Oedipus at the end of the play.

How are these insights important to evaluating Marcuse’s reflections on advanced capitalist society in a context which is quite different from the one we live today?  Taking stock of Marcuse’s work would require identifying what is living and what is dead. Marcuse himself, at the end of his book, offered a gloomy picture of, on the one hand, a critical theory unable to provide a bridge between the present and its future, and the other, the wretched of the earth, free of the encumbrance of theory but driven forward by their despair. Critical Theory need to remain solidary of those without hope, advises Marcuse, even though the system may be strong enough to defuse any confrontation: «The economic and technical capabilities of the established societies are sufficiently vast to allow for adjustments and concessions to the underdog.»  On his side, Jay concludes, «we can still find in…[Marcuse’s]  insistence on the superiority of a two-dimensional understanding of the human condition over its one-dimensional alternative something akin to … [a] committed pursuit of personal excellence … an ironic attitude that is neither cynical nor disengaged, … [that] resists accommodation to social pretense … It may not provide the reassurance of Socratic or dramatic irony at its most knowing, but in a world that will not grant us such knowledge, it keeps alive the negative power of two-dimensionality that Marcuse so eloquently defended.» (150)

Jay’s book carries the subtitle «Frankfurt School provocations,» asserting the longevity of the program of the early critical theory.  The attacks of the ultra-conservative factions add some credence to the luster of the ISR, and the blossoming of a third and fourth generation of thinkers who declare some degree of fidelity to the original vision of Weil, Horkheimer, Pollock, and others should at least provide a modicum of hope.




Cusset, François. 2003. French Theory. Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze & Cie et es mutations de la vie intellectuelle aux État Unis. Éditions La Découverte, Paris.

Jay, Martin. 1988. «Two Cheers for Paraphrase: The Confessions of a Synoptic Intellectual Historian.» In: Martin Jay, Fin-De-Siècle Socialism. Routledge, New York and London, pp. 52-63.

Giovanni Jan Giubilato: Freiheit und Reduktion. Grundzüge einer phänomenologischen Meontik bei Eugen Fink (1927-1946)

Freiheit und Reduktion. Grundzüge einer phänomenologischen Meontik bei Eugen Fink (1927-1946) Book Cover Freiheit und Reduktion. Grundzüge einer phänomenologischen Meontik bei Eugen Fink (1927-1946)
Ad Fontes, Vol. 8
Giovanni Jan Giubilato
Verlag Traugott Bautz
Hardback 45,00 €

Reviewed by: Cathrin Nielsen (Frankfurt / Eugen-Fink-Zentrum Wuppertal – EFZW)

Die in der Reihe Ad Fontes vorgelegte herausragende Studie von Giovanni Jan Giubilato befasst sich mit der Freilegung und Ausbuchstabierung einer Zusammengehörigkeit, die bereits bei Husserl angelegt ist, jedoch erst im Denken seines Schülers und Assistenten Eugen Fink explizit in Erscheinung tritt: dem dialektischen Aufeinanderverwiesensein von Reduktion und Freiheit. Finks Grundgedanke besteht darin, dass der immer neu zu vollziehende Entwurf der menschlichen Freiheit den eigentlichen Kerngedanken der Phänomenologie markiere: die Reduktion als diejenige Bewegung, die uns von der natürlichen Einstellung befreit und ihre Beschränktheit überwinden lässt. Das originäre Telos der Philosophie ist somit die Freiheit des Menschen, nicht formal, sondern als „transzendentale“, absolute Dimension wie zugleich in existenzieller Je-Meinigkeit.

Giubilato entfaltet diesen Gedanken im Durchgang durch die frühe phänomenologische Meontik Finks, die in Form von zahllosen Notizen – durchgespielten, weiterverfolgten oder aber verworfenen Denkansätzen – seit 2006 in den von Ronald Bruzina im Rahmen der Eugen Fink-Gesamtausgabe edierten Bänden Phänomenologische Werkstatt (3.1 und 3.2) vorliegen. Dabei konzentriert sich Giubilato auf die Jahre der Zusammenarbeit mit Husserl und damit auf die Profilierung von Finks eigenem philosophischem Standpunkt. Zugleich hat er immer auch das Spätwerk im Blick und bahnt fruchtbare Schneisen in Finks Kosmologie. Gerade zu Klammer und Kontinuität zwischen Finks Denken vor und nach der Zäsur des Zweiten Weltkrieges gibt es bislang nahezu keine monografischen Arbeiten, so dass mit Giubilatos Dissertation ein unverzichtbarer Grundstein gelegt sein dürfte.

Im ersten Kapitel (Von der Transzendentalphilosophie zur Meontik) wird Finks in kritischer Auseinandersetzung mit dem transzendentalen Idealismus Husserls entwickelte Idee einer me-ontischen Philosophie entfaltet. Nach Fink ist diese bei Husserl bereits in Andeutungen vorhanden, ohne dass dieser jedoch den Schritt zur „meontischen Natur der absoluten Subjektivität“ zu Ende gehe. In ihr verschiebt sich die Frage nach der Selbstkonstitution eines absoluten Bewusstseins zu der nach dem Verhältnis zwischen dem nicht seienden Absoluten (me on) und der seienden Welt. Für Fink heißt dieses Verhältnis von Absolutem und seiner weltlichen Erscheinung „Freiheit“. Demzufolge sei die Idee einer me-ontischen Phänomenologie des Absoluten grundsätzlich eine „Lehre von der Freiheit“, deren Auslegung dann die zwei Hauptteile der Untersuchung gewidmet sind.

Warum Freiheit? Damit beschäftigt sich das zweite Kapitel (Der Anfang der Philosophie und die Freiheitsproblematik). Die Frage nach einem methodisch gesicherten Anfang der Philosophie, den Husserl im Blick auf das Ideal der Wissenschaft formulierte, wird bei Fink sukzessive aus seiner nach-cartesischen Verankerung im ego cogito herausgelöst und im Hinblick auf das Problem der Welt enggeführt. Welt erscheint nun nicht mehr als Korrelat einer transzendentalen Subjektivität, sondern als dasjenige, das uns zu einer Besinnung auf unseren Ort aufruft, unserer Verortung sowohl in der Entsprungenheit der binnenweltlichen Manifestation als auch im Unendlichen bzw. dem me-ontischen Ursprung von Welt selbst. Es ist diese Differenz zwischen Absolutem und Endlichem, welche die menschliche Situiertheit in der Welt ausmacht und zugleich die erste Motivation der Philosophie darstellt: als Besinnung auf das im Endlichen ,vergessene‘ Unendliche, das Apriori der Welt, das als me-ontisches nicht in Erscheinung tritt. Diese Besinnung ist im Vollzug Freiheit, da sie die natürliche Einstellung sprengt. Wodurch aber wird die Freiheit zu dieser ,Sprengung‘ motiviert? Mit dieser Frage befasst sich das dritte Kapitel (Die radikale Unmotiviertheit der Philosophie und die Freiheit). Im Horizont der wesenhaft geschlossenen natürlichen Einstellung gibt es nämlich „kein Problem, als dessen Beantwortung sich die Phänomenologie herausstellen könnte“. Das Übersteigen des Endlichen kann mit anderen Worten seinerseits nicht endlich motiviert sein, sondern markiert den Einbruch des Absoluten in die Welt: „Fink bestimmt die Besinnung auf die Weltsituation als eine Er-Innerung. Sie ist in der Tat eine recordatio, eine Anamnesis des vergessenen Weltapriori.“ Die ihr entsprechende Grundstimmung ist nach Fink das Staunen (thaumazein), wobei sich diese Stimmung der Verfügbarkeit menschlicher Freiheit entziehe – wir werden vom Staunen „ergriffen“.

Der zweite Teil der Studie befasst sich folglich mit dem Schlüsselbegriff der phänomenologischen „Meontik als Freiheitslehre“: der „Reduktion als Befreiung“. Im vierten Kapitel (Die Reduktion und ihre Situation) wird nach den Ausgangsbedingungen dieses Vollzuges der Befreiung gefragt, den Fink über eine Analyse der Medialität des Bildbewusstseins als einen medialen Akt für das Erscheinen des Absoluten begreift: In ihm öffnet sich gleichsam ein „Fenster ins Absolute“, das im Ausgang von der „mundanen Äußerungssituation“ in diese zurückstrahlt (und auf sie bezogen bleibt), also unauflösbar zwischen intramundaner Befreiung und Übersteigung der Endlichkeit oszilliert. Inwiefern die weltliche Situation der Reduktion eine wesenhaft unfreie ist, und in welchem Sinne die Reduktion genauer als Befreiung verstanden werden kann, untersucht das fünfte und letzte Kapitel (Weltbefangenheit und Befreiung). Ort der Manifestation des Absoluten, das über diese Manifestation hinaus wie gesagt nicht ist – „Nichts ,ist‘, me on“ –, ist wie gesagt die Welt. Insofern der Mensch als ein ens cosmologicum – ein Weltwesen –, wie der späte Fink sagen wird, existiert, verlangt die strukturelle Analyse den Aufweis einerseits des Weltapriori in der naiv-mundanen Existenz (dies wäre der Aufbruch der Freiheit) wie sie andererseits den radikalisierten Vollzug der Weltbewohnerschaft im Durchgang durch das ,Nichts‘ der Welt darlegt. Dies macht erforderlich, den Weg der Weltkonstitution und unseres Aufenthaltes in ihr als ,Mensch in der Welt‘ gleichsam mit Gewalt gegen das ,natürliche Leben‘ rückwärts zu gehen: Um die „Vermenschung“ des Absoluten zu verstehen, also eine „Ent-menschung“ zu vollziehen, eine periagogés tes psyches. Die Transzendenzbewegung, die im Vollzug der Reduktion erfolgt, habe dabei den Sinn einer „nicht ontischen Vernichtung der ,Maske der existenten Subjektivität‘, die nun durchsichtig geworden ist“.

Mit dem Terminus des „Instandes“ bzw. der „Instände“ (Geschichte, Geburt, Tod, Sein-bei, Schicksal) erarbeite sich Fink ein methodisches Handwerkszeug, um die „Selbstobjektivation des absoluten Lebens“, seine Mundanisierung oder „Ontifikation“ zu fassen. Die „Inständigkeit“ markiert den Ursprung des Dasein, sein Woher (hier arbeitet Giubilato wichtige Aspekte von Finks Auseinandersetzung mit der Fundamentalontologie Heideggers heraus). Ihr letztes Stadium erreicht der reduktive Rückstieg als „Entmenschung“ jedoch in der Befreiung auch von diesen Inständen, in denen sich das Absolute aus seiner radikalen Transzendenz in eine mundane „Stellung im Kosmos“ verendlicht. In der hier stattfindenden me-ontologischen Erkenntnis des Ontologischen (des Seins) können die Strukturen des „Weltsturzes“ (der Endlichkeit) auf eine „konstruktive“ (nicht analytische) Weise – Fink spricht auch von Spekulation – thematisch werden. Die phänomenologische Reduktion wird so zur „me-ontischen Ab-solution“, zur radikalen Loslösung aus der Welt-Befangenheit und Rückführung ins Ursprüngliche, die Welt-Unbefangenheit – nicht im Sinne eines methodischen Kunstgriffes, sondern als „Schmerz des Erwachens“, den sich „der absolute Geist selbst antut“ (Fink-Zitat). Erst als Absolution führt die Reduktion zur Freiheit im Sinne einer ekbasis, eines „Entkommens“.

Der ekbasis als „Ausgang“ aus der erscheinenden Welt korrespondiert umgekehrt die katabasis des Absoluten, seine Selbstentäußerungund emanative Verendlichung in die Welt. Die Idee einer me-ontischen Phänomenologie des Absoluten als Freiheitslehre vervollständigt sich, so Giubilato, „im Gegenspiel zwischen reduktiver ekbasis und konstitutiver katabasis“, zwischen Aufstieg in die Befreiung und Abstieg in die Entäußerung.

Die Entscheidung des Autors, Finks Idee einer me-ontischen Philosophie und Phänomenologie des Absoluten als Lehre von der Freiheit darzustellen, erweist sich als wohldurchdachter Glücktreffer. Mit seiner luziden Genauigkeit, Prägnanz und detaillierten Aufmerksamkeit gelingt es Giubilato nicht nur auf eine ebenso substanziell-gediegene wie faszinierende Weise, Finks ganz eigenen, im kritischen Dialog mit Husserl und Heidegger gebahnten Denkweg aus dem Dickicht tastender Versuche herauszuschälen und zu konturieren. Auch für das Spätwerk – Finks kosmologisches Denken – werden entscheidende Weichen gestellt, allem voran die Einsicht, dass wir „Weltwesen“ sind und bleiben, „Welt“ jedoch selbst durch ein Entzugsmoment charakterisiert ist, welches auf eine näher zu entfaltende Weise auf uns selbst als ,Fragmente‘ ihrer zwiefältigen Differenz zurückweist. Die Fülle miteinander verschränkter Analysen, die Originalität des Zugriffes, die sorgfältige Arbeit am Begriff sowie der Elan und die philosophische Tiefe der Durchführung weisen Giubilatos Untersuchung als einen Meilenstein der Auseinandersetzung mit einem Autor aus, der gerade dabei ist, mithilfe internationaler Unterstützung aus seiner Versenkung in der deutschen Forschungslandschaft herauszutreten.

Uriah Kriegel: Brentano’s Philosophical System: Mind, Being, Value

Brentano's Philosophical System: Mind, Being, Value Book Cover Brentano's Philosophical System: Mind, Being, Value
Uriah Kriegel
Oxford University Press
Hardback £49.99

Reviewed by: Daniel Herbert (University of Sheffield)

Although his admiration for the British philosophical tradition is widely recognised, Brentano’s antipathy to classical German philosophy is no less well-known. That Brentano may be at all committed to the construction of a grand system in the tradition of Kant or Hegel seems to run contrary to the most basic wisdom regarding this pivotal figure in the history of the phenomenological movement, and several of his most well-regarded interpreters have explicitly rejected any suggestion that he might helpfully be understood as a systematic philosopher. This, however, is precisely the claim which Uriah Kriegel defends with such force and clarity in his impressive study, Brentano’s Philosophical System: Mind, Being, Value. According to Kriegel, Brentano ranks amongst the greatest systematic philosophers of the Western tradition, offering a comprehensive account of the true, the good, and the beautiful, ultimately grounded in an understanding of the modes of consciousness which facilitate the mental representation of these ideals.

In spite of his systematic aspirations, however, Brentano’s philosophical style bears closer comparison to the analytic tradition than to the works of Kant and his idealist successors, according to Kriegel. Indeed, Brentano is, for Kriegel, a kind of analytic philosopher avant la lettre, whose concerns and priorities belong not to an outmoded nineteenth-century agenda, but to the domain of contemporary philosophy. There remains, however, a sense in which Brentano has less in common with analytic philosophy than with its nineteenth century predecessors, insofar as his focus is very firmly upon consciousness rather than language as the principal object of philosophical investigation. Brentano does not participate in the linguistic turn which is partly constitutive of the switch from idealist to analytic philosophy, and his focus on consciousness is an enormous part of his legacy to later phenomenologists (with the possible exception of Heidegger and his followers). This is, however, something of a pedantic objection, and Kriegel leaves little doubt that Brentano’s philosophical style is one which should make his work accessible to contemporary analytic philosophers. Across nine well-argued and engaging chapters, Kriegel elucidates Brentano’s compelling and highly original contributions to philosophy of mind, metametaphysics, metaethics, normative ethics and other fields of current philosophical interest, repeatedly showing that Brentano merits a place in contemporary debates within each of these thriving areas. As such, Kriegel’s study should be of interest not only to scholars of Brentano and early phenomenology, but also to researchers in several areas of contemporary analytic philosophy.

Part One, ‘Mind’, opens with a chapter on ‘Consciousness’. For Kriegel, Brentano’s interest in consciousness is an interest in what today’s philosophers of mind call ‘phenomenal consciousness’ – its felt qualitative character. As such, many of Brentano’s remarks concerning consciousness rest ultimately upon appeals to phenomena with which it is assumed that all subjects are immediately acquainted insofar as they are conscious at all. According to what Kriegel calls Brentano’s ‘awareness principle’, one cannot be conscious without being conscious of being conscious. Such awareness of one’s own mental states is the source, Brentano maintains, of immediate and infallible self-knowledge resulting from what he famously labels as ‘inner perception’ and distinguishes from introspection or ‘inner observation’.

In an impressive display of scholarly engagement with the relevant primary and secondary literature, Kriegel advocates a novel and compelling interpretation of Brentano’s position, according to which the same mental state may be viewed either as the ‘consciousness of x’ or as the ‘consciousness of the consciousness of x’. As such, inner perception owes its unique epistemic merits to the identity between (i) a conscious state and (ii) the consciousness of that very state. Kriegel clearly distinguishes his interpretation from those offered by other Brentano scholars, such as Textor. Moreover, Kriegel credits Brentano with a position which he argues is more compelling than many modern theories of consciousness, such that Brentano’s approach is of more than merely historical interest.

Kriegel also notes however, the implausibility of Brentano’s commitment to the co-extensionality of mental states and conscious states. As he aims to show throughout the remaining chapters however, this is a position which may be excised from Brentano’s system with minimal repercussions. All the same, Kriegel maintains, it is important to note that Brentano’s philosophy of mind is, for this reason, more properly a philosophy of consciousness.

In Chapter Two, ‘Intentionality’, Kriegel advances an original interpretation of the concept with which Brentano’s name is most associated. Parting company with widely-held ‘immanentist’ interpretations, such as Crane’s, Kriegel denies that Brentano understands intentionality as a relation between a mental act and a subjective content internal to that act. Indeed, according to Kriegel’s ‘subjectist’ interpretation, intentionality is not, for Brentano, a relation at all, but a modification of the subject. Their misleading surface grammar notwithstanding, sentences appearing to commit one to the existence of a relation between a conscious state and an object thereof are more accurately understood as statements concerning a condition of the subject, according to Kriegel. As he interprets Brentano, non-veridical experiences have no intentional object at all, Kriegel maintains, rather than a merely private intentional object. To think of dragons, then, is not to be related to a fictitious object but to inhabit a state of a certain kind. By the same token, it is not constitutive of one’s thinking about the Eiffel Tower that it is indeed the intentional object of such a mental state. All that matters, in either case, according to Kriegel, is that the subject occupies such a state that, were certain conditions to be satisfied, that state would have an intentional object. Talk of ‘merely intentional objects’ is, as Kriegel understands Brentano, admissible only as a convenient fiction, as shorthand for the unsatisfied veridicality-conditions of some mental state.

While it is distinct from adverbialism, according to Kriegel, the position thus attributed to Brentano may, he acknowledges, appear vulnerable to an objection similar to that which Moran raises against the adverbialist. The last part of the chapter offers an answer to this revised criticism, showing again that Brentano’s views remain plausible. Kriegel proceeds with clarity and precision throughout in recognisably analytical fashion.

Chapter Three concludes Part One with a detailed account of Brentano’s taxonomy of the various kinds of conscious states. As Kriegel notes, Brentano’s interest in the systematic classification of mental states – and its centrality to his philosophical project – is characteristic of the taxonomically-fixated nineteenth century, but seems quite foreign to the priorities of contemporary philosophers of mind in the analytic tradition. Kriegel further remarks that Brentano is in disagreement with late twentieth and early twenty-first century orthodoxies in consequence of his anti-functionalist classification of mental states according to attitudinal properties rather than inferential role. Related to such anti-functionalism is Brentano’s notorious claim that disbelief-that-p is not equivalent to belief that not-p – a position starkly opposed to Frege’s.

All the same, Kriegel maintains, Brentano’s philosophy of mind loses much of its unfamiliar appearance when the scope of its claims are limited to the domain of the conscious, whereupon they become compatible with a broader functionalist outlook. With slight qualifications, Brenatano’s foundational distinction between judgement and interest may be understood to correspond to a familiar distinction between mental states, on the one hand, with a mind-to-world direction of fit and those, on the other, with a world-to-mind direction of fit. Brentano treats the distinction between propositional and non-propositional content as of secondary importance, however, and Kriegel takes it that there is nothing in contemporary classifications of the mental corresponding to Brentano’s treatment of presentation as a category of phenomena no less fundamental than judgement or interest. Much of chapter three is devoted to a reconstruction and defence of Brentano’s commitment to such an account of presentation – a position which Kriegel regards as persuasive and correct, but detachable from the rest of the Brentantian system without need for significant revisions elsewhere. Judgement and interest, however, remain of crucial systematic importance, according to Kriegel.

The second part of Kriegel’s fascinating and well-argued study concerns Brentano’s metaphysics, opening with a chapter on ‘Judgement’. As Kriegel re-iterates, Brentano’s account of judgement differs radically from more familiar theories in several respects. Firstly, no judgement is ever merely predicative, according to Brentano, but every judgement either affirms or denies something’s existence. Secondly, affirmative and negative judgements differ not in content but in attitude, and are therefore able to share the same content. Thirdly, the content of any judgement is always some putative individual object, rather than a proposition or state of affairs. In spite of its remarkable heterodoxy, however, Kriegel judges that Brentano’s account is astonishingly compelling and can be defended against several possible objections while facilitating a nominalistic ontology which is likely to appeal to current trends of metaphysical opinion. Kriegel ably and methodically proceeds to assess the prospects for Brentanian paraphrases for various forms of judgement, aiming in each case to show whether that judgement is reducible to an affirmation or denial of some particular object’s existence. In most cases, Kriegel maintains, adequate paraphrases are indeed available, although he expresses some doubt that such paraphrases accurately match the phenomenology involved in judgements of that kind. According to Kriegel, the best available Brentanian paraphrase of the negative compound judgement “­­­~ (p & q)” would be something along the lines of “there does not exist any sum of a correct belief in p and a correct belief in q”. While respecting the strictures of Brentano’s theory of judgement, Kriegel maintains, such a conceptually elaborate paraphrase – which involves second-order beliefs – is questionable as a description of the conscious experience involved in the judgement, “~ (p & q)”: a potential shortcoming in a theory alleged to rest upon no other foundation than the accurate description of immediately accessible conscious states.

Brentano’s metaontology – his account of what one does when one commits to the existence of something – provides the focus for Chapter Five. After summarising what he takes to be the three most prominent approaches in contemporary metaontology – those which he attributes to Meinong, Frege, and Williamson – Kriegel proceeds to distinguish Brentano’s position from each of these. Unlike any of the more familiar positions, Brentanto’s holds that nothing is predicated of anything – whether a subject or a first-order property – when something is said to exist. Rather, to say that something exists is to say that it is a fitting object of a certain kind of mental attitude – that of belief-in, or affirmative judgement. To say that x is a fitting object of belief-in, moreover, is to say that were a subject capable of deciding the matter on the basis of self-evidence then the attitude they would take to x would be one of belief-in. In view of serious problems attending Brentano’s analysis of belief-fittingness in terms of hypothetical self-evidence, however, Kriegel offers the revisionary proposal that belief-fittingness be understood as no less primitive than self-evidence. Belief-fittingness would be unanalysable in that case, although particular instances of belief-fittingness would be distinguishable by comparison against contrasting cases.

It is, for Kriegel, a liability of Brentano’s position that, by interpreting existence-statements as disguised normative claims, it fails to accommodate the phenomenology of such judgements, which do not seem at all, to those who make them, like statements about the mental attitude appropriate to one or another intentional object. Nonetheless, Kriegel maintains, Brentano’s position impressively circumvents a host of problems which have confronted the three most familiar metaontological approaches, and is entirely unburdened by any implicit commitment to objects which lack the property of existence without failing to qualify as beings of another exotic variety.

Brentano’s unorthodox theory of judgement and metaontology are largely motivated by a strong aversion to abstract entities, and it is to the nominalistic upshot of these Brentanian innovations that Kriegel turns his attention in chapter six. As Kriegel explains, however, Brentano’s ‘reism’ is quite unlike familiar ‘ostrich’ and ‘paraphrase’ forms of nominalism and is not vulnerable to the kinds of objection which have often been raised against such positions. As a form of ‘strict’ nominalism, it is not only abstracta which Brentano’s position rejects, but also universals, such that the Brentanian ontology condones no other entities than concrete particulars. The truth-maker for “Beyoncé is famous”, to take one of Kriegel’s own examples, is not a proposition or state of affairs, but the concrete particular “famous-Beyoncé”. “Famous-Beyoncé” is a curious entity, however, being co-located with a host of other complex concrete particulars, each of which makes true a certain statement about one and the same Beyoncé to which they are related as accidents of a substance.

Kriegel readily acknowledges, however, that a number of counter-intuitive commitments result from Brentano’s ‘coincidence model’. While recognising Beyoncé as a proper part of Famous-Beyoncé, Brentano is unwilling to risk the admission of abstract entities into his ontology by permitting Famous-Beyoncé to consist of any other proper part than Beyoncé. Although he thereby avoids any commitment to an abstract ‘fame’ supplement, the addition of which to Beyoncé results in Famous-Beyoncé, Brentano is also driven to the odd result that Beyoncé is a proper part without need of supplementation by any further part – a conclusion firmly at odds with the principles of classical mereology. In spite of its shortcomings, however, Brentano’s reism is, according to Kriegel, at least as plausible as any of the nominalist positions currently available, and provides a novel response to the truth-maker challenge.

With Part Three, ‘Value’, Kriegel turns his attention to Brentano’s much-overlooked account of the good. Chapter Seven offers an inventory of the main forms of interest – that basic genre of conscious states, all of the species of which present their objects as either good or bad in some way. Much as Brentano’s metaphysics rests upon his analysis of judgement, so does his theory of value bear a similar relation to his account of interest in its various forms – such as emotion, volition, and pleasure/displeasure. Because Brentano did not complete the projected Book V of his Psychology, in which he had intended to focus on interest in general, several of Kriegel’s proposals in this chapter are offered as ‘Brentanian in spirit’ and Kriegel is forthcoming in appealing to various scattered primary texts in supporting an interpretation of Brentano which he admits may seem anachronistic in its terminology and dialectical agenda.

All the same, Kriegel persuasively shows that Brentano’s works provide the resources for a distinction between will and emotion which respects their common evaluative-attitudinal status. Kriegel develops Brentano’s somewhat sketchy distinction between interests in compatible and incompatible goods by distinguishing between presenting-as-prima-facie-good and presenting-as-ultima-facie-good. Before deciding between incompatible alternatives, both might be emotionally presented as similarly good or bad, but one cannot rationally have incompatible alternatives as an object of volition. Volition differs from emotion, therefore, by presenting its object as ultima facie good, to the exclusion of objects with which it is incompatible. Although he does not suppose that Brentano would draw the distinction in such a fashion, Kriegel also maintains that pleasure and displeasure may be distinguished from emotions in a Brentanian spirit by treating algedonic states as presenting-as-immediately-present some good or ill, whereas emotions do not distinguish, in the presentation of an object, between present and absent goods.

Proceeding in chapter eight to an account of Brentano’s metaethics, Kriegel argues that Brentano may qualify as the original fitting attitude theorist. To call something ‘good’, according to Brentano, is to say that it is fitting to adopt a pro-attitude towards that thing. As such, the good is to interest, for Brentano, as the true is to judgement. The analogue for self-evidence, with respect to interest, is what Kriegel terms ‘self-imposition’ – a feature of those positive or negative value-assessments which irresistibly command our agreement, and which is directly available to inner perception. Those interests are fitting, Brentano maintains, which are either self-imposing or which would be given in inner perception to any subject with a self-imposing attitude towards the intentional object in question.

While highlighting the originality of Brentano’s metaethics – which he claims to anticipate Moore’s celebrated open question argument in certain important respects – Kriegel views self-imposition as a liability for Brentano, inasmuch as it is tasked with both normative and psychological-descriptive functions. For Kriegel, Brentano’s metaethics is an unstable combination of naturalist and non-naturalist features. Nonetheless, Kriegel shows Brentano to argue compellingly against a number of rival accounts and to circumvent certain difficulties which confront such competitors. What is more, Kriegel helpfully locates Brentano’s metaethics within a wider systematic context, returning throughout to parallels between his fitting attitude accounts of judgement and interest. Brentano’s aesthetics, or theory of beauty, is also seen to occupy a location within the same system and to involve a ‘fitting delight’ account, according to which that is beautiful the contemplation of which is itself the fitting object of a pro-attitude. The beautiful is therefore a species of the good, as Kriegel understands Brentano, and is distinct from moral value insofar as it involves the adoption of a pro-attitude towards the contemplation of a presentation.

With the ninth and final chapter, Kriegel turns his focus to Brentano’s normative ethics. Brentano is shown to advocate a pluralistic consequentialism which recognises four intrinsic goods: consciousness, pleasure, knowledge, and fitting attitudes. Whatever is instrumentally valuable in promoting the realisation of these intrinsic goods is therefore of derivative value, according to Brentano, and the right course of action to pursue in any given situation is that from which the greatest good shall result. Although he admits pleasure as an unconditional good – irrespective of its source – Brentano avoids certain counter-intuitive implications of cruder consequentialist positions by acknowledging fitting attitudes as further intrinsic goods. As such, Brentano can admit painful feelings of guilt at one’s own wrongdoing as being of intrinsic value. Whereas, however, Kantians can deny that there is any value in a pleasure derived from wrongdoing, this option is not open to Brentano, for whom the issue of weighing the various goods against one another therefore becomes especially pressing.

Kriegel takes Brentano to face a challenge here, however, and expresses concern that Brentano’s ethics may be unhelpful as a guide to moral action. Having highlighted, in the previous chapter, certain difficulties confronting the notion of self-imposition, Kriegel notes that it is to this same concept that Brentano appeals in attempting to distinguish between which of any two goods is preferable to the other. The fitting preference in any such case is that which the subject would take were their attitude self-imposing, but Kriegel argues that for most such comparisons this moral equivalent of self-evidence will presuppose a measure of knowledge unavailable to any recognisably human agent. As Kriegel observes, it is of little use to advise someone to act as they would were they endowed with perfect impartiality and all of the facts relevant to the case in question.

There is much to recommend Kriegel’s ambitious and scholarly text, which certainly achieves its stated task of demonstrating Brentano’s relevance for contemporary debates across several fields of analytic philosophy. Kriegel impressively avoids the dual perils which confront the historian of philosophy, by locating Brentano’s original contributions within their historical context without, however, denying their relevance to today’s debates. Kriegel perhaps sails uncomfortably close, for some tastes, to an anachronistic reading of Brentano’s arguments and commitments, by phrasing these in terms of a conceptual vocabulary which owes much to late Twentieth and early Twenty-First Century analytic philosophy. Kriegel is forthcoming, however, in admitting his departures from the letter of the relevant Brentanian texts in order to facilitate comparisons between Brentano’s positions and those of more contemporary analytic philosophers. Kriegel also admits to contributing ‘Brentanian’ theses of his own where necessary, in order to fill certain gaps in Brentano’s system or to accommodate objections which Brentano did not anticipate. As such, Kriegel’s account is explicitly revisionary in certain places, such as his recommendations concerning the nature of ‘fittingness’ and his proposals concerning a Brentanian aesthetics. At no point, however, does Kriegel depart significantly from Brentano’s stated position without having already clearly motivated the appeal of a broadly Brentanian contribution to some on-going philosophical debate.

If Kriegel’s Brentano is too much the analytic philosopher for some historians of the phenomenological movement then no doubt he is too much of a system-builder for others. As Kriegel recognises, Brentano’s works are not typically regarded as contributions to a systematic philosophical enterprise, and much of Kriegel’s effort is devoted to correcting this oversight. Here too, Kriegel admits to making ‘Brentanian’ contributions of his own in order to clarify possible links between different parts of Brentano’s system and to provide possible details for areas which Brentano himself left only in outline sketches. That Brentano’s various contributions to ontology, metametaphysics, metaethics, normative ethics and other fields merit interpretation as parts of an overarching system is left in no doubt, however, and this would be sufficient achievement for Kriegel’s impressive monograph, were it not also to highlight the originality and insight which Brentano brought to each of these fields. Most importantly, however, Kriegel admirably shows Brentano’s work to deserve the attention of researchers in several areas of philosophical research, and to reward careful study not only by historians of philosophy and scholars of phenomenology, but also contemporary analytic philosophers.