Hans-Georg Gadamer: Hermeneutics between History and Philosophy: The Selected Writings of Hans-Georg Gadamer, Volume I

Hermeneutics between History and Philosophy: The Selected Writings of Hans-Georg Gadamer, Volume I Couverture du livre Hermeneutics between History and Philosophy: The Selected Writings of Hans-Georg Gadamer, Volume I
Hans-Georg Gadamer. Editors: Pol Vandevelde, Arun Iyer
Bloomsbury
2016
Hardback $207.00
384

Reviewed by: Meghant Sudan (Colby College, Waterville, ME, USA)

This is the first in a series of three volumes of Gadamer’s essays. While many of Gadamer’s shorter writings have been translated and anthologized so far, this series aims to bring to the English reader the many that remained untranslated.[i] The translations in this volume are very readable and have a light touch about them, which also enhances access to Gadamer’s thought. By including several essays published well after Truth and Method (1960), the volume promises to make visible the nuances in his later reflections and deepen our insight into the earlier work.  On the whole, it paints a portrait of Gadamer as an erudite historian of philosophy, a committed humanist (and staunch Europeanist), and a genial raconteur of his long, rich academic career.

These are mostly good things. While my review unavoidably considers Gadamer’s own views in these essays, I am more concerned even there with this edition as a self-standing volume and I will examine certain editorial and translation decisions to this end. The present volume contains 18 essays[ii] arranged in four parts, covering Gadamer’s reflections on (1) history in general, (2) Dilthey’s significance, (3) other critical encounters, and (4) Heidegger’s significance. A Preface by the translators outlines the goals and contents of the volume, stresses the nuance to be gained by reading Gadamer’s later writings, and situates Gadamer’s thought broadly with respect to its reception in both continental and analytic philosophy. An Introduction by the translators spells out some details of Gadamer’s thoughts on history, phenomenology, language, and practical philosophy, and encourages the beginner predisposed towards these thoughts.

Part 1 contains 6 essays, the oldest of which is from 1964 and the newest from 1991. This part considers the problem of history as a lived experience and as an existential question in the face of a prevailing naturalism. Part 2 contains 3 essays from the period 1984-1991, which attest to the enduring presence in Gadamer’s work of Dilthey’s conception of hermeneutics and historical consciousness.  Part 3 contains 5 essays dating between 1974 and 1994, which situate Gadamer’s thought in relation to other figures in his firmament, Husserl, Sartre, Bourdieu, Habermas, and Derrida. While Heidegger looms large in in every piece, Part 4 contains 4 essays from 1985-6 focused on different aspects of Heidegger’s work as a researcher and as a teacher.

The essays on the first topic, “history,” vary greatly in style.  Some are analytical and were intended as articles, while others are relatively lyrical, when not simply rambling, and come from “improvised”[iii] opening or closing remarks at conferences.  The first essay “Is there a causality in history?” lays out the key idea.  The concept of causality in the natural scientific attitude concerns a regular connection enabling prediction and planning ahead, whereas causality in history is rooted in the fundamental experience of an event as something that has already happened, something singular and surprising that entangles us in questions of freedom and necessity.  To understand this experience, Gadamer unpacks the history of the concept through various philosophers and shows that the concept of causality is interwoven with fundamental ontological questions about human existence.  Drawing up a term’s intellectual history[iv] and relating it to the structure of Dasein with Heidegger’s help is a common thread through several essays. The problem of history, then, invites us to think the question of being.

The other essays in this part develop this key idea different ways.  I found it hard, however, to see how developing the idea differently also amounts to adding “nuance” to it, as the translators claim (viii-ix).  The second essay is said (x) to newly re-engage Leo Strauss, but one finds in it just a passing mention of Strauss that clarifies very little.[v]  Moreover, the essay’s thrust that the problem of historicism in recent philosophy has always been around since the ancient Greeks seems to de-historicize the issue itself.  The third essay (from 1991) is really all over the place.  In it, Gadamer returns to the contrast between the scientific and historical viewpoints, but we can scarcely take seriously the leaps he makes between the Big Bang and the evolution of the universe on the one hand, and Foucault, Homer, Galileo, and much else on the other.[vi] The essay eventually snowballs into dire warnings about the rise of technology and pious reminders about the value of the humanities.  This might catch everything and still miss nuance.

To look for nuance in the fourth essay, which comes from “improvised” opening remarks, is futile. The last two essays in this part develop the concern for historical consciousness in a softer, reflective register, and ask about the experience of the old and the new and of dying.  The nuance I find in the latter, however, is only an indirect one: while the conception of philosophy as a reflection on dying is somewhat familiar and remains interesting, Gadamer’s way of setting up this reflection via easy talk of the practices of dying in Christian, Islamic, and “the great East Asian cultures” (61) simultaneously underlines the need for a richer historical-sociological understanding of these topics and, in palpably betraying this need, Gadamer gives an honest account of the limits of his reflections on the question of death. In sum, while I celebrate the effort to make more of Gadamer’s corpus available to the English reader, I am left puzzled about how this also makes available a greater nuance.

Related worries appear in regard to the translation.  As mentioned, it reads easily and captures the effortless flow of Gadamer’s travels through complex ideas and vast periods. The edition includes a general glossary of German, Latin, and Greek expressions at the end and helpful editorial endnotes to each essay guide the reader diligently.  Yet, I am confused by some translation decisions.  For example, it feels important to note Gadamer’s use of variants of both Geschichte and Historie in a volume taking its departure from the topic, but this is not done.  It might very well be the case that Gadamer does not differentiate their senses, but, given his clear interest in linguistic and idiomatic trajectories as well as the Heideggerian background, it would have been useful to mark the verbal difference.

Had verbal differences been noted, essay 3 about the history of the universe and human historicity could have helped.  Here, Gadamer seems to use Historie-variants for the professional discipline and Geschichte-variants for sites of deeper historical consciousness. Translating both with “history” and not marking the German term causes one to lose sight of this possible nuance.[vii] In the opposite direction, different words are given in place of one word. Gadamer consistently refers to a central concern in the essay on causality in history with the word Zusammenhang, but this is translated variously as “fabric,” “connection,” and “complex” on the first few pages (3-4).[viii]  The same couple of pages also translate Freiheit once as “freedom” and then as “liberty,” but in this case it is possible to guess why two different words are used, for the editors may have wished to distinguish Gadamer’s own handling of “freedom” from Ranke’s technical term “scenes of liberty” (4).[ix]

A striking instance of the choice to translate the same word differently concerns another central concept featuring in comparisons of Dilthey and Husserl, which is itself a recurrent theme in the collection.  In essay 7, “The Problem of Dilthey: Between Romanticism and Positivism,” Gadamer complicates a standard story about Dilthey’s work proceeding directly from psychology to hermeneutics, from conceiving the understanding as an inner process to its establishment as a general principle of the historical sciences.  Rather, for Gadamer, Dilthey’s thought is initially inspired by Husserl’s anti-psychologism, which leads him to reformulate the account of an “inner process” through concepts of life and lived experience. Yet, unsatisfied with Husserl’s explorations of transcendental subjectivity, Dilthey combines both German Idealist and British empiricist influences to expand the theory of meaning and its grounding in life and, ultimately, to envision hermeneutics anew.  The concept Bedeutung underlies this revised story, but this word is translated sometimes as “significance” and sometimes as “meaning,” apparently to distinguish Dilthey’s life-based conception from Husserl’s logical-ontological conception.  While Gadamer himself consistently used one term for both conceptions, the terminological distinction added without notation by the translators may lead the anglophone reader astray.

The aforementioned essay is the first of three devoted to Dilthey’s contributions, making up part 2 of the volume.  This part is stronger and more focused than the first.  While the first essay (1984) sets out the central claims and turning points of Dilthey’s evolving work, the next essay (1985) pulls into its orbit Ortega y Gasset and Nietzsche, which, through their inclusion, broadens the debates on psychology in the period in which Dilthey worked out his position.[x] The translators probably had the third essay (1991) foremost in their minds when they noted that Gadamer, in comparison with his earlier critical rejection of Dilthey,[xi] “softens” his stance in the later essays (xxix).  Here, Gadamer underlines that his earlier contrast between traditional hermeneutics (the line from Schleiermacher to Dilthey according to Gadamer) and philosophical hermeneutics (Gadamer’s self-representation) was not meant to separate, but to join the two in the demand for a reformed hermeneutics (107, 117).  He admits that his earlier Schleiermacher critique was somewhat deficient, but he notes that that does not affect his Dilthey reading (105-6), and he appears to shift from his earlier, internal critique of Dilthey’s lamentable restriction to the concept of objectivity used in the natural sciences to taking it as a product of historical circumstance.[xii]  The third essay was written in the context of new works on Dilthey’s thought and recent publication of posthumous materials, but it is still able to convey to us today the importance of re-examining the Dilthey-Gadamer encounter.[xiii]

Part 3 covers Gadamer’s other encounters (Husserl, Sartre, Bourdieu, Habermas, and Derrida) and is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of strength, but possibly justifies its inclusion in the volume due to the unfailing ability of Franco-German encounters to deliver satisfying entertainment, whether this takes place in a seminar room or on the football pitch.  Essays 10 (1975) and 11 (1974) embody Gadamer’s reflections on Husserl.  The former essay had been translated previously and I take it that it is recalled here as an introductory piece to situate the latter essay, which wades a little deeper into the issues. The former essay claims that appeals to intersubjectivity do not absolve Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology from its subjectivist trappings, nor is the concept of intersubjectivity lacking in Heidegger’s project in Being and Time, since the concept of being thrown into the world and the equiprimordiality of being-with and being-in-the-world include it.  The latter essay analyzes the concept of the lifeworld and emphasizes that this is not a new development in Husserl’s thought.  Rather, it marks a return to older questions about the thoroughness in bracketing the world, and, in fact, returns to yet older questions in German Idealism about thoroughness in setting up the foundations of transcendental philosophy (143).  Gadamer locates his own turn to the movements of interpretation as an alternative to such issues of foundation, which have not been able to exit the sphere of the subject.

Essays 12 and 13 engage Sartre, Bourdieu, and Habermas, but they are not as strong as the Husserl treatments.  Gadamer reminds us how novel Sartre’s joining together of Hegel with Husserl and Heidegger had appeared at the time and how this had to be squared with the characterization of Sartre as a French moralist.  This concern with views from outside is also present in the review of Bourdieu’s The Political Ontology of Martin Heidegger, which is coupled with the short review mentioned earlier of Habermas’ Philosophical Discourse of Modernity.  Gadamer cannot stomach Bourdieu’s sociological approach, which appears to him to reduce the highest questions of truth and thinking itself to mere posturing, and he suspects that Bourdieu’s analysis of academic sublimations of socio-economic structures and anxieties is driven by a misplaced animus against the German university system and by easy comparisons with the more public intellectual sphere in France (169).

The Habermas review is slightly more respectful, but in Gadamer’s eyes he too misunderstands Heidegger’s thought.  This is due to his use of a French reception of Nietzsche to view Heidegger, whereas, while marred by reductionism, Bourdieu at least had the sociological orientation right.  Part 2 closes as it began with another re-translation, this time of Gadamer’s 1994 reckoning with Derrida.  Coming on the heels of the non-dialogue with Habermas and Bourdieu, this essay shows Gadamer practicing what he teaches as a theorist of dialogue, as he pursues one with deconstruction well after the Gadamer-Derrida exchange in the early 1980s had exhausted itself and which most had admitted to be of a “somewhat disjointed and non-dialogical character.”[xiv] Gadamer recounts here his problems with Derrida’s understanding of logos in the critique of logocentrism, the focus on writing but not reading, the asubjectivity in the concept of trace that ignores a fundamental dialogical unity, and he does not forget to remind us that Derrida is writing from a French tradition over a German one.[xv]

Part 4 brings us four essays on Heidegger from 1985-86, each replete with fond recollections of the master’s quips and quirks, but each playing a slightly different role in this part.  The first (essay 15) combines an account of Heidegger’s formative influences with Gadamer’s own under his direction.  Hagiography notwithstanding, Gadamer occasionally registers nuances that one looks for in his later work, which occur in the form of realizations that dawned upon him much later, although these are not worked out in detail.  He mentions his “recent insight” (211) that a possible influence of American pragmatism through Emil Lask may have come Heidegger’s way, or how, only much later, Gadamer saw in Heidegger’s course (co-taught with Ebbinhaus [sic], 213) on Kant’s philosophy of religion the inner theological grounds of Heidegger’s critique of metaphysics, which informs several late essays, e.g. essay 2 in part 1.

Essay 16 touches on Heidegger’s turn from his early, theologically saturated phase to a later “flight into poetic concepts” (223), but the essay is too short to be informative.  Essay 17 takes up Heidegger’s turn to the pre-Socratics and Gadamer again notes his late realization that this turn too was prefigured in the intensely religious and theological forces in Heidegger’s early thought (242).  This essay is only as helpful as the large strokes it paints with, but it is for the same reason remarkable for its brazen declarations about “the Greeks,” the fulfillment of the destiny of the west, and the like, which surpass Heidegger-style declamations along these lines.[xvi]

Or, in another instance, which the translators single out to illustrate Gadamer’s historical approach to concepts,[xvii] Gadamer explains how illuminating Heideggerian etymology can be by telling us about the word ousia.  Before its philosophical codification and sedimentation, ousia meant a sustaining relation to the land, or a piece of property in this relation, and this sense underlies Heidegger’s effort to re-think being through Anwesenheit. Strangely, however, Gadamer states that this old meaning persists timelessly and seeks to demonstrate this with the help of a problematic example of 20th century Greek displacements from war and genocide.  “The Greeks” (237), who were pushed out to the countryside by external genocide and internal displacement in the 1920s are said to gain presence (Anwesenheit) because these refugees are “all of them housed in their own small houses.” What does this have to do with the ancient Greek term? Gadamer continues confidently:

“The Greek can say the same and can say it right up to the present.  Whoever knows Athens can see this… Here, the word ousia manages to make the philosophical conceptual sense clearer in its relation to the original meaning of the word.” (ibid.)

The final essay 18 also revolves around Heidegger and “the Greeks,” but here Gadamer balances his endearingly self-deprecating reminiscences of the master as well as his protective gestures in the face of the latter’s “political ‘aberration’,” as he puts it (173), with a sharp account (257-268) of his differences with Heidegger over the question of approaching Plato mainly through Aristotle and thereby missing Plato’s own openness to an historical, dialogical questioning of being.  Gadamer gathers evidence in support of his critique from close readings of Heidegger’s comments on Plato as well as various Platonic dialogues, which the reader will wholeheartedly welcome after the number of unsubstantiated, sweeping claims in earlier parts of the book.  And although this is not Gadamer’s explicit intent, the style of his confrontation with Heidegger’s Plato hints at his proximity to the Tübingen school of Plato interpretation and to the shared background shaping the profound works on Plato by another student of Heidegger, Jacob Klein.

The end matter contains an index of names, an index of subjects, and a list of works cited by Gadamer.[xviii]  In view of the express intent of the series to complete the task of translating Gadamer into the English through its selections, it would have been useful to include a list of existing English translations of Gadamer’s other works of the kind at the end of the Bernasconi edition of Gadamer’s Relevance of the Beautiful and Other Essays.

In sum, this collection of essays provides a convenient point of access into the main planks of Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics, despite some inscrutable editorial and translation decisions described above, which prevent it from fully serving further research needs.  It presents a rounded picture of Gadamer’s thought situated against key themes and figures, despite the great variation in the quality of the texts, and, as we saw, the picture is revealing in unintended ways as well.  Finally, it showcases Gadamer’s flair for the essay form. Reading his essays, then, renews faith in this dwindling rarity, but, also – and this might be one of the ways that the ability to revisit earlier ideas from later parts of a long life generates “nuance” – a collection of essays allows both the author and the reader to live through the experience of an object under varying conditions. Putting into words that well apply to a reading of his own writings, Gadamer denies an ideal of complete transparency and affirms the infinitely varied and fused shades of darkness and light “even during the course of one’s life, so that things in a changing light are illuminated in a changing manner and often fall completely into obscurity.  There is no light of an enduring day that makes the true significance of everything appear.” (81)


[i] Thus, together with those that were translated earlier elsewhere (130 articles), the series (50 articles) helps assemble an English version of all the major essays in Gadamer’s Gesammelte Werke (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1986-95, 10 volumes).

[ii] Two essays in this selection had been previously translated into English by Gadamer scholars and translators Richard Palmer and David Vessey.  These are both in the third part.

[iii] Essay 4 in this part, “A World Without History?” (1972), was an “improvised opening talk” at a conference (288n.1), and it reads as such.  Essay 3, “The History of the Universe and the Historicity of Human Beings” (1988), was a concluding speech at another conference (286n.1) and also rushes through a bewildering number of topics.  Essay 5, “The Old and the New” (1981), was an opening speech (288n.1).

[iv] Gadamer even formulates this at one point thus: “For a long time, I have followed the methodological principle of not undertaking any investigation without giving an account of the history of the concept.” (126) The translators’ introduction remarks on the richness of this method not without some enthusiasm, using Gadamer’s discussion of ousia as an example (xviii), to which I will return later.

[v] The sought nuance would pertain to the differences we might perceive between Gadamer and Strauss on the problem of historical consciousness, but all this comes to rest on one cryptic sentence: “Strauss could not see that a reflection on the temporality of our understanding and the historicity of our existence is not always already at play in this question.” (17).  Which question?  A few lines above Gadamer states that we are concerned with “the urgency of the Socratic question,” but there was no mention of Socrates up to this point.  In another essay, Gadamer says that “[t]he Socratic question is a constant exhortation to remember, which sustains itself in all human reflection and in all human acts of giving an account of oneself, whether one may own such an account to oneself or to another.” (83) Presumably, Gadamer has this in mind, but neither he nor the editors help bring it before the reader.

[vi] Consider this passage, which continues the puzzling talk of the universe as evolving – Gadamer calls it a “theory of evolution,” no less (27) – from the Big Bang: “If there is indeed such an evolution, then it follows in fact that this evolution in always pressing onward somehow pulls the future of the totality into our speculation.  Here Foucault comes to mind.  This may exceed our cognitive capacities, but it is thought ‘scientifically’ and fundamentally promises a savoir pour prevoir.  Now this situation is completely different in the case of history, as indicated by Jacob Burckhardt’s famous words about history…” (ibid.)  No relief from the barrage of such associations comes until the essay ends.

[vii] The difference, at first pass, seems to be between, on the one hand, the textually received tradition of storytelling and its historical-phenomenological significance, and, on the other, the professional forms of studying the past beyond written records, involving archaeology and the pre-Greek past (28-29).  The difference is missed in translating all instances with “history,” and made yet harder to see with other related decisions, like rendering Vorzeit as “pre-history” (240), Historie as “historiography” (49), etc.  This contrasts with the attention given to Gadamer’s play with root forms of words, e.g. forms of stehen (51, 54), scheiden (52), schreiben (195), etc.

[viii] Or “context” in other places.  Essay 7 mostly uses “connection” to translate Zusammenhang, except on p. 80, where, like p.100 in essay 8, the metaphysically loaded term “nexus” is used.

[ix] The editorial note 2 on pp.282-3 reminds the reader of Ranke’s conception, which suggests (without explicitly stating) that “liberty” was chosen to mark it off from Gadamer’s conception of “freedom.”

[x] The question of locating Nietzsche returns in essay 13’s talk of German and French receptions of Nietzsche in the context of a very short review of a Habermas text (174-8).  Related to this ‘locating’ is Gadamer’s stress on claiming Ortega for German thought and as a consummate European: “[Ortega] is one of the essential figures of European thought… Today, Europe inquires into its tasks under the changed constellation of the declining century… At this time, it is very precious for us to have a Dilthey as a universal advocate for the historical tradition to which we belong, as well as the European Ortega, who drew his inspiration from the whole of the European history of thought.” (102)

[xi] See Gadamer, Truth and Method, revised trans. by Weinsheimer & Marshall (New York: Continuum, 1998), 173-242.

[xii] That Dilthey succumbed to the pressure of the times is expressed in essay 9 (109), but essay 7 (80) remarkably goes as far as to treat this as inevitable because Heidegger has shown that something of the order of the forgetting of being clouds modern metaphysics.

[xiii] The anglophone reader today has many texts of Dilthey on history and hermeneutics available in the English to enable their analysis as well as of Gadamer’s references to them. I’m especially thinking of Dilthey’s youthful, detailed treatise on hermeneutics, and other writings on history, hermeneutics, and human sciences published by Princeton University Press in the late 1980s. Truth and Method mentions but does not take up the earlier treatise by Dilthey, and the present volume encourages its re-examination.  The volume rarely engages in close reading of texts, but does contain intriguing clues emphasizing the presence of German idealism in the constellation of influences and tendencies at work in both thinkers.  This topic has recently received impetus from the work of Kristin Gjesdal (Gadamer and the Legacy of German Idealism [2009] and her not unrelated Herder’s Hermeneutics [2017]), for instance.  In view of these areas of research, it would have been useful to include Gadamer’s essays on Hegel and other German Idealists as a more pressing matter than those covered in weaker pieces of the present selection.

[xiv] Fred Dallmayr, “Hermeneutics and Deconstruction: Gadamer and Derrida in Dialogue,” in Dialogue and Deconstruction: The Gadamer-Derrida Encounter, eds. Diane Michelfelder & Richard Palmer (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989), 75-92 (here, p.77).

[xv] “Even more strongly than [Stärker als] our idealistic and phenomenological tradition, to which Derrida belongs [an der Derrida teilhat], what appears essential in the works of Derrida is the French style of literary criticism.” (190). German in brackets added by reviewer.

[xvi] A sample: “When Heidegger speaks of the end of philosophy, we immediately understand that we can only talk like this from the Western perspective.  Elsewhere, there was no philosophy that set itself apart so much from poetry or religion or science, neither in East Asia nor in India nor in the unknown parts of the earth. ‘Philosophy’ is an expression of the trajectory of Western destiny.” (229-230)

[xvii] See my footnote 4 above.  The passage also elicits a long endnote by the translators (307 n.6), which focuses on the senses of Anwesen and steers clear of any comment on the disturbing example.

[xviii] Perhaps a sign of the times, but I note with some regret that I did not receive a hard copy of the book for review, which at least prevented me from seeing the back matter completely.

John Panteleimon Manoussakis: The Ethics of Time: A Phenomenology and Hermeneutics of Change

The Ethics of Time: A Phenomenology and Hermeneutics of Change Couverture du livre The Ethics of Time: A Phenomenology and Hermeneutics of Change
Bloomsbury Studies in Continental Philosophy
John Panteleimon Manoussakis
Bloomsbury
2017
Hardback $102.60

Reviewed by: Samuel D. Rocha (University of British Columbia, Canada)

Augustine’s Confessions is not a book. It has no title in the titular or thematic sense. It is simply what it is: confessions. What more could it be? A collection of thirteen small books? An evangelical memoir? A developmental prayer diary? A pre-modern work of speculative non-fiction? These are tedious questions. No one cares whether the Confessions is a book or not. Augustine does not seem to care. This reveals that, as with most things taken for granted, we do not know what books are when we address or review them as books. So what is the intellectual genre of Augustine’s Confessions? Jean-Luc Marion has remarked that the Patristic period of theological thought would have understood itself as philosophy, not theology, and thus scholastic theology begins after the end of theology.[i]

It is helpful to keep these opening remarks in mind if one seeks an encounter with John Panteleimon Manoussakis in The Ethics of Time. It is a book that cannot be read, even if one tries to read like a cow through rumination, as Nietzsche demands in his preface to Genealogy of Morals.[ii] The Ethics of Time must be encountered. Reading is certainly an encounter of a certain kind, but the kind of encounter this book demands goes much further than any other recent philosophical book I have read. This may be because our present mode of reading is detached from the type of reading we find in Ezekiel, where the prophet is fed a holy scroll, and I suspect that my suggested encounter beyond reading is in many respects nothing but a truer form of reading. Nonetheless, there is a distinction to be drawn between a literary encounter and the phenomenological encounter that Manoussakis’ book investigates (through desire) and demands (through ethics). (This distinction is carefully attended to by Manoussakis in the theological realities of the beginning, logos, and flesh throughout the book, but especially in chapter 7, “The Time of the Body.”)

To encounter something implies many things. The adversarial sense of an encounter is perhaps the most obvious. Manoussakis seems to suggest these terms of encounter in the book’s epigraph that quotes from Aeschylus’s Agamemnon: “It is a violent grace that gods set forth.”[iii] After all, to “encounter” is to be en contra. This may begin to explain why wresting and sex are hard to distinguish from each other en vivo. No one can deny that the one I lay with until the break of dawn is one I have encountered. When Jacob wrestles the angel of God in Genesis, it is not so different an erotic description from the one we read in the Song of Songs. This means that the encounter is not adversarial so much as it is erotic. Manoussakis seems to endorse this erotic notion of encounter in his analysis of the emptiness of the pouring jug, broken jar, and eucharistic chalice. He writes, “the body’s corporeality does not lie at all in the material of which it consists (the body as object), but in the void that holds (the body as flesh).”[iv] This account of incarnate emptiness, among many other passages, eventually repeats itself enough to demand an erotic encounter with Manoussakis. An encounter, as we will see, that ends in kenosis.

One might object that presenting ideas in a book is not the same thing as demanding them as the terms for a specific kind of encounter, but this takes us back to the reason why I insist that this book must be encountered as opposed to being read, however unsatisfying that opposition may be for philosophical logic-chopping (to use the Jamesian expression). More important for my purposes here, if I take the erotic terms for this encounter seriously, then this review must struggle and fail to break free from Manoussakis in the course of re-viewing his book. Perhaps he will break my hip as I beg him for a blessing. We will have to see, again and again. That is what it means to re-view something.

One might consider The Ethics of Time to be an eclectic book in light of its variety of sources. This would be a mistake. It is true that Manoussakis works from Ancient Greece and the Early Church to contemporary phenomenology and cinema. However, this seems to be more of a personal reflection of Manoussakis—more reasons for my insistence on an erotic encounter—than evidence of technical or systematic pyrotechnics. It may be hard to ignore the sheer volume of philological, theological, psychoanalytic, exegetical, and phenomenological resources put to use in this volume, touching equally upon ancient scriptures as recent films, but this quantified sense of eclecticism misses more than it hits. It mainly misses the book’s constant refrain: Augustine’s Confessions. Unlike Heidegger, who despite his occasional explicit turns to Augustine is in constant dialogue with him throughout the entirety of Being and Time, Manoussakis never pretends to stray from him. In other words, Manoussakis repeatedly draws upon the only other book I can think of that can to the same degree be misunderstood through its voluminous variety. Perhaps he is being vain in tempting this comparison? Or maybe he is too humble to admit it?

Beyond the constant presence of Augustine’s Confessions in the book as a musing refrain, Manoussakis just as constantly invents original interpretations of the classic text. Before I mention any of these insights, and immediately attract the philosopher’s skepticism, I would like to remark on how Manoussakis phrases his inventions. This is not a note on method in the sense of construction or composition; it is more a note on voice and style. If one would permit the expression, I would say this is a brief note on the musicality the book. For me this was the most philosophically challenging aspect of the book but also the most delightful.

“What we call life is a series of intervals from sleep to sleep.”[v] This line comes within a discussion of boredom and just before a deeper look into the radical implications of having “nothing to do.” Even without puzzling together the meaning of the line within its proper textual context, it serves as an example of the barrage of poetic impulses that assault the Academician and exhort the Artist. They often come in swift lines and fine-tuned associations. The urge to call them hasty is the desire to read, the desire to take Manoussakis at his word is the urge to encounter.

All of this is to say that there is an active wit in the book that is sharp and playful enough to verge on being unserious. But these risky moments of “Will and Grace”—anyone who misses this is too dull to understand this book—are contained with a form and structure where metaphors bear the mythopoetic weight of the book’s absent thesis. For instance, Manoussakis titles his Chapter 5, “After Evil,” hinting at the ethics of time where we move beyond evil without ventured beyond it entirely. This chapter features a stunningly clear and original rendition of Augustine’s account of the privation of evil—where evil is not simply metaphysically privitive of the good, but where sin becomes the ethical condition for the possibility of freedom—and reveals a powerful account of the book’s major preoccupations. The account does not so much make this preoccupation clear so much as it makes it serious enough, to the one willing to accept the terms of encounter, to see with eyes of faith.

For Manoussakis, the difference that lies in the interval between evil and goodness is only time. This difference is presented by Manoussakis through the two gardens of Eden and Gethsemane, which allude to his most steady companions, the Confessions and Christian scripture. These two gardens hold within them the capacity to re-present an ethics that is opposed to stasis; in other words, an ethics of time. This rendition of an ethics of time is central to the book’s unmet desire to address itself as a book titled The Ethics of Time.

A key feature of the above analysis is important to understand on its own terms, without too many distractions. Manoussakis makes this point plain, but rather than quote him directly, I would like to try and bend his words in my direction. Rather than resolve the apparent tension in sin or evil by positing a Manichean notion of the good, Manoussakis asserts the goodness of sin and evil revealed in time. This is not as radical as it may seem. I recently asked the question “What is an ethical way to teach ethics?” Socrates answers this question when Meno raises it by rejecting the assumption of the possibility of knowing what is ethical. In De Magistro, Augustine rejects the possibility of teaching entirely. Manoussakis, for his part, follows suit in a clever way. When we admit that we know not what we do, when sin admits to being sinful, when evil can encounter itself as evil, there we find the goodness and the ethics of time. The implications of this idea in moral theology and normative philosophical theories are interesting in their own right, but the phenomenological scope of this book takes us in another more scandalous direction.

The book ends with three scandals. The first two—evil and goodness—have been mentioned to some extent already. The third is grace but becomes more articulate as what Paul calls “the scandal of the cross.”[vi] Here the enigmatic and aphoristic wit of Manoussakis makes its last attempt to call the reader into encounter—the encounter of conversion. One may reject this encounter since it has now modulated from Manoussakis himself to Christ, but this raising of the pitch and register of the erotic appeal seems to be the entire point of the final scandal and, indeed, the book that exists beyond its title. In the cross we find the ultimate body, the broken body that survives the violence of resurrection. After all, Christ’s resurrected body was glorified with all five wounds sustained on the cross still intact and poor saints wear them as scandalous signs of grace. One cannot speak of open wounds as being good and no one can speak of these wounds as being evil. Within Manoussakis’ phenomenology of change presented as the ethics of time, I find a profound and moving meditation on the suffering, sacrifice, and salvation of wounds and woundedness.

Whatever ethics may be, I am fairly certain that it cannot afford to be entirely blind to the moral significance of things, especially the things that go beyond the recognizable the boundaries of moral significance. As we have seen, this would include a genuine ability to understand, as Augustine did and as Manoussakis clearly does, the evil of goodness and the goodness of evil within the interval of time.

Judging something to be morally important is not the same as seeing it as it is. There is a moral field of vision that goes well beyond judgement’s moral capacities. In at least this sense, phenomenology is fundamentally ethical. But this is not always true in practice. Phenomenology as well water is little more than a series of constructive historical notes and debates, on the one hand, and methodological squabbles, on the other. Phenomenology as living water is always opposed to every “ology” and “ism”—including phenomenology and constant opposition. In other words, as its rich history and methods suggest, phenomenology is fundamentally philosophical and this philosophical conception applies equally to phenomenology after the so-called “theological turn.” This turn would be a poor way to try and capture Manoussakis’ project, unless it is to show that every real turn is in some sense a theological one, preceded and anticipated in the Hellenistic tradition. The beginning chapters of The Ethics of Time bear this out in a series of preliminary meditations on movement but they only arrive at their fundamental insight as one allows time—not only the time of duration but above all the time of the interval, the sliding, wailing, and fretless interval—to work across the pages of the book to transform the reading into a dynamic encounter of time in the place of das Ding.


[i] In his Berkeley Center Lecture, “What Are the Roots of the Distinction Between Philosophy and Theology?”, delivered at Georgetown University on April 7, 2011.

[ii] Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morailty, trans. Maudemarie Clark and Alan J. Swenson, (Indiannapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1998), 7.

[iii] John Panteleimon Manoussakis, The Ethics of Time, (London and New York: 2017), front matter.

[iv] Ibid., 156.

[v] Ibid., 21.

[vi] Ibid., 161.

Ken Slock: Corps et machine: Cinéma et philosophie chez Jean Epstein et Maurice Merleau-Ponty

Corps et machine: Cinéma et philosophie chez Jean Epstein et Maurice Merleau-Ponty Couverture du livre Corps et machine: Cinéma et philosophie chez Jean Epstein et Maurice Merleau-Ponty
Ken Slock
Mimesis
2016
Paperback 24,00 €
274

Reviewed by:  Sophie Dascal (Geneva University of Art and Design)

L’ouvrage de Ken Slock tente d’initier un dialogue entre le philosophe Maurice Merleau-Ponty et le cinéaste-théoricien Jean Epstein autour desquels de nouvelles pistes de réflexion se sont ouvertes ces dernières années. Le texte de Slock, à l’intersection de l’esthétique du cinéma et de la philosophie, a pour but d’apporter non seulement un regard neuf sur la pensée d’Epstein et de Merleau-Ponty mais aussi d’aborder, à travers ces deux auteurs, certaines problématiques essentielles qui apparaissent à la frontière poreuse entre cinéma et philosophie. Bien qu’il n’y ait pas explicitement de philosophie du cinéma chez Merleau-Ponty, sa phénoménologie et l’esthétique du cinéma d’Epstein partageraient le même projet ambitieux de traiter la question du savoir dans sa relation au voir. Cette théorie de la connaissance les amène, chacun à sa façon, à repenser la place de la « raison » au sein de leur système philosophique, remettant en question par là-même la frontière entre philosophie et non-philosophie pour Merleau-Ponty et entre philosophie et cinéma pour Epstein. L’ouvrage de Slock se compose de trois parties, contenant chacune deux chapitres. La première partie présente les éléments des pensées de Merleau-Ponty et Epstein afin de les mettre en relation, notamment au travers du concept d’« ambiguïté ». La seconde partie poursuit la comparaison entre Epstein et Merleau-Ponty en se concentrant sur la notion de réversibilité ce qui permet à Slock d’amener le cinéma dans la pensée de Merleau-Ponty et d’entrer dans le cœur de sa thèse, à savoir le rapport entre la conscience cinématographique et la conscience humaine. Dans la troisième partie de son ouvrage, Slock fait intervenir un troisième auteur, Gilbert Simondon, afin de développer une esthétique de la machine basée sur l’asymétrie entre l’homme et le cinématographe. La conclusion de l’ouvrage propose alors une alternative « tactile » au modèle epsteinien basée sur le concept de profondeur tel que Merleau-Ponty le développe dans la Chair.

Dans la première partie, Slock décrit l’équilibre « précaire » de la position de Merleau-Ponty, à l’intersection entre phénoménologie husserlienne et rapprochement vers une forme d’ontologie. D’après lui, le caractère inachevé de son œuvre a amené la recherche « merleau-pontienne » à entamer un travail d’interprétation et de déchiffrement exigeant une reconnaissance d’une pensée plaçant l’opacité, l’ambiguïté et la profondeur, comme paramètres essentiels de son investigation de l’être, du monde et de l’image. Dès les premières lignes de son chapitre, Slock met en avant les problèmes que Merleau-Ponty hérite du projet husserlien de renégocier une séparation du transcendantal et de l’empirique et en particulier dans le cadre de son étude du langage. Selon Merleau-Ponty, le langage philosophique, incapable de produire lui-même un discours réflexif, est en crise et nécessite alors un discours réflexif non-verbal, ouvrant la porte aux images et aux images en mouvement, partiellement affranchies des failles du langage verbal. Le principe clé de l’intégration des images à la pensée de Merleau-Ponty serait dès lors de faire voir au lieu d’expliquer et c’est à partir de ce constat que Slock va rapprocher Merleau-Ponty d’Epstein. Même si la relation de Merleau-Ponty au cinéma repose sur un corpus restreint et même si la place accordée au cinéma est incomparable à celle accordée à la peinture, le cinéma, du fait de sa capacité immersive, donnerait la possibilité au sujet de devenir à la fois voyant et vu. A cause de sa dimension technique et artificielle, le cinéma est logiquement plus proche du langage parlé que la peinture. Cette dernière jouit d’une forme d’immédiateté et de simplicité du geste créateur qui correspond à la recherche de Merleau-Ponty d’une expérience artistique désœuvrée. Malgré cela, le cinéma possède la capacité d’offrir une réflexion sur la réversibilité de la conscience et du monde et les images cinématographiques feront peu à peu leur retour dans la pensée merleau-pontienne à mesure que le principe de réversibilité s’affine dans ses théories postérieures aux années 40.

En ce qui concerne Epstein, Slock le considère comme un auteur inclassable à plus d’un titre. Mêlant à la fois des enjeux scientifique, métaphysique et poétique, Epstein ne chercherait pas à être la conscience d’un artiste mais à décrire le cinéma en tant qu’entité artificielle indépendante. Malgré son travail théorique prolifique, celui-ci ne précède jamais l’élaboration de ses films. Au contraire, l’écrit récupère seulement ce que le film suscite en l’organisant dans un discours rationnel. Le langage écrit est toujours asservi à la rationalité et c’est pour cela que seul le cinématographe est capable de résoudre les problèmes de la philosophie en palliant aux limitations de l’esprit humain. Slock voit chez Epstein une pensée inédite de la rupture qui force le lecteur à un renversement total de ses croyances. Elle nous renvoie à une époque où la « philosophie du cinéma » restait tout à faire, un potentiel « indéfini » qui exigeait de repenser les frontières entre technologie, philosophie et image. Si le rejet de la doxa philosophique est radical chez Epstein, cela serait moins le cas chez Merleau-Ponty qui préserverait une certaine idée de la « raison ». Néanmoins, Slock rapproche le positionnement du cinéma chez Epstein, qui n’est ni une raison autoritaire, ni un pur empirisme, à l’ambiguïté de la philosophie merleau-pontienne. Mais contrairement à Merleau-Ponty, Epstein irait au-delà du stade de claudication volontaire du discours de Merleau-Ponty, en disposant d’une entité théorique capable de se soustraire aux cadres de la raison, et d’élever la perception au rang de connaissance. Slock conclut la première partie de son ouvrage en mettant en avant l’ambiguïté comme concept majeur unissant Epstein et Merleau-Ponty.

Dans la deuxième partie, Slock poursuit la comparaison entre les deux auteurs en se basant notamment sur une série de cours intitulée Le monde sensible et le monde de l’expression donnés par Merleau-Ponty en 1952-1953 et se concentre sur sa notion de réversibilité, au cœur du rapport de Merleau-Ponty à Epstein et au cinéma. D’après Slock, le concept de « mouvement », tel que développé dans les cours de Merleau-Ponty, se rapproche au plus près du « secret » de l’expressivité et c’est dans ce contexte qu’il ménagerait une place sans précédent au cinématographe. Le cinéma semblerait être, en effet, une possible mise en pratique de l’expressivité du mouvement. Mais surtout, et c’est le cœur de la thèse de Slock, le cinéma mettrait en jeu le concept de réversibilité. Ce sont plus particulièrement les dimensions de normalité et d’étrangeté qu’il met en avant car Merleau-Ponty utilise la notion d’étrangeté pour désigner la réversibilité et le rôle révélateur des procédés de manipulation de la temporalité au cinéma. Il y aurait donc rupture, pour Merleau-Ponty, entre la « normalité » attendue du cinéma en tant qu’enregistrement du réel et son étrangeté liée au choc que provoque son altérité avec le monde. Cette « normalité » amènerait Merleau-Ponty tout comme Epstein à associer le cinématographe à la conscience humaine, capable de se révolter contre cette association forcée aux normes de la perception humaine et ainsi soutenir l’idée d’un mouvement qui exprimerait plus que lui-même. Néanmoins, il est important pour Slock de défendre l’idée qu’il ne s’agit ni pour Merleau-Ponty ni pour Epstein de créer un régime d’identité entre le cinématographe et la conscience humaine. Bien au contraire, l’étrangeté évoquée par Merleau-Ponty proviendrait de l’altérité même de la conscience cinématographique face à celle de l’être humain. Avec la notion de réversibilité qui se retrouve au cœur du tournant philosophique de Merleau-Ponty, le cinéma gagne de l’importance en rendant compte du double mouvement du corps vers le monde et réciproquement. D’après Slock, cette notion est également centrale dans la relation entre Merleau-Ponty et Epstein. Mais si cette notion semble concerner l’écrit chez Merleau-Ponty, elle est le propre du cinéma chez Epstein. D’après Slock, l’intervention du cinématographe, qui fait exploser les lois de l’Univers par la réversibilité des images, mettrait fin à l’équilibre précaire de la phénoménologie pour laisser place à une pure instabilité. La réversibilité du temps, centrale dans la pensée d’Epstein, porte une valeur philosophique dont Slock ne doute pas. Slock pose dès lors la question suivante : « la temporalité alternative offerte par les images cinématographiques peut effectivement générer du savoir neuf, ou bien reste-t-elle une fiction philosophique » (128) ? Il répond positivement à cette réserve en défendant que le cinématographe, en plus de permettre de saisir cette alternative, serait également capable de générer un entendement alternatif, au travers du choc généré par la réversibilité des images, amenant ainsi la pensée brute et le monde à redécouvrir leurs liens.

Slock poursuit en se concentrant sur la question du regard de l’homme face à celui du cinématographe afin de déterminer ce en quoi ils se distinguent mais aussi ce en quoi ils se rejoignent. L’asymétrie entre ces deux regards est fondamentale d’après Slock car elle permet de rendre le cinématographe « expressif ». Le regard de la caméra s’inscrirait, pour Epstein, à un niveau « surréflexif ». Le cinéma apporterait de cette manière une solution au paradoxe phénoménologique d’une conscience capable de s’examiner sans interférer avec l’examination, mais aussi sans « s’oublier ». En effet, pour Epstein, le cinéma porte un regard qui peut assumer les distorsions sans que celles-ci soient falsifiantes. Le cinéma serait ainsi un excellent candidat pour ce « second niveau » de réflexion : « à l’écran, je découvre ma pensée “au carré” » (143). Slock propose alors un rapprochement entre l’idée epsteinienne d’un « baptême de l’écran » et la théorie du langage de Merleau-Ponty. Pour Epstein, le baptême de l’écran amène le spectateur à se confronter pour la première fois à sa propre image objectivée. En ce qui concerne Merleau-Ponty, une première rupture du silence est fondamentale car elle offre la possibilité d’expérimenter le vide, expérience qui se rapprocherait de celle du baptême de l’écran. Le spectateur se retrouve face à une image de lui-même identique mais différente, ce qui crée une instabilité dans son rapport avec sa propre identité. Cette première analogie amène Slock à en aborder deux autres : celle entre le concept epsteinien de croyance et celui d’hallucination de Merleau-Ponty et celle entre le mouvement vital selon Epstein et l’expressivité. Malgré ces similitudes, Epstein entrerait en conflit avec le désir de la phénoménologie d’un retour à l’être brut, à cause de l’intervention du cinématographe. Slock insiste en effet sur la méfiance de Merleau-Ponty à l’égard des artifices scientifiques et du culte de la technique qui en ferait un intermédiaire entre la conscience et le monde. Néanmoins, la conscience cinématographique et la conscience expressive « réformée » restent similaires d’après Slock en tant que le cinématographe n’agit pas comme une addition à la conscience, contrairement aux autres technologies, mais comme une forme expressive parallèle à celle-ci. Ainsi, Slock conclut en défendant l’idée selon laquelle le cinéma plutôt que d’amplifier la vision comme les autres outils scientifiques, offre une vue nouvelle du monde.

La troisième partie de l’ouvrage est consacrée à l’analyse de l’esthétique de la machine cinématographique au travers d’une analyse du rapport entre homme et machine en faisant appel à un troisième auteur, Gilbert Simondon. D’après Slock, le principe de la « conscience » cinématographique apparaît avec le postulat selon lequel le cinéma possède une vision différente de celle de l’être humain. C’est à partir de ce postulat que Slock défend l’idée du cinéma comme possible interlocuteur de la phénoménologie de Merleau-Ponty. Comme déjà abordé plus haut, Merleau-Ponty se méfie de l’outil artificiel comme dédoublement ou amplification du rapport naturel au monde car il met en danger la conscience irréfléchie qui s’anéantirait dans l’artifice. Ainsi, Merleau-Ponty critique l’excès de l’artifice, qu’il soit conceptuel ou technique en y opposant l’immédiateté du retour aux choses mêmes, non seulement à travers le corps percevant, mais en floutant les frontières entre le corps et le monde. Pour Slock, Epstein critiquerait également l’artifice comme valeur en soi à partir du moment où il se met au service de la rationalisation du monde. Néanmoins, Epstein défend le cinématographe qui, à l’inverse de la technique scientifique, ramène à un rapport plus originaire et non pas artificiel au monde. C’est dans ce rapport problématique de la conscience à l’artifice que Slock fait intervenir la philosophie de la technique de Gilbert Simondon, héritier de Merleau-Ponty, et qui possèderait la particularité de réussir à rendre compatible le retour au monde brut et l’artifice technique. L’idée centrale de Simondon est que la machine exprime directement l’être primitif en dialoguant avec lui et ne se réduit donc pas au prolongement d’une pensée technique et conceptuelle qui l’éloignerait de cet être. D’après Simondon, la difficulté d’intégrer les particularités techniques proviendrait du rejet culturel de son époque, de l’objet technique auquel l’on refuse toute dimension esthétique et donc une véritable valeur significative. Réduire la machine à l’outil consisterait, pour Simondon, à établir une symétrie entre celle-ci et l’homme, la vidant de son sens. C’est pourquoi, d’après Slock, le refus d’une esthétique de la machine aboutit à la fois à sa réduction au statut stérile d’outil et à sa sacralisation. Les intuitions de Simondon et de Merleau-Ponty quant à un prométhéisme de la machine seraient compatibles en ce qu’elles portent toutes deux sur une symétrie homme/machine qui donne lieu soit à une conception de l’outil comme prolongement de la conscience et une répétition automatique de sa forme, soit à l’idée d’une technique reproduisant la conscience de manière autonome. Slock fait alors intervenir Epstein et sa pensée du cinématographe, cette machine expressive qui ne s’apparente ni à un outil, ni au fantasme de l’androïde et qui entretient avec son créateur un rapport asymétrique riche de sens. Le modèle de la machine cinématographique d’Epstein offre un point de vue intéressant dans le problème « d’asymétrie » rencontré par Simondon dans sa tentative d’éclairer le rapport entre homme et technique et Merleau-Ponty dans sa réflexion du rapport entre philosophie et langage. D’après Slock, Simondon et Epstein se distinguent par leur vision différente du caractère automatique de la machine. Si pour Simondon, l’aspect automatique de la machine devrait être éliminé, pour Epstein il est fondamental dans sa capacité à manipuler le temps. Ce dernier se retrouve alors dans la tâche délicate de distinguer le pur mécanisme automatique de l’autonomie expressive de la machine. D’après Slock, il est difficile pour Epstein de faire de cette autonomie plus qu’une posture théorique. Il est pour cela vital, pour Epstein, de fonder sa pensée sur un potentiel incompressible, particulièrement en ce qui concerne la question de l’automatisme qu’il ne peut démontrer, où le potentiel du cinéma n’est appréhendé qu’en « décalage ». La réponse de Simondon au problème de l’automatisme qui correspond d’après Slock à la vision de la relation entre l’homme et la machine d’Epstein, consisterait à mettre la machine et l’homme sur un pied d’égalité asymétrique offrant la possibilité d’un dialogue. Slock conclut alors en affirmant la similitude entre les trois auteurs abordés dans la recherche d’une machine et d’une pensée qui s’articuleraient en une entité vivante.

Slock propose alors une analyse du rapport entre la machine cinématographique et le divin avant de s’atteler à la conceptualisation d’une philosophie du possible. D’après Slock, le cinéma apparait comme un outil surpuissant d’exposition de la vérité chez Epstein. Au lieu de prolonger et conforter le mode opératoire de la raison comme la science, la machine cinématographique y couperait court en instaurant sa propre autorité. La légitimité du cinéma se justifie en opérant en dehors des cadres établis par l’entendement humain, étant ainsi capable d’atteindre directement les choses mêmes. Cette conception pourrait rapprocher le cinématographe d’Epstein du divin. Néanmoins, il s’éloignerait autant de la conception du « divin », entendu comme ce qui rend possible un savoir basé sur la continuité et l’irréversibilité, que de l’humain. Face à ces deux types de pensée rigide, divin et humain, Epstein oppose la pensée fluide permise par le cinéma. Ainsi, contrairement à Merleau-Ponty qui ne distinguerait pas complètement la parole du cinématographe de sa récupération par le discours philosophique, Epstein la concevrait comme étant exclusive. Slock propose alors de situer le cinématographe dans un espace d’indétermination entre l’humain et le divin. A cela, il ajoute une mise en question de la valeur réelle du « possible » dans lequel cette alternative flotte. Cette valeur du possible constitue d’après Slock l’un des éléments essentiels de la pensée d’Epstein mais aussi l’un des points communs le plus fort entre ce dernier et Merleau-Ponty. Dans cette conception, Epstein se positionnerait contre Kant en défendant la validité épistémologique du fictif. L’écrit joue dans ce cadre un rôle prophétique, ne pouvant apporter la preuve mais seulement inciter la croyance. Slock revient alors sur le caractère divin du cinématographe, en ce qu’il ne construit pas un autre entendement mais une nouvelle apparition d’une forme d’entendement divin. Il y aurait en effet une divination de l’image chez Epstein, à partir du moment où le cinématographe possède la capacité d’insuffler à l’objet capturé une existence propre à l’écran. Slock propose alors une forte critique d’Epstein et de son échec double : « d’une part, il ne parvient pas à véritablement établir ce tiers « autre » entre Dieu et l’homme. Et d’autre part, il faillit à son discours parfois violemment critique d’une pensée assujettie à « Dieu » […] » (214). Ainsi, la pensée epsteinienne adopterait un accent ouvertement antirationaliste mais souterrainement théologique. Le renversement de la Raison amènerait à une autre tyrannie qui remet en cause l’indétermination dans laquelle Epstein veut se maintenir. Pour pallier cela, Epstein adopterait, d’après Slock, une position de « panthéiste moniste », « une posture censée lui permettre de résoudre finalement les dualismes de la philosophie, en les faisant régresser vers une unité primordiale » (216) et lui permettant de préserver une forme d’indéfinition entre le sujet et le monde qui s’entend surtout dans le sens d’une expansion radicale du sujet. Slock conclut alors cette troisième partie en insistant sur le fait que, contrairement à un prométhéisme tel que le craignait Merleau-Ponty, on assiste avec le cinématographe à une indistinction théorique entre le monde et la conscience.

Le chapitre conclusif propose une série de rapprochements entre l’esthétique du cinéma et la Chair de Merleau-Ponty en mettant en avant une alternative « tactile » au modèle epsteinien. Slock défend en effet l’importance du rôle de l’image en mouvement dans la volonté de sauvegarder le discours de Merleau-Ponty sur l’« être non coïncidant » et celle de penser l’image et l’image en mouvement comme mise en œuvre d’une réversibilité entre le voyant et le vu. Dans cette visée, Slock met en avant le concept de profondeur qui vise à réintroduire un principe d’altérité et de réciprocité dans l’ontologie merleau-pontienne et qui prendrait un sens supplémentaire lorsque mis en relation avec l’image en mouvement. La profondeur ainsi repensée amène à une redéfinition du voir fondamentalement compatible avec les théories d’Epstein et permet de confirmer une théorie de l’ouverture réciproque du voyant et du vu. D’après Slock, cette idée accompagne le problème de la proximité et de l’association du voir et du toucher, une autre voie possible pour rapprocher Merleau-Ponty du cinéma. En effet, d’après Slock, la tentative du phénoménologue de rendre la vision plus tactile, l’amènerait à préserver une forme de surréflexion en l’intégrant directement à l’expérience perceptive et ainsi mettre en relation réversibilité et cinéma. Pour Slock, il est primordial de poursuivre la volonté de permettre à l’expérience spécifique du cinéma et à la corporéité de la conscience merleau-pontienne de mieux se définir mutuellement. Pour lui, redéfinir la vision du cinéma comme vision tactile amènerait l’idée du film comme étant lui-même un corps percevant à la rencontre duquel le spectateur s’avance. Au travers du principe de réversibilité, le film devient sujet percevant, une structure à la fois perceptive et expressive. Cette conception l’amène à proposer une alternative à la théorie d’Epstein en pensant l’écart à travers l’interface avec laquelle la conscience perceptive va interagir avec cet « autre » présent dans les images en mouvement. Le film devient alors un corps à la fois voyant et visible et l’écran un espace de dialogue entre le corps du spectateur et celui du film. Cette conception de surface tactile marquée par le principe de réversibilité, désigné par les termes de surface et de profondeur, apparaît pour Slock comme la métaphore la plus pertinente destinée à penser le film comme interlocuteur corporel du spectateur. Ainsi pour Slock, « le cinéma n’offre pas de coïncidence complète du spectateur et du film, mais bien un rapport tactile au sens entendu ici, puisque c’est sur un même mode qu’ils sont chacun voyant et vu à la fois. La créature cinématographique d’Epstein se retrouve ici réduite à sa surface, l’écran, réciproque de l’épiderme humain » (246).

L’ouvrage de Slock présente une thèse intéressante et inédite sur la relation entre les pensées de Merleau-Pony et d’Epstein sur le cinéma et élabore une conception phénoménologique du cinéma qui ouvre sur un rapport « tactile » entre le spectateur et le film. Une des grandes forces d’une telle conception est son ouverture sur une possible réflexion sur les usages contemporains de l’image en mouvement comme les écrans tactiles ou la réalité virtuelle et augmentée. Ce livre me semble d’intérêt non seulement pour les chercheurs qui se consacrent à Merleau-Ponty ou Epstein, mais également pour les théoriciens du cinéma qui s’intéressent à des questions ontologiques et aux usages et développements contemporains de l’image en mouvement.

Richard Schaeffler: Phänomenologie der Religion: Grundzüge ihrer Fragestellungen

Phänomenologie der Religion: Grundzüge ihrer Fragestellungen Couverture du livre Phänomenologie der Religion: Grundzüge ihrer Fragestellungen
Richard Schaeffler
Karl Alber
2018
Paperback 34,00 €
216

Reviewed by:  Thomas J. Spiegel (University of Potsdam)

Religion denken. Rezension zu Richard Schaeffler: Phänomenologie der Religion, Grundzüge ihrer Fragestellung

 

Ein zentraler methodologischer Widerstreit der kontemporären theoretischen Philosophie kann als einer zwischen Beschreibung und Erklärung verstanden werden (Leiter 2004, Rorty 2010). Dieser Widerstreit ist bekanntlich zunächst von Dilthey (1984), dann auch von Wittgenstein (2002) metatheoretisch in den Blick genommen worden. Philosophie als Erklärung insbesondere in Form des Naturalismus ist die derzeitige Orthodoxie in weiten Teilen der Philosophie, insbesondere der angelsächsischen Tradition, aber zunehmend auch im deutschsprachigen Raum, der sich allmählich formalen und inhaltlichen Standards der analytischen Philosophie anzupassen scheint. Philosophie als Beschreibung wird maßgeblich von den Traditionen der Phänomenologie und Hermeneutik vertreten; Traditionen, die (glücklicherweise) zwarlebendig sind,  aber im kontinentaleuropäischen Raum eben nicht mehr in der Form vorherrschen wie beispielsweise noch in der ersten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts. In diesem Sinne könnte man behaupten, dass Philosophie als Erklärung bereits „gewonnen“ habe oder sich auf dem „Siegeszug“ befinde. In diesem Spannungsfeld, das zentrale soziologische und metaphilosophische Aspekte berührt, sind detaillierte phänomenologische Studien wie Schaefflers Phänomenologie der Religion wertvoll, um ein Gegengewicht gegen eine relative Vormachtstellung des Naturalismus in (Teilen der) analytischen Philosophie zu entwickeln und Potentiale der Phänomenologie, i.e. Philosophie als Beschreibung, als Alternative zu verdeutlichen.

Das Ziel von Schaefflers Buch ist die Darstellung und Entwicklung der Phänomenologie in Anschluss an Husserl als geeignete Methode der Beschäftigung mit dem Phänomenon der Religion zur Beantwortung folgender Desiderate, die in der bisherigen Religionsphänomenologie laut Schaeffler unbeantwortet blieben: Die „‚Rückübersetzung‘ der Noemata (intentionalen Korrelate) in die Konstitutionsleistungen der religiösen Noesis (des religiösen Akts)“ (S. 32), die Herausarbeitung der Differenz des religiösen Aktes gegenüber anderen Akten, die Bestimmung der Bedeutung der religiösen Intersubjektivität gegen eine religiöse Individualität und die Ablehnung einer Überbetonung der Eigengesetzlichkeit der Religion, was Kritik an religiösen Formen verunmögliche. Schaeffler möchte diese Ansprüche durch eine exemplarische Entfaltung bestimmter Grundbegriffe der Religionsphänomenologie einholen. Die Entscheidung für die Phänomenologie gründet in der Überzeugung, dass die Religionsphilosophie der Religion nicht den „Selbst-Aussagen der Religion […] mit apriorischen Argumenten“ ins Wort zu fallen hat (S. 13). Zusätzlich zu dieser Setzung führt er folgende Gründe an (S. 32): erstens fängt Phänomenologie die Eigengesetzlichkeit der Religion ein und verhindert Reduktionismus; zweitens lässt Phänomenologie uns die Aspekte der religiösen Erfahrung aus dem religiösen Akt verstehen; drittens sorgt Phänomenologie für ein angemessenes Verständnis der Geschichte der Religion. Diese Potentiale sieht Schaeffler noch ungenutzt und erwirbt damit die Motivation zur Durchführung des Projekts. Dabei habe die phänomenologische Religionsphilosophie zugleich die kritische Aufgabe, „Fehlgestaltungen (Pseudomorphosen)“ (S. 14) religiösen Handelns aufzudecken und zu korrigieren. Das Richtmaß dieser Korrektur soll dabei jedoch der von der jeweiligen religiösen Praxis entnommene Standard sein.

Diese genannten Desiderate an eine Religionsphänomenologie sollen in diesem Buch geklärt werden. Im ersten Kapitel diskutiert Schaeffler mögliche methodologische Ausrichtungen der Religionsphilosophie: Philosophie als ‚Abkömmling‘ der Religion (i), religiöses Fragen als der Philosophie methodologisch vorgeordnet (ii), Religionsphilosophie auf Basis philosophischer Theologie (iii), transzendentale Theologie (iv), religionsphilosophische Phänomenologie (v) und der linguistic turn in der Religionsphilosophie (vi). Aus schon genannten Gründen entscheidet sich Schaeffler für die religionsphilosophisch-phänomenologische Methode.

Es ist leider den Kapiteln nicht je ein Desiderat zugeordnet. Es scheint, dass Schaeffler hofft, dass nach dem Durchgang des Buches von selbst deutlich wird, wie diese Desiderate zu den Teilen der phänomenologischen Darlegung passen. Hier wünscht man sich als Leser eine klarere Regieanweisung seitens Schaeffler, aus der deutlich wird, welche phänomenologischen Darstellungen für welches Desiderat tatsächlich relevant sind. In diesem Sinne ist es gut, dass Forschungsdesiderate klar benannt werden – nur die positive Lösung für diese Desiderate kann unklar bleiben.

Kapitel zwei bis vier handeln von verschiedenen Aspekten des religiösen Aktes. Das zweite Kapitel widmet sich der Eigenheit der religiösen Sprache als Teil des religiösen Akts, das dritte Kapitel widmet sich dem religiösen Kult als Einbettung des religiösen Akts, das vierte Kapitel widmet sich den Traditionen, in denen die Formen des religiösen Akts überliefert werden.Schaeffler betont hier zu recht, dass die Fähigkeit zum religiösen Akt nicht angeboren ist, sondern stets die Erlernung durch das Sich-Einordnen in eine vorhandene Tradition benötigt. Das fünfte Kapitel unternimmt die Überlegung, wie der Begriff Gottes (bzw. der Götter) ein Thema der Religionsphilosophie in phänomenologischer Hinsicht sein kann. Zu diesem Zweck stellt das Kapitel drei Denkweisen in Bezug auf Gott einander gegenüber: die Götter der Religionen, der Gott der Philosophen und den Gott der Bibel. Ziel dieser Gegenüberstellung ist es, das Verhältnis von religiösen Akten und religiösen Gegenständen zu verdeutlichen: Gegenstand („Korrelat“, S. 142) des religiösen Aktes ist Gott (bzw. Götter). Den Begriff Gottes (bzw. der Götter) will Schaeffler dabei aus der Religion als Phänomen selbst gewinnen und nicht ex cathedra im Sinne einer philosophischen Theologie entwickeln. Auf das fünfte Kapitel folgt ein Ausblick in Form einer Reflexion auf das Verhältnis von Religion und säkularer Vernunft. (Der Inhalt des Ausblicks ist weiter unten ausführlich behandelt.)

In nuce: Der Anfang des Buches stellt eine interessante Reflexion auf Methode und Sinn der Phänomenologie dar. Der Mittelteil – der Hauptteil des Buches – ist die konkrete Anwendung dieser Methode in Form eines phänomenologischen Flugs über die begriffliche Landschaft der Religion. Der Schluss – der Ausblick – fragt nach dem Verhältnis von Religion und säkularer Vernunft. Wie bei vielen philosophischen Werken geschieht die wichtigste Arbeit auch hier am Anfang und am Schluss der Darstellung. Im Folgenden beschränke ich mich daher in der kritischen Auseinandersetzung auf vier zentrale Punkte, die sich maßgeblich mit Anfang und Schluss von Schaefflers Monographie beschäftigen.

  1. Naturalisierung der Religion als Methode

Schaefflers Auseinandersetzung mit konkurrierenden methodologischen Ansätzen der Religionsphilosophie ist zumindest in der Darstellung und Kritik der reduktionistischen Strömungen zu kurz. Ein seit spätestens der zweiten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts zentral gewordener Topos im Nachdenken über die Religion besteht in naturalisierenden, i.e. reduktionistischen, Erklärungsstrategien. Diese Naturalisierungsstrategien kommen in bestimmten Formen daher. Zwei paradigmatische Ausformungen dieser naturalistischen Reduktionsind folgende: einmal solche, die das Phänomenon der Religion in einem weitgehend darwinistisch-evolutionstheoretischen Rahmen begreifen, wonach Religion vor allem ein selektionsrelevanter Faktor sei. Zweitens gibt es solche, die Religion und Glaube als nützliche Fiktionen psychologisieren wollen. Religion wäre dann nichts anderes mehr als eine evolutionsbiologische Laune bzw. bloße psychologische Einbildung.

Schaeffler lehnt zwar die Reduktion der Religion zugunsten ihrer Eigengesetzlichkeit ab (S. 32), es wird jedoch nicht klar, weshalb. Die Frage nach dieser sogenannten Eigengesetzlichkeit der Religion ist somit zugleich die Frage, weshalb die Religion zunächst stets an ihren eigenen und nicht ihr äußerlichen Maßstäben gemessen werden sollte (S. 141). Zwar mögen die konkurrierenden naturalistischen Ansätze selbst nichtbesonders sinnvoll oder überzeugend sind.Dennoch könnte Schaefflers Abhandlung durch eine Beschäftigung mit diesen Denktraditionen und einer detaillierteren Kritik an naturalistischen Ansätzen profitieren. Die fehlende Auseinandersetzung mit theoretischen Erz-Opponenten schmälert Schaefflers ansonsten sehr klare und lohnenswerte methodologische Abhandlung. In diesem Sinn erhält eine unbegründete Ablehnung des Reduktionismus, sollte sie auch korrekt sein, einen unnötigen dogmatistischen Beigeschmack. Daher wäre gerade für das erste Kapitel noch die Beschäftigung mit Naturalisierungsstrategien als weitere, siebte Methode der Religionsphilosophie interessant.

  1. Forschungsliteratur

Der vorherige Punkt deutet auf ein allgemeineres Problem hin: das Literaturverzeichnis und die Referenzen. Schaefflers Buch ist von einer beeindruckenden Kenntnis religiöser Primärtexte gekennzeichnet. Jedoch bezieht Schaeffler sich größtenteils auf ältere Forschungsliteratur. Die jüngste Publikation, die er nennt, ist eine Monographie von Hermann Usener von 1996 (Schaefflers eigene Texte ausgenommen); die nächst-jüngere ist eine Monographie von Ingolf Dalfert von 1984. Nun ist es freilich nicht so, dass der Bezug auf aktuelle Forschungsliteratur ein Garant für Qualität ist. Es stimmt auch nicht, dass der fehlende Bezug auf solche Literatur einen Gedanken falsch oder eine Abhandlung schlechtmacht. Es ist jedoch der Fall, dass Schaefflers Darstellung und Argument für die Phänomenologie als rechte Methode der Religionsphilosophie durch einen breiter gefächerten Bezug auf Forschungsliteratur weiter an Überzeugungskraft gewinnen würde. Im Mindesten könnten solche Referenzen es für den geneigten Leser einfacher machen, Schaefflers Ausführungen in die derzeitige Forschungslandschaft und Debattenstruktur einzubetten.

Verwandt mit diesem Ausbleiben ist auch das Fehlen anderer phänomenologischer Autoren. Husserl ist der phänomenologische Held dieses Buches – Schaeffler stellt seine Abhandlung an mehreren Stellen durch direkten Bezug auf Husserls Vokabular in diese Tradition. Eine Beschäftigung mit weiteren großen Figuren der Phänomenologie wie Heidegger oder Merleau-Pontywäre hier jedoch auch interessant. Insbesondere die Frage, inwiefern Heideggers Transformation der Phänomenologie in Sein und Zeit, speziell durch den Begriff des Mitseins, nicht schon Schaefflers Kritik eingeholt hat, dass die Phänomenologie Husserls zur Individualisierung der Erfahrung neigt, welche er in seiner eigenen Abhandlung vermeiden möchte (S. 33). In diesem Punkt zumindest scheint die Phänomenologie teilweise schon weiter entwickelt zu sein als Schaeffler suggeriert.

  1. Religionsphilosophie und Religionswissenschaften

Da es nicht Gegenstand von Schaefflers Erklärungsziel ist, lässt sich folgender Punkt nicht direkt als Kritik verstehen, sondern eher als angeregte Nachfragen im Anschluss an seine Ausführungen. Es stellt sich die Frage, wie in Anschluss an Schaeffler das Verhältnis von empirischer Religionswissenschaft (und Ethnologie) und phänomenologischer Religionsphilosophie zu denken ist. Eine zentrale Gefahr scheint mir hier in einem Abgrenzungsproblem zu bestehen. Empirische Religionswissenschaft, zumindest die hermeneutisch geprägte, priorisiert nämlich allzu oft die Eigengesetzlichkeit und Nicht-Reduzierbarkeit der von ihr untersuchten Phänomene. Dies ist aber ein zentrales Merkmal, das Schaeffler für die Religionsphilosophie beansprucht. Nun ist es nicht ganz eindeutig, obes als Abgrenzungskriterium genügt zu behaupten, dass empirische Religionswissenschaft einzelne Religionen oder religiöse Praktiken untersucht und die phänomenologische Religionsphilosophie die allgemeinen Begriffe solcher Praktiken. Zumindest besteht die Gefahr, dass sich Religionswissenschaft hermeneutischer Prägung und Religionsphänomenologie zu ähnlich werden. Soll stattdessen die „Magd“ Religionswissenschaft der Religionsphilosophie Zuarbeit leisten (oder andersherum)? Soll die Religionsphilosophie im Sinn eines methodologischen Fundamentalismus den Religionswissenschaften ein begriffliches Vorverständnis liefern? Solche Fragen wären in Anschluss an Schaeffler zu klären.

  1. Transzendentale Vernunftpostulate – Das Projekt einer profanen Vernunft

Direkt auf das fünfte Kapitel, das sich noch mit dem Begriff Gottes als Thema der Religionsphilosophie befasst, folgt etwas unvermittelt Schaefflers Ausblick. Dieser Ausblick enthält vier Thesen und ist mit zwei Seiten vergleichsweise kurz geraten. Dennoch finden sich in diesem Ausblick die wahrscheinlich spannendsten philosophischen Punkte des gesamten Buchs. Im Folgenden werde ich Schaefflers stark kondensierten Projektentwurf rekonstruieren und im Ansatz kritisch einschränken.

Im Ausblick geht es Schaeffler um die Frage nach dem rechten Verhältnis von Religion und säkularer Vernunft in der Moderne, also um Religion als gelebte Praxis im Zeitalter des naturwissenschaftlichen Weltbilds, in dem Gott (wie man so meint) „tot“ sei (Nietzsche 1971, §108, §125). Ihm scheint es in der ersten These zunächst noch um eine Einschränkung der Religion gegenüber der säkularen Vernunft zu gehen: religiöse Argumente haben nicht in jedem Bereich Geltungskraft.

In Thesen zwei bis vier stellt Schaeffler nichts Geringeres als die ambitionierte These auf, dass die transzendentale Bedingung für Einzelerfahrung überhaupt in sog. Vernunftpostulaten besteht. Diese Vernunftpostulate „entdecken“ in den Einzelerfahrungen den Anspruch, mit dem „Gott uns seine Aufträge (‚Gebote‘) anvertraut“ (S. 209). Diese Vernunftpostulate haben den Status einer „in transzendentaler Hinsicht notwendige[n] Hoffnung: die Hoffnung, dass die Vernunft im Durchgang durch ihre Dialektik in verwandelter Gestalt [nämlich zur profanen Vernunft, TJS] wiederhergestellt werde, ohne dass die Art dieser Wiederherstellung aus Prinzipien a priori deduziert werden könnte“ (S. 210). In diesem Kontext wählt Schaeffler die an Kant (1911) angelehnte Formulierung: Postulate ohne religiöse Erfahrung sind leer; religiöse Erfahrung ohne Postulate ist blind. Die religiöse Erfahrung sichere, dass diese Vernunftpostulate kein bloßes Wunschdenken seien (denn sie seien ja mit religiöser Erfahrung unterfüttert). Im Gegenzug sicherten die religiösen Vernunftpostulate der religiösen Erfahrung eine Allgemeinheit, die sie von dem Verdacht, Teil einer „‚religiösen Sonderwelt‘ einer ‚Sondergruppe in der Gesellschaft‘“ zu sein,freisprechen soll (S. 210).

Diese Vernunftpostulate sind laut Schaeffler notwendig, da sich die säkulare Vernunft ohne sie in eine Dialektik aus Dogmatismus und Skeptizismus verheddere, welche in letzter Instanz die Vernunft selbst aufhöbe. Dabei bestehe der Dogmatismus in einem Dogmatismus der Wissenschaft, also einem Szientismus (nicht Schaefflers Wort), der nur die (Natur-)Wissenschaft als genuinen Weltzugang zulässt, und der Skeptizismus in einem Skeptizismus, der „jede Art von Geltungsanspruch auf die willkürliche Wahl einer unter mehreren möglichen Perspektiven erklärt“ (S. 209). Somit geht es Schaeffler hier doch darum, im Fluchtpunkt nachzuweisen, dass säkulare, i.e. nicht-religiöse, Vernunft die religiöse Vernunft und damit scheinbar den Verweis auf Transzendentes doch zur notwendigen Vorbedingung hat. Die säkulare Vernunft werde damit zur profanen Vernunft, die in der Erfahrung den Gott der Religionen wiedererkennt. Die Idee scheint zu sein, dass richtig verstandene transzendentale Phänomenologie das Verhältnis von naturwissenschaftlich-technischen Zivilisation (Tetens 2014) und der Religion neu auszurichten vermag als eine Form des nicht-reduktiven Nebenhers, bei der die religiöse Vernunft als transzendentale Notwendigkeit für alle Bereiche der Erfahrung verstanden wird.

Dieses Projekt ist in der Tat hochgradig interessant. Es ist daher umso mehr schade, dass uns Schaeffler nicht mehr Einzelheiten bereitstellt, sondern uns nur diese Denkanstöße zur eigenen Ausführung an die Hand gibt. In diesen sehr kurzen Überlegungen bleiben nämlich notwendigerweise zentrale Punkte unklar. Es bleibt beispielsweise unklar, weshalb genau die nicht-religiöse Vernunft sich in die Dialektik (oder meint Schaeffler eher „das Dilemma“?) von Dogmatismus und Skeptizismus verwickelt. Darüber hinaus wird es ohne eine Art Meisterargument für nicht schon Überzeugte nur schwierig einzusehen sein, wie eine profane Vernunft in der gewöhnlichen Erfahrung Gott zu erkennen vermag. Muss der Schritt in den Glauben erst vollzogen worden sein, um von der säkularen in die profane Vernunft überzutreten? Lässt sich dieser Schritt selbst allein durch die Vernunft vollziehen oder brauch es einen Kierkegaardschen Sprung in den Glauben? An dieser Stelle ist schon unklar, welche Art von Argument es zur Begründung von Schaefflers ambitionierter These bräuchte. Das ändert jedoch nichts daran, dass dieser Ausblick tatsächlich Grundlage für ein spannendes Anschlussprojekt sein kann.

Schaefflers Abhandlung demonstriert einen gewaltigen Kenntnisschatz, der sich im Laufe einer langen Karriere angesammelt hat. Das Buch liefert eine übersichtliche, nachvollziehbare und lehrreiche phänomenologische Kartographierung zentraler Grundbegriffe des Phänomens Religion. Diese Kartographierung der Grundbegriffe der Religionsphilosophie hat hier vor allem einen wichtigen exemplarischen Charakter. Anhand dieses Buches lässt sich ablesen, wie die phänomenologische Methode angewandt auf einen konkreten Begriffsbereich aussehen kann. Das Exemplum regt zum Nachmachen an. Es ist in seiner Nachvollziehbarkeit und methodologischen Grundsätzlichkeit für Studierende der Philosophie, Religionswissenschaft und Theologie geeignet, kann aber durchaus auch von Fachexperten dieser mit Gewinn gelesen werden.

Zusammenfassend: Schaefflers Überlegung krankt an fehlender Ausführlichkeit und Tiefe in der Auseinandersetzung mit konkurrierenden Positionen. Das führt unter anderem dazu, dass die phänomenologische Ausführung des Projekts in Kapitel zwei bis fünf teils im luftleeren Raum zu schweben scheinen und eben bloß als Exemplum der Anwendung der phänomenologischen Methode verstanden werden können, ihr Beitrag zur genuin philosophischen Debatte nicht ganz klar erkennbar ist. Ebenso bleibt das im Ausblick angelegte sehr interessante Projekt der Darlegung einer transzendentalen Grundlegung der säkularen Vernunft durch die religiöse Vernunft unkonturiert insofern nicht klar ist, welche Form ein solches Projekt nehmen könnte. Trotz dieser Defizite ist Schaefflers Phänomenologie der Religion gerade im eingangs skizzierten Widerstreit zwischen Philosophie als Erklärung versus Philosophie als Beschreibung ein wertvoller Beitrag zur Bildung eines Gegengewichts gegen eine Orthodoxie der Erklärungs-Philosophie im kontemporären intellektuellen Klima.

Literaturverzeichnis

Dilthey, Wilhelm (1984): Der Aufbau der geschichtlichen Welt in den Geisteswissenschaften, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Heidegger, Martin (2006): Sein und Zeit, zuerst veröffentlicht 1927, Tübingen: Niemeyer.

Hegel, G.W.F. (1980): Phänomenologie des Geistes, Gesammelte Werke Bd. 9. Hg. Rheinisch-Westfälische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Hamburg: Felix Meiner.

Kant, Immanuel (1911): Kritik der reinen Vernunft, Akademieausgabe, Bd. 3, Erstpublikation 1787, Berlin: Königlich Preußische Akademie der Wissenschaften.

Leiter, Brian (2004) (ed.): The Future for Philosophy, Oxford: University Press.

Nietzsche, Friedrich (1971): Die Fröhliche Wissenschaft, Werke, Bd. 2, Frankfurt.

Rorty, Richard (2010): “Naturalism and Quietism”, in Mario De Caro & David Macarthur (eds.), Naturalism and Normativity, Columbia University Press, 55-68.

Schaeffler, Richard (2018): Phänomenologie der Religion, Grundzüge ihrer Fragestellung, Freiburg/München: Karl Alber Verlag.

Tetens, Holm (2014): “Der Glaube an die Wissenschaft und der methodische Atheismus. Zur religiösen Dialektik der wissenschaftlich-technischen Zivilisation”, Neue Zeitschrift für systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie 55 (3),271-283.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig (2002): Philosophische Untersuchungen, Werkausgabe, Bd. 1, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Sophie Loidolt: Phenomenology of Plurality: Hannah Arendt on Political Intersubjectivity

Phenomenology of Plurality: Hannah Arendt on Political Intersubjectivity Couverture du livre Phenomenology of Plurality: Hannah Arendt on Political Intersubjectivity
Routledge Research in Phenomenology
Sophie Loidolt
Routledge
2018
Hardback £88.00
290

Reviewed by: Maria Robaszkiewicz (Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Paderborn University)

A book analyzing Hannah Arendt’s phenomenological background thoroughly is long overdue. Arendt’s biographer, Elisabeth Young Bruehl, mentions one of very few occasions, when Arendt spoke about her method (Young Bruehl 1982, 405), revealing her inclination to phenomenology: “I am a sort of phenomenologist. But, ach, not in Hegel’s way – or Husserl’s.” What sort of phenomenologist was Arendt then? Many scholars struggle with her methodology and it even worried one of her greatest mentors, Karl Jaspers, who complained about the ‘intuitive-chaotic-method’ of her writings. But could it be that there was a consistent methodological framework behind an ostensible chaos? Is it possible that Arendt not only was ‘a sort of phenomenologist’, but a fully fledged representative of the second generation phenomenologists after Husserl and Heidegger – whose members include Sartre, Fink, Merleau-Ponty, Patočka and Lévinas –who transformed phenomenology? In her new book, Sophie Loidolt makes a strong case for an affirmative answer to both of these questions. Phenomenology of Plurality: Hannah Arendt on Political Subjectivity is a very challenging read but it is also a very rewarding book.

Loidolt aims to draw a phenomenology of plurality from Arendt’s work and to illuminate consequences of a politicized approach to phenomenology by doing so. A further objective of the book is to rethink Arendt’s connections to phenomenology, positioning her in the broader context of traditional and contemporary phenomenological discourse (2). Both these aims interweave in Loidolt’s book, where she reconstructs basic phenomenological notions in Arendt, referring mainly to classical accounts of Husserl and Heidegger. The result is a novel account of the phenomenon of ‘actualized plurality’ in Arendt’s writings. Loidolt connects actualized plurality to the activities of acting, speaking and judging, which through their actualization evoke different spaces of meaning, where multiple subjects can appear to each other. The book brings Arendt into dialogue with numerous phenomenologists, most notably Merleau-Ponty and Lévinas. Further, Loidolt places her reflections in the broad context of Arendt-scholarship, although she distances herself from some prevalent paradigms present in the contemporary debate: the line of interpretation informed by the Frankfurt School (Habermas, Benhabib, Wellmer, and others), the poststructuralist approach (Honig, Villa, Heuer, Mouffe and others), as well as from the treatment of Arendt’s oeuvre from a purely political perspective, hence ‘de-philosophizing’ her (4) (Disch, Dietz, Canovan, Passerind’Entrèves, and others). In contrast, Loidolt aspires to rediscover the philosophical dimension in Arendt, not by depoliticizing her work, but rather by emphasizing the coexistence of both aspects and the connections between them. This inclusive gesture resonates with Arendt’s unwillingness to belong to any club and, consequently, with the difficulty to ascribe her to one academic field rather than to another.

Loidolt begins her book by invoking her intention to illuminate the philosophical dimension of Arendt’s work without distorting it by ignoring its other dimensions and deriving from it her goal to unveil the philosophical significance of Arendt’s work through a phenomenological examination of the notion of plurality. Many texts within Arendt-scholarship simply adopt Arendt’s language – often full of beautiful and meaningful expressions – without supplying a deeper analysis of its content and context. This is not the case with Sophie Loidolt’s book. She does not just ‘talk the talk’, she also delves deep into the meaning of Arendt’s language. Loedolt’s expertise in phenomenology allow her to achieve this goal, which also contributes to the achievement of her broader aim to familiarize both phenomenologists with Arendt and Arendtian scholars with foundations of phenomenology. The complexity of Loidolt’s book lies in this twofold focus: at first glance, it seems that the reader should have an extensive background both in Arendt and in phenomenology – a combination, which, as the author admits, is uncommon (2 – 8) but Loidolt does not demand so much of her readers. She draws numerous parallels between Arendt’s theory and those of other philosophers, whose status as phenomenologists is less contested, and she also continually draws readers’ attention to methodological elements that lie at ‘the heart of the phenomenological project’ (e.g. 25, 75, 125, 176). This way, she completes the task of introducing Arendt to phenomenologists and of introducing foundations of phenomenology to the Arendtians masterfully. Although this approach means that the book is not an easy read, it is definitely worth the effort.

The book consists essentially of two parts: in the first part, Transforming Phenomenology: Plurality and the Political, the author elaborates on the relation between Arendt’s account and phenomenology, whereas in the second part, Actualizing Plurality: The We, the Other, and the Self in Political Intersubjectivity, Loidolt develops her own phenomenological interpretation of Arendt’s philosophy of plurality. Each part comprises three chapters, divided into numerous subchapters, which makes this complex text more reader-friendly. The book is easy to navigate: every chapter begins with a very neat summary of the previous contents and a preview of what is tofollow. As such, each piece of theory that we encounter in subsection is approachable and easy to situate within the overall framework of Loidolt’s study. The only potential editorial refinement that comes to mind would be to number subchapters and to list these in the Contents, especially since the author often refers to subchapters by its number (e.g. 3.2), but these are not to be found in the current layout of the book.

In the first chapter, Loidolt lays the foundation for her investigation by drawing on the primordial event of the emergence of plurality. She sets off by reconstructing Arendt’s critique of Existenz Philosophy and classical phenomenology, based mostly on her early writings from the ‘1940s. The author sketches Arendt’s argument against (or at least relativizing) phenomenological accounts of Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty, as well as her take on Jaspers, who represents ‘all that is good about Existenz Philosophy’ (35). Through these moves of association and distinction, says Loidolt, Arendt formulates what can be described as ‘new political philosophy’ (39-40) – even if Arendt herself would have considered this a contradiction in terms. Arendt had good theoretical reasons to renounce philosophy altogether, but since Loidolt aims at recovering the philosophical profundity of her thought, this term seems to be acceptable in this context. The key elements of the new political philosophy would then be a focus on the being-with dimension of human existence (42), a refusal to engage in the project of mastering once being (26, 44), and hence also underlining the fragility of the realm of human affairs (46). These elements resonate with central categories of Arendt’s account of the political: plurality, freedom, and natality.

After having ‘provided a point of departure for a phenomenology of plurality’ (51), in the second chapter Loidolt puts actualizing plurality in a space of appearance in the center of her reflection. She emphasizes its active character as a contingent, non-necessary event and identifies it as a core phenomenon of Arendt’s new political philosophy. The chapter consists of an analysis of three central notions that indicate Arendt’s affinity to phenomenological approach: appearance, experience, and world. Each section traces one of the aforementioned notions back to its origins and shows its relevance for the project of the new political philosophy. First, Loidolt explores the notion of appearance, establishing, with Villa, its status as constitutive of reality (55). Through illuminating this ontological status of appearance in Arendt, Loidolt proves her to be a phenomenologist at heart: Arendt insists on exclusive primacy of appearance, an idea that she gets primarily from transforming Husserl’s and Heidegger’s phenomenological accounts and not, as Villa and Beiner argue (55), from Kant. Following Cavarero’s claim that Arendt’s political theory implies a radical form of phenomenological ontology, Loidolt retraces Arendt’s project of pluralization of appearance (64) and unfolds its consequences for her understanding of reality, self and world, referring in the course of her analysis to Husserl, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty. Additionally, the author supplies a table relating respective concepts in Husserl, Heidegger, and Arendt that allows readers to follow the depicted transition at a glance. The second section focuses on the notion of experience. Loidolt offers a short overview of phenomenological-hermeneutic takes on Arendt’s notion of experience, but also investigates the deeper level of her engagement with experience, which goes beyond Arendt’s ‘techniques’ of narration, interpretation, and storytelling and concerns the very structure of experience (76). In the subsection devoted to this deeper level, she links Arendt’s historical hermeneutics to the phenomenological tradition, evoking not only Husserl and Heidegger, but also Lévinas, Merleau-Ponty, Patočka and Fink, and points at the interconnected notions of intentionality and subjectivity, which constitute the structure of experience. She shows how experience in Arendt is being actualized and pluralized, so that experiencing subjects can be conceived as ‘essentially existing as enactment’ in their multiplicity, hence transforming them into a moment of actualized relation (84, 93). The third section discusses Arendt’s concept of the world. Loidolt draws our attention to three notions of the world present in Arendt’s writings: the appearing world, the objective world, and the with-world (93). In her phenomenological analysis (turning again to Husserl and Heidegger), Loidolt displays the interrelation of these three notions and how they build upon one another. Indeed, the notions of the world as the space of appearance and the space of the political (with-world) are often used interchangeably in the literature. Loidolt’s phenomenological perspective contributes greatly to a more nuanced understanding of the difference between the two, which proves to be quite fundamental. Throughout the three sections, Loidolt  constructs the ‘pluralized and politicized’ phenomenological account that Arendt, according to her, had in mind. By doing so, she reaches out to both her target groups: Arendt-scholars and phenomenologists. She shows, on the one hand, that a phenomenological perspective can provide a better and more thorough understanding of Arendt’s theory, without ‘transcendentalizing’ it too far á la Husserl, and, on the other hand, that Arendt’s writings have a vast potential for contemporary social ontology, as pursued by phenomenologically oriented scholars.

In the third chapter of her book, Arendt’s Phenomenological Methodology, Loidolt focuses on two aims. First, she examines human conditionality, referring to a famous (and, as Loidolt shows, easy to misinterpret) systematization of activities from The Human Condition and emphasizing the enactive character of Arendtian conditions. Second, she develops an original interpretation of Arendt’s theory by applying the concept of ‘spaces of meaning’. The first subchapter criticizes approaches that tend to essentialize and solidify different activities and their respective conditions. These are often naively understood analogically to a baby shape sorter: just as every wooden block fits into a particular hole in a box, every human activity correlates to one of three categories. Loidolt, on the contrary, presents labor, work, and action as a dynamic structure, where all conditions are interconnected: “Since all conditions are actualized simply by human existence, i.e. by being a living body, by being involved in the world of objects/tools and by existing in the plural, being human means to dwell, however passively, in all of these meaning-spaces at one and the same time.” (116). In the second section, she presents what amounts to one of the most interesting moments of the book: the articulation of Arendt’s background methodology in terms of “dynamics of spaces of meaning” (123). According to this interpretation, every activity that takes place develops its particular logic, which can be described as a space of meaning. These spaces of meaning stand out as worlds with specific temporality, spatiality, a specific form of intersubjectivity, and an inner logic of sequence, rhythm, and modality (128). Loidolt adds a transformative dimension: a shift in meaning takes place when an activity and its space part (126). In this context, she takes up a controversial discussion about normative character of the private, the political, and the social space in Arendt and joins advocates of “an attitudinal rather than content-specific” interpretation of this distinction (145, cf. Benhabib 2003: 140). With her notion of meaning-spaces, Loidolt offers a vivid image that helps us to comprehend the structure of human existence as presented by Arendt in its full complexity. It also shows us how to avoid interpretative pitfalls resulting from attempts to essentialize human activities and ascribe them to a clear-cut realm, be it the private, the political or the social. Her main effort is directed towards emphasizing the activating element in Arendt’s account: the whole picture awakens before our very eyes.

Chapter 4, which opens the second part of Loidolt’s book, addresses plurality as political intersubjectivity. The author begins with an overview of different interpretations of plurality in various fields: political theory, social ontology, and in Arendt-scholarship. She presents a strong argument for political interpretation of plurality, which she describes as a plurality of first-person perspectives. Such a plurality forms a certain in-between, an assembly of those who act together, which provides a ground for any politics (153). When discussing plurality accounts within political theory (Mouffe, Laclau), Loidolt focuses primarily on post-foundational discourses and praises these for granting plurality ontological relevance. At the same time, she emphasizes that within this approach the first-person perspective gets lost. This, in turn, leads her to phenomenology. She positions her “phenomenological investigation into the social-ontological dimensions of plurality as a political phenomenon” (154) within the area of phenomenology, which addresses the “moral, normative and especially political dimensions of the ‘We’” (154, cf. Szanto& Moran 2016: 9). Subsequently, she sketches a broad context of Arendt-scholarship about plurality and draws our attention to the fact that a suitable answer to one fundamental question often remains a desideratum: What is plurality actually? (156) Loidolt develops an answer to this question in further sections of this chapter. She does so by, first, referring to Husserl and Heidegger – the move we already know from previous chapters. In what follows, she displays her phenomenological interpretation of plurality as ontologically relevant condition of beings as first-person perspectives, who exist in plural. As such, plurality has a fragile status: it can be actualized or not (175). This is one of the most philosophically dense parts of the book, where Loidolt formulates a number of illuminating theses to support her aim. She refers to well-known motives linked to plurality, such as uniqueness, the “who”, multiple points of view, web of relations, but she also evokes some new constellations, such as theorizing acting, speaking, and judging, as three equal-ranking modes of actualizing plurality (183). This chapter paves the way for the two that follow.

Chapter 5, “Actualizing a Plural ‘We’”, focuses on the question of actualization of plural uniqueness. Loidolt emphasizes the crucial problem of the fragility of plurality in terms of such an actualization: plurality can, but does not have to be, actualized. Arendt herself was aware of this fragility, not only in view of great catastrophes of the 20th Century, such as the rise of totalitarianism, but also in terms of human existence in a community in general. Plurality is the central condition of action, which facilitates an emergence of a public space. But ‘acting in concert’ – bringing multiple “who’s” into a common space of the political, is, as Arendt states, a rare event (Arendt 1998: 42). This might seem counterintuitive, since most of us are surrounded by other people on an everyday basis. But, for Arendt, not every human interaction is genuine action. To refer to a notion coined by Loidolt: the respective space of meaning must occur. According to the author, the three activities through which an actualization of plurality takes place are acting, speaking, and judging. As Loidolt herself admits, this constellation of activities is not a common move in interpretations of Arendt’s work (212). Indeed, Arendt counted judging among faculties of the mind. But to anyone familiar with Arendt’s work, Loidolt’s justification for bring the three together will be apparent. In the three sections of the chapter, she pursues a phenomenological inquiry of each of these activities with respect to their potential to actualize plurality. First, she brings Arendtian speaking together with Heidegger’s ‘being-as-speaking-with-one-another’ (195). She then presents acting as praxis or performance and points to its inherent connection to plurality: acting always appears within a web of relationships (200). Finally, Loidolt approaches judging not only in political terms, but she also draws our attention to its reflective dimension (213 – 218). However, judging differs from the other two activities because, while it seems capable of actualizing plurality as intersubjectivity, it does so in a slightly different space of meaning, which is not a space of appearance per se. Loidolt addresses the issue of public appearance directly in the course of this chapter, emphasizing that ‘actualized plurality needs the visibility of an in-between’ (225). The question of how this can refer to the faculty of judgment remains somewhat vague. It is clear that our “who” does not appear to others in judging in the same way, as it appears on what Arendt calls ‘the stage of the world’ (Arendt 2007: 233, 249. Arendt uses this expression only in the German version of the text). The community of judgment is an imaginary one, so we may only speak of appearance of the “who” in a metaphorical sense. Thus, Loidolt’s argument here calls for further investigation. This, however, does not jeopardize her overarching argument for an ethics of actualized plurality (230).

The question of normative potential of Arendt’s theory and its alleged ‘lack of moral foundations’ (233, cf. Benhabib 2006) is the theme of the last chapter of Loidolt’s book. As the author argues, a phenomenological inquiry shows that “ethical elements are inherent within Arendt’s conception of the political qua actualized plurality” (233) and do not need to be imposed on it from outside. The aim of this chapter is hence to provide the readers with an intrinsic ethics of actualized plurality (235). Loidolt begins with an analysis of thinking in Arendt. She does not follow interpretations “investigating the inner tension between the bipolar ‘moral self’ and Plurality”, but tends, rather, to maintain the specific separation of the political and the moral (234 – 235). This comes as a surprise, since Loidolt presents a convincing case for ‘pluralization’ of so many other phenomena throughout her book. Thinking, on the contrary, appears as a ‘solitary business’ and a ‘lonely experience’. This is a one-sided interpretation of Arendt’s concept of thinking. Obviously, it fits Loidolt’s argumentation at this point, but it also neglects the pluralistic aspect of thinking as an inner dialogue and its implications for the emergence of the ‘who’. As Arendt says, “And thought, in contradiction to contemplation with which it is all too frequently equated, is indeed an activity, and moreover, an activity that has certain moral results, namely that he who thinks constitutes himself into somebody, a person or a personality” (Arendt 2003: 105), even if she directly clarifies the difference between activity and acting. Loidolt takes a different path and describes thinking as a ‘derivative phenomenon’ (235) that cannot be a point of departure for an ethics of actualized plurality. Granted, this corresponds to the conditions of actualization of a “we”, which she identifies as: directedness/intentionality, authenticity, and visibility. At least visibility was not her concern in case of judging, though, while it seems to be decisive when it comes to denouncing thinking as a lonely enterprise. This, however, is my only criticism of Loidolt’s analysis. Overall, she presents a convincing account that integrates a particular normative – or rather proto-normative (234) – element into Arendt’s concept of plurality. She shows the fragility of the space created by action and plurality, but not only to emphasize its unsteady status. More importantly, she transforms this fragility into an asset: action follows its intrinsic logic, which means that it can be interrupted and taken up again, hence it is open to redefinition and reinterpretation by multiple interpreters (237). Through faculties of forgiving and promising, we establish relations between persons, which bring an element of the ‘empowerment through others’ into play (139). Loidolt then discusses ethical demands, which intertwine with domains other than the political: life, truth, and reason. Here, as she argues, actualized plurality is ethically relevant to addressing current global challenges of totalitarianism and biopolitics (234). Loidolt closes this illuminating chapter by reaching out to Lévinas and his ethics of alteritas and by presenting benefits of interrelating both theories (252).

Loidolt rightly contests the common belief that Arendt’s methodology was eclectic and random (52). Through her thorough and deep phenomenological investigation of Arendt’s political thought, she makes a successful attempt to display its overall methodological framework (which may not even have been fully evident to Arendt herself, considering her lack of interest in a methodological self-analysis). Husserl and Heidegger play a major role as references in Loidolt’s study, which is methodologically and historically comprehensible. It is an additional benefit of the book that she brings other phenomenologists from the ‘second generation’ (7) into play, which further underlines the potential for Arendt’s work to guide contemporary phenomenological inquiry. Loidolt also draws our attention to a particular feature of Arendt’s corpus: she wrote many of her texts first in English – a foreign language to her and not the one in which she received her philosophical education – then rewrote them in German herself. (12, 265). Loidolt, a native German speaker, observes that she found phenomenological traits to be omnipresent in the German versions of Arendt texts. She was surprised to discover that these traits were either much less apparent orabsent entirely from the English versions. This, I would argue, is one of the reasons why Arendt’s potential for phenomenology is not universally recognized and also why phenomenological takes on Arendt remain outside of the mainstream of Arendt scholarship, at least within the Anglophone reception. Another reason lies probably in the difficulty involved in comprehending Arendt’s particular phenomenological approach. However, Loidolt suggests that doing so is the only way to fully understand Arendt. I am not convinced that this claim can be supported without restrictions. First, there are multiple very appealing interpretations of Arendt that completely abstract from her bonds to phenomenology. Second, it seems to be quite far away from the Arendtian spirit to assert that there is only one perspective on a story. Loidolt herself emphasizes that she does not want to force Arendt into any club (2). Nevertheless, through her impressive study, Loidolt advocates her case very convincingly. It is possible to see Arendt’s work through multiple lenses, but it is indeed very difficult to ignore the phenomenological lens, since once it has been applied what has been seen cannot be unseen. Therefore, due to its comprehensiveness and the depth of Loidolt’s analysis, the book has great potential, not only to inspire a new, phenomenologically-oriented appreciation of Arendt’s work but also to become a crucial contribution to Arendt scholarship.

References

Arendt, Hannah. 2007. Vita activa. München/Zürich: Piper.

Arendt, Hannah. 2003. Some Questions of Moral Philosophy. In: H. Arendt, Responsibility and Judgment. New York: Schocken.

Arendt, Hannah. 1998. The Human Condition. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Benhabib, Seyla. 2006. Judgment and the Moral Foundations of Politics in Arendt’s Thought. In: Garrath Williams (ed.), Hannah Arendt: Critical Assesment of Leading Political Philosophers, Vol 4., pp. 234 – 253. London/New York: Routledge.

Benhabib, Seyla. 2003. The Reluctant Modernism of Hannah Arendt. New Edition. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

Szanto, Thomas & Moran, Dermot (eds.). 2016. The Phenomenology of Sociality: Discovering the ‘We’. London/New York.

Young-Bruehl, Elisabeth. 1982. For Love of the World. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Suzi Adams (Ed.): Ricoeur and Castoriadis in Discussion: On Human Creation, Historical Novelty, and the Social Imaginary

Ricoeur and Castoriadis in Discussion: On Human Creation, Historical Novelty, and the Social Imaginar Couverture du livre Ricoeur and Castoriadis in Discussion: On Human Creation, Historical Novelty, and the Social Imaginar
Social Imaginaries
Suzi Adams (Ed.)
Rowman & Littlefield International
2017
Hardcover £80.00
236

Reviewed by: Angelos Mouzakitis (University of Crete)

It is with great pleasure that I welcome the publication in English of the conversation between Castoriadis and Ricoeur that took place on 9 March 1985 on the radio show Le Bon Plaisir on France Culture.  Being one of the rare occasions where the two thinkers crossed swords publicly, this dialogue is a source of inspiration for everyone interested in their works and in the specific domains of being that they set as their task to explore. The dialogue was already published in French by Johann Michel in 2016, but the English edition is much more than a reproduction of the French one. The book is divided in two main parts, while it comprises also short biographical notes on Ricoeur and Castoriadis and a comprehensive index.  Four texts are printed prior to the book’s officially described ‘first part’, which is nothing less than the textual version of the original encounter between the two thinkers.  These texts are no less important than the rest of the contributions and they are the following: First, Suzi Adams’s short “editor’s forward”, followed by Johann Michel’s “Note to the French Edition” and “Preface to the French edition” and Johann P. Arnason’s “Preface: Situating Castoriadis and Ricoeur”.

As I have already reviewed the French edition of the dialogue I will refrain from commenting on the book’s “first part” and on Johann Michel’s preface, although a word of appraisal for Scott Davidson’s excellent translation of the original texts in English is certainly in place.

As the subtitle of the book clearly suggests, the radio discussion between Ricoeur and Castoriadis focused primarily on the impact of imagination on history and the same holds for the essays of the distinguished scholars that comprise the second part of this publication, rendering it a genuine contribution to philosophy and social theory on its own.

Johann Arnason’s preface to the English edition complements perfectly Johann Michel’s preface to the French edition and is in many ways also complementary to Arnason’s second contribution to the volume. In the ‘Preface’ Arnason unravels in a concise yet comprehensive manner the complex set of elective affinities and stark differences between the projects of the two thinkers, as well as their attitudes towards politics and religion, but he wisely refuses to directly attribute the former to the latter. Apart from a shared critique to ‘orthodox’ Marxism, Arnason traces interesting convergences between Ricoeur and Castoriadis in areas least expected: Indeed, Arnason establishes a shared understanding of history qua praxis and creation and a common indebtedness to Aristotle’s “thesis on the multiple modes of being” (xxviii), without disregarding the—apparent both in the dialogue and the respective oeuvres—differences in accent between Ricoeur and Castoriadis on these issues. Moreover, it is Ricouer’s emphasis on metaphor that in Arnason’s view brings him closer to Castoriadis’s understanding of history as creative praxis and Castoriadis’s essay on the revolutionary project in the Imaginary Institution of Society that reveals a hermeneutic aspect in Castoriadis’s approach- more precisely, Arnason identifies three hermeneutic ‘steps’ in Castoriadis’s critique of Marxism in this text  (xxiii-xxvi).  Importantly, Arnason also shows that Castoriadis’s concept of institution has deep roots in French sociology and especially in the writings of Durkheim and Mauss (a theme that re-emerges in his second contribution). He furthermore argues that Castoriadis partly endorses Durkheim’s conception of religion as he follows Durkheim in identifying the ‘sacred’ as forming the kernel of religion but unlike Durkheim sees in religion nothing more than heteronomy. Ricoeur’s approach to religion is less unequivocal according to Arnason and the Judeo-Christian tradition is ever present in his works, as he explores both the areas opened up by “philosophical critique and religious hermeneutics” (xviii). What is more, Arnason attempts to draw some analogies between Ricoeur’s treatment of religion and Castoriadis’s “invocation of Greek beginnings” and suggests that Castoriadis’s account of Greek mythology might provide us with a more fecund perspective on the relationship between myth and reason (xxx).

Arnason’s second contribution has the title “Castoriadis and Ricoeur on Meaning and History: Contrasts and Convergences” and focuses more explicitly on the problem of the nature of imagination and its importance for the way in which history is both understood and made. Here Arnason attempts to establish a certain convergence between Ricoeur’s defense of ‘productive’ imagination and Castoriadis’s radical, creative understanding of this human faculty, by focusing on the Fichtean background that informs Ricoeur’s approach to imagination and Castoriadis’s later attempt to counterbalance the hyperbolic assumption of creation ex nihilo with a concept of creation that pays heed to the always already conditioned character of human praxis (59). Arnason underlines Ricoeur’s and Castoriadis’s common opposition to structuralism and traces affinities between Castoriadis’s critique of identitary logic, Elias’s concept of figuration, Mann’s concept of network and Ricoeur’s own treatment of pre-figuration, configuration and re-figuration (62-63). Arnason’s essay concludes with a reassessment of Castoriadis’s notion of signification which aims at revealing dualities that emerge when we think of imagination in both its transforming and containing capacities. It is then Ricoeur’s work on Ideology and Utopia that in Arnason’s view provides a bridge between the two thinkers in regard of the workings of imagination in socio-historical contexts. Admittedly, apart from the challenging interpretation of the works of the two thinkers that it offers, the charm of Arnason’s contribution lies in the fact that he brings his own groundbreaking research in the discussion.

George H. Taylor’s essay “On the Cusp: Ricoeur and Castoriadis at the Boundary” is a clearly argued and thought-provoking attempt to think across the boundaries that at once separate and conjoin their philosophical projects. The great merit of Taylor’s contribution lies in the fact that he is able to construct a quite convincing argument (especially concerning Ricoeur) by reading together Ricoeur’s Lectures on Ideology and Utopia and his still unpublished—but eagerly awaited—lectures of the same period on imagination. Indeed, Taylor advances the rather bold claim that if the radio conversation between the two thinkers had taken place a decade ago, Ricoeur’s response to Castoriadis’s defense of a radical, creative force inherent in imagination might have been radically different (35). Indeed, the passages from Ricoeur’s Lectures on Imagination that Taylor cites seem to clearly support his argument, although admittedly one has to wait until the whole text becomes available to the public before one passes a more definitive judgment on the issue. In any case, on the one hand Taylor points to Ricoeur’s conception of utopia in the homonymous lectures as ‘the possibility of a nowhere’ with regard to a given socio-historical state-of-affairs, while underlying the passage from a conception of productive imagination based on the reconfiguration of a given reality to a more radical understanding of this process in terms of transfiguration (38). Finally, in order to bring the two thinkers together Taylor—like every other contributor to the volume—has to emphasize the contextual aspect of Castoriadis’s understanding of creation ex nihilo, as creation that does not take place in nihilo or cum nihilo.

Suzi Adams’s paper “Castoriadis and Ricoeur on the Hermeneutic Spiral and the Meaning of History” offers a refreshing and imaginative perspective on the dialogue, as it focuses from the outset on the difference between creation and production that seems to be the pivotal point of disagreement between the two thinkers in the radio discussion. The section of the paper that confronts the problem of creation ex nihilo bears the telling title “Much ado about Nothing: Creation or Production?” (112).  It is as difficult to miss the Shakespearean reference here as it is to decide to what extent it is used to indicate a parallel between the series of misunderstandings taking place in the homonymous play and the possible misinterpretations Castoriadis’s concept has received. Adams is also interested in bridge building. She argues about an indelible hermeneutic dimension present even on the most originary level of signification (131) and presents us with the metaphor of the “hermeneutic spiral” as a way out of the hermeneutic circle that both thinkers attempted to surmount in different ways. Importantly, Adams argues that the substitution of the hermeneutic circle with the hermeneutic spiral extracts the hermeneutic experience from the level of mere understanding and it “incorporates critical and productive/creative dimensions” (129). Her essay shows the different attitudes the two thinkers entertained in relation to the conception of chaos, the relation to tradition and the emergence of radically new forms of collective life (or radical discontinuity)  in history. Adams gives center stage to Gadamer’s notion of historically effected consciousness, although she confronts this aspect of historical life from Ricoeur’s perspective, not Gadamer’s in an attempt to dissociate it from traditional hermeneutics. Adams’s invocation of Assmann’s concept of cultural memory and of Nikulin’s distinction between collective memory and collective recollection as guiding threads for any current attempt to understand tradition merits the reader’s attention and invites further elaboration.

Being an established Ricoeur scholar, Jean-Luc Amalric offers his invaluable insights on Ricoeur and Castoriadis in his paper “Ricoeur and Castoriadis: The Productive Imagination between Mediation and Origin”, which focuses primarily on the way the two thinkers conceptualized imagination and historical praxis, while it also addresses their critique of structuralism (77-78). Amalric argues that despite their differences Castoriadis and Ricoeur share the “diagnosis concerning the occultation-discreditation of imagination in the philosophical tradition”, as well as the conviction that the “renewal of the theory of imagination” has to focus on the “central function of imagination in human action and its foregrounding” (81). Amalric argues that Ricoeur’s emphasis on the role of productive imagination and Castoriadis’s critique of Marxism and his very idea of creation reveals a “common critique of structuralism” (84) and “an essential agreement… on the originary and constituting status of the social imaginary” (89-90). According to Amalric, one crucial difference between the two thinkers concerns their stance towards ontology: Castoriadis’s approach is said to be an “ontology of creation” (93), a thesis somewhat reminiscent of Habermas who in The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity argues that a fundamental ontology operates behind Castoriadis’s concept of society as a ‘collective subject’. Ricoeur is seen as conscientiously refraining from ascribing to ontology the status of primary philosophy, while treating it as ‘a promise land’ within his horizon of philosophical expectations (94).  Amalric draws on an impressive number of Ricoeur’s writings and key-concepts like metaphor and mimesis, in order to arrive at a theory of imagination that links imagination and praxis from the perspective of an ever-present oscillation between “a revolutionary pole and a reformatory pole” (102). He even seems to prefer Ricoeur’s indirect conception of autonomy based on the ‘dialectic’ of ideology and utopia to that of Castoriadis, most probably because of his preference for a philosophical discourse that is less bound by ontological concerns than Castoriadis’s project. However, it has to be reminded that Castoriadis’s understanding of autonomy is not only —admittedly—tied up to the idea of (permanent) revolution as Amalric (102) rightly observes, but it also emerges from an ineradicable oscillation between (a fundamental) heteronomy and the possibility of a radical alteration of this heteronomous state-of-affairs, where autonomy presents itself as a ‘moment’ or an event, to use the phenomenological parlance. The relationship (I would not dare say dialectic) between autonomy and heteronomy in Castoriadis’s works is arguably somehow reminiscent of—though not identical with—Ricoeur’s ‘dialectic’ between ideology and utopia and it might well be a fruitful  area for further research.

Last but definitely not least, let me briefly address Francois Dosse’s excellent contribution entitled “The Social Imaginary as Engine of History in Ricoeur and Castoriadis”, which is finely supported by Natalie J. Doyle’s smooth and subtle translation.  At the first part of his paper Dosse follows Ricoeur’s path to the formulation of a unique stance on imagination through his appropriation of Sartre’s theory of imagination, which Ricoeur extends so as to account not only for its negating but also for its productive forces, his indebtedness to Bachelard and the parallels the understating of imagination in The Symbolism of Evil exemplifies with the treatment of imagination in Merleau-Ponty’s The Visible and the Invisible, the latter being a source of influence also for Castoriadis. Drawing on Amalric’s book Paul Ricoeur, L’ Imagination Vive, Dosse shows how Ricoeur escapes the “aporias of solipsism” with the introduction of a collective imaginary dimension that “is not the opposite of action, but it can lead to it in a creative way” (143). Dosse stresses the tangible involvement of imagination in socio-historical praxis pointing to Ricoeur’s explicit linkage of action with imagination and his treatment of ideology and utopia as “imaginative practices”, or as the “operator of choice at the intersection of will and desire” in Fallible Man (145). Dosse also explores Ricoeur’s work on metaphor and his opposition to structuralism, focusing on his use of livid metaphor as a means to open up the question of tradition from a perspective that refuses to think of tradition as a reified relic (148).  It goes without saying that his treatment of Ricoeur does not neglect to take into account his lectures on ideology and utopia and the conceptual couplet ‘mimesis-figuration’. Dosse sees Castoriadis’s attempt at constructing a theory of imagination as premised on an antithesis between chaos and institution. Dosse discusses Castoriadis’s break with the Lacanian conception of the symbolic and argues that Castoriadis shows the “double dimension of the symbolic, which pertains to a logic both ‘enseidic’ and imaginary” (158).  Moreover, Dosse argues that the enseidic/imaginary couplet in Castoriadis’s thought finds a counterpart in Ricoeur’s distinction between “the semilogical level of rationality and the hermeneutic level, which refers to interpretative plurality” (158).  Dosse also traces other important convergences in the works of Ricoeurand Castoriadisthat allow him to conclude his essay arguing for the existence of a “real proximity” between the two thinkers.

Although the high quality and the complex structure of every single paper contained in this book, as well as the fecundity of the actual encounter between Ricoeur and Castoriadis makes the task of adequately assessing this little volume almost impossible, I hope that I did not fail to at least convey the ‘spirit’ underlying each contribution and the book as a whole. I have to congratulate Suzi Adams for her immaculate editorial work and I cannot help but think that although one could hardly imagine a better start for the launch of the “social imaginaries” series than this quite important collective volume, there are even more exciting things to come in the near future.

Viorel Cernica (Ed.): Studies in the Pre-Judicative Hermeneutics and Meontology, First Volume

Studies in the Pre-Judicative Hermeneutics and Meontology, First Volume Couverture du livre Studies in the Pre-Judicative Hermeneutics and Meontology, First Volume
Viorel Cernica (Ed.)
Bucharest University Press
2016
Paperback
200

Reviewed by: Andrei Simionescu-Panait (Romanian Society for Phenomenology)

This volume engages with Pre-judicative Hermeneutics, a phenomenologically- and hermeneutically-oriented framework that rose to prominence in Romanian-speaking academic circles in 2013 with Viorel Cernica’s Judgment and Time: The Phenomenology of Judgment (Judecată şi timp. Fenomenologia judicativului). Like Cernica’s monograph, this volume is in Romanian. A second volume in the series has just been published. These publications are driven by scholars at the University of Bucharest.

Cernica’s idea of a Pre-judicative Hermeneutics is intended as a counterpart to Husserlian phenomenology. His point of departure is constitutive phenomenology; the brand of phenomenology that focuses on the ways in which judgments are constituted from an otherwise pre-reflective level of experience. For Cernica, there are certain aspects of judgment that are not constituted and cannot support constitution. He has attempted to account for these aspects of ‘non-judicative’ experience.

The starting point for such an account is a process of ‘de-constitution’. According to this process, the hermeneuts’ job is to engage with quasi-objectual pre-judgment and prevent it from reaching a constituted judgment. This may remind some readers of the illustrative charioteer metaphor that Plato invokes in his Theaetetus. Focussing on an impulsive pre-judgment reveals its inherent behavior and promotes a better understanding of both judgment and its correlates.

The volume brings together five texts plus an extensive introduction by Cernica. A reader familiar with more traditional approaches to phenomenology may find it useful to commence with Oana Șerban’s contribution. Cernica’s chapter is more of a straight-to-business type of philosophical text and less of a pedagogical introduction. Of the remaining chapters, two use Cernica’s phenomenologically inspired method of inquiry regarding pre-judgments. A third can be contrasted with the first two in both terminology and scope. The last contribution attempts to explain why meontology is a natural match for Cernica’s brand of hermeneutics. On the one hand, these contributions are the results of an intersubjective phenomenological effort (what Herbert Spiegelberg’s calls‘symphilosophizing’). Indeed, Mihai-Dragoș Vadana and Remus Breazu’s respective chapters have emerged from lengthy seminar discussions. On the other hand, the reader should not expect a single, consistent and coordinated approach on behalf of the contributors.

When it comes to Cernica’s introduction, he focuses on the concepts of pre-judgment and non-judgment. Cernica believes that the constitutive nature of traditional phenomenology forfeits the possibility of making sense ofthe pre-judicative level of experience. According to the de-constitutive process, not only do I have to suspend judgment, it is more interesting to try to understand how I can roll back my instinct to judge in a certain way. A more traditional phenomenologist may argue that rolling back my instinct to judge is a constitutive process in itself, so any sense of de-constitution is actually a way of constituting a portion of the world in a different way altogether. According to Cernica, one cannot deny that every experience (in the broadest sense of the word) is constituted. What one can deny is the idea that every experience encompasses all previous experiences such that they bloom into full judgments. Not all experiences result in object fulfillment indicative of judgment because they are cases of de-constitution. At a phenomenological level, such cases refer to moments of experience where the order of the lifeworld is bothered by something I cannot really place my finger on (no matter what I do). This persistent yet elusive bothering is the non-judicative gateway towards the permanently tense pre-judicative sphere of experiencing that is the focal point for pre-judicative hermeneutics.

Vadana attempts to marry ideas from Cernica’s method with those of Romanian philosopher Mircea Florian. He underlines the contrast between constitutive judging and regulative judging, which revolves around being configured by judgment’s formal structure (subject-predicate) – in the case of constitutive judging – or not – in the case of regulative judging. Vadana proceeds from this distinction in order to explore the non-formal origin of regulative judging. He finds a similar conceptual behavior in both regulative judging and the notion of recessivity. The basic formulation of recessivity involves the distinction between emerging and the source of the emergence. For instance, culture recedes from nature, objects of consciousness recede from acts of consciousness, and so on. By analogy, Vadana sees that regulative judging recedes from regular constitutive judging. In a certain sense, thisreflects the de-constitutive move made by Cernica. In order to express the similarities, Vadana focusses on Aristotle’s account of post-predicaments – those stable characteristics that inevitably occur with judgment. Vadana thinks that the study of post-predicaments is, in fact, the study of the phenomenon of pre-judging;one studies consequences to know what one can always expect.

Breazu’s contribution concerns the distinction between absurdity and non-sense. Absurd judgments are problematic but still respect the basic formal requirements of judgments. Even though some arguments are dominated by absurdity, they still make sense and can sometimes develop into convincing philosophical arguments. For instance, for a phenomenologist, the idea of a thing-in-itself is absurd. Rather, phenomenologists acknowledge that things are things one intends in a certain manner. On that basis, phenomenologists can acknowledge that one is able to constitute absurd judgments. Breazu distinguishes between logical absurdity and objectual absurdity. Whereas logical absurdity is something that can be constituted, objectual absurdity is defined by the inability to have full constitution in the field of consciousness. Breazu describes this inability as non-sensical. Appropriating Cernica’s framework, he suggests that something does not make sense if the non-judicative clashes with the formal territory of judgment; if a syntactic slip results from otherwise sound judgments. This can be compared to a case where a quasi-object of consciousness, which has never been constitutively fulfilled (e.g. seeing a mirage under the full summer sunlight), is violently adapted to the formal rigor of the sharpest HD camera. Indeed, it makes no sense to experience a crystal-clear mirage. Breazu shows that Cernica’s focus on de-constitution (as opposed to constitution) can, in fact, enrich phenomenological discourse. It is still unclear whether Cernica interprets his hermeneutics as a species of phenomenology.

Oana Șerban’s chapter provides an assessment of the compatibility of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy and pre-judicative hermeneutics. With regards to Merleau-Ponty’s account of perceptual belief, Șerban focusses on the concept of pre-reflection, which is conceived as a guarantee for belief that does not enter the field of judgment. She argues that perceptual belief must rely on the concept of pre-reflection. She traces the roots of Cernica’s concept of pre-judgment in Merleau-Ponty’s concept of pre-reflection. Thus, Șerban’s exegesis adds a supplementary layer of meaning to some of Cernica’s ideas.

Cornel Moraru discusses the idea of meontology in the context of Cernica’s framework. He explores the concept of questioning by applying the idea of de-constitution. He holds that serious questions (as opposed to ironic and rhetorical ones) constitutively rely on a certain nothingness, or absence, without which there could be no questioning. Furthermore, he argues that affectivity is configured by such an absence. Moraru refers to the study of de-constituted questioning as meontology.

This volume’s particular strength relies in its novel ideas and its use of classical philosophical terminology. These innovative ideas will provoke phenomenologists that are interested in the experiential aspects of judgment constitution and de-constitution. However, the volume’s unifying thread does not surface easily; the last two texts are only minimally connected to the theme of pre-judicative hermeneutics. Furthermore, the volume only partially delivers on what it promises, that is, to clarify the meaning and nature of pre-judicative hermeneutics.

Hans-Helmuth Gander: Self Understanding and Lifeworld: Basic Traits of a Phenomenological Hermeneutics

Self-Understanding and Lifeworld: Basic Traits of a Phenomenological Hermeneutics Couverture du livre Self-Understanding and Lifeworld: Basic Traits of a Phenomenological Hermeneutics
Studies in Continental Thought
Hans-Helmuth Gander. Translated by Ryan Drake and Joshua Rayman
Indiana University Press
2017
Hardcover $65.00
430

Reviewed by:  Douglas Giles (University of Essex)

Gander’s declared aim in Self Understanding and Lifeworld is to build on the untapped potential of Heidegger’s hermeneutical phenomenology of the lifeworld and the self-forming experience of reality. The book is a long and closely argued exploration of how a human being develops an understanding of oneself as a self within a social lifeworld.

Gander spends perhaps a little too much time beating the dead horse of the Cartesian self but he does correctly emphasize the importance of the self not as a self-certainty but as a fluctuating play of unfolding human experiences in the historical world. The historicity of the individual is important to Gander, who focuses on the self-understanding as a to-and-fro between present experiences and progressive-anticipatory self-confirmation. To the contrary, Gaander says, the human self is historicized, meaning that the self cannot be identified as an ahistorical transcendent ago, but needs to be conceived as a historical self in the current of history. As human individuals, our task is to have to incessantly identify our self from within our self within the lifeworld.

Gander’s primary task in Self Understanding and Lifeworld is to set forth a phenomenology of the human self that describes what it means to be a unified human self in the current of life history. In response to the philosophical need to critically discuss self-understanding within the lifeworld, Gander argues that the Husserlian conception of the phenomenology of consciousness is inadequate for answering the problem of history in the hermeneutics of the self-understanding of human beings in the world. Each of us, Gander says, is what we are only through what we have become, and thus, the hermeneutical question of the self-understanding takes shape in Heidegger’s project of a hermeneutics of facticity.

In Part One, Gander interprets the human being’s facticity as similar to the writing and reading of a text. Gander’s analogy is to compare self-understanding with understanding a text. Our knowing is an interpretation, including our knowing of ourselves, allowing us, Gander argues, to compare the understanding of our self with the understanding of a text. The move Gander makes here is one with which the reader may or may not agree, and the reader may or may not find Gander’s defence of it—a blending of Dilthey, Foucault, and Gadamer—convincing. In short, if I understand Gander correctly, his argument is that in a text, there is a space in which the writing subject disappears and since a human being’s self understanding is a historical consciousness—a kind of text being written and read—we as a knowing subject of our self-understanding disappears. The textual analogy rests largely on seeing the historicity of the individual as a kind of reading of the individual’s cultural traditions. We enter into the text (the “book of the world”) of our tradition and in reading and interpreting that text, our individual self-persuasion forms itself. Gander says that “the human self- and world understanding underlies and forms itself from out of the force field of the particular historical-cultural tradition.” (55) That individuals develop their understandings of self and world from their cultural tradition is uncontroversial, but whether we gain philosophical understanding of this process by applying the textual analogy is open to question. Gander’s argument is certainly plausible, but it is not clear that it is an advance on other philosophical approaches.

Regardless of how we view the self-formation of the human self, we are left with the problem of the lifeworld. This is a philosophical problem because the constitution of the self and the possibility of self-experience are connected to the self’s history in the world. Gander turns to the problem of the lifeworld in Part Two. The field of reality, Gander says, opens itself to the philosopher in the language the philosopher speaks and the meaning of its concepts which are set out in historical context. The approach needed, therefore, is a hermeneutical interpretation of concepts that is related to human situatedness in everyday experience. (79-81) Gander then enters a lengthy exposition against Descartes’s philosophical method and the self-certainty of the self within Descartes’s method, little of which will be new to the reader.

When Gander returns to the problem of the lifeworld, he observes that life and thus the lifeworld can no longer be considered something over and against the subject as in Descartes. (116) He then turns to Husserl’s discussion of the lifeworld, interpreting Husserl’s task as a project of “lifeworldly ontology.” (140) Gander adopts Husserl’s task, but also finds Husserl’s approach wanting. The individual’s facticity in the world is carried out in the historical and cultural horizons of the lifeworld. The “concrete lifeworld” is a variable, changing historical-social-cultural world and the lifeworld is more than a mere preliminary to the transcendental sphere of reason. For this reason, Gander says we must take leave of Husserl’s narrow approach to a theory of perception and begin anew the task of an ontology of the lifeworld as outside the transcendental horizon. Gander criticizes Husserl as bypassing the factically concrete lifeworld in its historicity in favor of what Gander calls “an intended final sense by means of the transcendental epoché…[and] takes the sting out of his diagnosis.” (163) By claiming the singularity of the lifeworld, Husserl, Gander says, cuts himself off from existentiell factical contingent experience and the plurality of lifeworlds. At no point does there arise a central perspective from which the human relation to self and world, therefore, Gander rejects Husserl’s approach, adopting in opposition the approach that “the ground of the natural lifeworld, with the experiences of contingency encountered everywhere and at each moment, remains a significant, indeed a necessary corrective against intellectual flights of thinking.” (167)

Gander expands on his claim that Husserl has neglected the historical and factical life in Part Three. And it is here that he gets to the main point of his book:

I experience myself only in the midst of the world—and that means in the midst of time and history—so this relatedness always already implicates the self-constituting experience of difference in its ontological presupposition. The self-relation generates and determines itself accordingly through and as difference, yet does not spilt in the Cartesian sense, but rather in that I experience myself qua difference as essentially open to the world; the self always already transcends itself beyond me to the understanding possible for me as historical horizon. (184)

Our finite self-relation is constituted by both transcendence and difference, Gander argues, and though our phenomenological approach to the problem of the lifeworld benefits from Husserl’s epoché, it also benefits from the early Heidegger’s critique of Husserl—specifically the former’s view to the structure of care. Gander sides with Heidegger in rejecting Husserl’s empty certainty and in accepting instead the understanding that science should be posited as knowing comportments of human beings. Human knowing is a specific mode of being in the world and taking this into account allows our phenomenological approach to include the unexpressed effective background beliefs that form humans’ presuppositional horizon. The proper things of philosophy, Gander concludes, following Heidegger, are not experiences of consciousness taken through the transcendental and eidetic reduction but the phenomena of the human ontological condition of the care for life. Heidegger grasps facticity, Gander says, as the existentiell situation of the individual—one’s own concrete, particular context of life. (196) Self-understanding is therefore experienced in one’s particular facticity within an historical horizon constituted by both transcendence and difference regarding one’s orientation to oneself and to the world.

Having argued for the preference of Heidegger over Husserl, Gander turns back to the issue of a hermeneutics of the self-understanding of human beings in the world. He begins by approaching the pretheoretical life. The human is enmeshed in factical life in such a way that the self as activity constitutes itself in the lifeworld. What we call “life” is known through and in a hermeneutically interpreting active knowing of the having of life itself. (212) Life in itself is always my own life and what it means to be a self is to experience the self-world that is there for us in every situation. Our phenomenological approach must look at the factical experience of life that is always lived out in a lifeworld which is centered in the self-world of comportment to oneself. (214) Gander’s hermeneutical ontology of facticity considers the world-relation as self-relation and constructs an historical ontology of our ourselves based on the conception that experience fundamentally refers to self-relation that is always already situationally related or bound. We make experiences only in situational connections, and situations create in themselves possibilities of experience for me.

Self Understanding and Lifeworld is perhaps longer of a book than it needs to be. One could also argue that it covers well-worn paths of material. As a contribution to Heideggerian studies, Gander’s book has value in how he relates several concepts in Heidegger to other twentieth century philosophers. Any writings concerning this subject matter are, almost by necessity, opaque and complex, and Self Understanding and Lifeworld is definitely those things. Gander’s differentiation of everyday experience as an historical life is a difficult read but worthwhile for the reader who is interested in new applications of Heidegger for the study of the self.

Helen Fielding, Dorothea Olkowski (Eds.): Feminist Phenomenology Futures

Feminist Phenomenology Futures Couverture du livre Feminist Phenomenology Futures
Helen Fielding, Dorothea Olkowski (Eds.)
Indiana University Press
2017
Paperback $45.00
364

Reviewed byMaría Jimena Clavel Vázquez (St. Andrews/Stirling Philosophy Graduate Programme)

In Feminist Phenomenology Futures we find a multiplicity of approaches, experiences, and points of view of intellectuals working on feminist phenomenology. But, which is the guiding thread that unites them all? On the one hand, we may say that this is a book about current approaches to feminist phenomenology united solely by that, by providing accounts that fit into the framework of this discipline. And, although the multiplicity of points of view is central not only to this book but to this endeavour, we need to focus on something else. What matters is not only the currency of these approaches, but the future that is latent in them. This, of course, is made explicit in the title of the compilation. However, this might be difficult to grasp. So, I believe it is worth pausing here to clarify exactly what this means because this is not only the most relevant feature of this compilation, but its greater contribution.

As I said, this book is concerned with the future of feminist phenomenology. At this point we should note that we are not asking for the expected outcome of a research programme and the methodology that will lead us to it. It is neither a book that seeks to unify a discipline and mark the path for its future development. This book is, rather, traversed by a question regarding the destiny of feminist phenomenology. Or, in other words, feminist phenomenology considered as a project. The future, in this context, is not something that belongs to a chain of events, nor an “empty zone”, as Dorothea E. Olkowski and Helen A. Fielding state in the introduction. It is rather the future of experience. In her article “Open Future, Regaining Possibility”, to which I will later return, Fielding claims that our experience is characterised by simultaneity in that it is a “gathering of the past and future in the present experienced from a point of view by someone who perceives, feels, thinks, and acts” (94). The future is already sketched in us, embodied and situated beings. This allows us to comprehend the relevance of populating feminist phenomenology with multiple voices. As Fielding emphasizes at the beginning, in “A Feminist Phenomenology Manifesto”, the future in this context should not be understood as a unifying force, but as the opening of possibilities in our experiences and these, we must add, are never uniform but multiple. The future belongs to this discipline because it recognizes such multiplicity. In this manifesto, Fielding claims that at the core of feminist phenomenology is a “decentered subject” that is “multiple rather than singular” (viii). Feminist phenomenology becomes, thus, the methodology of the future because it emphasizes as its guiding task the opening of possibilities. In this line, Fielding claims that at the core of this understanding of feminist phenomenology lies “the recognition that there are multiple ways of approaching living experience” (vii). Furthermore, there lies a compromise of accounting for the experiences of embodied and situated agents and their worlds: “we need robust accounts of embodied subjects that are interrelated within the world or worlds they inhabit” (viii). This compromise is what turns feminist phenomenology into an emancipatory endeavour.

Part 1. The Future Is Now
As Olkowski and Fielding notice in the introduction (pxxiii – xxiv), the phrase “the future is now” is commonly used but hardly explained. So, how are they interpreting this phrase? The authors draw on Merleau-Ponty’s interpretation of Feuerbach. According to Merleau-Ponty, Feuerbach is claiming that being should not be taken to be an abstraction, but as something embodied, involved in the senses, attached to life. Philosophy thus becomes a new happiness, the joyful expectation of a project to come that involves us all, embracing the forces traversing our current experiences. The future in this sense is the future that is sketched in us. The papers in this section address this outline, that is, the future as it appears in us.

The paper that inaugurates this section is Dorothea E. Olkowski’s “Using Our Intuition: Creating the Future Phenomenological Plane of Thought”. Throughout this paper, she advances the thesis that intuition should be considered the structure for the methodology of feminist phenomenology. Olkowski starts from the situated woman, someone whose situation is identified with her body, and which is shaped by culture, history, and society. In that sense, her being is temporal. However, Olkowski sees a problem in the way her body has been considered because instead of being recognized as “her freedom, her transcendence”, she has been taken to be “embedded in her embodiment” (4). This is what Olkowski wishes to challenge: the idea that feminist phenomenology is particularly concerned with embodiment because the body represents the opposition to traditional notions of reason and knowledge. The problem, then, is that this notion became more relevant in the context of feminist phenomenology than in other areas of philosophy. In order to tackle this issue, Olkowski explores the plane of thought that underlies this phenomenon, that is, its “milieu of concepts and methods” (6).

Olkowski defends, drawing on Merleau-Ponty, de Beauvoir, and Bergson, that the plane of thought that is adequate to account for embodiment, without stripping it away from the freedom that constitutes it, is the vital form or the plane of the virtual which brings together the realm of language with that of nature (10). Between language and nature lies a structure of significance where the perceptible acquires meaning. Consciousness is not apart from the body, rather in the present, consciousness exists as the body where past and future meet (12). It is in the temporal structure of the embodiment that intuition can be considered once again as the structure that guarantees that action is creative instead of being just a repetition of previous patterns (13).

In “Just Throw Like a Bleeding Philosopher: Menstrual Pauses and Poses, Betwixt Hypatia and Bhubaneswari, Half Visible, Almost Illegible”, Kyoo Lee is concerned with the way feminist phenomenology can face the complexity of embodiment (25). In particular, she is interested in an analysis of menstruation. To do so, she focuses on the double structure that constitutes menstruation: “The menstruator enters and exits the cycle of life simultaneously while bleeding herself into a revolving door she herself becomes, beginning to exist and exit at once in syncopation that seems to have a will, a script, of its own” (30). On the one hand, it is an overcharged phenomenon that marks the entrance of women into existence; while, on the other, it is an overlooked phenomenon in that it hides women in plain sight.

Lee puts forward two cases where this phenomenon is brought into view. Firstly, the case of Hypatia: when a student declared his love to her, she threw her menstrual handkerchief to his face, to show that she who was the object of his Platonic love was also this embodied being. This way, she was not only affirming herself as female, but also bringing to light this double structure. Lee claims that she is throwing it “back at the smug face of philosophy that says one thing and does another or the other” (p. 34). Lee also goes through the case of Bhubaneswari Bahduri, a young woman from North Calcutta sixteen or seventeen years old, who committed suicide specifically on the time of her menstruation. Bhubaneswari had joined a terrorist group but then escaped the entrusted task of assassinating a political figure through her suicide (p. 37). Her action challenges the “patriarchal violence, the class system, and the colonial rule” (p. 38) precisely because every single one of her actions was a liberating act. Both Hypatia and Bhubaneswari throw back the situation to which they are thrown to, opening in this way alternative futures for women.

The third paper in this section is “Transformative Lines of Flight: From Deleuze to Masoch” by Lyat Friedman. Drawing on a text by Deleuze and Guattari called Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, Friedman seeks to disentangle the opposition men-women by providing a “line of flight” or a way out. For her, this method offers alternative interpretations that do not contest an opposition, rather they complicate it (49). Friedman starts by providing an account of the opposition men-women. Following de Beauvoir, she argues that this opposition does not resemble that of two opposing poles. While women are the negative, the Other, men are not only the positive but the neutral as well.

Friedman draws on Deleuze’s interpretation of Sade and Masoch, and the women from their texts. As de Beauvoir notes, one of the features of these texts is that they present the male perspective of different types of women (56). Sade depicts his male protagonists as figures of power whose opposite is a victim or prey. Masoch, on the other hand, offers a male protagonist who thrives on humiliation. His opposite is a woman who “refuses to act from her position of power” (56). As Friedman notes, these structures are incompatible. The author finally returns to de Beauvoir’s position as it appears in an article called “Must We Burn Sade?” There de Beauvoir intends to provide a charitable understanding of Sade’s expression of hatred towards women, offering thus an interpretation of his texts that breaks with binary oppositions. She claims that: “We must learn to avoid reiterating oppositions even as we disagree with them. We must find lines of flight, identify intersections, and leave given paths, if only to produce alternative futures for women and men” (62).

The last paper of this section, “Crafting Contingency” by Rachel McCann, offers an exploration into the creation of alternative social paths. For McCann, architectural design provides, firstly, a field for understanding the complex interactions between a system and its environment, the organisation of a system that reiterates a pattern, and the way this pattern transforms and transmits information. For her, patterns are reiterative, complex, and, at times, flexible structures. The exploration of these concepts allows her to posit a model for effecting social change. Drawing on bell hooks, McCann claims that “in order to effect social change we must position ourselves at once on society’s margins and at its center” (73). Social change will come from creatively reconfiguring the boundaries that cannot be crossed. Effecting change in these structures will lead to an eventual restructuring of the world (81).

Part 2. Negotiating Futures
A different notion of future is at play in the second section. In the introduction (xxv-xxvi), Olkowski and Fielding note that the opening of emancipatory possibilities requires the commitment of bringing about these projects. Ultimately, it requires erasing the boundaries between reason and passion: these emancipatory possibilities are not only sketched in us, but they are also something that is affirmed through passionate action. Bringing about these possibilities involves audacity in that there is always a risk of failure. Now, this notion of project has a retrospective character because the future is not something that breaks with the past, that is, built from scratch. As Olkowski and Fielding note, when others look back into these projects the future appears not as a possibility but as something that was inevitable, something that was bound to happen (xxvi).

The first paper in this section, “Open Future, Regaining Possibility” by Helen A. Fielding explores situations where personal time, that is, time as it appears in our experience, breaks down. To do so, she draws on Merleau-Ponty’s distinction between impersonal time, personal time, and objective time. Fielding describes personal time in terms of simultaneity. As mentioned earlier, she considers this to be a gathering of present, past, and future (94). Fielding describes temporal break down as the closure of possibilities, as the loss of “the phenomenal experience whereby each moment is full of the living possibilities with which we ‘reckon,’ possibilities that are actualized as possibilities…” (95). She explores this phenomenon in light of a couple of cases in which online bullying resulted in the suicide of its victims. In these cases, Fielding argues, these teenagers suffered from a depression that involved the break down of personal time. An important factor in these cases is the temporality that is involved online: “on the internet temporality is collapsed into space” (96).

In the second paper of this section, “Of Women and Slaves”, Debra Bergoffen discusses de Beauvoir’s notion of an original Mitsein. Bergoffen starts from the idea that de Beauvoir’s position allows a movement from women considered as an oppressed Other to the “dignity of difference” (110). De Beauvoir is troubled by the fact that, despite being oppressed, women do not rebel. Bergoffen explains that for the French philosopher this is rooted in an original bond between men and women: an original Mitsein. Rebellion makes sense when the other is not absolute but relative, but this is not the case of women for de Beauvoir. For this reason, Bergoffen develops an exploration into de Beauvoir’s original Mitsein. For her, this concept “identifies the couple as the site where… desire is fulfilled” (115). Unlike slavery, oppression in the case of women does not aim towards destruction but domestication. The author explores this notion in connection with de Beauvoir’s claim that women are slaves to their husbands. Furthermore, she offers an analysis that takes into account the intersectionality of subjects, the crossroads between race and gender, and the vulnerability of women who are not privileged.

In the final article of this section, “Unhappy Speech and Hearing Well. Contributions of Feminist Speech Act Theory to Feminist Phenomenology”, Beata Stawarska addresses the phenomenon of speaking as a woman. Drawing on Austin’s theory on language performativity, she proposes to think of the failure of woman being heard as a failure in the illocutionary force of the speech. According to Stawarska, when a speech is performed by a socially dominant speaker, it enjoys a force that gets lost when it is spoken by a non-dominant speaker. For her, this failure is one that is socially modulated. To address this phenomenon, she complements Austin’s theory with a phenomenological perspective. The gender-power imbalance results in an infelicitous enactment of a speech act. Stawarska shows that the success or failure of a speech act depends not only on the speaker, but on the listener as well: “The hearer’s uptake is both the effect of what is being said and the condition of the saying acquiring the force of a speech act” (132). Addressing the silencing of women requires, then, to cultivate not only the speakers but, importantly, the listeners: it is essential to cultivate an attentive listener.

Part 3. The Ontological Future
In the third section of this compilation, the authors offer an ontological perspective on the future as it appears in experience. Olkowski and Fielding draw on Husserl’s notion of internal temporality (xxvii). For him, what appears to consciousness does so in continuing phases and enjoys a unity that is synthetic: this flowing away belongs to the way objects appear to consciousness. In other words, the objects of consciousness get their unity and identity from this “flowing subjective process” (xxvii). Taking this into account is essential for the task of feminist phenomenology as an ontological endeavour. The authors complement Husserl’s take on internal time with Henri Bergson’s ontological memory: “even our most minute sensations form an ontological memory, images created by the imperceptible influences of states in the world on our sensibility” (xxvii). In this sense, in experience our present coexists and interacts with the past: new experiences alter the past and create new possibilities. For the authors, this is essential to understand that we are projected beings.

The first paper in this section, “Adventures in the Hyperdialectic” by Eva-Maria Simms, develops Merleau-Ponty’s method of the hyperdialectic. To do so, Simms starts by exploring Merleau-Ponty’s notion of the gestalt principle. For Merleau-Ponty, a gestalt is a consideration of a new dimension of order. This refers to “a system that is more than the sum of its parts” (144) and that stands as the transcendental field of the objects that appear to consciousness. According to Simms, the hyperdialectic is a method that allows the formulation of a set of principles that accounts for being understood not as an absolute, but as a gestalt. In this sense, Merleau-Ponty’s hyperdialectic opposes the dialectic method that loses touch with the concrete (143). Simms is interested in providing an account of gender through the method of the hyperdialectic. At the end of this paper, she provides a short outline of this account.

In “The Murmuration of Birds. An Anishinaabe Ontology of Mnidoo-Worlding” by Dolleen Tisawii’ashii Manning, the author advances an outline of the ontology of the Algonquian language family from North America. She is particularly interested in the notion of mnidoo, a concept that among other things, means spirit, substance, nature, essence, mystery, potential. Manning is interested in showing that mnidoo-worlding, that is, mnidoo dwelling in the world is an unconscious “conceding” that is “embedded over generations” (156). To explore this ontology, the author draws on the phenomenology of Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, particularly on the latter’s notion of chiasm. Manning advances a notion of consciousness that surpasses animal or human sentience and locates in the world (p.162). This opens a dimension or center that connects and goes through the bodies (animate and inanimate) that constitute this center. This entails that, in mnidoo-worlding, these bodies fuse to become an indistinguishable whole. The relation between the bodies that constitute the whole is, for her, “an ownmost immediate knowing”, a familiarity that exceeds the subjective: “Nii kina ganaa – All my relations/All my relatives/My all/My everything” (165).

Christine Daigle’s “Trans-Subjectivity/Trans-Objectivity” is situated within the framework of the ethics of flourishing. Discussing with (and drawing on) several philosophers, such as Nietzsche, Deleuze, Heidegger, and Foucault, she wishes to provide an account of the human being as trans-subjective and trans-objective. Hers is a weak ontology in that it provides a deep reconsideration of the relation between human beings and their worlds. Daigle begins with the idea that our body is the anchor to the world. However, the boundaries of the body are not fixated, rather they are on the making. Not only that, for her, human beings are transformed in their engagements not only with others but with the world as well. These transformations have an ontological dimension: they transform our being. Daigle uses the trans((subj)(obj))ective structure to account for trauma and its everlasting effects. She claims that: “What a trans((subj)(obj))ective being does to another is not circumscribed in time and space, but it is an everlasting deed. It is constitutive of one’s being as both trans-subjective and trans-objective…” (195).

Part 4. Our Future Body Images
As mentioned earlier, the future is already sketched in us and part of that outline is our body image. As Olkowski and Fielding state in the introduction: “The body image is a vital prereflective sketch of the body’s practical possibilities for engagement with the world” (xxix). This turns out to be essential to the understanding of an agent. The authors draw on Gail Weiss’ notion of the body image, which claims that this is “an active agency that has its own memory, habits, and horizons of significance” (Weiss, Body Images, p. 3, as it appears in p. xxix). The texts in this section reflect precisely on the idea that the body image is our embodied experience in the world, an image that makes sense in the intertwining of our interactions with the world and with other agents, and that emerges from these interactions. The body image in that sense is both individual and social. It is individual in that it tracks my specific engagements and point of view. However, it also tracks the norms and the structures of our interactions with others, our social practices. Paying attention to our image is essential to the project of feminist phenomenology and its emancipatory character. As Olkowski and Fielding claim: “Since corporeal schemas reflect the ways we take up the world, shifting these practical possibilities or embodied norms is pivotal to shifting practical possibilities, and, similarly, bringing concrete change to our world can also shift the ways we move and hence our bodily schemas” (xxix).

Gail Weiss, in the paper “The ‘Normal Abnormalities’ of Disability and Aging. Merleau-Ponty and Beauvoir”, addresses the ambivalent attitudes towards people who do not conform to the normative standards of beauty in a society. Weiss follows Julia Kristeva in claiming that human beings avoid confronting their vulnerabilities by projecting onto others “the status of abject other” (204). The author claims that avoiding someone with what she calls a non-normative body is a strategy to avoid thinking about our own possibilities. Weiss emphasizes the paradox of the abnormalcy of age. Although it is considered non-normative, or an abnormal body, the thing is that we will all age. In consequence, Weiss argues, it is impossible to distance ourselves fully from this image.The author explores de Beauvoir’s perspective on this phenomenon. Weiss argues that ageing involves an alienating experience. The problem is that vilifying ageing “is clearly against the self-interest of each of us to the extent that we aspire to live a long life” (209). To explore the phenomenon of disability, Weiss draws on Merleau-Ponty. Merleau-Ponty argues that this phenomenon allows us to understand better our perceptual engagements. Weiss takes Merleau-Ponty’s discussion about the Alzheimer patient who, despite her cognitive impairments, inhabits her world meaningfully. For Weiss, it is Merleau-Ponty’s position that allows the normalisation of the abnormal (212) and, in consequence, it allows us to challenge the oppressive considerations of the non-normal body.

The next paper, “The Transhuman Paradigm and the Meaning of Life” by Christina Schües addresses the way biotechnology impacts our experiences and, in consequence, the meaning of life. Bio-phenomenology is able to provide an account of the way meaning is transformed through the introduction of new technologies and its intertwining in our biographies. She claims that: “Bio-phenomenology provides an appropriate approach to investigating the underlying dimensions of meaning and the structures of experiences, which concern the biotechnological, medical, and reprogenetic practices in the transhuman paradigm” (225).

In “The Second-Person Perspective in Narrative Phenomenology” Aneemie Halsema and Jenny Slatman offer a phenomenological consideration of the second-person perspective and its relevance in sense-making. They focus specifically in research interviewing in cases of breast cancer diagnosis. The authors explore the role of the interviewer in the way the respondent articulates her experience. For them: “Sense-making is not the work of an individual, but takes place in joint narrative work” (243). They show that language co-creates experiences drawing on the work of Paul Ricoeur.

In the final paper of this section, “Hannah Arendt and Pregnancy in the Public Sphere”, Katy Fulfer challenges Arendt’s idea that pregnancy cannot be considered a public activity. Interestingly, she does so from Arendt’s own distinction between the private, the social, and the public. Fulfer is specifically concerned with issues regarding reproductive justice in cases of contract pregnancy. Fulfer argues that Arendt’s notion of the social allows her to show that pregnancy surpasses the private realm. The social realm is defined as that in which the necessities of life take the place of the public or the political. This is the case of contract pregnancy when considered as a biopolitical phenomenon. Fulfer defines the biopolitics as that which “offers governing bodies the ability to control bodies and populations under the guise of promoting the health of individuals” (260). Given that gestational workers are controlled and disciplined through contracts and political rhetoric, Fulfer claims that they are no longer considered as political agents but as workers whose job is to preserve a life, entering thus the social realm. The author argues as well that there is also an aspect in which gestational workers enter the public realm through political discourse, a discourse that takes place when they discuss their own situation, and that in some case impacts their contracts.

Part 5. Present and Future Selves
In the final section of this compilation, we find papers that address the world as it has been configured by the actions and speeches of “our past selves”, as Olkowski and Fielding advance in the introduction (xxxi). These papers scrutinize and evaluate the possibilities that were configurated before us. This is the retrospective character of the future that was mentioned in part 2.

The first paper of this section, “Is Direct Perception Arrogant Perception? Toward a Critical, Playful Intercorporeity” by April N. Flakne argues against analogical theories of the perception of others. For her, these theories eliminate difference, something that is essential in our considerations of the other, by modelling the other “on oneself” (278). To make her case, Flakne joins the defenders of direct perception, a theory according to which our perception of others is not mediated by either a theory of the mind of others or by a re-enactment of others’ mental states (i.e. the simulation theory). The idea behind direct perception is that we encounter others “because they comport themselves toward the world” (281).

Flakne argues that in order to avoid arguments that model the other after oneself, it is necessary to focus on the spaces where the other demands a response or an interaction: “an occasion for uptake and response that we cannot present ourselves” (289). The author draws on Maria Lugones who claims that individuals are not discrete, rather they are constructed by a world that is shared. She takes Lugones’ notion of world-travelling according to which we approach the other by being affected by other worlds. Our identity is, for Flakne, constituted by the playful corporeal interaction with others. Through the notion of this playful interaction, Flakne wishes to give new directions to direct perception.

“Leadership in the World Through an Arendtian Lens” by Rita A. Gardiner challenges contemporary accounts of authentic leadership, an enquiry that began as an ethical evaluation of leadership positions and practices, and that evolved into a prescriptive discipline that accounts for the features a leader should have. The problem of these accounts is that, from a phenomenological perspective they fail to account for lived experience. Furthermore, they equate authentic leadership with moral goodness (302). Drawing on Arendt, Gardiner wishes to advance a notion of leadership that emphasizes collaboration as an essential element of leadership. She claims that “freedom and power are impossible without the ability to act in concert with others” (304).

In “Identity-in-Difference to Avoid Indifference”, Emily S. Lee proposes to recognize the relevance of identity or commonality in the philosophy of race. She does so by proposing a phenomenological analysis of the notion of identity-in-difference. Lee starts from the process of ontologizing of racial differences,the process in which social differences that are marked racially are no longer recognized as social constructs, they are rather naturalized. Lewis Gordon claims that “naturalizing what is socially constructed makes an ontological difference” (314). This emphasis on difference within philosophy of race, Lee holds, can also be seen in Gareth Williams. For him, colonized subjects have difficulties finding a history that does not narrate the lives of those who benefitted from development. Lee’s concern is that these positions might threaten the “possibility of racially distinct subjects sharing a social horizon” (315). This follows from the idea that, according to work in phenomenology and cognitive science, “embodiment influences our cognitive development” (315). The influence of embodiment in our cognitive development might lead to the sedimentation of difference. Lee wishes to show that differences are not relevant enough to disconnect us from one another. To do so, she defends Merleau-Ponty’s notion of identity-in-difference.

The paper that closes this compilation is “What is Feminist Phenomenology? Looking Backward and into the Future” by Silvia Stoller. In this paper, Stoller goes through the history of feminist phenomenology to offer, as well, an account of its future horizons. She begins with an account of the two phases that constituted feminist phenomenology. The publication of de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex in 1949 was followed by the post-structuralist phase of feminism in the 1980’s. In the 1990’s a phase of institutionalisation followed this first stage. Stoller recognizes Edith Stein, Gerda Walther, and Hannah Arendt as early feminist phenomenologists. For her, historical research into these figures is an important part of feminist phenomenology, however, it does not exhaust the framework. Feminist phenomenology is, in addition, interested in an understanding of experience that recognizes its situated, embodied, historical character. In other words, an understanding of experience as multiple. Feminist phenomenology also involves the dialogue with other important figures within phenomenology such as Merleau-Ponty, Lévinas, Husserl, and Heidegger. Finally, this discipline also called for the dialogue with post-structuralism and its criticisms of phenomenology. Nowadays, Stoller claims, these two approaches do not seem to oppose each other. Rather, the two can complement each other in a meaningful way (336). The author takes this to be an open movement. She claims that: “the future of feminist phenomenology can be sustained only by continuing to preserve its heterogeneity and cultivating its diverse orientations. It was never – as is the case with phenomenology itself – a fully developed theory” (343).

Concluding Remarks
The constant turning back to the past from the authors of this compilation, and the way they build from this reflection new possibilities confirms the methodology of feminist phenomenology that is advanced in this volume. This discipline involves the recognition of new alternatives in our current situation, alternatives that stem from past reflections, commitments, and actions. In the way the editors knit the guiding thread of this volume, as well as in the introductory chapters, they advance an extremely interesting reflection on the methodology of feminist phenomenology and its future path, exemplified and enriched in each of the papers. The authors of this compilation offer a phenomenological analysis that engages not only with previous works on feminist phenomenology, but also with works that have been challenged before by the feminist tradition, and with works that belong to other frameworks and disciplines. Anyone working on feminist theory, in general, will be greatly benefitted by exploring these works, and discussing their contributions. Furthermore, they offer important contributions to discussions within philosophy of mind, philosophy of race, linguistics, leadership research, bioethics, anthropology, narrative medicine, among others, thus showing the reach of the project of feminist phenomenology.

Jean-Luc Nancy: The Possibility of a World

The Possibility of a World: Conversations with Pierre-Philippe Jandin Couverture du livre The Possibility of a World: Conversations with Pierre-Philippe Jandin
Jean-Luc Nancy, Pierre-Philippe Jandin, translated by Travis Holloway and Flor Méchain
Fordham University Press
2017
Paperback
152

Reviewed by: Rona Cohen (Tel Aviv University)

The Possibility of a World is a transcript of a conversation between Pierre-Philippe Jandin and the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy. The conversation, which broaches topics spanning philosophy, art history, ethics, politics, religion, community, the Bible, the French Revolution and beyond, exhibits the wide and almost unprecedented scope of Nancy’s writings. This journey through Nancy’s thought is guided by the careful and considered questions of Pierre-Philippe Jandin who, in playing an active role in the conversation, challenges and provokes Nancy with testing questions and comments. An important statement precedes the conversation: “in accordance with J-L Nancy’s wishes, we have attempted to preserve the spontaneity of oral discussion […]”. Owing to this, the reader finds herself standing “on the threshold” (to use Nancy’s phrase from an essay of the same name), observing a scene. This scene, or conversation, is composed of nine chapters, each devoted to a specific topic, and beginning with a question that dictates the direction of the discussion. However, unlike a well-planned interview, the charm of this conversation lies in its associative, non-linear (and not always well-explained) façons de parler.

In keeping with Nancy’s central preoccupation regarding the ontology of plurality as a fundamental ontology, what presides over the entire conversation is a concern with the need to rethink ethics in a “world [that] is no longer simply a cosmos, a mundus, partes extra partes (an extension of distinct places), but the world of the human crowd” (28). In other words, a world that is neither harmonious nor orderly (in the sense of the Greek ‘cosmos’), but rather an irreducible plurality of worlds. Furthermore, this claim extends beyond the argument about the plurality of worlds, since what is at issue is “the plural itself as a principle”,[i] irrespective of whether it concerns politics, the thought of community, or the plurality of the Arts. These modes of plurality, and the consequent requirement to rethink ethics, preoccupy the body of this conversation.

The Possibility of the World does not—and is not intended to—introduce Nancy’s philosophy to the “novice”. Instead, it represents a journey through Nancy’s thought, with which we are already familiar. Owing to this, the book reads as though it were a director’s cut, adding another dimension to a movie or biopic. Given the broad scope of each chapter, in addition to their associative manner, I have chosen only to elaborate on the central issues evoked by each chapter, rather than reviewing chapters in their entirety.

The conversation commences with a preliminary, autobiographical chapter entitled “Formative Years”. This concerns Nancy’s childhood until his mid 20s. On this topic, Jandin begins with a provocative and ironic question:

How did you become a philosopher? Especially since you gave a lecture in 2002 at the Centre Pompidou entitled: “I Never Became a Philosopher.” What’s this non-becoming, then? (1)

Nancy replies:

I didn’t become a philosopher because I’ve always been one. All that I’ve known, or all that I’ve experienced, took place against a background that I wouldn’t call philosophical, though it’s close to it— a background of interest in the things of thought, in conceptions. (2)

The first chapter explores Nancy’s philosophical upbringing.

Nancy’s entry into the world, as Jandin puts it, unfolds in a time of turbulence. Born 1940 in the “thick of World War II” in occupied France, the young Nancy spent most of his childhood in Baden Baden, Germany, owing to his father’s work. As a young boy, Nancy recalls finding great pleasure in “meandering alone in nature” (3), but also, if not especially, in the solitude of reading, which he experienced as “a withdrawal from the rest of the world […] which was an entrance into another world” (3). In 1951, the family returned to France and the young boy entered French school in the middle of sixth grade, which he had in fact commenced already in a French lycée in Germany. He would later on join the Young Christian Students (YCS), a youth movement oriented towards leftist Catholicism, which he recounts as providing the “initial ferment of my intellectual formation” (8):

As I realized much later, this was certainly the beginning of something for me, the beginning of a relationship with texts as an inexhaustible resource of meaning or sense [sens]. The biggest revelation that I had through this exercise was that, in a text, there is practically an infinite reserve of sense […] Basically, this is what I was trained to do: One has to interpret a text and this interpretation is infinite. (7)

While the Catholic orientation of that movement provided the adolescent Nancy with his first encounter of biblical texts and their inexhaustible fount of sense, this encounter eventually culminated in a crisis of faith:

Suddenly the mere possibility of being in what I could think of as a relationship to God— addressing him, having to recognize myself as a sinner, having to confess, having to receive the communion of the body of Christ—all of this had completely lost any substance. (9)

Thus, while the YCS, with its religious orientation, provided the initial path to social and political advocacy, the young Nancy discovered that it was not the only path to becoming socially and politically engaged. Moreover, on account of his distancing from religion, he was increasingly drawn to philosophy. The first philosopher mentioned in this long conversation is Jacques Derrida, whose writings he came upon in 1964 (at the age of 24), and on whose philosophy he writes “I felt that something was bursting open. There was a timeliness to this thought […] A new language was trying, at least, to find itself” (14). However, even earlier on he had discovered Hegel and Heidegger (an encounter that Nancy elaborates on in “Heidegger in France”).[ii]

However, above all it was Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason that formed part of the aggregation that left the strongest impression on the young Nancy. Kant’s legacy, Nancy argues, is “enormous”, and far “greater than [Hegel’s]” (18). What changes with Kant is that there is no longer a distinction between the domain of pure reason and the domain of praxis, since after Kant “pure reason is itself practical, which is why it doesn’t need a critique, but rather a critique of its use” (19). Another leitmotif of Nancy’s writings was his preoccupation with the question of the relationship between the sensible and the intelligible, around which the entire Kantian critical corpus revolves (and which is referred to within Kant scholarship as “the Nature-Freedom problem”). These concerns, deemed the one thing “that had never been thought by metaphysics” (20) according to Kant writing to Marcus Herz, were centrally important to Nancy’s own writings, as evidenced (inter alia) in The Muses, Corpus, and The Ground of the Image.

As far as Nancy was concerned, challenging the distinction between pure and practical, sensible and intelligible, constituted a project originating in Kant. Such concerns inevitably move us away from the domain of the first Critique and its study into the possibility of a priori sensibility, to the domain of the third Critique, and its study into a different mode of sensibility.

It is here that the discussion turns to art and its difference from philosophy. “I envy the artist”, Nancy admits, because they “manage to do things which are real!” while “I have a feeling that my texts are too oriented towards the conceptual”. Philosophers “are a group of people who want clarity” (21). On this point, one need only recall Descartes’ fundamental distinction between clear and distinct ideas (as opposed to obscure and confused ideas) in The Passions of the Soul. While Western metaphysics is haunted by the metaphor of light, the artist has the freedom to dwell in the shadows. “I look into the night and enter it”, Nancy quotes Bataille, “but no philosopher truly takes it upon themselves to do that because philosophers are supposed to introduce light into the world” (21). For Nancy, philosophy is not an escape from a cave towards the bright light of the Idea. Philosophy is rather a dwelling-place between light and shadow, between philosophy and poesies: it is a form of writing that encroaches upon a reality that is irreducible to the conceptual, and which, in Nancy’s words, is an ex-scription (a writing from the outside). As he remarks, “words and ideas are not only words and ideas but the circulation of the real”.

The first chapter culminates with this ethically toned remark:

Human beings no longer live in the world in the sense of Hölderlin, reprised by Heidegger, when he writes: “poetically, man dwells.” “To dwell” [habiter] means to be in the habitus, not in the habit but in the “disposition,” an active disposition. In the end, habitus is not far from ethos; what we need is an ethics of the world. This is perhaps the greatest issue of Western civilization, which has now become worldwide [mondiale], or global [globale]—to have had this will to transform the world in order to make it a human world […] This is what Heidegger meant when he introduced what we translate as “Being-in-the-world” (in-der-Welt-sein); to say that the existent, the Dasein, is essentially in the world simply means that it’s necessarily involved in the circulation of meaning or sense, which is what makes a world. (26)

Notwithstanding this Heideggerian-toned observation, Nancy ends up invoking Kant’s Categorical Imperative: “Act as if the maxim of your action were to become a universal law of nature”:

The imperative is what has been given to human beings in order to make a world, in the end, this means that what’s at stake is to make or remake a world. (27)

This world, which has become an object of knowledge “is at the same time a world where human beings’ presence […] has been pushed aside” (26). We no longer live in the world as beings-in-the-world, we flee from this existential, from this mode of being, and in doing that we flee from our essence as existence.

Nancy interprets Kant’s principle of universality as the ethical obligation of each of us to remake a world, recreating it for the type of being that we ourselves are—Dasein—in order to recapitulate the question of being and our relationship to our being through this creation.

The second conversation, entitled “The World”, picks up the question of ethics and the remaking of the world in connection to one of the fundamental concerns of Nancy’s philosophy, namely the theme of plurality.[iii] Jandin begins by quoting Nancy’s argument in Corpus:

Our world is no longer simply a cosmos, a mundus, partes extra partes (an extension of distinct places), but the world of the human crowd, the non-place of a proliferating population, “[an] endless, generalized, departure.” (28)

Today it is no longer possible to sustain thought about the world in terms of a cosmos in the Greek sense, that is, a uni-verse that is harmonious, beautiful, unified, and total. This narrative is no longer valid, not only philosophically, as Nancy remarks; it is also scientifically untenable: “today astrophysics is compelled in a way to think a plurality of worlds” (30), a multiverse rather than a universe. This thought has two repercussions: “that we no longer can retain the model of a single universe”, but additionally that:

from now on all theories of physics have to think of themselves as a construction of fictions. Moreover, in The New Scientific Spirit, Bachelard writes, in effect, that: [Instruments] are nothing but theories materialized. The phenomena they produce bear the stamp of theory throughout. […] [We] produce, we multiply new objects according to several approaches, and thus we manage to produce several worlds. It’s better to say, perhaps, in order to avoid harming the spontaneous, realistic feeling, that we produce several possibilities of worlds or even several fictions of worlds. Nevertheless, even this word, fiction, is dangerous because it could allow one to think that behind this fictional world lies the true world, when we are perhaps moving past the representation of science as an objective knowledge that comes closer to a real that exists in itself. (30)

The plurality of worlds, an expression coined by Fontenelle that Nancy appropriates as the subtitle of his essay, “Why are there Several Arts and Not Just One?: (conversation on the Plurality of Worlds)”,[iv] refers to plurality as ontological principle rather than as empirical ontic idea, which merely points to the diversity of our world. Referring to this essay, Jandin remarks:

 […] the multiplicity of the “arts” can’t be subsumed under the unity of a concept of “Art,” you insist on the irreducibility of plurality. It’s the world itself that’s plural, and plurality or space is, so to speak, what makes it shatter from the inside. (37)

This argument resonates with not only Nancy’s theme of the Singular Plural but also Kant’s definition of reflective judgment as opposed to a determinate judgment, as expounded in the Critique of the Power of Judgment. The difference between these forms of judgment can be summarized as follows: the former is a kind of judgment for which no determinate concepts are available and which is therefore cognitively unmastered;[v] the latter, by contrast, countenances the possibility of subsuming the manifold of intuition under a unified concept or law. In a similar vein, there is no concept of Art to unify the heterogeneity of the arts, “art would thus be in default or in excess of its own concept” (The Muses, 4), which is to say that there is no principle of homogenization under which to subsume the multiplicity of worlds that we inhabit as beings-in-the-world. This is, therefore, a thesis that goes to the heart of Nancy’s ontology, while sharing firm ground with Kant’s aesthetics.[vi]

What is lost as a consequence of the fact that we “no longer [live] in a cosmos […] we no longer perceive the totality of an ordered and thus beautiful world” (29), is the loss of the image of man as derived from the idea of humanitas. On the one hand, Nancy emphasizes the great emancipatory value of the Enlightenment: it freed human beings to think for themselves, and it inaugurated the moment of the “auto”. Nevertheless, today we face a different challenge, intimated by Nancy’s claim that our world today is a place of plurality, of multitude, which consequently furnishes us with a new ethical task. At issue is no longer the imperative “to think for oneself”, but rather the requirement “to think about the multiple as dis-position, as dis-tinction” (50), that is, to think of the plural itself as a principle without neglecting the singularity and particularity of each individual. In other words, we must think of plurality not in terms of the faceless masses, but in terms of co-appearances. We must think of the multiple as the new face of humanitas.

Extending the discussion of plurality and the plurality of worlds, the third chapter is devoted to the notion of community as a politically active force of resistance. Jandin begins by asking Nancy to clarify the notion of community “by differentiating it from related notions, such as, for example, crowds, which inspired Baudelaire and sparked Benjamin’s thought, or masses, classes, and the multitude” (51). Having addressed the notion of crowd, Nancy turns to discuss the notion of mass:

[It is] a word that we’ve almost forgotten about today, although it used to be very present, perhaps after the postwar period, the adjective “working” frequently accompanied it: the “working mass”, an expression that was used in a positive way, by people who were involved in the social conflict. (55)

Whereas the notion of mass has been made redundant on account of our having “given up on a certain vocabulary of struggle”, the idea of a political community remains, although it instead appears under new “modified” names. Taking the place of “mass”, Nancy argues, are notions such as Rancière’s “no part” (sans part), suggesting a political alternative: a possibility of a world in which “there’s no politics unless the ‘no part’ manifest themselves in a movement in order to claim or demand their right to have a part” (58). Thus, while the class struggle in the Marxist sense is obsolete—both in language and in praxis—in Rancière’s thought (which Nancy sees as Marxist critique within Marxism itself) we may hope for “a new distribution of the sensible”,[vii] that is, for a Dissensus (disagreement). What we lack today, indeed what is lost, as Nancy points out, is the self-interpretation of society in terms of a conflict. And notwithstanding the fact that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, Marxist vocabulary is obsolete. We no longer hear about class struggle and exploitation. Instead we are caught in the mechanism of Capitalism, which provides the language of self-interpretation. This language is that of consumption and accumulation: of consensus rather than dissensus.

In these circumstances, there is no longer any distance between the crowd and Capitalist logic. Since the “good life” is now given in term of consumption there is no longer any conflict or resistance. Thus, as Jandin notes, in our culture “the workers themselves produce the objects that they must acquire in order to live the ideal life” (59). What is lost, nevertheless, is the distance necessary for developing a critical attitude: the distance between the subject and agents of power, which Foucault elucidates by identifying the prisoner’s with the guard’s gaze, bespeaking the loss of distance between the subject and the ideology of power, which is now internalized. This marks the wholesale loss of dissensus. Nancy names this situation the “rehomenization of society”, explaining through this phrase that we are facing a new kind of (so-called) equality, whereby everyone is equal before the ideal of consumption, understood as the newfangled ‘Highest Good’.

In a society that values large numbers (and large number of objects) we see how the logic of “accumulation for accumulation sake” operates. Today everything is commodified: art, nature, universities—even the human being. The chapter concludes pessimistically: if the word ‘emancipation’ comes from Roman law, an emancipated slave becomes a free man:

[Today], on the other hand, it’s perhaps no longer possible to think about an absolutely emancipated human being […] And we’re dealing with a question that’s come up before: Who? We don’t know who we emancipate—we say it’s man, but actually, since we don’t know who man is, we don’t know who we emancipate . . . (65)

The fourth chapter, entitled “People and Democracy”, centers upon the notion of “people”. This chapter recently received critical attention in the collection of essays What is a People? (Columbia University Press, 2016), addressing the ambiguity surrounding this notion, in particular whether it is one of “political emancipation” or whether it has become a notion akin to “a group of words like ‘republic’ or ‘secularism’ whose meanings have evolved to serve to maintain the order. »[viii] To demonstrate ambivalence towards this notion the conversation begins with an anecdote that Nancy recounts of giving a talk on the notion of “people” at a conference in Cerisy, dedicated to Jacques Derrida, entitled “Democracy to Come”. After finishing his paper, Derrida approached Nancy and said to him: “I would’ve said everything you said, but not with the word ‘people’”, to which Nancy replied, “Ok then, but give me another word”. He answered, “I don’t know but it’s not ‘people’”. What Derrida expressed, Nancy tells Jandin, “through this discomfort, the discomfort of our current philosophical situation, was this: At certain moments, we lack the appropriate words” (67). Derrida’s reaction demonstrates his suspicion regarding this notion, even though there is no better word to use in its place. This is not merely a linguistic or discursive failure but rather attests to a certain reality that this notion embodies as an “indication of something that exists, that must exist” (70).

Whereas “the people” are something that must exist, it is at the same time not given, for the construction of a “people” depends on an act of self-declaration, that is, a constituting speech act. In other words, a “people” can only become a political community in this act of self-constitution. Here, then, we can see the emancipatory value of the term in acts such as the one that constituted the “French people” during the Revolution. This act of self-declaration was unprecedented:

I don’t think the French people had ever declared itself as such before through anyone; the king declared himself “King of France” and by the same token all of his subjects were subsumed under or assumed by the royal declaration. The institution of the “sovereign people,” which is not an empty expression, will probably give rise to dangerous political problems. But the “sovereign people” is perhaps first the fact that the people must be able to make a self-declaration, without any superior authority to declare it or institute it as such. (71)

It was in this self-declaration of the French people (at that time of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and of the Citizen) that the Revolution began. Henceforth, the discussion turned to the question of the possibility of singularity within the plurality that the notion “people” connotes, as well as an interesting discussion on the implications of the notion of “people” in a culture, whereby what furnishes the tone is a concern with political correctness.

The fifth chapter deals with the question of political affects, which Nancy briefly touched upon in the third chapter. This chapter is governed by questions such as: “do political affects exit?” and if so “what are they?”, and “Why must there be something from the affective realm in order for political life to be possible?”. From the outset, Nancy dismisses what might have been the obvious answer to the first question, namely that political affects are essentially fear and terror, which one would normally associate with power relations. However, these affects, Nancy argues, are insufficient to “ensure the durability of a government”. Rather, the contrary is true: force must exhibit a sense of amiability so that one can trust the sovereign. This ensures a persistent, uninterrupted flow of power. This argument is supported by historical examples such as the case of Louis XV who was named “the beloved” or the image of the King as a Father, someone who takes care of a family, “the Patriarch”, looking after his subjects/children. But even if (as Machiavelli’s example makes explicit) one encounters the “virtuous appearance” of the prince, as Nancy rightly notes, “someone who has a cruel or perverse personality must be careful to present themself in a certain way” (87).

However, despite the intimate connection between sovereignty and affect, in the era of the modern state we witness the disappearance of affect:

To return to the topic of the modern State, one can say that, on the one hand, it’s forced to constitute itself outside of the affective realm of religion if it wants to claim its full independence, which would come to be called sovereignty, but on the other hand, it would still be forced to seek to qualify itself affectively in several ways and at several moments. (79)

Apart from the historical analysis of the dynamic between Church and state, it is noteworthy that, for Nancy, the question of affectivity holds an ontological significance, particularly in pertaining to the being-with of each of us. The connection between the singularities in this plural “body politic”, the community, is formulated in terms of touch (toucher), which is one of the fundamental concepts in Nancy’s philosophy. Marie-Eve Morin argues that touch is “somewhat equivalent to rapport or sense. That is, it names what happens between singularities, right at the extra of the partes extra partes”, rather than the merging of singularities into a unified whole.

Morin continues:

Contra both the common-sense and philosophical understanding of touch as the sense of proximity (by opposition to the senses of sight, smell and hearing, which can sense at a distance), Nancy insists that in touching, what is touched always remains outside of what touches it, so that the law of touch is not so much proximity as separation.

The sixth part of the conversation, entitled “Politics and Religion”, is a shorter discussion on the difficult question of how the philosophical, the religious and the political interconnect. The discussion revolves around two axes: first, the implication of taking a theological term and using it in a non-theological context, and second, the question of the sacred.

Nancy addresses the first part of the question by making a reference to Gérard Granel’s essay Far from Substance: Whither and to What Point? (Essay on the Ontological Kenosis of Thought Since Kant). There, the Christian notion of “kenosis” (which appears in Paul) is given “an ontological index that is no longer theological” (96). Nancy recalls approaching Granel:

I remember asking him back then: What’s this about? Can we leave the theological behind? Today, very briefly, and as a start, I’d say we can’t. When we speak about “secularization” […] what are we talking about? Is it the complete transfer of the same content but in another context? If one takes a fish and puts it in a dry place, it can no longer live. Is it a metaphorical displacement? But then what does metaphor signify if one takes an element out of religion, it may no longer have a sense. If one extracts “kenosis”6 from its context, as Gérard Granel suggested, is there any sense in speaking about God “being emptied” of its deity in order to become a man outside of Christ, who was precisely this god who joined humanity completely? More simply, can one hold on to the term kenosis outside the context of creation and incarnation? (98)

Addressing the second part of the question, Nancy turns to discuss the notion of sacrifice and its relation to the sacred. Christianity, in its beginning was considered by many to be a philosophy, he claims. However, unlike philosophy or other religious groups it had a “relationship to a higher power and a higher ability to receive the complaints and the offerings of man at the same time, that is, a power that belonged to a logic of sacrifice in one way or another. Is this not what’s at stake in Christianity, which is perhaps the sacrifice that puts an end to all sacrifices, in the words of René Girard?” Nancy sees a connection between sacrifice and the “sacred” defined in The Ground of the Image as what “signifies the separate, what is set aside, removed, cut off”.[ix] If the sacred is what is set aside and cut off, how do we bond with it? Nancy’s answer is through sacrifice:

One attempt to form a bond with the sacred occurs in sacrifice, which as a matter of fact does belong to religion, in one form or another. Where sacrifice ceases, so does religion. And that is the point where, on the contrary, distinction and the preservation of a distance and a “sacred” distinction begin.[x]

However, if religion must involve a relationship to the sacred then Christianity is a “completely desacralized religion, which in a sense has been understood by modern society because it’s secular.” (100) But questions that remain are these: Can we be satisfied with desacralizing in this way? Is Christian behavior tenable as something that completely abstains from any relationship with the sacred? Given our over-scientific technological world:

one hardly sees how humankind could simply go back to the sacred now […] Perhaps the very grasping of what we call technology, reason, rationality, and so on will be transformed, but if this is the case, I don’t think that it will be in order to go back to some form of the sacred. (101)

In the seventh chapter the conversation turns to the question of art, a concern at the core of Nancy’s philosophy. While previously claiming to envy the artist who has the freedom to transcend the sensible/intelligible dichotomy, Nancy now turns to address the ontological implications of art, which he explored extensively in The Muses. Nancy begins by arguing that art presents us with a domain privileged for being able to reveal the “ontological range of what we’re after”, provided that we insist on the “heterogeneous multiplicity of the registers or regimes of the sensible” (112).[xi] But before exploring the theme of plurality, and the plurality of the senses, the discussion turns to the situation of art today, where by “today” Nancy means “a time in which the notion of art is no longer connected with the notion of cosmos or the notion of polis” (103) but is instead concerned with what is commonly referred to as “the crisis in art”. Nancy begins by exploring the historical background to this crisis (a crisis that we can perhaps simply call ‘modern art’) and the conditions leading up to it:

The decomposition, if not the rotting or certain disrepair or disassembling of something that was held to be a cosmic and cosmetic order until our time, or perhaps until the so-called “world” wars […]. This good and beautiful order, as it was thought about from the perspective of Europe or the United States, usually presented itself in the form of the nation-state. Besides, at the time of World War I, this order of the City […] began to crumble. (104)

However, despite the historical circumstances leading to a crisis in art, it is with Hegel that the idea of the “end of art” was introduced into philosophical discourse:

Here we can’t avoid returning to Hegel, to whom one always attributes the phrase that suggests art is dead or over, but whose actual words are that art is “a thing of the past.” With this expression, Hegel wanted to say that art as a representation of the truth, as the bearer of the representation of a general layout, was over, and I think he was spot on. (104)

Nancy here evinces agreement with Hegel’s thesis that art “is a thing of the past” insofar as art is no longer a representation of truth. Moreover, for Nancy art’s power is not in its mimetic function at all. Rather, art “consists [in] the gesture of taking sensation to a particular intensity” (104). This is not to say that art is merely about intensifying sensations, but instead that art first and foremost has to do with the discovery that our sensibility does not merely serve epistemological purposes—the sensible component in the acquisition of knowledge and cognition—but rather we can use our sensibility and our senses in ways that exceed cognition and induce pleasure. On this point, as Nancy remarks: “Once a man starts playing with his voice, not just speaking, perhaps already singing, we are no longer in the realm of phenomenology” (114). It is here where sensibility departs from its cognitive function—from its contribution to the cognition of an object, as Kant would have put it in the third Critique. Owing to this, the path to discovering a different aspect of sensibility is opened. Thus, in this respect the “end of art” designates both an end of an era, but at the same time the dawning of a new way of thinking about art, which is no longer committed to mimetic purposes, such as it had been since Plato’s Republic, but is rather (in Nancy’s words in The Muses) a “teckhne of existence”.[xii] For Nancy, while art has lost its representational function, it simultaneously gained ontological power: “like being, art presents itself as a surprise. It makes something visible without reproducing anything that would exist previously”.[xiii]

Nancy employs Focillon’s distinction between form and sign to argue that in modern art, color and sound function like “form” (which, one could add, was a fundamental category to aesthetic thinking since Kant’s third Critique). These, in being forms, signify only themselves, as opposed to being signs that “[signify] something else”. Thus, in departing from its representational vocation, art is freed to explore its own medium, and to make visible its own materiality. To this end, art “[makes] sound be heard for itself as it is being produced” (108), and “[does] color for color’s sake”, a paradigmatic example of the latter being, as Nancy notes, Yves Klein’s Blue (108).

The eighth part of the conversation is devoted to an elaboration of a distinction Nancy drew between “the present” and “presence” in After Fukushima: The Equivalence of Catastrophes. Jandin begins by placing the topic in context:

[You] distinguish between two senses of the present: the present as it’s been criticized in the “metaphysics of presence” (being present to oneself, etc.) and the present that should be taken into account more seriously in the sense of what is ephemeral, in the words of Haruki Murakami, the Japanese writer you cite. In other words, has the moment come for carrying out a displacement of our thought, from a problem of time to a problem of space? (119)

J.-L.N.: Yes, a problem of space as in spacing, which may also be the spacing of time, which even our own Western tradition knows very well.

Nancy uses the term “spacing” to designate the act of the original unfolding of space as the site of the moment of the event. It is an original unfolding of spatiality that is exposed only temporally. In Corpus, Nancy describes this space as “a space which is more properly spacious than spatial, what could also be called a place”. Prior to any ontic, empirical space, it is the “ontological clearing” (lichtung) in the words of Heidegger, wherein Being is made patent. Following Heidegger’s critique on the metaphysics of presence, and the stasis, permanency and immovability associated with the thinking of being in terms of a substance, Nancy thinks being in the active transitive sense ascribed to it by Heidegger. As such being itself, presence, is always in movement which cannot be suspended:

All of us have in mind these lines from Lamartine: “O time, suspend your flight, and you, auspicious hours / Suspend your sequence on: / Let’s savor the rapid, evanescent delight / of beauty’s finest hour” — words pronounced by the woman whom the poet loves.3 It’s the request that the flow of time be interrupted, if you like, and this interruption is not a cut or an absence of continuity, but the suspension of the continuity through which it can present itself to itself. The female lover implores for the suspension of time, for spacing instead of the haste of successive moments, which end up nullifying the present moment. (119)

The suspension of continuity that the lover implores is a request to be in the present, to seize the “now”, to cherish the moment and freeze it just for a second so as to “be” in it. But this wish is of course in vain. Just as “time flies”, being is always in movement. In “Laughter, Presence” Nancy addresses the painter who paints the woman he desires, but this is “the painting of her disappearance or of her disappearing”.[xiv] If it is possible to long to paint her, it is because she has « appeared »—but « so rarely », and « so quickly fled”. Ontologically coming and going, into presence and out of presence, is one and the same movement.

In Basic Problems, Heidegger reads a fragment of the pre-Socratic philosopher Anaximander addressing movement in terms of the “arrival and departure » of Being: the « transition from coming and going” into presence. If the standing of Being in the Open is temporal rather than static or permanent then what emerges into presence is at the same time in the movement of departing from presence. This is the temporality of Dasein as opposed to the two other types of entity Heidegger defines in Being and Time that have a different existence in time:

But in this metaphysics, presence is actually considered to be something thrown on the shores of the river of time and that remains there in a sort of abandoned immobility. This is what Heidegger calls Vorhandenheit, that is, “Being-present-at-hand” [être-la-place-devant], a dense, motionless, silent, insignificant thing, to be differentiated from something “ready-to-hand” [sous-la-main] that is available for the activity or project of an existent, or what Heidegger calls Zuhandenheit. But one could say just as well that presence in this sense, even with the distinction between the two nuances, is not present at all or is present only for the existent that has it at its disposal. (120)

For Dasein, “one can understand presence in a completely different way as being intimately connected to manifestation or appearance, as we were saying, in the same sense as when one says that someone has a “presence” or that certain actors have a particular “presence,” which means the exact opposite of a thing’s presence. In this case, this presence is a “coming” (one “comes into the presence of”), an “appearing.” (120)

In the concluding chapter “Nihilism and Joy”, Nancy returns to the theme of affects. However, at issue are not political affects but affects that Nancy defines “as an affirmation of a sense of existence”. Jandin introduces the topic by questioning:

Our—final?—question is about nihilism and joy. Can one hear in “the possibility of a world,” the expression that seals our interview, an interrogation into the hope of exiting out of nihilism, which would mean being done with this world that’s ending and which has an affective tone of, in the words of Günther Anders, both hopelessness and the desire for revolution?1 Could one consider a world of joy—I’m aware of the Christian connotation of this expression—in the sense in which you write that “ there is not much joy in the human of humanism”? Must the “retracing” of the limits of the political leave room for the opening of spheres where joy would be possible? (127)

Jandin’s definition of nihilism in terms of the absence of joy appeals to Nancy (“I like this question’s position, which I’ve never thought about”). However, the latter attributes the “disappearance of joy”, and the “loss of enthusiasm – sacrificial, ecstatic, mystical […]  [that] was present in all the mystery religions that existed up until Rome” (128) to the influence of Stoicism and Epicureanism, which [privilege] logos at the expense of Eros (128). Against the prominence of logos, Nancy claims, Christianity appeared with the theme of joy, particularly through participation in the divine, thereby fulfilling a need that was sought. In the modern world since the eighteenth century, Christian joy has been usurped by the idea of “happiness’, which Saint-Just, among the ideologues of the French Revolution (and an advocate of the Reign of Terror), declared as “a new idea in Europe”.

However, at the center of the discussion is Jandin’s evocation of the notion of jouissance (French for ‘enjoyment’ and ‘orgasm’, respectively), which Nancy addressed in both his essay on Lacan L’« il y a » du rapport sexuel, as well as in Dis-Enclosure. Jouissance , the Lacanian term for negative affects which store a possibility of enjoyment, affects which consist of both pleasure and pain, and are “beyond the pleasure principle, embody the separation between instinct and drive, and between procreation and pleasure (132). Once sexuality is dissociated from the aim of reproduction, once it is determined by the logic of the drive and its modes of representation rather than biologically driven, satisfaction is achieved through multiple fragmented erogenous multiple zones.

Just as in Freud, for whom the sexual drive, which although originally attaching itself to one of the somatic functions of the body can then exceed this function (e.g., the voice that is used for singing rather than for talking, the suckling of the breast in order to eat but shortly after, the suckling of the breast for pleasure, « sensual sucking »),[xv] Nancy similarly points to the dissociation between reproduction and pleasure, between life and what goes beyond it, to the intimate connection between jouissance and the death drive. As he remarks: “jouissance is how life shows that the desire to live, which is perhaps life itself very simply, goes far beyond the desire to go on living” (133).


[i] Jean-Luc Nancy, The Muses, trans. Peggy Kamuf (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 2.

[ii] Dominique Janicaud, Heidegger in France, trans. François Raffoul and David Pettigrew (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015).

[iii] See Jean- Luc Nancy, Being Singular Plural, trans. Robert D. Richardson and Anne E. O’Byrne (Stanford: Stanford University, 2000), “Why are there Several Arts and Not Just One?” in Jean- Luc Nancy, The Muses, trans. Peggy Kamuf (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1997).

[iv] Ibid.

[v] An expression Rodolphe Gasché uses in The Idea of Form: Rethinking Kant’s Aesthetics (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 2.

[vi] For more on this point, see Ross, Alison. The Aesthetic Paths of Philosophy: Presentation in Kant, Heidegger, Lacoue‐Labarthe, and Nancy. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2007.

[vii] Jacques Rancière. The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible. Afterword by Slavoj Žižek. Trans. Gabriel Rockhill. London: Continuum, 2004.

[viii] Alain Badiou, Pierre Bourdieu, Judith Butler, et al., What Is a People?, trans. Jody Gladding (Columbia University Press, 2016), vii.

[ix] Jean-Luc Nancy, The Ground of the Image, Trans. Jeff Fort (New York: Fordham University Press, 2005).

[x] Ibid., 1.

[xi] For more on this point see “Why Are there Several Arts and Not Just One?” in The Muses, trans. Peggy Kamuf (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996).

[xii] Ibid., 38.

[xiii] Peter Gratton, Marie-Eve Morin (eds), The Nancy Dictionary (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015), 27.

[xiv] See Jean-Luc Nancy, Being Singular Plural, trans. Robert D. Richardson and Anne E. O’Bryne (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000).

[xv] On this point see Jean Laplanche, Life and Death in Psychoanalysis, trans. Jeffrey Mehlman (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985), 17: “The crucial point is that simultaneous with the feeding function’s achievement of satisfaction in nourishment, a sexual process begins to appear. Parallel with feeding there is a stimulation of lips and tongue by modeled on the function, so that between the two, it is at first barely possible to distinguish a difference”