Wojciech Kaftanski: Kierkegaard, Mimesis, and Modernity

Kierkegaard, Mimesis, and Modernity: A Study of Imitation, Existence, and Affect Book Cover Kierkegaard, Mimesis, and Modernity: A Study of Imitation, Existence, and Affect
Routledge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Philosophy
Wojciech Kaftanski
Hardback £120.00

Reviewed by:  Steven DeLay (Research Fellow, Global Centre for Advanced Studies)

The concept of mimesis has a rich, complicated career in the history of aesthetics, philosophy, and theology. Plato and Aristotle both make much of it. Later, Lessing, Kant, and the Romantics draw heavily upon it as well. More recently, so too have René Girard and Heidegger. The term’s power to compel widespread attention is due in part to its fascinating ambivalence. As the existentialists noted famously, imitation (a core notion at the heart of mimesis) can be pernicious, “a mysterious force animating masses of people to uncoordinated collective common action,” a source of “dissolution of differences leading to normative uniformity,” a “spontaneous reflexive process” responsible for “marginalizing the value of human individuality, the meaning of subjective experience, and the role of passion and faith” (1). At the same time, imitation is fundamental to the artistic representation of beauty, the creative and ethical tasks of grappling with ideality, and, of course, the theological notion of imitatio Christi. In the human search for meaning, mimesis is thus both fundamental and inescapable. And to be sure, modernity’s “way of thinking about […] the role of authority and institutions in humanity’s orientation in the world” (2), entails a reconceptualization of mimesis itself, and how in turn it shapes the distinctly modern pursuit of an authentic human existence. According to Wojciech Kaftanski’s study Kierkegaard, Mimesis, and Modernity, it is Søren Kierkegaard who “offer[s] us one of the most comprehensive and profound accounts of modernity” (1). “What, then,” Kaftanski naturally asks, “are we to make of Kierkegaard’s understanding and use of mimesis?” (7).

Mimesis can be variously defined, as Kaftanski observes. It can designate “emulation, mimicry, dissimulation, doubling, theatricality, realism, identification, correspondence, depiction, verisimilitude, resemblance” (7). In the classical world, it typically denoted “faithful imitation of a model” (7). In the modern context, it is has come to be associated with creativity, “as originality, genius, individuality, imagination” (7). It is thus “ambivalent, inconspicuous, and in many ways blurry” (7). For as Kaftanski notes, mimesis also admits of a “pharmacological” meaning—it is “both a problem and a cure for the maladies of the modern individual” (7). Realizing it is futile to give the term any single concrete and exhaustive definition, it is better to approach the term by treating its cluster of concepts along the lines of Wittgenstein’s theory of family resemblance.

This polyvalence of mimesis is apparent in Kierkegaard’s own handling of the term. Contrary, then, to what one might initially expect from a study of Kierkegaard, Kaftanski’s interest in the term extends beyond “simply imitation, or the imitation of Christ” (7). As he notes, Danish does not provide “a direct translation of the Greek mimesis into a noun” (9). The key term is Efterfølgelse (which can be literally translated into English as “following after”), a translation of the Latin term imitatio, itself the translation of mimesis (9). But Kierkegaard’s linguistic repertoire for mimesis is expansive and multi-layered, an “impressive and far wider” vocabulary than has been acknowledged (9). As Kaftanski says,

Kierkegaard uses a variety of terms to refer to the broad mimetic sphere in his corpus, such as Gjentagelsen (repetition), Ligne (likeness, and to liken, to resemble), Lighed (similarity and equality), Sammengligning (comparison), Eftergjøre (going and doing after), Efterabelse (aping or parroting), mimisk (mimic or mimical), but also Fordoblelse (redoubling), Reduplikation (reduplication), Dobbelt-Reflexion (double-reflection), Dobbelthed (doubleness or duplexity), Dobbelt-Bevoegelse (double-movement), Billede (image or picture), and Forbillede (prototype, model, tyfpe, pattern) (9).

In addition to the linguistic complexity of the phenomenon, there is the further fact that mimesis also reflects the multifaceted aesthetic, scholastic, economic, political, social, and religious context in which Kierkegaard was living and writing. Human beings orient themselves in place. And in the modern period, the city is central to that place. As Kaftanski says, the reinvention of Kierkegaard’s own Copenhagen was itself undertaken in mimetic fashion, by architecturally and culturally emulating Belin, Paris, and London (3). According to Kaftanski, the becoming of the modern city is a “macro-representation of the becoming of the individual […] the city and its inhabitants mirror one another” (4). How so? Part of it is that “mimesis entails both retaining the old and assimilating the new” (4). Copenhagen accordingly transformed itself into something new by reworking its past. But such reworking was not so banal, but in many ways radical. At the time, nineteenth-century Copenhagen was a city indelibly shaped by the formation of mass society, as well as class struggle. Consequently, a tendency emerged among its lower-classes to attempt to “imitate and appropriate” the standards, values, and tastes of the bourgeoisie (6). However, dissatisfied with their economic and political conditions, “an age of revolution” (2) quickly swept across Europe beginning in France and Germany, eventually finding its way to Copenhagen too. This “revolutionary mass action” exhibited a “mimetic-affective crowd behavior” (6)—a force of “mimetic magnetism, fascination, somnambulism, scapegoating, and violence” (12), which Kierkegaard himself was keen to resist, and led him to coin the pejorative terms “the public” and “the crowd.” Thus, as a modern critic of modernity, Kierkegaard’s account of becoming a single individual was deeply responsive to the interlocking mimetic structures of his economic, social, political, and religious milieu. Assuming a countercultural role resembling his philosophical hero Socrates, in this way the “gadfly of Copenhagen” was born.

As Kaftanski explains, Kierkegaard’s literary output reconceptualizes mimesis by creatively appropriating a variety of both classical and modern sources. At stake in doing so, is a conception of mimesis that shifts from “the ideal of representation characterizing pre-modern and the early modern” to an understanding that sees “humans as radically imitative creatures” (5). Mimesis, in short, is not simply an aesthetic phenomenon pertaining to the realm of artistic representation, but a fundamental feature of human existence as such. As Kaftanski says, “Representation is among the three fundamental meanings of mimesis conceptualized in classical Greece. The other two are ‘imitation’ and ‘expression’” (15). On such a view, mimesis is a process of “making present,” one guided by the goal of achieving “similarity and truth”—an artwork sets its vision on replicating “morally desirable objects,” aiming to reproduce something guided by “normativity and correspondence, form and mode” (15).

But whereas for classical art mimesis is “about representing some original, hence producing copies” (19), modern artists sought instead to create “new originals” (19). For the moderns, art should not merely seek to copy reality, but instead express something original or novel. Art, so the thought goes, “should not serve any other purpose but itself” (20). Here Lessing’s influential theory of aesthetics proves illustrative. “Lessing,” says Kaftanski, “asserts that the goal of art is to display beauty; hence, art is irreconcilable with suffering. Second, aesthetics is its own goal; it does not serve other ends” (21). Indeed, according to Lessing, art and religion have their distinct and largely “irreconcilable territories” (20). As is well-known, the Romantics consequently “tended to consecrate art as a religion” (19). Kierkegaard seizes on Lessing’s view, turning it to his own purposes. For according to Kierkegaard, if art and religion are in some way incompatible, this underscores the essential fact that art is said to be unable to express the religious dimension of suffering (15) which so interests Kierkegaard. Religious suffering, as Kaftanski says, is something Kierkegaard sometimes appears to maintain cannot be represented in the arts (20). If the goal of art is depicting beauty, then the ugliness and horror of the crucified Christ eludes its power of portrayal. For Kierkegaard, that art is unable to capture the inner truth of religious suffering in turn suggests that the religious life is itself irreducible to, and indeed higher than, the aesthetic life. For whereas a strictly aesthetic existence remains characterized by “human indecisiveness and a sensuous and disinterested attitude toward the world” (16), religious striving concerns “the pursuit of […] absolute fulfillment that the world cannot provide” (17), a “becoming an individual before God” (17). If art is undertaken simply for its own sake, it would appear to be irrelevant to the kind of authentic human existence Kierkegaard is so interested in expressing.

And yet, as Kaftanski notes, some of Kierkegaard’s own writings indicate a more ambivalent relationship to the value and function of both art and aesthetics. This becomes apparent when one considers the concept of ekphrasis important to Lessing himself—as Kaftanski says, “Ekphrasis is at work when a physical object of art, such as a painting or a sculpture, gets its written account” (21). Because ekphrasis uniquely “engages the subjectivity of the recipient” (21), it has the power to transform the viewer in ways that have implications for religious transformation. Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous author Anti-Climacus says as much. “The synergy of word and image,” Kaftanski writes, “can be seen in cases where Anti-Climacus refers to the activity of telling a picture, or describing what is represented in the picture, hence following the classical definition of ekphrasis, of re-presenting in words what already has a visual representation” (24). “Anti-Climacus,” says Kaftanski, “believes that if one can ‘be’ moved by the image of the suffering Christ to the imitation of His sufferings into one’s life, then one is becoming a genuine Christian” (25). In short, the experience of viewing the picture has an existential and mimetic dimension (27). Although, then, for Lessing, “the guiding task of aesthetics is to represent what is beautiful and harmonious, ‘the image of the crucified Christ’ is ugly and represents violence and chaos” (27), in Kierkegaard, because an artwork is not reserved to one particular medium, but instead consists of various media, it is possible to create a “spoken picture or, one could argue, a visualized narrative” (27). Such a work could in principle serve a mimetic function, by in effect calling the viewer to change.

Kierkegaard, thus, is neither a classical nor a full-fledged modern thinker (40), as his idiosyncratic view of the relationship between art and religion attests. For one thing, Kierkegaard is deeply suspicious of the modern ideal of human autonomy. Whereas the Enlightenment was wholly critical of classical mimesis, which it viewed as incompatible with the values of originality and creativity, Kierkegaard finds certain aspects of the modern conception of mimesis objectionable. For Kierkegaard, the modern ideal of an anti-mimetic, self-sufficient existence is a myth to be rejected (28). And yet, although the Enlightenment ideal of self-sufficiency is primarily hostile to mimesis, Kaftanski notes that it is actually Kant who in a way formulates a number of mimetic concepts that are relevant to Kierkegaard’s own attempt to work out a mimetic account of human existence. For Kant, the open-endedness of artistic production entails that aesthetics becomes a “judgment of taste” (30). Central to aesthetic production and valuation are four concepts of imitation: “copying [Nachmachung], aping [Nachäffung], imitation [Nachahmung], and emulation or following [Nachfolge]” (30). For Kant (and the Romantics too) who “cherished the ideal of mimesis understood as originality and criticized forms of art that aim to represent reality and hence were related to a pre-given existing model” (37), this modern criticism of classical mimesis led to the rejection of the mimesis-imitation of an artist to the elevation of the creativity of a genius (32). If for Kant, “genius cannot be taught and learned” (129), previous works of great art serve as exemplars “not for imitation” but “for emulation”—in encountering such a work, “another genius is thereby awakened to the feeling of his own originality, to exercise freedom from coercion in his art in such a way that the latter thereby itself acquires a new rule, by which the talent shows itself as exemplary” (127). Kierkegaard follows the Romantics in valuing originality over realistic representation of a model, but he “maintains that the Christian existential creation is in fact in relation to a model […] the model is transcendent” (37)—namely, Christ the prototype. Romantic anthropology, which takes autonomous agency to mark the human essentially, fails to provide the conceptual resources necessary to depict “the representational dimension of Kierkegaard’s own presentation of the ideal self” (33). As Kaftanski explains, “the aesthetic-religious puzzle of the representation of the suffering of the crucified Christ” (39) in turn leads Kierkegaard to formulate philosophical and literary works whose mimetic idioms seek to present an adequate picture of ideal Christian existence.

To do so, Kierkegaard begins by taking up existence in its “time-oriented and concrete, but also mundane, ordinary, and recurrent” everydayness (44). It is here that a pair of key Kierkegaardian notions, repetition and recollection, enter the picture. “Repetition—this is actuality and earnestness of existence,” says Kierkegaard (50). Repetition’s experiential task is to “recognize continuity in time” (45). In thinking about the drudgery of modern factory work and life, for instance, it is easy to understand how the banality of such an existence could lead to despair. One way it might do so is by leading those crushed beneath the weight of existence’s apparent absurdity and emptiness into substituting reality for a realm of ideality, of imagination. This is what happens in the aesthetic life, as Kierkegaard understands it. In this “hyper-reflective existence fueled by and lived in imagination” (51), there is a “lack of commitment to one’s life possibilities” (51). For the aesthete, “life splits up into a boundless multiplicity [held] within the sphere of reflection” (61). “Devoid of the ethical component,” the aesthete’s reflective “system” is not a life-view (61). The danger of imaginary dispersion in hyper-reflection is manifestly apparent in the theatrical. When producing or viewing a performance in the theater, one “entertain[s] a number of self-representations, which [Kierkegaard] calls ‘possible variations’” (52). The trouble is that, by doing so, one fails to actually be oneself, and instead loses oneself in imaginary characters and situations that have no real bearing on one’s real life. “This mimetic mirroring of the theater,” says Kaftanski, “constitutes a type of a private laboratory where one can fragment oneself” (52). Suffice it to say, if the dangers of idle escapism attending aesthetic enjoyment and diversion were already pressing with nineteenth-century forms of entertainment such as the theater and the newspaper, today that is only more so the case, given the advent of television, film, and the Internet.

According to Kierkegaard, however, the aesthete’s fragmentary response to existence is not the only possible form a response to the spectacles of the modern milieu may take. The key to appreciating the alternative Kierkegaard envisions lies in the concept of mimesis itself, which, according to Kaftanski, Kierkegaard himself sees “as embodied and performative” (44). Repetition as a mimetic concept entails “movement, imagination, and time” (45). And if this mimetic process is put in the service of a model truly worthy of imitation (60), then instead of remaining trapped in an imaginary world of ideality, ethical transformation and religious awakening is achievable.

If “life emulates art,” such emulation should “contribute to the becoming of a self in actual existence” (72). Here Kierkegaard exploits the mimetic power of texts themselves. For according to Kaftanski, Kierkegaard’s notion of repetition is a forerunner of Ricoeur’s refiguration. “The textual extension of real life,” says Kaftanski, “becomes mimetically re-appropriated back into real life and, essentially, becomes a part of it” (73). In a word, “the self emerges from the text. In effect, the text contributes to the creation of the self” (74). It is possible to actualize the ideality contained in a text. In this way, a text can function as a mirror of one’s existence, as a basis through which to pattern one’s own life. This becomes particularly salient in cases in which a text serves as a form of self-examination, not for any reader only, but especially for the author himself. Like Rousseau, whose Confessions were meant to be an exercise in self-judgment, so too Kierkegaard’s own partly autobiographical texts become an occasion for narrative self-examination (78). As Kaftanski says, “Kierkegaard’s autobiographical narratives participate in a formative process of the self—hence, the formation of the self—through a continuous and repetitive procedure of self-recognition, self-interpretation, self-understanding, and self-creation” (78). Writing becomes an extension of life, by enacting a process of “life-development,” through which Kierkegaard reworks himself “in and through his own literary production” (81). Rather than remaining a merely aesthetic pursuit, literary and philosophical production perform an ethical, even religious, function. “Autobiography,” so Kaftanski concludes, “is a peculiar mirror that allows the author to see oneself as another, to correct oneself, and, paradoxically, to correct the mirror” (82).

Central to this mimetic interplay between text and life is what Kierkegaard calls a “psychologiske Experiment” (82). The author invents various characters (which may or may not be versions of one’s actual self) that in turn serve as a source of ethical and religious self-assessment. Far from aesthetic production serving as an escape from reality, it can thus serve as a means of perfecting it, by cultivating an “authentic existence” (82). It does so by individuating the author (and its other readers) from the pernicious influence of social contagion and conformism. Due to the sociality of mimetic desire, “herd behaviors in humans include panic and rioting” (83), as such mimesis involves “affective and visceral mood-sharing” (84). While Plato’s conception of mimesis was focused on representing objects, and Aristotle’s at representing action (88), Kierkegaard’s coordination of action and fiction is not then simply about realistic representation, but demands an authentic existence—providing “templates of existence” (90), the resulting literary figurations are designed to be taken as existential prescriptions (90). Kierkegaard recognizes that stories needn’t be mere fictions, for poetic depictions of life can serve to perfect human life and transform it (89). By means of the text, mimesis effects a transition from literary representation to representation in action in real life. Informing us “about the world as it is and as it could be, or even sometimes as it should be” (90), they are not “simply fantasy or, for that matter, corrective mirrors” (91). They issue “blueprints” for existence, prescriptions for selfhood (91). These literary “experiments” (91) are exercises in life itself, for “writing and reading is a process of self-understanding, encapsulating oneself, and self-formation that is stretched between two worlds: the actual and the fictive” (91).

In Kierkegaard’s own case, the highest “poetic possibility of himself” (92) is to be a genuine Christian. At stake in his literary production is expressing a self-ideal of himself (“Kierkegaard the martyr”) and hence a “picture of the ideal Christian” (91). Thus, as Kaftanski notes, “Following Ricoeur’s mimetic arc, we can understand Kierkegaard’s ‘real’ life as dependent upon, or mediated through, a textual representation of himself” (91), and it is this tension between poetic and actual existence and the issue of translating a prescribed ideal of life into reality, that constitutes “the conundrum running through his authorship” (92).

How, then, can an “imaginary construction”[1] (94) assist the process of becoming a single individual, an authentic human before God? It is necessary to reduplicate, through action, the ideality embodied by Christ. Whereas the aesthete is one for whom his “life has no history, no unity, and no continuity to it,” the life of genuine faith “has a beginning, is organized around a unifying idea or a goal, and has a telos” (93). In reading Kierkegaard’s portrayal of such a life, one is called to undertake the task of becoming an individual, a form of existence itself “represented in descriptions of the imaginary characters’ wrestling with suffering, love, death, finitude, freedom, and time—but also with God, despair, and sin” (95). If the ideal expressed in the text is ever to be truly understood, it must be appropriated by a reduplication in the actual existence of the reader. When it comes to faith, this reduplication requires a far more earnest and serious effort than what in Kierkegaard’s Copenhagen was taken to suffice. As Kierkegaard says,

No, Christ has not appointed assistant-professors—but imitators or followers. When Christianity (precisely because it is not a doctrine) does not reduplicate itself in the one who presents it, he does not present Christianity; for Christianity is an existential-communication and can only be presented—by existing. Basically, to exist therein, to express it in one’s existence etc.—this is what it means to reduplicate (99).

Imitation, we see, is an experiential imperative for Kierkegaard’s account of the development of a life-view. As Kaftanski notes, a cluster of concepts—Eftergjøre, Efterligne, Lighed, and Ligne—are operative in the Dane’s account of existential redoubling and reduplication (113). “Eftergjøre,” Kaftanski explains, “refers primarily to a sophisticated human capacity for imitation that is has mostly secular application” (114). When, then, writing of the ideal of “Being like Christ, or resembling Him” (115), Kierkegaard sometimes uses the term Ligne, which, like Efterfølgelse (“following after”), is to be contrasted with Eftergiore and Efterligne, meaning “to counterfeit, to mimic” (118). He chooses Efterfølgelse to account for this task. While Kierkegaard frequently contrasts Efterfølgelse with Efterabelse (“mimicking” “aping”), towards the end of his literary production he attributes pejorative connotations to Eftergjøre and Efterligne. In any case, the point for Kierkegaard is that the individual ought to find a way to incorporate the ideality of authenticity into actuality. For in doing so, the authentic human being, which Kierkegaard names “the single individual” (122), transcends mundane “social expectations” (120), and, overcoming the tug of conformism and mediocrity characterized by a kind of “levelling” rooted in a pernicious perfectibility entailing a “certain plasticity, malleability, or moldability of human nature” (121), instead emulates the image of Christ genuinely, in what Kaftanski terms Kierkegaard’s “existential mimesis” (123). Here again, Kaftanski finds it fruitful to turn to Kant. Kant notes four types of imitation in the Critique of the Power of Judgment—“Nachäffung, Nachmachung, Nachahmung, and Nachfolge” (125).

The first word has been translated into English as ‘aping’ or ‘parroting’; Nachmachung has been translated as ‘copying;’ ‘imitation’ is the usual translation of Nachahmung; Nachfolge has been translated as ‘emulating,’ ‘following,’ but also as ‘succeeding’ (125-26).

Reworking Kant’s own conception of “exemplary originality” (127), Kierkegaard articulates a form of existential emulation whose ideal entails an “interpretive duty [with] an individual and subjective character, in contrast to imitation that follows a preset standardizing pattern that can be adhered to on a mass scale” (130). Whereas patterning oneself on societal everydayness “produces in individuals the feelings of estrangement and alienation, who then seek the remedy to these negative feelings in mimetic collective behavior” (130), Kierkegaard’s imitatio Christi is meant to produce an integrated, authentic individuality. In doing so, such existential mimesis “does not place the imitator in an elevated position based on their functions and education, as it is in Plato and Aristotle, nor based on their extraordinary skills or moral merits, as in Kant” (130). Rather, Kierkegaard’s existential mimesis is an egalitarian project (130), for everyone is able, if he is so willing, to follow after the pattern of Christ.

Of course, this is not to say that doing so is easy. As Kierkegaard himself notes repeatedly, many people fail to do so successfully. What particularly interests Kaftanski is the complex mimetic imagery Kierkegaard develops in the course of developing an account of how this process of becoming a single individual is supposed to work itself out in actual existence. As Kaftanski says, “Kierkegaard’s Forbillede denotes that which represents an idealized and hence ‘prototypical’ quality of someone or something. The Danish Forbillede, also translated into English as ‘pattern,’ comes from Billede, which stands for ‘image’” (133). These terms are roughly Danish equivalents to the classical notions of “figura and exemplum” (133). “Forbillede,” says Kaftanski, “the prototype—plays an important role in Kierkegaard’s Efterfølgelse—imitation” (133). At stake is a “movement from the ideal to the actual” (134), a “creation in reference to a model” (133) that captures for Kierkegaard what it “means to be and become a genuine Christian” (134). Because “figura denotes something material and visual, but also formal and structural” (135), not only does such a figure “already embody and determine modes of interpretation, appropriation, and representation” (135), it sets “an ideal that an individual should internalize” (137). It is an ideal that many fail to ever internalize—negative models, for Kierkegaard, include “pastors, assistant professors, journalists” (137). But there are examples of those who do accomplish it (or come close)—Abraham, Job, the sinful woman, even the lilies and the birds! Job, for instance, represents the “ideality” (151) of the biblical criterion for being human as a single individual—for in the “existential redoubling” (152) by which Job enacts the ideal of faithfulness to God, by “actually relating himself to the ideal” (153), he finds himself persecuted by all of those he knows, including his friends. Job becomes an offense. Unlike the hero who achieves the admiration of others, Job is scorned and hated. As Kaftanski recounts, “What follows is the public condemnation of Job, disapproval of his person, mockery, insults, and ostracism. This social phenomenon of universal punishment represents ‘the scapegoat mechanism,’ and Job is the scapegoat” (144); “The friends contribute to the suffering he experiences. Instead of soothing his pain, they condemn him and amplify his misery” (147). Depicting the suffering of Job, Kierkegaard expresses his own ideal of Christian martyrdom, of the idea that to be a true Christian is to suffer. Recollecting the life of Job in literary form in turn serves as an injunction to reduplicate that same suffering in one’s own life. As Kierkegaard says, “My entire work as an author has also been my own development” (141).

But as Kaftanski notes, if “Forbillede designates a perfected or ideal representation of someone or something” (150), for Kierkegaard, existential reduplication in the case of ideal Christianity is impossible. The Christian is always “a being in becoming” (155). This means that the typical view of Kierkegaard, which interprets him as straightforwardly recommending the imitation of Christ as prototype for human existence, must be modified. Kaftanski, rather audaciously, claims that, for Kierkegaard, “Christ as the prototype is not sufficient with respect to guiding would-be Christians to successfully imitating Him” (154). This is so, says Kaftanski, because according to Kierkegaard, “[Christ] is not a human being as we are” (157), but is rather “a God-man” (158). Paradoxically, then, Kierkegaard’s “ideal picture of being a Christian” (158) requires acknowledging that Christ himself is not a Christian. “Jesus Christ,” says Kierkegaard, “it is true, is himself the prototype, and will continue to be that, unchanged, until the end. But Christ is also much more than the prototype; he is the object of faith” (156).[2] In depicting the ideal picture of being a Christian, Kierkegaard intends to show others, particularly his complacent fellow Danes, that exposing “themselves to the mirror of the Word” (162) involves “perpetual self-accusation” (161).

Consequently, “an authentic Christian existence, which demands from Christians not admiration but imitation” of Christ (179), must navigate the reality of human frailty. This means, first, recognizing the pitfalls of admiration itself. As Kaftanski observes, “admiration is collective and contagious” (179), “is not powerful enough to motivate us to do the good” (182), and “is suspiciously like an evasion” (182). As an affective phenomenon, admiration is subject to “magnetism” and “prestige” (185), the “power of opinion” (186), a morass of “shared feelings, emotions, passions, and affects” (186), which, typified by the “readership of a newspaper” (188) only forms a contemptible “collective identity” (189) that stunts the individual’s becoming. That alone would be bad enough! Yet admiration, which lies at the root of social conformism, is also prone to violence and irrational upheaval. Here Kaftanski exploits the insights of Girard. For if, as Kierkegaard would say, “the public is a phantom” (192), this is because the “deindividualization created by mass media and public opinion” (193) is susceptible to dynamics of “social pressure, human collectivity, and affective contagion” (204) which for Girard culminates in violence and scapegoating. This is powerfully apparent in the horrific death of Christ himself, who the crowd turns upon. The Messiah, who was initially hailed as a King upon entering Jerusalem, is shortly thereafter handed over to the Romans in lieu of Barabbas—“crucify him!” As Kaftanski says, “The quickness and the spontaneity of this altering reaction of the crowd suggests a kind of affective independence of that swing of valences on the pendulum of affectivity” (196).

Given the fraught nature of such mimetic behavior, there is an admitted oddity in “Presenting mimesis as a remedy to the problems caused by mimesis” (215). But this is precisely what Kierkegaard’s account of existential mimesis aims to do. The important difference between good and bad mimesis, Kaftanski notes, lies in the “non-comparing” and “nonimitative” nature of the former. Here, “indirect prototypes” can be useful—as Kaftanski observes, “one can become a Christian by living as the lily and the bird live” (222). Such “icons” or “middle terms” are necessary in the process of becoming an authentic self, argues Kaftanski. For again, if “Christ is a God-man,” and thus “not a Christian” (227),[3] this means that the ideal of being like Christ is one for which we will always fall short. In some sense, emulating Christ entails being left to one’s own self—“In walking alone, one is deprived of the direct resource of the visible model” (229). I should note that, although Kierkegaard was highly critical of what he perceived to be the superficiality, insincerity, and hypocrisy of the Danish Lutheran Church, his attack on Christendom often remained largely beholden to the theological dogma inherited from Augustine and Luther. Kierkegaard for much of his career, like Luther, labors under the idea that human depravity essentially prevents one from ever measuring up adequately to the ideal of authentic Christian existence. In effect, one is never truly a Christian, because being a Christian involves a kind of perpetual incompletion, or, better, imperfection. However, it should be noted that, in his very last journal entries, Kierkegaard at times expresses discontent with this Augustinian and Lutheran conception of human depravity and weakness. Such an anthropology, Kierkegaard notes, unintentionally leads to the same mere admiration of Christ he criticized so adamantly, for it eliminates the sort of “primitivity” Kierkegaard comes to view as essential to New Testament Christianity. This is all to say that some of Kierkegaard’s more pessimistic remarks concerning the supposed impossibility of ever emulating Christ genuinely should perhaps be tempered by his own later comments on the subject—remarks which, abandoning Lutheran orthodoxy, underscore the legitimate possibility of emulation. Such a view, as it happens, would be more in line with a strand of optimism apparent in the New Testament itself, which frequently mentions the possibility of obeying God, insofar as God’s commandments are not burdensome and provide joy, peace, and rest.

Having traced the various shades of mimesis, their pertinence to modernity, and their relevance for the project of human authenticity, Kaftanski at the work’s conclusion can rightly conclude that, “Just as Kierkegaard is not perceived as an important theoretician or critic of mimesis, so Kierkegaardians do not seem to find mimesis to be of much importance to Kierkegaard’s thought and authorship” (238). Kaftanski’s book corrects both these errors by convincingly (and engrossingly!) reconstructing Kierkegaard as a thinker “contributing to the modern shift in appraising mimesis from artistic representation based on the ideals of similarity to mimesis as a human condition underpinning the individual and social aspects of human existence” (239).

Needless to say, philosophers of religion, readers of Kierkegaard, and scholars of post-Kantian European philosophy more generally, will benefit from Kaftanski’s text immensely. Everyone knows that reading somehow changes us. Kaftanski in effect provides us with a powerful account of how exactly the art of reading does so, by shaping and transforming the individual who authentically encounters a text. Of course, no work is flawless. Others will object to some of the things Kaftanski says. At this stage of the review, it would be customary to list the potential objections. Instead, however, I should like to emphasize that Kaftanski’s work is an important contribution to an influential body of works that has taken up the issues of authenticity and identity in modernity—to wit, Charles Larmore’s The Practices of the Self, Stephen Mulhall’s Inheritance and Originality, Claude Romano’s Être soi-même, and Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self. While reading this text, one’s mind frequently will inevitably turn to Heidegger, a figure who looms large in such a context. Fitting, then, that Kierkegaard, Mimesis, and Modernity’s very last line should mention Heidegger by name. The concluding reference to Heidegger proves timely. It is no small thing that, by the work’s end, Kaftanski has shown how it is Kierkegaard, not Heidegger, from whom we have the most to gain when reflecting upon what it means to live an authentic human existence. As for the significance of Kaftanski’s own text’s contribution to that task, it bears returning to an earlier moment in the text, in which Kaftanski examines Kierkegaard’s remarks from a book review of the nineteenth-century Danish novelist Thomasine Gyllembourg-Ehrensvard. In his review, Kierkegaard is very complimentary of her work for many reasons. As Kaftanski says, chief among them is the fact that Kierkegaard found writing the review of Gyllembourg-Ehrensvard’s book to not only serve as an exercise in recollecting what the book contained. More importantly, Kierkegaard found himself “changed in the repetition” (57) of writing it. I have had a similar experience in writing this review. Having thought about what Kierkegaard, Mimesis, and Modernity gives to think in the course of writing this review of it, I have been reminded of what an extraordinary gift existence is, and how invigorating it is to feel the possibility of being able to continue the task of actualizing the ideal of becoming a single individual through Christ. No doubt other readers will have the same experience. For, more than just a theoretical meditation on existential mimesis, Kaftanski’s account is a call to it.

[1] The clear resonance between Kierkegaard’s notions of “imaginary construction” and “psychological experiments” and Husserl’s phenomenological technique of eidetic variation is not coincidental. As Shestov reported, Husserl once confided to him that a secret inspiration for his phenomenological method was Kierkegaard.

[2] According to Kierkegaard, in the New Testament, Christ is represented strictly in the mode of being, rather than becoming. For this reason, any strict emulation of Christ is rendered impossible for us, since as mere human beings we find ourselves in a contrasting process of incessant becoming. Without at all meaning to suggest that Kierkegaard is wrong for emphasizing the uniqueness of Christ as the God-man, I do think it is worth noting that there are apparent traces of Christ’s own process of becoming in the Gospels, a becoming that accentuates the humanity of Christ. For example: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52).

[3] Interestingly, Nietzsche says exactly the opposite: “There has only been one Christian, and he died on the Cross,” The Anti-Christ, §39.

Rüdiger Zill: Der absolute Leser

Der absolute Leser. Hans Blumenberg. Eine intellektuelle Biographie Book Cover Der absolute Leser. Hans Blumenberg. Eine intellektuelle Biographie
Rüdiger Zill
Paperback 38.00 EUR

Reviewed by: Alexander Gerner (CFCUL, Faculdade de Ciência da Universidade de Lisboa)

1. Introduction: Towards an Intellectual History of Technology of Hans Blumenberg in Rüdiger Zill’s “Der absolute Leser. Hans Blumenberg-Eine Intellektuelle Biographie”

Rüdiger Zill is a scientific referent of the Berlin-based Einstein Forum, who, together with Oliver Müller, will soon present us with a first comprehensive Blumenberg Handbook (announced for 2022). Zill’s (2020) actual intellectual biography of Hans Blumenberg “Der absolute Leser” is a rich and extensive resource – including a chronology and a comprehensive register of primary and secondary (German) sources to access not only Blumenberg’s published work, including journal texts in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Akzente, the swiss NZZ or published under Blumenberg’s pseudonym of Axel Colly. Still, Zill’s book makes countless archive documents, such as the primary resource for posthumous editions from the Marbach archive accessible to the reader. In three circumnavigating parts after the plunging into the introduction on the readability of thinking, it enters in the first part, Description of Life, circles around his work in part two-Work on the works-, and circumnavigates in the third part around the process of philosophical curiosity.

Hans Blumenberg (1920-1996), besides Odo Marquard (1928-2015) as well as the spiritus rector of the reformed and interdisciplinary University of Konstanz -Hans Robert Jauss (1921-1997), took part in the historically influential interdisciplinary research group Poetics and Hermeneutics (Boden & Zill 2017), that has shaped the landscape of humanities and cultural studies in the old Federal Republic of Germany as perhaps only Critical Theory has done comparatively. Zill provides us with a biographically augmented sphere of possibility to experience and reflect a diachronic examination of Blumenberg’s life and structures of ideas, rich in historical and biographical detail, exact in its descriptions, and up to date regarding the editions of posthumous work of the Marbach archive. Zill achieves this by going beyond imaginary soul checking or vicarious embarrassment regarding the uncovered and naked truth (Blumenberg 2019) of the philosopher’s life. By mapping out the internal motivations and external events, we are introduced to the thinking machine called Hans Blumenberg, one of the 20th century’s most curious and inspirational and still to be fully discovered post-WWII German philosophers. Suppose you want a diachronic introduction to Blumenberg or are fond of Hans Blumenberg as a philosopher of intellectual wit and richness of detail. In that case, you will read Zill’s book with assertive pleasure. In a techno-anthropological perspective on technical aiding tools and procedures, we get to remember that Blumenberg, from the very beginning, separates self-assertion as a historically rendered conscious phenomenon from self-preservation as a biological and factual principle. However, why Blumenberg localizes these thoughts historically in the shift towards the medieval age seems not clear to Zill. He assumes that the theory of meaningfulness (cf. Heidenreich 2018) and the theorem developed in Blumenberg´s work on myth relates to the banishment of the fear-inducing absolutism of reality (in Marquart’s perspective on Blumenberg). The employment of rhetoric relief figures- becomes paramount to handle the tension inside a critique of pure rationality that has emerged since the 1960s in Blumenberg’s work.

There are strategies that Blumenberg puts at the fore to generate significances: means of effectiveness {Wirksamkeit} for action as methods of conceptual formation of pregnant formulations, rhetorical forms such as “simultaneity, latent identity, circularity, recurrence of the same, reciprocity of resistance and increase of existence, isolation of the degree of reality.” (Blumenberg, in Zill 2020: 534). Zill mentions the loss of the absolute world picture {Weltbild} as an essential topic in Blumenberg: In Zill’s reading, the world picture as an institution is irreversible gone and lost for Blumenberg. Subsequently, human beings would have to live in a provisional (Blumenberg 2015: 136), groundless and unhinged world! For Blumenberg, so Zill, we have not fallen out of a worldview in modernity but out of the idea of worldview par excellence[1].

In this respect, Zill’s intellectual biography is a unique book within a biographic (cf. Blumenberg in Zill 2020) narrative philosophy (535) tradition that shows us how multifaceted archival sources can be made accessible for understanding a life´s work and a philosophers life -including Blumenberg’s interesting reading notes and sometimes surprising evaluations- by describing the lifetime and historiography not only of the philosopher himself, but by the life’s example of Hans Blumenberg lets us enter a society tentatively searching for new grounds in the post-WWII Federal Republic of Germany struggling with its Nazi heritage and cultural burden, starting with two central life experience: First, being the best pupil of his age group, and- nevertheless- not being allowed by his former schoolmaster to hold the farewell speech, – against the tradition of the high school Katharineum in Lübeck- as having being stigmatized as a half-jew at that time (cf. The review of Krajewski on to the topic – in my view overstated – of formative bitterness, even only because Blumenberg in this situation became his school friend´s -Karl August Rohrbach (Zill 2020)- ghostwriter (55) instead. Second, assisting the allied bombings -while hiding from the Nazis, of his hometown Lübeck on the Palm Sunday night 1942 with mixed feelings- referring to the destroyed church organs and feeling sorry for his friends from Lübeck, but with asserted clarity about this beacon of the turn of the war (93). Zill’s book not only shows excellently how Blumenberg dealt with conflict situations – anger and strength in his responses being indeed a more robust motivator of Blumenberg- elegantly and forcefully during his whole life but as well how the philosopher´s theoretical positions changed over time and how he has evolved consciously as a person far from any tentative spiritual glorification that recently even assimilated the philosopher to a sort of a reclusive mystic as in Wolf (2020). On the contrary, Zill offers us an overlooking expansion of the scholars and Blumenberg editor previous fundamental studies on the work of Blumenberg. Zill had already worked on Blumenberg’s Metaphorology (2010{1960}) as substructures of thought (Zill 2002) or the theme of the Minima Historia by analyzing forms of philosophical writing (Stegmaier 2021) traditionally, if at all, considered minor forms. As Zill emphasizes, Blumenberg’s technique and writing celebrated to become a significant textual focus, wittily densifying scenes to dramaturgically sharp to a point by which the philosophical anecdote (Zill 2014; Zill 2014b) installs a climatic horizon of thought, that readers then can think even further.

Zill shows how from the work on myth onwards, Blumenberg’s interest in the history of science turns into intellectual history in which he reflects on the possibilities of Blumenberg’s approach to describing a history of technology that focuses on the time of Copernicus and not, for example, Albert Einstein (cf. Zill 2020: 483). This argumentation, however, falls short in understanding the importance of the complex problem of the scientific image as a model that is treated inside Blumenberg’s thought on inconceptuality. We can reflect on the relation of metaphorical shortcomings of untreated metaphysics and metaphor use in philosophy and theological world views and even more so inside scientific praxis and rationalities (cf. Gerner 2012) where it is supposed to be entirely avoided. Zill designates Blumenberg’s posthumous anthropology {Beschreibung des Menschen} as a philosophy of speculative paleoanthropology that could also be called a narrative anthropological phenomenology. Zill’s  view is based on the idea that Blumenberg puts different explanatory models to the test to understand the pragmatic intellectual performance of each approach according to external criteria. Then, according to Zill, Blumenberg chooses the theory that can explain more, which Zill then points out, for Blumenberg to be the theory that can narrate more and might not yet be empirically proven any better than the other theories.

2. Towards technological rhetoric of reading, storing ideas for writing and finding philosophical forms

How do we organize the experience of reading and keeping ideas we want to work out further?

Blumenberg takes advantage of essential material order tools of the pre-digital humanities: Pencil, ruler, and foremost a system of index cards in a flexible slip box to organize the experience of reading and subsequent mapping of ideas in writing. Zill shows us that Blumenberg’s slip box is of utmost importance; as for Zill, it becomes clear that it is particularly productive when it stores the findings of many years of the author’s work of reading and with very few selected keywords of themes and authors as the articulative axis. From early on -in the late 1940s-Blumenberg organized his tools and traces. He carefully managed and meticulously documented the genesis of the intermediate textual steps. Moreover, Blumenberg used as material storage of quotations, rare notations collected in a flat hierarchy of broad categories – that he could restructure quickly and flexibly: keywords included concepts such as {Aufklärung,} or {Anthropologie,} or {Zeit,} {Technik,} {Welt,} {Judenfrage.} Late in Blumenberg’s slip box, in 1992, a new keyword entered the thinking stage: boredom {Langeweile}.


3. On Blumenberg´s assistants, detour technologies of the Stenorette and the file card box (Zettelkasten)

When do reading and reception finally turn into production and writing, and when does production cease?

In the chapter Finding philosophical styles, Zill follows Blumenberg’s technical methods and rehearsals of thinking: traces of reading, lecture, stenorette, index cards. Zill also provides us with insights into the terrain of production of typescripts tested in the auditorium. In a household of thought, big projects were produced with the help of 1 to 5 assistants and his wife Ursula Blumenberg Proofs corrections, as well as with the help of his main publishing house and its proofreader Axel Rütters at Suhrkamp, for the book project of the Genesis of the Copernican World. Zill lays out traces of the origin of The Copernican Turn from within essays of Blumenberg, as well as Blumenberg’s dialogue with his critics, evident in, for example, the correspondence with Carl Schmitt (Blumenberg and Schmitt 2007) – an ideological opponent and equal sufferer of “curiositas” (111).

Blumenberg’s preference for the anti-method of detour – especially in his late works, as shown in his Freud prize reception speech, is that the basic movement pattern of culture-based dynamics becomes evident via technical mediation devices. Instead of dictating to his secretary, Blumenberg often used a transcribable and correctable stenorette as a mediating and recording tool. Rehearsal stages of thinking, such as the testing and probing of actual lectures held, are later at night, respoken into this kind of tape-recorder. For Zill, the stenorette is a means of Blumenberg’s use of his time economy –, particularly the night work. But Zill insists that the stenorette is foremost a distance medium, enabling actio per distans, as an action tool from a safe distance: allowing a personal thinking recording machine when others sleep. After the transcription of the spoken dictation by his secretary Ute Vonnegut, usually, two copies were made, which were corrected and revised by hand. Blumenberg only typed significant additions again or asked his secretary to do so. On an important note, Zill reminds us that Blumenberg – ten months before his retirement – wrote (cf. Zill 2020) to Alfons Neukirchen about the ceasing of production by being thrown back to typewriting with his own hands: “In 300 days, I will lose my secretary, and then I will be back where I started: writing on my own. Fortunately, in 27 years of writing full time, I’ve never stopped keeping myself in practice. The >output< has decreased anyway: in Giessen, it was still 20 pages per day, here recently 8, and with self-writing, I will probably retreat to 3. “Braggart, I secretly call to myself, it will be two if it goes well – and 0 if it doesn’t go at all.”(393; my translation from the German original)

Regarding notes from friends, Blumenberg ironically remarks about his card index cabinet of the latest technology, filled at the time with 16000 file card entries: “All your hints are written on file card slips (…) When the thing is full, I stop collecting and start writing”. Zill carefully approaches this development of Blumenberg’s file card box {Zettelkasten} method of selected reading samples, collecting, and writing notes that predisposition and luck play a role in this diachronic textual genesis machine, denying any mysticism of any technical self-constitution texts of reading material bogged down as supposedly self-executing. Depending on the context of use, the quotations collected by Hans Blumenberg landed in ever new places, thus declaring the file cards box a dynamic turnover point that says nothing about the arbitrariness of what had been written down before. While a rigid pattern governs index cards, Zettelkästen is characterized by its flexibility. Individual notations can wander to other places and migrate into different contexts, creating flexible references. Only what is read into it can be read out of the card index. What does not fit into the thesis is left to the note box. In this venue, Zill interprets the laughter of the Thracian woman as a Blumenberg’s self-conscious treatment of the loss of recontextualization of the material that is necessary after its decontextualization. Blumenberg’s search pattern based on which the material is perceived according to its usefulness is already at work in his reading that served the philosopher as an incubator for his works. His activity of collected and set aside reading is connectable to what has already been collected and an expansion of his seeing and thinking in the sense of an expansion of man as a historian of ideas: a conceptual synthesis of person and thing, the reader and the read. Zill emphasizes that the term {Zettelkasten} as archive “note box” or file card box – after the liberation of the rigidly organized index cards as used by Lichtenberg- has become an established technical term that today has been even entitled as “ruminant machines”[2](Helbig 2019a, b). It might be essential to add to Zill´s (2020) excellent elaboration on the Zettelkasten, following the work of Bülow and Krusche that for Helbig (2019a), Blumenberg´s Zettelkasten-method is seen as crucial to developing a systematic theoretical attitude (Blumenberg 1981) towards the history of science and science studies. Inside a critical stance towards the interpretation of the Zettelkasten method by von Bülow and Krusche (2013) in a tendency to self-conversation as a medium of self-communication (113-114), Helbig positions Blumenberg´s index card method beyond a mere technique for Soliloquium. For Helbig (2019a), the importance of Blumenberg’s adoption of the method lies in the diachronically augmented degree of freedom and constitution of a ruminant field of play within the Zettelkasten-method that allows the establishment and cultivation of „a Geschichtsverhältnis, or “relation to history“(96) to provide „a space to play with connections as they have been formed by historical predecessors or might be formed in the present“(97).

Blumenberg’s project of a history of ideas includes, above all, work on the history of science, technology, metaphorology as the pragmatics of metaphysics inherent and thus often less reflected even in scientific world images, a metakinetics of historical changes in meaning horizons. Blumenberg, later in the 70s -and already pre-announced in a text in 1966- corrects his course of philosophical action into anthropology and theory of non-conceptuality {Unbegrifflichkeit}. In the tension between the infinity claim of reason and its procedures of finitude as anthropological conditions, Zill designates Blumenbergs writing as a philosophy and anthropological rhetoric of gaining or taking distance to stimulate Pensiveness– a process of meaning possibility exploration. Against coming directly to the point, >Pensiveness< digresses and, preliminarily in zigzags, allows itself detours as the most critical cultural operation.

Zill elaborates on the retreat of the late Blumenberg in which not only there were no more questions of his students answered by him, with an idea-historical approach. Blumenberg’s implicit aversion of the student revolt of 1968 elevates critics into a moral habit, despite Blumenberg’s preference for rhetoric as a trick of reason to install pragmatic reasonableness in disfavor of absolute reason. Reasonableness is an outcome of an anthropological variant of reason, one that has learned its limits in the passage through self-criticism and has become modest in its insurmountable provisionality. This becomes evident in {Die Verführbarkeit des Philosophen} (cf. Zill’s 2014:38), in which Blumenberg launches a short anecdote in the direction of our forgetting of history entitled {Das jeweils Vergessene,} in which the “respectively forgotten” of each philosophical approach densifies in a short master-pupil anecdote of a joint hurrying towards a leaving train: Heidegger running after the forgetful professor Husserl, that asks his student what it was that he had forgotten to take with him on his journey: “Herr Geheimrat- And History?” Heidegger prompted, and Husserl supposedly answered: “History, yes that’s it, that´s what I have forgotten” (Blumenberg 2014: 63; my translation from the German original): a self-demarcation of Blumenberg to continue to work on the “respectively forgotten” in each thinker or epoch. This self-demarcation is present as well in one of the rare and hand-selected photo reproductions in Zill’s book (2020; image 35) of Hans Blumenberg; a photo of Hans Blumenberg’s handwritten remark posted onto his habilitation work on the “ontological distance” that had been labeled with a skull and a note that says: To be used only with great caution! (376) that Zill comments clearly: “His habilitation thesis thus went into the personal poison cabinet. The closeness to Heidegger annoyed him very soon.”(Ibid.)

4. Rehearsing the dramatization of philosophical curiosity: On the anecdote as a philosophical form

Zill´s book follows philosophical curiosity as a trial treatment of thinking, which I like to call rehearsals. In this sense, writes Zill, Blumenberg is less concerned with the ideology-critical search for some fundamental naked truth, but instead with the process of rendering visible something that has been self-evident to Blumenberg, but that is not or no longer self-evident to us. One of these rehearsals is Blumenberg’s anthropological phenomenological approach, not only of traditional topics such as the concept, as a technical device that allows us, humans, to act at a distance towards the thing described and back over language. For Blumenberg, man is only given inside time, which renders the historical dimension inherent in humankind: and this implies for Zill that historicity, according to Blumenberg, means relatedness of all certainty to horizons, to the temporally manifest real. Zill clarifies that Pensiveness lies beyond traditional hermeneutics as texts through Pensiveness are not an object to be understood but a technical means and opportunity to understand oneself.

Blumenberg’s stupendous erudition laid out his thinking paths in large and small forms precisely cut into short and often ironic and concise miscellanies. He is always form-conscious and ready for witty comments (cf. Alexander Kluges’ (2022) project of thinking as commenting). Despite his rhetoric’s that he might have published smaller text as a preliminary trial test or “rehearsal” {Probe} or even as “small escapes” {kleine Fluchten} and that some since 1973 might be better called “unauthorized fragments” {Unerlaubte Fragmente}, seems an ironic self-comment that shows that Blumenberg’s thinking and philosophy style lies beyond the rolling of problem-rocks, thick-bodied “problem thrillers” (Odo Marquard), but that Blumenberg growingly showed his delight in digressions into the shorter and densified philosophical forms: the compressed and pictorial, the dramaturgically sculptured episodic and the sharpness of the anecdotal.

Beyond lighthearted and history-forgotten narrative style memorials Blumenberg’s writing often could be condensed into a short narrative such as an ironic gloss or an anecdote up to a particular point: The non-edited, or the unpublished in a lifetime is precisely meant -as we deepen our understanding with Zill- with an-ekdoton. The importance of a precise anecdotal writing style is treated in the unpublished manuscript of Blumenberg “Die Unverächtlichkeit der Anekdote” (UNF2241; Zill 2014:36), in which Blumenberg refers to the unrealized program of Nietzsche’s attempt to extract three anecdotes from each philosophical system and accordingly the three basic narratives of a philosopher’s life we should still care about discarding at the same time each particular systems or exorbitant grand theory. What are these three densified anecdotes or philosophical and intellectual biographic narratives in turn that would reveal all the rest? Blumenberg comments on Nietzsche’s pre-announced but never fulfilled program Nietzsche that would have meant an ultimate rebellion against the monocracy of the concept. But, Blumenberg twistedly adds that we will never know if it succeeded. The short gloss of Blumenberg as philosophical crisp and straightforward narrative of an anecdote that grows into a formal philosophical statement, in my view, is missing in the recent edition of Werner Stegmaier’s introduction of “forms of philosophical works” (Stegmaier 2021: 260) which mentions Blumenberg au passant as merely part of one out of three contemporary forms (besides the philosophical, analytical scientific paper and new digital metric and designed forms) as having contributed to transdisciplinary theme volumes, that opening up new thematic fields put forward by the collective of poetics and hermeneutics. But, Blumenberg works on the transformation of hermeneutics through the minimal form of philosophical buccaneering in which the anecdote, according to Zill, becomes the third field of a theory of non-conceptuality alongside the work on myth and metaphor.

5. Towards an Intellectual History of Technology

Zill’s book is by far too rich to put down in a short review. However, still, I tentatively attempt to cut a breach into Zills work of the multifaceted reading of Blumenberg’s intellectual biography into an intellectual history of technology: Zill reconstructs Blumenberg’s project of development of an Intellectual History of Technology {Geistesgeschichte der Technik} but also assists in early archeology of Blumenberg of technology as a self-contained topic. In this vein, besides the important initial texts of the Kiel inaugural lecture of 1951 The Relationship Between Nature And Technology As A Philosophical Problem {Das Verhältnis von Natur und Technik als philosophisches Problem} and the Brussels conference contribution Technology and truth {Technik und Wahrheit} of 1953, among other writings and lectures in the volume Works On Technology {Schriften Zur Technik} published posthumously in 2015, Zill refers to the fragmentary text from a lecture of 1956 entitled Automation which Zill commented (Zill 2019) and which has now also been published (Blumenberg 2019b). As Rüdiger Zill points out, Blumenberg focuses not only on the economic and cultural but specifically on the spiritual and philosophical preconditions of automation. Blumenberg does not shy away from drawing a big bow from the human ability of symbolization to technology that means from the power of sign-use to automation. For automation, according to a manuscript transcribed by Zill – Blumenberg (2019b), goes back to mathematization: For Blumenberg -as Zill reminds us- what can be formalized, can be mechanized; and what can be mechanized, can be automated. Consequently, for Blumenberg in his text on automation, technology slumbers in theory, and in the sign reside the machine.

Zill notes that Blumenberg does not focus on the moral and social problems of technology because he does not consider the social and economic consequences of automation to be problems of technology itself, but rather to be technical problems: turning the appearance of a deficiency inside technology towards a problem of a lack of technology.” Blumenberg, with his early philosophy of technology – as Zill convincingly maps out- stands in contrast to positions of contemporaries such as Friedrich Georg Jünger, Martin Heidegger, or left-wing cultural critics such as Horkheimer, Adorno, or Günther Anders (cf. Eatherly, Anders, and Russell 1961) in questions of technology. However, Zill (2020) notes the astonishing – unquoted- familiarity in what Anders wrote on prompting and the technological shortcuts as a way to the barbaric and – in opposition- the cultural methods of digressions and the productive tensions created by detours in both authors (458-459) reconstructs that as early as 1966, Blumenberg sees the historical interest in technology seconded by its anthropological dimension of how to win time could be treated as a significant human technological category. However, Blumenberg’s strength does not lie in the scientific adequacy of evolutionary anthropology. For example, in the evolutionary theoretical he defends a kind of a savannah hypothesis, which is necessary for his argumentation to draw on the habitat change from forested terrain to free steppes and explain man as a distance being, currently historically aged scientific knowledge. What matters is much more his speculative detours on anthropological details: Since in Blumenberg visibility serves the self-determination and self-assertion of man, the examination of the history of technology was intensified in the 1960s. Zill shows how Blumenberg, through his publications and lectures as a member of the leading group “Man and Technology” in the “Association of German Engineers” (VDI), is perceived as a decisive philosopher of technology of his time, primarily through three lectures. Since the lectures on Some Difficulties in Writing an Intellectual History of Technology {Einige Schwierigkeiten, eine Geistesgeschichte der Technik zu schreiben}, which additionally was broadcasted as a radio transmission on Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) in 1966, moreover, the lecture Methodological Problems of an Intellectual History of Technology {Methodologische Probleme einer Geistesgeschichte der Technik} and Dogmatic and Rational Analysis of Motivations of Technical Progress {Dogmatische und rationale Analyse von Motivationen Technischen Fortschritts}, which was presented at the timely conference of the VDI in Ludwigshafen in 1970, Blumenberg relies on the elaboration of the relationship between theory and reality and the boundary between technology and craft in particular consideration of Cusanos. Zill is particularly interested in Marx’s development of machinery in the book “Das Kapital,” noting that in Marx’s chapter “Machinery and Great Industry,” the possibility of mechanizing a production process only became visible for Blumenberg through the division of labor.

If we speculate a bit further, we could ask: What would Blumenberg have thought of literary and cultural experiments such as the “1 the road” project (Goodwin, Mcdowell, and Google 2018) to write a – theoretically eternal and unstoppable – road trip book with a machine learning algorithm, or the works of the text collective of Gregor Weichbrod and Hannes Bajohr of the “0x0a” the hex code for the line break, as a character that does not exist in the analog, cannot be spoken and exists only as a “control character” – as attempts to produce genuinely digital literature in the line of algorithmic aesthetics today? We know that Blumenberg distinguished clearly unreflective monologs of AI protocol machines (Blumenberg 2002) based on unanimity {Einstimmigkeit} (39) of judgment or atomized sentences from dialogic concordance {Übereinstimmung}(Ibid.) after inspection {Prüfung} (Ibid.) of compatibility of different views and dialogic co-descriptions. By the automatization of writing (cf. Schönthaler 2022) of programmed contextual understanding of automata based on the operation of signs that must be determined and connected for interacting with humans; however, according to Blumenberg (2002), uninvolved world-less spectators are created, such as Joseph Weinbaum’s ELIZA artifact. Due to the lack of the non-mechanical intermittence of dialogic conscious experience of perception and reflective self-interruption, AI protocol machines are ruled out by Blumenberg (38-43) as any other kind of evidence establishing machine. Zill does not explicitly work out these possibilities of rethinking contemporary issues of philosophy of technology (cf. Bajohr 2021 and its relation to Blumenberg’s specific beginning with a technology of language (Blumenberg 1946; Blumenberg 2001; Bajohr 2018; Bajohr 2017). But there is still a possibility for such a philosophy of language and technology beyond mentioning that Blumenberg was more focused on initial human techniques and not abstracted technology systems questions in the words of Zill(2020):  “The algorithms of modern computer technology or the procedures of chemical industry were not fields in which he wanted to spend his efforts.” (497).

With Zill’s reading of Blumenberg’s intellectual biography, we might not reach an absolute end but come back to a preliminary beginning by continuing to think what it was that made Blumenberg’s life so fascinating to read in these short-lived 814 pages. What was it, we wanted to understand while observing the way Blumenberg thought and lived, particularly in the field of Intellectual History of Technology? For Blumenberg (2009) each science has to bare its own history (9), and each intellectual biography has to bare its history as well: I think it is time for us readers to (re-)read Rüdiger Zill’s book and discover Hans Blumenberg’s intellectual biography anew!


Alsberg, Paul. 1922. Das Menschheitsrätsel. Jena.

Bajohr, Hannes. 2017. “History and Metaphor: Hans Blumenberg’s Theory of Language.” Doctoral Thesis, Columbia University. https://doi.org/10.7916/D83X8JX1.

———. “Ein Anfang Mit Der Sprache. Blumenbergs Erste Philosophische Veröffentlichung.”.” Zfl Blog (blog). August 13, 2018. https://www.zflprojekte.de/zfl-blog/2018/08/13/hannes-bajohr-ein-anfang-mit-der-sprache-hans-blumenbergs-erste-philosophische-veroeffentlichung/.

———. 2020. “Die ‹Gestalt› Der KI. Jenseits von Holismus Und Atomismus.” Zeitschrift Für Medienwissenschaft 12 (23-2): 168–81. https://doi.org/10.14361/zfmw-2020-120215.

Bülow, Ulrich von, and Dorit Krusche. 2013. “Nachrichten an Sich Selbst: Der Zettelkasten von Hans Blumenberg,” In Zettelkästen: Maschinen Der Phantasie, edited by Heike Gfrereis and Ellen Strittmatter, 113–19. Marbach: Deutsche Schillergesellschaft.

Eatherly, Claude, Günther Anders, and Bertrand Russell. 1961. Burning Conscience: The Case of the Hiroshima Pilot, Claude Eatherly, Told in His Letters to Günther Anders; Preface by Bertrand Russell. London: Weidenfeld And Nicolson.

Bayertz, Kurt. 2014. Der Aufrechte Gang: Eine Geschichte Des Anthropologischen Denkens. München: C.H. Beck.

Blom, Philipp. 2017. Die Welt Aus Den Angeln Eine Geschichte Der Kleinen Eiszeit von 1570 Bis 1700 Sowie Der Entstehung Der Modernen Welt, Verbunden Mit Einigen Überlegungen Zum Klima Der Gegenwart. München: Hanser Verlag.

———. 2020. Das Große Welttheater: Von Der Macht Der Vorstellungskraft in Zeiten Des Umbruchs. Wien: Peter Zolnay.

Blumenberg, Hans. 1946 (Nachdruck 1991). “Die sprachliche Wirklichkeit der Philosophie”.  Hamburger Akademische Rundschau 1 (1946/47) 1, Berlin: Reimer.

———. 1981. “Ernst Cassirer Gedenkend.” Essay. In: Hans Blumenberg, Wirklichkeiten, in Denen Wir Leben. Aufsätze Und Eine Rede, 163–72. Stuttgart: Reclam, Philipp.

———. 2001. “Sprachsituation Und Immanente Rhetorik.” In Ästhetische Und Metaphorologische Schriften, edited by Anselm Haverkamp, 120–35. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp.

———. 2002. “Der Phänomenologe Kann Sich Nur Selbst Berichtigen.” In Zu Den Sachen Und Zurück, edited by Manfred Sommer, 19–43. Suhrkamp.

———. 2007. Theorie Der Unbegrifflichkeit. Edited by Anselm Haverkamp. Frankfurt, M. Suhrkamp.

———. 2009. Geistesgeschichte Der Technik Mit Einem Radiovortrag Auf CD. Edited by Alexander Schmitz and Bernd Stiegler. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

———, and Carl Schmitt. 2007. Briefwechsel 1971-1978 Und Weitere Materialien. Edited by Alexander Schmitz and Marcel Lepper. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.

———. 2014. “Die Unverächtlichkeit der Anekdote” (n.d.)  UNF2241, Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach, in: R. Zill, “Minima historia. Die Anekdote als hermeneutische Form.” Zeitschrift für Ideengeschichte 8(3), p.36.

———. 2014. Beschreibung Des Menschen. Edited by Manfred Sommer. Frankfurt Am Main: Suhrkamp.

———. 2015a. “Einige Schwierigkeiten Eine Geistesgeschichte Der Technik Zu Schreiben.” Hans Blumenberg: Schriften Zur Technik., edited by Alexander Schmitz and Bernd Stiegler, 203–29. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

———. 2015b. “Weltbilder Und Weltmodelle.” In Hans Blumenberg: Schriften Zur Technik, edited by Alexander Schmitz and Bernhard Stiegler, 126–37. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

———. 2016. Paradigms for a Metaphorology. Translated by Robert Savage. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

———. 2019a. Die Nackte Wahrheit. Edited by Rüdiger Zill, Berlin: Suhrkamp.

———. 2019b“Automation.” In Metaphorologie, Anthropologie, Phänomenologie. Neue Forschungen Zum Nachlass Hans Blumenbergs, edited by Alberto Fragio et al., 214–234. Freiburg, Albers.

———. 2020a. “An Anthropological Approach to the Contemporary Significance of Rethorics.” In History, Metaphors, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader, edited by Hannes Bajohr, Florian Fuchs, and Joe Paul Kroll, 718–847. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

———, 2020b. Hannes Bajohr, Florian Fuchs, and Joe Paul Kroll. 2020. History, Metaphors, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

———. “2020c. Prospect for a Theory of Inconceptuality.” History, Metaphors, Fables. A Hans Blumenberg Reader, by Blumenberg Hans, translated by Hannes Bajohr et al., edited by Hannes Bajohr et al., Ithaca: New York, Cornell University Press, 2020, pp. 739–799.

Boden, Petra, and Zill, Rüdiger. 2017. Poetik Und Hermeneutik Im Rückblick : Interviews Mit Beteiligten. Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink.

Gerner, Alexander Matthias. 2012. “Philosophical Investigations of Attention.” PhD Thesis, Universidade de Lisboa. https://repositorio.ul.pt/handle/10451/6496.

Goodwin, Ross, Kenric Mcdowell, and Google. 2018. 1 the Road. Paris: Jean Boite Éditions.

Hanusch, Frederic, Claus Leggewie, and Erik Meyer. 2021. Planetar Denken Ein Einstieg. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.

Heidenreich, Friedrich. 2015. “Bedeutsamkeit.” In Blumenberg Lesen – Ein Glossar, edited by Daniel Weidner, 43–55. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

Helbig, Daniela K. 2019a. “Life without Toothache: Hans Blumenberg’s Zettelkasten and History of Science as Theoretical Attitude.” Journal of the History of Ideas 80 (1): 91–112. https://doi.org/10.1353/jhi.2019.0005.

———. 2019b. “Ruminant Machines: A Twentieth-Century Episode in the Material History of Ideas.” Journal of the History of Ideas (blog). April 17, 2019. https://jhiblog.org/2019/04/17/ruminant-machines-a-twentieth-century-episode-in-the-material-history-of-ideas/.

Kluge, Alexander. 2021. Das Buch Der Kommentare. Unruhiger Garten Der Seele. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

Krajewski, Bruce J. “BLUMENBERG RECONSIDERED the Afterlife of Hans Blumenberg’s Centennial.” Journal of the History of Ideas Blog, 20 Sept. 2020, jhiblog.org/2020/09/14/blumenbergs-centennial/. Accessed 21 Oct. 2021.

Merker, Barbara. 1999. “Bedürfnis Nach Bedeutsamkeit: Zwischen Lebenswelt Und Absolutismus Der Wirklichkeit.” In Die Kunst Des Überlebens: Nachdenken Über Hans Blumenberg, edited by Franz Josef Metz and Hermann Timm, 68–98. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.

Rothacker, Erich. 1963. Heitere Erinnerungen. Frankfurt a.M/ Bonn: Athenäum Verlag.

Schönthaler, Phillip. 2022. Die Automatisierung Des Schreibens & Gegenprogramme Der Literatur. Berlin: Matthes & Seitz Berlin.

Stegmaier, Werner. 2021. Formen Philosophischer Schriften. Zur Einführung. Hamburg: Junius Verlag.

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

Zill, Rüdiger. 2002. “>>Substrukturen Des Denkens<<.” In Begriffsgeschichte, Diskursgeschichte, MetapherngeschichteGrenzen Und Perspektiven Einer Metapherngeschichte Nach Hans Blumenberg, edited by Hans Erich Bödecker, 209–58. Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag.

———. 2014. “Minima Historia. Die Anekdote Als Philosophische Form.” Zeitschrift Für Ideengeschichte 8 (3): 33–46. https://doi.org/10.17104/1863-8937-2014-3-33.

———. 2014a. “Anekdote.” In Blumenberg Lesen. Ein Glossar, edited by Robert Buch and Daniel Weidner, 26–42. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

———. 2019. “>>Automation<<. Die Entstehung Der Blumenberg´schen Technikphilosophie Anhand Eines Frühen Vortragsmanuskripts . Freiburg: Albers, 187-213.” In Metaphorologie, Anthropologie, Phänomenologie. Neue Forschungen Zum Nachlass Hans Blumenbergs, edited by Alberto Fragio, Martina Phillipi, and Josefa Ros Velasco, 187–213. Freiburg: Albers.

———. 2020. Der Absolute Leser Hans Blumenberg. Eine Intellektuelle Biographie. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

[1] An interesting point to explore, if we compare this view with the historian Phillip Blom who argues for the necessity of a reinvention of world pictures as part of a dramaturgically padded world theater (Blom 2020) by imaginative forms such as narratives to be able to face and act accordingly to our precarious planetary condition and thinking (cf. Hanusch, Leggewie and Meyer 2021) under the threat of mass extinction and climate change (Blom 2017) as one possible counter reading to Blumenberg.

[2]Wiederkäuer: a system to chew over various bits of reading material over periods that are long enough to allow new connections and combinations to appear, and thus to generate genuine surprises“ (Helbig 2019b.)

Caleb J. Basnett: Adorno, Politics, and the Aesthetic Animal

Adorno, Politics, and the Aesthetic Animal Book Cover Adorno, Politics, and the Aesthetic Animal
Caleb J. Basnett
University of Toronto Press
Hardback $65.00

Reviewed by: Matthew J. Delhey (University of Toronto)

In Adorno, Politics, and the Aesthetic Animal, Caleb J. Basnett defends two major claims: first, that Adorno’s political thought cannot be separated from his concerns with art and animality; second, that Adorno’s unification of these themes delivers us the “surest guidance” for transforming ours into an emancipatory society (4). In my view, Basnett renders the first claim compelling but not the second. Nevertheless, Basnett’s book makes an important contribution to Adorno scholarship and post-humanist debates in political theory. It is recommended for specialists in these fields. It will also be of interest to students looking for an introduction to Adorno’s political thought.

Basnett structures his book argumentatively and thematically, not chronologically or textually. He unfolds his argument across a roughly four-step arc, although one that does not exactly map onto the book’s four chapters:

  1. the establishment of a hegemonic and domination-perpetuating theory of human capacities found in Aristotle, grounded in the biological differentiation of the human from the non-human, that Basnett calls the “Aristotelian problematic”;
  2. the development of Adorno’s conceptual framework of negative dialectic as responding to the metaphysics of identity found in Aristotle and Hegel;
  3. an investigation of the consequences of Adorno’s alternative conceptual framework of non-identity for his views on human reconciliation as a new kind of animality;
  4. the resolution of the Aristotelian problematic in Adorno’s revitalization of aesthetic education as a promise for radical subjective transformation, a utopian subjectivity that Basnett calls the “aesthetic animal.”

In what follows, I summarize each of these four interpretive claims advanced by Basnett vis-a-vis Adorno. After that, I return to my doubt regarding the persuasiveness of Basnett’s claim that Adorno’s theory of the aesthetic animal provides the most promising guide to transformative or revolutionary politics available to us today.

1. The Aristotelian Problematic (Introduction)

Basnett begins by discussing Aristotle’s famous claim from the Politics: the human being is by nature a political animal (13–22). The naturalness of human society asserted by Aristotle, Basnett argues, cannot be understood independently from his biological writings. This is because, for Aristotle, there exist non-human animals who are political in ways that differ from the political activity of human beings. So to specify the sense in which the human animal is political, Aristotle must distinguish between the political activity of human beings and that of other non-human animals. This differentiation requires Aristotle to introduce a politicized human-animal distinction based on a hierarchical ranking of organisms.

According to Basnett, Aristotle must articulate this human-animal distinction in terms of capacities. For Aristotle, an animal is essentially a soul constituted by a bundle of capacities (14). Animals can therefore only be distinguished from one another by their capacities. According to Aristotle’s comparative zoology, human beings uniquely possess nous, the divine capacity for intellection which underwrites our related capacities for speech and reason. The political life of human being, then, is that which best actualizes those capacities most closely associated with nous. Basnett concludes that Aristotle’s distinctly biological conception of the human capacity for nous amounts to nothing less than an “ur-politics” (17), since such a theory of human capacities necessarily institutes a normative hierarchy of living beings.

For Basnett, this identification of the political with the biological, one which determines genuinely human capacities by contrasting humans with animals, lies at the heart of the Western tradition of political theory. And this tradition is not dead. It forms what Basnett calls the Aristotelian problematic. This problematic has two diverging consequences for contemporary political thought. The first is regressive with respect to human emancipation. Since in this problematic what is valued is what is most distinctly human, a hierarchical ranking of individual organisms according to the barometer of humanity is unavoidable, both within human societies and between humans and non-humans. This hierarchy inheres in any animal-contrastive definition of the human and leads unavoidably, on Basnett’s view, to political practices of violence and domination. This is the same basic violence and domination that characterizes our societies today (3–5).

But Aristotle’s politicized separation of the human from the animal also contains two transformative dimensions, capable of being unleashed by later theorists like Adorno. First, Aristotle recognizes that humanity does not hold exclusive rights to politics. Since there exist non-human political animals, the realm of the political extends beyond the human. Second, against himself, Aristotle demonstrates in the Poetics the constitutive role of aesthetic education in the process of becoming human (21–22). For Aristotle, aesthetic education functions as a means of subjective transformation. In art, we not only learn what counts as human through mimesis but are also taught to recognize which possible capacities we ought to realize to become free individuals. Poetry, in other words, develops and transforms our subjective potentials. This transformative function of art thus shows us not only that human beings undertake cultural processes to learn how to be human and so to identify as “something other than simply animal” (22); it also teaches us that we can be otherwise (126). So although Aristotle “[fails] to recognize the role art plays in shaping the identity of the human being,” he nonetheless provides the theoretical resources for thinking about the politics of non-human animals and the transformative dimension of aesthetic experience (3).

Enter Adorno. Adorno’s political thought, Basnett argues, can be read in its entirety as responding to the Aristotelian problematic (23). This problematic also identifies Adorno’s argumentative strategy: radicalize art, ditch humanity. In the remainder of the book, Basnett portrays Adorno as developing across his writings an immanent critique of the human-animal distinction and its complicity in practices of human domination in the West.

Some readers may object to Basnett’s presumption that Adorno’s work forms “more or less a coherent whole” insofar as it responds to, or is “constellated around,” the intertwining of politics and animality in the Aristotelian problematic (22–23). However, this assumption is likely unavoidable for productive engagement with Adorno’s work on this topic. Moreover, the course of the book justifies, in my view, this assumed continuity in Adorno’s relation to Aristotle’s politics. Basnett’s careful attention to the understated but essential role of Aristotle in Adorno’s political thinking, often downplayed by his commentators (29–32), is a welcome contribution to the scholarly literature on Adorno.

2. Hegel’s Idealism and Negative Dialectics (Chapter 1)

In chapter one, Basnett draws on this Aristotelian framing of Adorno’s political thought to explicate the conceptual landmarks well-known to readers of Adorno, what we might call Adorno’s metaphysics. The most important of these landmarks for Basnett’s argument is Adorno’s negative dialectic or theory of conceptual non-identity. Basnett aims to elucidate the political import of negative dialectics, so his highly original account remains justifiably non-exhaustive.

As with Adorno’s encounter with humanism, Basnett reconstructs Adorno’s negative dialectic genetically. In particular, Basnett presents it as a developmental resolution of unresolved problems in Aristotle (29–40) and Hegel (43–50). These problems, Basnett argues, turn on the issue of conceptual mediation.

In the case of Aristotle, Basnett sees Adorno’s negative dialectic as addressing two obstacles in Aristotelian metaphysics: the possibility of change and the relation between universal and particular. Aristotle, lacking an appreciation of the dialectical interaction between particular things and universal concepts, cannot account for the way in which particular things necessarily supersede their original meaning and constitution and therefore always “pass beyond the limit that defines them” (40). A properly dialectical theory of mediation, one which tarries with the non-identity of objects to themselves and so with their perpetual escape from conceptual identification, is therefore necessary in order to give a satisfactory account of the possibility of objective change and, therefore, the futurity of objects and their potential transformations of subjects.

Hegel provides Adorno with just this sort of theory of dialectical mediation, according to Basnett. But in order to foreclose Hegel’s drive towards conceptual totalization, Adorno must separate Hegel’s idealism from his dialectic. This separation amounts to saving the dialectic’s ceaseless negativity from the “closure” of Hegel’s idealism (48). Such a separation has the further consequence of opening up the dialectic to the future and the historical horizon of redemption (ibid.). Dialectic without idealism is Adorno’s negative dialectic. It seeks the “non-identical in the identical,” the negative dynamics of the naturally selfsame, rather than purporting, as Hegel’s did, to discover “identity in non-identity” (43) and so “crush[ing]” and “devour[ing]” the non-conceptual into the concept (44). In this way, Adorno preserves Hegel’s insights into the conflictual dynamics of modern experience without taking on board the totalizing consequences endemic to Hegel’s idealistic system. Moreover, this separation entails that, pace Jay Bernstein, Adorno breaks completely with Hegel’s idealism (but not, of course, with Hegel’s thinking tout court); Adorno does not, according to Basnett, “[accept] the rudiments of Hegelian idealism” as Bernstein claims (quoted on 46). Only in breaking totally with Hegel’s idealism can the dialectic open itself up to the future possibility of a radical transformation of the sociopolitical world.

I have moved quickly through Basnett’s arguments in this chapter. Nevertheless, it is clear that some of the interpretive claims required by Basnett’s account of Adorno’s “determinate negation” of Aristotelian and Hegelian metaphysics will remain controversial (39), especially as regards Adorno’s “appropriation” of Hegel (43n8). For example, the meaning and significance of Hegel’s idealism remain quite obscure. Basnett suggests that Hegel’s idealism has something to do with spirit’s, or the absolute subject’s, projections onto objects.[1] This sounds much like Charles Taylor’s “cosmic spirit” reading of Hegel, or, if not that, then the old ontological reading of “idealist monism.” However, this interpretation of Hegel’s idealism has been met by influential criticisms from Robert Pippin and many others. However, Basnett does not acknowledge this literature on Hegel’s idealism in the book. Does Basnett intend his reading of Hegel, attributed to Adorno, to be compelling for us today? Moreover, if Hegel’s dialectic cannot be separated from his idealism as argued by at least some of his readers, then Bernstein’s contention that Adorno must accept some aspects of Hegelian idealism, if he is to retain the dialectic, begins to appear more plausible than Basnett’s suggestion of a complete break. But given the mode of exposition adopted by Basnett, it is difficult to say where Adorno ends and Basnett begins. I will return to this issue in §5.

3. Reconciled Humanity and Animality (Chapters 2 and 3)

Over the next two chapters, Basnett argues that Adorno’s theories of reconciled humanity and utopian animality form the relevant dialectic immanent to the Aristotelian problematic.

In chapter two, Basnett presents Adorno as using the image of reconciled humanity as a way of dialectically rethinking social progress. A reconciled humanity would be a humanity that no longer struggles: against nature, against other animals, and against itself (65). Basnett reasonably concludes that Adorno’s vision of reconciled humanity amounts to a set of “utopian speculations” that hold open the possibility of radical change to humanity in the future, changes which would put into question the very idea of humanity as inherited from Aristotle (66). This utopian vision of humanity is negative and non-identical. Negative because it carries no positive program for what this escape from struggle might look like. Non-identical because, in radically transforming the meaning of humanity, this transformation can only be conceived if we also recognize that the human being is not reducible to its natural determinations and so must be capable of being otherwise—in other words, that the human being is non-identical to itself. It is this possibility of an anti-naturalizing reconstitution of the subject to which Adorno refers when, in the Problems of Moral Philosophy, he announces, “if humanity [Humanität] has any meaning at all, it must consist in the discovery that human beings [Menschen] are not identical with their immediate existence as the creatures of nature” (quoted on 66).

In being non-identical to itself, humanity also resists domination. Non-identical humanity refers “not to a transcendental subject whose basic potentials are already given in advance of their actualization, but rather a subject constituted in resistance to the forms of domination that organize the objective world.” Human subjects, conceived non-identically, are thus “always pushing against the forces of compulsion” (61). We therefore have, on the one hand, a concept of the human being that is identical to struggle, domination, and violence. But, on the other, one which, like all concepts, is never exhausted by its identifications; it always maintains a non-identical side, a “preponderance of the object” (50–51, 61). In the case of the human being, the relevant non-identity lies precisely in the possibility of reconciliation. Realizing this redemptive possibility, one which inheres in the very idea of humanity itself, would, therefore, be the “end of humanity” as we know it in its self-identity (58). Naturally, we would like to know something about this reconstituted subject, even if our knowledge of it necessarily remains negative. This is the task of the book’s next chapter.

In chapter three, Basnett relates the notion of reconciled humanity to Adorno’s thinking about animals. In particular, Basnett advances a surprising interpretive thesis: the kind of thing that participates in Adorno’s reconciled humanity cannot be said to be a human being at all, but must instead count as a new kind of non-human animal (73, 77). The primary inspiration for this animalist interpretation of reconciled humanity comes from Adorno’s memorable imperative in Negative Dialectics, wherein we are told to live “so that one may believe himself to have been a good animal” (quoted on 106). But why must reconciled humanity be an in- or non-humanity? While Basnett does not present his argument in the following way (see his summary 77–78), his line of thought can, I think, be condensed into a sequence of three claims: first, that the idea of humanity is fundamentally tied up with compulsion, domination, and violence; second, that, since reconciled humanity demands the overcoming of such forms of struggle and since struggle is inherent in the idea of humanity, reconciliation must involve the determinate negation of humanity; third, that the appropriate determinate negation of humanity, one capable of producing a community free of constitutive struggle, is animality. Reconciled humanity therefore requires for its realization that the human subject become a utopian animal, that is, an animal which is no longer caught up in relations of violence and domination towards others, world, and self. In short, reconciled humanity is no longer identifiably human.

It strikes me that this part of the book will incur the most skepticism. There are two likely sticking points. One has to do with Adorno’s stipulation that the human being cannot be thought without necessarily invoking violence to self, world, and others. For Basnett, Adorno bakes violence into the very idea of humanity; violence is “deeply embedded in the human constitution” (166). There can be no instance of humanity, in thought or in the world, that does not contribute to domination: “the concept of humanism, and even the word ‘human,’ are deeply misleading and encourage the perpetuation of a cycle of violence” (58). The second sticking point concerns emancipation. Why must a successful redressing of the violence historically associated with humanity take us outside the realm of the human? Must we not invoke values, and thus enter the realm of the human, to justify our attempts to overcome violence (and, indeed, to justify any course of action)? This, at any rate, would be the humanist response to the challenges so far identified. But for Basnett, reconciled humanity cannot be an emancipation of humanity as we currently understand it—it cannot be an “emancipated humanity.” It must instead be “humanity emancipated from humanity” (58n8), and therefore a humanity “for whom the word ‘human’ would be an anachronism” (23).

These sticking points, closely related and perhaps even identical from a logical point of view, will elicit at least three responses. First of all, if it true that the very word ‘human’ misleads and anarchonizes, then it becomes difficult to understand why Adorno maintains his use of the concept across his writings, such as in reconciled humanity. By Basnett’s admission, such use of the human amounts at best to a ruse played by Adorno on his readers, since humanity turns out to be constitutively irreconcilable. This consideration suggests to me that Adorno does not conceive of emancipated humanity as strictly non-human.

Second, while it remains a historical truism that the human correlates with violence and domination, there remains an obvious humanist response to this fact: namely, that this correlation is just that, a coincidence, not a necessary connection; moreover, the humanist will also claim that the means of overcoming this historical connection between violence and humanity, so far more or less co-terminus, is to become more human, i.e., to further realize our human values (such as non-violence and non-domination), and not to abandon them. In short, we eliminate violence through humanity, not by overcoming it. Basnett addresses this humanist rejoinder on more than one occasion and is clear enough that he intends the book to provide an extended defense of the necessity of welding humanity with violence, both in humanity’s identity to violence and its surplus resistance. In effect, however, it is the Aristotelian problematic which provides this linkage for Basnett, since it is in it that we see how a differentiation of biological species based on their capacities necessarily entails a normative hierarchy, one that can later be recapitulated in a political community. But to generalize this claim to all forms of humanism clearly supposes that all humanism must be Aristotelian in the specific sense laid out in the Politics. And this further claim is by no means obviously true, either for Adorno or for us. If we instead permit the possibility of separating humanity from violence, things become quite different. In that world, Adorno could be suspicious of the legacy of humanism without affirming animality as its proper remedy.

Finally, there remains the general abstractness of these claims. Despite Basnett’s reasonable assurance that Adorno remains a deeply historical thinker, the violence, domination, and self-preservation that confront the reader throughout the book are nowhere historically differentiated. This makes it appear as if the violence in question bears no traces of its historical specificity in Adorno’s account. It is today the same violence to which Aristotle attested in antiquity. I will return to the issue of abstractness in §5.

4. Aesthetic Education (Chapter 4)

Finally, Basnett must show us how reconciled humanity, now understood as a new kind of animal, can be actualized in history. How are we to bridge the gap between our present humanity, tied up with domination, and the future utopia of a world populated by non-human political animals who no longer struggle? Accounting for the possibility of realizing this post-human world is the task of the book’s final chapter, wherein Basnett argues that such a transformation occurs only with the aid of a new kind of aesthetic education. It is through art that we “learn to live as good animals” (116).

What does this aesthetic education towards animality look like? Basnett’s most pertinent answer is that aesthetic education cultivates animal impulses through passive and active relations to art. As he puts it, aesthetic education

would attempt to cultivate animal impulses so as to enable them to resist human capture and thereby facilitate the kind of displacement of the subjective coordinates that constitute the human by turning toward non-identity through the addendum. In this way, Adorno’s aesthetics can be seen to address the question of producing an aesthetic animal, in the sense of an animal being constituted not simply through the senses, through its bodily comportment towards objects, but through the arts. (148–49)

Art reactivates our animal drives, mobilizing them against what we identify as our humanity and so “liberat[ing] the animal from the human through aesthetic experience” (26). In the remainder of the chapter, Basnett goes on to explain the distinct contributions made in aesthetic experience by the passive moment of reception and the active one of production in an illuminating reading of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory.

Two things stand out to me as noteworthy in Basnett’s presentation of Adorno’s politics of the aesthetic animal. First, Basnett recognizes that the subjective transformation of the human into the animal, as theorized by Adorno, is not sufficient to realize sociopolitical transformation. Consciousness-raising about humanity’s inherent domination cannot on its own produce sociopolitical change. Adorno’s contribution is, after all, only a “theory of the subject” (1); it tells us how our agency and relation-to-self are constituted and how they could be constituted otherwise. It is in the very nature of this kind of theory of subjectivity that it describes only possibilities of subjective reconstitution. Thus Basnett rightly tells us that Adorno’s theory of subjective transformation only “might make possible” radical social change (26). Aesthetic experience, then, also offers merely “the possibility of sociopolitical transformation” (151). This important qualification makes it clear that Basnett sees aesthetic education into animality as necessary but insufficient for social change (173). Realizing a world of utopian animals would require other transformations of sociopolitical reality, too. We might imagine that this transformation would also require, for example, the development of labor-saving technologies.

Second, Basnett presents Adorno’s views on aesthetic education as responding primarily to Aristotle. This is a local instantiation of the book’s global claim, viz. that Adorno’s politics is, as a whole, best understood in its relation to the Aristotelian problematic. However this version of the global claim presents novel issues not found in the metaphysical questions discussed in chapter one, i.e., the relation between universals and particulars and the nature of the dialectic. Part of the problem is that the theme of aesthetic education is itself never explicitly thematized by Aristotle in the Poetics, a point, of course, acknowledged by Basnett. This omission is, after all, the reason why Aristotle fails to appreciate the full scope of art in constituting the human despite his own unconscious insights into the matter. The implicitness of Aristotle’s theory of aesthetic education makes Basnett’s task of presenting Adorno as primarily in dialogue with Aristotle more demanding than it was in the prior cases, where we found Aristotle addressing the issues explicitly and in some of his most famous works. Moreover, in the case of aesthetic education there exists other, more immediate figures standing in the way. Given the affinities between Adorno’s views on aesthetic education with those of Hegel and especially Schiller, why not see these figures as at least equally important as Aristotle in the development of Adorno’s views (148–49)? Finally, given Adorno’s insistence on treating specifically modern art, it is difficult to see how his views on aesthetic education can be understood as responding to what is naturally only a theory of ancient art in Aristotle. As a result of these concerns, some readers will remain understandably skeptical that Adorno develops his theory of aesthetic education primarily as a response to Aristotle’s Poetics. Unfortunately, Basnett provides no direct textual evidence in support of this claim, either. He instead provides a sophisticated account showing how one can read Adorno’s theory of aesthetic education as responding to problems which arise for Adorno in Aristotle’s Poetics and shows that, in responding to these problems, Adorno in turn address other aspects of Aristotle’s practical philosophy (thaumazein, praxis, theoria, etc.), forming a constellation (154–59). But this kind of argument, while philosophically compelling in many ways, cannot rule out the possibility that, pace Basnett, figures like Hegel and Schiller play equal or even more important roles than Aristotle in Adorno’s aesthetic theory.

5. Adorno Today

Finally, I would like to address what I take to be the second major contention of Basnett’s book, viz. that Adorno’s theory of the aesthetic animal provides the best available way of thinking about our present social and political moment. Here is how Basnett puts the point in the book’s final paragraph:

I have argued that Adorno is the most apt guide to our current political juncture and the theorizing of its transformation, for he allows us to see our own animality as it has emerged through the history of humanism and to take the possibilities for transformation as beginning from this situation. Moreover, unlike those who might through their focus on ontology or even their focus on particular struggles inadvertently reify the current place of struggle in political life, Adorno shows us that we cannot get rid of the utopian dimension of political struggle. Rather, we must hold dear to this utopian promise, even if, as Adorno himself admits, the moment of its realization may never arrive. (184)

As I have already noted, I find this first-order claim unconvincing despite finding much of value in Basnett’s project of reading Adorno’s political thought holistically and in dialogue with Aristotle’s. My recalcitrance lies in the general abstractness of Basnett’s argument and his conflation between Adorno’s standpoint and our own. Let me give a sense of what I mean.

First, Basnett’s exposition of Adorno’s politics occurs at a high level of abstraction. Perhaps such an altitude is unavoidable in a work of political theory that connects moderns with ancients, or is a product of the unrelenting negativity of Adorno’s thinking. Or maybe it simply reflects an arbitrary choice made by Adorno. In any case, the high level of abstraction in Basnett’s presentation of Adorno’s political theory lessens, in my opinion, its attractiveness for us today.

In §§3 and 4, I mentioned the abstract nature of the violence, domination, and struggle (characteristic of the human) and sociopolitical transformation in Basnett’s Adorno. Regarding the former, Basnett seems to claim that the distinctly human activities of struggle and violence have remained constant across history, at least insofar as they are capable of defining the human. All human history has been uniform insofar as it has been a history of domination, and it will continue to be so long as history remains human. If this were not so, we would no longer be in the grip of the Aristotelian problematic. Regarding the latter, we not only do not receive a set of conditions sufficient for achieving utopia (only necessary ones), but we also receive little assurance regarding the direction of sociopolitical transformation. Things can be otherwise, which means they can also get worse. To be sure, Basnett does provide some reasons for believing that the direction of this transformation will be positive, reasons grounded in the human necessity of resisting suffering and art’s solidarity with this suffering. But, again, this suffering and its resistance in art and life become historical constants, universals whose progressive credentials and even continued existence are open to reasonable doubt.

I found myself surprised to be worried about the abstractness of Basnett’s Adorno. Basnett makes it clear that he takes the concreteness of Adorno’s thought, his attentiveness to the historical and the material, as one of the primary reasons why Adorno remains more relevant for us today than other twentieth-century Continental philosophers. Indeed, Basnett criticizes Deleuze and Derrida for locating in animality something “inherently liberating” and therefore perniciously independent of “particular sociopolitical outcomes” (178); such approaches are “too abstractly theorized” (179). Honneth’s theory of rational capacities and their pathologies suffers the same verdict (48–49). Merely “abstract negations” should be avoided (98, cf. 49n77). But I struggle to see why, or in what sense, this criticism of abstraction does not equally apply to Adorno as interpreted by Basnett, given the ahistoricality of the Aristotelian problematic and the rudiments of its resolution in Adorno (against this see 182).

Second, Basnett nowhere distinguishes his own standpoint from Adorno’s. This conflation, unavoidable to some degree, to be sure, in any philosophical reconstruction, nevertheless introduces some challenges for accepting Basnett’s claim that Adorno offers us the surest guide to contemporary political theory. I have already mentioned in §2 that Adorno’s reading of Hegel, at least as presented by Basnett, does not appear to me very plausible in light of contemporary Hegel scholarship. Distinguishing between Adorno’s standpoint and our own would allow us to reengage with this sort of interpretive disagreement more productively. Such a distinction would also be the condition of a genuinely critical reading of Adorno, one in which we would need to evaluate the degree to which Adorno accomplishes the tasks that he sets for himself. True to Adorno’s principles, such a reading would also require us to theoretically acknowledge changes in our objective circumstances. In my view, a critical reading of this sort would be a precondition for defending the Basnett’s first-order claims about the usefulness of Adorno’s political thought. To put the point differently, one has the sense that, lacking a distinction between these two standpoints, Basnett’s book will do little to convince readers who have not already been converted to Adorno’s side.

That said, it is easy to recommend Adorno, Politics, and the Aesthetic Animal to several audiences. Since Basnett deftly synthesizes across Adorno’s major works, the book functions well as a politically-minded introduction to Adorno. Basnett’s mastery of the literature on his subject also makes the book a helpful guide through the burgeoning field of Adorno studies. Moreover, Basnett redresses the state of this field, convincingly re-centering Aristotle in our understanding of Adorno. The book will therefore be essential for anyone concerned with Adorno’s relationship to ancient philosophy. Finally, Basnett’s leveraging of the Adornoian wedge in posthumanism will be of interest to interdisciplinary scholars wondering what Frankfurt School critical theory might contribute to these debates. In sum, Adorno, Politics, and the Aesthetic Animal is a philosophically astute reconstruction of Adorno’s political thought that anyone with an interest in this topic will want to discuss.

[1] Basnett writes: “For Hegel, it is only through the activities of consciousness culminating in an absolute subject that all particulars find unity and so are assigned fixed identities in a totality. The absolute subject, or spirit, is at once found to be the origin of the process and its goal—the constitutive conception of the subject needed for dialectic noted by Adorno above becomes in Hegel the ultimate guarantor of objects in their particularity, for the subject does not simply project concepts onto objects; rather, the truth of the objects themselves is for Hegel to be found in these projections, in their ideality. Thus there is a preponderance of the subject and the concept over the object in Hegel that, like Aristotle’s metaphysics, falls back into a static conception of the totality of the world and of the positive identities of the objects therein” (44–45). Hegel’s “theodicy” is discussed on 45–46.

Jens Bonnemann, Paul Helfritzsch, Thomas Zingelmann (Hg.): 1968. Soziale Bewegungen, geistige WegbereiterInnen

1968. Soziale Bewegungen, geistige WegbereiterInnen Book Cover 1968. Soziale Bewegungen, geistige WegbereiterInnen
Jens Bonnemann, Paul Helfritzsch, Thomas Zingelmann (Hg.)
zu Klampen Verlag
Paperback 28,00 €

Reviewed by: Matthias Warkus

»1968«, die Studentenbewegung, die Jugendrevolte, wie auch immer man das Phänomen genau nennen mag, ist etwas, wozu es insbesondere aus der Außensicht des politisch interessierten Laien, wie der Verfasser dieser Rezension einer ist, zwei konfligierende Leiterzählungen gibt. Die eine könnte man die orthodoxe oder revolutionäre nennen. Ihr zufolge war »1968« tatsächlich ein Epochenbruch, ein – im Guten oder im Schlechten – grundstürzendes Ereignis, der Beginn unzähliger Kausalketten, die erheblichen Anteil an der Hervorbringung der Welt, in der wir heute leben, hatten. Die andere Erzählung könnte man, um einen Ausdruck von Jacques Rancière auszuborgen, die »furetistische« nennen.[1] Hält man sich an sie, dann war 1968 weniger ein Anfang als ein Ende: der Kulminationspunkt und die Sichtbarwerdung einer bereits seit Jahren im Schwange befindlichen Transformation der westlichen Industriegesellschaften.

Im Zuge der Rechtsbewegung zahlreicher westlicher Demokratien in den letzten Jahren (oder doch zumindest der Aktivierung und Sichtbarwerdung ihrer latenten rechten Kräfte) liegt auch die Frage erneut auf dem Tisch, inwieweit die heutigen Verhältnisse ein Produkt von »1968« sind, was auch gleichzeitig die Frage bedeutet, was anders sein könnte, hätte »1968« größere oder geringere Auswirkungen gehabt. Nicht die schlechteste Lektüre dazu ist der Sammelband 1968. Soziale Bewegungen, geistige WegbereiterInnen, herausgegeben von Jens Bonnemann, Paul Helfritzsch und Thomas Zingelmann (Springe: zu Klampen! 2019, 270 S.).

Schon die Einleitung der Herausgeber führt auf hervorragende und kompakt Weise zu dem Problem der Einordnung des Phänomens »1968« heran (und diskutiert dabei mit hoher Aktualität die Bezüge zum »Rechtsruck« der letzten Jahre, 7–10). Die folgenden Beiträge gehen dieses Phänomen in schlaglichtartigen Einzelbetrachtungen multidimensional und ohne Anspruch auf eine »Entschlüsselung« oder klare Beantwortung der eingangs benannten Fragen an, wobei die Herausgeber (völlig zu Recht) eingangs betonen, dass »1968« Wurzeln hatte, die bis weit in die 50er zurückgehen (16).

Das theoretische Atomgewicht der Beiträge nimmt von vorne nach hinten weitgehend stetig zu. Den Auftakt machen Zeitdarstellungen: Sabine Pamperrien gibt in ihrem Beitrag »Szenen des Jahres 1967«, der laut Anmerkung auf einer Lesung aus ihrem Buch 1967. Das Jahr der zwei Sommer basiert, einen guten Überblick über die Ausgangslage in der Bundesrepublik und international. Sie arbeitet dabei überraschende Parallelen zur Gegenwart heraus. Wolfgang Kraushaar zeichnet anschließend die nach seiner These maßgeblich durch die Situationisten geprägte Entwicklung der in Deutschland führenden Akteure um Rudi Dutschke nach.

Der Beitrag von Hannah Chodura und Paul Helfritzsch nimmt sich für seine Kürze etwas viel vor, indem er anhand von Guy Debords Die Gesellschaft des Spektakels und Goyas berühmtem Alptraum-Capricho eine Neuausdeutung des Traums als Metapher für die kapitalistische Gesellschaft versucht. Deutlich »süffiger« liest sich der Aufsatz von Christian Dries, der in seinem Aufsatz einen hilfreichen Überblick über verschiedene Parameter des politischen Engagements von Günther Anders vor und um 1968 gibt.

Michael Jenewein und Jörg Müller Hipper beschäftigen sich in ihrem Beitrag am Beispiel der Rede Michael Köhlmeiers am 5.5.2018 mit den sartreschen Begriffen von engagierter Literatur und von Literatur überhaupt. Werner Jung diskutiert knapp, aber informativ die Lukács-Rezeption in der Studentenbewegung vor und um 1968, wozu Lukács’ Positionen zum Realsozialismus, aber auch seine Wirkung in die Inhalte von Lehre und Forschung (insbesondere in der Germanistik) gehören. Sein melancholisches Fazit ist allerdings, dass eine tatsächliche produktive und das Gesamtwerk nicht verzerrende Rezeption nie stattgefunden habe.

Gerhard Schweppenhäusers Beitrag über »Marcuse und die Metaphysik« liefert über die Erwartung des Titels hinaus eine kompakt und kurzweilig geschriebene Zusammenschau der frühen kritischen Theorie insgesamt und ihres Verhältnisses zur Metaphysik im Speziellen, die gegen Ende in eine Parallelsetzung von Marcuses und der heutigen Zeit einmündet. Diese geht mit einer in der kurzen Form arg thetisch und formelhaft wirkenden Programmatik für eine Erneuerung der kritischen Theorie einher, wie man sie schon öfters gesehen hat. Der Verfasser dieser Rezension ist in der »Szene« der gegenwärtigen kritischen Theorie ein informierter Außenseiter und weiß nicht so recht, was er von den immer neuen Aktualisierungsforderungen zu halten hat. Manche Punkte Schweppenhäusers erscheinen empirisch fragwürdig, dort, wo zum Beispiel die Rede davon ist, Phantasie konzentriere sich heute »auf das Ausmalen ›technischer Utopien‹«; während zu Marcuses Zeit und noch bis weit in die 1970er, wenn nicht 80er technische Utopien mit fliegenden Autos, Kuppelstädten, Raumkolonien, Abschaffung von Krankheit und Leid seriös präsentiert wurden,[2] hat dies heute eigentlich aufgehört. Die technischen Utopien unserer Zeit, soweit man sich überhaupt noch traut, welche zu äußern, sind sozialtechnische Utopien von »Connectivity« und »Digitalisierung«. Diese kritisiert Schweppenhäuser am Ende seines Beitrages eher schematisch und wenig überzeugend.

Ebenfalls Einführungscharakter hat Alfred Betscharts Beitrag über »Die Vordenker der sexuellen Revolution«, der in großem Bogen von Freud über Reich, Marcuse, Margaret Mead und Kinsey, Gide und Genet, Kerouac und Ginsberg die Wurzeln der sexuellen Befreiung der 60er skizziert, vor allem aber dichte Belege dafür liefert, dass der Einfluss von Sartre und Beauvoir auf diese kulturelle Bewegung nicht zu unterschätzen war. Der auch sprachlich gelungene Aufsatz schreckt vor zielsicheren Spitzen nicht zurück (wenn etwa mokant und eher nebenbei die »in der Frankfurter Schule nicht unübliche[] Umwandlung bildungsbürgerlicher Ideale in vermeintliche linke Postulate« aufgespießt wird, 154f.), lehnt sich aber hier und da etwas aus dem Fenster (es wird etwa angedeutet, Literatur habe nur noch bis in die 1970er eine »außerordentliche Reichweite in der Gesellschaft gehabt, 157, oder »die Ephebophilie« sei »bis in die 1980er Jahre die dominante Form von Homosexualität« gewesen (158), ohne dass dies belegt wird).

Eine pièce de résistance des Bandes, nicht nur aufgrund des gerade erschienen »neuen Houellebecq« Anéantir, stellt für mich der Aufsatz des Herausgebers Jens Bonnemann dar, der sich mit eben jenem französischen Bestsellerautor und seinem Verhältnis zum Erbe der sexuellen Befreiung beschäftigt. Er zeigt, deutlich detaillierter als Betschart zuvor, die Bedeutung von Wilhelm Reich für »die 68er« auf und arbeitet vor allem genau heraus, dass das der freudomarxistischen Kulturtheorie Marcuses immanente Konzept einer Befreiung des Eros nichts mit der zur wirtschaftlichen Deregulierung homologen Befreiung des Sexus bzw. des »Sexual Marketplace«[3] bei Houellebecq zu tun hat.

Jörg Müller Hipper führt in seinem Beitrag mit und gegen Helmuth Plessner den Nachweis, »dass soziale Konzepte der maximalen Nähe und Offenheit«, sprich der Gemeinschaftlichkeit im Gegensatz zur Gesellschaftlichkeit, entgegen der Intuition zahlreicher »68er« keine gangbare Grundlage für neue, bessere Formen menschlichen Zusammenlebens darstellen. Im Gegenteil müssten solche Formen schon aus rein anthropologischen Gründen auf einer Gesellschaftlichkeit von Distanz und Takt, »die Möglichkeit, unbehelligt zu bleiben, nicht mitmachen zu müssen« (205) aufbauen.

Herausgeber Thomas Zingelmann nimmt im Anschluss die beliebte Vorstellung auseinander, die verschiedenen Gegenkulturen, die heute mit der Zeit von »1968« assoziiert werden, seien miteinander verflochten und irgendwie eine Einheit gewesen. Er unterscheidet die verschiedenen Unterströme in kollektivistische Protestbewegungen und individualistische Gegenkulturen (und bleibt damit im Groben in der Spur von Müller Hipper zuvor). So liefert er eine knappe, aber informative historische Beschreibung und Einordnung von Beat Generation und Hippies als Vertreter des unpolitischen Gegenkulturaspekts.

Der dritte Herausgeber, Paul Helfritzsch, konzipiert in seinem Beitrag, der nicht mehr unmittelbar kulturhistorisch ist, im Ausgang von Jean-Paul Sartre und Frantz Fanon die Rolle des Intellektuellen als Instanz der performativen Benennung von Unterdrückungsverhältnissen auf Grundlage von Theoriewissen. Auf dem Intellektuellen liegt nach Helfritzsch eine »ontologische Verantwortung«, also eine Verantwortung für das Verfasstsein der Welt in durch diese performativen Benennungen erst etablierten Strukturen von praktischen Begriffen.

Der Band schließt mit einer geschichtsphilosophischen Betrachtung von Peggy Breitenstein, die sich implizit auch gegen eine Reihe der versammelten anderen Beiträge stellt, indem sie mit einem benjaminschen Geschichtsverständnis den Wert von Versuchen der Geschichtsschreibung, die Fragen wie »Was war…?« und »Was bleibt von…?« stellen und sie von berufenen Zeitzeugen (»Siegern«) deuten lassen (245), allgemein in Frage stellt. An verschiedenen Belegen (Erinnerungen der Malerin Sarah Haffner, die Thesen des Westberliner Aktionsrats zur Befreiung der Frauen sowie Kommentare und Reaktionen darauf wie das berühmte »Penisflugblatt«) entlang zeigt sie die der Studentenbewegung als Lebensstil und als politische Bewegung entgegen ihrem revolutionären Anspruch innewohnenden patriarchalischen Strukturen und Selbstwidersprüche auf. Ihre Bilanz bleibt eine melancholische: dass die »selbstreflexive und selbstkritische Praxis« (259), die jede Emanzipation mit Marx sein müsse und die in den weniger theoriegesättigten feministischen Seitenbewegungen von »1968« noch eher zu finden gewesen sei, bis auf Weiteres höchstens Dialogräume und solidarischen Rückzug bedeuten kann, da das Erbe der emanzipatorischen Diskurse bis heute zumindest im akademischen Raum vor allem in Form von »Debattenwettstreit und Konkurrenz«[4] (262) stattfinde. Breitensteins Aufsatz hat aufgrund seiner inhaltlichen Spannweite und stilistischen Brillanz die prominente Position am Schluss, sozusagen als »inoffizielles Fazit«, des Bandes mehr als verdient.

Insgesamt kann der Band, auch wenn nicht alle Beiträge gleich interessant sind und man sich mancherorts einige Belege mehr gewünscht hätte, trotz (oder gerade wegen) seiner Entstehung als Tagungsband für nicht ins Thema Eingelesene als gute Heranführung an das Phänomen 1968 dienen und auch Kundigeren die eine oder andere neue Perspektive vermitteln. Ein Wermutstropfen bleibt die leider nicht geringe Zahl von nicht nur Tipp-, sondern auch Grammatik- und Trennfehlern, über die man in der Lektüre immer wieder stolpert. Die Frage, ob »1968« nun eher Ursache oder eher Wirkung war, löst sich beim Studium des Bandes jedenfalls nach und nach zusammen mit jeder scheinbar kompakten Substanz des Phänomens auf. »1968« erweist sich als Sammelbegriff für eine heterogene, allenfalls familienähnliche Vielfalt von zeitlich grob koinzidierenden Entwicklungen, deren Zusammenordnung unter einer leitenden Erzählung selbst vielleicht am ehesten so etwas ist wie eine popkulturelle Retrofiktion.

[1] Vgl. Jacques Rancière, interviewt von Julia Christ und Bertrand Ogilvie: »Republikanismus ist heute ein Rassismus für Intellektuelle«, in: Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie 65.4 (2017), 727–761, hier 731.

[2] Drastisch vor Augen führt dies ein Blick z.B. in Ulrich Schippke, Die 7 Weltwunder von morgen, Gütersloh 1972, oder ders., Zukunft, Gütersloh 1974.

[3] Dieser Ausdruck ist in der Szene der militanten modernen Frauenfeinde (»MRAs«, »Incels«) in den sozialen Medien, die u.a. für ihre Unterstützung von Donald Trump und die Anstiftung mehrerer Massenmorde berüchtigt sind, der geläufige. Houellebecq kann, wenn nicht als Stifter, so doch mindestens als geistiger Vorläufer dieses Denkens gesehen werden.

[4] Der Verf. dankt Katharina Herrmann, München, dafür, durch sie schon vor längerer Zeit auf Karl Helds berühmte Sentenz »Ihr wollt ja lieber dichten« beim konkret-Kongress 1993 hingewiesen worden zu sein.

Stefano Micali: Tra l’altro e se stessi

Tra l’altro e se stessi: Studi sull’identità Book Cover Tra l’altro e se stessi: Studi sull’identità
L'occhio e lo spirito
Stefano Micali
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Reviewed by: Francesca Righetti (Ruhr-University of Bochum)

Tra l’altro e se stessi di Stefano Micali si propone di indagare il rapporto tra l’identità singolare e l’alterità attraverso temi e prospettive eterogenee incorniciati all’interno degli studi fenomenologici. L’indagine riguarda non solo il rapporto dialettico tra il proprio e l’estraneo, ma anche l’alterità che appartiene alla nostra stessa soggettività, e che può presentarsi nei termini della sorpresa dell’incontro con l’altro.

Probabilmente chi compra un libro che promette un’analisi fenomenologica sull’intersoggettività, non si aspetta di trovarsi a leggere un elaborato che inizia presentando un lavoro comparativo tra Kant e Ginzburg; che passa poi allo studio della soggettività attraverso la stupidità e il senso comune; e infine si conclude con un’indagine sulla preghiera rivolta a Dio. L’autore, tuttavia, riesce a mettere insieme argomenti e metodi eterogenei dentro la stessa cornice dell’indagine sull’io e sull’altro.

Va subito precisato che Tra l’altro e se stessi è una raccolta di articoli precedentemente pubblicati, i quali sono stati rielaborati  per questa pubblicazione, approfondendo la complessità della soggettività e dell’alterità attraverso prospettive e ambiti diversi. Per questa ragione, l’opera presenta una ricchezza argomentativa che non sarà possibile riportare nella sua completezza e complessità in questa recensione. Il mio scopo, piuttosto, sarà quello di evidenziare il filo rosso che lega i capitoli e presentare trasversalmente l’argomentazione di Micali.

Il libro si divide in tre parti. La prima, composta da due capitoli, approfondisce alcune questioni metodologiche della fenomenologia, come intitola Micali, “dall’esterno” o “dal di fuori”, volendo leggere La Critica del Giudizio di Immanuel Kant e le opere di Carlo Ginzburg attraverso le lenti del metodo fenomenologico. Questa prima parte si rivela interessante perché pone l’accento sulle domande riguardo cosa sia la fenomenologia e come identificarla: indagini metodologiche condotte, per l’appunto, da una prospettiva  esterna e  utili per riflettere criticamente sulle pratiche fenomenologiche stesse. La seconda parte è composta da tre capitoli ed è intitolata “aspetti della soggettivazione”, il cuore stesso del libro. Attraversando tre argomenti differenti (la stupidità, il riconoscimento del bisogno e il ruolo del terzo mediante nell’etica), Micali mette a fuoco la genesi della soggettivazione e il rapporto del soggetto con l’alterità. Infine la terza parte, che comprende gli ultimi due capitoli, risponde a due criticità identificate nella seconda sezione e presenta alcuni casi estremamente particolari del rapporto tra il soggetto e l’altro: il fenomeno della depressione e della preghiera a Dio, al fine di studiare tale rapporto ex negativo.

Parte I – La fenomenologia dal di fuori

Il filo rosso che lega i primi due capitoli del libro riguarda il concetto di straniamento, presentato utilizzando i metodi filosofici di Kant e Ginzburg come oggetto di studio. Nello specifico, per quanto riguarda il primo capitolo sul carattere del giudizio di gusto in Kant (1997), cercherò di far emergere il carattere tautegorico e l’attenzione verso la singolarità, che mi permetteranno di identificare il rapporto tra il bello e lo straniamento.

Nel primo capitolo, Micali propone una rilettura della Critica del Giudizio in cui gli elementi dell’opera possano essere utili in ambito fenomenologico e nella filosofia contemporanea. Per farlo, suggerisce di affrontare la questione seguendo quattro diversi momenti di analisi: 1) introdurre il concetto di giudizio riflettente estetico; 2) analizzare il carattere di finalità e la pretesa di universalità; 3) discutere l’articolazione tra sentire e pensare; e infine 4)  riflettere sul carattere disinteressato del giudizio di gusto comparato all’attitudine fenomenologica.

Il carattere tautegorico si riferisce al terzo momento dell’analisi, ovvero all’articolazione tra sentire e pensare. Per chiarire questo concetto, dobbiamo prima concentrarci brevemente sulla definizione del giudizio di gusto. Esso è 1) sintetico, “poiché il piacere oltrepassa tanto il concetto quanto l’intuizione dell’oggetto” (p. 15); e 2) a priori, perché intende essere condiviso da ognuno universalmente: “Chi afferma che qualcosa è bello intende definire una qualità dell’oggetto come se si trattasse di un giudizio logico” (p. 19).

Tuttavia, il problema dell’universalità del piacere è uno scomodo dilemma con cui Kant ha dovuto confrontarsi, poiché parte dal presupposto che l’universalità non appartiene al piacere – che invece è sempre particolare e particolarizzante – ma esclusivamente alle facoltà conoscitive, all’uso della logica e dell’intelletto. Come è possibile allora motivare che il giudizio sul bello abbia una vocazione all’universalità?

Per rispondere a questa domanda, l’autore propone l’interpretazione di Lyotard (1991), il quale afferma che l’analisi kantiana del giudizio di gusto, nei termini di qualità, quantità, relazione e modalità, tradisce un presupposto di fondo: ovvero che “i giudizi estetici possono essere analizzati soltanto attraverso un riferimento alle categorie dell’intelletto” (p. 23). Ed è qui che interviene il carattere tautegorico. Lyotard chiarisce che il piacere è un effetto del nostro essere riflettenti: del nostro sentirci pensanti o pensiero senziente nel momento in cui il bello si manifesta. Tale sensazione ci segnala il nostro proprio modo d’essere: di conseguenza, il piacere è una risonanza dell’atto del piacere. Il carattere tautegorico si collega al concetto di straniamento presentato nel capitolo successivo, in quanto  durante la percezione dell’arte o del bello si riconosce un’alterità in se stessi: in altre parole, si assume una prospettiva esterna, in cui il soggetto si compiace e stupisce di essere in grado di percepire e di riconoscere il bello.

Micali conclude che “questa risonanza […] non deve essere interpretata in relazione all’auto-rapportarsi del sé con se stesso” (p. 24), bensì come un sentire incompatibile con l’io trascendentale, che invece ospita il sé. Micali non approfondisce l’analisi su questo sé “ospitato”, ma invita le future ricerche a indagare i rapporti affettivi che modellano il sé, in analogia alla sensazione descritta nel giudizio riflettente estetico.

Un’osservazione rilevante dal punto di vista metodologico dell’analisi di Micali riguarda il giudizio estetico riflettente. L’attenzione si rivolge alla “fenomenalità precipua della singola apparizione nella sua fatticità, ovvero rispetto a quanto nella sua unicità e contingenza appare improvvisamente come bello” (p. 25). Questo interesse per l’emergenza del fenomeno nella sua singolarità, insieme al carattere disinteressato del giudizio riflettente del gusto, richiamano due fondamentali principi della pratica dell’analisi fenomenologica: lo studio del fenomeno nelle sua modalità di apparizione originaria e singolare, e il metodo dell’epochè, volta a sospendere l’attitudine naturale verso il mondo. L’incontro con il fenomeno nella sua singolarità porta allo stupore e allo straniamento, che a sua volta ci conduce alla sospensione del giudizio. Il concetto di straniamento viene poi approfondito nel capitolo successivo.

Chi come me è affascinato dalla microstoria e dalla scrittura di Ginzburg, sarà meravigliato dal capitolo a lui dedicato. Il capitolo è diviso in due parti: nella prima viene analizzato lo stile di ricerca di Ginzburg, nella seconda si considera il modello epistemologico dello straniamento.

Micali sostiene che lo stile di Ginzburg della polifonia e del mantenimento di tutte le voci dei protagonisti delle sue storie, senza un appiattimento sotto un’unica coscienza narrativa, è lo strumento stilistico che permette di comprendere l’alterità. In altre parole, Ginzburg sorprende il lettore, attraverso uno stile conduttore di contenuti che permettono di atterrire e di provocare un disorientamento di fronte all’alterità (sociale, culturale e identitaria). Tutti i presupposti di senso comune vengono sovvertiti attraverso l’incontro di microcosmi, di vite e di epoche molto lontane,socialmente e culturalmente, da noi.

Secondo la ricostruzione di Micali, l’interesse di Ginzburg per lo straniamento nasce dallo studio di Sklovskij (1976) sulla questione della natura dell’arte nel contesto del formalismo russo. Secondo Sklovskij, “l’arte è in grado di sospendere gli automatismi che caratterizzano il nostro rapporto con il mondo circostante” (p. 52). In questo modo, il problema dell’attitudine naturale verso il mondo si definisce più chiaramente: il nostro rapporto con il mondo cade sotto l’influenza dell’abitudine e lo straniamento diventa uno strumento a favore della sospensione di questo rapporto. Il momento sovversivo e fanciullesco di incontrare la realtà come fosse la prima volta: è una prospettiva che ci permette di dubitare del senso comune che noi stessi abitiamo.

Secondo Micali, attraverso il suo stile e particolare approccio alla ricerca, Ginzburg compie lo stesso lavoro di straniamento, che ci permette di assumere prospettive nuove per guadagnare “una distanza critica da quanto è immediatamente vissuto in modo così ovvio da rimanere invisibile” (p. 38). Da una parte, lo stile polifonico conduce al lavoro etico di dare voce a ogni personaggio, soprattutto quando marginalizzato. La motivazione che muove il lavoro di Ginzburg infatti è stata probabilmente determinata dall’idea di Benjamin di riscattare il passato degli oppressi: “riscattare la voce sofferente (e molto reale) dell’altro, dello sconfitto, del perseguitato” (p. 39). Curiosa è d’altronde la nota tra parentesi, “molto reale”, sottolineando un altro aspetto filosofico del lavoro di Ginzburg: ovvero l’obiettivo di contrastare le derive post-moderne e decostruttiviste che conducono alla confusione tra realtà e finzione, tra testo ed evento. “Se il confine tra realtà e finzione diventa completamente fluido, si perde la possibilità di rendere giustizia alle flebili voci degli sconfitti” (p. 40).

Dall’altra, si rileva un inaspettato ponte tra Ginzburg e Merleau-Ponty: entrambi mirano a indagare l’essere umano all’interno della “intersezione tra attività simboliche e la nostra costituzione corporea” (p. 72). Contrapposto all’universale verticale, approccio antropologico che ha la pretesa di cogliere tutte le culture attraverso categorie universali, l’approccio di ricerca filosofica che accomuna Ginzburg e Merleau-Ponty è l’universale laterale, che accetta le differenze incompatibili di tipo simbolico e culturale, ma mira “alle identificazioni universali ancorate alla nostra costituzione corporea” (Ivi).

Per concludere, l’analisi attraverso le opere di Ginzburg e la microstoria risulta essere rilevante in due direzioni: metodologica ed etica. A livello metodologico, il percorso che procede dall’identità storica a quella personale, da Ginzburg a Levinas, sembra calcare la tradizione ermeneutica di Ricœur (2004), considerando l’epistemologia della storia e la fenomenologia come “due facce della stessa medaglia” (Dessingué 2019). A livello etico, la microstoria ci dà la possibilità di guardare con occhi diversi la nostra identità e la cultura entro la quale l’abbiamo costruita. All’interno dell’etica e della filosofia (vengono in mente autori come Marcuse 1999, Simmel 1976, Rorty 2008), lo straniero è considerato un potente medium per guardare alla propria identità culturale da un nuovo punto di vista.

Parte II – Aspetti della soggettivazione

La seconda parte del testo è dedicata ad alcuni modi fondamentali della soggettivazione, ovvero della formazione dell’identità attraverso dinamiche esistenziali di individuazione. Il terzo capitolo è uno studio sulla stupidità che ha l’obiettivo di avere uno sguardo privilegiato sul senso comune e sul nostro rapporto con esso, facendo così da ponte fra la prima e la seconda parte del libro. Con il quarto e il quinto capitolo Micali presenta il cuore del tema indagato e che motiva il titolo stesso del libro, “tra l’altro e se stessi”: lo studio dell’identità attraverso l’interlocuzione, il rapporto tra l’infante e l’adulto, il ruolo del terzo mediante, l’aspetto della giustizia etica attraverso lo sguardo del terzo. Prendiamo ora in esame i singoli capitoli.

Secondo Micali, l’indagine sulla stupidità deve partire dalle seguenti considerazioni. 1. Bisogna rimanere fedeli al principio fenomenologico di ritenere la stupidità un fenomeno specifico che non va ridotto al suo opposto, l’intelligenza. 2. Non si deve, tuttavia, ignorare la sua relazione con l’intelligenza, in quanto influenzerà il nostro modo di considerare la ragione. Per questi motivi, l’autore suggerisce di adottare un approccio olistico (Goldstein 1939, Canguilhem 1991), nonché di affrontare i fenomeni della mente da un punto di vista ecologico: fenomeni come la stupidità non hanno un valore assoluto in termini negativi, ma risultano funzionali o disfunzionali esclusivamente in rapporto all’ambiente circostante.

Innanzitutto, come evidenzia Micali, ogni tentativo di definire la stupidità sembra essere riduttivo: l’essere umano si trova ad affrontare infinite situazioni e, di conseguenza, infinite dovranno essere le forme di stupidità generate. Il suo obiettivo è quello di concentrarsi esclusivamente sulla forma di stupidità che riguarda e influenza la dimensione dell’identità e della soggettività.

Per questo, Micali presenta il contributo di Alain Roger (2008) sulla stupidità. Nonostante le criticità del suo lavoro, particolarmente interessanti sono i suoi meriti secondo Micali, in particolare l’aver evidenziato il ruolo della tautologia all’interno del paradigma del senso comune e della stupidità. Sia a livello sintattico sia a livello contenutistico, la tautologia è un potente strumento di violenza identitaria: si prenda come esempio il caso di alcune minoranze che sono costrette a sentirsi definite da membri esterni, con l’utilizzo di tautologie  che veicolano stereotipi e pregiudizi.

In seguito, Micali esplora l’idea che la stupidità possa appartenere a due estremi dell’identità soggettiva: alla coscienza assoluta anarchica che fa e dice tutto ciò che pensa senza freni oppure al polo opposto dello spirito di serietà, che si sovra-identifica con un ruolo sociale. Secondo Roland Breeur (2015), tale sovra-identificazione tradisce una segreta angoscia e paura nell’assenza di volto della coscienza assoluta. Contrariamente a questa linea di pensiero, adottando la metafora del fondo di Deleuze (2011), Micali vuole esplorare l’idea opposta, ovvero che chi dice o si comporta in modo stupido si possa compiacere di se stesso. Nonostante originariamente complesso, il fondo deleuziano va compreso nei termini del senso comune, nonché “inteso come insieme infinitamente complesso di eterogenei dispositivi sociali e di paradigmi epistemici che ci prendono e da cui proveniamo” (p. 99). Attraverso il linguaggio, assorbiamo dall’altro il senso comune in cui siamo immersi sin dalla nascita. Partendo da questa nozione, l’autocompiacimento dello stupido consisterebbe quindi nello sguazzare nei comportamenti trasmessi dalla società al fine dell’appiattimento alla norma: “Questa risalita del fondo può manifestarsi come auto-compiacimento del (e nel) triviale, triviale intersoggettivamente condiviso” (Ivi).

In conclusione, l’analisi di Micali mira ad argomentare che il fastidio provato di fronte all’incontro con la stupidità consisterebbe nel ricordare “l’indifferenziato punto di partenza” o il fondo a cui tutti apparteniamo. L’incontro con la stupidità sembra riportarci a quel senso comune da cui ci eravamo allontanati con la soggettivazione e la formazione identitaria. In questo modo Micali è in grado di concludere che:

Nella stupidità dell’altro vediamo riemergere quel fondo di luoghi comuni, di atteggiamenti affettati, di valori che sono stati da noi incorporati prima ancora di poter porre in essere una qualunque distanza critica verso di essi (p. 100).

In continuità con la costruzione dell’identità individuale dal fondo sociale a cui tutti siamo appartenuti (o continuiamo ad appartenere per certi aspetti), i due capitoli successivi mirano a indagare il concetto della terza persona in rapporto all’ordine di giustizia. Inizialmente, nel quarto capitolo, si approfondisce il rapporto tra la prima e la seconda persona, presentando il problema dell’appropriazione dell’essere da parte dell’altro. Questa appropriazione avviene attraverso il logos, o detto altrimenti attraverso la semiotica del bisogno. Usando l’accurata descrizione di Olivetti (1992), Micali presenta quattro stadi della dinamica dialettica del riconoscimento del bisogno nel rapporto infante-adulto, che conduce alla genesi della soggettività e in cui l’ultimo stadio coincide con la nascita dell’autocoscienza. Egli sostiene che l’interlocuzione permette di esplorare la nascita del soggetto, senza la necessità di dare valore fondativo all’autocoscienza. All’interno di questa relazione dialettica “si manifesta la traccia della terza persona” (p. 110): sia in rapporto al dire, sia in rapporto al rispondere. Nel dire, la società (la terza persona) si impone attraverso il linguaggio, ereditando significati, storie e memorie della comunità (un noi a cui si comincia ad appartenere). Nel rispondere, il soggetto misura la sua responsabilità nei confronti della società. Quest’ultima viene affrontata nei termini di giustizia etica nel capitolo successivo.

Nel quinto capitolo, infatti, questa distinzione del ruolo del linguaggio tra dire e rispondere viene presentata di nuovo nei termini di “donazione di senso” e “senso etico” facendo riferimento al lavoro di Levinas (1998). L’incontro con l’alterità si presenta attraverso il linguaggio e le espressioni linguistiche che dichiarano le manifestazioni infinite dell’altro. Queste ultime mettono in dubbio “il proprio mondo e se stessi:  tramite l’incontro con l’Altro affiora un senso di ordine differente […] che mi chiama e mi ordina di sacrificare la mia felicità” (p. 117). Infatti, in Totalità e Infinito (1998) Levinas introduce una dualità e un’ambiguità sul ruolo della terza persona: esso non è solo il sofferente che ci appella per il riconoscimento della sua fragilità, ma è anche lo sguardo sociale che ci chiama alla responsabilità verso l’alterità.

Da una parte, nell’incontro, la fragilità dell’altro nella sua esistenza mortale (“l’Altro nella sua nudità” p. 119) mi fa vergognare delle possibilità e potenzialità che ho di ferirlo in quanto essere umano. Secondo Levinas, da un lato, questo senso di fragilità permette all’io di trovare il suo senso ultimo: la sua propria umanità. Dall’altro, lo sguardo (giudicante) dell’Altro deforma le mie responsabilità nei confronti del mio interlocutore. In altre parole, l’Altro “mi fa dono di ciò che non era in me” (Ivi), ovvero mi introduce a una nuova dimensione di senso e attua l’etica della responsabilità che possiedo nei confronti del terzo: in questo dono o in questa anteriorità del terzo che mi precede nell’introduzione di senso, si può rintracciare l’analogia tra l’Altro e Dio.

Dall’altra, lo sguardo della società è costantemente assente e presente nel verbo e nel linguaggio: “esso non si esaurisce nel mettere in discussione il mio essere, ma include il momento della predica, dell’esortazione, della parola profetica” (p. 123). Al doppio ruolo del terzo, corrispondono due diverse forme di responsabilità. Al terzo come “umanità che ci guarda” (cfr, p. 124), bisognerà presentarsi nella forma della parola profetica; diversamente, verso il terzo nei termini del sofferente, il rapporto di responsabilità dovrà attuarsi nell’ eccomi.

In Altrimenti che essere (1983), Levinas abbandona uno dei due ruoli della “terza persona”, ovvero quello dello “sguardo”, e conseguentemente modifica il rapporto tra la prima e la seconda persona che precedentemente aveva bisogno del terzo perché il soggetto venisse a conoscenza del suo proprio senso. Tuttavia, in quest’opera, Levinas rileva e presenta un secondo conflitto, determinato da due ruoli della terza persona: l’appello del Volto e l’appello del terzo. Conflitto che, come sottolinea Micali, non è risolvibile pacificamente. A differenza che in Totalità ed infinito, dove il soggetto è sin da subito “votato per l’altro”, arrivando al punto dell’annichilimento della persona e della sostituzione all’altro; qui sembra presentarsi un annichilimento della volontà, per “rimettersi alla volontà del Padre” (cfr. p. 123) o del Padrone che mi comanda. L’altro in questo caso è rappresentato dal Volto, che nei termini di Levinas significa obbedienza a un ordine di giustizia e di volontà. Va ricordato che in Levinas tale obbedienza è una costrizione alla bontà “per servire Altri e per sostituirmi a loro” (p. 125). In questo contesto, però, il soggetto diventa ostaggio del Volto, ossia è costretto a essere votato all’altro ancora prima di cominciare a esistere in quanto soggetto.

A questo punto si inserisce l’altro ruolo della terza persona: quello di “limitare la mia soggezione” nei confronti dell’altro. “Il terzo introduce l’ordine di giustizia: io non sono solo responsabile nei confronti del mio prossimo, ma di chi è assente, del prossimo del mio prossimo” (p. 126). Moderando questa sostituzione introduce un ordine di giustizia diverso da quello del Volto.

Nell’architettura di Levinas, Micali tuttavia rileva due criticità, ben condivisibili. La prima criticità riguarda il ruolo del terzo e il suo rapporto con il soggetto. Per quanto Levinas sia interessato esclusivamente all’attuazione dell’etica e a quello che è stato definito “costrizione di bontà”, rimane il temibile problema del male. In un’intervista del 1982, intitolata Filosofia, giustizia e amore, viene posta la seguente domanda, che riassume paradigmaticamente il problema dell’architettura di Levinas: ha il carnefice un Volto? La risposta di Levinas esclude l’io dall’ordine di giustizia tramite la resistenza al male. Il rischio della sostituzione e del sacrificio – osserva Micali – è quello però di una “scrupolosità esacerbata, pericolosamente prossima a disturbi di tipo psicopatologico” (p. 130). In contrasto con la posizione di Levinas, Micali suggerisce di includere il soggetto nell’ordine di giustizia, e cioè dare la possibilità al soggetto di rispettarsi come terzo del proprio terzo, e di preservare se stesso dall’arbitrio dell’altro.

Come diretta conseguenza dell’analisi presentata, ritengo, tuttavia, che Micali avrebbe potuto proseguire rilevando un altro aspetto problematico della costruzione dell’identità individuale. Riepilogando, abbiamo detto che il Volto rappresenta un ordine di giustizia e si declina nei termini dell’annichilimento della volontà personale a favore di quella del Padre. Questa retorica dell’annichilimento diventa rischiosa durante il processo di costruzione identitaria: ovvero quello della pressione ad aderire a modelli determinati esclusivamente dal Volto, nonché dall’ordine sociale prestabilito. Potrebbe qui essere utile fare riferimento al concetto di “bisogno di riconoscimento” utilizzato da Micali nel capitolo precedente. Anche al giungere dell’autocoscienza e della soggettivazione, questo bisogno potrebbe non esaurirsi nell’identità riconosciuta per se stessi, ma potrebbe estendersi e approfondirsi: in larghezza e in profondità, il riconoscimento del bisogno diventa bisogno di essere riconosciuti nei propri modi di soggettivazione dalla società. Quando questo riconoscimento viene negato, quello sguardo a cui si riferisce Micali potrebbe non declinarsi nella spinta etica al rispetto della vita dell’altro, ma potenzialmente nella marginalizzazione.

La seconda criticità rilevata dall’autore, infine, è quella della riduzione della manifestazione di Dio esclusivamente ai termini della mia responsabilità dell’Altro. Come Micali osserva, ci sono altri modi di manifestazioni di Dio, per esempio l’atto della preghiera.

Parte III – Affezione e intersoggettività

L’ultima parte di questo libro si muove a partire proprio da queste due criticità: da una parte, la necessità di definire il rapporto tra se stessi e l’altro ex negativo, ovvero attraverso il caso disfunzionale della depressione; dall’altra, la manifestazione di Dio attraverso la preghiera.

Il settimo capitolo è tra i più interessanti e meglio argomentati. Micali riprende il problema posto nei capitoli precedenti e lo rilegge all’interno della dinamica fra il soggetto depresso e gli altri. Come nelle altre sezioni, l’autore parte dal presupposto che il rapporto tra due soggetti si basi su un’asimmetria originaria che tradisce una priorità dell’altro rispetto al sé. Lo aveva mostrato esplicitamente nel capitolo quinto quando aveva evidenziato che l’infante dà significato al proprio bisogno partendo dalle risposte dell’adulto. Lo aveva espresso poi eticamente attraverso l’incontro con l’altro che dà il senso ultimo alla propria umanità. Adesso, nel rapporto con il depresso, l’asimmetria diventa particolarmente chiara in rapporto a determinate condizioni affettive, come la vergogna.

Nel caso della vergogna, il processo di identificazione inizia dagli occhi di colui che mi osserva: “nella vergogna si acuisce il senso di ritrovarsi a essere quanto è riconosciuto dall’altro” (p. 138). Tuttavia, come ben riporta Micali attraverso Kierkegaard (1993), è necessario considerare che il sé è un rapporto: ciò significa che non vi è una lettura unidirezionale dell’altro sul sé. Di fronte alla lettura dell’altro sul mio comportamento e la mia identità, io ho la possibilità di rispondere e di modificare questo sguardo. Inoltre, non bisogna dimenticare che le considerazioni dell’altro sul mio comportamento nascono certamente dal mio comportamento stesso. Per concludere: questa asimmetria relazionale ha un fondamento comunque bidirezionale, in cui il soggetto ha la possibilità di modificare lo sguardo degli altri e di presentarsi agli altri nella sua esclusiva volontà di identificazione.

Partendo da queste premesse, Micali si pone l’obiettivo di fornire un’analisi fenomenologica della depressione, indagando il fenomeno attraverso le categorie husserliane di Innenleiblichkeit e Aussenleinblichkeit (Husserl 1973). Successivamente procede con l’analisi della mancanza di senso, tipica della depressione, e della mancanza di affettività, che si riassume con la sensazione di vuoto. Infine mette in relazione queste due caratteristiche della condizione depressiva con il rapporto con l’altro.

In un articolo del 2013 (Micali 2013), aveva già analizzato questo rapporto chiasmatico nei termini delle menzionate nozioni husserliane. Il termine Innenleiblichkeit è una categoria che accompagna il sentire delle funzioni propriocettive e affettive. Invece, Aussenleinblichkeit riguarda l’espressività del proprio corpo. Naturalmente, “il proprio sentire interno si manifesta in espressioni visibili all’altro ma non coincide mai con esse” (p. 140). Nel rapporto non patologico, i soggetti di un’interazione sono consapevoli dello scarto tra ciò che si vive e ciò che si manifesta. Per esempio, non si è mai assolutamente certi se e in che misura il disagio provato in una situazione sia visibile. Nel rapporto chiasmatico con un soggetto depresso, Micali sostiene che questa comprensione tra Innenleiblichkeit e Aussenleinblichkeit viene meno o “produce un corto-circuito” (p. 141). In altri termini, il depresso crede che la sua condizione interna disperata sia visibile a tutti. Tra i pazienti intervistati da Micali, c’è una certa persistenza nel dichiarare che non riescono a sostenere l’incontro con altre persone, perché queste ultime possono vedere chiaramente la loro condizione disperata. Micali suggerisce che l’indagine deve procedere mettendo in relazione il senso di vergogna con il rapporto chiasmatico tra Innenleiblichkeit e Aussenleinblichkeit.

Infine, è molto interessante l’ultimo argomento del capitolo, dove l’autore presenta il rapporto affettivo che il soggetto depresso ha con gli altri, declinato nella sensazione di vuoto e di aggressività. La relazione con l’altro è caratterizzata per lo più dalla sensazione di vuoto affettivo, paradigmaticamente raccontato da una delle pazienti di Micali come un reale vuoto spaziale che non permette al soggetto di raggiungere gli altri. Così come il soggetto si sente visto e caratterizzato esclusivamente per la sua condizione disperata, e quindi in un certo senso stereotipato per un unico aspetto (ovvero quello dell’inabilità a partecipare al farsi del senso presso gli altri e presso il mondo), allo stesso modo vede gli altri come altamente stereotipati (cfr. p. 153), ovvero come persone che si sentono bene nella propria pelle e sono ancorate al farsi del senso degli altri. Questo scatena la percezione di ingiustizia, di invidia e quindi di aggressività. Tuttavia, il depresso non può fare a meno di paragonarsi alle azioni degli altri, nel tentativo di confermare le attese sociali. Come riassume Micali, queste considerazioni diventano fondamentali in riferimento a quanto presentato nei capitoli precedenti: il soggetto depresso tende a stereotipare l’altro, che perde la sua identità e diventa un altro indifferenziato, che lo guarda e lo giudica. Al contempo, cerca salvezza nella gratificazione altrui, nella possibilità di legarsi alla vita altrui. Come conclude Micali, questo tentativo di legarsi è un modo di compensare il vuoto e nello stesso tempo è “espressione di una fuga dal proprio sé” (p. 155).

Infine, l’ultimo capitolo riguarda l’interlocuzione con Dio tramite la preghiera. L’obiettivo di Micali è quello di evidenziare il modo in cui il credente si rivolge a Dio attraverso alcuni passi dei Vangeli sinottici. Se la preghiera è un particolare tipo di interlocuzione, allora l’autore ha anche la possibilità di ripensare gli studi precedenti attraverso questo straordinario tipo di interlocuzione. Egli infatti si pone la seguente domanda: come si differenzia l’incontro del volto dell’altro dall’incontro di Dio nella preghiera?

L’incontro con Dio, in questo caso, avviene nella presenza dell’assenza: a differenza dell’incontro con l’altro, che invece si qualifica nello spazio dell’ intercorporeità. Nella presenza dell’altro, quest’ultimo inevitabilmente mi sorprende nella differenza tra le mie aspettative su di lui e la manifestazione di se stesso attraverso le sue espressioni linguistiche e gestuali. Rispetto alle altre forme di interlocuzione, completamente diverso è il sentirsi al cospetto di Dio, seppur nella sua assenza. Secondo l’autore, si entra in uno stato febbrile, di trepidazione, in cui i sensi si affinano nella consapevolezza del contatto con Dio tramite la preghiera.

In questo rapporto di trepidazione, si presenta un’intima connessione tra preghiera e fede. Nella preghiera esiste infatti una contraddizione tra la propria volontà e la volontà di Dio: da una parte, la richiesta di salvezza dai problemi mondani o del miracolo e, dall’altra parte l’accettazione dei piani di Dio per ognuno di noi. In questo spiraglio, si manifesta la fede: quest’ultima risulta essere il presuppposto ultimo per ottenere quanto richiesto. Attraverso la fede nell’essere ascoltati e nell’affidarsi alla volontà di Dio, Micali è in grado di enfatizzare la complessa relazione tra il credente e Dio.

Considerazioni finali

L’opera di Micali presenta un originale punto di vista sulla relazione della soggettività con l’alterità. Intrecciando fenomeni e argomenti diversi, questo libro permette al lettore di farsi strada nella complessità dei temi dell’identità individuale e dell’intersoggettività, potendo nondimeno ricavare gli elementi essenziali del soggettivo ed individuale rapporto con l’alterità. Nella ricerca fenomenologica, c’è attualmente un crescente interesse verso la genesi della soggettivazione, il rapporto con l’alterità, l’intersoggettività e l’identità collettiva: un interesse che si risolve spesso con l’indagine sul primato dell’alterità sulla soggettivazione. Per questa ragione, nei capitoli centrali del libro, sarebbe stato utile avere una panoramica comparativa tra il lavoro di Levinas e quello di altri autori su questi temi rilevanti. Ciononostante, il percorso investigativo, presentato da Micali attraverso punti di vista eterogenei, ha permesso di approfondire alcuni aspetti che altrimenti non avrebbero avuto spazio di analisi.

Se l’eterogeneità e la complessità elaborata dall’analisi sono il punto di forza di questo libro, la sua debolezza consiste nell’assenza di una più lunga e dettagliata prefazione che avrebbe aiutato il lettore a destreggiarsi nei cambi di argomento, di prospettiva e metodo. Nonostante questo limite, ritengo che il libro esponga un interessante e originale intervento per le attuali ricerche sulla genesi della soggettivazione e del rapporto con l’alterità.


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Theodore George, Gert-Jan van der Heiden (Eds.): The Gadamerian Mind

The Gadamerian Mind Book Cover The Gadamerian Mind
Routledge Philosophical Minds
Theodore George, Gert-Jan van der Heiden (Eds.)
Hardback £152.00 Ebook £31.99

Reviewed by: Vladimir Lazurca (Central European University, Vienna)


Recent decades have witnessed a current of uncertainty surrounding the afterlife of Gadamer’s philosophy. The critical challenges posed by poststructuralism, postmodernism, and deconstruction certainly had the potential to relegate philosophical hermeneutics to the role of a precursor or, worse, a vanquished adversary. What is more, a similar sentiment had troubled Gadamer himself, even before publishing his magnum opus. Finishing work on Truth and Method in 1959, he wondered whether it had not already come ‘too late’. By then, the kind of reflection he was advocating would have been deemed superfluous, as other philosophical movements and reforms in the social sciences already appeared to have left the romantic conception of the Geisteswissenschaften in their wake (Gadamer 1972, 449; 2004, 555).

As is well known, Truth and Method stood the test of the 20th century and indeed became one of the most important works of its time. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Gadamer’s death, and it prompts an unavoidable question: does Gadamer’s thought remain ‘of its time’, or is it equipped for the challenges of our own? The ambition of the volume under review is to show that the reception and scholarship of Gadamer’s philosophy has been flourishing and that his influence remains felt within and beyond philosophy.


The Gadamerian Mind, edited by Theodore George and Gert-Jan van der Heiden, is the 8th volume in the Routledge Philosophical Minds. This series, currently encompassing 12 published titles and three forthcoming, aims to present a ‘comprehensive survey of all aspects of a major philosopher’s work, from analysis and criticism […] to the way their ideas are taken up in contemporary philosophy and beyond’ (ii). True to the series’ objectives, this volume promises to be a ‘comprehensive scholarly companion’ (4) and a ‘major survey of the fundamental aspects of Gadamer’s thought’ (i). It therefore focuses on the dominant themes of Gadamer’s main body of work, philosophical hermeneutics. On the other hand, the purpose of this collection is to also show that the scholarly reception of Gadamer’s philosophy has developed and increased in the decades since his death. Accordingly, in addition to tracing the diverse influence of his views in different areas of philosophy and other disciplines, the editors aim to chart new and emerging perspectives on his thinking in this ‘new and comprehensive survey of Gadamer’s thought and its significance’ (1).

Consequently, this collection promises to put forth a ‘portrait of the Gadamerian mind’[1] that comprises what they call an increase in being. The term is borrowed from Gadamer’s discussion of images: according to him, an image is more than a mimetic replica of the original, but involves a presentation of what is essential, unique or merely possible in it, hence an increase in being. The editors thus aim to offer much more than a mere replication and exposition of Gadamerian themes. However, at a cursory glance, these different aims might in fact seem divergent. On the one hand, the volume aspires to be comprehensive, therefore self-contained. As such, it will necessarily repeat the structure and at least some of the content of previous volumes with similar goals. Companion volumes, as is well known, tend to be rather conventional, both in format and subject matter. On the other hand, this volume aims to not only distinguish itself from existing scholarship, but also forward and develop Gadamer’s own thinking. Hence, there is a danger, given these objectives, for it to splinter off in different directions and lose coherence. It will soon become clear that this danger is only apparent.


The Gadamerian Mind is composed of 38 chapters divided into six sections and enclosed by a brief introduction at the start and a comprehensive index at the end. The sections closely follow the stated aims. Roughly speaking, the first two sections review the main concepts and themes that return throughout Gadamer’s work, predominantly – but not exclusively – in his philosophical hermeneutics. Sections three and four canvass the philosophical background, both contemporary and historical, of Gadamer’s work, providing readers with contextual information about the diverse influences on his thought and its contemporary audience and critics. Finally, the concluding two sections focus on the second goal of this collection, that of assessing the importance of Gadamer’s work in recent philosophy and beyond.

The volume opens with Overviews, a section surveying the intellectual background of Gadamer’s life and philosophy as well as showcasing the chief focal points of his work. The contributions in this first section explore aspects of Gadamer’s intellectual biography and life, as well as sketching out the main outline of his philosophical legacy. His commitment to humanism and its significance, the importance of poetry and art in general for his thinking, the ongoing theme of dialogue and conversation are all touched on in this section. A stand-out essay, which highlights an important and often overlooked subject is Georgia Warnke’s ‘Gadamer on solidarity’. In this remarkably detailed and illuminating article, Warnke collects the threads of Gadamer’s scattered remarks on solidarity and friendship into a general account. In dialogue with previous scholarship, she identifies the cardinal dimensions which articulate Gadamer’s conception of solidarity. What emerges is brought into sharper focus through comparisons with relevant recent and contemporary accounts.

According to Warnke’s reconstruction, Gadamer’s understanding of solidarity is that of a substantive bond with others that does not depend on affinities or similarities, and neither on subjective intentions or attitudes. She finds here a stark contrast with some recent approaches, such as Banting and Wymlicka’s, for whom solidarity is ‘a set of attitudes and motivations’ (2017, 3). In line with this definition, these authors look to various political institutions and policies which can reinforce the attitudes underlying democratic solidarity. As Warnke explains, from a Gadamerian perspective this project would have to seem futile. Given that he does not think solidarity is a matter of attitudes, he would contest that cultivating the relevant ones can foster it. Warnke proceeds to compare Gadamer’s account to Rorty (1989), Shelby (2005), Jaeggi (2001), and Habermas (2001, 2008) in a highly persuasive and concise chapter on Gadamer’s continued relevance and significance for contemporary debates in the philosophy of solidarity, identity, race, and public policy.

Overviews is followed by Key Concepts, a section devoted to a critical examination and assessment of the primary conceptual makeup of Gadamer’s acclaimed philosophical hermeneutics. The chapters contained here track the notions of truth, experience, tradition, language, play, translation, image (picture) and health. These are well-written by well-known scholars and provide an approachable and comprehensive introduction to these concepts. A particularly notable essay, and indeed relevant in the global circumstances of today, is Kevin Aho’s ‘Gadamer and health’.

In his contribution, Aho details the enormous impact Gadamer’s The Enigma of Health had within philosophy and explores the way Gadamer’s pronouncements reflect the views of medical practitioners. According to Aho, the core aim of Gadamer’s book is to liberate medicine from the scientific method that governs it in order to arrive at patients’ own experiences of their illnesses and bodies. For Gadamer, health is hidden, enigmatic, it is ‘the condition of not noticing, of being unhindered’ (1996, 73). Further, he claims that it does not consist in ‘an increasing concern for every fluctuation in one’s general physical condition or the eager consumption of prophylactic medicines’ (Gadamer 1996, 112). This, for Aho, reflects the transparency of our own bodies. What is especially noteworthy in Aho’s contribution is the detailed account of exactly how and to what extent physicians and medical professionals are echoing Gadamer’s views. There is ample evidence here, for Aho, that Gadamer can help lay the conceptual groundwork for reforming our understanding of health and care. Although this connection is not explored in the text, this article is especially important at a time where health is no longer defined along these lines, where sick bodies are asymptomatic, and a ‘condition of not noticing’ can characterize both illness and health.

Unfortunately, there is also a notable absence from Key Concepts. Certainly, there are several important concepts not treated in this section and one could make a case for their inclusion. For instance, the concepts of pluralism, phronesis or scientific method are also key to Gadamer’s philosophy and are absent here. But, in the editors’ defence, a collective volume is finite, and their selection can certainly be justified with respect to these and perhaps other notions.

There is, however, an omission for which this cannot be said. In their introduction, the editors state that Gadamer’s name has become synonymous with philosophical hermeneutics, a field ‘concerned with the­ories of understanding and interpretation’ (1). A chapter dedicated to the concepts of understanding and interpretation, therefore, both undoubtedly key concepts in Gadamer’s philosophy, should not be missing in a comprehensive scholarly companion, more so since Gadamer’s use of these concepts is known to cause confusion and controversy among scholars and critics alike. This is a regrettable omission for which the other chapters, for all their merits, cannot make up.

The third section is entitled Historical Influences and is devoted to outlining the most important philosophers who left their mark on Gadamer’s thought and to evaluating his own account of their views. The papers composing this part examine the importance of Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Dilthey, and Heidegger for Gadamer’s thinking, undoubtedly the chief influences on his thought.

Francisco J. Gonzalez opens this section with ‘Gadamer and Plato: an unending dialogue’, a veritable tour de force of erudition. Not only is this paper a brilliant survey of Gadamer’s Plato studies and his significance for Gadamer’s own thought, but this article also details the extent to which the study of Plato’s dialogues played a key role in the development of Gadamer’s own philosophy. Gonzalez identifies the chief contributions of Gadamer’s commentaries and interpretations of Plato and investigates how his reading changed throughout his career. By subdividing Gadamer’s engagement with Plato in five distinct periods and analysing his hermeneutical approach to the study of the dialogues, Gonzales brings this ‘unending dialogue’ of the two philosophers into clear view. This paper’s discussion of the differences between these periods, the internal inconsistencies within them and the accounts of the parallel developments in Gadamer’s own philosophy in these periods are highly valuable to scholars of Plato and Gadamer alike.

The subsequent section, Contemporary Encounters, canvasses important conversations and debates between Gadamer and his critics about the possibility, nature, and limits of philosophical hermeneutics. The reader finds here all the usual suspects (Habermas, Derrida, Ricoeur, Vattimo) but will certainly be pleasantly surprised to see Paul Celan’s name mentioned among them. In his ‘Poem, dialogue and witness: Gadamer’s reading of Paul Celan’, Gert-Jan van der Heiden analyses a very important concern in Gadamer’s later philosophy, namely poetry. He specifically centres on the relation between dialogue and poem. According to Gadamer, they are two distinct modes of language, each with their own specific modality of disclosing meaning. What follows is a compelling discussion of this difference and a welcome addition to Gadamer scholarship. The focus on Gadamer’s interest in poetry is in general an important innovation to existing literature and can be seen throughout this volume.

A noticeable omission from this section, however, is a chapter on the Italian philosopher and jurist Emilio Betti. He and Gadamer had a private, epistolary debate and a lengthy public controversy, yet news of their engagement has not yet fully reached English-language scholarship. This is especially unfortunate as part of their disagreement revolves around central issues in hermeneutics. One such point of contention is the conceptual relation between understanding and interpretation, an issue concerning which these authors had opposing views and were sternly critical of one another. Another source of disagreement was the issue of validity and correctness in interpretation as well as the question of the diversity of interpretative criteria required by the variety of available hermeneutic objects. On the latter point, Betti criticized Gadamer for his undifferentiated view of objects of interpretation and argued that different items demand different hermeneutic approaches. But the deeper differences between these thinkers are yet to be thoroughly examined in Anglo-American academia and Betti’s unique voice is yet to be heard. I consider his omission from this collection regrettable for that reason.

In the penultimate section of this volume, Beyond Philosophy, the editors have compiled essays detailing the impact and significance of Gadamer’s work in areas and disciplines outside philosophy. From theology to jurisprudence, from medicine and healthcare to history and political science, Gadamer’s influence is thoroughly discussed here and, for many working within philosophy, brought into the open for the very first time. This entire section is undoubtedly a vital addition to existing scholarship and one of the areas where this volume more clearly innovates.

The collection concludes with Legacies and Questions, a section addressing significant philosophical currents that draw on Gadamer’s work, whether positively through further development, or negatively through critical engagement. The papers collected here deal with the encounter of Gadamer’s philosophy with postmodernism, analytic philosophy, race theory, metaphysics, and philosophy of culture. Particularly engaging and an excellent supplement to a growing literature is Catherine Homan’s article on Gadamer’s position within feminist philosophy.

In her ‘Gadamer and feminism’, Homan surveys Gadamer’s ambivalent reception by feminist philosophers. While many have criticized his position, others have viewed hermeneutics as fruitful for feminist purposes, adopting or adapting some of its cardinal tenets. In order to make sense of this varied reception, Homan enlists the help of Gadamerian hermeneutics itself. In particular, she claims that it is Gadamer’s insight into tradition that helps us understand feminist replies to his philosophy as well as what she provocatively calls the ‘tradition of feminism’. In her extensive treatment of the literature, Homan criticizes dominant strands of Gadamer reception in feminist philosophy by arguing that attending to tradition, rather than dismissing it, makes us better able to preserve valuable differences. Drawing hermeneutics and feminism together, she claims, invites more comprehensive interpretations and reinterpretations of both.

A regrettable lacuna of Legacies and Questions has to do with Gadamer’s reception in Anglo-America. Unfortunately, Greg Lynch’s ‘Gadamer in Anglo-America’ is not primarily concerned with the full range of this phenomenon. At first, this essay details Gadamer’s philosophical proximity to a well-known movement in the analytic philosophy of language, namely the so-called ‘ordinary language philosophy’. Lynch considers this starting point to be ‘the most natural spot in the analytic landscape’ in relation to which Gadamer’s philosophy ought to be discussed. After this initial section, which explores and assesses both significant commonalities and differences, Lynch proceeds to discuss the adoption of a Gadamerian-inspired perspective by two prominent analytic philosophers, Richard Rorty (1979) and John McDowell (1994). While Lynch’s treatment of this encounter and his critique of the adequacy of Rorty and McDowell’s reading of Gadamer are highly informative and valuable, what unfortunately does not emerge from this paper is the extent to which Gadamer’s reception in the ‘Anglo-American’ tradition of philosophy is still an ongoing process which continues to be relevant.

This is most visible when it comes to Gadamer’s proximity to Davidson and the ongoing exploration of their affinities in the philosophy of interpretation. Dialogues with Davidson (2011, ed. Jeff Malpas), an excellent volume on Davidson’s work in areas of philosophy of action, interpretation, and understanding, provides a good example of the fruitfulness and proportion of this endeavour. Nine out of the 21 chapters of this collection critically examine and assess this proximity, not to mention the Foreword, where Dagfinn Føllesdal states that Gadamer is a ‘natural point of contact’ with Davidson’s own views. In fact, Davidson himself claimed to have arrived ‘in Gadamer’s intellectual neighborhood’ (1997, 421). Dialogues with Davidson is a small sample of a new and growing debate in contemporary scholarship which focuses on drawing Gadamer and Davidson’s respective philosophies together and reaping the benefits of this comparison, thus bridging the unfortunate gap between the two major Western philosophical traditions. Gadamer is therefore very much part of an ongoing debate within analytic philosophy in recent decades and it is an oversight not to have included it in this collection.

The volume closes with a very detailed and useful index.

The Unity of the Collection

As mentioned at the outset, this collection might at first seem controlled by two sets of strings, comprehensiveness on one hand, innovation on the other. And the task of coordination appeared daunting. But has this volume nonetheless been able to strike a balance? Has it delivered a ‘portrait of the Gadamerian mind’ that is at once comprehensive and tracks the state of the art? In my view, it has, and the articles cited are some excellent examples of the fruits that can be borne of this twofold ambition. These and many other papers in this collection show that the two directions can be harmonized into a cohesive volume. Moreover, this collection is not only held together by the skeleton of its primary goals. The connecting tissues stretching out between the chapters are just as vital to the unity of the work.

A pertinent example of such a link, running through the various contributions, is the theme of conceptual innovation. Several of the articles undertake novel deconstructions of Gadamerian concepts, some authors opting at times for a reconstruction and retranslation instead. For instance, there is the increased and usefully articulated emphasis on the presentational, as opposed to the representational in Gadamer, not only as it relates to aesthetics (see James Risser, Cynthia R. Nielsen and Günter Figal’s chapters), but also to language, where, for Gadamer, it is being that comes to presentation (see Nicholas Davey and Carolyn Culbertson’s contributions). The careful articulation of the differences between these concepts is a highly valuable, if unintended, sub-debate in this volume.

Another instance of this new interest in conceptual analysis in Gadamer scholarship is David Vessey’s ‘Tradition’. In this extensive and comprehensive contribution, the author distinguishes between Gadamer’s Tradition and Überlieferung, two concepts identically translated, and usually indistinctly understood. Through his careful analysis, Vessey has not only disambiguated some interpretations of Gadamer, but contributed positively to the philosophical study of tradition in English-speaking scholarship.

On the other hand, some authors have proposed and explored renewed translations of Gadamerian concepts. One such instance is the concept of linguality (and lingual as an adjective), here presented as a translation of the Gadamerian Sprachlichkeit (for which linguisticality is the norm) but extending in use beyond the scope of Gadamer’s own philosophy. Linguality, with its overtones of orality, might indeed be better fitted for a philosophy which sees the essence of language in its fluid, spoken form of Gespräch, as opposed to linguisticality, which evokes fixed structures and stable grammars. Bildung as enculturation, as opposed to the more common cultivation, might again figure as such an example. I, for one, salute these conceptual innovations and look forward to the fruits they might bear in the future.

The way I see it, these ‘connecting tissues’, as I called them, constitute part of that increase in being promised at the outset. For it is not a simple terminological update. A philosopher’s words are the body, and not only the dress of his thought. As such, the examples mentioned contribute to uncovering – for an English-speaking audience – the full texture of Gadamer’s conceptual apparatus and the different layers of inferential relations present between concepts in the original. At the same time, they provide, as already mentioned, precise instruments for novel philosophical reflection. One could say, with Gadamer on one’s side, that this represents a positive appropriation and integration of his philosophy into a new idiom, filled with possibilities for future application and potential insights into issues Gadamer himself didn’t grapple with. In my view, this is an excellent way of keeping Gadamer and his philosophy alive through translation and appropriation, and of demonstrating their relevance.

On the topic of translation, we can also applaud the inclusion of a chapter on this issue as one of Gadamer’s key concepts. While one can argue whether the concept is key, this is certainly an area of research that has been growing backstage for a while. Although the author, Theodore George, does not mention this debate in his ‘Translation’, as that was not necessarily his purpose, his chapter will nevertheless bring this area of research into the mainstream, attracting new and significant contributions to this promising and burgeoning field. After all, a collection of this scholarly calibre does not, in spite of its goals, merely canvass the state of the art: it also establishes it. For this reason too it deserves praise.

The Gadamerian Mind and the chapters it contains are more than likely to act as signposts marking the relevance and significance of a given topic. This is exactly why I have said that the absence of certain topics is regrettable. But it is also why the presence of others is praiseworthy, such as those explored in Kevin Aho, Georgia Warnke, Theodore George, or Catherine Homan’s contributions.

Concluding Remarks

Undoubtedly, the Gadamerian Mind is of the highest scholarly value as a comprehensive companion to Gadamer’s thought and its significance. That his philosophy remains relevant is both successfully argued for and evident from the quality of the contributions collected here. But I have also been suggesting in the previous section that part of the value of this volume lies in its potential for impact, and it’s important, in my submission, not to underestimate its possible repercussions for future research. In other words, this collection both provides an increase in being in Gadamer scholarship, as I’ve argued above, and promotes and forwards it through its selection of treated topics and its academic stature. The Gadamerian Mind stands as an open invitation for scholars to explore and actualize the latent possibilities of Gadamer’s philosophy themselves.


Banting, Keith, and Will Kymlicka. 2017. The Strains of Commitment: The Political Sources of Solidarity in Diverse Societies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Davidson, Donald. 1997. ”Gadamer and Plato’s Philebus.” In Hahn 1997: 421-432.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1996. The Enigma of Health: The Art of Healing in the Scientific Age. Translated by Jason Gaiger and Nicholas Walker. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1972. ”Nachwort zur 3. Auflage.” In Gadamer 1993, vol. II: 449-478.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1993. Gesammelte Werke. 8 vol. Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck).

Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 2004. Truth and Method. 2nd rev. edn. Translation revised by Weinsheimer J. and Marshall D.G. Continuum: London, New York.

Habermas, Jürgen. 2001. “The Postnational Constellation and the Future of Democracy.” In The Postnational Constellation: Political Essays, edited and translated by Max Pensky, 58– 112. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Habermas, Jürgen. 2008. “Prepolitical Foundations of the Constitutional State?” In Between Naturalism and Religion: Philosophical Essays, translated by Ciaran Cronin, 101– 13. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Hahn, Lewis Edwin. 1997. The Philosophy of Hans-Georg Gadamer. The Library of Living Philosophers. Vol. 24. Chicago: Open Court.

Jaeggi, Rahel. 2001. “Solidarity and Indifference.” In Solidarity in Health and Social Care in Europe, edited by R. ter Meulen, Will Arts, and R. Muffels, 287– 308. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Malpas, Jeff. 2011. Dialogues with Davidson. Acting, Interpreting, Understanding. London and Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

McDowell, John. 1994. Mind and World. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Rorty, Richard. 1979. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Rorty, Richard. 1989. Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shelby, Tommie. 2005. We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

[1] Unfortunately, there is an ambivalence throughout this volume as to the precise meaning of the Gadamerian mind. For some, it is a placeholder for Gadamer himself, as an aggregate of ideas, interests, and commitments, for others it stands for ‘Gadamer’s theory of the mind’. So, it is unclear whether such a portrait would be of the former or the latter. Given the nature of the Philosophical Minds series, the editors’ intention is certainly for it to be of the former. But I believe a more thorough exploration of the latter would have been highly valuable and as such remains a missed opportunity of this collection.

Kristian Larsen, Pål Rykkja Gilbert (Eds.): Phenomenological Interpretations of Ancient Philosophy

Phenomenological Interpretations of Ancient Philosophy Book Cover Phenomenological Interpretations of Ancient Philosophy
Studies in Contemporary Phenomenology, Volume 20
Kristian Larsen, Pål Rykkja Gilbert (Eds.)
Hardback €123.00 $148.00

Reviewed by: Tóth Réka (SZTE-BTK/PhD, Hungary, Szeged)

Phenomenological Interpretations of Ancient Philosophy is a collection of thirteen essays. At first glance, the title of this book may strike us as somewhat surprising. One may be forgiven for thinking that phenomenology cannot be paralleled with ancient Greek philosophy in a meaningful manner. But, after reading the studies, the reader will undoubtedly come to the conviction that these two types of philosophy have something to do with each other after all. Some phenomenologists tend to view ancient Greek philosophy as if it were the beginning of Western thought, a philosophy that can be seen as a kind of starting point that defines every new thought. According to them, exploring the thoughts of Greek philosophers—or rather just approaching them—can help us understand what the meaning of philosophy is. But it can also help us gain a better understanding of how modern philosophical systems operate — for example, what the ancient foundations of political philosophy, social philosophy, philosophy of science, or even metaphysical research are and how the former impact the latter. On the other hand, many phenomenologists merely undertook to make the ancient Greek texts understandable to the laity, so they try to give a clear description of them. Each of the phenomenological research methods mentioned above appears in the book.

It may seem quite disproportionate that the first five chapters of the book are more about Husserl and Heidegger, specifically an overview of interpretations of ancient philosophers given by these two philosophers. Other chapters contain the approaches of lesser-known or more modern philosophers — the overarching aim of the editors seems to have been to provide an overview of the phenomenological approaches of antiquity. It is important to have insight into this subject, and so far we have not read many books that have dealt with how phenomenology in general could relate to Greek philosophy.

Husserl’s main questions—namely, how to understand the connection between our experience and the world itself, and how to treat science and naturalism—have also raised new questions for later phenomenologists. At the same time, these thinkers were also greatly influenced by Heidegger, especially the way he approached ancient Greek philosophy. Therefore, the work of Arendt, Gadamer, Derrida or other modern philosophers cannot really be interpreted without Heidegger and Husserl.

The first chapter deals with Husserl’s relationship to the Stoics. Within this, Husserl’s interpretation of the term „lecton” is explored by the authors who later turn to Heidegger’s interpretation. In addition to Heidegger’s relationship with Aristotle and Presocratics, they are also talking about the German philosopher’s relationship with the Nazi regime, as this seems inevitable in the present case.

Husserl argued that although the foundations of Western philosophy come from the views of the Greeks, modern philosophers often do not represent the original Greek views, but these ideas are reshaped, rethought or embedded in social philosophy, ethics or other subject areas of philosophy. According to the authors of this book, Husserl believes that Greek philosophy – of course only in its original form – could help diagnose the so-called diseases of contemporary philosophy (3): it is true that it speaks of diseases that often seem to stem from the problems articulated by Greek philosophers themselves. Husserl has a different attitude towards the Greeks than Heidegger — he is generally considered as an ahistorical thinker, but of course this is only partly true. For some reason, however, his opinion of the Greeks have not proven to be nearly as influential as Heidegger’s interpretations. Nevertheless, the editors of the book thought it worthwhile to review Husserl’s ancient philosophical reflections, so we also make a few comments about these ideas based on the book’s introductory explanations.

According to Husserl, not only Plato and Socrates are pioneers of Western philosophy, but Descartes can also be considered a forerunner of modern philosophical methods. So there are actually three pioneers in philosophy and science. Husserl thinks that Descartes can be considered the second forerunner because his response to skepticism is so relevant that it cannot be ignored (6). According to Husserl, despite Plato’s rigor, he failed to overcome skepticism. But Descartes had the same goal as Plato: to deny radical skepticism. According to Husserl, however, Descartes differed from his predecessors in that he tried to explore subjectivity in a scientific way.

Embarking on this path, Descartes wanted to develop an apodictic theory that could not be overturned by any skepticism — thus reaching an ego that, in spite of all other doubts, could not doubt itself. In doing so, he proved an unwitting pioneer of phenomenology, in that he initiates a transcendental turn in philosophy. This is why the authors may think that it is essential to talk about Descartes in a volume that explores the relationship between phenomenology and the Greeks (8). We could also say that Descartes reinterpreted the Greeks and that is why Husserl thinks that modern philosophy begins with the former. According to Descartes, the soul is the first axiom to be considered certain, and from which our knowledge of the world can be derived. However, Husserl thinks Descartes did not take into account the fact that subjectivity also limits the notion of truth.

The authors of the book hold that Husserl—just like Heidegger—deserved more chapters in the volume because, in addition to Heidegger, he was the one who saw this kind of fundamental crisis and this kind of motif in modern philosophy — in his last, unfinished work: Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale Phänomenologie (1936).

Heidegger, in his early twenties, devoted much work to the study of both Descartes and Aristotle. Together with Husserl, they had a tremendous influence on philosophers such as Arendt, Strauss, Klein, Fink, and Marcuse, to name but a few. The authors mentioned above are also included in the book, but the main focus is nonetheless on Husserl and Heidegger, so we also place more emphasis on the presentation of these two philosophers. It is also true that Heidegger himself based his late philosophy (reflections on the history of existence) on these initial researches.

In the following, I would also like to provide a closer look at each chapter. In the first five chapters we read about Husserl and Heidegger, specifically how they approach and deal with Greek traditions.

In the first chapter, we may read Claudio Majolino’s analysis of Husserl (Back to the Meanings Themselves: Husserl, Phenomenology, and the Stoic Doctrine of the Lekton), in which he raises questions as to why Husserl, unlike other phenomenologists, praises the Stoics for their insight. Majolino also attempts to find an answer to the question how Sartre and Deleuze might have thought that Husserl’s interpretation of „noēma” could be paralleled with the „lecton” (meaning of a proposition) of the Stoics. According to the author, none of Husserl’s writings explicitly mentions that the two concepts can be set in parallel. It is simply believed that Husserl combines the two concepts because of structural similarities. Sartre, according to Majolino, draws quite provocative conclusions: the former claims that in his statement about „noēma”, Husserl betrayed his most basic phenomenological claim or discovery: the intentionality of consciousness. This is how Sartre’s judgment sounds:

Husserl defines consciousness precisely as transcendence. This is his essential discovery. But from the moment he makes the noēma unreal, and the noesis correlation  correlate of the noēsis, he is totally unfaithful to his principle. (Sartre 1943, 61).

The author then decides to analyze in detail Sartre’s and Deleuze’s thoughts on the concept of lecton. He then notes the distinction between them: Deleuze does not interpret it as a strange physical or spiritual entity like Sartre (33). Majolino performs a fairly precise analysis. We can then learn that although Deleuze refers to some passages from Husserl’s text, it is interesting that in these Husserl himself does not mention the lecton anywhere the noēma appears. So Majolino does not draw a parallel between the two either.

Sartre and Deleuze sought to reconcile Stoic philosophy with phenomenology—especially Husserl’s phenomenology. In retrospect, this seems like a rather difficult undertaking, and the complexity of this task is presented to us by Majolino in convincing detail. He shows that Sartre neglected the propositional nature of „lekta” and confused „noēma” with „ennoēma” (36)—while Deleuze confused the two interpretations of the senses, using them once in a semantic sense and another in a transcendental sense. One of the main questions of the author is then, why does Husserl mention the term lecton so many times and why does he hold the stoic concept to be of such significance? In this study, we see an analysis that is often neglected by philosophers when researching the connections between phenomenology and ancient philosophy. In addition, Majolino helps clarify some unclear concepts about Husserl’s philosophy. The author discusses in detail what the actual significance of the lecton is for Husserl, and also what kind of correlation can be observed between the lecton, the Husserlian conception and formal ontology. After these analyzes, he also discusses how we can derive phenomenology from the Stoics.

The second chapter is composed of Thomas Schwarz Wentzer’s study of Aristotle’s anthropological-political interpretations (Speaking Being: Heidegger’s Aristotle and the Problem of Anthropology). The main purpose of this study is to answer certain philosophical-anthropological questions. In this chapter, the author discusses the question of why Heidegger was so committed to Aristotle and how Greek philosophy in general oriented Heidegger’s way of thinking. This chapter is about how, according to the author, Heidegger related to his predecessor, who takes the same hermeneutical approach to the human question as he does — in particular in De Anima, the Nicomachean Ethics, the Rhetoric, and the Politics. According to Max Scheler, man is characterized by indeterminacy. However, Heidegger finds his way with the help of Aristotle to build his phenomenological anthropology.

In the third chapter, Pål Rykkja Gilbert talks about Heidegger’s interpretation of Aristotle, specifically those dedicated to the latter’s ethics (Virtue and Authenticity: Heidegger’s Interpretation of Aristotle’s Ethical Concepts). It is well known that Heidegger devoted much time to understanding Aristotle in his first works. It is generally accepted that phronesis is one of the most important concepts in Being and Time. In this chapter, the author first examines some of Heidegger’s passages, those that relate primarily to Aristotle’s ethics, especially the concepts of „phronesis” and „prohairesis”. The author firstly tries to lay out the background of how Heidegger approaches these works and concepts of Aristotle. Secondly, he attempts to compare Heidegger’s interpretation with other, more conventional Aristotelian analyses. Thirdly, he also strives to answer the question of whether Heidegger “ontologizes” Aristotle’s ethical project. To this he replies that it is incorrect to say that the Aristotelian concepts were transformed into Heidegger’s „Ontological” concepts. The author approaches the problem mainly on the basis of parts of the Nicomachean Etics and De Anima, displaying excellent knowledge of these Aristotelian works. Gilbert identifies one thing as the main concept of Aristotle: the concept of prohairesis. According to him, an understanding of prohairesis is an essential part of understanding the Aristotelian phronesis and, in general, what he claimed about virtues.

We can read Charlotta Weigelt’s study of Heidegger’s thoughts relating to the Platonic concept of truth in the fourth chapter (An “Obscure” Phenomenology? Heidegger, Plato, and the Philosopher’s Struggle for the Truth of Appearance). The author bases her analysis on the 1930s lecture text: On the Essence of Truth: Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and “Theaetetus” from 1931/2 (GA 34). According to Weigelt, Heidegger completely rethought the cave analogy and at the same time had a great influence on transcendental phenomenological research. Weigelt, following Heidegger, analyzes the cave analogy in four parts (139). According to the author, Heidegger treats the concepts of truth and appearance here as phenomenological concepts. It would also be important to discuss these issues because, in general, Heidegger’s reading of Plato is divisive among historians of philosophy. The author argues that Heidegger saw Plato (as most philosophers) through the lens of Aristotle and that is why he does not pay much attention to Plato’s dramatic contexts and Socrates, but merely analyzes Platonic works literally. But of course sometimes we have to ignore these while reading Heidegger, because in the meantime he says important things about the Platonic concept of ideas. The author bases her findings mainly on Metaphysics, Physics and The Sophist.

In the fifth chapter, Hans Rubin explains Heidegger’s notion of „moira” among others (A Strange Fate: Heidegger and the Greek Inheritance). The author conducts his analysis based on what was said during the Parmenides courses. He admits that this series of lectures adds a much to Heidegger’s notions of „destiny”, „fate”, and „the destinal”, and he thinks it can answer us a lot about why Heidegger drew so much from Greek philosophy (163). These two concepts, namely „fate” and „destiny”, are strongly interlinked, according to the author, to Heidegger’s political philosophy, and more specifically to his nationalist sympathies. But how can all this be connected with the thinking of Parmenides? In the fifth chapter, we get interesting answers to this question and, among other things, how the concepts of „fate” and „destiny” („moira” and „meiromai”) can be related to our modern globalized world today. The author conducts a very thorough examination, uses certain parts of Homer’s Iliad, Plato’s notion of moira, and is very critical of Heidegger’s late works.

We again read a study related to Plato in the sixth chapter (Dialectic as a Way of Life: Hans-Georg Gadamer’s Interpretation of Plato). In this section, Morten S. Thaning conducts research on Gadamer’s analysis of Plato. He wants to find out how Gadamer approached the Platonic dialectic. According to Thaning, Gadamer’s aim in analyzing Plato’s dialectics is, on the one hand, to shed light on significant elements of Aristotle’s critique of Plato. On the other hand, the author not only researches Gadamer in this respect, but also asks on what Heidegger might have based the idea that Plato was a forerunner of the Western metaphysical tradition. It also turns out that Gadamer was passionate about the Platonic method, and that he thought Plato should be interpreted as a practice of philosophy in the Socratic sense (182). In addition, the chapter also discusses how Gadamer’s theory of dialectics can be described. Moreover, we can see an interesting subchapter in which the author seeks to figure out how Socrates’s self-confessed ignorance (Nichtwissen) reshapes the Platonic concept of knowledge and the relationship between dialectics and knowledge (179). But the main question is what is the essence of philosophy in the Socratic sense and how is the dialectic of Socrates is related to the hermeneutical experience in the Gadamerian sense? According to the author, Gadamer has an excellent grasp of the language of Plato’s dialogues, and for this reason he thinks we should examine the concept of Platonic knowledge together with the dialectical language itself and understand one through the other.

An interpretation of Plato follows in the seventh chapter (Counting (on) Being: On Jacob Klein’s Return to Platonic Dialectic). In this section, the author, Kristian Larsen delves again into the topic of dialectics. He tries to summarize and rather rethink Jakob Klein’s interpretation, which deals with Platonic dialectics as a method. According to Jens, modernity, as a kind of second Platonic cave, alienates us from ourselves and the world (203). Larsen finds a good basis for this idea in Jakob Klein’s thoughts on the distinction between ancient and modern science and philosophy. The main purpose of this study is to show and thoroughly delineate these differences. In addition to this, he also discusses in this study how Klein’s distinctions (ancient and modern science) resemble or differ from the views held by Heidegger and Leo Strauss. Comparing these three thinkers, the author concludes that Klein is essentially in agreement with Heidegger and Husserl, for all three hold, because of the anxiety and alienation in modernity, that it is the duty of Western philosophy to return to the Greeks. A significant part of the terms used by the Greeks have been radically reinterpreted (and misunderstood) in the modern age. The author links his research to this position. He argues that Klein and Strauss have many points in common about the relationship between modernity and Greek philosophy and also shows these common points in his study. We have to think here about modern (especially late-modern) philosophy. The practical usefulness of the study may also be to try to answer questions such as: how can we deal with our prejudices against capitalist societies and transform our overarching sense of alienation from modern society?

In the eighth chapter, Husserl’s analysis takes center stage once more (Phenomenology and Ancient Greek Philosophy: Methodological Protocols and One Specimen of Interpretation). Burt Hopkins analyzes Husserl’s concept of intentionality through the research of Jakob Klein. Hopkins examines Klein’s analyzes in which he discusses the differences between the Greek ontology and the Cartesian sciences. The author pays special attention to Greek works in this study, but primarily analyzes one of Klein’s 1936 studies entitled “Die griechische Logistik und die Entstehung der Algebra” (Klein 1934, 18−105). In addition to examining Klein’s interpretations (including the study of the concept of „arithmos”), the author also provides an in-depth analysis of Husserl’s concept of intentionality. In addition, we can see a detailed textual analysis of that section of Plato’s The Sophist, aporia of „Being” („einai”), and parts of Theaetetus, and, as a matter of fact, he also looks critically at the studies published on these works. Hopkins’s study primarily requires a detailed examination of the concepts of „Whole” („holon”), „All”(„pan”), and „All of something” („panta”).

In the ninth chapter, we can read Jussi Backman’s study of Hannah Arendt (The (Meta)politics of Thinking: On Arendt and the Greeks). The philosopher examines Arendt in terms of how she approached ancient Greek philosophy. According to Arendt, the roots of twentieth-century totalitarian regimes go back to ancient Greek philosophical theories, so perhaps we can get obtain a solution to these social problems through the Greeks as well. Arendt’s attitude towards the Greeks can be seen primarily through one of her main works, The Human Condition (1958). In this text, she writes, among others, that Plato’s political philosophy has been transformed. Arendt was discovered in Plato’s mind the phenomena that make philosophy „disgusting” and thus left a mark on the whole tradition of politics. That was „the political turn” according to her, the philosopher returned to the cave and brought rules alien to the laws of human cohabitation for the inhabitants of the cave. It seems that nowadays we interpret the thoughts of the founder of Western philosophy as if it were some kind of tool that would enable us to achieve a higher goal. The author also mentions Arendt’s Life of the Mind (1977−8), in which the philosopher explains how harmless Greek terms (such as the term “fear”) were born thousands of years later than other terms such as “judgment.” The author believes that Arendt explored very precisely the connection between the “thinking” and the “action” of the study of antiquities. He also draws attention to the gap between the two (Arendt uses the terms „vita contemplativa” for the former and „vita activa” for the latter.) The author considers Arendt’s work to be hermeneutics on the one hand (265), because he thinks she tries to interpret our contemporary modes of thinking. On the other hand, it is also very phenomenological, in the sense that it seeks to trace the Greek tradition back to the initial (Greek) experiences from which they emerged.

Vigdis Songe-Møller presents Eugen Fink’s study of Heraclitus and Heidegger in the tenth chapter (Heraclitus’ Cosmology: Eugen Fink’s Interpretation in Dialogue with Martin Heidegger). The chapter revolves around a question that intrigued both Heidegger and Fink: what is the relation between „hen”, „One”, and „ta panta”, „All things”, in Heraclitus’ thinking? According to Fink, this question and the relationship between the two can be explored by examining the cosmology of Heraclitus. The author notes the great similarity between the cosmology of Fink and the Greek philosopher, and explores this similarity in her study, mainly in confrontation with Husserl and Heidegger. Of course, Fink essentially follows Heidegger in his approach to the Greeks and uses his tools in many ways, but he shows uniqueness in his analysis of Heraclitus. The main difference is that „Fink is able to confirm an interpretation of the relation between hen and panta that Heidegger from the very beginning had been critical of.” (300) In order to show the differences, the author presents Fink’s cosmological ideas in detail.

In the subsequent study, Filip Karfik analyzes Jan Patočka’s interpretation of Plato on the soul (Jan Patočka on Plato’s Conception of the Soul as Self-Motion). Patočka argues that the idea of being as „self-moving” can help to understand the whole Platonic philosophy, of which the soul is central. Karfik discovers an interesting paradox by Patočka in his research on the philosophy of the soul. Patočka, according to Karfik, summarizes the whole spirit of Platonic philosophy and provides us with convincing arguments. The author also investigates the phenomenological background of Patočka’s own philosophy and he also attempts to uncover the question of what self-movement has to do with self-determination, based on a reading of Patočka philosophy.

The last two chapters show us how the Presocratic philosophers and Plato influenced the philosophies of Lévinas and Derrida. In the twelfth chapter (Elemental Embodiment: From the Presocratics to Levinas via Plato), the relationship between Plato and Lévinas is examined from a phenomenological perspective by the authors, Tanja Staehler and Alexander Kozin. They investigating this topic because they suggest that the value of Plato’s contribution can best be best uncovered by applying a phenomenological perspective. In general, the authors tend to discuss the differences between Plato and Lévinas, such as how their views on “love” differ. This was investigated by Sarah Allen whose research is thoroughly analyzed by the authors of the study. But the differences were also examined, for example, by Wendy Hamblet, who saw the difference between the two in his conception of the concept of truth. In the present case, however, Staehler and Kozin prefer to emphasize commonalities by focusing on the complex phenomena under discussion. The study is based on an analysis of two key concepts: “eros” and “zōion“.

And last but not least, in the thirteenth study, Derrida’s complex reading of Plato’s Phaedrus is analyzed in detail by Arnaud Macé (Outside the Walls with Phaedrus: Derrida and the Art of Reading Plato). Derrida considers one of his most important own thoughts to be, following Plato’s lead, the view that philosophy cannot be practiced through writing alone (348). According to Macé, Derrida engages in a special reading of Plato, which is called “harmonic,” a term often used by the phenomenologically-influenced postmodern philosopher. According to Macé, the Platonic dialogues are far different from other philosophical writings because of their hidden structural elements, and Derrida collects these elements precisely. Derrida sees the connection between these elements in the term „pharmakon”, a concept with a rich polysemy — „Remedy”, „Poison”, „Drug”, to name a few of its principal meanings. By reading Derrida, we can learn about the non-philosophical elements of Plato that he places in a philosophical context for his own deconstructivist reasons.

In this book we read about the confrontation of many notable authors with Greeks. In addition, it should be mentioned that these authors all seem to have singled out terms from an ancient Greek philosopher that can, arguably, describe the entire oeuvre of a given philosopher. Such was the case with Husserl and Heidegger, among others, who are absolute pioneers in the subject, which is why they were understandably given a bigger role in this book. It is interesting to mention that, although Heidegger’s hermeneutical phenomenology is fundamentally different from Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology, we can still discover some similarities between them. One such similarity can be seen, for example, between Husserl’s reflection on traditions and the crisis of European philosophy of science and Heidegger’s notion of „nihilism” and „oblivion”. At the same time, it seems that Heidegger’s interest in antiquity and Husserl’s philosophy also had a great influence on Arendt, Gadamer, Derrida, Lévinas, Fink, and so on. None of the latter can be interpreted effectively without the philosophy of the former two. Every study composing this book is situated in the context of modern problems, which can go a long way toward clarifying our current situation, deepening our understanding of the contemporary problems we face.


Klein, J. 1934. Die griechische Logistik und die Entstehung der Algebra. Berlin: Verlagsbuchhandlung Julius Springer.

Sartre, J.−P. 1943. Being and Nothingness. An Essay in Phenomenological Ontology. Oxfordshire: Routledge.

Wanda Torres Gregory: Speaking of Silence in Heidegger

Speaking of Silence in Heidegger Book Cover Speaking of Silence in Heidegger
Wanda Torres Gregory
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
ebook $45.00 Hardback $95.00

Reviewed by: Christopher Braddock (Auckland University of Technology)

Wanda Torres Gregory’s latest book, entitled Speaking of Silence in Heidegger, explores the conceptual links and deep undercurrents at work in Martin Heidegger’s often unforthcoming thinking on silence. In typical chronological fashion (as with her previous book Heidegger’s Path to Language) she charts the course of Heidegger’s thoughts on silence, from Being and Time in the period of 1927–29, to the collection of essays in the 1950s On the Way to Language, and ending in Chapter 9 with critical conclusions about Heidegger’s thinking on silence from the 1950s onward. On this basis, Torres Gregory critically assesses Heidegger’s later ideas on silence in terms of “autonomous forces that define our essence as the beings who speak in word-sounds” (as described on her homepage for Simmons University where she is Professor of Philosophy).

This book plays an important role in prioritising non-visual phenomena. Both Don Idhe and Lisbeth Lipari have pointed to a visualist habit in phenomenology as well as western epistemologies in general. Idhe writes in Listening and Voice: Phenomenologies of Sound that there is a sense of vision that “pervades the recovery of the Greek sense of physis by Heidegger [where] ‘lighting,’ ‘clearing,’ ‘shining,’ ‘showing,’ are all revels in light imagery” (2007: 21). In this context, Idhe explores how auditory phenomena might be studied in a phenomenology of sound and listening that also gives way to “the enigma… of the horizon of silence” (2007: 23). Torres Gregory’s Speaking of Silence in Heidegger contributes richly to this genealogy of phenomenological scholarship that gives precedence to non-visual phenomena and their enigmatic relationship to hearing, listening and silence.

As I read Speaking of Silence in Heidegger, I was stimulated to question, ponder, and reason carefully about the great problem of silence. The contents page enticed me to read with chapter headings such as: Toward the Essence of Silence (Chapter 2); Quiet Musings in the Project toward the Stillness (Chapter 7); and The Soundless Peal of the Stillness (Chapter 8). I was immediately drawn into a sense of mystery and a longing to know more about essence, poetics, stillness of silence and its relationships to language. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in silence and the philosophy of language.

Reading the Introduction, titled “On the Way to Silence,” a wordplay on Heidegger’s “On the Way to Language,” we know that Torres Gregory is a good teacher (she is a recipient of the Simmons University Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching). She can say complex things relatively simply and map out her terrain with ease. The Introduction charts the thesis of the book well, pinpointing the author’s main claims, giving us a background to Heidegger’s ideas of silence in its links with truth and language as well as a comprehensive summary of chapters to follow.

A main focus of the book is the importance Heidegger places on the following terms: being silent (Geschweigen), keeping silent (Schweigen), hearkening (Horchen), and reticence (Verschwiegenheit) (Torres Gregory, 2021: xiii). Implicated in this theme, Torres Gregory’s interpretation focuses on what Heidegger says and doesn’t say (or hints at) concerning silence. “I make the effort to let him speak and intimate in his own words,” she writes (xiii). In this respect, Torres Gregory’s methodology follows similar enigmatic patterns to the concept of silence itself. Here, her folding of methodology and content is a powerful and original aspect of her writing. While some readers might find this overly speculative, this reader found it a productive mode of thinking in its own right, enabling an expansion of Heidegger’s ideas. However, given Heidegger’s emphasis on human silence as relating to a refraining from speaking about certain things or withholding certain words, his public silence concerning the Holocaust will come to mind for many readers. Torres Gregory does not shy away from this challenge, but the issue is by no means centre-stage in the discussion.

The Introduction identifies three distinct schematic forms of silence in the works of Heidegger: human silence which applies to speaking in word-sounds that can occur when we refrain from speaking, withhold words or when we are at a loss for words (xv); primordial silence, which is “deeper than human silence in that it pertains to being/beyng and to language in its being” and applies to the “essence of language as the soundless saying that shows or to the word as the silent voice or clearing of being/beyng”; and finally, primeval silence which is the “deepest silence that determines all silences, including the primordial silence of the word and, ultimately, the human silence” and “[p]ertains to the stillness and to the originary concealedness of being/beyng” (xv). Torres Gregory further explores three different levels at which silence occurs in language as speech: linguistic, pre-linguistic and proto-linguistic which move from language in word-sounds, the word as belonging to being/beyng, and the essence of language “as the soundless saying that shows or the word as the clearing” (xvi). Torres Gregory argues that this proto-linguistic level includes the stillness and relates to forms of primeval silence. This continues the work of scholars such as Alexander Garcia Düttmann in The Gift of Language who in asking “What does it mean to experience silence as the essence of language and as the completely condensed word (das ganz gesammelte Wort)?” answers via Rosenzweig, that the silence experienced is “unlike the muteness of the protocosmos (Vorwelt), which had no words yet” (2000: 23). Silence, Düttmann continues with reference to Heidegger, “marks the path which leads from proto-cosmic or pre-worldly mutism to trans-worldly silence” in which silence “no longer has any need of the word… is more essential than the word, which is the word as such” (2000: 24).

With reference to Being and Time, Chapter 1 articulates being-in-the-world through words (language) as significations, verbalising Da-sein’s mood and understanding. However, talking and listening are not necessarily characteristic of all discourse. Discourse has the possibility of silence when it is not fully vocalised; by not speaking about something, for example. Thus, hidden interpretations can remain silent and this silence is already part of vocalised discourse (Torres Gregory, 2021: 3). Moreover, silence can occur across authentic and inauthentic modalities. For example, idle talk and listening to idle talk (gossiping), Torres Gregory claims, imposes silence about beings talked about “by treating them as something that we already understand and have no need to inquire into any further” (4).

Levels of silence in language become even more complex as Torres Gregory follows Heidegger’s argument that silence can also occur in regard to the self in everyday being-in-the world. While the “authentic self has taken hold of and is its own self,” Da-sein’s everyday way of being-in-the-world involves covering itself up which is the inauthentic they–self (4). So, idle talk of the ‘they’ has potential to sever Da-sein from authentically relating to itself; it “drowns out the call of conscience through loud and incessant chatter and hearing all round” (8). The ‘they’ can talk loudly and endlessly provoked by its curiosities, and idle talk can silence authentic experiences. It can even cover up its own failure to hear the call of conscience (4). Furthermore, this chapter explains well the possibility that keeping silence is based on Heidegger’s notion of “having ‘something to say,’ which involves an ‘authentic and rich’ self-disclosedness and thereby can contribute to an authentic uncovering with others” (5). In this sense, authentically keeping silent in dialogue with others can mean silencing idle talk, counter-discourse and all linguistic/verbal language, which equates to a keeping silent and hearkening (8). But the “deepest silence lies within Da-sein, in what Heidegger refers to as ‘the stillness of itself’ and identifies as that to which it is ‘called back’ and ‘called back as something that is to become still’” (7).

Following Heidegger’s 1933–34 winter course “On the Essence of Truth,” Chapter 2 emphasises that language is the necessary medium of human existence and that the “ability to keep silent is the origin and ground of language” (19). Torres Gregory traces moments of Heidegger’s own keeping silence and reticence, thus mapping out a philosophical and pedagogical method in Heidegger that reflects the topic itself. This includes his ability to stay on the surface and provide minimal necessary clarification as if part of keeping silent and reticence. In this context, problems are described such that: “If we talk about ‘keeping silent,’ then it seems that we know nothing about it. If we do not talk about it, then we may end up mystifying it” (20). In turning to another problem, that animals cannot speak, questions are asked about whether “the ability to talk [is] the precondition for the ability to be silent” (20). Here, Heidegger argues that authentically keeping silent relates to the possibility of speaking and alludes to “what one has to say, one has and keeps to oneself” (21). It is at these junctions that Torres Gregory articulately claims an essential relationship between silence, truth and language in Da-sein’s being (21). Through a further reading of Heidegger’s 1934 summer course, Logic as the Question Concerning the Essence of Language, Torres Gregory sets up subsequent directions for future chapters as Heidegger poses preliminary questions concerning language: “Is language only then, when it is spoken? Is it not, when one is silent?” and “Does it cease to be, if one is silent?” (26).

In Chapter 3, Torres Gregory shows how Heidegger develops a distinction between idle talk and keeping silent through Hölderlin’s poetry, helping him to define primordial silence as the origin of language, as well as language as the originary site of the unconcealedness of beyng, which pertains to what Torres Gregory identifies as primeval silence (31). The disclosive powers of poetry ‘thrusts’ us out of everydayness (32). Torres Gregory argues that Heidegger’s interpretation of Hölderlin’s poetic verse “Since we are a dialogue,” allows him to revisit the notion of  “talking-with-one-another” as a way of “being-in-the-world” as an event or happening determined by language (33). Importantly, this image of “humans as a dialogue” or “the dialogue that we are” includes an ability to keep silent as the authentic form of silence (34). Thus, an ability to speak is unified with an ability to keep silent (34). In this context, Torres Gregory notes that, for Heidegger, a poetic telling (which Hölderlin’s poetry exemplifies) or a philosophical lecture (where the most significant is kept silent or unsaid) are the authentic models of keeping silent, and also therefore of the possibility of saying and talking (34). In contrast, idle talk is incapable of keeping silent. Quoting from Heidegger’s Hölderlin’s Hymns “Germania” and “The Rhein,” Torres Gregory notes: “It is thereby a way of talking everything to death to which we become enslaved. Thus, he admonishes that ‘one cannot simply ramble on,’ if one is ‘to simultaneously preserve in silence what is essential to one’s saying’” (35). This important chapter finishes with a comparison between keeping silent and forms of hearing. Inauthentic mortals in their idle talk flee from hearing and have a “horror of silence” (38). So, a poetic or genuinely philosophical hearing involves “a keeping silent as well as an anticipatory readiness” (37). Here, Torres Gregory furthers the scholarship of Lisbeth Lipari who introduced the concept of ‘interlistening’ to describe how “listening is itself a form of speaking that resonates with echoes of everything heard, thought, said, and read,” while referencing Heidegger’s claim in Poetry, Language, Thought that “every word of mortal speech speaks out of such a listening, and as such a listening. Mortals speak insofar as they listen” (2014: 512).

Chapter 4 discusses Heidegger’s private manuscript from 1936 to 1938, Contributions to Philosophy (Of the Event) where he initiates a transition from a metaphysics of objective presence to the thinking of the truth of beyng in the ‘appropriating event’ or Ereignis (Torres Gregory, 2021: xix, 41). Torres Gregory discusses the different forms of silence that unfold in the appropriating event. For Heidegger, thinking takes the form of a “thoughtful speaking” (41) and Torres Gregory pursues the thoughtful speaking of sigetics (to keep or to be silent) who “bears silence and is reticent in its co-respondence with the primordial silence of the word and the primeval silence of beyng” (xix-xx). As with other chapters in this book, one of Torres Gregory’s original contributions is to acknowledge Heidegger’s own tendency towards sigetics, forcing her to interpret what he intimates about the “deeper silences of beyng and the word when he identifies silence as the ground and origin of language in its essence” (xx). While exploring attitudes of restraint, shock, and diffidence, Torres Gregory argues that stillness, as the ability to hear beyng, involves the ability to be silent (43).

Chapter 5 analyses Heidegger’s 1939 graduate seminar, On the Essence of Language. The Metaphysics of Language and the Essencing of the Word Concerning Herder’s Treatise On the Origin of Language. Torres Gregory first establishes Heidegger’s resistance to Herder’s metaphysics of language where the word is reduced, for example, to signification as representation and objectification associated with ‘mark-sign’ and ‘sign-production’ (56). Herder’s failure to differentiate between human and animal (in a sounding of sensations) urges Heidegger to emphasise how the word has or takes us, rather than it being a communication device that the human has (58). In this context, Heidegger builds on Herder’s thinking on the ear as “the first teacher of language” to include “what is unsaid” (58). Torres Gregory has extremely valuable insights into Heidegger’s thinking as she notes that Herder misunderstands silence as an absence of noise rather than a more essential silence (59). For Heidegger hearing is the “hearkening that pertains to Da-sein’s silencing” (59). Again, Torres Gregory extracts extended (often reticent) meanings from Heidegger’s thinking, arriving at claims that the word is silent in a primordial sense, as it harbors or silently discloses beyng it is unconcealedness, (59) resulting in a claim that the silence of the word is the origin of language (60-1).

Chapter 6 explores the 1944 summer seminar “Logic: Heraclitus’s Doctrine of the Logos”. Torres Gregory aligns silence with the unsaid, and the unsayable in Heraclitus, where Heidegger identifies ‘the true’ with ‘the unsaid’ (68). And in future chapters this will develop, for Torres Gregory, as “the essence of language as the peal of the stillness” (68). Here, hearkening to the word, or Logos, involves listening to the silent address of being, rather than listening to the chatter of human speech (69). Such attentive listening to the Logos is only possible, Torres Gregory argues, through Heidegger’s “thoughtful and poetic saying,” which is marked by silences. In this context, silence draws limits on what can be said. Silence or quiescence (the state of being temporarily quiet) is interpreted by Torres Gregory in its close association with concealedness (74). Word-sounds originate in quiescence and permeate speech as a hearkening and reticence of thoughtful and poetic sayings (71). In this regard, Torres Gregory draws attention to Heidegger’s term ‘fore-word’ and its relationship to quiescence as a stillness that is a deep and primeval silence (72). Thus, verbal word-sounds that occur in speech are grounded in soundlessness which is grounded in the stillness. Importantly, Torres Gregory highlights Heidegger’s differentiation between hearkening and listening as acoustic perception, noting that hearkening is “originary listening” that enables the hearing of sounds. As Torres Gregory writes: “the tones of the harp (to use one of [Heidegger’s] own examples), is thus based ultimately on our openness to the soundless and inaudible voice of being” (75).

Chapter 7 discusses two sections of Heidegger’s On the Essence of Language and On the Question Concerning Art produced just after 1939. Torres Gregory writes: “Heidegger sketches out his thoughts on silence, particularly in its primeval relation to beyng itself in the appropriating-event and as the origin of the essence of language” (79). With typical care, Torres Gregory discusses the translation of three key words: Verschweigen, Schweigen and Erschweigen which correspond to keeping secret in relation to the sayable, keeping silent in relation to the unsayable, and silencing in relation to the unsaid as such (79, 83). She reiterates the positive dimension that Heidegger lends silence as a positive force. She writes: “Keeping secret can be a way of sheltering what is sayable. Being silent can arise from our ability to leave the unsayable in its unsayability. As for our silencing, it inherently involves the positive acts of preserving and conserving saying with its ground in unsaidness” (83). Torres Gregory is at pains to show how these notions of ‘soundlessness’ or ‘non-sonorousness’ in Heidegger’s vocabulary are not negative concepts; not a lack, but a fullness from which sounds emerge, predicated on a stillness, as primeval silence (82). Because chapters 1 to 8 form a complex analysis of Heidegger’s thinking, with any criticism reserved for the final chapter, we are left at points in this book wondering how these philosophical concepts of language and silence might relate to different genders and cultures. For many women and/or indigenous peoples, silencing inherently involves negative acts of being silenced or being made to keep secrets as forms of disempowerment. As Torres Gregory briefly mentions in her concluding Chapter 9, this raises questions about how Heidegger’s thinking excludes bodies that differ.

Chapter 8 discusses the ways in which the collection of essays On the Way to Language and the idea of the ‘peal of the stillness’ unfolds as Heidegger ponders the relations between language and silence (95). Torres Gregory reiterates her three main foci on silence from the previous chapters (human hearkening and reticence, the primordial silencing of the word, and the stillness of primeval silence) (96) in relation to Ereignis, a term that has been translated diversely as ‘event,’ ‘appropriation’ or ‘appropriating event’. While Heidegger constantly refers to the disclosive power and necessity of language in its essence “as the appropriative speaking, saying, showing, letting-appear, clearing, and calling” (98), Torres Gregory notes his insistence that it is only through ‘authentic’ listening (in the manner of thinking and poetry) that humans have the ability to speak (100). In other words, all authentic saying must be attuned to restraint. Quoting Heidegger, she writes: “The reticence and reserve of poets and thinkers in their responding is thus appropriated by the peal of the stillness: ‘Every authentic hearing holds back with its own saying. For hearing keeps to itself in the listening by which it remains appropriated to the peal of the stillness. All responding is attuned to this restraint that reserves itself’” (102). And this chapter ends with a warning that language can only speak in relation to how the appropriating event reveals itself or withdraws. If this corresponds to our ability to quietly listen, Torres Gregory emphasises the significance of stillness within the “dangers that challenge-forth in the noisy and frenzied age of the ‘language-machine’” (103).

One problem with Speaking of Silence in Heidegger is a lack of contextualisation of the literature on silence. Torres Gregory’s book is definitely a specialist book on Heidegger rather than an analysis of the recent history of scholarship on silence in relationship to Heidegger’s thinking. For example, key texts on silence are relegated to the footnotes (albeit with brief analysis) and never appear in the discussion of the main text. These include Max Picard’s The World of Silence (1948), Bernard Dauenhauer’s Silence: The Phenomenon and its Ontological Significance (1980), Luce Irigaray’s “To Conceive Silence” (2001), Don Idhe’s Listening and Voice: Phenomenologies of Silence (2007), and Niall Keane’s “The Silence of the Origin” (2013). As a reader, I would have benefited from further incorporation of these texts into the discussion. This would have enabled Torres Gregory’s book to be a more significant contribution to the overall scholarship on silence. But, make no mistake, her book is a very significant contribution to Heideggerian scholarship and the notion of silence. It should also be pointed out that, apart from one footnote to Dauenhauer in Chapter 2, all these key texts on silence just mentioned appear in the footnotes for Chapter 9.

This attests to the importance of Chapter 9 in the overall argument of the book. In this concluding chapter, Torres Gregory expands the significance of her research in three different ways. Firstly, she questions whether the only way to silence and silencing experiences is through sonorous speech and asks how various non-linguistic achievements and co-responses to and with silence such as music might operate. In this vein, she questions Heidegger’s narrow focus on poetry and philosophical thinking as the only authentic models of keeping silent and also therefore of the possibility of saying and talking. Here, Torres Gregory explores Heidegger’s failure to incorporate the lived body in his philosophical concepts of language and silence, including the “gender neutrality of Da-sein, the homogeneity of the Volk as a ‘We,’ and the one world of the Mitdasein (being-there-with)” as ideas that exclude bodies that differ (113). Torres Gregory does not shy away from Heidegger’s antisemitism and the silencing of bodies that suffer oppression and extermination (114). Secondly, she argues that Heidegger “leaves open the possibility of a mysticism that is not ensnared in metaphysics” (115) in both content and his repetitive incantatory methods of writing. Thirdly, Torres Gregory critiques Heidegger’s emphasis on language with respect to animals who are rendered languageless and therefore silenceless. In this section, her critique that sheds light on contemporary dilemmas, such as our lack of relationship to the earth, is all too brief and could be the focus of another book: “Perhaps we would be better at letting the earth be the earth, if we tried to transpose ourselves into the animal’s intrinsically meaningful experiences, including that of its own extreme possibility” she writes (120).

Chapter 9, and this whole book, highlights the challenges faced in accommodating Heidegger’s thinking for our current times. For example, quantum physicist and philosopher Karen Barad questions the animate/inanimate dualism that places inorganic entities such as rocks, molecules and particles “on the other side of death, of the side of those who are denied even the ability to die” in her 2012 interview for Women, Gender & Research (Juelskjær et al, 21). And from a related but different perspective, Donna Haraway’s ideas of ‘companion species’ in her 2003 book The companion species manifesto: dogs, people, and significant otherness, argues for emergent ‘naturecultures’ in dog-human worlds, embracing linguistic ‘metaplasm’ as a way of avoiding human/nonhuman dualisms in language. These approaches lie in stark contrast to Heidegger’s insistence in The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics that “The stone in its absorption ‘does not even have the possibility of dying,’ because ‘it is never alive’” (Torres Gregory, 2021: 120). And in contrast to Heidegger’s determination (again, as quoted by Torres Gregory) that animals, who do not possess human sonorous speech, “cannot die in the sense in which dying is ascribed to humans, but can only come to an end” (120). Barad and Haraway are the kinds of scholars that many of our postgraduate students are referencing as they embrace more-than-human modalities in the crisis of the Anthropocene. If Heideggerian scholarship wants to remain relevant, it needs to urgently critique and explore different approaches to Heidegger’s anthropocentrism.

Finally, in less than one page, this book addresses how Heidegger’s prophecies concerning gigantism and machination have a bearing on our current situation. Quoting Heidegger’s Contributions to Philosophy (Of the Event), Torres Gregory writes: “At issue is whether the human being will be ‘masterful enough’ for the ‘transition to the renewal of the world out of the saving of the earth’” (121). And in the last paragraph, we glimpse the promise of what ‘releasement’ (Gelassenheit) toward things might hold for our times; a concept that Hans Ruin explores as a ‘mystical’ comportment of Heidegger’s writing as a heightened openness and awareness in relationship to the work of Meister Eckhart. Given the proximity of thinking about silence and mysticism, I was hopeful that this book might have dedicated more words to the striking relations thrown up through Torres Gregory’s exploration of being silent, keeping silent, hearkening, and reticence. For example, the discussion in Chapter 1 concerning the authentic and inauthentic self relates in a powerful way to spiritual/mystical traditions that address the heedless and worldly desires of the ego as it muzzles an authentic relationship with the divine essence. This is not far removed from Torres Gregory’s discussion relating to Da-sein’s everyday way of being-in-the-world that covers itself up (the inauthentic they–self) and where internal idle talk of the they distracts Da-sein from authentically relating to itself (4). Torres Gregory’s claim that publicness and idle talk characterise an inauthentic silence—as well as the hearkening to the silent call of conscience involving the possibility of authentically keeping silent and reticent—resonates deeply with mystical traditions in their quest to quieten the ego in favour of compassion and spiritual forms of love towards the self and the world/earth. How would ‘releasement’ operate as an openness to the truth of Being? This is an example of how Speaking of Silence in Heidegger might have made more productive links within its own structure and towards broader fields of literature, especially pertaining to silence and mysticism.

Torres Gregory’s Speaking of Silence in Heidegger makes a profound and timely contribution to thinking about silence and its essential relationship to language. It guides us through complex registers of silence including forms of hearkening and reticence as a listening that is deeply attentive to the unsaid and the unsayable. It gives timely warning vis-à-vis the idle talk of the world and our own internal idle talk, reiterating that saying must be attuned to restraint or our ability to quietly listen. Furthermore, a deeper silence is a ‘calling back’ and lies within Da-sein as ‘the stillness of itself’. Moreover, our capacity for ‘the dialogue that we are’ to emerge in community depends on our capacity for attentive stillness within the dangerous noise of the ‘language-machine’.


Düttmann Alexander García. 2000. The Gift of Language: Memory and Promise in Adorno, Benjamin, Heidegger, and Rosenzweig. Translated by Arline Lyons. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Haraway, Donna. 2003. The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness. Chicago, IL: Prickly Paradigm Press.

Ihde, Don. 2007. Listening and Voice Phenomenologies of Sound. 2nd ed. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Juelskjær, Malou, Nete Schwennesen, and Karen Barad. 2012. “Intra-active Entanglements – An Interview with Karen Barad.” Kvinder, Køn & Forskning NR (Women, Gender & Research) 1-2: 10-23.

Lipari, Lisbeth. 2014. “On Interlistening and the Idea of Dialogue.” Theory & Psychology 24, no. 4: 504–23. https://doi.org/10.1177/0959354314540765.

Ruin, Hans. 2019. “The Inversion of Mysticism—Gelassenheit and the Secret of the Open in Heidegger.” Religions 10, no. 15: https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10010015.

Torres Gregory, Wanda. 2021. Speaking of Silence in Heidegger. London, UK: Lexington Books.

Rosa Spagnuolo Vigorita: Di eredità husserliane: chair, corps, dinamiche del desiderio

Di eredità husserliane: chair, corps, dinamiche del desiderio. Emmanuel Lévinas, Jean-Paul Sartre, Michel Henry Book Cover Di eredità husserliane: chair, corps, dinamiche del desiderio. Emmanuel Lévinas, Jean-Paul Sartre, Michel Henry
Rosa Spagnuolo Vigorita
Paperback $31.95

Reviewed by: Bruno Cassara (Fordham University)

The title of the book reviewed here can be rendered in English as On Husserlian Legacies; Chair, Body, Dynamics of Desire: Emmanuel Lévinas, Jean-Paul Sartre, Michel Henry. The book traces a philosophical genealogy seen seldom, if ever, in Anglophone scholarship. It is customary to read English-language works about Husserl’s influence on Heidegger or Derrida, or others on Husserl and one of the thinkers named in the title, or again on the significance of Heidegger’s thought for Lévinas or Sartre. But this book stands out in that it follows the fate of some of Husserl’s most significant but problematic ideas as they were translated, inherited, and transformed by Lévinas, Sartre, and Henry—an unusual yet fascinating mélange.

In this sense, the book complements its philosophical finesse with accurate historical work and (sometimes daring) philological speculation. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the book is that its three chapters do not simply discuss the Husserlian legacy to be found in each of the three French thinkers in turn, but rather treats the three themes put forth in the title—chair (flesh or Leib), corps (body or Leib/Körper depending on the context) and the dynamics of desire.[1] This thematic approach allows Spagnuolo Vigorita to uncover not only the way in which Husserl is received in the thought of these French authors, but also how they received, reinterpreted, and even rejected each other’s work.

On Husserlian Legacies will be of interest to phenomenologists working on Husserl, as well as those whose scholarship concerns any or all three French philosophers. But it provides crucial material also for historians of philosophy interested in Husserl’s impact at the international level, as well as in the genesis of French phenomenology. Finally, scholars who work on the philosophies of embodiment, affect, or desire are sure to find valuable insights in Spagnuolo Vigorita’s penetrating book.

Before I proceed to summarize the book, however, it should be known that the contents of the book rest on a fundamental assumption of which the reader should be aware for a full appreciation of the book’s accomplishments and shortcomings. The assumption is that

“the publication of Husserl’s unpublished materials does not keep us from continuing to consider the Méditations Cartesiennes not only the most complete formulation of transcendental phenomenology, but also—and this is the more relevant aspect for this work—the privileged and most detailed instance [luogo nevralgico] of the dialectical tension between own-body and object-body” (136).

In other words, the Méditations would remain the most complete account of the tension between Körper and Leib, as it was for Lévinas, Sartre, and Henry, even if Husserl’s unpublished materials are taken into consideration. But when made in the context of a work that mainly offers a historical and philological account of Husserl’s reception among these French thinkers, this statement becomes ambiguous. It has been thoroughly established that the first generation of French phenomenologists based their interpretations mostly on Ideen I and Méditations, as Spagnuolo Vigorita herself mentions. But the statement above appears in the context of a comparison between Merleau-Ponty, who visited the Husserl Archives in 1939 to study Husserl’s unpublished manuscripts (especially Ideen II) precisely to investigate the role of the body in the process of constitution, and our three thinkers, who limited their reading to Husserl’s published works and give rise, with respect to Merleau-Ponty, to “an alternative history of the body” (153). In this context, the comments on this divergence risk sounding apologetic rather than historical, especially when the author quotes an article that claims that “Husserl’s unpublished materials do not contain significant deviations from or explicit contradictions of his published works, but rather present a source of indications, developments, and insights into the themes already dealt with in his publications” (135). Thus, as much as the reading of Ideen II contributed to a broader understanding of the phenomena of embodiment and intersubjectivity, it would nevertheless be legitimate to treat the Méditations as Husserl’s definitive account of these phenomena. While the reader should defer to the author on the point that Lévinas, Sartre, and Henry believed this, from a theoretical perspective this position remains more than debatable. At the same time, this theoretical disagreement does not make the history of the body analyzed in the book any less relevant or legitimate.

The book is divided into three chapters. The first treats the transition, pioneered by our three thinkers, from epistemology to life as the central theme of phenomenology. The second gives an account of the “alternative history of the body” mentioned above; and the third chapter is devoted to the dynamics of desire. The first chapter opens with a prefatory section on Lévinas’ role in the reception of Husserl in France. This is not simply a historical account, however. The tacit argument here is that, although others before Lévinas had taken up Husserl in France (the author mentions Jean Hering and I would add Gabrielle Peiffer), the Lithuanian-born philosopher was the one who brought an epochal change to the French philosophy of that time: “Emmanuel Lévinas, translator and interpreter of Husserl: this is the philosophical shock that, in the 1930’s, marked the genesis of the receptive process of phenomenology in France” (26). This receptive moment begins, on one hand, with the publication of Lévinas’ doctoral dissertation (La théorie de l’intuition dans la phénomenologie de Husserl), and on the other, with his re-elaboration and translation of Husserl’s Paris Lectures of 1929, which were published under the title Méditations Cartesiennes. These publications would leave an indelible mark on French philosophy, as the phenomenologies of Sartre (especially in his La transcendence de l’ego) and Henry (in particular his Phénomenologie materielle). Spagnuolo Vigorita does not shy away from the complexity of the genealogy she traces, rightly acknowledging that Lévinas’ interpretation of Husserl is deeply influenced by Heidegger’s factico-existential phenomenology. Still, Lévinas’ anti-intellectualistic interpretation of phenomenology is not only to Heidegger’s credit, but depends just as much on Lévinas’ encounter with Husserl’s Paris Lectures, lectures that emphasized the lived body, intersubjectivity, and the lifeworld.

  Lévinas’ mediation of Husserl’s philosophy thus begins from concepts that allow him to recast the phenomenological enterprise as one that must be thoroughly embodied, affective, and relational. As such, phenomenology in France cannot but move away from the Bergsonism that tacitly reigned at that time. And yet, Bergson’s intuitionism presented “not only a method that contained a certain proximity to the thematic nucleus of Husserlian speculation, but also, in a certain sense, a disposition of thought that had already sensitized the French spirit to a philosophy hostile to all abstract structures and purely rational deductions” (41). In this sense, Lévinas’ interpretation of Husserl is ambiguous in that, on one hand, it heralds phenomenology as an authentic return to the things themselves, but, on the other, it rejects the centrality of representation that Husserl—at least in Lévinas’ reading—confers to the intentional relation. This does not allow a true follower of Husserl to account for the situation of the living, worldly, historical human being during the process of reduction. In this sense, Théorie de l’intuition is just as much an enthusiastic introduction of phenomenology as it is a rejection of some of Husserl’s most central themes. Intentionality “in the strong sense of the term” (66) means making explicit the point of convergence of thought and life, and in this way to understand intentionality more properly as transcendence toward and into the world. While Lévinas never forsakes his critique of Husserl’s reduction of lived experience to what is present for consciousness, he does find in the German philosopher’s unpublished writings the resources to push phenomenology away from representationalism and toward an account of transcendent life as first and foremost embodied and affective: “Reduction, intentionality, embodiment, [pre-predicative] perception: new themes [which], from now on, offer themselves as the fundamental concepts of phenomenology (81).

Sartre’s first works of phenomenology are also critical of Husserl’s intellectualism even as they praise the notion of intentionality. For Sartre as for Lévinas, it is a matter of actualizing the possibilities that the phenomenological revolution brought to French philosophy, and of thus being, as the saying goes, more Husserlian than Husserl himself. And the affinity between the French thinkers is no mistake, the author claims, as the determining moment for the Sartrean appropriation of phenomenology is his reading of Levinas’ Théorie de l’intuition. This is a daring moment of philological speculation, since there are hardly any references to Lévinas in Sartre’s entire oeuvre, but Spagnuolo Vigorita argues convincingly for it. The main themes of Lévinas’ interpretation—the emphasis on contingence, the historical situatedness of the subject, the importance of the reduction, and most of all the understanding of intentionality as a veritable explosion toward the world—all find a home in Sartre’s phenomenological work. And here, too, one cannot but notice that Husserl’s philosophy is filtered through Heidegger’s. For Sartre, phenomenology offers a third way that would evade both (subjective) idealism and scientific naturalism, and can even prepare the way for a new philosophy of emotion and passivity. “What seems to me indubitable,” the author writes, “is that the identification of affect as the privileged means of self-transcendence toward the world…became Sartre’s weapon against the false myths of the ‘interior life’” (85). It is not a matter of denying the cogito as much as it is a matter of scaling down its constitutive-representational powers in favor of the spontaneous self-revelation of the worldly phenomenon and the subject’s living praxis. Yet Sartre goes further than Lévinas. Where the latter sees in intentionality the possibility of thinking the primordial “how” of the relation to the world, Sartre appropriates the concept in order to sweep away any “thingly” aspect of consciousness that takes away from its absolute spontaneity. This, for Sartre, is the true sense of the reduction: the elimination of the ego as the last psychical remainder that characterizes consciousness as self-positing. After all, if the ego is absolutely self-transcendent, then it is a worldly thing posited along with the rest and, as such, it must be excluded.

A particularly brilliant part of the author’s analysis of Sartre shows that “his pre-reflective remodulation of phenomenology that begins with his works…seems to be inextricably tied to bodily experience” (97) even as the early Sartre seeks to expel all transcendent objects from the field of consciousness, even the ego. The body, as the most transcendent part of egoic experience, should be the first aspect of the ego to be reduced away, and yet there necessarily must be an “implicit body” (98) that plays a tacit but crucial role in Sartre’s early phenomenology. In La Transcendence de l’Ego, the body would thus be given as a visible and tangible sign of the ego understood not as the result of reflective thinking—the “I myself”—but as the unreflective pole of spontaneous praxis. After all, “it is evident that the support for…the motor functions [implied in praxis]…cannot but be the body” (101). Spagnuolo Vigorita’s argument for this implicit body is well grounded in the text and convincing.

The section on Henry is shorter than the previous two for two reasons. First, Henry himself is much more critical of Husserlian phenomenology than the others. If Lévinas and Sartre find in intentionality the conceptual resources for a philosophical revolution despite their disagreements with Husserl, “for Henry it is precisely in this concept that the forgetfulness of a more originary kind of manifestation, i.e., that of life, is accomplished” (110). In other words, there is less negotiation to be found in Henry’s engagement of Husserl because, for him, the intentional relation is what obscures life’s phenomenality. In this sense, Henry’s Phénomenologie Materielle and many of his subsequent works seek to unbind the conditions of phenomenality from the “outside” (dehors) or externality of the world. The title of this first chapter, “From Epistemology to Life,” fits Henry’s trajectory perfectly.

Nevertheless, the author gives an informative account of how Henry argues for his phenomenological rebellion and how Husserl’s thought informs it. As with Sartre and Lévinas, Henry certainly rejects the primacy that Husserl bestows upon representative and predicative thinking. Furthermore, he follows the two in recasting the process of phenomenological reduction, so that, for Henry, “the radicalization of the reduction coincides with the suspension of the ecstatic dimension of visibility” (115). A more radical reinterpretation of the reduction and its uses, since Henry does not seek to suspend only the representative powers of consciousness, but the very equivalence, always taken for granted, of visibility and manifestation. In other words, it is not only a matter of helping consciousness in making the phenomenon of sense visible through a sinngebenden Akt, but rather of letting manifest what most originarily self-manifests of its own accord—and this is life. As much as this might seem a complete rejection of Husserl’s thinking, it is through Husserl that the phenomenology of life becomes possible at all. In fact, Henry takes up Husserl’s account of hyletic givenness to argue that there is an intelligibility in the immanent passivity of hyletic affection that precedes and founds all active sense-giving. This precedence of affection over activity shows that the visibility of all objects appearing in the world necessarily depend on the invisible, immanent, and self-affecting life. As soon as consciousness “reduces the hyletic impression to the mere content of a noetic act…the material stratum becomes nothing but an opaque dimension subordinated to the higher functions of intentional apperception” (118, 119). The absolute scission between immanent life (with its material self-affection) and transcendent world (with its sense-receiving objects) is not an oppositional dualism, but a relation of founding and founded strata.

For all three philosophers, then, it is a matter of bracketing predicative, sense-giving activity, which Husserl is seen as privileging, in order to make manifest the living, practical, and carnal dimensions of experience that make manifest the more authentic themes of phenomenology.

The second chapter, titled “Between Ownness and Alterity: With and beyond Husserl,” takes up Husserl’s well-known account of the experience of other subjects in the fifth Cartesian Meditation and shows how Lévinas, Sartre, and Henry modify it in their own accounts of alterity. It is here that the author traces the “alternative history of the body” that, in her view, is not as widely recognized as Merleau-Ponty’s accounts of embodiment and intersubjective.

“To dispel the danger of the solipsism that the transcendental path of the pure ego necessitates,” Spagnuolo Vigorita states, “the fifth Méditation begins by  asking whether, in a gnoseological sense, the experiences of self-identity and alterity are reconcilable” (140). Husserl’s reduction to the sphere of ownness is here interpreted as a methodologically necessary step—one that excludes all traces of other subjects—that paves a via negativa to the experience of the other as someone who is not myself. In this sense, it is necessary to start from what belongs purely to the ego if the experience of the alter-ego is to be possible. The experience of one’s own body is the basis of all possible action, most crucially of actions aimed upon oneself. In touching my hand with my other hand, I discover the interchangeability of agent and patient that is unique to my Leib, and thus that the experience of my own body is constituted as an inescapable commixture of ownness and alterity, Leib and Körper. My body is not only available to me as the organ of my action, but always and also in the way that another subject would experience it, i.e., as extraneous. The alterity that my own body can always present me with is just as foundational as its ownness. Thus, there is no essential difference between my experience of an alter-ego, who manifests primarily through its physical body as Körper, and my experience of my own body as Körper. The similarity between my body and the other’s makes possible my recognition of it as always also the Leib of another subject and not merely a Körper indistinguishable from all other worldly objects.

The problem with such a “proof” of the alterity of the alter-ego, as Lévinas, Sartre, and Henry recognize, is that it makes this alterity depend on my experience of ownness: If Husserl can conclude that the alter-ego is not simply a duplicate of myself, it is because their objective body reproduces the mode of appearance that my own body would have if it were “there” rather than “here.” In other words, the existence of the alter-ego is always mediated by the objective experience of two Körpern. For this reason, Lévinas proclaims himself “très embarrassé” (171) by Husserl’s fifth Meditation. The alter is not truly alter if their very possibility is deduced through an analogy with myself. On the contrary, it is my ownness that is jeopardized by the experience of the Other, an experience that precedes all possible self-reflection. Material, embodied experience constitutively contains a degree of passivity in which alterity (and not just that of the alter-ego) is always active. Otherness affects the self so intimately that the very status of the “mineness” of my body is no longer a certainty, “because the existent, in the very moment in which it comes to itself, is already confronted with the internal sundering that constitutes it” (166). In this way, Lévinas rejects the Husserlian dictum that the “I-can” is the most distinctive characteristic of Leib, thus substituting for the principle of praxis a more original bodily ambiguity. Furthermore, Lévinas’ later reflections on the Face of the Other must be read against this phenomenological critique of Husserl, lest we take his mature philosophy to reject all lived experience in favor of an ethics that precedes all manifestation. That the Face precedes me is not simply an abstract ethical starting point, but most properly names the original vulnerability of the self to alterity in general and to the Other most of all.

As with Lévinas, so for Sartre the phenomenological experience of embodiment is most properly understood as a being vulnerable to others. When Sartre writes of the visage, he is referring to the way in which the corps vécu differs from the massiveness of worldly objects: “before any gnoseological definition, each movement of the body, that is, of the face, is first of all a gesture with a specific orientation and temporality that escape universality” (178). However, Sartre parts ways with Lévinas in that the former’s account of intersubjectivity revolves around sight and the visual. My own face shows its liveliness only when another looks at me and thus offers me his own face. The reverse is also true: when I see the other, I immediately recognize the excess of the human over the world of things, because the voracious eyes of the other betray their transcendence toward the in-itself. As far as Sartre is concerned, then, Husserl’s error would be in ascribing an extended, material body to the ego when, in fact, these objective attributes are only apparent to the gaze of another.

In the transition from Husserl’s idealism to Sartre’s existential phenomenology, the separation of Körper and Leib becomes sharper. This is true of Henry as well, for whom “the praxis of the body, an event that takes place in phenomenological silence, is accomplished in its pathos” (187). It is only when I take up a representational attitude that I can grasp my body as an object, for the lived body has nothing to do with the physical body composed of cells, molecules, and atoms. For both authors, the lived body has absolute precedence over the known body, but each will resolve the Leib/Körper aporia differently: where Sartre holds that bodily sensations, e.g., touch, only reveal something about the transcendent world of the in-itself, Henry sees in sensation the absolutely immanent self-sensation of Life. In both cases, the sensing body as liminal space between the immanent and the transcendent, is directed only one way, be this outward or inward, but never both at once—sensation is not double sensation. It is on this question of double-sensation that the path of French phenomenology splits. The “alternative” history of the body that the author sketches is an alternative to Merleau-Ponty’s account of embodiment and its influence in the French phenomenological scene. The sections on Merleau-Ponty close with remarks on the critiques that our three thinkers develop in response to his ideas of chiasmus and chair du mond.

If Sartre and Lévinas agree that bodily experience is the dimension in which all possible self-identity is always already contaminated, Henry’s position is significantly different. This discrepancy of views stems from Henry’s peculiar understanding of subjectivity. For where Lévinas and Sartre both conceive this contamination as a challenge to the ego’s self-coincidence, Henry holds that all difference and separation can only yield a false account of the subject, who is uniformly compact in its absolute immanence. The possibility of self-transcendence toward the world and toward others is not constitutive of subjectivity, but rather a modification of it insofar as it entails separation. Henry’s subject begins to resemble Sartre’s in-itself in that his affirmation, “je suis mon corp,” does not require any further analysis: to say “I am” is to say “I feel myself in my self-coinciding immanence.” Sartre cannot but appear, in Henry’s philosophy, as its foe. In this diametrical opposition between the two philosophers of transcendence (Lévinas, Sartre) and the philosopher of immanence (Henry), we can observe just how fruitful it is to trace the effects of the French reception of the Méditations Cartesiennes.

And yet, while radical transcendence and absolute immanence cannot coexist in one and the same phenomenology, Husserl’s account of the intersubjective relation provides a foil that brings the three French authors closer together. In all three, in fact, we find instances “that coincide with the common preoccupation of safeguarding the threads of pluralistic life against objective and objectifying knowledge” (258). For Sartre, this can be seen in the experience of shame where the separation between eyes and gaze is most evident; for Lévinas, the Face is the ungraspable mystery of the Other that nullifies and reverses the directionality of intentional consciousness; and for Henry, the experience of alterity is, paradoxically, an experience that takes place purely within myself, i.e., the ultimate test of his doctrine of absolute immanence. Perhaps, in rejecting all transcendence even in the experience of alterity, Henry necessarily misses the most captivating dimension of otherness (259), but his phenomenology of life does not fail to transform the Husserlian account of intersubjectivity into a philosophy that overcomes the paradigm of objectivity.

The third and final chapter discusses the “dynamics of desire” in our three thinkers, though the phrase “vicissitudes of desire” is just as appropriate a title. While the first two chapters contained detailed historical and philological research, along with relevant comparisons between the father of phenomenology and his French interpreters, this chapter is somewhat less admirable on these points. There is no discussion here on the fate of Husserl’s account of desire in the works of the three French authors, which would have been the most original analysis in the book and would keep to the promise of its title. Indeed, the only mention of Husserl that appears at all in this chapter is in reference to the French phenomenologists who saw fit to investigate the erotic phenomenon “as a privileged starting point for denouncing the ineffectiveness of the visual and cognitive relation, [which is] the presupposition of the classical notion of intentionality” (268). Nevertheless, this section is not limited to a simple exegesis of the texts where Lévinas, Sartre, and Henry discuss desire and its dynamics. It also offers fruitful comparisons between these three and shows how Lévinas’ account of eros succeeds in mediating between the carnal and transcendent aspects of desire where Sartre and Henry can only fail. The Lévinasian position is the successful culmination of the analyses of life and embodiment that the author carried out in the previous chapters.

This chapter begins with Sartre’s lengthy account of désir as it is discussed in L’Être et le Néant. In Sartre’s view, and as the reader might expect, desire fails to accomplish what the for-itself hopes it would do, because the carnal aspect of existence can only ever be constituted as an objectification of myself on the part of the other. The author warns us here not to reduce this account to a Sartrean version of Hegel’s master-bondsman dialectic, where two self-consciousnesses seek to achieve the desired recognition by reducing one another to material, servile existence. While Sartre certainly draws from Hegel here, he goes beyond the Phenomenology of Spirit by capturing the drama that carnal, specifically sexual desire implies for both the lover and the beloved. This drama is best understood as a cloudiness that contaminates water that would otherwise be limpid and transparent. In this sense, desire threatens the freedom of the for-itself by affecting it and thereby rendering it passive to its own carnality. The relation to the other is thereby already compromised and destined to fail. Nevertheless, through desire I attempt to objectify the other by possessing their body, and the other does the same with me. However, the use of my own carnality (read: facticity) as the means by which the other is objectified inevitably places my own freedom in peril: “the for-itself chooses its being-there on the basis of a process in which passivity does not mean a pure undergoing of affection and in which, at the same time, self-projection does not completely overcome the inertia [of the other’s facticity]” (282).

Desire, for Sartre, carves out a liminal space wherein carnal encounters are not immediately objectifying, though they will eventually result in objectification. The example of the caresse shows this well. Inasmuch as it is an expression of the will to subjugate the other, the caress remains an instance of carnal contact. However, the caress is not only this because it also signifies a will to express one’s own carnality, i.e., one’s vulnerability. Erotic desire thus represents the unique possibility of reciprocally abdicating one’s freedom in order to feel, through one’s own flesh, the flesh of the other. The “magic” of the caress inevitably fails, but “between the genesis and end of desire, something out of the ordinary takes place and it has to do neither with possession nor with the instrumentalization of the other. Rather, the space of a reciprocal desire is the possibility to make oneself and one another present as chair and to discover the event of incarnation” (296).

The dynamics of désir in Sartre’s works thus have an inevitable fate—not because of a pre-established teleology, but because in Sartre’s hands, desire must be a contradictory endeavor in the same way that the for-itself seeks to become like a god (a for-itself-in-itself) but can never accomplish this because of the opposition between the two structures. But Lévinas offers an alternative analysis in which desire, understood as eros, has a happier fate. Already in his Carnets de Captivité, he makes observations about the relation between eros and caresse that contradict Sartre’s erotic fatalism. The caress is the concrete form of the hope for the present. It does not say that things will get better (nor would anyone expect it to do so, given the context in which the Carnets were written), but it redeems from within the present.

In fact, the whole dynamics of eros promises, for Lévinas, to be the first gesture toward a true intersubjectivity, toward a communal existence. The Carnets offer a glimpse into the tormented reflections that would become the foundation of an ethics beyond ontology, and as sketches of living thought rather than crystallized publications, they sometimes go beyond what Lévinas restated for all to read. A particularly pregnant phrase, for instance, states “sexuality as the origin of the social,” a phrase that contains the aspiration to found communal being on desire, the body, the carnal relation with another: “because there is such a thing as sexual ‘intimacy,’ there is the phenomenon of the social as something more than the sum of individuals” (301). Far from being doomed from the start, bodily desire is for Lévinas the possibility of a relation that overcomes the fundamental ontology of the Daseinsanalyse. This is not limited to sexual desire or eros, but bodily needs [besoins] in general are the first step toward happiness. “If, in the case of bodily needs, satisfaction leads to an absorption of the object on the part of the subject…the peculiarity of the erotic relation lies in the impossibility of overcoming the separation [of subject from subject]” (302). But unlike in L’Etre et le Néant, this impossibility must be read positively in the sense that it always refers to something beyond simple fulfillment.

Where does Henry fit in here? The author compares three texts side by side, one from each philosopher, to show that Lévinas acts as mediator between the extreme positions of Sartre and Henry: “From the being-there of chair that Sartre’s caresse aspires to, to the secret of a sexuality hors du monde, through Lévinas and the violation that does not unveil” (329). It is difficult for Henry to account for the sexual relation, since a relation that is outside of the world-horizon and understood as something subjective and immanent, then it is hard to see how it is a relation at all. Henry is aware of this difficulty, but the author again proposes that the Life-World distinction must be read not oppositionally but foundationally: the non-appearing Life is what makes the appearing world and its objects possible. On the basis of autoaffective Life, all human gestures and not only the sexual relation must be rethought, according to Henry. The body of the other is a transcendent and objective body, but within its finitude I cannot help but glimpse something more. “This is the unspoken presupposition of sexual intentionality,” writes Spagnuolo Vigorita. “To seek, by means of something objective, what could never be touched nor seen because it is something essentially transcendent” (333). Here the reader cannot but intuit a certain closeness between Henry and Sartre, for in the works of both authors the essence of desiring consciousness is to seek the absolute beyond, or within, the contingent. But while Sartre thinks a consciousness so transcendent that its relation to others is part of its facticity, Henry seems unable to respond to the urgency of a phenomenological account of the carnal relation.

And yet, the phenomenology of Life does answer the question of inter-carnality, if only in an almost mystical, almost unintelligible manner: “Even when we go into the world, when we cross a space, we move—this is Henry’s conclusion—toward something that already exists in each living: the instinctual, impulsive community [comunità pulsionale] of which Life is the essence. We might assume that, if all relations obey the laws of originary autoaffection, the erotic community is no exception” (335). Pleasure would be the limit-experience that clarifies this conclusion. It is the same Life that pulses within each of us and that affects itself in perfect immanence, but a desiring consciousness that comes out of itself and into the world in order to feel the pleasure, the Life of the other, cannot but fail because it is precisely in the gesture of self-transcendence that Life is no longer given. In this sense, Sartre and Henry reach the same conclusion while standing at opposite extremes of the intentional spectrum.

On Husserlian Legacies is a work that has a lot to offer to scholars of phenomenology, for it has something to say on many issues surrounding questions of embodiment, affectivity, desire, and the phenomenological possibility of an authentic intersubjectivity. While its comments on Husserl serve more as a background for the investigation of points of contact between Lévinas, Sartre, and Henry, the study proposed by Rosa Spagnuolo Vigorita fills several lacunae in Anglophone research in phenomenology. Its historical acuity, philological depth, and theoretical grasp of the three French figures analyzed therein, will no doubt renew phenomenological research on the themes of embodiment, intersubjectivity, and affect, and will have Anglophone scholars reaching once again for the works of Lévinas, Sartre, and Henry.

[1] It should be noted that the English term “desire” is not perfectly equivalent to the French désir or to the Italian desiderio. The latter two are broader than the former and include connotations of yearning, longing for, aspiring to, or wishing, as well as connotations of craving, needing, lusting for, feeling an urge for, or coveting. The English “desire,” on the other hand, strikes me as more restricted in its extension, leaning more toward the appetitive than the aspirational.

Dorothea E. Olkowski: Deleuze, Bergson, Merleau-Ponty

Deleuze, Bergson, Merleau-Ponty: The Logic and Pragmatics of Creation, Affective Life, and Perception Book Cover Deleuze, Bergson, Merleau-Ponty: The Logic and Pragmatics of Creation, Affective Life, and Perception
Dorothea E. Olkowski
Indiana University Press
Paperback $28.00, Hardcover $75.00, eBook, $27.99

Reviewed by: Timothy Deane-Freeman (Deakin University)

At first glance, a monograph simultaneously dedicated to the philosophies of Henri Bergson, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Gilles Deleuze might seem an obscure, even capricious proposition. Why, after all, bring these particular thinkers into dialogue? Why instigate this particular “three body problem” (1)? The answer to this question is complex, but lies in part in the immense structural influence they succeeded one another in exerting over French philosophy. Throughout a period of over one hundred years, French thought was fundamentally coloured first by Bergsonian “vitalism,” then by existentialist phenomenology, and finally by a “post-structuralism” of which Deleuze is considered a primary, if sometimes unwilling figurehead. To trace the shifting conceptual lineages marbled throughout their work is therefore to map the very movement of 20th century French thought, such as has colonised a stubborn corner of the globe’s intellectual life. But there is more than just this profound institutional influence linking together these disparate philosophical projects. As Dorothea Olkowski argues, throughout her accomplished and intriguing study, Deleuze, Bergson, Merleau-Ponty: The logic and pragmatics of creation, these thinkers also share a common set of problems and an overlapping conceptual vocabulary, the complexities of which she draws out across six brief, rich, yet challenging essays.

Perhaps the foremost of these problems is a familiar dualism haunting philosophy, which here emerges in several guises. Thought and extension, reality and signs, the empirical and the transcendental, formalism and its “outside”- Olkowski returns frequently to this nebulous dialectic, and makes a compelling case for its centrality in the work of each of her subjects. As she writes, evoking the terms of Deleuze’s study of Bergson in Cinema I: The Movement-Image, and establishing one of the central argumentative lines of her own book:

…each of the three is engaged in the undoing of dualism -understood as the relation between thought and movements- by slightly different means […] providing an explanation of the relation between empiricist and formalist approaches to reality (18).

This latter schism is key, emerging as it does with the existential challenge posed to modern philosophy by the immense descriptive powers of post-Enlightenment science. For Olkowski, a strict division between empiricist and formalist approaches is intimately linked to this confluence, in particular to “the view that emerged, starting in approximately the sixteenth century, that science is autonomous, that it generates its own elements, that it stands outside time and outside the lived experience of a subject” (2) -in an epistemological splitting which establishes observer and observed as radically distinct. Against this view -which is far from synonymous with the self-problematising realities of scientific practice- Olkowski excavates a threefold project to reinject questions of genesis, vitality, subjectivity and temporality into a scientistic episteme which has perhaps tended to obscure them.

Indeed in her first chapter, which recapitulates themes from 2012’s Postmodern Philosophy and the Scientific Turn, she introduces this epistemological backdrop, and the bifurcation by which we inherit “two” contemporary philosophies- an analytic approach grounded in formal logic, and a Continental tradition oriented by phenomenology and metaphysics. The former, of which a thinker like Frege is paradigmatic, seeks to “ground” the empirical findings of science through a purely formal analysis of logical relations. This approach turns to signs -to their relations and modes of reference- eschewing all discussion of ontology or the empirical, given that such discussion “violates the principles of formalist systems,” producing unfounded and speculative “nonsense” (26). And while Frege -like Russell, the logical positivists and Wittgenstein- thus seek to banish metaphysics from the philosophical enterprise, what unites Olkowski’s subjects is their determination to develop a metaphysics adequate to contemporary science, simultaneously drawing out the contingency of logic- an approach she will introduce via the French philosopher of mathematics Jean Cavaillès.

For Cavaillès, Olkowski notes, an important contemporary of her three primary subjects, “the logic of a formal system requires an ontology to complete it; in addition to the formal system, it requires reference to an exteriority, to objects, and not just to other signs in the system” (16). And this determination to think the compossibility of the empirical and its symbolisation beats at the heart of Olkowski’s text. Signs and their systems, are not, after all, “immaculate.” An ontology is implicit, indeed required, in order for us to ask questions about their affects, milieux and genesis. And one of the book’s central propositions is that these thinkers help us to understand the genesis of formal systems in and from an empirical and pre-signifying world which can only be sensed. This approach leads to a threefold philosophy of perception, and to the complex ways in which manifold sense-data becomes sensible, taking form under the aegis of a “sign,” “Idea” or “Gestalt” in an operation which is simultaneously pragmatic and creative.

Olkowski’s second chapter develops these themes via Deleuze and Guattari’s critique of logic, primarily as it appears in What is Philosophy? We’ve already spoken of Frege’s ambition to develop a philosophy homogenous with scientific description, moving it away from metaphysical “speculation” in favour of a systematic “science of logic” (30). At the heart of this endeavour is an idiosyncratic concept of the “concept,” inherited in part from Kant, which sees the concept become a logical function- a component of propositions which maps arguments to one of two truth vales (true or false). Thus, to use a well-known example, “is a man,” is a concept/function we can complete (or “saturate,” to use Frege’s intriguing term) by inserting the object “Socrates,” in a move which points us to the proposition’s ultimate referent- the truth-value “true.” But Deleuze and Guattari will claim that this approach, by virtue of its determination to avoid all empirical content, alongside its obliteration of particularity in positing only two possible referents for propositional sentences, gives us an empty formalism, applicable only to the most trivial and pre-determined propositions (32). What Frege gains in “perspicuity,” this argument suggests, he loses in consequence, and the possibility of meaningful philosophical engagement with the real.

Against this model, Olkowski sketches the Deleuzo-Guattarian “concept”- a concept which “belong(s) to a subject and not to a set,” constituting “a function of the lived” (33) as opposed to a purely formal abstraction. At the same time, they are eager to avoid the pitfalls of the “phenomenological concept,” which they see as rooted in the experience of a transcendental subject, and as such incompatible with a philosophy of immanence. One of Olkowski’s richest contributions, indeed, is a thorough mapping of this persistent Deleuzian critique of phenomenology- the charge that it establishes subjective, “natural” perception as a transcendent norm, elevating a particular and contingent relation to the status of a philosophical first principle. In so doing, claims Deleuze, it betrays philosophy’s task of breaking with doxa or opinion, establishing natural perception as Urdoxa, or original opinion, in a moment which is both conservative and anthropocentric. And while Olkowski is generally conciliatory, suggesting several times that Deleuze exaggerates the space between his and Merleau-Ponty’s thought, her identification of the numerous points at which their approaches diverge is a sophisticated complement to extant work by Wambacq (2018) or Reynolds and Roffe (2006).

Opposing themselves to both the Fregean (analytic) and phenomenological (transcendental-subjective) concept, Deleuze and Guattari sketch their own, intensional concepts, which Olkowski convincingly links to another key thinker threaded throughout her exegesis- the pragmatist philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce. For Deleuze and Guattari, concepts are “intensional” inasmuch as they constitute multiplicities whose unity is effected by their components’ internal (differential) relations. In this sense, Olkowski argues, they bear a striking resemble to Peircean “consistency” or “Thirdness” -habits, laws or generalities “to which future events have a tendency to conform” (42)- and which likewise produce continuity as the effect of multiple singular elements or events. Leaving aside the intricacies of Olkowski’s exegesis, it suffices to say that she does convincing and useful work here, tracing Peirce’s influence right across Deleuze’s oeuvre, particularly as it pertains to his recurrent conception of multiplicity as simultaneously “continuous” yet composed through differential relations.

Chapter three turns to Bergson, and an explication of his thought in the form of a rebuttal of the famous criticisms made by Bertrand Russell. Russell claims that Bergson’s thought reduces both distinction and abstraction to spatial phenomena, thereby demoting logic to a lesser branch of geometry (59). Graver than this, however, is Bergson’s apparent rejection of the mathematical model according to which change is apprehended as a series of discreet states. The indivisible continuity of Bergson’s “duration,” Russell argues, eschews the rigour of mathematics and science, opening the door to an irrational and irresponsible Cartesianism- a world in which things are never in any “state” at all, and the distinctions made by the intellect hover over of an indissoluble ontological mush. Olkowski links these criticisms to those made in the fallout of Bergson’s ill-fated encounter with Albert Einstein. While the latter is dedicated, by virtue of his theories of relativity, to a space-time continuum which is arguably “timeless” -with “any temporal event […] merely a geometric point in spacetime” (60), Bergson is interested in the qualitatively evolving and radically undetermined temporality of process, an approach which causes him to hesitate before the singular and unitary time of the physicist. In both cases, as Olkowski rightly notes, critics have sought to oppose the rigour of science and mathematics to Bergson’s “fuzzy” and “irrational” vitalism, effecting a discredit so fundamental as to cause even continental thinkers to “step[…] lightly around” (58) his thought.

Significant exceptions, of course, are Deleuze and Merleau-Ponty, and Olkowski devotes the rest of the chapter to their spirited defence of his concepts in the face of these attacks. For Merleau-Ponty, Bergson’s is a radical philosophy, one which breaks with Cartesianism by “present[ing] a being that is duration in place of an ‘I think’” (64). Further, Merleau-Ponty will argue that it is Bergson, rather than Einstein, who offers a temporality adequate to quantum physics, and a universe of indeterminacy and discontinuity ushered in by wave-particle duality (65). For Deleuze meanwhile, Bergson’s thought possesses an implicit mathematical rigour which renders it far closer to Russell than the latter himself supposes. In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze will refer to Russell’s distinction between lengths and distances, the latter of which cannot be divided into homogenous and interchangeable series but rather constitute “irreducible” series “derived in some way from perception” (69). As Olkowski notes, “Bergson too defines duration as a multiplicity or divisibility that does not divide without changing its nature, and so duration begins to sound like Russell’s concept of distance” (69). Deleuze will take up this hybrid Russellian-Bergsonian multiplicity in Difference and Repetition, using it as an image of ontogenesis- a mapping of the way in which intensive differences are explicated (differenciated) as “extensity” (or distance) in the context of individuation conceived as actualisation of the virtual. Olkowski’s work here is detailed and meticulous, illuminating the often-overlooked connections between Bergson, Deleuze and Russell.

In chapter four, Olkowski turns to Deleuze’s two volumes dedicated to film, Cinema I: The Movement-Image and Cinema II: The Time-Image, which she reads in the context of her central theme- a philosophical project to overcome the dualisms of thought and extension, reality and signs. Essential here, to Olkowski as to Deleuze, is Bergson’s idiosyncratic use of the term “image” as a means of effecting a rapprochement between realist and idealist accounts of reality. Prior to adopting either one of these positions, Bergson writes, “I am in the presence of images, in the vaguest sense of the word, images perceived when my senses are opened to them, unperceived when they are closed” (2005: 17). And this first principle, far from strictly phenomenological, becomes the staging ground for an immanent metaphysics of “images,” given that, he continues, “to make of the brain the condition on which the whole image depends is, in truth, a contradiction in terms, since the brain is by hypothesis a part of this image” (2005: 19). In this way, the brain becomes one image among many, perceiving or receiving movements from the images which surround it. Its apparent singularity stems not from any unique metaphysical status, but from a capacity to create a “gap” or “interval” (écart) between these received movements and reaction. As Olkowski explains, according to this model, “the brain is neither the origin nor the centre of the universe of images; it is the centre of indetermination in the interval between reception and reaction” (87), a centre of non-action which enables the organism to draw on virtual forces and escape the determinism of pure motricity.

This approach, which serves to render thought immanent to the interacting planes of “movement-images” which compose it, is then linked to another Deleuzian adaptation of Peirce, and his claim that the cinema volumes constitute a “taxonomy” of signs in the Peircean sense. Importantly, and against a then-dominant model in continental film theory, the “signs” of cinema do not resemble a language. Rather, and in keeping with the ontology Deleuze inherits from Bergson, signs are also “images”- catalytic reflective centres, situated on the same luminous register as their affects. This section of the book, it should be said, comprises a clear and insightful explication of the key ideas animating Deleuze’s work on cinema, albeit one which doesn’t offer a great deal which can’t be found in other works.

From here Olkowski shifts into a discussion of what Deleuze will call the cinematic time-image– the source of “pure” sonic and visual signs which confound action, and as such our habitual, action-oriented modes of thought. Paradigmatic are the signs/images of Italian neorealism, which confront both character and spectator with situations which are “unthinkable” in their magnitude, horror or banality. These images see the subject stripped of its capacities for action, and as such confronted with “the pure power of time that overflows all possibility of reaction and defeats, immobilizes and petrifies figures […] condemning them to a horrendous fate…” (93). For Deleuze, in keeping with a generalised hostility to the subject conceived as an autonomous and self-identical interiority, these images are thus immensely valuable to philosophy, enacting a temporal-semiotic deterritorialization of the cogito as the source and site of agency.

Against this fundamentally inhuman temporality -a time which fractures and problematises the subject- Olkowski will then contrast the approach of Merleau-Ponty, for whom “time and the subject communicate […] in virtue of an inner, interior necessity” (97). For Merleau-Ponty, Olkowski explains, both subjectivity and perception are fundamentally temporal, the persistence of bodies in space is “an expression of the network of temporal relations of a subject…” (97), and the subject is itself a “temporal wave that moves, particle to particle, through the matter of the world” (96). This approach, in keeping with Merleau-Ponty’s existentialist leanings, establishes the centrality of choice and engaged action as constitutive of a subject’s world- a vocabulary which is thoughtfully juxtaposed against Deleuze’s fundamentally “inhuman” time-image.

The book’s two final chapters continue in this comparative mode, embarking on a protracted discussion of the concept of the “Event,” as it appears in both phenomenology and Deleuze and Guattari, and as it pertains to the notion of freedom. For Merleau-Ponty, as we’ve seen, subjectivity is fundamentally temporal, simultaneously linked to a subject’s capacity to perceive spatial relations through time and to the way in which it is able to “inhabit” these relations. In this context, freedom is also temporal, given that “the stimulations an organism receives are possible only because its preceding movements have culminated in exposing the organism to these external influences,” such that, “the organism chooses the stimuli in the physical world to which it will be sensitive” (114). And while this suggests a rather limited remit of free action in the case of non-human organisms, integral is Merleau-Ponty’s conviction that “we are not simply a material plenum” (115)- that subjectivity exists across the fields of physical, physiological and mental “forms,” and as such is irreducible to simple “causal events” on any particular register.

Olkowski then returns to Deleuze, and to his critique of phenomenology in Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Here, Deleuze will suggest that while phenomenology remains wedded to the forms of a particular “lived body,” his own (or rather Artaud’s) concept of the “body without organs,” “arises at the very limit of the lived body” (118), as a process which renders life unliveable– impelling it towards traumatic processes of (re)formation. For Deleuze, as we have seen, phenomenology thus embraces the affective and perceptual clichés of a particular lived experience, reifying them as philosophy. The task of philosophy, however, is that of breaking with these clichés (doxa)- a task the “anexact” concept of the BwO is designed to help us realise.

This vocabulary of perceptual and affective clichés also implicates art, and the aleatory methods Deleuze’s Bacon deploys in his diagrammatic “battle” against painterly cliché. Indeed, in the context of their cleft approach to “natural perception,” both Deleuze and Merleau-Ponty turn to painting, in particular to Cézanne, such that Olkowski rightly notes that “it is secretly Cézanne’s paintings that are the battlefield upon which the contest between the philosophy of the Event and phenomenology takes place” (121). For Deleuze, Cézanne “renders visible” the vital power of the body without organs -the pure, formless chaos which arrives as the Event- that which overturns all previous organisation. For Merleau-Ponty meanwhile, Cézanne’s canvasses capture organisation itself, the hesitant process of “matter taking on form and manifesting the birth of order…” (121), in a model Olkowski thoughtfully contrasts with Deleuze’s.

After appearing to hesitate for a moment between these two alternatives, or perhaps to think their compossibility, Olkowski’s final chapter renders her Deleuzo-Guattarian allegiances clear- particularly in its final pages, which see her embrace their ambiguous injunction that we need to open thought onto the deterritiorializing forces of the “Cosmos” (148). Whereas Merleau-Ponty, indeed, remains dedicated to a familiar concept of “freedom” as the remit of human subjectivity, Olkowski will follow Deleuze and Guattari in locating this problem in the “Cosmic” sphere, asking, and then answering: “Can the Earth become cosmic, and can the people of the Earth also become cosmic people? To the extent that this is possible, it is what takes the place of the old concept of freedom” (148).

Deleuze and Guattari take the concept of the Cosmos from Paul Klee, from whom they likewise borrow a model of art as that which does not “render the visible,” but rather “render[s] visible” (2003: 56). What it renders visible, Deleuze, Guattari and Olkowski claim, are the invisible forces of the Cosmos, the formless, imageless and non-thinkable “open” which is the condition likewise for science and philosophy. But how, exactly, does it do this? Here, Olkowski evokes the semiotic processes Deleuze and Guattari call “refrains” (ritournelles) -rhythmic, expressive repetitions which work to organise chaos as habitat. A little child sings in the dark to reassure herself; the colours of a bird’s plumage vibrate to communicate its territory:

In each case, milieus, blocks of space-time, are created by the rhythm, the vibration, the periodic repetition that holds back the intrusion of chaos, the milieu of all milieus. This means that the milieus are coded, and each serve as the basis for another coding and transcoding as one milieu passes continuously into another through the chaosmos, the rhythm-chaos (145).

Importantly, Olkowski draws out the fact that this process of rhythmic territorialization establishes not just a sheltering “inside,” but a simultaneous “outside” we might now venture out and begin to explore. This amounts to a semiotic transformation of the chaotic into the Cosmic, the “plane” upon which philosophy, art and science conduct their experiments. In this context, Olkowski explains, in a model of thought as free conceptual creation, “the philosopher […] makes thought into pragmatics, asking what a concept can do, enabling a force of the Cosmos that travels” (147).

The refrain, indeed, brings us back to the problem(s) with which the book began, that of the individuation of signs, ideas, or forms and of the ontogenetic conditions which enable it. Across the many models Olkowski treats, and of which I have selected only a handful, she creates a philosophical assemblage dedicated to logics of perception, affection and creativity which allow us to think across the apparently irrevocable empiricist/formalist division. This approach problematises traditional dualisms of observer and observed, signifier and signified, in an immanent pragmatics which reinstates the necessity of both semiotics and metaphysics.

In keeping with this approach, Olkowski is not content to lapse into an apparently “neutral” exposition, as though the reconstruction of these three projects might somehow avoid a similarly interested perception. Indeed, perhaps the richest aspect of the book is her attention to this often repressed “stylistic” dimension of exegesis, and the way in which explication is itself creation. Her numerous additions and digressions -through contemporary literature, science, and cinema- accentuate this fact, and renew her subjects’ thought as living bodies. At the same time, the author is herself implicated by this process -an “authority” which cannot but be problematic, as Olkowski herself acknowledges:

I have examined the relationship between the creation of ideas and their actualization in relation to semiology, logic, and the cosmos in the philosophies of Deleuze, Bergson, and Merleau-Ponty. It is not a linear path. It is more a question of periodic orbits following strange and unrepeated trajectories that have been generally unpredictable. In other words, in spite of what I think I know or understand, I have, at every instance, sought to remain attentive to alternatives to my former views in order to consider ideas, concepts, orientations, problems, and solutions that could unexpectedly erupt and so alter the orientation of my own thinking within the context of the problem I have set out (2).

And this brief precis proves instructive, given that the book is ultimately comprised less of clearly demarcated, linear arguments than a series of interwoven and recurrent conceptual refrains which, while generally compelling, can also feel occasionally disorienting.

Indeed readers looking for close, methodical explication and clearly identified lines of scholarly argumentation may want to look elsewhere, as Olkowski’s book constitutes more an image of thought-in-motion, which is occasionally unwieldy and often unpredictable. There are points at which her readings of each thinker are heterodox, and there is a tendency to overlook periodisation of their oeuvres in favour of a more thematic, and as such perhaps selective exegesis, which runs very different works together. I do not intend these remarks as “critical” in the non-philosophical sense. Olkowski herself gestures towards the ethic which I take to animate this approach in her final chapter, when she asks: “Can philosophers envisage a diagram for philosophy such that it is no longer philosophy as we now conceptualize or imagine it?” (149). Olkowski rightly notes that this is the challenge Deleuze and Guattari lay down with their own work. Deleuze, Bergson, Merleau-Ponty is a book which is both difficult and worthy because it takes this challenge seriously.

Works Cited

Bergson, Henri. 2005. Matter and Memory. Translated by Nancy Margaret Paul and W. Scott Palmer. New York: Zone Books.

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

Reynolds, Jack & Roffe, Jon. 2006. “Deleuze and Merleau-Ponty: Immanence, Univocity and Phenomenology.” In Journal of the British Society of Phenomenology. Vol. 37, No.3. 229-225.

Wambacq, Judith. 2018. Thinking Between Deleuze and Merleau-Ponty. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.