Anna Kouppanou: Technologies of Being in Martin Heidegger

Technologies of Being in Martin Heidegger: Nearness, Metaphor and the Question of Education in Digital Times Book Cover Technologies of Being in Martin Heidegger: Nearness, Metaphor and the Question of Education in Digital Times
Routledge International Studies in the Philosophy of Education
Anna Kouppanou
Hardback £105.00

Reviewed by: Shawn Loht (Baton Rouge Community College, USA)

This study by junior scholar Anna Kouppanou proposes to recast Martin Heidegger’s conceptions of nearness, technology, and imagination in terms that show their interrelated phenomenological character as this speaks to the philosophy of education.  Drawing substantially on the work of Bernard Stiegler, as well as Jacques Derrida, her method of analysis is less oriented in a Heidegger-studies approach per se, and more geared toward re-directing Heideggerian themes in service of specific questions.  Kouppanou reads Heidegger from a persuasion such that the latter’s critique of technology is one-sided and negligent of considering how technology may overlap with other, more originary modes of being’s disclosure.  She entertains a number of provocative theses.  Among these theses are the following: nearness characterizes the event of truth and an essential aspect of education; technology affords nearness; imagination and temporality are co-constitutive; language, perception, and imagination are metaphorical; and the philosophy of education demands rethinking the interrelation of technology, imagination, language, and truth.  All in all this project is an ambitious one, but Kouppanou gracefully weaves together a number of Heideggerian concepts and gives us new insights for understanding the scope of Heidegger’s notion of technology.  I will say at the outset that I believe the study is actually much more effective on this score than it is on a philosophy of education front.  To my mind this book’s most significant and groundbreaking contribution is its inventive interpolation of the connection between imagination, nearness, language, and technology in Heidegger’s philosophy.  The concept of imagination in particular has historically been neglected in Heidegger studies, given Heidegger’s dismissal of imagination as a vestige of aesthetics and Cartesianism.  Kouppanou’s book should broaden current understanding of imagination in Heidegger, especially in its positive sense.

Kouppanou prefaces the study in the Introduction by raising the question of how the concept of technology might be reconciled with Heidegger’s notion of authentic nearness.  Kouppanou suggests that nearness ultimately concerns imagination, given that for something to be near entails that one sees it “as” this or that.  Or vice versa, to see something in a particular aspect is to have it phenomenologically near.  In other words, following Kant, the schematizing condition of perception is imaginative.  This notion restates the hermeneutic turn in Heidegger, that any state of human understanding, any state of meaning, is always already interpretive.  Kouppanou regards imagination (Einbildungskraft) as a core concept here because it unifies the schematization bound up in technology as Gestell with education conceived as Bildung (4).  In this light there is a connection between technology’s enabling of nearness and education’s model of culturation; a guiding idea Kouppanou borrows from Véronique Fóti is that Heideggerian Gestell possesses a formative character similar to education.  In other words, maybe there is not as sharp a distinction between Gestell and other, more originary manifestations of being as one may think.

The first chapter begins by addressing these issues further, taking up the concept of education from the critical standpoint of Heidegger’s concept of Gestell.  Kouppanou highlights the current trend in education to demand measurement in terms of assessment, outcomes, research outputs, and so forth.  The implicit notion is that, as “enframed” in a Heideggerian sense, education is removed of all freedom.  The human subject in this situation is understood according to a pre-defined set of conditions, and her education is directed toward predetermined measures for future productivity.  A text of focus for Kouppanou is Heidegger’s essay “Plato’s Doctrine of Truth,” particularly in its pertinence to Heidegger’s notion of education qua aletheia.  As a reader of this essay would know, Heidegger interprets Plato’s Cave allegory in terms of the precedence of aletheia, truth as discovery, in paideia, education.  According to this text, education means being brought into light from out of darkness.  Kouppanou emphasizes the equally decisive presence here of “nearness.”  The cave prisoners experience aletheia and enact paideia by being brought nearer to the real things they formerly saw in shadow form.  As the story relates, education has its apex when one’s intellection attains nearness to the original sources of sight and being.  Importantly in Kouppanou’s reading, this allegory introduces the distinction of truth as aletheia from truth as orthotes, or correct judgment, which is predicated on one being in the presence of the actual thing.  As Heidegger holds, this moment is the advent of metaphysics, and likewise of knowledge conceived as adequate representation modelled after the actual thing (13).  For Kouppanou, this distinction is emblematic of Heidegger’s accounts elsewhere of the epistemological commitments of “productionist metaphysics,” where the human being achieves knowledge by receiving and grasping the model.  Pre-given standards are contained in the model, rather than discovered in the nearness afforded by aletheia.  Another way to understand the phenomenon of nearness occurs in the later Heidegger, particularly in Heidegger’s accounts of the poetic image.  These accounts concern production that is not derived metaphysically (16).  This distinction is perhaps best borne out, as Kouppanou observes, in Heidegger’s notion of the work of art, where the work affords an originary instance of aletheia, not a mere copy of an externally existing thing (17).  As Chapter One concludes, a principal question for Kouppanou becomes that of a middle ground between originary presencing and subjective imagination; that is, are there modes in which human beings can conjure or fashion images which nonetheless emerge from out of the originary presence of things?  For Kouppanou, this is a question as to whether technologically-mediated images can afford nearness in a fashion akin to the nearness afforded by works of art (19).  Kouppanou writes:

The distinction between poetic and non-poetic image opens up a whole new discussion concerning types of images (Bild), types of forming (Bilden), their relation to imagination (Ein-Bildungskraft) – as the one being affected in receiving and producing forms of imagining, and ultimately their connection with Bildung as the very process concerned with human formation (19).

Employing a more expansive notion of this concept than Heidegger, the author understands “nearness” as a mode of knowing and connectedness to the world that allows the human being to participate in the unfolding of life through formative procedures (19-20).  Thus, she regards nearness as intimately bound up with education.

The second chapter explores these issues in relation to the dimensions of nearness afforded by Heidegger’s conception of phenomenology, especially the spirit of phenomenology’s dictum to allow the things to show themselves.  For Kourannou, this overlaps with the phenomenon of authentic temporality, by which one allows the voice of conscience to be heard.  This overlap is made evident in the temporal aspect in which everyday engagement with things derives from a temporal, historical origin.  As Heidegger observes in Being and Time, perception is grounded in “seeing-as.”  Nearness to things is predicated upon their presence “as” this or that.  Our everyday world-involvement is already interpretive, and this interpretation is typically framed by the historical reception of the given (25).  In other words, as Kouppanou describes, Heidegger’s brand of phenomenology “affirms an openness that lets beings be received” (25).  This as-structure works forwards as well as backwards in time.  Authentic temporality entails a seeing-as that frames what is to come, from out of the nearness of what is present.  Language is likewise a mode for Heidegger through which the nearness of things is gathered.  As Kouppanou highlights, a key distinction that emerges in Heidegger’s conception of language lay in language’s tie to phenomenology – language is the logos of the phaino.  Kouppanou cites a passage from Being and Time according to which discourse or logos in the guise of spoken language allows for things to be “sighted,” in the Greek, phone meta phantasias.  The term phantasia here is decisive for Kouppanou precisely because it at once entails the originary character of bona fide phenomena (through its root pha-, which refers to “appearing” and “showing”) while it also refers to the later Aristotelian notion of imagination, the more familiar brand of seeing-as (27-28).  This later notion of phantasia as imagination characterizes the way something appears to one, as when a blip on the horizon of a desert landscape is “imagined,” seen as an oasis.  The point Kouppanou leverages here is that the Greek conception of phantasia, understood as a microcosm for nearness and imaging, is at once passive and active.  On one hand, it characterizes the human capacity for receiving appearances from outside oneself – of having appearances show up – in the form of images.  On the other hand, phantasia is the capacity of image-formation, for imaginatively bringing an absent something near to one through one’s own constructive powers.  The challenge is to understand how Heidegger can regard the active dimension of phantasia in terms other than the representational, when he holds at the same time that phantasia comprises the “sighting” of what appears.  As Kouppanou describes this tension, the task for Heidegger is to “reimagine imagination in terms of a knowing that is transformative and yet responsive to things” (28).  To resolve this dilemma, Kouppanou cites Heidegger’s own engagement with Kant on the question of imagination’s relation with subjectivity.  The key to resolving the dilemma of phantasia conceived as representation versus phenomenological disclosure is the temporal nature of imagination, in the mould of Kant’s account in the first Critique.  Imagination not only figures into Kant’s account of the conditions for the possibility of experience in the First Critique’s A-Deduction; imagination also drives Kant’s account of schematism, the subjective component of perception by which one forms images while also deriving such formation from things.  Kouppanou cites John Sallis to emphasize that transcendental imagination is identical with originary time, writing “[i]magination thus lies at the heart of the unity of time, since temporality necessitates, above everything, connection and association” (32).  Another way to describe this structure, Kouppanou continues, is to understand nearness as coextensive with temporal experience as Heidegger understands the latter.  As Kouppanou puts it,

Taking this reorientation into account, image, formation, and imagination become indistinguishable from Heidegger’s temporality.  For Heidegger, time is the result of synthesis, an originary association that allows past, present, and future to come together and give time.  This original nearness of moments allows time consciousness and consciousness in general.  Without this bringing-near of past and present, and presence and absence, time cannot be formed (32).

So in this light, imagination (Einbildungskraft), education (or “formation,” Bildung), and image (Bild) consciousness are co-constituted through temporality.  Or what is the same, Heideggerian temporality is conditioned by the underlying synthesis or formation manifested in imagination, with nearness operating as a crucial component.  A question that remains to be taken up in the third chapter concerns the nature of future-directed imagination, or what Kouppanou calls “in advance formation.”  If imagination transcends mere subjective representation, then the question becomes one of how imagination’s future-oriented, schematizing mode avoids this limitation.  The question she poses is whether there are other structures involved that make this possible – and in particular – what is language’s role, insofar as it plays into the formation of originary poetic images?

The third chapter explores these issues in greater depth.  One aspect Kouppanou highlights in further analyzing the futural character of imagination is the moment of vision, the augenblick, as a poetic image.  Here she invokes the three ecstatic modes underlying temporality in Heidegger’s account from Division II of Being and Time.  The mode of futurity lay in Dasein’s character of being-ahead-of-itself, of projecting forward interpretively from one’s own factical state.  Yet, Dasein’s futural orientation also possesses an imaginative aspect insofar as it can be influenced by Dasein’s authentic acknowledgement of the voice of conscience.  Dasein’s potential for authentic temporality has its seat in allowing conscience to be heard and in wanting to respond to this voice.  Imagination would seem to be a crucial component here in that Dasein’s responding to the voice of conscience is necessarily a seeing-as, a hermeneutic moment of vision that is poetically gathered for one and disclosed in image form by virtue of Dasein’s self-understanding through heeding its own death.  Similarly, as was observed in the look at imagination in Kant, the notion is that the image-formation of authentic temporality does indeed stem from both a subjective foundation and one that responds to things.  As Kouppanou summarizes this point, authentic temporality instantiated in one’s owning of death is a process of bringing-near, to make present what is absent (38-39).  However, she also adds the rejoinder that nearness is not a concept that can be expressed propositionally.  “[N]earing, just like the originary image, is less of a designation and more of a metaphor, an irony, and a paradox” (39).  For “nearness” itself is a metaphorical idea.  It does not refer to an objective orientation in space or a property neatly predicable in a sentence.  Rather, it is an interpretive mode in which things appear to one.  In this light, Kouppanou suggests that the linguistic origin of the notion of nearness qua metaphor merits further discussion.  On one hand, metaphors are antithethical to Heidegger’s attempt to transcend metaphysics insofar as they postulate a divide between sensuous and nonsensuous reality.  On the other hand, as Kouppanou suggests, Heidegger’s accounts of perception in various texts suggest that he understands sensation (aisthesis) as subject to metaphorical transformation in perception.  This is to say, everyday human perception occurs through metaphorizing of sensation, given that all seeing is in fact seeing-as.  Kouppanou writes: “The world as phenomenon, as Heidegger seems to argue, is perceived with the assistance of both aisthesis (the senses) and phantasia (imagination), or better yet: aisthesis perceives imaginatively and through the modification of sense data” (42).  To say that perception metaphorizes the stuff of things is to regard perception as imaginative, as a kind of image formation.  (An aside Kouppanou hints at here is that language’s metaphorical character is likewise imaginative, based in image-formation, similar to Nietzsche’s account of metaphor.)  Kouppanou finishes out the chapter by again invoking the role of productive imagination by way of Kant.  If one concedes that perception is imaginative, this assumes that perception requires “exterior images” (44).  This is to say that, as concomitant with productive imagination, perception also engages the retentive aspect of time-consciousness by which images are frozen as schemas that inform future experience.  In brief, perception is imaginative reproduction.  In the chapter’s conclusion, the primary question asks whether nearness is confined to the relation of imaginative schematization and language, or whether there are other media in which nearness can occur.

Chapters Four, Five, and Six explore the concept of nearness according to its various treatments in the early, middle, and late periods of Heidegger’s thought, respectively.  Chapter Four takes up nearness as it is implicated in the early Heidegger’s concept of things “ready-to-hand.”  Chapter Five examines the role of nearness in Heidegger’s political thought, particularly as it pertains to Heidegger’s thought on homeland and native soil.  Chapter Six focuses on Heidegger’s perhaps best-known discussions of nearness, from the later writings on poetic experience and the life of the “thing” (Das Ding), where nearness is conceived as an alternative mode of dwelling to modern technology.  In what follows I will summarize these studies briefly before taking up the final two chapters of the book.

Chapter Four analyzes the early Heidegger’s account of nearness as revealed in things ready-to-hand (such as Being and Time’s tools) in order to better understand Heidegger’s attempt to “eliminate the technological aspects of being from his theorization of authentic time” (51).  Kouppanou suggests that Heidegger’s avoidance of emphasizing aspects of existence such as “materiality, embodiment, spatiality, and prostheticity” (51) in his accounts of perception and world are reflective of his disinclination to include technology in the sphere of authentic temporality.  Whereas, Kouppanou wants to suggest here that such a divide between the poetic or originary, and the technological, is artificial, given that technology is embedded in historicality.  Technological being informs the imaginative character of perception no less than the rooted and homely in Heidegger’s early account of Dasein’s being-in-the-world.

Chapter Five examines Heidegger’s notion of nearness in its guise as a “political scheme.”  The primary goal of Kouppanou’s focus here is to highlight Heidegger’s recasting of nearness into the political dimension of rootedness (76).  Technology is to blame, according to Heidegger, for creating a false sense of nearness that results in rootlessness.  Citing Stiegler, Kouppanou argues in contrast that technology does in fact have a constitutive role in the formation of the polis and the emergence of nearness; she emphasizes that “time cannot be a single destiny,” nor can time circumvent the mediation of technology (81).  Simply put, authentic temporality cannot occur outside the sway of technology.  Part of Heidegger’s error here, Kouppanou suggests, is to absolutize space as a metaphysical principle, whereas in Being and Time, he makes a stronger case that the nearness of space is a metaphor disclosed by Dasein.  Kouppanou comments: “Heidegger’s return to space [in the critique of technology] coincides with the distortion of the very process that his thinking attempts to become: the poetic image.  Instead of letting poetic imagery to be freely received, Heidegger imposes interpretations that temporalize space and emphasize the historicality of the homeland” (77).

Kouppanou transitions to Chapter Six by highlighting the later Heidegger’s move away from thinking nearness in terms of the futural, spiritual, and cultural.  In particular, she emphasizes Heidegger’s remark in “The Origin of the Work of Art” that the poetic can no longer be understood from the standpoint of the imagination, but instead relies on a freely-received letting-be of the historical manifested in the interplay of world and earth (84-85).  In other words, the later Heidegger seems to allow for historical being to occur as a disclosure of truth from without.  However, Kouppanou suggests that the concept of imagination remains in play for Heidegger by virtue of informing his position on the relation of truth, language, and art.  In particular, the function of metaphor as a proto-linguistic imaginative stuff underlying poetic experience suggests that imagination still figures into the primordial disclosures of being occasioned by art.  Thus, poetic experience can still be regarded as imaginative in its foundations.  In this vein Kouppanou writes:

While language is presented as the basic process that lets things be and affords nearness, Heidegger’s own metaphorical language says much more about the way nearness and the poetic realm unfold than his explicit argumentative language.  What’s more, his discussion concerning the work of art, as a site for truth, emphasizes the spatiotemporal dimensions of revealing and accounts for the material and embodied aspects of its unfolding.  This in turn provides us with an opportunity to reconsider poetic image as a mode of presencing that does not belong to language exclusively (90).

In the ending sections of Chapter Six, the final chapters of the book are previewed in some explorations of how Heidegger understands true nearness in the lived world of “things” (as in the essay “The Thing”) versus his view of the alienated state of being afforded by technology.  Kouppanou highlights the primacy of the human hand for Heidegger in the creation of works fostering true nearness, as the hand is integral to both traditional handicraft and originary language conceived as gesture.  Heidegger highlights this phenomenon when he contrasts the hand’s use in speaking and writing with the hand’s diminished capacity in these activities upon the advent of the typewriter.  A pervasive ambiguity Kouppanou identifies here in Heidegger is the equal role of the hand in making use of differentiated, external being.  It would be a mistake to claim, as Heidegger seems to suggest, that works of the hand constitute self-contained, holistic processes of creation.  As Kouppanou suggests, there appears not to be a sharp underlying divide between Heidegger’s notion of the lived experience associated with tools and “things” of handicraft, which are derivative upon metaphorizing imagination, and robust manifestations of modern technology.  Both make use of beings external to themselves in fostering their brands of nearness.  It is not sufficient to claim that modern technology is problematic simply because it maximizes nearness and totally removes distance.  The thrust of Kouppanou’s argumentation is that there seems not to be a fundamental difference between the imaginative disclosure afforded through, say, the hammer and the disclosure given through 21st-century computing.

The final two chapters of the book engage the findings of Chapters One through Six as they pertain to education and technology in current times.  Of particular emphasis for Kouppanou is the type of nearness fostered by the imaginative schematization prevalent in the World Wide Web and social media.  Kouppanou’s central argument in these final portions of the book rests on the claim that the nearness availed by modern technology is coextensive with Heidegger’s core assumptions about the relation of nearness, language, metaphor, and imagination.  She writes that “technology is always already constitutive for our ways of seeing-as,” and “[a]ll technology participate in our hermeneutical processes” (119).  In sum, “hermeneia is itself a material exterior and embodied metaphorical process unfolding through a twofold process of discretisation and synthesis instantiated through both language and technology” (Ibid.).  For Kouppanou, this last view is decisive because it drives home the imaginative, metaphorical basis equally latent within “gestures, tools, words, and stories.”  Metaphoricity is simply a constitutive element of things and their lived meaning (Ibid.).  Kouppanou then grafts this reasoning onto the digital being of the contemporary computerized world.  The digital world is not simply the alienated world of technology; for human Dasein the digital world is still being-in-the-world.  (This view has been developed by other Heideggerian philosophers including Michael Eldred.)  Online experience is coextensive with the worldhood of everyday, “real” experience.  The metaphorized images of online being are equally meaningful as the “real” world of meaning (123).  A core assumption of these passages is that the online experience fostered in media such as Facebook is always derivative from the meaning-structures embedded in intentionality.

In the final chapter, Kouppanou addresses these issues as they pertain to the philosophy of education.  The primary question concerns whether modern technology’s current manifestation fundamentally alters the outlook for education conceived in its original guise as Bildung, formation through images.  On one hand, she notes, the temporal form of “nowness” or constant immediacy created in online being would seem to encourage a pervasive lack of freedom.  Online experience in this light is one of the individual perpetually being formed or educated from without (145).  The danger Kouppanou sees here is the metaphorization or formation of the human latent in the pervasive reach of computing technology.  For, technology, like handicraft is not merely metaphorized being in its own right; technology also leads its user to become metaphorized.  This phenomenon has been documented in empirical science, as research has shown different types of media cause the human brain to rewire itself.  Therefore, Kouppanou’s position here argues that technology’s power to completely metaphorize and rewire the educational process risks undermining the processes of discovery, scaffolded learning, and above all, hermeneutical freedom that are integral to education (150).

This book is a very impressive piece of scholarship for an early-career researcher.  Its reassessment of Heidegger’s philosophy of technology in terms of the concepts of nearness and imagination is especially fruitful.  Stylistically I believe the chapters proceed somewhat quickly at times, jumping from one dense source to another in often rapid fashion, when the author might in fact benefit from covering less material and proceeding more slowly.  The connections between the chapter topics also sometimes suffer from a similar feeling of disjointedness, where the inclusion of certain topics and subtopics comes off as unmotivated and ad hoc.  The fifth chapter on Heidegger’s political agenda struck me particularly strongly in this regard.  The first four chapters of the book, along with Chapter Six, come across much more cohesively in contrast.  However, these are all small caveats given the strong total contribution of the book.  As I noted at the beginning, the book’s principal shortcoming may be that its conclusions vis-à-vis the philosophy of education are relatively lukewarm and prefatory.  The final chapter in which education takes center stage reads somewhat more like an appendix, whereas the chapters dedicated to Heidegger are more focused on making sense of a complex line of inquiry in his thought.

Saulius Geniusas, Dmitri Nikulin (Eds.): Productive Imagination: Its History, Meaning and Significance

Productive Imagination: Its History, Meaning and Significance Book Cover Productive Imagination: Its History, Meaning and Significance
Social Imaginaries
Saulius Geniusas, Dmitri Nikulin (Eds.)
Rowman & Littlefield International
Hardback $120.00 / £80.00

Reviewed by: John V. Garner (University of West Georgia)


The “Social Imaginaries” series from Rowman and Littlefield International aims to publish important works on this and related concepts “from theoretical, comparative, historical, and interdisciplinary perspectives” and with an “international, multi-regional and interdisciplinary scope.”[i] The present volume focuses more narrowly on thinkers its editors see as having provided the basis for philosophical discussions of productive imagination, specifically the continental tradition following Kant (vii). This focus is not meant to be exclusive but rather supportive of diversity and further original inquiries (xii). With this goal in mind, the volume indeed offers eight helpful, well-researched essays; and we may hope that this strong foundation will spark future studies meeting the more global aspirations above.

This review will outline what I see as the central arguments of each of the essays. My goals are to reveal the broader lines of their interconnected narrative and then to indicate a few potentially fruitful avenues for future research suggested by the volume.

The Contributions

One of the volume’s most sweeping essays is its first one, Dmitri Nikulin’s “What is Productive Imagination?” Nikulin situates the modern concept of imagination within the grand history of Western ideas, from the Greeks to German idealism. Aristotle’s imagination, defined as the capacity to have an “apparition of a thing in the absence of that thing,” plays a central role in this narrative (3). Even so, Nikulin notes that Aristotle leaves the imagination’s powers dependent on prior perceptions, and thus his view contrasts with the Kantian imagination’s potential apriority and spontaneity (4). Nevertheless, even for Kant imagination remains doubly dependent: it is bound to sensibility insofar it must offer presentations within the predefined formats of spatial and temporal intuitions; and it is bound to understanding insofar as it constructs figures or schemata within the constraints of the a priori categories (4-5). If the former constraint links Kant to Aristotle, the latter reveals some similarity to Proclus, for whom the imagination adapts the intelligible, Platonic forms to finite thinking (6). In either sense, however, Kant’s imagination, even in his aesthetics, ultimately serves to harmonize other faculties: understanding and the senses. Thus, its spontaneity is always contained by rational norms and the receptive capacities of the subject; it has no completely independent status (11).

Even so, the imagination has a strong grip over us precisely because it can actively overlook its essential dependency. Thus, Nikulin speaks of the imagination as having a “negative” power to deny its sources (14). In this respect, imagination’s supposed originality must be hedged: “imagination imagines that it produces something new” (14, my emphasis). It creates a pretention to positive creativity, even though it is really a “radical negativity” (14). This pretension appeared dangerous to Kant, whose arguments restricted even creative genius to the mere exemplification of rules; absolute creativity he reserved for the idea of God (14).[ii] As later thinkers tried increasingly to free imagination from this Kantian dependency, they steadily severed its link with experience and thus lost the vital relationship between imagination and memory (19).

Two questions come to mind in light of Nikulin’s compelling conceptual history. First, its caution against severing the link with memory is related to Nikulin’s broader point that imagination somehow renders “non-being” (i.e. what does not presently exist) present for us. In Nikulin’s account, however, “non-being” carries the significance of the past, the has-been, or the no-longer (20). In this sense, the question of the imagination’s relation to hope and to futural “non-being” could be raised. I will return to this avenue later, as it is suggested by other contributors.

Second, Nikulin’s stage-setting essay displays the broadly European focus of the volume, with few references beyond that scope. Additional avenues thus appear for research on non-European conceptions of imagination or its analogues. Likewise, within the broader canon, future research could explore the medieval adaptation of the Aristotelian phantasm, and especially its history in Islamic thought. For even the European reception of Aristotle and Proclus is heavily mediated through the Islamic tradition (e.g. al-Kindī on prophecy and dreams; Ibn Sīnā’s explicit distinction of estimation from imagination and his widespread use of imaginal thought experiments; Ibn Tufail’s use of fictional narrative; Ibn Arabi’s “nondelimited imagination”; and so on).

Kant’s importance in the history of productive imagination is of course clear as well, and Alfredo Ferrarin’s essay defends the importance of Kant’s liberation of imagination from its previous role of copying contingent events of sensibility. Imagination now “moves about idealizations and conjectures formulated in deliberately counterintuitive ways, transforms things into possibilities until we establish an invariant core, and plans experiments to verify conjectures” (33). Its emergence in philosophy is thus linked historically with the emergence of the scientific method (32). This link likewise explains why Ferrarin warns us not to confuse Kant’s scientific “productive imagination” with the truly social-ethical “practical imagination,” which is only hinted at in Kant. The practical imagination aims not at understanding objects but at instituting practical end-goals. In the latter we find no “split between independent reality and likeness” as we do in the former (38). (Ferrarin mentions cases such as the constantly reinstituted social meanings of, e.g., bank notes, temples, marriage, and traffic rules.) In general, Ferrarin emphasizes that the practical imagination enables us to grasp alternative practical possibilities; it reveals “the gap between being and possibility, fact and ideal, real and possible” (38). Thus, imagination is necessary for a social critique capable of proposing new norms, in the sense Ernst Bloch and Castoriadis recognized (39). Ferrarin’s essay is thus essential for understanding the way the term “imaginary” is often used in critical theory and practical philosophy and how these development differ from Kant’s scientific imagination. That said, Ferrarin does suggest that Kant’s aesthetics—and other contributors concur regarding other aspects of later Kant—offers hints of the practical imaginary (45).

Moving the narrative from Kant to German romanticism, Laura S. Carugati argues that we move there from an “ontogonic” to a “cosmogonic” use of imagination (52). In other words, for figures like Novalis, Schleiermacher, and Schlegel, imagination provides the basic framework or “horizon” for the experience of objects, rather than merely prefiguring the particular objects we perceive. In Schlegel, this shift liberates the imagination from the aforementioned Kantian norms; and hence Carugati highlights Schlegel’s claim that “because imagination won’t let itself be linked to the world of things […], it can function in a free and independent manner, according to its own laws” (54). Similarly, in Novalis, “to romanticize” becomes an active, imaginal engagement aiming to unite the poles of the various Kantian dualisms (55). The resultant synthesis, known as “art,” is not a mere product or thing but rather a life-structuring “event” (57). Arts, as engagements in imagination, do not merely imitate or reproduce but rather “discover or institute an ordering principle that shapes the original chaos into a romanticized world” (57). In a sense, then, even the Kantian divide between human productivity and divine creativity gets mediated here; art and reality become indistinguishable.

We may note at this point the helpful coherency of the volume’s narrative as it places each figure in conversation with contemporaries and predecessors. This historically informed narrative is again supported by Angelica Nuzzo’s compelling contribution on German idealism. She defends the centrality of productive imagination not only in Fichte and Schelling (where it plays an explicitly important role) but also in Hegel, where the textual evidence for its centrality is much less prevalent. Nuzzo claims that “Hegelian spirit is informed by the Kantian notion of productivity proper to the imagination of the genius,” albeit in a way that gets “extended beyond the aesthetic realm, and thereby deeply transformed” (73). Imagination moves from a merely subjective role into an absolute role as “self-actualizing conceptuality” (77).

Nuzzo’s argument could be reconstructed into four steps. First, Kant’s third Critique suggests that imagination is schöpferisch (and perhaps not merely exhibitive of aesthetic ideas); it creates “another nature” from the given nature of the senses (74). Second, Fichte notices and radicalizes this creativity, such that imagination produces even the “material for representation” (74). And this productivity, Nuzzo argues, is equated by Fichte with Geist. Third, Schelling renders the imagination productive not only of representation but also of the actuality of things themselves, thus giving it the absolute role Kant had reserved for intellectual intuition (71). Finally, fourth, Hegel appropriates but reworks and reverses this “absolute” productive imagination. Certainly, on the one hand, Nuzzo acknowledges that the Encyclopedia subordinates imagination to a merely subjective moment of spirit (76). But this subordination does not stop Hegel, she argues, from adopting exactly the productivity highlighted by the preceding idealists’ account of imagination. Thus, on the other hand, the Phenomenology and Logic, she argues, adapt this very productivity to the role of a self-producing absolute, with the caveat that, contra Schelling, its truth is now said to be revealed only in the end of its development. For Hegel, “no absolute identity, absolute indifference, or absolute creation out of nothing […] can be placed as the beginning-origin of an immanent discursive process” (77). Instead, for Hegel, “the logical determination process is immanently and successively articulated toward ever more complex determinations up to the ‘absolute idea’ that makes the end” (78).

While Nuzzo’s thesis might sound extra-textual, it is in fact very closely defended with links between Hegel’s texts and those of Kant and Fichte. And if we remember that she aims merely to show that “some fundamental characters of the productive imagination […] become constitutive traits of Hegel’s own notion of Geist” (77, my emphasis), then we should be, I believe, persuaded, despite the relative non-centrality of the vocabulary of “productive imagination” in Hegel. Nuzzo’s contribution is likewise essential to this volume insofar as it defends a narrative leading into Hegel that can help clarify our persistent suspicion that there are Hegel-like traces in later concepts often referred to under the broad label of “social imaginary.”

The conversation within German thought continues with Rudolph A. Makkreel’s essay on Dilthey. Whereas Kant’s aesthetic imagination helps us shift from narrow, personal experiences of pleasure to universal judgments of taste, Dilthey similarly thinks that imagination can broaden us and test “how local commonalities relate to universally accepted truths” (92). This broadening occurs partly through what Dilthey calls the “typifying imagination.” Artists, for example, can “articulate” felt connections pervasive in an era by exemplifying them into figures, characters, or events (87). Whereas thinking produces concepts, imagination “produces types” (95). And whereas the historian’s imagination merely fills in gaps and supplies coherency, the artist’s has more freedom (e.g. in fiction, painting, etc.). With artworks, we experience their “typicality” not when we understand something generic about them (like norms) nor when we look at particular, material qualities. Rather, for Dilthey, the typicality of an artwork its “distinctive style.” For example: “The style of a Cézanne painting cannot be intuitively defined by the visible lines and colors […]. Style is an inner form that can only be imaginatively captured by following out the intense interplay of the angular and curved shapes that Cézanne projects into our medial horizon of vision” (96).

With respect to this “inner form,” important for Makkreel is Dilthey’s shift from an earlier view arguing that it is discovered through personal introspection, to a later, non-psychologistic, and more contextualized view that the “feelings of a composer like Beethoven are musical from the start and exist in a tonal world” (99). That is, we must be conversant with a broader system of perspectives and facts (as seen “from without”) in order to understand ourselves or others (101). In this sense, Dilthey accepts the Hegelian concept of objective spirit, with the qualification that his rendition of spirit is nothing that “submerges individuals and regulates human interaction in the overall course of world history” but rather is a “locally definable ‘medium of commonalities’ that nurtures each of us ‘from earliest childhood’” (101). The best way to think about such local “artistic medial contexts” is to consider particular examples: “Beethoven cannot but think of Haydn and Mozart when composing a quartet while also striving to chart his own path” (102). Grasping these larger constellations of sense requires tapping into an imagination that “goes beyond reality in such a way as to illuminate it” (85).

This point about the imagination’s power to “go beyond reality” opens up some important avenues for research on additional figures whose inquiries emphasize similar functions. We might think of Feuerbach’s imagination, with its power to alienate us through negating our dependency and this-worldly finitude. This critical route would of course lead into discussions of Marx and Freud but also through Husserl into Sartre’s early works, which contain, as in Dilthey, more positive valences regarding this “going beyond.” In Sartre, for example, beauty is said to be “a value that can only ever be applied to the imaginary and that carries the nihilation of the world in its essential structure.”[iii] Using the very example of Beethoven, he argues that “the performance of the Seventh Symphony […] can be manifested only through analogons that are dated and that unfurl in our time. But in order to grasp it on these analogons, it is necessary to operate the imaging reduction, which is to say, apprehend precisely the real sounds as analogons.”[iv] Sartre thus engages with two themes central to this volume, namely imagination’s link to non-being and, as in Dilthey (and later in Ricoeur), its helpful role in revealing the world through an “as”-structure.

Next, breaking the train of German thought is Nicolas de Warren’s essay on Flaubert’s diagnosis of human self-deception (as interpreted by Jules de Gaultier). The essay proposes a valuable distinction between productive imagination and creative, novelistic imagination (106). With the productive side we imagine ourselves as something other than what we are and thus become self-deceptive. The creative side, by contrast, which is manifest in the novelist’s art, allows us to perceive the self-deception without falling prey to it. The artist’s perception “becomes a truthful mirror of the world by virtue of the imagination’s power of magnification, or modification, which renders visible what remains otherwise invisible” (113). The novelist shares in a kind of “pure perception,” i.e. an “absorption” in the world rather than a scientific “possession” of an object (113). This pure perception generates the novel almost as a by-product and allows an adult to learn that she falsely “pursues a notion of herself for which neither she nor the world affords” (123). Such false images are not merely epistemically worrisome, as de Warren clarifies, since they also impact the world of our desires, as when a person “makes the world around her boring in order to despise the world even more so as to serve as propellant for an even more vengeful and intense abandonment to the imaginary” (129).

De Warren’s essay brings to mind two avenues. First, his essay links self-deception to productive imagination’s power to deny what we are. Flaubert’s characters are shown to succumb “to the universal fiction of striving to be what one is not, and not being what one desires to be” (107). That said, other contributors raise the prospect of finding positive value in imagination’s penchant for proposing non-extant alternatives, i.e. ones worth striving for. Hence, de Warren’s essay raises the question: Could there be a good version of “striving to be what one is not, and not being what one desires to be”?

Second, de Warren’s essay could perhaps be read as an alternative account of what René Girard refers to as Flaubert’s “novelistic truth.”[v] Certainly, Girard’s and de Warren’s readings agree that “truthful forms of fiction” helpfully reveal the dangers of self-deceit and self-imposed insatiability (110). But a difference may reside in whether we think the novelist’s deliverance from self-deception stems from what de Warren emphasizes or what Girard claims. De Warren emphasizes that deliverance is achieved through the novelist’s share in pure perception, or an engagement with the world prior to and free from socially-influenced self-images. On this reading, the problem behind self-deception is that the “spontaneity of an individual’s self-shaping personality” has become “reduced to a condition of mimetic inertness” in our society (112). Self-deception consists in a person concealing from herself the fact that “she is the author of her own fate” (124). By contrast, on Girard’s reading, Flaubert unmasks precisely as self-deceit one’s belief that one is the unmediated, pre-social author of desires, i.e. desires that would be valid simply because they are one’s own. Under the sway of such a belief one fails to see that one’s desires are always mediated through imitation of others’ desires. The novel offers deliverance in that it allows us to see through the vanity of the “romantic lie” and to critically recognize our own interdependency. Hence, if I understand them correctly, these readings not only differ but pull in opposite directions. I should state that I am not unsympathetic per se to either reading of Flaubert; rather, it is the prospect of a dialogue that strikes me as a fruitful avenue to pursue.

As for an important dialogue that is explored in this volume, Saulius Geniusas reviews the Cassirer-Heidegger encounter at Davos. Geniusas frames the debate as hinging only overtly on divergent interpretations of imagination in Kant. On Cassirer’s reading, the productive imagination is formed and contextualized by its share in an independent understanding and reason; for Heidegger, reason is formed and contextualized by the finitely situated productive imagination (138). But the deeper issue between them, argues Geniusas (agreeing with Peter E. Gordon), concerns their basically divergent philosophies, including their views on moral freedom. Cassirer thinks imagination’s share in reason allows it spontaneity and the power to step back from any finite dwelling. Fundamentally “homeless,” we can use our imaginations to “trespass the boundaries of […] merely natural existence and enter into the domain culture,” where we construct an infinite variety of cultural modes of existence (140). For Heidegger, by contrast, the productive imagination defines our existential-temporal mode of receptivity to a world and thus marks us—in both our knowledge and action—as essentially finite. Cassirer, Heidegger thinks, lacks a fundamental ontology of the supposedly fully spontaneous being who “enters into” cultural constellations; he suggests Cassirer’s view would merely define humanity through studies of different cultural—and merely ontic—contexts (139). Cassirer would thus (re)create “the ‘They’ world and the deeper forgetfulness of one’s ontological roots” (140). In response, Cassirer thinks Heidegger’s basic mistake is to refuse the independence of reason, as a source of imagination’s freedom, from finite imagination and intuition. This refusal, argues Cassirer, implies the impossibility of genuine moral autonomy or the universality of ethics in Kant’s sense (147).

Certainly, as Geniusas shows, Heidegger and Cassirer attain a kind of nominal agreement on some broad issues, e.g. that productive imagination “produces the transcendental horizons of sense, the operational fields, or the modes of vision, which predetermine human experience” (150). But their basic trajectories, argues Geniusas, are in the last analysis “fundamentally different” (151). Cassirer’s view leads him to emphasize the constructive possibilities of a humanity drawing guidance from reason, while Heidegger emphasizes the need, in his own words, for a “destruction of the former foundation of Western metaphysics in reason (spirit, logos, reason)” (151). Even if Geniusas might not persuade some who see Cassirer and Heidegger as compatible, his essay does provide a clear statement of how the deeper projects of each thinker determine their overt disagreements over Kant.

In the volume’s final essay, George H. Taylor mines Paul Ricoeur’s broader corpus for a thesis on imagination moving beyond his merely explicit views. His explicit views emphasize the power of productive versus merely reproductive imagination and show how the former allows us to understand images separately from any concept of originals. This inquiry then helps us grasp how fictions can be efficacious in altering reality (159). As for Ricoeur’s more implicit views on imagination, Taylor draws on texts from the 1970s and 80s to highlight the concept of “figuration,” a term avoiding merely visual connotations and allowing Ricoeur to analyze metaphor (167). In epistemology, the concept of figuration expands on Kant’s suggestion of an ever-present, “common root” between understanding and sensibility. It implies that reality is only ever given as already saturated with “symbolic” mediation (166). “We do not see; we see as—as the icon, as the figure” (170). Similarly, Taylor finds a parallel role for figuration in Ricoeur’s view of human action: no action is just physical motion; each act always points to or modifies some extant role or another (166). These twin “as”-structures thus always mediate for us between sense and concept, or between deeds and their narration (165). Since there is thus no mode of human life without figuration’s various modes, we can never fully leave behind what Hegel calls “picture thinking” (173). All modes of thought or action occur on the backdrop of an already instituted and “readable” world (171).

In this respect, Taylor’s essay points to a question we have already raised. Several contributions caution against the dangers of denying a connection with one’s past or of losing the link between imagination and memory. Yet it is likewise true that what will arise anew for (and from) each of us tomorrow “is not” as of today but rather, if it indeed comes to be, will emerge tomorrow with an unparalleled uniqueness (at least in some stratum of its emergent reality). Does not the human tendency to overlook the newness in each historical moment (emerging in some sense from “non-being”) constitute a distinct danger, alongside that of forgetting the sedimented nature of the meanings and roles we adopt? While this volume does at times speak to this concern, it refrains—perhaps for the best—from lingering on it or on the metaphysical quandaries involved in references to non-being and creativity. On this issue, interested readers might thus benefit from a sister volume in the “Social Imaginaries,” i.e. the analysis of the Ricoeur-Castoriadis debate.[vi] Taylor, it should be mentioned, also helpfully contributed there.

Done and to be Done

As I have indicated, the merits of this volume are clear. It offers a valuable combination of introductory guidance and original theses. It contains helpful clarifications of how philosophical concepts develop through inter-philosophical dialogue but also in conversation with the arts. It likewise opens avenues for exploring the grand, metaphysical question of human creativity in history. If we approach it aware of its deliberate focus on the Kantian and continental tradition, we will see that its chapters develop a coherent “conceptual history” of a core moment in philosophy. We thus have reason to hope that it will achieve its goal of enabling broader studies on productive imagination. And as it stands, this volume’s essays—appropriate to the productivity they investigate—already instantiate one of the volumes frequent themes: human creativity arises in and with a community of contributors, both extant ones and ones hoped for.

[i] “Social Imaginaries,” Rowman & Littlefield International, last accessed: July 24, 2018:

[ii] Apart from its emphasis on imagination’s mere negativity, we may note the proximity of Nikulin’s account to the thesis of Cornelius Castoriadis’ essay, “The Discovery of the Imagination” (from 1978; in World in Fragments: Writings on Politics, Society, Psychoanalysis, and the Imagination, ed. David A. Curtis, Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1997). Castoriadis argues that fear of imagination’s creativity has led philosophers to attribute the truly instituting power not to us but to other beings (e.g. ancestors, gods, God, nature, etc.). Both Nikulin and Castoriadis seem to me to echo, somewhat divergently, Heidegger’s reading of Kant as having discovered but later denied the radical implications of productive imagination.

[iii] Jean-Paul Sartre, The Imaginary: A Phenomenological Psychology of the Imagination, trans. Jonathan Webber, London and New York: Routledge, 2004, p. 193.

[iv] Sartre, Imaginary, 193.

[v] René Girard, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure, trans. Yvonne Freccero, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1965.

[vi] See Suzi Adams (ed.), Ricoeur and Castoriadis in Discussion: On Human Creation, Historical Novelty, and the Social Imaginary, London and New York: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2017.

R.D. Ingthorsson: McTaggart’s Paradox

McTaggart's Paradox Book Cover McTaggart's Paradox
Routledge Studies in Contemporary Philosophy
R.D. Ingthorsson
Hardback £115.00

Reviewed by: Kristie Miller (The University of Sydney)

Revisiting McTaggart

Few articles in the recent history of philosophy have yielded as large, and confusing, a literature as has McTaggart’s 1908 the Unreality of Time. Whatever one thinks of the status of the argument contained in that paper—what has became known as McTaggart’s Paradox—there is no denying that it, and the distinctions McTaggart introduces in that paper, have shaped the philosophy of time in many and deep ways. Each of us working in the philosophy of time locates ourselves by appealing to McTaggart’s terminology of the A, B and C series, and by noting the ways in which we agree (and disagree) with McTaggart. Indeed, frequently philosophers’ preferred view in the philosophy of time is heavily influenced by the way they see McTaggart’s Paradox. Had McTaggart known what the future held, and had he, perchance, needed to complete an ‘Impact Statement’ for some kind of quality assessment metric, we can safely say his score would have been excellent. (Fortunately for McTaggart, he died before he ever had to turn his attention to Impact Statements). All of this makes Ingthorsson’s book length treatment of McTaggart’s Paradox in McTaggart’s Paradox, a valuable addition to the literature.

What makes the book of particular interest is that it carefully contextualises McTaggart’s arguments in his 1908 paper in terms of his overall metaphysical picture laid out in his two companion monographs The Nature of Existence I (1921) and The Nature of Existence II (1927). Ingthorsson’s book is a careful explication of McTaggart’s Paradox in the context of McTaggart’s broader metaphysical commitments. Indeed, Ingthorsson compellingly argues that failing to see the argument in these terms can, and has, led to various confusions. One of the many merits of the book is that not only does it present and interpret the argument in context, but, in so doing, provides an account of why the argument has been so very controversial, and why it remains so today. Ingthorsson argues that one of the primary causes of disagreement and confusion have been competing misinterpretations of the argument that have arisen due to viewing it as an entirely stand-alone argument that can be understood and evaluated in isolation from McTaggart’s broader commitments. Whether contemporary philosophers of time share those broader commitments or not, it is valuable to set the argument within the broader context and to see how various interpretations (or misinterpretations) of, and responses to, the argument, sit within that context. To that end, this is an important contribution.

The book is also valuable because it offers an historical overview of the various strands of responses to McTaggart’s Paradox. Ingthorsson carefully shows where contemporary responses have historical precursors, and what those are. That makes it an interesting piece in the history of philosophy. More than that, though, the book does a commendable job of categorizing the kinds of responses that have been made to McTaggart’s Paradox over the years. This is no small feat given the wealth of responses that the argument has garnered. It is much to be admired that someone has managed to sift through the various papers as they appeared from 1908 onwards, with a view to articulating and categorising those responses in a useful manner. This allows the reader to ignore the many small differences in approaches and instead focus on the important philosophical similarities between approaches. For anyone who wants to get to grips with the major threads of thought that developed in response to McTaggart, this is an invaluable resource.

While the book’s principal aim, at least as I read it, is to articulate McTaggart’s argument, place it in context, and then consider the ways in which the argument has been interpreted and responded to, the book certainly ought not be thought of as primarily about hermeneutics or history of philosophy.  Ingthorsson has plenty to say, along the way, about where he thinks responses to McTaggart’s Paradox hit the mark, and where he thinks they do not. He also offers a number of positive arguments of his own about what he thinks the argument establishes, and what he does not. These are also valuable additions to the literature. So there is much that is interesting and rewarding about the book—too much to cover in this review. Instead, in what follows I will consider just two of the issues that jumped out at me as I read, and which I thought deserved particular attention.

In reading the book I was particularly interested in its explication of McTaggart’s account of how it is that it comes to appear to us as though there is a temporal dimension—the appearance as of there being a temporally ordered succession. (Here I suppose that successions have a direction, not merely an ordering, and so the appearance is as of there being a temporal ordering that runs from past, to future). Since McTaggart thinks there is no such ordering (no such temporal ordering that is) he incurs the explanatory burden of explaining why it seems to us as though there is. This is a burden that he takes up. McTaggart’s explanation of these seemings are of particular interest in the contemporary context, since the issue of why things seem the way they do to us, temporally speaking, is one that has become pressing over the last few decades. We find contemporary A-theorists arguing that because it appears to us as though there is an A-series—it appears to us as though events occur in a particular ordered succession and that time itself passes—we have reason (albeit defeasible) to suppose that this is the way things are, and that in fact some version of the A-theory is true.[1] Or, put more strongly, such theorists argue that the best explanation for these appearances are that time is indeed this way.  B-theorists, unsurprisingly, have responded in one of two ways. They have either argued that in fact things do not appear to us this way at all[2] (though perhaps we mistakenly believe that things appear to us this way[3], or they have argued that things do indeed seem this way, but them seeming this way is an illusion.[4] The latter have attempted to spell out how it is that we are subject to this illusion, the former have attempted to spell out how it is that we come to have such false beliefs about the way things seem.

In this regard, then, the B-theorist is in something like the same boat in which McTaggart found himself. To be sure, the B-theorist does not need to explain why it seems to us though there are temporal relations despite there not being said relations, since unlike McTaggart B-theorists think that the presence of B-relations in the absence of A-properties is sufficient for the existence of temporal relations. Yet the B-theorist does owe an explanation of why it appears to us as though there is an A-series (or why we falsely believe that it seems to us that way) and in this regard she shares a common explanatory burden with McTaggart. Moreover, in that, the B-theorist is not alone. The C-theorist, who thinks that it is sufficient for the existence of temporal relations that there exist C-relations in the absence of B-relations or A-properties, incurs all the explanatory burdens accruing to the B-theorist, and more still. For the C-theorist must, in addition, explain why it seems to us as though there is a B-series: that is, she must explain not only why there appears to be an ordered temporal sequence, but also, why that ordering appears to have a direction when, according to her, it does not.[5] By contrast, since the B-theorist thinks the temporal ordering has a direction (but does not have any A-theoretic flow) she can explain this appearance as veridical. Finally, some contemporary physicists, in their desire to reconcile quantum mechanics with the general theory of relativity, have defended so-called timeless physical theories, according to which there is not even a C-series ordering of events.[6] These theorists incur all of McTaggart’s explanatory burdens, since they need to explain why it seems to us as though there is a temporal ordering, when, in fact, there is none.

Given the extent to which contemporary theorists incur some, or all, of the explanatory burdens McTaggart incurred, the question of how McTaggart discharges that burden is of considerable interest. This is how Ingthorsson describes McTaggart’s approach:

McTaggart suggests that they [the terms in the C-series] are related in terms of being ‘included in’ and ‘inclusive of’ (S566 of NE). Very briefly, the only way he thinks we can explain the appearance of a series of entities related by the earlier than/later than each other is if we assume that, for any two terms in the series (except the first and last is there is a first and last) the one includes the other. The perception of a mental state that includes another can give rise to the misperception that the included content is a part of the content that includes it, and mutatis mutandis for mental states that are included in another. The relations of included in and inclusive of are asymmetric and transitive and so give a sense of direction, and are meant to be able to give rise to a false sense of change, and that in turn gives rise to a false sense of one term being earlier or later than another. (McTaggart’s Paradox pg 59).

Unsurprisingly, McTaggart appeals to the existence of the C-series, alongside certain features of our mental states, to explain the way things seem. This is important, since in doing so McTaggart appeals to the very same resources the C-theorist takes herself to have. So if his explanation is good (or at least, on the right track) then it is an explanation to which the C-theorist can avail herself. If I understand the proposal correctly, McTaggart’s explanation for the appearance as of succession (and with it, change) looks something like what have become known as retentionalist models of temporal experience. According to such models, roughly speaking, the mental state that obtains at one time can, as part of its content, include content from mental states that obtained at other times. So, in theory at least, mental states can have a nested structure, whereby one, as part of its content, includes the content of another mental state, which, in turn as part of its content, includes another mental state and so on. This complex nested structure is precisely the structure McTaggart supposes mental states to have. One might have attempted to explain this nested content in terms of the relations of earlier/later than, by noting that later mental states include content from earlier mental states (but not vice versa). But the proposal, here, would be to explain the appearance as of there being relations of earlier/later in terms of the nesting of mental states by suggesting that the appearance as of a directed succession is given by the existence of these nested states. In particular, since the relation of inclusion is itself asymmetric and transitive, then if mental states have that nested structure along the C-series ordering, then they are ordered by a relation that has the same formal features as the earlier/later than relation.

Indeed, something like this picture seems to be a precursor of contemporary C-theoretic explanations for the appearance as of temporal direction in terms of, inter alia, asymmetries of memory, knowledge, and deliberation.[7] In fact, something very close to McTaggart’s proposal is to be found in the work of contemporary timeless theorists. Those theorists, of course, do not have recourse to the existence of a C-series as a partial explanation of the way things seem. So they appeal entirely to unordered (temporally unordered, that is) nested mental states to explain why it seems to us as though there is an ordering (the appearance of ordering is, as it were, the product of the nesting) as well as why that ordering appears to have a direction.[8]

The explanation cannot, of course, end there. It might be right that this nested feature of our mental states gives rise to the appearance as of temporal succession where there is none. But there remains the question of why our mental states have this feature at all: why do some mental states include others? Given the rich resource of McTaggart’s thought, it would be of significant interest to pursue the question of what more he has to say about why mental states have these features. Of course, contemporary philosophers of time will typically point, at least in part, to features of increasing entropy to explain why mental states exhibit this ‘nesting asymmetry’; but it would be of interest to investigate McTaggart’s own views on this.

Interestingly, what all this tells us is that the gap between McTaggart and the C-theorist is, in fact, quite slender. McTaggart agrees with the C-theorist that what gives rise to the appearance as of a temporal succession is the existence of the C-series, combined with certain (asymmetric, transitive) relations (i.e. inclusion) that obtain between our mental states. Where they disagree is in whether the C-series, absent any B- or A-series, is properly called temporal or not. And there, of course, we come back to the issue of whether such a series can give rise to ‘genuine’ change. For the reason that McTaggart concludes that the C-series is not temporal is that in the absence of an A-series, there would be no genuine change, and genuine change is necessary for an ordering to be temporal. Thus neither a C-series nor a B-series, absent an A-series, could count as a temporal series. Both B-theorists and C-theorists reject the claim that there can be no genuine change in the absence of an A-series, and Ingthorsson takes up this issue in chapter 7. There, he argues that McTaggart was right in at least the following way: the B-theory is incompatible with genuine change, since genuine change requires enduring objects—objects that are wholly present at each time they exist rather than being merely partly present as are perduring objects—and the B-theory cannot accommodate such objects.

The reason endurantism is suppose to be the only view of persistence that captures genuine change, is that it entails that persisting objects are numerically identical over time, so that one and the same object exists at multiple times, and at those times instantiates different properties. Thus persisting objects endure through changes, rather than change being a matter of persisting objects having parts with different properties at different times (as per perdurantism). The idea that the B-theory is incompatible with endurance, then, is an interesting (and important) claim, and one that it is worth further consideration. For if time does require genuine change, and if genuine change requires endurance, then McTaggart was right all along: if all events, objects, and properties exist (if eternalism is true) then there exists a C-series and perduring objects, but there does not exist any temporal ordering of the objects in the C-series.

Let’s set aside the issue of whether genuine change requires endurance, and whether, if it does, genuine change is, in turn, required for an ordering to be temporal. Instead, let’s just focus on Ingthorsson’s contention that the B-theory is incompatible with endurance.

Ingthorsson argues that endurance requires temporal passage at least in the sense that enduring things have to move from one time, to another. But there is no way for them to do that given the B-theory. Another way to put this is that what it is to be wholly present is to be entirely at one time, and to be nowhen else (that’s why enduring objects move, being first at one time, and later at another). But B-theorists are committed to what Ingthorsson calls the temporal parity thesis—the view that all objects events and properties that ever did, do, or will, exist, exist simpliciter (i.e. co-exist). (The temporal parity thesis is the view that is sometimes known as eternalism). If that thesis is true then enduring things co-exist with themselves at many times. So in what sense are said objects wholly present, given that each of them exists not only at the time in question, but also outside of it. Ingthorsson writes that

…the very idea of an enduring particular, in the sense I initially described it, is as of a three-dimensional thing that exists wholly and exclusively at one time at a time i.e. not multiply located in time any more than a football that crosses the pitch is multiply located at all points of it spatial trajectory. (McTaggart’s Paradox, 102)

The idea is that just as the football sweeps across the field, and is at no time at multiple places on the field (but rather, at each in succession) somehow the same ought be true of enduring objects.

It is worth noting that this argument, if it succeeds, succeeds against views that accept something weaker than the temporal parity thesis. It succeeds against any view that says that there exist a least two times t and t*, such that whatever objects, properties and events exist at t, and whatever objects, properties and events exist at t*, all of those objects, properties and events co-exist (i.e. exist simpliciter). Presentism denies even this weak thesis, but other non B-theoretic views such as the growing block and moving spotlight theories do accept that weaker thesis. If the argument succeeds, then, it shows that every view of temporal ontology is incompatible with endurance (and hence, perhaps, with genuine change and with temporal relations) aside from presentism.[9] That’s because Ingthorsson’s view about what it would take for an object to be wholly present, and hence to endure, requires that said object exists at only one time, and nowhen outside that time. But if any other times exist than the present one, then this would flout that requirement.

To be sure, if being wholly present means being at one time, and nowhere else, then it must be the case that endurance is incompatible with any view but presentism. But ought we think this is so? Of course, in the case of the moving football—what we might call the spatial case—what it is to move through space (very roughly, setting aside issues of relativity) is to exist at different spatial locations at different times. Hence at any one time one will see the football at a single position along its trajectory: we will see it at one place on the field, and at no other. But if one ‘sees’ all times, one will see that object at each location along its trajectory: that is, in fact, what a worldline is, in Minkowski space-time. So one sees a whole set of co-existing three-dimensional objects, each of which is the football at one time. Why should that be puzzling? Why should it show that the football is not, in any good sense, wholly present at each spatial location at which it is located at each time?  What is the sense in which the ball is wholly present at each of those locations, given that, quite clearly, it is present at more than just one location? It is the sense in which at each time, what exists is all of the ball—all of the three-dimensional object that is the ball, as opposed to there existing some three-dimensional object that is a mere part of the ball.

To be sure, what we see when we look at the full four-dimensional representation of the ball’s movement across the field is that the ball fills a four-dimensional region of space-time (namely its four-dimensional trajectory through space-time). But that doesn’t make the ball four-dimensional, since one way of accomplishing this filling of space-time is for the ball to endure, and to fill that region by being wholly located at each of the three-dimensional regions. The ball moves across the field, and it does so by existing at different places at different times, not by existing only at a single time, and by different times themselves existing sequentially.

Ingthorsson is aware of such a view, noting that, many contemporary endurantists (those who think persisting objects endure) think that endurance is compatible with the temporal parity thesis. Such endurantists hold that we should understand what it is to be wholly present in terms of a multi-location thesis spelled out in terms of different location relations that objects bear to regions of spacetime. [10]  To be sure, they say, the enduring ball is located at different times (all of which are equally real) but it endures nonetheless, since it is the very same, numerically identical, three-dimensional ball, that exists at each of those times.

Ingthorsson, however, thinks that such a view falls foul of the problem of temporary intrinsics. Does it? I don’t see why. If the ball is, indeed, multiply located then there is just one ball, located in many places. It doesn’t sweep through time, to be sure, but the entire ball is located at each time, and each such three-dimensional object is one and the same thing. That ball has a single complete set of properties—the properties that completely characterise the ball—which mention how it is at each of those times. One might worry, as Ingthorsson does, that this makes the instantiation of properties into disguised relations to times, since the ball must instantiate properties such as being dirty at one time, and being clean at another (let’s suppose the ball picks up dirt as it traverses the field). But it’s hard to feel the force of this worry, given the picture on offer. If it turns out that objects persist by being multiply located along the temporal axis, then they do so by bearing location relations to each of the three-dimensional regions they occupy. A single persisting ball bears a series of location relations to a series of such regions. But in that case one might expect that at each of such region, the ball will instantiate properties relative to that location. It’s not as if this is an ad hoc proposal borne of the need to reconcile change with Leibniz Law (a la the problem of temporary intrinsics); rather, it seems to be the natural thing to day for someone who endorses this picture. No doubt, however, there is much more to be said here, and McTaggart’s Paradox sews the seeds for such discussion.

Whatever one makes of the arguments, the book is a rich source of argumentation and discussion of a number of core issues in the philosophy of time, and for that reason is well worth a read.


Barbour, J. (1999). The End of Time.  Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

Baron, S., Cusbert, J., Farr, M., Kon, M, & Miller, K (2015). Temporal Experience, Temporal Passage and the Cognitive Sciences. Philosophy Compass. 10 (8): 56—571.

Baron, S and K Miller (2015). “What is temporal error theory?” Philosophical Studies. 172 (9): 2427-2444.

Baron, S and K Miller (2014). “Causation in a timeless world”. Synthese. Volume 191, Issue 12, pp 2867-2886 DOI 10.1007/s11229-014-0427-0.

Braddon-Mitchell, D (2013). Against the Illusion Theory of Temporal Phenomenology. CAPE studies in Applied Ethics volume 2  211-233.

Gilmore, C. (2014). «Location and Mereology», The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.

Eagle, A., (2010a). “Perdurance and Location”, in D. Zimmerman, ed., Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, vol. 5, pp. 53–94.

Hoerl, C. (2014). Do we (seem to) perceive passage? Philosophical Explorations, 17, 188–202.

Kutach, D. (2011). The Asymmetry of Influence. In Craig Callender (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Time. Oxford University Press.

Latham, A. J. Holcombe. A. and K Miller (ms). “Temporal Phenomenology: Phenomenological Illusion vs Cognitive Error.”

McTaggart, J. M. E. (1908). The Unreality of Time. Mind, 17(68), 457–474.

McTaggart, J. M. E. (1921). The Nature of Existence Vol 1. Cambridge, CUP.

McTaggart, J. M. E. (1927). The Nature of Existence Vol 2. Cambridge, CUP.

Parsons, J.  (2007). “Theories of Location”, Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, vol. 3., pp. 201–232.

Paul, L. A. (2010). Temporal experience. Journal of Philosophy, 107, 333–359.

Price, H. (1996). Time’s Arrow and Archimedes’ Point: New Directions for the Physics of Time, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Prosser, S. (2012). Why does time seem to pass? Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 85, 92–116.

Torrengo, G. (forthcoming). “Feeling the passing of time”. The Journal of Philosophy.

[1] See Baron et al (2015) for an articulation of such arguments.

[2] See for instance Braddon-Mitchell (2013); Hoerl (2014); Torrengo (forthcoming) and Latham et al (ms).

[3] See for instance Latham et al (ms).

[4] See for instance Paul (2010); Prosser (2012).

[5] See for instance Price (1996) as an example of a C-theorist.

[6] See Barbour (1999); for philosophical discussion see Baron and Miller (2014 and 2015).

[7] See for instance Kutach (2011).

[8] See Barbour (1999).

[9] Ingthorsson uses the term ‘A-view’ to pick out presentism exclusively, and uses A/B hybrid to pick out other views that include an A-series, such as the growing block and moving spotlight view which hold that some non-present objects exist.

[10]See Parsons (2007); Gimore (2014) and Eagle (2010).

Marie Luise Knott (Ed.): The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Gershom Scholem

The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Gershom Scholem Book Cover The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Gershom Scholem
Marie Luise Knott (Ed.). Translated by Anthony David
University of Chicago Press
Cloth $45.00

Reviewed by: Michael Maidan

Those familiar with the names of Hannah Arendt and Gershom Scholem are likely aware that they were on opposite sides of the polemics around Arendt’s book on the Eichmann trial. But they may be less acquainted with the extent of the intellectual and deep personal relationship between them.  As it is explained in Marie Luise Knott’s useful ‘Introduction’ to this volume, only when we take into consideration the whole series of letters that they had exchanged over the years, ‘does a fuller portrait of their friendship emerge’ (vii). The value of this exchange is not merely biographical. Both Arendt and Scholem witnessed, at times participated in, and overall reflected on some of the more dramatic events of the first half of the 20th century. Their reflections at time intersected, and at time influenced each other, sometimes in imperceptible ways.

In 1963, Gershom Scholem wrote to Hannah Arendt a letter harshly condemning Arendt’s positions in her recently published Eichmann in Jerusalem. The controversy created by her book and its influence on the life and work of Arendt was recently dramatized in Margarethe von Trotta’s film Hannah Arendt (2012).

Scholem points out that Eichmann’ in Jerusalem really deals with two subjects: (1) Jews and their behavior during the Holocaust (Scholem writes: the ‘Catastrophe’); (2) Eichmann and his responsibilities (Letter 132, p. 201). Regarding the question of the behavior of the Jews, Scholem mentions the many years which he devoted to this question, and not just in the context of the Holocaust, but the course of Jewish history in general, and its prior catastrophes. On this question, his position is that:

There are aspects of Jewish history (and this is what I have occupied myself with for the past fifty years) which are hardly free of abysses: a demonic decay in the midst of life; insecurity in the face of this world (in contrast to the security of the pious, whom your book, bafflingly, does not mention); and a weakness that is perpetually confounded and mingled with trickery and lust for power. These have always existed, and it would be odd indeed if they didn’t come to the fore in some form at times of catastrophe (201).

Scholem intimates that this is indeed an important and grave subject, much more important thanthe question why the Jews did not defend themselves against the Naziaggressor. But, we lack the required historical perspectiveto address this subject. He finds that Arendt in her book ‘addresses only the weakness of Jewish existence’, and that to the extent that weakness there was, her emphasis was ‘completely one sided’ (201). Furthermore, her account obscures the problem. The form of the narrative substitutes itself for the content. It is Arendt’s language, more than the content itself that makes people angry with the book. Scholem points out to the ‘lighthearted style, by which I mean the English word “flippancy,” that you employ all too often in your book. It’s inappropriate for your topic, and in the most unimaginable way.’ But, if Scholem finds parts of the book frivolous, it is, first and foremost, because of a ‘lack of love of Israel’, a lack of empathy for her own people, which Scholem claims is quite common among Jews which had been members of the Left.

Arendt replied with a letter that curtly dismisses Scholem’s criticism. She rejects as uninformed the idea that she had ever been a member of the Left (Letter 133, p. 205). And regarding the more general claim that she lacks ‘Ahavat Israel’, Arendt responds unambiguously that she never hides the fact that she is Jewish: ‘That I am a Jew is one of the unquestioned facts of my life’ (206). But, for Arendt this fact belongs to the realm of the pre-political. She cannot refrain herself from antagonizing Scholem and asking about the history and meaning of ‘Ahavat Israel’ (love of Israel), a question that certainly would not contribute to mend fences with Scholem. She goes on and rejects the notion of love to a collective or to an abstract idea. She finds the idea of ‘loving of Israel’ baffling, as if loving herself, something that she claims to find impossible.

This exchange of letters and their publication by Scholem ended thirty years of mostly epistolary relationship between the political thinker and philosopher and the leading scholar of Jewish mysticism and kabbalah. Between 1939 and 1964, Hannah Arendt and Gershom Scholem exchanged close to 140 letters, ranging in content from the mundane to dealing with the tragic events of the thirties and forties, and to their early efforts for the salvaging and reconstruction of the remains of Jewish communities of Western and Eastern Europe after the Holocaust.

Walter Benjamin first brought them together. And Benjamin’s tragic death, the fate of his unpublished work, and the pious will to eventually publish his work and rescue it from oblivion cemented their relationship and is an invisible thread stitching the letters together.

In the immediate postwar period, both Arendt and Scholem were personally involved in a complex process to reclaim the Jewish cultural heritage from the ruins of Europe. Many letters in this volume reflect their travails in this period, ranging from official memorandums to more personal letters in which they exchange information about the progress in their joint work.

Arendt and Benjamin became friends during their exile in Paris. Arendt fled to Paris in 1933, after having been briefly detained by the German police. The same year Benjamin left Germany, first for Paris and then for Ibiza, returning finally to Paris. Some of the earliest letters in this book refer to Benjamin. Letter 1 makes this shared connection clear:

I’m really worried about Benji. I tried to line up something for him here but failed miserably. At the same time, I’m more than ever convinced how vital it is to put him on secure footing, so he can continue his work. As I see it, his work has changed, down to his style. Everything strikes me as far more emphatic, less hesitant. It often seems to me as if he is only now making progress on the questions most decisive for him. It would be awful if he were to be prevented from continuing. (3)

Letter 4 shows the confusion and hopelessness of the refugees, trying to make sense of the defeat of the French army and the capitulationof the Third Republic. Writing from New York, Arendt shares with Scholem the information she has about Benjamin’s suicide, and the events preceding the tragic outcome. The letter ends with a reference to a question that will surface again and again in the correspondence: the fate of Benjamin’s literary estate, who has it, and to whom it belongs. To ponder on those questions at that time may seem totally irrelevant as Benjamin was virtually unknown outside of Germany. The undercurrent to this preoccupation is, at that point, Arendt and Scholem antipathy for Adorno (referred in this letter by his real last name: Wiesengrund), and their suspicions that the Institute for Social Research will try to bury Benjamin’s legacy deep into their archives.

In letter five, Scholem complains to Arendt of the lack of response from Horkheimer and Adorno to his questions regarding Benjamin’s estate.  In letter seven, Arendt tells Scholem of the small mimeographed homage to Benjamin prepared by the Institutein 1942. She notes that the only part of the estate that it contains is the Theses, a copy of which was given to Arendt by Benjamin. Scholem in the following letter complains of not having received anything from anybody. Arendt replies promising to send Scholem her only copy of the Theses and refers to her conversation with Adorno and with Horkheimer.  The latter confirmed to her that the Institute has a crate with Benjamin papers, that they are kept in a safe, and that the Institute does not know what is inside, something that Arendt does not believe to be true. The same complaints return time and again throughout the correspondence. Their misgivings are not only consequence of misinformation (Benjamin entrusted several of his manuscripts to friends in Paris, and some were only recovered in recent years, while other papers were apparently lost or destroyed) but also ideological suspicion.  Scholem makes it clear to Arendt that he believes that Horkheimer’s analysis of antisemitism—probably a reference to Horkheimer’s 1939 The Jews and Europe —is ‘an impudent, arrogant, and repulsive load of nonsense without a shred of intelligence or substance’ (20). In another letter, Arendt mentions to Scholem that ‘meanwhile, the [American Jewish] Committee has charged Mr. Horkheimer with the task of battling anti-Semitism. Putting the fox in charge of the henhouse is only one of the many amusing aspects of the story. Incidentally, aside from his repulsiveness, Horkheimer is even more half-witted than even I had thought possible.’ (Letter 13, p. 25). This is a reference to the project which resulted in the publication by Adorno and others of The Authoritarian Personality (1950), and of several monographies on the nature of antisemitism and authoritarian tendencies in general and in America in particular.

Several letters in the late 1940’s deal with a failed attempt to bring an edition of Benjamin collected writings in English. While Arendt agreed to put together the volume, she declined to write an introduction and requested one from Scholem. After invoking different excuses, she gets to the real issue: ‘I still haven’t been able to come to terms with Benjamin’s death, and therefore over the subsequent years I’ve never managed to have the necessary distance one needs to write “about” him’ (72). Indeed, she will only write about Benjamin in the short introduction to her edition of his collected works in English, published in 1968.  Benjamin collected works were finally published in 1955 in Germany, edited and introduced by Adorno (Letter 112, p. 183), followed by an edition of his letters, edited by both Scholem and Adorno.

 Many of the letters document Arendt’s and Scholem’s involvement with efforts to rescue Jewish cultural and religious objects that were looted by the Nazis and stored in different locations, particularly in what become the American military occupation zone. Arendt participated in this effort as Executive and Field director of CJR, Inc., a not for profit organization which acted as cultural affairs executor for the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization (JRSO), an organization established by the leading Jewish organizations in the US, Mandatory Palestine, Britain and France to assist in the restitution of ownerless Jewish property in Germany and the occupied countries of central Europe. The ‘Introduction’ presents a detailed reconstruction of this period in Arendt’s life that is not well documented in her standard biography by Young-Bruehl.Arendt involvement started with a study about the Nazi’s policies to pillage and destroy Jewish culture commissioned by historian Salo Baron 1942. In her study she documented not only the pillaging in Germany and Austria, but also in occupied Poland and France. She later worked between 1944-1946 as a researcher in the European Jewish Cultural Reconstruction (CEJCR), an organization created by Baron. Her task was to gather information and prepare a list of Jewish cultural organizations existing in axis-occupied Europe, which included also information on the properties owned by these institutions. Three years later, Baron hired Arendt as executive secretary of a successor organization, the JCR.

If Arendt’s role in the work of the JCR was at the organizational level, Scholem participated as a scholar of Judaism, as an individual personally familiar with the holding of the major Judaic libraries in Europe before the war, and as a representative for the Hebrew University in the just recently established State of Israel. Benjamin wrote in his Theses on the Philosophy of History (a copy of which he entrusted with Arendt before his failed attempt to cross the French-Spanish border) that ‘even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious’.  Scholem’s and Arendt’s efforts, as well as the efforts of their many partners in this mission, were directed to prove Benjamin wrong on this count, by rescuing whatever could still be rescued, and by making sure that the intellectual and cultural treasures recovered did not become mere archaeological remnants but played a renewed role in a living history.

This section of the letters alternates between the businesslike to the personal. Accordingly, someof the lettersare formal, others relaxed and friendly. Some, combine both aspects. In letter 5, Arendt reports on different matters related to their common work in JCR, but then the letter ends with a copy of an early poem by Benjamin.  While a detailed study of these letters will only be of real interest for an historian of the post-war Jewish communities in Europe, even a superficial reading conveys both the gloom and the determination of those involved in this project to do whatever possible to salvage the material remains of European Jewish culture. The book includes also four extant field reports (Number 12 through 18) and a final report to the JCR Commission.

In a letter from 1942, Scholem informs Arendt that his book Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism has been recentlypublished, and copies sent to United States. He asks Arendt to read the book and invites her comments, not as an expert in the subject matter, but as a ‘reflective reader’. Two years later Arendt mentions having sent a review to the journal Menorah (276, note 4), which she claims she wrote for Scholem’s eyes, but decided to publish because, even if she felt inadequate to the task, other readers would have been even less adequate (22).   The review was never published, and the manuscript apparently did not survive. Arendt will have the opportunity to discuss the revised second edition (1946), in her Jewish History, Revised (1946). Arendt reads Scholem’s metahistorical conclusions drawn from the history of Jewish Mysticism in the light of her own hypothesis about the failed nature of Jewish emancipation and assimilation to the majority cultures of Eastern and Central Europe which she elaborated in her biography of the Berlin Jewish salonnière, Rahel Varnhagen and in her essay ‘The Jew as Pariah: A Hidden Tradition’ (1944).

Arendt’s critical assessment of Jewish emancipation brings into play three ideal types of modern Jews: the pariah, the parvenu, and the conscious pariah. She adopts from Max Weber the notion of pariah peoples, i.e., ethnic minorities characterized by a specific social and economic role and kept separated from mainstream society. But she does notconduct her analysis on sociological, economical or historical terms, but through the mediation of literary characters which incarnate these ideal types. Hence her reliance on Heine and Kafka, which represent—according to her interpretation—forms of rebellion against the pariah status and of rejection of the ways of the individualistic parvenu. These thinkers and artists reject assimilation, including assimilation by identification with revolutionary struggles, as many Jews did in the early 20th century. Arendt concludes her essay with the following reflection, which exposes the tensions within her view of politics:

only within the framework of a people can a man live as a man among men, without exhausting himself. And only when a people lives and functions in consort with other peoples can it contribute to the establishment upon earth of a commonly conditioned and commonly controlled humanity (Arendt, The Jew as Pariah: The Hidden Tradition, Jewish Writings, 2007, 297).

Scholem is skeptical. He rejects Arendt’s interpretation: ‘I’d really like to lead off with a discussion of your thesis of the pariah’ he writes to her and adds: ‘to my inner “Rashi”—a reference to one of the most important medieval rabbinical interpreters of both the Bible and the Talmud—the texts speak a different language’.  He adds that ‘in order to squeeze them into the concepts you employ you end up leaving many things out that don’t fit.’ (24). He rejects Arendt’s interpretation of Heine and Kafka, two authors and are central to Arendt’s thesis. But Scholem excuses himself of any detailed discussion, adducing exhaustion and lack of energy at that time to engage in any serious intellectual dispute.

The intellectual, political and emotional differences between Arendt and Scholem emerge clearly in their disagreements about the nature of Zionism. Arendt seems to believe that Scholem is close to her position or at least understands sympathetically her point of view. On close reading, nothing seems to be farther from the truth.

Arendt’s criticism of Zionism is twofold. She criticizes the transformation of the Zionist idea into an ethno-political nationalism. On this point, she feels close to Scholem’s ideas of a cultural Zionism. Her other criticism relates to the strategy of the Zionist movement vis a visthe Palestinian Arab population. Also, in this matter she felt that she could expect a warm interlocutor in Scholem, who was one of the founders of the short-lived Brit Shalom (Peace Alliance) movement, who advocated for Jewish and Arab peaceful coexistence in Palestine.  Her main essay on this matter was published in 1944, under the title ‘Zionism reconsidered’. In her article, she criticizes the positions adopted in by ‘the largest and more influential section of the World Zionist Organization’in 1944, advocating the establishment of an independent Jewish national state in Palestine. Scholem’s reply comes in a letter from early 1946, several months later.  He thanks her for the paper, but expresses his concerns about her essay, which he dismisses outright.  ‘In vain I asked myself what sort of credo you had in mind when you wrote it’ he,writes. ‘Your article has nothing to do with Zionism but is instead a patently anti-Zionist, warmed-over version of hard line Communist criticism, spiced with a vague Diaspora nationalism’ (42). He continues refuting each of Arendt’s central claims in a detailed way, concluding in a stern although amicable way.

Arendt replied a few months later. She first alludes to an attempt to publish some of Benjamin writings in English. After concluding the business that ‘the two of us can agree on’, she moves to their disagreements about Zionism. She first attempts to establish a ground level for their discussion, explaining her two main concerns. On the one hand, a rejection of any ideology or worldview, which she opposes to a ‘political standpoint’. She rejects ‘Zionism’ as an ideology but approves of Scholem’s decision to emigrate to Palestine (which is the practical content of the Zionist idea!). And while she rejects Zionism, she claims that her rejection is grounded in her concern with the Jewish settlement in British mandatory Palestine and not because of any ideology. Having established that, she proceeds to restate her arguments in Zionism Reconsidered, the main being her rejection of the concept of an ethnically based nation-state (49-50), the idea of the identity between state, people and territory. She even states that her opposition to the idea of a Jewish state is not limited to the issue of the Arab population and their opposition to such a Jewish state, but because a multinational state ‘is the most rational political organization’ (50). She also re-states her position regarding the failure of the Jewish organizations to stand behind the call for a Jewish supranational army combatting Germany alongside the allies, somewhat along the lines of the free armies of the German occupied countries that combated under their own uniforms within the allied forces.

Eichmann in Jerusalem: An essay on the banality of Evil markthe final break between Arendt and Scholem. To the letter we discussed earlier, Arendt replied with a strong rebuttal in Letter 133.  Arendt rejects Scholem’s characterization of her as being a former leftist. She claims not be interested in her youth on history or politics, but only in philosophy. And that only recently she had the opportunity to study Marx. Furthermore, she claims to have never negated her Jewishness, which she interprets as a ‘brute fact’.  Nevertheless, this does not translate, as Scholem’s seems to imply, into a form of generic solidarity with other Jews, what Scholem described as ‘Ahavat Israel’ (love or concern for the fate of other Jews).  Arendt claims that she has never experienced such abstract love for any‘collective’. Furthermore, such ‘love’ would have been suspect to her, as a sort of self-love. She illustrates her point with an anecdote from a conversation she had with Golda Meir. Arendt expressed to Meir her concern about the lack of separation between the State and religion in Israel, whereas Meir answered that while she herself does not believe in God, she believes in the Jewish people. And Arendt adds:

This is a horrible comment, in my view, and I was too shocked to offer a response. But I could have replied that the magnificence of this people once lay in its belief in God—that is, in the way its trust and love of God far outweighed its fear of God. And now this people believes only in itself! What’s going to become of this? (207)

The underlying question is, as Arendt puts it clearly, one of patriotism.  And for Arendt patriotism is not possible without criticism, i.e., without considering that ‘that injustice committed by my own people naturally provokes me more than injustice done by other’ (207). The letter addresses then a number of claims  made against the book which she considers to be invalid: that she turned Eichmanninto a Zionist, that she asked why Jews in axis occupied countries did not defend themselves, that instead she really addressed the question of the collaboration of the Jewish appointed authorities during the period of the ‘final solution”, that if Jews had no material possibility to defend themselves in an active way, they should have embraced a policy of complete refusal to collaborate.  The only point in which Arendt claims to agree with Scholem is Eichmann’s sentence. She agrees that it should have been carried out, even if she disagrees with most other issues.  In fact, Scholem disagreed with the carrying out of the sentence (213).

The letter concludes with a discussion of the idea of ‘banality of evil’.  Arendt explains her idea: evil is not radical, it is shallow, even if some sorts of evil can be extreme (209). She promises to develop later this idea, which she does, at least in part, in her study of Kant.

Scholem responds to Arendt’s option of non-collaboration in a long paragraph in Letter 135.  Scholem observes that, first, such a notion is used by Arendt to create a moral and political yardstick that is totally unfounded: ‘By presenting as a feasible humane and political strategy, and not for individual Jews but for millions of them, you end up elevating into a kind of postfestum measuring stick of judgment’ (212).  But he leaves open the door to a discussion of evil, which he interprets in terms of bureaucratization of behavior, although he makes clear that he believes that this idea is an unrealistic description of the actual events: “The gentlemen enjoyed their evil, so long as there was something to enjoy. One behaves differently after the party’s over, of course (214).

The next exchange of letters is cordial but more reserved. Finally, the exchange ends with a letter from Scholem announcing a trip to New York to speak on Benjamin at the Leo Baeck Institute. Did they meet? In any event, no further letter is extant.

Raffaele Pisano, Joseph Agassi and Daria Drozdova (Eds.): Hypotheses and Perspectives in the History and Philosophy of Science

Hypotheses and Perspectives in the History and Philosophy of Science: Homage to Alexandre Koyré 1892-1964 Book Cover Hypotheses and Perspectives in the History and Philosophy of Science: Homage to Alexandre Koyré 1892-1964
Raffaele Pisano, Joseph Agassi and Daria Drozdova (Eds.)
Hardcover 139,09 €

Reviewed by: Anita Williams (Murdoch University)

As the title suggests, this edited book showcases Alexandre Koyré’s contribution to the field of history of science. The volume makes a major contribution to this field by showing the breadth of Koyré’s work and illustrating its significance in reshaping our understanding of the history of modern science. For an English speaking audience, the book is particularly exciting because the authors discuss Koyré’s legacy in both Anglo-Saxon and European contexts as well as the full range of Koyré’s opus, written in English, French, German and Russian. As a result, the book fulfils its aim, as outlined by Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent: to ‘reconsider Koyré’s works in a broad international perspective’ (ix).

Given the edited books aim to pay homage to Koyré’s work as part of the Koyré anniversary project, it is not surprising that the majority of contributions focus on Koyré’s unsurpassed and trailblazing contribution to the history of science, which forms the overall narrative of the book. By way of introducing this review, I will start with a rather striking omission regarding the organisation of the book: the edited volume is put together in alphabetical order, rather than around themes, and the introduction mainly lists summaries of the papers, rather than providing an overall framework for making sense of this volume. The organisation of the book detracts from the overall high quality of this publication and the nuanced arguments between the authors on key themes in Koyré. Rather than being foregrounded, the central themes of the edited book are left for the reader to find. In this review, I will discuss the different papers around the book’s focal motifs, which are: (1) Koyré’s ground-breaking influence on the history of science and, most notably, his influence on Thomas Kuhn; (2) the unity of Koyré’s oeuvre; (3) Koyré’s discussion of Galileo’s experiments and the mathematical character of modern science; (4) studies that extend Koyré’s analysis of the central figures in the history of modern science; and (5) Koyré’s relationship to Edmund Husserl as well as phenomenology more generally. I will use these themes to structure this review.

Several authors outline that Koyré helped to establish a new historiographical approach in the field of history of science. Chiefly, many authors note that Koyré introduced the now widely used term ‘scientific revolutions’ and this term summarises the difference between Koyré and earlier historians of science. Koyré sees modern mathematical science as a radical disjuncture between ancient and medieval understandings of the world, on the one hand, and the modern conceptualisation of nature as mathematical, on the other. In brief, for Koyré, modern science is not the culmination of a linear progression of human thought, but, instead, should be acknowledged as a radical change in the way the world is understood. Famously, Koyré has summarised this change as a shift from the closed Cosmos to the open universe, a profound change that he states is only rivalled by ‘the invention of the Cosmos by Greek thought’ in the first place (Koyré 1968c, 16).

Joseph Agassi and Jean-François Stoffel tackle Koyré’s general contribution to the history of science and how Koyré changed this field. In chapter 1, Agassi proposes that Koyré’s greatest contribution to the history of science is to present a different way of reading foundational texts of modern science. He argues that Koyré reads these texts as akin to reading the classics of the arts and humanities. By doing so, Koyré is not only able to bridge the gap between the arts and humanities, on the one side, and the sciences, on the other, but also reveals the metaphysical basis of modern science. In chapter 20, Stoffel critically reviews Koyré’s reconceptualization of the Copernican revolution as the spiritual or ontological “revolution of the 17th century” (424). Stoffel outlines that an important abiding theme in Koyré’s work is the separation of the world of science from the world of life (430) and this provides the framework for Koyré’s discussion of the Copernican revolution. Stoffel concludes by suggesting that the Koyré’s claimed separation between the scientific and the living world is without historical foundation and, instead, may reflect ‘the turmoil of his era that Koyré was marvellously echoing’ (447). Both Agassi and Stoffel highlight that Koyré changed the way the history of modern science is understood, but disagree on what Koyré’s insights should mean for current historians of science, leaving the discussion for the reader to continue.

J. C. Pinto de Oliveira and Amelia Oliveira, John Schuster and Antonino Drago focus on showing Koyré’s impact on the history of science via his influence on Kuhn. Each author discusses the relationship between Koyré and Kuhn in a different light. In chapter 15, Pinto de Oliveira and Oliveira discuss the relationship between George Sarton, Kuhn and Koyré. The main focus of this paper is the relationship between Sarton and Kuhn. From the footnotes, the emphasis on the relationship between Kuhn and Sarton seems to stem from the authors’ suggestion that Kuhn extends Koyré, while Koyré retains sympathies for Sarton (footnote 2, 278) and ‘still has one foot in the “old” historiography’ (footnote 12, 284). However, the relationship between Koyré and Kuhn is not the main focus of the paper. Instead, the authors present the case study of William Harvey’s discovery of blood circulation to illustrate the benefits of a Kuhnian inspired historiography, over Sarton’s approach. In chapter 19, Schuster explicitly outlines how Kuhn extends from Koyré as well as suggesting some difficulties Kuhn faced, given his admiration of Koyré’s work. Schuster specifically focusses on Kuhn’s early work in the history of science. He argues that Kuhn pushes Koyré’s approach to speak directly to the importance of experiments and experimental equipment in modern science, illustrating the case through Kuhn’s engagement with classical and Baconian sciences, in particular his explanation of the Copernican revolution and the rise of new experimental sciences. Schuster argues that there remains a tension within Kuhn’s account of the rise of modern science that is visible by two incommensurate explanations that can be derived from Kuhn’s work: one approach suggests the beginning of modern science is best analysed through looking for points of rupture between the old and new sciences and another suggests that Baconian sciences are born from a ‘continuous process of scientificity’ (413). Schuster leaves this tension open for future thinkers in the areas of ‘sociology of knowledge and Scientific Revolution studies’ (418).

In chapter 7, Drago presents the counterargument and argues that Koyré’s contribution to history of science is more profound than Kuhn’s own contribution. Drago writes that ‘Koyré introduced into the historiography of science the account of a conflict, i.e. the conflict between ancient and modern science’, while ‘Kuhn presented a peaceful development of science over two centuries’ (134). Drago convincingly argues that, while Kuhn adopts the term scientific revolution from Koyré, what the two scholars mean by revolution significantly differs between them. Together, Pinto de Oliveira and Amelia Oliveira, John Schuster and Drago show that a nuanced analysis of the relationship between Koyré and Kuhn is still a fruitful area for further investigations.

In chapter 18, Marlon Salomon pays attention to the way in which Koyré, himself, understood his relationship to the history of modern science and how he differentiated his own approach. He summarises Koyré’s approach by separating between two ways of engaging with the past and, in so doing, Salomon shows that Koyré’s interest in history is to ‘critique’ and ‘denaturalization’ current scientific evidence (380). One approach to the past takes current scientific ideas as natural and factual and reads the history of science with an eye to discarding old and obsolete theories and to focusing on the theories that support the current scientific models and evidence. Such an approach renders the history of ideas as a ‘showcase of curiosities’ (380), at best, and irrelevant to present concerns, at worst. By contrast, as Salomon outlines, Koyré’s approach to the history of ideas is ‘to apprehend the old theories, not at the moment of their death agony but at the moment of their birth’ (382). Salomon drives home that Koyré’s interest in the history of ideas is to enable a critique of the contemporary modern scientific understanding of the world by concluding that ‘Koyré is a thinker of the limits’ (384).

Following on from Solomon, Charles Braverman and Daria Drozdova attend to another key topic: the question of what ties together Koyré’s oeuvre. In chapter 2, Braverman argues that Koyré’s central concern is showing how the notion of space changed with the rise of modern science: modern science conceptualises space as geometrical and this affects all domains of human endeavour, which shows the relevance of Koyré’s assertion of the unity of human thought. To demonstrate his point, Braverman examines the case of André-Marie Ampère in order to show the ‘value of Koyré’s methodology’ (37). In chapter 8, Drozdova suggests that Koyré’s characterisation of modern science is bifurcated and cannot be reduced to one central claim. Instead, according to Drozdova, Koyré shows that both the “destruction of the Cosmos” and “the geometrization of space” are equally important to understanding rise of modern science. Braverman and Drozdova both foreground the importance of the geometrization of space to Koyré’s conceptualisation of the modern scientific revolution.

The next major theme addressed by the volume is Koyré’s thorough examination of the work of Galileo Galilei. As the authors that talk to this theme seek to demonstrate, Koyré made two central and controversial claims about Galileo. First, Koyré outlines the importance of imaginary or thought experiments for Galileo (see Koyré 1968b). Second, Koyré argues that Galileo sides with Platonism (see Koyré 1968c). These two arguments are closely tied together because, as Koyré, himself, notes:

‘for the contemporaries and pupils of Galileo, as well as for Galileo himself, the dividing line between Aristotelianism and Platonism was perfectly clear…the opposition between these two philosophies was determined by a different appreciation of mathematics as science, and of its role for the constitution of the science of Nature…if…one claims for mathematics a superior value, and a commanding position in the study of things natural, one is a Platonist’ (Koyré 1968d, 15).

The authors in this volume, who address Koyré’s work on Galileo, importantly draw attention to the controversy regarding Koyré’s engagement with Galileo and the ways in which this debate has influence subsequent work in the history of science.

Francesco Crapanzano, Mario De Caro and Gérard Jorland all address the theme of Koyré’s account of Galileo’s experiments. In chapter 4, Crapanzano discusses the evidence for and against the factual existence of Galileo’s experiment on the law of falling bodies at the leaning tower of Pisa. He accents Vincenzio Viviani’s – Galileo’s biographer’s – role in documenting this experiment. Crapanzano suggests that Viviani may have used the description of Galileo’s experiment with literary flare: ‘to celebrate the grand master in the best way possible, that is, by corroborating his stance with an experiment that publicly disavowed Aristotelianism’ (82). However, Crapanzano also outlines that there were other experiments supporting the law of falling bodies carried out in this time period, hence, the role of the Pisa experiment is not decisive. He concludes that Koyré ‘disproving the experiment’ played a crucial part in ‘affirming’ Koyré’s ‘perspective on the genesis of scientific theories’, but, ultimately, highlighted ‘one of the first signs of [Koyré’s] prosperous and controversial thesis of Galileo’s Platonism’ (82). In chapter 12, Jorland addresses the evidence for and against the existence of Galileo’s experiments more generally. Jorland suggests that Koyré questions Galileo’s experiments ‘on two very different grounds’: (1) ‘whether Galileo had ever performed experiments’ and (2) ‘if he had, whether [Galileo] had obtained the experimental results that he claimed’ (210). Jorland covers the work of several historians – most notably Stillman Drake – after Koyré who scoured Galileo’s private notes for evidence that he performed experiments or tried to reconstruct Galileo’s experiments to show that it was possible for Galileo to have performed them. Jorland concludes that ‘Galileo did perform experiments, but their results were not precise enough to be reliable’ (220). In a similar vein, in chapter 10, Gaukroger argues that Galileo conducted real experiments and puts forward that Koyré overlooks the prominence that experiments played in the development of modern science due to his focus on the mathematical-idealised structure of science.

In chapter 5, De Caro agrees that Galileo performed experiments. However, in contrast to Crapanzano, Jorland and Gaukroger, De Caro defends Koyré’s view of reading Galileo as a mathematico-physico Platonist. As a result, De Caro spells out that ‘the “sensate esperienze” (“sensible experiences”) that Galileo mentions as crucial in his scientific method, are not the experiences of everyday life, as it was for Aristotelians, but the observations, experimentations, and thought experiments’ (99). De Caro concludes that Koyré correctly identifies that the scientific method ‘could fully flourish only if one assumed, as Galileo did, that the natural world has an inherently mathematical structure that we are endowed to grasp when we reason mathematically’ (102). Crapanzano, Jorland, Gaukroger and De Caro highlight the continued importance of discussing the relationship between the modern mathematical sciences and the experiment.

In a related theme, Mauro Condé and Diederick Raven specifically discuss Koyré’s claim that the foundation of modern science is mathematics. In chapter 3, Condé draws attention to Koyré’s early work on mathematics and shows how his training in mathematics is important to his later history of science and explains Koyré’s argument that metaphysics precedes technology. In chapter 17, Raven also foregrounds the importance of the mathematical foundations of modern science: he writes that for modern science ‘mathematics is the key to understanding the world created for us’ (354) because ‘God created the universe’ (355) and ‘the mind is for understanding quantities’ (355). Raven presents a fascinating comparative analysis, suggesting that it is important to consider the Christian roots of modern science. He argues that Christianity’s confrontation with Aristotle creates the seeds for the scientific revolution because there is a contradiction between the Christian creator and an Aristotelian understanding of the universe, which leads to nominalism. Condé and Raven agree that Koyré’s focus on the mathematical character of modern science is central to his approach, but Raven extends this further to argue for the importance of the Christian tradition in the development of modern science.

Another motif across the volume, which draws different together authors, is those authors who extend from Koyré’s analysis to investigate various scholars pertinent to the history of modern science. In chapter 6, Dominique Descotes starts from Koyré’s lecture on Pascal to reassess the importance of Pascal’s work to the history of modern science. In chapter 11, Glenn Hartz and Patrick Lewtas discuss the importance of Descartes’ voluntarism throughout his work. In chapter 13, Anna Maria Lombardi follows Koyré’s lead to examine Kepler, focusing on the importance of the relationship between music and the harmony of the world for Kepler. In chapter 16, Raffaele Pisano and Paulo Bussotti pay attention to Kepler’s notion of force. Kepler did not agree with the infinite universe, as they note: ‘if the size of the universe were infinite then it should have…a uniform geometrical-cosmological and well-defined structure’ (335). In addition, Kepler believed that ‘the infinite was unthinkable for a human being’ (335). Pisano and Bussotti agree with Koyré that Kepler is a thinker that dwells on the cusp of the closed Cosmos and the indefinite universe, but conclude that Koyré overestimates the influence of Aristotle on Kepler. Descotes, Hartz and Lewtas, Lombardi and Pisano and Bussotti all show that Koyré’s approach points the way to further investigations and re-examinations of premier modern scientific scholars.

The last theme that I will discuss is Koyré’s relationship to the phenomenological tradition, which is discussed by three authors: Massimo Ferrari, Rodney Parker and Anna Yampolskaya. In chapter 9, Ferrari talks to the similarities and differences between Koyré and Ernst Cassirer. Ferrari argues that Cassirer and Koyré need to be understood in light of their respective philosophical backgrounds: Marburg neo-Kantianism and Husserlian phenomenology, which explain two important differences identified by Ferrari. First, Cassirer presents a linear history, whereas Koyré looks for breaks in, and differences between, Ancient and Modern science. Second, Cassirer looks for a priori foundations of science, while Koyré looks for the essential structures of modern science and traces their origins. Similarly, in chapter 14, Rodney Parker argues that Koyré needs to be understood in relationship to Edmund Husserl and phenomenology. He explicates that Husserl’s rejection of Koyré’s dissertation is not a reason to consider Koyré without Husserl. He contends that the disruption to Koyré’s studies, and his subsequent move to France, should not be understood as a new beginning, but, rather, as a continuation of Koyré’s project of phenomenology aimed at explicating the historical a priori, which he adopts from Husserl, albeit in a unique way. The important theme that links Husserl and Koyré is their focus on Galileo and the mathematisation of nature: Husserl provided a starting point for Koyré’s nuanced and detailed engagement with the history of modern science. In chapter 21, Yampolskaya outlines the impact of Koyré’s work on studies in the history of religion, namely on the work of Emmanuel Levinas and Michel Henry. Yampolskaya’s main focus is to review the exchange between Koyré and Levinas on the infinite and the finite as well as Henry’s extension of Koyré’s work on Jacob Böhme. However, during the course of the paper, Yampolskaya illustrates the relationship between Koyré and early French phenomenology and provides insightful commentary about the relationship between Koyré, Husserl and Heidegger. Yampolskaya concludes by suggesting that at the heart of the discussions between Koyré, Levinas and Henry is the ‘problem of truth’ (469) and that the ‘necessity of truth for the being of humans is a lesson of Koyré that French “theological” phenomenology would do well to retain’ (469). Ferrari, Parker and Yampolskaya expose the importance of understanding Koyré in light of the phenomenological tradition that was so influential upon him.

Outside Ferrari, Parker and Yampolskaya, the volume largely discusses Koyré outside of the phenomenological tradition and I would suggest that this is the main limitation of the volume. The book starts by outlining the impossibility of separating Koyré’s philosophy and history of science and, thereby, the importance of understanding Koyré’s work as a philosophy and history of science. On this point, Pisano quotes Koyré in his introduction to the edited work:

‘History of Science without philosophy of Science is blind…[and] philosophy of science without History of Science is empty’ (xx).

Yet, it is my contention, as I shall briefly outline, that without an appreciation of Koyré’s tie to Husserl and phenomenology more generally, the impossibility of splitting philosophy from the history of science cannot be fully appreciated.

The main source of disagreement throughout the edited volume seems to be Koyré’s characterisation of modern science as mathematical, rather than experiential. As Ferrari highlights, Koyré ‘strongly criticized the “virus of empiricist and positivist epistemology” which had also “infected” the history of science’ (159) and this also entails a reconsideration of the role of observation and experiment in modern science. Koyré’s critique of the empiricism and positivism inherent in modern science is not unique to him, but is rather a central characteristic of phenomenological philosophy, stemming and extending from Husserl.

For Koyré, modern science is not a triumph of observation over tradition and authority (Koyré 1972 [1950], 89–91). Instead, modern science is characterised by ‘an Archimedean world of geometry made real…in substituting for the world of the more-or-less of our daily life a universe of measurement and precision’ (Koyré 1968a, 91). Koyré’s point stems from and echoes Husserl’s own words: modern science surreptitiously substitutes ‘the mathematically substructured world of idealities for the only real world, the one that is…experienced and experienceable’ (Husserl 1970, §9, 48–49). As Parker in this volume notes, Husserl also addresses Galileo’s mathematisation of nature (265–269, also see Husserl 1970, §9, 23–59). Husserl names Galileo a revealing and concealing genius because he ‘discovers mathematical nature’ and ‘blazes the trail for the infinite number of physical discoveries and discoverers’, but in so doing he conceals the world as we experience it (Husserl 1970, §9, 51–52). Husserl sees modern science as permeated by a thoroughgoing confusion between the real and the ideal, where ‘what is acquired through scientific activity is not something real but something ideal’ (Husserl 1970, ‘The Vienna Lecture’, 278), but we mistake ‘for true being what is actually a method’ (Husserl 1970, §9, 51). Koyré concurs with Husserl’s identification of the confusion between the constructed world of the modern scientist and the tangible world of experience.

Additionally, Koyré’s philosophy of science cannot be separated from his history of science because he takes seriously the problem of the historical a priori that Husserl gestures towards. Husserl writes: ‘but we come back again to the fact that historical facts…are objective only on the basis of the a priori. Yet the a priori presupposes historical being’ (Husserl 1970, Objectivity and the World of Experience, 350; Parker also notes this, 247). In other words, the question of conceptual understanding cannot be separated from the supposedly objective facts and, furthermore, the question of the origin of concepts, theories and models is a question of tracing them back to the historical context in which they arose.

Husserl’s critique of the mathematisation of nature in Galileo, as well as the recognition of the problem of the historical a priori, form the background to Koyré’s own engagement with Galileo. Koyré does not merely reiterate what Husserl has said, but looks to the history of modern science in order to extend and assess Husserl’s claims about Galileo and the birth of modern science. When Koyré discusses the experiments of Galileo, it is precisely the distinction between the ideally constructed world of the scientist and the real world of our living that Koyré has in mind. Koyré’s claim is not simply that Galileo’s inferior equipment prevented him from preforming his experiments, but, more importantly, that it is ‘impossible in practice to produce a plane surface which is truly plane’ (Koyré 1968b, 45). A plane is a geometrical idea, not a real thing and, as Koyré writes, ‘perfection is not of this world: no doubt we can approach it, but we cannot attain it’ (Koyré 1968b, 45). For Koyré, ‘imaginary experiments’ or “thought experiments” step in where the real experiments end in order to bridge the gap between the world of more-or-less and the perfect world of geometry. He states that imagination ‘is not embarrassed by the limitations imposed on us by reality. It achieves the ideal, and even the impossible’ (Koyré 1968b, 45). According to Koyré, thought experiments play an important role in modern science because imagination can act as an intermediary between the mathematical and the real. Whether Galileo actually performed the experiments in question or not, does not affect the point that Koyré is making here: we cannot attain perfection in the real world.

Furthermore, the principle of inertia cannot be derived from experience because it is impossible to experience: nowhere can we actually see a body left to itself, uniformly moving in a straight line. Martin Heidegger aptly describes this point when he states:

‘modern science, in contrast to…medieval Scholasticism and science, is supposed to be based upon experience. Instead, it has [the law of inertia] at its apex. This law speaks of a thing that does not exist. It demands a fundamental representation of things which contradict the ordinary’ (Heidegger 1967, 89).

For Koyré, inertia is implicit in Galileo’s conception of motion, which will later be made explicit by Newton (Koyré 1968c, 19). As Koyré notes, ‘the Galilean concept of motion (as well as that of space) seems to us so “natural” that we even believe we have derived it from experience and observation’ (Koyré 1968d, 3), yet ‘for the Greeks as well as for the thinkers of the Middle Ages the idea that a body once put in motion will continue to more forever, appeared obviously and evidently false, and even absurd’ (Koyré 1968c, 19). As Koyré points out, it is the experiment, where we interrogate nature and force her to yield to our questions, that is decisive for modern science, not sensible experience (Koyré 1968c, 18).

The equivocation between experiment and experience is an ongoing problem for phenomenology and, therefore, worth reiterating here because the meaning of experience is at the heart of the difference between phenomenological philosophy and modern science. Yet, the meaning of experience is often left unclarified. The tradition of modern science leads to an understanding of human experience as unreliable and as reduced to a mere dependent copy of the, purportedly, external world. Modern science is not based upon unreliable experience, but upon experiments that are repeatable. The modern experiment presupposes that nature is mathematical, in other words, that nature can be measured and mapped with exactitude. On this account, the experiment allows us to move closer to the exact determination of nature by isolating ‘components’ and ‘variables’ and measuring them as well as the specific interactions between them. Phenomenology questions the mathematical conception of nature by suggesting that the scientific method operates by idealising and, then, formalising the things it investigates. Hence, what the scientists attains is not a better description of the tangible world, but a measurement of a mathematised or formalised ideal. Phenomenologists foreground this disjunction between the experimental basis of modern science and human experience as it is lived through. Furthermore, phenomenologists rethink the meaning of experience and problematise reducing experience to sensations as well as making experience equivalent to objectified repeatable data. Phenomenologists foreground that human experience is always meaningful which entails that we are able to see the same thing through different perspectives. However, this does not mean that human experience is perfectly replicable: our experience is typified, more-or-less the same, roughly similar, etc. On the other hand, human experience is not an accumulation of sensations because we always intend something whole, we always see more than we actually see. The meaning of experience is a central question for phenomenology as well as understanding modern mathematical science. I conclude by suggesting that it is important to read Koyré in light of the phenomenological critique of modern science that distinguishes the experiment from experience, brings into question the reduction of experience to sense-data and attempts to rethink experience as always intending something meaningful.

Works Cited

Heidegger, Martin. 1967. What is a Thing? Translated by W. B. Barton and Vera Dutsch. Boston: University Press of America.

Husserl, Edmund. 1970. The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy. Translated by David Carr. Evanston: Northwest University Press.

Koyré, Alexandre. 1968a. «An Experiment in Measurement.» In Metaphysics and Measurement: Essays in Scientific Revolution, 89–117. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Koyré, Alexandre. 1968b. «Galileo’s Treatise De Motu Gravium: The Use and Abuse of Imaginary Experiments.» In Metaphysics and Measurement: Essays in Scientific Revolution, 44–88. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Koyré, Alexandre. 1968c. «Galileo and Plato.» In Metaphysics and Measurement: Essays in Scientific Revolution, 16–43. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Koyré, Alexandre. 1968d. «Galileo and the Scientific Revolution of the Seventeenth Century.» In Metaphysics and Measurement: Essays in Scientific Revolution, 1–15. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Koyré, Alexandre. 1972 [1950]. «Introduction.» In Descartes Philosophical Writings, edited by Elizabeth Anscombe and Peter Thomas Geach, vii–xliv. London: Nelson’s University Paperbacks.

Dorothée Legrand, Dylan Trigg (Eds.): Unconsciousness Between Phenomenology and Psychoanalysis

Unconsciousness Between Phenomenology and Psychoanalysis Book Cover Unconsciousness Between Phenomenology and Psychoanalysis
Contributions To Phenomenology, Volume 88
Dorothée Legrand, Dylan Trigg (Eds.)
Hardback 106,99 €
XVII, 281

Reviewed by:  Philip Hoejme (University of Amsterdam)

The 88th volume in the series Contributions to Phenomenology — Unconsciousness Between Phenomenology and Psychoanalysis deals with the unconscious as a phenomenological concept. The volume, edited by Dorothée Legrand and Dylan Trigg, contributes to the discussion of how different interpretations within phenomenology deal with unconsciousness. The focus is on the manifestation of an unconscious within the phenomenological tradition, both explicit and implicit. This way of working with a psychoanalytic concept within phenomenology is described by the editors in the introduction as, “all authors let themselves be informed by psychoanalysis and are oriented by phenomenology.” (ix). The first chapter examines this from within the phenomenological framework developed by Husserl, while the second chapter does the same with phenomenology as developed by Merleau-Ponty. After these two chapters, the following chapters describe and examine the limits of phenomenology, together with what might lie beyond these limits. In the third chapter, questions concerning the status of the unconscious within the limits of phenomenology are dealt with; the fourth chapter starts to move beyond these limits. This chapter deals with topics such as anxiety, affect figurability, and non-linguistic modes of thinking. The fifth and last chapter briefly looks at what is beyond phenomenology, examining the notion of surprise as an unconscious phenomenological marker and the unconscious in both psychoanalysis and surrealism, relieving psychoanalysis of its insistence on interpretation.

In the first part, Within the Husserlian Framework, Dermot Moran and Alexander Schnell examine the unconscious within Husserlian phenomenology. Husserl is considered as dealing with an unconscious in the sense that, for him, “patterns of intentional behaviour that have ‘sunk down’, through habituation, so as to be unnoticed or ‘unremarked’ (unbewusst),” (15) evidently closely resemble Freud’s own description of the unconscious.

“Bernheim had given the injunction that five minutes after his [the patient] awakening in the ward he was to open an umbrella, and he had carried out this order on awakening [from hypnosis], but could give no motive for his so doing. We have exactly such facts in mind when we speak of the existence of unconscious psychological processes.” (Freud, 2012[1916-1917]: 234-235)

In addition to this, Moran writes that “Both [Freud and Husserl] have a conception of human life as the harmonization or balancing of conflicting forces”, (12) suggesting that there is an unconscious to be found, opposed to consciousness. For Husserl, as for Freud, unnoticed behaviours constitute how humans “saturate situations with meaning including imagined intonations and implications.” (22). This point is close to the psychoanalytical claim that we tend to instil meanings and desires on situations or people unconsciously. In these situations, psychoanalysis would, through analysis, come to make these unconscious processes part of our conscious experience. This means that psychoanalysis would often confront us with desires, wishes or fears we did not know we had, or that run counter to what we perceive. Schnell, in his text, takes the perspective that “if consciousness is defined by intentionality, the unconscious can only refer, in phenomenology, to a non-intentional dimension of consciousness.” (27). Thus, he links the conflicting forces to a difference between intention and non-intention.

Such an understanding seems to be in line with Moran’s notion that the similarity between Husserl’s and Freud’s views is their claim that life is filled with unconscious meaning. Schnell generalizes three kinds of phenomenological unconscious, based on the works of Husserl, Levinas and Richir. The first is an unconscious he describes as being constituted when moving beyond the “immanent sphere” (45). He calls this generative unconsciousness, signifying an unconscious that has “a surplus of meaning both beyond and below phenomenology’s descriptive framework” (25). The second kind of unconsciousness is hypostatic unconsciousness, which, according to Schnell, relates to genetic unconsciousness much as Freud’s death drive relates to the life drive. This is a relationship between a drive to be a self and a drive to be with the Other (viz. to be social). Freud, prior to postulating the death drive, had written only of the libidinal drive, but in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), the death drive was added. The death and life drives relate to each other as creation and destruction, and in Civilization and Its Discontents (1930), Freud again develops the death drive to explain the aggressiveness (the death drive) of some civilizations. The third kind of unconscious phenomenology is the reflective unconscious, reflecting not only on itself but also on the two other types of the unconscious. Hence, this third kind of unconscious brings with it a totality of all these variations of the unconscious.

The second part, From the Specific Perspective of Merleau-Ponty, elaborates on the unconscious in relation to the writings of this French philosopher. Emmanuel de Saint Aubert, in his essay, argues that the unconscious, as proposed by the late Merleau-Ponty, is not constituted by repressed representations. Instead, the unconscious is understood by Merleau-Ponty as cited by de Saint Aubert (50): “the fundamental structure of the psychological apparatus … [and as our] … primordial relationship to the world.” In this understanding of the unconsciousness, Merleau-Ponty posits the idea of “the body as mediator of being” (as cited by de Saint Aubert [52]). Such an understanding breaks with the classical Freudian notion of the unconscious. For Freud, the unconscious was composed of repressed representations, forbidden desires, and unfulfilled wishes. By breaking with this understanding, Merleau-Ponty reveals an interpretation of the unconscious that equates it to a bodily aspect of lived life. This is taken up by Timothy Mooney, who expands on the assertion that habits are modes of the unconscious, as already posited by Moran and Schnell in their essays on Husserlian phenomenology. In his essay, Mooney uses Merleau-Ponty’s examination of phantom limbs, where “a patient keeps trying to walk with his use-phantom leg and is not discouraged by repeated failure.” (63) This is an example of how bodily habits, in Merleau-Ponty, become unconscious. Hence, an amputee can attempt to move an amputated arm repeatedly because such an action has become habitual, even if the arm is no longer there.

By examining the way in which one’s past experiences shape bodily habits, and how these habits come to influence one’s future, Mooney argues that the unconscious nature of habitual bodily functions constitutes an unconsciousness that, at the very least, shares some similarities with unconsciousness in psychoanalysis. These are bodily (unconscious) habits: a “common embodiment” (xi) shared by all, meaning that we all have unconscious bodily habits. As examples of these, the fact that I am hardly aware of breathing, or that most of us use hand gestures when speaking, seem to be instances of such habits. However, this is a radically different notion of the unconscious from the one proposed by Freud, who claimed that the unconscious is created by a repressive culture that ties us together. Lastly, James Phillips examines the notion of a nonverbal unconsciousness in Merleau-Ponty. This understanding of the unconscious interprets it as being the nonverbal part of ordinary thoughts. Such an understanding of the unconscious is, however, a development of the Freudian concept of unconsciousness, which is more of a repression of desires and wishes.

The third part, At the Limit of Phenomenology, examines whether it is possible to talk of a phenomenological unconscious. Questions pertaining to this inquiry are dealt with over four essays. In the first essay, one of the editors of this volume, Legrand, examines both how the unconscious in psychoanalysis and phenomenology deal with revealing the/an unknown as a way to examine how the unconscious in psychoanalysis breaks the defined limits of phenomenology. Legrand, in her essay, clearly expands upon what was already stipulated by Schnell, for whom the unconscious in phenomenology constitutes those instances where habits have become second nature, i.e. unconscious. In Danish, there is an idiom: jeg gjorde det på rygraden (trans. I did it on my spine, viz. without a second thought.) This is an example of how we accept that some things come to us from an unconscious place, e.g. that we often do things without being aware of many of the underlying processes. However, Legrand argues that there are problems with relating phenomenology and psychoanalysis to each other. This problem becomes clearer in the essay by François Raffoul, who continues Legrand’s line of thought by examining Heidegger’s ‘Phenomenology of the inapparent’ and Levinas’ claim that ‘the face of the Other’, understood as a secret, an unknown, posits an ethical dimension that creates a limit for phenomenological inquiry.

In this essay, the limits of phenomenology are tested by Levinas’ claim that ethics is first philosophy. In Levinas, the face of the Other is an unknown: it cannot be reduced to an object by the conscious perceiver. This is the limit of phenomenology mentioned by Legard. By claiming that the Other is unknown, Levinas’ phenomenology brings up an ethical aspect in its phenomenological investigation; an ethical aspect that also constitutes an unconsciousness. In his introduction, Raffoul writes that “What the term ‘unconscious’ designates, perhaps improperly, is such an alterity escaping presentation, an alterity that frustrates any effort of presentation by a phenomenological disclosure.” (114) This alterity is what Levinas posits in the face of the Other, which comes to frustrate any further phenomenological disclosure because it is an inapparent, or unknown. Thus, if it is impossible to get rid of the unconsciousness in phenomenology, Joseph Cohen’s essay expands on this by seeking to answer the question of whether there could be an unconsciousness that will not let itself become conscious. Or, as Cohen poetically frames this question, is there a night which is not followed by a day? Husserl, Cohen posits, did not see this being a possibility, as for Husserl there “always lies the possibility of conversion … of transforming the unfamiliar into the familiar, the improper into the proper, the ‘un-world’ into the world.” (135) However, as Cohen explains, there is an unconscious in Husserl that precedes any self-consciousness: an unconsciousness of the night. Husserl claims that this awakes in the morning as a consciousness, but in Cohen, this conversion of the unconscious to consciousness does not happen.

Following Cohen down into the night, Drew M. Dalton, in line with de Saint Aubert, insists upon the unconscious nature of bodily experience. Thus, he comes to regard the body (the dead body, a corpse) as an entity that can be recognized by consciousness, without being a consciousness. A corpse, in this view, is “an inhuman asubjective unconsciousness,” (xiii) and the dead body comes to confront a subject with an ethical dilemma, namely its own vulnerability. This ethical dimension is similar to how the face of the Other, in Levinas, brings ethics into the phenomenological endeavour. Hence, the corpse comes to constitute an unconscious unknown to us, but which nonetheless fills us with dread: an experience of our own mortality. Following Freud’s claim that the corpse is the uncanny par excellence, Dalton, in concord with both Freud and Lacan, concludes that the face of the Other, and the corpse, constitute a traumatic presentation, captivating us, perhaps, much as a deer is captivated by a light rushing towards it.

The fourth partr, With Phenomenology and Beyond, begins with the second editor’s essay. Here, Trigg elaborates on the experience of not fully being ‘me’. By examining states of consciousness where this very fact, of being conscious, is ambiguous, Trigg examines unconscious bodily states. As an example of such an experience, Trigg offers up hypnagogia: a state wherein the subject might experience lucid dreams or sleep paralysis. In such a state, Trigg argues, one is simultaneously both conscious and unconscious. Trigg describes this in the following way: “the hypnagogic state is a liminal state, it occurs in-between dreaming and waking, such that there is an overlap between the two spheres.” (164). Consequently, hypnagogia is a bodily unconscious experience, similar to that already discussed by Cohen and Dalton. There seems to be a clear resemblance between a dead body (Dalton) and the body of someone experiencing sleep paralysis, since neither body, to any perceiver, constitutes a conscious subject. On this topic, Freud wrote that “The state of sleep is able to re-establish the likeness of mental life as it was before the recognition of reality.” (Freud, 1911: 219) Hence, in Freud’s own writings, we are also able to find a description of sleep that relates it to the realm of the unconscious, or the unreal. This interpretation is echoed by V. Hamilton, who, in her book Narcissus and Oedipus writes that “For Freud, the sleeplike state of withdrawal involved ‘a deliberate rejection of reality’” (Hamilton, 1982: 30). It is not only during sleep, or in hypnagogia, but also in actual sleep and in sleeplike states of (mental) withdrawal, that we reject reality in favour of something else. In all of these instances, Trigg argues, we encounter a phenomenon that might constitute an unconscious state of being within (and beyond) phenomenological inquiries. That this point is also found in Freud’s writings suggests that this unconscious, which Heidegger claimed could not be dispelled from phenomenology, is to be found in psychoanalysis. It should be added, however, that the unconscious for Freud is a mental process, and not, as it is here, an unconscious state or phenomenon.

Whereas the unconscious for Freud is created by culturally repressed drives, Thamy Ayouch posits an unconscious that is not created by the cultural repression of natural drives. Instead, Ayouch suggests an unconscious which is an instituted affectivity: “This notion bridges the gap between past and present, the self and the Other, activity and passivity, but also nature and culture.” (199). By reformulating the unconscious in this way, Ayouch deals with non-binary gender configurations far more convincingly than Freud, who thought that homosexuality and heterosexuality develop based on a child’s successful resolving of the Oedipal complex. An unconscious not understood as in a binary relationship with consciousness greatly differs from Freud’s perspective. This critique of Freud has also been put forward by others: an example of such can be found in works by Judith Butler (see, for example, Subjects of Desire, 1988, or Gender Trouble, 1999.) Ayouch writes that the concept of institutional affectivity, as taken from Merleau-Ponty, leads to the conclusion that “sleep would be only a content of the transcendental subject, the Unconscious only a refusal to be conscious, and memory only a consciousness of the past.” (200). This line of argument (refusing to be conscious) is taken up by Dieter Lohmar, who sets out to examine non-linguistic modes of thinking using the phenomenology of Husserl. One such mode of thinking is called scenic phantasma, or daydreams (211). These are modes of thinking that Lohmar describes as allowing a subject to play out different life scenarios. Thus, in such instances, “we are playing out possible solutions to a problem, mentally testing our options, their usefulness for a solution and their respective consequences.” (211) Daydreams are unconscious acts, and Freud saw these as an escape from reality. But for Lohmar they are also private, and therefore not located within the consciousness of anyone other than the person experiencing the daydream. Another kind of unconscious day-to-day experience is examined by Line Ryberg Ingerslev. In her essay, Ingerslev examines how many habits have become unconscious processes in our day-to-day lives (see: Moran, Schnell, and Mooney.) Habits, in this sense, are understood by Ingerslev as unconscious processes that prevent us gaining self-familiarity. Hence, habits allow us to ‘automate’ functions that relieve us of familiarity with ourselves, freeing up our mind for other tasks. Ingerslev argues that our lack of unified control over many aspects of our bodily life, constitutes breaks with a unified conscious experience of life. This, Ingerslev claims, is the effect of an unconscious phenomenon at work. As an example of this, one might think of riding a bike, or similar actions. During such feats of motor control, the subject is hardly aware of the minor adjustments being made unconsciously to maintain balance. We might also add that if one attempts to be conscious of this activity, it probably becomes even harder to cycle. This is not unlike the earlier claim by Mooney. Ingerslev concludes by positing that one does not consciously act, but instead responds to actions already instigated unconsciously by habits.

The fifth and last part, Beyond Phenomenology, concludes this volume by examining those experiences located beyond phenomenological inquiries. Both of the texts examine the notion of surprise, either as a biological response to outside stimuli, a response which can be measured, or as a way to create art within the surrealist art movement. Natalie Depraz argues that surprise constitutes a disturbance of one’s conscious life, which is both objective and measurable. As an example of this, she states that the pounding of the heart due to a shock might be a way to measure the unconscious, since this is an unconscious reaction to outside stimuli. This she relates to Freud’s notion of ‘slips of the tongue,’ a concept developed by Freud in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901[1904]). In this idea, the unconscious thought comes to reveal itself to the subject by (unconsciously) forcing its way into verbal language. A racing heart, according to Depraz, opens up the possibility of examining the unconscious as the cause of a bodily reaction. The beating of the heart is like a slip of the tongue in Freud’s example. Both are posited as measurable evidence of an unconscious, in the sense that the reaction is instigated unconsciously. But there are also differences between the two examples: the beating of the heart is an objectively measurable fact, whereas a slip of the tongue could (possibly) be a wilful act.

Another kind of unconscious is scrutinised by Alphonso Lingis, who examines artistic creation within the surrealist movement as a form off unconsciousness. Lingis begins by questioning the role of the unconscious in orthodox psychoanalysis, asking how the unconscious could function if freed from psychoanalysis’ insistence on using interpretations to root out the cause of the unconscious. Such an examination leads to an exposé of the surrealist movement, whose adherents, inspired by the theories of Freud, used the technique of automatic writing (among other techniques) to stimulate their production of art. Lingis writes that the technique of automatic writing is similar to Freud’s technique of free association, a technique grounded in the inquiries made by Freud and Bernheim in the early days of psychoanalysis. Freud and André Breton (a key figure from the surrealist movement Lingis focuses on) differ considerably regarding the importance of the latent content in dreams. While Freud was interested in this content, Breton was, on the other hand, “interested in the manifest images for their irrational and marvellous, poetic character.” (264) By focusing on the manifest content, Breton moved the focus from interpretation to experience, thus breaking with the orthodox psychoanalytic focus on the latent dream content and the primacy put on interpretation.

In conclusion, this volume succeeds in its aim of describing and examining the psychoanalytic unconscious from within, at the limits of, and beyond phenomenology. The authors and editors have written a contribution to the field of phenomenology that clearly examines what a phenomenological unconscious is, how one can think of an unconscious as a concept within phenomenological discourse, and how the notion of the unconscious can push beyond the limits of phenomenology. In particular, I would highlight the fourth chapter, as it deals with phenomena that are also central to psychoanalysis and the works of Freud. By connecting seminal works within phenomenology (Husserl, Heidegger, Lavinas, and Merleau-Ponty) with different psychoanalytic works (particularly the works of Freud and Lacan) this volume brings these two disciplines into a fruitful relationship with each other. I do, however, wish to point out that the theoretical breadth of the psychoanalytic notion of an unconscious is dealt with in a limited fashion, but this is in line with the overall goal of this volume. Specifically, I would have liked to see more discussion of the differences between Freud’s and Jung’s conceptions of the unconscious. It would also have been interesting to incorporate an examination of the disagreement between Freud and Ferenczi: a difference of opinion relating to the technique of free association, or some discussion of the Rorschach test as a way of measuring unconscious processes. Notwithstanding these minor flaws, this volume is of interest to anyone concerned with either phenomenology or psychoanalysis (both clinical and theoretical), as it bridges the two disciplines over an impressive span of topics, without becoming trivial. The themes tackled might cover a broad spectrum, but what they all have in common is a questioning and engaging examination of how an unconscious might be found within, at the limits of, or beyond phenomenology. In addition, the volume is written in clear and accessible language, making it a useful starting point for anyone who might be interested in a phenomenological examination of the unconscious.


Freud, S. (2012). Eighteenth Lecture: Traumatic Fixation — the Unconscious. A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis (1916-1917), 231-242. Wordsworth Editions Limited.

Freud, S. (1911). Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XII, Case History of Schreber, Papers on Technique and Other Works (1911-1913), 213-226. Hogarth Press.

Hamilton, V. (1982). Narcissus and Oedipus: The Children of Psychoanalysis. Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Thomas Fuchs: Ecology of the Brain: The phenomenology and biology of the embodied mind

Ecology of the Brain: The phenomenology and biology of the embodied mind Book Cover Ecology of the Brain: The phenomenology and biology of the embodied mind
Thomas Fuchs
Oxford University Press
Hardback £34.99

Reviewed by: Valeria Bizzari (Clinic University of Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany)

“Embodiment theorists want to elevate the importance of the body in explaining cognitive activities. What is meant by ‘body’ here?” (A. Goldman, F. De Vignemont, 2009, 154).

All’interno del panorama filosofico e scientifico contemporaneo, la domanda posta da Goldman e De Vignemont solleva questioni quantomai spinose e attuali: Che cosa significa essere corporei? Qual è il ruolo del nostro cervello: strumentale o costitutivo della coscienza e del suo rapporto con il mondo? E’ possibile ridurre le attività del soggetto a sostrati neurali o è necessario tenere in considerazione altri elementi, in modo da non decontestualizzare e isolare la soggettività? In altre parole, in che senso è possibile oggi parlare di embodiment?

Nel nuovo libro del professor Thomas Fuchs, noto filosofo e psichiatra presso la Clinic University of Heidelberg, è possibile trovare esaurienti risposte a tali interrogativi. Ecology of the Brain, uscito nei primi mesi del 2018 ed edito dalla Oxford University Press, offre infatti una descrizione innovativa e accurata del cervello, ben lontana sia dai paradigmi neuroriduzionisti sia da quelli funzionalisti e emergentisti, ma ancorata ad un’immagine di soggetto come persona essenzialmente intersoggettiva e inserita in un mondo-della-vita che, a sua volta, ne condiziona lo sviluppo, in un processo circolare in cui cervello, organismo e ambiente hanno un ruolo egualmente fondante rispetto alla vita di coscienza.

Circolarità può essere considerata, in effetti, la parola chiave dell’intero libro: si parla di circolarità ontologica, nel definire lo status del cervello (non organo isolato, ma parte di un organismo vivente); di circolarità epistemologica (non è il cervello che conosce, ma la persona) e di circolarità eziologica (processi neurali e interazioni intersoggettive si condizionano a vicenda, plasmando il cervello e il rapporto soggetto-mondo).

I. Cervello, corpo e percezione

Nella prima parte del libro, Fuchs critica i paradigmi delle neuroscienze cognitive, secondo le quali il cervello è l’unico soggetto dell’azione e della percezione e il vero e proprio costruttore della conoscenza e del rapporto che l’individuo intrattiene con il mondo. Negli ultimi anni in particolare, complici le numerose scoperte neuroscientifiche che sono state fatte (basti pensare ai celeberrimi “neuroni specchio”, che sembrerebbero attivarsi durante la comprensione intersoggettiva) il corpo sta in effetti subendo una riabilitazione ontologica e cognitiva. Si parla sempre più spesso di “embodied cognition”, “embodied action” e “embodied emotions”. Tuttavia, come nota anche Fuchs, è necessario porre attenzione al modo in cui il corpo viene inteso, poichè la maggior parte delle teorie rimane ancorata a una concezione “meccanica”, di “corpo-cervello” del tutto scisso dalle attività di coscienza.

Le prospettive che, pur enfatizzando il suo ruolo, considerano l’embodiment qualcosa di puramente esterno alla percezione, e non costitutivo di essa, sono molteplici, e si possono schematizzare come segue:

  1. Minimal Embodiment: questo approccio, supportato in particolare da A. Goldman, sostiene che ogni cosa che abbia una benché minima importanza per la conoscenza umana avvenga nel cervello, “the seat of most, if not all, mental events” (A. Goldman, F. De Vigemont 2009, 154). Tuttavia Goldman, ponendosi in aperto contrasto con gli altri sostenitori dell’Embodied Cognition (EB), non considera il corpo (inteso come il fisico nella sua totalità) e l’ambiente elementi decisivi nel processo cognitivo. La priorità viene attribuita piuttosto a stati cerebrali, che il filosofo definisce Brain-formatted: ad esempio, nel contesto della cognizione sociale, gli stati cerebrali coinvolti saranno quelli localizzati nell’area dei neuroni specchio, secondo una logica che riduce l’embodiment a processi neurali. In quest’ottica, il cervello non si configura come una parte del corpo, ma, al contrario, il corpo è nel cervello, e le rappresentazioni “brain-formatted” sono “the most promising concept” per promuovere un approccio “embodied”. Questa prospettiva, che potremmo definire internalista e computazionale, ricorda un po’ l’esperimento del “cervello in una vasca”: paradossalmente, infatti, sembra sostenere un’immagine di cognizione disincarnata, in quanto la visione di corpo che supporta viene semplicemente ridotta a una simulazione di fattori corporei che avviene all’interno del cervello. Risulta difficile, quindi, considerare il minimal embodiment un’autentica versione dell’ EC: al contrario, ridurre la corporeità a meccanici processi cerebrali, sembra piuttosto una rielaborazione della classica prospettiva rappresentazionalista e computazionalista. In altre parole, pur fornendo numerose evidenze empiriche, la proposta di Goldman non sembra sufficiente a una descrizione esauriente del processo cognitivo. Tuttavia, come sottolinea Thomas Fuchs (ponendosi in continuità con la proposta di Louise Barrett (2011)), non è possibile concepire un cervello completamente scisso dal corpo, né tantomeno pensare a una priorità degli stati neurali. Al contrario, è necessario pensare al corpo nella sua totalità e nella sua connessione con l’ambiente;
  2. Biological Embodiment: In netto contrasto con il “minimal embodiment”, tale approccio (adottato da autori come Chiel e Beer, Shapiro e Straus) rivaluta il ruolo dell’anatomia e dei movimenti corporei considerandoli centrali all’interno del processo cognitivo, in quanto antecedenti qualsiasi operazione cerebrale di elaborazione delle informazioni. In tal senso, le strutture extra-neurali costituirebbero l’assetto a partire dal quale si modella la nostra esperienza cognitiva. Piuttosto che essere completamente determinate dall’attività neurale, le attività cognitive, così come i responsi motori, sembrano il risultato della nostra conformazione fisica: la flessibilità dei tendini, l’attività muscolare e il complesso funzionamento corporeo determinano infatti le attività “mentali” e Il movimento si configura così come una funzione decisiva per la percezione e l’azione. Le prove empiriche a favore di questa tesi sono molte: è stato dimostrato, infatti, che le vibrazioni producano patterns propriocettivi che inducono un cambiamento nella postura corporea, così come modificazioni della percezione dell’ambiente; allo stesso modo, variazioni ormonali possono condizionare processi cognitivi come la percezione, la memoria o l’attenzione. Nonostante tale approccio abbia dunque il merito di aver rivalutato il ruolo del corpo nella sua complessità, secondo un’ottica che si potrebbe definire gestaltica, il rischio è tuttavia quello di scadere in un mero riduzionismo biologico incapace di spiegare ciò che concerne la vita emotiva e morale del soggetto agente.
  3. Semantic Embodiment: Secondo tale prospettiva (che include, ad esempio, il lavoro di G. Lakoff e M. Johnson), il corpo, insieme alla sua postura e ai suoi movimenti, non solo determina il modo in cui facciamo esperienza del mondo, ma anche i significati che attraverso la percezione siamo in grado di cogliere. Rispetto alle proposte sopra descritte, tale modello di comprensione fa dunque un notevole passo in avanti attribuendo alla corporeità una responsabilità strutturale e contenutistica. In altre parole, la conformazione del corpo percipiente e le sue capacità motorie possono influenzare le valutazioni del soggetto a proposito dell’ambiente: ad esempio, grazie al fatto di avere le mani, percepiamo un oggetto come manipolabile, afferrabile e così via. Il contenuto della percezione sembra così direttamente provocato dall’ “essere corporeo” del soggetto. In particolare, a mediare tra esperienza corporea e rielaborazione concettuale sarebbe la metafora, intesa come il prodotto di schemi ricorrenti relativi all’immagine corporea (sopra-sotto, di fronte, a lato, dietro e così via). Il ruolo delle funzioni sensorio-motorie si rivela dunque la chiave del processo percettivo e cognitivo, così come la base del linguaggio condiviso. E’ interessante notare come il semantic embodiment possa essere assimilato dalla prospettiva della “cognitive linguistic”, di cui gli stessi Lokoff e Johson sono sostenitori: secondo tale approccio,  linguaggio e cognizione interagiscono costantemente, e la capacità linguistica non viene ascritta a un potenziale innato ma deriva dalle interazioni e dal contesto d’uso in cui le abilità linguistiche stesse si acquisiscono e si sviluppano. Sebbene rifiuti il rappresentazionalismo, tale corrente si pone comunque a metà tra una spiegazione fisicalista e un approccio che, invece, considera le relazioni tra organismo-ambiente come referenziali. Anche in questo caso, tuttavia, sembra che alcuni elementi della vita soggettiva, ad esempio l’affettività e tutto ciò che concerne la sfera del pre-riflessivo, non siano tenuti in considerazione, e che una spiegazione che si rifaccia alle tesi principali di questo genere di EC non renderebbe giustizia alla complessità e peculiarità di tali tematiche.
  4. Functionalist Embodiment: la versione più accreditata di tale modello di embodiment è quella definita “extended mind”, supportata da A. Clark e D. Chalmers. Secondo tali autori, considerare il processo cognitivo un’attività esclusivamente neurale costituisce un gravissimo errore. Essi suggeriscono, piuttosto, che la cognizione dipenda dall’azione incarnata di un sistema complesso, del quale possono far parte anche alcuni elementi ambientali. In quest’ottica, il ruolo del corpo non si risolve all’interno della disputa tra meccanismi neurali o corporeità intesa nella sua totalità, ma viene enfatizzata piuttosto la possibilità che il cervello e l’organismo vivente costituiscano un continuum con l’ambiente esterno: si ha dunque una visione di corpo come sistema esteso. Al fine di determinare cosa faccia effettivamente parte del processo cognitivo, Clark e Chalmers hanno elaborato una sorta di test, il Parity Principle, secondo il quale “If, as we confront some task, a part of the world functions as a process which, were it done in the head, we would have no hesitation in recognizing as part of the cognitive process, then that part of the world is part of the cognitive process” (A. Clark, D. Chalmers 1998, 8). In altre parole, secondo tale approccio, i meccanismi cognitivi non si trovano necessariamente ed esclusivamente all’interno della nostra mente. Nonostante, quindi, venga enfatizzata la necessità di una visione gestaltica del processo cognitivo, pare che, tuttavia, tale modello non dia priorità al soggetto inteso come corpo vivo, ma consideri l’organismo in senso meramente biologico, uniformando il suo ruolo all’interno della percezione a quello che, in certe occasioni, potrebbe assumere l’ambiente, in quanto entrambi possono ugualmente farsi latori di informazioni utili. Inoltre, la coscienza e l’esistenza corporea sono considerate come due elementi separati, caratteristica che rimanda al cognitivismo classico e che conferma una visione di fisico alla stregua del fisiologico.
  5. Enattivismo: la prospettiva enattiva sostiene la tesi secondo la quale il processo percettivo alla base della cognizione sia costituito dall’azione. Il più famoso esponente di un simile approccio è E. Thompson, che insieme a Varela e Rosch, nel testo The Embodied Mind riprende la fenomenologia merleau-pontiana e cerca di svilupparne alcuni concetti. Similmente alla “mente estesa” di Chalmers e Clark, anche in questo caso viene sottolineato il fatto che il processo cognitivo non si svolga esclusivamente nel cervello, ma sia distribuito tra corpo, ambiente e mente. Tuttavia, nel caso dell’enattivismo il corpo mantiene comunque la sua priorità, in quanto modella e influenza la percezione: gli aspetti biologici, infatti, incluse le emozioni e le caratteristiche meramente organiche, hanno effetto sulla cognizione, così come i processi sensorio-motori che regolano il rapporto tra individuo e ambiente. Alva Noë ha sviluppato un modello di cognizione enattiva ponendo in diretta correlazione le contingenze sensorio-motorie e le affordances ambientali, sostenendo la tesi secondo la quale “la cognizione è azione” e si baserebbe sull’ ”esplorazione” che il corpo fa dell’ambiente e sulle “structures of our biological embodiment” (F. J. Varela, E. Thompson, E. Rosch 1991, 149). Nonostante tale approccio enfatizzi, dunque, il ruolo del corpo inteso nella sua dinamica relazione con il mondo, ricordando alcune tesi del fenomenologo Merleau-Ponty, esso non chiarisce, tuttavia, in cosa consista il sistema cognitivo, né tantomeno offre una definizione univoca di esperienza cosciente. Non è inoltre chiarito a sufficienza in che senso il corpo possa avere una funzione costitutiva nel processo percettivo.

Combinando fenomenologia, neuroscienze, psicologia dello sviluppo e enattivismo, Fuchs propone dunque un modello alternativo, per il quale la percezione consiste in una relazione attiva tra soggetto incarnato e ambiente, e sostiene la tesi per cui la soggettività non è un epifenomeno di processi neurali, né tantomeno si possa identificare con il cervello. Le neuroscienze cognitive, infatti, commettono errori categoriali, che ricadono sotto il nome di fallacia mereologica e fallacia di localizzazione. La prima, identificata da Bennett e Hacker nel 2003, riguarda l’errore di identificare una parte con il tutto, in questo caso, considerando il cervello l’unico soggetto della percezione, quando invece è la persona nel suo complesso a farlo. La fallacia di localizzazione, invece, indica l’errore di attribuire specifiche esperienze fenomeniche a determinate aree del cervello. Tuttavia, come nota Fuchs, non è possibile localizzare le funzioni cerebrali, ma soltanto i loro disturbi. Inoltre, l’attivazione di un’area del cervello è condizione necessaria ma non sufficiente a una determinata funzione. In atre parole, la coscienza non è il cervello, nè tantomeno può essere considerata un prodotto del cervello. Vi sono numerosi altri fenomeni che vanno tenuti in considerazione, e che non fanno parte del mondo fisico, bensì del mondo-della-vita. La coscienza, infatti, emerge da integrazioni sensoriali-motorie del soggetto vivente con l’ambiente in uno spazio d’azione intermodale; è dotata di un’intenzionalità affettiva che la connota teleologicamente; è consapevole delle potenzialità del sé; integra varie esperienze nel tempo ed è capace di auto-esperirsi in relazione all’ambiente. Al livello neurobiologico è quindi necessario aggiungere il livello dell’esperienza intersoggettiva di sé. Enfatizzando la priorità del mondo-della-vita, Fuchs sottolinea la necessità, da parte delle neuroscienze, di divenire sociali e prendere in considerazione anche quegli aspetti esperienziali che di solito vengono considerati superflui. Il pericolo del rinnovato interesse nei confronti della corporeità è infatti quello di sfociare in una sorta di “neuromania” che consideri il cervello, e non la persona, il vero soggetto dell’esperienza.

Avvalersi di un approccio fenomenologico si rivela quindi adatto per descrivere al meglio la relazione chiasmatica che lega il soggetto al mondo. In particolare, la nozione di “corpo vivo” si rivela utile a tale scopo poiché implica un organismo psicofisico che, per mezzo delle sue capacità cinestetiche, e, quindi, del movimento, non solo riesce a fare esperienza dell’ambiente, ma anche di se stesso (autocostituzione del corpo vivo).

II. Un approccio fenomenologico alla percezione: l’importanza del corpo vivo

Secondo la prospettiva fenomenologica, sia il processo cognitivo che la stessa coscienza altro non sono che il prodotto del nostro essere incarnati. Il corpo costituisce il mezzo attraverso il quale il soggetto può vivere nel mondo e distinguersi dalle creature inanimate. Il corpo vivo, infatti, è caratterizzato dal fatto di essere intenzionalmente diretto verso l’esterno (ponendosi come punto di partenza per ogni tipo di conoscenza) e da un’auto-affezione che gli permette di essere consapevole di se stesso indipendentemente da qualsivoglia interazione con il mondo.

E’, in particolare, Merleau-Ponty a sostenere l’inseparabilità tra capacità corporee e coscienza: in altre parole, la nostra percezione del mondo dipende dagli aspetti strutturali della nostra esistenza corporea. Tale affermazione è confermata, ad esempio, dal caso dell’arto fantasma: pare, infatti, che i pazienti che abbiano sofferto dell’amputazione o della perdita di un arto continuino ad avere percezione dell’arto in questione, come se lo possedessero ancora. Secondo il fenomenologo francese questo caso dimostra in modo esplicito come l’intenzionalità motoria—pre-riflessiva e corporea- strutturi a fondo le esperienze, indipendentemente dalla situazione meramente biologica del soggetto. Il motivo per cui l’arto perduto viene esperito come “quasi-presente” consiste nel fatto che le strutture corporee continuano a fornire al soggetto la percezione del mondo esterno. L’arto fantasma è ancora “incorporato” e inserito nel mondo, che lo “invita” a interagire con esso e i suoi oggetti, nonostante il soggetto non sia più effettivamente in grado di farlo quando. In altre parole, nonostante l’evidente deficit, il mondo continua ad apparire come un luogo a cui l’ “io posso” del soggetto può ancora relazionarsi.

Il ruolo del corpo vissuto sembrerebbe, infatti, quello di strutturare l’esperienza percettiva e renderla significante. Tale tesi risulta evidente, ad esempio, al momento dell’acquisizione di una nuova abitudine: quest’operazione, infatti, non si configura affatto come il risultato di un’operazione meramente intellettiva che avviene per mezzo di rappresentazioni o inferenze, quanto piuttosto come un atto pre-riflessivo, involontario e corporeo. L’incontro tra corpo e mondo implica inoltre un rapporto dinamico e dialettico: la percezione, infatti, non si configura come una mera rappresentazione, ma lo stesso “corpo abituale” viene costantemente modificato dalla sua interazione con l’ambiente. Imparare a danzare, a suonare uno strumento o a scrivere a macchina comporta infatti un cambiamento delle affordances e della relazione intenzionale tra soggetto e mondo.

A partire da quest’immagine di percezione è possibile sostenere che il corpo vivo sia un elemento fondamentale dell’intero processo cognitivo, motivo per cui pare necessario riformulare il rapporto tra cognizione e coscienza e, piuttosto, pensare a un approccio embodied alternativo o comunque complementare a quelli precedentemente descritti.

All’interno di tale proposta il movimento assume una funzione fondamentale, poiché si configura come lo strumento principale attraverso il quale si forma la cognizione: attraverso i movimenti corporei, infatti, il soggetto esplora il mondo, percepisce le affordances e determina le sue abitudini (habit body). In altre parole, il processo cognitivo non è affatto plasmato da rappresentazioni, ma sembra piuttosto il risultato di una percezione essenzialmente incarnata, che avviene a partire da un corpo vivo. Le capacità corporee non sono quindi meri strumenti all’interno del processo cognitivo, ma costituiscono esse stesse la cognizione: seguendo queste tesi, potremmo addirittura affermare che la mente (intesa come l’insieme dei processi cognitivi) sia essa stessa il corpo.

Nella seconda parte del libro, Fuchs sviluppa quindi una visione di cervello compatibile con il mondo della vita esperienziale, e coerente con la dualità che caratterizza la soggettività, che è sì corpo fisico, ma anche corpo vivo, in perpetuo contatto con un mondo culturale e sociale che ne condiziona lo sviluppo.

E’ interessante notare come, in questo contesto, il processo cognitivo sembri avere caratteristiche affettive: il movimento si configura, ad esempio, come la prima risorsa comunicativa, fonte di concetti non linguistici e cinetici (spazio, tempo, forza..). Le attività motorie, così come le esperienze emotive, sembrano quindi gli strumenti principali per rapportarsi e conoscere il mondo, prima che subentrino capacità cognitive più complesse, il cui corretto funzionamento pare piuttosto derivare da esse. Lo sviluppo della percezione mondana sembra perciò dipendere da esperienze corporee complessive e irriflesse, il cui protagonista è il corpo vivo, il corpo che si muove.

Focalizzarsi sulle capacità cinestetiche e motorie, piuttosto che sui correlati neurali attivi durante la percezione, permette perciò di avviare un’indagine verso un percorso più promettente. In altre parole, la concezione gerarchica tra i vari elementi attivi nel processo percettivo deve essere ripensata. Sebbene, infatti, un corretto funzionamento neuro-fisiologico sia necessario, ancor più importanti ai fini di una corretta percezione sono il processo propriocettivo e le cinestesi dell’organismo percipiente: il risultato sarà una concezione olistica di soggetto, e una visione circolare di causalità. Fuchs parla infatti di causalità circolare verticale, che avviene tra cellule (livello base), organi (livello intermedio) e organismo complessivo; e causalità circolare orizzontale, che coinvolge percezione, movimento e ambiente. Causalità circolare orizzontale e verticale si condizionano poi a vicenda, in un meccanismo complesso e olistico che permette il ciclo di cognizione, percezione e movimento. In altre parole, esiste una risonanza costante tra organismo, cervello e ambiente, legame che un approccio riduzionista e fisicalista non è affatto in grado di spiegare  esaustivamente. Il corpo vivo si fa mediatore tra soggetto e mondo, e questo legame non può essere descritto in termini di “rappresentazione”, “mappe”, “simulazioni” o “rispecchiamenti”, ma come una vera e propria risonanza, un rimando continuo e pre-riflessivo tra qualità affettive, corpo, cervello e stimoli esterni.

Prendendo come esempio lo sviluppo della socialità, e descrivendo l’ intersoggettività primaria (ovvero il rapporto diadico tra neonato e madre, che si configura come la prima forma di sincronizzazione affettiva) e l’ intersoggettività secondaria (che implica lo sviluppo dell’attenzione condivisa e relazioni intersoggettive che comprendono l’uso di oggetti), Fuchs enfatizza come fin dalla nascita l’individuo sia, in effetti, pre-riflessivamente e corporalmente legato all’altro e al mondo: l’intenzionalità corporea e l’immediata consapevolezza delle proprie cinestesi caratterizzano il soggetto fin da subito.

L’azione corporea non sempre, quindi, è complementare alla cognizione, ma è possibile sostenere che essa stessa sia cognizione. La posizione di Fuchs è quindi coerente con ciò che afferma M. Johnstone: “The human mind is not contained in the body, but emerges from and co-evolves with the body… A human being is a body-mind, that is, an organic, continually developing process of events”(M. Johnson 2007, 279).

Grazie alle nostre capacità cinestetiche impariamo a rapportarci con il mondo, acquisiamo nuove abitudini, diveniamo in possesso di quel “saper fare”, la praktognosia, essenziale per il nostro ancoraggio al mondo in quanto presenze animate (e non come cervelli disincarnati e decontestualizzati).

L’esperienza non è un epifenomeno, ma ha un ruolo centrale per la comprensione della mente: è quindi necessario un ripensamento della comprensione dell’apparato cognitivo: la mente umana sembra infatti “incarnata” nell’organismo e “incorporata” nel mondo, perciò irriducibile a strutture cerebrali.

La nostra vita mentale sembra coinvolgere, inoltre, tre tipi di attività corporee interrelate tra loro: auto-regolazione, interazione intersoggettiva, percezione sensoriale-motoria. Un approccio che tenti di spiegare in modo esauriente tale sistema deve quindi tenere in considerazione non tanto la correlazione tra attivazioni neurali e stimoli esterni, quanto il rapporto dinamico tra soggetto e ambiente circostante. Di conseguenza, anche l’apparato neurofisiologico dovrà essere ripensato come qualcosa di plastico, attivo e in costante evoluzione. Il risultato è un’immagine di soggetto e mondo come elementi ugualmente coinvolti in un processo circolare e olistico incomprensibile da una prospettiva meramente rappresentazionalista: cognizione e coscienza (incarnata) sono quindi intimamente connesse.

Un ulteriore vantaggio dell’approccio fenomenologico adottato da Fuchs è inoltre quello di rendere giustizia alla corporeità nel suo complesso: il corpo vivo, infatti, implica qualcosa di più di un insieme di schemi sensoriali-motori funzionanti. Essendo un’entità essenzialmente psicofisica, il Leib include fattori pre-noetici che, tuttavia, hanno un ruolo attivo nella percezione, come, ad esempio, i fattori affettivi ed emozionali.

Come nota Gallagher (si veda, ad esempio, S. Gallagher, M. Bower 2014) infatti, gli elementi affettivi e passivi hanno un valore motivazionale che anima l’interazione tra soggetto e mondo: si pensi, ad esempio, al caso della fame, istinto in grado di condizionare e talvolta distorcere i giudizi cognitivi. Uno studio effettuato da Danzinger et al. nel 2011 ha infatti dimostrato che le decisioni dei giudici non sono mai totalmente il frutto della mera applicazione delle leggi: molto spesso, piuttosto, il loro stato psicosomatico gioca un ruolo fondamentale nell’emissione del verdetto. Allo stesso modo è stato dimostrato come le emozioni condizionino la percezione mondana e i processi cognitivi: questo ha fatto ipotizzare l’esistenza di una coscienza affettiva e incarnata la cui posizione all’interno dell’esperienza non sia del tutto passiva.

Tale descrizione di persona come organismo essenzialmente duale ha conseguenze importanti. Innanzitutto, il contributo di Fuchs permette di ripensare il cosiddetto “mind-body problem” in termini di interrelazioni tra mente e corpo, o meglio, tra organismo vivente e cervello. Si potrebbe sostenere che la sua sia una versione “forte” dell’emergentismo, che va tuttavia a dare priorità al tutto rispetto alle componenti, e a enfatizzare la reciprocità tra livello locale e livello globale (grazie al concetto di causalità circolare). Il peggior difetto delle teorie contemporanee a proposito del rapporto mente-corpo, infatti, è quello di escludere un concetto autonomo di vita, che Fuchs (con esplicito riferimento alla nozione di autopoiesi introdotta da Varela) prende invece in considerazione, convinto che non sia possibile parlare di soggetto, o mente, senza aver ben presente il fatto che questo sia essenzialmente un corpo vivo, dotato di e-mozioni e “gettato” fin da subito in un mondo tutt’altro che asettico e passivo.

III. Per una psichiatria diretta alla persona

Una simile concezione di soggetto ha inevitabili conseguenze anche in ambito psichiatrico: negli ultimi capitoli del libro, quindi, Fuchs affronta il tema della malattia mentale e dello statuto della psichiatria. Anche in questo caso la sua posizione risulta antagonista rispetto a antagonista a quegli approcci neurobiologici riduzionisti, secondo i quali la patologia mentale altro non è che un disturbo cerebrale. In tal modo, tali prospettive reificano il disordine psichico (infatti localizzano gli stati mentali in specifiche aree del cervello), e isolano il soggetto (in quanto considerano esclusivamente gli aspetti neurobiologici, indipendentemente dal contesto). Tuttavia, i disordini mentali non sono localizzati nel cervello, ma affliggono la persona e le sue relazioni con gli altri e con il mondo. Riprendendo il tema della circolarità, che funge da filo conduttore dell’intero libro, Fuchs sostiene che la malattia mentale stessa consista quindi in un processo circolare nel quale processi psicosociali (interazioni intersoggettive), interazioni tra cervello, organismo e ambiente, e processi neurali e molecolari all’interno del cervello si condizionano a vicenda. Oltre a una predisposizione genetica, nell’eziologia della psicopatologia hanno quindi un ruolo anche le prime interazioni sociali (che influenzano la maturazione epigenetica del cervello) e le influenze ambientali (quelle negative, ad esempio, comportano uno sviluppo deficiente delle capacità relazionali).

Di conseguenza, anche i trattamenti dovranno tenere in considerazione sia i processi neurali che quelli intenzionali interattivi. Alla farmacologia (che influenza l’andamento del disordine a livello neurale, modificando le attività cerebrali che, a loro volta, influiscono sull’esperienza soggettiva) si andrà quindi a sommare l’effetto di una terapia interattiva basata su uno scambio interpersonale che ha l’effetto di alterare gli schemi neurali. I trattamenti si configurano così come vere e proprie azioni, forme di comunicazione incarnata orientate alla persona nel suo complesso.

Come sosteneva Merleau-Ponty, infatti, “la malattia è una forma d’esistenza completa” (M. Merleau-Ponty 2003, 177), espressione di una particolare variazione dell’essere-al-mondo del soggetto colpito.

Cercando quindi di oltrepassare la mera interpretazione e catalogazione dei sintomi, l’approccio descritto da Fuchs sembra avere il merito di spiegare scientificamente in cosa consista la malattia e comprendere cosa significhi per il paziente l’esperienza psicotica. Enfatizzando la centralità degli aspetti pre-riflessivi dell’esperienza, una visione “circolare” di patologia riesce così a porre la dimensione pre-teorica, vissuta e emozionale al centro dell’indagine psichiatrica.

Risulta chiaro, quindi, come un approccio meramente riduzionista sia insufficiente a spiegare la complessità dell’esperienza della malattia: non è possibile localizzare la patologia in una specifica area del cervello, in quanto ciò che risulta compromesso è la soggettività nel suo complesso. La dualità enfatizzata all’inizio del volume, in cui il soggetto viene descritto come corpo fisico e corpo vivo, permette quindi di definire la psichiatria come una scienza che possiede un “soggetto-oggetto”, un orizzonte di significato che, come già aveva osservato Basaglia, necessita di un approccio integrativo, che oltrepassi il gap epistemologico tra un riduzionismo neurobiologista  e una psicologia che spiega i sintomi esclusivamente in termini di disordini interni alla mente. Mutuando un’espressione di Jaspers, è necessario un pluralismo metodologico che tenga in considerazione la complessità della coscienza, i suoi vissuti e il ruolo delle interazioni sociali.

Il libro di Fuchs riesce quindi ad offrire non solo una rinnovata immagine di soggetto, ma anche un’interessante e concreta proposta nel campo della psicopatologia: la circolarità descritta all’interno del libro non è perciò un concetto astratto, o una semplice metafora dell’interazione soggetto-mondo, ma una vera e propria direzione che le terapie dirette ai disturbi “mentali” (se così possiamo ancora definirli) dovrebbero assumere.

Ecology of the Brain permette quindi di trovare risposte soddisfacenti ai quesiti che ci si poneva all’inizio di tale recensione: embodiment non è un semplice attributo, ma un modo di essere del soggetto che va ben oltre i suoi sostrati neurali, poiché il corpo vivo si fa fin dalla nascita coscienza dinamica e intenzionale in cui processi vitali e fisici (Leben e Erleben) si intrecciano ontologicamente in modo inestricabile.

Bibliografia Essenziale

Barrett, Louise. 2011. Beyond the Brain: How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds. Princeton University Press.

Bennett, Max, Hacker, P. 2003. Philosophical foundations of neuroscience. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Clark, Andy, Chalmers, David. 1998. The Extended Mind. In Analysis 58.

Danzinger, Shai, et al. 2011. Extraneous factors in judicial decisions. In Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the USA, a. CVIII, n. 17, pp. 6889-6892.

Gallagher, Shaun, Bower, Matthew. 2014. Making enactivism even more embodied. In Avant V No. 2/2014, pp. 232-247.

Goldman, Alvin, De Vignemont, Frederique. 2009. Is social cognition embodied?. In Trends in Cognitive Sciences 13 (4), pp. 154-159.

Jaspers, Karl. 1959. Allgemeine Psychopatologie. Springer, Berlin-Gottingen-Heidelberg; engl. transl. General Psychopathology. Chicago: Il, University of Chicago Press.

Johnson, Mark. 2007. The Meaning of the Body. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 2003. Fenomenologia della Percezione. Bompiani Editore, Milano.

Varela, Francisco, Thompson, Evan, Rosch, Eleonor. 1991. The Embodied Mind. The Mit Press, Massachusetts.

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

Hermeneutics between History and Philosophy: The Selected Writings of Hans-Georg Gadamer, Volume I Book Cover Hermeneutics between History and Philosophy: The Selected Writings of Hans-Georg Gadamer, Volume I
Hans-Georg Gadamer. Editors: Pol Vandevelde, Arun Iyer
Hardback $207.00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ethics of Time: A Phenomenology and Hermeneutics of Change Book Cover The Ethics of Time: A Phenomenology and Hermeneutics of Change
Bloomsbury Studies in Continental Philosophy
John Panteleimon Manoussakis
Hardback $102.60

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[iv] Ibid., 156.

[v] Ibid., 21.

[vi] Ibid., 161.

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

Corps et machine: Cinéma et philosophie chez Jean Epstein et Maurice Merleau-Ponty Book Cover Corps et machine: Cinéma et philosophie chez Jean Epstein et Maurice Merleau-Ponty
Ken Slock
Paperback 24,00 €

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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