Miles Groth: Translating Heidegger

Translating Heidegger Book Cover Translating Heidegger
New Studies in Phenomenology and Hermeneutics
Miles Groth
University of Toronto Press
2017. Reprint edition
Paperback $29.71
314

Reviewed by: Eric v.d. Luft (Gegensatz Press)

This book is a non-updated reissue of a book published by Humanity Press in 2004. Nevertheless, the University of Toronto Press did well to pick it up, because it is an important contribution to anglophone Heidegger studies. Markus Weidler’s review of the 2004 publication in The Review of Metaphysics, 60, 2 (December 2006): 399-401, is both a straightforward summary and a clear appraisal of the main thrusts of its contents.

The book’s title suggests that it might be a sort of manual for rendering Heidegger’s difficult technical vocabulary into English. Some of this is indeed included, but it occupies only the first third of the book (15-112), which is mainly historical. The second third (113-198), which is mainly systematic, concerns Heidegger’s own theory of translation, and the final third (199-304) is bibliography.

The Preface and Part One expose infelicities and errors in translating some of the key terms of Heidegger’s technical vocabulary into English. In so doing, Groth suggests a few modifications, some of which seem more controversial than the questionable renderings which he is trying to improve or correct. For example, he translates das Seiende, which he considers «the pivotal term in Heidegger’s way of thinking» (8), as «be-ing,» then gives an unconvincing explanation of how adding the hyphen emphasizes both the substantive and the participial or gerundive nature of this word and reveals how Heidegger used sein as a transitive verb. Since das Seiende «denotes the active ongoing manifesting of an effective actuality» (8), it leads him to rather farfetched renderings such as «seienden Menschen (actual human beings)» (8). The reader is left wondering not only how he would translate wirklichen Menschen, but also whether a clumsy circumlocution such as «human beings who actively are» would be more in keeping with his analysis of das Seiende.

One of the thorniest problems in translating Heidegger is to distinguish adequately between Dasein and Existenz. A common solution is to translate the latter as «existence» and the former as either «being-there» or «there-being» or just leave it in German. Groth suggests translating Dasein as «existence» and Existenz as «life» (9-10). Some of his reasons are cogent, but his flouting of the cognate is bound to cause confusion and his bending over backwards to avoid allusions to Dilthey is unnecessary.

Groth identifies six «fundamental words» (Grundworte) from Heidegger’s technical vocabulary as indispensable in his thought, namely, Sein, Seiende, Dasein, Existenz, Nichts, and Ereignis (23). We might add a few more, such as Sorge, Gestell, Anwesen, Sprache, Alltäglichkeit, ontisch, das Man, eigentlich, Bestand, Zuhandenheit, Gelassenheit, and even the infinitive lassen. Translating these terms as accurately as possible is crucial toward developing any plausible understanding of Heidegger among anglophone thinkers. Accordingly — and wisely — Groth’s focus in Chapter One (29-94) is on the earliest receptions of Heidegger in English, starting with Ryle’s review of Sein und Zeit in 1929, in order to identify the roots of persistent misinterpretations of Heidegger among anglophone scholars. Groth apparently believes that Ryle got Heidegger completely wrong, and it would be difficult to disagree with Groth about this, especially since Groth cites to his advantage several of Ryle’s most blatant mistranslations of Heidegger’s terms, e.g., Sein as «timeless substance» (30) and besorgen as «being-about» (31). Nevertheless, despite his strong criticism of Ryle, Groth graciously gives Ryle the last word, citing to Ryle’s advantage Ryle’s 1969 partial recantation of his 1929 review (32-33).

Groth is less kind to Marjorie Grene. He is not the first to name her 1948 Dreadful Freedom (later retitled Introduction to Existentialism) as among the least helpful introductions to existentialism in general or to Heidegger in particular. Her book, which considers Kierkegaard, Sartre, Heidegger, Jaspers, and Marcel, is worthwhile only with regard to Kierkegaard, and is indeed quite pernicious with regard to Heidegger. In the preface to the 1959 edition, she not only admitted her own laziness in trying to interpret Heidegger for the first edition, but also, after claiming to have finally understood him, rejected him outright and withdrew from any serious consideration of Heidegger to wallow in her pessimistic existentialist morass. After duly citing this preface, Groth shows how Grene actually had little or no understanding of Heidegger (35-36), but obstinately tried to squeeze him into her Procrustean existentialist framework and called his thought and language «weird» or «nonsense» whenever she could not satisfactorily perform this squeeze.

Groth gives about two dozen more good examples in Chapter One of erroneous pre-1949 receptions of Heidegger. Many of these early interpreters, e.g., the theologian Julius Bixler (37), misunderstood Heidegger’s idiosyncratic use of Existenz and thus threw him in among the existentialists. Others, e.g., Paul Tillich (47-49), Ralph Harper (49, 75-76), and Vincent Edward Smith (68-69) each erred in similar ways, trying to impose Thomistic or Scholastic categories of essence and existence upon Heidegger, who uses Wesen, Dasein, and Existenz in quite different senses from how medieval philosophiers used quid est, quod est, essentia, esse, or existentia. All that these theologically or existentially inclined interpreters really show is that, despite their interpretations, Heidegger’s philosophy cannot easily be turned in a theological direction. Furthermore, Eric Unger, writing for the intelligent laity rather than just philosophers, presents Heidegger not as a serious thinker, but as a curiosity, almost a sideshow freak (57-60). Not surprisingly, he also lumps Heidegger in with the existentialists. Unger fails to recognize the ontological difference, believes that Heidegger contrasts reality and existence, and translates Seiende as «reality.» A frustrated Groth writes that «any possibility of understanding Heidegger’s notion of existence is foreclosed by Unger’s translation of Dasein as ‘human life'» (59). Many such interpretations leave us «with an overwhelming sense of obscurity and incomprehensibility about Heidegger’s so-called existential philosophy» (65). Others simply dismiss his vocabulary as impossible to fathom in English (41). For Groth, none of these writers misinterprets Heidegger more grotesquely than William Tudor Jones (70-71) and none of them comes closer to satisfying Groth’s own understanding of Heidegger than William Barrett (72-74).

Regarding Heidegger’s too often alleged connection to existentialism, Groth notes in several places (e.g., 37, 45-49, 66-67, 72, 74) that some interpreters, especially theologians, are too quick to consider Heidegger in conjunction with the radical Christian existentialist Kierkegaard, who, after all, has very little in common with Heidegger. Groth suggests that this tendency to lump the two together may arise from inadequate understanding of such terms as Sein, Dasein, Existenz, Leben, and Wesen. He complains that some translators render Dasein as «human existence» (42, 47), which he says is redundant, since Dasein only refers to specifically human existence. Even though his point is well taken, the redundancy might be necessary to convey the full Heideggerian sense of Dasein to anglophone readers.

Given her life story and especially her close association with Heidegger from 1924 to 1926, we would expect Hannah Arendt not to misunderstand him, even when she disagrees with him. Nevertheless, Groth identifies an «essential error» (51) in her reception of Heidegger, namely, that she confuses Dasein, Existenz, and Mensch. However, as a native speaker, she surely realized that what was perfectly clear to her about Heidegger’s technical vocabulary in German could not be adequately expressed in English. Also, it is not unlikely that her view of Heidegger in the 1940s was influenced by her subsequent mentor, the avowed existentialist Jaspers, and was thus pushed toward existentialism. If we look at the German text of her «What is Existenz Philosophy?» (1946) or «What is Existential Philosophy?» (1994), i.e., «Was ist Existenz-Philosophie?» (1948), we see that among her purposes is to explain, in plain German, Heidegger’s complicated German to a German audience. For example, she uses Essenz instead of Wesen. Such a purpose would naturally not translate well. But Groth considers only the first of these two English translations, does not mention her German version, and indeed seems to be misinterpreting her, alleging, for example, that she equates Existenz and Dasein when she certainly knows better than to do that. Hence we should give her the benefit of the doubt. Much of Groth’s criticism of Arendt could more properly be applied to her translators, Barrett, Robert Kimber, and Rita Kimber (87 n. 48).

Chapter Two (95-112) gives an account of the earliest translation of Heidegger to be published in English: Existence and Being (London: Vision; Chicago: Regnery, 1949). It is important to realize that this book is not a translation of a book by Heidegger, but rather an English journalist’s loosely interrelated compilation of four of Heidegger’s essays (albeit with Heidegger’s approval). In other words, there is no systematic unity to that book. Of the five who worked on it, Stefan Schimanski, Werner Brock, Douglas Scott, Alan Crick, and R.F.C. Hull, only Brock had solid philosophical credentials and none of them were qualified to interpret or translate Heidegger (109). The result was not only a misrepresentation of Heidegger, but also an internally inconsistent hodgepodge. Groth shows how these inconsistencies swirled around the usual key terms: Dasein, Seiende, Existenz, and Sein (104), as well as Befindlichkeit, Entfremdung, existenziell, etc.

The art of translation is to break a textual or literary artifact apart then reassemble it in the context of another culture. Good translating has many axioms, e.g., use a dictionary as contemporary as possible with the text to be translated; translate into, not out of, your native language; try to preserve etymological connections, puns, permutations, transpositions, rhymes, etc. Heidegger would not disagree with any of these; however, his project was different. Going back to original terms and texts was a key aspect of his deconstructive agenda, and thus of his entire philosophy. He did not trust translations, but always preferred to consult and analyze the originals, which in his case generally meant classical and scholastic Latin and especially ancient Greek. Groth notes that Heidegger believed that misunderstandings and corresponding mistranslations of five Greek terms, alêtheia, hen, logos, idea, and energeia, have largely «determined the course of Western philosophy» (19), for better or for worse.

Accordingly, Chapter Three (115-163) discusses Heidegger’s theory of translation as it evolved from 1915 to 1969. Groth has painstakingly gleaned this theory from scattered remarks in Heidegger’s vast corpus. These gleanings provide insight into not only Heidegger’s theory of translation, but also his method and agenda of philosophizing in general. This feature alone would, for both Heidegger scholars and Heidegger disciples alike, make this the most interesting chapter in the book; but Groth makes it even more interesting with the extraordinary claim (116-117) that, contrary to common sense and to traditional hermeneutical principles, thinking is not dependent upon words. Rather, Groth holds that, for Heidegger, thinking is a kind of saying (Sagen), as if there were a real difference between the spoken word and any other kind of word. After all, common sense dictates that we cannot «say» anything unless we have words in which to say it. Without words, spoken or otherwise, actual thinking is not possible, but just a flow of inchoate emotions, disconnected perceptions, and vague notions of how to proceed and survive in the world on a purely animal level.

Groth notes that other commentators have missed this counterintuitive interpretation of Heidegger, as well they might, since it is spun out of thin air and couched in equivocation. Groth even presents evidence against it as evidence for it. He cites «language speaks» (die Sprache spricht) to support his argument that «thinking is not up to the thinker» and that we do not use language, but language uses us in the service of being (117). While it is certainly true that, for Heidegger, language reveals being to us if we listen carefully; it would still be a misinterpretation to take the individual or subjective human actor out of the process of creating or presenting language in the first place. Heidegger’s optimal kind of thinking, meditative thinking (rechnendes Denken), although we may get lost in it and end up we know not where, is above all a deliberate, self-motivated, and self-motivating act, as we clearly infer from Heidegger’s 1955 «Memorial Address.» His famous assertions that «language speaks» and «language is the house of being» mean, among other things, that thought hides in words, i.e., that thought remains concealed (verborgen) in words — whether written, spoken, read, heard, or even merely dreamed — until it is disclosed (entborgen) as being. If we conceive of language in the broadest possible way, then the existence and development of language is a necessary and sufficient condition for thinking.

Despite this major misstep by Groth, other aspects of Heidegger’s theory of translation and Groth’s interpretation of it are less problematic, and generally lead to the conclusion that translating is a kind of thinking (160 n. 69).

Chapter Four (165-193) provides a detailed example of Heidegger’s «paratactic» method of translating. Parataxis means «arranging,» «arrangement,» or «array.» Groth shows how Heidegger breaks up, rearranges, and reassembles an eight-word fragment from Parmenides, using Parmenides to elucidate more precisely his own meaning of seiend-, seen in the Greek as various forms of einai. This is a reciprocal process (183); i.e., in order to bring (herüberbringen) into German the concepts that are hidden in Greek words, the German translator must first immerse himself in Greek thought and go over (hinübergehen) into the Greek so as to become capable of understanding these concepts in both Greek and German and thereby of eventually rendering them in German. Thus Heidegger reads himself into Parmenides and Parmenides into himself. Heidegger is not interested as much in the grammar or syntax of the Greek text (150) as in its particular words, syllables, and even letters, so as to disclose to himself and his readers the far-reaching allusions, etymological inferences, and deep truths that would otherwise remain hidden forever, and were perhaps even hidden from Parmenides. This method coheres well with the whole deconstructive enterprise. «For Heidegger, translating was not at all a matter of words, but of ways of thinking» (108), which suggests that Heidegger’s translation of Parmenides may tell us more about Heidegger than about Parmenides.

Sebastian Luft, Maren Wehrle (Hrsg.): Husserl-Handbuch: Leben – Werk – Wirkung

Husserl-Handbuch: Leben – Werk – Wirkung Book Cover Husserl-Handbuch: Leben – Werk – Wirkung
Sebastian Luft, Maren Wehrle (Hrsg.)
J.B. Metzler
2017
Hardcover 89,95 €
VI, 374

Reviewed by: Corinna Lagemann (Freie Universität Berlin)

Das vorliegende Werk Husserl-Handbuch. Leben – Werk – Wirkung (Metzler Verlag, Stuttgart 2017), herausgegeben von Sebastian Luft und Maren Wehrle, stellt einen vielseitigen, umfassenden Überblick über das Leben und Wirken Edmund Husserls dar. Sein besonderes Verdienst liegt darin, dass er deutlich über einen bloßen Überblick hinausgeht und inhaltlich auch in der Tiefe zu überzeugen vermag. Der Band versammelt eine Vielzahl von Aufsätzen, nicht nur zu Husserls Schaffen als publizierender und lehrender Philosoph – die Sektion „Werk“ umfasst immerhin 24 Beiträge und untergliedert sich in Veröffentlichte Texte und Nachlass – auch seinem Leben, seiner Biographie und den historischen Gegebenheiten seiner Zeit wird, immer in Hinblick auf sein philosophisches Projekt, Beachtung geschenkt. Abschließend widmet sich der Band dem Einfluss, den Husserl ausübte, sowohl auf Personen, deren Denken und Wirken er maßgeblich geprägt hat als auch Strömungen und Denkrichtungen innerhalb und außerhalb der Philosophie. So sind hier neben philosophischen Schulen auch Soziologie, Psychologie und interdisziplinäre Diskurse genannt.

Als „besonderes Anliegen“ und gleichzeitig als Neuartigkeit des Bandes bezeichnen die HerausgeberInnen dem Nachlass: „den in ihm behandelten Themen, seiner Entstehung und der sich durch diesen ausdrückenden Arbeitsweise Husserls, gebührend Raum zu geben. Die Betonung des Nachlasses in der Auswahl der in diesem Handbuch behandelten Themen ist in der Forschung ein Novum“ (S.3).

Die AutorInnen sind der internationalen Husserl-Forschung zuzuordnen; neben Beiträgen aus dem deutschsprachigen Raum von einschlägigen Husserl-Experten wie Sonja Rinofner-Kreidl, Christian Bermes und Thomas Bedorf, ist z.B. Nicolas de Warren zu nennen, der insbesondere den ersten Teil des Buches mit luziden Betrachtungen zentraler Werke Husserls bereichert.

Der biographische Abschnitt „Leben und Kontext“ bündelt familiäre Situation, zentrale Personen, psycho-soziale Umstände (Husserl spricht in den 1930er Jahren über seine Depression) und bettet sein Schaffen und Lehren sowie die Ausführungen zu seinem wissenschaftlichen Projekt gut ein. Teilweise sehr sachlich, teilweise anekdotisch, greifen die Beiträge von unterschiedlichen Autoren sinnvoll ineinander und schaffen so einen roten Faden, der plausibel zur Werk-Sektion überleitet und die Auseinandersetzung motiviert. So werden bereits hier zentrale Interessen und Begriffe in Husserls Phänomenologie angerissen, die im Lauf des Buches erörtert werden. Als Beispiel wird Husserls Analyse von Twardowski genannt, die gewissermaßen der Ausgangspunkt für Husserls Weiterentwicklung des Intentionalitätsbegriffs sei und damit eine bedeutende Rolle spiele: „Die Frage nach der Rolle der Intentionalität in der Relation zwischen Akt und Gegenstand, und allgemeiner zwischen Ich und Welt, wird dann zum Fundamentalproblem der Phänomenologie“ (S.30).

Im Abschnitt III A, in welchem die veröffentlichten Texte verhandelt werden, folgen die Beiträge chronologisch nach Erscheinungsjahr des behandelten und publizierten Werks. So macht denn auch die Philosophie der Arithmetik als erstes Buch, das auch den Weg in den Buchhandel fand, den Auftakt. Bereits in diesem frühen Text, so arbeitet Mirja Hartimo heraus, werden Konzepte angelegt und entwickelt, die Husserls gesamte Philosophie prägen werden. So wird die Methode der kollektiven Verbindung genannt, und zwar „als psychischer Akt, der mehrere Objekte als ein Ganzes begreift, ohne dass diese ihre Individualität verlieren“ (S.49). Hier zeichnet sich Husserls Herangehensweise ab, Logik und Erfahrungswissen zu verknüpfen, die Gesamtheit eines Phänomenbereichs im Blick zu haben, ohne dabei die Individualität und die logischen Gesetzmäßigkeiten zu verlieren. Originellerweise wendet er diese Methode auch auf die Arithmetik an, wenn er seinen Zahlbegriff aus der natürlichen Anschauung entwickelt: „Husserls Argument ist, dass man ohne die Idee einer kollektiven Verbindung nicht erklären könne, warum bestimmte Inhalte verbunden sein sollen, während andere von einer solchen Kollektion ausgeschlossen sind“ (S.52). Die Anschauung dient Husserl immer als Ausgangspunkt für seine Analysen, und in der Anschauung ist nunmal die Mannigfaltigkeit gegeben. Ein Problem sieht Husserl darin, „die Welt der reinen Logik und die Welt des Bewusstseins zu vereinen“ (ebd.), und hierin liegt, das legt Hartimos differenzierte Analyse nahe, der Ausgangspunkt für Husserls phänomenologisches Projekt, die formale Logik mit der Psychologie zu vereinen, um – im Sinne eines Arguments gegen den Psychologismus – „die Korrelation der objektiven Logik mit dem subjektiven Bewusstsein verständlich zu machen“ (S.55).

An dieser Stelle können nicht alle Beiträge im Band in der Tiefe betrachtet werden. Allen gemeinsam ist, dass sie Bezug aufeinander nehmen, zentrale Begriffe hervorheben und deren Weiterentwicklung skizzieren, was dieser Sektion eine große Stringenz verleiht. So wird das Projekt der Philosophie als strenger Wissenschaft thematisiert (Vgl. Nicolas de Warren, „Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie“), außerdem wird der Begriff der Epoché eingeführt, jene Methode, die durch Abschälung der Sinneseindrücke und die Ausschaltung der naiven Annahme der Gegebenheit der Welt definiert ist und die phänomenologische Untersuchung damit auf die reine immanente Bewusstseinsleistung beschränkt. Diese Methode wird v.a. in den Cartesianischen Meditationen erneut zentral.

Besondere Beachtung verdienen indes Nicolas de Warrens Text zur Phänomenologie des inneren Zeitbewusstseins sowie Dermot Morans Beitrag zu den Cartesianischen Meditationen. Beide Texte überzeugen durch ihre knappe und dennoch sehr lesbare Entfaltung hoch komplexer Thematiken. De Warren unterfüttert seine Betrachtungen durch kurze Exkurse zu Kant und Hegel, die als wichtige Einflüsse genannt werden und arbeitet Husserls eigenes Projekt in Abgrenzung zu Kants Zeitbegriff heraus; Zeit wird bei Husserl nicht als Abfolge von Jetzt-Punkten im Sinne eines naturwissenschaftlichen Zeitbegriffs verstanden, sondern vielmehr, im Rahmen seines Begriffs der Intentionalität, als Dauer, als Ineinandergreifen von Protention, Retention und Urimpression, was der Dimension des Zeiterlebens viel eher Rechnung trägt. Husserl gelingt hier, das verdeutlicht de Warren, eine Konzeption der Zeit als Struktur des Bewusstseins, welche für nachfolgende Autoren und auch für die heutige Forschung in anderen Disziplinen maßgeblich ist.

Die Cartesianischen Meditationen werden als Husserls „Haupt- und Lebenswerk“ (S.90) gewürdigt, in dem viele Hauptbegriffe der anderen Werke zusammengeführt und weiterentwickelt werden, auch werden wichtige Einflussgrößen diskutiert. Bei aller Komplexität und Detailfülle bleibt Morans Text kurz, präzise und dicht, ohne dabei einen übermäßigen Lesewiderstand aufzubauen.

Wie bereits in der Einleitung angekündigt, erfährt im Folgenden der Nachlass Husserls eine besondere Würdigung in Form einer recht umfassenden eigenen Sektion. Diese ist sehr plausibel und systematisch nach Themen gegliedert; auf besondere Schwierigkeiten bei der Sichtung des Materials gehen die HerausgeberInnen ein. Die Schwierigkeiten ergeben sich aus Husserls durchaus origineller Arbeitsweise, täglich Denktagebuch zu führen, dabei immer neue Ideen anzureißen, auszuprobieren, zu verwerfen oder weiterzuentwickeln, was zwar produktiv ist, aber auch ganz eigene Herausforderungen bei der Aufbereitung birgt. Umso mehr sei die sorgfältige Zusammenstellung der Beiträge entlang der wichtigsten Themen und Begriffe in Husserls Werk gewürdigt, die sowohl das gesamte Projekt der Phänomenologie unter verschiedenen Gesichtspunkten (als Erste Philosophie, Im Grenzbereich zur Psychologie, Intersubjektivität u.a.) beleuchtet, als auch große Themenbereiche wie Erkenntnisphilosophie und Logik und zu guter Letzt auch auf Kernthemen aus Husserls Schaffen eingeht, wie Lebenswelt und Räumlichkeit.

Im Anschluss benennt der Band Personen, die durch Husserl maßgeblich beeinflusst wurden, darunter natürlich Martin Heidegger – der wohl prominenteste Zeitgenosse Husserls, wobei wohl das gleichzeitig äußerst inspirierende und problematische Verhältnis der beiden maßgeblich für diese Prominenz war und ist. Dies stellt Thomas Nenon in seinem Beitrag sehr gut dar. Außerdem sind z.B. Sartre, Scheler, Merleau-Ponty, Ricoeur, Derrida und Foucault genannt, aber auch Husserls Einfluss in Japan wird erwähnt, in Form eines Beitrag zu Kitaro Nishida. Kritisch bemerken lässt sich, dass Edith Stein keinerlei Erwähnung findet, die als Husserls Assistentin durchaus großen Anteil an manchen Werkphasen hatte – wie immerhin in der Einleitung erwähnt wird – und eine Theorie der Einfühlung entwickelte, die durch Husserl ebenfalls inspiriert war.

Die letzte Sektion setzt sich mit dem Einfluss Husserls auf verschiedene Denkrichtungen und Disziplinen auseinander. Hier wird einmal mehr deutlich, welch große Rolle seine Theorien für die – nicht nur philosophische – Wissenschaft seit dem letzten Jahrhundert spielen.

Alles in allem liegt mit diesem Handbuch ein äußerst bereicherndes Werk für die Auseinandersetzung mit Husserls Philosophie vor. Durch seinen hohen Detailreichtum, seine enorme Dichte und Tiefe bei gleichzeitig überzeugender Struktur, hoher Lesbarkeit und seiner sehr gelungenen Auswahl an Autoren bietet es Kennern eine gute Handreichung und ein solides Nachschlagewerk, aber auch Einsteigern und an Husserls Philosophie Interessierten, die sich einen Überblick verschaffen mögen, ist es eine wertvolle Quelle. Es eignet sich sowohl zum Nachschlagen einzelner Themen und Begriffe, als auch zur Lektüre insgesamt, was dem klugen Aufbau und dem sinnvollen Ineinander der einzelnen Artikel zu verdanken ist.

Jean-Luc Nancy: The Possibility of a World

The Possibility of a World: Conversations with Pierre-Philippe Jandin Book Cover The Possibility of a World: Conversations with Pierre-Philippe Jandin
Jean-Luc Nancy, Pierre-Philippe Jandin, translated by Travis Holloway and Flor Méchain
Fordham University Press
August 8, 2017
Paperback
152

Reviewed by: Nikolaas Deketelaere (Balliol College, University of Oxford)

A reader looking to make their first entry into Jean-Luc Nancy’s work is bound to feel intimidated by the extraordinarily vast and varied nature of this particular French philosopher’s oeuvre. As it spans over dozens of books, hundreds of articles, and engages with almost every major modern thinker, one would be forgiven for feeling somewhat at a loss in deciding where to start. This is why the set-up of the interviews collected in The Possibility of a World is full of promise: guided by Pierre-Philippe Jandin, who shows himself both knowledgeable of how Nancy thinks and skilful in driving the conversation to cover as much ground as possible, Nancy is made to reflect on the entirety of his career in fluent and conversational language: the interviews provide both an accessible articulation of all the major themes of Nancy’s thought, if sometimes only implicitly, for those who are new to it; as well as a valuable insight into how Nancy relates to his own thinking and writing, for those who are already familiar with it. The present translation of these conversations by Travis Holloway and Flor Méchain generally captures Nancy’s playful use of the French language well, adding clarifying footnotes where necessary, and makes for a very fluent read in English that only falters occasionally when confronted with a particular French idiom or colloquialism.

Before delving into the conversations themselves, it is perhaps worth noting that, in my view, Nancy is a philosopher perfectly suited to be approached in this dialogical way: not just because it takes the sharp edges of his sometimes frustrating writing style; but also because the dialogical form – which, as Nancy notes, “has always been associated with philosophy” as the expression of “the free life of thinking” (Nancy 1982, 46-47) – embodies the very logic he wants to describe, namely the infinite circulation of meaning. Even when Nancy writes like any other philosopher would, he always does so under the guise of an engagement with someone else’s thinking: his own thinking exists in a dialogical interaction with that of others, to the point that it becomes hard to discern which ideas belong to which conversation partner, and that is exactly the point. Thus, in reading Nancy, we are always reminded of one fact: “without dialogue, no thinking, and no philosophy” (Nancy 1975, 330). In the case of the present text, we have the interesting opportunity to witness how, as prompted by Jandin, Nancy engages with himself, dialogues himself.

The first section of the book is dedicated to Nancy’s “formative years.” What the reader will not find here is a description of how Nancy sees the development of his own thinking throughout his life, for, as he admits elsewhere, he is “not somebody who is very self-aware, I don’t really have much of a conception of my own historical trajectory” (Nancy 2003, 45). What he does do in this section, however, is discuss the various “moments”, both anecdotal and more substantive, that would later prove important for his intellectual development. These anecdotes are really quite delightful. There is, for example, the very early memory of walking past a fence that “had these elaborate patterns.” Already betraying a theoretical orientation at that very young age, Nancy relates how he would “get lost in speculations about the necessity or non-necessity of all these adornments” (2). Then there is the story of his discovery of Heidegger: apparently the reason Nancy first engaged seriously with Heidegger was to play a trick on François Warin, by writing a text on Comte in a parody of Heidegger’s style that managed to convince Warin that it was actually penned by Heidegger himself (17-18).

One of the more informative moments he relates is his reading of the Bible together with the Young Christian Students when he was a teenager: for Nancy, this was “the beginning of a relationship with texts as an inexhaustible resource of meaning or sense (sens).” What he learned there was above all that “One has to interpret a text and this interpretation is infinite” (7). This can still be seen in what we could call the hermeneutic logic that governs all of Nancy’s writing and sits alongside a critique of the specific hermeneutics formulated by Ricoeur and Gadamer. This interest in the texts of Christianity, however, soon became detached from a “properly religious relationship” (8). It is this religious orientation, together with a taste for social and political activism, which he sees as “the initial ferment of my intellectual formation” (8). Nancy then goes on to discuss his initial discovery of Derrida, who he saw at the time as ushering in a profound intellectual upheaval (14, 22). Finally, it is worth mentioning how he looks back on his early work on Kant, undertaken when he was preparing to take the agrégation, for it sets the stage quite well for how he would later develop his own thinking: “What Kant taught us is that (…) pure reason is practical in itself.” Hence, he continues, “in our desire for the unconditioned, in our desire for sense, we’re practical, we act in the world, and so, a priori sensibility (…) is praxis. In every case, I am in action” (19). It is this notion of the sense of the world consisting in our action within it that sets Nancy up to articulate the idea that is at the core of, and indeed guides, his entire philosophy: “Images of the world must be substituted for a dwelling (habitation), a life of the world, in the world. (…) The world is a possibility of sense or meaning’s circulation and we have to make a world, to remake a world” (26).

This allows for a seamless transition to the second section of the book, which deals with Nancy’s understanding of world. Indeed, one of the strengths of these interviews is that they show very clearly how all of Nancy’s thinking hangs together quite closely. Regarding the world, he again takes up his starting point as it is formulated elsewhere (see Nancy 1997, 4): declaring that “There’s no longer a cosmos, there’s no longer a mundus” (38), by which he means that the world no longer appears to us as a coherent totality that is unified by some kind of inherent order. The world that we are to think “no longer has a sense, but it is sense” (Nancy 1997, 8), exists in a circulation of meaning. This leads him to formulate his relational ontology, where the meaning that is the world exists in what happens between entities, in how they relate to one another. It is this question of relation, central as it is to Nancy’s thinking, that he sees as never having received serious philosophical attention (48). Nevertheless, “What is the world,” he wonders, “if not precisely the possibility of the ‘between’?” (47). For, if meaning is not inherent to any single entity, it can only exist in how that entity relates to other entities. In that sense, it is the between, not the self-enclosed singularity of an entity, that comes first. It is only because of “the relation between the two, that is, the ‘between’ the two, which relates the one to the other and separates it from the other at the same time” (47), that something can be anything at all: thing A can only be thing A because it is separate from thing B, because it is-not thing B; because of a separation that constitutes thing A as thing A. It is only because of this between that there can be something, or rather, some things. Being, for Nancy, even when it is singular, is always plural. Indeed, it is only within plurality that there can be singularity. The world is then the totality of sense or meaning that is created by the constellation of different entities in their relation to one another (133). Nancy has coined the term transimmanence to describe the nature of the meaning constituted in this way: neither fully immanent, nor transcendent; but an immanence pointing outside of itself to the between that would be collapsed by full immanence (93).

Ultimately, this thinking of the between is a critique of self-sufficiency: the self does not constitute itself, but must go outside of itself in order to find itself. This opens up an entry into Nancy’s social and political thought, for this impossibility of self-sufficiency “is true for both the collective and the individual,” he notes, “the idea of ‘community’ quite clearly implies (through communitarianisms) the danger of shutting oneself off in self-sufficiency” (49). Indeed, the subsequent three sections deal mostly with Nancy’s handling of questions concerning community and politics. Political questions are essential for Nancy, as long as this is understood in a broad and nuanced way: for him, the French word politique means both “the organization of common existence (…), conjoining antagonistic interests,” as well as expressing “a sense or truth about this existence” (94), and as such has clear ontological significance. Most of the discussion revolves around Nancy’s (relatively) recent engagement with questions concerning identity in relation to the notion of the people, formulated polemically in reaction to the French government’s attempt to have a debate on national identity in 2009. Just like the world no longer has meaning, but is meaning; so too, the people no longer have an identity, but are an identity (Nancy 2015, 29-32). That is to say, their identity is not inherent but exists in their action within the world, their life of the world in the world: the people in themselves are not sufficient for the constitution of their own identity. Hence, speaking of the people always risks understanding this plurality inauthentically as absolute, coherent, self-sufficient singularity: “What allows one to make sense out of numerousness is the people,” Nancy says, “which gets expressed in forms that themselves are no longer numerousness, but suggest a ‘substantial’ unity (‘one’ people, ‘one’ nation)” (73-74).

The sixth section deals with Nancy’s understanding of religion, Christianity in particular. For Nancy, “in the depths of Christianity, there is something like the germ of the disappearance of the sacred” (99). What this means is that Christianity is the religion through which the West is able to leave the religious modality of thought behind. It is the religion that allows the West to emerge from its metaphysical closure, which Christianity is nevertheless at the same time also responsible for. Nancy traces this historical development in his two volumes on what he calls the deconstruction of Christianity (Nancy 2008; 2012). In doing so, he takes up various Christian concepts – God, creation, grace, etc. – and uses them to think atheologically: not necessarily against theology, but in any case against onto-theological metaphysics; in order to put on display how Christianity and the West are opening themselves up from their metaphysical closure. In doing so, these concepts come to describe the way in which we inhabit the world, our dwelling in the world: for example, “creation is the world existing,” Nancy says. “In another sense,” he continues, “one could say that within this lies an opportunity to recover the possibility of admiring, of adoring that the world exists, and the fact that I exist, that you exist” (102). That is to say, these concepts not only function within the (a)theological register, but also take on a much broader existential and ontological meaning.

In the same way, Nancy can be seen to charge the notion of art with ontological and existential significance in the seventh section of the book. There he explains how, given that we no longer live in a cosmos, a world that is unified in its display of a certain inherent order, art is in crisis: what is its role if it can no longer represent this order now that it has collapsed? Let me quote Nancy at length here: «It’s like another creation, a recreation of the world and when there isn’t actually a creator or organizer of the entire world anymore, then this gesture becomes detached for itself, but this gesture has always been the gesture of art, of opening the possibility of an ordering. And I think that one can say that the human being is the one who has to bring out a world, both as a form and as sense, or as language» (106-107). Here Nancy is first of all saying that when art is without ground it fulfils a truly ontological role: in the absence of an order or truth preordained by a creator, art is no longer in the business of merely representing this truth; rather, it performs the gesture of the opening of the possibility of an order, expresses the movement in which the possibility of a world exists, by exposing the void at its origin as “the complete absence of beauty, that is, what points out or indicates beauty” (105). Art exposes what Nancy calls the patency, the opening or the transimmanence of the world: that the world is possible even in the absence of a unifying cosmic order, for it is patently already there in our engagement with it. Art exposes that the world is possible, that the world straightforwardly or manifestly makes sense to us, without the need for a unifying and ordering cosmology or metaphysics. As such art is, as Nancy puts it, “the presentation of presentation” (Nancy 1996, 34), of the infinite circulation of sense that is the world. All we need to do is greet the world in its thereness. Art thus embodies the very gesture of the world as it is constantly coming to be in our engagement with it, in our dwelling within it. When Nancy then says that human beings bring out a world, he means that “the human being is both the expression of the world and the world’s expression,” that is to say that it “is the inhabitant of the world, but at the same time, it transforms the world deeply through its technē, its technology, what in Latin gets translated as ars, its art” (115).

The discussion on art, the presentation of presentation, makes for a smooth transition to the final two sections of the book, dealing with presence and joy. Nancy here reprises, albeit in a more metaphysical way, the analysis of presence that he already formulated in his essay on sleep (see Nancy 2009). According to him, there is never full presence, indeed absence is at the heart of presence: just like the self needs to go outside of it itself in order to find itself; so too he understands presence generally as the continual arrival, or birth, of non-being into being. Here Nancy makes this clear by talking about how when we fall asleep, we at the same time descend into nothingness as well as fall into ourselves and the world. “Every morning,” he says, “one comes back to the world after being truly absent during sleep, which is connected to this poor, physiological, biological truth: Without sleep, one can’t live for long” (121). Though this does not come through particularly clearly in these interviews, for Nancy joy (jouissance) is the moment or experience of being on the limit shared between those two opposites – being and non-being, inside and outside, presence and absence, etc. – through which meaning comes-to-be as the sense that is-about-to-be, to come, through one’s being-outside-of-oneself. “Joy, jouissance, to come,” Nancy says, “have the sense of birth: the sense of the inexhaustible imminence of sense” (Nancy 1993, 5). As such, joy is the experience of ek-sistence as it “strives toward (…) the world and Being-in-the-world, that is, toward the possibility of making sense” (133). Knowing that these interviews were conducted in 2013, Nancy’s thinking of joy here seems to anticipate the conversations with Adèle Van Reeth he would have on the subject not long after, conversations that were published in 2014 under the title La jouissance and translated into English in 2016 as Coming (Nancy & Van Reeth 2014; 2016). It is perhaps unfortunate that the translators do not make a note of this, as one of the strengths of this book is that otherwise, whenever a particular aspect of Nancy’s work is broached in the interview, it comes with a series of useful footnotes that direct the reader to the relevant texts by Nancy or indeed his interlocutors.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that some of the most interesting reflections Nancy articulates over the course of these interviews are often the result of him briefly going off on a tangent. For example, he perhaps shows himself the present-day Kierkegaard or Nietzsche – albeit with a decidedly less capricious personality – when he recounts how he envies the painter and the writer of literature and poetry, since their mode of expressing themselves might be more suited to what Nancy is trying to do. The relationship between philosophy and literature has been a central topic of Nancy’s thinking since the start of his career, and indeed continues to be to this day: “I have the feeling that my philosophical texts aren’t philosophical enough,” he says, “that they need to be more philosophical, but in order to be so, they need to no longer be philosophical, but something else” (23). Hence, Jandin describes Nancy’s writing strategy very accurately by saying that we “aren’t in the coincidentia oppositorum, nor are we in a dialectical logic; we are trying to go ‘between’” (124). The possibility of a world rests entirely on this notion of the between that is explored by Nancy’s writing. Therefore, Nancy’s writing itself must be understood as similarly structured as the world it is trying to shine a light on, to uncover, to stage; a world that is “centrifugal, erratic, open” (134).

References

Jean-Luc Nancy, ‘“Our World” an interview’, trans. by Emma Campbell in Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, 8:2 (August 2003), 43-54.

Jean-Luc Nancy, Le partage des voix (Paris: Galilée, 1982).

Jean-Luc Nancy, ‘Le ventriloque (À mon père, X.)’ in Mimesis: Des articulations (Paris: Flammarion, 1975), 271-338.

Jean-Luc Nancy, The Sense of the World, trans. by Jeffrey S. Librett (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997).

Jean-Luc Nancy, Identity: Fragments, Frankness, trans. by François Raffoul (New York: Fordham University Press, 2014).

Jean-Luc Nancy, Adoration: The Deconstruction of Christianity II, trans. by John McKeane (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012).

Jean-Luc Nancy, Dis-enclosure: The Deconstruction of Christianity, trans. by Bettina Bergo, Gabriel Malenfant and Michael B. Smith (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008).

Jean-Luc Nancy, The Muses, trans. by Peggy Kamuf (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996).

Jean-Luc Nancy, The Fall of Sleep, trans. by Charlotte Mandell (New York: Fordham University Press, 2009).

Jean-Luc Nancy & Adèle van Reeth, La jouissance: Questions de caractère (Paris: Plon/France Culture, 2014).

Jean-Luc Nancy & Adèle van Reeth, Coming, trans. by Charlotte Mandell (New York: Fordham University Press, 2016).

Jean-Luc Nancy, The Birth to Presence, trans. by Brian Holmes et al. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993).

Michael Barber: Religion and Humor as Emancipating Provinces of Meaning

Religion and Humor as Emancipating Provinces of Meaning Book Cover Religion and Humor as Emancipating Provinces of Meaning
Contributions to Phenomenology, 91
Michael Barber
Springer
2017
Hardcover 96,29 €
XV, 231

Reviewed by: Adrian Razvan Sandru (Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen)

Michael Barber investigates Alfred Schutz’s psychological phenomenology (6) aiming at describing the possibility of emancipation from the stress of everyday life through non-pragmatic regions of meaning. Barber believes that Schutzian phenomenology has the potential of emancipation even though Schutz was weary of committing society to normative determinations and he considered reason to be merely an explanatory instrument in determining the relation between means and ends. Barber grounds the possibility of emancipation in Schutz as follows: 1) the «world of working» – the everyday life of an agent oriented toward pragmatic goals – consists of morally neutral pragmatic situations. At the center of these stands the ego agens as 0-point of all its projects and plans which it needs to master and accomplish. 2) The pragmatical relevances – i.e. the hierarchical ordering of one’s plans and projects – of the ego agens are often confronted with obstacles which may or may not be overcome. 3) The confrontation with higher-level obstacle – such as death, natural phenomena or societal restraints – leads to the ago agens developing pragmatic meta-levels of coping with obstacles and uncertainties such as «the medical industry, massive security measures, or the societal suppression of uncomfortable questions and the development of central myths» (24). Barber argues that such meta-level strategies – meant to defend lower-level pragmatic interests – may lead to pathological needs of mastering the world and exerting one’s control and manifest themselves as «domination of others» or «psychological neuroses». 4) Relief from such pathologies can be provided by non-pragmatic regions of meaning such as literature, phantasy, dreaming, or theoretical endeavors. 5) These can however also be endangered by the pragmatic anxieties of not reaching one’s goals and thus require grounding in something more. 6) This something more would be, according to Barber, «someone else», i.e the other embodied in the religious and humorous non-pragmatic provinces of meaning. Drawing and building on Schutz’s «On multiple realities»[1] Barber speaks of religion and humor not just as opposing the world of working but also as provinces of meaning standing in a dialectical relation to everyday life: they can free us from pragmatic anxieties, shed new light on the possibilities of everyday life, and incorporate pragmatic bodily functions essential for communication. Thus, the pragmatic and non-pragmatic are also inter-dependent. Non-pragmatic provinces resist the pragmatic in not being accomplishment-oriented but rely on the latter to manifest themselves in communicative acts.

Barber’s book aims thus not only at reconstructing Schutz’s phenomenology but also at extending it to address the possibility of emancipation. In doing so he hopes to develop an account of non-pragmatic regions of meaning which can communicate and reflect on the pragmatic but also and more importantly address current social, racial, cultural, and psychological issues. In this vein he describes religion and humor as intersubjective experiences which can bridge the conflictual differences afflicting our current society. Barber’s undertaking is remarkable in several aspects: he describes in a Schutzian manner the constitution of the natural attitude; he accepts and further develops Schutz’s extension of this natural attitude through several regions of meaning; building on this he addresses the problem of intersubjectivity in phenomenology and tries to offer several solutions to current societal issues based on it; he addresses the relevancy of religion in a secular world and gives an exhaustive account of humor and its inner workings. Given that Barber relies on Schutz to achieve this I shall first give an account of his reconstruction of the Schutzian philosophy. From this I shall move to discussing in detail the above mentioned aspects of Barber’s book. Even though I appreciate Barber’s attempt I do believe that he runs into some issues discussing the character of religion and of humor as emancipating regions of meaning. This is why I shall also give a short account of the concerns I had reading the book presented here. This shall be followed by a conclusion in which I weigh in once again on the positives and negatives of Barber’s work.

Alfred Schutz and the World of Working

As Barber explains, Schutz – being influenced by Max Weber, Henri Bergson and Edmund Husserl – grounds his description of everyday life on a stream of consciousness in which present experiences are lived, future ones are anticipated and past ones are mediated by memory. He sees the formation of meaning of this stream of consciousness in a twofold fashion: first, experiences receive meaning via intentionality, i.e. by singling out experiences and reflecting on them; second, by planning in future past tense we can imagine a project, which as a goal provides meaning to any action we undertake. An important step in describing the world of working is the standardization of these meanings through culture. The standardization occurs as both general typification – concepts such as cats, dogs, trees, house etc. – and as personal typification – the ordering of our interests in hierarchical relevances (e.g. I study in order to receive a well payed job). Even though these typifications occur in culture and are thus intrinsically intersubjective – as language typification shows – they also pertain to subjective meanings as they are formed in the personal temporal unfolding of consciousness of each subject. Despite this they present a common pragmatic ground which makes communication possible. Communication and relating to others in general are also determined by our temporal and spatial state. When space and time are shared with another, subjects take part in the unfolding of each other’s stream of consciousness and influence each other’s typifications.[2] When only time is a shared determination the other is only known as a Contemporary based on typifying inferences leading to an ideal-type. Other ideal-types would be Successors and Predecessors. This kind of pre-reflective typisations constitute our social world, which Schutz holds to be dominated by pragmatic relevances, though he does not accept pragmatism as a viable description of everyday world. Instead, he relies on phenomenology and its methods: aiming objects as form of interacting; eidetic variations as determining essences; the epoché as explaining transitions from one finite region of meaning to another. The latter are not to be understood as ontological structures but as coherent domains of experience which we determine as real by inhabiting them. These regions of meaning are spelled out by a shared «cognitive style» determined by six features: 1) a tension of consciousness which is described in a Bergsonian manner as the attention to life needed at accomplishing projects; 2) the epoché as accessing a certain region of meaning; 3) a form of spontaneity which in the world of working describes the pragmatic involvement of the ego agens, i.e. the pragmatic agent engaged in its projects, in the world through bodily actions; 4) «a specific form of experiencing oneself» ( 5) which in the world of working would consist in an undivided and non-reflective subject living in the present of its projects; 5) «a specific form of sociality (as it is experienced in common sense communication)» (5); 6) and lastly temporality. Given that Barber describes the religious and humorous region of meaning by means of these attributes of the cognitive style I shall present his account of religion and humor in the same manner.

Cognitive Style of Religion

The first attribute of the cognitive style addressed by Barber is the tension of consciousness. Barber associates religion with Bergon’s pure memory as release from the tension of everyday life (10; Bergson, 1950). The tension of consciousness is loosened in religion as believers turn over the control over their lives to a transcendent and establish the latter as the absolute value of their system of relevances. By doing this, a certain objective order is ascribed to the world, through which everything is part of a higher order plan.[3] This, the unconditioned objective order which does not blame failure, helps the ego agens cope with the possibility of not achieving its goals. This in turn helps the ego agens have a more relaxed attitude towards its plans and help it better achieve them, without being plagued by anxieties of failure. Thus, the leaping into a non-pragmatic region of meaning can shed new light on the pragmatic and improve one’s engagement in the world by providing relief from the anxieties of the world of working. The transition from one region of meaning to another is achieved via a certain form of epoché. This transition functions in a Husserlian way by opening up new regions of meaning. In religion this is achieved through sacred spaces, times, and rituals. These isolate the individual from everyday life and inscribe one in a religious appresentative state: «the religious epoché displaces one from straightforward engagement with the world, reorients one’s system of coordinates, and alters one’s relevance scheme» (p12). One can however further engage the world both in a pragmatic and in a religious way. Both manners of involvement require a certain spontaneity of the individual. The involvement in the world of working is thought as being purposive, namely determined by the possibility of achieving goals. The assessment of this possibility and the non-reflective involvement of the ego agens rely on the typisation of past actions. Through the passive representation of accomplished past actions the pragmatic subject determines a certain goal as possible. This possibility is embodied in the sentence «I can do that again». This determines the possibility of any goal starting from the ego agens as the 0-point of every action. In religion, the story differs. In this region of meaning, the transcendent is set as the ultimate goal, independent from us. This relativizes any other pragmatic goal and makes it lower-order. Such relativizing process may soothe personal anxieties regarding the possibility of pragmatic failure. Liberation however requires that we relate properly to the transcendent. The proper way proposed by Barber is absolute giving over to the transcendent which strips the ego agens of its characteristic as 0-point of all action. This stands in close relation to the fourth attribute of the cognitive style, namely the form of experiencing one’s self. In the world of working one understands oneself as the unity of his involvement in the world and as the «0-point of one’s spatiotemporal and social coordinates» (13). In religion one sees one’s entire history as the appresentation of the transcendent. As such one does not see oneself as the sole conductor of one’s life. As such, one’s involvement in the world is relieved from anxiety as one understands failures not as absolute but as inscribed in a certain purposiveness. This departure from an egocentrical world view reflects itself in the fifth attribute – sociability – too. Just as in phantasy one can enter religion alone or with others. Religious experience accentuates though sociability as the temporality of religion allows for the «socializing» with predecessors in a ritual time. The same ritual aspect of religion weakens the self-oriented typifications and strengthens other-oriented ones. As such «religion engenders social responsibility for the others» (14). As it was shown, the temporality of religion also differs from the one of the world of working. In religion time presents a non-linear character in which passed events or moments may be re-actualized as actually present and not just as memories. This allows for a multivectorial time which provides relief from the linear and future-oriented time of the world of working.

These six attributes show how each aspect of everyday life can be reinterpreted in religion in such a manner that the pragmatic is made relative. Paradoxically, exactly this relativizing of the pragmatic reinforces the pragmatic possibility of the ego agens: not afflicted by anxieties, one can better accomplish one’s projects. This overarching pragmatic view can however raise certain questions. These will be addressed in the section to follow.

Intrinsic and Imposed Relevances

As explained shortly above, everyday life is mainly constituted by the pragmatic engagement in the world. This engagement relies on typisations and passive synthesis which standardize behaviors and actions improving the efficacy of pragmatic agency. Based on such standardized action, the ego agens determines the possibility of a future action based on past successful ones and concludes «I can do it again». By inhabiting the world of working in this way it also posits itself as the 0-point of its actions. Starting from its spatio-temporal and societal coordinates the pragmatic self determines which plans and projects it can accomplish. The plans and projects are in their turn conditioned by one’s intrinsic relevance system: what one wishes to attain. However, the ego agens is also confronted with imposed relevances and obstacles. The confrontation between imposed and intrinsic relevances can give rise to the meta-strategies at mastering the world. These consist in converting the imposed relevances into intrinsic ones manifested as plans and projects which the ego agens carries out. The degree of imposed relevances can however bring about a conflict in the ego agens, which can lead, according to Barber and Schutz, to pathologies such as anxiety or depression: «it is this collision of intrinsic relevances and imposed relevances that prompts us to turn to non-pragmatic finite provinces of meaning like religion and humor» (47). It seems that non-pragmatic regions of meaning are responses to an increased level of anxiety determined by higher-order imposed relevances which cannot be overcome in a pragmatic way: non-pragmatic regions provide relief as the subject renounces control and ceases to act pragmatically. This may relativize the relevance of the pragmatic self and allow for a more relaxed repositioning of the subject in the world-of-working. This description however also presents some difficulties. The starting point in discussing religion and the transcendent is clearly the religious community regarded from a pragmatic standpoint. One gets the feeling, from the beginning of the book, that this entire involvement in religion only occurs because one is stressed and needs relief. The danger of this is to drag the non-pragmatic into the pragmatic as a kind of Feuerbachian response to finitude. Given that Barber states at times that the pragmatic subject re-identifies and sees itself as a new self from the point view of religion, I do not think that he thinks that religion is purely a non-pragmatic tool for the pragmatic. Nevertheless, one does get the feeling that this danger — which is announced in the beginning by Barber — is not dealt enough with and is also not overcome by the communicative dialectics, which Barber proposes as answer to the relation between the pragmatic and the non-pragmatic. The dialectic of communication states that religion not only opposes pragmatic provinces but also makes use of them as communicatory tools. This however does not answer my concern regarding the reduction of religion to pragmatics. A more plausible answer might be the fundamental aspect of the non-pragmatic region of religion explained by Barber as the absolute entrusting of oneself to the transcendent. This absolute entrusting would then eliminate the danger of reduction: even though one is lead to religion by pragmatically induced anxiety, the absolute entrusting ensures that one does not return to the region of pragmatics in the same manner and that therefore one’s relation to the transcendent is not pragmatically determined. Even though this makes clearer how religion interacts with the pragmatic region of meaning without being absorbed in it, it still doesn’t resolve all issues of the religious province of meaning. In the same context of mastering the world Barber says: «we address imposed relevances through all sorts of approaches, from ignoring them, suppressing them, or even developing central myths about the superiority of our own social group» (8.) Here, Barber explains how the pragmatic integrity of a pragmatic community can be defended by mastering strategies relying on a central myth, which can reinforce the mastering identity of said community. Barber does not explain in my opinion how religion avoids acting as a central myth and as such as acting as a hyper-mastering strategy, even when the subjects give themselves completely over to a transcendent. It seems that these issues need be addressed given that we are confronted time and time again with religious fanatism and discrimination. It seems all the more stranger that he does not discuss in detail such issues as he does address it in the case of humor. Barber acknowledges that religion may be seen in a negative way but chooses not to go into detail in this matter. Instead, he states that he deals with an ideal understanding of religion and does point to the necessity of religion being in contact to the theoretical region of meaning for constant revision. I believe that he does not address such issues in depth because he chooses to speak of religion in a universal manner, without differentiating too much between multiple forms of religion. Barber attempts to resolve the problematic of religious variety by ascribing a generic «transcendent» as religious object and appresentation as religious process. In addition to this, he provides several examples of rituals from different religions which match this description. I believe that this is not enough in order to resolve the above mentioned issue and moreover restrains Barber to a generic discourse, which cannot address very specific topics. Furthermore, this generic discourse also neglects the variety of «transcendences» present in different religions. This is for me the overarching problem with Barber’s analysis of religion. One gets the feeling that all forms of religion are constituted by a pragmatic response to an obstacle which relies on a ritualistic process in the name of an absolute power. As such, one could argue that non-pragmatic provinces are constituted by pragmatic ones and for the sake of pragmatic improvement: «Paradoxically, leaping into a province of meaning, in which pragmatic relevances no longer govern, may in some cases be the most pragmatic way of dealing with the difficult-to-control dangers jeopardizing lower-level projects and relevances» (25). This circularity might be problematic as the non-pragmatic provinces would be essentially pragmatically oriented and as such instrumentalized (the other included).

Cognitive Style of Humor

Barber relies on the incongruity theory to describe the intentionality of humor as a non-linear, disturbed one. He argues more precisely that intentionality does not attain its goal as the result of a certain comical event is unexpected: humor breaks away from the expectations of everyday life and does so with a flexibility which allows for laughter. This phenomenological description is, as Barber argues, universal for all humor related phenomena. He also states that the incongruity theory underlines the other two major humor description models: the superiority and the relief theory. In the first case it is argued that one finds something to be funny only as one adopts a superiority stance over that something. In the second description, humor is described as relief of built up tension. Barber argues that in both cases incongruity is first required. The definition of humor is completed later on (151) by two criteria: the first one is that the experience must be enjoyable and it leads to the second, namely that the person experiences the scenario as laughable. I do not know in what degree this really adds to the definition of humor. Incongruity is a powerful argument, but the laughability of humor somehow seems tautological. This concern is resolved later in the book (177) where Barber further explains what laughter and enjoyment actually stand for. Humor detaches itself from the world of working as it has no practical value, instead it only pertains to the enjoyment of incongruities without any other goal. Due to these characteristics it relaxes the restrictions of everyday life by showing that pragmatic relevances can be viewed from another, i.e. comical, perspective. Furthermore, it also has a cathartic function allowing for the venting of tensions in a — ideally — benign way. These last two aspects of humor pertain to the relaxation of the tension of consciousness. Furthermore, incongruities are not rationally interpreted in humor. Instead, they are processed in passive syntheses which surprise the subject with their speed of development. They pertain thus to a certain loosening of the control of the subject and therefore to a loosened tension of consciousness. The transition to these humorous region of meaning is again achieved through an epoché, in this case a comical one. The comical epoché makes apparent the intersubjective nature of humor «perhaps because the humorous province of meaning usually relies on companions, including comedians, who invite others to leap with them into the province» (182). I believe this is one of the most important distinctions to religion. While religion affords a solitary connection with the transcendent and a leap into its region of meaning, humor is conditioned by the immanent other, who has the role of inviting.[4] In short, the transition to the humorous region of meaning relies on the invitation – mediated by body or language cues or specially designated times and spaces such as comedy clubs – of another. The leap in humor often happens in hindsight, when laughter occurs and incongruity is processed in reflection. The enjoyment of this incongruity is the form of the third attribute of the cognitive style, namely the form of spontaneity. Thus, humor relaxes spontaneity as disinterested and purposeless enjoyment. When this enjoyment or when the joke is not fully dedicated to the incongruity and for its own sake then the humorous region of meaning is not achieved. When this is though achieved, one’s experience of oneself – the fourth attribute – changes. The humorous self is a split self as it leaves the pragmatic region in which it is an undivided self, focused on the task at hand and often resorting to formerly developed patterns of behavior. Splitting the self occurs as the comical reveals hidden unconscious actions (such as weird bodily movements) and reorganizes one’s relation to one’s self. This, is explained by Barber through Helmuth Plessner (1970) who calls humans eccentric: «rooted in a body and yet able to take a perspective from outside itself upon itself» (198). Thus, while the pragmatic self thrives in predictability, the humorous self is directed towards incongruity and interruption which diversifies perspective. All this equips humor with a certain flexibility which not only loosens the tension of consciousness and helps the ego agens but also allows for reflection and reassessment of societal conditions. This of course also shapes one’s sociability. The experience of sociability can range from intimacy to aggression. However, when one respects the structure of humor, as Barber argues, humor normally tends towards intimacy, in which a comical community is built and which allows for a flexible ascription of roles: each one of the members can be the joker or the listener. In this community, trust plays an interesting and important role, namely it both determines the possibility of humor — without trust one might be insulted — and is itself determined by humor — trust that is met with trust is also reinforced by humor. The last attribute of the humorous province of meaning is its temporality. Just like phantasy, dreaming, or religion, humor does not deal with objects fixed in time. Instead, it brings a sort of temporal flexibility: it can slow down time, it can rearrange the temporality of a situation by re-assessing it from the viewpoint of incongruity (after the punch-line one reassess a certain temporal process as leading toward the comical climax). However, unlike religion, humor cannot reverse time and it cannot make something past or future present.

Face-to-face Humor

Barber gives an exhaustive account of humor contrasting Schutz’s view with other concurrent theories. The remarkably interesting aspect of the analysis of this region of meaning is its interracial and intercultural potential, as Barber explains it. Intersubjectivity is closely related to the humorous epoché: the very accessing of humor is determined by cues given by another. After the epoché is reached one’s expectations are shattered by the passive synthesis of events developing at a surprising speed. This incongruity re-shapes perspectives bringing to light hidden aspects of experience. Furthermore, as explained above, the very humorous style of an individual is influenced by the passive absorption of different humorous styles from different individuals. This also involves an interracial sensibility to humor: through associative absorbing, a situation — which could otherwise present interracial tensions — can be understood in a more relaxed and comical way. Barber further develops this thought stating that humor can reveal hidden cultural determinations of our behavior, submitting them in a comical way to a reflective process, which could loosen sociocultural preconceptions. This aspect of Barber’s book is interesting insofar as it deals with sensitive social issues through the agency of a more relaxed environment prone to intersubjecivity. Here, however, the idealistic manner of treating different regions of meaning is also felt. Barber often speaks of his African-American friend who through humor makes Barber conscious of his cultural background. This in turn helps Barber better understand himself and relate to his friend. Intercultural or interracial jokes and humor can however also turn into clichés and/or discriminatory typifications, which mediated by humor may appear benign. In the case of humor, Barber does see the danger of racism and discrimination and addresses it in chapter 7.4. Based on Schutz he argues that humor is also the medium of discriminatory typifications of closed groups through which they denigrate the Stranger. As a solution he offers a face-to-face humor, namely a humor based on interpersonal relationships. Face to face, says Barber, the subjects are constantly confronted with each other. This regulates humor insofar as the face-to-face situation forces both teller as well as listener to measure each other’s responses and exchange perspectives. He develops on this with examples of his already mentioned African-American friend. He states that his jokes make Barber aware of cultural differences as well give him insight in the oppression experienced by the African-American community. This opens the way for interracial communication. This account is indeed an interesting alternative to intercultural and interracial approaches but it does have, in my opinion, a weak spot. It remains ideal as it speaks of already friendly relationships in which respect is presupposed. Furthermore, it offers as example the jokes of a person which is described by Barber as kind and always willing to breach racial barriers (166). Based on this, it seems to me that the kindness of the joke teller and his disposition and respect to the other build the basis for non-racist jokes and not the face-to-face situation. The same can be said about another requirement of intersubjective comical community, namely trust. If trust is part of humor from the outset,[5] then humor between parties in tension would not be possible. Furthermore, it strengthens the worry, that Barber bases his analyses of humor on examples of humor within an established relationship of friendship. This question would be answered, if one accepts a common, universal, and underlying trust between all people which can be reinforced by humor and thus improving interracial relations. There is however no argument for such a trust in Barber’s book and its mere presupposition would be problematic.

Conclusion

In conclusion I think that Barber’s handling of humor is more interesting and appealing than his expose on religion. I think the problem with his analysis of religion lies within the fact that he analyses religion as a unitary and uniform concept: he reduces a variety of religions to a system of relevances and a relationship to the transcendent which strips his analysis of specificity and in depth analysis of religious phenomena. On the other hand, humor is treated in its entirety as it is looked at on its own. A further advantage of humor in this book is that it is more universal than religion. Religions each have their own set of rituals and dogmas which I do not think can be reduced to some sort of universal set of relevances. On the other hand, humor is described as flexible and adaptable to each situation. Furthermore, each one of us can relate to a comical phenomenon and as such, humor is universal. I regret not being able to discuss other interesting themes of Barber’s book such as Schutz’s view on passive synthesis and the constitution of the natural attitude, the dialectical nature of the collective and the individual in religion, the relation between the reflexive and the pragmatic self in the world of working and its relation to death, etc. Unfortunately, due to lack of space I had to focus on the main goals of Barber’s book: explaining humor and religion as emancipating regions of meaning. As I have stated, I think the analysis of humor is more precise and clear. Nevertheless, both topics shed light on the possibilities of alternate solutions to intercultural, interracial and psychological issues. This makes Barber’s book worthy to read.

Bibliography

Schutz, Alfred. 1962. On multiple realities. In The problem of social reality, ed. M. Natanson, 207–259. Vol. 1 of Collected Papers. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

Plessner, Helmuth. 1970. Laughing and crying: A study of the limits of human behavior. Trans. J.S. Churchill and M. Grene. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Bergson, Henri. 1950. Matter and memory. Trans. N.M. Paul and W.S. Palmer. London/New York: George Allen and Unwin, Ltd./The Macmillan Company.


[1] Barber does not only discuss «On multiple realities». He provides a detailed historical development of Schutz’ thought. Unfortunately, I am not able to go into detail concerning this historical account due to space restrictions. This aspect of Barber’s book would be nevertheless of great interest for any Schutzian scholar.

[2] This is important in Barber’s account of face-to-face humor.

[3] Barber explains this relation to the transcendent in a Husserlian way, namely by means of appresentation: symbols function as appresentative loci for the divine.

[4] One can of course re-live a past comical event by oneself, but this would also be intersubjective in nature as humor is often associative and reflected in connection to the humorous style of another. Barber refers here to a «passive absorbtion» of other humorous styles which shape the humor region of meaning in an intersubjective manner.

[5] As shown above.

Kate Kirkpatrick: Sartre on Sin: Between Being and Nothingness

Sartre on Sin: Between Being and Nothingness Book Cover Sartre on Sin: Between Being and Nothingness
Oxford Theology and Religion Monographs
Kate Kirkpatrick
Oxford University Press
2017
Hardcover £65.00
288

Reviewed by: Joeri Schrijvers (Independent Scholar)

Kate Kirkpatrick’s Sartre on Sin broaches a difficult topic; the relation between Sartre and theology. It does so, more specifically, through one of theology’s most difficult topics, the question of sin. The volume consists of an introduction and three main parts. Kirkpatrick’s work is informative and makes for a good ‘dossier’ for anyone who wants to read up on Sartre’s stance toward theology. Having not read Sartre in a long while and unaware of any links of his theoretical links with theology, I found helpful to read Kirkpatrick’s Sartre and Theology at the same time.[i]

Sartre was aware that a certain type of God was dead and the second part of the book demonstrates that he was informed when dismissing that concept of God. It is Kirkpatrick’s merit to show how theological debates informed Sartre’s education in philosophy and literature. Furthermore, she demonstrates how these debates are echoed in the works of Racine, Voltaire and Victor Hugo.

The book shows “a level of theological sophistication that is underexplored in Sartre scholarship” (2017a: 17). Kirkpatrick extrapolates certain themes within Sartre’s Being and Nothingness and then shows how these themes make for a “realized eschatology of damnation” (2017a:181) by focusing on a number of ‘unrealizables’, including inadequate knowledge of the self, others and the world. Kirkpatrick almost exclusively focuses on what she calls a pessimistic reading of Sartre—one of the reasons why her reading focusses mainly on Being and Nothingness.

Kirkpatrick concludes that Sartre takes from Jansenist pessimism and, later in his life, from Kierkegaardian despair, the figure of a “tragic refusal” (2017a: 83). For Calvinism and Jansenism, the nothingness of nature is such that humanity qua being is dependent upon God (as a creator or maybe even in a creatio continua). For Sartre, “the human exists in a tensive state between being and nothingness” (2017a:60). However, “while there exists a nothingness of nature and (arguably) of sin, there is no nothing of grace” (ibid.). Sartre accepts the disease, one might say, but “rejects [the] cure” (2017a: 61). He refuses the grace that cures the pains of the tension between being and nothingness – an assessment Kirkpatrick shares with Gabriel Marcel (2017b: 157). Kirkpatrick finds in Sartre not a determinism of grace (as Jansenists and Calvinists would have it) but a “determinism of nothingness” (2017a: 162). In other words, our endeavors are bound to fail and will lead to nothing whether we seek knowledge of the self or of others. Theologically, Sartre shares with Pelagius the view that the human being is able to seek transcendence but, unlike Pelagius, nothingness is that into which we try and transcend. Whereas, for Pelagius, the perfectibility of human beings unfolds through their own doing, for Sartre, this freedom is now directionless. Beings can do whatever they want, whenever they want though not with whomever they want (Sartre’s limit on freedom is determined by others and the world).

One of the best parts of Kirkpatrick’s book concerns her insistence that philosophy should be lived. It is through this lens that she reads The Transcendence of the Ego. Here, Sartre lays bare the gap between the cogito and reflective consciousness arguing that the first is constituted by, as much as it would be constitutive of, the self, others and world. If the transcendental ego itself is constituted (rather than constituting) then it seems no more than a side-effect of being-in-the-world. Consequently, one can see in Sartre a further decentering of Descartes’ cogito. Whereas Cartesians tell us that this cogito can only be certain of itself when it thinks and as long as it thinks, theologians of the seventeenth century undermine this certainty by insisting on the nihilism of sin (cf. 2017a: 59, ‘he did not discover that he was but rather he was lacking’). For Sartre, between being (‘in itself’) and reflective consciousness (‘for itself’) a cleavage exists that cannot be bridged. This gap is a nothingness that creeps into being (ontologically), into what we can know (epistemologically) and into what we can do with and for others (ethically). Consequently, this gap between reflective consciousness and the ego is a perpetual ‘filling-in-the-blank’—human being becomes the being “by which nothingness arrives in the world” (BN 47). However, a human being knows such a négatité—the absence at the heart of being—in and through anxiety, which reveals the freedom for human beings “to become other than we are” (2017b: 95). Anxiety and freedom thus reveal a non-being and an indetermination of the self. Anxiety is a fear and trembling before the fact that things can always be different than they presently are. However, according to Sartre, we flee from this anxiety.

Kirkpatrick recalls that this nothingness (or lack of being) is a nothingness of sin, a nothingness stripped of God and grace. There’s no overcoming this lack (2017a: 102/BN 67). In many respects Kirkpatrick follows Judith Wolfe’s analysis in Heidegger’s Eschatology, where she describes Being and Time as an ‘eschatology without eschaton’. However, whereas Heidegger’s eschatology was a bit utopist, Sartre’s tends towards dystopia. Kirkpatrick concludes that “to be free is to be between being and nothingness” (2017a:102). Intriguingly, Descartes still claims, on basis of the Augustinian-Bérullian tradition that Kirkpatrick traces, that humans are ‘between God and nothingness’ (2017b: 54).

Since, for Sartre, human being is between facticity and transcendence, it is the conclusion that Kirkpatrick does not draw that seems to me to be more important. Whereas, in classical theology, sin cannot be conceived as an entity in the sense that it has no real being and, therefore, must be understood in terms of its relation to grace, its presence (in the world and in being) cannot be looked at otherwise than as the disruption of the balance between sin and faith. Where there is sin, grace is not. If there is grace, there is no sin. In Kierkegaard, sin shows itself in a double way: first, in not wanting to be oneself; secondly, in too much wanting to be oneself (elucidated in pride). For Kierkegaard, faith navigates this tension by allowing for a self that wants its self just as God wants this self (Cf. 2017a: 81-87). However, if Sartre can be conceived as a secular translation of theology’s account of sin (cf. 2017a: 113, quoting Robert Solomon), and if sin is a thoroughly relational term, then it in the (dis)order and unbalance of facticity and transcendence that we need to look.

For Sartre, faith cannot navigate the tension between facticity and transcendence. On the one hand, there is the flight from freedom through bad faith. On the other hand, because of freedom, there is transcendence towards the world. Sartre, Kirkpatrick notes, mentions that there is a “valid coordination” (BN 79) between these two aspects. Yet such a coordination is of a peculiar kind, and it is one that can never be ascertained and assured by a certain idea of God and theology. Kirkpatrick argues that, because Sartre opts for an autonomous subject (2017a:177-81), it must be an account of sin (an absence of a relation with God). However, it seems that, for Sartre, existence is far from non-relational; it is just that, because of its being stripped from grace—a secular translation of sin—a just and faithful way of coordinating facticity and transcendence is never a (phenomenological) given. Where Kirkpatrick sees Sartre’s subject as a conscious turning away from relation(s) and veering towards an autonomous monad—a ‘walled city’ (2017a: 222)—and for this reason she discerns a phenomenology of sin, I think something else is going on: not the absence of relation, but the perpetual missing out on each other, the failing of relationality in its very act.

Kirkpatrick does not explore this coordination between facticity and transcendence in Sartre. The only ‘valid’ coordination, for her, seems to be theological in nature. Yet what Sartre wanted to point to was precisely the absence and the lack of the assurance that theology could provide. It is not that there is no coordination ‘between being and nothingness’, it is that no one knows just how to balance these coordinates. Whereas theology, in a sense, always brings the tension to a halt, Sartre wanted to keep his eyes on the very existence and presence of this conflict. Sartre’s trouble with theology, then, was perhaps not so much with sin, but rather with grace and how theology conceives it as the privatio peccatum—the end of sin and the end of tension.

How are the gaps between the ego and reflective consciousness and between transcendence and facticity lived? Kirkpatrick’s fifth chapter explores this gap on an epistemological and anthropological level. The self is but a presence to itself (2017a: 118). On the one hand, the self is a longing for the identity of an en-soi (which can simply be what it is). On the other hand, it is a consciousness of the perpetual escape of such an identity (we are conscious of the fact that we always are in relation towards what we are not). For this reason, the self exists as its own non-coincidence (it is what it is not, perpetually). Sartre writes that the self posits this identity as a unity and as a “synthesis of multiplicity” (BN 184). In short, the self believes that there is a recognizable ego underlying its diverse experiences. The self reaches for identity but knows that it cannot obtain one.

Kirkpatrick points out that this non-coinciding relationship with oneself is the source of “suffering”, that is, an understanding of oneself as a contingent and unjustifiable factum (2017a: 121-22). This epistemology gives way to ontology. For Sartre, “lack is […] an element of the real. But it is important that this lack is not lived neutrally, as a brute fact among brute facts. Rather, [it] is an experience of failure (échec), of missing the mark” (2017a: 128). In other words, the self has to be this lack-of-being while being-in-the-world-with-others. However, in my opinion, the world and others make for more obvious adversaries than ‘being’ or ‘consciousness’. This problematizes Kirkpatrick’s interpretation, a problem hinted at when she considers the worumwillen of the self in Sartre. The self suffers from not having a self. As Sartre claims, “the self haunts the heart of the for-itself as that for which the for-itself is” (BN 117-8). Consciousness, Kirkpatrick concludes, is haunted by the desire “to be meaningful” (2017a: 129). With such meaningfulness, I suggest, the self comes across something that is not of its own making, something present in the world and in others that, in more than one sense, is granted and given to the self (with a special kind of facticity, one that disrupts Sartre’s neat distinction between the for-itself and the in-itself).

The sixth chapter turns on the question of being-with-others. Kirkpatrick explains that “while the distance between consciousness and the ego arises on account of time, the distance between consciousness and the other arises on account of space: Sartre attributes the separation of consciousness to the separation of bodies (BN 255)” (2017a: 139). Elaborating, she claims that “when alone, I can see the fissure between the self-knowing (consciousness) and the self-known (intentional object of consciousness)” (2017a: 143/2017b: 91). As a result of this fissure, we can know something pertaining to the world but the instance of knowing remains in the dark about itself. Kirkpatrick argues that “the self-known is always indeterminate, because it is always subject to the freedom of others” (2017a: 143). The intentional object of the other leaves me and my being, in a way, at the mercy of the other. Consequently, the intentional object of consciousness is something that I cannot master—“the other reveals something I cannot learn on my own, which is how I really am” (2017a: 153.

It is in this context that Sartre discusses the Book of Genesis and the concepts of shame and nakedness. The shame we feel before the other is described as an “original fall” (BN 312). Karsten Harries notes the Christian overtones in Sartre’s work and queries whether Sartre’s philosophy is not excessively burdened by an uncritically assumed Christian inheritance (Cf. 2017a: 153). The questions that would need to be posed are whether Sartre’s references make for an inheritance (as something acknowledged) and in what sense such an inheritance can be considered to be a burden. Kirkpatrick does not address such questions. She does claim, however, that with guilt, and after God’s departing, “there is no true being to be neglected” (ibid.). For Kirkpatrick, the body becomes “both warrior and warzone in the fight for my identity[;] it is both active agent and passive site. [I]n the face of objectification, one can either give in (in bad faith) or fight back” (2017a: 155 and 159). This tension and conflict is one between identifying and being identified, between defining as and being defined as.

The problem is that Kirkpatrick does not consider the fact that the other exists in a perceptual relationship with the subject. Furthermore, as much as others reveal themselves to me as the image I have of them, they have but an image of me. One might legitimately wonder whether this presence-to-self (as it concerns the other) might not limit intersubjective objectification. After all, there is little reason to assume that if the other knows that he or she is incapable of obtaining a definitive self, he or she can define me once and for all. If the presence-to-self needs to be extrapolated to the consciousness of the other, then perhaps what is going on here is not so much a battle and a war but a perpetual ‘missing out’ on each other, an overreaching that comes with suffering and conflict.

Chapter seven focuses on Sartre’s account of freedom as “anti-theodicy” (2017a: 13). Contra Leibniz, Sartre argues that freedom is not sufficient reason to explain the presence of evil in the world. In this context, Kirkpatrick argues that Sartre offers no proper account of freedom. A case can, of course, be made that Sartre did not insist on the notion of responsibility until Existentialism is a Humanism. Kirkpatrick is clear, however, that she does adopt an “optimistic reading” (2017a: 178) of Sartre, one that would focus on responsibility, authenticity and salvation through art. The reasons for adopting a pessimistic reading are unexplained, but it is clear that Sartre’s footnotes on salvation through art and ethics do not convince her (2017a: 127 and 160).

Kirkpatrick admits that Sartre’s discussions regarding the limits of freedom as they concern the other might “mitigate the charges of radical voluntarism” (2017a: 177). However, she goes on to claim that “the other limits my freedom only insofar…as I let her” (ibid.). Kirkpatrick concludes, in ways similar to Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity, that Sartre’s ‘determinism of nothingness’ resembles Calvinist predestination but she insists that such determinism is not arbitrary (like grace in Protestantism) but egalitarian—we all have an equal share in this tragic existence and all of us are ‘condemned to freedom’. That said, Kirkpatrick acknowledges that this account of tragedy is but one component of Sartre’s ontology of freedom. The stress on tragedy “[misses] an important component: namely that it is an account of refusal, an anti-theodicy” (2017a: 190). The utmost freedom is “to refuse God and the good” (ibid.). We refuse God because God can put an end to freedom and so submit to the tyranny of freedom and its concomitant ‘determinism’.

That Sartre was acutely aware of the death of God is evident from his review of Georges Bataille’s Inner Experience with which the fourth part of Kirkpatrick’s monograph begins. Here, Sartre speaks of a mute God that remains as a corpse (Cf. 2017a: 201). Kirkpatrick focuses on Sartre’s view of love in a “loveless” world where relationality is but a ruse. The aim is to demonstrate how Sartre “might […] inform contemporary hamartiology, arguing that […] theological categories […] cannot be known merely conceptually, but must be acknowledged personally” (ibid.). This happens, Kirkpatrick concludes, in a situation of “original optimism [entailed by] the Christian doctrine of sin” (ibid.).

In Augustine, sin is but a “disordered love” (2017a: 203), a love that, to resort to Kierkegaard, focuses too much or too little on the self. The ‘proper’ love of self, others and world, in theology, is of course ordered by God. For Sartre, love promises more than it can actually offer, even when the other whom I love might for a while “save my facticity” (BN 392/2017a: 207) and justify my existence. Love, then is “deceptive” (2017a: 207) and entails a self-love that demands of the other a complete surrender or objectification—Sartre’s thought that love easily gives way to sadism and masochism is well-known. Kirkpatrick reminds us that “all love is ultimately reducible to amour-propre” (2017a: 205). We should in effect consider “how theological Sartre’s ‘unrealizables’ are” (2017a: 204). What Sartre offers is more than just a suspicion about theology—e.g. unmasking some aspect of neighborly love as one more instance of self-love—he shows us a loveless world that is abandoned by God (2017a: 209).

According to Kirkpatrick, if the Jansenists temptation was to despair over grace, the Sartrean temptation is, in despair over sin, to refuse (2017a: 212). For classical theology, sin and evil are to be understood on a scale, admitting of degrees, and are always balanced within the broader horizon of God and goodness. For Sartre, the presence of evil negates the idea of God. Kirkpatrick’s concludes that Sartre “explicitly inverts the imago Dei, embracing instead the fallen human desire to be sicut Deus”. Furthermore, “his psychological description of unrealizables can be read as affective consequences of God’s absence” (2017a: 211). However, one might question whether this conclusion is a matter of theology at all. After all, Sartre may well be describing the consequences of God’s death without drawing any theological conclusions. One could claim that this desire to be ‘like God’ is, for Sartre, phenomenological commonsense. What matters for theology is precisely Sartre’s insistence on the failure of love and the concomitant need to think of God otherwise than the assurance that our relationships of love will succeed. The death of God, for Sartre as for theologians, ought to mean that what has died is precisely the God that serves to remedy, and is instrumental to, our own failures.

Kirkpatrick ends with an interesting rapprochement between phenomenology and theology. For a philosopher who does not acknowledge the least possibility of ‘salvation in Christ’ (2017a: 2014), what function does theology serve? According to Kirkpatrick, theologians either believe that it is through revelation that we know what sin is or they believe that it is sin that puts us on the path to salvation. For those that believe the latter, lived experience with sin might shed light on revelation. A particular understanding of phenomenology will aid theology here. Far from presenting a survey of inner experiences, phenomenology tends to interpret our experience in the world. In this regard, recognition serves as a criterion of correctness for description—if no one really knew what Heidegger meant when writing on angst, for instance, it is unlikely that Sein und Zeit would have been such a success (Cf. 2017a: 217). Theology seems to allude to such a criterion when it speaks of the difference between ‘knowledge’ and ‘acknowledging’—I might know everything there is to know about sin in classical theology, for instance, without ever acknowledging any sins of my own (Cf. 2017a: 220). It is for this reason that Kirkpatrick focuses on Sartre’s literary legacy. She claims that his “use of narrative […] was undergirded by a conviction that […] precision concerning individuals can only [occur] when individuals are considered in […] their situated, lived experiences” (2017a: 219). Kirkpatrick argues that Sartre’s notion of ‘the unrealizable’ can be interpreted within the context of this relationship between knowledge and acknowledgement (2017a: 220-221).

For Kirkpatrick, “to refuse anything that comes ‘from without’ (BN 463) is to refuse the gaze of love” (2017a: 221). Although not everything that comes ‘from without’ should be confused with a gaze of love, it is remarkable that Sartre should not consider the fact that the other’s point of view might be at least as valid as our own. Kirkpatrick neglects the fact that this immunization against otherness, this attempt at a ‘walled city’, is itself a ‘useless passion’. What matters is that, for Sartre, there is a multiplicity of others. It is not the case that one is either a free, autonomous subject or ‘condemned’ by the other. Amidst a multitude of viewpoints, one should still try to assert oneself in the world. For Sartre, the point is that no one can step outside of their situation, a situation that always concerns a “multiplicity of consciences”. This “antinomian character” of the totality of beings-in-the-world is “irreducible” and obeys no laws that would oversee it. Consequently, it is impossible to “take a point of view on this totality, that is to say, to consider it from the outside”.[ii] I am always and already engaged, immersed and absorbed by the world and being-with-others. Furthermore, there is no ‘God’s eye point of view’ of this being-with-others.

Kirkpatrick’s sympathizes with Beauvoir, who is “closer to the Christian position [where the] self is invited to a life of intersubjective co-creativity. It is an invitation to know that we are both constituted by and constitutive of the others in our lives, and to acknowledge our co-constitution in humility, love and mercy” (2017a: 222 and 224). It is toward such love and mercy that Kirkpatrick gestures in the final chapter of her book. She asserts that it is theology that is able to offer us a “rightly ordered self” (2017a: 225). This theology is developed through two provocations: the first is that Sartre is right in stating that optimism, considering the state of the world, is irrational and that optimism is justified only if God exists; the second extends her interpretation of Sartre as a Westphalian ‘master of suspicion’—an “atheism ‘for edification’” (2017a: 212)—by questioning how love is to be set in order. For Kirkpatrick, one must first “recognize—and acknowledge—our own failures in love” (2017a: 234). Kierkegaardian ‘edification’ turns out to be “self-examination” (2017a: 235). She argues for a position between néantisme (nothing is any good) and Pelagianism (an overconfident claim toward self-assertion). Identification with facticity entails a passivity that would reject all responsibility while identification with transcendence entails an oversight of our thrownness in determinate situations with determinate others. Humility and love require both activity and passivity: a “personal transformation [which] takes into account the situatedness of our convictions and the importance of our conduct in relation to them” (2017a: 238). Such an autonomy from within heteronomy warrants the optimism that “failures don’t have the last word” (2017a: 241). Kirkpatrick’s hope is that the reality of sin might give way to an intellectual climate that “hold[s] open the possibility of taking religious points of view seriously” (2017a: 233). However, Kirkpatrick stops short of dealing with those questions that attracted me to this book in the first place, such as, “if we find recognizable descendants of […] sin in some of the twentieth century’s most prominent philosophers: why?” (2017a: 233, her italics).

Kirkpatrick is to be commended for the conversation she establishes between philosophy and theology. She makes a strong case for interpreting Sartre as ‘phenomenologist of fallenness’. One learns in her other book that the great theologians that responded to Sartre—Barth, Tillich, Wojtyla and Yannaras—agree upon one thing: that Sartre’s account of self-alienation stands in clear opposition to the Christian stress on relationality (Cf. 2017b: 136, 142, 173 and 181). Yet the trouble for theology, then and now, is that this does not seem entirely correct and its praise for relationality is premature. If Sartre was describing the failure of relationality in the very act of relating to self, others and world, then one is left wondering, whether and how theology could respond to such a situation.


[i] Kate Kirkpatrick, Sartre and Theology (London: Bloomsbury, 2017b). The work under review will be referred to in the text as (2017a). References to Being and Nothingness, trans. H. Barnes (London: Routledge: 2003), the editions which Kirkpatrick uses, will be given in the text.

[ii] Sartre, L’être et le néant, p. 349.

Trevor Tchir: Hannah Arendt’s Theory of Political Action: Daimonic Disclosure of the ‘Who’

Hannah Arendt's Theory of Political Action: Daimonic Disclosure of the `Who' Book Cover Hannah Arendt's Theory of Political Action: Daimonic Disclosure of the `Who'
International Political Theory
Trevor Tchir
Palgrave MacMillan
2017
Hardcover 103,99 €
258

Reviewed by: Amy Bush (Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA)

Disruption and Remembrance in Arendt’s Theory of Political Action

Trevor Tchir’s monograph, “Hannah Arendt’s Theory of Political Action”, covers a wide spectrum of Arendt’s works in providing a framework for her theory of political action. Tchir draws upon a range of thinkers, such as Heidegger, Kant, Augustine and Montesquieu, who influenced aspects of Arendt’s theory, and upon those thinkers whom Arendt explicitly criticized, such as Marx, to demonstrate how she both breaks with the tradition of western political thought and recollects and revises some of the concepts within that tradition in order to re-conceptualize “political action” in the modern age of secular politics. Thus, Tchir also highlights how Arendt transforms and revises aspects of others’ philosophies, in significant ways, when she does borrow from them. Moreover, his inclusion of commentary and criticisms of Arendt’s approach to political action by numerous contemporary thinkers helps him to illuminate the tensions within Arendt’s thought and to delineate his own thesis and argument. However, much of his book is devoted to an exegesis and interpretation of Arendt’s diverse works in respect to her theory of political action, as she encounters the Western tradition of political thought in general, and the aforementioned thinkers in particular. Although he slowly integrates his own voice into his interpretation, it isn’t until the final chapter of the book that he fully draws out how the tensions within Arendt’s thought are fruitful for contemporary politics.

Although Tchir’s book is very comprehensive in its approach to Arendt’s theory of political action, much of the territory he covers has been traversed by other commentators, especially as regards Arendt’s conceptual distinctions between the public and the private sphere, and the political and social/economic spheres. His own primary contribution to the extensive literature on Arendt is his discussion, in chapter 3, of the importance of the metaphor of the “daimon”, as introduced in The Human Condition in respect to the political actor, as she individuates herself through speech and action in the public sphere of a plurality of spectators. (89) The metaphor of the “daimon” is used by Arendt to indicate how the political actor does not have a self transparent to herself, but, whose self can only be “known” through the diverse judgments and narratives of the plurality of spectators to her actions, as if the “daimon” sat on her shoulder concealed from her view but visible to all those who witness her. Tchir also contends that that this metaphor of the daimon gestures towards a divine or transcendent origin of the capacity of humans to act and think (and, thereby, judge the actions of the actor that appear in the political sphere). The daimon, as a mediator between men and gods, expresses that the origins of these human capacities are ultimately unknowable. In this way, Arendt encounters the residual language of transcendence in modern political thought. Within the context of modern revolutions, such as the French Revolution and American Revolution, there was an overturning of traditional authority of religion within the realm of politics, but the language of rights often retained an appeal to transcendent sources of these “natural” rights of mankind. (12) Thus, there is a tension within Arendt’s own thought on the relationship of the secular and the religious within modern politics, and within political theory generally in the modern era.

This also opens the question as to whether or not there are any “foundations” to political theory in the modern age. However, this enables Arendt to introduce a conception of freedom suitable to an age without such religious, metaphysical, or natural foundations – one that is self-grounding within a political space of appearances (rather than grounded in an invisible sphere of divine or metaphysical laws). Her notion of freedom is one that is not based on a notion of the will that masters itself or directs its actions from pre-determined principles, whether metaphysical or religious or based on reason or nature, nor is it grounded in a notion of political sovereignty, where a ruler crafts laws which subjects obey. It is this western political tradition of freedom that lies in sovereignty and rule, one that promotes relationships of domination and an illusory control over what the subjects can do and their environment, that she is disrupting, while retrieving a freedom that arises from isonomia, that is, the agonistic politics that occurs in a sphere of formal equality, as practiced in ancient Greece. (135) The disclosure of the unique, daimonic “who” is the disclosure of a non-sovereign self.

However, Tchir also shows how the metaphor of the “daimon” has existential import for human dignity and the “meaning” of existence for humans in a world of uncertainty and contingency, rather than in a world where moral or religious absolutes, whether based on revelation or reason, could guide our political actions and insure mastery. (32) This existential impact demonstrates why the realm of political action is so centrally important to human existence for Hannah Arendt, and it is why she sometimes characterizes the “political world” as also a “spiritual world”. (79) It would seem to me that this latter characterization would make the divine element in human existence immanent rather than transcendent, and would point to a fundamental mystery at the core of human existence which amplifies its uncertainty and makes complete unconcealment of origins impossible.(84) Nonetheless, Tchir argues by the end of his book that Arendt would not exclude religion from the public sphere, and this is important to understanding the conduct of politics in today’s world. At the same time, he makes the point that uncertainty plays a central role in Arendt’s re-conceptualization of political action, as the success of any political actions remain uncertain and their effects remain unpredictable in an agonistic political world of plurality of actors and spectators with conflicting wills and cross-purposes. (25) Thus, Arendt has an understanding of both politics and existence as based in a fragility of a common political world shared by a plurality of actors and spectators, and a vulnerability of humans in the face of their “passive givenness” and in their attempts to actualize their historically situated possibilities from that givenness through action. (32) Although she dispenses with a concept of “human nature” as the basis of the political, she does not argue that political action can fundamentally change our givenness so much as actively disclose our individuality, which exceeds this givenness. This actualization of our individuality remains opaque to each of us, as individual actors. However, through political action, we can assert our human dignity as we confront this givenness as well as when we encounter the contingencies of our historical situations.

Action itself, as characterized by natality, is the source of freedom, which is the other major focus of Tchir’s exegesis. If one of the ontological conditions of the political space of appearances is that of plurality, the other one is that of natality, as a spontaneous beginning, and the capacity to initiate or give birth to something new and unprecedented into a world that is otherwise characterized by natural or historical processes, chains of causes and effects, and normalizing routines. Arendt’s conception of natality is borrowed from the Christian tradition of miracles, as that which interrupts natural processes, especially as found in Augustine’s works. (24) This is how action is differentiated from behavior and from being simply another cause in a chain of causes and effects, although action has unpredictable and uncontrollable ramifications by setting off many chains of causes and effects in unprecedented ways. Through natality, new aspects of the shared world of appearances are themselves disclosed, along with the disclosure of the unique “who” of the actors. Thus, individuality is dependent upon the witnessing of others, and political freedom is relational. This is a realm that discloses “meaning” rather than “truth”, although Arendt will complicate this picture by insisting that spectators enlarge their mentality so that their interpretations deal with “facticity” rather than with inaccurate distortions of what happened. (173) However, one of Arendt’s presumptions appears to be that people want or seek such meaning in their lives, and not solely the accomplishment of goals, social or otherwise. This is another way in which the political realm is also a spiritual realm.

Although plurality is also a condition of the public sphere, individuation occurs within that public sphere as actors perform in front of spectators who are characterized by both their equality and distinction. (23) The shared world is not one of a common vision of the good shared by a predetermined community, as in communitarianism, (5) but one of a material world of cultural artifacts, which themselves are subject to interpretation by participants in that world, and the “web of interrelationships” that occurs in that world. “Distinction” is presupposed in the plurality of participants, while “equality” is a formal feature of the public sphere where all participants’ perspectives play a role, rather than one of material equality.

Fundamental to the possibility of individuation is Arendt’s distinction between the “existential who” and the “constative what” (4, 85). The “who” that is disclosed in the public sphere is not simply a collection of character traits and talents or of a pre-established identity, such as that of socioeconomic status, gender or race, which could be generally applied to similarly situated others, all of which would be an aspect of the person’s “whatness”. The “who” is disclosed through the performance of her acts and the virtuosity of her deeds in the political space of appearances and is not “made” as a product of a craft. The “who” transcends the “what”. However, the “meaning” of her acts is disclosed in the narratives, stories, and histories composed by spectators who judge her acts, and which show how these acts, in disclosing the principles that inspired them, serve as “valid examples” for future action within that community. (31) Tchir proposes that this plurality is not only a plurality of “opinions” (or doxa), although it is especially that, but also a plurality of “whats” that insert themselves into this public sphere wherein they can renegotiate their identities as “whats” through their individuating actions and judgments of actions. (6) In this manner, pluralities are not a diversity of predetermined “whats” along ethnic, racial, gender, economic or social lines, but the latter are not so much excluded from the public sphere as augmented and revised within that sphere. As Tchir will argue in chapter 6 of the book, it is important that spectators do not surrender their individual judgments of actions to the prejudices and “whats” of others, even though they should be taking into consideration all the diverse perspectives of those who are physically present in the public sphere, as well as the perspectives of past historical actors within that sphere. Thus, there is a nuanced attempt to make room for the entry of the whatness of participants into this sphere, without subordinating that sphere to their “whatness” or to what has been loosely called “identity politics” (my term, and not the author’s).

This public realm and its freedom are fragile because they can only be sustained by the renewal of actions and judgments within the sphere. The space of appearances has no institutional infrastructure that can guarantee its presence, although Arendt does comment on structures that may encourage or facilitate such a sphere, such as a legal framework that makes such free exchange of “opinions” possible. She proposes a “council system” in On Revolution. (28) She also comments upon those structures that tend to interfere with such a free exchange of “opinion”, such as parties and some schemes of political representation. Because Tchir’s thesis is focused on the existential implications of Arendt’s theory of political action, he tends to omit detailed discussion of alternative structures of governance implied by her theory, although he does make observations about potential deliberative spaces for global actors in his concluding chapter, and explains why Arendt proposed federalism rather than a world government as a means to insure a “right to have rights” in chapter 5.

Although this book is devoted to the disclosure of the “existential and unique who” in political action, it also attempts to characterize and clarify what constitutes political action, a subject of great controversy in the literature on Arendt. Political action is a performance that invokes inspiring principles, examples of which might include “honor, glory, equality, and excellence, but also hatred, fear, and distrust” (29). Through these examples of inspiring principles, it becomes evident that some principles might sustain freedom within the public sphere better than others. Along these lines, Arendt will suggest that the principle of “rectifying social inequality” will most likely destroy the public sphere, as she contends happened when the “impoverished Sans-Culottes entered the scene of the French Revolution. (152) When this principle inspires actions in the public sphere it tends to destroy the plurality of perspectives and opinions, and obliterate individuality through single-mindedness of an instrumental goal, and, it is here that we can see a tension between the who and what in the plurality of the public sphere. Despite Tchir’s own argument, Arendt seems to favor the plurality of opinions, which she does not treat as confined to socioeconomic factors or status. (136) I will reserve further discussion of Arendt’s view of the social and its relationship to the political to later in this review.

Actions thereby spring from principles, as understood by Montesquieu, but also may “exemplify” and “sustain a principle” (30). Although such principles are “too general to prescribe specific courses of action”, they are “greater and longer lasting than immediate ends”, thereby contributing to the continuity of the shared public world. (31) However, these principles are not transcendent metaphysical principles or determined by reason prior to action. They are exhibited in the actions themselves, and, thus, they too must be repeated in narratives to inspire future actions, and in those future actions themselves, in order to sustain their role in the public space. In this manner, political action is for the sake of itself – that is, for the sake of maintaining a sphere of plurality in which action can continue to occur, and for the sake of its inspiring principles. (26) Political action contains its own end, rather than occurring “in order” to achieve instrumental goals. (30) Some critics find this approach to political action empty, a criticism to which Tchir responds in chapters 5 and 6, and which I will address later in this review. However, his discussion of inspiring principles is one of the most interesting parts of his book, and one which he revisits in later chapters in responding to criticisms of the emptiness of the public sphere – what does anyone talk about there? – and to criticisms of the formal but not material equality of that sphere, which could influence who is included or excluded from that sphere and the communication that occurs within that sphere.

My above discussion of the “daimon” metaphor and its existential impact, as well as my discussion of freedom, plurality, natality, and the political space of appearances, are drawn primarily from the first three chapters of Tchir’s book, although, as I indicate above, I anticipate where Tchir is going in the rest of his book. Thereafter the book is organized by chapters on Arendt’s encounters and interactions with the thought of other philosophers within the Western tradition. The rest of my review will briefly survey some of the main points made in each of these chapters in order to draw out some of the main strands of the argument delineated above.

In chapter 4,”Aletheia: The Influence of Heidegger”, Tchir shows how “Arendt incorporates Heidegger’s notion of Dasein’s (the human being’s) resolute action as disclosure of both the `who’ of Dasein and of the action’s context” into her theory of political action. (97) Arendt’s attempt to “rescue political action from its historical and contemporary concealment” in conceptions of sovereignty bears an affinity to her teacher, Heidegger’s attempt to rescue Dasein from the historical concealment of Being. Both Heidegger and Arendt share a concern for “Aletheia“, as an “un-concealment” or “un-forgetting” (97), and with the various modes in which arche (sources) of Being can be disclosed. Arendt’s distinction between a “who” and a “what” is drawn from Heidegger, who, in turn, found it in Aristotle’s distinction between poiesis and praxis. In poeisis, an external product is produced by a process of what Arendt will call “work”, and in praxis, there is no external product to be generalized. Instead, the end lies within the activity itself, as Arendt characterizes political action. However, unlike Heidegger’s adoption of Aristotelian concepts, Arendt rejects the idea that action becomes “fully transparent”, (109) and proposes that “the judgment of spectators can indeed change.” (109) Moreover, Arendt’s notion of plurality, although influenced by Heidegger’s “notion of Mitsein (Being-with)”, significantly revises how the “who” is disclosed. For Heidegger, the authentic “who” of Dasein can only be disclosed by the contemplative withdrawal of the individual from the routine, normalizing discourses of the “everydayness” and “idle talk” of the “They”, while Arendt locates the disclosure of the daimonic “who” within the “web of relationships” and the plurality of opinions – that is, the talk – of the public world. “Talk” and “opinions” of ordinary members of a community can be valuable. (114) Moreover, Arendt “reverses Dasein’s primacy of `being-toward-death’, in favor of the notion of `natality’….”. (115)

In chapter 5, “Labor and `World Alienation”: Arendt’s Critique of Marx”, Tchir addresses Arendt’s distinctions between the social and the political, and between the public and the private, in the context of her critique of Marx’s conception of what she calls “socialized humanity”. (125) Arendt’s rejection of Marx’s conception of freedom rests partly on her prioritization of the disclosure of the individual in the political realm over the other realms of the Vita Activa, those of labor and work, which she claims that Marx favors. Labor is the realm of biological necessity, in which people are simply “specimens” to be preserved, so that Marx’s focus on labor and its liberation is misplaced. (130) Arendt proposes that one can only enter the public sphere where freedom occurs when biological and economic needs have already been met in the private sphere of labor. Whereas, in ancient times, all economic activity also took place in the private household, today economic activity is public, found in the realm of the “social”, which still addresses the arena of mere preservation of life. Although Arendt agrees with Marx that capitalism has had world alienating effects – it is through capitalism that economics entered the public sphere (129) – she sees his solution as “perpetuating” the problem by “glorifying labor”(126) and by focusing on the cultivating of talents (which are an aspect of “whatness”) as the source of freedom when the classless society is achieved, rather than upon political action and the disclosure of the “who” as the source of freedom. (135) By treating speech as inescapably determined by social relations of production” (127), Marx denies the possibility of an individual unique “who” who transcends the constative characteristics of that individual’s “whatness”, as well as denying the plurality of perspectives that constitute a political realm.

I cannot do justice to Tchir’s survey of the literature on this aspect of Arendt’s thought, or to how he indicates with which commentaries he agrees or disagrees. However, it is within this chapter, as well as the next chapter, that Tchir explicitly addresses issues of inclusion and exclusion within a public sphere, revisits the relationship between the “who” and the “what”, and complicates the latter distinction by the introduction of Arendt’s conception of a private “place” (133) from which we emerge to insert ourselves into the public sphere – is such a “place” an aspect of a person’s “what” or only a precondition to participating in the political world? After all, “For Arendt, it as though classes are as unavoidable as labor itself” (135), so are they aspects of “whatness” or of “place”? At the same time, she proposes that the expansion of technological and productive forces may make it possible to give every person in a society such a place, that is, to alleviate poverty to the extent that everybody may be able to “transcend” the sphere of preservation of “mere life” to that of political action and the freedom it entails. (133) This is not entirely unlike Marx’s prediction that the productive forces of capitalism will usher in an age of the end of poverty. In this way, Arendt does want the public sphere to be inclusive, but without sacrificing a plurality of opinion that isn’t reducible to self-interest or to the “whatness” of the participants.

Furthermore, Arendt claims that when social questions based on urgent needs enter the public sphere, they become dominated by the self-interests of those who need to preserve their “mere life”, and this lends itself to the violence and rage that occurred during the French Revolution. Arendt’s conception of non-sovereign freedom and political action are introduced just to reduce the role of violence and domination in political life, although she does realize that violence and exploitation played a role in the private sphere of ancient Greece, and can play a role in producing poverty. (156) Moreover, she doesn’t think that social questions and the elimination of poverty can be successfully eliminated through political means. (152)

 However, what then is talked about in the political sphere? Her answer is that questions with no certain conclusions properly belong in the political sphere. (163) For example, the question of “adequate housing” has a certain solution (in Arendt’s view), so it should be dealt with administratively, while the question of “integrated housing” is a properly political issue. (163) In that Arendt considers the provision of “adequate housing” important to establishing a place for every potential participant to enter the public sphere, (156-157) she is not insensitive to social and economic questions, although she does ignore the possibility of normative dimensions to what counts as “adequate”, as well as ignoring the question as to whether or not there should be political interference in the economic housing market in order to provide adequate housing. (159) At the same time, she herself states there is no firm distinction between political and non-political issues and that engagements with one’s historical situation means that what is talked about in the public realm will vary over time. (160) However, one commentator, Lucy Cane, suggests that other inspiring principles than that of eliminating material equality, such as one of “solidarity”, could be disclosed in the actions of political actors in such a way to address some of the concerns of those who are oppressed or exploited. (161)

The problem remains as to whether the formal equality that characterizes the public sphere can be maintained without material equality, and this is where many commentators criticize Arendt. Moreover, there are other types of racial and gender oppression which could distort the exchanges of opinion within the public sphere. However, I suggest that many of Arendt’s critics on these points are operating under different assumptions as to what constitutes power and power relations than those of Arendt. Thus, Tchir’s analysis could benefit from a discussion of Arendt’s own conception of “power”, as numbers of people “acting in concert”, and as distinct from violence which relies on “implements”. (On Violence, 44-46) This would not resolve all the differences between Arendt and her critics, but it would further illuminate her disruption of sovereignty as the basis of freedom, and would help support those commentators who make a case for civil disobedience as political action along Arendtian lines. (139) The role of civil disobedience comes up in Tchir’s discussion of Arendt’s conception of the “right to have rights”, which is “the right to have one’s destiny not be decided merely by how one’s given `what’ is defined and ruled by an external authority but rather by interactions with others who will judge one based on their words and deeds and allow one’s unique `who’ to appear.” (141) The “right to have rights” is the right to live in such a framework, to belong to such a community, which is denied now to those who are stateless or refugees. I suggest that equalizing the conditions of participants within the public sphere might be facilitated by multiple public spheres, based not so much on the features of “whatness” as upon diverse material worlds of cultural artifacts that those with such identities might share, and then federate these various “councils” into larger public spheres, as some protest movements form coalitions with each other. In this way, participants could immanently let their individuality shine through many lights.

In chapter 6, “The Dignity of Doxa: Politicizing Kant’s Aesthetic Judgment”, Tchir addresses in more detail how the judgments of spectators occur. Arendt draws upon Kant’s conceptions of reflective and aesthetic judgments, adapting them to the political sphere, because reflective judgments are not determinative of actions, (177) they involve the use of the imagination, and they make possible the exercise of responsibility. (173) Although each spectator judges differently, and partly from the standpoint of their “whatness”, that is, social class, gender, race, religion, etc., the imagination allows each spectator to enlarge her mentality to take into consideration the perspectives of all those physically present or those past participants in the public sphere. Such an “enlarged mentality” (163) involves a position of “disinterestedness”,(179) one in which we achieve some “distance” by “forgetting ourselves” (180), which implies that we transcend self-interest and considerations of instrumentality or usefulness. (179-180) However, it is unclear how much it involves direct exchange of opinions within the public sphere. In any case, the spectator tries to assess the meaning of acts, but not from a “higher standpoint” than those who participant within the political space.

 The “shared judging community” is the sensus communis, now detranscendentalized from Kant’s conception of it. (183) Again many commentators criticize Arendt’s conception of the judging community because of inequities in the position of different spectators in the communication among them.(182ff) However, the role of such inequities in distorting communications, depends partly on the relationship of “whats” and “who’s” within the public sphere, a situation that remains somewhat unresolved, despite the fact that Arendt doesn’t want communication to be marked by conflict among publicly pre-determined identities. However, equality (of a formal rather than material sort) may serve as an inspiring principle, as could mutual respect. (185) It would seem that the maintenance of such a space would require tolerance of potential conflict, openness to listening to different perspectives, and courage to act and retain the personal element in judging, in ways that would always be subject to subversion. (86) Consensus does not appear to be the aim of the judging community, so much as the disclosure of the meaning of their common world. Thus, in these ways, Tchir returns to existential questions.

In the end, there is no hard separation between the position of the actor and that of the spectator. (193) Arendt borrows Kant’s idea of an original compact, in such a way that the inspiring principles of this compact bring the actor and spectator together as one, and an actor can always become a spectator and vice versa. Moreover, a spectator’s judgments are always revisable. Arendt also appropriates Kant’s notion of “exemplary validity”, which implies that “particular deeds may be taken as valid examples by which to judge other cases.” (195) In this way, a tradition may be established, and this also plays a role in Arendt’s conception of history as storytelling that displays such valid examples.

In chapter 7, “Forgotten Fragments: Arendt’s Critique of Teleological Philosophies of History”, Tchir discusses how Arendt criticizes the philosophies of history of Kant, Hegel and Marx, which, according to her, eliminate the possibility of natality, that is, the spontaneous birth of the unprecedented and new that characterizes political action, and subordinate the freedom of the political sphere, which should be for its own sake and for the plurality of that sphere, to the telos of history, and to the agent of historical forces themselves as they march towards that ultimate end without regard to the plurality of humankind. Individuals are reduced to functions in the movement of history itself, one that lends itself to totalitarianism. She proposes an “alternative method of fragmentary historiography,” (205) as influenced by Walter Benjamin. It is from this alternative method that I have pulled the title of my book review, as I contend, and, I have tried to show in this review, how Arendt tends, in her very theory of political action, to perform the type of disruption of historical continuity that she says has occurred in the modern era, but, at the same time, retrieve some ancient practices to re-conceptualize political action and freedom. In so doing, she performs both an action and a judgment, which has generated, in turn, a diverse set of interpretations and judgments of her own “storytelling”, many of which Tchir surveys in his monograph.

In his concluding chapter, Tchir recapitulates some of his main points, and draws together some of the loose threads of his observations into a brief argument as to the relevance of Arendt’s theory of political action in today’s world, which is characterized by divisive discourses of populism; (236) disillusionment by people in a public sphere dominated by corporations and sensational media (242) and a neoliberal security state that relegates people to pre-determined categories of “whatness” in order to control their movements and to deny them freedom and access to a framework in which they can act and judge freely. He makes a few suggestions about the possibility of bringing Arendt’s conception of political action into the international arena, and religion into the public sphere without it dominating that sphere with absolute metaphysical principles. This chapter would be more fruitful if expanded, but, given the monumental job Tchir has already accomplished, it might be beyond the scope of his book to do so.

Works Cited:

Arendt, Hannah. 1970. On Violence. Harcourt, Brace and Company, San Diego.

Eileen Rizo-Patron, Edward S. Casey, Jason M. Wirth (Eds.): Adventures in Phenomenology: Gaston Bachelard

Adventures in Phenomenology: Gaston Bachelard Book Cover Adventures in Phenomenology: Gaston Bachelard
SUNY series in Contemporary French Thought
Eileen Rizo-Patron, Edward S. Casey, Jason M. Wirth (Eds.)
SUNY Press
2017
Hardcover $90.00
338

Reviewed by: Dylan Trigg (University of Vienna)

In Anglo-American philosophy, Gaston Bachelard has never assumed the influence of Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, or Levinas, much less Heidegger. Where his work has been addressed, it has tended to be outside of philosophy, especially in literary studies, human geography, and branches of psychology. Monographs devoted to his work from a philosophical perspective tend to be rare while research on his philosophy together with the proliferation of this thought tend also to emerge from a handful of scholars and institutes, not least the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, which has championed the translation of Bachelard for several decades. There was also a brief surge of interest in Bachelard in the UK via Clinamen Press who published several key texts before they went out of business.

Beyond these contingent circumstances, quite why Bachelard has been neglected in this fashion is a contentious matter. In part, it may be because of the idiosyncrasy not only of his work, but also of the course of his thought. Although he is more commonly known for his work on the philosophy of imagination, Bachelard started out as a philosopher of science, working extensively on the epistemology of science. This disparity in the course of his philosophical research tends to generate the impression of a thinker on the margins, neither fitting entirely into the traditional context of Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, and so forth, but nor fully belonging to the philosophy of science, at least in a traditional sense. In part, this is true. Although he lived through the era, Bachelard was never part of the ethos of existentialism, much less a political philosopher in the manner that Sartre would eventually become. Yet the notion that there are two distinct trajectories in Bachelard’s thought may be one-sided. Much like Merleau-Ponty, there are strands of thought in the early Bachelard, which, far from being left behind, are returned to in his late work, only now from an enriched perspective (one thinks of his striking discussion of Baudelaire’s notion of “smiling regret” in the 1932 text Intuition of Instant and its subsequent reappearance in his 1960 book The Poetics of Reverie).

The neglect of Bachelard is regrettable, not least because the gap between the sciences and humanities is one such area where he can assume a pivotal role. Furthermore, where philosophers have engaged with Bachelard, it has tended to be in a dismissive if polite fashion (to think here of Foucault’s comments on Bachelard’s in the former’s essay “Of Other Spaces). Because of this dismissal, an entire area of research on Bachelard remains underdeveloped (not least his relation to other thinkers within the tradition, especially Merleau-Ponty).

In spite—or because—of the peculiarities of his thought, over the last ten years or so, we are beginning to witness something like a slow revival in the thought of Gaston Bachelard. Beginning with author such as Roch C. Smith, Mary McAllester, and Mary Tiles in the 1980s, after a latency period, a new generation of thinkers resumed scholarly work on Bachelard either by tackling specific thematic and conceptual strands of his thought (as in Miles Kennedy’s book on the role of home in Bachelard) or through employing Bachelard in a dialogical fashion to develop an applied analysis of a certain phenomenon (as in Ed Casey’s work on place or Richard Kearney’s work on imagination). Eileen Rizo-Patron is another key figure in the contemporary revival of Bachelard, translating his important early book Intuition of the Instant (2013) as well as being the lead editor on the present volume under review, Adventures in Phenomenology: Gaston Bachelard.

This is an impressive, wide-reaching, and important volume in several respects. Over the course of sixteen chapters, the collection covers topics as varied as Bachelard’s philosophy of time, his place within the phenomenological tradition, his analysis of language, and the usage of his philosophy in issues such as environmental politics and theories of space and place. These issues are tackled by many if not all of the key players in Bachelard studies, including notable figures such as Ed Casey, Richard Kearney, and Mary McAllester Jones. It would be impossible to review the book as a whole given its complexity and range, but in what follows I will critically survey some of the book’s salient themes, addressing to what extent the volume as a whole develops Bachelard studies for contemporary research in phenomenology.

Eileen Rizo-Patron’s introduction to the volume establishes the aims and context of the collection clearly and coherently. From the outset, the aim is established of positioning Bachelard in dialogue with contemporary continental thought (1). In the first instance, this requires a historical context, which Rizo-Patron provides. The “cavalier attitude toward Bachelard” by his contemporaries is conceived in both institutional and conceptual terms (4). Bachelard’s appointment as chair of History and Philosophy of Science at the Sorbonne was contentious when set against his wide-ranging—and autodidactic—interests, not only in the philosophy of science but also of his then burgeoning interest in Jungian psychology, alchemy, and the philosophy of imagination. Yet this methodological stance, far from a weakness, emerges as a strength insofar as Bachelard can be read as a “subversive” figure both within the history of philosophy but also in terms of his broader thought. Bachelardian concepts such as reverie and oneirism anticipate the ways in which Merleau-Ponty’s late thought sought to undermine binary divisions and address the ways in which experience and thought appear for us long before those same thoughts have been culturally and intellectually sedimented into habitual patterns.

Such is the theme of the first chapter of the volume, a provocative exploration of Bachelard’s account of temporal duration by Ed Casey. At the heart of this chapter is a question that is central to both Bachelard and contemporary continental philosophy; namely, is time continuous or disruptive? (19). Indeed, the question forms a leitmotif in Bachelard, evident from the outset to the end of his life, either appearing explicitly in temporal terms or through a series of different guises (be it spatiality in The Poetics of Space or animality in Lautréamont). From the outset the question is posed against a critical reading of Bergson. What Bachelard finds problematic in Bergson is the assumption that duration can involve continuous change. For Bachelard, this paradox can only be resolved through the introduction of a dialectical model of time that recognises how discontinuous and disorders of time are consolidated into the appearance of continuity. As Bachelard writes in the 1936 book Dialectics of Duration, there is a “time which is ineffective, scattered in a cloud of disparate instants and on other [hand] time which is cohered, organised, and consolidated into duration.”[1] In a word, time is that which is to be worked on, formed, reformed, consolidated, reconsolidated, renewed, and returned to. Duration is never given to experience as a unitary field, but instead becomes in Bachelard an achievement of sorts.

It is in the 1932 book Intuition of the Instant—thus written during Bachelard’s “scientific” phase—where these issues are first explored at length, and it is this formative text that Casey attends to in his contribution. As Casey makes clear, Bachelard’s motivation for introducing the notion of the instant is to undercut the dichotomy between thinking of time as either continuous or discontinuous. Casey contextualizes this claim through applying Bachelard’s notion of the instant to an analysis of the distinction between the sudden and the surprising, with the two terms being “coeval if not precisely coextensive” (22-23). Both occur instantaneously, and, moreover, “all of a sudden,” even if the result of a sustained process of rumination. Both moreover, are taken up in the overarching theme of newness, which Casey offers a threefold taxonomy, from the new as “utterly unprecedented” to that which is already but renewed in its newness upon each contact (as in engaging with a great work of art that generates new perspectives), and then finally to the cases of what is new in relation to what is familiar (as when we are presented with something novel that is situated with an already established context).

What is important about these reflections is that they enrich Bachelard’s idea of the instant and what he will enigmatically call “verticality,” a key concept that several of the chapters explore, and one that I will return to. Bachelard’s own remarks on this concept consist of several sketches and some incisive though underdeveloped passages. An appendix in the English translation of Intuition of the Instant includes Bachelard’s short essay “Poetic Instant and Metaphysical Instant,” written in 1939, which unpacks his notion of vertical or poetical time. But much remains to be said on what implications Bachelard’s philosophy of the instant and his analysis of time more generally have for contemporary research. In extending Bachelard beyond his own remit, Casey’s elaboration of these ideas positions us in a much better place to grasp the “unthought thoughts” within Bachelard.

Alongside Casey, Richard Kearney also tackles Bachelard’s concept of the instant, giving more specific attention to the enigmatic essay “Poetic Instant and Metaphysical Instant” and its adjoining notion of vertical time. Some words on Bachelard’s usage of poetics and poesies is needed here. By “poetic,” Bachelard refers not only to sensuous experience and that alone, but rather insofar as it involves poesies, the act of creation that is as much concerned with the composition of time in the present as it is that of the past. Such is the task of poesies, to shatter “the simple continuity of shackled time,” revealing therein an “element of suspended time, meterless time—a time we shall call vertical in order to distinguish it from everyday time.”[2] With his idea of vertical time, Bachelard offers a rejoinder to Bergsonian durée, which he finds unconvincing on both a conceptual and phenomenological level, not least because it fails to account for how paradoxes and contradictions are central to the creative act of time. It is, Bachelard writes, “astonishing and familiar…a harmonic relationship between opposites [which] compels us to value or devalue” (59). More than a detached aesthetic pleasure, the poetic instant confers upon the reader an imperative to assess our understanding of time itself and to recognise that within that understanding there lies an enduring ambivalence that is fundamentally “androgynous” in nature (59).

Bachelard explores these rich concepts through literary illustrations, Baudelaire’s motif of “smiling regret” being one such articulation of the androgyny of the poetic instant. As mentioned above, Bachelard was so taken with this image that he would return to it at the final stages of his life, in The Poetics of Reverie, a book that expands and to some extent fulfils the promise of the earlier sketch of vertical time. In speaking of a smile that regrets, the question is not of trying to resolve this contradictory image, but of preserving it. Through this preservation of two apparently disjoined states entering the same affective orb, time, Bachelard insists, comes to a standstill.

Both Bachelard and Kearney distance this temporal structure from that of nostalgia, even though Bachelard will speak of the poetic instant as allowing us to “experience, belatedly, those instances which should have been lived” (60). I would question to what extent this distancing from nostalgia is tenable, given the direction Bachelard’s philosophy will proceed, with its eventual veneration of childhood as a model of the cosmos. But for Kearney the movement toward polarised time is less a question of nostalgia and more of a fascination with the “poetic conjunction of opposites,” which derives from Bachelard’s broader intellectual landscape, especially that of depth psychology and alchemy, where the conjunction of opposites assumes a vital role. Such influences are traceable in Bachelard’s notion of vertical time, where we find a plurality of timescales inhabiting the same sphere.

Naming this movement of time standing still an “epiphanic instant,” Kearney broadens Bachelard’s privileging of poetry over fiction, locating the movement of vertical time within Proust and Joyce, as Kearny puts it, “these novels are narratives constructed around certain vertical moments of ‘epiphany’ which cut through the linear plot line and liberate the story into a series of circular reprises … chronological time is upended and reversed, as past and future are reinscribed in a timeless moment” (52). Kearny notes in a footnote that there is a striking rapport here between Bachelard’s notion of vertical time and that of Benjamin’s concept of the “Messianic instant,” with Benjamin employ a metaphorical figure of flashing lightning and Bachelard invoking the figure of a “phoenix poetic flash” (56). While there is no evidence of a mutual influence between Benjamin and Bachelard (indeed, Benjamin would write a critical letter on Bachelard’s book, Lautréamont, toward the end of his life), untapped connections of this sort (not least between Merleau-Ponty and Bachelard) litter the work of Bachelard and remain to be developed. There is much more to be said on Kearney’s paper, which is exemplary in not only unpacking but also situating Bachelard’s critical (and overlooked) account of the poetic instant within his work as a whole.

Moving on from time, the middle parts of Adventures in Phenomenology deal with Bachelard’s methodology and his concept of language. Of these parts, Anton Vydra’s chapter is especially notable for critically assessing Bachelard’s place within the phenomenological landscape. Despite his avowed passion for phenomenology, especially in the later works, Bachelard’s relationship to the method is ambiguous. Vydra’s chapter explores these points of ambiguity, situating Bachelard’s methodology in relation to the concepts of phenomenon and noumena, his evolving concept of a “non-phenomenology,” his perspective on the phenomenological attitude, and how these dimensions contribute to an authentic formulation of phenomenology. Of note here is the phenomenological pathway Bachelard was developing and its potential relation to Merleau-Ponty. As with Merleau-Ponty, Bachelard calls into a question a phenomenology that centralises explicit modes of act intentionality. What this prioritizing omits is the way in which intentional relations are structured in the first place. In a word, it confines itself to things rather than what Bachelard terms “elemental matter” that has yet to assume a static quality. The rapport here not only with Merleau-Ponty’s concept of flesh, but also of his own development of “non-phenomenology” (of course, long before its formulation in Laruelle) is a rich area of research that is currently under-investigated. Vydra is exemplary in negotiating with the trajectory of Bachelard’s thought, but it would have been enriching to read a more sustained analysis of the relation between Merleau-Ponty and Bachelard, especially in their joint understanding of the term “element.” In addition, while Vydra ends his rich chapter with an inclusion of Bachelard’s “turn” toward poetics, there remains much here to say on the ontological and conceptual significance of concepts such as reverie, ontological amplification, and oneirism, which are touched upon but only in passing.

Both of Eileen Rizo-Patron’s contributions to this volume are noteworthy by dint of their incisiveness and lucidity. In her first chapter, Rizo-Patron picks up where Vydra left through tackling Bachelard’s relation to psychoanalysis. This relation is situated within Bachelard’s “psychotherapeutic period” in the 1940s, and the beginning of his concern the value of repose in response to what he will term in The Dialectic of Duration “ill-made durations” (108). By this, Bachelard seems to have in mind something like a Freudian complex, a dysfunctional “affective knot” that binds humans to impoverished ways of being, dwelling, and thinking. Rizo-Patron’s first chapter is especially helpful in teasing out these complex strands through identifying the central role alchemy plays in Bachelard’s intellectual background. Rizo-Patron maintains that Bachelard’s hermeneutics frames poetic texts as “proverbial ‘philosopher’s stones’ capable of drawing out the latent energies in other ‘stones’ (readers’ souls) while assisting in their distillation and transmutation” (114). This language may appear ornate, but I think it is more than a whimsy on behalf of Bachelard and Rizo-Patron. Bachelard’s hermeneutics is alchemical insofar as it revolves around themes of change and transformation, both within the texts and within the reader. Alchemy forms the allegorical counterpart to Bachelard’s insistence on the value of opposites, the significance of elemental images, and the centrality of reverie, and marks the way of attending to phenomena that implicates the reader as an active constituent in the formation of the world.

The volume’s middle section on language offers more detailed studies of the role language plays in the formation of Bachelard’s thought. Essays here concern the relation between Bachelard and Henry Corbin; and Bachelard’s relation to Nancy as well as his relation to Gadamer. Roch C. Smith’s chapter on Bachelard and the logosphere, although published in another form in 1985, is a welcome inclusion here for its astute analysis of a lesser known essay, “Reverie and Radio” in which Bachelard makes a plea to nothing less than a global logos (157).

The final part of the volume considers various applications of Bachelardian phenomenology as understood through the theme of alterity. The theme is pertinent, given that much of Bachelard’s thought prima facie invokes a solitary world sealed off from otherness and others. It is true that in The Poetics of Space, he devotes a chapter to the dialectical relationship between inside and outside, and suggests that this relation can always be reversed. It is also true that he emphasizes temporal discontinuity over a pregiven durée. But in all this, the overarching sentiment seems to be establishing a quiet space far from the hum of urban life, in which individual memories and dreams are protected by drawn curtains (to think of Bachelard’s discussion of the house in the snow in The Poetics of Space). While this part of the volume intends to confront whether Bachelard’s philosophy is receptive to the other, I think it only partly succeeds in this task.

Both Edward Kaplan’s chapter on Buber and Bachelard and Madeleine Preclaire’s contribution on solitude deal in some part with the question of alterity in Bachelard, both of whom argue passionately for Bachelard’s commitment to the other. Preclaire’s chapter is especially notable for its insistence on this point. Despite the impression of Bachelard as a philosopher of solitude, Preclaire claims that solitude is but a first step toward a shared world, a “call” of sorts that leads us out of ourselves and toward the other. The theme is taken up here through Bachelard’s discussion of the flame, love, and reading. In each case, a gesture is made toward drawing the other into contact with the self through a paradoxical deepening of solitude. “[Solitude] alone,” Preclaire writes, “enables the discovery of deep being, that which in the midst of the din and stress of the world reserves its secret, but which is therefore the source and springboard of dialogue and sympathy” (261). We are certainly rather removed from the ethical demands Levinas places upon the reader to recognise the primacy placed on the alterity of the Other. Bachelard’s intersubjective world, in sharp contrast, is described as “solitudes filled with company” (267).

While there is no doubt that Bachelard as a human being was receptive to other people, a fuller defense of whether Bachelard’s philosophy is welcoming to the other would require a more sustained look at his writings on dwelling. Yet for a philosopher most commonly associated with his work on spatiality, the theme itself in Bachelard is surprisingly underplayed in this volume. Ed Casey’s contribution on the topic of “missing land” is the exception; though alterity is not a central theme despite being placed in this section (a section on spatiality may have been more judicious). In short, while the section on alterity is welcome, to my mind, a critical assessment of Bachelard’s account of intersubjectivity, his openness on the other, to say nothing of his account of gender, remains to be undertaken.

Despite this shortcoming, this is an excellent volume, which will be of immense benefit not only to Bachelard scholars but also to the contemporary continental philosophy community more generally. As a whole, the volume is edited with care, though several unfortunate typos were found, including blank empty page citations (“000”) that were presumably pending actual page numbers. This is a minor point in what is otherwise a necessary and welcome collection.


[1] Bachelard 2016, 81.

[2] Bachelard 2013, 58.

Uriah Kriegel (Ed.): The Routledge Handbook of Franz Brentano and the Brentano School

The Routledge Handbook of Franz Brentano and the Brentano School Book Cover The Routledge Handbook of Franz Brentano and the Brentano School
Routledge Handbooks in Philosophy
Uriah Kriegel (Ed.)
Routledge
2017
Hardcover £175.00
400

Reviewed by: Diana Soeiro (IFILNOVA - NOVA Institute of Philosophy, FCSH/ Universidade Nova de Lisboa )

For those who follow Franz Brentano’s (1838-1917) published work in English, it is not surprising that Routledge is the publishing house editing the volume under review, The Routledge Handbook of Franz Brentano and the Brentano School (2017). Back in 2006 Routledge provided us with a translation of Descriptive Psychology (1982), having published in 2009 four other volumes under its series “Routledge Revivals”: The Origin of Our Knowledge of Right and Wrong (1889); The Foundation and Construction of Ethics (1952); The True and the Evident (1930); Philosophical Investigations on Time, Space, and the Continuum (1976). The series aimed to provide access to long-awaited book titles that have not been available to the English-speaking reader up to now. In 2014, it added to its string of publications on Brentano Psychology from An Empirical Standpoint (1874).

Brentano, having passed away in 1917, had only a portion of his work published during his lifetime. As Kriegel states in his Introduction, Brentano was not a systematic writer, but he was a systematic thinker (21). English translations of the above-named books appeared much later than the German editions. This means that English-speaking audiences interested in Brentano’s work have been deprived of a user-friendly access to the philosopher, his work mainly having been available to specialists who possess mastery of the German language. The situation has contributed significantly to a lack of references and research on Brentano when compared to the many he has strongly influenced, among them, Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), Alexius Meinong (1853-1920), Carl Stumpf (1848-1936) and Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). But as Thomas Binder claims, even when it comes to Brentano’s many original manuscripts, a critical edition of his works is needed, being the most indispensable instrument for all future research (20).

Due to the English-language reader’s delayed access to Brentano’s work, Routledge’s Handbook is timely and welcome. A similar edited volume was published back in 2004, entitled The Cambridge Companion to Brentano, edited by Dale Jacquette (1953-2016), Professor for many years at Pennsylvania State University (USA) and later on at the University of Bern (Switzerland). That book featured thirteen chapters. The reference to Jacquette is pertinent because the current Handbook’s editor, Uriah Kriegel, pays homage to him by closing the book with a contribution by Jacquette himself — as if meaning to close the book with a tribute but also leaving it open for those who will develop research on Brentano in the future.

Routledge’s publication of six of Brentano’s works since 2004 aims to have an impact on research of the philosopher, and the current Handbook confirms the intention further, providing encouragement to those who seek an orientation on how to approach the philosopher’s work. Featuring more than thirty contributors, the volume aims to give an updated perspective of Brentano’s current relevance. An option that should be praised is the fact that the Handbook is not exclusively about Brentano but also about the Brentano School.

The Handbook features two parts. Part I is dedicated to Brentano’s work, having three sections (Mind, Metaphysics and Value) underlining the philosopher’s significance for philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and moral philosophy. Part II focuses on the Brentano School, both his students and those he has influenced, making us aware that his work is relevant for understanding the roots of many other thinkers that came afterwards.

An additional good option taken by Kriegel is to open the Handbook with two chapters giving an overview of Brentano’s life and philosophy. One takes a biographical approach authored by Thomas Binder, Supervisor of Brentano’s Archives at the University of Graz (Austria). And a second one, by Kriegel himself (Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science and Associate Director of the Center for Consciousness Studies, at the University of Arizona, USA) delivers a summary of Brentano’s philosophical program.

In Kriegel’s words, “the basic idea behind Brentano’s program is that there are three distinctive types of mental act that proprietarily target the true, the good, and the beautiful…. [T]he true is that which it is correct, or fitting, or appropriate to believe; the good is that which it is correct/fitting to love or like or approve of; and the beautiful is that with which it is correct/fitting to be delighted” (21).

Both Brentano’s thesis (1862) and habilitation (1867) were on Aristotle and the philosopher was a main influence in his work. Part I approaches several main concepts present throughout his work like intentionality, consciousness, the senses, judgement, emotions, will, time and space, truth, reality, and ethics. These are known to have strongly influenced Edmund Husserl, known for being the founder of phenomenology. Husserl was indeed Brentano’s student, having first taken a course with him in 1884, at 25 years old. At the time, Husserl was a mathematics student taking a minor in Philosophy, who decided to go deeper in his philosophy studies. He chose to attend courses lectured by the much talked-about philosopher, Brentano. In the words of Rollinger, also a Handbook contributor, “[w]hat began as a mere curiosity became a great enthusiasm” (Rollinger 1999: 16).

Kriegel’s Introduction elegantly presents us each of the book’s 38 chapters, providing the reader with a clear vision of the volume’s content. It is particularly useful not only because it allows us to be aware of the main concepts at stake but also because it describes the flow and links between each chapter, providing a sense of unity to the sizeable number of contributions. In what follows, I summarize the content featured in Part I (Chapters 3-24).

Denis Seron (University of Liege, Belgium) authors the first chapter of the first section, which is dedicated to philosophy of mind (Chapters 3-12). In this chapter he presents Brentano’s most famous work, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint (1874), where he establishes that the foundation for a scientific approach to psychology is empirical. By empirical, Brentano understands a “purely phenomenal science,” i.e. a science whose objects are not substances but phenomena. This perspective is a powerful statement in the realm of ontology, one that sets the tone for what is now clearly acknowledged as Brentano’s aim of conceptualizing a big system. Psychology, instead of being the science of mental substances (the soul) should be understood as the “science of mental phenomena.” Brentano laid down powerful epistemological principles claiming that science should dispense metaphysical assumptions that there are substances that underlie the phenomena we witness. It is based on this that he favors descriptive psychology. Psychology has two branches, “physiological psychology” and “descriptive psychology.” The first he would name “genetic psychology” and this approach explains mental phenomena, referring to physiological processes. “Descriptive psychology” precedes “genetic psychology” in the sense that it describes the phenomena that are in need of explanation, providing also a classification.

According to Brentano, in order to reflect upon a given subject it is first necessary to establish the terms in which the subject will be discussed and agree upon which concepts will be used. Following this perspective, the first section of the volume under review presents the main concepts founding the philosopher’s epistemology. The main concepts of Brentano’s system are presented in the following sequence: intentionality, consciousness (also its unity and relation with time), sensations and sensory qualities, classification of mental phenomena, judgement, emotion and will, and self-knowledge. Intentionality, addressed by Tim Crane (Central European University, Hungary), is the most peculiar feature of mental phenomena. Brentano uses the concept as a point of reference, classifying kinds and modes of intentionality, and this chapter portrays how the concept has evolved throughout his work. Mark Textor (King’s College London, UK) examines the concept of consciousness, which stems from Brentano’s classification of intentionality in two kinds – “primary” directed at a worldly object and “secondary” directed at the self. The secondary kind will be key to Brentano’s theory of consciousness.

The scope of the philosopher’s understanding of consciousness is approached by Barry Dainton (University of Liverpool, UK), Guillaume Fréchette (University of Salzburg, Austria), and Olivier Massin (University of Zurich, Switzerland). These chapters develop how a unity of consciousness relates to unity at a time and how consciousness, inevitably, involves the passage of time. It is stated that Brentano struggled with this last idea and tried several different formulations in order to convey it. As for sensory consciousness, Brentano will claim that sensations are intentional, like all mental phenomena, which is a stark contrast with the prevailing view.

Classification of mental phenomena is part of descriptive psychology and Kriegel guides us through its taxonomy. It is divided into three kinds: presentations, judgements and “phenomena of love and hate.” Claiming that judgement does not involve predication and does not have propositional content, Kriegel considers Brentano’s theory of judgement one of the most creative theories in the history of philosophy. Michelle Montague (The University of Texas at Austin, USA) accounts for the phenomena of love and hate, framed under the concepts of emotion and will. The idea is to explore how the range of mental phenomena that can go from one extreme to the other has a continuity embodying good or bad intention – evaluating corresponding objects accordingly.

Closing the section on philosophy of mind, Gianfranco Soldati (Fribourg University, Switzerland) identifies three key theses that account for Brentano’s theory of self-knowledge. These are particularly relevant for those interested in the concept of Self.

Section Two of Part I is dedicated to metaphysics (Chapters 13-19). Werner Sauer (University of Graz, Germany) develops a critical assessment of Brentano’s vital claim for reism: it is impossible to even contemplate, or represent to oneself, anything other than “things” in the relevant sense. This means that he endorses a monocategorial ontology where the only category of being is things. A theory of the soul is crafted by Susan Krantz Gabriel (Saint Anselm College, USA). Brentano identifies two kinds of things, physical and mental, the soul being a mental, immortal substance. Time and space are two basic elements of metaphysics, to which Brentano dedicated much of his attention in his last decade. These are related with substance, the nature of continuum, and the foundations of topology. Wojciech Żełaniec (University of Gdańsk, Poland) is the contributing author addressing this topic. Substances have determinations that allow one to recognize properties and relations among things. Properties are special parts of a thing (either metaphysical or logical), as Hamid Taieb (University of Geneva, Switzerland) shows us, while addressing Brentano’s ontology of relations. Johannes L. Brandl (University of Salzburg, Austria) draws on the nature of truth, a difficult concept, where the main idea at stake is the acquisition of the concept of truth. This follows another contribution by Seron who argues that when it comes to appearance and reality, the theory is the same as its theory of intentionality, meaning that appearances are the intentional objects of conscious experiences and vice versa. The section closes with Alessandro Salice’s (University College Cork, Ireland) chapter on negation and nonexistence. These concepts follow a similar logic to the one used to elaborate his theory of judgement but according to Salice’s critical appraisal the approach is ultimately frail and confusing.

The closing section of Part I is dedicated to value theory (Chapters 20-24). Jonas Olson (Stockholm University, Sweden) argues the all-encompassing significance of Brentano’s metaethics and its relevance to the debates nowadays on key questions such as that of when we say that something is good, what exactly are we doing? While highlighting the philosopher’s relevance to contemporary debates, Lynn Pasquerella (Mount Holyoke College, USA) advocates viewing Brentano as favouring a pluralist consequentialism, i.e. things are instrumentally good when their consequences are intrinsically good. Wolfgang Huemer (University of Parma, Italy) discusses Brentano’s contribution to aesthetics, confirming its solid scientific foundations because again, his main concern was epistemological: he was more interested in defining the framework in which questions should be asked than in addressing aesthetic questions. The foundation was scientific psychology and not subjective speculation. Specifically, he did address the question of artistic genius and the role in art of fantasy and imagination. Ion Tănăsescu (Romanian Academy) reconstructs his view. Closing this section we are presented Brentano’s philosophy of religion in a chapter authored by Richard Schaefer (SUNY—Plattsburgh, USA). As an ordained Catholic priest who decided to leave the Church, he remained deeply religious. He was a rational theologian who subordinated theology to philosophy. Presenting four arguments for the existence of God, Brentano favours the one that appeals to probability theory.

Husserl was not the only philosopher enthusiastic about Brentano. A similar feeling seems to have occurred for many who followed, and whose relation to Brentano is explored in the current book (Part II): Anton Marty (1847-1914), Carl Stumpf, Alexius Meinong, Christian von Ehrenfels (1859-1932), Kazimierz Twardowski (1866-1938) and Hugo Bergman (1883-1975), the Israeli philosopher who was a close friend of Franz Kafka (1883-1924). Also identified are the British psychologist and philosopher G.F. Stout (1860-1944), G.E. Moore (1873-1958), one of the founders of analytic philosophy, and American philosopher Roderick Chisholm (1916-1999). Brentano’s influence on other schools is also addressed: The Prague School, which focused on linguistics, philology, and literature; the Lvov-Warsaw School, established by Twardowski and key to Polish philosophy; and the Innsbruck School, which was mainly engaged in philosophy and psychology. All authors in this Handbook contribute successfully for the reader to be able to build a bridge between Brentano’s original work and that of his students. Part II aims to support evidence that Brentano’s School had a unified view, namely, that philosophy is continuous with the sciences, and that the science all philosophy depends upon is descriptive psychology.

For many years now, Brentano has sparked curiosity mainly because of his influence on Husserl. Brentano is sometimes credited as the one who has laid the ground for phenomenology’s main concepts. Yet, a clear vision of what his work consists of has not been delivered. We are aware that as a renowned professor in his time, he influenced many, but his philosophical program has remained unclear. Only with this program in view we will be able to truly understand his philosophical insights and to evaluate the extent to which he has influenced others. In that sense, Routledge’s Handbook is a highly relevant resource and a significant step further in that direction. Furthermore, it is a clear and scientifically informed introduction to Brentano that invites us, with renewed confidence, to read the philosopher himself. Brentano seems to be a key figure for understanding better the prolific time that was the turn of the twentieth century and that, among many other movements, fostered the development of phenomenology and analytic philosophy, confirming that further research on his work is in order.

For those who wish to delve deeper into the philosopher’s work, the Handbook’s current editor Uriah Kriegel has authored a book titled Brentano’s Philosophical System: Mind, Being, Value (Oxford University Press, 2018), which develops the contents of Part I further, following a similar structure.

Works Cited

Rollinger, Robin D. (1999). Husserl’s Position in the School of Brentano. Dordrecht: Springer.

Frank Schalow: Toward a Phenomenology of Addiction: Embodiment, Technology, Transcendence

Toward a Phenomenology of Addiction: Embodiment, Technology, Transcendence Book Cover Toward a Phenomenology of Addiction: Embodiment, Technology, Transcendence
Contributions To Phenomenology, 93
Frank Schalow
Springer
2017
Hardcover 96,29 €
XIV, 191

Reviewed by: Dr. Peter Antich (Department of Philosophy, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, United States of America)

Frank Schalow’s new book, Toward a Phenomenology of Addiction, offers an important contribution to the philosophical study of addiction. While, as Schalow notes at the start of his work, the topic of addiction has spawned many studies from a variety of fields in the past years, relatively few of these have examined addiction using the methods of philosophy, and specifically, of phenomenology. Schalow argues that this leaves an important gap in our approaches to addiction, given that studies that consider addiction in purely physiological terms overlook the meaningful dimension of the addict’s experience, specifically, they fail to consider the life world of the addict. It is this lack that Schalow’s new book intends to redress.

Schalow uses phenomenological methods and concepts, primarily drawn from Heidegger’s Being and Time and later work on technology, to illuminate the phenomenon of addiction, often with considerable success. As the subtitle, «Embodiment, Technology, Transcendence,» suggests, Schalow is primarily interested in understanding addiction with respect to the body, the technological context of addiction, and the existential dimension of addiction. While anyone seeking a detailed account of the role of the body in addiction might be left wanting more from Schalow’s book, they will nevertheless find probing analyses of the role that technology and transcendence can play in understanding addiction. With respect to the former, Schalow argues that the prevalence of addiction in the present era ought to be considered a referendum on the role of technology in our culture. With respect to the latter, Schalow argues that the phenomenological concepts of transcendence and authenticity can provide a key to addiction treatment.

Schalow’s first five chapters offer a phenomenological diagnosis of addiction, while the final three begin to develop phenomenological principles of addiction treatment. The first chapter argues for the importance of a philosophical, as opposed to neurological or psychological, approach to addiction. Schalow does this, in part, through the contention that addiction ought to be understood as a cultural-historical phenomenon – a «historical and cultural transformation of our ‘way to be'» (4) – which therefore cannot adequately be understood merely in terms of the physiology of the body, but only in terms of the meaningful features of the addict’s life-world. Schalow makes clear from the first that he intends to broaden our concept of addiction and to stand the common sense appraisal of the place of addiction in our society on its head, via his claim that addiction ought to be understood as a way of being that is in a certain sense the norm for our society (9).

Chapter 2 begins work on the phenomenological study of addiction, showing how many of Heidegger’s key concepts from Being and Time provide the existential preconditions of addiction. Schalow’s central argument here is that the possibility of addiction is rooted in structures of Dasein common to addicts and non-addicts alike, namely everydayness and being-with-others. Specifically, Schalow proposes to understand addiction as «a permutation of inauthenticity or unownedness» (29). Similarly, addiction can be seen as rooted in being-with-others: dissimulating one’s self-responsibility in terms of conformity with the they-self, as described by Heidegger, creates an environment in which addiction can flourish. Further, Schalow shows how phenomenological analyses of spatiality, in terms of de-severance, and temporality, in terms of making-present, can illuminate the situation of the addict. Chapter 3 continues this work, specifically with regard to the «hook» of addiction. Schalow argues that the hook ought to be understood in terms of the concept of a «fetish,» insofar as one becomes «hooked» on a substance or process when it acquires a disproportionate significance in one’s life, when an object or process operates as a locus of attraction beyond its immediate meaning, e.g., as a means of escape or inducing satisfaction. For such mediate significances, fetishes rely on our capacity for fantasy, or imagination. In a commodity fetish, for example, a commercial object becomes invested with the meaning of a marker of economic status. This is only possible insofar as the imagination opens up a space of possible meanings for an object over and beyond its immediate significance. However, when the fetish supplants the fantasy, according to Schalow, the fetish closes off other possible meanings and becomes addictive. Insofar as the addict, in being fixated on this object, is taken in by it, rather than projecting a meaning for it, addiction is in Heidegger’s terms a form of «fallenness,» i.e., of being lived by the world rather than choosing oneself (62). Chapter 4 completes the existential analysis of addiction, focusing on self-understanding and being-with-others. Here, Schalow argues that addiction corresponds to a form of self-evasion familiar in terms of «denial.» At the same time, addiction often corresponds to inauthentic modes of relation to others, e.g., in terms of leaping-in familiar as a kind of «co-dependency.»

In chapter 5, Schalow turns to the technological dimension of his project. As I indicated above, his claim is that addiction can be considered as a referendum on technology (91), or in other words, the ubiquity of addiction in our society can only be understood in terms of its technological backdrop. Schalow makes this point by connecting technology and addiction in a number of ways. First, new technologies often facilitate certain kinds of addiction that pre-exist those technologies, as, e.g., the internet facilitates a gambling addiction. Second, new technologies give rise to unique forms of addiction, e.g., addictions to social media or video games (89-90). But, thirdly, Schalow is engaged in a larger claim, namely the Heideggerian claim that technology essentially amounts to an «enframing» of the world, characteristic of our culture, i.e., in which everything (including humanity) becomes standing reserve. This «enframing,» in turn, is bound up with addiction in a number of ways. First, it fosters a culture of excess and immediate gratification which promote addiction. Second, this technological culture infuses the life-world of the addict with boredom and stress, and thereby motivates release via addictive substances or processes (section 5.2). Finally, there seems to be a deeper sense in which technology mirrors addiction: just as in addiction one seeks control over one’s life and moods through the use of a substance or process, but thereby in fact gives control of one’s life over to the substance or process, similarly technology offers the promise of control, the «enframing» of resources, only at the price of losing control of human life to this enframing (110). It is, I think, especially in this sense that Schalow understands his central claim that addiction should take on the broad sense of a «historical and cultural transformation of our way-to-be» (4).

In the final chapters of his work, Schalow turns to an existential analysis of methods of treatment. Since Schalow considers the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous program to be the «enduring spiritual plan of our today» (111), Chapter 6 investigates the historical backdrop for the development of this program, explaining connections between AA founder Bill Wilson and the important figures and movements of his time, including Carl Jung, Rudolf Bultmann, and the Oxford movement. In chapters 7 & 8, Schalow argues that existing approaches to treatment are overly dependent on a mind-body dualism – i.e., they focus on either spiritual practices (e.g., AA or talk therapy) or purely physiological treatments – and so leave an important gap in treatment that would be targeted at the addict’s life-situation. Further, the hermeneutic-phenomenological method, insofar as it has long subverted the dualism of mind and body, can prove an important corrective here, by suggesting contours of treatment that would fill this gap. While these contours are multifaceted – e.g., involving the addict adopting new life-contexts (147) – Schalow focuses on transcendence, or responsibility, claiming that addiction cannot be treated without some «resoluteness» (in Heidegger’s sense) on the part of the addict. According to Schalow, «resoluteness» is the appropriate category by which to understand the addict’s choice of recovery, because the decision to quit a habit is not merely a choice, but really a choosing to choose. One does not overcome addiction through a single choice, but rather through choosing, day by day, sobriety, in a manner that is thus the opposite of the culture of immediate gratification fostered by technology. Addiction can only be treated with a commitment, on the part of the addict, and thus insofar as the addict takes responsibility for her or himself.

These analyses accomplish a number of important tasks. Schalow’s greatest accomplishment is to translate Heidegger’s phenomenological concepts into the context of addiction, and show that these concepts can be productively employed in this context. Second, Schalow draws together and develops Heidegger’s scattered thoughts about addiction into a sustained account, offering a cohesive existential analysis of the phenomenon. Third, Schalow makes a number of interesting claims about the cultural backdrop for the prevalence of addiction in today’s society, in particular, raising important questions about the role technology may be playing in this phenomenon. Fourth, in his final chapters, Schalow suggests the principles of an existential approach to recovery, an approach which may indeed offer some novel principles for treatment. Fifth, Schalow makes and supports the provocative claim that addiction is in some sense the norm for our society, and cannot be considered merely pathological. Finally, especially in Chapter 6, Schalow draws connections between a number of figures important in the early 20th century and demonstrates their relevance to the formation of the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous program.

Along with these significant accomplishments, there are some problems with Schalow’s account. In the following, I’ll outline four kinds of concerns about Schalow’s book: those dealing with his interpretation of Heidegger, with the connection he draws between technology and addiction, with his reliance on the AA program, and with his principles of treatment.

First, there are some issues with Schalow’s interpretation of Heidegger, three of which are especially significant. First, Schalow uses Heidegger’s analysis of technology to shed light on the role technology might play in the present addiction crisis. But it seems to me that Schalow often blurs the distinction, important to Heidegger, between technology and the essence of technology (e.g., Heidegger’s claim that «The essence of technology is by no means anything technological» [311]). But Schalow seems to move readily between the claim that specific technologies facilitate addiction and the claim that enframing, or the essence of technology, permeates the present addiction crisis, leaving it unclear to what extent his argument is Heideggerian. Second, and relatedly, it seems to me that Schalow risks misunderstanding the «danger» posed by the essence of technology according to Heidegger. Heidegger writes that «Enframing blocks the shining-forth and holding sway of truth. The destining that sends into ordering is consequently the extreme danger. What is dangerous is not technology. … The essence of technology, as a destining of revealing is the danger» (333). The danger is not that of «the potentially lethal machines and apparatus of technology,» but that enframing blocks a more primordial engagement with Being. But Schalow is at the very least ambiguous in his understanding of the danger when he writes that «Heidegger argued that technology wields a double-edged sword, namely, that the greater opportunities afforded to human beings, including leisure-time, simultaneously brings its specific drawbacks and even risks. In his words, for every mode of ‘unconcealing’ what is, i.e., the opportunities created by new innovations, there are also equally ominous modes of ‘concealing,’ i.e., unanticipated and destructive consequences» (96). Third, if Schalow is right to think that addiction is a symptom of the essence of technology, then it is unclear that an individual’s resoluteness could free her or him of addiction. Heidegger writes that «Human activity can never directly counter this danger. Human achievement alone can never banish it. But human reflection can ponder the fact that all saving power must be of a higher essence than what is endangered, though at the same time kindred to it» (339). Schalow presupposes that terms like «resoluteness» (as understood in the context of Heidegger’s early work in Being and Time) can offer a resolution to a problem posed at least in part by technology (as understood in the context of Heidegger’s later work), a presupposition which is at least contentious. And if no human activity or achievement can directly counter the danger, then it is unclear to me how efficacious reflection on the kinship of the endangered and the saving power would be for the addict.

Second, the connection between technology and addiction could be better established. For example, at times Schalow claims that certain technologies or technological processes are addictive. But it would be helpful to cite some empirical research in this regard, especially given that the medical community has not yet concluded that there are such addictions (though some research does support this conclusion, e.g., Leeman and Potenza [2013]). Here too it would be helpful if Schalow were clearer about the kind of connection he envisages between technology and addiction, whether in terms of technologies influencing addiction or technological thinking being in some sense essentially addictive.

Third, Schalow focuses much of his thinking about treatment around the AA twelve-step program, but does little to argue for the validity of this program. Instead, Schalow seems to assume that the AA program offers a valid point of departure for analysis, justifying it by appealing to it as the «enduring spiritual plan of our today» (111) or as the first addiction treatment program (ix). But the efficacy of the twelve-step program is controversial (see, e.g., Dodes [2014] or Humphreys et. al. [2014]). Granted, Schalow sets out to offer a philosophical and existential approach, rather than an empirical or medical approach, but a phenomenological approach must exercise care in its choice of a point of departure for analysis. Some other finer points raise similar concerns, e.g., Schalow’s referral to «neurasthenia» (161), a condition no longer recognized in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. In general, Schalow’s analysis would have benefitted from greater fluency with psychological and medical results.

Fourth, I have some concerns about Schalow’s principles for treatment. Foremost of these is that it is hard to see how Schalow’s prescription of «resoluteness» wouldn’t entail a return to the moralistic myth that the addict is merely lazy. Schalow recognizes this possibility, and certainly aims to avert it, for example, writing that he defines «responsibility» in a Heideggerrian manner (in terms of «answerability») rather than in the traditional sense of a volitional act or exercise of the will (151). Nevertheless, the ensuing discussion of responsibility (especially Schalow’s use of Kant) makes it hard to see how he is not resorting to a more traditional sense of responsibility. Schalow is very likely correct that resoluteness is a necessary condition for recovery, but it is unclear how far it is supposed to get the addict. Further, if Schalow’s aim is to bridge the gap between treatments aimed at the mind and treatments aimed at the body (considered in biological terms), then «resoluteness» or «choosing to choose» might not be the best resource: a phenomenological analysis of human existence aimed at a level beneath deliberate choice might provide more novel approaches to treatment. Indeed, some of Schalow’s most interesting insights about treatment are found in discussions not directly oriented toward resoluteness, e.g., in his suggestion that for the addict to reorient her priorities she must begin to «inhabit a new space» of relations with others (146).

Schalow’s Toward a Phenomenology of Addiction succeeds in developing a phenomenological framework for thinking about addiction, and raises interesting questions about the role of technology and transcendence in addiction. Anyone led by Schalow’s subtitle to look in this book for a close treatment of the role of embodiment in addiction might be left wanting more, for Schalow treats this theme more sparingly than the others. One wonders if Husserl or Merleau-Ponty might have proven better resources in this regard for Schalow than Heidegger, and indeed, some of the most acute passages related to embodiment come from Schalow’s brief discussion of habituality and Merleau-Ponty (40-1). Nevertheless, Schalow succeeds in this work in knitting together a host of phenomenological themes around the topic of addiction, and perhaps it would be unfair to ask him to incorporate yet another with equal care. Its successes make this book a considerable step in the phenomenological and existential analysis of addiction, and no doubt it will prove an important study for anyone interested in this topic.

References:

Dodes, Lance and Zachary Dodes. 2014. The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Heidegger, Martin. 2008. “The Question Concerning Technology.” In Basic Writings, edited by David Farrell Krell. 307-352. New York: HarperCollins.

Humphreys, Keith, Janet C. Blodgett, and Todd H. Wagner. 2014. “Estimating the Efficacy of Alcoholics Anonymous without Self-Selection Bias: An Instrumental Variables Re-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials.” Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 38 (11): 2688-2694.

Leeman, RF and MN Potenza. 2013. “A Targeted Review of the Neurobiology and Genetics of Behavioral Addictions: An Emerging Area of Research.” The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 58 (5): 260-73.

Antoine Grandjean (Ed.): Kant et les Empirismes

Kant et les Empirismes Book Cover Kant et les Empirismes
Rencontres, n° 270
Antoine Grandjean (Ed.)
Classiques Garnier
2017
Paperback €34.00
223

Reviewed by: Michele Cardani (University of Barcelona)

Immanuel Kant affirmed in the first Critique that «if the size of a book is measured not by the number of pages but by the time needed to understand it, then it can be said of many a book that it would be much shorter if it were not so short» (KrV A xix). For the pleasure of the reader (and with Kant’s blessing), even though Kant et les Empirismes is not an imposing volume, the time needed to go through its interesting analysis and to approach all arguments proves that Kant’s maxim does not apply here.

Even if we might all have in mind that Kant’s dogmatic slumber was interrupted by the remembrance of David Hume (Prol, Ak iv, 260), i.e., even if we might all recognize the important relationship between empiricism and transcendental philosophy at least for its genesis, an accurate survey such as that lead by Antoine Grandjean deserves dedication, to better get acquainted with Kant’s thought. It goes without saying that the keystone of the book is the final s in Empirismes: not only because “the pre-Critique Kant knew an empiricist phase, in such a way that the years 1755–1766 constitute the ‘quasi-Humean’ phase of Kant’s thought” (11) (so that we can speak of a Kantian empiricism), but also because there exist diverse forms of empiricism which Kant converses with. Certainly, some of these forms might have influenced the German philosopher more than others, as is the case of Hume and John Locke; however, the volume has the merit to present and discuss the doctrines of less-commonly debated authors, thus providing a clear idea of how an intense interlocutor the multifaceted empiricist tradition was for Kant—or vice versa (see, for example, the essays by Matthieu Haumesser, 57–73, by François Calori, 75–96, and by Raphaël Ehrsam, 173–193).

The volume is organized in three sections, providing a detailed account of this plural dialogue: “Concepts, Problems, Traditions”, “The Transcendental and the Empiric”, and “The Empiric of the Transcendental”.

The first two assess the most relevant theoretical issues linked to Kant’s thought and its relationship with empiricisms. They deal with the very legacy of transcendental philosophy in regard to empirical reality (“there is no doubt whatever that all our cognition begins with experience” (KrV, B 1), with its relationship to freedom and both the feeling of pleasure and displeasure (after all, as rational beings, our will is “pathologically affected” (KpV, A 36)), along with its bond with scientific epistemology and science in general (Kant’s method is “imitated from the method of those who study nature” (KrV, B xviii)).

The reader will immediately note that what emerges here is an extraordinary complex picture that cannot be attributed to Kant only—even if his philosophy is notoriously not so easy to interpret. Rather, and this is a very valuable achievement of the volume, it is a consequence of the great depth of all the essays, which present and discuss the main concepts of Kant’s system from different perspectives. Particular attention is paid to the first Critique, but there are indeed many other cross references to other works of the Kantian corpus. The different points of view where Kant and the empiricisms are looked from are not only the expression of each author’s personal reading of the problems at stake, but it must also be said that there exist as many different Kants as there are forms of empiricism he was called to answer to.

This is also the very reason why there are so many ways to receive and to understand Kant’s overcoming of empiricism. This question is dealt with by the essays included in the third section, which are dedicated to Georg W.F. Hegel’s, Jakob F. Fries, and Edmund Husserl’s readings of transcendental philosophy.

Olivier Tinland shows, for example, that Hegel carries out a “radicalization of critical philosophy unveiling the deficiencies of the Kantian critical reflection and notably attenuating the effects of contrast made by Kant in order to distance himself from dogmatic metaphysics and empiricism” (166): after all, according to Hegel, “critical philosophy has in common with Empiricism that it accepts experience as the only basis for our cognitions” (Enz, W8, 121).

Claudia Serban invites us to reflect on the ambiguous position attributed by Husserl to Kant, who would stand between René Descartes and Hume. Even if “Husserl’s phenomenology claims for itself the name of transcendental idealism, it clearly places itself in Kant’s wake” (195), his material ontology (the eigentliche Ontologie) opens a completely different philosophical space. The modest “analytic of the pure understanding” (KrV, B 303) would not resist a thorough analysis due to Kant’s misunderstanding of the radicality of English empiricism and his commitment to rationalism.

The essay authored by Ehrsam has many merits, but probably the most remarkable is to bring back the attention to Fries. Fries’ insistent demand to justify transcendental principles based on empirical psychology not only offers the possibility to think more deeply about the presuppositions and the legitimacy of Kant’s system, but also allows to question the intimate essence of other forms of idealism and of Kantianism. Transcendental philosophy, in fact, “did not satisfy itself announcing the caducity of the pretensions of classical empiricism […]; it paved the way for possible future empirical investigations, whose task, from now on, would be to explain genetically the possession of concepts and knowledge a priori” (192–193).

Considering the evolution of the debate around Kantianism in the 19th and 20th centuries, of which Fries surely was one of the protagonists (remember, for example, the quarrels with Hegel and Johann F. Herbart), Ehrsam’s essay, with the support of the chapters included in the first two sections, indeed inspires new readings of Kant and of history of philosophy. The emergence of neo-Kantianism and new empiricisms (think, for example, about the different positions inside the sole Wiener Kreis), is a clear sign that the problems discussed in this volume are not limited to Kant’s direct sphere of influence, and that they still deserve our interest. It is true: even if it is correct to talk about empirismes, some of the patterns are repeated, and can probably be summed-up with the idea that “consistent empiricism is immanentism” (24). This, however, should not be an excuse to simplify the problems at stake. Rather, this recurrence should be considered a further confirmation of the importance of works that shed light on the controversial relationship between Kant (and neo-Kantianism) and empiricisms (and neo-empiricisms). In this sense, it would be a great addition to philosophical corpus that Kant et les Empirismes would be soon translated into English—and into many more languages—for it really proves to be a valuable volume to understand Kant’s philosophy as well as its past, present, and future interlocutors.

Further readings:

Cardani, Michele, and Marco Tamborini. 2017. Data-Phenomena: Quid Juris?. Zeitschrift für philosophische Forschung 70: 527–549.

Cassirer, Ersnt. 1927. Erkenntnistheorie nebst den Grenzfragen der Logik und Denkspsychologie. Jahrbücher der Philosophie 3: 31–92.

Cassirer, Ernst. 2000. Substanzbegriff und Funktionsbegriff. Untersuchungen über die Grundfragen der Erkenntniskritik. In Gesammelte Werke, Hamburger Ausgabe, Hrsg. von B. Recki, 26 Bände, Meiner, Hamburg, 1998-2009, Band 6, Text und Anm. Bearbeitet von R. Schmücker.

Massimi, Michela. 2011. From data to Phenomena: a Kantian Stance. Synthese 182: 101–116.