Michael Staudigl, Jason W. Alvis (Eds.): Phenomenology and the Post-Secular Turn

Phenomenology and the Post-Secular Turn: Contemporary Debates on the 'Return of Religion' Book Cover Phenomenology and the Post-Secular Turn: Contemporary Debates on the 'Return of Religion'
Michael Staudigl, Jason W. Alvis (Eds.)
Routledge
2018
Hardback £115.00
206

Reviewed by: Thomas Sojer (University of Erfurt)

Are we living in a Post-secular age, and if so, how can it be understood (1)? By asking this question, Michael Staudigl and Jason W. Alvis introduce their remarkable anthology of contemporary debates on the ‘return of religion’.  The collection of eight essays was first published as a special edition of the International Journal of Philosophical Studies under the slightly different title Phenomenology and The Post-secular Turn: Reconsidering the ‘Return of the Religious’ in 2016. In contrast to the Open Access online version, this printed hardcover volume offers the rewarding invitation of reading and re-reading.

It is important pointing out one formal peculiarity: A separate section at the beginning of the anthology indicates that quotations should not be taken from the printed volume, but from the journal published in 2016 (vii-viii). Since the order of essays has changed, one will have to engage in a little arithmetic game when citing. In addition, as format of the original version in 2016 was adequately maintained, the person who cites has to disregard the page numbers of the 2018 physical copy, but to count the pages per essay from the 2018 physical copy before applying to the 2016 journal page count. Eight contributions from 2016 are offered with calculation as Open Access at Taylor Francis Online.

As the editors emphasise in the introduction, Anthony J. Steinbock provides the opening and basis of anthology by revealing what he thinks as all along missing from the secular realm. Steinbock’s paper The Role of the Moral Emotions in Our Social and Political Practices regards the current discourses on both post-secularism and the ‘return of religion’ as desiderata of our secular age to unfold a new understanding of moral emotions (12); e.g. emotions of self-givenness (guilt, pride, shame), of possibility (despair, repentance, hope), and of otherness (humility, loving, trust). With the new philosophical equipment of moral emotions on board, Steinbock proposes to emancipate the discourse on a possible return of religion from the oscillation between atheism and theism. He aims to re-introduce the experience of not being self-grounding at the very centre of a new discourse. Steinbock claims that moral emotions not only determine our internal spheres, such as the private, psychological or ethical domains but they relate ourselves to others with whom we find ourselves already involved (20). Thus, moral emotions are shaping the way we imagine political, social, economic and ecological dimensions of our world and elucidate modes of existence as modes of co-existence. However, in favour of values like subjectivity, rationality, and autonomy, Modernity has ignored and even denigrated moral emotions. Here, the phenomenological investigations of moral emotions shed light on the givenness of man revealing that the individual is not self-grounding but inter-personal and inter-Personal (22). This last capital letter refers to a vertical and de-limiting dimension of our social imaginaries. Steinbock observes in this regard that “the political is not merely ‘political’, as the ecological is not merely ‘ecological’. At the core of the experience is a pointer beyond itself. And this is precisely what has been missing in secularism” (24). To sum up, Steinbock’s contribution provides a valuable and welcome resource for everyone who is interested in the importance of moral emotions to the processes of social and political transformation throughout history.

By pursuing a phenomenologically inspired de-worlding, James G. Hart aims at a deeper meaning of being in the world, thus the meaning of world itself beyond the concept of a ‘megamachine’ (36). Via the mutual transitions from religious domination to secularism and the post-secular, the paper Deep Secularism, Faith, and Spirit asks about an original default stance of this development: Reading the New Testament Hart situates the biblical condition of humanity within a physical and social world of fundamental godlessness, calling it the ‘kosmos’ from which god finally redeems (29). Diametrical to the biblical default, Hart highlights sociological interpretations similar to which Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age defines as secularism as an historically evolution emerging from Christendom and consequently negating it. Here, Hart criticises Taylor for describing the conditions of experience exclusively within a framework of a sociology of religious belief based on Thomas Kuhn’s manner in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Hart accuses Taylor of ignoring the transcendental, phenomenological and metaphysical underpinnings of his hermeneutical analysis. Because of this ignorance, Taylor omitted in the eyes of Hart to consider an ‘agency of manifestation’, which is to understand the secular as a kind of pervasive deep background that pre-thematically and pre-conceptually shapes our consciousness of religious and secular experience (28). According to Hart, the deepest outcome of deep secularism has been manifested so far in the various strains of scientisitic and reductionist materialist naturalism, which dismisses the first-person experience as an illusion of the brain (44). Hart portrays present-day deep-secularism, unlike previous historical manifestations, as rejecting not only the contents of experience but experience as such, making knowing itself impossible. Concerning the debunking of belief in immortality by declaring the first-person experience an illusion, Hart outlines a dilemma that thinking of knowing in terms of a biological causality inevitably will self-destruct: He argues that “knowing cannot be a biological process because such processes as such (and our knowing of our knowledge of these processes) are not true or false, not necessary or probable, and have no syntax – as does our knowledge of these processes” (48). In this manifold and diverse contribution, Hart provides both philosophical and religious convincing ‘faith perspectives’ on questions about post-secularism due to deep secularism.

Another ‘faith-voice’, J. A. Simmons suggests that a disembodied, ahistorical, objectivist approach on faith (comma) in a postmodern/post-secular age was not only epistemologically but morally controversial (60). Consequently, he chooses to conduct phenomenological investigation by reflecting upon his personal lived existence as a so-called ‘postmodern Christian’ (52). Here, Simmons takes up Jean-Luc Marion’s warning against the intellectual arrogance of taking God’s perspective and finds a proposed solution in Merold Westphal’s notion that postmodernism is simply the idea that one cannot peek over God’s shoulder (59). By employing this extraordinary autobiographical approach, Simmons’ paper Personally Speaking … Kierkegaardian Postmodernism and the Messiness of Religious Experience performs what his original theory of Kierkegaardian postmodernism seeks to outline. In this regard, the attribute ‘Kierkegaardian’ implies that identity formation results from a specific social location. Simmons locates himself within four dichotomic propositions (58-59): as a person who ‘asks post-secularly’ out of his personal religious beliefs, not against them, he is motivated by Christianity, not threatening to it, he acknowledges his religious affiliation precisely because of his postmodern identity, not despite of it, finally he uses phenomenology in a postmodern/ post-secular context to immerse into his historical community not away from it. Against the backdrop of an unavoidable perspectival inquiry, Simmons discerns current debates in philosophy and theology as oscillation between an objectivist and a subjectivist solution (61). The objective side agrees that we remain within our contingent perspectives; however, God would enable us through divine revelation to grasp the Absolute Truth within these very perspectives. Simmons brands this version of epistemic realism ‘kataphatic orthodoxy’. On the other hand, the subjective side uncompromisingly rejects truth entirely following what Simmons brands consequently an apophatic orthodoxy (62). To neither pursue one nor the other extreme, he emphasises as Ludwig Wittgenstein calls it, the ‘rough ground’ of a hermeneutic analysis that can be obtained only in a personal approach (59). This personal access allows expressing the full radicality of faith. Only then God can be released from the equation to objective truth – hence articulating what a phenomenological concept of God entails: a God who is trouble (64). In addition to the fact that Simmons’ contribution is humorously written, it compellingly connects complex epistemological concepts with ordinary problems of a parishioner.

In the paper How to Overcome the World: Henry, Heidegger, and the Post-Secular Jason W. Alvis disputes in favour of the statement that only when we stop to take the obviousness and neutrality of the world for granted, we can indeed speak of the post-secular (74). The author finds an obvious and natural world challenged most prominently in the works of Martin Heidegger and Michel Henry, albeit in different ways: Heidegger criticises, on the one hand, a materialistic conception of world, which sees the world only as the sum of its parts. On the other hand, Heidegger rejects those religious and mystical interpretations of the world that portray its actual basis in an invisible, metaphysical essence beyond the material world (75): Heidegger’s concept of world is both ‘subjectively’ constituted by us, yet simultaneously constituting us within it. Additionally, it also constitutes our concepts of the world in a shared and public way shaping it for others (85). In his seminar on Heraclitus, Heidegger demonstrates the traditional understanding of ‘appearing’ is therefore misleading. The dichotomy between presence and absence needs to be abandoned in favour of paradoxical notion of what can be observed in the essential unfolding of an inconspicuous world (79). For Henry, on the other hand, it is the connecting link between ourselves and the inconspicuous world that consists of affects (82). He suggests a self-affection of life: The experience of oneself as living is what allows us to be affected by the world. Henry unveils thus a paradox of Modernity (84): While describing what is all too obvious in the world, this very description omits the most obvious notion of all which is that life itself being auto-affective. In the synthesis of Heidegger and Henry, Alvis proposes subsequently not to read the world as what appears as neutral and obvious but as exactly the opposite, namely the inconspicuous non-neutral. Alvis concludes the striking and insightful consideration as “what hides itself inconspicuously and presents itself as ‘ordinary’ or neutral is precisely what is pulling the strings of consciousness, directing the metaphysical backstage of everyday life” (87).

Taking Paul Ricoeur as a starting point, Christina M. Gschwandtner examines how fundamentalist groups cope with an inevitable ambiguity of human life between discordance and concordance within contemporary pluralist societies. Her paper Philosophical Reflections on the Shaping of Identity in Fundamentalist Religious Communities identifies the fear of losing personal and social identity as a significant factor within religious fundamentalism (102). Gschwandtner agrees with Ricoeur that religion is best studied through its language (93). However, she advocates by extending Ricoeur’s concept of religious language beyond biblical texts, in favour of all sorts of material culture with a foundational function, for example, Christian science fiction, Christian romance novels, movies, video games, homeschool materials, and religious social media platforms (94-95). Particularly interesting is what Gschwandtner’s reversed reading of Ricoeur’s linear account of secular de-mythologization (100): For Ricoeur, a community adheres to a first naïveté while accepting its own religious language uncritically as literal belief. The first naïveté is finally debunked as a myth by criticism, technology and science. Via a post-critical second naïveté the community re-mythologises the symbolic realm of the text, grasping a deeper meaning. Referring to current ethnological research, Gschwandtner reminds that most religious communities do not interpret their myths literally in the first place. However, facing the ambiguity of contemporary pluralist societies, these groups develop a ‘hermeneutic style’ of adopting a narrower and more literalistic interpretation of their founding texts (101). In this respect, Gschwandtner detects a tendency to abandon the mythical complexity and plurality of the past in favour of rigorously restricted and narrowed hermeneutics today. Furthermore, Gschwandtner demonstrates why Ricoeur’s linear and narrow depiction of hermeneutics partly misses recognising the violent potential of fundamentalist forces. Ricoeur believes, following René Girard, that while rituals may generate violence, sacred texts may contain it. Consequently, she suggests that beyond the “unnecessary (and unhelpful) bifurcation” between ritual and text, the question of individual identity formation must come to the fore (103-104). Even though Gschwandter criticises Ricoeur fruitfully in various aspects, by developing his ideas further, she remains faithful to the main ideas and emphasises about the strength of his hermeneutics in clarifying issues regarding religious fundamentalism. At this point it is noteworthy that the comprehensive notes (105-110) are remarkably outstanding, highly informative and in-depth.

In the paper Murdering Truth: ‘Postsecular’ Perspectives on Theology and Violence Robyn Horner first investigates how far the phenomenon of revelation is legitimised within philosophy by comparing Jean-Luc Marion and Jean-Yves Lacoste. On that basis, Horner asks the relation of revelatory truth claims and violence. With Marion’s concept of the saturated phenomenon, Horner reasons that it is phenomenologically feasible to describe revelation as an experience of excess, as the saturation of intuition (118). On the other hand, regarding the concept of Lacoste, revelation can also be interpreted as lacking and poverty of intuition or simply the experience of feeling nothing, closely link to the experience of atheist and believer (120). Horner associates the perspectives of both excess and poverty as a revelatory interruption that regards the potential for violence which needs to be examined in the light of the always-potentially-contrary-to-me nature of revelation (126). Although religious beliefs are often involved in violent conflicts, Horner rejects the idea of violence as a necessary corollary of God’s goodness. In this respect, she refers to René Girard’s mimetic theory emphasising the biblical pathway towards overcoming violence, as well as Kantian teleology, according to which a God who is violent by nature is incompatible with the good. What turned out to be fascinating is Horner’s suggestion on reading violence as an inauthentic hermeneutic of revelation (123). Consequently, she fails to define the hermeneutical perversion in response to the major world religious traditions but in response to the experience of revelation itself, echoing Marion and Lacoste instead. Here, Augustine speaks of two possible reactions to the truth: to love and to hate (125). Thus, violence can emerge if hatred for the revealed truth transforms into hatred for the otherness of the other in order to protect oneself from a truth that one may not wish to know. She concludes by warning that there is not only the danger of the horror religiosus, that is, provoking violence as a result of otherness in religious revelation. There is also the danger of inciting violence in secularism against the otherness of theism in general (127).

In the paper On Seizing the Source: Toward a Phenomenology of Religious Violence Michael Staudigl provides a compendious and insightful examination of the return of religion against the backdrop of religious violence. Because of the rationalised ghettoisation of religious violence by branding it as a form of senseless violence, Modernity structurally omits its own normatively embellished violence: “It is also high time to acknowledge various auto-idolatries of occidental reason that have rendered its assumedly liberating project inherently doubtful” (138) Staudigl’s concise yet comprehensive survey on contemporary debates illustrates the potential and the need to highlight the role of affective economies and cultural politics of emotions within the mechanisms of religious and non-religious violence (134-140). In response to this paramount challenge, Staudigl proposes fertilising as the so-called theological turn in French phenomenology and focuses example-wise on the concept of givenness in Jean-Luc Marion as well as on Paul Ricoeur who attributes an inherently hermeneutic character to a phenomenology of religion. Staudigl draws persuasively the conclusion that both approaches, however, do not embrace lived religion, but “attempt to rethink God in terms of superabundant ‘givenness’ or focus a textual hermeneutics that translates such givenness into the narrative semantics of the respective religious system of knowledge” (150). Starting from Ricoeur’s notion of mimetic rivalry and Jan Patočka’s waring of a return of orgiastic, Staudigl suggests reading religious violence as a product of monopolising appropriation of the originary source of givenness (153). A particularly interesting observation is that experiences of transcendence need to take flesh; in other words, they need to be translated into experiences of self-transcendence by a phenomenal or lived body which is both affectable and affecting (155). In resonance with Simone Weil’s linking of affectivity and thought in her notion of ‘I can, therefore, I am’, Staudigl foreshadows a re-embodying and materialising of Ricoeur’s hermeneutics of religion: “The sovereignty of the ‘I’ qua embodied ‘I-can’ is also its vulnerability.” (156) This approach of lived body gives remarkable insights into a new advent of archaic, brutal, and cruel violence, as what we witness in current wars of religion. Staudigl closes his observations with an intriguing foresight on the importance of lived religion and lived body as the affective medium building the reflective pivot of ‘carnal hermeneutics’ of a phenomenology of religion – which in particular do not obfuscate religious violence as the most irrational, while eclipsing the own rationalised forms of violence (160-161).

Against the backdrop of contemporary American democracy, the paper From Mystery to Laughter to Trembling Generosity: Agono-Pluralistic Ethics in Connolly v. Levinas (and the Possibilities for Atheist-Theist Respect) by Sarah Pessin explores possibilities for mutual respect and generous comportment between atheists and theists. William E. Conelly’s optimistic call to laughter in common between atheists and theist provides a discursive canvas for Pessin’s reflections. Starting from a philosophy of laughter in Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, the author elaborates analogous to Henry Bergson’s sense of closed and open societies into  two discrete phenomenologies of laughter (187): The laughing atheist on the on hand adopts an open and laughing comportment. The trembling theist, on the other hand, transforms a closed and trembling attitude into open and trembling comportment. In this regard, Conolly’s call for laughing together generates two opposing comportments, causing more separation than union. The best option for Pessin is a new way to adopt comportment by opening and trembling, however open to both theists and atheists in a non-theistic way. For this purpose, she invokes Emmanuel Levinas’ understanding of open direction of eros and enjoyment on the one hand, and a trembling direction which places man on the brink of tears and laughter to responsibility on the other hand (188-189). Of particular interest are Pessin’s preliminary reflections on the problem of laughing together: She reminds us of an impossibility of the all-pardon thesis in Ego and Totality, which states that in a real society no duality between two subjects exists, without causing unpardonable harm to the Other’s Other: “post-secular politics is always a politics of interrupted justice – a justice, in other words, that is always agonistic and never able to attain some sort of pure [post-agonistic] state of inner-human consensus, love, and/or harmony.” (177)

In order to estimate the extraordinary performance of this anthology, a look at the helpful and carefully selected index (201-206) at the end of the book is advisable. The vast diversity of personalities, philosophical terms and subjects stands in direct contradiction to the concise size of the volume of just two hundred pages. All the more, it is the accomplishment of this volume to navigate around the very complex topic about the return of religion which assembles an inspiring spectrum of different approaches without losing the common ground, or as Wittgenstein would put it, the ‘rough ground’ of the post-secular turn.

Cleo Hanaway-Oakley: James Joyce and the Phenomenology of Film

James Joyce and the Phenomenology of Film Book Cover James Joyce and the Phenomenology of Film
Oxford English Monographs
Cleo Hanaway-Oakley
Oxford University Press
2017
Hardback £60.00
160

Reviewed by: Michael Deckard (Lenoir-Rhyne University)

Whether in early phenomenology, film, or #metoo, we are still today reeling from the fantasy or reality of the gaze, that is, the relationship of self to other. How does one define the other by means of the gaze? Is it in terms of a subject/object distinction? A hundred years after the end of The Great War (what may be called ‘the suicide of Europe’), film, philosophy and modernist literature have attempted to overcome the war between man and man, or man and woman, as much as nation and nation. But it has failed. The gaze, as Cleo Hanaway-Oakley envisions it, wishes to colonize and totalize the other, committing an act of violence just through looking. There is no way out of this fixation, but by redefining the cemented schemes of looking.

To revision film studies and its philosophical inheritance is to reinvent a way of looking or feeling, to find by re-watching or re-learning what it means to view film as a renewed and renewing enterprise. And this act in turn may revise the way of perceiving the other. This revision begins at the origin of film as a production of an aesthetic artistic avant-garde act. To view film phenomenologically would mean to take it out (epoché) of its well-trodden narratives. In one predominant scheme, there is a sense in which to use the words of Walter Benjamin, “an unknown woman comes into the poet’s field of vision…the delight of the urban poet is love…[but it] is not the rapture of a man whose every fiber is suffused with eros; it is, rather, like the kind of sexual shock that can beset a lonely man” (“On Some Motifs in Baudelaire,” quoted by Daniel Shea, “’Do they Snapshot Those Girls or Is It All a Fake?” mentioned by Hanaway-Oakley). The names known to film studies, Christian Metz and Laura Mulvey, represent a Freudian/Lacanian voyeuristic and scopophilic way of viewing film. If a spectator is passive, then the Cartesian subject/object distinction remains at the basis of this act of seeing. Behind Metz and Mulvey’s way of viewing film lies the following question: Does the ‘male gaze’ define patriarchy and inhuman, if not dehumanizing, male subject/female object totalizing? In other words, just by looking the male is already in a bind – there is no intersubjective or non-totalizing gaze. For this enterprise, watching a film is already non-reciprocal and disembodied, in a word, objectivizing. If voyeurism and the objectifying gaze are hegemonic (to use Gramsci’s term) in film theory, according to Cleo Hanaway-Oakley, then how might we escape or avoid this problem?

Each chapter in the book introduces a different aim. First, ‘Reciprocal Seeing and Embodied Subjectivity’ begins with the gaze of Bloom on Gerty McDowell (‘Nausicaa’) and provides a revisioning of this gaze from psychoanalysis to phenomenology and particularly Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of film. Her use of sources focus a great deal on the film studies and Joyce literature here rather than the psychoanalytical literature or phenomenology beyond Merleau-Ponty, but since her aim concerns reversibility and to move beyond the fixed understanding of this as “Gerty is a voyeur just as Bloom is” (9), part of her interesting revision takes this as “each character fails to see the other as a fellow subject, even though the reader is shown that both practice subjective looking—so the seer/seen binary remains intact” (10). How does Merleau-Ponty’s reversibility overcome the Freudian/ Lacanian fixation to “true intersubjectivity and reciprocity”? Following scholars such as Vivian Sobchack (The Address of the Eye and Carnal Thoughts), Spencer Shaw (Film Consciousness), and Jennifer Barker (The Tactile Eye), Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of film is no longer seen as impersonal but rather “the seer and the seen and the subject and the object remain as separate, distinct beings…intermingling occurs at a deeper level: the body-subject ‘simultaneously sees and is seen’.” (29)

Second, ‘Modern Thought and the Phenomenology of Film’ looks precisely at Bergson and his role in the development of film, but also the difference between him and phenomenology. To clarify, Hanaway-Oakley writes, “the main divergences in Bergsonian and Merleau-Pontian philosophy revolve around the role of the body in perception and the body’s relationship to its environment. For media philosopher Mark Hansen, the difference between Bergson and Merleau-Ponty too easily mask the similarities.” (43) Similarly, the overlap between ‘Gestalt Vision’ (such as in Hugo Münsterberg and Rudolf Arnheim) with Merleau-Ponty’s analysis of Wertheimer point to a comparability of scientific and psychological theories with aesthetic or creative organizing processes such that film-making and film-watching can mirror each other. This means that theory produces a truly empathic relationship “rather than separation and detachment,” challenging the very basis of subject/object dualism. This is continued by Sergei Eisenstein and Siegfried Kracauer (who himself, according to Hanaway-Oakley, was influenced by Gabriel Marcel) in which the notion of being an “incarnate being immersed in and interacting with a world” has a way of “acting-out or bodying forth.” (51)

While making the claim that James Joyce was interested in film is not controversial, his being a proto-phenomenologist is. What Hanaway-Oakley does in chapter 3 (‘Machine-Humans and Body-Subjects’) most deftly is to bring together Charlie Chaplin films with Joyce and Merleau-Ponty. As a prime example, Chaplin’s The Floorwalker (1916) includes a scene with a prosthetic leg in which “[the prosthetic leg] is not replacing a lost or damaged body part or signalling any utopian possibilities of extending human ability into superpowers. The leg plays only a minor role in the film—a ‘bit part’, if you will. Chaplin picks up the leg and looks at it quizzically then, in a rather quick, somewhat ambiguous gesture, he lifts his cane up towards the shop assistant.” (73) This gesture, rather like Merleau-Ponty’s analysis of the blind man’s stick in Phenomenology of Perception (taking up an example from Descartes’s Optics), and Vivian Sobchack’s in ‘A Leg to Stand on: Prosthetics, Metaphor, and Materiality’ (2004), incorporates the stick or Chaplin’s cane or a prosthesis in such a way that the body and the world are not entirely separate. What Joyce does in ‘Circe’ analyzed in several places in Hanaway-Oakley’s book is to further this connection with the body and the world. One example of this is when a nymph from a painting comes to life and Bloom’s desire is unhinged and that the nun and the slut are combined in this erotic life-giving painting. The tie of Phenomenology of Perception (‘The Body in its Sexual Being’) to Ulysses is complete.

The Final Chapter of the book (‘Tactile Vision and Enworlded Being’) begins by analyzing both Stephen’s thoughts in the ‘Proteus’ chapter of Ulysses alongside George Berkeley’s A New Theory of Vision (1709), Descartes’s Optics (1637), and Merleau-Ponty. How does the stereoscope or mutoscope, for example, enable tactile vision? One can touch something through the eyes even when neither sense have a ‘language’ in common. “Like Bloom, Descartes concludes that blind people must ‘see with their hands’.” (89) Whereas Descartes positions perception in an immaterial mind, Bloom and Berkeley materialize it, and “the blind man’s stick is not, for Merleau-Ponty, an intermediary between a physical object and a mental image.” (90) The tactile and the erotic are further interconnected, especially when stereoscopic images from 1904 (when Ulysses is set) are forms of early erotica or pornography, something Hanaway-Oakley connects to the Mutoscope-viewer as a haptic interposition of the crotch like the blind man’s stick. She further “dizzingly” describes parallactic proprioception and seeing ourselves as others see us.

Hanaway-Oakley constructs a term, ‘living pictures’, to try to overcome the voyeuristic gaze, working from both phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty and writer James Joyce. Her book thus attempts to defend a reciprocal gaze or embodied form of viewing film, to see others as they see you (including on screen). In three distinct contexts, then, early cinema, Ulysses, and phenomenology, “the phrase [I see myself as others see me] offers a reciprocal way of seeing, self-reflection, and the chance to contemplate the relationship of self and other, subject and object.” (13) An absorptive approach regards cinema as objective, impersonal and neutral as opposed to the phenomenological living approach in which cinema is subjective, engaged and ‘authentic’. Hanaway-Oakley proposes three avenues for ‘intervention’: first, phenomenological reflection is unlike introspection or mimetic copying in which there is some ‘objective’ reality in the image unrelated to the perceiver – an experience of cinema is living in so far as the perceiver takes part and contributes to the image by means of her experience. Second, the film-maker interacts with the spectator insofar as an ‘imprint’ or ‘trace’ (rather than a mimetic copy) of time is really imprinted on the viewer – this intervention challenges some traditional readings of Bazinian realism. Third, film is embodied and this intervention requires us to expand and enlarge our notion of embodiedness – we do not necessarily see things ‘out there’ as on a screen but rather the image becomes part of our bodily existence.

As an exemplar of these three interventions, Merleau-Ponty explored film phenomenologically in one short essay from 1945, ‘The Film and the New Psychology’ (included in the collection, Sense and Non-sense), the same year that Phenomenology of Perception was published. How much one can do with this is the question that Hanaway-Oakley leaves open. Her book begins and ends with an analysis of an episode of Ulysses, ‘Nausicaa’, where Bloom is gazing at a young crippled girl on the beach. This scene exemplifies a twentieth-century formulation of the gaze since the Great War. As Hanaway-Oakley writes,

In ‘Nausicaa’, as Bloom touches himself, he simultaneously touches Gerty across the distance: ‘his hands and face were working and a tremor went over her’. Bloom and Gerty’s feelings are reciprocal; neither is reduced to an object—they are both simultaneously object–subjects for each other. They experience a reversible relationship. Gerty recognizes an ‘answering flash of admiration in [Bloom’s] eyes’, and Bloom notes that there is a ‘kind of language’ between them. He learns to ‘see [himself] as others see [him]’ and to ‘look at [things] other way round’. (110)

This book brings together worlds not typically brought together, and is a joy to read. The length of it left me wanting more, and the seventeen- page bibliography gives one plenty to go on for reading further. While James Joyce and the Phenomenology of Film is not a work of film studies, as an intervention between philosophy, literature, and film, her analysis is extremely worthwhile and her deft use of film examples plus the widespread interdisciplinary world of literary criticism and modernism as well as film is exemplary. Where she is perhaps weakest is in the French side of Merleau-Ponty and wider phenomenology, but its breadth across the Merleau-Ponty oeuvre is illuminating and enjoyable. While by itself Hanaway-Oakley’s revision of the problem of the gaze and its violence is not entirely overcome, we are one step closer to seeing others as they see us.

Felix Duque: Remnants of Hegel: Remains of Ontology, Religion and Community

Remnants of Hegel: Remains of Ontology, Religion, and Community Book Cover Remnants of Hegel: Remains of Ontology, Religion, and Community
SUNY series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy
Félix Duque. Translated by Nicholas Walker
SUNY Press
2018
Paperback $19.95
182

Reviewed by: Oded Balaban (Dept. of Philosophy, University of Haifa, Israel)

Felix Duque is arguably the most important living philosopher in the Spanish-speaking world. Remnants of Hegel is the first book translated into English. It is not a mere interpretation of Hegel, but rather a critical study that attempts to drive the aspects of its subject matter toward their ultimate consequences using Hegelian criteria. In other words, if Hegel’s philosophy is a critique of Kant’s critical philosophy, then Duque’s exposition is a critique of Hegelian philosophy. Furthermore, and just as Hegel develops Kantian categories in order to reveal a truth that goes beyond Kant, Duque develops Hegelian concepts in order to deduce a truth that transcends them. Indeed, Duque says that “The Hegelian system, impressive as it is, ultimately reveals itself as a miscarried attempt to reconcile nature and theory, individuality and collective praxis” (Duque, x).

Moreover, I should begin my review by noting that the book is clearly written for readers who are well acquainted with Hegel’s philosophy. In this respect, my review will attempt to overcome this difficulty by limiting itself to a reading that makes it accessible to those who are not conversant with this philosophy.

The book itself contains five chapters:

Chapter I: Substrate and Subject (Hegel in the aftermath of Aristotle). This chapter is concerned with the famous expression made in the preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit: “According to my view of things, which can be justified through the exposition of the system itself, everything depends on apprehending and expressing the true not as [nicht als] substance, but just as much [eben so sehr] as subject” (Duque, 17).

Chapter II: Hegel on the Death of Christ, is a discussion that seeks to analyze the transition from nature to society, or, rather, the transition from a natural human being to a historical being, and to a being having a second nature, which is the political life of man, a transition which is made possible by the understanding of society and politics as a higher level of self-consciousness.

Chapter III: Death Is a Gulp of Water. This chapter is concerned with terror in World History. More specifically, it is a critical exposition of Hegel’s idea of revolution and terror which primarily refers to the French Revolution. The politics of terror, the chapter argues, is the necessary result of trying to implement the revolution without mediations, that is, directly and as an abstract revolution (Duque, 83). Here Duque does not limit himself to an analysis of Hegel and his time, but also deals with its historical reception by the likes of Communism and Stalinism in the twentieth century. Such an idea of terror does much to radically undervalue the value of life and also makes us remember Hanna Arendt’s Banality of Evil. Indeed, terror is, paradoxically, a result of the French Revolution in its historical imagining of Napoleon, namely, the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity as mediated by his political force appearing as the opposite of those values’ true essence.

Chapter IV: Person, Freedom, and Community is an analysis of the last chapter of Hegel’s Science of Logic which is concerned with the notion of the absolute idea. It is an essential problem to understanding the book as a whole since Hegel begins and ends the book by praising this notion rather than explaining or developing it.

Chapter V: The Errancy of Reason. This chapter summarizes the previous chapters and engages in a holistic critical analysis of the topics discussed.

I would now wish to develop some ideas on Hegel inspired by reading Duque’s work and by my own understanding of Hegel’s philosophy.

Hegel’s logic is not normative. Unlike formal logic, which determines how we should think and not how we actually think, Hegel‘s Science of Logic, proceeds in the opposite direction by studying thought as it is as well as its development from the most abstract stage (the thought of pure being without further determinations) to the most concrete, this being the absolute idea as the unit of theoretical and practical thinking. Duque’s interpretation adopts this principle, and unlike the interpretations offered by Alexandre Kojève and many others, asserts that it should be taken literally, that is, by not trying to correct the author in order to understand him! Understanding by correcting makes the original a tabula rasa since it allows the interpreter to introduce any idea as it occurs to her or him to the work in the belief that it is an interpretation, while it is actually a creation of her or his own mind.

Hegel’s Logic is a reflective study of the concept. In Duque’s words, “the entire Logic is nothing but a relentless attempt to furnish a conscious and deliberate reconstruction of fugitive and fleeting linguistic forms and determinations.” (Duque, ix). The terms in his Logic do not have the fixity that they have in formal logic (both classical and modern), but their meaning varies according to the context, and especially according to the level in which the study is developed. Hegel perceives only the term, the word, as fixed, but not the concept or content that is expressed through words.

Hegel’s logic attempts to solve the classic problem of Aristotelian logic, in which “to say what something in the last instance really is, its ultimate logos, amounts to affirming all the affections, properties, and determinations of that thing” (Duque, 4). Hegel, however, is not successful in resolving this difficulty despite believing he is.

Hegel suggests that thought and reality, as well as mind and world, are inseparable in the sense that their meaning undergoes constant change and construction with respect to the conceptual level and context in which it takes place. A concept’s level of abstraction or concreteness thus simultaneously determines the degree of reality to which it refers. Put differently, this reading suggests that the Science of Logic ultimately serves as an ontological proof which not only proves the existence of God but also the existence of every concept subjected to actual thought. In other words, if I really believe in the concept of having a hundred thalers in my pocket, and not merely imagining them, then the hundred thalers become real and become part of my patrimony. I thus either have them in my pocket or, alternately, owe them and am obliged to pay them. This is not the case with Kant, since he merely imagines them, that is to say, recognizes from the very outset that they are not real thalers. This, in turn, is the difference between abstract and concrete concepts.

The process of concretion is clearly explained in the “logic of the judgment” discussion in the third part of Science of Logic, which is nothing but logic from the perspective of the relationship between the two essential components of judgment—subject and predicate. Thus, every judgment announces that the subject is the predicate. More explicitly, the subject of the judgment is the entity whose identity is being subjected to inquiry, and the answer is offered by all the predicates that refer to that subject. Each predicate thus changes the meaning of the subject, and, in reality, amplifies its meaning. In this respect, a subject is enriched by having more predicates attributed to it – as each of the latter forms another subject with other questions. In other words, to think is – formally – to pass from the subject, which functions as what is unknown and in need of becoming known, to the predicate, which functions as what is known and therefore as what bestows knowledge and meaning on the subject. It is thus a relation between a bearer of meaning (the subject) and a meaning (the predicate).

However, this relationship occurs within the frame of another relationship that occurs in the same intentional field. It is the relation (entirely unlike that of subject and predicate) between subject and object. Despite their difference, subject-predicate and subject-object relations cannot be separated but only distinguished. In effect, when the thought passes from the subject to the predicate, it does not consider the predicate (that is to say, it does not think about grammar) but its content, that is, the object or, rather, something that acquires the status of an object. The subject thus objectifies the target of though by means of predication. In the case of philosophy, that is to say, thinking about thinking, thought passes to something else, to what is being thought about, namely the object. And what is an object if not something that stands in front of the subject as a correlative to the subject? Hegel indeed argued that the object possesses nothing more than this relational character. The object is thus what was thought about by the subject. It is the entire universe existing insofar as it is the content of thought. There is no other universe. However, it is not the thought of my individual reflection. It is ultimately a universal reflection, and Hegel goes so far as to maintain that everything is Spirit (“There is nothing at hand that is wholly alien to spirit” (Hegel, Encyclopedia § 377, note, quoted by Duque, 38).

The Spirit is the objectification of subjectivity, the whole universe as thought of, a conceptualized universe, insofar as another does not replace it. But if something else remains, it is the task of thought to appropriate it, that is, as we said, to conceptualize it and thus imbue it with reality. This, in turn, is the secret of the coincidence of logic and metaphysics.

Thus, it turns out that the object is the complete expression of the subject. A strange reflection indeed. Fully aware of being a reflection and its denial at the same time—because it always returns to thinking about the object when it is supposed to be thinking about thinking about the object.

Hegel nonetheless moves backward. He rethinks the thought, concentrating not on content but on the fact of thinking about it. Hegel and his readers believed that they were thinking about Being when they were actually thinking about Essence; they thought they were thinking about Essence, and they were actually thinking about Concept! That is to say, Hegel was not concerned with a question of being but with the concept of being. It was not a question of essence but of the concept of essence, and it was not about concept but about the concept of concept. Hegel and his readers believed that they were thinking about substance when they were actually thinking about themselves—about the subject. Duque is therefore right in saying that all this does not mean we are solely concerned with thinking about substance, but also about the subject. This is because the substance is not even the truth, although it is a reflection, but this is a reflection that lacks reflection, or that does not know that it is a reflection. In other words, we are ultimately concerned with a subject thinking about itself.

The culmination of this backwards-advancing reflection is the Absolute Idea, which also serves as the culmination of subjectivity in the Subjective Logic (the third and last part of the Science of Logic). This must not be forgotten, as must the assertion that Hegel’s thought cannot migrate to another sphere, or does not enter it because Hegel does not need it, although he promises to explain something new, viz. the content of the Absolute Idea. But it is precisely here, at the end of the Science of Logic, that Hegel begins being poetic and stops being philosophical: he offers pure promises without any fulfillment. Such is the end of the great Science of Logic despite its colossality. Duque, in turn, ascribes a great deal of importance to this abrupt end in Hegel’s Logic. When the Absolute Idea is reached, according to Duque, “Everything else [Alles Übrige] is error, obscurity, struggle, caprice, and transience [Vergänglichkeit].” (Hegel, Science of Logic, quoted by Duque, 38). Is it not the case that everything should be included in the Absolute Spirit? Is the whole path unnecessary, as is the case of the ladder for the young Wittgenstein? This would go against the spirit of Hegel’s philosophy no less than his own assertion about error, obscurity, etc.

The Absolute Idea, then, does not fulfill Hegel’s intention. The universal absolute should deduce the individual in her or his singularity from itself because the individual is absolutely relational. It is a being that includes what is not her or him in itself, as well as what is other than itself, as the determinant of what it is. In other words, it is a concrete individuality understandable in its concrete universality. This is especially apparent when we think of the individual as a social being. If we take away all of the individual’s “environment” and context, namely, every socially shared issue and every general feature including language and clothing it will remain, contrary to what could be expected, an abstract individual: Just as when attempting to isolate the individual in order to understand it in her or his singularity, nothing remains and the very individual disappears. This, in turn, means that individuals are wholly social, that is, totally relational. This does not, however, imply that the individual is not individual, but that this is what it consists of: The more singular the individual, the more dependent she or he is on her or his network of relationships. Thus, the more relationships the individual has, the more individual she or he becomes.

When the individual denies her or his otherness, as in the case of the worker or the slave in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, she or he not only denies the other but it denies her or himself when alienating her or himself from her or his other because that other is her or his own other, not an abstract, isolated other. Thus, the more she or he is social, the more individual she or he becomes. The more she or he has relations to and dependencies on other individuals, the more she or he is a concrete singularity, a singularity determined by its relationships. This is entirely unlike the Aristotelian relations of genera and species, where the individual is obtained through isolation. The Aristotelian individual is obtained by excluding all difference. In Hegel the opposite is true: the more a thing includes the differentiated as differentiated in itself, the more individual it becomes. History is thus a process of socialization which is – in actual fact – a process of individuation. In Aristotelian logic, intension and extension are opposed: the greater the intension, the smaller the extension; the greater the definition, the smaller the subsumed individual(s). In Hegel, there is no such opposition. The individual is more social the more determined she or he is and the more she or he includes the other. Hegelian logic is not, however, intended as an alternative logic to Aristotelian logic, but rather as the self-consciousness of the Aristotelian logic as well as its inner development and evolution. Formal logic is thus a stage that the spirit must pass through in order to be finally be criticized by consciousness, as it is in the Logic of Essence, the second part of the Science of Logic, which engages in the critique of the “laws” of identity, non-contradiction, and the excluded middle.

I will now turn to the relationships between substance and subject. According to Aristotle, a substance is that which is neither said of a subject nor in a subject, namely, it is not a predicate as predicates are said about a substance (individuals, like this individual man or this statue). However, entities which say what a substance is are “secondary” substances, genera and species, that can be also subjects as well as predicates and are always general and never individual. However, saying what an individual is, has the genera and species as an answer, something that is not individual. The individual man belongs to a species, man, and an animal is a genus of that species. Thus, both man and animal are considered secondary substances. In this respect, Duque rightfully claims that the Aristotelian definition of substance as a negative definition arises from the impossibility of saying what it is without making it into something other than what it is. In other words, predicates will always betray their original intention since they cannot be individuals.

If there is something that is neither said of a subject nor exists in a subject, this is obviously because it is itself the subject, as Aristotle himself concedes: “All the other things are either said of the primary substances as subjects or in them as subjects” (Aristotle, Categories, 2a, 34–35, quoted by Duque, 6). Duque then proceeds to state:

Yet secondary substance does not exist of itself, unless it is given with primary substance. We are evidently confronted with a certain inversion here, with an irresolvable chiasmus: that which is first in the order of being is second in the order of logical discourse, and vice versa.” (Duque, 7)

The substance is for Aristotle the being of the being, and it is the fixed (permanent) side of change, something that does not change as things change. As a being of being it has a double function, meaning that it has two meanings in the sense that it is both the essence of the being and the being of the essence.

As the essence of being, the substance is the determinate being, the nature of the necessary being: the man as a two-legged animal. As the being of the essence it is the two-legged animal as this individual man.

This is a duality that Aristotle did not manage to resolve. When Aristotle says that the substance is expressed in the definition and that only the substance has a true definition, the substance is understood as the essence of the being, as that which reason can understand. But when, on the contrary, he declares that the essence is identical to determinate reality, as beauty exists only in what is beauty, Aristotle understands the substance as the being of the essence, and as a principle that offers necessary existence to the nature of a thing.

As the essence of being, the substance is the form of things and bestows unity on the elements that make up the whole where the whole is a distinct proper nature unlike its component elements. Aristotle refers to the form of material things as a species, and species is, therefore, its substance. As the being of the essence, the substance is the substrate: that about which any other thing is predicated but that cannot be a predicate of anything else. And as the substrate it is matter, a reality without any determination other than a potentiality. As the essence of being, the substance is the concept or logos that has neither generation nor corruption, that does not become but is this or that thing. As the being of essence, the substance is the composition, namely, the unity of concept (or form) with matter—the existing thing. In this sense, the substance comes to being and comes to its end.

As the essence of being, the substance is the principle of intelligibility of the being itself. In this sense, it is the stable and necessary element on which science is founded. According to Aristotle, there is no other science than that which is necessary, whereas the knowledge of what can or cannot be is rather an opinion. Substance is thus, objectively, the being of the essence and the necessary reality, and subjectively the essence of being, as necessary rationality. In short, the distinction Aristotle makes between primary substances (0ρώται οὐσίαι) and secondary substances (δεύτεραι οὐσίαι) consists of understanding the former as physical individuals and the latter as species (τά εἴδεα) and genera (τά γένη) of those individuals (Aristotle, Categories, 2a14).

In Hegel, on the other hand, the substance is the principle from which the individual is deduced. He argues for the primacy of the universal and the primacy of substance over the individual. Unlike with Aristotle, the universal is the principle of individuation, so that the individual has no meaning without the universal. This, in turn, is the basis on which his understanding of truth as substance but also as subject can be understood. Duque contends that “primary substance is entirely subsumed in secondary substance, or in universality. But this universality is indeed concrete since it bears and holds all particularity and all individuality within itself. It is concrete, but it does not yet know that it is.”  (Duque, 2018, 24). Namely, it doesn’t know that it is also a subject.

The intentional character of the subject, as it is understood in self-consciousness, means the understanding of the subject as the one that externalizes itself and then internalizes what was rejected, that is, that understands that this is its way of acting. It also means that being is ultimately recognized in reflection as a first instance, that is, as thinking. Substance is itself thinking, though not recognized as such. Ultimately, therefore, subject is a synthesis of self-consciousness and objectivity.

In judgment, when the subject moves toward the predicate, when it is objectified and when, in subsequent reflection, discovers that it returns to itself (since the predicate is predicated from the subject), then the subject ends up enriched with what the predicate attributes to it.

This, in turn, allows us to understand the controversial and somehow obscure dictum in the 1806 preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit:

According to my view of things, which can be justified through the exposition of the system itself, everything depends on apprehending and expressing the true not as [nicht als] substance, but just as much [eben so sehr] as subject (quoted by Duque, 17)

Hegel therefore contends that self-consciousness is externalized and thus becomes an object. But this posited object is itself the very subject that has been placed as another, thus appearing as an opposite to itself: it knows itself knowing the other.

And this happens because that object is not, as it were, a natural object, a given, but an object created or engendered (like any object, according to Hegel) by self-consciousness. They are, then, two momenta, that of subjectivity (being-for-itself) and that of objectivity (being-in-itself). In reality, however, they are not merely two momenta, but a single reality split into two momenta that are only true in their opposition and in their unity. For subjectivity does not become true if it is not objective and true objectivity cannot be natural but only produced by human endeavor (in the broad sense of the word). This is why the fact that men, at one point in history, had subjected other men to work, to externalize themselves, to produce objects out of themselves, and thus transform a given natural environment into a human environment, is a necessary step in human development, as this is a human creation, an elevation above the natural.

A misreading, according to Duque, is to believe that the substance is not true as if the subject has nothing to do with the substance (or mutatis mutandis, a misreading that believes that freedom has nothing to do with necessity). Just as reason does not exist without understanding, subject does not exist without substance. The subject is thus the conceptual understanding of the substance and the consciousness of necessity. Put differently, it is a continuation of Spinozism taken to its logical extreme.

Simon Høffding: A Phenomenology of Musical Absorption

A Phenomenology of Musical Absorption Book Cover A Phenomenology of Musical Absorption
New Directions in Philosophy and Cognitive Science
Simon Høffding
Palgrave Macmillan
2018
Paperback
XXII, 282

Reviewed by: Camille Buttingsrud (The Danish National School of Performing Arts)

Summary

“Who is playing?” (2). This question, which opens Høffding’s book, is prompted by the late Danish bassoonist Peter Bastian’s story of how he experienced looking at his own fingers “sprinting up and down the fingerboard” of the instrument he was playing, in awe of the skill of his own fingers. Høffding wants to understand the nature of such an unusual experience of the self, undergone by musicians in “those Golden Moments when it suddenly takes off”, as Bastian puts it. The debate regarding how best to comprehend and describe such altered states of subjectivity – found in, for instance, artistic absorption – has occupied theorists of expertise, cognitive scientists, and phenomenologists for a number of years. Høffding’s general approach is to find continuities between the various positions in this debate. The theory of one of the main voices in the debate, Hubert Dreyfus’ theory of skilled coping, is strongly disputed in Høffding’s book (94), though. Skilled coping is the idea that in expertise decision-making and skill acquisition are based on bodily coping rather than representational knowledge. Høffding’s own account of expertise, specifically of musical absorption, is built up through the chapters, and fully unfolds towards the end of the book.

Høffding develops his phenomenology of musical absorption by means of empirical as well as theoretical research. On the empirical side, he bases his investigation on a series of qualitative research interviews with the Danish String Quartet; on the theoretical side, Høffding’s work is rooted in the philosophy of mind and classical and contemporary phenomenology. Furthermore, theories from aesthetics, psychology of music, sleep science, and psychiatry are used in the comparative chapters of the book.

Throughout the book, Høffding focuses on three overlapping themes: the absorbed minimal self, the absorbed reflective self, and the absorbed body (6). These aspects of subjectivity are all part of what Høffding eventually calls performative passivity, a notion inspired by Edmund Husserl’s theory of passive and active synthesis (Husserliana 11).

Høffding’s book is divided into three parts: “Meeting the Danish String Quartet”, “Comparative Perspectives”, and “Phenomenological Underpinnings of the Musically Extended Mind”.

Part One, which presents his empirical research, starts with an elaboration of the qualitative interview processes. We are guided through Høffding’s cooperation with four classical musicians (Asbjørn, Rune, Fredrik and Frederik Ø) and are presented with interesting quotes from Høffding’s interviews with them. Høffding gives a detailed description of his method of phenomenological interview, or PI. PI is methodologically inspired by the work of “Susanne Ravn and Dorothée Legrand in particular” (15), and is developed because “classical phenomenology, apart from phenomenological psychiatry, has not been engaged with interviews” (27). PI is also inspired by Dan Zahavi’s work and by Shaun Gallagher’s idea of phenomenological factual variations relying on empirical data. As a supplement to the established phenomenological practice of thought experiments through eidetic variation, the idea is that “real cases” might serve the same function, and “force us to refine, revise, or even abandon our habitual way of thinking” (See Zahavi 2005 on “real-life deviations”, in Høffding 27).

Høffding takes the musicians’ first-person perspectives seriously and tries to dispense with other theories, explanations, and beliefs about musical absorption, letting the descriptions speak for themselves. The musicians’ descriptions comprise what he calls “tier one” in PI. “Tier two” is the phenomenological analysis of the empirical material, where structures behind the experiences are disclosed (19). Høffding explains how the two tiers are linked and overlap; phenomenology frames the research but the empirical material also informs the phenomenological investigation. To ensure transparent access to his data and work methods, Høffding provides an extensive explanation of how to conduct a phenomenological interview (33), and of his specific work with the quartet.

The musicians are presented one by one. We get to know the violinist Frederik Ø as a complex musician, with an initial need for “a little control” (47) during the performance of concerts. However, after his father’s sudden death, he becomes “emotionally involved in a different fashion” (50) and experiences what we later learn is intense absorption. Rune is the other violinist in the quartet, he is also a folk musician (54). During performances he is “letting the body take over”, and occasionally he experiences extremely intense absorption (57). Asbjørn plays the viola in the quartet. He easily gets intensely absorbed and regularly finds himself in “the zone”, as he calls it, during their concerts. Fredrik is the cellist of the quartet. Like Rune, Fredrik has also experienced the kind of extremely intense absorption one could call an “artistic blackout” (66). Fredrik is intensely absorbed during most concerts.

After the musicians’ profiles, Høffding presents a chart to distinguish the different kinds of experiences Frederik Ø, Fredrik, Asbjørn and Rune have described. Høffding names the chart “a topography of musical absorption” (73) and defines its five main categories as standard absorption, mind wandering not-being-there, frustrated playing, absorbed not-being-there, and ex-static absorption (74).

Standard absorption is the default mode of performing, Høffding writes. The quartet is often in this state, and the state covers a wide range of experiences. Standard absorption includes feeling slightly bored, such as when playing a concert is “just another day at work”, and it also includes more concentrated absorbed playing. In general, the performance runs smoothly in this state – the musicians feel satisfied, are not intensely absorbed and not too challenged (76).

To be in mind wandering not-being-there is the experience of playing automatically while non-related thoughts and associations pop up in one’s mind simultaneously. The quartet calls it “going to Netto”, indicating the experience of leaving the performance mentally to think about what one might need to shop later (77). This is not a state the musicians find themselves in very often.

Likewise, they do not often experience the state of frustrated playing. This mode of performance is one of pure survival. During and after an obstacle, interruption, or other externally imposed experiences, the musicians are intensively focused on trying to get back to standard absorption (80).

Absorbed not-being-there is one of the two states of intense absorption. It is the rare experience of being “completely gone” or “lost in the music” during performance (81). Even if they subsequently cannot conceptually recall the experience, the musicians describe it as bodily pleasant, euphoric, and “of high emotional and existential value” (82). This experience has been described as “lack of awareness, blackout, trance, or even that it wasn’t the musician himself who played” (81).

The other, and more frequently experienced, state of intense absorption is called ex-static absorption. Høffding takes its name from the Greek and Latin description of “standing out from” (85), “not only in the sense that one perceives the world in a distanced, disinterested fashion, but also that this kind of “neutral registration” pertains to oneself”. Here, Høffding aims to capture the intensely absorbed experience a musician has “in the zone”, when his sense of self is altered by the absorption. There is “a heightened overall perception” (86) and the musician feels “invincible”, “powerful” and in “control” of the situation as a whole (84) in this state.

In the following critique, I shall return to the experiences and descriptions of some of these modes of absorption.

In Part Two, Høffding presents and discusses theories of interest for a comparative study of absorption. We are introduced to viewpoints in the expertise debate, material on artistic and aesthetic experience, theories of sleep and dreaming, and the theory of flow, in addition to the phenomenology of schizophrenia.

Besides debating Dreyfus, Høffding engages in the expertise debate through the works of John Sutton et al. and Barbara Montero (102). The former’s theory of Mesh shows how conceptual reflection and bodily coping overlap in skilful activity; while the latter’s argument against “the just-do-it” principle is that thinking does not interfere with acting and “should not be avoided by experts” (106). Høffding is open towards these philosophers’ ideas on how conceptual reflection occurs in musical absorption.

In the discussions on artistic and aesthetic experience, dance and art appreciation is taken into account, and Høffding makes use of theories by Dorotheé Legrand as well as Mikel Dufrenne to finetune his arguments.

In the chapter on dreaming and sleeping, Høffding looks at Evan Thompson’s work and compares lucid dreaming and dreamless sleep with the musicians’ experiences of ex-static absorption and absorbed not-being-there, respectively. In this part of the book, Høffding draws a line between standard playing, mind wandering and absorbed being there, and sees this as a development where “the intentional threads are slackening” (151) and the musician gradually detaches more and more from the situation and his self.

Through the study of theories on schizophrenia, Høffding finds traits of hyper-reflection (168) and self-intimation in the musicians’ experiences of ex-static absorption. Although, where schizophrenia is an ipseity-disturbance (171), Høffding sees a musician as having a robust sense of self (163).

In Part Three, Høffding discusses musical absorption in light of Husserl’s notion of passive and active synthesis and presents his own theory of performative passivity. Høffding defines it as the experience of “altered agency over the process of playing”, “of someone or something other than me causing the music to unfold” (188). The main assumption behind his theory of performative passivty is that musical action is not primarily generated by active egoic consciousness but by a passive enlarged sense of subjectivity (188). The enlarged subject can easily include levels of egoic consciousness, though; there are constant and fluid shifts between passivity and activity (188). In this way, he sees no dichotomy between reflection and pre-reflection in absorption.

According to Høffding, a well-trained body schema is necessary to achieve intense absorption; only experts with thousands of hours of practice behind them can enter these states (215). The music itself and “letting loose of one’s emotions” can boost the opening of the passive dimension (215), and the unfolding of the music through one’s instrument and the bodily we-intentionality and interaction with other musicians are all intertwined with the passive, enlarged self (244).

Høffding closes with a chapter on how playing together feeds the musicians’ sense of passivity. We learn of musical we-ness, partly through Merleau-Ponty’s notion of intercorporeity; the shared and anonymous body (241).

According to Høffding’s findings, there is a path from ordinary absentmindedness and daydreaming, past the state of mind wandering whilst performing, to the most absorbed state of performative passivity (70). In passivity, Høffding claims, the musicians’ body schemata afford the musicians to perform automatically and enable them let go of attending to the technicalities of the performance (199). To Høffding, musical absorption “is a question of “happening” rather than “doing”” (252) and he ends the book by claiming: “Pleasure, beauty, meaning, and encounters with others, in addition to being something we create, is something to which we must be receptive” (255).

Critique

Introduction

In his book, Høffding is open about not having had first-person experience of intense musical absorption (13). He also shares his inability to hear the difference between absorbed musicians’ performances and their performances under stress: “I find myself unable to detect whether a particular performance instantiates standard playing or playing under unusual stress” (100). He writes that intense absorption and its seemingly contradictory experiences of being “more conscious/present”, on one hand, and “less conscious/not present”, on the other (85), generates “a fundamental inability to understand and adequately express the nature of this experience” (85). At the same time, he rejects theories from peers with first-person experience of intense absorption (178). These facts are not necessarily problematic. But in light of them, it is difficult to see, prima facie, how Høffding is entitled to see his own work as “a paradigmatic case” – “the first of its kind” – and to claim that his conclusions will “serve as universal” within his field (30). In other words: he has never experienced x himself, he cannot perceptually detect x in others, he claims that x resists coherent description, he rejects the theories of those who have themselves experienced x – and, nevertheless, he declares his theory of x to be “paradigmatic” and “universal”. But let us not prejudge this. Let’s have a closer look at Høffding’s work and see whether it lives up to its own expectations.

Absorption as Phenomenon

The main goal of Høffding’s book is to investigate absorption. So, how does he understand the term absorption and the experiences behind it? Etymologically, the term absorption has developed from the Latin word absorbeo, which means “sucked or swallowed up”. The musicians’ experiences of being absorbed in terms of being “swallowed up”, are categorized by Høffding as absorbed not-being-there and ex-static absorption. These two are collectively referred to as intense absorption throughout the book.

According to Høffding, musicians are absorbed during all the five states in his topography, including frustrated playing and mind wandering not-being-there (73). But are these two states genuine experiences of absorption?

In frustrated playing, mind wandering not-being-there, as well as in standard absorption, Høffding includes the merely habitual activity of doing what one has learned by heart as an example of musical absorption. What does this all-embracing attitude do to Høffding’s theory of absorption?

Everyone experiences habitual activities, so let’s have a look at a plain example from our everyday lives. Learning how to bike demands conceptual reflection. As soon as you’ve mastered the skill, though, the task is engrained and will be experienced pre-reflectively. You can chat with your friends or listen to music while biking without being disturbed in the performance of the task. The same goes for artists and the elaborate skills they master. There is a level of performance where one is merely doing what one has memorized, and where random reflections and perceptions easily come and go on top of the execution of the activity itself, which has become second nature.

The question is: does this level of habitual mastering of skills qualify as absorption? As a practitioner of performing art, my answer is no. And so, as a philosopher, I find the dilution of the term absorption rather confusing. It is not clear how, for example, standard absorption is distinctly different, consciousness-wise, from situations like my biking example. Musical absorption is initially presented as “a self-transforming experience” (5), and the opening questions of the book: “Who is playing?” and “What kind of self is present when the musician is intensely absorbed in his music”? (2), are supposedly asked in order to investigate these altered experiences of the self. But only two out of Høffding’s five states of absorption constitute actual self-transformation and appear distinctively different from everyday experiences of consciousness; namely, absorbed not-being-there and ex-static absorption. That Høffding draws evidence from the musicians’ experiences of (what are quite plausibly) non-absorbed states in order to make his final points about what absorption as such amounts to, is a basic flaw in the argumentation that weakens the final theory.

That being said, seen as an overview and topography of musical performance, Høffding’s categorization chart nicely distinguishes different experiences musicians may have during practice, rehearsal and concert playing, and as such it is highly applicable.

Distance, Disinterest, and Detachment

In the construction of his arguments, Høffding appears to favour certain interpretations of the musicians’ statements, interpretations that emphasize occurrences of distance, disinterest, and detachment in absorption.

In one of his early interview sessions, Høffding categorized his transcriptions of the interviews in groups, one of them being “distance in absorption” (41). In his theoretical comparison chapters, he discusses how phenomenological psychopathology points to the existence of “unnatural” self-distance (8) in schizophrenia and finds parallels to this in the musicians’ experiences (162). He states that the musicians have “a superior bodily self-coinciding and self-reliance” (170), though, and sees the juxtaposing as a tool to understand how the “empirical foundation of ordinary consciousness (…) is prone to variation” (171). In a similar way, Høffding compares the musicians’ alleged experiences of self-distance in intense absorption to experiences of deep sleep (absorbed not-being-there) and lucid dreaming (ex-static absorption) (145).

Ex-static absorption “consists in a distance to oneself, one’s actions, and one’s body” (167), Høffding claims; whereas absorbed not-being-there is “entirely vacuous” (83), “followed by an almost total amnesia” (81). But how are the musicians phrasing these experiences?

Frederik Ø shares how he changes after his father’s sudden death and plays a concert where he lets go of his previous need to have “a little control” (47). During the concert it is “as if everything just disappears (…), I am not really there (…). Everything just is. So it is exactly both being present and not being present simultaneously” (50). He continues: “It is like… the feeling of looking over a large landscape (…), you cannot see the individual parts, you just know that all of it contributes to the being, and that you actually could affect the little things (…)” (51). Høffding sees Frederik Ø as being at a “distance from his own mental life” here (146).

Asbjørn tells us about the same experience of being “both less conscious and a lot more conscious (…)” (60). In his ideal absorption he is “this commander just moving the pieces and making the perfect phrase without trying, just because it is there and I can do anything I want” (62). In the same quote he talks about his ability to be aware of many musical elements at the same time, through his “hive mind” (62). We learn how he is “neutrally registering” the audience, not like a co-player but “looking at the set-up” and feeling like “a commander deploying the troops and control it (…)” (84). Høffding interprets Asbjørn’s experiences as “disinterested observation” (84).

Through his investigations of spatial experiences in schizophrenia, sleep, dream, and intense musical absorption, Høffding finds that they share traits of detachment (151), distance (85), and disinterest (192). Høffding takes these disconnections to the self and to the situation very literally. He compares the musicians’ experiences of being “a commander” and “flying over a landscape” with experiences of physical distance. In ex-static absorption one is thus too far away to have any agency, Høffding claims, “sitting in an airplane high up in the sky” perceiving from a great distance ”a very large landscape without parts” (147). When in absorbed not-being-there, the experience is of being too close to the music” to “perceive it well” (148). It’s like “looking at a large Monet from very close up” (147).

Høffding is referring to the altered perception of objects in the intensely absorbed states and offers us a discussion on the matter and a thorough explanation of his view. But is this the best way to interpret what the musicians experience?

Artists in general seem to claim that intense absorption is their ideal state of performing and the quartet is no exception. They stress how being intensely absorbed makes them “listen in a better way” (59), feel “powerful” (81), in “very deep control” (61), and feel “intense euphoric joy” (66). This sounds more like descriptions of total involvement – not like disinterest, distance or detachment. Is there an alternative to Høffding’s interpretation which captures the presence, engagement, and interest the musicians indicate they experience in intense absorption?

One way of describing it would be that in intense absorption the musician’s focus shifts from being on particular objects to embracing the situation as a whole. This does not indicate distance; on the contrary, it describes the integration with something larger than oneself that often happens in these states. As there is no experience of distance or disinterest in one’s bodily and affective self, but rather an increased focus through the body, intense absorption could be seen as a state characterized by bodily and affective agency. Høffding’s understanding, as well as the most common way of understanding agency, is based on the traditional dualistic and hierarchical idea that the self equals the mind, and that the bodily self is “automatic”, “pre-egoic”, and without the ability of agency – an understanding that often falls short in matters of art.

One could say that in intense absorption the mind is put on hold or is participating in a sparse manner; at that stage, judgments and objectifications are not needed to perform the activity. The bodily self has full power and control over the musical performance, works hard, and enjoys it.

Just like it is possible to be totally engaged in the analysis of a philosophical text, only to later to “wake up” and realize one is hungry or that one’s leg is “asleep”, one can shift focus from an everyday consciousness in performance to an utterly engaged bodily and affective focus.

Some of the above mentioned aspects seem close to what Høffding finds in his theory of performative passivity: the “blurring of the subject/object distinction” (215), “a powerful change in the deepest layers of subjectivity” (175), the opening to something larger than one’s self, for instance “musical interkinesthetic affectivity” (246), and the reliance upon the bodily (195). But Høffding favours the understanding of passivity and a receptive self in intense absorption and finds ways throughout the book to emphasise this.

In his theoretical investigations, Høffding occasionally uses quotes outside of their intended contexts. Referencing Evan Thompson, Høffding writes: “Lucid dreaming is essentially marked by a phenomenal distance to oneself (…)” (154). But on the page referred to in Thompson’s book “Waking, Dreaming, Being” (2015), there is no mention of distance in lucid dreaming. Thompson elaborates upon the I as dreamer and the I as dreamed in this manner: “These are not two entities or things; they’re two kinds of self-awareness, two modes of self-experience” (Thompson 2015, 140).

In another example, Høffding discusses the experience of objects in passive intentionality with Dan Zahavi. He mentions Zahavi’s “recent, comprehensive work on Husserl” (184), and glosses Zahavi as making a point about passivity (184). But the actual page concerns “the world annihilation” thought-experiment from Husserl’s “Ideen 1”, and says nothing about passivity.

Another example of biased use of theoretical evidence is Høffding’s references to the Kantian notion of aesthetic disinterest. He interprets this disinterest as “not soliciting engagement, but mere distanced observation” (124) and compares it with the quartet’s experiences of “observation as neutral” and not being “part of the set-up” (125). Though I’m far from being a Kant scholar, it is clear enough that Kant’s notion of aesthetic disinterest differs from our everyday understanding of the term disinterest. The Kantian term covers an interest in the aesthetic object as experienced in its own right – the immediate, direct perception of the aesthetic object. The lack of interest is a lack of interest in the object’s utility and determinate meaning. Høffding seems to understand and use aesthetic disinterest in a different manner – as an experience of observing from a distance without engagement.

Performative Passivity

Høffding interprets Husserl’s theory of passive and active synthesis as holding that passive and active are opposing ends of a smooth continuum. As such, Høffding repeatedly mentions that the theory “fits like hand in glove” (178) with the altered state of the self found in intense absorption; characterizing this type of absorption as that of extreme passivity and differing from other types of absorption mainly in degree. Taken together with his lack of patience for the expertise debate’s dichotomy between reflection and pre-reflection (113), one gets the impression that passivity and activity in passive and active synthesis must be experiences of consciousness that are altogether different from reflection and pre-reflection – a Husserlian gem unknown to most of us, presented in this book as the resolution of dualistic thinking about artistically absorbed subjects. But a more thorough look at Husserl’s theory, in parallel with Høffding’s book, shows that even though the distinction between activity and passivity is not the distinction between reflection and pre-reflection, we are not faced with a distinctly alternative description of subjective experience. The theory of passive and active synthesis is Husserl’s further investigation into how the deepest pre-reflective layers of subjectivity influence and cooperate with the subject’s active and intentional acts, being it on a pre-reflective or a reflective level. Musicians are, doubtlessly, undergoing passive and active syntheses during their concerts. We all are, every day. There is nothing extraordinary in experiencing passive and active syntheses. Husserl’s theory is rather an extraordinarily profound description of our consciousness structures (as far as this author understands Husserliana 11).

I agree with Høffding, though, that describing intense absorption “as a certain relationship between reflective and pre-reflective awareness, or as a specially trained form of reflection or pre-reflection” (176) is insufficient. This terminology is based on an out-dated, dualistic hierarchy where mind reigns over a body, upon which it simultaneously depends. Yet, Høffding still seems to buy into this hierarchy by describing a bodily and affectively active subject as “passive” – just because the subject’s mind is passive. By calling one of the intense states absorbed not-being-there – when his qualitative material states that it is an experience of “really being there” (57) and of being “immensely present” (67) – Høffding seems to ignore the fact that there are parts of us that are indeed there in intense absorption, even when “the head is completely empty” (57). To be fair; Høffding does not entirely deny this in his conclusions. But his semantics, and what seems to be his overall view of what a subject is, contradicts his evidence.

So, how does Høffding see passivity as compatible with absorption? Does it make sense to say that musicians get increasingly immersed in their work by means of a path from absentmindedness to mind wandering, past daydreaming to intense absorption – all during habitual playing? (70) It sounds rather vacuous – and Høffding actually labels absorbed not-being-there as “vacuous” (83). What would be one’s drive and motive, as a musician, then? Høffding’s answer is that music as a structure affords cooperation and absorption (252) – one is simply drawn to it.

When asked how the “primitive phenomenality” of a passive self can produce “complex and beautiful music”, Høffding answers that the musical work performed through the body schema and the musicians’ “emotional engagement” is sufficient for that purpose (250).

Perhaps this process of random perception of impressions from one’s life-world, combined with “letting loose of one’s emotions” during the performance of one’s memorized work is enough for some performing artists. I am not able to tell. But when it comes to creators of art, this theory’s applicability seems even more limited. Improvising performers are creators, alongside painters, composers, choreographers, sculptors, poets and others. Creating and producing art from scratch cannot be explained as habitual activity and haphazard receptivity.

Many creators, like many performers, experience their artistic activities as a kind of “conversation” with the world and their fellow human beings – just like Fredrik does (64). There are things you want to express and share through your art. “In the same way that I do not think about the technicalities of talking, so do I not think about the technicalities of playing”, Fredrik says (64), and divulges that these processes are not necessarily conceptually reflective – neither are they passive and anonymous.

Trusting the body schema in order to “let go” and get absorbed, might prove to be problematic for creators and performers of improvised art. Høffding claims that “if those micro movements are not in perfect place, the necessary trust will not be relegated and the distanced or ex-static view of one’s own body will not be enabled” (171). In improvised dance, in much jazz music, and in the performance of classical Indian ragas, for example, there is no way of preparing “every micro movement” – these art forms are created and performed simultaneously.

It is, therefore, not clear to me how Høffding’s theory of performative passivity could serve as universal within the field of musical absorption. Besides, I am far from convinced that this theory accounts for the active body in sufficient detail. That being said, I find Høffding’s qualitative research and cooperation with the four musicians intriguing and inspiring.

What Høffding writes is of importance. We are not often made aware of our possibilities of mere receptivity, of “letting go” (of the mind’s activities), of “being open” and “one with the world” in the way radical passivity allows us. Høffding’s book reminds us of these possibilities. Undergoing these aspects in passive and active synthesis is necessary in order to become absorbed in artistic and aesthetic activity and experience. I don’t find the theory of performative passivity sufficient as an argument for what absorption amounts to, but I appreciate the book. It bears evidence of a hardworking, passionate, insistent, and thorough philosopher and researcher.

References:

Husserl, Edmund. 1966. Analysen zur passiven Synthesis: Aus Vorlesungs- und Forschungsmanuskripten 1918-1926. Nijhoff: Den Haag.

Thompson, Evan. 2015. Waking, Dreaming, Being. Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy. Colombia University Press: New York.

Zahavi, Dan. 2017. Husserl’s Legacy. Phenomenology, Metaphysics, and Transcendental Philosophy. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

Jorella Andrews: The Question of Painting: Re-thinking Thought with Merleau-Ponty

The Question of Painting: Rethinking Thought with Merleau-Ponty Book Cover The Question of Painting: Rethinking Thought with Merleau-Ponty
Jorella Andrews
Bloomsbury
2018
Hardback £76.50
352

Reviewed by: Nikoleta Zampaki (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens,
Greece)

The Question of Painting. Re-thinking Thought with Merleau-Ponty offers a unique and refreshing perspective on fields including visual studies, phenomenology, ecophenomenology, inter-artistic relations, and studies of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy. By developing an inter-artistic approach, Jorella Andrews demonstrates how phenomenology is relevant for painting. The title indicates the central thesis: perception and experience are aesthetic, so that there is an art of painting and an art of perception. Perceptual experience is open to interpretation in a way that is analogous to works of art.

The book is organized around a chronological account of Merleau-Ponty’s works and thought and its connections with art, highlighting how painting, as a way of exploration and artistic expression, articulates its contents and discourses on many aspects of daily life. Indeed, in the Visible and the Invisible, Merleau-Ponty points us in this direction: “Essence and existence, the imaginary and the real, the visible and the invisible, painting blurs all our categories in unfolding its oneiric universe of carnal essences, of efficient resemblances, and of silent significations”. (1) The instauration of appearing as such in painting is interpreted extensively through Andrews’ book. Painting represents but at the same time paints the invisible visibility of the visible. The focus here is on Merleau-Ponty’s later works, especially The Visible and the Invisible, Eye and Mind, and the Notes de cours 1959-1961. Andrews’ aim is to illuminate and trace a new ontological perspective as it emerges in these works.

Andrews reads works of art, particularly paintings, as disclosing a certain mutation of man and being. Moreover, Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology examines the embodied and interactive perception as well as the matter of experience. Phenomenological and artistic reflection are closely connected and this book clarifies how artistic standpoints ought to be examined in parallel with phenomenological investigation. In Merleau- Ponty’s thought aesthesis and aesthetics are intertwined. Embodiment has its own vitality and the feedback between artist and artwork represent the relation between body and world. Thus, Merleau-Ponty’s analysis of art centers on bodily presence, representation and feelings in the context of experience. The book also describes Merleau-Ponty’s aesthetic world as an opening contraction of the human world. Sensory experience is implicated in aesthetics and both are grounded in the body. The painter both experiences the world through the body and draws the world’s Totality. It is insofar as he or she is in contact with the realm of the visible that she or he is able to experience this Totality. This cosmic model of representation can be described as a Gestalt.

Andrews analyzes nature, rationalism, empiricism, dualism and behaviorism through the cognitive field that remarks the significance of Gestalt. In place of empiricism and intellectualism, Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology offers a vision on the matter of subjectivity and world as an accommodation of thought. Merleau-Ponty’s critique of Cartesian representationalism and its consequences has been taken up within cognitive philosophy and the philosophy of mind. Cartesian rationalism was unable to overcome the central artistic dimensions of depth. Andrews describes all these fields deeply and thoroughly, and she frames and places Merleau-Ponty’s thought within an artistic context.

Drawing on the concept of aesthetics, the book focuses on the presentation of the cooperative relationship between being and environment, as well as the structure of being and its presence in phenomenological and artistic context. Indeed, in the act of reading this book, all of our senses are participating to realize Merleau-Ponty’s aesthetic experience. We can perceive its uniqueness, which can be described by Merleau-Ponty’s terms and experience. This books draws the visible invisibility to the visual field of phenomenology and aesthetics. Our nature is collaborating with the Gestalt to touch Merleau-Ponty’s thoughts on art, a goal to which Andrews contributes with her magisterial writing.

The first part of the book reinserts phenomenology and its eco-spirit into the critical and theoretical framework of phenomenology and painting. Every being has its own consciousness and exhibits the structure of itself. The matter of embodiment and embodied perception are central axis of Merleau-Ponty’s thought throughout his works. Paul Cézanne was the painter who remains the basic example in in Merleau-Ponty’s works, thought he also draws on other painters, including Paul Klee and Henri Matisse. The formal philosophical thought of Merleau-Ponty intersects with the works of Cézanne and other painters as if they express what in transcendental phenomenology remains a mystery. The analysis of flesh follows from Merleau-Ponty’s recuperation of Cézanne, Klee and Matisse in their effort to capture the primodial and perpetual a priori opening to the open and the power of sense making. Flesh is the primordial instituting linguistic power that opens the world sensibly and instituting the human being as independent into the experience of the world.

Andrews refers to the theoretical framework of the art 20th and 21st centuries and engages a wider and better vision of the artistic discipline in order to introduce Merleau-Ponty’s thought on painting. Her reading of Merleau-Ponty’s notion of flesh is relative to painting. There is a carnal ground binding into a style of particular differentiation between brushwork, coloration, and technical processes, for instance that of impressionism or expressionism. Many philosophical and artistic concepts cover and at the same time unfold the question of painting and its impact on Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy. Three basic phenomenological ideas are embodied perception, lived body, and visible matters. Perception relies on lived experience and requires the contribution of our body, making the embodied nature of cognition form our perception.

The second part of the book considers extended thought and draws an illuminating connection among the body, embodiment, and the matter of art. Andrews shows that embodiment plays a major role within art, enabling the artist to integrate the spatiotemporal features of the body’s environment. Perception amounts to the body’s engagement with the world and picture our reality, a co-constitution of the lifeworld and the brain. The subjective body (Leib) and the objective body (Körper) forms a dialectical unity. Andrews recalls that the subjective body is the background of all the forms of experiences and especially the artistic. Inter-corporeity is the basis of our experience and artistic dimension whereas objectification is secondary aspect.

In the third part of the book Andrews focuses on linguistic concepts and on the theme of representation both in Merleau-Ponty’s work and in art. The phenomenon of resonance between linguistic tool and art is investigated extensively. Discourse plays the major role in the expression’s tools and mechanisms of artistic references. For example, Merleau-Ponty’s metaphors, as Andrews makes clear, are used as expressions of the lived experience of the subject and show how his thought is formed around the aesthetic experience of the phenomenological process. His metaphors hide an experimental and experiential spirit. The author exposes Merleau-Ponty’s immanent expressivity and creation of meanings. Underlying Merleau-Ponty’s conviction that personal expression (speech) is more meaningful than the impersonal (sedimented language) is a fundamental naturalism.

The fourth part of the book focuses on Merleau-Ponty’s terms such as flesh, visible, invisible, and chiasm as the main points of reinserting painting and artistic discourse into phenomenology through an ontological perspective. The field of vision and its depth through being’s embodiment is given in a vivid spirit, through memorable examples. Merleau-Ponty holds that the perceiver is embedded in the aesthetic space and interacts with it through experiences and senses. Flesh is the bridge between Leib and nature. Andrews notices the linguistic frameworks that aim to take our lived experience and inter-corporeity into an account of art. Linguistic resonance is strongly at play in inter-affectivity and artistic responses and leads that involved the entire subject’s body.

The book demonstrates how deeply the phenomenological and artistic traditions are connected and draws a perspective through a prismatic discipline in the phenomenological context. Andrews presents and re-presents the matter of intra-corporeality in the sense that subjectivity and objectivity are in dialogue. The microscopic world of living is in dialogue with the macroscopic world of painting through the linguistic resonance of inter-artistic relations. Moroever, the picture of embodiment and embodied cognition that is developed here impacts debates concerning the dignity of the person and life. The accounts of perception and of art are organic, interdependent, and dynamic.

The whole book provides an overview of Merleau-Ponty’s thought. But it also offers new points of view on the fields described above and never loses sight of the phenomenological field of Merleau-Ponty’s eco-artistic perspective. Andrews reinserts the reader to Merleau-Ponty’s thought and way of thinking as living communication with the world. The book contributes significantly to the intense debate concerning oculocentrism in the 1980s and guided by phenomenology at every critical juncture. In conclusion, it addresses major topics and motivates readers to explore an interesting field of research, which is still open to new interventions. The book is a welcome affirmation of the fluidity and versatility of Merleau-Ponty’s thinking, and promises to open the door to new intellectual and phenomenological creativity.

References:

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 1964. Le visible et l’invisible, C. Lefort (ed.), Paris: Gallimard.

Adam Y. Wells: The Manifest and the Revealed: A Phenomenology of Kenōsis

The Manifest and the Revealed: A Phenomenology of Kenosis Book Cover The Manifest and the Revealed: A Phenomenology of Kenosis
SUNY series in Theology and Continental Thought
Adam Y. Wells. Foreword by Kevin Hart
SUNY Press
2018
Hardback $80.00
206

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

Radicalisation as Entmenschlichung

Notes on the credibility of a phenomenology of Scripture

Since the exegete exists historically and must hear the word of Scripture as spoken in his special historical situation, he will always understand the old word anew. Always anew it will tell him who he, man, is and who God is, and he will always have to express this word in a new conceptuality. Thus it is true also of Scripture that it only is what it is with its history and its future.

Rudolf Bultmann, ‘Is Exegesis Without Presuppositions Possible?’, 296.[1]

Adam Wells’ new book, The Manifest and the Revealed: A Phenomenology of Kenōsis, is a provocative one. With Husserl, it takes up once more the dream of phenomenology as an absolute science, that is to say, a presuppositionless science that as such is able to ground all positive sciences. In doing so, Wells sees an analogy between the phenomenological gesture of reduction and Paul’s so-called kenosis hymn (Philippians 2:5-11). Exploring this analogy by operating a kenotic reduction, he sets up a phenomenology of Scripture in which the phenomenological method and Scripture mutually clarify one another (97-117). It is in this phenomenology of Scripture that contemporary Biblical criticism ought to be grounded, according to Wells, because it alone does not let itself be restricted by dogmatic presuppositions that arbitrarily impose limits on how and to what extent the experience of Scripture enters the field of inquiry. Only this phenomenology would be presuppositionless, thus forming an absolute science of Scripture, that is able to ground the scientificity of positive Biblical criticism. The thrust of the book is then made up of an intriguing critique of contemporary Biblical criticism, the problem with which, Wells suggests, “is not that it is overly scientific, but that it is not scientific enough” (150).[2]

To those of us shaped by his most significant critics, Heidegger and Derrida, Husserl’s dream of an absolute science sounds more like the stuff of nightmares. Wells is all too aware of this and admits from the outset that there are very good reasons to be suspicious of the very idea of absolute science “as a modernist, metaphysical ideal” (1), pointing to the calamities of the twentieth century as an example. Yet, he says, entirely abandoning the dream of absolute science would amount to giving up “any ability to ground the sciences, to determine the boundaries of scientific inquiry, and to provide answers to meta-theoretical questions about the ethical status of the sciences. (…) For that, one needs absolute science; one needs a way to ground the sciences in the broader context of the life-world” (2). Returning us to the foundational need that was felt so urgently in the first decades of the last century—embodied philosophically by Husserl and theologically by Barth—, the “‘dream’ of absolute science is not a metaphysical ideal,” for Wells, “but a practical necessity” (2). Of course, this simply ignores the fact that said dream could very well be both a metaphysical ideal and a practical necessity at the same time: as it was for Kant, for whom the moral God is needed to make the scientific endeavour meaningful whilst remaining himself outside the scope of that endeavour, which secures the very nature of ethical reasoning as distinct from science and thus able to ask such questions about science.[3] Kant’s insight is precisely that even though something may be practically necessary, that does not make it theoretically possible; it is a question of making this impossibility into an asset rather than an obstacle (as Derrida knew all too well). Nevertheless, Wells intends “to dream Husserl’s dream again, to reopen the question of absolute science, navigating between the practical necessity of such a science and the temptation to universalize it” (2).

Aware of how this sounds, however, he is quick to note that both absolute and science will “lose their mundane imperial connotations when transformed phenomenologically” (7). The first half of the book executes that phenomenological transformation by spelling out what Wells means by absolute science. Throughout its three chapters, Wells tracks the radicalisation of phenomenology and its reduction from Husserl’s early static phenomenology, through his later genetic phenomenology, and up to the constructive phenomenology developed by Eugen Fink and Anthony Steinbock. This exposition perhaps contains little that would be new to anyone familiar with the basics of phenomenological philosophy and its transcendental method, but it is remarkably clear and—unlike much Husserl scholarship and to Wells’ great credit—avoids any self-indulgent revelling in the immense technical complexity of Husserl’s philosophy: like all good phenomenology, this is a constructive work.

The phenomenologically transformed conception of absolute science Wells ends up with is then the following. Starting with science, he says that whilst “mundane sciences are concerned with that which is given in the world; phenomenology is concerned with how the given becomes given” (60). In other words, unlike the positive sciences, phenomenology is not a science of innerwordly objects; as an absolute science, it considers the constitutive source of these objects as unities of meaning and is operative within the new ontological field that Husserl calls transcendental subjectivity, which is opened up by the reduction: “Absolute science must, therefore, be a science of transcendental subjectivity” (20), for “as the source of all objectivity,” it is “the proper subject matter of absolute science” (21). So far, so Husserlian. For his understanding of the absolute, then, Wells turns to Fink, who defines the absolute as the synthetic unity of the whole of transcendental life, not merely the constitution of objects, but also the transcendental act of phenomenologising itself. That is to say, phenomenology is absolute because it maintains itself in a circular self-referentiality: the transcendental reflection on the constitution of objects itself leads to a transcendental reflection on the phenomenological method, which then in turn renews the transcendental reflection on constitution. “In the phenomenological reduction,” as Wells puts it, “transcendental subjectivity investigates its own constituting activity. Consequently, if phenomenology is going to be complete, if it is going to investigate all aspects of transcendental subjectivity, then it must investigate its own investigation, in the form of a transcendental theory of method. (…) The ultimate ‘object’ of phenomenology is the transcendental subject” (57-58).

As such, Wells believes to have seen off the modernist imperialist connotations of the notion of absolute science: “Consequently, phenomenology is not a universal science even if it is an absolute science. As a scientific practice on the part of transcendental subjectivity, phenomenology is within the process of genesis even as it evaluates the generation of givenness. (…) Phenomenology has no right to the phrase ‘once and for all’” (46). Indeed, precisely because, as caught up in its own circular self-referentiality, phenomenology exists in an infinite hermeneutic circle that it cannot escape to define the absolute ‘once and for all’: since it is itself absolute, “phenomenology cannot transcend the Absolute in order to offer a final objective account of the absolute” (71). This is an impressive and sound argument. However, at the same time, if “phenomenology guarantees its absoluteness only to the extent that it is self-referential” (51), the conception of the absolute offered is merely a formal one that lacks any material content. Wells, as it were, gives us no entry into the hermeneutic circle.

Yet, this is entirely the point, for it is here that absolute science becomes an absolute science of Scripture, that phenomenology becomes a phenomenology of Scripture, which follows from the radicalisation of phenomenology as such. For, Wells remarks, “while Fink’s ‘theory of method’ goes a long way toward radicalizing Husserl’s concept of absolute science, it remains incomplete inasmuch as Fink never connects the theory of method to any particular phenomenal element. Fink never performs absolute science” (150). In virtue of phenomenology or absolute science’s circular structure, the absolute cannot be defined in advance, but only takes shape within the practice (the performance) of phenomenology, within the phenomenological analysis of phenomena: “absolute science only becomes absolute in concrete application. That is to say, the method of absolute science cannot be specified in advance; it must be derived from concrete engagement with phenomena” (2). The material element chosen by Wells to make the formal notion of absolute science substantive is Scripture: “the phenomenological idea of absolute science,” he says, “gains real content inasmuch as theoretical phenomenological reflection exists in a ‘synthetic unity’ with scripture itself” (156). That is to say, following Fink, Scripture is a positive phenomenal element, transcendental reflection on which leads inevitably to transcendental reflection on the phenomenological method itself and thus fleshes out that method (makes it leibhaftig). As such, it is indeed the case that “Scripture and phenomenology elucidate one another within the circular hermeneutic of absolute science” (3).  However, insofar as Wells seems to imply more generally that “if scripture requires phenomenological clarification,” it would be the case that “phenomenology requires scriptural clarification” (2), he seems to be taking this a bit too far: Scripture is but one possible material element amongst many capable of clarifying the formal method, even if phenomenological reduction and the kenosis hymn are analogous in structure.

Having made the bridge between phenomenology and Scripture—namely that, to be a properly absolute science, phenomenology must be performed or applied to particular phenomenal elements, in this case Scripture—, we can now consider how Wells performs phenomenology, how he develops his phenomenology of Scripture as an absolute science of Scripture in the second half of the book. He proceeds by reading the kenosis hymn phenomenologically in order to argue that it “operates as a type of phenomenological reduction—a kenotic reduction that is, in the end, far more radical than Husserl’s reduction” (97), which means, given the circular structure of phenomenology, that phenomenology is itself in the end kenotic. This kenotic reduction is a bold but perhaps flawed idea. Its original sin is perhaps that it is based on an extremely uncritical reprisal of Fink’s understanding of the reduction that links it to divine cognition, the formulation of which Wells repeatedly cites throughout the book: “already in German idealism,” Fink says, “there was the recognition that the traditional antithesis between ‘intellectus archetypus’ and ‘intellectus ectypus’, which constituted metaphysical difference between human and divine knowledge, in truth signified the antithesis between human and un-humanized (entmenscht) philosophical cognition,”[4] which would mean that “phenomenologizing is not a human possibility at all, but signifies precisely the un-humanizing of man, the passing of human existence (…) into the transcendental subject. (…) Before phenomenologizing is actually realized in carrying out the reduction there is no human possibility of cognizing phenomenologically (…). Just as man is the transcendental subject closed off to its own living depths, so too all human possibilities are closed off to the inner transcendentality of the subject. Man cannot as man phenomenologize, that is, the human mode of being cannot perdure through the actualization of phenomenological cognition. Performing the reduction means for man to rise beyond (to transcend) himself, it means to rise beyond himself in all his human possibilities.”[5] It is here, Wells says, that “the analogy between reduction and the kenosis hymn becomes clear. By bracketing the world, and all being in the world, the human ‘I’ of the natural attitude calls into question that which it fundamentally is. The human ‘I’ relinquishes its ties to the world, emptying itself of its own humanity” (104). Kenosis, for Wells, is thus not the divine emptying itself of its divinity and in doing so becoming human; but, somewhat bizarrely, the human being emptying itself of its own humanity (being-in-the-world) and in doing so achieving transcendental (un-worldly) consciousness, which is then identified with the divine: “what is ‘emptied’ is not Christ’s divinity, nor his status vis-à-vis God, but the status of the cosmos as the primary source of truth and value. The kenotic reduction opens up the possibility that worldly authority and value are not primary but derivative,” namely of transcendental, un-humanised, un-worldly, even divine (!) processes of constitution; indeed, “in the kenotic epochē, the cosmos is bracketed as the ground of truth and value, and the world is revealed as a new creation, which is renewed and sustained by God’s infinite love and power. Kenōsis, in this reduced sense, is not an ‘emptying out’ but an ‘overflowing’ of God’s love unto creation” (3).  The kenotic reduction, then, is a “reduction from cosmos to ‘new creation’” (107). The rest of the book is then spent outlining the structure of this ‘new creation’ through a critique of Husserl’s phenomenology of time-consciousness, which, by the standards of the kenotic reduction, Wells considers not yet fully reduced (131). By way of an eloquent discussion of Lacoste and Fink, he shows how “the kenotic reduction brackets the cosmos, and discloses a new creation, in which space-time is a horizon whose essential horizontality is [divine] represencing” (147).

However, Wells’ conceptualisation of both kenosis and reduction strikes me as problematic, precisely because of the uncritical way in which it assumes Fink’s conception of the reduction and the related primacy of transcendental subjectivity understood as a transcending of finite being-in-the-world. First of all, Husserl’s notion of transcendental subjectivity has received its fair share of criticism, even Wells himself calls it “problematic” (9). It is therefore odd that this further radicalisation of transcendental subjectivity as explicitly un-humanised is taken over by Wells without reflecting on it critically at all (even though, as I said, the quotation returns multiple times, giving him ample opportunity). What does it mean to say that in doing phenomenology we would somehow transcend our humanity as such? What could possibly be left of me, or of any consciousness, once I have transcended my humanity?[6] What comes to mind here is Kierkegaard’s constant mocking of the thinker who—in his attempt to be sub specie aeterni, in forgetting to think everything he thinks along with the fact that he exists—simply ends up thinking something unreal, illusionary and irrelevant. Not even reduction can lift us out of our humanity, for even the reduction must first surely be initiated by finite human beings existing in the world: even the phenomenologist as phenomenologist is finite; Husserl is dead. “When one has abstracted from everything, is it not the case then that, etc.,” Kierkegaard sighs, “Yes, when one has abstracted from everything. Let us be human beings.”[7] Perhaps Fink and Wells have a counter-argument that refutes this exasperation at such overzealous use of the reduction; however, if they do, it is never offered and the critique—which nevertheless seems somewhat obvious—is not pre-empted. In the absence of a persuasive reason for why I should un-humanise myself in order to do phenomenology, it seems more worthwhile to remember Kierkegaard’s warning that “one who exists is prohibited from wanting to forget that he exists.”[8]

This Entmenschlichung can also be questioned theologically, this time not in terms of the reduction, but in terms of what functions here as its analogue, namely kenosis and its incarnational character. As we know, for Wells, “what is ultimately emptied in the kenotic epochē is not Christ’s divinity (…), but the status of the cosmos as the ultimate ground of truth and value; Christ’s kenotic act—whether one emphasizes the incarnation or the cross—turns worldly hierarchies upside down. The very idea that one who is equal to God (…) would choose to become human and become crucified is completely at odds with worldly notions of divine power and authority. From the worldly standpoint, it makes little sense to forgo divine power in favour of human existence and slavish death. One would never choose to die like a slave when given the option to be Caesar; to do so would be inhuman” (105, see also 114). This, in my view, gets it precisely the wrong way round: that it is a human being doing something inhuman is precisely the point. If it were simply God who chose to die as a slave, would we really be all that bothered? After all, for God, all things are possible­. It is a human being, in which God has emptied himself of his divinity and taken on the full existential reality of the human being,[9] who chooses to do something in-human—precisely that is what makes up the scandal of the Christian story and its power: worldly hierarchies are turned upside down from within the world itself by an event that transforms the structure of the world, opening it up from within unto the kingdom that is coming. That God’s power is completely at odds with ‘worldly notions of divine power and authority’ is likewise precisely the point of his power, namely that it is, as John Caputo puts it, “madness from the point of view of the ‘world’.”[10] Indeed, Caputo’s weak theology, which thinks God’s power precisely as his weakness, forms a much needed nuance to the disconcertingly strong theology of power that seems to be underlying Wells’ phenomenology: the divine is not reached by way of the impossible, by transcending the human (what on earth would this even mean?); rather, it is a question of being able to entertain the im-possible humanity of the un-human, the im-possible possibility of the impossible (Derrida).[11]

If uncritically relying on an un-humanised transcendental subjectivity is problematic, it surely is even more so when this transcendental subjectivity is identified with God. Yet, this seems to be the final move in Wells’ formulation of the kenotic reduction: “In reduction, the transcendental subject achieves that which is impossible for human subjectivity, namely, un-humanized or ‘divine’ philosophical cognition of the world (…). In reduction, man rises above the world as the pre-given ground of truth and value, and therefore exceeds worldly possibilities. The world, the cosmos, is revealed as the end product of the constituting acts of transcendental subjectivity; or to put it theologically, the cosmos is created” (107). This extraordinary claim, which amounts to a theologisation of the reduction in which transcendental cognition is identified with divine cognition and the transcendental field itself with divine creative activity, strikes me as unprepared by the argument and therefore unwarranted phenomenologically (in spite of the language Fink uses). In other words, a theological leap is performed here that must be resisted by phenomenology precisely as phenomenology until its legitimacy can be established phenomenologically. Without this, I see no reason again to follow Wells in his expansion of Husserlian notions of transcendence and subjectivity “by integrating the transcendental subject into the divine life” (117).

The problem becomes particularly acute, I feel, when this kenotic phenomenology is applied to Scripture in Wells’ absolute science of Scripture: for reading Scripture “in a kenotically reduced way,” would mean heeding the kenotic reduction’s instruction “to bracket the cosmos as the source of truth, validity, and meaning. No language or mode of reason derived from the cosmos should predetermine our reading of scripture” (108). We have now thus achieved Wells’ absolute science (or phenomenology) of Scripture, in the sense of an inquiry that “places no dogmatic restrictions on the experiences and contexts of scripture; every mode of scriptural givenness is, in principle, open for phenomenological investigation” (25). Though Wells stresses that this absolute science does not negate but instead underlies empirical Biblical criticism (23), it is worth noting that this does nevertheless appear to lay waste to immense parts of the tradition of said criticism: “So, for instance, Heidegger’s Dasein, restricted as it is to a worldly conception of finitude, cannot determine our phenomenological hermeneutic in the way that it determined Rudolf Bultmann’s strategy of ‘demythologisation.’ More importantly, in bracketing worldly modes of reason and language, huge swaths of Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy (…) are ruled out” (108). When reflected back, in virtue of its circular or absolute character, on the phenomenological method itself, we find that there too a conceptual purification (reduction) should be performed: Husserl’s idea of monadicity, for example, is simply declared “not relevant here,” for “divine life is the source of infinitely overflowing power and love, while ‘monadicity’ is a concept derived from worldly finitude” (117).

Yet, after so much reduction, after such a thorough cleaning out of our conceptual apparatus, what remains when the dust has settled? Not much of interest to anyone actually living their life, Kierkegaard might answer, which should worry us. Indeed, according to Wells, we would be left with the unadulterated “experience of scripture” (24). Yet, at no point does he provide a description of what this experience might be. Though again, as I discussed, this is of course entirely the point: he does not provide us with an a priori entry into the hermeneutic circle in which this experience takes shape, precisely because it only takes shape within or as that circle. However, one wonders if Wells has not closed that circle in on itself to the point of the experience having no worldly subject, and thus being inaccessible to us as human beings (hence, perhaps, Nancy and Derrida’s emphasis on the ellipsis, rather than the circle, that all writing and thinking completes).[12] For in reducing, if we reduce too far, it is very possible to reduce away the very structures that make appearance possible (say, human finitude), thus causing appearance to disappear in its own impossibility. Here again, Wells’ account fails to address or at least to pre-empt a powerful objection that is easily raised by someone like Caputo: “the truth is gained not by approaching things without presuppositions—can you even imagine such a thing?—but by getting rid of inappropriate presuppositions (frame) and finding the appropriate ones, the very ones that give us access to the things in question. (…) ‘Absolute’ knowledge absolves itself of the very conditions under which knowledge is possible in the first place. Presupposing nothing results in knowing nothing.”[13] Note that this critique is directed against absolute, rather than universal knowledge: it is not a question of the scope of the epistemic domain, but of the conditions under which the judgement is valid. As Kant might have said, absolute anything is simply nothing. Wells is often quick, like Husserl, to dismiss “dogmatic restrictions” placed on the field of inquiry by presuppositions; however, like Fink, he never considers whether it is perhaps these presuppositions that might be what opens up that field of inquiry (as opposed to reduction), what provides an entry into the circle absolute science completes (and which reduction closes off), for us as human beings in the first place: precisely because we are finite human beings living in the world, we are limited; “but that limit also gives us an angle of entry, an approach, a perspective, an interpretation. God doesn’t need an angle, but we do. Having an angle is the way truths open up for us mortals.”[14] To pretend that we are anything but mortals, that we could somehow transcend our finitude and humanity, is to disregard the problems that confront us as such. If we continue radicalising phenomenology (be it with Husserl, Heidegger, Fink, Marion, or Henry), instead of practicing phenomenology, we risk losing sight of what show itself as such.[15]

This is not merely, it should be said—and this is particularly evident in the work of Lacoste—, an atheist humanism speaking the language of phenomenology; but equally entails a theological imperative: indeed, “it is necessary to read Lacoste,” Emmanuel Falque argues, “probably above anyone else, in order to see and to understand the degree to which theology itself actually insists upon and does not contradict finitude as such (understood as the limiting horizon of our existence).”[16] The seriousness of this problem should not be underestimated, for it essentially concerns the question of who the Bible is for, who it speaks to, who can access the experience of Scripture. A distinction, borrowed from Nancy, that Falque makes in relation to the Eucharist, might be helpful here as well: the Bible “is not only ‘believable’ (by giving faith), it is also ‘credible’ (with a universalisable rationality)—in which the present work maintains the pretention of addressing itself to all,” for the Christian message “is not simply one of conviction, but also one of ‘culture’, or of pure and simple humanity.”[17] Instead of being absolute but not universal, perhaps the phenomenology of Scripture should be universal but not absolute: addressing itself to all (opening itself up as universally credible)—and thus doing so in the language of the human and worldly finitude we all share (whether the message is believed or not)—, without the violent insistence of being true for everyone (absolutely). Indeed, if no language derived from the world can be used to read or make meaningful the Christian message as it is found in Scripture (108), that message shrivels up in itself and dies, for there is no other language available. Essentially, the distinction between the transcendental or absolute (phenomenological) and the empirical or positive (historical) science of Scripture is simply not tenable: “the science of history goes to work on all historical documents,” as Rudolf Bultmann argues, “there cannot be any exceptions in the case of biblical texts if the latter are at all to be understood historically. Nor can one object that the biblical writings do not intend to be historical documents, but rather affirmations of faith and proclamation. For however certain this may be, if they are ever to be understood as such, they must first of all be interpreted historically, inasmuch as they speak in a strange language in concepts of a faraway time, of a world-picture that is alien to us. Put quite simply, they must be translated, and translation is the task of historical science.”[18] Readings of Scripture are always predetermined by some presuppositions shared by a particular community, otherwise there simply could not be any reading (or experiencing). Falque summarises this nicely by saying that it is above all a question of culture: “It is incumbent on each of us to decide on this, and it is also a matter for all of humanity, at least in the doctrine and tradition of Western culture that we inherit. (…) My basic argument (…) is not put forward so as to convert or transform others. It comes down to an acceptance or recognition that Christianity has the cultural means, as well as the conceptual means, to touch the depths of our humanity.”[19] In other words, it is a matter of securing for Christianity its credibility, the means by which it can continue to be meaningful to us and today, universally yet not absolutely, to all but not therefore believable in just whatever situation: “the issue at stake in philosophy, but also in the theology of today, is to envisage the meaning, including the cultural one,” of Christianity, for it forms “the condition for God himself to continue to address himself to man.”[20]

Wells’ absolute though not universal science of Scripture, because it is a closed circular system (the absolute), cannot account for how God could still address himself (credibly) to man as man, how Scripture could speak across traditions, engage humanity as such in its community of being (universally): “This brand of radical phenomenology may well apply outside of the Christian context,” he says, “but only to the extent that there are concepts analogous to kenōsis operating in other traditions (as there surely are)” (157). What these analogous concepts would be, we are left to guess. Ironically, if this were indeed to be true—and hopefully it is—, it would detract from Wells’ argument: if different religious traditions all have analogous concepts, that means that those concepts themselves are not theological, but precisely concepts belonging to the world and originating in human finitude. Having rejected monadicity, different traditions (or phenomenological ‘homeworlds’) seem to function very much like Leibniz’s ‘monads without windows’ for Wells. Simultaneously, whilst Christianity, or at least its Scriptures, would lack the means to speak meaningfully to non-Christians (because the science of Scripture is not universally credible); it risks—and I say risks, because Wells is unclear about whether intra-Christian differentiation counts as different phenomenological homeworlds—suppressing all interpretative difference within the Christian tradition itself (because the science of Scripture is absolutely to-be-believed). However, precisely because, as Bultmann puts it, “historical knowledge is never a closed (…) knowledge,” to the degree that it maintains a reference to the knower’s ‘life-relation’—unlike Wells’ transcendental or absolute science which is circular and thus only self-referential—, it is better at avoiding the modernist pitfall: “For if the phenomena of history are not facts that can be neutrally observed, but rather open themselves in their meaning only to one who approaches them alive with questions, then they are always only understandable now in that they actually speak in the present situation. (…) It can definitively disclose itself only when history has come to an end.”[21] I am therefore not sure whether Wells is justified in concluding that “kenotically radicalised phenomenology brooks none of the modernist hope for universal science” (157), for his absolute but not universal science still has the distinct flavour of a localised modernity: believable, within a particular tradition, and perhaps even to-be-believed (absolutely valid or grounded within a particular homeworld); even if it is not universally credible, outside of that tradition, in the human community of being where it has lost all meaning because it has transcended what that community has in common—human finitude.

There is no virtue in radicalisation when it amounts to Entmenschlichung—perhaps only within the dry vocabulary of transcendental philosophy could these words somehow appear innocent. Simply observing that securing an absolute ground for the sciences is a practical necessity does not make it theoretically possible, which is a lesson we should finally learn after having witnessed one attempt after the other fail over the course of what is now more than a century since Husserl first articulated this ambition (though, of course, it predates him). Instead, we need a discourse that “learns to appreciate the groundlessness of what is happening”[22] (Caputo), making the best of it in a “practical conversion of the theoretically ‘impossible’” that has “the objective reality of the task (Aufgabe)”[23] (Nancy), to be performed in the world itself as world. We must avoid that this ever-continuing radicalisation of phenomenology turns Husserl’s dream into a nightmare, whilst the coextensive desire for a scientific (be it a phenomenological or theological) grounding of Biblical criticism obfuscates the outrageous and life-transforming message of Scripture, or at least its worldly direction and medium: the result of a phenomenology of Scripture cannot be that the message found therein loses its credibility.[24] 


[1] Rudolf Bultmann, ‘Is Exegesis Without Presuppositions Possible?’ in Existence and Faith: Shorter Writings of Rudolf Bultmann, trans. by Schubert M. Ogden (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1960), 289-296 (296).

[2] Wells also formulates this critique theologically, though less prominently, by saying that “modern biblical criticism (…) lacks a theological grounding” (81). In that sense, Wells’ phenomenological account of an absolute science of Scripture is similar to Darren Sarisky’s recent theological account of a theological reading of the Bible (published just two months after Wells’ volume) in that they both reject naturalistic readings of Scripture in an attempt to ground Biblical criticism. For Sarisky’s account, see his Reading the Bible Theologically (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019).

[3] This is also the experience taking shape in those critics of Husserl that are dismissed by some as ‘nihilists’ because they would somehow have done away with very notion of an absolute. However, in reality, the exact opposite is true. Derrida, for example, expresses this well when he says that “there is a want for truth (il faut la vérité)” (see Jacques Derrida, Positions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 58n32 (trans. modified)): there is a need or a want for truth, precisely because truth is lacking; deconstruction is indeed motivated by the absolute, namely by its presence as absence in its constant displacement, which forms the very movement of différance.

[4] Eugen Fink, Sixth Cartesian Meditation: The Idea of a Transcendental Theory of Method, trans. by Ronald Bruzina (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), 77.

[5] Fink, Sixth Cartesian Meditation, 120.

[6] It should be pointed out that the human being for Fink (and Husserl) is probably not the same as what Heidegger calls Dasein, but rather refers to worldly or empirical consciousness whilst transcendental consciousness is constitutive of the world. On this, see: James McGuirk, ‘Phenomenological Reduction in Heidegger and Fink: On the Problem of the Way Back from the Transcendental to the Mundane Sphere’ in Philosophy Today, 53.3 (September 2009), 248-264.

[7] Søren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, trans. by Alastair Hannay (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 97.

[8] Kierkegaard, Postscript, 256.

[9] In kenosis understood along incarnational lines, God does not simply empty himself of his divinity in order to come into the flesh (Verleiblichung); but, by coming into the flesh, he also takes on the whole existential reality of man, namely his finitude and facticity (Menschwerdung). On this, see: Emmanuel Falque, ‘A Phenomenology of the Underground’ in The Loving Struggle: Phenomenological and Theological Debates, trans. by Bradley D. Onishi and Lucas McCracken (London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2018), 45-75; Emmanuel Falque, The Guide to Gethsemane: Anxiety, Suffering, Death (New York: Fordham University Press, 2018).

[10] John D. Caputo, The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006), 103.

[11] More generally, what one would not know from reading the book is that the theme of kenosis has gained remarkable currency within contemporary philosophy: not just in Caputo and Derrida, but also in Catherine Malabou, Gianni Vattimo, Jean-Luc Nancy and Emmanuel Falque. Though Wells has a chapter situating the kenosis hymn within contemporary Biblical criticism and theology, a philosophical consideration of the issue of kenosis is entirely absent. It seems wrong to me to identify the phenomenon of kenosis with Paul’s kenosis hymn. This is a missed opportunity and might lead one to wonder whether what this book provides is actually a kenotic phenomenology of Scripture, rather than a phenomenology of kenosis.

[12] For more on this, see: Jacques Derrida, ‘Ellipsis’ in Writing and Difference, trans. by Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 294-300; Jean-Luc Nancy, ‘Elliptical Sense’, trans. by Jonathan Derbyshire in A Finite Thinking (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 92-111.

[13] John D. Caputo, Truth: The Search for Wisdom in the Postmodern Age (London: Penguin, 2013), 182.

[14] Caputo, Truth, 13.

[15] On this, see also Frédéric Seyler’s ‘Is Radical Phenomenology Too Radical? Paradoxes of Michel Henry’s Phenomenology of Life’ in The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, 27.3 (2013), 277-286.

[16] Emmanuel Falque, ‘The Visitation of Facticity’ in The Loving Struggle: Phenomenological and Theological Debates, trans. by Bradley D. Onishi and Lucas McCracken (London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2018), 195-219 (196). See also Jean-Yves Lacoste, Experience and the Absolute: Disputed Questions on the Humanity of Man, trans. by Mark Raftery-Skehan (New York: Fordham University Press, 2004), 194: “Man takes hold of what is most proper to him when he chooses to encounter God. This argument can now be made more specific: we can now assert that man says who he is most precisely when he accepts an existence in the image of a God who has taken humiliation upon himself—when he accepts a kenotic existence.”

[17] Emmanuel Falque, The Wedding Feast of the Lamb: Eros, the Body, and the Eucharist, trans. by George Hughes (New York: Fordham University Press, 2016), 43 (trans. modified).

[18] Bultmann, ‘Is Exegesis Without Presuppositions Possible?’, 292.

[19] Falque, The Wedding Feast of the Lamb, 10.

[20] Emmanuel Falque, ‘Spread Body and Exposed Body: Dialogue with Jean-Luc Nancy’, trans. by Nikolaas Deketelaere and Marie Chabbert in Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, 26.1/2 (February-April 2021) (forthcoming).

[21] Bultmann, ‘Is Exegesis Without Presuppositions Possible?’, 294-295.

[22] John D. Caputo, The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013), 66.

[23] Jean-Luc Nancy, ‘Dies irae’ in La faculté de juger (Paris: Minuit, 1985), 9-54 (34).

[24] It is precisely this idea that forms the essential and lasting legacy of Bultmann’s work. David Congdon expresses it well in his ‘Is Bultmann a Heideggerian Theologian?’ in Scottish Journal of Theology, 70.1 (2017), 19-38 (38): “Translation is not the imperialistic removal of ideas from their native context; it is rather an act of intercultural communication. Translation is a dialogue between past and present that respects the cultural distinctiveness of both text and reader. It is actually the rejection of translation that is imperialistic, because that inevitably means denying the significance and value of some cultural context, whether ancient or modern.” Thus, even in asking valid and important questions like Wells does, “one must be careful not to criticise the act of translation as such, and thereby inadvertently undermine the capacity to facilitate genuine understanding across cultural barriers—thus undermining the possibility of theology itself.”

Guido Cusinato: Biosemiotica e Psicopatologia dell’Ordo Amoris. In Dialogo con Max Scheler

Biosemiotica e psicopatologia dell'«ordo amoris». In dialogo con Max Scheler Book Cover Biosemiotica e psicopatologia dell'«ordo amoris». In dialogo con Max Scheler
Filosofia. Etica e filosofia della persona
Guido Cusinato
Franco Angeli
2019
Hardback, € 33.00
292

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

“… ogni modo d’esser della mia vita e della mia condotta, giusto o sbagliato, o completamente errato, sarà determinato dal fatto dell’esserci o meno di un ordine oggettivamente corretto di questi moti del mio amore e del mio odio, della mia propensione e avversione, del mio interesse multiforme per le cose di questo mondo, nonché dalla possibilità che ho di imprimere questo ‘ordo amoris’ nel mio animo”

(Max Scheler, Ordo amoris, p. 109)

La vita emozionale è da sempre un forte tema di dibattito per la filosofia. A partire dall’antichità fino ad arrivare alla filosofia moderna, le cosiddette “passioni” ed “emozioni” sono state considerate come forze completamente differenti e contrapposte alla razionalità, e i più importanti pensatori, quali Platone, Aristotele, gli Stoici e successivamente Cartesio, furono convinti sostenitori della necessità di una sorta di controllo della sfera sentimentale, affinché essa non disturbasse o compromettesse la razionalità e la vita morale. Nella filosofia contemporanea cade lo stereotipo del conflitto fra ragione e passioni, e viene rivalutata la capacità cognitiva delle emozioni: ne è un esempio l’opera di Nussbaum L’intelligenza delle emozioni, pubblicata nel 2001. Facendo un passo indietro in questa “riabilitazione” della vita emotiva in etica, ebbe indubbiamente un ruolo fondamentale Max Scheler (1874-1928), che, affidandosi al metodo fenomenologico, riuscì a fondare un’etica assiologica che salvaguardasse sia l’oggettività dei valori sia la struttura emotiva della persona. L’utilizzo del metodo fenomenologico permette a Scheler di parlare di intuizione immediata dei valori, e di intuizione immediata della persona.

L’ultimo libro del professor Cusinato sembra appunto riprendere la discussione dal punto in cui l’aveva lasciata Scheler, e inserisce sapientemente i più importanti concetti scheleriani— quali quello di persona intesa come Leib, e quello di ordo amoris—all’interno del dibattito filosofico contemporaneo. Il risultato non è soltanto un’originale proposta di biosemiotica del corpo vivo, ma anche una visione innovativa del sé come relazionale e assiologicamente connotato, al punto che è possibile rileggere il piano delle psicopatologie come “distorsioni” dell’ordo amoris stesso.

  1. Scheler, corpo vivo e ordo amoris

L’ intento principale del volume del professor Cusinato è quello di introdurre una biosemiotica del corpo vivo radicata nella dimensione dell’espressione e il cui ruolo sia fungere da fondamento dell’intercorporeità e della percezione dell’altro. In quest’ottica, la base per l’intersoggettività è costituita da una falda impersonale comune a tutti gli organismi, che sarebbero fin da subito sintonizzati con il piano espressivo della vita, attraverso un’affettività unipatica enattiva. Ogni essere vivente, infatti, possiede la capacità di interagire con il piano dell’espressione, ben prima di sviluppare la cosiddetta “intersoggettività primaria”, ovvero l’abilità innata di relazionarsi agli altri in modo espressivo fin dalla nascita, quando il bambino è in grado di imitare i movimenti altrui. Secondo Cusinato, la percezione dell’alterità sarebbe in realtà mediata da un tipo di percezione rappresentativa dei valori e della condivisione emozionale, e avverrebbe grazie ad un principio di selezione determinato dallo schema corporeo. E’ possibile quindi definire il corpo vivo come un a priori materiale; e il sentire stesso come una facoltà universale legata alla capacità di interagire con il piano dell’espressione.

Scheler, infatti, descriveva il Leib  nei termini di “una datità psicofisica indifferente: nell’intuizione interna si dà come Leibseele (fame/ esser sazi, benessere/ dolore) e in quella esterna come Leibkörper” (M. Scheler, 1999, p. 37). Ne Il formalismo nell’etica e l’etica materiale dei valori, egli definisce la corporeità propria “una particolare datità eidetico- materiale … atta a fungere in ogni percezione di fatto del proprio corpo da forma della percezione” (M. Scheler, 1996, p. 492). Non è possibile, dunque, considerare il corpo proprio una mera datità, un mero oggetto percepibile da un punto di vista esterno o interno, in quanto, secondo Scheler, esiste una “rigorosa ed immediata unità d’identità” (M. Scheler, 1996, p. 494) tra la coscienza interna (la consapevolezza che ciascuno ha di sé e del proprio corpo vivo) e la percezione esterna del corpo fisico, oggettuale.

La percezione del corpo proprio è anteriore a tutte le altre e non riducibile ad esse. Piuttosto, sono le sensazioni organiche a manifestarsi sempre in relazione a un corpo proprio, che va considerato concomitante ad esse, come una sorta di “sfondo”. La struttura motoria del corpo proprio accompagna dunque ogni atto dell’Io, ogni vissuto: “Il corpo proprio … non si manifesta quindi né come il “nostro proprio”, né come “sottomesso al nostro potere”, né come “semplicemente momentaneo”; esso è, o sembra essere, il nostro stesso io e contemporaneamente un qualcosa che compenetra il tempo oggettivo in modo stabile, duraturo, continuo e rispetto a cui la realtà psichica trascorre come un qualcosa di “passeggero” (M. Scheler, 1996, p. 519). Il Leib è quindi qualcosa di irriducibile ad altro ed è essenziale, necessario per la costituzione della persona. Inoltre, grazie al Leib è possibile la natürliche Weltanschauung, ovvero “l’intervento sul modo degli oggetti pratici in funzione delle esigenze di carattere biologico” (M. Scheler, 1996, p. 519): una delle funzioni del Leib è, dunque, anche quella di mediare tra l’Io e il mondo.

Cusinato non solo enfatizza la centralità del corpo vivo all’interno del processo percettivo, ma riserva un ruolo esplicitamente importante ai fenomeni espressivi, che per lui rappresentano un momento essenziale della vita di coscienza dell’individuo, specialmente nella percezione intersoggettiva. In questo modo egli si inserisce all’interno del dibattito contemporaneo: Gallagher e Zahavi, ad esempio, sostengono che gli stati affettivi “sono dati nei fenomeni espressivi, cioè sono espressi nei gesti e nelle azioni corporee e diventano perciò visibili agli altri.” (Gallagher e Zahavi, 2009, p. 277). In quest’ottica, corpo e psiche non sono due unità nettamente distinte e percepibili tramite procedure differenti, bensì costituiscono un’unità espressiva (Ausdruckseinheit). Estendendo la presenza dell’affettività alla sfera biologica, Cusinato si spinge oltre le interpretazioni già presenti, e ci mette di fronte a un’intenzionalità incarnata, pre-riflessiva e finalizzata a cogliere il valore dell’oggetto, e non la sua mera rappresentazione.

Enattività, espressività e affettività divengono quindi le componenti originarie del processo cognitivo, il quale andrà ripensato come un processo di tipo affettivo che lega i vari soggetti tramite un meccanismo di sintonizzazione o risonanza intercorporea presente già a livello biosemiotico. Questo non solo permette di considerare il soggetto come essenzialmente relazionale (ponendosi quindi in contrasto rispetto al “minimal self” descritto da Zahavi, che manterrebbe un nucleo puramente individuale); ma anche di oltrepassare le teorie dominanti all’interno del dibattito attuale, che si trova diviso tra teoria della teoria (secondo la quale l’intersoggettività si riduce a un processo di mentalizzazione); teoria della simulazione (per cui la percezione dell’altro equivale alla simulazione dei suoi vissuti) e teoria della percezione diretta, che, seppur enfatizzando la centralità del corpo e dell’espressività, circoscrive l’intuizione dell’alterità al mero incontro con l’altro. L’introduzione di un livello biosemiotico permette di spostare l’accento sul fatto che ogni essere è immerso sin da subito non solo in un contesto che condiziona e da cui è condizionato, ma anche in una relazione affettiva connotata assiologicamente, a partire dalla quale sarà possibile intraprendere dei rapporti con l’alterità.

I vari livelli di sintonizzazione e posizionamento dell’umano nel mondo sono descritti da Cusinato in modo accurato e chiaro, e ci permettono di capire in che modo tale sintonizzazione unipatica possa dischiudere molteplici possibilità (coerenti con le affordances gibsoniane) per il soggetto che  le vive, o, ancor meglio, sente. In una prima fase il soggetto è l’organismo che, attraverso lo schema corporeo, si sintonizza unipaticamente con gli altri (questo corrisponde, appunto, al livello biosemiotico); ciò permetterà all’organismo di svilupparsi come sè sociale che tramite il senso comune si sintonizza empaticamente con l’alterità; per poi infine farsi singolarità personale e sintonizzarsi solidaristicamente con il mondo grazie all’ordo amoris. Tale concetto viene sviluppato nella seconda parte del libro, in cui Cusinato si interroga non solo sul modo effettivo in cui l’ordo amoris ci permette di conoscere il mondo e l’altro, ma anche sulle possibili conseguenze di una sua distorsione. Il concetto di ordo amoris è, in effetti, uno dei più affascinanti della filosofia scheleriana, e il volume in esame riesce a offrirne un’interpretazione quantomai attuale.

Scheler lo introdusse nel testo inedito Ordo amoris (risalente al 1914-16), testo in cui risulta esplicito l’intento di liberarsi da una concezione dell’emozionale come un insieme di forze cieche (come invece è in uso nella psicologia associazionistica e nel meccanicismo naturale) a favore di una riscoperta dell’essere dell’esperienza in una logique du coeur. Il tema pascaliano è ripreso da Scheler per indicare una logica insita nell’Erlebnis,una logica che non appartiene al pensiero, ma al cuore. Anche la vita ha un’essenza, che non è attribuibile allo psichico, e tale essenza la dirige dall’interno. E’ l’amore che indirizza e struttura i processi psichici, non viceversa. Così, secondo questa logica dell’affettività, ai sentimenti corrisponde un termine assiologico di riferimento (ad esempio, la tristezza può essere legata a un valore spirituale, rappresentato dalla morte, oppure a un valore vitale, rappresentato dall’invecchiamento). Ogni stato emotivo è, al tempo stesso, un fatto reale, in quanto stato, e fenomenologico, poiché posto in una modalità intenzionale verso un oggetto di valore. Compito del fenomenologo è dunque quello di  attribuire finalmente alla vita emotiva l’ordine che sempre le è stato negato, ma che secondo Scheler le appartiene di diritto, poiché è ad essa immanente. Anche ai moti dell’anima appartiene tale ordine, finora ignorato e considerato parte della mera soggettività dell’individuo, irrazionale e perciò subordinato all’azione di dominio dell’intelletto.Il concetto di ordo amoris può avere due significati: uno personale e una sovraindividuale. Per quanto riguarda la prima accezione, essa é relativa alla gerarchia di valori specifica di una determinata persona: ogni persona ha infatti la sua propria gerarchia di valori che la orienta in ogni momento della sua vita, in ogni sua scelta, in ogni suo vissuto. Secondo l’accezione sovraindividuale, invece, l’amore governa il senso di ogni cosa, e, sebbene particolarizzate, le varie individualità dovrebbero tutte rifarsi a questo generale ordine di senso oggettivo: in tal modo avremmo dei retti ordo amoris, delle gerarchie assiologiche personali che rispecchiano quella universale. In caso contrario, potremmo trovarci di fronte a un ordo amoris distorto, deviato, ovvero a gerarchie di valori individuali che sovvertono l’ordo amoris generale e sovraindividuale. Esistono infatti vere e proprie perversioni del retto ordo amoris: un esempio può essere quello dell’amore relativo, chiamato da Scheler “innamoramento”, che si riscontra nell’amore verso un bene finito, che diventa idolo se considerato assoluto. Si ha una perversione dell’ordo amoris anche quando i valori della gerarchia personale di un dato individuo sono inferiori rispetto ai valori dati nel retto ordo amoris. L’ordo amoris, quindi, oltre a essere di carattere descrittivo, ha anche un’accezione implicitamente normativa, poiché, dicendoci l’ordine delle cose e il loro giusto posto, nondimeno richiede che tale ordine venga rispettato, ed è correttivo nei confronti di eventuali distorsioni. Nella nostra persona, quindi, è come se convergessero due modi di essere: uno, particolare, del qui-ora dell’esserci, sottoposto, appunto, alle variazioni spazio-temporali; e l’altro che trascende tale modalità, e riguarda invece ciò che di assolutamente eidetico e strutturale esiste, ovvero un ordine metastorico ed onnipresente, comunque capace di assumere diverse forme, cercando di portare il giusto ordine anche sotto forma di un sistema storicizzato. Contingente e assoluto si incontrano, determinando il divenire storico, in un movimento di reciprocità e apertura che vede i due momenti congiungersi fino  a formare un’ unità di senso. Oltre alla conoscenza, l’amore risveglia anche il volere di realizzazione da parte di un soggetto: è per questo che Scheler afferma, a ragione, che l’uomo, prima di essere un ens volens e un ens cogitans, è un ens amans. Scheler, infatti, definisce l’amore come “ la tendenza o-a seconda dei casi – l’atto che cerca di condurre ogni cosa verso la sua propria pienezza di valore, e conduce là, purchè non si frappongano impedimenti”[1].  L’ordo amoris stabilisce così per ogni uomo la sua facoltà di comprendere, la struttura e il contenuto della sua visione del mondo, sempre implicitamente proiettato alla conoscenza dell’essenza divina: ordo amoris particolare e ordo amoris universale trovano dunque una continuità di senso.

In che modo quindi Cusinato inserisce l’ordo amoris all’interno della sua prospettiva biosemiotica?

Possiamo sostenere che l’ordo amoris rappresenti la capacità di percepire il valore attraverso il sentire, e sia quindi implicito nella capacità di interagire a livello unipatico con il piano espressivo della vita. La conseguenza di tale caratterizzazione è molto forte, e l’ultima parte del libro dedica un ampio spazio ad una riflessione a proposito della compromissione di tale facoltà, definita in termini di vera e propria psicopatologia. Secondo Cusinato—e a mio avviso, questa è la tesi più forte  e innovativa dell’intero volume—la patologia psichica subentra appunto nel momento in cui l’ ordo amoris non riesce più a sintonizzarsi con il piano espressivo della vita e dell’alterità. Se la percezione dell’altro è già implicita a livello biosemiotico e dipende da una corretta sintonizzazione affettiva, un disturbo dell’affettività comporterà un errato sviluppo del soggetto stesso, il quale non sarà capace di passare dallo stato di organismo a quello di sè sociale e personalità individuale.

  1. Il case study: la schizofrenia come disordine dell’ordo amoris

Si può osservare la concretezza della tesi di Cusinato analizzando una psicopatologia in particolare: la schizofrenia. Nonostante, infatti, l’autore porti svariati esempi, credo che la schizofrenia sia il più calzante per descrivere la centralità dell’ordo amoris e cosa comporti la  sua perdita o distorsione.

Già Minkowski, nel testo La Schizophrénie, risalente al 1927, sosteneva l’impossibilità di comprendere tale malattia senza avere ben presente la struttura della soggettività: l’essenza della schizofrenia consisterebbe, in particolare, nell’incapacità di rapportarsi al mondo e di stabilire legami significativi con altri individui. Nonostante i disturbi psichici colpiscano principalmente tre sfere- l’autocoscienza, l’intenzionalità e l’intersoggettività- è proprio quest’ultima, infatti, ad essere maggiormente colpita. Il contatto con la realtà, inoltre, non viene perso solo da un punto di vista sociale, poiché ad andare smarrita è la stessa prospettiva in prima persona. Il sé e l’altro, infatti, non sono più mutualmente interrelati, ma divergono fino a divenire due realtà completamente separate. La soggettività esperisce così un senso di perdita dei propri confini, in concomitanza ad allucinazioni uditive e impossibilità di controllo delle proprie azioni: in un certo senso, sembrerebbe andato perso lo “schema corporeo” merleau-pontiano.

Le sfere coinvolte in tale processo di “de-sintonizzazione” con il mondo sono, nello specifico, le seguenti:

  • Capacità cognitive: il distacco dal reale e dalla dimensione soggettiva corporea comporta la perdita dei nessi significativi e la depersonalizzazione della coscienza, che cerca, attraverso l’iper-riflessività, di attribuire al mondo una nuova struttura organizzativa. Questo implica un’ipertolleranza alla complessità semantica: non comprendendo i significati impliciti nel senso comune, lo schizofrenico è portato ad attribuire infinite interpretazioni significative a oggetti in realtà molto semplici, espandendo in senso esponenziale gli orizzonti epistemologici;
  • Vita emotiva: il soggetto ha difficoltà nel sentire e spesso si dichiara incapace di farlo. Di conseguenza, anche le abilità nelle relazioni sociali diminuiscono notevolmente. Inoltre, tutto ciò che concerne l’alterità può spaventare il soggetto, che si dichiara incapace di affrontare il mondo sociale e teme di rimanerne “intrappolato” (tale fenomeno si può definire come vulnerabilità eteronomica);
  • Ontologia: se la consapevolezza corporea e il senso comune vengono persi, anche il sé risulta completamente distorto. Per questo motivo, spesso i pazienti sostengono non solo di sentirsi isolati dal resto del mondo, ma anche di essere letteralmente frammentati, di non essere, cioè, individui interi;
  • Etica: perdendo la consapevolezza di sé e il senso comune, lo schizofrenico assume molto spesso atteggiamenti bizzarri e, talvolta, al di là di ogni etica vigente, come se la sua personale assiologia divergesse completamente dalle norme del mondo sociale in cui vive. Tale eccentricità può sfociare in una vera e propria “ribellione” consapevole nei confronti dei valori comunemente adottati dalla società (antagonomia).

Il risultato è un totale distacco dal reale: “The […] schizophrenics” sostiene Bleuer, “who have no more contact with the outside world live in a world of their own. They have encased themselves with their desires and wishes […]; they have cut themselves off as much as possible from any contact with the external world. This detachment from reality with the relative and absolute predominance of the inner life, we term autism” (E. Bleuer, 1978, p. 30). Ciò che Bleuer non sembra enfatizzare a sufficienza, ma che nell’ultima parte del volume di Cusinato viene descritto, con l’ausilio di testi significativi, tra cui Autobiography of a Schizophrenic Girl (Sechehay, 1962), è la natura drammatica di un simile distacco, che coinvolge non solo la relazione tra il soggetto e l’alterità, ma dal quale sembrerebbe dipendere la stessa comprensione della realtà in generale. Il soggetto, il cui sé è frammentato e che non riesce a stabilire una relazione intersoggettiva, non riesce neppure ad “immergersi” nel mondo.

Tale perdita della conoscenza pre-riflessiva, così come la perdita del senso di sé, ha conseguenze a livello sensoriale, per quanto riguarda la percezione mondana e intersoggettiva; in ambito concettuale, laddove è possibile registrare fraintendimenti e incomprensioni di significati e intenzioni; e nella realtà attitudinale, che concerne la struttura assiologica individuale. Un’analisi fenomenologica si rivela utile al fine fornire una descrizione esauriente e una spiegazione olistica: in tal senso, la perdita del sé corporeo, associata alla distorsione della struttura assiologica del soggetto, sembra essere la caratteristica più significativa della schizofrenia. Tutte le sfere coinvolte dalla de-personalizzazione schizofrenica hanno infatti in comune una distorsione dell’ordo amoris, il cui ruolo è talmente importante che tutti i sintomi possono essere ricondotti a strategie compensatorie volte a ricostituire una struttura assiologica personale (seppur opposta a quella vigente nel senso comune, come è esplicito nel caso dell’antagonimia).

  1. Conclusione

Un’analisi accurata del concetto di ordo amoris ci permette di dedurre che tutta la nostra vita è rigorosamente guidata da un ordine, che nulla è dato al caso: anche la nostra emotività ha leggi specifiche e rigorose. C’è una legalità immanente agli atti d’amore, dovuta alle regole del preferire e del posporre, per cui l’animo umano non è più considerato un luogo di caos, ma un microcosmo del mondo dei valori. E’ quindi appropriato dire che il cuore ha le sue ragioni. Ovviamente non bisogna confondere questo tipo di razionalità con quella intellettuale: emozionale e razionale sono due ambiti completamente diversi, non riconducibili l’uno all’altro. Tuttavia, attribuire una logica soltanto alla sfera del giudizio intellettuale è sbagliato, in quanto il lato emotivo dell’uomo ha un funzionamento analogo a quello razionale e ugualmente fallibile. Dire che il cuore ha le sue ragioni ha un significato molto preciso: l’emozionale ha delle ragioni poiché possiede vedute evidenti di dati non accessibili all’intelletto, e sue proprio perché all’intelletto questo tipo di dati è precluso, e solo grazie all’atto d’amore siamo indirizzati a questo tipo di conoscenza. La logica del cuore è oggettiva, proprio come lo è la logica deduttiva, ed è dotata di una legalità autonoma e specifica. Tale legalità si esprime in modo diverso in ognuno di noi, ma essenzialmente rimane costante. La ripresa del concetto di ordo amoris da parte del professor Cusinato ha non solo il merito di riabilitare una nozione forse troppo sottovalutata nella storia della filosofia delle emozioni, ma anche quella di introdurla in un ambito apparentemente lontano dalla speculazione meramente filosofica: la psicopatologia. Ripensare il disordine mentale come un disordine dell’ordo amoris permette inoltre di interpretare la malattia mentale in termini non riduzionistici, senza tuttavia omettere l’importanza degli aspetti organici della coscienza, grazie all’introduzione del livello biosemiotico.

Bibliografia essenziale

Bleuler, Eugen. 1978. The Schizophrenic Disorders: Long Term Patient and Family Studies. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT.

Minkowski, Eugène. 1927. La schizophrénie: psychopathologie des schizoides et des schizophrènes. Payot, Paris.

Nussbaum, Martha. 2001. Upheavels of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Scheler, Max. 1916. Der Formalismus in der Ethic und die materiale Werthethik, in “Jarbuch für Philosophie und phänomenologische Forschung”, trad. it. 1996 Il formalismo nell’etica e l’etica materiale dei valori. Edizioni San Paolo, Cinisello Balsamo, Milano.

Scheler, Max. 1999. Il valore della vita emotiva. Guerini Studio editore, Milano.

Scheler, Max. 2008. Ordo amoris in Scritti sulla fenomenologia e l’amore, (a cura di Vittorio d’Anna), Franco Angeli Editore, Milano 2008, tr.it. F. Bosinelli e V. d’Anna.

Sechehaye, Marguerite. 1962. Autobiography of a Schizophrenic Girl. Penguin, New York.


[1] Max Scheler, Ordo amoris, p. 118.

Martin Heidegger: Heraclitus

Heraclitus: The Inception of Occidental Thinking and Logic: Heraclitus’s Doctrine of the Logos Book Cover Heraclitus: The Inception of Occidental Thinking and Logic: Heraclitus’s Doctrine of the Logos
Martin Heidegger. Translators: Julia Goesser Assaiante, S. Montgomery Ewegen
Bloomsbury Academic
2018
Paperback $39.59
328

Reviewed by: Zühtücan Soysal (METU Philosophy)

The English translation of Martin Heidegger’s 1943-44 Freiburg lectures on Heraclitus makes this important text available to a much broader audience than before. Appearing as the 55th volume of Heidegger’s Gesamtausgabe, the lectures exemplify his finest analytical vigor and philosophical insight. The work is particularly important for Heidegger research, as his understanding of the ancient Greek world and interpretation of pre-Platonic thinkers constitute the backbone of his oeuvre. Specifically, the book represents the concluding piece of Heidegger’s Freiburg lectures (1928-44), and thus presents a unique stylistic maturity. In addition, the range of covered issues and concepts is so vast that the lectures may shed light on both his earlier and later work. In terms of his prior work, the Heraclitus lectures might be seen as a fruit of endeavors that began with Beiträge zur Philosophie (GA 65) and the intensive Nietzsche readings of 1936-40, thereby in contrast to his thought preceding Beiträge. In relation to his later work, especially the second part of the book may be read as the foundation of his output for the late 1940s through the 1950s, and also as a springboard for his even later engagement with pre-Platonic thinking (cf. GA 15). What is even more noteworthy than the richness provided by the possibility of establishing such connections is the lectures’ ability to teach the way of thinking and reading by which Heidegger brings the word of Heraclitus into immediate relevance with the historical situation of modern humanity. The task remains, however, that we interpret that way ever anew.

The book consists of two parts, corresponding to two lecture courses. The first part, entitled “The Inception of Occidental Thinking” (1943 summer semester), is mostly concerned with getting a grasp of the ancient Greek experience of the terms φύσις (nature),[1] ζωή (life), δύνειν (submerging), and πῦρ (fire) through an attentive reading of ten of Heraclitus’s fragments, thereby demonstrating the proper mode of approach to his sayings. The second part of the book, titled “Logic: Heraclitus’ Doctrine of the Logos” (1944 summer semester), proceeds from that background and is centered around an elaborate elucidation of what it means for the human to be essentially characterized as ζῷον λόγον ἔχον (the living being having a logos) and an attendant justification of such characterization. No command of the Greek language is necessary to follow the courses, and the laudable translation of Julia Assaiante and Montgomery Ewegen captures the essence of the textual flow. I would also like to maintain that no prior knowledge of Heidegger’s thought is required either. However, Heidegger assumes that his audience has sufficient understanding of Hegel and Nietzsche, which makes it possible to put the confrontations with those thinkers into context.

At the very beginning, Heidegger makes it clear that when he says ‘philosophy’, he means something which is essentially Occidental. The word translated as “Occidental” is abendländischen (3),[2] which beckons a land of evening, that is, a region characterized by the sun’s having submerged. These expressions acquire sense as the book proceeds, but one does not find a definition for ‘Occident’ in its relation to a supposed opposite, ‘Orient’.[3] Instead, Heidegger wishes to direct the reader’s attention to what he considers to be more originary and essential. Unexpectedly, though, he begins with recounting two seemingly irrelevant stories about Heraclitus. In one of them, a group of people visit someone whom they think to be an “exceptional” and “tantalizing” philosopher, and surprised by seeing Heraclitus warm himself at an oven, upon which he says: “Here, too, the gods are present” (6). In the other story, the thinker plays a dice game with children inside the temple of Artemis, and shouts at the crowd perplexed before the “inappropriate” behavior of the thinker: “What are you gaping at, you scoundrels? Or is it not better to do this than to work with you on behalf of the πόλις [city-state]?” (10). Far from being insignificant ornaments, the two stories define and constitute the inconspicuous central axis of the narrative, around which the rest of the lectures unfold. It would for now be enough to note that in both stories, Heraclitus baffles the crowd by challenging their presumptions about the relationship between the ordinary and the godly, for he seems to think that Artemis is closer to his everyday abode than she is to the temple bearing her own name. Moreover, just as he rejects conspicuous piety, he rejects conspicuous politics (“working with you on behalf of the πόλις”). Heidegger remarks, at this point, that Heraclitus’s avoidance of ‘politics’ cannot be interpreted as a kind of disinterested neutrality, and thus does not make him ‘apolitical’. To the contrary, Heraclitus is political in the true sense of the word (11-12). This is the only place in the book where a direct mention of ‘politics’ is made, and Heidegger points to fragment 121 as well as to his lecture course of the previous year, Parmenides (GA 54). It would here suffice to say that without a proper understanding of these references in regard to how πόλις is conceived and how its care is envisaged, any political inference would at best be incomplete. Returning to the stories, they also ground the book-long response to a widespread misunderstanding by which one is tempted to think that the issues taken up by Heidegger lie beyond the place where the urgencies of immediate reality reside. Despite the significance of the two stories, on the other hand, their nature is preparatory.

There is a particular difficulty in translating Heraclitus and getting a grasp of his word. That difficulty, which is experienced to its fullest extent through the course of Heidegger’s elucidations, stems from the millenia-old tradition of thinking which Heidegger simply calls ‘metaphysics’. To explain by way of a rough outline of Heidegger’s account of the history of Occidental thinking, it should first be noted that it begins with the self-opening of the essence of truth, which precedes ancient Greek thought but which nevertheless finds its first decisive expression in the words of the “inceptual thinkers,” namely, Anaximander, Parmenides, and Heraclitus. Metaphysics, although grounded in “inceptual thinking,” is characterized as the “self-rigidifying essence” which drives Occidental thinking away from its inception (31). Beginning with Plato until its consummation in Nietzsche’s thought, metaphysics not only transformed the word of Heraclitus through a series of interpretative translations but also determined, established, and secured the proper manner of approach to the fragments.

As a result, if one simply wishes to be “true to the word” (cf. 37) of Heraclitus without the disturbances of the long-standing tradition of metaphysics, their path must harbor or at least be open to and ready for a transformation of the path itself. Such transformation is called “learning” (cf. 190), which does not occur on a straight course of development. Rather, while approaching the sayings of Heraclitus through different angles, as if from afar to their essential core, Heidegger’s discourse also employs a stream of thought which turns toward the opposite direction, i.e., from core to afar. The spiraling of the two streams unfolds as a lasting encounter with the metaphysical tradition as every attempt at getting closer to the simplicity of the fragments is met with the voice of metaphysics, bending the discourse into its spiral course. What is learned as a result of this learning cannot be confined into any doctrinal content that replaces ‘false’ translations of φύσις, ζωή, etc. with ‘correct’ ones. Still, the manner and attitude of what Heidegger calls “essential thinking” remains distinguishable from conventional attempts at the thinker’s word.

First of all, Heidegger distances his way of thinking from historiography, which is defined as “the calculating and fundamentally technical relation to history,” whereby history is rendered as a sequence of bygone occurrences (69). As an example, the disciplines of anthropology and philology, on which an array of conventional interpretations of the world and the word of Heraclitus is based, are grounded in the historiographical manner of approach. Contrarily, Heidegger does not aim at lexicographical accuracy or etymological precision; he tries to reach a region of thought where the ‘decision’ for such accuracy and precision has not yet been made. Accordingly, for instance, the two stories recounted in the first lecture, even if they never actually happened, are considered to be worth more than a stockpile of correct biographical findings.

The emphasis on the aspect of ‘decision’ in translation might evoke the idea that words can take any meaning according to the ‘decisions’ of the interpreter, which constitutes the second manner of approach that Heidegger rejects. This idea may result in what might today be called ‘post-truth translation’, by which authority over meaning is surrendered to the arbitrariness of willing ‘decisions’ and individual perspectives. To be sure, ‘decision’ as understood by Heidegger in no way implies such a relativistic indifference to what the thinker’s word says. In fact, such a ‘post-truth translation’ is possible only on the basis of a prior, determinative decision regarding the essence of words in general. In this case, the decision pertains to the contemporary reality in which “[t]he machinegun, the camera, the ‘word’, and the billboard all have this same fundamental function of seizing and arresting the object” (71). In Heidegger’s reading, this state of affairs corresponds to the consummation of Occidental metaphysics, and is marked by the thought of Nietzsche.

The third manner of approach that Heidegger distances himself from involves interpreting the thinker’s word metaphorically. Heidegger explains in various places that Heraclitus’s sayings do not point to anything except what they simply say. To illustrate, the word ζωή is customarily translated as ‘life’, so ζῷον is taken to designate living beings in distinction to non-living beings. Therefore, if ζωή is somehow attributed to φύσις, it must be in a metaphorical way extrapolating the characteristics of living beings to the whole of beings. On this reading, Heraclitus may too easily be classified as a ‘primitive thinker’ in whose thought the lack of formal clarity and conceptual rigor is patched with metaphors (292). Nevertheless, Heidegger demonstrates through the text that if we “think-after the inceptual word,” there is a way to experience those words in their ‘inceptual sense’, although from a distance (85). Thinking-after the inceptual senses of ζωή and φύσις makes it possible even for the modern human to experience both of the words, in their respective ways, as the emerging-forth by which every being—e.g., gods, wars, algorithms—comes to presence, and not as a group of beings in distinction to others. Henceforth, the relationship between the two terms acquires a new character on the face of which hasty classifications of conventional thinking, together with the mindless application of the concept of metaphor, fall short. Of course, with this commentary, only a little insight into what is achieved by Heidegger’s phenomenological odyssey through the word of the inceptual thinker can be hinted at. It is essential to think-after Heidegger’s thinking-after, so that what it means to experience a word above all becomes clear.

If the proper manner of approach to the fragments can depend neither on historiography nor on the unrestricted will of the beholder, and furthermore if we cannot either accept that the thinker says one thing and means another by way of metaphors, then conventional thinking resorts to the suspicion that “an empty sorcery with words is being practiced here” (59). On that matter, Heidegger seems to be very well aware of the danger of falling into empty chatter, so he differentiates between “an empty play on words” and “the concealed play of the word” (138). How is this concealedness to be understood? Does the thinker’s word enclose a meaning in the same way a seed contains genetic information? These questions bring us to the fourth difference, which is also one of the central issues of the book, and which can be read as an encounter with “dialectical thinking.” Dialectics is defined as “the thinking of opposites together in a higher unity,” and is said to begin with Plato (34). Since being itself is determined as ἰδέα (appearance/look) by Plato, ‘truth’ gained its metaphysical characterization as the actuation of appearing (φαίνεσθαι) in assertion (κατηγορία) in accordance with the thing. In other words, the true in the metaphysical sense consists in re-presenting that which presents itself manifestly (cf. 40, 255, 385). Taken in its dialectical history from Plato to Hegel, the re-presentation of what there is in its totality, i.e., of beings as a whole, moves from a murky self-externalization of Spirit into its deciphered union with itself from out of its will to appearance. Accordingly, understanding Heraclitus would consist in resolving the lack of clarity by comprehending his word with respect to this manifest history. This point of view, however complete its mastery over concepts is, comes to a “stand-still” when it is confronted with what Heidegger calls the “irreconcilable” (117), which consists in the idea that Heraclitus’s thought is “not incomprehensible because it is too complicated, but rather because it is too simple” (149). ‘Simple obscurity’, which not only describes Heraclitus’s fragments but also is itself a cardinal part of the original experience of many ancient Greek words, is irreconcilable with dialectics, because absolute cognition can cognize ‘obscurity’ in its unity with ‘clarity’ only after the two are essentially separated. In other words, dialectics is not capable of attributing obscurity to the “essence of things” rather than to the “eyes of the human” (140). Therefore, “the concealed play of the word” is not in the sense that the word envelops a meaning to be unlocked, but instead it refers to the simple obscurity of the word concealed by the tradition of dialectics in general.

The fifth and last differentiation may be thought of as a continuation of the previous point. As the thinker’s word resists being viewed in terms of the metaphysical ideal of manifest explicitness, it becomes relevant to ask whether Heidegger’s way is akin to a kind of mysticism. However, that is not true either. It is clearly maintained that the truth in inceptual saying is “decisively divorced . . . from the hollow dizziness of a mystical profundity” (176). For Heidegger, it seems, the ‘mystical’ is associated with the experiential reckoning of a futile darkness that can never be brought into word. Summing up,

[t]he true in the inceptual sense of the unconcealed does not have the nature of mere clarity of explication and explicability. To the same degree, the true is not the unclear in the sense of an inexplicable and ciphered profundity. The true is neither the one-dimensionality of mere arithmetic nor the ‘profound’ dimensions hidden behind a theatre’s curtain. (180)

Right after these renunciations, Heidegger gives his own account with a very compendious expression whose succinctness I will not adulterate by attempting to unravel: “The true is the unsaid that remains the unsaid only in what is strictly and properly said” (Ibid.).

The above five points outline Heidegger’s manner of approach in a negative way, that is, by pointing at the inapparent, whereas indeed the progression of the lectures is principally driven by a positive exploration into the thinker’s sayings. In particular, it is the “foundational words” (Grundwortes) which are thought-after, the words that define the domain of inceptual thinking. What is named by each of those words (‘emerging,’ ‘submerging,’ ‘life,’ ‘fire,’ etc.) is also that which is named by “the foundational word of all thinking—namely, the word ‘being’” (90-1). It must be noted, though, that in none of the elucidated fragments does Heraclitus explicitly ask “τί τὸ ὄν” – “what is being?”  This shows, before everything, that Heidegger’s persistent prioritization of the question of being is not about making the name ‘being’ explicit in inquiry, even less about research into linguistic copula. More importantly, this also shows that those words name the be-ing of beings in the ways that the words themselves open. As such, they cannot be thought of in terms of anything that comes before them, and it is in this way that they are inceptual.

What is more, this inception itself is brought into word by Heraclitus as πῦρ, which is delineated as the enflaming fire whose light makes possible all appearing, and also as the origin-creating, sudden strike of lightning which separates the light and the dark in the first place by flashing into the unlit (cf. 161-2). Such a lightning must have separated the Occident from its other and placed forth the two toward one another at the moment of inception in the original saying. It is here crucial to note that whatever comes thereafter, i.e., history, is not seen as a dialogue between two poles, but rather as an enduring conversation with the inception, ensuring that the decision regarding the inception remains both in having-been and in future. The proper characterization of the human’s standing within all these relations depends on how the human itself stands out among beings, which in turn depends on the inceptual sense of another foundational word, λόγος. The central achievement of the second part of the book comprises the elucidation of this term and its history from logos to ratio, reason, and finally, to will to power.

Like other foundational words, logos has undergone severe transformations throughout the history of Occidental thinking. In pre-Platonic thought, logos had not yet acquired its status as an object of inquiry. To be sure, this is not a lack whatsoever on logos’s part, for it was rather seen as the proper ground and region of every inquiry. Even then, logos meant ‘speaking’ and ‘saying’ along with ‘gathering’ and ‘harvesting.’ The most decisive determination of the term occurred with the beginning of metaphysics, where λόγος, φύσις, and ἦθος were taken as the three directions of inquiry into beings as a whole. Accordingly, logic, physics, and ethics, which correspond to those directions respectively, became the disciplines comprising philosophy. At that moment, philosophy was given its distinctive position in relation to other forms of knowledge—that of astronomy, mathematics, etc. To be more specific, by establishing itself as the highest science, philosophy has rendered itself a science among others, a science whose program of research is designated by the tripartite departmentalization of knowledge. In fact, an image of this three-fold division is visible even in today’s commonly accepted classification of scientific branches as formal, natural, and social sciences. Returning to logic, it defines logos as ‘assertion’ or ‘judgment’, and is by the same token defined as the doctrine of valid inference, which results in what Heidegger calls the “dominance of discipline over the matter” (233) in the sense that the original richness of the inceptual word is first trimmed for the sake of researchability, and then the resulting research is given the authority over the meaning of the word in its entirety. In this way, “what is more originary than every kind of science,” i.e., logos, is gauged by “what has first arisen from out of this origin” (227), i.e., logic.

The history of logos after this decisive turning point gets more intricate with the development of Koine Greek, the emergence of Hellenistic Judaism, and the ecclesiastical determination of the term as ‘the Word’ (Verbum), the second personage of the Christian deity. The resulting worldview, which was further modified by the Arabic influence, culminates in its conclusive form with the advent of modern metaphysics from Descartes to Nietzsche. Heidegger claims that in none of these transformations was Occidental thought able to return to its essential ground within the original unity of ἐπιστήμη. On the contrary, it continuously rigidified the metaphysical conception by generalizing its methodological apparatus according to an ideal of universality in order to gain technical mastery over its subject matter (cf. 74, 192, 209, 228, 331). In consideration of all these, it is ultimately critical to avoid accounting this history solely in terms of its intellectual component, as if the determination of logos was merely an issue that we happen to see in the books of logicians. What is at stake here is by no means confined to how ‘logos’ as a technical term is defined. Rather, the conversation over logos is the one between the historical human and its history, however inconspicuously it takes place. In this conversation, ‘subjectivity’ is the final response of Christian theology to the question of the essence of the human, which paves the way for the modern restatement of this response as ratio and reason. When Heidegger implies—in 1944 in Freiburg—that it is the inability of Christian church to justify these responses which caused the two world wars (209), his discursive play reminds one of the dice game at the temple. It seems that both thinkers have a tendency to do “inappropriate things” (11) when it comes to temples and churches.

In the end, what can be said about the pre-Platonic logos, and how do these lectures respond to its call? To begin with, according to fragment 50, one cannot attain “rigorous knowledge” (σοφόν) by merely attending to the word of Heraclitus; rather, it is necessary that we turn toward that which already addresses us (259-60). ‘That which already addresses us’ is called the Logos, and the human essence is characterized by having a logos responding to the Logos. Logos, as a foundational word, can be approached in as many ways as being itself. But the most straightforward way to think of it would be through its sense of ‘gathering’. Accordingly, it is the gathering of beings, which shelters every doing and every saying along with every seeing and every listening. On the one hand, metaphysics interprets this gathering as the most universal of all beings, thereby at the same time retaining the godly as the “universal world-ground” (cf. 13). The persistence of this interpretation harbors the danger of interpreting these lectures themselves from the Christian or anti-Christian perspective. The common denominator of all such perspectives is to ab-cise the godly from the earthly abode of this very thinking, and by the same stroke, to separate the discipline from the matter. On the other hand, in this very thinking, we are thinking after Heidegger, who says after Heraclitus’s sayings: Do not merely listen to these words, but rather attend to the originary Logos (325). In the thinkers’ pointing out our relation to the Logos, there appears to be a resistance against the “dominance of discipline over the matter,” which compels us to ponder our decision between turning toward the script (i.e., merely toward the words) and turning toward the Logos itself.

In the former case, the script is considered strictly with regard to what is said in it. So, for instance, Heidegger’s warning against conceiving the Logos—“the One that unifies all beings” (292)—in terms of “any notions of Spirit, personhood, godhood, or providence” (396) might get particularly important, because in this way the Logos is posited as yet another such concept in distinction to the others, making possible an entire area of research on the conceptual-structural relationships between the ‘One’ of Heraclitus and those warned-against concepts. It may even be possible as a result to upgrade those concepts and have an even superior providence. Consequently, we might have multiple truths instead of the sole truth of the all-uniting One. However undeniable the significance of these possible attainments is, the danger persists as long as the human’s standing among those truths is left unexamined. Be that as it may, in the latter case, that is, when one turns toward the Logos itself, the issue is precisely the human’s standing among those truths. Because, as the gathering, the Logos is that which “for-gathers” (cf. 364) all scripts and scriptures so that they greet the human with their claim, and it is also that which must have already addressed the human—the ‘you’—before any of those multiple truths and before any commandment. “The Λόγος is not the word: it is, as the foreword to any language, more originary than the word” (383). In view of this, if one really has to employ the idea of commandment, one should not expect anything further than the command ‘be’, as there is no doubt on Heidegger’s part that it is the address of being which precedes all (323).

Being, however, is not ‘something’ that lies hidden in some supersensory place and in the heights of some vast soaring speculation. As the little word ‘is’ makes clear to us each time it appears, being ‘is’ the nearest of the near. Yet, because the human being troubles himself first and foremost only with what comes next, he constantly avoids the nearest, particularly since he appears to know very little about the near and its essence. (103-4)

All in all, one will find in this book a rigorous restatement of the question of being on the basis of Heraclitus’s doctrine of the Logos, and Heidegger’s response to many possible ‘post-Heideggerian’ approaches at ontotheology. To me, what is most valuable in the book lies in the fact that it somehow teaches, or at least attempts to teach, what one could expect from a lecture course on logic to teach—how to think. The discipline of logic, while setting out rules and methods of making correct use of reason, can hardly say a word on how to think. Here, on the other hand, how to approach a thinker’s word is demonstrated with authentic care toward what is cared by the thinker. Only by way of such care can we learn from the thinker, and only through authentic turning-towards can we remain in thinking.


[1] The parenthetical translations are provided only as labels and should not be assumed to convey the meaning of the Greek words.

[2] All page references are to GA 55. Pagination of the German text is used.

[3] Lin Ma’s Heidegger on East-West Dialogue: Anticipating the Event (Routledge, 2009) remains to be a scholarly gem in the field.

Edward S. Casey: The World on Edge

The World on Edge Book Cover The World on Edge
Edward S. Casey
Indiana University Press
2017
Paperback $42.00
385

Reviewed by: Lance Gracy (The University of Texas-San Antonio)

Introduction

Following his book on the phenomenology of borders, in Up Against the Wall: Re-imagining the U.S.-Mexico Border (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2014), Edward Casey discusses relevant topics in, The World on Edge. Readers, in particular those readers sympathetic to peri-phenomenological methods to doing philosophy, are provided with refreshing insight into the world constituted by edges of metaphysical, ontological and phenomenological significance. In his book, Casey takes preoccupation with a description of the role of edges in the world. Indeed, what are edges? What is the significance of them? Casey’s pursues “the thesis that edges are constitutive not only of what we perceive, but also of what we think and of the places and events in which we are situated” (xiii). In this context, edges are not merely things worthy of storing, reflecting upon, or collecting; rather, they are “distinct presences” that are “essential to being a thing or thought” (xiii). According to Casey, edges play a dramatic role. As the drama of the world unfolds, edges “act” as a presence of being to “cut a dramatic figure” into not only our perception, but our thoughts as well (xiv). In the prelude to his book, Casey provides an image of an edge-of-presence, and by means of it we come to realize what Casey is after in his description of edges as “distinct presence.” In the given image, we see a mountain-edge cutting through light and darkness, along with a description of the edge, as if the edge itself had some poetic presence “to be light! And to thirst for the nightly!” (Nietzsche, 1999, 70-1). But Casey’s description of edges is more fundamental than poetics. He provides us with a description of edges as enantiodromia, Heraclitus’s word for the “sudden reversal into the opposite” (xvii). Accordingly, Casey gives us a description of enantiodromia as the “line of flight”, or in Deleuze and Guattari’s sense of the term, as a “quasi-linear structure that is inherently mobile rather than fixed” (xviii). Casey refers to this sort of edge as the “ultimate edge of our life”, which “bears up and bears out” what it edges (xv). At any rate, edges of this sort are related to dramatic experiences; that is to say, they compare and contrast world events, such as those of politics, or as Casey mentions specifically, the 2016 American presidential race, Tahrir square, and numerous other dramatic events—even our own death (xvii). As we see, reflect, perceive, and consider, we contemplate the “role of edges” as something of experienced dramatically “at every level” (xiii). What more is there to edges?

Summary

Casey is preoccupied with the question of “whether edges are something … or nothing—or perhaps next to nothing” (xvii). Assuming edges are something or next to nothing, what is the presence of an edge? How do we describe the presence of a world “on edge”? In relation to his primary thesis, Casey pursues “exact description of edges in four ways” (xviii). In part one, he examines “borders and boundaries”; he also examines “edges and limits, edges and surfaces, as well as distinctive sorts of edges that pertain to places and limits” (xix). In part two, he compares “naturally given and humanly constructed edges”, which are edges experienced in “wilderness” and “constructed environments” (ibid). In part three, Casey considers the edges of bodies “psychical rather than physical” (ibid). Taking the three descriptive ways into a phenomenological whole, Casey aims to describe edges pervading “our inner as well as our outer lives” and also “how they arise in the interaction between human beings and what surrounds them: in bodies and minds, things on the earth and sights in the sky” (ibid). Casey’s description of edges is a totalizing one; it takes into account the very nature of edges as that which is constitutive of our own phenomenological experience(s). In relation to Chalmers and others, Casey’s edges are constitutive presences, which are realized through description of them as a “pure phenomenal concept” and as essential to thoughts and things. According to Casey, this “pure phenomenal concept” is peri-phenomenological. His peri-phenomenology is a method of “exact description” of edges as a ‘being-around’ “ostensibly peripheral phenomena” (xix). Fair to say, Casey’s phenomenological approach to edges is one of “risk-taking.” Wondrously enough though, this risk-taking approach, or this peri-phenomenological approach, is precisely what one would experience if they were to “walk” the edge.

In chapter one, Casey introduces us to “borders and boundaries” concerning an exact description of edges. Casey’s description of edge as border and boundary amplifies the notion of Edith Stein’s “metaleptic communion” as the sense of unity and distinction between two concepts of being (even radically different concepts of being), such as that of ‘light’ and ‘darkness’ (Calcagno, 2009, 51). Invoking Husserl’s passage in Ideas I of “Descriptive and Exact Science”, Casey forms a synthetic idea about borders and borders through distinction of irregular and non-irregular (or eidetic) shapes (9). Here, the thought is that borders or boundaries (in relation to edges) constitute irregular shapes, and according to Husserl (and apparently Casey), these edges require a phenomenological description. In other words, because edges are not necessarily Euclidean, Casey calls for a peri-phenomenology of edges, as borders and boundaries, to describe the way in which we make sense of edges constituting some irregular shape or object. Walking us through a series of examples about the distinction between irregular (descriptive) and non-irregular (exact science) constitution, Casey states, “[B]oundaries, although nonlinear in their alliance with natural features, can be represented by linear means—where ‘represented’ means literally given representation, as if delegated to do so” (14). In this context, the explicit non-linearness of edges as borders and boundaries can be represented in terms of linearality. Thus, even irregular borders and boundaries can be represented in linear means—thus a sense of mathematical functionality to them—thus a sense of rationality to them. At any rate, “Borders and boundaries possess a special force or power” and the edges essential to their force or power have a variety of distinct purposes (16-7). One such power or force is the way edges as borders and boundaries “intertangle” themselves in our own thinking because of the variety of expressions involved with them (23-4). For example, an edge bordering two univocal expressions of light might “intertangle” us into a contemplative state. Casey clues us in to how we can rid ourselves of such intertanglement, by stating, “[I]n descriptive fact, the matter is more complex and more interesting. To admit this [intertanglement] is not to descend into descriptive taxonomic chaos; [to admit this intertanglement] is to discern an abiding order in the midst of complexity. Even as embodying several sorts of edge, a given edge will as a rule exemplify one primary or most salient form of edge” (24, emphasis mine). Casey’s clue here is a road into the dramatic role of “borders and boundaries” because it gives us a key for understanding how two distinct, yet univocally related beings, are related to each other. He provides the key thus: two distinct, yet univocally related, beings are related to each by the “most salient form of edge” that provides an “abiding order in the midst of complexity.” One’s concern about how two distinct beings related to each other is more importantly set in the essential thought of their distinct relation: i.e., the salient edge, or form, between them.

In continuing the first part of his exact description of edges, Casey identifies “distinctive sorts of edges that pertain to places and limits” (xix). He provides us with a depiction of ‘edge’ in relation to surface, thing and place (40). After a thorough analysis of ‘surface’, Casey offers a proposition as follows, “The edge is all but the shadow of the surface” (43). Moreover, neither edge nor surface are substances in themselves, but rather expressions of the substance. The edge is essential to the substance, and the surface, as Merleau-Ponty wrote, is “the surface of a depth, [of] a cross section upon a massive being” (44). As we understand Casey, a distinctive edge, when ensconced in the meaning of ‘limit’, is that which is in relation to a depth-of-being, some thing, or some substance. Casey further writes that this distinctive edge is not “wholly immaterial or insubstantial”, and that it becomes a surface by relation to the surface (44). Similar to Husserl’s notion of ‘phantom’, distinctive edges becoming surfaces are often “left out of consideration” in their “capacity to exercise” causality (Sokolowski, 1974, 95-6). Furthermore, in section nine of chapter one, Casey offers a distinction of edge and limit. He states, “Edges are primus inter pares, first among what is otherwise equal in the playing field constituted by limits and edges … they are neither fully present nor strictly absent” (55-6). On the other hand, limits “exist elsewhere than in the immediately surrounding world of places to which we belong as sentient creatures” (55). Edges, as distinct from limits, “join the company of certain other phenomena that exhibit a like ambiguity of presence: [e.g.,] the human body (as Merleau-Ponty insists in his discussion of the phantom limb phenomenon), and the human face (emphasized in Levinas’s ethics)” but in contrast “limits are forever beyond ‘the bounds of sense,’ whereas edges emerge from within these bounds and help to concretize and complicate what appears there, even as they also mark its very evanescence” (56). To summarize here: edges constitute beings, such as things or thoughts, by their presence, but they are not beings-in-themselves; and distinctive edges emerge from limits, and can be spoken of thus: as distinctive edges that help concretize and complicate beings (or substances). So although edges are themselves not concrete, by relation to concrete beings they can help concretize beings (or substances).

Continuing Casey’s “exact description”, we come to part two, in which he provides an analysis of “naturally given and humanly constructed edges”, which are edges experienced in “wilderness” and “constructed environments” (xix). Casey begins here with what he considers to be “intermediate edges” (184). Casey identifies intermediate edges as edges that are mixed in with the wild and “the cultivated and artifactual,” and are furthermore expressed through what Foucault called heterotopias; i.e., “other places” (185-6). Intermediate edges have a certain compresence within both inclusive environments (e.g., those of Carthusian monks) and exclusive environments (e.g., those of dog-parks) (187). Casey discusses the naturally-free and flowing structure or environmental identity of intermediate edges as settings which grant humans and animals a certain capacity to walk and move unrestricted, wherein is experienced a “balance of spirit and humility” (187-88). One of the grand settings Casey uses to exemplify a setting constituted by intermediate edges is Central Park. He describes Central Park as “a vast heterogeneous multiplicity whose constituent elements exist at many scales: human, more-than-human, other-than-human” as well as an environment that “would count as ‘a plane of consistency’,” which is what Deleuze and Guattari’s termed “a region whose considerable diversity is coherent despite all the differences in kind, level, and number” (190). Edges constituting spaces or settings like Central Park invite us to have “bold imagination,” or what the Greeks called “greatness of soul” (megalopsychia) (190). They also invite us to new life, vita nuova (191). In what could be a mighty recompense for the inactive days of post-industrial British poetic imagination, Casey actively describes the intelligence of environments constructed by both Mother Nature and human ingenuity. The intelligence is the edginess of the construct: Is this not itself an ‘edgy-idea’ essential to Dasein?

Neighborhoods are also examples of what Casey has in mind about a description of “naturally given and humanly constructed edges” (xix). Neighborhoods give us a sense of community, especially if we understand how neighborhoods are places and/or communities constituted by edges. In reference to what Casey writes, neighborhoods are constituted by edged-places, which, according to Husserl, are each a “near-sphere”; or according to Heidegger, each is a “nearness” (195). On page 196, Casey gives us an image of a neighborhood as some kind of neural highway having various functions—various edged-places that are constitutive of an edged-boundary, which is, “the neighborhood” itself. Casey lists “meeting places”, “gateways”, and areas of “restricted access” as examples of these edged-places (196). According to Casey, the neighborhood is where the magic happens; it is essential to beings; beings get their thoughts and feeling about other beings from it (198-99). As such, we return to Casey’s notion of edges: they are essential to a thing or thought—in particular, the thing or thought of “neighborhood.” Casey concludes his discussion of intermediate edges, or edges naturally given as well as humanly constructed, by stating, “Each edge is transitional, none is ultimate. But taken together, all such edges constitute a city as anything but static—as an ever-evolving interplay of edges. In cities, the edge is where the action is … Every city is first and last—and at many points in between—an edge city” (204). We could do well to be denizens of such a city: a city “on edge.”

Casey’s penultimate part of his book, part three, “Edges of Body and Psyche, Earth and Sky” explores a whole phenomenology of “the world on edge.” It might well be described as a phenomenology of being as a bodily-boundary that lives within the bodily or non-bodily boundaries of the kosmos. He states, “My body is an earth body, and the earth is inhabited by living bodies, not only mine and not only human bodies but those of all other living beings as well” (298). One question that arouses much curiosity, which is really at the center of the philosophical task of his book, is, as Casey states, “whether there are specifically psychical edges—edges of states of mind, of moods, of feelings, of thoughts. Do they really exist?” (236). Casey provides an altogether practical case for the existence of psychical edges. He states as follows, “However tempting it is to regard exemplary cases of having an edge as physical, this does not preclude the possibility of genuinely psychical edges—that is, edges that belong to soul … in their own right. And more than just the possibility! Psychical edges are altogether actual insofar as they are feltfelt by us directly” (237). Suffice it to say that Casey is not alone in his general argument for psychical edges. We needn’t look further than Cartesian dualism or the Meinongian idea of mental content having qualia to realize that “psychical edges” have traction in the traditional philosophical canon. It is at the very least an entertaining notion that edges are not merely physical and purely literal, but also psychical and non-literal. And Casey goes further. He gives a two-fold distinction about psychical edges: (1) outer psychical edges and (2) inner psychical edges (240-41). Casey provides an explanation of the language we can use to discuss these aspects of psychical edges (e.g., language within the concept of “falling apart” during mental breakdowns, pp. 242-46). Notwithstanding, Casey tells us, that, “The self clearly has to have some minimal unity to be considered as split from itself” (257). From this idea we return to Edith Stein’s “metaleptic communion”: although edges are inside and outside, there is at the very least a minimal sense of unity between two aspects of ‘edge’. This brings us to one possible purpose of Casey’s description of edges in his penultimate part of the book: to reveal to us the grandeur of edges as that which constitute our life inside and outside; our life within and without. There is something worth critiquing about Casey’s analysis. Casey’s suggests that there is a need to distinguish the unitary from formal unity (260). He provides a few reasons as to why he thinks there is a need to distinguish the two: one reason is that formal unity is “fixed and static in character” and another reason is that, “Unlike formal unities, the psychically unitary cannot be quantified” (261). There are a few questions we can ask about this seemingly strange need to distinguish the unitary from formal unity. As to the first question, is formal unity “fixed and static in character” necessarily? It would seem formal unity is not “fixed and static in character” necessarily. As to the second question, why can’t the “psychically unitary” be quantified? It would seem the “psychically unitary” can be quantified somehow. We can imagine Casey has a response to these questions in his inner-psychical edge.

In the latter end of his penultimate section of The World on Edge, Casey provides us with a description of edges in relation to the earth and the kosmos. These sorts of edges are multitudinous: edges near and far from us; edges that lead into the underworld; found edges and edges of horizon and landscape; edges under our feet and edges above our heads (i.e., “comparative luminescence”); edges of the earth and the edge of the earth (278-284). In distinguishing between “edges of” and “the edge of” the earth, or what we can term particular-universals and the universal, Casey states as follows,

[S]everal of [the “edges of the earth”] we see directly, as determinate features of our environment. They are  already there, awaiting our discovery and perception and measurement. Unlike the horizon or the ground, they are always multiple, belonging to this protuberance here or that rill over there. Whether they are  sought out or not, they come forward into our experience as configuring the surface of the earth. By  contrast, the edge of the earth is fugitive and recessive. It is neither a thing nor an event; it is fundamental  yet intermittently experienced, sometimes confronting us but just as often eluding us…” (281).

And interestingly, “the edge of the earth” can be experienced as something quite elusive. It is, as Casey tells us, “a situation of elemental obscurum per obscurius, being made ‘obscure by the more obscure’;” yet, ironically, “edges of the earth” can be, according to Casey, “edges of unclearly presented entities [that] tend … to be unclear” (287). Do we wonder about the outermost edge? Are we like Heraclitus looking up into the Heavens at the cost of practical awareness? As we wonder, do we come up with an answer about this outermost edge? Casey gives us an interesting conundrum to try and solve our wondering of the outermost edge. Turning to the medieval conundrum of the javelin thrower, he asks, “Into what does he throw his spear, if he is himself situated on the outer-most edge of the known universe?” (288). Referencing Kant, Casey provides us with this sort of answer to the conundrum: “[T]hought without content is empty, and speculative thinking on its own ends in impasse” (289). In other words, the outer-most edge is not an empty thought, but speculative thinking only will only burden us more. So try, if you wish, to answer the conundrum, but know when to stop!

At any rate, Casey reaches his conclusive edge: the human being’s paradigmatic edge, their ultimate edge: Death, “beyond which there is no other” (343). Casey’s understanding of death constitutes paradoxical meanings about the psychical and psychical, such as his term “living death” (i.e., civic and social death), and “biological death” (344-45). In addition, Casey’s “ultimate edge of death” is one way of blending the psychical and psychical into one coherent meaning: “the final edge of life!” This edge is a border and boundary of the human condition, and it “cannot be reversed or crossed back over” (344). In this context, edges surely “cut a dramatic figure” into human existence, for edges “cut-around” the meaning of the body as it approaches its end, its “ultimate edge”, its autopsy (so to speak). Casey reveals to us that even though there are edges of thoughtful consideration, or those of pure speculation conducive to our curiosity, how much more curious and contemplative should we be about the ultimate “razor-edge” of our life: our very death! An old proverbial wisdom speaks keenly here: Indeed, the wise one thinks much of the Heavens, but they also they think much of death!

In summary, Casey calls his way of proceeding in his book “peri-phenomenology” (300). As Casey tells us, edges are precarious. Given that edges are associated with “risk”, peri-phenomenology is an apt way to go about edges carefully because peri-phenomenology does just that: it moves about contextual surroundings, which is, in certain cases, context-sensitive edges. What’s more: Casey appears to do exactly what he intended to do with his thesis through his peri-phenomenological approach: an “exact description” of edges. Peri-phenomenology is indeed the force from which Casey’s work appears outstanding. His thorough and rigorous exact description releases some precious nuggets of philosophical wisdom—wisdom beckoning to us take heed of the progressive revelations of our day. Surely, Casey’s book is a worthy testament to the burdensome undertaking of “edge-walking” amidst present-day global issues—in particular, the edge-walking amidst the pitfalls of political, societal, and even academic, issues. Casey’s understanding of “edge-walking” in this context is a precise sort of wisdom. He states as follows,

“What I have called the edge-world is not only a world composed of intricate patterns and permutations of edges; it is also a world that is itself on edge. As a consequence, each of us is pitched on a thousand edges—edges on which we shake and tremble even as we pretend to go about our lives undisturbed. Our equanimity is only skin-deep; underneath it the abysses gape open, not just at the far edge of the known world or at the base of a precipice. We are denizens of a world on edge, and we are ourselves creatures of exposed edges. This is not just a matter of being accident-prone or vulnerable as individuals. We carry risk to others, endangering their lives as well as our own. Whole populations of human beings have been decimated by their fellow humans. Many animal and bird species have been rendered extinct because of human actions in the Anthropocene. Now we are on the verge of making ourselves extinct if humanly induced climate change takes its full vengeance. There is no way to exist on earth, no alternative path, other than to follow the edges that guide us even as they expose us to risk at every turn. We must take such exposure into account, learning how to identify those edges that are likely to lead us astray: each of us exists on a perpetual visual cliff. Some edges bring us to an unwelcome fate for which we are not adequately prepared: on these I have focused in this epilogue. Instead of trying to forget them or merely regret them, we must think on them, reflecting on what they portend. Becoming wary of certain edges, we can come to trust other edges that will configure our life-worlds in ways that are both more constructive and more creative. These more auspicious edges point the way for us, incisively even if not infallibly. Thoughtfully traversed, they are able to liberate us, indicating directions with the potential to save us from our own destructive and self-destructive ventures” (351).

Able to liberate us, and able to give great meaning to life as well! Certainly, edges are essential to human beings, and they play a dramatic role. Of course, we can offer a critique of Casey’s work in the form of stating that there ought to be an answer as to why there is a “need to distinguish” formal unity from the unitary. Casey’s line of reasoning doesn’t seem to evince in us a sufficient reason as to why there is a need for such a distinction (as noted earlier in this review), but this critique doesn’t bear on the high performance and outstanding nature of Casey’s work. The critique is rather some pleasing outcome of Casey’s peri-phenomenological approach; and, in addition, it points out an interesting topic of discussion (e.g., formal unity vs. the unitary). In closing, I conclude by stating that Casey provides us with a refreshing and reinvigorating analysis of the world, The World on Edge. His book is a masterful ode to phenomenology, for it encourages phenomenologists to benefit from a seemingly neglected approach to phenomenology: peri-phenomenology. The methodology of it is a beneficial one, as it is capable of navigating numerous closely-related topics in “exact description.” With no serious doubt, Edward Casey has achieved something remarkable with his book, The World on Edge. Philosophers are hereby encouraged to read it, lest they lose their confidence to “walk the edge”!

References: 

Nietzsche, Friederich. 1999. Thus Spake Zarathustra. New York: Dover Publications: 70-1. Print. (Original published, 1883).

Sokolowski, Robert. 1974. Husserlian Meditations. US: Northwestern University Press: 95-6.  Print.

Calcagno, Antonio (2009). The Philosophy of Edith Stein. Pennsylvania: Duquesne University Press: 51. Print.

Marius Johan Geertsema: Heidegger’s Poetic Projection of Being

Heidegger's Poetic Projection of Being Book Cover Heidegger's Poetic Projection of Being
Marius Geertsema
Palgrave Macmillan
2018
Hardback 93,59 €
VIII, 288

Reviewed by: BB Bieganski (University of South Florida)

In his 2018 book, Heidegger’s Poetic Projection of Being (henceforth HPPB) Marius Johan Geertsema demonstrates that in Heidegger’s oeuvre, Being is essentially dialogical with the poetic. The poetic is not to be understood as strictly tethered to poems, but as a type of thinking which contrasts the worrisome technocratic with thinking combatted by Adorno, Foucault, Ortega y Gasset, and Heidegger himself. The poetic refers to the intimation of the future that shapes human thought and behavior in light of our finitude. Geertsema’s reading of Heidegger describes Being as a relation to a sort of hermeneutical receptivity that is found in poetic thinking—that is, an attunement towards nature, ourselves, and each other.

HPPB divides into three sections: an overview and explication of Heidegger’s philosophy, followed by Geertsema’s argument for Heidegger’s onto-poetology, and last a conclusion and implication section.

The first section of HPPB is dedicated to a discussion of Heidegger’s corpus which includes all the juicy aspects for any serious Heidegger scholar. This includes an elucidation of both the early Heidegger (including work prior to the publication of Being and Time) and the late Heidegger, along with a discussion of the Kehre—Heidegger’s turn from Dasein toward Being. Geertsema recontextualizes each phase of Heidegger’s work in light of the others, and even though he subtly offers his interpretation of the rupture between the early and late Heidegger, the first section of HPPB is primarily focused on outlining the different philosophies of early, middle, and late Heidegger.

The next 150 pages or so of HPPB are Geertsema’s own analysis of how Heidegger treats poetry, and its important role in Heidegger’s philosophy. In this section, Geertsema discusses the relationship between Being (that is, the world of experience) and poetry, and how Heidegger illuminates the role of language in our understanding of the world. Geertsema does an excellent job of citing textual evidence for Heidegger’s analysis of the intricate relationship of language and thought. It’s not surprising then, that Geertsema thinks that Being and poetics are intimately linked and that the way we interpret the world will be enmeshed in the way we discourse.

Geertsema takes great care in combing through Heidegger’s work: even in the areas that seemingly contradict the relationship between language and thought, Geertsema finds textual evidence that the discrepancy between thought and language isn’t so wide. For example, in the postscript to What is Metaphysics? Heidegger mentions that the poet and the thinker live on separate peaks of two mountaintops, which seems as though he views philosophical and scientific thinking as inconsistent with poetry and art. But Geertsema points out that in Anaximander’s Saying, Heidegger asserts that thinking grounds poetry and poetry grounds thinking, suggesting that Heidegger doesn’t think them as strictly incommensurable. And even though it seems as though Heidegger is inconsistent on the topic, Geertsema finds a way to bridge these ideas into a consistent overarching narrative in Heidegger’s thought.

Another impressive aspect to note in this section is that Geertsema tackles the dreaded Fourfold that flummoxes even the most well-read Heideggerian scholars, arguing that the Fourfold is a projection of a realm of thought that only poets can think. The Fourfold, which has two poles—the earth-sky pole and the mortal-divinity pole—can only be comprehended by poets, or “demigods”: those who exist “between” humans and gods and are receptive to the world around them as they project a type of thinking that anticipates and prepares for the future. Because poets are receptive to the world while understanding the boundaries that shape their understanding, poetry, or poetical thinking is able to get out of calculative, instrumental thinking. Metaphysicians, on the other hand, are concerned solely with how to explain reality, which opens up the question of technocratic domination. Poetry is dwelling, says Geertsema’s Heidegger: a sort of becoming comfortable with one’s own situation and context, where humans must realize their place according to their own boundaries. Thus, as poetry constitutes dwelling, it is the poet rather than the metaphysicians who understands the Fourfold as mode of thinking which grants us a way of navigating and understanding the world.

The final section, which concludes and examines the implications of the thesis laid out by Geertsema, unfortunately lasts only 4 pages. Here Geertsema introduces his own thoughts on the matter, which is the most interesting part of the book. Geertsema points out several worries for Heidegger, if Being is tied to the poetic (for example, Geertsema questions why should poetry be privileged—can’t architecture or a ballet also unite a people the same way poetry does?). Moreover, here Geertsema also considers certain secondary figures who have problematized Heidegger’s affinity for poetry, whereas in the bulk of the text such secondary exegesis is absent. Perhaps in a future book Geertsema will unearth these implications more in detail, as his worries seem to be problematic for Heidegger, if not outright lethal.

 The greatest virtue of HPPB is that Geertsema has clearly done his homework. Every exegetical claim made in the book is backed up by a quote or citation from Heidegger. Moreover, Geertsema doesn’t examine only the early or the late Heidegger, but the whole of Heidegger’s work, including lectures and biographical anecdotes. Scholars who focus on one period of Heidegger’s thought might come away from Geertsema having a better grip of Heidegger’s entire project because of how well Geertsema integrates every Heidegger—early, middle, and late—into one cohesive text.

However, there are limits to HPPB. Anyone who has little to no experience with Heidegger will effectively drown in the Heideggerese that Geertsema presents. Take for example: “To put it simply, Being can, according to Heidegger, only be what it is, in as far as it is appropriate at all to assert that Being ‘is’, when Being grants the human being the experience of Being, not only as the presencing of Being, but also as concealment; that is, the oblivion of Being as oblivion yielding from Being” (p. 52). Anyone without a sufficient background in phenomenology or Heidegger would find this passage to be mere nonsense, or some kind of unfunny joke. On the opposite end, those who are well-researched Heideggerian specialists might find swaths of HPPB uninteresting, uninformative, or uninspired. Experts studying a particular epoch of Heidegger might pass over sections of HPPB in order to reach their own area of interest. Since Geertsema offers expositions of Heidegger’s philosophy rather than a radical or novel reinterpretation of it, there is a risk of such inquisitive experts coming away only to be empty-handed. The primary audience that might get the most out of HPPB would be those who have read Heidegger but don’t understand him well enough yet. In other words, to use Geertsema’s nomenclature, HPPB is a book for demi-Heideggarians.

Another odd aspect of HPPB is that some of Geertsema’s claims are either wrong or open to easy misinterpretation. For instance, Geertsema claims that “Heidegger never took an interest in poetry and literature incidentally” (p. 9), which is either wrong (Heidegger wrote several poems, most of which are clumsily bad), or oddly-worded (Geertsema actually quotes some of Heidegger’s poetry, calling it “ugly,” p. 110). Or, for another oddity: “We will therefore examine = now [sic] the truth of the Being in relation to the phenomenon” (p. 103). Is the equal symbol supposed to represent that the concept of the ‘now’ to be examined? Or is it a weird typo that was maybe overlooked in the proofreading process (there are a few throughout the book, such as ‘Being a Time’ instead of ‘Being and Time’, p. 50). Or, in one of the rare instances in which Geertsema invokes secondary literature on Heidegger, he cites Thomas Sheehan’s work, Making Sense of Heidegger: A Paradigm Shift (2015), asserting that Sheehan gripes about the translation of “Ereignis” as “event”, but we should “pay attention to the use of the term by an author [Heidegger], instead of assuming a rigid frame of reference of the reader [Sheehan]…” (p. 38). However, Sheehan points out in several places in which Heidegger himself refused the interpretation of Ereignis as an event (as early as page xvii in the foreword of Making Sense of Heidegger, and which Sheehan explicitly tackles in chapter 8). These issues are mostly just distracting, but if this book is being recommended to scholars who are interested in learning more about Heidegger but are not yet experts, more could be at stake than simply getting one or two tenets of Heidegger’s philosophy wrong.

Lastly, and most pedantically, Geertsema tries his hand at Heideggerian etymology which turns out merely decorative rather than argumentative or explanatory. Those of us who don’t find the etymology interesting or informative have to sit through Geertsema’s own attempt at it. For example, Geertsema proffers that every seeing is a saying, and points out that both the English word ‘saying’ and German word ‘sagen’ come from the Indo-European ‘seku’, which means to ‘scent’ or ‘smell’, meaning to follow the trace of something (in Latin, to ‘tell’ or to ‘sequence’ is a following, ‘inseque’), which is also where the English word ‘seeing’ and the German word ‘sehen’ come from (p. 113-4). Heidegger would often analyze etymology to make a point about the relatedness of two ideas, but Geertsema’s own analysis is hardly elucidating or argumentative.

Despite some issues, Geertsema’s HPPB is a fantastic resource for Heidegger scholars who are interested in getting a stronger handle on Heidegger’s own thought. And while Geertsema doesn’t offer much of his own thinking here, the ideas that he offers will be suggestive to anyone who has an interest in Heideggerian phenomenology or continental philosophy of language.

 

References:

Geertsema, M. J. 2018. Heidegger’s Poetic Projection of Being. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

Sheehan, T. 2015. Making Sense of Heidegger: A Paradigm Shift. New York, NY: Rowman &   Littlefield International Ltd.