With this clearly argued and engaging study of Saussure, Beata Stawarska has done a great service to the broad, ongoing effort to radically reassess the established historiography not only of structuralism or phenomenology, but of pre-war European intellectual history as a whole. By convincingly making the case that one should liberate Saussure’s thought from its infamously strict dichotomies (langue-parole, synchrony-diachrony, signified-signifier), explore its entanglements with Hegelian and Husserlian phenomenology and give heed to its positive echoes in Merleau-Ponty rather than its critique by Derrida, Stawarska contributes crucial elements to a new historiographical account that presents structuralism and phenomenology not as antagonistic schools tightly bound to their respective founding figures, Saussure and Husserl, but as intermingling, even complementary threads in the still misunderstood interdisciplinary, highly networked and pan-European scientific context of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Instead of the unproductive opposition or mutual ignorance that have mostly characterised the relations between structuralism and phenomenology since the early 1960s, Stawarska correctly intimates, the rediscovery of their entangled history opens the way to a “rapprochement” and carries the promise of new vigour for both traditions.
Transcendental phenomenology has a reputation of avoiding engagements with other scientists and philosophers, contemporary or past. Pure description of absolute consciousness demands, according to Husserl, a ‘bracketing’ of all scientific results, philosophical ideas, and of argumentation altogether. The phenomenological philosopher operates in a self-enclosed and systematically expanding field that is built up entirely from a priori principles, without being misguided by the theories and systems of knowledge constructed in the worlds of dogmatic science and philosophy.
This book continues Dan Zahavi’s ongoing discussion of the closely related themes of subjectivity, selfhood, intersubjectivity, and sociality. Following several other books he has previously published on these topics, this one presents Zahavi’s considered views on them primarily through a critical engagement with a whole range of contemporary philosophers’ and empirical researchers’ theories on selfhood, subjectivity, and the underpinnings of human social interaction, with special attention to the phenomena of empathy and shame. Generally speaking, the result is a validation of insights achieved in the phenomenological tradition by thinkers such as Max Scheler, Edmund Husserl, Edith Stein, Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Alfred Schutz. In each case, though, Zahavi relies on his own phenomenological analyses that guide his readings of these thinkers’ works as he translates their findings into his own independently developed terminology.