Andrea Staiti (Ed.): Commentary on Husserl’s „Ideas I“

Commentary on Husserl's "Ideas I" Book Cover Commentary on Husserl's "Ideas I"
Andrea Staiti (Ed.)
Walter De Gruyter
2015
Hardcover 89,95€
344
Reviewed by: Diego D’Angelo (University of Würzburg)

 

Zweifellos gehört der erste Band von Husserls Ideen zur einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie zu den am häufigsten missverstandenen Werken der Phänomenologie und möglicherweise der gesamten Philosophie des 20en Jahrhunderts. Seine komplexe innere Logik wirkt beim Lesen befremdlich, und das Auftreten von „methodischen Vorerwägungen“ noch in der Mitte des Buches ist ein berechtigter Anlass zu einem gewissen Unbehagen. Wie mehrere Kommentatoren auch erkannt haben, tut sich Husserl auch keinen Gefallen, wenn er einige Begriffe nicht klar definiert bzw. wenn er gegen den Sinn seiner eigenen Phänomenologie zu gehen scheint. Verbindet man diese Umstände mit der großen Wirkungsgeschichte dieses Buches, so leuchtet die Notwendigkeit eines geschulten Kommentars zu diesem Werk ohne weiteres ein. Das Buch, das Andrea Staiti herausgegeben hat, nimmt sich vor, diese Lücke in der Forschungsliteratur zu schließen.

Die Gliederung des Buches leuchtet unmittelbar ein. Zu jedem Kapitel der Ideen bietet das Kommentar einen Aufsatz an, der – zumindest dem Anspruch nach – die zentralen Fragen der zu diskutierenden Passagen erläutert und eine Hilfe zur Lektüre darstellt. Das Werk will sich verstanden haben als ein kooperativer Kommentar (S. 10), der als eine „Einführung“ dienen soll. Das Publikum, wem die Beiträge gerichtet sind, besteht somit hauptsächlich aus Lesern, die sich zum ersten Mal ans Werk wagen: „This commentary’s ambition is to enable first-time readers of Husserl to tackle Ideen directly (that is: to go for the central insights of Husserlian phenomenology without having to first detour through one of the by now innumerable introductions and companions to phenomenology on the market), while still getting the necessary ,roadside guidance in order the avoid the interpretative perils Husserl identifies in his later remarks“ (Ibidem). Wie sich im Folgenden zeigen wird, hält dieser Kommentar dem Anspruch, eine erste Einführung zu sein, in vielen Fällen nicht stand. Nichtsdestoweniger kann er als ein wichtiger neuer Beitrag zur Husserl-Forschung gelten, nicht zuletzt angesichts der Tatsache, dass bis zu seinem Erscheinen die Literatur, die sich extra diesem Werk gewidmet hatte, recht spärlich war. Die Entscheidung, dem Werk anlässlich seines hundertsten Geburtstages (2013) einen eingehenden Kommentar zu widmen, leuchtet unmittelbar ein.

Es lohnt sich, die einzelnen Beiträge kurz zu diskutieren, da die Texte teilweise sehr unterschiedlich voneinander sind. Der Nachteil einer solchen Vorgehensweise, die eine tiefer gehende Analyse nicht erlaubt, wird dadurch kompensiert, dass die jeweilige Stärke und Schwäche der Beiträge hervorgehoben werden und die tatsächliche Tragweite des ganzen Werkes besser zum Vorschein kommt.

So bietet die Einführung des Herausgebers eine knappe, aber prägnante Darstellung der Wirkungsgeschichte und der unterschiedlichen Reaktionen, die die Ideen I nach ihrem Erscheinen hervorgerufen haben, und zwar sowohl in Deutschland und unter Husserls direkten Schülern, in Frankreich und den USA. Staiti legt die Ideen I als eine Kritik der Vernunft aus und belegt diese Auffassung im Hinblick auf die Entstehungsgeschichte des Werkes. Die These, die für die Forschung nicht neu ist, lässt sich kaum bestreiten und rückt das Gesamtprojekt der Ideen in einen Rahmen ein, der, obwohl stark kantischer Prägung, die Entwicklung der verschiedenen Kapitel gut nachvollziehen lässt und einige Missverständnisse (vor allem in der Interpretation von Husserls „Idealismus“) vermeiden kann.

Gerade aber solche Missverständnisse haben die Rezeptionsgeschichte des Werkes geprägt: John J. Drummond greift in seinem Beitrag „Who’d ‚a thunk it? Celebrating the centennial of Husserl’s Ideas I“ die ambivalente Rezeptionsgeschichte wieder auf, vertieft aber vor allem die immerwährende Relevanz dieses Werkes in der Phänomenologie sowie ihre Tragfähigkeit für die analytische Philosophie. Er nimmt sich hauptsächlich vor, zu zeigen, wie „phenomenology intersects and contributes to current debates in non-phenomenological circles“ (S. 16). Zu diesem Zweck analysiert Drummond mehrere Ansätze zum Begriff von Intentionalität und von intentionalem Gegenstand, vor allem in Hinblick auf jene intentionale Beziehung, wo eins der beiden Korrelata ein nichtexistierender Gegenstand ist: Laut Drummond befindet sich hier eine Stärke von Husserls theoretischem Rahmen, der auch in der Phänomenologie der Emotionen und Gefühle, sowie in der Reflexivität des Bewusstseins und im Zeitbewusstsein mit nichttranszendenten, nichtweltlichen Gegenständen zum Trage kommt: Es zeigt sich in diesem Bereich die interdisziplinäre Stärke von Husserls Phänomenologie zum Trage. Dennoch lässt sich kaum die Frage vermeiden, warum hier, gerade im Hinblick auf den interdisziplinären Kontext , nicht der Stellenwert von Husserls Wahrnehmungsanalysen hervorgehoben wird. Nicht von Ungefähr wurden die Wahrnehmungsanalysen schon zu Husserls Lebzeiten als das zentrale Stück seiner Phänomenologie verstanden. Dass die intentionale Beziehung auf nichtexistierende Gegenstände interdisziplinär fruchtbar ist, leuchtet ein; der Vorzug gegenüber anderen phänomenologischen Themen müsste aber eingehender bewiesen werden.

Claudio Majolino („Individuum and region of being: On the unifying principle of Husserl’s ,headless ontology“) kommt dagegen die schwierige Aufgabe zu, das extrem dichte erste Kapitel („Tatsache und Wesen“) zu erschließen. Er überspitzt dabei die Rolle der formalen Ontologie und des Individuums-Begriffs und schafft es somit, den gesamten Rahmen von Husserls Überlegungen kompakt darzustellen, liefert aber dafür keine Erklärungen der im Text vorkommenden Begriffe. Es handelt sich somit um einen starken Beitrag zur Forschung, der aber für Husserl-Anfänger wegen der fehlenden Erklärungen nur schwer zugänglich ist.

Robert Hanna („Transcendental normativity and the avatars of psychologism“) knüpft in seiner Lektüre von den „Naturalistischen Missdeutungen“ an Steven Crowell an und legt Husserls Kritik des Naturalismus, Empirismus und Skeptizismus als eine These aus, die er „phenomenological-transcendental normativity“ (S. 54) nennt. Mit dieser These gehe nach Hanna „a strong anti-naturalism“ einher, was eher schwer zu beweisen scheint, vor allem weil der Autor selbst die Gleichung „scientific naturalism = empiricist naturalism = positivism“ (S. 65) aufstellt, Husserl aber seine Philosophie ausdrücklich auch als „echten“ (d. h. recht verstandenen) Positivismus bezeichnet (Hua III/1, S. 44). Die These, dass es um einen „starken“ Antinaturalismus gehe, müsste abgeschwächt werden; trotzdem sind die einzelnen Ausführungen sehr klar und der Text schafft es, einen mittleren Weg zwischen Forschung und Einführung einzuschlagen.

In seinem eigenen Beitrag „The melody unheard. Husserl on the natural attitude and its discontinuation“ gelingt es Staiti, einen Text zu verfassen, der für eine erste Annäherung an Husserls Text gute Dienste leistet. Er konzentriert sich auf den Begriff der „Setzung“, der für Studenten oft eine gewisse Herausforderung darstellt, und erklärt ihn in überzeugender Weise. Er schafft es, die wichtigsten Aspekte des Textes gründlich zu erläutern; zugleich ist auch die Debatte in der Sekundärliteratur immer präsent und dazu wird auch entsprechend Stellung genommen.

Hanne Jacobs fährt in ihrem Text mit der Einstellung des Herausgebers fort. Deswegen ist ihr Beitrag „From psychology to pure phenomenology“ besonders lesenswert: Der Text verortet den psychologischen Weg zur Reduktion innerhalb der Gesamtkonzeption der Ideen und macht ihn stark wie sonst kaum in der Forschung; das ist aber deswegen sinnvoll, weil damit die methodischen Schritte von Husserls Vorgehen deutlicher zum Vorschein treten. Wichtige Begriffe wie „Immanenz“ und „Transzendenz“ werden kompetent eingeleitet, sodass der Text auch für Studenten zu empfehlen ist.

Burt Hopkins („Phenomenologically pure, transcendental, and absolute consciousness“) nimmt sich einen reinen Forschungsbeitrag vor. Er kritisiert alle Kritiker von Husserls „reinem Bewusstsein“, geht aber so undifferenziert vor, dass er mit einem Schlag das husserlsche Bewusstsein gegen „almost a century of Neo-Kantian, Hermeneutic, and French critique“ (S. 123), d. h., sowohl gegen Heidegger und Cassirer, als auch gegen Levinas, Derrida, Marion und andern Ansätzen reetablieren will. Hopkins will das „Pathos“ (S. 130) gegen den Naturalismus stark machen, das Platon und Husserl verbinde: „Plato and Husserl seem to have been pathologically united by their shared response to naturalism“ (Ibidem). Auch wenn der Ansatz grundsätzlich geteilt werden kann, wäre hier eine stärkere Differenzierung der Kritikpunkte vonnöten gewesen, um den Sinn dieses „Pathos“ für das Verständnis des Werkes nachzuvollziehen.

Dagegen schafft es Sebastian Luft in seinem Beitrag („Laying bare the phenomenal field. The reductions as ways to pure consciousness“), durch eine punktuelle Analyse des Textes wirklich Klarheit in Bezug auf einige Grundbegriffe herzustellen. Vor allem im letzten Teil des Beitrags plädiert er für „a more modest conception of phenomenology“ (S. 154), welcher nicht nur Wesens-, sondern auch Tatsachenwissenschaft sein sollte; damit würde die Phänomenologie eine Wissenschaft bleiben, ohne den immer wieder missverstandenen Anspruch, eidetisch, rein und ideell zu sein. Jenseits der realen Haltbarkeit dieses Anspruchs mit seinen Konsequenzen für die Phänomenologie als Ganzes (was eine Diskussion in extenso erfordern würde), zeichnet sich der Beitrag von Luft dadurch aus, dass seine Analyse zu den Wegen der Reduktion mit Beschreibungen einiger Zentralbegriffe (z. B. „reines Ego“) einhergeht; mit diesen Analysen und Beschreibungen und der These einer „bescheidenen Phänomenologie“ spricht der Beitrag sowohl Anfänger in Sachen Phänomenologie als auch Forscher an.

Haben wir am Anfang dieser Rezension von der Verblüffung gesprochen, die von der „methodischen Vorerwägungen“ in der Mitte des Buches ausgeht, so ist James Dodds „Clarity, fiction, and description“ dabei hilfreich, diese Verblüffung wenn nicht abzuschaffen, so wenigstens zu mildern; er vollzieht nämlich den Gedankengang der Ideen I nach und zeigt, dass diese Vorerwägungen tatsächlich dazu da sind, den Bereich des reinen Bewusstseins einzuleiten und die Umschlagstelle direkt mit Descartes in Verbindung zu bringen. Der Beitrag bleibt dabei nah am Text und gibt interessante Einsichten in Schlüsselbegriffe wie „Eidetik“, „Gegebenheit“ und „Klarheit“.

Der Text von Dan Zahavi („Phenomenology of Reflection“) verteidigt die Reflexion als plausible Methode des Philosophierens gegen Friedrich-Wilhelm von Hermanns (und Heideggers) Angriff an den Reflexionsbegriff. Es handelt sich um eine eher fachimmanente Kritik, die den Text zu einem reinen Forschungsbeitrag macht; als Kommentar (vor allem für Anfänger) bleiben aber die Ausführungen in ihrem Erklärungspotential zu beschränkt.

Ganz in die andere Richtung geht Dermot Moran („Noetic moments, noematic correlates, and the stratified whole that is the Erlebnis“). In seiner Analyse des Noemabegriffs meidet er die klassischen Forschungsfragen (wie die langjährige Debatte bezüglich des Verhältnisses von Noema und fregeanischem Sinne) und liefert erfolgreich einen überschauenden, einführenden Einblick in die verschiedenen Themen, die in Husserls Text auftauchen. Damit bekommt der Leser eine fundierte Einführung in Begriffe wie „Noema“ und „Noesis“, aber auch „Erlebnis“ und „Intentionalität“ überhaupt.

Der Text von Nicolas De Warren („Concepts without pedigree. The noema and neutrality modification“) trägt zum einem besseren Verständnis der Ideen I in ausgezeichneter Weise bei. Er schafft es, mit großer Klarheit die enormen Schwierigkeiten von Abschnitt III, Kapitel IV („Zur Problematik der noetisch-noematischen Strukturen“, das längste Kapitel im Buch) darzustellen, und zwar auch für einen Leser, der kein Spezialist ist. Aber er behält auch den größeren Kontext vor Augen, und der Text bleibt deswegen auch für erfahrene LeserInnen ansprechend. Einige Punkte (wie die Behauptung, Husserls Unternehmen sei „pädagogisch“ im Charakter und ziele nicht darauf ab, ein System zu bilden) würden freilich weiterer Erklärungen bedürfen, um ins Detail bewiesen werden zu können; andere Punkte (wie die Tatsache, dass die Phänomenologie als „first-person-perspective“ zu brandmarken, wie es geläufig ist, Husserls Ansatz widerspricht) leuchten ein, obwohl der Leser sich wünschen würde, dass ihnen mehr Platz gewidmet wäre. Sehr zu bedauern bleibt nur, dass der Text offenkundig schlecht redigiert wurde, was den Lesefluss leider beeinträchtigt.

Die klassische Debatte über den Noemabegriff, den von Dermot Moran aus dem Spiel gelassen war, wird von John J. Drummond („The doctrine of the noema and the theory of reason“) wieder aufgenommen. Der Autor konzentriert sich auf den Noemabegriff, grenzt sich gegenüber Gurwitchs Interpretation ab und nimmt zugleich in der Debatte zwischen Føllesdal und McIntyre Stellung: Die Intentionalität sei nicht so sehr vom (ggf. als „Sinn“ verstanden) Noema selbst, sondern vielmehr von den Noesen getragen (S. 261).

Daniel O. Dahlstrom („Reason and experience. The project of a phenomenology of reason“) liefert eine sehr textnahe Analyse der Evidenz und Vernunftsproblematik. Er zeigt, indem er der Devise des Bandes treu bleibt und einen darstellenden Umriss der Hauptthemen gibt, dass die Evidenz die Basis für Vernünftigkeit darstellt. So tritt zutage, dass die in der Einleitung aufgestellte These, die Ideen seien eine „Kritik der Vernunft“, darauf zurückzuführen ist, dass die Phänomenologie den Grund der Vernunft in der Evidenz sieht. Mit anderen Worten, eine Phänomenologie der Vernunft ist demgemäß nichts anderes als eine in der Evidenz fundierte Phänomenologie.

mit dem Versuch, diese Problematik der Vernunft mit der Frage nach der Teleologie zusammenzubringen, schließt Sonja Rinofner-Kreidl („Husserl´s analogical and teleological conception of reason“) auf exzellente Weise den Band ab. Obwohl der Text Vorwissen erfordert, ist die hier gestiftete Beziehung zwischen Husserls Teleologie der Vernunft und Kants praktischer Vernunft, was im Endeffekt zu einer phänomenologische Ethik führen soll, durchaus einleuchtend; insbesondere die These, dass Husserls Teleologie mit Normativität nichts zu tun hat („the teleology of reason as presented in the final sections of Ideas I does not amount to a normative transformation […] that transcends the theory of pure reason”), würde einige gängige Lektüre von Husserls Phänomenologie in Schwierigkeiten bringen.

Jenseits der eigentlichen Beiträge schlägt dieser Kommentar mit einem Schema eine Systematisierung von einigen Begriffen vor. Graphische Darstellungen sind in der Phänomenologie selten, aber nicht deswegen von vornherein unerwünscht, wenn man darüber im Klaren ist (wie der Autor Ben Martin das ist), dass einige Begriffe der husserlschen Philosophie eher flüssig sind, und sich daher nicht abschließend definieren lassen. Einige Annahmen des Schemas kann man in Frage stellen, aber im Wesentlichen scheint die vorgeschlagene Darstellung der noetisch-noematischen Korrelation korrekt zu sein und eine gute Ergänzung für diejenigen, die sich damit konfrontiert sehen, die Ideen I zu unterrichten.

Das gilt ebenso auch für den Band insgesamt. Dem Herausgeber und den Beitragenden ist es gelungen, einen lang erwarteten Kommentar zur Verfügung zu stellen. Selbst wenn die einzelnen Beiträge manchmal zu sehr mit Forschungsfragen beschäftigt sind, und selbst wenn grundlegende Erklärungen von Begriffen und Argumenten fehlen, die für Anfänger wichtig wären, erlauben die zu Wort kommenden Einsichten ein besseres Verständnis des Buches, womit das wichtigste Ziel eines solchen Kommentars schon erreicht ist.

 

Antonio Calcagno: Lived Experience from the Inside Out: Social and Political Philosophy in Edith Stein

Lived Experience from the Inside Out: Social and Political Philosophy in Edith Stein Book Cover Lived Experience from the Inside Out: Social and Political Philosophy in Edith Stein
Antonio Calcagno
Duquesne University Press
2014
Paperback $24.95
248

Reviewed by: Amie Zimmer (University of Oregon)

Antonio Calcagno’s marvelous book offers up a systematic account of the early philosophy of Edith Stein which counters an impulse toward a particular kind of systematicity in Stein scholarship, a ‘bad’ systematicity which has heretofore tended to create an arbitrary boundary line between Edith Stein’s early, phenomenological writings and her later works. The narrative that Calcagno spins is one that makes no such distinction between where ‘philosophy proper’ is happening in Stein’s genealogy by pointing solely to her early works. Rather, Calcagno’s enterprise is holistic in nature, as it seeks to uncover the underlying structures conditioning Stein’s philosophical movements in the social and political as both stemming from and distancing itself apart from her early phenomenological work. She does not start with phenomenology and then move into the social and political, but rather, moves into the social and political as a phenomenologist immanently committed to the lived experience of the social world. As Calcagno masterfully shows, what we must remain committed to from Stein’s early phenomenological work as we move into the political is her treatment of individual personhood, staying away from a conception of the political as merely the individual person writ large. Interestingly, in order to make the genealogical move, Calcagno must (somewhat ironically) show that the intersubjective reading of Steinian empathy— which seems much more amenable to a reading continuous with her social and political work— misses the eidetic variation, which “allows the I to verify what it experiences not only at the level of personal experience, but also at the more general and encompassing level of essence, ultimately yielding the essence or constitutive sense of what it is to be a human person.” (xiv) Thus the self-knowledge (opposed to solely intersubjective knowledge) that is arrived at in and through empathy is what establishes shared social structures.

The first chapter situates Stein’s social and political project, distinguishing between her earlier and later works by simultaneously drawing important connections between them. The second chapter takes on the traditional reading of Steinian empathy in order to establish the shared social structures of human experience. For Stein— and this is the line that Calcagno so faithfully follows— the social world hinges on both social psychology and the ‘phenomenological experience of certain social bonds.’ (xiv) Chapter three, then, shows how phenomenological experience is made possible by psychological structures which allow us to synthesize and communalize. The fourth and final chapter, an exploration of Stein’s theory of the state, is both an articulation of certain phenomenological insights cultivated along the way, as well as a marker of a political philosophy wholly apart from any discursive phenomenological apparatus.

Chapter one immediately situates Stein’s relationship with Husserl as one of difference: Stein was frustrated with Husserl’s transcendental idealism and his early departure from eidetic analysis. She always maintained the co-origination of self, world, and other subjects, even when Husserl himself did not come to this conclusion himself until the Cartesian Meditations. For Stein, meaning is always wholly dependent upon the actual existence of the world, the social world in particular. The epistemological stakes of the possibility for self-knowledge in empathy (laid out in great detail in chapter three) are grounded in the knowing of another’s mind in empathy.

Chapter two situates Stein’s treatment of empathy in the Einfühlung as both maintaining the traditional view (that empathy yields knowledge of other minds) and expanding its reach, by and through Calcagno’s position that empathy plays a foundational role in self-knowledge. Calcagno’s argument here is threefold: firstly, he seeks to establish empathy’s role in the cultivation of self-knowledge, particularly the kind of self-knowledge revelatory of establishing personhood. He secondly maintains that this self-knowledge is essential for all knowing; thirdly, and this argumentative prong leads us into the work of the second half of the book, empathy is a ‘low-level starting point’ which must be departed from in order to experience larger social and political objectivities and structures.

Empathy’s function as a structure of self-knowledge has been overlooked by philosophers, who privilege Stein’s discussion of the foreign other in the empathic relation as revelatory of structures of alterity, otherness, and an overcoming of Husserlian solipsism, thus missing the ways in which this account of intersubjectivity is reflexive back upon the ‘I’ for whom self-knowledge and self-constitution of the human person is built upon the ‘communal essence’ brought about through this empathic eidetics. Steinian empathy is neither a dartboard for the target of other minds, nor a transcendence of immanence in and through a ‘fully’ intersubjective experience. Calcagno’s reading of Stein against Lipps nicely problematizes both interpretations. Rather, as a unique perceptual act of consciousness, empathy yields both the ‘discovery’ of another subject and, most crucially, the ‘I’ that stands in the other subject’s place. As Calcagno tells us: “We can see that Stein is arguing that what allows me to be aware of the other’s pain is not so much the pain itself but my capacity to enter into the other subject’s place with my own mind. I literally enter into the feelings and lived experience of the other.” (35) Crucially, empathy has a structure of co-constitutive primordiality and non-primordiality: the other is experienced primordially as other, and yet the taking-place of the experience of the other must be understood non-primordially (i.e. when I experience the other’s pain, I don’t feel the pain on my body, but rather, experience it non-primordially as pain). At the same time, what empathy is most revealing of is an auto-affectivity of the ‘I,’ for which the givenness of an emotion or feeling enacts a givenness not only of ‘pain’ or ‘joy,’ but of the ‘I’ for whom that emotion or mood is then given: “For Stein, empathy does more than allow us to ‘transfer’ into the mind of the other; it also guarantees the non-reducibility of the world to my own experience.” (78) As Calcagno says: “When I experience a certain feeling, such as pain, the pain alone is not the only thing revealed. I, too, am in pain.” (98)

The lived body is crucial to Stein’s phenomenological account of transcendental personhood established here through empathy. While sensations are undeniable for Stein, they do not constitute one’s identity to the living body. They occupy a space ‘within,’ but not of. Calcagno’s treatment of the ‘sensation of feelings’ and ‘sensual feelings’ extends Stein’s discussion of sensations and impressions to a place in which certain embodied sensations do require an accompanying I-consciousness, thus establishing the role of the lived body beyond the base phenomenological considerations of the body as a zero point of spatialized and spatializing orientation in and with the world. Calcagno connects this to a crucial discussion of causality, pointing to the ways that Stein goes beyond contemporary behaviorist approaches to causality in favor of a bodily causality, a movement away from causality as a logical structure (à la Kant or Hegel) and toward a conception of causality as physically and psychically embodied. Something causes a to affect b, and it is the affectivity of the relation between cause and effect into which empathy intervenes; the affectivity of the relation distinguishes this particular form of Steinian causality. As Calcagno says: “A psychiatrist can perceive the effects of psychic trauma in the present life of her patient, but she can also empathize with her patient’s trauma in order to acquire a deeper understanding of what the patient is going through. Causality, and understanding how cause and effect work, Stein argues, is part of our psychic constitution and can clearly be seen in and through the lived body.” (83)

Stein’s movement toward love as the highest value allowing for the recognition of personhood proper in the other results in a simultaneous breakdown of empathy as the structure by which the other is apprehended. As Calcagno says: “In love, I cannot take the place of the other because the other is loved for who they are as a person.” In other words, empathy cannot reveal full personhood. Calcagno asks, rightly so, how the ‘I’, then, is supposed to recognize itself as a ‘full’ person in the Steinian sense. His clam is to say that the I’s capacity to self-reflect and personality-build, its ability to self-create through value (à la the influence of both Scheler and Nietzsche) is what ultimately fulfills this obligation. And yet the other is both revealed to me through love but not dependent on that love: “How, then, do I and the other actually relate?” Calcagno asks. (103) While acknowledging empathy’s structural breakdown in this moment, Calcagno points to the necessity of empathy to interact with other mental acts in order to stand in relation to both self-knowledge and knowledge of the other.

Chapter three moves us from the individual to the superindividual, turning to Stein’s Beiträge in order to develop a more robust account of Steinian intersubjectivity beyond the limitations of the empathic framework. As Calcagno makes clear in this chapter, this move is necessary if we are to both retain the import of her early phenomenological work for her social political work, and see the important loci of divergences between them. Empathy constitutes one ‘basic’ form of intersubjectivity through the body-psyche unity, through the analogizing of the experiences of others through the ‘I,’ but here we move forward and beyond. Calcagno’s turn to an account of Steinian sociality develops a fuller sense of intersubjectivity, and he skillfully traces the outward movement from the ego-centered account of empathy to the account of the superindividual. Calcagno’s analysis of the Beiträge zur philosophischen Begründung der Psychologie und der Gesiteswissenschaften (Philosophyo f Psychology and the Humanities) goes through Stein’s identification of the mass, society, and community as three forms of intersubjective life, of which community is identified as the highest. A community’s members are not replaceable nor interchangeable: one “consciously ‘lives’ with the other and is determined by the other’s vital movements.” (118) Thus, community does not imply a fusion, nor does it take us back to the account of the individual empathically experiencing the mind of the other, but rather, the essential relationship between individuals is reworked into one of consciously lived solidarity with others. The individual can experience life within the “superindividual subject,” which is to say that one can feel both (to use the Steinian example Calcagno draws on) a personal grief at the loss of a troop leader, and the communal, collective sadness of the troop itself as a grieving community. While Calcagno does account for the expected parallels between this example and Scheler’s strikingly similar one, more distance between the two figures would have proved very helpful for someone eager to parse out the two thinkers on this point.

The solidarity one experiences in a community is not an act of empathy; it endures as long as it endures, and can both grow in significance through a continuity of sense as equally as it can diminish from its status as a lived experience. In other words, “if the troop members do not feel a communal sadness at the loss of their leader, then there is no communal lived experience.” (121) The superindividual experience occurs within individual consciousness, and Calcagno is precise in distinguishing his discussion of the superindividual with any misinterpretation which might mistake this for the existence of a ‘communal pure I,’ of which there is no such thing. Communal lived experiences are constituted by intentionality, solidarity, we-intentionality (although not always), Sinnlichkeit, categorical acts (Kategoriale Akte) and dispositional acts(Gemütsakte). Calcagno explicates what he calls a ‘doubleness’ of the experiences of categorical and dispositional acts in particular, accounting for the ways in which all persons share the capacity for these acts, yet each individual act is localized in individual consciousness, formulating a precise conception of the ‘we’ as Calcagno mediates between the ‘phenomenological’ work done in the first half of the book, and the social-political nature of the second. The communal ‘life-force,’ however, is not inimicable to that of its members, which is to say that the individual (the impassioned political citizen, to rely on Calcagno’s example), much actively choose to ally herself with the community. The relationship between individual and community plays itself out in the sub-section, “The Ontic Structure of the Community.”

The fourth and final major chapter of the book is comprised of two essential claims: firstly, Calcagno claims that Stein’s political philosophy must be read on its own terms, which is to say read apart from the phenomenological proclivities of the author. Secondly, Calcagno argues that Stein’s theory of the state gives us a more meaningful conception of Stein’s account of the political itself. While Calcagno acknowledges that Stein’s early work on phenomenology and empathy can be made resonant with the work he treats here, Eine Untersuchung über den Staat (An Investigation Concerning the State), his project here in this final chapter is to situate the work on its own. The differences in methodological approaches and the argumentative nature of the political work specifically lend itself to a very different philosophical analysis. Stein argues for the superiority of the communal conception of the state which posits a sovereign state over and against the societal, contractarian account of statehood. Calcagno is very attuned to the ways that sovereign hits contemporary political ears and pays close attention to elaborating the Steinian position. He pushes back against Stein’s critiques of contract theory insofar as her critiques equivocate between the contractarian position and her own account of societal sociality. The work that Calcagno does to enact a separation between Stein’s phenomenological work and her political work begs an interesting question about the status of political phenomenology proper. For Klaus Held, for example, phenomenology is inherently political. While it is not the task of Calcagno’s project to develop a phenomenology of this nature, it begs interesting questions about the stakes of the ‘two’ projects as one. Ultimately, for Stein, the state must be experienced in a communal form if it is to be meaningful at all. Viewed as an object wholly outside of and against the individual would, as Calcagno illustrates via his construction of the contractarian critique, compromise the stability of the state itself. Calcagno argues for a particular relationality between sovereignty and the community, in which he advances two critiques of Stein’s political theory in order to suggest that the state is dependent both on its constituents, and its relationality to other states. Calcagno extends an analysis of the Husserlian Ich kann to Steinian sovereignty: thus the peculiar essence of the state is the “preservation and actualisation of the ‘I can’ on a collective level or for the community.” (181) Since the Ich kann is a formulation of phenomenological freedom and responsibility on the embodied and individuated level, then “if we are to speak of the state Ich kann…we must do so in a different frame of reference, that is, a collective autonomy geared at expressing the chosen, desired, and sometimes coerced sum of human relations.” (182)

It’s not surprising that Calcagno’s text was the recipient of the 2015 Ballard Prize for Phenomenology; the text is an excellent resource for any philosopher interested in the relationship between early phenomenology and social ontology, and provides a stunningly comprehensive and sophisticated account of Edith Stein’s early work. The book itself performatively enacts the very kind of inside out approach its title makes claims to, moving from an account of the empathic individual to the situation of the individual in larger social and political contexts. I would encourage readers to take an additional approach, that which moves from the outside in, heeding anyone on the outside of Stein scholarship to come in.

Joseph Rivera: The Contemplative Self After Michel Henry: A Phenomenological Theology

The Contemplative Self After Michel Henry: A Phenomenological Theology Book Cover The Contemplative Self After Michel Henry: A Phenomenological Theology
Thresholds in Philosophy and Theology
Joseph Rivera
The University of Notre Dame Press
2015
Paperback $48.00
408

Reviewed by: Christopher DuPee (University College Dublin)

Rivera situates his account within the well-established drama of the 20th century onset of nihilism as the consequence of the autonomous, Cartesian ego. One particular interpretation of the history of the phenomenological movement- one which Rivera takes pains to defend- is the examination and explication of an ego freed from this inheritance; as such this particular version of the phenomenological movement, which includes not only Henry but also the work of Marion, Lacoste, and to a certain extent Levinas, thematise the subject after a fashion of emphasizing its heteronomous source. The “theological” thematization of phenomenology’s investigation therefore sets up the inheritance of religious tradition, in the case of both Michel Henry and Rivera himself the Christian tradition, as a corrective to the implicit Cartesian foundations of Husserlian and Heideggerian phenomenology.

The need for such a theological corrective, on Henry’s estimation, arises from the “classical” pair’s complicity in the nihilistic “systematic reduction of the self to the finitude, utter exteriority, and ephemeral flow of the world.” (69) This ecstatic formulation of the ego, rather than explicating its essence, does disservice to, and distorts, the truth of the ego. According to Henry, in short, the continuous thematization of the self according to its ek-static activities continues to reduce the ego’s manifestation of itself to pure representation, and thus, continuous alienation. He terms this a form of ontological monism. This exteriorized thematization of the ego is in fact the true error, the true forgetfulness, of Western metaphysics, and thus the operative source of the onset of nihilism. It is from this starting point, the induction into the utter interiority of the self, and the truth of the self found there, that Rivera sets out to explore Henry’s work.
Against this monism Henry posits the “duplicity of display”. Radicalizing the Husserlian split of Lieb and Körper, Henry expounds the interiority of life and the living generative movement as over and against the visible display of affairs of the exterior world which has so occupied phenomenological analysis. This inner subjective source abounds and is the wellspring of the spiritual energy of “generation” of subjectivity. “The world does exist but it does not add to, or consist of, what is living and real about the ego itself, about the subjective world in which each of us dwells as who we really are.”(90) This account takes on its theological aspect insofar as, in a quite a novel way, Henry entirely reframes the notion of God as the ground or guarantor of being. “Rather, God hands himself over to me and is bound at once to himself and me, and there, while continually experiencing himself, he is nothing but that living self-experience I also have of myself I am what God is.” (115-6) To adapt Cardinal Newman’s phrase, to believe in God is simply to believe in one’s self, in its full depth. It is on the basis of these two very bold theses on Henry’s part that Rivera will generate his critique.

To start, Rivera interrogates the progress of Henry’s occultation of the corporeal, visible body. However much Henry insists upon the effective reality of the exterior world, and of its ontological import, every trace of life and reality is progressively relegated to the side of the interior. The exigencies of planetary life, thusly, take up in proportion their own illusory, distracting, unreality. Rivera charges Henry, then, with incoherence. By what device does Henry escape from theorizing the bare obverse of the ontological monism he critiqued in Husserl and Heidegger? In Henry’s apparent inability to defend against this charge, Rivera sees an opening for a further thinking over the relation of interior/exterior.

Rivera takes up Henry’s insistence that an understanding of the self’s interiority is the only way to avoid and correct the perpetual self-alienation of ontological monism; but on the other hand resolutely does not follow Henry into the self-present depths of an interior world set against the exterior temporalized world. Rivera accepts the same broad outlines of the thinking of temporality, finitude, and the elision of self-presence manifested in contemporary phenomenology. What Rivera’s contemplative self is able to do is, rather than escape this temporality into pure interiority, instead contemplate in a non-representative fashion the source of the self, which is God. Finding the source of life in God and God’s eternity destabilizes the persistent self-alienation by expanding, rather than avoiding, the temporal horizon.

The contemplative mode manages to find its way from exteriority and worldliness, which the self is, into a form of interiority given as the verbum intimum, the interior formal capacity of this contemplation which is a gracious provision, a gift from beyond the subject. Thus the self becomes “porous”, able to approach in memoria the source of the self and to hope eschatologically in epektasis for the alteration and restoration of the structure of the world wherein the self is thrown. Rivera therein spells out a restructured phenomenology of temporality and intersubjectivity along the lines of this contemplative possibility.
We find with Rivera’s construction after Henry a powerful opening onto further ways of considering interiority alongside of exteriority, a lacuna immediately noticeable across the span of contemporary phenomenology. But the difficulty, as is ever the case with theoretical constructs of any kind (but especially of philosophical import) which take their cue from faith traditions, is the ever problematic interplay between particular starting points and transcendental claims. One puzzles over the ability to offer reasons for finding the God of Christianity either in (as for Henry) or through (with Augustine and Rivera) the depths of the phenomenological subject, however constructed. One sees an opening, of course, from Rivera’s situating the discussion within the progress of nihilism heralded by Nietzsche which, contrary to quasi-Habermasian claims, demonstrably hasn’t stemmed in its flow. But the phenomenological picture is not, and certainly not that of the theological “turn”, the only game in town concerning a narrative of the amartiological pre-understanding of our epoch. Whilst not an inherent weakness of Rivera’s own investigations, the depth and power of his theorizing beg application and conversation across the broader range of contemporary thought. For the power of understanding humanity through the lens of the contemplative self, in its full transcendental claim, begs the platform of being able first of all to say “Here, this and these, they sum up the facts of our contemporary pathology. And here, this, the contemplative self, opens a way to investigating the truest therapy.” Such is the nascent possibility.

Nolen Gertz: The Philosophy of War and Exile

The Philosophy of War and Exile Book Cover The Philosophy of War and Exile
Palgrave Studies in Ethics and Public Policy
Nolen Gertz
Palgrave Macmillan UK
2014
Hardcover £63.00
IX, 203

Reviewed by: Dena Hurst (Florida State University)

The subtitle of Gertz’s book is “From the Humanity of War to the Inhumanity of Peace”. While the title, “The Philosophy of War and Exile,” is helpfully succinct and descriptive, it is the subtitle that conveys the theme interwoven through the chapters of the book. We often think of war as inhumane, bloody, barbaric, violent, loud, miserable, chaotic; peace is the opposite, the humane desired state of quiet, gentility, order, normality. Gertz argues, however, that viewing war and peace as two opposing states, one bad and the other good, sets a foundation for misunderstanding the nature of war and experiences of those who live through it.

The first step in the argument demonstrates how what we know about PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) doesn’t fit the reality of many veterans’ experiences. The label of PTSD tidily packages feelings and behaviors into a framework that seems to make it easier for friends, family, members and counselors to understand why a person may act in a particular way, e.g, hypervigilant, dissociative, overcome by intrusive memories. If we can name it, we think we can understand it and fix it. Gertz’s claim, though, is that in so naming PTSD, we are imposing upon it a misunderstanding of the real concerns, and thus attempts to fix it do more harm than good for veterans.

The misalignment of PTSD treatment arises because “the predominant view of PTSD does not fit the experiences of a significant portion of PTSD sufferers, namely those who have been found to have been traumatized by acts they perpetrated against others, rather than by acts perpetrated against them.” (6) Rather than seeing fear as the primary cause of PTSD, treatment providers must realize not only that there are multiple underlying causes, but also that “moral injury” is one of those causes. (6). Gertz explains moral injury as the conflict between what soldiers believe to be moral and the immoral acts they may commit or witness under military orders. This moral injury can certainly shape the emotions and actions of returning soldiers because they are forced to confront the very beliefs that gave their lives meaning, that defined who they were as individuals prior to the war. This internal conflict arises if a soldier cannot reconcile actions deemed immoral within his or her moral system. This conflict can also entail wrestling with the complexity of actions that the soldier sees as both moral and immoral. In such cases soldiers must confront their own humanity, the sense of loss and despair that accompanies the stripping away of a sense of self and place.

The significance of Gertz’s analysis is that a new aspect of moral injury is added to the current dialogue—that of injury to morality itself. (7) Ignoring this aspect, Gertz claims, means that it is assumed that there is a morality and that it is the non-combatant experience that defines that morality. (7-8) Legitimizing non-combatant morality at the expense of the combatant experiences creates a disconnect in the treating of PTSD.
For Gertz, this is the point of intersection between PTSD and just war theory. Just war theory rests on assumptions about the morality of war based on the experiences of past combatants as described in historical reports and memoirs. These past experiences are seen as reliable guides for framing moral conduct in current and future wars. For Gertz, these experiences are viewed from the perspective of common—in other words, non-combatant—morality. “This perspective distorts the experiences of combatants by viewing them through the lens of noncombatant experience. By taking combatants and noncombatants to belong to the same moral world, just war theorists are able to overcome the challenge of realists by claiming that moral judgments can apply to war.” (8) In Gertz’s view, both the PTSD paradigm and just war theory seek to “overcome” combatant experience, to impose the “right” way of being on the combatant and the “right” conduct on war.

The book is divided into two main parts. The first part, chapters 1 and 2, addresses the notion of responsibility. Chapter 1 begins with the claim that just war theory is based on the assumption that because we are all human and share a common set of tools for describing and judging the world, we also share a common morality. (16) With this belief in a common morality comes defenders of this view, and arguing against the common morality view is to be excluded from the widespread agreement that the common morality view claims exists. It is to be seen as inhuman. (18)

Common morality lets us judge others based on a presumed understanding of how they feel based on the shared quality of being human. Extending this to combatants, it assumes that anyone, including non-combatants, can judge the moral decisions of combatants; even moreso, it assumes that combatants are making what are primarily moral decisions. In combat, it may be more accurate to say that dilemmas soldiers face are primarily existential in nature, questions rooted in their beliefs about who they think they are and how they will be perceived by others. (23) These existential questions are not addressed in just war theory. And because they are not addressed, just war theory does not not adequately consider the process of turning a human being into a combatant, of living as a combatant, and the process of transforming out of being a combatant.

In chapter 2, Gertz takes on the notion of responsibility, which is “best understood as a matter of identity rather than of morality as to become responsible is to become someone not only capable of becoming responsible, but someone…capable of becoming who a situation calls for…” (63) We become who we are by having experiences that reveal what we are capable of becoming as a rather compelling example of a child soldier demonstrates. The significance of this claim becomes apparent in the three chapters that follow.

The second part of the book builds on the work of the first two chapters by examining three aspects of the combatant experience: torture, drones and cyberwar, and PTSD and exile. Torture presents the moral dilemma of having to act immorally for the sake of morality, of torturing the terrorist to save innocent lives. The paradox this dilemma presents for just war theory is that a good man would not want to torture, even to save innocent lives, while a bad man would be willing to torture and bring about a greater good. The reality of torture is not so neatly drawn, as the torturer can be both hero and monster and the relationship between the torturer and the tortured is complex.

“A killer can take away your life. A jailer can take away your freedom. But a torturer has the power to take away your ability to be in control of your own thoughts and feelings, of your own body and voice,” and can “use your own mind and body to make you…torture yourself.” (69) Torture reduces the tortured to a “plaything”, something less than human. (69) Compounding the brutal nature of torture is the nature of the torturer, the kind of person that could carry out such acts. It is easy to see them as the monsters they are portrayed to be, as people who enjoy torturing and would do so no matter the cause. It is harder to recognize that the torturer may see himself as a person doing good who happens to torture. Or the torturer may feel trapped, helpless, forced into such a position by the tortured whose actions caused the torture.

To abstract torture away from its reality, Gertz argues, sets up implausible scenarios. Torture is carried out in a “torture regime.” (72) To understand torture in its context it is necessary to know how a person becomes a torturer. Gertz outlines the systemic nature of torture and aptly shows how a torture regime creates the conditions in which torture takes place, “thus in creating both the torturer and the tortured.” (78) In a cycle of dehumanization, “torture can turn a victim into a perpetrator and a perpetrator into a victim.” (78) The only way to stop this cycle is to recognize how responsibility is distributed in a torture regime. It is up to each of us to accept who we really are, “beings who are willing to sacrifice both torturers and torture victims alike…so that our consciences can remain asleep before our suffering and the suffering of others…” (90-91) We become responsible for torture when we become human.

As a representation of our disembodiment and shunning of responsibility, Gertz next turns to drone warfare, unmanned warfare. We labor under the illusion that this kind of warfare is much cleaner, more sanitized, that it separates combatants from the trauma of war. With clear illustrations Gertz shows how the process of identifying and tracking targets, combined with the “clarity of the drone’s optics,” bridge both the geographic distance and the existential distance between combatants. (100) Because the drone operator sees through the drone, and thus this type of combat is an embodied experience. The virtual can be visceral, and “what is drone warfare can be real warfare.” (112)

The final chapter of the book ends with an exploration of “exile,” the treatment of combatants returning to home life as a class of people set apart by their experiences. Combatants feel out of place in a peace, and as Gertz has revealed, this is not only due to the unfamiliar terms of peacetime life, a life they can’t quite understand as the beings they have become, but also because those who live in peace refuse to accept responsibility for the war and war regime that created the combat experiences. It is much easier to place the problem on “them” and to insulate ourselves by compartmentalizing their thoughts and feelings into a diagnosable and treatable disorder, PTSD. By portraying returning combatants as heroes we make ourselves feel better because we do not have to face what we have done to force them into such a role. (149)

Gertz states that philosophy, and phenomenology in particular, can go beyond its traditional roles with regard to public policy: clarifying questions, pointing out inconsistencies, and offering critiques. Philosophy can help move public policy toward creating a world in which there is no war. (11) To do so requires that we recognize that we are not at home in the world, and that our attempts to avoid or disguise this very human feeling is the underlying cause of war. (152) If we share something in common as human beings, it is our phenomenological connections, our embodied mortality. (152) The path to peace is through understanding, not judging.

Luke Fischer: The Poet as Phenomenologist: Rilke and the New Poems

The Poet as Phenomenologist: Rilke and the New Poems Book Cover The Poet as Phenomenologist: Rilke and the New Poems
New Directions in German Studies
Luke Fischer
Bloomsbury Academic
2015
Hardback
352

Reviewed by: Alex Cosmescu (Academy of Sciences of Moldova)

In his recent monograph, The Poet as Phenomenologist: Rilke and the New Poems, Luke Fischer tries to show that Rilke’s two volumes of Neue Gedichte, without ceasing to be poetry, have an intrinsically phenomenological character and are the product of a special practice of seeing / writing that Rilke learned and pursued based on his interaction with visual artists, including a deep engagement with Rodin’s and Cézanne’s work. According to Fischer, the practice of seeing / writing and its results have deep affinities with phenomenology. More than that, “Rilke’s vision and poetry can extend phenomenology, and for that matter, philosophy itself” (221).

In the Introduction, Fischer situates his project in the context of the “end of metaphysics” and the problem of dualism – whose experiential / existential aspect metaphysics misses. Thus, “Rilke’s praxis of perceiving the world in a similar manner to visual artists who paint en plain air led to a non-dualistic disclosure of phenomena that cannot be attained by other means” (62), experientially overcoming the duality between inner / outer, visible / invisible. The fact that he is facing the problem of dualism in this manner drives Rilke away from metaphysics – conceived as objectivating thinking, a theoretical attempt to define Being without any possible intuitive givenness – and makes him a potential ally for phenomenologists.

Modern dualistic views find a certain legitimation in our experience of the world, and for an experiential overcoming of dualism, “[p]ercept and concept, thinking and perception, meaning and appearance, inner and outer, would have to show themselves as two sides of the revelation of a single phenomenon” (21, author’s emphasis). Phenomenology can offer a basis for this, by creating the means for a non-reductive and attentive articulation of experience. Fischer takes phenomenology not only as a doctrine or as a corpus but, in the first place, as a methodological conception – which involves examining phenomena on one’s own, not only an exposition / repeating of other phenomenologists’ positions. Thus, in his phenomenological accounts, Fischer attempts to “communicate insights that are legitimated by an intuitive givenness or disclosure” (39) – which supposes that anyone able to assume a phenomenological attitude would be able to check / confirm them on their own.

The first analysis of this type is attempted at the end of the first chapter and it is dedicated to the “twofold seeing of the human Other”. It tries to show that an overcoming of dualism is implicitly present even at the level of everyday perception, while a “phenomenology of the exceptional” would show the way for a deeper overcoming. According to Fischer, these implicit aspects of everyday perception could make one aware of certain structures of perceiving and understanding, structurally similar to Rilke’s vision: “this consideration of the Other will reveal a kind of disclosure in which the sensible and the intelligible form two aspects of a single reality, rather than being opposed to one another” (43). Thus, following Scheler, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty, Fischer tries to show, phenomenologically, that “the Other is first, and for the most part, perceived as a pre-dualistic psycho-physical unity – a unity not yet divided into the two terms “psyche” and “body.” Genetically considered, we do not begin with the “body” and then add “soul” to it, we begin with an as yet undifferentiated unity that is later divided” (53). Thus, the disclosure of the Other is richer than what an account in terms of Husserlian empathy, whose model, according to Fischer’s analysis, is based on self-perception, would allow us to say. Fischer also draws upon Scheler’s account of a reversed intentionality – the Other is not just an object for me, but is revealed when I become receptive for him or her.

In this way, according to Fischer’s account, “[f]or the most part the Other is revealed as an expressive Leib or dynamic physiognomy” (56) – in an analogous manner with the experience of a work of art. The Other is revealed to me not only via the what of his or her presence, but also through the how of his or her manner of being, that allows individuation and the perceiving of the Other’s own style. The situated way in which the Other appears to me when we first meet – not as an object, but in a world, in the same horizon in which I understand myself – may deepen in subsequent meetings, the dialogue / conversation having a central role in this context. Listening to the Other, I become able to think something else than my own thoughts; as Merleau-Ponty puts it, I am “freed from myself” (63). Thus, in a dialogue with the Other, another perspective on the world – that would be otherwise unavailable to me and that enriches me – becomes available (65).

This propaedeutic analysis of the non-dualistic disclosure of the Other – an intertwining of intelligible and the sensible, of passivity and activity – creates the context for the other three chapters of Fischer’s book, focused on the way Rilke cultivated his non-dualistic practice of seeing / writing and the manner in which it is reflected in the Neue Gedichte.

In the second chapter, Learning to See: Rilke and the Visual Arts, Fischer focuses on the sources of this praxis in Rilke’s engagement with visual artists. Rilke’s attempt at a “radically self-less seeing of things” (71) differs from a strictly philosophical methodology, but, nevertheless, is implicitly phenomenological and allows a deeper disclosure of the visible and invisible in their intertwining than a phenomenology of the everyday. Fischer justifies his choice of the Neue Gedichte over Rilke’s later poetry by arguing that the concrete poems about things present in the two volumes – Dinggedichte – are more clearly phenomenological and can deepen the understanding of his later oeuvre. In any case, the task Fischer outlines is not offering an exhaustive interpretation of the Neue Gedichte, but making explicit the manner in which the practice of seeing / writing they illustrate and the non-dual disclosure of Nature it makes possible work as an answer to the problem of dualism.

Fischer first discusses Rilke’s formulation of this problem in the context of landscape painting, as compared to portraiture. In the case of portraiture, we are accustomed to see the invisible – to read in a gesture or in a position what they express. But in the case of contemplating Nature an alienation can be noticed: landscapes are unintelligible, foreign to us, we feel alone and defenseless in front of them. Fischer sees this as a manifestation of dualism and the question he asks is whether this estrangement is correlated with a certain attitude / way of seeing that can be replaced with another one, one that could make us see the “life” itself of Nature (78).

In a commentary with clearly phenomenological overtones, Rilke states that, for the most part, we look at Nature as something “for us”, ready to hand, that we can modify – and this attitude hides from us its “life”. We regard Nature as a pure self-evident exteriority, as surfaces without depth, as if interiority would be synonymous with human subjectivity. On the other hand, the child’s attitude is, according to Rilke, characterized by “living inside nature” as “smaller animals” (79), in “sympathy with things” (82) – a pre-dualistic attitude, before any separation of inner and outer. Compared to that, adulthood is an impoverished experience (81), but its richness can be regained through the artist’s practice that cultivates another attitude towards one’s own childhood and towards Nature (84). This does not mean that the artist is trying to become a child again – but it is an attempt of consciously approaching Nature the way one was able to do in one’s childhood, without knowing it (87). By consciously instituting a manner of being-in-the-world similar to the child’s, the artist achieves a conscious unity with Nature – a passive activity, a conscious, intended receptivity, more intense than what happens in everyday perception. Fischer characterizes it as a kind of Gelassenheit, aware of both the mystical and the phenomenological connotations of this term – an “impartial, unconditional letting-be” (89). “Attentively, wakefully, the artist looks away from him- or herself” (90) and participates in Nature. Even if this ideal has certain common aspects with Romanticism (90-96), Rilke regards Romantics as “too subjective” (93) and cultivates a type of poetry which springs from the practice of an attentive seeing of things, that replaces inspiration (95) and brings poetry closer to Wissenschaft, without it ceasing to be poetry.

Fischer shows, based on Rilke’s literary work and his letters, as well as biographical details, that this practice derives from a sustained engagement with Rodin and Cézanne, where he encounters “1) the practice of a way of seeing, and 2) the translation of a vision of things into the composition of the work of art” (98). Thus, a work of art springs from the artist’s personal seeing; the practice of perceiving precedes the work itself. Even if it does not produce any definite work of art, “learning to see” allows an experiential overcoming of dualism (99) and establishes an artistic manner of being-in-the-world (100) marked by an attitude of Gelassenheit. In Rilke’s words, “we basically just have to be [dazusein], but simply, devoutly [inständig], the way the earth is [da ist], and gives her consent to the seasons, bright and dark and whole in space, not asking [verlangend] to rest upon anything other than the net of influences and forces in which the stars feel secure” (102). Thus, Gelassenheit allows the disclosure of the natural world in a manner that can be seen as an alternative to the “domination” of Nature: not a constitution of the object by a subject, but a co-presence in which both are seeing and seen, active and passive (105).

Another aspect of this artistic attitude is, according to Rilke, “poverty”, regarded as “a disposition or mood of non-possession, openness, and trust” (105), but also “impartiality”, which, according to Fischer, is a “necessary condition for the possibility of a truthful vision of things . . . . the demand on the artist to transcend habitual and conventional sympathies and antipathies. . . . The artist’s manner of seeing should transcend ‚likes‘ and ‚dislikes.‘ It should let things show themselves from themselves without distorting them with emotional reactions and conventional responses” (107).

Cultivating this attitude allows transcending an aesthetics of the beautiful, abandoning prejudices about what should be regarded as beautiful, as well as common attraction / disgust (109). For the person cultivating this attitude, what is, is – no matter how horrible and disgusting it may seem; one has to learn to perceive each thing, no matter how it would seem to one, not turning one’s back towards anything. This existential openness has to be towards any thing – otherwise no thing would be really disclosed (110). An attitude of acceptance without discrimination, without preferences and aversion, that, becoming habitual, is the ground for a practice of seeing from which the artist draws his or her inspiration, no longer depending on its ebb and flow (113).

Next, Fischer explores the manner in which this kind of vision is exemplified in Rodin’s and Cézanne’s modus operandi. For Rodin, the basic aspect is “the perception of three-dimensional form in terms of a dynamic and expressive interrelation of surfaces” (117), studying the model “through observation and drawing” (119), with a non-objectifying, yet objective gaze that allows the disclosure of the thing’s invisible (120-123). The artist’s gaze identifies the essential / invisible manifested in what she observes and, in her work, attempts a new expression of this invisible, eliminating every contingent feature of the model that does not express it (127). “The task of the artist is not to copy the visible, but to make the invisible more visible than it is otherwise . . . the creation of the work of art . . . can be conceived as the creation of the more perfect body” (128); “Rodin transfers the essential features of the model into the sculpture, such that the essence (Wesen) of the original comes to manifestation in the sculpture itself” (131); “The process of composition involves divining the invisible, which comes to partial expression in the thing, and composing a form (the work of art) which is a more perfect sensible manifestation of the same invisible” (134). Even when it is fragmentary, the work of art is an expressive whole (136-141), disclosing the thing and transforming the one who sees it (cf. Archaischer Torso Apollos).

Cézanne expresses the same manner of seeing. “Cézanne would suspend all habits of thought – scientific and everyday – and attune his gaze entirely to the play and gradations of color, to sensations of color” (144). Thus, “the devoted outwardly turned gaze leads to the discovery of an inexhaustible interior. An interior or invisible is revealed through a deep attentiveness to the exterior or visible” (145).

Or, in Cézanne’s own words, “[h]is [the artist’s] whole aim must be silence. He must silence all the voices of prejudice within him, he must forget, forget, be silent, become a perfect echo. And then the entire landscape will engrave itself on the sensitive plate of his being . . . I become sharply, overwhelmingly aware of colour gradations. I feel as if I’m saturated by all the shades of the infinite. At that moment I and my picture are one . . . I come face to face with my motif; I lose myself in it. My thoughts wander lazily. The sun penetrates my skin dully, like a distant friend, warming, fertilizing my laziness, and together we germinate . . . Only with nightfall can I withdraw my eyes from the earth, from this corner of the earth with which I’ve merged.” (147).

If Rodin is often metaphorical / allegorical, the task that Cézanne takes upon himself is that of articulating the thing in front of him – whose transposition on the canvas he calls réalisation. According to Fischer, Rilke tried to accomplish the same task, calling it sachliches Sagen (151): a work of art that would bring the thing itself in its facticity in front of the addressee’s eyes, based on the attitude of impartiality the artist cultivates and from her attention towards how it is disclosed. This kind of expression overflows the possibilities of a conceptual articulation of the thing (154).

In the third chapter, after the preparative work of the previous chapters, Fischer spells out Rilke’s practice and vision from which the Neue Gedichte spring. The chapter’s title, Rilke as Seer: A Twofold Vision of Nature, occasions a series of reflections on the sense in which Rilke can be regarded as a mystic: the tendency towards saying the ineffable / seeing the invisible, the assumed influence of authors from mystical traditions, as well as conceiving the artistic attitude in terms derived from the mystical one (172-173).

Fischer treats in the same context the topic of a “seeing” that overcomes the tension between sensible and intelligible – contemplating phenomena as “saturated” (Marion) in an active receptivity (Heidegger / Merleau-Ponty). Even if this “seeing” passes beyond the limits of everyday perception, its tendency toward the “givenness in person” of the invisible and towards experiential certification, not speculation, makes it implicitly phenomenological (175). The desire for contact with the invisible and its experiential attestation that one can notice in Rilke justifies regarding him in the context of mysticism, which, Fischer argues, is “a phenomenological and non-metaphysical approach to the divine” (176).

Describing Rilke’s practice of seeing, based on Rilke’s own confessional texts, Fischer characterizes it as learning a “sitting in front of Nature” similar to the artist’s (177-178), awaiting for the things to “speak” to him – a reversal of intentionality, where the object is the one that discloses itself, “touches” the “seer”. The attitude is not one of forcing this disclosure, but a ”submission”, “listening”, “openness” that does not objectivate – an “active-passivity or passive-activity” (181) that leads to the deeper revelation of intimate, unpredictable aspects of the thing (animal, plant, artistic object, etc.).

Fischer quotes several of Rilke’s letters, where he describes in detail his “field practice” of patiently observing animals, waiting for a revelation of their essence, and the subsequent writing that reflects this experience of seeing the essence – a Wesensschau in which the essence is not separable from appearance (188), in which “the invisible sense arises without precedence from the between of seer and seen” (189). Rilke calls it Einsehen; in his commentary on Rilke’s text, Fischer states that it involves an intimate contact with the essence implicit in what is seen, a participating in it “as though to see simultaneously involved being seen by that which is seen” (193), in which “the gaze of the seer is the opening that suffers, or makes space for, the gaze of things” (193). This kind of gaze allows for an erasure of boundaries, a participating in the Other (193) that has the character of an epiphany and generates a state of “blessedness” (196). The experience is analogous to a unio mystica in which the universe is felt as happening in the seer him- or herself (198), as a Weltinnenraum (198-206). In this context, Fischer claims that “Rilke’s ‚Weltinnenraum‘ is not a metaphysical postulate but grounded in his transformed experience of the world, which included the disclosure of an invisible, an interior, that is the interior of things or of the world itself. . . . The only adequate overcoming of dualism lies in an experiential disclosure of the invisible and the visible in their wholeness in each case. I regard ‚Weltinnenraum‘ as an attempt to give a name to such a disclosure” (206).

At the end of the chapter, Fischer tries to articulate Rilke’s task of a sachliches Sagen. Based on a seeing in which things are revealed in a twofold manner, without a clear-cut distinction between visible and invisible or interior and exterior, Rilke’s poems are “inspired by the things themselves” (208). In the same way, according to the Rilkean / phenomenological interpretation of Cézanne, “[t]he painting should not portray one’s feelings toward the things, but say the things themselves” (208). Thus, “the poems in their saying of things are organs of vision or insight into the things themselves” (209). This task has deep affinities with phenomenology, especially the variant presented by Heidegger in Sein und Zeit. But, even if the attempt to disclose things in a logos is what they have in common, poetry and philosophy accomplish this in different manners, so Fischer distinguishes between “a poetic phenomenology and a philosophical phenomenology” (211).

In the last pages of the chapter, the author presents some ideas for a philosophically informed literary criticism that would regard the poem as a whole with an excess of meaning and would not reduce it, substitute it with a theoretical / conceptual paraphrase. Instead, it would try “to keep in mental view the site that is opened by the poem itself and to shed reflective light onto the poem without losing its reality in an attempt to translate it into concepts” (213-214), aware that “any sort of criticism will always fall short of the poem. It will always be poor in comparison to the poetic work that it interprets” (225).

This type of work is what Fischer attempts in the fourth chapter, The Neue Gedichte as a Twofold Imagining of Things. He does not try to offer an exhaustive interpretation of the two volumes of Neue Gedichte, but to use the poems as illustrations of the Rilkean practice of seeing / writing.

Fischer begins by arguing for the phenomenological character of the Neue Gedichte, questioned by certain scholars. Thus, one cannot say that Rilke’s vision is Husserlian (although some of the arguments derive from a hasty interpretation of Husserl), but it has affinities with Heidegger or Merleau-Ponty (216-221). In Rilke’s poems, we don’t encounter a reflective description of the Lebenswelt, but a praxis of perception that allows an exceptional disclosure of things (218), an epiphany that does not cease to be also a Wesensschau (219), and thus at least an “analogue” of phenomenology in poetic practice. Nevertheless, it does not explicitly become philosophy, because poetic language, in its concrete and imaginative character, “sticks” to the things and brings to disclosure for the reader “a universal which is the very life of the particular” (224). In his analyses, Fischer attempts to indicate what the poems accomplish for the reader, regarding them not as objects, but as openings towards the things thematized (226).

Fischer insists mostly on Dinggedichte – texts focused on the description of a thing in which the sensible appearance and its meaning are given as an undivided whole (227). As it is the case with Rodin, “Rilke’s poems do not simply re-present things as they are perceived. His poems are artistic compositions, not reports. They conjure for the mind’s eye unfolding events in which every aspect and moment is revealing of the essence or meaning” (230).

Fischer’s interpretation starts from poems that thematize Nature – animals and plants – and it takes into account Uexküll’s influence on Rilke (232-236) and the way the former’s ideas resonate with the latter’s Der Panther (236-242). The analysis of other animal poems show that a “reduction to the essence” in the manner of Rodin facilitates the reader’s perceiving / imagining of the animal’s experience of its Umwelt, as both receptive and active. The poems about plants and other aspects of nature express, too, the same interplay of visible / invisible, inner / outer, where interiority is not simply the subjectivity of the beholder, but revelation of the thing itself (256, 275). Other Dinggedichte, presenting “a particular scene that is expressive of a universal significance”, merge “the sensible and the intelligible in a holistic manner” (278).

The poems that thematize cultural objects, including other works of art, have a special role here. For example, referring to the two poems on Apollo statues, Fischer argues that “ekphrastic poetry can evoke the essence of an artwork more profoundly than conceptual criticism” (287). In his analyses, he is also attentive to the musicality and allusions of the poems, that become “able to ‚attune‘ the reader to the world in a certain way” (281), not just to describe. “Ultimately, the diverse poems can be regarded as individuated articulations of Weltinnenraum; they reveal both the broad scope and the specificity of twofold vision” (298).

In the book’s Conclusion, after summarizing the central argument, Fischer generalizes about the relation between poetry and philosophy, mentioning the necessity of a dialogue in which both practices would open themselves to being transformed by the other, but without losing their identity. The Poet as Phenomenologist… itself, explicating the philosophical value of Rilke’s poetry, can contribute to the deepening of this dialogue. The Epilogue regards the relation between philosophy and poetry from the opposite point of view: what philosophy can contribute to the writing of poetry. A philosophical vision can help poetry – an art of the concrete – not to dwell on insignificant details but to present the universal in the particular. As it is the case with Rilke, an implicitly philosophical orientation contributes to the value of the poetic text, without the poet becoming a philosopher, or poetry – philosophy.

* * *

Finally, I would like to make a couple of analogies.

First, the attitude towards phenomenology illustrated by Fischer’s book has some common points with what one could call the “praxical turn” of phenomenology, exemplified by Lester Embree or Natalie Depraz – an attempt to go back to “doing phenomenology” as a praxis that the philosopher cultivates by dealing with the “things themselves”. The praxis of seeing / composition that Fischer examines in detail through the example of Rilke, Rodin, and Cézanne can be tried, at least as an exercise, by the phenomenologist. In visual arts, similar practices – geared towards “learning to see” – were developed and popularized in the last decades (for example, the so-called Zen Drawing, advocated in the last years by Michelle Dujardin, that involves closely observing an object and “transcribing” it on a sheet of paper using blind contour drawing in an attempt to faithfully record one’s perception of it).

The second aspect I would like to mention is the tendency of certain phenomenologically disposed philosophers to write monographs in which they analyze one of their favorite poets as having a family resemblance with phenomenology. A good example would be Simon Critchley’s monograph on Wallace Stevens – Things Merely Are. Philosophy in the Poetry of Wallace Stevens (Routledge, 2005). What makes The Poet as Phenomenologist… special in this context is that Fischer is a published poet and is able to analyze Rilke’s poetry from the perspective of someone with a first-hand familiarity with poetic craft. Arguably, previous exercise in an artistic practice (visual or verbal) can “train” the phenomenologist’s attention and is transferable in phenomenological writing.

Thus, the analysis of Rilke’s practice and texts in Fischer’s book can also be read as an example – of what can be done at the crossroads of literary criticism and philosophy, and also, possibly, of a practice of seeing / writing that the phenomenologist can adopt.

David Farrell Krell: Ecstasy, Catastrophe: Heidegger from Being and Time to the Black Notebooks

Esctasy, Catastrophe: Heidegger from Being and Time to the Black Notebooks Book Cover Esctasy, Catastrophe: Heidegger from Being and Time to the Black Notebooks
SUNY Series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy
David Farrell Krell
State University of New York Press
August 2015
Hardcover $75.00
220

Reviewed by: Donovan Irven (Purdue University)

Writing this review was difficult, but perhaps not as difficult as reading the Black Notebooks appears to have been for David Krell. Based on Krell’s 2014 Brauer Lectures in German Studies, given at Brown University, Ecstasy, Catastrophe proceeds in two parts. It begins with excellent and nuanced analyses of sections 65-68 of Being and Time, which we have come to expect from Krell, before descending into dire lamentations over the content of the notorious notebooks from the 1930s and -40s.

Krell has been interested in Heidegger’s ecstatic interpretation of temporality for much of his career and returns to the topic here to show the seemingly inexhaustible fruits of reading Being and Time. I want to focus on this aspect of the book before turning to the latter half involving the Black Notebooks, because these two divisions could not be more different in tone and content. It seems Krell was disrupted in his work on Being and Time by the publication and reception of the Black Notebooks, and decided interrogate them at length despite their lack of emphasis on ecstatic time. I myself have not read these notebooks in their entirety, though I have read large excerpts, both the original German and in English translation. I will try, later in this review, to comment on both the strength and shortcomings of Krell’s treatment of the decidedly polarizing Black Notebooks, but will do so somewhat tentatively as I await the publication of the English translation in April 2016.

When it comes to interpreters of Heidegger, Krell is well established as a leader in the field, thanks to his masterful work on the Nietzsche lectures and the thoughtful commentaries contained therein. He continues this legacy here in prose that is conversational and largely accessible, even for Heidegger scholarship. This style is in part due to the fact that the book began as lectures, but it also stems from Krell’s familiarity with the material, which he is able to relate casually, authoritatively, and with insightful examples. While Krell is interested primarily in the appearance of Ekstase(n) in Heidegger’s text, he is also extremely sensitive to the peripheral – but no less significant – deployment of Entrückungen, which is related to the “sudden seizures,” “rapid removals,” or “raptures” of time. Readers familiar with Heidegger’s lectures on Nietzsche and Krell’s commentaries know well that the idea of rapture figures heavily in them, and we see this theme articulated with great care here in Ecstasy, Catastrophe. We are therefore asked to think at length on the suddenness of the ecstases of time, where it sheds light on another of Heidegger’s more difficult ideas, that of the Augenblicklichkeit, or the instantaneousness of those moments that, in the blink of an eye, transport us beyond ourselves. Transcendence is thus a key concept here, and Heidegger strives to show an immanent form of transcendence in the temporality of Dasein as it oversteps itself in its temporal being.

Krell focuses mostly on the work of Heidegger in Being and Time, but there are excellent scholarly passages which connect Heidegger to previous thinkers of ecstasis; notably Schelling, St. Augustine, Plato, and Aristotle. One of the most jarring and revelatory sections of argumentation concerns what Krell views as the source of Heidegger’s understanding of ecstasis in Aristotle. Krell makes a strange argument that a key passage from Aristotle’s Physics, starting at 222b 15, is the basis for Heidegger’s understanding of ecstatic time. This argument is fascinating due to what Krell perceives as a lack of attention to this specific passage and notes that Heidegger’s silence on it is “mysterious.” Yet when one reads the passage, which refers “to what has departed from its former state in an imperceptible time,” and that, “change itself is a departure, whereas it is only accidentally the cause of becoming and of being” (17), we cannot help but, with Krell, see the germ of Heidegger’s interest in the ecstases of time.

Krell’s text is valuable too for its attention to the plurality of ecstases in Heidegger’s work, although much of this material is rehashed from his earlier work Intimations of Mortality. Krell leans heavily on this text at the start of his analysis, and so I occasionally found myself demanding something new from my initial reading. Krell delivers on this demand in the second chapter, where he makes a significant departure from his earlier work on the temporal unfolding of anxiety as one moment of ecstasy that, Krell had earlier argued, resists depiction. Here, Krell treats us to an interpretation of anxiety-as-preparation, preparation for the required leap into thinking that Heidegger will increasingly emphasize as he continues to work on temporality throughout the 1930s. This is where Krell offers his most strident criticisms of Heidegger, arguing that anxiety and resoluteness relate in a vicious circle, and not the saving hermeneutical circle on which Heidegger hangs much of his hopes in Being and Time. I cannot rehearse this argument in full, but I think it warrants serious consideration and is illuminating in the way it prefigures Heidegger’s “turn.” The short of it is that anxiety must come out of nowhere, it must be sudden, and thus there is no way to ready ourselves for it in resoluteness the way Heidegger seems to require. Krell turns to the treatment of fundamental boredom in the 1929 lecture course translated as The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, and reads this as an attempt by Heidegger to ameliorate the damning circle initiated in Being and Time. As far as I can tell, Krell does not think Heidegger is successful in this attempt, and it ushers in some of the more troublesome moves Heidegger makes in the 1930s, beginning, at least, in the Beitrage. I think perhaps Krell lays too much blame on this one moment in Heidegger’s thought for those problems, nevertheless, his discussion shows great attention to the texts and marshals an impressive interpretation that makes judicious use of insights from Kierkegaard and Derrida. This section is one of the most interesting and difficult of the text, and deserves some close attention for those who are interested in the shortcomings of Heidegger’s arguments.

Another fascinating element of this text involves Krell’s analysis of “the other end” of Dasein, that is, where Heidegger treats birth and nascence over death and dying. Heidegger is so well-known for his philosophizing on death, that I was sent back to Being and Time to make sure the passages Krell indicates were actually there. They are, of course, and Krell breathes new life into these passages. However, one of the weaker sections of the book commences with a flight of fancy in which we are to imagine Being and Time rewritten with birth in mind over death. I think this part suffers from the lecture format, as Krell deploys the tactics of a novelist here, and those stylistic choices are better suited to a less conversational tone. The result is that some of the analysis comes off a bit flat, and the philosophical rigor of the text becomes slightly less apparent. I did enjoy the break, and the dialogue with James Joyce and Merleau-Ponty that accompanies the sections, but, as a novelist myself, I think the section could have stood a bit more stylistic nuance that may not be conducive to philosophical lectures.

While I’m being critical, one more dissension. Krell heavily criticizes Heidegger’s use of ipse selfhood in Being and Time. While it is true that Heidegger himself will later caution that Being and Time can lead to a “subjectivistic” interpretation, I do not know that his analysis dooms him to the same mistakes as if he would have committed to terms such as “spirit, soul, body, person, personality, and subject,” as Krell seems to think. I may be more generous with Heidegger on this point due to the influence of Paul Ricoeur’s Oneself as Another on my own thought, however, and I tend to think the emphasis on ipse selves over an idem self successfully avoids the pitfalls Krell condemns.

With this said, I can highly recommend the first half of Ecstasy, Catastrophe as continuing a fruitful dialogue with Being and Time. Insofar as Krell set out to show the fruitfulness of that text, and to further develop themes that recur throughout his writing, I think he is largely successful. Novice students of Heidegger will find a powerful exposition of some of the more difficult aspects of Being and Time, which are always clearly discussed without over-reliance on the jargon we associate with Heideggerese. There are always clear signposts that connect Heidegger’s body of work, and advanced scholars interested in ecstasis and temporality will find valuable resources in Krell’s analysis. Then, unfortunately, we turn to the Black Notebooks.

Reading the Black Notebooks was an arduous task for Krell, and he finds almost no philosophical value in them. He catalogues with despair the bleak antagonisms of Heidegger toward anything and everything. Of course, there are the few passages of explicit anti-Semitism, amounting to about five pages in over a thousand of text, but there are additionally frequent polemics against Americans, Bolsheviks, Germans, and on and on. Heidegger is seemingly anti-everything, and makes sweeping generalizations about the dire state of the world that are difficult to square with the philosophical rigor exhibited in his other work. I was recently able to question John Sallis1 on this aspect of Krell’s book, and Sallis was largely in agreement: that reading the Black Notebooks is unpleasant at best, and at worst, a damning example of just how thoughtless Heidegger was capable of being – even when we must still admire his philosophical efforts elsewhere. It becomes clear that writing the first part of Ecstasy, Catastrophe became, for Krell, very much an effort to prove that there was still value to Heidegger’s work, especially Being and Time, in the face of the Black Notebook’s publication.

One very lucid idea occurs in the latter half of Ecstasy, Catastrophe, however, that I think demands emphasis and bears repeating. It is easy to condemn Heidegger, the Nazi and anti-Semite. He is dead, cannot defend himself, his thoughtlessness and inability to self-criticize are in themselves contemptible, and made all the more so by his continual demands that we all need to be more earnestly thoughtful. Hypocrisy does not begin to describe this behavior. But we must not use the condemnation of Heidegger as an opportunity to pat ourselves on the back for being ever-so enlightened while at the same time refusing to look in the mirror and take stock of our own damning failures. I’ll let readers do this uncomfortable work for themselves, but a brief survey of the American political scene this election cycle, the immigration crisis in Europe and certain responses to it, to name a few instances, will show just the sort of things of which we ought to be self-critical. Certainly, we cannot let Heidegger’s failings become our own.

And yet, I cannot help but see something of a performance in the Black Notebooks, what Babette Babich has recently suggested is an attempt to realize the kind of work found in Nietzsche’s Nachlass, which Heidegger may have pursued in a play for posthumous notoriety. It may be that I am not yet ready to give up on Heidegger; though I realize that when you have worked with a thinker as long as Krell has, only to be bombarded at this late hour with the absolute worst of him, it must be so difficult to find, yet again, a space, not for excuses, but for patience if not forgiveness. Indeed, Krell remarks repeatedly that Heidegger is both unforgiving in his writing, and that the result is further unforgiving in the manner it reveals Heidegger trapped in the everyday discourse of the Nazi They-self that plagued German culture at the time.

I am tasking myself with patience. These are, after all, only the first three volumes of Black Notebooks. I remain, perhaps foolishly, hopeful that later editions, written in the 1950s and -60s, will shed some light on the extreme darkness that threatens to cast Heidegger into an unredeemable catastrophe. Krell’s book is aptly named, and his bleak assessment of the Black Notebooks is a sobering reminder of the human, all too human side of the philosophers that we, as scholars, seek after in thought. Krell himself exhibits a bit of Heidegger emulation, living as he does in Germany. That must make it all the more unbearable to read the thoughtlessness contained in the recent editions of the Black Notebooks. But I would like to try, perhaps in vain, to make reading them into something worthwhile, even if only to humanize a thinker that far too many of us tend to lionize. In that, I may be more in line with Babich, who, in a forth coming book chapter,2 attempts to think philosophically through some of the more difficult and potentially damning portions of the Black Notebooks. Krell is not up for this task, alas, it seems too painful for him. And perhaps it is madness to expect anyone to continue on, raging at the dying of the light that once so brilliantly lit up a clearing in which we were all enjoined to think anew. Perhaps it would be better (though now it is I who is unwilling) to abandon Heidegger scholarship for the more noble task of thinking. After all, isn’t that what Heidegger would do?3

Notes

1. At the Catholic University of America’s conference on Philosophy and Poetry in Washington, D.C. This conversation occurred on 19 February 2016.

2. She recently posted this on her Academia.edu page: Babich, “The New Heidegger,” https://www.academia.edu/21486726/The_New_Heidegger

3. Calvin O. Schrag has, on many occasions, told me of the letter he received from Heidegger upon the founding of the Heidegger Circle, that, to Heidegger, it would have been better to start a circle whose task was to attempt to think…

Claude Romano: There Is: The Event and the Finitude of Appearing

There Is: The Event and the Finitude of Appearing Book Cover There Is: The Event and the Finitude of Appearing
Claude Romano, Translated by Michael B. Smith
Fordham University Press
2015
Paperback $35.00
296

Reviewed by: Edward Willatt (University of Greenwich)

The Preface to Claude Romano’s There Is: The Event and the Finitude of Appearing positions his project at the heart of contemporary philosophy. He raises the question of the contemporary legacy of Kant and transcendental philosophy. This has concerned Speculative Realists for whom a fundamental re-orientation to the perspective of pre-critical or pre-Kantian philosophy is necessary today. For Romano we must look to phenomenology to respond to the problems of Kant’s legacy. Rather than drawing energy from natural science as a way of overcoming this approach, as Ray Brassier amongst others has done (see Brassier’s Nihil Unbound, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), Romano seeks to dig deeper into the human science that is phenomenology. His first sentence and inaugural gesture is therefore: ‘Does phenomenology have to be presented as a transcendental discipline?’ (xi)

The guiding concept of this project is the event. Romano’s thinking of the event invites comparisons with other thinkers of this elusive term. Rather than locating the event in an inhuman ontological landscape of subtractive mathematics (Badiou) or Becoming-Other (Deleuze), Romano situates the event firmly in the human and personal world of meaning and project. This is the finitude that faces us all and is here deepened by considering aspects of human existence that, according to Romano, have been neglected by phenomenology.

Romano outlines a distinction established in his previous work that is fundamental to this book and to his whole philosophy. The event as a domain of meaning is to be distinguished from the neutral fact and its causes (13). The understanding of a situation by an agent is at stake when they encounter an event. Crucially, an event happens to someone personally, while facts do not, and this forces them to make ‘ … a personal decision about who it is he [or she] will be’ (13). Romano rejects the opposition between free will and determinism that is often assumed in philosophy. Aristotle is credited with overcoming this opposition thanks to his interest in tragedy (15). Rather than an opposition between human acts and natural necessity we have a historical conception of an agent tasked with being open to the events they encounter in the world.

Romano’s book is structured by encounters with a number of thinkers and offers clear assessments of each one. The first two chapters engage with Heidegger’s early philosophy as a thinking of Being which analyses human existence. Yet a critical assessment of this existential analytic finds certain blind spots within a ‘forgetfulness of the event’ (20). For Romano birth is a dimension of finite human existence which is neglected and obscured by Heidegger’s overriding focus upon being-towards-death in Being and Time. For Romano we must fully situate human existence in-between birth and death. Birth is understood as a ‘bottomlessness’ (Ungrund) as Schelling uses the term (49). This enables it to be the source of genuine novelty and the transformation of people and their worlds. Birth is said to draw upon a temporality more original than the one Heidegger describes within his analytic of Dasein’s being-towards-death. The influence of religious thought, and of Kierkegaard in particular, is identified as a further limitation of Heidegger’s early work. Whilst Aristotle’s role is acknowledged as introducing concrete aspects of existence into the thinking of Being, religious models of human existence bring abstraction. According to Romano’s reading, the absolute decision of Dasein between authenticity and inauthenticity echoes Kierkegaard’s ‘either-or’ which is the source of this privileging of Dasein over wider dimensions of being (21-22). This concern with the transparency and absoluteness of the choice of this privileged entity insulates Dasein from the concrete world of events. We might wonder if Heidegger’s middle period work on the event could offer avenues for addressing the concerns raised here. We are not offered a consideration of the event as Ereignis which de-centres Dasein and takes away its privileged position in Heidegger’s Contributions to Philosophy: Of the Event (Indiana University Press, 2012).

We move, in the third chapter, to Henri Bergson for a thinking of time as the source of novelty. This is to be an antidote to Heidegger’s abstract, formal time without events. Romano outlines Bergson’s critique of metaphysics which rejects the attempt to make time into an analogon of space (73). This is fruitful for Romano’s project because Bergson aims to restore to time its essential role of permanently creating novelty. After Heidegger empties time by investing in the privilege of Dasein and its absolute decision as the source of meaning, Bergson makes temporality the condition of the possibility of novelty (84). There is no further we can go with Bergson because his thinking of time, as duration, assumes cosmic dimensions as it develops through his work. For Romano we must get back ‘down to earth’, to the human situation and the events that concern it.

An engagement with Jean Paul Sartre in chapter 4 brings us back to the human situation from the inhuman, cosmic dimensions of Bergsonian duration. Yet Romano offers a highly critical reading of Sartre’s inversion or subversion of theology (88). He argues that when human beings replace God in Sartre’s ontology this is not a break with theology but ‘a parody-like inversion of it’ within which human freedom cancels itself out (88). Romano sets out Sartre’s conception of freedom as invoking an originary choice that is self-causing and unconditioned (100). Sartre calls this choice ‘absurd’ and Romano asks whether we can still call this ‘freedom’. The charge of this critical reading is that freedom is undermined by its total affirmation in Sartre. What about the constancy I can observe in the choices I make and the values I hold? For Romano freedom cannot have meaning for us if it is based upon an arbitrary and irrational choice since human freedom only makes sense if it relates to human concerns. Romano talks about the need to ‘reinject some being’ into the originary nothingness that makes this choice incomprehensible to us (101). The formal emptiness that we diagnosed in Heidegger’s temporality of human existence and remedied in Bergson threatens again in Sartre. The absoluteness and infinity of freedom mean that it escapes human power (105).

We encounter Merleau-Ponty’s ontology of the flesh in chapter 5. This is traced back to Husserl’s uncovering of flesh. Like Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty seeks to bring abstract Husserlian concepts ‘down to earth’ by putting them in touch with concrete human projects, but this endeavour is compromised once again. If flesh is between the ego and the world as an interface in Husserl, it is not constitutive (120). Rather, this concept emerges in Husserl’s thought as a breach in his abstract transcendental idealism which cannot then be closed (120). While Husserl’s flesh belongs to my transcendental ego, implicating it in idealism and even solipsism, for Merleau-Ponty the subject and object are blurred by my body and in all worldly things. This is because the thing is woven into the ‘same intentional fabric’ as my body (129; Merleau-Ponty, Signs, Northwestern University Press, 1964, 167). However, in this ontology of the flesh Romano identifies a new form of idealism. This is a carnal idealism where the body is privileged as the entity which must be woven into the world and whose self-reflection gives rise to this process (the experience of double touching). Furthermore, Romano finds that concrete, meaningful distinctions which mark out human existence and make it possible are subsumed in a common flesh. If Heidegger gave us an empty time, Merleau-Ponty gives us an empty space where we cannot maintain the distinctions that make life full of meaning, such as between a self and an other whose indiscernibility in a common flesh is now overwhelming. We cannot pick out the distinction between what is mine and what belongs to an other because flesh transcends these partitions (131). To carnal idealism we add carnal solipsism (130). With an ontology of the flesh Merleau-Ponty fails to extricate himself from idealism: ‘To think of flesh as the origin of the world is still to think of it as not being of the world, to confer a status of origin on it, and thus retain the main features of the transcendental attitude’ (140).

Chapter 6 turns to J. J. Gibson’s psychology and interprets it as an ‘ecological phenomenology’ which has the potential to remedy the limitations of phenomenology diagnosed in the preceding chapters. Romano argues that Husserl’s phenomenological deduction failed to bracket the basic concepts of Cartesian and transcendental philosophy and this is the legacy that later phenomenologists have failed to overcome (168). Gibson shared with Husserl a rejection of the methods of natural science while going further and avoiding a dualism of subject and object. This he achieved by understanding perception through the involvement of living beings in their environment. We must focus on the behaviour of livings beings and structural invariants in the world that shape and develop this behaviour (158-9). Rather than a cognitive model, where sensory input must be assembled, Gibson offers an ecological model where perception is fully involved in its environment. This involvement makes perception self-reliant rather than having recourse to cognitive processes. Rather than needing to be ordered, perception possesses an order of its own because it is always already involved or embedded in the world as a structured exteriority or space (161). It is the continuous encounter of living beings with their environment that is the event in this model (150). We are able to encounter solidity and distinctions in the world rather than finding these undermined by an ontology of the flesh where such things are submerged. Romano’s criticisms of Gibson centre on his focus on animal life. Animal life becomes the paradigm and specifically human perception is not distinguished (174). How does the world have the rich meanings that humans experience through our ongoing encounters within it? This order of meaning must not depend on a privileged subject but neither can it emerge from the realm of animal life where human meaning is absent. For Romano the ability of the event to shock us with an ‘unforeseeable becoming’ (174) in the meanings we experience is now at stake.

The challenge of thinking about nothing is considered in chapter 7. The context is Heidegger’s rejection of any attempt to circumscribe thought by logic (178). Rudolf Carnap’s attack on metaphysics as a ‘meaningless set of pseudo-propositions’ (181) is related to his disputation with Heidegger. Carnap advocates a logical formalisation of thought where meaningless propositions are identified and rejected. Romano finds confusion and misreading in Carnap’s critique of Heidegger’s engagement with nothingness. For Carnap Heidegger is both deluded by grammar when he talks of nothing and rejecting logical formulation in order to think differently (190). Either Heidegger’s thought can be formalised logically, and thus be in error when he uses terms illogically, or it exists outside of this paradigm. Heidegger rejects logical formulation, as demonstrated by his lecture What is Metaphysics? Romano argues that Heidegger draws upon the temporal nature of existence to show the inadequacy of atemporal formal concepts in thinkers like Carnap and Frege. This reveals the limitations of a logical formalism that fails to examine its philosophical presuppositions. It also reveals the positive role of nothing in a temporal process, as ‘… the condition of the appearing of the world …’ (206). Nothing is understood as ‘… the withdrawal or absence constitutive of all coming to presence as such…’ (208).

The final chapter sets out a conception of the event as the appearing of appearance. Heraclitus is identified ‘the very first phenomenologist’ for his engagement with this elusive event (215). Phenomenology returns again and again to this ontological difference, this event it continually seeks to capture but always misses (216). Phenomenology’s inadequacies have been diagnosed throughout this book and here the antidote is identified in emptiness. This emptiness involves not having expectations, not imposing Dasein’s closed project or any transcendental structures on the world. The result is openness to events in the midst of situations which are not at all transparent to us and which we do not chose. This gives rise to new definitions. Freedom is ‘… the ability to be [oneself] in the face of what happens to [us]’ (230). It is an ability to be open to events rather than a model of decision like those criticised by Romano in earlier chapters. Rather than Dasein we have the ‘advenant’ who is defined as the capacity to ‘… undergo the unsubstitutable experience of what happens to him or her’ (219). The advenant, as the ‘very humanity of the human being’, does not involve the closed project of being-towards-death but the exposure to events that results from being born into a finite existence (219). This brings Romano to the openness that dispenses with expectations in order to have the capacity to undergo events that are transformative of the worlds we inhabit.

This book gives us a clear and coherent engagement with the history of phenomenology while drawing upon figures outside of this tradition, such as Bergson and Gibson, in order to inject new concepts. This allows Romano to enact a critique of ontological structures that fail to draw upon the events that are vital for human existence. This project contributes more widely to critiques of philosophies that fail to account for human concerns, for the actual situations such beings find themselves in. Critiques of the work of Gilles Deleuze have also alleged a neglect of the actual, human dimensions of existence (see, for example, Peter Hallward, Out of This World, Verso, 2006). Romano seeks to populate human landscapes with events in order to realise the transformative potential of these encounters in specifically human ways. He has to answer the challenge that the novelty of events is undermined by tethering them to worlds that are perhaps human, all too human. In seeking to define what is specifically human, he runs the risk of putting such beings too far away from the event that constitutes a transformative break with what is already the case. There is a tension between Romano’s critique of idealism and the privileging of a particular entity (such as Dasein), and his own emphasis upon humanity (such as when he questions Gibson’s focus upon animal life). Might this preserve the human side of existence at the expense of what exceeds it? Might we understand humanity better through what exceeds it? This crucial debate is ongoing and Romano’s engagement with it represents an insightful, rigorous and provocative contribution.

Susi Ferrarello: Husserl’s Ethics and Practical Intentionality

Husserl’s Ethics and Practical Intentionality Book Cover Husserl’s Ethics and Practical Intentionality
Bloomsbury Studies in Continental Philosophy
Susi Ferrarello
Bloomsbury
2015
272

Reviewed by: Matt Bower (Texas State University)

It is unfortunate but probable that even in the era of the “new Husserl” very many philosophers who are not Husserl scholars still view Husserl’s philosophy through the lens of his logicism, his idealism, his self-styled neo-Cartesianism, and other contentious Husserlian tendencies. It will come as a surprise to many that Husserl dabbled in ethics at all, let alone published essays and prepared book-length manuscripts on the subject. There is still a good deal of work to be done to communicate the intriguingly multi-faceted character of Husserl’s thought to a broader philosophical audience. It is also the case that several volumes of Husserl’s lectures and manuscripts have appeared in recent years with substantial material on the subject of ethics. And given the rise in importance of ethical theory in recent decades, paying greater attention to this side of Husserl’s work only seems fitting. So Susi Ferrarello new book, Husserl’s Ethics and Practical Intentionality, is a very timely contribution to the relatively small literature on Husserl’s ethics. Her discussion tackles the subject by presenting in detail Husserl’s understanding of value, practical intentionality, and ethics. She sets out to paint a picture of a plausible and well-ordered theory that encompasses all of those topics and is consistently elaborated across Husserl’s many and varied philosophical works. In what follows I’ll first recapitulate chapter-by-chapter the arc of Ferrarello’s narrative and then appraise the book with more specific and detailed reference to certain of its rich and varied contents.

***

Chapters 1 and 2 appropriately get things started by spelling out Husserl’s theory of value. Ferrarello first introduces Husserl’s view on the a priori, which is pertinent not only because Husserl takes his phenomenological method generally to trade in a priori insights, but also because he is a staunch realist about value and therefore situates that category within the framework of his overarching project of constructing an ontology of material essences. Ferrarello stresses the importance of analyzing value in terms of both its material and formal a priori or essential properties and also that there are a variety of parallelisms (although dualisms would be more apt, as she treats them) that hold between logical and the practical phenomena (both construed broadly).

The discussion of value is followed by treatments of the notions of normativity (Chapter 3) and evidence (Chapter 4). While an ontology of value informs us about the nature of values and the a priori laws of essence that govern them, such analysis does not yet tell us how values have a grip on valuing subjects. That is, it doesn’t tell us about the validity or normativity of values. It is in this context that Ferrarello introduces Husserl’s novel rendering of a categorical imperative and engages with Steven Crowell’s recent work on normativity in phenomenology. Although Ferrarello could have been clearer on the point, the notion of evidence is pertinent to the theory of action and ethics inasmuch as both involve decisions and because the theory of evidence, among other things, provides a way of explaining how decisions are grounded phenomenologically.

We are then introduced, in Chapters 5 and 6, respectively, to full-fledged practical intentionality and embodied ethical agency. Ferrarello runs through the major points of Husserl’s theory of intentionality, from the Logical Investigations and on to Ideas I and the Analyses Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis, engaging select interpretive quandaries along the way, in order to locate practical intentionality (broadly construed), surprisingly, between so-called active and passive forms of intentionality. To shed light on Husserl’s theory of an embodied ethical agency, Ferrarello reminds us of the many constitutive layers that belong to “the” body. She is then able to specify in what sense the body is bearer of motivations and issuer of ethical decisions.

The culminating three chapters complete Ferrarello’s project by giving a broad-ranging and complex account of the will (Chapter 7), from whence she pivots to tackle the ethical aspects of intersubjectivity (Chapter 8) and of the interrelation of the phenomena of social ethics, teleology, and god (Chapter 9). The chapter on willing is perhaps the richest. It clarifies Husserl’s dichotomous view of spirit (Geist), understood as having a “lower,” non-rational domain as well as with a “higher,” genuinely rational one. In it Ferrarello also touches on the issues of freedom, happiness, and the link between the will, love, and community as they figure together in Husserl’s later ethics. Continuing with the focus on interpersonal phenomena, Chapter 8 reviews the basics of Husserl’s theories of intentionality and empathy, and their relations to the theories of Franz Brentano and Edith Stein, respectively. (I’ll note, in passing, that the need for this chapter’s inclusion in the book is not apparent, since previous chapters already provide detailed accounts of both intentionality and intersubjectivity. Bringing Brentano and Stein into the discussion does not add anything crucial, either.) That discussion serves as a brief segue into the book’s final chapter, which fills out the conception of happiness in Husserl’s later ethics by explaining its teleological character, i.e., its trajectory toward an ideal fulfillment which takes place, as Ferrarello shows, only in a broader social setting and with the divine life ultimately serving as its model and ideal standard.

***

Ferrarello’s book is commendable for stressing, against certain other commentators, the overall continuity in Husserl’s thought on ethics. Rather than giving an Early Husserl/Late Husserl narrative, she tells one coherent story about Husserl’s understanding of value, practical intentionality, and ethics. Ferrarello weaves her account of the theory of value and the categorical imperative associated with Husserl’s early work on ethics seamlessly into that of the notions of vocation, love, and community as Husserl treats them largely in his later work. Her book also has the virtue of highlighting the systematicity of Husserl’s thinking, drawing connections to ethics from many other areas in his thought, including the theory of parts and wholes, intentionality, evidence, passive/active synthesis, among many others.

The book is also distinctive in its consistent insistence on the distinction Husserl makes between norms and values. Understanding Husserl as maintaining a dual and equal emphasis on value and the deontic makes for an interesting contrast with the tendencies of certain other prominent ethical theories to one-sidedly emphasize value (e.g., consequentialism) or the deontic (e.g., Kantian deontology). Ferrarello puts the distinction to work in attempting to resolve a debate among Husserl scholars about whether love, according to Husserl, targets others in their “propertiless Ipseity” or through their personal attributes (p. 180).

Ferrarello’s book also has its weaknesses. There are the relatively minor in importance but still frustratingly numerous occurrences of typographical, grammatical, formatting, and citation-related errors in the text. Those, of course, should not all be attributed to Ferrarello. There are also the somewhat more significant problems it has of a lack of focus and inclusion of digressions into related but inessential areas of Husserl’s thought. The entirety of Chapter 8 exemplifies this. And there are deeper and more significant concerns about the overall value of the book in contributing to the improvement and sharpening of our grasp of Husserl’s thoughts on ethics. I shall focus on the latter.

A major deficiency in Ferrarello’s book is its failure to suitably contextualize Husserl’s idiosyncratic approach to ethics in the broader field of ethics, whether viewed from a historical or contemporary vantage point.

She notes early on that Husserl breaks down ethics into a “threefold framework [of] theoretical ethics, normative ethics and technical ethics” (p. 16). That is a promising start. It suggests that even if Husserl’s thought does not at all times easily connect up with other approaches to ethics, they at least share this basic picture of ethicists’ division of labor. Husserl is trying to answer the same sorts of questions as others, and so it should not be too difficult to identify points of convergence or divergence. One wouldn’t necessarily expect a book canvasing major topics in Husserl’s ethics, like Ferrarello’s, to give a complete account of all these broad subtopics. It would be understandable to leave out the applied aspect, to be brief in addressing the theoretical, and to devote the greatest amount of attention to explaining Husserl’s normative ethics. Ferrarello, apart from noting the tripartite division of ethical labor, otherwise neglects to present Husserl’s ethics in this natural and approachable way.

Others have certainly already made progress on the question of how to relate Husserl’s ethics to the predominant trends in thinking about normative ethics. And, as a matter of fact, Husserl himself is not shy about his take on extant ethical theories. He engages many heavyweight figures in the history of ethics like Hobbes, Hume, and Kant and tackles classic ethical themes like moral skepticism, hedonism, ethical egoism, utilitarianism, and rationalism in considerable detail (Hua XXXVII). There is so much to be said here, and even if others had said much of it already, one would still expect at least a summary treatment of such things in a book like Ferrarello’s. No such discussion is to be found there. Perhaps Ferrarello has reservations about the familiar approaches to normative ethics and thinks it would be inapt in some way to relate Husserl’s ethical thought to them. If so, the reader interested in ethics but not already invested in the project of (Husserlian) phenomenology will want to know why – as, I suspect, will most readers.

Despite a significant lack of engagement outside of Husserl’s universe of discourse, it is no doubt possible to present Husserl’s ideas on their own terms in an informative way. Ferrarello, though, does not do this. Her work is replete with fine conceptual distinctions and related subtleties. It tells us how to connect the dots between various concepts in Husserl’s theoretical repertoire. It does not tell us, on the other hand, many of the things one would hope to learn from an account of value, action, and ethics. Readers will be left with little concrete grasp of these phenomena or any clear idea about how their associated theories actually work. Let me explain why.

Many of her formulations of Husserl’s ideas are simply uninformative. Consider, for example, how Ferrarello describes the ethical: “It is this encounter that characterizes ethics: the meeting of hyletic content of the now-point with the Leib as generating a volitional body” (p. 155). Or take this closely related statement: “One of the most basic ethical laws follows from this: acts always aim at realization” (p. 155). The idea, very roughly, is that sensory elements in experience spur one to make choices (the first claim), and that an agent’s choices are good (possess value) when they aim to realize something (the second claim). These may be necessary or essential features of properly ethical phenomena, but they don’t appear to be sufficient by themselves to qualify an act as ethical or to give it a peculiarly ethical character, Ferrarello’s verbiage notwithstanding.

The first statement characterizes how choices or decisions arise. But could they not be decisions of any sort, responding to non-moral motivations? Surely they could. So perhaps Ferrarello would have more accurately phrased the first claim as one about practical intentionality (broadly understood). The second claim, too, about the value of realizing something, is too generically stated and is susceptible to objections similar to the first. It can’t be that any realizing activity whatsoever is valuable or good. Evil is realized as much as good, and so is what is morally neutral, or what has some form of value besides moral goodness. In subsequent pages she clarifies that what is attainable should be good, even the best of attainable goods (p. 157). But, as we will see momentarily, that clarification is ultimately only apparent.

These vagaries could be compensated for in the further course of elaborating on the nature of value and the categorical imperative. Ferrarello does not follow through in this way. To begin with, take the relatively basic topic of value. We do not learn from Ferrarello’s discussion how to identify values, except the obvious point that they are supposed to be derivable by eidetic analysis. In the discussion dedicated to value (Chapters 1-3) the only candidate moral value mentioned is the categorical imperative that Husserl formulates (Chapter 3, §5), which can provide little guidance for us as Ferrarello presents it (more on that in a moment). Maybe there is only the semblance of a lacunae here. For Kant, at least, it is possible to identify a single intrinsic moral value (i.e., “humanity,” as conceived in the second formulation of his categorical imperative). Whether we should understand Husserl to be doing likewise – which would be very interesting – Ferrarello does not say. She does not explore this line of thought, and subsequent claims she makes cast doubt on it.

She later introduces Husserl’s notion of love, which is conceived of as a value (p. 178).  The reader will appreciate that Ferrarello thus pinpoints a putative moral value. There are nevertheless two severe limitations in her treatment of love that undermine any significant gains that would come with its introduction. First, love is a specifically interpersonal value, so we are left without any values (besides the categorical imperative – again, more on that shortly) pertaining to the individual moral agent. Second, the precise content of the value love embodies remains unclear. As Ferrarello reports, the law (which is equivalent to “value” in the Husserlian lexicon) of love requires us “to respect other human beings and live in harmony with them” (p. 179). It would be tempting to read the sense of Kant’s second formulation of the categorical imperative into this remark. We cannot do so, however, if we suppose with Ferrarello that love is unlike the categorical imperative in that it is not a “norm,” i.e., a duty (p. 183).

So what in a person as such is the relevant bearer of value? Not their “humanity” (in Kant’s sense). That is because love is a feeling that exceeds reason (p. 180). Ferrarello sides with John Drummond’s proposal that love targets persons by virtue of their personal qualities, and that these are stratified (p. 182). Whether that stratification entails an axiological ranking or whether all the stratified values are properly moral values, Ferrarello does not say. Presumably agapic love involves a moral value, but all we learn about it is that it is an “admiration that we feel for the way in which a person lives” (p. 182). One will want to know, of course, what about a way of life makes it worthy of admiration.

Another basic point about Husserl’s theory of value one might reasonably expect to learn from Ferrarello’s book is how Husserl differentiates kinds of values, i.e., as expressed in practical, aesthetic, and ethical predicates (the paradigmatic generic formulations being, respectively, “is useful,” “is beautiful,” and “is good”). Ferrarello suggests that responsibility, reflection, rationality, and universality are features definitive of the ethical (p. 157). It’s unclear whether these are supposed to demarcate moral value as such, though. And one might be inclined to think not, since they are often understood as deontic categories pertaining to moral obligation, i.e., “normativity” in the Husserlian vernacular. They are the very features that deontologists like Kant single out to explain what makes an action right. Yet Ferrarello claims that value is not reducible to deontic categories (i.e., norms). Husserl preserves both, she insists, as irreducible to one another, and defining moral values in deontic terms would seem to threaten to collapse this distinction.

Were we to identify value with apparently deontic categories like reason, reflection, responsibility, and the like, it’s not obvious that doing so would bring about any real gain. All of these categories apply to the ethical and the non-ethical alike. There are purely practical (i.e., involving means-end purposiveness) or aesthetic instances exhibiting all of these categories. One can reason and reflect about what means will most efficiently lead to a desired end, and one can be responsible for any errors, as the author of the associated actions. The idea of practical or aesthetic responsibility may sound odd, but it shouldn’t. Let me expand on this point, since together with rationality, responsibility is a key feature of our moral existence in Ferrarello’s reading of Husserl. If there are such things as purely practical/aesthetic errors attributable to their corresponding practical/aesthetic agents, and if other practical/aesthetic agents can call them out on their errors and engage in disputes about them, then a kind of practical/aesthetic responsibility seems to be in play here. The disputes wouldn’t be over whether one acted wrongly in a moral sense, but in a distinctively practical/aesthetic sense. These very basic considerations do not seem to have occurred to Ferrarello at all.

One might hope to get a foothold on Husserl’s ethics from Ferrarello’s account of the categorical imperative in Husserl. Unfortunately, that account is all too brief (just four pages of dedicated discussion, with scattered references in the remainder of the work), and she is less than forthcoming about how to use Husserl’s platitudinous formulation(s) of it – “‘Do the best! Do your best!’ (Hua XLII, 389) or ‘Be the best!’ (XXVII, 272)” (p. 69; p. 39). To get a sense of my concern here, think, by comparison, of how readily Kant’s difficult formulations of the categorical imperative lend themselves to the task of evaluating morally problematic situations, and how this fact is emphasized in standard introductory accounts of it. She tells us that this imperative is a “call” demanding us to conform to a “moral law” (pp. 70-71), a law that specifies some value we could discern in eidetic analysis. Since we have little clue about what values look like, we remain in the dark about how to abide by this imperative.

It would be less than helpful at this point to observe that Ferrarello describes the categorical imperative itself as a value. It would only allow us to draw the consequence that the categorical imperative is a call to abide by the categorical imperative, which gets us nowhere. Ferrarello’s treatment of ethical vocation and happiness, which could potentially shed light on the function of Husserl’s categorical imperative, are equally broad, bordering on vacuous. For a moral agent to take on their distinctly ethical vocation or calling entails that it must be that their “[s]elf-reflecting and self-regulative life can become habitual acts” (p. 176), and that we as moral agents perform “an essential reflection on all that we are” (p. 177). As I’ve observed, such appeals to reflection unilluminating unless accompanied by further qualifications, and Ferrarello offers us none.

Now, as far as happiness, “we mean the fulfillment of vocational life” or “being loyal to ourselves” (p. 170). I am sympathetic to this suggestion. I only wish Ferrarello had done more to convey what it is that makes vocational life or self-loyalty ethical. She does no more than identify as our true vocation the development of our rational capacities (pp. 175-177), and, as I said above, she does not let us in on what a distinctively ethical form of rationality would look like or, I should add, what makes the cultivation of rationality the paramount human aspiration.

***

Based on the above, I think many of those seeking guidance about Husserl’s views on value, practical intentionality, and ethics will be disappointed with Ferrarello’s book. If my complaints are accurate, then the book will be of little benefit to a general audience not attuned to the nuances of contemporary Husserl scholarship. Husserl scholars will find some value in it. That will lie primarily in Ferrarello’s systematic approach. We get a better picture from Ferrarello about how everything fits together in Husserl’s theoretical framework when it comes to the topics of value, practical intentionality, and ethics. But that value is significantly offset by the overall paucity of detail about those main topics themselves. Even Husserl scholars will, I think, want to learn more about the core features of Husserl’s ethics. They too will want a picture of Husserl not at a distance, as a historical artefact, but as a thinker whose ideas have a place in the bigger picture of ethical theory and can thus be situated within both contemporary and historical trends of ethical thinking. It won’t profit them much to be guided once more through the well-trodden terrain to which Ferrarello would lead them in so many pages of her book containing lengthy forays about Husserl’s views on intentionality, psychologism, naturalism, empathy, founding (Fundierung), and many other subjects.

 

References

Hua XXXVII. E. Husserl (2004). Einleitung in die Ethik 1920/1924. H. Peucker (ed.). Dordrecht: Springer.

Knox Peden: Spinoza Contra Phenomenology: French Rationalism from Cavaillès to Deleuze

Spinoza Contra Phenomenology: French Rationalism from Cavaillès to Deleuze Book Cover Spinoza Contra Phenomenology: French Rationalism from Cavaillès to Deleuze
Cultural Memory in the Present
Knox Peden
Stanford University Press
2014
Cloth $25.95
384

Reviewed by: Elliot Patsoura (University of Melbourne)

Key developments in contemporary mathematics are not commonly rated among the decisive factors responsible for shaping the French reception of phenomenology. In the critical uptake of phenomenological concerns, for instance, in the works of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and others collated in the Anglosphere under the banner of ‘French Theory,’ questions concerning the nature and ontological primacy of lived experience, and the related success or otherwise of phenomenology’s attempts at self-grounding, tend to crowd out concerns with the ability of the Husserlian and Heideggerian projects to accommodate the philosophical implications of specifically new mathematical developments. This, however, was far from the case with the French philosopher and mathematician Jean Cavaillès—an attendee of both Husserl’s “Cartesian Meditations” at the Sorbonne in 1928-29, and Heidegger’s ‘Davos encounter’ with the neo-Kantian Ernst Cassirer—wherein we find an early critique of phenomenology’s prospects of accommodating the philosophical implications of the “new infinite” in Georg Cantor’s theory of transfinite numbers. For Cavaillès, such developments exposed the limitations of the phenomenological grounding of “the forms of the understanding in the empirical forms of experience,” insofar as “the viability of [such] mathematical objects … transgressed the structural criteria of the transcendental ego” (49). A Spinozist “disparagement of the ‘lived’” and “distrust of originary foundations” (42) would find contemporary expression in Cavaillès’ equally Spinozist defence of the immanent rather than derived nature of the rational—a point presented in Knox Peden’s Spinoza Contra Phenomenology as “a decisive moment in French intellectual history in that the fundamentals of Spinozist rationalism were for the first time posited against those of phenomenology” (61).

Peden’s outstanding intellectual history traces the aftermath of this pitting of the concept against consciousness, the deployment of a Spinozist rationalism against phenomenology, in the 30 years that followed, filling in the philosophical, political, institutional and biographical backgrounds of the better known Althusserian and Deleuzian varieties of Spinozism that the study closes with. Spinoza Contra Phenomenology offers a detailed contextualisation and nuanced explication of the projects of key figures responsible for adding meat to Cavaillès’ rationalist bone, and influencing both Althusser and Deleuze in often heretofore-undocumented ways. Peden shows a fidelity to the majority of his objects of study, neither entertaining their reduction to well-defined contextual factors, nor overstating the strength of the ‘contra’ of his title.

Seven chapters present “two moments in French Spinozism”: the epistemological deployment of Spinozist rationalism as “a question of philosophical method,” and the subsequent explication of “the full range of its ontological implications” (105). The first chapter draws attention to Cavaillès’ concerns with both Husserl and Heidegger regarding their compromising of the immanent nature of rationality, be it in Husserl’s Kantian forsaking of such immanence for that of transcendental subjectivity, or Heidegger’s forsaking of the rational in his critique of the transcendental ego (28). On Cavaillès’ reading, Husserl’s employment of the Cogito “meant that phenomenology was either spinning its wheels in Kantianism or escaping the trap only with [an unconscionable] Heideggerian recourse to irrationalism” (29).

The second chapter demonstrates how “the operative alternative between rationalism and phenomenology in Cavaillès’s project would come to be institutionally codified in France as an opposition between Spinozism and Cartesianism” (61). Peden examines the protracted debate between Ferdinand Alquié, Sorbonne professor (and instructor of Gilles Deleuze), and Martial Gueroult of the Collège de France. Alquié was responsible for the phenomenologisation of Descartes and “something of an institutionally domesticated surrogate for Heidegger’s influence in France” (195); Gueroult for “one of the most ambitious assessments of Spinoza’s rationalism anywhere in the twentieth century” (65-6). These two irreconcilable Spinozisms—a “naturalist theology” in Alquié’s case, and “a rationalist pluralism” in Gueroult’s—are shown in the following chapter to be entertained equally in Jean-Toussaint Desanti’s resumption of Cavaillès’s rationalist project. Desanti is shown “affrming Spinoza’s rationalism though hesitating to draw out the full range of its ontological implications” (105), exhibiting a tempered fidelity to Husserl while still praising “science as the supreme source of epistemological criteria” (108). Desanti’s case is thus doubly significant in that it constitutes “less of a complete break with Husserl than a recalibration of Husserl’s method into something that might allow it so speak to the experience of rationalist necessity at the heart of mathematical discourse” (92), and acts as the point of pivot for Peden between the epistemological and ontological moments of French Spinozism.

Desanti’s valorisation of ‘science’ finds supreme expression in the work of Althusser in the following decade. Peden’s fourth and fifth chapters offer a masterful overview of Althusser’s proferring of a Spinozist rationalism as the philosophical “means through which … to recuperate science from what he viewed as its twice-over degradation in the hands of Stalinist ideology and phenomenological philosophy” (143), and the specific forms the aforementioned Spinozist disparagement of the lived and originary take in this highly influential and often divisive figure. The phases constituting Althusserian Spinozism are convincingly shown to be held together by a “progressive eradication of the contents of lived experience as a viable object of philosophical purchase of reflection” (132), and an attempt to replace the misguided approach of the origin in the eidetic reduction with science as a immanent operation irreducible to the experience of the lived—an operation realised, on Althusser’s reading, by Marx in the form of historical materialism. Althusser’s “critique of ‘origins,’ and the illusions produced by recourse to origins, was one component of a philosophical effort that viewed the insights of modern science not as problems for philosophy to circumvent but as conditions themselves for philosophical activity” (187). Importantly, this utility did not entirely extend towards that of the political, as Althusser’s attempts to put Spinozist rationalism to political use are shown by Peden to remain subservient to a fidelity to the philosophical imperative, presaging a broader problem of deducing political instruction from Spinoza’s ontology that Peden will come to present as a defining character of twenty-first century appropriations of Spinoza.

The sixth and seventh chapters, devoted to the “strange,” post-Heideggerian Spinozism of Deleuze, draws similar lessons with respect to these contemporary attempts, albeit via a drastically different approach towards the tension between Spinozist rationalism and phenomenology. Deleuze offers in Peden’s view “a fantastic attempt at a synthesis of the phenomenological and Spinozist lines of French thought” (133), where Spinozism offered “the means for working through the phenomenological tradition in order to produce philosophical conclusions that could not be reached with either Spinozism or phenomenology alone” (219-20). Deleuze’s absolute rationalism is shown to recall Desanti’s efforts (and so distinguish itself most noticeably from Althusser) in its attempt to strike a “compromise with phenomenology” (133). But, to be sure, Deleuze’s efforts do not depart from the dissatisfaction with the phenomenological recourse to origins particularly prominent in Cavaillès and Althusser, as his ontological evacuation of the category of possibility is shown to constitute an extension of Althusser’s dismissal of phenomenological reliance on the originary towards that of “phenomenological ontology” (230), wherein creation is, in good Spinozist fashion, “[n]o longer located at an origin,” but is rather “deemed coextensive with existence itself” (247).

Yet the transformative nature of Deleuze’s absolute rationalism for French Spinozism can neither be dissociated from its central Heideggerian components, to the very extent that the “contemporary political thought” directly informed by Deleuze’s Spinozism—Peden focuses on the work of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri here—“often draws more on the Heideggerian elements that Deleuze brings to Spinozism than on the formal, subtractive, in a word rationalist, elements of Spinozism whose critical relation to phenomenology has been explored in the preceding chapters” (197). The ultimate significance of this apprehension of the contemporary is indexed to the final picture of Spinozism that Peden’s study arrives at; ““the most valuable element of the Deleuzean legacy in its hybrid Heideggerian/Spinozistic form […] is the notion that the best a philosophical ontology can do is to seek to induce alternate and hopefully more beneficent ways of perceiving and conceiving the world. A deductive politics is out of the question” (258). The crowning achievement of Peden’s intellectual history is thus to show any “investment in what the fundamental relations of Spinoza’s formal ontology might “mean” in any given situation, political or otherwise, is a gesture that is arguably contrary to the critical essence of Spinoza’s rationalism” (260). The Althusserian and Deleuzian instances of French Spinozist rationalism are, on Peden’s reading, both thus exemplary in constituting “a critique of the attempt, widespread in the phenomenological tradition and beyond, to make politics a derivative specimen of a more foundational ontology” (262).

Peden’s clear preferences for the integrity of the concept—perhaps best encapsulated in the statement “The commitment to thought’s own insights against all the evidence of one’s lived experience … is radical in the extreme” (230)—are thus by no means hidden by the close of his study. Yet it must be emphasised that Peden maintains a welcome distance throughout from both overblown polemic and toothless intellectual contextualisation, offering considered and concise statements drawn from the clearly staged nuances of the various projects he outlines, and inviting in turn equally considered application to aspects of the period and subject matter in question that are not covered in his study (the most noticeable absence of the work of Pierre Macherey is justified early on). Spinoza Contra Phenomenology is compelling in the presentation of its engrossing content, and deeply instructive in its method. It should be necessary reading for anyone with an interest in the myriad afterlives and broader potential of the Husserlian and Heideggerian projects.

Eran Dorfman: Foundations of The Everyday

Foundations of The Everyday: Shock, Deferral, Repetition Book Cover Foundations of The Everyday: Shock, Deferral, Repetition
Philosophical Projects
Eran Dorfman
Rowman & Littlefield
2014
Softback £27.95 / $42.00
216

Reviewed by: Man-to Tang (Chinese University of Hong Kong)

The everyday offers foundations for us to remedy the crises of (late) modernity. There are two crises of modernity: first, the inability of acquiring anything new, and second, the sharp separation of the everyday and experience. The former is the practical crisis that people are devoured by mass production and are unable to create something new, whereas the latter is the theoretical crisis that the sharp separation cannot offer a faithful account of our life.

Eran Dorfman has two aims in the book. The first is to ‘provide a better theory of the everyday’ in order to show that the mechanisms of the everyday involve the possibility of acquiring anything new (5). The second is to argue that the everyday and the experience of it should not be conceived independently (9).

What competing theories of the everyday are worthy of criticism? Dorfman takes up Maurice Blanchot and Henri Lefebvre. Blanchot states that the everyday has three definitions. First, the everyday is a ‘self-enclosed circle that moves around itself with apparently no escape, no outside’, so it is ‘hardly graspable’ (7). Second, the everyday is ‘always open to changes, always transcending itself. It is never “finished”’ (7). These two definitions lead to the third and ambivalent definition of the everyday, which can be found in Lefebvre’s analysis. The third definition is that the everyday is characterized both ‘as a prison and as a lacking home’ (8). However, Dorfman argues that the first and second definitions are not mutually exclusive, so the third definition is not ambivalent but ambiguous. This ambiguity means the mechanisms of the everyday consist of that dual dimension, and the dual dimension refers to different moments of our lived experience of the everyday.

What is a better theory of the experience of the everyday? Dorfman explains clearly that the essential structure of the everyday is comprised of three interrelated mechanisms, namely shock, deferral and repetition. Firstly, shock refers to a movement that attempts to go ‘outside’ of the ordinary movement, for example, I may change the angle of my brushing when I am affected by my painful tooth (3). Secondly, to process shocks, another mechanism is needed, that is, deferral. Deferral is a suspension of the ordinary movement, for example, I may pause for a while before changing the angle when I am affected by my painful tooth (4). Thirdly, to understand whether the change is ‘suitable’ or not, another mechanism, repetition, is required. Repetition refers to a movement that reenacts the new into the old. For example, I may return to the ordinary way of brushing to check if my tooth is still painful (4). Throughout the book, Dorfman finds that the deferral mechanism of the everyday is a kind of reflection, but this kind of reflection is an immersed or embodied reflection. The shocking mechanism of the everyday is an attempt to go beyond the ordinary and acquire anything new. The repetition mechanism of the everyday is the integration of the new into the old and returns to the everyday. Thus, a better theory of the everyday can faithfully describe the dual dimension, namely self-enclosure and self-transcendence (as a prison and as a lacking home).

This book consists of five chapters, in which Dorfman attempts to justify his theory of the everyday and its solution for the crises of (late) modernity. In Chapter One, he starts his investigation with phenomenology. Husserl carries out the phenomenological reduction to bracket all everyday beliefs, judgments and activities, and to suspend the natural attitude of everyday life. Husserl’s aim is ‘back to the things themselves’. This ‘back’ means to reflect or to understand the essence of the things without falling into the trap of psychologism, naturalism and objectivism. Thus phenomenological reduction is a methodological tool for us to reflect upon the perceived object (33). Husserl later realizes ‘the impossibility of totally bracketing the natural attitude and abandoning it once and for all’ (38), and re-defines the natural attitude as the life-world, the spontaneous world of praxis. Nevertheless, on the one hand, this is only a preparation for the full exploration of the everyday. On the other hand, exploration of the everyday is not radicalizing enough because it is based upon an artificial act of contemplation.

Dorfman argues that if we explore the everyday radically enough, then we can realize that the mechanisms of the everyday already offer another version of the phenomenological reduction from within. Dorfman uses a holiday resort as an example to illustrate his point. The philosophical implication of the resort provides a partial detachment from my everyday life. It functions like the phenomenological reduction which permits one to suspend the usual and routine life, and reconsider it. More importantly, this is a partial detachment, as one is still ‘within’ the everyday without totally abandoning it once and for all. Therefore, it is possible to have a better understanding of our everyday life and return to it ‘from within’ the mechanism of the everyday.

Dorfman then traces Heidegger’s analysis of Dasein in Being and Time. ‘Instead of thematising the artificial world which results from the bracketing suggested by Husserl, Heidegger proposes to describe the world with which Dasein is most familiar – the world of the everyday’ (42). The everyday is the background for every activity in the sense that Dasein primordially lives with the practical interest instead of the theoretical interest. We would not suspend what we are doing and reflect upon what a hammer is unless the function of a hammer is missing. It means that when Dasein faces three empirical situations (disturbance, lack or obstacle) or the radical situation (death anxiety), which refer to ‘small’ and ‘big’ ‘negativity’ respectively, Dasein spontaneously suspends and reflects upon the everyday (59). Heidegger implicitly relates to shocks and deferral in the sense that ‘negativity’ gives a way to go ‘outside’ the ordinary and leads to a distance for reflection. How about repetition? ‘Repetition characterizes authentic temporality’ and contrasts with the inauthentic temporality which is blind from possibilities. It cannot repeat what has been, but only retains and receive the ‘actual’ which is left over (58). It means that repetition does not simply repeat itself from the actual but also renews my past and present and re-appropriates my future possibilities.

In Chapter Two, Dorfman continues the phenomenological exploration of the everyday through Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of the body. The body is not solely mine, serving as my private sphere, but also is out there in the world and can be seen by others. It is ontologically ambiguous. Instead of ‘arriving at pure life-world or authentic existence’, the body shows the ambitious character of the everyday. Dorfman pays attention to Merleau-Ponty’s concept of the flesh in his late writing. He takes dancing as an example, as dancing is always embodied without thematization of the body. Besides, dancing is always more than just moving the body around the environment. I dance in harmony with others, and reciprocally I become a part of their bodies (68). When I dance, ‘I constitute my environment and am constituted by it’ (73). I re-appreciate my habitual body through the always changing and new environment. Therefore, reflection is always ‘within’ the everyday because the mechanism of the everyday involves an embodied reflection. Dorfman suggests the embodied reflection or immersed reflection, implicit in Heidegger’s thought, as the intermediate kind of vision between a mere contemplation and practical looking (46). It is nothing but an everyday use of the phenomenological reduction. Yet Dorfman doubts the concept of projection ‘acts upon the past and changes it’ (80), and we thus cannot understand whether something new reflected on and integrated into the everyday.

As a result, Dorfman believes that phenomenology can indeed explicate the importance of negativity in order to make a distance for reflection. But there are two defects in the phenomenological analysis of the everyday. First, ‘phenomenology does not explicitly mention whether the ability to maintain an open enough everyday movement is related to particular moment in history’ (188). Second, ‘phenomenology considers negativity merely as the relay of deficiency, lack and finitude’ (188).

In Chapter Three, to further investigate the role of negativity in the mechanism of the everyday, Dorfman gives attention to Freud. Although Freud shares the first defect with phenomenology, he does not consider negativity as deficiency. The origin of sexual trauma can hardly be traced, and deferred retroaction seems to be failed. Accordingly, Freud moves from a theory of sexual trauma to a theory of indefinite shocks because the shocking is within the everyday but leads to a certain distance. Repetitions are responses to unspecific shocks (104). Freud states that child’s play is a way to integrate the shocked everyday and the shocking experience. This play is to play with absence and disturbance, which repetition is the re-experiencing or re-appreciation of something ordinary (120). What is the philosophical implication of Freud’s thought in the crises of modernity? Dorfman observes that Freud’s emphasis of unspecific shocks as negativity provides a possible way out in the realm of ‘too much’ modernity. However, Freud can only show the child’s possibility of the integration of shocks into the everyday, but the not adult’s. With this in mind, Dorfman introduces the last figure in this book, Benjamin.

Chapter Four shows that Benjamin does not only sort out the crises of modernity, but also faithfully describes the relation between the everyday, repetition and mass production and offers a solution to the crises (127). Dorfman finds that a Freudian framework can be found in Benjamin’s thought. In his doctrine of the decline of aura and tradition, Benjamin uses film to illustrate his point. Film is a work with no origin, and it is easy for the masses to watch whenever and wherever they want (147). The features of film are essential to understand the distinction between ‘long experience’ and ‘immediate experience’ (138). The function of the immediate experience is to parry shock before it arrives at the depth home of the long experience, where it will leave its trace. Although the shock is registered as an extraordinary event, it does not connect to long experience. As a result, ‘the modern everyday is full of “shocks” or “events” that nevertheless leave the impression that nothing “happens” and remains “outside”’ (139). Dorfman explains the relationship between shock and the aura. There are two important conditions for the creation of the aura. When an event or an object is totally new, it is perceived as shocking, on the one hand; the comprehension of it must be repeated, on the other hand. The first condition leads to the second condition, that is to say, there is a balance between distance and proximity. It means that the event or object remains partially ‘strange’ and partially ‘familiar.’ It is the key to rectify the first crisis of modernity, namely the inability of acquiring anything new.

In Chapter Five, Dorfman develops the aura of the habitual or the everyday, which is between the strange and the familiar, the distant and the proximal, each of which constitutes the foundation of the everyday. The aura of the habitual brings negativity to the fore through the shock image. The shock image arouses suspension and reflection of the everyday simultaneously. This reflection reveals both ordinary and extraordinary. He uses two examples to explain his founding. The first example is Paul Klee’s Angel Novus. Benjamin describes two special features of the angel. The angel is looking at our present and past, on the one hand, and moves forward to the future, on the other hand. The angel sees our time as holistic, and only then as separated into different temporal moments, but we ourselves see the present as composed of successive events, and forget that the present consists of parts of the holistic everyday. With every shock, every immediate experience or every catastrophe, we could be the angel. We could, through an everyday ‘fight against the present experience’, ‘give up any immediate experience in order to transform our past immediate experience in long experience’ (170-171).

The second example is Cindy Sherman’s photographs. Cindy Sherman’s photographs reproduce Sherman under another identity. Sometimes she is retrieving a book in a library with a tiny nurse uniform and gazing somewhere outside the frame. Sometimes she is walking on the middle of a highway alone and gazing somewhere outside the frame. Dorfman finds the photos ‘show infinite everyday possibilities that are true and false at the same time’ (174). These possibilities expose how everyday surroundings can be staged differently and lead to something anew. Through these reproductions of photography, Dorfman insightfully interprets that unlike Benjamin, Sherman uncovers that ‘the aura is revealed to be conditioned by the everyday: a meeting point of familiarity and strangeness, habituation and shock’ (175). The two examples show that the mass reproductive feature of modernity is full of the shocking. Through the experience of the shocking, we could defer the present life and re-experience it rather than parry it. Thus these mechanisms of the everyday reveal the condition of anything new, as we could never be otherwise without being completely the same.

It is not surprising that some may think Benjamin is the ‘final solution’ towards the crises of modernity. However, Dorfman’s path of thought is a long-route rather than a short-cut because phenomenology is an unavoidable starting point for the investigation of the everyday. Without the methodological procedure, we could hardly avoid unexamined prejudices and hardly make a faithful move ‘back to the everyday itself’. If we could faithfully understand the mechanisms of the everyday, then we could understand that the foundations of the everyday are the ‘antidote’ of the crises of modernity. For example, Dorfman clearly indicates that it is Heidegger’s inspiration that ‘the movement of use-suspension-reuse is the circular movement of everyday foundation’ (46). It explicates the essential structure of the everyday. Also, it is Merleau-Ponty’s inspiration that ‘the body is both subject and object, both the user of the tool and the tool itself. Ideally, there is a continuous link between the habitual body (static foundation) and the actual body (dynamic foundation), the one permitting the other and vice versa (76). The condition of possibility is founded in the everyday. More importantly, ‘rather than an objective representation, phenomenology should be a self-conscious process in which the unreflected is revealed but also created’ (87). Phenomenology paves the way for us to acquire anything new.

Throughout the book, ‘modernity’ is not a well-defined term. Dorfman sometimes draws a distinction between ‘modernity’ and ‘late modernity’, but he sometimes simply uses ‘modernity.’ If the two are different, then what is their difference? In addition, it is interesting to re-think the relationship between phenomenology and critical theory. Benjamin is regarded as one of the significant figures in the school of critical theory, which aims at criticizing the problems of modernity. Unlike Adorno’s radical criticism (1940: 4), Dorfman carefully uncovers the critical dimension in phenomenology through Husserl’s, Heidegger’s and Merleau-Ponty’s implicit analyses of ‘negativity’. In fact, critique of modernity is one of the main themes in the Crisis, where Husserl gives a diagnosis and explains how transcendental phenomenology offers a solution to the crisis. In the Kaizo articles, Husserl calls the motif a ‘renewal’ of the European spirit (HUA. XXVII: 3-94). And it marks a commonality between phenomenology and critical theory. If this is the full picture of phenomenology, than we may wonder to what extent it is correct for Dorfman to state that ‘this negativity tends to be ignored or repressed in the everyday by adopting objective categories – that is, by repeating the same old meaning without seeing the need to renew them. This everyday tendency makes all three phenomenologists finally abandon the everyday in favor of a sphere of authenticity or full experience’ (90). Apart from Husserl, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty do not simply repress the negativity in the everyday and abandon the everyday without renewing the old meaning. As Dorfman points out, Heidegger’s conception of negativity is founded in the everyday, and it could bring us to re-consider our everyday life. This reconsideration is never an abandonment of the everyday but a rebirth of the everyday. Heidegger claims that ‘[Death as a negativity] is only the “end” of Dasein; and, taken formally, it is just one of the ends by which Dasein’s totality is closed round. The other ‘end’, however, is the ‘beginning’, the ‘birth’. Only that entity which is ‘between’ birth and death presents the whole which we have been seeking (Being and Time: 425). In Merleau-Ponty’s analysis of Cézanne and Giacometti, unlike Cartesian space which is a mere representation of empirical observation, the painter’s body is both within space and functions as the core around which all space expands. He argues, ‘I do not see [space] according to its exterior envelope; I live in it from the inside; I am immersed in it. After all, the world is all around me, not in front of me’ (Eye and Mind: 178). This negativity of spatiality is not a deficiency or a lack, but opens up a potential meaning and dimension towards spatial and bodily relationships. Other than these three phenomenologists, could any other phenomenologist give a faithful account of negativity and the everyday without seeing them as deficiency? How about Sartre?

 

References

Adorno, T.W. (1940). “Husserl and the problem of idealism.” The Journal of Philosophy 37 (1): 5-18.