Paul Ricœur, Cornélius Castoriadis: Dialogue sur l’histoire et ­l’imaginaire social

Dialogue sur l' histoire et l' imaginaire social Book Cover Dialogue sur l' histoire et l' imaginaire social
Paul Ricœur, Cornélius Castoriadis
Éditions de l'EHESS
Paperback 8.00 €

Reviewed by: Angelos Mouzakitis (University of Crete)

Being one of many faithful readers of both Castoriadis and Ricoeur who didn’t have the good chance to listen to the live transmission of the Ricoeur-Castoriadis encounter in 1985, I felt elated by the publication of this short retranscription. On 9 March 1985, Paul Ricoeur invited Cornelius Castoriadis in his radio programme ‘bon plaisir’ on France Culture and made possible an invaluable dialogue between them; both of great significance for the Castoriadis and Ricoeur scholar and for anyone interested in the enigmas of society and history.

As the “note on the present edition” informs the reader, Dialogue sur l’histoire et l’imaginaire social (hereafter referred to as D) is the posthumous title given to the discussion that took place on March 9th. The actual text emerged out of cross-referencing Zoe Castoriadis’ original transcript and extracts from the actual transmission kept in Fonds Ricoeur, while the transformation of the verbal exchange into proper textual mode was carried out with the aid of distinguished Ricoeur and Castoriadis scholars, Catherine Goldstein, Pascal Vernay, Olivier Fressard and Johann Michel. Indeed, Johann Michel’s role in the whole project is pivotal, as he is both responsible for the edition and the author of the enlightening introduction to the “dialogue”.

Michel’s introduction, as dense as the actual encounter, does much more than the usual background setting for the – often uninitiated – reader, it aims, quite successfully, at establishing both the main subject of the encounter and highlighting the major convergence and divergence at play in the thought of Ricoeur and Castoriadis at the moment of this specific encounter and in  their wider philosophical projects and political agendas.

Given the telling title of the book, the reader would be hardly surprised by the pivotal role Johann Michel attributes to the way the two thinkers treat the problem of imagination (D: 10-11). It is actually Castoriadis who introduces indirectly in his opening statement the notion of imagination through witty word-play, as he admits that the doctoral thesis he intended to carry out under Ricoeur’s supervision on the ‘imaginary element’, “remained…elementary and imaginary” (D: 39). This is indeed a bold and clever move, for it directs the discussion to a subject central to Castoriadis’ works and entices at the same time Ricoeur’s kind and somewhat careless reaction, as Ricoeur rightly emphasizes the importance of Castoriadis’ published work on imagination up to that point but then goes on to misrepresent Castoriadis’ opus magnum as “The Imaginary production of society” (D: 39). Michel rightly treats this mistake as a revealing (Freudian) lapsus on Ricoeur’s part (D: 9), since it epitomizes Ricoeur’s unfailing resistance to Castoriadis’ insights regarding the radically creative character of imagination.

It is certainly no accident that Castoriadis would attack the Kantian theory of imagination from the outset and especially Kant’s understanding of transcendental imagination as ‘productive’. As he also does at many other instances in his works, Castoriadis criticizes Kant’s use of the word ‘creative’ to describe imagination only once – and almost accidentally – in the third Critique (see D: 40), while he remains confined by the venerable philosophical traditions relegating  imagination to the status of mere reconstruction of the past or at best to a reconfiguration of already existing or perceived elements. Indeed, in The Imaginary Institution of Society, Castoriadis claims that since Plato and Aristotle a series of great thinkers, including Kant, Heidegger and Freud, sensed but readily concealed the true workings of imagination (see e.g. Castoriadis, 1987: 170-176). It should be said of Kant’s treatment of imagination that it is rather complex and entails, among other significant aspects, a break with the Cartesian theory of affect and an acknowledgement of both the passive and active elements that are in play in this human faculty (see Caygill, 1995: 59). In this respect, and as it is evident in this very debate between Ricoeur and Castoriadis, Kant’s theory of imagination is amenable to multiple interpretations and criticisms. It is certainly interesting that in spite of being both inspired by psychoanalysis as Michel rightly points out in his introduction (D: 25), Ricoeur and Castoriadis come up with contrasting evaluations of the Kantian treatment of this issue.

As we know, Castoriadis aspired to demonstrate through his works the possibility of the existence of an originary level of – collective and individual – imagination, or as Arnason puts it, the “general concept of the radical imaginary covers both the social-historical and the psychic/somatic dimension” (Arnason, 2004: 44). Thus imagination becomes a register for both the collective and individual capacity to shape the social-historical realm in an indeterminate and properly creative manner, not a merely productive one. For Castoriadis the emergence of new forms or eide of social-historical being is not adequately explained by the mainstream philosophical interpretation of imagination, based on the Platonic and Aristotelian discourses on mimesis which remains blind to history as incessant unfolding of unprecedented, unique forms, ranging from institutions to more individual manifestations of life.

Indeed, the concept of mimesis is central to the works of both Castoriadis and Ricoeur, even if in opposing ways. On the one hand, Castoriadis grounds his theoretical edifice on the assumption that creation is magmatic in nature, namely emergence of unprecedented eide out of the unconscious and the anonymous collectivity. Here the difficulty lies less with the assumption of a level of individual or collective life that is deeper than – and different in its modality from – what is commonly understood as a unified field of being, that can be grasped through reason (or in Castoriadis’ jargon through the workings of identitary logic), but with the enigmatic ontological status of the anonymous collectivity and the relation between this collectivity and the unconscious of the singular human being.

Ricoeur, on the other hand, rightly discerned in the Aristotelian notion of mimesis – already in itself a considerable narrowing down of the all-encompassing Platonic use of the term as he reminds us in The Rule of Metaphor (Ricoeur, 2003: 42) – much more than the description of poiesis in terms of mere repetition. Indeed, in a series of writings the of which the three volumes of Time and Narrative and the Rule of Metaphor are arguably the most significant, Ricoeur discerns “a metaphor of reality” and an “iconic augmentation of the real” (Ricoeur, 1979: 292) in mimesis and comes up with a threefold interpretation of this notion as “prefiguration, configuration, refiguration” (see Ricoeur, 2004: 527).

Ricoeur resists Castoriadis’ notion of creation ex nihilo, despite the fact that Castoriadis distinguishes (re)productive and properly creative socio-historical processes, trivial and radical forms of social-historical change in his work, while he also explains time and again that creation does not happen in the absence of pre-given social and natural/biological elements or without the use of such elements. These points should account for Ricoeur’s objection that social action always takes place in a “pre-structured” world that we constantly “re-construct” (see D: 44). Moreover, in my understanding of Castoriadis, the ‘nothing’ out of which radical creation occurs is a provocative name given to the enigmatic mode of being of the unconscious, which can only be thought by some ‘bastard reasoning’ as Plato famously wrote of the chora in the Timaeus.

Despite unmistakable convergences we encounter in the dialogue between the two thinkers, Ricoeur states curtly the point of distention in the most concise and revealing of manners: “Self-creation [of societies], no. Successive reconfigurations, yes” (D: 60). Michel treats this fundamental difference as over-determined by divergent political projects and personality differences (e.g. D: 29, 33), however both the nature and the origins of this difference appear to be elusive.Indeed, the difference between ‘creation ex nihilo’ and what we could call paraphrasing Ricoeur ‘creation through reconfiguration’ presents us with a main point of divergence between Castoriadis and hermeneutic phenomenology in general. One would only need to consider Gadamer for that reason, for whom meaning is inexhaustible in principle and consequently interpretation is both conditioned and virtually unlimited, both exegetic and creative.

In this respect, there is an important convergence between the way Castoriadis conceptualizes the emergence of radically new forms of being and the phenomenological idea of the ‘event’. It is certainly no accident that in this very dialogue Ricoeur takes refuge in the notion of the event in order to account for the emergence in history of “elements that were not there before” (D: 42). But this is surely also an ontological problem as evident in Castoriadis’ retort to Ricoeur’s blunt rejection of the possibility of “absolute novelty” (D: 42). “This is the problem” he states, “the way in which we think of temporality and of being within temporality” (D: 42-43) and he goes on to propose that we attempt to conceptualize temporality in terms of the emergence of levels of being (D: 43), an idea found in many of his later works, which also renders problematic the unicity of being.

It is important to note that Castoriadis wishes to introduce a level of signification more profound than that of the understanding, which grounds language but is neither restricted by language’s structural properties nor by its horizon of significations. Bearing in mind the proto-institutions of legein and teuchein describe states-of-affairs that ground but are not identical with given languages and practices,  the problem is thus both of epistemological and ontological import, while its undeniable relation to the political might be most difficult to properly grasp. Michel approaches some of the epistemological problems we encounter once we attempt to bring Castoriadis and Ricoeur in dialogue, giving specific emphasis to Ricoeur’s advancement of a ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ and his treatment of ideology in his famous lectures on ideology and utopia and in Castoriadis’ treatment of Marxism qua ideology (D: 25-26). There are however even wider issues to take into account in this respect. When Ricoeur , defends Habermas’s ideal of undistorted communication in the closing stages of the exchange, (D: 66), he does not merely provide the reading public with a moral and political ideal, a Kantian regulative principle (D: 67) as he readily describes his position. His defense of ‘the better argument’ also suggests a theory of meaning, a philosophy of language, an anthropology and a social ontology. This becomes all too evident, when after having ‘agreed’ on the point that humanity can be thought as a unity only in the form of a task (D: 68), they go on to further describe this insight in clearly divergent ways. For Castoriadis humanity as unity “is not a regulative idea of reason” but rather “a political imaginary signification that animates a political project” (D: 68). For Ricoeur, it touches upon practical reason, an “act of thought according to the categories” of practical reason and any given “juridical exigencies” (D: 68-69). Implied here are the themes of democracy, autonomy and justice so dear to both thinkers and of course two distinct critiques – and understandings – of modernity.

Apart from the problem of evil – or the monstrous as Castoriadis prefers to call it – that Ricoeur mentions as regretfully having escaped their proper attention on this occasion (D: 69), there are perhaps too many things left unsaid in this brief exchange between Ricoeur and his guest. This is an unavoidable aspect given the format of this interview, especially when thinkers like Castoriadis and Ricoeur are brought together in dialogue. Nonetheless, their writings are there for us to grasp, together with a growing corpus of works dedicated to their projects, which brings to the fore the need to confront the thoughts of these two great thinkers time and again and to put into practice what Ricoeur calls in this brief exchange – the “gesture of novation/tradition” (D: 68).

Arnason, Johann P. (2014), “Creative Imagination” in Suzi Adams (ed.), Castoriadis: Key-Concepts. London: Bloomsbury.
Castoriadis, Cornelius (1987), The Imaginary Institution of Society, translated by Kathleen Blamey. Cambridge: Polity.
Caygill, Howard (1995), A Kant Dictionary. Oxford: Blackwell.
Ricoeur, Paul (1979), “The Narrative Function.” in John B. Thompson (ed.) Paul Ricoeur: Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 274-296.
Ricoeur, Paul (2003), The Rule of Metaphor, translated by Robert Czerny with Kathleen McLaughlin and John Costello, SJ. London: Routledge.
Ricoeur, Paul (2004), Memory, History, Forgetting. Translated by Kathleen Blamey and David Pellauer. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Ingo Farin, Jeff Malpas (Eds.): Reading Heidegger’s Black Notebooks 1931-1941

Reading Heidegger's Black Notebooks 1931–1941 Book Cover Reading Heidegger's Black Notebooks 1931–1941
Ingo Farin, Jeff Malpas (Eds.)
MIT Press
Hardcover $38.00

Reviewed by: Elad Lapidot (Institute for Philosophy & The Divinity School, Free University of Berlin)

“Heidegger is dead”, Gregory Fried writes in his contribution to this volume. What Fried means of course, is death in the afterlife, namely a decisive end in the reception of Heidegger’s work. The event signaling this end is the 2014 publication of Heidegger’s first Black Notebooks, which has started an intense controversy about pro-Nazi and anti-Semite statements found in these texts. This controversy has in fact generated the hope of some and the concern of others, that these last texts of the Gesamtausgabe will also end the study of Heidegger and perhaps of continental philosophy altogether. In the life after life, however, death is a new beginning. Heidegger died as “the object of endless reverential exegesis”, Fried says, so that the “philosophical questions” could live (54). It is a striking phenomenon, how the Black Notebook controversy inspires new life in the Heidegger research, which is manifested in numerous lectures, conferences and publications. It is even more striking that this revival is actually not characterized by replacing textual exegesis, the ‘dead letter’, with the living question, but, on the contrary, by intensifying the exegetical and scholarly rigor –  Heidegger reincarnated in Husserl’s “rigorous science”.

          Reading Heidegger’s Black Notebooks 1931-1941 is an important document or rather a site of this current event. Ingo Farin and Jeff Malpas have edited an impressive collection of 19 texts by leading Heidegger scholars, with some of the central voices who have so far shaped the recent debate. These include Peter Trawny, the editor of the Black Notebooks in the Gesamtausgabe, who triggered the controversy by raising the alarm of antisemitism in newspaper articles and a widely-circulated essay[i], Donatella Di Cesare, former Vice President of the Martin-Heidegger-Gesellschaft, who resigned in light of these new discoveries and wrote an influential book on “Heidegger, the Jews, the Shoa”[ii], and Friedrich Wilhelm von Herrmann, Heidegger’s last assistant and key figure in the Gesamtausgabe, who set out to defend Heidegger and refute Trawny’s and Di Cesare’s claims, among others in his newly published book “The Truth about the Black Notebooks” (in Italian).[iii]

          This distinguished symposium of scholars is anything but an obituary to Heidegger exegesis. As its title announces, it perceives, approaches and questions the current Heidegger debate as an exegetical event – as an event of “reading”. It is to the great merit of the editors that the hermeneutical question of how to read the Black Notebooks in fact guides all the contributions. The question of reading is understood by the editors as a “direct response to the controversy”. In other words, it constitutes a self-reflective act of the Black Notebooks reception: it puts in question, and thereby suspends, critiques and resists an already effected, factually established way of reading the Black Notebook. There is something deeply Heideggerian in this gesture of questioning the incipient reading that has brought this text to public light and by the very same act potentially concealed it. The editors, on the first page of their introduction, thus suspend the very name “the Black Notebooks”, by which “[i]t has become customary to refer to these notebooks in general”. For the 1931-1941 notebooks, they prefer Heidegger’s own designation, Überlegungen (translated “Considerations”), a terminological revision not adopted by most other authors in the volume.

          The reading that brought the Black Notebooks all the publicity and is put here in question is the reading centered around the antisemitic passages. The resistance to this exegetic pattern is manifest in the structure of the volume, consisting in four parts, of which only one includes in its title, inter alia, the word “anti-Semitism” (Part III: “Metaphysics, Anti-Semitism, and Christianity”). The alternative reading promoted instead is a different kind of reading, as Malpas writes, a “philosophical reading”. Consequently, this volume translates the controversy on Heidegger’s antisemitism into a conversation on the essence and limits of philosophy, what lies outside of philosophy, and most importantly: the hermeneutical significance of this distinction. The “Jewish” question, so to speak, is translated into the question of the philosophical text. What is a philosophical reading of the Black Notebooks?

          The volume suggests several basic traits. Various contributions emphasize the complexities of the texts and the need to contextualize them both historically and in the larger context of Heidegger’s oeuvre. “The idea that there is one unchanging core message in the Black Notebooks is pure fantasy”, Ingo Farin writes (296), and Nancy A. Weston reminds of Heidegger’s motto for the Gesamtausgabe: “ways, not works” (279). Others call for reading with “compassion” (Malpas) and urge us “to do justice” (von Herrmann) with the texts, preaching for “a hermeneutics not of hate and prejudice, but of turning towards the texts themselves” (Zaborowski). The philosophical reading is further described as constant “questioning” (Malpas, Fred Dallmayr, Steven Crowell), which would in principle avoid strong assertions. This contemplative hermeneutics generates in the volume illuminating and instructive discussions on the textual nature of the Black Notebooks (e.g. compared to Nietzsche’s Will to Power; see Crowell, Babich, Strong), and their position in Heidegger’s work.

          One obvious question that comes to mind is the relation between this idea of philosophical reading and Heidegger’s own idea of it. Malpas points out that philosophical hermeneutics is “inextricably associated with Heidegger’s name” (5). But this is less clearly the case with the distinctly scholarly exegetic conversation in this volume, which reminds less of Heidegger’s own readings, and more of what Heidegger referred to in the Black Notebooks, quite disparagingly, as “Philosophiegelehrsamkeit”, “philosophy scholarship”. Any hermeneutically cultivated mind will no doubt appreciate Jean Grondin’s insightful observation in his contribution that “[t]he reading of the Black Notebooks has just begun, and at the same time perhaps that of Being and Time as well” (105). In response, however, we hear Heidegger’s admonishment in the Black Notebooks, as Ingo Farin somewhat self-ironically quotes: “All the World Interprets, Nobody Thinks” (GA 96, 276).

          The Heidegger-inspired devotion to “reading” in fact raises a fundamental Heideggerian question, which in this volume is most elegantly formulated by Babette Babich, when she notes: “So much Heidegger hermeneutic, so little time” (72). So much Heidegger hermeneutics, so little time. Yes, reading takes time, takes lives. The question of reading “philosophically”, seriously, rigorously, the so far approx. 2,000 published pages of the series of fragments that make out half of the entire Black Notebooks, in the context and as the last 7 of the 102 volumes of Heidegger’s Collected Writings – is a real life question, existential question: is Heidegger worth our limited time? There is here what Heidegger called a decision, which requires “decision-oriented thinking in contrast to all philosophy scholarship” [“das entscheidungshafte Denken im Gegensatz zu aller Philosophiegelehrsamkeit”] (GA 94, 399). The decision is not just whether or not to ban Heidegger from the philosophical archive, as Emmanuel Faye called for, but whether to dedicate ourselves to reading, interpreting and teaching his work, writing about it and guiding others to do so. What is so important in Heidegger?

          The basic answer articulated by many authors in this volume points at Heidegger’s powerful critique of the technological essence of modernity. This is the reason why the “philosophical” reading should look beyond Nazism and antisemitism in his work. Jeff Malpas, drawing on his earlier works on Heidegger, suggests that Heidegger’s thinking on “place, truth, presence and human being” may actually lead “in a direction exactly contrary to that of Nazism and anti-Semitism…towards a much more human and humane conception” (20). Laurence Paul Hemming’s contribution attests to the difficulty of contrasting, from Heidegger’s perspective, Nazism and humanism. Nonetheless, Heidegger has indeed been one of the most prolific sources for self-critique of Western thought since WWII. Malpas therefore makes a strong point in what reads as the basic credo of this collection: “Heidegger’s Nazi sympathies and anti-Semitic attitudes…become the focus for the attempt to remove Heidegger from academic discourse, not merely because of his sometime failure as a human being or as a thinker, but more importantly perhaps, because of the way his work offends against the belief in modernity, in ‘reason’, in technology, in capitalism, in ‘the West’ – because it offends, perhaps, against our belief in ourselves” (17).

          And yet, it is antisemitism that aroused the current interest in reading Heidegger. Much of what has been published on this matter, especially in the popular media, may well be described with the Heideggerian term Gerede, “idle talk”: a discourse that by the very act of making public, of exposing the Black Notebooks, in fact conceals their philosophical content. As Jean Grondin aptly notes, it is the “reading” of those who don’t read, a semblance of reading. However, as Heidegger taught: “Wieviel Schein, soviel »Sein«” – “so much semblance, so much ‚being‘” (Being and Time, 36). Isn’t there a way of understanding, of “reading”, not the Black Notebooks, not sola scriptura, but the public Black Notebooks controversy as manifesting a very real and fundamental question as to the “being” of Heidegger’s thought and of philosophy in general? Hasn’t the question of “anti-Semitism” been provoking so much thought and text precisely because it places the most powerful critical analysis of modernity in the immediate proximity to one of the most traumatic events of modernity? Because it brings to light the danger of philosophy and thus philosophy’s actual, existential significance?

          What strongly attests to this, is that, notwithstanding the book’s structure as conceived by its editors, the question of the relation between antisemitism or Nazism and philosophy in the Black Notebooks can be easily taken as a hermeneutic key for articulating this collection. Thus, against Richard Wolin’s claim of Heidegger’s supposed “obsession with World Jewry” (quoted by Karsten Harries, 208), various contributions, without denying Heidegger’s antisemitism, justly point at its limited role in the text: only very scant, unsystematic and undeveloped remarks, outside of the context of Heidegger’s Nazi engagement in the early 1930s, showing no real interest in actual Jewish thought, rather reproducing quite banal prejudices. The textual scarcity and doctrinal banality lead some of the authors to exclude the philosophical significance of antisemitism in Heidegger’s thought: “While Heidegger certainly makes room for anti-Semitic content in his Considerations, it is not a systematic, essential, or inevitable component of his philosophizing in these writings or his other philosophical work” (Farin, 311; see also von Herrmann, Vallega-Neu, Harries). In response, other authors attempt to broaden the semantic presence of antisemitism in the text beyond the sole explicit mention of the word “Jews” (Di Cesare) or point at the hermeneutic significance of silence (Trawny). As for banality, the philosophical significance of the banal in the context of the Holocaust was already indicated by Hannah Arendt, who inspired Jean-Luc Nancy’s recent essay on the Black Notebooks titled “Banalité de Heidegger“.[iv]

          Some contributors go further to suggest that the issues related to antisemitism and anti-Judaism not just factually carry no special meaning for Heidegger’s philosophy, but in principle cannot, and perhaps should not, carry such philosophical meaning. How then to read Heidegger’s famous attribution of the metaphysical, world-historical role of “uprooting all beings from being” to “World Jewry” (GA 96, 243)? Andrew Bowie denounces the “pernicious nonsense” of bringing together “ontological difference” and “politico-historical issues” (258). Thomas Rohrkrämer similarly classifies such statements as “crude belief in ethnic stereotypes” and “sweeping associations between nations and metaphysical positions” (248). For Peter Trawny, who develops in his contribution an idea already formulated in his book, statements ascribing to Jews or other historical collectives any ontological role contradict Heidegger’s own “ontological difference”, because “being” (Sein) “elude[s] manifestation in ‘beings’ [Seiendem]”. The anti-Jewish statements would thus constitute “an ideological interpretation”, in which “Heidegger has betrayed a central idea of his philosophy” (172). Daniela Vallega-Neu excludes from Heidegger’s Seinsgeschichte, i.e. philosophical history “in the beyng-historical sense”, any “representable historical events or ‘incidents'”, and concludes that “Heidegger’s pronouncements on Americanism, Bolshevism, socialism, and World Jewry (as condemnable as these remain for us today) should not be taken as instances of originary thinking” (136).

This sharp separation between philosophy and historico-political reality, so it seems to me, risks interpreting the ontological difference as absolutely disconnecting Being from beings. The danger of such interpretation is the reproduction of what Heidegger criticized as the metaphysical separation between transcendent, non-temporal, eternal realm of truth, and worldly, temporal existence, i.e. history and politics, which would be thus surrendered to utter calculation. As Tracy Strong writes: “Heidegger’s thought had and must have political or practical implications” (225). The philosopher’s engagement on the political events of his time, on National-Socialism, he claims, is accordingly not a perversion but the application of the idea that philosophy and thought should be realized in history, affect the world. That this realization should be effected historico-politically, i.e. through a collective project, a people, Strong reminds us, is nothing particularly Nazi, but an idea that we also find, for instance, in Plato, Marx and The Federalist papers (228-229).

          One could suggest another example: Judaism. Of course, to even consider this proposition, it would be first required to perceive “Jewish” as a category that is at all relevant to philosophy. Precisely this is however precluded by denying Heidegger’s anti-Jewish statements in principle any philosophical significance. Banning the anti-Jewish from philosophy is eo ipso banning the Jewish. Donatella Di Cesare challenges this ban by calling for “philosophical” thinking “not only about the Third Reich, nor only about Auschwitz, but also about the place of the ‘Jewish Question’ in the history of the West” (182). Her reading of the Black Notebooks accordingly tries to think together the Judenfrage and the Seinsfrage. Even if her claim that “[n]ever before has the Jew had more importance” (191) seems overstated, Di Cesare opens a horizon for philosophical reflection on antisemitism. In her contribution she reiterates in enhanced clarity her book’s famous analysis of Heidegger’s “metaphysical anti-Semitism” (181). According to this analysis, Heidegger’s attitude towards Jews was antisemite because it “fell back” into metaphysics, namely, for Di Cesare, consisted in searching for the “essence” of the Jews, thereby reducing “flesh-and-blood” Jews to an “abstract figure” (189). This analysis may require further differentiation, since it risks stamping as metaphysical and antisemite any conceptualization of Jewishness, beyond “flesh-and-blood” (including Di Cesare’s own description of the Jews as “those who, by definition, trespass and exceed the boundaries”, 192), and thus reproducing the exclusion of Judaism from the realm of thought and philosophy.

          Michael Fagenblat counters this exclusion by applying to Heidegger’s antisemitism Hölderlin’s verse, which was quoted by Heidegger himself with respect to technology: “Where the danger is, grows / the saving power also”. It is in Heidegger’s anti-Judaism that Fagenblat provocatively discerns a potential new Jewish inception of “Greco-German” philosophy. He points at “a meaningful confluence between Heidegger’s philosophy and some of the ‘existence structures’ of Jewish thought” (157), namely in the importance given to the historico-political figures of people, land and language. According to his analysis, Heidegger’s critique of Jewish “uprootedness” correctly diagnosed the problem of the Jew’s historical condition of “exile” and in fact echoed, even influenced inner Jewish, Zionist self-critique of the Jewish people’s lack of proper land and language. What Heidegger, in contrast to the Zionist thinkers, failed to recognize, is that exile was only negating the original solid linguistic and territorial roots of the Jews. If the critique of Jewish uprootedness was for Heidegger thus without appeal, Fagenblat sees the “becoming Heideggerian” of modern Jewish “theologies of Zionism” as a source of renewal. I’m not sure what we gain analytically by adding Heidegger to earlier and more obvious inspiration sources of Zionism in European nationalism, and what in Heidegger may constructively “save” Zionism from its woes. One lesson to read in the Black Notebooks of 1931-1941 is that Heidegger sought salvation from his own involvement in the National-Socialist state rather by zurücktreten, i.e. resigning, retreating, and going to intellectual exile.

          To conclude, Malpas and Farin edited a rich collection of stimulating texts, which constitutes a significant contribution to the still on-going and future debates. This volume is a central reference for anyone, scholars and laymen, interested in the various questions raised by Heidegger’s Black Notebooks.

[i] Peter Trawny, Heidegger und der Mythos der jüdischen Weltverschwörung, Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main, 2014; Peter Trawny, Heidegger and the Myth of a Jewish World Conspiracy, Andrew J. Mitchell (tr.), University of Chicago Press, 2015.

[ii] Donatella Di Cesare, Heidegger, die Juden, die Shoah, Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main, 2015.

[iii] F.-W. von Herrmann & F. Alfieri, Martin Heidegger. La Verità sui Quaderni neri, Morcelliana, Brescia, 2016.

[iv] Jean-Luc Nancy, Banalité de Heidegger, Editions Galilée, Paris, 2015.

Phillip Honenberger (Ed.): Naturalism and Philosophical Anthropology: Nature, Life, and the Human between Transcendental and Empirical Perspectives

Naturalism and Philosophical Anthropology: Nature, Life, and the Human between Transcendental and Empirical Perspectives Book Cover Naturalism and Philosophical Anthropology: Nature, Life, and the Human between Transcendental and Empirical Perspectives
Phillip Honenberger (Ed.)
Palgrave Macmillan

Reviewed by: Henry Dicks (Institute of Philosophical Research, University of Lyon)

Philosophical anthropology emerged as a systematic field of inquiry in Germany in the 1920s. Max Scheler’s, The Place of Human Beings in the Cosmos was published in 1927, Helmuth Plessner’s The Stages of the Organic and Man: Introduction to Philosophical Anthropology in 1928, and Arnold Gehlen’s Man: His Nature and Place in the World somewhat later, in 1940. The principal objective of this volume is to analyse philosophical anthropology, as set out by its German pioneers, in relation to more recent research in the field, the particular focus being the dominant theoretical stance of contemporary analytic philosophy: scientific naturalism.

As Honenberger explains in an admirably clear introduction, the volume may be seen as roughly divided into two parts. The first part (chapters 1-5) analyses the relation between the work of the classical philosophical anthropologists and various historically important figures, texts, or questions in philosophy. The first chapter, by Beth Cykowski, analyses the first major alternative to philosophical anthropology: Heidegger’s existential analytic of Dasein, as carried out in Being and Time (1927) and The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics (1929). Distancing himself from such contemporaries as Spengler and Scheler, Heidegger makes two major contributions to the theme of ‘philosophical anthropology and naturalism’: i) he argues that the basic positions which structure philosophical anthropology – the division between life and spirit, in particular – remain essentially determined by the tradition of Western metaphysics and thus fail to think through the concept of the human in a sufficiently radical manner: ii) he contends that the very concept of ‘nature’ is problematically determined by the standpoint of empirical science and, as such, again presents us from thinking in a more radical way, not about Nature, but rather about physis.

In the second chapter, Richard Schacht analyses the influence exerted by Nietzsche on Gehlen. Nietzsche, Schacht explains, sought to overcome religious and metaphysical accounts of the human as somehow situated at least partly outside of Nature, and instead to account for the emergence of the human in genealogical terms as a part of Nature. This way of thinking, Schacht convincingly argues, exerted a major influence on Gehlen. Schacht also explains, however, that Gehlen rejected certain aspects of Nietzsche’s thought, from what he considered his overly literary and insufficiently scientific style to his thinking of the ‘will-to-power’, which was jettisoned in favour of a focus on ‘survival’.

The principal philosopher analysed in the third chapter – by Vida Pavesich – is Hans Blumenberg. Influenced by both the phenomenological tradition (Husserl and Heidegger) and German (philosophical) anthropologists of the 1920s and beyond (Alsberg, Cassirer, Gehlen), Blumenberg puts forward a view of ethics as the self-preservation of the human, while at the same time showing the important role played by ‘consolation’ in both the genesis and the continued existence of humans: vulnerable by nature, human self-preservation depends on compensating for a constitutive “lack” by means of philosophy, religion, music, art, literature and so on.

The fourth chapter, by Philippe Honenberger, departs from previous ones by focusing not on a specific philosopher, but rather on various contemporary stances that may be taken with respect to philosophical anthropology, namely naturalism, pluralism, and ‘emergentism’, the latter being the position which Honenberger himself tends to favour.

In the fifth chapter, by Scott Davis, the focus is on Plessner, who is brought into dialogue with a variety of philosophers and thinkers, notably Ernst Mayr, Alfred Whitehead, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Pierre Bourdieu, the overall aim being to show that the fundamental concepts of philosophical anthropology – especially ‘life’ and ‘man’ – need to be understand in narrative terms and more specifically in the framework of what Davis calls ‘structural narratology’.

The second half of the volume focuses on contemporary debates in philosophical anthropology. Chapter 6, by Sally Wasmuth, provides a lucid and convincing argument for the pertinence of Gehlen’s philosophical anthropology for addiction treatment. Arguing that contemporary treatments often focus on remedying only the most pressing problems arising from addiction, and not the fundamental causes, Wasmuth shows how Gehlen’s theory of institutions can provide a theoretical framework for addiction treatment which stresses the importance not just of abstaining from addictive behaviour but also of reintegration into society, though without going to the opposite extreme of the slavish following of institutional norms.

In chapter 7, Lenny Moss undertakes the ambitious project of putting forward a ‘new point of departure for philosophical anthropology’. Drawing on his theory that over the course of evolution Nature has created ever more complex norms of its own, Moss argues that there have been two major stages in human evolution: a ‘first detachment’, corresponding approximately to the emergence of homo erectus, and which consisted in the development of norms at the level of the group; and a ‘second detachment’, corresponding to the emergence of homo sapiens, in which individual norms come to mark a dramatic rupture with the group norms of the ‘first detachment’. There are, however, two major weaknesses to this argument: i) it is highly speculative and supported by only rather flimsy empirical claims: ii) Moss draws on Michael Tomasello, and yet Tomasello’s own two-stage theory of human evolution, based on a first transition to second-personal thinking (the view from ‘there’, in addition to the first-personal view from ‘here’) and a second transition to third-personal thinking (the view from ‘nowhere’) is hard to reconcile with Moss’s own two-stage model.

Chapter 8, by Hans-Peter Krüger, again discusses Tomasello, though the focus here is less on the content of Tomasello’s theory of anthropogenesis, and more on his philosophical stance, which Krüger calls ‘quasi-transcendental naturalism’. Drawing on a variety of disciplines including primatology, developmental psychology, and cultural psychology, Tomasello seeks to explain how it was that evolution could have given rise to mental phenomena that are not reducible to purely biological forms of causality, namely the emergence of ‘joint attention’ in the context of collaborative foraging. For Krüger, this introduces a quasi-transcendental dimension to the human, which is nevertheless explained in naturalistic terms, i.e., as a product of evolution by natural selection.

In chapter 9, Joseph Margolis analyses the relationship between biology and culture, putting forward a broadly convincing but not very original critique of reductionist attempts to explain culture biologically (genetic determinism, etc.).

Lastly, chapter 10 provides a sketch of the broad research framework of what its author, Sami Pihlström, calls ‘philosophical thanatology’, that is to say, the philosophy of death, dying and mortality. For Pihlström, there are a number of key authors to draw on in this field, from the obvious phenomenological thinkers (Heidegger and Levinas) to Wittgenstein, the pragmatists, and even analytic philosophers, like Thomas Nagel. If this chapter succeeds in its aims of providing an overview of a research field – philosophical thanatology – that is rarely considered as such, it would have been interesting to see the position Pihlström adopts, which he calls ‘transcendental pragmatism’, elaborated in slightly more detail.

Overall, it seems fair to say that this collection succeeds at two levels: first, it gives a broad feel for philosophical anthropology in both its historical and contemporary guises; second, at least in some cases, the individual contributions could prove highly useful for specialists interested in learning more about specific questions (Heidegger and philosophical anthropology, Nietzsche and Gehlen, philosophical anthropology and addiction, the relevance of Tomasello to philosophical anthropology, etc.). The limitations of the book centre around its focus on naturalism. If philosophical anthropology has always drawn on empirical science, it is also true that it has more often entered into fruitful dialogue with European philosophy (Nietzsche, Heidegger, etc.) than with the philosophical naturalism dominant in the analytic tradition, most of which provides ideological support for empirical and naturalistic approaches to anthropology but without really contributing very much to philosophical anthropology as such. The overall result is that, particularly in the second half of the book, the content is somewhat skewed towards rather tired and familiar debates around the truth of naturalism. This is obviously not to deny the importance of articulating empirical analyses – whether in biology, anthropology, psychology, or whatever – with philosophical reflexion, as is already the case in the excellent work of Tomasello, but only to say that it is limiting to see the importance of thinkers like Tomasello primarily in terms of their contribution to the question of naturalism. Moss’s article does of course attempt something more than this, but his argument is highly problematic.

This focus on naturalism in turn means that much of the most dynamic and innovative work in contemporary philosophical anthropology – Sloterdijk’s brilliant study of the genesis of the ‘clearing’ in “The Domestication of Being”, for example – is overlooked in favour of rather predictable attempts to answer the question of whether or not humans in some sense transcend life and Nature. Similarly, the overall philosophical polarisation that dominates the collection as a whole – Post-Kantian German philosophy (phenomenology, etc.) versus Anglo-American scientific naturalism – means that important and original contemporary French contributions to the debate, such as Bruno Latour’s “anthropology of the moderns”, Philippe Descola’s vast study of the ethnocentrism implicit in the very concept of Nature, and Edgar Morin’s quasi-Heideggerian attempt to re-unify the natural and human sciences via a renewal of Pre-Socratic thinking of physis, are not even mentioned. So, while the book is a valuable addition to the field of contemporary philosophical anthropology, there is certainly scope for further work in this field that does not take the traditional – and Heidegger would no doubt add ‘metaphysical’ – opposition between the empirical and the transcendental as the fundamental issue to be resolved.

Danielle Cohen-Levinas, Marc Crépon (dir.): Levinas-Derrida: Lire Ensemble

Lévinas - Derrida : Lire ensemble Book Cover Lévinas - Derrida : Lire ensemble
Rue de la Sorbonne
Danielle Cohen-Levinas, Marc Crépon (dir.)
Éditions Hermann
Broché 28.00 €

Reviewed by: L Felipe Alarcón (École Normale Supérieure)

Let us begin by saying a few words on the title. From the very first pages of the book, editors warn us about the multiple meanings of this Read Together. Following Cohen-Levinas and Crépon, we can distinguish at least four: The first one is Levinas’ reading of Derrida, that should not be restricted to his explicit references such as the 1973 article “Derrida: Wholly Otherwise” or note 63 of Otherwise than being. As editors write, “the question of knowing how and to what point the dialogue that gathers them together has marked their paths is still open” (5). In Levinas’ case, does Violence and Metaphysics aske for a reconsideration from Levinas, that pushed him to write Otherwise than being? A resolution is not easy, it is even maybe impossible, and it demands at least an effort to understand what Derrida wrote about Totality and Infinity. This leads us to a second meaning, that is, Derrida’s reading of Levinas. From his seminal Violence and metaphysics (1963-64) to his very late texts (2003’s Abraham, the other, for instance), Derrida did not just write about Levinas but crafted what we can dare to call a “derridean reading of Levinas”, which is today one of the most popular approaches to Levinas work among American scholars. It is in fact starting out from the so-called ‘ethical turn’ in Derrida’s career that a set of interpretations of Levinas’ texts has been established. This is an important point, for almost all the essays on the collection challenge this very idea of ‘turn’, and it is eloquent (yet not surprising) that almost all authors have chosen Violence and Metaphysics as a main source. A third meaning would be the one concerning the reading of Heidegger that both Levinas and Derrida performed. This emphasizes not only their mutual admiration and many implicit and explicit crossed allusions but their reading-together (or together-reading) distant yet side-by-side, of a constellation of authors probably dominated by –not limited to– Martin Heidegger. This is probably the most ‘technical’ aspect of the cross reading, since a phenomenological expertise is required. The fourth meaning is this: today we must try to read Levinas and Derrida together, in the double sense of the sentence. Publishing a book that collects essays on both philosophers is certainly a way to share readings and therefore, in a sense, read them together. But it may also mean read them together, recognize their indissociability, the contact points (the simultaneity of distance and proximity) of their thinking. Perhaps these two senses are inseparable, and only together we can finally read them together. It is maybe what suggests Danielle Cohen-Levinas in Ils nous auront obligés. En guise d’introduction when she writes: “Between those two thinkers there was a chiasma. Chiasma, that is to say encounter, gratitude and admiration. There was a chiasma and more than a chiasma. A sort of hyperbolic philia (…). Such a philia certainly allows us to think of both œeuvres together, but always in a relation of asymmetrical singularity.” (9, 14). That “assymetrical singularity” of which Cohen-Levinas talks is the core of the ethics of the reading, here –in this book– as elsewhere.

  1. First essay, Sauver les phénomènes: Levinas, Derrida et la question du messianisme by Serge Margel requires to quote at full length a passage that seems to condense his argument: “… the experience of alterity, of which Levinas talks, as responsibility and advent of justice would have allowed Derrida to escape from history closures without falling again into the abyss of logocentrism. It would have given him the means to think of the failure of repression (refoulement) as the event of a deconstruction; and this event as the messianic coming of a justice that breaks-up history beyond its closure, or its end, and therefore beyond every arche and every telos, liberating language from discourse and thinking from concept –the saying from the said, according to Levinas” (29). Derrida would have then moved from deconstruction as de-sedimentation to deconstruction as event. Or, in other words, from a thinking of origins to a thinking of to-come through a modification of Levina’s idea of a messianic rupture of history.

How is it that Margel came to this interpretation? A short answer would be: by focusing on the phenomenality of closure that, according to Derrida, “has taken place” “within the metaphysics of presence” (Derrida 1973, 102). It is starting from Derrida’s “absolute belief ‘that such a closure has taken place’” (15) that Margel raises the two questions that will shape his essay: first, what is the phenomenal status of closure in the discourse of end of history? In Margel’s analysis, Derrida answered “in many ways, on many occasions but systematically by means of the arguments of what he himself called a ‘hegelianism without reserve’ of knowledge, mastery, achievement, accomplishment, fullness. (…) The logic of closure is, in this sense, a logic of saturation. Presence is itself a saturation” (16). A deconstruction of that closure became then inevitable for Derrida and it is only in this way that we can talk about “a sharing (partage) of voices, a truly scission in the core of Derrida’s thinking (…) Not two Derrida, first and second one, a division that – following a nebulous concept of evolution of thinking – some claim they can set up for many other thinkers, but the opening of the undecidable field of a thinking trapped by its own closure” (24).

We would like to highlight the fact that Margel talks about “sharing of voices” (partage des voix). We find this identical formulation in the title of a 1982 book on Heidegger by Jean-Luc Nancy, where it is said “… the thought of Heidegger, that is to say, the thought that interrogates the closure of metaphysics.” According to Nancy, Heidegger’s closure is the one of hermeneutic circle and, as a circle, “it closes and it opens itself, it divides itself (se partage) in the text of philosophy” (Nancy 1990, 212). What is interesting is not the allusion –that may or may not be a direct quote– but the fact that talking about closure seems to lead us to a thinking of sharing (partage)[i]. If it is so, one could ask Serge Margel if it is not the very way of outlining the question as closure (as circle then) that leaded to partage. In this sense, is spite of his eventual character, scission would have been –in a way– “programmed”[ii].

The second question, as Margel admits it, is a response to the first one and implies reading together Derrida and Levinas. We will quote him: “(…) how can we pass from a metaphysical closure of history, aimed at a systematical deconstruction of Western tradition, to a messianic rupture of history, for the unconditional coming of other’s alterity?” (17). Both distance and proximity between Levinas and Derrida rests thus on different conceptions of history, equally inspired by phenomenology. While Derrida talks – and needed to talk, as Margel demonstrates – about a closure of history, Levinas will talk about “the end of an entire philosophical orientation” (Levinas 1998a, 120). On the one hand, the end of history would finally reveal the origin –an origin without origin, strictly speaking– and open up the whole horizon of implicit determinations of Western metaphysics. On the other hand, the end “opens a new space for transcendence and liberates metaphysics from ontology, the thinking of being from identity, ipseity, and totality” (18). If both philosophers agree on historicity of history being constitutive of phenomenality of phenomena.

Now, the difference has to do fundamentally with considerations about phenomenality of phenomena. If Derrida will always affirm the closure but at the same time try to escape from it, this very acceptance would lead to “mourning, survival, specter or phantom” (24). It is the thinking of the end who commands all those operations. But again, if we don’t want to fall prey to closure, we must reconsider the phenomenality of the phenomena. Now, it is Levina’s messianic consciousness that will provide an exit, but with a (not so) slight difference: if Levinas’ trace is present on the Other’s face, Derrida will rather think of a trace of writing as the history of repression (refoulement) of writing. This will allow him to consider “every phenomenal appearance already as a disappearance, a lost (…) every presence is a resurrection” (30). An infinite mourning, then (and this must be read along with Jullien’s essay, the last one on the collection).

  1. In chapter two Gérard Bensussan discusses undecidability in Derrida’s work. Reversing, questioning the classic schema of sovereignty, Bensussan asks not about the place of decision, but for the place of undecidability. In order to do so, he develops what he calls an “ethics of floating,” based mainly on Derrida’s description in The Double Session, to wit: “the word floating suggests what Mallarme calls suggestion: barely revealing at all, on the point of disappearing, the indecision of that which remains suspended, neither this nor that, between here and there, and hence between this text and another”(Derrida 1981, 239). An ethics of floating would be then a suspension of ethics: not a lack but an excess of activity, somewhat in the sense of Blanchot’s worklessness or Derrida’s “two with no one.” At the same time, and for the same reason, its place is undecidable for it is in somewhere “between here and there,” that is to say neither here nor there.

It is, we believe, the sense in which Bensussan writes that “undecidability dislocates in being itself a continual auto-division” (33). Consequently, the place of undecidable cannot be but a non-place. And this, again, is not in a subtractive sense: if we cannot fix a place is because we cannot decide for just one, the place of decision being always multiple, more than one. Undecidability undecides itself as it divides itself: it is a continual movement. But, Besussan states, this non-place –or rather place-out-of-place– is neither a capital place (chef-lieu) as in Heidegger, nor a place of passage as in Hegel. Dislocation does not lead to a stabilization or to an original place that the Western would have forgotten. As Besussan writes: “dislocation is only possible if it displaces itself to a certain sense-less or even to a temporalization of the time of undecidable decision”, and this is because “only meaning (sens) is undecidable and decision is only about sense and in time” (37).

By considering time, Bensussan makes possible the irruption of the other. This is an important point because it connects with Levinas, who wrote “time is not the achievement of an isolated and lone subject, but the very relationship of the subject with the Other” (Levinas 1987, 39) . By this means, Bensussan introduces not just time but the other: time would always come from the other, and therefore “’my’ decision obeys to a wholly other thing than my freedom, my capacity for initiative, my anticipatory consciousness”. (40) In a way, a true decision –an undecidable decision– is always taken in front of the other, or even commanded by the other. Still, what is commanded is not the content but the instance. And this, we can state, because “only the meaning (sens) of the other is irrecusable, and forbids the reclusion and reentry into the shell of the self. A voice comes from the other shore. A voice interrupts the saying of the already said” (Levinas 1998b, 183). Now, what the other commands for Bensussan is “something as a hope (espérance)” for the undecidable to come (43). An ethics of flotation would be then an ethics of hope (espérance), that takes place in a time to come. But, again, for the time of undecidable decision cannot be calculated it can only come from the other.

In an interesting turn, Bensussan remembers his uncle’s answer to a governmental officer who asked his nationality: “variable!”. By doing so, León Bensussan, “one of the Algerian Jews from the same generation as Derrida”, declared to be neither French nor non-French, neither Algerian nor non-Algerian. It is again rather an affirmation of multiplicity than a rejection of a particular place or position, nationality for instance. Like this, ethics of flotation becomes also an ethics of domination, or an ethics of marrano that, as Bensussan states, is an “impatient, ironical ethics, [that] stands for a certain rejection –directly on [à même du] language and its unattended shifts– to validate forced and intuitionally framed options, that is, a rejection of exclusive affiliations, choices, alternatives between concepts (…) Subsequently, there is no place for “choosing his own camp” and his sedentary” (39). Political implications of Bensussan’s argumentation may not be neglected: unlike other philosophers, he does not ‘apply’ Derrida’s philosophy to politics but extracts its consequences for political thinking.

  1. Probably the first thing to say about the third essay is that Brezis understands différance as waiting or deferral. From this point of view, its positions may seem similar to Bensussan’s, but a closer reading will show some major dissimilarities.

Let us begin by saying that the keyword in the debate is “economy”. Going back to Violence and Metaphysics, Brezis identifies Levinas with an ‘aneconomic’ relation with the Other, while for Derrida that relation cannot be but an economic one, that is a relationship of difference and discretion (and this, we would add, invites to a closer examination of the Levinas-Blanchot debate, if there is one). Of course this is not as simple as it seems and, and on the one hand Brezis recognizes that “in Totality and Infinity, Levinas still concedes the possibility of an economic folding back of the I [moi] on itself.” (48) On the other hand, Brezis shows how Levinas is in fact following the Talmudic tradition, particularly in his idea of “a fundamental connection between the rebalance induced by the third and deployment of philosophical thinking” (67). Now, summing up Brezis’ argumentation, the very rabbinic idea of “a balance between contraries” would have, historically speaking, “its source in Greek thinking” (67). There would always be a hybrid between Judaism and Hellenism, some sort of interbreeding or interfeeding, if we can say so, just as Joyce’s very well-known expression quoted by Derrida in Violence and Metaphysics “Jewgreek is greekjew. Extremes meet” (Joyce 1986, 411). On Derrida’s side, Brezis argues that if we can certainly recognize an inflection in his thinking, there is no modification of its utter structure: “from Violence and Metaphysics, he always insisted at the same time on the need and the impossibility of openness to Transcendence, on the double bind between two contradictory imperatives: the economic logic of the Same, in its unsurpassable circularity, and its unheard exceedance in a no return movement towards the Other” (49). It is starting from that double bind that Brezis will develop his entire analysis, and also the central question of his essay: “Isn’t it by preaching patience in the waiting of an always deferred end that Judaism opts for discretion? A detachment from present that, at least formally, would resemble to derridean concept of différance?” (49).

In fact, in Brezis’ analysis Levinas aimed to think a direct relation with Transcendence while Derrida longed for a deferral. This has been frequently said, either as a disagreement on the value of presence or as differences between Levina’s Messianism and Derrida’s Messianism without Messiah. Nevertheless, Brezis proposes to exhume Jewish-related concepts on early Derrida’s texts. And that in order to explicitly challenge the ‘ethical turn’ hypothesis. There would not be a “one-way road leading Derrida, originally reluctant to openness to the Wholly-Other, to become closer and closer to Levinas –and then Judaism– in favor of what we can call an ‘ethical turn’” (70). All along his article, Brezis will show that there is no ethical turn but rather two different interpretations of Judaism, to the point “we cannot decide who [Levinas or Derrida] has deeper affinities with Jewish thinking” (70). Derrida’s différance understood as deferral would be as Jew-thinking related as Levinas’ relation to Transcendence. With this purpose, he compares a Derrida-like interpretation with a Levinas-like interpretation of a few passages from Genesis.

We will not follow Brezis’ commentary on Biblical source for it is outside our area of expertise, but we would like to point out that it is Brezis who tries to set up an interpretation à la Levinas first and à la Derrida after. That work in itself is worth reading.

  1. In his Allergologies, Petar Bojanić skillfully examines the uses of the figure of ‘allergy’ in Levinas and Derrida. If medically speaking allergy is part of the strategies of auto-immunity, can we think of figure of ‘allergy to the otherness of the Other’ used by Levinas and the logics of auto-immunity developed by Derrida in a wider framework, that of illness and philosophical views on medicine? It seems to us that these are the kinds of questions that Bojanić’s essay invites us to think. What we may consider as its central question is indeed: “Does the protection of the other, the act of protecting him from me and my assimilation, presuppose (…) a consent of allergy, distance and prevention? Does it mean that immunity and allergy to the other only preserves the other from us?” (76) Bojanić proposes to rethink these questions in the light of illness, which is “the alpha and the omega of those intricate notions [of] unity, totality, State, community, organism, body” (76-77). In short, the very key-concepts of the ‘bio-analogy’ allows a passage from ‘sovereignty’ to ‘attributes of violence’. In order to do so, Bojanić proposes a classification into two types of considerations on illness: on one side Hegel and Rozensweig, “his moderator” (77); on the other side, Levinas and “his reader, sometimes his corrector and moderator, Jacques Derrida” (78). The author will compose and recompose these four elements, and propose for example two other classifications: either all four philosophers are moderators of what each one received from his predecessor, or one must separate Levinas and Rozensweig from Derrida and Hegel to show that their thinking is “the first and single truly event in the history of Western thinking”. That with them, and for the very first time, “justice, Law or order” may occur “without the use of violence, and without war” (78). We will not follow here Bojanić’s further elaborations on that subject, for its development requires a detailed explanation that we cannot allow ourselves in a book review. Anyhow, it has to be said, his ten-paged “construction” of a “[Hegelian] strategy gathering together war, violence, sacrifice, sovereignty, negation, enemy and the other” (81) is probably one of the most skillfully constructed that one may read today. Despite not having developed Bojanic’s exquisite argumentation, we will highlight one of his main conclusions: in the remark to §373 of Hegel’s Enzyklopädie we find a reference to homeopathy as a theory of a remedy able to produce illness on a healthy body, acting rather as a stimulant than as a poison. It is then an external element that, being incorporated, may boost a lethargic body without killing it. Homeopathy, writes Bojanic, “is an addition to the system and a change of paradigm, even if Hegel did not have the time to give it a particular status” (91). Yet it is not the only therapy considered by Hegel, “its specificity and its magic lies in the influence of the other (…). The problem is now the non-recognition and the un-distinction of the same and the other (…) the infinite production of the other, the negation of the other and the power, provided to the other, of holding negation” (92). Now, and this is one the most striking passages of the essay, there would not just be an affinity between this idea and Derrida’s pharmakon but also a way of understanding Levinas (and inscribe him into a wider framework): “allergy is for Levinas the perfect synonym of Hegel’s homeopathy (…) [but] by substituting allergy to homeopathy, Levinas reverses Hegel: what in Hegel is therapy, in Levinas is still illness” (101-102) Nevertheless, there is no simple opposition between homeopathy and allergy, and while the rejection of allergy in Levinas supposes the harmlessness and innocence of the other, homeopathy supposes its toxicity. Hegel was not exactly ‘allergic’ to the other, at least not if we consider what he wrote about homeopathy. On the other hand, the logics of auto-immunity as pharmakon may consider what Hegel said in the same remark to §373: hypochondria is the prototype of all illness.
  1. As her title revels, Marie-Louise Mallet discusses the role of the word ‘marvel’ in Levinas’ writings. And although she actually focuses mainly on it, her entire essay revolves then around the attention that Derrida paid to Levinas’ writing, for as Mallet recalls, already in Violence and Metaphysics Derrida wrote “… Levinas’ writing, which would merit an entire separate study itself (…) [I]n Totality and Infinity the use of metaphor, remaining admirable and most often —if not always— beyond rhetorical abuse, shelters within its pathos the most decisive movements of the discourse” (Derrida 2001, 397–398 note 7).

Now, Mallet’s essay has its origins on a marvelous intertwining of circumstances, and we find it hard to distance ourselves from the story behind it. In 1996 Mallet participated in the ‘Homage to Emmanuel Levinas’, organized by Danielle Cohen-Levinas at the Collège International de Philosophie. There, she “enumerated some of those ‘marvels’ [in Levinas’ writings], not going too far on a real consideration of the theme.” Some years after, while looking for a subject for her contribution, she went back to that word, ‘marvel’, but this time realizing that “the attention [she] paid to that theme cannot but come from Jacques Derrida” (111-112). And it was precisely in the Word of welcome pronounced by Jacques Derrida in that same 1996 ‘Homage to Emmanuel Levinas’ that she found this: “A whole study would have to be devoted to Levina’s exclamation points […] Like the word ‘marvel’, which often precedes the exclamation point” (Derrida 1999, 68). Mallet’s intervention followed the one by Derrida, so in a way Derrida’s attention to the word ‘marvel’ came first; but at the same time, as their interventions were almost contemporary, she could not just follow Derrida’s suggestion. Marvelous encounter, says Mallet. Her contribution to the present volume is then a double homage. Even if it is hard to summarize Mallet’s meticulous argumentation, since it is based on multiple commentaries of Levinas quotes, we will try to show its core.

After a quick reckoning of the occurrences of the word ‘marvel’ in Levinas’ writings, Mallet argues that “the marvel of the idea of infinity” is the ultimate marvel. Levinas indeed repeated different shades of that same formulation on numerous texts, and it is well known that the very idea of infinity as Levinas understands it comes from Descartes’ Third Meditation. Why is it then that Levinas qualifies it as a ‘marvel’? In this specific point, Levinas meets Derrida, who has also remarked the excess of the Cartesian cogito. But, for the latter, what exceeds Cartesian reason “has the unfigurable figure of evil genius, whose threat of ‘total madness’ cannot be totally rejected, not anymore” (122). In contrast, Levinas would think of infinity as a “marvel of giving” (Levinas 1996, 41), and consequently “the marvel of marvels is the strictly levinasian passage from “the idea of infinity” to Other [Autrui]” (124). The marvel as unexpected gift, being this gift what opens to Infinity. Now we can better understand Mallet’s title: “Gifts and Marvels”.

To finish, we would just underline one of the toughest finds made by Mallet: “It is remarkable that any of the marvels that marveled Levinas appear, that any of them phenomenalize itself” (126). Even if the semantic field of the word ‘marvel’ refers to vision, Levinas’ marvel does not appear. And, in this sense, we may talk of something as an appearance whithout ‘appearance’ (apparition sans apparaître). This connects with the next essay, at least in what is referred to representation and present.

  1. In the second to last essay on the book, and also the shortest, Élise Lamy-Rested compares Derrida’s notion of the other with the one developed by Levinas, and this with the aid of the notion of space that, as we will see, implies both history and death.

As the subtitle announces, the essay revisits Derrida’s Violence and Metaphysics in the aim of challenging the idea of an ‘ethical turn’. According to Lamy-Rested, it is in that seminal essay by Derrida that one can find the first indication of “that ‘hyperbolic ethics’ yet to come, which has little in common with levinasian philosophy of Alterity” (134). So rather than a levinasian influence on Derrida’s late work, we should talk of a disagreement or hiatus, already noticeable in 1964, when Derridas’ article was first published. The core of that hiatus would be the problem of space. In general outline –Lamy-Rested argues– Levinas would think the Other as out of space, or more precisely beyond space we add, while Derrida would think the Other as ‘spacing’ (espacement). This has many consequences, but we must highlight at least one: if for Levinas the Other is “out of space, it is without any mediation that he presents himself to me in a speech [parole] not composed by signs, but nevertheless an expression or an address” (140). Now, Lamy-Rested argues that if Levinas can say so and at the same time allow some kind of presence (“The face is presence, ousia”, as it is said in Violence and Metaphysics), it is because that “presence has nothing to do with Husserl’s Living-Present or with God’s presence as theology understands it” (139). There is a disjunction between representation and presence, so the Other may very well present itself without any representation, that is unmediated or immediately. On the other hand, it is precisely because the Other escapes representation that Derrida thinks that “he never presents himself directly. He ‘manifests himself’ through signs” (140). Following Derrida’s commentary-interpretation of Husserl’s Origins of geometry, Lamy-Rested argues that it is then through the signs that the Other may survive and be kept in mind. And, most important: “It is then manipulating signs that we renounce to violence, even if that manipulation is also violence, for it is indebted to death, mine and Others: manipulation differs, maybe in-finitely, the instant of irremediable destruction if others take it over” (141). There is an economy of violence, as there is an economy of death. And both are related to writing, for signs “are [for Derrida] an essential element of what he calls ‘writing’.” (140) This is a central point on Lamy-Rested argumentation, since she opposes Levinas’ hearing to Derrida’s writing (Levina’s face-to-face “is not a seeing, face is in fact a speech [parole],” she writes (139))[iii].

Even if it is true that we can find in both Derrida and Levinas something as a ‘hyperbolic ethics’, its meaning and reasons differ considerably. For Derrida space (and the Other as ‘spacing’) opens-up the possibility of inscription and then survival, but at the same time the possibility of disappearing and violence. The negotiation between violence and non-violence, death and survival is what gives its hyperbolical character to ethics: “… the irreducible violence of the relation to the other, is at the same time nonviolence, since it opens the relation to the other. It is an economy. And it is this economy which, by this opening, will permit access to the other to be determined, in ethical freedom, as moral violence or nonviolence” (Derrida 2001, 160). For Levinas, on the contrary, it is only if the Other is out of reach, out of space, that historical violence may stop. There is no such thing as an ‘ethical turn’ inspired by Levinas, even if Derrida seems to ‘levinasize’ his writing in his later work, the disagreement would have begun very early, and the so-called ‘ethical turn’ isn’t but a new modulation.

Finally, even when Lamy-Rested succeeds in showing how the hiatus –or chiasma, as Cohen-Levinas says in the first essay– may be interpreted as a disagreement on the notion of space, with all its consequences, there is little reference to Levinas’ writings outside Totality and Infinity, and then almost all interpretations depend on what Derrida wrote about Levinas. She does not conceal the fact, and is valid to just follow Derrida’s interpretation, but we ask ourselves if a re-reading of Levinas’ idea of ‘beyond’ (and not ‘out of’) space would not change the landscape (not to mention the reading of Levinas’ later work). Or even if there is not also an economy in Levinas, as Brezis’ essays seem to reveal.

  1. The last essay revolves around a disagreement –the disagreement if we follow Stanislas Jullien, its author– between Derrida and Levinas on “the place from which infinity must be approached, endured and welcomed” (147). While for Derrida that place can only be the “original finitude” as described in Violence and Metaphysics, Levinas would have never took finitude seriously. Consequently, the disagreement may be also articulated as an opposition between “an epiphanic regime of the trace leaned towards the alterity of the face, whose infinity would demand to acquit from the world and the writing” and a “regime of grammatology of the trace leaned towards the thingness [choseité] of the world, whose infinity would demand the archi-inscription of its phenomenalization” (148-149). As we have seen before, there is nothing new in opposing Levinas and Derrida for this. But, as for all the essays in the collection, this is just the starting point. Jullien’s central hypothesis is this: there were most scholars recognizing an approach towards Levinas, that is in the privilege of the death of the Other, the distance is in fact the greater. If the disagreement turns around original finitude, mourning would be the point of greater concentration of oppositions. In a very sophisticated turn, Jullien argues that “original mourning” confirms the differences that we may already notice in Violence and Metaphysics. And that because in Derrida there is a “thanatological performativity of finitude” that would be absent in Levinas’ thinking. Once again we are challenging the very idea of an ‘ethical turn’.

Now, “original” does not mean that finitude is a new origin, the ultimate origin. By “anarchizing the origin” Derrida would make possible the “utterly infinitisation” of finitude (152), that is, by transferring “the originality of finitude” from dying to original mourning he would introduce a mediation that “breaks the immanence of dying” (153). The origin is, in a way, ahead; it will come with the mourning, and in this sense mourning is “more original” than dying.  Finitude comes not from my death but from the Other’s death. But isn’t that precisely what Levinas has wrote? All Jullien’s effort in the second part of his essay are focused on demonstrating that there is a “manifest absence of mourning in Levinas” (158). Even if Levinas makes the death of the Other the center of his exposition, for example in Time and the Other, the lack of what Jullien calls a “thanatological performativity,” as well as the “ethical privilege of infinitude over finitude” (159) would reveal a profound unawareness of the very core of finitude. In short, Jullien argues that for Levinas infinity precedes mourning, so finitude does not precede mourning but comes-with it. For Derrida, on the contrary, “is the facticity of an openness to mortality of mortal other as strangeness [étrangété] or ‘foreignness’ [étrangèreté] of his nothingness [néantité] that precedes infinity” (164-165).

Yet problematic on several aspects, in particular in his reading of the difference between death and dying in Levinas’ writings, Jullien’s essay is one of the most well-articulated essays in the collection. It is worth a reading, if not a re-reading, especially from those interested in the role of death in Derrida’s thinking.

Only a few words to finish, taken from Margel’s essay that may be very well an epigraph to any philosophical work after Derrida: “To think or rethink the work of deconstruction as the economy of an infinite mourning is also, and maybe first and above all, for those of us who survive it, reconsider the limits of deconstruction, the limits of possible, or the possible limits of the impossible mourning of a history of philosophy, of which Derrida will say that is always already finished and yet more virgin than ever” (31).

Review bibliography

Derrida, Jacques. 1973. Speech and Phenomena, and Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs. Translated by David B. Allison. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

———. 1981. Dissemination. Translated by Barbara Johnson. London: The Athlone Press.

———. 1999. Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas. Translated by Michael Naas and Pascale-Anne Bault. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

———. 2001. Writing and Difference. Translated by Alan Bass. London-New York: Routledge.

Joyce, James. 1986. Ulysses. Edited by Hans Walter Gabler. New York: Vintage.

Levinas, Emmanuel. 1987. Time and the Other and Other Essays. Translated by Richard A. Cohen. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.

———. 1996. Proper Names. Translated by Michael B. Smith. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

———. 1998a. Discovering Existence with Husserl. Translated by Richard A. Cohen and Michael B. Smith. Northwestern University Press.

———. 1998b. Otherwise Than Being, Or, Beyond Essence. Translated by Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. 1990. “Sharing Voices.” In Transforming the Hermeneutic Context: From Nietzsche to Nancy, edited by Gayle L. Ormiston and Alan D. Schrift, translated by Gayle L. Ormiston, 211–59. Albany: The State University of New York Press.

Footnotes bibliography

Lyotard, Jean-François. 1984. “Jewish Oedipus.” In Driftworks, translated by Roger McKeon, 35–55. New York: Semiotext(e).

Ormiston, Gayle L., and Alan D. Schrift, eds. 1990. Transforming the Hermeneutic Context: From

[i] It is important to emphasize the ambiguity of the word partage. As Nancy’s Le Partage des voix translator recalls “its field of designation covers sharing, multiplying, distributing, and differentiating, as well as fate, destiny, and determination” (Ormiston and Schrift 1990, 35 n. 10).

[ii] Derrida developed the idea of a “program” from Of Grammatologie to Psyche. We cannot discuss here its implications, and we are not using the word in its fully technical sense.

[iii] Let us recall these few words from Lyotard’s essay Jewish Oedipus, that may well help us to understand what the issue is “In Hebraic ethics representation is forbidden, the eye closes, the ear opens in order to hear father’s word. The image figure is rejected because of its fulfillment of desire and delusion; its function of truth is denied (…). Thus one does not speculate, one does not ontologize, as Emmanuel Levinas would say.” (Lyotard 1984, 42)

Benjamin Fondane: Existential Monday: Philosophical EssaysBenjamin Fondane / Existential Monday: Philosophical Essays

Existential Monday: Philosophical Essays Book Cover Existential Monday: Philosophical Essays
New York Review Classics
Benjamin Fondane
New York Review Books
Trade paperback

Reviewed by: Jay Conway (CSU Los Angeles, Department of Philosophy)

Whatever one does, one cannot think outside of philosophy, keeping silent, turning one’s back on it, sidestepping it: this is still philosophizing. But one can reject this or that definition of philosophy. One can refuse to want to be a professional philosopher. – Benjamin Fondane

Writing in her memoir Force of Circumstance, Beauvoir recalled her and Sartre’s initial hostility to being labelled “existentialists.” To paraphrase, Beauvoir found the category of existentialism overly philosophical, Sartre insufficiently so. Beauvoir’s principal objection was that her fiction—fiction that drew upon and examined modes of experience in an effort to reconcile the conceptual and the experiential, the philosophical and the literary—was being discussed as if it was an instantiation of some general, already formed, theoretical orientation. Sartre’s concern was that the casual circulation of the expression lacked the precision of a philosophical concept, and, thus, failed to adequately capture his theoretical labor. So he would insist that he was not an existentialist but a philosopher of existence. A similar repudiation of the term “existentialism” by Heidegger and Jaspers would later lead Jean Wahl to title his study of their ideas (along with those of Sartre’s) Philosophies of Existence. Of course Beauvoir and Sartre would eventually come to identify themselves as existentialists. As Beauvoir tells it, she and Sartre, recognizing the name had stuck (that it had become a durable feature of their situation or being-for-others), decided to use it for their own purposes. Among the opening salvos of this “existentialist offensive” were Beauvoir’s essay “Existentialism and Popular Wisdom,” and Sartre’s talk at the Club Maintenant “Existentialism is a Humanism.” If the former remains under-read, the latter is arguably the most read and most influential definition of existentialism. No figure is associated with “existentialism” more than Sartre, and, for better or for worse, “Existentialism is a Humanism,” is often positioned as an introduction to his philosophy and existentialism in general.

The terms of this episode—”existentialism” and “philosophy of existence”—are also central to Benjamin Fondane’s 1944 essay “Existential Monday and the Sunday of History,” the opening selection in this important, compact, and always engaging collection of Fondane’s writings. His use of these terms, however, will be quite surprising to most readers, and should result in a deeper, more complex understanding of existentialism. Arguing that it is different in kind from the philosophy of existence, Fondane inserts himself in a genealogy of existentialism that includes Shakespeare, Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Kafka, and, above all else, the Russian philosopher Lev Shestov. In contrast, Heidegger, Sartre, Jaspers, and Camus are characterized as philosophers of existence. At times Fondane describes existentialism and the philosophy of existence as two generations or waves of existentialism. But his distinction is more than chronological. He compares their relationship to a palimpsest: the philosophy of existence is composed over the text of existentialism, leaving only traces of the original. These traces are the words “existence,” “existent,” and “existential.” Fondane makes clear that he sees this as a dilution when he declares that the philosophy of existence is “a trickling out of the existentialist stream into the sand.” Like a Platonic phantasm, the philosophy of existence is the decoy; the lexical traces are nothing but “the lure needed to arouse the desire to take the bait.”

For many, familiarity with Fondane—philosopher, poet, critic, screenwriter, and director of a lost film—begins and ends with Man Ray’s haunting, two-headed photograph: one of Fondane’s heads looks down, the other, hovering above his lap, looks straight ahead. But something of a resurgence of interest in his life and work is currently underway. For this new collection translator and editor Bruce Baugh has chosen four pieces composed between the years of 1936 and 1944. Along with “Existential Monday and the Sunday of History” there is “Preface for the Present Moment;” an excerpt from Fondane’s book The Unhappy Consciousness; the essay “Man Before History, or, The Sound and the Fury;” and a chapter from the never completed Baudelaire and the Experience of the Abyss. Additionally, Baugh provides an introduction, prefatory remarks for each selection, a selected bibliography of primary and secondary material, and extensive endnotes that help the reader discern and understand the voices (the numerous allusions and references) within Fondane’s voice.

Since most readers will be encountering Fondane’s thought for the first time, Baugh’s introduction, a biographical and philosophical sketch, is important in its own right. In his account of Fondane’s life, Baugh touches on Fondane’s passage through surrealist and heretical surrealist circles, Fondane’s time in Buenos Aires at the invitation of Victoria Ocampo, and his work in cinema. The introduction’s conclusion covers Fondane’s final two years: his defiant stance under the occupation, his arrest by collaborationist forces, his end at the Auschwitz death camp. Baugh addresses Fondane’s unorthodox Judaism, one that has less to do with rigid prescription than the right to transgress. In “Existential Monday and the Sunday of History,” Fondane identifies the essence of Judeo-Christian thought (its “boldest and most revolutionary thought”) as the message that the law is made for man, not man for the law. Following Shestov, he argues that the subversive power of the notion of God’s will lies precisely in its irrationality. Existentialist faith is a sense of possibility that exceeds reason’s reality principle: a belief in the possibility of what reason deems impossible. Such a belief in and demand for the impossible will later be found in the critical theory tradition (Marcuse’s materialist notion of utopia), and in contemporary theories of the event (e.g., Deleuze’s, Badiou’s, and Žižek’s). Against the judgment that Fondane’s philosophy is apolitical, Baugh wants us to see the author’s political stances (his anti-fascism, socialism, and reservations about communism) as connected to one of the most fundamental features of his philosophy: the privileging of the feelings, experiences, and lives of individuals. Anticipating that some readers will find this individualism a romantic abstraction (a celebration of the isolated, atomistically conceived artist), Baugh highlights a somewhat casual and enigmatic reference Fondane makes to Leibniz’s windowless, doorless monads. The existentialist is said to believe in doors and windows, even in, or precisely in, those situations that appear monadic. On Baugh’s interpretation, Fondane’s notion of realizing oneself as an individual (or existent) involves a refusal of insularity—a refusal to close one’s mind, but also to close oneself off from the world. Fondane’s individualism is also a vision of community albeit a paradoxical one: a community of the uncommon, a solidarity among the solitary.

A common denominator of the four selections is Fondane’s distinction between reason and non-reason, the rational and the irrational. In “Existential Monday and the Sunday of History” and “Preface for the Present Moment,” reason is associated with philosophy’s explanatory impulse; the philosophy of existence is defined as reason’s attempt to dampen existentialism’s irrational charge. Fondane’s “Man Before History,” a critique of fascism but also of the claim that fascism is irrational, will remind some readers of Brassens’ song Mourir pour des idées. The abstract notion of nationhood within Fascism, and more generally the belief in sacrificing oneself for an idea, is, Fondane argues, all too rational, and this speaks to the need for a radical critique of reason. Such is the project of existentialists, the true irrationalists. In “Boredom,” Fondane suggests Baudelaire’s work can help us understand the intimate connection between, on the one hand, reason, and, on the other hand, ennui and the attraction of violence.

The different meanings philosophers have assigned to the word “reason,” the fact that the distinction between the rational and the irrational often circulates as simply a rhetorical gesture, and Fondane’s identification with the typically subordinate term of non-reason, requires us to think about the precise image of rationality and irrationality being advanced. Without question, it is Shestov’s definition of existentialism—a philosophy that confronts and checks philosophy’s historically dominant impulse of rationality—that is the key mediator here. A note Fondane affixed to his correspondence with Shestov identified it as his most treasured possession. In his 1935 talk “Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky,” the preface to Kierkegaard and the Existential Philosophy, Shestov asserts that philosophy’s defining conviction has always been that knowledge is the highest good. Moreover, this emphasis on knowing has involved a specific understanding of what it means to know. To know is to recognize that not everything is possible, and to clearly demarcate what is and is not possible (e.g., through the positing of logical impossibilities). Knowledge is also linked to the systemic devaluation of concrete lives. The philosopher associates the order of individuals with passage in and out of existence, but regards knowledge as knowledge of eternal principles. Individuals are associated with particularity, but knowledge is construed as knowledge of the general. Individual experience only tells us that something is, not that it must be. In contrast, knowing is about grasping what is necessary as necessary—recognizing the impossibility of something’s non-existence or non-occurrence. For Shestov speculative philosophy, specifically Hegel’s theory of history and religion, is simply an extreme variant of these intellectual tendencies. Shestov sees progressive, teleological representations of history as effacing the lives of individuals, especially those of history’s victims. Kant and Hegel famously presented their conceptions of universal history as the philosophical equivalent of the religious idea of God’s plan (theodicy rendered philosophical). But Shestov sees the view of history as deterministically realizing a meaning as having nothing to do with religion and everything to do with philosophy.

For Shestov the philosophy of religion is a false reconciliation of philosophy and religion, or, as he likes to put it, Athens and Jerusalem. For example, Shestov encourages us to see the Spinozist substitution of an immanent for a transcendent God (a substitution reactivated within German Idealism), and the reconfiguration of God’s power as the laws of nature, as philosophy’s attempt to dominate religion through the imposition of reason. At the center of Shestov’s view of religion is the notion of God’s will construed as absolutely free. A philosophy that was truly influenced by this religious principle would be a philosophy that asserts that everything is possible. Fondane would repeat this sentiment: “A God for whom ‘everything is possible’ is the end of philosophy such as it has come down to us from the Greeks.” Refusing to reduce the good life to the life of knowledge, refusing to reduce the real to reason’s representation of it, such a philosophy would be a true critique of pure reason, a philosophical exception to philosophical rationality. Declaring “we have been obliged to go to war against philosophy,” describing himself as an “enemy of reason,” Fondane reiterates and adds to Shestov’s delineation and critique of rationality.

Fondane speaks of philosophical man (homo philosophicus). This is the one who presents their own views and mode of expression as rational, while dismissing alternatives as irrational or meaningless. Fondane sees Aristotle’s assessment of the Platonic theory of universal and particular—“empty words and poetical metaphors”—as representative of philosophical dismissiveness.” When it comes to the ethical-political domain, Fondane sees attacking something as irrational (including legitimate targets like fascism) as a way of avoiding an uncomfortable consideration of one’s complicity in, or resemblance to, the target. Most of Fondane’s critical energy, however, is directed at what he takes to be the dominant image of philosophical truth. The tendencies making up this image include the notion of first philosophy (the goal of a system that is beyond dispute because it rests upon indisputable “truths of reason”); the notion of perennial philosophy (the truths that matter are those for all times); and the notion of universality (truths are truths for all).

At one point, Fondane goes so far as to compare philosophical truth to a “confidence trick.” Philosophy’s first principles are, in reality, convictions packaged as self-evident. Of course the packaging can vary with the principle. Sometimes the philosopher appeals to common sense; sometimes they attack it. Sometimes they invoke experience; sometimes they challenge its reliability. In another passage Fondane describes philosophical writing in psychoanalytic terms as a parapraxis—as an elaborate slip of the tongue. A certain unsaid is a necessary condition of philosophical discourse. Philosophers pose many questions, but these questions all reflect an unquestioned belief in the unlimited value of philosophical knowledge. Unlike Kant, but like Nietzsche and Shestov, Fondane’s critique of reason goes beyond an acknowledgment of unknowables. The question of knowledge’s limited worth is raised, and Fondane’s foregrounding of human suffering is key to how he does this. The author sees philosophical rationality as trivializing suffering in a variety of ways. Suffering is often excluded in philosophical configurations of the intelligible, known world (as if the “real” world does not include suffering within it). Philosophy has also trivialized suffering by downplaying its intractability. Cultivation of the intellect is said to yield Stoic self-possession: the elimination of the passions in a world beyond our control. For Fondane, neither intellectual exercises nor the elimination of social need and inequality are enough to eliminate the dark passions (though Fondane endorses the struggle for such a world as he endorses the fight against fascism). Finally, in his study of Baudelaire, he suggests philosophy trivializes suffering by failing to consider the consequences of eliminating passions. For Fondane, the numbness of dispassion engenders explosions of violence.

“Existentialism” is the name Fondane gives to his critique of, and positive alternative to, reason. Despite his often pejorative use of the expression “philosophy,” he presents existentialism as a reorientation of, rather than an exit from, philosophy. Shestov implored Fondane, “You must not let them treat you as a poet, a mystic. You are a philosopher.” Perhaps heeding this advice, Fondane characterizes existentialism as an alternative form of philosophy. The existentialists’ opposition to “philosophical man” means they are a “new type of philosopher.”

In Fondane’s existentialism, “existent” is a more prominent term than “existence.” At the same time, he stresses that existentialist philosophy should not be confused for a theory of the existent. At its center is not the existent in general, but existents that have become exceptions. For Fondane, everyone has the potential to become an exception, and circumstances that are themselves exceptional, even dangerous, can effectuate such becomings. One also discerns in these texts the view that existentialism is not only about the singular existent, it is also by and for singular existents. Consider the author’s repeated references to cries of torment. Certainly, one function of these references is to delineate the affective dimension of the distinction between existentialism and reason. Fondane associates reason with the privileging of sentiments such as wonder, happiness, and contentment, and with the following formula: philosophy equals knowledge equals the overcoming of the passions. Existentialism foregrounds the dark passions (discontent, anxiety, unhappiness), not to romanticize them, but to contest philosophy’s tendency to ignore human suffering, to treat it as something that can be suppressed through spiritual exercise, or to explain it away through some variant of universal history as progress. For Fondane, though, existentialism does more than advance a different, non-rational view of the passions. Existentialism is itself a passionate discourse: a specific, philosophical type of cry. Existentialism belongs to the “immense cry of misery,” but as an “echo.” This echo is a “coherent discourse,” though it proudly and defiantly risks being labeled incoherent, meaningless, or non-philosophical (it “risks passing for empty discourse and poetic metaphor”). In fact, part of its coherence is found in its sustained assault on those very forces (the forces of reason) that would dismiss it as incoherent. That being said, existentialist discourse does not, according to Fondane, “rise to the level of the concept;” it lacks terminology (conceptual language) as it lacks any methodology other than a certain fidelity to the passion it expresses. If the passionate mode of address is incoherent or empty then it is not philosophical, but if its consistency is that of the concept then it reinforces rather than destabilizes its target. Thoughts that have congealed into theories and theoretical systems reflect reason’s goal of explanatory closure. No wonder the closest thing to a concept in Fondane’s writing is his image of reason, but the word “reason” is used in multiple ways, and the connections between uses are too loose to say that we are dealing with a concept or theory of rationality.

It is this notion of the passionate cry, a coherent but irrational cry, that lies behind Fondane’s division between existentialism and the philosophy of existence. Let us look a little more closely at the author’s explanation for the distinction. Not unpersuasively, Fondane argues that existentialism cannot be defined as a philosophy that addresses what it means to exist. This would make existentialism coextensive with the history of philosophy. The author asserts that it is hard to identify a philosophy that does not take up this question. The model for Fondane’s distinction again comes from Shestov, specifically the latter’s view of speculative philosophy of religion. Reason suppresses what, for Shestov, are religion’s essential impulses: transcendence and the belief that everything is possible (in particular what exceeds the pragmatic and logical sense of possibility). Similarly, Fondane describes the philosophy of existence as the domestication of existentialism: the forces of reason substitute existence for the existent; what knowledge thinks of the existent is substituted for what the existent thinks of knowledge. If, however, our focus is restricted to the subject matter of the writings Fondane considers, it is difficult, if not impossible, to discern why he would classify Heidegger, Sartre, and Camus as philosophers of existence instead of as existentialists. Where in their writings do we see them discussing existence independently of the one that exists? Do we not find a critical interrogation of philosophy’s tendency to reduce subjectivity to the activity of knowing? Does Sartre not explicitly position existence as something we confront more than grasp intellectually (the distinction between existence and essence in Nausea)? Is there not a focus on the very emotions Fondane associates with existentialism? At times Fondane himself suggests he feels a certain kinship with Sartre and Camus, even as he locates them on the other side of the existentialism/philosophy-of-existence divide. Fondane’s classification must therefore involve a judgment about how these writers enunciate their points. Fondane must regard these writings as conceptual or theoretical. They concern existence rather than the existent because they advance theories of the existent. They represent knowledge’s perspective of the existent because, for Fondane at least, their works advance concepts (even if the central concepts concern the pretheoretical or atheoretical) instead of being philosophical cries. In Camus’ case, Fondane highlights and criticizes the final remark of “The Myth of Sysiphus” in which the reader is instructed to imagine Sysiphus as happy. Presumably he would have responded in the same way to Sartre’s characterization of existentialism as optimistic (Sartre’s “existentialist offensive” attempts to deflect the charge of pessimism and morbidity being leveled against the category).

I imagine Fondane would have regarded this review as more philosophy of existence than existentialism. Without question, I have pushed Fondane’s views in the direction of the concept. What I have not done, or even attempted to do, is to capture Fondane’s voice, his echo. It is this, however, that will attract readers to this collection. The rediscovery of Fondane will certainly include the inscription of his work, and more generally existentialism, in discussions of anti-philosophy (or anti-foundationalism). Perhaps existentialism will come to be seen as prefiguring, or even as initiating, this theme (the critique of philosophy is more often associated with Heidegger, deconstruction, structuralism, and neo-pragmatism). The rediscovery of Fondane will contribute to the more general rediscovery of existentialism’s full, variegated terrain. Still, Fondane’s voice is too much the exception to be professionally rehabilitated. This is a writer shared between friends, a writer read when, as Fondane puts it, “the teaching ends.” Like those he most admired, Fondane will remain an outsider: a dark and restless power.

Jay Conway is the author of Gilles Deleuze: Affirmation in Philosophy (Palgrave Macmillan 2010) as well as various essays on Deleuze’s thought. He teaches the history of philosophy as a lecturer at California State University, Los Angeles.


Simone de Beauvoir. Force of Circumstance, trans. Richard Howard (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1964).

Simone de Beauvoir. Philosophical Writings, ed. Margaret A. Simons, with Marybeth Timmerman and Mary Beth Mader (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004).

Benjamin Fondane. Existential Monday: Philosophical Essays, ed. and trans. Bruce Baugh (New York: New York Review of Books, 2016).

Jean-Paul Sartre. Basic Writings, ed. Stephen Priest (New York: Routledge, 2001).

Lev Shestov. Kierkegaard and the Existential Philosophy, trans. Elinor Hewitt (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1969).

Jean Wahl. Philosophies of Existence: An Introduction to the Basic Thought of Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Jaspers, Marcel, Sartre, trans. F.M. Lory (New York: Schocken Books, 1959).

Andrew Shepherd: The Gift of the Other: Levinas, Derrida, and a Theology of Hospitality

The Gift of the Other: Levinas, Derrida, and a Theology of Hospitality Book Cover The Gift of the Other: Levinas, Derrida, and a Theology of Hospitality
Princeton Theological Monograph Series
Andrew Shepherd
James Clarke & Co with the arrangement of Pickwick Publications
Paperback $32.00

Reviewed by: Esteban J. Beltrán Ulate (University of Costa Rica)

La editorial James Clarke & Co., a través de Pickwick Publications, posibilita la publicación de una obra de Andrew Shepherd. El texto, intitulado “The Gift of the Other. Levinas, Derrida, and a Theology of Hospitality”, permite una reflexión a propósito de la noción de Regalo (Gift). La presente reseña asume como objetivo una exposición del texto a partir de una serie de comentarios sobre cada una de las secciones, más un comentario final para concluir. En orden a presentar al lector una guía para la comprensión de la obra se detalla el contenido de la misma: (i) Foreword by Steven Bouma-Prediger, (ii) Preface, (iii) Introduction: A World for all?, (1) The Trascendence of the Other and Infinite Responsability, (2) Unconditional Hospitality, the Gift of Deconstruction, (3) Levinasian and Derridean Hospitality, (4) Gifted, Called, and Named, (5) Sacrificial Substitute, and Eikon, (6) Dwelling in Christ and the In-Dwelling Other, (7) Performing a Different Script, (8) Conclusion.

En la sección (i) Bouma-Prediger presenta lo que él considera como argumento del texto: la condición del Cristiano que resiste las múltiples formas de violencia, visto desde las categorías de hospitalidad. Como frente a las categorías de Levinas y Derrida no es posible construir un mundo en término de una ontología de paz y comunión, por lo que asume una postura denominada hospitalidad eclesial. En el Prefacio (ii) se expone una serie de agradecimientos por parte del autor de los cuales se omite comentario alguno. En la sección (iii) “Introduction: A World for All?” se presenta una caracterización del “mundo abierto”, fenómeno de la globalización, que propone una mirada que contrasta los planteamientos evangelistas del mercado y las protestas de los pueblos que sufren del flagelo de la pobreza; así como lo que el teólogo Miroslav Volf sugiere como tres modos de exclusión en el mundo contemporáneo (exclusión como eliminación, exclusión como dominación y exclusión como abandono). El autor recalca las dificultades sociales debido a las condiciones socioeconómicas imperantes en el mundo abierto y en el mercado capitalista, donde el Otro que difiere del modelo es demonizado. Un ejemplo de Otro resulta el extranjero a quien se mira con terror. El autor expone cómo en medio de su búsqueda académica se encuentra con la obra de Levinas y Derrida, ambos autores con un abordaje del concepto de hospitalidad, y una teoría que celebra la diferencia y la incomprensibilidad del Otro. Lejos de la mirada de hospitalidad industrializada, producto de la visión  antropológica del hombre como productor-consumidor, procura redescubrir un nuevo proyecto de la hospitalidad desde su fundación teológica. Es meritorio indicar que el autor aclara que la obra no encuentra su fundamento en el ámbito puramente filosófico o teológico (la obra permite el diálogo entre tradiciones católicas, ortodoxas y protestantes), sino que es una suerte de cena, por utilizar una metáfora, donde hay muchos invitados (Levinas, Derrida, Zizioulas, Volf, Barth, Bonhoeffer, entre otros), y ninguno domina la conversación, sino que es a partir del diálogo “en-desde-entre” que se posibilita una reflexión de la noción de hospitalidad.

El capítulo (1) ” The Trascendence of the Other and Infinite Responsability” inicia con una sucinta biografía de Emmanuel Levinas. Posteriormente se expone la crítica del autor de Totalidad e Infinito a la tradición occidental: mientras que reconoce en la misma una obsesión por la ontología, su proyecto da prioridad a la ética. Se comprende el Otro como infinito, imposible de ser totalizado. Frente a esta realidad, la respuesta ética es también infinita y heterónoma, es una metafísica de la respuesta ética (p. 31). El rostro es presentación y ocultamiento, huella del Infinito; el rostro del Otro es epifanía que demanda respuesta. Existe una condición de infinita responsabilidad que es pre-ontológica en el ser humano: se es responsable antes que libre. El autor recalca la condición hiperbólica y excesiva en el tratamiento de la ética levinasiana producto de su mirada radical de la responsabilidad, aunado a la tradición judía de la que es parte y por medio de la Torah como fuente de su ética. La concepción de ética levinasiana se desprende de la mirada racionalista. Es heterónoma y con origen en lo sensible más que en el pensamiento, como indica Shepherd: “Levinas’s understanding of ethics not as a set of codified principles, but as a concrete action rooted in human affection and sensibility” (p 37). Frente a la concepción de responsabilidad infinita levinasiana el autor problematiza la condición de respuesta hacia el otro en un mundo globalizado: “how Levinas’ powerful demand to infinite responsability is actually outworked in a world of conflicting and infinite needs” (p.41). Shepherd asume que la filosofía levinasiana pareciera ser una acto de totalización y deshumanización, al asumir al Yo como simple hospedaje de un desconocido Otro. El autor se cuestiona si la propuesta levinasiana no es más que una inversión de la totalización de la filosofía occidental, por lo que según él el énfasis levinasiano: “has the potencial effect of perpetuating the inequalities and abuses which characterze the inhospitable actions in our world” (p.45)

El capítulo (2) “Unconditional Hospitality, the Gift of Deconstruction”, aborda la interpretación de la filosofía de Jacques Derrida, primeramente delineando de modo biográfico su filosofía de la deconstrucción y la diferencia. Se expone en el apartado las características de la estructura mesiánica asumida por Derrida en su pensamiento (el futuro imposible). Al igual que Levinas, Derrida elabora una filosofía de la hospitalidad: “ethics is hospitality and hospitality is ethics” (p.53). Shepherd realiza un recuento de la ruta etimológica elaborada por Derrida en el análisis de “Hospitalidad” que presenta un carácter paradójico por la composición: anfitrión-invitado, intercambio-regalo (excesivo), invitación-visitación, condicional-incondicional. Se presenta la concepción de regalo (Gift) como momento de exceso que transgrede límites. El autor evalúa la propuesta de Derrida a partir de 3 preguntas: (a) ¿cuál es la naturaleza de la acción ética concebida por Derrida?; (b) ¿qué se comprende por identidad humana y relación humana en la filosofía de Derrida?, (c) ¿qué comprende Derrida por Fe?

El objetivo del autor es reconocer las compatibilidades y disimilitudes entre el pensamiento de Derrida y la teología cristiana en lo que respecta a la noción de hospitalidad. Shepherd procede a establecer una serie de consideraciones críticas de la filosofía de Derrida a partir de argumentos teológicos, desde Anselmo, Karl Barth y escrituras neo testamentarias. El autor recalca que el pensamiento de Derrida se basa en una ontología de la hostilidad y la diferencia, lo cual concibe como no apropiado para un fundamento ético de la hospitalidad, así como de su comprensión de fe que concibe como problemática para cualquier comprensión teológica del mundo.

En el capítulo (3) “Levinasian and Derridean Hospitality” Shepherd presenta los argumentos que lo llevaron a retomar los postulados de Levinas y Derrida para la elaboración de una propuesta teológica de una ética práctica de la hospitalidad. Entre los aspectos paralelos de los autores se describe la crítica a la primacía de la filosofía occidental por la ontología, comprendida como filosofía de la totalización. Se señala, además, el giro copernicano en materia ética; esto es: colocar la ética como filosofía primera y exponerla como heterónoma, enfatizando al Otro como acceso. Según el autor ambos pensadores se encuentran atrapados en el círculo de la metafísica, por lo que procura en su obra desligarse de Levinas y Derrida -y su mirada de hospitalidad asimétrica que da primacía al Otro- para ofrecer una propuesta teológica que se encuentre enlazada a una ontología de paz y comunión.

En el capítulo (4) “Gifted, Called, and Named” el autor reconoce que si bien Levinas y Derrida proporcionan en su pensamiento aportes para la crítica de la filosofía occidental moderna, presentan un aspecto problemático en lo referente a la concepción del “Sí mismo”. Frente a esto, propone una lectura apoyada en la doctrina de la Trinidad y la Creación, donde sea posible una ontología en la que la relación humana y la comunión-unión sea posible. Shepherd inicia con una serie de reflexiones a partir de los postulados de Caputo y Zizioulas a propósito de la teología de la creación en contraste con posturas de la creación del mundo filosófico griego antiguo: mientras que el mundo griego concibe la creación como un acto de necesidad, el cristianismo lo asume como un acto de libertad. El autor recurre a la teología de la Trinidad de los primeros padres de la iglesia, para reconocer el ser como personal, lo que expone como la revolución dentro de la ontología griega, esto a parte de la concepción de persona de Tertuliano. Junto con lo anterior realiza una reflexión a partir de la noción de Pericóresis con el objeto de repensar las relaciones de lo plural dentro de la unidad. Finaliza el apartado con la comparación y reflexión de la noción de persona humana como regalo, único e imagen de Dios, donde establece una relación entre la doctrina del pecado y la condición de hospitalidad de Dios.

En el capítulo 5 “´LOGOS´, ´Sacrificial Substitute, and Eikon´” el autor asume que frente a la postura de Levinas y Derrida que apelan a la diferencia, división, separación y exterioridad es posible una hospitalidad genuina desde la relación del amor y la libertad; la denomina una ontología de la comunión. Shepherd expone que frente a la falibilidad humana, descrita en la doctrina del pecado, existe una respuesta cristológica, temática, que se expone en el apartado, “Creation itself is an act of freedom and grace and thus, creation itself is a gift, an act of hospitality” (p. 143). Aunado a lo anterior el autor reflexiona acerca de la noción de sacrificio en la figura de Cristo, de la mano del prólogo del Evangelio de San Juan. El acto de sacrificio de Jesús en la cruz, evidencia la opción por la no-violencia, manifiesta el regalo. En contraste a la muerte de Abel en manos de su hermano Caín, Jesús se hace hombre, hermano de todos los hombres y mujeres y muere por toda la humanidad redimiéndola: “Christ becomes our substitute… Christ stands in our stead to receive the punishment we deserve” (p. 157).

El autor sostiene, en contraposición a la tesis de ética como filosofía primera, que es la ontología la que tiene el carácter fundante: “in Christian theology, ethics does not precede ontology but rather is inextricably connected to ontological concerns.” (p. 160), Shepherd quiebra una lanza por el cristianismo y, confrontando conla concepción levinasiana de infinita responsabilidad, postula que la ética no es una carga eterna (“the Christian ethic is not a call to self-obliteration” (p. 161)), dado que en la figura de Cristo se ha redimido la humanidad: “his resurrection triumph over sin, violence and death, which establishes the only secure foundation for the practice of a radical hospitality to the Other” (p. 171). Sintetiza el apartado indicando que Cristo es la solución ante la inhospitabilidad del mundo.

El capítulo 6 “Dwelling in Christ and the In-Dwelling Other” parte de la premisa de que la existencia, creación no humanidad es dad en tanto que regaló a partir de la acción amorosa de Dios, empero la distancia y separación cortan la comunión y acontece el miedo al otro E irrumpe la violencia y a hostilidad . Es Cristo el que posibilita transitar del “sí-hostil” al “sí-hospitable”. Shepherd desarrolla una serie de reflexiones en lo que considera como la formación en el “sí-hospitable”, meditando en los fenómenos del bautismo. A partir del análisis de las ideas de Volf y Nouwen el autor sostiene la tesis del “centro descentrado”, el Sí capaz de mantenerse en comunión con los otros, salvaguardando su particularidad y unicidad, así como la reflexión en Jesus (buen pastor) como la puerta-camino a Dios, a partir de la relación con las cuatro (centrado, relacionado, variación al y dinámico) características de la concepción de identidad de Paul Hiebert.

La comprensión de la persona capaz de establecer relaciones y la figura de Jesús y su misión redentora (regalo) permite al autor exponer lo que denomina como la renovación del sí. El apartado finaliza recalcando nuevamente las diferencias de la visión cristiana frente a las tesis derivadas del pensamiento de Levinas y Derrida, subrayando la mirada del concepto de comunidad frente a la noción de separación y distancia expuesta por los filósofos escrutados. Shepherd concluye  con la exposición de cómo a partir del Espíritu el deseo es controlado y permite reconocer al Otro como un regalo, lo que desmantela la violencia y posibilita la nueva vida. Una vida transformada por el espíritu, la iglesia, la comunidad y el cuerpo de Dios.

El capítulo 7 “Performing a Different Script” parte de la idea de que la verdadera identidad solo se alcanza a partir de la comunidad con Cristo y la comunidad con los otros. El último capítulo medita a partir de la pregunta: ¿el regalo de la muerte o el gozo de la resurrección? En esta sección se exponen algunos planteamientos sobre la Iglesia y el Otro por parte de Bonhoeffer, así como tesis éticas post II Guerra Mundial de Jürgen Moltmann. El autor apoya sus posturas sobre la comunidad, la iglesia y el otro, a partir de apuntes neotestamentarios de Pablo. Una de las líneas que desarrolla el autor en esta sección es la noción de divina economía, teniendo como marco de referencia la hospitalidad de la iglesia: “God’s gift offered to us is a free gift, one that is dependent not on the lives… it is the reception of the free gift offered in Christ which provides the basis for our ontological and therefore moral and ethical transformation” (p. 223). Shepherd afirma que la comunidad eclesial práctica una hospitalidad caracterizada como gozosa, por ser recubierta de gracia y libertad. El autor retoma la crítica a la noción de separación y de la mano de tesis de Karl Barth, asume una lectura del prójimo desde la proximidad: “Barth’s understanding of the near and distant neighbors as fluid concepts provides a important clarification of our emphasis on proximity” (p. 233).

Shepherd rehúsa la concepción de separación porque para él la hospitalidad es un acto de proximidad: “Hospitality is a practice that requires proximity to the Other” (p. 233). Y es en Cristo, por medio de su generoso acto de redención que la iglesia es acogida en la verdadera hospitalidad. El autor finaliza el capítulo realizando una meditación a propósito de la eucaristía, desde diversos enfoques, recalcando las categorías de regalo, gracia, fiesta y gozo. Siguiendo a Cavanaugh afirma que la participación de la comunidad en la eucaristía no es un acto de consumo, sino, un acto de participación en el que la comunidad es asumida por la eucaristía: “in our participation in the Eucharist it is not we who are doing the consuming, by rather, we who are being consumed” (p. 241).

En (8) “Conclusion”, se enfoca en tres ejes: comunidad, cuidado ecológico y relaciones inter-religiosa. Frente a un mundo cargado por una crisis caracterizada de muchas maneras (guerra de terrorismo, el momento del mercado, la destrucción de la civilización, por mencionar algunas) Shepherd recurre al estudio de la noción de hospitalidad, reconociendo el aporte de Levinas y Derrida pero trascendiendo los abordajes de ambos autores, para asumir desde una arquitectura cristiana una noción que se sustenta en una ontología acompañada de una escatología y una teleología. El apartado procura una síntesis del desarrollo de la obra permitiendo al lector establecer una mirada crítica y reflexiva del contexto que habita, teniendo como eco del terror el horror de la Segunda Guerra Mundial. La hospitalidad que ofrece en su obra Shepherd demanda una aplicación en el ámbito de las relaciones entre personas, el ambiente y la hospitalidad inter-confesional. El acto de hospitalidad es capaz de transformar al mundo, dando la bienvenida al extranjero; esta práctica es el preámbulo en espera del eterno banquete.

Luego de la exposición sucinta de los apartados de la obra me permito elaborar una serie de consideraciones al respecto, con el objeto de estimular al lector el acercamiento a la obra de Shepherd. En primera instancia resulta oportuno para los estudiosos en el pensamiento de Levinas y/o Derrida, dado que les permite acceder a una serie de críticas, las que podrían ser ampliamente consideradas a la luz del corpus de ambos autores, la constante confutación de las nociones de diferencia y separación, “both Derrida and Levinas, as we have observed, have a deep suspicion of the concept of community, preferring instead to advocate a relation between the self and the Other based upon distance a sepation” (p. 189). Así como meditar respecto a algunas aseveraciones del autor como por ejemplo el análisis expuesto en el capítulo sexto en el que Shepherd perfila una crítica de la noción de deseo infinito levinasiano, a partir de un estudio de índole económico (Tayor y William T. Cavanaugh).

A lo largo de la obra, y con mayor rigor en los primeros capítulos, el autor se percibe perturbado con el mandato de ser responsable infinitamente con todos, algo que será Leitmotiv de sus críticas. Junto con lo anterior, si bien, Levinas y Derrida encuentran ecos en la fuente del pensamiento judío, los textos consultados de los autores no son específicamente teológicos (la propuesta de ambos es filosófica), mientras que las confutaciones del autor del texto parten de una lectura inter-religiosa estrictamente teológica (teologías).

En segunda instancia, un aspecto claramente gratificante para el lector, resulta el generoso diálogo entre autores, de diversas líneas teológicas, con el objetivo de perfilar una teoría de la hospitalidad desde la proximidad. El desarrollo de esta fecunda conversación entre autores entretejidos en manos de Shepherd evidencia un amplio bagaje en campo del diálogo inter-religioso. Cabe resaltar que el apartado que asume la temática de la eucaristía permite una mirada renovadora de la noción y estimula nuevas meditaciones. Las conclusiones a las que el autor llega son sin duda alguna fructíferas y dejan entrever las luces de nuevas pesquisas (Comunidad, Cuidado Ecológico y Relación inter-religiosa) a las que Shepherd podría recurrir, esta vez sin necesidad de estar navegando con Levinas y Derrida. Reitero, el texto posibilita diversas lecturas, pero, prefiero enfocarme en dos aristas, la crítica a Levinas y Derrida (que puede ser reconsiderada por los lectores especialistas en ambos pensadores) y la articulación de posturas inter-religiosas (cristianismos) en el empinamiento de una teoría de la hospitalidad desde la proximidad.

Emanuele Coccia: Sensible Life: A Micro-ontology of the Image

Sensible Life: A Micro-ontology of the Image Book Cover Sensible Life: A Micro-ontology of the Image
Emanuele Coccia, Translated by Scott Alan Stuart, Introduction by Kevin Attell
Fordham University Press
January 2016

Reviewed by: Christopher DuPee (University College Dublin)

The history of phenomenology has, broadly speaking, still operated within the framework of a particularly Cartesian set of decisions. Much of these, of course, have been well discussed, criticized, even answered and overcome, starting even as early as Heidegger’s own discussions of Husserl. But what has for the most part continued to exercise its hold is a kind of bipolarity regarding intentional description: most phenomenology continues to operate within a framework where two key actors are in place, the subject and the object. Whether this be qualified by an original being-with-others, a radical passivity or asymmetry on the part of what stands in for or “comes after” the subject, a radicalization of knowable interiority on the part of the subject, or a deep intertwining of the two poles, the basic division of two sets of furniture in the world, minds and things, still occupies a paradigmatic hold. So to introduce a third, a media, an intermediary par excellence, as Emanuele Coccia does in his book Sensible Life, is already to take a deeply critical stance towards the phenomenological tradition. The book’s subtitle, a micro-ontology of the image, goes a long way to spell out the basic shape of his investigation: to investigate the kind of being of a being already unlike because lesser than the obvious, nearly self-evident poles of mind and thing (hence micro-), that which makes up the “sensible” stuff, the image.
What Coccia looks into is the kind of being which one encounters when one actually looks to what occurs in intentional relation. Rather than predetermining the intentional relation between subject and object as correlation, Coccia tries to think the meaningful transmission of the form of the thing to the mind, and, quite importantly, vice versa. The formal existence of the thing outside of itself, imprinted upon the world, is the image. Quite specifically, the life of the image is that of which is neither thing nor mind, and thus gives an explication not only of the traditional problem of the mind’s relation to the external world, but to the less thought mirror image of this problem, of the reification of the mind’s actions within the realm of things. Take one luminous passage from among the many that fill the book: “As every exterior image has psychogenic consequences for those who receive it, so too does every image that we emit produce effects. If we emit images, if we strive to sensify the spirit, to produce the sensible out of it, it is because images are not merely cognitive realities. Above every thing else, they act. Odors, tastes, sounds: Every thing of the sensible has effects and exhibits an efficacy that is difficult to define because it is inferior in rank to the causality that the real exercises on the real.” (76)
Coccia grounds his discussion upon less a specific difficulty or criticism on the part of phenomenology, and instead looks to a particular refusal or forgetting at the dawn of the modern, a decision made by Descartes himself. What is refused is the medieval notion of “intentional species”, for the sake of enabling the thought of “a subject truly autonomous from the world and from the surrounding objects. Only the exile of intentional species has made it possible for the subject to coincide with thought, as activity and as result, in all of its forms. With Descartes, sensation and sensitive life (exactly like thought and intellectual life) can be explained only if we take the subject as a point of departure…” (6-7). Hence the implicit criticism of phenomenology as a whole: to remain within the fixation of the bipolar is to simply repeat a decision of Descartes’s, one which was done for reasons entirely without interest for the phenomenologists, who more often than not are doing their best to extricate the subject from its supposed autonomy: “It is as if phenomenology, though it affirms the priority of perception over consciousness, it is not able to grasp the Being of the sensible independently from the Being of the subject, of the soul that perceives it.” (32)
Likewise, there is no problem of phenomenalization. “There is always an intermediary place between us and objects, a womb in which the object becomes sensible, a space in which it becomes phainomenon. It is in this intermediary space that things become capable of being sensed, and it is from this intermediary space that living beings harvest the sensible with which they nourish their souls day and night.” (14) Once intentional species, the sensible, the image, is introduced in its own particular being, the dynamics of natural life are themselves clarified. As such, Coccia gives particular attention to the anthropology of the sensible, “the manner in which the image and the sensible give body to activities of the spirit and give life to man’s own body.” (5) What follows from this is a kind of infinite bio-semiosis, all things of life giving off images of themselves and retaining them outside of themselves. With this, then, comes a refusal of a definite break between human and animal life. If the fundamental ontological substrate of intentional relation, the image transmitted in media, is indigenous to all forms of life:
“Media in the cosmos, therefore, produce a continuum in which the living and their environment become physiologically inseparable. Media are the place in which nature fades into spirit and culture, the prosthesis through which rationality accesses objectivity… Thanks to images, matter is never inert but always malleable and full of form, and the mind is never purely interiority but technique and mundane life. It is harmful, then, to reduce the sensible life to the psychological; images have a cosmological function, not merely a gnoseological or physical one. Images are the true cosmic transformers that allow for the spiritualization of the corporeal (or its animation) and the embodiment of the spirit.” (38)
With as far reaching as this exciting book’s claims are, it remains a short book, and this for an unfortunate lack of discussion of the oftentimes hidden interlocutors, especially those of the phenomenological. For while these interesting answers to phenomenological lacunae, to a certain wearying lack of metaphysics are as I’ve said exciting, we are left without explicit discussion as to what recommends this particularly vast speculative positing. And to a certain extent, this is justified. Coccia frames his discussion as a certain pre-modern retrieval; the burden of proof would seem to be on those who follow Descartes’s refusal. At the same time, discussion of those who would at first glance be in a form of agreement with Coccia is also lacking; for his scant references to Lacan and Simmel notwithstanding, one wonders how congenial Coccia would find Arendt’s discussion of life as display, or Derrida’s fascination with the traces of signs. Likewise, though I find it fitting to describe this profusion of images as a sort of bio-semiosis, nowhere is semiotics even mentioned within the book.
For all of that, Coccia’s work remains exciting, and a decidedly interesting counter-point to a number of decidedly modern decisions still held onto within the philosophical world.

Mauro Carbone: The Flesh of Images

The Flesh of Images: Merleau-Ponty between Painting and Cinema Book Cover The Flesh of Images: Merleau-Ponty between Painting and Cinema
SUNY Series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy
Mauro Carbone
SUNY Press
Paperback $24.95

Reviewed by: Paul A. di Georgio (Department of Philosophy,  Duquesne University)

Mauro Carbone’s The Flesh of Images: Merleau-Ponty Between Painting and Cinema, a translation by Marta Nijhuis of the French original that debuted in 2011, is a short book that, despite its brevity, has quite a lot to say. Instead of deliberately working towards a grand, singular thesis with his chapters (although the final chapter is rather conclusive and synthetic), Carbone assembles six essays that all look in different, sophisticated ways at how Merleau-Ponty’s late work can further our understanding of art, music, time, and ontology.

Carbone does not only situate Merleau-Ponty’s later phenomenology vis-a-vis thoughtful reflections on cinema and painting, but he also establishes thoughtful connections, as well as creative and sometimes playful tensions, with the work of myriad other writers, from Freud to Jean-Luc Nancy. This smart book is nothing short of a philosophical tour de force that nicely sweeps through numerous dimensions of Carbone’s work over the course of the past decade and a half.

As is the case with some other recent Merleau-Ponty scholarship, here the central focus is on the late-period turn to the ontology of the “flesh,” an area that Carbone has been exploring since at least the early 2000s. He notes in his introduction that “flesh” is sometimes used interchangeably in Merleau-Ponty’s writing with the term “visibility” (1) and he argues that too often this point is “forgotten.” It shouldn’t be, though, because for Carbone thinking of the flesh in terms of visibility can sort out the way phenomenology can grasp at Being.

He points out that one of the most noteworthy features of Merleau-Ponty’s texts during this period is a turn to a different manner of ontological thinking, which isn’t exactly a novel or controversial claim, but what Carbone does with the “visible” is intriguing. He indicates that the “visible” is “only sketched” in Merleau-Ponty’s writing but evinces what he calls “the reciprocal precession of the vision and the invisible.” (5) He refers to the mutually constitutive relation between seeing, vision, and capability-of-being-seen, or the visible. To put it simply, the visible is “folded” into the viewer, while at the same time the viewer can’t view anything at all without that which is visibleand so the viewer is herself folded into the visual phenomenon. (57) “Visibility” is what we call the product of this mutual folding. Carbone characterizes this situation as paradoxical, and he illuminates the scrambling and disruptive effect of the “presence of images” that betrays how inadequate our normal philosophical categories are. Thus what Merleau-Ponty does with visibility is not so different from what he does in earlier texts with the opposition between subject and object (Phenomenology of Perception). We’ve seen similar claims in Nietzsche (“Truth and Lies in a Non-Moral Sense”) and and even Aldous Huxley (The Doors of Perception) but what’s new here is a sophisticated phenomenological framework that Merleau-Ponty brings to the table, elaborated upon by Carbone, although comparing these various sources might prove to be useful.

The essays that make up the chapters basically work off of this observation about the disruptive power of beholding an image, and they apply it to different areas of aesthetics. I’d have to say that the fourth chapter, centered on cinema and temporality, is the most provocative  and interesting and it is here that Carbone does some of his best work. It is also here with the focus on the rhythmic nature of the cinematic frame that you can already see Carbone working toward a leap that he will make near the end of the book. Carbone echoes Jean-Pierre Charcosset and argues that on Merleau-Ponty’s terms, the film cannot be what it is not without the image as such, but rather, not without the rhythmic arrangement of its set of images.

Ultimately in the sixth and final chapter Carbone ends up at a form of visibility which doesn’t seem so visible at all, and yet after thoughtful consideration with Carbone seems like the example of visibility par excellence: audition, or listening. One would not say that in the case of music there is not an image, so this move is quite natural despite how surprising it might be to jump from one faculty of sense to another. In a way part of the point here, I think, is to minimize the distinction between these faculties. In this final chapter Carbone also makes some interesting remarks concerning the relation between philosophy and non-philosophy, a topic of great interest, of course, to Merleau-Ponty.

As fecund as it is short, the book does ask for a bit of work from its readers, and it will probably be a more straightforward experience for engaged readers who have been following Carbone for a while. That said, because of the fact that some of the repackaged and revised material will be very familiar to Carbone’s readers, the book might be the most rewarding and enlightening for those who are taking their first look at his Merleau-Ponty scholarship. These readers should work slowly through the book, even if it might be tempting to do otherwise with such a short text.

Mauro Carbone: The Flesh of Images

The Flesh of Images: Merleau-Ponty between Painting and Cinema Book Cover The Flesh of Images: Merleau-Ponty between Painting and Cinema
SUNY series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy
Mauro Carbone
SUNY Press
Paperback $24.95

Reviewed by: Andrew Inkpin (School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, University of Melbourne)

Mauro Carbone’s The Flesh of Images is a subtle and complex exploration of several interconnected themes in Merleau-Ponty’s late philosophy centring on the role of images as the embodiment of ideas. Its overarching aim is to show how Merleau-Ponty’s views on painting and cinema anticipate and converge with a philosophical position that rethinks a Platonic conception of the ontological status and epistemic function of images which is taken to be traditionally dominant, but ill-suited to our contemporary technological and image-saturated world.

Carbone’s point of departure is to emphasize the intimate link – one sometimes neglected – between Merleau-Ponty’s basic ontological notion of ‘flesh’ (chair) and visibility. It is this link that will allow the implications of the notion of flesh for the role of images to be developed. According to the traditional Platonic notion – a ‘simplified version’ of which is to shape much contemporary thinking – images are a copy of something else, something absent that they function to make phenomenologically present (2). Such images are further linked with the notion of ‘representation’, with statically fixing the visible, and with entailing a split between two modes of ‘carnal’ and ‘intellectual’ vision (32). Against this, the six chapters of Carbone’s book undertake to show how Merleau-Ponty’s ontology of flesh entails not only a new conception of visibility, but also a revision of various underlying assumptions about how ideas are realized in the sensible world. To this end, having set out several possible misunderstandings of the notion of flesh (chapter 1), the core of the book (chapters 2-4) shows how Merleau-Ponty’s discussions of painting and cinema give rise to a new conception of images as something creative rather than passive copies, along with a corresponding mode of vision as seeing ‘according to’ and beyond what is actually presented. This is followed by an investigation of the notions of both temporality and light (chapter 5) implicit in this new conception of visibility, and finally by a brief discussion of the implications for philosophy of the resultant non-subject-centred view of idea formation (chapter 6).

The first chapter provides some background required to situate the book’s reflections and to appreciate their discursive relevance. Nancy, Derrida, and Henry are credited with having revitalized the notion of flesh in (primarily Francophone) contemporary philosophical discourse (10). However, Carbone argues that none of them fully does justice to Merleau-Ponty’s conception of flesh, particularly the latter’s political and aesthetic implications. One central concern here is whether or not the notion of flesh has unavoidable Christian connotations. While this prospect is embraced by Henry, it is part of what leads Derrida to think of the term ‘flesh’ as a conventional metaphor applying only to animate beings capable of self-affection, rather than a basic ontological notion encompassing animate and inanimate entities alike (11, 16). Despite himself advocating such an ontological claim, Carbone seeks to diffuse the delicate issue of whether the notion of flesh tends to differentiate or assimilate humans and nonhuman entities. He does this – somewhat surprisingly – by denying that it has any specific political or ethical implications, on the grounds that ‘the flesh founds every possible ethics and every possible politics’ (17).

The second chapter turns to the aesthetic implications of the notion of flesh, offering an original and ingenious Merleau-Pontian reading of Gauguin’s primitivism. Central to this is the thought that Gauguin’s paintings of nudes have a sculptural quality such that the intimated materiality – the ‘detour through stone or wood’ – shows up the co-belonging of the animate and the inanimate (25). By depicting human flesh and the flesh of the world as consubstantial in this way, Gauguin exemplifies ‘painting of the flesh’ in a dual sense. Corresponding to this duality is a specific kind of visibility in which the ‘first visibility’ of the depicted nude figures simultaneously reveals the ‘second visibility’ of their underlying ontological structure (27). Drawing on a distinction by Nancy, Carbone goes on to link this kind of visibility with Gauguin’s interest in polytheism: Whereas in the Christian tradition the sensible realm – particularly depiction of the skin – is a ‘veil’ that directs us to ‘a divine principle whose source […] it conceals’, polytheism emphasizes the essential visibility of its gods – as manifest embodiments of principles, so to speak (25). Gauguin’s sculptural treatment of human nudes thus proves important in two ways: in addition to allegorically depicting Merleau-Ponty’s ontology of flesh, it simultaneously ‘deconstructs’ the supposedly unavoidable Christian connotations of flesh to which Derrida had objected (25). Having complemented the previous chapter’s argument in this way, Carbone concludes that – rather than being an inherently Christian notion – flesh ‘presents itself as a philosophical figure of primitivism’ (28).

The third chapter draws on Klee’s artistic credo of ‘making visible’ and Rimbaud’s Letter of a Seer to articulate more fully the new mode of seeing required by the previous chapter’s discussion of the visibility of paintings. This new mode of seeing is referred to as ‘voyance’, a term usually rendered as ‘clairvoyance’ but here left untranslated. The notion of voyance contrasts first with the idea that the act of seeing something is a momentary operation, recognizing that this act also implies the possibility of a range of further visual experiences. In this sense voyance is a seeing ‘beyond’ the moment, a ‘transcendent’ seeing of ‘horizons’, a ‘vision that sees the invisible in the visible’ (34). Accordingly, to see in this sense is not simply to register a momentary visual stimulus, but to be guided by it, to see ‘according to’ and ‘beyond’ it. Moreover, by encompassing horizonal structure in the way just described, voyance is also to be capable – as required by Carbone’s interpretation of Gauguin’s work – of recognizing underlying ontological structures and so to function as a carnal Wesensschau, i.e. an intuiting of essences that is inseparable from sensible vision. Conceived in this way, voyance contrasts with not only the static fixing of the visible but also the split between carnal and intellectual vision that are taken to characterize Platonic visibility.

This mode of ‘transcendent’ seeing, voyance, needs to be underwritten by an appropriate form of temporality, which Carbone approaches in chapter 4 by considering the phenomenon of movement in film. For Merleau-Ponty, ‘a film is not a sum total of images, but a temporal Gestalt’ or form (42), with a unity comparable to that of a melody (44). This holistic orientation leads Merleau-Ponty, as Carbone explains, to resist a reductive explanation of movement perception in terms of either objects’ changes in physical location or internal experience alone, and instead to insist that both sides – internal synthesis and external scaffolding, so to speak – play a role in perceptual figure/ground formation. Further, as a temporal Gestalt, apparently realistic movement in film is to be understood not as a copy of reality, but as having a creative character – due to the choice of scenes, their temporal arrangement and rhythm, changes in camera perspective etc. (46, 56). However, Carbone follows Merleau-Ponty further in thinking of this account of movement in film as an anticipation of a new ontology, such that natural perception exhibits the same structure as the perception of cinematic movement (52, 48). Against the background of this assumption, he then turns to the notion of temporality inherent in the perception of movement. Drawing on Merleau-Ponty’s unpublished course notes, Carbone focuses on the relation of ‘precession’ holding between what is visible and what exists (or in the case of film between what is visible and cinematic images). This term denotes ‘mutuality in a temporal way’ or a ‘mutuality of anticipation’ (59) that prevents either of its relata being thought of as independent and basic. Such reciprocity of precession in turn implies a ‘temporal depth’ that must be understood in terms of an ‘architectonic’ or ‘mythical’ past (60) rather than a chronological sequence. It is in such a mythical past that we are to situate structural conditions that are ‘prior to’ – i.e. constantly at work in and presupposed by – feats of vision (as voyance).

The final two chapters develop further how ideas and their relation to humans are to be understood in the framework of Merleau-Ponty’s non-Platonic ontology. Corresponding to the nature of voyance, ideas must now be ‘sensible’ rather than intellectual, i.e. their mediation of general meaning is inseparable from some particular sensible presentation(s). The ‘visibility’ of these forms/ideas further appears to entail some kind of light. However, rather than a transcendent source of illumination (the ideas) that falls on the amorphous sensible realm, Merleau-Ponty – as Carbone painstakingly shows – conceives of a light that is ‘already diffused in the flesh’ of the world and has no need of a ‘metaphysical or subjectivist principle’ (69). On this view, Being itself has its own ‘luminosity’ (69) – ‘light of the flesh’ (72) – such that entities shine forth and mutually illuminate and occlude each other. The book concludes by outlining a non-subject-centred ‘theory of ideation’ (78) according to which (sensible) ideas are generated not by individual mental feats but ‘as an ontological event’ (80). By participating in such events the human agent is simultaneously to constitute itself as a ‘fold’ or ‘hollow’ in the all-encompassing ontological fabric of flesh.

As the preceding sketch of its content illustrates, the main task and principal virtue of Carbone’s book lies in its exploration of some important, but potentially obscure, aspects of Merleau-Ponty’s late work. Although short, the book is ambitious in scope. Its scholarship is impeccable and its elucidations of Merleau-Ponty’s thinking are invariably insightful and plausible. As such, it will be naturally appealing and of value to those specifically interested in Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy, particularly his late thinking. However, by bringing out nicely how artistic and philosophical projects can converge, and how a theoretical stance can be articulated in different visual media, the book will also appeal to those interested in the connections between philosophy and art, including art and film theorists. Finally, as Carbone himself signals, the book touches on many issues that will interest theorists of visual culture working in the tradition of the ‘iconic’ or ‘pictorial’ turn.

For all its strengths, the book has certain limitations that point to some of the ways in which Carbone’s work might be taken up productively by others. The first is that one might wonder what contribution it ultimately makes to a theoretical understanding of pictures or images, in particular whether it yields an empirically and conceptually adequate notion of images. Do Merleau-Ponty’s views apply, for example, to all kinds of picture? What about paintings in the Renaissance tradition or photographs – both of which seem attuned to a representationalist or Platonic visibility? Perhaps the power of Merleau-Ponty’s reflections on painting depends on a strategic choice of artist (Cézanne rather than Seurat, say, or Klee rather than Kandinsky). Further, do his views yield, or even aim at, a developed and tenable concept of an image? Although film and painting are intuitively pictorial media, it is not obvious that Merleau-Ponty subsumes them under a shared concept of ‘images’. Indeed, his explicit claim that film is not a ‘set of images’ (but a temporal Gestalt) hints at a more limited concept of an image as such – roughly: a single photographic frame – that would not obviously apply to paintings as Merleau-Ponty conceives them.

A second limitation of the book is that little is offered directly to establish the contemporary relevance of a Merleau-Pontian conception of images. To be sure, the background provided in chapter 1 makes it clear how Carbone’s discussion is contributing to philosophical discourse about the notion of flesh. However, on several occasions the book also claims relevance to contemporary cultural phenomena. It is suggested, for example, that it may help in considering ‘some of today’s most significant cultural phenomena’ such as the ‘new centrality of images’ in our technological world (2), or allow a ‘deeper understanding of the question concerning the presence of images today’ (5), and that its Merleau-Pontian ‘cinematic’ or ‘screen model’ is particularly suited to our ‘contemporary experience of images’ (3, 64). Yet these suggestions are not developed further in the book, and may not seem persuasive to a reader not antecedently convinced of the need to approach such issues within a Merleau-Pontian framework.

Despite these limitations, Carbone’s book succeeds in making a valuable contribution to all the areas it touches upon. In addition to its principal strengths – highlighted above – as an exploration of the visibility of flesh, his study both opens up several promising areas for further research, and facilitates such research by providing a sound exegetic foundation that will allow the importance of Merleau-Ponty’s late work for theoretical understanding of visual culture to be recognized more fully.

Alessandro Salice, Hans Bernhard Schmid (Eds.): The Phenomenological Approach to Social Reality. History, Concepts, Problems

The Phenomenological Approach to Social Reality: History, Concepts, Problems Book Cover The Phenomenological Approach to Social Reality: History, Concepts, Problems
Studies in the Philosophy of Sociality (6)
Alessandro Salice, Hans Bernhard Schmid (Eds.)
Springer International Publishing
Hardcover 106,99€

Reviewed by: Sean Petranovich (Department of Philosophy, Loyola University Chicago)

This volume is an excellent addition to a group of timely anthologies gathering scholarship on phenomenological approaches to the social world (cf. Moran & Parker, 2015; Moran & Szanto, 2016). Amidst these hot-off-the-presses approaches, the present text is unique in its tight thematic center of gravity. First, there is an explicit focus on hitherto lesser examined, though by no means less illuminating, phenomenologists. Second, the primary works of these phenomenologists (at least the ones thematized herein) arrive roughly within the first three decades of the twentieth century. Third, there is a specific focus on conceptual overlap between the projects of early phenomenologists and contemporary social ontologists from the end of the twentieth century to the present.

There are fifteen essays in total including an informative contextualization of the historical background of the chapter by the editors, Salice and Schmid. The volume’s remaining fourteen chapters, proceedings from a conference held in Vienna in 2013, are grouped into three sections: social and institutional facts, collective intentionality, and values. The historical background provided by the editors in their introduction anchors subsequent chapters by appeal to the three temporal markers of 1900/1901 (Husserl’s Logische Untersuchungen), 1913 (Reinach’s Die apriorischen Grundlagen des bürgerlichen Rechtes; Scheler’s Der Formalismus in der Ethik und die materiale Wertethik), and 1927 (Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit). Names that will likely come to mind in association with phenomenology are Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty. While these figures make an appearance here (there is one chapter on Husserl and one on Heidegger), they are by no means the stars. We are instead treated to works from and related to Reinach, Scheler, Stein, Schutz, Walther, Kelsen, Kaufmann, Schreier, Znamierowski, Löwith, Schmalenbach, Hildebrand, Ingarden, Schapp, and Otaka. Indeed, given the focus of a large number of the contributions, an alternative subtitle for this volume might have been: “Reinach’s Long Shadow”

Part I:  “Social and Institutional Facts”

Kevin Mulligan’s contribution (“Persons and Acts – Collective and Social. From Ontology to Politics”) contrasts Searle’s social and political ontology with work by early phenomenologists, primarily in regard to connections with Reinach and those immediately influenced by him. Mulligan argues that the common denominator between Searle and early phenomenologists is their focus on what we now call speech acts. The chapter proceeds through a series of quick-fire comparisons and contrasts between distinctions in Reinach and similar distinctions in Searle. The transition from ontology to the political realm is accomplished by appeal to jural or deontic powers as found in Reinach and Searle, respectively (36). These powers are then juxtaposed with remarks on the role of collective beliefs for purposes of maintaining political legitimacy. This is driven home by appeal to the notion of collective belief in the social and political work of Ortega y Gasset. Mulligan’s chapter demonstrates the fertile possibilities that are open to contemporary social theorists, and the chapter is impressive for the ambitious task set by its author. It’s at times difficult to keep up with his admirable ability to channel a huge array of figures; Mulligan moves swiftly from Searle to Reinach, from Scheler to Berkeley, from Walther to Hume to Husserl. Positioned at the entryway to the text taken as a whole, though, this breadth demonstrates the optimism with which we should treat the overarching theme of connecting the early phenomenologists with contemporary social ontology.

Sophie Loidolt’s chapter (“Legal Reality and its A Priori Foundations – a Question of Acting or Interpreting? Felix Kaufmann, Fritz Schreier and Their Critique of Adolf Reinach”) continues a focus on Reinach by showing the ways that Kaufmann and Schreier oppose Reinach’s philosophy of law. Loidolt argues that contemporary theories have much to gain from the fundamental questions that were posed and at times the unique answers provided by the early phenomenologists who thematized social ontology and law. After first laying out fundamental components of Reinach’s legal theory, Loidolt turns to the challenges posed by Kaufmann and Schreier. Reinach had opposed Hans Kelsen on the topic of legal norms, and Kaufmann’s criticism of Reinach follows in this vein. While Kaufmann opposed what he took to be Kelsen’s neglect of valuing and rules of valuing, he retained Kelsen’s notion of legal norms as “schemes of interpretation” (54). Schreier follows suit in searching for the basic form of legal propositions and in appealing to Husserl’s eidetic method, but “instead of mapping out a general inventory of fundamental notions of a theory of science, Schreier works with the ‘a priori of correlation’ (Korrelationsapriori)” (60). Loidolt further examines the debate in regard to the use these thinkers make of the concept of the “a priori” (a theme that is returned to later on in the chapter by De Vecchi). To the question of whether legal reality requires acting or interpreting, Loidolt argues for a two-sided answer (68). Some legal matters, especially those in positive law, will require interpretation (68). At the same time, though, it’s argued that some elements of reality exist because of our actions, so perhaps we need Reinach as well (69); the acting of human beings in the life-world cannot be neglected (71-72).

The chapter co-authored by Giuseppe Lorini and Wojciech Żełaniec (“Czesław Znamierowski’s Social Ontology and Its Phenomenological Roots”) again highlights the influence of Reinach, this time in regard to Znamierowski’s development of the concept of “society in the generic sense.” This fundamental concept for Znamierowski is wide enough to encapsulate “any social system, structure or organism whatever” (77).  Lorini and Żełaniec show how this concept from Znamierowski focuses on groups of two or more persons, especially insofar as feelings such as sympathy function as social bonds (79). While it’s shown that Znamierowski did not develop his concept of the person in much detail (80), his account of social acts as embedded in a society’s “environment” is crucial (81). Two additional key concepts within Znamierowski’s system are his accounts of “social bearing” and “social function” (84-85). This chapter clearly brings the major conceptual framework of Znamierowski to the fore, showing actual and potential indebtedness to Reinach and perhaps also to Husserl. The authors sketch how this theory is innovative and how we might in the future go forward in working through Znamierowski’s theory in the context of contemporary discourses.

As a supplement to the contextualizing essay provided by the volume’s editors, Jo-Jo Koo’s article (“Early Heidegger on Social Reality”) does excellent stage-setting work for delimiting the fundamental axes of debate in regard to contemporary social ontology. Readers with little or no familiarity with this tradition would do well to begin with Koo’s introduction. Within this framework, Koo argues that Heidegger’s early phenomenology can contribute to debates within social ontology, specifically regarding debates of atomism versus holism as well as debates on singularism versus corporatism (93). Motivated by a lacuna in the work of analytic social ontologists, Koo proposes that Heidegger can fill in what might otherwise remain as taken for granted assumptions on the necessary conditions of intelligibility of social entities (94). Koo lays out some of the underlying presuppositions of a few of the major figures in analytic social ontology before turning to the early Heidegger’s account of human social existence. On Koo’s account, Heidegger presents compelling reasons for the position of holism in the context of social ontology debates (99). On this basis, Heidegger’s anyone (das Man) is interpreted as the normative intelligibility of the world permeating the background of human social existence (103). This normative background “serves as the reservoir of possibilities” that enables individual human beings in their projects (106). In the final section, Koo argues that in addition to reading Heidegger’s account of sociality as a version of holism (as opposed to atomism), we should also read his account as an endorsement of corporatism (as opposed to singularism), which is “the view that corporate persons or corporate agency are ontologically irreducible or at least explanatorily indispensable” (93). These endorsements amount not simply to taking a position on a contemporary debate; by appealing to Heidegger’s early phenomenology of sociality, Koo argues that we should avoid taking the background conditions of social intelligibility for granted in the first place.

Wrapping up Part I is Gerhard Thonhauser’s chapter on the topic of “Karl Löwith’s Understanding of Sociality.” Thonhauser focuses primarily on Löwith’s under-appreciated concepts of “social roles” and “correflexivity” as they were developed in his habilitation thesis (122). By examining these concepts, Thonhauser attempts to show how Löwith can be deployed for social ontological questions regarding collective intentionality and action. The main aim of Löwith’s thesis is to “highlight and investigate how being an individual always already presupposes a relation to fellow human beings and social structures” (123). The chapter begins by illustrating Löwith’s understanding of Heidegger (under whose supervision the habilitation thesis was written) and shows three specific sites where he disagrees with his supervisor. Though highly influenced by the early Heidegger, Löwith apparently preferred the earlier early Heidegger, committing to a “hermeneutic of facticity” in opposition to the turn to fundamental ontology (and apparently, as Thonhauser suggests, to any type of ontology at all) in Being and Time (131). For me, the most interesting developments of this chapter come in the fifth section as Thonhauser presents three main themes of Löwith’s theory of sociality. The first is his understanding of social artifacts as made intelligible through our ordinary projects and practices. The second is his unique conception of “correflexivity,” which amounts to our actions and attitudes toward others being co-determined with our anticipations of others’ responses (137). This concept of correflexivity is supplemented by appeal to the ways we engage with others as embodying social roles. The third theme is Löwith’s account of the communicative nature of the emotions. Thonhauser’s chapter nicely present Löwith’s work in an area that he’s not ordinarily associated with. Löwith is put into close conversation with Heidegger, showing the points of motivations, convergence, and divergence. In a few places, gestures are also made to how Löwith’s work could be deployed in the context of contemporary analytic social ontology (129).

Part II: “Doing Things Together”

The second section is kicked off by Thomas Szanto’s article, “Husserl on Collective Intentionality.” Szanto focuses on the extent to which fine-grained distinctions can be made within Husserl’s account of different types of human collectives. This is done by developing what the author takes to be a potentially novel though definitely nascent notion of collective intentionality in Husserl: “However unsystematic and admittedly half-baked at some junctures, Husserl’s account of CI foreshadowes all the relevant issues that, decades later, would be discussed in extenso in the analytic debates” (167-168). Szanto highlights four Husserlian constitutional processes as distinct kinds of social intentionality, which he refers to as “intersubjective, social or socio-communicative, communal and collective intentionality” (149). After examining each of these four kinds of intentionality in detail and grounding them in Husserl’s writings, Szanto presents us with a recapitulation of the contemporary literature, laying out four major models of “non-summative” collective intentionality. The point of appealing to contemporary models is to set the stage for his Husserl-inspired taxonomy of social intentionalities as a plausible alternative. While Szanto admits that Husserl’s account isn’t “easily harmonized” (156) with contemporary accounts, it “resonates” (157) with specific elements from each of them. Szanto is on this basis able to present a synthesized, systematic reading of Husserl’s version of collective intentionality. The chapter concludes with a defense of this new model of collective intentionality against potential objections. Szanto suggests that this new model is not only different, but that these differences allow for Husserl’s account of collective intentionality to guard against some of the disadvantages of other models (168).

The chapter by Matthias Schloßberger (“The Varieties of Togetherness: Scheler on Collective Affective Intentionality”) argues that there are two versions of collective intentionality at work in Scheler’s writings, and that these provide us with different manners of being with others. Schloßberger examines the relationship between Scheler’s theory of feelings and his theory of the different forms of sympathy. The four classes of feelings, which for Scheler bring with them a correlated fourfold of values, are explained as a) purely sensory feelings, b) vital feelings, c) psychic feelings, and d) purely spiritual feelings (178-179). This distinction is necessary for the purposes of Schloßberger’s chapter insofar as he wants to overlay these feelings with Scheler’s account of different social bonds. Schloßberger brings these feelings into contact with Scheler’s account of forms of sympathy, overlaying the two sets. The three forms of sympathy are 1) unification (Einsfühlung), 2) sensing (Nachfühlen), and 3) fellow feeling (Mitfühlen). We are presented with Scheler’s two forms of collective intentionality. There is both a primitive feeling together and a developed feeling together, and the “crucial difference lies in the motive or reason for the feeling” (187). While Schloßberger demonstrates a few points of contact between Scheler and contemporary debates in collective intentionality (185-186), these are put forth more as potential points of departure for future research rather than topics addressed in the space of the chapter.

Hans Bernhard Schmid’s chapter (“Communal Feelings and Implicit Self-Knowledge. Hermann Schmalenbach on the Nature of the Social Bond”) counteracts an “undeserved neglect” (198) of Schmalenbach’s work by exploring his concepts of community and communion. In order to clarify these concepts, Schmid suggests that we need to appeal to a Schmalenbach’s relatively more well-known work in the philosophy of mind on pre-reflective self-knowledge (200). For Schmalenbach, the dichotomy between community and society as advanced by Tönnies and Durkheim is too staunch, and Schmid examines the concept of communion that Schmalenbach deploys as an intermediary (203). On Schmalenbach’s account, communion is similar to community insofar as it isn’t pursued for instrumental reasons; we purposely choose communions. It is similar to society insofar as it’s consciously opted into by members (203). There is a crucial affective, emotional component to communions that brings them above instances of joint attention or temporary joint actions (204). Schmalenbach’s revision of the concept of community, on the other hand, proceeds insofar as our membership can remain transparent: “[According to Schmalenbach,] communities may exist even where they are not recognized, or acknowledged, as existing by their members” (211). Schmid appeals to Aron Gurwitsch’s reading of Schmalenbach as suggesting that communions are capable of being “initiated anew” in ways that communities, as taken-for-granted traditions, are not (213). But as Schmid recognizes, this still requires us to provide an answer for how communities continue to exist, especially when they aren’t recognized or perhaps even rejected by members. It’s at this point that Schmid returns to Schmalenbach’s conception of implicit, pre-reflective self-awareness as an answer: “We may be plurally self-aware of us, as a group, without having a corresponding reflective attitude, or even in the face of conflicting self-(mis)representations” (215).

Closing out the volume’s section on collective intentionality is a comparative chapter by Felipe León and Dan Zahavi (“Phenomenology of Experiential Sharing: The Contribution of Schutz and Walther”). León and Zahavi argue that contemporary debates on collective intentionality can be bolstered by appeal to the works of Schutz and Walther, especially through appeal to their accounts of the structures of experiential sharing. Schutz develops his notion of the social surrounding world, especially emphasizing the primacy of the “face-to-face encounter” (222). While this can in principle be a unilateral relationship, the coming together of a plurality of individuals leads to Schutz’s notion of the “we-relationship” or a “living social relationship” (223). León and Zahavi point out that Schutz’s account of the “we-relationship” amounts to an “interlocking of perspectives” in such a way that the results not in an aggregation (224), but creates a “we” insofar as there is a joint focus on the world (225). From here, León and Zahavi turn to the work of Walther, whose account of we-intentionality is put forth as more robust than the account offered by Schutz. For Walther, “it is not enough that [individuals] simply have the same kind of intentional state and are directed to the same kind of object” (227). In addition to this, Walther thinks that the individuals must have knowledge of the other individuals if we’re to get to the level of a social community, and this additional component amounts to “the presence of an inner bond or connection […], a feeling of togetherness” (227). León and Zahavi carefully tease apart Walther’s notion of communal, experiential sharing from her other conceptions of intersubjective life such as empathy, imitation, and sympathy (228). The authors demonstrate how Walther’s account is more developed than Schutz’s by way of her account of the way personal communities can be unified by either direct contact with others or as mediated by other objects (229). While Schutz leaned heavily on the importance of the face-to-face relationship, Walther recognizes that communities organized based on external objects place far less emphasis on concrete interpersonal interactions (230).

Part III: “The Values and Ontological Status of Social Reality.”

Alessandro Salice (“Communities and Values. Dietrich von Hildebrand’s Social Ontology”) clearly spells out what’s going on in von Hildebrand, showing how his account relates both to other phenomenologists as well as contemporary social ontologists. Salice claims that this account of communities is unique insofar as it requires more than subjective, internal moments. An appeal to the unifying principle of values, then, is taken to be an external unifying force. Von Hildebrand argues that there are different types of social groups, yet he differs from both phenomenologists and other social ontologists insofar as he denies the importance of groups’ internal, subjective features (240). Instead, von Hildebrand fixes his gaze on external conditions of group organization, especially the concept of the “virtus unitiva,” “the unifying virtue or force that values can exert over individuals and that might bring them to constitute a community” (240). Salice explains that there are two ways that von Hildebrand uses the term “community.” Communities in the weak sense are I-Thou relationships (241). Communities in the strong sense of the term refer to individuals who are jointly directed to the world in the form of we-unifications, and Salice presents these unifications as given in four different stages (243-244). These communities are quasi-substances according to von Hildebrand, and we-communities are real wholes. Salice unpacks this claim by appeal to von Hildebrand’s mereology, showing his three different understandings of parts and wholes (246-247). It’s shown that we-communities are only wholes in the sense that their parts (individual human beings) are capable of existing “before and independently of communities” (247). Other conceptions of relations between parts and wholes, however, aren’t applicable to we-communities, and Salice shows how von Hildebrand uses this appeal to mereology to show why communities cannot be considered as higher order persons (247).

In his contribution, Edward Świderski (“Ingarden’s ‘Material-Value’ Conception of Socio-Cultural Reality”) suggests that Roman Ingarden’s career, which is not ostensibly concerned with matters of social ontology, could have been otherwise. According to Świderski, we can uncover sociality as an implicit component of Ingarden’s work if we look at the crucial role that values play in human existence (262). Świderski motivates this project by examining Ingarden’s phenomenology of artworks, especially works of literature, insofar as they are bearers of value. Świderski attempts to distill an enormous amount from Ingarden’s writings in the direction of an account of communal life, especially given his admission that he has “no textual evidence to this effect” (262). This approach is then furthered by comparing his analysis with a contemporary interpretation of Ingarden put forth by Amie Thomasson. He also briefly compares Ingarden’s conception of responsibility with Margaret Gilbert’s account of joint commitment. Świderski suggests that Thomasson hasn’t paid enough attention to Ingarden’s account of values, yet that doing so will allow us to say more about the latter’s potential in the domain of social theory.

Francesca De Vecchi’s chapter (“A Priori of the Law and Values in the Social Ontology of Wilhelm Schapp and Adolf Reinach”) begins by addressing ways in which the work of Schapp and Reinach are complementary. In the face of these intertwinements, however, De Vecchi points out a site of criticism volleyed from Schapp to Reinach, namely, the former’s criticism of latter’s neglect of the role of values in the context of social and legal acts (282). De Vecchi is especially interested in an analysis of the use of the concept of the “a priori” in these two thinkers, and ultimately argues that Schapp’s a priori is not “genuine” insofar as it does not target both necessary and universal relations (301). De Vecchi suggests, however, that Schapp’s analyses on the topic of values in their relation to law are much needed, especially in the context of background presuppositions for contemporary social ontology. More specifically, De Vecchi argues that Schapp’s originality comes from contributing “an account of the relation between values and law as an existential relation, as a relation embedded in the quality of existence both of values and of human beings” (287). De Vecchi unpacks five claims that speak to Schapp’s ontology of values (289-291), before turning to their existential character and necessary sociality. Even though Schapp provides us with a social theory of values, De Vecchi argues that his account is not fully developed and even confusing in some places. Nevertheless, Schapp’s account is put forth as providing a welcoming addition to social ontology insofar as he thematizes the “quality of the existence of social entities” and their existence in the lifeworld (306). The bulk of this chapter is focused on Schapp, with Reinach making a brief appearance near the end. Contra Schapp, De Vecchi shows that Reinach’s account of the a priori connections at the foundations of positive law has nothing to do with values (311). While Reinach’s account allows him to develop a genuine a priori, the chapter’s author suggests this is done at the expense of neglecting the values.

The contribution from Sonja Rinofner-Kreidl (“Disenchanting the Fact/Value Dichotomy: A Critique of Felix Kaufmann’s Views on Value and Social Reality”) begins by investigating the background motivations of Kaufmann’s work in order to show that there is a methodological tension at play in his work. Rinofner-Kreidl highlights the extent to which Kaufmann held simultaneous allegiances to logical positivism and Hans Kelsen’s theory of law, on the one hand, and Husserl’s phenomenology on the other (318). These allegiances lead to a position on the relation between facts and values that doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of some of his other commitments, namely, the fundamental methodological commitments of 1) distinguishing distinct strata of experience and 2) being on guard against “the philosopher’s fallacy” of confusing statements about reality with problems of meaning (319). More specifically, Rinofner-Kreidl suggests that Kaufmann treats values according only to logical analysis, whereas he would have likely come to different conclusions had he engaged in a phenomenological approach (322). Kaufmann brings values into consideration through axiological rules, as clarified sentences of value terms (324), and in this way the fact/value dichotomy is taken to be “disenchanted” (325). We’re also presented with three shortcomings that thereby arise on the topic of values. Rinofner-Kreidl suggests that we should appeal to Husserl, who was already an influence for Kaufmann, to circumvent these shortcomings; we should look to Husserl on an analysis of evaluative intentionality (329). It’s suggested that Kaufmann’s attempt to disenchant the fact/value dichotomy in the way he did was motivated by a desire to distance himself from “value Platonism,” but Rinofner-Kreidl argues that opposing Platonism need not amount to abandoning a descriptive-phenomenological approach to values (330-331). After presenting an in-depth account of Husserl on the structures of evaluative intentionality, Rinofner-Kreidl argues that an appeal to a “two tiered constitution of values in evaluative acts” can help to get Kaufmann out of a pickle. This two-tiered approach makes room both for phenomenological analysis and for a logical analysis of meaning. It’s argued that Kaufmann’s manner of disenchanting the fact/value dichotomy unfolds due to an undue separation between lifeworld practices and scientific investigations, and this this “amount to denying that both words have referential weight” (343). However, Rinofner-Kreidl argues in a Husserlian vein that “what it means to talk about ‘facts’ and ‘values’ varies with regard to different theoretical context” (344), and that both sides can be done justice insofar as we remain aware of our “point of view” (345).

The final chapter of the book is co-authored by Genki Uemura and Toru Yaegashi (“The Actuality of States and Other Social Groups. Tomoo Otaka’s Transcendental Project?”). They begin with a biographical portrait of Husserl’s “best Japanese student” (350) and then move to a systematic presentation of Otaka’s phenomenology. The primary philosophical focus of Otaka’s work was on theories of state, law, and society. Uemura and Yaegashi suggest that the most important social-ontological project for Otaka was reconciling the twofold status of certain social groups (primarily states) as being both ideal and actual (353). For Otaka, this means that a correct account of the state will have to be a “multi-aspect” approach (370). Otaka’s concerns are presented as being motivated by his different theories of state as well as Husserl’s phenomenology. Uemura and Yaegashi show that Otaka’s solution to accounting for the actuality of states draws from Husserl’s account of reason and actuality from the final section of Husserl’s Ideen I (360) and “categorial intuition” from the Logische Untersuchungen (361). There are, nevertheless, important ways in which Otaka “is not a mere follower of Husserl,” and the authors demonstrate where he departs from Husserl (362). By comparing the actuality of states with other examples that Otaka provided of spiritual formations (woodblock prints, tools, and works of music), the authors highlight a distinction between homogeneous and heterogeneous foundation (364). Influenced by Reinach, Otaka’s account of the actuality of social groups is shown to be founded in mutual understanding through social acts (368). While states are one kind of social group, they have unique features that don’t belong to all forms of social groups. As mentioned before, states have a “multi-sidedness” that requires a “multi-aspect” approach (370) in order to account for their social, legal, and political aspects. Uemura and Yaegashi highlight the role that territoriality and nationality can play in Otaka’s account of states that aren’t components of other actual social groups (371). In addition to their status of actuality, states also have an ideality that accounts for their existence over time despite changes (e.g., the coming and going of members), and this ideality is accounted for by appeal to Otaka’s account of the historicity of states (372). In the concluding sections of their chapter, Uemura and Yaegashi highlight a dilemma that arises based on Otaka’s account of “supersensible or meaningful intuition,” but go on to argue that this dilemma can be avoided while maintaining the phenomenological character of his thought by appealing to Husserl’s accounts of axiological and volitional intentionality (375). Uemura and Yaegashi present a comprehensive account of Otaka’s phenomenological approach to the actuality of states while also highlighting in their conclusion directions for future research, including how this topic might be productively pursued by appeal to works by Reinach, Scheler, Pfänder, and Walther.


This is an exciting and inviting book, lending itself to engagement with the reader (my margins are now quite full, in a good way). This volume is undoubtedly of interest to a surprising number of philosophical camps due both to its content and to the clarity of the authors’ writing. It is also a welcome addition due to the willingness of the authors to work across philosophical divides. Phenomenologists will find it of interest both for its focus on phenomenological philosophers and themes and also insofar as the articles bridge the disciplines of phenomenology and social ontology. Social ontologists will find it of interest both insofar as it develops and in some places extends the discipline in new directions, and also insofar as the chapters clearly bridge social ontology themes into phenomenology. Philosophers and phenomenologists of law are provided with a wealth of information, and historians of philosophy will find countless reasons for enthusiasm. This text as a whole accomplishes the difficult task of resonating with a wide range of topics while also maintaining its focus on conceptual overlap between early phenomenology and lively topics of twenty-first century social theory.


Moran, Dermot, Rodney Parker (eds.), Studia Phaenomenologica, XV: Early Phenomenology (2015).

Moran, Dermot, Thomas Szanto (eds.), Phenomenology of Sociality: Discovering the ‘We’ (New York: Routledge, 2016).