Claudio Rozzoni: The Phenomenological Image

The Phenomenological Image: A Husserlian Inquiry into Reality, Phantasy, and Aesthetic Experience Couverture du livre The Phenomenological Image: A Husserlian Inquiry into Reality, Phantasy, and Aesthetic Experience
Claudio Rozzoni
De Gruyter
2024
Paperback
247

Reviewed by: Marina Christodoulou
(Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Philosophy at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences)

Rozzoni’s book is a work of double value, as should any book of philosophy be about: at first it has the value of serving as a secondary literature text, that is, offering comments and references to its various primary sources, which include works mainly by Husserl, but also Merleau-Ponty, and others, and various other artistic works (paintings, photographs, films, installation pieces, etc.). However, being a secondary literature text, it has the unique capacity of not sustaining/conforming/limiting the reader between its 247 pages, but motivating one to visit the sources, that is, the primary texts it deals with. This is a virtue that only seldomly do works labelled as secondary literature possess. This is why, Rozzoni’s book gains a double-acquired value, which is that it can serve as a work that can be labelled primary literature as well, as it can also be read as a work that in itself offers an original approach to both philosophy, and especially aesthetics (in both its meanings, as a discourse on the senses and thus on perception and experience, but also as a discourse on artistic works/experiences), and also to art, literary theory, and film theory and criticism. It offers to both aesthetics and art/literary/film criticism a new perspective and even a new method or approach, through phenomenology, but also it offers to phenomenology a new aesthetic and artistic/literary/cinematographic dimension. At last, it also introduces, but profoundly so, a so far neglected work of Husserl, only translated in 2005, and, so far, not much studied or researched. The aforementioned work of Husserl are the Nachlass manuscripts on Phantasy, Image Consciousness, and Memory, published in 1980 in Husserliana XXIII in German, based on his 1905 course in Göttingen.[2]

Thus, Rozzoni’s The Phenomenological Image: a Husserlian Inquiry into Reality, Phantasy, and Aesthetic Experience is a work of multiple values and uses. Firstly, as a study of Husserl’s so far unnoticed Phantasy, Image Consciousness, and Memory. Secondly, as a philosophical commentary on Husserl’s phenomenology in general, and more specifically his aforementioned work, as well as a commentary on the of aesthetics and phenomenology, a study on phantasy and/in phenomenology and the different forms of experience in phenomenology. And thirdly, as an original work on phenomenological aesthetics, or even aesthetic phenomenology, and more specifically on new approaches to art, literature, and film theory and criticism. In other words, it is a source offering new (phenomenological) ways towards film theory and criticism.

It is an indispensable book for philosophers already working in phenomenology, or on experience, on phantasy, fiction, reality and other relevant subjects. It is, in general, an excellent book regarding a philosophy of experience (phenomenology’s major preoccupation is experience, but in this book, it becomes even clearer), and more specifically perceptual experience, aesthetic experience etc.

However, it can be read even by audiences that have no familiarity with phenomenology or even philosophy, since Rozzoni is doing a great job explaining in simple words every new term or concept that he is using (such as intentionality and many other), thus, every next page of the book is already prepared by the previous ones. Thus, it is an indispensable book for artists, art criticism and filmmakers and film theorists and critics, as well.

For that reason, it is a self-contained and self-sufficient work that offers both an introduction to phenomenology, but at the same time an advanced study of it with original insights spanning further than phenomenology or even philosophy itself. What can serve as an introduction to phenomenology can simultaneously function as a further redefinition of it, which is an important philosophical methodological trait, that is, that a philosopher always clarifies the definitions they are working with and makes no pre-suppositions. Thus, Rozzoni’s definitions and descriptions (as well as normative depictions) of phenomenology are important not only for their pragmatic function but predominantly for the meta-philosophical or rather meta-phenomenological one. I quote some passages so as to make my points clearer:

Phenomenological description must be capable of rendering a satisfactory account of the different modes in which our acts (and, correlatively, their objects) and our objects (and, correlatively, their acts) are given to consciousness. When we say our acts are intentional, it implies the necessary corollary that there can be no “consciousness” that is not a “consciousness of.” The relationship between consciousness and object manifests itself in different ways depending on the particular act involved—for example, perception of a tree, phantasy of a tree, etc.—and such relationships are “expressed by the little word ‘of’” (Hua XVI, p. 12; Hua I, p. 33). (Rozzoni 2024, 15)

He continues a bit later in clarifying the different “modes of consciousness” which are important both for understanding phenomenology (“phenomenology must…”), intentionality (which is core to phenomenology), Husserl, phantasy, image, and this book in general:

These initial considerations are enough to suggest that Husserl’s primary interest lies in discerning qualitative differences between our experiences, a question that drives him to seek out an essential distinction between what he calls “modes of consciousness.” Perception is only one such mode; objects are given to us in several other modes as well—such as when we see objects either through images or, as they say, “in our minds.” As indicated, phenomenology must be able to provide an account of the essential differences among these modes of consciousness as well as of the particular nature of each mode’s inherent intentionality—the essential correlation between its subjective and objective poles. After dedicating his efforts to the perceptual dimension in the first two parts of the course, Husserl uses the third part to attempt to define the eidetic differences that distinguish phantasy consciousness from perceptual consciousness. (Rozzoni 2024, 16)

When analyzing phantasy through a phenomenological lens, we are soon confronted with a phenomenon that will prove challenging: it seems that any description of the ways in which phantasy manifests itself must necessarily involve the notion of image. Indeed, it is in this context that Husserl comes to examine the issue of defining the particular type of manifestation pertaining to image and the related form of intentionality called “image consciousness.” In the third part of the Göttingen course, when seeking to define the nature of intentionality pertaining to phantasy acts, Husserl begins by describing this intentionality in terms of “pictorialization [Verbildlichung]” (see, for example, Hua XXIII, § 8). Let us remark that he had already adopted this approach in an 1898 text devoted to “phantasy and representation in image” (see Appendix 1 to Hua XXIII, pp. 117– 152)—a text that did, indeed, serve as a starting point for his later Göttingen analysis. (Rozzoni 2024, 17)

Moreover, the constant use of simple examples (e.g. the photograph of a friend) render the book even more accessible and the concepts and terms explored easier to understand.

Adding to the preciseness and clarity, Rozzoni systematically and precisely clarifies terms/concepts, as it is already shown, both in English and how terms have distinct meanings in German: for example, reality [positionality] – phantasy, fiction, phantasy [Phantasie] – imagination [Einbildung] – imaginatio, perception [Perzeption] – perceptio Wahrnehmung. For example, he writes concerning the latter distinction, and the different choices of words in the original (by Husserl), but also by Rozzoni in the English translation:

Perzeption is Wahrnehmung without belief, and, as Husserl says, any Wahrnehmung that does not take (nimmt) something as true (wahr) is no longer Wahrnehmung in the proper sense of the word. It is legitimate to say that an object given perceptually (wahrnehmungsmäßig) is also given as complying with perceptio (perzeptiv), but the converse is not true: we cannot state that what is given when complying with perceptio (perzeptiv) is automatically given perceptually (wahrnehmungsmäßig). Though these terms may overlap in some cases, this does not change the fact that such a distinction can be rightfully (and not pleonastically) introduced in the English translation, thus allowing the reader to feel the distinction between Wahrnehmung and Perzeption that plays a seminal role in these analyses. This is why Husserl’s references to illusion claiming the status of reality are not, in principle, cases of phantasy complying with perceptio (perzeptiv), but rather of perceptual (wahrnehmungsmäßig) illusions that, once discovered, become canceled perceptions (Wahrnehmungen)—canceled realities only apprehended après coup as perzeptive Phantasien. Accordingly, we can also think of perceptio as a genus encompassing the species of positional perceptio (or Wahrnehmung) and positionless perceptio (or perceptio in the strict sense). (Rozzoni 2024, 17, n. 11)

At last, in a further way to be precise and clear, Rozzoni makes sure that he prevents possible misconceptions and misunderstandings, as for example in the sub-chapter 1.7: A Potential Misunderstanding: The “Image-Theory”, concerning “the unction Husserl assigns to the image object”. (Rozzoni 2024, 28)

Rozzoni engages in an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary dialogue with artists (painters, installation artists, cinematographers), literary writers (Proust, Kafka), and philosophers (Plato, Nietzsche, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Deleuze). It furthermore offers numerous references to scholars dealing with relevant subjects such as imagination, phantasy, film theory and criticism etc. In this way, Rozzoni’s book can also serve as a reference book towards further researching the main topics it discusses (image, phantasy, imagination, reality, fiction, film, experience, perception, belief, time consciousness, epoché, content-form/style, etc.).

It is a book one can read multiple times, each time focusing on a different subject/topic, and each time feeling that they are reading a new book, since new perspectives and connections are opened at each reading, depending on the shift of focus.

Chapter 1 focuses, as it is already evident from its title, on the “Phenomenology of Image and Phantasy”, by visiting concepts such as reality, perception, imagination, phantasy, images, consciousness of reality, consciousness of fiction, etc., and also re-setting their inter-connections.

Chapter 2 entitled “The Aesthetic Consciousness”, evidently focuses on the nature and qualitative originality of aesthetic experience and consciousness, while also “deepen[ing] the originary phenomenological distinctions elucidated in the first [chapter]”. (Rozzoni 2024, 3) In more detail, I quote:

The second chapter deepens the originary phenomenological distinctions elucidated in the first but with a specific focus on the nature of aesthetic experience. Too often, the type of consciousness associated with aesthetic experience is confused with other modalities of consciousness which, despite possibly overlapping with aesthetic experience in some ways, must nonetheless be kept distinct as regards their originary sense. Specifically, the term “aesthetic” is often used interchangeably with terms like “fictional,” “artistic,” or “iconic,” thereby creating confusion that can fundamentally undermine research outcomes. Through the Husserlian manuscripts, I attempt to trace the roots of the “aesthetic” back to a consciousness which, though it may indeed have seminal connections to the associated terms listed above, ultimately possesses its own qualitative originality that cannot be reduced to any of those terms. (Rozzoni 2024, 3)

Moreover, it expands Husserl’s phenomenological re-appropriation of Kant’s “aesthetic disinterest”, through a phenomenological inquiry into the nature of this disinterest, emphasizing, as did Kant, “the moment of the “how” rather than the “what” of a manifestation”. (Rozzoni 2024, 4):

Despite entailing disinterest in something’s existence in the general sense (in other words, disinterest in whether something actually exists or not), aesthetic experience does involve another form of interest: though “existentially disinterested,” it is “axiologically interested.” In aesthetic experience, axiological interest manifests itself through the sphere of feeling—we experience a particular value, an appreciation for the manner in which something is given, and it is necessarily given in a feeling interrelated with this value.

Clearly, talking about the “how” of manifestation, the manner of appearing, might carry the risk of reintroducing the dichotomy between content (what) and form (how) into the discussion of aesthetic experience. […] In aesthetic experience, even the most ordinary object can emerge in the value of its manifestation—and strictly speaking, all manifestations can be aesthetically “expressive” in principle: a “zero degree” of aestheticity is only a limit point. (Rozzoni 2024, 4)

In more detail, Rozzoni discusses in the subchapter 2.6: Constituting the “How”: Stylistic Manifestations (pp. 110-112), this habitual dichotomy between style/form (how) and content (what), which is unfairly conceived as a dichotomy or a binary, as well as content is unfairly conceived as of being hierarchically superior (I would name it as a certain hegemony of the “what” in philosophy, which takes the dimensions of essentializing the philosophical discipline to a “science” -not even, at least, an “art”-, of the content, and allocating to other sciences or arts the “burden” of occupying themselves with the “lesser” “how” of the style or form.) This intra-hegemony of content over form, is a reflection of the general (meta-)philosophical inter-hegemony and supra-hegemony on all other disciplines and forms-of-thinking, found in its most systematized depiction in François Laruelle’s Non-Philosophy.

As Rozzoni observes, “the distinguishing element in aesthetic experiences is the particular mode of manifestation in which the phenomenon is given (among many possible such modes).” Afterwards, he is talking about the “precise phenomenal modalities whose specific manner of appearance yields an aesthetic effect” (Rozzoni 2024, 110). These “precise phenomenal modalities”, in my understanding, are another formulation for style or form, since, in the following paragraph, he proceeds to give an example from a film, where the director makes “specific stylistic choices […] when depicting one man killing another allow[ing] us to feel not only the what— […] —but also the how”. (Rozzoni 2024, 110) He then mentions the notion of “rhythm”, which is an important stylistic element, on which he also has a reference to Merleau-Ponty, on the “relationship between the how (style, rhythm) and value in cinema”. (Rozzoni 2024, 110, n. 123)

I quote this extended passage since I think it touches on important points concerning the aesthetic experience and style:

To sum up, with belief-acts of each of these four types, we have an essential, eidetic option to transform them into (modified) phantasy acts, rendering them neutral in terms of possible reference to actual existence. Crucially, however, the resulting phantasies do not yet constitute aesthetic experiences merely by virtue of having left reality out of play; rather, the distinguishing element in aesthetic experiences is the particular mode of manifestation in which the phenomenon is given (among many possible such modes). To continue with Husserl’s example, an iconic phantasy of one man killing another may take the form of a mere iconic presentification of a quasi-fact—with no attention to its mode of manifestation—or it may employ precise phenomenal modalities whose specific manner of appearance yields an aesthetic effect. (Rozzoni 2024, 110)

For example, in the duel scene near the end of For a Few Dollars More (Per qualche dollaro in più, 1965), the specific stylistic choices Sergio Leone makes when depicting one man killing another allow us to feel not only the what—the quasi-occurrences on-screen that could just as easily be recounted through a purely iconic sequence, advancing the plot without artistic pretensions—but also the how, the value of this particular scene as it unfolds. Our aesthetic experience is affected by the fact that the different phases of the duel are depicted in this particular way, with this specific “rhythm.” Husserl rightly takes care to emphasize what may seem like an obvious point, namely that things are always given in accordance with a mode of manifestation (in the aesthetic sense just described), a mode that may or may not elicit aesthetic pleasure or displeasure—what we might describe as “positive” or “negative” aesthetic valence.

Further on, quoting from Husserl’s Text 15, he refers to phrases such as “object’s manner of appearing”, “mode of presentation [Darstellung]”, and “mode of manifestation”, which all put style, form, and in general the “how” of an object, in the spotlight, apart from its “objective position taking” and “the consciousness of an object as such” (the “what”). (Rozzoni 2024, 111, quoting Husserl in Hua XXIII)

Chapter 3, entitled “Toward Perspectival Images”, investigates “some of the ways that art can become a domain for broadening the notion of aesthetic experience to encompass the possibility of producing a perspective aesthetically (in a contemporary development of the Kantian notion of ‘aesthetic idea’).” Here the potential of art or artistic experience to “transform our conception of the world” (Rozzoni 2024, 4) is explored, “altering the perspectives in which we always live.” (Rozzoni 2024, 5) Thus, here, Rozzoni dares the intimate but neglected connection between art (artistic experience), ethics (how we live), and philosophy:

These transformations can be connoted either positively (by enlightening us to previously unknown facets of the world) or negatively (by concealing, anesthetizing, or speciously “spectacularizing” reality).

More fundamentally, I seek to demonstrate how, by acting upon sense as the foundational element of a (real or fictitious) world, art can operate in a dimension “refractory” to the distinction between documentary and fiction—sub specie sensus—and can even explore the thresholds between these two polarities in multiple directions; […]. Art recipients thus become participants in perspectives that force them to think at a cognitive-emotional-axiological level, whether or not they believe in the factuality of what they are seeing.

Artistic images can vary and deform reality— not so much to offer a diversion from it as to allow new essences to emerge and thereby create possibilities for expressing new perspectives.

The third chapter examines this concept in detail, specifically in relation to cinematographic images. (Rozzoni 2024, 5)

[…] If, as I propose, the condition of a world’s possibility for manifestation is the essential connection among narrative (perspective stricto sensu), values, and emotions, these authors think of cinematography as a privileged field that, though purely presentificational in nature, can create new perspectives directly affecting our perpetually perspectival comprehension of what we call “the world.”

In fact, cinematography can also provide an avenue through which to experiment with experiences we typically cannot or would not seek out in real life. (Rozzoni 2024, 6)

Proceeding to give some sample tastes of the possibilities of (attempting/essaying) thinking that it offers, à la Nietzsche’s sisyphean (saperesapio) method of philosophical thinking, that tastes over (thinking) possibilities, I will start from the first line of the Preface, which in a philosophical but mostly a psychoanalytical wording talks about a “return to […] the image”, in the same way that Lacan spoke of a return to Freud, or Aristotle of a visiting or a return to names (etymologies). This is the clear core purpose of the book “to promote a return to a description of the image that starts from its fundamental characteristics, its essential features.” (Rozzoni 2024, 1). Furthermore, “[t]he fundamental question that such lines of inquiry soon raise concerns whether there are structural differences between our image experiences and phantasy experiences—or, in phenomenological terms, between image conscious- ness and phantasy consciousness.” (Rozzoni 2024, 1) In the attempt to answer this Rozzoni takes different tastes of Husserl’s work, in discussion, as said, with commentators and scholars as well as other philosophers, artists, literary writers, filmmakers, etc. More specifically, to focus on Husserl, in his course from 1905 attempted to define the nature of image based on his inquiry on the nature of phantasy. Thus, it already becomes evident that in Husserl there is a direct correlation between imagery and phantasy. This is the key question here as Rozzoni locates it, “whether phantasy consciousness is ultimately founded upon image consciousness. […] In other words, does phantasy need images in order to represent absent objects, or is our ability to produce and see images instead grounded in phantasy consciousness?” (Rozzoni 2024, 2)

The Husserlian answer to this, which Rozzoni will keep analyzing, is a reversal of the hypothesis that “phantasy needs images”: I quote:

[…] his phenomenological inquiries yielded the result that phantasy need not necessarily be founded on the capacity to pro- duce mental images. In Husserl’s view, the capacity for phantasy (as an originary modality of consciousness) need not be grounded in images proper; rather, phantasy consciousness is what underlies the capacity to recognize and produce physical images. He determines that phantasizing is not projection of an image medium acting as a representative for an absent object but rather is perception in the as-if, quasi-perception carried out by a quasi-subject—hence the possibility of distinguishing between real and phantasy egos from a phenomenological standpoint. In this sense, phantasy is the originary mode of consciousness that, in more strict phenomenological terms, can be called presentification. We can then further distinguish between “private presentifications” (quasi-perceptions without images) and presentifications in image. (Rozzoni 2024, 2)

As part of his analysis, which involves further original questions inspired by this Husserlian answer, he is asking whether the usual distinction or even dichotomy between images pertaining to phantasy, and perception pertaining to reality, shall be further “tried” in terms of thinking: “in other words, that proper images (presentifications in image) are eo ipso considered nonreal, whereas perception involves things ‘in the flesh’ and thus taken as real.” (Rozzoni 2024, 2). This is the main inquiry of Chapter 1 entitled “Phenomenology of Image and Phantasy”:

[…] perception per se is no guarantee of reality, nor does the image per se guarantee unreality: it is possible for perceptual experiences (or, more precisely, experiences complying with perceptio) to pertain to phantasy and for image experiences to force associations with reality. Though the image in itself is “unreal” in the sense of its presentifying nature (it shows something not present in the flesh), this is not to say that the sujet— the thing or person we see by “looking into the image”—cannot or should not be considered real. In short, we can have phantasies in the flesh and images imbued with belief.

[…] The image in itself makes no absolute guarantees concerning belief or lack thereof: context is what motivates the emergence of a documentary or fictional consciousness in relation to any given image. The same can apply to perceptual, noniconic experiences: we can experience them either in a consciousness of reality (as occurs constantly in context of going about our everyday lives) or a consciousness of fiction (as is the case, to mention one paradigmatic example, when we watch events upon a theatrical stage, which represents one possible context in which fictional worlds can comply with perceptio). (Rozzoni 2024, 2-3)

Rozzoni’s methodological insights, appearing, apart from the Preface, in more detail under Chapter 1, Sub-chapter “Again and Again” (1.1) are interesting themselves. It seems to me that he is consciously or unconsciously following a Deleuzian methodological-creative approach regarding the definition of philosophy as a creation of concepts. I think that this creativity can only spring from a synthetic openness, a wide and broad variety of interests within a field, an interdisciplinary openness, and a personal passionate investment to the topic of the research, as much as a “diagnosis” of an issue that is critical for the spatiotemporal milieu of one’s living experience. Rozzoni’s project/book incorporates all of the aforementioned elements or criteria, which render it significant, and original. In more detail, the three criteria that Deleuze has set for the worth-writing book/work (“bon ouvrage”) are the following: at first, spotting an error in books on the same or neighbouring subject (polemical function), then adding something that you think was ignored or forgotten on that subject (inventive function), and, at last, creating a new concept (creative function).

Hence, Rozzoni starts by spotting an “error”, or rather an omission, concerning Husserl’s manuscripts, on which his study is rooted upon, which are the manuscripts on Phantasy, Image Consciousness, and Memory, elaborated over a period of 20 years, and published in 1980 in Husserliana XXIII in German. Their importance according to Rozzoni is that they “serve as testimony to the father of Phenomenology’s style of work—evidence that is all the more significant because it concerns themes Husserl considered crucial to the destiny of the entire phenomenological project, despite having devoted comparatively little space to them in works published during his lifetime.” The fact that a manuscript is not published by a philosopher/writer shall “not mean that they are not of great importance: they offer valuable insights into published passages devoted to phantasy and image consciousness, offering beneficial context through which we can appreciate their relevance more fully.” (Rozzoni 2024, 10)

Hence, he is spotting an error in the research around these manuscripts and their corresponding thematic units and concepts (polemical function), and he is adding something that he thinks was ignored or forgotten on that subject (inventive function), which is the “underappreciated theme”, in Husserl’s corpus, of the phenomenology of (the) image (Rozzoni 2024, 11). The reasons for this underrepresentation and underappreciation are given as follows:

Whereas Husserl’s phenomenological analyses concerning theory of judgment, logic, perception, and time are well-known, his contributions toward a phenomenology of phantasy and image might be described as relatively unknown, or at least lesser known until recently. One reason for this is the aforementioned lack of space devoted to the topic in Husserl’s published works (see, for instance, Hua I; Husserl 1939, especially §§39–42), even though Husserl famously declared that “feigning [Fiktion],” exercised by our “free phantasy,” “makes up the vital element of phenomenology as of every other eidetic science” (Hua III/1, p. 160). Moreover, Husserliana XXIII, which collects the bulk of Husserl’s unpublished work on Phantasy and Image Consciousness (Hua XXIII), was only published in 1980, and John B. Brough’s English translation was not released until 2005. Now, however, several aspects previously overlooked or misunderstood by many contemporary theories of image can be addressed more thoroughly with the help of these richly complex writings, and these implicit potentialities are on the verge of finally taking their rightful place within philosophical debate on the subject (Brough 2012; Ferencz-Flatz/Hanich 2016; Wiesing 2005). (Rozzoni 2024, 11)

He continues by clearing up this lacuna (inventive function), and from the matrix of the lacuna to, then, proposing a new potential arising concept, or field of study, for new phenomena (of image) in phenomenology and in philosophy in general (aesthetic and other experiences), as well, as we will see in the following chapters, in art and in film. Thus, these phenomena pragmatically extend in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary ways, rendering them a concept:

[…] the Nachlass writings shed light on the specific (and difficult) genesis of some of the most significant results Husserl published within his lifetime, and even directly explore the complex (and problematic) nature of these processes of perpetual development. Another seminal aspect immediately relevant to our work is that these manuscripts on image and phantasy (and, more generally, on reality and unreality) invite others to embark upon their own explorations of these topics. (Rozzoni 2024, 10)

Though the Nachlass represents a corpus of posthumous manuscripts, it would be a mistake to discount the enormous potential within these pages for that reason alone. Rather than construing this as some insurmountable obstacle to the contemporary revival of such research, let us think of it as a precious—albeit complicated —opportunity to develop a new field of study concerning new types of descriptions for new phenomena. (Rozzoni 2024, 11)

The further pragmatic importance of studying these phenomena, apart from establishing a new field of study or a new concept (thus rendering this book a primary source), through which readers “embark upon investigative processes of their own” (Rozzoni 2024, 11), is that if we cast light on Husserl’s corpus, and read this book as a secondary source this time (as said, it has this double function), these unpublished philosophical manuscripts can have the value of revealing a “seminal role in shedding light on the genesis of an author’s published corpus and providing a treasure trove of new avenues through which to explore and develop the author’s thoughts.” (Rozzoni 2024, 11-12)

To emphasize it once more, as does Rozzoni, this does not mean that this study is limited to what I call its secondary function, namely, as commentary of the manuscripts of Husserl, thus merely opening up an horizon of study within Husserl’s scholarship, or what Husserl would also call a “regional ontology” or “ontological region”, but, and according to Husserl’s methodological insights on the phenomenological method, [thus studying these new horizons that these phenomena open up to, that is, the “essence of images”, based on Husserl’s phenomenological method; a cyclical meta-textual process, which constitutes another originality of this book], also opening “new horizons and descriptions such an approach could potentially reveal today, and how we might use Husserl’s legacy—which he encouraged others to test “again and again [immer wieder],” especially through variations—as a starting point for new inquiries.” (Rozzoni 2024, 11)

Such horizon-openings can be extended to phenomena which were not already there when Husserl was writing, but which are prominent nowadays (“phenomena that Husserl did not specifically describe”) (Rozzoni 2024, 10), that is on our own Umwelt, such as “image material found on the various electronic devices that have now become part of our everyday lives […].” (Rozzoni 2024, 10-11) If we were “to insist on subjecting any phenomena that Husserl did not specifically describe […] to static limits defined before such phenomena existed, it would betray the very spirit of phenomenology.” (Rozzoni 2024, 10-11)

Moreover, despite admitting that “[t]he present study does not pretend to be all-encompassing regarding the different ways in which such a task might be undertaken” (Rozzoni 2024, 12), that is, the different possibilities of horizons, a further horizon that Rozzoni’s book can achieve to open out is to “yield retrospective potential for new dialogues between Husserl and [these] philosophers, thereby opening up novel possibilities for interpretation, development, and critique that can and must serve as an avenue toward productive perspectives on our contemporary understanding of images.” (Rozzoni 2024, 12) This is due to the late publication of these Husserlian manuscripts in 1980, and the fact that philosophers that were influenced by Husserl, such as Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Deleuze and others, did not have access to it when forming their own concepts.

Such expansion of horizons and new conceptualizations (“paths”) “are never easy” as he admits, “and worse yet, they are perennially menaced by aporetical results.” (Rozzoni 2024, 10) This latter phrase, “perennially menaced by aporetical results”, I find to be a quintessential phenomenological but also philosophical “feeling” and disposition, or even a stylistic and a methodological philosophical act of epoché, dictated by the affirmation of aporia within a philosophical tendency and thinking, as it was also set to be in Ancient Philosophy, re-set by Friedrich Nietzsche’s method of ephexis, and systematized in François Laruelle’s non-philosophical methodology, abstaining from or suspending from arriving at a (final) decision, thus having the philosophical courage to stay and remain “menaced” by aporias; as much as posthuman feminists advocated on the virtue of “staying with the trouble”, against the totalitarian modern or positivistic (or “scientifistic” as I would prefer it) reflex or tendency (or rather obsessional or even psychotic tendency that in combination seek for a certainty-safety-trust nexus regarding an “unmovable earth” or ground of thinking, -to borrow Husserl’s phrase on the immovability of the earth-) of arriving at a final unmovable result. I quote from Rozzoni:

Such paths are never easy, of course—and worse yet, they are perennially menaced by aporetical results. Despite treading arduous ground, however, the material in these manuscripts offers us a unique opportunity to describe the iconic and imaginative dimension of our time in the spirit of phenomenology. Echoing a well-known Merleau-Ponty essay, this would mean striving to develop the “shadow” (Merleau-Ponty 1959) of Husserl’s legacy—a shadow that still looms large today, inviting us to take up the challenge and shed new light on these elusive domains (while simultaneously generating new and productive obscurities, as an essential counterpart of every process of clarification (Franzini 2009, pp. 37–47)). (Rozzoni 2024, 10)

At this point, I would like to raise three further points from this book which, I consider, at least from my own horizon/“regional-ontology”/“situated point of view”, as highlights that can motivate further thought.

The first, concerns what I would call the “Heideggerian colonization” of Continental Philosophy, and especially the “Heideggerian colonization” of the philosophers that Heidegger mostly deals with, as is the case of Husserl. Although Rozzoni does not either explicitly or implicitly make such a statement, I think this can be deducted as a comment, not only from various other instances of reading authors such as Plato, Schelling and others, from the point of view that Heidegger has read them, so that they become, in a way, more of a Heidegger’s Plato and a Heidegger’s Schelling than themselves as themselves, but in addition here from the fact that Heidegger happened to edit “the well-known ‘lectures on time consciousness’ in 1928 in Volume 9 of the Jahrbuch für Philosophie und phänomenologische Forschung.” (Rozzoni 2024, 12-13) These lecturers are only the fourth part of the Principal Parts of the Phenomenology and Theory of Knowledge (Hauptstücke aus der Phänomenologie und Theorie der Erkenntnis), which is a course that Husserl taught in Göttingen in 1904/05. I think that it is not completely irrelevant that Heidegger edited the fourth part of these lectures into a published volume, and this same fourth part gained the most notoriety out of the three other parts, where the first and second were devoted on the phenomenology of perception and attention, and the third on “a phenomenological description of phantasy as he considered it a necessary and complementary step to its account of perception.” As Rozzoni further explains: “He set out to uncover the essential differences between perception and phantasy, eventually finding them to be two originary modes of manifestation marked by an irreducible temporal difference (hence his devotion of the fourth and final part of the course to seminal investigations of time consciousness).” (Rozzoni 2024, 1) Thus, Rozzoni’s book comes to fill this lacuna in Husserlian studies and re-emplace the importance of all four parts, but especially of part three (on phantasy), within Husserl’s experiential strata comprising his “science of knowledge” or gnoseology, and their respective forms of intentionality. Maybe this bias that was taken up by Heidegger, was already initiated by Husserl, who, as he

explains at the beginning of this seminal course, [he] initially intended to devote the lectures exclusively to “the superior intellectual acts, […] the sphere of the so-called ‘theory of judgment.’” Later, however, he felt compelled to instead conduct an analysis at a “lower level,” i.e., of “those phenomena that, under the somewhat vague titles of perception, sensation, phantasy representation, representational image, memory, are well known to everyone, yet have still undergone far too little scientific investigation” (Hua XXXVIII, p. 3). This testifies to Husserl’s belief that a “science of knowledge” would inherently entail analyzing the “aesthetic ways in which this knowledge is articulated” (Franzini 2002, p. XIV); in this sense, this third Hauptstück may provide a capital contribution to the study of aesthetics as gnoseologia inferior.

It is in this context of inquiry into the lower experiential strata that Husserl confronts the challenging task of providing an account of the concept of phantasy, which he considered a necessary counterpoint to the account of perception he gave in the first two parts of the course (see Hua XXIII, p. 1). This would ultimately prove crucial to defining the particular form of intentionality pertaining to phantasy and image consciousness under scrutiny in this book. (Rozzoni 2024, 13-14)

Despite the fact that Husserl, as a philosopher critical to himself, changed his mind and made a four-part lecture onto experience/gnoseology, his commentators and editors were still biased towards the “superior intellectual acts”, as did Philosophy for most of its history, and especially philosophers that made it to the (hegemonic) canon, such as Heidegger.

 

The second point that I would like to highlight, concerns a possible connection, which I formed based on Rozzoni’s writing, between phenomenological epoché and psychoanalysis. This is not a connection that Rozzoni implies in any sense, but through the way he describes the phenomenon of Ichspaltung (ego-splitting) (in 1.10: Phantasy Ego, pp. 38-44), based on Husserl’s Text no. 15, he paves a connection between it and phenomenological epoché, which if thought further, since Ichspaltung can also concern psychopathology and psychoanalysis, then it might be said that there is a possible connection between phenomenological epoché  and psychoanalysis to be additionally elaborated on. To further unveil this thought, towards a possible future elaboration, Rozzoni explains, starting from the aforementioned section, that “the phenomenon of Ichspaltung” is “the division of the ego into the real ego and the phantasy ego” (Rozzoni 2024, 38). The corresponding footnote is the piece of text which inspired this connection to me: “The phenomenon of ego-splitting (Ichspaltung) does not concern the relationship between real and phantasy experiences exclusively. It goes to the very heart of the possibility of the phenomenological epoché.” (Rozzoni 2024, 38, n. 38) If the Ichspaltung is a presupposition or a precondition for the phenomenological epoché, then how could we connect both non-pathological (construction of the phantasy experience/intentionality) and pathological cases of ego-splitting (such as psychosis) with the methodological act of epoché? And also, could there be a linkage between epoché and pictorial arts and film (since they are, in a way, a parastasis of the phantasy experience/intentionality)? Which new methodology can we derive from these, which new insights into phantasy and psychosis, as well as which new insights from phantasy and psychosis concerning each other as well as the phenomenological epoché? These will remain open questions for the moment.

A last, the third point to highlight concerns style/form (how) and content (what), as already aforementioned in the presentation of Chapter 2. Such a stylistic emphasis is rarely found in philosophy, especially within academia and secondary literature on philosophers-but it is nearly always found in the work of all philosophers, which consists a paradox-, and thus I think it is always important to highlight it when an author/philosopher reserves some lines or pages on philosophical stylistics or the aesthetics of philosophical style.

There are further innumerable both systematic but also aphoristic points that one can locate in Rozzoni’s The Phenomenological Image, thus rendering it a work that can be read at and from multiple “places” and multiple times, offering different perspectives to not only phenomenologists or philosophers, but also to artists, filmmakers, art and film theorists and critics, literary theorists, but also to anyone seeking to see, in action, how philosophy operates, since, in my view, it is a book concentrating some of the best philosophical methodologies and traits one can use, as demonstrated in this review.


[1] This paper is prepared as part of my postdoctoral research project “Ontological Exhaustion: Being-Tired, and Tired-of-Being: a philosophy of fatigue, exhaustion, and burnout” at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, implemented with the financial support of the National Programme “Early-stage and Postdoctoral researchers” – 2, Stage 1, 2022–2024.

[2] Husserl, Edmund (1980): Phantasie, Bildbewusstsein, Erinnerung. Zur Phänomenologie der anschaulichen Vergegenwärtigungen. Texte aus dem Nachlass (1898–1925). Ed. Marbach, Eduard. Den Haag: Martinus Nijhoff; – Phantasy, Image Consciousness, and Memory (1898–1925). Eng. transl. ed. by Brough, J., Dordrecht: Springer, 2005.

James Risser (Ed.): Philosophy, Art, and the Imagination: Essays on the Work of John Sallis, Brill, 2022

Philosophy, Art, and the Imagination: Essays on the Work of John Sallis Couverture du livre Philosophy, Art, and the Imagination: Essays on the Work of John Sallis
Studies in Contemporary Phenomenology, Volume 21
James Risser (Ed.)
Brill
2022
Hardback €199.00 $239.00

Hanneke Grootenboer: The Pensive Image: Art as a Form of Thinking, University of Chicago Press, 2021

The Pensive Image: Art as a Form of Thinking Couverture du livre The Pensive Image: Art as a Form of Thinking
Hanneke Grootenboer
University of Chicago Press
2021
Cloth $35.00
240, 16 color plates, 26 halftones

Véronique M. Fóti: Merleau-Ponty at the Gallery: Questioning Art beyond His Reach

Merleau-Ponty at the Gallery: Questioning Art beyond His Reach Couverture du livre Merleau-Ponty at the Gallery: Questioning Art beyond His Reach
SUNY series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy
Véronique M. Fóti
SUNY Press
2020
Paperback $31.95
164

Reviewed by: David Collins (McGill University)

Overview

There are at least two approaches to what may be called ‘applied phenomenology’: one involves performing a phenomenological analysis of one’s own by closely attending to, describing, and critically interrogating one’s first-personal experiences of some phenomenon; the other involves applying existing phenomenological theory—i.e., the results of another’s, or one’s own, prior phenomenological analysis—to some phenomenon in order to understand it in phenomenological terms. (These are not the only approaches, of course, and they need not be mutually exclusive.) With respect to art and aesthetic experience, the first approach can be seen in Mikel Dufrenne’s The Phenomenology of Aesthetic Experience (1973) and in Samuel Mallin’s Art Line Thought (1996). (For an example of an analysis of a painting that employs Mallin’s body phenomenology, see Crippen 2014.) The second approach is more common, not only in phenomenological reflections on art but in applied phenomenology generally. Done well, it is a matter of putting some phenomenon into dialogue with an established phenomenologist so as to explore how his or her theory can inform and enrich our understanding and, ideally, our experience of the phenomenon—and, reciprocally, how the phenomenon can clarify, challenge, or modify the theory. (For an example of such a dialogue between Merleau-Ponty’s thought and art, see Hacklin 2012.) However, there is a risk of merely translating our pre-existing understanding of the phenomenon into the language of the theory in a way that adds neither to our understanding nor to the theory, but merely fits the phenomenon into the theory’s framework.

Véronique M. Fóti’s new book, Merleau-Ponty at the Gallery, takes the second approach, promising to put Merleau-Ponty’s reflections on visual art—along with other elements of his philosophy—into dialogue with the work of five 20th century artists in a way that will shed new light on these artists’ works and practices while illuminating, and in places challenging, Merleau-Ponty’s thinking. Unfortunately it does not live up to this promise or to the precedent set by Fóti’s previous work on both Merleau-Ponty and the phenomenology of art (see, e.g., Fóti 1992, Fóti 1996), which includes her recent volume exploring the notion of expression in Merleau-Ponty’s aesthetics, ontology, and philosophy of biology (Fóti 2013). This is not to say that Fóti’s new book is not interesting or valuable, only that it is not as valuable as it might have been. It will interest readers familiar with Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception but who are less familiar with his aesthetic reflections or his late ontology, since one of the strengths of the book is Fóti’s explications of these elements of his thought. Another strength is her discussion of the works and practices of the artists she has selected and her use of them to illustrate Merleau-Ponty’s ideas. In this respect, Fóti’s book is valuable for showing how well his ideas fit the work of artists beyond those he himself wrote on. Fóti’s research here into and engagement with art historical and critical work on the artists she considers is admirably thorough.

That being said, it is not clear that Fóti’s framing of these works and artists in terms of Merleau-Ponty’s thought reveals aspects of the works and practices that are not already noted in the art historical and critical scholarship she cites; the discussion often amounts to Fóti noting similarities or convergences between some aspect of an artwork or an artist’s practice and something Merleau-Ponty wrote, or showing how existing interpretations of these works can be put in his terms. Similarly, it is not clear that this book will offer many new insights into Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy for readers already familiar with his work and the secondary literature on it, since his thought is not significantly complicated, questioned, supplemented, etc. in the ways one would expect from a genuine dialogue. Nevertheless, Fóti’s discussion and descriptions of works by artists who—with the exception of Cy Twombly—are under-attended to in philosophical aesthetics will interest philosophers of art, and her explication of Merleau-Ponty’s ideas will be useful for art historians and critics with an interest in phenomenology or a wish to ground their work in an amenable ontology. Fóti’s final chapter, which considers the disavowal of beauty in much 20th century art and art theory, and suggests what she calls ‘strong beauty’ as a way to reclaim the notion while avoiding its purportedly problematic aspects, is worth further consideration—and perhaps further development in a future work—, although this chapter feels somewhat disconnected from the others since it draws significantly on only one of the artists from the preceding chapters, with the significance being minor.

With these six chapters, plus introduction and conclusion, coming to 112 pages before endnotes, bibliography, and index, this book is on the short side, which makes it easy to read and to refer back to, e.g., for locating particular examples of artworks. However, the lack of any illustrations is unfortunate: this is a book that calls for high quality colour reproductions of the works discussed. (To be fair, the choice to omit illustrations may not have been Fóti’s but an editor’s. There are also a number of minor typographical errors that hopefully will be corrected in future printings, e.g., parenthetical comments with the second parenthesis misplaced or simply missing, which leaves the reader to intuit where the comment ends and the sentence into which it is inserted resumes.) As mentioned, chapter 6 sketches a theory of beauty that is meant to avoid worries about links between the idea of beauty as traditionally understood and the morally troubling practices it is sometimes thought to support. Fóti draws on Merleau-Ponty to develop this theory but goes beyond his writings which, as she notes, contain a “near-silence concerning beauty” (95); this chapter is where most of Fóti’s original ideas can be found.

Chapter-by-Chapter Synopsis

In the introduction, Fóti outlines her approach to applying Merleau-Ponty’s aesthetics and details the common threads or convergences to be found between his thought and the works of the artists she has selected for her focus. She notes twin tendencies in the scholarship on Merleau-Ponty’s aesthetics: “to focus predominantly on the very same artists or artistic movements with which he himself engaged,” such as Cézanne, Klee, Matisse, Rodin, and post-impressionism and cubism, and “to concentrate on the issues that he himself discusses in his aesthetic writings, rather than engaging directly with artworks and the practices of artmaking” to bring them “into dialogue with Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology” (1-2). She is right that a tendency to repeat the same examples that ‘big-name’ philosophers have used is limiting and can be a sign of a lack of original understanding or a lack of familiarity with the range of phenomena from which the usual examples are drawn, and that it would make for better scholarship to engage directly with a new range of artworks and examples. It would also lead to better phenomenology, since it would make the results of individual phenomenological analyses less likely to be reified as universal claims about the nature of art when these results may have been specific to those examples.

The choice to focus on artists who, except for Morandi (whose was a near-contemporary of Merleau-Ponty’s), were part of an artworld slightly after his time avoids these limitations and lets her test whether Merleau-Ponty’s views map onto works and practices from a later period in visual art’s history with new developments, directions and styles. However, as noted above, the work of these  artists is not always brought into mutual dialogue with Merleau-Ponty’s thought,  or at least the claim that her consideration of these works “did not simply confirm [his] analyses but also … deepened or complicated them or introduced critical perspectives” (3) is not reflected in what is said about each one in the subsequent chapters. Instead, the areas of convergence that she finds between these artists’ works and Merleau-Ponty’s ideas are often presented by noting similarities between what an artist does and an observation or a view of Merleau-Ponty’s, where these similarities are not always clearly explicated and where more could be done to explain how a particular work exemplifies or embodies Merleau-Ponty’s claims. These convergences are: ‘interweaving dualities’, i.e., the collapsing of binary dichotomies between figuration and abstraction, subject and object of perception, etc.; the relation between image and writing, including the nature of written texts as both visual and linguistic; the ‘thingness’ of artworks, i.e., their in-between status as more than ‘mere’ things but distinct from tools or equipment for use, and their relation to materiality; the question of the artist’s historical situatedness and the ‘timeliness’ of their work. The biological need for beauty is also listed as a convergence, but it is not clear how this counts given Merleau-Ponty’s (and some of the five artists’) relative lack of concern with beauty.

Chapter 1 focuses on Giorgio Morandi, whose work Fóti sees as converging with Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy with respect to his explorations of vision and visibility and his refusal to draw a hard-and-fast distinction between figuration and abstraction. The suggestion is that Morandi’s still lifes of ordinary objects such as bottles and vases work to subtly defamiliarize these objects while keeping them recognizable; as Fóti puts it, they “unhinge things and their configurations from customary identification without, however, treating them as mere pretexts for painterly innovation” (17). This is linked to the idea of suspending or bracketing ‘profane’ vision to leave room for ‘primordial’ vision, which idea is fundamental to Merleau-Ponty’s understanding of phenomenology and his notion of visual art’s ability to disclose and thematize this primordial vision and its workings, and thereby to “rende[r] visible what could not otherwise be so” (14). In other words, the claim is that the familiar character of the objects Morandi paints, e.g., bottles, is placed in the background (rather than being removed entirely) so that their character as visible, or things-that-appear, and the ways in which they appear to us, can be brought to the fore.

This is a fertile point of convergence between Morandi’s painting and Merleau-Ponty’s thinking, although it would be nice if how Morandi’s paintings do these things were explained rather than it being just asserted that they do. The concrete, practical details of the paintings or Morandi’s process that Fóti describes do not sufficiently explain this; instead, not all of these points are clearly relevant to the rest of the discussion, e.g., noting that Morandi often uses “a rich and subtle palette of grayed earth tones, siennas, golds and whites, or earth greens and muted violets [which] is restrained, with a somewhat melancholy echo of classical antiquity” (16). This works well as a description of Morandi’s use of colour, but it does not obviously relate to or explain how “things constellate and configure themselves in space” in his paintings, as Fóti claims (Ibid.). Seeking out and viewing Morandi’s paintings does not help to make these claims concrete in the same way that one can easily see the fittingness of what Merleau-Ponty says about, e.g., Cézanne’s paintings from looking at them. There is a nice description of Morandi’s Still Life with Yellow Cloth, but what this painting is described as doing is not significantly different from what Merleau-Ponty already describes Cézanne’s still lifes as doing, such as the absence of a fixed perspective; moreover, it is unclear how this description relates to the point about the “mutual precession” of seer and seen that follows it (18). Since what Fóti is claiming about Morandi’s paintings here is much the same as what Merleau-Ponty claimed of Cézanne’s, it would have been helpful if more attention had been paid to the ways in which Morandi’s work differs from Cézanne’s and the implications of these differences for Merleau-Ponty’s thought.

Another theme that is discussed in this chapter is the place of ‘thingness’ in Morandi’s work, given his frequent depictions of commonplace objects in ways that emphasize both their materiality and what Merleau-Ponty would call their ambiguity or ‘perceptual nonresolution’. However, most of the discussion of this theme is done in relation to Heidegger and not Merleau-Ponty; while it is true that Heidegger dwells more on the nature of ‘thingness’ (i.e., the being of things qua things), it feels somewhat disjointed for the focus to switch to Heidegger so early on in a book that is meant to be primarily about Merleau-Ponty.

Chapter 2 turns to Kiki Smith, whose work is linked to Merleau-Ponty’s thought insofar as she is concerned with the body and its vulnerability, organic nature and animality, and exploring our relations to the usually invisible insides of bodies by opening them out to view. As with the chapter on Morandi, the main convergence discussed here is the intertwining of dualities; however, where the dualities that were found to be intertwined in Morandi’s work have to do with perception and with painting as an expression of vision, those in terms of which Smith’s work is discussed have to do with the overlap or blending (‘inter-being’/Ineinander) of conceptual categories such as humanity and animality, life and elemental nature, nature and cosmos, in their “ecological coexistence” (27).  This is seen in examples discussed of works in which Smith defamiliarizes not the visual appearances of objects but the themes and symbols of traditional folklore, such as her sculpture Daughter, which presents Red Riding Hood as a wolf-girl.

The connections Fóti draws between Smith and Merleau-Ponty are more tenuous than those drawn between the philosopher and Morandi in the previous chapter. There is, for example, an extended discussion of play and imagination as the transcendence of a fixed perspective on actuality (33-34), but this is not linked to Smith and instead the discussion moves from this to some remarks on her work’s relationship to ideas of beauty. Also, just how each one handles the common theme of our corporeality is not discussed in a way that adds to or informs our understanding of either. Instead, the discussion often takes the form of noting a theme in Smith’s work, describing an example or two of particular works that explore this theme, and then noting what Merleau-Ponty says about that theme. For instance, Fóti mentions that pregnancy is a recurring theme in Smith’s work and that Merleau-Ponty used the concept of pregnancy as a metaphor (29), but nothing more is made of this and it is not shown why the fact that both explored this metaphor is important: how do the ways in which they explored or employed it compare or differ, and what can this tell us about either their work or the concept itself? Similarly, Smith may have linked her concern with the body to her background in Catholicism, and Merleau-Ponty, sharing this background, may have written about the importance of the body and the idea of incarnation to Christianity (31), but—at the risk of being blunt—so what?

Without saying more to connect these themes in their work at more than a superficial level, what is meant to be a dialogue between their work and ideas fails (ironically) to intertwine the two: their work and ideas are not put into the sort of ‘inter-being’ that is found between, say, humanity and animality in Smith’s work, and instead the discussion becomes something closer to a listing of similarities that keeps these similarities side-by-side, rather than a dialogical exchange in which they are made to commingle. At the end of the chapter there is a passage suggesting how Fóti thinks Smith’s work might inform and supplement Merleau-Ponty’s ideas, where she writes that “[a]lthough Merleau-Ponty speaks of the elementality of flesh, he does not develop or concretize his understanding of elementality beyond pointing to the ancient (Presocratic) provenance of that notion,” whereas “Smith’s art allows the elements to come to presence … in their everyday and easily overlooked modalities of presencing” (41). This is the kind of point that I would like to see explored and developed further, and even given a central place in the discussion, since it points to the kind of dialogue that was promised.

Chapter 3 considers the work of Cy Twombly, focusing especially on those of his paintings that incorporate writing to explore both the visual qualities and the historical resonances of particular words, sentences, and fragments of text, which allows Fóti to bring Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of language to bear on the discussion. Fortunately, the convergences or points of connection between Twombly’s work and Merleau-Ponty’s thought are less tenuous—or at least are better explained—than those claimed in the previous two chapters. Here Fóti links the relation between image and text to the relation of materiality to ideality or meaning in order to analyze Twombly’s use of writing (and ‘quasi-writing’) in his visual art through a Merleau-Pontian lens in a way that does more than just note how something Twombly does resembles or is an example of one of the philosopher’s ideas. This gives us a way of attending to, understanding, and appreciating the art that goes beyond what is available from looking at it without this lens. Moreover, it involves Fóti making points that Merleau-Ponty did not already make himself about a different artist, as is the case with the points about Morandi in the first chapter and Merleau-Ponty’s remarks on Cézanne.

Of particular interest here is what is said concerning the ways in which the incorporation of writing in Twombly’s work exemplifies, or rather, enacts, Merleau-Ponty’s questioning in works such as “Eye and Mind” (1960) of any ontological separation between visual and verbal artforms. By bringing the visual form of written language to our attention, whether this is in the form of actual letters and words, or in the looping lines in Twombly’s ‘blackboard’ paintings that show up for us as writing-like—while remaining illegible since they are not actual writing but what Fóti calls ‘quasi-writing’—, Twombly defamiliarizes writing and introduces a multidimensional or ‘diacritical’ field of meanings and associations that go beyond mere semantic or literal meaning. This treats words and letters as figures rather than as signs, which highlights both the gestures involved in writing certain letters or words and the materiality of the sign itself, which illustrates the embodied grounds of language and expression. Additionally, Twombly’s attention to the trace left by the act of writing and his erasures, effacements, and concealments of words in his paintings, along with the deferral of meaning this produces, are informed by reading this practice in the light of Merleau-Ponty’s notion of the “invisible of the visible” (48).

Unlike the other chapters, here Fóti does explain how considering Twombly’s work in relation to Merleau-Ponty’s ideas can complicate and inform the latter’s philosophy. For example, Twombly’s questioning of the separation between the visual and the verbal lends weight to Merleau-Ponty’s suspicion of this dualism in “Eye and Mind” over his apparent endorsement of this separation, viz., his distinction between painting as (or as allowing) ‘timeless meditation’ vs. literature as tied to its historical situation in “Indirect Language and the Voices of Silence” (1952). As well, Fóti considers whether Twombly’s practices of drawing in the dark and with his non-dominant hand in order to disrupt the habitual connections between hand and eye, and between painting and vision, might pose a challenge for Merleau-Ponty’s thought. She concludes that they do not, arguing that dissociating hand, eye, and mind only introduces a problem for what Merleau-Ponty calls ‘profane’ vision; however, it is not clear why drawing ‘blind’ would lead to a more genuine or ‘primordial’ kind of vision, although it does plausibly allow for an element of embodied expression, which always underlies the act of drawing or painting, to be foregrounded. While these points about the relation of Twombly’s work and Merleau-Ponty’s thought are in keeping with what was promised in the introduction, the rest of this chapter—e.g., the descriptions of Twombly’s series of paintings about the Trojan war—is far less clear as to the connections being made or their importance.

Chapters 4 and 5 consider the art of Joan Mitchell and Ellsworth Kelley, respectively. The chapter on Mitchell consists mostly of descriptions of her paintings and practices, her thoughts on her work, and biographical details. These descriptions are well-wrought and thoughtful and the details are interesting; together they work to give us a good sense of her art. Fóti explores the ways her non-figurative expressionist paintings combine disintegration and turbulence with order and balance, how her paintings explore ambiguities between figure and ground, and the tension in her practice between spontaneity and deliberation. However, not much of a link is drawn between her work and Merleau-Ponty’s ideas: Mitchell’s interest in how colours combine and interact is mentioned alongside Merleau-Ponty’s remarks in “Eye and Mind” about colour as giving us visual textures and as supporting identities and differences, but these two concerns about colour are not obviously the same and their relation is not made clear. Fóti does note that Mitchell’s relationship to colour can be compared to what Merleau-Ponty says about Cézanne’s use of colour, but just how they compare or why this is a substantial convergence between her art and his thought is again not made clear. Similarly, Fóti discusses how Mitchell seeks to capture the felt ‘essences’ of experience in abstract forms and through colour, and notes that Merleau-Ponty is critical of the traditional quest for essences in philosophy but makes room in his thought for ‘carnal’ rather than ‘pure’ essences. However, it is not clear that Mitchell and Merleau-Ponty mean the same thing by ‘essence’ here; if they do not, there is no conflict, so it is again unclear just what relation between the artworks and philosophy is being drawn.

The chapter on Kelly focuses on his plant drawings and their relation to his better-known colour field paintings, where Fóti suggests they were a step on the way from figuration to abstraction in his work. The chapter also looks at Kelly’s artistic practice in terms of the interrelation of hand, eye, and mind and the involvement of memory in perception, and discusses Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of nature and biology, although Kelly’s work ends up mainly illustrating rather than informing Merleau-Ponty’s ideas. The discussion of the plant drawings is similar to the points made about Morandi’s work, with the claim here being that these drawings disclose a ‘primordial’ vision by abstracting from the familiar appearances of ‘profane’ vision. As in the discussion of Mitchell, the notion of art’s ability to disclose the essences of things is prominent here: by concentrating on lines that capture the shapes and visual rhythms of plant life and eschewing three-dimensional representation, colour, etc., Fóti claims that Kelly’s work is able to present “the very essence of the plant” or its “genuine essentiality” (75-76). Despite the decisiveness of these claims, it is unclear why we should take Kelly’s drawings to do this rather than to foreground an aspect of the plants he draws; this seems to involve what we might call a ‘reductionist bias’, i.e., presupposing that the ‘essence’ of a phenomenon will be a pared down or simplified version of it rather than thinking that essences could be as rich—as complex, messy, and muddled—as phenomena themselves. Not only is it unclear in what sense stripping away three-dimensionality and colour, and abstracting a linear form from its background or context, presents us with “what the eye sees” (77), but this seems to be in tension with the importance Merleau-Ponty places on colour, background, and, especially, depth.

The sixth and final chapter on beauty is identified as a version of a lecture given at the 2019 meeting of the International Merleau-Ponty Circle, which makes sense of its disconnect from the first five chapters, i.e., the lack of any substantial relation to the artists discussed therein, except for a brief discussion of Kelly and passing mentions of Morandi, Smith, and Mitchell. Here Fóti’s aim is to offer a theory of beauty that rescues it from “[t]he critique and eclipse of beauty as an artistic aim and ideal” in much 20th century art and art theory (93), and she does this largely by elaborating on a remark made in one of Merleau-Ponty’s lecture courses (see Merleau-Ponty 1996), viz.: “By the disintegration of the figurative, one finds a Beauty which is sought by painting’s internal exigency, and which no longer hides pain and death, being the profound sensitivity thereto” (quoted by Fóti, 61). Her suggestion is that ‘strong beauty’ avoids the worries behind the 20th century discrediting of beauty—especially post-WWII concerns about beauty’s potential complicity with evil—because totalitarian projects are based on worldviews where everything is taken to be fully present to view and completely determinable, and because strong beauty necessarily involves acknowledging the invisible in its interrelation with the visible. In other words, the idea is that works with strong beauty cannot be (mis-)used for ideological aims because they cannot be totalized or objectified but are opaque and enigmatic, whereas an ideological appropriation and use of art cannot tolerate ambiguity.

Since strong beauty is characterized in terms of enigma and opacity is it perhaps not surprising that Fóti never quite tells us exactly what it is. We are told that strong beauty: is not merely external attractiveness but is intrinsic to a work’s meaning; is not related to pleasure but rather to feelings of intensity, is not opposed to ugliness or abjection; is a character not of objects but of events, and so is not a representation but a revelation; involves being open to the universe rather than wanting to impose one’s own vision onto it; must have an “uncompromising ethicality” (Ibid.); must refuse ‘absolutization’ by remaining enigmatic and unforeseeable, always “exceeding one’s spectrum of preformed possibilities” (99). This is all rather vague, and we might expect that examples of particular artworks that manifest strong beauty would make this clear, especially given Fóti’s concern throughout the book to illustrate her more abstract points by way of presenting detailed and concrete descriptions of works. Unfortunately, the works of art that are mentioned as examples of strong beauty—such as Chinese and Japanese calligraphy, and some of the works of Kiki Smith, Lucian Freud, Narvar Bhavsar, and Agnes Martin—are merely asserted to have this character without explaining what it is in virtue of which they have it.

There is a worry here that what Smith is describing departs from what is customarily or traditionally called ‘beauty’ to the point where by changing the definition she in effect changes the topic while continuing to use the same label. There is also a worry that building a moral component into the idea of strong beauty by requiring its ethicality is only done to make it immune from the worries about beauty’s compatibility with evil by merely asserting their incompatibility. Nevertheless, despite these worries and the vagueness of Fóti’s explication, her comments on strong beauty and the experience of our encounters with it, as well as the implications of these comments for the relation between art, morality, and politics, are worth further exploration.

Concluding Assessment

This book offers a fairly enjoyable and interesting read, but one that will be of limited use to those who are already familiar with Merleau-Ponty’s aesthetic thought and late ontology other than as a resource of examples that illustrate his ideas. Readers looking for this, however, will find the book valuable: Fóti’s close descriptions of particular artworks are eloquent and informative, and the details she provides about the lives and practices of the artists whose work she considers are intriguing and show a deep familiarity with the art-historical and critical literature. Although Fóti successfully explicates many ideas that are of central importance for Merleau-Ponty’s thought post-Phenomenology of Perception, this will mainly serve as summary for readers with their own background knowledge of Merleau-Ponty rather than adding anything new to what readers can gain by reading works such as “Eye and Mind”. (For readers seeking this, Fóti’s 2013 Tracing Expression in Merleau-Ponty is recommended.) Moreover, these ideas are explained in a way that likely will be too advanced for readers who do not already have a background in Merleau-Ponty’s thought, or in phenomenology and 20th century continental philosophy more generally, and readers who come to the book from a background in art history or art theory will need to supplement their reading in order to grasp the ideas of Merleau-Ponty’s that are presented here. Ultimately, while Fóti’s knowledge of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy and of art history are enviable, this book does not obviously make a significantly new contribution to either Merleau-Ponty scholarship or to the art-historical literature on the artists discussed, except for the first half of Chapter 3, where she analyzes Twombly’s combinations of image and writing, and Chapter 6 with its suggestions for a theory of beauty that hopefully will be clarified and developed further in future work.

References

Crippen, M. 2014. “Body Phenomenology, Somaesethetics and Nietzschean Themes in Medieval Art.” Pragmatism Today, vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 45-50.

Dufrenne, M. 1973. The Phenomenology of Aesthetic Experience. Translation by E. S. Casey. Northwestern University Press.

Fóti, V. M. 1992. Heidegger and the Poets: Poiesis, Sophia, Techne. Humanities Press.

Fóti, V. M. 1996. Merleau-Ponty: Difference, Materiality, Painting. Humanities Press.

Fóti, V. M. 2013. Tracing Expression in Merleau-Ponty: Aesthetics, Philosophy of Biology, and Ontology. Northwestern University Press.

Hacklin, S. 2012. Divergencies of Perception: The Possibilities of Merleau-Pontian Phenomenology in Analyses of Contemporary Art. PhD thesis. University of Helsinki. Retrieved from https://helda/helsinki.fi/bitstream/handle/10138/29433/divergen.pdf.

Mallin, S. B. 1996. Art Line Thought. Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Merleau-Ponty, M. 1952. “Indirect Language and the Voices of Silence.” Revised translation by B. Smith. In The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, G. A. Johnson (ed.), pp. 76-120. Northwestern University Press.

Merleau-Ponty, M. 1960. “Eye and Mind.” Revised translation by M. B. Smith. In The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, G. A. Johnson (ed.), pp. 121-149. Northwestern University Press.

Merleau-Ponty, M. 1996. Notes de cours, 1959–1961. Edited by Stéphanie Ménasé. Gallimard.

Günther Anders: Schriften zu Kunst und Film, C.H.Beck, 2020

Schriften zu Kunst und Film Couverture du livre Schriften zu Kunst und Film
Günther Anders. Herausgegeben von Reinhard Ellensohn und Kerstin Putz.
C.H.Beck
2020
Hardback 58,00 €
560

Matthew Sharpe, Maciej Kałuża, Peter Francev (Eds.): Brill’s Companion to Camus: Camus among the Philosophers, Brill, 2020

Brill's Companion to Camus: Camus among the Philosophers Couverture du livre Brill's Companion to Camus: Camus among the Philosophers
Brill's Companions to Philosophy, Volume: 5
Matthew Sharpe, Maciej Kałuża, Peter Francev (Eds.)
Brill
2020
Hardback €150.00 $180.00
488

Phillip Zarrilli: (Toward) a Phenomenology of Acting, Routledge, 2019

(Toward) a Phenomenology of Acting Couverture du livre (Toward) a Phenomenology of Acting
Phillip Zarrilli. Foreword by Evan Thompson
Routledge
2019
Paperback £26.39
304 pages | 51 B/W Illus.

Richard Westerman: Lukács’s Phenomenology of Capitalism: Reification Revalued

Lukács’s Phenomenology of Capitalism: Reification Revalued Couverture du livre Lukács’s Phenomenology of Capitalism: Reification Revalued
Political Philosophy and Public Purpose
Richard Westerman
Palgrave Macmillan
2019
Hardback 80,24 €
XVII, 308

Reviewed by: Clémence Saintemarie
(University College Dublin)

By offering a reinterpretation of the Hungarian Marxist philosopher’s 1922 essays ‘What is Orthodox Marxism?’, ‘Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat’, and ‘Towards A Methodology of the Problem of Organization’, Richard Westerman’s first monograph sheds a welcome new light on György Lukács’s theory of reification in History and Class Consciousness. While Lukács’s ‘Reification’ essay characterizes reification as the distinct and totalizing form of alienation in modern and post-modern capitalist societies, in a close reading of Karl Marx’s theory of class consciousness, alienation, reification, and commodity fetishism, and through G.W.F. Hegel’s dialectical understanding of history, Westerman’s monograph stands out for exploring, and stressing the importance of, the under-acknowledged and multifarious influences of Lukács’s aesthetic manuscripts at Heidelberg (1912-1918), in the years leading to the redaction of his first explicitly Marxist opus. Among these influences, the reader gains deeper insight about and discovers Lukács’s early project of a phenomenological aesthetics and his engagement with the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl’s Logical Investigations via the neo-kantian formalist aesthetics of Emil Lask, the art history of Alois Riegl and Konrad Fiedler, not to mention Lukács’s uptake of the social theories of his mentors: Georg Simmel and Max Weber.

Westerman proceeds by way of a phenomenological reappraisal of reification and a historicization of Lukács’s understanding of the proletariat’s role, and indeed its failure, as the supposedly preeminent revolutionary agent for the overcoming of capitalist social reality. His addition to the scholarship on Lukács is timely since 2019 marks the centenary of the unsuccessful German Spartacist and Hungarian revolutions that took place in the wake of the 1917 Russian Revolution and the end of the First World War in 1918, both of which motivated his reflections in History and Class Consciousness. Most urgently, ours is a political and social context that witnesses the resurgence of fascism and authoritarianism in its populist guises in the US, Europe and Brazil; not least, it is Westerman’s contention, as well as that of many Marxian thinkers, due to the 2008 economic and financial crisis, which has undermined trust in the (neo)liberal policies pursued by Democrats and Conservatives, Tories and New Labor, alike. Chapters 5 and 6 specifically address the relevance of Lukács for these contemporary issues. Therefore Westerman’s original and minute reconstruction of the impact of Lukács’s Heidelberg philosophical aesthetics on his critique of capitalism contributes to, and supplements, the renewed contemporary interest in Lukács before and since 2008, from Frederic Jameson to Andrew Feenberg and regretted Mark Fischer. The relevance of, and contemporary engagement with, Lukács is furthermore manifested in recent or forthcoming conferences dedicated to his legacy: one held by Historical Materialism in June 2019, and an upcoming conference in Paris, in November 2019.

Beyond the fact that it comprises a welcome reappraisal of the philosophy of history and proletarian revolutionary consciousness developed in the ‘Reification’ essay, the originality and value of Westerman’s monograph lie in its meticulous historical and philosophical reconstitution of the influence of Lukács’s Heidelberg aesthetic manuscripts on his phenomenology of reification. The famously influential essay from History and Class Consciousness characterizes reification as the transformation, typical of the bourgeois capitalist model of production and exchange, of human and social features, actions and relations into independent and autonomous thing-like entities abstracted from their human and social origin, rationalized into their quantifiable exchange value. It is the aim of Westerman’s reinterpretation that reification is the very fact and mode of social and personal experience in capitalism, rather than an ideological camera obscura obfuscating an underlying social reality that would be truer or more authentic to it. Referring to the Werke and using his own translation of the ‘Reification’ essay and Heidelberg manuscripts, Westerman reformulates Lukács’s key concepts of social totality, reification, class consciousness, the proletariat, and the party. This allows him to convincingly respond to Lukács’s detractors and critics in the Marxist, Marxian and Critical Theoretical tradition via, by his own admission, more or less successful parallels and speculations drawn from his close reading and exegesis of Lukács’s Heidelberg years.

Within 300 pages, Westerman takes his readers on a journey that brings us back to Lukács’s aesthetic works at Heidelberg from 1912 until 1918 and his conversion to Bolshevism. As soon as the preface and the introductory first chapter, Westerman frames the terms of the ‘Lukács Debate’ in Critical Theory and lays out the main criticisms and misunderstanding of Lukács that his monograph aims at dispelling or nuancing, namely: the suspicion of neo-romantic anti-capitalism that allegedly permeates his earlier work and informs his concept of labor and the proletariat as mythical agents of historical development; his philosophy of reification which would relaunch a Fichtean philosophy of freedom and its bourgeois antinomy of the subject and object; last but not least, a theory of social totality and a theory of the party, qua the instance of representation of proletarian interests, which would lend itself to the accusation of Stalinism and totalitarianism.

The book comprises three parts, which progress from the precise and detailed historical presentation of Lukács’s works around those years and justifies the genealogical weight of his phenomenological aesthetics on the 1922 essays of History and Class Consciousness (chapters 2 and 3). The second part proposes a ‘phenomenology of capitalism’ from the ‘Forms of Social Reality’ (chapter 4), in which reified subjectivity is described as a ‘split consciousness’, and which poses the problem of the proletariat’s ‘interpellation’ as a subject and its historical agency (chapter 5), while requiring the re-evaluation of its self-understanding as a class and the party as its organizational form (chapter 6). The third and final part seeks to highlight the influence and relevance of a phenomenological reading of Lukács beyond the implications, for proletarian revolution, of the ‘Reification’ essay.

Part I takes us on ‘The Road to Reification’, offering an intellectual history of Lukács’s development at Heidelberg as well as a justification of Westerman’s phenomenological reading of History and Class Consciousness in Lukács’s own terms. Lukács’s aesthetics, Westerman tells us, was concerned with the artwork as a subject-independent and self-enclosed meaningful totality. In his Phänomenologische Skizze des schöpferischen und receptiven Verhaltens, or ‘Phenomenological Sketch of Creative and Receptive Attitudes,’ Lukács philosophically systematized the non-representational and depersonalized theories of Fiedler and Riegl through a neo-Kantian reading of Husserl’s concept of intentionality that was emulated by his friend and mentor Emil Lask.

Chapter 2 deals specifically with Lukács’s neo-Kantian and phenomenological systematization of Fiedler and Riegl towards his own theory of the autonomy of Art. Supplementing Fiedler with Riegl, the artwork is a non-representational social activity giving form and meaning to the shapeless and incoherent sensory reality of one socio-historical epoch’s relation to its environment. The artwork thus produces its own reality rather than representing and referring to an objective external world. In Lukács’s reading of Riegl’s art history, the meaningful coherence of the artwork is neither provided by the creator or the receiver’s external point of view, but from a depersonalized, non-psychological standpoint that is incorporated into the work’s formal organization, and which produces the disinterested aesthetic experience we have of it.

According to Westerman, Lukács supports this artwork-centered account of aesthetic experience with a phenomenological aesthetics largely influenced by Lask and his neo-Kantian reading of Husserl’s Logical Investigations and Ideas. Lask’s interest in Husserlian intentionality focused on the intended object, or noema, rather than the noesis, the subjective pole of mental acts. In his and Lukács’s idiosyncratic reading of Husserl, it is intentionality as sense-bestowing, and the meaning of the noema detached from any thesis of existence or reference to an external reality, which matters. Following the Logical Investigations, intendings are described and analyzed in their semantic and logical structure, and the meaning-validity of artworks stems from their own internal formal-semantic logic and the cohesive relations of parts and whole; not from their representational consistency with an external reality, nor from the universal validity-form of aesthetic judgments.

It is worth-noting that this noematic reading of Husserl does not eliminate the subject altogether, but gives it a minor and auxiliary role in the constitution of the artwork and in aesthetic experience. Having recourse to Husserl in Heidelberg and in the ‘Reification’ essay, Lukács also seeks to overcome the antinomic separations of form and content and of subject and object: artworks are a case in point where the formal meaning of the whole cannot be entirely detached from its parts and where the artwork’s inner formal standpoint invites the subject in its sphere of meaning. Because of this, Lukács argues that, grasped from this standpoint, not only artworks achieve utopian perfection, but they also offer a unique instance where subject and object are brought together. The artwork is thus not fully autonomous. Furthermore, by striving to account for artwork’s intrinsic meaningfulness, Lukács moves away from a subjective and neo-romantic conception of the artist as a genial creator and the main source of the artwork’s meaning.

Granted that Lukács’s theory of the autonomy of Art is at odds with his later historicization of artworks within socio-historical wholes, Westerman contends that Heidelberg manuscripts are concerned with aesthetic experience and the logical possibility of subject-independent artworks that are not entirely incompatible with socio-historical interpretations. Rather, they prefigure and form the basis of Lukács’s analysis of social relations and of social being as a realm unto itself, analogous to art insofar as it, too, is governed by its own immanent logic and types of subject-object relation. Furthermore, Lukács’s conception of the ‘artwork as totality’ does not exclude its being part of a larger whole. Totality and reality are here synonymous with one another and with logically valid coherent wholes which posit their own meaning, rather than with an all-including totality. Last but not least, reification operates precisely against the unity of form and content, and of subject and object, reducing particular, and thusly deemed irrational contents, to the rationalized form of the commodity.

Westerman convincingly shows how the Heidelberg drafts contextualize Lukács’s Marxist essays. To the extent that, in the former, Lukács progressively realizes the impossibility of the total autonomy and isolation of Art such that it could actualize its promise of utopian perfection, as a fully self-enclosed meaningful totality, the latter turns to practical social change in the aftermath of the 1919 revolutions. Chapter 3 expounds Lukács’s return to the 1912-1918 manuscripts in the three 1922 essays of History and Class Consciousness, which further justifies Westerman’s reappraisal of Lukács’s social theory and his concepts of social totality, (class) consciousness, and organization, in light of his Heidelberg phenomenological aesthetics.

Chapter 3 traces the intellectual and political evolution of Lukács from Heidelberg and his conversion to Bolshevism, in 1918, to 1923 and the publication of History and Class Consciousness. Lukács’s turn to Bolshevism is described as a leap-of-faith that can be explained by his earlier romantic anti-capitalism, as well as the critique, common among the intelligentsia, of modernity and bourgeois capitalist values. Westerman focuses on the Heidelberg drafts to locate the philosophical origin of this conversion, marked by a messianic eschatology inspired by Kierkegaard and his work on Dostoevsky (see chapter 5).

Most note-worthy, 1922 marks a significant return to Heidelberg as Lukács tries to explain why the proletariat did not join in the 1919 revolutions, and how a revolutionary consciousness can nonetheless arise in the future to overthrow capitalist domination. Here, consciousness does not amount to epistemological knowledge, but to a meaningfully structured realm of being. Fundamental to achieving this definition, notwithstanding his phenomenology of reification, is his critique of the antinomy of subject and object in bourgeois society. If subject-object relations define society as a totality, and if reification—as the single explanatory principle of capitalism—turns human activity into objects independent of it, not only does capitalist reality appear as fragmented, but consciousness itself is reified.

Reification is thus a total social phenomenon, extending beyond the economy to all social institutions and relations, which reduce subjects to an abstract universal form, and isolate them as passive spectators, granting them only limited participation in society. Philosophically, Lukács identifies the roots of the problem in German Idealism, which starts with the subject constituting the world around it and assumes its separation from the object from the outset, a separation in which the subject is isolated from the object and can only retrieve it by subsuming it under abstract universal categories, without remainder. For Lukács, however, the proletarian standpoint eschews this a priori separation: its situation in social totality and reality is not isolated and it can come together to change society by changing social relations and practices. Proletarian consciousness is not simply the ‘true’ or ‘false’ epistemological standpoint on its real social situation in the system of production: it is meaningful and appropriate, be it true or false, in relation to the reality of this coherent and self-validating social system.

Epistemological inaccuracy and ‘false consciousness’, therefore, are not primary to causally explaining the lack of proletarian participation in the 1919 revolutions. Consciousness is first and foremost a social activity, and the form of that activity depends on the organization of its practices, which only partially depend on a more or less accurate knowledge and understanding of capitalism. In Lukács’s view, the ‘Party’ is one such organization of proletarian social practices and one possible source of epistemological correction (see chapter 6). ‘Consciousness’ is used to describe society’s own immanent structure: reification is a structure of consciousness since capitalism’s total structuration of society produces the structure of consciousness. It follows that consciousness is reified and the subject is defined as a reified subject in terms of the structure of consciousness, which governs its orientation and relation to objects.

The second part proposes a ‘phenomenology of capitalism’ building on and refining the dense conceptual apparatus revisited in part I. Taking the later Lukács’s self-critique at face-value, Westerman repudiates the charges that Lukács’s ‘Reification’ essay upholds the proletariat as the transhistorical and preeminent agent of social change, able to overcome capitalism from without thanks to the free exercise of its subjective will.

Chapter 4 focuses on the ‘Forms of Social Reality’, which, on the contrary, locate the proletarian standpoint within the social totality, as immanent to it. Freely borrowing from Martin Heidegger’s terminology, Westerman identifies three levels at which, for Lukács, reification operates: phenomenological, ontic and ontological. Phenomenologically, the structure of consciousness mirrors that of the commodity: the latter divorces the object’s exchange-value from its origin in labor and its practical value; the former is a ‘split intentionality’ in which the forms of social reality are divorced from their content. The problem of capitalism lies not only in commodity fetishism’s reification of human labor but also in the reification of consciousness, and therefore of social reality as a whole. Ontically, the reified forms of social reality, determined by the relative value of commodities, separate the social existence of the subject, and its product’s, from its material existence. Since the commodity form governs social reality, holding together heterogeneous social elements only in formal rational and quantitative relations, the working subjects, and any social relations not subsumed under the commodity form, are excluded from this rational formal system.

Ontologically then, reification is the single organizing principle of the total social reality, it does not mask the social reality productive activity, it is its very form: commodity becomes the only imaginable form of being and reification the only imaginable coherently integrated whole, the only possible reality. Like the work of art, social reality is a totality organized by a standpoint, in this case: the ‘split intentionality’ of the proletariat; i.e., the self-enclosed social totality needs the rationalized labor of the proletariat for the production of commodities which in turn demand the exclusion of its personal, irrational, subjective, and practical input and needs. Social reality is made in the image of the commodity.

The immanence of the split standpoint to social reality crucially informs Lukács’s theory of inertia and social change, and chapter 5 poses the problem of the proletariat’s historical agency within this reified totality. Westerman responds to the skepticism of Critical Theorists Adorno and Horkheimer—who undermined Lukács’s alleged faith in the self-liberating action of the proletariat in the face its passivity towards Nazism and his totalitarian embrace of the Stalinist Communist Party—by reformulating his theory of subjectivity, the party, and history. First and foremost, Westerman dispels the accusation of ‘Fichteanism’, according to which social reality would be at once the projection, and what is overcome, by the proletariat as an omnipotent subject. Revisiting Lask and Lukács’s reading of the later Fichte, he aptly demonstrates that neither of them thinks of the subject outside of its relationship with particular objects, themselves recalcitrant to the superimposition of a universalizing category, be it labor.

In fact, Lukács expresses little concern with labor, and his analysis of the subject-object relationship is once again formal and informed by his reading of Husserl’s phenomenology at Heidelberg: if stances have both an objective and subjective pole, subject and object were never separated in the first place; rather, the formal structure of the objects organizes the type of stances that can be had on them and, in turn, various stances produce different noema. It follows that the relationship of the two poles depends neither on the knowledge of the object, nor on their intrinsic properties. Lukács’s subject is thus primordially relational and the standpoint in relation to which parts of the object are disclosed. In the same way that the formal structure (size, details…) of an artwork requires that the subject adopts an adequate standpoint towards it (taking a closer look, stepping back to embrace the whole…), the subject is interpellated by the forms of social reality.

Westerman’s description of this ‘interpellation of the subject’, a term controversially borrowed from Louis Althusser – a fervent opponent of Lukács, refers to the intentional attitudes that the subject is summoned to adopt by the formal structure of social reality, the commodity structure, if, as the organizing standpoint of that totality, social reality is to function as a valid, meaningful and coherent whole. Yet, if the ‘janus face’ of the commodity (i.e. its irrational and private use value versus its rational and public exchange value) produces the ‘split consciousness’ of the proletariat, such formal interpellation of the subject can misfire, and meet contradiction and dissatisfaction.

It is from this formal contradiction and fracture that the proletariat’s self-consciousness and self-awareness as an agent of social change arise, and not from the contradiction of antagonist class interests. Agency is thus thinkable as ‘a structural component of social forms’. This eventually leads Westerman to discuss Lukács’s theory of the party as a bottom up, inclusive social form which, against the commodity principle’s warranting of the internal cohesion of capitalist social reality, purports to dissolve the ‘split intentionality’ by producing an external cohesion, one which does not exclude the ‘irrational’, ‘personal’ or ‘subjective’ of social being. The party is thus not deemed exogenous to the proletariat, instructing it or commending its strategic actions from without. Westerman stresses that Lukács indeed warns against the bureaucratic or strategic tendencies of instances, such as the party, which focus on expertise and organization at the cost of the exclusion and consequent passivity of the proletariat. In this light, he offers a rapid but incisive explanatory comment on the defeat of the Democratic Party in the 2016 US elections.

Nonetheless, neither the proletariat’s contradicted position, nor its achievement of self-consciousness in its formal and practical organization as a party, provides the moral or historical grounds on which reification or capitalism should be overthrown. Westerman illuminates Kierkegaard’s influence on Lukács’s response, further highlighting the fact that the revolutionary situation opens unexpected future possibilities which compels revolutionary subjects to take responsibility for them. The necessity of a decision stems from the social configuration of the revolutionary moment, but also from the formal requirement, for the organizing standpoint, to transform it, in order to maintain a continuous meaningful, coherent social whole. Lukács’s philosophy of historical agency is thus attuned to the moment and accommodates the fluidity and plasticity of social norms that may command historical decisions towards emancipatory change. At the same time, he maintains that change is demanded and triggered by the formal requirement for a self-validating meaningful whole.

While Westerman does not find Lukács’s appeal to the above-outlined ‘imperatives of history’ convincing, these normative demands are further evaluated, in chapter 6, in terms of the concrete identity and self-understanding of the proletariat as a class and collective subjectivity; and in terms of the party as its shared consciousness and collective identity. The core normative issue of Lukács, hence perhaps his insistence on art and social reality having to be meaningful self-validating coherent wholes on their own terms, is the meaninglessness of experience under capitalism. Turning to Lukács’s view of the individual consciousness which, like the Husserlian Ego, transcends the momentary acts of consciousness in the temporal continuity of retentions (past), just now (present) and protensions (future), meaningfulness is approached from a personal perspective rather than that of a depersonalized standpoint. Personal experience is reified to the extent that it is divided in fragmented and discrete, isolated experiences. The structure of experience thus mirrors the fragmented reality of capitalism. The experiential alienation, in which the seamless temporal continuity of the Ego’s experience is divided and split, is crucially manifest in the rationalization of labor, where time itself is a measurable and monetizable standard.

Westerman thus re-introduces Lukács’s theory of the subject-object relationship from the individual’s perspective to make sense of the experience of alienation implicated by reification. The very cracks and fractures of individual identity induced by reification would be, still following Lukács, the site wherin reification as a structure itself starts to crack. However, if this important take is consistent with Lukács’s definition of consciousness as social reality, it appears less plausible, when scrutinizing individual consciousnesses. The fracture and disconnection experienced in wide-spread and all-too-common workplace depressions, burn-outs, bore-outs, or suicides, while they can certainly be construed as indirect and passive forms of sabotage of current productivism, hardly produce the impetus for strikes, or any potent forms of collective actions against it.

This is why Westerman reassesses the necessity, for Lukács, that individual discontent take shape in the ‘party’, neither as a formal requirement for organizational form, nor, with critical comparisons to Rosa Luxemburg’s ‘revolutionary spontaneity of masses’, as an organic process. Westerman reasserts that the party, contra the Marxist-Leninist ‘vanguard’, is not the extraneous cause of class consciousness but is that very consciousness, i.e. the collective manifestation, in practice and everyday experience, of “the situation and position of the proletariat” (226). The party is class consciousness to the extent that it is self-organization without representation, thus eschewing over-optimist reliance on the spontaneity of the masses.

One the most important lessons, drawn by Westerman, is that class, as a group identity, is fluid and open to revision. Moreover, thus reinterpreted, Lukács’s theory can and should encompass collective struggles intersecting class identity and other social forms that he over-looked—like gender, race, and religion—in his quest for a single governing principle of capitalism as a social totality. For this purpose, the third and final part of Westerman’s monograph seeks to highlight the influence and relevance of a phenomenological reading of Lukács beyond the ‘Reification’ essay and proletarian revolution.

Responding to Lukács’s critics within and outside Marxism and Critical Theory, chapter 7 reconsiders Lukács’s alleged neo-romantic divide between the social and the natural, and social and extra-social realities. The problem of the subject-object relationship is brought to its climax, in an analysis which spans Lukács’s entire oeuvre. In dialogue with Andrew Feenberg, Westerman contrasts History and Class Consciousness with The Ontology of Social Being, in which the category of labor is critically used against capitalist, and, incidentally, early Marxist tendencies, to see nature as an exploitable resource. Thus, the domination and exploitation of nature is problematized, not in line with a romantic and ‘Rousseauist’ celebration of its difference to social reality, but as one shaped by labor in its alienated and reified as well as reifying guise. This significantly echoes motifs in Husserl’s Crisis of the European Sciences, but also Heidegger’s critique of the techno-scientific Gestell in The Question Concerning Technology. In turn, Lukács is also concerned with how social phenomena are legitimized and reified as ‘natural’. Finally, and in agreement with Feenberg, Westerman accepts Lukács’s ‘consciousness’ as a conceptual avatar of ‘culture’ or ‘nurture’, that is not antinomic with ‘nature’, but, as in Art, stands in a non-coercive relation to it.’

In Chapter 8, Westerman concludes with self-critical remarks on his reassessment of Lukács’s fluid social and phenomenological categories and stresses the value of these revisited concepts for a better understanding of our postmodernist and late-capitalist condition. As for the latter, he gives credence to Jameson’s critical analysis of postmodernism in art and is consistent in his Lukácsian understanding of Postmodernism not only as the Kunstwollen of late capitalism, but also as one consistent with the vagueness of our social reality’s signifiers. Correspondingly, he provides further grounds for his interpretative recourse to, and focus on, the Heidelberg drafts—over and against a Hegelian or Marxian re-reading—for his revaluation of Lukács’s reification. Most importantly, he enthusiastically argues for the complementariness of Lukács’s social theory for political and social theorists and phenomenologists working with the important insights of Alfred Schütz, Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, particularly as far as the study of habituation and the sedimentation of social meanings are concerned.

One should not shy away from characterizing Westerman’s monograph as a remarkable historical demonstration of and phenomenological reinterpretation of Lukács. His monograph displays the author’s sensitivity to the practice of closely reading Lukács’s texts and Critical Theoretical debates in their contexts of production and reception. Nonetheless, his pedagogical and scholarly attention to a progressive and methodological reinterpretation of Lukács’s 1922 Marxist essays—through the lens of his aesthetics—addresses audiences beyond the tradition of Critical Theory: from scholars with an interest in the complicated but complementary dialogue between phenomenology and Critical Theory, to anyone interested in the historical and philosophical relationship between aesthetics and politics, art theory and social theory.

Phenomenologists will find the progressive elaboration of Lukács’s engagement with Husserl—through an idiosyncratic neo-Kantian lens—particularly interesting, as well as its impact on the former’s theory of the artwork as a self-enclosed totality different but comparable to the self-enclosed and rational totality of capitalism. Moreover, phenomenologists and Critical Theorists alike should take heed in Westerman’s invitation to combine the insight of Lukács’s social theory with the social phenomenology of Schütz, Berger, and Luckmann.

Notwithstanding the virtuosity of Westerman’s reconstruction of Lukács’s phenomenological aesthetics and his novel approach to Lukács’s theory of reification, this monograph is also an invitation to relaunch a phenomenological inquiry into social alienation. It allows us to see phenomenology’s potential for understanding our contemporary situation, alongside, why not, contemporary Critical Theory.

Paul Crowther: What Drawing and Painting Really Mean, Routledge, 2019

What Drawing and Painting Really Mean: The Phenomenology of Image and Gesture Couverture du livre What Drawing and Painting Really Mean: The Phenomenology of Image and Gesture
Paul Crowther
Routledge
2019
Hardback £115.00
168, 8 Color Illus.