Mauro Carbone: Philosophy-Screens: From Cinema to the Digital Revolution

Philosophy-Screens: From Cinema to the Digital Revolution Book Cover Philosophy-Screens: From Cinema to the Digital Revolution
SUNY series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy
Mauro Carbone. Translated from French by Marta Nijhuis
SUNY Press
Hardback $80.00

Reviewed by: Keith Whitmoyer (Pace University)

Carbone’s most recent work, now available in English, marks a critical moment in the author’s philosophical development: the passage from an original reader and interpreter of Proust and Maurice Merleau-Ponty to a completely original contribution to the history of philosophy. In a way, this contribution has been in development at least since Carbone’s The Thinking of the Sensible: Merleau-Ponty’s A-Philosophy, but clearly, in this recent work, it reaches a new level of clarity that now operates beyond the auspices of interpretation. I would like to take the opportunity to clarify what Carbone brings to the history of philosophy. What he has found in the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty and Proust, which now, in Philosophy-Screens is thought beyond them, is the reversal of Platonism. In this respect, we can place Carbone’s work in this history of what Merleau-Ponty calls the history of a-philosophy, a history that includes Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche and more recently the work of Deleuze.[1] What is the sense of Platonism here and how could such an ambitious claim be justified?

At the center of this question, which is also the center of the text, is the screen. It was already Plato who, in his famous Cave Allegory, first thought the screen, and if the history of philosophy is a history of footnotes to Plato, as Whitehead said, then philosophy has always been a rumination on the screen. The screen, on one hand, is what Lyotard has called the “specular wall in general,”[2] a surface that has the dual role of being a window (revealing) and at the same time a curtain (concealing), which in this dual role becomes inscribed and invested with a historical and dynamic form of signification: the skin, the canvas, the cinema, the TV, the electronic device, the wall of the cave, the list goes on. It is through Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams that Carbone traces Lyotard’s specular wall to the origins of philosophy in Plato. The film documents the Chauvet Cave in France, home to the best-preserved cave paintings known to exist, dating back at least 32,000 years, making it 14,000 years older than the famed caves of Lascaux. These paintings, Carbone notes, “celebrate the enigma of images themselves, as well as the enigma of the surface that is invested with such a celebration and therefore delimited from the surrounding space.”[3] The Chauvet cave is an instance of what Carbone calls the “arche-screen,” “understood as a transhistorical whole gathering the fundamental conditions of possibility of ‘showing’ (monstration) and concealing images on whatever surface. In our culture such a whole has been opened and experienced through the human body itself.”[4] I will return to the significance of the human body mentioned here. For now, I want to mention that the Chauvet cave, as a “variation” of the arche-screen, serves as a vehicle for the legibility of the cave in Plato’s allegory.

The cave of the allegory, as Carbone shows, is a space organized around its functions of revealing and concealing, that is, a space constituted precisely in terms of an arche-screen. On one hand, there is the more obvious screen, the καταντικρύ, the cave wall standing in opposition to the sources of light where the shadows dance and play. This surface is ostensibly one of revealing, since it is a necessary condition for the appearance of the images (shadows). Its disclosive function, however, is inextricably bound up with another screen, the τειχίον, the “low wall” that functions to conceal the mysterious figures who constitute the spectacle as they carry the σκευαστῶν, “artificial things,” along the enclosed path. This second screen, Carbone notes, “performs the double function of concealing by offering a protection and of selecting things to be shown—which are both, actually, characteristic of the arche-screen.”[5] The two screens operative here are, in a sense, so inextricably related to one another that it would be useless to attempt to separate or compare them, and it seems that only together is the arche-screen’s instance of the cave constituted: the concealing movement of the low wall, which selects the artifacts by occluding the puppeteers, is a moment of the disclosive, opposite wall on which the shadows are cast.

There is a second arche-screen’s instance present here, however, in which the concealing-revealing movement of the shadow play is embedded. We recall that, for Plato, while the shadow play is initially disclosive—a world is indeed made present to the prisoners—this disclosive function is simultaneously one of concealing since what are disclosed are precisely shadows—shadows that both indicate and at the same time occlude the σκευαστῶν. This is the first arche-screen described above. These “artificial things,” in their turn, however, have the same dual movement: they show themselves to the prisoner who has turned away from the shadows toward the fire but precisely here they too both indicate and conceal the things themselves that wait on the outside. This is another, second arche-screen. The prisoner eventually is dragged up a rough and steep path into the light of day where she beholds the “things themselves.” These things, now beheld in a shadowless light, are supposed to signify the είδη, the “ideas” of what is. It would seem that here we encounter a surface that reveals only and conceals nothing, and this is, therefore, not an arche-screen in the sense described but the foundational condition of possibility for the others, the ἀρχή, the origin of all other screens and arche-screens. I want to pause briefly here and note that it seems to be this moment of the allegory that becomes foundational for Western metaphysics since Plato—that philosophy henceforth will understand itself as the pursuit of this origin, seeking out that absolute surface on which it can inscribe itself but which will at the same time conceal nothing, leaving no trace of latency or depth.

But Plato seems to be very careful here, and upon further reflection it may not be obvious that we arrive in such a space on the journey out of the cave. I think that this pause is critical for understanding the significance of the arche-screen, the philosophy-screen, and Philosophy-Screens. Is the outside that Plato imagines truly a space without depth? Is it correct to say that in that space there is disclosure only and that any movement of concealment is absent? The presence of the είδη, their very legibility, is premised on their coming to light, and therefore their visibility is made possible only through an accompanying concealment: the visibility of things always rests on the invisibility of light. The prisoner encounters things illuminated by the light of the sun but precisely then the light itself remains invisible. It seems, then, that even here we encounter an arche-screen, a twofold movement of revealing and concealing, an event of what Heidegger called Unverborgenheit, “unconcealment,” which he always preferred to refer to the Greek word ἀλήθεια, “truth.” I believe that it the question of truth that stands at the center of Philosophy-Screens and that Carbone’s work should be understood as an elaboration and continuation of—rather than a commentary—on a work by Merleau-Ponty at one point titled “The Origin of Truth.”[6]

What re-reading the cave allegory through the arche-screen teaches us is that, contrary to the historical reading of Plato that understands truth in some super-sensible beyond, that which always is and never otherwise, call it Being or ideality, is in every case implicated by and in its sensible reverse. Each event of unconcealment is coupled with concealment, every surface is both a screen and curtain, revealing and concealing: the tattooed or scarred skin both outwardly manifests its meaning and yet simultaneously conceals certain depths; the printed page both outwardly manifests its intended signification and yet always conceals an un-thought element; the speech of the other signifies her wishes and yet, as Proust understood, always conceals a person that we cannot know and who cannot know herself. It is also here that we encounter what I have described as Carbone’s reversal of Platonism: in the figure of a re-thinking of the relationship between sense and idea and the manner in which these two operate as the two poles of the arche-screen. This figure is articulated by Carbone, via Merleau-Ponty and Proust, under the rubric of the “sensible idea.” In Philosophy-Screens, he describes these as

ideas [that] are inseparable from their sensible presentation (that is, from their visual, linguistic, or musical images for instance, but even that they are instituted by these very images as their own depth. … an order of ideas that—just like aesthetic ideas for Kant—cannot be reduced to concepts, ideas that the intelligence, as such cannot grasp, because—as Merleau-Ponty emphasizes—they ‘are without intelligible sun. … the essences of certain experiences, which only similar experiences can, sometimes, fully manifest, but cannot be defined by any concept.’[7]

Such remarks are prefigured in Carbone’s 2004 book, The Thinking of Sensible: Merleau-Ponty’s A-Philosophy:

Proust describes ‘ideas’ which do not preexist independently of their sensible presentation. Rather, they are inseparable from and simultaneous with their sensible presentation, since only the sensible presentation provides us with the ‘initiation’ to them: ideas which, ‘there, behind the sounds or between them, behind the lights or between them, recognizable through their always special, always unique manner of entrenching themselves behind them’ (VI 198/151).[8]

The sensible idea, for Carbone, is perhaps illustrated most clearly in Proust’s descriptions of love, especially the “little phrase” that captures so essentially—and yet so indescribably—the pathos of Swann’s relationship with Odette and later the love between the narrator and the elusive Albertine. Carbone notes in The Thinking of the Sensible:

Merleau-Ponty explains that Marcel Proust characterizes melody as a ‘Platonic idea that we cannot see separately’ since ‘it is impossible to distinguish the means and the end, the essence and the existence in it’ (N 228/174). He alludes to the fact that, for the main character of those pages of the Remembrance, a peculiar idea of love is incarnated in the sound of a melody—the melody of the petite phrase of Vinteul’s sonata—to such an extent that the idea of love becomes inseparable from Vinteul’s listening.[9]

It may be worth attending to some perhaps length passages from the Recherche in order to express more fully the sense of the sensible idea. These are from the scene in The Fugitive where, after Albertine’s death, the narrator gradually begins to forget and understand that he no longer loves her. The passing of this love is linked to the petite phrase, the lifespan of which has passed through the loves of Swann and Odette and through the loves of the narrator and Albertine. The phrase is both its sensible, carnal expression in the music and at the same time the very sense and meaning of a love that has now passed; that is, its essence inextricably bound to its existence:

In the Bois, I hummed a few phrases of Vinteul’s sonata. The thought that Albertine had so often played it to me no longer saddened me unduly, for almost all my memories of her had entered into that secondary chemical state in which they no longer cause an anxious oppression of the heart, but rather a certain sweetness. From time to time, in the passages which she used to play most often, when she was in the habit of making some observation which at the time I thought charming, of suggesting some reminiscence, I said to myself : ‘Poor child,’ but not sadly, merely investing the musical phrase with an additional value, as it were a historical, a curiosity value…. When the little phrase, before disappearing altogether, dissolved into its various elements in which it floated still for a moment in scattered fragments, it was not for me, as it had been for Swann, a messenger from a vanishing Albertine. It was not altogether the same association of ideas that the little phrase had aroused in me as in Swann. I had been struck most of all be the elaboration, the trial runs, the repetitions, the gradual evolution of a phrase which developed through the course of the sonata as that love had developed through the course of my life. And now, aware that, day by day, one element after another of my love was vanishing, the jealous side of it, then some other, drifting gradually back in a vague remembrance to the first tentative beginnings, it was my love that, in the scattered notes of the little phrase, I seemed to see disintegrating before my eyes.[10]

Plato seems to have been troubled by the Heraclitean idea of change—that all things come to pass in a state of flux, the “ever-living fire, kindled in measures and extinguished in measures.”[11] Beyond the deflagration of the sensible, Plato sought to ascend to a presence outside of time and its vicissitudes: the εἶδος. The sensible idea, precisely because it is not outside of time, emerges only insofar as it is lived, only insofar as it is experienced. Love is no doubt an ideality “expressed” by the petite phrase. But love, precisely in its ideality, is never a “love as such” extricated from those who do and have loved. Insofar as the petite phrase expresses this ideality, it expressed precisely the love of Swann toward Odette, the love of the narrator for Albertine, with all of the shades and textures of sense entailed by that love that was lived. In this way, as Proust indicates in the passaged cited, love, even its ideality, is subject to generation and decay—it lives and dies, and it was this vitality of idealities that Plato could not conceive in his desire to escape from time. It is this vitality, however, that is restored to the ideal in the sensible idea, and this is the more precise sense in which Carbone’s work, including Philosophy-Screens, seeks to reverse Platonism. Because the ideal is lived—because it is nothing other than the sedimentation and concretion of sensible experience, the manifest, τὀ αληθής, is in every case the inverse, the fold of the concealed,   ἡ λήθη, what has passed into oblivion.

I would now like to turn to the figure that articulates this reversal, the screen. The screen in this context should not be construed simply a technology or an apparatus, nor should this be understood as a perhaps useless preoccupation with our historical and cultural phragmaphilia. The screen, rather, is the site of so many reversals, crossings, and intersections, a refractory point, one might even say an aleatory one. In this respect, the human body too is a screen, which can “produce images by being interposed between a luminous source and a wall … or by being decorated with inscriptions, drawings, colors, or tattoos.”[12] The screen, then, is in a sense nothing new and has been with us as long as we have been with ourselves, that is to say, as long as there have been surfaces that conceal and reveal (the skin, the curtain, the written page, etc.). What is new—what Carbone gives us in Philosophy-Screens—is a re-configuration of this surface that opens up paths of thinking and philosophical expression heretofore un-thought: not just a screen but a philosophy-screen, philosophizing in accordance with the screen, to allow the screen itself to be the vehicle of thinking and philosophical expression, indeed, what Carbone quite perspicaciously calls, following Deleuze, “philosophy-cinema.”[13]

Philosophy-cinema should not be conceived as making films about philosophy—this is not a question of documentary or filming philosophers speaking, lecturing, etc., nor should it be considered biography or even in terms of the more recent perpetuation of philosophy pod-casts. It is rather a new way of thinking about what it means to think and what it means to express thought. Platonism (and this history of Platonism) has given us the βίβλος, the Book: a monumental artifact in which the absolute truths of Being are inscribed, outside of time and beyond the vicissitudes of history and life. As Husserl and Derrida have shown, the history of the Book is simply a moment in the history of writing, the constitution of idealities through repeated acts of articulation and reactivation.[14] To philosophize cinematically, to bring forth philosophy-cinema, is to think in a manner that no longer takes the form of writing and no longer presupposes or requires monumentality—it is profoundly non-graphic, that is to say, no longer rests on the necessity of γρᾰ́φω, the cutting or chiseling into stone at the beginnings of writing and from which all subsequent writing is derived. To philosophize cinematically is to allow for, even to welcome, the passage of thought in time, its coming into being but also what Nancy has described as its partance, its flight and departure.[15] It is this temporal element that writing, in its function of constituting the ideal as such, attempts to erase—where the inscription into stone is the attempt to erase time—and it is this temporal element that cinema allows us to think again. Philosophy-cinema, then, is not the attempt to escape—to escape time, escape the cave—through the constitution of a monument that mirrors the a-temporality of “truth” but is rather the effort to allow for escape: the flight of thought into its self-concealment and oblivion, the passage of life and experience that cinema has always attempted (and perhaps always failed) to make visible.

This sentiment is expressed both at the beginning and at the end of Philosophy-Screens: the effort to think again and in a manner that allows for the temporal partance of thinking, its objects, as well as its modes of expression. Deleuze is referenced a second time in Part I of the book, “What Is a Philosophy-Cinema?,” in a quote from Difference and Repetition:

The time is coming when it will hardly be possible to write a book of philosophy as it has been done for so long: ‘Ah! The old style…’ The search for a new means of philosophical expression was begun by Nietzsche and must be pursued today in relation to the renewal of certain other arts, such as the theatre or the cinema.[16]

Carbone adds:

In short, Deleuze found that the novelty of the cinema implied a renewal of the philosophical questions concerning to only our relationship to ourselves, to the others, to the things, and to the world, but also—and inevitably—concerning philosophy itself: that is, concerning its expressive style and, hence, the very style of its own thinking. Indeed, the question of the ‘philosophy-cinema’ does not belong to a single thinker. Rather, it involves a whole epoch, as the Preface to Difference and Repetition suggested. In this sense, it is a question regarding thinking itself.[17]

The renewal of philosophy, of its expressive style as well as the style of its own thinking are indicated by the refractory and reflective surface of the screen. The screen is perhaps not always even a surface but rather a point at which lines, trajectories, and forces curve, displace, and integrate but only as the inverse of a disintegrative movement. The screen, then, is precisely the point of alteration in the sense that there is no longer a “one” but only the repetition of others, of differences. As Carbone says,

Such logic [of screens] inevitably ends up exceeding and hence contesting that of concepts, to which it had been claimed to be reducible, in spite of all. However, in the gaps between the fingers of our hand, squeezing in the gesture of seizing—the gesture on which the modern action of conceptualizing was shaped—we increasingly feel that sense is slipping away. Without falling into a rhetoric of the ineffable, the philosophy to be made is called upon to account for this.[18]

The screen, in a complex of senses, makes philosophy-cinema possible; it allows for a modality of thinking freed from the βίβλος and its monumentality. Insofar as it inserts itself back into the flow and lapse of time, philosophy-cinema no longer conceptualizes itself in terms of the Begriff, that which is to be grasped and taken hold of, but allows for—perhaps even welcomes—the slippage of sense as it passes through our grasp. Must we then be content with some alternative between philosophy in its traditional self-assessment on one hand—Book, concept, grasp—and some form of irrationalism or untenable skepticism? No, because the alternative between these is a false one. We need not choose between the traditional instantiations of philosophy and nihilism, for there are modes of thinking and expressivities that are neither; these are the uncharted territories for thinking that have perhaps only been indicated. Philosophy-Screens: From Cinema to the Digital Revolution takes us down such a path and opens the way for a philosophy that will perhaps be the new standard for thinkers yet to come.

[1] See Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, Notes de Cours 1958-1959 et 1960-1961 (Paris: Gallimard, 1996), 278; and Carbone, Mauro, The Thinking of the Sensible: Merleau-Ponty’s A-Philosophy (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2004), xiii.

[2] Carbone, 46.

[3] Ibid., 65, italics Carbone.

[4] Ibid., 66.

[5] Ibid., 67.

[6] Published posthumously and under a later title as The Visible and the Invisible.

[7] Ibid., 34; 37; 69.

[8] Carbone, 2004, 40-41.

[9] Ibid., 30.

[10] Proust, In Search of Lost Time, vol. V, “The Fugitive,” 755-56.

[11] Heraclitus, Fragment B30.

[12] Carbone, Philosophy-Screens, 66.

[13] Ibid., 3; the reference is to Italian translation of The Logic of Sense, translated into English by Ames Hodges and Mike Taormina, ed. David Lapoujade, “Note to the Italian Edition of The Logic of Sense,” in Two Regimes of Madness (New York: Semiotext(e), 2006), 66.

[14] Probably the most important text in this regard is Derrida’s commentary on Husserl’s text, “The Origin of Geometry.” See Derrida, Jacques, Edmund Husserl’s Origin of Geometry: An Introduction, trans. John P. Leavy, Jr. (Licoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 1989).

[15] See Nancy, Jean-Luc, Noli Me Tangere: On the Raising of the Body, trans. Sarah Clift (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008), 28.

[16] Carbone, 3; Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, XXI.

[17] Carbone, 3.

[18] Carbone, 109.

John Shand (Ed.): A Companion to Nineteenth Century Philosophy, Wiley-Blackwell, 2019

A Companion to Nineteenth Century Philosophy Book Cover A Companion to Nineteenth Century Philosophy
John Shand (Ed.)
Hardback £140.00

Alfred Schutz: Life Forms and Meaning Structure

Life Forms and Meaning Structure Book Cover Life Forms and Meaning Structure
Routledge Library Editions: Phenomenology
Alfred Schutz. Translated by Helmut R. Wagner
Paperback £32.99

Reviewed by: Mohammad Shafiei (Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran, Iran)

“Life Forms and Meaning Structure” is the translation of “Theorie der Lebensformen” which contains Alfred Schutz’ writings from his so-called Bergson period, namely the years between 1924 to 1928. As the Editor has explained in his introduction, the manuscripts were supposed to consist of a book; a project which was abandoned in favour of another book plan which turned out to be Schutz’ master piece, namely “Der sinnhafte Aufbau der sozialen Welt” published in 1932. What happens in between is Schutz returns to Husserl and chooses again to advance his project, “to obtain a theory of founding” (17) in respect with sociology, principally within the method of phenomenology. Schutz’ masterpiece, translated into English as “The Phenomenology of the Social World” is an outstanding work and has been well-received both by sociologists and phenomenologists. However, what makes “Life Forms and Meaning Structure” of a particular interest for a phenomenologist, besides all the other points, is to see why and how Schutz displays dissatisfaction with, up to those days available, phenomenological analyses and how Schutz would progress with an alternative (but not necessarily incompatible) path. The book is the attempt by the author to offer a basis for social sciences extracting the basic ideas from within Bergson’s philosophy. Therefore, the fact that the author has temporarily discarded phenomenological framework by turning to Bergson, and that such a project finally is relinquished, may have some implications concerning the potentialities and perhaps shortcomings of phenomenology.

The book begins with the Editor’s introduction containing helpful data about the manuscripts and the process of forming the book.  It also contains a useful explanation about the structure of the work and also some issues concerning the translation.

In the author’s introduction, he declares his discontent with the Husserlian approach for it is, according to the author, mathematical in essence. This is the attitude that Schutz also attributes to Kant and neo-Kantians. Its aim, as Schutz describes it, is “to find lawful regularities in the inanimate world” (15). Therefore, Schutz considers Husserl’s method useless as far as we are dealing with the issues belonging to the realm of the social and to animate objectivities in general.  In this respect, Schutz admires Cassirer, Siemel and Bergson for their attention to life and to the significance of non-mathematical approaches.  Schutz also mentions Weber and approves of his ideas, especially for putting “understanding” in the centre of social studies. However, this is Bergson’s approach which is particularly chosen and frequently referred to throughout the investigations to come. Schutz considers Bergson’s formulation as “a first attempt for constructing ideal types of consciousness” (18). However, there are some shortcomings in Bergson’s theory and it is incomplete, which is the fact that might justify the current project of the author. According to Schutz, Bergson’s theory is incomplete due to the following factors:

  1. The historically conditioned limitations of the sciences of Bergson’s time;
  2. A taking for granted ‘the givens’ (so of the social world), the viewpoint which has been turned out more and more problematic;
  3. The overemphasizing the biological themes as a path into metaphysics;
  4. The overrating of action, is in no way justified, as constituent of (a) memory, (b) intellect, (c) the material world and thus of time and causality;
  5. The omission of drives, of values and of the Thou.

The main thesis is that “there exist, between the Kantian antithesis of sensuality and cognition or between Bergson’s duration and reason, a series of intermediate stages. Each of them is adequate to a different ‘symbol sphere’.” The relation among these symbol spheres is that of relative non-communicability. It means that “the experiences of the deeper intermediate stage, although understandable in its own characteristic symbol system, are non-transferrable into the higher sphere. “ (21) Therefore, between the pure duration and the highest conceptual consciousness there are a continuity of layers, called by Schutz, “life forms”, each of which having its own symbol system and its own manner of experiencing. “[A]ll experiences of the total I enter into every life form. It is subjected to the restriction that all experiences enter into the given life forms only as symbols.” (22) Schutz says that the number of such layers, sometimes referred to as “plans of consciousness” is not limited. Nonetheless, a definite number can be chosen in regard to the investigator’s purpose. Schutz himself has distinguished six life forms and aimed to investigate them.  These are the layers of pure duration, memory-endowed I, acting I, Thou-related I, speaking I and thinking I. However, the main body of Schutz’ work, which is included as part I in the book and it is about 90 pages in the English edition, deals mainly with the first three and remains unfinished. Three other texts which go back to the Bergson period and which are mainly concerned with  the life form of speaking I are included as part II. Part III is a text which contains only a few lines as an outline (or better combination of some outlines) for some non-accomplished project related to the current topic. Perhaps the introductory part is the richest in regard to the explanation of the thesis.

The thesis itself is very interesting and it is accompanied by some inspiring remarks. It is a pity that the project has not been completed; one would especially expect what Schutz would state about the analysis of I-You relation. In several occasions inside the text the author announces that he is going to investigate Thou experience and the like but it is never really actualized. For the most part the analyses rely on the notions of duration and memory. The discussions of the first sections of part I, in which the author intends to explicate the constitution of meaning (Sinn, and this would be better translated to” sense” if we want to attach, in some respects, the current project to the phenomenological method) on the basis of memory, are somehow repetitive and not well-structured. Of course we should notice that we have only an incomplete and unpolished draft before us. Nevertheless the sections 10 and the rest of part I offer very stimulating and original explorations of certain aspects of human life. Here the author introduces the notion of the acting-I and investigates the constitution of, among others, body, movement, space and thing.

The texts included in part III are “Meaning Structures of Language”, “Meaning Structures of Literary Art Forms” and “Meaning Structures of Drama and Opera”. These titles are chosen by the editor and the German titles for the manuscripts were, respectively, “Spracharbeit”, “Goethe: Novelle” and “Soziale Aspekte der Musik als Artform”. The first one deals with the constitution of the word and the acts of name-giving and communication. The discussion in some places turns out to be very rich and fascinating especially when the author puts forward investigations on the genesis of noun, adjective and other categories of expression on the basis of his theory of life forms. In the second chapter, the author tries to explain the characteristics of various genres of literary art on the basis of the reciprocal relation between the speaker and the listener and their different positions in each genre. Here he uses the idea of the distinction between the subjective meaning (sense) and objective one which he has introduced before. The third chapter contains a somehow specialized discussion concerning opera and drama which is interesting in its own right.

It can be said that in these texts Schutz develops various interrelated but also independently presentable ideas. The most prominent is that of life forms. The second is the importance of duration and memory. In some places Schutz states that all life forms are reducible to that of pure duration (96) as if every feature of the living ego can be derivable from duration (and memory) alone.  However, he adds the remark that the functions of life forms do not reach down to the more primitive ones (54). Whether or not this can be considered as a tension in Schutz’ position, he himself tries to render some peculiar notions to that of time passage and memory. He announces that he will do this for the thou-experience but he does not execute it, rather he says that ‘I’ recognizes thou also because it “can be compared to the memory images of my own past I” (127). Most importantly Schutz tries to explain meaning (sense) on the basis of the function of memory. This can be considered as the third idea forming the project. Others are those related to the constitution of spatial objectivities, word and linguistic categories, and literary genres. The main idea is very inspiring but the arguments concerning the second and third ones are not very convincing, at least when compared to the phenomenological analyses.

One of the reasons that Schutz left the book project unfinished and returned to phenomenology is that Husserl’s “Vorlesungen zur Phänomenologie des inneren Zeitbewusstseins” appeared at the same time. Accordingly, Schutz revises his analysis of inner duration and developed it using the themes introduced by Husserl. However, interestingly, one of the figures that Schutz brings in is “Theorie der Lebensformen” in order to illustrate his account of time passage which is quite similar to one of Husserl’s in the aforementioned book. It is a pity that the English translator omitted the figures. He gives some reasons for doing that, but in any case, an enthusiastic reader is somehow frustrated. This gives me the motivation to reproduce the most important one here (figure 3 of the German text).

This figure resembles the figure brought in (Husserl, 1991: 98), however, there are two important differences. For Schutz the vertical lines stand for memory as if in order to make the time-awareness two dimensional, we need memory. Indeed this figure is to represent the stream of consciousness of the memory-endowed I in contrast to pure duration which had been represented as a horizontal line in figures 1 and 2 of the original text. For Husserl the vertical line stands for retentional modifications, so that the whole diagram is to represent inner time awareness. The idea of retention and also that of reproduction are adopted by Schutz in his major work. The other difference is that Schutz’ diagram includes an oscillating line, between experience and memory or between perception and sense, which is to represent the status of memory-endowed I. This idea of oscillation is a very interesting one and does not appear in Husserl’s figure, though elsewhere he speaks of oscillation in consciousness, between dull and alert cogitos.

Another notable point in comparison with Husserl’s works, this time with the works which was available at the time, concerns the analysis of sense (Sinn, which is translated as meaning in this edition). This is directly related to the theory of noema. However Schutz does not recall this theory and only once he mentions the word noema and somehow equates it with his idea of objective meaning (sense). Husserl’s theory of noema does not strictly depend on memory, as Schutz’ theory of sense in this project does. Although Husserl speaks of memory when analyzing various noematic layers, and although noema or noematic sense itself has a peculiar relation to time, it itself cannot be described as memory image, which is the delineation of sense according to Schutz. Nonetheless, in his major work, Schutz frequently refers to the concept of noema. I would like to add, en passant, that it is not unproblematic to consider noema as objective sense, if we mean by objective sense the ideal meaning. This latter can be seen as tightly related to noematic nucleus but is by no means identical with the full noema itself.

Even if one finally rejects the author’s conception of time awareness and his theory of sense, there are still a lot of inspiring ideas in the book. The theory of life forms is very attractive and the analyses offered in some passages reach a high degree of originality and insightfulness. The book enjoys a fluent translation. However, I wish it had also comprised the figures and their explanations. Also one should keep in mind that “meaning” is used as a translation for Sinn, for which “sense” would be a more precise translation, while meaning should be reserved for Bedeutung. However, this is not a defect, since the book does not belong to phenomenological literature and the translation is coherent—it employs “meaning” for Sinn and “significance” for Bedeutung throughout the book.


Husserl, Edmund. 1991. On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time, translated by John Bamett Brough. Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Jimena Canales: The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time

The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time Book Cover The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time
Jimena Canales
Princeton University Press
Paperback $24.95

Reviewed by: Diana Soeiro (Nova University of Lisbon)

O nome do físico alemão Albert Einstein (1879-1955) é bem conhecido pelo público em geral. O do filósofo francês Henri Bergson (1859-1941), nem tanto. No entanto, em vida, ambos tiveram amplo reconhecimento. Einstein recebeu em 1922 o Prémio Nobel da Física e, Bergson, em 1927, o Prémio Nobel da Literatura e a Grã-Cruz da Legião de Honra (1930). Na época, enquanto a reputação de Bergson já era elevada, Einstein ainda começava a aparecer nos circulos académicos.

Mas mesmo para quem conhece ambos é estranho pensar que, realmente, com o passar do tempo, enquanto Einstein continua a ter uma presença no imaginário de muitos enquanto cientista (ou mesmo enquanto ‘o cientista’), Bergson não. Sendo ambos intelectuais de peso, porquê os destinos diferentes? Existem razões que possam explicar a recepção calorosa de Einstein e a relativa indiferença a Bergson?

Jimena Canales faz um trabalho extraordinário esclarecendo esta e muitas outras questões. Ainda que o enquadramento narrativo do livro seja descrever os acontecimentos que precederam, e que se seguiram, ao único encontro público entre Einstein e Bergson (a 6 de Abril de 1922, em Paris) é um facto que, ao fazer isto, Canales esclarece o leitor acerca do pano de fundo que contextualiza a investigação científica de todo o século XX. Soando ambicioso, a fluidez e naturalidade com que Canales desenvolve a sua obra, torna este livro faz com que este livro não se torne banal. Ao público em geral, torna um assunto complexo, acessível. Ao especialista, dada a amplitude de áreas e nomes que Canales inclui, oferece uma visão verdadeiramente multidisciplinar do panorama científico tornando a leitura ávida.

Durante o encontro de 1922, Einstein e Bergson tinham por assunto discutir cada uma das suas propostas relativamente à questão: “o que é o tempo?”. A escolha de um e de outro, para o debate, cumpria vários objectivos. Por um lado, como refere Canales, aproximar a França e a Alemanha que, num contexto pós-Primeira Guerra Mundial (1914-1918), tinham relações tensas (Capítulo 2). Por outro lado, Bergson tinha nome e era da área da Filosofia; Einstein era um jovem professor que muito rapidamente tinha assumido um lugar de destaque dentro da universidade, leccionando a recém-criada disciplina de Teoria Física, na Alemanha, e começando a ganhar fama nos círculos científicos. O que poderia acontecer se a “ciência primeira”, a Filosofia, entrasse em confronto com uma das mais recentes ciências, relativamente a um conceito central para ambas?

A propósito de confronto entre Filosofia e ciência, e oferecendo um contexto que o livro não oferece, relembramos Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), matemático e filósofo, cujo trabalho tem duas fases. Uma primeira em que a base do seu trabalho assenta na reflexão sobre elementos da Matemática e uma segunda fase, em que se percebe haver uma transição no pensamento de Husserl, que o torna particularmente focado em questões metafísicas. Para uns, a segunda fase é lamentável, evidenciando um Husserl que perdeu a orientação; para outros, essa mesma fase é um desenvolvimento natural da primeira, em que as suas reflexões ganham clareza, maturidade e lucidez.

Isto para dizer que, num contexto de século XX, o lugar da Filosofia face às várias novas ciências emergentes no início do século, é um tema central para compreender o confronto Einstein-Bergson que está também presente no trabalho de Husserl, que virá a criar uma das correntes filosóficas mais influentes, a Fenomenologia (base do que é conhecido hoje, no mundo Anglófono como Filosofia Continental). O confronto entre Filosofia e Ciência é, portanto, de grande relevância não apenas em diversos outros autores, mas até mesmo para a compreensão de um autor do século XX que é, não por acaso, incontornável.

No início do século XX, muito rapidamente, as ciências sociais emergem, resultado de um cruzamento entre as Humanidades (Filosofia e Artes) e o Positivismo (aqui entendido no sentido enunciado por Auguste Comte (1798-1857)), procurando não mais o “porquê” mas sim o “como”, submetendo a imaginação à razão. Objectividade é a palavra de ordem. O recurso à Matemática, aos números, torna-se assim elemento indispensável, marca de um verdadeiro conhecimento científico. Ainda hoje, números, estatísticas, gráficos são sinónimo de credibilidade. Isso é ciência.

Na altura do debate Einstein-Bergson, como Husserl viria a discutir pouco depois em A Crise das Ciências Europeias e a Fenomenologia Transcendental (1936), já se estava em plena crise das ciências. Entre as muitas perguntas que se levantavam, encontrava-se uma central: Qual o papel da Filosofia perante a emergência de uma nova concepção de ciência, positivista, e perante a emergência de novas ciências, ditas, sociais?

Como lembra Canales, nas palavras de Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), devemos assumir que a Filosofia é uma forma especial de ciência, “a ciência primeira”, sendo isso suficiente para reclamar a sua relevância? (Capítulo 11) Não. Heidegger, discípulo de Husserl, discordava de Husserl em vários aspectos, mas ambos estavam de acordo com o diagnóstico de que a Filosofia estava em uma época em que se encontrava ameaçada, precisando reafirmar sua legitimidade. O que fazer?

O encontro de Einstein e Bergson anuncia as duas posições que se virão a extremar cada vez mais ao longo do século, sendo que em 1922, a situação era já evidente: a decadência da Filosofia e o triunfo da ciência. (p.6) O encontro tornou-se, com o passar do tempo, cada vez mais significativo, porque simbólico de um “velho mundo” da ciência (Bergson) e de um “novo mundo” da ciência (Einstein). De lembrar que, em 1750, Denis Diderot (1713-1784) ainda considera “filosofia” e “ciência” como sinónimos. (p.40)

Acentuando ainda mais este contraste entre “velho” e “novo”, Bergson, toda a sua vida, permaneceu em França (mesmo durante a ocupação alemã, em 1941) enquanto Einstein nos anos 30, se mudou para o “novo mundo”.

Einstein, tendo visitado os Estados Unidos da América (EUA) pela primeira vez em 1921, com a subida de Hitler ao poder, em 1933, sabendo que não podia regressar à Alemanha, encontrou posição na universidade de Princeton (New Jersey). Tendo obtido cidadania americana em 1940, viveu nos Estados Unidos até ao fim da sua vida. (Boyer e Dubovsky 2001, 218) De reconhecido académico passou a celebridade científica.

Bergson, por sua vez, tendo feito conferências no Reino Unido e nos EUA, tendo vários trabalhos seus traduzidos em várias línguas e sendo amplamente reconhecido, não se tornou celebridade.

No dia do encontro, em 1922, Bergson tinha 62 anos e Einstein 43. Ambos se mencionaram mutuamente por várias vezes, ao longo de vários anos, talvez por perceberem que os tempos urgiam ao constante relembrar da sua diferença de posições. “O que é o tempo?”. Que posição defendia cada um?

Para Bergson, a teoria da relatividade explicava o tempo, do ponto de vista da Física, mas o que havia para saber acerca do tempo, nem de perto nem de longe, acabava aí. A Filosofia, sim, tinha uma contribuição a fazer que podia ser relevante para esclarecer a pergunta de forma mais completa.

Para Einstein “o tempo dos filósofos não existe” (p.19), acreditando que existem acontecimentos objectivos que são independentes dos indivíduos e que o dever da ciência é identificá-los. (p.20) A definição de tempo de Einstein assentava em medições e em relógios. Para Bergson, a ideia era aberrante. (p.42) Não que Bergson “não acreditasse” em relógios. Mas para ele, os relógios ajudavam a notar simultaneidades. No entanto, isso dizia ainda pouco acerca de ‘o que é o tempo’. Mais ainda, os relógios não medem a duração, dizia Bergson, permitem apenas “contar simultaneidades, o que é muito diferente” (p.43). Para Bergson, na duração há uma “perpétua criação de possibilidade e não apenas de realidade.” (p.44) O seu livro Duração e Simultaneidade (1922) é uma resposta ao conceito de tempo de Einstein. (p.14)

O contraste entre ambos é extremo. Einstein procurava a unidade do universo e leis imutáveis, Bergson procurava desencobrir a dinâmica incessante criadora. Einstein procurava consistência e simplicidade e Bergson, inconsistências e complexidades.

Para Einstein, havia um tempo psicológico (o da Filosofia) e um tempo físico (da Física), sendo que ao psicológico nada de concreto correspondia (p.47). Esta ideia repelia Bergson, em primeiro lugar, a dualidade apenas já não fazia sentido nenhum (p.5) Einstein dizia que Bergson (ainda que tivesse formação de base em Matemática) não percebia nada de Física e não compreendia os cálculos. A resposta de Bergson a Einstein foi largamente ignorada, tendo sido acusado de espiritualista, anti-ciência, contra o mecanismo e revivalista do oculto (p.9, 13)

Certo é que, para Bergson, o Tempo (capitalizado, como Bergson escrevia) nunca poderia ser inteiramente captado por números, instrumentos (relógios ou instrumentos de gravação) ou fórmulas matemáticas. (p.24)

Einstein queria salvar a relatividade da metafísica e, por isto, a perspectiva da Filosofa podia, e devia, ser evitada. Mas para Bergson, a questão do tempo mostrava como, mesmo a física, não podia escapar a relacionar o problema com a experiência humana. (p.48) A teoria da relatividade, para Bergson, dizia respeito à Epistemologia e não à Física e tinha de ser percebida, prioritariamente, à luz da Filosofia. (p.4) Ou seja, o que estava em causa era o método, ou seja, qual a forma de acesso em jogo na teoria da relatividade? Um acesso, sim, mas limitado, restrito, ao qual a realidade vivida do humano escapava por completo.

Segundo Bergson, Einstein explica alguma coisa acerca do tempo, mas não tudo, o que é estranho, para uma teoria que reclama a unidade de um todo e que toma isso mesmo, por princípio. É um paradoxo epistemológico e é aqui que reside o problema. Mais ainda, Einstein refere-se a si próprio como sendo “um físico de fé” (p.339). Einstein procede assim de forma dedutiva, a partir de um princípio de fé, como o próprio admite, e Bergson usa um método indutivo e daí o foco em avançar caso a caso. Não é de estranhar que à dada altura, Bergson tenha acusado Einstein de ser Cartesiano (apesar de Einstein ter acusado Bergson do mesmo).

Indo ainda mais longe, e apontando uma diferença epistemológica essencial, para Einstein, o universo não depende de qualquer observador, humano ou de qualquer outro tipo. Para Bergson, a componente humana é inescapável, mesmo quando se trata de ler um instrumento, sem a qual, este, não seria lido. (p.323)

Sobre o que terá contribuído para a separação entre ‘filosofia’ e ‘ciência’, Canales diz-nos que circa 1830, o termo “cientista” é usado como substituição de “filósofos da natureza”. Pouco depois, em 1840, aparece o termo “físico”, para descrever aquele que estuda a “força, matéria e as propriedades da matéria”. (p.40) Isto significa que primeiro o conceito de natureza deixa de estar associado à Filosofia e pouco depois o conceito de força também. Bergson, pretende recuperar os dois, captando a manifestação do tempo, de forma dinâmica, na experiência do vivido (segundo a natureza humana), dinâmica a qual depende de um impulso, de um motor vital, em constante movimento. Fortemente influenciado por Bergson, Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) assume o conceito de força como central no seu trabalho, sendo um autor que fortemente contribuiu para uma redescoberta de Bergson.

Como mostra Canales, a mecânica quântica (que questiona a relatividade), a teoria do caos e a cibernética tornaram o trabalho de Bergson relevante outra vez. Bergson, tendo outrora aparecido como o representante de uma “velha ciência”, ressurgiu como relevante para compreender, por exemplo, as novas tecnologias (telégrafo, telefone e rádio — Capítulo 22) considerando que a comunicação excede a comunicação de sinais, como Einstein entendia. O que torna a comunicação significativa inclui imaginação e interpretação. (p.271)

Tendo por elemento central a disputa entre Einstein e Bergson, que na verdade é um evento que se viria a tornar símbolo do arquétipo epistemológico das duas posições nos círculos académicos, no século XX, Canales contextualiza o trabalho desenvolvido por Henri Poincaré (1854-1912), Albert A. Michelson (1852-1931, Prémio Nobel da Física, 1907), Hendrik Lorentz (1853-1928), Ernst Cassirer (1874-1945), Husserl, Heidegger, Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947), Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), León Brunschvicg (1869-1944), Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962), Franz Kafka (1883-1924), Deleuze e Bruno Latour (n.1947). Contextualiza também ambos os paradigmas epistemológicos relativamente ao esforço para estabelecer um calendário, ao esforço de medir de forma exacta o tempo, à reacção por parte da igreja católica a ambos os paradigmas, à passagem dos relógios de bolso para os relógios de pulso, (capítulo 21), ao cinema (Capítulo 24 e 25), e à microbiologia, que Einstein desconsiderava e que Bergson queria incluir na sua filosofia (capítulo 26).

Todos estes elementos, aparentemente dispersos e “secundários” têm um papel determinante, historicamente, para determinar a recepção e reputação de Einstein e Bergson. É esta riqueza, e clareza, de personalidades e eventos secundários, lidos à luz do encontro de Einstein e Bergson, que torna o livro de Canales inteligente, estimulante e relevante para muitos. É por isto que, certamente, muitos procuram este livro e espera-se que o venham a encontrar. Historiadores, filósofos, físicos, cientistas, interessados, especialistas em cada um dos autores referidos, poderão encontrar aqui uma contextualização simples e valiosa, que vinga por não ser simplista.

No tempo do debate, as posições de Einstein e Bergson eram entendidas como “ou-ou” (p.7) e para Caneles, hoje, não tem de ser assim, podemos viver com as duas. No fundo, a autora favorece a sugestão de Heidegger que, perante a dicotomia (nas suas palavras), entre “o tempo do relógio” e “o tempo vivido”, encontrava no ‘quotidiano’, o foco que resolvia a dicotomia entre ambas, visto que aí, os seus contornos tornavam indiscerníveis. (p.147)

Certo é que “[p]ara o melhor ou para o pior, o debate entre Einstein e Bergson não acabou, e provavelmente nunca irá acabar.” (p.39)


Boyer, Paul S. and Melvyn Dubofsky. 2001. The Oxford Companion to United States History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lawlor, Leonard and Valentine Moulard Leonard “Henri Bergson”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Acedido a 6 de Dezembro 2016.

Bourdeau, Michel, “Auguste Comte”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Acedido a 6 de Dezembro 2016.