Charlene Elsby, Aaron Massecar (Eds.): Essays on Aesthetic Genesis

Essays on Aesthetic Genesis Book Cover Essays on Aesthetic Genesis
Charlene Elsby, Aaron Massecar (Eds.)
University Press of America
Paperback $34.99

Reviewed by: Christopher DuPee (University College Dublin)

Essays on Aesthetic Genesis, edited by Charlene Elsby and Aaron Massecar, is a collected volume of essays responding to and discussing Jeff Mitscherling’s phenomenological trilogy, collectively titled The Revision of Hermeneutic Ontology, which consists of the books Roman Ingarden’s Ontology and Aesthetics, The Author’s Intention (coauthored with Aref Nayed and Tanya DiTommaso) and Aesthetic Genesis, from which the edited volume draws its name. In this trilogy Mitscherling develops the “New Copernican Hypothesis”, an explicitly realist revision or reversal of phenomenological interpretations regarding the nature of intentionality. Intention, under Mitscherling’s project, is to be decisively severed from consciousness, insofar as intentionality subsists within the world as a third ontological category, beside material and ideal existence. The implications of this revision, and its placement within the phenomenological tradition, make up the guiding thread for the collected responses.

The volume’s chapters are helpfully split into three thematic groupings, under Major Concepts, Historical Considerations, and Contemporary Discussion, though given the historically grounded nature of Mitscherling’s project, all three are dominated by comparative discussions.

Under Major Concepts, the prime concern for both papers is to show the historical legitimacy of Mitscherling’s hypothesis. In “On the Concept of Aesthetic Genesis”, Charlene Elsby connects the idea to certain shared theses of Plato and Aristotle. “The Copernican Turn of Intentional Being” similarly situates Mitscherling’s project within the history of 20th century philosophy, particularly relating to phenomenology but at the same time discussing Mitscherling’s promise with regards to the materialism and scientism of 20th century Anglo-American philosophy.

The general aim of the Historical Considerations section is to bring out some of Mitscherling’s often quite forgotten forbearers with Kimberly Baltzer-Jaray, Rob Luzecky, and Jason C. Robinson offering readings of Adolf Reinach, Roman Ingarden, and Hans-Georg Gadamer, respectively. Each of these bring out certain features and early formulations of Mitscherling’s own theses, while at the same time giving Reinach and Ingarden a new day in the sun after long periods of obscurity.

The notable exception is the first paper of the section, “Cartesian Soul: Embodiment and Phenomenology in the Wake of Descartes”, by Felix Ó Murchadha and Ane Faugstad Aarø. Here, the authors provide a reading of the history of phenomenology’s engagement with Cartesian thought that serves to challenge the narrative put forth by Mitscherling, and this paper is one of the high points of the volume. Rather than taking up a somewhat vulgarly dualist reading of Descartes and Cartesianism, the authors provide a reading more informed by Descartes Passions of the Soul, and its attendant concerns with embodiment and worldliness, tracing this element of Cartesianism through its French reception through Malebranche, Maine de Biran, and Merleau-Ponty. What this affords is a placement of Mitscherling’s project, not as a revolution in phenomenology, but very much in keeping with an historically realized form of interpreting intentionality to begin with. The end result is an admittedly strong qualification of Mitscherling’s own claims, insofar as the “New Copernican Hypothesis” is to be considered something so drastic as a “reversal” of phenomenology, while at the same not at all discrediting the results of such a project. Most refreshingly, this paper ends with connecting Mitscherling’s work to a number of contemporary French phenomenologists of the theological turn, such as Henry, Chretien, and Marion, who each share a number of concerns about alterity and the transcendence of the world quite similar to Mitscherling’s. This, it must be said, is the only reference to be found within the volume to any sort of contemporary phenomenological work.

This is not to say, however, that contemporary philosophical work on mind and embodied engagement with the world is somehow not represented. It is within the third section that Mitscherling’s work in brought into contact with debates concerning philosophy of mind, Peircean pragmatism, contemporary Hegelian philosophy, aesthetics, and eco-phenomenological debates, to name a few. Again, it must be said, that historical comparison makes up a good deal of the discussion, as Husserl, Stein, and Peirce make appearances as phenomenological interlocutors in the papers by Antonio Calcagno and Aaron Massecar, as do Aristotle and Hegel in Conrad Hamilton’s particularly rich contribution.

There is a curious situation, it must be said, that arises from the fact that Mitscherling’s entire project is grounded upon a specific narrative regarding the history of phenomenology, and that is that so much of the plausibility of the papers’ claims regarding the importance of Mitscherling’s work are based upon the claims of that particular narrative concerning the supposedly rampant idealism of phenomenology’s interest in consciousness. However, as was mentioned above, Murchadha and Aarø’s paper very early on challenges this narrative. So, on a sequential reading of the volume, so many of the grand pronouncements in honor of Mitscherling, and so much of the criticism of phenomenology, appear altogether inflated; that such claims are found in, Calcagno, George, and Massecar after Murchadha and Aarø’s paper generates a certain unease about the whole picture being sold. For all of that, however, this circumstance takes nothing away from any of the papers beyond the rhetorical; their specific theses stand on their own merit.

Essays in Aesthetic Genesis is, overall, a good and informative introduction to Mitscherling’s work, and certainly a good contribution to the development of a certain new wave of realist phenomenology and engagements therewith.

Jens Bonnemann: Das leibliche Widerfahrnis der Wahrnehmung

Das leibliche Widerfahrnis der Wahrnehmung. Eine Phänomenologie des Leib-Seele-Verhältnisses Book Cover Das leibliche Widerfahrnis der Wahrnehmung. Eine Phänomenologie des Leib-Seele-Verhältnisses
Jens Bonnemann
Mentis Verlag GmbH
Paper Text 54,00 €

Reviewed by: Agata Bak (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, Spain)

The present work is an essay on the theory of perception, but Bonnemann´s book aims at recovering an often overlooked dimension of perception in a profound research that establishes a dialogue with a wide scope of interlocutors from both so-called continental and analytic traditions. Given the extension and the details of the study, we resign ourselves to present exclusively the development of its main  thesis, leaving aside many valuable interpretations and debates. The study counters the over-intellectualizing trend in philosophy of perception (18) and accounts for a broader notion of this phenomenon, in order to include also the aspect of the “felt” bodily experience: leibliche Widerfahrnis (“experience” is our way of translating Widerfahrnis: it should be taken in a sense in which we say “I was hardly experienced in my life”, that is, a happening or incident that had an impact on us). The standard account of perception tends to ignore the fact that perception is also a bodily event, and conceives it rather exclusively on epistemic grounds (as the sensible moment of the sinnliche Erkenntnis), where the role of body is more ancillary and anecdotal. The turn in the philosophy of perception, as might be the case of Noë, but also of Heidegger or Sartre, highlighted also the practical dimension of perception. Nothing similar happened with the pathical dimension of experience, despite the fact that different authors referred to it in their work. This work aims at closing this gap.

As the author observes, it is sufficient to reflect on painful experience, or on joy, to see that there are many ways in which things affect us, and that these experiences are not well accommodated within standard, epistemological accounts. Predicates such as “pleasant” or “unpleasant” have no place there, or rather, they do not refer to any qualities of the object, in which the other side seems to be reduced to the object of knowledge. Also more praxis-oriented and phenomenological accounts, as stated in the first part, are object of critique; in fact, many authors, such as Schütz or Henry fail to conceive the pathic (pathisch) moment of living experience, that is, the things that attack, hurt, please or frighten us. It is so, because they do not conceive in terms of original and intentional relation with the world, that is, the fact that a thing might be pleasant or unpleasant to me, straightforwardly. The author pursues an intentional and perceptual account of this phenomenon.

It is to stress here that the author remains faithful to the idea that it is the perception, the original phenomena, he wants to study; he struggles to avoid both the extremum which dissolves perception in the phenomenology of the body, and of course the one that makes perception (and subject) transparent in the epistemology. The point is to conceive the perception as an original relation, that makes subject and object emerge, rather than the reverse. This seems the only way to overcome dualism installed in the very heart of the theory of perception. To coin this account, the author enters in the first part of the book into a very deep dialogue with a different philosophical tradition.

The departure point is the traditional problem within standard perception theory, and author´s interlocutors range from Aristoteles, Kant and Plessner to Jonas and Strauss. The most prominent feature that Bonnemann discusses in the first part is the dualism between perception, understood as part of sensible knowledge and thus an epistemological term, and experience (as Widerfahrnis) which was traditionally conceived as a feeling that does not correspond to any object or objective feature in the world (it is weltlos). Even Jonas, whose critique of the traditional notion of perception is detailed in the second chapter, falls back to this polarity, as he finally conceives the bodily affection as something that lacks connection to the world and we need to abstract from it in order to produce knowledge. Strauss integrates Empfindungen into worldly related states, but he reserves pathic experiences as self-affective and non-intentional. On the contrary, the author defends the thesis that this dualism should be overcome, as the very perception contains also features whose correlative are vital interests and necessities of the subject. Suffering also discloses properties of the object, properties that are unreachable for a distanced epistemological subject. (56)

He then proceeds to examine in detail different approaches to perception (chapter 3) and he does so in order to show three ways in which the pathic dimension can be overlooked. The first of them is the one that takes perception as part of sensible knowledge, and which is represented by Searle; and then two that stand against the primacy of theoretical aspects of perception. One of them stresses the priority of praxis (Dewey, Heidegger) and the second reduces the perception as such to philosophy of body (Henry). All of them, according to the book, fail to grasp the complex relation established in perception: Searle lacks the intuition that perception might be something bodily and that the subject is something more than the subject of knowledge; theories of action are certainly right in describing other kinds of relations with  objects (as Zuhandenheit), and are a source of very rich descriptions about our being in the world, but the circular relationship between action and perception does not account properly for the bodily relevance, and it seems that it finally embraces some kind of intellectualistic explanation of what pathic experience is. According to Schütz (in Bonnemann´s reading): “the taste of chocolate is for Schütz only a genuine motivational relevance, because I have learnt that chocolate tastes good to me” (115). It is strongly theoretical and it does not explain then this pathic experience as disclosing some straightforwardly given properties of the object. Henry´s philosophy, on the contrary, affirms clearly that experiences of the pathic kind arise in the intimacy of subjectivity, and not as effects of the world on an embodied subject (119). The last chapter of this part exams contemporary notions of embodiment, as represented by enactivism and “postcognitivist” movements. He discovers there that most of the accounts certainly accommodate bodily action in the world, but they tend to focus exclusively on the pragmatic aspect of bodily-perceptual conditionality rather than on the intentional moment of the affectivity.

The phenomenological analysis of pathic phenomena as a perception and in relation to the world is precisely the aim of the second part of the study and the thesis pursued in the book. The axis that articulates this study are Shaun Gallagher´s notions of Körperschema and Körperbild. Although the author highlights that Gallagher´s account tends to conceive pathic experience exclusively in terms of consciousness of pain/pleasure, on the reflective level and referred exclusively to the body, he thus fails to conceive the intentional character of pathic dimension, though the distinction itself is very useful. Körperschema refers to the notion of unconscious or unreflective processes that flow and in which a subject is involved. This is then the prereflective level of perception, in which the pathetic perception is world directed and consequently includes a moment of intentionality. The objects disclose themselves as pleasant, menacing, too cold etc. It is only on the second level, the one of Körperbild, defined by Gallagher as “the system of perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs pertaining to one´s own body” (147), where the pain or other experience of the kind becomes a bodily localized sensation and then refers rather to the subject than to the world. One should notice that the first part of Bonnemann´s project is not common in phenomenology, that it does not always grant intentional character to pathetic experiences. The author promotes the idea that this kind of experience is originally not an inner bodily state, but rather considers that what is lived involves objective qualities of the perceptual world (173).

The second part of the book studies then the prereflective and world oriented dimension of pathic experiences. It is about conceiving the pathic experience not as a phenomenon of Leib, but as a bodily-mediated phenomenon of the thing (323). The author stresses in many ways the urge to distinguish the practical and the pathetic dimension of perception, which turn out to be mutually influenced but non reducible, as it can be seen in his analysis of Satrean thought. Whereas it is quite common to grant that engagement (action) is necessary for knowledge, the necessity of an affective component in every perception is not that clearly pointed out in many authors. What Bonnemann wants to stress is that world does not only serve my purposes and invites me to act; it can also hurt and destroy me (169) and thus discloses our radical vulnerability and some deprivations. This dimension is not properly the resistance of things (Widerstand), but rather their capability of affecting me (widerfahren). Somehow paradoxically and also in a shocking (in a literal sense) way it anchors us in a world, and shows us how material and vulnerable we are. It is not a constitution of sense, but rather its surge or event (Ereignis) is what we experience there.

The author analyses the mode of intentionality which is presupposed in this world – subject relation, and he discovers that its object is a value, whose best expression could be “too much” or “too little”, certain maximum or minimum; its normative character should not be conceived in abstracto as an ideal, nor should it be compared to any social norms. It refers exclusively to the excess or the poverty that affects the body. These objects are in constant relation to practical and theorical objects and mutually influence; its objectual character is also confirmed by the fact that it also opens a horizon, which is very well illustrated in the book by the “menacing horizons of perception” in 225ff. The author sketches there a situation where the whole wood turns dangerous when we fearfully expect a wild boar that could emerge out of the bushes.  Probably the account that Bonnemann finds the most suitable for his purpose is Levinas´s account of joy and his notion of “life that lives from” (vivre de), for it gathers many elements that Bonneman uses to put forward his prerreflective accont of the pathic, such as: intentional character of pathic experience, the fact that it actually has an “object” (element, in French philosopher´s words), its irreducible – and in Levinas also primary – character, and it´s positive character. This long and extremely interesting chapter gives us an idea of how to phrase properly the pathic experience. Levinas conceives this affection by comparing it to the “bath” in the “environment” (258ff), where there is still no “world” (but precisely “environment”) and no objects or things, just affections like a gentle touch of the wind (but before being thematized) or the sun on the skin. Such limit experiences are rather a starting point of the pathic experience, for, as soon stated, the transition to the practical or the theoretical dimension (from “the affecting” to “the affecting thing”) is well quick. Marginally, it is interesting to notice that the Heideggerian notion of Sorge would be situated already in this second, practical dimension and not in the original (and according to Levinas) founding moment.

The pathic experience, and this is the thesis of the last part of the study, shows us that our living body (Leib) is worldly implicated and rooted in what it is not (277). The third part aims then to give an account of how the body is experienced in the pathic experience (the level of Körperbild according to Gallagher´s terminology) and what it means, as asked in the last chapter, for a theory of subject. The central notion that Bonnemann presents here is “als-Körper-von-der-Welt-Gehabtwerden” which he finds in Plügge´s philosophy. This wording stresses the fact highlighted by the phenomenologist like Böhme, namely, that the Körper is also a Widerfahrnis, that is, that it is also part of living body (Leib) in a way that it expresses our experience of being in the world, and moreover, of being in the world as a thing among things (296). Being possessed by the body also phrases the Marcelian statement that we are incapable of fully possessing our body. This is the basic structure, according to the author, of the body (Leib) – world relation, in which the latter befalls (pleasantly or unpleasantly) the former (301). It comprehends three dimensions at the same time: being a body (Leib), which is the moment of experiencing; having a body (Körper), which means that we have a tool that is useful in our exploration of the world, and being possessed by my body (Mein Körper hat mich), which points to the fact that things can affect (attack! – 302) me. So it is not only an assertion of the well know duality (being a body and having a body), but also an affirmation of their worldly interaction.

In this sense Bonnemann goes beyond the phenomenological claims of Jonas, Böhme, Schmitz and others, as he does not only advocate for a wider consideration of pathic phenomena, he also includes them in an intentional framework, as a part of the body- world relation with a disclosing character. These authors tend to embrace a certain “weltlos” character of the Leib and affection, as they focus rather on the embodied “marks” rather than on the nature or a particular dimension of the world that “causes” them. The living body is rather a closed whole with some marks on it and the analysis does not go beyond it. And although it is useful to comprehend the relation of Leib and Körper, they seem to omit its fully intentional character. But the main interlocutor here is Plessner, whose analysis of laughter and crying accomplishes the intention of conceiving a description of body that would acocmodate a world- related pathic experience. In his analysis Plessner distinguishes the dimension of being and having a body, and then introduces, inspired by Plügge, precisely the third, intermediate dimension, itself also divided into consciousness of being, a Körper, thus a consciousness of being affected by the outside world, and the consciousness of myself being a corporal thing. These distinctions enable him to conceive crying or laughter as manifestations of a suffering body; and suffering means here disorganization and sudden possession by the body and the consequent loss of ruling position of self. What the cry implies is that the real world, the causal world has imposed on me. Thanks to this intermediate dimension and its implications we are able to conceive now how it is possible that it is not only a body mark, but also a world relatedness. It is to notice that Plessner´s account amounts to an explanation of the pathic in terms of the frustration of an action more than a positive and full-fledged pathic experience.

Our Körperbild is precisely this, the experienced awareness of being Körper in the world, and being able to experience as Leib. When it comes to the reflective view on experience as Widerfahrnis, it is conceived as a phenomenal experience, in which appears both my living and material body (325). This is exactly the shift from one part of the analysis to another. Due to this double condition, it is necessary to conceive causality and intentionality as invervowen, as it enables us to comprehend the complex relation of us being affected by the world. Otherwise, our pathic experiences would be wordless and we would not be able to conceive subjectivity properly.

As to this question, on the one hand we might be running the risk of conceiving the Körper as something biological and as such pertaining to a non phenomenal layer. On the other hand, there is also a possibility, explored by Böhme, that the corporality (as well as “I”) is nothing but the abstraction from the only authentic and primordially given in affection, Leib. However, it should be clear from the preceding analysis, that Bonnemann opts for a solution where both Leib and Körper are co-original, as in Plessner. He finds a proof for that in the Husserlian analysis of the hand touching hand: whereas normally we pay attention to the dimension of the living body that unveils, it is at the same time the disclosure of our materiality. It also makes comprehensible how von-Körper-Gehabtwerden, pathic experience of my own reality might be prior to any action, as we can conceive Empfindnisse or localized sensations, as prior to kinaesthetic sensations. It is the “being irritated by the world (e.g. 337) what properly constitutes the sensory field of the body. The reflective moment, the apprehension of Körperbild is here equivalent to the shift of attention from the object to the subject and becoming aware of this texture. As long as we do not do this, our Leib remains insivisible. This, in turn means that both Körper-haben (having body) and Leib sind (being a body) are reflective stances posterior to the worldly intervowen von-Körper-Gehabtwerden.

The study culminates in describing the Merleau-Pontian notion of chair, which seems to englobe the preceding aspects highlighted by the study, namely a certain duality, or rather reversibility of the body, and its entrenchment in the world that even amounts to the confusion between both notions. In this sense it is the overcoming of dualism, as the subject is not entirely subject, and the things are close to the Leib. Körper and Leib, concludes the author, are mutually interwoven, as the experience of the latter implies the givenness of the former (358ff). It is to ponder that the notion of self that stems out from this pathic account is not the one of suffering subject, it is the one which is accommodated in the world, and whose being is not “knowledge, nor praxis, but joy” (363), joy understood in every moment as the basic moment of pathic life in which something discloses affecting to the subject interwoven in the world. This radical relatedness of the subject is perhaps the firmest assumption that is visible at every stage of the study. With this Levinasian conclusion, the author completes this overwhelming research.