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)

ORCID ID: 0000-0002-5721-833X

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)

Thus, 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.

Michael L. Morgan (Ed.): The Oxford Handbook of Levinas

The Oxford Handbook of Levinas Couverture du livre The Oxford Handbook of Levinas
Michael L. Morgan (Ed.)
Oxford University Press
2019
Hardback £125.00
880

Reviewed by: Tyler Correia (York University, Canada)

The Oxford Handbook of Levinas provides another key step on the way to entrenching the possibility of continued scholarship on the rich thought of philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, as well as providing an accessible entry-point into the ever-growing body of commentary on his works. Although at times the structure of the handbook makes gestures toward necessary contributions that are currently absent, both in outlining the field of Levinas’s influences or interlocutors, and in terms of key engagements with contemporary concerns, it has also amassed an exciting range of discussions from a diverse array of scholars. Contributions are well-researched, insightful, and make Levinas’s notoriously difficult thought comprehensible and intriguing. Further, certain departures with conventions of reference texts in the composition of contributions—he articles being of comparable length to those of scholarly journal’s—creates space not only for informative but critical treatments, as well as facilitating dialogue and challenge.

The editor, Michael L. Morgan is a prolific scholar in his own right in Jewish studies and on Levinas specifically. He has authored other introductory texts including Discovering Levinas (2007), The Cambridge Introduction to Emmanuel Levinas (2011), and recently published on his ethico-political thought and practice in Levinas’s Ethical Politics (2016).

There are certainly benefits to a handbook both of this magnitude and this breadth. The text is a nearly nine hundred page collection of thirty-eight entries, including contributions from notable Levinas scholars such as Robert Bernasconi, political philosopher Annabel Herzog, Levinas translator Bettina Bergo and editor of The Levinas Reader (2001) Seán Hand. Also certainly, a text of this kind provides a crucial opportunity for a multiplicity of scholars of varied backgrounds to contribute—scholars of history, religion, philosophy, ethics, politics, classics and art, who contextualize Levinas’ expansive works and biography through critical, interpersonal, dialogical, feminist, hermeneutic, theological frameworks. It is divided into six section with entries on a wide range of topics and themes by which one could enter into scholarship: covering Levinas’ life and influences, key philosophical themes, religious thought, ethics, and critical assessments of his work.

One of the potential drawbacks of a ‘handbook’—and consistent with all genres of reference texts more broadly—is the prefiguration of a conversation as one in which specialists communicate information to non-specialists, rather than opening the possibility of dialogue and interpretation. The pragmatic context of a ‘handbook’ still makes it unlikely that professional scholars will refer to this text as an entry-point into key controversies and as a site of engagement even over more specific collected volumes. A text like this, then, fills the space of a general reference and guide into the multiplicity of avenues that Levinas’ thought might open, and in its capacity as a general reference book it does well, even though it is competing with a number of more specific works on Levinas—whether reference volumes, essay collections or single-author monographs—that are also available for Anglophone scholars with an equally wide breadth; works on Levinas’ engagements with Martin Buber and other Jewish thinkers, with Asian thought and with ancient philosophy, on Levinas’ contributions to hermeneutics and theological exegesis, a swath of texts on Levinas’ ethics, on his interlocutions with poststructuralist and deconstructive thought, and texts that (re)situate and seek for his ethics to speak to their own and our socio-political contexts. In this way, a reference text of this sort helps best to locate oneself in relation to a veritable library of Levinas scholarship, and to identify those signposts, even if often as an index to an index.

Accordingly, the handbook attests to an emerging polarization of Levinas scholarship concerned with two key conceptual constellations in his ethical thought; on responsibility and vulnerability. The former has perhaps been considered the central aspect of Levinas’s work traced to the importance of the text most often called his magnum opus, Totality and Infinity (2011 [1961]). Not merely the outline of ‘responsibilities,’ Levinas’s conceptualization of responsibility grounds his fundamental claim that ethics is first philosophy. Not just in the content of responsibility, but in the provocation or the desire (later he will call this intrigue) to respond to and respond for the Other, Levinas finds the opening of ethics as an infinitely asymmetrical relation grounded in the unconditional command to be for the Other. In its poetic force and uncompromising gesture, one’s responsibility for the Other and on their behalf is perhaps the aspect of Levinas’s work that draws most scholars to him. It also becomes the rich ground from which he rejects conventional and general  practices of philosophy as projects of securing, organizing and reorganizing both ontology and metaphysics as the totalizing structure of ‘the Same.’ Beyond the sort of A=A identity, the structure of the Same is all that operates under the heading of ‘Being’ and at the disposal of the privileged Self. Thus, where philosophy in general and phenomenology in particular meet, Levinas finds a notion of the Self within a world that they might appropriate, incorporate, or otherwise violate as if it were exclusively ‘their own.

In contrast, Levinas finds an entirely unappropriable and thus infinitely transcendent disruption of the structure of the Same in the encounter with the Other, where the face to face meeting and the very face of the Other themselves, escapes all such appropriative attempts to fix them in place within the horizon of the world of the Same. Instead, the face of the Other seems to call to the Self with a commandment, the fundamental interdiction “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” further disrupting the absolute enjoyment (jouissance) that would otherwise be the prerogative and entitlement of the Self within its own world. In place of this enjoyment is the unsatisfiable desire to be with, and be for, the Other, the ground upon which an infinite and unconditional responsibility emerges. Then, all subsequent thought is a matter of bearing out the implications of this unconditional and infinite responsibility for the Other in its applications and tensions.

Incrementally, this picture, as outlined by readings of Totality and Infinity, has expanded as more scholarship has turned toward the ‘other pole’ of Levinas’s work as represented by Otherwise than Being (2016 [1981]). No longer willing to accept the ‘Self’ as originally in a position of comfort, chez soi, or at home with oneself, Levinas reconsiders the place of the encounter with the Other as both fundamental for thought and fundamental to the very existence of the subject before subjectivity can be claimed. In the exchange of the ‘word’—even the word that proclaims ‘I am I’—the Self is less so in proximity to an unchallenging world of their own, than they are in proximity to an Other. In this most basic sense, vulnerability is the fundamentally disruptive trauma of recognizing that the self comes after an encounter with the Other (see Bergo’s chapter as well as Staehler’s). Robert Bernasconi theorizes vulnerability in two particularly interesting ways. On the one hand, he notes that responsibility operates on the subject as disruptive enough to veritably tear the subject apart, what Levinas calls dénucléation. He explains, “Dénucléation is apparently a word used to refer to the coring out that doctors perform when, for example, they remove an eyeball from its socket while leaving everything intact. Levinas used this same word to describe breathing as a dénucléation of the subject’s substantiality, albeit in this context it also has an association with transcendence” (pp. 268-69).

Although Bernasconi will motivate a reading of Levinas that prefigures the need to defend both the subject and its subjectivity, he summarizes his exploration of the notion of vulnerability that is too traumatic to ignore: “I showed that he went out of his way to say that the exposure to outrage, wounding, and persecution was an exposure to wounding in enjoyment. This is what qualifies it as a “vulnerability of the me.” It touches me in my complacency. But vulnerability extends to the trauma of accusation suffered by a hostage to the point where that hostage identifies with others, including his or her persecutors” (p. 269). He continues that this fact of vulnerability, then, is compelling enough to enact an experience of substitution in the subject, as if the subject is provoked to experience themselves as Other.

Following these considerations, I would like to make note of two particularly useful aspects of the handbook, and to applaud Morgan and the contributors for them. Firstly, some of its richest content is the contribution to an Anglo-American readership on the scope of Levinas’ writings of which we currently do not have complete access. Pieces by Sarah Hammerschlag and Seán Hand rectify this condition with stimulating discussions of his wartime notebooks and his early poetry and novel fragments respectively. Still an English-speaking public does not have access in particular to either the Carnets de captivité, nor to his wartime literary works in Éros, littérature et philosophie, both of which were recently posthumously published in French.[i] With Hammerschlag’s survey of Levinas’s wartime notebooks, though, (spanning, in fact, from 1937-1950), and Hand’s reconceptualization of Levinas in light of the literary dimensions of these personal writings, they make stellar contributions to Anglophone Levinas scholarship by filling those gaps. For this alone, the handbook is already an invaluable resource for scholars of all sorts.

Secondly, the fourth section of the handbook, dedicated to applications of Levinas’ thought beyond his own sphere is truly effervescent. Special attention should be paid to this section in its eclectic reach, where the very notion of a foundation (the presumed objective constraining any ‘handbook’ faces) opens up into a display of generative and rich ideas. Exactly where the ‘cut and dry’ necessity of a text of this kind breaks down, we are treated to an array of interventions and interpretive supplements that carry Levinas scholarship forward in great leaps. Again, Seán Hand’s resituating of Levinas’ works in light of early literary engagements is a delight, as well as Kris Sealey’s far-reaching discussion of Levinas’s contributions to critical race theory (which I will discuss further below). Moreover, not a single contribution in this section fails to illuminate and extend the possibilities of scholarship—from more traditional surveys of the possibilities of attending to philosophical thought within other domains of academic inquiry, such as psychology (David M. Goodman and Eric R. Severson), law (William H. Smith) and Levinas’ comments on war (Joshua Shaw), as well as his contributions to pedagogy (Claire Elise Katz), film (Colin Davis), and his use of food metaphors (Benjamin Aldes Wurgraft).

Similarly, Kevin Houser’s attempt to position Levinas across the Continental-Analytical divide is admirable. This is similar to Morgan’s attempts himself to have Levinas’ work placed in proximity to Bernard Williams, Charles Taylor, Christine Korsgaard, Stanley Cavell and others. In this piece, Houser finds Levinas speak to concerns of linguistic objectification embedded in the notion of reason as metaphysics against which he poses what he calls the ‘absolute interlocutor.’ He extends this discussion by placing him in conversation with P.F. Strawson on freedom and resentment. Houser’s claim is that “de-facing reason,” and not “reason itself as the practice of de-facing generalization,” is what is at issue in Levinas’s work. However, perhaps Houser’s reading can come off as reductive given that he seems not to be willing to take his own critical stance as far as Levinas would. That ultimately an analytical account of reason is valorized through a complementary reading of Levinas and Strawson would also be a grounding condition for the possibility of such reconciliation between reason and the face of the Other. Yet, this is something Levinas seems consistently to reject, and why Houser must work so hard to reconcile the positions in the first place; the position of reason itself with the positioning of a refusal of reason (not merely an ‘unreasonable’ or even ‘pre-rational’ stance).

Houser’s final discussion regarding the generalizability of ‘reason’—as something that is specifically not my reason, but a reason (p. 604)—bears many possibilities to build from, perhaps also anticipating a challenge to Levinas by deconstructionist linguistics. One can also imagine such a reading figuring importantly into the prefiguration of Otherwise than Being, which seems to bear out the not-yet-subject specifically in light of the pre-existence of language in the demand to speak as ‘giving reasons’ (see Baring, Coe and of course Bernasconi’s chapters). It also helps to reconcile how, for example, in Oona Eisenstadt’s chapter, she finds Levinas capable of saying that three rabbis in the Talmud—Ben Zoma, Ben Nanus and Ben Pazi—can offer three different answers to the question, “which verse contains the whole of the Torah?” where each will make a different universal claim as a manner of expanding upon the last (p. 462). Nevertheless, it would seem that the reason-and-objectivity oriented language of analytical thought does not prepare one to bear out this tension between the particular and the general in a way that is non-totalizing; it answers the question of responsibility rather than responding to it. As such, it substitutes the sphere of representational description in place of the vocative dimensions of language as address. In the end, even capturing the dialogical subject in relation to the absolute interlocutor, one is still speaking about language as if no one else is there, a sort of monological ‘dialogue,’ lest the reason they give may be contradicted. The Other seems to have faded into the background.

I would like to address, though, a potential drawback of the handbook. What is at times a lack of much needed general study of Levinas’ engagements not merely with particular thinkers—both predecessors and contemporaries, if not friends but fields of scholarship—can often leave the reader without proper orientation. No doubt, the task of presenting an exhaustive groundwork specifically for Anglo-American scholarship is at best aspirational, and to his credit, Morgan himself identifies certain oversights in the handbook that should be noted. In terms of groundworks, he rightly mentions that the handbook would have benefited from contributions that survey Levinas’s engagements with foundational Jewish thinkers from Maimonides to Buber and Rosenzweig. There is also no specific account of Levinas’s debts to Russian literature. Finally, general overviews of both Levinas’s situation within French thought broadly from the 1930s to the 60s would have been extremely helpful to orient readers, even if they still find much needed context especially in Kevin Hart’s discussion of the relationship between he and Blanchot, and Edward Baring’s account of his encounters with Derrida. This is so as well for the absence of a general account of Levinas’s predecessors ‘at large,’ although one is able to orient themselves with texts on Husserl (Bettina Bergo), Heidegger (Michael Fagenblat), as well as Platonic or Aristotelian thought (Tanja Staehler), early modern thought (Inga Römer), and the German Idealists (Martin Shuster).

There are other oversights that a large reference text is especially beholden to ensure don’t go unnoticed that we might categorize as ‘essential additions’ to these groundworks. Increasingly important is a critical appraisal of eurocentrism and colonialism. It would also be imperative to outline Levinas’ reading of the Torah on ‘Cities of Refuge,’ something only tangentially touched upon by Annabel Herzog in her daring discussion of Levinas and Zionism.  One might argue that Levinas’s statements on the State of Israel in particular are critical for understanding some of the most recent explorations of a sort of Levinasian cosmopolitanism—especially where it intersects with Jacques Derrida’s (1999) explorations on the issue (and because it would seem Derrida’s encounter with the notion of cosmopolitanism is in large part due to their relationship). This is perhaps a particularly difficult oversight to reconcile because, as Morgan notes, readers of Levinas “…are drawn to him by the centrality of his insight that our responsibilities to others are infinite. To them, Levinas is the philosopher of the dispossessed, the displaced, the refugee, the impoverished, the suffering, and the hungry. He is the spokesperson for the weak and the oppressed; his philosophy, for all its difficulty and obscurity, in the end speaks to our most humane and caring sentiments” (pp. 4-5). Unfortunately, these concrete engagements are conspicuously absent in the handbook.

Kris Sealey has the sizeable task, then, of orienting readers looking for critical responses to Levinas relating to Eurocentrism, colonialism, and theories of race and racism. In that measure, Sealey does a spectacular job finding inroads between Levinas with both critical race and postcolonial scholars including Paul Gilroy, Orlando Patterson, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Michael Monahan. She also performs such an important task of bridging scholarship on critical race theory and Levinas studies by focusing her discussion on a review of literatures published in the 2012 volume of Levinas Studies contending with race, which included contributions from  Lisa Guenther, Oona Eisenstadt (also present in this handbook), John Drabinski and Simone Drichel.

Sealey’s contribution, though, may also give pause especially insofar as there remain some crucial tensions in her work with Levinas’s. Particularly, she draws her conclusions in a way that notions of race are ‘reified’ not on biological but communal and relational grounds that are perhaps difficult to square with Levinas’ statements on the ‘nudity of the face’—as much as they are in tension with Paul Gilroy’s (2000) rejection of both biological and cultural formations of ‘race.’ Sealey’s turn toward Michael Monahan seems to authorize the possibility that, “we can be against racism without being against race” (p. 653 n. 41). The statement from which this note arises is quite important, and perhaps should be quoted at length:

In an important sense, a creolizing subjectivity bears witness to her rootedness in the world, insofar as she is constituted by the ways of that world. But, as creolizing, she also bears witness to her transcending of that world, insofar as her antiracist praxis will invariably be an active contestation of the meaning of race. In other words, she is both obliged to her materiality and positioned to take a critical stance against that materiality as well. That critical stance calls for a vigilance that never ends, lest she succumbs to the inertia of a purity politics and the racist structures for which it codes. Might we not see, in this, echoes of what Levinas calls for in “The Philosophy of Hitlerism”? Is this not a recognition of incarnation (of one’s rootedness in, or entanglement with, history) without the essentialization and stagnation of biological determinism? (p. 644)

Here we might identify a key contention—the ground for what may be a generative controversy in the transposition of Levinas’ thought to an Anglo-American context. Levinas’ contention against the ideology of Hitlerism is not reducible to its relation exclusively to biologism, but speaks to a desire to escape the very notion of ‘incarnation’ itself (see Eaglestone, Fagenblat, and Giannopoulos’s chapters). Hitlerism itself is not exclusively a biologist ideology; rather it binds a notion of spirit with the materiality of the ‘body as much as it fetishizes that body as the material symbol of ‘racial purity,’ or the ‘spirit of a people,’ as an incarnation—the becoming-flesh of spirit. It’s not clear if any notion of identity, not even one proposed to be hybridized, socially and historically determined, or relational escapes this logic. One might point out how Sealey’s creolizing subject, recognizing their rootedness and transcendence, isn’t necessarily difficult, as both are already coded as positive identifiers in an unambiguous metaphysical structure, even if they contradict one another, and occlude the disruptive primacy of the Other. Being rooted—rather than being imprisoned or entangled—and transcendence—above, beyond, outside of the world—both already speak to their own ideals. But one finds in Levinas’ work instead both a potentially failed desire to escape (On Escape [2003/1982]being an aptly titled expression of this unabiding arrest in his early works), and an uneasy navigation of the rooted interior of identity.

We find further that the not merely biological implications of Hitlerist ideology entails also that—as Annabel Herzog notes of Levinas’ critical stance against the State of Israel—the entrenchment of the ‘Self’ within the soil (as in the Nazi slogan, ‘blood and soil’), and the attachment to land or territory remains also a critical site upon which Levinas rejects this manner of reification. That is, rather than being—or under the pretense that one ‘recognizes themselves to be’—rooted in their world, Levinas finds instead in political practices of justice a certain exilehood on Earth represented in the call of the Other and the asymmetrical responsibility that follows. This grounds the particularity of his claims on Judaism and often against the State of Israel (see below), even when he concedes that an otherwise uncompromising ethic needs account for survival. Thus, there remains a tension between justice and survival that is not comfortably set aside in order to commend one’s being ‘rooted in their transcendence,’ but always uneasily attested to as the disruptive and traumatic condition upon which a foundational ethics preceding ontology, an ‘ethics without ground’ which refuses to appeal to the world and the comfort of being rooted in it is asserted.

We might fashion two contrapuntal examples of scholarship that refuse these dynamics in the extremely careful readings offered by Annabel Herzog on Levinas’s relation to Zionism and Cynthia Coe’s feminist analysis of his works. Herzog has quite admirably explored a controversy well beyond even the scope of the academy by contending squarely with Levinas’s writings on Zionism in relation to his conceptions of ethics and politics. Even in the form of her analysis we can see a principled refusal to allow her representation of him to be anything other than embroiled in a complex set of concerns, where she presents first his defense, and then his criticism of the State of Israel. Of the former, it would seem that Levinas finds in the State of Israel the every-present possibility—a particularist possibility for Judaism—for the concrete actualization of his ethical ideal as justice. Such a state could make an ethic of dialogical solidarity, refusal of violence, and refuge for the Other practically real. It is also one that merges these ideals with the enduring need for survival following the Holocaust. Perhaps this rendering bears similarities to Sealey’s account of a creolizing subject.

On the other hand, though, the State of Israel is also always in a position to reject or neglect these ideals; where notions of space and place are re-instituted in the territory, in the very soil, or where the Other is banished from that territory. This is much like Sealey’s comment that valorizations of the logic of ‘race’ demands constant vigilance lest one find themselves once again under the inertia, and in the realm of a politics of purity. Herzog cites a telling instance in which Levinas refused to leave the tour bus while attending a conference on Martin Buber after hearing that Bedouin communities in Be’er-Sheva were required to burn their tents to be eligible to receive stone houses from the government (p. 478).[ii] She follows this tension up until the events of the First Lebanon War, and the Sabra and Shatila massacres in 1982 when his statements on the matter of Israel become dispersed and infrequent, even if he does not waver in his defense by the time of his 1986 interview with Francois Poirié. It would seem, in this case, that the vigilance Sealey advises, and the enduring possibility of ‘purity politics’ reemerging finds a real example in Levinas’s subsequent silence. But leaving this possibility open seems already to speak to the need to refuse attenuation of a Levinasian ethic in the first place both in practice, and in the theoretical refusal of ‘rootedness’ or ‘incarnation.’

Cynthia Coe’s reading of Levinas is equally nuanced in its ability to balance a careful analysis of his works with an unwavering commitment to feminist scholarship. This is so even where she marks a delineation between—and within—texts of his that represent heterocentric and masculinist presumptions in his philosophy, and where concepts and arguments are coded in gendered language, while also being potentially capable of disrupting those structures. Particularly early Levinas (as Simone de Beauvoir attests regarding Time and the Other) seems to find ground for a narrative framework where a masculine protagonist is compelled to depart from totality. He does so by situating him in the dichotomy of a conception of the feminine as inessential and inabsolute alterity to a totalizing and interiorized masculine counterpart.

However, in this, and especially in her reading of Otherwise than Being, there remains a seed from which the disruption of this framework is enacted or can be enacted. Firstly, the reversal of values in Levinas’s work—rejecting totality in favour of a more ambiguous infinity, and subsequently masculinity for the feminine—begins this process, if in a way that remains deeply flawed. Secondly, Levinas’s subject is increasingly characterized, even by the time of Totality and Infinity, by events and experiences that are wildly outside of their control, not least of which is the face to face encounter with the Other. Thus, the notion of a masculine subjectivity ‘always in control’ is undone by their vulnerability to the Other. Finally, in Otherwise than Being, Levinas begins with the incomplete subject, one who is subjected to a responsibility primordial to themselves, before themselves as a traumatic disruption Coe also terms vulnerability. As well, she finds in Levinas (without romanticizing) the possibility that a mother might pass away in childbirth to be an expression of vulnerability which demands one reckons with a responsibility that interrupts their self-possession. This, by the way, is rendered also in Giannopolous’s discussion of Levinas and transcendence in terms of ‘paternity’; where one—coded as the ‘father’ in this case—must reckon with the birth of their child as “a way of being other while being oneself” (p. 230).[iii]

Potential tensions one might identify in one or another contribution are perhaps another way of branching some key difficulties the handbook faces on a structural level with its own self-contextualization. Morgan identifies the handbook as being a resource specifically for Anglo-American scholarship on Levinas—perhaps because in English-speaking contexts globally, or in the European context, Anglophone philosophy is already in proximity to Francophone and multi-lingual continental thought to ignore it. However, the reductive potential of such a translation—not merely into an English idiom, but into an Anglo-American one—seems to allow the possibility that conclusions like Housers’s which valorize rather than critique a notion of reason, and Sealey’s which affirms rather than contending with the logical structures of race, find little response in other places in the handbook. Morgan should be lauded for gathering together a diverse array of scholars from many backgrounds, even when he already notes that most are located in North America. It is also, perhaps, not feasible to engage a global scope of scholarship for a project like this. However, the implications of a foundational reference-work bearing such absences are reflected in the non-universal dialogue that manifests itself within its pages.

Even with these problems in view, there is no doubt that The Oxford Handbook of Levinas makes an important contribution to scholarship in the diversity and richness of its philosophical engagements, and in the explorations and controversies attested to. If it is any indication, studies of the profound works of Emmanuel Levinas are likely to continue, and perhaps even to expand in new and unforeseen ways. If so, this handbook will stand as a testament and signpost for all those looking to enter the field.

References

Derrida, Jacques. 1999. Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas. Translated by Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press.

Gilroy, Paul. 2000. Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Levinas, Emmanuel. 2003. On Escape. Translated by Bettina Bergo. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

———. 2009. Carnets de captivité suivi de Écrits sur la captivité et Notes philosophiques diverses. Edited by Rodolphe Calin and Catherine Chalier. Paris: Éditions Grasset et Fasquelle, IMEC Éditeur.

———. 2011. Parole et silence, Et autres conferences inédites. Edited by Rodolphe Calin et Catherine Chalier. Paris: Éditions Grasset et Fasquelle, IMEC Éditeur.

———. 2011 [1961]. Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority. Translated by Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.

———. 2013. Éros, littérature et philosophie: Essais romanesques et poétiques, notes philosophiques sur le thème d’éros, Edited by Jean-Luc Nancy and Danielle Cohen-Levinas. Paris: Éditions Grasset et Fasquelle, IMEC Éditeur.

———. 2016 [1981]. Otherwise than Being, or Beyond Essence. Translated by Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.

Malka, Salomon. 2006. Emmanuel Levinas: His Life and Legacy. Translated by Michael Kigel and Sonia M. Embree. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.

Morgan, Michael L. 2007. Discovering Levinas (2007). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

———. 2011. The Cambridge Introduction to Emmanuel Levinas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

———. 2016. Levinas’s Ethical Politics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press

Morgan, Michael L. ed. 2019. Oxford Handbook of Levinas. Oxford University Press.


[i] Emmanuel Levinas, 2009, Carnets de captivité suivi de Écrits sur la captivité et Notes philosophiques diverses, ed. Rodolphe Calin and Catherine Chalier, (Paris: Éditions Grasset et Fasquelle, IMEC Éditeur). Emmanuel Levinas, 2013, Éros, littérature et philosophie: Essais romanesques et poétiques, notes philosophiques sur le thème d’éros, ed. Jean-Luc Nancy and Danielle Cohen-Levinas, (Paris: Éditions Grasset et Fasquelle, IMEC Éditeur). These two texts were issued as part of a (currently) three-part collection by publishing house, Éditions Grasset, of the complete works of Levinas. The other volume gathers early lectures given at the invitation of jean Wahl to the Collège Philosophique. See: Emmanuel Levinas, 2011, Parole et silence, Et autres conferences inédites, ed. Rodolphe Calin et Catherine Chalier, (Paris: Éditions Grasset et Fasquelle, IMEC Éditeur).

[ii] This anecdote was quoted from: Salomon Malka, 2006, Emmanuel Levinas: His Life and Legacy, trans. Michael Kigel and Sonia M. Embree, (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press): p. 217.

[iii] The passage is a quotation from: Emmanuel Levinas, 1969, Totality and Infinity, trans. Alphonso Lingis, (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press): p. 282.

Shawn Loht: Phenomenology of Film: A Heideggerian Account of the Film Experience, Lexington Books, 2017

Phenomenology of Film: A Heideggerian Account of the Film Experience Couverture du livre Phenomenology of Film: A Heideggerian Account of the Film Experience
Shawn Loht
Lexington Books
2017
Hardback $95.00
220

Jörg Sternagel: Pathos des Leibes. Phänomenologie ästhetischer Praxis

Pathos des Leibes. Phänomenologie ästhetischer Praxis Couverture du livre Pathos des Leibes. Phänomenologie ästhetischer Praxis
Denkt Kunst!
Jörg Sternagel
Diaphanes
2016
Broschur € 18,00
200

Reviewed by: Martha Holewa (University of Potsdam)

In vierzehn, formal essayistisch verfassten, Kapiteln unternimmt der Autor den Versuch der, sowohl die inhaltliche Argumentation als auch den Schreibstil durchdringenden, Anbindung einer in erster Linie ästhetischen, leibgebunden und situativen Praxis an genuin theoretische, im Kontext der Leibphilosophie, Aisthesislehre und Filmphilosophie entwickelten, Implikationen. Bereits das erste, um die unhintergehbare Verschränkung der Trinität von Sichtbarkeit, Sichtbarmachung und Unsichtbarkeit kreisende Kapitel, hebt mit der auf Platon und die antike Philosophie zurückgehenden Dichotomie zwischen denkender und sinnlicher Erkenntnis an. Während die Welt, diejenige, die täglich vor unserem Auge erwacht, bei Platon lediglich zum Schein kulminiert und zugleich als arbiträres Abbild eines ihr vorausgehenden Urbildes sowie Ausgangspunkt ihrer auf den eigentlichen Grund des Seins hin zu übersteigenden, intelligiblen und bildlosen Horizonts fungiert, der nur über den Weg der denkenden Erkenntnis zu erreichen ist, stellt der Autor dem rein theoretischen Erkenntnisvermögen die Eigenheit der sichtbarmachenden und produktiven Kraft der Künste entgegen. In Anlehnung an den Begriff der Mimesis gelten Bilder an dieser Stelle gerade nicht als Reproduktion der erscheinenden Welt, als Erscheinen des bereits zuvor Erschienenen in Rückgriff an Platon, sondern als eigene gestalterische und schöpferische Orte der Sichtbarmachung von Unsichtbarem. Medienphilosophisch lassen sich Bilder somit weniger als Abbilder von Gegenständen begreifen, sondern als ein Medium, durch das wir sehen. Die doppelte Differenz zwischen Sichtbarem und Unsichtbarem bindet der Autor sowohl an den je individuellen, singulären Leib als Nullpunkt der Orientierung, der als fungierendes Element im Akt der Wahrnehmung selbst nicht zur Erscheinung gelangt und an die ikonische Differenz innerhalb der Bildlichkeit selbst, die, zwar selbst wiederum nicht sichtbar, das Bild als Bild in seiner Materialität, dasjenige, worin etwas erscheint, von demjenigen, was sich im Bild zeigt und darstellt, trennt. In letzter Konsequenz ist somit alles, was zur Sichtbarkeit gelangt –  hierin greift der Autor auf den Begriff des Fleisches (chair) bei Maurice Merleau-Ponty zurück – in eine unauflösbare und chiasmatische Zwiesprache zwischen dem Sehenden und dem Sichtbaren als das „Aufklaffen des Sehenden im Sichtbaren und des Sichtbaren im Sehenden“ verwoben. (S. 17). Diese Figur des Chiasmus taucht nicht nur auf der Ebene der Wahrnehmung auf, sondern durchdringt das Denken selbst, wenn es sich, in Anlehnung an Maurice Merleau-Ponty, als produktives Denken von einer rein logischen Operation unterscheidet.

Das zweite Kapitel, Responsivität des Leibes, übt in Rekurrenz auf die Alteritätsphilosophie von Bernhard Waldenfels und Emanuel Levinas, in dessen Zentrum die Frage nach einer nicht nur partiellen und relativen, sondern radikalen Fremdheit steht, Kritik an der abendländischen Subjektphilosophie, in der das Fremde einen nur vorläufigen, auf die Eigenheitssphäre rückführbaren und überwindbaren Charakter besitzt und dem Status einer autonomen, sich selbst durchsichtigen Subjektkategorie untergeordnet wird. Hier wird das Verhältnis zwischen dem Eigenen und Fremden im Zuge einer Inversion der Intentionalität nahezu umgekehrt und eine Erfahrungsdimension eröffnet, die dezidiert nicht beim Subjekt, sondern vom Anspruch des Anderen seinen Ausgang nimmt und das ich als zunächst Antwortendes zur Verantwortung zwingt. Dies geradezu in einem durchaus, noch vor jedweder in einem propositionalen Sinngehalt kulminierenden Antwort, an die Leiblichkeit und Affektivität gebundenen Sinnhorizont. Zur Veranschaulichung wählt der Autor den im Kontext der Philosophie von Bernhard Waldenfels in „Bruchlinien der Erfahrung“ entwickelten Begriff der Diastase, der etymologisch ein Auseinandertreten meint, den prozessuallen Charakter von Differenzen beschreibt und in letzter Konsequenz die Nachträglichkeit des Antwortens gegenüber der Vorgängigkeit dessen, was uns affiziert, herausstellt. In Anlehnung an Waldenfels wird an drei zentralen Merkmalen des Husserlschen Intentionalitätsbegriffes einschlägige Kritik geübt. Der erste Punkt betrifft die Hierarchisierung einer Beziehungskonstellation, in der das Eigene und Fremde nicht wechselseitig aufeinander verwiesen bleiben und sich gegenseitig bedingen, sondern das Fremde aus der einseitigen Konstitutionsleistung eines setzenden Bewusstseins resultiert. Diese Vorrausetzung hat zweitens zur Folge, dass der Andere nur innerhalb der Struktur des „apophantischen als“, in einer bestimmten Rolle zur Sichtbarkeit gelangt, die an ein Vorverständnis und die Erwartung des Subjekts gebunden bleibt. Dies hat wiederum drittens zur Folge, dass der Andere in ein Ordnungssystem gefügt wird, in dem er in seiner Einzigkeit und radikalen Andersheit nicht mehr vernommen wird. Mit Waldenfels appelliert der Autor an eine Ethik der Responsivität, die im Gegenzug zu einer normativen Ethik gerade keinen Mangel an Sinn, kein hermeneutisches Defizit bedeutet, sondern die Fremdheit über die Trennlinie zwischen dem Eigenen und Anderen hinausgehend mitten ins Herz desselben versetzt. Die zentrale These im Abschluss des Kapitels mündet somit in die Aussage, dass am Anfang nicht ein jemand steht, „der oder die von sich aus handelt, sondern jemand, dem oder der etwas geschieht. Am Anfang steht ein Patient und kein Akteur.“ (Sternagel, J. Pathos des Leibes. Phänomenologie ästhetischer Praxis, S.39). Inwiefern der Patient einer Antwort schuldig bleibt, durchaus auch in dem Sinn, dass er handlungsfähig bleibt, verantwortend handelt, und die Fremdheit, sowohl die Eigene als auch die des Anderen, zu verstehen lernt, bleibt an dieser Stelle offen und regt die Leserin zum Weiterdenken an.

Das dritte Kapitel, der Blick des Dichters, knüpft, zunächst, wohlgemerkt, ebenfalls an die Priorität des Anderen an und liefert bereits zu Anfang eine Möglichkeit der Antwort auf die zuvor gestellte Frage meinerseits. Da der Mensch als begehrendes Wesen seine Erfüllung nie in sich selber findet, findet er sich in der Übernahme von Verantwortung wieder, im Geben. An dieser Stelle geht die Einforderung von Gerechtigkeit jedoch einseitig vom Anderen aus, so dass sich insgesamt die Frage stellt, inwiefern dem Selbst hier noch Gerechtigkeit widerfährt, wenn es „vermöge der Alterität des Anderen nicht bei sich, sondern dem Anderen gegenüber immer schon im Rückstand ist.“ (S. 41). Die Vermittlung dieser beiden divergierenden Philosophien, einer tendenziell egologischen bzw. im Kontext eines Alteritätsdenkens beheimateten, mit ihren ganzen begrifflichen, häufig hierarchisch strukturierten und verfestigten Implikationen von Aktivität und Passivität, Sprechen und Schweigen, Handeln und Scheitern, Denken und Erfahren, Vorgängigkeit und Nachträglichkeit, Eigenheit und Fremdheit, gelingt dem Autor insbesondere durch die Betonung des performativen Charakters von Sprache gegenüber seinem konstativen Element als ein stätiger Prozess der Aushandlung zwischen dem Eigenen und Selben, Individuum und Gesellschaft, so dass er zu guter Letzt davor bewahrt bleibt, einem einseitigen Lob der Ohnmacht das Wort zu reden. Der ausgewiesene, zur Reflektion anregende Ort, an dem sich diese Prozesse beobachten, beschreiben, bewältigen lassen und mithin erst in den Fokus der Sichtbarkeit gelangen, ist wiederum die Kunst. Und hier versetzt uns der Autor mitten in die Dichtung von Paul Celan, indem er die Frage aufwirft: „Wäre hier die Begegnung mit dem Schreiben eines Dichters wie Paul Celan eine, die in den Zwischenraum führt, in dem Maurice Blanchot die poetische Bekräftigung dieses Dichters zu denken gibt?“ (S. 45) Zwei gegenwändige Gedichte Celans werden angeführt, die in einem doppelt scheidend geschiedenen Zwischenraum zwei Formen einer dialogischen Struktur erfahrbar machen. Während im Gedicht Sprachgitter von 1959, „Wär ich wie du. Wärst du wie ich. Standen wir nicht unter einem Passat? Wir sind Fremde“ die Hoffnung nach Nähe und Erreichbarkeit des Anderen der Wahrheit ihrer Unmöglichkeit weicht, ermöglicht das zweite Gedicht, Lob der Ferne, „ich bin du, wenn ich ich bin(S.45), entstanden 1948, Nähe gerade dadurch, dass das Ich nicht zugunsten des Anderen geopfert wird, seine Eigenheitssphäre und die notwendige Distanz wahrt, die erst zur Bedingung der Offenheit gegenüber dem Anderen wird.

Im vierten Kapitel, Sujet Komposition, Ausdruck, wird zunächst der entscheidende Moment der Aufnahme einer Fotografin festgehalten, die für eine britische Tageszeitung ein Porträtfoto des Regisseurs, Malers und Musikers David Lynch anfertigen soll. Hier gilt es den ersten Eindruck, das Ereignis des Gesichts, wie der Autor konstatiert, festzuhalten, was, in Anknüpfung an die Überlegungen Henri Cartier-Bressons drei wesentliche Faktoren zusammenführen muss: Das psychologische Gespür der Fotografin, den richtigen Kamerastandort und ein besonderes Bewusstsein für den entscheidenden ersten Eindruck des Gesichts. Zusätzlich muss das Modell die Kamera und den Fotografen vergessen. Diese künstlerische Situation regt den Autor an, den Blick auf menschliche und künstlerische Praktiken im Allgemeinen zu werfen und die Leiblichkeit als unhintergehbaren Standpunkt jeder situativen Praxis in den Fokus zu stellen. Im Rückgriff auf Edmund Husserl betont der Autor die wechselseitige Verschränkung von Habitualität und Aktualität im Prozess leiblicher Artikulationsvollzüge, so dass ein jeder, je aktueller Wahrnehmungs- und Handlungsvollzug die Geschichte seines eigenen geworden Seins implizit in sich trägt und somit jedes neue Erlernen von Praktiken ein Verlernen und mithin Vergessen impliziert. Dies veranschaulicht der Autor, Linkshänder von Geburt, am Beispiel seiner eigenen Biografie, wo er im Kindesalter gezwungen wurde mit der rechten Hand das Schreiben zu erlernen, was dazu geführt hat, dass er den vormals linkshändig eingeübten Umgang mit der Schere gerade durch das Erlernen des Schreibens verlor. Jeder Gegenstand und der Umgang mit ihm bekundet somit eine individuelle Geschichte, die, darüberhinausgehend, auf einen weiten Horizont einer Technik-, Werkzeug- und Produktionsgeschichte verweist.

Das fünfte Kapitel, Das Band zwischen Fleisch und Idee, greift den für Maurice Merleau-Ponty am schwierigsten zu erfassenden Punkt seines Denkweges auf und fragt nach dem Zwischenbereich von Welt und Bewusstsein. Hier existiert die Idee gerade nicht als das Gegenteil der sinnlichen Welt, sondern verleiht dieser gerade ihr Futter und ihre Tiefe. Umgekehrt bleibt jedes Denken an die vorobjektive, sinnliche Erfahrung gebunden, aus der es erst seine Inspiration bezieht. Zur Veranschaulichung dieses wechselseitigen Verhältnisses versetzt uns der Autor mitten in die Pariser Welt von Prousts Romanfigur Charles Swann und begleitet den Phänomenologen Maurice Merleau-Ponty, der widerum Proust begleitet, auf der Suche nach der verlorenen Zeit. In einer ungeheuren Dichte, im Erklingen einer fiktiven Sonate für Piano und Violine des von Proust eigens erdachten Komponisten Vinteuil, verschmilzt die in Swann aufsteigende, längst dem Vergessen anheim gegebene  Erinnerung an seine einstmalige Geliebte, die Kurtisanin Odette de Crecy, mit einem zärtlichen Gedanken an den zwar unbekannten, ihm jedoch im Geiste und im Schmerz verbundenen Komponisten und der Frage nach der Urquelle der schöpferischen Inspiration aus den Erfahrungen von Trauer, Verlust und Glück.

Die folgenden vier Kapitel versammeln Gedanken zur Medialität des Films, die das Verhältnis von Bewegung, Bild und Zeit und die Leiblichkeit im Film thematisieren. In Rückgriff auf das erste Kapitel wird das Bewegtbild als wirklichkeitskonstituierendes, welterschließendes und nicht reproduzierendes Faktum begriffen. Anhand zweier Werke von Bergson, Zeit und Freiheit sowie Materie und Gedächtnis erfolgt eine Abkehr vom physikalischen Raum- und Zeitverständnis, das sich im Nachdenken über kinematografische Verfahren besonders gut erschließen lässt. Mit Henri Bergson wird auf die Analogie zwischen einem abrollenden Film und dem Verhältnis des Verstandes zur Zeitlichkeit verwiesen. Im Gegenzug zum nur in Bewegung versetzten Bild, dessen schnelle Bewegungen wir im Film gerade nicht mehr zu vernehmen vermögen, vermittelt das Bewegtbild die Unmittelbarkeit von Bewegung selbst. Hierbei geht es jedoch nicht um die von außen wahrnehmbare Bewegung eines Körpers bzw. Gegenstandes im Raum, sondern die Verlagerung des Fokus auf die Prozessualität des Wirklichkeitsgeschehens selbst. Der Film macht somit, wie der Autor schreibt „vielfältige Existenzweisen und Bewusstseinsereignisse sichtbar, ohne Subjektivierungen oder Objektivierungen präferieren zu wollen.“ (S. 82) Mit Hilfe des Begriffs der von Raumanalogien befreiten reinen Dauer Henri Bergsons, in der sich die Zeit gerade nicht mehr in einzelne, diskrete Jetztpunkte zergliedern lässt, zeigt sich im Film der sonst unsichtbare Vollzug und die Prozessualität eines Wahrnehmungsvermögens, die zeitliche Genese der Wahrnehmung selbst.

Das weitere, mit Film-Philosophie betitelte Kapitel eröffnet einen Zusammenhang sowie Unterschied zwischen dem Film als einschlägig visuelles und der Philosophie als Medium des Denkens. Mit Filmphilosophie, einem 2006 von Daniel Frampton veröffentlichen Manifest, plädiert der Autor für ein „radikal neues Verständnis des Kinos“. (S. 93) Hier wird das Bewegungsbild zu einem Sinnbild affektiver Intelligenz, in dem sich Bezüge eines körperlichen Weltverhältnisses noch vor jedweder soziologischen, sprachlichen und narrativen Symbolisierungsleistung manifestieren und somit erst zur Sichtbarkeit gelangen. Demzufolge bietet das Kino einen eigens ausgewiesenen Ort zur Untersuchung und Analyse von Affekten. Darüber hinaus wird der Film in Rückbezug zu Hugo Münsterbergs psychologischen Studien zum Kino als ein „Simulationsraum für Bewusstseinsvorgänge beschrieben“ und als „einzige visuelle Kunst, in der das gesamte Reichtum unseres inneren Lebens, unsere Wahrnehmungen, unser Gedächtnis und unsere Phantasie, unsere Erwartung und unsere Aufmerksamkeit, in den äußeren Eindrücken selbst lebendig gemacht werden kann.“ (S. 96). Während sich bei Münsterberg der Film jedoch nur aus der Psychologie der einzelnen Figuren wie Autor, Schauspieler und Zuschauer erklären lässt, geht Framptons Filmosophie darüber hinaus. Durch diesen von Frampton generierten Neologismus, wird der Film nicht nur zu einem Ort des Denkens, sondern zu einem eigenständigen Schöpfer seiner selbst, film-beeing. Der Film als Subjekt ist immer mehr als die Summe seiner Teile. Er übersteigt die Intention des Autors, die technischen Möglichkeiten kinematographischer Verfahren, die Leistung der Schauspieler und die Position der Zuschauer, indem er selbst denkt und zum Betrachter wird. Einem Betrachter jedoch, dessen Blick-Punkt sich nicht mehr ausweisen lässt. Seine Sichtweise des Films als Subjekt stellt Frampton in Analogie zu Maurice Merleau-Pontys im Essay Das Kino und die neue Psychologie entwickelten Leibbegriff, indem er den Film selbst als Körper zu begreifen beginnt. Dies in seiner doppelten Funktion als sehend-sichtbarer Körper. Das Filmbild ist beides zugleich: Ausdruck einer Wahrnehmung und ihr Objekt. Mit Vivian Sobchack wird die filmische Textur als „Ausdruck von Erleben durch Erleben“ (S. 99) und „als ein quasi-subjektives und verkörpertes Auge, das eine eigenständige – wenn nicht eine gewöhnlich präpersonale und anonyme – Existenz hat.“ verglichen (S.100). Das filmische Material wird somit zu einem medialen Arrangement, an dem sich die, die Philosophie Pontys durchziehende Frage nach dem Verhältnis von Natur und Geist, Welt und Bewusstsein, Sehen und Sichtbarem in ihrer wechselseitigen Durchdringung studieren lässt. Mit Deleuze fragt der Autor weiterhin, was und der Film über das Verhältnis von Raum und Zeit offenbart, was uns weder andere Künste noch die Philosophie selbst zu denken geben.

Die weiteren vier Kapitel widmen sich dem Theater. Der Autor stellt zwei divergierende Konzepte und Typen des Schauspielers einander gegenüber. Den von Diderots präferierten intellektuellen Schauspieler, den dieser in Hippolyte Clairon, einer Darstellerin der Comedie-Francaise, beispielhaft verkörpert weiß und eine von Helmut Plessner entwickelte Anthropologie des Schauspielers. Mit der zweitgenannten Theorie versucht der Autor eine Korrektur an Diderots Thesen zum Paradox der Schauspielkunst vorzunehmen und übt Kritik an der einseitigen Kopflastigkeit seiner Thesen (S. 136). Während Diderot vom Schauspieler eine vom Verstand geleitete Distanzierung zu seinen leiblichen Regungen und Emotionen einfordert – „Nicht der erregte Mensch, der außer sich ist, kann uns mitreißen; das ist das Vorrecht des Menschen, der sich in Gewalt hat“ (S. 137) – entwickelt Sternagel mit Plessner eine dritte, die Leiblichkeit einbeziehende Theorie der Verkörperung, die über eine Verbindung beider Modelle sowohl die Reflexion und Kontrolle als auch die Natur, Sensibilität und Leidenschaft in ihr Recht setzt.

Unter der Überschrift Maske, Gesicht, Antlitz geht der Autor dem wechselseitigen Verweisungszusammenhang und der Bedeutung dieser Begriffe in unterschiedlichen kulturellen Kontexten nach. Das Wort Maske wird in Bezug zu Agamben mit Persona übersetzt und unterhält in ihrer moralischen, den juridischen und politischen Personenbegriff übersteigenden, Ausrichtung eine starke Affinität zum Theater, dem Verhältnis des Schauspielers zur Maske und ihrer paradoxalen Struktur. Die Entstehung der moralischen Person erfolgt durch die gleichzeitige „Zustimmung zur und das Abrücken von der Gesellschaftlichen Maske“ (S. 149). Im griechischen Begriff prosopon gelangen Maske und Gesicht zu einer ununterscheidbaren Einheit und bilden dasjenige, was sichtbar ist, sich, in wörtlicher Übersetzung, den Augen eines Gegenübers zeigt. Im christlichen Raum wiederum bedeutet Persona das Antlitz Jesu Christi, der durch seine Menschlichkeit die Maske Gottes trägt. Für Maurice Merleau-Ponty gilt das Gesicht als der ausgewiesene Träger einer Existenz, in dem sich in der unmittelbaren Wahrnehmung die Spur eines anderen Bewusstseins andeutet, das sich weder in Analogie zum eigenen Bewusstsein begreifen, noch durch eine gedankliche phänomenologische Deduktion ableiten lässt.  Für Emmanuel Levinas bedeutet das Antlitz (le visage) die erste Rede, indem es die reine Form des Gesichts durchstößt und in seiner ethischen Konsequenz, das Gebot „Du wirst keinen Mord begehen“ ausspricht (S. 154). Gilles Deleuze und Felix Guattari entwickeln in den Tausend Plateaus eine von ethischen Implikationen abweichende Vorstellung vom Gesicht. Mit Begriffen wie „Bunker Gesicht“ (S. 154) wird das Gesicht zu einer Kartographie, Landkarte und mithin zu einer reinen Oberfläche, die in eine abstrakte Maschinerie eines Machtgefüges verwoben ist. Innerhalb eines semiotischen Sinnzusammenhangs vielschichtiger Einschreibungen, dient das Gesicht lediglich als Projektionsfläche zur Kodierung und Dekodierung kultureller Machtverschiebungen, dem es für Deleuze und Guattari somit zu entkommen gilt. Das Gesicht von Greta Garbo wird im Film Queen Christina zur totalen Maske und einem „Archetypus des menschlichen Gesichts, aus dem nur noch die Augen verletzlich und verletzt herauszittern“ (S. 156). Den Abschluss des Kapitels bildet am Beispiel des Films Faceless die Frage nach dem Verlust des Gesichts durch biometrische Verfahren.

Unter der Überschrift Pathos des Schauspielers arbeitet der Autor eine der für den Schauspieler wichtigsten Eigenschaften, den Takt heraus. Der Schauspieler und die Zuschauer sehen nicht nur etwas, sie „sehen das Gesehene zugleich als Ausdruck eines Sehens“ (S. 162) Am Beispiel eines in der Neuen Rundschau 1964 eigens von Adorno veröffentlichten Schilderung seines persönlichen Treffens mit Charlie Chaplin in einer Villa in Malibu, fokussiert Sternagel wesentliche Eigenschaften eines Schauspielers anhand der Figur Charlie Chaplins. Adorno schildert hier folgende Begebenheit: Während Chaplin in unmittelbarer Nähe zu ihm stand, reichte er einem der Gäste, dem Hauptdarsteller aus einem kurz nach dem zweiten Weltkrieg berühmt gewordenen Film The Best Years of our Life von 1946 etwas geistesabwesend die Hand. Dabei zuckte er zunächst vor Schreck heftig zurück, als er bemerkte, dass der Abschiedsgruß von keiner echten Hand, sondern von einer Prothese aus Eisen erwidert wurde. Gleichzeitig spürte er jedoch, dass er seinen Schrecken, das unmittelbar in Beschämung überging, unter keinen Umständen spüren lassen durfte und verwandelte sich im Bruchteil einer Sekunde von einem Schreckgesicht zu einer verbindlichen Grimasse.  Kaum hatte sich der Schauspieler verabschiedet, schritt Chaplin rettend ein, indem er die Situation Adornos und seine Reaktion nachspielte, und diesem über einen Anstoß zur ironischen Selbstdistanzierung ein Lachen über sich selbst ermöglichte, welches die Situation immens entspannte und den Schrecken in Komik verwandelte. Das taktvolle, mimetische Vermögen Chaplins wird an dieser Stelle zum wesentlichen Garanten einer gelingenden schauspielerischen Praxis, die, über die Fähigkeit sich in andere hineinzuversetzen hinaus in „letzter, utopischer und alles verwandelnder Konsequenz von der Last des Man-selbst-Seins zu befreien“ gestattet. (S. 166). Mimesis bedeutet somit nicht nur Nachahmung, sondern verkörpert bereits Momente einer reflektorischen, distanzerzeugenden Leistung innerhalb eines asymmetrischen, responsiven Zwischengeschehens, die die Andersheit des Anderen nicht tilgt, sondern bewahrt. Der weitere argumentative Leitfaden des selbigen Kapitels liest sich nahezu konträr zu den vorangegangenen Überlegungen. Der Autor führt Grundgedanken zum Phänomen der Nacktheit und Scham aus einem Frühwerk von Levinas an, das 2005 unter dem Titel Ausweg aus dem Sein, erschienen ist. Ebenfalls in Rückbezug auf die Figur Charlie Chaplins im Film Lichter der Großstadt, entwickelt Levinas ein Verständnis von Nacktheit und Scham, das uns die „Unwiderrufbarkeit unserer Präsenz“ (S. 170) und die Unmöglichkeit der Flucht aus dieser drastisch vor Augen führt. Hier entfaltet sich die Existenz in einer unüberwindlichen, lastenden Dynamik eines Subjekts, das sich weder selbst genügt noch selbst zu setzen weiß, da es sich schon immer in den Anspruch des Anderen gestellt sieht. Die zunächst aus dem Anblick des Anderen resultierende Scham vor der eigenen Nacktheit wird zur Scham vor sich selbst, da für Levinas die Scham vom Wesen des Seins selbst abhängt, der „Unfähigkeit mit sich selbst zu brechen.“ (S. 172)

Das letzte Kapitel, Ethik der Ekstasis, ist eine Hommage an das weibliche Schreiben, in dessen Zentrum ein essayistisches Manifest von Helene Cixous aus dem Jahr 1975 steht: Das Lachen der Medusa. Cixous Appell an die Frauen zu schreiben, sich in und auf den Text zu bringen, mündet in einen Imperativ: „Schreibe!“ (S. 191). An dieser Stelle wird die Schrift zu einem doppelten politischen Instrument, das sowohl die Verdrängung der Frau von der geschichtlichen Bühne, ihr Fehlen im Text sichtbar macht, als auch ihr die Möglichkeit an die Hand gibt, patriarchale Strukturen dahingehend zu dekonstruieren, dass etwas Neues entstehen kann. Ein Neues mithin, das diskursives Denken und reales Genießen zu vereinen weiß.

Jörg Sternagel gewährt einen guten Einblick in Grundzüge medienphilosophischen Denkens und bietet einen variationsreichen Überblick zu sich mit leibphilosophischen, medienästhetischen und filmphilosophischen Fragen auseinandersetzenden Autoren, deren Grundanliegen er uns näherbringt. Herauszustellen ist seine Vermittlung ästhetischer und ethischer Imperative. Im Fokus seiner Auseinandersetzung mit philosophischen Theorien, die er im Durchgang durch unterschiedliche mediale Felder und im Zuge einer dichten Beschreibung einer eigens situativen ästhetischen Praxis an diese zurückbindet, steht die Frage nach pathischen Erfahrungsweisen menschlicher Existenz. Das, was wir erleiden, was uns unverhofft wiederfährt und zustößt, bildet den Kern einer den Körper einbeziehenden Philosophie, die sich von idealistischen Positionen absetzt.  Bei der Vielschichtigkeit der Thematiken, auf die der Autor zu sprechen kommt, wäre es an manchen Stellen hilfreich und wünschenswert, gewisse Begrifflichkeiten und Denkzusammenhänge pointierter herauszuarbeiten und sich selbst noch stärker in ein kritisches Verhältnis zu den ausgearbeiteten Theorien zu setzen.

Cleo Hanaway-Oakley: James Joyce and the Phenomenology of Film, Oxford University Press, 2017

James Joyce and the Phenomenology of Film Couverture du livre James Joyce and the Phenomenology of Film
Oxford English Monographs
Cleo Hanaway-Oakley
Oxford University Press
2017
Hardback £60.00
160

Mauro Carbone: The Flesh of Images

The Flesh of Images: Merleau-Ponty between Painting and Cinema Couverture du livre The Flesh of Images: Merleau-Ponty between Painting and Cinema
SUNY Series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy
Mauro Carbone
Philosophy
SUNY Press
2015
Paperback $24.95
128

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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