Ethan Kleinberg: Emmanuel Levinas’s Talmudic Turn: Philosophy and Jewish Thought

Emmanuel Levinas's Talmudic Turn: Philosophy and Jewish Thought Book Cover Emmanuel Levinas's Talmudic Turn: Philosophy and Jewish Thought
Cultural Memory in the Present
Ethan Kleinberg
Stanford University Press
Paperback $28.00

Reviewed by: Andrew Oberg
(Associate Professor, Faculty of Humanities, University of Kochi, Japan)

Reading Dialectically

1. Content and Structure

To begin, and with consideration for the nature of the journal in which this review appears, it should be acknowledged what this book is not: the work is weakest when it comes to philosophical analysis, for the most part providing descriptions of Levinas’ thought rather than interactions with it (although the latter is not entirely absent). I had expected otherwise and so this was somewhat disappointing, but – to slightly alter the old saying – perhaps we should not judge the book by the subtitle on its cover. The biographical information listed for the author tells us that Ethan Kleinberg is “the Class of 1958 Distinguished Professor of History and Letters at Wesleyan University” (this is also what is given on his institution’s faculty page), and a social media profile (for what such is worth, ours being the digital age) cites his PhD as being in History and Critical Theory. Thus, we should gear ourselves for history, and on that account the work is highly interesting and the reader does indeed gain much insight into Levinas the man from a careful reading of the text. This precisely – the act of careful reading – is the theme which I drew most from Kleinberg’s engaging and enjoyable presentation of Levinas’ Talmudic lectures as I journeyed alongside and through them, and the same shall become our concern in what follows.

A word or two must be given on the unique format that the book employs. Composed of six sections it is divided into four chapters that are flanked naturally enough by an introduction and a conclusion; the chapters, however, are “doubled” in the sense that each contains two separate columns of text which run parallel to each other: picture a single page with prose X on the left side and an entirely disconnected prose Y on the right; turn the page and X continues on as it had been still on the left with Y too carrying forwards on the right. In each of the chapters the right handed Y column ends before the left handed X, and therefore the final few pages simply have that side of the paper blank. It is admittedly not perfectly accurate to describe these two portions as “disconnected” however, for there is a thematic crossover between them which is related to Levinas’ life and personal educational mission. The left side sections offer biographical and institutional narratives connected to Levinas’ series of lectures on passages from the (Babylonian) Talmud delivered to the Colloque des intellectual juifs de langue française in Paris from 1960 to 1989, with an emphasis on what Kleinberg calls the “braid” of Levinas’ influences from and emphases on the trio of Western philosophy, French Enlightenment Universalism, and the Lithuanian Talmudic tradition. (See p. 12; Levinas had learned Talmud study under the mentorship of the well-known but perhaps mysterious Lithuanian master Shushani, being originally of Lithuanian stock himself although his family was forced to flee there for Ukraine after the German invasion of Lithuania in 1915, returning finally in 1920, only for Levinas to decide to leave again to attend university in France in 1923; these and other fascinating details are given in Chapter 1.) The right side sections relate to the content of the lectures themselves, titled respectively: “The Temptation of Temptation” (Shabbath, 88a and 88b); “Old as the World” (Sanhedrin, 36b-37a); “Beyond Memory” (Berakhot, 12b-13a); and “Contempt for the Torah as Idolatry” (Sanhedrin, 99a and 99b; note that the transliteration for these tractate names varies slightly from source to source, here I am simply following the spelling given in Kleinberg’s book).

The biographical (left) portion is further categorized as “Our Side” and the Talmudic (right) as “The Other Side” at the opening of each chapter, and these divisions are references to what Kleinberg outlines in the introduction as Levinas’ formulae – after Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin, founder of the famed Volozhin Yeshiva – of “God on our side” and “God on God’s own side”: that is, for the “God as revealed in our finite and imperfect world and as such limited by that which we can conceive or imagine” and “the infinite and absolutely transcendent qualities of God that lie beyond our finite abilities to define, conceive, or even name God” (p. 5). We are additionally warned that we must take care (this from Levinas’ thinking) not to presume that what we know from “our side” can be understood as “the essence of God or we reduce God to a mere product of our imagination” (also p. 5). Clearly this makes for a healthy alert prior to any approach for or about the numinous, but there is also a methodological risk here in that these alignments could become useless if taken too seriously, such that the attempt to query and seek God on “God’s side” – however tentatively – is thereby perfunctorily given up; we must have some tools to work with, and moreover the courage to so work. We will therefore try; initially by taking Kleinberg’s “our side” texts before shifting to his “other side”, and finally offering some general summative remarks.

2. “Our Side”

Levinas is probably best remembered for his ethics, and as Kleinberg relates it this in part formed the impetus for Levinas’ pre-war move from Husserl to Heidegger, that it was “through the realization that there was no place for ‘others’ in Husserl’s phenomenological program” and hence the shift to a Heideggerean perspective (one thinks here of Heidegger’s emphases on embedded “world” issues, on Dasein as entering a historical trajectory already “in progress”, and on the necessity of a subject-bound hermeneutics as opposed to (the illusion of) objectivity) which provided Levinas with “themes [that] returned in Levinas’s later writing and in his Talmudic readings when they were recast in relation to his renewed emphasis on Jewish thought” (p. 29). After the war, in the dreadful awakening to the horrors of what came to be called HaShoah (The Catastrophe: the Holocaust) which confronted every thinking and feeling person, but of course most forcefully Europe’s surviving Jews, Levinas re-situated his own commitments to begin to place “his philosophy in terms of his Judaism: ‘My philosophy [this is a quote from Levinas found in the collection Carnets de la captivité (Notebooks from Captivity) published in 1946; he was a prisoner of war] is a philosophy of the face to face. The relation with the other without an intermediary. This is Judaism.’” Hereafter he also withdrew from Heidegger, and he enacted “the substitution of ‘Being-Jewish’ for Dasein” (p. 36).

This particularization and un-finitizing (this blurring) of the self and its place in the cosmos moreover entailed for Jewish identity a necessary tie to the past (election, and therefrom responsibility) within the still-not-yet of the promised messianic future, and it is this orientation to time that distinguishes “Being-Jewish” from, for example, the present focuses of Christianity with its “born anew”, or science with its discovery, or politics with its revolution. Therein lies “the fundamental difference between the ontological meaning of the everyday modern world and the ontological meaning of Being-Jewish” (p. 50). It might be objected at this point that Christianity, science, and politics do each clearly look to their own futures – and in the instances of “new birth”, discovery, and revolution especially so – but perhaps the idea here is that the stresses are on something akin to “May we have it now (new birth, discovery, revolution)” rather than the “split” “Being-Jewish” mindset which always has one eye over its shoulder, as it were, gazing both to the was-then and simultaneously the will-be.

On this issue of identity Kleinberg also locates what he describes as a “blind spot” for Levinas, a level at which he “conserves aspects of the authentic/inauthentic distinction inherited from the philosophy of Heidegger”; evidently this is through the relating of an assimilation into the broader culture with an inauthentic mode of “Being-Jewish” (p. 52). There is an interesting argument here in the sense of assimilated life as less “validly Jewish”, and therefore as juxtaposing with Heidegger’s inauthenticity as less philosophically realized, but for Heidegger inauthenticity was the “thrown” and default condition of the “they” (i.e. everyone) and Dasein needs to make (great) efforts to achieve authenticity, whereas the opposite is the case if one is born into the Jewish lineage: there the efforts required are for assimilation (moving out of one’s heritage, and having to try to be accepted as having so moved out by the “mainstream”), and hence the conceptual matching that Kleinberg asserts is not a perfect fit. Then too we might ask how thin the line is (or should be) between embrace and exclude when it comes to matters of identity, a question that ethically and existentially matters tremendously. Concern for the other is certainly at the core of Judaism, but if each other is always viewed in terms of “Being-Jewish” and vis-à-vis the kind of ranking system thereby implied, then that concern must become colored or even tainted; yet again, if we place ourselves historically in post-war Europe we find our sympathies are unreservedly extended to this manner of thought. It might be that the us/them aspect of any identity simply cannot be rid of the paradoxes and double-edges that adhere: that to ever assert any version of “we” is always and necessarily to negate it in a “they”. Whatever the case may be, this is a critique that Kleinberg returns to in his fourth chapter wherein he cites scholars who have been critical of what they label a hierarchy of people and cultures within Levinas’ writings and, as Kleinberg illustrates, his Talmudic lectures.

Let us though transition from ethics as point of view into ethics within/by/as text (scripture and exegesis), mindful of our stated theme of a “careful reading”. The Talmud came to be central to Levinas for his project of an ethical humanism – the responsibility for the other, facing the other and the taking on of accountability beyond the mere confines of one’s own acts – and that, “For Levinas, ‘the Bible clarified and accentuated by the commentaries of the great age that precedes and follows the destruction of the Second Temple, when an ancient and uninterrupted tradition finally blossoms, is a book that leads us not towards the mystery of God, but towards the human tasks of man’” (p. 73; emphasis in the original). It is the reading of the book (Bible) and the reading of the writings on the book (Mishnah, Talmud, et cetera) that properly conditions one to become a creature who can care, and this understanding both motivated Levinas in his pedagogical objectives and in his – shall we say – seizing of the Talmud away from its customary place in the yeshiva and thrusting it into the academy. Levinas, Kleinberg informs us, “wanted to take control of the chain of transmission, to prolong the spirit of Shushani, and thus to fulfil the call to transmit what has been heard. In essence, Levinas sought to start a new tradition, a new chain of transmission, in keeping with his goals for Jewish education, his reformulation of Judaism as a humanism” (p. 83). This then places us back at the beginning, and the Talmudic lectures themselves.

The initial 1959 lecture that Levinas delivered to the series of colloquia (given at the second commencement, he did not speak at the inaugural meeting) was on the influential philosopher and theologian – or maybe more properly: philotheologian, or theophilosopher – Franz Rosenzweig, but at the third event he presented a Talmud lesson opposite another’s biblical lesson (André Neher; see p. 94). At the time this was quite remarkable; Ady Steg, who would become the president of the Alliance Israélite Universelle from 1985 to 2011, recalled that: “The Bible was familiar to the intellectual world, to the non-Jewish world as well. But the Talmud was something totally ignored, reserved for those good Jews with long beards from Poland to Morocco. The idea that the Talmud could be studied in French, in public, and in the same manner that it was studied by Jews from eastern Europe or from Maghreb [northwest Africa] was extraordinary” (pp. 94-95). This was to become the motif for the years that followed. To Levinas, who accepted the being of God/“God” (I add the scare quotes to allow this concept some attitudinal flexibility), and the subsequent central position God/“God” attains through recognition, an associating with and/or orienting towards the divine was not to be done in the kind of non- (or anti-)rationalist ways that are typical of traditional religion, but instead via the same critical and reason-based thinking which is common in scholarship (p. 112). At numerous points Kleinberg refers to this as Levinas’ “religion for adults”, and the notion seems to have been one that was both dismissive and upholding vis-à-vis faith: denigrating “feeling” faith while lauding “thinking” faith would perhaps be one way to put it. Thus, for Levinas the sacred books were that – sacred – and were moreover of greater value than their interpreters and the schools of interpretation which history has granted alongside them; it is “the text that serves as the conduit or pathway to God on God’s own side” (p. 111). Kleinberg, commenting in general but also specifically about Levinas, remarks that we as readers should not depend upon “the genius of the reader or the writer” but rather “we should look to the transcendent meaning of the text, the opening to the Other that always retains the potential to say more than it says” (p. 126).

There is surely much wisdom in this, but it should also be noted the way that such an approach leaves the door ajar for relativism; Levinas did, it appears, insist on a proper training for taking from the Talmud (adhering to and promoting the method he learned from Shushani), but to bequeath the text (any text) with a “something beyond” is to give it a mysticism that supersedes its actual content (such as is signaled by “conduit”, “pathway”, “opening”, et cetera), and this is a facet of reading that both Levinas and Kleinberg seem comfortable with. Thereby the word can be made to “say” anything, and thusly to actually mean nothing. Yet there is, I think, another possibility here, and that is not to be bothered by this relativism so much as to embrace it in a particular way, to adopt a hermeneutics of the moment, and in this phenomenological reading to take care for the written meaning that one finds from within one’s place at one’s present, without making the additional move of affixing definitiveness to that. We are all, I suppose, postmoderns in this denial of a single, permanent interpretation, but in this latter now-construct just offered it is not a case of everything being there because no-“thing” is “there”, rather that what is there is indeed there but its instantiation rests within a spectrum of potentialities. The text is rooted, what it offers is limited, but even so with a depth that the surface might mask.

These thoughts call to mind Levinas’ concern for dissociating oneself from the prejudices of time, and as we suggested that a reading can be repetitious without ever being repeated (returned and returned to for re- and re-readings without ever finding the same set of results), Levinas advised that we leave aside “what we might call the bias of the modern that includes the presumption that we now know more and better than those who came before us” (p. 161). We do not of course, we merely know differently (as regards the humanities at least, for empirical matters the case is naturally distinct). In such a way Levinas was prepared to let the Talmud, through his “religion for adults”, speak its archaic words to contemporary readers and hearers, and in this he found too (the idea of) God/“God” as the “ethical ground or backstop that keeps reason from devolving into sophistry or the will to power…as the inspiration for good, for Ethics” (p. 138). It will be recognized how close this is to God/“God” as the “call” of writers like John D. Caputo, although on my understanding I suspect that Levinas would give a “meatier” rendering to God/“God” than Caputo might. On this note of the other, then, let us now turn to Kleinberg’s second (the right hand side) column of text – his “The Other Side” – in order to better explore the Talmudic lectures themselves.

3. “The Other Side”

The talk which Kleinberg chooses to begin with concerns itself with what Levinas calls “the temptation of temptation”, namely “the need to make the determination and offer an answer [which then] ascribes that meaning and, in doing so, wrests the event and the possibilities latent in its occurrence away from the Other…creating a closure instead of an opening” (p. 18). As we have here been contemplating, this is quite deleterious to a reading (now-constructed or not) that would be able to take – and be enabling of – an ancient source and apply its voice to the present. Whatever the participants whose discussions are recorded in the Talmud may have had to offer on this or that, the instant we affix Correct Interpretation M to such data then A through L along with N through Z disappear into the aether, leaving us not only the poorer for it but the text itself too greatly reduced. The passage on the page might “be” M now, but we must by all means resist the urge to make it ever-M; and, we may add, the related prompting to make my M forcefully become yours (after all, you could be reading N or O or P, and then let us talk about that and see if we do not in the end arrive at Q, or L). Such dialogical/dialectical proceedings (we will have more to add on this below) are of course not only in accord with the way of the Talmud, they are the way of the Talmud, and as Kleinberg writes, “Levinas instructs us to ‘enter into the Talmud’s game, which is concerned with the spirit beyond the letter, and is, for this reason, very wonderful’” (p. 64).

As an example of this, Kleinberg remarks that for Levinas the history of an institution such as the Sanhedrin “is unimportant, even its historical existence. What is important are the lessons that have been drawn from the Sanhedrin” (p. 55); and by reflecting on this once again we may find our now-construct reading with its rooted but broad word-trees, its textual branches. It does not matter one bit if the Sanhedrin sat in deliberation as is described, nor if its hallowed judges ever lived, what does are the manners by which these stories have been taken and applied to the lived situations of those who read and heard them. This is how the book attains (or is given) timelessness, how it instructs from its own side the reader as hearer as interpreter who then must do something with it today, irrespective of the “when” of its contents. However, in thinking thus we need to also recall the above caution about the inherent spectrums within the words and passages, the caveat that whatever the beauty and the intuited or claimed transcendence of a text, such will never be capable of fully standing outside history (arguably nothing can) and therefore will always be connected to the era of its production and the subsequent recorded interactions of the person(s)/community(ies) with the word. Again, Levinas’ “Being-Jewish” (we might substitute “reading-Jewish(ly)” here) that is at once backwards and forwards-facing. Kleinberg summarizes this aspect with: “the memory need not correlate to an ‘actual’ historical event. This is to say that the ‘memory’ of the exodus from Egypt need not be a memory of something that actually happened but instead the memory must be such that it carries the future within it. The promise for the future is more important than the fidelity to the past” (p. 96). This, I think, is not only indicative of the value a perspective can have but also of that for narratives, for myths and storytelling, for those repeated and beloved tales whose truths are in the virtues they (seek to) impart rather than the information they present. Superman, for instance, never “happened”, but his call for social justice and the championing of the weak (incidentally, highly biblical qualities) are as relevant today as they were when the comic first appeared in 1938; Levinas would no doubt make a very similar remark about the more complex and venerable biblical and extra-biblical incidents with which the Talmud concerns itself (not to compare the two!).

Within this very aspect of the text as having value and being loved, however, lies another danger which Kleinberg introduces in the final lecture he considers: “Contempt for the Torah as Idolatry” (Chapter 4). This is to take the Torah as itself an item due veneration, and Levinas counters this tendency (or temptation) by advising that – as Kleinberg puts it – “The general or universal rule is never enough and must be brought into contact with the actualities of the day [i.e. the reader’s time and place]. Invariable conceptual entities are to be avoided, perhaps, as one resists an idol” (pp. 130-131). For Levinas, a Jewishness which is based on a book (Torah) is that in which one is perforce a student, a reader, and it seems transparent enough that this is the kind of “Being-Jewish” that Levinas wishes to promote. The way, then, to avoid crossing the identity-based matter of “reader” with the commingled risk of an excessive reverence for the object of study is to seek to always read through what might be called a properly dialectical procedure, to move beyond mere dialogue with the words (itself already an improvement on a simple imbibing of the words) and into a realm where the text becomes an Other both affirmed and negated in a synthesis which produces something ever-ongoing: Kleinberg explains, “It is not the context in which the Torah was given that is important nor its status as a religious object. It is the act of reading and interpreting the Torah that brings Revelation to life” (p. 146), and therefore the “right and productive way [to engage the Torah] sees that the Torah must be studied, argued, and debated to be maintained. The wrong way is to take the Torah as a finished product worthy of worship in itself” (p. 148). A good reader, a non-idolatrous reader, will be someone who takes the pages as partners for interaction, who finds in them promptings that are always new and timeless precisely because they are timely, because they are connected to and responsive towards the needs of the moment: unlocked, unshackled from the past which birthed them and which must still nevertheless be known yet without allowing that information to circumspect their potential today. Kleinberg very colorfully describes the opposite of the dynamic approach just outlined as a version of “dogmatism” that “results in a harvest that cannot be consumed because the sowing has ceased” (p. 150). The message – its meaning, exercise, possibly even assessment – must be queried, argued, and found from what thereby emerges: again and again, world without end. The summary Kleinberg gives for Levinas’ focus is that, “Studying must not be a devotion in the sense of piety to an immobile code or rote memorization but a motion forward that reveals the way that such a self is always a work in process, a construction, an other me that can be a better me. As such, it is also an opening to the other” (p. 151).

It will be realized that the “self” of these concerns – for Levinas – is naturally connected to “Being-Jewish”, and Kleinberg transitions in his conclusion to contemplate some critics of Levinas’ work on these matters who find a (perhaps unbeknownst) favoritism or elitism within them that promotes his own in-group above all others. This is a matter of deep gravity for any system that would orient itself ethically, as both Levinas and the Talmud itself does, and moreover for one also dedicated to the legacies of Western philosophy and French Enlightenment Universalism (as Levinas was, outlined above), but it is also one terribly complicated by the “facts on the ground” of Jewish existence that at least in its Diaspora but possibly – in this globalized world – even in Eretz Yisrael faces regular threat and pressure to “be” elsewise. Levinas had lived through the Second World War, he had lost his family to the horrors of its pogroms, and he took it upon himself to struggle to assert a Jewish identity that could be proud and noble without retreating into either what he viewed to be a naïve form of Orthodoxy or a self-negating assimilation in the wider European (or other) culture: both of which would be a disappearance. Kleinberg wonders if these longings might not be extended further than the default exemplarism that comes part and parcel with membership-by-birth, reasoning that it is perhaps via a personal approach wherein such could be found: “He [Levinas] sought to make the past present for the future by blowing on the coals and reigniting the fire that he believed lives within the sacred texts of Judaism. It is in the relationship that we each can have with the text and not through the institutions that guard them” (p. 179). I sympathize with these thoughts, and certainly agree that almost limitless wisdom can be mined from the vast catalogue of writings that Judaism in its many formations has produced over the millennia, but I judge that too much structuring of self and personhood occurs from inside a belonging to permit a similarity of (let alone an equality of) reception to take place. “Being-Jewish” is something one cannot have without the constructive accoutrements that affix from the multitudinous angles of a people and a culture. Levinas wished to help his half-assimilated and/or “hidden” cohorts embrace themselves through his “religion for adults”; and with that as goal, and seen from inside that mindset, I think the preferentialism we can find in these lectures is probably inevitable. For the purposes they serve, moreover, that might not be a negative point.

4. A (Re-)Return to (Re-)Reading

In his turn to Talmud we find in Levinas a “return”, and thus we must invoke the concept of teshuvah, the “turning back” from having “gone astray” or – more colloquially – from “missing the mark”. We have not done what we ought to; we have not been as much as we could have; we have not lived up to our potential, or our calling. The challenge, the beckon, is always there: do (be) better, more. Levinas’ was a mission of education and encouragement, to go back and back and back to the text to seek from it what one may need in the moment for that moment, knowing full well that there can never be a mastery and that each re-reading is a confrontation anew. Kleinberg has given us an excellent snapshot of this facet of the great philosopher, of this piece of time within the man’s life, the concerns that enshrouded it and the motivations that animated it. The “stacked” or “doubled” nature of the four chapters that each contain biographical narratives alongside excerpts from and comments on the Talmudic lectures compel the reader to decide which he will engage with first (a strategy Kleinberg outrightly states in his introduction: this is the point of his arranging the book this way), and the choice may be self-revelatory in one way or another. Whether that is the case or not though, the opposite tack can thereafter be taken upon a second reading (“Our Side”/“The Other Side”: “The Other Side/“Our Side”; or vice versa), a notion one suspects Levinas would agree with (and probably Kleinberg be pleased by). The issue is a fittingly Jacobean one of “wrestling with God” (Genesis 32), of trying and trying and trying, of never giving up despite openly recognizing that there can be neither a completion nor finality. Kleinberg demonstrates how the Talmudic talks can be placed into Levinas’ broader oeuvre, and thereby how the treatments given in their contents might be matched with our own era and struggles for identity, purpose, and meaning. Levinas, along with his earlier contemporary and fellow imaginatively thinking European Jew Martin Buber, was an intellect of the other, of ethics, of relation. This too is a journey that does not end, but through our constant revisiting – and re-pondering – of the texts that help us on the way, may it be we find companions as provocative as these.

Sara Heinämaa, Mirja Hartimo, Ilpo Hirvonen (Eds.): Contemporary Phenomenologies of Normativity, Routledge, 2022

Contemporary Phenomenologies of Normativity: Norms, Goals, and Values Book Cover Contemporary Phenomenologies of Normativity: Norms, Goals, and Values
Routledge Research in Phenomenology
Sara Heinämaa, Mirja Hartimo, Ilpo Hirvonen (Eds.)
Hardback £96.00

Stefano Micali: Tra l’altro e se stessi

Tra l’altro e se stessi: Studi sull’identità Book Cover Tra l’altro e se stessi: Studi sull’identità
L'occhio e lo spirito
Stefano Micali
Paperback 29,00 €

Reviewed by: Francesca Righetti (Ruhr-University of Bochum)

Tra l’altro e se stessi di Stefano Micali si propone di indagare il rapporto tra l’identità singolare e l’alterità attraverso temi e prospettive eterogenee incorniciati all’interno degli studi fenomenologici. L’indagine riguarda non solo il rapporto dialettico tra il proprio e l’estraneo, ma anche l’alterità che appartiene alla nostra stessa soggettività, e che può presentarsi nei termini della sorpresa dell’incontro con l’altro.

Probabilmente chi compra un libro che promette un’analisi fenomenologica sull’intersoggettività, non si aspetta di trovarsi a leggere un elaborato che inizia presentando un lavoro comparativo tra Kant e Ginzburg; che passa poi allo studio della soggettività attraverso la stupidità e il senso comune; e infine si conclude con un’indagine sulla preghiera rivolta a Dio. L’autore, tuttavia, riesce a mettere insieme argomenti e metodi eterogenei dentro la stessa cornice dell’indagine sull’io e sull’altro.

Va subito precisato che Tra l’altro e se stessi è una raccolta di articoli precedentemente pubblicati, i quali sono stati rielaborati  per questa pubblicazione, approfondendo la complessità della soggettività e dell’alterità attraverso prospettive e ambiti diversi. Per questa ragione, l’opera presenta una ricchezza argomentativa che non sarà possibile riportare nella sua completezza e complessità in questa recensione. Il mio scopo, piuttosto, sarà quello di evidenziare il filo rosso che lega i capitoli e presentare trasversalmente l’argomentazione di Micali.

Il libro si divide in tre parti. La prima, composta da due capitoli, approfondisce alcune questioni metodologiche della fenomenologia, come intitola Micali, “dall’esterno” o “dal di fuori”, volendo leggere La Critica del Giudizio di Immanuel Kant e le opere di Carlo Ginzburg attraverso le lenti del metodo fenomenologico. Questa prima parte si rivela interessante perché pone l’accento sulle domande riguardo cosa sia la fenomenologia e come identificarla: indagini metodologiche condotte, per l’appunto, da una prospettiva  esterna e  utili per riflettere criticamente sulle pratiche fenomenologiche stesse. La seconda parte è composta da tre capitoli ed è intitolata “aspetti della soggettivazione”, il cuore stesso del libro. Attraversando tre argomenti differenti (la stupidità, il riconoscimento del bisogno e il ruolo del terzo mediante nell’etica), Micali mette a fuoco la genesi della soggettivazione e il rapporto del soggetto con l’alterità. Infine la terza parte, che comprende gli ultimi due capitoli, risponde a due criticità identificate nella seconda sezione e presenta alcuni casi estremamente particolari del rapporto tra il soggetto e l’altro: il fenomeno della depressione e della preghiera a Dio, al fine di studiare tale rapporto ex negativo.

Parte I – La fenomenologia dal di fuori

Il filo rosso che lega i primi due capitoli del libro riguarda il concetto di straniamento, presentato utilizzando i metodi filosofici di Kant e Ginzburg come oggetto di studio. Nello specifico, per quanto riguarda il primo capitolo sul carattere del giudizio di gusto in Kant (1997), cercherò di far emergere il carattere tautegorico e l’attenzione verso la singolarità, che mi permetteranno di identificare il rapporto tra il bello e lo straniamento.

Nel primo capitolo, Micali propone una rilettura della Critica del Giudizio in cui gli elementi dell’opera possano essere utili in ambito fenomenologico e nella filosofia contemporanea. Per farlo, suggerisce di affrontare la questione seguendo quattro diversi momenti di analisi: 1) introdurre il concetto di giudizio riflettente estetico; 2) analizzare il carattere di finalità e la pretesa di universalità; 3) discutere l’articolazione tra sentire e pensare; e infine 4)  riflettere sul carattere disinteressato del giudizio di gusto comparato all’attitudine fenomenologica.

Il carattere tautegorico si riferisce al terzo momento dell’analisi, ovvero all’articolazione tra sentire e pensare. Per chiarire questo concetto, dobbiamo prima concentrarci brevemente sulla definizione del giudizio di gusto. Esso è 1) sintetico, “poiché il piacere oltrepassa tanto il concetto quanto l’intuizione dell’oggetto” (p. 15); e 2) a priori, perché intende essere condiviso da ognuno universalmente: “Chi afferma che qualcosa è bello intende definire una qualità dell’oggetto come se si trattasse di un giudizio logico” (p. 19).

Tuttavia, il problema dell’universalità del piacere è uno scomodo dilemma con cui Kant ha dovuto confrontarsi, poiché parte dal presupposto che l’universalità non appartiene al piacere – che invece è sempre particolare e particolarizzante – ma esclusivamente alle facoltà conoscitive, all’uso della logica e dell’intelletto. Come è possibile allora motivare che il giudizio sul bello abbia una vocazione all’universalità?

Per rispondere a questa domanda, l’autore propone l’interpretazione di Lyotard (1991), il quale afferma che l’analisi kantiana del giudizio di gusto, nei termini di qualità, quantità, relazione e modalità, tradisce un presupposto di fondo: ovvero che “i giudizi estetici possono essere analizzati soltanto attraverso un riferimento alle categorie dell’intelletto” (p. 23). Ed è qui che interviene il carattere tautegorico. Lyotard chiarisce che il piacere è un effetto del nostro essere riflettenti: del nostro sentirci pensanti o pensiero senziente nel momento in cui il bello si manifesta. Tale sensazione ci segnala il nostro proprio modo d’essere: di conseguenza, il piacere è una risonanza dell’atto del piacere. Il carattere tautegorico si collega al concetto di straniamento presentato nel capitolo successivo, in quanto  durante la percezione dell’arte o del bello si riconosce un’alterità in se stessi: in altre parole, si assume una prospettiva esterna, in cui il soggetto si compiace e stupisce di essere in grado di percepire e di riconoscere il bello.

Micali conclude che “questa risonanza […] non deve essere interpretata in relazione all’auto-rapportarsi del sé con se stesso” (p. 24), bensì come un sentire incompatibile con l’io trascendentale, che invece ospita il sé. Micali non approfondisce l’analisi su questo sé “ospitato”, ma invita le future ricerche a indagare i rapporti affettivi che modellano il sé, in analogia alla sensazione descritta nel giudizio riflettente estetico.

Un’osservazione rilevante dal punto di vista metodologico dell’analisi di Micali riguarda il giudizio estetico riflettente. L’attenzione si rivolge alla “fenomenalità precipua della singola apparizione nella sua fatticità, ovvero rispetto a quanto nella sua unicità e contingenza appare improvvisamente come bello” (p. 25). Questo interesse per l’emergenza del fenomeno nella sua singolarità, insieme al carattere disinteressato del giudizio riflettente del gusto, richiamano due fondamentali principi della pratica dell’analisi fenomenologica: lo studio del fenomeno nelle sua modalità di apparizione originaria e singolare, e il metodo dell’epochè, volta a sospendere l’attitudine naturale verso il mondo. L’incontro con il fenomeno nella sua singolarità porta allo stupore e allo straniamento, che a sua volta ci conduce alla sospensione del giudizio. Il concetto di straniamento viene poi approfondito nel capitolo successivo.

Chi come me è affascinato dalla microstoria e dalla scrittura di Ginzburg, sarà meravigliato dal capitolo a lui dedicato. Il capitolo è diviso in due parti: nella prima viene analizzato lo stile di ricerca di Ginzburg, nella seconda si considera il modello epistemologico dello straniamento.

Micali sostiene che lo stile di Ginzburg della polifonia e del mantenimento di tutte le voci dei protagonisti delle sue storie, senza un appiattimento sotto un’unica coscienza narrativa, è lo strumento stilistico che permette di comprendere l’alterità. In altre parole, Ginzburg sorprende il lettore, attraverso uno stile conduttore di contenuti che permettono di atterrire e di provocare un disorientamento di fronte all’alterità (sociale, culturale e identitaria). Tutti i presupposti di senso comune vengono sovvertiti attraverso l’incontro di microcosmi, di vite e di epoche molto lontane,socialmente e culturalmente, da noi.

Secondo la ricostruzione di Micali, l’interesse di Ginzburg per lo straniamento nasce dallo studio di Sklovskij (1976) sulla questione della natura dell’arte nel contesto del formalismo russo. Secondo Sklovskij, “l’arte è in grado di sospendere gli automatismi che caratterizzano il nostro rapporto con il mondo circostante” (p. 52). In questo modo, il problema dell’attitudine naturale verso il mondo si definisce più chiaramente: il nostro rapporto con il mondo cade sotto l’influenza dell’abitudine e lo straniamento diventa uno strumento a favore della sospensione di questo rapporto. Il momento sovversivo e fanciullesco di incontrare la realtà come fosse la prima volta: è una prospettiva che ci permette di dubitare del senso comune che noi stessi abitiamo.

Secondo Micali, attraverso il suo stile e particolare approccio alla ricerca, Ginzburg compie lo stesso lavoro di straniamento, che ci permette di assumere prospettive nuove per guadagnare “una distanza critica da quanto è immediatamente vissuto in modo così ovvio da rimanere invisibile” (p. 38). Da una parte, lo stile polifonico conduce al lavoro etico di dare voce a ogni personaggio, soprattutto quando marginalizzato. La motivazione che muove il lavoro di Ginzburg infatti è stata probabilmente determinata dall’idea di Benjamin di riscattare il passato degli oppressi: “riscattare la voce sofferente (e molto reale) dell’altro, dello sconfitto, del perseguitato” (p. 39). Curiosa è d’altronde la nota tra parentesi, “molto reale”, sottolineando un altro aspetto filosofico del lavoro di Ginzburg: ovvero l’obiettivo di contrastare le derive post-moderne e decostruttiviste che conducono alla confusione tra realtà e finzione, tra testo ed evento. “Se il confine tra realtà e finzione diventa completamente fluido, si perde la possibilità di rendere giustizia alle flebili voci degli sconfitti” (p. 40).

Dall’altra, si rileva un inaspettato ponte tra Ginzburg e Merleau-Ponty: entrambi mirano a indagare l’essere umano all’interno della “intersezione tra attività simboliche e la nostra costituzione corporea” (p. 72). Contrapposto all’universale verticale, approccio antropologico che ha la pretesa di cogliere tutte le culture attraverso categorie universali, l’approccio di ricerca filosofica che accomuna Ginzburg e Merleau-Ponty è l’universale laterale, che accetta le differenze incompatibili di tipo simbolico e culturale, ma mira “alle identificazioni universali ancorate alla nostra costituzione corporea” (Ivi).

Per concludere, l’analisi attraverso le opere di Ginzburg e la microstoria risulta essere rilevante in due direzioni: metodologica ed etica. A livello metodologico, il percorso che procede dall’identità storica a quella personale, da Ginzburg a Levinas, sembra calcare la tradizione ermeneutica di Ricœur (2004), considerando l’epistemologia della storia e la fenomenologia come “due facce della stessa medaglia” (Dessingué 2019). A livello etico, la microstoria ci dà la possibilità di guardare con occhi diversi la nostra identità e la cultura entro la quale l’abbiamo costruita. All’interno dell’etica e della filosofia (vengono in mente autori come Marcuse 1999, Simmel 1976, Rorty 2008), lo straniero è considerato un potente medium per guardare alla propria identità culturale da un nuovo punto di vista.

Parte II – Aspetti della soggettivazione

La seconda parte del testo è dedicata ad alcuni modi fondamentali della soggettivazione, ovvero della formazione dell’identità attraverso dinamiche esistenziali di individuazione. Il terzo capitolo è uno studio sulla stupidità che ha l’obiettivo di avere uno sguardo privilegiato sul senso comune e sul nostro rapporto con esso, facendo così da ponte fra la prima e la seconda parte del libro. Con il quarto e il quinto capitolo Micali presenta il cuore del tema indagato e che motiva il titolo stesso del libro, “tra l’altro e se stessi”: lo studio dell’identità attraverso l’interlocuzione, il rapporto tra l’infante e l’adulto, il ruolo del terzo mediante, l’aspetto della giustizia etica attraverso lo sguardo del terzo. Prendiamo ora in esame i singoli capitoli.

Secondo Micali, l’indagine sulla stupidità deve partire dalle seguenti considerazioni. 1. Bisogna rimanere fedeli al principio fenomenologico di ritenere la stupidità un fenomeno specifico che non va ridotto al suo opposto, l’intelligenza. 2. Non si deve, tuttavia, ignorare la sua relazione con l’intelligenza, in quanto influenzerà il nostro modo di considerare la ragione. Per questi motivi, l’autore suggerisce di adottare un approccio olistico (Goldstein 1939, Canguilhem 1991), nonché di affrontare i fenomeni della mente da un punto di vista ecologico: fenomeni come la stupidità non hanno un valore assoluto in termini negativi, ma risultano funzionali o disfunzionali esclusivamente in rapporto all’ambiente circostante.

Innanzitutto, come evidenzia Micali, ogni tentativo di definire la stupidità sembra essere riduttivo: l’essere umano si trova ad affrontare infinite situazioni e, di conseguenza, infinite dovranno essere le forme di stupidità generate. Il suo obiettivo è quello di concentrarsi esclusivamente sulla forma di stupidità che riguarda e influenza la dimensione dell’identità e della soggettività.

Per questo, Micali presenta il contributo di Alain Roger (2008) sulla stupidità. Nonostante le criticità del suo lavoro, particolarmente interessanti sono i suoi meriti secondo Micali, in particolare l’aver evidenziato il ruolo della tautologia all’interno del paradigma del senso comune e della stupidità. Sia a livello sintattico sia a livello contenutistico, la tautologia è un potente strumento di violenza identitaria: si prenda come esempio il caso di alcune minoranze che sono costrette a sentirsi definite da membri esterni, con l’utilizzo di tautologie  che veicolano stereotipi e pregiudizi.

In seguito, Micali esplora l’idea che la stupidità possa appartenere a due estremi dell’identità soggettiva: alla coscienza assoluta anarchica che fa e dice tutto ciò che pensa senza freni oppure al polo opposto dello spirito di serietà, che si sovra-identifica con un ruolo sociale. Secondo Roland Breeur (2015), tale sovra-identificazione tradisce una segreta angoscia e paura nell’assenza di volto della coscienza assoluta. Contrariamente a questa linea di pensiero, adottando la metafora del fondo di Deleuze (2011), Micali vuole esplorare l’idea opposta, ovvero che chi dice o si comporta in modo stupido si possa compiacere di se stesso. Nonostante originariamente complesso, il fondo deleuziano va compreso nei termini del senso comune, nonché “inteso come insieme infinitamente complesso di eterogenei dispositivi sociali e di paradigmi epistemici che ci prendono e da cui proveniamo” (p. 99). Attraverso il linguaggio, assorbiamo dall’altro il senso comune in cui siamo immersi sin dalla nascita. Partendo da questa nozione, l’autocompiacimento dello stupido consisterebbe quindi nello sguazzare nei comportamenti trasmessi dalla società al fine dell’appiattimento alla norma: “Questa risalita del fondo può manifestarsi come auto-compiacimento del (e nel) triviale, triviale intersoggettivamente condiviso” (Ivi).

In conclusione, l’analisi di Micali mira ad argomentare che il fastidio provato di fronte all’incontro con la stupidità consisterebbe nel ricordare “l’indifferenziato punto di partenza” o il fondo a cui tutti apparteniamo. L’incontro con la stupidità sembra riportarci a quel senso comune da cui ci eravamo allontanati con la soggettivazione e la formazione identitaria. In questo modo Micali è in grado di concludere che:

Nella stupidità dell’altro vediamo riemergere quel fondo di luoghi comuni, di atteggiamenti affettati, di valori che sono stati da noi incorporati prima ancora di poter porre in essere una qualunque distanza critica verso di essi (p. 100).

In continuità con la costruzione dell’identità individuale dal fondo sociale a cui tutti siamo appartenuti (o continuiamo ad appartenere per certi aspetti), i due capitoli successivi mirano a indagare il concetto della terza persona in rapporto all’ordine di giustizia. Inizialmente, nel quarto capitolo, si approfondisce il rapporto tra la prima e la seconda persona, presentando il problema dell’appropriazione dell’essere da parte dell’altro. Questa appropriazione avviene attraverso il logos, o detto altrimenti attraverso la semiotica del bisogno. Usando l’accurata descrizione di Olivetti (1992), Micali presenta quattro stadi della dinamica dialettica del riconoscimento del bisogno nel rapporto infante-adulto, che conduce alla genesi della soggettività e in cui l’ultimo stadio coincide con la nascita dell’autocoscienza. Egli sostiene che l’interlocuzione permette di esplorare la nascita del soggetto, senza la necessità di dare valore fondativo all’autocoscienza. All’interno di questa relazione dialettica “si manifesta la traccia della terza persona” (p. 110): sia in rapporto al dire, sia in rapporto al rispondere. Nel dire, la società (la terza persona) si impone attraverso il linguaggio, ereditando significati, storie e memorie della comunità (un noi a cui si comincia ad appartenere). Nel rispondere, il soggetto misura la sua responsabilità nei confronti della società. Quest’ultima viene affrontata nei termini di giustizia etica nel capitolo successivo.

Nel quinto capitolo, infatti, questa distinzione del ruolo del linguaggio tra dire e rispondere viene presentata di nuovo nei termini di “donazione di senso” e “senso etico” facendo riferimento al lavoro di Levinas (1998). L’incontro con l’alterità si presenta attraverso il linguaggio e le espressioni linguistiche che dichiarano le manifestazioni infinite dell’altro. Queste ultime mettono in dubbio “il proprio mondo e se stessi:  tramite l’incontro con l’Altro affiora un senso di ordine differente […] che mi chiama e mi ordina di sacrificare la mia felicità” (p. 117). Infatti, in Totalità e Infinito (1998) Levinas introduce una dualità e un’ambiguità sul ruolo della terza persona: esso non è solo il sofferente che ci appella per il riconoscimento della sua fragilità, ma è anche lo sguardo sociale che ci chiama alla responsabilità verso l’alterità.

Da una parte, nell’incontro, la fragilità dell’altro nella sua esistenza mortale (“l’Altro nella sua nudità” p. 119) mi fa vergognare delle possibilità e potenzialità che ho di ferirlo in quanto essere umano. Secondo Levinas, da un lato, questo senso di fragilità permette all’io di trovare il suo senso ultimo: la sua propria umanità. Dall’altro, lo sguardo (giudicante) dell’Altro deforma le mie responsabilità nei confronti del mio interlocutore. In altre parole, l’Altro “mi fa dono di ciò che non era in me” (Ivi), ovvero mi introduce a una nuova dimensione di senso e attua l’etica della responsabilità che possiedo nei confronti del terzo: in questo dono o in questa anteriorità del terzo che mi precede nell’introduzione di senso, si può rintracciare l’analogia tra l’Altro e Dio.

Dall’altra, lo sguardo della società è costantemente assente e presente nel verbo e nel linguaggio: “esso non si esaurisce nel mettere in discussione il mio essere, ma include il momento della predica, dell’esortazione, della parola profetica” (p. 123). Al doppio ruolo del terzo, corrispondono due diverse forme di responsabilità. Al terzo come “umanità che ci guarda” (cfr, p. 124), bisognerà presentarsi nella forma della parola profetica; diversamente, verso il terzo nei termini del sofferente, il rapporto di responsabilità dovrà attuarsi nell’ eccomi.

In Altrimenti che essere (1983), Levinas abbandona uno dei due ruoli della “terza persona”, ovvero quello dello “sguardo”, e conseguentemente modifica il rapporto tra la prima e la seconda persona che precedentemente aveva bisogno del terzo perché il soggetto venisse a conoscenza del suo proprio senso. Tuttavia, in quest’opera, Levinas rileva e presenta un secondo conflitto, determinato da due ruoli della terza persona: l’appello del Volto e l’appello del terzo. Conflitto che, come sottolinea Micali, non è risolvibile pacificamente. A differenza che in Totalità ed infinito, dove il soggetto è sin da subito “votato per l’altro”, arrivando al punto dell’annichilimento della persona e della sostituzione all’altro; qui sembra presentarsi un annichilimento della volontà, per “rimettersi alla volontà del Padre” (cfr. p. 123) o del Padrone che mi comanda. L’altro in questo caso è rappresentato dal Volto, che nei termini di Levinas significa obbedienza a un ordine di giustizia e di volontà. Va ricordato che in Levinas tale obbedienza è una costrizione alla bontà “per servire Altri e per sostituirmi a loro” (p. 125). In questo contesto, però, il soggetto diventa ostaggio del Volto, ossia è costretto a essere votato all’altro ancora prima di cominciare a esistere in quanto soggetto.

A questo punto si inserisce l’altro ruolo della terza persona: quello di “limitare la mia soggezione” nei confronti dell’altro. “Il terzo introduce l’ordine di giustizia: io non sono solo responsabile nei confronti del mio prossimo, ma di chi è assente, del prossimo del mio prossimo” (p. 126). Moderando questa sostituzione introduce un ordine di giustizia diverso da quello del Volto.

Nell’architettura di Levinas, Micali tuttavia rileva due criticità, ben condivisibili. La prima criticità riguarda il ruolo del terzo e il suo rapporto con il soggetto. Per quanto Levinas sia interessato esclusivamente all’attuazione dell’etica e a quello che è stato definito “costrizione di bontà”, rimane il temibile problema del male. In un’intervista del 1982, intitolata Filosofia, giustizia e amore, viene posta la seguente domanda, che riassume paradigmaticamente il problema dell’architettura di Levinas: ha il carnefice un Volto? La risposta di Levinas esclude l’io dall’ordine di giustizia tramite la resistenza al male. Il rischio della sostituzione e del sacrificio – osserva Micali – è quello però di una “scrupolosità esacerbata, pericolosamente prossima a disturbi di tipo psicopatologico” (p. 130). In contrasto con la posizione di Levinas, Micali suggerisce di includere il soggetto nell’ordine di giustizia, e cioè dare la possibilità al soggetto di rispettarsi come terzo del proprio terzo, e di preservare se stesso dall’arbitrio dell’altro.

Come diretta conseguenza dell’analisi presentata, ritengo, tuttavia, che Micali avrebbe potuto proseguire rilevando un altro aspetto problematico della costruzione dell’identità individuale. Riepilogando, abbiamo detto che il Volto rappresenta un ordine di giustizia e si declina nei termini dell’annichilimento della volontà personale a favore di quella del Padre. Questa retorica dell’annichilimento diventa rischiosa durante il processo di costruzione identitaria: ovvero quello della pressione ad aderire a modelli determinati esclusivamente dal Volto, nonché dall’ordine sociale prestabilito. Potrebbe qui essere utile fare riferimento al concetto di “bisogno di riconoscimento” utilizzato da Micali nel capitolo precedente. Anche al giungere dell’autocoscienza e della soggettivazione, questo bisogno potrebbe non esaurirsi nell’identità riconosciuta per se stessi, ma potrebbe estendersi e approfondirsi: in larghezza e in profondità, il riconoscimento del bisogno diventa bisogno di essere riconosciuti nei propri modi di soggettivazione dalla società. Quando questo riconoscimento viene negato, quello sguardo a cui si riferisce Micali potrebbe non declinarsi nella spinta etica al rispetto della vita dell’altro, ma potenzialmente nella marginalizzazione.

La seconda criticità rilevata dall’autore, infine, è quella della riduzione della manifestazione di Dio esclusivamente ai termini della mia responsabilità dell’Altro. Come Micali osserva, ci sono altri modi di manifestazioni di Dio, per esempio l’atto della preghiera.

Parte III – Affezione e intersoggettività

L’ultima parte di questo libro si muove a partire proprio da queste due criticità: da una parte, la necessità di definire il rapporto tra se stessi e l’altro ex negativo, ovvero attraverso il caso disfunzionale della depressione; dall’altra, la manifestazione di Dio attraverso la preghiera.

Il settimo capitolo è tra i più interessanti e meglio argomentati. Micali riprende il problema posto nei capitoli precedenti e lo rilegge all’interno della dinamica fra il soggetto depresso e gli altri. Come nelle altre sezioni, l’autore parte dal presupposto che il rapporto tra due soggetti si basi su un’asimmetria originaria che tradisce una priorità dell’altro rispetto al sé. Lo aveva mostrato esplicitamente nel capitolo quinto quando aveva evidenziato che l’infante dà significato al proprio bisogno partendo dalle risposte dell’adulto. Lo aveva espresso poi eticamente attraverso l’incontro con l’altro che dà il senso ultimo alla propria umanità. Adesso, nel rapporto con il depresso, l’asimmetria diventa particolarmente chiara in rapporto a determinate condizioni affettive, come la vergogna.

Nel caso della vergogna, il processo di identificazione inizia dagli occhi di colui che mi osserva: “nella vergogna si acuisce il senso di ritrovarsi a essere quanto è riconosciuto dall’altro” (p. 138). Tuttavia, come ben riporta Micali attraverso Kierkegaard (1993), è necessario considerare che il sé è un rapporto: ciò significa che non vi è una lettura unidirezionale dell’altro sul sé. Di fronte alla lettura dell’altro sul mio comportamento e la mia identità, io ho la possibilità di rispondere e di modificare questo sguardo. Inoltre, non bisogna dimenticare che le considerazioni dell’altro sul mio comportamento nascono certamente dal mio comportamento stesso. Per concludere: questa asimmetria relazionale ha un fondamento comunque bidirezionale, in cui il soggetto ha la possibilità di modificare lo sguardo degli altri e di presentarsi agli altri nella sua esclusiva volontà di identificazione.

Partendo da queste premesse, Micali si pone l’obiettivo di fornire un’analisi fenomenologica della depressione, indagando il fenomeno attraverso le categorie husserliane di Innenleiblichkeit e Aussenleinblichkeit (Husserl 1973). Successivamente procede con l’analisi della mancanza di senso, tipica della depressione, e della mancanza di affettività, che si riassume con la sensazione di vuoto. Infine mette in relazione queste due caratteristiche della condizione depressiva con il rapporto con l’altro.

In un articolo del 2013 (Micali 2013), aveva già analizzato questo rapporto chiasmatico nei termini delle menzionate nozioni husserliane. Il termine Innenleiblichkeit è una categoria che accompagna il sentire delle funzioni propriocettive e affettive. Invece, Aussenleinblichkeit riguarda l’espressività del proprio corpo. Naturalmente, “il proprio sentire interno si manifesta in espressioni visibili all’altro ma non coincide mai con esse” (p. 140). Nel rapporto non patologico, i soggetti di un’interazione sono consapevoli dello scarto tra ciò che si vive e ciò che si manifesta. Per esempio, non si è mai assolutamente certi se e in che misura il disagio provato in una situazione sia visibile. Nel rapporto chiasmatico con un soggetto depresso, Micali sostiene che questa comprensione tra Innenleiblichkeit e Aussenleinblichkeit viene meno o “produce un corto-circuito” (p. 141). In altri termini, il depresso crede che la sua condizione interna disperata sia visibile a tutti. Tra i pazienti intervistati da Micali, c’è una certa persistenza nel dichiarare che non riescono a sostenere l’incontro con altre persone, perché queste ultime possono vedere chiaramente la loro condizione disperata. Micali suggerisce che l’indagine deve procedere mettendo in relazione il senso di vergogna con il rapporto chiasmatico tra Innenleiblichkeit e Aussenleinblichkeit.

Infine, è molto interessante l’ultimo argomento del capitolo, dove l’autore presenta il rapporto affettivo che il soggetto depresso ha con gli altri, declinato nella sensazione di vuoto e di aggressività. La relazione con l’altro è caratterizzata per lo più dalla sensazione di vuoto affettivo, paradigmaticamente raccontato da una delle pazienti di Micali come un reale vuoto spaziale che non permette al soggetto di raggiungere gli altri. Così come il soggetto si sente visto e caratterizzato esclusivamente per la sua condizione disperata, e quindi in un certo senso stereotipato per un unico aspetto (ovvero quello dell’inabilità a partecipare al farsi del senso presso gli altri e presso il mondo), allo stesso modo vede gli altri come altamente stereotipati (cfr. p. 153), ovvero come persone che si sentono bene nella propria pelle e sono ancorate al farsi del senso degli altri. Questo scatena la percezione di ingiustizia, di invidia e quindi di aggressività. Tuttavia, il depresso non può fare a meno di paragonarsi alle azioni degli altri, nel tentativo di confermare le attese sociali. Come riassume Micali, queste considerazioni diventano fondamentali in riferimento a quanto presentato nei capitoli precedenti: il soggetto depresso tende a stereotipare l’altro, che perde la sua identità e diventa un altro indifferenziato, che lo guarda e lo giudica. Al contempo, cerca salvezza nella gratificazione altrui, nella possibilità di legarsi alla vita altrui. Come conclude Micali, questo tentativo di legarsi è un modo di compensare il vuoto e nello stesso tempo è “espressione di una fuga dal proprio sé” (p. 155).

Infine, l’ultimo capitolo riguarda l’interlocuzione con Dio tramite la preghiera. L’obiettivo di Micali è quello di evidenziare il modo in cui il credente si rivolge a Dio attraverso alcuni passi dei Vangeli sinottici. Se la preghiera è un particolare tipo di interlocuzione, allora l’autore ha anche la possibilità di ripensare gli studi precedenti attraverso questo straordinario tipo di interlocuzione. Egli infatti si pone la seguente domanda: come si differenzia l’incontro del volto dell’altro dall’incontro di Dio nella preghiera?

L’incontro con Dio, in questo caso, avviene nella presenza dell’assenza: a differenza dell’incontro con l’altro, che invece si qualifica nello spazio dell’ intercorporeità. Nella presenza dell’altro, quest’ultimo inevitabilmente mi sorprende nella differenza tra le mie aspettative su di lui e la manifestazione di se stesso attraverso le sue espressioni linguistiche e gestuali. Rispetto alle altre forme di interlocuzione, completamente diverso è il sentirsi al cospetto di Dio, seppur nella sua assenza. Secondo l’autore, si entra in uno stato febbrile, di trepidazione, in cui i sensi si affinano nella consapevolezza del contatto con Dio tramite la preghiera.

In questo rapporto di trepidazione, si presenta un’intima connessione tra preghiera e fede. Nella preghiera esiste infatti una contraddizione tra la propria volontà e la volontà di Dio: da una parte, la richiesta di salvezza dai problemi mondani o del miracolo e, dall’altra parte l’accettazione dei piani di Dio per ognuno di noi. In questo spiraglio, si manifesta la fede: quest’ultima risulta essere il presuppposto ultimo per ottenere quanto richiesto. Attraverso la fede nell’essere ascoltati e nell’affidarsi alla volontà di Dio, Micali è in grado di enfatizzare la complessa relazione tra il credente e Dio.

Considerazioni finali

L’opera di Micali presenta un originale punto di vista sulla relazione della soggettività con l’alterità. Intrecciando fenomeni e argomenti diversi, questo libro permette al lettore di farsi strada nella complessità dei temi dell’identità individuale e dell’intersoggettività, potendo nondimeno ricavare gli elementi essenziali del soggettivo ed individuale rapporto con l’alterità. Nella ricerca fenomenologica, c’è attualmente un crescente interesse verso la genesi della soggettivazione, il rapporto con l’alterità, l’intersoggettività e l’identità collettiva: un interesse che si risolve spesso con l’indagine sul primato dell’alterità sulla soggettivazione. Per questa ragione, nei capitoli centrali del libro, sarebbe stato utile avere una panoramica comparativa tra il lavoro di Levinas e quello di altri autori su questi temi rilevanti. Ciononostante, il percorso investigativo, presentato da Micali attraverso punti di vista eterogenei, ha permesso di approfondire alcuni aspetti che altrimenti non avrebbero avuto spazio di analisi.

Se l’eterogeneità e la complessità elaborata dall’analisi sono il punto di forza di questo libro, la sua debolezza consiste nell’assenza di una più lunga e dettagliata prefazione che avrebbe aiutato il lettore a destreggiarsi nei cambi di argomento, di prospettiva e metodo. Nonostante questo limite, ritengo che il libro esponga un interessante e originale intervento per le attuali ricerche sulla genesi della soggettivazione e del rapporto con l’alterità.


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Dessingué A. 2019. Paul Ricoeur, in Bernecker S. e Michaelian K., The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Memory, Routledge, Oxon-New York City.

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Husserl E. 1973. Zur Phänomenologie der Intersubjektivität. Zweiter Teil 1921-1928, Husserliana XIV, Nijhoff, The Hague.

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Levinas E. 1983. Altrimenti che essere, tr. it. a cura di S. Petrosino, M. Y. Aiello, Jaca Nook, Milano.

Levinas E. 1998. Totalità e infinito, tr. it. a cura di Adriano dell’Asta, Jaca Nook, Milano.

Lyotard J.-F. 1991. Leçons sur l’analytique du sublime, Galilée, Paris 1991.

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Dominique Pradelle (Hrsg.), Pierre-Jean Renaudie (Hrsg.): Intentionnalité, sens, antipsychologisme, Georg Olms Verlagsbuchhandlung, 2022

Intentionnalité, sens, antipsychologisme. Hommage à Robert Brisart Book Cover Intentionnalité, sens, antipsychologisme. Hommage à Robert Brisart
Europaea Memoria, Reihe I: Studien, 134
Dominique Pradelle (Hrsg.), Pierre-Jean Renaudie (Hrsg.)
Georg Olms Verlagsbuchhandlung
Paperback 49,80€

Rosa Spagnuolo Vigorita: Di eredità husserliane: chair, corps, dinamiche del desiderio

Di eredità husserliane: chair, corps, dinamiche del desiderio. Emmanuel Lévinas, Jean-Paul Sartre, Michel Henry Book Cover Di eredità husserliane: chair, corps, dinamiche del desiderio. Emmanuel Lévinas, Jean-Paul Sartre, Michel Henry
Rosa Spagnuolo Vigorita
Paperback $31.95

Reviewed by: Bruno Cassara (Fordham University)

The title of the book reviewed here can be rendered in English as On Husserlian Legacies; Chair, Body, Dynamics of Desire: Emmanuel Lévinas, Jean-Paul Sartre, Michel Henry. The book traces a philosophical genealogy seen seldom, if ever, in Anglophone scholarship. It is customary to read English-language works about Husserl’s influence on Heidegger or Derrida, or others on Husserl and one of the thinkers named in the title, or again on the significance of Heidegger’s thought for Lévinas or Sartre. But this book stands out in that it follows the fate of some of Husserl’s most significant but problematic ideas as they were translated, inherited, and transformed by Lévinas, Sartre, and Henry—an unusual yet fascinating mélange.

In this sense, the book complements its philosophical finesse with accurate historical work and (sometimes daring) philological speculation. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the book is that its three chapters do not simply discuss the Husserlian legacy to be found in each of the three French thinkers in turn, but rather treats the three themes put forth in the title—chair (flesh or Leib), corps (body or Leib/Körper depending on the context) and the dynamics of desire.[1] This thematic approach allows Spagnuolo Vigorita to uncover not only the way in which Husserl is received in the thought of these French authors, but also how they received, reinterpreted, and even rejected each other’s work.

On Husserlian Legacies will be of interest to phenomenologists working on Husserl, as well as those whose scholarship concerns any or all three French philosophers. But it provides crucial material also for historians of philosophy interested in Husserl’s impact at the international level, as well as in the genesis of French phenomenology. Finally, scholars who work on the philosophies of embodiment, affect, or desire are sure to find valuable insights in Spagnuolo Vigorita’s penetrating book.

Before I proceed to summarize the book, however, it should be known that the contents of the book rest on a fundamental assumption of which the reader should be aware for a full appreciation of the book’s accomplishments and shortcomings. The assumption is that

“the publication of Husserl’s unpublished materials does not keep us from continuing to consider the Méditations Cartesiennes not only the most complete formulation of transcendental phenomenology, but also—and this is the more relevant aspect for this work—the privileged and most detailed instance [luogo nevralgico] of the dialectical tension between own-body and object-body” (136).

In other words, the Méditations would remain the most complete account of the tension between Körper and Leib, as it was for Lévinas, Sartre, and Henry, even if Husserl’s unpublished materials are taken into consideration. But when made in the context of a work that mainly offers a historical and philological account of Husserl’s reception among these French thinkers, this statement becomes ambiguous. It has been thoroughly established that the first generation of French phenomenologists based their interpretations mostly on Ideen I and Méditations, as Spagnuolo Vigorita herself mentions. But the statement above appears in the context of a comparison between Merleau-Ponty, who visited the Husserl Archives in 1939 to study Husserl’s unpublished manuscripts (especially Ideen II) precisely to investigate the role of the body in the process of constitution, and our three thinkers, who limited their reading to Husserl’s published works and give rise, with respect to Merleau-Ponty, to “an alternative history of the body” (153). In this context, the comments on this divergence risk sounding apologetic rather than historical, especially when the author quotes an article that claims that “Husserl’s unpublished materials do not contain significant deviations from or explicit contradictions of his published works, but rather present a source of indications, developments, and insights into the themes already dealt with in his publications” (135). Thus, as much as the reading of Ideen II contributed to a broader understanding of the phenomena of embodiment and intersubjectivity, it would nevertheless be legitimate to treat the Méditations as Husserl’s definitive account of these phenomena. While the reader should defer to the author on the point that Lévinas, Sartre, and Henry believed this, from a theoretical perspective this position remains more than debatable. At the same time, this theoretical disagreement does not make the history of the body analyzed in the book any less relevant or legitimate.

The book is divided into three chapters. The first treats the transition, pioneered by our three thinkers, from epistemology to life as the central theme of phenomenology. The second gives an account of the “alternative history of the body” mentioned above; and the third chapter is devoted to the dynamics of desire. The first chapter opens with a prefatory section on Lévinas’ role in the reception of Husserl in France. This is not simply a historical account, however. The tacit argument here is that, although others before Lévinas had taken up Husserl in France (the author mentions Jean Hering and I would add Gabrielle Peiffer), the Lithuanian-born philosopher was the one who brought an epochal change to the French philosophy of that time: “Emmanuel Lévinas, translator and interpreter of Husserl: this is the philosophical shock that, in the 1930’s, marked the genesis of the receptive process of phenomenology in France” (26). This receptive moment begins, on one hand, with the publication of Lévinas’ doctoral dissertation (La théorie de l’intuition dans la phénomenologie de Husserl), and on the other, with his re-elaboration and translation of Husserl’s Paris Lectures of 1929, which were published under the title Méditations Cartesiennes. These publications would leave an indelible mark on French philosophy, as the phenomenologies of Sartre (especially in his La transcendence de l’ego) and Henry (in particular his Phénomenologie materielle). Spagnuolo Vigorita does not shy away from the complexity of the genealogy she traces, rightly acknowledging that Lévinas’ interpretation of Husserl is deeply influenced by Heidegger’s factico-existential phenomenology. Still, Lévinas’ anti-intellectualistic interpretation of phenomenology is not only to Heidegger’s credit, but depends just as much on Lévinas’ encounter with Husserl’s Paris Lectures, lectures that emphasized the lived body, intersubjectivity, and the lifeworld.

  Lévinas’ mediation of Husserl’s philosophy thus begins from concepts that allow him to recast the phenomenological enterprise as one that must be thoroughly embodied, affective, and relational. As such, phenomenology in France cannot but move away from the Bergsonism that tacitly reigned at that time. And yet, Bergson’s intuitionism presented “not only a method that contained a certain proximity to the thematic nucleus of Husserlian speculation, but also, in a certain sense, a disposition of thought that had already sensitized the French spirit to a philosophy hostile to all abstract structures and purely rational deductions” (41). In this sense, Lévinas’ interpretation of Husserl is ambiguous in that, on one hand, it heralds phenomenology as an authentic return to the things themselves, but, on the other, it rejects the centrality of representation that Husserl—at least in Lévinas’ reading—confers to the intentional relation. This does not allow a true follower of Husserl to account for the situation of the living, worldly, historical human being during the process of reduction. In this sense, Théorie de l’intuition is just as much an enthusiastic introduction of phenomenology as it is a rejection of some of Husserl’s most central themes. Intentionality “in the strong sense of the term” (66) means making explicit the point of convergence of thought and life, and in this way to understand intentionality more properly as transcendence toward and into the world. While Lévinas never forsakes his critique of Husserl’s reduction of lived experience to what is present for consciousness, he does find in the German philosopher’s unpublished writings the resources to push phenomenology away from representationalism and toward an account of transcendent life as first and foremost embodied and affective: “Reduction, intentionality, embodiment, [pre-predicative] perception: new themes [which], from now on, offer themselves as the fundamental concepts of phenomenology (81).

Sartre’s first works of phenomenology are also critical of Husserl’s intellectualism even as they praise the notion of intentionality. For Sartre as for Lévinas, it is a matter of actualizing the possibilities that the phenomenological revolution brought to French philosophy, and of thus being, as the saying goes, more Husserlian than Husserl himself. And the affinity between the French thinkers is no mistake, the author claims, as the determining moment for the Sartrean appropriation of phenomenology is his reading of Levinas’ Théorie de l’intuition. This is a daring moment of philological speculation, since there are hardly any references to Lévinas in Sartre’s entire oeuvre, but Spagnuolo Vigorita argues convincingly for it. The main themes of Lévinas’ interpretation—the emphasis on contingence, the historical situatedness of the subject, the importance of the reduction, and most of all the understanding of intentionality as a veritable explosion toward the world—all find a home in Sartre’s phenomenological work. And here, too, one cannot but notice that Husserl’s philosophy is filtered through Heidegger’s. For Sartre, phenomenology offers a third way that would evade both (subjective) idealism and scientific naturalism, and can even prepare the way for a new philosophy of emotion and passivity. “What seems to me indubitable,” the author writes, “is that the identification of affect as the privileged means of self-transcendence toward the world…became Sartre’s weapon against the false myths of the ‘interior life’” (85). It is not a matter of denying the cogito as much as it is a matter of scaling down its constitutive-representational powers in favor of the spontaneous self-revelation of the worldly phenomenon and the subject’s living praxis. Yet Sartre goes further than Lévinas. Where the latter sees in intentionality the possibility of thinking the primordial “how” of the relation to the world, Sartre appropriates the concept in order to sweep away any “thingly” aspect of consciousness that takes away from its absolute spontaneity. This, for Sartre, is the true sense of the reduction: the elimination of the ego as the last psychical remainder that characterizes consciousness as self-positing. After all, if the ego is absolutely self-transcendent, then it is a worldly thing posited along with the rest and, as such, it must be excluded.

A particularly brilliant part of the author’s analysis of Sartre shows that “his pre-reflective remodulation of phenomenology that begins with his works…seems to be inextricably tied to bodily experience” (97) even as the early Sartre seeks to expel all transcendent objects from the field of consciousness, even the ego. The body, as the most transcendent part of egoic experience, should be the first aspect of the ego to be reduced away, and yet there necessarily must be an “implicit body” (98) that plays a tacit but crucial role in Sartre’s early phenomenology. In La Transcendence de l’Ego, the body would thus be given as a visible and tangible sign of the ego understood not as the result of reflective thinking—the “I myself”—but as the unreflective pole of spontaneous praxis. After all, “it is evident that the support for…the motor functions [implied in praxis]…cannot but be the body” (101). Spagnuolo Vigorita’s argument for this implicit body is well grounded in the text and convincing.

The section on Henry is shorter than the previous two for two reasons. First, Henry himself is much more critical of Husserlian phenomenology than the others. If Lévinas and Sartre find in intentionality the conceptual resources for a philosophical revolution despite their disagreements with Husserl, “for Henry it is precisely in this concept that the forgetfulness of a more originary kind of manifestation, i.e., that of life, is accomplished” (110). In other words, there is less negotiation to be found in Henry’s engagement of Husserl because, for him, the intentional relation is what obscures life’s phenomenality. In this sense, Henry’s Phénomenologie Materielle and many of his subsequent works seek to unbind the conditions of phenomenality from the “outside” (dehors) or externality of the world. The title of this first chapter, “From Epistemology to Life,” fits Henry’s trajectory perfectly.

Nevertheless, the author gives an informative account of how Henry argues for his phenomenological rebellion and how Husserl’s thought informs it. As with Sartre and Lévinas, Henry certainly rejects the primacy that Husserl bestows upon representative and predicative thinking. Furthermore, he follows the two in recasting the process of phenomenological reduction, so that, for Henry, “the radicalization of the reduction coincides with the suspension of the ecstatic dimension of visibility” (115). A more radical reinterpretation of the reduction and its uses, since Henry does not seek to suspend only the representative powers of consciousness, but the very equivalence, always taken for granted, of visibility and manifestation. In other words, it is not only a matter of helping consciousness in making the phenomenon of sense visible through a sinngebenden Akt, but rather of letting manifest what most originarily self-manifests of its own accord—and this is life. As much as this might seem a complete rejection of Husserl’s thinking, it is through Husserl that the phenomenology of life becomes possible at all. In fact, Henry takes up Husserl’s account of hyletic givenness to argue that there is an intelligibility in the immanent passivity of hyletic affection that precedes and founds all active sense-giving. This precedence of affection over activity shows that the visibility of all objects appearing in the world necessarily depend on the invisible, immanent, and self-affecting life. As soon as consciousness “reduces the hyletic impression to the mere content of a noetic act…the material stratum becomes nothing but an opaque dimension subordinated to the higher functions of intentional apperception” (118, 119). The absolute scission between immanent life (with its material self-affection) and transcendent world (with its sense-receiving objects) is not an oppositional dualism, but a relation of founding and founded strata.

For all three philosophers, then, it is a matter of bracketing predicative, sense-giving activity, which Husserl is seen as privileging, in order to make manifest the living, practical, and carnal dimensions of experience that make manifest the more authentic themes of phenomenology.

The second chapter, titled “Between Ownness and Alterity: With and beyond Husserl,” takes up Husserl’s well-known account of the experience of other subjects in the fifth Cartesian Meditation and shows how Lévinas, Sartre, and Henry modify it in their own accounts of alterity. It is here that the author traces the “alternative history of the body” that, in her view, is not as widely recognized as Merleau-Ponty’s accounts of embodiment and intersubjective.

“To dispel the danger of the solipsism that the transcendental path of the pure ego necessitates,” Spagnuolo Vigorita states, “the fifth Méditation begins by  asking whether, in a gnoseological sense, the experiences of self-identity and alterity are reconcilable” (140). Husserl’s reduction to the sphere of ownness is here interpreted as a methodologically necessary step—one that excludes all traces of other subjects—that paves a via negativa to the experience of the other as someone who is not myself. In this sense, it is necessary to start from what belongs purely to the ego if the experience of the alter-ego is to be possible. The experience of one’s own body is the basis of all possible action, most crucially of actions aimed upon oneself. In touching my hand with my other hand, I discover the interchangeability of agent and patient that is unique to my Leib, and thus that the experience of my own body is constituted as an inescapable commixture of ownness and alterity, Leib and Körper. My body is not only available to me as the organ of my action, but always and also in the way that another subject would experience it, i.e., as extraneous. The alterity that my own body can always present me with is just as foundational as its ownness. Thus, there is no essential difference between my experience of an alter-ego, who manifests primarily through its physical body as Körper, and my experience of my own body as Körper. The similarity between my body and the other’s makes possible my recognition of it as always also the Leib of another subject and not merely a Körper indistinguishable from all other worldly objects.

The problem with such a “proof” of the alterity of the alter-ego, as Lévinas, Sartre, and Henry recognize, is that it makes this alterity depend on my experience of ownness: If Husserl can conclude that the alter-ego is not simply a duplicate of myself, it is because their objective body reproduces the mode of appearance that my own body would have if it were “there” rather than “here.” In other words, the existence of the alter-ego is always mediated by the objective experience of two Körpern. For this reason, Lévinas proclaims himself “très embarrassé” (171) by Husserl’s fifth Meditation. The alter is not truly alter if their very possibility is deduced through an analogy with myself. On the contrary, it is my ownness that is jeopardized by the experience of the Other, an experience that precedes all possible self-reflection. Material, embodied experience constitutively contains a degree of passivity in which alterity (and not just that of the alter-ego) is always active. Otherness affects the self so intimately that the very status of the “mineness” of my body is no longer a certainty, “because the existent, in the very moment in which it comes to itself, is already confronted with the internal sundering that constitutes it” (166). In this way, Lévinas rejects the Husserlian dictum that the “I-can” is the most distinctive characteristic of Leib, thus substituting for the principle of praxis a more original bodily ambiguity. Furthermore, Lévinas’ later reflections on the Face of the Other must be read against this phenomenological critique of Husserl, lest we take his mature philosophy to reject all lived experience in favor of an ethics that precedes all manifestation. That the Face precedes me is not simply an abstract ethical starting point, but most properly names the original vulnerability of the self to alterity in general and to the Other most of all.

As with Lévinas, so for Sartre the phenomenological experience of embodiment is most properly understood as a being vulnerable to others. When Sartre writes of the visage, he is referring to the way in which the corps vécu differs from the massiveness of worldly objects: “before any gnoseological definition, each movement of the body, that is, of the face, is first of all a gesture with a specific orientation and temporality that escape universality” (178). However, Sartre parts ways with Lévinas in that the former’s account of intersubjectivity revolves around sight and the visual. My own face shows its liveliness only when another looks at me and thus offers me his own face. The reverse is also true: when I see the other, I immediately recognize the excess of the human over the world of things, because the voracious eyes of the other betray their transcendence toward the in-itself. As far as Sartre is concerned, then, Husserl’s error would be in ascribing an extended, material body to the ego when, in fact, these objective attributes are only apparent to the gaze of another.

In the transition from Husserl’s idealism to Sartre’s existential phenomenology, the separation of Körper and Leib becomes sharper. This is true of Henry as well, for whom “the praxis of the body, an event that takes place in phenomenological silence, is accomplished in its pathos” (187). It is only when I take up a representational attitude that I can grasp my body as an object, for the lived body has nothing to do with the physical body composed of cells, molecules, and atoms. For both authors, the lived body has absolute precedence over the known body, but each will resolve the Leib/Körper aporia differently: where Sartre holds that bodily sensations, e.g., touch, only reveal something about the transcendent world of the in-itself, Henry sees in sensation the absolutely immanent self-sensation of Life. In both cases, the sensing body as liminal space between the immanent and the transcendent, is directed only one way, be this outward or inward, but never both at once—sensation is not double sensation. It is on this question of double-sensation that the path of French phenomenology splits. The “alternative” history of the body that the author sketches is an alternative to Merleau-Ponty’s account of embodiment and its influence in the French phenomenological scene. The sections on Merleau-Ponty close with remarks on the critiques that our three thinkers develop in response to his ideas of chiasmus and chair du mond.

If Sartre and Lévinas agree that bodily experience is the dimension in which all possible self-identity is always already contaminated, Henry’s position is significantly different. This discrepancy of views stems from Henry’s peculiar understanding of subjectivity. For where Lévinas and Sartre both conceive this contamination as a challenge to the ego’s self-coincidence, Henry holds that all difference and separation can only yield a false account of the subject, who is uniformly compact in its absolute immanence. The possibility of self-transcendence toward the world and toward others is not constitutive of subjectivity, but rather a modification of it insofar as it entails separation. Henry’s subject begins to resemble Sartre’s in-itself in that his affirmation, “je suis mon corp,” does not require any further analysis: to say “I am” is to say “I feel myself in my self-coinciding immanence.” Sartre cannot but appear, in Henry’s philosophy, as its foe. In this diametrical opposition between the two philosophers of transcendence (Lévinas, Sartre) and the philosopher of immanence (Henry), we can observe just how fruitful it is to trace the effects of the French reception of the Méditations Cartesiennes.

And yet, while radical transcendence and absolute immanence cannot coexist in one and the same phenomenology, Husserl’s account of the intersubjective relation provides a foil that brings the three French authors closer together. In all three, in fact, we find instances “that coincide with the common preoccupation of safeguarding the threads of pluralistic life against objective and objectifying knowledge” (258). For Sartre, this can be seen in the experience of shame where the separation between eyes and gaze is most evident; for Lévinas, the Face is the ungraspable mystery of the Other that nullifies and reverses the directionality of intentional consciousness; and for Henry, the experience of alterity is, paradoxically, an experience that takes place purely within myself, i.e., the ultimate test of his doctrine of absolute immanence. Perhaps, in rejecting all transcendence even in the experience of alterity, Henry necessarily misses the most captivating dimension of otherness (259), but his phenomenology of life does not fail to transform the Husserlian account of intersubjectivity into a philosophy that overcomes the paradigm of objectivity.

The third and final chapter discusses the “dynamics of desire” in our three thinkers, though the phrase “vicissitudes of desire” is just as appropriate a title. While the first two chapters contained detailed historical and philological research, along with relevant comparisons between the father of phenomenology and his French interpreters, this chapter is somewhat less admirable on these points. There is no discussion here on the fate of Husserl’s account of desire in the works of the three French authors, which would have been the most original analysis in the book and would keep to the promise of its title. Indeed, the only mention of Husserl that appears at all in this chapter is in reference to the French phenomenologists who saw fit to investigate the erotic phenomenon “as a privileged starting point for denouncing the ineffectiveness of the visual and cognitive relation, [which is] the presupposition of the classical notion of intentionality” (268). Nevertheless, this section is not limited to a simple exegesis of the texts where Lévinas, Sartre, and Henry discuss desire and its dynamics. It also offers fruitful comparisons between these three and shows how Lévinas’ account of eros succeeds in mediating between the carnal and transcendent aspects of desire where Sartre and Henry can only fail. The Lévinasian position is the successful culmination of the analyses of life and embodiment that the author carried out in the previous chapters.

This chapter begins with Sartre’s lengthy account of désir as it is discussed in L’Être et le Néant. In Sartre’s view, and as the reader might expect, desire fails to accomplish what the for-itself hopes it would do, because the carnal aspect of existence can only ever be constituted as an objectification of myself on the part of the other. The author warns us here not to reduce this account to a Sartrean version of Hegel’s master-bondsman dialectic, where two self-consciousnesses seek to achieve the desired recognition by reducing one another to material, servile existence. While Sartre certainly draws from Hegel here, he goes beyond the Phenomenology of Spirit by capturing the drama that carnal, specifically sexual desire implies for both the lover and the beloved. This drama is best understood as a cloudiness that contaminates water that would otherwise be limpid and transparent. In this sense, desire threatens the freedom of the for-itself by affecting it and thereby rendering it passive to its own carnality. The relation to the other is thereby already compromised and destined to fail. Nevertheless, through desire I attempt to objectify the other by possessing their body, and the other does the same with me. However, the use of my own carnality (read: facticity) as the means by which the other is objectified inevitably places my own freedom in peril: “the for-itself chooses its being-there on the basis of a process in which passivity does not mean a pure undergoing of affection and in which, at the same time, self-projection does not completely overcome the inertia [of the other’s facticity]” (282).

Desire, for Sartre, carves out a liminal space wherein carnal encounters are not immediately objectifying, though they will eventually result in objectification. The example of the caresse shows this well. Inasmuch as it is an expression of the will to subjugate the other, the caress remains an instance of carnal contact. However, the caress is not only this because it also signifies a will to express one’s own carnality, i.e., one’s vulnerability. Erotic desire thus represents the unique possibility of reciprocally abdicating one’s freedom in order to feel, through one’s own flesh, the flesh of the other. The “magic” of the caress inevitably fails, but “between the genesis and end of desire, something out of the ordinary takes place and it has to do neither with possession nor with the instrumentalization of the other. Rather, the space of a reciprocal desire is the possibility to make oneself and one another present as chair and to discover the event of incarnation” (296).

The dynamics of désir in Sartre’s works thus have an inevitable fate—not because of a pre-established teleology, but because in Sartre’s hands, desire must be a contradictory endeavor in the same way that the for-itself seeks to become like a god (a for-itself-in-itself) but can never accomplish this because of the opposition between the two structures. But Lévinas offers an alternative analysis in which desire, understood as eros, has a happier fate. Already in his Carnets de Captivité, he makes observations about the relation between eros and caresse that contradict Sartre’s erotic fatalism. The caress is the concrete form of the hope for the present. It does not say that things will get better (nor would anyone expect it to do so, given the context in which the Carnets were written), but it redeems from within the present.

In fact, the whole dynamics of eros promises, for Lévinas, to be the first gesture toward a true intersubjectivity, toward a communal existence. The Carnets offer a glimpse into the tormented reflections that would become the foundation of an ethics beyond ontology, and as sketches of living thought rather than crystallized publications, they sometimes go beyond what Lévinas restated for all to read. A particularly pregnant phrase, for instance, states “sexuality as the origin of the social,” a phrase that contains the aspiration to found communal being on desire, the body, the carnal relation with another: “because there is such a thing as sexual ‘intimacy,’ there is the phenomenon of the social as something more than the sum of individuals” (301). Far from being doomed from the start, bodily desire is for Lévinas the possibility of a relation that overcomes the fundamental ontology of the Daseinsanalyse. This is not limited to sexual desire or eros, but bodily needs [besoins] in general are the first step toward happiness. “If, in the case of bodily needs, satisfaction leads to an absorption of the object on the part of the subject…the peculiarity of the erotic relation lies in the impossibility of overcoming the separation [of subject from subject]” (302). But unlike in L’Etre et le Néant, this impossibility must be read positively in the sense that it always refers to something beyond simple fulfillment.

Where does Henry fit in here? The author compares three texts side by side, one from each philosopher, to show that Lévinas acts as mediator between the extreme positions of Sartre and Henry: “From the being-there of chair that Sartre’s caresse aspires to, to the secret of a sexuality hors du monde, through Lévinas and the violation that does not unveil” (329). It is difficult for Henry to account for the sexual relation, since a relation that is outside of the world-horizon and understood as something subjective and immanent, then it is hard to see how it is a relation at all. Henry is aware of this difficulty, but the author again proposes that the Life-World distinction must be read not oppositionally but foundationally: the non-appearing Life is what makes the appearing world and its objects possible. On the basis of autoaffective Life, all human gestures and not only the sexual relation must be rethought, according to Henry. The body of the other is a transcendent and objective body, but within its finitude I cannot help but glimpse something more. “This is the unspoken presupposition of sexual intentionality,” writes Spagnuolo Vigorita. “To seek, by means of something objective, what could never be touched nor seen because it is something essentially transcendent” (333). Here the reader cannot but intuit a certain closeness between Henry and Sartre, for in the works of both authors the essence of desiring consciousness is to seek the absolute beyond, or within, the contingent. But while Sartre thinks a consciousness so transcendent that its relation to others is part of its facticity, Henry seems unable to respond to the urgency of a phenomenological account of the carnal relation.

And yet, the phenomenology of Life does answer the question of inter-carnality, if only in an almost mystical, almost unintelligible manner: “Even when we go into the world, when we cross a space, we move—this is Henry’s conclusion—toward something that already exists in each living: the instinctual, impulsive community [comunità pulsionale] of which Life is the essence. We might assume that, if all relations obey the laws of originary autoaffection, the erotic community is no exception” (335). Pleasure would be the limit-experience that clarifies this conclusion. It is the same Life that pulses within each of us and that affects itself in perfect immanence, but a desiring consciousness that comes out of itself and into the world in order to feel the pleasure, the Life of the other, cannot but fail because it is precisely in the gesture of self-transcendence that Life is no longer given. In this sense, Sartre and Henry reach the same conclusion while standing at opposite extremes of the intentional spectrum.

On Husserlian Legacies is a work that has a lot to offer to scholars of phenomenology, for it has something to say on many issues surrounding questions of embodiment, affectivity, desire, and the phenomenological possibility of an authentic intersubjectivity. While its comments on Husserl serve more as a background for the investigation of points of contact between Lévinas, Sartre, and Henry, the study proposed by Rosa Spagnuolo Vigorita fills several lacunae in Anglophone research in phenomenology. Its historical acuity, philological depth, and theoretical grasp of the three French figures analyzed therein, will no doubt renew phenomenological research on the themes of embodiment, intersubjectivity, and affect, and will have Anglophone scholars reaching once again for the works of Lévinas, Sartre, and Henry.

[1] It should be noted that the English term “desire” is not perfectly equivalent to the French désir or to the Italian desiderio. The latter two are broader than the former and include connotations of yearning, longing for, aspiring to, or wishing, as well as connotations of craving, needing, lusting for, feeling an urge for, or coveting. The English “desire,” on the other hand, strikes me as more restricted in its extension, leaning more toward the appetitive than the aspirational.

Arnaud Dewalque, Charlotte Gauvry & Sébastien Richard (Eds.): Philosophy of Language in the Brentano School: Reassessing the Brentanian Legacy

Philosophy of Language in the Brentano School: Reassessing the Brentanian Legacy Book Cover Philosophy of Language in the Brentano School: Reassessing the Brentanian Legacy
History of Analytic Philosophy
Arnaud Dewalque, Charlotte Gauvry, Sébastien Richard (Eds)
Palgrave Macmillan
Hardback 117,69 €
XVII, 322

Reviewed by: R.A. Goodrich (ARC Centre for History of Emotions – University of Melbourne & ADI Philosophy & History of Ideas – Deakin University)

The publication of Philosophy of Language in the Brentano School is a valuable addition to the range of recent English language anthologies probing the impact of Franz Brentano upon philosophical enquiries. The past two decades has seen several collections: those edited by Denis Fisette and Guillaume Fréchette, Dale Jacquette, Uriel Kriegel, and Robin Rollinger come immediately to mind. The volume under review edited by Arnaud Dewalque, Charlotte Gauvry, and Sébastien Richard is also one of the latest volumes of the forty published since 2008 within the History of Analytic Philosophy series under the general editorship of Michael Beaney. Beaney’s series introduction (v-viii) not only upholds the need for analytical philosophers to delve into the formative debates and topics since the 1870s that anticipate contemporary analytical and phenomenological concerns and conceptions, but also to recognise the heterogenous contexts out of which analytical philosophy developed, even when such contexts appear to have been marginalised if not altogether neglected.

What immediately confronts contributors and readers alike is, as Beaney concedes, whether Brentano developed a substantial philosophy of language. Irrespective of how we might respond, there is sufficient evidence that, whilst probing the nature of mental phenomena, Brentano’s published and unpublished work demonstrates enquiries into the role and function of language and meaning. This, in turn, raises the issue of whether other intellectuals influenced by him during his quarter-century of teaching or thereafter pursued his linguistic concerns (apart from Anton Marty (see, e.g., 130-135)). Accordingly, we shall begin with the carefully crafted introductory chapter by the volume’s editors which subtly orients readers in the face of the above-mentioned doubts when providing a rationale for their anthology. Thereafter, rather than summarising all fourteen remaining chapters, we shall explicitly concentrate upon chapters from two phenomenological phases debated within Philosophy of Language in the Brentano School. The first focuses upon how Brentano himself engages the question of context which nowadays is still seen as central to analytic philosophy. The second focuses upon how Roman Ingarden, a student of two of Brentano’s influential students, fundamentally transforms phenomenological conceptions of language. Each pivotal chapter chosen will include a paired but contrasting contribution within this engrossing anthology.

Indeed, readers will become increasingly aware of the consistently interweaving nature of this anthology. Those encountering less familiar intellectuals for the first time will have little difficulty acquiring more background in later chapters. For example, the logician Bernard Bolzano first mentioned in Guillaume Fréchette’s second chapter (e.g. 42ff.) re-appears in Hélène Leblanc’s sixth chapter (e.g. 127ff.), Bruno Leclercq’s tenth chapter (e.g. 209ff.) and Maria van der Schaar’s twelfth chapter (e.g. 248ff.). Or again, the linguist Karl Bühler first mentioned in the introductory chapter (e.g. 3 & 25) re-emerges in Fréchette (e.g. 50-51) before dedicated explorations of him in Basil Vassilicos’ fourteenth chapter (279ff.) and Kevin Mulligan’s fifteenth chapter (299ff.). However, for those easing into this anthology’s breadth of reference may find at its deepest level a wrestling with Immanuel Kant’s challenge: “although all our cognition commences with experience, yet it does not on that account all arise from experience” (1787: Introduction B1).


Chapter One immediately announces “the basic assumption” said to be “arguably shared” by Brentano and his followers: a philosophical analysis of meaning is “inseparable” from considering “what goes on in the mind and what there is in the world” (1). The foregoing is reiterated more forcefully as a “shared conviction that a philosophical analysis of language—and, more pointedly, of what it is for signs and sounds to be endowed with meaning—cannot possibly be disconnected from a philosophical analysis of mind and reality” (4). This is next followed by a succinct explanation of the complexities facing the transmission of Brentano’s thinking amongst “the breadth of [his] intellectual progeny” (2), especially in the case of “language, sign and meaning” (4). Two generally familiar questions arise here. Irrespective of where his “outstanding students”—for example, Anton Marty, Alexius Meinong, Kazimierz Twardowski, and Edmund Husserl—subsequently located themselves within the Austro-Hungarian empire or beyond, did they share a relatively “unified” conception of what philosophy and thereby philosophy of language comprises, or should they be regarded as “a heterogeneous group of scholars working on similar topics in a similar way” (2)? To what extent is the foregoing further complicated in that “most of them founded … their own school” (2) such as Marty in Prague, Meinong in Graz, Twardowski in Lwów, and Husserl in Göttingen and then Freiburg?

Some readers might be tempted by an alternative approach here when considering Brentano’s widely disseminated appeal to the study of “mental phenomena as a science” outlined in Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkte (1874: 2-14). The conjunction of science and philosophy, however construed, invites a marked contrast in perspectives. As Robert Merton contends, “scientists ordinarily publish their ideas and findings not to help historians reconstruct their methods but to instruct their contemporaries and, hopefully, posterity about their contributions to science” (1968: 5). Hence, it would be futile to search conventional scientific texts alone as a means of reconstructing the actual history of scientific enquiry, let alone its indebtedness to precedents grounded in the practice of generations past. In fact, it should not surprise us that, when Brentano observes that

psychologists in earlier times have already pointed out that there is a special affinity and analogy that exists among all mental phenomena … which physical phenomena do not share,

he firstly elaborates this as:

Every mental phenomenon is characterized by what the Scholastics of the Middle Ages call the intentional (or mental) inexistence of an object, and what we might call … reference to a content, direction toward an object … (1874: 68)

which is subsequently amended to read:

… all mental phenomena really appear to be unextended. Further … the intentional in-existence, the reference to something as an object, is a distinguishing characteristic of all mental phenomena. (1874: 74-75)

If simply alluding to the “Scholastics”—or metonymously to Thomas Aquinas—characterizes a “scientific” enquiry, this can, from an historical point of view, be characterized in Merton’s terms as one of the following: firstly, as re-discoveries involving “substantive identity or functional equivalence”; secondly, as anticipations where “earlier formulations overlap the later ones” but without “the same set of implications”; or, thirdly, as foreshadowings which, in extreme cases, proclaim “the faintest shadow of resemblance between earlier and later ideas as virtual identity” (1968: 13 & 21). Moreover, the bulk of scientific enquiry can function successfully without any knowledge of foundational precedents. Is this exemplified by the sheer succession of mediaeval logico-linguistic debates upon which conceptions of modes of being, understanding, and signifying and out of which the notion of intentionality was to emerge? Is this why only two of Boethius Dacus and Petrus Aliacensis, Duns Scotus and Gulielmus Occamus, to mention but four crucial figures, are passingly mentioned once by Brentano (1874: 178)? As Merton claims, the physical and biological sciences can function through a “process of obliteration by incorporation” unlike the humanities and social sciences where “previously unretrieved information is still there to be usefully employed as new points of departure” (1968: 35). However, despite Brentano’s apparent conjunction of science and philosophy, Dewalque, Gauvry, and Richard can always retort that they are principally dealing with the contributions of philosophers, not scientists per se.

To reconstruct Brentano’s approach to language, Chapter One seizes upon the manuscript Logik containing Brentano’s notes for his 1869/1870 and 1870/1871 courses at Würzburg and 1875 and 1877 courses in Vienna. The manuscript is interpreted as an interlocking set of tenets (6ff.). These tenets, Dewalque, Gauvry, and Richard believe, assume the form of a “research programme” for Brentano’s students and their students (10ff.). Even glimpsing a few tenets in Logik reveals how Brentano’s notion of language operates amidst a dense conceptual intersection, including communication, generality, meaning, thought, and translatability:

[1] “Language, in its essential meaning, is the sign of thinking” (EL 80, 12.978[9]);

[2] “Language has at first the purpose of communicating thoughts” (12.988[2]);

[3] “Because language is the expression of thought, they say, it reflects thought. Certainly the word is dissimilar to thought, and that is why people’s languages ​​can be different from each other, while thinking is the same, and we translate thoughts from one language into the other” (12.998[2]);

[4] “Language generally has the purpose of expressing … our mental phenomena … (expressing the content of our psychic phenomena; what is presented, judged, desired …)” (13.008[2]);

[5] “Only when combined with other words do [syncategorematic or non-self-contained expressions] contribute to the expression of a psychic phenomenon, e.g. “No stone is alive,” “He struck me,” etc.” (13.009[1]);

[6] “What would Jupiter [the Roman god] mean? Since there is no thing Jupiter? So here the name can only mean my idea of ​​Jupiter, otherwise it meant nothing” (13.013[2]);

[7] “… as Plato [inadmissibly] said, both [“ox” and “dog”] are similar to a general thing, “animal,” an animal in itself, an animal species? – Then we would have to accept something general besides individual things, a world of generalities, a world of ideas” (13.013[8]);

[8] “… the phenomenon in question is not an idea, but a judgment. That which is judged as such is the meaning” (13.020[6]).

What Dewalque, Gauvry, and Richard conclude from the Logik is twofold. On the one hand, “linguistic analyses should never be made in isolation” (8) and, on the other hand, because we cannot “infer the structure of thought from the structure of language,” “some expressions are misleading in a systematic way” to the point of needing to be paraphrased so that “the addressee will not be tempted to posit fictional entities” (10).

Before Chapter One ends with a brief chapter-by-chapter précis (21-25), readers are given a justification of the anthology’s purview by four suggestive ways in which analyses of language by Brentano and followers “anticipated four historical stages of the analytic tradition” (16ff.). Three of the four stages nominated are explicitly initiated by chapters in Part I. Denis Seron pursues Sprachkritik or the critique of epistemically opaque language in the case of Brentano and Fritz Mauthner (77ff.); Dewalque investigates the appeal to how misleading expressions are diagnosed by ordinary language in the case of Brentano and Gilbert Ryle (95ff.); and Leblanc approaches the intentionality of communicative functions largely by way of Marty (119ff.). The fourth stage nominated, the integration of mind and metaphysics, ontology and psycholinguistics, percolates throughout the anthology. Dewalque, Gauvry, and Richard (19-20) avoid committing themselves to an unduly linear progression of the ideas characterizing each stage. For instance, contrasting roles are apportioned for Brentano and Marty in anticipating the third stage of intentional theories of communication associated with Paul Grice whose seminal 1957, 1969, and 1980 papers make no mention of them. Nor do they presume that such a progression is inevitably a result of immediately proximate influences. Nonetheless, no mention is made here of the earlier role of Hermann Lotze recently debated by, for example, Nikolay Milkov (2018) and Denis Fisette (2021). At the same time, Chapter One concedes some noticeable reversals. Just as earlier analytic philosophers regarded logic to be an autonomous theoretical discipline, Brentano and followers construed it as a practical one; just as later analytic philosophers regarded linguistics to be an autonomous discipline, Brentano construed it as one subservient to psychology.

Proposals about the “historical stages” of analytic philosophy of language are constantly prey to alternatives. For example, in so far as Van Quine and Thomas Kuhn since the ‘sixties interrogated the nature of translatability and interpretation and that of scientific theories and commensurability respectively, do they represent another distinctive analytic phase that happens to investigate cognate topics probed by Brentano and his leading students? Surely this example in common with any other faces at least two questions: “From whose perspective?”  and “By what criteria?” The first question alerts us to the following kinds of considerations. When exploring the formation of one or more historical phases of analytic philosophy of language, we may well be in danger of conflating quite different cognitive perspectives. In the words of R.G. Collingwood, we are not engaging in an act of recollection where “the past is a mere spectacle”; rather, the past is “re-enacted in present thought” (1936: 293). When we explore formative processes purportedly involved in a designated stage, we are of course assembling evidence or probabilities retrospectively from our particular perspectives. Consequently, the past is not waiting to be discovered as if it were immutable or inert. The second question shifts our focus to the methods by which we construct historical explanations of any phase of analytic philosophy of language. Here, Paul Roth’s investigation of explanatory case-studies contends that “there is no separating the analysis of explanation from attention … to cases … taken to be exemplary instances of problem solving” (1989: 469). By so claiming, Roth provides us with a set of criteria by which any historian of analytic philosophy of language can be evaluated (1989: 473): how the historical account under examination establishes “the importance of the occurrence of the event” or phase; what “is problematic about this event” or phase; why “other rational reconstructions” fall short; and, how the account “solves the problem … set.”


Two of the five chapters comprising Part I focus upon the degree to which Brentano’s construal of meaning as contextually sensitive directly connects to trends in Austro-Germanic philosophy as well as Anglo-American analytic philosophy. Here, we shall particularly focus upon Guillaume Fréchette’s Chapter Two. His contribution exemplifies at least three alternative ways of positioning the philosophy of language when re-assessing the legacy of Brentano: firstly, by examining Brentano’s actual texts and lectures; secondly, by contextualizing Brentano within the larger history of philosophical enquiry; and, thirdly, by contrasting Brentano’s dominant or successive claims with those defended by his students. Instead of probing the third alternative, this section shall conclude by raising the challenge in Charlotte Gauvry’s Chapter Three to a context principle in Brentano.

Fréchette rapidly identifies several related but not mutually implicit ways analytic philosophers construed the “context principle.” The principle, sourced to the introduction of Die Grundlagen der Arithmetik by Gottlob Frege (1884: x), is the second of three characteristically deployed by the vast majority of those espousing analytic philosophy, namely, “the meaning of the words must be asked in the sentence’s context, not in their isolation.” Fréchette (39-40) selects half-a-dozen re-formulations of Frege, particularly those associated with Michael Dummett and Van Quine, beginning with Frege’s subsequent elaboration indicative of his wariness of psychological appeals:

People suppose … that the concept originates in the individual mind [Seele] like leaves on a tree … and seek to explain it psychologically by the nature of the human mind [Seele]. (1884: §60, 71).

At first, Dummett appears to be elaborating Frege’s second principle in logico-linguistic terms:

the assignment of a sense to a word … only has significance in relation to the subsequent occurrence of that word in sentences …. for Frege, the sense of a word or expression always consists in the contribution it makes to determining the thought expressed by a sentence in which it occurs …. The sense of a word thus consists … in something which has a relation to the truth-value of sentences containing the word. (1981: 193-194).

This interpretation follows Dummett’s endorsement of another analytic principle nowadays often projected on to Frege and the opening of his 1923 article Gedankengefüge, the holistic principle of (semantic) “compositionality”:

For Frege, we understand the sense of a complex expression by understanding the senses of its constituents. In particular, we grasp the sense of a whole sentence by grasping the senses of the constituent expressions, and … observing how they are put together in the sentence…. When the complex expression is a complete sentence, Frege calls the sense which it expresses a ‘thought’ [or “a proposition”]. (1981: 152-153)

By extolling both principles, Dummett seems to shift ground when later claiming

What distinguishes analytical philosophy … is the belief that a philosophical account of thought can be attained through a philosophical account of language, and, secondly, that a comprehensive account can only be so attained (1993: 4)

before resorting to a psychological gloss when suggesting that “it is possible to grasp the sense of a word only as it occurs in some particular sentence” (1993: 97). Behind his so-called “linguistic turn,” Dummett’s contestable account of the origins of analytic philosophy virtually reflects Ludwig Wittgenstein’s radical contention about “certain forms of proposition in psychology, such as ‘A believes that p is the case’ and ‘A has the thought p’” (1921: 5.541). These together with “‘A says p’ are of the form ‘“p” says p’” (1921: 5.542). In other words, the psycho-linguistic relation between beliefs or thoughts and what they intend is the same as the relation between statements or sentences and what they intend. As a result, the logical structure of an ideal language reveals the structure of mental processes. So far, this group of analytic re-formulations appear to have a rather tenuous connection with Brentano as cited in our previous section.

Turning to Quine’s 1968 lecture “Epistemology Naturalized,” Fréchette (42ff.) dismisses the foundational role given to Frege because Quine assigns “the recognition of contextual definition, or … paraphrasis” to Jeremy Bentham (1968: 72). Without specifying Bentham’s posthumously published Essay on Logic on “exposition by paraphrasis” of propositions about “an entity of any kind, real or fictitious” (circa 1831: ch. 7, §7-8, 246-248), Quine regards that explaining an expression “need only show … how to translate the whole sentences in which [that expression] is to be used” and hence the “primary vehicle of meaning is seen no longer as the word, but as the sentence” (1968: 72). Elsewhere, by propounding the semantic primacy of sentences or propositions and thereby contextual definitions, Bentham is acclaimed by Quine (1975) as embodying the second of five historical “milestones” in the development of empirical philosophy.

By contrast, Quine is dubious about the worth of Brentano whom he regards as reviving “‘intentional’ … in connection with the verbs of propositional attitude” (1960: 219) exemplified by a person’s cognitive and affective relation towards a proposition (“Gianna believes that Gianfranco will buy her a gelato”; “Gianfranco hopes that Gianna can forget his promise”). Intentional idioms, he continues, create logically discordant divisions between, say, “referential” and “non-referential occurrences of terms,” “behaviorism and mentalism,” and “literal theory and dramatic portrayal” (1960: 219). Ultimately, Quine would not “forswear daily use of intentional idioms, or maintain that they are practically dispensable,” yet declares:

One may accept the Brentano thesis either as showing the indispensability of intentional idioms and the importance of an autonomous science of intention, or as showing the baselessness of intentional idioms and the emptiness of a science of intention. My attitude, unlike Brentano’s, is the second. (1960: 221)

Quine’s unease here with Brentano remains unremarked in Chapter Two as it delves into the latter’s Austro-Germanic intellectual background. Fréchette finds that the Prague-based Bernard Bolzano had already pre-empted Bentham’s appeal to paraphrasis in his 1810 monograph Beyträge zu einer begründeteren Darstellung der Mathematik [Contribution to a More Grounded Presentation of Mathematics]. He seizes upon Bolzano (1810: 55-56) stating that “any scientific exposition” must begin its “simple concepts and the word that [one] chooses for their designation” by distinguishing “such explications [Verständigungen] from a real definition” which Bolzano would call “paraphrases” [Umschreibungen (or, less charitably, “circumlocution”)] (cited 42). The notion of Verständigungen is later elaborated with reference to context [Zusammenhange] in Bolzano’s 1837 magnum opus, Wissenschaftslehre, Versuch einer ausführlichen und grössentheils neuen Darstellung der Logik [Theory of Science: An Attempt at a Detailed and Largely New Presentation of Logic]. Given the familiar circumstances of encountering an unknown sign [Zeichen] “with several others whose meanings are known,” then, in such cases, we come to recognise “the meaning of the sign from its use or from its context [aus dem Gebrauche oder Zusammenhange]” (1837: vol. 4, 547) (cited 42 & 52n.6). Furthermore, where expressions threaten to mislead us by their seeming referential function, Bolzano does not hesitate to paraphrase them. For example, he deals with the term “nothing” in the existential assertion “Nothing is more certain than death” by the following paraphrase “The idea of something that would be more certain than death has no object” (1837: vol. 2, 212ff.) (cited 43).

Having pinpointed Bolzano’s references to paraphrasis, context, and use, Fréchette (43-44) turns to examples in Brentano. The paraphrastic strategy concerning propositions about fictional entities emerges in correspondence with J.S. Mill where Brentano (1874: 170) notes:

The proposition, ‘A centaur is a poetic fiction,’ does not imply … that a centaur exists, rather it implies the opposite. But if it is true, it does imply that something else exists, namely a poetic fiction which combines part of a horse with part of a human body in a particular way. If there were no poetic fictions and if there were no centaurs imaginatively created by poets, the proposition would be false. In fact the sentence means just that, ‘There is a poetic fiction which conceives the upper parts of the human body joined to the body and legs of a horse,’ or (which comes to the same thing), ‘There exists a centaur imaginatively created by the poets

—or “There is a poet imagining a centaur.” This is succeeded by the Jupiter case we included as Tenet (6) from Logik (EL 80, 13.013[2]).

Brentano concludes:

The truth of the proposition does not require that there be a Jupiter, but it does require that there be something else. If there were not something which existed merely in  one’s thought, the proposition would not be true. (1874: 170)

However, the issue of Brentano’s notion of context is less straightforward. This is partly because of his intensely internal, tripartite psychological conception of any meaningful utterance or proposition. This involves first-person acts of perception, observation, and judgement, enhanced, for example, by memory and verbal communication (1874: e.g. 32 & 29). Gauvry’s hypothesis in Chapter Three is that “the so-called ‘context’” for any expression

to be meaningful is nothing more than the expressive sentence whose function is to express a mental act. That is the reason why the content of this meaningful sentence (which has not necessarily a propositional form and which can instead adopt the form of an ‘exclamation’ or a ‘request’) is nothing else than the mental content of the act expressed by the sentence.” (71)

Even when Brentano talks in passing of “an actual finished statement (a speech)” [ein eigentlicher fertiger Ausspruch (eine Rede)] in Logik (EL 80, 13.001[2]), there appears to be no example of the expression “context of sentence (or proposition)” [Zusammenhang des Sätzes]. Nor, Gauvry adds (70-71), does Brentano—unlike Wittgenstein (1945, §583)—focus upon the interactional and normative circumstances or surroundings in which speech occurs. To the extent that Brentano fixes upon the mental content of psychic acts, can he be regarded as upholding what analytic philosophers since Frege regard as context, be it sentential or social?


All five chapters comprising Part II focus upon the ways Brentano’s theory of meaning as subjective was strenuously debated by his students, especially Husserl, Meinong, and Twardowski, amongst themselves and their students. Each aimed to develop alternatives whereby meaning could be construed in objective terms. Although better known for his works in ontology and aesthetics translated into English since the ‘seventies, Polish phenomenologist Roman Ingarden, influenced by both Husserl and Twardowski, investigated language and meaning on numerous occasions. In what follows, we shall selectively examine Sébastien Richard’s Chapter Seven on Ingarden as “the peak” of efforts amongst Brentano’s lineage after Husserl (1894, 1901 & 1902) and Twardowski (1912) to reconcile “the subjective and objective aspects of meaning” (163). Attention will then be paid to Olivier Malherbe’s Chapter Eight which proposes how a close analysis of Ingarden (1931) leads to two distinct conceptions of meaning.

Initially Richard (esp. 147-158) provides brief summaries of critiques launched by Husserl, Meinong, and Twardowski accompanied by an illuminating set of charts. Thereafter, he emphasizes Ingarden’s discomfort with Twardowski and Husserl for variously suggesting that meaning’s objective and communicable character is somehow tantamount to what is instantiated by various meaningful acts. To the extent that Twardowski appeals to a contrast between the concrete and the abstract not unlike, say, various red garments and redness or various equilateral and isosceles, scalene and skewed triangular shapes and triangularity, the process of abstraction results in a second-order psychological act focused upon the actual first-order mental activity before it. To the extent that “Investigation II” in Husserl (1901) recognises much the same process, meaning by contrast is construed as an “ideal species” (or “ideation”) (158) underlying any manifestation of it. For Husserl, Richard states:

Meaning is neither something real in our thought (it is not a mental content) nor something in the real world (it is not an empirical object), but an ideal ‘species’ instantiated in the individual contents of mental acts. In this sense, meanings are ideal entities. (154)

However, Husserl does not deny a role for mental contents. To quote Richard, “it is still the content of the mental act that is responsible for the directedness toward the object of a name” (154). For Husserl, “ideal species” not only justifies the objectivity of meaning, it also rationalises its communicability by, it also seems, implicitly transforming Brentano’s Tenet (3) previously listed from Logik (EL 80, 12.998[2]). In Richard’s words again:

different language users can understand each other not because the content aroused in the mind of the listener is sufficiently similar to the content indicated in the mind of the speaker, but because their contents are instantiations of the same ideal species … (154)

In Das literarische Kunstwek, Ingarden (1931: §17, 91-95) finds that “ideal species” make meanings unchanging when the same words, each possessing its “intentional directional factor,” can assume different meanings owing to their logico-syntactic role within sentences. This, in turn, connects with determinate and indeterminate relationships or specifications. For example, for Gianfranco to assert, “Consuls in ancient Rome exerted enormous power” leaves open or relatively indeterminate who or what is specified by “consuls,” “ancient,” and “power” unlike Gianna stating, “The compact between consuls Iulius Caesar, Pompeius Magnus, and Licinius Crassus exerted supreme political and military power over ancient Rome from 60/59 B.C.” In his 1937 companion volume revised as Vom Erkennen des literarischen Kunstwerks, Ingarden on “verbal and sentence meanings” (1937/1968: §8, 24ff.) is taken by Richard to concede that, even if words or expressions “have only one meaning,” this is not a fixed state of affairs: a word’s meaning can shift with different contexts by being “tied to other words, pronounced or written by different speakers at different times, in different places and sentences” (159). To avoid communication becoming an interminable, if not random, “guessing game,” “an expression is something ‘intersubjective’”; an expression being “an entity whose meaning is accessible to different persons” (159).

Whilst Ingarden synthesizes aspects of both Husserl (e.g. 1901: Investigation 1, 206ff.) and Twardowski (e.g. 1912: 124ff.)—for instance, that “we confer meanings to words” and that “meaning is produced by subjective operations” (albeit temporally divisible) (160)—he construes meaning “not as part of a mental act, but as a unitary whole” (160). Alternatively expressed, Richard continues “that meaning exists potentially in expressions and can be actualised by different persons implies that it can be separated from them. In other words, meaning ‘transcends’ every mental act,” and, although we can “be mistaken when we re-actualise the meaning intention of a word,” this can usually be rectified (160). This, in turn, leaves Richard to sketch something of the complexity of Ingarden’s synthesis (drawn from 1931: §18, esp. 97ff.) of both his teachers:

the creation of meanings is not a creation ex nihilo. It is carried out from an ideal material that is structured into an expression by a cognitive agent. When someone produces an expression, on the one hand, she [or he] actualises some ‘pure qualities’ in its material parts and, on the other hand, she [or he] organises these ‘meaning elements’ into a whole. In other words, an expression does not instantiate a whole ideal meaning (Husserl), but contains (material) parts that instantiate pure qualities and that are structured (given a form) by subjective ‘forming operations’

—adding that “ideas” for Ingarden are not “types of mental content,” but “ideal concepts of objects, ideas that subsume the objects to which our words refer” whereas “pure qualities” are kinds of “‘bare universals’ that can be (ideally) concretised in ideas and instantiated in (realised in) real objects and (actualised in) meanings” (161).

A closer reading of the context of literary fiction enables Malherbe to examine amongst other factors Ingarden’s distinctive conception of language as an intentional multi-layered entity and its bearing upon the nature of meaning. The formation of language, especially the spoken (Sprachgebilde), whilst composed of various layers, comprises “unified homogenous elements” in each layer which “always maintains organic relations” with the other layers (172).

Alongside his overarching distinction between the completed work itself and its many individual concretisations by readers or listeners (1931: e.g. §8, 37-38; §62, 332ff.), Ingarden also introduces its many layers, the first three of which Malherbe (172) unhesitatingly regards as “essential”:

[a] the stratum of linguistic sound formations based upon the phonemes or distinctive significant sounds of a spoken language (for instance, forty-five in German, thirty-seven in Polish) and including rhythm and tempo as well as subsequent manifestations of Gestält qualities of tone;

[b] the “central” stratum of units of meaning which include categorematic or “nominal” and syncategorematic or “functional” words that project (entwirft) acts and attributes, events and persons, states and things. In combination with finite verbs that convey tense, aspect, etc., meaning unfolds in the form of sentences which can then combine to form segments and genres of discourses or texts. As Malherbe, who limits himself to individual words (173-176), succinctly states, this layer is “the core of linguistic signification” (172);

[c] the stratum of represented “objectivities,” that is, the objects, events, circumstances, etc. projected by units of meaning and their particular structural qualities—simple or paratactic, complex or hypotactic—which form the work’s style (e.g. “The fire began raging. Gianfranco gripped the person nearest to him tightly. Although frightened, Gianna sat still” and “When the fire began raging, Gianna, whom Gianfranco gripped tightly, sat still although frightened”); and

[d] the stratum of schematized aspects, which is “impossible for the reader to actualize with complete precision the same aspects that the author wanted to designate through the structure of the work,” nonetheless, for all their indeterminacies are “held in readiness” (paragehaltene) for readers or listeners by which they can picture the represented objectivities forming its plot and characters (1931: §42, 265ff.).

So far, as Malherbe argues, meaning is cognitive or intellectual (“rational”) which all works necessarily possess albeit in differing degrees.

Beyond that are metaphysical and aesthetic (“axiological”) qualities which Malherbe at first calls without pursuing “the stratum of writings” nor its “Gestalt quality” which may or may not form “a fifth layer” (172 & 185n.4), but acclaimed as such by, for example, René Wellek (1949: 152). Thereafter, Malherbe derives the second affective (or “irrational”) conception of meaning from metaphysical qualities which range from the grotesque and sorrowful to the sublime and tragic. Such qualities are “usually revealed” in “complex … disparate situations or events” pervading if not shaping all within them (1931: §48, 290-293). Metaphysical (and aesthetic) qualities can potentially define a work as artistic since their apprehension draws upon all layers although subject to the constraints upon concretisations mentioned above (1931: §49-51, 293ff.; cf. 1937/1968: e.g. §12. 62; §13a, 72ff.; §14, 90; etc.). As Malherbe concludes, the second conception of language is “value-driven” whose authors find themselves “in a particular attitude … more receptive to special types of value” and whose language itself is shaped (and words are chosen) in a very different way in order to allow some values to be enshrined in it, either as an end, or a … mean[s] to other ends. (183-184)


Limits upon length obviously prevent us from assessing Richard and Malherbe in light of, say, Anglo-American reviews of and reservations about Das literarische Kunstwerk since Paul Leon (1932) onwards. Some readers, too, might wonder why both authors have not included research since their co-edited 2016 volume on Ingarden’s ontology. Quibbles aside, a close reading of Philosophy of Language in the Brentano School teaches us that we ought not presume, in the words of Robert Hanna (2008: 149), that “the analytic tradition was all about logic and analyticity” and “the phenomenological tradition was all about consciousness and intentionality.” Hanna provocatively continues: “analytic philosophy and phenomenology alienated themselves from their Kantian origins,” yet could jointly renew themselves by “re-thinking and re-building their foundations” by reversing the foregoing trend (2008: 150). Clearly, Dewalque, Gauvry and Richard’s anthology begins this renewal.




Bentham, Jeremy. ca. 1831. Essay on Logic. In The Works of Jeremy Bentham. Edited by John Bowring, vol. 8, 213-293. Edinburgh: William Tait, 1843.

Brentano, F.C. 1869-1877. Logik [EL 80, 12.956-13.491]. Edited by R.D. Rollinger. Graz: Franz Brentano Archiv Graz, 2010 [accessible at: (reviewer’s translation)].

——-. 1874. Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkte / Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint [2nd edn., 1924]. Edited by Oscar Kraus & Linda McAllister; translated by A.C. Rancurello, D.B. Terrell & L.L. McAllister. London & New York: Routledge, 1995.

Collingwood, R.G. 1936. “History as Re-enactment of Past Experience.” In The Idea of History with Lectures 1926-1928. Edited by W.J. van der Dussen, rev. edn., 282-302. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.

Dummett, Michael. 1981. Frege: Philosophy of Language, 2nd edn. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co.

——-. 1993. Origins of Analytical Philosophy. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co.

Fisette, Denis. 2021. “Hermann Lotze and the Genesis of Husserl’s Early Philosophy (1886-1901).” In The Idealism-Realism Debate among Edmund Husserl’s Early Followers and Critics. Edited by R.K.B. Parker, 27-53. Cham: Springer Nature.

Frege, Gottlob. 1884. Die Grundlagen der Arithmetik: Eine logisch mathematische Untersuchung über den Begriff der Zahl. Breslau: Wilhelm Koebner (reviewer’s translation).

——-. 1923. “Gedankengefüge / Compound Thoughts.” Translated by R.H. Stoothoff. Mind 72(285), 1963: 1-17.

Grice, H.P. 1957. “Meaning.” In Studies in the Way of Words, 213-223. Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989.

——-. 1969. “Utterer’s Meaning and Intentions.” In Studies in the Way of Words, 88-116. Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989.

——-. 1980. “Meaning Revisited.” In Studies in the Way of Words, 283-303. Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989.

Hanna, Robert. 2008. “Kant in the Twentieth Century.” In The Routledge Companion to Twentieth Century Philosophy. Edited by Dermot Moran, 149-203. London & New York: Routledge.

Husserl, Edmund. 1894. “Twardowski’s Zur Lehre vom Inhalt und Gegenstand der Vorstellungen: Eine psychologische Untersuchung.” In Aufsätze und Rezensionen (1890–1910). Edited by Bernhard Rang, 349-356. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1979.

——-. 1900 & 1901. Logische Untersuchungen / Logical Investigations. Edited by Dermot Moran; translated by J.N. Findlay [second 1913 edition; two volumes]. London & New York: Routledge, 2001.

Ingarden, R.W. 1931. Das literarische Kunstwek / The Literary Work of Art. Translated by G.G. Grabowicz. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973.

——-. 1937/1968. Vom Erkennen des literarischen Kunstwerks / The Cognition of the Literary Work of Art. Translated by R.A. Crowley & K.R. Olson. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973.

Kant, Immanuel. 1787. Kritik der reinen Vernunft / Critique of Pure Reason, 2nd edn. [“B”]. Edited and translated by Paul Guyer & A.W. Wood. Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Leon, Paul. 1932. “Critical Notice: Das Literarische Kunstwerk.” Mind 41(161): 97-106.

Merton, R.K. 1968. “On the History and Systematics of Sociological Theory.” In Social Theory and Social Structure, 3rd edn., 1-38. New York: The Free Press.

Milkov, Nikolay. 2018. “Hermann Lotze and Franz Brentano.” Philosophical Readings 10(2): 115-122.

Quine, W.V.O. 1960. “Flight from Intension.” In Word and Object, 191-232. Cambridge, Mass: The M.I.T. Press.

——-. 1968. “Epistemology Naturalized.” In Ontological Relativity and Other Essays, 69-90. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969.

——-. 1975. “Five Milestones of Empiricism.” In Theories and Things, 67-72. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981.

Richard, Sébastian & Malherbe, Olivier (eds.). 2016. Forme(s) et modes d’être: L’ontologie de Roman Ingarden / Form(s) and Modes of Being: The Ontology of Roman Ingarden. Brussels, Bern, Berlin: Peter Lang.

Roth, P.A. 1989. “How Narratives Explain.” Social Research 65(2): 449-478.

Twardowski, Kazimierz. 1912. “Actions and Products.” In Kazimierz Twardowski on Actions, Products and Other Topics in Philosophy. Edited by Johannes Brandl & Jan Woleński; translated by Arthur Szylewicz, 103-132. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1999.

Wellek, René. 1949. “The Analysis of the Literary Work of Art.” In René Wellek & Warren Austin, Theory of Literature, 139-158. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co.

Wittgenstein, LJ.J. 1921. Logisch-philosophische Abhandlung / Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Translated by D.F. Pears & B.F. McGuinness. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963.

——-. 1945. Philosophische Untersuchungen / Philosophical Investigations, 4th rev. edn. Edited by P.M.S. Hacker & Joachim Schulte; translated by G.E.M. Anscombe, P.M.S. Hacker & Joachim Schulte. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

Corijn van Mazijk: De Wereld als Verschijning

De Wereld als Verschijning: Fenomenologie en de Twintigste Eeuw Book Cover De Wereld als Verschijning: Fenomenologie en de Twintigste Eeuw
Corijn van Mazijk
Paperback €22,50

Reviewed by: Ward Huetink

Dr. Corijn van Mazijk is an assistant professor at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, the Netherlands, who specializes in Kant and post-Kantian philosophy, particularly phenomenology. De Wereld als Verschijning: Fenomenologie en de Twintigste Eeuw (The World as Appearance: Phenomenology and the Twentieth Century, all translations from the Dutch are my own) is his second book, following a monograph on the nature of reality, perception and the relation between the two, in the work of Kant, Husserl and McDowell.[1]

De Wereld als Verschijning is a step back from the highly specialized research conducted in the earlier publication. Van Mazijk sets out to provide an introduction into phenomenology that is “as easily accessible as possible” (32). And that is exactly what he delivers. The book comprises five chapters and each chapter treats one of the four most influential phenomenologists of the 20th century; Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, respectively. The final chapter discusses six lesser known phenomenologists, including Edith Stein and Emmanuel Levinas.

Each chapter follows an identical structure. It opens with a short column detailing the main themes of this particular philosopher’s thought, as well as his or her influence on the development of the phenomenological tradition. This is followed by a few pages of biographical information, detailing the life of the thinker and the cultural-intellectual climate of the time, and how this influenced the work he or she went on to produce. With this setting-the-stage out of the way, the main part of each chapter is dedicated to a discussion of the philosophical substance itself. Van Mazijk emphasizes that although the book is intended to introduce phenomenology, the subject matter by itself is by no means simple, and so the main objective is to expound the ideas as clearly as possible, where needed aided by illustrations. The chapters then conclude with an overview of the main ideas of each thinker, complemented by a short list of important concepts and their definitions.

The work of each thinker is discussed in largely chronological order. For example, the first chapter, on Husserl, starts out with a discussion of the Logische Untersuchungen (1901) and ends with Die Krisis der Europäischen Wissenschaften und die Transcendentale Phänomenologie (1936). Of the five, this chapter is the longest. This is not surprising, considering the amount of work Husserl produced and his importance as the founder of the phenomenological tradition. As such, this chapter serves not only as an introduction to Husserl, but to the themes and philosophical considerations that continue to define phenomenology more broadly. It starts out, for instance, with Husserl’s critique of psychologism and naturalism, and the aim of returning to the description of things as they are given to consciousness, guaranteeing the clarity and absolute certainty of the outcome of his investigations. Van Mazijk then introduces the reader to Husserl’s work on intentionality, the natural attitude, the phenomenological reduction and the epoche. Then follows a more in-depth explanation of eidetic variation and the difference between constitutive and genetic phenomenology, the latter marking a shift in focus from Husserl’s earlier to his later work. The chapter concludes with a discussion of Husserl’s concept of ‘horizons’ and his analysis of time. By the end of these 36 dense pages, the reader is acquainted with many concepts and themes essential to understanding the other thinkers, although it is likely that those novel to phenomenology will have to return to this chapter for clarifications later on.

As the previous one, the chapter on Heidegger is divided between the early and later works. The priority is given, understandably, to the earlier work, Sein und Zeit (1927) in particular. Van Mazijk spends some time establishing the relationship between Husserl and Heidegger, and consequently the personal and intellectual rift between the two. He emphasizes Heidegger’s deviation from Husserl, especially where it concerns their respective epistemological positions by highlighting Heidegger’s recognition of human finitude and “the insignificance of every human attempt at knowledge” (p. 72). Simultaneously, he shows how Heidegger employs a kind of phenomenological reduction in carrying out his existential analytic of Dasein to uncover the ‘meaning of Being’. The main part of this chapter is dedicated to examining the results of this analysis, including the ontological difference between beings and in general, being-in-the world as human existence, care, the distinction between Vorhanden and Zuhanden through the classic example of the hammer, and the different modes of human existence in fallen-ness and authentic being. The chapter concludes by referring to Heidegger’s later works, of which only The Question Concerning Technology is discussed somewhat extensively.

The third chapter, on Sartre, is almost a third shorter than the preceding two and by far the most critical of the author discussed. In the introduction Van Mazijk makes it clear that, rather than a rigorous philosophical teaching, Sartre’s existentialism was more of a cultural movement, “comparable to the American beat generation” (109). Sartre, he argues, uses Husserl and Heidegger’s phenomenology primarily to ground his theory of the radical freedom of human beings. According to Sartre’s analyses, expounded in his main works Le Transcendence de l’Ego (1936) and L’Être et le Néant (1943), consciousness is essentially nothingness, an apersonal, transparent process without fixed properties. It is this essential nothingness, being-for-itself, that constitutes the freedom against the being-in-itself, the massive presence of the outside world. Thinking one is ‘something’ or a definite ‘someone’ is living in bad faith, a denial of the true, free essence of human life; hence Sartre’s famous proclamation that “existence precedes essence”. Van Mazijks main critique of Sartre’s brand of phenomenology is that it is flawed and inconsistent. It is flawed, since it denies the limiting constraints put on freedom by concrete reality. It is inconsistent, on the other hand, because Sartre modifies his theory on multiple occasions to undercut objections raised against him, or to avoid unwanted conclusions that seem to follow from his premises. For example, he rejects the possibility of radical egoism by introducing a kind of Kantian deontology in his lecture Existentialism is a Humanism, without much ground for these kind of ethical constraints on human freedom present in his earlier works. All in all, it seems Van Mazijk includes Sartre in the book more because of his historical influence in popularising phenomenology in Europe mid 20th century, rather than his philosophical accomplishments in their own right.

The fourth chapter discusses the work of Merleau-Ponty. The shortest chapter of the book limits itself to discussing La Structure du Comportement (1942) and Phénoménologie de la Perception (1945). Van Mazijk stresses Merleau-Ponty’s achievements in his analysis of perception as the fundamental way in which subject and object, or consciousness and world, interact. For each work, he shows how Merleau-Ponty’s dialectical style of doing philosophy results in a new understanding of this interaction. He shows how Merleau-Ponty uses insights from Gestalt-psychology to show how the intellectualist and physiologist paradigms of human behaviour are both lacking in their own right when it comes to describing and explaining behaviour, while his own position ambiguously oscillates between these subjectivist and objectivist poles, resisting a reductive interpretation. Similarly, in Phénoménologie de la Perception Merleau-Ponty shows how both empiricism and intellectualism remain stuck in the natural attitude towards the world, whereas perception as the portal to this world cannot itself be understood in terms of it. His own phenomenological analysis, combined with insights from empirical research, again paints a more holistic and ambiguous picture of the relation between man and world, in which the living body is the locus of this interaction. Van Mazijk emphasises that Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology is much closer to Heidegger and Husserl than it is to Sartre – although the deviations from Husserl are significant, including the integration of empirical research in his philosophical works, leading to a more interdisciplinary phenomenology.

The fifth and final chapter of De Wereld als Verschijning explores the work of six lesser known phenomenologists in brief. These are, in order, Max Scheler, Edith Stein, Eugen Fink, Alfred Schutz, Emmanuel Levinas and Jan Patočka. Here, too, a brief biographical introduction is followed by a discussion of their work. Since only a few pages are dedicated to each thinker, their treatment is condensed to a defining theme. For Scheler, this is love; for Stein, empathy; for Fink, phenomenology itself and the possibility of philosophy in general; for Schutz, philosophy of the social world and the foundations of sociology; for Levinas, the Other; and for Jan Patočka, the care for the soul. This chapter is a nice addition to an introduction to phenomenology, since it shows the influence and scope of phenomenological research. The choice of authors seems somewhat arbitrary, though; certainly, other writers in the phenomenological tradition could have been considered, such as Frantz Fanon, Ludwig Binswanger, Luce Irigaray or Iris Marion Young. Their influence today is certainly no less than Patočka or Schutz, and the inclusion of especially Young and Fanon would have added some diversity. They opened the door to what is now called Critical Phenomenology, and have been instrumental in pointing out how the supposedly ‘neutral’ consciousness of classical phenomenologists obscures latent presuppositions on what it is to be human. It is also notable that Simone the Beauvoir receives no more than a passing mention in the chapter on Sartre, while she is from a philosophical perspective undoubtedly as influential as her life-partner.

The book starts out with the question ‘what is phenomenology?’, and by the end the reader has a good idea of what Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty thought on this matter. However, Van Mazijk’s own view on the matter is not discussed in detail. In the conclusion, he briefly discusses the modern, specialized applications of phenomenology in different branches of science, such as psychiatry and artificial intelligence. It appears he laments this development and prefers the ‘grander’, more ambitious transcendental and existential projects of the past. He writes: “Only the future can tell whether the phenomenology of the 20th century had maybe more to offer than a reservoir of ideas for scientific application”, and it is clear that he certainly thinks so, but how exactly remains obscure. Throughout the book, he mentions these modern applications of phenomenology, but never elaborates in detail. This is a missed opportunity, since it could have emphasized the importance and relevance of the tradition, and potentially inspire those readers not strictly interested in abstract philosophy.

All in all, Van Mazijk provides a detailed and supremely readable introduction into phenomenology, which will undoubtedly be of great value to those interested in learning about the tradition and its main figures, or students looking for a good overview. De Wereld als Verschijning is the first book of its kind published in Dutch by a Dutch author in several decades, and it is a testament of the knowledge, passion and dedication the author has for his field of expertise.

[1] van Mazijk, C. 2020. Perception and Reality in Kant, Husserl, and McDowell. New York, NY: Routledge.  For a review of this book in this journal:

Jan Patocka: The Selected Writings of Jan Patocka: Care for the Soul, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2022

The Selected Writings of Jan Patocka: Care for the Soul Book Cover The Selected Writings of Jan Patocka: Care for the Soul
Jan Patocka. Erin Plunkett (Anthology Editor), Ivan Chvatík (Anthology Editor), Alex Zucker (Translator)
Bloomsbury Publishing
Hardback $90.00

Katherine Mansilla Torres: Resignificar la violencia. El pensamiento político de Maurice-Merleau Ponty

Resignificar la violencia. El pensamiento político de Maurice-Merleau Ponty Book Cover Resignificar la violencia. El pensamiento político de Maurice-Merleau Ponty
Katherine Mansilla Torres
SB / Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México
Paperback $16.90

Reviewed by: Luz Ascarate (Université de Franche-Comté / Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne)

Selon Paul Valéry, « la connaissance a le corps de l’homme pour limite »[1]. Un grand paradoxe se présente donc si nous essayons de penser philosophiquement la violence, un sujet urgent et d’actualité : la violence nous renvoie immédiatement au corps, et la connaissance philosophique trouverait sa limite dans le corps. Nous pouvons cependant considérer la réflexion philosophique comme une réflexion qui dépasse les limites de la connaissance, et en ce sens, qui ne peut se réaliser que dans la considération du corps. En tout état de cause, toute la difficulté est de savoir si la philosophie est la discipline la plus adéquate pour traiter le sujet de la violence. Le philosophe est-il capable d’apporter quelque point de vue d’importance à ce sujet ? Katherine Mansilla le pense, en suivant Maurice Merleau-Ponty, un philosophe qui est parvenu à développer une réflexion philosophique sur le corps. Mansilla présente la pensée de Merleau-Ponty afin de soulever des questions et de proposer des réponses possibles aux différentes significations qui découlent du thème de la violence. Mansilla estime que l’importance de la perspective élaborée par Merleau-Ponty est qu’elle nous permet de comprendre la violence à partir de la contingence : l’histoire, les relations collectives, notre pays. En ce sens, le livre de Mansilla est aussi une refonte de la pensée politique de Merleau-Ponty basée sur le concept de violence. Mais le texte de Mansilla est loin de diviser la pensée de Merleau-Ponty entre une partie théorique et une partie pratique, entre sa phénoménologie et sa philosophie politique. Mansilla relève le défi de penser, enrichi par la perspective gestaltiste de la figure et du fond, l’unité de la philosophie de Merleau-Ponty, de sa phénoménologie de la perception à sa dernière ontologie, en tenant compte du fait que l’unité de la production philosophique est encadrée par le fond historico-politique qui traverse toute la pensée de Merleau-Ponty.

I. Le fond socio-historique

Que la philosophie ne puisse être détachée de son contexte ou de son fond socio-historique est une intuition qui a accompagné Merleau-Ponty tout au long de son œuvre. Cependant, cette appartenance ne peut être comprise qu’à travers l’effort de comprendre cet arrière-plan comme la condition de possibilité d’une expérience constitutive. Comme on le lit dans Éloge de la philosophie, « la philosophie habite l’histoire et la vie, mais elle voudrait s’installer en leur centre, au point où elles sont avènement, sens naissant. Elle s’ennuie dans le constitué. Étant expression, elle ne s’accomplit qu’en renonçant à coïncider avec l’exprimé et en l’éloignant pour en voir le sens »[2]. Mansilla parvient à rendre compte de la dialectique qui s’établit entre le constitué et le constituant dans la pensée de Merleau-Ponty. Une dialectique qui, selon elle, est présente dès ses premières œuvres, dans lesquelles il tente d’élucider la structure de la perception. Elle se consacre donc non seulement à situer la pensée de Merleau-Ponty dans son contexte socio-historique, mais, à partir de là, elle délimite le rôle des concepts les plus importants de sa pensée en général – tels que le corps propre, l’intentionnalité opérante, la temporalité, l’être-au-monde – afin de comprendre sa pensée sur la violence. Cette pensée ne doit pas être comprise comme une position « politique » mais plutôt comme une pensée sur « le politique », qui répond à des concepts tels que la dialectique sans synthèse, l’anonymat social et l’institution.

C’est le premier chapitre, intitulé « Merleau-Ponty sur le fond social de l’entre-deux-guerres », qui sert de base à ce fond socio-historique. Mansilla se place dans le contexte biographique de Merleau-Ponty afin d’établir une relation entre la violence vécue par le philosophe en temps de guerre et sa critique de la philosophie de « survol ». Un événement important souligné par l’auteure est la participation de Merleau-Ponty à la fondation, avec Sartre, du groupe Socialisme et Liberté en 1941, qui a soutenu la Résistance dans ses publications. C’est à cette époque que le philosophe prépare les bases de ce qui deviendra la Phénoménologie de la perception dans sa thèse dirigée par Émile Bréhier. À cette époque, parmi les lectures les plus importantes de Merleau-Ponty figurent les textes de Trosky, de Lénine et l’ouvrage de Renaudet sur Machiavel. Dans le contexte mondial, à la fin de la guerre, l’idéologie totalitaire est en plein essor, ce qui entraîne une opposition entre le libéralisme et le communisme.

II. L’héritage husserlien

Mais de cet arrière-plan ou fond biographique émerge l’exigence philosophique héritée de la phénoménologie husserlienne du retour aux choses elles-mêmes qui, dans la vision de Merleau-Ponty, prend le sens d’un retour de la réflexion philosophique au sujet de son propre corps dans un monde marqué par la violence. À cet égard, les conférences de Paris données par Husserl à la Sorbonne en 1929 ont été fondamentales pour la conception de la phénoménologie de Merleau-Ponty. Mais l’héritage husserlien est également fondamental pour comprendre le sens de la liberté que Merleau-Ponty articule afin de donner un sens au politique. Il est intéressant de noter que l’auteure reprend la distinction ricœurienne entre la politique, domaine ontique des pratiques institutionnelles rationnellement assumées par la philosophie politique, et le politique[3], domaine ontologique ou structurel des relations de pouvoir, afin de situer la perspective de Merleau-Ponty dans la dialectique de ces deux domaines, que l’auteure comprend comme la dialectique de l’institué et de l’instituant.

En ce sens, la liberté est comprise dans une perspective génétique qui permet à l’auteure de revenir sur les aspects constitutifs du politique. Cette sphère précède la sphère de la connaissance ou de la délibération. Ainsi, les intérêts socio-historiques sont ici fondamentaux pour comprendre l’orientation des analyses de la Phénoménologie de la perception dans la perspective de Mansilla. Ces intérêts radicalisent la description de Merleau-Ponty grâce à la perspective génétique héritée de Husserl. Mansilla emprunte ici les instruments de cette orientation de la méthode husserlienne pour comprendre Merleau-Ponty, ce qui ne trahit pas le sens de la réduction husserlienne. Comme on le sait, en tant que dévoilement ou thématisation de la constitution, la réduction husserlienne est toujours une “interrogation rétrospective” (Rückfrage)[4] qui peut avoir deux orientations, correspondant à un fondement de validité (Geltungsfundierung), et à un fondement génétique (Genesisfundierung)[5]. Ces deux types de fondement correspondent au sens philosophique de « fondement ». Mais c’est cette dernière qui nous permet d’expliciter, selon les termes de Fink, la « pauvreté, la plus extrême qu’on puisse imaginer »[6] de la subjectivité.

Mansilla découvre le même geste dans la pensée de Merleau-Ponty. Il nous exhorte, précisément, à revenir à une expérience originelle du monde, une expérience qui précède toute connaissance. C’est à ce niveau que nous nous reconnaissons comme des êtres vivants face à un monde qui nous est inéluctable (p. 42). Mansilla nous fait ainsi lire ce fragment de la Phénoménologie de la perception : « la perception n’est pas une science du monde ce n’est pas même un acte, une prise de position délibérée, elle est le fond sur lequel tous les actes se détachent et elle est présupposée par eux »[7]. Selon Mansilla, le travail de Merleau-Ponty sur la perception nous permet de prendre conscience que nous sommes des corps qui forment un seul système avec le monde, ce qui peut être compris comme la signification du monde par le corps dans une relation circulaire. Le sensible demande au monde d’être mis en forme par le corps. Le corps répond à cette demande et met le monde en forme. Cette mise en forme est comprise par Mansilla comme expression ou signification, ce qui lui permet de voir la continuité entre les analyses merleau-pontiennes consacrées à la perception et celles consacrées plus tard à l’expression. Dans cette perspective, nous lisons précisément dans la Phénoménologie de la perception une radicalisation du thème de l’expression en vue de l’orientation génétique qui annonce déjà ce qui va suivre dans la philosophie de Merleau-Ponty :

 « C’est la fonction du langage de faire exister les essences dans une séparation qui, à vrai dire, n’est qu’apparente, puisque par lui elles reposent encore sur la vie antéprédicative de la conscience. Dans le silence de la conscience originaire, on voit apparaître non seulement ce que veulent dire les mots, mais encore ce que veulent dire les choses, le noyau de signification primaire autour duquel s’organisent les actes de dénomination et d’expression »[8].

Selon Mansilla, Merleau-Ponty poursuit ainsi les analyses génétiques de Husserl, renouvelle l’héritage phénoménologique qu’il assume de manière rigoureuse sans cacher ses paradoxes et dont il explore différents horizons thématiques pour développer sa propre réflexion. En ce sens, le corps et le langage sont compris dans l’héritage génétique de la phénoménologie husserlienne. C’est ce même héritage qui lui permet de surmonter les dichotomies qui découlent du sentiment de violence. Ainsi, dans le deuxième chapitre intitulé « Violence et humanisme », l’auteure échange les analyses génétiques contre une vision profonde du politique.

Le texte clé est ici le célèbre ouvrage Humanisme et terreur[9]. Sur la base de ce texte, et sans négliger le contexte socio-historique marqué à cette époque par la participation de Merleau-Ponty à la revue Les temps modernes, l’auteure retrace le lien entre les différentes significations de la violence chez Merleau-Ponty. Le premier a trait aux phénomènes politiques que le philosophe traverse entre 1945 et 1947, qui peuvent être compris comme le conflit entre libéraux et communistes sur la violence que les uns rencontrent chez les autres. Cette violence est appelée, par l’auteure, violence idéologique. Merleau-Ponty trouvera une forme de violence pré-prédicative et pré-rationnelle qui lui permettra de dépasser les dichotomies des idéologies de la guerre froide. Cette forme de violence qui répond au second sens peut être explicitée grâce à une perspective humaniste de la violence, qui comprend la violence comme matériellement constitutive de toute praxis politique.

Un troisième sens de la violence est la violence de l’histoire, qui est le fondement des deux autres formes de violence. Merleau-Ponty reprend ici, selon l’aurore, ses analyses de la perception en identifiant en elle un corps traversé par son intentionnalité opératoire située dans une temporalité perceptive. En bref, l’histoire, en sédimentant les sens dans le temps, et en demandant aux hommes de marcher en un sens, change. Selon Mansilla, « l’histoire est violente parce qu’elle est contingente et ambiguë » (p. 57). Merleau-Ponty nous invite donc à aborder l’histoire à partir d’un sujet acteur dans une histoire ouverte, violente, sauvage. L’avenir politique est donc un acte révolutionnaire dans un sens existentialiste, créatif et révolutionnaire. Dans chaque type de violence, nous trouvons une structure de plus en plus fondamentale et constitutive du social. Ainsi, dans le troisième chapitre de cet ouvrage intitulé « L’anonymat social », l’auteure revient sur l’influence husserlienne de l’analyse génétique chez Merleau-Ponty pour comprendre ce dernier type de violence. Nous sommes confrontés à une radicalisation du fondement contingent du politique et de l’expérience. C’est cette radicalisation qui aurait conduit Merleau-Ponty à se rapprocher de Machiavel.

III. De Machiavel à Marx

Machiavel permet à l’auteure de plonger dans le contexte socio-politique révélé par les analyses de la perception. Le texte clé ici est une conférence sur Machiavel présentée au Congrès de Florence de 1949 et publiée dans Signes[10]. Mansilla identifie ici une confluence entre la préoccupation merleau-pontienne pour le langage et pour la contingence fondamentale du politique. Au fond, c’est cette préoccupation commune qui aurait conduit Merleau-Ponty à chercher chez Marx certaines réponses à la réflexion philosophique sur les problèmes politiques et sociaux qui traversent son contexte socio-historique, comme le montrera Mansilla dans le cinquième chapitre de son livre intitulé « Merleau-Ponty, lecteur de Marx ».

L’auteure comprend la relation de Merleau-Ponty avec le marxisme comme une relation constante et dialogique. Elle identifie ainsi les mentions de Marx depuis la Phénoménologie de la perception jusqu’à Les aventures de la dialectique[11]. Le concept clé ici est celui de production, un concept que Merleau-Ponty comprendra dans une perspective existentielle et humaniste. Mansilla parvient également à rendre compte de la discussion de Merleau-Ponty avec les marxistes de son temps sur la défense du Parti communiste français, ainsi que de la rupture avec Sartre. Selon l’auteure, il s’agit dans les deux cas d’une radicalisation de la perspective de la contingence par rapport au social.

Dans le dernier chapitre intitulé « Expression, institution et contingence », l’auteure propose une vue d’ensemble du politique dans la perspective de Merleau-Ponty, en s’appuyant sur les aspects explorés dans les chapitres précédents. Le concept clé ici est celui de l’expression, qui permet à l’auteure de comprendre la dialectique entre l’institué et l’instituant. L’auteure identifie un lien primordial entre la contingence du langage et la contingence de la politique. Cela permet au philosophe d’expliciter les relations dialectiques comme étant les siennes, dans une vie commune contingente qui s’enracine dans sa communication et son action avec les autres. Nous nous retrouvons donc avec une conception purement contingente de l’histoire qui place dans un cadre phénoménologique génétique divers événements historiques qui traversent la vie de Merleau-Ponty. L’expression comprise dans le cadre de la communication entre individus et cultures diverses nous permet de reconnaître une universalité ouverte fondée sur un anonymat originel. Merleau-Ponty nous permettrait ainsi de nous interroger sur un sens profond de la violence qui implique ses significations historiquement sédimentées et une approche de notre réalité sociale.

Mansilla nous permet enfin de poser certaines questions qui dépassent le cadre de la philosophie merleau-pontienne et s’adressent à la philosophie en général : la philosophie peut-elle dire quelque chose de radical sur la constitution politique du monde dans lequel nous vivons ? Est-il possible de réaliser une philosophie engagée dans la réalité ? Cet engagement est-il accessoire ou nécessaire au travail philosophique ? Le pari de Mansilla est un pari qui défend l’unité de la théorie et de la pratique philosophiques, une unité incarnée dans un contexte socio-historique vital que nous ne pouvons pas « survoler ». En ce sens, il est impossible de ne pas rapprocher l’ouvrage de Mansilla, dont nous recommandons absolument la lecture, aux tentatives qui ont déjà été faites en phénoménologie pour défendre cette unité chez des penseurs comme Claude Lefort, Tran Duc Thao et Enzo Paci.

[1] P. Valéry, Cahiers. Tome 1. Paris : Gallimard, 1973, p. 1124.

[2] M. Merleau-Ponty, Éloge de la philosophie, Paris, Gallimard, 1953, p. 59.

[3] Cf. P. Ricœur, « Le paradoxe politique » (1957), in : Histoire et vérité, Paris : Seuil, 1964.

[4] E. Fink, Sixième Méditations cartésienne. L’idée d’une théorie transcendantale de la méthode, traduit par Nathalie Depraz, Grenoble, Jérôme Millon, 1994, p. 62.

[5] Cf. ibid.

[6] Cf. ibid., p. 103.

[7] M. Merleau-Ponty, La phénoménologie de la perception, Paris, Gallimard, 1945, p. V.

[8] Ibid., p. X.

[9] M. Merleau-Ponty, Humanisme et terreur. Essai sur le problème communiste, Paris, Gallimard, 1948.

[10] M. Merleau-Ponty, « Notes sur Machiavel. Chapitre 10 », dans Signes, Paris, Gallimard, 1960.

[11] Cf. M. Merleau-Ponty, Les aventures de la dialectique, Paris, Gallimard, 1955.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty: The Possibility of Philosophy, Northwestern University Press, 2022

The Possibility of Philosophy: Course Notes from the Collège de France, 1959–1961 Book Cover The Possibility of Philosophy: Course Notes from the Collège de France, 1959–1961
Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy
Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Translated by Keith Whitmoyer. Foreword by Claude Lefort. Edited by Stéphanie Ménasé
Northwestern University Press
Paperback $34.95