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.
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.
Breeur R. 2015. Author de la bêtise, Philosophies contemporaines, 2, Classiques Garnier, Paris.
Canguilhem G. 1991. The Normal and the Pathological, Zone Books, New York.
Deleuze G. 2011. Différence et répétition, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris.
Dessingué A. 2019. Paul Ricoeur, in Bernecker S. e Michaelian K., The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Memory, Routledge, Oxon-New York City.
Ginzburg C. 1998. Occhiacci di legno. Nove riflessioni sulla distanza, Feltrinelli, Milano.
Goldstein K. 1939. The Organism: A Holistic Approach to Biology Derived from Pathological Data in Man, American Book Company, New York.
Husserl E. 1973. Zur Phänomenologie der Intersubjektivität. Zweiter Teil 1921-1928, Husserliana XIV, Nijhoff, The Hague.
Kierkegaard S. 1993. Opere, C. Fabro (a cura di), Sansoni, Firenze.
Kant I. 1997. Critica del Giudizio, Laterza, Bari.
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.
Marcuse H. 2009. L’uomo ad una dimensione, Einaudi, Torino.
Micali S. 2013. The transformation of intercorporeality in melancholia. in Phenomenology and Cognitive Science 12, 215–234.
Olivetti M. M. 1992. Analogia del soggetto, Laterza, Bari.
Proust M. 1983. Alla ricerca del tempo perduto, tr. it. di G. Raboni, Mondadori, Milano.
Ricoeur P. 2004. Memory, History and Forgetting, traduzione di Blamey K. e Pellauer D., Chicago, IL: University Chicago Press.
Roger A. 2008. Bréviaire de la bêtise, Gallimard, Paris.
Rorty R. 2008. La filosofia dopo la filosofia, Laterza, Bari.
Sklovskij V. 1976. Una teoria della prosa, Einaudi, Torino.
Simmel G. 1976. Il conflitto della cultura moderna, Bulzoni, Roma.
Tolstoj L. 2005. Tutti i racconti, Vol. II, Mondadori, Milano.
In their introduction to this volume, co-editors Stefano Marino and Andrea Schembari reveal how the idea for this book project was born at a 2017 Pearl Jam concert in Firenze while they were waiting for the band to kick off their gig. They emphasise how music, particularly rock music in this case, has the power to change and even save a life, echoing Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder’s remarks on how he is a living proof of this. Recalling their youth in Sicily, the co-editors note how the bands they followed afforded them “great passion, thrill, euphoria, exaltation, excitement, and enthusiasm” (3). As scholars and fans, the co-editors argue that there is a case to be made for considering Pearl Jam in the growing literature of pop culture and philosophy. Marino and Schembari point out that, rather than a philosophical system of Pearl Jam, what they attempted to point towards through this book was how Pearl Jam’s songs and career entail notions and themes that have troubled philosophers for centuries.These include themes of a particularly phenomenological nature such as the notions of experience, temporality, death, the human condition, significance and the meaning of life, authenticity and identity. Other, more broadly philosophical themes covered in this book also include the critique of mass society and the culture industry embodied by Pearl Jam, as well as resistance to conformist pressures. In their introduction, the editors present some pointers to Pearl Jam’s philosophy or, rather, their ethos: namely, their fight against censorship and oppression, their endorsement of democratic and progressive values, their attempt to be part of the culture industry without being swallowed by it, and their commitment to ecology, gender issues and human rights. The different chapters attempt different ‘gestures’. Some chapters engage with the ethos of Pearl Jam, what they stood for, their development over time as a band and the power of their music; while others conduct more specific ‘readings’ of particular songs or albums. Other chapters draw on Pearl Jam to reflect more broadly on political aesthetics, subcultural authenticity and postmodern fashion, while other authors attempt a more literary engagements with an aspect of Pearl Jam’s music.
The book opens with a foreword by Theodore Gracyk, himself the author of various books on the aesthetics of rock music. Gracyk connects Pearl Jam with ‘rockism’, which is a term that gained prominence in music commentary in the late 1980s. Rockism, as Gracyk explains, is the adoption of a core set of values associated with rock bands, such as refusal to define greatness in terms of commercial success, or an expression of progressive values by rock musicians and their audience, or recognising the value of music to unify, and, importantly, the use of guitars. By these criteria, Pearl Jam qualify as rockist. Gracyk recognises that rockism can also entail a lot of snobbery, sexism and whiteness. Hence, while Pearl Jam can be seen to be exponents of a kind of rockism especially in their early work, they are also a dynamic band that motivate us to go beyond the reductive understandings of rockism. So, if Pearl Jam supposedly moved away from ‘rockist’ tenets by obtaining commercial success, their ‘rockist’ ethos was seen in the way they challenged Ticketmaster for over-charging their fans. Pearl Jam defy easy categorisations. They embody contradictions, dynamism and fluidity; this is arguably what makes them a good band to ‘philosophise’ with.
In Chapter 1, “Contingency, (In)significance, and the All-Encompassing Trip: Pearl Jam and the Question of the Meaning of Life,” Marino takes his cue from Vedder’s lyrics questioning whether we are ‘getting something out of this all-encompassing trip.’ He connects this with Karl Jasper’s notion of ‘the encompassing,’ that is, reality in its richness and fullness. Marino reads Pearl Jam’s questioning of modernist narratives of progress and evolution through various twentieth century philosophers such as Walter Benjamin, Horkheimer, Adorno and Gadamer. In Pearl Jam, Marino identifies a preoccupation with the act of questioning itself, showing that, in their songs, Pearl Jam often refer to the insurmountable questions and the insufficiency of answers. Marino links this with Wittgenstein’s therapeutic understanding of philosophical questioning as being akin to trying to treat an illness, that is, to overcome the torment of excessive philosophical doubt. Similarly, in Pearl Jam, we encounter conflicting views on the role of philosophising in human life: on one hand, Pearl Jam point toward the questioning nature of mankind while at the same time highlight the eventual futility, if not harm, of excessive questioning which can come at the expense of life or experience. Marino points to the numerous questions asked in Pearl Jam’s lyrics – questions of what is real, what is truth, what is human, who are we? – yet ultimately the lesson he finds in Pearl Jam is that some questions remain open precisely because they are meant to remain open. Marino then turns to the notion of temporality, claiming that the western philosophical tradition (particularly in the modern age) has tended to place primacy on the temporal mode of the future. To show this, Marino foregrounds a section from Being and Time in which Heidegger identifies the futurality associated with being-towards-death, whereby anticipation is tied to Dasein’s authentic being. Marino notes that, through songs such as ‘Present Tense’, Pearl Jam challenge this privileging of the future at the expense of the present. Meaning is found not in omnipotence, but in finitude, contingency, imperfection and ephemerality. Instead of surrendering oneself to a defeatist attitude in the face of insignificance, Pearl Jam call for action, fueled also by anger against oppression. With apologies to Gramsci, Marino refers to how Pearl Jam’s intellectual pessimism is coupled with critical optimism of the will. Marino’s extensive essay ends with a reading of Pearl Jam’s ethos in light of Mark Fisher’s comments on Kurt Cobain. In Capitalist Realism, Fisher claims that alternative and independent music had become absorbed by the mainstream, recuperating its subversive potential by transforming it into a commodified lifestyle. For Marino, Pearl Jam recognise this tension and learn to dwell in the ‘in-between’ while surviving in a world of contradictions.
In Chapter 2, “‘Just Like Innocence”: Pearl Jam and the (Re)Discovery of Hope,” Sam Morris draws parallels between Pearl Jam and British Romanticism, arguing that the relationship between the two is not always a smooth and complementary one, not least because romanticism is not easily defined. The early material of Pearl Jam – for example, the Mamasan traumatic trilogy of ‘Alive’, ‘Once’ and ‘Footsteps’ – portrays a difficult relationship between the self and others, which Morris reads alongside some moments from Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads that depict guilt, the inadequacy of society, and innocence as childlike wonder. Yet Morris also notes that in some of their early songs (such as ‘Rearviewmirror’) there is already a hint of a transition from childhood to adulthood, akin to the transition from innocence to experience described by Blake. There are also traces of hope, Morris writes, in songs such as ‘Leash’ and ‘Not for You’, echoing lines from Blake and Wordsworth about the joys of youth and the innocence of nature. Morris argues that No Code represents a turning point for the band, which also represents some divergences from the Romantic tradition. He reads Pearl Jam’s expression of longing for a lost past innocence as not completely in line with Wordsworth and Blake’s critique of the temptation of nostalgia, even if they too acknowledge that the feeling of childhood wonder fades as one grows. However, Morris argues that if the romantic poets placed their hope in embracing mature experience, Pearl Jam seem to go on a search for a lost innocence in No Code. Morris reads Pearl Jam’s engagement with feelings of anxiety and fear of death as attempts to overcome them so as to not forget the wonder of experience. This attempt to sustain hope in appreciating the beauty in the world is read by Morris as re-connecting Pearl Jam with the British Romantic tradition, even if they diverge from the romantic journey that leads from innocence to experience. The romantic impulse in Pearl Jam is read by Morris in their exhortation of listeners to turn inward for hope and a future-looking utopian energy to be ultimately turned outward to transform the world.
In Chapter 3, “Who’s the Elderly Band Behind the Counter in a Small Town?” Radu Uszkai and Mihail-Valentin Cernea reflect on the metaphysics of the transtemporal identity of a rock band. They ask questions on whether changes in band name, group composition or music style alter a band’s identity. Referring to John Searle’s notion, the authors point out that the existence of a band belongs to the realm of ‘institutional facts’, that is, bands can survive severe changes while still being recognized as the same thing, in the same way that a government would still exist despite a change in leadership. The authors draw on conceptual tools such as Robert Nozick’s ‘closest continuer’ theory and Saul Kripke’s notion of ‘rigid designator’ to discuss how metaphysical questions surrounding the transtemporal identity of rock bands can be approached. Uszkai and Cernea argue that the name of a band does not seem to be essential for the identity of a band over time, as otherwise the band Mookie Blaylock – the name under which Pearl Jam played their very first gigs – would not be the same band as Pearl Jam. With lineup changes, perhaps the question complicates itself further, as Pearl Jam had several changes in their drummers and have also been joined by guest musicians such as Boom Gaspar in their live shows. The authors discuss questions such as what happens in the case of a fission of a rock band into two bands, and both claim continuity with the original band. The authors also engage with what changes in music style do to a band’s identity. While some ‘die-hard’ fans may feel that a band is no longer that band if it deviates from its ‘original sound’, the authors argue that it is quite hard to argue that a band loses its metaphysical identity due to such aesthetic transformations. The authors conclude by indicating that the cultural recognition of bands is a crucial component of appropriately designating whether a band is the same band or not.
In Chapter 4, “Making a Choice When There is No ‘Better Man’,” Laura M. Bernhardt foregrounds the theme of compromised agency as it is presented in Pearl Jam’s song, ‘Better Man’. Bernhardt engages with the song’s portrayal of a female narrator anguishing about leaving an abusive relationship but ultimately opting not to. She reads this alongside the band’s own struggles with the pressures of commodification at the time when the song was released. Bernhardt analyses such compromised agency through the work of Carisa Showden on how compromised agents, such as victims of abuse, are required to choose from a selection of bad possibilities under circumstances that are not quite of their choosing. The author highlights the complexity of such situations because it is not a matter of the victim not knowing that the situation is not in her interest, but rather that her freedom is constrained in such a way that her autonomy is compromised. The author calls for an outlook to this issue that moves beyond denying the victim’s agency as well as implying that the victim is somehow complicit in her situation. One way out of this conundrum, Bernhardt suggests, is by looking at Simone Weil’s notion of affliction. For Weil, an afflicted person is someone abandoned to misery or isolation, and someone who is reduced to an object by powerful forces, such as a factor labourer working under oppressive and dehumanising conditions. The afflicted person, Bernhardt notes, would resign herself to unhappiness and feel undeserving of salvation from the wickedness to which she is subjugated. For this reason, apart from systemic and material solutions to improve her agency, the author argues that something more is also needed, namely, radical empathy. The author concludes by proposing that recognition of another person as afflicted may help us to better understand the complexity and ambiguity involved in situations involving compromised agency when people stay in situations where they would not necessarily want to remain, such as the character described in ‘Better Man’.
Chapter 5, “That’s Where We’re Living: Determinism and Free Will in ‘Unthought Known’,” by Enrico Terrone revolves around philosophical themes from FlashForward. This is a 2009-2010 sci-fi television series that engages with the question of what remains of human free will in circumstances where the future seems to be determined and the characters have had ‘flashforwards’ that showed them the outcome of their future. The Pearl Jam connection is that an edited version of their song “Unthought Known” is used in a scene from one of the episodes of this series. Terrone reminds us that the notion of ‘unthought known’ originated in Freud, and was later developed further by psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas. This concept describes how “one can know things about which one is unable to think” (97). Terrone notes that ample metaphysicians argue that science encourages a conception of the universe as strictly governed by natural laws. This view problematises free will as an epiphenomenon which we are unable to do away with simply because it is such a deep-rooted feeling which gives coherence to emotional responses and moral judgements that regulate societies. Various movies and fiction have engaged with the theme of free will and determinism, in which characters are given powers of clairvoyance. Yet, as Terrone argues, some of these artistic attempts are riddled with an obvious inconsistency, namely that although the characters become aware of the future, somehow they manage to contradict what they would have foreseen, which is, of course, untenable with the original clairvoyant ‘visions’. Such a move is often done in the spirit of critiquing the deterministic outlook by insisting on a sort of ‘humanistic’ sentiment that privileges free will over a cold deterministic universe. With regard to the Pearl Jam song and its use in the TV series, “Unthought Known” reflects on the human condition, finitude, the role of the human within the immensity of the cosmos, and ultimately the beauty of the richness of human experience. The author concludes by arguing that the way in which the song is deployed in the context of the narrative points towards the difficulties surrounding a notion of free will, but that its stakes within our practical thought may be too high to let go of it.
In chapter 6, “No Code Aesthetics,” Alberto L. Siani engages with Pearl Jam’s fourth album, No Code, noting that the heterogeneity that marks this album makes for interesting philosophical reflection, not least on the role of ‘codes’ and their rejection in art. The author reads the aesthetics of this album in terms of the ‘end of art thesis,’ which holds that the traditional conception of art as an expressive medium that transmits metaphysical and ethico-political content no longer exists. Siani maintains that this ‘end of art’ is not necessarily something to be decried, because it has emancipatory aspects that allow for veering away from traditional systems of values and embraces plurality. No Code complements this thesis insofar as it represents a rejection of various codes, including a break from the code of their preceding three albums. In a point that is also explored in other chapters, Siani reflects on whether this rejection of codes ultimately becomes a code in itself, that is, the code of rejecting codes, which would lead to a contradiction. However, Siani notes that “we should keep in mind that No Code is an artwork, not a logical investigation” (116). This is a welcome clarification; rather than excessive and intricate philosophical argumentation, Pearl Jam are embracing this unsolvable existential tension, and in this regard they represent the ‘madness’ of the decision, and the leap of affirming life in the face of uncertainty. For Siani, this is perhaps what ‘no code aesthetics’ stands for, that is, the aesthetics of heterogeneity and disharmony which may prompt the listener to a more reflective experience of the music.
Chapter 7, “Can Truth Be Found in the Wild?” by Paolo Stellino focuses on the story of Christopher McCandless, which was made into a movie in 2007 with a soundtrack by Eddie Vedder. In his early 20s McCandless set off wandering around North America until he hitchhiked his way to Alaska to live in the wild. His decomposing body was found around four months after he entered the wild, with the cause of death being probably starvation or poisoning due to ingesting seeds that contained a toxin. Various critics claim that the story of McCandless is often romanticized, ideologized and commodified, with sympathetic commentators insufficiently calling out his naivety and arrogance. Stellino remarks that Vedder’s lyrics too can be seen as contributing to this idealization of McCandless. However, while acknowledging these critiques, Stellino highlights that the appeal of this story does not lie in the specific details of McCandless’ life but rather in its universal significance. Interestingly, Stellino also draws on insights from William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience to analyse McCandless’ story, particularly his notion of ‘the sick soul’. Stellino argues that McCandless was a ‘sick soul’ who suffered from the artificiality of consumer society, and thus opted to radically transform his life by seeking an asceticism through which he felt reborn. Drawing on Erich Fromm, Stellino writes that this transition marks McCandless’ preference for the authentic ‘being’ mode of existence, as opposed to the accumulative ‘having’ mode. The profound insight that McCandless seems to have had at the end of his spiritual search for truth is that authentic existence is relational; it requires the presence of others and is not a solitary mission. Hence, ‘happiness is only real when shared’, McCandless writes on the pages of the last book he was reading. This is why, Stellino concludes, although one may disagree with the specifics of McCandless’ diagnosis of society or with his decision to flee into the wild, what still remains admirable is the courage and honesty of the human pursuit of authentic existence. This is ultimately what Vedder gave voice to in the Into the Wild soundtrack, which highlights continuities with some of Pearl Jam’s lyrics.
Chapter 8’s title, “‘They Can Buy, But Can’t Put On My Clothes’: Pearl Jam, Grunge and Subcultural Authenticity in a Postmodern Fashion Climate” by Stephanie Kramer, makes reference to a verse from Pearl Jam’s song ‘Corduroy’. Kramer notes how the song was inspired from a corduroy jacket Vedder wore numerous times during his shows, including in their MTV Unplugged, and was remade by the fashion industry. According to Kramer, the song’s lyrics reflected the “band’s refusal to sell out as a grunge posterchild in the name of corporate greed” (158), with the jacket serving as a literal and metaphorical act of resistance. Kramer links the lyrics of this song with a ‘grunge’ fashion trend that picked up in 1992 where plaid flannel shirts, flamboyant hats, and other cheap and conventional clothing items that came to be associated with grunge were turned into fashionable icons and sold at higher prices. Kramer draws on the work of media theorist Dick Hebdige to note that although subculture fashion, like punk fashion, highlighted individuality, non-conformity, and resistance to mainstream social norms, with time these subversive trends become absorbed by the mass fashion industry and thus lost their subversive edge. According to Kramer, Pearl Jam refused to partake in the dynamic of fashion altogether and managed to resist artistic commodification itself. Pearl Jam always chose a convenient style of clothing comprising of t-shirts, shorts, boots or tennis shoes, with Ament wearing his flamboyant headdresses, and Vedder wearing plain t-shirts on which he could scribble political messages. Kramer argues that Pearl Jam did not give much weight to their outfits to the extent that the possible machismo associated with basketball jerseys and other sports symbols were in opposition to the feminist and political messages embedded in the band’s ethos and lyrics. The band members, ultimately, were after producing music and not becoming glorified symbols for imitation.
In Chapter 9, “Pearl Jam’s Ghosts: The Ethical Claim Made From the Exiled Space(s) of Homelessness and War – An Aesthetic Response-Ability,” Jacqueline Moulton considers Pearl Jam’s references to homelessness and war in their music and actions. She refers to the band’s 2018 gig in Seattle which they branded ‘The Home Shows’ since the band had not played in Seattle for some years. In fact, the juxtaposed theme of home/homelessness was central to this show as Pearl Jam raised money, awareness and knowledge on the homelessness crisis playing out at the time in Seattle. The author elaborates on what ‘home’ signifies in ethical terms, that is, “the ethical question of contemporary dwelling, the question of who is at home and who is not, of who is living exiled” (165). Referring to how the word ethos in ancient Greek signified both dwelling and mode of being, Moulton explores the ethical implications of being at home versus ‘not at-home’. She argues that this dichotomy unveils “the ideology of inside versus outside” (166). For this reason, those on the outside pose an ethical question to those on the inside, and for Moulton, the concept of home is always haunted by its constitutive outside – “the sense of being not at-home” (167). This unsettling and displacing feeling of foreignness and familiarity, for Moulton, is best grasped through Freud’s notion of the uncanny which brings this juxtaposed duality of homeness and foreignness into the realm of the aesthetic. According to Moulton, during ‘The Home Shows’, Pearl Jam conjured the audience to respond ethically and aesthetically to the ethical claim made from those who are ‘exiled’. The aesthetic displaces the hegemonic elements that structure language and helps to invert the antagonistic dichotomy between inside and outside. Indeed, Moulton follows Adorno’s assertion that ethics emerges from the outside. Moulton notes how Pearl Jam’s songs ‘Yellow Ledbetter’ and ‘Bu$hleaguer’ – embedded with references of war – echo the sense of ‘the uncanny’ as a haunting from within, “a fear that comes up from within, a fear which is familiar and therefore impactful, fear which is close” (169). For Moulton, this form of haunting cuts across the realms of ethics and aesthetics, and poses a new question of what the ethical claims and responses can be and how to translate them into “communal and equitable structures of living interdependently upon a shared world” (169).
Cristina Parapar’s contribution in Chapter 10, titled “Pearl Jam: Responsible Music or the Tragedy of Culture?” evaluates Pearl Jam’s ethos as a form of popular music. Parapar notes how Adorno distinguishes between responsible music and light music, arguing that light music is standardized, contributes to one-dimensional thinking and, unlike responsible music, plays into a capitalist system that seeks to alienate and passively entertain its consumers. Parapar challenges Adorno’s understanding of popular music through French philosopher and music Agnès Gayraud’s work, arguing that Adorno seems to ignore the fact that popular music denotes a broad variety of genres that can merge different traditions, scales, modulations, and influences from both high and low culture. Following from this defense of pop music, Parapar argues that Pearl Jam’s music can at least on occasion speak to its listeners about their own situation in the same way Adorno speaks of dissonance. Following Terry Eagleton’s take on left aesthetics, Parapar argues that a piece of art is in itself subversive because it refuses identification and reveals the impossibility of the union between “form and content, between language and meaning, and between the artistic form and empirical reality” (190). Pearl Jam’s music, according to Parapar, serves this purpose. The ‘dirty’ sounds of grunge, with its partially out of tune music together with its form-content, reflect the Zeitgeist of disillusionment with American society in the 1990s. Parapar argues that while some pop music fits within Adorno’s critique, other types of music contain the potential for critique. Following Gert Keunen’s typology of pop mainstream, underground, and alternative mainstream, Parapar argues that Pearl Jam’s music lies within the third category. This is because while they speak to a wider audience through mass distribution they still maintained “the authorship of their pieces, the less familiar sound of grunge, and the rejection of musical recipes” (197). Correspondingly, Parapar argues that Pearl Jam’s music requires a certain kind of listening. Pearl Jam listeners are, in a sense, negotiators, “negotiating between intellectualism and catharsis, between adequate and structural listening and enjoyment (jouissance)” (199). Thus, for Parapar, Pearl Jam’s listener can be best described as the ‘postmodern listener’, that is, a listener who enjoys the pleasure offered by the music, but at the same time is aware of the way in which the music reveals the ideological fantasy and its symptom. Ultimately, Parapar concludes that Pearl Jam’s music is both responsible and authentic.
In Chapter 11, “Pearl Jam/Nirvana: A Dialectical Vortex that Revolves Around the Void,” Alessandro Alfieri discusses the dialectic opposition of Pearl Jam and Nirvana. Alfieri argues that, as opposed to the music scene of the 1980s such as glam rock, grunge represented a turn to a sober, existential and introverted music scene that expressed the void experienced by a whole generation. He notes that, paradoxically, this wave of existential dread came at a time of expansion of well-being as discourses around mental health expanded in the 1990s. According to Alfieri, Nirvana was one of the few bands that reflected this existential dissatisfaction with their “message of pain and death” (207), in comparison to that of, for example, Madonna and Michael Jackson. Although both Nirvana and Pearl Jam originate from this sense of existential crisis, the bands have long been seen as rivals. Alfieri notes how on many occasions Kurt Cobain was critical of Pearl Jam, although once he admitted that he actually liked Eddie Vedder and came to appreciate him more. Alfieri argues that Pearl Jam fall on the side of the vitalistic dynamic rock of the 1990s and 2000s, whereas Nirvana was more nihilistic, self-destructive, visceral and transgressive. Alfieri notes how the two bands are caught up in a dialectical vortex. Cobain’s aesthetic made Nirvana attractive to mass media even though their ethos was linked to the rejection to success and social prestige. Cobain himself was caught up in this unsolvable contradiction of detesting success while at the same time basking in it and becoming paranoid when it recedes. Pearl Jam turned to mass distribution, but were more reserved in front of the cameras, with Vedder turning down many interviews. Alfieri also argues that Pearl Jam had a more mature stance, with their music reflecting more intellectual and political awareness. For Alfieri, Pearl Jam manage to negotiate the melancholic existential dread of our time through a ‘nostalgia for the present’ set between “anhedonic nihilism and vitalism” (214) where rage, dissent and a dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs are expressed alongside the life-affirming pleasure that the experience of their music provides.
In the concluding Chapter 12, “The Tide on the Shell: Pearl Jam and the Aquatic Allegories of Existence,” Andrea Schembari notes how in their music Pearl Jam express the experience of living through aquatic allegories and metaphors, such as navigation, the ocean and the river. Schembari illuminates these dimensions through the work of other thinkers who, like Pearl Jam, recognized how these dimensions can express the condition of life. Schembari argues that the work of Pearl Jam often reflects an understanding of being as if one is navigating a ship out at sea. He reads this alongside the work of Blaise Pascal who maintains that to live one must always face the opposition between taking the plunge ‘into the sea’ and the inclination toward stability. However, stability and safety are never guaranteed, as depicted in the band’s song ‘Force of Nature’ and as expressed through the Roman poet Lucretius. The songs ‘Oceans’ and ‘Release’ reflect water as a form of energy that directs one to a desired goal, where nothing remains static or unmoving, whereas ‘Big Wave’ speaks of human adaptation – ‘surfing the waves’ – to whatever life brings. As Pascal’s wager reveals, one cannot avoid making choices, and this inevitability to make choices is outlined in the band’s song ‘Infallible’ which, according to Schembari, denounces “the arrogance and distortions of an economic progress disjointed from a true social and cultural progress” (226-7). The band also explores aquatic metaphors of love keeping swimmers afloat reflected in ‘Amongst the Waves’. From allegories of the condition of living to allegories of time, Schembari takes us through instances where Pearl Jam refer to the passage of time as “phenomenological time” and a “time of consciousness” (230) as outlined by Husserl and Heidegger respectively. These allegories of time become more apparent in Pearl Jam’s later albums, particularly their 2020 Gigaton but also in earlier songs like ‘I am Mine’. Finally, Schembari also engages with Pearl Jam’s aquatic metaphors on the meaning of life, such as like murmuring and hollow shells washed ashore, which he reads alongside reflections by Paul Valéry and Italo Calvino.
All in all, Marino and Schembari have completed an interesting curation of high-quality essays that capture the diversity of affects and themes in Pearl Jam songs, as well as their engagement, oftentimes critical, with the culture industry. The title of this project may, at first glance, raise an eyebrow (if not an eyeroll), for example, of those for whom ‘low culture’ is no place to look for serious theorising; or of those who perhaps due to an anti-intellectualist stance perceive such a project as unnecessary intellectual posturing. But this book strikes a good balance in this regard. In no way does it pretend that an appreciation of such chapters is necessary in order for one to understand the true depths of Pearl Jam. Yet, on the other hand, the authors appreciate that the band that originated in 1990 in Seattle during the golden days of grunge is one of those bands that lend themselves to theoretical engagement. Ultimately, the chapters that compose this book are written by scholars who are also fans. It is not incidental that some of the authors make references to the role, big or small, that Pearl Jam has played in their personal lives. In this positive way that this book seems like it was a labour of love.
This is a book for fans: the reader must have great familiarity with Pearl Jam’s music, as well as the band’s history, actions and position within rock history. Do some of the chapters engage in over-reading? Maybe. And if a listener knows what it is like to feel undone by ‘Black’, or to feel goosebumps during ‘Alive’, or to go crazy with ‘Porch’, then perhaps they may not need this book to tell them what they are feeling. But, nonetheless, the chapters that constitute this book will be appreciated by philosophically-inclined fans of the band who, for years, have lived with the band’s music, or perhaps have even witnessed the deep experience that is a Pearl Jam concert; have experienced the wild exhilaration that the band provides. In other words, if you get it, then you get it. Not unlike a lot of philosophy, ultimately, Pearl Jam can be seen to embody a fundamental question: what does it mean to be alive?
David Seamon’s latest book Life Takes Place: Phenomenology, Lifeworlds, and Place Making (2018) is very readable for those from disciplines other than the obvious ones of architecture, urban planning, geography and philosophy. The content and structure of this book provides both an introduction to the topic and a summary of key issues. Seamon has previously[i] introduced his method of ‘synergistic relationality’ analysis via six place process triads, however, this new book provides more illustrative examples and explanation. This book requires, and deserves, a detailed reading. This is reflected in the nature of this review, which summarises, to the extent practicable, the content of the book, as well as providing more general comments, questions and conclusions. This review is from the perspective of an interdisciplinary researcher regarding place, rather than from a strictly philosophical point of view.
Seamon starts by asking about the relationship between life and place, and argues that life requires place. Seamon defines place from a phenomenological perspective, as “any environmental locus that gathers human experiences, actions, and meanings spatially and temporally” (2). He notes that Jeff Malpas describes place as “an open and interconnected region within which other persons, things, spaces, and abstract locations, and even one’s self can appear, be recognized, identified and interacted with”[ii]. People also potentially have strong feelings (affects) about places, both positive and negative.
We understand place via analysis of real-world evidence and this is the proper basis for testing conceptual claims about place. A key concern of this book is the best way to analyse such evidence. Seamon contrasts ‘analytic relationality’, which divides places and their relationships into parts or factors, with, his preferred, ‘synergistic relationality’, which takes a holistic view of place as constituted of dynamic aspects which are interconnected both physically and experientially. To investigate modes of dwelling in place, a sound, structured methodology is important because of the complex, indeterminate, interdisciplinary and ever-changing nature of place.
There are many different approaches to phenomenology and ways that a phenomenological view of place can be applied, so it is important to judge this book in terms of its stated objectives (5, 6):
- To develop a phenomenology of place grounded in synergistic relationality;
- To demonstrate the use of a predefined ‘progressive approximation’ structure of analysis, implementing a form of Systems Theory, developed by British philosopher J. G. Bennett;
- To surface relationships, actions and processes integral to phenomenology of place in a manner which is multidimensional but integrated;
- To demonstrate the way wholeness of place can be expressed via examination of paired terms and six triads, based on Bennett’s systems theory;
- To apply a phenomenological perspective to places, which is understood to arise from our personal, cultural, intellectual, and historical points of view;
- To address, in the context of both historical and hypermodern places, certain critical concerns, raised by reviewers, about the approach adopted in this book.
Seamon defines phenomenology as “a way of understanding that emphasizes the description and interpretation of human experience, awareness, and meaning, particularly their unnoticed, taken-for-granted dimensions” (8). He quotes Moran (2005[iii], 2) as suggesting that Edmund Husserl, the “founder of phenomenology”, envisioned phenomenology as “the descriptive, non-reductive science of whatever appears, in the manner of its appearing, in the subjective and intersubjective life of consciousness”. Seamon explains that the aim is not just descriptions of phenomena, but their comparison to identify “underlying commonalities that mark essential, non-contingent features and qualities of the phenomenon” (9), i.e. their ‘essences’.
In this book the topic of interest is experiences, actions, meanings and events with respect to place. He cites (9) Van Manen (2014, 39)[iv] as contending the need to study “active and passive” lived experience; the “ordinary and the extraordinary, the quotidian (commonplace) and the exotic, the routine and the surprising, the dull and the ecstatic moments”. In this way phenomenology pays attention to the totality of human experience and seeks to develop informative and theoretical formulations as comprehensively and authentically as possible. To achieve this, Seamon draws on a wide range of examples of descriptions of lived experience and, in order to conceptualize place phenomenologically, he cites earlier studies by renowned researchers such as Edward Relph, Edward Casey and Jeff Malpas.
Such phenomenological explorations are based on the assumption that all “human experience, awareness, and action are always intentional – i.e., necessarily oriented toward and finding their significance in a world of emergent meaning”; that is, we are “inescapably immersed, enmeshed, and entwined” in our particular lifeworld (11). The phenomenological approach shines a light on key aspects of everyday life, including those experiences that normally go unnoticed, via “unquestioned acceptance of the lifeworld … what Husserl called the natural attitude” (12). Place is not just manifest as the material environment, distinct from the people that dwell there. Conceptualizations of place need to incorporate “lived complexity in an ordered way, including the generative processes whereby places and place experiences shift over time” (13).
As emphasised by phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty[v], people’s activities within their environment are embodied, often as unselfconscious gestures and behaviours, both individually and as group processes. These include ‘body routines’ (integrated sets of gestures and actions) and ‘time space routines’ (often-repeated sets of actions to accomplish common tasks). These conventionalised patterns of behaviour facilitate the dwelling group developing and maintaining a sense of deep involvement with that place. A routine of bodily interactions is termed a ‘place ballet’ by Jane Jacobs (1961)[vi].
Key aspects of everyday activities in place can be examined phenomenologically via a methodology of data collection and analysis, which must exhibit interpretive accuracy and trustworthiness. Such methodologies can draw data from a variety of sources, including: “phenomenologies of place already written … studies by sociologists, geographers, psychologists, architects, planners, urban designers and others … accounts from imaginative literature that relate to place experiences and place meanings … recent newspaper articles that deal with place events and place experiences” (16, 17). Seamon suggests use of a wide range of such texts because this facilitates comparison between sources and validation of key phenomena.
The long history of investigation of ‘place’ is discussed by Seamon, including contributions by human geographers like Yi-Fu Tuan, Edward Relph and Anne Buttimer, regarding topics such as place attachment, place identity, place belonging and sense of place. He notes (19) the interdisciplinary nature of place research, citing Bruce Janz (2005)[vii], who provides a critique of past research on phenomenology of place. Janz lists requirements for effective place research, including adopting a phenomenological and hermeneutical approach, which concentrates on the experience of place. This requires a complex, holistic and richly cultural approach to place.
Seamon follows the phenomenological tradition established by Edmund Husserl of being disinclined to collaborate with social science methods for understanding dwelling in place, and critiques examples of rationalist approaches to investigation of place. He claims they prevent the whole of place being understood in terms of “ambience, character, presence, or serendipitous unfolding” (23). Instead, he advocates a ‘synergistic relationality’ approach, which concentrates on processes, via an investigative methodology that does justice to the wholeness and emergent nature of place.
For Seamon, place is “an interconnected field of intertwined relationships gathering and gathered by a lived intimacy between people and the world and held together spatially and temporally” (29). A methodology for investigating place must identify and analyse these relationships as they unfold in actions and experiences of everyday life. To develop his approach to this problem, Seamon turned to the ‘phenomenology of wholeness’ of British phenomenologist and science educator Henri Bortoft and British philosopher and mathematician J.G. Bennett, who together developed the notion of ‘progressive approximation’. This method seeks to understand the whole via investigating its parts with respect to the way they ‘belong together’, “through a mode of careful, intuitive encounter uniting perception, feeling, and thinking” (30).
According to Seamon, the method of ‘progressive approximation’ permits the researcher to identify the ‘organized structure’ inherent, but hidden, within the bewildering diversity and complexity of phenomena involved with dwelling in place. This is achieved through a structured investigation, starting from vague outlines of concepts, and subsequent filling in of details, providing a deepening of meanings. Seamon contends that this seeking out of ‘underlying connectedness’ or ‘integrated structure’ implements a form of ‘triangulation’.
Seamon notes (34, 35) that Bennett (1993, 13)[viii] defines a system as “a set of independent but mutually relevant terms, (in which term refers to) those elements of the system that express a specific character, such as universality, complementarity, dynamism, activity, potential, and so forth”. Bennett utilises a structured approach to investigation of complex systems, moving from the single, total wholeness (monad), through dyads, inherently belonging to the monad, and indicating the diverse nature of different features of the system. This leads to triads, expressing the relatedness of different aspects of the system and the processes that bind them.
Based on Bennett’s publications, Seamon notes that the monad is an ‘undifferentiated diversity’, which needs to be encountered as a whole before the structure of its parts is examined to determine whether any particular element ‘belongs’ to the system. Dyads concern binaries and contrasts inherent in the system, so that the existence of one term presupposes the other. The contrasting elements are complementary to each other, rather than polar opposites. They interpenetrate and cannot be separated because both are integral to phenomena. Dyads are selected which most effectively contribute to a deepened understanding of the phenomenon via “the dyad’s two natures; what it is and what it does” (40). Resolution of essentially contradictory conditions is explained by the triads, where the emphasis is shifted to identification of processes that enable this resolution.
Further background regarding the approach of using process triads to understand place can be found in Seamon’s previous work (2012; 2014). In the 2012 chapter he contends that place can be understood in terms of three dimensions: “first, the geographical ensemble – i.e., the material environment, including both its natural and human-made dimensions; second, people-in-place, including individual and group actions, intentions, and meanings; and, third, spirit of place, or genius loci (common presence)” (3). He goes on to show how this concept can be understood via six modes of dwelling (processes), based on ‘systematics’ developed by J.G. Bennett, using slightly different terminology to the 2018 book. Seamon (2014) discusses the same six place processes, without reference to Bennett’s work, emphasising instead a ‘generative’ view of various aspects of relationships with place, which interact via a synergistic dynamic. In his 2018 book, Seamon claims that the three ‘impulses’, which are differently combined in the six place triads, are direct consequences of the meaning of place, as explained by Edward Casey, Bruce Janz and Jeff Malpas.
In Chapters 5 to 8, Seamon explains how he utilizes Bennett’s analytic method of monad, dyads and triads for investigation of the essential character of place. Seamon’s method begins with explication of the monad of place as a multifaceted phenomenon of daily life. He provides lists of the ‘thematic’ aspects and the ‘characteristics’ of place, as a ‘sphere of opening’, providing opportunities to investigate the experiential wholeness of place in a phenomenological manner. Different modes of lived emplacement involve temporal aspects (such as duration of dwelling) and nested horizons of place (household, workplace, neighbourhood, city, etc.). There is a lived ‘co-envelopment’ between body and world, an inescapable commingling.
Moving from the monad, the next step is to establish dyads of place, to investigate the wholeness of place via an appropriate set of binaries and complementarities involved in encounters and actions in place. The nominated five place dyads are: movement and rest; insideness and outsideness; the ordinary and extra-ordinary; the within and without; homeworld and alienworld. He discusses (citing relevant theorists) the reasons for, and significance of, each dyad and examples of different modes of experiencing them.
The third, and dominant level of the systems theory approach to place is triads; the means for reconciling the tensions inherent in the dyads. Seamon claims “that a triadic knowledge of place is essential if we are to envision design, policy, planning, or advocacy that work to strengthen rather than weaken real-world places” (67). He adopts Bennett’s term ‘successive approximation’ to describe increasingly more detailed levels of analysis, which approach more closely the real level of complexity of dwelling in place. To represent the dynamic, generative aspects of place, the six place triads depict various processes and relationships, which can have either a positive or negative impact on dwelling in place.
Bennett (1993, 37-39) defines a triad as “a system of three independent but mutually related terms, each of which he designated by the word impulse, to suggest a sense of force or motivation that, interacting with the two other impulses of the triad, leads to a specific action, process or happening”. These three basic impulses are affirming (initiating, demanding, or forcing action), receptive (that which is acted upon; being passive, resisting or denying) and reconciling (combining the other two impulses; via integrating, harmonizing, bridging, or neutralizing). They are successively termed the first (1), second (2) and third (3) impulses. In the context of place, Seamon names these impulses people-in-place (1), environmental ensemble (2) and common presence (3) and justifies them as aspects of place-as-process. They represent the fundamentals of place; i.e. the characteristics of people who live there, the nature of the topography and ecosystem, and the intertwining of those two systems to produce a particular, intricate mode of dwelling.
Seamon explains the three place impulses: “Environmental ensemble … refers to the material and environmental qualities of place, including topography, geology, weather, flora, fauna” (85). This applies to natural landscape, and human-made elements, which provide “the material foundation for place events, transactions, experiences, and meanings” (86). The impulse of ‘people-in-place’ is ‘affirming’ because “typically, people actively manipulate and fabricate their worlds” (87). It includes “their actions, routines, understandings, and situations, whether unself-conscious or conscious, habitual or out-of-the-ordinary” (87).
Seamon describes ‘common presence’ as “the material and lived ‘togetherness’ of a place impelled by both its physical and experiential qualities” (87). Seamon notes the significance of Bennett’s (1961, 44)[ix] claim that ‘common presence’ is “one example of phenomena that occupy ‘a kind of no-man’s land between the fields of science, art, and religion’ … it cannot be readily grasped directly but only felt and spoken of imprecisely” (88). Hence, a flexible interdisciplinary approach is required to incorporate this impulse within a comprehensive investigation of place.
All place processes involve ways of combining the three impulses. This is reflected in each impulse’s positioning in any one of these six triads: place interaction (1-3-2); place identity (2-3-1); place release (3-2-1); place realization (3-1-2); place intensification (2-1-3); and place creation (1-2-3). In Chapters 9 to 14, Seamon seeks to tease out the interactions between people and place via explication of the six place triads. There is not space in this review to fully summarise Seamon’s explanation of the phenomenology of the place triads, however, a brief summary follows.
The ‘triad of place interaction’ “marks the existential foundation of any place – the lifeworld actions, happenings, and situations associated with that place” (93). Seamon notes that this involves a wide range of interactions between the environment and those who dwell there. He cites authors who have developed typologies of individual and group place experiences. Place interaction triads may ‘chain’, as a series of progressive actions, and smaller triads may ‘nest’ within larger scale triads to produce a particular mode of dwelling.
The ‘triad of place identity’ “involves ways that place becomes an extended, taken-for-granted part of how an individual or group suppose themselves to be personally and communally” (105). Seamon distinguishes this triad from that of ‘place interaction’ in that it involves repetitive interactions with the environment which may have either a positive or negative impact on people’s feelings about the place. A person may consider a particular place as their ‘homeworld’, motivating them to exhibit emotional and practical care for that place.
The ‘triad of place release’ is linked with the ‘triad of place realization’ because they demonstrate opposite ways that ‘common presence’ initiates place actions. Seamon states that ‘place release’ “involves an environmental serendipity of unexpected encounters and events” (118). He suggests that such events could involve ‘noticing’ something new, and this may trigger sequences of consequential interactions. A question arises as to whether environments can be designed to facilitate serendipity or whether particular types of activities might encourage instances of ‘place release’ to occur? The ‘triad of place realisation’ is, in contrast, defined by Seamon as relating to some breakdown of the ‘ordered wholeness’ of place, causing a deterioration in the mode of dwelling in place. This can involve discord within ‘common presence’, operating at an unselfconscious or conscious level.
The ‘triad of place intensification’ is paired with the ‘triad of place creation’, because in both “the reconciling impulse of common presence is the outcome of place actions, though these actions are considerably different experientially” (138). In the case of ‘place intensification’ the outcome is positive, creating a stronger form of ‘common presence’ via an improved physical environment. However, for ‘place creation’ the improvement is generated by people implementing change through ‘creatively envisioning’ a better mode of dwelling. These triads are perhaps most easily understood in terms of urban design and renewal of communal facilities and practices, such as creating new plazas and/or encouraging more vibrant communal activities, such as outdoor concerts and festivals. The interaction between the two triads is evident in such examples and can be conceptualised as ‘organizing lifeworlds’ to overcome fragmentation and strengthen ‘common presence’ in terms of utilitarian, cultural or spiritual aspects. It is also possible for changes in either the physical or socio-cultural aspects of dwelling to have a negative effect when inappropriate changes undermine place. Seamon contends that the challenge for planners is to understand the ‘grounded wholeness’ of place, and the complex interactions between physical and social considerations. Concentrating on the unique phenomenology of any particular place can lead to promotion of ‘place synergy’.
In Chapter 15, Seamon discusses ways of integrating the six triadic place processes. He notes that the processes interact in a potentially synergistic fashion, although the intricate forms of reciprocity are largely unpredictable. Places are constantly changing via the flux of internal change processes and by the influence of external forces. Seamon provides a table (168) of the ways the six place processes may contribute to sustaining or undermining place and, hence, the lived experience of dwelling. He introduces the notion of ‘virtuous spirals’, “whereby a dynamic interweave among the six processes supports an unfolding place tube intensifying the wellbeing of place and working against environmental and human entropy” (173). Changes may occur across many places simultaneously or successively, since places are linked in a multitude of ways. Understanding of the relationship between places requires its own detailed phenomenology (endnote 2, 176).
In the last two chapters of his book, Seamon contends that his method of ‘synergistic relationality’ aids in understanding places, and the processes that drive their creation and development. He acknowledges the difficulty of fully understanding this approach and discusses some criticisms and concerns raised by reviewers of the draft book. The conceptual approach taken in the book could be termed ‘essentialist’, i.e., that an invariant and universal human condition prevails, evident only when historical, social and cultural variables are bracketed. Seamon responds by “emphasizing the basic phenomenological recognition that there are different dimensions of human experience and existence that all must be incorporated in a thorough understanding of human and societal phenomena, including place and lived emplacement” (178). These dimensions include individual characteristics such as gender, intellectual endowments, and historical, social and cultural contexts, which affect individuals and communities. However, all human beings experience ‘lived emplacement’ through universal, non-contingent dimensions, which are the subject of this book.
David Seamon’s book is successful in terms of its stated objectives, within the adopted conservative phenomenological paradigm. However, this review includes some critiques and questions, at several levels of abstraction. Seamon’s approach can be compared with a diverse range of methods for phenomenological investigation of place discussed in recent publications[x].
The centrepiece of Seamon’s book is the structured methodology of monad, dyads and triads, based on Bennett’s systems theory. This implementation of ‘synergistic relationality’ is coherent, though somewhat mechanistic. It would be more satisfying for the reader if Seamon had provided at least a partial review of the history of systems theory and a detailed argument as to why this method is the chosen option. He states that he has studied this approach for three decades so perhaps felt no need to justify its validity and applicability. Although this systems theory based method represents a significant development in our understanding of investigation of place, some questions can be raised.
Having established the fundamental wholeness of the place monad, Seamon develops five place dyads representing conceptual oppositions. While Seamon’s explanations are compelling, they do not sufficiently explain why those particular, predominately physical (and somewhat overlapping), five dyads were chosen. There are other potential binaries of dwelling in place, relating to historical (e.g. whether colonised people or not), utilitarian (e.g. predominating form of work: hunter/gatherer and agricultural vs manufacturing and utilities), social (e.g. dominant vs marginalised people), political (e.g. democratic vs totalitarian), cultural (e.g. indigenous vs multicultural customs and languages), or spiritual (e.g. sacred vs secular places) aspects. One assumes that the nature of the place investigation being undertaken would determine which type of dyads are most applicable.
The third step in Seamon’s method is to develop triads based on place impulses. He suggests that the three impulses define place directly, rather than “in terms of other phenomena such as community, culture, politics, power, economics, or some similar qualities that in both analytic and poststructural research are assumed to be independent shaping the dependent factor of place” (84). The three impulses are indeed fundamental, providing a generic, abstract definition of place. However, the people-in-place impulse could incorporate the characteristics of the dwelling group, as a system, interacting with the system of topography and ecosystem, to produce an enhanced form of ‘common presence’. It can be argued that the phenomena listed earlier in this paragraph can be considered as interdependent, with each other and with place. They contribute to the mode of dwelling for any particular place, within phenomenological as well as social science methods of investigation. This is an extension of the approach in Seamon (2012, 3) quoted above.
Uluru in central Australia is a strong example of complexity of place. It has been a sacred place for Pitjantjatjara Anangu Aboriginal people for at least 10,000 years. After colonisation by Europeans it was named Ayers Rock. In 1985 land ownership by Anangu was officially recognised and its traditional name restored. Uluru is a major tourist attraction. Apart from being a magnificent monolith, that it is a place, and its nature as place, are intricately linked with each of the factors Seamon chooses to bracket. Uluru could be considered as multiple co-located places, each with respect to a community or stakeholder group (Anangu, governments, industry, tourists, etc.) or as one place incorporating all these relationships. Given its lack of direct engagement with social and cultural aspects of dwelling, could Seamon’s method investigate these different perspectives appropriately, for instance, in the context of developing a fair and effective management plan for the area?
Seamon asserts that in analytic research approaches “place is typically interpreted as a dependent variable shaped by such independent variables as age, social status, home ownership, or duration of place involvement” (84). The two references provided by Seamon for this statement[xi] support an interdisciplinary and clearly articulated approach to place research. Patterson and Willliams (2005) review the conceptual clarity of different approaches to research on place, and their epistemological foundations. They conclude that “systematic coherence requires a pluralistic world view that understands place, not as a single research tradition but as a domain of research informed by many disciplinary research traditions at the research program and paradigmatic level” (362). Lewicka (2011) reviews the linkages between the type of place research, the methods used, and the theories they rely upon. She concludes that the key aspect requiring attention is theory concerning place processes, relevant to topics such as meaning-making in place attachment. This requires interdisciplinary approaches to theory that facilitate consideration of contextual factors relating to the physical and social environments, as interacting systems. This can be aligned with Martin Heidegger’s notions of ‘dwelling’ and ‘equipment’[xii], which are not significantly pursued by Seamon.
Seamon notes that his version of ‘common presence’ is difficult to comprehend. It could perhaps be more easily understood as the synergistic interaction of a group of people, gathered under a communal spatial-socio-cultural-spiritual framework, with a specific area of terrain, as a system of topography and ecosystem. An enhanced notion of ‘common presence’ can then be thought of as the ‘togetherness’ of intersubjectivity and communalized intentionality,[xiii]in the context of dwelling in that topographic ecosystem. This entails place as both a utilitarian ‘taskscape’ (Ingold[xiv]) and also a domain (potentially) suffused with culture and spirituality. Seamon’s determination to avoid the label of ‘social constructivism’ leads him to emphasise the less cultural and task-related aspects of ‘common presence’, such as ‘sense of place’, weakening his approach.
In explaining each of the triads, and their role in his method of analysis, Seamon provides descriptive examples, some in greater detail, from newspaper articles and scientific publications. Not surprisingly, due to his long-standing expertise in architecture and town planning, these examples predominately relate to urban places. However, consideration of dwelling needs to cover urban, rural and wild places. Future evaluations of this approach for places in rural and wild settings will assist in determining the generalizability of Seamon’s method of analysis.
Seamon explains that the six place triads need not arise from an analysis of Bennett’s systems theory. This is a very important point. It leads to the question of whether the total conceptual space delineated by the six Bennett-based triads could perhaps be subdivided, ordered and named in more effective ways, based on the broad approach to phenomenology of place developed by the cited authors and others? What is clear is that Seamon has provided an excellent step forward, which will facilitate development of even more effective reasoning on this matter.
Seamon emphasises the pure phenomenological philosophical perspective. However, it can be argued that the three place impulses are instantiated in different ways through particular characteristics of topography, ecosystems and communities. A particular mode of dwelling in place can be described via an extremely complex set of variables, usually acting interdependently, and numerous processes, often non-deterministic. Thus, a model of place, operationalized as a method for investigation and comparison of particular real-world places, needs to facilitate examination of the role of physical and lifeworld factors via targeted case studies. Indeed, this approach is the one implicitly used by Seamon to explain the six places triads, via reference to newspaper articles and studies of the role of various factors influencing modes of dwelling.
Seamon contends that his structured phenomenological method provides a useful conceptual approach to investigation of differences between places. Alternative approaches to investigation of place can not only co-exist, but can potentially be synergistically combined. For instance, Alfred Schütz[xv] developed ethnomethodology to integrate phenomenology and social sciences in the early 1930s. Phenomenology can be blended with science to facilitate an interdisciplinary approach to investigation of place[xvi]. This can be extended to become transdisciplinary, if phenomenology is used as an overarching paradigm. This would align with Husserl’s notion of phenomenology as a meta-science (Moran, 2000, 137)[xvii].
[i] Seamon, D. (2012) Place, Place Identity, and Phenomenology: A Triadic Interpretation Based on J.G. Bennett’s Systematics. In: Casakin, H. and Bernardo, F. (Eds.) The Role of Place Identity in the Perception, Understanding, and Design of Built Environments, Bentham Science Publishers, pp. 3-21; Seamon, D. (2014) Place Attachment and Phenomenology: The Synergistic Dynamism of Place. In: Manzo, L. C. and Devine-Wright, P. (Eds.) Place Attachment: Advances in Theory, Methods and Applications. New York: Routledge. pp. 11-22.
[ii] Malpas, J.E. (1999) Place and Experience. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press. p. 36.
[iii] Moran, D. (2005) Edmund Husserl: Founder of Phenomenology. Cambridge, UK: Polity.
[iv] Van Manen, M. (2014) Phenomenology of Practice. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
[v] Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962) Phenomenology of perception. New York: Humanities Press; Merleau-Ponty, M. (1968) The visible and the invisible. Evanston IL: Northwestern University Press.
[vi] Jacobs, J. (1961) The death and life of great American cities. New York: Vintage.
[vii] Janz, B, (2005) Walls and borders: The range of place. City and Community, Vol. 4, No. 1, p. 87.
[viii] Bennett, J.G. (1993) Elementary systematics. Seamon, D. (Ed.), Santa Fe, NM: Bennett Books.
[ix] Bennett, J. G. (1961) The dramatic universe, vol. 2: The foundations of moral philosophy. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
[x] e.g.: Janz, B. (Ed.) (2017) Place, Space and Hermeneutics. Springer; Donohoe, J. (Ed.) (2017) Place and Phenomenology. London: Rowman and Littlefield.
[xi] Lewicka, M. (2011) Place Attachment: How far have we come in the last 40 years? Journal of Environmental Psychology, Vol. 31, No. 3, pp. 207-230; Patterson, M. and Willliams, D. (2005) Maintaining research traditions on place: Diversity of thought and scientific progress. Journal of Environmental Psychology, Vol. 25, No. 4, pp. 361-380.
[xii] Heidegger, M. (1962/2007) Being and time. Trans. by Macquarrie, J. and Robinson, E. Maldan, MA: Blackwell.
[xiii] Kockelmans, J. J. (1994) Edmund Husserl’s Phenomenology. West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press.
[xiv] Ingold, T. (1993) The Temporality of the Landscape. World Archaeology, Vol. 25, No. 2, Conceptions of Time and Ancient Society, pp. 152-174.
[xv] Schütz, A. (1940) Phenomenology and the Social Sciences. Initially published in: Farber, M. (Ed.) Philosophical Essays in Memory of Edmund Husserl. Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press. In: Luckman, T. (Ed.) (1978) Phenomenology and Sociology: Selected Readings. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books, pp. 119-141.
[xvi] Mohanty, J. N. (1997) Phenomenology: Between Essentialism and Transcendental Philosophy. Northwestern University Press, p. 23.
[xvii] Moran, D. (2000) Introduction to Phenomenology. Abingdon: Routledge.
A reader looking to make their first entry into Jean-Luc Nancy’s work is bound to feel intimidated by the extraordinarily vast and varied nature of this particular French philosopher’s oeuvre. As it spans over dozens of books, hundreds of articles, and engages with almost every major modern thinker, one would be forgiven for feeling somewhat at a loss in deciding where to start. This is why the set-up of the interviews collected in The Possibility of a World is full of promise: guided by Pierre-Philippe Jandin, who shows himself both knowledgeable of how Nancy thinks and skilful in driving the conversation to cover as much ground as possible, Nancy is made to reflect on the entirety of his career in fluent and conversational language: the interviews provide both an accessible articulation of all the major themes of Nancy’s thought, if sometimes only implicitly, for those who are new to it; as well as a valuable insight into how Nancy relates to his own thinking and writing, for those who are already familiar with it. The present translation of these conversations by Travis Holloway and Flor Méchain generally captures Nancy’s playful use of the French language well, adding clarifying footnotes where necessary, and makes for a very fluent read in English that only falters occasionally when confronted with a particular French idiom or colloquialism.
Before delving into the conversations themselves, it is perhaps worth noting that, in my view, Nancy is a philosopher perfectly suited to be approached in this dialogical way: not just because it takes the sharp edges of his sometimes frustrating writing style; but also because the dialogical form – which, as Nancy notes, “has always been associated with philosophy” as the expression of “the free life of thinking” (Nancy 1982, 46-47) – embodies the very logic he wants to describe, namely the infinite circulation of meaning. Even when Nancy writes like any other philosopher would, he always does so under the guise of an engagement with someone else’s thinking: his own thinking exists in a dialogical interaction with that of others, to the point that it becomes hard to discern which ideas belong to which conversation partner, and that is exactly the point. Thus, in reading Nancy, we are always reminded of one fact: “without dialogue, no thinking, and no philosophy” (Nancy 1975, 330). In the case of the present text, we have the interesting opportunity to witness how, as prompted by Jandin, Nancy engages with himself, dialogues himself.
The first section of the book is dedicated to Nancy’s “formative years.” What the reader will not find here is a description of how Nancy sees the development of his own thinking throughout his life, for, as he admits elsewhere, he is “not somebody who is very self-aware, I don’t really have much of a conception of my own historical trajectory” (Nancy 2003, 45). What he does do in this section, however, is discuss the various “moments”, both anecdotal and more substantive, that would later prove important for his intellectual development. These anecdotes are really quite delightful. There is, for example, the very early memory of walking past a fence that “had these elaborate patterns.” Already betraying a theoretical orientation at that very young age, Nancy relates how he would “get lost in speculations about the necessity or non-necessity of all these adornments” (2). Then there is the story of his discovery of Heidegger: apparently the reason Nancy first engaged seriously with Heidegger was to play a trick on François Warin, by writing a text on Comte in a parody of Heidegger’s style that managed to convince Warin that it was actually penned by Heidegger himself (17-18).
One of the more informative moments he relates is his reading of the Bible together with the Young Christian Students when he was a teenager: for Nancy, this was “the beginning of a relationship with texts as an inexhaustible resource of meaning or sense (sens).” What he learned there was above all that “One has to interpret a text and this interpretation is infinite” (7). This can still be seen in what we could call the hermeneutic logic that governs all of Nancy’s writing and sits alongside a critique of the specific hermeneutics formulated by Ricoeur and Gadamer. This interest in the texts of Christianity, however, soon became detached from a “properly religious relationship” (8). It is this religious orientation, together with a taste for social and political activism, which he sees as “the initial ferment of my intellectual formation” (8). Nancy then goes on to discuss his initial discovery of Derrida, who he saw at the time as ushering in a profound intellectual upheaval (14, 22). Finally, it is worth mentioning how he looks back on his early work on Kant, undertaken when he was preparing to take the agrégation, for it sets the stage quite well for how he would later develop his own thinking: “What Kant taught us is that (…) pure reason is practical in itself.” Hence, he continues, “in our desire for the unconditioned, in our desire for sense, we’re practical, we act in the world, and so, a priori sensibility (…) is praxis. In every case, I am in action” (19). It is this notion of the sense of the world consisting in our action within it that sets Nancy up to articulate the idea that is at the core of, and indeed guides, his entire philosophy: “Images of the world must be substituted for a dwelling (habitation), a life of the world, in the world. (…) The world is a possibility of sense or meaning’s circulation and we have to make a world, to remake a world” (26).
This allows for a seamless transition to the second section of the book, which deals with Nancy’s understanding of world. Indeed, one of the strengths of these interviews is that they show very clearly how all of Nancy’s thinking hangs together quite closely. Regarding the world, he again takes up his starting point as it is formulated elsewhere (see Nancy 1997, 4): declaring that “There’s no longer a cosmos, there’s no longer a mundus” (38), by which he means that the world no longer appears to us as a coherent totality that is unified by some kind of inherent order. The world that we are to think “no longer has a sense, but it is sense” (Nancy 1997, 8), exists in a circulation of meaning. This leads him to formulate his relational ontology, where the meaning that is the world exists in what happens between entities, in how they relate to one another. It is this question of relation, central as it is to Nancy’s thinking, that he sees as never having received serious philosophical attention (48). Nevertheless, “What is the world,” he wonders, “if not precisely the possibility of the ‘between’?” (47). For, if meaning is not inherent to any single entity, it can only exist in how that entity relates to other entities. In that sense, it is the between, not the self-enclosed singularity of an entity, that comes first. It is only because of “the relation between the two, that is, the ‘between’ the two, which relates the one to the other and separates it from the other at the same time” (47), that something can be anything at all: thing A can only be thing A because it is separate from thing B, because it is-not thing B; because of a separation that constitutes thing A as thing A. It is only because of this between that there can be something, or rather, some things. Being, for Nancy, even when it is singular, is always plural. Indeed, it is only within plurality that there can be singularity. The world is then the totality of sense or meaning that is created by the constellation of different entities in their relation to one another (133). Nancy has coined the term transimmanence to describe the nature of the meaning constituted in this way: neither fully immanent, nor transcendent; but an immanence pointing outside of itself to the between that would be collapsed by full immanence (93).
Ultimately, this thinking of the between is a critique of self-sufficiency: the self does not constitute itself, but must go outside of itself in order to find itself. This opens up an entry into Nancy’s social and political thought, for this impossibility of self-sufficiency “is true for both the collective and the individual,” he notes, “the idea of ‘community’ quite clearly implies (through communitarianisms) the danger of shutting oneself off in self-sufficiency” (49). Indeed, the subsequent three sections deal mostly with Nancy’s handling of questions concerning community and politics. Political questions are essential for Nancy, as long as this is understood in a broad and nuanced way: for him, the French word politique means both “the organization of common existence (…), conjoining antagonistic interests,” as well as expressing “a sense or truth about this existence” (94), and as such has clear ontological significance. Most of the discussion revolves around Nancy’s (relatively) recent engagement with questions concerning identity in relation to the notion of the people, formulated polemically in reaction to the French government’s attempt to have a debate on national identity in 2009. Just like the world no longer has meaning, but is meaning; so too, the people no longer have an identity, but are an identity (Nancy 2015, 29-32). That is to say, their identity is not inherent but exists in their action within the world, their life of the world in the world: the people in themselves are not sufficient for the constitution of their own identity. Hence, speaking of the people always risks understanding this plurality inauthentically as absolute, coherent, self-sufficient singularity: “What allows one to make sense out of numerousness is the people,” Nancy says, “which gets expressed in forms that themselves are no longer numerousness, but suggest a ‘substantial’ unity (‘one’ people, ‘one’ nation)” (73-74).
The sixth section deals with Nancy’s understanding of religion, Christianity in particular. For Nancy, “in the depths of Christianity, there is something like the germ of the disappearance of the sacred” (99). What this means is that Christianity is the religion through which the West is able to leave the religious modality of thought behind. It is the religion that allows the West to emerge from its metaphysical closure, which Christianity is nevertheless at the same time also responsible for. Nancy traces this historical development in his two volumes on what he calls the deconstruction of Christianity (Nancy 2008; 2012). In doing so, he takes up various Christian concepts – God, creation, grace, etc. – and uses them to think atheologically: not necessarily against theology, but in any case against onto-theological metaphysics; in order to put on display how Christianity and the West are opening themselves up from their metaphysical closure. In doing so, these concepts come to describe the way in which we inhabit the world, our dwelling in the world: for example, “creation is the world existing,” Nancy says. “In another sense,” he continues, “one could say that within this lies an opportunity to recover the possibility of admiring, of adoring that the world exists, and the fact that I exist, that you exist” (102). That is to say, these concepts not only function within the (a)theological register, but also take on a much broader existential and ontological meaning.
In the same way, Nancy can be seen to charge the notion of art with ontological and existential significance in the seventh section of the book. There he explains how, given that we no longer live in a cosmos, a world that is unified in its display of a certain inherent order, art is in crisis: what is its role if it can no longer represent this order now that it has collapsed? Let me quote Nancy at length here: « It’s like another creation, a recreation of the world and when there isn’t actually a creator or organizer of the entire world anymore, then this gesture becomes detached for itself, but this gesture has always been the gesture of art, of opening the possibility of an ordering. And I think that one can say that the human being is the one who has to bring out a world, both as a form and as sense, or as language » (106-107). Here Nancy is first of all saying that when art is without ground it fulfils a truly ontological role: in the absence of an order or truth preordained by a creator, art is no longer in the business of merely representing this truth; rather, it performs the gesture of the opening of the possibility of an order, expresses the movement in which the possibility of a world exists, by exposing the void at its origin as “the complete absence of beauty, that is, what points out or indicates beauty” (105). Art exposes what Nancy calls the patency, the opening or the transimmanence of the world: that the world is possible even in the absence of a unifying cosmic order, for it is patently already there in our engagement with it. Art exposes that the world is possible, that the world straightforwardly or manifestly makes sense to us, without the need for a unifying and ordering cosmology or metaphysics. As such art is, as Nancy puts it, “the presentation of presentation” (Nancy 1996, 34), of the infinite circulation of sense that is the world. All we need to do is greet the world in its thereness. Art thus embodies the very gesture of the world as it is constantly coming to be in our engagement with it, in our dwelling within it. When Nancy then says that human beings bring out a world, he means that “the human being is both the expression of the world and the world’s expression,” that is to say that it “is the inhabitant of the world, but at the same time, it transforms the world deeply through its technē, its technology, what in Latin gets translated as ars, its art” (115).
The discussion on art, the presentation of presentation, makes for a smooth transition to the final two sections of the book, dealing with presence and joy. Nancy here reprises, albeit in a more metaphysical way, the analysis of presence that he already formulated in his essay on sleep (see Nancy 2009). According to him, there is never full presence, indeed absence is at the heart of presence: just like the self needs to go outside of it itself in order to find itself; so too he understands presence generally as the continual arrival, or birth, of non-being into being. Here Nancy makes this clear by talking about how when we fall asleep, we at the same time descend into nothingness as well as fall into ourselves and the world. “Every morning,” he says, “one comes back to the world after being truly absent during sleep, which is connected to this poor, physiological, biological truth: Without sleep, one can’t live for long” (121). Though this does not come through particularly clearly in these interviews, for Nancy joy (jouissance) is the moment or experience of being on the limit shared between those two opposites – being and non-being, inside and outside, presence and absence, etc. – through which meaning comes-to-be as the sense that is-about-to-be, to come, through one’s being-outside-of-oneself. “Joy, jouissance, to come,” Nancy says, “have the sense of birth: the sense of the inexhaustible imminence of sense” (Nancy 1993, 5). As such, joy is the experience of ek-sistence as it “strives toward (…) the world and Being-in-the-world, that is, toward the possibility of making sense” (133). Knowing that these interviews were conducted in 2013, Nancy’s thinking of joy here seems to anticipate the conversations with Adèle Van Reeth he would have on the subject not long after, conversations that were published in 2014 under the title La jouissance and translated into English in 2016 as Coming (Nancy & Van Reeth 2014; 2016). It is perhaps unfortunate that the translators do not make a note of this, as one of the strengths of this book is that otherwise, whenever a particular aspect of Nancy’s work is broached in the interview, it comes with a series of useful footnotes that direct the reader to the relevant texts by Nancy or indeed his interlocutors.
Finally, it is worth pointing out that some of the most interesting reflections Nancy articulates over the course of these interviews are often the result of him briefly going off on a tangent. For example, he perhaps shows himself the present-day Kierkegaard or Nietzsche – albeit with a decidedly less capricious personality – when he recounts how he envies the painter and the writer of literature and poetry, since their mode of expressing themselves might be more suited to what Nancy is trying to do. The relationship between philosophy and literature has been a central topic of Nancy’s thinking since the start of his career, and indeed continues to be to this day: “I have the feeling that my philosophical texts aren’t philosophical enough,” he says, “that they need to be more philosophical, but in order to be so, they need to no longer be philosophical, but something else” (23). Hence, Jandin describes Nancy’s writing strategy very accurately by saying that we “aren’t in the coincidentia oppositorum, nor are we in a dialectical logic; we are trying to go ‘between’” (124). The possibility of a world rests entirely on this notion of the between that is explored by Nancy’s writing. Therefore, Nancy’s writing itself must be understood as similarly structured as the world it is trying to shine a light on, to uncover, to stage; a world that is “centrifugal, erratic, open” (134).
Jean-Luc Nancy, ‘“Our World” an interview’, trans. by Emma Campbell in Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, 8:2 (August 2003), 43-54.
Jean-Luc Nancy, Le partage des voix (Paris: Galilée, 1982).
Jean-Luc Nancy, ‘Le ventriloque (À mon père, X.)’ in Mimesis: Des articulations (Paris: Flammarion, 1975), 271-338.
Jean-Luc Nancy, The Sense of the World, trans. by Jeffrey S. Librett (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997).
Jean-Luc Nancy, Identity: Fragments, Frankness, trans. by François Raffoul (New York: Fordham University Press, 2014).
Jean-Luc Nancy, Adoration: The Deconstruction of Christianity II, trans. by John McKeane (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012).
Jean-Luc Nancy, Dis-enclosure: The Deconstruction of Christianity, trans. by Bettina Bergo, Gabriel Malenfant and Michael B. Smith (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008).
Jean-Luc Nancy, The Muses, trans. by Peggy Kamuf (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996).
Jean-Luc Nancy, The Fall of Sleep, trans. by Charlotte Mandell (New York: Fordham University Press, 2009).
Jean-Luc Nancy & Adèle van Reeth, La jouissance: Questions de caractère (Paris: Plon/France Culture, 2014).
Jean-Luc Nancy & Adèle van Reeth, Coming, trans. by Charlotte Mandell (New York: Fordham University Press, 2016).
Jean-Luc Nancy, The Birth to Presence, trans. by Brian Holmes et al. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993).