Hanjo Berressem: Gilles Deleuze’s Luminous Philosophy

Gilles Deleuze's Luminous Philosophy Book Cover Gilles Deleuze's Luminous Philosophy
Hanjo Berressem
Edinburgh University Press

Reviewed by: Timothy Deane-Freeman (Deakin University)

There is a kind of light which is perceptible only on the “other side” of darkness, in a movement through the colour spectrum, through the shadowy non-colour, black, and beyond, where we discover a luminescence immanent to the universe itself. This is certainly the light which plays upon the impossibly black surfaces of Pierre Soulages’ Outrenoir paintings, constituting, in Alain Badiou’s words, “a light other than light” which opens up “the painterly landscape of a world without borders and of an infinite potential of perspectives…” (2017: 21-22). This is likewise the light seething beneath Bacon’s canvases, which will need to be “cleaned” of the figurative clichés already covering them, such that it might be captured in the aleatory diagrams of the artist (Deleuze 2003: 86-87). And it’s precisely this light which is the object of Hanjo Berressem’s impressive and accomplished study, Gilles Deleuze’s Luminous Philosophy, a monograph which aims, in the author’s words, “to develop a coherent image of Deleuze’s philosophy from two of its conceptual leitmotifs: light and crystals” (1).

Berressem’s reasons for centralising these two motifs are multiple. The notion of light, he will argue, captures the affirmative and optimistic spirit of Deleuze’s thought, its playful and joyous elements. At the level of Deleuze’s metaphysics, light provides us with a persuasive means of drawing out his Spinozism in the vocabulary of 20th century physics, of which more shortly. Finally, this approach opens up a new and productive way of thinking about the Deleuzian individual– as the crystalline centre for a refractive “play” of this immanent light, of which it constitutes a temporary and contingent means of capture. Of course, these three axioms are fundamentally linked. But perhaps most importantly, a symbiosis of light and crystals serves as a means of overcoming the traces of a problematic dualism, or even of dialectics, which some commentators have read into Deleuze.

If, following the latter, individuals (understood in the broadest possible sense) constitute transient centres of organisation on an energetic plane which is both their source and ecology, then we appear, in fact, to inherit two complementary, yet formally distinct planes in need of reconciliation: on the one hand, a plane of already constituted individuals, on the other, a plane of pre-individual forces, which serves as their condition. The oscillation between these two registers, such that their distinction is neither absolute, nor collapsed into the monism with which Deleuze will be charged by the likes of Badiou (2009), constitutes a central problem for Deleuze, and, as such, for his many commentators. Indeed, as Berressem notes, this tension, between Deleuze as a thinker of absolute deterritorialization, multiplicity and schizophrenic becoming(s), and Deleuze as the heir to a monistic “doxa of the body,” to use Badiou’s phrase (2009: 35), poses an immediate problem: “how to think the paradox of this conceptual simultaneity?” (21). And it is this task, indeed, upon which Berressem embarks.

For Berressem, this schism can be meaningfully thought using the twin images of light and of the crystal, which become a means of affirming the inter-dependence of these planes, and as such the radical immanence upon which Deleuze is so insistent. As Berressem explains:

…the notion of the complementarity of the plane of light and of the plane of crystals is one figure of [Deleuzian] affirmation. As the complementarity of these two planes suffuses Deleuze’s thought from its beginning to its very end, it allows us to draw a line of light through his work: a line of white light refracted by crystals (1).

This latter pairing, of crystalline individuals through which light passes—which, indeed, constitute temporary and refractory “captures” of light—thus offers up a compelling means of approaching the daunting parallelism Deleuze inherits from both Spinoza (the two formal series of thought and extension) and Bergson (the metaphysical dyad of virtual and actual), overcoming the Cartesian, or even, following Zizek (2012), Hegelian residues we might be tempted to identify in Deleuze’s work.

Further, once the infamous “plane of immanence”—the all-encompassing, yet necessarily elusive condition of Deleuzian metaphysics-—is modelled as a plane of “light,” with crystals conceived as temporary spatial orientations or polarisations of this light, we have transposed its form into one which is eminently compatible—though importantly, irreducible—to the image of the Universe we inherit from contemporary science. Physicists, indeed, dedicate themselves to the actualised functions of this “light” – a term which, in the context of their work, refers no longer to that band of the electromagnetic spectrum which is “visible,” but rather to the radiant chaos of electromagnetic waves, perceptible through instruments and mathematical modelling (gamma rays, X-rays, microwaves, radio waves). And in the same way that the human eye is situated within a particular band of perception, science too can only “see” those modalities of light which are actualised before its topoi, established on its particular plane(s) of reference.

Art, meanwhile, as we have seen, captures this light through its own perceptual techniques, forming it in concrescences of paint and celluloid, rendering visible its multiple and subterranean affects. While philosophy, finally, instigates its own luminous relation, tracing this light’s virtualities and “counter-effectuations” (Deleuze & Guattari 2009: 159), its potentialities and compossibilities, its becomings as opposed to its being—in other words, its invisibilities—such as constitute, in the vocabulary of a Deleuzian set theory, “a thread which traverses sets and gives each one the possibility, which is necessarily realised, of communicating with another, to infinity…” (2013a: 20). It is this luminous “thread” which serves philosophy’s entwined purposes, of resisting the doxa of “closed systems,” and of forging hitherto unthought connectives.

In part, the author’s success in advancing this “luminous” reading of Deleuze is due to his exploration of some of the dimmer corners of the Deleuzian oeuvre. Present are the usual suspects—Simondon and Bergson, Spinoza and Leibniz (Guattari, meanwhile, receives his own complementary volume[1])—however of equal importance to Berressem’s excavation of this “conceptual spine” are figures often considered peripheral to Deleuze’s project—Lucretius, D.H. Lawrence, Serres—whom he nevertheless plums for significant insights into the mechanics and becoming of Deleuze’s concepts.

Indeed the book’s argument for a hermeneutic centralising these “lines of light” (59) begins with a text which has seen relatively little attention in the well-tilled field of Deleuze scholarship (Ryan J. Johnson’s rich intervention aside[2]), 1961’s “Lucretius and the Simulacrum,” best known as an appendix to The Logic of Sense. In the book’s first chapter, Berressem reconstructs Lucretian natural philosophy as we find it in De Rerum Natura, the extraordinary text in which Lucretius defends the Epicurean “rain of atoms” (corpora) by positing the clinamen -that unpredictable swerve of atoms which creates the world of things and vouchsafes the possibility of free will. From this early text, Berressem will derive not only a profound and persistent Deleuzian affection for life, nature and change, condensed here in the Lucretian figure of Venus, but will also begin to elaborate the conceptual simultaneity of pointillism and dynamism, such as persists throughout Deleuze’s oeuvre. As Berressem explains, “the moment of the clinamen is of fundamental importance for the genesis of the world, as well as, on a much smaller scale, for the genesis of Deleuzian philosophy…” (29).

This model, according to which a rain of atoms (or perhaps more properly, as we will shortly see, photons) is subject to an unpredictable barrage of collisions, explains the genesis of the dappled and complex multiplicity we call life. If the atoms simply fell straight down, then their parallel trajectories would never intersect, and no phenomena would ever adhere. In their swerving and subsequent collisions, however, the aleatory and chaotic becoming of “nature” is unleashed – a nature which, from its very beginning, must not be thought in terms of any mechanism or determinism. This is because the inter-energetic processes unleashed by the “event” of the clinamen can be reduced neither to a dynamic logic of causal series, nor to a fundamentally pointillist atomism. Rather, each atom, whilst perceptible only in its processual (or actualised) dynamisms and collisions, retains, in spite of this, a shadowy virtuality, which persists and is never fully actualised. In Deleuze’s words, this is therefore a Universe in which “each causal series is constituted by the movement of an atom and conserves in the encounter its full independence,” (1990: 270) which is to say a set of virtual characteristics which persist outside the plane of actualised causes and effects.

In this context, Berressem argues that against a Cartesian lumen naturale, Deleuze will consistently embrace a Lucretian lumen veneris. Over a rational light which might ultimately render visible all of God’s creation, Deleuze will favour a light, “made up of a multiplicity of diffractions and absorptions that are sustained by a constant solar emission… this multiplicity of light, its diversity and the singularity of its instantiation, allows one to conceptualize a luminous philosophy” (34). The clinamen, in other words, in providing a model of the noetic inextricability of both virtual and actual “sides” of any object, becomes the first “event,” in Deleuze’s philosophy, a term which we can read as fundamentally entwined with two others which recur throughout Berressem’s book: the individual and the crystal.

The vocabulary of crystallisation, of course, stems from Deleuze’s engagement with Gilbert Simondon, whose philosophy of individuation is only just beginning to make its proper influence felt in the Anglophone academy. For Simondon, “crystallisation” offers up a model of the genesis of the individual which is immanent, ecological and processual, eschewing what he will claim is the profound inadequacy of philosophy’s preferred model-Aristotelian hylomorphism. According to this latter model, the individual is comprised of an innate matter upon which a determinate form is imposed, as it were, “from above.” The crystal, however, is the product of an autogenesis, according to which environmental energies are transformed or “transduced” around an initial event or locale, itself haphazard and contingent. As Simondon explains:

A crystal that, from a very small seed, grows and expands in all directions in its supersaturated mother liquid provides the most simple image of the transductive operation: each already constituted molecular layer serves as an organizing basis for the layer currently being formed… the transductive operation is an individuation in progress; it can, in the physical domain, occur in the simplest manner in the form of a progressive iteration; but in more complex domains such as the domains of vital metastability or of a psychic problematic, it can advance in constantly variable steps and it can expand in a domain of heterogeneity (2009: 11).

Here, in a microscopic model of Simondon’s broader project, crystalline individuation is traced from the example of relatively simple mineraloid transduction, up to the levels of complex biological, psychological and collective individuation.

And developing upon this project, Berressem dedicates impressive and methodical work, drawing on findings in biology and chemistry, to establish not only the possibility of discussing living individuals as crystalline—albeit not solid crystals, rather liquid or quasi-crystals—but also of speaking meaningfully of virtual individuals—be they psychic, noetic or philosophical—in terms of crystallisation. As he explains:

Similar to the way matter crystallizes itself into specific forms from within a field of vectorial and energetic potentiality, mind crystallizes itself into specific thoughts from within a field of vectorial and intensive potentiality… This is why for Deleuze, philosophy, as the art of thought, needs to open itself up to the non-philosophical: to link its concepts to pre- and non-philosophical plateaus and parameters. Only under this condition does it make sense to talk of crystals as ‘seeds of thought’ (28).

In other words, not only do crystals, conceived as “events” at the level of actualised matter, provoke the crystallisation of “thoughts” and “Ideas” in philosophy, but these same noetic crystals must be understood not as innate or immaculate, but rather situated within their own energetic and affective milieux or ecologies.

In his second chapter, Berressem zooms in, turning to an account of the refractive functioning of such a “crystalline” thought itself. Via a detailed treatment of Deleuze’s early engagement with Hume, in particular his elaboration of the subject—and later of the individual tout court—as the contraction of a habit, Berressem moves to a discussion of Deleuze’s noetic philosophy as it emerges in Difference and Repetition. Here, Deleuze claims that much of what is considered thought is in fact nothing but a habitual “recognition,” which sees, in keeping with the Kantian model, the faculties engaged in a harmonious function of “representation.” Philosophical thought, however, in keeping with its project of breaking with doxa, should strive to escape the model of recognition, taking as its object not the unified beings of an already thinkable representation, rather the multiplicities of an unthinkable becoming. In this context, Deleuze will sketch a cognitive model according to which the faculties “fail” in recognising their object, and embark upon a mutual experience of provocation and constraint – each thrust back into contact with that which is its “own,” and entering into a differential inter-agitation which is productive of the new.

Berressem draws out the already refractory model such a thought presupposes, positing philosophy as that style of “crystalline” thinking which is able to transform the unity of received light into such problematic multiplicities. As he writes, “in a process that is comparable to the refraction of white light into the spectrum of colours, crystallization refracts monism into multiplicity” (24). And while this “luminous” conception of thought finds plenty of implicit support in Difference and Repetition itself, Berressem’s work in drawing out the subtle yet consistent vocabulary of light throughout the book—such that it might be linked to the broader figure of a Deleuzian “luminosity”—is genuinely accomplished, providing fertile yet underemphasised connectives with a constellation of other Deleuzian texts.

The crystal, then, provides us with a model of thought and of its object, both of which constitute refractory crystallisations emerging through transduction around a particular germinal “event.” But, to return to the question with which we began, how are we to reconcile these particulate individuals with the pre-individual flows or forces which are their condition? How, in other words, are we to move from an atomist monadology to a crystalline ecology?

Essential here is Berressem’s use of the motif of photonic wave-particle duality, the “elemental complementarity of particles and waves” (32), which recurs throughout Luminous Philosophy. Quantum mechanics, in many ways, begins with the problem that neither the concept of the particle nor of the wave, as inherited from classical physics, properly explain the unique behaviours of photons at the quantum level. Photons, indeed, occupy an indeterminate space between these theories, such that, as Albert Einstein concedes:

…we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do (1938: 278).

In other words, elementary particles are interchangeably either individuals, flows or aerosols, depending upon the particular mode of visualisation, theorisation or of thought which is brought to bear upon them.

And this same indeterminacy can be expressed in terms of light and crystals, such that, as Berressem explains, “crystals are the effect of polarization, of the spatial orientation that defines, for instance, electromagnetic, gravitational or light waves” (23). Considered in this photonic sense, then, both waves of light and refractory crystallisations of light constitute the same ontological substance, albeit “thought” in formally distinct modes. In this way, Berressem restages Spinoza’s “parallelism”—such as Deleuze more or less retains—between a plane of extension and of thought, using the motifs of a luminous physics to maintain their ontological simultaneity as substance, God or nature.

Berressem’s third chapter traces this particle-wave model of parallelism into Deleuze’s work on both space and time, prosecuting fertile and original discussions of The Logic of Sense, The Fold and A Thousand Plateaus. Here, the author himself enacts a folding of the philosophy of time advanced in The Logic of Sense onto that of Difference and Repetition, in order to differentiate two temporal registers conceived in terms of light -an infinity of Chronic “strobes” or “pulses” constituting the microscopic physical adherences necessary for the maintenance of a “present,” alongside an immaterial, Aionic time, “an empty, intensive, virtual duration that is open to both a past and to a future” (118). Transposed into the author’s preferred metaphysical category of light, these alternate temporal modalities become “a diffuse aionic glow that suffuses a scene against the stuttering of the chronic strobe…” (118). Alongside temporality conceived in these luminous terms, Berressem here pursues the model of a crystalline space through Deleuze’s Leibnizian monadology, which sees the latter’s radically singular atoms reconceived as folds, pleats or fractalizations of immanent substance. The discussion in this chapter is of an immense richness, however in order to treat what I take to be the book’s fundamental themes, I will leave detailed explication to one side and direct the interested reader to Berressem’s text.

For now, it suffices to say that the model of wave-particle complementarity—alongside a “refractory” and affirmative model of philosophy—is brought to bear in what is the crowning achievement of the book, its final, long chapter, entitled simply “Luminous Philosophy.” Here, Berressem interweaves a discussion of colour in Deleuze’s 1956 essay “Bergson’s Conception of Difference” with discussions of light in the 1978-81 lectures on Spinoza, his work on cinema and his study of Francis Bacon. Across each of these latter works -as Berressem rightly notes- earlier, more disparate and allusive discussions of light consolidate and centralise, such that by the time of Cinema I: The Movement-Image, Deleuze will explicitly give us a “plane of immanence […] entirely made up of Light” (2013a: 67).

Cinema, after all, is the art of the photon, and Berressem devotes meticulous exegetical work in support of the claim that Deleuze’s two volume study of film constitutes not simply a quaint, “aesthetic” corner of the Deleuzian oeuvre, rather the central articulation of concerns present in Deleuze’s thought since at least as far back as his encounter with the Lucretian clinamen. In these books, Deleuze, drawing on Bergson’s idiosyncratic metaphysics of the “image,” gives us “the universe as cinema in itself, a metacinema” (2013a: 67), composed through a multilateral framing, splicing and montage of energetic states- an individuation of light commensurate with that enacted by the camera on its own microscopic scale.

But cinema, like philosophy, relates not simply to the “actualised” modalities of light- profoundly capable, as it is, of rendering visible virtual operations like those of thought, dreams and temporality. In this context, Cinema II: The Time-Image provides Deleuze’s most elaborate discussion of the crystal, which he identifies in the “crystal-images” of certain auteurs, the likes of Zannussi, Welles, Ophüls and Resnais. Their films, in combining images of dream, reality, falsehood, illusion and documentary, thus produce indeterminate relations between light’s actual and virtual dimensions, relations which, in terms of the refractory structure of the crystal, must be conceived as inherently productive. As Deleuze explains:

These are ‘mutual images’ […] where an exchange is carried out. The indiscernibility of the real and the imaginary, or of the present and the past, of the actual and the virtual, is definitely not produced in the head or the mind. It is the objective characteristic of certain existing images which are by their nature double (2013b: 73).

Berressem’s originality, in linking this luminosity to that which he has carefully excavated across Deleuze’s oeuvre, is to suggest that the two cinema books, taken together, thus form such a crystal, abiding at the very heart of Deleuze’s thought, and staging a parallel encounter between light’s actual (movement-image) and virtual (time-image) modalities. As Berressem explains:

The point-at-infinity of Deleuze’s cinematographic projective plane lies in the crystal space between the two books; the point-at-infinity where its two sides meet in a conceptual tête-bêche… it is this unthinkable point that marks the ultimate crystal moment in Deleuze’s philosophy. The ideal identification of the virtual and the actual at philosophy’s point-at-infinity (213).

As such, we find ourselves in the very “heart of lightness,” the centre of the immensely productive crystal constituted by Deleuzian philosophy, in the refraction between virtual light, actual light, philosophy and (cinema as) non-philosophy. This characterisation, whilst serving admirably to locate the cinema books at the heart of Deleuze’s oeuvre, and plugged in to a much broader ecology encompassing even his earliest works, likewise serves to draw out the key conceptual dimensions along which Deleuze’s most microscopic and localised arguments take place.

Clearly then, as I hope to have demonstrated, there is much of both use and of value in this study, which deserves to be recognised as a philosophical treatise in its own right, beyond the realm of Deleuze scholarship. The failings of the work are few and far between, and reflect the difficulty of ever fully accommodating a philosophical project of such bewildering breadth and erudition as that of Deleuze. One omission, perhaps, is Deleuze’s admittedly obscure politics, which -particularly as it calcifies in his collaborative works with Guattari- is largely absent. It’s possible indeed that the cleaving of Deleuze and Guattari in two, whilst opening up a set of fertile potentialities, comes at the cost of the overarching tenor of their project, both together and after their collaboration, which is marked by the long, and here unmentioned, shadow of May ‘68.[3]

A relative absence of meditation on the particular modes of individuation (or of crystallisation) engendered by capitalism -an essential theme for Deleuze as for Guattari- is mirrored in a more generalised eschewal of the agonism which, despite his explicitly “affirmative” position, often characterises Deleuze’s thought. There is a sense indeed, throughout the book, that the “luminosity” Berressem hopes to emphasise elides some of the critical edge animating Deleuze’s philosophy- an amicability evinced by the relative absence not only of Deleuze’s “enemies” (the Hegelian negative, Platonist idealism, Cartesian interiority, capital) but also the venomous source of the unique form of affirmation which Deleuze takes up- the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche.

Nietzsche, indeed, an infrequent reference here, advocates an affirmation which is not so much “luminous” as Dionysian, rooted in a valorisation of the shadowy violence of life. And Deleuze, like Nietzsche, will caution against any conciliatory or peaceable reading of his concepts, warning, in Difference and Repetition, against “the greatest danger […] of lapsing into the representations of a beautiful soul” (1994: xx). The beautiful soul, in this context, is that reader for whom all differences are recuperable under the arid rubric of “toleration,” for whom “there are only reconcilable and federative differences, far removed from bloody struggles…” (1994: xx). Berressem is not, of course, this naïve figure, but his relative silence on questions like the catastrophe of capitalism, as on dogmatic thought, “control,” and the loss of our “belief in the world”—and many other themes of a “Dark Deleuze” besides—mean that he does occasionally run the risk of being read in this way.

Alongside this politically muted Deleuze—a figure I admit many “Deleuzians” might well approve of—we also encounter a profoundly systematic Deleuze, as evinced by Berressem’s early statement of intent:

…if one considers every perceptual and cognitive process as one of pattern production and pattern recognition, a pattern of Deleuzian thought begins to emerge: Hume, Lucretius, Simondon, Difference and Repetition. All of these develop, in a logic that recapitulates that of difference and repetition proposed in Difference and Repetition, philosophical theories of the incarnation of the virtual in the actual (71).

While there is nothing wrong with this characterisation per se, underemphasised, perhaps, is the disjunctive and “differential” articulation to which Deleuze submits his own concepts.

Deleuze, like Nietzsche, is wary of any “systematic” reading of his thought, such as might reinscribe the monistic and proscriptive tendencies he will identify in “Royal” philosophies. In favour of building an exclusive or closed system, Deleuze will offer a necessarily “shifting,” consistently dynamic philosophy, which changes its concerns and vocabulary across his works. As he himself explains:

We all move forward or backward; we are hesitant in the middle of these directions; we construct our topology, celestial map, underground den, measurements of surface planes, and other things as well. While moving in these different directions, one does not speak in the same way, just as the subject matter which one encounters is not the same… (2006: 63)

Indeed the impressive continuity Berressem endeavours to establish across Deleuze’s oeuvre, linking early discussions of the Lucretian clinamen to his very last works on the immanence of “a life,” perhaps comes at the cost of those moments of discontinuity and of rupture which Deleuze himself is at pains to inject.

In the context of the increasing ubiquity of communication technologies at the end of the last century, Deleuze laments, in a 1990 conversation with Antonio Negri, a contemporary conflation of “communication” and “creation,” suggesting that genuine creation instead has a fundamental affinity with rupture, incommensurability and silence. “Creating has always been something different from communicating,” he explains, “the key thing may be to create vacuoles of noncommunication, circuit breakers, so we can elude control…” (1995; 175). Berressem’s book creates a rhizomatic topology of interconnection, such that every part of Deleuze’s oeuvre can be plugged into a metaphysics of crystals and of light. However, the contemporary political task—should we still hope to read Deleuze’s metaphysics as a politics—is perhaps of a different order.

As Andrew Culp has written, in his book Dark Deleuze, in many ways the shadowy opposite of Berressem’s work, “the necessity of ‘taking another step’ beyond Deleuze avant la lettre is especially true when both capitalists and their opponents simultaneously cite him as a major influence” (2016: 2). As Culp continues:

…the first step is to acknowledge that the unbridled optimism for connection has failed. Temporary autonomous zones have become special economic zones. The material consequences of connectivism are clear: the terror of exposure, the diffusion of power, and the oversaturation of information (2016; 4).

In other words, whilst identifying subterranean connections across Deleuze’s oeuvre, as between Deleuze’s metaphysics and contemporary science, is an enormously fertile endeavour, such work should always be conducted with the important caveat that non-communication and discontinuity -between individuals, as between disciplines and ideas- remain fundamental dimensions of Deleuze’s own philosophy.

These criticisms, however, are peripheral to the book’s many merits and great richness. There is much here of value not only for Deleuze scholars but for those interested in contemporary metaphysics, post-phenomenological thought, linkages between contemporary science and philosophy and more. Indeed, taken alongside Berressem’s accompanying volume on Guattari, which does indeed take a more concretely socio-political approach to its metaphysics, the work undertaken here is of a quite impressive breadth and quality. Gilles Deleuze’s Luminous Philosophy is a book which deserves, on this basis, a wide and enthusiastic readership.

Works Cited

Badiou, Alain. 2017. Black: The Brilliance of a Non-Color. Translated by Susan Splitzer. Cambridge: Polity.

Badiou, Alain. 2009. Logics of Worlds: Being and Event, 2. Translated by Alberto Toscano. London: Continuum.

Berressem, Hanjo. 2020. Félix Guattari’s Schizoanalytic Ecology. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Colebrook, Claire. 2002. Understanding Deleuze. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin.

Culp, Andrew. 2016. Dark Deleuze. Creative Commons.

Deleuze, Gilles. 2013(a). Cinema I: The Movement-Image. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. London: Bloomsbury

Deleuze, Gilles. 2013(b). Cinema II: The Time-Image. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. London: Bloomsbury.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1994. Difference and Repetition. Translated by Paul Patton. New York: Columbia University Press.

Deleuze, Gilles. 2003. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Translated by Daniel Smith. London: Continuum.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1995. Negotiations, 1972-1990. Translated by Martin Joughin. New York: Columbia University Press.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1990. The Logic of Sense. Translated by Mark Lester with Charles Stivale. London: The Athlone Press.

Deleuze, Gilles. 2006. Two Regimes of Madness – Texts and Interviews 1975-1995, David Lapoujade ed. Translated by Ames Hodges and Mike Taormina. New York: Semiotext(e).

Deleuze, Gilles, & Guattari, Félix. 1994. What is Philosophy? Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchill. London: Verso.

Einstein, Albert, & Infeld, Leopold. 1938. The Evolution of Physics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Johnson, Ryan J. 2017. The Deleuze-Lucretius Encounter. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Simondon, Gilbert. 2009. “The Position of the Problem of Ontogenesis.” Translated by Gregory Flanders. In Parrhesia, No.7: 4-16.

Žižek, Slavoj. 2012. Organs without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences. Abingdon: Routledge.

[1] Hanjo Berressem, Félix Guattari’s Schizoanalytic Ecology, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020. The relationship between these simultaneous sister volumes, the author explains, is such that “although each book can be read as an individual text, the two correspond to one another in such a way that when they are read together, an immaterial book emerges in the mind of the reader” (xvii). In the service of this virtual volume, square bracketed “hyperlinks” point the reader to corresponding passages in each book’s “actual” sister. This structure serves the obvious and immediate function of elevating Guattari’s thought to its proper place – distinct from, yet complementary to that of Deleuze. Despite the broad success of this innovation, Guattari’s absence was felt, at times, in the exegetical flow of the present work. The task of separating these two disruptive pupils remains a difficult one.

[2] Ryan J. Johnson, The Deleuze-Lucretius Encounter, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017.

[3] For a convincing argument to the effect that Deleuze and Guattari’s collaborations, as well as their subsequent work, are instigated by the “events” of May ’68, see Claire Colebrook, Understanding Deleuze, Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2002.

Hermann Schmitz: Wie der Mensch zur Welt kommt. Beiträge zur Geschichte der Selbstwerdung

Wie der Mensch zur Welt kommt Book Cover Wie der Mensch zur Welt kommt
Hermann Schmitz
Verlag Karl Alber
Paperback 24,00 €

Reviewed by: Jonas Puchta (University of Rostock)

Nach sechzigjähriger Schaffenszeit widmet sich Hermann Schmitz, der Begründer der Neuen Phänomenologie, in seinem 56. Buch der Individuation der Person als „Geschichte der Selbstwerdung“. Dabei entfaltet er sein Denken nicht grundsätzlich neu, sondern reformuliert Grundthemen der Neuen Phänomenologie wie das „affektive Betroffensein“, den „Leib“ oder die „Zeit“, die in zehn Kapiteln den „Zugang zur Welt“ der Person ersichtlich werden lassen. Zwar sind die Kapitel auch unabhängig voneinander lesbar, jedoch so konzipiert, dass sich bei sukzessiver Lektüre die „Selbstwerdung“ des Menschen nachvollziehbar entfalten soll.

Der Weg zur Selbstwerdung setzt ein mit dem „affektiven Betroffensein“, das stattfindet, wenn jemanden etwas spürbar so nahegeht, dass er auf sich selbst aufmerksam wird. (13) Dafür ist kein bestimmtes Denk- oder Reflexionsvermögen von Nöten, sodass auch schon Tiere oder Säuglinge affektiv betroffen sind. (Ebd.) Die Tatsachen des affektiven Betroffenseins sind für Schmitz subjektive Tatsachen, die er von den objektiven unterscheidet. Während subjektive Tatsachen ausschließlich die Person aussagen kann, die auch tatsächlich spürbar betroffen ist, können objektive Tatsachen von jedem ausgesagt werden, der ausreichend Informationen über den Sachverhalt besitzt (13, 15f.). Objektive Tatsachen umfassen beispielsweise den Blick eines distanziert protokollierenden Beobachters, während die subjektiven Tatsachen den unmittelbar Getroffenen nahegehen. (16, 19f.) Die Missachtung der Subjektivität in der Philosophiegeschichte führte, so Schmitz, zu einer Spaltung des „wirklichen Subjekts“ in ein erscheinendes empirisches und ein metaphysisches transzendentales Subjekt, das von der Lebenswelt des Menschen gänzlich unabhängig ist, und wird somit zur Grundlage „aller möglichen idealistischen Erkenntnistheorien“. (20f.) Das affektive Betroffensein soll dabei zugunsten von Konzepten der Seele oder des Bewusstseins übersehen worden sein, die Schmitz anhand seiner Analysen der Leiblichkeit und der Gefühle überflüssig machen will. (23f.)

Dazu beleuchtet er zunächst im zweiten Kapitel die Atmosphären des Gefühls als eine Quelle des affektiven Betroffenseins. Dabei will Schmitz über die philosophische Tradition hinausgehen, wobei er Kants Position kritisiert, Gefühle als bloße Lust oder Unlust aufzufassen und Brentano und Scheler vorwirft, diese auf intentionale Akte zu reduzieren. (37) Dafür sei es erforderlich, sich in „phänomenologisch haltbarer Weise“ zu vergewissern, wie Gefühle dem Menschen begegnen. (Ebd.) Atmosphären wie Zorn, Freude oder Schuld ergreifen den Leib spürbar so, dass die Person immer erst nachträglich zum Gefühl Stellung beziehen kann. (26, 28) Die „Macht“ der Atmosphären besteht im Moment der Ergriffenheit, wenn dem zunächst passiv Betroffenen bestimmte „Bewegungssuggestionen“ eingegeben werden und dieser so dem Gefühl anfänglich unterworfen ist. (47) Diese spürbaren Bewegungen oder Richtungen geben dem Ergriffen zum Beispiel gewisse Haltungen oder Impulse ein, wie es am gesenkten Kopf eines Trauernden zu beobachten ist. (Ebd.) Die „Gesinnung“ als aktives Empfangen des Gefühls, welches auch schon bei Tieren vorhanden ist, stellt sich als bestimmte präpersonale Art des Sich-Einlassens auf das Gefühl heraus (27f.), wenn sich zum Beispiel auf die Trauer weinerlich oder standhaft eingelassen wird. Erst in der darauffolgenden aktiven personellen Stellungnahme im „Dialog“ mit dem Gefühl ist es aber möglich, einen „personalen Stil des Fühlens“ als Teil der personellen „Fassung“ zu entwickeln, die zwischen „personaler Regression“ und „personaler Emanzipation“ vermittelt. (27, 38, 107) Die Stellungnahme variiert dabei zwischen einer Preisgabe an das Gefühl, wenn sich der Betroffene von diesem mitreißen lässt oder im Widerstand, bei dem sich der Macht der Ergriffenheit entzogen wird. (27f.) Die „Kunst der Bewältigung“ des Gefühls besteht für Schmitz darin, die Zeit zwischen Ergriffenheit und Stellungnahme kurz zu halten (48), also frühzeitig die Möglichkeit der Auseinandersetzung mit der Gefühlsmacht wahrzunehmen, wobei eine konkrete Beschreibung dieses Umgangs ausbleibt.

Wie Schmitz im dritten Kapitel verdeutlicht, ist das affektive Betroffensein nicht nur für die Wirklichkeitsgewissheit, sondern auch für die Lebensführung von Bedeutung. (52) Die „Autorität der Gefühle“ wie auch die „Evidenz von Tatsachen“ sind Möglichkeiten, die Verbindlichkeit von Normen geltend zu machen. Gefühle haben im Moment der Ergriffenheit eine Verbindlichkeit von Normen mit der „Autorität unbedingten Ernstes“, welche die Person vor eine große Verantwortung im Handeln stellt. (53) Auf dem „höchsten Niveau personaler Emanzipation“, das Schmitz auch mit der „Vernunft“ gleichsetzt, gilt es zu überprüfen, ob sich der Evidenz oder der Autorität zu entziehen oder zu unterwerfen ist, ohne dabei von einer ethischen Handlungsmaxime auszugehen, die auf jede Situation gleichermaßen anzuwenden ist. (54, 60) In dieser Hinsicht wird der „Vernunft“ wie auch dem Rationalismus ihr Recht eingestanden, wenn es „angemessener Informationen“ oder der sinnvollen Einschätzung über eine Sachlage bedarf. (55) So muss beispielsweise der Wissenschaftler, der bei seiner Arbeit von Zorn oder Eifer ergriffen ist, sich zugunsten seiner Erkenntnisse von diesen Gefühlen freimachen. (Ebd.) Daran anschließend geht Schmitz beiläufig im vierten Kapitel der Bedeutung der „Autorität der Gefühle“ im Christentum nach, das er von der Metaphysik losgelöst sehen will. (57, 62) Religion wird verstanden als „Verhalten aus Betroffensein von Göttlichem“ (57) und ist damit ursprünglich immer mit einer spürbaren Erfahrung verbunden und nicht auf bloße Lektüre oder Rezeption heiliger Schriften zu reduzieren. Göttliche Gefühle entfalten ihre Kraft aus der ihnen eigentümlichen Autorität unbedingten Ernstes (59), sind aber auch eingebunden in unübersichtliche Situationen. In diesen werden die Gefühle oftmals als „Plakatierungen“ – der Begriff ist hier frei von negativen Konnotationen zu verstehen – anschaulich „zusammengefasst“, worunter Schmitz vor allem Feste, Symbole, Personen, aber auch die Götter selbst versteht. (60f.) Ohne sich als Christ oder zur Religiosität zu bekennen, hält er dem Christentum zugute, die Autorität eines Gefühls mit unbedingtem Ernst, wie der Liebe, dem gegenwärtigen „ironistischen Zeitalter“ entgegen zu halten, das sich in einer haltlosen Beliebigkeit des „Anything goes“ oder der „Coolness“ verrennen soll. (62f.)

Alles affektive Betroffensein ist leiblich spürbar vermittelt, weshalb der Leib als wesentlicher Ausgangspunkt der menschlichen Lebenserfahrung vom äußeren sicht- und tastbaren Körper, der zum Beispiel Gegenstand der Naturwissenschaft ist, unterschieden wird. (65f.) Während der Körper in einem flächenhaltigen messbaren Raum zu verorten ist, sind der Leib wie auch die Atmosphären flächenlos (40, 66f.), woraus aber kein an die Philosophietradition anknüpfender Dualismus zwischen Leib und Körper abzuleiten ist. (67) Der Leib wird vielmehr durch „Einleibung“ mit dem Körper dynamisch zusammengeschlossen, was zum Beispiel dann ersichtlich wird, wenn „Bewegungssuggestionen“ der Musik den Leib ergreifen und sich auf die körperlichen Glieder beim Tanzen „übertragen“. (68) Schmitz gesteht ein, dass der Körper für die Funktionen des Leibes von Bedeutung ist, verweist aber mittels Phantomglieder oder Berichten von Nahtoderfahrungen auf die Möglichkeit, eines nicht notwendigen oder dauerhaften Zusammenhanges, (70) wobei er darüber hinaus keine „gültige Bestätigung“ bzw. eindeutig nachweisbare Kausalität vorliegen sieht, dass der Leib aufgrund körperliche Prozesse entsteht oder auf diese zu reduzieren ist. (69) Zur Beschreibung der menschlichen Lebenserfahrung ist für Schmitz einzig der Leib von Bedeutung, wobei der Körper vielmehr einen „sperrigen Block“ im „In-der-Welt-sein“ des Menschen darstellt. (70) Diese Einschätzung durchzieht Schmitz´ gesamtes Werk, in dem er bewusst auf die Einbeziehung von biologischen oder physikalischen Erkenntnissen der Naturwissenschaft verzichtet. Dagegen könnte der Vorwurf laut werden, dass der Leib zu autonom von körperlichen Prozessen verstanden wird. Wenn dieser Einwand auch nicht unbegründet ist, kann Schmitz´ Bestreben aber gerade auch als Widerstand gegen das reduktionistische und mittlerweile alltägliche Selbstverständnis des Menschen gelesen werden, welches die Lebenserfahrung auf Hormonausschüttungen oder neuronale Prozesse reduziert und damit das eigentliche Erleben auszuschalten droht.

In den Kapiteln sechs bis neun beleuchtet Schmitz die Zeit, die stets an das präpersonale wie auch personale Leben geknüpft ist. Die „primitive Gegenwart“ als „plötzlicher Einbruch des Neuen“, der zum Beispiel spürbar als engender Schreck leiblich erfahrbar wird, stiftet die „absolute Identität“ und legt damit den Grundstein zur „Selbstheit“. (74f.) Die vorhergehende selbstlose Weite, wie sie zum Beispiel am Kontinuum oder im Dösen nachzuvollziehen ist, wird durch die „primitive Gegenwart“ zerrissen in die Dauer als „Urprozess“ einer Bewegung zum untergehenden „Vorbeisein“ und einer Bewegung des „Fortwährens“ zum Neuen (83) und legt damit den Ursprung der Zeit. Schmitz richtet sich gegen die alltägliche Vorstellung, dass die Zeit eine alle Prozesse umfassende Bewegung sei und bezeichnet dessen vermeintlich gleichmäßiges Voranschreiten – wie es die Bewegung einer Uhr suggeriert – als bloßes Kunstprodukt. (Ebd.) Vielmehr soll die Zeitlichkeit an die Leiblichkeit der Person geknüpft und essentieller Bestandteil der Selbstfindung des Menschen sein. Die Dynamik des Leibes, so Schmitz, ahmt demnach die Strukturen der Zeit nach, wenn die gespürte „Enge“ die Richtung zum Vergehen und die „Weite“ das Fortschreiten in die Zukunft vermitteln soll. (Ebd.) Mit dem Eintritt der „absoluten Identität“ gliedert sich die „Weite“ in Situationen (75), die auch einen wesentlichen Anteil der Zeiteinheiten ausmachen sollen. (86) Die Verteilung der Dauer orientiert sich zum Beispiel an „zuständlichen“ oder „aktuellen“ Situationen. (84f., 91f.) Der Mensch ist durch die Sprache zur „Explikation“ oder „Vereinzelung“ fähig, um so aus den Situationen einzelne Bedeutungen zu individuieren und eine konkrete Einteilung der Zeit als „modale Lagezeit“ vorzunehmen, die aus der „Modalzeit“ einerseits und der „Lagezeit“ andererseits besteht. Die ursprünglichere „Modalzeit“ spaltet sich mit dem „Einbruch des Neuen“ in die Vergangenheit, als das, was nicht mehr ist, in die Zukunft, als das, was noch nicht ist und in die Gegenwart. (89, 93) Die „Lagezeit“ ist dagegen zu verstehen als Anordnung gleichzeitiger einzelner Ereignisse oder Daten in einer linearen Folge des Früheren zum Späteren. (Ebd.) Die Verbindung von „Lage“- und „Modalzeit“ zur „modalen Lagezeit“ macht sich der Mensch zunutze, indem er wie beim Gebrauch von Uhren die Dauer in Zeitstrecken mit jeweils einzelnen messbaren Zeitpunkten einteilt (79 ff.), was für die Orientierung des Menschen unerlässlich ist. Der „gewöhnliche Rhythmus des Lebens“ geschieht aber abschließend nicht in einem allumfassenden zeitlichen Rahmen oder einer Abfolge regelmäßig aufeinanderfolgender Zeitpunkte, sondern besteht in den immer wiederkehrenden „Einbrüchen des Neuen“, welche die fortwährende ruhende Dauer „zerreißen“ und durch welche sich der Mensch auf diese Weise immer wieder selbst finden soll. (91)

Diese zeitlichen Prozesse sind auch für das Personsein des Menschen von erheblicher Bedeutung. Im letzten Kapitel fasst Schmitz seine Erkenntnisse zum Prozess der Individuation des Menschen zusammen, die er aber nicht als Geburt in eine bereits vorhandene Welt begreift. (97) Auf der ersten Stufe der bloßen Selbstlosigkeit in der Weite des Kontinuums wird mit dem „Einbruch des Neuen“ wie beim affektiven Betroffensein durch den Schreck die absolute Identität gestiftet und gleichzeitig der Ursprung der Zeit gelegt. (97ff.) Aus der „primitiven Gegenwart“ resultiert die „leibliche Dynamik“ und die „leibliche Kommunikation“, mit der auch die Bildung von bedeutsamen Situationen einhergeht. (99f.) Die „leibliche Dynamik“ differenziert Schmitz nach ihrer Bindungsform zwischen gespürter Enge und Weite, die charakteristisch für die „leibliche Disposition“ der Person wird. Aus diesen Dispositionen werden Charaktertypen abgeleitet, die sich hinsichtlich der Offenheit oder Empfänglichkeit im Umgang mit Gefühlen oder Personen unterscheiden. (33ff.) Erst der Mensch, der über das Säuglingsalter hinausgegangen ist, kann dann auf einer nächsten Stufe mittels Sprache einzelne Bedeutungen aus der Situation explizieren und sich so auf andere Weise in seiner Umgebung zurechtfinden. (101 f.) Erst auf diesem Niveau ist es möglich, von einer Person zu sprechen, die in der Lage ist, sich in einem „Netz von Gattungen“ als Etwas zu verstehen und sich zum Beispiel anhand von bestimmten Rollen zu verorten oder selbst zu bestimmen. (104) Das „Sammelbecken“ als Ort der explizierten vereinzelten Bedeutungen und Gattungen bildet daran anschließend auf einer vierten Stufe die „Welt“, die nicht statisch vorhanden ist, sondern erst mit dem fragenden Explizieren der Person entsteht. (104f., 110) Die labile Person steht in diesem Zusammenhang vor der Aufgabe, sich zwischen „personaler Regression“ wie im „affektiven Betroffensein“ und „personaler Emanzipation“ in kritischer Distanz zur Betroffenheit zurechtzufinden. (106ff.) Damit einher geht auch die immer fortwährende Bildung der „persönlichen Eigenwelt“, die sich aus den Bedeutungen ergibt, welche für die Person durch die unmittelbare Betroffenheit subjektiv sind, während die „persönliche Fremdwelt“ alle Bedeutungen umfasst, die durch Abstandnahme in der personalen Emanzipation objektiviert sind. (Ebd.)

Schmitz greift bei der Darstellung seiner Thesen auf sein umfassendes Werk zurück, um in aller Kürze und mit teilweise auffälligen Wiederholungen – bedingt durch seine Erblindung (10) – im Stil eines Vortragenden der Thematik der Selbstwerdung gerecht zu werden. Zwar wirken seine Formulierungen an einigen Stellen gedrängt und verlangen nach mehr Ausführlichkeit, jedoch sind seine Überlegungen bereits detaillierter in seinem opus magnum, dem „System der Philosophie“, angelegt und in zahlreichen Büchern weiterentwickelt. Schmitz spürt dem, was andere Philosophen wie selbstverständlich voraussetzen – dass sich der Mensch „immer schon“ in einer Welt vorfindet – akribisch nach, indem er auch den Zugang zur Welt auf der Basis strenger, phänomenologischer Begriffe beleuchtet.

Dabei scheinen seine Überlegungen in die Nähe eines Idealismus zu rücken, wenn er die Zeit stets an die Leiblichkeit knüpft und auch die Entstehung der Welt an eine explizierende Person gebunden ist. Betroffenheit wie auch die Explikation der Person sind fundamentale Bestandteile der Weltentstehung im obigen Sinne, weshalb „Selbstwerdung“ auch immer Weltwerdung mit meint. Es wäre jedoch voreilig, Schmitz´ Weltbegriff als eine Form des traditionellen Idealismus zu deuten, von dem er sich nämlich explizit abgrenzen möchte. Den „naiven Idealismus“, der den Geist des Menschen in der Rolle des „Weltbaumeisters“ übertrieben haben soll, will Schmitz mit seiner Konzeption gerade überwinden. (108) Schmitz schreibt dem Menschen keine Schöpferqualitäten zu,[1] gesteht aber ein, dass die Person durch „eigene Zusätze“ wie im bereits erwähnten Uhrengebrauch die Welt „vervollständigen“ oder zu ergänzen versucht. (108) Daneben muss auch klar sein, dass bei der Explikation der Person keine Welt aus dem Nichts konstruiert wird, denn die explizierte Bedeutsamkeit ist immer primär[2] und liegt bereits „chaotisch mannigfaltig“ vor, ist aber ohne die Leistung der Person noch nicht vereinzelt, weshalb sich Schmitz´ Konzeption auch gegen ein konstruktivistisches Weltverständnis richtet. Dass etwas existiert, ist damit nicht vollständig an die Explikationsleistung der Person gebunden.

Dass die Person aus der Weltwerdung nicht wegzudenken ist, kann sich auch auf das Philosophieverständnis des Autors zurückführen lassen. Philosophie definiert dieser von Beginn seines Schaffens an als „Sichbesinnen des Menschen auf sein Sichfinden in seiner Umgebung“.[3] Einen objektiven oder distanzierten „Blick von Nirgendwo“, wie Schmitz mit Rückgriff auf Thomas Nagel formuliert (20f.), der gänzlich unabhängig von einer Person besteht, sucht man bei diesem „Sichfinden“ des Menschen vergeblich, denn affektives Betroffenensein des Leibes oder fragendes Explizieren in einer bestimmten Situation sind unhintergehbare Bestandteile des menschlichen Lebens. Schmitz fundamentaler phänomenologischer Anspruch, diese Facetten der Lebenserfahrung herauszustellen, spiegeln sich gerade in seinem Weltverständnis wider, dass sich auch deshalb unvereinbar mit dem Naturalismus von diesem unterscheidt.

Seine Konzeption ist aber auch kaum mit dem Weltverständnis des „Neuen Realismus“ vereinbar wie ihn Markus Gabriel prominent zu begründen versucht und der sich damit ebenfalls gegen die Vorherrschaft des Naturalismus behaupten will.[4] Schmitz´ Buch „Gibt es die Welt?“[5] kann zumindest dem Titel nach als unausgesprochene Antwort auf Gabriels zuvor erschienenes Werk „Warum es die Welt nicht gibt“ gelten, aber auch anderweitig stellte er immer wieder Bezüge her. (51f.)[6] Gabriel richtet sich gegen die These, dass es eine Welt als absolute Totalität geben könnte, weil man stets unfähig ist, diese vollständig zu beschreiben.[7] Stattdessen will er im Rahmen seiner „Sinnfeldontologie“ zeigen, dass Gegenstände in unzähligen „Sinnfeldern“ vorkommen und das die Rede von Existenz bedeutet, dass etwas in einem solchen „Sinnfeld“ „erscheint“.[8] Im Vergleich zu diesem Ansatz bekämpft auch Schmitz einen Weltbegriff, der traditionell als einheitliche und absolute Totalität postuliert wird, verwendet dabei aber grundsätzlich andere Mittel. Dass es primär Gegenstände sein sollen, welche ein Sinnfeld ausfüllen, muss für Schmitz aufgrund seines phänomenologischen Anspruchs befremdlich wirken. Denn er will primär gerade nicht von bloßen Gegenständen ausgehen, sondern von ganzheitlichen Situationen, aus denen erst sekundär einzelne Bedeutsamkeit und nicht vordergründig Gegenstände individuiert werden. Daher müsste für ihn auch anstatt vom „Erscheinen“ von der „Explikation“ die Rede sein, die eng an die Leistung der Person und der Selbstwerdung gebunden ist, aber in Gabriels Überlegungen kaum eine Rolle spielen. Während dieser in seiner Ontologie den Weltbegriff verabschieden will und deshalb auch das „Zur-Welt-Kommen“ des Menschen nicht im Blick hat, versucht Schmitz´ das traditionelle Weltverständnis durch ein neues zu ersetzen. Bei allen Unterschieden zwischen den Autoren verfolgen aber beide immerhin eine gemeinsame Absicht: Denn neben der Kritik am Naturalismus richtet sich Gabriels philosophisches Vorhaben auch gegen einen radikalen Konstruktivismus[9], weshalb eine Verständigung zwischen den Autoren nicht von vorneherein auszuschließen, sondern vielmehr ertragreich sein kann.

Schmitz versucht in seinen Beiträgen zur „Geschichte der Selbstwerdung“ und der damit einhergehenden Weltentstehung, sowohl den Realismus als auch den Idealismus hinter sich zu lassen. Weder die Person noch die Welt sind einfach statisch vorhanden, wenn die erstere immer wieder durch spürbare Erfahrungen auf sich aufmerksam wird, um letztere erst durch Sprache für sich und andere ersichtlich zu machen. Unter Berücksichtigung der Lebenserfahrung vermag Schmitz es so, stufenartig die Geschichte der Selbstwerdung und damit auch die Grundlagen der Person aufzuzeigen.

[1] Hermann Schmitz, Wozu philosophieren? (Freiburg/München: Karl Alber, 2018), 94.

[2] Hermann Schmitz, Adolf Hitler in der Geschichte (Bonn: Bouvier, 1999), 27.

[3] Hermann Schmitz, System der Philosophie Bd. 1: Die Gegenwart (Bonn: Bouvier 2005 [1964]), 14.

[4] Vgl. Markus Gabriel, Sinn und Existenz (Berlin: Suhrkamp 2016), 89-94.

[5] Für den Bezug zu Gabriel vgl. Hermann Schmitz, Gibt es die Welt? (Freiburg/ München: Karl Alber 2014), 21, 26.

[6] Vgl. zum Beispiel Hermann Schmitz, Ausgrabungen zum wirklichen Leben (Freiburg/München: Karl Alber 2016), 245.

[7] Eine Möglichkeit, dies zu beweisen, entwickelt Gabriel mit dem „Listenargument“. Vgl. Gabriel, Sinn und Existenz, 45ff.

[8] Vgl. z.B. Gabriel, Sinn und Existenz, 163f., 173f., 183f.,191f., 193f.

[9] Vgl. Gabriel, Sinn und Existenz, S. 34f., 174f.

Thomas Fuchs: Ecology of the Brain: The Phenomenology and Biology of the Embodied Mind

Ecology of the Brain: The Phenomenology and Biology of the Embodied Mind Book Cover Ecology of the Brain: The Phenomenology and Biology of the Embodied Mind
Thomas Fuchs
Oxford University Press

Reviewed by:  Elodie Boublil (Alexander von Humboldt Fellow-Universität zu Köln)

What makes us persons?

By developing an “ecological approach” of the brain, Thomas Fuchs, who is Karl Jaspers Professor of Philosophical Foundations at the Psychiatry Clinic of the University of Heidelberg, demonstrates the powerful illustration that phenomenology is not only relevant for contemporary neurosciences; it also provides human and natural sciences with an accurate description of the phenomenon of embodied cognition. Indeed, Ecology of the Brain. The phenomenology and biology of the embodied mind, which is a revised version of a book published in 2007 (Das Gehirn – ein Beziehungsorgan), is faithful to the Husserlian claim that considers phenomenology as a grounding science.

Fuchs rightly shows that the phenomenological analysis of the brain he undertakes impacts not only on intellectual endeavors in contemporary neurosciences but also displays significant results for medical sciences such as psychiatry, and human sciences such as cultural studies and developmental psychology. The book displays two central theses: the brain is “an organ of relation, interaction, mediation, and resonance”; the mind-body problem is solved by Fuchs’ “theory of the dual aspect of the living being: both as a lived or subjective body and as a living or objective body.” This holistic yet differentiated approach ultimately leads to a libertarian conception of free will, embedded into —yet not reducible to—its biological, social and cultural determinants. Consequently, Fuchs’s book is not only a breakthrough in the philosophy of cognitive sciences. It also opens up a decisive ethical reflection on the worldview that underlies contemporary epistemology. As Fuchs boldly shows it: “The acid test of every epistemology is, when all is said and done, the intersubjective relationship” (27).

The first part of the book aims to defeat the arguments that support neurobiological reductionism and the representationalist concepts that support it. The representationalist paradigm considers that what we call reality is always reconstructed in the brain thanks to neuronal processes. According to such framework, the world is a fictitious entity reconstructed by the subject’s brain. Fuchs refutes this theory by showing the relevance of three phenomenological key ideas: embodied perception, the distinction between the lived body and the physical body, and the co-constitution of the life-world that is an objective shared reality. As Fuchs states: “human reality is therefore always co-constituted or, as we might say, “interenacted” (…). We live in a shared objective reality because we continuously “interenact” it through our joint activities and participatory sense-making.” (27).

The first chapter titled “Cosmos in the head?” denounces the contradiction inherent to neurobiological reductionism, namely the idea according to which world’s perception is reducible to some representations the brain would produce.  According to Fuchs and following ecological theories (Gibson, Thompson, Varela), perception relies on enaction, which is the capacity of a living organism to co-create its environment and constantly adjust to it. This capacity of self-production named autopoiesis requires the contribution of our body, making the embodied nature of cognition a prerequisite to any form of perception. Subjectivity is irreducible to brain processes. As Fuchs puts it:

“nowhere is the subject found in the brain. Rather, the brain is the organ, which mediates our relationship towards the world, to other people, and ourselves. The brain is the mediator making the world accessible to us, and the transformer connecting our perceptions and movements. However, in isolation, the brain would be just a dead organ.” (xvii).

The second chapter demonstrates that intentional consciousness indeed is not reducible to neuronal processes. In phenomenological terms, “consciousness is the presence of the world for a subject” (33). Drawing on the notions of self-affection and intentionality, Fuchs shows that consciousness shall not be reified, as it is always oriented toward goals and meaningful actions, able to integrate the spatiotemporal features of its environment. Perception amounts to the living body’s engagement with the world, not to the “picture” her brain would make of reality. Moreover, our conception of free will is contingent upon the description we make of the causal relations between the mind and physiological processes. Fuchs warns us against the ethical risk conveyed by the determinism proclaimed by neurosciences: “De-anthropomorphizing nature would turn into the complete naturalization of the human being” (xv). The challenge is then to give a scientifically accurate description of the brain while making room for free will and the co-constitution of the lifeworld.

The notions of “dual aspectivity” and “circular causality” developed in the second part of the book are meant to overcome neurobiological reductionism, by introducing a “mediated monism,” able to describe the “integral causality by which living beings become the causes of their conscious enactments of life” (xix). Indeed, in the following chapter, Fuchs elaborates, and ecological theory of the brain understood as “an organ of a living being in its environment” in order to make possible a scientific theory of the brain that is compatible with our first and second person experiences in the lifeworld.

Chapter 3 focuses on the notion of embodied subjectivity and introduces the idea of “dual aspectivity.” The living person is a “dialectical unity of the “subjective body” (Leib) and the “objective body” (Körper)” (91). Relying on phenomenological conceptions of the lived body (Leib) and self-affection, Fuchs recalls that the subjective body is the background of all experiences. Drawing on Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, Fuchs explains that: “the subjective body is the ensemble of all skills and capacities at our disposal. As “habitual body” (Merleau-Ponty 1962, 71), it contains the preliminary drafts of our enactments of life and thus conveys the founding experience of “I can” (Husserl 1989, 266)” (73). However, persons “are also lived body for others,” and his phenomenological description rightly stresses this intersubjective aspect of the embodiment. Intercorporeity is the basis of our experience, whereas objectification – for instance in the scientific examination of the body of others – is secondary. The subjective body and the body apprehended as “living organism” are not opposed to each other. Rather there is a “fundamental coextensivity of subjective body and physical body” (211). This unity is most articulated in the concept of “capacity” that Fuchs takes up from Aristotle: “on the basis of existing capacities a new situational coherence of organism and environment is created” (101). Therefore, as autopoietic systems, living organisms are both differentiated from and continuously related to their environment. Each stimulus leads to the reconfiguration of the entire system thanks to a circular causality that links together the various levels of experience. The brain consequently plays a crucial role in this process, as an organ of mediation and transformation.

Chapter 4 investigates what Fuchs calls the phenomenon of “resonance” between the brain and the living organism. Indeed, after relying on the phenomenological experience to put forward the idea of embodied cognition, Fuchs goes back to the reductionist argument he is opposing and designs the role and status of the brain anew. Fuchs notices the persistence and prevalence of the representationalist concepts even in the neuroscientific frameworks that aim to take our lived experience and intercorporeity into account. An accurate description of the brain’s functions and its relation to the living organism is required in order to escape the representationalist paradigm and to overcome the idea that consciousness is located in the brain. Bodily resonance is strongly at play in inter-affectivity and emotional responses and leads one to think that consciousness is an overarching structure of the living person that involves the entire organism. In such a context, the brain operates as an organ “of regulation and perception for the entire organism” (147). As Fuchs puts it:

“The central function of the brain for the experiencing and acting living creature consists in transforming configurations of individual elements into resonant patterns that form the basis of integral acts of life. Thus, the brain becomes the organ of mediation, between, on the one hand, the microscopic world of material-physiological processes and, on the other, the macroscopic world of living creatures” (169).

Chapter 5 then focuses on this “macroscopic world of living creatures” by exploring the “brain as an organ of the person.” By looking at contemporary findings in developmental psychology, Fuchs aims to demonstrate the validity of his theory of “resonance” in the context of the development of inter-affectivity. Experiences concerning the role of intercorporeity in early childhood and attachment theory as well as studies related to the development of secondary intersubjectivity through joint attention strongly back up Fuchs’s claims. Locating the mind “in the brain” constitute a logical and naturalistic fallacy. Rather, the brain becomes the “organ of the mind” in the sense that it mediates its interactions with our environment and other living beings, including most importantly other human beings. Indeed, Fuchs’s account shows that intersubjectivity is key to the development of the brain, considering its neuroplasticity and recent findings in epigenetics. Such theory bears significant ethical and social consequences regarding education theory and cultural studies. As Fuchs states: “the brain becomes a social, cultural, and biographically shaped organ” (175). The biological level and the social and intercorporeal levels are intertwined from prenatal development:

“in neural terms, this means that every interaction with others, by means of synaptic learning, leaves traces at the neural level; of course, not in the form of localizable, stored “memories”, “images”, or “representations” of the interactions or attachment figures, but in the form of dispositions to perceive, feel, and behave in certain ways” (203).

In Chapter 6, Fuchs goes back to the concept of dual aspectivity in order to draw its implications for a theory of free will. The brain is thus presented as an “organ of relations,” and the mind-body problem rephrased as “body-body problem,” that is to say as a matter of articulating the subjective body (Leib) and the objective body (Körper) in personal individuation. A phenomenology of decision-making shows that the mind is not disconnected from its environment and physiological background and does not intervene and modify reality, as a deus ex machina would do. Claiming the embodied nature of any decision does not mean denying freedom. Rather, it shows that one is potentially free provided she learns through her development to acquire sufficient capacities for inhibition and reflection, which are decisive to personal emancipation and responsibility. The brain supports such a process, as it is an “organ of capacities.”

Consequently, “taking a decision is not the intervention of an autonomous self, but the activity of an embodied subject which must have learned and incorporated the capacities for inhibition and reflection in the course of his biography. Free will is thus a complex capacity of human agents whose components can only be acquired and practiced through a self-cultivation in the course of social interactions” (263). Such understanding impacts on medicine and particularly on psychiatry and its therapeutic practices. Indeed, if the mind is neither purely spiritual nor material but the complex and individuated expression of a mutual implication of the subjective body and the objective body, then medicine should take into consideration both the intercorporeal basis of any encounter and interaction and the plasticity of the brain due to its biological, ecological and personal embedding.

Chapter 7 addresses thereby, more specifically, the implications of the ecological theory of the brain for contemporary psychiatry and psychological medicine, which are mostly influenced by neurobiological reductionism. As Fuchs explains, neuropsychiatry considers that mental illness results from brain disorders that seem to be localizable in the brain. Moreover, the patient is seen as an autonomous individual separated from her environment and relationships. In light of the previous refutation of the dualist framework, Fuchs aims to provide here a new understanding of mental illness able to encompass all the aspects aforementioned, namely the mutual implication of the biological, psychological and intersubjective levels. Therapeutic practices should be grounded into a relational medicine that grasps the meaning associated by the patient with her relationships, situation or condition. As Fuchs puts it: “Depression results from a perceived loss of meaning and social resonance, not from a lack of serotonin” (285). An ecological conception of mental illness must address the dual aspect of the person, “as the living unity and personal organism.” “The existential dimension of self-recognition, relationship, and meaning, which is crucial for every type of intensive therapy, is beyond the reach of neuroscientific methods. Thus, psychotherapy will never become a branch of applied neurobiology. Its essential grounding sciences remain psychology, hermeneutics, and the social sciences and humanities overall” (299).

Chapter 8 summarizes the main achievements realized throughout the book and recalls the most important claim made by Fuchs:  “It is erroneous to identify the brain with the human subject and to look inside for what makes up the person. What essentially characterizes a human person is being in relationships. (…) A person is not a localizable part of the body but is embodied and animate. We do not exist a second time inside ourselves. Human persons have brains, but they are not brains” (301). The brain mediates the various levels of experience but is not equivalent to concepts such as subjectivity, self or personhood. The naturalization of the concept of the human person leads to “self-reification” and represents an ethical danger that does not even fit with the reality of our interpersonal relations. Fuchs’s enterprise shall be praised for its clarity, rigor but also for reminding us of an evident yet dangerously lost experience:

“to truly become themselves, human persons must become real for one another. This is arguably the most profound reason to regard the conception of the subject as a construction of the brain as nothing else but the human person’s depersonalization. For persons are the primordial phenomenon: that is, what shows itself, and what it is present in its very appearing. I hear the other’s thoughts in his words. Grasping his hand, I give him my hand. Looking into his eyes, I see him. We are not the figments of our brains, but human persons in the flesh” (291).

At the end of the first chapter, Fuchs declares: “In the last analysis, the question of what is “really real”—physical matter instead of animated bodies, brains instead of selves, neural computation instead of conscious experience—is an ethical question.” Indeed, it seems that the ethical impact of The Ecology of the Brain should not be underestimated. Four ethical implications should be briefly discussed:

1/ Fuchs’s work recalls the fact that an anthropological and metaphysical picture of the human being lies behind any scientific account of the latter;

2 / a reductionist account of the human being based on neurobiology could lead to new individual and social forms of alienation, especially considering its prevalence in the design of new therapeutic practices which deny the role of intersubjectivity and social interactions in the mental disease;

3/ the picture of the human being presented in the book echoes Simondon’s work on individuation. Simondon explicitly elaborated a concept of “resonance” that builds ethical and existential considerations onto an analysis of perception that is ontogenetic and that draws on Aristotle’s notion of capacity;

4/ Finally, in the context of contemporary moral issues, the reader would benefit from a particular focus on the differences between the notions of living beings, human beings and persons and notably their ontological implications.

The contributions of the German philosophical anthropology to the debates on the ethical significance of the scientific picture of the human being—as evidenced by the reference to Plessner—constitute indeed productive resources to reconsider the self-proclaimed ethical neutrality of neurosciences. As Edith Stein explained in her lessons on the human person, every picture of the human being implies a metaphysical worldview whether it is a nihilistic, an existentialist, a religious or a political one has to be determined. Nevertheless, reflecting on the human being implies meaning ascription and providing a general framework to make sense of her development and her social environment and relations. This is, even more, the case when one has to design therapeutic practices that draw—consciously or unconsciously—on a preconceived distinction between what is normal and what is pathological. In such a context, The Ecology of the Brain questions the pervasiveness of chemical treatments when they are not associated with psychotherapeutic practices taking into account inter-affectivity and the history of the patient and her relations. The relational dimension of any human reality, as described notably by Fuchs in the second part of the book calls inevitably for further reflections in medical ethics and investigations into the medical policies implemented by states, notably in the care strategies related to psycho-trauma. The powerful demonstration in support of a relational ontology featured in this book echoes the works written by French philosopher Gilbert Simondon who developed a conception of individuation that explicitly takes into account these ethical and social implications. To Simondon, one must overcome the hylemorphic and dualist framework that does not capture the reality of individuation processes. Drawing on a renewed conception of information Simondon explains that the person is the result of a “metastable” process of individuation. The pre-individual is a creative and generative force that perpetually decenters and recomposes its individual instantiations. The living organism is characterized by its plasticity, and the challenge is to think together the individuating movement of life and the instantiation of meanings that impact on it and transform potentialities into actions:

“The living being preserve in it an act of permanent individuation; it is not only a result of individuation, like the crystal or the molecule but a theater of individuation. So every activity of the living being is not, like that of the physical individual, concentrated at its limit; there exists in it a more complete regime of internal resonance requiring permanent communication, and metastability which is a condition of life.” (L’Individuation à la lumière des notions de forme et d’information, p. 28)

Drawing on Aristotle in his lessons on perception, Simondon explains further that the idea of “capacity” does not amount to a logical possibility or a representation. It is a “force that becomes a tendency of the living being,” a “desire.” “The individual life relies on differentiation insofar as it relies on integration” (IFI, p. 163). Simondon calls this process “transduction.” “Transduction” describes the operation by which a system passes from one state to another by re-articulating the stages of its development, transindividuality designates this capacity of the subject to adapt and transform, thanks to pre-individual potentialities, and according to the crises which destabilize its existence and punctuate its psychic individuation. It is therefore not a question of objectifying or actualizing a possibility, but rather of potentiating an existing structure in order to extract a new relation to oneself and to the world: “Perception is not the seizure of a form, but the solution of a conflict, the discovery of a compatibility, the invention of a form.” (IFI, 235)  “All the functions of the living are ontogenetic to some extent, not only because they ensure an adaptation to an external world, but because they participate in this permanent individuation that is life. The individual lives to the extent that it continues to individuate, and it individuates through the activity of memory as through imagination or abstract inventive thinking” (IFI, 209). Therefore, it seems that Simondon provided us with a philosophical and anthropological conception of life that would complement Fuchs’s account or at least bridge the gap between the relational ontology that is here phenomenological uncovered yet not explicitly addressed, and its ethical implications for science and technology. Indeed, our picture of embodiment and embodied cognition impacts on any debates on the dignity of the person and the respect of life. The materialistic and reductionist views of embodiment seem to lead to a new kind of Gnosticism fantasizing about an invulnerable subject disconnected from its intercorporeal reality. Fuchs’s book makes a decisive breakthrough in leading us to question the grounds and legitimacy of our technological and “ethically neutral” postmodern lives, as well as the urgency to reflect on what makes us persons, namely becoming free, in the world, with others.

Giampiero Arciero, Guido Bondolfi, Viridiana Mazzola: The Foundations of Phenomenological Psychotherapy, Springer, 2018

The Foundations of Phenomenological Psychotherapy Book Cover The Foundations of Phenomenological Psychotherapy
Giampiero Arciero, Guido Bondolfi, Viridiana Mazzola
Softcover 117,69 €
XXII, 343

Anthony J. Steinbock: Limit-Phenomena and Phenomenology in Husserl, Rowman & Littlefield International, 2017

Limit-Phenomena and Phenomenology in Husserl Book Cover Limit-Phenomena and Phenomenology in Husserl
Anthony J. Steinbock
Rowman & Littlefield International  
Paperback £24.95