Theodor W. Adorno: Notes to Literature: Combined Edition

Notes to Literature (Combined Edition) Book Cover Notes to Literature (Combined Edition)
Theodor W. Adorno. Edited by Rolf Tiedemann. Translated by Shierry Weber Nicholson. With a new introduction by Paul Kottman
Columbia University Press
Hardback $120.00 £100.00

Reviewed by: Richard J. Elliott (Birkbeck College, University of London)

 Adorno’s Critique of Aesthetic Intentionalism & its Limits


A prominent yet understudied feature that permeates Adorno’s aesthetics is a critique of intentionalism. In this review essay, I will look at this critique and one manifestation of it, as it appears in his Notes to Literature.

Previously published in two volumes, Columbia University Press have for the first time combined Adorno’s Notes to Literature in a single work, translated into English.  The scope of topics Adorno treats is broad, and reading is often difficult but frequently rewarding. Topics span from epic poetry, to Dickens, the free use of punctuation and its ramifications, reviews of individual texts, to more general methodologically loaded tracts on the status of art or particular aesthetic traditions. This is not exhaustive by any measure. As such, a sufficient characterization of this wealth of topics treated by Adorno in the short space available to review would be exceedingly challenging, likely impossible. Instead, I will restrict the focus of this review to a common feature across many of Adorno’s treatments of these topics: his rejection of intentionalism in aesthetics, in this instance, authorial intentionalism in literary works. This rejection appears to some degree in many if not all of the essays within the two volumes. It also looms large in Adorno’s aesthetic theory more broadly. However, it is usefully illustrated by means of a particular formally derived critique Adorno offers, about subject-driven exposition of narrative as an authentic and autonomous force in literary works. I will also argue that Notes to Literature aides in demonstrating an internal limit to Adorno’s anti-intentionalism, as it appears in such works. This internal limit offers a qualified role for the creator of autonomous works, and some insight into the machinations of this role – these will be discussed below.

Intentionalism is the presupposition many would-be aestheticians bring to artworks. The presupposition is that the pure intention of the creator (the composer, artist, or author) is what bestows aesthetic value to such works. Notes to Literature features many instances of a prominent critique of this position, as applied to literary works. Adorno views subject-derived expositions of narratives, particularly streams of consciousness as a narrative device, as one example of formal expressions of authorial intentionalism in literature. Its widespread employment demonstrates the primacy of this intentionalism. Viewing it as an authentically expository force involves a kind of presupposition to aesthetic methodology, and to any discernment of the value to be gleaned from works. This presupposition, Adorno claims, places the individual author in a position of epistemic priority. This position is an erroneous one, as it encourages the proffering and evaluating of works without exploring the social totalities which constitute the conditions for any such individual’s presentation of aesthetic knowledge. The role of the creator for Adorno is inherently mediated within the context of such totalities. Intentionalism and its formal manifestation in subjective narrative shirks this exploration, to the detriment of the autonomous potential that literary works might possess.

One particular target of Adorno’s is a manifestation of intentionalism in a particular conception of the genius. This conception gained predominance as a particular oppositional reaction to Kantian aesthetics. Kant describes the genius as “nature giving the rule to art”, contrasting it with the notion of the single creator doing so, from some epistemically authoritative vantage point. The conception that opposes Kant broadly states that as the wellspring from which aesthetic value flows, the intention of the genius offers a model of salvation, relayed through their work. The figure of the genius, so it broadly goes, is the one who oversees the total expression of their authorial or creative intention in the work, and this successful expression of that intention is the vehicle of aesthetic value for works of art, music and literature equally. On this model, appreciation of works then occurs with reference to this value. Adorno rails against this model.  While Adorno ultimately agrees with Valéry’s claim that great art “demands the employment of all of a man’s faculties” (‘The Artist as Deputy’, 115), this is not the claim that this employment manifests the expression of the conscious intentions of the creator of that art.

Underpinning this presupposition is the wrong-headedness as Adorno sees it of aesthetic intention operating as if immediate value of a work can be transmitted, its message there to be received by an audience who can grasp it if they accept it. Here Adorno opposes an assumption shared by both Kant and those reacting to him, since they converge on the notion that this transmission can take place between agents – in Kant’s case certainly, rational ones. But operating with this kind of presupposition, Adorno thinks, is to be oblivious to the inherent alienation as “a fact that irrevocably governs an exchange society”. To illustrate this, in an approach characteristic of Adorno, he employs Hegelian motifs as a means of undermining of Hegelianism itself – Adorno targets ‘objective Spirit’ as represented in art. For Hegel, the truths purveyed through art (as well as religion and most importantly philosophy) claim to offer representational knowledge into the development of Geist, eventually culminating in the ironing out of all contradictions of reality. Built into this understanding, Adorno claims, of the Hegelian motive for art is that it “wants […] to speak to human beings directly, as though the immediate could be realized in a world of universal mediation” (‘The Artist as Deputy’, 116). But this claim in itself about the representational power of art, says Adorno, is a kind of utilitarian degradation of the aesthetic. In literature specifically, this degradation makes ‘word and form’ into a “mere means” – a manner of utilizing the formal presentation of the work for expressing what the creator takes to be a truth or value relayed through art.

Structurally, Adorno here shares with Hegel the basic claim that art can illustrate certain kinds of truths. But he diverts from Hegel in a qualified way, in how he sees the promise for the role of autonomous art. Hegel conceived of putting art to use in the task of Geist’s reconciliation by means of what the work represents. By contrast, Adorno conceived of autonomous art’s power to at best be able to illustrate the current impossibility of reconciliation, due to the inability of the work to coherently represent reality, in the manner Hegel claims it can. It should be noted that it appears Adorno sees it possible for certain kinds of non-representational knowledge to be gained from successful works of art. Autonomous art can bestow negative knowledge of reality (‘Extorted Reconciliation: On Georg Lukács’ Realism in our Time’, 223). This would initially seem to clash with the claim that this is itself a form of knowledge. But rather than this constituting representational knowledge, Adorno is in some way offering the potential for a kind of aesthetic exposure to an intuition that demonstrates the impossibility of representational knowledge. This is arguably one route to the ‘loss’ that Adorno counts as the second-order objectivity facilitated by autonomous artworks. More on this below. But in the context of the Hegelian assumption, Adorno thinks that this has ramifications for critical engagement. The Hegelian optimism for the revolutionary potential of art in fact pulls the rug out from underneath the work, by undermining its formal and practical autonomy, and its applications.

In this vein, Adorno critiques subjective exposition of narrative, as a manifestation of the intentionalist’s presumption about aesthetic value. This critique tracks formal characteristics intrinsic to presentations of works themselves. It is a claim about the inherent formal critical power or lack thereof that motivates his critique of literary subject-centrism, and the idea of subjectivist narrative as having expository primacy in its formal mode of presentation. It is not just that this is open to criticism as a bourgeois mode of attempted presentation, of the kind indicated above about the power of the author’s intentions. Rather, this more formal critique is aimed at narrative of this kind also for its reduction of the reader or spectator to being merely receptive to such a subjective flow of consciousness. Adorno claims that the proponent of formal narrative subject-centrism identifies “nodal points of conditioned reflexes” of the would-be passive human being, qua “mere receptive apparatuses” (‘The Artist as Deputy’, 119). The work’s recipient responds to intake from their sensibility by the truth-bestowing flow of an intentional consciousness in the work. The presupposition here is that exposition is granted authentic force as a mode of formal description by the author. As such it is employed as a way of receiving and interpreting a work by an audience. This is problematized due to its assumption that the audience has been given the necessary sensibility for the narrative, on a kind of presuppositionless set menu of aesthetic evaluation. The presumption here is that the audience receives a formal presentation of the sensory scheme or stream of consciousness of the ‘genius at work’, to which they should passively engage.  The audience is a conduit to be filled up with aesthetic truths.

But this presumption exposes another facet to Adorno’s critique, centered around the assumption that any subject creating aesthetic works can provide such a coherent formal exposition, by virtue of their professed narrative. The work of Proust, perhaps ironically, is valorized by Adorno for upsetting a presumption in the “prevailing consciousness” about the notion of the unity and pre-given wholeness of the person. This presumption is characterized as a false idol by Adorno (‘Short Commentaries on Proust’, 181), which Proust’s works act as an ‘antidote’ to. A philosophical presupposition of this view concerns the power of subjective narrative. The audience doesn’t receive this subject and its narrative in some necessary and uniform fashion. Nor is the self-representation of either one of the subjects involved, author or reader, of an immediate cognitively accessible character. Rather, Adorno claims that such narrative is the product and cause of further alienation. Only in genuinely autonomous works can there be an intimation of this alienation by a display of the “social relationships [that] reveal themselves to be a blind second nature” (‘Short Commentaries’, 183). Again utilizing while subverting a familiar Hegelian motif, this of second nature, social relationships limit the remit of pure thought, not in a manner that adapts pure thought to nature, but shows its perversion at the hands of the productive forces at work in it.

In this respect, something Adorno claims favorably about Paul Valéry is his capacity to buck the trend of centralizing “the triumph of subjective over objective reason” (‘Valéry’s Deviations’, 161). Though Adorno takes this to be a product of the enlightenment, it is evident from his discussions of many post-enlightenment figures that he views them as capitulating to this trend, too. For example, Adorno writes that for Sartre, “the work of art becomes an appeal to the subject because the work is nothing but the subject’s decision or non-decision” (‘Commitment’, 349). This centrality has ramifications both theoretical and practical. As a result of it, “Sartre’s approach prevents him from recognizing the hell he is rebelling against”, namely the objective self-alienation that latently motivates him to make the proclamation that hell is, in fact, other people (‘Commitment’, 353). Indeed, Adorno’s infamous statement about the barbarism of writing poetry after Auschwitz is reaffirmed, in the context of this continued primacy of the subjective. He claims it “expresses, negatively, the impulse that animates committed literature” (‘Commitment’, 358). This criticism applies also to Heidegger. A ‘decision’ is demanded by Hölderlin, for Heidegger, in Adorno’s devastating excursus of Heidegger (‘Parataxis: On Hölderlin’s Late Poetry’, 380). Claiming this, not only does Heidegger rob and ‘deaestheticize’ Hölderlin of his “poetic substance”, it also eliminates Hölderlin’s “genuine relationship to reality, critical and utopian” (‘Parataxis’, 381). This is done on the grounds of the notion of subjective decision being prioritized by Heidegger, erroneously recapitulating to “the idealism which is taboo for Heidegger [but] to which he secretly belongs” (‘Parataxis’, 385).

Motivating this critique in all of these forms is Adorno’s broader claim that “the social totality is objectively prior to the individual” (‘Extorted Reconciliation’, 224). The presupposition that successful, genuinely autonomous works still somehow belong to the author misses this point. Rather, a work’s success consists “in its becoming detached from [the author], in something objective being realized in and through him, in his disappearing into it”. (‘Toward a Portrait of Thomas Mann’, 295, my emphasis). Autonomy is not bestowed upon a work due to any relation with some condition of genius possessed by the author.

 Yet in pursuit of this thought, Adorno makes an intimation about what positive role the artist qua producer of works of art can have, should a work be successful in the possession and conveyance of truth content. In an ironic twist, he inverts the idea that the work is the instrument of communication for the intentions of the creator. Instead, this possession and conveyance involves the artist becoming an instrument, through which aesthetic form assumes a life of its own. It is this mode of production which ensures the artist does not “succumb to the curse of anachronism in a reified world” (‘The Artist as Deputy’, 117). Adorno assumes his own idiosyncratic kind of interpretivist stance towards the possibility of aesthetic autonomy. Discussing the ways in which artistic creation is subject to reification, and on the point of to whom the truth-qualities of an art work ‘belongs’, Adorno endorses Valéry’s attack on “the widespread conception of the work of art that ascribes it, on the model of private property, to the one who produces it” (‘The Artist as Deputy’, 118).

So Adorno postulates a kind of aesthetic virtue gained by means of a degree of liberation from the folly of intentionalism, including its formal presuppositions about subjective exposition. This liberation, Adorno notes, is a kind of recognition, namely a recognition on the part of the artist, such as Valéry’s bourgeois art as bourgeois, and that this recognition precludes it from conscious or intentional escape from that framework. In this sense, Adorno sees in Valéry (and also, for example, Thomas Mann) a critical platform through formal literary presentation in this “self-consciousness of [its] own bourgeois nature”. The premium is placed on a certain kind of self-knowledge, attained by a capacity for critical distance. This self-consciousness doesn’t determine the truth content of an artwork itself. Rather it constitutes a recognition by the artist that self-consciousness precisely doesn’t determine such truth content. Indeed, in an example of Adorno’s often ironic and flirtatiously paradoxical prose, this self-consciousness comes by the aesthetic judgement

“tak[ing] itself seriously as the reality that it is not. The closed character of the work of art, the necessity of its giving itself its own stamp, is to heal it of the contingency which renders it unequal to the force and weight of what is real” (‘The Artist as Deputy’, 118).

With some nuance, Adorno criticizes the aims of recent art, at a “retreat of productive forces [as] a surrender to sensory receptivity” – in other words, it recapitulates to viewing subjective and specifically sensorially derived authorial creativity as the primary means of producing truth. This in fact diminishes the capacity for abstraction, or for the construction of artworks as possessing a genuinely autonomous character.

This makes Adorno’s claims about Valéry and Proust somewhat ironic, but arguably productively or virtuously so. Despite Valéry’s own processual and solipsistic mode of presentation, it is so by virtue of his “advocacy of the dialectic” qua the recognition that the only freedom possible is freedom in relation to the object (‘Valéry’s Deviations’, 150). This in a roundabout fashion actually serves to undermine the idea that the subjective stream of consciousness is an authentic expository force for narrative truth.

Adorno writes that Valéry’s philosophical affinity to this advocacy “erodes from below […] the illusion of immediacy as an assured first principle” (‘Valéry’s Deviations’, 150). Indeed, intentionalists presuppose some primary or immediate access to the author or creator’s epistemic faculties via the formal presentation of the subjective narrative. But attempts at cleanly cutting through the social conditions which engendered the work are inhibitions to aesthetic truth, for Adorno. There is a broadly ethical dimension to Adorno’s rejection of this presupposition, too: “[t]he objectification of works of art, as immanently structured monads, becomes possible only through subjectification” (‘Presuppositions: On the Occasion of a Reading by Hans G. Helms’, 368).

Adorno offers the potential for a positive way out. He describes an emancipation made possible through aesthetic endeavour, when works are forced to try and re-establish a kind of objectivity which is lost

“when it stops at a subjective reaction to something pregiven, whatever form it takes. The more the work of art divests itself critically of all the determinants not immanent in its own form, the more it approaches a second-order objectivity” (‘Valéry’s Deviations’, 152, my italics).

Developing dialectically out of its own deficiencies, this particular route to disillusionment constitutes a second-order objectivity – a kind of knowledge of one’s disillusionment, through aesthetic form. This is an objectivity which, depending on how one interprets Adorno, facilitates the possibility for reconciliation, or at least the knowledge that reconciliation is presently beyond our ken or grasp (‘Valéry’s Deviations’, 154). This has already been discussed by Adorno in the context of a certain kind of self-consciousness. But Adorno also discusses a kind of forbidden mode of consciousness, which, if we had access to it, would allow us access through art and literature to a genuinely different and non-reified mode of approaching our genuine needs (‘The Handle, the Pot, and Early Experience: Ui, haww’ ich gesacht’, 473). One might interpret this forbidden mode of consciousness as something necessarily inaccessible, like Kant’s intellectual intuition. Or one might interpret it as something contingently improbable, an obfuscated mode of consciousness which might come to be available to us under certain productive conditions. Regarding this difference of interpretation, I remain non-committal about, for the purposes here. But this second-order objectivity partly constitutes an acknowledgment of some kind, of this mode.

What might this second-order objectivity amount to, in the context of the work? Herein I argue lies an important internal limit to Adorno’s anti-intentionalism. The loss of the subject as an authentic expository force can lead to a realization that objectivity by this means constitutes a “loss”, Adorno claims (‘Valéry’s Deviations’, 152). Adorno then claims that the subject’s pursuit of this “critical path is truly the only one open. It can hope for no other objectivity” (Ibid.). The ramifications for this in aesthetics is that the construction of works “no longer conceives itself as an achievement of spontaneous subjectivity, without which, of course, it would scarcely be conceivable, but rather wants to be derived from a material that is in every case already mediated by the subject” (‘Presuppositions’, 371). This is not mediation by the purely spontaneous, causa sui subject, a la the presupposition of the intentionalist. Rather, the creator of the genuinely autonomous and truth-contentful work of art must be in some respect a “representative of the total social subject” (‘The Artist as Deputy’,  120, my italics).

It is only by virtue of recognizing this representative nature of works as something interpreted by the social and cultural conditions it is subject to, that art can “fulfill [itself] in the true life of human beings” (Ibid.). Adorno’s conception of the artist involves acting as a “midwife” to the objectivity inherent in the autonomous artwork – which is delineated “in advance by the form of the problem and not by the author’s intention (‘Valéry’s Deviations’, 168)”. Indeed, in line with Adorno’s authorial anti-intentionalism, the problem of delineating a work’s autonomous value is framed by its historical contingency, determined by the conditions of possibility that the forces of social production allow for the work to rupture through. It is autonomous works which can attain this expository status in relation to these forces. Put succinctly in his essay critical of Sartre and the idea of committed literature, “art, which is a moment in society even in opposing it, must close its eyes and ears to society”, while holding out the presence of “an ‘it shall be different’”, which Adorno claims “is hidden in even the most sublimated works of art” (‘Commitment’,  362).

Important to note here is that the success of the work in its autonomy is to some extent accidental, if viewed from a purely intentionalist perspective. Formal technique can only contribute to the intention of “what is presented”, as opposed to what the author purely intended. Its conditions of success are determined by the ability to recognize its autonomy within the context of objective social reality (‘Extorted Reconciliation’, 224). This includes a rupturous expression of what is concealed from reality by reifying processes, or as Adorno describes these processes, the purely “empirical form reality takes” (‘Extorted Reconciliation’, 225).

A paradox arises at the heart of Adorno’s position about this criterion for success. It is chance that “proclaims the impotence of a subject that has become too negligible to be authorized to speak directly about itself in a work of art” (‘Valéry’s Deviations’, 156, my italics). Yet at the same time as this claim about the possibility created by chance, it is this subjectivity, as

“alienated from itself, against the ascendancy in the objective work of art, whose objectivity can never be an objectivity in itself but must be mediated through the subject despite the fact that it can no longer tolerate any immediate intervention by the subject”. (‘Valéry’s Deviations’, 156)

This is a convoluted qualification by Adorno, merciless in its demands on the reader. In a reductive sense, the brute intentionalist model of subjective creativity is rejected. But the importance of the subject in some mediated sense remains of critical importance, for Adorno. Creators of autonomous works acknowledge “the paradoxical relationship of the autonomous work to its commodity character” (‘Valéry’s Deviations’, 158).

Adorno makes the allowance that this mediation via the subject is not an enterprise which the subject remains wholly unaware of, within narrative structures. But at the same time, he frames this as an eventual culmination, in a particular mode of formal consciousness towards an “estrangement of meaning” (‘Valéry’s Deviations’, 156). Adorno claims that its projection of this estrangement within an autonomous work “imitates the estrangement of the age”. Artists capable of producing autonomous works come to possess some conscious disposition towards an awareness of this imitation, by virtue of their being estranged. But how to understand this disposition toward an estrangement of meaning? Adorno thinks that it comes from a particular intuitive awareness of reification. Using Valéry as an exemplar, “[f]or Valéry’s aesthetic experience, the subject’s strength and spontaneity prove themselves not in the subject’s self-revelation, but, in Hegelian fashion, in its self-alienation. The more fundamentally the work detaches itself from the subject, the more the subject has accomplished in it” (‘Valéry’s Deviations’, 167). What Valéry and Adorno see interrelatedly, quoting Valéry, is that “[a] work endures insofar as it is capable of looking quite different from the work the author thought he was bequething to the future” (Ibid.).

Mere intention isn’t what makes a work autonomous: a presupposition of its primacy amounts to a recapitulation to the alienating forces as Adorno seems them as regnant in society. Rather, the author or creator is instrumental – “with the first movement of conception, the author is bound to that conception and to his material. He becomes an organ for the accomplishment of the work’s desires” (Ibid.). The most plausible manner of making sense of the idea that a work itself possesses desires is within the context of the claim about the artist or author as a midwife. The work embodies the hidden intuitions of a collective, expressed without ascribing any one individual’s intentions to the production of a work. Difficult as this may seem, I take it that Adorno’s point here is that autonomous works implicitly channel the hidden but genuine desires of the collective of human individuals, within their socio-historical context. Rather than representing the individuated subject, it represents the reification of the “latent social subject, for whom the individual artist acts as an agent” (‘Valéry’s Deviations’, 168). Once again, the representation of the social subject is of an instrumental rather than intentional kind through the aesthetic creator. Since Adorno thinks that all those under the same socio-historical conditions are bound to a mode of reification, there will be broad similarity underwriting the mode of self-alienation the representative artistic agent embodies and formally expresses, as themselves a conduit through which the work comes to be. The self-alienating autonomous work is described by Adorno as itself possessing ‘wants’, but intuitions of these are framed by the demands of the human condition to recognize the ill, perhaps impossible fit of the forces of social production upon that condition – the blind second nature which all are forced to adopt.

The use of the term ‘latent’ in this context is important, since Adorno frames the capacity of the contingency of the subject in psychoanalytic terminology. The ego has heretofore been assumed as the origin of pure aesthetic intentions and the harbinger of aesthetic truth, by means of its transparent route to creativity. Contrary to this assumption, Adorno claims that the ego “cannot be healed of its cardinal sin, the blind, self-devouring domination of nature that recapitulates the state of nature forever, by subjecting internal nature, the id, to itself as well” (‘Presuppositions’, 373). Rather, the ego can only be healed “by becoming reconciled with the unconscious, knowingly and freely following it where it leads” (‘Presuppositions’, 373–4). In some sense for Adorno, the regulating ego is to some extent aware of obedience or concession to the unconscious id in the creative process. The ego wants to find out what it wants, or at least wants to become aware of what it is about empirical reality that it doesn’t want.

Once this awareness takes place, the experience of autonomous artworks gives “the sense that their substance could not possibly not be true, that their success and their authenticity themselves point to the reality of what they vouch for” (‘Short Commentaries’, 187). Or, as Adorno puts it punchily elsewhere, autonomous art “represents negative knowledge of reality” (‘Extorted Reconciliation’, 222-3) – not positive representational knowledge in Hegel’s fashion, but the poverty of representational knowledge to track the real. Adorno offers an explanatory metaphor for this in a powerful discussion of Ernst Bloch’s musings on ‘An Old Pot’ at the beginning of Bloch’s Spirit of Utopia. Emulating the conscious disposition which can be intuited through autonomous works, Adorno self-referentially writes, “I am Bloch’s pot, literally and directly, a dull, inarticulate model of what I could be but am not permitted to be” (‘The Handle, The Pot, and Early Experience’, 472).

There might be no right living in a world gone wrong. But through autonomous works, formal glimmers exude, that give us intuitions of its wrongness. Whether these intuitions could develop more concretely, or be instantiated practically, is of course another story, one that cuts to the heart of Adorno’s immanent critique.

James G. Hart: Hedwig Conrad-Martius’ Ontological Phenomenology

Hedwig Conrad-Martius’ Ontological Phenomenology Book Cover Hedwig Conrad-Martius’ Ontological Phenomenology
Women in the History of Philosophy and Sciences, Vol. 5
James G. Hart. Edited by Rodney K. B. Parker
Hardback 90,94 eBook € 71,68 €
XII, 272

Reviewed by: By Kevin M. Stevenson (PhD, of the Irish College of Humanities and Applied Sciences, ICHAS)

Before one reads Hart’s work, an introduction to Conrad-Martius’ (henceforth: CM) method which is also the title of the book, Ontological Phenomenology, it is important to bear in mind that it was originally his doctoral dissertation from the 1970s. This is important if we are to consider that much reflection most likely occurred between the time of the dissertation completion and the revisiting and further publication of this work. Not only does this allow the reader to consider the expertise Hart might have on CM, but also the importance of Hart’s academic career in further developing his dissertation into its final form.

In the Introduction, the book is informed to essentially aim to do four things in relation to CM’s ontological phenomenology. It provides a clear and concise message to the reader that the work is an interpretive summary of this phenomenological method. The four points that are to come across in the book are a) the context of CM in philosophy in general, b) why her work is pivotal for phenomenology as a method and discipline (but also why as a historical figure she is so important in the realm of phenomenology), c) the influences she has received and given to others in the field in the history of philosophy, and finally d) CM’s relationship with Natur Philosophie, in which potency and possibility are considered real ontological states of affairs.

Hart’s road map at the start of the book allows the reader to know what to expect throughout the text and provides an important background for understanding why Conrad’s (CM’s) ontological phenomenology developed in the way that it did. Being aware of her influences, standpoints and personal situation is important for this understanding, such as the debate between Goethe and Newton, being against post-Cartesian cosmologies and the reduction of nature to mathematical equation, phenomenology of colours, her attempt to give Christian cosmology ontological-cosmological foundations, and on a personal level, her financial and health difficulties (4). Throughout the book, Hart implicitly focused on the distinction between theology and philosophy within CM’s work, and on how CM would have interpreted the two, in order for the reader to consider CM as more of a philosopher than a theologian. Afterall, the series in which the book is part is based on ‘Women in History of Philosophy and Sciences’. At the same time, Hart’s omission of focusing on a label for CM, informs the reader of the context within which CM was living, where science, philosophy and theology were more alchemized together than in comparison to today.

From the beginning, Hart emphasized the importance of space for CM, and how its interpretation can be skewed by mathematical, technical, and quantifying approaches to cosmology; for her such bias orthodoxly follows a positivist faith. The mathematization of nature to be considered as the ultimate theoretical explanation for nature is notfhart a possibility for CM. Our interpretation of nature is thus important for our understanding of the world and therefore ourselves; hence, Hart informs of how theology through grace (which allows us to ‘see better’) fills the gap that appears to be missing in the interpretation of nature by positivist approaches. Disclosing the eidetic structure of the cosmos is essentially what Conrad’s ontological phenomenology aims to do through meta-methodological questioning that departs from positivism. Hart eloquently summarizes this notion within Conrad’s method that considers the world as being double-featured, stating: “One can speak of the essence of the world as it is immediately given to us on the level of felt-meaning, an essence-intuition in which we participate with the totality of our existence (5).” We can therefore ‘speak’ of the world in physical terms through essence-intuition but also in more difficult foundational terms which is characterized as metaphysical.

For Hart, CM’s ontological phenomenology essentially aims to explore the experience of the things themselves which is important for both ‘speakings’ of the world. According to Hart, CM does this in a way that does not merely repeat a Husserlian approach, despite the fact Husserl was her teacher. Rather her approach propounds that phenomenology is the ‘true’ positivism by attending fully to the given, which leads to two by-products as a result of undermining positivism: a) a qualitative rather than quantitative study of nature which considers the manner in which nature appears as inherent in realontological structure and b) the importance of the noesis and noema within the Husserlian excessiveness of particular experience. These by-products reinforce a spiritual attitude which equates with a phenomenological being-in-the-world, in turn cohering with the excessiveness of experience which Hart stresses is so important for CM’s later work. Hart thus allows his book to represent an excellent resource for first time readers of CM, not only to understand the content within his book, but other works of CM or on CM.

Throughout the book Hart does a good job at highlighting the importance of CM’s work for not only philosophy but the social sciences. This is particularly the case with the epistemological notions set out within the book which are of such importance for the social sciences. Perhaps one of the most important terms to be considered within the book, besides her realontology, is intuition. Hart emphasizes how CM countered the positivist notion that intuition is derived from inference, as the concept of an object’s body-face, in Hart’s words, is conceptualized as the totality of an objective content from self-presentation within intuitive vision’s realm (11). To comprehend CM’s approach, Hart is true to CM’s style in that he includes phenomenological experiments, such as thought experiments, in order help the reader understand her thought. His snail analogy for example challenges the reader to participate in phenomenological investigation in order to deepen one’s understanding of CM’s methodology and in this case of the snail, the aspectival presentation of body-face as intuition. This served as an excellent backdrop to understand CM’s realontology, which aims to bridge gaps between nature’s qualitative appearances and its scientific explanations (18).

The methodology for CM’s realontology involves essence-analysis, which essentially analyses that which exceeds the concretely given perceptual reality: excess which is characterized as a) immediately sensed body-face, b) materiality, c) meaning, and d) categorical foundations of things (substance/reality). The analysis of excess thus aims at a non-reductivist approach to nature without idealism. In this respect, Hart sizes CM up against Husserl to not only emphasize the influence his work on phenomenology had on CM in terms of maintaining a fresh philosophy free from scientific positivism, but also to place her within the great players of phenomenology and its intellectual historical trajectory at the time of her writings.

Hart is successful at pinpointing the important influences CM had received from other philosophers of phenomenology for clarity’s sake, such as how within the bracketing of the epoché there involves the eidetic reduction that is most influential for CM amongst the other conceptions of the epoché. The other two conceptions being bracketing epistemological questions and the transcendental reduction. The eidetic reduction is more important for CM because of its movement from the factual to the essential via essence-analysis or in other words, the search for essentials; the investigation which encapsulates CM’s ontological phenomenology. The eidetic reduction is a leading back to the essence or fact structure or in other words, the full phenomenality structure to essence on its own, which is a turning from actual concrete existence to an idea through bringing essence to its full bodiliness via ideation (23). Hart thus characterizes CM’s work as an ‘essence hunting’ that undermines the incidental, factual, and concrete. And Hart stresses that the best manner in which to conceptualize such essence-analysis is through the ideation involved in the eidetic reduction (20). The suspension involved in the epoché is crucial for understanding CM’s ontological phenomenology because not only does it cohere with the eidetic reduction which she values, but also because it highlights the importance of intuition in our analysis of nature. Intuition, as mentioned above, is important for considering immediate experience in which essential meaning can be detected without categories or systems; concepts that require reductions to objects rather than essentials.

Hart shows that CM was important for the social sciences by not only countering the positivism of her day, which believed or even still believes itself to be with the true original and immediate givens of experience as sense data and facts (21), but by showing how ideation can allow for reflection on the implicitly or intuitively known criteria of things found in nature. Hart uses his own terminology to help the reader understand this, by informing that ideation (essence-intuition) involves the know-how and the know-that of inquiry. Hart does not consider her as merely dovetailing on Husserl’s work, since though he also considered such positivist notions as the superstition of facts (21), she however did not embrace Husserlian intentionality. Hart rather frames her as a phenomenologist who was driven to discover the things themselves, and within her historical context, was brave to do so. Phenomenology was a passion for her since essences within the phenomenological method are considered immediate as well, not just the positivist criteria mentioned above is immediate therefore. To elucidate this, she originally considered there to be an intuitive essential realm in contrast to an intuitive factual realm.

The power of intuition thus lies at the heart of positivism and phenomenology for CM, though for her sake, essence-intuition requires phenomenology, since such essentiality involves the process of ideation, disciplined perception (such as in the case of the epoché) and an artistic sense of difference. Phenomenology’s principle of all principles is original intuition, as phenomenological essence does not lie simply on the surface of appearance as may be the case in positivistic approaches to nature. Hart characterizes CM’s method of ontological phenomenology as a reflexive cosmology, countering the forceful and direct approach of positivism on nature for an essence-analysis that permits the essential meaning of nature’s experience to emerge; an analysis that approaches that which in itself is considered inexhaustible and so irreducible. CM thus aims to expose the a priori laws and regions of nature through her realontology as her phenomenological ontology. Hart focuses on CM’s notions of this and the human challenge to do so, as the importance of fiction, thus the imagination and creativity, which are uniquely human attributes considered of utmost importance for CM’s approach. Essential meanings, alike those found in Husserl, are akin to ‘’horizons of indeterminate inklings’’, as peripheral inklings change our knowledge into essence-intuition. Analysing vague wholes into elements that bring forth essences, as a role of phenomenology, makes phenomenology a method more than mere language analysis (25). Hart is able to show CM’s Continental ‘feel’ by extracting concise information from the works that inspired CM, like Husserl, the Munich and Gottingen Circles, and Hering, without losing the importance and originality of her work.

Rather than get caught up in ‘works of meta’ which any work in philosophy can be guilty of committing, Hart is able to outline the relevance of CM’s work through its practical implications. This can be shown under the subtitle 2.3 ‘The Essence of Essence’, in which essence is considered something that discloses itself to the method of essence-intuition which avoids getting caught up in ‘meta-works’. Essence is thus taken to comprise of unique characteristics of objects’ fullness. Such fullness becomes understood to mean that essence requires a bearer and thus is always a reference for something else. The practical use of ideation thus becomes known to reveal if objects have core essential essences or if such elements are merely accidental. Hart emphasizes that object(s) is a broad concept and can even refer to practical issues we face in human life and experience. Hart thus informs how CM would inform of the utility of ideation in everyday life. The concept of promise was an example of a practical issue or what Hart considers as ‘states of affairs’ in contrast to the immutability of essences through a physical example involving a house, with the latter considering the notion of how its physical changes might not change its essence (27). The former example reveals the importance of CM’s work for practical ethical matters whereas the latter informs of unresolved philosophical issues since the ancient Ship of Theseus thought experiment.

CM’s method which takes the notion of essence belonging to objects themselves, in which the object’s idea remains separate from the object itself (as a result of ideating or objectifying an object’s essence leading to the object having it ideally in spite of the fact that the essence of the object is inseparable from the thing itself) has consequences for both physical scientific and social issues alike. Hart shows that the method is thus able to graft phenomenology and ontology together, echoing CM’s background in phenomenological concepts such as the Lebenswelt. CM’s Phenomenological Ontology clarifies the notion that the process of ideation leads to the idea that an object’s essence or whatness or morphé (such as the essence of an issue like promising for example) has a second separate existence to itself as an object, through a process of subsumption; a process that is often overlooked in the sciences but which CM brings to light. Although Hart could have brought in terms such as mereology or even Gestalt psychology to consider for the reader to investigate to assist in understanding CM’s method at this juncture, Hart appears to be aware of the danger of getting off topic and straying from the initial task of explaining CM’s approach from bringing in such concepts. One example however of when introducing other notions into the work could have been beneficial is with Hart quoting on CM and Hering (as one of CM’s influencers) on the importance of phenomenology’s consideration of: “relations of an object to its whatness is different than its relation to its properties (29).” Considering Gestalt psychology and even Cartesian dualism as additional notions to investigate could have been beneficial to the novice reader in philosophy or social sciences if introduced, however, we are aware of the limitations of Hart’s task at hand.

Understanding CM’s method thus requires the awareness of an object’s ‘what’ as taken to be the phenomenological basis of talking about ‘being-what’ or ‘being-such’. The concept of eidé is important here as it represents the essentialities of philosophical importance for both CM and Hering (as CM’s essential essence derives only from a comparison with Hering’s eidé). Eidé is a concept contrasted with objects which cannot be object realizable as eidé can. Here Hart does bring in Ancient philosophy to assist in considering how CM and Hering are disciples of Plato, perhaps in the sense of committing to the universality of ideas or in Plato’s terms, Forms. This helps in understanding that the eidé are not akin to whatnesses which need a bearer, since the eidé rest in themselves and are thus required for phenomena like objects (or social issues) to manifest their essences. Essences can thus be taken as eidé as that which are behind all essential essence.

Informing the reader of CM’s influences throughout the work does not lead Hart to simply consider CM as someone who chronological falls after Hering in terms of philosophical history, rather he frames their relationship as one that is akin to Husserl and Heidegger. Both relationships of their works can be said to contain an essence or spirit that does not replicate the other but rather challenges, reinforces, contributes and reciprocally builds on each other, which is perhaps why Hart was interested in nominating CM as a candidate for contributory women in philosophy and science. Her realontology in Chapter 2 is thus introduced by Hart in a manner in which we see it flowering out of the philosophical history of CM’s time. To emphasize the uniqueness of CM’s method, Hart does not hesitate to contrast it with positivistic approaches to reality. In CM’s ontological phenomenology or realontology, ideation subsumes an object’s eidos, so that eidos can be made concrete to a whatness or morphé. This is not an empirical process, but rather values more the idea that essential essences of objects are never realized in a concrete sense as a positivist would claim. Instead, an intuition or sense of an object is to be considered more fundamental than the empirical experience of an object. This is due to the fact that that which is presented to consciousness does so ‘as’ something. The object therefore bears the morphé (whatness or form) which is what is mediating the eidos (31).

In CM’s work, the eidos are juxtaposed to the universality of an idea and Hart gives the example of ‘redness’ being eidos instead of ‘red’ itself; hence the role of philosophy is to search and expose eidé as the meanings in themselves or intelligibility’s ultimate dimensions. The practicality within questioning or searching for eidé lies in the fact that such a task involves limit questions which involve reaching intelligibility’s foundations. The eidé provide objects with their essential meaning as via eidé the essence of ideal and real things can be understood which shows the epistemological implications of CM’s work. The eidé’s realm is important because it is the kosmos noetos, the latter term in this phrase related to noema and thus meaning, in turn considering a meaning-cosmos.

In order to keep in mind the fact that Hart is writing on a person of history, Hart does justice to CM’s cultural upbringing throughout the book in his analysis of the manner in which the term ‘meaning’ is taken by CM. He emphasizes that CM takes it with the German definition ‘Sinn’, which involves an objective meaning, one which is capable of disclosing itself to the intention of consciousness, thus a meaning that announces its essence through self-speaking objects (36). This unveils the ordering of CM’s approach to the experience of nature and all it entails, as essence, in its immediacy, is primary within the order of cognition, being first within knowing’s order, whereas eidé require an attachment to meaning to be cognized, since meaning realizes eidos. Ideation (the imaginary objectification of eidé) essentially brings eidé to givenness in order to get deeper into essence as the immediately given, so within the order of ontology, meaning (eidos) as defined as Sinn, is what holds as fundamental primacy within ontology. Hart informs that for CM, meaningful-topos is the terminology used to encapsulate the referential process of meaning making.

Within Chapter 2, Hart further elucidates the role of phenomenology within CM’s phenomenological ontology. Phenomenology is an investigation of essence that enters the realm of eidé, thus it is a ‘walking around’ of essence in order to find relations and properties of the meaning-topos of objects. Hart is critical of CM’s approach here, in that he believes that CM lacks an explanation of the causal categories she uses as that which is bounded to the metaphysics of participation, which is so crucial for meaning making. He highlights that Hering and CM founded phenomenology as essence analysis within meaning’s ultimate dimensions, which are apparently definite yet inexplicable. Eidé therefore cannot be merely grasped objectively, as any transcendental act of objectification of eidé in a positivistic sense distorts their essence. CM thus supports the indirect experience of objects through the concretization of eidé through ideation. Found within this notion is the practical implications of applying CM’s approach to nature and consequently science. The effort of objectification always leads to a distortion of the pure meaning of that which is objectified, so for CM, the purity of something is a realontology as essence-analysis, which involves a dialectic that is without pre-judgements and without any sort of Hegelian historical contradiction of truths. Hart explicates that for CM, it is the destined quest for meaning that is already and always intended within a horizon of meaning that is important; understood before any sort of cognition to be known through a kosmos noétos (which is juxtaposed to a reality cosmos which cannot unite with such a meaning cosmos). The horizon of meaning that is already set up for discovery and which ontology’s task is to illuminate through eidetic reduction and ideation is a study of the essence of that which presents itself. The Husserlian supported transcendental reduction on the other hand which as mentioned above CM does not adopt, purifies phenomena from the conferrals of reality. It is within these reductions that Hart highlights that CM, much like Heidegger, considered Husserl to be too subjective from the start, but she later revisited and supported his approach only to be finally contrasted with Husserl in his support for transcendental phenomenology whereas CM held onto an ontological phenomenology in which what is considered to hold meaning is actually a real being. The ‘really real’ is grounded in itself not in any sort of noema. Husserlian transcendental reduction does not involve the possibility of grasping fundamental structures of the ‘really real’ as such for CM, which allows her to refrain from supporting such a reduction.

Hart further outlines CM’s three senses of phenomenological attitude in Chapter 2, which further distances her approach from Husserl. These are a) Husserl with a purified world version, b) primacy to the eidetic reduction in order to allow for epistemological questions, and c) a realontological attitude. Essentially, CM’s realontology considers that it is only the method of essence-analysis that allows for transcendental elements to reach their givenness through the performance of the epoché bracketing. Essential analysis thus involves critical philosophy and theory of knowledge (epistemology), in turn allowing for transcendental phenomenology to correspond to realontology and the world-constitution ego without limiting itself to a transcendental reduction. Hart sums up the difference between a Husserlian approach and CM’s as the former thematizes the metaphysical-egological object of the world whereas the latter thematizes the metaphysical-transcendental actualization of the world via a realontological reduction which presents the factual and actually given. Hart emphasizes that CM’s approach can thus be considered a shift (a cosmological turn) from the finished to the pre-finished cosmological dimensions of reality. Realontology’s role can thus be considered a philosophy of nature via essence and horizonal analyses, provoking an examination of the full phenomena of nature.

The realontology thus reconnects the context within which rich concrete phenomena exits; phenomena which science essentially removes from context. In Chapter 3, the present context is considered to involve seeing the kind of being an idea possesses. Horizon-analysis increases the scientist’s awareness of the blind-spots, attitudes, and habits which they may involve towards nature. Hart stresses that this does not make CM anti-scientific nor embracing a romantic return to nature, rather her realontology involves a three-fold nature of a) a philosophy of nature, b) essence-analysis, and c) horizontal-analysis. Both a) and b) involve a reconnaissance (a unifying intuition akin to an unthematic felt-solution to issues), which Hart characterizes as looking at one’s surroundings in order to improve our perception of the immediately given, with b) involving specifically the seeing beyond of borders to see precise essence (topos) (50). Both b) and c) involve speculation, with b) having the character of seeing things within limits and c) involving the speculation of the limits we set on objection perception.

Commencing Chapter 3 by bringing an end to Chapter 2, Hart can be said to bring back the importance of the concept of the Lebenswelt. We see that for CM, any reductive mechanical interpretation of life would not be possible due to life-essences’ givenness of living creatures and the machine-ness of all that mechanical. This sort of contemporary view of CM’s work allows us to see her work as not a mere arm-chair phenomenology according to Hart (53), as the realontology intends to rescue the appearances of nature in order to thus grasp appearances’ essences and in turn disclose appearances which can be taken as mere appearances. We have seen that such analysis of essence is not of that just found in reality, but with social issues as well, which in turn gets the arm-chair phenomenologist to stand to their feet and engage with the social world around them, armed with the realontology as a method for living.

In Chapter 3, the foundation of the realontology is thus further elucidated and Hart informs of the realontology as a method aiming to show meaning objects as presented with ontological moments that are immanent, and this is framed by Hart as echoing Frege’s objects of thought with a third realm with a reality that differs from that of things. As mentioned above, promises, as states of affairs, involve objective dimensions in which judgements are considered intentional acts that must involve psychological adjustment. It is here that it is considered that the presentation of objects to consciousness does not suffice it to be a state of affair; categorical intuition (essence-intuition) thus immanently involves grasping something as such a thing that it is, which is a state of affairs through an ontological moment. It is ontological since our mere thinking of something includes us in being; a notion that must include the importance of time. Realontology’s fundamental movement is founded on the notion that that appearing in itself via out of itself in accordance with modalities of the rootedness of self involves three movements: a) substantial (bearer), b) essential (what), and c) existential (presenting object as union of a) and b)).

It is from these movements of the realontology that we consider that essence exists independently and prior to objects as things. Hart informs of the dichotomy between eidé (pure qualia, Logos, meaning) and meaning-being (objects which come from eidé) as important to understand this. The eidé are akin to Platonic Forms, and can exist without the physical world, as it is only when we speak of them that they transform from objects to subjects because they exist independently of knowing subjects. Eidos, as entities without references to anything else are thus distorted when they are objectified by human contact, as they become reduced to hypostases. Hart emphasizes here that for CM, it is phenomenology’s task as the study of the real and essence’s pure investigator, to disclose eide’s inexhaustible realm as pure meaning. For CM, reality is something that stands over nothing, a nothingness with a mode of being present which therefore allows for the possibility of eidetic analysis. Being’s essential level of present objects is through essential analysis as there is a three-fold sense of being a) pure, b) really existing, and c) existential movement linking the ideal and real. In 3.3, Hart informs that phenomenological experience which is synonymous with eidetic experience considers a potential mode of being. Any non-being involves a power in terms of emergence, as it allows for the consideration of a being grounding its own being whilst being the ground itself. This leads to the human capacity of not being confined to the present moment as the human being can ‘make present’ via the past and present; an intentional possession of time.

It is from this backdrop of connecting the essence-analysis of CM’s realontology to inspecting the emergence of essence that Hart considers CM’s transcendental-imaginative intuitive time which is grounded in fact through ontological means. The human being is thus not known empirically (as flowing in temporal time) nor transcendentally (holding a position that is outside of self and the empirical world). CM’s transcendental-imaginative time involves a z-fold motion which stands at the head of her realontological understanding of time which has important consequences for human understanding. For CM, the past therefore is the form of intuition that is transcendental imaginative, which Hart considers to be noughted (76). Time thus involves a founding process that is not within time itself, as the present holds its own kinetic. In terms of the future, it is incorrect for CM to consider it dictated by a forward motion of actuality for existence nor as moving forward into a distant future. Rather, the transcendental-imaginative temporal movement as a mere passing in the Aristotelian sense coheres with CM’s concept of time. Substance therefore involves a standing under of its own being, thus as self-grounding of itself whereas imagined objects are non-substances. Here, Hart informs that in relation to substances, there are two modes an object can stand in itself: hyletic (a being posited outside of itself) and pneumatic (substance free from essential constitutive form, thus pure essence of existing itselfness e.g. archonal being own self). The importance for this dichotomy is it allows for an understanding of how nature is able to realise itself within its own actuality.

For Hart, CM’s work over her lifetime was to inform of the speculative vision of the hyletic and pneumatic, as her realontology not only aims to link ontology and the philosophy of nature, but involves nature’s appearing in relation to metaphysical foundations; establishing the basic regions of nature through an analysis of nature in qualitative and concrete forms. Nature is taken as a symbolic whole revealing fundamental categories of the entire cosmos, which again involves the importance of her work for aesthetic and Gestalt psychology. CM thus aims to provide an analysis of nature which achieves what the idealistic tradition hopes or has hoped to do, as her involvement of retrocendence (reverse transcendence) is a spirituality that illuminates thought’s essence from the character of this mode of being itself without being limited to subjectivity. Throughout the book therefore, Hart continually informs of the importance of realising that CM’s approach is anti-Cartesian and anti-Augustinian, in the same sense that she does not adopt a transcendental reduction in a Husserlian sense. These three approaches in her view might limit themselves to either hyper-subjectivity in the case of the latter or a reduction of mind to matter in the former through hyperbolic internalization. Pneumatic substance allows her approach to hold, since it is a substance free from essential constitutional forms of itselfness, thus a substance that is being its own self, emerging as an archonal being. CM’s support of emergence reveals an underlying pragmatic essence that never completes itself.

Hart shows Heidegger’s influence on CM at this juncture on an emerging sense of substance, as the concept of care, as an ontological rather than psychological category, is existential. Such a conception of care allows for a hypokeimenal being which is thrown onto itself to be considered. This being is pneumatic and archonal as it projects beyond itself, finding itself in alterity through objectification and projection. Hart allows us to see CM’s reconfiguration of Heidegger’s being-in-the-world, as the pre-possession of the world is considered a pre-grasping of cosmic-meaning-being. The epoché is eternally in the background and such a conception of existence has implications for the manner in which space is conceptualized as well. Space that is intuited is not empty for CM, and so the essence-analysis through her realontology on apeiric space (the aperion being the infinite totality) holds great importance as it provides for this space’s ontological existence. The phenomenological experiment for CM in the sense of space is informed by Hart to involve the consideration of the qualitative change that occurs when apeiric space is aimed to be grasped. Such a task leads to a distortion and in turn the space loses its infinity as such a pure space in turn becomes a metric surface space. The concept of gestalt is important here, in that within such an experiment, the limits of dimensions’ definitions are considered and a dichotomy between a real surface space and a transcendental surface space are to be reckoned with. Heidegger again peaks his head into CM’s work at this point, as uncanniness becomes a concept to understand the ontological consideration of apeiron space. Such space is considered as an unmasking of space as something that goes beyond the limits of the human body. The real ‘now’ cannot be experienced thus a metric peiric space is taken as a ‘here’. Space thus has for CM an intuitive medium of continuity in which limits are established through essence which assists in the understanding of nature’s self-formation in the next chapter.

Chapter 4 begins with a consideration of the phenomenology of life as involving a subjectivity that discloses itself within matter. The concept to elucidate this is entelechy; a soulish potency to be realised, which is conceived psychologically. Hart informs how this put CM’s ideas against Driesh, as despite the latter’s rejection of phenomenological essence-intuition, the latter’s support of entelechy coheres with CM’s phenomenological notion of essence as having a unique character which makes it what it is. Hart informs that this consideration of the potentiality of the entelechy is important for the discipline of art, as the artist’s role is to explain the entelechy, as essence-entelechies do not equate with ideas but rather present them. And so art can assist in working out the notion of species found in nature. Hart informs that these notions coalesce into CM’s intuitive qualitative essential level which is juxtaposed to the modern causal-genetic level. This allows us to see the continental flavour of CM’s approach to nature which refrains from applying cybernetic models of machines to living organisms. Machines are given their selfness since their interiority is objective, and so Hart clarifies this with machines/computers as having subjective objectivity (subjectivity objectively), unconscious living things with objective subjectivity, and conscious living things with subjective subjectivity. Hart does not want the reader to lose sight of the view supported by CM that cybernetic perspectives for understanding the human being, just as we saw above with the mathematization of nature, are not possible for CM. The natural scientist will always involve a prejudice that considers intuitive understanding within nature’s realm to be intimately and concretely linked to physical extension and so causality; a physicalism that CM would consider dangerous for understanding nature.

Causal approaches to nature do not allow the essence of physical nature to unfold, and so the aim of phenomenology for CM is to bring forth new causal categories. Her realontology involves an essence analysis that is meant to discover the kinds of causes in nature; an ontological analysis of causality that analyses energy and potency and which reveals the two types of causality a) mechanical and b) conscious. Her essential ontological approach, however, is not to be confused with an intentional movement as a transcendental approach would support. It is within the entelechial potency that we are to discover essence-entelechy’s ontological nature. Here Hart considers the concept of actualization to encapsulate the potential energy and power that is so important for understanding CM’s view on the forces of nature. There is essentially no entelechial cause for CM, so there is no such epigenetic potency for CM as real potency (power) is always the ‘not yet’. It is from this potentiality that Hart informs of Heisenberg’s ‘Uncertainty Principle’ as coherent with the essence-intuition of CM’s approach of a potential ‘not yet’ essence of nature (its pre-actual dimensions). Aether becomes known as the elementary substance acting as a medium for a rigid and empty elasticity for substance in contrast to light as serving the ontological and consciousness. Aether discloses itself ecstatically and so it is no wonder that the realontology involves the thesis of physical energy resting on a presupposed substrate of an ontology that is definite and constituting through actualization via another dynamic that sets itself in motion and thus becoming a tendency for an accomplishment. The method of realontology involves a phenomenology that increases the visibility of the essence of the phenomenon derived from its appearing as a way of recovering the primordial movement of the cosmos as an ecstatic othering. The realontology thus describes nature as self-generating through a dialectic between essence-entelechy and essence-material.

Within CM’s system, energy contains an ontological foundation, and Hart emphasizes that for CM, energy does not equate with aether but rather energy and mass-hyle are to be taken as substrates. Energy is not a substance, however, all energy is founded on substance. The qualitative actualizing factor of nature is thus an existential moment; we take the world able to come to a pause only on the surface therefore, but this does not consider the cosmos as a hierarchy. The cosmos as Logos involves a continuing process of essence-entelechian expression. Nature is in constant revelation of essence-entelechy which is to be conceived as the complete logos of that which is in nature’s realm (AKA total essence), bringing the power of real potential into being. Within this philosophy of nature as essence-analysis disclosing essence-powers, the human being is conceived for CM as having a spirit rather than equating with spirit, with their emotions as being proper to them. The originating self in turn derives from the essence-entelechy using essence-material to configure individual Logos; an emergent essence from essence-entelechies and essence-material. Such emergence, as a philosophy of nature, is further elaborated in Chapter 5.

In Chapter 5 Hart aims to further CM’s approach as being understood as a non-empirical method. Time involves a motion that does not depend on empirical processes of change, but rather on an existential motion. The pure present in this sense is without a past and without knowledge of any real temporal motion, as CM is against any translatory motion. There exists thus the phenomenological experiment for CM of considering how the world does not change, and Hart here considers what change is for CM then, specifically if it is transcendental. If change is not empirical, then there is the consideration if nature and change involve a transcendental-empirical dimension. Hart informs of CM’s interest in Indian philosophy here, especially the transcendental character of the entity Vishnu, but also how Aristotle’s Physics had an impact on her. The latter’s notion of the world not being existent in space but rather constitutive of space is of importance for CM, as Aristotle considered that that circular motion is the only possibility of perfection. CM thus derives from these Aristotelian influences the transcendental concrete as the aethereal world-periphery (a sort of space-time), thus a cyclically moved reality as an aeonic motion. The circular motion is considered for CM the most accurate symbol of expression for the totality and trans-temporal presence. CM’s cosmos for Hart is thus to be considered as more of a tapestry than a ladder, which echoes the notion mentioned above that CM does not take the cosmos as a hierarchy. The cosmos emerges continually and aeonic space-time in turn renews the world in a constant fashion. The human being is the microcosmos existing within a polarity between the world-periphery (heaven) and the world-centre (underworld), the former characterized as an energetic potency.

Hart stresses that the human being can generate and creatively constitute things rather than create according to CM, and involves an existence with nothingness and death.  The world is expanding which makes temporal existence derive from the constant actualization of the world-event as a totality. The world-peripheral entelechies spark change and this unfolding nature is characterized as hominization for Hart. Such hominization allows for technology, abstract art, and other peculiarities of human existence. Here there appears to be a Hegelian historical development from human freedom, however without the dialectical nature of a Hegelian approach to culture. For CM, the horizon is the world background and context which is an unthematical constitution of thematic and objective experience. This echoes Hegel’s notion of zeitgeist, in which world epochs involve spiritual powers within the background as horizons. It is here that Christian spirituality is important for CM’s approach, as Christ becomes known as the final mystical body in which we understand animals as deriving from human existence not vice-versa. The Christian ‘Fall’ is commensurate for the disintegration of the organic whole of any space-time, in which the wheel can represent the symbol for the aeonic world’s continual actualization through a cyclical time. The end of temporal time through a Christian cosmic notion of time as a coming aeon allows for the realization of the potential for the great waves of aeonic time.

Despite the intellectual depth of CM’s conceptions of the cosmos, time, and space, Hart is still successful at informing the reader the significance of her work for practical matters. The thought of the schizophrenic patient not having a future is an example utilized to assist the reader in understanding just how the realontology could assist someone suffering from such a condition to cope or provide a practitioner an approach to such a condition (211). Towards the end of the book Hart taps even more into the less theoretical of CM’s work by informing of some of the historical notions important for CM’s academic trajectory. CM’s place between the two movements in phenomenology is important to keep in mind for Hart; that of the realist ontological and the transcendental idealist, both of which would play out within the Gottingen and Munich Circles of her day. CM’s support of Logos being found within human reason and her insight into the speculative movement of the Christian cosmological understanding of nature allows Hart to conceive of her with a unique phenomenological but also hermeneutical method that remythologizes the cosmos. In Chapter 6, Hart informs of how CM thought that her work truly uncovered personal powers, times, and objective mythical spaces, through the use of the aeonic world periphery which re-interprets in a unique manner the Christian cosmos. Myth therefore has three senses, that of a symbolic epistemological, a phenomenological through epoché, and the realontological through objective reference. Her remythologizing of the cosmos thus considers heaven as more than a theological concept, but rather an anthropological, cosmological, and religious one. Heaven essentially creates a heterogenous dimension which allows for fiction, schizophrenia, and love to exist, as heaven represents a constant symbolism for the human being as a ‘really real’, thus a phenomenological point which allows for the creation of the horizon and everydayness of life.

Despite the mythical nature of CM’s cosmos, Hart does an excellent job of bringing the reader back into the history of ideas which this book succeeds at highlighting throughout. The homogeneous Newtonian cosmos is at odds with CM’s cosmology of heterogeneity, the latter of which considers the existential meaning to be derived from the spatio-temporal emergence of nature. CM aims for a description of how the world presents itself before scientific understanding’s distortion. Such a contrast allows the reader to understand CM’s cosmos as taking heaven as a state, which is a phenomenological hermeneutical ontology and task. Chapter 7 furthers this exploration into heaven and phenomenology’s importance for such a concept, but also how as a method it can assist in understanding heaven’s implications for the philosophy of nature. The world becomes known as the ultimate horizon that accompanies objects, as objects in the present are not within a punctual time of ‘Nows’, but rather in a continuous stream. Human beings thus bring to perception a grounding which is characterized as a sedimentation of a historical-horizontal retention of meanings, as the world is constituted by this grounding retention, but also infinite possibility (protention) and anticipation; a horizon that is open and which stretches into the distance. Hart then connects this human experience to Heidegger’s Dasein, as he informs how Dasein’s fallenness into its everydayness leads to an anxiety that makes Dasein feel they are not at home with such unfamiliarity. Such unfamiliarity is related to CM’s remoteness found in the realm of heaven as the human being experiences alienation from the world-periphery.

In the Conclusion, Chapter 8, Hart reminds the reader of the fact that CM’s realontology does not embrace a transcendental reduction, as her method does not involve a disengagement from the natural attitude’s belief system within the reality of the world’s self-preservation as a Husserlian approach would accept. Rather, CM presupposes that the natural attitude is hypothetically valid which leaves room for the possibility of the explication of the natural attitude’s noematic correlation. For CM this a correlation that contains an essence of the ‘really real’ as the transcendental reduction does not provide the chance for an essence-analysis of the real; hence her ontological phenomenology is not just of perception, as it is not just an eidetic of a life-world existential analysis. Instead, Hart emphasizes that for CM, phenomenology involves a disclosure of Logos and that which shows itself. Phenomenology is essentially essence-analysis which aims to disclose and uncover the full sense and meaning of world-space through a discovery of its realontological status. Realontology considers the world as not in space, as time and space are considered aspects of the world’s mode of being; the trans-physical dimensions which realontology points to preserve the lived-experience of the cosmos which consists of the earth’s and heaven’s regions. And so Hart has shown that CM’s realontology is not just a method that can reinforce the experience of the life-world, but can be a way of life as well, unmasking the world-space’s antinomies in the process. It does this through a cosmological turn that brings us to the tradition of symbolizing the universe into a story through an affirmation of a holy physics which affirms objective mythical times, spaces and powers. The other worldly dimension that the realontology can bring to life echoes that of the grotesque in human experience, which makes it an existential method whilst maintaining a natural attitude to the world.  It is no wonder that Hart included an Appendix including a translation of an excerpt from CM’s Metaphysics of the Earthly, written only slightly before the ugliness found within the atrocities before and during World War 2.

In closing, Hart’s book placed the spotlight on a figure in the Western intellectual tradition who deserved such attention. Not only for the obstacles she faced in terms of her sex, race, and geographical living, but the contribution she provided particularly for the philosophy of science. In general terms, however, not only was the philosophical method of CM shown to be original and important for a plethora of theoretical disciplines, from theology to aesthetics, but it was also shown to provide practical implications that allowed her approach to phenomenology as realontology to bridge the gap between the real and the ideal, and the objective and subjective. Intentionality however, in the phenomenological sense, was a concept in the book that appeared to be a bone of contention for Hart. It appeared to be a concept that equates with Husserlian phenomenology, however, was it or was it not a concept supported within CM’s method? It can be left for the readers of the book to determine.

Dominique Pradelle: Intuition et idéalités: Phénoménologie des objets mathématiques, Puf, 2020

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Walter Hopp: Phenomenology: A Contemporary Introduction, Routledge, 2020

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Emmanuel Levinas: Husserls Theorie der Anschauung, Turia + Kant, 2019

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Helmuth Plessner: Levels of Organic Life and the Human: An Introduction to Philosophical Anthropology, Fordham University Press, 2019

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L’ubica Ucnik, Anita Williams (Eds.): Phenomenology and the Problem of Meaning in Human Life and History, Bautz Verlag, 2017

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