Saying What We Mean [SWWM] provides a collection of selected philosophical writings by Eugene Gendlin (1926-2017) edited by editors Edward S. Casey and Donata M. Schoeller. As Schoeller notes this volume is intended to “excite an appetite for the extraordinary thinking of Eugene Gendlin and for the effects of his concepts as well as his practices that, in paraphrasing Adorno, ‘open up’ the phenomena they make thinkable.” [xv] SWWM is the first collection of Gendlin’s specifically philosophical writings, and is Gendlin’s final publication, appearing several months after his passing. It presents a final explication of Gendlin’s personal philosophy of experience, in which he explored the contours of the relation between implicit and explicit knowing, and the generation of language and conceptual meaning from the ground of our embodied senses. At the same time this “farewell letter” invites the reader to carry forward this exploration in her own personal way. The publication of SWWM reminds us that, as Gendlin himself insisted, his professional identity was first and foremost that of a philosopher. Gendlin’s intellectual roots extend deeply into Continental, Analytic philosophy as well as American pragmatism. His intellectual influences include among others: Dilthey, Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Wittgenstein, Whitehead, and McKeon – the latter with whom Gendlin studied at the University of Chicago, and had a great influence on shaping Gendlin’s philosophical outlook. Gendlin was a prolific author, and his philosophical writings have been published in numerous essays and several books.
Despite Gendlin’s prolific philosophical output, the publication of SWWM serves as a needful reminder of Gendlin’s philosophical ideas. Other than as a philosopher, Gendlin is most popularly remembered as the founder of the practical experiential method called Focusing, which provides a structured methodology to bring open, non-judging attention to embodied, experiential internal knowing – often referred to as the “felt sense” – prior to its conceptualization in language. Focusing is most widely used as an aid for psychotherapy, although it is accessible to everyone interested in a practical methodology for personal transformation. Focusing developed out of Gendlin’s research at the University of Chicago with humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers into the phenomenological-process-oriented theory of experience and its transformation. Gendlin’s original research revealed that the way in which a client related to his or her personal experience during psychotherapy sessions, irrespective of the particular psychotherapeutic approach, provided a single significant predictor of the therapy’s success. As a process oriented methodology with deep roots in phenomenological philosophy, Focusing can be applied to enhance any particular psychotherapeutic approach, or can occur as a stand-alone methodology to enhance human potential. The essays in SWWM attest that Gendlin’s practical method of Focusing would be unthinkable without its underlying philosophical foundation. At the same time, the practical and the theoretical aspects of Gendlin’s lifework cannot and should not be artificially separated. The practice of Focusing provided Gendlin with material for philosophical reflection, as much as philosophical reflection provided the conceptual apparatus for the development of Focusing’s methodology. The core insight animating all of the essays in SWWM is the unceasing bidirectional relation between experience and rational conceptualization.
Gendlin’s focus on process means that he is not limited to espousing a particular philosophical school; but rather provides a process model approach that can ground different forms of philosophical conceptualization. Gendlin’s emphasis on the processes of thinking rather than on the final forms themselves is no doubt inspired in large part by Edmund Husserl’s phenomenological critique of psychology and the natural sciences. Gendlin’s philosophical feat has been to radically personalize philosophy, countering the age-old tendency towards universalization in philosophical reflection, while at the same time respecting structures of explicit rationality and cognition. This personalized perspective – both in terms of personal philosophical meaning, as well as in terms of self-healing– has deep roots in Gendlin’s personal history. In a German language interview with Lore Kolbei (1994), Gendlin described how his childhood experience fleeing Nazi occupied Vienna with his family, shaped his future life and single-minded intellectual focus. In determining how to escape the clutches of the Nazis together with his family, Gendlin’s father relied on following his internal feelings in deciding which individuals they encountered could be trusted in their escape. Gendlin’s later life was dedicated to deciphering the meaning of these internal feelings, both through psychotherapeutic processes and philosophical reflection. I feel it important to mention this biographical history, since it is of central importance in shaping Gendlin’s personalized philosophy. It is of interest that Gendlin does not refer to such cultural and biographical influences in his philosophical writings, as if wanting to emphasize the universal nature of pre-conceptual sensations in giving rise to language and explicit cognition.
SWWM provides in single volume some of Gendlin’s most influential essays. As such, this volume makes Gendlin’s philosophical reflections accessible to a wider audience in a concentrated form, and may be important in bringing Gendlin’s intellectual work to the attention of philosophers who have not yet come across his work, or have glossed over its importance providing a structured methodology to analyze pre-conceptual cognition in relation to explicit forms of knowing. (It is also worth mentioning the collection of critical studies on Gendlin’s work in the philosophy of language entitled Language beyond Postmodernism [LBM] (1997), published more than two decades ago and which like SWWM served as a kind of introductory volume for Gendlin’s philosophical ideas.) The essays in SWWM are primarily philosophical, though they speak equally to Gendlin’s practice of Focusing, and the later application of Focusing to analyze professional knowing called Thinking at the Edge (TAE). TAE is a practical methodology for applying the “intricate precision” immanent in our experiential knowing to professional, scientific and private contexts. [xix] For example, a clinician reflecting on aspects of a clinical case, could apply TAE to investigate the boundaries of intuition and explicit knowing. Perhaps the most important function of SWWM is to provide a general framework for Gendlin’s conceptual evolution. Unfortunately, chronological details of each essay are not provided, which would give information about the progressive development of Gendlin’s thinking.
The edited volume is divided into four parts:
Part 1. Phenomenology of the Implicit;
Part 2. A Process Model;
Part 3. On the Edges of Plato, Heidegger, Kant, and Wittgenstein, and
Part 4. Thinking with the Implicit.
Part 1 provides different approaches of Gendlin towards developing a conceptual methodology and language to differentiate different layers of implicit experience. Phenomenology provides the major philosophical ground for this engagement with implicit experience; though Gendlin uses his phenomenological approach to interrogate different philosophical schools and methodologies, especially linguistic analysis and philosophy of language. Phenomenology too, is not spared Gendlin’s critical gaze, as depicted in his brilliant essay, “Two Phenomenologists Do Not Disagree,” in which he analyzes the situation whereby two committed phenomenologists disagree over a single observed phenomenon. As opposed to following a particular phenomenological school or individual philosopher, Gendlin proposes to ‘study the formulating process itself,’ as well as the ‘roles of experience in it’ in order to determine how experience can ‘ground different formulations differently,’ including different phenomenological statements or perspectives.  Even though a particular statement may be differentiated as phenomenological from a non-phenomenological statement by following a well demarcated phenomenological methodology or “noticeable signposts,, for example Husserl’s proposed methodology of bracketing, in order to enable a primordial experience of a particular object of inquiry, Gendlin observes that phenomenological statements may possess many unintended logical implications. These hidden intentions or meanings are amenable to being uncovered or elicited through further processes of concentrated focusing or introspection.
Gendlin’s essays depict his intellectual debt to the tradition of phenomenology; and at the same time develops his own philosophy of the implicit in new directions, navigating between age-old dichotomies, such as reductionism and idealism. An important aspect of the collection of philosophical essays in SWWM lies in providing a means of tracing and analyzing the influence of various phenomenological traditions on Gendlin’s thinking, including that of Husserl, Heideger, and Merleau-Ponty, and how Gendlin carries this tradition forward in his personalized philosophical way.
In his critical essay response to Gendlin’s philosophy entitled, “Experience and Meaning,” J.N. Mohanty (1997) provides key insights regarding Gendlin’s relation to Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology, which are still relevant in relation to Gendlin’s collection of philosophical essays in SWWM. In his analysis of the relation between experience and meaning in Gendlin’s philosophical theory, Mohanty discerns four levels of meaning:
1. Experiencing with implicit, incomplete felt meanings;
2. Explicit, felt but prelinguistic (though still symbolized) meanings, inwardly attended to;
3. Experiential concepts (arising out of the interaction of felt meanings with language);
4. Logical concepts. 
The core tension animating each of the essays in SWWM is the inherent relation between each of these four levels of meaning. While not participating in logical inference, the “most basic level,” i.e., the implicit background has its own precise kind of order, which functions in the formation of new and ever more precise scientific concepts. Thus, Gendlin posits a pre-conceptual rational order, that is not the same as explicit logic, but which grounds the possibility for explicit rationality. In Part 2. “A Process Model,” which refers to Gendlin’s magnum opus of the same name, Gendlin articulates further this pre-conceptual rational order, or what he now refers to as the ‘conditions of possibility’ for the ‘implicit precision of experience.’ [xvii] Implicit precision refers to the embodied process generated through interaction between the conscious organism and its environment. While logical precision is explicitly rational and depends on defined units, the process of implied precision ‘generates and regenerates the background objects and their relationships, including logical scientific units.’  Implicit precision articulates Gendlin’s basic insight that there is a direct reference between preconceptual and explicit cognition. Moreover, as the name implicit precision implies, this level of organismic consciousness possesses a rational structure, even if it is not ordered according to explicit logical principles. Movement between these two forms of precision can occur in either direction. Indeed, scientific logic is unthinkable without this foundational level of embodied knowing.
Mohanty claims that Gendlin requires a mediating concept, a “Zwischenglied” between implicit experience and logical concept. Gendlin’s concept of direct reference provides this Zwischenglied. In SWWM Gendlin refers to this direct relationality between felt sense and logical concept using the terminology of ‘direct experience’ and ‘direct referent.’ In my own imagination, this Zwischenglied of direct reference is analogous to the sensation in holding two opposing poles of a magnet in close proximity. One feels the invisible magnetic force between the two poles of experience and logic. However, maintaining this force is a slippery undertaking that gives rise to a perplexing sensation. Trying to elicit the connection and opposition between these different levels is key to getting a sense of Gendlin’s philosophical task. As Gendlin writes, saying exactly how ‘direct experience can function as a ground in each step of formulating’ ‘opens up a whole new field of enquiry.’ 
Names such as “implicit precision” and “carrying forward,” referring to the infinite possibility for bodily implying beyond explicit concepts, are terms that Gendlin provides in the Process Model for conceptual structures arising from and referring to his process methodology. This process of naming felt-sensations as they emerge into language is an integral part of the Focusing process. Gendlin would undoubtedly invite readers of his philosophical writings to extend his philosophical practice by developing their own names for universal processes of meaning-making. One can debate the precise relation between Husserl’s use of act and intentionality in relation to Gendlin’s process model. For example, Mohanty notes that Gendlin did not regard Husserl’s conception of act and intentionality as including data of awareness, but rather as principles presupposed by such data.  Similarly, Gendlin held that Husserl did not include felt experiencing as part of the datum given in meaningful awareness. [ECM, p. 276] However, Gendlin’s views on Husserl appear to have shifted, since he notes in his essay, “Two Phenomenologists Do Not Disagree,” that Husserl did not begin his phenomenological explorations with analyzing the relations between feelings, situations, and language. Yet, through his contact with direct experience, he encountered these interrelations in that experience.  However, even if felt experiencing can be traced back to Husserl’s conception of act and intentionality, Gendlin’s expansion and delineation of the methodology to track the relation between experience and meaning moves beyond its phenomenological foundations. Moreover, the process of giving provisional name to conceptual structures emerging from reflection on one’s felt experience, such as “implicit precision” and “carrying forward,” blending personal experience with rational conceptualization is a unique philosophical contribution of Gendlin’s.
Any reader of SWWM must necessarily be divided into two groups. Those with a first-hand familiarity of the process of Focusing, and those who approach the text as a purely philosophical text to be understood conceptually. In a sense, it is not possible to approach these texts purely intellectually, since Gendlin’s method explicitly aims to bridge the mind-body dichotomy. In her introduction, Schoeller writes that, ‘Gendlin’s thinking and practices move across the body-mind split, expanding the field of experience and thinking beyond so-called subjective or objective approaches in order to cultivate an awareness of the preciseness of what he calls a “responsive order.”’ [xiv] Gendlin peppers his essays with practical examples, exhortations to his readers to engage practically with his methodology. For example, in his essay “The New Phenomenology of Carrying Forward,” Gendlin notes how in writing a poem one’s body has a precise sense of what needs to be said.  The process of Focusing is similar in many ways to the poet’s attending to her felt sensations in the process of writing a poem. Grappling with Gendlin’s conceptual ideas necessitates an induction into the process of Focusing. Yet, Gendlin would argue that any meaning-making process incorporates this kind of embodied sense-making, formalized in a structured process, or not. Readers who do not concretely explore Gendlin’s practical examples through deep introspection, and who merely try to understand his conceptual arguments from a disembodied perspective, must necessarily fail to comprehend the tenor of his argument.
The “Process Model” emphasizes the embodied nature of Gendlin’s philosophical project. (As a Feldenkrais Method Somatic Education Practitioner I am particularly receptive to the centrality of the body in Gendlin’s philosophy of the implicit. The Feldenkrais Method is similiar to Focusing in providing a practical methodology to explore the relation between one’s felt sense and cognition; however, the Feldenkrais Method introduces the added dimension of movement exploration.) In his essay “The Derivation of Space,” Gendlin notes that, ‘… the clarity which an analytic layout brings lies not only in the layout before us. It has an effect in the body. It brings an implicit whole bodied understanding. “Aha!” we say.’  Following Stuart, in the essay on “Implicit Precision,” Gendlin refers to a perceptual concept called enkinaesthesia, i.e., ‘the sentient half of a behavior sequence and the sentience of patterned interactions which is the sequence of bodily shifts I call versioning.’  Taking the cue from Gendlin’s terminology, an embodied adaptation of Focusing, called Whole-Bodied Focusing, developed by Kevin McEvenue , integrates Focusing with somatic experiential techniques from the Alexander Method. Nonetheless, even though Gendlin’s philosophy of the implicit does provide a means of overcoming mind-body dualism, the body is emphasized only tangentially, in the sense that real attention to the body requires an embodied practice, as in Whole Body Focusing, other somatic education practices, such as Feldenkrais Method. The complete intellectual grasping of Gendlin’s ideas requires an embodied practice in conjunction with attention to the embodied basis of our logical conceptualization.
Part 3. “On the Edges of Plato, Heidegger, Kant and Wittgenstein presents” Gendlin’s philosophical thinking in relation to major philosophers in the Western tradition. Gendlin’s philosophy does indeed present a methodology to reengage and reinvigorate the Western philosophical canon. His philosophical ambitions are simultaneously grand and modest, in the sense that Gendlin has enough confidence in his insights to re-read ancient philosophers, such as Plato and Aristotle; yet does this, not by contesting their philosophical claims and arguments, but by “lifting out” the most basic experiential sensations elicited through engaging with the textual ideas. In other words, through his process model, Gendlin finds a means of re-engaging with ancient philosophical texts and ideas, to provide fresh insights and meanings, without attempting to disprove any particular philosophical approach.
This process of “lifting out” also has relation to phenomenology, though not Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology, but Martin Heidegger’s phenomenology of Being, and particularly his concept of Befindlichkeit. As Francesca Brencio (2019) notes in her recent review of Befindlichkeit in relation to psychopathology:
Befindlichkeit stresses the basic state of Dasein in its being situated: finding ourselves already in situatedness, means finding ourselves gathered to a “there” (being-there, in German Dasein). The situatedness is strictly related to the existence’s facticity and it becomes manifest to us through our own moods and affectivity. 
Our moods and affective states provide the grounds of our pre-conceptual experience, and the means of becoming attuned to the external world. There is, therefore, a strong affinity between Heidegger’s concept of Befindlichkeit and Gendlin’s philosophy of the implicit. In his essay, “Befindlichkeit: Heidegger and the Philosophy of Psychology,” Gendlin observes that, ‘Heidegger’s concept denotes how we sense ourselves in situations. Whereas feeling is usually thought of as something inward, Heidegger’s concept refers to something both inward and outward, but before a split between inside and outside has been made.’ 
In referring to psychological affective states and moods, Befindlichkeit has obvious clinical importance for clinical psychology and theories of psychopathology, and resonates strongly with Gendlin’s philosophical project and practical methodology of Focusing. However it is in providing the phenomenological possibility of original disclosing that provides the strongest link between Gendlin and Heidegger. Gendlin quotes the following paragraph from Heidegger’s magnum opus, Being and Time:
Befindlichkeit is a basic existential way in which Dasein (being-here) is its here. It not only characterizes Dasein ontologically, but because of its disclosing, it is at the same time of basic methodological significance for the existential analytic. Like any ontological interpretation whatsoever this analytic can only, so to speak, “listen in” to the previously disclosed being of something that is… Phenomenological interpretation must give Dasein the possibility of original disclosing, to raise the phenomenal content of this disclosing into concepts. [178-79]
For Heidegger it is the disclosing of Befindlichkeit which renders a statement phenomenological, from a state of free-floatingness.  Gendlin claims to extend Heidegger’s concept of Befindlichkeit in his own practical philosophy through adding the bodily dimension; which Gendlin claims is missing in Heidegger’s philosophy. Additionally, Befindlichkeit provides a means of explaining Gendlin’s process methodology in Focusing, through getting in touch with and “lifting out” implicit felt meanings for conceptualization. As mentioned, for Gendlin, this lifting out process, while phenomenological, is not limited to any particular philosophical formulation, including that of Heidegger’s analysis of Being. The deep relation between Befindlichkeit and Gendlin’s philosophy of the implicit means that even though Gendlin’s philosophy is greatly indebted to the Husserlian phenomenological tradition, in his heart of hearts Gendlin appears more aligned with Heidegger’s philosophy of Being-in-the-world, though this relationship is not without its personal ambivalence. In his sole biographical observation in all of the essays in SWWM, Gendlin notes his indirect indebtedness to Heidegger, who he only came to read later in life once he overcame his personal antipathy to Heidegger:
My own work for many years preceded my reading Heidegger. I came to him quite late. Both the personality change mentioned above, and the philosophical work I will now mention, were written before I read Heidegger. But I had read those philosophers that most influenced Heidegger, and so I emerged from the same sources, at least to some extent. I had also read Sartre, Buber, and Merleau-Ponty, who were greatly and crucially following Heidegger. Hence my own work continues from Heidegger, and stands under his influence, although I did not recognize that until later…. 
Gendlin’s attraction towards Heidegger’s concept of Befindlichkeit can also be explained because of its inherent potential for developing a psychological or psychopathological theory. Since moods and affective feelings ground our experience of reality, psychopathological conditions such as anxiety are characterized by a breakdown or collapse of our affective experiential foundations. It is not by chance that the practice of Focusing tends to emphasize uncomfortable physical and mental felt sensations, as the core of its therapeutic work. Gendlin is attracted to and reworks Heidegger’s concept of Befindlichkeit because of his own deep therapeutic concern that informs both the practice of Focusing and his philosophical theorizing about the implicit. In “Befindlichkeit: Heidegger and the Philosophy of Psychology,” Gendlin observes that the essence of psychotherapy is phenomenological in the therapeutic process through the Heideggerian concept of lifting out. Thus, Gendlin notes that ‘any statements and interprerations are effective only when they lift something from the directly senses and preverbally “understood” felt complexity. Even very sophisticated statements by patients and therapists alter nothing in the patient’s living, unless there is the distinct effect of lifting something out.’  This sentence encapsulates Gendlin’s life-work in interweaving philosophical conceptualization with lived experience in general, and psychotherapy in particular.
The final section of SWWM, Part 4. “Thinking with the Implicit,” presents an introduction to the practice of Thinking at the Edge (TAE), the extension of the practice of focusing to scientific and professional contexts. In Gendlin’s words, ‘TAE is a systematic way to articulate in new terms something which needs to be said but is at first only an inchoate “bodily sense.”’  It seems to me (without having personally experienced its practice) that TAE applies the Focusing methodology in a specific structured context, as opposed for example, simply trying to assess one’s felt bodily sense, in order to elicit new logical analytical formulations and creative theorization. In other words, TAE is concerned with developing explicit logical concepts relating to specific spheres of interest or expertize out of the grounds of implicit knowing. Gendlin has an explicit political awareness around TAE, considering that it provides a tool for people from all social strata and intellectual backgrounds to articulate their experiences, and to develop new patterns of thought. Through TAE, Gendlin claims, the capacity to develop novel philosophical ideas and logical and scientific concepts is no longer limited to an intellectual elite, but is open to all.
TAE is of especial personal interest to me in terms of its potential applications to medicine and clinical reasoning. I have an abiding interest in the philosophy of the implicit, having conducted analogous research into the tacit foundations of clinical reasoning. This work was not fundamentally informed by Gendlin’s writings, but rather was influenced by other phenomenologists, such as Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Emmanuel Levinas, as well Michael Polanyi’s philosophy of tacit knowing. Similar to Gendlin, my focus on the role of intuition in clinical reasoning has also brought me to conceptualize a kind of rationality in clinical reasoning that is not modelled on explicit knowing; but rather envisages clinical reasoning as a kind of embodied practical wisdom modelled on the Aristotelian conception of phronesis. Reading SWWM with this background context in mind, suggests that Gendlin’s delineation of a responsive order to pre-conceptual reflection does provide an important intellectual resource for re-conceptualizing the role of practical wisdom in clinical reasoning, especially through the application of practical techniques from Focusing and TAE. Theoretically, TAE might be of real value in expanding understanding of the tacit foundations of various forms of clinical reasoning, including the intuitive component of clinical judgement, and developing ideas from bench to bedside in translational medicine. Arguably, applying TAE to the clinical context could re-invigorate contemporary epistemology of medical knowledge. As of yet, the application of TAE to the medical clinical context does not yet appear to have been formally developed. The collection of Gendlin’s selected philosophical essays in SWWM invites the reader to continue engaging with Gendlin’s philosophical ideas, and to continue the path that he forged finding one’s own personalized meanings as a means of individual and intellectual renewal.
Brencio, Francesca. 2019. “Befindlichkeit: Disposition.” In The Oxford Handbook of Phenomenological Psychopathology, edited by Giovanni Stanghellini, et al. Oxford. Oxford University Press: 345-353.
Heidegger, Martin. 1962. Being and Time. Translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. London: SCM.
Mohanty, Jitendra Nath. 1997. «Experience and Meaning.» In Language beyond Postmodernism: Saying and Thinking in Gendlin’s Philosophy, edited by David Michael Levin. Evanston, IL. Northwestern University Press: 176-190.
Levin, David Michael (Ed.). 1997. Language beyond Postmodernism: Saying and Thinking in Gendlin’s Philosophy. Evanston, IL. Northwestern University Press.
Korbei, L. 1994. Eugen(e) Gend(e)lin. In O. Frischenschlager (Hg.), Wien, wo sonst! Die Entstehung der Psychoanalyse und ihrer Schulen. Wien/Köln/Weimar: Böhlau: 174-181. From http://www.focusing.org/gendlin/docs/gol_2181.html
McEvenue, Kevin. 2015. Wholebody Focusing: Life Lived in the Moment. Copyright Whole Body Focusing.
 See most notably, Gendlin, Eugene. 1962. Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning (ECM). Glencoe, IL. Free Press, Evanston; 2017. A Process Model. Evanston, IL. Northwestern University Press.
 See, Brencio, Francesca. 2019. “Befindlichkeit: Disposition.” In The Oxford Handbook of Phenomenological Psychopathology, edited by Giovanni Stanghellini, et al. Oxford. Oxford University Press: 345-353.
 See, for example, Gendlin, Eugene. 1984. «The Client’s Client: The Edge of Awareness.» In Client-Centered Therapy and the Person-Centered Approach: New Directions in Theory, Research and Practice, edited by Ronald Levant & John Shlien. New York. Praeger: 76-107.
 See, Braude, Hillel. 2012. Intuition in Medicine: A Philosophical Defense of Clinical Reasoning. Chicago. The University of Chicago Press; 2016. “Clinical Reasoning and Knowing.” In Companion to Contemporary Philosophy of Medicine, edited by James Marcum, Bloomsbury Press: 323-342; 2013. “Human All Too Human Reasoning: Comparing Clinical and Phenomenological Intuition,” The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy. 38(2): 173-189; 2016. “Skilled Know-How, Virtuosity and Expertise in Clinical Practice.” In Handbook of the Philosophy of Medicine, edited by Thomas Schramme and Steven Edwards, Springer Press: 699-716.
 See, Braude, Hillel. 2016. «Review of Miriam Solomon’s Making Medical Knowledge.» Theoretical Medicine & Bioethics, 37(5): 433-436.
We know Edmund Husserl not only through his rigorous attempts to set forth the phenomenological method but also from his brilliant disciples from various countries: Stein and Heidegger, Levinas and Merleau-Ponty, Landgrebe, Ingarden, Patočka are only a few. The Russian/Ukranian philosopher Gustav Shpet, whose works have been discovered not long ago, appears among them as the introducer of Husserl’s phenomenology into Russian philosophy. Not unlike any other student of Husserl, however, he carries the phenomenological thinking further by elaborating its main themes and questions with a rather peculiar perspective. In this regard, Springer’s new volume of the series “Contributions to Phenomenology,” the new translation of Shpet’s Hermeneutics and Its Problems (Germenevtika i ee problemy, 1918), gives the reader a broader picture of his philosophy that inaugurates the problems of the hermeneutic tradition to phenomenological investigations. Unlike his previous work, Appearance and Sense (Javlenie i smysl, 1914), which was a commentary of Husserl’s Ideen I, Shpet turns his focus away from the development of the study of hermeneutics from its roots in Biblical interpretations toward his contemporaries, such as Bernheim, Lappo-Danilevskij, Spranger, Dilthey, and Simmel.
In so doing, Shpet aims to not only provide a historical presentation of the topics of hermeneutics but also to scrutinize the shortcomings of the theories so far suggested, so that he manages to explain why hermeneutical inquiries need a method at least as rigorous as Husserl’s. In contrast to the empirical and natural foundation of human experience, hermeneutics devotes its attention to comprehending the written words as historical signs that can be interpreted. Thus, with respect to understanding the sense and significance of the historical objects (namely texts), history for Shpet (let alone other candidates for hermeneutical inquiries such as philology and psychology) becomes a problem of logic with respect to the part-whole structure: that is, history as a model of knowledge for the individual with the integrity of the whole. The second half of the book includes essays from different dates, which on the other hand, appeals by and large to the task of reversing the question at hand back to phenomenology: given the historicality of consciousness, any kind of cognition is an interpreting cognition, indeed, that necessarily entails historical understanding. For this reason, Shpet pursues an overturning of Husserl’s phenomenology into a hermeneutic phenomenology wherein the written text is recognized not as a physical object, but as a historical object that calls for an interpretation of the reader. After the foundation of the theory of historical knowledge, which is nothing but the act of “understanding” in Shpet’s opinion, the task of hermeneutics as a rigorous science will finally be an achievement of the entire logic of semasiology, i.e., the hermeneutic logic of words as the expressions of interpreting cognition. Shpet’s hermeneutic phenomenology, as a result, contains not only a critical history of the questions of understanding and interpretation in the hermeneutic tradition but also notable elements predating the linguistic turn in the 20th-century philosophy.
As just mentioned, Hermeneutics and Its Problems is comprised of two parts: the translation of Shpet’s work itself and the five essays added to the main body of the text. His highly praised essay, “Consciousness and Its Owner” (1916); a meditation on Husserl’s project of phenomenology, “Wisdom or Reason?” (1917); another important essay, “Philosophy and History” (1916), “Skepticism and Dogmatism of Hume” (1911), and an encyclopedic entry written by Shpet depicting his own philosophical portrait. The editor and translator of the book, Thomas Nemeth is a well-known scholar of Russian philosophy, and of Shpet in particular, stretching back to his earlier translation of Shpet’s Appearance and Sense as well as other essays and entries. Nemeth’s editorial work is satisfying; not only does he meticulously handle the various editions and copies of Shpet’s book but also in the introductory remarks added to the main text and to each appendix, all succinctly written. These introductions are worth reading to grasp their context in terms of the frame of references and historical background.
The main body of the text, Hermeneutics and Its Problems, begins with a short preface that clearly points out the author’s task: if we succeed in critically assessing the significance of “the history of hermeneutics as a scientific discipline” (xxv), hermeneutics as the epistemology of history will pave the way for an authentic methodology for historical knowledge, which remained Shpet’s ultimate project in the following years. The first chapter, “Origin of the Idea and the Methods of Hermeneutics,” opens a discussion on the necessity of the emergence of hermeneutical inquiries in understanding the written texts. In order to grasp the allegories and moral senses in epic poems, such as Homer’s myths, fragments from the Sophists to dialogues from Plato and Aristotle, Ancient Greek thought made the first effort to address the question of the role of the word (slovo) in moralistic, allegorical and historical interpretations of written texts. The encounter of the West and the East in Hellenistic culture formed the next phase of the need for different methods and techniques particularly because of the translation of the Old and the New Testament into the Greek language. The task of hermeneutics, rendered as a theological discipline in this period, was to distinguish between different kinds of interpretations. Here Shpet examines how St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas, Dante, and more thoroughly Origen and Augustine make their distinctions in terms of the contrast between literal/grammatical/historical interpretation and allegorical/spiritual interpretation of Biblical texts.
Even more to the point, the early Christian theologian Origen identifies the problem of interpretation to the extent that there are not only ordinary and historical but also ambiguous and arbitrary senses of the Holy Scripture itself. Thus, hermeneutic techniques are required to address this variation in order to reach consistency in the text. Augustine, on the other hand, is the most important figure in the history of Biblical hermeneutics because of his theory concerning the role of signs in achieving the meaning and sense of the Holy Scripture. Shpet diligently analyzes the two works of Augustine, De doctrina Christiana and De magistro, in order to make manifest Augustine’s psychological theory of understanding: a sign (e.g., a word that signifies in this case) is “a thing that not only conveys its appearance to the senses, but also introduces something into thought along with itself.” (9) Thus, understanding the meaning of written texts is the process of transfer from the thought (i.e., the idea) of the author through signs (written by their writer, perceived by the reader) toward the thought of the reader. It is true that understanding what is written, for Augustine, is to grasp what is intended by the author (11), but once it is asked how the reader’s reception is even possible, Augustine foreseeably brings the theory of anamnesis into view: understanding takes place in the divinatory act of recollecting ideas. Shpet does not find Augustine’s theory satisfactory precisely because of its unclarity on the “originary act” of understanding (12). That there seems no criterion for verifying the accuracy of what is understood leaves the interpreter in the shadows of subjectivism.
A resolution of this arbitrariness in interpretation is achieved as the main concern of Flacius in the 16th century. Though he pursues practical (meaning, rhetorical) goals of the hermeneutical endeavor in reading Biblical texts, the chapter “Flacius and Biblical Hermeneutics in the Renaissance” argues that Flacius makes the first genuine attempt at a theoretical understanding of the “sense” of the text by revealing the part-whole structure. A theory of sense, in this regard, delineates the ways of discerning a harmonious sense between each particular element of the context, the undivided end, and the intention of the whole text (16, 19). Despite the fact that Flacius does not confine himself to Augustine’s unascertained methods of interpreting the Holy scripture, his theory of understanding the sense of the text in Shpet’s final assessment does not suffice in proving its principles as explicitly unbreakable: it gives us neither any clear analysis of the act of understanding (i.e., how we pass from the signs to what they signify) nor any reason why we have to penetrate into the subjective ideas and thoughts of the author (20).
The next chapter, “General Remarks on the Relation of the Sciences to Hermeneutics as a Transition to Ernesti,” has two objectives: explicating the place of hermeneutics within the rise of the natural sciences after the Renaissance and giving an account of modern philosophers dealing with the question of the nature of linguistic signs. As for the former, hermeneutics loses its priority in grammatical and allegorical interpretations of the written text, yet obtains a subsidiary role in deciphering the nature of words as communicative signs. Hence, in the 17th and 18th centuries, hermeneutics, as the logic of communication, inquires into the correspondence between the signs of the written text and the meaning intended and understood. Here we read a concise history of modern philosophy related to the topics of hermeneutics so much broader than what can be found in any other book of the history of hermeneutics. Shpet carries out a critical inquiry on, respectively, Locke’s theory of communication in human understanding, Berkeley’s conceptualism, Hume’s analysis of habit as an explanation of understanding, Reid’s theory of the social object, Leibniz’s idea of meanings as possibilities, Wolff’s rationalist philology, and Meier’s ontology of signs.
Of these figures, Wolff holds a special position in the history of hermeneutics since he is the first theorist breaking the divinatory explanation of understanding and relieving the interpreter of the burden of receiving the intention of the author. Understanding, therefore, is not any kind of reproduction of the “ideas” of the author, as seen in Augustine and Flacius; rather, it is “knowledge of truth itself.” (42) Since “truth” is now the main concern of hermeneutics, we can even argue that the interpreter can understand an author better than the author understands himself. But what is the supervisor of the execution of the task of interpreting? What controls and verifies the reader’s understanding of the sense of the text? As Wolff replies, it is purely and simply “reason” itself. Shpet criticizes this strict rationalism for the reason that the concept of truth is considered limited only to the achievement of “someone who [already] has in mind a certain system of truths.” (42) As he maintains, “this reader will be immediately disappointed upon learning that the entire problem amounts to a very narrow demand, namely, to connect the author’s individual words to precisely the same concepts that the reader connects to them.” (42)
In chapter four, “Ernesti and Ast: The Reorientation of Hermeneutics from Theology Toward Philology,” Shpet concentrates on the philological period of the development of hermeneutical thinking. The problem of ambiguity is restored by the 18th-century philologist Ernesti to be solved with the help of explaining the structure and historical discoveries of the author’s language. On this account, understanding the sense of the text is a scrupulous explication of the multiple circumstances of the author: time, geography, social and economic status, community, and the state, all set of conditions that shape the author’s language used in the text. Hence, in order to find an answer to the ambiguity of meaning, the task of the interpreter should be devoting themselves to the singularity of the author’s particular application of the meaning of a word. Every different use of a word is another application in a different context; ergo, the hermeneutical inquiry should divulge the particular usage of the author. Besides the fact that Ernesti carries the focus of hermeneutics backward to the problem of authorial intention, Shpet is also discontent with Ernesti’s failure of addressing the primary questions: “What is the act of understanding?” and “What is the role of the sign in that act?”
Ast, on the other hand, assigns a new task to philology as the empirical foundation of hermeneutics by following the premises of 18th century idealism and the Romantic dignification of words: “the philologist,” explains Shpet, “should not limit oneself to an investigation merely of the letter and form of language, but should also disclose the spirit that permeates them as their higher meaning.” (50) The method Ast offers is a classical one; the part-whole structure. From the particularity of the letter and the originality of the intention of the author, the interpreter must discover the unity of these parts with the spirit of the text’s sense. In other words, all the particular inquiries must lead to the whole idea of the interpreted work. Shpet’s analyses of Ast’s hermeneutics are quite accurate: because spirit only replaces “reason” in modern philosophy, understanding cannot be explained in terms of the eligibility of spirit. Thus, Ast explains the process of how we come to understand the meaning of a text by appealing to the idea of divination. No more clarification is given concerning the questions of how the reader apprehends the spirit of the text and from what criteria we have correct understanding. In Shpet’s words, that is to say that the very act of understanding remains a mystery in Ast’s hermeneutics (55-56).
The chapter on “Friedrich Schleiermacher” elaborates the biggest leap of hermeneutics. Schleiermacher is the most key figure in the hermeneutic tradition, not only because of extending the sphere of applicability of interpretation toward philosophical and literary texts but also because of his meticulous attempts to establish a methodological technique for all hermeneutical inquiries. Here is not the place to go into details of Schleiermacher’s distinction between explanation and interpretation and his famous division of interpretation into grammatical and psychological moments. These are only the obvious portions of his comprehensive method that has still been accepted and defended with revision, even after Gadamer’s harsh criticisms. What is worth mentioning for our present purposes is Shpet’s making manifest the shortcomings of Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics: To begin with, for Schleiermacher, as for many others before him, the difference between interpretation and understanding is unclear (62, 64). Where interpreting begins, where it ends, where it differs from understanding… These critical points are never issues for the German philosopher. As a recurrent theme in Shpet’s critical history of hermeneutics, the lack of ambiguity concerning the quiddity of understanding “as such” is what Schleiermacher’s method remains inadequate in its claim.
Shpet carries his search for clarity in method further by responding to the very grounding of hermeneutics: the language of the author and the original audience, on the one hand, and the part-whole structure between the sense of every word and the sense of the context, on the other (66-67). According to Shpet, however, Schleiermacher’s inquirer does not have a clear map to easily follow: studying the language of the author and its first readers seems to be a historical one, and yet it also needs grammatical and even psychological interpretation. Likewise, the connection between words and their context requires both grammatical and historical investigations employing the study of logic and philology. That is to say, grammatical and psychological moments of interpretation are utterly indistinguishable from each other (73). Where things get complicated, Shpet always shows a discomfort with any ambiguity in the method. Instead, since the rigorous method for hermeneutical sciences has to be pure and precise, what Schleiermacher’s method needs is further explication concerning the definitions and extents of the various kinds of interpretation. As Shpet writes, “By separating the grammatical from the psychological moment of interpretation and ascribing an independent role to each of them, he made a very important distinction. However, considering that a single understanding underlies both, i.e., a single type of lived experience, he deprived his division of much of its significance.” (72)
The chapter entitled “Hermeneutics After Schleiermacher” mostly focuses on Boeckh’s philological hermeneutics and his elaboration of different kinds of interpretation. Philology, however, is no longer simply an account of grammatical structure and historical developments of words. With Boeckh, philology bears a renewed assignment concerning all systems of knowledge: a knowledge of the known, which is simply, “understanding.” Thus, Boeckh, in Shpet’s opinion, holds the first genuine consideration of the act of understanding and the moments of comprehension together with the real question of philology: the role of the written word as a communicative sign. But Boeckh aims to expand the field of philology aided by the study of history: philological hermeneutics concentrates on the historical reconstruction of what is understood (81). Despite its impressive attempt at the act of understanding and comprehension, Boeckh’s theory, for Shpet, still seems to be unsatisfactory because of the unclarity of transitioning between philology and history, and even between philology and psychology. The method of philology becomes an indeterminate in hermeneutics’ penetration into the responsibilities of other provinces. The chapter ends with a circumstantial presentation of the kinds of interpretation mostly suggested by Schleiermacher and Boeckh (92-97).
“Hermeneutical Moments of Historical Methodology” is a chapter on how 19th-century historians took part in the methodological foundations of hermeneutical sciences. Shpet begins with Steinthal’s insightful conclusion that one interprets in order to understand the historical object. Understanding, therefore, is not an immediate occasion taken for granted; rather, it is the goal of the business of interpretation. Shpet also touches upon Steinthal’s division of interpretation into three processes: psychological/philological, factual/historical, and stylistic. The next historian, Droysen, is the key figure for hermeneutical development of the study of history as opposed to Rankean historical positivism. For Droysen not only lays the foundations of a logical methodology for understanding and interpretation of the historical objects, but also employs the part-whole structure to find out the dynamic structure between the individual and the community. That being so, as an expression of the community, the individual person is not only a psychological subject but also an objectively social phenomenon. Shpet’s favorite historian Bernheim separates the task of interpretation in terms of its object: an interpretation of historical remnants, in this regard, differs from that of tradition as well as the interpretation of one source by means of another. Since the scope of interpretation becomes much broader, provided that the study of history occupies the center of the investigation, the historian should now take into account the complementary facts and knowledge obtained by other fields, such as linguistics, anthropology, statistics, and so on. The chapter ends with Shpet’s contemporary, Lappo-Danilevskij and his theory of historical interpretation. The remarkable move of this Russian historian is the idea that the interpreter of historical materials first presupposes the existence of the “other I” whose psychic activity is similar to my own. The principles and techniques of the historical interpretation are based upon this psychic significance, which is predetermined between the interpreter and the author of the work. Shpet’s main criticism of these 19th-century theorists, let alone Steinthal’s highly critical perspective, is their negligence of a proper explanation of the act of understanding per se. According to Shpet, they mistakenly thought that one reads the historical text and then understanding comes by itself; the only task of the reader thereby is to interpret. Shpet also disapproved the aforementioned methodologies based on their faulty subjectivism. Since the historical text owes its being to the author, the only way to understanding its meaning contains two registers: the interpreter’s penetration into the personality of the author or the historical study of how the text was received by the original audience (114). For Shpet, this can only mean to limit the interpreter’s original act of understanding to the psychology of the individual “represented” in the text.
The order of chapter eight, “Dilthey’s Development of Hermeneutics,” is somewhat complicated. It begins with a section on the philosopher Prantl’s idea of understanding as an immediate apprehension. After discussing the middle years of Dilthey’s hermeneutics, Shpet focuses on Spranger’s psychology of the individual with the integrity of the whole and goes back to the later philosophy of Dilthey. The last figure he deals with is rather peculiar: Simmel and his idea that the object of history is the psychological and social conditions of the individual person. Despite the subtle arguments of other theorists that are slightly touched upon, Shpet truly does justice to Dilthey’s finalization of an elaborate hermeneutical method for human sciences. In addition to enlarging the hermeneutical pursuit concerning the question of understanding, Dilthey rephrases the goal of interpretation for the objective character of scientific inquiry. Unencumbered by psychologism, Dilthey’s methodological hermeneutics focuses on the hermeneutic circle formed in between the individual’s lived experience, the objectified expression of the historical subject, and the inquirer’s understanding the objective spirit (i.e., the commonality of the individual) through the processes of interpretation. Shpet concurs with Dilthey’s attempt to resolutely modify the hermeneutical inquiry from the subjective level to the objectivity of the social individual. However, Dilthey too cannot escape Shpet’s razor of purity in descriptions: “Dilthey fails to provide an answer to the question that once again arises before him, namely, what, properly speaking, is the essence of understanding as a sui generis source of knowledge in the human sciences.” (130) Since Shpet believes the question, what understanding is is blurred once again, Dilthey’s hermeneutics too cannot be the final destination of our search for an unshakeable foundation for hermeneutics.
After all historical accounts of the hermeneutic tradition, the final chapter entitled, “The Contemporary Situation,” epitomizes what Shpet’s project was in Hermeneutics and Its Problems. It begins with the conclusion that the theories dealing with historical knowledge have failed to provide a “clear” analysis of the originary act of understanding. Until Shpet, the act of understanding is taken for granted: when you read the historical text, understanding comes by itself; what the reader needs to do is now to interpret it. In Shpet’s opinion, conversely, the question concerning understanding underlies every possible hermeneutical inquiry (149). He rightly argues that we cannot solve hermeneutical problems without such clarification; namely, the problems of authorial intention, ambiguity, arbitrariness in interpretation, the part-whole structure, the kinds of interpretation, the role of the word as a communicative sign, and so on.
For this reason, in concert with Husserl’s project, Shpet reveals in these last pages what he suggests for hermeneutics actually turning out to be “a material-logical foundation for the historical sciences in the broadest sense.” (97) Shpet’s exhibition of hermeneutics as a rigorous science includes three tokens: first, new developments in contemporary psychology accommodate the ways in which the inquirer transfers the psychic content of what the text says by reading signs as communicative media. This latter issue leads us to the second leg of Shpet’s theory: semasiology, i.e., the study of the determination of the role of the sign in the act of understanding, which requires a logical methodology to prevail over the objective character of the task of interpretation. Shpet does not hesitate to refer to Husserl’s and Meinong’s efforts, nor does he confine his study only to a search for a phenomenological method. This is where the Russian philosopher makes his last step toward hermeneutic phenomenology: turning the question of method to the semasiological inquiry on the objective logic of truth. The written text, for Shpet, is a historical residue for the present reader to make sense out of signs by recognizing the unity of the particularity of the reader’s lived experience and the spirit of the to-be-understood text. Understanding, therefore, cannot be reduced to the reader’s penetration into the psychology of the author represented in the text. Far from these subjectivist and psychologistic attitudes of the contemporary era, hermeneutics now adopts a new task of disclosing the intentional structure between the noetic understanding of the reader and the noematic content of the text.
Shpet relates the intentional structure between understanding and spirit to the historical reality subjected to hermeneutical inquiry. For what is historical (the written text, in this case) is the concrete object by which the reader reaches an understanding of what is realized. “Only in such a sense,” he writes, “can we speak of reality itself as history, for history has to do only with what has been realized. The reason that comprehends is not an abstract reason, but a reason that has been realized in this history.” (150) To put it differently, even before Heidegger’s lecture “The Idea of Philosophy and the Problem of Worldview” (1919) where he introduced the requirement of hermeneutical intuition in Husserl’s phenomenological method (Heidegger, 2008, 83-90), Shpet had highlighted the historical character of phenomenological investigation, which requires a method of its own in order to reflect historical consciousness. Consciousness is historical, thereby it always appeals to an interpretation of the object of consciousness and that of itself.
All that is left to be answered by Shpet is our basic question of what understanding truly is. Hermeneutics and Its Problems gives us a history of hermeneutics at length, scrutinizes how it has developed and dealt with the question of understanding, makes manifest where all attempts have failed. And yet, Shpet’s work falls short of delivering a consistent description of “the act of understanding,” because, like Husserl’s many introductive works to the phenomenological method, Shpet’s project too seems to be suffering from incompleteness in the sense that he did not find a chance to write the third volume of his History as a Problem of Logic, whose main task would be “an examination of strictly logical and methodological problems in our investigation of the fundamental problems of understanding.” (147) However, I believe, Shpet’s momentous essay, “Consciousness and Its Owner,” published in 1916, compiled in the present volume, provides an indirect suggestion to answer the basic question concerning understanding. The essay examines the extent to what we call “the I” is transcendent in terms of its irreducibility in the phenomenological reduction. This is important for our concern because the essence of consciousness directly relates to the interpreting reader, who understands the sense of a written text: what kind of “I” carries out the act of understanding?
The opening statement of Shpet’s argument in the essay is the uniqueness of every single, concrete “I.” In its own empirical life surrounded by other objects, the I is “this haecceity” of which it is unable to be generalized (161-62). This, however, leaves us with a conundrum: if uniqueness pertains to the peculiarities of an individual I, we can maintain that “each” I is distinct from other Is, so that all Is “share” a nature of uniqueness. In other words, every singular I is replaceable with other Is as irreplaceable (202). From this conundrum, Shpet unearths a non-egological conception of consciousness as opposed to the subjectivist and psychologist understanding at the time: the I as the bearer of lived experiences is not a “general subject” centered among other objects; rather, it is a unity of consciousness with regard to the surroundings, the historical situation, and the social conditions in which the I itself exists. Therefore, Shpet disapproves of Husserl’s constitution of the pure I as a foundation of consciousness: no “general I” can embrace the entire consciousness that is specific to “singular I.” What is this plurality of the singular individual, then? Shpet says in response that the I is a particular so-and-so, which is conditioned with a social milieu (191, 196). The I cannot exist without its social relations; that being so, the significance of haecceity lies at the specific unity of the experiences lived by “the communal I.” As Shpet continues, consciousness is a communal consciousness, i.e., the primary “we” rather than the pure I. In this sense, the singular I is plural.
Getting back to the basic question, i.e., that of understanding, we can conclude that the historically situated interpreter is the one who reads and understands the sense of a written text within the circumstances that determine one’s unique relations with the community. These constituents of consciousness (i.e., historicality and sociality) describe how the reader (as the “social we”) intersubjectively carries out the act of understanding. As opposed to the psychologistic and subjectivist accounts of the task of interpretation, Gustav Shpet brilliantly suggests a non-egological theory of hermeneutic phenomenology that precedes Heidegger, Gadamer, Ricoeur, and Nancy’s attempts.
Heidegger, Martin. 2008. Towards the Definition of Philosophy, translated by Ted Sadler. London and New York: Continuum.
 In the second appendix, “Wisdom and Reason,” adopting the premises of Husserl’s project of “philosophy as a rigorous science,” Shpet examines the great disparity between philosophy as pure knowledge and the metaphysics of scientific philosophy. Shpet concludes the essay with another dichotomy, namely between the European sophia and the Eastern wisdom.
In his 2018 book, Heidegger’s Poetic Projection of Being (henceforth HPPB) Marius Johan Geertsema demonstrates that in Heidegger’s oeuvre, Being is essentially dialogical with the poetic. The poetic is not to be understood as strictly tethered to poems, but as a type of thinking which contrasts the worrisome technocratic with thinking combatted by Adorno, Foucault, Ortega y Gasset, and Heidegger himself. The poetic refers to the intimation of the future that shapes human thought and behavior in light of our finitude. Geertsema’s reading of Heidegger describes Being as a relation to a sort of hermeneutical receptivity that is found in poetic thinking—that is, an attunement towards nature, ourselves, and each other.
HPPB divides into three sections: an overview and explication of Heidegger’s philosophy, followed by Geertsema’s argument for Heidegger’s onto-poetology, and last a conclusion and implication section.
The first section of HPPB is dedicated to a discussion of Heidegger’s corpus which includes all the juicy aspects for any serious Heidegger scholar. This includes an elucidation of both the early Heidegger (including work prior to the publication of Being and Time) and the late Heidegger, along with a discussion of the Kehre—Heidegger’s turn from Dasein toward Being. Geertsema recontextualizes each phase of Heidegger’s work in light of the others, and even though he subtly offers his interpretation of the rupture between the early and late Heidegger, the first section of HPPB is primarily focused on outlining the different philosophies of early, middle, and late Heidegger.
The next 150 pages or so of HPPB are Geertsema’s own analysis of how Heidegger treats poetry, and its important role in Heidegger’s philosophy. In this section, Geertsema discusses the relationship between Being (that is, the world of experience) and poetry, and how Heidegger illuminates the role of language in our understanding of the world. Geertsema does an excellent job of citing textual evidence for Heidegger’s analysis of the intricate relationship of language and thought. It’s not surprising then, that Geertsema thinks that Being and poetics are intimately linked and that the way we interpret the world will be enmeshed in the way we discourse.
Geertsema takes great care in combing through Heidegger’s work: even in the areas that seemingly contradict the relationship between language and thought, Geertsema finds textual evidence that the discrepancy between thought and language isn’t so wide. For example, in the postscript to What is Metaphysics? Heidegger mentions that the poet and the thinker live on separate peaks of two mountaintops, which seems as though he views philosophical and scientific thinking as inconsistent with poetry and art. But Geertsema points out that in Anaximander’s Saying, Heidegger asserts that thinking grounds poetry and poetry grounds thinking, suggesting that Heidegger doesn’t think them as strictly incommensurable. And even though it seems as though Heidegger is inconsistent on the topic, Geertsema finds a way to bridge these ideas into a consistent overarching narrative in Heidegger’s thought.
Another impressive aspect to note in this section is that Geertsema tackles the dreaded Fourfold that flummoxes even the most well-read Heideggerian scholars, arguing that the Fourfold is a projection of a realm of thought that only poets can think. The Fourfold, which has two poles—the earth-sky pole and the mortal-divinity pole—can only be comprehended by poets, or “demigods”: those who exist “between” humans and gods and are receptive to the world around them as they project a type of thinking that anticipates and prepares for the future. Because poets are receptive to the world while understanding the boundaries that shape their understanding, poetry, or poetical thinking is able to get out of calculative, instrumental thinking. Metaphysicians, on the other hand, are concerned solely with how to explain reality, which opens up the question of technocratic domination. Poetry is dwelling, says Geertsema’s Heidegger: a sort of becoming comfortable with one’s own situation and context, where humans must realize their place according to their own boundaries. Thus, as poetry constitutes dwelling, it is the poet rather than the metaphysicians who understands the Fourfold as mode of thinking which grants us a way of navigating and understanding the world.
The final section, which concludes and examines the implications of the thesis laid out by Geertsema, unfortunately lasts only 4 pages. Here Geertsema introduces his own thoughts on the matter, which is the most interesting part of the book. Geertsema points out several worries for Heidegger, if Being is tied to the poetic (for example, Geertsema questions why should poetry be privileged—can’t architecture or a ballet also unite a people the same way poetry does?). Moreover, here Geertsema also considers certain secondary figures who have problematized Heidegger’s affinity for poetry, whereas in the bulk of the text such secondary exegesis is absent. Perhaps in a future book Geertsema will unearth these implications more in detail, as his worries seem to be problematic for Heidegger, if not outright lethal.
The greatest virtue of HPPB is that Geertsema has clearly done his homework. Every exegetical claim made in the book is backed up by a quote or citation from Heidegger. Moreover, Geertsema doesn’t examine only the early or the late Heidegger, but the whole of Heidegger’s work, including lectures and biographical anecdotes. Scholars who focus on one period of Heidegger’s thought might come away from Geertsema having a better grip of Heidegger’s entire project because of how well Geertsema integrates every Heidegger—early, middle, and late—into one cohesive text.
However, there are limits to HPPB. Anyone who has little to no experience with Heidegger will effectively drown in the Heideggerese that Geertsema presents. Take for example: “To put it simply, Being can, according to Heidegger, only be what it is, in as far as it is appropriate at all to assert that Being ‘is’, when Being grants the human being the experience of Being, not only as the presencing of Being, but also as concealment; that is, the oblivion of Being as oblivion yielding from Being” (p. 52). Anyone without a sufficient background in phenomenology or Heidegger would find this passage to be mere nonsense, or some kind of unfunny joke. On the opposite end, those who are well-researched Heideggerian specialists might find swaths of HPPB uninteresting, uninformative, or uninspired. Experts studying a particular epoch of Heidegger might pass over sections of HPPB in order to reach their own area of interest. Since Geertsema offers expositions of Heidegger’s philosophy rather than a radical or novel reinterpretation of it, there is a risk of such inquisitive experts coming away only to be empty-handed. The primary audience that might get the most out of HPPB would be those who have read Heidegger but don’t understand him well enough yet. In other words, to use Geertsema’s nomenclature, HPPB is a book for demi-Heideggarians.
Another odd aspect of HPPB is that some of Geertsema’s claims are either wrong or open to easy misinterpretation. For instance, Geertsema claims that “Heidegger never took an interest in poetry and literature incidentally” (p. 9), which is either wrong (Heidegger wrote several poems, most of which are clumsily bad), or oddly-worded (Geertsema actually quotes some of Heidegger’s poetry, calling it “ugly,” p. 110). Or, for another oddity: “We will therefore examine = now [sic] the truth of the Being in relation to the phenomenon” (p. 103). Is the equal symbol supposed to represent that the concept of the ‘now’ to be examined? Or is it a weird typo that was maybe overlooked in the proofreading process (there are a few throughout the book, such as ‘Being a Time’ instead of ‘Being and Time’, p. 50). Or, in one of the rare instances in which Geertsema invokes secondary literature on Heidegger, he cites Thomas Sheehan’s work, Making Sense of Heidegger: A Paradigm Shift (2015), asserting that Sheehan gripes about the translation of “Ereignis” as “event”, but we should “pay attention to the use of the term by an author [Heidegger], instead of assuming a rigid frame of reference of the reader [Sheehan]…” (p. 38). However, Sheehan points out in several places in which Heidegger himself refused the interpretation of Ereignis as an event (as early as page xvii in the foreword of Making Sense of Heidegger, and which Sheehan explicitly tackles in chapter 8). These issues are mostly just distracting, but if this book is being recommended to scholars who are interested in learning more about Heidegger but are not yet experts, more could be at stake than simply getting one or two tenets of Heidegger’s philosophy wrong.
Lastly, and most pedantically, Geertsema tries his hand at Heideggerian etymology which turns out merely decorative rather than argumentative or explanatory. Those of us who don’t find the etymology interesting or informative have to sit through Geertsema’s own attempt at it. For example, Geertsema proffers that every seeing is a saying, and points out that both the English word ‘saying’ and German word ‘sagen’ come from the Indo-European ‘seku’, which means to ‘scent’ or ‘smell’, meaning to follow the trace of something (in Latin, to ‘tell’ or to ‘sequence’ is a following, ‘inseque’), which is also where the English word ‘seeing’ and the German word ‘sehen’ come from (p. 113-4). Heidegger would often analyze etymology to make a point about the relatedness of two ideas, but Geertsema’s own analysis is hardly elucidating or argumentative.
Despite some issues, Geertsema’s HPPB is a fantastic resource for Heidegger scholars who are interested in getting a stronger handle on Heidegger’s own thought. And while Geertsema doesn’t offer much of his own thinking here, the ideas that he offers will be suggestive to anyone who has an interest in Heideggerian phenomenology or continental philosophy of language.
Geertsema, M. J. 2018. Heidegger’s Poetic Projection of Being. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.
Sheehan, T. 2015. Making Sense of Heidegger: A Paradigm Shift. New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield International Ltd.
This text originates in a lecture course Heidegger gave at the University of Freiburg in the winter semester of 1941-42. This course preceded a second course, on Hölderlin’s “The Ister,” which Heidegger later gave in Summer 1942. As reported in the Editor’s Afterword, Heidegger originally conceived these courses as a single course covering the poetry of Hölderlin, but ended up using the entire winter 1941-42 semester to develop his reading of “Remembrance.” This work comes seven years after an earlier course Heidegger gave on Hölderlin, in winter 1934-35, on the hymns “Germania” and “The Rhine.” This very readable translation of Hölderlin’s Hymn “Remembrance” furnished by eminent Heidegger scholars McNeill and Ireland completes the English translation of the entirety of Heidegger’s Hölderlin courses, the others having appeared intermittently over the last several years.
The majority of this lecture course shows Heidegger providing a very close reading of Hölderlin’s important hymn “Remembrance,” often dissecting it line by line and word by word. However, equally important are the introductory sections, which comprise a significant portion of the course and which engage at length the correct mode of access for reading a poet such as Hölderlin. The correct way into understanding Hölderlin, Heidegger says, is not to focus on Hölderlin the person, or his life and times, or even his mental illness. Nor does the task involve getting a grip on the images or content of Hölderlin’s poetry, as if the primary obstacle is simply to understand what the poems are about. (Throughout the course, it will be clear to the reader that constructing a “correct” reading of the poem is not of significant interest for Heidegger.) He asks rhetorically on this note, are we sure that the content of the poem “coincides with what this poetizing poeticizes” (19)? Heidegger emphasizes instead that in order to comprehend Hölderlin’s poetry, one must “think into the poetizing word” (22) encountered in the poem. One cannot appropriate the meaning of Hölderlin’s poetry without entering into the proper hearing of what has come to language in the poet’s work. The task involves appreciating the poetized moments, the disclosures of being that were occasioned to the poet and which gave themselves to expression in words. In a way, then, Heidegger’s point here about comprehending what has been poeticized echoes the methodological claims one also finds in his writings on ancient thinkers such as Heraclitus and Parmenides from the same period, to wit, that there is no understanding to be gained of the thought at hand solely through an analysis of the philosopher’s words alone. Instead, the task calls for appreciating the matter of thought [das Zu-Denkende] – the disclosure under whose sway the thinker operates – or in the present case, the poeticizing of what has been poetized. Much of the territory explored in Heidegger’s reading of “Remembrance” has its focus in this approach.
On Heidegger’s reading of “Remembrance” proper: Heidegger suggests at the outset that Hölderlin’s hymn thematizes the concept of thinking [Denken] just as much as it connotes a notion of commemoration or memory. Heidegger highlights the root word at work in the poem’s title: “Remembrance” in German is An-denken. For Heidegger this entails an overlap in the notions of thinking and poetry; “thinking” [Denken] in the genuine sense involves tracing the poetic disclosure and movement of being. He says in a passage well into the text: “Poetizing and thinking is authentic seeking” (114), where seeking is questioning, with the poet’s vocation to question the holy.
While the ins and outs of Heidegger’s analysis of “Remembrance” are too complex for me to summarize in a short space, in what follows I will highlight some of the principal themes and contours of Heidegger’s reading. I begin at the end of the course, in view of his claim that the last lines of the hymn connect it with its beginning and reinforce its message. Overall, as Heidegger reads it, “Remembrance” is a description of the poet’s experience as a poet. The hymn’s last words read “Yet what remains the poets found” (18). As Heidegger reads this line, the poets preserve and keep alive the time-space of the historical being of the human, the things that have come to pass and those that remain to be borne (165). Heidegger interprets the hymn as poeticizing a narrative of the poet’s sojourn and homecoming, such that the hymn illustrates the poet’s experience as one of figuratively departing from one’s own land, and then returning to it. (On this score Heidegger observes the correspondence between the hymn’s travel narrative and Hölderlin’s own return to Germany, on foot, after a period in Bordeaux.) The poet is the one who can appropriate this very crossing from the foreign to the homely, recognizing the foreign and the homely in their own right. Heidegger highlights several images in the poem that articulate metaphorically the poet’s sojourn: the northeasterly wind’s promise of the sun’s return; the turning of the equinox; a footbridge crossing a narrow valley (from France to Germany, and more distantly, Germany to Greece); the Garonne river of France joining the Dordogne and spreading to the sea.
Heidegger does not spend much time in this lecture course discussing what the poem means. The reader should not expect that Heidegger’s analysis will enhance their understanding of what Hölderlin was trying to say, or of the metaphorical allusions Hölderlin gives to the various places and phenomena mentioned in the hymn. Heidegger’s interest is much more to isolate the poeticizing, historically significant moments that phenomenologically condition the poem’s principal images and overall composition. In other words, Heidegger attempts to highlight within specific concepts and themes of “Remembrance” the primordial disclosures that were poeticized for Hölderlin and which received some voice in his poetry. One such theme is that of the “festival” or “holiday,” and the relation of these to the more fundamental notion of the “holy.” As Heidegger describes it, the festival constitutes a commemoration of a momentous event in the past, a celebration of a god’s presence in and consecration of the human domain. In its original instantiation, “[t]he festival is the event in which gods and humans come to encounter one another” (62). For Heidegger, this commemorated moment originates with the dawn of history in Greece and the advent of the Greek gods. Accordingly, the festival and the holiday occasioning it are a reflection of the presence of the holy in the historical being of the present. Phenomenologically speaking, Heidegger’s meaning seems to be this: the existence of the festival as articulated by the poet is significant because the festival and its holiday illustrate the extraordinary quality of certain days and times by which they command celebration, revealing their own consecration. More broadly, Heidegger interprets the festival and holiday to commemorate historical being itself, including the circle of life to which human beings belong as the receivers of this being.
Another theme for which Heidegger gives a rather idiosyncratic, yet ostensibly phenomenological account is that of dreams. This treatment is noteworthy given that dreams are a subject that does not figure prominently in many other texts of Heidegger’s corpus. He takes up dreams here in the course of discussing the ending lines of the second strophe of “Remembrance.” These lines read “And over slow footbridges/Heavy with golden dreams/Lulling breezes draw.” In the wider context of this citation, Heidegger interprets this image as a reference to the poet crossing over to the homeland, where “golden dreams” convey the slumbering but still extant, “lulling” presence of ancient Greek culture (103ff). However, Heidegger gives a deeper analysis of how dreams are to be understood in their own right and outside the framework of modern psychology. He emphasizes that we should consider dreams “nonscientifically,” an approach that stands to be “more scientific” than traditional science by virtue of interpreting dreams outside of any standard point of reference. Heidegger offers a phenomenological description of dreams, citing for illustration two passages from the Greek poet Pindar, whom he identifies as an ancient counterpart of Hölderlin. In the first cited passage, taken from Pindar’s eighth “Pythian Ode,” the key phrase reads: “Shadows’ dream are human beings” (95). Human beings are the dream of shadows. Heidegger interprets this phrase to portray dreams as a vanishing within an appearing, but an appearing which itself is constituted by a darkening, a shadow-character. In Heidegger’s words:
Pindar wants to say that the dream is the way in which whatever is itself in a certain way already lightless, absences: the dream as the most extreme absencing into the lightless, and yet nevertheless not nothing, but in this way too still an appearing: this vanishing itself still an appearing, the appearing of a passing away into that which is altogether devoid of radiance, which no longer illuminates (98).
So Heidegger’s account of dreams sets about attempting to describe the underlying phenomenological character of dreaming, particularly as dreams are characterized by an evanescent but nonetheless definite, illuminating appearance from a hidden source. In claiming that he aims to give a nonscientific account, Heidegger’s emphasis seems to rest in the fact that dreams are first-person experiences. As such, the most one can provide in a genuinely philosophical reckoning must be formulated on the basis of how dreaming presents itself.
On the relation Pindar’s ode sketches between the dream and the human being (“Shadows’ dream are human beings”), Heidegger goes on to comment as follows:
The shadow’s dream is the fading presence of that which is faded, lightless; by no means a nothing; to the contrary, perhaps even that which is real – that which alone is admitted as real where the human being is stuck only with that which is constantly vanishing, the daily aspect of the everyday, insofar as the latter counts as the only thing that life knows as proximate and real (Ibid.).
Heidegger offers something profound here in his citation of Pindar. He casts dreams more broadly as reflecting the vanishing of the original illumination that constitutes the open of human being itself (100). Dreams echo the original, yet always withdrawn presence of being. The evanescent character of dreams simply is the character of the human experience of meaningful intelligibility, and of everyday human life. This observation yields at once a metaphysical sketch of everyday human being, and a cloaked criticism of modern culture, on the ground that every moment of life is a fleeting instantaneous juxtaposition of consciousness and forgetting. Heidegger concludes that dreams reflect the presence-in-absence constitutive of human being itself: “And so it is that what the human being is, as presencing in the manner of a shadow, he is not in the manner of mere presence and cropping up…. That which presences stretches itself as such…in accordance with its essence – into absencing” (100). In sum, to call human beings the dream of shadows is a way of sketching the temporally stretched, yet self-negating character of human existence. While this interpretation stands on its own and greatly fills in the opaque meaning of Pindar’s words, Heidegger also explains the significance of this excursus for Hölderlin’s mention of “golden dreams.” Here Heidegger cites a fragment from Hölderlin’s philosophical treatise “Becoming in Dissolution,” where Hölderlin describes the freedom realized in the creation of art as a terrifying yet divine dream, straddling the line between being and nonbeing, possible and real, and actual and ideal. Heidegger explains: “the dreamlike concerns the becoming real of the possible in the becoming ideal of the actual” (103). As Heidegger writes elsewhere in his own accounts of the origin of art, art’s creation articulates the interplay of one’s own place and time with the presence of the divine. Thus, the “golden dreams” of the “lulling breezes” blowing across the footbridge convey the historical presence of Greece’s golden age, which in turn also represents the dawn of historical meaning occasioned in the advent of art, poetry, and language. So while Heidegger provides an exhaustive hermeneutic analysis of dreams and their presence in human being, he also interprets Hölderlin’s lines regarding the lulling breeze crossing the footbridge to express at once the poet’s experience of straddling the homely and foreign, and more broadly, the essence and meaning of the existence of art.
On a related note, another example of Heidegger’s preoccupation with the phenomenological disclosure bound up with the birth of poetry and art is visible with his highlighting of Hölderlin’s emphases in “Remembrance” of phenomena as they occur to him. In the first strophe, Hölderlin describes the “northeasterly” as the most beloved of winds “to me” (16). A few lines after, he invites the reader to “go now and greet/The beautiful Garonne” (Ibid.). And in the second strophe, Hölderlin says “Still it thinks its way to me” [Noch denket das mir wohl] (17), suggesting a notion of being reminded, of having a thought occasioned from outside oneself. For Heidegger, Hölderlin’s use of these locutions indicates that the poetic experience involves heeding moments that disclose themselves, rather than actively seeking out words that describe experiences. In this light, the northeasterly wind, or the Garonne, are poeticized phenomena that self-present, as it were. They are not discovered by the human agent’s searching or cataloguing of geography or atmospheric patterns, or finding aesthetically pleasing ways to describe these.
What results from Heidegger’s often tangential explorations in this lecture course are as penetrating and exhaustive discussions as one will find in his oeuvre on the nature of poetry and particularly, what it means for disclosures of being to be “poeticized.” This book will make a fine companion to Heidegger’s other writings on poetry such as On the Way to Language, “Poetically Man Dwells,” and “The Origin of the Work of Art.” Also noteworthy in this volume, several early sections of the course address at length the biography and legacy of Norbert Von Hellingrath, the young Hölderlin scholar who, before his untimely death in the first World War, collected the edition of Hölderlin’s poems Heidegger deems essential. Although many of Heidegger’s other writings of this period, especially those on Hölderlin, exhibit a nationalistic streak, the presence of this dimension in Heidegger’s analysis of “Remembrance” is for the most part rather muted. In this vein, Heidegger primarily takes his cues from Hölderlin’s historical conceptions of Germania and does not develop much material from out of his own voice. These topics feature most prominently in Part Three of the text, which is entitled “The Search for the Free Use of One’s Own.” I do not believe this text will provide a major contribution for understanding themes of nationalism in Heidegger’s work.
I will finish by highlighting one last issue to which Heidegger gives attention in this lecture course that I believe is very interesting vis-à-vis his treatments of art and poetry elsewhere. Heidegger gives repeated attention to the concept of images [Bild], particularly in the context of the visual representations one experiences in reading and hearing poetry. In these passages, Heidegger emphasizes that the images evoked by poetry cannot function as a vehicle for understanding what is poeticized. Similarly, he argues that images are not simply the visible counterpart of an unspoken, invisible form or essence comprising the real truth of the poem, as if the poem were some kind of derivative, lesser version of a true reality not possible to capture in words (29-30). As Heidegger describes, images have this limitation because what is poeticized transcends the poem altogether. What is poeticized is not something the poem represents or symbolizes. Thus, the fact that a piece of poetry contributes to the formation of images in the hearer has no bearing on a poem’s meaning or the disclosure of being that occasioned the poem’s composition. Interestingly, Heidegger does not speak here of the actual ontology of images, or of the human capacity for image consciousness. Nor does he comment on the western tradition of privileging visual perception among the sources of knowledge, as he does more critically elsewhere in writings such as “The Age of the World Picture” and “The Origin of the Work of Art.” In those works, Heidegger’s position is that artworks (which, as he says, have their origin in poetry) do not merely represent; art in the genuine sense does not simply re-produce a subject by placing it in front of the viewer in the manner of a copy. Instead, artworks have the function of preserving the eventuation of historical truth for a particular time, place, and culture. Artworks wrest truth from oblivion and bring it into light, albeit not permanently. In view of his comments on images in the course on “Remembrance,” I believe one can take issue slightly with the dichotomy Heidegger draws between the images occasioned through poetry, and the question of whether such images represent a more original meaning or not. In other words, Heidegger’s suggestion that images are merely representative, and not reflective of a deeper disclosure, is perhaps overly restrictive. As Karen Gover has written on this topic, Heidegger perhaps ought to say that art and poetry do in fact represent their subjects (in the manner of re-presenting), but in a way that goes deeper than merely copying their subjects. Maybe the key is that they simply represent in a more originary way, and not that they do not represent at all. In the case of Heidegger’s reading of Hölderlin’s “Remembrance,” Heidegger would seem to allow that the hymn re-enacts some trace of the primordial disclosure that was given to the poet; one simply needs to be in the correct mode of hearing to appreciate the offering of this disclosure. On the other hand, the equally decisive point emerging from Heidegger’s interpretive framework in the lecture course seems to be that the images Hölderlin’s hymn affords us must not distract us from the fact that poetry’s origins transcend both images and words; poetry (or poeticizing) is the moment of being coming into language. Understanding Hölderlin’s hymn therefore concerns heeding the eventuation of being that precedes both the poem and its images.
Gover, K. “The Overlooked Work of Art in ‘The Origin of the Work of Art.’” International Philosophical Quarterly 48 (2) (2008): 143-53.