Karel Novotný: Welt und Leib. Zu einigen Grundmotiven der Phänomenologie

Welt und Leib. Zu einigen Grundmotiven der Phänomenologie Book Cover Welt und Leib. Zu einigen Grundmotiven der Phänomenologie
Orbis Phaenomenologicus Studien, Vol. 50
Karel Novotný
Königshausen & Neumann
Hardback 28.00 €

Reviewed by: Nikos Soueltzis (University of Crete)

World and the Lived-body: From the title of the book the author cares to prepare us for an encounter with two of phenomenology’s most prominent themes. Trivial as it may be this ascertainment is already an understatement of the complexities and shifts that have marked the history of their treatment within phenomenological tradition. Only the plural form in the subtitle (On Some Basic Motifs of Phenomenology) gives a hint of the challenges that await the reader. Thought-provoking and informative, Karel Novotný’s book discusses the work of philosophers who have voiced their objections against Husserl’s classic conception of the consciousness–world correlation.

It should be clarified from the start that Novotný’s book is not meant as an introduction to the phenomenological themes of the world and the lived-body. To appreciate the fineness of his analysis some degree of familiarity with the phenomenological tradition is clearly presupposed. Thus, the reader should be prepared for a close engagement with the text and indirectly with the broad corpus of texts Novotný discusses. We will briefly present the content of each chapter and then address a few points that caught our attention.

The book comprises three main parts each of which consisting of two chapters. In the first part, Novotný examines Eugen Fink’s and Renaud Barbaras’ attempts to initiate and carry out a cosmological turn from within phenomenology. In the second part, he discusses Jan Patočka’s and László Tengelyi’s transcendentally oriented phenomenological conceptions of the world. In the third part, the book focuses explicitly on what he calls the “margins” of the world/lived-body correlation. Patočka’s conceptions of movement and life, both in his late and early work, are given here special attention. Finally, after demarcating the “marginal” function of lived-corporeality in Husserl’s work, the book culminates in a concise exposition of Emmanuel Levinas’ and Hans Rainer Sepp’s original elaborations of it.

In the opening chapter of the book, Novotný introduces the problem of the world’s pregivenness by referring to some of Husserl’s classic texts and to the revisions it undergoes but also elicits in the hands of his major successors. For Husserl, the world is the open framework of all fields in which something that appears exerts an affection on the ego. The world’s transcendence is always given to a horizon-consciousness and phenomenologically explicating its constitution amounts to explicating the world’s horizon-structure. The Noesis-Noema correlation involves horizon-nexuses on both sides. But the world is not a horizon that correlates to a single act; it is the horizon of all horizons. Husserl’s description of the performance of epoché and phenomenological reduction in Ideas I reveals the fundamental function of the Generalthesis: the positing of the world as existing. The world is a sense-formation of a universally functioning subjectivity. Thus, subjectivity and world are tightly connected in this correlation that forms an absolute basis for Husserl’s phenomenology. But, according to Novotný, his theory of world-apperception carries with it a debatable implication much criticized by his successors. Namely, the tendency to understand world-apperception as prescribing that every real thing is determined in advance in its universal typicality. Met with suspicion, this implication led to two different currents of critisism. On the one hand, fearing that this typicality poses a threat to the openness of appearing, the line of Emmanuel Levinas, Michel Henry, Jean-Luc Marion, and Marc Richir, dismisses the view that the world is the origin of appearing or that this appearing is tied to a total apperception (21). On the other hand, before this turning-away from the world, cosmological attempts were made to recover the world in its primordial pregivenness and establish it as the framework that makes possible every phenomenal correlation. Novotný briefly discusses the second line of thought characterizing it as a “cosmological turn” and names Fink as its main proponent. The latter grasps human relating to the world not on the ground of an intentional consciousness and its horizons but within a framework that already embraces them both. To do so, he moves away from Husserl’s model of horizon-gradations by reversing the direction of its openness. Instead of beginning from a subjective bearer that stands outwards (Hinausstehen) toward the openness of the horizon, we now follow the opposite direction and focus on the world’s emerging within (Hereinstehen) the horizon-system (23). Fink’s contribution rests in pointing out the fleeting dimension of the world beyond the bipolar appearing/withdrawing characterizing the ontological difference—i.e., Being’s withdrawal for the beings to appear, while remaining inseparable from them.

In the second chapter, Novotný discusses extensively Renaud Barbaras’ work. In broad strokes, he summarizes the latter’s project as an attempt to radically de-subjectivize appearing as such by being led back to the world’s own process of becoming. He distinguishes between two modes of appearing: “primary” and “secondary.” Primary manifestation is the world’s anonymous process of becoming. Secondary appearing, on the other hand, is the appearing that involves a subjective pole. The world itself exhibits an essential distance within its movement of primary manifestation, a dynamic depth. Thanks to the latter, living beings are characterized by the movement of an insatiable desire: they reach out to the world, always moving within its depth and being that movement. For Barbaras, herein lies the deepest structure of correlation. Secondary appearing emerges through this movement of desire once a peculiar event of rupture occurs. In his earlier texts, this event transpires within the world but does not stem from the world’s movement. Having placed at the core of this movement the productive force of physis, he characterizes this event of rupture as metaphysical to denote what Husserl calls the primary fact of subjectivity (34f.). But the “transformation” effectuated through the event of rupture is a mere prolongation of the world-movement and not a radical change or any kind of discontinuity. The significance of this event as well as the difficulties that follow from it become apparent if one considers the spatial dimension of appearing and the accompanying individuation of the living subjects in it through their lived-bodies.[i] Given his cosmological perspective, it is no surprise that Barbaras speaks of a proto-spatialization. Beings are spatially individuated prior to their embeddedness into any framework of orientation.

As Novotný points out, it is imperative to explain what the role of the event of rupture is in this proto-spatialization. The prolongation of primary manifestation into secondary appearing implies the emergence of the lived-bodily centrality and this must be somehow related to the event of rupture. Trying to delve deeper into the cosmological realm, Barbaras recently revised his initial conception. Focusing on proto-spatialization, he describes the world’s movement through a threefold articulation: (a) as ground (Boden, le sol), (b) as site (Sitz, le site), and (c) as place (Ort, le lieu) (39). Novotný tries to explain the complex ways in which these modes of spacing relate to each other, finally making possible the openness of subjectivity. Barbaras employs this threefold distinction to show that subjectivity’s intentional tendency rests on a more primal movement. Far from being an autonomous self-movement, the movement of phenomenalization is the world’s ultimate force returning to itself. To further explain the emergence of subjectivity within the world’s movement he claims that the world already exhibits a subjectivity of its own, one that differs from the self-relation peculiar to the experiencing of appearing yet attested to by the latter. All beings exhibit subjectivity in different degrees. Human subjectivity is inscribed deeper within world’s subjectivity, while subjectivity of lifeless things is inscribed in it in the most fleeting and volatile manner. Acknowledging world’s own subjectivity implies that lived-bodily subjectivity occurs as a movement within world’s own movement. In the same movement that bodies become individuated, the human living being takes hold of the world in its phenomenalization (43).

It is in the third chapter that Novotný moves away from the previous cosmological attempts. He discusses the similarities and differences between Patočka’s and Fink’s understanding of the world. Like Fink, Patočka does not subscribe to a world-conception based on thing-apperception: the world is not a mere extension of the objectifying intentionality into surrounding zones. However, the peculiarity of his approach rests on acknowledging that there is a deeper horizonal structure involved in thing-apperception that is intimately connected to the world and co-shapes its pre-givenness in a primordial manner. Thus, Patočka’s phenomenology places emphasis on the mutuality between the pre-givenness of the whole and the fact of its limitation: both permeate and sustain each other. He admits that the world-totality does not need the various subject-centers of appearing, but he acknowledges their interrelation as a fact that cannot be ignored. Thus, instead of relinquishing phenomenology altogether towards a speculative cosmology, he insists on the possibility of a phenomenology of the world-totality. Such a phenomenology cannot perform the metaphysical leap to a “real world” behind appearances. Instead, it tries to make accessible those appearances on the ground of the world-totality that is present in them. Novotný characterizes Patočka’s perspective at that time as “static,” provisionally setting aside the “genetic” access to the world-totality, a task taken up in his theory of the “movements of existence.”

Novotný then examines Patočka’s project of asubjective phenomenology. His discussion is initially limited to Patočka’s relevant published texts. He provides us with a brief presentation of his critical reconsiderations of Husserl’s phenomenology, based on the need to preserve the world’s irreducibility to the constituting life of consciousness. But the risk of ending up with a metaphysical enclosure of a cosmos that affords its own hypostatized mode of appearing is too high. He chooses to “focus on the openness of appearing itself, for which the world serves only as a respectively a priori form but not as a ground in the sense of source” (63). The world is an a priori form. But where is this a priori hinged on and how can we trace it? Patočka’s reply is that phenomenology’s proper theme of inquiry is the autonomous “field of appearance,” i.e., the sphere of the different modes of appearing that is independent both from the appearing objects as well as from the spontaneity of the acts of consciousness. Thus, it should not be subjectivized and reduced to the noetic-noematic distinction. The allegedly immanent components of appearing (e.g., sensation and apprehension) are in fact modes of appearance pertaining to the object (65). But how does this field appear and how does it relate to the appearing of the beings that appear in it? Patočka follows a specific methodological path that allows him to free the phenomenal sphere from all possible constraints and misinterpretations. While he employs Husserl’s phenomenological epoché, he dismisses the complementary move toward the immanence of consciousness, i.e., his phenomenological reduction. He characterizes this break as a radicalized epoché (66). In Patočka’s Nachlass Novotný traces significant contributions to an understanding of this asubjective world-a priori. He distinguishes its three structural moments: (a) the totality of “what” appears, (b) the “who” to which it appears, and (c) the “how” of the appearing (72). All these moments are themselves given within appearing as such. Even though Novotný leaves out of consideration Patočka’s relation to Heidegger, he adds that in his project of asubjective phenomenology Patočka is clearly inspired by the motif of the ontological difference (74). In any case, Patočka’s insistence on the primacy of the problem of appearing attests to a certain distancing from Heidegger’s path, albeit on occasions in an ambivalent manner.

Chapter four discusses the issue of world’s pregivenness in Tengelyi’s project of phenomenological metaphysics from his last book Welt und Unendlichkeit. The guiding theme is his investigation on the kind of “necessity” implied in the commonly held view of the world’s non-modalizability. Tengelyi grasps this necessity not as a priori but as a factical one (78). He draws attention to what he considers to be “primal facts” that can be phenomenally shown but are irreducible or non-inferable. In the three sections of this chapter Novotný focuses on three points from Tengelyi’s phenomenological metaphysics of the world: (a) the conception of world’s openness as its essence, (b) the world’s openness in relation to the event of appearing, and (c) the reality of the world. To address the theme of the world, Tengelyi employs what he calls the “diacritic” method and gradually differentiates between world-totality and infinity (83). Both poles are treated in their contrast but as necessarily belonging together (Tengelyi 2014, 301). His aim is to revise our familiar phenomenological conception of the total world-horizon as a mere correlate of consciousness. The world’s existence in experience presupposes an inner concordance that is not a priori guaranteed but only factually shown (cf. Tengelyi 2014, 323). Thus, our world-cognition entails a certain contingence. Starting from this, Novotný broaches the issue of the relation between the world’s openness and the appearing as event. This contingence of my world-cognition attests to an alterity that leaves its traces in the infinite system of possible experiences, it always threatens to disrupt it (85). To denote that, Tengelyi refers to the possibility of “unavailable” experiences, to wit, experiences that do not accord with the smooth sense-giving intentional streaming of consciousness. Appearing announces itself in experience as an event bearing the character of contingent facticity, namely, an event that can never be reduced to sense-giving. This alterity with its potentially disruptive effects is tightly connected to world’s reality. The latter exhibits an openness that is announced in our experience of the world through the potentially disruptive contingence. The fact that this contingence is experienced entails that the openness of the world can be phenomenologically exhibited (88). But Tengelyi also tries to phenomenologically clarify the belief in the existence of the world based on the primal fact of lived-bodiliness. The fact of the sensory appearing of the world that nurtures our world-belief, as Novotný very vividly says, points to the fact of our embodiment. Even though the latter is never implicated in the event of appearing, it shows itself as its factical condition (90).

In chapter five, Novotný examines the basic motif announced in the title: Of the world’s being anchored to a relation to lived-corporeality (Leib-Körper). The experience of the world is always centered around a lived-bodily zero-point of orientation and always bears the polarity “home-alien.” But the lived-body borders on what is alien to it in another peculiar manner. It is the corporeal aspect that attests to this bordering and inscribes certain gaps to the continuous pregivenness. Novotný discusses Patočka’s relevant positions beginning from his dismissal of the primal correlation as one between an objectifying experience and its object. Instead, he privileges the correlation between life and the pregiven world that confronts it with its alienness. To situate this correlation, Patočka will appeal to a third concept of lifeworld mediating between the world as universe of beings and the world in its ontological function. It is the world that correlates to the fundamental movements of human life and not to a traditionally conceived subject. But, as Novotný points out, substituting life-movements for the subject does not amount to an overall dissipation of subjectivity: it is neither a way of naturalizing consciousness nor a cosmological reduction. The movements of existence are forms of expression of a living inwardness. Focusing on the dimension of movement introduces us to a dynamic-genetic perspective that encompasses the static-phenomenological one. Novotný highlights the role of lived-corporeal life for Patočka’s phenomenology by discussing his broader theory of movement and zeroing in on what he defines as the first movement of existence, i.e., the movement of “anchoring.” This movement originally opens the world in a purely instinctive manner; it is the sensuous life that is externally stimulated to movement (105f.). But for Patočka lived-corporeality points to a plurality of life-centers that form the world as the medium of expression starting from their respective internality and in mutual contact. The first world-relating movement is individuated through an intersubjective connection between living interiorities. Thus, the movement of “anchoring” involves more than our organic world-embeddedness. It is also articulated by our being accepted in a community. This acceptance or non-acceptance colors the world respectively either with a welcoming warmth or with the threatening coldness of its vastness.

Novotný turns further to Patočka’s unpublished manuscripts to defend him against any allegations of a cosmological turn. The most challenging part is the one dedicated to Patočka’s early project of life-phenomenology. Novotný guides us through the bulk of untranslated texts from the 1940’s introducing the reader to its main elements (122ff.). From life’s “inwardness” to the appearing as expression of this “inwardness” and his peculiar account of aesthesis based on a polarity of indifferences, Patočka’s early project involves many radical revisions of familiar aspects of phenomenology. As an example, Novotný refers to Husserl’s “hyletic sphere” and how Patočka integrates it to his project. The hyletic sphere is a first externality but not a lifeless one. It must already contain that which enables the intention to turn the hyletic stratum into a bearer of expression (127). Thus, it is not only to the other person or living animal being that an “inwardness” is ascribed but to other beings in general. Hyle is already an externalization that expresses an “inner” life. Lived-corporeality plays here an essential role as the particular expression of human life that offers us the key to understand expression as a phenomenon of life in general (129).

In the last chapter, Novotný focuses explicitly on lived-corporeality and its phenomenological examination. His guiding assumption is that the lived-body (Leib) can only be the core of the self inseparably from corporeality (Körper) while the latter is experienced at the same time as a limit of subjectivity. What we are looking for is a primal lived-corporeal experiencing in which the inner and the outer are intimately connected. His itinerary starts with Husserl and his conception of the lived-body. The aim is to point out the ineradicable significance of the corporeal aspect (Körper) and the impossibility of a total abstraction from it. He does that by critically showing that in Husserl’s (especially later) work the lived-body is absorbed in the immanence of living-experiencing leaving no room for a differentiating singularization. It cannot account for the singularity of the self, i.e., for the singularity of the perceiving subjectivity in its factual distinction from any other. Thus, we should entertain the hypothesis that this is carried out by the twofold character of lived-corporeality. As Novotný says, living-experiencing is each time mine thanks to the “psycho-physical” lived-corporeality (136). Living-experiencing and the lived-body, according to him, are anonymous in their immanence and thus unable to singularize the self. This singularization is only possible through the anchoring of lived-corporeality (140). It is at this point that he will interpose Levinas’ theory about the position (or positing) of the body as corporeality (Körper) from his early text Existence and Existents.

According to Levinas, egoic living-experiencing cannot posit corporeality on its own, so it is posited through an event that escapes the custody of the subject. Levinas refers to a materiality that lies hidden within the objects of the surrounding world as an alterity. It is neither perceived nor thought of as it cannot be fixated within a system of sense-relations, but it is affectively given. This materiality attests to the fact of the anonymous existence, the there is that is revealed in the experience of horror with its depersonalizing effect (142). The emergence of consciousness is made possible by a positing that depends on corporeality and not on a pure ego or the flesh of the lived-body. It is a corporeality that does not point back to a constituting immanence. It is no object but the event of the positing of “here” and a precondition for any immanence. Translating it in the terms of his own model, Novotný claims that the position (or positing) of corporeality lies in the margins of the universal correlation.

Novotný’s last stop is Hans Rainer Sepp’s concept of the border-Leib (Grenzleib) drawn from his project of phenomenological ecology. Along with direction-Leib (Richtungsleib) and sense-Leib (Sinnleib), they form the three fundamental dimensions of lived-body.[ii] Border-Leib refers to the limit-experience of our lived-body in which the nakedness of the real is experienced prior to its articulation in a sense; direction-Leib refers to the movement of an embodied experiencing that is a reaching out to an exteriority by desiring it; the sense-Leib refers to a fixed framework of sense that structures a new lived-bodily dimension. Sepp starts with the acceptance that human subjectivity is an embodied subjectivity. Thus, we must understand how its relation to its environment and to itself is bodily formed in such a way that human beings participate to place-relations determined by their lived-body. To that extent, Sepp speaks of a primordial place as a limit or a border that delineates the singularity of life. It is a factical limitation in an absolute “here.” For Sepp this limit or border is a “living being-inside” (146). With respect to the subjective pole of the correlation, Novotný sees in Sepp’s idea of border-Leib an affinity with Levinas’ positing (or position) of corporeality. But he finds Sepp’s conception of the “real” as more fitting to describe the primal situation with respect to the non-subjective pole. He integrates Sepp’s as well as Levinas’ positions to his own model of the margins of the universal correlation. The former’s “real” and the latter’s anonymous “there is” lurk in the margins deprived of any sense-articulation.

As already mentioned at the beginning, Novotný’s book is a demanding read not due to its writing style but because it engages in a discussion of a wide range of authors and texts. To that extent, the reader’s effort is dictated by the material itself. That being said, the only traceable drawback is that at times Novotný inserts his own remarks and reconstructions without having previously provided a sufficient context. Unfortunately, sometimes this interrupts the reading flow and thus raising the suspicion that particular  sentences are packed with dense implications which are not properly fit in the context. To be fair, this is a recurring pattern only in the chapter on Barbaras’ cosmology.

A striking example can be found on page 34 where he refers to “appearing as such” as the core of his reconstruction without a clear indication as to its differentiation from “primary” and “secondary appearing.”[iii] Things would probably be much easier if a chapter on Patočka already preceded his discussion of Barbaras’ work. However, in the given occasion the lack of an explicit distinction incites confusion especially when Novotný transposes the “event” of rupture into the context of “appearing as such”: it is the latter that exhibits an essentially evental character. Trying to follow this transposition, one can ask: if the distinction between primary and secondary manifestation is something derivative from the point of view of “appearing as such,” why should there be any essential connection between its evental character and the event of rupture? It could even be misleading to employ it as a leading clue. The world’s obtaining its specific mode of appearing (its “how”) does not signify anything like a radical rupture since it is already a moment of the a priori of appearance. In fact, one could contend that there is no dimension of “appearing as such” that could accommodate the speculative demands of “primary manifestation.”

But let us make a more general interpretive suggestion based solely on Novotný’s analysis. Can we claim that in the present context switching from a cosmological to a phenomenological perspective and vice versa is a matter of subordinating interchangeably to each other two significant aspects of the event—its dynamic and its facticity? Can it be the case that Barbaras privileges spatialization by adopting the spatial-modal tripartition of the primary event (le sol, le site, le lieu) to compensate for tacitly ascribing a secondary function to the event’s facticity as opposed to its dynamic? To be sure, Barbaras’ turn to a metaphysical cosmology is not a matter of carefully blurring the limits of phenomenology. However, a close investigation of how he moves away from the latter is surely a productive endeavor. Novotný’s model of the “margins” of correlation admittedly provides us with a solid basis to carry it out.

From a broad perspective, the model of the “margins of correlation” that Novotný promotes in his book allows us to pinpoint and thematize an area of investigation that is quite elusive. He employs it with caution and with a specific aim. To that extent it is a rather useful instrument of analysis. Nevertheless, there is a risk of stretching the model considerably by trying to fit in everything that speculative thought defines as escaping phenomenology’s reach. Some precaution is perhaps necessary to avoid measuring up those margins against the criticized instances of arbitrary hypostatization and to maintain their reference to the correlation itself. This is already what Novotný has in mind when he describes them based on the “escaping appearing/conditioning appearing” dipole and this is probably why confronting Barbaras’ peculiar cosmology is so important for his project.

Apart from this general remark, many interesting points of discussion are raised from Novotný’s analysis. Indicatively, we will mention only two. Because of the varied contexts of the chapters, we will address them in the specific frameworks in which they emerge. The first is drawn from his reference to what Patocka calls the “first movement of existence.” Towards the end of section 5.1 he distinguishes two of its components: (a) our primary acceptance by the others and (b) the affective readiness of life (113). We believe that this is a very interesting issue that should draw our attention to the complex interrelations between these two components, i.e., how the one affects the other. But a more pressing question comes to mind: how does Patočka gain access to the phenomenality of their connection within the anchoring-movement? How is their structural balance on such a dynamic ground procured at a phenomenological level? Is it a matter of their intertwinement in a past that is irretrievable in its own terms or is the first movement of existence as such characterized by an ultimate actuality that sets the limits of any inquiry into the origins of its components? If the latter is the case, should we not acknowledge this actuality first as the phenomenological edge of human life in its polyphonous movement before we proceed to its characterization (as event, proto-facticity, etc.)?

The second remark refers to Sepp’s notion of border-Leib discussed in section 6.3. We mentioned earlier that Sepp considers the limit that delineates life’s singularity as a “living being-inside.” But Novotny traces a certain tension at this point: this absolute “here” where life is factically singularized is not a place where this life is opened up for itself in its singularity. How can Sepp claim that they coincide as a “living being-inside”? To accommodate both claims, Novotny suggests viewing them through the perspective of lived-corporeality. As corporeal, this singularity is posited as absolute “here” in a proto-factical manner. As lived-body, this factical limitation is identified with an “absolute being-inside.” The problem is how to understand the transition or contact between the two. According to Novotný, Sepp settles it by resorting to the perspective of the direction-Leib. It seems that it was probably Sepp’s reference to an “absolute ‘here’” that led Novotny to such a claim (146). Yet, Sepp elsewhere refers to the dimension of “Ausleben” to connect the two poles (cf. Sepp 2010, p. 134). Roughly translated, it is the living-out of the lived-body (here: at an organic level). Orientation and directedness are built on this tendency of “Ausleben” when this tendency itself encounters its limit as an obstacle. In short, the “Da” to which Sepp refers is meant to circumscribe the primary resistance of the naked real against the organic tendency of lived-bodily “Ausleben.” Novotný probably wants to connect this primal contact between lived-body and corporeality with an experiential dimension that does not run the risk of lapsing into a cosmological or naturalistic interpretation. It seems that appealing to direction-Leib as the broader perspective in which the two poles of border-Leib come in contact is what enables him to claim that border-Leib is a component of the margins of correlation.

Overall, Novotný’s book is an invaluable addition to the arsenal of phenomenological scholarship. Insightful and rigorous, Welt und Leib meets all the requirements: rich in content, organized, detailed, historically and systematically informing, and conversing with major contemporary phenomenological theories. In short, the reader can only benefit from it in so many ways.[iv]


Sepp, Hans Rainer. 2010. „Gabe und Gewalt. Gedanken zum Entwurf einer leibtheoretisch verankerten Anthropologie.“ Cornelius Zehetner, Hermann Rauchenschwandtner u. Birgit Zehetmayer (Hg.): Transformationen der kritischen Anthropologie. Für Michael Benedikt zum 80. Geburtstag. Wien: Löcker: 133-146.

Tengelyi, László. 2014. Welt und Unendlichkeit. Zum Problem phänomenologischer Metaphysik. Freiburg: Karl Alber.

[i] Novotný refers on purpose to the Leib-Körper compound and not just to Leib. He does so throughout the book, and it is important for his theory regarding the body’s primary role in the correlation to the world and its way of being situated in the “margins” of the correlation. Below, we will translate it as “lived-corporeality” to preserve a reference to both components.

[ii] Sepp develops this threefold distinction in Sepp (2010).

[iii] Another example is his abrupt reference to the “Earth” as the ground of all corporeality on page 47, while we first learn more about its role in Patočka’s philosophy on page 109.

[iv] This research is co-financed by Greece and the European Union (European Social Fund-ESF) through the Operational Programme “Human Resources Development, Education and Lifelong Learning” in the context of the project “Reinforcement of Postdoctoral Researchers – 2nd Cycle” (MIS-5033021), implemented by the State Scholarships Foundation (ΙΚΥ).

Jens Bonnemann: Das leibliche Widerfahrnis der Wahrnehmunghe Widerfahrnis der WahrnehmungDas leibliche Widerfahrnis der Wahrnehmung

Das leibliche Widerfahrnis der Wahrnehmung. Eine Phänomenologie des Leib-Seele-Verhältnisses Book Cover Das leibliche Widerfahrnis der Wahrnehmung. Eine Phänomenologie des Leib-Seele-Verhältnisses
Jens Bonnemann
Mentis Verlag GmbH
Paper Text 54,00 €

Reviewed by: Agata Bak (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, Spain)

The present work is an essay on the theory of perception, but Bonnemann´s book aims at recovering an often overlooked dimension of perception in a profound research that establishes a dialogue with a wide scope of interlocutors from both so-called continental and analytic traditions. Given the extension and the details of the study, we resign ourselves to present exclusively the development of its main  thesis, leaving aside many valuable interpretations and debates. The study counters the over-intellectualizing trend in philosophy of perception (18) and accounts for a broader notion of this phenomenon, in order to include also the aspect of the “felt” bodily experience: leibliche Widerfahrnis (“experience” is our way of translating Widerfahrnis: it should be taken in a sense in which we say “I was hardly experienced in my life”, that is, a happening or incident that had an impact on us). The standard account of perception tends to ignore the fact that perception is also a bodily event, and conceives it rather exclusively on epistemic grounds (as the sensible moment of the sinnliche Erkenntnis), where the role of body is more ancillary and anecdotal. The turn in the philosophy of perception, as might be the case of Noë, but also of Heidegger or Sartre, highlighted also the practical dimension of perception. Nothing similar happened with the pathical dimension of experience, despite the fact that different authors referred to it in their work. This work aims at closing this gap.

As the author observes, it is sufficient to reflect on painful experience, or on joy, to see that there are many ways in which things affect us, and that these experiences are not well accommodated within standard, epistemological accounts. Predicates such as “pleasant” or “unpleasant” have no place there, or rather, they do not refer to any qualities of the object, in which the other side seems to be reduced to the object of knowledge. Also more praxis-oriented and phenomenological accounts, as stated in the first part, are object of critique; in fact, many authors, such as Schütz or Henry fail to conceive the pathic (pathisch) moment of living experience, that is, the things that attack, hurt, please or frighten us. It is so, because they do not conceive in terms of original and intentional relation with the world, that is, the fact that a thing might be pleasant or unpleasant to me, straightforwardly. The author pursues an intentional and perceptual account of this phenomenon.

It is to stress here that the author remains faithful to the idea that it is the perception, the original phenomena, he wants to study; he struggles to avoid both the extremum which dissolves perception in the phenomenology of the body, and of course the one that makes perception (and subject) transparent in the epistemology. The point is to conceive the perception as an original relation, that makes subject and object emerge, rather than the reverse. This seems the only way to overcome dualism installed in the very heart of the theory of perception. To coin this account, the author enters in the first part of the book into a very deep dialogue with a different philosophical tradition.

The departure point is the traditional problem within standard perception theory, and author´s interlocutors range from Aristoteles, Kant and Plessner to Jonas and Strauss. The most prominent feature that Bonnemann discusses in the first part is the dualism between perception, understood as part of sensible knowledge and thus an epistemological term, and experience (as Widerfahrnis) which was traditionally conceived as a feeling that does not correspond to any object or objective feature in the world (it is weltlos). Even Jonas, whose critique of the traditional notion of perception is detailed in the second chapter, falls back to this polarity, as he finally conceives the bodily affection as something that lacks connection to the world and we need to abstract from it in order to produce knowledge. Strauss integrates Empfindungen into worldly related states, but he reserves pathic experiences as self-affective and non-intentional. On the contrary, the author defends the thesis that this dualism should be overcome, as the very perception contains also features whose correlative are vital interests and necessities of the subject. Suffering also discloses properties of the object, properties that are unreachable for a distanced epistemological subject. (56)

He then proceeds to examine in detail different approaches to perception (chapter 3) and he does so in order to show three ways in which the pathic dimension can be overlooked. The first of them is the one that takes perception as part of sensible knowledge, and which is represented by Searle; and then two that stand against the primacy of theoretical aspects of perception. One of them stresses the priority of praxis (Dewey, Heidegger) and the second reduces the perception as such to philosophy of body (Henry). All of them, according to the book, fail to grasp the complex relation established in perception: Searle lacks the intuition that perception might be something bodily and that the subject is something more than the subject of knowledge; theories of action are certainly right in describing other kinds of relations with  objects (as Zuhandenheit), and are a source of very rich descriptions about our being in the world, but the circular relationship between action and perception does not account properly for the bodily relevance, and it seems that it finally embraces some kind of intellectualistic explanation of what pathic experience is. According to Schütz (in Bonnemann´s reading): “the taste of chocolate is for Schütz only a genuine motivational relevance, because I have learnt that chocolate tastes good to me” (115). It is strongly theoretical and it does not explain then this pathic experience as disclosing some straightforwardly given properties of the object. Henry´s philosophy, on the contrary, affirms clearly that experiences of the pathic kind arise in the intimacy of subjectivity, and not as effects of the world on an embodied subject (119). The last chapter of this part exams contemporary notions of embodiment, as represented by enactivism and “postcognitivist” movements. He discovers there that most of the accounts certainly accommodate bodily action in the world, but they tend to focus exclusively on the pragmatic aspect of bodily-perceptual conditionality rather than on the intentional moment of the affectivity.

The phenomenological analysis of pathic phenomena as a perception and in relation to the world is precisely the aim of the second part of the study and the thesis pursued in the book. The axis that articulates this study are Shaun Gallagher´s notions of Körperschema and Körperbild. Although the author highlights that Gallagher´s account tends to conceive pathic experience exclusively in terms of consciousness of pain/pleasure, on the reflective level and referred exclusively to the body, he thus fails to conceive the intentional character of pathic dimension, though the distinction itself is very useful. Körperschema refers to the notion of unconscious or unreflective processes that flow and in which a subject is involved. This is then the prereflective level of perception, in which the pathetic perception is world directed and consequently includes a moment of intentionality. The objects disclose themselves as pleasant, menacing, too cold etc. It is only on the second level, the one of Körperbild, defined by Gallagher as “the system of perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs pertaining to one´s own body” (147), where the pain or other experience of the kind becomes a bodily localized sensation and then refers rather to the subject than to the world. One should notice that the first part of Bonnemann´s project is not common in phenomenology, that it does not always grant intentional character to pathetic experiences. The author promotes the idea that this kind of experience is originally not an inner bodily state, but rather considers that what is lived involves objective qualities of the perceptual world (173).

The second part of the book studies then the prereflective and world oriented dimension of pathic experiences. It is about conceiving the pathic experience not as a phenomenon of Leib, but as a bodily-mediated phenomenon of the thing (323). The author stresses in many ways the urge to distinguish the practical and the pathetic dimension of perception, which turn out to be mutually influenced but non reducible, as it can be seen in his analysis of Satrean thought. Whereas it is quite common to grant that engagement (action) is necessary for knowledge, the necessity of an affective component in every perception is not that clearly pointed out in many authors. What Bonnemann wants to stress is that world does not only serve my purposes and invites me to act; it can also hurt and destroy me (169) and thus discloses our radical vulnerability and some deprivations. This dimension is not properly the resistance of things (Widerstand), but rather their capability of affecting me (widerfahren). Somehow paradoxically and also in a shocking (in a literal sense) way it anchors us in a world, and shows us how material and vulnerable we are. It is not a constitution of sense, but rather its surge or event (Ereignis) is what we experience there.

The author analyses the mode of intentionality which is presupposed in this world – subject relation, and he discovers that its object is a value, whose best expression could be “too much” or “too little”, certain maximum or minimum; its normative character should not be conceived in abstracto as an ideal, nor should it be compared to any social norms. It refers exclusively to the excess or the poverty that affects the body. These objects are in constant relation to practical and theorical objects and mutually influence; its objectual character is also confirmed by the fact that it also opens a horizon, which is very well illustrated in the book by the “menacing horizons of perception” in 225ff. The author sketches there a situation where the whole wood turns dangerous when we fearfully expect a wild boar that could emerge out of the bushes.  Probably the account that Bonnemann finds the most suitable for his purpose is Levinas´s account of joy and his notion of “life that lives from” (vivre de), for it gathers many elements that Bonneman uses to put forward his prerreflective accont of the pathic, such as: intentional character of pathic experience, the fact that it actually has an “object” (element, in French philosopher´s words), its irreducible – and in Levinas also primary – character, and it´s positive character. This long and extremely interesting chapter gives us an idea of how to phrase properly the pathic experience. Levinas conceives this affection by comparing it to the “bath” in the “environment” (258ff), where there is still no “world” (but precisely “environment”) and no objects or things, just affections like a gentle touch of the wind (but before being thematized) or the sun on the skin. Such limit experiences are rather a starting point of the pathic experience, for, as soon stated, the transition to the practical or the theoretical dimension (from “the affecting” to “the affecting thing”) is well quick. Marginally, it is interesting to notice that the Heideggerian notion of Sorge would be situated already in this second, practical dimension and not in the original (and according to Levinas) founding moment.

The pathic experience, and this is the thesis of the last part of the study, shows us that our living body (Leib) is worldly implicated and rooted in what it is not (277). The third part aims then to give an account of how the body is experienced in the pathic experience (the level of Körperbild according to Gallagher´s terminology) and what it means, as asked in the last chapter, for a theory of subject. The central notion that Bonnemann presents here is “als-Körper-von-der-Welt-Gehabtwerden” which he finds in Plügge´s philosophy. This wording stresses the fact highlighted by the phenomenologist like Böhme, namely, that the Körper is also a Widerfahrnis, that is, that it is also part of living body (Leib) in a way that it expresses our experience of being in the world, and moreover, of being in the world as a thing among things (296). Being possessed by the body also phrases the Marcelian statement that we are incapable of fully possessing our body. This is the basic structure, according to the author, of the body (Leib) – world relation, in which the latter befalls (pleasantly or unpleasantly) the former (301). It comprehends three dimensions at the same time: being a body (Leib), which is the moment of experiencing; having a body (Körper), which means that we have a tool that is useful in our exploration of the world, and being possessed by my body (Mein Körper hat mich), which points to the fact that things can affect (attack! – 302) me. So it is not only an assertion of the well know duality (being a body and having a body), but also an affirmation of their worldly interaction.

In this sense Bonnemann goes beyond the phenomenological claims of Jonas, Böhme, Schmitz and others, as he does not only advocate for a wider consideration of pathic phenomena, he also includes them in an intentional framework, as a part of the body- world relation with a disclosing character. These authors tend to embrace a certain “weltlos” character of the Leib and affection, as they focus rather on the embodied “marks” rather than on the nature or a particular dimension of the world that “causes” them. The living body is rather a closed whole with some marks on it and the analysis does not go beyond it. And although it is useful to comprehend the relation of Leib and Körper, they seem to omit its fully intentional character. But the main interlocutor here is Plessner, whose analysis of laughter and crying accomplishes the intention of conceiving a description of body that would acocmodate a world- related pathic experience. In his analysis Plessner distinguishes the dimension of being and having a body, and then introduces, inspired by Plügge, precisely the third, intermediate dimension, itself also divided into consciousness of being, a Körper, thus a consciousness of being affected by the outside world, and the consciousness of myself being a corporal thing. These distinctions enable him to conceive crying or laughter as manifestations of a suffering body; and suffering means here disorganization and sudden possession by the body and the consequent loss of ruling position of self. What the cry implies is that the real world, the causal world has imposed on me. Thanks to this intermediate dimension and its implications we are able to conceive now how it is possible that it is not only a body mark, but also a world relatedness. It is to notice that Plessner´s account amounts to an explanation of the pathic in terms of the frustration of an action more than a positive and full-fledged pathic experience.

Our Körperbild is precisely this, the experienced awareness of being Körper in the world, and being able to experience as Leib. When it comes to the reflective view on experience as Widerfahrnis, it is conceived as a phenomenal experience, in which appears both my living and material body (325). This is exactly the shift from one part of the analysis to another. Due to this double condition, it is necessary to conceive causality and intentionality as invervowen, as it enables us to comprehend the complex relation of us being affected by the world. Otherwise, our pathic experiences would be wordless and we would not be able to conceive subjectivity properly.

As to this question, on the one hand we might be running the risk of conceiving the Körper as something biological and as such pertaining to a non phenomenal layer. On the other hand, there is also a possibility, explored by Böhme, that the corporality (as well as “I”) is nothing but the abstraction from the only authentic and primordially given in affection, Leib. However, it should be clear from the preceding analysis, that Bonnemann opts for a solution where both Leib and Körper are co-original, as in Plessner. He finds a proof for that in the Husserlian analysis of the hand touching hand: whereas normally we pay attention to the dimension of the living body that unveils, it is at the same time the disclosure of our materiality. It also makes comprehensible how von-Körper-Gehabtwerden, pathic experience of my own reality might be prior to any action, as we can conceive Empfindnisse or localized sensations, as prior to kinaesthetic sensations. It is the “being irritated by the world (e.g. 337) what properly constitutes the sensory field of the body. The reflective moment, the apprehension of Körperbild is here equivalent to the shift of attention from the object to the subject and becoming aware of this texture. As long as we do not do this, our Leib remains insivisible. This, in turn means that both Körper-haben (having body) and Leib sind (being a body) are reflective stances posterior to the worldly intervowen von-Körper-Gehabtwerden.

The study culminates in describing the Merleau-Pontian notion of chair, which seems to englobe the preceding aspects highlighted by the study, namely a certain duality, or rather reversibility of the body, and its entrenchment in the world that even amounts to the confusion between both notions. In this sense it is the overcoming of dualism, as the subject is not entirely subject, and the things are close to the Leib. Körper and Leib, concludes the author, are mutually interwoven, as the experience of the latter implies the givenness of the former (358ff). It is to ponder that the notion of self that stems out from this pathic account is not the one of suffering subject, it is the one which is accommodated in the world, and whose being is not “knowledge, nor praxis, but joy” (363), joy understood in every moment as the basic moment of pathic life in which something discloses affecting to the subject interwoven in the world. This radical relatedness of the subject is perhaps the firmest assumption that is visible at every stage of the study. With this Levinasian conclusion, the author completes this overwhelming research.