Painting and Presence “is a philosophical inquiry into the value of paintings,” writes Anthony Rudd on the opening page of the work’s introduction. More precisely, as the work’s subtitle indicates, Rudd’s stated interest concerns “why they matter to us, or rather why (or whether) they should matter to us” (1). This has been a line of questioning commonly pursued by phenomenology. Of course, as even a cursory glance at its history attests, the tradition of phenomenological philosophy is notable for its self-avowed status as “first philosophy.” Husserl and Heidegger both saw phenomenology this way, as have Michel Henry and Jean-Luc Marion more recently, among others. And it is noteworthy to observe that this conception of itself as an exercise in first philosophy has frequently involved a deep interest in art, especially painting.
Indeed, belief that art can reveal something essential about the world and the human experience is relatively unique (though not entirely exclusive) in the history of philosophy to phenomenology. As Rudd himself notes, “Aesthetics is usually considered a rather marginal and optional part of philosophy generally” (5). And as for philosophy of painting, it often is seen to be “just one corner of aesthetics” (5). By contrast, examples of those within phenomenology who have seen art as fundamental to understanding the world are in no short supply. One thinks here of Merleau-Ponty’s writings on Cézanne or Heidegger’s writings on Van Gogh. Phenomenology being the enterprise it is, why such figures have found art worth considering philosophically is unsurprising. For if, in fact, art shows us something essential about the world that would otherwise remain concealed or inaccessible, no wonder they have given it serious attention. In theorizing about art, the world itself comes into better focus. “Merleau-Ponty,” as Rudd thus says, “was right when he said that ‘Every theory of painting is a metaphysics,’ and I will be arguing that an adequate understanding of the value of painting has implications for our understanding of value in general and its metaphysical foundations” (5). As becomes clear over the course of it, Rudd’s own inquiry into the dimension of painting’s value is thus a “metaphysical” investigation in this respect, insofar as his account of aesthetic value—and the notion of “presence” which proves central to it—entails a robust ontological commitment to the reality of beauty and goodness in the world, or better, the world’s inherent goodness and beauty. Lest the phenomenological tradition’s conviction in the value of art be downplayed as less radical than it is, as either self-evident or common sensical, it should be underscored that, since Plato, a longstanding philosophical tendency has been to look askance at art. Such a critique of the arts, exemplified most famously by sections of Plato’s Republic, suggests that “in fact the arts don’t have positive value … that painting (art generally) does not lead us to the True and the Good, and may take us away from them” (11). In working out the theory of painting and its value, Rudd accordingly aims to meet this Platonic challenge, by drawing upon the collective insights of Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Henry, Marion, and others.
Responding to philosophical views skeptical of painting’s value, Rudd’s is an account that, as mentioned, makes ample use of work by philosophers in the phenomenological tradition, particularly Merleau-Ponty. At the same time, the resulting contribution to phenomenological aesthetics is very much singularly his own. At stake in Rudd’s inquiry are two key claims. The first, namely “that painting matters because it is or can be truthful, that—apart from all the many particular reasons why we might value some particular paintings—good paintings in general are of value because they disclose essential aspects of reality” (10), is one which will be recognizably familiar to readers. The second, his more idiosyncratic claim that what “all painting discloses is, in a sense, something sacred and that painting itself, therefore, is a sacred, even a quasi-sacramental act” (12), epitomizes the new ground the study breaks, offering as it does an addition to the phenomenological tradition’s understanding of art deserving to be taken seriously in its own right. In what follows, I shall lay out how Rudd manages to help us see in painting what previous work on the subject matter has hitherto not made visible.
One recurring delight while reading this three-part, ten-chapter study is the welcome discovery that the questions, thoughts, and potential objections occurring to one as the account progresses are anticipated by Rudd. This proves to be the case from the very outset, where in the work’s introduction he opens the study by addressing some methodological and thematic challenges that inevitably beset the attempt to launch an inquiry into the nature of painting and its value. Perhaps the most obvious of these bound to come to mind concerns the status of art as such: What is it? Employing a move that will be familiar to those aware of his previous work on Wittgenstein, here Rudd eschews attempting to define art or stipulating the necessary and sufficient conditions constituting it. Because there are various different forms of art, any universal definition of art will be “so vague and indeterminate that any answers to it will be either so broad as to be unhelpfully vague and indeterminate themselves or else too narrow to avoid numerous counterexamples” (1-2). And yet, although a definition of art eludes us, this is not cause for despair. For we have some grasp of art nevertheless, at least of what a painting is when we see it: “One virtue of concentrating on painting […] is that we do at least have a rough intuitive idea of what a painting is” (2). This Wittgensteinian manner of dissolving the initial apparent problem of defining art (and painting) invites a related challenge. “The current concept of art,” as Rudd observes, “is a fairly recent and specifically Western invention” (2). One thus might object that the conception of art Rudd has in sight is provincial. One might also object that, if so, it will be illegitimate to draw the sort of general metaphysical conclusions regarding the nature of value that his account aims to draw based on its analysis of painting’s particular value.
Rudd himself acknowledges the issue, stating that he intends his account of painting and painting’s value “to apply across different times and across different cultures” (2). To that end, in addition to Eastern Orthodox icon painting, he cites classical Chinese landscapes, and high modernist art of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century Europe (3), as traditions and periods that will guide his vision. By turning attention to these different kinds of paintings, what hopefully promises to emerge is “a universal answer to the question why painting matters” which does not “condemn us to relativism” or “make it impossible for us to find genuine cross-cultural and cross-perspectives that we inhabit” (3). Thus, as Rudd puts it, “My project is to see whether a positive, informative, and general answer to the question why paintings matter is possible” (27). And as he notes, although it may not be possible to guarantee in advance that such an answer can be given, neither is there any compelling reason to rule out the possibility in advance.
Having addressed these preliminary matters, Rudd closes the introduction first by specifying his own methodological approach, then by explaining how this method of analyzing paintings is able to illuminate their “presence.” Rudd here observes that an approach centering the aesthetic value of a painting in virtue of its presence opens unto broader questions of value. If, as Rudd says, “one cannot understand why paintings might matter without a broader understanding of why, or in what sense, anything might matter” (5), the value of painting can only be understood within a wider metaphysics of value. By choosing to use the methodological approach he believes is most suited for identifying and preserving the integrity of painting’s value, he thereby is committing himself to views about larger metaphysical questions of value. As for this methodological choice, to illuminate the value particular to painting, to begin with, he emphasizes it is necessary that the approach focus on the actual experience of viewing paintings—that is to say, that the approach be phenomenological. Such an approach, he says, allows for “an inquiry into what it is like, from a first-person point of view, to experience paintings as mattering, as being of value” (6). Taking seriously this disclosed value entails not reducing the aesthetic experience of viewing a painting “as a datum which we might then try to explain in objective causal terms” proper to psychology or sociology. Instead, the phenomenological approach he prefers “sticks with that experience and sties to see what it is about those paintings that becomes apparent to us when we experience them in that way—as mattering” (6). The potential trouble, one might think, is that this first-person experiential approach stands in tension with Rudd’s goal of reaching essential, universal structures about painting and the value of painting. It seems that here there arises “the old philosophical problem of induction—Hume’s problem” (7). But appearances can sometimes be deceiving, and such is the case in this instance, he says. For as he notes, phenomenology does not trade in inductive hypothesis formation or empirical generalizations. Rather, it proceeds by way of an “intuition of essences” (7), what reveals necessary, universal, and essential truth.
At stake is what Rudd throughout the inquiry will term “knowledge by acquaintance,” something delivering a kind of truth that is said to be “non-discursive,” and which accordingly cannot be paraphrased in any non-visual medium. This sort of non-paraphrasable, non-discursive, sensuous, experiential meaning is what is revealed by viewing a painting, and what constitutes the painting’s “presence,” and thus in turn its value or significance. As Rudd explains the terminological choice, “I take up the term ‘presence’ which has been used by various art critics and theorists to indicate a particularly intense or charged way in which we can experience artworks as communicating with us” (11). The presence a (good) painting exhibits is that which grips, fascinates, and enthralls us about it. If what painting shows “goes beyond and is irreducible to any discursive knowledge” (think, for example, of what Cézanne shows us of Mont Sainte-Victoire), then as Rudd explains, an account of painting’s value must also explain “the particular kind of knowledge by acquaintance that painting provides is good to have” (12). Moreover, to vindicate this experience of painting’s value, to show it is not illusory, it will be necessary to give an account of the value of nature. After all, if paintings themselves are said to capture and convey the value of what they depict, for such aesthetic value to be genuine, the world itself must exhibit genuine value as well.
As Rudd says, “An adequate account of the value of painting—and of the aesthetic appreciation of nature—requires us to repudiate the modern picture of a ‘disenchanted’ value-free world” (12). To account for the value of the aesthetic experience of viewing a painting, the value must be connected to a meaningful aesthetic encounter with the very world it represents. Contrary to how the modern scientistic sensibility would have it, the world (or nature) must therefore not be seen as disenchanted, but as inherently meaningful—good and beautiful. To experience nature aesthetically, as he puts it, is to “experience it as being valuable, as having an ontological goodness” (12). Rudd’s inquiry, we see, is to be a purposely metaphysical endeavor, for explaining painting’s aesthetic value will involve clarifying the world’s as well.
An approach such as Rudd’s aiming to account for the value of painting in light of the world’s beauty and goodness would seem to lend itself naturally to a mimetic theory of artistic production and representation. A painting’s truth, beauty, or goodness, so the thought goes, is borrowed from the reality it copies or reproduces. Rudd, who is aware that this thought will have come to the reader’s mind, addresses two objections it faces. In the first place, much of art history “encourages its students to adopt a detached, unemotional stance, to learn about point of technique, historical context, how to decipher symbolism, and so forth” (17). Because Rudd is interested in how the value of painting is manifest in the aesthetic experience of the work, the traditional art historical approach is a challenge to the mimetic theory, since the aspects of the painting that would account for its value will be ignored by such a gaze. The theoretical approach favored by art historians, after all, can often be blind to the very sort of value that Rudd believes makes a painting valuable ultimately—it overlooks the way we respond to works during the aesthetic experience of them, the way paintings matter to us in an “emotionally intense, personal way.” “Scholarly art historians,” as he observes, “often don’t exactly seem to encourage such responses” (18). Yet here, it could be claimed that the art historian has not actually overlooked anything important—for in considering what the value of a painting might be, as Rudd proposes we do, why think that it in fact has any value? As Rudd here notes, this is the heart of Plato’s critique, not only of epic and dramatic poetry, but of mimesis. On this Platonic conception of artistic imitative production, the painter “merely imitates, produces a copy of, a physical thing,” the latter being “itself merely an imitation or copy of its Form.” And for Plato, as we know, the Forms are timeless, immaterial essences, which is to say, they “are objects of thought, not of sense perception” (19). Plato’s Socrates sees painting as trivial, to be sure, yet he doesn’t suggest banning it as he does the poetic works of Homer and the tragedians, which are thought to be corrupting. Still, for Plato, “vivid images, like cleverly chosen phrases, can seduce and mislead” (19). Paintings, then, according to Plato, are not works of truth.
So much the worse for Plato, one might think we ought to conclude. Yet Rudd himself is quick to note that what Plato has claimed about the relationship between truth and the arts (painting specifically) is not of just historical interest. There are two kinds of arguments against art, or against the idea of art having deep value, to be considered. The first could be described as “rational” or “scientific”: from the point of view of the search for truth, art is trivial. In a word, “science is the road to truth; art is merely subjective” (20). Art does not give us knowledge. As for the second argument, it was just alluded to above. Here, the arts are claimed to be trivial, even pernicious: they are “simply a form of entertainment or decoration” (22), or worse, they can “make us delight in bad things and can corrupt their viewers” (20). For someone viewing art through these Platonic eyes, the problem is not so much that art fails to give us knowledge at all, but rather that it gives us bad beliefs.
Further potentially complicating Rudd’s account of painting’s value is the fact that, as he notes, an account such as his underscoring aesthetic experience is bound to invite the accusation of subjectivism. “The properties we appreciate paintings for are, after all,” as he says, “aesthetic properties—that is, they appeal to the sense. But this would seem to restrict their appreciation to beings which have sensory faculties like ours.” “One is tempted,” he continues, “to put the question in these terms: would a painting still be valuable if there was no one who did, or more strongly, no one who even could appreciate it?” (24). The operative word, of course, is “tempted.” For according to Rudd, concluding that the aesthetic value of painting is somehow metaphysically illusory because aesthetic qualities are not “mind-independent” would be, to borrow the famous phrase of John McDowell whom Rudd himself cites in this context, to see things as “sideways-on.” To resist seeing painting “sideways-on,” instead providing a phenomenological explication of it, entails attending to an individual painting in its own right (26). However, whereas a “particularist” philosophical theory might lead to skepticism about unitary accounts of that value as consisting in any one thing, Rudd insists it is necessary to try to understand what the commonality is among good paintings. Whatever it proves to be, the valuable characteristic cannot be on the same level as harmonious formal structure or representational accuracy. Rather, as Rudd says, “it must be present in good paintings of any kind (present in a great degree the greater the painting) and which makes us care about this one’s representational accuracy or that one’s harmonious structure, when we don’t (or don’t care as much) about the representational accuracy or harmonious structure which we may agree exists in more mediocre works” (27). Perhaps the characteristic in question consists in a painting’s goodness, one might think. After all, if Plato had questioned the value of painting by claiming it leads us away from the True and the Good, then the most direct way to answer him, and to identify what valuable paintings have in common, would be to show that paintings can be of benefit by actually leading us towards the True and the Good. Perhaps, then, it might be thought enough simply to “define good art as that which didactically serves a good moral or political cause” (28). However, as Rudd explains, that strategy would be to give up on his own project, which is to understand “why we rightly value many kinds of paintings,” most of which are not explicitly didactic. Thus, if painting is to be valued because it serves the Good, a subtler way of understanding how this is so besides simple didacticism must be found (28).
What, then, of Truth? “Perhaps the simplest way in which one might think of a painting as conveying the truth,” says Rudd, “would be through representational accuracy” (28). Is it the case that we value paintings because they depict things as they really are? Rudd catalogues a number of problems with such an idea: there are excellent paintings which are not representational at all, even among those which do have a recognizable subject matter, the best ones are not necessarily those which represent their subjects in the most literal or accurate fashion, and there are many paintings which are representationally accurate, but which seem to have little or no artistic merit. Hence, literal representational fidelity is neither necessary nor sufficient for a painting to have value. At the same time, Rudd cautions that this does not rule out the idea that we might value paintings for their truthfulness. If we do pursue such a line, however, here as before with painting’s connection to goodness, we must think of truthfulness more subtly, as more than just representational accuracy.
Aware of the fact that by this stage it will not be only Plato whom readers have in mind, Rudd turns to the other obvious historical figure of philosophical importance here, namely Hegel. It is Hegel, after all, whose philosophical theory of aesthetics forthrightly frames the analysis of art in terms of truth. Might a Hegelian (or sophisticated-Marxist) theory of art account for what makes all great art great? The claim would be that great art, which is to say truthful art, discloses deep truths about the society and culture to which it belongs. On such a view, as Rudd explains, “great art doesn’t just manifest the superficial self-image of a culture by showing what it thinks of itself; it makes manifest its social subconscious, its deeper motivations, fears, and tensions” (29). So understood, an artwork is a work of truth, insofar as it is a mode of critique. As Rudd acknowledges, plenty of philosophical work has been done by treating art’s function this way. And yet, no matter how sophisticated and illuminating they prove to be, these philosophical approaches to art reduce paintings to serving as clues to “the zeitgeist or to the mindset of the culture.” The artwork itself is “still being used as a tool of social-scientific research, rather than being valued in itself” (29).
If Platonic and Hegelian views about what the value of painting are said to consist in meet with serious difficulty, here one very naturally might propose that it is Beauty, rather than the Good or the True, to which a painting’s value is connected. Contrary to what Plato’s Socrates maintains, perhaps the beauty of a painting is its own justification, even if it has no connection with either truth or goodness (30). Or, maybe painting need not have any connection with beauty either, but can be celebrated as a pure, autonomous activity, a playful celebration of visual possibility. Some painting, indeed, might be seen as worthwhile precisely because it subverts, ironizes, or undermines those “portentous, suffocating old norms of Goodness, Truth or Beauty” (30). Understood to convey that there is no ultimate Truth, but rather only an indefinite plurality of different possible ways of seeing, art would show “the truth that there is no Truth” (30). Once again, as before with the Hegelian conception of art’s truthfulness, these postmodern conceptions of art are still claiming that art is of value because “it contributes to human flourishing and provides us with philosophically significant insight (30). The value is not taken to be intrinsic to the painting itself.
“I do want to pause,” writes Rudd, “with the suggestion that painting is justified not by conveying truth or promoting moral goodness, but by its beauty” (30). There still seems to be an obvious answer to what makes paintings valuable: “We value (good) paintings because they are beautiful. Isn’t it as simple as that?” (30). One issue with a straightforward mimetic theory of painting’s value, it will be recalled, is that not every good painting is a literalistic representation of what it depicts. A similar problem besets straightforwardly appealing to beauty as an explanation for a painting’s value. “One simple and obvious problem,” as Rudd contends, “is that not all paintings are beautiful and, more to the point, that not all great paintings are beautiful.” Not every great painting’s greatness seems to have to do with it being beautiful (31). In fact, that some great paintings depict horrific or ugly things is why, as Plato had worried, art might be thought to be dangerous and corrupting. Owing to the beauty of their formal properties (“their finely structured composition, or their well-balanced and sumptuous colour” ), there is a bewitching tendency for art to make even the horrific seem pleasing (31), a fact someone such as Iris Murdoch has noted, as Rudd says. Such paintings can seduce us into taking pleasure in what should appall us. This power of theirs underscores the Platonic critique’s pertinence.
Having reached what seems be a conceptual impasse, here as elsewhere, Rudd’s study finds a way to move beyond what had previously appeared to be an intractable difficulty. “A better response to the problem of great but non-beautiful art,” he contends, “is to ask, again, what we mean by ‘beauty’” (32). He states his sympathy for a definition formulated by Paul Crowther: “beauty as ‘that whose visual appearance is found fascinating in its own right.” Beautiful paintings “fascinate us, strike us, draw us in, and do so simply in virtue of the way they look.” This conception of beauty can be compared with the similar, yet distinct, classic one provided by Aquinas, for which the beautiful is understood as “that which ‘pleases’ when seen’” (32). In response to this classical definition of beauty, one might adduce as a counterexample a painting that is not in any way visually striking or interesting, but which nevertheless is artistically good. As for such a possibility, Rudd himself is “happy to deny that there can be any such thing” (32-33). In the last analysis, hence, Rudd concludes it is tempting to hold that what makes a painting good qua painting just is the visually fascinating way it appears (33).
True to form, here he anticipates and addresses the objection such a claim is likely to evoke. Which properties, exactly, are relevant to such beauty? The claim that a painting’s beauty consists in what visually fascinates us about it might be thought to commit Rudd to some version of “aesthetic empiricism,” a position according to which the only features relevant to a painting’s aesthetic evaluation are those which are strictly perceptible. The impression that this must be Rudd’s view is only further encouraged by the fact that by this point in the inquiry, Rudd has insisted more than once that his account of aesthetic value will be phenomenological, and hence one attending to what is disclosed directly on the canvas. Is taking a painting’s subject matter or symbolism into consideration thereby eliminated? A fact to note in response is that, if one attempts to accommodate a painting’s background information—its subject matter, style, symbolism, historical context, and so forth—for the aesthetic appreciation and evaluation, it is hard to maintain a very strict distinction between the purely aesthetic properties of a painting and all the rest (34). Rudd’s own preferred solution to this dilemma, which strikes me as assuming the right balance, is to point out that if such properties do indeed matter for the aesthetic evaluation of a painting, they are relevant only because they help us “appreciate the visually apparent features of the painting for what they are” (34). In the end, the visible is what matters.
However, if nothing else, the Platonic objection is persistent. Even after the considerable conceptual energy Rudd has already expended attempting to answer it, he recognizes it once again threatens to arise here. “To experience something that is visually pleasing or fascinating,” as he notes, “is, of course, pleasing or fascinating, but is this really enough to make it of significant value, to explain why it can matter to us, or why we might think it should matter? (35). “To recall the Platonic Objection,” as he continues, “pornography, political propaganda, and commercial advertising are all intended to fascinate visually. So what distinguishes their visually fascinating qualities from those of good paintings?” (35). A distinction between “narrow” and “broad” senses of beauty (or a “deep” and “shallow” sense) meets the challenge. So understood, beauty is that to which theoria attends; it “is not a self-standing value, independent of truth and goodness,” but instead “the way in which truth and goodness show up to us” (36). Beauty in the “deep” sense is something conveying “significance or meaning, not just providing titillating visual sensations.” This kind of deep beauty is visually fascinating because it reveals to us what is significant (36). Rudd in turn notes that it must be shown in what respect both truth and goodness are connected to painting’s value, inasmuch as beauty is so connected. He claims that to say painting is truthful will be to say that it discloses essential truth—“metaphysical” truth. What’s begun to emerge, it has become clear, is a view of painting’s value committed to something like the Medieval understanding of the transcendentals: “For if truth is good and if beauty can be a form of truth, then beauty is good” (37). What is particularly noteworthy about this is not just that Rudd has managed to make compelling and promising the invocation of what usually is considered an outmoded philosophical way of thinking, but that he has done so by showing how careful reflection paying close attention to the actual aesthetic experience of viewing a painting invites it.
Turning in earnest to the matter of painting’s truthfulness, Rudd begins by iterating how “the Platonic answer to the Platonic challenge” (38) is to observe, as he has already, that the argument for the triviality of painting (that is, the idea it is three steps removed from the truth of the Forms) depends on a crudely mimetic “copy” theory of painting (38). Painting, to the contrary, “involves idealization” (39), an insight which, perhaps surprisingly, has been taken seriously by the subsequent Platonic tradition itself. In the case of someone like Plotinus, for instance, the artist is said not simply to try to imitate the way a particular thing appears, but to portray the thing so as to show it “as expressing the ideal Forms.” At stake in doing so is not bare reproduction of the thing seen, but “the Reality-Principles from which Nature itself derives” (39). This Platonic tradition of which Plotinus is an exemplar regards the sensible world itself as participating in the Forms, such that the artist does not turn away from the natural, sensible world altogether (39). Here Rudd cites Douglas Hedley who contends, “‘Plotinus prioritizes vision over discursive reflection; the immediacy of sight over the mediated.’” To be sure, there is a substantial “aesthetic” element in Plotinus’ philosophy, yet his ultimate goal, admits Rudd, “is an inner contemplative vision to which the sensuous aesthetic vision of an image is merely an analogy.” Still, there is an important lesson to draw. “A Platonist of a less ascetic kind than Plotinus,” as Rudd says, “might reasonably find it intrinsically valuable not only to contemplate the Forms, or the One, or God but also to contemplate the visible world as the expression, emanation, or creation of the Forms, the One or God” (40). This notion is one Rudd himself will develop later in his own fashion, when taking up the way the sacred pertains to painting.
With modernity and the rise of aesthetic theories epitomized by Hegel, the influence of this Platonic art theory declines. The scientific, technological “disenchantment” of nature set in, and as a result, the natural world came no longer to be seen as “a meaningful—and therefore beautiful—order” (41). Rudd says, “Hegel’s ‘official’ doctrine is that the truths that art can present in sensuous form are not the highest truths (or the highest forms of truth) and that truth can now be presented more adequately in conceptual form, so that art ceases to be strictly necessary for us.” Hegel, thus, in a way defends the arts against Plato, insofar as art is said to be capable of expressing truth, but Hegel’s conception of art’s truthfulness ultimately makes art dispensable. Although art today at this point in history can still express truths, Hegel maintains we now have better ways of doing so (43).
Rudd consequently shifts his attention to a contemporary phenomenological account of art’s meaningfulness, one that unlike the Hegelian view attempts to preserve the irreducibility of aesthetic truth. His example is the view of Steven Crowell, who, as Rudd observes, takes certain works of sculpture as an illustration of art’s unique capacity to disclose meaning that would be incommunicable otherwise. A work of “minimalist sculpture—Crowell’s example is Donald Judd’s Untitled (Large Stack) of 1991—can visually present certain Phenomenological insights into the nature of perception” (43). However, Hegel’s original question imposes itself again here: for if art is indeed a mode of truth, is not such truth a poor substitute for conceptual thought? It might seem that Judd’s work only illustrates an account of vision that could be better developed through, say, Husserl’s conceptual description of perception. A different example of art’s capacity to express “deep” truth, which perhaps manages to disclose something about objects a mode of conceptual analysis could not, are the paintings of Italian artist Giorgio Morandi. On Crowell’s view of Morandi, his paintings manage to illuminate the “indifference of mere things,” the existence of everyday objects beyond any use or meaning they may have to us. If such a view of Morandi is correct, then art in fact can convey truth that could not exist apart from its aesthetic medium—hence, Rudd’s “no paraphrase” thesis is met. It does seem plausible to conclude, as Crowell does, that knowledge by acquaintance of sensuous, non-discursive knowledge through painting is possible. A painting can indeed disclose the silent “thingness” of what it depicts.
Here, Rudd hastens to fend off a common misconception. To say painting gives us non-discursive knowledge is not to invoke a notion of pure, non-linguistic experience. According to Rudd, conceptuality remains at play, even if the truth a painting discloses lies beyond linguistic paraphrase or conceptual articulation. For one thing, when seeing a painting, one is always doing so “at least minimally as a painting, maybe as a Rothko or a Raphael, as a Madonna and Christ, or as a classical Chinese mountainous landscape.” Nonetheless, as Rudd stresses, that such experience is linguistically shaped and mediated does not mean it can be reduced to a purely verbal level. One needs the sensuous immediacy of seeing the painting to learn what it discloses (46).
When Rudd then states painting matters because “it doesn’t imitate surface appearances, but intimates deep truths that are available in no other way,” such a formulation, which deliberately evokes associations with Merleau-Ponty, raises the question: which artists, if not Morandi, are exemplars of true greatness, and why they are, whereas other artists are not? For as Rudd notes, in Crowell’s analysis, there is something very specific about the way Morandi paints that gets across to us the “silence” of thinghood, a style or manner that is not universal, but rather quite distinctive. Is Crowell therefore saying that, if painting should convey deep truths, only Morandi (and a few others) has succeeded in using the medium to do so? “If this is so,” that is, if “Morandi does convey a deep philosophical insight, while remaining a minor artist, then the ability of painting to convey deep ontological truth cannot be the sole or even the most important source of its value.” After all, it might be observed that other artists greater than Morandi are important because they convey other deep truths. Is their greatness compared to Morandi due then to the truths they convey being more important than those Morandi does? Rudd is unsure how we would go about assessing such claims (47).
With Merleau-Ponty, Rudd has us consider Cézanne, a painter who has dominated phenomenological discussions of painting. His status as one who discloses the pre-objective being of things, the world as we experience it prior to our adoption of a detached, intellectualizing stance, is unquestioned (47). Were we to take ontological truthfulness as the reason for why art matters, then the more ontologically truthful painter is the greater one. Rudd accordingly asks: does this mean Cézanne was a greater artist than Raphael? To be sure, such a claim does not seem absurd in the way a similar claim about Morandi does. Nonetheless, Rudd observes that we may feel at this level of artistic achievement, it makes little sense to attempt to rank artists by such criteria (48). For if Merleau-Ponty is in fact providing a general account of the essence of painting as the expression of our being-in-the-world, he seems committed to the conclusion that all the great High Renaissance masters, for example, were failures. “This,” Rudd says, “would be the sort of implausibly Procrustean account that I agreed with the particularists in rejecting” (48). On the other hand, if Merleau-Ponty maintains that the Renaissance masters were trying to do “something else, something which we can admire them for doing as much as we can admire Cézanne for doing what he did,” then it appears he has given up on giving a general account of painting and why it matters. That would be to succumb to particularism, whereas Rudd wishes to develop an alternative to both particularism and Procrusteanism (48). Concluding this stretch of the study, Rudd states the dilemma to which one is led, “The worry one has with Merleau-Ponty and Crowell is that they take their metaphysical views (arrived at independently) and use them as a basis for ranking artists. The worry one has with Crowther is that his account of what matters in painting doesn’t correlate with any plausible ranking of the merits of artists” (49). It is necessary to find some third alternative.
What we would like to have is a view on which we are not led to “having either to deny or diminish the value of intuitively great art because it doesn’t seem to align with our philosophical theories or to exaggerate the merits of mediocre work that does express what we think philosophically insightful.” Having failed to find such an account in the offing with Merleau-Ponty, Rudd suggests that Michel Henry offers the makings of one. “One philosopher who suggests a way to do this—although he does himself very explicitly take a particular painter to have reached a higher level of philosophical insight than others—is Michel Henry,” as he says. The artist to whom Rudd alludes is Kandinsky, In Henry’s book on Kandinsky, he argues that all painting is essentially abstract, and hence non-representational. Painting, claims Henry, aims not to copy appearances but to express or evoke the pathos of “Life,” which he takes as ontologically prior to the “World” of scientifically articulated objectivity (49). Rudd, for his own part, is less interested in the specific claims Henry makes for Kandinsky, and more interested in the fact that Henry’s conception of art as the non-representational expression of Life’s pathos suggests “the most plausible form that a solution to this problem should take.” In other words, “what is of value in painting is something that exists in some degree in all painting, but it is taken to a higher level, the better the painting is” (49). Where Rudd contends that Henry errs is in holding that only abstractionism can in full purity exhibit what explains the value of painting in general. A more pluralistic attitude is called for, claims Rudd. This intuition of Rudd’s seems correct. As most readers would probably agree, despite the brilliance and insightfulness of Henry’s account of Kandinksy and abstractionism, we justifiably judge many kinds and styles of painting to have value, and the best instances of them to have great value. As Rudd says, if such value consists in their expressing truth, then the truth at issue must be expressible in many ways—“in Rublev, in Raphael, and in Rothko; in Mondrain as well as Kandinsky; and in the landscapes of Dong Yuan as well as those of Constable” (50). As for the issue of painting’s mattering, here Rudd observes that Henry has made an advance beyond his phenomenological predecessors, including Merleau-Ponty. One major problem Rudd had found with Crowell’s earlier account of why art matters is that it “doesn’t make it clear why the truth he thinks Morandi shows us itself matters. Why, even if paintings do show us truth, does that make them valuable?” (51). Art on such a view risks become an idle amusement or vain distraction. It is far from clear what ultimate value there is in revealing the “silence” of things stripped of their ordinary meaning. “Why,” Rudd asks, “in a meaningless world, would it even be meaningful, of value, to make us aware of that meaninglessness? In such a world, can the truth-revealing nature of art be a reason for valuing it?” (52). Henry, however, can explain why valuing the truth-revealing nature of art since the value of art explained in terms of its expressing the truth of Life. What remains to be done is to work out a phenomenological aesthetics that, rather than confining itself to abstractionism, accommodates the full range of paintings which exhibit truth.
Rudd here invokes Murdoch, whom he previously had mentioned in passing. “A central idea of Murdoch’s explicitly Platonic ethics,” as he says, “is that our ordinary perception of the world is constantly threatened by our tendency to see only what we want to find in it—to project onto it our own fantasies and resentments. A crucial part of the moral life is learning to see things (persons, situations) as they really are.” Murdoch agrees with Plato that bad art “merely reinforces our tendency to fantasize.” However, good art can serve as an example of, and an inspiration to, the truthful and honest vision of things as they really are (54). Such artworks deliver us from the prejudice of “social convention and neurosis,” and “bring us closer to the truth,” thereby performing the moral task of “celebrating reality” (56). Following Murdoch, Rudd claims that good painting provides “an ontological delight or joy in existence that comes from a loving attention to the world” (57). But if painting can indeed illuminate truth and celebrate reality, how is this possible? A comprehensive metaphysics of value is necessary. “We cannot usefully discuss the value of art,” as Rudd says, “without raising larger questions about the nature of value: the discussion of why paintings matter cannot really be treated in isolation from the wider question of why anything matters” (58).
A thoroughgoing development of what presence consists in will aid this effort, because presence is what lies at the heart of the philosophically significant truth painting conveys. Such truth, as Rudd reminds us, arises from knowledge by acquaintance and is non-paraphrasable: the truth revealed in painting is such that nothing we could say of it would be an adequate substitute for seeing it ourselves. The truth of it cannot be fully or adequately articulated verbally (61).To make a start on clarifying the phenomenality of such presence, Rudd analogizes it to interpersonal relations. Of a person with whom we are sufficiently closely acquainted, we often say that we know this someone. The knowing is not a matter of information. It is not a matter of knowing a litany of propositions about the person. And for this reason, there is no substitute “for actually getting to know that person for oneself.” Rudd’s suggestion is that the truths we get to know through acquaintance with paintings are akin to those about other people we can only acquire through personal acquaintance with them. And central to this kind of acquaintance is the notion of presence (61).
The knowledge by acquaintance that is receptive to a painting’s presence is attuned knowledge. It accordingly differs from what Russell originally meant by it in a number of important ways. To begin with, the knowledge received in and from presence is “personal”—two people “can be looking at something equally closely, in equally good light, etc., and be aware of all the same facts about it; and it can still be present to one and not the other.” Furthermore, it is an “emotional knowledge.” To have something be present is to be moved it (69). Clarifying the intimacy characterizing presence, Rudd accordingly appeals to Martin Buber’s famous distinction between the “I-Thou” and the “I-It,” a distinction itself resembling that drawn by Gabriel Marcel, who, as Rudd notes, characterizes intersubjectivity as a “communication with communion” (64). By attending to a painting in such a way that its presence is felt, one in some way enters into a relation with it in a manner analogous to intersubjectivity. We now have an answer to why the phenomenological approach to painting’s value has a leg-up on the dry, detached approach preferred by art historians. If broad and deep beauty is that which fascinates us visually, but such beauty is revealed only in a form of attention sensitive to its presence, then the detached and skeptical attitude, that is, the attitude which distrusts intense first-order emotional responses, will remain blind to such value. This cynical detachment from painting’s (and perhaps anything’s) mattering deeply, as Rudd notes, is one of the pervasive characteristics of contemporary Western culture, an attitude which postmodern theory attempts to lend intellectual justification (67).
Here Rudd highlights his quite different attitude to a painting. “I want to say,” he writes,
“that a good painting is one that has presence, which can be experienced as present in this charged sense, while a mediocre painting lacks it (or has less of it). It may be interesting, attractive, pleasing in a variety of ways, but it doesn’t have that intensity of being that made Elkin’s respondents cry out or burst into tears. And I want to equate presence in this sense with what I have called both ‘broad’ and ‘deep’ beauty. What Crowther called the visual fascination of a painting should be understood as its capacity to draw us into a communion with it, to be present to us” (68).
Taken in the “charged sense,” analogizing such presence to interpersonal relations proves illuminating. For just as the other person always remains mysterious no matter how well known, so too a painting retains a depth of mysterious, of transcendence. Even when “experiencing a deep Marcellian communion with another person,” as Rudd says, “part of the experience is precisely that the other remains mysterious” (75). So too a good painting presents itself as having depths (76).
The fact that a painting exhibits such depths, and that such depths are what we are attuned to in coming to be acquainted with its presence, goes some way to explaining why it is that we appreciate visual representations of things at all. An artistic representation of a thing in the sense that interests Rudd is not a simple depiction of a surface appearance, but a revelation of a thing’s deeper sense, and hence a “re-presentation” of it—a good painting makes present again the essence of the person or thing (78). Borrowing the language of Gadamer, we can say a painting is not just a copy of a being but is “in ontological communion with what is copied’” (80). The most obvious example of an image’s involving the sort of interpersonal communion and presence Rudd has in mind is the religious icon.
He accordingly turns the inquiry’s attention to Eastern Orthodox iconography. Two questions are at stake in doing so: What does it mean to say that religious pictures are in “ontological communion” with their subject matter, and secondly, what would it mean to take them as “exemplary” for painting in general? (81). Consider icons narrowly defined. They are painted images of sacred personages: Christ, Mary, or saints (83). Underlying the iconoclast policy, says Rudd, was a Platonic conviction that images take us away from reality and misrepresent its true nature. To make images of material things is to move further away from the immaterial realm which is truly real (and good) rather than towards it (84). When the iconoclastic prohibition was lifted, it was done so with a distinction between worship and veneration. Although it would be wrong to worship (latreia) an iconographic image, it is proper to venerate (proskynesis) such an image. Depicting a material body so as to show the divine energy and grace emanating from it makes manifest the nature of the material world as divine creation (86). The icon, which is a center from which the divine energies radiate out, reveals the depths of transcendence.
Having already discussed Merleau-Ponty and Henry, Rudd here invokes the work of Marion. For Marion, what is crucial about the icon is that “we don’t just look at it,” as Rudd says, for rather than making it an object for our gaze, we open ourselves to be looked at “by Christ or the saint looking through the icon” (89). The icon’s presence (much like painting generally) conveys a distinctively aesthetic content, yet it has a conceptual structure and content that cannot be made manifest simply by translating conventional visual signs back into language (90). The icon is a paradigm of painting’s presence, says Rudd, because its mode of aesthetic communication reveals a content that is not “paraphrasable,” and involves a dimension of intersubjectivity only possible in the knowledge by acquaintance characteristic of the sensuous experience of the icon (89).
However, one may have doubts about whether the sort of revelation characteristic of religious iconography can serve as a useful paradigm for presence in painting more generally. For unlike the icon which aims to open unto a dimension of transcendence beyond the visible world, what of paintings that depict the perceived world only? Consider Merleau-Ponty’s account of Cézanne. According to Merleau-Ponty, the kind of painting typified by Cézanne reveals the primordial perceived world. But how is such painting not trivial? If Merleau-Ponty’s point is that what a Cézanne shows is what actual experience is like, why then do we need art to get us there? (108). Similarly, what would looking at a Cézanne add to what Merleau-Ponty has not already revealed in his phenomenological explication of experience? As Rudd asks, does Cézanne merely illustrate Merleau-Ponty, or does his art give us another kind of insight altogether? (108). According to Rudd, the “focused, interrogative, imaginative quest” of Cézanne’s vision, one meant to cut through the levels of “social convention and personal neurosis” to see things as they are, does not just take us back to the everyday level of perception, but rather “into the depths of things” (109). Painting “doesn’t copy appearances, but makes present the inner essence of things,” because it is “continuous with ordinary perception, while at the same time going beyond it” (110). As Merleau-Ponty might put it, “painting makes the invisible present—indeed, makes it visible” (111). In this way, a landscape of Cézanne can be likened to a religious icon, for in aiming to let us see what is not seen or cannot be seen, even such apparently secular painting enacts the theological claim that icons make the invisible visible (111). This is what occurs, claims Rudd, when classical Chinese shanshui make manifest a landscape’s Dao, that is, when they “make the invisible energies of nature (Ziran) visibly manifest” (111). Because in the rush of practical life we do not look closely enough at things, “the painter makes us see the world with a new freshness,” by making explicit what in perception we had previously been unaware of.
What makes the foregoing account of painting phenomenological, in large part, is that it highlights the fact that paintings disclose the essence of things. “Recall,” says Rudd, “Merleau-Ponty’s references to the ‘ciphers’ or to the hidden ‘logos’ present in things” (116). A good portrait, like a good landscape, does not simply disclose the general kind or nature that of what it exemplifies, but also “its haeccity—the person or thing’s individual nature, what makes it the distinct particular it is. It is this individual or essential quality of a thing that Gerald Manley Hopkins was trying to get at with his coinage, “inscape,” defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “‘the individual or essential quality of a thing; the uniqueness of an observed object, scene, event, etc.’” (116). Thus, it now is clear why Rudd’s idea that paintings make present not the surface appearances of their subject matter but their underlying essences can be understood according to the disclosive account of painting modelled by the icon. For whether we consider a good portrait, a classical Chinese landscape, or a Cézanne, the painting’s realism consists in the sense of mystery it conveys, for in making present the deep (“invisible”) natures of visible things, it discloses something of the transcendent (125).
How might we classify the theory of painting we have seen developed by Rudd to this point? As Rudd notes, the representational theory of painting is contrasted with the rival theories of expressivism and formalism. Rudd, however, proposes to show in what respect all three elements—disclosure, expression, and form—contribute to the value of a painting. Consider, first, a basic variation of the expressivist thesis, according to which what a painting primarily makes present to the viewer is the artist’s personal feelings and emotions. Rudd’s decision to have taken the icon as a paradigm might appear to run contrary to the expressivist thesis, since the aim of the iconographer, unlike the expressivist painter, is not self-expression. What Rudd emphasizes is that, even in the case of a painting whose subject matter is something other than the artist’s inner emotions—his examples are “a bird, a hare, Mont Sainte-Victoire, the Boulevard Montparnasse”—the painting nevertheless arouses an emotional response on the part of the viewer who is attuned to it (133). This “overall emotional expressiveness” is essential to the function of even representational painting (135). At the same time, expressivism is still on to something important, for in disclosing what it shows to us in the way it does, the painting gives us “a vision of things as filtered through that artist’s unique sensibility” (137). As he explains, “A painting’s disclosure of the world is a function of the painter’s experience of the world and his or her capacity–both technical and more than technical—to express that experience, that world so experienced, and render it visible” (138), which is why the painting, by recording the “dialogue between painter and world” presents a “particular sensibility” that allows us to experience the world in a way we could not otherwise have (138). Paintings, thus, do not so much express personalities as they express sensibilities or styles. Or said otherwise, the essence of the objects depicted in painting reflects the sensibilities of their artist, which is why bad paintings end up expressing “a cheap cynicism or smug nihilism” (139). The takeaway, says Rudd, is that any “sufficiently sophisticated and developed versions of the representational and the expressive theories coincide. You can never represent anything without representing it as it appears to you; nor can you express yourself without expressing how the world appears to you” (141-142).
It remains for the third exclusivist theory of painting to be considered: formalism. If Rudd was able to incorporate the best insights of expressivism into his account, how is that possible here? It might be thought that what matters about representational art is something just very different from what matters about abstract art. Whereas the former concerns itself with making present the objects it depicts and the sensibilities of its creator, the latter contends that paintings simply make themselves present. But even here, “how a work is composed, how the figures are arranged in relation to one another, the juxtaposition and contrasts of colours,” make a difference as to whether a painting is visually fascinating and worth looking at, by engaging us emotionally in a way to which we respond. To claim that the features of representational and expressivist paintings are irrelevant to the aesthetic merits of a supposedly purely formalist work is implausible (142). For even in the case of a deliberate work of abstractionism seeking to make the painting itself present, it does so successfully only by making present something of the essence of its subject matter (that is, color, shape, structure) and of its creator’s sensibility (147). This is reflected in the fact that bad works of abstractionism failing to do so risk deteriorating into mere decorations on the walls of corporate offices and chain hotels (146). In the last analysis, Rudd concludes that the beauty of painting consists not in copying the appearances of things but with evoking their essences, a task which when accomplished draws upon all of painting’s elements, as highlighted by representational, expressivist, and formalist theories.
With an eye finally to drawing broader conclusions about metaphysical value based on his account of the aesthetic value of painting, Rudd admits that the reader may have all along been bothered by a nagging uneasiness over the inquiry’s usage of the notion of essence. Such a term need not be so intimidating or elusive, however. In Rudd’s vernacular, the word “essence” has referred to a thing’s “total meaningful presence,” not to the idea of a “mysterious component” that the word’s association may conjure in the minds of some (162). In the specific sense Rudd intends it, to say persons and things have essences is just to say that they are not “amorphous lumps,” but have their own meaningful coherence and integrity. An essential nature, in this respect, can be thought of as the “meaning” or “sense” of things, a kind of essence which in turn would seem to be capable of being articulated conceptually (165). As Rudd had emphasized previously, such truths are in some sense conceptual. This is not to deny they are nevertheless non-discursive. Their presence cannot fully be captured in any verbal paraphrase, for the knowledge they convey is only accessible aesthetically in an immediate, intuitive encounter. This distinction between the non-conceptual and the non-discursive therefore addresses what may otherwise have posed a problem for Rudd’s account of presence. Using Merleau-Ponty’s language, which terms the rational order as “logos,” can such a “logos” be given a “nonconceptual presentation”? Someone who like Hubert Dreyfus assumes that “mental activity, conceptualizing, and thinking must be explicit, theoretical, and detached, assumes that it cannot exist implicitly within our practical coping activities” (168). However, because Rudd has distinguished between the non-conceptual and the non-discursive, he is able to maintain that this level of primordial perception is indeed presentable in painting despite its conceptuality.
Having revealed quite a bit concerning the sort of truthfulness at stake in painting, it remains to be shown why “it is good to know such truths,” as Rudd says (170). Recall the trouble plaguing Crowell’s account of Morandi’s painting: in the end, it was unclear why the sort of truth those paintings were shown to reveal about objects was something ultimately mattering. Might not a similar point be made in regard to the sort of truth said to be disclosed in painting, according to Rudd? At last, it is time to consider more fully Rudd’s claim of a value-laden world, a world of inherent beauty and goodness. Just as he had insisted that an approach to the value of painting must begin with the experience of such value, so too with the value of the natural world. The proper point of departure, says Rudd, is “the direct aesthetic experience of the natural world” (172). Such experience, he claims, discloses to us an order of value in nature. And according to Rudd, trying to assimilate the appreciation of nature to that of art is not so difficult, for there are genuine and illuminating parallels to be found between them (173). “One clear parallel,” as he notes, “is that natural beauty, like artistic beauty, doesn’t necessarily show itself to any casual glance” (175). To see natural beauty, one must be rightly attuned to what one is seeing. In the aesthetic experience of nature, we learn to be amazed both at the essence of things (what they are) and at their existence (that they are)” (177). This “truth of presence” is about seeing things as they really are, an attention to the real that proves transformative, since this knowledge by acquaintance of nature’s beauty (and truth) discloses more about the world than would otherwise be accessible. “An experienced hiker, or a nature writer, a Thoreau or John Muir or Annie Dillard,” as Rudd explains, “has a ‘truthful vision’ or sees things truly, sees the truth of things” (180). The point about the parallel between the aesthetic appreciation of paintings and the aesthetic appreciation of nature is that neither can replace the other. They are complementary. The beauty common to both art and nature means, as Rudd says,
“That we shouldn’t accept a simple mimetic theory according to which art derives its significance from nature—it’s beautiful simply because it imitates what is beautiful—nor should we accept the opposite theory, according to which it is only through art that nature becomes transformed into something aesthetically significant (the object depicted as only the grit that the pearl forms around). Looking at a Cézanne is not a second-best substitute for looking at Mont Saint-Victoire, nor is the mountain itself, as it were, a prior preliminary sketch for the achieved aesthetic result of the Cézanne. But if there is a priority, it does rest with nature. Art (painting) is a response to, a celebration of, nature. It transforms and adds to natural beauty but remains always dependent on it” (181).
This ontological priority of nature over art returns us to an insight regarding the nature of truth from classical and medieval thought that Rudd had mentioned earlier, namely the thesis that ontological truth is primary. A thing is true to the extent that it embodies its essence by realizing some standard (181). This is the sense of truth at stake when still today we speak of someone being a “true friend,” or when speaking of a specimen of gold’s being “true gold” rather than “fool’s gold.” Truth, in this sense, is something pertaining to the entity or state of affairs itself—it is a matter of something’s being the way it is, rather than a matter of a correspondence between our beliefs and the world. In this fundamental sense, the truth of a thing consists in its very being, that it is primordially good simply in virtue of being at all. As Rudd comments, “To see nature as having this value-laden character is to experience there being the kinds of things that there are and their having the characters they do, their connecting together and interacting in such intricate ways, as occasions, not simply for puzzlement or curiosity but for wonder, awe, and gratitude” (184). Despite “the pervasiveness of suffering and pain in nature itself,” we are not mistaken when we are struck by the realization that it is fundamentally good that some thing—a rock, a cat, a sunset, a mountain—is. This sense of nature’s goodness is the experience of its natural beauty—these are the “transcendentals,” the predicates applicable to whatever is. As Rudd notes, it is a crucial question whether this ontological sense of the goodness of being can connect with goodness in anything like a moral sense (190). What is clear, however, is that aesthetic judgments of value cannot be justified with appeal to purely value-free facts. If the only facts were value-free, as the purely scientistic conception of the world holds, then there could not be any justified evaluative judgments.
Science as we have come to think of it since the seventeenth century, says Rudd, looks at the world in a way that “excludes and sets aside purposes, qualities, values, and indeed mentality and subjectivity” (198). It is an attitude by which the world is seen as lacking inherent value (194). The natural order of the world lacks any normative dimension and has no inherent rightness to it. Nature is not in any sense good, nor does it exist for any purpose or have any meaning. Things are simply brute facts (195). This is a metaphysical conception of the world that many contemporary philosophers assume to be the case. They believe that the idea of a “re-enchantment” of nature is “a nostalgic delusion.” And, as Rudd notes, if they are correct that this indeed is the way things are, then his “whole project collapses” (197). How to respond to such naturalism then? To begin with, it cannot be stressed enough that the experiential sense of nature “as beautiful, as ontologically good, as meaningful, is primary both experientially and epistemically. (196). The notion of a cold, valueless nature is a theoretic construct, not an experiential given (198). One in thrall to the scientific worldview might reply by saying that the models which science creates, and which make no reference to value, prove perfectly adequate explanatorily (198). Here, though, Rudd asks a good question: Adequate to what purposes? The mechanistic, value-free account of inanimate nature is suitable for certain purposes of control and prediction, but it is wholly inadequate, and indeed quite irrelevant, to making sense of nature when we approach it with the purpose of appreciating it or dwelling in it.
If, then, the aesthetic experience of nature contradicts disenchanted naturalism and a fully secular account of beauty fails, should we thus conclude that there is an essentially religious dimension to the aesthetic experience of nature? The notion of nature as sacred in various pantheisms is well-known. So too among the theistic religions. As Rudd points out, even for someone such as Calvin, nature itself is said to make God visible when seen in the right way. That nature is a theophany, in this respect, is to say that beauty reveals God to us, an incredibly striking metaphysical claim that, here nearing his inquiry’s end, Rudd has managed to render credible.
As Rudd has noted frequently throughout his study, a disclosive theory of painting cannot really explain the value of art, unless it can also explain the value of what it discloses. Nearing the study’s very end, Rudd accordingly observes that when good paintings move us deeply, they do so by making manifest or disclosing the essential elements of nature. They, like the nature they depict, are beautiful. It is here that the claim all painting, as such, is religious no longer appears absurd as it may have at the outset of Rudd’s inquiry. For if nature is a sacred order, then all of painting is a disclosure of the sacred. Painting, thus, plays a quasi-sacramental role (214). That painting has an essentially religious significance is, as Rudd notes, recognized even by radical postmodernist critics, if albeit in a backhanded way. When postmodern theorists try to deconstruct the notion of presence (that is, presence in the sense of manifesting to us a meaningful order of value), they do so because in it they ultimately see a religious notion. Because they want to get rid of God, they find it necessary to first get rid of presence (214). Their convoluted conceptual meanderings seek to render uncredible what the philosophical theology of the Middle Ages had once maintained about Beauty, when it was widely regarded as a transcendental which applied in some degree to everything that is (218). This is why acknowledging and preserving presence, both in painting and in nature too, is so important: “for something to make present and to be present (in the charged sense) through its visual appearance is for it to beautiful” (216). To experience the world in this way, to experience it as beautiful, to experience it as good, is to experience it is as sacred, is to recognize and appreciate it as a visible revelation of God’s invisible glory. As Rudd says, this aesthetic vision of reality is to see Beauty how Maritain describes, when he calls it a sort of meta-transcendental—“‘the radiance of all transcendentals united’” (218).
Every so often, we encounter a work validating our wait to find that phenomenology’s meditation on art is not exhausted, that still it has something new to say truly worth saying. When reading it, we feel ourselves to be in the presence of a work that makes the world more beautiful than one without it. Rudd’s Painting and Presence is such a book.
 By “metaphysics,” Merleau-Ponty can be taken to mean what someone like Charles Larmore understands by the term: “Inquiry into the ultimate structure of reality, aiming to tie together all the various dimensions of our experience into a unified conception of the way things basically are and hang together.” See Morality and Metaphysics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021), 3.
 See his Expressing the World: Skepticism, Wittgenstein, and Heidegger (Chicago and La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 2003).
 At this stage of the analysis, Rudd also dedicates substantial space to a discussion of the Hegelian theory of aesthetics developed by Robert Pippin. The problem with Pippin’s account is that, following Hegel, it depreciates the value of natural beauty. The deflation of natural beauty’s importance to aesthetic theory is related to the main problem of Hegelian views, as Rudd sees it, namely that they subordinate the truthfulness at stake in art to what is thought to be some fuller, truer conceptual means of its articulation.
 Rudd touches here on an issue which he will revisit later, that of the role of conceptuality in experience. John McDowell is someone whom Rudd has already mentioned in this regard. For more concerning the debate about the role of concepts in experience, see Mind, Reason, and Being-in-the World: The McDowell-Dreyfus Debate, ed. Joseph K. Schear (London: Routledge, 2013). For reasons that will become clear, Rudd’s own view of perception—including aesthetic perception—is McDowellian.
 As an example of the superficial sensibility characterizing this sort of cynicism and nihilism, consider for example a work such as “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” (1991), in which the artist Damien Hirst placed a tiger shark submerged in formaldehyde in a glass-panel display case. Provocative perhaps, but ultimately shallow.
 A sentiment Rudd underscores later when he says, “I have made clear my own sympathy for a McDowellian pan-conceptualism” (209).
 This conception of ontological truth which Rudd attributes to the tradition of medieval philosophy is a sense of truth most associated today with Heidegger’s thought. See Mark Wrathall, Heidegger and Unconcealment: Truth, Language, and History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
Motivation and the Primacy of Perception, the edition of Peter Antich’s doctoral thesis, is a study of the notion of ‚motivation‘, which has been the focus of extensive investigation in recent years. The term refers to an affective and perceptive awareness of possibilities towards which the agent feels drawn. The notion is part of an already well-established phenomenological tradition but it could still prove useful for epistemologists as it suggests a “Merleau-Pontian epistemological program” (p. 6). Merleau-Ponty’s notion of motivation has already been described as a compelling alternative to the empiricist and rationalist assumptions that underpin modern epistemology. The question of how knowledge can be grounded in experience without reverting to a naive empiricism is a fundamental challenge to contemporary philosophy of cognition. By placing the French phenomenologist in dialogue with major contemporary figures of the Anglo-Saxon philosophy of mind, Antich’s clear and scholarly book identifies some of the most important issues in the transition from perception to judgments, even if it does not resolve them all.
But how exactly can phenomenology help epistemology? First, this book aims to understand knowledge as an intentional state, a type of experience distinct from wishes, imaginations and perceptions, with the tools of phenomenology. But it also allows us to overcome epistemological issues once the phenomenologically inadequate terms in which they were expressed have been replaced. We must indeed understand how, without simply causing knowledge, our embodied experiences can motivate and ground beliefs about the world. In a very merleau-pontian fashion, Antich highlights in turn the difficulties of empiricists and rationalists, causal and intellectualist explanations of perception and knowledge, or conceptualist and non-conceptualist programs, as well as disjunctivism and conjunctivism, in order to propose a middle way, beyond the false difficulties created by these dualistic alternatives.
However, by creating a specific zone between a causally explicable physical world and a reason-justified knowledge, are we not blurring the differences between experience and knowledge, or between the most immediate perceptive norms and the norms of judgments, which are more prone to interpretation or verification? The notion of motivation, a process where we would spontaneously and bodily grasp meanings pertaining to our worldly situation, prompting us to believe or act in a certain way, could wrongly incite us to naturalize a meaning that is in fact always intentionally produced. Antich’s challenge is to solve an age-old problematic dualism about experience and knowledge, by bridging the “space of causes” and the “space of reasons” – and, what is more, to do so without falling into an obscure monism.
Critical overview: the main theses
- Causes, reasons and motivation:
The first thesis of the book (chapter 1) is that the traditional epistemological dichotomy – found for instance in Sellars or McDowell – between reasons and causes (or justifying and explaining) is false. If we ask why something happens, we can answer with an objective cause, a conscious reason or a motive that has triggered it. In Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty says motivation is not only what grounds our will in action but is also a perceptual and an epistemic ground. Perception motivates our beliefs: it does not justify them (there is sometimes a gap between our motivated beliefs about the external world and reality) but it does not simply explain them either. But does such a spontaneous normative relation between the perceptive world on the one hand, and us, our body or our knowledge on the other hand, actually exist? Is it absolutely irreducible to justifications by reasons, or to explanations by causes?
According to Antich’s distinction, causal relationships hold between objects and events and affect everyone the same way, while a motive has an effect on us because of its meaning which appears as the actual cause of our action or thought but is relative. Causes explain why something is the case, reasons explain what should be the case, as far as our knowledge is concerned; motivation also explains what should be the case, but as far as our beliefs are concerned, in front of a perceptual scene. Therefore, it accepts several beliefs (but in finite number and in accordance with certain norms). The norms of perception that motivate our beliefs are for instance equilibrium and determinacy (when a hesitation occurs, it is meant to be solved and doubt to disappear), veridicality, or a « good grasp » of the object perceived. Indeed, contrary to imaginings, perceptions are experienced as non-optional. In front of two conflicting motives, one is right and has to be followed and the other denied. Motives are not norms in themselves, says Antich, but the aspect of what I perceive with perceptual ends in mind. Nevertheless, since motivational processes are not conscious choices, they are intrinsically characterized by normativity.
Antich also distinguishes between motivation and reason. A reason is explicit and revisable while a motive is spontaneous, implicit and cannot be changed. For instance, the Müller-Lyer illusion cannot be affected by reason. Antich then gives much more “intellectual” examples, which are prone to changing interpretations where we might revise our motivation just like with reasons, but he maintains a difference by putting emphasis on the explicitness of reasons. I know the right way to strike the ball on the tennis court without reasoning, because the trajectory of the ball is a motive for my body to position itself in a certain way. If I had to reason, I could not have the same spontaneity.
There are intuitive relations between perceptions: for instance, the notes of a melody bear an intrinsic relation to each other that gives them their meaning, and the retention-protention structure which unifies them is constitutive of perception. Likewise, the gestalt principles of grouping are perceived relations supposedly “out there” in the perceptive field: the groups of dots we see when looking at dots separated by regular spaces are not our creation, but the grouping arises spontaneously, through our perceptive contact with the world. The grounding relations are similar: some are active and intellectual (explanation or justification) but others are spontaneous and bodily relations (motivation). Motivation has the specificity of being a reciprocal relation: a “proactive” influence of a motivating factor and a « retroactive » influence of the motivated on the motivating. Similarly to a melody where the last note influences the meaning of the previous ones, my motivated beliefs or actions can shed a new light on what motivated me: if the death of my friend is the motive of my journey of grief, my decision to go on the journey might, in a logical sense, “confirm this sense as valid”.
- The primacy of perception and its relation to grounding.
Antich’s second thesis (chapter 2) is that all our knowledge is based on perception and that perception is, as Merleau-Ponty says, a “nascent logos” with a “silent thesis” which explains the birth of knowledge.
Of course, knowledge cannot be reduced to perception. Knowledge is about states of affairs, it is propositional, thetic, explicit, it depends on symbolization and takes place at the level of verification, in the logical space of reasons, while perception is an experience of meaningful things, one devoid of judgment and verification. Knowledge seeks a greater degree of certainty than that found in perception, and it has a universality through truth that the particular and perspectival perception can never reach.
But despite the differences, every item of knowledge includes in its ground at least some component, not of reason, but of motivation, which is itself an effect of perception. Although they can endure beyond the perception upon which they are founded, knowledge, meanings and intellectual evidence depend on perceptual evidence.
This is the “primacy of perception” explained by Merleau-Ponty: the perceived world is the presupposed foundation of all rationality, value and existence (see The Primacy of Perception and Other Essays). This notion is to be distinguished from empiricism insofar as science and reflection are not mere transformed sensations. In spite of the founding character of perception, the founded knowledge is not merely derived from this perception; for only through what is founded does that which founds become explicit (p. 51): “it is only through the founded that the founding appears” (Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 414). This double relation (bottom-up and top-down) between the perceived object – which is a fragment of meaning that calls for determination by attention and knowledge – and the thetic understanding that fixes the perceived object and finally makes it exist, imply that the perceived object is the motif, rather than the rational warrant or the natural cause, of the “knowing event” (p. 54). Motivation is thus an epistemic mode of grounding in which perceptions can be that which spontaneously grounds items of knowledge without deliberation. It gives weight to some beliefs and not others, sometimes against my judgment (optical illusions), but does not give actual reasons.
- Particular experience, evidence and universal knowledge.
In chapter 3, Antich focuses on particular judgments about the perceptual world: “How can nonpropositional perceptions justify propositional judgments?” (p. 70). Antich abandons the alternative between causality and reason in order to overcome the debate between Davidson’s coherentism and McDowell’s “minimal empiricism” or foundationalism. According to Davidson, our beliefs are only justified by other beliefs: natural events do not belong to the space of reasons, and perception cannot be a justification but causes our belief. But he does not explain the normative fact that there are right and wrong descriptions of the perceptual scene and the phenomenological fact that perception is neither a mere sensation nor an explicit perceptual belief disconnected from its sensory content.
Rejecting the “Myth of the Given”, McDowell, on the other hand, argues that perception does not directly cause our beliefs but that the nonpropositional content of perception noninferentially justifies it through active and reflexive dispositions. But he does not take into consideration the spontaneous aspect that characterizes such perceptions as optical illusions, which are obviously not liable to revision by active thinking. Ordinarily, we do not actively think about the relation between perception and perceptual judgments, nor are we free to revise or alter this relation under the recommendation of active thinking, says Antich.
When we are faced with new experiences, many perceptions are even indefinite and ambiguous; this proves that judgment is not intrinsic to perception – on the contrary, the former determines and enriches the perception. But the perception still grounds the judgment, which without it would be empty and merely verbal. The concept of motivation helps to understand the intimate bond between knowledge and perception in terms of fulfillment. We can freely form an a priori judgment about a state of affairs but it is empty until it achieves evidence, in Husserl’s terms, that is to say until it is intuitively fulfilled by a perception which makes it evident and thus motivated.
One might ask whether this is not simply putting a name to a difficulty rather than explaining it. But the wager of phenomenology is that a good description already contains the beginning of an explanation. In his article “Merleau-Ponty’s Theory of Preconceptual Generalities and Concept Formation” (2018), Antich more precisely explains the formation of concepts as a bridge from perception to knowledge. Against theories of concept formation using abstraction, he very convincingly defends a merleau-pontian account of the birth of concepts from “preconceptual generalities” which organize experience at the most basic level. In The Visible and the Invisible, Merleau-Ponty indeed exhorts us to “replace the notions of concept, idea, mind, representation, with the notions of dimensions, articulation, level, hinge, pivots, configuration”; but he does so in order to preserve perception from conceptual analysis, and not because concepts should be evacuated. To understand how we are able to identify, categorize and then exert our conceptual capacities towards experience, it is useful to understand the conceptual availability of intuition. But since Merleau-Ponty does not generally think of perception as having conceptual content, in his new work on motivation, Antich wishes to stay neutral with regards to the role of concepts in perception, even though an elucidation of this question might have shed a new light on these debates.
- Experience, abstraction and a priori knowledge: overcoming the rationalism-empiricism divide
Chapter 4 focuses on universal judgments beyond perceptual experiences. It advocates to follow Merleau-Ponty’s path to overcome the alternative between rationalism and empiricism. According to the empiricist, for knowledge to distinguish between the real and the imaginary, or between truth and mere logical consistency, it must be grounded in experience. Merleau-Ponty assumes that even abstract scientific concepts like “time” have meaning for us only due to our perceptual experience of time. But the universality of knowledge transcends any singular experience, replies the rationalist. Contrary to the empiricist claim, such concepts as high numbers or time, universals and terms as diverse as “quark,” “chiliagon,” and “modus ponens” and at least some intellectual content (like a priori knowledge) are not reducible to experiential content and evidence, and might even be innate.
Rationalists still have a hard time explaining how such concepts can be self-evident then, as Merleau-Ponty noticed: intellectual evidence (just like perceptual evidence) actually relies on a foreground/background structure, such that any proposition can appear evident only in virtue of a background set of beliefs not simultaneously raised to explicit awareness. That is why every judgment can be doubted and is open to correction. There is a historical situatedness of all evidence (at least in their apprehension). Of course, some propositions known analytically seem presuppositionless since they are apodictically known only because their negation is inconceivable, but they can be labeled as “consequent” rather than “true” if they are not fulfilled in reality. We have to admit that a judgment always relies on other presuppositions. Particular experience grounds a priori knowledge by motivation.
Some moderate rationalists like Laurence Bonjour (In Defense of Pure Reason) argue that any argument, even the ones of the empiricists, depends on some a priori justification, for instance accepting the conclusion of an inference. If the rules for justified inference from experience were derived from experience, they might not themselves be justified, and no knowledge would be. Nevertheless, it can be motivated, says Antich: motivation is not a mere contingent occasioning ground for knowledge, but a funding ground. It creates a transcendent and necessary knowledge which originates in perception but is not reducible to it. Perception, being contingent, cannot justify the necessity of our knowledge, but it can motivate knowledge containing necessary truths. It can ground many of our ideas which are neither caused by our senses nor produced by our imagination, like personal identity, substance or causality, doubted by Hume but which are not mere fictions. The same goes for quantities: first, young children can perceptually distinguish magnitudes, but they have to learn a count list made of numbers, then learn to map their representations with this list in order to acquire the concept of natural numbers, and to finally acquire the concept of succession and the mastering of very large numbers, according to Susan Carey.
- Perceptual faith against skepticism
Primacy of perception anchors knowledge in ordinary beliefs. But Antich recognizes that this motivation process cannot provide a justified true-belief account of knowledge. “A belief counts as knowledge, just in case it is a normatively motivated true judgment”, without the need of an explicit justification (p. 60). Chapter 5 focuses on this perceptual faith, the fact that I trust my perception to be of the world, and not a mere appearance. It is not an active position-taking expressed as a judgment about existence, but an experience of inhabiting the world with our body prior to all verification, which cannot justify but grounds our knowledge about the world.
But here the skeptic’s objections arise. Perception sometimes fails to distinguish itself from illusion. Our belief in the perceptual world, because it is not justified, may then be understood as a psychological natural fact about us, caused in us, but lacking normative import. Knowledge could then be entirely inexistant. Rationalists like Descartes or Kant tried to answer skepticism by use of a nonperceptual faculty: reason. But we may not need this recourse to reason if we consider that the skeptic’s desire for justification is simply excessive and should be ignored. Our perceptual faith is a spontaneous and involuntary feature of our perception: it is not an ordinary belief susceptible to error.
Sometimes, hallucinations can of course trick us, but patients can ordinarily distinguish them from perceptions, because differences in the horizonal content are available. One might argue that one can actually find an epistemological disjunctivism in Merleau-Ponty, but this is not Antich’s point: the disjunctivist’s claim that perceptions are intrinsically different from illusions does nothing to dispel the skeptical threat that I may not be able to distinguish them. Such a certainty is simply not needed. In a first-person epistemic perspective, we don’t need a reason to justify our belief that we perceive and are not victims of a hallucination: we simply perceive it. Illusion cannot disqualify perception either in our epistemology because it essentially depends on ordinary genuine perception (the possibility of a false experience presupposes the possibility of a true one).
Again, we may have simply named on a problem that still remains unsolved, and perceptual faith has not been justified but only described. But Antich defends that such a description is neither a psychology of knowledge merely explaining the formation of our beliefs, since the normativity of motivation make them acceptable, nor an actual justification, since trying to justify perceptual faith would reproduce the mistake made by reflective philosophies which look for excessive warranties and reasons to every belief. Asking for more, like the skeptics, would equate to “requir[ing] of the innocent the proof of his non-culpability”, as Merleau-Ponty says: the task of philosophy, rather than justifying or describing the perceptual faith, is to return to it.
- Merleau-Ponty versus Kant: grounding transcendental knowledge in experience
Chapter 6 deals with consequences of the abovementioned thesis on the opposition between Kant’s and Merleau-Ponty’s attempts to overcome the rationalism-empiricism debate. Kantian experience is an empirical cognition: a conscious presentation referring to an object which has unity through concepts, that is to say, a judgment. It needs to follow certain rules in order to be necessary, justified then objective. In saying so, Kant may describe conditions for experience in the sense of justified empirical judgment, but not in the sense of perception. For Merleau-Ponty, perception is not a judgment – it is the pre-predicative givenness of the thing – and does not need to be justified, but only motivated. Kant emphasizes the need of an intellectual synthesis like causality in order to experience objective time order, while Merleau-Ponty argued for a passive temporal synthesis which does not need the principle of sufficient reason, since temporal processes are given as wholes and not as distinct moments to be ordered. Perception is not governed by categories, and yet it is objective, since its objectivity derives from motivation, “perception’s spontaneous sensitivity to norms” (p. 164). Moreover, transcendental justification is ultimately motivated in the course of experience, which challenges the a priori status of the categories and the synthetic principles.
Chapter 7 addresses the question of metaphysical knowledge (cognition through mere concepts) which seems to be allowed (contrary to Kant’s thesis) by Merleau-Ponty’s concept of motivation: does Merleau-Ponty release metaphysics from Kant’s bounds? Antich answers this question by focusing on Kant’s Third Paralogism, namely, the identity of the self. Kant considers that intuition only gives us objects, so empirical apperception can give me successive determinations of my mind like a stream of presentations, but it is not a perception of myself as a subject. But Antich shows that the fact that I perceive things and make normed judgment about self-identity is a tacit cohesion of experience (a “tacit cogito”) and a direct self-perception rather than an a priori judgment. According to Merleau-Ponty, the self is made of a stream of continuous experiences that are always internally related and are the background against which each particular experience acquires its meaning: this field implicitly unifies my existence. Contrary to Kant’s view of the self, which fails to account for how transcendental and empirical apperception can “merge” and intend the same determinative (active) but also determined (passive) subject, Merleau-Ponty’s tacit cogito allows us to consider the pre-reflective self as both passively synthesizing the flow of consciousness and as synthesized within the flow of consciousness. The return to motivation, then, does not exactly open the door to metaphysics but does “put transcendental and empirical apperception into dialectic (i.e., it shows both types of apperception to be insufficient in themselves and to be parts of a larger whole)” (p. 193). Perceptions are therefore moments of a common structure, something which is neither a fixed foundation nor a contingent multiplicity, but rather what Merleau-Ponty calls transcendence. It does not mean that we have to embrace groundlessness and skepticism, but that we have to accept that within the contingent, the quest of necessity is permanent and that not ultimate justification, but motivation and negotiated ambiguity, constitute our path towards to an always progressing knowledge.
Debates inside phenomenology
Antich acknowledges in the notes that his decision to give a unified view of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of perception is open to discussion (see Renaud Barbaras, The Being of the Phenomenon: Merleau-Ponty’s Ontology). It might have been interesting to further discuss this point.
Moreover, Merleau-Ponty is the main inspiration for this study, but Peter Antich also borrows from the phenomenological tradition, as his very rich and stimulating notes underline. Despite his criticism of Husserl’s intellectualism, Merleau-Ponty in fact takes up the notion of motivation from him and from Edith Stein. The idea also appears in Anscombe (Intention, 1957), but also in Anthony Kenny (Action, Emotion and Will, 1963), who sees it as a pattern of behavior that invites people to see my action in a certain light, or in Paul Ricoeur (Freedom and Nature: The Voluntary and the Involuntary, 1950), who sometimes speaks of a motive as an antecedent of action and sometimes as a general trait of action (a personal, social or human tendency). It would have been fruitful to study even more closely the links of dependence but also the profound differences that may separate these philosophers, in order to grasp the specificity of the Merleau-Pontian concept of motivation.
The notion of motivation finally comes up in Merleau-Ponty’s discussion with Sartre, when dealing with the question of freedom in situation. The fact of having ‚motives‘ implies that freedom is never indeterminate or absolute, but according to Sartre, it is always the free subject who gives a situation or a motive its meaning and its motivating power. Yet Peter Antich does not really put this contextual use of the notion of motivation into perspective: he chooses instead to understand the notion at a level that is often more fundamental and less free than action, that of perception, and it leads him to mix, in his demonstrations, examples of very spontaneous and unthinking perceptual acts, and actions (such as undertaking a journey) where reflection on motives, their interpretation and the self-narrative that one makes in an often intellectual way carry much weight, while using the same notion of ‚meaning‘ in both cases, and claiming that this meaning always comes spontaneously in context.
Debates about perceptual and veridical normativity
Antich tries to create space between a physicalist reductionism and a theory of knowledge merely internal to the space of reason and disconnected from our experience. He therefore encompasses various phenomena, towards physical or gestalt effects susceptible of a purely physical explanation, but also mental representations and judgments whose origin in experience he tries to understand. But there is much debate about the relevance of avoiding at all costs a reductionist approach of gestalt effects which would describe them as a purely physical process. One phenomenon gives rise to another, not through objective causation, but through “the sense it offers”, says Merleau-Ponty (PhP, 51). But is it not possible to explain illusions or gestalt effects in terms of spatial and temporal contiguity or of an impact of light, textures, and distances on our perceptual system? On the other hand, cognitive « motives » such as reinterpretation of an ambiguous perception, or groundings for our action (for instance a travel we begin because our friend just died) could be given a comprehensive justification in terms of reasons. If there is a retroaction which transforms the whole, it seems to be purely internal to my decision process and my approach of the event: it does not define the intrinsic meaning of my friend’s death, which can be interpreted in many other ways by his other friends or his family, and it does not affect the existence of the event itself. According to Merleau-Ponty, the reinterpretation of the motive in light of the motivatum makes us forget the actual event. But this amounts to admitting that it is our intentionality that has changed, our beliefs or our memories, but not reality itself.
Of course, this continuity seems to be helpful to understand how our knowledge could be grounded in experience: if we consider that gestalt effects are already normative and have meanings, though they are not conscious and voluntary, it could explain how our judgments are also normed in ways we do not control in order to follow the truth. But are these norms exactly the same?
Any activity can be good or bad, depending on whether it fulfills its conscious purpose or not. We can thus say that perceptive activity contains norms of satisfaction: in certain situations, I see badly, because of the distance, an obstacle, or shortcomings in my body, and if I want to perceive, I have to move backwards or forwards, remove the obstacle, or put on glasses. We know this without thinking about it because we are already “experts” in perception (see H. Dreyfus et C. Taylor, Retrieving Realism, 2015). This habit of perception invites us to make anticipations and to see the world continuously, without contradiction between the data of the different sensitive organs or between different moments of experience. In the sense that it has standards of success or failure, perception is normative, which has already been commented on a lot. But are these not descriptive rather than normative features? And if this normativity is the same for perception as for any action that our body considers pragmatically successful or unsuccessful, can it have an epistemic force to guarantee true knowledge? If “seeing well” consists in succeeding in satisfying a practical need to operate within the perceptual scene, can we ever draw from perception a normativity that would concern “true seeing”?
Antich himself is careful to distinguish norms about true judgments (reasons) and perceptive norms which motivate beliefs, when he tries to avoid a reductionist approach which would consider motives as implicit reasons. But then, he faces two difficulties: are motives indeed different from reasons? And if they are, how is their normativity related to the one in the space of reasons, and how can we bridge the gap between motivation in experience and reasons justifying knowledge? It may seem easier, to answer the second issue, to say that there is a continuum between explicit and implicit reasons, as is suggested by Merleau-Ponty himself: sometimes, “motivation” seems to mean the incorporated rules we possess as reason to act or believe in a certain way even if we are not aware of reasoning anymore. It would help in avoiding to disconnect reasons from experience and invent a purely idealistic realm, because reasons are rarely as pure and different from perceptual motives as one might think.
But in section 9 of the first chapter, Antich argues against the idea of implicit reasons by saying that some motives are so amorphous that they can never be made explicit and function as reasons. But this argument seems to reduce the field of « motivation » to indeterminate phenomena, which are quite rare and are not the kind of examples that the author considers in the rest of the book. Of course, it would not be useful to do away with the distinction between perception and reasoning, or between unexplicit belief and clear knowledge. But seeing the kinship between these two categories may allow us to conceive of them as two types of intentional aiming without assuming that motivation is based on a meaning inscribed in reality itself rather than on our intentionality. This would help to understand how a perception can change, as one “changes her mind”, and how it can have in common with knowledge a certain dimension of commitment vis-à-vis the real to be identified or characterized. Interestingly, Antich admits that the meanings produced by motivation are not the motivating meanings, that for instance a light on the wall can draw my attention but is not a compelling force, and that « the light does not drag me along behind it, but awakens within me an intention ». There seems to be room for the intentionality of the subject here. But following Merleau-Ponty’s path between objectivity and subjectivity and refusing the divide, Antich claims that the contributions of both perceiver and perceived are inseparable from the normativity of perceptual motivation: “the idea is (…) not that the subject is solely responsible for the epistemic normativity of perception. Rather, the subject is responsive to the normative significance of perception.” (ch. 2 note 25). Antich later specifies that the subjective role of the perceiver is merely to desire to or be oriented toward seeing the world “as it is”, implying that most of the motivation comes from the side of the world.
The naturalization of meaning
The benefits of Merleau-Ponty’s analysis relies greatly on the essential « fact about perception » which is described in Phenomenology of perception: the idea of a “spontaneous sense”. At the level of the body, at the level of individual history and at the level of society, there are spontaneous valuations “in us”: the perceptual scenes appear to us to be great or small, easy or difficult to reach, and desirable or not, depending on our physiological constitution, our experiences, the lifestyle of our society, and the methods of solving problems that seem ordinary and habitual. This can give the impression that situations are “calling” us in one way or another.
But as Jakub Capek explains, “there are only norms for a being capable of assuming them, carrying them, and, in certain cases, turning away from them”. It is essential to realize that it is always our human commitments that give one meaning or another to an event that motivates us to act or think: Merleau-Ponty himself admits that a form of freedom within these spontaneous valuations and these motives – and motivated by them – is always possible; but to conceive of this, one must not naturalize the meaning of a motive and the value of things in the things themselves. Otherwise, we could no longer go back and change their meaning.
If motivation is conceived as a part of an “operative intentionality” which does not oppose but deepens Husserl’s conception of intentionality, it has to be described as a way of aiming at things and giving them meaning (even if it is outside of the egoistic consciousness, involuntarily and in a pre-predicative and bodily functioning) rather than a passive reception of natural meanings already out there in the world (the “world” itself being the way we make sense of reality). But Merleau-Ponty often implies that the world itself comes to us as already bearing a sense. Indeed, perception does not give us a set of mutually indifferent atomic sensations but an arrangement of figures on a background, which cannot exist (or at least mean something) without another, and which make us do things according to the meaning they have for us.
The few examples given by Merleau-Ponty to prove the existence of such natural senses are ambiguous. If we unconsciously register the reflection of the light in the human eye even though painters forgot it for centuries, it does indeed mean that we can register information without focusing our conscious attention on it, but not that it is in itself a natural information of “livelihood” which cannot be explained. And if we first see a tree on the beach and subsequently reinterpret it as a shipwreck, or if the distance between two objects appears to change when I discover other objects interposed between them, without any conscious decision, does this really mean that we perceive meanings without an intentional movement? Does it not actually prove that, precisely because it can change, meaning is not a given but a construct (even if bodily, necessarily, naturally and unconsciously built)? Quoting Stein, Antich admits that a single state of affairs can always be interpreted in a variety of manners, but he says that “it defines a range of possibilities” (p. 36), as if these interpretations were contained in reality as possible meanings.
The difficulty may lie in the fact that Merleau-Ponty and Antich mix examples related to interpretative meaning with gestalt effects. But these existing gestalt effects are not meanings: they are physical relations between objects. This naturalization of meaning could be a major theoretical difficulty. Many of our perceptions seem to vary depending on the context and meaning has thus often been taken to be “intentional”, to pertain to the ways in which we aim at things rather than to the things themselves. Antich says his analysis keeps the grounding relations “internal to the sphere of meaning” without taking a stance on its ontological location: “Some form of mentalism (the view that what justifies a belief is a mental state) is probably most congenial to my view—though even this would raise thorny questions about Merleau-Ponty’s ontology of meanings” (p. 60), he recognizes. But this point is important, and Antich often seems to implicitly give an external reality to these meanings in order to distinguish them from our intentional conscious judgments. In chapter 2 note 33, he says that “motivation is a responsiveness to normative forces exerted by the phenomena themselves.”
Why is it important to distinguish motivation from causes and reasons and to give it natural meaning? First, Antich’s aim may be to ground truth in something real; lacking this foundation, Merleau-Ponty’s account seems to relativize knowledge which proceeds from mere motives rather than from rational explicit justifications. But as in many other cases, it might also have to do with morality. Antich’s example page 61 illustrating “dispositions” which guide us from experience to belief and knowledge is particularly striking: “For example, if I have a disposition to act generously, this just means that under ordinary circumstances, I will act out of a responsiveness to the relevant normative forces of a situation (e.g., the wants or requirements of those around me). » It inclines toward an innate spontaneous moral sense. The project is commendable but can also lead to biases, especially since morality is susceptible to change, and it would perhaps be preferable to note that it depends on an intentional commitment which is continually relaunched.
At the end, we can say that Antich’s clear, precise and stimulating book offers many glimpses of Merleau-Ponty’s contributions to contemporary epistemology. It highlights the places where the philosophical investigation must be carried on today, toward the understanding of the links between reality, action, perception, meaning, intentionality and knowledge. The localization of problems and their correct description being one of the major tasks of phenomenology, one can only appreciate the way in which Antich deploys his own phenomenology in order to highlight its advantages in contemporary debates, and the manner in which he opens a path to many lines of work in the future.
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At first glance, a monograph simultaneously dedicated to the philosophies of Henri Bergson, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Gilles Deleuze might seem an obscure, even capricious proposition. Why, after all, bring these particular thinkers into dialogue? Why instigate this particular “three body problem” (1)? The answer to this question is complex, but lies in part in the immense structural influence they succeeded one another in exerting over French philosophy. Throughout a period of over one hundred years, French thought was fundamentally coloured first by Bergsonian “vitalism,” then by existentialist phenomenology, and finally by a “post-structuralism” of which Deleuze is considered a primary, if sometimes unwilling figurehead. To trace the shifting conceptual lineages marbled throughout their work is therefore to map the very movement of 20th century French thought, such as has colonised a stubborn corner of the globe’s intellectual life. But there is more than just this profound institutional influence linking together these disparate philosophical projects. As Dorothea Olkowski argues, throughout her accomplished and intriguing study, Deleuze, Bergson, Merleau-Ponty: The logic and pragmatics of creation, these thinkers also share a common set of problems and an overlapping conceptual vocabulary, the complexities of which she draws out across six brief, rich, yet challenging essays.
Perhaps the foremost of these problems is a familiar dualism haunting philosophy, which here emerges in several guises. Thought and extension, reality and signs, the empirical and the transcendental, formalism and its “outside”- Olkowski returns frequently to this nebulous dialectic, and makes a compelling case for its centrality in the work of each of her subjects. As she writes, evoking the terms of Deleuze’s study of Bergson in Cinema I: The Movement-Image, and establishing one of the central argumentative lines of her own book:
…each of the three is engaged in the undoing of dualism -understood as the relation between thought and movements- by slightly different means […] providing an explanation of the relation between empiricist and formalist approaches to reality (18).
This latter schism is key, emerging as it does with the existential challenge posed to modern philosophy by the immense descriptive powers of post-Enlightenment science. For Olkowski, a strict division between empiricist and formalist approaches is intimately linked to this confluence, in particular to “the view that emerged, starting in approximately the sixteenth century, that science is autonomous, that it generates its own elements, that it stands outside time and outside the lived experience of a subject” (2) -in an epistemological splitting which establishes observer and observed as radically distinct. Against this view -which is far from synonymous with the self-problematising realities of scientific practice- Olkowski excavates a threefold project to reinject questions of genesis, vitality, subjectivity and temporality into a scientistic episteme which has perhaps tended to obscure them.
Indeed in her first chapter, which recapitulates themes from 2012’s Postmodern Philosophy and the Scientific Turn, she introduces this epistemological backdrop, and the bifurcation by which we inherit “two” contemporary philosophies- an analytic approach grounded in formal logic, and a Continental tradition oriented by phenomenology and metaphysics. The former, of which a thinker like Frege is paradigmatic, seeks to “ground” the empirical findings of science through a purely formal analysis of logical relations. This approach turns to signs -to their relations and modes of reference- eschewing all discussion of ontology or the empirical, given that such discussion “violates the principles of formalist systems,” producing unfounded and speculative “nonsense” (26). And while Frege -like Russell, the logical positivists and Wittgenstein- thus seek to banish metaphysics from the philosophical enterprise, what unites Olkowski’s subjects is their determination to develop a metaphysics adequate to contemporary science, simultaneously drawing out the contingency of logic- an approach she will introduce via the French philosopher of mathematics Jean Cavaillès.
For Cavaillès, Olkowski notes, an important contemporary of her three primary subjects, “the logic of a formal system requires an ontology to complete it; in addition to the formal system, it requires reference to an exteriority, to objects, and not just to other signs in the system” (16). And this determination to think the compossibility of the empirical and its symbolisation beats at the heart of Olkowski’s text. Signs and their systems, are not, after all, “immaculate.” An ontology is implicit, indeed required, in order for us to ask questions about their affects, milieux and genesis. And one of the book’s central propositions is that these thinkers help us to understand the genesis of formal systems in and from an empirical and pre-signifying world which can only be sensed. This approach leads to a threefold philosophy of perception, and to the complex ways in which manifold sense-data becomes sensible, taking form under the aegis of a “sign,” “Idea” or “Gestalt” in an operation which is simultaneously pragmatic and creative.
Olkowski’s second chapter develops these themes via Deleuze and Guattari’s critique of logic, primarily as it appears in What is Philosophy? We’ve already spoken of Frege’s ambition to develop a philosophy homogenous with scientific description, moving it away from metaphysical “speculation” in favour of a systematic “science of logic” (30). At the heart of this endeavour is an idiosyncratic concept of the “concept,” inherited in part from Kant, which sees the concept become a logical function- a component of propositions which maps arguments to one of two truth vales (true or false). Thus, to use a well-known example, “is a man,” is a concept/function we can complete (or “saturate,” to use Frege’s intriguing term) by inserting the object “Socrates,” in a move which points us to the proposition’s ultimate referent- the truth-value “true.” But Deleuze and Guattari will claim that this approach, by virtue of its determination to avoid all empirical content, alongside its obliteration of particularity in positing only two possible referents for propositional sentences, gives us an empty formalism, applicable only to the most trivial and pre-determined propositions (32). What Frege gains in “perspicuity,” this argument suggests, he loses in consequence, and the possibility of meaningful philosophical engagement with the real.
Against this model, Olkowski sketches the Deleuzo-Guattarian “concept”- a concept which “belong(s) to a subject and not to a set,” constituting “a function of the lived” (33) as opposed to a purely formal abstraction. At the same time, they are eager to avoid the pitfalls of the “phenomenological concept,” which they see as rooted in the experience of a transcendental subject, and as such incompatible with a philosophy of immanence. One of Olkowski’s richest contributions, indeed, is a thorough mapping of this persistent Deleuzian critique of phenomenology- the charge that it establishes subjective, “natural” perception as a transcendent norm, elevating a particular and contingent relation to the status of a philosophical first principle. In so doing, claims Deleuze, it betrays philosophy’s task of breaking with doxa or opinion, establishing natural perception as Urdoxa, or original opinion, in a moment which is both conservative and anthropocentric. And while Olkowski is generally conciliatory, suggesting several times that Deleuze exaggerates the space between his and Merleau-Ponty’s thought, her identification of the numerous points at which their approaches diverge is a sophisticated complement to extant work by Wambacq (2018) or Reynolds and Roffe (2006).
Opposing themselves to both the Fregean (analytic) and phenomenological (transcendental-subjective) concept, Deleuze and Guattari sketch their own, intensional concepts, which Olkowski convincingly links to another key thinker threaded throughout her exegesis- the pragmatist philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce. For Deleuze and Guattari, concepts are “intensional” inasmuch as they constitute multiplicities whose unity is effected by their components’ internal (differential) relations. In this sense, Olkowski argues, they bear a striking resemble to Peircean “consistency” or “Thirdness” -habits, laws or generalities “to which future events have a tendency to conform” (42)- and which likewise produce continuity as the effect of multiple singular elements or events. Leaving aside the intricacies of Olkowski’s exegesis, it suffices to say that she does convincing and useful work here, tracing Peirce’s influence right across Deleuze’s oeuvre, particularly as it pertains to his recurrent conception of multiplicity as simultaneously “continuous” yet composed through differential relations.
Chapter three turns to Bergson, and an explication of his thought in the form of a rebuttal of the famous criticisms made by Bertrand Russell. Russell claims that Bergson’s thought reduces both distinction and abstraction to spatial phenomena, thereby demoting logic to a lesser branch of geometry (59). Graver than this, however, is Bergson’s apparent rejection of the mathematical model according to which change is apprehended as a series of discreet states. The indivisible continuity of Bergson’s “duration,” Russell argues, eschews the rigour of mathematics and science, opening the door to an irrational and irresponsible Cartesianism- a world in which things are never in any “state” at all, and the distinctions made by the intellect hover over of an indissoluble ontological mush. Olkowski links these criticisms to those made in the fallout of Bergson’s ill-fated encounter with Albert Einstein. While the latter is dedicated, by virtue of his theories of relativity, to a space-time continuum which is arguably “timeless” -with “any temporal event […] merely a geometric point in spacetime” (60), Bergson is interested in the qualitatively evolving and radically undetermined temporality of process, an approach which causes him to hesitate before the singular and unitary time of the physicist. In both cases, as Olkowski rightly notes, critics have sought to oppose the rigour of science and mathematics to Bergson’s “fuzzy” and “irrational” vitalism, effecting a discredit so fundamental as to cause even continental thinkers to “step[…] lightly around” (58) his thought.
Significant exceptions, of course, are Deleuze and Merleau-Ponty, and Olkowski devotes the rest of the chapter to their spirited defence of his concepts in the face of these attacks. For Merleau-Ponty, Bergson’s is a radical philosophy, one which breaks with Cartesianism by “present[ing] a being that is duration in place of an ‘I think’” (64). Further, Merleau-Ponty will argue that it is Bergson, rather than Einstein, who offers a temporality adequate to quantum physics, and a universe of indeterminacy and discontinuity ushered in by wave-particle duality (65). For Deleuze meanwhile, Bergson’s thought possesses an implicit mathematical rigour which renders it far closer to Russell than the latter himself supposes. In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze will refer to Russell’s distinction between lengths and distances, the latter of which cannot be divided into homogenous and interchangeable series but rather constitute “irreducible” series “derived in some way from perception” (69). As Olkowski notes, “Bergson too defines duration as a multiplicity or divisibility that does not divide without changing its nature, and so duration begins to sound like Russell’s concept of distance” (69). Deleuze will take up this hybrid Russellian-Bergsonian multiplicity in Difference and Repetition, using it as an image of ontogenesis- a mapping of the way in which intensive differences are explicated (differenciated) as “extensity” (or distance) in the context of individuation conceived as actualisation of the virtual. Olkowski’s work here is detailed and meticulous, illuminating the often-overlooked connections between Bergson, Deleuze and Russell.
In chapter four, Olkowski turns to Deleuze’s two volumes dedicated to film, Cinema I: The Movement-Image and Cinema II: The Time-Image, which she reads in the context of her central theme- a philosophical project to overcome the dualisms of thought and extension, reality and signs. Essential here, to Olkowski as to Deleuze, is Bergson’s idiosyncratic use of the term “image” as a means of effecting a rapprochement between realist and idealist accounts of reality. Prior to adopting either one of these positions, Bergson writes, “I am in the presence of images, in the vaguest sense of the word, images perceived when my senses are opened to them, unperceived when they are closed” (2005: 17). And this first principle, far from strictly phenomenological, becomes the staging ground for an immanent metaphysics of “images,” given that, he continues, “to make of the brain the condition on which the whole image depends is, in truth, a contradiction in terms, since the brain is by hypothesis a part of this image” (2005: 19). In this way, the brain becomes one image among many, perceiving or receiving movements from the images which surround it. Its apparent singularity stems not from any unique metaphysical status, but from a capacity to create a “gap” or “interval” (écart) between these received movements and reaction. As Olkowski explains, according to this model, “the brain is neither the origin nor the centre of the universe of images; it is the centre of indetermination in the interval between reception and reaction” (87), a centre of non-action which enables the organism to draw on virtual forces and escape the determinism of pure motricity.
This approach, which serves to render thought immanent to the interacting planes of “movement-images” which compose it, is then linked to another Deleuzian adaptation of Peirce, and his claim that the cinema volumes constitute a “taxonomy” of signs in the Peircean sense. Importantly, and against a then-dominant model in continental film theory, the “signs” of cinema do not resemble a language. Rather, and in keeping with the ontology Deleuze inherits from Bergson, signs are also “images”- catalytic reflective centres, situated on the same luminous register as their affects. This section of the book, it should be said, comprises a clear and insightful explication of the key ideas animating Deleuze’s work on cinema, albeit one which doesn’t offer a great deal which can’t be found in other works.
From here Olkowski shifts into a discussion of what Deleuze will call the cinematic time-image– the source of “pure” sonic and visual signs which confound action, and as such our habitual, action-oriented modes of thought. Paradigmatic are the signs/images of Italian neorealism, which confront both character and spectator with situations which are “unthinkable” in their magnitude, horror or banality. These images see the subject stripped of its capacities for action, and as such confronted with “the pure power of time that overflows all possibility of reaction and defeats, immobilizes and petrifies figures […] condemning them to a horrendous fate…” (93). For Deleuze, in keeping with a generalised hostility to the subject conceived as an autonomous and self-identical interiority, these images are thus immensely valuable to philosophy, enacting a temporal-semiotic deterritorialization of the cogito as the source and site of agency.
Against this fundamentally inhuman temporality -a time which fractures and problematises the subject- Olkowski will then contrast the approach of Merleau-Ponty, for whom “time and the subject communicate […] in virtue of an inner, interior necessity” (97). For Merleau-Ponty, Olkowski explains, both subjectivity and perception are fundamentally temporal, the persistence of bodies in space is “an expression of the network of temporal relations of a subject…” (97), and the subject is itself a “temporal wave that moves, particle to particle, through the matter of the world” (96). This approach, in keeping with Merleau-Ponty’s existentialist leanings, establishes the centrality of choice and engaged action as constitutive of a subject’s world- a vocabulary which is thoughtfully juxtaposed against Deleuze’s fundamentally “inhuman” time-image.
The book’s two final chapters continue in this comparative mode, embarking on a protracted discussion of the concept of the “Event,” as it appears in both phenomenology and Deleuze and Guattari, and as it pertains to the notion of freedom. For Merleau-Ponty, as we’ve seen, subjectivity is fundamentally temporal, simultaneously linked to a subject’s capacity to perceive spatial relations through time and to the way in which it is able to “inhabit” these relations. In this context, freedom is also temporal, given that “the stimulations an organism receives are possible only because its preceding movements have culminated in exposing the organism to these external influences,” such that, “the organism chooses the stimuli in the physical world to which it will be sensitive” (114). And while this suggests a rather limited remit of free action in the case of non-human organisms, integral is Merleau-Ponty’s conviction that “we are not simply a material plenum” (115)- that subjectivity exists across the fields of physical, physiological and mental “forms,” and as such is irreducible to simple “causal events” on any particular register.
Olkowski then returns to Deleuze, and to his critique of phenomenology in Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Here, Deleuze will suggest that while phenomenology remains wedded to the forms of a particular “lived body,” his own (or rather Artaud’s) concept of the “body without organs,” “arises at the very limit of the lived body” (118), as a process which renders life unliveable– impelling it towards traumatic processes of (re)formation. For Deleuze, as we have seen, phenomenology thus embraces the affective and perceptual clichés of a particular lived experience, reifying them as philosophy. The task of philosophy, however, is that of breaking with these clichés (doxa)- a task the “anexact” concept of the BwO is designed to help us realise.
This vocabulary of perceptual and affective clichés also implicates art, and the aleatory methods Deleuze’s Bacon deploys in his diagrammatic “battle” against painterly cliché. Indeed, in the context of their cleft approach to “natural perception,” both Deleuze and Merleau-Ponty turn to painting, in particular to Cézanne, such that Olkowski rightly notes that “it is secretly Cézanne’s paintings that are the battlefield upon which the contest between the philosophy of the Event and phenomenology takes place” (121). For Deleuze, Cézanne “renders visible” the vital power of the body without organs -the pure, formless chaos which arrives as the Event- that which overturns all previous organisation. For Merleau-Ponty meanwhile, Cézanne’s canvasses capture organisation itself, the hesitant process of “matter taking on form and manifesting the birth of order…” (121), in a model Olkowski thoughtfully contrasts with Deleuze’s.
After appearing to hesitate for a moment between these two alternatives, or perhaps to think their compossibility, Olkowski’s final chapter renders her Deleuzo-Guattarian allegiances clear- particularly in its final pages, which see her embrace their ambiguous injunction that we need to open thought onto the deterritiorializing forces of the “Cosmos” (148). Whereas Merleau-Ponty, indeed, remains dedicated to a familiar concept of “freedom” as the remit of human subjectivity, Olkowski will follow Deleuze and Guattari in locating this problem in the “Cosmic” sphere, asking, and then answering: “Can the Earth become cosmic, and can the people of the Earth also become cosmic people? To the extent that this is possible, it is what takes the place of the old concept of freedom” (148).
Deleuze and Guattari take the concept of the Cosmos from Paul Klee, from whom they likewise borrow a model of art as that which does not “render the visible,” but rather “render[s] visible” (2003: 56). What it renders visible, Deleuze, Guattari and Olkowski claim, are the invisible forces of the Cosmos, the formless, imageless and non-thinkable “open” which is the condition likewise for science and philosophy. But how, exactly, does it do this? Here, Olkowski evokes the semiotic processes Deleuze and Guattari call “refrains” (ritournelles) -rhythmic, expressive repetitions which work to organise chaos as habitat. A little child sings in the dark to reassure herself; the colours of a bird’s plumage vibrate to communicate its territory:
In each case, milieus, blocks of space-time, are created by the rhythm, the vibration, the periodic repetition that holds back the intrusion of chaos, the milieu of all milieus. This means that the milieus are coded, and each serve as the basis for another coding and transcoding as one milieu passes continuously into another through the chaosmos, the rhythm-chaos (145).
Importantly, Olkowski draws out the fact that this process of rhythmic territorialization establishes not just a sheltering “inside,” but a simultaneous “outside” we might now venture out and begin to explore. This amounts to a semiotic transformation of the chaotic into the Cosmic, the “plane” upon which philosophy, art and science conduct their experiments. In this context, Olkowski explains, in a model of thought as free conceptual creation, “the philosopher […] makes thought into pragmatics, asking what a concept can do, enabling a force of the Cosmos that travels” (147).
The refrain, indeed, brings us back to the problem(s) with which the book began, that of the individuation of signs, ideas, or forms and of the ontogenetic conditions which enable it. Across the many models Olkowski treats, and of which I have selected only a handful, she creates a philosophical assemblage dedicated to logics of perception, affection and creativity which allow us to think across the apparently irrevocable empiricist/formalist division. This approach problematises traditional dualisms of observer and observed, signifier and signified, in an immanent pragmatics which reinstates the necessity of both semiotics and metaphysics.
In keeping with this approach, Olkowski is not content to lapse into an apparently “neutral” exposition, as though the reconstruction of these three projects might somehow avoid a similarly interested perception. Indeed, perhaps the richest aspect of the book is her attention to this often repressed “stylistic” dimension of exegesis, and the way in which explication is itself creation. Her numerous additions and digressions -through contemporary literature, science, and cinema- accentuate this fact, and renew her subjects’ thought as living bodies. At the same time, the author is herself implicated by this process -an “authority” which cannot but be problematic, as Olkowski herself acknowledges:
I have examined the relationship between the creation of ideas and their actualization in relation to semiology, logic, and the cosmos in the philosophies of Deleuze, Bergson, and Merleau-Ponty. It is not a linear path. It is more a question of periodic orbits following strange and unrepeated trajectories that have been generally unpredictable. In other words, in spite of what I think I know or understand, I have, at every instance, sought to remain attentive to alternatives to my former views in order to consider ideas, concepts, orientations, problems, and solutions that could unexpectedly erupt and so alter the orientation of my own thinking within the context of the problem I have set out (2).
And this brief precis proves instructive, given that the book is ultimately comprised less of clearly demarcated, linear arguments than a series of interwoven and recurrent conceptual refrains which, while generally compelling, can also feel occasionally disorienting.
Indeed readers looking for close, methodical explication and clearly identified lines of scholarly argumentation may want to look elsewhere, as Olkowski’s book constitutes more an image of thought-in-motion, which is occasionally unwieldy and often unpredictable. There are points at which her readings of each thinker are heterodox, and there is a tendency to overlook periodisation of their oeuvres in favour of a more thematic, and as such perhaps selective exegesis, which runs very different works together. I do not intend these remarks as “critical” in the non-philosophical sense. Olkowski herself gestures towards the ethic which I take to animate this approach in her final chapter, when she asks: “Can philosophers envisage a diagram for philosophy such that it is no longer philosophy as we now conceptualize or imagine it?” (149). Olkowski rightly notes that this is the challenge Deleuze and Guattari lay down with their own work. Deleuze, Bergson, Merleau-Ponty is a book which is both difficult and worthy because it takes this challenge seriously.
Bergson, Henri. 2005. Matter and Memory. Translated by Nancy Margaret Paul and W. Scott Palmer. New York: Zone Books.
Deleuze, Gilles. 2003. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Translated by Daniel Smith. London: Continuum.
Reynolds, Jack & Roffe, Jon. 2006. “Deleuze and Merleau-Ponty: Immanence, Univocity and Phenomenology.” In Journal of the British Society of Phenomenology. Vol. 37, No.3. 229-225.
Wambacq, Judith. 2018. Thinking Between Deleuze and Merleau-Ponty. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.
Dr. Corijn van Mazijk is an assistant professor at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, the Netherlands, who specializes in Kant and post-Kantian philosophy, particularly phenomenology. De Wereld als Verschijning: Fenomenologie en de Twintigste Eeuw (The World as Appearance: Phenomenology and the Twentieth Century, all translations from the Dutch are my own) is his second book, following a monograph on the nature of reality, perception and the relation between the two, in the work of Kant, Husserl and McDowell.
De Wereld als Verschijning is a step back from the highly specialized research conducted in the earlier publication. Van Mazijk sets out to provide an introduction into phenomenology that is “as easily accessible as possible” (32). And that is exactly what he delivers. The book comprises five chapters and each chapter treats one of the four most influential phenomenologists of the 20th century; Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, respectively. The final chapter discusses six lesser known phenomenologists, including Edith Stein and Emmanuel Levinas.
Each chapter follows an identical structure. It opens with a short column detailing the main themes of this particular philosopher’s thought, as well as his or her influence on the development of the phenomenological tradition. This is followed by a few pages of biographical information, detailing the life of the thinker and the cultural-intellectual climate of the time, and how this influenced the work he or she went on to produce. With this setting-the-stage out of the way, the main part of each chapter is dedicated to a discussion of the philosophical substance itself. Van Mazijk emphasizes that although the book is intended to introduce phenomenology, the subject matter by itself is by no means simple, and so the main objective is to expound the ideas as clearly as possible, where needed aided by illustrations. The chapters then conclude with an overview of the main ideas of each thinker, complemented by a short list of important concepts and their definitions.
The work of each thinker is discussed in largely chronological order. For example, the first chapter, on Husserl, starts out with a discussion of the Logische Untersuchungen (1901) and ends with Die Krisis der Europäischen Wissenschaften und die Transcendentale Phänomenologie (1936). Of the five, this chapter is the longest. This is not surprising, considering the amount of work Husserl produced and his importance as the founder of the phenomenological tradition. As such, this chapter serves not only as an introduction to Husserl, but to the themes and philosophical considerations that continue to define phenomenology more broadly. It starts out, for instance, with Husserl’s critique of psychologism and naturalism, and the aim of returning to the description of things as they are given to consciousness, guaranteeing the clarity and absolute certainty of the outcome of his investigations. Van Mazijk then introduces the reader to Husserl’s work on intentionality, the natural attitude, the phenomenological reduction and the epoche. Then follows a more in-depth explanation of eidetic variation and the difference between constitutive and genetic phenomenology, the latter marking a shift in focus from Husserl’s earlier to his later work. The chapter concludes with a discussion of Husserl’s concept of ‘horizons’ and his analysis of time. By the end of these 36 dense pages, the reader is acquainted with many concepts and themes essential to understanding the other thinkers, although it is likely that those novel to phenomenology will have to return to this chapter for clarifications later on.
As the previous one, the chapter on Heidegger is divided between the early and later works. The priority is given, understandably, to the earlier work, Sein und Zeit (1927) in particular. Van Mazijk spends some time establishing the relationship between Husserl and Heidegger, and consequently the personal and intellectual rift between the two. He emphasizes Heidegger’s deviation from Husserl, especially where it concerns their respective epistemological positions by highlighting Heidegger’s recognition of human finitude and “the insignificance of every human attempt at knowledge” (p. 72). Simultaneously, he shows how Heidegger employs a kind of phenomenological reduction in carrying out his existential analytic of Dasein to uncover the ‘meaning of Being’. The main part of this chapter is dedicated to examining the results of this analysis, including the ontological difference between beings and in general, being-in-the world as human existence, care, the distinction between Vorhanden and Zuhanden through the classic example of the hammer, and the different modes of human existence in fallen-ness and authentic being. The chapter concludes by referring to Heidegger’s later works, of which only The Question Concerning Technology is discussed somewhat extensively.
The third chapter, on Sartre, is almost a third shorter than the preceding two and by far the most critical of the author discussed. In the introduction Van Mazijk makes it clear that, rather than a rigorous philosophical teaching, Sartre’s existentialism was more of a cultural movement, “comparable to the American beat generation” (109). Sartre, he argues, uses Husserl and Heidegger’s phenomenology primarily to ground his theory of the radical freedom of human beings. According to Sartre’s analyses, expounded in his main works Le Transcendence de l’Ego (1936) and L’Être et le Néant (1943), consciousness is essentially nothingness, an apersonal, transparent process without fixed properties. It is this essential nothingness, being-for-itself, that constitutes the freedom against the being-in-itself, the massive presence of the outside world. Thinking one is ‘something’ or a definite ‘someone’ is living in bad faith, a denial of the true, free essence of human life; hence Sartre’s famous proclamation that “existence precedes essence”. Van Mazijks main critique of Sartre’s brand of phenomenology is that it is flawed and inconsistent. It is flawed, since it denies the limiting constraints put on freedom by concrete reality. It is inconsistent, on the other hand, because Sartre modifies his theory on multiple occasions to undercut objections raised against him, or to avoid unwanted conclusions that seem to follow from his premises. For example, he rejects the possibility of radical egoism by introducing a kind of Kantian deontology in his lecture Existentialism is a Humanism, without much ground for these kind of ethical constraints on human freedom present in his earlier works. All in all, it seems Van Mazijk includes Sartre in the book more because of his historical influence in popularising phenomenology in Europe mid 20th century, rather than his philosophical accomplishments in their own right.
The fourth chapter discusses the work of Merleau-Ponty. The shortest chapter of the book limits itself to discussing La Structure du Comportement (1942) and Phénoménologie de la Perception (1945). Van Mazijk stresses Merleau-Ponty’s achievements in his analysis of perception as the fundamental way in which subject and object, or consciousness and world, interact. For each work, he shows how Merleau-Ponty’s dialectical style of doing philosophy results in a new understanding of this interaction. He shows how Merleau-Ponty uses insights from Gestalt-psychology to show how the intellectualist and physiologist paradigms of human behaviour are both lacking in their own right when it comes to describing and explaining behaviour, while his own position ambiguously oscillates between these subjectivist and objectivist poles, resisting a reductive interpretation. Similarly, in Phénoménologie de la Perception Merleau-Ponty shows how both empiricism and intellectualism remain stuck in the natural attitude towards the world, whereas perception as the portal to this world cannot itself be understood in terms of it. His own phenomenological analysis, combined with insights from empirical research, again paints a more holistic and ambiguous picture of the relation between man and world, in which the living body is the locus of this interaction. Van Mazijk emphasises that Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology is much closer to Heidegger and Husserl than it is to Sartre – although the deviations from Husserl are significant, including the integration of empirical research in his philosophical works, leading to a more interdisciplinary phenomenology.
The fifth and final chapter of De Wereld als Verschijning explores the work of six lesser known phenomenologists in brief. These are, in order, Max Scheler, Edith Stein, Eugen Fink, Alfred Schutz, Emmanuel Levinas and Jan Patočka. Here, too, a brief biographical introduction is followed by a discussion of their work. Since only a few pages are dedicated to each thinker, their treatment is condensed to a defining theme. For Scheler, this is love; for Stein, empathy; for Fink, phenomenology itself and the possibility of philosophy in general; for Schutz, philosophy of the social world and the foundations of sociology; for Levinas, the Other; and for Jan Patočka, the care for the soul. This chapter is a nice addition to an introduction to phenomenology, since it shows the influence and scope of phenomenological research. The choice of authors seems somewhat arbitrary, though; certainly, other writers in the phenomenological tradition could have been considered, such as Frantz Fanon, Ludwig Binswanger, Luce Irigaray or Iris Marion Young. Their influence today is certainly no less than Patočka or Schutz, and the inclusion of especially Young and Fanon would have added some diversity. They opened the door to what is now called Critical Phenomenology, and have been instrumental in pointing out how the supposedly ‘neutral’ consciousness of classical phenomenologists obscures latent presuppositions on what it is to be human. It is also notable that Simone the Beauvoir receives no more than a passing mention in the chapter on Sartre, while she is from a philosophical perspective undoubtedly as influential as her life-partner.
The book starts out with the question ‘what is phenomenology?’, and by the end the reader has a good idea of what Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty thought on this matter. However, Van Mazijk’s own view on the matter is not discussed in detail. In the conclusion, he briefly discusses the modern, specialized applications of phenomenology in different branches of science, such as psychiatry and artificial intelligence. It appears he laments this development and prefers the ‘grander’, more ambitious transcendental and existential projects of the past. He writes: “Only the future can tell whether the phenomenology of the 20th century had maybe more to offer than a reservoir of ideas for scientific application”, and it is clear that he certainly thinks so, but how exactly remains obscure. Throughout the book, he mentions these modern applications of phenomenology, but never elaborates in detail. This is a missed opportunity, since it could have emphasized the importance and relevance of the tradition, and potentially inspire those readers not strictly interested in abstract philosophy.
All in all, Van Mazijk provides a detailed and supremely readable introduction into phenomenology, which will undoubtedly be of great value to those interested in learning about the tradition and its main figures, or students looking for a good overview. De Wereld als Verschijning is the first book of its kind published in Dutch by a Dutch author in several decades, and it is a testament of the knowledge, passion and dedication the author has for his field of expertise.
 van Mazijk, C. 2020. Perception and Reality in Kant, Husserl, and McDowell. New York, NY: Routledge. For a review of this book in this journal: http://reviews.ophen.org/2020/08/23/perception-and-reality-in-kant-husserl-and-mcdowell/.
Dorothea Olkowski’s latest book, entitled Deleuze, Bergson, Merleau-Ponty, is at once an invitation and a challenge. It invites us to think of ideas as „chaotic attractors.” (2) As a mathematical concept, we can call any strange attractor chaotic if iterations commencing from any two arbitrarily close alternative initial points lead to points which are arbitrarily far apart and, after various iterations, then lead to points that are arbitrarily close together, leading to a structure that is locally unstable yet globally stable. And herein lies the interesting methodological challenge of Olkowski’s project: wherein does the border lie between pure arbitrariness and stability? Indeed, is there a clear-cut difference between wholly arbitrary association and locally unstable holistic stability? Is it even the job of philosophy to produce something akin to stability? These are just a few of the questions that arise in the reader from the outset. Olkowski’s goal is not the penning of yet another introduction to the separate and, for that matter, wholly distinct philosophies of Gilles Deleuze/Félix Guattari, Henri Bergson and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Rather, these three serve as the ingredients of a new theoretical hybrid, a pragmatically and phenomenologically-involved affective continuum that goes beyond such tired dualisms as mind vs. world and matter vs. idea. The judgement we must pass in the context of this review is not whether the work lives up to its own promises and goals – although that too shall be addressed. Rather, what interests us is how the author comes to terms with the fundamental issue of whether instability can be integrated into thought in a philosophically consistent manner and whether the work achieves this.
In Chapter One, entitled „Naturalism, Formalism, Phenomenology, and Semiology in Postmodern Philosophy,” the problematic of our current epoch is introduced. Alan Kirby’s influential 2006 text, „The Death of Postmodernism and Beyond” serves as Olkowski’s point of departure. (Kirby 2006) In Kirby’s view, one shared wholeheartedly by Olkowski and ourselves also, the authentically postmodern position, characterizable as the radical questioning of reality, has become all but extinct in both philosophy and the broader social Zeitgeist. (13) Instead of an uncompromising postmodernism willing to question all dogmas, we have what Kirby and Olkowski call a „pseudopostmodernism,” a position that can best be described as a harmlessly apolitical play with words, without the corresponding subversion of broadly accepted intersubjective realities. In large part, the author believes that the opacity of postmodern discourse is itself to blame for its own eclipse. As Olkowski writes, the defenders of postmodernism „have not been able to understand it well enough to translate its canonical terms into informative definitions.” (14) The backdrop of both the postmodernist movement and its subsequent relegation to the fringes of both political debate and scientific practice is characterized under the heading of scientism. Already critiqued exhaustively by, among others, Edmund Husserl, the scientistic worldview posits the ability of science to redeem humanity and the world, heralding progress through increasing the well-being of homo sapiens. On the scientistic worldview, science, while not having the answers to all of the major existential questions, is nonetheless our best bet, and we ought to give the final say in most social matters to quantified modes of knowledge, because only the latter have privileged access to „reality.” Of course, the problem with such a worldview is that it reduces the complexity of the world to the issue of representation, while also failing to account for the way reality evades any description. The complexity of the world makes it impossible for us, as finite beings, to ever produce a representation of the latter that is adequate to its real condition. Science, for Georges Cavailles, is characterized by an ever more pervasive self-referentiality. It constitutes a self-enclosed system which demonstrates truths independently of human sensation. The paradox here, as Cavailles recognizes, is that even formal systems need a corresponding ontology. (16) Differently put, self-referentiality is impossible without what systems theory has called „hetero-referentiality.” Without a world, there is no self. Without an uncoded (and uncodable) complex „outside” reality, there is no such thing as scientific knowledge. We may even say that without non-knowledge, there is no knowledge.
In opposition to scientism, which would reduce the whole world to quantity, several thinkers have posited the concept of „quality.” Among these philosophers, Olkowski emphasizes three in particular: Deleuze, Bergson and Merleau-Ponty. They are of key importance because they have all, in their own ways, cast doubt upon the distinction between the false opposition of qualitative „image” and quantitative „space.” (17-8) In particular, Bergson’s idea of qualitative multiplicity, as first expressed Time and Free Will, has proven immensely fruitful. In Olkowski’s view, Merleau-Ponty and Deleuze can both be read as constituting elaborations upon the basic Bergsonian theme of qualitative, or „heterogeneous multiplicity.” As distinct from a quantitative multiplicity, in the case of a qualitative multiplicity one cannot distinguish the elements which compose it. For instance, when we feel an emotion, „we find ourselves confronted by a confused multiplicity of sensations and feelings.” (Bergson 1910: 87) One cannot count states of consciousness, because these are not discrete objects that can be neatly separated from one another. In essence, what Olkowski attempts to prove is that Bergson’s idea is a key influence at play in both Merleau-Ponty and Deleuze, even if they diverge significantly from the former in other respects. For all three French philosophers, corporeality seems to be the key to transcending the false duality of idealism and materialism. In Bergson’s cosmology, given its most systematic expression in Matter and Memory, the world is made of images, which are neither representations nor things but rather, on Olkowski’s somewhat contentious reading, „affects” which have not yet solidified into perceptions. (19) So as to avoid anthropomorphic misunderstandings, the author hastens to add that under the term „body” we must basically understand movement, pure and simple. (ibid) In Bergson’s conception of the universe, there exists nothing whatsoever apart from indivisible yet heterogeneous movement. Pure change, nothing else.
Such a reading is not inaccurate, yet it is still somewhat surprising to encounter an equation of movement with, of all things, affect, as the latter implies an element of feeling. Be that as it may, we must also not forget that the „body,” considered as a „zone of indetermination” (Bergson’s expression) is merely a point of departure, and not the primary focus of Bergsonian thought. In this regard, Bergson differs radically from phenomenologists of the body such as Merleau-Ponty and so does Deleuze. Indeed, Deleuze and Guattari engage in a devastating critique of phenomenology. (43) The latter school, they claim, produces only opinion and not knowledge. Against Merleau-Ponty and the phenomenological tradition, Deleuze holds that Ideas actualize themselves in the word in a real manner, not merely through appearance. The weddedness of phenomenology to natural sensibility occludes taking the reality of change seriously enough. (21) Indeed, for Bergson and the „1980s Deleuze” of the Cinema books, duration is all there is. We do not concur with Olkowski’s remark, to the effect that in Bergson the „moment” cannot be considered as being durational. (20) Everything is duration. The late Deleuze is closer to Bergson than we would think. What Olkowski fails to address, much to our disappointment, is how, ironically, Deleuze himself, at least in earlier works such as the misleadingly-titled Bergsonism and Difference and Repetition also failed to take the reality of actualization seriously enough by privileging the concept of the „virtual” above and against the „actual.” There is a much greater distance between Deleuze’s earlier and later periods than Olkowski lets onto, which also occludes the very signifant distance between the pre-1980s „virtualist” Deleuzian philosophy and the Bergsonian view. The incompatibility of the Deleuzian „virtual” with Bergsonian duration is unfortunately not addressed in Chapter Three („Bergson and Bergsonism”) either, even though that section if the book is ostensibly dedicated to answering the question of „how Bergsonian is Deleuze’s Bergsonism?” (69)
The systems theoretical problematic of self-referentiality returns in Chapter Two („Deleuze and Guattari’s Critique of Logic”). In essence, the chapter constitutes a reconstruction of Deleuze and Guattari’s critique of self-referential systems of logic in their final co-authored book, What Is Philosophy? The problem is how to deconstruct the distinction between formalism and lived experience. Ever since Immanuel Kant, the gap between mathematical and physical space has been growing, to the point wherein we cannot bring the two into anything like a balance. (26) For Deleuze and Guattari, self-referential systems of logic are deeply problematic, for such modes of thinking ignore two key truths about the world: objects are not self-subsistent entities and concepts too are extensional. (31) We cannot distinguish between unextended abstract ideas and physical entities in the Deleuzian cosmology. Because they leak out into the real world, concepts are infinitely rich realities. It is impossible to do justice to a concept by reducing it to a proposition. (32) Olkowski’s aim is to radicalize postmodern philosophy. Drawing upon the Deleuzo-Guattarian attack on self-referentiality is undoubtedly an effective way of going about this subvserive refoundation of postmodernism, and our sentiments concur with such a project. On Deleuze and Guattari’s view, the crime of the logicians, one that cannot be forgiven lightly, is the reduction of concept to function. Real problems are simply not propositional; neither are concepts. They posit that philosophical concepts are „intensional,” always tending toward reality, while never achieving a coincidence with pure differentiation in itself. Instead of reducing complexity, as self-contained systems of logic do, we must strive toward „creations of all kinds in any possible world.” (36)
Following Deleuze’s lead, Olkowski comments on the work of the early American pragmatist philosopher, Charles Sanders Peirce. For non-specialists not well-versed in Peirce’s system, this makes for at times daunting reading. For our purposes, it suffices to furnish a brief summary of Peirce’s three fundamental logical-ontological categories, without claiming to do justice to Peirce’s system. Firstness refers to initial vagueness. Secondness refers to singularity, the „thisness” of something in particular. Thirdness refers to generality, defined as the connection between the first two. Interestingly, what Olkowski suggests is that a systems theoretical reading of Peirce is also possible, and Deleuze’s own commentary on Peirce also points in this direction. Firstness corresponds also to feeling, Secondness to the resistance of real objects pushing back against our feelings and Thirdness to the observation (and actually achieved synthetic connection) of the former two elements. For Deleuze, Peirce’s Thirdness makes possible the positing of thought as a real force in the world. (42) Yet thought, paradoxically, can only become such a force if it has already suffered the violence of reality. Peirce and Deleuze are in accord when they both affirm that consciousness only achieves Thirdness after it has been assailed by the uncontrollable resistance exhibited by reality against human designs. (41) As Olkowski writes, „thought begins as mis-sophia,” the „original violence” thrust upon us through involuntary changes, conditions and circumstances outside of any human control. (40) No thought without violence, no reality without prehuman resistance.
One may describe Peirce’s „Triad” in terms of the following equation:
In Peirce’s view, one that uncannily echoes Bergson’s idea of qualitative multiplicity, generality, characterized as „supermultitudinous” by Olkowski, forms a heterogeneous continuity. (46-7) As opposed to a standard continuum, where the differences between components have disappeared to the point of imperceptibility, the members of a supermultitudinous continuum retain their qualitative differences. In Olkowski’s words, a generality is „a collection so great that its constituents have no hypothetical existence except in their relations to one another.” (72) From Peirce’s generality, Olkowski, following Deleuze, draws the conclusion that „Ideas are multiplicities,” with multiplicity denoting „difference and differentiation” and „repetition” describing Thirdness (the reflection, mediation, or, to borrow a term from systems theory, the third-order observation that synthesizes feeling with fact). (48) In all, this leaves us feeling doubtful that Deleuze has authentically escaped the grip of self-referentiality. As a description of the way mediation occludes the underlying reality of change, Deleuze’s system, as elaborated in Difference and Repetition, works well. As a process philosophy, it does not, for it does not get us back to anything like an intimate proximity with the reality of change. To say, with Deleuze, that states of affairs are merely „actualizations of virtual chaos” does not do justice to the brute reality of actualization. (49) Olkowski does not answer the following question: what, if anything, does Deleuze’s reactionary embrace of the already transcended concept of „possibility” add to philosophy after Bergson’s radical demolition of the idea of „possibility” in, among other texts, „The Possible and the Real”? (Bergson 1911: 107-126) Even accounting for the rechristening of possibility as „virtuality” or „virtual chaos” by Deleuze, we cannot on our part see why actualization ought to be fettered by such static Platonic Ideas as „possibility.”
Chapter Three, „Bergson and Bergsonism,” is dedicated to outlining the relationship between the philosophies of Bergson and Deleuze respectively. In Bergson’s ontology, there can be posited a continuity between past and present within the form of duration. (59) Against conventional readings of the Bergson-Einstein Controversy of 1922-3, Olkowski holds – and rightly so – that Bergson pushed relativity much further than Einstein. Rather than a merely phenomenological affirmation of lived, psychological time or time consciousness, Bergson argues for the relativity of all durations. Against Einstein, Bergson holds that there is no distinction between duration and content. (61) In other words, time, as the continuity of change, is a fundamental and real aspect of the material universe. Einstein’s block universe is not mobile enough for process philosophy. Time is not an illusion. The Bergsonian revolt against timelessness grounds itself upon cosmic time. While modernity promised a cosmic Aeon, even after postmodernity we are still awaiting the dawn of the cosmic era. (147) Change is not only in our minds, as Einsteinians hold: it is also located outside of consciousness as the duration of material images. If we take the continuity of change seriously, this means that duration is always active now. Hence, a dynamic presentism seems an unvoidable conclusion of Bergson’s process philosophy. (Lovasz 2021) Of the two thinkers, the philosopher was without question the more radical than the physicist. Merleau-Ponty’s description of Einstein is devastating: „Einstein himself was a classical thinker.” (Merleau-Ponty 1964: 193) Olkowski is in complete accord with Merleau-Ponty’s retrospective view, to the effect that Einstein simply misunderstood Bergson’s position as being a psychologizing one, rather than recognizing it as a relativism more radical and consequential than his own conservative view of reality. (67) The „classical” view of science, one that, through the mediation of scientism, is still popular today, consists of the following toxic ingredients: causal determinism; the supposed decomposition of complex realities into simples; and, finally, the spatialization of the world’s existence. (65) All three authors chosen by Olkowski struggled against this determinist view of the world. In this regard, we ourselves are allies of these three authors and their contemporary synthesizer also.
Scientism can only be undone if we remain true to the present, to pure duration. In our time, the forecast has become the dominant mode of temporality. We already live in a destitute future, anxious of catastrophe, fearful of change, and haunted by the spectre of uncontrollability. Complexity has become synonymous with risk, whereas indeterminacy is also the source of liberty and opportunity. Bergsonism offers an antidote to future-centrism. Against the spectre of the post-apocalyptic future, colored black by our civilizational ecophobic anxieties, we can posit an allegiance to the flowing present. As Olkowski emphasizes, „for a being that endures, the past remains in the present.” (71) Only in the present does the past or, for that matter, the future have any presence. Any other tense is an abstraction. Against all talk of future risks and existential threats, Bergsonism gives us an almost messianic hope that we can, against all odds, return to the present. Peirce’s statement, to the effect that „we are immediately aware only of our present feelings,” is more subversive than it would seem upon first impressions. (Peirce 1931: 167) This can be read today as a much needed reminder to prioritize the present against a past which is already absent and a contingent future about which not much is known apart from its unpredictability.
Chapter Four of Deleuze, Bergson, Merleau-Ponty, „Duration, Motion, and Temporalization,” is dedicated to conceptualizing the relationship between movement and time. Here again, we must point out our divergence of opinion from the author. Olkowski states that „while Deleuze expresses no preference for one type of image over the other, it is clear that bergson does”, going on to venture the claim that Bergson rejects the movement-image as a „cinematographic illusion.” (82) This would apparently go against the Bergsonian doctrine, which holds movement to be synonymous with duration. Bergson’s own philosophy is just as much a movement-image as a time-image, and emphasizing the latter aspect only seems erroneous to us. The supposed difference between the late Deleuze’s affirmation of cinematography and Bergson’s rejection of the „cinematic” view of reality does not take into account the latter’s reconsideration of cinema. If we affirm, as Olkowski also does, that „duration” can be defined as „the inner becoming of things,” the late Deleuze of the Cinema books is correct to claim that this applies also to cinematographic technologies of representation as well, for the latter too are parts of the world. (84) If reality is movement, consciousness is, ironically, the relative absence of movement, an immobility which manifests in the living organism as hesitation. Commenting upon Matter and Memory, Olkowski makes the point that „for Bergson, any unconscious material point has greater perception than an entity with consciousness.” (85) The reason for this lies in the function of the latter. Consciousness is a filtering mechanism, which serves to reduce noise, allowing the organism to select information from its environs. The brain is nothing more than an „acentered image,” to use Olkowski’s evocative phrase. (87) Here we do not wish to delve into the details of the late Deleuze’s cinematic ontology. Rather, we content ourselves with pointing out that it bears a much greater resemblance to Bergsonian philosophy than Deleuze’s earlier works. There is no virtual in Bergson or, for that matter, the Cinematic Deleuze. Rather, a complete coincidence can be identified between the time-image and the movement-image. „Each time it occurs, the time-image is completely new,” writes Olkowski. (90) Occurence is always already a movement, an emergence. No time-image without a corresponding movement-image, no memory without „the appeals of the present state.” (91) What the time-image reveals is the desubjectified time of pure movement, the momentum of the moment. Indeterminacy is freedom, possibility, the opportunity to free new elaborations into the world, the chance to create what Olkowski calls „destiny,” the „pure power of time that overflows all possible reaction.” (93) A surrender to fate that nonetheless constitutes a liberation. Amor fati.
The fifth Chapter, „Phenomenology and the Event,” deals with Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology and its relationship with science, as well as Merleau-Ponty’s critique of scientism. For Merleau-Ponty, not unlike Deleuze and Bergson, reality is free and open. Against the primacy of quantified scientific observation and the natural (preperceptive) attitude, Merleau-Ponty posits the primacy of perception. (110) Far from being an anti-scientific move, this allows the phenomenologist to critique dominant modes of knowledge without falling back into any preperceptive, prereflective or prephilosophical condition. Perception is what synthesizes physical reality and behavior, being the bridge which links us to a world. Movement, for Merleau-Ponty, is based upon pre-objective experience. In other words, the present is made from sensation. Here again, we encounter a vibrant presentism, although one that is more phenomenological than Bergsonian ontology because of its grounding upon affect. Our duration, it should be added, is never ours alone. The heterogeneous continuity of qualitatively different durations also entails the mutual inseparability of different temporalities. As Olkowski states, „a living present is open not merely to the past and future but to temporalities outside of lived experience, including those of a social horizon.” (114-5) Outside of the present, none of these have relevance, yet when they coincide with a vibrant present, attentiveness is achieved. The challenge for Merleau-Ponty and Olkowski alike is to remain true to our perception, while distancing ourselves from alienating cognitive constructs. Our contemporary society is replete with forms of opinion that masquerade as knowledge. In a radical vein, Olkowski lists several of these at an earlier point in the book, highlighting computer science, sociology, marketing, design and advertising in particular as forms of opinion camouflaged as knowledge. (93) Aligning ourselves with perception, in the vein of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology, we can mount a direct challenge to any and all alienating exteriorizations of cognition. We have grown accustomed to observing real processes through the lens of quantifiable data. Perhaps the time has come for us to see things differently. (Al-Saji 2009: 375-399). Against alienation, the Event, as conceptualized by Deleuze, is a direct attack on the computationalized human nervous system. (119) Olkowski’s book can be read as a sabotage of regularized modes of perception.
Chapter Six, entitled „The Philosophy of the Event,” is in many ways a Conclusion for the text as a whole. Olkowski affirms the Deleuzian view of philosophy. Instead of consensus-building, the job of philosophy is to sow discord and controversy. (131) The Deleuzian „dark precursor” is what systems theory calls the „blind spot,” an element that has escaped observation, in turn observing its would-be observers. Olkowski repeats the Deleuzian gestures of subversion in a refreshingly new way. Instead of clarity, the goal here coincides with the „disharmony of all the faculties.” (132) The creation of thought is the „rendering consistent” of chaos. (135) But has Olkowski succeeded in this task? Yes and no. The internal consistency of the book hinges upon its choice of authors. The subtitle refers explicitly to pragmatism, yet the connection between the key concepts of the work are at times tenuous. On our part, we would have been more satisfied had the pragmatism of Peirce been brought into a more direct correspondence with the views of Bergson, William James, John Dewey and Rosiah Royce, to name a few of the early 20th century’s most influential philosophers who were characterized as „pragmatists” by their contemporaries. A broader reflection upon pragmatism would, in our view, have been warranted. The final chapter functions well as an aesthetic and political reiteration of the fundamentally chaotizing Deleuzian project of absolute deterritorialization, yet it also raises questions regarding the positionality of the author. When all is said and done, Olkowski is a Deleuzian philosopher through-and-through, and this circumstance impacts the interpretation of Bergson and Merleau-Ponty. At key junctures, we find that Deleuze has the final say in most matters, while other perspectives and philosophical schools are mostly relegated to a supporting role at best. The endgoal of Deleuzian philosophy is absolute deterritorialization, the blowing apart of all semiotic systems. (142) If this truly is the case, then we are almost duty-bound as consistent Deleuzians to undermine our own systems of thought also on a constant basis. It would seem that Olkowski does not make enough of an effort to demolish Deleuzian philosophy from within. We ourselves must become abstract machines that cut across all significations, the doctrine of Deleuzianism included. Fealty to the constancy of change demands the undertaking of the risky philosophical task of permanent subversion. In the 21st century, it is very much the case that real thought begins where uncritical allegiance to scientism ends. Without the discord of philosophy, we shall remain entrapped within increasingly intolerant structures tending toward the scientistic regularization of life on this planet.
Al-Saji, Alia. 2009. „A Phenomenology of Critical-Ethical Vision. Merleau-Ponty, Bergson, and the Question of Seeing Differently.” Chiasmi International 11: 375-399.
Bergson, Henri. 1910. Time and Free Will. An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness. Trans. F. L. Pogson. London: George Allen & Unwin.
Bergson, Henri. 1911. „The Possible and the Real.” In: Bergson, Henri (1946) The Creative Mind. Trans. Mabelle L. Andison. New York: Philosophical Library, 107-126.
Kirby, Allan. 2006. „The Death of Postmodernism and Beyond.” https://philosophynow.org/issues/58/The_Death_of_Postmodernism_And_Beyond
Lovasz, Adam. 2021. Updating Bergson. A Philosophy of the Enduring Present. Lanham: Lexington Books.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 1964. „Albert Einstein and the Crisis of Reason.” In: Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (1964) Signs. Trans. Richard C. McCleary. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
Olkowski, Dorothea E. 2021. Deleuze, Bergson, Merleau-Ponty. The Logic and Pragmatics of Creation, Affective Life, and Perception. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Peirce, Charles Sanders. 1931. The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce. Volume I. Ed. Charles Harshorne, Paul Weiss and Arthur Burks. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
In his book Nothing to It: Reading Freud as a Philosopher, Emmanuel Falque has provided a compact and dense argument in order to show the importance of Freud’s work for the phenomenological debate.
In the opening section, Falque chooses to present the affinities between Freud’s psychological theory and the ideas of Paul Ricoeur and Merleau-Ponty. As starting point, the author suggests that psychoanalysis as discipline, and in particular, Freudian psychoanalytic theory, can be studied independently of the practice underlying it. (24)
Thus, from the beginning, Falque abandons any issue concerning the practical aspects of psychoanalysis, following the lead of Ricouer. Previous philosophical approaches to Freudian psychoanalysis, like Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus (1972) or Jacques Derrida’s Resistances to Psychoanalysis (1996), were characterized, in the author’s view, by a polemic tone. (26) One may add that this line of criticism in France continues in the new millennium, for example in Michel Onfray’s The Twilight of an Idol: The Freudian Confabulation (2010).
However, Falque wants to focus on a more sympathetic, if minoritarian, current in French phenomenology. As example, he points at the work of Merleau- Ponty in the period from his Phenomenology of Perception (1945) to his death. Indeed, Merleau-Ponty has openly declared that the phenomenological method was developed with the contribution of psychoanalysis. Falque then concludes by saying:
In short, we need not to reconcile psychoanalysis and philosophy because in reality they have already been married for a long time. But we still have to nourish the link, and any fidelity demands not only self-denial, but instead a willingness to approach the other. (27-28)
After providing the historical precedent for his attempt, Falque considers which moments or stages of “fecundity” in psychoanalysis have produced a transformation in phenomenology.
The author describes them as ‘backlashes’ of psychoanalysis, producing a radical change of course in phenomenology. (28) The first moment is described in Ricouer’s Freud and Philosophy (1965), in which the earliest psychoanalytic theory is presented as one the greatest or even the principal authority of the unfurling of hermeneutics. (29)
In Ricoeur’s view, the conflict between psychoanalysis and phenomenology does not emerge from their original works, namely Freud’s Interpretations of Dreams (1899) and Husserl’s Logical Investigations (1900), which actually show a certain affinity, but rather in the
necessity, at least in Ricoeur’s eyes, to radicalize the theory of “signification” (Husserl) with a theory of “interpretation” (Freud). (29)
The second moment comes when Merleau-Ponty recognizes the shared interest in both psychoanalysis and phenomenology in applying reason to the irrational, which should be considered as a form of progress for reason (30). Yet, phenomenology, according to Falque, has not been able to move beyond the statement that “all consciousness is consciousness of something”.
The “below” of sense drills into spheres that do not reach the pair “sense” and “non-sense”. Deeper and more gaping, this stratum of the existent says nothing and has nothing to tell me, is not seen nor is demonstrable, is not understood, and does not let itself be read. (31)
So, it appears that psychoanalysis understood the multi-layered nature of the Id, Merleau-Ponty’s ‘raw nature’, and then phenomenology, influenced by Freud’s insight, developed its own theory.
The It is the pivotal point in Falque’s discussion, and he himself chooses this point to clarify his title, Nothing to It:
It only shows that “to see oneself”, following the Id, one first has to renounce seeing (…) because one is borne from below by the neuter of the “Self” of our existentiality. (32)
At this point, Falque develops his idea of a superiority of Freud’s idea of latency,
this hidden cache that stands in a place where there is nothing to “It” .(32)
compared to Husserl, Heidegger and Lévinas’ concepts of intuition, manifestation and invisible’s excess.
At this point, the author starts to expand his idea about the need to combine psychoanalytic insights and philosophical explorations. What makes the comparison harder to understand is the fact that Falque repeatedly compares a few notions of Freud’s theory, only his, and only his “second topography”, (37) with a variety of philosophers, usually French and broadly definable as phenomenologists, but sometimes including Nietzsche and even Kant as well. (35)
Chapter 1 opens with a few considerations about personal and historical events shaping Freud’s worldview in the last decades of his life. Personal and social tragedies have both contributed to change Freud’s optimism about an enduring Enlightenment. (40-42)
The First World War is thus for Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, not only a “crisis”, (…). It is properly speaking a “revolution”, the imposition of a change of paradigm and not merely the correction of an old system. (46)
At this point, Falque attempts to read “metaphysically” the impact of the Great War on psychoanalysis, claiming that
It introduces the ego and destroys not only the ego’s capacity to present or be represented, but the very idea that there is something to “present” or something “representable”. (46)
The impact of the historical event on the discipline of psychoanalysis, according to Falque, is analogous to that of the Second World War on Lévinas’s phenomenology, particularly about the question of “evil”. On the other hand, Freud’s contemporary philosophers, like Husserl, Bergson, and Russell, were unable to grasp this metaphysical level,
the “it” of the event of the war and the “id/it” of the submission or even of the annihilation of the ego. (47)
The discussion on Freud’s superior understanding of the Great War as the proof of humanity’s barbarism continues in Chapter 2, and Falque makes the claim that this barbarism is characteristic of the First but not of the Second World War:
One knows why people die, or rather why there is death in the Second World War, because it is thoroughly “rationalized” even if it is never “reasonable”. (…) Inversely, one does not die merely for nothing in the First World War, but one does not know why one dies, who dies, or where the people who die go or might want to go. (50)
Falque’s claims are debatable, not only for historical reasons, but also because Freud’s death before the Second World War prevented anyone from knowing if he would have shared Falque’s distinction between a “barbaric” First World War and an “ideological” Second World War, as the author seems to imply. (51)
In any case, Falque’s focus in this section is on the impact of barbarism on psychoanalysis, and, specifically, on the discovery of the “death drive”, which, in Falque’s view, had always been the ‘unknown object’ of psychoanalysis since the beginning. (51-52)
What First World War brought to the fore was the presence of a violent “primitive man” lying just beneath the surface of civilization (probably meaning Western Civilization, although Falque does not clarify).
The realization of the existence of a “death drive”, in the author’s opinion, makes Freud’s understanding of the conflict comparable with that of Franz Rosenzweig, author of The Star of Redemption (1921). (54)
The analogy between the experiences of a man fighting in the trenches, as was the case of Rosenzweig, with those of someone “in the rear guard” is rather contestable, as Falque himself recognizes. (57) Yet, they reach very similar conclusions regarding the loss of Enlightenment’s illusions, wiped away by the sheer violence of the fighting. (56)
What Freud comes to call the “Id” emerges as the brutality of the “animal component” of the individual, revealed by the war in all its brutal power. (57)
The conclusion of this chapter is:
That there is an “Id” prior to an “Ego” (Freud) or a “Self” prior to the “me” (Nietzsche) is the lesson drawn from the conflict- not primarily military or political but metaphysical- from which Freud and we after him have not finished drawing the lessons for philosophy itself. (58)
The change occurred to psychoanalysis in the aftermath of the war is the starting point for Chapter 3:
not only thinking through the war, but thinking oneself thinking through the war, and showing that the thought of the war becomes the place of and the tool for the destruction of all thought. (60)
The consequences of this change is a new consideration for the “somatic” component, whose corporeality is understood differently by Freud, Jung and Lacan. (60) Falque mentions here other psychoanalytic schools in order to clarify that the concept of “drive” should be understood only as
the force in me that I do not recognize as being me- appears to me as “a known that is unknown”. (61)
As noticed before, Falque usually restricts his discussion of psychoanalysis to Freud’s theory, while covering a number of philosophers. At this point, he briefly considers Lacan’s “symbolic”, only to notice how it ignores the “somatic origin of the drive”. (63) While it is understandable to reduce sometimes the differences between psychoanalysis and phenomenology, some clarification about the choice of excluding in toto any other psychoanalyst may have been useful at this stage.
In the following section, the author underlines once more the importance and utility of a greater consideration of Freud’s ideas in phenomenology, suggesting that the latter could gain some insights, for psychoanalytic theory would lead phenomenology
back to its Urgrund or toward the “obscure ground” of the human, which it cannot avoid (…). (63)
It seems that it has already done so in some measure, since Merleau-Ponty’s “raw nature” and Derrida’s Khora derive from the backlash of psychoanalysis as they recover
the obscure point of what is below or beneath any signification intended by the Freudian “unconscious”(…). (63)
After this passage, as in others, one may expect some explanation of the link between three concepts which are quite complex and debated on their own right. Yet, Falque moves on without further discussion, and he also exits the field of phenomenology for drawing two short comparisons between the Freudian drive and an idea of force that is to be found in Nietzsche and Spinoza. Again, there is no further analysis, and the interesting possibilities are left open.
Chapter 4 suspends the comparison between phenomenology and psychoanalysis, considering instead the latter’s similarities with some “spiritual” work by Christian authors. Falque considers Freud’s concepts of “uncanny” (69-70), “death and repetition” (71), and “anorganic” (72-73), as similar to the spiritual experience of being “outside of time” and “outside of space”, defined as “acedia” by the authors he quotes. (76)
The following chapters mostly discuss Freud’s works in the last decade of his life, in particular the confrontation between the Ego and the Id, which Falque sometimes writes as the it, as in the title, making hard to distinguish in some case which meaning of the word “it” he is employing. He sometimes interrupts what would be an historical overview of Freud’s ouvre for showing some possible link with phenomenology, mostly Derrida, and the spiritual and theological concepts he briefly considered in Chapter 4.
The conclusion of his analysis is that the Id, in order to be understood, requires the combination of three disciplines. This is necessary since the self to be explored is not only of the human, but of God and of the world as well. And thus
One “crosses the Rubicon” from phenomenology into theology, and vice versa, but also from phenomenology to psychoanalysis, and vice versa. It is by learning and by being modified by its “other” that phenomenology will advance and will stop condemning every other science as “ontic”. (90)
The concluding chapter presents an almost religious undertone, discussing the Id as something to be “saved”, and the Ego presented as its saviour (93-94). This considerations are inspired by the notes Freud made in the last months of his life, in which a mystical allure clearly emerges.
The epilogue lists the achievements of Freud:
To bring the Enlightenment to an end, to conceive the inconceivable, to be rooted in the organic, not to fear the uncanny, to go all the way to the anorganic, to be lived by the Id, (…) such is the path lived simultaneously by Freud himself, and through him, the history of the development of psychoanalysis. (100)
Each of these results has been analyzed in the book, although rather shortly. As noticed by Philippe Van Haute in the Foreword, Falque’s book “leaves many questions open”. Sometimes it is also rather obscure, adopting concepts from Freud, Derrida and others without a proper explanation, which would be in some case necessary . The continuous changes of terminology are quite confusing as well, with a few chapters discussing psychoanalysis but employing a phenomenological lexicon and another doing the contrary.
Another potential weakness of the book is the considerable difference between the analysis of Freud’s works, often involving historical and biographical considerations, and, on the other hand, the ideas of philosophers, which are usually thrown in as means of comparison without any elaboration or contextualization.
Yet, this book is undeniably fascinating in its re-evaluation of Freud’s theories, and all the parts concerning the founder of psychoanalysis and his ideas are rich in insights and make a strong case for further philosophical explorations.
In Seeing the Invisible: On Kandinsky (1988), French philosopher Michel Henry argues that Kandinsky’s abstract art “ceases to be the painting of the visible.”  Instead, Kandinsky’s paintings reveal the invisible essence of life. In a similar vein, Klaus Kienzler’s new book opens with Paul Klee’s famous claim: “Art does not reproduce the visible; rather it makes visible.”
At the crossroads of phenomenology, art theory and existential thought, Kienzler explores three artists who embody the transition to modernism like no others: Paul Cézanne, Paul Klee, and Wassily Kandinsky. Engaging with their artistic visions as a phenomenologist and theologian, Kienzler examines the ways in which each artist deals with time (Zeit) and motion (Bewegung), two phenomena that already played a central role in Kienzler’s previous book on the theologian Klaus Hemmerle .
Rooted in the tradition of German phenomenology, Kienzler was over many years part of the German-French circle around Emmanuel Levinas, Paul Ricœur and Bernhard Caspar. A professor of fundamental theology in Augsburg, Kienzler is, unlike other members of this circle, virtually unknown in the Anglophone world. As his new book demonstrates, Kienzler’s perspective on phenomenology is less academic than it is enriched by his personal experience. The reader who expects a concise study that engages with recent scholarship on art and phenomenology will thus be disappointed.
Kienzler’s book invites on a stimulating yet lengthy journey through an enormous amount of material, including phenomenological texts, paintings, art theory, and correspondences. Kienzler’s ambitious goal is to make his readers see the world through the eyes of Cézanne, Klee, and Kandinsky. Rather than using phenomenology as a method of investigation, Kienzler explores how artistic visions intervene into phenomenological discourses on subjectivity, time, movement, and embodiment.
Besides Husserl and Heidegger, Kienzler’s phenomenological references are Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Bernhard Waldenfels, a prolific contemporary phenomenologist and translator of Merleau-Ponty. In the footsteps of Waldenfels, Kienzler aims to fuse French and German theory, drawing on phenomenology and Bildwissenschaft (image-science), a peculiar German art-historical discipline close to visual studies. Oscillating between eye and mind, image and concept, Kienzler explores how art and phenomenology mutually enlighten each other.
As the title shows, Kienzler’s book is not a study on the phenomenology of art or the phenomenology of vision, but rather a phenomenology of the art of vision; this is, a journey to a clearer way of seeing, or, in Paul Klee’s words, “to the land of better knowledge” (17). The aim of my review is to analyze how Kienzler pursues this intriguing project and whether his study lives up to his claims. While critically addressing the book’s major arguments, my focus is to reveal some of its productive potentialities.
The book is divided into eight chapters, sparse pathmarks on Kienzler’s tour de force through the history of modern art and phenomenology. We can roughly divide the book into two parts; firstly, an extended theoretical prelude comprising five chapters; secondly, three chapters on Cézanne, Klee and Kandinsky. Although the second part is interspersed with long cross-references to the prelude, the transition between the individual chapters is not always smooth. In fact, Kienzler’s theoretical apparatus becomes at times a bit overly complex, overshadowing his engagement with the artists. The study also comprises an appendix with 24 coloured images.
Images are Motion (Paul Klee)
The following extract from Klee’s Creative Confession, published in 1920, opens the introductory chapter and remains a leitmotif throughout Kienzler’s book:
Let’s make a small journey into the country of better knowledge by applying a topographic plan. Over the dead point be the first moving act (line). After a short time stop to catch breath. (An interrupted or, in case of repeated stops, an articulated line.) Review how far we are already. (Counter movement). Considering in our mind the way here and there (bundles of lines). (17) 
Klee’s description of lines taking a walk had already fascinated Merleau-Ponty who drew on both Klee and Cézanne. For Kienzler, Klee’s treatment of lines is essentially phenomenological. More than geometrical constructs, Klee’s lines dynamize both artist and viewer. Kienzler investigates how Klee’s artist-in-motion translates into a phenomenological description of subjectivity. Rather than an uninvolved observer, Klee’s subject is embodied, temporalized, and interwoven with the world through motion.
Following Merleau-Ponty, Kienzler considers art an expression of corporeal consciousness or Leibbewusstsein (31). The post-Cartesian subject of “I walk therefore I am” is developed at the example of Klee’s 1923 painting “Der L=Platz im Bau” (20). In his insightful interpretation, Kienzler claims that Klee’s defamiliarized forms embody the way in which our gaze moves through the world. In this sense, Klee did not imitate the visible, but made visible. The movement of the gaze is temporalized, while the artwork itself is timeless (35). Kienzler’s notion of timelessness can be interpreted as the actualization of the work through the viewer’s eyes; this is, our gaze both temporalizes and detaches the image from its temporal limitations.
A Brief Introduction to Phenomenology
The second chapter elaborates a dense theoretical apparatus, focusing on Waldenfels’s theory of perception. The way in which Kienzler interlinks phenomenology, hermeneutics, and image-science breaks some new ground. However, the complex conceptual framework does not always serve the overarching goal to develop a phenomenology of artistic vision directly from the works of Cézanne, Klee, and Kandinsky. When tracking Kienzler’s theory back to Klee, it is particularly Waldenfels’s responsive phenomenology that cuts across. For Waldenfels, in Kienzler’s words, experience and perception are intersubjective:
This is how experiences and perceptions come about: we are hit, addressed, moved by something outside of ourselves. That is, something comes towards us before we go towards it from ourselves. The decisive factor here is the double direction of vision. It is a double event: on the one hand, the claim, an experience, a sight or an address, which Waldenfels calls “pathos (Widerfahrnis)”, triggers an answer, a “response” in the sense mentioned above. The pathos happens to me and hits me, and on the other hand, it is I myself who gives the response. The pathos is not an objective event that can be stated as a fact, but the pathos happens to me. (53)
Images affect us as a pathos to which we respond. For Waldenfels, art is thus an emotional event (“iconopathy”) between image, artist, and viewer (54). Kienzler’s distillation of Waldenfels is a good entry point to further explore the notion of responsivity in the reception of art.
Iconic — Phenomenology of Seeing
“Where to find the center of seeing between the eye and the world?” (77)
The third chapter introduces the term Ikonik (Iconic), a method by art historian Max Imdahl. Recalling the intricate connection between aesthetics and perception (aisthēsis), Kienzler traces the so-called “iconic turn” in visual studies of the early 1990s back to its phenomenological roots. He argues that the iconic turn in visual studies was indeed facilitated by Husserl’s radical rehabilitation of sensuality. Kienzler brings Imdahl in dialogue with Merleau Ponty, arguing that through Cézanne, Merleau-Ponty realized that the Cartesian conception of the image was inadequate (75).
Drawing on Waldenfels, Kienzler interprets the image as a simultaneous process of making visible and becoming visible (79). Kienzler frames the perception of art as a mode of phenomenological epoché. Another productive encounter with phenomenology is Kienzler’s interpretation of Merleau-Ponty’s theory of vision as an inversion of the gaze:
If our body is both seeing and visible, then why should not things, as annexes of the body, also be both visible and seeing? […] This leads to a reversal of the gaze, a renversement, as Paul Klee expresses it with the feeling “that the things, for example the trees in the forest, look at me (me regardent).” (78)
Here Kienzler successfully shows how artistic vision reflects on phenomenological theory. Kienzler reads the “me regardent” in the double sense of “looking at me” and “concerning me,” stating a responsive (Waldenfels) relation between subject and world. Although Kienzler does not mention Jacques Lacan, his theory of a reversal of the gaze could be productively read with Lacan’s idea that objects, reflecting our lack, look back at us. In a Lacanian spirit, Kienzler defines the image as a mirror of our own gaze, a mediating third of our seeing body (87). This potential encounter between Kienzler and Lacan is one of the many horizons Kienzler’s book opens up.
In the fourth chapter, Kienzler further entwines phenomenology and image theory, importing Gottfried Boehm’s iconic difference into the phenomenological discourse. Iconic difference means the structural principles or the “logic of images” different from language (94). Kienzler interlinks iconic difference with the phenomenological reduction. Images, Kienzler claims, are in themselves silent, they are not logos, instead we have to make them speak. Kienzler examines Cézanne’s paintings as a net of differential relations. While the elements are silent in themselves, “there is an unexpected ‘potentiality’ that we mobilize when we bring the individual elements into a context, ‘realise’ them as constellations of a whole.” (100)
We make images speak by moving the gaze from the whole to the parts and back. Kienzler suggests that this movement of the gaze, realizing endless potentialites, is time itself. While Kienzler’s voracious enthusiasm for theory may lead the reader into some dead ends, Boehm’s iconic difference has its reasonable place in Kienzler’s analysis of temporality and composition. Throughout the second part of the book, Kienzler will return to difference and temporality, particularly to the three modes inherent in vision: simultaneity, succession and potentiality (96).
Plato — Allegory of the Cave
The fifth chapter is an excursus on Plato’s famous analogies of the cave, the sun and the line from Plato’s Republic. Most attention is paid to the allegory of the line, which evokes previous ideas around visibility, movement and cognition. In the cave allegory, seeing only begins when the body moves away from its fixed position in the cave. With Waldenfels, Kienzler interprets the allegory as a story of kinesthesis (the perception of body movements) (119). Before shifting his attention to Cézanne, Kienzler further develops these notions through the lens of Mischa Kuball’s platon’s mirror (2007), a series of installations, projections and photographs.
After this extensive prelude, stretching over nearly 130 pages, the sixth chapter finally arrives at Cézanne. With a focus on motion, Kienzler argues that Cézanne’s new realism emerged from a radical abandonment of the central perspective. Cézanne’s “copernican turn of vision” (129) was to realize that the way in which we see the world does not correspond with the static construction of the central perspective. In Kienzler’s view, Cézanne’s studies demonstrate that perception is neither geometric nor photographic; in other words, an eye is not a camera. Vision is instead moved by spontaneous shifts in perspective that fuse into a general impression or gestalt.
How did Cézanne make the invisible visible? Drawing on Boehm’s iconic difference, Kienzler describes Cézanne’s method as “starting from the individual, the differences, and keeping an eye on the whole” (140). The first elements in Cézanne’s painting are patches (taches) of colour, insignificant in isolation yet meaningful in their relational network. Like Klee’s “Der L=Platz im Bau,” Cézanne’s “carpet of colour patches” (141) modulates surfaces and sequences, visualizing different perspectives at once. Do Cézanne’s patches of colour represent the parts of the whole? Or do they refer to natural phenomena? For Kienzler, Cézanne’s paintings create a closed philosophical system, in which all individual elements have a meaningful relation to the whole.
Analyzing different commentaries on Cézanne, Kienzler concludes that Cézanne’s art makes visible by disclosing how we perceive. With Cézanne, Kienzler claims, we realize that it is not the mind that sees, but our eye that meets the world in the realm of colour (155). Kienzler dedicates the rest of the chapter to Cézanne’s notions of motif, sensation and réalisation. Here, Kienzler’s reading becomes increasingly interesting. Kienzler defines Cézanne’s realization as “transposing the visible into the visible, i.e. to bring the non-visible into the picture” (155). Kienzler explores Cézanne’s take on his motif in the repeated depiction of the Mont Sainte-Victoire (162). Borrowing extensively from Imdahl’s description of Cézanne’s series, Kienzler interprets the color patches as sensations of the motif, disparate optical impressions of the mountain that reveal new dimensions of its being.
Delving into various philosophical theories of colour, Kienzler defines Cézanne’s art as an ontology of colours. In Cézanne’s ontology, the colour sensation overcomes the divide between subject and object. Inspired by Boehm and Gilles Deleuze’s Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation (1981), Kienzler interprets Cézanne’s sensation as a uniquely ambivalent entwinement between subject and world:
The sensation, therefore, is a tense fusion of what we see with how we see. It can be assigned neither to the world of objects nor to that of subjects alternatively and unambiguously; it thus breaks through a fundamental epistemological distinction. Sensation combines the energy of the human senses with that of external reality. This gives it an oscillating status. (178)
Kienzler’s original interpretation of Cézanne catapults us back into the centre of phenomenology. Evoking Heidegger’s concept of Befindlichkeit, Kienzler describes Cézanne’s sensation as an existential state of being (178). Through colours, the artist expresses her Dasein, transforming what she sees until it matches with what she feels; or, recalling Waldenfels, what she is taken by (pathos). In Cézanne’s view, there is no world, but “only colours and in them the clarity, the being, which cogitates them” (179). The goal of Cézanne’s artistic process, realization, means the congruence of vision and sensation. In the process of realization, the object is not given, but gradually constructed. Kienzler points out that Cézanne’s realization, just like the phenomenological reduction, does not gain truth through reflection of a given reality, but in an act of creation (212).
The seventh chapter, the heart of Kienzler’s study, examines Klee’s voluminous body of writings and notes from the Bauhaus era (1921-32), known in English as the “Paul Klee Notebooks” . Kienzler explores Klee’s views on motion and time in succession to Cézanne. The chapter opens with a phenomenological interpretation of Klee’s diagram for Ways of Studying Nature (1923). Retracing the relations between artist, object, and world, Kienzler emphasizes the responsive nature of Klee’s metaphysics of vision (245). In this network of relations, there are “optical force lines” (Kraftlinien) and invisible relations, interlacing into a cosmic totality that Klee calls “world” (Welt) in contrast to “earth” (Erde) (244).
Klee’s art strives for totalization, this is the “unity of inside and outside, […] the view of the whole [and] the visualization of the whole” (249). Kienzler claims that Klee’s totalization significantly influenced Heidegger’s The Origin of the Work of Art, especially his notions of Geviert, Sichtbarmachen and Erde (250). Kienzler does not elaborate on this claim. However, precisely this relation between Klee and Heidegger might be one of the book’s fruitful yet unrealized routes into a parallel historiography of phenomenology and modernist art.
Kienzler closely reads Klee’s lecture notes, the Bildnerische Formlehre (Visual Theory of Form) and the later Bildnerische Gestaltungslehre (Visual Theory of Design). Why did Klee change the title from form to gestalt? Quoting Klee, Kienzler argues that a theory of Gestaltung (design) comes closer to the dynamic nature of Klee’s thought. While form refers to “a solid figure,” design traces the ways that lead to this form (255). Kienzler considers Klee’s visual theory an organic theory of life and movement.
Interpreting the Bildnerische Formlehre, Kienzler describes how Klee developed a formal order of basic pictorial elements: point, line, surface and space. These elements can be read through the prism of phenomenology. For Klee, motion, space and time are initiated from the point (with Husserl, the “zero point”) as an active element (268). With phenomenology in mind, Kienzler analyzes how Klee’s lines create rhythm and space:
The line makes visible, it is a mediator between the visible and the invisible world. […] Klee knows how to activate the line and suggest movement. He lets it tread paths in curvatures, angles, tensions and bends in an eternal up and down. The viewer feels movement, dynamically experiences the rhythm and free play. (271)
Kienzler explores Klee’s playful “physiognomics of motion” as a two-folded movement: the artist retraces movement with lines, the viewer retraces the lines with their bodies. Klee’s art is thus both productive and receptive (329). After analyzing other pictorial elements such as surface, space or weight, Kienzler moves into the depths of Klee’s compositional process. Kienzler stresses the cosmological dimension of Klee’s theory of colors, before shifting to the Bildnerische Gestaltungslehre, the sequel to Klee’s earlier lectures.
Focusing on creation and cosmos, this second part deepens the understanding of Klee’s theory, while not adding too much new insight. Kienzler is particularly interested in Klee’s idea of the artist-creator embedded in a dynamic cosmos. An organic totality in motion, Klee’s “polyphonic images appear here as a metaphor for the world as a whole, that is, in its cosmic dimension.” (316) One example for such a polyphonic image is Klee’s 1921 watercolor “Fugue in Red,” an experimental realization of Bach’s composition style.
Kienzler has a particular interest in Klee’s relationship to music and the use of rhythm, tonality, and repetition (287). For Kienzler, Klee’s paintings visualize rhythm following a strict composition scheme. Composition for Klee means defining the structure of living organisms and its interacting parts. Like in the Cézanne chapter, Kienzler understands Klee’s systems of pictorial composition as a philosophical universe. In Klee’s case, the system is a living organism, a metamorphosis, expressed in Klee’s natural motifs like plants or crystals. Klee’s paintings, for Kienzler, create a pictorial Gesamtkunstwerk, the “simultaneous vision of up and down, back and front, inside and outside, left and right, evoked by the movement of the viewer around the object, which is itself in motion” (298).
Kienzler opens the last chapter with an overview of Kandinsky’s artistic development, starting at the decisive encounter with Claude Monet’s Haystacks in Moscow. Kienzler focuses on Kandinsky’s early texts On the Spiritual in Art (1912; written from 1904 onward) and “On the Question of Form” (1912) as well as Point and Line to Plane (1926) from the Bauhau time. As Kienzler demonstrates, Kandinsky’s philosophy strongly resonates with the phenomenological paradigm. Not paying much attention to Michel Henry’s Kandinsky book, Kienzler sides with Henry claiming that Kandinsky developed a phenomenology of the invisible life (347).
Kandinsky’s phenomenology visualizes inner experience through colour and form, based on the principle of inner necessity. Kienzler understands Kandinsky’s thought as “strict essentialism or substantialism,” stressing its religious-spiritual orientation (377). As a theologian, Kienzler follows the well-trodden path of reading Kandinsky’s oeuvre through the lens of spirituality, arguing that Kandinsky’s notion of the spiritual refers to “the Christian spirit.” (381). This interpretation is certainly justifiable regarding Kandinsky’s early writings. It is more difficult though when it comes to Kandinsky’s later writings in which he abandons a simple anti-materialism towards an ambiguous notion of abstraction.
Starting his phenomenological reading, Kienzler correlates Kandinsky’s distinction between interiority [Innen] and exteriority [Außen] with the phenomenological modes of “Aktmodus” and “Gegenstandsmodus” (372). Form, Kienzler continues, is “the expression [Äußerung] of the inner content” (373) and thus entwines inner and outer experience. Kandinsky’s method is described as a phenomenological reduction, switching between abstraction and realism. This reduction revolves to the essence of the things, or what Kandinsky calls the spiritual.
Kienzler persuasively argues that Kandinsky’s art does not represent, but rather “phenomenologize” the world (376). The act of seeing is an intentional act, transitioning from functionality to “the mode of action of things.” (378) The new world, phenomenologically revealed by Kandinsky, is spiritual, pure, and abstract. As Kienzler emphasizes, Kandinsky was fascinated by time, motion and tension (Spannung), a term he introduced at the Bauhaus. In contrast to motion, Kandinsky’s tension describes the inner forces of elements that lead to movement (384). With regard to Klee, László Moholy-Nagy, and Ludwig Klages, Kienzler retraces the origins and meanings of Kandinsky’s notions of tension and force (Kraft) (385).
Indeed, there is something like a missed encounter between Kandinsky and Klages here. Rather than exploring the potential overlaps between phenomenology and Kandinsky’s project, Kienzler seems to lose track in Kandinsky’s writings. In what follows, Kienzler provides a summary of On the Spiritual in Art that barely leaves familiar terrain. Once again, Kienzler has an interest in the intimate relation between painting, colour, and music, especially Kandinsky’s synaesthesia as a new way of seeing with all senses (394).
Kienzler’s argument becomes more original when he shifts attention to Kandinsky’s “On the Question of Form” from the Blauer Reiter almanac. It is quite odd that Kienzler refers to this text as “Über die Formlehre,” maybe an erratum due to Klee’s similarly titled lectures? However, Kienzler’s auspicious reading leads us into the heart of Kandinsky’s thought. Circling around Kandinsky’s notions of abstractness and concreteness (Gegenständlichkeit), Kienzler aims to elucidate why Kandinsky later called his paintings concrete rather than abstract (402). How can abstract paintings be concrete?
Kienzler traces Kandinsky’s understanding of concreteness back to the artist’s notions of thing [Ding] and image-thing (Bild-Ding). Kandinsky, in Kienzler’s view, liberated the image from the thing, creating an image-thing that ceases to refer to any external object (see 403). Kandinsky’s image, Kienzler argues, is not mimesis or Abbild, but “an inner relational structure that initially refers only to itself and not to an external shape” (375). As Kienzler rightly points out, Kandinsky’s understanding of abstraction is ambivalent and polysemous. In contrast to Cubism, Kandinsky’s abstract art “creates the forms of expression itself”, thereby constructing a new concrete reality (405). Beyond purely non-figurative painting, Kandinsky understands all art as essentially abstract:
Kandinsky’s abstract image transcends the distinction between non-objectivity and objectivity, since it lies before the latter. In demonstrating something, it also always illustrates the conditions under which the demonstration takes place. Signifiers and signified are distinguishable, but do not exclude each other a priori. Kandinsky’s figurative works, too, are already no longer real representations. They do not represent what appears to be, but how it shows itself, represents itself. (406)
Kienzler traces the origins of Kandinsky’s concrete art back to Theo van Doesburg, Jean Arp, and Max Bill, referring to Doesburg’s conceptual twist of calling figurative painting abstract and non-figurative painting concrete (406). Kandinsky’s concrete art expresses the inner gaze, aiming to capture the spiritual, this is the nature of things (406). Kienzler analyzes in-depth Kandinsky’s attempt to synthesize realism and abstraction, as expressed in his terms of “Große Realistik” (Great Realism) and “Große Abstraktion” (Great Abstraction) (408).
Borrowing extensively from Kandinsky’s writings, Kienzler’s analysis culminates in an interpretation of various sketches and watercolours leading to Kandinsky’s “Komposition VII”, painted shortly before the First World War. Kienzler retraces the development of the final version, exploring Kandinsky’s method and composition. The chapter closes with a brief section on time and motion in Kandinsky’s art, contrasting Kandinsky’s Bild-Zeit (image-time) (440) with Klee’s philosophy of time. Kienzler leaves the reader without a satisfying conclusion, ending with the claim that art is influenced by different conceptions of time and motion.
What can we take from this nearly 500 page-long journey through modern painting and phenomenology? In short, Kienzler’s book is ambitious, open-ended, and potentially verbose. Readers looking for a systematic and concise account of phenomenological thought in the works of Cézanne, Klee, and Kandinsky, will remain rather dissatisfied. Roaming through the material without a clear roadmap, Kienzler’s book does not really come together as a whole. However, Kienzler leads various productive ways into the mutually entwined history of art and phenomenology. His book will hopefully be read as a rich theoretical conceptual toolbox that bears unfulfilled potentialities and opens up new horizons. It is particularly Kienzler’s fusion of phenomenology (Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger, Waldenfels) and image theory (Imdahl, Boehm) that can be valuable for scholars working at the borders of French and German thought, from visual studies and art theory to embodiment and philosophy of perception.
 Michel Henry, Seeing the Invisible: On Kandinsky, London; New York: Continuum, 2009, 8.
 Klaus Kienzler, Bewegung in die Theologie bringen: Theologie in Erinnerung an Klaus Hemmerle, Freiburg i.Br.: Verlag Herder, 2017.
 This and all following quotes are my translation from the original German.
 Klee’s Bauhaus notebooks are digitized, transcribed, and accessible online via the Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern. http://www.kleegestaltungslehre.zpk.org/ee/ZPK/Archiv/2011/01/25/00001/